A Tragicomical, Unsophisticated Blog about the Weird, the Absurd, and the Banal

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Last weekend I went to a Welcome Home party for one of my organization's clients.  She lives far east of new Orleans proper in a small town called Poydras.  To get there you have to follow the River downstream through the city, past all fixtures of urbanity to a long stretch of road beneath a canopy of ancient oaks covered in Spanish moss.

I have not yet seen the River, just evidence.  Every day I drive over the Industrial Canal to get to work.  On the way to the Welcome Home party I couldn't see over the levees, but I could see freighters sitting like titans in what looked like the middle of a tree spotted field.

At the party I talked with the homeowner's niece.  She studies the effects of the oil spill on the local fishing and shrimping industry for a nearby university.  Fishing and shrimping are the only industries worth the name in Poydras and the surrounding communities.  It's been that way for generations.  The homeowner’s niece said that her father and grandfather had been shrimpers.

"Do you live in Poydras?" I asked.

"Not far.  One of my cousins lives in the next town over in Violet -- he'll be here in about an hour.  My other cousin lives in Chalmette and our mother lives up the street."

She enumerated a few more family members within walking distance.  One of my coworkers, a New Orleanian, said that she'd been born a few streets away.

My parents' siblings are scattered across the country and their children across the world.  Most of us live in the Midwest, but no one lives down the street from a blood relation.  It occurred to me that this was an expectation, or at least not an unusual occurrence, to leave home and find a new one Somewhere Else.

I told this to the homeowner's niece.  She nodded.  "It's a big deal when someone moves away.  It's just not something you do.  Not something I'd ever do."

"People came to the Midwest to get away from people.  For one reason or another," I said.  "Maybe wanderlust has just been passed down through the blood."

"Maybe," she said.

"That's why I'm here, at least."

Last night I went to a friend's place and didn't leave until late at night.  Biking back I became disconcerted, unsure if I was heading in the right direction.  People say that the only way to find your way in New Orleans is figure out where you are in relation to the River.  The River is always east in Iowa.  Beyond that, I couldn't figure out any possible way that the River could be useful.

I decided to leave it to trust.  Between muscle memory and landmarks I found my way home following neither the directions I was given nor my typical route.  The city is starting to take shape in my head.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


During the AmeriCorps orientation our employer told us about the landlord for our business office.  It's part of the Spiel.  Anyone on the development team must be able to tell volunteers about how Mr. F was a fireman for 20 years, then a fisherman for another 20, retired and opened up an appliance repair shop so that he could spend his old age tinkering with things.  He lived within five minutes of all his grandkids.

Katrina hit and his home - now our business office - flooded to the second floor.  He was picked up by another local with a boat and taken to the roof of a bank where he and two hundred others awaited Rescue.  It took five days for help to arrive in the form of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  It's as much a depressing story about America as it is a sad story about one person's trial.

Meeting Mr. F was surprising.  He's a heavy, crass, old man who loves to wander around the office, hassle us, hit on the women, and give us all nicknames (I'm Uncle Sam, or Mark, or Simon, I'm not sure which).  He speaks with a thick New Orleanian accent that sounds more Bostonian than Southern.  Backwards, a little racist, perpetually telling strange stories, and somehow amazingly endearing he reminds everyone of his or her grandfather.  The man embodies some sort of platonic form of Grandfatherness.  He reminds me of my grandfather and there is absolutely no resemblance.  For one of the other AmeriCorops members, Leisl, the resemblance to her deceased grandfather is so strong that she told me when she first met Mr. F she nearly started crying.

Leisl told me recently how she spoke to another New Orleanian, M, about the future of the city.  M told her, "New Orleans is dead," and that sooner or later another storm will come through, destroy the city again and no one will have the energy to come back.  This is, evidently a common feeling among the natives.

But, Leisl asked, then why bother rebuilding?  Why come back in the first place if it's just a lost cause?

"Because," M said. People have lived here for generations and generations.  New Orleans has been a music and culture center for America for three hundred years.  People have lived, loved, worked, and died on this land for centuries.  There are so many bones and stories here.  That's worth the effort.  And it struck me, as Leisl told me this, that the people who come down here to rebuild, and those that came back, too, all talk about New Orleans like a Grandfather.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


It's only fair to admit that everyone warned me it was a bad idea to spend the week alone at the Body House.  But I have a deadline, I told them.  You're spending the week at a secluded, New England mansion where a family was murdered, among other things, and it's rumored to be haunted, they said.  They said, This is not the best way to meet a deadline.  You've never met my editor, I told them.

At first I was able to get a lot of work done and the house was quiet and peaceful.  It is my understanding that this is the way of things.  On the second day, though, on my walk through the woods I saw an apparition of a hanged man, eyes bulging, tongue lolling, swinging in the trail in front of me.  That was inconvenient.  I shrugged and decided that I'd have to skip the morning walks from now on.  It was more time to write, anyway.

The problem was I was out of ideas.  The story wasn't going anywhere.  For five months solid I'd been hammering out chapters about the Smith family tragedy.  They were losing the family farm, John was an alcoholic, Shawna was seized by wanderlust, Lydia was estranged, and Simon sat at the window all day drinking chamomile tea speaking to no one.  It's boring, they told me.  But I knew better.  Even so, the sixth month of the endeavor came and I hit a wall when Shawna asked for a divorce and John sat at the kitchen table speechless.  That's what I couldn't get past.  That was the trouble, the divorce.

That and the blood curdling screams from the basement that started at 10:37 exactly every night and lasted until dawn.  On the fourth day I improvised ear plugs from Q-tips, but that only helped so much.  I've never been a sound sleeper.

On the third day, no progress made, I started reading some old journals that the last occupant had left behind.  It all started out very normal, all about the life of a secluded heiress in New England.  The longer I read, though, the more intelligible the writing became and it was frequently interrupted by archaic symbols and abstract drawings of death and destruction.  Some of it was written in blood.  The diarist wrote of nightmares that haunted her through the day, of a Dark one that feeds on pain and anguish that would consume the world.  I wasn't impressed.  Clearly a wanna-be hack or cartoonist.  No Anne Frank's diary to be found in that house.

I made good progress on the fourth day.  John spoke up and told Shawna to leave and then went on a binge.  Lydia, the prodigal, finally revealed that while she was away in Europe she became romantically involved with a woman, had a breakdown due to her Christian upbringing, and returned home out of an act of desperation.  Simon was still sitting at the window with his tea, but you couldn't have everything.

I was feeling pretty good about myself and felt the urge to masturbate.  Just then, though, the door to the study creaked open and in the gloom of the cellar I saw two blood red eyes staring at me.  There were things watching me all over the house, I realized.  I've never been an exhibitionist and masturbation is really a private act so I just decided to call it an early night.

On the fifth night the screaming stopped.  This was a welcome relief for all of five minutes until I heard someone tramping, ostentatiously up the stairs.  A moment later a slender woman as pale as death flung open my door.  She then proceeded, in a shrill, scratchy voice to tell me how her twin brother had raped her and then locked her in the basement, telling everyone that she was mad and then, after years of seclusion and psychological torture, he killed her.

I listened as best I could.  After you get published, people do this to you all the time.  They tell you sob stories hoping you'll write about it so they can brag to their friends that such and scuh book was based on them.  Ridiculous.  Anyway, the pale girls' story wasn't worth the lost sleep.  No one believes stories like that because that's not life.

On the sixth and last day I was able to finish the draft despite untenable circumstances.  Just after I started working, blood began to drip from the walls.  It started as a trickle and then a steady stream.  It wasn't long before the house was flooded and I had to use the desk as a work space and ad hoc life boat.  I kept telling myself I didn't deserve this and powered through.

The family had called an emotional armistice in order to get through the business of selling the farm.  In cleaning out all the family possessions they slowly began to remember good times, but it wasn't enough to heal old wounds.  In the final chapter, the family is staying in the empty house one last night when an electrical fire starts.  They all get out safely, and the story ends with all the family watching their home and financial security burn to cinders.

It was a day early, but I decided that staying another night at the Body House would just mean another night of lost sleep so I drove back to Iowa.  My editor, when she got the novel, sent me a dubious email.  When I asked her for clarification she said it was boring and I told her she could fuck herself.

A week passed and the bills came.  My bag was empty and after some desperate pleading I got my editor to talk to me again.  How do you feel about horror? I asked her.  She said that I should stay out of her personal life.  I told her I was bored and angry and frustrated and haunted.  I told her how a tornado took my house when I was sixteen, every woman I've ever dated was named Sarah, I lived as a woman for a year, I declared bankruptcy once, I am a rock-paper-scissors international champion, and how could life be so unbelievable?

She asked, Have you ever considered writing nonficiton?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

To Be Called By Noon Is to Be Called Too Soon

Life in no particular order:

Finally, partially moved into the new House.  Everyone who visit's first comment is, "You've got to be shitting me."  I never expected to live in a house like this until I earned $100k.  The front porch is the kind from which one can look down on mere mortals and judge them or perhaps rule an estate like a feudal lord.

The landlord is too good to us.  He left furniture, books, glassware, and a significant liquor collection.  Such wealth unsettles me.


The deluge hit New Orleans.  It hasn't stopped raining since yesterday morning.  My sloth is now justified.

This all reminds me of A.  She would probably be running around in this storm and dragging me along with.  The streets are rivers and the air is pleasantly cool for the first time since I arrived.


Last night at a party, one commented about my compulsive scribbling.  "What are you writing in there?  Are there things about me in there?  That's creepy.  I'm going to call the police on you."  I don't think I've ever met anyone so openly hostile towards me personally.  It's disconcerting to be loathed.

Reminded me of Berlin.  Out drinking with my history teacher.  He looked at my notebook and told me to stop.  "Why?" I wanted to know.  "Sam," he said, "I just gave you a lesson about the Stasi.  These things make a German nervous."

And another friend on another rainy day who told me about his family.  "Never, ever write this down," he told me.  Never did.


Crashing on a friend and colleague's hardwood floor.  My job gives me a reputation.  When another one in the room tried to interrupt me, Friend-Colleague shouted, "Shut up!  The money-man is talking."


On Wednesday I asked the Baptists for $350k.  My life is dictated by much larger numbers now.


Last night I decided that dance clubs do not suit me.  Life is a series of things to be endured.  A fantastically loud band at Tipitina's insisted that they loved New Orleans.  A shouted reply right into your ear was a fairly intimate gesture requiring coordination and effort.  Tried to navigate the crowd and for my efforts got a Wild Turkey-soaked hand.


My exercise aspirations are shot.  Biked 20 minutes through New Orleans and was not winded.  This city is so flat it feels like everywhere is down hill.


I'm half-convinced that my work-superiors do not sleep.


This morning I woke up outrageously hung over.  There were still conversations unfinished in my head.  A ride home with C, muttering "Thank you," and her laughing, "You've said that three times already."  "And I'll probably say it three more."

Sitting around a table alternating between conversations about Steinbeck and bad habits.  A fantastically uncomfortable couch on the smoking porch and an audible assault of people shouting, "I love you!"  No one there wasn't AmeriCorps or former AmeriCorps.  This town is sick with us.  And the Friend-Colleague saying, "I can't remember your name... fuck... I'm drunk... fucking... Don't you understand my fucking point? I.. fuck."  I still want to know what he was trying to say.

In the kitchen, a Portlander asked me what I thought of New Orleans.  "Haven't decided yet," I said.  He nodded.  "I've been here three years and I'm the same.  That's what this place does to outsiders."


My life feels uncomfortable and strange.  Like wet cotton.  Or Joan Didion's The White Album.


Today shall be a lazy day.  I will sit here, listen to the Band, watch movies, and then maybe check out the Decadence.  But I could probably sleep forever.