“And here …” Now the orange became Tejas: “In the middle of this mess, Tejas, Spanish to the core, God’s bastion, just as in Europe.” He patted the orange, reveling in its security, and said: “God arranges these things according to His grand design. Believe me, Trinidad, Tejas is not where it is by accident. And you’re not in Tejas by accident. Your destiny is to rear Spanish sons who will build there cities much finer than New Orleans.”
“You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”
—-Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith (and many others)
Our kitchen cabinets are filled with pint beer glasses emblazoned with local breweries – souvenirs of the visits to many brewery tours and keep-the-glass sampling events.
One of these was a little too close to the edge of the kitchen counter when my son’s Lab was looking up there scouring for leftovers and knocked one off – breaking it on the floor – shattering the vessel into a thousand slivery shards. The first nine hundred and ninety are easy to sweep up. The last ten are invisible, sharp and hard, hard to find.
Last night as I walked barefoot through the kitchen to my room, intending to sit down and write for my hour… I found one.
There is an interesting pain profile as a sliver of glass pushes through the thick callus on the bottom of a foot into the tender, live flesh, muscle, and sinew beneath. I doesn’t hurt much… until it does. I hopped on one foot to a countertop and leaned while I searched for the glass. It’s transparent, crystalline and invisible, of course, so I had to feel for it, then pull it out. I glanced at the splinter before throwing it in the trash. It was longer than usual and was red-tipped – but I didn’t think much about it.
I suffer from a form of graphomania and, while most people complain of writer’s block, if I don’t get a solid hour of writing in each day it’s hard for me to go to sleep (writing something good… now, that’s another question – one for another day).
I sat down at my desk and lost myself, writing for an hour or so. I saved my work, and decided it was time to walk back and go to bed. But as I tried to stand up, I realized that my foot was stuck firmly to the floor. That was confusing and unsettling, why couldn’t I lift my foot up from the painted concrete – I was floored. Looking down into the murk under my desk I saw that my foot was centered in a dark-colored disk of some glue-like material that was intent on keeping it there. I had already forgotten what had happened only an hour before – so I guessed I had spilled some fruit drink or something and it had dried into a sticky trap.
So I redoubled my efforts and with a viscous pop my foot came up. It wasn’t until a few minutes later I remembered the glass sliver and realized my foot had been stuck to the floor by a pool of drying blood. I hadn’t moved my foot for over an hour, plenty of time to bleed, coagulate, and adhere.
Not much I could do, so I went to sleep. Today, I found dark crimson crescents of blood scattered throughout the house – I didn’t realize how much I walked around last night.
Time to get out the mop.
“The minute you land in New Orleans, something wet and dark leaps on you and starts humping you like a swamp dog in heat, and the only way to get that aspect of New Orleans off you is to eat it off. That means beignets and crayfish bisque and jambalaya, it means shrimp remoulade, pecan pie, and red beans with rice, it means elegant pompano au papillote, funky file z’herbes, and raw oysters by the dozen, it means grillades for breakfast, a po’ boy with chowchow at bedtime, and tubs of gumbo in between. It is not unusual for a visitor to the city to gain fifteen pounds in a week–yet the alternative is a whole lot worse. If you don’t eat day and night, if you don’t constantly funnel the indigenous flavors into your bloodstream, then the mystery beast will go right on humping you, and you will feel its sordid presence rubbing against you long after you have left town. In fact, like any sex offender, it can leave permanent psychological scars.”
― Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume
When you are on vacation in a city with as varied and variable opportunities as New Orleans there is always a struggle between new experiences and going with what you have known and enjoyed in the past. A balance between the two is best.
I drove from Dallas to New Orleans to stay with my son and attend the 2018 New Orleans Writing Marathon. He lives in a downtown high rise and parking is horribly expensive, so I stashed my car a couple miles away on a side street in the Lower Garden District. It sat there untouched for a week. I took my Xootr Swift folding bike out of the back to ride back to his place on Poydras.
It was hot and I was thirsty and I was hungry so I decided on a stop at one of my favorite and familiar places in the Big Easy – The Avenue Pub.
The beer selection at The Avenue Pub is second to none. It was a hot day and I wanted something cold and lighter and selected an excellent French Saison – Cuvée des Jonquilles from The Baron and Baileux brewery. Really nice on a summer afternoon.
They have a good kitchen in the bar and I ordered something I had before, and will certainly have again – Fried Green Tomatoes with Shrimp Remoulade. Delicious.
New Orleans is actually a good city to ride bikes around in. It’s flat and the ancient streets slow the traffic down. Once I finished it only took me seven minutes to ride from The Avenue Pub to my son’s place.
I don’t think I could have driven it in that time.
“The crystal trees among them were hung with glass-like trellises of moss. The air was markedly cooler, as if everything was sheathed in ice, but a ceaseless play of light poured through the canopy overhead. The process of crystallization was more advanced. The fences along the road were so encrusted that they formed a continuous palisade, a white frost at least six inches thick on either side of the palings. The few houses between the trees glistened like wedding cakes, white roofs and chimneys transformed into exotic miniarets and baroque domes. On a law of green glass spurs, a child’s tricycle gleamed like a Faberge gem, the wheels starred into brilliant jasper crowns.”
― J.G. Ballard, The Crystal World
“I found myself remembering the day in kindergarten when the teachers showed us Dumbo, and I realized for the first time that all the kids in the class, even the bullies, rooted for Dumbo, against Dumbo’s tormentors. Invariably they laughed and cheered, both when Dumbo succeeded and when bad things happened to his enemies. But they’re you, I thought to myself. How did they not know? They didn’t know. It was astounding, an astounding truth. Everyone thought they were Dumbo.”
― Elif Batuman, The Idiot
Oblique Strategy: You are an engineer
In my struggle to live life outwardly, I spotted an event on Facebook that looked interesting. There was going to be a Book Club discussion at The Wild Detectives in Bishop Arts. I love that place – named after a Roberto Bolaño novel – it has a carefully curated collection of books, coffee and beer. What else do you need? On the weekends, they turn the wifi off – so people will be forced to talk to each other.
What could be better than to meet in a place like that and talk about a book?
I only had a little over a week before the meeting so I set up a spreadsheet with the number of pages per day I had to read. I have a terrible confession to make. I had a nice heavy hardback copy and the Kindle version. I never picked up the physical book. The new Paperwhite is simply too good.
The book was very interesting. Terribly well-written, it was unique in that the protagonist, Selin, was the most passive main character I have ever read in a novel. She drifts along, only slightly buffeted by life. Reading about her, I had the image of a person sliding down a featureless sheet of ice, silently observing the scenery go by (in very great and subtle detail).
So my feelings on the novel were mixed. It was interesting in that this woman’s life in her freshman year was incredibly different than mine (in a bildungsroman you can’t help but compare the protagonists experiences to your own) – for example: sex, drugs, and rock and roll make no significant appearance in her life at all.
One interesting aspect of the novel is that it takes place at the very beginning of the internet age: Selin is confused at first by this email thing – until she embraces it and has the most significant relationship with a slow email conversation with someone she met in Russian class.
The Wild Detectives is way across town from my ‘hood and I fought through the traffic after work, arriving early enough for a preliminary beer (Texas Ale Project‘s Fire Ant Funeral – if you are interested).
I really enjoyed the discussion. We started talking about the cover (I never even noticed there was a rock on the cover). Talking about the email, someone brought up that it was like letter writing in the time of classic Russian Novels (like Dostoevsky’s own version of The Idiot) people would write letters to each other, the distance and time separating the two adding a surreal aspect to a relationship.
A very nice way to wile away an evening.
The next novel we will discuss is The Seventh Function of Language by Laurent Binet. I bought a hardback copy at the bookstore – I’ll avoid temptation and not buy the Kindle version. We won’t meet until January, so I won’t need a spreadsheet to egg on the pages.
“Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.”
—- Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Oblique Strategy: Remove specifics and convert to ambiguities
A young millennial couple – they live in Uptown, of course. Took an Uber to where I was ( I rode the train and then walked… should have brought my bike).
They seem nice enough.
When I was their age, we were into patched jeans. You would buy a pair of jeans and then sandpaper them until they had the proper holes. The patches were cut from old pairs of jeans and had to be hand-stitched, with big crude looping sutures in a contrasting color of heavy thread, usually yellow. I guess it was all a throw-back… and homage to our simpler ancestors, who lived in a simpler time. Iron-on patches were, of course, no good. I couldn’t sew worth beans, and my stitching was wildly uneven… which was perfect.
All of a sudden, as if a surgical hand of destiny had operated on a long-standing blindness with immediate and sensational results, I lift my gaze from my anonymous life to the clear recognition of how I live. And I see that everything I’ve done, thought or been is a species of delusion or madness. I’m amazed by what I managed not to see. I marvel at all that I was and that I now see I’m not.
—-Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
Oblique Strategy: Convert a melodic element into a rhythmic element
I sit there with my camera ready to raise and shoot… waiting for the woman to take another sip of beer. Sitting there waiting with my weapon in my hand, ready to raise and shoot, like a big game hunter… or more like a little kid with a BB gun waiting on a sparrow to land within range.