Look. I know I'm supposed to hate this snow. This snow is keeping people from leaving the airport, it's keeping people from going Christmas shopping, it's making it so none of my Amazon.com boxes are ever going to get here in time, it made it so my dad and I had to cart my 50+ pound suitcases half a mile uphill in the snow (and my sister is absolutely facing the same fate when her plane is scheduled to come in tomorrow). I get it.
BUT LOOK AT IT! IT'S BEAUTIFUL! I shoveled for an hour. And now I'm going to go outside and shovel some more. And I know I'm supposed to hate shoveling. But shoveling is like playing in the snow for grown-ups! You get to build SICK ESKIMO WALLS! Your dog thinks it is the funnest game EVER when snow is being tossed all around! I like shoveling, and I like snow, and I don't mind staying inside all day and reading novel after novel and listening to Best of '08 music lists and talking to Avery on the phone. Christmas break is THE BEST. I LOVE being trapped inside with my parents and my dog and my cats. The only thing I want in the world is for Allie to come home. But otherwise I'm pretty fucking happy. 100 PERCENT FUN!!!!
I just need to tell you this one story. I mean, there is a lot to tell, honestly. There have been a lot of fun experiences had lately. On Friday night I stayed out until 2 a.m.! I am a PARTY ANIMAL. That SAME NIGHT I experienced for the first time in my entire life the wonder that is Baked Brie (also known as the greatest food man has yet invented). There were other triumphs of that night, involving lighting little plastic army men on fire and also involving Brazil, but that's not the story I want to tell you.
The story I want to tell you is ALSO not how I spent eight hours yesterday in Hannah's kitchen making and canning amazing, authentic lemon curd (from local Meyer lemons!). Lemon curd and butter cookies and mushroom tomato sauce and cauliflower curry and New Wave Dance Mix and "Harold and Maude." I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, "ALL IN ONE DAY!?" And I am here swearing on the legacy of Bud Cort that I am telling the truth. This may sound like the perfect day to you. That is because it was. But again, that's not the story I want to tell you.
I want to tell you a story (surprise!) about Avery.
Maybe I haven't told given you very much background on Avery. Here are some things about him: 1. He has fetal alcohol syndrome. In Sped Speak, this translates to being one of those uncategorizable "OHI"s (other health impairments), because he is moderately retarded and severely physically impaired. Avery lives Uptown. Last summer, his mother died in front of him. He doesn't have a father, and he lives with his 8osomething grandmother, who broke her hip last month. Avery doesn't really have a lot, and he doesn't ask for a lot. And despite all of that, he is SUCH a good person. He loves people, he makes people laugh, he enjoys being alive. And all he wanted in the whole universe for Christmas was a cell phone.
So you know the punchline here: We got him a cell phone. We got him one of those WalMart ones with 500 minutes to put on it. All in all, it cost the three of us (me, Kristen, and Jayda) like $60. And SERIOUSLY YOU GUYS: No kid has EVER been happier in his LIFE, EVER, to receive ANYTHING. Avery started freaking out and spazzing around the room and shouting, and he peed all over himself because he was so happy. I can't put this into words. I should have committed it to film but I didn't have the foresight. Imagine the absolute best Christmas movie you've ever seen ever about a kid finally getting the present he has always dreamed of, and then magnify that climactic scene by a googleplex.
I kept thinking about how when I was a kid I never really cared all that much about my Christmas presents. I remember one year I got this really expensive keyboard (which I still have), but all I wanted was a Polaroid camera, so I just kind of sulked for most of the holiday. I don't think I even said thank you. I mean, that's typical of a kid like me, really. I don't feel all that bad about it. But you know, Avery has called me twelve times in the last two days. Just to say, "Hey Ms. Johnson, how you doin'?" "Hey Ms. Johnson, I'm just chillin' right now!" "Hey Ms. Johnson I'm watching Court TV are you watching Court TV?" Next year I'm gonna get that kid an iPhone.
Wow. So. Most successful Christmas party of all time. I mean, honestly, it was the perfect party. And now I feel completely prepared to tell you what you need to do to throw the perfect party, in ten easy steps:
The perfect number of guests to invite is 9. This is particularly perfect if you have exactly 9 chairs on hand. This is the perfect sized group to allow for little break-offs and to accommodate all-group conversations at the same time.
When making the invite list to your white elephant gift party, be sure to invite at least two artists who will take the "white elephant" thing literally and will bring a present that in some way actually incorporates a white elephant. Perhaps by transforming a pudding SnakPak into an elephant by coiling wire around it. (You'd probably have to see this to understand what I mean.)
You don't put vodka in eggnog (or soynog). You put brandy or rum or whiskey. Makes all the difference in the world.
As "good" as your homemade apple cider was at your Halloween party, the expensive apple cider they sell at Whole Foods is better. Like, way better. And you can definitely put a cinnamon stick in there and say you made it yourself.
If you put chips and salsa out for your party because you think it's possible your guests will want to eat something besides cookies and frosting, know that the artists you invite to the party (see number 4) will use the chips to decorate their cookies. And this will be awesome.
Putting a Star of David on your Christmas tree cookie is funny and ironic and also pretty inclusive.
"All I Want for Christmas Is You" should be played often and loudly and preferably on repeat at any party you throw during any season regardless of theme or religious affiliation.
Yesterday we lost four hours of the school day because of a "fire."
On Tuesday we took the kids on a field trip to the Contemporary Art Center (which is an unbelievably cool place in general, and has some of the best Prospect.1 exhibits in the whole city [I was especially in love with the Bob Marley video piece, and I notoriously HATE Bob Marley, so that's saying something]). The trip was horrible because of this one woman who was so incredibly rude and condescending to my wonderful students and actually quit her job in the middle of leading them in a workshop. She called them idiots and told one pregnant girl that she shouldn't have gotten pregnant in high school... I don't know. I can't communicate in words how hurtful she was. She broke Derren. Derren is this wonderful, 450-pound boy who I work really closely with. No matter what you do to him, or say to him, or try with him, he is always chatty and loud and playful, bouncing back from whatever comes his way. But after meeting this woman, he shut down for the rest of the day and refused to talk to anyone or do anything.
But the whole experience helped me realize how much I love these kids. I mean, I haven't cried in about three weeks, but seeing the kids beaten down like that, I had to step away and cry for a little while. I couldn't stand seeing the people I love more than anyone in the world hurt like that. After it was all over, I took my group aside and told them I was so impressed with them and proud of them, and that they were the reason I woke up every morning. As soon as I said that, I realized how true it was.
And then on Wednesday we dissected fetal pigs. FTW.
I met Chlora May at the post office a few weeks ago, and I gave her a ride back to her nursing home. I loved hearing her stories about her life and her children and the way New Orleans has changed over time, and at the end of the ride we exchanged phone numbers. At first, Chlora May called a lot and I visited her once a week. But then after Thanksgiving, the phone calls abruptly stopped, and I assumed the worst. But yesterday I called just for some kind of closure and found that she was not only alive and well, she had fallen in love. She apologized for not calling me in a while, but she said she was too busy going on hot dates with William!
I thought I should share that, as corny and cliche as it is. It kind of made my heart swell.
It was a really, really good weekend. When I woke up at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning, I had my doubts. I thought to myself, "I get myself up at the crack of dawn every single day. What the hell was I thinking volunteering to take eight kids into the wilderness where we inevitably won't sleep and we'll have to cook meat over a fire?" I was clearly grumpy, so I ate a Pop Tart. Then I felt better.
But I felt even BETTER when we loaded the kids into the car and headed out for Mississippi cranking Lil Wayne like it was our job and identifying all the many brown pelicans along the swamp. Two hours later I started to realize that the students at Rabouin High School -- even a sample size like this one -- are far and away the most energizing and entertaining people I have ever met in my life. While we sat around making Pudgie Pies (these are basically glorified grilled cheese sandwiches, and they are also AWESOME) the students asked with genuine intrigue if it was true that I was really a "veterinarian" (vegetarian). Yes, I was. What did I eat? Vegetables, bread, things like that. Did I eat fish? No. Didn't veterinarians eat fish? No. How was I still alive? I wasn't sure, but I usually didn't question it. Didn't I wonder what turkey tasted like on Thanksgiving? No, I had a Tofurkey. It was lucky I had brought some Tofurkey with me. All the kids decided they wanted to try "just a tiny bit." Only one boy liked it. Everyone else said it was disgusting (with complaints ranging from it tasting like baby food to it being made from mashed up lima beans).
We also went "birding," but that became a problematic endeavor once I saw a tufted titmouse and "titmouse" proved to be too hilarious a word not to dwell on for approximately an hour. And we DID make meat in tinfoil, and it was AWESOME. I wish I could have video taped the whole weekend; I don't think I've ever laughed so hard. Definitely not while camping.
But in some ways it was hard. December 13 this year marks one of those personal anniversaries for me, and I didn't want to be alone. The wilderness is a place where it's difficult to not be alone, even when you're with exuberant teenagers. Probably good, though. I did get to see a really old cemetery, and you all know how deeply thrilled I become over really old cemeteries.
There is one week of school left before I trek back to Portland. The traveling is growing a bit exhausting. But I'm getting that kind of excited feeling in my chest about Christmas. Who in their right mind doesn't love Christmas? Well, I guess a lot of people whose religions don't adhere to it. But the smell of it, and the sweaters, and the things you get to eat, and the music, and the red-and-green jigsaw puzzles. Apparently there is even snow in Portland right now. It's difficult to have an aversion to that stuff, I think. Maybe I'm wrong and I've just been spoiled with really wonderful parents who make Christmas this fabulous, familial time. And if that's the case, you can just come over to my house for Christmas this year. Because chances are, I miss you.
Okay, WHY do I not give myself food points!? I went to this guy Phillipe's house for dinner tonight and he's a chef at Houston's and he made these extraordinary zucchini fritters and cauliflower puree and I thought, "Heaven is currently in my mouth."
Isn't this an extraordinary picture of Avery? I love that he finds joy in everything about being alive. This is basically his expression all the time. Except when he is making his "sexy face."
Speaking of "sexy face," my cat is being the best boyfriend EVER right now. He's making all these sexy breathy little gurgles and purring and resting his head on my shoulder. WIN.
What I have NOT been doing a good job of lately is exploring the city. This is partially because it gets dark so early, but partially because I've been lazy and I haven't been prioritizing having fun. Luckily, I HAVE been prioritizing staying sane and quitting smoking and eating well and teaching. Which are probably more important than having fun. Maybe.
But tomorrow I'm taking my students camping. Yep. I'm loading them into my car, along with sleeping bags and pillows and fleece blankets, and we're driving to Baton Rouge at 7 in the freaking morning. And for this I am giving myself one point in advance. Because that's pretty fun. And if we see an endangered species, it's going to be THROUGH THE FUCKING ROOF.
I've spent a lot of time very involved with being a teacher lately. And that's good. Publishing adorable quotes from students seems kind of cliche and unnecessary, but that's just what I'm about to do.
Derren: Ms. Johnson, it's true that when you drink wine coolers and eat a lot of cabbage when you're pregnant then your baby gonna have pretty skin?
Derren: I want to be a nurse when I grow up. You know, 'cause I want to do something where I be helpin' people. (pause.) And you know, there ain't no men up in that job, ya heard me? So I get bookoo ladies.
It snowed in New Orleans today. People acted like it was both the apocalypse and also the most awesome thing that had ever happened. I wished we could let the kids run around in it like they wanted to, but we kept them inside and by the end of the day it was all gone. Such is the inevitable nature of snow in the deep south.
Also, Ben is coming to visit. Thank GOD.
On Tuesday I drove to Baton Rouge to visit John and June, who Alex and I stayed with during Hurricane Gustav. As the story goes, the storm hit much harder there than it did in New Orleans and we stayed around for like four days, trapped by fallen water oaks and smashed power lines. It was amazing to see the neighborhood cleaned up, and the house with all the lights on, and the tiny dogs who wore diapers. We ate peanut butter-pear salad and pasta with roasted pepper sauce and blackberry cobbler, and I wanted to give myself 50 food points, but then I realized I don't give myself food points (partially because I'm not in Weight Watchers). Anyway, Baton Rouge is automatically fun. Spontaneous hour-and-a-half nighttime solo road trips are bonus points.
Things are quiet; fine. I am continuing to get pretty hilarious Craigslist responses. Marianne is wearing bundle clothing (you know -- zillions of sweaters and wool scarves and skiing hats and shit like that). I am reading a great deal so I can buy people up-to-date novels for their Christmas presents. My cat is sleeping on my feet. Awesome.
It was a really good weekend. If you're wondering if I bought you a Christmas present, my answer is this: YES. YES I DID. I have never had such a euphorically successful shopping day. I recognize how completely and totally girly that sounds. But cut me some slack, I spend a lot of my time liking Star Wars and the NBA and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, so I think I'm allowed one stereotypically girly blog statement.
It was a beautiful day here, and my mom and I talked on the phone while simultaneously watching cat videos together over the internet for an entire hour. That's when I realized my mom was the perfect long distance boyfriend. Too bad we're related. And in that case, too bad I live in Louisiana and not Tennessee.
Last night I played Hoopla with Jayda, Drew, Kristen, and Jayda's cool friend whose name I can't spell but phonetically starts with a T. Did you know how AWESOME Hoopla was? ME. NEITHER. I am totally buying that for everyone who I didn't find New Orleans-themed Christmas presents for today. I think that game could actually stop most violent crime and several wars. I am now envisioning Al Quaida members playing Hooplah with George W. Bush. AND IT'S AWESOME.
Things are generally fun right now. There are just two short weeks of school until Christmas, and I realized (as I continually COULD NOT STOP TALKING ABOUT THEM ALL WEEKEND) that I'm totally crazy about my students. We had some really rough spots last week (total crying-over-events-that-happened-at-school tally: 4), but such I suppose that's just part of it. As you can see by the fun-o-meter, I'm feeling pretty fun. I have been staying out LATE and chillin' with people WAY more than normal. I have only made about fourteen emo statements TOTAL in the last week and a half. And that's kind of whoa-y because over Thanksgiving break I was essentially speaking Emo as if it was a language.
Lots of fun planned for next week. Stay tuned. I'll teach you how to make lemon curd (!) and a cool lampshade out of string (actually you can just click on that link to see how to do that. I read about that in the latest issue of ReadyMade. But I made one and that is a SICK CRAFT. Sick as in good. Not the bad kind of sick.)
I felt really, really, genuinely happy tonight watching French films and drinking champagne with Karaline, Hannah and Leah. Easy, normal, college happy. Not excited happy or think-of-the-prospects happy. But happy. And safe. And it's been a long time since I've felt like that.
I was not sure if I was going to be able to go to an NBA game for a while. This was a sad feeling, because nobody loves the NBA like me. Well, of course, some people do. These are the other people who (like me) have season tickets to their hometown games, who (like me) subscribe to "Slam" Magazine and who (like me) dream about three-ways with Brandon Roy and Chris Paul. Actually, I think it's just me and Chris Tognotti. Anyway, I was not sure if I was going to be able to embrace the NBA this season because it is just a little too attached to the past, and I am in a "moving forward" kind of place right now. This was all too bad because I DO have season tickets to the Hornets, and they're a pretty good team this season (PRETTY good. Not as good as I had hoped.)
But I went last night to the Suns game with Caitlin and Avery (Penn friends!) after having dinner and lots and lots and lots of beer at their house (we walked the 2 miles to the Superdome down Bourbon Street, which is always an experience). And the game was awesome and I obviously can't give up the NBA. At long last, that's been decided for sure. Oh, what a game. Sad to miss Nash and Shaq, though. But on the other hand, without them, the Hornets obviously slaughtered.
We met up with 5+ others at the game and as we were leaving Avery started to sing the national anthem. It wasn't long before everyone was singing it, very loudly, very happily, to the amusement of the throngs of people leaving. That was COOL. I guess you had to be there.
See the picture up there? It came in a three-part letter from a boy I've never met who I sent an initial letter to earlier this month. What I love the most about it is this image -- birds on the wire, my favorite aesthetic in all of the universe. Now, this boy could not have possibly known this fact about me, but he included this sketch anyway. The world really does come together in nice ways.
Portland was good. Good not great, but it will be great next time. Mostly the "not great" part of it was that I got really, terribly, pneumoniaey sick on Wednesday night. Blame Ariana. But we got to cuddle and chill and watch ABC Family Christmas movies in wool socks and eat grand platters of slumber party foods for hours and hours and hours, and she can sleep with the television on, so she was a really good significant other to have for the week. We also embarked in lots of girly retail therapy and "Sex In The City"-y desserts and hour-long boy-related discussions. So that was all very plussy. And seeing Alex was very plussy, and seeing Alex's family as well (although I spent no more than 10 minutes with them and I wish it had been more). And of course MY family, who put up with me and put up with me and put up with me, even when I made putting up with me quite impossible.
Easing back into school. I had a bit of a backslide there, but I can feel myself approaching a certain point. It's like the point in a swimming race where you are crouched on the little diving board staring down at the water and you know the whistle is going to blow soon and you have this moment of experiencing how wet and sandpapery the diving block feels on your feet, and you poise yourself and decide you definitely, definitely want to be in the water.
The most powerful Katrina stories I have heard have been from cab drivers.
Two precursors to this thought: 1. My students probably have very good Katrina stories. Most of them spent a very long time in Texas because of the storm. But it's one of those subjects that comes up on its own, and generally, my students don't let it come up. There have been times when I have asked, of course. Once a student told me about how he watched someone get raped in front of him at the Superdome. But see, it's too painful, even for me, and we change the subject; talk about math instead, or Biology, or Final Fantasy, and pretend like Katrina was a long time ago, and that everything is safe and okay now. For some, that's what school is for. So that's the first thing. And 2. I am very, very good with cab drivers. I would say that my way with cab drivers is among my greatest talents in life. Almost without fail, I can get a cab ride for half the asking price by being personable. Keys to this trick: Be female, be wearing something kind of tight and/or skanky, and be sitting in the front seat. Sometimes I can even get the ride for free if I'm lucky, but I always pay anyway. I am genuinely fascinated by cab driving.
I mean, it has to be a pretty amazing profession. First, you have to be a map. I don't like riding in cabs with GPS systems. What's the fun in that? Part of being a cab driver is that you're supposed to be able to hear "Mount Avenue on the South Side" and know exactly where that is. I like maps, so the idea of being a human map is very attractive to me. Second, I hear people have sex in the backs of cabs, so that would be interesting if you were a cab driver. Third, I imagine you meet a lot of terribly interesting people, see a lot of terribly interesting road blocks, and witness a lot of little punctuations in your usual scenery every day because you spend all your time staring at it. From the bottom of my heart, I love to talk to cab drivers.
In New Orleans, the conversation in the cab always starts about the weather. "Isn't it cold?" "Isn't it warm?" "It's been raining an awful lot, hasn't it?" This segues kind of naturally into the subject of hurricanes.
I'm amazed by this, but ten out of ten of the last cab drivers I've had in New Orleans came back after Katrina. I don't know if I would be able to come back. But people here regularly impress me with their strength. They wear it like a beard you know you can't grow: "Yeah, whatever, I'm emotionally strong and weathered, what're you going to do about it?"
Once a man told me about how he plucked his indignant mother off her lower 9th ward property days before the storm, but how her best friend stayed and drowned and they saw her on the front page of the Texas paper, facedown in the deluge. "That was the week I learned how to text message. Because sometimes your phone wouldn't work but you could somehow text message. All I wanted to do was text message."
And the driver who came back and didn't have electricity for a month but he and his wife started to write short plays for each other to perform and they'd stand behind the kitchen table and pretend they were the television.
And yesterday, coming home from Thanksgiving break in Oregon, the man who came from India, who had family in Mumbai. And I said, "That must be awful, you must have been terrified last week, is everything okay," and he said, "It was nothing next to Katrina. My daughter still cannot drive through a puddle."
here is the story of how my parents fell in love. my mom made my dad pancakes, and then she wanted him to marry her. he was like, "woman, don't tie me down." so she said, "if you don't marry me, i'm moving to japan." and then she did.
my dad was okay for about five minutes. then he went to japan after her and proposed. they got married on a boat going to russia, wearing the kinds of outfits people wear in the sixties. they didn't know any of their wedding guests!
then they hitchhiked across europe for their honeymoon.
at some point, they realized they were so cool that they ought to spawn.