August 8th, 2012, 12:10PM.
There’s a saying here: If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.
This morning there was a beautiful blue sky with towering, white puffy clouds. As I was parking the car, I thought, “Well, those reporters sure got it wrong!” It’s so hot here in the summer it’s almost like being on Mars, so cracked the window in the hopes the car wouldn’t be a box of pure hell the next time I got into it.
An hour later, I noticed from my apartment on the edge of the Mississippi that it had gotten dark outside, and I went around turning on a few lights. Outside the sky was a deep gray. I realized I should probably go out to the car and roll up the window but five minutes turned into ten and suddenly it was a raging thunderstorm outside, replete with shocks of lightning.
Wondering if I had some death wish I hadn’t revealed to my therapist, I grabbed an umbrella, put on some flip-flops, and sloshed through the new pond outside my front door, between the sidewalk and the parking lot.
Now I am inside said car, having wiped down the seat with some industrial strength blue paper towels (why are they always blue?), afraid to walk back to the apartment building lest the lightning decides its my turn to see God.
Literally: it’s not even a second between the thunder and the lightening.
At least I have WWOZ, the New Orleans public radio station, playing “Voices in my head” by Dr John, a rendition of “Lush Life” by John Boutte, followed by a piano version of “Penny Lane/I Saw Here Standing There/One Hell of a Nerve” by James Booker. I swear this is the best radio station on the planet.
I’ve seen one person run into the building with a four pack of Coca-Cola (its red box and glass bottles unmistakable), and from their red parking lights, I can tell some other lunatic is sitting in their car like me. I wonder if they are listening to the radio and considering their self-destructive tendencies.
I can’t seem to forget that seven years ago in August, a similar storm hit and hit and hit. The people who live here year ’round (I am a lowly part-time lover) sit through storms on a regular basis, but there was nothing like Cat 5 of 2005. Even from where I was sitting in Westport, Connecticut, I could feel the destruction and it ripped me apart. Hopefully there will never be another storm like that: where little old ladies trying to cross the street are washed away by the unstoppable force of nature; where Allen Toussaint is stuck at the rotting Superdome with thousands of desperate citizens and no sanitation; where Pete Fountain loses all his gold records in a mud soaked mold extravaganza that can only be described as “toxic ooze”; where the average man and woman loses everything that once made up their private, extraordinary life.
I am living here because these people know how to lose things. Not just anything. Everything.
Some people are better at the letting go than others, I’ve discovered. One reason I am living here is because I need to let go of a great big fat piece of my life – maybe even the whole previous forty years. I want to watch it wash away, I really do, but it just won’t go. It sits in the muck of my subconscious, stuck on some root sticking up from somewhere deep in the ground, covered with ooze.
Living here is helping me learn a more casual existence with “stuff.” Stuff comes, stuff goes. Life comes, life goes. People come, people go. You can watch your “stuff” float down the street, cry and rip your shirt, or you can just let it go and wave buh-bye. I want to say goodbye to so much.
I find myself unconsciously looking for people who understand what this is like. People who will offer me wine in a plastic cup and say, “Where y’at?” and mean “How are you?” without expecting an answer. They seem to know where you are at: the same place you were yesterday – standing on a corner between here and there, watching your life float down a river and knowing there really isn’t a good god damn you can do about it. Wondering if it’s a blessing after all is said and done. Wondering what you will be stuck with at the end of it all.
Might as well turn up the radio, pour a little more wine and wait for the rain to stop. Watch and wait. When it’s done I guess I will go back upstairs to continue organizing my closet – todays effort at purging the past.
Or maybe not. Maybe I’ll just sit here in the car for a little while longer and watch the water wash the cobblestones clean one more time. Or maybe once the rain stops I’ll go put on a hat and walk down the middle of the street for no damn good reason.
The light here is amazing around six-thirty in the evening. All the pink and purple and yellow and green houses take on a glow and the tiny decorations that are still hanging from doorways twinkle and wink, like tiny candles on a birthday cake. Languorous cats group around a pickup truck, licking each other and staring at me like I’m a fucking idiot for thinking I am going anywhere after a storm.
Or maybe I will go buy some ridiculous shoes that have a fleur-de-lys and gold stripes on them. Stripes that match the city’s football team, “The Saints.” Tall black pumps that literally say, “Who Dat?” Maybe I will think about the crazy ridiculous rush that coursed through three hundred thousand displaced New Orlean-ians when said Saints won the Super Bowl in 2009, four years after the roof blew off the top of a bar I used to own with the friend who taught me how to love life. The friend who showed me what freedom looked like.
The friend that died in 2011 when he was hit by a car while riding his bike down Canal Street in New York City.
Stuff comes, stuff goes. People come, people go.
Maybe I will put on a hat and grab some wine and walk down the middle while singing at the top of my lungs to someone’s radio tuned to WWOZ. Maybe I’ll look for a street band and join a second line. Maybe I will just say “fuck the closet” and look at whatever beauty is still left in whatever time is still left to me.
Because really: what else is there?