Friday, July 20, 2007

My old house

The place is an unremarkable feat of existence, leaning towards the sun setting in the west, the windows are stained in colors of the prism, a delectable texture of purple, blue, green, and gold, mardi gras colors, but not in that order. Bits of trash and gravel scatter the driveway from the neighborhood wake of dust carried by cars traveling down this busy gateway to Magazine Street. The house runs for half of a whole block on Pleasant and continues to loom ominously over passersby with their dog-walking and Garden District mansion tours. A burned out grocery store and a small field of satellite dishes occupy the buildings across Magazine, their faces upturned like suction cups scanning the heavens for godknowswhat. A distant baseball game. An English sitcom. An adult film channel. Hardly on my solitary walks on the nearby Mississippi River levee without discovering a face-down playing card or a penny turned medallion from the weight of the Southern Pacific that flowed along the track to this gentle stop. I’ve kept the playing cards and the smashed pennies, even found a bullet casing once…my sympathies with a place called home.

Beyond the rise of the earth that ends in a crest lies a road that connects wharves. Beyond the road is the river. The Mississippi River. That big, goddamn river with its interruption of scrub pine and weeds and its feral pack of dogs roaming the street after a heavy rain. They ran (one, I swear, was a dachshund) in the shadows, keeping a wary distance from me and my domesticated border collie as he chased sticks and tennis balls and bathed in the moonlight of the wharf’s lamps. He jumped around and yelped in the unreal glow, gnashing at bits of rope leftover from the ships, even sniffing out Russian and Argentinean sailors as they traversed the small levee toward town, like bands of children lost in the Irish Channel. I’d always assume my perch atop one of those round posts they tied ships to. This was my anchor, too. The city spread before me, rising improbably from the river like a lily, lights hazed by heat…a city insubstantial, dreamed. Here I dreamed, in the trash, amongst my friends, my dog, the junkie’s house, the river.

This levee didn’t break. The river did not gain enough steam here. It did not flood my old house, a stone’s throw from the tracks. My old house…rightfully the subject of some other short story….is now occupied by a woman I used to love, so very much.

Thank God such places exist, or how would we persuade ourselves to stay here? I gladly trail my heart behind me; leave it in forgotten places, like this levee along the Mississippi River in New Orleans. This way, if I ever again truly wanted to leave the earth (may no fate become of that), I’d have to go back to collect the pieces I’ve scattered. And I’d go back, back, back, back, back.

NP: James Booker "People Get Ready"

The Rope Swing

I spent one summer at college in Auburn, Alabama, hanging out with my then-girlfriend and working in a restaurant as a waiter at a restaurant called Amsterdam. I knew little about food and had the attention span of a flashbulb. She was a waitress with no natural sense of balance and had a penchant for quoting lines from famous plays. Her favorite was Noises Off. SARDINES! SARDINES! WHERE DID I PUT THOSE SARDINES!!! Denis, the owner, had come from The Netherlands and forgot how to speak Dutch before bothering to finish learning English. He had strong opinions about topical concerns like: the importance of gambling, the virtues of Jewish women, the blow lock the state put on his car to stop him from driving drunk. His wife was an elusive Chinese woman who showed up only once that summer, with some fresh produce, yelling. I survived on okay wine and bad advice. My girlfriend tripped and he muttered and none of us really understood the others. (After I left, she eventually quit, Denis broke his leg and threatened to close the restaurant.)

How she and I made it through twenty minutes on the job was a regular source of astonishment, and I took minor solace in the idea that being fired would be its own reward but we got portabella sandwiches. We had a delicate thing going on but we weren’t really equipped to touch delicate things. It made us tired. When we weren’t working, and she wasn’t in class, we would sometimes get in the car and find the rope swing.

Teenagers love unattended places to goof and kiss and make fun. Multiply by factor of five if water; ten if weak branches to climb and do dangerous-looking stuff on; rare points for a rope swing, however simple…there is regular misbehavin’ and then there’s misbehavin’ that requires building materials. Progressive misbehavin’. There were no walls, so they grafittied the trees. Sometimes the fat kid got taunted until he took the rope. It was normal and it hurt. They drank beer.

We rarely talked to them, but it was fine. Sometimes we’d get it to ourselves and sit for a while. Other times we wandered down, stuck out like neon lights, took two jumps, and walked back to the car swallowing hot air.

There’s something called the special place exchange: I know this great place, it is very hard to find, they have the best BLANK this side of the BLANK, you will know this spot because there is a tiger paw graffitied to a rock, ask for Tim. The operating logic being, I guess, that the world or God or people are big eyes we could all use a minute out from under, so here’s a guiding secret. I hate these exchanges. It takes the piss out of everything.

What I loved about the rope swing is that, despite keeping a relatively pristine mental map of Auburn, Alabama in my head, I never figured out exactly where it was. That summer, there was a lot of construction on that road we used to park on. We were constantly finding newer, more animalistic ways to the clearing. A sign would come up for the state line, I would start to whistle and make a casual U-turn, my girlfriend would shout something about being lost, I would smile, and we would make our way back. Magic was not part of the routine. The place that was most vivid to me was a pain in the ass to find.

My relationship with her always existed in a rarified and unwavering way. We’d never spent a lot of time together in the same city and were so stupidly in love we’d get scared of being in the same room. The clearing was a place and time, but it was also a limited space…a figment, even…for us to get away from friends who were always materializing on the front lawn; from Denis’ incredibly misguided interpretations of World War II; from our weird movements in domestic society (she freaked out one time when I used a fork on a frying pan; I freaked her out by palming oranges with my feet) It was not great, then perfect for a moment, then confusing, then I left. In the back of our minds, something broke, but we didn’t realize it for a couple of years. We were surrounded by potholes and conflicting signs, chatter, slack faces puffing dope and landing witless jokes and their subsequent, deserving high fives. But some days it was just quiet, no big deal, some torn beer cans in the dirt, 103 degrees, two jumps before work.

NP: Josh Rouse "Hollywood Bass Player"