54: Funny Old World April 13, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
There I am, the difficult first step of my project for school done plus half a dozen other errands, the first good day in a carpet of nails week that reached its nadir when I realized I owe the IRA a pile of money. I am are literally sitting on top of the rainbow sipping a beer and then I call my girlfriend and she is having a terrible no good very bad day and my little bubble goes: pop. Fibromyalgia results in a lot of terrible no good very bad days. I coo comforts, especially for the “terribly lonely part”, promising to stop by after the poetry reading I’m off to.
How terribly lonely can a person be, I find myself thinking moments after hanging up, when I last saw her yesterday? I begin to feel boxed in by the situation, its terrible frequency. How the hell am I going to go to Europe and leave her behind? Her condition gives her both tremendous strength and fragility, and when I am handy fragility is an available out from the pain. There is a reason, I think, there are boxes marked Dependent on the tax forms I finished and not all of it is fiduciary. The molars start to grind, the chest starts to tighten and suddenly the rainbow is a little grey cloud and you, Oh Eeyore, are the butt of the universe’s whimsical sense of humor.
So I go to the bar (all the poetry readings in New Orleans are in bars) and instead of sticking to my unemployed Hi-Life budget I order a nice draw and a shot of tequila good tequila. One of the poets shows up and sits at my table and asks how it’s going. I answer “fair”, then hold up the glass of tequila I shouldn’t have ordered and make a correction. “Changeable” I say, holding the blue agave barometer up to the light. “It needs to get to about there,” pointing toward the bottom,” to be fair.”
I’m about to launch into a totally unwanted Slavic litany of complaints when suddenly the juke box erupts with “In Spite of Ourselves”, a duet by John Prine with Iris DeMent. It’s “our song”, or as close as we have to one. Twenty minutes before the first of the millennial poets steps on stage and speaks a single line the stage lighting switches as if to a stage direction: Dark Irony. I feel my ears and tail growing, the first drooping and the latter swishing away the flies while I think: “earthquake weather.”
The poets are quite good but in my life’s movie director’s viewfinder kit is the Male Gaze 1000+ Deluxe and in the relationship mood I’m in, it’s the first one my hand instinctively plucks out of the case. [Women of all persuasions, you may want to stop reading here, or just note that the comments are open). It’s not so much the biological notion that we are bred to spread our seed as it is the fragility we will not admit of the male ego, as easily bruised as a peach in a shopping cart. Of all the reactions to that, short of the one that involves storming out to the workshop and finishing that new cabinet you want in record time, few are pretty. Altruism in sexual arrangements is as old as the chimpanzee but leave us feeling hurt and we’ll be siting some distance from the fire brooding, bearing our fangs at any who approach, scratching our nuts and wondering what’s for dinner. We look across the fire and wonder what old Gruntle’s partner Melon Breast is like on the animal skins.
I struggle now to remember the lines of poetry, although much of it was good. (My memory is not the best, and I really wanted to buy at least one book but I am no longer the poetry reading Medici who always buys a book. I’m just too broke). All I recall of the first reader is that this young M.F.A. student is so drop-dead out of my league I would need the Barbie Firewoman Rescue Ladder Company truck to get within decent gazing distance of her sandaled toes. The next vents about her ex-girlfriend and I remember the line “fisting your hair” and nope. The third poet, I think, is the best [if you allow for the few poems about selfies but that is what the age demands] but she also writes about her boyfriend, whom I meet when I go over to complement her, give her my card and tell her there will be pictures up on the Odd Words site later tonight.
Then my friend takes the stage and after a few damn fine poems of his own, brings out a translation of Catullus he has published and the second poem is “8. Advice: to himself,” which begins like this is A.S. Kline’s translation:
Sad Catullus, stop playing the fool,
and let what you know leads you to ruin, end.
Once, bright days shone for you,
when you came often drawn to the girl
loved as no other will be loved by you.
Then there were many pleasures with her,
that you wished, and the girl not unwilling,
truly the bright days shone for you.
The rest of the poem is about the girl rejecting him, and Catullus counseling himself not to continue to pursue her, probably as far from my actual situation as could be but the troubled male ego doesn’t approach every challenge with logic and tool in hand, and I think very hard about ordering another tequila. It doesn’t help that the next is “27. Falernian Wine”
Serving-boy fill for me stronger cups
of old Falernian, since Postumia,
the mistress’s, laws demand it,
she who’s juicier then the juicy grape.
But you water, fatal to wine, away with you:
far off, wherever, be off to the strict.
This wine is Bacchus’s own.
This night, I think, is going swimmingly, as in the backstroke in bathtubs of gin. Instead of more unwatered wine I head out the door for the promised visit and hug but there are a dozen competing emotions ratting around in my head like an untuned engine with bad lifters. Some days I feel this is what our relationship is like. My god you love her and want to drive around town and show her off to everybody in the Classy Woman Club but parts are impossible to get and the necessary repairs are impossible. We’re both getting older and the hand-holding to more-exciting-contact ratio is regressing rapidly backwards toward middle school.
I hug her with genuine affection, hold her until she is ready to sit down again. Then I plant myself at the far end of the bed and begin to vent. This really goes no where except to deplete her supply of tissues. We part with another long hug, not really wanting to let go even after agreeing “we’ve had this ‘discussion’ before,” and no one is really satisfied. There is nothing to resolve. You love each other, and love is hard; sometimes so hard a person just wants to walk away from it for a while and kick the rocks in their head down the street. We think the partner we find by our age is the one we’ve been waiting for and that’s mostly true, older and wiser, but it doesn’t mean it’s all smiles and unspoken but knowing exchanges in the rocking chairs. Still, you know for all the usual and unusual trials and tribulations, as Prine and DeMent croon, that you’re never going to let her go.
She tells me to go home, which my lizard brain intercepts before it can reach the frontal lobes and translates: go to the Holy Ground and sulk over a pint. I go and everyone there is relentlessly cheerful with drink but I’ve put on the cape of inviolable male entitlement and resentment and the atmosphere doesn’t help much. The cheerfull and cute redheaded barmaid slips me an extra pint since I had to wait for the first while they change the keg, one from the old and one from the new. I think she is just being sweet but I can taste the difference, the malty savor of the last of the old keg like a bottle of the rare XXX Export instead of the overly gassed typical American pint. I escape into the flavor, taking it in sip-by-sip and insist she compare them herself when she gets a free minute. She lingers, lets me try her new vape (hibiscus flower, not tobacco) and it’s like a whiff of her perfume, She lingers and talks perhaps a little too long, until the other barmaid interrupts and asks if she’s busy.
When she brings me another (my third) there is a little heart drawn in the foam. Flirting with bar maids is great craic but I realize my sulk is probably so palpable it’s hurting business, that it’s probably just another part of the transaction between a great bartender and regular customer. She’s cute and a real sweetheart but also a pro who makes mean martinis when you’re in the mood for them, and knows the trade well. Still, there was that night we talked about writing, one of the nights I go their to scribble in the cheerful, neutral brown noise of Guinness and crowd. She always wanted to write, she said, started and then stopped. She asks where she would find the time and energy. If you can get out of bed and make coffee and you have it in you to write, I tell her, then you are two thirds of the way there. Before the day gets away from you, take that first cup and a pen and curl up and write whatever comes into your head. There’s really no other way to get started. I scribble that advice again on a napkin, along with the Cheryl Strayed quote “write like a motherfucker”, secure it all with the clip of a spare pen with her name written on the outside of the bar nap so the other tender won’t just scoop it up, and put it atop her last tip. I like to think I left something more on the bar that night than the usual wad of dollars and the musk scent of men alone at a bar. Whether that beaming smile is strictly professional old-regular or genuinely meant just for me, it doesn’t matter tonight. That little gesture of a heart on the foam pokes a pinprick hole in the balloon of miasma I’ve blown up around my self-absorbed ass, and I go home after that one. I’ll not get a better pint tonight, not even the last of a barrel.
The radio is off in the car and I catch myself whistling “In Spite of Ourselves.”
He’s got more balls than a big brass monkey
He’s a whacked out weirdo and a lovebug junkie
Sly as a fox and crazy as a loon
Payday comes and he’s howlin’ at the moon
He’s my baby I don’t mean maybe
Never gonna let him go
In spite of ourselves
We’ll end up a sittin’ on a rainbow
Against all odds
Honey, we’re the big door prize
We’re gonna spite our noses
Right off of our faces
There won’t be nothin’ but big old hearts
Dancin’ in our eyes.
I may be an ass, but at least I’m not Eeyore anymore.