Most children's years revolve around their birthdays or Christmas or some other holiday where gifts and/or fun can be expected. Growing up, my year pivoted around two summer weeks at my family's lake house on the Finger Lakes in Bumfuque, NY, which, for those not familiar with the area, is approximately 50 minutes southeast of Nowhere, NY. Even now that I'm pushing 50 (okay, yah, in 16 years), I still regard that house on that obscure lake as my own personal Mecca. Neither wild horses nor great sex can keep me away from there in August.
Not to mention, what person in their right mind would voluntarily stay in New Orleans in August? I mean, I like the heat, but c'mon, there are limits people.
So I overpacked my ratty ole duffle bag, wore as little metal as possible for airport security (punk rock leanings do not make this an easy task), and cabbed my way to the airport at 3am on 4 August.
If you have ever taken a cab in New Orleans, you may be familiar with Charlie the Kid, the head dispatcher for United Cabs. More of note, he may be familiar with you. Charlie knows everybody, and their addresses. I can barely manage to remember my bar customer's names.
So when the cab arrived, I heard Charlie over the CB saying, "What the hell is Todd doing going to Kenner at 3am?"
"I'm on holiday, baby!" I barked back through the CB.
"Must be nice." Yes. Mustn't it.
A few hours later, I alighted at Rochester and noted this about Yankee people who live in the sticks: they're really, really fat. No, but like, all of them. Cripplingly so. Wheelchair bound. I believe the medical term is 'morbidly obese'. This ain't no glandular problem; this is pure, unchecked gluttony. You go, Yankees! (But not very fast.)
I timed my arrival to coincide with Cousin E flying in from Hanmattan, because although Rochester is the closest airport to my lake house, it's still a thirty-six hour drive from Bumfuque, NY. Best to make only one trip necessary.
My life in New Orleans is pretty hectic and hard core. Some might even call it 'strange'. I work gritty bars during gritty hours and keep the drunks in line, often by force. I have artistic leanings and pianist's hands. I am offered drugs more often than I am offered to 'have a nice day'. I have friends with more hair colors than a Jackson Pollock painting. And I kiss boys. So picture that person, ensconced in a car with family, in the drive-thru of the ice cream parlour, ordering a butter crunch cone from the wholesome, ruddy-cheeked ice cream girly, and sighing with profound contentment that for the next week, I would be away from bars and people who say bad words and do bad deeds (but in such lovely, lovely ways).
It's been my tradition for 53 years, once arrived at the lake house, to throw my luggage down on the porch, scamper down the stairs to the beach, throw clothes in every direction and jump in the lake in a reckless, exalted, holiday baptismal sort of way, as if to say, "It all begins NOW!" You can fairly hear the opening vocal boom of Mahler's 8 when I first hit that water. As the water soothes and envelopes, the sun becomes a little brighter, the birds sing a little sweeter, and thousands of miles away in a little hut near the Tiber, a small girl stops crying, feeling the peace of the moment my moment, dammit, but I guess I can share it.
The next four days were spent reading, sunning, and eating all the wrong foods for all the right reasons. I woke up early. I napped in the afternoons. I wrote letters. But, like, with a pen. On paper. Then I mailed them using actual stamps. Remember those?
I cleared what's left of my mind, took an inventory of what's left of my plans and goals, gave them all a good, hard tweaking and realignment, and then some more marshmallows over the fire, went to bed and slept late.
I checked my email once, spent 20 minutes clearing away spam, and vowed not to do that again until I got home. Email does not belong at the lake house. The phone we use for dial-up connections is a pulse only line. Do you know how hard it is to find the pulse/tone check box for a laptop's modem using Windows? Then how annoying it is to find the other thing you have to do to make it actually work?
I sailed. I skipped stones. I ate more ice cream and marshmallows. I had afternoon beers, but never got wasted. The most cutting-edge fashion statement I saw in 'town' (ahem) was being worn by the Amish. We circled each other in the P&C like sparring dogs, eyeing each other with awe and wonder me in a spiked and studded belt, dessicated jeans and a black skull & crossbones wifebeater; he in well, that Amish outfit they always wear. So smart and classic and timeless. I wanted to go home with him and meet his homely sisters and eat some tepid gruel and rifle through his closets and I dunno raise a barn or something. It seemed for a minute he might have actually been cruising me, but what do I know of such things? And what could my response have been? I'm all for extemporanea, but being cruised in the P&C by an Amish guy with a horse outside is just a little too too.
Actually, now that I think about it, I should have done something. I have several friends who would consider that scenario 'hot'.
Meanwhile, back at the lake house, there was that ubiquitous copy of 'Working Woman', edition April, 1980, $1.50. I have been reading this same magazine for 68 years. I never grow tired of all the helpful tips n' tricks it has in store. It's a magazine aimed towards (you'll never guess!) the Working Woman of the 70s as she busts her way out of the kitchen and onto Wall Street. Lots of good business advice to be culled, like how to do your hair (up, yet wispy), what kind of make-up one should wear (lots), and how to erase that embarrassing VPL so the big fat pig dog men at that big fat meeting won't eye one's rump and start making catcalls in the office (so inappropriate! Yet sort of flattering!)
It demonstrates how to close a big deal and have time to cook a four course dinner for your slave-driving, chauvinistic pig dog no good husband. All in a day's work, ladies!
Yessss, the Working Woman of the late 70s look at her go with her empowerment tucked safely away behind her power scarf.
After more marshmallows, more catching up with the family, more ice cream and more naps, I rented a car and drove through opaque rain for 57 hours to arrive in
PART THE SECOND
Philadelphia! The City Where The Brothas Love You Back or however that catchphrase goes.
For those of you who don't know Philly but who plan on scoffing at it nonetheless, let me remind you of your ignornace of the town, and give my emphatic thumbs up. I lived in Philly for a few years and found it to be just as fabulous as New York, except without the noise, without the snotty attitude, and at half the price.
I made several excrutiatingly wonderful friends during my years there, and it was my intention to see as many of them as possible and pinch their cheeks.
My home base was to be at the lovely Miss Portia's and Ant'ny's regal rowhouse in South Philly. After taking a brief drive through my old neighborhoods and getting all sniffly for the nostalgia, I went to Portia's & Ant'ny's to bid them come partake of zee cocktails at our old neighborhood pub, Doobies.
No one answered the door, so I was going to leave them a note telling them where to find me. Alas, I had no pen, so opted to burn them a note with a cigarette on my rental agreement. Hopefully, I thought, they're recognize the word "Doobies" and come meet me.
I walked in the pub after not having been there for a few years, and I was pleased to find the same bartenders who remembered me back from 'the day', 87 years earlier, and who set me up with generous amounts of comped Yuengling and a phone in the corner.
After making a complete tit of myself ("Mark? How come I can't dial out?" "Ten digit dialing, remember?" "Oh, yes, um, thanks.") I spend 20 minutes phoning everyone I knew in the city and summoning them to Doobies.
Got a lot of answering machines, but finally Portia called me back at the bar.
"I'm in New Jersey at a party. Here are the directions."
After a few more Yuengling's, I drove out to Jersey to this strange party that she had mentioned earlier in a drunken email. To wit:
BIG partay Aug 9th, close friend's birthday thaing in Jersey and you are invited as well. She has heard all about you and is of the same fabric as the rest of us, so it will be fun although I will need to warn you of the plans for the night after the family leavesKnowing Portia, I didn't know what to expect. I even told my boyfriend the week before, "I think I'm going to an orgy in Jersey on Saturday. That okay with you?"
(He just laughed.)
It wasn't an orgy. It was a standard birthday party with too much booze, a piñata filled with lubricant packets, a farty bubble machine, and, later, after the family left, tabs of E and glowsticks and fag club music (at which point we left to go back to Pennsylvania).
Next day, hangover breakfast and placemat drawings for absent friends at the Broad Street Diner. Lots of recuperation, and then night fell like the blade of a guillotine.
We assembled people at the bar, drank no small amount of combustibles, were astounded at the bar tab (90% less than it should have been which results in a 250% tip of course), and drew on more napkins for more absent friends.
You know that game where someone draws a scribble and then you have to turn it into something?
Okay, maybe you had to be there for those, but we enjoyed ourselves.
Off nightclubbin' and bar crawlin' on South Street. Pictures will suffice in lieu of words, I think you'll agree?
The next afternoon, I left my lovely hosts to take a Septa, NJ Transit and NY Subway to
PART THE THIRD
New York City! Or, Brooklyn, really, to establish my presence via increasingly stinky luggage at the Magic Fairy Princess Castle of dear Stacey.
After traveling all afternoon (not to meniton partying all the previous night), I saw fit to downshift a bit and relax the afternoon away at the Stacey's M.F.P.C. until later that evening.
She had a movie engagement in Bklyn; I had friends to see in Hantatman, so I subwayed to Chelsea to hang out with Charlie, erstwhile of New Orleans, and erst-erstwhile of NYC before that.
Charlie and I discussed the meaning of 'finding home'. Oddly, he had to leave New York for a few years (to the deepsouth) to realize that New York was really his home. I had to leave New Orleans for a few years (spent the hiatus in the northeast) to realize NOLA was my home. We discussed that. Between making fun of the drunks and writing more napkin notes to absent friends.
I have killed forests in my lifetime, writing on bar napkins, it seems.
Around midnight, I walked from Chelsea up to Hell's Kitchen and the Bellvue Bar to meet Stacey. A word on the Bellevue Bar: Remember The Hideout on Lower Decatur in New Orleans where I used to work? Yah, so it's that, but in New York. Beautiful tatted and pierced clientele. Surly bartender who kicked us down comps when I told him how much I loved his bar. Eclectic and rockin' jukebox. No smoke though. This whole don't-smoke-in-New-York thing was pretty gay, I was thinking. It's not so bad in the summer, but when it's 20°f out, I'm gonna feel sorry for those poor souls shivering outside restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other facilities of (what used to be) debauchery.
Militant Nazi New York laws notwithstanding, I cannot recommend the Bellvue Bar high enough. 40th & 9th Ave. Go then tell me what you think.
Cab back to Brooklyn in the wee hours, and a late-late-late wake-up, 3pm, which is what Stacey and I needed.
She had a guest bartending gig downtown that night. I hooked up with Nicole, my housemate's girlfriend now living in New York, and we did our best to simultaneously make comfortable and hassle Stacey behind the bar of Iggy's Keltic Lounge. Again, I highly recommend this place (located at Ludlow & Rivington by 'Toys In Babeland') because in this place, as well as Bellvue Bar, I spotted none of that ugly, antisocial, fuck-off-leave-me-alone New York attitude which spoils that otherwise marvelous city for me.
After a memorable late night at Keltic Lounge with Stacey and all her supporters, we cabbed back to Brooklyn again and I took a brief nap, interrupted too soon by a horribly expensive cab ride out to JFK. (Why do they always put airports so far from the cities they claim to be servicing?)
I haven't flown out of JFK since before 9/11/01. And I don't plan on flying through there again. I'm still having a rough time sitting down after the standard 'closing-the-barn-door-after-the-terrorists-have-blown-up-Manhattan' anal probe they gave me and everyone else at that damn airport.
Good thing about really early morning flights, of course, is that you get home and still have the whole day ahead of you despite traveling. That's lots of time to tend to soothing your smarting ass.
Back in New Orleans, I feel refreshed (psychically) and exhausted (physically) and ready to go back to the bump n' grind of the French Quarter, which had me quite burnt out two weeks ago before I left on this holiday.
In closing, I'd just like to sum up: Marshmallows = good. Non-smoking bars = bad. Seeing old friends, much missed = good. Having to say goodbye again = bad. Collecting all those wonderful memories = good. Writing them down when I really should be napping before work = bad.
14 August, 2003