Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Farm Party, Spring 2014

I.  Preface, Tuesday late afternoon, April 15.

How quick things change.  On Sunday I was thinking I had the world by a string.  Now I am melodramizing to the point I thought, "If I didn't have the farm to look forward to, I'd kill myself right now."  I pantomime a skinning knife to my left wrist.  That's not an air guitar.  I'm in the wrong god-damn family business.  Stocks isn't my thing.  I was supposed to be a farmer.  Farmer/lawyer/artist/poet—what the hell am I?  I'm a platypus, I'm a fake, I'm a flake, I'm whatever I need to be—I'm a chameleon.  The Renaissance is dead though: long live the banks.  I asserted myself but I killed myself.  I saw the Blood Moon, so clear, from one percent.  But I've got nothing to show for it.  I'm done, I'm over.  I am born again—bitches.

II.  (Several Hours Later.)

I get so incredibly emotional and I'm useless to the world.  I'm an alcoholic.  When I start with a mean manny but then pull out my last Buckler that's the best thing I can do.  It's a sign to the world—nay, fuck the world—it's a sign to myself that I want to live.  And what the hell else is there to do but live?  Ahhhh.  Sometimes one of those mean mannies—it's sinking in now, Even Williams and all his cordial friends...it helps.  Mania is just as sticky as depression, and it must be fended off.  If I weren't gritting my teeth right now, I'd bare them to you, and you'd see how determined I am to hold this ground.  This ground that I'm standing on, that I'm writing on.  I'll go down with my ship if it's the last fucking thing I do, I'll ride this sucker down and I'll fuck the world in the process if I have to.  I am rabid, I am mean, and I am waiting to be wild.

III.  Wednesday Morning.

That was a storm went through me last night but the sandbags under my eyes, I guess they held, because here I am on Wednesday morning still among the quick, drinking an americano.  I'm looking on the map for a conservation area near the farm, where Jeannie and Jen said they got a shower one time.  Looking at the map, I can see the farm, and I can see the creek that runs along it, Little Tavern Creek.  As I zoom out, I can see pretty well "Rinquelin Trail Lake Conservation Area, " in Dixon, MO.  But I'm on the MO Conservation Department site and I cannot see any place nearby that has showers.  There is an RV park in Dixon called "The Missouri Festival and RV Park" but they don't re-open for the season until May 1.  It looks as though they have showers.  Next nearest candidate is Lake of the Ozarks State Park.  They definitely have showers.  You take 42 into the park, hang a left on 134 (and go past the park office: what do you tell them?  "Uh, I want to check out the camp sites."  And then do you skank a shower?  Seems kind of rude.  But what would they do if you said, "Yeah, I just want a shower.  I'll pay for the night."  I don't know....)  You go past an airport.  There is literally an airport IN the park.  It'd take 45 minutes to drive there from the farm.

IV.  Thursday Morning: 6:40 a.m. to Noon. (Still not there).

We are leaving today.  I have a slight headache.  It's not from wine or smoke (I had three beers yesterday, spaced well apart).  And had not even a single cigarette.  So: allergies, cold, or simply the sickly residue of two days of foul mood?  It is cool but clear outside.  I have done a cursory pack of the Jeep to see if it all would fit.  Squirt was checking out the progress, trying to get a sense of what was transpiring.  "You're coming with us."

B has to go to work yet.  Until noon, she says.  I don't have a whole lot else to do.  I remain unsure about what wood to take, and whether I can manage the telescope.  The moon was still bold and bright this morning at six.  I am obsessing about all of this, careening almost.  I'm flammable and toxic.  I'm the most conductive metal.  The road should help a bit, the land even more.

It really doesn't take four bags of ice to fill our two biggest coolers (big cooler, mid cooler).  It's more like three and change.  I ended up packing our third cooler, one of the small joe-6-pack coolers.  A Playmate that has my name on it.  Ha ha.  That's where I put the tots after realizing I hadn't packed them yet but needed to—and I had already filled the other two coolers to the brim.  What we need to work on next time—and we senses this but didn't quite execute on it—is packing most of our beer as warm beer.  Because you don't need more than a night's worth of beer as cold beer at any one time.  And we've got warm beer packed—18 cans/bottles.  So that's 18 of 31 warm.  But if we were to get that up to 23 or so...that's five fewer beers in the cooler and room enough for the tots.

I had that thought in my head at Cheese Place yesterday as I was perusing their canned beer.  I had two warm Mikkeller four-packs in my stead but I really wanted to try the beer first—and I wanted B to try it—before putting eight "unknown unknown" beers in the cooler.  So I saw that the ole Cheeser also had the Mikkeller four-packs cold...and at that moment I went from a potential 24 warm beers down to 18 (I drank one of each last night—good beer, hoppy by rule, a bit pricey, but good. Danish but brewed in Pennsylvania? I move on....)  Every little move and decision has numerous potential and inevitably some real consequi.  When I went for the cold Mikkeller, it was as good as getting that third cooler out.

Otherwise, besides not nailing the cooler packing, I've got several other things to feel sketchy and neurotic about.  First, the stupid lawn slam and bam team from next door was just starting outside as I was adding a 50/50 mix or antifreeze and water to the Jeep's so-called "recovery bottle".  I was literally standing along the edge of my driveway and realizing, "I am actually in these people's ways."  So I hurried along, filled over the add line, closed the hood, but then needing to put the antifreeze container away IN the Jeep...I opened the back gate of the Jeep and for all of the world to see, showed at least one complete stranger my intention to stay anywhere but my house for at least a couple of nights.

And then before that, as I was pouring the coolant into a half-filled water bottle, I was looking at my Goodyears and thinking maybe they didn't look so great...

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Brodkey Was Right, and Not Much Has Changed

In his story "First Love and Other Sorrows," from the 1950s he wrote:

"Toward the end of March, in St. Louis, slush fills the gutters, and dirty snow lies heaped alongside porch steps, and everything seems to be suffocating in the embrace of a season that lasts too long.  Radiators hiss mournfully, no one manages to be patient, the wind draws tears from your eyes, the clouds are filled with sadness.  Women with scarves around their heads and their feet encased in fur-lined boots pick their way carefully over patches of melting ice.  It seems that winter will last forever, that this is the decision of nature and nothing can be done about it."

Harold, you nailed it.  It blew like a beast today.  There isn't any slush left in the gutters, but there was not long ago.  The radiators have all been scrapped and women maybe don't wear scarves about their heads like they used to—but they are still wearing Uggs.  And I am not being patient.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Japanese Poem I Am Recalling

I may live on until
I long for this time
In which I am so unhappy,
And remember it fondly.

— Fujiwara No Kiyosuke

 (translated by Kenneth Rexroth)

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

New Orleans

(for J. Smith)

I.  Prologue.

These thoughts I have.  I'm just gonna write them down.  Why is she...?

"What are you doing?"

She moves away, sighs.  I'm scrawling.

"Are you... What are your code names for J[] and T[]?"

"Pretty sure J is Brett."

"T is...Fairchild?"

"I think I referred to both in Jamaica '09, so they would be whatever they were in there."

The humidifier gargles.  This is the most I've written in this putative dream journal since I don't know when.  I'm up there.  B asks me if I'm writing in the dark.

"Yeah, trying."


She touches a part of me....

The humidifier sounds like a bawling cat.  Will I be able to read this in the morning?  This is like the old days.   How many poems did I write this way, on my side, my eyes closed? If I can't sleep, then I'm just going to do this: I'm going to write it all down—and then I'll have something to show for my sleepless self.  I'll have written down all of the gibberish, all of my atomless space.  That's a nifty catch-22: If I can't sleep then I'll write down all of the great ideas I have; If I can't write down all of the great ideas I have, it'll be because I'm asleep.  That's really the opposite of a catch-22.  That's a win-win.  Just win, baby!

I make a racket turning the page.  I think all of this is going to be chicken scratch.  Which reminds me of the two chickens scratching in the dark—err, the dirt—next to the glistening toy dumptruck that I took a shit in and thought enough of to show my mom because that's how fucked up I was when I was younger, and still am.  I was making an early claim to the permanence of my youth, I think.

II.  Getting There.

Boots, IT, and the French Quarter.  I can't write well.  My thoughts are ruined by stocks.  This plane goes to New Orleans and then to Tampa.  I grabbed the right sort of seat for a tall fellow.  The exit row is in front of me—the over-wing exit row.  But there's no actual seat in front of me.  It's just dead air.  B and I were B2 and B3 in the lineup (this is a Southwest flight).  The guy who held B4 admonished me not to take the last exit row seat, but I did, ha!

I take a minute to consider the diagram on the "exit" door/window.  I'm ready.  B is reading on her Kindle.  I can hear the B4 guy a few rows back.  He's got a Ben Stein sort of droll.  I am jealous of his garrulousness.  He strikes me as being sociable but not annoying.  As I was snagging this seat he said, "I knew I shouldn't have let you go ahead of us!"  B offered to buy him a cocktail but he declined (later this night we would see him on Bourbon Street with one of those funny long plastic-container drinks).

We're moving.  I'm satisfied to say goodbye to this city for a little while.  I've been to New Orleans once, for one quick night.  In college I played ultimate frisbee on the school's club team.  There was a tournament in Baton Rouge.  Afterward, we drove into New Orleans for a night.  I don't remember who I was with!  Someone had a friend going to Tulane.  We parked a long ways away from the French Quarter and walked all the way in.  Mardi Gras was on.  It was a sea of people—drunks.  I was put off. I didn't drink much then, maybe not at all.  I was a buddha then.  I don't think I had any vices, except that occasionally I fell in love too easily.

But not on that trip.  We stayed in some dump of an apartment near Tulane.  I remember two things.  One of the apartment's tenants was this blind-drunk idiot who asked us, "Got any tree?"  I didn't even know what he meant.  The other thing I remember was: on the VCR in this place there was a red label—like the kind you print out manually from those old-time punch-label makers—and it said, "Tits are just fat sacks."  I guess I remember that because I see it as some absurd attempt to calm one's lustful fear of breasts.  So if I'm feeling lustful in that way sometimes I'll tell myself, "Tits are just fat sacks."  What a dump that place was.  The next morning we went back to Baton Rouge.  I got in my Jeep—the same Jeep I have now!—and I took that son-of-a-bitch all the way down I-10, along our country's Gulf Coast, and eventually to Baltimore Orioles spring training in Fort Lauderdale.  What a sojourn that was—what an amazing time in this my ordinary, incredible life.

I want to floss Right Now but if I someone else doing that on a plane I'd condemn them.  So I abstain.  This flight shouldn't feel like much after that four-hour aerodynamic odyssey to and from Seattle.

Whoa, a little turbulence, no big deal.  I had some Imo's pizza for breakfast.  So did B.  She also ate the salad I took to work yesterday but never had/took the time to eat.  So my mouth-feel is grimy.  I took a little pony shot of Beefeater right before they picked us up.  Then I glugged one of my three little Beefeater bottles at gate E22 as we waited to board our plane.  I also joined Brett in a cigarette in the parking garage after he parked.  The line for security was long.  It only took about a half of an hour to get through though—believe me that was not as bad as it looked.  I have a sense my breath is bad.

It took us a few tries to locate the secret, drop-down entrance to the Lambert Terminal 2 parking garage.  "We need to eat, we need to sleep, and we need: music."  But our efforts weren't as wasted as the gal who was in the driver's seat of the pulled-over '90's-model black Pontiac Grand Am on the airport causeway.  The first time we passed her (driving in the direction opposite her, we were stopped at a light, gawking over at her) I didn't think much.  But hear head was pressed against the steering wheel.  She could have just been having an, "Oh fuck, I can't believe I'm pulled over at the airport".  Fairchild proffered the possibility that this gal was afraid of flying and had popped a couple of zannies before getting behind the wheel, got pulled over for whatever random violation, and then had fallen asleep because that was the effect the zannies were supposed to have, except they took effect "early" because she wasn't yet able to board the plane because she had been pulled over.  So, we missed the turnoff for the intermediate-term parking after seeing the passed-out-driver-gal for the first time and then we had to do a total ridiculous loop around half of Lambert Airport to get slotted right for another attempt.

The gal was in the same position the second time around, about six minutes later.  She looked stone-cold passed out to me me—a header straight into the steering wheel.  She had to have been drunk.  Got pulled over, drunk, then passed straight out as a matter of time.  But what was she doing at the airport?  She had another gal, passenger, with her in the shotgun seat.  What must have been going through that gal's mind.  Stone cold passed out in your car at the airport—that can't be good.  Fairchild grew more confident about her Xanax hypothesis.  Brett didn't say anything.  He was looking for the damn parking garage.

Beefeater #2 is down.  I cracked myself up writing about the dead body behind the steering wheel of the 1994 Grand Am.  B is reading "The Gunslinger."  She's 32% of the way through.  It's funny but I'm pretty sure that was the book I was reading when I took this that trip down to Spring Training 2000 by way of the Big Easy.

I'm doing the math now. That was Spring 2000.  I still have the Orioles Spring Training 2000 shirt I bought, grey and orange, holy now.  I was not 21 yet.  I wouldn't turn 21 until that fall.  I wouldn't have had beer, smoke, cigarettes, nothing.  I don't think I even drank coffee then.  What a set of constructs and crutches I'm built up on now.  I am thinking about the hotel room I had in Ft. Lauderdale.  It was big.  There was a huge, whirlpool bath, right out in the main part of the room.  I know I got in it.  I guess I had to fill it first.  I can remember sitting in it, watching ESPN.  Just me, sober, sitting in this huge tub in this huge room in Ft. Lauderdale in the Spring of 2000—14 years ago. Unreal.

I used the word "causeway" earlier.  We're approaching.  Over Lake Ponchartrain.  And in that Crocodile Dundee style of delivery—no: that wasn't a causeway: that's a causeway.  I am looking out the window at a very long, spindly, narrow dream of a bridge that seems like it's willing to go on forever.  Just saw a palm tree.  We are landed!

III.  Friday Night—Getting Acquainted.

 It is past five pm now.  We are back from our initial foray into the streets of the French Quarter, New Orleans.  It is part San Juan, part Cancún, part Austin—what Laclede's Landing wishes it could be.  B said that last part.  The line at Acme Oyster existed so we went to Felix's, across the street.  Sat right down.  I think our server even told us, "Don't be afraid."  We ordered drinks.  The food arrived without much delay.  Fairchild and I both ordered the crawfish étoufee.  Crawfish—some fried, some boiled—in a spicy broth with rice and scallions in the middle.  It made me think of panang: as if etoufee is the creole cousin of panang.  It was good, plenty good.  B and Brett split the fried seafood platter: catfish, shrimp, and oysters.  Best catfish I've ever had, damn good shrimp, and fried oysters tasting how I'd expect them to taste: not runny, not ballast-watery.  Then we had a dozen charbroiled oysters.  They were hot off the char-grill.  And good.  Medium firmness.  Not good as the one at Acme, both Brett and Fairchild said so—but good nonetheless.  The seafood platter also had fries and hush puppies: an almost sweet batter, chewy on the inside with diced jalapeños in the meal.  Good for breakfast, dinner, or dessert.  We each had a drink.  There were not all that strong, something I suspected right away (I ordered a Long Island).  Brett had a honeybee.  The ladies had Maries.  All in all a success.

Then we stopped in for a drink at The Absinthe House.  I was smoking a cig as we were en route.  Some bars you can't smoke in but that one you could.  I was a little nervous there initially, I'm not sure why.  I was watching the Top 50 sports "jeers" on one of the wide screens at Felix's and laughing, all happy-go-lucky.  Took a nice pit-stop there, thought I was all ready to go.  Maybe it was the cig itself.  Also, I thought at first glance that the place was small and crowded and I started to feel like I was in the way.  When a neurotic person says, "I'm neurotic, " it just makes him sound even more neurotic, and marginal, doesn't it?  But this is my therapy, and it is what it is.  Brett bought that round—I told him what I wanted as opposed to just ordering it myself, making him the middleman, which is a cop-out.  It wasn't until we got back into the place a bit that I realized the back half was pretty much empty, spacious enough, with a fire, and plenty of seats on the other two edges of the square-shaped bar.  Plus, two sides of the place itself are open to the air and it's like you're half-outside while you're drinking, like tailgating or something.

My sazerac was spot-on and maybe the best cocktail I had the whole trip.  I watched her make it.  The absinthe appears in the drink by way of it being used as a rinse of the glass.  She poured it in and I was like, "Alright, about a half-finger of absinthe!"  She swirled it all around—and then poured it out.  And my shoulders slumped a little, I'm sure.  But what had she mixed with the rye in the mixing glass?  I'm trying to think of the other ingredient: sweet vermouth?  I'm looking it up.  Yeah, OK: muddle sugar cube with bitters in a mixing glass, add rye, stir; meanwhile rinse cocktail glass with absinthe and then discard any "extra" absinthe; pour in the rye/sugar/bitters mix, add a lemon peel as a garnish.  She nailed it.  I'm sure it throws off the taste if you leave all of the absinthe in, but it seems such a waste.  It's a city of decadence—but does that mean you should leave it in or leave it out?

There are layers of people here: social strata.  There are the teeming tourists, the people who live and work here (including the buskers), and then there is the fringe/punk/bum element.  It's similar to the mix in Seattle but the fringe element here doesn't strike me as being quite so "hard-up" as their counterparts in Seattle (or St. Louis for that matter).  These people here seem more to me like grifters—almost as if they are living this particular way of life...by choice.  Trotting as such trite requests as asking for the pineapple sitting on the rim of your fruity rum drink as you walk by their lazy selves on a pleasant afternoon.  I had a gal ask me for a dollar right as I got to the riverfront: "Can you spare a dollar so I can get something to eat?"  She was chubby and had dyed hair.  I wasn't buying it.  I few minutes earlier I am pretty sure one of her friends thought real hard about sticking her hand in my jacket pocket.  I felt her pass...right...behind...me.  We were an easy mark down there on the river with our Café du Monde cups, me with my iPhone out to take a photo of something random that I knew my dad would appreciate.  I would never give money to someone in that instance when so many of her better halves are out offering something in return for your currency: street acts: music, dance, statue-etry, magic, painting, fortune telling.  In this city, someone coming up right up and asking for money—it's a cheap act, and tawdry.  A non-starter.

We some really nice paintings in a gallery.  Machalapolous or something along those lines.  B went in.  Expensive were they.  Thousands of dollars, but good.  Memorable.

Café du Monde is like a factory, or more like a utility plant, churning out their secret blend of chicory coffee and beignets by the hundreds per hour at some times, I'll bet.  That coffee is special.  It's dark, deep, and spicy.  It rivals an americano.  It's like a coffee oil slick in a cup, with some grime from a coffee cog and a chicory cog scraped off and steeped for a few minutes before mostly being scraped out.  The beignets are doused with powdered sugar.  Brett says, "Hopefully they don't recycle that powdered sugar."  Because once a person takes a bite out of that chewy goodness he most likely takes the exposed part of the beignet and dabs it back on the powdery sugar left on the plate.  At least that's what I did.  Three beignets to an order so B and I each had one and a half (though when B and I went at six o'clock on the final morning the little lady that handled our lonely order whispered that she had put four beignets in the bag!)  I was the only one to get a large coffee—we got our coffees in to-go cups.  Mine black.  Hot.  For all of us the bill was $17.50  I gave the guy twenty.  We sat in the outside section, a Euro-style café-under-an-awning setting. Little round table and tiny chairs. It was busy, busy.  The waitstaff seemed predominantly Thai or Filipino.  No, it doesn't matter—I'm just describing things as I saw them.  I had to pee and the coffee wasn't going to help.  Brett and Fairchild saved me with their "inside dope" knowledge of a public restroom about a block north of Café du Monde.  I hit it.  Then we made our way over to the river.

This was all after we had mosied up to and then through Jackson Square, which is right across the street from Café du Monde.  It was at Jackson Square that I saw a lot of buskers offering their array of talents for hire.  We stopped to catch the second half of a magician's act.  It was a guy with a tree haircut—that is to say: he had the outline of a tree buzzed into one side of his head.  It actually looked a lot like the big live oak that is in Jackson Square.  He was from Seattle, he said.  He had a kid from the crowd—Joey—sign a card and then later he (the magician) pulled the card out of his mouth.  Then he pulled a bottle of Barefoot white wine out of his hat.  He might or might not have a website or Facebook page revolving around the "Magician on a Motorcycle" theme.  He said he was doing an experiment to see if a person really could make a living as a street performer.  He struck me as sincere, magnanimous, and affable.  I gave him $5.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the Vieux Carré liquor and wine shop.  The had lots of wine in there.  I'm pretty sure the gal in tights and boots talking to the old, French-looking, grizzled proprietor/clerk was a hooker.  As I strolled up to the register to pay for me Beam liter she was trying to convince this guy that tonight was worthy of opening a bottle of Cristal.  "Yeah, we should drink some Cristal," he was saying in agreement.  My Beam was $19.61, shockingly close to the price I paid in Seattle.

When the sun was out, and it was on my back or on my face, it felt warm.  But the wind off the river was cold.  We saw a big container ship charging up the river.  I assume it was coming up the river but I'm a little disoriented.  Then we saw a pushboat pushing some big rusty clap-trap junker that I joked to B was a floating meth lab.  It really did look like a tiny oil refinery on top of a boat.  It was strange.  I guess the Mississippi at this point is part of the intracoastal waterway.  That whole concept still blows my mind—that it's possible to move goods by water from, say, New Orleans to, say, Washington D.C. through a series of rivers, canals, and locks.  How big of a ship can make that journey?  Anything bigger than a barge?

I digress.  B is napping.  I don't want to.  I can't nap or else I'd be done-for.  I don't know how much any of us has left.  Brett seems to have had to deal with several work matters, including phone calls, throughout the day.  Fairchild was up early and I think had a big week.  I know I did.  I'm whooped.  I could go to sleep right now, sleep for ten hours, wake up at four, drink coffee in the room, go spelunking early, and look for those textures I love to photograph.  Which I found plenty of in Old San Juan.  It's hard for me to get my bearings amidst the hustle and bustle—cars, tourists, workmen, deliveries, etc.  We are on the fourth floor of the Hotel Dauphine.  It is fifty something degrees outside, now dark, at about 18:00 in New Orleans, LA, USA on the last day of January in the year 2014.  That is all.

IV.  Friday Night—Joining the Parade.

We had a drink at the hotel bar, May Baily's.  Abita Amber on draft for me.  It was cold and right.  Lisa kept bar.  She put popcorn in front of us.  At first I was thinking, "I don't want any of that."  Two minutes later I popped a piece in my mouth, then another, then another.  I realized I had scattered an obscene amount of stray pieces about the base of my chair when we left.  It really was embarrassing and I was thinking, "Someone else must have been sitting here doing the same thing I was right before I sat down."  It's a dank bar.  They've got some sort of ventilation problem facing them.  Lisa burned nag champa.  candles burned away.  We would be back there later when Lisa put them out for the night.

For diner we walked halves of two blocks—Dauphine, Conti—to the Erin Rose bar.  Going in you go through thick plastic drapes at the threshold, like you're going through a carwash—or into a walk-in freezer.  It's not a big bar.  We walked all the way to the back, where the proprietors have installed a po-boy stand.  It's a square-shaped room.  They serve po-boys.  What more is there to say?  I read about it in a New York Times article that I used as my primary source for picking possible destinations.  You order through a little window, as if you were standing outside, talking to someone who was inside.  There was no one else in the little room when we got back there.  There's one high-top in the middle of the room and then there is countertop running along all four sides of the room's interior.  The whole space is perhaps 12' by 12'.  By the time we left, the place was packed!  B went back into the bar area to get beers—some guy asked her if she was looking for the ladies'.  "No," she says, "I'm about to buy a beer.  Thanks."  She got me some Voodoo brew; got herself a Sweetwater 420.  Mmm, hmm.  It took a bit for the po-boys (other people who ordered after us got theirs in quicker fashion—we must have caught them off guard; Lisa said it was an industry hangout).  I got shrimp.  The bread was so soft; the slaw sporting just a bit of ginger; the scrimps so seasoned, crunchy, divine.  The word gestalt comes to mind—the whole was worth more than the sum of the parts.  In other words, sometimes you just get lucky.  God's eyes were on us, and our eyes were on those po-boys.  In other words, "Boy, you ain't po no mo."

Well, maybe I'm laying it on a bit thick right now (although Brett does maintain that his shrimp sandwich was the best po-boy he's ever had).  But guess what: This is my pen, my paper, and I'm in a good mood.

We scarfed.  And then...and then...and then we walked the fifty or so feet down Conti to Bourbon St.  We didn't plan to...we didn't mean to...it just kind...of...happened.  We walked down a ways, toward Canal.  It was crowded, sure.  None of us ever came prepared with a drink.  I wasn't even thinking we'd stay out that late.  As we walked I noted a couple of "walk up" drink places—like lemonade stands tucked back into the rows of fully fledged bars.  Shots $2, huge ass beers $3, a beer and a shot...you guessed it: $5.  But we walked on by, just kept walking, wending our way through the oblivious standers, the revelers, the walkers coming the opposite way.  And then...and then...what was that commotion making its way toward us from Canal?  A float!  And another behind it, and another behind it.  Music, beads, strange faux-Egyption headgear.  Folks, we had ourselves a parade!  It was a party.  It was on!

Well, OK.  We stood rapt up against the wall of a building for about half an hour simply taking account of the situation.  The situation was this: Journey was blaring on the lead float's sound system; old men were waving their hands in the air; a person could not help but crack a wry and wistful grin.  Is there any better way to feel than wry and wistful?  We needed drinks, though.  The people were piling up, pulled into the parade like lusty moths thinking they'd found the moon in a streetlamp.  I would have felt in the way, even pinned against that wall, if people weren't doing the same thing against all of the other edifices up and down Bourbon.  Pinned to a facade and gawking.

It was not a fast-moving parade.  The floats were being pulled by Massey-Ferguson tractors.  Men in floats were chuckin' beads.  From the balconies above us (which we could not see), beads occasionally whistled down.  There were calls for the show of breasts, but I never saw any.  Bourbon Street is obviously—thankfully—closed to traffic while all of this is going on but the cross streets are still open, sort of.  Iberville, Conti, Toulouse, St. Louis.  They are open to the extent that the stream of people diminishes to a wobbly, unpredictable trickle every few minutes I suppose.  It's hard to "dart" with a car.  I don't know who tries to drive down there.  I could not help but be astonished when I would see any car down there that was not a taxi.  I would rather be lobotomized—or it's more like the act of shambling your car through that drunken, amoeba-like throng would itself be an act of self-lobotomy.

We made our way back to one of the walk-up bars.  I don't think it had a name.  We each did a shot.  They took Patron, I did Jack.  Brett and I also got beers.  I drank mine post-haste, as they say.  The line was moving again, we were all starting to feel it pretty good, I think.  We were on the sidewalk, not quite in the street, right by the lead float.  There seemed to be a sudden influx of random gents getting into the body of the float by way of a basic back door that wasn't locked at all.  It had one of those very basic sideways L-shaped hook/clasps that you'd find on an outhouse in some small, southwestern Illinois farm town.  And I'll be damned if Brett didn't find the courage to hop up into the thing!  It was like, "Hey, there goes Brett.  He's on the float!  He's gonna throw us some beads I hope."  It wasn't like no one saw him get on.  He acted natural enough to fit in.  We just stood back and shook our heads.  But it didn't take too long before someone on the float looked at him and knew he wasn't supposed to be there and said just one word, "Out."  Brett disembarked.  And a hand reached through the door and set the sideways-L hook into its clasp.  "Yeah, that'll keep 'em out," I thought.  Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.  I'm sure one of us has a picture.

And it was then that I realized that if I wanted to go out into it, into the parade—for real, as a participant, not just a rubber-necker—I was going to have to go to the bathroom first.  I figured our hotel wasn't that far away.  We were at the corner of Bourbon and Toulouse.  I was gonna make a run for it.  Fairchild says my full name in her sighing, sing-song way.  B tells me the cross-streets, exhorts me to remember.  I hightailed it back, thinking "Latrec, Latrec!"  It really wasn't that far.  A few blocks tops.  The other thing I knew I needed to do was fill one of my disposable flasks.  Why I hadn't done so already...the ancient mysteries present themselves at a time like that.

When I got back to Bourbon and Toulouse they told me I had just missed, "Half of our flight, out there dancing."  It was that sort of hoosier-hip hop-line dance song that played at my cousin's wedding that B and I wished we had the handle on, because it seems like something that would be fun if you were out in the midst of it, knowing what you were doing.  "To the left, to the left...now one step back, now one step back...to the right, to the right...now let things slide...."  It goes something like that.

The parade had picked up its skirts and it was moving again, across Toulouse.  "Bust a Move" was the song from the main float and I shimmied on down Bourbon in tow, busting some of my moves.  But, eventually, at the next cross street, the parade was halted again.  (The great thing about Mardi Gras, I'm now realizing, has to be that the parade never gets halted, that none of the cross streets are open, that the whole damn quarter is shut down and it's an on-foot paradise....)  Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" came on.  I thought of the Boston Red Sox and admonished myself for not knowing all of the words.  We were a stone's throw from a male strip club, i.e. not one of the ubiquitous "gentleman's" clubs.  No, these were dudes that were going to be stripping.  One of their touts was out in the "Sweet Caroline" crowd, smiling broadly, pumping a sign that said, "HOT MALE STRIPPERS."  A couple of the hot male strippers were up on the corresponding balcony, variously propping a leg over the railing.  There wore black boots and black boy shorts.  It was not a good look, I was thinking.  Not that any of the females out advertising for their respective clubs in ratty hose sang of class.  Well—anyway.  The lead float had been halted for some time.  The diesel fumes were getting to me a bit.  I was taking pulls from my flask—the outdoor air had chilled it in my corduroy jacket pocket to the extent that the flask had a slight sheen of condensation on it, as if I had just taken it from a fridge—like it was a quart of blood that someone had donated.  I had drank about half of it, or not quite half because I hadn't filled it all of the way.  (I use a small funnel to fill them when I'm at home, a gift from B.)  All of my compatriots needed to hit the can.  We went back, not necessarily for the night, but it became itself.  Brett and I had a beer at May Baily's, and then we had another.  The Abita Amber.  Lisa was tending to the several other patrons.  A couple came in and used four drink tickets.  Two of the drinks were a Malibu, pineapple juice, and lime combination.  I rambled on about work, my mental state.  Brett hears me on these sorts of things.  At just about this time, in some sort of unmentioned agreement, everyone in the bar got up and left at the same time, and Lisa blew out the candles.  That was it, the night was over.

V.  Saturday Late Morning, The Briefest Snippet.

It's slick out on these old stones.  Under the asphalt, some streets are old cobblestone, a memory.  I am leaning against a wall, scratching, as my friends shop, as people walk by me.  Someone says, "It's all about the jimmy juice."

[a half of an hour passes]

I'm leaning against an appurtenance, jotting.  Brett went across the street.  The ladies popped into a jewelry store.  They're back....

VI.  Saturday.

It's late afternoon, calling on early evening.  If there is a quiet time in New Orleans, this is probably it.  Still, sounds filter into our room  through the old, painted-shut window.  A sign on the window says, "This window will not open."  The sounds include a guy opening the lid of one, and then a second, manhole.  For what reason I cannot fathom.  He has a flashlight but I don't see him using it.  If he is conducting some sort of inspection it is cursory.  Motorcycles.  Because there is stop-and-go traffic on Dauphine on a Saturday, these machines must rumble, idle, throttle, rumble, idle—going nowhere, wondering when they will get to go somewhere.  It makes no sense to me.  I hear only a few voices.  About an hour ago I thought I heard negative tones, possibly drunken.  Curses.

I am trying not to nap.  I fear awakening—groggy, pasty, stiff—a sort of rebirth, like that movie with Kiefer Sutherland and Julia Roberts, where they're med school students.  Not Scanners...not Clockers...someone will know.  I haven't had a drink yet today (4:42p).  But I have poured some Beam and it's over on the nightstand in a plastic cup.  Admittedly, I am not yet fully re-hydrated.  But we never did get another cup of coffee.  We had muffalettas for lunch: big, bready, mult-meat sandwiches accented by an olive/pepperoncini tapenade...the olives ooze with oil and it gets on your hands so when you set the sandwich down there's sesame seeds sticking to your hands, and an herb or two—you lick that stuff off of there: delicious.  The bread makes the sandwich: it's a sort of focaccia I guess.  But not as heavy.  B and I split one big, round sandwich.  They shopped a bit after that.  Brett bought a hat at the French Market.  I've seen him wear it only briefly.  It has a little bit of a sparkle to it.  We walked back toward Cafe du Monde but the place was swarming: big lines for to-go; a line for the seating area.  I could use one of those chicory secret blends right now.  I'd swim in one.  The city feels crowded on a day like today.  It feels international, European: like Amsterdam or Munich.

We went to one of the trolley stops to take a closer look at how it was we could get down to The Garden District.  Not from the line that runs up and down the riverfront, parallel to Decatur Street.  That line doesn't strike me as going much of anywhere.  It would see just as easy to walk its scope.  But that's just me.  (B awakes, says, "Hi...".)  We had to get to the "green" line, the nearest stop for which appeared to be at Canal and Bourbon, south of Canal.  So we walked down there via Decatur Street.  That stretch felt touristy: Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, a shop with a young person's t-shirt: I put ketchup on my ketchup.  Canal St is where I started to feel the international vibe.  It is very wide: there is dedicated track for multiple streetcar lines running down its middle.  It reminded me of the street in Munich near the train station (hauptbonhof); of the street in Amsterdam near Grand Centraal.  It had the shops selling cameras, with all of the sorts of camera bodies and lenses and boxes of camera bodies and boxes of lenses stacked and on display in the window cases that greet a customer on either side of the door.

There was a queue formed to get on the streetcar. We saw one car just pulling away.  So not everyone who was in line had gotten on the departing vessel.  It had looked full but not packed.  We went and stood in the queue.  I was wavering.  I had my map open and saw another stop "upstream," farther up Bourbon.  We walked that way.  Bourbon turns into Carondelet at some point—that threw me for a minute.  It was then that a streetcar passed right by us before we had made it to the next stop, which was at Gravier Street.  So I had "made a call" and that call was wrong.  Boy, this was starting to feel a lot like work.

The sun was warm and my wintered midwestern skin was not used to it.  A little sunscreen would have been a good idea, at least for my face.  The bourbon was making my cheeks red enough as it was.  Quietly, we discussed the possibility of taking a cab, but no one was really about to call one.  I guess it'd be a good idea, whenever you get to a foreign city, to go ahead and look up a cab company once you check into your hotel and add their number to your phone's hot list.  Eventually a street car came by, and of course there was another one trailing right behind it.  The car we got in was crowded.  In for a dime in for a dollar, I jumped up into that puppy.  The driver asked if she could help me for something and I said, "Yeah.  I'm trying to get to The Garden District."  She said, "OK, I can help you with that.  It's $1.25.  Put the dollar in the slot...."  The process requires exact change, and we were prepared (compliments to B and her purse of bottomless quarters).  I bowled through the tourists congregated toward the front of the car like I was a Super Bowl running back.  It was more open toward the back, including one whole seat that was not occupied.  Like a gentleman, I waited for the ladies to take it.  Then when we got to the Bourbon and Canal stop the driver yelled out, "OK—everybody off!"  And it was like, "Huh?"  A guy sitting right across from us yelled back, with fervor, "But I just got on!"  And the driver was like, "OK, yeah.  Except for the people that just got on."  Despite the line queued up to get on at Canal and Bourbon, this lady was not letting anybody else on.  I guess because the car right behind us was for "new people".

The car, empty, was pleasant.  The windows were mostly open—it was sunny and breezy.  We did the bend along Canal from Bourbon to Royal, and then down Royal: slowly...very....very...slow...ly.  As a fellow said who got on a few stops down Royal Street: "The New Orleans streetcar has all the hallmarks of an ill-fated take on modern transportation: on-board payment, lack of its own dedicated lane, frequent stops."  I couldn't have said it better myself.  He must have been some kind of civil engineer.  Or a highly paid consultant to some locale!  We passed a series of construction sites that made me just want to crawl into a hole and go to sleep.  Just before Robert E. Lee Circle, a bum boarded.  I had the quick thought: "He's got a buck twenty-five to spend on a street car ride?  Hey, it's a free country, right?"

As we made the turn around the circle, two things struck me at once.  First, the boarded-up remains of a gas station struck me as being a match for those pictured in a photo that occasionally graces my desktop.  Let me explain.  My desktop photo rotates among hundreds of photos that I have stashed in a particular photo on my computer.  I saved quite a few to this folder during the Hurricane Katrina coverage.  In my mind's eye, the photo included a gas station, mostly painted white, with the city behind it as a backdrop, and with a young looter wading through waist-deep water in front of it cradling a twelve pack of soda in one of his arms as he dragged a garbage bag full of whatever behind him with his other hand.  This was a hierophany.  And then it all went to shit.  Literally.

I smelled something.  It couldn't be—.  It reminded me of this nasty danky-cranky goop my dad bought one time that you were supposed to use to doctor up your catfish bait.  I went through a couple of minutes' worth of denial.  It really couldn't be, I thought.  It's got to be something else.  Then finally I said to B, "Is that that guy that smells?"  She must have been waiting for me to say something because it didn't take her a split second to say that it was.  It was awful, it was terrible.  I was saying a prayer of thanks that I had a window seat, and I had my nose hanging out the window for real.  B was literally sinking her nose into my upper left arm.  Another gal on the streetcar was covering her nose and her mouth; then she changed seats.  Brett and Fairchild were downwind, on the wrong side of wicked crosswind; they changed seats.  And, now that I'm back home, and typing it all up, I have gone and looked at the photo I was thinking about.  I was wrong.  The business in the photo wasn't a gas station at all, but something called "Food Circle Store."  And the little kid wasn't even in that photo, he was in a different photo, in which he was the lone subject.  But I was right about him cradling a twelve pack of soda (Diet Pepsi) and trailing a trash back behind him atop the flood waters.  And, for what it's worth, there are tall corporate buildings in the background of the Food Circle, so I wasn't totally off the mark.

I didn't have a clear notion of where exactly it was we were going.  "The Garden District."  I was looking for a bunch of gardens to appear suddenly, one on top of the next.  Of course I was sitting there thinking about Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which isn't even set in New Orleans.  But that's what came to mind.  By this time, we were out of downtown, and the streetcar had purchased its own line of track, running down the middle of a fine, wide street.  B and I were looking at the map the hotel folks had given us at check-in.  On it The Garden District was marked quite clearly in purple.  We got off at Sixth Street.  The only landmark I could see as being in The Garden District was Lafayette Cemetery, so that's where we went.  It was pretty neat: all of the sarcophaguses...sarcophagusagus!...sarcophagi?  Yeah, spell-check is confirming that sarcophagi is a word.  Old stone, mortar, and brick.  Many were in disrepair but others were in fine shape.  At first I went around thinking: "I guess not one gets buried here anymore."  But then I saw an inscription listing a date of death as 2011.  I guess it all depends on what family owns a particular lot or structure and how much effort and resource that collection of corporeal souls wishes to devote to the passers-on. 

I heard a jovial repartee coming from a spot I could not see and wondered if there were some sort of wine and cheese social being held at a particular plot.  Alas, it was only a crew from the Save our Cemeteries not-for-profit working on one of the decrepitated sarcophagi.  This group's signs were posted here and there throughout Lafayette like campaign yard signs.  It struck me as an occupation I wouldn't mind taking up, depending on the pay.  Without trying I found a sarcophagus for a group of Randalls: Hattie, Milton, Joseph Beauvais.  Neat!  I took some photos and sent them to my sister, our family's resident genealogist.  We didn't stay at Lafayette that long.  I looked for textures but then again cemeteries aren't exactly bastions of various shades of color, applied from one generation to the next, are they?

Brett asked the valet at Commander's Palace to call us a cab.  The valet did just that and before long we were in a cab heading home through the increasingly crowded downtown streets of New Orleans, LA. At one point, a major snarl threatened and we talked about having the driver just drop us then and there.  I thought that was what he wanted—he seemed to be the one to suggest it.  We were basically at Canal and Bourbon, where all of this began, and not far from the hotel.  It was a wedding procession that was getting traffic in a tizzy, the cops were leading the way, shutting down a street or two.  So I said, "Yeah, just drop us."  But somehow our cabbie interpreted this to mean, "Yeah, just drop us at our hotel still."  That set off an incredibly tense moment of uncommunicated confusion.  "Just tell me, " he said.  A car was honking at us from behind.  I thought I had made myself clear so I wasn't sure what else to say.  Communication breakdown.  He took us around it.  The ride ended up being $20 and it was worth every penny.  It was much quicker than the streetcar and there was no stench.

After that I went to the nondescript bookstore right across from our hotel.  It has a small sign pronouncing its hours, but the sign does not suggest its business as pertaining to a bookstore.  If it were not for the $1 bin of book the shopkeeper sets out during business hours, I would not have known what was inside.  I went in.  I asked the guy is he had any Melville.  "Yeah," he says.  "I've actually got a pretty good skein of it, right over, here."  He was shorter, skinny, a grey sort of fellow.  Pretty much exactly the sort of person you would think you'd find running a secret, tiny, dusty, old, out-of-the-way, floor-to-ceiling-with-books, not-so-well-lit kind of bookstore.  He had dark, thick-rimmed glasses.  When I asked about Dos Passos, he asked me to put a stray Dos Passos volume in its place, on one of the top shelves.  "Since you're so tall."  I asked about J.G. Farrell and he responded by saying that, yes, he had one of the Studs Lonigan trilogy volumes.  But wait, those are by James T. Farrell.  And I was asking about the works of James G. Farrell.  A middle initial can make all of the difference.  J.G. Farrell wrote The Singapore Grip, which itself was part of a trilogy, along with The Siege of Krishnapur, which won a Booker Prize, which I was kind of hoping to pick up, and which no one seems to have freaking heard about.  And I said, "Yeah, the version I have is put out by the New York Review of Books."  And he says, "Oh yeah, those elegant little paperbacks."  And I was thinking, "Well, the one I had might have been elegant, but it wasn't little."  I just decided to drop it.  I got a Melville compendium that contains some of his short works along with various letters, poems, and other errata.  And I got a Chris Offutt book of short stories including a story called "Barred Owl" that sealed the book's fate as a purchase, by me.

Now I am knee-deep in today's story, and it's not even the best story I have got to tell.  I'm bleary-eyed.  During the time I was writing all of this B made our in-room coffee.  That is, tomorrow morning's in-room coffee.  It's not a light gesture.  We talked about dinner.  She made a reservation for brunch.  I've drank about half of the bourbon I poured an hour ago.  Music blares—BLARES!—from a car crawling down Dauphine.  "Seriously?!  How can someone hear that without their ears blowing up?" she says.  It was as if there had been a guy out there washing windows and as he was about to do our window—the top half, with the bottom half open—he cranked his soundsystem to full.  I'm nervous about getting food without a wait and more-than-should-be-expected pain in the ass.  It's vacation but this city suddenly feels full.

VII.  Waffle House.

Shattered, scattered, and plattered.  Brett's dad died.  We were standing at Conti Street.  Plans were afoot.  It was raining, but only from above.  The burger I had sits in me like a stone.  Brett had just gotten the hiccups.  He could not shake them.  He had a message on his phone.  He listened, gravely.  I figured it was work.  "What's going on?"  I ask, leaning in.  "My dad died," he says, matter-of-fact.  Are there three more definitive words?  We were going about our night—Frenchman Street, Bourbon Street, a club?—none of that tonight, thank you.  He said he wanted to find a quiet spot, to make a phone call, or just to sit, to be nothing.  He was half-lit, fully-full.  We'd had a cigarette.  "Was he sick?" I ask.  "He had a bad heart," he says.   "We weren't close, obviously.  I didn't meet him until five years ago—seven years ago."  "When was the last time you saw him?"  "Two weeks ago."  I don't know.  I don't know much.  I don't know anything.  John Snow.  Brett quoting King: "The world had moved on."  (Gunslinger).  Or what I read just hours ago, Offutt quoting O'Connor:

Where you came from is gone
where you thought you were going to was never there
and where you are in no good unless you can get away from it.

Dark, cold as frozen steel, but never more appropriate.  What do I do, and what a selfish question.  A scaffolding, you wish something was being built, is fallen to the earth.  I will put myself at his disposal.  I will be neither seen nor heard, I will be a brother in arms.  Where are you Pat when I need you most?  You are better at this than me and how can Brett lean on me if I can't lean on you?

I am back at the hotel writing this.  I told B, it was a flashback to Bobby telling me and Pat on a disc golf course that his brother was, indeed, dead.  What is there to do but offer one's self up?  And again selfish thoughts: the wolves, the reavers and reapers, they are at my door!  They come ever closer, picking away at my once-impenetrable margins!  Soon enough they will get their man—The Man—they always do.

And he were just trying to get our drink on—if it weren't for that god-damned dresser-drawer full of clothes!!!


By text he asked if we were back at the hotel.  I said yes; said we were here for him; up for whatever was necessary, including giving him time to himself.  So I've flossed, sipped some water, and poured a bit too much Beam into my trusty plastic cup (our maid did not throw it away, rock on!)  There is no answer, there is only the next second.  I have never seen Brett grieve.  I have avoided grief in my life if at all possible.  I cannot imagine not knowing my father for thirty-some years.  And then somehow establishing relations, having dialogue, conversation, feelings.  And then, and only then.  This is how little I know: how little I know Brett, hot little I know about the lives of others.  There is something rattling in our room—rattling—rattling—it feigns a halt, but then it picks right up again.  Brett is not even his first name, it is his last name.  Is it his father's name?  I do not know—I truly do not know.

B is passed out on two hurricanes.  I am sitting here writing, looking at my bourbon, listening to this rattling and wondering where he is: literally, mentally.  I am considering myself on call but I'm looking at that bed, those pillows, and I'm thinking about wiping it all away for awhile.

Brett remarked on the wetness of the streets here, "It seems like they're always wet."  It seems to me a condensation of sorts, like dew.  Especially present on manhole covers, utility meter covers—anything metal on the ground.  Not quite like dew—more than droplets.  Where is the moisture: in the ground or in the air?  New Orleans, the city of wet streets.  Eh.

Me lying down, "I'm not sure what to do."
B turning over, "I think we should just sleep."
Just sleep, baby!

I was just about out.  Now I'm headed out.  See ya!


Hotel Monteleone river fog—got
ten dollars in my pocket.
"How's he doing?"
"He's alright."
Just went to the strip club again
for the first time in ever.
But the girls there, they don't look real.
Those ridiculous shoes they wear.  If
they wore just regular heels, they'd
be a lot hotter.  "Hey, bard,
"no bawd."  OK.
"No gutter talk."  Fine.

I am back on my side,
writing in the dark with
just a few things visible outside the
window.  Visible, risible, divisible derigible.
I thought it was a weather balloon.
He speaks in semaphores, he
wears a gramophone,
he, he, he sweats
a microphone.

Like I said, Hotel Monteleone.
Loud car, conjunctivitis in
my mind's eye.  My face is bloated,
my cheeks, red
with bourbon and an unfamiliar
sun.  But my eyes,
mine eyes still shine through.

"Do you want to get under the covers?"
Grunt.  Last half-hour's cigarette
courses through me.  Never got drunk.

Alcohol as a fuel,  but not as a propellant.
Mists, mists, rise and warp the bridge.
This city can't hold back
the mists that are always
welling up from beneath.  They don't bury
their dead below ground—but then who
is sending up that mist?

Got ten dollars in my pocket.

Hustler Club.  $10 to get in.
And a $1 tip at the register.
Budweiser $8, w/ tip $9.  Is there
a ballgame being played here?  Second-hand
smoke makes me want to immolate.
I'm the Hindenburg: one spark
away from monstrosity: Oh,
the humanity, a
manatee, a saltwater lagoon
in Saskatoon, the call of a loon,
and where is the moon?  It's June.

Too soon.

I didn't take a single pull
from my flask today.  A
victory?  Not in New Orleans.
Enough wars fought here already.
You got a battle to win?  Win
it somewhere else.  Or else.

A selfie.  ALF.  Audrie Hepburn,
Melville's Redburn, sideburns, and jowls.
Album covers, a place to tie
a ship down.

We need to eat, we need to sleep, and we need
music.  Or as Phil would say,
"It's all a wash, we
drink, we eat, we walk, but
we rarely really talk."  Goodnight buddy.

VIII.  Feeling Seymour Hoffmann.

I'd do the jaunt to Feelings Cafe differently.  I tried; it didn't work out.  So I'm sitting on a bench at Jackson Square while B browses windows.  It is still foggy, but not as foggy as it was.  The rain has held off but today's early willingness to rain will become reality before long.  Did I say it was Sunday?  We ate brunch at Muriel's, our most decadent venture yet.  I had a Ramos gin fizz—that's "ray-mos" not "rah-mos".  It's a bit windy.  The cathedral is on Jackson Square; from a ways away we could see its spire.  Today seems stuck between gears.

Imagined scene: I'm in a bar later, screw the Super Bowl, I raise a glass to Phillip Seymour Hoffmann.  Someone says, "Fuck him.  He sucks.  What good movie was he ever in?"

I say, "He was great in The Master, I liked that movie."

The guy says, "That movie sucked."

I say, "I think the problem, actually, was that the person watching the movie sucked. You, I mean."

Then we proceed to get in a fight—nearly.  I go out of the bar, shaking, and light a cigarette.  Or try, except I can't hold the flame to it.  Someone else does it for me.  The cigarette then makes me gag because I've had too much to drink

It's hard for me to fathom him overdosing on heroin.  I don't know heroin.  As Freddie Miles in The Talented Mr. Ripley, he scared me in a Nathaniel Lane sort of way—he was so intensely not me.  I barely remember him from The Big Lebowski.  I don't remember much of Magnolia at all.  I fast-forwarded through most of Boogie Nights.  But I really did like The Master.  Hell, he was an addict in that movie, playing the cult leader Lancaster Dodd.  A fraud, an act, someone who was getting by by saying whatever it was he had to say.  And now he's gone.  So long PSH, so long.

Roy sent me the text.  I'm floored; moved.  A little emotional.  It's frightening.  I think a bright person, an inquisitive person is usually doomed the first time he ever gets high.  Because nothing else will match that experience.  I had a professor in college say that after he had his first cup of coffee in the morning, the rest of the day was all down hill.  I know exactly what he meant.  For a person to survive in this world of uppers and downers, it seems to me that he has to find his ultimate high in the mere passage of time.  Stacking up days has to be the illicit act, one after another.  Because there isn't any other way to get consistent satisfaction.  The problem, of course, is that the passage of time doesn't deliver any stimulus "in the moment."  It doesn't "feel" like anything.  It's an action, but it plays out slowly, as one long, weary (wistful?) piece of labor.  It's an exercise where you only do one rep.  "Hey, look at me—I'm alive, I'm upright, I'm still fucking here!"  It's like a play and you're an actor in it.  You get up and do a show, you go to sleep, you get up the next day and do another show, the only difference being that the audience slowly turns over as time passes.  He was 46.  I can't accept it.  It hurts too much to think about because I'm still not convinced that there's anything else to do with one's soul once the curtain on (this) life goes down and the applause fades once more.


It's Monday and we're at the airport.  I was just reading a Washington Post article on PSH.  It referenced a book by a writer, last name Laing, who looked at the lives—the alcoholic lives—of Hemingway and Fitzgerald (and also Eugene O'Neill, whose name I know but whose work I don't—I believe he was a playwright, and I don't really like plays, so—).  This Laing book was The Song of an Echo, or something like that—heck, why don't I just look it up?  Why be lazy?  OK, it's Olivia Laing's, The Trip to Echo Spring, in which she writes, "Writers, even the most socially gifted and established, must be outsiders of some sort, if only because their job is that of scrutiniser and witness."  But then the writer of this article in the Post, Ann Hornaday, is talking about the debate of: artist-as-empath and therefore sometimes needing numbness versus maybe these people are just diseased and looking for an excuse to enable that disease.  She writes, "That people blessed with such prodigious gifts can also be so tortured, we assume, has something to do with the price of genius.  There must be a mystical karmic balance in which the sensitivity it takes to be a professional empath—someone willing to take the psychic, emotional and even physical risks necessary to shape-shift into another individual, over and over again—leads them to seek numbness, whether to quiet the voices in their heads, heal their primal wounds or help the sensory and creative juices to flow with more Rabelaisain ferocity.  They're simply too sensitive, too deep feeling, for this cold, hard world."

And I think Hornaday has her tongue feeling along the inside of her cheek there because then she says, "But rhetoric of artistic demons obscures what is, in reality, simply a crippling disease—of which Hoffmann is the latest famous casualty...."  So she's calling "bullshit" on the artistic demons as justification for drug abuse concept.  And she's right.  It is bullshit.  Some of these artistic types like a drink or a smoke and then they have some success.  Or at least they feel to themselves that they are accomplishing something.  And the drink, the smoke, the needle becomes a natural part of their life, like a plant that thrives in that person's personal landscape.  A habit, a companion.  And it's the fear of losing the reality of his production—artistic product: paintings, books, films, whatever—that locks a person into whatever vice he has tended to along the way.  I mean, how many people have ever died of writer's block?  Ir how many actors and writers die from demon-disease years after they've stopped working?  In most of these tragic cases, I'd venture, these artists are still working—that is both the problem and the tragedy.

I've been drinking on a regular basis for years now.  Lately I've been writing more—certainly in terms of number of words put down on a page, but perhaps not in terms of "refined" product.  It's been years since I've written this much, probably going back to 06/07/08.  And it feels good.  I've got a corpus.  It might not be art—and I think I'm capable of something better—but this travelogue exists; it's on this page; it's online and it will remain there long after I'm gone.  I fear that if I changed in a fundamental way—went cold sober—that I would not have written what I wrote, e.g., on this trip.  But maybe that's poppycock, or at least not the entire story because what I really want to do with my life, what I'd really look at and see as an accomplishment, is writing the next great American novel.  I've wanted that, off and on, for 17 years.  And I'm not any closer to it now than I was then.  Unless perhaps I am closer to it, and I just don't know it, because I spend too many hours of too many days under water.

It's silly to pose this conundrum as some great mystery.  I mean, I could do the experiment.  I can control—or can I?—the crucial variable: drinking or not drinking.  I'm coming off of a trip where I drank.  Next I could do a trip where I didn't drink and see what resulted.  I used to be strong in that way, curious enough about the rest of life to leave the rocket fuels alone.  Now I think I need them.


The cloud cover we were above broke, dissipated, and not does not exist.  What I am looking at looks like the Arctic.  Except for whatever river this is I can see—I assume it is The River, in the same way that Moby Dick is The Whale.  The land I see is flat and snow-covered.  It looks cold.  It has snowed over this land—west Tennessee?  Arkansas?—and it hasn't gotten back above freezing since the snowfall.  Winter had this land firmly in its grip four days ago and nothing has changed.  What is developed looks like farmland because of its appearance as rectangle upon rectangle.  What is not developed is not nearly as white.  Trees or elevation's undulations have somehow resisted or hidden the snow.

The river is not white.  If it were: I could not see it; it would not be a river.  I tributary I can see is coiled and uncoiled this way and that in a natural way, like silly string.  In just the few minutes since I started describing the landscape, the land has become more hilly.  We're banking.  I see a canal—a man-made waterway.  We're really performing quite a turn.  I can't see anything out there in the way of a city, not even a town.  It's like a cheap rendition of The Badlands.  I'm in B's Badlands.  She's irked at me with reason.  I disappoint myself too often.  It makes me wonder if all of this that I'm writing isn't one big lie.  I can't quite tell the truth.  This is the best I can do.  The snow has disappeared.  It's time for me to go.  Goodbye now.

IX.  P.S. St. Louis: Notes and Errata.

A moment and then another moment.  Me and Fairchild walking back to the hotel from the Absinthe House on Sunday.  Me explaining why I could not, would not go the bathroom there.  Us riding up the elevator together.  Then me asking her about Brett and his dad as we walked down Conti toward Kerry Pub, to meet him and B.  About how Brett didn't know who his father was, how his mother wouldn't tell him.  You realize things about someone that you don't know, that you'd never know if you didn't start prying, just a bit.  It was his aunt, who he begged to tell him the truth, who told him the truth, because a person, a son, has a right to know.  I can imagine what happened next.  Someone answered a phone, someone opened a door.  It's one of those things I could never appreciate.  Kerry Pub was just about empty and that's the dichotomy: a place is packed or it's empty.  Can't have it both ways.


Where we were was the Dauphine Orleans Hotel, 415 Rue Dauphine, New Orleans, LA 70112.


Note 1.

"Do you want to do anything after this?"

"I'll walk down to the river and see what there is to see, if anything—with the fog."

It's foggy, misty.  The street cleaners are at their perpetual, daily task.  As Brett said, "It seems to be 365 down here."  After he knocked, I asked for a minute, took five.  Belted my bourbon, stole myself.  We walked north on Bourbon, the back south.  Ended up at a strippy.  It sucked.  I'm not going to go into why I thought that—but I did spend an unfortunate, woozy stretch sunk in that hole of existence, and I'm telling you: it sucked.  Ten-dollar cover, eight dollar Budweisers, one stage with a pole that kept getting wiped down.  It seemed to be the qualifying round for an event that was going to be on display in Sochi.  That's all.  Afterward we had a smoke buy the pool.  The chairs were cushy.  It was quiet.  That I enjoyed.


Notes 2 & 3.

The MSC Adriatic, flying the flag of Monrovia.  A blinding sun, I forgot my sunglasses—I dismissed the possibility I would need them.  We left before the sun had risen.  Joggers.  Dewy slickness.  Coffee lacking chicory.  Spinning at the bend is the ship, redirecting itself, yawing, enormous, bearing stacks of seven or eight containers above board.  A coal barge is moving downriver, in the opposite direction.  The morning mist is a foggy blanket, laced with seagulls.  There's a surf of sorts.  Waves.  The sound of the ocean.  I'm eating a croissant.  A runner says, "Almost there."  There's live jazz on all departing cruises.  B's eating the biscotti "biscuits" from the hotel.  The coal barge is so low you can hardly even see it in the fog.  A walker goes by in flip-flops.  I don't see them but I hear them as I write.  A few vagrants get boisterous in their morning convo.  As I make to pocket the scrap of hotel stationary on which I write (it's almost full), I feel the cool plastic of last night's flask, not yet disposed.  Bourbon Street, aplenty with party last night.  This morning it was trashed, dotted with vomit, the other side of the gold dubloon.

I've got that hollowed-out feeling, like someone has taken a spork and scraped out my insides.  Headache pills, hotel-room coffee, last night's clothes.

But I had to get back out in it: textures.  The streets getting a bath.  Broken strings of beads.  Perfect running weather.  A sidewalk sprayer outfitted into an ATV is having at it along Decatur and some of the spray hits us, the taste of lemony soap finds a nook in my mouth.  Not pleasant.  Not good with coffee.  I hear the sound of the back gate of a delivery van, lowered, shut.  Like a garage door being lowered by hand.  The revelers are mostly asleep but the city's infrastructure is up and at 'em, setting the stage for another day.  Service industry workers wheel garbage cans to or from the curb—I think the trucks come by every morning to haul our tailings away.  Jazz flows from the speakers outside the Omni Hotel.  As someone walks by their sounds make a scuffling sound on the dewy paving stones.  A car's shocks as it eases over a bump: they compress and decompress.  Then I hear the clanging of a dolly.


Note 4.

"Oh, you want to go to the bathroom now?!"

"Yeah, because there isn't a dresser-drawer full of clothes!!!"

We were standing on Conti after dinner at the Copper Monkey.  The rain was falling, but only from above.  Brett says, "That's got to be the weirdest conversation...."

The End.

New Orleans and St. Louis, 2014.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Eagles in Winfield, MO: Lock and Dam #25


We left here at two minutes to nine—nine being when we were to be at the Veaux-Hanns' house.  I had rushed to get my backpack filled with the right things.  As I set it in the backseat, I remarked to myself, "This bag is heavy."

At the Veaux-Hanns' place, Anne was ready to greet us as we made to knock.  We piled into her Scion, for what reason I never inquired. I was kind of disappointed because I really like riding in Pat's Vibe.  Pat still drove.  I rode shotgun and felt I had nothing to say.  Pat made the left from 170 North to 70 West (a turn he once made in error, begging Bobby's chagrin at the White Birch disc golf course, but I digress).  I thought: he's done it again—why are we getting on 70 West when Grafton and the eagles are east of here?  But I didn't say anything, except for a small prayer that I said only to myself (and God).

Through the airport area on Interstate 70 is a nasty speed trap—Ferguson, Edmundson, St. Ann: the various airport municipalities, some more obscure than others.  Pat wasn't exactly laying off it but I didn't see any cops.  Eventually they were there (two of St. Ann's finest), but one had gotten out to share some hot intel with the other and Pat saw the guy's fluorescent highlighter vest and eased up.  That disaster averted, I got back to worrying about where in the hell we were going.  I thought, "Is he going to take Lindbergh to 367?"  That's not the way I would have gone, and we would lose a little time, but it would get the job done—I guess.  Nope.  Then we flew by the ramp to get onto 270 and I was completely confused.  I resorted to consoling my worry by thinking, "Okay.  There's some other place, along the Missouri River that's really good for seeing eagles, that Pat knows about because he's got the whole St. Charles County sort of country street smarts thing going on."  Except that B and I had recently mentioned to Pat and Anne that we (me and B) had driven up along the Great River Road to Grafton on Christmas (with my sister Emma and her boyfriend, Ron) and we had seen a boatload of eagles along the way.  If Pat knew about a sweet spot for eagle watching that was somehow better, he didn't mention it then.

I started to worry that his plan was to take a series of ferries to get us to Grafton, something we had done once when we all went to Grafton for my birthday one September.  On that occasion we first took the Golden Eagle ferry across the Mississippi to Golden Eagle, IL before then taking the Brussels ferry across the Mississippi yet again to Grafton.  This possibility concerned me because I was pretty sure that neither of those two ferries was running today.  I'd checked.  The winter has been quite cold and best I could tell from the websites for those ferries—and from Twitter—the ferries were shut down because of ice build-up on the river.  The Winfield ferry, which I'd never been on and didn't even realize existed, had apparently started running in the last day or so, but Winfield was a bit further north.  If we headed up that way, it might be our only option but even then: if the Brussels ferry wasn't running it wasn't clear to me how we'd get to Grafton.  Either way, it was looking like we were going to be spending more time in the car than I had imagined and I was starting to fret just a bit.

I wanted a cigarette.  If we were in Pat's Vibe I would have had one then and there but I wasn't going to test Anne's Scion rules.  Plus, she was sitting directly behind me and having a cigarette meant not just second-hand smoke but also chilly air from the open window hitting her.  So I demurred.  I returned my attention to the road thinking, "Man, we are really heading West."

That's when B piped up and said, "I've never taken this way to get to Alton."  Alton being along the way to Grafton.  Pat's reply was something like, "Going this way gets us closer to Pere Marquette than going through Alton."  Yeah, by way of ferry maybe.  I asked if he was planning on taking a ferry.  He said, "The Brussels, yeah."  I said, "Just the Brussels?"  I'm not sure he replied.  The conversation ended ambiguously.  Before too long we headed north on Highway 79 and things took a turn for the much, much better.


We crossed into O'Fallon, Missouri, population 79,000 and counting.  This area is a flood plain.  There's a sign along the road that says, "They call it a flood plain because it's plain that it floods."  We were driving north at least, passing by a series of sod farms.  I looked at the sod and it looked so welcoming even in its brownish winter state.  I thought about being out on it in the summer, barefoot, throwing around a baseball with Roy, or playing disc golf with Pat and Bobby.  It was quite a vision.  The sod farmers have their long, strapping straddle-sprayers: the metal horsey-looking sprinklers consisting of a series of arches with what look like tires spaced about twenty feet apart.  Those sprinklers are busy in the summer, I'm sure.  Amongst the sod farms is some other farmland and then various patches of woods.  I saw an elevated hovel that looked like an art deco take on a deer stand.  It caught Pat's eye as well.  I suggested it was a "glorified deer stand" but Pat doubted it.  "That close to the road?" he wondered.  "I hope they shoot in the right direction."  Then I saw other, more basic deer stands that weren't much farther from the road.  It was sunny.

The skies were a blue, such a blue: if someone else's eyes were that color: you'd look at them.  Hard blue, clear blue, rare blue.  I was glad I wasn't driving, so I could look—and remember.  We happened upon—Wow, was my thought, we have gotten ourselves to Winfield already: it's not that far north.  I saw a MoDOT "Project Announcement" sign that had affixed to it the "Completed as Promised" tag.  It concerned a new bridge.  So I thought, "Hmmm, there must be a bridge up this way that will get us over the river...and then perhaps the Brussels ferry will be running and it'll all work out."

We took a right, heading east—finally east—along a simple road, through farmland.  Rich, dark, wet, snow-copsed farmland.  "So this was flooded then?" asks B.  Pat says, "Yeah.  All of this." I had seen signs for Lock and Dam #25, but I didn't think anything of it.  I see a creek, some standing water, a barn here and there, but not much of anything else.  We pass a turnoff to the left that bore the Army Corps of Engineers little red and white castle emblem.  Yep, that's where Pat wanted to turn, he says, but he was in the middle of saying something and went right by it.  We went down and turned around, nosing briefly into Big Box Road—and then we headed back to the turnoff for the Lock and Dam #25 Public Access area.  We made our way over a bridge, under which was a landscape characteristic of backwater bottomland.  I saw three large dark birds that were really kind of bulgy-looking and I thought: turkeys, three of them.  They were on terra firma but standing alongside the inlet that was running under the bridge.  Of course, they weren't turkeys.  They were eagles.


Bald eagles, three of them.  Only one was an adult, the rest "immature" bald eagles, or "imms."  During their first one or two years, bald eagles attain their full size and shape (31" long, with a wingspan of 6'-7'6") but they don't yet get the emblematic white head and white tail.  In an imm, those parts remain brown although other parts of an immature bald eagle can take on a mottled appearance, with cameos of white at random over their length.  This mottled aspect, and a bigger beak, sets their appearance apart from that of a bald eagle, which is otherwise similar. 

Pat paused along the bridge as we looked down at this trio—a startling, early, easy find of three bald eagles not that far away.  We proceeded on to the lock and dam parking lot.  On the northern side of the lock and dam (to our left as we looked out), the river was mostly frozen.  Movement, at most, was limited to ice floe—big, cold unmoving chunks.  Maybe you would put your foot through it if you tried to step on it, but it might as well have been completely frozen.  The other side of the lock and dam was not visible to us.  I had never been to this lock and dam, but I have been to the Mel Price Lock and Dam, downriver in Alton.  That is Lock and Dam #26, so there aren't any others between here and there.

I got my binoculars out, along with my Audubon bird book, my cigs.  I neglected to bring my gloves, which I soon regretted.  We were still in the parking lot, only having moved a few yards from the car, when we heard a knobby, nerdy sort of "squeaky cackling" (this is how the book describes this form of the eagle's voice).  B asked what it was.  And I basically said, "Well, it's not an eagle, if that's what you're asking—it must be some other bird, but I couldn't tell you which bird."  But it wasn't long before we were looking right at a couple of eagles.  They were sitting on limbs in a tree that hovered right above the parking lot: one imm, one adult.  They were quite close!  I still didn't think it was an eagle that had made the squeaky cackling sound.  But it wasn't until twenty or so minutes later, when we were walking back to the parking lot, that we heard the sound again and realized without a doubt that it was indeed the voice of an eagle.

There was a long, gravel sort of levee-top road that we walked out along.  It was cold—the wind was persistent.  B took some photos with her phone.  Pat had his good camera, with a long lens.  He used it like I did my binoculars.  Anne was well-bundled.  There were a lot of gulls out on the ice.  Further out, like little distant turkeys, drops of chocolate on the ice were eagles, here and there.  At least a half dozen.  Through the glasses, I could see that two sitting close together, half the way to the Illinois bank, were adults—making them look at first glance like headless turkeys.

One random drake mallard sat not too far away in the ice floe.  How cold must that be?  If you followed the ice flow north, it was clearly a channel, and perhaps three-quarters of a mile north there was a completely unfrozen, metallic blue channel that Pat suggested at first must correspond to the river's deepest point.  But later, once we were south of the lock and dam, he checked himself—the unfrozen part of the river, which led to the ice floe, led ultimately to the lock.  At some point a ship or barge had come through here, and left the unfrozen path in its wake.

Pat grabbed a rock, then a bigger one, and tried to find a spot in the ice where he could break through.  But he couldn't throw one big enough far enough—it was a catch-22. Looking west, back toward that bottomland, were a half-dozen large, white birds.  I suspected they were pelicans—which we'd seen before on the river near Grafton this past fall on a trip to Pere Marquette State Park.  Through the glasses I could see the pink-orange, big gulping bill of one.  Pelicans in January in Missouri?  Indeed.  Gulls abounded.  I never tried to make an ID on them.  Usually they are ring-billed gulls.  The gravel road seemed to extend on out a ways, but it was hard to tell.  We only went a quarter-mile or so.  Pat was wanting to get south of the dam, figuring there could be birds drawn to the river there, assuming it was not also frozen.

As we walked back to the car, one of the eagles that had been out on the ice flew toward our side of the river, fairly close.  And then one of the two eagles that had been in the tree by the parking lot decided to take flight—its wingspan is nearly as big as you will see on any flying bird save for the great blue heron or the pelican.  No other raptor comes close.  An eagle is two or three times the size of a red-tailed hawk or an American crow.  I have seen three or four bald eagles randomly, unexpectedly—and it is the huge, oven mitt-style flapping wings—the unhurried syncopation of their wing beats that gives them away as eagles.  I watch them and wonder how it is they can stay aloft.  Their flight is a show and I thanked this second one as it flew by us and north down the gravel road, to the spot where we had stopped our walk.  As it landed in the tree there, it tested the limb, causing it to wobble, bounce, and finally hold.


It wasn't as simple as just walking along the gravel road to view the south side of the lock and dam.  It was all fenced off.   So we got back in the car, drove back out the road, and took the left onto what I can now identify as Route N.  This took us past Big Box Road and along the part of Route N that we had not yet gone down.  There was a house there as the road bended to the left.  We saw signs for the Winfield ferry.  We veered to the left and followed slowly along Eagles Landing Drive, a road that runs right alongside the river.  There are four or five homes down there, built up on stilts.  This is where the ferry lands.

We stirred an eagle or two and Pat was keen on them.  He slowed the car, though we were hardly moving along anyway.  Incredibly, an idiot driving a silver sporty car actually honked at us from behind.  I said, "What is wrong with people?"  There is hardly any road left at this point on Eagles Landing Drive: it's about 70 yards to the ferry landing.  The ferry was on the other side of the river, not moving.  The idiot huffed around us sat for ten minutes waiting for the ferry, which was indeed running.

Pat wanted a better look at more eagles.  With his eyes, he tried to follow the two we had stirred.  By this time we had pulled over into what I guess is the makings of someone's driveway.  Eventually, Pat gave up on that pair and simply used the driveway as a turnaround.  He pulled off to the eastern edge of that road and parked.  Looking north, we could plainly see the lock and dam.  The river on this side of it was not frozen except for just a bit of ice building up along the edge of the river on the Illinois side.

It didn't take long before someone—Pat or B—saw the half dozen eagles actively fishing out about half way across the river.  The river was narrower south of the dam, so these eagles weren't all that far away from us.  They were hovering, watching, diving down, splashing against the surface as they fished.  It was a sight!  They were mostly imms but a bald head or two stuck out as it flew around, looking.  The house owners' floating docks were jostling below us, right at the edge of the shore.  On floats of air-filled, blue barrels, the wood of the docks squeaked and squealed as they bobbed.  The ferry—marked as the "Golden Eagle" but not in fact the Golden Eagle—made it back to our side and a couple of cars disembarked.  The idiot in the silver car was the only car that got on.

It was one of us—again Pat or B—watching the ferry make its return trip to the Illinois side of the shore who must have let his or her line of sight glide north along the Illinois shore who saw the two flocks—yes, I say they were flocks—of eagles sitting variously on the banks or on some ice that had collected right along the banks on that side of the river.  In all, there must have been 35-45 bald eagles over there!  They were in two slightly separated groups of about 20 eagles each.  Just chillin'.  The group to the left seemed to be disproportionately high in its ratio of adults to imms (in other words, lots of white heads). 

In the manner of taking languorous shifts, some eagles would leave the banks to come out into the middle of the river to fish while the eagles that had been fishing would head back to the banks for a rest.  One or two would go and join the hundreds-strong mass of gulls that worked the water just south of the dam in what appeared to be a frenzied manner.  But it probably just looked that way because there so many gulls: a teeming, swirling, silver-white mass.  Amongst this collection, the one or two eagles, being dark brown, stood out pretty easily.  I had to pee.  That was the only bad thing.  Cars went by us toward the ferry, cars went by us after leaving the ferry. 

I smoked a cigarette, gave one to Pat.  He continued to take photos.  Anne used the binoculars and looked on from the car.  She handed the binoculars to B.  A flock of bald eagles is a rare occurrence and bore our close attention.  To see them fishing was a bonus.  The chocolate lab attached to one of the four or five nearby households walked down the road toward us to say hello. Pat talked about taking the ferry over to Illinois, then hopping to Grafton via the Brussels, then getting back to Missouri via the Grafton ferry.  I wasn't sure about whether the Brussels was running but I was positive the Grafton ferry was closed for the season.  I am interested in driving around that Illinois island—what I think of the middle land between the Missouri side and the Illinois side of the river.  But I wasn't really up for it.  Only Pat seemed interested in going over there.  So we got in the car and went home.  And that's the story about how we saw dozens of bald eagles in Winfield, Missouri.

5.  Post-Script.

There are three other pieces I forgot to include as I wrote, which I have since remembered, and which I believe bear mention:

a.  Right after we got back in the car south of the dam, and shortly after I noted that about one-third of the flock on the opposite shore had scattered—"Where did they go?" we mused—Anne saw some in the trees—I scanned with the glasses and certainly some had gone into the treetops—but as we were starting to drive away, someone (maybe it was me this time) said, "Here we go, coming this way."  A big, dark, loping flapper.  You look at the bird for a second or two and think, "Which was is that bird flying: away from us or toward us?"  It was flying toward us.  Pat stopped.  It seemed as if the eagle was destined to get pretty close—Pat must have had his camera still out because he quickly said, "Jack, window, window!"  And soon enough, the eagle goes on beats-of-time flapping by us—as near us as any had been all day.  Pat snapped at it.  He showed me in the viewer and he said, "Not the best photo, but proof."  Proof to whom, I wondered.  I assumed he meant his dad, who I gather is the one who brought Pat here in the first place.

b.  For whatever reason, a day hence, I remembered this exchange:  As we were driving along the flood plain in O'Fallon, Anne got a text and said aloud, "OK, my mom just confirmed: there was an Orange Julius at the mall in Alaska."  Pat responded, "But that just seems like such an odd place for an Orange Julius.  Next you're going to tell me they had Dairy Queens there, too."  And Anne says back, "I don't know about Dairy Queens but I do know we had a Wendy's—and I liked to get Frosties."  Then they were talking about whether gas stations sold ice.  Anne said, "You gotta keep your beer cold somehow."  And Pat said, "But it's Alaska—you just set it outside."  And Anne responds, "It gets warm there—in the summer."

c.  Either right before or right after all of that, B was saying how she had never been to this part of Missouri before.  Anne said, "I haven't been here for awhile."  Pat saying he had been along this way earlier in the year.  "Buddy's funeral," he said.  And I wasn't sure if he meant it was the funeral of a buddy of his.  Or if it was the funeral of someone named Buddy.  I didn't ask.  I was staring at sod farms.

U City, MO

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Seattle: The Day After

Epilogue Written 12/1
The Finalé.

I am sitting at my little makeshift desk at home in Missouri.  The Rams are trailing the Niners at halftime, 13-3.

I have gotten a number of things done today.  These include: running an extension cord out of an attic peek-a-boo window and adding a few nail hooks alongside the uppers of the exterior of the house to route the cord through before dropping it down along the front porch so that, for the first time in right years in this home, we can sport a little "holiday cheer" in the way of lights out in front of the house; then cleaning the gutters, mostly of oak leaves, because I realized once I got up there that they really could use it.  Then I fired up the lawnmower to act as a vacuum-powered leaf shredder and I stuffed two-and-a-half lawn bags full of leaves.  After that I swept up the garage.

But it all started with me going to B at 7:00 this morning and shaking her from sleep because I needed her to go with me over to the nearby auto service place where my poor Jeep sits, dead as a rock.  We had it towed there last night because it would not start when we got back to it in spot 315 at Park Express.  It made this minimal, pathetic clicking sound when B turned the key. 

"What the...?" 

It seemed to be the battery.  So we went into the little Park Express office and I signed a liability waiver and the gal there had a shuttle take use out to the Jeep so she could use this little battery re-juicing machine they keep on site for just this sort of thing.  She put the red on red, the black on the black, and I gave it a try... it sounded more like a standard start-up, the interior lights came on at full, the clock had numbers (12:00)...but the engine still would not turn over.  I tried again, again. 

Another Park Express employee came over and suggested maybe the Jeep battery needed just a little bit more time to take the charge from the charging kitty.  So we waited, maybe just a minute, just kind of all standing around dumb.  I tried it again, no difference.  We waited a little longer, I tried it again.  No charge, no start.  We got back on the shuttle and B and I started to talk.  I figured our best shot was to consult Pat—maybe get him on site and see what he thought.  Maybe we'd just leave the Jeep there for another night, get a ride home from him or someone, or take a cab home, then come back and do a full car-to-car charge tomorrow if need be. 

But B was already moving on a tow, and had USAA on the phone as we got back to the Park Express lounge.  They would tow it for free—to a service station—and we would have the service station look at it in the light of day.  The Park Express gal had told B that "it wasn't the battery"...so what it could be, who knows, it deserved a professional look, was B's thinking.  Admittedly, the Jeep has had problems before—including electrical problems.  But it has never refused to start.  The tow truck company had gotten the call and they would have a truck reach us in 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, I am checking first one sports score app and then another to figure out what is going on in the 2013 Iron Bowl (Alabama vs. Auburn).  When we landed earlier, it was a 21-21 tie at the end of the third quarter.  The ScoreCenter app was telling me—with much deliberation—that the score was then 28-28, with only a few seconds left.  Then it was showing 28-28, end of regulation.  So it was going to go to overtime, eh?  I had a feeling....  But then the app was telling me that there was still a second left in the game.  This didn't make any sense and I got aggravated so I went to Yahoo's SportsTacular app.  That app runs a lot quicker—it gave me the news I feared: 31-28 Alabama.  The damn Tide had kicked a last-second field goal and won the frickin' game.  I'm not sure why but I went back to the ScoreCenter app to verify this result.  But now ScoreCenter was telling me that Auburn had won 34-28.  In a situation like this (confusion, chaos) there is only one app worth consulting: Twitter.

And so when I went into Twitter and looked at the trending it all became clear: Auburn had won!  One tweet said: The greatest finish to a college football game ever!  Another: That kid who ran the kick back is gonna get so hammered tonight!  Another pasted in screenshots from the telecast showing a shocked, crestfallen 'Bama fan.  Another showed a sullen Nick Saban.  At this point I've gathered that Auburn has won but I still don't understand how.  Did 'Bama indeed kick a field goal to go up 31-28 but leaving one second on the clock and then let Auburn run the ensuing kickoff back? 

Not exactly.  I had to play a clip of the Auburn radio call back to understand.  With one second left, Alabama had attempted a 57-yard field goal to win.  It fell short but was caught near the back of the end zone  by Auburn's Chris Davis.  In that scenario, the play is still live—the ball is not dead just because it was kicked.  So the Auburn player catches the kick and runs it all the way back for a touchdown and an Auburn win!  Can  you believe it?  The link I had found for the radio call was from a DropBox site—thanks to whoever posted that on Twitter.  B and I just sat there on Park Express's crappy pleather couch and listened to it: "To the 45, the 50, the 45—oh my God!—Auburn is going to win this football game!—Oh my God!—You're not going to keep them off of the field tonight!  Auburn is going to win the Iron Bowl!" Thinking of it even now—I've since heard the same clip another five or six times—I still get the chills and my eyes well up a little bit.  I'm not sure why, I'm not an ardent Auburn fan.  Maybe because it was incredible regardless of how I followed it.  Media-transcendent.  I texted Roy—he had no idea.  B got a call but it was just the tow truck guy.  He was across the street.

He pulled into the Park Express with his long, flatbed tow truck.  He shined a light on the little tag at the bottom of the Jeep's windshield.  "What year is this?" he said, with a tone of disbelief.  I told him it was a 1998.  He said, "Man, it looks a lot better than the 2001 I just got rid of."  I probably just said, "Hmmm."  My job was to steer the Jeep as he pushed it back out of its spot.  He said, "It's gonna be hard to steer without the power steering."  It was.  I tell ya—my parents have done as much as they could have done—and I have often been a willing accomplice—to keep life outside the walls, beyond the moat, for as long as possible.  But it creeps in, doesn't it?  At some point life will track you down and get you in its teeth—and it will bite down. 

Looking at my Jeep up on that flatbed, wondering whether it was worth holding onto, thinking about work on Monday, not having any control over this night or the next: this was life and this was how it was going to be.  Take it or leave it.  B got up there with the tow truck guy.  I walked back to the Park Express office and paid for our six days.  Then I hopped in.  His name was John.  He had lived in Texas—Galveston.  We spent a Thanksgiving there once, in 2004.  He asked us if we liked living in U City.  I had little to say.  I think I was in shock.

He got the Jeep down from the bed and had me steer it into a slot in the back of the auto service station.  It went in all catty-wumpus.  We just left it there.  We'd have to wait until Monday before we could even tell them it was there or try to make an appointment.  We thanked John and tipped him $20.  He said, "It was super nice to meet y'all."  And it seemed he meant it.

So there we are at the intersection, me with the rolling suitcase in hand.  It really was not a bad weather night—it could have been much colder.  We waited for the walk signal so we could wheel our stuff across the street, down the sidewalk, and back to what remained of the rest of our lives.

Seattle/St. Louis, 2013.

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