Gah. There are certain things in this life that I just don’t need my grandparents to know that I’m doing. Yes, I’m talking to you, you grandparents. New Orleans contains all of those things. It’s hard to be honest and gracefully circuitous at the same time.
I will do my best, but if I become too shocking I shall have to edit myself.
Aaron and I went to Tucson last week to visit, and in my case meet, his father and grandmother. We rolled out of New Orleans with nary a cigarette or partially hydrogenated food item between us. I was not drinking and he very little. I had not had gluten for two weeks.
The dry heat and the presence of family only increased these tendencies. We ascended into some kind of health nirvana. We took deep breaths and vigorous exercise. Vigorousish. I don’t know, we wandered around and looked at cacti. But in a rudely healthy way. We ate Ethiopian stews, apples, cardboardy no gluten bagel chips that suck all the moisture out of your mouth and make you lap the air feebly, like a cat that’s eaten a bug. We drank coconut water and jellyfish tears. We did yoga. We took fish oil. We awoke at six thirty every morning (how? why?) and smelled the air.
We camped on the way to Tucson in the Guadalupe Mountains of west Texas. I set an alarm for appalling o’clock in the morning out of a romantic and slightly sappy desire to watch the sunrise. Like a Victorian heroine who does things, not because she actually wants to, but so she can rhapsodise sensitively about them to her brooding companion. The alarm went off. I duly woke and unzipped the tent. One sunrise, check. Appropriate levels of pinkness. Well done, good show.
Far superior to the sunset was the gopher two feet from my head. He trembled slightly but didn’t bolt. I stared at him. He stared at me. I fumbled my hands over Aaron and managed to communicate both the presence of the gopher and the necessity of glasses without scaring him off. Not Aaron, the gopher. If Aaron was scared by me eyeballing him we wouldn’t have lasted past the first week. Glasses were achieved. The gopher was admired. Birds were singing their heads off and all was right with the world excepting that I had to pee, but I guess that’s alright too.
We drove through El Paso. It was bleakish and full of angry people driving quickly from one square and wart-like building to another. We became somewhat hysterical (also due to having run out of healthy things to eat in the car) and stopped for a wan and peakéd lunch at an IHOP. We made tracks from El Paso.
We sang songs in the car. Aaron read books (I get carsick if I do that). We kept up a totally unnecessary and delightful commentary on the things we were both seeing, among them a roadrunner, jackrabbits, deer, woodpeckers. Fat pancakey mesas glowering on the horizon. Windmills. Windmills always make everything look like the future. Especially in the desert. I will confess to spending a good bit of that journey pretending to myself that we were in a lunar colony.
We had a pretty darn good time. We got to Tucson early, having gained two hours without either of us noticing, and posted up at the anarchist coffee shop. It smelled powerfully of eggs, but the people were nice. I ordered a Greek salad and eight minutes later two men walk out of the kitchen with three plates. “We’re having a Greek off. This idiot says he can make a better salad than me. You have to judge us on presentation.” One of the salads had a pinwheel made of bell peppers and toothpicks. Another had kalamata olives laid across it in a rolling but accurate grid. The last one skulked brutishly at the bottom of its bowl. I judged, swiftly and harshly. There was a wailing and a gnashing of teeth. I ate the salads.
We went over to see the grandmother (known more formally as Madame) and I got nervous because maybe she wouldn’t like me because I am, in the words of a friend, a sassmouth dame. Aaron got nervous because he hadn’t seen her in five years and had accrued a crust of both guilt over non-contact and worry about her health. She was standing in the gateway of her little entrance courtyard, just as hale and upright as anyone could wish of an eighty-five year old. She hugged us and kissed us and called me kiddo. A small and bright-eyed footstool came waddling up and licked our shins. We, accordingly, rubbed its belly. Madame offered us the entire contents of her cabinets and we chatted, a bit shyly, on everyone’s part. I tried to be demure, but it didn’t stick very well and she didn’t seem to mind anyway. I didn’t spit out of the side of my mouth like gun moll, nor did I use any vernacular terms for fornication, which I think is doing pretty good.
It was very gentle. We stayed with her that night and ate leftover salad for breakfast, then went off to the pool across from her house, where we immediately flopped onto pool chairs and read Robert Heinlein and dabbled in falling asleep. The water was approached with suspicion, mostly because I was unsure if Aaron was the splashing kind. He was not. When we came back we yoga’d in her big tidy living room and she fed us nibblets. Not corn. You know. Just snackies. Neutral snacking items.
We stayed the next two nights in a hostel near downtown, lots of middle aged men there talking about math for some reason. A soothing blonde woman showed us around, talked about whichever gangster Tucson is famous for, I’ve forgotten who. I seized control of the kitchen in a bloodless coup. We sat on the couch and read. I worked a knot out of Aaron’s shoulder, the kind of knot that makes you teary and grateful with the person who removes it. We had dinner with his dad and Madame at a Mexican place. Our waiter was professional and empty-eyed. I wanted to give him a hug but didn’t know how. The dinner was nice though, easy conversation, familial love sloshing everywhere.
Oh. I forgot that there was a sort of a street festival. Aaron and I got separated and I wandered around thinking about buying things that I didn’t want in order to be doing something. I went into the wig shop, where many small Korean ladies badgered me kindly and told me wigs looked good on me, when what they actually did was make me look like an anemic sheep from 1982. I met some Gothic Lolita girls in their finery and we had a cozy chat about ruffles and stockings and the shocking price of a cravat in these hard times. The stroll back down the main street stopped me in front of three boys playing pretty good sensitive white guy rock. They all had asymmetrical hair and clear skin. I bopped along in the back until I noticed that the man in front of me was headbanging with a parrot on his shoulder. The parrot was headbanging too. I clutched my chest.
Anyway, we went to Tucson, it was lovely, yadda yadda yadda. Then, we came back. Within, I don’t know, three hours of being in town, I had been given (GIVEN, mind you, not sought out) whiskey, tequila, cigarettes, both hand rolled and premade, bourbon, gluten and cocaine. The cocaine is the shocking part, Grandparents. After all that build up, too. Cheap, nasty and cut cocaine is the chosen drug of many a musician here. And cheap beer. You see a bunch of grown men come tumbling out of the bathroom in a pack giggling once, you’ve seen it a hundred times.
We’ve been back three nights and kept it rolling pretty hard every night. Aaron had shows each night and we sort of coordinated around them. I ended up at a bar on Thursday where a grizzled but tidy biker took me on his Ducati at eighty miles an hour around the block. I played pool against a nice guy with no shirt on and a big barrel chest. I defeated him utterly and was just starting to crow with triumph when I noticed he was missing three and some bits fingers. I crowed anyway. A bit. I’m not very good at pool and a victory is a victory. A friend of mine brought her own fancy bottle of wine (to the dive bar) and demanded a glass like a queen. We went next door to the other biker’s house and listened to his forty fives and loved up Abigail, his soulful butterscotch dachshund. I drank not quickly, but earnestly. That bar closed and we packed off to Big Daddy’s, 24 hrs. I stayed awake far far too long, went to a friend’s house and put on a bathing suit, for some reason that now eludes me, and danced to an alternating playlist of our own devising until ten in the morning.
Friday was more tame, Thai food and busking. My friend Pearl introduced me to a beau of hers and he took us back to his enormous house where we lay around and looked at all his paintings and robots and dragons and curios and chattered with no aim but mutual coziness.
Last night, oh dear, what happened last night? I had made a firm but foundationless resolve to claw my way back to good health, but I woke up yesterday in a dopamine desert and my resolve got more and more crumbly the longer I spent with myself. I dropped Aaron off at his gig and had a despondent few moments trying to figure out what to eat that would fix me. I parked and walked to the corner store, grimly but with the kind of relief that comes from failing yourself. I got a shrimp poboy and a pack of American Spirits and inhaled both on a stoop next to a gay bar. My eyes began to clear. New life ran through me. That really set the tone for the whole evening, which I will just say was absolutely magical and beautiful, barefoot dancing on the sidewalk, irritating romantic comedy beautiful, except more drunk and gross because this is New Orleans.
I seem to be fairly unscathed today. I’m going to make a meatloaf. I will attain health.