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

Saturday, April 28, 2012


(We see Sam Ferree and Samuel Beckett standing, slightly toward audience, in thought.  Ferree is perplexed.  A dark, grey stage.  No windows.  No doors.  The hint that they are contained; not outside.  There is a wooden table, rectangular, and two squeaky chairs.  A pitch black velveteen box sits on the table.  Two glasses, an empty glass pitcher.  An unlit melted candle.)


I don't believe I said anything.

Oh.  I thought you did.

You thought?



Sam Ferree.

Sam Beckett.

(They shake left hands, realize their mistake and shake right hands.)

You can call me Sam.

Alright, Sam.  You can call me Sam.

(A pause.  They contemplate.  Ferree laughs and quickly stops when he sees Beckett's grave                                                                             expression.)

I forgive you.


Do you want a cigarette?

Yes.  I would like one.

I'm out.  I smoked the last one a few minutes ago.

Smoked the last of what?

A few minutes ago.

Were they good?

There was just the one.  But yes, it was good.  It reminded me of the first time I smoked.

When was that?

I don't remember.  But I was heart broken.


(Beckett removes rolling paper and filters from his jacket.  He does this as if discovering them while                                                                   digging through his pockets for change, but is not surprised to find them instead.)

All we need is tobacco.

That's progress.

What's in the box?

A Macguffin.

I want it.

So do I.

(They walk over to the box..)

I'm afraid.

Don't worry.  I'm here by your side.

But what if it's empty?

(Beckett opens the box, withdraws a plastic baggy of tobacco.)

That's a relief.
I was afraid too.

You were very brave.

Thank you.

(Beckett sits down.  The chair squeaks.  He starts to role the tobacco, carefully, precisely.  Ferree                                                                         watches with growing amazement.)

I just read your play.  Endgame.  I don't think I really got it.  (Pause.)  That's the perfect amount of tobacco.  (Pause.)  They say you write it in French to dumb down the language.  To get to the bones of the apocalypse.  (Pause.)  I can never roll that well.  (Pause.)  Where was I?  Oh, the end of the world, right.  I think about the world ending a lot - what I'd do.  There wouldn't be much, would there?

(Beckett hands Ferree one of the rolled cigarettes.)

My god, man!  What an immaculate cigarette!

(Ferree produced a lighter from his pocket and lights both cigarettes.  He pauses and stares at the laughter.  He laughs heartily.  Beckett chuckles.)

It's good to laugh.

(Pause.  Beckett speaks as if they have been talking about happiness the whole time.)

Are you happy?

I am now.

And before?

I don't remember.

(Pause.  Beckett slowly makes a circle in the air with his cigarette.)



Oh.  Nothing.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Building Systems

A cold fall night. Maybe Rain. Thanksgiving draws closer and Why Not is good enough. Uptown just off of Magazine.

They stand outside smoking and listening to the wind through the dead leaves and thinking about the water that may fall on their heads.

S is baffled that trees lose their leaves Down Here. It's a twelve month growing season. He just assumed that, you know, nothing died below the Mason-Dixon Line. And yet, there it Is – piles of wet debris in the gutters, on the sidewalk, matting the grass, leaving bare, skeletal oak arms up above whose only garment now is Mardi Gras beads.

There are three of them – and an occasional loud party-goer wanders out to chat, smoke – but then returns to the party. E introduces S to the Other Guy: D. E says, "D and I are old friends. He's a civil engineer. He works on the levees."

"Oh," says S. He's holding a tumbler of whiskey. While everyone else went to the fridge for beer, he ferreted out the liquor cabinet and, since no one stopped him, took generously.

"That's the reaction I usually get," says D.

"Yeah," says E. He's nursing a beer. "D is our go-to guy when we want to know How Bad It's Going to Get. During Gustav we called D up and asked him if we should leave and he said 'Get the hell out of town.'"

"Yeah," says D. "We were lucky that time. But it could have been a lot worse."

"So you must know--" S begins.

"Yes," D says and lights a cigarette, seemingly in preparation for the following conversation. "You want to know What Went Wrong, right?"

"Yes," S says.

"New Orleans is a bowl," D begins. He cups his hands, smoke rising between his fingers creating a smoldering crater. "And the way you’re Supposed to build a levee system is with a lot of spill ways back-up levee barriers, and so on. It's so that when a storm hits and there's a surge there's somewhere for the water to go. If the pressure gets too great, you open up a spill way and relieve pressure on the system.

"What we have in New Orleans is just one Gigantic Wall. You know what happens when a hurricane hits? They have all these gates surrounding the city and when a storm comes they close them and seal off the city. Any pressure or surge affects the whole system. If the pressure gets too great then the whole system fails. Well, there's nowhere for the water to go and no way to relieve the system. What happens then? Catastrophic Failure. You lose a three hundred year old city."

"What about the system now? I thought the Army Corps was rebuilding it," says S.

D laughs and shakes his head. "It's no better. Their solution to the Failure was just build a Bigger Fucking Wall. Very American – just build it bigger. It's supposed to stop a Category 3, but..."

"Just a Category 3?" S asks. "What happens if a Category 5 hits?"

D shakes his head. "There's nothing you can build that could stop a Category 5."

D's cigarette falls to the cement and his shoe rubs it out.

Tornadoes. That's what S remembers. The raw force of wind that can twist and pull entire towns off the face of the earth. No such thing as Tornado-Proof.

And it starts to rain.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


I burn easily. Five minutes in the sun and my skin turns an atrocious, sick red.

In eighth grade I laid out in the wide open for too long next to a pool. I didn't reach all of my back with the sunscreen. The result was an angelic sunburn. A rod of crimson ran from the base of my neck and then fanned out around the entirety of my abdomen so that someone standing behind me commented that it looked like I had white wings. My legs and feet resembled the boiled shell of a lobster.

Now I never wear shorts. Whenever I have to go out in the sun, I usually wear long sleeves or bathe in sunscreen.

Our closest star and I do not get along.


"Come on, my little ducklings," the tour guide says and leads a group of twenty Swamp Tourists into the green and out of the sun. It's hotter outside the city. More humid. You feel like you're being cooked.

The boat has no cover. When we're out on the murky water, an interstate river, the tour guide explains that closer to the Gulf the water goes brackish. We'll see alligators on the tour, but only the smaller ones.

"It's too cold for the big ones, yet," says the guide. "They like it hot. As hot as possible. They won't come out of hibernation for a little while yet. They can actually go for about a year without eating."

"What temperature is the water now?"

"It's about sixty degrees," says the guide. He maneuvers the boat around a bend to a long stretch of water. "In a few months the water will get to be about ninety degrees. Further down the river it gets to be about a hundred degrees Fahrenheit. Hold on."

He guns the engine and we take off down the river.


"What are you eating?" IB shouted over the music.

We were at F&M's, the sketchiest bar in all of New Orleans. There is a pool table in the main entrance room, but no one ever plays pool on it. There is a piece of plywood over the top, rotting with beer, on which people dance.

"Alligator," I said, bewildered.

"Any good?" she asked, sipping a High Life. 

"Yeah. It tastes like chicken."

We stood around for a bit, watching the crowd spasm. It was about three o'clock in the morning. People say that you go to F&M's to end your night, one way or another.

"You wouldn't believe what this place looks like without a crowd," IB said. "Once, J left her purse here and I had to come back early to get it. It was about nine and no one was here. There were two bartenders. One was passed out on the bar and other was picking her teeth. So I said I was looking for a friend's purse. She pulls out four purses and says, 'Which one?' 'Uh, the expensive looking one?' And then I say that the friend also left her credit card. The bartender pulls out this metal crate and starts flipping through. A, B, C, D... This place does not look at all good early."


The guide pulls the boat into an area with more shade. "We're in the swamp, now," he says. "Swamps have trees and the marshes have grasses. We just left the marsh."

The other passengers have side conversations, but mostly people are quiet. There are other boats up ahead. The swamp is hushed.

We drift past another boat full of Swamp Tourists. "And there you see the wild Louisiana Homo Sapien," says the guide. "The females of the species are the most dangerous. They lure you in with their legs."

We laugh. One of the passengers asks, "Are the edible?"

"They are, actually," says the guide.

A little further down the guide begins talking about hunting alligators. The season is coming up. Alligators, though an apex predator, are a controlled species.

"What you do is you take a chicken and spit it on a hook and you hang that about five feet over the water so that the little ones can't get it. You don't hunt any that are smaller than ten feet long. The gators jump out of the water, swallow the chicken, but then the hook gets stuck in their stomach.

"You have to come around every five hours to check the traps or else another gator will come and eat him. What you'll see is a line going into the water because he'll be down there hiding. He's scared. So what you have to do is draw him up to the surface. And he will fight. He'll thrash around for four of five minutes, but after that he'll calm down and be as gentle as a baby. He'll be warn out.

"Then you just come up next to him and there's a soft spot on the back of his head. You shoot him there, right into the brain – it’s about the size of a walnut. He dies instantly. A .22 will work. It doesn't take much. It's a soft spot."


I know where the shade is in New Orleans. Esplanade is the best street to get into the downtown area from where I live because there are so many great trees. Walking through the Quarter itself, though, during a hot day, can be Treacherous. There is no lee side at noon.

"You'll figure out how to find shade," my first landlord in the Crescent City told me. "You're lucky you weren't here for the hot months. The two weeks before you got here – man – that was brutal. You stepped outside and you were already sweating."

Which is partially why I struggled so much with that first apartment. There is practically no shade in the Seventh Ward. You Boil and Burn your way through the day, looking for Relief.


Another boat ahead is stopped. They are throwing marshmallows into the water. The passengers look anxious and eager and no hands hang over the side of the boat.

"Where ya't?" our guide calls.

The other guide calls back, "It's Big Al! He's down there somewhere. I think he doesn't want to come up."

Our guide grins and turns back to us. "Big Al is a ten foot gator. We call him Big Al because he's the dominant male in the area. He eats the younger males. Last year… we saw him dragging this five foot male up and down the river for a few days. Making an example of him. He was still alive."

And we float there. The guide throws hot dogs and marshmallows into the water. The latter, the guide explained earlier, the alligators like because, "They live in the Marsh. ... I'm proud of that one. I came up with it yesterday."

Somewhere below, there is a ten foot alligator who does not want to come up. In the murk. It's too cold for him yet. He's waiting for the Heat and the Sun. He can Wait for a long time.


Yesterday I came home and stood in the kitchen. L walked in and said, "How was your vacation Sam? Oh. You're sun-kissed."

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Performance Art

A few weeks ago we read Hunter S. Thompson's "Strange Rumblings in Aztlan" in the Swimmers - my friends' and I weekly reading group. Of course his Gonzo style came up in conversation and Mr. A esque. presented probably the best speculated explanation for Thompson's rambling, vicious aesthetic I have heard: it's just too much damn work to redo something on a typewriter.

And that's going to be this post. I'm hungover (yesterday was my birthday) and on the run to meet my family in the French Quarter. So be generous.

Last week, my good friend S came to visit along with her jazz dance troupe, Erin Morris and Her Rag Dolls. She wanted to go exploring that Sunday afternoon so we wandered into the Marigny and, as these things usually go, circled around our destination for about an hour before capitulating and having a drink at Mimi's. There the conversation, as a matter of course, fell to the future.

"Do you consider yourself the kind of person who has a life-plan and follows it? Or do you just find yourself playing it by ear?" she asked me.

This was in reference to the usual Get Married, Have Kids, Find a Salaried Job somewhere in there, and Start Working on a Mortgage. So, the answer was, "No, not really." But it's more complicated than that. I asked her the same question.

She thought about it, sipped the special lemonade Mimi's was serving - which was a fantastic way of fighting the heat - and shook her head. "I don't know."

At least she was willing to admit that life, quite frequently, doesn't boil down to a simple dichotomy.

The evening before I watched the ragdolls perform at a show celebrating women in jazz. See the video above - they were majestic.

Walking through the back hallways of the performance space - where no one is ever performing but still theatrical - I saw Meschiya Lake drift by. "Meschiya Lake?" I called. She turned and cocked her head to one side. She was much shorter than I had imagined, seeing her up on stage so many times. "Will you be performing at the Spotted Cat this Tuesday." She gave a hipster nod, an quick and emphatic upward-downward movement of the head, without saying a word, pirouetted and disappeared back on stage.

The next night, after convincing S that I would enjoy myself watching the dancers have a good time at DBA while I sipped a PBR in the corner, I ended up doing just that. They, the jazz dancers, let loose on Frenchmen street, were miraculous. I've seen good dancers in the Crescent City, but never have I seen so many people in such a small space all owning the floor at the same time. It was crowded, there was beer and whiskey soaking every surface, and the band had to compete with the sound of stomping jazz dancers to be heard.

A gentleman sat down next to me and gently refused an invitation for a dance. Suddenly a woman appeared next to him. "I'm so embarrassed! I didn't realize it was you!"

"No, it's all right," the man said smiling.

"My husband loves your work. You probably get this all the time from people who see you, but could I take a picture?"

"Sure sure," he said. And so she did.

For the rest of the evening I tried to figure out if I knew the guy. And the longer I stared at him the more confused I became. There was no recognition at all, but I was groping for some fame to place on him. Eventually I decided he looked a little like Quentin Tarantino and left it at that.

Meschiya Lake got up and sang a number. While I listened and the dancers did there thing a woman standing next to me asked, "Are you an actor?"

I was a bit taken aback. Quentin Tarantino had accepted a dance with a woman and was having a ball right in front of the Ms. Lake who wasn't paying attention to anything but the microphone and brass band surrounding her. And this woman asked me if I was an actor.

"Why do you ask?" I said.

"Well, just the look. The ambiance," she said. She pointed at Quentin, "He's an actor," she pointed across the room at a man wearing a maroon three piece suit and fedora, "He's an actor. It's all to add spice to the place to make sure people are having a good time."

"You think New Orleans is filled with actors?" I asked.

She smiled and shrugged, embarrassed. "I have no idea. But it seems like it."

The set ended and the dancers kept jamming. Before the stage I saw Meschiya, dancing alone, ignoring everyone and everything but the music. She seemed to be dancing with the band, if anything. The whole world could have evanesced for all she cared.

Yesterday, at Pal's, Meschiya Lake came up in conversation while I shared birthday celebratory drinks. I said she was phenomenal and a friend replied, "Yeah, she may be a great singer but is she a performer." Thinking back on her dancing with the band, I nodded.