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

Friday, June 29, 2012

Tribute to Chuck Palahniuk

To Chuck Palahniuk:

And IB muttered, "This city..."

"I came back for the soil," DB said. She returned shortly after the flood waters that followed Hurricane Katrina finally receded. Most of St. Bernard Parish has been a sugar plantations for centuries up until very recently. It's rich, sweet soil for gardening.

"It's home," said OH. "There's a lot of history in this area. New Orleans is the fulcrum of the country... The city has to be here."

"You'll meet the nicest people you'll ever know in this city," JH said. "Everywhere you go, there'll be someone with food."

"My cousin was by the levee in the woods when it happened," DB said. "He said he heard a sound like a bomb going off and then everything went quiet. And then he saw deer, squirrels, birds, all these animals, every animal in the forest started running past him. The entire forest was in a stampede to get out of there."

VG: "The first time the fire department realized something was wrong, a friend of mine was in the room with the New Orleans chief. He got a call from some guys who said, -- There are all these fires on the north shore. -- Well, why aren't you putting them out? -- We can't get to them. -- Why can't you get to them? -- Because of all the water in the streets. And then the chief yelled, 'Fuck! The levees broke! It's the only explanation...'"

"You know, I wouldn't be surprised if they blew up the levees for Betsy," said LD. "But for Katrina the whole city was destroyed. Nobody got anything out of that."

"I have a friend in the National Guard," said JWB, a St. Bernard Parish resident, "And he told me, swear to god, that the year before Katrina he was ordered to go out to the levees and bury dynamite. They didn't blow it up then. But they did for Katrina."

"No matter what you heard, saw, or read about Katrina, it was much worse than that," KM said.

DB has gardened is her life. From seeds, scraps, and branches DB has coaxed out an entire perennial paradise. All of the plants have a purpose, though -- "Butterflies like pizzas and hummingbirds like ice cream cones," DB says, explaining the shapes of the flowers in her garden.

Behind his gutted, rotting house, JY keeps chickens. He and his wife bring their kids out to see chickens several times a week, to feed and water them. It turns out, he discovered, that the city has a limit on how many animals a person can have on the property: four. He culled the flock down from a dozen to the city's prescribed limit.

VG: (paraphrased) Actually, CNN was one of the first news agencies to report the levees breaking. X was in a community center with her cameraman. Suddenly the councilwoman from the Ninth Ward rushed inside and yelled, 'Please, come quick! People are dying!' So X and her camera man followed the councilwoman up to the Claiborne bridge, I think. All the electricity in the city was out so it was pitch black and they couldn't get any visual footage, but they could hear it. Standing on the bridge, surrounded by a pitch black, muggy night the reporters and councilwoman could hear the sound of rushing water, a deluge, and the screams of thousands.

"I was at a bar the other night and this guy sitting next to me asked me where I was from," AO said, "And when I said I was here for a year with AmeriCorps he said, 'Get out now. Because if you don't, you'll never leave.'"

"This town doesn't like to drink," JC said, "it likes to be drunk." But, "All the things that are great about this city are starting to go away. I mean, some policemen are starting to bust you for drinking on the streets... They're getting after bars because their bands for being too loud."

"I don't like New Orleans, actually," admits JY. JY received a great deal of money from Road Home, but could only use it to elevate the house. There are specialized services in New Orleans for elevating houses. JY told the contractor to raise the house as far as he could with the  tens of thousands of dollars he received from Road Home. This turned out to be nine feet. None of the money could be used to build anything else, even a staircase. The only way to get into the gutted house, now, is with a ladder.

JY laughed and explained that he tells his friends they can store things in his house if they want to. No one can get in it, not without a ladder. It's the safest place to store things.

Author of Showdown in Desire, Orissa Arend, spoke at Fair Grinds Coffee. She described a shootout between the New Orleans Police department and the local chapter of the Black Panthers. It appears, from witness reports, that the police issued no warning and, without provocation, shot at the house for a half hour before the Black Panthers inside were allowed to surrender and leave the building. Miraculously, no one was hurt or killed. One Panther said he spoke to a black officer at the scene. They echoed one another's words, "Sorry, but I'm on this side." And then the started talking about the Saints.

"... I don't think I've ever been in a place full of happier people than when Drew Brees paraded as king of Bacchus one week after the Saints won the Super Bowl," said SD. "The happiness of the crowds that night was unbelievable, and I'm so glad I was able to be a part of such a great celebration--even if I didn't get one of the mini footballs Drew was throwing from the float."

"I get the impression that people came here to have a parade and a city got in their way," NF said.

"The great thing about this place is you can be anything. You can do anything," JC said. "I could decide to be an astronaut tomorrow and I could do it. I've never wanted to, but I could."

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Fair Warning: Sexual and scatological content. I originally called this "Shit Story" and wrote it after reading a lot of Charles Bukowski, so it's a lot more visceral than what I usually write.

To Charles Bukowski and Sarah Kane

"I haven't shat or pissed in seven years," she tells him, negotiating each word around the Marlboro.

Because he doesn't know what else to say, Isaiah asks, "Haven't you seen a doctor about that?"

"Of course." Her words fall out white clouds against an off-white carpet and light cream plaster walls. The air is a stinking thick haze of tobacco smoke. There are only a handful of boxes next to them; they sit on the only pieces of furniture he can see, two metal folding chairs. The room is bare.

"If you don't shit or piss for a week the body poisons itself -- drowns in its own filth," she says. "The doctors said there was nothing wrong with me. One or two actually went as far as to say I was lying. But I haven't defecated or urinated for about the last quarter of my life."

"That must be uncomfortable," Isaiah says, his desire to fuck her quickly subsiding with this new bit of information, thus he had no reason to stay. He'd made his delivery -- the last that evening -- a thirty-six pack of downy toilet paper, to one Beatrice Smith who, despite his usual gamut of old ladies and stay-at-home moms, turned out to be an attractive young woman, shorts tight enough to count her change at a glance and a tight white T-shirt thin enough to see the absence of a bra. Her hair was tied back in a red bandana. When she turned to get him the money and a drink he decided she had the best ass he'd seen in months. So they sat down for drinks, he a beer and she a Long Island iced tea. Then she told him she hadn't shat in seven years.

Kill the beer and go, he thinks. Bitch is crazy. Still. "So, why order the largest and most expensive package of toilet paper?" he asks indicating the behemoth sitting next to him.

She shrugs. "Entertaining guests. I've made a rule, you see. Once I've run through three of these I move. That usually takes about a year of entertaining guests, boyfriends and whoever else walks in."

"So," Isaiah says, "you have a certain threshold of shit you take before you move."


The wind blows, the apartment groans and the rain slaps the window at the termination of freezing, forming a sliding layer of ice on the glass. It looks like the whole world is melting.

"Want another drink?" Beatrice asks.

"Yeah," Isaiah says before he realizes he's handing her his empty. He calls to her after she disappears into the kitchen. "So, how long have you been doing the one-year-and-then-move thing?"

"Seven years."

"Since your problems started?"

"Since my problems started?" she says and it sounds like she's telling the punchline of a dirty joke. "My problems started a long time before that."

She reemerges from the kitchen, hands him his beer, sits down and gets to work on a martini. "What about you?" she asks. "How'd you end up with this shit job? Having to deliver toilet paper at four in the morning to weirdos and ass holes."

"It's not so bad when the weather isn't a mother fucker," he says. He considers hammering the beer and excusing himself; it's a good rule to keep the subject as far away from himself as possible.

She nods and lights another cigarette. "I'm surprised anyone does deliveries in this weather."

"Somebody's gotta do it. Gotta get those batteries, bottles of water, beer, groceries, nails, light bulbs or whatever to all the people too lazy to get it themselves. I nearly skidded off the road four times getting here."

She takes a drag of her cigarette. "You think I'm lazy?"

Mistake. "I didn't mean you. I just meant…"

"No," she says smoke. "You meant people are lazy. All of them. We're people too. We'd all like it if we had everything handed over right now."

"Yeah," he says. She takes a drag. They listen to the rain break. That wasn't what he meant, but better she think that than whatever it was he did believe. "That's what I meant."

She eats one of the green olives in two tiny bites, sucking off the gin and vermouth with full lips. It's arousing and Isaiah suddenly remembers his intended purpose. He hasn't gotten laid in a month and it was agony in his groin. So, she's full of shit. Most people are. He glances at her thighs, crossed, shaved, perfect, smooth.

The building groans.

"You nearly died three times driving here?" she asks.

"Yeah." He crosses his legs. "I've never seen a storm like this. The whole world's been turned to ice."

She nods, drags. "I've seen worse."

"That's rough."

"That's life. Need to use the bathroom?"

"No." He kills the beer. "You didn't bring very much with you?"

"Booze, clothes, books, games. I don't need anything else. I can fit everything I own in my car."

"I haven't moved in a long time."

"I guess so. I have wanderlust. Drink?"


He follows her to kitchen and sees a well stocked bar on the counter. Bombay Sapphire, Johnny Walker Black, Grey Goose and all the bottom shelves. "You're a bartender?"

"It's the one profession, besides prostitution, that you can find a job anywhere. Johnny?"

"Yes." While she pours, he talks. "I just have the odd jobs. Deliverer, chef, I worked at Toys R Us before I got this job. Manager position."

"What's the strangest thing you've ever delivered?"

She turns and pushes a glass into his hands. He tries hard to consider as Beatrice leans against the counter, close to him, pulling her shirt tighter.

"Weirdest thing? Well, this is pretty strange. Toilet paper to a woman who doesn't shit." He laughs. She doesn't. He clears his throat and thinks. "The weirdest thing. Probably the time I had to deliver for a party. At least, I think it was a party. This woman ordered three cases of beer, a dozen tubs of ice cream and a lot of mixed candy. When I pulled up to the drive, out of town in the country, she had three little kids, no older than ten. She paid me and gave me a twenty dollar tip. Didn't look like anyone was coming to a party. The kids were screaming and the ice cream was melting as she paid me. That was weird."

Beatrice stares at him, sips her drink and he watches the outline of her nipples. "Do you want to stay the night?" she asks.

"Well," Isaiah says without thinking and realizes he has nothing to say.

She moves closer to him, wraps a hand around his waist and presses her crotch against his. He sits down his drink on the counter, wraps his arms around her and imagines kissing her, but doesn't. He tries, but doesn't. The building creeks.

"I want to fuck you," he says.

"I want to fuck you," she repeats.

She pulls him to her bedroom and undresses them both. They lie on her bare mattress. He wraps around her; she is so small in his arms and frame. The window rattles and the room stinks of smoke, but neither moves, neither does anything. It is not sexual, Isaiah realizes. He has no desire; he is too tired for that. It just is.

"I want to fuck you," he says.

"Then why don't you?" she asks. He cannot see her face.

"Because it's never enough. You know, I had a nympho girlfriend once. We had sex four times a day and we hated each other. It's just too hard to break things off with someone who's the solution to your own desire."

Between her ass cheeks his penis is limp.

"All my boyfriends I've ever had called me worthless," Beatrice said. "I tried to fix my life and discovered that it wasn't worth the effort."

"It's never enough," he says.

"I smoke until I'm sick."

"Keep trying to leave and never get anywhere."

"The shit builds up until I can't take it."

"Everyday I just wish I were someone else, somewhere else, but I wake up in the same bed."

"Black out dreams are the best."

"It's never enough. Just to fuck."

"I'd love to just have sex and sleep and that's it."

"I'd love to just fuck and sleep and that's it."

They wake up the next morning and the window is royal purple stained glass. The whole world is frozen. Both are awake, but neither moves. She does not light a cigarette. He's limp. They look at each other. They see one another's breath and feel the other's warmth and fall asleep again.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Not Surprised

Walking through the Quarter last night with IB, I told her that every Iowan I'd met in New Orleans went to Grinnell College and all were Strange. "That's not fair," IB said. "What about K? She's pretty normal."

I considered. "At her going away party we spent the evening having an in-depth conversation about how much we liked bulldogs."

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"I don't know. It seemed meaningful."

A woman walked us by. She was heavily made-up and wore a feathered headdress and a black leotard covered in sparkling gold sequins. When she was out of ear shot, IB commented, "Don't you ever see someone on the street and want to know who they are or where they're going? That must be one hell of a party."

"In New Orleans?" I said, "She could be going anywhere for any reason."

We walked a little farther down the cracked, hot pavement. It's been hot and muggy in New Orleans for months and this isn't even the worst of it. Maybe it was never cool. In Interview with a Vampire Brad Pitt's character comments, upon returning to New Orleans, that when he smelled the air he knew he was home - jasmine and flowers. For anyone who's spent any time in the Quarter in the summer, this observation is hilarious.

"But about bulldogs," I said. "They look like they're always smiling. You know Drake University in Des Moines has a bulldog beauty contest every year? It's hilarious. They put a little crown on them and everything."

"Where did that come from?" IB asked, somewhat disgusted.

"I like bulldogs."

"That sounds like a great competition!" we heard someone behind us chime in. We turned and saw another woman wearing a black leotard with gold sequins. "I mean, who needs an excuse?"

"Can I ask you where you came from and where you're going?" IB asked. "You see, we saw someone dressed like you just walk by and we thought there's gotta be a great party along with that."

"Yeah," the woman nodded. "I got left by the group in a bathroom and now I'm wandering the Quarter looking for them. I mean, how hard can it be to find a group of rowdy girls in gold sequins?"

"Where are you coming from?"

"Oh, we were just doing this fundraiser for kids to buy instruments. Now we're out to get trashed."

"Only in New Orleans," IB said, shaking her head.

"I love this town," said the woman.

"He's leaving," IB said, gesturing at me. "For Iowa."

"Why would you do that?" the woman said, looking at me in horror.

"It doesn't suit him," IB said.

The woman nodded. "Yeah, this place, you either love it or you hate it."

"I think I see your group," IB said. We rounded the corner and saw about twenty young women glittering and dancing in the middle of the street around some sort of two story float to Lady Gaga. We waved goodbye and walked away. It only occurred to me later that, wherever I end up going after New Orleans, I will probably be surprised to see twenty nonprofit fundraisers pole-dancing in the middle of the street just for the hell of it.


I'm leaving New Orleans this Wednesday and will travel almost to the opposite border of the continental United States. I have a lot of thoughts on the subject, but none of them worth sharing.

As Adam Duritz offers, maybe this year will be better than the last. Sure, it's not the year's end, but this is a New Chapter. I'm going back to the land of Seasons.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Julia Indelicate Will Ruin Your Life

K introduced me to the Indelicates a few months before we found out they would be in town.  K and I had just gotten back on speaking terms and decided to go.  We arrived about forty-five minutes early for fear that we'd have to fight for space and found the bar, the Swamp, deserted except for us.  It was muggy, hot and miserable inside (they don't have AC in Germany) the tiny bar and so we ordered gin and tonics as a folk remedy.  Too soon it was packed and even more unbearable.

The opening bands played their sets.  The first, the No Goes, were tolerable and the second, Lily Rae, commented to the crowd: "This is such a pleasant change from England.  You're all so nice to me.  Maybe it's just because you can all smoke inside here."

Then the headliners took the stage.  The Indelicates are a brother and sister duo, British band; their names really are Simon and Julia Indelicate.  If we're talking genres, you'd definitely throw them in with the indie lot.  Ironically, almost all of their songs are tongue-in-cheek references to indie music and culture, the best example (and the one that made them famous) is "Waitingfor Pete Doherty To Die" ("cut the words into your chest - bleed for days - stumble home in a haze... someone come and tap this pain - I haven't cried since Kurt Cobain...").

Anyway, the concert was amazing and they played K and my favorite songs.  The only downside was that Julia was losing her voice and so her solos occasionally fell into squeaks.  Julia kept speaking to the crowd in German, which K thought was adorable.

Afterwards the bar emptied out pretty quickly.  K and I asked for a picture with the band.  While we waited I talked to Lily.

She was selling albums, Vinyls oddly enough.  "Yeah," she said, "My distributor said I could either use CDs or Vinyl and I thought 'Vinyl!  That's classy.' And then I realized no one has record players anymore..."

I didn't have a record player, but bought an album anyway and gave her what I thought was a ten, double the price, as a kind gesture.  The next morning I looked in my wallet and realized that I'd accidentally given her a fifty, which explains the astonishment and reluctance in her acceptance.  She had better become the next Ani Difranco so this album pays for itself later.

"What about you?" she asked me.  "Are you a musician?"

"No.  I'm musically impaired."

"What do you do?"

"I like to pretend that I'm a writer."

"If you say it that way that's a good sign you're legit."

Several drinks and conversations later, the band was packing up equipment to go to Stuttgart for tomorrow's performance.  K slipped off to chat with Lily and one of the other band members, Al.  Julia sat down next to me.

"I'm exhausted.  Mind if I sit here?" she asked.

"Not at all.  I was impressed that you and Simon kept speaking to the crowd in German."

"I can speak German.  Where are you from?"

"The States.  Sorry."

"Don't apologize."

"I've just become accustomed to saying 'America - sorry.'"

"Hey, I love America.  I want my fucking green card."

We chatted a bit longer and I asked her about how they got started as a band.  "Well I was in this girl band while Simon was still in school.  We both have masters degrees, actually.  Anyway, he got started in poetry slams -- we both did, really, but Simon ruled the stage.  We decided to get together and write songs and ended up writing 'Waiting for Pete Doherty to Die' which got us noticed by Neil Gaiman.  Do you know Neil Gaiman?"

"I love Neil Gaiman!" I shouted, nearly falling on the floor.

"You know he's going out with Amanda Palmer?  Well, anyway, long story short, people noticed us, we wrote and album and here we are."

Okay, that's the gist of it, but I was very drunk by that time and so the conversation is a bit muddled.  And I thought it was funny talking to a musician I adored and then realizing she reminded me of a lot of people I have known: talkers.  Granted, she's an entertaining talker, but I realized that I was only making up about a quarter of our conversation.

Very soon the band was on the road.  As we walked back, K said, "You were hitting on Julia Indelicate."

"I was not."

"Yeah you were.  Al, Lily and I were watching the whole time.  They agreed."

"I was not hitting on Julia Indelicate."

"Oh, come on," K teased.  "Let's see, thirty-year old traveling poet-musician.  She's your type."

"Oh what is this?"

"She isn't even that pretty."

"She is too."

K glared at me. "You were hitting on Julia Indelicate!" she said and then the evening went downhill. And just like that, weeks and patient conversation came undone, because of an indie, British musician. Pete Doherty would have been proud.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


There’s an ancient Joke: Caesar is inspecting his troops and he notices a soldier that looks very much like himself. He goes up to the soldier and says, “Did your mother, by chance, work in my palace?” The soldier replies, “No. But my father did.”

Generally, I don’t like bawdy comedy or body horror of any kind told by anyone. It’s cheap. The object is to squeeze laughter out of the audience through primal insecurities. It’s verbal groping. Anything visceral will always get a laugh or a cringe out of the audience, but rarely is it deserved.

But, it works. In fact, it Always works and Allways has worked.

Recently, IB told me that L participated in a New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestling (NO LAW) competition in which a draw was settled by a joke-off. IB’s favorite, compliments of L, was, “My grandma asked me once, ‘How do you know when you had a good night? When you throw your panties against the wall and they stick.’”

IB elaborated, “I love it when girls tell dirty jokes. Guys get away with it all the time, but women rarely use raunchy humor.”

At the University of Iowa I took a theatre history class in which we read Lysistrata. The primary reason for discussing this play was to begin a conversation about theatre technology. Specifically: props. More specifically: phalluses. It’s a pretty basic gag. A man walks out with a tremendous phallus strapped to his waist and, magically, people laugh.

Lysistrata was written in 411 BC by the great comic playwright, Aristophanes. At the time of its first performance in Athens, the city state was engaged in a 14-year long war with its neighbor, Sparta. Lysistrata tells the story of the eponymous heroine leading the women of both cities in a sex-strike with one simple demand: peace. It is a sex comedy but, more than that, it is a war protest piece.

Cripple Creek’s production of the play, which unfortunately has its last performance tomorrow, captures the play in all its bawdy glory. They made full use of phalluses, writhing pelvic agony, and put perfect emphasis on the right suggestions.

A friend said that comedy only works with good actors. Cripple Creek’s production worked. It was a truly incredible production of this classic comedy. It is testament to Cripple Creek’s expertise that the play has sold out every night of its run.

But, above all, I respect the company in keeping the play thoroughly grounded in the moral: the desire, the craving that conquers all is for Peace. At the end of the play, in fact, the company gets a little heavy-handed drawing pointed parallels to modern day politics. But, then, Lysistrata was not at all subtle about its message at the time. It is in the spirit of this comedy that the audience should walk away laughing and feel guilty if they don’t go immediately write their legislators.

And, while I still don't like bawdy humor, I laugh at it. The vast majority of humanity does, which is why it’s so popular. Lysistrata is proof that there are some things that resonate through the millennia, and one of them is this: sex jokes will always be funny. Even Shakespeare, the creator of most of our language, had an obsession with those things below the belt.

A friend of mine, C, is a German anglophile. She recently earned her masters in English literature and for a long time taught English literature to undergraduate German students. In one class she was trying to teach her students about Shakespeare’s more crass jokes, specifically in Hamlet. On the board, she wrote Hamlet’s quip to Ophelia, “Do you think I meant country matters?”

The class gave her a blank look. She repeated the line with greater emphasis, “Get it? ‘Cunt-ry matters…?’”

People searched for That One Guy who always knows the right answer, but he looked embarrassed.

“Okay, who knows what this word means?” She wrote and underlined, “Cunt,” and again there were only blank stares.

In her exasperation, C said, “Okay, all of you go home and Google this word.” When she related this story to me later that day, she shook her head apologetically and muttered, “I really shouldn’t have done that…”

That was all a very round-about way of saying:

1.) Cripple Creek Productions is nifty;

3.) You should go and see or read Lysistrata;

4.) It's a lovely Saturday late afternoon. I am sitting on a bench in front of Fair Grinds and I would like to be done with this post already. Now I'm leaving.