This isn’t a story about being scared to love. This is quite the opposite.
On a bit of a whim last summer my husband and I decided to join a couple of friends on a trip to New Orleans. I made Will, the planner, promise that the hotel would be nice and clean, and everything else I couldn’t give a damn about. I had decided to visit my folks alone for few days before the trip and flew into to NOLA after my husband and friends had been there for a couple of days. It was raining when I arrived and, as Austin was experiencing a record drought, it was the first time I had seen a drizzle in months.
As I moved through the airport I smiled at the gas lamps and live musicians. I was used to stray guitarists and full bands within airports from living in Austin, but the internal gas lamps had the exact romantic affect on me that they were supposed to incur. I was tired from traveling, but ready to be out and about in a new place.
Will and I are not people who waste time; we dropped off my things at the airport and immediately went right back out to explore. I find the best way to become intimate with a strange city is to walk it’s streets. We wandered through rich areas and poor areas, as well as the French Quarter. Our hotel was a single block from Du Monde’s and I’d stay there again in a heartbeat, even knowing the amount of children that died within its walls.
We walked down cobblestone, by 200 year old homes and areas that had been ravaged by Katrina. Eventually, we found ourselves in a cemetery, all white marble and above the earth. If it’s one thing New Orleans knows well, it’s that buried bodies float. Many of the tombs were beautiful, a handful ornate, a few were vandalized, and some forgotten. I’m not particularly melancholy, but the cemeteries of Louisiana embody a sullen beauty that New England doesn’t quite get to. Spanish moss and bright stone rather than dark earth and old rock.
We passed through Bourbon Street without incident; I appreciate the architecture and I love a good drink, but I can do without wading through puddles of vomit at 10am. We went to the aquarium and even the zoo. There were hat shops, and usual tourist crap vendors, flowers for sale, and plenty of sidewalk performers and artists. Most of all, though, you could smell how old the city was. I felt her past through each cell of my body and the more I explored the more she sunk into my bones. She had been beaten, diseased, dishonored, and raped, and still New Orleans holds her head high, unembarrassed and rather proud by what has made her.
After a couple of days, we decided to take an evening historical tour of New Orleans’ alleys within the French Quarter. The second stop on our night adventure was our own hotel, where we were informed that dozens of school children burned to death in the areas that were now the rooms we had been sleeping in. We learned about paying a man to duel for you on church grounds and of nuns who smothered hundreds of babies to keep their orphanages from becoming overrun with the unwanted. We listened to tales of Civil War atrocities, of slaves burning themselves rather than being torn from their families. We already knew about Delphine DeLaurie and her bizarre bloodlust, but we were surprised to hear that Nicolas Cage eventually purchased her home…and then had to sell fast when his own money ran out. Needless to say, we went back to our hotel in the evening with a shiver down out spines.
But as I leaned on the hotel balcony late that night, I wasn’t bothered by the remnants of the man who hung himself in the floor below me or the children who had burned around me. I felt the cool air, smelled the river, and tried to stare into the apartment across the way, loved so much by it’s residents that they didn’t bother with window dressings. I thought of what it would be to live in such a place. A city flooded and reflooded, burned and buried. Diseased and destroyed. And so very, very beautiful and beloved. It was a city who made those who cared for it even stronger.
For the first time in my life my body and mind ached to be apart of a place I barely knew.
We weren’t in New Orleans long, and we left feeling incomplete. We drove the trip from Nola to Austin, weaving in and out of plantation areas and stark highway. I’ve enjoyed previous vacations, missed the romance or a pretty sunset, remembered an incredible restaurant or a neat day trip. New Orleans was different. We left New Orleans feeling different.
And I’ve been unable to stop thinking about her since.
I tend to find myself in awkward, uncomfortable situations on a semi regular basis. I don’t mean to do this, but rarely am I sorry that I did so after the fact. I simply don’t seem to fit in. And naturally I blame my parents for this. It’s every time they said “Just be yourself.”
A family photo when I was 8 years old. I’m sure they asked I just be myself for this, too.
There’s a song by Wilco called Hell is Chrome. It’s about finding yourself fitting into a wonderful, clean, handsome world where you really feel you belong. People like you and help you, and there’s order and organization. That world just happens to be Hell. When I hear that song I don’t think “It is because I am a heathen that I would fit into that place” as the action of being a heathen itself fits into the normal ideas conjured by the word Hell. What I hear is the story of a place that translates into ‘What is one person’s heaven is another man’s Newark. One man’s hell is another’s Oxford.’ That is to say, this world doesn’t necessarily work for me. People pretending to the point of making situations uncomfortable. It’s not that I don’t fit in to Greenwich Village or L.A. or anything like that. It’s just that sometimes it feels like I don’t think I fit in with other humans. Any where. Yet I live here and I do my best to be pleasant and ordinary.
The day before Christmas Eve a few years ago my cousin and I went to get holiday manicures. I like getting manicures. I don’t get them too often because I feel weird paying the equivalent of 2 or 3 hours work to someone who is more often then not an immigrant to my country just to clean my filthy hands. The same applies for pedicures. There’s something that seems uniquely American in having immigrants scrub the dead skin off your feet.
Megan and I went down to this place in Stamford, Connecticut and signed in for manicures. The woman I was placed with quietly asked that I take off my coat and roll up my sleeves to which I complied. Once I settled myself into her chair she begins to scrutinize my nails. In doing so, however, she judged my entire character.
“You…have…uh… very hairy arms,” she forced, choosing each word carefully as she was obviously only recently subjected to English, and smiled genuinely up at me.
“Yes,” I said. When I am insulted I save the emotions for later rants when I’m alone or surrounded by loved ones who have learned to ignore me. The thing was, though, that I wasn’t really offended. Besides, what do you say to that? I knew I had hairy arms and for her to be new to English and correctly identify that fact was pretty good. And I didn’t know where she was from; it could be that in her land a chick with hairy arms was hot shit, in a good way.
I smiled back. She spoke very quietly of the weather and holidays with vast expanses of silence in between. My cousin yelled something to me from a few seats over confirming our plans later in the evening.
“She….your sister?” my nail person asked after Megan and I finished our brief itinerary check.
“No, she’s my cousin.”
“Oh,” my manicurist chuckled. “I thought she your sister, but you would be thin.”
Awesome. No matter how new to American culture, one can apparently always master fat jokes immediately.
“I wish”, I answered dead pan. Of course, if I was her sister I’d probably have some other issues; I like to tell myself there are trade-offs to being hot.
Again, she continued filing my nails in silence. Silence. Nail filing. Nail buffing. It goes on forever. Barry Manilow played off in the distance, singing some ever repeated holiday song that was supposed to get us into the Christmas cheer while visions of Baby Boom–aged woman throwing panties on a stage played in our heads. Right when I was beginning to be lulled into a false sense of security my nail person jumped up, hand over mouth, and ran away. To me it’s obvious that in the incredible glory of my chubby, hairy arms she simply could no longer take being unworthy and left to return to her homeland.
About ten minutes passed, in which I continued to sit in at her chair. I guess other American women would have said something, but I like sitting, and if I’m sitting away from other people it’s even better. Finally another girl came over.
“I’m sorry,” she said, also somewhat new to the language, also speaking quietly.
“Megan!” I shouted to my cousin across the room. “I made my nail chick throw up.”
“You would,” Megan explained.
The new girl, still standing, was looking at me nervously, almost as though she were a little afraid. I never ever mean to be an offensive person and I take hygiene to be of upmost important, above all else except maybe booze. I smiled politely, sympathetically at her, as if to say “I will not bite, am not mean or angry, and just want someone to peel this wax crap off my hands.” I also made an attempt to smell better, through shear determined will, just in case. After a very long, very uncomfortable few seconds the new girl did this quick sigh-smile-shrug maneuver, something I’ve since tried to mimic toward my husband at times when I’m not listening, don’t care, and just want everything over with. It was a great move.
Then the new girl sat down and deftly finished my manicure.
And that’s the story of my first, and last, Christmas manicure.
Megan & I in July of 2009, when we met up in Las Vegas for a couple of days. We live 2000 miles apart and I miss her daily. That hat was a gift from a SUPER CREEPY dude that kept hitting on her while we had drinks in Margaritaville. But, then, if you’re having drinks at a Jimmy Buffet chain restaurant in Vegas, you’re kind of asking for that to happen.
We’re all going to travel soon, all on top of each other and full of holiday cheer, though “cheer” may be the wrong term. Here’s a little something to keep that Hanger (hunger induced anger) at bay while on the road or in the skies.
I love having your elbow jammed unceremoniously into my love handle.
I don’t know you, but I already feel like you’re moving your way to second base, every time you squirm in your seat or take over the corner of my tray table.
I hate you and I hate being stuck on this plane. There’s nothing do to, movies aren’t offered any more, people feel more entitled then ever, and here we are sharing air for hours. The magazines have long lost any allure, and the crossword puzzle in People is pathetic.
That leaves one thing to do:
I’m a firm believer in treating others the way you would like to be treated. I may be one of the last people on earth that lives that way. It even affects how and what I eat, especially when I travel.
I refuse to be that stinky person. You know the one I mean.
When I get on a plane I generally have celery and carrots on me, maybe a sliced apple. If it’s a particularly long flight I have successfully brought along peanut butter, but I generally do not eat my veggies with any kind of salad dressing as salad dressing can be smelly and I refuse to be that person on a plane.
And of course everything has to include a chaser of an Airborne & Advil cocktail, especially if I’m going to visit my parents.
My favorite Get Through Security & Get On With Your Life snackage that won’t stink up a plane:
‘You Wish You Had My Snack’ trail mix
1/3 chocolate chips (milk or dark)
11/4 cup Kashi Go Lean Crunch
1/3 cups Craisins
1/2 cup cashews
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup marshmallows
1/2 cup dried apricots
1 pack of M&M’s (optional)
Melt chocolate chips and pour over 2 cups Kashi Go Lean Crunch Cearal that has been mixed with craisins. Let set, break into pieces, toss with nuts, apricots, marshmallows, and anything else you feel like. Place mix into any size ziplock bag and jam into a purse or carry on. You don’t have to worry about this stuff getting crushed. Go to airport.
Feel Fresh and Less Disgusting Upon Arrival crudités
1/2 cup celery
1/2 cup baby carrots
1 red pepper, sliced
3 string cheese things or Baby Bon Bell Cheeses
1 sliced and cored apple sprinkled lightly with lemon juice.
½ cup Green Olives (rinsed to help odor)
This may be a bit loud to eat, but the protein and fiber will keep you full without causing a sugar rush. Also great for those way over-priced wine pairings as offered by airlines. The lemon juice will add flavor and keep the apple from turning brown and the cheeses are low-smell and a decent replacement for salad dressing. I’ve found this little snack is the one from which I earn the most jealous stares. People seem to use a day of flying as an excuse to eat crap; by the end of it all that’s exactly what they feel like. I break out veggies and they glare at me like I won the lottery and won’t share. And I don’t share.
The sizes on these are all relative and easily changed based on the people eating and what you like.
It’s amazing what foods you can bring on planes. Provided it’s not a liquid or a nail clipper, security allows more through their gates then what people generally believe is okay. The last trip back to Austin I brought 2.5 pounds of different cheeses and a 1 pound link of sopresata, though, as per my refusal to be the smelly person, everything was triple plastic-wrapped and kept that way for the duration of the flight. On a trip a few months prior, I took 6 eggrolls and a couple 3oz. cups of duck sauce (neither of which you can get in Austin… well, not good ones at least) and steamed dumplings without a problem.
Hopefully by sharing that with you I didn’t just jinx anything for my next trip back east.