Saturday, January 3, 2009

a different kind of fun

New Orleans and Portland feel like they are at opposite ends of the universe, that's how different they are. I feel like a kid going back and forth between parents -- one quiet, reserved, sweet, subdued if not a bit sad, patient, calculating, lonely and poetic, reading Mary Oliver poems and making coriander-spiced tempeh after blogging about endangered birds and hybrid cars; the other eccentric, loud, unkempt and ravaged, salty, impolite, wearing no bra or underwear, not giving a flying fuck what anybody thinks, eating drippy meat things without napkins and making freeform, cheerful music. It kind of makes you wonder why they even got married in the first place. Then you realize that Portland and New Orleans never DID get married. I just call both of them "home."

Regardless, flinging myself back and forth between them for week-long stretches is incredibly emotionally straining. It's a cyclical series of motions: holding on and letting go perpetually, never feeling completely grounded. When I got home (New Orleans home) last night, the house smelled like hurricane. It smelled muggy and swampy because the heat and air conditioning had rested for two whole weeks. And it felt empty, because we have nothing on the walls and very high ceilings. We don't even have a couch. Just wood floors and stairs and the fireplace we haven't broken in yet.

But then I saw (or rather HEARD) Satchmo, with all his charm and annoyance and unconditional forgiveness (which I don't deserve because I DID leave him in this desperately uninteresting house with very little outside contact for ten full days, which I think legitimately deserves a grudge, but he's a bigger man than I am), and I felt comfortable again. And I discovered "Instant" NetFlix, which by the way is the BEST INVENTION EVER. So things were good.

And walking around my neighborhood this morning things started to come back -- which, considering I had only been gone for two weeks, I was surprised I had forgotten in the first place. Like the way people here ALL say hello to you, no matter what. "Hey! You look so pretty in purple." "Hi there! Did you have a nice New Year?" "Well hello. Think it's gonna rain." People just aren't like that in Portland. I think it's a "The South" thing.

And the way everything -- EVERYTHING -- smells like hot pepper sauce; Cajun cooking; fish or crab or seafood of some kind; deep frying fat. Even at 9 in the morning people seem to be barbecuing.

And you don't have to wear a sweater, or socks, and you don't get carded when you buy a bottle of wine, and you can get groceries for the whole week for less than $20. Dogs waltz around as if leash laws are not only obviously a joke, but embarrassingly unfashionable. Likewise, I jaywalked across a major street and almost got hit by a police officer without even thinking twice about it. And people are drunk by about 11 a.m.

There are two things that suck:
1. When you ask the barista if they have soymilk, the response is generally, "WHATmilk?"
2. It floods. Really bad. And the thunder is really scary.

I know I'm supposed to love thunder. It's some kind of unspoken rule that deep and intelligent people find thunder unspeakably beautiful, like the lonely cry of nature or some similar bullshit. I once dated a guy who would stand outside in a thunder storm for hours taking pictures of the swollen purple sky, muttering that it was the most spectacular thing he'd ever seen. Now that's all very well and good for people like him. But has anyone else noticed that it SOUNDS EXACTLY LIKE GUNFIRE? And is ACCOMPANIED BY UNPREDICTABLE AND OCCASIONALLY FATAL FLASHES OF ELECTRICAL CURRENT? THAT'S. SCARY. Especially when you're alone. And here, the thunder goes on forever. Every single thunder clap is like one of those really long, comical farts that goes on waaaay longer than a fart is supposed to go. Only scary and not funny. Luckily, Satchmo also thinks thunder is terrifying and he balls up against me wimpering like he has a flesh wound and that makes me feel like way less of a wimp.

So right now I'm a little scared on a Saturday night and my car is almost entirely underwater, so there is no going anywhere. That's probably okay because I've had a pretty eventful day.
1. I saw a jazz concert at the Historical Jazz Museum and participated in a Second Line.
2. I had beignets and chicory coffee at Cafe Du Monde. Which is reason enough to want to live in New Orleans FOREVER, by the way. I am reminded of that every time I pay the (almost always Asian) waitress $2 in exchange for PURE HEAVEN.
3. I visited the VooDoo Museum in the French Quarter, which was indescribably kitschy and wonderful. I will recount only the moment when I was making a monetary sacrifice to the god of snakes (I forget his name), and as if on cue, an old fat priest came out of the back room with a live albino python wrapped around his neck. (Leah's brother apparently heard this man later tell him, "I have a 39-foot one upstairs. But it hates women.")
4. Leah let me come over to make cashew-pineapple-fried quinoa and cabbage with peanut sauce. !!!. As a sidenote, cutting ginger is one of the most immediately gratifying physical activities I can imagine. It smells so good and sounds so good and tastes so good. It's really a win-win-win. We also watched "Enchanted." Actually, at that moment, I was grateful for the rain and the thunder and the flooding because it made me feel really not-guilty for cuddling up inside where it smelled like ginger and watching a movie. Which was all I wanted to do.

I feel I get full fun points for today. Now I'm lying with this wonderful cat pressed against me as if his life depends on it.

I should mention that I have quite a lot of New Years' Resolutions. Here are ten:

Ten of Sophie's New Years' Resolutions:

1. Get over my fear of fish. I secretly believe that I am already over my fear of fish. Well, I believe that SOME of the time. Rationally, I understand that my fear of fish is irrational. And I understand this in ways that I don't understand that my fear of the dark is irrational, or that my fear of zombies is irrational. So I'm going to do something symbolic like go SCUBA diving. I'm not really ALL-CAPS excited about that, it's just that SCUBA is an acronym and you're supposed to capitalize it.

2. Ride my bike to work, even when it rains. In Portland, I saw people riding around with plastic bags on their bike seats. This is doable. I don't have to drive just because it's raining a little bit. I WILL sacrifice the bike, however, if it floods. Which it is doing right now.

3. Go to all the museums in New Orleans. WOW, there are a lot of museums in New Orleans. They are all over the freaking place! And I have gone to probably about half of them. Knowing New Orleans, there are probably a lot of secret museums that I don't know about. I plan to find all of those.

4. Watch one movie per week. I know this does not seem like a very ambitious goal. But I watch a surprising amount of television on DVD, a surpringly tiny number of films. I just find it a lot easier; a much smaller commitment. With movies, you have to really sit down for two hours and you can't do much else. You can do mindless tasks, but you can't, say, browse Digg. You CAN do that while you are watching television. So it's a lesson in self-control and non-multi-tasking, really. I used to love going to the movies, too, and I want to go more often.

5. Take a class. There are a lot of classes I want to take. I am willing to settle on resolving to take only one. I would like to take a writing workshop (I know there are some good ones around town); or to take dance classes. I would love to take an art class, a cooking class, a yoga class, a language class, whatever. Just something that's not learn-to-be-a-teacher-class. I'm bored of that class. I want one that brings joy to my heart once a week.

6. Cook all the recipes in my cookbook that I've marked with a Post-It but have never tried because it's too easy just to make the ones that I already know are winners. This basically means I'm going to need to make a lot less Pad Thai. Which is okay. It's time for me to expand my horizons.

7. Perfect my stand-up comedy routine. I have been secretly working on this for about a year, and I just started trying it out at open mic nights. I want to do a show and walk away from it feeling like I OWNED it. This is difficult because I have a vagina, which usually is a hindrance to people who are trying to be comedians.

8. Finish my freaking novel. This is an annoying resolution. I hate people who write novels. They're usually annoying pricks who write novels just because they want to say that they have done it. Actually, that is basically why I am doing it, and I admit it completely. And yet, I have been poring over my "work" for two years now. I have 350 pages of mess, and all I want in the world is to tie a ribbon around it and put it to rest. Find me as annoying as you would like.

9. Go to an NBA Championship game. This will only be possible if the Hornets make the finals. So Chris Paul, if you're reading this right now, know that a lot more is hinging on you being awesome this season than you might think.

10. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER EVER EVER call anyone ever again in a fit of tears and desperation and sob into the phone like a fucking moron. Except for my mom, who will love me no matter what.


Weird, reflecting on 2008, it was a pretty superlative year. I think it was the best year of my life. That is partially offset by the fact that I think it was also the worst year of my life. And in a truly uncharacteristic turn, I think I will leave it at that.

Perhaps adding that I hope 2009 is just as exhausting, full, heartbreaking and life-changing.

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