seattle serials: a night of mighty boosh burlesque

marginally stronger than two drunk capitol hill kids dressed in a ratty old moose costume (consisting of two ass-pieces).

While my lost college years in Floptown may have been a glorified juju grab-bag of good experiences, lousy friends, fine beers and confirmation of both my most profound insecurities and long-comatose potential as a student, one thing is damn certain: it brought with it an unparalleled run of high-quality exposure to new forms and means of popular culture.

2005: heavy things. heavy, heavy things.

2005: heavy things. heavy, heavy things.

Foremost to this phenomena was a reintroduction to television. I’d been a syndication baby in the 1980’s and 90’s—raised on and coddled by a steady diet of FOX sitcoms and Nick at Nite—but I’d never really identified the boob tube as being a source of legitimately moving-and-shaking entertainment or storytelling. That changed radically as I found myself basically force-fed a new, high-protein diet of cable dramas and import shows by my running crew: among others, this included Deadwood, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Spaced and—most intrinsic, to today’s lecture–The Mighty Boosh.

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yes.

If you’re reading this, then the safe money says that no serious primer is needed in summarizing said show. The brainchild of comedians Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt, the Boosh project was a collective mishmash of stage performances, radio/music albums and a three-season show that hit its apogee in 2007. The show’s consequent re-airing on Adult Swim gave it a second spurt of pop culture notoriety in the years that would follow, though the troupe’s remained mostly relegated to separate creative corners save for a few reunion appearances in 2013.

So, with all that effectively noted: while the Boosh may have seen its heyday pass in the same quiet night as The Dave Chapelle Show and other suddenly-seeming-really-archaic-despite-only-being-like-five-years-old fare from the mid-to-late-aughts, it still maintains a sweet little spider-hole in me and Jenks’ collective hearts. So much so that when we received a heads-up about this, we were effectively over the moon…

While it’s true enough that results relating to the Seattle burlesque scene “may vary,” there was no doubt in our minds that a show this specific in its goofiness would bring out the hippest and finest of our local fringe culture. We were so positively sold on this fact that we decided to make the scene en costume, going totally apeshit bonkers with a series of ill-advised thriftshop purposes in the weeks before the big date, and managing to do pretty damn well in the process*.

The decision of what, specifically, to go as was a big one. Had Exene been available, then it would have been the most posh of opportunities to go retro, and pull off a collective Vince Noir/Howard Moon combo, preferably with the Season One “Zooniverse” jackets…

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the genesis of gen-ius.

But as our usual triple-threat was reduced to a date-night pairing, a new plan was needed. Jenks and I kicked around some abstract no-go ideas about Nann bread and gorilla costumes, before the whit of vicious inspiration struck right out of the blue: the perfect pairing—the absolute perfect pairing—courtesy of raconteur and flan-faced superman, Rich Fulcher:

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probably the most convincing drag queen in the history of broadcast media.

Not only does Rich’s “Eleanor the Tour Whore” somehow constitute the most adorable and convincing woman ever… but it also allowed Jenks to flex some of that secondhand store swag in putting together her own take on the character.

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“who’s this, your wife? looks like a geezer in a dress.”

Howard’s “Joe Buck” get-up took a bit more in terms of creativity, as those fringe jackets easily crank out at about two to three large, these days: the end result was a combination of vintage fair and a couple of costume-type bits and bobs.

before.

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at some point following. “this is the coolest thing you’ve ever worn!”

It’s also worth noting that there was a great deal of trepidation about the whole facial hair thing. I haven’t gone moustache-specific since 1995—the days of filling in the mouse-fuzz special with mom’s eyebrow pencil—so I had absolutely no idea whether or not my middle-aged Mel face would be up to the task of sporting Howard’s patent whiskers: however, the endgame actually wasn’t that bad.

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ready to waylay the assembly with a wicked pencil case story.

I think even Montgomery Flange himself would approve.

Emboldened by our ensembles and eager to see what sort of lunatic turnout the Jewel Box would have in store for us, Jenks and I sliced our way into the night air and a straight shot down the 99. We pulled up to the Rendezvous with twenty minutes to spare, and did our best disaffected posturing outside of the bar door: waiting to welcome our fellow weirdos, and possibly snap/swap pictures with the prerequisite two or three Old Greggs that we assumed would be in attendance.

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“don’t touch me. don’t EVER touch me.”

And then it kinda started to click.

Minutes ticked past.

The crowd thickened out.

The doors to the theater opened.

Jenks and I exchanged a somewhat slanted stare.

And it became apparent that nobody else had bothered to really dress up.

Take it away, Tobias.

In fact, the folks who had collectively turned out for the evening’s affair resembled—as Jenks put it—“the waiting room at a parent-teacher conference.” Aside from a few Queen Anne types and one guy who’d made a decent kinda-sorta stab at a Kodiak Jack costume, the audience looked like it had mostly been funneled down the wrong bus line while en route to a night at Benaroya Hall: sharp suits, grey hair, long and blank pre-show stares at the Jewel Box’s tiny, ramshackle stage. As we took our seats, the question of the moment was less parts “have any of these people actually ever seen an episode of this show?” and more and more along the lines of “who the hell are these people and why in god’s name are they here?

Despite a feverish desire to have our skepticism knuckle-dusted, the state of things didn’t improve once the show actually kicked off the chocks. After decades of dutifully attending the lo-fi theater endeavors of ex-boyfriends/girlfriends/friends/relatives, Jenks and I have come to appreciate a simple truth: you can get away with a barnstorming-style show if the audience’s energy is willing. An engaged (and possibly drunk) crowd can pave over a multitude of production-based sins, just as a sharply-executed production can make up for a skeptical or unengaged viewership.

Unfortunately, neither happened. A fistful of dutiful (and presumed) friends of the cast and well-wishers did their damndest to get the rest of the congregation into the skits and dance routines, but it just didn’t stick: like a slowly-deflating balloon (Or Howard Moon’s head), the game giggles that met the first appearance of Vince and Howard in sock-puppet form** started to thin out promptly thereafter. Any inroads established by the house band’s kickass three-piece arrangements of some of the show’s finer hits were promptly cut off at the neck by the persistent sense that about ninety-sum percent of those in the front rows didn’t have the slightest king-fuck clue as to what they were watching.

When a striptease rendition of “Future Sailors” abruptly ended—leaving the dancer to shrug blankly at the A/V booth and simply jiggle-trudge off stage—the woman seated in front of us leaned over to her husband and hush-hissed something about “THAT NOT BEING PART OF THE SHOW, RIGHT?!” This was followed—awkwardly and presently—by the decision to project an entire segment from the show itself*** which, upon concluding, left the audience staring at an empty stage for what felt like about three full minutes****.  As a point of rather sticky summary, it’s arguable that the biggest laugh and ovation of the evening actually went to one of the Rendezvous’ waiters, who—upon wandering in through a side door and finding himself buried between the narrow aisles of the theater with an armful of plates—simply stopped, looked about, and announced “Well, I imagined this working out better” in a deadshot demonstration of deadpan.

But as for rest? It was a lot like this: your roomie announces that they want to throw a holiday party with a cheeseball gimmick, perhaps involving white elephants or ugly Chanukah sweaters. You gamely agree, and spend a good week sharing how much you’re looking forward to the shindig, supplying friends with links for hideous sweaters on the cheap and basically pushing/pimping the evening’s format as had as your fingertips can manage. When the big night rolls around, your guests begin to trickle in—ideally lugging a flat of PBR or two—only you realize that they’re all wearing shit that they probably picked up at the VV on their way over; out-of-fashion and unfortunate sweaters, but nothing that gives credence to your actual idea, or the fact that you and your roomie spent like twenty sweet American dollars on your own ensembles.

And as the evening plugs on, those few folks probably peel off whatever sweaters they’re sporting, because it’s too warm. More friends show up, armed more with excuses about how work sucks and homework’s a drag, thusly explaining their total lack of any kind of sweater. A few hours in, and you’re all just drinking and grooving to a decent social beat, but you can’t shake the sense that it would all be so much better if anybody had taken the time to just buy a goddamned Hanukah sweater and embrace the spirit of the moment.

At the very least, our cable-knit shit was infallible. I only hope that the next swing at the format—Le Petite Mort’s announced rough plans for a follow-up in Summertime—will actually bring out the freaks, and that the troupe will find it in their hearts to let whatever beautiful bastard it was who came up with the idea fill them with the appropriately goofy sense of pride. It’s what the Boosh—and those who are toe-tapping on its ashes in reverent memory—would want.

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always game, never lame: ugly hanukkah sweaters not pictured.

*If I may say so, myself. Considering that the results were scraped and cobbled together from Value Village, eBay and the Goodwill Store, the facsimile(s) are pretty damn good.
**Super-cute. Unfortunately, also the best part of the whole shebang.
***The “Origin of the Crack Fox.” It probably doesn’t need to be pointed out that a three-second clip of Sandstorm fapping away to a furniture catalogue would probably be the only clip with less self-contained humor or relevance than this one, but… it was that kind of night. 
****Probably not that long. But it was that kind of night.
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insomniac interludes: no blog is an island

current soundtrack: peter gabriel – party man

I’ve been letting this video incubate for about the last six days, after happening to catch it on another writer’s blog last week. It’s an absolutely fascinating watch—and the truths that it taps into are nothing short of legion—though it’s really gotten jammed between the sticky folds of my brain in consideration how it relates to what I’m doing, with this little patch of threadbare e-real-estate… and, as an extension of that, how it speaks to the larger culture of blogging, as a whole.

Travel is, in particular, a polarizing topic, and its affiliated bloggeral tends to reflect that. In simply scanning and skimming through the keyword’s feed brings up a dozen different iterations of the same topic: the photographic approach, the truth-seekers, the casual tourist, the “event traveler” and the gonzo acolyte… the flavors are rangy, but the basic purpose remains the same:

We are all creating a narrative for ourselves.

Some fervently, some patiently, some in varying denominations of commitment and casual interest… but regardless of what the temperament might be, the fixation with the tell remains tantamount. It’s the axis on which we all spin, and the one thing that binds us together, in a common set of stitches.

However, I often find myself feeling as if it also contradicts itself in a fashion which is both fierce, and fundamental.

This has much to do with the entire idea behind travel. The act itself is as much an issue of replacement as it is exploration: we seek to swap out the mundane for the unknown, the routine for the unexpected, the cast and trappings of a familiar life with the new and the strange. For something so complex, it’s also a wholly personal undertaking: the only way that people tend to know where we’ve been and what we see is when we feed them a steady stream of road stories, photographs, status updates and chatter over a coffee catch-up. As with all narratives, we want—or, more appropriately, require—an audience, in order to migrate the value of our experiences from the internal to the external.

It’s sharing. Or it’s supposed to be. But the baffling bit—for me—is how very seldom that circuit is actually completed, in the most basic sense. Sure: we give and put forth and pontificate and update and “Like” and “Follow” and occasionally even take two seconds to pat someone on the back for broadening our wireless horizons, but how often do we actually—and really, and truly—have a chance to share our narrative with someone that we don’t know?

One of the things that Sherry’s treatise on this topic illustrates—for me, and the misfiring soup that exists within my head—is how mesmerizing this series of checks and balances really becomes. In the past, I’ve found myself going blow-for-blow with it on a daily basis: mulling over readership numbers, zealously sizing up other people’s blogs for their “stat lines” and using it as a slapdash platform for judgment, gnashing my fingertips and teeth when someone drifting about in the e-ther doesn’t immediately “LIKE” my latest ramblefest. At no point do I entertain what is ultimately the most crucial line of self-inquiry that any self-respecting blogger can present to themselves:

What have I done to deserve it?

Historically, this is a question that I’ve had no interest in posing to myself. Doing so requires a hot shot of humility, stoppered up in an injectable dose of medicinal-strength reality: look too hard at the question itself, and you find yourself having to admit that the idea of the collective audience isn’t absolute, nor is it a given. You start to recognize that the odds of someone arbitrarily plugging into your work out of sheer happenstance or the chance blip-flicker results of a Google search are becoming fewer and further between, and that the metric itself has gone all squiffy: the fundamental belief that there is a Great and Untapped Audience out there—whose sole interest is in absorbing other people’s “sharing,” like some sort of blog-based dark matter—starts to carry with it the sweet, powder-dusted taste of naivete’.

Instead, the principle of basic social media economics emerges: if you want to take out, you need to put back in.

And—like Turkle—I’m at a loss, when I consider the “hows” and “whys” and “whens” of this becoming the status quo, as far as the digital status quo is concerned. We pine for more eyes by which to measure the value of what we have to say, but—in doing so—overlook the basic math that such a quantity entails: the more we take from others in terms of their attention*, the less we seem to be inclined to give back. “Sharing” becomes “performance.” “We” becomes “they.” Fissures form around the margins, and—just like that—a blog breaks free from the collective continent, and begins to drift off towards a vague state of isolation. This idea of “currency” is even stranger, when it comes to writing about travel: if the fundamental purpose of pushing past our psychological and cultural borders is to bring the distant closer to home, then how are we serving this by striving to become a bunch of nodes, clustered behind a one-way mirror of “telling, without hearing?”

Mind you, I harbor no ill will against such success: if it works, if it fulfills the purposes of the narrative in play, and if it makes the person who enjoys it happy, then the negativity doesn’t find purchase.

It’s just that when it’s all we—the Grand, Unified, All-Inclusive We—strive for, we may miss the simplest joy that a blog can bring. The sharing, as a means of not simply pressing for reads, views, clicks and validation, but as a way to bridge distance and time, the way that we often strive to when we’re actually stepping onto an airplane and bound for parts unknown.

You might miss the gastrocultural wonders that exist right under our collective noses, too-often lost in the rush to get our bellies filled and our timecards punched.

You might miss the glories that exist within a stone’s throw of your own front stoop.

Heck, you might just miss the opportunity to see a place that you’ve been a thousand times, renewed and refreshed by the surprises of someone else’s eyes.

But most importantly, you’ll miss the opportunity to truly share: that person’s story, a kind word, a chance interaction, a reminder that we’re not all adrift in the murky, colorless ether of the digital domain and a vote against the myth that sharing begins and ends with what someone else’s attention can do for us.

So, if you’ve happened upon this post today—and you’ve got a moment to spare—click on the next one that catches your eye. Leave a supportive comment. Follow a blog that you aren’t naturally inclined towards. Take a swing at pretense itself, and then pat yourself on the back for doing so.

Because, really? When it comes down to it… if we’re all “sharing” in the colors that Turkle’s painted in this presentation… then nobody truly is.

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nola ’05 – part ii. (hostel environs)

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a moment of relative reflection, courtesy of the foyer at Saint Vincent’s House.

current soundtrack: high blood pressure – huey “piano” smith and the clowns

One of the inherent risks of affecting the piecemeal/hindsight philosophy towards travel writing is that you’re often stuck trying to not only tack together the actual, physical happenstance of that trip… but also playing a sort of hackneyed version of connect-the-dots with what your actual thought process was, in putting the damn thing together in the first place.

Such is the case with New Orleans, as I’ve alluded to. I’ve spent the long weekend and the spare-change days which followed picking the creases of my brain in an effort to remember why I decided that I had to go there, in the first place. I allude to the general desperation of the time, and the complete misery that I was trying to force into some bush-league sense of wanderlust—the need to “get out” and “clear my head” and do things that I’d heard others refer to, in such situations–but that doesn’t do much to explain why I wound up settling on the Big Easy as the outlet for that misguided adventurism.

It also yields few clues in regards to why in the name of the Holy Schmutz and its Three-Headed Dog I decided that this would be a great goddamned time to have my first experience at a hostel. I reach for some indication buried within the awkwardly-snapped photographs of the ten-day sojourn, pore over the shorthand notes that I kept on receipts and travel brochures, and yet… there is absolutely nil-zilch in the way of apparent motive. I just apparently up and figured—through some hasty self-inventory—that despite my issues with germs, people, my debilitating sense of social jitters and my generally miserable ability to cope with strangers, and the fact that I was nearly thirty years old somehow meant that this was an idea whose time had come.

Naturally.

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j’point, j’proved.

Reason dictates that some of this was probably due to Exene’s decision to meet me in the Crescent. One of the great genetic jokes of our siblinghood is the fact that we match each other’s’ basic human deficiencies in a brilliant fashion: my sister makes friends on every continent that she touches down on, while I routinely fear being punched in the face by random people on sidewalks and in the galleries of public transportation. She’s had about one retail job in her entire life, while I’m the type to obsess over nickels and my SEP IRA. I have issues with sleeping on any mattress which isn’t mine, whereas she could knock out soundly on a pile of dirty frathouse laundry… and on it goes. Between the two of us, there’s a magnificent human being: however, much like the Martian beast-twins in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, those finer qualities have been split soundly down the middle, thus ensuring a hideous and hilarious symbiosis.

So: somewhere in there, it’s safe to say that her infectious enthusiasm for getting to know the new probably played a part in this whole hostel thing. The natural conclusion being that her charm would bring me up to her level, rather than me sinking her to my twitchy sub-basement of social paranoias, like so many lead bars and bones. It seemed sound, and—even as I write this—it looks good on paper; like a sure bet, or a soft option.

Of course, it was—for the record—not.

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not pictured: alligators or floating corpses straight out of a Pushkin novel, which is mildly surprising.

Which isn’t to say that we didn’t get things off on the good foot: in the midst of a whirlwind touchdown, we first stopped at St. Vincent’s Guest House, which was/is an old converted orphanage (!) just outside of the Garden District. The trappings were basic, but they also did a fairly decent job of aping what you’d expect at a Motel Six: we had our own room, a serviceable bed, a working air conditioner and a battered old fatback television—no bigger than fourteen inches and monochrome—with its dials ripped off. It was everything that a bare-fare crashpad should be, and considering that it was seriously somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty-two bucks a night, there wasn’t much room to complain.  Even after we’d discovered that our veranda would immediately become a wine soiree for four-inch cockroaches every time the exterior lights were doused, no damper was slapped on the general mood: likewise with the slow, steady realization that the hostel was less a stopover for European travelers, and more a late-night flophouse for derelict locals. Regardless, the basic suggestion of creature comforts, and—as bed-bug infested and moldering as the trappings might have been—a setup which held a squinting resemblance to an actual motel kept any potential freakouts in a firm state of check. There seemed to be a sense that somebody, somewhere, wanted the place to strive for a sense of being good enough, and—as such—it was good enough for us.

Then—for reasons both uncleared by time and curious in nature—we decided that we needed to move things a bit further up Canal Street, to another hostel. This happened somewhere in the midst of navigating through the FQ, visiting Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras world, carving up the waterfront between the Aquarium and the Zoo and generally spending a good six to eight hours of every calendar day that we’d been in the city away from our room, so there certainly wasn’t much rhyme or reason to the fact that we were migrating a good half-mile from the heart, balls and sweet black soul of the city proper.

But we made that shift of scenery all the same, and that, my dear friends, is how your hapless narrator became acquainted with The India House.

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also not pictured: a mighty haul of emptied beer bottles and used condoms, likely due to the fact that the proprietor dredges the works on a nightly basis.

Now, as for a matter of getting the nines straight: to a person with the proper palette, I’m sure there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the tangent that this story is about to take.  In fact, nearly every hostel-related story I’ve heard from a friend mostly paints the accommodations as some coincidental liftoff point for getting blotto in Bruges or hooking up with some Australian co-ed in Antwerp: I continue to type this with the full recognition and acknowledgment that I’m doing so from behind a fixed pane of neurotic glass, wherein I’m alternately marveling at the things that normal people do, while likely being studied by that same crowd—on the other side, in a fashion befitting the best twists of the Twilight Zone—with a grotesque kind of curiosity. Sometimes, you have no choice in matters of telling it slant, and this is a perfect case in point.

Exene and I lugged our various haversacks and duffels up the stairs of what appeared to be a pleasant—if not totally underwhelming—domestic conversion, about a block and a half off of the trolley line. We hit up the counter, where the proprietor* informed us that we were a day late (We weren’t) that I’d booked for a common room bunk (I hadn’t) and assumed that we were from the Midwest (No sale). After commencing a weird square dance of mumbled apologies for everything we’d apparently done wrong, he handed us a key and told us that we’d be in the “back suites,” straight through the commons area: this involved interrupting the sightlines of what appeared to be some thirty-eight Spanish and French touristas, the whole of whom were stretched out on the floor, doubled up on the couch and chairs, their attention plastered squarely on what I remember** being The Price is Right. As I padded across the room, I began to feel my skin bristle: not from any specific unfriendliness on the part of our fellow houseguests, but just from a general, slow-burning sense of… off-ness.

This sensation explained itself in full, when we arrived at our “suite” just a few beats later. Despite being handed a key, the modified toolshed that we’d be setting up stakes in did not have an actual lock, but rather a hook-eye assembly that promptly popped out the moment that we looked at it crooked.

But on the brighter side of the moment, we had a bed!***

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actual response, to seeing this picture for the first time in five years: (http://www.hark.com/clips/mxzhkftkwg-jesus-christ-that-things-real)

We had our art!****

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i actually find the blotchy spots where art is “implied” to be more interesting than what’s present, looking back.

We had a ceiling fan!*****

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when in doubt, follow the foot.

We had a proud chest of drawers, a hook on the wall, and a window-mounted thing that made vague noises and hums, but which failed to actually provide any flow-through of the incredibly—and I emphasize that again, with the appropriate italics—incredibly—staid air in the confines of the room.******

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our mess, bles’d.

I off-shouldered my bag and returned to the front desk, to inquire about the key: without missing a beat—and eyeing me with the expected degree of suffrage, at having to explain such a goddamned obvious thing—the clerk explained that the key wasn’t for a lock, but rather to help us remember which room was ours. My tongue was too thick to point out that there were about three “suites” on the backside of the scummy, weed-choked fishpond that split the back half of the property—and that it wouldn’t be too hard to remember—so I just followed up with another apparently idiotic question:

“Do you have an actual lock? We’ve got our stuff in there, our laptops, and if we’re just leaving it while we go out during the day, then…”

This really was too much: the proprietor gestured bluntly, hands palming the sky in what was now hedging on full-out, 44.-caliber exasperation.

“Who do you think’s going to steal it? You think that guy’s a thief?”

The French guy who was sitting nearby—using the lobby’s antique Tandy to figure out whether or not he’d really been lied to about Louisiana’s legal drinking age—turned to curiously find the guy pointing at him.

“No,” I said. And I remember this being one of those moments where my voice—always annoying—settled into the quiet that followed, as the conversation promptly peaked. He did manage to ask if I’d feel better if he kept the “key” at the front desk, but that was the only thing that interrupted my slog back to our newly-acquired sweatbox.

Madness came on pretty damn quickly, and shortly thereafter.

Now, I can’t rightly place the blame on a single source—be it the slow suffocation of the heat, general fatigue, some sluggish regression into our pre-adolescent roles—but in the hours that followed, something very odd began to happen. Whereas I’d have expected Exene’s glorious sense of universal joie de vivre to compel me to cease with the whale-eyeing of everything and anybody through the room’s blinds, the opposite slowly took hold: we both started to sag into a strange, manic state of shitfaced giggles and decidedly misanthropic insanity.

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slipping. sliding. sloop’d.

It started with the breaking of the “bedframe”******** and quickly gathered speed, as we found a dog-eared old Danielle Steel********* paperback and began reading passages to one another. Hours passed. The musty heat of day gave way to the ruthless burn of a black Louisiana night. And yet, despite brief rumblings of emerging to see the French Quarter in its full evening blossom, we continued to hide in that makeshift rubber-room of our own design, growing hoarse and bloodied about the tonsils from the gibbering laughter. We systematically reviewed every embarrassing mishap of our mutually stupid youth, made up careful nicknames for the friends we’d had**********, and—at one point or another—wound up calling some poor guy named Charlie from a job that I’d had two years earlier, for the sake of me conversing with him in a poor imitation of his own voice. It was the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to an alcohol-free state of total shitfacery, and even in committing it to print, I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what in God’s name we were on about.

But it didn’t stop there. Not even at four in the morning, knowing that we were due at St. Louis Number Three in just a few scant hours for a cemetery tour; by the time the smoke cleared, the India House’s repressively bohemian charm had turned us both into some kind of grossly antisocial reptiles. Lidless and seething, we clawed at those bare yellow walls, wary of any sound that might involve someone who was not us having a similarly fun time. This continued that night, and for every night that followed, every time we’d return to that gross little hotbox, until we parted ways and returned to our respective lots: Exene to California, where she’d continue to be good, and me… to an emptied apartment and the misery that I’d molded for myself.

In a rear-view sense—and peering past the infectious stupidity and property damage—I’m given to considering this: that as my first and singular hostel exposure, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. I owe this entirely to the NOLA effect, at its purest; a city which embraces the notion that anything can—and should—go, and that even someone as given to frailties of confidence and social anxieties as myself can truly find themselves at home, there. If I had the opportunity to sit the scowling, sulfur-filled version of myself that had made that trip down to talk turkey on what sort of hindsight the following eight years would bring, it’d probably sound a little something like this:

Don’t change a thing. But do be nicer to the French, when you’re there. They don’t get a whole lot of that.

*Who didn’t look or sound like this guy in the least, but who I will never be able to imagine/remember in any other capacity.
**Again, when faced off with truth or an embossed version thereof: shoot for the stars.
***Which was actually a terrifying mattress (the color of old newspaper) seated firmly atop a clutter of four-by-fours and cinderblocks. Blankets were two dollars a day.
****Which was actually pretty sweet, if we’re being honest. If I didn’t have a legitimate concern that those frames were somehow serving as load-bearing posters and sparing us the full collapse of the ceiling, I probably would have nicked one.
*****Which was attached to the ceiling with a single length of old chain and a black wire. Were we not slowly basting in our own juices, we never would have turned that thing on: I’d frequently wake up in the middle of the night to find it swaying violently overhead, like the Freddy Krueger model of a crib mobile.
****** Seriously: you could have cut a chunk of it out and served it up on a plate, provided that the person you were preparing it for was also someone who you happened to wish a slow, painful death on.
********Which may or may not have been the result of a Bionic Elbow drop, served to the sternum.
*********I couldn’t shit you less if I tried. The cabinet’s drawer didn’t have a BOTTOM, but this had somehow been placed meticulously within its hollow, no doubt by some gracious traveler.
**********My favorites being “Munson Mudloaf,” “Liminola Winegrass,” and—of course—“Bubs Bulgore.”
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nola ’05 – part i. (les commencements)

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current soundtrack: time is on my side – irma thomas

If the theme of the great New York City pass-through of ’01 was exploration and discovery, then its spiritual sequel was predicated on varying degrees of loss, self-loathing and blunt-ended escapism. Somewhere in the middle of watching my seedling marriage to Jynx hit a terminal state, discovering new lows of depression and anxiety and steering my status as a 28-year-old college freshman into a ditch of academic probation, I somehow managed to find the time to convince myself that what I really needed was to take part in a life-affirming bug-out to some new and thrilling part of the globe. Never mind that I was an emotional wreck—held together only by new medications, safety pins, and the patience of my mother in playing switchboard to the tear-sodden, rage-stuffed calls that she was receiving from both myself and J—or that my psychological quirks had only worsened since moving to Floptown… no, none of that had any traction on this decision. It was, in fact, going to be a declaration of defiance in the face of everything that I realized was wrong, and the start of scraping my life back together into something resembling a solid state.

All I needed was a destination. A place that would fly in the face of the fearful, sucked-up nature of my person that would challenge me to meet it— unflinching-like—on its own terms.

And that’s how I wound up planning a trip to New Orleans in the last weeks of July, 2005.

Right.

If you happened to read this, then you’re no doubt beginning to see a pattern affecting itself within the murky sludge of my prose: that—for someone who claims to be so racked with various compulsions and agoraphobic tendencies—I’ve sure come close to finding myself in some pretty serious shit-straits, in the rare times that I tried the travel bit in the past. We missed 9/11 by two months, and the Chocolate City that I came to embrace in a passionate bro-hug during my first trip there was nearly swept into the oblivion of the Gulf Coast waters less than three weeks after we left.

As such, the natural foregone conclusion would probably be that this contributed to my various paranoias and hang-ups about leaving the state (On some days, it’s tough enough to get the hell out of the front door), but odd as it might sound, these situations didn’t even put a scratch in the veneer of the more illogical stuff. I may still have to fence off panic attacks when a plane takes off—silently going through the over-under of whether or not this will finally be the plane ride during which I have a stroke, and die before we can flip our course and find somewhere to land—but the apparent theme of being totally obliterated during a vacation doesn’t even register. I can’t make hash out of why this is, but it reminds me that the braincase is a strange, strange place to play and work.

But anyway. Skip this record back, a few grooves: this was how I wound up going to New Orleans in the last weeks of July, 2005.

Naturally, I was too gutless to make this trip by myself. Despite all of my hem-haw and high-hat preachiness about needing to find “breathing room,” I was way too much of a chickenshit to pull the trigger on such a trip in a solo sense. Instead, I managed to co-opt the participation of the one person who didn’t have a built-in out for coming along, whose involvement I could happily chalk up to re-affirming family ties while alternately playing down the fact that I had no friends in Floptown.

That person, of course, was Exene. My sister.

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that’s not what that’s for… unless it totally is.

Another disclaimer, on the quick: while it certainly seems like any relatively recent travel-related post seems to imply that Exene and I—as the self-professed “Hauser Export Project’s” participants, a fist-face variation on the Crosby/Hope paradigm—are joined at the hip for any and all expeditions into the wilds of the world, this was not the case seven years ago.

In fact, we were still very much in the middle of some misshapen adolescent trip, wherein we’d routinely get into blood-letting fights over the most trivial of shits: for the sake of the record, she’s owed a huge debt for even taking that phone call, let alone agreeing to support the sloppy, sag-hearted sack of self-hatred and sobbery that she’d find herself bunking up with for the next ten days.

So, in bringing our bean-count up to currency: this is how my nineteen-year-old sister and I wound up going to New Orleans in the last weeks of July, 2005. On a chicken wing and a prayer, for no particularly profound reason of soul or self… and without the slightest flippin’ clue as to what was waiting for us.

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seattle serials: i and we and steves makes three(s)

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yes.

current soundtrack: the touch – stan bush and vince dicola

For some strange reason, the first moment that I saw an episode of Rick Steves’ Europe is indelibly fried into my frontal lobe; I may not be able to recall the particulars of where Jynx and I dined at during our first date or what the name of the boss at my first wage-jockey job was, but—for reasons both telling and extraordinary—this one sticks.

Here’s the watercolor brief, in setting the scene: Jynx and I were broke, miserable, and living in what was once the operating theater of an old hospital (which had been converted into an apartment complex) during our first few days of New Life ™ in Floptown and the Pacific Northwest. Between the shortening days and the stresses of the tear-up-the-tacks move that we’d made from California, our collective urge to go anywhere after dark had died along with the browning leaves outside of our windows: edgy and exhausted, we’d prop up a few pillows and lie on the living room rug, doing a dead-eyed thing at the few channels we could milk from the ether with our old fatback television set and its bent antennae.

Almost immediately, we started getting bombarded by fun-sized blocks of Rick Steves’ Europe re-runs, on the local public access circuit. The first time I saw it—pausing over a bowl of bitterly salty ramen, in mid-slurp—I actually thought it was a put on… some long-lost syndication from the late 80’s, or some damn thing. The sight of Steves himself—impossibly chipper, somehow maternal in the soft lines of his face and the empty kindness of his stare, providing a clipped play-by-play in a voice that should have belonged to a cartoon woodchuck—was somehow too pure for the world in which we were living. My system, soured by malaise and cankered by the usual self-loathing of the twentysomething brain, rejected it immediately: for weeks, I watched Europe with a sort of sneering condescension, mocking the simplified world view that it presented and rolling many an eye at Steves’ suffocating pleasantness.

Eventually, my interest lapsed: in 2003, my collective travel experience consisted of the previously-outlined trip to NYC, and not a whole hell of a lot else. Cynicism burns hot and fades fast, and it was replaced by a wholesale sense that Steves was selling a perspective that simply didn’t apply to my limitations as a traveler: if it wasn’t the money, then it’d be the social anxiety. If it wasn’t the social anxiety, it’d be the time investment. And if the time investment didn’t kill those hopes of boarding a plane to somewhere out of immediate reach and driving distance, then it’d go right back to the money thing. I didn’t need a rube like Rick Steves parked on my shoulder, chipmunk-chittering about the best way to rent a goddamned bike in Bruges: that was not my world.

And then, as it tends to: then became now, there became here, and that became this.

In the ten years since our arrival—and consequent retreat—from Floptown, I’ve come to grips with many a life lesson, on scales ranging from grand to pocket-change. I’ve accepted the limitations of my psychological “quirks” and have replaced stiff-armed anger with something resembling blunt-force optimism. I’ve had my eyes opened to the wonders of loving someone. I’ve become a better brother and son, but—perhaps most importantly…

… I’ve come to recognize that I really do love me some Rick Steves.

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Twenty-one hajib-wearing honeys can’t be wrong.

I confess as much without the slightest hint of hip irony, low-rent panderment or qualifications about how I’ve come to accept the man “as he stands,” and “despite” the various grievances of the past. The simple fact stands that Rick Steves—while many things—is far from a rube; in fact, if that designation fits anybody in this equation, it’d be those who settle for the surface read of the guy, and let that inform their opinion of what it is that he does.

Now, I do grant that it’s easy to take Steves and his schtick at face value: from that seat, he’s sort of the end result of what would happen if you poured a sixer of Ensure and Ned Flanders into a giant blender, set it on high frappe’ for a few minutes, and then dressed up the resulting cocktail with the trappings of a timeshare salesman.  The chronically pleasant nature of his broadcast-safe self tempts mockery and sarcasm, but giving into these urges overlooks one absolutely crucial point: that this Steves is, himself, a construct. The Rick Steves that ushers television viewers through the genial green of Ireland and offers candy-coated commentary about back-stroking down the Rhine does, in fact, bear little resemblance to the off-hours model; unless you’d actively sought it out, you’d likely never realize that the guy is a tireless entrepreneur, philanthropist and political activist, who quietly punches up his travel blogs with op-eds about legalizing weed and giving same-sex marriage the vote. This Steves—the Man-model—is like the tenure-track version of The World’s Most Interesting Man, a realization that Jynx and I had to bite down on when we witnessed him somehow compress the entire history of cultural art in Europe into a two-hour, straight-shot, mildly-vaudevillian performance at our local PAC. The fact that Steves managed to pump the proceedings full of casually dirty jokes and bon mots was intriguing enough, but it was when we realized that he was pulling this off after DELIVERING TRAVEL WORKSHOPS FOR NINE STRAIGHT HOURS PRIOR that the real picture began to buzz into focus. That being that Steves is, in actuality, a classic standard-bearer for the American Dream, the guy who’s figured out What Works ™ and has parlayed it into a flippin’ small-scale media empire… which has allowed him all the time and finance that a person could pray for, in pursuing his personal and social interests. Regardless of what one makes of his dayjob, Steves is—simply put—no soft-serve, when it comes to living his gimmick and knowing his shit*.

Of course, like all good showmen, Steves has also honed the finest bits and bobs of his worldview and has fashioned it into something palpable, for the masses: his company**, Through the Back Door, banks its catalogue on the basics of simple leisure and total comfort with its European forays, marketing itself in the same gossamer-throated copy that Steves uses in his travelogues. In an industry fracked with flat-rate brochures and online bid-for-play sites, Steves has set himself aside as a reliable source of fun for the silver-haired set and the family traveler; the genial blitherings of a typical episode of Europe extend melodically into the outfit’s brochures (Presumably also penned by his Royal Rickness), bridging “what you see” with “what you want” and—ultimately—“what you get.”

To certain palettes, this can naturally come off as saccharine and disingenuous; however, that doesn’t preclude the fact that Steves himself is providing what I’d qualify as an absolutely crucial service. This owes itself to the fact that–in all honesty–the current mythoculture*** of travel has evolved to such a point where its very purpose has begun to buckle under the weight of the constant desire/need to self-narrate: at its worst, today’s traveler can find themselves marching numbly to the lockstep of a bucket list’s bullet-points (Generally based on what someone else has done/written about), drifting aimlessly through an entire museum with their tablet plastered to their faces and Instagram on a one-button loop, getting absolutely lost in the process of the “re-telling” of where they’re at and missing out on the most essential idea of travel…

… that it’s not about making sure that other people know that you were there. It’s about being there.

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graciously donated to the betterment of the internet from the following blog: http://therese-workingtolive.blogspot.com/2011/07/my-love-affair-with-rick-steves.html

Of course, the irony of this proselytizing on a blog is not something that I can pretend to overlook, but: hell. It speaks to one of the things that I genuinely admire about Rick Steves: that he enables people who are filled with fear of foreign languages, those who may be numbed by the concept of driving along on the “wrong” side of the road and who don’t think that they’ve got what it takes to get the hell out of their house to do exactly that. He’s a wingman for the hardest-core kind of textbook tourist—the Groupey*****—and frankly, even the most cynical and incisive parts of my person has trouble finding any real fault with that. I may admire the stories that I read on this very site to a profound degree (Especially those by truly adventurous sorts, like this gem), but I also realize that the value of travelogues shouldn’t be resigned to the ballsiest of the species: for the rest of us, the rest of them, and everybody else, the world–as Rick Steves offers it–is a pretty damned good place to be.

*Which doesn’t even account for Steves’ occasional glimpses of hilariously self-aware digression, as scoped here.
**Located about three miles from the author’s home, it should be noted: I actually didn’t realize this about Steves until we’d been living here for a year and a half. Of course, having done so, I wouldn’t hesitate to also lay the crown of “Kingtown’s Proudest Son” firmly atop his head, quick-smart.
***Having a Master’s in English means never having to apologize for such shitty vo-fabrication. Vo-cabrilation. Fac-abulary****.
****Screw it.
*****In this case, those who refuse to entertain the idea of travel which isn’t chaperoned, pre-booked, pre-arranged, resigned to group activities and which comes with a little mint on your pillow at the end of every day. For as much as I gutter and groan at seeing Groupeys en masse at heritage sights like Tulum, taking part in such a vacation would be the only way that I could ever will myself to go back to India or try and make sense of China. For that, I’m grateful that they exist.
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the wary traveler’s cheatsheet – nyc ’01

IMG_8781current music: track 9 – atmosphere.

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned to appreciate from casing the adventures of Noisy Pilgrims and What an Amazing World!, it’s that a blog’s weight becomes measured in either lead or gold based on its ability to impart more than just observational commentary. It goes against my basic instincts as a person to try and qualify the things I see and do for people that I’ve never met—not due to some tailored misanthropy or hip-en-stein tendencies, but just because attempting it freaks me out—but neglecting that part of these stories is also counter-intuitive to what travel has done for me.

In the parlance of better people and more able tongues, it really has set me free. It’s made me a better person. It’s washed the color out of my fundamental fears and clinical compulsions, by widening my understanding of just how truly broad that horizon really is. If New York was the tipping point of a decade-long slip-n’-slide of experiences—interrupted by many false starts, setbacks and health issues—then it’s also the beginning of where I do my best to try and impart what I learned, for having been there. ..

… with a caveat, natch.

That being that much of what made that halcyon trip so special was that it took part behind the plate-glass of what our America would become, just forty-eight days later. I feel blessed for having had a chance to stand in puckered awe beneath the shadows of the World Trade Center’s towers, but I also recognize that whatever lessons I took away from my time in that version of NYC is going to be nothing but the lead that I alluded to in the beginning of this bit. It wouldn’t make sense to try and tell that story on two separate levels—one relating to the wanderings of two kids in their early twenties through Manhattan’s streets, the other constantly checking and balancing that experience with a sober amount of hindsight—so I’ll pull some sticky slight-of-hand shit for the benefit of those in the audience, instead.

What follows are five cards, drawn straight from the deck of my immediate recollection: the first in a series of location-based cheat-sheets for those who, like me, still find travel to be a game of schedules, prescriptions, points of interest and constant, forward motion. Crumbs of wisdom for—and from–the socially anxious wannabee world-beater.

1. Don’t fly into Newark.

Actually, let me qualify that: don’t fly into Newark if you’re over the age of thirty, have more than one child, or fancy yourself a traveler who tenders creature comforts over the wild-eyed excitement of “being somewhere.” The standard benefits of doing so—slightly cheaper airfare, mostly—take a hit when you weigh them against similar fares at LGA or JFK (Usually within a hundred bucks of one another, in the off-season), as well as the similar proximity to Manhattan and the boroughs. Much like SFO, the default posture that one assumes whenever connecting or departing from EWR is that your flight’s either taken off without you, or simply never arrived: this might not be much of a hassle for younger constitutions, but it’s a bitch when your Paxil’s wearing off and you realize that your twenty-minute stall-over has just turned into an eight-hour delay.

In addition to the economic and time management considerations, there’s also the fact that the airport’s C Terminal always seems to smell of slightly soured milk, and that its overall aesthetic has the charm and flow-through of a shopping mall in the Midwest, circa 1980. Of and by itself, this wouldn’t be so bad—hell, kitsch is practically a designated currency in these parts—but there’s a low, constant hum of unpleasant tension that permeates the place, similar to what it must be like to live on an irradiated salt flat or beneath a series of industrial electric pylons. Not fun.

2. Don’t sleep on New Jersey.

While it might seem completely intuitive to use the previous entry as a windup for a IMG_8778no-frills, point-blank, 100%-proof-caustic sucker-punch aimed straight at the breadbasket of the Garden State, I simply can’t do so in good conscience. Even with the fact that Jersey’s pop schmaltz cachet is more swoll than at any other point in its existence*, taking that swipe would contradict one simple point of order…

If I hadn’t been there, I never would have enjoyed the creepy serenity of the pine barrens at dusk, never would have hiked the somber beauty of the trails around Hemlock Falls, never would have discovered the miracle of French fries and gravy at a roadside diner at 2AM**, never would have walked the Steel Pier in the middle of the night or marveled at the spectral emptiness of a midsummer’s night at the Seaside Carnival, and I never would have happened upon this, while dallying about in the neon footlights of the Taj Mahal:

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“…and then, like a cosmic nut-tap, I realized: this is truly new jersey.”

If you’ve got an extra day to spare and an inclination to diversify your NYC foray, then it’s worth it to hop into Hoboken and rent a car for a Jersey safari. As long as you stick to the coast and don’t have any serious issues with tollbooth fatigue***, the Shore’s got no shortage of cheeseball glories and natural wonderment. ****

3. Do trust in the subway system.

Before I even begin: I know. The inclusion of this point seems so fundamentally basic—so painfully obvious to anybody who’s ever even seen The Warriors or the original Taking of Pelham 1-2-3—that I don’t blame the natural inclination to just scroll right the hell on past it. That’s fair.

However.

The reason I make mention of it is that prior to making my first trip to NYC proper, I’d never even seen a subway car. They don’t really exist in any comparable capacity on the Western seaboard; the PATH and METRO systems can provide a decent primer for the principle of such rail transit, but these aren’t public transportation systems in the sense of what you encounter on the East Coast. It’s the difference between getting there and having the ability to go anywhere and everywhere.

"our local mass transit system threatens the routine loss of limb: does YOUR local mass transit system threaten the routine loss of limb?"
“our local mass transit system threatens the routine loss of limb: does YOUR local mass transit system threaten the routine loss of limb?”

The New York Transit Authority allows for exactly that, and the learning curve of decoding the route maps is decidedly forgiving. For forays in the later hours of the evening, a cab might be advisable: however, I’d seriously sign off on making sense of the subway option for any other time of day*****.

4. Do make time to take in Central Park.

Another potential no-brainer, but also a fact that merits further mention: for people living in cities with great waterfront walks and primo, park-based real estate, the idea of wandering through a giant sprawl of loosely-manicured maple trees and turf might not hold any inherent appeal. However, it’d be a bit off the nose to try and qualify midtown’s natural wonders as being just another “park,” as it really fits the profile of a legit-to-life “urban oasis” better than any other example that I’ve seen.

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#ATOP

Regardless of the season, I consider it a mandatory detour while navigating Manhattan: in the summer, it’s a hive of humid excitement and activity, while the winter months bring a more somber quality to the proceedings: branches stripped to the bone, foot traffic reduced to a spare crawl, everything caked with a thin glitter-paste of frost. Spring and fall bring similar sights, but it’s the Park’s****** standing as perhaps the primo people-watching blind*******  that necessitates a visit, even if you just venture into the south end while doing a Times Square fly-by.

5. Do damn the diet for the sake of street food.

While there’s an entire sub-article to be penned in praise of the New York deli culture, it’s also true that you could spend an entire week wending through Manhattan and the boroughs without setting food into a single actual restaurant. At the time of my first visit, this was mostly facilitated by the block-to-block presence of hot dog carts, falafel stands and other off-the-cuff street-level eats: however, twelve years after the fact, NYC has embraced the food truck culture in full. And while you may still need to do a little heel-toe work in tracking down sellers whose offerings suit your palette—as damned fine as the pizza and franks are, the stomach lining of the middle-aged won’t fare well in trying to make a daily habit out of it—there’s an entire cottage industry of apps and blogs that are tuned into making that process as fun and intuitive as possible.

onward, you crazy young dope.
onward, you crazy young dope.

In the quiet of hindsight: as general as the particulars of this list might be, I also think that they’ll provide a nice counter-weight to the impending follow-up: that being the return to the Big Apple that took place roughly a decade later, in 2011. It seems somewhat ironic that the real genesis of the Hauser Export Project found both its first step and later footing in the same city, but—if you’re going to choose anywhere to start over twice—you can’t do much worse than New York City.

*Thanks to the nonstop media gumbo of orange flesh, big hair, viral videos involving geeks dancing madly to Bon Jovi and Chris Christie’s deft assumption of Rahm Emanuel’s “Guys who you wouldn’t want to sit next to on a delayed flight but who you’d totally vote for” mantle on the national political scene, among other choice bits. 
**Or “Piscataway Chick Fingahs,” as we’ve deemed them in these parts.
***To a native product of California, the frequency of tollbooths along the turnpike felt—and feels—like a nutshot to the sensibilities. Mileage should probably vary on one’s reactions to this, based on where they’re calling from.
****I do tender this suggestion with the full realization that Hurricane Sandy has definitely changed the flavor in towns like Seaside; if your tastes run into the “photo safari” side of the spectrum, then the remnants of last year’s disaster still hold unreal sights for those willing to seek them out. Do so sensitively, and you’ll be fine.  
*****And this is coming from a guy whose initial descent into an NYC subway station nearly set off a panic attack, just as soon as he realized that there weren’t any goddamned safety railings along the track, itself. Let this stand as one of those “if I can do it without crying, then we can all do it!”-type motivational moments.
******Capital “P.” Always.
*******Not counting the High Line, tastes pending.
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nyc ’01 – part i. (feet first.)

current soundtrack: “new york minute” – don henley.

Few things make a dyed-in-the-flannel Pacific Northwesterner more attuned to the gradual yellowing of their memory than a Seattle winter. It’s been ten lovely years to this tune now, and yet—without fail—the sun’s usual migration into vaguely fond remembrance seems to take with it a measure of months from one’s brainpan.

Case study: my New York travel journal, which was inked up during the summertime of 2001. I distinctly remember scrawling down random observations and bitterly Californian contemplations on this trip (The first actual plane-type vacation that the eventual Mrs. Hauser and I went on), yet I have no godly recollection of what might have happened to it. Even stranger, I can vividly mind-map my way into a variety of small, snack-sized little “vignettes” of where I was when I was writing them—and even some of the specific shorthand that was used—but anything past that is afloat in tepid head-broth and not-much-elseness.

This will not, however, deter my attempts to patch these entries together. Not in the least. Screw reality. If nothing else, it makes me realize that the impetus of trying to pickle what bits and bobs I can still rightly recall is all the more important: for a family whose crest should feature some cheeky pun about dementia scrawled across it in flowery text, this might have more value than I’m willing to admit.

So, as Andy Griffith has it: what it was, was New York.

In July.

Of 2001.

Prior to this little tack-point in time, my travel experience had been relegated to one international trip to India some thirteen years earlier*, as well as the usual shotgun day trips. Barring the trans-Pacific flight to Malaysia, I don’t think I’d been on a plane for longer than four contiguous hours: as such, I was anticipating this coastal hop with a finely-malted blend of excitement and outright horror. The prior hinged on the simple idea of finally going someplace, while the latter was a naturally reactive result to the idea of—yeah–finally going someplace: the diametric hoe-down that results when someone’s natural inclinations are completely undercut by a debilitating case of social anxiety and the general creeps.

Further exacerbating** this mental state was the “helpful advice” that I’d been fielding from friends and fellow Californians about what to expect in The Big Apple. The general consensus was that I’d appreciate the city—in principle—but that the overwhelming claustrophobia of its rat-maze skyline and the inherent lousiness of its urban texture would probably have me retreating back to Hoboken within a few hours. As a kid weaned on the idea that coastal culture was diametric, I didn’t find any fault with this: after all, there was a reason why the Great Hip-Hop Wars of ’95-9X had been situated between the two polar points of the American continental map: they were not like us, and—despite the fact that my girlfriend of three years was a proud Jersey Girl***–this merited the appropriate amount of hesitation and elitist snoot-tipping. I may have been secretly paralyzed at the idea of spending four-plus hours stewing in the collective vapors of a full cross-country flight, but—by god—I was not going to let New York’s brickyard bullshit get the better of my proud Los Angeleno sensibilities.

(We can blitz through the pleasantries of that flight and the connected dots, by the way: summary recollection of that experience being that Newark has a horrifying airport. This was as true in the simpler world that existed in the quiet days prior to 9/11 as it is now, and—while far from a seasoned or savvy traveler—I know enough to avoid the shit out of that place, whenever possible. )

Upon arrival, that crusty veneer of resolve lasted for—at rough estimate—a good thirteen and a half seconds. I emerged from my first-ever subway ride and left the lower colon of the underground for a moment of sheer, blunt panic in stepping into the intestinal tract of Manhattan island: fortunately, Jynx was there with her Pentax, to preserve said moment for posterity’s sake…

up.

up.

… and I realized shortly thereafter that every nerve, fiber and crumb of my being should have been absolutely petrified by the sheer, epic fucking grandeur of what I was currently in the middle of. Southern Californians believe that we have buildings and a downtown sprawl; for the lifers among us, we can’t comprehend the twists of the X-Y axis that it would require to visualize taking all that wasted space and forcing it into an upright position. To be unable to see the entirety of the sky from the middle of the action is a daunting thing for someone who isn’t expecting it, and the clammy awareness that I had no psychic footing started to creep up into my brainstem.

But.

It didn’t get much further.

And the reason—and theme, and moral of this particular story—is that I recognized shortly thereafter that in New York, nobody gives a good goddamn if you’re not comfortable with your surroundings. This is a tricky thing to explain to someone who wasn’t reared in the jetwash of Los Angeleno culture: that the Big Lie of making a go in that city is that you have to believe—honestly and truly—that you matter, and that everything and everybody around you is somehow keyed into an orbit of your specific design.

To try and parse this in sensible terms feels like a study in total horse shit, by the way. And having been away from the shallow root-bed of my youth for about ten years makes me realize just how inherently absurd this mentality is: every time Jynx and I touch down for work or play in Burbank, we practically count the minutes until we notice someone looking at us. Not because we demand attention or because anything about the figures we cut is worth taking inventory of, but because that’s exactly what people in Los Angeles do: look.

You wander into a restaurant in Malibu: people look.

You enter a movie theater in Santa Paula: people turn to look.

You drive down the 405 and happen to glance over into a parallel lane: eventually, someone will be looking.

These aren’t meaningful looks, or even something that most Los Angelenes are aware of: it’s just how we do. Everywhere, every minute, every thing and every one, we are compelled to go looking at others, quietly taking inventories and passing judgments. Until you’re removed from it entirely—ripped out at the roots—you don’t even realize how guilty you are of doing it. You might sneer at others for perpetuating such callow nonsense, but you’re also damn right that you had to look over at them to realize that they were doing in the first place****.

Anyway, this was the thing: the primo revelation, regarding that first New York Minute. That—despite standing in the middle of a human salmon-spawn, with elbows and earholes packed end-to-end, that despite being on the most singularly crowded sidewalk that I’d ever been on—nobody was looking at me. Hell, people weren’t even looking at anything at all, in passing: colors and creeds and all walks of the cultural track, all unified and devoted to a singular purpose of not giving a shit about anybody or anything around them.

In all fairness, I can definitely see where this sort of situation would be jarring to someone’s sensibilities, especially those fitted with SoCali circuitry. In a culture that dollops self-reverence atop all other things, it’s debilitating to a person’s ego to find themselves standing smack-assed in the middle of a city that genuinely doesn’t give a soggy teabag’s worth of shit about the individual, either in concept or social execution. And in being pie-faced with this cold, concrete-backed obstinacy and overwhelming sense of irrelevance, someone with my emotional scabs should have been freaked the fuck out of my head and unable to press on… and yet.

Contrary to all expectations, the thing I felt myself brimming with—just beneath that sweat-freckled skin—was respect. For all the fear that a city like New York can slide between the ribs of a person, its inherent honesty courts your senses in no uncertain terms: regardless of whether you walk, run, slip, fall, cartwheel or kowtow, the city—its arterial flow of foot traffic, taxicabs, the ventricle pulse of its subways—will keep on going. Psychically speaking, the faith required to live in NYC is to the American Character as Copernicus was to the Church; a place where principle is everything, unmoving and absolute, with no room or quarter given for misinterpretation.

And with that in mind, I took my first steps away from the fear one feels in giving themselves up to something new, and got on with my merry goddamned way.

*The dirtier details of which could probably fill at least three pages of half-truths and cobbled-together memories: I was ten at the time and badly ill for the duration of our family’s time there, which puts a serious dent in any efforts to build a coherent narrative. Which won’t preclude it showing up in this blog, at one point or another.
**”to make things worse.”
***Again, the current Mrs. Hauser. This was also during an era in the American Story wherein Jersey had yet to achieve its Great Kitsch Awakening™, and was still casually considered by everybody east of the 82nd Meridian to be little more than where good taste went to die.
****And you did. We all did, son.
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