Wednesday, January 20, 2016
New Orleans 2016
I. Early Losses.
It is raining but warm for a January day in St. Louis. I am at the airport. Southwest Airlines is paging passengers ticketed for a flight leaving soon for Phoenix. My city lost its football team this week. Squirt's renal health is under the microscope. There is turmoil in world markets. I'm going to New Orleans. The St. Louis Six are riding again.
Brett and Fairchild and B are in line for a Starbucks. The stock was as low as $56.16 in this morning's early red action. A client has a limit order at $56.01. I've chastised myself before for talking about the stock market in these pages. But it's what I know. It's part of a routine I can't quit because I fear having no routine. These are the things people with no routine and no occupation find themselves doing: smoking drugs, drinking whenever, watching porn, watching Netflix (stop $103.95 limit $102.15), taking crank, taking opiates, looking at Facebook, scrolling and trolling on Twitter, posting perpetually on Instagram, sleeping during the day, not sleeping at night ("It's actually non-24"), writing bad self-centered poetry, committing unspecified crimes against themselves and eventually others. Some of these are things I did before getting myself a routine. Now I watch the market. I managed last summer and fall to ween myself off of checking the futures markets in the morning. Nasty habit. But now I look at the London FTSE 100. It's a pretty good gauge of what's going to happen here. It's down today, by quite some lot. It's gotten ugly out there. BHP Billiton, a big commodities producer (driller/miner), wrote down—or wrote off: you just write it off!—a portion of their U.S. shale oil assets. Boom boom die hard. That's a lot of losses this week: the Rams, David Bowie, Alan Rickman. The Fed started printing furiously in 2009, printing in 2010. It seemed so obvious to me that these companies pulling hard assets—as compared to soft dollars—out of the ground were going to thrive. Gold would do well, Caterpillar would see great sales. The dollar would tank, inflation would go through the roof. The Fed printed without end through October 2014 and everything else that was supposed to happen didn't. Gold sank and oil plunged. The dollar's as hard as a diamond. I can't explain it to you. No one can.
II. A Drink Called the Painkiller
Poem by Cab-driver.
Dow down 521.
At the carousel bar I
fell on the floor
it was wet and squishy
There was a lot of rain last night;
The Pat O'Brien's Hurricane?
It's nasty: Kool-Aid and cheap rum,
terrible hangover the next day.
Toyota, Honda, & Nissan.
III. Bourbon is Just the Name of the Hotel.
We are back in the room, 526, near the ice and the stairs. It's the Bourbon Orleans Hotel. So far I like it better than Hotel Dauphine. The room is a tad larger. It's a bigger hotel. The way to our room, to Vonage's room on the second floor, wraps around and there's only one way; feels byzantine. The radio was on when we came into the room. That's how it was as that Inn at Playa del Rey in Los Angeles except there it was the classical station, KUSC, but it enamored me all the same and I fell in love with the station, never turned it off the whole time we were there (OK, it was only one night but then I streamed it a lot at home before baseball started up).
Here it's WWOZ, 90.7 FM. Initially it was blues and rock and alt country. There was a supposedly rare Dylan "Highway 61" cut and then one by Jimmie Dale Gilmore. The Gilmore was a song I knew and I could picture the album cover—hay bales, silage—an album I owned but got rid of somewhere along the way and hadn't heard anything from in over 17 years. Then it was Junior Kimbrough and other songs I didn't know but liked. There don't seem to be commercials.
After the rock-blues-country, once we'd unpacked and slid around a little, it was jazz and it was a thick-tongued, dark-veiled nap sleep, sleeping right through the music, no problems. Jazz I could have laid there and listened to for a day but didn't. We went back out for drinks and fun, caught a parade as one is wont to do in the Quarter on a Friday not far from Mardi Gras. Now it's back to bluesy rock, R&B, and B has turned her light off and Brett went for beignets. Pat said, "Seriously?" when I said I was done but tomorrow's going to be a long, full day and today was long and full enough, me up against a column outside baggage claim calling back to work, vetting again the orders on the 12% list, the Dow off 500, the S&P 500 taking out its August lows at the knees. Pocket twos. Buying higher I was confident in my hand but it was just pocket twos and the river flew heavy against me. I've come south, chasing the crest.
At B's solemn request, I've turned the radio off but I'm turning it back on first thing tomorrow morning. I'm not drunk. I described myself to myself as "wildly sober," which is paradoxical but not necessarily untrue. This was one of those night when I could feel my belly growing. I have a fullness of body and mind, like a high seawall, a spillway that robots created way in the future and sent back to try and help me last a lifetime. I played the wise ump and called the game. Further, I realiZed we might actually muster a run tomorrow. Three or four miles along the glazy, bead-strewn cobblestones, my dear?
There's more to say, there always is; and what I don't scratch out now I will bid away forever. I can see and want to memorialize the vision of Vonage crossing the street, our street, the Rue d'Orleans, right in front of The Four's cab as we pull into th'otel, and Brett sitting shotgun as I'm back there shell-shocked and licking my market wounds, hearing him say, "Oh, you can hit them, that's OK." Except Vonage was carrying one white grocery sack each, they had hit the liquor store and bought: a six of an amber, a 2-liter of Coke, and a bottle of a locally produced dark rum. The way the sun was hitting them as they crossed the street, I swear they looked like angels, halos in their hands. It was too early for The Four of us to check into our rooms so went to Second Floor Vonage, wheeling our bag along, and I had blown up the pits of all three layers I was wearing, pitting straight through into my cord jacket, which I don't think I've ever done, and we sat in their sunny hotel room and started to drink and heard a little about their night (they had taken a late flight last night and arrived here about 12 hours before we did). Fairchild mixed a rum and coke, made it too strong, poured half into a cup for Pat, made another, not strong enough; poured more rum in; too strong. There are so many people brushing along you in these bars and across these streets but I could sit in one of our rooms and mix rum and coke and vending ice and horse around with The Five and have just as much fun as I could "out there."
Though while we were out at the Irish-style pub right across from Preservation Hall we did happen to hear about an Arcade Fire-led parade—dirge, dirge, I say!—in honor of David Bowie. It starts tomorrow afternoon right there at Preservation Hall and the public plays the part of The Second Line. The first line's the Arcade Fire and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Could be a cluster but the ingredients are so very promising.
But first some sleep, mon frer. Maybe just a page or two of Stuart Dybek first. I've got an uncorrected proof of his collection of stories, Paper Lantern. He's quite good. I knew his story "Gold Coast," I believe from a volume of so-called micro-fiction circa 2004, lost somewhere along the way. Then I heard th'eponymous story "Paper Lantern" read on a New Yorker fiction podcast. Saw the book at a book fair. Three dollars, done like dinner. Love stories, a character or two subtly recurring throughout. Seiches. Michigan. Opera. Sex, disillusionment, despair. But goodnight for now, goodnight for just tonight.
IV. Shrimp Prayer.
B and I got out and ran, for 37 minutes, mostly along the river walk between, say, Esplanade and Canal. We tried running along Canal and other streets but it wasn't so easy. We didn't beat the first wave of early risers to the streets. We had gotten out of bed at 6:55; to have gotten out there more on our lonesome we would've had t'arisen by six. The streets here cobblestone or dodgy pavement; the sidewalks rough of stone, wet of liquid: precarious ankle travel indeed. The river walk is exemplary but its example doesn't run far enough north; not far enough south, either: area restricted, port of NOLA. As a result we were on San Pedro Norte, watching for the slowly awakening creep of cars.
We stopped, walked, looked at Belle's diner. It looked alright but we had options this quick into the trip. We made our way to the Clover Grill, a dump of a place on Bourbon St. We went in, I swatted some prior patron's potatoes from the seat. It was seedy; there was cursing at the grill and no sign of a waitperson. Gut call: leave.
With The Four we had a good breakfast at Belle's. Mine was a seafood omelet with a side of hash browns made crispy like I like them. The omelet was topped with a crawfish-dappled corn chowder. Inside were shrimp and cheese. I crushed it. The shrimp were not the fresh gulf behemoths we had first at Felix's and then again in our Po Boys in the back of a swarmed Eirin Rose. But they were fine shrimp all the same and I was happy to have them. I even said a very short prayer of thanks for the food after the first bite because it looked so good and I was hungry.
V. Before the Parade, When We were Stupid.
We hit a liquor store on the way back from breakfast. I overheard one of the two clerks, one on either side of the entrance raised up on something like a witness stand, saying she was probably going to partake in the the Arcade Fire-led second line in the afternoon. I followed up with her about it, saying I had overheard her. I am not an extrovert and I was going out on a bit of limb, something Pat wouldn't think twice of saying, "So I heard you saying you were going to do the Bowie second line, what's that all about?" That's how Pat would say it, I said it much different I'm sure, and she was inwardly cringing at me for reasons I just don't understand and this is part of why I prefer to remain introverted. She wouldn't elaborate. She recited to me some sort of tautology along the lines of: A second line is the line that comes after the first line. Wow. Then I ask, "Well, if Arcade Fire is the first line, can people in the second line actually hear them?" She really didn't seem to know. Her elaboration amounted to: "Second-lining is a tradition in New Orleans, do you know about how it works?" No, I freaking don't, that's why I asked you! She might also have come to the swift realiZation that word was spreading, even to the scurvy tourists.
I went to Crescent City books and bought three books: Charles Baxter's Through the Safety Net, Julian Barnes's Metroland, and Amos Oz's Where the Jackals Howl. I had picked up a book of poems from one Pat Schneider, a rando I had eyed that spoke to me at first blush. But I can't buy everything that looks interesting, I don't want to send the bag over fifty pounds on the way back so I put that and Deborah Eisenberg short story collection back. I used to have Eisenberg's Collected Stories and I liked it but it didn't survive some move along the way between here and those college days.
There was a wedding at the Cathedral today. Police and a brass band led the celebrants down San Pedro and then to Royal. I followed them for a bit. All of the celebrants were wearing masks. I was piqued by some of them, wondering how long they would be walking along those touchy streets. When I turned around to come back to th'otel a couple was trying to catch up to the rest of the group, alternating between a clipped trot and the kind of walk I'd do when my bladder was full and I was dying inside.
I'm in the lobby now. It's a spacious, bright lobby and I'm on a couch. On other trips, or toward the end of other trips, I've passed through other comfortable-seeming lobbies perhaps for the last time and said to myself, "I wish I'd spent a little more time in the lobby, sitting and reading and writing." Well, here I am now sitting and writing in this lobby. My feet hurt but I've arrived.
VI. Saturday Synopsis, Strike One.
It is early Sunday morning and B seems perhaps a bit unenamored with yours truly. Did the photo Anne sent her of chili sampled across my face do me no favors? I tried to play WWOZ just now but B even with ear plugs vetoed me hard. Ha. I had a chili cheeseburger cooked medium at Deja Vú. It was me and Anne and Pat and Fairchild. It was windy out and cooler and we took Dauphine past along the Hotel Dauphine where The Four of us stayed last time. Dauphine Books, where I got the Melville compendium and where I dumbly passed on a copy of Richard Ford's Wildlife—not that it's such an incredible book, hair tonic, mom's hidden truths—but I knew and know Ford and it was an obvious buy. Anyway, the store is on holiday and closed through the 21st.
It's past two o'clock. I haven't had a drink in a while, just water at Deja Vú but I can hear the prophet of this hangover already. Thin and flinty and sharp, like an arrowhead dipped in bad ju-ju. But we've nothing on the calendar tomorrow. Nothing. I'll stage in the lobby and fly sorties against unknown bookstores. My head is already starting to hurt, my jaw is setting. That burger...its retinue of chili and fries. I am feeling something like a crush and thinking about a few people I once had crushes on. Creche. Seiche. Sea-shells by the seashore. The David Bowie dirge was a rogue cluster. The Future Elevators show, which we went to after the Bowie craziness, south of here, which I haven't even alluded to much less begun to describe, wasn't all that good.
I'm Uber-ing with five of my closest. The crawfish we had near the market. Uber down, Uber up. Tipping.
My eyes hurt and are heavy. Tomorrow scares me a little at first but it is so wide. Goodnight and good water.
VII. Bowian Motion.
It is Sunday morning. I am sitting off to the side of the main lobby having a cup of tea and thinking about how to catch up on the events of yesterday. And today—although yesterday was really two days in one. The reports suggest we were just Six of 20,000 people crammed into a select few blocks of the Quarter for the Bowie second line.
Across from Preservation Hall, we stood out in front of the pub we had had drinks at on Friday, the Boondocks Saint, from whose bartender we first heard about the'vent. It was supposed to start at four and we got there at three thirty. The crowd filled in around us like a river flooding its banks and looking, looking for other places to go. Personal space ceased to be personal, became communal. There was something being passed around nearby, something that generally enhances any paranoia I might be brewing and steeping within. But. When in a crowd, go with the flow. There were a few words about Bowie. One of the fellows behind me said, "I guess we've all been touched by Bowie in some way then." And I was thinking, "Not really." I did like Labyrinth. But I've never owned any Bowie records. I like the song "Life on Mars," but I didn't even know it until the American version of the show ran for a short couple of seasons six or seven years back. I heard "Under Pressure" twice over the course of yesterday and honestly it was news to me that the song had anything to do with Bowie. [Looking it up, days later, it seems he collaborated with Queen on the final version of the song Queen and Bowie put out, but I had never heard the song associated with him until that Saturday in New Orleans.]
As the crowd filled and the smoke found its way to all the parts of me I began to feel uneasy. Pat later said he was talking himself out of a panic attack during these moments. I had the word stampede running through my head. B would later say that in the midst of that crowd she had entertained "morbid thoughts". About us all being fish in a barrel I presume, but I did not ask her to elaborate. Gradually I was pressed up against a white sedan parked on the curb. The car wasn't going anywhere so neither could I.
Along that stretch of San Pedro between Bourbon and Royal my rough count of 20 persons across by 200 deep up and down the block had me figuring there were 4,000 people packed into a very small quarter acre of the French Quarter. How far and wide the throng extended beyond that immediate block I could not say.
I have to list the experience among my Top 25 Nearest-to-Death Moments. Because of the magnitude and the density of the crowd. The chance of being trampled was at least 1%. If it got hairy I was going to climb atop the car I was pressed against. But what about B? It was real and memorable but just as scary as being along that thin, rocky ledge on the way to and fro Crypt Lake. On that ledge it was me against my own madness. In that crowd it could have been any one person's drunkenness or drug-induced excitement that incited a serious event. In hindsight, the Bowie second line was a hell of a thing to experience but we had had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
Eventually Win Butler of Arcade Fire came out in a pink suit onto the Preservation Hall balcony and gave a quick sort of remembrance for Mr. Bowie. Then minutes later the Preservation Hall jazz band, epitomized by a couple of eustachian sousaphones—one with a lighting bolt on it like the one Bowie wore on his face—slowly parted their way through the crowd. It got even more interesting once the dirge was on the move because the crowd was still tightly packed but now it was beginning to move. It was like we were atoms packed in a material and that material was now being heated. Imagine the atoms starting to wake up out of their slumber and stasis and start to ping one another. Can I go this way? Can I go that way?
There were only two ways to go. Pat was suggesting we stay put. I understood that thought but I was afraid that in staying put, if the crowd were to move against us, that we might not be able to keep our footing; that the crowd, like a riptide current, might just pick up our bodies and take them out to sea. You can't fight a riptide, you have to let it take you out as far it wants to take you. If you fight it you will lose, and if you lose you will die!
We ended up making our way out in the direction opposite the band, toward Bourbon. But there were just as many, probably more people now on the move opposite our direction. This was a crash course in the application of fluid dynamics in a crowd setting, where people are the fluid. What worked best was for single files to form, and it didn't matter if two single files rubbed right against one another moving in opposite directions, like a two-lane road. In fact, that was the optimal arrangement. When someone from behind me in my file up-jumped me, trying to go around me, this only threw gum into the works of the file running contrary to mine, shaking people out of that file and into mine, creating a momentary burst of chaos.
Spilling out, free, onto Bourbon Street, we did an end around up toward the river where the dirge was headed and scheduled to break for ten minutes up along where the trolley line stopped by the flood wall. It was there I saw a gal I recognized as being on the staff of the Contrary Opinion Forum, but I did not speak to her. The COF is this investor conference held every year in Vermont along Lake Champlain that I've been to several times with my dad. Seeing her I thought of him, and how he definitely would have gone and said hello to her, how he would have gotten a kick out of seeing someone from the COF in a totally different setting. But I am not him, not exactly, and I checked down, stood pat, said nothing. She wasn't the only person I recognized in all of that crowd either. Just as we were all making our move out of the Preservation Hall melee Pat said offhandedly, "Look, Larry David." And it was Larry David, in an astronaut suit. I looked at him and then I looked again. Ninety-nine percent sure it was him.
I had a cigarette down by the river. A drunk fellow who had just turned 35 almost took B out as he fell backward into her. Two fellows, at least one a local on the parapet of the flood wall behind us conversed about the Bowie second line. The local fellow said, "Sure, I've scene crowds bigger than this, for Mardi Gras. But I've never seen anything this spontaneous." The light was fading and we were all worn out, tired of the crowd. We left once the parade passed us, while it was stopped up by the river, before it started moving again. The dirge was scheduled to make its way to One-Eyed Jacks. The Western with Marlon Brando? No, some bar. We walked that direction but it was swarmed by the same sort of mass that had enveloped Preservation Hall and B and I just wanted to get back to our room to rest the rest of the wearily thankful. We did so rest and it was restful, the rest is history.
I had a beer in the room, an Andy Gator. We re-convended in the lobby. I confessed to Pat my fear that I couldn't keep up. Ahead of us still was the show out toward the Garden District, in which Future Elevators was the second of two warm-up acts. The Quarter packed like it was, the crowds threatening to make any driver's work a free-for-all, I wondered how the heck we were going to be able to get out of the Quarter at all. In hindsight I had by that point reached a neurotic level of worry that far outstripped the reality of the moment and maybe I sensed this in the moment because I kept my mouth shut because no one likes a Cassandra, a henny-penny: the sky was not falling, nothing was fucked.
But we felt that way as we filed out onto the street in search of dinner, striking out at Coop's Place, a Brett favorite that we had hoped we could settle right down into for some gumbo....
VIII. Crawfish on the Market.
I am sitting now halfway up one of the staircases that curl up and around either side off of a small room adjacent to the lobby. In the old days, this is probably where the lobby led. Today it is out of the way but I am right where I want to be. There are two landings on each side of the staircase and on the second landing on one side is a loveseat, where I sit. This is the type of furniture They aren't making anymore. Maybe the Amish are, but that'd be it. At the height of the staircase is an event space, a few tables, a helical table that could serve as a bar. There are bathrooms up there, too, and when I saw them I thought: score! But I tried the door to the Mens and it was locked. There is a bathroom on the main floor near registration. It requires a key-card and it is adequate. But with that second-floor restroom I thought I'd stumbled upon a loophole. But it wasn't a loophole. Not a wormhole either. Wormholes are always open and where they go, nobody knows! This is the thing about writing. I sit in a somewhat quiet—railway rumble of housekeeping carts down the second-floor hallway—fairly dim corner of the hotel on a 1950's loveseat and I start to think about wormholes. I want to get back to writing about yesterday because there is so much more to say.
The streets were still flowing with the second line remnants and I was feeling tired and defeatists and resigned to eating nothing for the rest of the night if need be. It was going to be a long wait at Coop's Place. Anne had come up with another idea, Amelie, which was also packed. I was so ready to leap out the cargo bay doors, parachuting down into the clarity of a night alone, when we came across that restaurant just south of the French Market where the street flat-irons between Decatur and N Peters, a place that normally seems crowded but which at that moment was quite uncrowded.
We sat outside, pushing together two round, blue-painted metal tables and the waitress was quite helpful but there was also something about her. Like she was new and overwhelmed by the idea of waiting on a group of six, that it was potentially going to be great hill for her to climb, that she was excited but also a little scared, kind of like: OK, this is my big moment, I can do this, take it one step at a time. She looked a little like a cross between early Madonna and Titanic Kate Winslet. I'm just happy to get settled and Pat hits her immediately with, "So, what's good here?" She listed roughly a third of the menu. First, the sampler: gumbo, jambalaya, shrimp creole, beans and rice. Then something I can't remember. Then the barbecue shrimp, "Which: there's no barbecue sauce, I'm not sure why they're called that, but they're really good." Then she mentioned several other things I also forget. She listed so many things it left her a little breathless. As an appetizer, there were the crawfish "which are in season now". A guy on the plane next to B had told her that, indeed, crawfish were in season at the moment, unusually, because of the warm December. The waitress was barely done listing what was good when Pat followed up with the question that was admittedly also running through my head but which I thought best to hold for the moment, "What do you have on tap?" Not much, unfortunately. She mentioned an Abita IPA off-menu and I got that, as did Pat.
We got those crawfish, two orders out-of-the-shell, a pound each for $9.99. The market had listed them as being "mkt price" but she gave us the quote and mentioned that she thought it was a really good deal. I didn't quite realiZe what we were ordering. They came out fire-engine red, looking like tiny little lobsters, fortressed up behind their shells and many several legs. I had never eaten crawfish out of the shell. Pat had, back in his Savannah days. He explained how you are supposed to snap the head off and suck the juice out. I tried doing that but nothing ever seemed to come out of the heads I sucked on. Then it was a matter of prying off the eight or so little legs—maybe there were ten legs, or twelve—and then cracking the shell covering the crawdad's back, where the pay dirt lay: the tail meat.
What none of us knew was just how spicy those crawfish were going to be. I gulped my water right away but I kept at the crawfish, going through one after another like they were pistachios, my lips afire. The others said their hands were on fire but I didn't get that. Our waitress brought extra napkins and little bowls filled with warm water and lemon juice, for us to dip our hands in. She brought bread, too, but I thought the bread tasted funny. Not funny haha, funny bad. It smacked of that banana-clove ester taste of a Belgian beer. I guess it was stale. My rice kind of tasted that way, too. That flavor made me think of fruit flies, I have no idea why. Maybe that what that fruit fly food I used to make for the Wash U genetics lab used to smell like and I don't consciously recall it.
Anyway, it didn't matter because the barbecue shrimp I got were very tasty. They were peel-your-own like the crawfish but the shrimp were big and pink and luscious, with just a little bit of a spicy grilling rub on them. I started out with a dozen of them and gave a couple to B, trading for small bites from the various dishes of her sampler, scouring out every last bit when she was done with each of the little bowls.
Pat finished the crawfish off at some point. The table was a mess. As we were starting the meal Pat talked about how people in Savannah would take a whole day to work through a pile of crawfish, leisurely eating one before sitting back, and talking, eating another, talking some more, sipping a beer, no rush, we got all day. My plate now bore a pile of shrimp skins, wads of greased-up napkin, the lemon water an entirely different concoction now than before. It strikes me now to describe our waitress as having been nervous about something right away—or maybe she had just gotten some bad news—but once she got past it she gained strength from our joviality as the meal went along without incident. She thanked us for coming in and really seemed to mean it. We cleared out, I went to the bathroom. When I came back out the waitress was standing there with The Five, chatting them up, and I thought to myself, "Man, she must have really liked us." And maybe she did. But the real reason she was out talking to them is because Pat had left his bank card in the little bill holder when we adjourned from the table. She had bounced out after them to make sure it got back to its rightful holder.
IX. Rodgers to Janis.
We walked back to the hotel. I'm going to lightning round the rest of this Saturday night in New Orleans because if I don't it's going to take me all of Sunday just to write it out. We took an Über down to a venue called Gasa Gasa. Once we had made our way down there it had started to rain. A system was moving in. It was eight-thirty but the show we wanted to see wasn't actually going to begin until ten-thirty! We hurried down the street to Mojo Coffee, a place I'd seen from the car on our way down. B and I had americanos. I looked at a photo of Ben Bernanke on the front page of the New York Times business section. That was one of two Federal Reserve articles on the front page. The Bernanke article was about some decision the Fed made back in 2010, either doing more of something they had already started doing or refraining from doing more of something else. Either way, it was the right decision. The second article was about what today's current Fed is going to do. There was a photo of Stan Fischer. Oh—it was about the Fed's $4.5 trillion-dollar balance sheet, which is roughly the size of Japan's entire economy (an economy that I believe is the world's third-largest, we're not exactly talking about Tonga here). And basically the article was asking: Is everything fucked? I can't remember what conclusion the author reached.
We had time to kill. Luckily there were some other bars and resties in the area. From Mojo we went to Midway, a deep-dish pizza joint with a long, sleek bar backed up by flat screens with the football playoff game on them. Green Bay at Arizona, a grinder of a game, as explained to me by a guy in a Montana hoodie on the stool to my right as I took a seat. I got into another Andy Gator, the Abita hells doppelbock with 8% ABV. I started talking to this guy about sports and I was actually being pretty friendly, i.e. not aloof with strangers like I usually am. Maybe it was because he said he always liked the St. Louis Blues, though he couldn't say why. "Have they ever even been to the Stanley Cup Finals?" he asked. "Yeah," I said, "in their first year or two in a row in their league they were in the Finals, but the format was different then." Yada yada. He had been waiting on a pizza. The game had gotten good but once he got that pizza he was gone.
Empty bottles of Rebel Yell whiskey lined a ledge above the bar, said the bartender, because frisbee guys came in there and drank it all. That's ultimate frisbee, not disc golf. I told Pat I had played ultimate frisbee in Louisiana in college! At LSU, not far from here, how about that?! Then they left, The Four, and went to some bar called Cure. B and I were thinking about leaving to go join them but there was still about two minutes left in the game and I subscribe to an unwritten sports fan creed that it is bad luck to walk away from a game you've been watching—assuming it's halfway close—if there isn't much time remaining. Still, I was thinking: the NFL can take a hike after bolting St. Louis, I'll be damned if I'm going to anchor myself to some playoff game just because it's been halfway decent and there isn't much time left. Arizona was up by a touchdown and driving. I was just about through a second Andy Gator. I asked for the check, got it, paid it. We're getting up to go when some gal at the bar, who had spent most of the last ten minutes messing around on her phone gives us the old, "What, you're leaving, there's only two minutes left?" Guilt trip from out of nowhere. Maybe she was a Packers fan or maybe she just didn't want to be the only person left sitting at the bar. It couldn't have been long after that that Cardinals QB Carson Palmer made an inexplicably poor throw that found its way into the hands of a Packers defensive back in the Packer end zone. Here come the Packers.
We stayed and Green Bay made its way down the field. On its first fourth down of the drive, somewhere toward midfield, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers made a craZy play to push the ball across the fifty yard line and ignite a glimmer of hope. But that hope faded as the clock did, Green Bay going nowhere with almost no time left. It was fourth-and-twenty on the Cardinal forty-yard-line and the game was just about over, this time for real. Snap, Rodgers gets rushed immediately, rolls out to his left, throws a bomb into the end zone and this guy Janis for Green Bay comes down with the ball despite two Cardinal defenders being right on either side of him. Janis didn't so much catch the ball as he did put his falling body between the ball and the ground before eventually getting his two hands squarely on the ball as he and the Cardinals players rolled around in the end zone. It was a Hail Mary touchdown and it ranks as one of the best and most-exciting last-second plays I've ever seen. I'd find out later that Roy saw it; that my Dad had listened to it transpire by radio as he lay in bed (Sunday morning, checking my email, I read his account of hearing the play). But then in overtime, on what felt like the first play of the extra time, Arizona had won the coin toss and Palmer flipped a short ball to Larry Fitzgerald who tore ass zig-zagging down the field for seventy-five yards. It wasn't a touchdown, but it might as well have been. Fitzgerald caught a short pass a play or two later and the instant classic was suddenly in the books.
X. The Bossa Nova Button.
By this point in the evening the two hours we had to kill were indeed killt. It had stopped raining. I said I was going to lightning-round the rest of this evening one chapter ago and it seems I've failed, happily but miserably. It was an $8 cover into Gasa Gasa for their second of two shows on a Saturday night in January in New Orleans. We were hot on a band called Future Elevators, the second act of three scheduled to play. The two opening acts proceeded to take much of the next hour just to sound-check. Some guy with an iPad who apparently worked for the venue kept screwing around with levels. Check check check. We would have the impression that somebody sitting there on stage was actually going to start playing some music but then they'd abruptly cut off and we'd realiZe that what they had begun to play was in reality just another sound check. Check, check, check. Check-one! Maybe it was at this point that Fairchild decided to stick the Kleenex in her ears.
I ordered the first of two Jim Beam rocks. It wasn't very crowded in the venue, a moderate but clean space that now as I'm thinking about it felt vaguely cave-like, like the Mos Eisley space cantina from Star Wars. And the keyboardist from the first group hopped around like one of the muppet band members from the crew playing the cantina. He had moccasins on and took great relish in reaching over to hit what Pat would later "the bossa nova button" on his keyboard. It isn't my intent to be malicious, but it was a long day, a long night and we were getting a little absurdist by this point. They were just OK, this first act called "IZE." It was mostly pre-mixed music produced by way of laptop, a dance-y electronic sound.
Pat had found this bone laying around the bar, which we later identified over chili-cheese burgers as most likely being a human tibia or fibula, probably not a humerus, but of course quite humorous as Pat dinged it against a copper cup and plate that inexplicably made up part of the scenery in this bizarre cave-like venue southwest of the French Quarter in New Orleans. At one point later Pat would dislodge from its place on the wall a strange sculpture-painting that had a little hand figurine reaching out of it and might also have been made of copper.
The first act ended and Future Elevators came on. "Modern World" sounded good. We knew only two songs of theirs and this was one. They played four or five others. The act didn't hit me like I'd hoped. Maybe the sound was off a bit or maybe it just wasn't their night. Everyone in the place, I think, was exhausted. It was past midnight. We did not stay for the headliner, Mariine. We took an Über back. The driver played some good music from a NOLA band, the lead singer of which—who isn't with the band anymore—was, according to the driver, the biggest trust fund baby kind of guy singing about being poor. The driver must have known this guy, maybe went to school with him. Otherwise: how does he know? Why does he care? He listed other jobs that this singer had done in his life. The music was good, someone said they liked the guy's voice. I think it was the driver who said that. I can't remember the name of the band.
Back at the hotel it was windy and cool in the Quarter. Brett and B turned in. The Other Four of us were hungry and went in search of food. We ended up in Deja Vu, an all-night place on Dauphine. I got a chili cheeseburger and fries. Pounded it. Pat, who got the same thing, said it really wasn't that good and that I was letting my "beer buds" do the talking. These are the taste-bud equivalent of beer goggles. Anne played Erasure and then Michael Jackson on the juke box. She took a photo of me looking quite happy with chili on my face, some of it not all that close to my mouth.
XI. Sunday I Wrote, Not Much About Sunday.
I set my odds at going back out after that gustatory virtuoso at Coop's Place as being 3%. When I give Pat odds like that they're probably a lot better than I quote. We were in the lobby Sunday night drinking and talking, doing the kind of talking Bill Williams says—with truth—we really, rarely do. I was saying my feet were killing me, plantar fasciitis plaguing my arches. Brett said he had doubts about how much B and I were really accomplishing with all of our running. We debated that contention. It was better debate than you'd find on cable news. I'm a little tipsy just now and it's cormorant propaganda either side, I'm not gonna get in real deep.
What we did agree on, by way of friendly negócion, is that doing planks could benefit me. Not hashtag planks but something else. I asked for a demonstration then and there in the lobby and at first I'm pretty sure he thought I was just fucking with him, and I was, but only a little. I really wanted to see what he was telling me I should be doing. He and I had shared a seafood platter, you see. And we had taken a french fry, put our mouths on either end, and nibbled down toward the middle....
I can't recall just now what my point was, or even why it is I'm in the Bourbon Orleans Hotel lobby right this second—ten-fifteen on a Sunday night in Louisiana—trying to write it all out, The Five all cashed and crashed and I'm pretty sure most or all of them had some kind of nap or rest today and here I am, I'm not anything other than awake with a pen in my hand, Stuart Dybek's Paper Lantern by my side.
I've been in this same basic space writing a lot of the day today. First on the drink half-table was coffee. No cups, when I saw Fairchild standing there, was that really Fairchild, back from Urgent Care, the Kleenex she wetted and daubed into her ear, removed by forceps? Yeah, it was. I know her and she is Fairchild and I can go up and talk to her and it won't be weird unless I make it weird. You've got to understand that emotionally, socially, I'm working impaired. That intelligent as I might be in other realms I get dumb when it comes to people, even people I've known for a long time and could easily claim as "knowing well". Some jerk was like, "Get out of the way, don't just stand there and chat." And I was all, "OK, have at it, d.b. supreme." And when he got to the coffee dispenser he realiZed there weren't any cups. I wasn't even there to get coffee. I'd already had some. I was there to talk to Fairchild who I saw from a ways away, early in the morning, when I wasn't expecting to see anyone. B had said Fairchild had texted here about having to go to Urgent Care. And seeing Fairchild down there by the coffee in the lobby, I was thinking: is she waiting to get picked up to go to Urgent Care or is she fresh back. She was fresh back. The cups came but our convo never picked back up. She had said they got it all out at Urgent Care. I went and sat in a chair and wrote for awhile.
I am trying to get through the red section in this notebook on this excursion. I'm on a good pace, I do b'lieve. It must be 11p and I'm in this lobby, and what am I doing. I said there was a 97% chance I was done but I went to Johnny White's with them. Some guy at the bar was watching what I was saying. Covington, I said. Covington IPA, it was a tap handle. But the guy didn't seem to know what I was saying.
I'm tired. I'm in the lobby and I'm ready to pass out. Stuart Dybek is on the couch next to me. He could survive down here. I don't want to lose consciousness just yet. My room is upstairs! I like that. No foopah. We saw The Foopah Guy on St Ann just as we turned onto it, rounding Bourbon from J White's. Nothing is fucked, but everything is fucked. I'm tired and I hurt and the gal across the lobby from me is a stranger. Her phone text tone is someone popping specious caps. I am really tired. This is it. Goodnight, good writers, good books by them.
XII. The Foopah Guy.
As we rounded the corner from St Ann onto Orleans, we saw him there a little ways down the street, between us and the hotel. The Foopah Guy. It's hard to miss him. He runs about six-one with a face painted silver or gold, topped off in a jester's cap. This was not our first encounter.
The first night we were in town the other two fellows and I had stood back along the wall of a building on San Pedro as one of the ladies was checking out this or that in a store. This guy with the painted face and the jesters cap comes up to me and says something along the lines of, "No doing foopah without a harpoon license." He starts pointing his finger at me and continues, "If I catch you chasing foopah without a harpoon license, I'll have your penis removed. Just remember. I'm watching you."
When a guy with his face painted comes up to you on the street in New Orleans and starts talking about taking your penis, it gets your attention pretty quick. That said, I had no idea what this guy was talking about. I didn't know, and I still don't know—don't want to know—what foopah is. I like not knowing. I can sort of gather what it might or could be, one or two possibilities let's say. Brett and Josh offered to tell me but I asked them please not to.
It strikes me as uncanny that The Foopah Guy reminded me of that scene from JFK in which David Ferrie, played by Joe Pesci, is embroiled in a homosexual orgy with characters portrayed by Kevin Bacon and Tommy Lee Jones. They're in the great room of some big old mansion in, where else, New Orleans having sex and doing poppers and...their faces are painted in silver or gold or bronze. No jesters caps but The Foopah Guy would have fit into that scene perfectly.
On this second occasion seeing him, Pat perked up immediately and started talking to him on the street. I took evasive action. And in so doing I looked down at the street and saw a crinkled up dollar bill. I grabbed that dollar bill and I could see the doors of the hotel not too far in the distance. From behind me I swear I heard The Foopah Guy say something like, "Hey, give me back my dollar!" But I was far beyond his reach by then.
XIII. Lagniappe Epaulettes.
I am lackluster on this Monday morning in New Orleans. I need some exercise and some sober sleep. Before this trip ends, before I stop writing I want to describe this place more.
There are horse-drawn carriages, not a lot, just a few. They are a means of giving a tour, an historic tour of the French Quarter. A horse-drawn carriage came down St Philip, past CC's as B was getting a café au lait. The lady with the reins told the horse to halt at the stop sign. She was explaining how the public school across the street came to be there. It was funded by the person whose name was on the building; this person had established schools all over the country, she said, each one with his name followed by a number.
Earlier today B and I had walked up Esplanade, where B was told she could find a USPS dropbox. I had wanted to mail a letter I'd written to my aunt and uncle. As we walked back into the Quarter from that dropbox at Esplanade and Royal, we watched what I assume were locals riding their bikes through the washed-down, building-shaded streets. A fellow on a skateboard pushed his way along holding what I took to be his uniform: something a hotel worker, a doorman would wear.
There are little work zones ubiquitously sprinkled throughout the Quarter. The open crevasse running along Rampart is not so little. Between here and Decatur north of the Cathedral a messy torn-up stretch of street has an open, flowing pipe protruding from it, the water running endlessly, out of the pipe, into the gutter, back down the drain. These work areas feel to me as if they are begun on an a hunch, exploratory in nature, then forgotten about, abandoned. Collapsed, shattered, missing stones. We saw a missing stone bring a woman low. Sandy mulch, slattern plastic roll-out cordon. Bums, loiterers, street people. Some sleep right on the street, covering themselves from head to toe, lying on cardboard, cozied up to a wall, snoozing as we all walk by.
There is a distinction applicable to the street people of New Orleans. There are the truly homeless: dirty, wild-eyed, sick, desperate. Then, like along Decatur, there exist a younger sort of street person, the carnie-types: recently showered, dressed in dark colors, accompanied by a token dog (usually a pit-bull mix). These street people are as cynical as a diamond is hard. They might not need your money but they don't think you should have it either. I despise these street carnies of Decatur. They wake up and look for someone's way to get into and then spring at any chance to take offense or lay guilt. I remember them from being in New Orleans in 2014. They seem to be the same people in the same place, crowding the sidewalk on Decatur between Café du Monde and the French Market. It is almost as if someone is actually paying them to be there—some washed-up prophet who still has the wherewithal to make the tourists of New Orleans a little less comfortable, by remote.
There is graffiti but not good graffiti. It's a graffiti completely devoid of typography. It's probably being done by the Decatur Dreck. On the empty buildings, on electrical exchange boxes, on plywood—all of these are fair game.
"I gave her seven dollars, she hands me four beers. I was like, 'This is not good at two in the morning.'"
A snippet from a conversation I hear in passing in the lobby. I wish I was writing more of these down. Yesterday or two days ago a guy on a cell phone passing me on the sidewalk said in a resigned tone, "Well, things finally came to a head last night."
The lobby is busy at the moment. Groups are waiting for valets to fetch their cars. It seems like quite a process. Who knows how far away those cars get stashed. There aren't any parking garages in the Quarter that I can recall seeing.
Manhole covers with the letters "NOPSI". New Orleans Public Sewer Institution? The 'I' really baffles me. I'll look it up later. Shutters. Lots and lots of painted wood shutters. Painters, electricians, plumbers, and exterminators. Carcasse of a crawdad. Blackened banana peel. Poop bag. Broken bottles. Bottle caps. A Heineken two-thirds full—of something. Bikes chained to columns, poles, and sign posts everywhere, slouching down along the posts, approaching horizontality on the sidewalk, getting in the way. Old, basic bicycles. One-way streets. I am about to cross. Does my direction have stop sign or is the stop on the street I'm crossing? Old, faded paint doing pedestrians no favors on the pavement at the intersections. Look out for those riding the bikes, too. They are sometimes moving faster than the cars, and can hide better—behind a horse-drawn carriage, for example. Hurry across the busy street, but it might be wet, don't slip.
The public bathroom by the French Market, its urinals closed off, wrapped in black plastic bags, yellow caution tape strewn about like tinsel on a Christmas tree. Use the stall, condensation on the walls, condensation on the toilet tank, writing scrawled in all those places, too: most of it dirty, hateful but one marker had made an attempt to inspire.
Balconies, verandas, railings. Flags. Stoops. Trash containers. Trash cans, too, at most corners but even more of the large plastic bins set out by staff or residents to be picked up. Trash runs every night, no such thing as trash day in the Quarter.
An alley lined with stone and mortar. Brick buildings. The French language. Sunlight and cigarette butts. Emptied sugar packets. Grates. Cox Communications covers. Drain pipes, down spouts, spinning sound of a circular saw. Smoke. Small metal discs affixed to the pavers along this alley, one every ten feet. A smaller circle in the middle of these little discs, with two prong-holes punched in the middle. I have no idea what all of these little metal discs are for but they are omnipresent.
Wooden doors. French doors. Lockbar, cord sheath. Dormers, slate roofs—lots of slate roofs. Slate mulch for trees on Esplanade. Fluorescent plastic straws, a few pennies. Failed mortar. Church bell. If I had started counting from the top I would know what time it was. Gum wrappers, gum. Cracks. A red substance—wax? Wrought iron. Gas lamps, flickering flames. Cool breeze. The neck of a glass bottle. Spigots lacking handles. Woebegone cigars. Sheathes now for the downspouts. Tender aluminum? Spit, phlegm, leaves. Trumpet playing on Jackson Square. Heels on these pavers, dog snuff, bags being rolled along their luggage wheels burning and turning. Feathers, sparkles, glints, sequins. Buttons. Shadows. This building I'm leaning on improved by the Works Progress Administration, 1935-1936. Trumpeter playing and singing that Hank Williams song, "...down the bayou...," his singing not as good as his trumpet playing and I'm a little hung over, a little emotional, having a moment here, a future memory I think, tears caught on the inner face of my sunglasses.
Flathead screws in the alley, metal fencing wrapped around a window-unit air conditioner. Three-toned fire hydrants: black at the base, then silver, then yellow to top it off. Floodlights. Metal discs on buildings, too, with little nodules abutting their faces. Stained glass, painted wire. Benches, rust, definite wax, guy in a blue coat tipping the trumpeter a couple bucks, not even looking up as he does it, a thank you from the trumpeter, and a stiff, curt nod from the guy in the blue coat as he is walking away. Covered grass in the square, tiny weeds foot-holding in cracks. Chain for cap on fire hydrant. Cannons, potted plants, tags on the pots. Bunting. Mardi Gras colors: green, yellow, purple. American Darling Valve. Dry top. Exposed brick, the Cabildo. Balustrade. Traffic impediment. Chimneys, palm readers, magicians. Still men, sword swallowers. Art. Puddles. The Arsenal. "Jackson could have been shelled out in ten minutes." The Flanking Battery. Brigadier General David Banister Morgan held his position. Kid with a bike and a milk crate. Throwing things, laughing. Cubs the Poet. A painter, working en plein air, with watercolor. Tile street signs inset to building corners. Taxis by the hotel. Fragment of erstwhile post, stubborn metal stuck in stone. Siren squawk. Fiddler, his bike with a milk crate basket, his coat draped over the basket, his toe tapping the slate. Street people with bedrolls, dogs, a guitar, and a tambourine. This place can be hard to believe. Water sitting in the gutter, a sticker unstuck, devised now to wind. Painting and prints for sale, hanging on a black metal fence, transient ivy. Down Royal, rising high above Canal, the Hotel Monteleone. Festoonery, ladders, shops. A band starts up. Crushed slice of lime. Grapefruit husk tossed under bushes. Hairband, sprinkler head, actual ivy. A clock, crosses. Half of a comb. Upturned bowl of Frosted Flakes un-frosted in the gutter. Sandwich-board sidewalk sign. Lingerie store, dashes of spray paint. "Get them boots shined, big daddy!" Standpipe. Jackson Square Mall jogger. Ukulele and violin duet doing, "Every Breath You Take." A tramp on the grass in the Square doing downward dog. A long, semi-oval metal bench, perhaps once painted red. It's a trio, not a duet there are two fiddles and they're nailing it. I'm getting emotional again. Maybe it's the aspirin. Pigeon, sparrow, more yoga. Pods hanging on a redbud. Where the birds are. Plank, ankle rolls, song ends, applause, a whistle. Pigeon saying hello, orange iris black pupil. This city is a religious experience right now, I am enmeshed in hierophany, God is good. This is all just here and it is an offering and all I have to do is relay it to you. That is why I am here right now, to listen to this music and try best I can to describe this place to you—train, church bell, sniffle, sparrow chirp ensemble. Live oak, tendrils its branches, crashing now of church bells, twelve o'clock, high noon. A fly, pecking by pigeon, church bells resounding, fading—re-enter the violins, staccato strumming. Gnarling of redbud trunk. Song ends, tramps asleep, train gone, pigeon walking away. Cursing a little ways away down Chartres, spell broken.
Luke Winslow King's old guitar. Sweater, legs crossed, thick head of hair. Bass, big wooden bass, a head of hair on the bassist, too: Kid n Play or Kramer, eyes like our friend Bobby. Wooden floors, church pew, fleur de lis brand stamped on the end. One drink minimum, "dueling bitch faces". Like we're not getting drinks in here. But it's tough out there, lots of places to get a beer, plenty of music. Domino Sugar Refinery. Dimly lit, ceiling fan wobble, Pat and Anne dancing. Old luggage CD display. $40 tip, CD for Dad, the new one. Harmonica. Clean sound, blues. Anne is drunk, happy, dressed in black. Is the bassist drinking a Stiegl? Pat says, "This puts us on pace for 48." This is the second set, we're on Frenchmen St. There are full trash cans out there. The schizophrenic shirtless bum—isn't he cold?—was at Esplanade and Frenchmen, with a shirt on. Was it all an act? No. He was shirtless and he is and remains crazy. He was basking under an umbrella when I went back to the Square to see if the violinists were back and they were. I went up and dropped $2 in their pink collapsible tip jar, not realizing that The Five were all standing there on the steps. Pat asked the crazy guy to give the violinists some room. The guy did pick up his milk crate and move away a bit. I said at first, earlier, that the violinists were a duo, then I said it was a trio. It was indeed a trio but it is really two violinists and their baby! The baby sits in a bjorn on the male violinist's back. Brett had said, "That's not a real baby. It's part of the guy's backpack." Fairchild was insisting it was a real baby. I don't think they had the baby with them when I hear them at noon but I don't really know.
Luke is playing his second guitar, the one with the twang. It's metal of some sort, crushing, rhodium perhaps. Velvet curtains. Pat is the dance floor. Mirror ball, Pat's blackberry Teiche: "A dirty, nasty, funk of a beer. It's like a dirty sock. Fuuuuck." Luke is from Cadillac, MI. He has a fishing sensei. Sensei tells him, "Luke, stop putting it up in the shit." Bad cast into the mangroves is what I picture. Prytania porter. Framboise at 2.5% ABV? I bought two beers, cost $14. I gave her a twenty, she gave me $13 back. She was at the end of "two long days here" and I started to say something about the incorrect change. But I only started. It was like getting dealt pocket aces. I got up from the table and walked away.
XV. The Last of the Last Night.
I am rent, I am being rendered, torn asunder, Millstadt rendering, reek of departure off in the distance, seeping into present day. We are in bed, WWOZ lowered but still on. Older songs, "In the Still of the Night," for instance. My dad would know who sang it and when. The dee-jay is running down all of the songs he's just played and he says that "In the Still of the Night" is the most-requested oldie of all time. That's funny because it doesn't strike me as being overplayed. There was that TV show, I never watched any of it. [Well, the show was "In the Heat of the Night", completely irrelevant....]
It's being in bed that's tearing me asunder. Giving up on the night, accepting the mortality of the trip. It is ending and it makes me sad to think about it. Why not hang on? Vonage is hanging on. Still down on Frenchmen. Plenty going on there. There was a second act after Luke Winslow King. I bet they went to it. After seeing Luke we had dinner a couple doors down. I was already feeling worn down before the show. Wiggy. Standing there on Frenchmen, outside the outdoor art market with the weird alien penis painting, I had a thought about bailing, doing a walkabout. It was paranoia. It's the alcohol and the caffeine and all of the sensations this place with impart upon a person.
Check-out is noon. All I want to do tomorrow is wake up feeling fresh, which at this moment looks very possible. And then I want to get out with my pen and paper and do some more describing of areas. I am happy with what I wrote earlier on Jackson Square and over by the Cathedral. I crashed hard afterward, though. I was drained. I can't eat drink and eat and hardly sleep and then have a revelation about God and existence and then expect to be bright and chipper and amiable and interlocutory. Or maybe that's exactly how I should have seemed after having such a positive existential episode—as opposed to the dread and dreck I usually mine my salt in.
XVI. One More Time Around the Block.
I've got photos from this trip but they're not digital. I took them with my pen and they take a long time to develop. Sluice carved in pavers, running from building downspout to ground-level drain a couple of feet away. Through Pere Antoine Alley, back to the Jackson Square Mall. One musician is out there, a trombonist doing a very quiet, very slow "Amazing Grace." Glenn Frey died, Mike Shannon is closing his downtown restaurant, and he won't do any road games. Now it's the saddest, dreariest rendition of "America, The Beautiful" anyone has ever heard.
It's sunny on this Tuesday morning and not too cool. The Square is locked up but the fountain is still running. I went over and took the trombonist's photo. He singing now, "Only Fools Rush In." I tipped him a buck. There was nothing else in his tip back but a folded-up piece of sheet music.
It's 8:15. Someone is opening up the gates and the front doors of the Cathedral. Chime. Outside Tableau on San Pedro a man is hosing down the sidewalk, right where those kids with the milk crate were throwing things at each other yesterday. The water must be hot, there is steam. And it must be soapy, there are suds. A woman comes out of Spitfire Coffee chuckling, goes and gets into a car on Royal and drives away. I go down St. Ann to Chartres, corner of the square. There are diners in The Stanley, but they have a mediocre air about them. Down to Dumaine, back up to Royal.
Royal is awash now in suds, rivulets making their ways to the curb. I've been wondering how or why the streets are always so wet, it can't just be the condensation. It had to've been a truck or a big ole street machine made that scene, cleaning these streets, but I missed it. Maybe next time.
—St. Louis/New Orleans,
Thursday, November 12, 2015
Vodka Taste Challenge, 11.12.2015
Vodka 1. Sting. I'm drinking in a snifter. Letting it cool a bit, two cubes of ice. Lips afire, seems like that wouldn't happen with the Tito's. On further sips, mellowing, doesn't seem that unfamiliar. Really no taste at all to speak of, no smell. With the melting of the cubes, the taste goes closer and closer to that of water. B has the classical station on, this after the jazz station gave us a wide saucy baritone version of 'Summertime.' Duh, it's just about the middle of November. Roof of mouth still tingles some, like I've recently had a cough drop, or huffed a couple of menthols. Halogen light flickering in what I guess I'd have to call an old lamp. I bought it many years ago at the Office Depot at Big Bend and Clayton in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. I used to get so high and go in there, it was like Wonderland, all of the pens and notebooks and possible desk adornments.... That's it for Vodka 1. Just slurped down the wort. I think it's the Skyy..
Vodka 2. Less sting, broader taste but I'm not sure it's any better. I mean, they both taste the way rubbing alcohol smells, like evaporation fumes. I am snookered. Not drunk, but lost in this challenge. The first vodka had more sting but this one... my tongue tingles a little, a minute after my first sip... this one... hell, I don't know. They don't seem all that different. I'm going to get this wrong, I have a strong sense. It's a coin flip and yet having more information is going to lead me to have less than an even chance in guessing. It's very noticeable how less distinct each sample has become after the initial sip. Once water is in the admixture... forget it. Sting isn't necessarily bad for alcohols. I'm afraid to guess. I'll go with my first instinct. 1 Skyy, 2 Tito's.
Result: I was right: I was wrong.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
That's Just the Way it Works
Join me mad man,
Answer again, forget it.
Bulletin board bimbo,
I talked to Phil today,
I talked to Phil today.
It wasn't a wash,
we really, rarely talked.
Sunday, October 04, 2015
I. St. Louis to Salt Lake City.
I have jumped seats across the aisle. I paid up for legroom but the package I bought didn't come with any extra shoulder room. Alas. Alackaday.
It is not a full flight. I last flight I was on, from St. Louis to Los Angeles, wasn't full either. Behind me, along with me in the cabin are inter alia my wife and three of my dozen or so friends. The chicken is in the woods. It is a hen or a rooster. Hen, I think. I have selected from a snack tray the blue bag of mini pretzels. And, on second thought, a banana. The old man with the window seat one seat away scoffed at the pretzels, took the peanuts and a granola bar. They rest on a napkin on the empty seat between us. The laundry cats are in the basket, replete with anonymous fish.
I am sipping coffee; he orange juice, aka a little bit of the ole jugo de naranja. He has a cut over his eye, a wound above his elbow. His cane is in the cabin above my head. He raises slightly the window shield. Just as quickly he lowers it back down. The chicken is in the woods, anon anon.
Something led me to think just now of the band Ratatat and their song, "Montanita." I realiZe I left it off of the 'Montana' playlist Anne set up and invited us to add to. I was adding theme-themed songs—meta-themes, mother of memes. Montana; passport; glacier; aurora borealis; Alberta. I am otherwise indifferent to music at the moment, whatever you want to listen to. Whiplash, autograph. Neck hurts? Take an aspirin, laugh-in. The breakfast sandwich expands across the federal lands. No one even lives in Utah anymore. "I'm on a plane.... I can't complain...." I forgot that one, too.
After I went through the body scan sedan a TSA guard asked me to lift my left arm straight out to my side and then he patted my armpit. He'd found my sweat alright, half of it anyway. Flight attendant comes by with coffee. The one was enough. I pass. I demure, for sure, the cure. My skimpy goal for this flight, my picayune imperative, is to refrain from having to use the restroom. My fear is getting trapped in the aisle fore or aft the beverage cart; or having to stand outside the restroom for too long a time, standing there right on the doorstep of the poor folks with the seats right next to the restroom, crowded by the sloppy anxious passengers loitering on their doorstep. Shadenfruede, Sigmund Freud. Butter-scented candle, gold-plated candle. My name is—six forty a.m. mountain time on September 26, 2015. Wildcat, spoiled brat, exiled frat. Scaredy-cat welcome mat—come on then, come on in. National park, national party: no need to get arty: the wellhead's tapped but the rig's gone idle. Let's do math, let's take a bath. That chicken is back on the escalator!
I think the old man is asleep. Except, as I'm stealing glances at him, there's that cut nascently healing above/around his left eye and there's just the slightest suggestion that his eye is cracked a glimmer and he is leering back at me as I am leering at him. He looks a little like my grandfather, my dad's dad, gone...eighteen years now...a bit jowly, pot belly, light bulb polo with some kind go animal sewn on where the eponymous polo players would be...what is that animal? A sheep, a fox? A pox, on all the houses of the holy molybdenum.
I have brought two books, each of which I have read at least twice apiece. One, The Sun Also Rises. It is a copy I bought many years ago—18 years ago?—at the Memorial Hospital Book Bazaar in Belleville, IL. I am fairly certain I took that book to Mexico in college. Now it will also find its way into Canada! Reading a bit of it just now, it is as rich and stark as it ever was; there are parts I do not remember, probably because I did not understand them in the first place. Pernod for instance. He calls it imitation absinthe. Certainly this is the first time I have read the book having actually tasted Pernod. It's not my taste. I recently poured out what was left of a bottle I didn't want to sit in my cabinet any longer. I suppose Earnest would have frowned upon me. Sorry, Earnest, ye Great Pacer. It struck me too that the girl he picks up early is a prostitute. I am dense about the subtext in great books, kind of like how I am terrible about picking up song lyrics. Plot, meaning, and subtext aside: it is the rhythm and the sparseness of his prose that set something in motion inside me. All of the unused word. Th'economy.
The second book, Bill Luoma's Works & Days, is the second of two copies I've owned of it. The first I bought nine years ago at Subterranean Books on the Delmar Loop, back when they sold used books. Now it's all new books and I am still sullen with their decision to stop selling used books; I don't go there much anymore, once or twice a year to throw them a dime and pick up a gift; nobody ever goes there anymore, it's too new. I found my original copy in the poetry section, it was secondhand. It's not strictly a poetry book but that's as good a place as any for it. Prose poetry travelogue. Travelounge. I attempted to copy its style pace & rhythm when I wrote a journal about a trip to Jamaica back in 2009. I have not read the book since then. I leant it to a bandmate of my friend Brett. This bandmate seemed interested in writing and poetry and I figured he'd like Luoma. But Brett soured on him. Apparently this guy and his wife liked to swing. That's what Roy told me. He ended up out at their place one time, to go swimming. I'm not sure how he ended up out there, come to think of it. This bandmate had an apartment with a pool. He invited me out there the last time I talked to him. I guess he got the sense I wasn't ever going to come out to swim. That's how I lost that first copy of 'Works & Days' and why I had to get onto AmaZon to buy it used (again) a couple of years ago.
Loma might have copied Hemingway a bit. I'm going to rip off the both of them best I can. Hemingway, of course, is dead. I cannot find any other work by Luoma; shame. There's other works listed in 'Works & Days' as being by him but the last time I tried to find any of them all I came up with was a scrap about a guy living in Hawaii, working as a programmer of some sort, possibly utilising computer algorithms to produce a hop-scotch random sort of automatic poetry not different in concept than Burroughs's cut-ups, which I never cared for and which don't compare to his beat-diary classic, Junkie. I digress; I have an abscess in the annex, the narthex, it's complex, with flecks—of tungsten conducting an experiment of relative thought at a temperature as close to zero as we might reasonably get a haircut, get a real job, get lost and—found my way to...Montana...not quite sure how that happened.
I am in-setting the poem Luoma opens the book with. It is "Douglasses poem." I've inset it in at least one of my previous travelogues. Luoma writes, "It is a sad and beautiful poem about a broken car which makes you feel things. You can interpret it however you like, but it sets the stage for everything to come." I agree! And now, "Douglasses poem."
if the car is broken,
& we cannot go to get it,
if the car is broken,
& no one can go to get it,
if the car is old & broken,
wounded like the street,
broken like the broken parts
of these our broken lives,
& we remain?
I was thinking about this poem this past summer when the contractor working for Ameren (who was working for the city) came to put down sod on a patch of the right-of-way that sits between the sidewalk and the street out in front of my house. It all started when the bozo construction crew building a new house on a tear-down lot down the street was dicking around in the ground and snapped—for the second time in as many years—the electric cable that runs between the light post out in front of the tear-down and the lighthouse sitting by my house.
It was a Saturday and I was doing this and that in and out of the house while B was out running errands. A flatbed truck arrived carrying nothing at all. It parked right across the foot of our driveway, like it was looking for our driveway to cut it in half. It was part of a convoy of trucks, one of which held the sod. Figuring my wife was going to be back at some point that afternoon I went out to the fellas who were standing around chatting while a couple others did all of the work. "What's going on?" I said. A sun-bitten, rind-skinned smoker-for-life roofer-type told me, "Sod." That was it, a one-word answer. Sod. I'm looking at the three or four trucks and this patch afoot the light pole that might have been 25-square yards at the most and all I could do was shrug; look up and down the sidewalk. Quite an operation for this little patch, I wanted to say. Three big trucks, five or six guys.
"How long you gonna be here?" I ask.
"I can move right now if you need me to," said another guy.
I said that wasn't necessary, yet. They got the sod down and were gone twenty minutes later, just as quick as they appeared.
This was late July. They came and put the sod down but the sod wasn't going to take without additional care and maintenance. It led me to wonder: city lays the sod, but city doesn't water the sod—who waters the sod? That inquisitive rhythm reminded me of Douglasses poem. It is the same sort of question. Again I digress, I recess, I adjournal for lunch, crunch time and again and again & again. Ryan Hanigan again. Jack Clark. Will Clark. Clark Kent, naked on a beach in New Mexico. They don't have a beach in New Mexico? They do now. Its sand is laced with kryptonite.
The old fella took off his shoes. And then, no surely not—yes—he took his socks off too. I'm stealing a few peeks at his left foot. I was afraid it was going to be all messed up somehow—mad cow—but it's not. It looks OK and, breathing now through my nose again, I don't smell anything at all. Relief, Rolaids, trapezoids. Polaroids of the pyramids. Rhombuses of Ramses and a variety of other unclassified shapes. Seatbacks up and try tables returned to their locked position. Folks, prepare the cabin for landing!
II. Salt Lake City to Kalispell.
I'm up in row seven while the other four are opposite aisle one another, two each side, two rows back. There's a couple regular old folk in the row between us. Anne starts giggling and I turn around all serious, "No laughing! I'm trying to read up here." With a real pissed off look I do this.
"Mind you own!" she snaps back.
The couple in between us, startled out of a toddling nap, is wide-eyes and in the way.
"We're just joking," I say. "I know these people. They've been following me ever since I left St. Louis."
"Oh, OK," they say, awkward chuckles from the both of them.
That last part didn't actually happen. I just imagined it and thought it would be kind of funny. I am two rows in front of them, though—and I have been hearing Anne's occasional giggles. Rose and B are back there, too. I heard a snippet of dialogue between them as we lifted toward cruising altitude over the Great Salt Lake. They were talking about th'eponymous lake, I believe. What I noticed about the lake: I saw no boats. Is there no recreation on or involving the lake? I did not see any wildlife but I am rather far away so how could I tell, even if there were wildlife? What is the water source for the lake? We are in the middle of what I would otherwise call a desert. Where does all of that water come from? I thought I saw a river winding its way toward something. Perhaps the lake is fed by this river. Is the river also salty? Are there fish in the lake? Does the lake have a bodyguard? Does the bodyguard go fishing in the lake? Does the bodyguard keep the fish he catches or does he throw them back? If he keeps them, does he clean the fish himself? Or does he, in turn, hire someone that cleans the fish for him? Is the bodyguard so busy catching and cleaning the fish that he cannot do the bodyguard work that he was originally hired to do? Is this why there are not many famous or infamous people hanging about by the Great Salt Lake?
I had also been hearing behind me, amidst the landscape dialogue and the ticklish giggling, a baby. That baby is now right across the aisle from me! His helpless, provocative father brought that baby up here to gain hold of some peace and quiet. I discover now that this baby has no shirt on! How about if I take my shirt off? The father is bouncing the shirtless baby on his lap and making goo goo sounds while the facing-forward baby grabs at the worthless Delta paraphernalia in the seat pocket in front of the seat. The baby has quieted down since the father emigrated to this part of the plane. The baby has a piece of paper in his left hand, now his right hand, that he is shaking. The stewardess is going up and down the aisle soliciting trash. Trash, otherwise referred to with this incredible euphemism I heard right at the end of the STL to SLC flight, when the attendant called out for any remaining "used service items".
When we got off the plane, B came up to me and said, "How'd you and that little baby get along? It seemed like he got quiet once he went up and sat by you."
I said, "That's because when he got up there I went and leaned over to him and said, 'Listen here, you little punk. You better keep quiet around me or I'll whip your little baby ass.'"
And everybody laughed at my good-natured faux-curmudgeon humor as we strolled through the effulgent concourse of the expansive and karma-filled Kalispell airport before seamlessly snatching up our already-carouseling bags and practically walking right into our rental car which was parked right on the curb outside with the engine running and the radio turned to whatever channel on Sirius we were all going to agree we wanted to listen to
None of that actually happened either. I'm still on the plane but the father has taken his shirtless kid back to the back of the plane, though I still smell a little bit of baby in the air.... Oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen baby...baby air...baby bubble...bubble boy...the Moops, oops, I—I—I guess I didn't know that. The nose knows. A rose is a rose is a rose. Hemingway is at his best writing about Paris. The Sun Also Rises is a lot like A Moveable Feast with a stronger fictional bent, stripped down, made minimal. We are over mountains. I am listening to Milieu. The temperature in Kalispell is 36 degrees? That's what the captain said. He must be wrong. Or maybe that's in Celsius. Celsius Clay, the bizarro version of Casius Clay. European and swinging from the left.
I am writing in a journal made in Spain munching on Biscoff biscuits from Belgium, while reading a Kansas City newspaperman's account of his time in Paris. The descent into Kalispell has begun. Fun. These tray tables need to be returned to their seat-back position. Adieu for now, mon frer.
III. Cabin Outside Glacier, First Day.
It is Sunday morning. The alarm clock read, '3:21' but that wasn't right. It was 3:56. I put on my glasses and opened my phone, went to Instagram, the photo-tribune obsession of my travels. I strained against the screen in the dark before deciding to get up, go downstairs, turn on a light. I slept alright. The headache I had for most of yesterday is gone. I was hung over. The second flight in a row where too many beers the night before led to a mounting dehydration-fueled head-pounder. I've chastised myself enough already.
I posted my photo, of a peak catching a bit of the fading sun somewhere around magic hour yesterday. We were headed north along the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. We had stopped because of the way the light was hitting those peaks. Pat was driving. He upgraded the Santa Fe to a Suburban, a burgundy beast of a vehicle straight from Detroit with Bluetooth, USB ports, an excellent rear-view camera, and three rows of seats. When it was holding all of our luggage and then our groceries we were all glad for the space.
I am sitting here in this woody cabin drinking tea and writing and it is quiet. Pat had been out on the back deck last night looking at the nearly full moon when he realized how quiet it was. No insects, no birds, no airplanes. Occasionally a car will go by; there is a train track not far away, down the road, just past the point where the north fork and the middle fork of the Flathead River come together at the Blankenship Bridge. Where water comes together with other water. Take the north fork. So much water so close to home.
I have been delighted by how many rivers and creeks we have seen. I did not expect them. I am not much impressed by the lakes. Lake McDonald is big and rippling but it is also shapeless. The Flathead at Blankenship Bridge—the sound of a train in the distance—looked like a scene from Normal Maclean. There were fly fishermen in the river on either side of the bridge as we passed. I want to get into that river. Rivers move. Creeks move. The water of McDonald Creek could not have been more clear. That creek tracks the Going-to-the-Sun Road for a pleasant stretch between Lake McDonald and The Loop, a hairpin turn on the road at which point the elevation starts to take hold. From on high we caught sight of numerous creeks below and a few waterfalls here and there sluicing their way down various mountainside escarpments. There isn't much snowpack to speak of; I don't know where the water comes from. I am guessing we saw glints of Mineral Creek, Avalanche Creek, Hidden Creek.
Do not misunderestimate the size and augustness of these streams; I call them creeks because they have been dubbed, officially, as creeks. They look like rivers to me. Especially McDonald Creek. It's got pools deep as most rivers I've ever seen. It is wet and gets white and it flows. I believe the terminology is captive to the scientific text in this case. There must be some rule about what counts as a creek versus what can be dubbed a river. These creeks, best as I can tell from the map, all wend down through the Rocky Mountains of Glacier National Park and eventually feed into the various forks of the Flathead. Lincoln Creek, Harrison Creek, Nyack Creek, Pinchot Creek, Coal Creek, Muir Creek, Park Creek, Ole Creek, Bear Creek. When you've got so many tributaries in such close proximity, all feeding into the same body of water, I suppose they can't all be rivers so they must be creeks. And they're not especially long; they are about as long as their mounts are high.
This is all in the southern part, the southwest corner of the park. Our cabin is just south of the park, north of Kalispell, Columbia Falls, Coram. I did almost zero advance scouting for this trip. Pat and Anne have been here before. They got married in Kalispell, ten years ago tomorrow. Ten years gone. Time flies. Where does it go? Going, going, gone. You better watch the road, baby. The chicken is in the woods. Syrah, syrah.
The North Fork of the Flathead River hails from Canada. British Columbia. I am looking at this Waterton-Glacier park map in awe. Part of the park is in Canada, that's Waterton: Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta. B and I honeymooned in the maritime provinces of Canada but I have not sniffed Alberta.
I've got so much to say! The ink is flowing, the tea is strong and I am under a blanket in a recliner in Montana. As John Sterling would say, "How do you like that?" But that's baseball; that's a whole 'nother story.
The cabin has low beams. Some have clearance of less than 6'5". The wall on the staircase leading upstairs to the landing where our bed is has a nasty slant, requiring me to be very aware as I traverse the stairs. The water has a strong iron content, I do declare. I bent to wash my face yesterday and I could taste something in the water, I thought blood. It was like my nose had started to bleed as I began to wash my face; I have in the paste hit my nose just the right way while washing and opened it up, realizing only because the water then ended up in my mouth. This was the same exact taste. I have concluded that this cabin would be perfect for short vampires. Being neither short nor a vampire I plan to spend the bulk of my cabin time in this recliner drinking tea or out on the commodious back deck drinking beer.
The sky cleared sometime in the night. B stirs. It was mostly cloudy when Pat I and proclaimed our embers burnt and turned in somewhere around ten o'clock. Yet I was underwhelmed by the sky when I looked out and up this cool, clear morning in my barefoot for just a minute on the back deck. It's the moon. The moon is too bright. It's not going to be any less bright tonight. Indeed, tonight is a full moon, a Harvest moon, a super moon (the moon being as close to the earth as any full moon will be this year). And that's not all! If you order now we'll also send you a full lunar eclipse and a blood moon for no extra charge! See what I'm saying about the vampires liking it here?
We saw a small black bear yesterday but we did not see many birds; a stellar's jay; a robin (could have been a towhee); a quail (could have been a ptarmigan?). The bear was alongside the Going-to-the-Sun-Road and went back into the woods about ten seconds after we initially saw it. Pat had predicted we would see a bear on day one, and we did. Rose is somewhat concerned about encountering a grizzly on one of our hikes. The possibility is far enough above zero to be classified as legitimate. She bought a bell. I kind of wish I had a cowbell. I've always liked the sound. The point of the bell is to make noise; you don't want to surprise a bear and/or her family. There is a gratis can of bear spray in the cabin (but if you break the seal, you buy it). We should be OK, the five of us. It's six o'clock, mama bear. Do you know where your cubs are?
IV. Sunday Night: Blood Moon vs. Milky Way.
We had originally planned to go up to Logan Pass, the high point in the park along the Continental Divide, to see the Blood Moon. But I had doubts about us commanding The Beast along the Going-to-the-Sun Road in the dark and I said so. I told Pat it wasn't a comment upon his driving and I meant it. It is a narrow road; difficult enough in the light. And it would have been well into our cocktail hour.
We did phone research into the moonrise: when and on what horizon. Rise was 19:12 in the southeastern sky. I suggested we go down to the banks of the river banks, the ole Flathead. The sky was pretty open there. When we went down there in the light to scout it out the brush on the narrow, bumpy turnoff scraped the sides of The Beast something good—seemingly perfunctory warnings from the rental car agent about "No Off-roading" echoed in my worried head.
When the hour arrived Pat drove us down there. As we worked our way toward the bridge the moon jumped out to us suddenly, big and round and orange and we were headed straight for it. We lost elevation and we lost our view for the moment. Cocktail in hand, Pat first drove over the bridge, missing the turnoff. There were already a bunch of locals down on the banks and multiple bonfires were burning. We made to join them. It was a pretty sight, people out under the moon on a riverbank having a fire and being outside on a Sunday night. The moon was just about in full eclipse when we parked on the rocks not too far from everyone else.
It was a rusty, orange, large, eclipsed moon. It moved quickly through its arc. Once the eclipse was full, the rest of the night sky came out of hiding. The Milky Way was straight overhead. I realize we won't have another lunar eclipse until 2033, but I'd be much more unhappy if you were to tell me that I would not get to see the Milky Way again until 2033. That ghostly ribbon is the prize of any sky. The only thing I'd rather see is a comet. The Way ran from the southwest to the northeast, straight above through Cassiopeia. Pat had his camera trying different exposures to nail it. I don't think he was satisfied with what he got. I'm afraid he will not have a better chance on this trip. The moon will be just one day off of full tonight, plenty bright. Maybe when we are in Canada, once the moon is set, one morning along 3:30 or so. Will I be awake? Will he? It's 2015 and the climate is changing. Do you know where your glaciers are?
I believe I could write a long, groping passage about glaciers but I don't want to fail in my responsibility to record for posterity the simpler items on my agenda, e.g. the cornucopia of other action from yesterday, Sunday, September the whatever.
We hiked the Avalanche Lake Trail from the Trail of the Cedars trailhead along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Taking our time to snap photos and pause at the end of the trail at the head of the lake we were out on the trail for three-and-a-half hours. We could not agree on what distance it was we had hiked. I cannot say for sure that we did more than six miles. The park map was not as helpful as you might think. It was chilly at the head of the lake, a wind dancing off of its surface and cutting right through me. We snacked. I peed. I am driving myself craZy with my small bladder and its itchy-trigger-prostate on these excursions. I think I might have a drinking problem—I'm drinking too much water! Pat remarked last night that he thought he drank one liter over the course of the whole day. I drank two liters on the Avalanche hike alone and had to race like a pisshorse again by the time I got back to the trailhead. I was militant with the sensation. No one wants to get between a mother bear and her cub; no one wants to get between me and a place to take a leak when my bladder is beating with a pulse in my pelvis. I need to figure something out.
Where was I. There are lilies in here. Pat got them for Anne, the same arrangement they had ten years ago. I am somewhat allergic to lilies; a shame.
I want to voice briefly my wonder about the lakes and the creeks here. I've discussed this with my comrades. Where is all of this water coming from? Snow melt they say. What snow? Glacier melt. T'ain't many glaciers anymore, not enough to fun all of these creeks 24-7, no way. Not unless I am simply underestimating, by magnitudes, how large and how voluminous these remaining, global-warming holdout glaciers really are. Could the source be a sort of groundwater? Maybe, but then the water table has to be somehow higher within the tallest mountains, rising like a column within them. I am missing something. The simplest explanation, my dear Occam, is: snow up high/snowpack/glacier; melts, reaches lakes via waterfall or sluicing through the body of the rock; lakes themselves also happen to be spots where the water table is high, commingling with the melt-off and/or there are springs somewhere on the undersides of these lakes, turbo-charging the runoff; the lakes then drain, slowly, via the creeks. We saw an example of this process yesterday. There were two waterfalls high above the head of Avalanche Lake. That water reaches into and constantly feeds Avalanche Lake, replenishing the lake at a rate identical to that at which the lake loses water into Avalanche Creek. Meaning: the creek must run in volume and at a rate equal to that of the waterfalls reaching the lake. Avalanche Creek runs into McDonald Creek. McDonald Creek feeds the lengthy Lake McDonald. McDonald Lake spills into the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. The Middle Fork of the Flathead River comes together with the North Fork of the Flathead River at Blankenship Bridge, becoming the "just plain" Flathead River, where I saw a beaver yesterday morning; where we saw the last of the three blood moons; where we were given, for one night only, The Galaxy; where we had a bonfire after the locals tried to drown it; where we ate peperoncini Kettle Chips; where we "crushed the Dickel"; where we walked along the flat, smooth rocks. From which place we left at ten-fifteen last last to have Rose make us reuben sandwiches. Which were good.
[Author's Note: Sometime later in the trip, after we had left the short vampire cabin, we were talking about the water again and Pat harkened back to the way that, about mid-morning, once the sun got going, water would drip off of the corrugated iron roof of the cabin...drip, drip, drip in the morning sun. This water came from frost, he said. If there is so much water suddenly sliding off of the roof of the cabin every morning, where the night before there was none, why cannot frost-melt be an important piece of the waterfall; lake; creek: where does it all come from puzzle?]
V. 20 Grams of Protein and a Case of Iron-Water Heartburn.
It is Tuesday morning. B has been caught in the heartburn vortex. She's never had it before. I've given her some of my generic Pepsid completes. At dinner at Belton Chalet last night we all talked about what could have caused the heartburn. The cabin's blood water or the 20-grams-of-protein bar she ate on the hike. Breakfast couldn't have been the culprit because we hadn't eaten any. The folks at the Lake McDonald Lodge closed down the buffet to new entrants sometime before ten o'clock; we got there a few minutes 'til ten thinking as long as we got through the door at ten we were good; we weren't.
Pat suggested the heartburn resulted from a combination of things and he's probably right. Protein bar: a too-potent combination of protein and vitamins. The iron-laden blood water she drank on the hike (and in her morning coffee). The ibuprofen she took to alleviate the slight hangy she had as a result of our frolicking under the moon and Way. The up-and-down topographic nature of our badass nine-mile hike Monday along the Highline Trail. The nut mix, which also contains chocolate in the form of M & M s. The coffee she had yesterday afternoon. The red wine we were then having at dinner (Hill Family Barrel Blend from Napa, $42). The rich meal, her dish beef tips in sauce. The caffeine she is about to have this morning, etc., etc. The heartburn vortex spins and spins, and when it will stop nobody knows.
I will go into town this morning, to the Smith's, and I will get more heartburn pills. I brought enough for myself. I took half-a-one yesterday...the richness of the meal, the red wine, the protein bar, the up-and-down nature of our badass nine-plus-mile hike along the Highline Trail, starting out at Logan Pass and proceeding what was four-and-a-half or five miles before turning around. It is a little more than eleven miles from Logan Pass down to The Loop. We could have done it, I now realiZe. Before we set out I could not have even contemplated doing eleven miles. It would have been grueling; the last couple of miles could have gotten chippy. That's what happened with me and B down the stretch as we hiked Bear Lake to Fern Lake Shuttle Stop in Rocky last year. But we could have done it. Of course, the shuttles normally running between Logan Pass and The Loop are shut down for the season so we would have had to hitch our way back, something we probably would not have planned to do. Alas. Alackaday. We will get our change to do a longer hike when we do Crypt Lake. That will test our endurance.
And it will re-test Rose's fear of heights. She had trouble getting through the initial stretch of the Highline Trail. That stretch consists of a three-foot-wide ledge with not much of an escarpment below you. There was nothing running along the wall to hold onto. (There was a series of metal loops drilled into that wall, through which a cable can run...but the cable was not there.) I was out in front of everyone as we set out. Pat and Anne were figuring something out back at Logan Pass, I can't remember what. B and Rose were a ways behind me. I heard some commotion and hiked back toward them as they had paused on the skinny stretch of the ledge. Rose was upset with height. I had not looked down much myself. My glass at that moment half-empty, I told her she should turn around. I really didn't think she was going to make it. This turned out to be a really terrible piece of advice. Oh, hindsight: we seek to use you to show how we were right but too often you reveal the opposite! Pat and Anne caught up and urged her on. Pat and Anne, the bulls on one side; me and B, the bears on the other. The bulls won yesterday. It is always better when the bulls win. Being a bear is part of my current nature, and I do not seek to trans myself. With the bear mindset comes vigilance and straight-face and awareness of risk. It is a useful mindset but when the bulls win out I am left feeling weighty and dour and curmudgeonly.
I am sipping on some re-heated coffee. There are burgundy-bottomed wine glasses in the sink. I couldn't stay up. I had a vodka rocks after dinner but it went down into a hole. I know that if I have a drink and it has zero effect on ushering me toward drunkenness that I am done and it is time to retire. It was originally acid reflux, my brand of heartburn, that led me to vodka rocks as a drink option, especially later on in the day. I wrote a random line awhile back, "All alcoholics eventually turn to vodka." No color, no congeners, no flavor. No dime thrown toward that flaming, churning bum in my throat. Vodka is simply a vodka molecule tossed into my bloodstream to quiet the murmurs of want before my liver takes those whispers out of circulation. Form follows function. The season is the reason. The chicken is in the woods, the bear is on the hill. Qu'elque'une, qu'elque'une, one day beyond the blood moon. I took a shower in blood, I took a shower in blood. Meet me at the Montana Motel Six. Ah-ah-ah, we got plenty of time.
The sound of a train in the distance. Union Pacific has money problems, says Anne at dinner. The stock is at $85, down from $124.52 earlier this year. The stock market fell a lot yesterday. I had a bevy of limit orders click off. My dad and Eileen were there; crutches. Yesterday was pretty ugly from what I could tell. The biotech stocks were among the biggest losers. I'm glad to say I never swam too deep in that pool. Some of the funds I've been buying, though; there's some floaters in what they're swimming in. Some warm spots of water. Some yellow snow. One fund I've been buying was down over four percent yesterday. Ouch. YowZa. For numerous clients I had moved money into that fund and out of one of its stodgy, laggard siblings. Even if you are making the right move in the long-term, the market will make your decision look wrong in the short-term. That is its nature. There's nowhere to hide at the moment. Cash. Rose said it yesterday, "Cash is king." No one wants to hear that when the Federal Funds Overnight rate is zero percent. But it's true. It's true now, always has been, and always will be. Beauty's truth, truth beauty. That is all I know, and all you need to know.
Enough stock market talk. What is this, a cocktail party out on Long Island in the waning days of summer? Except one thing. I want to point out, for the record, as it related to the case of Randle vs. Randle, that last year when I was in Rocky Mountain National Park, I was all hot and bothered and exasperated because I had been, over the course of the preceding twelve months, too cautious about committing new dollars to the stock market. I was, in practice, moving too slowly for too many customers. According to the scoreboard of the moment, I was dead fucking wrong. I spent so many months cursing the S&P 500 because it would not correct. The shoe is on the other foot now, isn't it, Jacky Boy? The grass is always greener until you get to the other side and you realize that your mistake was in the going. This is life! I am wrapped in living it and the wrap is a little tight at the moment. If I allow myself to be unhappy about the market being down when I am gone, then what was last year about when I flaked out circa Labor Day and hit the road in search of my soul because it would not come down? The answer lay somewhere in the middle approach, the "showing up" part of the job, the 90% of life. Just show up. Don't try to be right all of the goddam time! I will never be right enough consistently enough to keep myself happy. It was the being right about it that I couldn't get away with. There has to be a hit in the hair in the wood. Good. But how do you catch that? Said another way, "What shakes in the canebrake, kemosabe?" Attempts at correctness kill what kindles inside me. But I'm supposed to be so smart. Shhh. Shhh to all of that. That is a magazine cover. That is a trending tweet. It is not a way.
We are parked in a day-use area of a National Forest Service Campground. We pulled off to get a better look at Big Creek, a Flathead River tributary. This is one of the spots the bull trout swim up river to in order to spawn. You aren't supposed to fish for them. The exhibit sign said they are especially vulnerable to capture. Days ago Pat had read something about a trout that swims upstream. I said, "No, that's salmon." He said, "Them too. But I read about trout." He was right. I've never said to myself, "Pat isn't as bright as I am." But I was damned when he was telling me more about fish than I knew. I read fly fishing books in high school. Books set in Montana! Am I getting stupider or is everyone else just starting to read a whole lot in secret, in the dark, when I am four beers deep and listening to baseball? What in the hell is going on around here? The bull trout swim upstream from Flathead Lake and they spawn in places like Big Creek. Pretty stream, moving smoothly along. Blue, soon to reach the North Fork.
We are proceeding south to Columbia Falls, then west to Whitefish for lunch and shopping. No long hike today. Plenty else to do. We did a short loop hike earlier along the Huckleberry Mountain Nature Trail. Pat wants to go back into the park later, to the west side of Lake McDonald looking east for a sunrise shot, the light against the mountains.
Corrugated unpaved road. Washboard road. Dust. Car massage. Pat asked a day or two ago: what process causes this washboard road surface topography? It's a good question. One I intend to answer with study. We're seeing aspen today. Honest to god aspen. It was paper birch along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. White bark and yellow leaves, but not aspen.
I am outside Great Northern Brewing Company in Whitefish, MT. Here comes B. I can smell the wort fermenting. We had beer and lunch in there earlier. Generous space, good beer. We sat up top, along the beer. Some guy and his wife went in there and the guy got offended when the bartender asked him if he wanted to try some beer. In a brewery of all places. My pen is trying to run out of ink on me. Anne and Rose are shopping still. I had a cold brew nitro with Pat after lunch. I am sitting and looking at an intersection. A guy gets out of his old white Explorer and does something to the trailer hitch as he's stopped. Damn this pen. There was some sort of sadness in that act, the guy having to stop at an intersection in his old Ford, on the doorstep of the Farmer's Market, trying just to hold his trailer in his place. He's got his wares in there, probably. A lot is riding on whether he can sell them. The desperation of that hits me and sits in me and makes me weak. B wants the key to get a bottle of water out of The Beast. She's walking away, down Central. I was not in a mood to talk about much. This is a re-vitalized area. There are strata visible. There are spotty spots our zero-rate economy has decided to bliss. From our table in the brewco I could see a dozen ski runs along the mountainsides in the distance. This is a second-home town. It feels a tad specious. There is construction and heavy trucks on a weekday. No bums but a lot of old cars, some with a gad of bumper stickers. An older lady with gold shoes, pink socks, and a bag from Ace Hardware comes walking along. Her daughter meets her in the intersection near the Farmer's Market and takes the Ace bag. On Central between here and the BNSF tracks is where the Farmer's Market will occur. We parked in that space originally but had to move it after being there a couple of hours. Closer to the tracks are swathes of parking reserved for BNSF employees only. I would wager the railroad is the largest employer in town.
Back comes B with a coffee. She is sitting down. It is a damn hard thing finding the time to put a few words down. Can a chap get a pen that works and some silence? I'm being peevish when I want to be random. A woman goes by leaving her potpourri perfume in my nose. Kegs and eggs Sunday October 4th. Another old Explorer comes by, this one sounding like a mining operation. An old Buick with a young driver. Here comes the coal bed explorer, pumping out exhaust like a diesel VW....
Is this pen working any better now? Not really. It is 11:34 pm mountain daylight time on Tuesday, September 29th. Tomorrow is the end of the month. Tom Arrow. After sitting there on Central in Whitefish we went for a beer at the other brewery in town, Bonsai. The beer wasn't as good, neither was the setup. From there we went into the park, to the west side of Lake McDonald as planned, for photos circa sunset. The highlight was as were leaving, seeing three black bears, presumably a mother and her two cubs, crossing the road. After that we went and ate, chicken or fish with fry bread, at the Back Room of the Nite Owl. I had an IPA. Back here we struggled to reach consensus as to what hike we would do tomorrow. Tom Arrow. I am ready for sleep. Goodnight.
VI. Wild Goose Wednesdays.
It is now Wednesday morning. We will go up to Canada today. It is uncertain whether we will stop to hike between here and there. It seems that most of the trails in the St. Mary's Lake area remain closed as a result of fires in that area over the last couple of months. That leaves Many Glacier but we are not up for Grinnell Glacier; Grinnell Lake isn't enticing. Ptarmigan Falls is appealing but is also considered to represent the heart of grizzly country in the park. Factoring that in—considering we would not have bear spray—I put in a word for getting to Canada sooner rather than later and finding a hike up there somewhere. Lineham Falls? We will see. We lack consensus.
It is quiet here in the cabin except for the clicking of a clock, the sporadic whoosh of a car on the road, and the scratching of this pen against this paper. The ink is flowing again, I can't explain why it was sputtering in Whitefish. I can't find the other pen I thought I packed. I have always carried a back-up pen but not this time. I'm drinking tea and siting in the recliner. Getting all of our stuff back out of the cabin and back into the Suburban is going to be a pain. We are going to try to use up all of the food we bought the day we arrived but we will probably end up tossing some of it and leaving some it, in hopes that it will find a stomach somewhere down the line. Six beers in glass bottles sans their caddy. Those'll find a home.
The pen is sputtering again. It felt like my writing voice crashed yesterday. I'm not getting a whole lot of time to sit and relax on this trip. It's go, go and I'm trying to go with the flow. Damn this pen. It's seven o'clock and no one else is up yet. At this rate we will not be at our hotel, with a hike under our belts, until six o'clock at the earliest. It will be two hours until we leave here; it will take four hours to get to Canada; it will take four hours to hike; and there will be one hour of unpredictable miscellany. Alas, alackaday, I'll get drunk all day, look for that chicken in the woods. Today is the last day of the month, the last day of the quarter. It looks like the stock market will be up today. It will open higher, anyway. It will need to hold those gains throughout the day before I believe tomorrow will not be a lower close yet. It had plumbed the 12% decline level again yesterday, after having hit that level twice briefly in August. Christ, Jack, stop talking about stocks. This isn't art; this isn't even travel writing. What is this, a financial blog? A flog? A log in the lake. Log lady down. Crown, of the continent, and us on top of the Motel 6.
Lurch. Anguish in hamstring. Tingle in toes, feet apulse. I cannot move; it will cause the Suburban to move, off of the cliff. Death down there, no coming back. Haystack Falls can descend in that direction, I cannot. Lead. Leaden. One tire, the front right one stick its nose where it doesn't belong and—into the haze, son. Young son. To the light. Climbing. Bending. Dropping. God in an Indian on Dramamine, going to the Sun.
Goats above the Weeping Wall. Heart is a drum. Stopping. See 'em up in the rocks? Hoppin' around? Up where the rocks meet the grass?
I still haven't figured it out, couldn't explain. What, exactly, is a glacier? Do glaciers have momentum? Do they actually move, sliding along the land and scouring out deep landscapes? Or they just freeze and thaw and sort of blob-pulse their way along? Do they weep and moan? Smile and cry? Build roads, destroy them? Make mountains, move them?
Set the controls for the heart of the sun, Jack. This road was completed somewhere in the thirties, is that right? When did it begin? Switch back to black-out. I think about jumping whilst the glacier pertains.
Siyeh Creek. A guy with his binoculars out. We stop, look that way, don't see. On down to the Jackson Glacier overlook. "And runnin', and runnin', and runnin', and runnin'." We runnin' rebel, we trippin' treble, we on the level, we really revel.
Into the burn toward St. Mary's Lake. Sand bars, burnt trees, glitter, and glimmer. Burned on both sides. Hell of pretty lake, though. Lots of cordon: shiny, bare glossy black trees still standing guard around the lake. Large trees, too. We are stopping for a look at that little island out in the lake, that I have been suggesting, with perhaps no basis at all, is called Wild Goose Island. Damn this pen again. Can't a cap get some ink? Boy that sun is warm on my face.
VII. Tales from the Crypt Lake Hike.
It is Thursday, the first of October. Canadian dime, do you have the time? It is 18:24. We have endured a full day of hiking in the mountains. Up and up, up a thin ladder chained to a rock, along a sharded ledge as we held fast to a flighty cable before eventually making it to Crypt Lake. It is not so much the lake that I will remember as I will never forget coming back down along that craggly ledge, the flaccid cable to my right, death to my left, with every step so obviously important.
I did not look down so I cannot say how sheer or plain the drop really was. I looked at the cable, the wall that was my friend, and I looked at my boots. Yes, the coming down was the hardest part. On the way up to Crypt Lake, you are ascending. With each step along that precipice you are pulling up, moving yourself upward. And gravity is not such a problem—it is a small thing easily managed with each little step. But coming down your weight and your pack's weight are investing all of themselves in that only-child foothold you have just elected. If you have picked a bad spot to drop all of yourself into, you could be in very real trouble. I said I did not look down and I didn't. But the sense of what down meant: all in my field of vision that was not the ledge, or my foot, or my wall—it is impossible to ignore the presence of all that nether. Going up I can look up and away, into the sky. Or up and outward, at the peaks in the distance—objects that don't shift around, don't wobble.
I put that Crypt Lake hike, because of the cable-ledge-decline portion of the trail, in the category of "A Supposedly Fun Thing I Will Never Do Again." I will not forget it; it might have made me a more resilient human; but I will never do it again. The other ten-and-a-half miles were fine. It was mostly uphill getting to the lake, mostly downhill coming back. Props to the balls of my feet, my menisci, all the rest of me too, I suppose. Props to my mind for not going wingbats up there. The elevation gain is approximately 2,200 feet. We did 35-minute miles, inclusive of all stops and breaks, e.g. a quick lunch and group photo at the lake itself. I did not get winded going up. The running I've done the last 21 weeks helped with that but it could not prepare my body for the brutality involved in descending those 2,200 feet back down the trailhead/boat dock on Waterton Lake.
We did not see any wildlife of note. There was a shotgun-sounding, echo-creating, touchdown-with-a-splash rockslide while we were at the lake. The initial sound was like a huge metal cable was snapping as a result of too much tension. And then it was like sporadic gunfire mixed with the sound, if you have your head under water, of rocks sliding along into one another at the bottom of a riverbed, with tinks and clinks. It was a procession of these sounds, seemingly getting closer via echo, ending with a violent splash right across the lake from us, far enough away such that I never wondered about our own safety, but at the same time playing out right in front of us.
Ultimately, we are all back safe and sound. It is amazing to me that Rose made it across the cabled ledge and back. It was trying enough for me. I had a moment, coming back across that ledge, holding onto that cable with all the grip I had in me, when I asked myself, "What the fuck am I doing here?" At that moment—and also while clambering through the five-foot high, 20-foot long scratchy patch of tunnel running between the skinny ladder and the cable-death-ledge when it occurred to me that I might actually be in the midst of a trip gone bad. As if the reality of my reality had suddenly revealed itself to me, in some sort of Philip K. Dick gnostic plot-twist: you don't really live in U City, work in Illinois, have a wife named B, drive a Subaru: in reality you have been scraping back and forth through this tunnel in hell for the last fifteen years. Only because I was stone cold sober did I survive that hike. Or perhaps I would have, eventually, survived otherwise but I can say for sure I would not have made it back to that boat dock by 17:30 to catch the one-and-only boat back to Waterton marina. I'd be out there shuddering and muttering, trying to figure out how to start a fire—bring a lighter next time, Jack: it takes up very little space, doesn't weigh much, could save your life. I'd be asleep on a mountain with questionable berries thrumming my insides while thinking about what I could use to fend off Alberta's finest bobcats and grizzlies.
A few more trip stats, for informational purposes. To do this hike you have to take a boat from Waterton marina to the trailhead just east of a nondescript boat dock about ten minutes away from the marina. We bought those tickets in a little shop on the marina. I believe it was C$22 each. The boat left the marina somewhere past ten o'clock, its scheduled departure time. We started the hike at 10:24. We were done with the hike at 17:04. The boat picked us up at 17:35. We were back on land in petered-out Waterton at 17:50.
That's a days hiking. It feels like a great accomplishment. Tomorrow can be a milk day. I need to shower. B has done so. I've been drinking not bourbon and Coke; not Jack and Coke; but Canadian whisky and Pepsi! How do you like that, Suzyn? It's bizarro-bar up here in Waterton. World's End. Crown of the Continent. Ice Machine entrance, room 12, wi-fi password 20MCL13. Almost. That's what I typed in, incorrectly. Dinner at wieners of Waterton. Most of this town has already commenced Operation Shutdown and the rest is soon to follow suit.
I'm the jacket on the space monkey
in the astronaut ship.
I'm the waterfall, the
silent movie on the mountainside...
VIII. Cardston Cattle Drive.
Can everybody touch the sky? Can everybody touch the sky? It is Friday morning. The car is packed, B is walking down to the water for one last look at Lake Waterton. Pat and Anne are enjoying a waffle breakfast. We will bid adieu to Canada today. First, though, we'll try to get to Cameron Lake and maybe see some elk along the way. When Rose got breakfast at Wieners of Waterton early this morn, the gal working there relayed news of hundreds of elk in a field not far from here. We have not seen any elk on this trip.
Waterton is a strange place right now. So much of it is shut down. I am listening to a trio speaking a language I cannot identify, it is perhaps Slavic in nature. Many businesses are not just closed for the winter but the buildings housing those businesses are boarded up as if the town were in the middle stages of an evacuation for purposes of managing best against an oncoming hurricane. B and I had breakfast this morning at the same place as we had dinner last night. There aren't many options. I used an ATM at the Bayshore Inn to replenish the Canadian cash we've used over the last couple of days. I love other forms of currency. The Queen is on the shiny green C$20 notes I got. And there is a clear strip with a hologram embedded in it running the short length of the bill, a feature quite unlike anything on U.S. dollars.
Leavitt, AB. The cattle drive. About 100 cattle crossing Highway 5 as we head east from the park toward Cranston. Yes, those cattle are crossing the highway right in front of us. Pat jokes that if he had not seen them when he did it would have been ground beef. A couple of cowboys and one collie directing traffic. Us all laughing hysterically.
Bums in Cardston where I got cash from a TD Green Machine. Have they gone bust in the Tar Sands collapse? They had better head south soon, or at least west to Vancouver. My view is to the southwest as we prepare to cross the border back into America. Mountains, rolling fields, a magpie, and the Rockies of Glacier National Park.
IX. Trains and Darkness, Looking for a Fix.
It is Saturday morning at the dark and dry Belton Chalet. There is no power and no water! It is 7:11.
The power had gone out somewhere along 3:00. I found no light at my reach around that time when I tried to turn on the bathroom light. My first thought is that I am somehow not flipping the switch correctly, or that I am flipping the wrong switch. Then I think, "Maybe it's just our room." B then starts telling me that someone is knocking at our door! She says it's Rose. Somewhere during our drunken romp the night before we had discussed waking one another up at 3:00 to check and see whether auroras were visible.
I opened the door but there was no one out there. There was a light on in the hall but I soon realiZed it was an emergency light. That light must have burned its battery sometime around five or six because when I went out of the room later there was no light on in the hallway at all and I resorted to wearing my headlamp. I had brought the headlamp along on the trip for the purpose of using its red light while reading the star chart under Montana's big-ass sky. There wasn't much to do with no light and no water and the sun still down. So I just drank some bottled water and lay in bed in the dark and listened to the trains rumble past on the tracks across the street, sounding like there was a busboy pushing an enormous cart of rattling dishes. I think I could listen to those trains every night for the rest of my life and it would never get old. I cannot say how or why but to hear them rumble along in the night fills me with a serenity I cannot find anywhere else.
The power came back on at 7:45 and along with that power came the immediate blast and wail of the emergency sirens from atop one of the smaller mountains of West Glacier. Nothing was wrong; it was the power coming back on that tripped the sirens, kind of like if a person is brought back to life with a jolt from a defibrillator their first action upon returning back to this side of life is to take one big violent gasp of air. The sirens went on for a couple of minutes and I heard someone ask the flustered clerk at the front desk what the sirens signaled. The answer was nothing. By this time we had packed our suitcase and I had lugged it down the old Belton staircase and through the dim, fire-lit lobby. I did want a shower and now that the power had come back on, and the water pumps could get back to work, I could have taken one. But I thought it would be best to just keep moving along.
We talked last night about leaving for breakfast at McDonald Lodge at 8:45. It's only 8:23 now so I'll sit on this veranda and look northwest over the Belton Chalet restaurant and continue to jot. I am looking at large hills or small mountains. Here comes a train from the east. It's a BNSF engine toting a series of black, pill-shaped oil cars. Where is it coming from and to where is it going? Pat is here now, camera in hand. Screech of metal wheel on metal track. Cadence of circular motion, a whirring like a chopper's rotor but blunter. The orange BNSF engine at the end raises the volume level before it too disappears down the track. Anne arrives with coffee in hand.
It was a scene earlier, in the basement, watching the coffee junkies itch and scratch and agitate the staff looking for their fix. There was no customary coffee in the lobby first-thing because of the power outage and the lack of water. I had popped a couple of generic headache pills, in part for the aspirin. But they also contain caffeine, so I was not nearly as desperate as the three or four older hotel guests who one after the other popped their heads behind the swinging kitchen door clearly marked with an "EMPLOYEES ONLY" sign, bugging the hell out of the gal who was back there getting the coffee ready, waiting, she said, for the water to get hot. Part of the problem, however, lay with the front desk clerk. She told several guests ten or fifteen minutes prior (including myself) that there was hot coffee ready downstairs. I went down and looked. There was no coffee. Alas. Alackaday. I sat back and watched the others strike out, too.
X. Kalispell to Salt Lake City.
We are just about to take off. We are taking off and I am saying goodbye to the mountains for a while. That's a quick bank, an airplane u-e. Christ. Bumpy. Not pleasant. I guess the runway had us pointed the wrong way. Climbing and turning simultaneously, subcutaneously. Big lake: Flathead? Bumps in the clouds. River dumping into big lake. Flathead River, Flathead Lake. Banking again. Clouds and mountains and turbulence. Smoothing out now. For awhile I was back on that ledge on the Crypt Lake trail. Don't let go, pilot. Several strata of clouds and we are still under at least one. I can't write right now. I am sick about leaving all of that behind. The only thing I would need to stay in Montana for awhile is my little friend, Squirt. I believe it would be pretty inexpensive to live in Columbia Falls. Or Kalispell or Helena, Butte, whatever. There is a day I can see down the road, far but not too far, when I will not be a resident of St. Louis, when I will not work in Illinois. B can get a job at the U of Montana. We'll become grizzlies and scavenge for food from the trash cans at the Motel 6. Look out: here comes the beverage cart!
Fair's fair, Larry: if you're looking for me you'd better look outside. I looked outside at 3:00 this morning. It was cool but not cold and there were too many clouds. If there were auroras visible at our latitude I wasn't going to be able to see them. Next time.
XI. Salt Lake City to St. Louis.
I am now on the flight back to St. Louis from Salt Lake City. Our layover in Salt Lake City around two-and-a-half hours. I walked around mostly, going from terminal to terminal, like electricity in a battery, turning around at the end and going back to where I'd come from. B, C, and D were all busy. A was quiet. E was down an escalator and had only a few gates but it had a huge smoking den and it did seem like the air down there was a little hazy. I ran into B eventually and we walked around this way and that for awhile. We got smoothies and then we were done with those we got sandwiches to go from the Boar's Head. I've got mine in my bag yet, ham and pork and swiss and pickles with mustard on a ciabatta. Cuban. Cigar, as in close, almost. We saw a movie star in the airport. Not a huge star but I've seen her in one or two movies that were popular when they came out and still might catch your attention when they are running on cable and you find yourself watching them with your family around holiday time.
I liked the Salt Lake City airport. I'd fly through there again. There was some good landscape art in a couple of different places. There were lots of little tables set near the windows in the parts of the concourse bridging the various terminals. Speed ramps ran through those parts of the concourse, too. It looked like rain outside, dark blue and cloudy in the distance, out toward the furrowed red-brown mountains. But it did not rain at the airport and I wonder if I wasn't looking instead at the effect of a lot of dust being in the air. I did not look at the lake coming in nor on the way back out. I am on the aisle on this flight and my neck is tight as I write.
I wanted to get through the first section of this notebook on this trip. The pages in this section are edged in blue. I've got a ways to go, sorry to say. I did not do enough describing of areas. I was reluctant to write in the car and in being so reluctant I pissed a lot of decent words down the drain. I would have said more about how the plains looked once we were on the eastern side of the park, looking out toward the east. It was what I called Custer's view. East of the park, on the fat part of the divide, the land begins the process of flattening out and it's as though you can see for miles and miles and miles. Maybe you can. The colors were a range of maize yellows and sun-bleached wheat whites and dull greens and then of course the blue of the sky, that dumbstruck, blue-lipped blue. The sky was free of clouds as we drove north to Canada on Wednesday but it was accentuated and supported by fairly high altostratus on the way back down. It was mackerel sky in spots, probably my favorite day sky.
There was champagne—well, prosecco—in our room at the Belton yesterday. It sat in a little ice bucket on a tray along with a card of congratulations and two up-ended champagne flutes. B had told them it was our 10-year anniversary trip, which was true. It was the same brand of prosecco as was waiting in the fridge at Reclusive Moose, for Pat and Anne in recognition of their tenth. This was not coincidence. One of the co-owners of the cabin is the general manager at the Belton. The other co-owner was waiting tables at the restaurant there last night. Small town in a small world, I guess.
The first class passengers are getting their meals delivered. I got snacks with my leg-room seat: a bag of Sun Chips and a bag of lightly salted peanuts. I have a small bottle of vodka in my shirt pocket. I started the trip with five of these bottles. Including the one in my pocket I still have four left. I drank one with the prosecco yesterday evening while the other were out on the restaurant veranda noshing on a Mediterranean plate of hummus, pita, baba ghanoush, olives, cheese, salami, and tabouleh. I had about half of the little vodka vodka in a cocktail combo with the prosecco. Once I finished that I drank the rest of the vodka on rocks from the bucket and then went down and sat with them on the veranda along Highway 2, fifty feet from the train tracks. The Mediterranean plate was quite good, all of it. Even the parsley-containing tabouleh. I drank an india pale ale and we ordered more pita bread and crostinis while finishing off the plate entirely, every last dollop and morsel.
I am so enamored with Jake Barnes's Paris and Spain that I had it in mind for last night to feel that way. The historic, rustic nature of the hotel provided the right setting. It was part of the reason I wanted red wine with the meal but no one else was with me so I had a couple of Montana-bourbon manhattans in lieu. This was after we had left our spot on the restaurant veranda while it was still light out yet to walk and get beer at the gas station. We got two six-packs, one wheat and one IPA. Rose bought a wheat tall boy, too. We sat on the wraparound veranda of the hotel and drank our beers. Rose posted a video of the cow crossing, a particular snippet she had caught right outside her window in which one of the cows lost itself in liquid fashion on the highway.
Looking back on those cows, it strikes me that it was a damned sad sight. There were so haggard looking. It was something we really weren't supposed to see. That was the look on the elder cowboy as we sped to the crossing and braked, him and his cattle just beginning to make their cross and us in our massive vehicle appearing from out of nowhere for no good reason. On the one hand is all of the wildlife we did see or might have seen on this trip: mountain goats, bighorn sheep, black bears, chipmunks...grizzlies, elk, elusive moose. Then there are the hundred or so cows we came very close to running over on the road in Alberta. Big and small, brown and black, scurvy-patched. Bloated, swinging udders. Foam from the mouth. Drool. And damnit if one of young ones didn't have one of its hoofed legs buckle under it on the pavement and go down for a second, gracelessly. Cows hooves weren't adapted for the purpose of crossing roads.
The area outside Waterton seemed a pretty grim place all around. The bums in Cardston. The lack of anything between there and the border. The desperation of the kitschy roadside shops on the highway between the park and Cardston. It was beautiful out there but it was also barren. Montana was that way, too. Maybe not Whitefish—but even there I suggest that underneath the bourgeois patina lay a crust of stagnation and the pulsating question of: What now? Both Columbia Falls and Kalispell smacked hard of economic decline, supposing there ever was a thriving economy there in the first place. There were so many casinos in those two small towns, one every mile it seemed. Other than the railroad and the tourist industry I cannot see where the jobs were at. There was a large Plum Creek Timber plant in Columbia Falls. But it was a town of two faces: the cheer, optimism, and free time of the folks waiting in line at the packed Montana Coffee Traders; and then the alcohol- and wind-burned faces of some of the folks hanging out in the Nite Owl diner. One fella, say 50-years-old in a maroon Montana Grizzlies sweatshirt, stood near the front counter for some time before a manager came out and told him, "No, sorry, we're not hiring right now." Turning now toward me, his face looked like a lunar landscape or one of the plain's hardened, glacier-torn hillsides. The sort of place where flash floods occasionally occur. His wasn't the only face looking that way in that restaurant. It seemed a place of pensioners and social security recipients rather keen to hear what the next year's cost-of-living increase was going to be. Then there's us in there—me—and I don't know how to square it.
We could not figure out why so much of Waterton was closed down when we got there. Why was McDonald Lodge in Glacier National Park suddenly closed for the season, denying us a breakfast buffet there this morning for the second time in five days!? Perhaps wehad gotten there a whisker late on Tuesday but today it was just plain shuttered for the season even though the recorded message on their answering machine indicated they were open and taking reservation through the end of the month.
The Belton Chalet hotel was full as far as I could tell. It was their last weekend of the season before they closed. It was like being on the set of a play that had run for the summer and now was coming to an end. The cast was the staff there and the other "guests": older folks mostly, no families. They'll go and be camp hosts somewhere or work seasonally at Amazon warehouses sending rectangular brown packages out into space. I guess it's the touring families that thee places want to have their door most open for. Once those kids are in school, the season is over. I suppose the weather also starts to turn at the same time although we had great weather, really quite luck-be-a-lady on our trip. Thanks to the Indian gods for granting us a little of their summer. The warmth had us shedding layers only a mile in on the Crypt Lake trail. I didn't need the vest, the flannel, the hat, the scarf, or the gloves.
Oh boy. My pen had a renaissance stretch on this flight. It climbed to the heights of Mt. Ventoux, more impressive than anything I've done on this trip. But now it is really going; its time is "near". Come on, pen. Give a chap a brandy and soda and a few more pages. While I've still got a few ink vapors remaining, I'd like to thank Ernest Hemingway for giving me prose upon which to model my tone in this travelogue. And I'd like to thank Mother Nature for being incredible with her weather and scenery in Montana and Canada. The wealth we enjoyed this last week lay not in money nor in private land but in Time. If you haven't got time, you haven't got anything. Old hotel, old book, empty bottle of whisky. It was a wind gust that knocked the power out this morning. We got out of there just in time.