Monday, February 20, 2012

Turlock is a land of wonders

Sometimes, the volume of experience defeats me. Each moment deserves a book, and the moments pile up, one on top of the other.

A ninety-five year old man is propped up at his birthday party in the next room of the restaurant where we eat America-size mounds of food. His daughter? granddaughter? comes around to tell us that he had to go to the hospital last night, he has surgery today, they got him out on a three-hour pass. YEAH! She pumps her fist. He smiles vaguely in the direction of a cake.

A girl with dyed black hair and big black cowboy hat struts the horse auction, rhinestones on her jeans, heavy eyeliner dragging out from the corners of her eyes. There's a herd of starving yearlings in a single pen, hipbones visible, matted pelts. They stand in a huddle, heads down.

It's comforting to be here with A., her red hair jewel-bright. I'm able to find my invisibility beside her, slip into it like a soft robe. I'm nothing but eyes, seeing all of it, taking everything in. 

A miniature horse breaks into a clopping dance and a young girl asks, Please, can we get him?

Outside the bathrooms, a man says, Here come the horse photos. Phones blink on in the falling light. Sixteen hands high, says a woman. And shoulders like Schwarzenegger.

The auctioneer's assistant takes a stance in the middle of the ring, hands hovering over his round belly. Yip! he calls when a bid is made. Yip! Yip! It's a ballet, he gestures to the crowd, hands lifting air at the bidders, waggling his fingers to tempt a bid.

Porky's Bar down the road in Delhi sells only beer. Bud and Bud Light. No wonder the bikers inside look surly.

Later in the night, another birthday party, this one for twin twenty-three year old boys. They pound the table while a dishplain-faced blond girl knocks back two tequila shots, one in honor of each birthday boy.

Breakfast at the orange vinyl seat diner, our counter stools proclaim that President George H.W. Bush Sat Here, First Lady Barbara Bush Sat Here. Waitresses all over sixty, the homeliest with a flower in her hair. I ask the energetic one for her picture. No, she says. I'm too ugly for photos.

I can't touch it, all these words, and I haven't begun, can't touch the place. I can't say why my chest feels tight as we drive away, why I look out the window and will myself not to cry.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Krewe du Vieux

In the coffee shop, a white, middle-aged couple sit at the next table. He's in a t-shirt and shorts. She wears a purple wig and a two-piece outfit that shows off her sagging midriff. Both wear beads, hopefully. They squint together at the ATM, she points a purple-nailed finger at the screen.

Behind me, at the bar, is a moss man. He is head to toe in a beautiful, elaborate moss costume. No clue what he looks like underneath it all. I only know it's a man from his voice as he orders a beer.

The crowds are denser as I step into the street. I'm in the French Quarter, and tonight is the first parade of Mardi Gras. I get turned around, walking up and then back down the street when I realize I'm going the wrong way. Two young men and a young woman, barely twenty-one, sit in a doorway. There is a tall margarita glass in front of each of them, tall as them. The young woman wears a bustier. She sits cross-legged, her neck long and vulnerable.

I look up from the street to see someone step out onto the balcony. I call out and wave, am pointed to a side door. I've met nobody here more than once; they all greet me with hugs. We're in the apartment of someone else I barely know, but he isn't here, he has to work. He's opened his place to all of us. It's a nice place, high ceilings, peeling wooden doors with painted windows to separate living room from bed. An aged armoire with a full-length mirror.

I've worn my usual camouflage, gray and brown, but it makes me the oddball here. One tall, cleanheaded man in a suit of broad white and black stripes and striped top hat has stepped directly out of The Addams Family. There are dark circles beneath his eyes. A batch of people appear in sparkling bodysuits and bulbous sunglasses. One man leaps into the splits. A woman in sequins and crinoline takes pictures of a transvestite who has lifted his skirt to show lighters, flashlights, keys hanging from chains against his bare hip. The disco ball that hangs from his penis matches the ones dangling from his ears.

The two of them are reflected in the mirror, the silvering worn away at the edges. She lifts one arm gracefully overhead, the black, waved hair under her arm looks as decorative as her gold sequins.

I could tell more, about the parade that passed below the balcony, about outrageous floats, brass bands, the mild night and the moon like a tilted teacup. But right now it feels like autumn outside, and I'm going to take a walk by the river, past low houses that survive hurricanes, the black billy goat lounging on a porch, the naked mannequin among the pilings, her arms lifted above her head in defense, or supplication, or sheer joy.