My friend Nick is so low-tech, but really funny and brilliant, so I kinda forgive him for it. He sends out an email newsletter to his friends and family all about his travels and adventures, which I’ve quoted from before. Well, it’s really hard to show how funny his newsletters are just quoting a little passage, so I asked Nick if I could just post the entirety of the latest one and call it a guest blog. That way, you get to know him a bit better and he has an excuse to read my blog. Ha! I’ll include one of the pics he sent, as well. My Fess Up Friday post will go up later.
If you’re in New Orleans, check out Nick’s poetry slam this Sunday at 8 p.m., at Dragon’s Den. It’s the Dead Poets Slam this week, so everybody should bring the work of their favorite dead poet, instead of their own. Show up at 7:30 to sign up if you want to read.
Here is the newsletter, with no further ado:
I’m playing hooky today. Was going to work a double shift with the mules, but decided to skip the first part of the double and write to all y’all instead. This was the best plan I could think of.
Well here we are at the end of the high tourist season in New Orleans. Jazz Fest wrapped last week, and the tourists who came down for the two-week shindig have gone their way back to their homes. In the next couple weeks, many others will follow them out. Everyone from wealthy snowbirds on their way back to New York and Chicago, to street kids who will hop the freight trains to the Pacific Northwest. Everyone is going to leave before the heat drops down on this city like a wet blanket and makes breathing feel like swimming.
I’m going to be doing some traveling myself next month (more on that in a moment), but for the most part I’ll be sticking around. Growing up in Florida, the thing I loved about the summer was that everybody left and we had the place to ourselves. I like that feeling. I’m looking forward to a summer in my new home, enjoying the peace and tranquility, even if I have to take three cold showers a day to keep my blood from boiling.
SATAN: The heat is conducive to a greater amount of sin.
Satan, do you actually need heat to generate sin in this town?
SATAN: …I see your point.
DICK CHENEY: The amount of sin in this city creates a haven that makes America less safe. I suggest—
Dammit, Dick Cheney! What the hell are you doing here?
SATAN: He’s my nephew.
That explains…so much.
It’s a beautiful time in New Orleans right now. The light is soft in the evenings, the days aren’t too terribly hot yet, and everyone is in a kind of slow coma following Jazz Fest. Bartenders and musicians and everyone else who hasn’t stopped working for the last few weeks get a chance to breathe now. The city feels like it’s catching its wind. Even the River looks like it’s on its back as it continues downstream.
But I think I’m seeing a lot more beauty these days, and that has a lot to do with where I am right now internally. I finally started writing again. I wrote about five poems last month (first drafts, anyway), and am moving forward, very slowly, with the novel.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY: I wrote five books last month.
I also started working out, which is also helping me find my center.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY: I shot and field dressed a Cape Buffalo.
Ernie, this is not a competition.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY: I’ll wrestle you.
Wrestle Dick Cheney.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY: Done.
DICK CHENEY: Ow! OW! Get your terrorist beard off of me!
I’ve been having a really good run of late. The writing is coming along and the work is still highly enjoyable. I’ve been playing the guitar for almost a year now and am having fun with it, and twice a month I run a poetry slam here. This Sunday will be Dead Poetry Night.
JERRY GARCIA: Groovy!
By which I mean, you can only read the work of dead poets.
JERRY GARCIA: Oh. I was thinking of something else.
The last month has been a blur. I’ll try to cover everything as best I can. But I’m in a good place, and the last stretch of time has been very good to me. Here are some highlights…
MUSIC, MUSIC EVERYWHERE:
French Quarter Fest went down in mid-April and Jazz Fest took us into May. I actually prefer French Quarter Fest, because it’s in the middle of the Quarter, it’s less crowded, and it’s free. All local acts, too. There’s something to be said for being able to walk through a massive music festival on my way to work.
This town is an embarrassment of riches for a music lover. On any given night, you can hear music that sets your head on fire. I can tell you about standing on the stairs at the Saturn Bar, with Debauche ripping through a set of Russian hooligan songs (see photo), the crowd in the small room stamping their feet in time, and the guitarist being so buried in his song he doesn’t even notice he cut his finger and is spraying blood all over his guitar. At the end of the song, he tapes his finger up and keeps playing until the Zydepunks come on and launch into a punk rock version of a Mexican wedding song and the whole room bounces like it’s on springs.
And I can tell you about going out on a Friday night and seeing three bands that blow my mind, one after the other, from the Jazz Vipers on Frenchman Street to Zazou City and their gypsy jazz/tango fusion at Mimi’s, to local blues legend Little Freddie King, swinging a whole crowd of sweat soaked dancers in a funky little bar called BJ’s Lounge, five doors down from my house.
And I can tell you that there’s no way to stop any of this. The Spotted Cat, my favorite live music venue in the city, closed its doors last week. It will reopen shortly as Jimbeaux’s, though no one knows exactly what to expect. The club closed with a big second line parade to send it off; a jazz funeral for The Cat, with the Treme Brass Band leading us around Frenchman Street while the crowd sang “I’ll Fly Away” at full volume and the grand marshal waved the umbrella and Uncle Lionel pounded the bass drum and danced with a woman in a red dress at the same time, and you just knew that when the place reopened, it was going to be okay. The music was always going to have somewhere to go.
There have been plenty of tourists here lately, and since I make my living on that, I’ve been more than happy with it. They come down, and maybe they don’t tip too much because the economy has them on their heels, but they do take the rides, and they do feed the mule carrots, and I get to spend my day at work outside, far from a computer screen or office lights.
I had a realization recently that all of my favorite jobs have had one thing in common: I was working outdoors. I’ll need to remember that.
I’ve had other visitors, too. People who give me an excuse to show off the city some more, and even to see things I haven’t seen since I moved here. My friends Joel and Beth came down from Chicago and treated me to a tour of the Honey Island Swamp.
There’s something about having people visit. They become these little time capsules. When I haven’t seen someone for a while, I immediately go back to where I was the last time I saw them and observe the distance between then and now. A few weeks ago, my old friend Suzy visited me from Austin. I’ve known her almost eight years. The last time I saw her was August of 2006. It’s staggering to look at what’s gone down between then and now, and yet, there we are, having dinner and still close, and it occurs to me that each friend I have is a bridge, something that holds another part of me together, that keeps me from shaking loose who I’ve been, and reminds me that, whatever I may not like about who I was at the time I met them, I was good enough to find a way to bring this person into my world.
I think these are the things that hold us all together. They do for me, anyway.
I want to share a moment from the last month with you. Press Street is the street that separates the Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods. It has railroad tracks running along it, and when a train goes by, it can make me late for work, or make me wait to go home. That’s part of the deal. But for some reason, I find Press Street impossibly beautiful. It is more beautiful than it has any right to be. Train tracks. Vacant lots. Warehouses, empty and otherwise. But I love how it’s this big empty expanse in the middle of a city, this strange little no man’s land where you can stand in the middle of nothing and talk to someone you’ve run into while the train makes you wait to go home.
Here’s the moment. I’m coming home around sunset, and I get to Press Street and the ice cream van goes by. I buy an ice cream and sit and eat it under a tree by the railroad tracks in this big empty space, with the river and the Huey Long Bridge in the distance to my right, while the soft light plays with the church ahead of me on Dauphine Street.
I have moments here, almost every day, where I’m so happy I can hardly believe it. That’s one of many.
I’ll be hitting the road for about a month starting at the end of May. I’m headed down to Florida to pick up my grandparents’ car, which I will drive up to Ohio for them, stopping to visit some friends in North Carolina, then spend a few days in Dayton. From there, it’s up to Detroit, then out to Boston, around Maine and Vermont, and over to Cape Cod for a few days of relaxing at my friend Lili’s family home on the far edge of the country. From there, drop down into New York and New Jersey to see friends and family before flying to Chicago to catch up with everyone in my old home. Finally, I’ll take a train called The City of New Orleans back to my new home.
If you are in any of these places I’m going, I’d love to see you.
For now, I’ve got a couple more weeks of working, writing, and enjoying my city. And it does feel like my city now. I recently figured out that I’ve moved somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty-five times in my life, but this is the first time I’ve lived anywhere and not thought at all about where else I’d like to be. This is Home. I expect to be here for quite some time.
I think that’s a good note to close on. I’ll send all of you some dispatches from the road. Maybe traveling will light a fire under me to make these updates a little more frequent.
Until then, I hope you are all doing as well as I am, and I look forward to crossing paths soon. Thank you for being part of what holds me all together.
All the good songs,