I’ve been in New Orleans for one week and one day.
I am in love.
This city is everything I needed right now. Everything I didn’t know I needed. I gambled on an impulse and won.
I realize I haven’t been taking pictures, I’ve been entirely too caught up in the looking and seeing to want a filter between me and the view. You’ll have to trust me, it’s magnificent. I will get better about it. Once I simmer down a little.
The heat and sun have been driving that old ache from my limbs. I love when the sunlight feels like a hot, heavy hand, pressing deep, into my bones. I want to give in and curl up like a kitten to bask the day away. O don’t know that i’ll ever be able to face the cold again. It’s okay, i’ll travel during the height of summer and linger near the equator.
The culture shock a go-go is slowly abating. From the little things like walking out of the bar, down the street and into the next bar with your drink and a lit cigarette (I’ll tell no lies, I’m not into the indoors smoking, especially when it’s nearly always nice out). Greeting people you pass in the street, direct eye contact is not an overt act of aggression, it’s welcome, expected, and to be coupled with a smile, a nod, and a greeting. The all around embracing of having a good attitude. Plus, I rarely get shouted at in the street, the catcalling is minimum, instead, guys will walk up and talk to me like a person. The bigger things are often in the realm of the blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise bigotted, though much of it seems strangely casual and without much malice, it’s just, you know, how things are. I’m still sorting my feelings and reactions to that one.
I have so much to learn and do here, but I’m inspired. I’m finding kindred spirits and my creative drive is revving up. We’re going to make so much happen!
It’s happened again. Sitting still. The Fear catches up. The night before travel my guts twist and burn. I’m shedding that old life like a snake its skin, and sometimes it’s just freeing, and sometimes freedom is the most terrifying thing, and sometimes I’m pulling and scratching and gnawing at pieces that cling, cling, cling and it hurts, hurts, hurts. Sometimes it’s all just a sucker punch that floors me and I can’t stop the tears and the ache.
Tomorrow I’ll fall asleep on the bus and all of this will be washed away in acceleration. Right now, I write now, to keep from drowning. Forgive my public honesty.
I’ve seen Against Me! more times than any other band. The moments I’ve had at those shows, the moments where you’re in the depth of the crowd and every single voice around you is raised in unison, you all know every last word to every last song and scream yourselves raw together, fists in the air, sweaty flesh pressed hot and tight, and if you fall, a hundred sweaty hands shooting out to lift you back up. In those good moments, the whole world can feel like that. It’s perfect.
It is strange to me to think that the last show I saw them play was with Tom Gabel, and the next show, if I ever get to see them again, will be Laura Jane Grace. It feels like a different person, a different band, even if intellectually I know that’s not quite right. There is some dark, and thus far unshakable part of my brain just going, but, you would be a woman, intentionally? Oh gods, WHY? It was an unpleasant little shock just to notice it, again. To know how much some part of me resents it so much still, possibly always.
He sang in a song, “If I had a choice, I’d have been born a woman,” and now she makes that choice. If I had a choice, I would have been born a man, not because I feel the least bit of gender dysmorphia, this body is absolutely mine, scars and ovaries and all, but because sometimes, just being what I am, what you are, what we are, well it hurts so fucking much, and gods, it gets so fucking hard, and hey, look at that grass over there… Well it just seems a little better, a little easier, a little less painful. That someone would go through so much pain and suffering to be something I can’t seem to stop viewing as a source of pain and suffering…
I hope that when I become whoever I’m becoming next, now, under this shedding skin, I hope she can leave all of that behind as well, that it’s just part of an old life, and old way of being. It’s a relic of something ugly. It’s a heavy resentment to carry, to let shade your world, to be terrified of passing on to your daughters, or your sons, someday.
I walked through a little Huntsville park with my brother today, watching ducks and geese and fish swarm to any convenient human in hopes of bread. We got to the end of the little stream and sat across from a set of railroad tracks that crossed the water yards away, just talking. A pair of travelling kids, packs piled high, dog trotting before them, wandered down the tracks and waved at us. I smiled and waved back. They moseyed on down the line.
Next time I hit the road it will be with only what I can carry on my back alone. Being confined to a Greyhound on account of shit I’m carrying is aggravating. The freedom isn’t quite free enough like that. At this point I just want to shed everything, be bare and light, shed useless possessions and useless ideas, and just dance on down the road.
My wake-up call this morning consisted of a faceful of aggressively cuddly little wiener dog. She wasn’t happy unless her face was in mine, or her nose was tucked under my chin.
I spent the day being an absolute slacker. I blogged, finally got around to creating a couchsurfing.org profile (http://www.couchsurfing.org/people/wendalyn.lewis, If you want to be my friend there), played with the dogs, spent far too much time just perusing internets, so happy was I to have access to a real computer to do it from. I’m trying to figure out how to NOT have to spend 11 hours on another Greyhound to New Orleans this week, but strangely, not a lot of people seem psyched to just drop their lives and go on a road trip. Utterly ridiculous, I know!
Luke has been taking care of me, yesterday’s breakfast and dinner, and a movie even (The Avengers, totally enjoyable, but Cabin In The Woods is still the best thing I’ve seen this year), he claims he’s into being able to throw money around all middle class like these days, since he’s a respectable working man. I can’t really say no to that, so I cooked dinner for him and Jacquie and their friend tonight, and now I am rolypoly with salmon and broccoli and kale and sweet potatoes, oh my!
There’s an internal stock taking going on, I keep tracing the route of my adventure so far, and while I’m so close to my destination and looking forward to it, there’s the part of me that’s already excited for the roaming to take place in June. In one week I went from my brother’s couch in Brooklyn to George and Amber’s air mattress in a sweet duplex near downtown Philly, to Megan and Daniel’s futon in a green little suburb of Wilmington, to Skye’s folks’ gorgeous restored farmhouse and a downy bed all too hard to get out of in the countryside of Maryland, to a couch in John’s punkest house ever in downtown (uptown!) Charlotte, to a different brother’s couch in suburban Huntsville. By Thursday I should find myself at my own place in New Orleans. In June there’s a good chance of Bonnaroo, there’ll definitely be New York, and I think I’m gonna try to meet Shy in Nashville for the 4th of July. I have no idea where I could end up in all the spaces in between those times, and an electric thrill sparks through me at the thought. I’ve been missing momentum. I didn’t know how bad.
I put it as my couchsurfing.org Mission: I want to become the circus I always wanted to run away and join, so others will run away and join me.
And if anyone knows someone who wants to run away to New Orleans this week, let me know, I’m so burnt out on the bus, and they can crash on my couch when we get there!
I still smell like sweaty bike punk. I’m not sure if it’s from the goodbye hugs, or I’m just starting to smell like a sweaty bike punk myself.
The last night in Maryland found me watching a lightning storm sweep in across the countryside from the wood shop with Skye, and having a vicious bout of The Fear. The sizzling fingers of brightness stabbed sideways at big, grey cloud bellies, flash bulbing the landscape into stark contrasts. I smoked a cigarette and tried to stifle the rising feeling of, “What the fuck am I doing?” I had a phantom limb ache for my lovely NYC support system, the people who got me through the last 7 months of intense growing pains. Sitting still for very long in the hinterlands, these between places, allows such thoughts to catch up. I put myself to bed anxious and restless. The green places had been beautiful, but I needed to move again.
Skye got us on the road to Richmond in the late morning. As soon as we’d driven for a few miles, the fugue lifted and I was all coursing with excitement again, the surety that I’m on the right path. We sang along to Iggy Pop and then the Crow soundtrack, irredeemable 90s kids that we are. We raced snarls of traffic and a drive-thru storm to get me to the bus. Next stop Charlotte.
At a short stop in yet another North Carolina city on our extremely local bus route, the strapping, square jawed young man in the seat behind me starts chatting. Basic traveller conversation to start, location based, where from, where to, what for, ah yes. We continue to talk during brief smoke breaks. He’s a Californian rugby player, strapping and good looking don’t even begin to cover it, but I have a sneaking suspicion…
"How old are you?"
"Old enough to drink," Sheepish pause, "But not old enough to buy."
19, it turns out. Yeesh, I recalibrate, baby brother aged. I think I’ve mentioned how much of an agist I am, yes?
"Well, how old are you?"
Old. Ollllllld. So old.
"So, what, 25?"
Well aren’t you just charming! Then I pepper the conversation with, ah, my brother, who’s your age, and, when I was your age, a decade ago, and eventually he just gives up and returns to playing with his smart phone. It is far more flattering than old crackhead come-ons anyway, and some distraction on this, the longest solid leg of the journey so far. What is it about sitting still for 7+ hours that’s so physically painful? Arrival in Charlotte couldn’t come soon enough.
Belair’s house just outside the downtown area was Joe’s Apartment, if the the roaches had loved punk rock and hardcore and plastered every vertical surface with graffiti, stickers, flyers and posters, and stacked every horizontal with beer cans. Some of them empty. He swears it’s not that bad, but I suspect he needs some spectacles. The entire bathroom floor scampered off when I turned on the light, but not very far, mostly up to the sink and toilet to get a better look at me. I stashed my bags on a lone empty table and hoped nothing would take up residency in them, and we hit the streets.
A friend of his had loaned him a bike for me. A zippy little road bike that at first felt far too much like a horse who knew I wasn’t rider enough for it. I kept from eating shit by a hair’s breadth here and there, but once I got confident… magic! We flew through the warm night, empty streets, thickly flower scented air, I couldn’t have wiped the grin off my face if I tried. Belair drives a pedicab, so he had to work to stay slow enough for me to keep up, but was a good guide. We crossed the small, lovely city in no time, and I promised, I only whined and whimpered a little on the uphills. It was mostly swearing at my burning quads.
Our destination was The Milestone, an ancient punk club that feels held together by its generations of stickers, grime and memories. Door, ID, bar, whiskey in hand, in to the show, singing along to a band I’ve never heard before because we all know how to go, “Whoa, whhhooooaaaa, whooooah, whoooOOAH!” like champs. The crowd held the diversity that occurs in small places, the fractious scenes band together in solidarity against the wider world. You can’t afford to be a snob. It’s something I love.
One local band and four “blood” wrestling matches (complete with disembodied rubber human parts floating in the over sized kiddie pool of food coloring) later, it’s 2am and last call, another small shock to the native New Yorker system. I had an earlier moment of wildly wishing to volunteer for the wrestling, but since Shy is on the other side of the country, I knew I had no worthy opponents without my Amazon sister. With whiskey for the road, we ride back into downtown, which I vaguely remember being called Uptown, and that being very confusing. There’s a little alley/courtyard full of closed bars and restaurants and we loiter with some other kids at the outside tables, the boys downing beers cadged from a bartender friend right before he fled the scene. A long, warm, fragrant night, there’s no reason to leave, save for the nagging hunger nibbling my insides. I finally beg us on the way in name of the acquisition of consumables, but the boys are too consumed by consuming beer.
Another, far less sober, bike ride through a very empty 5am city, and we wound up back at the all too punk rock for my pansy ass house. I hung out as long as I could, empty stomach raging at the excess of booze and coffee and the insufficiency of being forced to run on gas station cashews for days, and I watched the sun come up through my incoherent haze. I finally had to crash, heading to a relatively clean back room with a couch, leaving Belair and another pedicab kid, Jerry (kind owner of the loaner bike), to keep up drinking and giving each other hilariously bad tattoos. I drifted off praying that no one was waking up with facial ink or the hep.
Sunday turned into slacker day, my plans of wandering and playing tourist, Belair’s plans of working, all scrapped in favor of returning to the courtyard, bars now open, and finally getting food (Nachos, a meal fit for breaking a 36 hour alcohol fast) and drinks. We kept meaning to leave, but it was easier to just stay. Jerry showed up and joined the utter lack of motivation party, other folks trickled in and out, and suddenly it was sunset. The super moon hid behind heavy clouds that never quite made good on their promise of rain, and I had finally begun to feel like a human again. Unfortunately, by that point the bus beckoned, so Belair obliged with my first pedicab ride back to claim my things from the guardian roaches, and onward to the bus station, bags piled high around me. I boarded the bus at midnight, Huntsville bound, bleary, but happy with my weekend.
These posts are just getting longer and longer, huh?
Once you get past the cities, Maryland is really lovely. It feels like what it is, the cusp of the South, with that touch of New England history, age, pedigree, pretension. My friend here was apparently born on a Kennedy’s couch, too impatient to be out in the world, and deeming his settings appropriate for a grand entrance.
Waiting for him to make a lesser entrance at the bus stop in Silver Spring, I smoked a cigarette and watched traffic flow past. An even mixture of lifted 4x4s, dirty pick up trucks, and recent model luxury cars, with an increasing population of Prius. A weathered face under NASCAR shades, toothless mouth lipping a smoke rasped, “Nice tattoos,” as he trudged past. I’m eternally polite. He returned after seeing to his errand and struck up further conversation.
"New York, huh? I went up there once, I won’t go back, got in a fight with a bunch of *faggots*." The word is almost hissed.
"How old do you think I am?" A hundred, in crackhead years, judging from the gaping mouth grudgingly inhabited by a few rotten brown stumps, the smell of alcoholic decay drifting downwind, and the nicotine stained fingers squirreling at the cigarette butt.
"I’m bad at that game."
"Aw, come on, I won’t be mad atchya."
"35," I lie through my own none too pristine teeth. A hundred, in painful, costly mistakes, and a dearth of opportunity and hope.
"40!" Crowed triumphantly. "Everyone says I look younger. You’re only as old as you feel."
I agree. Me? A hundred, in sad repetitions. I know *exactly* where this one goes.
"So, you’re, what, 19, 20?"
"30," stated evenly. I know, I know, I pass for some fresh faced college drop out, tender and preyable, pliant to the whims of older men, whatever their state of dental care and substance abuse.
I think this is horseshit, by the way, and a perception forced by our culture’s youth obsession and habit of casting 27 year olds as highschool freshmen. I look about 30, for me. I like looking like an adult.
Jeff offers to come to New Orleans and be my boyfriend and I assure him that I can probably find someone there to fill that role (if I at all desired such). He persists for a while and I gently fence the advances, keeping my eyes on the road, hoping for a rescue. At last he decides to meander on, but requests a hug. The whole world is too much of a wounded puppy for me, everyone needs more hugs. I give him a good one, only slightly spoiled by the surreptitious breast brush he manages with one hand. Whatever, enjoy it.
Skye finally pulls up in a Prius of his own, passed on from his family who own several, in addition to the pick-ups and such needed for a contracting company. Long haired, scruffy, tattooed, construction dirt ground into his hands, with a battered guitar case in the back, I still tend to picture him in a truck, or an ancient hatchback.
It’s good to see his grinning face, my compatriot, copirate, from the art studio/pirate ship. We waged stereo battles together, hijacking it in the name of Lou Reed and the Rolling Stones, or admitting defeat at the hands of Kanye West. We shared cigarettes on the rooftop, and later, long, long wanders through the streets of Brooklyn, trying, side by side, to exorcise demons with words and smoke. I can’t say we met with much success, but it helps just to know someone else is fighting too.
The scenic route to his folk’s place convinces me more than ever that I’m doing this move right. Slow decompression, lest I get the bends. City, to city, to town, to country, reacclimating myself to the levels of oxygen in the air, the paces of life, the pressure easing gently as I lose that bone deep ache and swim for the surface. I’m breathing deeper.
Each day sluices the grey water from my lungs and heart. I spend an afternoon playing with the two big German Shepherd mixes, tag and my-stick-your-stick, in thick grass under old, old trees. I try to entice the ancient horse to let himself be pet for more than a few seconds, but I don’t have to offer what the buttercups do and he ignores the barking dogs to crop mouthfuls.
Tomorrow we leave this bit of pastoral peace and drive to Richmond, where I leave Skye to his own dubious ends and catch a bus to Charlotte. The process of immunizing myself to these new, Southern cities. We start with a sub-threshold dose and increase until adaptation to New Orleans can be made with minimal side effects.
Wilmington Greyhound station’s benign apathy is refreshing. I was geared up for another thorough invasion of my humble possessions, a burly man ostensibly searching for my “weed pipe”. Thankfully all I had to do this time was throw my bags under the bus and claim my window seat on the sparsely populated Baltimore bound 11:00. In Philly the man took away my favorite corkscrew, but didn’t find my second favorite, or my leatherman, or the variety of razors and knives I keep for sharpening pencils. I saved my tiny, mother of pearl pocket knife necklace by going teary at the drop of a hat. I think he took the corkscrew out of a sense of retribution, he was goddamn well taking some toll. It rankles me, more for the loss of personal power than for the loss of an object. It was a great corkscrew though.
I wish I’d had the dosh for train travel. I love trains. Not subways. Proper trains. I can’t explain it, but I’ve always taken an excess of enjoyment in even riding the Metro North, or the LIRR, or heading out to Jersey. Maybe someday I’ll get to roam Europe like that.
Yesterday was all much needed down time. I lingered on the couch, trying to catch up on email and writing. My thumbs are sore from typing on the phone. Again, bad call on my part. Next time, there will be a goddamn keyboard! I finally wandered out of the tiny, green neighborhood and up to the highway in search of caffeine. I had forgotten how much being a pedestrian outside of a city can make you a free freakshow. Simmer down, folks, you weren’t born with that accelerator strapped to your wee foot! After a certain amount of gawking and catcalls I found a cafe and sipped iced tea in the sun while I continued aggravating my thumbs on this tiny screen, and engaged in some people watching.
There’s definitely some culture shock afoot. That New York attitude, where we’re the center of the world? Yeah, maybe the center of A world, but probably not the same one that the rest of the planet, or even the country, exists in. One of the reasons I had to leave, though, I guess.
My OkCupid app thought it would be cute to automatically update my location via my gps and suddenly I got a little flood of messages from Delaware. One of them, after the intro of mangled text speak, asked if I believed in interracial dating. I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped upon reading that. Thanks, happy, privileged, liberal bubble, for *never* forcing me to consider, “Well, I really like that hot dude, but, maybe he’s just not white enough for me?” And here’s where I’m slightly concerned for my long term survival out in the world. I have a lot of difficulty holding my tongue and not calling out the stupid bullshit, and that can just incite a certain kind of cretin. Oh gods, pray for me, people. Leave half drank glass bottles of real sugar Coke and hand rolled cigarettes at appropriate points, St Marks and 2nd ave, Christopher St, and ask the spirits of punk rock and defiant love to protect my dumb ass, from others, and myself.
So, rested and refreshed thanks to Megan and Daniel’s hospitality and good food, I wait in Baltimore for a bus to Silver Spring, Maryland. Having a moment of CCR in my headphones. I’m watching a 50 year old white man in a cowboy hat hit on a pretty black girl with her son, his eyes slide toward her cleavage every time she looks away from him to the little boy clinging to her skirt. Ah, well,lust knows few bounds. That’s hopeful at least.
The travel wound collage. There are actually many more, but I heal a lot faster than I used to and most of them are too faded to matter. Skinning my knuckles open carrying my bags through a door was particularly unpleasant.
I wrestled Paypal all morning and finally won. I was able to send rent for the little house north of the Marigny that will be mine. I’m thrilled. And have also vowed to not travel again without a laptop or tablet, because my phone can’t quite handle all I’m trying to squeeze out of it. It tries valiantly, though, the faithful little beast.
I’m on a post card hunt from here on out, so if you want weird, personalized post cards, get in touch and give me your address and I shall send them winging your way.
I’m unsure of my next stop, waiting to hear back from potential places to stay. Will it be Baltimore or North Carolina, or straight to Huntsville? The bus gets unreasonably expensive when going any kind of distance and since I’ve already payed rent, perhaps I should choose a straighter path to my new home. I’m unsure, but unworried.
The Greyhound thunders down the highway to my next stop. I’m leaving Philly with a lighter heart, good memories, and a wicked sunburn. I’m so heavily speckled with bruises from lugging my entire life around that I could be some black and blue Appaloosa, and my legs actually ache from so much wandering. I’m a bit of a delighted horror show at this point. It all just feels so good and right though.
The graffitied alleyways (!!!) slinking with the biggest feral cat gangs I’ve ever seen. The gorgeous old buildings. The huge outdoor markets. The uncrowded streets. The friendly people, a smile, a “Good day”. The gorgeous, mad mosaic facades that turn up in the strangest places. Even that delineation of neighborhoods according to class, marked by the disappearance of old growth trees and garbage cans on every corner, where crossing that line I stumbled into a park filled with a huge Mexican celebration, San Matteo Carnavalero, and lingered a moment to watch the band play and the men in decadent feathered costumes dance. I’m taking it all with me.
I pause a moment to rest in Delaware and catch up with an old friend, more pieces of New York, scattered like dandelion seeds. But again, no time passes for us, and the people that are family still feel like family, and we could be 17 again, sitting on a rooftop in the warm night, entertaining those conversations that that traverse the road from serious to ridiculous effortlessly, and back again.
I just confirmed that I have a house waiting for me in New Orleans, a cute, colourful little one bedroom sublet. A piece of stability to make new plans from. Six weeks there and i’ll probably travel again, hitting Bonnaroo if I can, sweeping through New York for some birthday festivities that would cost my life to miss, and then back to New Orleans to settle in for the summer, to hold down a couch for all of the friends I expect to come visit.
You guys are making your travel plans now, right?
The transition from terminal to tunnel was too rapid. I glimpsed sunset sky through the ugly, looming architecture of Hell’s Kitchen, and then we were enveloped in streaking light outside of the tinted bus windows. Emergence into Jersey, and it was done. Ripping off the bandaid to find that it didn’t hurt at all and the wound is long since healed. All that fear for nothing. Once the road is under my feet I’m arrogant as a cat again.
I arrived late, made my way to where I was staying, and stayed up later still, smoking pot with a friend.
“You know, the last time we did this together was my birthday party, I think I’d just turned 18 or 19. You must have been, what, 16?”
It’s been a while. We grew up together, not that we hung out really, but we were all Park Slope kids together. His younger brother moved back to Brooklyn years ago and has ended up becoming a de facto younger brother to me, so the old neighborhood bonds stay strong, and I feel like I’m among family even miles from home. We laugh until we’re both too weary and give in to sleep.
In the spare room I listen to the sounds of city, voices shouting in the street, cars growling by, distant ambulances, and I become unconvinced that I’ve left New York. I drift to sleep with a little fear, what if it all just feels like New York?
Sunday finds pavement under my feet and footsteps to tattoo the fear out of my brain. It actually takes hours of wandering before I start to relax. A car full of cute, tattooed boys rolls by, some looks are exchanged. Another block down the same car passes again, probably the search for parking, and the boy in the back seat catches my eye and smiles at me. Not a tiny, self conscious quirk of the corner of the mouth, the patented NYC, on yer guard “smile”, rife with plausible deniability should need be. A real, friendly smile, with no expectation except a smile in return. I oblige, happily, automatically, and the curve stayed on my lips, and that’s when the tension finally drained from my chest.
I am not in New York. And I’m happy.