Archive for September, 2015

I’m drunkenly smoking outside of a random bar on Bourbon Street, when I notice her speed walking in my direction. It’s hard not to miss her, and even in my inebriated state, I know this is going to get weird.

We make eye contact, and I realize much too late that I should’ve looked away. She has those Bourbon street, shark eyes. The sort of eyes that are looking to simultaneously hustle a tourist and find a safe place to hide.

“Hey! I just need to stand here for a minute!” The woman shouts, coming to a sudden stop a few feet before crashing into me.

She’s a tall, pasty blonde, with giant fake boobs, a gold tooth, and weird hair. My friend Rob will later remark that she used to wear cornrows, and her hairline must’ve been thinned out because of that. His theory seems plausible. Although, I’m fairly certain he’s just spit-balling possibilities.

“Um, okay.” I respond warily, not sure what her play is going to be, but preparing a polite “No, thank you”  to whatever it is, just in case.

I watch as a tall, African-American man, walks by and glances at her for a beat too long, before turning and walking off.

“You see that shit?” She nods her head in the fleeting man’s direction.

“See what?” I ask.

“Pimps, man! They don’t take a hint!” She asks for a cigarette and I give her one. She lights up.

“I gotta find a white boy every time, and they’ll leave my ass alone for a minute, you know?” She is also white, and no, I don’t know, but now I want to head back into the bar and find my friends.

“That’s um, okay, whatever. Are you alright?”

She looks up at me, and lets out a loud laugh, as if to say Are you fucking kidding me, dude? I smile and laugh as well. We finish our cigarettes, as one of her friends, and one of mine, show up at either of our sides. We nod our goodbyes and head our separate ways.

In a couple of hours, I will witness a sloppy street fight, while eating pizza from atop a garbage can, which I am using as a table. I will experience the most amazing live jazz performance of my life. I will watch as newlyweds dance lovingly down the street, while a marching band plays them further into the night. And I will try to keep up with a city that’s too big to handle, and too easy to get lost in. But I’m getting ahead of myself, and that’s easy to do when trying to recount a lost weekend in New Orleans. A lot of the trip now resides in that part of my mind reserved for blurry scenarios and hazy conversations.

How it Started

Tim, Rob, Dan, and I, had this trip on the books for months. It was to be the first guy’s trip we had taken since the last guy’s trip, which was three years ago, and landed us in Myrtle beach for a drunken weekend on, well, the beach. Rob and I were the married-with-kids contingent of the group. Dan, was the knowledgeable music buff, and the closest thing we had to a New Orleans expat (He visits the Big Easy annually for Jazz fest), and Tim was our wisecracking wild card.

So after months of waiting, a tedious slug through O’Hare, and a quick cab ride, we finally arrived, with our baggage and expectations in tow.

Our hotel was in the French Quarter, and it had a pool. These were the consensual sticking points for everyone in our group. We checked in, dumped the baggage, but kept the expectations, and let out into the night.

First thing on our list was food. We wandered over to the Acme Oyster House, but the line was a block long. We scanned the street and headed to Felix’s across the street. We hungrily ordered as much fried seafood and raw oysters as we could handle. After having our fill, we decided to take our chances on Bourbon Street. My stomach was queasy as we began to bar hop. Half a dozen drinks later, and I was on top of the world. We people watched and cracked wise as we went, stopping periodically to fill up on booze.

The deals never stopped coming our way… the Bourbon Street Carnival barkers shouting them at us, while brandishing large signs with the same deals on them. Covering their bases, just in case we were hearing impaired or blind.

“Two for One Beers!” followed by “Two for One Hurricanes!” Followed by “Multiple Grenades!” Followed by “Two for one tits!” Followed by “Topless and bottomless and well drinks too!” followed by “Don’t be scared!” And on and on it went.

A wild yet gregarious atmosphere, the street was the embodiment of a drunken uncle. Late into the evening, we decided upon a to-do list of sorts. If we limited our stay to Bourbon Street, all of us would be in need of more life insurance and a liver transplant by day three.

The list consisted of a few things we all wanted to do. Hit Café Du Monde for Beignets and Café Au Laits. As well as a walk around the market and Jackson Square, and take in the best live jazz show we could find, and of course eat and drink ourselves stupid. I also wanted to get my fortune told. But I was alone on that one.

The Puking Man Play-by-Play

We found ourselves sipping grenades on a random Bourbon Street balcony. To say the drink was sweet was an understatement. I wasn’t sure what would hit me first, the diabetes or the booze. While we drunkenly shot the breeze, I noticed the puking man, and being the sophomoric man-child that I am, I managed to film him, as he added to the stagnant puddles of tourist fluids that line the corners of Bourbon Street.

Here’s the poor bastard in the act: Part 1. Where I realize how lucky we are:


And part 2. Where we break it down:


Preservation Hall and a Sad Song

Just off of Bourbon Street lies Preservation Hall. A legendary jazz music venue situated in an intimate, two hundred year-old building.

We waited in line on our second night, and just missed the cut off for the 8pm show. Knowing we couldn’t stand in line for another hour for the 9pm show, we made a pact to wait as long as it took on our last night to get in. On the last night, our luck improved, and we found our way to the standing room area.

Inside the venue:

Preservation Hall

At first, a bit of claustrophobia began to set in, and I found myself taking deep breaths, subconsciously fighting it off, while trying not to think of the fire hazard we just trapped ourselves inside of. Soon however, the musicians made their way to their seats, and after they began playing, all was okay. Live Jazz has a therapeutic, perhaps even a healing effect, or at least that’s my takeaway from the handful of live performances I’ve seen.

That’s the good part of a live show. The bad part is sometimes you’re stuck next to someone who wants to make a shared experience about them and them alone. Tim and I exchanged a look as the middle-aged spaz in front of us, clapped his hands rapidly in the air, and let out high-pitched yelps, during the quieter and more nuanced moments of the concert. Tim shook his head and took a step away from the man, as did I. To be too close to his neediness was to become his neediness. Or something like that.

All of the musicians, most of whom were in their twilight years, gave it their all. And to my newbie ears, they were the Jedi masters we were looking for. The clarinet player in-particular caught my eye, or ear, or both eye and ear in this case, or whatever. Anyhow, I never heard a clarinet sound like that before, and given the fact that the guy looked to be nearing 100 years old, I thought it was quite the accomplishment.

My oldest son has recently taken up the clarinet, and I couldn’t help thinking of him, and how much he would’ve loved this performance. I vowed to take him and his brother to a live jazz show in the near future.

Late in the show, the bandleader announced they would sing a sad song. It was the St. James Infirmary Song.  And it was sad, but sad in that special kind of New Orleans way, where even if you’re fighting back tears, you still might be tapping your foot to the beat. Dan later filled me in on a couple of the gloomier elements in Louis Armstrong’s life, and the song resonated even more.

Here’s the Louis Armstrong version:


To the Bachelors and Bachelorettes Everywhere

There is something distasteful, or at the very least, odd, in wearing matching outfits with a dozen other women. Throw in a random tiara and my cringe dial goes to 100%. It’s like a very small cult that worships a penis straw deity. I know these facets of the Bachelorette party are tradition, but so was cannibalism at one point.

I don’t have much more to say on this subject, except that in the future I hope a bill is passed, which somehow relegates all of these parties to Las Vegas. It’s the only place that does this sort of buffoonery justice.

Not to be outdone by the ladies and their phallic accoutrements, here’s a video of a bachelor party-boy playing with a blow up doll by the pool:


The Old Guys at the Concert

On Dan’s suggestion, we cabbed it to a concert on the westside, which featured Dumpster Funk. They were a great funk band that had us head-nodding and half-dancing between pulls from our beers.

There were a couple of takeaways from the concert that were clearly obvious, even to the half-dancing and fully-inebriated. One, People’s Blues of Richmond (the opener), was an amazing band. Someone remarked that they were kind of like a young, coked-up Led Zeppelin. And I remember thinking that was a decent summation. They played as if there were thousands in attendance. There were probably forty of us at the show.

The second, and the much sadder takeaway, was that we were most likely the oldest people there, and we’re not even forty. The average age of the concert goers seemed to be around 21 years old. People that young gross me out. Mainly, because I know I gross them out, and fuck them for being grossed out by the inevitable. I’ll do the judging around here, damn it.

Regardless, we drank our beers and listened to our funk. And the show proved a good experience, even for the crusty old farts in the back.


Café Du Monde and the Violinists

We sat waiting for our beignets and café au laits. Our collective hangover growing stronger by the second. If we didn’t shove fried dough into our bodies soon, our sickness could very well become sentient. On the scale of Global catastrophe, Skynet had nothing on the Tequila flu. It’s the super flu, only with Tequila. Game over, man.

Lucky for us, and the rest of humanity, the beignets did come, and they were exactly the type of fried goodness that can cure hunger, centuries long conflicts, and even our hangovers, within a few bites. Soon, we were caffeinated and back on the street. After hovering briefly outside the window of a praline shop (They looked like what I imagined snowflakes in Candy Land would be), we made our way toward Jackson Park.

While in the park, we heard what sounded like a violin in the distance. I couldn’t be sure, because I never heard a violin sound like that before… except for maybe on the soundtrack for Last of the Mohicans. We walked with purpose toward the sound, hypnotized like Odysseus’s men to the sirens.

There was a couple in the square. They played their violins in unison, as we sat with others in stunned silence. A couple of us managed to pull our phones and record a portion of their performance.

The Sirens of New Orleans:


They worked their instruments effortlessly and in the sort of union that I hoped bled into other areas of their lives. I imagined them traveling carefree through a strange world, together. Making enough to comfortably live out each night. Only to wake and make music in some other park, the next morning. And so it would go, until they were old and world worn, and their violins, the same weathered ones they played in New Orleans all those years ago, followed them to their next gig.

And a longtime from now, they will be in New Orleans once more. And it will be the home that they hoped for. And their violins will sit on a dusty shelf, except for special occasions, or when the morning is just right, and then they will take them down and reminisce.



It was a coffin factory. I was in an honest to God, coffin factory.

I had made the call two days earlier. A shot in the dark, but one that I took every now and then. New business is often without aim. A target floating in the ether, waiting on that lucky bullseye.

I was tipped off to their general whereabouts from an old colleague of mine. The casket company appeared to be doing quite a bit of welding. And if you’re spot-welding, then you’re most likely using a lot of welding consumables. These parts are made from nonferrous metals, and need to be changed out often, due to the large amount of current, and heavy force, which this particular process of welding entails.

Brass tacks: Sooner or later you need new parts. We happen to make those parts. Buy them from us and we’ll love you forever.

I should have put one and two together. A casket company, is most likely making caskets. But the word casket sounds a little too much like gasket. And my mind glazed over the word lazily. I assumed it was automotive needs that I would once again be trying to fulfill.

The company was located in a rural area of Indiana. An area which most recently made headlines for the staggering amount of new HIV cases that were popping up in its various townships. Apparently, the numbers rivaled those of New York City. The only difference being there wasn’t nearly the resources, medical personnel, or awareness, that most major cities have. Long story short, the CDC were setting up shop.

Not that any of this had a bearing on my situation. I wasn’t planning on sharing needles or genitals anytime soon, but still, news of this sort always carries a bit of doom and gloom with it. The fact that I was driving through rural Indiana in the midst of a downpour didn’t help either. My eyesight isn’t the best, but I’ve staved off the opportunity to don hip eyewear for this long, and I tend to keep that going, at least until the DMV advises otherwise. Unfortunately, a downpour can be challenging for those of us not blessed with sniper-like peepers, especially when the street signs are mostly lying face down on random dirt roads.

Although, my frustration at the amount of attention needed for the simple task of driving quickly fizzled, as I stumbled upon one of the stranger sights I had seen in some time.

While stopped at a red light, an Amish couple turned and clopped down my street, riding on a horse-drawn carriage. This was my first encounter with the Amish, and their means of transportation (Not counting Kingpin), and I stared wide-eyed in fascination. My jaw hanging and the light changing, as I took it all in.

The rain was flying in at a 45 degree angle. The drops were  the size of mini-water balloons, coming in quicker than a Cuban little leaguer’s fastball. The Amish couple kept low, their hat and bonnet impossibly glued onto their soaking heads, as the gusting wind fought to rid them of their ancient accessories. The man handled the reigns capably, as his wife, or sister-wife, or whatever it is with the Amish, held the umbrella up and out like a makeshift windshield. The scene was equal parts human innovation and cultural stagnation.

The other party in this shit show was, until now, an unseen trucker. He laid on his horn from behind me, reminding anyone within earshot, that we all have somewhere else to be. Even the Amish.

Moments later, there I stood, soaking wet inside of a coffin factory. The Amish might’ve remembered their umbrella, but I did not.

The head of maintenance, I’ll call him Jimbo for this blog, greeted me with good ol’ boy charm.

“Gotdamn. It sure as hell is coming down out the there, eh?”

“Yeah it is.” I replied warily.

“Well, come on then, let me show you round.” Said Jimbo, as he spun and headed deeper into the factory.

I followed Jimbo through the maze like turns of the offices, until we finally spilled onto the shop floor, where I was promptly greeted by hundreds of open coffins.

The sight was a slap in the face from the bony hand of the Reaper himself. I let out a stunned stammer, trying not to let my mortal fears show. Jimbo turned and smiled brightly, reveling in my surprise.

“Lots a damn coffins, amirite? Shit, we build and ship em all over the gotdamn world. This is the house of a thousand soon to be corpses. Heh!”

I just nodded and smiled, as he went on. Jimbo really loved his job.

“Imagine if this place flooded, eh? Whole damn county would be screaming and running for their lives. Floating coffins everywhere!”

Jimbo chuckled hard at his imagery, and I couldn’t help but let out a snort and laugh as well. I believe it’s known as gallows humor, and it does the trick in a pinch.

Soon, we strolled around the shop, as Jimbo showed me the manufacturing process of coffins. All the while, the coffins traveled back and forth, over our heads, and all around us, on various conveyor belts, like a conga line from hell.

Jimbo showed off the really custom ones, which, according to Jimbo, went for upwards of fifty thousand dollars. The big man shook his head when he dropped that number. He looked like a man who wished he had some chew to spit at that moment, but settled for just shaking his head again.

“Can you believe that?! Fifty grand! Hell, if it was me, I’d take that fifty grand and throw a party instead. Dancing girls, my man!”

“A lot of money.” I said, as I nodded in agreement.

I found myself morphing into an extra from King of the Hill. A yes man of sorts. Agreeable to the end. “Yup, what you said, Jimbo.” Or “Damn right, Jimbo.” It was an easy transition to make, Jimbo had ideas enough for the both of us.

And there was no doubt that Jimbo had thought out this scenario, and probably most scenarios that had anything to do with the funeral trade.

Unfortunately, our meeting ended abruptly, when Jimbo was pulled away on an urgent matter. A matter that would presumably result in an angry conference call with one unhappy deity or another, and thus perhaps resulting in a bold move toward cremation.

And Jimbo would let out a frustrated sigh and exclaim “That’s the gotdamn death business for ya.”

I drove back to my office under a sun-filled sky, with clouds like cotton balls. I hoped to steal another glance at the Amish, who undoubtedly made their own coffins, but it was not to be. Instead, I settled for a guy with a funny mustache, at the first Starbucks I could find.

Close enough, I thought.

Stratford, Ontario. 2012

On the long and desolate drive, I kept myself occupied with a book on tape, or a cd in this case. I hadn’t discovered audible yet, and podcasts still weren’t a thing. The book was No One Belongs Here More Than You. A collection of short stories by Miranda July.

They were odd and strangely beautiful, but these stories were the type of reading better suited for warmer months. And they proved all the more heartbreaking, when listening to July’s tender voice, as she read them aloud, on a very cold, and very lonely stretch of highway.

This trip would prove to be the first of my driving-while-cry-vacuuming spells. An affliction where the afflicted, has too much time on their hands, and listens to, or thinks of, something that leads to an emotional swell. While also moving at a very rapid rate of speed, in a large, and potentially deadly, motor vehicle. Cry-vacuuming is the process in which the vacuumee fights off the sudden threat of tears, with a complex maneuver that bears a striking resemblance to an allergy attack in reverse.

It’s an inner-battle that is difficult to describe, but one that most of us have had to contend with at one time or another. The trick is to think of your face as an emotional vacuum cleaner. Turn it on, and suck up your tears and snot, leaving the weight of those emotions in the vacuum bag of your gut. This will most likely kill you over an abbreviated lifetime. But hey, at least you’re not crying like a baby, on the side of the road.

In company, I’m mostly a conversationalist. A pop-culture fueled blabber-mouth, who might resemble an extra from a Judd Apatow film. Although, when planted in the solitary confines of my car, for an extended period of time, moodiness will have its way.

I debated whether or not to pull over as I cry-vacuumed the tears from my blurry eyes. Deep breaths, calm shall conquer all. It was her words, or more likely her voice, that caught me at a moment of weakness. My eyes continued to well, and I was already too far gone.

I thought of my wife, as she gave birth to our first son, Aleks. There were slight complications, and an emergency caesarian was called for. Maria, drugged and beautiful, whispering to me. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Over and over again. Why I replayed that scene is beyond me. But in those moments, when true art delivers a swift kick in the pants, we can’t help but recall something from the past. Something that might be beautiful and terrible and real. It’s a fucked up game of tag we sometimes play with art.

After a few hours in the car, I become susceptible to either laughter or tears. This is dependent on a few factors: What I’m listening to, what I’m daydreaming about, the weather, human contact, and what I’ve eaten that day.

On this day, there was a slow, constant rainfall. It pattered rhythmically onto the windshield. Earlier, doing my finest imitation of a Burmese Python, I swallowed a quarter-pounder with cheese, somewhere in Northern Michigan. I was now in a different country, and the roaming charges alone, were reason enough not to call anyone. And for some reason, I was thinking about a scary blip in an otherwise pretty okay life. And the damn rain would not let up.

The dependent factors had given word from on high: My battery was in need of charging, and in all likelihood, this was going to be a miserable day.

I pulled over on the side of the road, and paused the book. I quietly cursed Miranda July. I cursed her voice, and her words. She needed to get out of my head. I quickly ejected the cd, and threw it in the back seat. I lit a cigarette and put in another cd, one featuring a bunch of songs I burned for just such an occasion (The road trip, not the cry-vacuuming).

I was back on the road, and it was time to rock out. After a while, I honed in on Shelter from the Storm. Dylan’s bleating vocals and lyrics boring their way into my subconscious. It was on repeat for the rest of the drive. He was a traveler too. And his storm was biblical in its telling. I tried to memorize each word as I sang along through multiple cigarettes and cold coffee.

I imagined myself singing it un-ironically during karaoke at a bar. Perhaps with my wife, and a few of our friends. Maybe a girl or two from the past, were there as well. How would the scene play out? I was no longer some drunken day player at a karaoke bar. Go big or go home. This was my fantasy after all.

His lyrics, now mine. As I sang along to the song in my tone-deaf way. I was Dylan, and I sang a song about a foreign land, and my own crown of thorns. Perhaps a crush from a lifetime ago was watching intently, the passion of the moment taking her, as she realized much too late, that we had something special there, for a second.

My wife and I locking eyes, and knowing in that split second, that there was more to it all. That the adventure was just beginning. And of course, there were the assholes from different eras of my life. As they looked away sheepishly, ashamed at how they did me wrong. Soon though, like most juvenile fantasies, mine lost its imaginary steam. And the daydream sputtered out, without so much as a whimper or a croon.

After a time, I found my way to Stratford. I navigated the town and ended up at a small hotel known as the Queen’s Inn.

Upon check in, I walked through the Boar’s Head pub, situated on the first floor. I noticed it packed with locals, working their way through what I assumed were after-work drinks. I passed on a drink of my own, and headed directly for my room. I threw down my bag and lay on the bed. After a few minutes of staring at nothing, I jumped with a start. My body’s self-preservation mechanism had kicked in. Something was not right. I scanned the room.

There were way too many fucking doors. The room had four separate doors. There was the front door, which I walked in from. Two doors on the wall in front of me, and a fourth door to the small bathroom on my right. After thinking it over, it did make sense. One of the other doors was for the closet, and the other, a connector for the rooms. Still, it seemed like way too many doors for one room. Usually, there’s a turn or even a second room, which splits up the amount of doors from the hotel patron’s view.

This was unsettling. I stood, and moved to open the closet door, and then thought better of it. I imagined a black hole. Ready and waiting to swallow me up into the abyss. Or maybe a tiger. I wasn’t sure which would be worse. I needed to walk.

Stratford was a bit different, even for Canada. I hadn’t researched much about the city before I arrived. The fact being, I was there for a work-related meeting. So, I was taken aback when I noticed how many restaurants and theaters were condensed into such a small town. It was considerable overkill for a population of perhaps 30,000. I stopped to read some of the signs and posters around town.

There was quite a bit about Shakespeare. Again, it seemed like too much culture for a town of this size. And I was fairly certain the bard never got out this way. So, I didn’t think it had anything to do with historical sites on his behalf. It was all very curious. This was a case that needed solving. One that would require my finest deductive skills in doing so. Plainly put, I would have to ask someone what in the hell was going on.

The city itself had more of a European feel, architecturally, than a lot of what I had already seen of Ontario. It felt as if the town was transplanted from Switzerland, or perhaps Belgium. I had never been to either Switzerland or Belgium, but both of those countries seemed right to me for some reason.

I ate dinner at a small restaurant. I took my meal at the bar. It’s not as sad when you’re eating alone at the bar. A person, by themselves at a table, always looks as if they were just stood up on that first date, but they’re going to finish their meal anyhow. The stubborn sort, which may explain why they were stood up in the first place.

The bartender was good for a bit of company. Although, the TV news was going on about election coverage. And all he seemed to want to do was snort in disgust at anything one of the TV pundits uttered. I couldn’t blame him however, pundits have a knack for bringing out the inner-snorter in any moderate individual.

It was 2012, and Obama was owning Romney in the polls. I guess I was pleased by this. The bartender, knowing I was American, wanted a partner in his political discourse. I am not a fan of politics, nor snorting, and even less a fan of political discussions with strangers. This topic of discussion always seems to begin with that strange feeling out process. Is he one of ours? And this was further complicated by an international context, even if in this scenario, the countries were bordering one another.

Soon though, we both commiserated over the fact that neither of us liked Romney all that much. Albeit, this wasn’t a difficult common ground to find. Unfortunately, I could tell, in that salesman-y way of mine, that the politics flowed passionately in my bartender. I tried to divert our path, but it was not the success I had hoped for, and I left soon after. I made sure to over-tip, and hoped this would lighten his thoughts on folks south of his border.

It had begun to snow, on my way back to the hotel. Big flakes, dancing slow and gracefully down onto the street. There was no wind, and it was quiet, almost silent outside. A nice night for a walk, and a pleasant town to do so in. And I had it all to myself, for a time.

I stopped downstairs at the Boar’s Head for a drink. I bellied up to the bar, and had a nice conversation with a grizzled older fellow. He cared less about politics, and imposing his will on the world, and more about passing a cold night with warm conversation. He told me of the town, and the famous Bieber kid, who came from it. A twinge of pride evident, even in his ribbing of the beebs.

He answered my questions on Shakespeare’s strange influence, here. And he told me about the Shakespeare festival, and of the tourists from around the world, that would flock to it. I made a mental note of going to see more plays in general. The only one I had actually seen in person, not counting Blue Man Group, or carnivals, was a version of True West performed by a cast of college theater kids at Lewis University. A friend of a friend performed in it, and while it was entertaining enough, It left me underwhelmed.

Piece by piece, the puzzle that was Stratford came together. Its doors opening, each one revealing a bit more of its history and its people. Or what a traveling salesman from Chicagoland could put together of it, in the brevity of a single night. Still, the city had stories to tell, Shakespearian and otherwise.

I finished my drink and went outside for one last cigarette, before calling it a night. A night that found a second wind and its third act.

I watched, as across the street, a man and woman stood by their parked cars, hoods popped, speaking to one another as the snow fell. Jumper cables connected their cars, and batteries were being charged.