Sunday, March 10, 2013


With the exception of those New Year's babies who have it by way of pure coincidence, there are no ball drops for the Average Joe's personal breathing anniversary.  When we're little, our moms fill the minivans for us and drop us off for bowling or laser tag with pizza and cake waiting at the other end.  Our friends' moms buy us cards and gifts and after a number of years, our own friends have enough money themselves to get us shamefully drunk.  Sometimes we get laid.  Mostly we just hope pictures of the event are not posted on social media.

If one's thirty-third birthday is remarkable for anything, and it really shouldn't be, it would be as one in life's LMNOP sequence.  Like the corresponding Scrabble tiles, the age suggests a potentially versatile and valuable contribution to the Big Board.  It's also indicative of one of those final opportunities to mount an offensive; while a lucky few can score with Q, V, or Z, most are left without a play.

Thirty-three, like LMNOP, is part of an anonymous run.  For the birthday itself, if not at L, then certainly by P, the transition should pass from getting drunk to grabbing dinner.  You take solace in the fact that quarterbacks still playing at your age are at the prime of their game.  You should no longer be in denial that whatever it is you're at the prime of, nobody is paying to see it.  There should be some semblance of a life around you and if you are worth being measured, it is because you have built that life yourself.  Your first notions that you already are Horatio Alger can begin around this age, if they apply.

I muse, I wonder, I reflect, and I still project on these very first few minutes of my own thirty-third birthday.  I have the time.  I will spend it in the company of the one person I am fortunate to know and scan social media to gather best wishes from the rest.  The whole experience will be a reminder that the life I have built, in its immediate form, is still in its very nascent stages.  The Whole Endeavor seems to be a gamble on the end game and we're far enough along that many of my co-players are nervous on my behalf.  Make a show of it, they think.  Quit trying to shoot the moon and just take the points that are resting on the table, they say.  I'd be lying if I said I wasn't chewing a bit on my fingernails and guessing what's on my opponents' tiles.

The strategy remains the same.  There's still a few triple word scores remaining, a couple triple letters, and I'm not willing to concede that I haven't already been dealt the tiles and that ZVXQ is not a word.   Happy birthday to me, it's my turn.  I'll eschew the Easy Play once again and keep playing for the big prize.  Sing along, if you wish.

Monday, March 4, 2013

On fish and ponds

Let us speak about their ratio, shall we?

You can be the Big Fish in the Little Pond, or the Little Fish in the Big Pond, but stating that these are the only two scenarios speaks only for poor optics.  We like the metaphors because it gives some illusion of choice in the whole matter.  Yes, my share of the population is far greater in the Crescent than it was in the Apple, but that doesn't mean I'm not still a guy who falls in the three-figure category for budgeted rent.  All politics is local.  Think globally, act locally.  The grass is always greener and I'd be a damned fool were I to believe I was any more consequential because I changed zip codes.  We are all fish of imperceptibly different sizes swimming in one massive, sinuous and connected waterway just downriver from the petrochemical plant.  The wealthy few have the latest scuba gear and are far too indifferent to bring along any laminated identification charts to tell us apart.  Just so long as we don't slow down the turbines, this part of the water is ours.

I would also be mistaken to dismiss the metaphor outright.  This Little Pond has not only smaller schools, but also fewer swimmers worth angling, if we allow ourselves a clearer look at the optics.  Dripping fresh-off-the-boat in a new land with one of the industrial world's worst educational systems is not an entirely bad thing, if we're being selfishly honest about the whole thing.  It's like all the outstanding marks in those audited gym classes suddenly counted toward my GPA upon transferring.  There are still some ropes to master, a little of the Local Nuance, if you will, but I'm already starting a few body lengths closer to the roof.  Being born, for a select few, is not without its privileges.

Still, it's not as if the same rules governing the Big Pond are applicable to this smaller body of water.  My home of yore has a palate for Chilean sea bass and albacore; down here you'd be hard-pressed to find a place without catfish.  To a certain extent, size does matter in both.  But this pond down here is better suited to the three-eyed salamander, the earth-toned bottom-feeder, the mono-finned red snapper.  The grosser the deformity, the least apt for the wholesome New England Sunday dinner table, the better suited one will be.

A rule change this far upstream ain't fair, but this is where I chose to spawn.  Who knows what grotesqueries I've signed up for, what hideous manifestations lay in wait?  Strange Happenings and strong currents all around this riparian zone and I've been advised not to drink the water.  I'm just swimming in it instead. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

West we go

You don't have to go far from New Orleans to reach Louisiana.  For jurisdictional purposes, they might be one and the same within certain contours.  But for those who have been inside the castle walls, the place where grow men sway on cobbled streets with plastic cups is not quite the same as the land that elects the likes of David Vitter.  This here's New Orleans.  That there is something far different.

So I have seen.  The past couple weeks I've been pushing down the handlebars on a rusty green Schwinn through something resembling Real America.  It's the kind of place where the women call you "sweetie" and some whites use Blacks as a noun.  The roads are terrible, the rain is harsh, the radio stations begin with "K," the means of transport is by pickup and people live a proud existence hovering somewhere near the classification of upper lower class.  They are the 18%.

I have been the Stranger in a Strange Land before, but this time I feel both parties have been accentuated just a little more slightly toward our opposing poles.  I do recognize this place, I've let Hollywood and mass media do the set design and arrange the cast for years.  It's a bit like The Truman Show if he had been a viewer long before setting foot inside the bubble.  We all know what stereotypes are, but what about when the papyrus, not just the print, has been set before?  What do we call it when an entire world exists that is exactly as it had been painted for your mind's eye?  That's the West Bank. 

With a little added tension, of course.  To hear one cabbie tell it, Madame Katrina brought some new demographics over the Old River and the residents didn't exactly bake them cookies.  It's not so much that old habits die hard as they live hard, firmly, entrenched into the social fabric of this port town.  For a town accustomed to passing water and itinerant traders, verdant growth from below and hell-breathed cleansing rains from above, it's damn impressive that anything has staying power.  The old formula of poverty and isolation, sprinkled with a little too much credence in Granddaddy's worldview, leaves us with some heel-stompin' racism. 

Of course, that's just my take.  And just who am I?  That's still a work in progress.  Older and firmer than before?  Aye.  But also still subject to the whim and winds around, taking in my surroundings and trying new companions on for size.  A bit cautiously, as you can imagine.  I sure do love the gumbo, but there are a few water-borne illnesses to which I care not to be susceptible. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


These things happen.  Not just the writer's block, the writer's pause, the passing of time without production; I'm talking about the treadmill.  This was supposed to be my water break.  Now was the time to raise the chin, open the jaw, spray some fluid in and let the heart beat settle down while scoping out the molded ass of some bored housewife on the nearby machine.  Instead, I'm back on it.  No rest for the wicked or those executing ill-conceived notions about old vehicles.  Odd bedfellows we make, but work we must endure. 

I made it to the Big Easy, albeit with the New York State of Mind.  Not in the sense of wanting to be walking along the snowdrifts laden with cigarette butts or huddled in some trendy coffee shop staring at a screen.  More so vis-a-vis seeing dollar signs everywhere, hearing cash registers ka-ching! at every turn of the ear and whatever onomatopoeia coincides with thirsty creditors with every phone ring.  There is money to be made, money to be paid, and this just so happens to be where I am.  No spare change for the gutterpunks, no drink other than the $2 PBR, no way I'd turn down anything that could generate a little bacon.  I might be downriver and this town may have its own clocks, but we are in the age of global capital.  We're not so different as we'd like to think.

Another city, another hustle.  Another day, another alarm sounding before the roosters.  Another morning of hard-boiled eggs and pushing down handlebars on streets still bereft of cars and horns.  This time, my commute is broken up by a five minute ferry ride across the Mississippi to a point due south commonly referred to as the West Bank.  Once I reach the other side, I get to look up from my gears to see signs advertising boiled crawfish, po boys, and all manner of automotive services.  There are a couple tall bridges and several uninspiring oil refineries.  There are no yoga studios or businesses providing wifi, but I'm sure one or two of them slings drinks for a good three-fourths of this earth's spinning hours. 

It's a chance to see the other side of the muddy tracks at a clip of $20 per hour.  Do something mindless, keep the rent paid, dream about the next job that provides benefits and, if I'm feeling particularly randy, dream about the Big Dream.  That's what the hours are for, after all. 

Tomorrow won't be the same as Tuesday, even if my destination was the same.  Tomorrow I have to hustle back from the West Bank to Arabi with a brief shower in between.  Of course, Tuesday had its own cosmetics via a long overdue hair-trimming as a patron at an otherwise black barbershop in Marrero.  It doesn't really fit into the scheme, be it this brief thread or whatever passes for the Great Saga of my existence.  Except that for some reason, I think it does.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Real Life

No disrespect to Sir Robert, but it's a soft rain that's falling this night.  He's right about the warning thunder, the laughing and the starving, the crawling on the crooked highways.  If there's any vindication to be felt, it's in knowing that the drops fall softer and less frequent than his ominous premonition foresaw.  I could also liken the roof of this second-story balcony to shelter from the storm, but that would be the obvious play.

There is no temptation to read the tea leaves, not that their message could be any less clear.  We're at about that part of the story where we hit the Cue Miss Friends button on the heart every time another hour wanders into the next just a little bit too slowly.  We're at about that time where the true weight of what is left behind is pushing the needle even further to the right, while the what remains hovers near the origin and what lies ahead still too distant to be assigned any value.  Throw in some red ink on the credit card statement, one less zero in the bank balance, and a lot of free time that could otherwise be directed towards reversing the aforementioned trends and the result is something resembling human vulnerability.  Ever the optimist, I'd like to call it a catalyst.

Yes, there have been some thoughts about stability.  This was going to be the move where all the bags were unpacked, those posters finally framed, a tapestry or two unfurled across some newly acquired "piece" of "furniture."  It was this notion of growing-up that most feel at twenty-two finally sweeping over me on a ten year delay.  Something familiar, once pedestrian, suddenly bearing some previously unfathomable sheen.  The vision was so genuine I even contemplated a -gasp!- career.

And I still do, with reservations.  I like the silhouette of myself coming home and setting the overcoat on the rack by the door, a frantic race between the 2.3 kids and the family dog for daddy's first embrace coming into the foreground.  Then the silhouette gets color and texture and I see the bags under daddy's eyes.  The slumped shoulders.  The steak sauce stain on daddy's shirt.  Daddy doesn't look happy so much as relieved, and mommy's about to tell him that Somebody forgot to pay the deductible.

It's life, and it's my misfortune to have visions of it at its blissful worst.  Other people, specific someones from my past, do not share these visions.  They don't share them to the extent that upon relaying the tragicomic tale that is January 2013, they don't see why a bachelor party at a music festival seems less appealing than the one grand said festival's tickets could yield.  Ditto that the connection said yield could do for one's financial situation.  In short, one dear friend who blacks out with frequency and has slept with at least, I repeat, at least one dozen prostitutes is telling me it's time to grow up. 

Maybe Sir Robert was right.

But then one small job began today, and it went as well as it could.  There's the phone interview for fifteen hours of work coming tomorrow morning.  And let's not get too ahead of ourselves here, but there have been two Real Jobs posted for which I have Real Interest and I did apply.  Progress.  Momentum.  New beginnings.

Of course, then the sun sets and the rain does fall and there are no 2.3 kids, no family dog, and nothing to do but cook one meal and look inside oneself.  Today is the first day of the rest of my life.  I spent the last part of it under the porch, watching the rain, flopping down some of them written words. 

I heard ten thousand whisperin' and nobody listenin', and it all felt just right to me.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Planes, Trains, & Automobiles

Perspective.  On the surface it's not that great, or at least it wasn't earlier this evening.  The accents had twang, the decoration lacked luster, and the Chinese food was without that certain je ne sais quoi.  Only a cursory glance at the excessive girth of my fellow diners was enough to curb any appetite for a second lap at the buffet.  This is Real America.  And these are the people that decide elections.

It is North Carolina that I speak of, and North Carolina that I find myself in.  As arduous as it was to get myself here, I am left to fear that it may yet be the easier portion of the journey, at least if recent memory holds precedent.  Doubt and inconvenience managed to make the trip, though the former seems to only fully blossom once my eyes meet the Gray Lady like they did this afternoon, for the first time in two weeks.  Writing this tonight is not a man with the at-plate confidence of Mighty Casey.

But it just might be a man with perspective.   As much as I try to appreciate my life and understand its blessings vis-a-vis the slums of India or African dust bowls, I am also hesitant to be so reliant on the comparison.  I have seen destitute places and know that my superficial circumstances will always be better, so I am not assuaged in those moments where self-pity provides the only soothing balm.  I'm having a terrible run and the only comfort I'm finding is in understanding just how terrible it is.

Until perspective finds me, as it did last night.  However bad your day is going, and mine was going relatively bad, try frowning in the mirror after talking about his native Sierra Leone with the friendly cabbie like I did.  His story had to be among the most gleeful to emerge from the country, but that doesn't make it a pleasant experience.  He didn't lose siblings or parents, but he did watch his homeland burn in the scant media attention it received.  I was sure to tip him an extra dollar or two.

Then there's the Amtrak experience.  I tell the conductor Rocky Mount and the stranger besides me parlays my destination into a thirty minute conversation.  I'd guess he's younger than me, enough that I'd put him at no more than twenty-two when he went away to do his five years somewhere west of where I boarded.  He told me the cost of cigarettes ($5), the number of fights he'd been in (four), and the amount of time it took for his wife to tell him she'd met someone else (two months) while he was in the Big House.  I now know what it means to get "browned down" and that spending months on end stealing Blu-Rays from Walmart is not without its consequences.  He says his dad hooked him up at the temp agency and his most reasonable aspiration for the time being is Jiffy Lube or "some shit like that."

And I'm having Car Trouble.

Of course, it works in both directions.  There was some sense of validation the day before when I told the friendly gentleman in seat 12B about the great month of January 2013.  He apologized for laughing; I took it as a compliment.  In fact, I scrolled back through recall to find more anecdotes to pile on, not for an extended run of sympathy, but just to make a good tale better, a fresco more complete.  We can all be someone else's beacon.  From wheels up to wheels down, I was his. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

On money

It has always worked out.  Basic needs have been met, unrealistic whims realized, and my general fancy satisfied when it comes down to the Almighty Dollar and what it could do for me.  That's not to say it's always been easy, and far from it to aver that I let it leave my wallet without a thought.  Being stuck on the sidelines for want of the means to participate is, if not a familiar and recurring scenario, at least not altogether foreign. 

Structured chaos is the appropriate terminology to describe my financial planning and budgetary outlook.  Once I have my cross-hairs set on some long-term target, I do the deeds and sacrifice the lambs necessary to make it happen.  But these aren't houses and tuition and retirement accounts; I could very well die long before any of those come to fruition.  Instead, these by-and-large involve some geographic destination in the not-too distant future where I wish to pass through or find myself relocating for some variable amount of time.  I always make it and it ain't always pretty.  If anything, the appropriate designation is Barely Just.  I do not know of a single achieved instance where I looked back and understood it would have been prudent to work for one more month or save just one thousand dollars more.

The post-college move to Chicago worked out by a thin margin.  More specifically: $12.  That was the extent of my liquid assets after rent and repaying my friend's parents for the security deposit from the month before.   It made for a harrowing sight on the bank receipt and would have been far worse if I didn't have that plum job at a shitty chain restaurant to help blacken the balance sheet in the months to come.

Not more than a year later was the mad quest to pocket six grand to pay for an upcoming year in Southern Africa.  Had to move home for that one.  There was the empty tennis ball canister on the bedroom window ledge to collect earnings from that same shitty chain restaurant (they had a transfer policy.)  I cut out paying for drinks, dining out, ski trips, and basically anything that did not directly go to into the gas tank or pay for parking.  I had to send a certified check by December 1 and secured the necessary funds the night before.  The ensuing month of work was sufficient to pay for the frivolous travel during that year.

In hindsight, I would have moved to New York City with more than three grand.
I would have returned to New York City post-graduation travel with more than four grand or at least one solid job prospect.
I would have secured an additional part time job during the great Novel Writing Odyssey a bit before my bank account sank to three digits.

And I would done any one of a number of things to prevent exactly where I find myself now. 

February looks like it will be all right.  I paid rent and have that all important security deposit taken care of.  My two internet jobs [c'mon everybody, say it with me now: My Two Internet Jobs] will keep accounts current and while I'm not exactly proud to be returning to food service, it should keep me away from the ATMs.  I have a pretty good disposition w/r/t gift horses and mouth inspecting.

Ah, but right now.  Right now.  Well, this is a close one.  I have justenough between maxing out the credit card and my depleted savings to pay for the Gray Lady's repairs, plus the Greyhound fare to get me to where she now rests.  The $25 gift card from dear Aunt Liz will buy one tank of gas, my remaining funds a couple more, and then I'm just banking on the hope that my dear passenger will be able to spring for a couple herself.

It ain't pretty and it sure ain't scripted.  I sit now beside Gate D7 and hope this is the final, happy, hair-of-my-chinny chin chin escape from the fierce jowls of destitution.  All told I'm optimistic.  I simply can't afford to be otherwise.