22 November, 2006

Gut Strings

...one foot on the platform/and one foot on the train/ I'm going back to New Orleans...

In some moments, she is any old person, sucking on the stumps of her worn-away teeth. At others, in her arched eyebrow or the imperious wave of her hand, when she laughs out loud and kisses me, I catch a glimpse of my grandmother.

The Suzuki kids have come here to rehearse for their holiday show. It is An Event. Like schul this morning, where one unfortunate collapsed, and the rest were wheeled into the hall to await their turn to be pushed back to the ward; wheelchairs of docile elderly flesh, lined in a row against a wall, an effective but slow-motion evacuation. Where was I? Ah, the children. The elderly long for glimpses of rounded cheeks and silky hair. Chairs are brought to the atrium, and patients are wheeled in and parked. Grandmother refuses to be associated with this infirm, and sits in a chair that is (clearly- to me, anyway) onstage. This affords her a close view of the little darlings, and a tolerant nine-year old permits a strange old lady to smooth a strand of her hair behind her ear. This is my grandmother's gesture, the one she practiced on me countless times when I was young. I envy the nine-year old, briefly consider cutting my hair back to the length it was when I was a child. My slippery locks must have been strange to her, as both her daughters were curly-headed. I wonder if somewhere in her mind, remnants of the little girl I was echo faintly.

The music is pleasant, if occasionally wrenching. (Four-year-olds sawing away at violas and violins with low degrees of accuracy beats badly-tuned bagpipes for audible excruciation, to my ear at least.) Grandmother takes it into her head to move from her chair. Daisy and I chase her, me last with Grandmother's wheelchair, trying to dodge the parade of youngsters as they walk around the immobile and incoherant.

Now she leans on an arched window opening, watching the children put their instruments away. She says one of her nonsense sentences, and I respond by leaning against her and saying, I love you.

She says, "I love you too." A moment later, like Dorothy, she says, "I know YOU."

"See, she know you," says Daisy, unfolding the wheelchair. "And I know YOU!" says Grandmother to Daisy. And we all laugh. Has seeing these children somehow created a resonance with my grandmother that allows her to connect with me? For a moment, she knows me.

Maybe. Maybe it is enough that she loves me. Maybe it is enough that I love her.

Here in New Orleans, time is measured not before the war and after, or before nine-eleven and after, but Before the Blow and Since the Blow. That blow destroyed homes and businesses with water, wind and ransacking. But the move from New Orleans to Houston- eleven hours by bus- and Houston to somewhere else- eight more hours- a prolognded stay in unfamiliar surroundings, a hip-breaking fall, and subsequent pneumonia, destroyed my grandmother.

She cannot be rebuilt.

(House of the Rising Sun; The Doors)

20 November, 2006

Unknown Sojourner

...take a stroll down to Basin street/Listen to the music with that dixieland beat/Well the magnolia blossems fill the air/You aint been to heaven till you been down there....

I am up early, but not earlier than Aunt D., whom I suspect did not sleep at all. She makes an egg and turkey bacon for me, padding barefoot in her dressing gown, duckwalking a bit from her bout with polio six decades ago.

It is quite, quite warm. 70 * by day's end, in fact. Fortunately, I did pack some warm weather clothing. It is odd to have packed both a bikini and a hat, not sure which you'll wear. As it turns out, I'll wear neither. I slide open the sunroof on the PT Cruiser and grin as I drive in daylight through this still-lovely city. Traffic is light. I noticed last night that the streets were deserted, but put it down to the late hour. It was not the late hour. A great deal of the city is empty.

The bridge offers me a lovely view, and I grin at the gilttering slate-grey river that snakes through the city. I choose the right road, but go the wrong way, and am soon in the ghetto, which these days is more of a barrio.

I enter the locked ward, nervous of what I'll find. My grandmother is in the doorway of her room. I meet for the first time Daisy, who attends her.

"Loooook, Meez Jackie, who come to see you! It’s Jackie dotter! It’s you grandotter. Tell her you name, sweetheart."

Despite hearing my name, Grandmother does not know me. She seems pleased to see me, but she doesn't know me. We sit in the common room with Becky, who is training to be a music therapist. She sings to each patient individually, then encourages them to sing songs with her and her accoustic guitar. Gran is tolerant but uninterested.

"Do you have a special visitor today?" Becky asks her.

"Not really," responds my gran.

Afterwards, we take a little stroll/wheel around the lake outside- she walks with her feet while sitting in her chair. I walk behind, and she forgets about me, muttering to herself in a disjointed monologue. When we return to her ward, it is lunchtime. The attendants have arranged a lunch for me. Cornbreaded catfish, hush puppies and stewed okra? A little bland, but really not bad for institutional food.

We go back to her room, at her insistence. She shows me her beads. They are shiny Mardi Gras beads that have never made it onto a parade float. She has handfulls of them. They're in a turned-over hat. "Don’t touch them! Just leave them there. They’re fine just like they are. That one’s gorgeous. Look at that. It’s blue, and this one’s black, and that’s blue, and that, and that, and that, that one’s gorgeous."

And now Gran is ready for a nap. She climbs into her bed. "Bye, bye," she dismisses me.

I’ll see you later.

I tell Daisy that I'll be back in a couple of hours, and head to the Quarter. I find a garage near Hove Parfumerie on Rue Royale and relinquish my borrowed car. Where’s Cafe du Monde from here? The garage man grins at me. He walks me outside the entrance of the garage and, twisting me by the shoulders, points me toward the river. The green and white awning beckons. "Enjoy your cafe," he says.

And shopping. I came here specifically to spend some money.

"And we thank you very much for that. You have a good time, doll."

Off I stroll to Jackson Square, where I remove my shoes.

A fortuneteller beckons me over. "You're not from around here?" No. And neither are you. No honey drips from your voice, and your face is hard and cool as a day-old pancake.

"I'd put on my shoes. People pee on the floor here." She indicates the flagstone walk in front of the Cathedral. I know it. Like any tourist spot, the panhandlers gravitate here. Bums sit and spit and drunks stagger and heave and loonies gibber and drool here. But the superstition is, if you are barefoot in the Quarter, you'll be back.

Still, I wash my feet when I return to my room. And wipe my shoes out, too.

After cafe-au-lait and begneits (my crumb-phobia has for many years deprived me of the delicious taste of begneit dipped in strong coffee- and yet,it's nice to find that life holds a surprise or two) and visits to my favorite shops, I return to the nursing home and to Grandmother.

Daisy tells me Grandmother didn't stay in the bed any longer than it took me to leave the building, and I'm sorry that I missed three hours with her. And yet. A change in routine is unsettling for an Altzheimer's patient, even a pleasant change. She may have needed time to regroup.

Grandmother opens drawers and discovers her belongings. The bottom drawer of her nightstand contains only a skirt.

"Nothting here but this," and she pulls it out. "Look, that’s nothing, nothing, nothing at all. It’s beautiful, look at it. It’s not mine, but it’s beautiful."

We sift through her jewelry boxes, which contain buttons, unmatched earrings, pendants without chains, a special jeweled belt, and more Mardi Gras beads. It is these she likes best. Outshining the halfhearted glitter of rhinestones on antiquated ear-bobs, the plastic metallic gleam and silky smoothness of stranded ovals clicking together as she piles them up or slides them onto her arm appeals to three of her senses.

She pulls out playing cards, a large stack of several different decks blended all together.

"How many will you have?" she asks.


She hands me a stack of probably twenty.

How many will you have?

"This many." She takes a stack of thirty or more. I fan the cards in my hands, waiting to follow her lead.

"Well, we don't need this one, and he can just stay right here, and we don’t care much about THAT." She puts a four down, face up.

I have this. I put a three next to the four.

“That’s good, that’s good.”

Do you have a two?

She looks, finds a two, puts it next to the three. "Do you have an ace?"

I do. I put it next to the two. How about a five?

She has a five. She asks me for a six. I put one down. Then she puts down another six. We put down three sixes before moving on to seven. Then, eight nine ten just fast like that, and then she scoops them all together and turns them face down, passing them to me.

"We're all done with that, it won't bother us anymore."

We play again. If she notices that I play a card from the set we just completed, she does not object. We play three or four rounds of this, sometimes going all the way up through the face cards.

Daisy brings dinner to Grandmother in her room. Grandmother picks at her food. I agree that the stewed spinach is less than appetizing. Daisy brings an Ensure drink. Grandmother likes it, but keeps asking if it is mine or hers.

We play with the things in her jewelry boxes for awhile longer. When she climbs into her bed and recedes into the television. I kiss her forehead and promise to return tomorrow.

"Leave me a note," she requests. I find paper and tape to post the note on her mirror.

‘My darling pussycat,’
it reads, for the word ‘Grandmother’ has no meaning for her anymore.
‘I will come back to see you again tomorrow, which is Saturday. I love you.
xox Missy Belle’.
Missy Belle is what she used to call me when she knew me.

"She know you," Daisy insists. Possibly Daisy knows my grandmother better than I do at this point. I don’t care if Grandmother knows me or not. I want to enjoy her, and make her feel loved and entertained. The other residents sit, nearly catatonic, not conversational or animated. My grandmother may not make sense, but she is talkative.

Is she enjoying me? Is this a good day?

"This a verrrrry good day. She like you, can’t you tell?"

She does?

"Oh, yesssss. She like you, like you ver’much. Doan you know, she never let noooo body touch her card. But she, she play wit you. She like you so, so much."

I leave, feeling somewhat better, and arrive at the apartment to find Aunt D. still in her dressing gown. I have a feeling she napped a lot. I hope she did, anyway.

"You're too late to order dinner, lover. They used to close at six, but since The Big Blow, they close up at five, I guess."

She’ll cook something, she says. I resolve to leave earlier tomorrow, to avoid Aunt D. cooking. She does it, but I know she doesn’t like it.

"Don't you tell your mama I served you raw food," Aunt D. admonishes as we cut into buffalo burgers that are dark on each side and cool in the center.

Why would I do a thing like that?

"Because I did. Look at that thing."

Well, if it doesn’t moo or bleed when I cut it, I don’t mind.

No need to tell her I'm not a meat-eater. We're in the South, and I will be Southern.

It's only for a little while.

(New Orleans; The Blues Brothers)

16 November, 2006

In Transit

...good mornin', America, how are you?/don't you know me? I'm your native son!/I'm the train they call the City of New Orleans/I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done....


BWI Airport is so clean. And so familiar. Well, except for the name, which is now Baltimore Washington Thurgood Marshall International or some such unwieldy monniker. I check in, once at the curbside, and again at the gate, and then go for a seven-dollar Guinness Stout at the bar. I knock it back fast, and feel unapprehensive within minutes.

Fearful of confiscation, I've left my knitting needles home. "Compromise, and take a crochet hook," my mother advises. "No one can construe that as a weapon."

Not until I shove it up your nose and yank your brains out with it, because I am a ninja.

Refusing to compromise, and perhaps practicing a bit of civil disobedience, I've brought a set of chopsticks, an emery board and two Band-Aids. While the plane waits for takeoff clearance, I file the tips of the chopsticks into points and wrap the bandages around the opposite ends. I cast on fifteen stitches and have knit three rows by takeoff.

Yes, in fact, my middle name IS MacGyver.


We approach Miami airport. I have never basked on white Miami beaches nor frolicked in the turquoise Miami sea. I allow myself to wax rhapsodic for a few moments- but what's this? What are these fake oval islands covered with mansions and strung together by a bridge like a chain of obscene man-made jewels?

I watch toy buildings speed by, trying to get a feel for a city I will not see, and the wing flaps go up and the pilot has suddenly set us down in the sweetest, softest landing, tender as a first kiss.

I only realize later that moment is the best part of my stay in Miami.

It turns out that I hate the Miami airport. The smoking courtyard, open to the sky, offers a glimpse of sunset. As little as I smoke, how is it possible that no fewer than three disposable lighters are confiscated from my personal luggage? Old fireating habits die hard, I suppose. I bum a light from a Limey, watch the sunset in a stifling three-story room with no roof. And then begin my trek to the opposite end of the airport, which takes fourty minutes.

I am chilled enough waiting at my gate- a three hour layover- to put on my leather jacket, the nicer one that I don't wear much (which is why it's nicer, obviously) thinking I should have thought to bring gloves, just in case. And then I check my pockets.

It's kind of lovely to discover a pair of gloves in your pocket, particularly nice ones that you'd forgotten your mother-in-law gave you last Christmas.

The eight-dollar sandwich I buy is lousy. The second seven-dollar beer costs me also my cellphone. It falls out sometime after I phone Aunt D. and before I board the plane, while I'm scurrying to buy and drink a beer before takeoff. I discover it missing when I try to make an "I'm on the plane now" call to my family. I am permitted to unboard to look for it at the gate, and an airline employee calls it, but gets my voice mail. Someone has picked it up and turned it off. Dammit. I get back on the plane.


I resign myself to the lost phone. My seatmates, from Edmondton, Alberta, are lovely people, and we enjoy ourselves. Jared reaches across Autumn to pat my hand and say what he thinks are comforting things during my white-knuckled transitional period. I give him lotion to soothe his sunburn. The flight attendant, unable to help finding my cellphone, and unable to provide any pain reliever to Autumn, sets us up instead with tiny bottles of Baccardi. "Oops," she says."Look what fell off the cart. Lucky you! Need mixers?"


The landing is engagingly lumpy, like a ride at a carnival, with extra whoosh factor.

At Hertz, I pick up the car I reserved. Or rather, I don't. I first ask directions to a Walgreen's (I saw some neon as we taxied in), thinking that surely they will have disposable cellphones. She gives me directions and a map, and then asks, "How would you like to drive a PT Cruiser?" Would I! Well, this IS nice.

I drive away confident that everything will go smoothly now.

The woman at Walgreen's allows me to use the pharmacy phone, once I've agreed to purchase a Tracfone and a card with ninety minutes.

Do you know, on television, a drug dealer walks into a convenience store and walks out, talking on his newly-purchased untraceable phone? Do you know, it doesn't work like that in real life AT ALL? The phone has to be charged, and then you spend sixty-leven hours on a land-line to register the blasted thing.

I lose myself hopelessly going from the Walgreen's to Aunt D.'s house. So hopelessly that the maps given me by the kind, calm man at Triple A cannot help me. The road I want is closed down. The Detour signs lead to nowhere. I fear I am in Slidel, the place my mother specifically instructed me to not go. I stop behind a police car. The officer gives me directions that are helpful, if not entirely accurate. Once I finally find St. Charles Avenue, I spend a silly length of fruitless time looking in the 3700 block- I've transposed addresses. My gran's nursing home is in the 3700 block. Aunt D. is at 1750 St. Charles Avenue, a gated apartment complex where the guard has been alerted to my arrival, and evidently pestered. Because my untraceable cellphone is useless. Because there are no payphones. Because I'd be uneasy about getting out of the car to use a payphone. Frustrated? Doesn't even cover it.

By the time I arrive, Aunt D has worried herself into a frazzle.

"Don't nevous me like that, darlin'! My old bones caint stand it!"

Cuppa tea, lover? It's a Band-Aid, but it'll have to do.

(The City of New Orleans; Arlo Guthrie)

15 November, 2006

Promotional Interruption

...we interrupt this angst to bring you the following announcements....

Murder! Death! Mayhem! Paycheck!

It's a killer weekend! Do Or Die Mysteries debuts this weekend at Spotlighters Theatre (817 St. Paul St. Baltimore, MD 21202; 410-752-1225) with The Legend of Creepy Hollow. Cybele Pomeroy appears as a nefarious displaced politician in a small haunted town. Dying to be with her are the Prince, Coco, BuddaPat, the Animal, and two brand-new cuties. Shows are Friday night November 17th at 9 and Saturday night November 18th at 8. Tickets are $15. On Sunday, November 19th, see her as an aging soap-opera sexpot from the popular television drama All My Traumas in A Murderous Production at Fabulous Whispers Restaurant in Pasadena, Maryland. Tickets are $25, plus cash bar. Doors open at 4 PM, buffet at 5 PM, and showtime is 6 PM.

Disclaimer: Do Or Die Productions officially denies any knowledge of the preceding announcement.

08 November, 2006

Civic Doody

...safe from a rolling sea/ there's always been a quiet place to harbor you and me....

And so begins my indefinite self-imposed media blackout. How long can I go without knowing the election results?

Because I don't particularly care what they are, first off; because I don't think they'll ultimately make any difference for a second; because I'm just that unpleasant this week is a third.

I've been particularly snarky, yes, thanks for asking. Why?


Oh, and I went to the polls yesterday. Not that I believe in the democratic process anymore, because I don't. Who can know the agenda of any candidate, when all the major economic players have one of each in their pockets? And, hello, Diebold machines? I touch a screen and I trust that this company's software is recording my vote as I enter it? Without a reciept of any kind? Could someone just hand me a paper ballot and a number two pencil, please?

I was told by an election judge (hard to come by, in this burb, by the way) who has suspicion levels to rival my own, that use of the absentee ballot is permitted for those of us unwilling to give faith to these electronic machines.

Which is not to say that there won't still be fraud (was that enough negatives for you?) but those of us who give a shit and don't trust Diebold will feel assured that our vote will be counted as we cast it, assuming it isn't 'lost in the mail'.

Though of all Suspicious Agencies, the US Postal Service has been the one to foster a tiny little birthday candle sized flicker of hope in my black heart.

When I mail a card from Baltimore and in two days it's arrived in Minneapolis....well, kudos to you-does, Postal People.

As it happens, the tenor of my day was changed when a stranger extended his hand at the end of a transaction. I met his palm my own shaky hand, the one that thrummed with unrelieved tension, expecting a quick, firm squeeze and an impersonal release. Instead, he put his other hand on top of mine, enclosing me in a warm hand sandwich. "Everything will be fine," he said.

I feel oddly confident that it might, after all.

(Rock The Boat; Hues Corporation)

03 November, 2006

Narrative, Anticipatory

...going to need two pair of shoes/when I get through walking to you/when I get back to New Orleans....

I feel apologetic for the lame title, then irritated I've set such high standards that I'm embarassed at the occasional mediocrity. One of my friends is often annoyed by his own lameness, so then I feel stupid because the offerings he designates 'lame' are usually the ones I find funniest, because he writes above my head most of the time and I miss the humor altogether. That's a damn lot of emotion-laden introspection to pile onto two words which, through no shortcoming of their own, failed to be brilliant.


The trees have finally exploded into color, like little girls with a brand-new dress-up box, and everywhere I drive, loveliness abounds. Usually, I get this kind of gorgeous a little earlier in the year, before the weather's gone truly cold, which it has, despite the random (e.g., Wednesday) topless day. Still, I resist putting on socks.

That's true, but deceptive: the full truth is, I can't find any of my socks. I think I remember having purchased some within the last decade. Where could they have gone to?

Don't answer that.

I enjoyed being mostly naked last time I saw the city. In June, Nearly Naked is probably the best strategy for New Orleans heat and humidity. This month, no matter where I go geographically, it is chronologically November. Now, I do expect November in New Orleans to be milder than November in Baltimore, but when I found November in Minneapolis to be milder than November in Baltimore a couple of years back, I question the validity of that expectation.

In short, I have no idea what to pack. And I leave Thursday.

I will look up the Glassharper while I am there, and maybe Se7in, but I will not visit Dan Mehn, Master Joyner, who was one of my favorite survival stories. He missed last summer's disaster in New Orleans by virtue of being here for the Ren Fest, but then managed to smash himself to bits against an oncoming dump truck- or something along those lines. He amazed his rehabilitators by eventually walking, and had a reportedly wonderful season at Faire this year. And then last week, collapsed from a heart attack and died. The Universe, after granting us an extra year to love him, reclaims him.

The purpose of this trip is to visit a city I love, but mostly my grandmother, who may or may not know me. Last time I was there, surreal dominated. I can't even begin to construct a set of expectations for this trip. Possibly that's for the best.

I may be getting used to this joy/pain cocktail of life. Pour me another, Harry, and make it strong.

(Walkin' To New Orleans; Fats Domino)

02 November, 2006


...is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?/ Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality/ Open your eyes....

I walk in, spotting at the end of the room the man I came to see. The beertender remembers my brand, and I've got a cold one in front of me in no time at all.

"Hey, sweetheart! How the hell are you?"

He pats my hand fondly. He likes me. Never underestimate the attractiveness of listening intently and laughing at someone's jokes.

"Where you been? I thought you didn't like it here anymore."

Busy. Too busy for beer, isn't that sad?

Never underestimate the power of flattery. He admires me, and I preen. What? Please, it's been a whole week of being my regular self.

Spots of bright illuminate the darkness. This place walks the line between seedy and cozy, if it can be granted that seedy and cozy are closer than shouting and waving distance. I like it here. I feel energized and safe, both at once, which is exquisite.

"Look at you. You got that librarian thing going on. Gimmie those glasses a minute- do you even need them? I think you wear them just for the fantasy aspect."

I hand them over and he admits they're no prop.

"No, but you've got that fantasy thing going on, you know it, a man expects any minute you're gonna take off them glasses and let down your hair..."

There is just one clip holding my hair, and it comes out easily. He stops mid-sentence. The beefy new beertender hurries over, wide-eyed, to introduce himself.

"You did that on purpose."

Well... you kind of asked for it.

(Bohemian Rhapsody; Queen)