Monthly Archives: February 2004

Metropolis

I seriously could have used a dose of porterdavis performing in the T station this morning — or anything, for that matter, to make it okay for me to be up in the subzero darkness, squeezing through closing subway doors, competing for air, competing for space with a sea of drones. I’m wearing sensible shoes, they’ve got briefcases in one hand and Starbucks commuter mugs in the other.
It’s been an ungraceful re-entry into the corporate world for me after a luxurious ten days of vacation. When I got to my desk there was a pile of work so big I couldn’t get to my computer.
My mood was significantly bolstered by two large coffees from the ABP and a trip across the street for Greenhouse french fries, the best on the planet (Deli Haus notwithstanding… *please pause for a moment of silence*). I was cracking up over the diner door as I slid through it — it’s just about shoulder width and I thought smilingly of the array of fried burgers and the sign that should be on the door: “You must be less than << this >> wide to eat here.”
On the topic of work, I was watching TV last night. I don’t watch a lot of TV. When I do, it’s either a rerun of That 70’s Show or the Discovery Channel. We used to have Animal Planet but we canceled cable to discourage dependency. Last night there was a special on this guy who dedicated his life to saving big cats, namely the jaguar.
I am a total animal freak. I have had a million of them, would have more if I lived in a bigger apartment. One of the earliest photos I have of me is when I was about a year old, standing in a diaper, with my parakeet on my delicately outstretched hand, kissing him gently on the head. You know that horse phase that all little girls go through? I never grew out of it. I spent a good chunk of time during my adolescent and teenage years up to my knees in crap, taking care of other people’s horses so I could ride them for free. Now I live in an urban three-bedroom with a severely allergic roommate. I live vicariously through the Discovery Channel.
This guy Alan was talking about how he came to work in the jungle, putting himself in danger every day of his life in the rain forest to track and understand the Jaguars, whose existence is extremely threatened due to ranching. He was plagued with dysentery and parasites, had been in plane crashes, attacked by natives, the whole nine. But he stayed with it because it was more important to him that he save these cats than save himself.
The story about his youth absolutely killed me. He was mute for a long time when he was little. When he actually started speaking, he had the kind of stutter that isn’t really even a stutter, it’s just the inability to say anything at all. He could barely get the words out. So he says, speaking almost perfectly now, that there are two things people with even morbid stutterers can do: sing, and talk to animals.
He got lots of little animals. Turtles, little birds. Talked to them constantly. Eventually he recovered from the stutter. And while Alan, big tough guy cat-wrestling champion tells this part of the story, he gets choked up, his eyes shining — because the animals saved his life, he dedicated his life to saving the animals.
At his point in the story, I’m bawling, mopping my face with a dinner napkin, wanting to give big old Alan a hug. Granted, I have PMS. But seeing someone that passionate about what they do shoved my little heart around.
So despite the fact that I normally feel quite Vanilla about my job, last night’s programming upped the irritation a bit.
I usually pick Vanilla jobs. I get the ones that don’t really bother me, yet don’t challenge me either. That way, I can do what inspires me on my own time. Fiction doesn’t pay well up front so I find institutions of higher learning to fund my endeavors while on their payroll as an administrative assistant. I pick jobs based on location and benefits.
I just think it would be difficult for me to find a job that challenged me in a good way in the areas I love. My last job as a copy writer challenged me so I quit. I wasn’t passionate about what I was writing so the “challenge” was just massive pressure. And deadline stress. And stringing together horrible poultry descriptions for Campbell’s Soup, like, “breasts should be pale and firm, yet yield to the touch” and “hocks should be gently marbled with fat”. Or better yet, brainstorming alliterative antivirus masterpieces such as “Hold that Hacker Hostage!” *gag* The only site with redeemable value was the MINI site, and only because I got to build really cool cars online all day. Every once in a while I’m on the internet and I get a Verizon DSL pop-up ad and cringe because I wrote it. My god… what have I done?
This morning we had an excruciating team-building rally — the kind where 100 people are corralled into a conference room, baited with continental breakfast, avoid eye contact with the referees, and huddle together in their respective departments. Of course, my department head decides to thrust me out there for everyone to gawk at, telling me to introduce myself because I’m new, and I stumbled to my feet red-faced and said, “Am I still new?” Everyone in the room thought that was really funny but I’m still confused, having been here for nine months. In my mind, the way I normally rip through jobs, I’m practically seniority.
The exercises were akin to third grade art class, cutting out construction paper stars with round-tip scissors, writing our favorite do-goods on them and pasting them to the wall with Elmer’s non-toxic. I couldn’t remember a damn accomplishment I’ve ever made to write down under that much pressure. I was practically in tears by the end of it. Another instance of Does not play well with others: check.
But I survived. And got lemon poppy muffin out of the deal which I was too neurotic to eat.
So, happy Ash Wednesday. I keep having to remind myself not to brush the dust off of people’s foreheads. Dearest Amanda called me from New Orleans to wish me a happy birthday and says, “You know — did I ever tell you that your birthday falls on one of the biggest days of Mardi Gras?” It only took her ten years to figure that one out. Some year I’m going to actually get the nerve to go down for the absolute chaos. So. Many. People. I’ll need some Valium for the trip.
Speaking of Valium, I’m in anxious insomniac mode and I haven’t really slept since Saturday. I managed two hours last night, filled with absurd dreams involving a Laundromat, an Indian woman and a dog with no legs. Maybe it’s my guilty conscience.
I saw a lanka alternaboy on the subway with a pin on his bag that said, “Cheer up emo kid.”
I wish I had a reason.

Joie de Vivre

I was walking down the street and in a pure Angela Chase/My So-called Life moment, I thought, “It’s like… my life just figured out how to get good.”
found a few old-school tidbits from my Quote Wall last night.
Shannon, circa this day 1999: “Prince is way too short to be concerned with devil worship.”
Mon Frere, on my decorating sense: “Honey, there’s a fine line between funky and geriatric, and those curtains just crossed it.” And on my living room, where I refuse to water my plants: “It’s like working in the cancer ward of Dana Farber.”
In a related story, Mon Frere Shea is a brilliant poet who is in the process of putting his words out in the world in written form for publication. I urge everyone to check out some of his work.
Last night I was sitting at my desk, headphones on, listening to Aqualung. Still Life has a few devastating numbers on it, and I was enjoying “Breaking My Heart Again” when I realized suddenly that there comes a time when you hear a break-up song and you don’t remember who you’d apply it to in your own life. I hit that point last night — something turned over and I was free. I forgot about being an aching nightmare.
On a similar note, #4 from the quote wall, my ex-boyfriend, on our three year relationship: “Monogamy is important. I mean, I don’t have time to date more than one person.”
Death Cab for Cutie is playing Avalon (!!!!!) in April. It’s about time they booked a real venue around here. I’m trying to save money to move and the shitty thing is actually having to say no to shows. I’ve simply never done that before, even when it meant selling my plasma or my subway pass on the black market. Blonde Redhead and the Frames are playing. The Frames are one of my three favorite live bands ever. I want to stab myself.
This morning I realized sitting at my desk that I was singing “Happiness is a warm gun…”
This French guy at work keeps pointing at the name plate in my cube and calling me, “Joie! Joie de Vivre!” excitedly whenever he walks by.
I’ve got a lust for life.

Daffodils & Seagulls

The vending machine in the lounge of the Green Tortoise Hostel summed up my stay in Seattle. It was well-stocked with Diet Coke, ginger ale, fritos, laundry detergent, Pabst Blue Ribbon, condoms, padlocks, and ramen noodles, and a great big “Mystery!” button on the soda machine that I never worked up the courage to press.

I made use of some contents of the vending machine more than others. I didn’t go hungry, but my clothes are still dirty.

The hostel on any given night is filled with fishermen awaiting the phone call from their companies in Alaska, where they fly to Dutch Harbor and get on a boat for three months straight, never seeing land. Or women, as many of them asserted.

During one such layover, I snatched up a particularly cute cohort to run around with. On my pseudo-birthday/Valentine’s Day, I was in a trouble-making mood, which happens occasionally; I like to go up to high places and egg cars. He and I were brainstorming good ways to get arrested in Seattle. They wouldn’t let us into any of the clubs because of the way we were dressed (I left my thigh-high red patent-leather vixen boots at home, dammit). I wanted to go up to the top of Capitol Hill and roll toilet paper down the steep incline of Pike St. He suggested that a general Disturbing the Peace would suffice but when we got down to the Waterfront at 2:00 in the morning, there was nobody there to disturb.

He didn’t have any money. I told him I’d buy him dinner but he had to put out. So we ate a fine meal at this place appropriately named the Honeyhole, which I highly recommend. I didn’t know he was only 21. I swear. But the nice thing about 21-year-old boys is that they come when called.

I heard some serious wisdom hanging out in that joint. Jamie, a wandering Brit who was pissed off because he couldn’t buy his brand of cigarettes in Canada, declared, “If God were a smoker, he’d smoke Marlboro Lights.” And I was talking shop with this guy who worked at the front desk. We’d bonded on our mutual love of KEXP’s John Richards and Camper van Beethoven (we both went to the show). Turns out he attended BU a year ahead of me and had done some time at the Burren in Davis Square. When I revealed my aspirations of taking the music journalism world by storm, he told me haughtily, “Women are good for some things. Writing is not one of them.”

Misogynists aside, I had an overall brilliant time getting to know people in Seattle. People are friendly there. And in the company of the charming < >, I got an in-depth tour of the hot spots. And the cool spots. We went to the sprawling Uwajimaya, the Asian Market, where we discovered an endless array of semi-solids for the squeezing. They had a widest selection of perfect Engrish I have ever seen, a flawless spread of fish-flavored candy, and a limitless stock of Pocky in every flavor imaginable. (In other news, one of my favorite birthday presents was a box of Pumpkin Pocky from the ever-vigilant Ruby.)

I seriously slacked on post card duty, but I took lots of cheesy tourist pictures.

Continue reading Daffodils & Seagulls

Needle Action Happening

This hostel is insane.
I had no idea I would be tossed into the middle of such a crazy bunch of people, that I’d have all these nut cases to run around this fine city with, that I’d make friends who could actually keep up with me walking for 4 1/2 hour stretches of time. I’ve lost fifty pounds since I got to Seattle between the touring on foot and the coffee and the not eating. I’m smoking again, but there’s not really much I can do about that.
Saturday I was hanging out in the lounge here, we were partying and the music and the conversation and the windows open to the breezy night. Somehow we got to talking about birthdays, and I said mine was Saturday. Meaning, a week from now. And next thing I know, there is singing, and people bringing me flowers and two guys running down to the Public Market to buy a freshly-slaughtered cow which was grilled in celebration of my birthday. I figured with all the attention I was getting, I’d let it slide. Twenty-seven 40’s of PBR and a gallon of Wild Turkey were swallowed in my honor.And I got to pick all the music.
Ah, the music. It’s everywhere.
The Cracker show was a blast, though strangely, I was a decade younger than most of the audience. They played some new songs, plus the crowd-pleasers, so it was an all around satisfying gig.
Now I am obsessed with the Space Needle. I can’t get enough of it. I’ll be walking down the street and look to the left, down the steep roads to the sound, Mt. Rainier, and then I look straight ahead and there’s that strange and wonderful Needle. I want to drag it back to Boston with me. I’m crossing my fingers for a clear day to go up and see the city.
The other night we walked four thousand blocks up to Volunteer Park, where there’s a water tower you can climb up to the top of, and the view of the city sprawling in glittering lights is enough to make one want to never leave.
Today it’s raining in a cool drippy flawless shiny way. I was wandering around eating pastry and talking to this guy from the hostel who lived in the Yukon for three years. He was telling me all about how rubber and metal freeze when it’s 58 degrees below zero. About walking through the icy white night with a pack of dogs, so silent you can only hear the wind in your hair, the Northern Lights exploding in the sky. There’s so many places I’ve never been.
The Canadians are calling me from the Common Room. Three o’clock in the afternoon and apparently time to start drinking. For the past three days I’ve gotten away with telling them the liquid in my Nalgene water bottle is vodka. Crazy kids. Good times.

No Rain

Dear Diary,
I arrived in Seattle yesterday morning after driving my fellow Delta passenger insane by excitedly telling her over and over that I could see the Space Needle. She smiled good naturedly and I blamed my weirdness on the Dramamine. But you know it’s not the lovely motion-sickness pills fault.
Yesterday I arrived at the hostel, which is significantly more decadent than several of the motels I stayed in last. Today I am on household duty which involves cleaning rooms (they call it “hoovering” here as opposed to “vacuuming” which is just one of the strange-isms I’ve come across so far). which I’m told is the kind of work I’d being doing in my own apartment. Well. “Should be doing” I believe would be a more accurate description.
I was swept off my feet by an adorable local last night who gave me a walking tour of Capitol Hill, and we went to see The Walkmen at the Crocodile. The Walkmen are a fantastic band and it made up for the fact that when they finished their set, I celebrated 24 hours on my feet. Adrenaline is a potent drug.
The Crocodile is a slick venue, with weird paper mache insects hanging from the ceiling — it’s part bar, part music venue, half diner. It smells like ketchup and beer. PBR is pretty big out here so this town is a lot like a giant Central Square. My lanka local tour guide tells me that the fables about the weather here are twofold: they were partially created by Seattlites to keep Easterners out, and partially created by Californians who live in a climate vacuum. Excuse me, climate hoover. I have also been advised that jay-walking is not allowed.
A few observations I have made: there are mountains here. They look like those cheesey backdrops from sitcoms — the sheets they pull down to make it look like the person is standing in an Alpine forest or similar. It’s unreal. So beautiful. Secondly, it smells wonderful here. A mix of water and coffee. Maybe the coffee part because I’ve been pounding it since I de-planed and it’s leaking from my pores. Thirdly, everyone here is tall. I have never felt of average height before in my life, but last night standing amidst a sea of well-fed, twinkly eyed, music-loving boys, I felt downright short.
I love this city.

N’awlins, Verse 1

I landed in New Orleans narrowly escaping a blizzard in Boston. Every plane after mine had been grounded. As the snowfall cleared twenty-six inches, I was landing in seventy-five degree sun.

My dearest friend of twenty years picked me up at the airport in a borrowed red convertible Cadillac, taking my bag with one hand and passing me a bottle of pink campange with the other. We were on the highway with funk blaring in the speakers, wind in my hair, laughing, ten o’clock in the morning in New Orleans.

Amanda lived on the seventh floor of a dorm overlooking the opulent Tulane campus on the left and the sprawl of broken-down shack houses and graveyards on the right. Four of her friends were skipping classes to throw me a welcoming party. We lifted her windows and climbed out onto the narrow ledge, hanging our feet over.

The graveyards in New Orleans are like everything there — crowded, boisterous, old, whispering of ancient broken down things. Head stones were shoved in the ground haphazardly, crumbling, stacked on top of each other, competing for earth. Old candles bleached by the sun lined the winding, overgrown pathways. Dead flowers, silk carnations, empty glass vases littered the piles of ash. But it was not a depressing scene. It felt like everything in that city — laughing, dancing, rejoicing even in the pain, becaue you’re alive — and celebrating death because there’s little you’re afraid of and little you can bring yourself to take seriously. They have gaudy, musical parades at the funerals instead of the sullen, black-veilved affairs of clinical New England puritans, where we shake earth onto polished coffins from little metal cans so we don’t get our hands dirty. In New Orleans, everything is dirty.

It was eleven o’clock on a Tuesday morning, and I was sitting seven stories up above this madcap city, drinking champage out of a bottle and eating cheese and crackers on the window sill of the dorm room. It was my birthday. I was nineteen.

The day I landed in New Orleans, they changed the legal drinking age from twenty-one to eighteen. I don’t remember why. But I remember how. Chaos ensued on campus, the streets were filled with cheering, frat row exploding in a veritable carnival of carnage. The bars overflowed. And we had already started the celebration.

There was an impossible beauty to the first day there, having just hours before trudged through gray sky sleet to the cold plane, and now sprawled in the sunshine grass of the quad, staring up at the blue sky. Music poured out of every window. My oldest friend in the world was beside me. It was her duty, honor, and mission to show me a good time in this city of hers.

There is something magical in New Orleans that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s in the air. I felt the electricity on my skin the moment I stepped off the plane. My fingers tingled. My ears were hungry for all of it. In the humid evening we wandered down to the French Quarter, stopping to have a drink at each bar on the way. In New England you can’t buy liquor on Sundays. In New Orleans you can request it “to go”. Hi, I’d like a large Margarita. To go. Open containers of alcohol are not allowed in moving vehicles so they leave the paper on the top of the straw. They bend the laws when they’re not breaking them.

The city feels old. Some streets feel like a party at an abandoned amusement park. Others feel like the amusement park. Down Esplanade to Decatur, along the muddy river, hearing the out-of-tune ferry boats, drinking chicory from Café Du Monde. Up Bourbon, excruciatingly loud, horribly tacky, everything open air, open windows, open mouths. Each bar a different color. Each bar a different band. The music is everywhere in New Orleans. It’s full of life. Even when it’s full of pain, the Dixieland, Cajun, Zydeco, jazz, all of it is celebration.

Amanda had classes all day so I was left to my own devices. I spend most of my time alone. I always travel alone. To cities I’ve never been, places completely foreign to me. I love to roam by myself, discover my own treasures and then compare notes later with what the locals have to say. I wandered through the Quarter, in and out of shops, talking to the psychics, whispering in the ears of the mules that pull brightly painted carts. The mules wear feathered plumes on their heads and their silver shod feet ring like bells on the brick streets.

The voodoo dungeons fascinated me. I don’t remember how the topic originally came up, but I got into an argument with this guy I worked with at the pet shop in Boston. We were arguing about nutrias. More precisely, their existence. Now you may not believe me any more than he did, but there’s an animal called a nutria. And when it comes to animal knowledge, you don’t fuck with Joy. So I tell this guy there’s the nutria — they’re like giant beavers, but they don’t swim as much, and they’re rodents but they can grow to the size of a dog. And he thinks I’m crazy and starts giving me a hard time and making fun of me, telling everyone who comes into the store, “Ask her about the nutrias,” with his eyebrows raised.

I went into a little Voodoo shop on Dumaine. It was tiny and crammed floor to ceiling with bizarre eye candy — tiny mouse skulls, gems in velvet pouches, sage clippings you burn to make your ex-boyfriend impotent or your mother blind. And in tall a barrel, mounted on three-foot long bones, were nutrias’ claws.

Now I probably would have thought they were mongoose feet or similar, except that the sign said, very clearly: Nutria’s Claws. Underlined in black marker. In disbelief, I pulled one reverently from the barrel and held it at arms length. My immediate fantasy was returning to work with my claw and scratching out the eyes of my taunting coworker.

I bought several of those claws. One for my coworker and one for all the people who had been backing me up through the nutria harassment case.

It just occurred to me that I could have grabbed an encyclopedia and brought that to work with me.

When I returned victoriously to Upper Newbury Pet, I brandished my claw dangerously close to the eyes of said coworker, cackling maniacally and screeching, “SO THERE! Nutria’s claw for you!”

Problem? It didn’t say Nutria’s Claw anywhere on it. I don’t know what I was expecting. No signed and certified label stating that it was 100% Pure Mummified Voodoo-quality Nutria. And that was the first thing out of his smartass mouth. “Prove it.”

My, that was a long tangent.

During my first ten days in New Orleans, we went to a lot of shows. The Funky Meters, one of my old favorites, were playing at Tipitinas. It was hot. We danced. We screamed. I met Amanda’s friend Bradley and fell in love.

We left the club — it was too hot and too loud, ears ringing the throng of us took to the streets. Bradley and I found a swing set parked on a street corner for no good reason so we put it to use. He grabbed my chain and tried to pull me up higher with him. I felt heady and light. We jumped off to the ground and he pulled me up. He held my hand for a moment, then opened my palm and placed an enormous handful of mushrooms in it. He gave me a sly smile and skipped ahead, looking back at me.

The next thing I know I was crammed into a shopping cart with Bradley’s friend Justin, our knees pressed up to our chest, Bradley trotting along, pushing us down through the bad part of town. We sped through the warehouse district, where it’s dark and the front doors are lit with broken gas lamps hung from wrought iron stakes. The city was streaming by insanely, and I had boombox wedged between my knees playing Phish, “Bouncing Around the Room.” It was a live thirty-five minute version of the song. Bradley was giggling like a lunatic and shoving us down a hill, all three of us screaming; I was laughing so hard there was tears and snot all over my face. We were going at a breakneck speed, Justin and I pressed against each other in terror, unable to save o
urselves from Bradley’s evil plan because our arms were trapped at our sides inside the shopping cart.

Suddenly we couldn’t hear Bradley laughing anymore.

Justin turned his head to look back, because I couldn’t move, and Bradley had tripped and was rolling around on the pavement trying to get back on his feet to stop us. But he couldn’t catch up because he was laughing so hard. Justin and I braced ourselves as we headed dead-on for Rampart, where there are no stop signs, even if a driver were to heed them.

It didn’t matter; we were invincible.

We streaked across the intersection, “Bouncing Around the Room” still going, I was shrieking and Justin just kept saying, “Holyshit. Holyshit. Holyshit.” And then, the yellow BMW convertible. I will forever remember that car. The rust over the back left wheel, the peeling paint on the driver’s side door, and the enormous dent we left in the hood when our shopping cart, stuffed with humans streaking down a hill at ninety miles an hour, collided head on.

It was parked.

The shopping cart flipped over and we were silent. We were still stuck in it, upside down and almost sideways, Justin sitting on his hands and me with my arms stuck against the sides. The boombox was still shoved between my knees. It was still playing “Bouncing Around the Room.”

The two of us, leggy and spindly limbed, could not free ourselves from the twisted metal. We awaited the Jaws of Life. Or Bradley. Whichever.

He danced up, circling us, giggling and slapping his knees, pulling the cart completely on its side and dragging me out by an ankle. Justin unfolded his 38″ legs and we fled the scene of the crime. We had places to go before sunrise.

There were rooftops. There were jazz joints open 24 hours. We played pool with a posse of Harley guys. We drank hurricanes out of two-foot aliens. In the end Bradley and I wandered back to his apartment as the dawn broke. He kissed the road rash on my forehead. We curled up in his sunny corner studio overlooking a graveyard, his little plant hanging over the kitchen counter, and his neurotic, cross-eyed cat with the broken tail. “He’s crazy,” Bradley told me. “He was a mess when I found him. Old, falling apart, busted up, loud, insane. But I love him anyway.”

Kind of like that city.