Wednesday, February 18, 2009

the bootstrap

Have you ever had to do a task in order to get on with the larger objective, but the task was onerous, or annoying, or out of your routine, so you put it off? Did you put it off for a little while? A long while? I do that a lot. I get so obstructed by the one odd or difficult task that the entire project slides into arrears. Once, I carried a bottle of medicine around in my backpack for a month before taking any of the pills, because the side effects of the pills were more inconvenient than the symptoms they were meant to alleviate. At least, in the short term. Eventually, I made myself take the stupid pills and I was glad I did, but I was also glad I didn't take them during any of those days I was carrying them around.

I would like to NOT be this way, I think. I would like to have an inner reserve of initiative, an ability to bootstrap myself into doing annoying things.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Insomnia = Memories

I can't sleep. So I'm going to tell you a story. And because I could really use it right now, it's going to be a funny story. See how this works? This is another excerpt from my Papa James' autobiography. It's a tale he told on his father, who we all called Big Daddy.

Again, I've corrected bits where it was important to make the meaning clear.

I remember well something funny about Big Daddy: Once in Crowley, LA, Big Daddy went to a bait dealer that a lady ran out of her home. She also sold goldfish & puppies from her female dogs. After counting out our gold fish, Big Daddy gave her a $20.00 bill. She told him to come into the house so she could get his change. He followed her in and she went in the bedroom to get her purse for change. She had a mama chihuahua with young puppies in her bedroom. She asked Daddy if he would like to come into the bedroom and see her little chewawa [sic]. Big Daddy had never heard of a Chihuahua and thought she was offering him sexual concessions! He declined the offer! Later he found out what a chihuahua was. Ha. I can still hear him laughing and telling this on himself, even years later.

And because turnabout is fair play, a memory of me being unsophisticated...

I was about 7 years old the first time I stayed by myself at my grandparents' house. I hadn't really gotten to play like I was an only child since my middle sister was born when I was 13 months old. So, like, never. About that time in my life, I was fighting with my mom about my hair a lot. Maybe all the time, because I seem to recall that by the next school year old ladies at church were telling my mom what a fine priest I would make some day. I knew all the words and had the clean-cut look! Anyway, at this point, my mom was still trying to let me wear my hair long, but it was a daily war zone with crying, wailing, chemical weaponry, blood, entrenched positions, the works. Mom kept us on a pretty tight schedule as kids, mostly for her own sanity, but suddenly I found myself in the bizarre position of being the (extremely spoiled) grandchild in a house by myself with my grandparents' undivided attention. I lapped it up like a cat does cream, and was slinking into the kitchen about 3 days into my visit in my pajamas to see if anybody wanted to make me pancakes. I was only 7, I was entitled to that level of self-centeredness and, in fact, my grandmother DID want to make me pancakes. She had gotten a jar of sourdough starter going pretty good and wanted to use some of it, so logically, pancakes ensued. And as I sidled into the kitchen all barefoot and rumpled and bedheaded, Granny Jessalyn looked up from where she was reading in the green morning light of her kitchen window, and she laughed a deep happy laugh and remarked to Papa James, "Yes, sir! When you're at grandmother's house you can really let your hair down!" Serious and literal and 100% sincere, I responded, "That's right! You don't even have to brush it if you don't want to!" She laughed so hard, and then hugged me so tight, the memory is chipped into the rock of my soul the way it smelled and felt and sounded. She explained about women having to wear their hair put up all the time, back in the old days, and how it was a real treat to be where you could relax and let it down. And ever since, I've associated the Gibson girl with my Granny Jessalyn's kitchen. Then she pulled out the sourdough starter from her icebox and we got down to some pancakes.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Infamous New Orleans Incident

I posted a meme a couple of days ago listing 25 random facts about me. Item 11 was a blithe statement, lightly made, about where I fall on The Kinsey Scale. Its breeziness belies the deep, awkward, messy journey that led to that clear pool of conclusion. But fear not, gentle readers, I'm not going to drag you down that winding, muddy, thorny path today. Instead, I'm going to tell you one of my favorite stories about that time; one that stands as a bright shaft of light on an otherwise dim path. This is a story of an event so fabulous, so infamous, it wound up on a t-shirt exemplifying "Drama Queen" behavior. This is the story of list item #18: I got an infamous haircut on the porch of an apartment over a fish market in New Orleans at Mardi Gras one year.

I was 24 years old, and had been pretty sure I was gay or bi for about 3 years. I had parlayed that faint thread of attraction I have for men into a string of monogamous, monotonous, and completely mediocre relationships since I was 14. Accordingly, for the first couple years after I acknowledged to myself that I was not straight I was in the middle of being in twoo wuv with a boy from my high school and we were SOOO SRSLY getting married. Right. Before So that fell apart and I got into what I expected would be a fling with a hot guy from the rugby team just for the sake of a rebound. Well, a year later, he and I were making plans to get married, because I'm kinda dense like that.

That's where I was personally. A few more details to finish the setting: I had this long curly hair that I'd been growing out ever since I got out of the Air Force Academy six years before. I was playing rugby, and there was an annual tournament in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. It was always a good party, and occasionally some good rugby, and definitely a learning experience. I got out of school late on a Friday, picked up my buddies, and we drove all night in my awesome little silver Saturn to get to New Orleans; we stayed with a friend who I think was named Nina. One of my rugby buddies was Betsy, this awesome pre-med dyke who had learned how to cut hair in the dorm at her all-girls college. She had the truest sense of herself of any person I've ever met... deep self-knowledge and confidence that really glowed right out her pores.

Well, Betsy and me and my Saturn-load of people ended up at Nina's apartment, which was on the second story over a small, independent fish market in a turn-of-the-century building with those cool, deep, sleeping porches all the way around. The fish market had a sign out front that consisted of a realistic, life sized marlin leaping out of the building like it was making a break for the freedom of the canal and then the open sea beyond. In other words, it was weird, slightly smelly, and thoroughly, typically New Orleanian.

We got there at 2 AM, I think, because of the late start. And just as we were settling in to our mattresses on the floor, some voices called from the street below... it was some of Nina's friends with beer in milk jugs that they'd brought from a keg party that got broken up by the cops. So they came up and we sat around sharing beer out of milk jugs and socializing. Around 4 they left and we fell into a dead sleep, but by 9 we were at the fields, a little weird, slightly smelly... you know how it goes. Even if you've never been there, and I commend you if you haven't, you've mocked somebody who was hurting on The Morning After.

DuringWe played 3 games of rugby that day, and I jumped in with another team for at least one more game, maybe 2. My hair was long, so I had to braid it to play, but it would get messed up during the game. And by "messed up" I mean so disheveled that I could pass for a transient and so full of grass and burrs and roots that if I had been my own horse, I'd have just cut the tangles out with a pocket knife. I had to re-braid it several times during the day to keep it out of my eyes and other people's fists. So we got back to Nina's that night and I was lying, totally exhausted, on a mattress on the floor waiting my turn in the shower. And I started thinking: I'm going to have to stand in the shower for 30 minutes with my arms over my head, picking burrs out of my hair, just so I can go to the bar tonight where it will absorb every whiff of cigarette smoke, so I can get up tomorrow and do this ALL. OVER. AGAIN. The thought just knocked me flat, and my arms would have screamed if they had mouths. That would be weirder than even New Orleans, so I'm glad they don't.

I looked at Betsy, lying exhausted on the couch near me and sporting a blissfully low-maintenance buzz cut, and asked, "Hey, Betsy, wanna cut my hair?"

She perked right up, said, "Hell, yeah! Short?!" I nodded, and she went scurrying for Nina's clippers and shears. We couldn't find them, but she found Nina's 5-year-old's safety scissors (with the rounded tips!) and went out on the porch and got started. The next time the bathroom was free, we found the clippers and hair-cutting shears, so she finished the job up properly. The other girls took my fluffy pile of hair, caught it up in a rubber band and tossed it out on top of the marlin's head. For one night, the fish market marlin had a Rastafarian-looking afro, while I had a more permanent installation of Lesbian Haircut #2.

We went to a bar in New Orleans called The Rubyfruit Jungle and I came home with short hair and Pride Beads. I suddenly understood why grownups were so down on kids making out, because when you're making out with the right people, it could totally turn into the sorts of things grownups don't want kids to do. The aftershocks of that weekend, those realizations, the books I looked to for answers, the people who helped me find them, they all agglomerate in a weird, slightly smelly, and thoroughly, typically New Orleanian gumbo that is my life. And it is thanks to all of them that I kept my balance, made it a few more steps up the path, and came to be able to blithely say "Oh, yeah. I'm a 4 on the Kinsey scale," like it's no big deal.