It’s been a while I know.
What can I say? Lately I’ve been walking in a field of shit and wearing flip-flops.
A man I don’t get to see near enough, but consider to be a great friend, Brian Keene, has a theory. His theory is called the Fear of Gravity and that theory entails that for every good thing that happens to you, there’s another hiding in the shadows waiting to bring you back down again and balance things out.
The feeling of flying high is an easy one to provide in our society. Hell, it’s a simple task to provide a human emotional “high” today. Win the lottery. Get the girl. Get the guy. Get the girl and the guy. Any form of sex works just fine in a situation like our culture today. There are other, more pure, positives though. The birth of your child. Getting a story accepted for publication. Any number of material purchases. New car. New House. New Barbie Doll.
The sources of gravity aren’t quite as sexy. The negatives are the cloudy x-ray from the doctor that’s married to that annoying cough you’ve picked up lately. The negatives are that phone call late at night after you’ve fallen asleep on the couch, and your husband or wife is four hours late.
Gravity is that thick lump in your breast, your balls, your throat.
It’s the feel of a cold steel barrel in your back or the truck driver coming down off a handful of bennies and a four day drive with you in the passing lane on the highway.
Gravity is dark and shadowy. They’ve got grit and they’re the kind of thing that sucks the air from your lungs and forms a knot in your stomach.
Gravity is the smell of smoke and screeching tires, or a bloody knife, or a body growing cold in a ditch somewhere.
And Gravity is what bring you back down.
To balance things out.
And bring you back to absolute zero.
Yeah, baby. I have a Fear of Gravity myself.
Two weeks ago i was listening to author readings from guys I’d read in high school. Stories that I’d finish and walk away from shaking my head, wondering “What in the fuck? What in the fuck am I going to have to do to emulate this guy? What animal do I have to sacrifice? What line do I have to sign on to sell my soul in order to move people the way these guys do with words on a page?
Then the day after that incredible weekend, I was told my mother had cancerous cells in her other breast - the remaining twin of the one she’d had cut off several years ago. That my friends, is gravity.
Four weeks ago... well... four weeks ago I was in New Orleans and this is the original blog I’d been meaning to post.
It felt good to be back in the Quarter.
This is the second time I’ve visited New Orleans, and this time around, the obligatory tourist activities were avoided. This time, I doused myself with the riches the city has to offer.
Not too long ago, the bombs in London went off, and my flight through BWI airport was thick with security. Shoes off. Belt off. Patted down while a metal detector ran over me, and all bags opened. This happened to everyone and the traffic line wound on forever. After a layover in Atlanta, I arrived in New Orleans (or Nuh’awlins, as its pronounced by the locals) and hit the slate covered sidewalks of the French Quarter.
The thing that attracts me to the city is that everything seems so ancient. The buildings look like Jack the Ripper could step out any moment. Dark alleyways where you couldn’t imagine storefronts harbor signs like Vampyre, or Leather Goods, an adult boutique.
And then Bourbon Street. It wasn’t Mardi Gras, but the place was still packed. It’s a place of decadence. You can’t turn your head without seeing signs or ads for hurricanes or rum runners or Yaegermeister or my new favorite, Crunk Juice, an energy drink frozen and blended with Remy Martin. It’s quite a buzz on many levels.
As darkness came, I walked through Jackson Square, the well lighted spires of the church towered overhead, watching all that took place below. Framing the square, even at night, were an array of tables, psychics, tarot readers, others who read runes or threw bones. A few errant artists packed up their paintings while several bored horse and carriage riders seemed to consider calling it a night.
I went to sleep tired but happy, feeling almost at home there as I felt when I lived in Philadelphia.
Saturday morning came and I ate a crawfish po-boy, wandered through the French Market and did a little people watching. Studied the vendors and their wares, watched an Indian man wearing a turban try to mine gold from his nose. I talked to a man on the street who carried a two-month old raccoon on his back. I held the raccoon for a few moments and relived childhood memories of my own pets before moving on.
After lunch, I hit the streets again. I talked to an 87 year old bluesman who sat on a milk crate on the sidewalk, pulled out a pignose amplifier and proceeded to jam his ass off. Hands down, this man played the best live music I’ve ever heard. Halfway through his performance he put his hat down on the street. He’d been so into the music that he’d forgotten he was supposed to be doing it for money. After all the time he’d been playing in his life, he still carried enough passion that he still played for the love of it, not the money.
I wound up in a place called The Old Absinthe House, and stepped into the cold, dark oasis of the building, sidled up to the bar and ordered the local beer and a Chartreuse. Yes, I know it may sound Goth-ish and trite, but I don’t feel like I’m back in the Quarter until I’ve had a drink of Chartreuse. For the next couple of hours, I drank with seven members of the NYPD, in town for a convention, and had a great conversation with a first grade teacher from Houston, who still got a thrill from introducing her kids to good books. Her husband was a salesman for Miller Lite, and although he turned down my offer of Chartreuse and wore his pants a bit short, he still seemed like a pretty nice guy.
As the last day of vacation often does, the next day went by in a blur of great food and good drinks. The city had two bomb threats right before I left for the airport, and after sitting on the tarmac with delays, delays, and delays to my delays, the plane took off. I finished reading Weston Oche’s incredible novel, Scarecrow Gods, on the flight back, and kept feeling like I’d left something behind in the city. I did my best to commit what I’d seen, who I’d spoken to, and what I’d experienced to memory.
I’ve thought a lot about this trip since Katrina did the Godzilla dance through the region. I wonder if the Absinthe House is still intact. I wonder about that old bluesman and whether he’s alive and fighting or if he’s off somewhere else, jamming with Robert Johnson and making the crowd shake what they’ve got.
I wonder if he’d ever heard about the Fear of Gravity.