Wine, Women, and Winnie’s

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While the old trope “the city never sleeps” has much truthiness, it is also a truism that the city is pushing ever harder at sacred institutions these past few years so that but fewer and fewer distinct establishments of the city remain.
And by this, Dear Reader, this author means dive bars.

Yeah, gentrification, yea the tale of two cities, wist the moment of trustifarians and Moscow royals, and Euroweenies, and sundry other reasons that come to pass that the city is fast changing more than ever before, reached a tipping point of commercialism and consumerism that is ironing flat the landscape.

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This process is better documented in Vanishing New York and other blogs as a societal trend with commentary and statistics about income inequality and all that.  Nevertheless, it has come to the attention of this blogger since in h/i/er/its lived experience there are fewer locations of one’s youth (10 years ago) and more storied and established places winking out, the darkening of a hundred lamps of welcome.  Even if these lamps also were the firelights of harpies and selkies and pirates luring lads and lasses and those inbetwixt into a life of drink and rapine and all manner of nondenominational prodigal behaviour.  These dive bars were filled with low characters, Andy Wharhaol castoffs, criminals and Tina, that girl who just moved to the city with her friends and ohmygawdIamsototallydrunk and her bro equivalent Dave or Harry or Steve who were soinabandandliketotally.   They were, however, unique markers upon the city and to a one with the worst bathrooms imaginable so pee now… or hold it for the night.

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One thing the dive bar had was accessible drinks.  Simple menus, no mixologists, one never had to ask, oh my what’s in a Ruby NAFTA Billy XY? as one never needed to know more than vodka and whatever mixer or whisky and mixer.  The ice never was in strange cubes of perfect clarity nor was anything topped with herbs slapped against the wrist of the bartender.  If anything the ice cubes tasted like old fridge and if anything slapped against the wrist of the bar tender you either tossed it out or washed it before putting it in your mother [errata, that word “mother” was “mouth” before autocorrect… but it works in a way].
Prices at these places were always in the budget of a graduate student, or actor, or artist, or douche bag, attempting to both get drunk off one’s proverbial or actual asshole and make the rent so that a night out did end up in a days homelessness.  Not that some of the kids in the bar weren’t homeless….

These places were spots to gather with friends since the cramped conditions at home did not allow (nor the 70 room mates one had to have permission from in order to have more than one house guest) and who wanted to clean up after your friends anyway?

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And now, Kidsthesedays know less and less (or is it fewer?) about the distinct locals that made New York, New York. As the chain stores and condos, condos and chain stores  have taken over more and more, so too has the libatious landscape become ever bleaker along those streets and avenues.  Yeah, there are cocktail establishments serving clever drinks, sports bars, and TGIFs, but these are either out of reach for the average drinker or make one feel like one is quaffing a dram in Edmonton or Charlotte airport or anywhere in-between.  While Alphabet City fell long ago, even Williamsburg, the center of Lost Youthddom has seen a mass closing of music venues and well-worn drinking holes.  This darkness is even now falling on Bushwick, even as so many mixologist $10 drink spots are coming online.
Perhaps in time these places will mellow and a patina will take off the brash accents, however, with the cost of real estate and the quickening of changing tastes, it seems unlikely that the local Fudruckers will become a storied establishment filled with history and lore a hundred years hence.

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All great stories have an ark.  A rise and fall.  Gotham is not immune.  The bad old days of the 1970s and 1980s were the good old days for rock bands and creatives. It seems that every day another distinct place shutters and is replaced by condos.  It seems that those who wish to rock, must look elsewhere to do so.

It is yet another establishment that has fallen, Winnie’s in Chinatown.  Once an Irish bar then an Italian bar then a Chinese karaoke bar it has with so many others been set aside for history to judge.  I will not bore you, Dear Reader, with some hackneyed recounting of my personal story there or at any of these other now closed establishments, I am sure you have great stories of your own.  But, let us at least raise a glass and toast the ever slipping of time and the new improved city that may not be as much fun as we remember…. even if now we must toast with water in our glass… but that’s a different story.

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The Brooklyn Stove

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“I can’t wait for the apocalypse,” he said.  Strangely, the thought that Doomers are correct, that this whole fabricated society built on the spindly legs of fake commerce, idiotic trending articles, and environmental destruction cannot last and that perhaps in my lifetime we will see a true “back to basics” is tantalizing and exciting.  It is the thought of the child trapped in school waiting for those long summer days off and the imagined adventures with pretend friends.  An ideal, and as an ideal, I do not smell this future, I do not have the hot ashes and dust in my mouth of this future, I do not feel the cold of this future after the change, after we are stripped by all the accouterments of Late Stage Capitalism and returned to the primal world of the elements.  That night, the elements were cold.  This could be what had been decades ago normal for the Northeast (the ONLY place it was cold this winter IN THE WORLD) since it was technically spring but at 3000 or so feet, it was winter and it was below freezing by about 20 degrees and we were camping.
As troglodytes our merry group had gathered in a rock overhang so deep it almost seemed a cave.  The ice piles describing the edges pushing up burms and closing in the sides into white and gray walls.  Those hugging arms of snow gave our hangout the cosy safe feeling of the cave, minus the typical cosy that means warm and comforting, and safe meaning you can’t just slip off the cliff whist taking a pee.  The surfaces in this campsite were hella hard to deal with: slippery nasty ice, hard piles of snice (ice/snow), stones, stones coated in ice and fuck you warm blooded animal.  I imagined that we were a long lost hunting party.  I thought to all those Vice documentaries about the Syrian refugees and I thought, this is the cold and ice of the lost, the Donner Parties, the displaced… except that we had ample food, sleeping bags for the cold (at least to 25 degrees Fahrenheit/ -3.88 Celsius), and a wondrous camp stove** that can cook food fueled by a handful of twigs and charge your iWhateverthefuck too (retails for $250 and was imagined in Brooklyn but made in perhaps the same place children make iThingies).  So, we were unlike any lost flesh-eating land claim whatzit or refugee whoseamajig.  We were still locked into the system in so many ways.

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However, it wasn’t for lack of trying to detach.  Winter camping (technically spring but with the snow and ice I give bonus/metal points as winter) separates those who like to camp from those who wish to die from camping.  The air hurts.  A normally steep incline can provide a slick slippery slidely to the death adventure.  Simple trails are snow coated ankle breakers.
It is the time of the hungry ghosts.  The lone wolves.  The rabid bears with glowing eyes. The snow that twinkles and reflects light making the known world – that directly in front a few feet – seem magical but not in a “magic of childhood” way but a Grimm Brothers before they cleaned up their stories to make them “happy” (by 1811 standards which by today’s nneo-Puratanical politburo-correct standards means from XXX 1970s hirsute love to NC17 with just a touch of side boob) kind’a way.  Walking to join the rest of the party, I was unable to set out before nightfall, and cursed the decision wishing that I could have been able to be part of a group to ensure I would find this camping spot, that if something happened I would be recovered and given a Christian burial.  The sound of the snow crunching under my feet, my heavy breath as I strained under the brand new Alpine pack I had yet to read the directions for, and my imagination was all i heard…. except for those trees that clunk together…. and branches groaning…. and the fluttering of a moth.  What is a moth doing out in winter?  There actually was a moth flying about… was that the Mothman?
After a lot of sliding on my ass, I made it to our cavesque campsite that the others had cleared of snice (a mix of snow and ice) and provisioned with beer, vodka, and firewood.  It had taken hours to clear the camp of snice with a machete.  We made merry into the night slipping and sipping and tending the fire.  We were without Mother Signal, the pervasive connectivity to our modern world and had to make due to live in the moment with out broadcast nor ability to “look shit up” the later being hard to live with, even for a moment since my aged and spongiform brain cannot remember who that guy was ….  That guy on the TeeVee show… the one who did that funny thing with his mouth where he made the words in order to communicate a humor of an idea and another idea …
It was to an early hour, exhausted by the lack of connectivity, that I took to “bed” – a mixture of rocks and leafs on a slender line upon where there was no snice, unwrap my bedding, and to sleep to go.
Which lasted until the evil and crepuscular hours of the early morning where the dank lasting darkness gave way to a creeping sickness of morning.  My head was pounding, which is to be expected from a night’s cavort, however, parts of me hurt from the cold that was seeping through the zipper, through every break in the fabric in shocking ways.  My hand had tucked out of the bag by mistake and it almost cost my my fingers.  My hand was as a stone, numb and cold.  The air had become ever colder in the night and the fun bracing chill was replaced by arctic dangers where breathing hurt, the air hurt, the rocks beneath me stuck into my shoulder and also froze the wound.  There was no comfort.  I wrapped up in everything I owned and tossed and turned as the sky turned from gray to that first yellow ray of the sun, but that did not warm our cave.  The snice pile laughed at me.  I hopped over the snice on the ground to a rock set up as a seat next to the long dead campfire and the seemingly lifeless companion who had chosen a spot by the fire but in the night those lights extinguished and he was exposed and covered in snow.  Would we have to bury him here?  His sleeping bag was worse than mine.  He seemed lifeless.

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My feet hurt.  My nose hurt.  My fingers hurt.  My soul ached for hot water on demand. My boots laughed at me.  There was no way I would be able to slip them on.  My gloves had been wet the night before.  Even by the fire that night they had frozen into blocks and stuck together.  I hopped in my sleeping bag over the snice to where my Brooklyn Stove sat as some R2 unit or lost piece of equipment from a Moisture Farm and looked to make coffee.  The water was frozen solid.  My fingers stung to be out of my now double sleeping bags even for a moment.  My friends rose with the sound of my stirring.  They were miserable.  I was tossed a lighter, but it was too cold to work or my fingers too numb to operate this simple tool.  Another lighter was tossed to me.  This one had been kept inside the sleeping bag so it worked, yet, even with Brooklyn Stove, it was hard to light up the fire to thaw the water to then make coffee, impossible with frozen fingers to break the twigs small enough to fit in properly, and deleterious to brave the icy cliffs to gather more fuel.

In time, hours actually, we made coffee from frozen water.   We really put the Brooklyn Stove through its paces.  We made bacon sandwiches from a block of frosty bacon and the algific dehydrated bread, and boiled eggs hardened by the weather in water harvested from the snice and turned all this into food, into warm and comforting reminders that we were still yet part of today’s world   Just holding those hot eggs gave me hope.  By then the sun had risen to a respectable zenith and we had moved about making fire in the fire pit, keeping the Brooklyn Stove charging our iThingies and boiling eggs, and moved about enough to warm up, strap on boots, pile up the gear, and pick up the litter from the night before (we weren’t good “neighbears” [if you’re from that region you know what I mean]).  We left the rocky camp and returned to the trail and to the parking lot.
I still hope for The Change.  That time when we can again return to a more balanced world.  I just hope I have a better sleeping bag before that happens.

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**The Brooklyn Stove Company did not compensate this author nor does this represent a product review, advertisement, nor field test of this silly yet fun invention.

Ozymandiasum

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In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:—
“I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone… – Smith

The spring has arrived but not a moment too soon.  The ice and snow remain, the land of the Frost Giants and those blue dark ferrie that have glomming and glowering faces.  The pocket of cold has held strong in this region despite that much the rest of the world burns ever hotter.  The storms hit the coast and deep in the woods upstate, in the Lost Kingdom, the Northeast Kingdom, and New England the deep cold is met by a winter that is deceptively dry.

There are still places that grow ever silent, ever colder, ever housing only the ghost and specters of long lost tribes.  The byways, the highways forgotten by any hand of progress or repair, such as our infrastructure is. Dotted in the landscape is the growing number of zombies.  Not the face eaters of Meth-Florida, not the TeeVee show variety, but those living dead of this age, the dead malls.

Once modern establishments of taste, Wicks N’Sticks and all manner of Court d’Food, these places are but becoming as dead as the Main Streets the malls replaced.  

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I remember going to the mall as a kid.  On Lawn Guy Land, way back in The Day.  I was a kid, so what did I know, but I enjoyed the petting zoo, Santa, the many activities and wonders of the shops (there were no food courts in those days).  Then, as an older youth, I learned to hate the mall.  The place of mall rats and boring mercy, stupid movies I spent too much money on and all manner of bad memories.  I hated the mall with great interest and vigor, almost to an unhealthy degree.

So it is with no less than that German word that intellectuals use to describe a joy brought from some other’s misfortune that I enjoy, revile, and celebrate the End of Mall America.

It is fitting that a 7th Century terrorist group, ISIS, would threaten this already dead establishment.  Their out-dated and mis-guided ways, not knowing that America has moved on, we have built more structures, ever larger than the malls that today house our villages of commerce and file through the great rich pageant of Chinese-made plastic wonder-nasties on their way to be filtered and broken in a thousand households to wind up in the dump buried in the dirt and excreta of a modern society and civilized beings.

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And as I wander this great and wide open sky under the land circumscribed by our forebears, it is no wonder that I stumble upon ever more dead malls littering the endless highways and commercial areas considering the progression of our Nation, the Pilgrims Progress that seems to have culminated in 99 cent socks and three foot tall Star Wars figures.

The parking lots are cleft with frost heaves and coated in dust.  The pall of death was upon this centre.  There was no mistaking that the Keystone shopes had fled and the rest were put withering away on the vine of The Free Market.  This was even deader than the malls I had seen in Texas just a few weeks prior.  The silence of a dead or dying mall is frightening.  The building was not built for hush.  One end, where once there was a Keystone Shope, now a barrier of plastic and plywood attempted to stave off the bitter cold that seeped through all corners and cracks in the tundra of central Vermont.  A little happy noise came from the bounce castles in the center of what had once been a grand food court but now was only home to a squalid Chinese food establishment, the lost Han people of Central Vermont who choose the most incorrect location with with to achieve the American Dream.

Walking the halls, the stores one after another were blank, empty, and chilled.  From the former book store to the obsolete electronics store, they all were gated and with the memorial stone, the For Rent placard balefully hanging from the links of the riot gate.

The few people shuffled between the few remaining stores.  While Main Street remains dead, the playground of Herion addicts and upper middle class foodies, this mall is now joining that trail of broken civic structures in a society intent on ever building more and more until the entire land is send under parking lots, neon signs, and the next shopping Mecca we all but must turn to the East to pray to.

After a little wandering, I realized that only death and tears would be found at this mall.  Oh… and an antique shop, which gave me some hope until I realized it was one of those auction places that look like an antique shope.  Fucking auctions houses…

Perhaps main street will one day revive.  Perhaps one day there will be an Urban Renewal of malls.  May we see artists and creatives flock to them for the neo-Bushwick, the new Woodstock, the bold new collectives of makers?  Will preservation societies offer to rebuild Wicks N’ Sticks, Radio Shack, and Caldors with mismanaged grants and tax sheltered facade monies?

I think not.  I hope not.  I want to see these places burn.  Not in a terroristic way.  In the way of Father time.  To slowly burn all all energy decays, entropy and the jungle envelopes this ill sickening temple as it had so many palaces and thrones of so many Ozymandias.  Or is it Ozymandiasum? 

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Finding Valhalla

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Campus bars come in two types: dive bar and… Well, no other type.  Just dive bar.

Many a lad and lass has learned the limits of their cash advances, body tolerance, and friendships in the campus bar.  By design it seems the campus bar is a dirty endeavor pandering to inexperienced drinkers, rude partiers, and those girls who are OmygodIamsototallydrunkrightnow.  It is a place of wrist bracelets and campus security guards turned bouncer, slipping off wrist bracelets in the bathroom and trying to score free drinks or being hit on for said free drinks.  The bar is tended by an eternal and ever replenished set of regulars and is always infiltrated by townies trying to pass themselves off as students and townies who don’t bother and couldn’t care less and came to drink cheep beer and watch wo/men in the “flower of their youth” gyrate and occasionally puke from said gyrations.

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At first it may seem these layer of filth and unusual decor (lamps that don’t work but are always there anyway, light up Christmas yard ornaments, chairs and tables and stools ready to break or held together by tape are due to the operators being inexperienced proprietors, however, there is little way that so many establishments can operate for so long and maintain an exacting standard of of filth and worn fixtures if this constant and suspended state of disrepair were not intentional and carefully crafted. 

Grow’ed up peoples create these spaces too.  Dive bars are those establishments guarded by a devoted set of adherents that ensure that nothing changes, not the dust levels, or the missing toilet seat in the lady’s room or that the lady’s room and men’s room are the same room and there has not been a door on the stall since 1987 and the paint is layer after layer of marker, spray paint, dirt, body dander, nose candy debris, more paint, more dirt, &c. &c. world without end.  In the “adult” dive bars the townies dominate the room and it is the college student, having snuck off campus (always in a group) in order to totallycheckoutthisspot, that is in the minority and must mind their manners if they want to partake of the cheep bear and perhaps some manner of music that may or may not be on when Trevor finally arrives with the PA system.

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It is rare, then, when a campus bar and a dive bar collide, but that is exactly what has occurred on the campus of Rice University in a little bar tucked away deep on campus called Valhalla.

Valhalla is very, very hidden.  The residents of Gothem may brag and beowulf about how they know some Nonamebar on Avenue Schiza or have been to that one, you know where the mobsters used to hang out and some guy stood by a light and you totally went down an alley way and then found a bar where you were willing to pay $13 (1999 dollars) for a cocktail, or always go to that other one with the Ass Juice since way before CBGBs was closed down.  However, this is nothing to having to walk about campus searching in the twilight for a bar marked by little else than the glow of a lamp that appears the same glow as those lights marking campus emergency phones in most campuses.

The bar occupies the former smoking room of the chemistry building.  The building is one of those sandstone and brick edifices from the turn of the last century when all our scientists still spoke German and Latin and Greek and intellectuals and scientists seemed united in their idea to build structures that seemed as permanent as their disciplines.  They wished the stone lions or dragons and devices to remain for all time.  To be a stopped moment in time.  The door to the bar looks locked but behind this hatch is a din unmistakably that of the drinker, idler, joker and smoker, and prodigal and it at once opens and the dim hallway inside leads to the antechamber that holds the bar.

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That night a group of runners had gathered along with several older men who appeared as to work in the trades.  In the corner were to women who appeared to be studying and on the opposite end a group of students who appeared at least at graduate age in that position of youth before society demands maturity where one can still play Jenga on a Wednesday without social or economic marginalization. 

Sitting at one bar it was certainly recognizable as a campus bar.  The stools were to a one broken in some way and the bar clearly worn down from wet and use.  This was not a place the bartenders obsessively placed coasters under the sweating drinks.  I ordered a draft and was informed that it would be free. 

Free beer.

This was the final day of the manager, a very happy younger man who had offered up all on draft free of charge to celebrate.  Managers at Valhalla are sort of elected, at least that is the sense I got.  They serve a term of a year having been placed in the position by some dark and Lovecraftian cabal that vote once a term on the best volunteer to fill that position.  And so, this just happened to be the final day of the term of service and I was welcomed in with all manner of gracious hospitality and despite an empty stomach and having eaten nothing but coffee all day, I took full advantage of my situation.

I spent the remainder of my time there talking to all manner of people from graduated graduate students to campus gardeners and of course, the Road Runner club that had come there every Wednesday for the past ten years (or so).  Transplants and locals, townies and students, faculty and alum seemed at once there and comfortable in the grand mess, the great drinking hall that is indeed lived to its name as Valhalla.

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The Highway Men

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Not just in certain intersections and squeeze points, but for miles upon miles and in all directions.  Were this those dark old day of pre carbon locomotion, I would have taken wagon team days or even spry hiker hours to cover the distance from the first car in congestion to the last cars just joining this huge parade of engines and anger.  This is the commuter city, the lost and cemented bayous of Houston, Texas, this is the current and future landscape both Bladerunner and mundane; the stuff of late night documentaries and college radio.

The solution has to build ever more highways, to facilitate ever more movement and yet it seems to each one of these highways each lane is filled.  Eight lanes, ten lanes, fourteen lanes (perhaps counting the service roads that run aside each direction), the traffic piles up late into the day and soon into the evening.  In between the ebb and flow of these tides of engines and brake lights, there are sporadic events, small tragedies and occurrences to be seen.

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Close to the shopping mall an 18 Wheeler truck had slammed into a sedan in a configuration called the T-bone.  Later the same day, and not far away, a compact car had crashed into a city bus.  All about there were signs of conflagrations and very complicated days as the evidence was often strewn over the shoulder of the road.  Bits of car, chunks of unknown plastic, oil stains and clay litter absorbent, dust piles from flares, yellow caution tape and gashes in the guardrail, trees, or other features of the roadway.

There too in this city of checked movement are memorials to those movers and shakers and long haul men who did not make it to their destination.  Bundles of worn flowers set casually on the ground.  Small clusters of plastic decorations and notes dipped in tears and rain.  White crosses stapled to trees, planted in the ground, or tied to a traffic lamp post.   On the highway the large digital traffic signs serve both as light houses warning travelers of clogged roads and incidents, as well as dark houses, as they carefully enumerate the fatalities to date and count all the dead souls.

Day 58 in the Year of Our Lord two thousand fifteen hundred and already in the great state of Texas there are 285 enumerated traffic fatalities at the writing of this dispatch.

And perhaps this does not count the white bicycles and those pedestrians gunned down by a passing motorist this past week for daring to walk alone.

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And it is no wonder that this maze of passages there are so many dangers and distractions and seething anger on the roads of rage.  This blogger, in a short time in Houston, witnessed three major accidents, two of which I cannot see how anyone in the car may have survived.  About me there was a number of drivers weaving fast and furious in and out of traffic and I don’t think I have seen so many people blow red lights.  From those who sped through at the last moment (common) to those who would just pause, and then hit the gas or take a quick left turn with or without looking for on coming traffic.

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Some may say this is the nature of the folks of Houston.  Their cowboy heredity and culture of individualism.  This open range mentality is indeed at odds for the city they have built for themselves for this is a city of walls, gates, highways, and rules.  Lanes that close at certain hours, special highways tolled at “market rate,” and the roadways lined with acre after acre mile upon mile of roadside Krap-o-la: Kentacohuts, Mcburgerwendyislandadrepas, Hooters, Motelholidaysuper8s, welding shops next to city schools, tattoo parlors next to churches that inhabit former Rite Aids where parking lots and drive throughs feed in and out of the main roadways without warning.  The sense of agoraphobia at the wide expanses are mitigated by the acute claustrophobia of knowing one is trapped and it will take hours to escape the confines of Houston proper and the huge circle of settlement that surrounds that area that does not allow for open land and it takes hours to reach a wild area, a wilderness where the bayou has not been filled with plastic cups or cemented into submission.  I felt trapped, seething and the fear gripped me.  My stupid car could not get my out of this.  There was little I could do but sit in the traffic and wait for them to clear up the accident, haul away the cars, and hose off the pavement.  I became too weak even to blare the horn, I had become that animal in the jaws of a predator who despite having no wounds just goes prone and allows destiny to wash over…

The sticker on the mirror of the bar exclaimed “Fuck You, Houston is Awesome.”  The woman next to me asked me how I liked Houston, what my impressions of the city were as an outsider.

I cowboy’ed up a beer and that deep squinchy knitting of the brow as best as I could remember the Marlboro Man did, and said…

Highways.  So many fucking highways.

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One if by Boat; Two if by Helicopter

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I was told that one buttons would summon a boat while the other one would bring a helicopter.  The small orange device fit into my hand and was small enough to stuff into a pocket.
There was a cost. A charge to my credit card of $300 in the event they had to come get me in their boat. The other button sent a message to the United States Coast Guard.  That was a more costly measure of last resort coming in at about $3000. I promised I wouldn’t use either but I was warned that I could get lost or have to fight against the tide and wind out or back or both.  Some assembled folks of traditional retirement age talked to me as if I were soon to be found in the local paper under the headline, asshole goes out in kayak in 10,000 islands and is never seen again.
Indeed it was gutsy I guess. But I had my GPS emergency button. I had my iThingmajigy.  I had a personal floatation device and plenty of beer.  Having been on the great Hudson River in a very old and battered canoe, I had some experience battling wind, tides, and strange fish that blew into my boat and thundered about. I know that nature is nothing to trifle with. This was ocean currents mitigated by a complex of mangrove …. Clusters? Forests? That exist to protect us from sea swells or give us medicine or just exist since not everything in this green earth has to be there for our pleasure.

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Still, the warnings given by the rental agent and the concerned looks of the assembled elders did have me question my choices for this morning and my approach to life in general … at least back to age 27 and that time I came home and had to revive my roommate who had turned blue sprawled out on the floor from a mixture of pain killers and “bergen and water.”

The Kayak rental was in what is considered by Florida standards a historical building.  It even had a plaque outside, which makes it official official.  It looked like one of those old run down gas stations one sees in the Northeast Kingdom or the Blueberry Barrens of Maine.  The outfitter as well as my motel were down the road was the historic Smallwoods General Store, a provisioner from back in the day that the Great Land yet remained wild and villages were yet tied into the modern world.  The natives traded with the new comers and this continued for decades until after the Great Patriotic War when the United States set about building roads, draining swamps, and changing the face of the earth forever.  The road first connected Everglade City to the outside world, then it crept ever ever on to then grab Okeechobee island.  This connectivity brought more settlers and those who could afford provisions in Naples or Miami.  And so while the area remains wild as of a sort. There are plenty of Snow Birds, Flatlanders, Upstaters, and Northerners all roasting and turning various shades of pink in the crusty steaming hot sun. The local community withered somewhat and Smallwoods closed for decades to be renovated by a historical society that today keeps this small reminder to how much can change in just a few decades and what we have lost along the way in order to gain this new graded road system.

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Bethatasitmay, here I was standing with my paddle and radio beacon tucked in my pocket having created a fairly large carbon footprint to get here, and ready to see the “wilds.”  Such as they are today, but a sideshow to our ongoing civilization’s expansion. 

Bidding the worrying elders G_d Be With Ye, I walked down the lane to the dock where the rental kayaks were kept.  Golf carts and ATVs competed with huge pick up trucks for space on the small road that connected to a network of RV camp spots and small houses that reminded me of the Levittownesque suburb I had been brought home to from hospital after I was born.  Across the water from this plethora of pleasure craft, BBQs, and gear piles, was the wilderness.

In my craft I took stock of the tide, wind, and layout of the islands.  There was a network of these islands however, there were major channels running roughly southwest to southeast.  The sun was at a low angle since it was winter, but it would be on my left shoulder on the way out and left shoulder on the return.  Simple enough.

I also had my iThingy in a plastic bag and locked into my position using The Googles Maps.

I then set out to get to the open ocean, having charted a rough course of travel.  The current was strong enough that it pulled my craft down the smaller channels with ease, however, breakwater was neigh, and I knew soon the tide would not favour me. Tucking in hard (or whatever the Kayak term is for paddling… perhaps it’s paddling but I cannot know this since I am writing this in an airplane about 30,000 feet up and too cheep to pay for internet service), I was making good time to the open ocean where I would meander a bit and then ride the tide in taking advantage of the layout in order to scoot up and down the narrow bits and perhaps see some wildlife.

I was immediately rewarded by seeing some wild animals.  A brothel of raccoons (I’m sure that’s the word) was by the shore doing raccoon stuff.  They looked thin and worn out, nothing at all like our Northern Trash-Fed critters we know.  Go North! I shouted to them.  They just looked at me with eyes full of rabies and retreated into the thicket of mangroves in order to continue doing raccoon things, but hidden now.  At low tide the shellfish were making all those creepy popping sounds and the waters were bubbling. There was that low tide smell too.

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Suddenly I saw the dorsal fin of a dolphin.  Then the thing jumped out of the water ahead of me as some private show but I assumed it was indifferent to me in my little yellow kayak.  I followed this creature watching him or her fish or play or masturbate or whatever dolphins do on a Saturday morning until I realized that I was heading closer to the mainland and I did not feel that tug of the tide heading out to the open ocean.  Also, the wind was picking up as the sun reached up a little higher.

As the wind picked up it did take a little extra effort to get to the ocean and when I reached a suitable location I unpacked my picnic which consisted of leftovers from a meal I had at the roadhouse where the local bruiser said my jacket was stupid and I considered for a moment all those stories of Florida Man and had I just schemed up to the bar next to Him, that Florida Man who just ate his mother’s face or smoked a bag of drugs and had [heterosexual] sex with a manatee.

My styrofoam contained and industrially cut fries looked so strange in this context. Mangroves take an eternity to grow.  A “tall” tree may have taken a hundred years to get to that height and those small sprigs on the edge of the mound, the little ones just moving out to colonize more ocean perhaps are yet older than I.  And it is a formidable ecosystem out here with tropical storms and hard salt air.  My pants as they dried showed the stains of so much salt and I had only been piddling about for a few hours by this point.  The “ground” crunched under my feet.  Thousands of years of shells and muck made the little “beach” I had pushed my boat against in order to stand up and let the blood return to my legs.  I made sure not to step on living clusters of shellfish, but I have to admit, it is hard to tell what is the quick and which are the dead since I mostly see shellfish next to a pint of beer on the dark rich wooden counter of the Oyster Bar.  I peeped into the depths of the mangrove tangles just in case a few pints were hiding there or at the very least some fisherman’s cooler had exploded and left me some gifts – which has happened on a number of occasions when I am canoeing Upstate.

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After the repast it was back in the kayak and another attempt to get lost. While I was able to find a few dead zones, for the most part Googles was able to locate me on a map.  I will admit, when the wind picked up and the chop became a little stronger, I opted for knowing where I was rather than being truly lost in exploration.  All this way and I may as well have been on a teacup ride at the now measles-infested Disneylandworlduniverse.  Yes I was pushing against the wind, minding the currents, paddling hard on my own, but I had more electronic power in my pockets than what it took to land a man on the moon, and have him and his friends return safely to earth.  One button if by boat, the other if by helicopter.  I felt ashamed to have pretended this was a dangerous journey.  There was no way to brag to friends at home.  When the dolphin was jumping about, I was texting, “hey I’m looking at a dolphin lololololol!” to which the reply was an emoticon of a dolphin.

Even out there in the thousand year old tangle of salt marsh and sudden weather, I was stitched into the network of the New World Order and connected in a way that those early traders sitting on their rocking chairs on the desk of the Smallwoods store could not even imagine.  And I today, am starting to forget what it was like to be alone, to be wandering this green earth having to be aware of landmarks, shadows, moss, and knowing how to spot the right path among the network of deer trails in the Lost Kingdom and the Middle Hudson Valley.  I cannot know what it is to be sitting on that porch and not have a road to the mainland or an information highway to the world.

Having come back to return my gear and GPS the proprietor exclaimed that he was amazed to see I had made it to the open ocean.  “I thought that was you out there, you really traveled!”  I made mention of my way of avoiding the wind and making use of the current.  I then retreated to a cafe in ordered a burger and onion rings and to update my status on The Book of Face.

Stardate Everglades. Nature, conquered.  EOM.

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The Big Undifficult

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Canto I: Treme
The first parade of the first weekend full of parades. That day, back home, Gothem was celebrating the ninth or tenth day without a single murder. That day, New Orleans had three. For a city with a metro population about the size of Queens, New York (only one of the 5 boroughs of Gothem), it was an impressive number and truly 2015 looked to be as bloody a year as any in terms of murder and mayhem.
My motel was in Treme. It is a place on TeeVee as part of a show of the same name, but it also turns out to be a real place. A very real place. As the truck tore around the corner in front of me and crashed into a number of parked cars, I was reminded that this is reality. Real shit is really happening for real. I ducked down almost going prone on the sticky sidewalk in the event there was some gunplay. The crashing man jumped out of the cab of the truck and took off running down the street. Several police cars came to a halt moments later, and the officers quickly took to the chase. Then a man carrying a huge hand cannon ran after the police running after the [allegid] criminal. And by “hand cannon” I mean a DLS 2500 top-of-the-line fixed zoom or something like that. So I assumed he was a reporter and I didn’t want to embarrass myself by whipping out my iThingy to snap off a few pics with – what, at best 2.5 megapics ? I will admit the criminal element in me looked at those police cars, doors open, engines running and thought… life of crime joyride? Maybe I’ll just go get brunch…
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Canto II: Barkus
I wandered a few blocks until I was in the French Quarter and deep in the thick of a gathering of some sort. It was one of the day’s parades. I enquired as to what I was seeing from some locals. They were not local. Neither were the next six people who I talked to, but finally I discovered that there was to be a parade for dogs in about an hour. Enough time for brunch, I took an empty table on a balcony and had some rather mediocre fare realizing that 90% of the slop they serve is to tourists and for all I know comes from the same kitchen deep within the city, while the remaining 10% of truly delicious food is priced as $$$ on yelp and therefore outside of my budget.
I took a cocktail to go. Something I hadn’t been able to do since Moscow… another city with a high murder rate. Not that I’m comparing… just saying…
Plastic cup in hand I parked myself for the parade.
Barkus is indeed that parade for dogs and the people who love them. In my time in NOLA I spoke with many people about this parade and to a one, their opinion was positive or negative depending on Raceclassorgmnder lines. Did you manage to see one of our parades for humans, an older woman quipped. I assured her I had. That Barkus is one of the new non-traditional parades, she told me rolling her eyes.
Indeed Barkus may be non-traditional for a tradition-heavy city such as The Big Easy (TBE). Coming from Gothem, I am used to people worshipping:
1. Their dogs
2. Their babies
3. The way their dog and baby play aren’t they so cute and Zoey has good papers and Cloe just got into an exclusive pre-school

And not in that order.
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However, this dog day afternoon did not raise my hackles. It seemed about as normal as things get these days.
After the 10000000th cute dog, I realized that deep down I am a cat person and any creature that allows itself to become part of a parade was not a creature I could respect as part of a long-term relationship. Dogs look for approval and guidance and allow themselves to be adorned in a number of costumes. They are totally an OTO (one-time-only) type of hook up animal. You know, watch a friend’s dog for a week or so but not more than that kind of casual encounter. Would any number of cats allow themselves to be part of a parade? Ever try to get your cat into a costume?
Since I only had the day to explore TBE, I took leave of the dog parade, this event that when I looked about to the crowd seemed to be very, very, very of a certain Raceclassorgender. Not that I have an issue with that, but, I did expect a little more by what we today call “diversity.” Not that there was anything wrong with the I am sure very progressive crowd that was assembled. It just didn’t strike me that this “looked like TBE.”
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Canto III: The Parade for Humans
A few corners and an hour or so away, I found that diversity. If by diversity one means the opposite crowd to those who attended Barkus. This was the traditional Mardi Gras (MGs) I see on the TeeVee. Drunken, wasted crowds oggling high school and middle school girls hopping about in skin tight uniforms, interrupted by floats form which costumed reavelers toss so many beads about to awaiting fans, some of which have huge laundry bags full of these beads. In this crowd there were families and young and old all cheering the parade for humans. Some were smoking tea while others were deep in their cups. A woman had a daughter with her who wore see through tights to which the old men who arrived on their three wheeled bikes grumbled, she can’t be more than thirteen what is the mom thinking, to which they continued to stare at the very dangerous and obviously immature ass on display. Indeed, this was the sort of mix we had for the human parade which for me, was on both sides of the NOLAPD barricades.
I bought a rather large beer for $3 from a man selling them out of the front of the CVS because it is rare I get to have an open container. I made my way down the street hoping over the many wet spots, the slippery spots, and the chunky bits on the sidewalk as well as the piles of beads that had hit the pavement and scattered about. Some piles were clusters while others were mixed with crowd detritus. It was rather strange to see people vie for these sacred objects when one could get a wheelbarrow load of them just scoop them up and take them home to boil them for a few hours.
I must admit I am ignorant of this MGs. I thought it was one weekend – at least that is how Bud Lite Lime advertises it up North. It’s a weekend before Fat Tuesday which is often nickel chicken wing night or Lady’s Night or Ragnarok Night. I know it is MGs only because the banners come up and down and everyone jokes one must receive beads only for exposing one’s [female] breasts and hawhawhaw we should to to TBE some day for MGs and we all plan to but then never do… But no, the MGs is as real as a car crash and a long series of activities that build up to the Fat Tuesday celebration and the traditional Clearing of the Streets by the NOLA PD on Horseback at midnight. I was told that sometimes the affair last for three weeks from Three Kings Day until Ash Wednesday. While it was another week until the Tuesday of Fat, I had arrived at the midway point and was lucky enough to catch one day of the mayhem to come.
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Canto IV: The Casino
The human parade continued and the beads came my way. Some I caught, others I picked up when they didn’t hit the “wet spots.” A dude handed me a whole pile saying, take these to your kids I just don’t feel like carrying them anymore. And with an overabundance of beads, I was ready for the next TBE adventure: the casino.
Having draped my beads over my head like some loose tart, I showed my ID and was at once at the casino floor. From failed city to struggling state, the solution to our economic condition, especially those “Urban ones” is to build a casino. It is as if the worse off the population, the more casinos. A hallmark of Late Capitalism perhaps, but I also know that I can get free drinks if I play the penny slots and space my game out so that the server has come a few times before I have lost the obligatory $3 one sacrifices to the penny arcade gods. After a few “free” (because I tipped for each one and lost USD $4) I surveyed the crowd and realized, again, that I could be anywhere in any casino since the cast of characters is exactly the same.
I now had the next session.
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Canto V: Everything Else
The sun had set and it was time for dinner and music. After a little happy wandering, I came to an inexpensive place in order to have more mediocre tourist chow. My battery was too low to check out Openurbanyelpspoontable for reviews and tips for “the best seafood in town” or “don’t miss this whatever they serve here I think that has eyes John, I think it’s looking at me!” After dinner, I then set out to find music, which is… not hard… some could say it was even … undifficult … or antichallenging in this big city. Music is everywhere, even when you don’t want it. There are street musicians who look like lost Tulane kids. There are crusty hobo traveling musicians who look like crusty hobo travelers. There are brass bands that advertise they are from Treme, and those that don’t. There are girls with guitars with and without stools to sit on. There are music venues with and without cover charges. This din of music goes on every night, every day, all the year breaking only for natural disasters and perhaps not even then. I dipped in and out of various establishments in order to catch a few songs here and there. I heard Hotel California about 16 times. I could not commit to an entire set. Since the real concerts all started at 9 or 10 or 11 or 2AM or whenever the band showed up, I had to turn in just when things got going. I trudged back to my place, a comfortable room on the edge of town just about at that imaginary line that neither tourist nor TeeVee producers cross where TBE opens up into just being another gulf city on the hot tulgey coast of the battered and broken toxic and industrial Deep South Empire. I stuffed my beads into my carryon luggage, and perhaps was the only one in the city having traveled to TBE who was now tucking into bed at 10PM during Mardi Gras. Outside, somewhere, a car backfired.
Or was that a gunshot?
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