Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Downhill Slide

I got pulled into a quiet little world where nothing exists except two-sided library desks. Walled off by a piece of plywood, you sit across from a stranger. You come, dream your separate dreams, doodle on your notebook, leave unnoticed at different times. I favored the desks on the third floor where you could see the towers of Loyola floating over the tops of old oaks, the pale Gulf waning in the not too distant mind’s eye. It was good way to not get much done.

But I still got sucked into an even more microscopic universe, where the words in the texts swim in perfect order across the page like little Olympian track stars. The sounds of the page flapping, your breath…inhale, exhale, your own pulse, which can startle you. But you just get so fascinated. You fall in love. You read Toole and McCullers and Walker Percy on redemption. His pronounced Lancelot trotting 110 yards against ALABAMA!!! Or Faulkner. He is in a black and white filmstrip wandering Pirates Alley in the Quarter, smiling, coming closer, pulling away, grainy. That evening you walk to Pirates Alley and look up on the raised patios and close your eyes and think about Mosquitoes’ Gordon stumbling around drunk and in love and clearheaded at last. Or about long, eyeball-searing articles in literary journals about this or that connecting Jay McInerney to Lafcadio Hearn (or some such unlikely proposition). Unlikely, but they entice you now. You hunt them out. You don’t know why and you don’t care: Maybe you just want to read the tiny print. The smaller it is, the more you’ll think it’ll sneak into your brain and repeat itself brilliantly at a dinner party. The toast of the evening in front of all the guests and the hosts will shout, “Alas! Bandini stay for another drink and give us another story!” Those quiet moments in the library where codes and words suddenly start to click into place, the secrets of the universe open up to you. Everything is there, you can dig it up, you can touch it.

Now…the Downhill Slide. I don’t know when the Downhill Slide started. It might’ve been last night at that law school party I sneaked into by calling on an old friend from the restaurant business. The party was off of Soniat Street in one of those big old houses. The trees were restless, and we went up a few stories to wood floors and chandeliers, things shoved into corners, music kicking up. Outside on the balcony, I could see the gables of the house next to us slumbering in the dark.

At first it was that strange feeling. The fresh wind started off the Gulf, the smell of salt water, of warm ocean through the trees. I am taking Analog Recording this semester and it’s hard to focus. The lavender buds on the gray trees are starting to undress and stretch. I knew that truth when I walked past them at dusk this week and realized spring had begun. Well, spring was not supposed to start up, not till much later, but in New Orleans the air is already warm, green, and wet at night, whipped clean after a week of rain. It’s stormy weather, little things twisting and fluttering on every branch, getting ready.

Close your eyes and see this: You, sleeping and waking up, worse every day. A restless heart. The Soul Rebels Brass Band at Le Bon Ton. Trying to stay in at night to study instead. No dice. When it gets dark, the lamps light up all over town and the bulbs are hypnotic bat lamps where the commissioner is calling you to St. Joe’s Bar, then Kingpin for some shuffleboard, oh wait, skirt over back to Monkey Hill cause there’s this girl you gotta meet, Ross, and then up to The Columns with said girl where she runs into a professor from class and you ditch her to go to The Bulldog with friends, what’s that? Everyone’s going to F &M’s, but I’m going to The Bridge Lounge on my way to The Circle Bar, no you don’t understand there’s a jam session going on with James Singleton, Stan Moore, and Anders Osborne happenin’ at Chickie-Wah-Wah, but didn’t you hear about Harry Connick Jr. stopping by Café Brasil to sit in with Trombone Shorty and then sometime in the night, I’m running around in the middle of St. Charles Avenue singing “Body and Soul” with that girl I met in the recording class and you’re holding plastic cups that are so full of drinks they spill everytime you sway with that music major in your arms, nobody seeing to dawn, not even the ghosts. Laughing, darkness, a car rattling over flood-ruined roads of Claiborne. If I ever have a son, I’ll name him Claiborne.

This spring, the memories run like choppy 8mm home movies. The stairwell in the Communications Building, practicing my golf swing with an umbrella on front lawn, perfume that smells like sugar and sweet woman, a girl on a beach cruiser bicycle zipping past with red-slapped cheeks and plowing into the azalea bushes, mud and wet, green grass. My analog recording professor is leaning up against Monroe smoking a cigarette and trying to kill his time between classes and the rest of his day. Class isn’t till later, but I walk over and say hi and ask him about the gig he played last night. A piano set filled with a guitarist and a drummer, just enough to get by and make that mortgage note and score some groceries for the weekend. The sound of horns is pouring out of the back patio and it’s the orchestra warming up for the session in the pit tonight for a play put on by the theatre department. You know it’s what you came here for. So you start to try to study. You unfold the canvas chair in Audubon Park and bring out the books.

But it’s a lost cause. If you ever fall asleep and get stuck inside another world, the rain and the cobblestones, the mountains of clouds in the sky at night wake you up. If you are ever closed in and small and quiet, you won’t remember. Your pen’s missing, a folder spills notes on the ground. The day is shutting down, draping itself over the buildings. Your head falls toward your shoulder. You’re in a dream. The lights flicker on all over campus, the houses on Broadway looming like an ocean liner in the black Atlantic. You’re getting cold, but you can’t move just yet, you haven’t moved an inch in an hour. Book open in your lap, your eyelids feel thick, your eyelashes heavy. The faint sounds of the city float around you from time to time, but you can’t be reached. Maybe I’m not here at all. Your hip is asleep. Your legs tucked up, tangled…an ankle pressed against an aluminum bar on the canvas chair hard enough to split the skin. The night wind picks up. A friend opens their front door, pokes her head out. WHAT’RE YOU DOING HERE, CRAZY PERSON? She asks.

You would form words if you could; give her a half-shrug instead. You’re drunk and you don’t know how you got there. Then you’re smiling up at her, wide eyes stinging a little because you’re happy to see her. You’re not sure why, but you feel so happy it hurts and you want to laugh. Don’t know, you say finally. I guess I lost track of time.

AND PLACE! She shouts.

She frowns. Then: Oh God. You really need to go to the library or just forget it. This is insanity. I want to borrow your bikes. And: Loan me one of your woman friends. Don’t mock me. You’re probably in love already. I don’t know about all that, you grin. You’re staring at your booksack and thinking again about the library.

What to tell normal people? That you’re in love with a bunch of pieces of paper?

She eyeballs you mutely, so you get up. You raise your arms in a wide, slow circle. No ma’am. No downhill slides here, you sing to her. She laughs, covers her eyes, and giggles out loud and you start dancing on her porch for her like a vaudevillian character. No ma’am, can’t have that kind of thing happening. I will fail this entire semester. We cannot have that at all. And you don’t.

I don’t remember where I was going but when this filmstrip of home movies started; I was turning left on Annunciation on my way to get a poboy from Domolises. Gloomy Victorians spewing ferns and azaleas, an old Mercedes covered in those little leaves, a broken street sign.

Apocalypse and beauty, so much death. How are we still alive? That’s what I wanted to tell my friend. And, I love you, tired city. Without you I am dry-hearted, dull, and slowbeating. Its summer and the heat’s laying in, flooding in deeper up through your side streets on drowsy waves. I’m not here, but I know wide rivers still wind down to you. I’ll always come back soon. Don’t move without me. Don’t take a single breath.


Blogger cadiz12 said...

i miss when everyone was excited about blogging and posting all the time. I hope you are doing well, lucasj.

4:43 PM  

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