Wednesday, September 21, 2011

One weekend only makes me want more

I'm entirely too sleepy to be writing. Two and a half sleep-deprived days in New Orleans, and I couldn't stay awake long enough to drink the place in.

I didn't know the air would be so soft. It's heavy like Hawai'i, but not so aggressive about it. The air wraps sweetly around my shoulders. Coming from the airport, my eyes are wide open, looking for the thing that makes people go all loopy for this place. "It's not the skyline," I write in my little notebook, trying to see in the dark, my scrawly pen marks barely readable. I'm finishing the word "skyline" when we're in the city, and I say, "Oh." LIke every New Orleans movie you've ever seen. Free-standing houses, a hundred years old and older. Porches.

Of course the guy behind the bar is named Dmitri. Of course there's a writer with glasses and his toothsome girlfriend in an eye-popping red dress. Of course his blue-haired friend, the guy with heavy mascara and platforms, but I'm from San Francisco. What else you got?

What else: a buddha-headed guy on the sidewalk at midday, his head doused with thin red paint or blood, his hands dipped, too. His eyes a shock of white when he lifts them to look at me. He holds his hands out from his sides like he's been bathing them in gore, and maybe he has.

What else: a man on the street says Hello. A woman says Hello. A guy taking a smoke break from a restaurant asks how I'm doing. None of these is a come-on. Maybe here I can stop even trying to wear a metro face.

What else: for $5 I get to see John Boutté play. He's smaller than I'd expected, narrow-shouldered as a kid. But he sings Halllelujah, and it prickles up the roots of my hair.

Hallelujah is in my head as I turn down Chartres Street, only a block away from the Saturday night crowds and it's quiet, just me and my footsteps. A guy is taking a photo of one of the houses, his girlfriend posed in front. I duck to stay out of the photo as I pass, and they laugh.

A few steps down the street, a smell stops me. In San Francisco, in my neighborhood, I might keep walking. I'm not proud of this. Here, I stop. I circle back. The couple is behind me now, and I ask them if they smell gas. They cock their heads as though listening, and then nod. It does. I'm looking around, and finally see the streetlights. They're gas flames, the real thing. I point, feeling a little sheepish.

"You really care," the guy says.

Is it because I've only been here a day, or would it increase the longer I stay? Either way, he's right.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Long term care

I'm at the long-term care facility at Laguna Honda to see my friend S. Passing the art room, I see two women wearing white lace mantillas. They seem to be leading a meeting, or a ceremony. The door is closed, so I can't hear them.

S has me wheel her to the farm out back. There's a life-size bronze statue of a rabbit-headed man. He's talking on a cell phone. I find him vaguely disturbing, but S laughs when I tell her so. She's more worried about the evil ones. They're still down at the far end of the farm, so we can't go there.

Instead we hang out with the turkeys and the goats. The big toms come right up to the fence, looking self-important, their feathers puffed out, their psychedelic, prehistoric heads. One goat keeps butting his head against our hands, wanting to be petted. The hills are all lost in mist, and I help S wrap a blanket around her shoulders.

Last weekend, I was in Utah, where the sun gave hard edges to everything. I saw my name on a tombstone in the cemetery. It wasn't someone else with the same name, it was me. Dad had put my name, and the names of my siblings and my stepmother, on the back of the monument he'd sculpted for my mom's tombstone. I didn't know about this until I saw it, after the unveiling, walking behind the tombstone to pose for a picture.

It stuck with me all week, the strangeness of seeing my name there.

I'm leaving S and on my way out when I hear singing. It's several voices, in tight harmony, and it's not a tune I recognize. I'm not even sure it's a style of music I'm familiar with. As I round the corner, the elevator doors close on the voices, and they fade quickly away. I take the next elevator.

On the first floor, I hear them again. They're ahead of me, and now I see about ten people in dark clothing, following a stretcher. I speed up, hoping to hear more of the song. They're still singing, and walking at a good clip. I can see their backs, a woman's straight black hair smoothed into a chignon.

Although I have no more than a glimpse at the stretcher, I'm almost certain they are singing this person into the next world.

Today I think, that wouldn't be a bad way to go.