Note: I’m breaking habit and posting something a little different tonight. In a way it’s more personal than my typical entry because i actually spent a few hours working on it, and I hesitated to post it for that reason. I guess it would fall under the category of “creative” writing, but in truth, it’s just a little bit of a snapshot of my summer, with some creative liberties thrown in. Despite what it says below, I’m actually really, truly, happy in New Orleans. And I’m sleeping just fine. :)
It was a rooftop summer, endlessly hot and cloyingly sticky. At night, every building top in Bushwick was dotted with its residents, crawling up from their toe jam apartments, squinting under slices of moonlight and lengths of Christmas lights, stretching their legs at last.
Mikey stowed a two by four on his roof ledge, which he brandished whenever a roach scuttled by, (there were lots) sending down furiously on the praline shell of every critter that darted within arms reach. He wasn’t typically prone to violence, which was probably why he enjoyed it so much.
We were lucky – we had a private rooftop; the only entrance was through a door in Collin’s bedroom. The roof was stuffed with warped wood furniture, and the yellow stalks of a half dozen dead tomato vines (a failed experiment that Mikey still couldn’t bear to dispose of) and a rusty barbeque grill, and stacks of terracotta pots which were meant to one day house plants except that, as of yet, none had ever survived long enough to merit repotting. Most nights it was just me and Mikey, splitting a six-pack and talking bullshit over the street sounds of Montrose Ave below.
I had flown up from New Orleans to finish out the end of this swollen, interminably fucked up season with my brothers nearby. It was admitting failure, certainly, but I was too ragged to care about my pride any longer.
It had been a summer where I wasn’t really anywhere and never really found my anchor. I spent June and July in New York, sleeping on hammocks and couches and floors, waiting for news from Joan. At last, she called to say that there was a house available, a tiny shotgun, on General Pershing Street. And so, I moved to New Orleans, which had been the plan all along. The movers dumped my stuff there on a Tuesday afternoon, leaving me to assemble my bed from the pile of lumber that had been sitting in a Queens storage unit since December. It was a bed I bought seven years ago, when Kevin and I were shopping for rentals in New York and were flushed with love and hope and the promise of things getting better. The two of us had assembled that bed in my old apartment in Queens, and then collapsed onto it, because that is the best way to celebrate assembling any kind of bed. Kevin died that following January, and then the bed became just mine and seemed so, so big and it’s presence made me happy and sad and sometimes I crawled into it and didn’t leave for days.
In New Orleans, I put the bed together myself, all the pieces fitting as they should but two brackets had disappeared in the move and though I dumped out every Ziploc bag of screws and nails and latches and clips I had brought with me from Queens, the brackets were gone, gone, gone. I propped the frame up instead with stacks of my thickest books – Marquez and Dostoevsky and Rushdie finally after all these years of neglect were put to some use.
Every day, the Louisiana heat would unroll like one of those thick Oriental rugs that you can just sink into with only one step and get lost in for hours. The mosquitoes were waiting to pounce so I stayed indoors and smoked the Pall Malls I’d brought back from Peru and swept my long sloping linoleum kitchen floor in some kind of manic fit at 2am, when the heat still hadn’t subsided and it was too hot to sleep and there was nothing to do but pace and smoke and press ice cubes to my shoulders and wait for the sweet shock of cold to dribble its way down my spine. I reread all my favorite books, skipping to the best passages and savoring the way the words all fit together like smooth, expensive tongue and groove flooring. I read The Bell Jar and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Catch-22 and all the fantastic novels of my childhood, stuffed with delicious words like lugubrious and characters with names like Chief White Halfoat and Big Slim Hazard.
The freight trains traveled on a track that ran parallel to Tchoupoutoulas Street, shadowing the Mississippi River, three blocks from my house. Eventually they would continue towards Texas, dragging cars bloated with freshly refined sugar from the Domino factory upriver and the occasional gutter punk escaping the coastal south. The early train would pass at 5:30 AM, as the sun branded it’s track marks into the sky, when the house finally felt cool and I had crawled into bed at last. Some mornings the click-clack was enough to soothe me into an anxious sleep, twisted around my orange bed sheet, my legs stiff like a dying insect. But eventually, the train was not enough, the bed was not enough, or the Pall Malls or the sloped linoleum floor. On the hottest day in August, I flew back to New York, where rooftops offered relief and I knew that I could collapse onto my brother’s hammock and feel it’s sides wrap around me like a safety net.
On Labor Day weekend, from every corner of Bushwick, the celebrations echoed off the inky purple sky: the stereo speakers someone had mounted in their window, the tangle of Spanish from the Puerto Ricans on the roof across the street, the shouts from the hipster parties that spilled out in the direction of Williamsburg, three generations of the Lopez family stretched out on folding lawn chairs on the sidewalk below. We piled chicken breasts and sloppily constructed hamburgers onto the grill and tipped back beers, as the salty cooking smells rose into the air. I raised my face towards the stars and watched the moon shiver so slightly and, for a moment, didn’t know if I was in Bushwick, or New Orleans or even Peru, or maybe some other far off place I’d yet to find that someday I might be able to call home.
Got home last night so late, it was early. The sky was brightening; my Sunday Times had already been deposited on my front porch.
My new life in New Orleans has been unfolding for a month now: a tiny shotgun house with a porch swing in the front and a hammock in the back, just like I’ve always dreamed about. Three little rooms, each with a fireplace and huge, yawning windows and tall tall ceilings. I can walk to the grocery store, to Tipitina’s, to the cute little french bakery on Magazine Street to buy the most delicious chocolate croissants in possibly the world. It’s hard to believe that this is really my life now, because I’ve wanted it to be this way for so long.
I keep wondering what I’ve ever done so right in my life to deserve this.
New Orleans in the summer is endlessly hot, endlessly humid. The rain comes every day in these epic, unannounced storms that dump down from the sky without warning and flood parts of Tchoupitoulas Street in a matter of minutes. They pass just as quickly, and life continues on in it’s slow, unaffected pace. The weather reminds me of the climate on the coast of Ecuador — the mosquitos, the heat, the storms.
I’m alone. The number of “full time” friends I have in this city I can count on one hand, with plenty of fingers left over. That’s ok, for the most part. I’ve always liked being alone. Still, I’m taking every invitation that comes my way — drinks, dinner, anything. It’s starting from scratch, looking for new friends at every turn.
The first few weeks, it felt like i was crashing in on someone else’s life. Even as I shopped for furniture, unpacked boxes, picked out paint colors, the whole situation seemed like some sort of domestic vacation. My friend Stacey is a 16 minute walk from my house. The grocery store I shopped at whenever I’d visited her in the past is now “my” grocery store. In years past, I’d walk up and down Magazine St and imagine a scenario where I could somehow live here, somehow enjoy all of this as a resident, not a tourist. Now that I am, it’s just unreal.
I started vending at an art market downtown. It’s a night market, which means it starts at 7 and doesn’t close until 1 or 2am. I arrived on the first night, weighed down with my tables and suitcases full of jewelry and set up under strings of white criss-crossing Christmas lights. It took only minutes before I was meeting other artists and splitting a six pack of Abita with the girl who had the booth across from me. Soon, the customers were filtering in, and I found myself falling right into the same routine I’ve sleepwalked through a thousand times before: some chit-chat, a sale here and there, a swig from my beer bottle.
By 2am, my car was packed up and I drove home through the quiet side of the French Quarter, down Decatur Street, through the warehouse district and along Magazine Street.
By the second week at the Market, I felt myself settling into a happy, busy routine. The off days, i make jewelry. The Market days, I sell jewelry to drunk, smiling tourists and curious locals. From my booth, I can hear the brass bands tearing it up at DBAs across the street. Frenchman Street is alive with life: men barbecuing on the corners, beggars wandering about, looking for a cigarette or a dollar, revelers spilling out of every bar clutching plastic go cups of beer. The heat doesn’t waiver, even at 1 in the morning. When the night is over, i load everything into my tiny hatchback and head to a bar with the other vendors. It all feels easy and happy and satisfying.
Every night, I take the same route home. Down Decatur, past the French Market and Cafe du Monde and Jackson Square. Past Canal St, and under the highway, and along Magazine Street — silent now, it’s shops shuttered, everyone in bed or still tucked away on their bar stools at Bon Temps or Ms. Maes. I drive with the radio off and the windows down. I like the quiet, after a night filled with noise and conversation and chaos. After a month of living here, I’ve finally begun to allow myself to accept that all this is real. That this isn’t just a vacation or an illusion or dream. I’m actually starting to create a life down here.