Private Magazine

Category: Graffiti

Couch Surfin’ All Over the World

Halloween’s ghosts have risen from the ashes to walk the streets again, visiting friends, relatives – maybe even you.

Their old haunts may look a little different now – what was once a brothel, say, is now Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen – but ghosts have a knowing sense of direction. They can find their way around.

 I’m in the very last seat in the very last row of United Airlines flight number 509 to New Orleans, which is, from what I understand, a very mystical, spiritual and haunted enclave.  We are 30,000 feet in the air, Hotel Transylvania is streaming free and blood red tomato juice is free too.   Jason and Eddie are both with me in spirit, since Halloween is Eddie’s birthday.  October 31 is nowhere near Jason’s birthday, but it was his raison d’etre. 

While they never met on a mortal plane, Jason and Eddie, maybe, just maybe, they have now met in the afterlife. 

My cabbie speaks in a Louisiana drawl as we pass by roofs patched with bright blue tarps. 

“FEMA came and patched mine up,” he tells me, “Shingles are backordered, there’s a shortage right now.” 

I’m going to New Orleans for spiritual awakening, no, a cleansing, no….a vacation?  It’s Halloween 2021, with time slated to grow increasingly decrepit and absurd. I have some money to spend, albeit not much, but cash is worthless now anyway.  So spend it all baby, in the name of love, pour one out for your grandma, and Philip Seymour Hoffmann too. 

 Harpsichord melodies drift down an alleyway.  The haunted streetcar clangs towards the Quarta’ packed with costumed revelers, though it’s barely past noon. The sidewalks are precarious, as the stones rise up and jut out of the ground.  A jazz band leads a funeral procession towards the cemetery, playing a slow dirge that will morph into a celebratory jam upon departure. 

In the cemetery, one bony skeleton hand rises from a burial mound, reaching up towards the blue sky with a finger pointing upward…

Hurricane Ida blew through a few months ago, but right now, all appears to be calm. 

On St. Charles Avenue, on the haunted streetcar route ironically positioned alongside Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen, is an old historic hotel-turned-hostel.    $35 a night has apparently afforded me some decent digs, in a room with two bunk beds, and roommates!  There is a 24-hour bar on the first floor and the location is pretty clutch.  I roll in my suitcase a little after 3:00 p.m. on a Friday, and ready to get this weekend off to a happening if not haunted start. 

“Check-in is not until four,” the emo-chic desk girl unenthusiastically informs me. She’s a petite gal rocking a bodycon turtleneck minidress that only someone emo-chic can pull off. 

“It’s alright, I’m very thirsty,” I say while dropping my bags and pointless coat on the floor and take a seat on a barstool.  “Water please!” Outside the sun is beginning to dim, but the temperature is warm and the air is still.   “And a wine too, I guess.” 

To my right sits a boy with a blond ponytail and one skinny blue stone dangling from his ear. He definitely resembles Ryan Dunn. 

“Another can of beer please Lydia,” he reaches across me to grab the brew, looking at me sideways to sum up the new arrival. We shoot the breeze and quench our thirsts until the clock strikes four and I wheel my stuff into a quaint rickety elevator. 

Until time travel is an option, at least we still can travel along the mortal coil, totally fleeting, c’est la vie.  Although, I am quite sure spirits from the other side walk among us. I have had signs from Jason, sure, but Eddie? 

Freshly showered and shaved, I head outside to potentially bum a cig. Also, I’m starving, and a French bistro by the name of Herbsaint is within walking distance.  Maybe I will try frog’s legs.  

“Do you have a cig?” I ask a girl smoking one who’s sitting on the curb.  She shakes her head – negative. 

“Do you know where I can nab some greenery? You know, like, pot?”

Again, she shakes her head no.  Damn. I always refrain from packing weed whenever I fly south. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time…

“Hey!” Shouts a boy with glasses in a trippy-looking psychedelic sweatshirt. Before I know it, Ryan Dunn from the bar (who told me his name is actually Colin) appears from out of nowhere. 

“My wife is asleep!”  the boy in the psychedelic sweatshirt rushes towards me. “I have an extra ticket to Widespread Panic!” He waves it in the air like an acid-tripper on Armistice Day, “Come with us!” 

A girl with really long, wavy hair and a pimply guy slowly chewing gum are waiting at the curb. They all await my response. 

“Um, I don’t know guys,  I was just heading out for something to eat. I just got here…”  I look around; the street right now is actually pretty deserted. What more could just randomly present itself?

“Drinks for dinner tonight, girl!” shouts psychedelic boy. “Come on – our Uber’s about to pull up!”

 I didn’t come to New Orleans to be a loner.  What’s the worst that could happen? I trust Ryan Dunn, even though we just met. I mean, he was drinking PBR. When the Uber arrives we all smush into the backseat, except for their gum-chewing friend, who has a scrappy goatee and looks like a billy goat. Apparently, the concert is in the levee district, near the breakwall, and in my head that song that song by Led Zepplin, “When the levee breaks…” starts to play while psychedelic boy rambles on about being from Alabama and how he has to visit the Navy Museum, because his grandfather was in the Navy and all, and…

“Do you want a hit?” Psychedelic Boy, whose name is Jerome, holds out a sheet of that familiar Fruit Stripe gum-wrapper-esque paper, divided into neat little squares.  

Outside, we pass tall concrete warehouses  covered in street art and get on the freeway, heading a bit outside of downtown, along Lake Pontchartrain; it’s cool and it’s dusk.

“Well sure,” I figure this will at least take my mind off my growling stomach for the time being.  A hit of acid for dinner seems reasonable, given the circumstances. Jerome hands me a ticket to the show.  I’m smushed up against Ryan Dunn, I mean, Colin, who has a hint of a Southern drawl. “I’m from Richmond,” he says, really close to my ear. “Virginia.” 

“That’s hot, that’s hot,” I say, and score a stick of gum and a cig from Billy Goat.  A tickle is in the back of my throat, and my palms feel a little itchy. We are being carried down to the breakwall but before the levee breaks.  There is a loosely assembled line of ragtag poncho and parachute pants-clad fans. The sky is bright magenta with big black clouds looming low. I hop in line behind some bros popping open cans of Busch Light and start to down a few with Colin. He’s definitely chill and mild-mannered – a polite Southern gentleman.  I’m wearing jeans painted with images of cigarettes from the goth store and a long sleeve leopard top; it’s kind of chilly along the breakwall.   But before long, the doors to the venue swing open into a big, hockey rink type of situation with various concession stands selling hot pretzels and cups of wine and beer. 

Colin buys us drinks and we settle into bleachers. I assume he came to New Orleans with the psychedelic posse.

“No, uh, I just met them at the hostel,” he says. “We were going to the same concert.” 

“No way,” I say.  This makes me like him more, for some reason. 

Jerome’s standing in the middle of the bleachers tossing back shots of whiskey from a flask stashed in his pants. The show hasn’t started yet but down on the floor (which really does seem to be a defrosted ice rink) hippies are already sitting crossed-legged on the ground and trancing out. I guess tonight is night one of a three-day long show.

“I’m surprised no one is blazing up a blunt,” I observe. “Maybe New Orleans just isn’t 420 friendly.” I look down at the ground, stunned, bemused. 

“No way girl, I can nab weed in two seconds,” Jerome says. “Easy. Come on!”

I tag along with psychedelic Jerome hightailing it outside to a designated smoking area overlooking the edge of the levee, where a distinctly cool wind swoops in.  The acid wasn’t enough to make me trip out fully, just feel silly, but the wine served in giant hurricane glasses makes my knees weak.  We wobble up to a serious-looking smoker, all alone, who has a distinctively Old World air, as if of Creole descent, in a jewel-tone velvet jacket and trilby hat with a feather on the side. 

“What’s your name?” He scopes me up and down. “I dig your style.” 

He has already pulled out a pipe of weed, and passes it to me. Before I know it Jerome fades into the background, and my legs grow weaker and weaker but still I manage to float through the concrete aisles with this smoky wanderer, until we wind up in a concrete doorway between the bathrooms and general concession area. 

“You know, I live right by the Quisby,” He looks super serious, staring into my eyes with determination. “Maybe I could show you around.”

“Yeah, maybe…”  From inside the atrium, jam band melodies play on and on, merging into an abstract jamboree, no beginning, no end. Just a melting blob. Speaking of melting blob, if I wasn’t leaning against the wall I would probably melt into the floor like radioactive ooze. 

“Do you do cocaine, Ann Marie?” He lights up a cigarette, right there inside the arena. 

Well, I would. Why the heck not? I need to perk up, we all know jam band shows last an eternity. 

“Yeah, I mean, sometimes.”  

The quirky stranger pats his lapel, at first casually, then frantically, looks in his cigarette case, in his leather Chelsea boot, then starts patting his lapels again.  Sheesh, I know what that means. I roll my eyes.

“Um…Actually wait a second… Where am I?” I just realized I lost Jereme, Colin, and the rest of my posse from the Quisby. It’s not like I don’t know how to take an Uber back to the Quiz but I’d rather hang out with them, if you know what I mean. I don’t want to get snatched by a shifty-eyed stranger, at least not on my first night and not at a jam band show. 

“Will you help me find everybody? I just rolled up with them from the Quiz, I mean I really don’t know them, I think they were someplace over here on the first level…” 

The befuddled hipster who has lost his cocaine walks with me and I point in the general direction of where I was sitting. As if pulled by a magnet, I do find them, Colin with his long blond wavy hair, and the tie-dye clad other kids. Whew. That was close. I snuggle up next to Colin and gradually the European hipster fades into the background. 

“So, like, what’s this song called?” 

I’m realizing Widespread Panic is pretty popular, at least with jam band people. To be honest, jam bands are the only type of bands I don’t listen to, but, we all know I heard my fair share of Phish emanating through my floorboards from my downstairs neighbors 10 years ago. 

“Isn’t this the same song as before?” I am seriously unsure. 

“Uh, yeah.”

I honestly have no idea how long I was gone.  10 minutes? An hour? Who knows. It felt like an eternity. 

“It’s probably been going on about 45 minutes,” Colin continues.

I choke on an ice cube.

“45 minutes?” All of a sudden that’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard in my life, “The same song?”  I laugh so hard it’s like that time I smoked weed in college and saw a guy riding a bike and got the giggles so bad I almost peed my pants straight through.  “All the songs I listen to are, like, 30 seconds long.  You know, like, The Ramones…”

I get really close to his face when I say, “Monessssss.”

Colin looks down at his PBR can.  Up until now, we had been talking about our jobs and the struggle of survival. You know, being middle aged, thirtysomething. “We can go whenever,” he says. “Back to the Quisby.”

“Yeah for sure!” 

I’m not having a bad time, I’m down for whatever, there’s a party around every turn out here in New Orleans. Jerome, Billy Goat and Wavy Gurl disappeared long ago. Colin and I walk out of the arena and into a gust of wind. “Where are we?” I hold up my phone for a satellite signal, some kind of sign from the stars. “We’re lost! We’re stranded! We’re gonna die.”

We traipse across damp hills, into ditches, until we reach a low fence of some kind. Colin nonchalantly organizes a Lyft back to the hostel. Apparently, Colin is flying back to Richmond tomorrow at 6 AM, so what’s a girl to do? Lean in and give him a kiss! Our blonde manes blow dramatically in the wind, until “Bob,” our bro-y driver, pulls up. 

“Woo!” I flop onto the seat. “Boy is it windy out there.”

Bob, our bro-y driver, is undaunted. 

“Boy Harsher, yeah I love Boy Harsher,” Colin and I have been discussing music with a passion. 

“Me too,” Colin says.  He seems very eclectic in tastes. A trucker hat and dangly earring kind of guy. 

“I have a cord back there if you want,” Bob waves towards the back of the passenger seat.  I plug my phone in and stream Boy Harsher in the dark, through the starry streets, back to the Quiz. Bob drops us at the curb. There’s some guys sitting on the flowerbed and standing around idly smoking. The soft barroom lamp glows from inside, and as we pull our weary bodies through the door, Bob shouts at us, “You broke my cord!” And then he speeds away.  

Down in the cantina on the morning of my last day in New Orleans,  the coffee is hot and the bar has officially run out of just about everything.  The streetcar pauses  in front of the hostel, then starts its procession once again.  I’ve secured tickets to a cemetery crawl. Next to me sits a curly-headed dude with a nautical star neck tattoo. Wait, yes, we chatted here last night. Didn’t we? But about what? Hmmm. 

“Would you like some?” He opens a plastic bag; inside, loose blueberries.  

“Thanks,” I nibble a few in silence. What did I discuss with this man last night? I wonder. 

“So how long have you been here?” I say. 

“Since August,” he says. “I’m here working.” 

“What do you do again?”

“I’m an insurance adjustor,” he says. “Natural disasters.” 

Oh that’s right, the fly-on-the-wall insurance adjustor with the laptop handling hurricane-related property damage.   I’m sure he’s seen everything, this is such an interesting hostel. Just yesterday a sixty-something fresh off a train from Chicago was breathlessly telling me his story – I think he had COPD. I was having a Red Bull at the time with an artist guy named Pete who lives in a condo across the street. I met up with Pete at French Truck for coffee, and he gave me one of his dioramas, and then tried to make out with me, but I turned him down.  Also, there are not one, but two, men staying at the hostel with eye patch situations. Being Halloween weekend, I made a serious faux pas by mistaking one’s for a costume, and wound up crying and banging my fist on the bar and declaring that “I was an asshole” when he pulled up the eye patch to show me what was underneath. But the man totally forgave me and called me an empath. 

 “Want to come to a cemetery crawl?” 

The stranger looks pensive, then says,

 “Yes, actually, I would.”

He gives me his number.   I text him the “Haunted Tours” link to the tickets, so he can buy one. 

“I’m taking the bus to the cemetery,” I say. “I’m just trying to figure out the schedule.”

“Oh, I’ve got my truck,” says the mysterious adjustor. 

“Oh, ok. Cool.”  We nibble more blueberries in each other’s company. 

“I just have some work to finish up in my room, but let’s meet back down here – in 30 minutes and we’ll go?”

“Sure.”

And he moseys away in a very soft looking, very lived in navy polo and board shorts and is carried upstairs in the clanging elevator.  Hmmm. I don’t even know his name. I sip some juice, calmly admire the news on the TV, because I don’t have to deal with reality anymore, I’m free, on cloud nine actually, population: one.  

“This is Harold,” he answers the phone with a flat tone. 

“Oh, hey, it’s Ann Marie from downstairs,” I reply. We have an entire hour before the cemetery crawl and I am simply relieved at not having to stress about finding out his name anymore.

“I’m just finishing up some work up here, be down in a minute,” he says. 

“Oh, take your time.” I say. “I’m just having some coffee.”

I decide that I have time to take a fashion risk and head up to my room to get my vintage funeral veil with the spider web pin that I bought for this trip. I wore it out in the Quarter on Halloween night when I went out with my roommate, Clarissa from Alaska, flirted with a sousaphone player at an old mansion and did some dirty dancing at the club with a guy in a Saints jersey (I think I even kissed him). 

Down he clangs in the calamitous elevator. Harry’s a tall guy with large muscular calves and a lumberjack/surfer physique, plus curly/wavy hair that’s shaved underneath and long enough for a man bun. He’s a casual kind-of guy, a guy of few words.

Harry and I exit the Quisby and hit the block, strolling down a spray-painted back alley towards his towering silver truck. Walking next to Harry, I feel like a kitten slinking alongside a proud lion.  He has the kind of stature that makes a girl feel safe in alleys, or wherever. 

Cemetery Gates…” I sing Pantera, badly.  “Do you like Pantera?”

“Oh, yeah,” says Harry, and plugs in his phone and begins to stream “Cemetery Gates” and then “Tout la Monde” by Iron Maiden.  Phew, for a minute there I thought Harry might be a System of the Down kind of guy (which I WOULD be willing to overlook). 

“We can stop at that art store if you want,”  we have been driving around in circles and performing u-turns around various medians that seem to be a thing here in New Orleans and lend themselves to a certain traffic pattern. 

“Oh that’s back by the Quiz,” he is talking about the voodoo store on St. Charles I mentioned. I picked up a perfume called La Buena Suerte which contains pieces of a macaw’s nest and is supposed to be lucky. So far, it’s working. New Orleans is definitely a city for the horny and the lustful. 

“We can check out City Park, it’s supposed to be kind of cool,” he says. I’m looking out the window, chill as a clam and simply taking in the fresh sunny day with a fresh sunny guy. 

From the street, at first City Park looks ordinary. We park in a big empty lot and drift down a hill and over a curved bridge that connects a pond, no, a stream, no….it’s the bayou!  A legit bayou flows through City Park for miles, covered by picturesque slime.  Bubbles froth up, neon chartreuse, and huge willow trees drip feathery moss that ever-so-delicately touches the surface.  We are inside a painting, no mushrooms needed, and as I lean over the bridge rail to examine the slime, Harry and I both spot a cute little turtle baby paddling through!  Turtle baby swims towards a big turtle momma, and then a turtle poppa, and a ton of other little turtles show up, camouflaged at first by the bright green slime. 

“It’s a turtle party, ain’t nothin’ but a turtle party,” I dance downhill to get closer to the bog. No, the swamp.  The bayou! 

“Whoa,” I step into a hole hidden by grass and tumble downhill in my shiny black PVC goth pants and surely my g-string is exposed as well. “Whoops, I’m clumsy.”

Harry is unfazed by a clumsy girl in a black veil and PVC, and we continue our bayou exploration.  Frogs jump around, and the turtles swim, but other than them, nobody one else is around; we’re alone in swamp paradise. 

Sun beams off the tall swampgrass as we creep across rocks and closer to the edge of the bayou. My gossamer veil gets tangled up in branches. We balance on a log beneath the shade of a gigantic willow tree.  Harold leads the way across the log, then turns back and offers me his hand. I stop and look at it for a second, and then clasp it with my own. 

 “Oh my God,” Harold says. 

My eyes trail over to where Harold is looking.  There, basking in the sun on a log at the edge of the swamp, is a small alligator! A baby gator in repose, eyelids seemingly half-closed, a serene smile across its lips. 

“The City of New Orleans was founded in 1718 by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, and if that name wasn’t intense enough, the man was covered head to toe – with tattoos – of snakes.” 

Our goth posse oohs and ahhs.  “Now, you’re going to want to stick to the sides, “ Drew, our modelesque punk rock guide, leads the way down the rising sidewalk slabs and across a busy intersection into Metairie Cemetery.   In New Orleans, you need a key and tour guide license to get into cemeteries. 

“Now,” he turns as we cross, lowering his small round shades dramatically. “We will see skeletal remains.”  

I look over at Harold and he doesn’t seem fazed.

 “And please, don’t take any,” Drew says. “Someone in the last group thought she could take somebody’s bones home with her.” 

Suddenly, Harold turns and runs away, back towards his truck.

“Hey, where are you going?” I shout after him as he yanks up his shorts. 

“Work emergency!” 

And so I turn back to the tour and we drift into the stony crypt.  In New Orleans most are buried above ground in family tombs, and until now I’ve come to understand this is because the city is below sea level and coffins were prone to rising up out of the ground. 

But Drew begins, “Now, you really want to know why in New Orleans the dead aren’t buried underground? Follow me…”

 We creep past rock-filled, or bone- filled squares, some with elaborate tombs with padlocked doors, others just open to the elements like a garden..of bones.   Drew points out a human vertebrae. Someone snaps of photo. 

“New Orleans began as a French colony, and we are all about the fleur de lis – But it was lost to the Spanish Empire in 1763 following France’s defeat in the Seven Years’ War,” Drew says.  “And you think anyone here gave a hoot about listening to the Spanish king? But they brought with them nouveau European burial practices.  Now, the City of New Orleans is a proud city, and a stubborn city, and when these nouveau European burial practices became all the rage abroad, well, we were only too keen to want to join in. And we still carry on those burial practices today. ” 

We walk down a path that resembles a city street.  Tombs look like houses with little doors and little windows.  Ancient, rusty street signs mark our way. I get a text from Harold stating he is coming back so I give him our location. Soon enough, I see him trotting across the cemetery. 

“I forgot I had an appointment,” he says.

“When you die, you are placed into the tomb for a year and a day,” Drew says. “Due to the heat, basically you are cremated, but no one is exactly sure until you are removed. Then, your bones and whatever is left are smashed up by the local bonegrinder, and you are scattered on top of the bones of your family, meant to save space and also span generations.” 

“You’re going to have to fill me in,” Harold leans down and says in my ear in what I perceive to be a flirty tone.  Hmmm. 

After a little over an hour and with the sun beating down, Drew concludes that many tombs have fallen into disrepair, with some not having any living relatives to tend to them and others the victims of vandalism. “You can keep track of tombs that need repair though the local organization Save Our Cemeteries (www.saveourcemeteries.org).” 

With that, Harold and I embark on our own private excursion. 

We reach a giant obelisk-shaped monument, at least a few stories high. 

“Whoever is buried here must’ve been a big deal,” I say. “Or at least compensating for something.”

It turns out to be Jefferson Davis’ original resting place. He was exhumed and moved to Richmond, VA.

We roam up to a pyramid shaped tomb made of pristine marble.

 Harold pulls the steel trap-door aside.  “Eeek,” I say.  Inside the tomb are three rows of drawers and it looks like a dresser, just instead of underwear and socks, it contains …remains.  

Afterwards, we goto a Louisianian – Asian fusion place called Mofo that Drew recommended. We sit outside on a patio and it’s just the two of us here. 

“I”m from Alaska,” Harold tells me.  “But I have a place in Montana. Just a little cabin.”

“Really? That’s cool. Are there any bears?”

“My friend has a pet bear,” Harold says. “He raised him since he was a cub.”

“Cute!”

“But I haven’t been back home in years,” he continues, “I’ve been working 18 months straight.  California wildfires, floods in Texas… haven’t even taken a personal day.” 

“Wow,” I raise my chopsticks for another hit of spicy shrimp n’ rice.   “Does it ever get lonely, being on the road?”

“Yes, sometimes.” 

The sun is still insanely bright as Harold and I drive away.  We walk side-by-side down shady streets, Harold casting a tall shadow over me as we meander weatherbeaten avenues.  A garbage can is tipped over next to railroad tracks that we walk down until I discover a bunch of dried-up oyster shells.  I pick some up and dust them off for a souvenir. 

There is a black BMW totally smashed up parked at the curb, broken glass all over the sidewalk that we step around. 

“How’s the crime up in New York?” asks Harold.

“Um, interesting question,” I say, “I guess there are a lot of shootings, it’s grown exponentially.  Not really sure why. I think they let a lot of people out of jail during the pandemic.”

“Hm,” says Harold.  

We go back to City Park and snag beignets from Cafe du Monde and find a homeless kids’ hideaway to possibly tuck into for the night:

Herons chill on grassy dirt clods along the swamp perimeter. After casually strolling for a little while, Harold and I climb in his truck and head back to the Quiz. 

We sit in a booth at the first-floor cantina, each with a mezcal-and-pineapple, as Harold adds to some insurance spreadsheets on his laptop. It is my last night in New Orleans. My flight back to Buffalo departs at 7:00 a.m., so I figure I’ll have to go to bed soon in order to maximize my beauty sleep. I’m not really planning to hang out with Harold late, and haven’t been trying to impress him at all. Before long, I throw on my Planet Hollywood sweatshirt I scored at a trailer park yard sale, and we stroll down to a po’  boy shop called something like Fat n’ Po’ on lower Magazine; I’m not that hungry but I nibble Harold’s fries with Middle Eastern hot sauce, anyway.  

“Are you Eskimo, then, being from Alaska and all?”

“No, Tlingit,” he says. “I’m from the south side.”

Back at the Quiz the elevator clangs to a start and rises to the third floor. Slowly, ever so slowly. 

“I will walk you to your room,” I say.


“Give me a hug,” suddenly Harold has me wrapped up in a grizzly bear hug, “A real hug.”  So I hug him back. And then, he kisses me.  We keep pressing the button to the second floor, no, the third floor, then back down to the second floor, and on and on a few times until we finally land on the third floor and slowly walk to Harold’s room.

“Ya, ya, ya,” Harold’s German roommate with the goatee is jabbering on the phone, until he sees me getting cozy in Harold’s lower bunk. There’s a long pause.  “I will go downstairs and have a drink,” he declares, and leaves the room. 

Harold doesn’t seem to have much by way of possessions, for someone who’s been basically living here for months.   I have way more clothes scattered on my bed and all over my room from just a few days (which reminds me, I still have to pack up a few things…)

“I thought you were going to get frisky at the cemetery,” he says, and then Harold and I start making out on his bed! 

“Pull these down,” he motions towards the waistband of my black PVCs. 

No way, I’m thinking, Is this really about to go down – in the final hours of my trip? 

“I can’t,” I move his hand away. “Truth is, I have my period.  Sorry.”

But one thing leads to another, as they seem to do in New Orleans. What ensues next is a fully in-depth, erotic and steamy shower scene.  I creep back down to the second floor with my hair wet and tangled for a few hour’s sleep before I fly back home to reality. 

Five a.m. and it’s still dark outside. I whisper “goodbye” to Clarissa and Tabitha, my other roommate, a librarian from Omaha.  As I roll my suitcase past the cantina, the waxed n’ tanned up-and-coming lawyer kid is perched at the bar

“Are you waking up or did you not go to sleep yet?” I ask him. 

“Haven’t gone to sleep yet!” he says, all perked up on Adderall, maybe, and it sucks to have to leave this life behind. New Orleans – instead of poker chips, it’s friendships. You win some, you lose some.  And what happens in New Orleans, stays in New Orleans.  Or does it? 

And with that, I say goodbye for now with a tip of the hat, a humble kiss on the hand, and Harold snoozing it up on the third floor.

TO BE CONTINUED

Please, Stand By

Christmas Eve 2020

It hasn’t been 24 hours yet so it’s still ok for me to be fuming because once midnight hits and the ghost of Jacob Marley arrives in my boudoir along with the ghosts of however many other ex fling-a-boo’s, I have to be ready.  Prepared.  Armed to the teeth. 

It’s been four months since Jason’s been, you know… In the ground.   I haven’t gone out on any dates.

(Going to the biker campground with Schmitty in his carbon-monoxide steeped pick-up does not count as a date, even though I drove that hunk of junk into the compound past county sheriffs desperately trying some artful and hilarious diversion tactics, because Schmitty was scared due to his expired registration, and the “HOGOROSA CANCELLED” sign flashing on the Thruway.  But then Schmitty abandoned me for biker crank, and I was left cold and alone in my freezing tent, which I dubbed “Camp X Ray,” and screamed into the soulless air: “I’m alone! I’m abandoned! I’m alone and abandoned!”  until an LL Bean-catalog older guy built me a campfire).

I’ve unplugged from Jason’s cronies.  I’ve found solace in solitude.  

That is, until Rusty, my ex-boyfriend from the grindcore band, reappeared back into my life. Again. 

It’s not what you think.  His bandmate diedOf Covid.  So of course I went to the memorial at Lombardo Funeral Home, stood around with Rusty and The Growler (swoon), and some other guy who happened to be there in a satanic/celestial printed mask and somewhat of a Tony Hawk: Pro Skater vibe about him that I couldn’t quite trace. 

The very next day, I already had a friend request from him, and why I actually clicked it and looked at his profile I really couldn’t tell you, other than I remembered him from the night before.  I never saw him with his mask off, reader.  But I was physically attracted… a modern phenomenon indeed. 

“Are you the same guy from [Redacted]’s Memorial last nite?” I send via Messenger. 

“Yes,” Dan says, a totally easy to remember name, thank God. “I was going to message you and say you looked familiar, like we had totally met before, maybe at the Mohawk…”

So of course I tell him about my DJ gig,  the “Mid-Life Crisis Happy Hour.” 

“I have, like, a page that you can, you know. Like.” 

“Oh that’s awesome, yeah, I would love to get together sometime,” Dan says. And he sends me his phone number.  Old Skool. 

And I go into detail about how I’m suffering corneal infiltration from the ill-fitting contact lens in my left eye, that I look like Quasimodo, but giddily declare that I just need a week with my Rx drops and then I’d love to. 

“Either on Friday, totally we can go to Canal Club 52,  I know the bartender, but might have something to attend to, but if not, on sunday we could do the ny beer project so I could get us a reservation on sunday,” Dan is texting me like a werewolf who hasn’t had sex in awhile. “After six.”

“Yes, dinner would be lovely,” I return the favor, electronically, vaguely, with a few romance-tinged emojis to punctuate the declaration, “I miss going out to dinner.” 

And then the sentence that was to be the nail in my coffin, dear reader. 

“Either night would be fine with me.”

So up until then, of course we do the usual texting all-the-time thing, and I engage in some harmless Facebook stalking.  Turns out, Dan’s street nickname is actually “Chopper” Dan since he builds custom motorcycles, and looks to have a pretty huge group of biker homies, and without his mask on he looks pretty good, although way older than me.  But I’m into his ‘look.’ I hate to admit this but he definitely looks like an older version of Billy. (Billy! Shout out to Billy, who’s probably reading this right now. How the hell are YOU holding up?)

So on that fateful Sunday night, a mild, star-filled night brewing with potential, I uncharacteristically allow Chopper Dan to pick me up.  But only because, in a strange twist, Dan lives in my neighborhood, across the street from Jason’s grave and on the next street over from Schmitty himself. And we are heading all the way out to Lockport.  

When Dan texts me that he’s “here,” I find him at my front door.  Yep, old skool. 

“Hey there,” I say.  His hair is slicked back and he’s definitely, sniff sniff, wearing cologne.  I climb into his giant truck clad in a leather minidress with vertical zipper, opaque stockings and my chunky platform boots with the grommets. 

“It’s so crazy how we were in the same movie,” I tell him.  Yes, not only did I get a hot date following the Metal Memorial of Rusty’s bandmate, I was cast in the role of “Lucifer’s Secretary” by the guy with the webzine!  Apparently I have the look they needed, not to mention a job at a law firm.  And last minute, Dan was asked to be an extra because his friend owns the bar where they filmed earlier that day! “A total coincidence to be sure.”

So we cruise up to Lockport, and I’m totally at ease. I mean, all of l these coincidences must mean Dan and I are meant to be. 

“So, what else did you do today?”  I remember Dan said he’d be free “after six,” so I figured he was with his son, who is a teen, and I figured they were out and about doing “manly things.”

“Oh, hm, nothing really.” 

We arrive at the restaurant, and finally Dan shuts off the Godsmack emanating from the speaker (wtf?) that I’ve chosen to ignore. And it turns out to be a pretty decent evening. Perhaps this was due to the 10 p.m. curfew for bars and restaurants, making dates conveniently short these days, and infusing them with an easy vibe of having zero expectations whatsoever.   So far…Over our shared appetizer of boom boom shrimp, Dan admitted something shocking.  Something I reached out to my gal pal Robin, who just moved back to LA, about.

“He told me…Well, he told me he’s never read a book.”

“WTF DUDE.”

“I mean, he said the last book he finished was Dr. Seuss in childhood…”

“RUN.”

“He’s got to be fucking with me,” I’m staring up at the cracks on the ceiling of my room. 

“Don’t sell yourself short!”

And I knew right then and there, Dan would become the subject of an eventual blog.  Since he would never read it and all.  But in less than a week’s time…well, even I was surprised by the quick expiration date. 

The next day as I’m exiting the good old Main Court Building and trudging towards my car, Dan and I have fallen into a little texting tete-a-tete about you know, this and that.  Being Monday and the fact I’m fatigued from being out the previous night, I figure tonight will be a night for chillin’ solo, putting my room back together, which is in shambles…All the usual post-weekend stuff. 

“Hey, want to watch the CKY livestream with me next week?” I ask him, more to gauge his interest, and see whether or not I scared him. 

“CKY, I’m not familiar with them, i guess it would depend on what I had going on that day,” he says. “I was thinking of driving around Hamburg and checking out the light display at the Fairgrounds today or tomorrow, would you be interested?”

Shambles be damned! I guess Dan is smitten. 

“I’d love to,” I reply, “But I really need to track down a picture frame for my boss’s gift.  We are exchanging Wednesday.”

“well, I have some things to pick up for myself.  I’ll go with you. We can go to Hobby Lobby. I have a coupon.” 

“Hobby Lobby? Don’t they, like, have something against birth control?”

“Oh, geez, I don’t know anything about that.”

“Yeah pretty sure it was a scandal, uh, I swear I’m not a radical…Um, sure, I guess we can go there.” 

Yep, the old two-days-in a row means pretty soon I’ll be walking down the aisle like Stephanie Seymour towards Axl in the “November Rain” video, I mean…is there a better confirmation that he’s, like, totally into you than the infamous Two Days in a Row?

As we are about to enter The Dockside, conveniently located on the Erie/Niagara County borderline, post-Hobby Lobby, I link my arm around Dan’s.  We walk several steps… Then I take it away.  Just checking to see if we have…chemistry. 

We decide to split the poutine, and Dan orders me a pinot, along with his drink of choice…sweet n’ spicy sangria.  What?  He is comfortable with his masculinity, okay. And he has a reliable vehicle, so I will never have to be “DD” again! 

“Did you once have red hair?”  Dan shows me a picture of my Albright Knox ID from 2012 from my Facebook page.  “Is that your natural color?”

“No, definitely not.” 

“Also, you had curly hair in a picture that I liked.”

“Curly? Where?”

He shows me a selfie, a recent profile picture.

“Oh that, those are beach waves.”

Dan might be insinuating how he wants me to wear my hair…

Nah.

I don’t know if it was the wine, or the simple luxury of going out to eat, inside, with a guy who owns a reliable vehicle – but either way I wasn’t phased by much. I was willing to overlook anything. Anything.

“Have you seen Monster Garage, with that guy Jesse James? I think he’s cool but he must be a total dick. I mean, divorced like, five times? Marrying Sandra Bullock? I mean, why? She’s really not sexy…He is clearly some kind of gold digger…” I continue to carry on about Jesse James for like, five minutes.

“Jesse James yeah, we hung out,”  Dan shows me a picture of them together with Jesse’s most recent ex-wife, the Paul Mitchell heiress. “They were down in Daytona for Bike Week.”

“No WAY!” Dan looks pleased with himself.  “Sorry, I mean I never met the guy. I’m sure he’s very nice in person.” 

“His porn star ex went totally psycho,” he says.  “Smashed everything.”

“Well – he probably drove her to it, let’s be honest.” 

As the night grows dangerously close to 10 p.m., closing time, Dan picks up the check.  I offered to pay last night, and he looked insulted and said, “You really think I’d invite you to dinner and want you to pay?”

“Um, no.” 

So this time I don’t offer.  We head to Dan’s truck.  

“Joint?” I hold it up under the passenger seat overhead light. Dan didn’t even see me roll it, as I should be in the Guinness Book of World Records for being able to roll joints in the blink of an eye.

“What? Oh, I’ve never smoked weed in my life.”

“What.”

“Plus it would stink up my whole truck.”

And so, I leaned in and gave him a little kiss instead.  No tongue. It was quite chaste. I have an oral fixation, what can I say.

And so – alas!  This blog won’t conclude with Happily Ever After.  I mean, does it ever?

On Christmas Eve Eve, I would not have been opposed to one of Dan’s random invitations, since finally I didn’t have to work the next day, or all weekend.  But reader,  that didn’t happen.  I got a super long text at 4 p.m., sure, but…

“Hey i have been super busy all day,  i tried to get us a reservation but couldn’t so i will have to get back to you after the holidays.”  And then a smile face.

At first I was like, “ok, cool, do you watch true blood?” 

“A little,” he says, before ghosting me the rest of the night. 

Wow, really.  I have been placed on standby.

So I said, “I really don’t know why you need to get back to me…For what?”  I mean, he didn’t even know what I had planned that night, or any other.  He will probably pop up and ask me to help organize his garage, or something.  So I said, “You can just leave me alone.”  Dramatic, yes. “Have fun at Hobby Lobby.” Ok, so a tad immature.  But I feel like he was taunting me with that Hobby Lobby business. If anyone has a Planned Parenthood connection, I know someone who needs as much educational literature mailed to his house as possible.

Yes, like Janis Joplin once said, “I am a wild airplane…And have been placed on standby.”  Actually she never said that.  But that’s me alright, a renegade airplane, crashing and burning, or at least lost somewhere near the Bermuda Triangle.  And that’s ok.  Because in the end I can’t date someone who’s never read a book, or Playboy or Hustler for the articles, and who isn’t 420 friendly, I mean…Seems like kind of a bland existence. 

READER SURVEY:  WHAT ARE UR DATING DEAL BREAKERS? Send your answers to: factorygirl1987@gmail.com

Smooty’s Funeral

The cemetery grass is vivid green and speckled with dozens of mourners.  Many are here to pay their respects today, looped around gravestones in the humid sunshine.  The crusty clouds of morning finally got the hint, and decided to clear out.  At least you can sleep now, Jason.   His casket gleams silver – locked and sealed like a meat freezer  –  suspended on huge bungee cords and reflecting in the sunlight, ready for its descent underground. 

 A delicate bagpipe melody drifts by on the breeze, whispers in my ear, and then moves on.

There’s a short stubby tree resembling a Joshua tree very close to his grave, making this sad scene very ‘U2 album cover.’  Jason’s family stone is tall, black marble, with edgy font suited for a metal show poster; both of his parents have been here many years. 

“I’m so sorry, honey,” a million of his friends are here and that’s what they say to me, and it’s all a blur as people approach and express their sympathies.   Every time I begin a conversation with someone, Aimee sticks to me like a wad of gum.  

After a second, I reply, “I’m sorry, too.  He was your friend, too.”  Kenny with the coke and his sidekick Jamie, they are here, looking forlorn.   “And look at all the people here.”

The respectable line-up of cars enveloping the chapel does not include Schmitty’s carbon monoxide-steeped pickup, thank God, nor a million scrapyard bikes lying in a heap.  The throng of mourners donned their very best.  Even his uncle – who, by all accounts, was a total dick – is here in an American flag bandanna

“Jason’s life was full of sorrow,”  begins Cousin Valerie in a voice like a sad violin. She drove from Rhode Island; Cousin Cindy and Aunt Barbara drove all the way from Indiana.  Jason once told me over a Brazilian Kiss at Texas de Brazil that he had cousins out of state. 

They are sitting casket-side beside his estranged uncle.  Cindy, Barbara and Valerie-  they saved everything; saved Smooty from being buried in a ‘graveyard for the unclaimed souls’, as the county burial investigator put it; claimed him from the county morgue. Saved everything unbeknownst to them, as I was repeatedly calling the morgue and being told I wasn’t next-of-kin, and in fact, none of us knew of any next-of-kin.  But I knew there must be. 

 “He lost both parents at a young age,” says Valerie.  “ It’s been years since I saw Jason.  I have memories of the house on Pinetree, where he loved to throw parties for friends.  He was a generous soul.”

“Hell yes he was,”  booms a Gen-Xer who’s taken a knee next to me with an ounce of Fireball raised above his head, flames emblazoned on his poly-blend button-up and a drunken smile on his lips.

“Wild African geese, kept as pets,” Valerie continues.  “Summers at the lake cottage in Attica…That’s what I remember most, and I’m sure many of you have memories that you would like to share.”  The bagpiper in tartan picks up his instrument, and begins a somber rendition of “Danny Boy.”

I’m not mentally prepared to say anything. In fact I’d rather hang onto the past.  My mind drifts away at the mention of  African geese…

It was a frozen windy day in March when Jason and I went power-walking in Forest Lawn.  I promised him there was an African goose, a Madam, who lived there. I met her once.  At the end of our power-walk, there they were, a whole gaggle beside the pond.  Their round bodies were curled up and facing the same direction.  If you get too close, one will typically hiss with its tongue projecting outward like a dagger.  In fact, his beloved Daisy once “bit his grandmother’s poodle on the ass,” according to Jason! Another funny story is that his parents went to bring their pets, Daisy the African Goose and Tucker, their dog, to church for a family photograph.  The church did not allow Daisy, only Tucker, because they feared her wildness and her unruly bowels.  Well,  Tucker was the one who peed on the floor of the church that day. Aw, Tucker, poor shaggy-haired, disobedient Tucker,  he was the one who caught the priest’s wrath. And as for poor Daisy, well, she froze to death in a snowstorm. 

And then my mind snaps back to reality.

“Who is that guy videotaping everything?” I poke Tim on the arm.  

I drove to the cemetery with him as my passenger after fetching him by the Thai food takeaway. I also went to pick up Willy, but after we all smoked a joint and cigarette apiece, I turned around in the kitchen and there stood a man I had never seen before in my life. “Hi,” he said, looking all the part amiable nerd, and it turned out to be a guy by the name of Jay “Cruiser,” who took Willy as his passenger.   Jenny from the block and her on/again off again husband, they brought Donnie Dab, one of Jason’s acid tripper cronies with a predilection for Quik Draw. And of course I know Kenny and Jamie, and Donald the Professional Plaintiff and Donald’s Son, and Aimee (barf), and Taco, plus a bunch of others here.  But the man videotaping everything remains a mystery. 

 Tim shrugs. “No clue.”   

The snowy-hair funeral director steps before the casket.  “Would any of you like to say a few words?” 

“I do!” shouts the man who had been videotaping everything.  He carries with him a cardboard sign on two metal stilts. Despite his reverence, forgive me Jason but, I have no clue who this man is. His gold framed glasses have stop-sign red lenses, which match a red polo shirt and both of which immediately call your attention to this diminutive man with a saggy beer belly and  hunched over posture.  He stomps towards the casket, then faces his audience. 

“In 1997 I WENT TO GERMANY WITH JASON,” booms Red Specs Man, He sets up his sign, pokes it into the dirt and it says “Unconditional-love.net” underneath some kind of mythological Greco-Roman image of a woman fainting beneath a domineering guy in a cape.

Red Specs Man continues his monologue. 

“I will be donating my $995,750.32 from my grandmother’s estate to Roswell Park in Jason’s name,” he says. “It’s part of my charitable giving campaign which you can read more about, on Unconditional-love.net.” 

I’m sure Jason would have wanted some of that while he was alive?  I glance from side to side to assess what effect this is all having on everyone. The funeral director seems cautiously amused, although I can’t really tell with his mask on. 

“I’m writing my life story which will be out in 2022 and there will be a whole chapter about Jason.”  Now I look Red Specs straight in the eye dubiously but he seems to be in the throes of personal rapture, Hitler-style. 

“It’s not right what happened to Jason,” he continues, the volume of his voice ever so steadily rising.  

“IT’S NOT RIGHT!”  

His words echo through the cemetery.   And then, he steps aside for the next party.

“Hey guys, I’m Aimee,” she begins mindlessly.  

Ugh. 

Thankfully, as by an Act of God, a strong wind sweeps in and drowns out her muttering.  Her flimsy Walmart sundress blows around until finally she steps aside.  The funeral director invites us all to approach the casket to bestow any final goodbyes, any au revoirs, any parting words, and the like. 

“Hell I gotta have one last drink with you buddy,” Fireball confidently struts towards the casket, another mini bottle raised skyward. 

Fireball and Aimee and Red Specs and a few others crowd around Jason’s soon-to-be-resting place. The scene around me melts into a dripping abstraction.  I’m shut out, closed off from the casket.   I allow the breeze to blow through my ruffle-hem wrap dress from the Lord & Taylor liquidation sale.  Jason would think I look chic, despite the fact it’s constantly blowing about. And of course, I donned the sloth socks he just bought me from FYE. 

When Jason went to the mall, he always bought me something.

 It’s messed up when the only upcoming social occasion marked on your calendar is your own bunnyboo’s funeral, the burial of your snuggle-bear, with whom you had so much planned and so much to look forward to.  In fact, Jason had just bought new sneakers; he told Willy “I’m walking on clouds.”   Since he was on vacation from work he went and bought Thai noodles with peanut sauce for us to make.  But instead of Thai noodles, that was the day that he passed away. 

Instead of us indulging in Thai noodles, that was the day  Detective So-and-So delivered the news. At 4:00 while at the office, I looked at my cell and saw a missed call from a random (716) number, as well as a text that said “Ann Marie this is Detective So-and-So from Cheektowaga Police please call me at this number.’

 The packet of Thai noodles now sits unacknowledged and dried up on the kitchen counter; Willy will never touch them. In fact, he already re-arranged the whole apartment and scrubbed every surface clean. His government-grade flagpole, jackhammered cement circling the base, hangs at half mast alongside the shed which desperately needs to be saged. Char hid in the basement for days, sad and lost.   Jason would brush her fur for an hour straight, and made sure she was well fed.

Fireball slaps his clammy palm on the casket like cold deli meat. SLAP.  I’m still a foot away from the grave and a foot away from my Smooty, forever.  This is the closest to him that I will ever be.  The snowy-haired funeral director specifically beckons me forward.  Fireball staggers away sideways , so I 

 so I lean down and kiss his casket.  Just a peck is all I can muster. One last kiss for my Smooty.  The metal feels so cold on my lips on this hot day, and the tears stream down, uncontrollably.  It’s the Amazon River over here, or Niagara Falls.  I’m drowning in that really big waterfall in South America of tears. And it makes me think of sloths.   

 Just two days before he died, we went to the zoo. We took mushrooms and rode the Metro and looked for Flash, the sloth.  Jason loved sloths. But we found ourselves empathizing with the depressed reindeer, and once we found Flash, drugged up and squished in a tiny glass case (all the animals were separated from each other and locked indoors that day), it all became very ‘Fear and Loathing at the Zoo,’ so we lazed around beneath My Tree on the Delaware Park golf course. Being Sunday morning, balls whizzed around our heads and Jason’s picnic that he packed in a bag labelled ‘St. Luke’s pantry,’ became something of a political statement. After various psilocybin fueled epiphanies, Pete joined us and took us to Daddio’s.  After he dropped us back at the house, I turned to Jason and said, “Today was too good to be true.” 

“We have to clear the area now,” says the Funeral Director. “The vault company needs to come in.”

“You gave me this shirt right off your back,” Taco rushes towards the grave now and swiftly removes his shirt, a black tee shirt with squiggly metal calligraphy, and throws it down in the hole.  Tears are streaming down his face, and he doesn’t bother to wipe any away.  He is openly weeping like every man could and should do now and  then.  He hugs me to his chest.

 Damn. 

Jason had the most stellar collection of band tee shirts purchased at shows over the past 30 years. He gave me one from my favorite local band, Gutted Alive, as well as his Pig Destroyer with sawed-off sleeves which was garnering negative attention during protest summer.  When I went to his bedroom the night I got The Call, I found his beloved Type O Negative shirt, threadbare and musty and worn, and his camo fatigues that were his father’s from ‘Nam. This ensemble, along with his glasses and father’s dog tags and brand new sneaks – I brought it all to the funeral home for him to be buried in.  Even though Willy pieced together a “suit”, I knew, and Jenny agreed, that his Type O shirt would be what he wanted. 

Three women from Jason’s manufacturing plant approach and tell me that work’s not the same, that they still have his empty desk same as it was and everyone is really sad.  

And then Aimee sticks to my shoulder like a wad of gum. 

“Excuse me, the bagpiper is looking for an Ann Marie,” the Funeral Director approaches.  

“Oh right, I have to pay him,” and I rush over there with my wrap dress blowing to and fro, and my envelope with $200 inside almost blows away too.  I had to get some live music here at Jason’s burial, obviously.  I wanted to put a whole band together.  

 I hide under the Joshua-esque tree and eventually go stand by Tim, and we watch the casket slowly, ever so slowly, be lowered deep into the earth. 

I find Jenny from the Block and her on-again off-again husband, Jason’s fellow obscure vinyl-listener; we often hung out in their living room.  All three of us, along with Donnie Dab, who I’ve agreed to let travel with me, and whoever else decides they want to follow – we all gradually drift in the direction of Otto’s bar. 

Swerving into Otto’s back parking lot with Donnie Dab waving a large joint laced with God-knows-what in my face, we find ourselves parked next to Donald in a giant truck, with Willy in the passenger seat and his son in there as well.   Donald always looks sketchy no matter what he’s doing. I can’t quite put my finger on how or why, really, it’s more of a vibe.  I dial Tim’s number while applying numbing eye balm in the rear view. 

“Tim, hi,” I say. “Are you coming to Otto’s?”  

“Yeah, I just think I may,” he says.  

 I emerge into the fresh air, and spot Aimee  lurking around my car like a stray.

“You have to wear masks inside,” she buzzes in my ear. 

“You’re kidding,” I say, my completely-bitchy sarcasm hanging in the air before dropping like a  dead body in a lake, totally lost on her.  

“Who is going to be my escort to Otto’s?” I take Donald’s son’s arm, who is 20 years old.  Jason and I went to their house last Thanksgiving, sat at the kid’s table and talked about crushes with the fifth grade girls. 

Now all holidays are ruined.

Donald’s son and I walk arm in arm.

“Thank you, I need emotional support,” I say. 

Our totally motley crew stomps into Otto’s dimly lit bar/banquet area, and I state my suggestion of all of us sitting outside, however many of us may turn up, as we are going to be unbearably obnoxious.

“It’s a… funeral party,” I whisper to the blonde bartender, gravely. 

“You have to order food with your drink,” Aimee buzzes around me again like a tweaker mosquito. I start wishing I’d brought Donnie Dab’s electric fly swatter. I cringe against a random pillar in the middle of the room, and discover a seemingly calm, cool, and collected guy behind it that you can tell is retired and spends most of his time in Florida.

“I like your shirt.”  It’s one of those loose linen Hawaiian ones. “Jason had just bought a black one with palm trees just like it.”  

“She’s single now, Pops,” Fireball sneaks up behind me and suddenly flips up the back of my skirt. 

“Ugh!” I give Fireball the death stare. Then I turn to his supposed dad.  “Ugh!” 

“Cool it, Jimmy,” warns Pops. 

Jimmy doesn’t care, just continues jerking around inside his own personal pinball machine called life. 

“Ugh!” I march away from both of them. 

“We need alcohol!” Fireball Jimmy whips through the room like a boomerang. 

Eventually we all settle into the enclosed patio,  a maximum of 10 allowed per table.  Willy, Red Specs, Dab and Cruiser are relegated to a faraway table which I regard as the “degenerate table.” Or is our table the degenerate one? 

The unaffiliated patrons occupying the other outdoor tables quickly get the hint, close their checks and immediately head for the hills. 

“You can sit next to me,” I pull out a chair for Donald’s son. “Since you’re my escort.”

“No – down here!” Fireball shouts at him, and he obeys. 

“You can sit by me, Tim,” I plead as he passes by.  “Please sit by me!”   

“No – down here,” Jimmy interjects, and Tim obeys. 

I’m all alone at the end of the table, misty-eyed, except for Jimmy’s Pops sitting across from me. A college-aged waiter arrives to take our orders.  

“I’m saving this seat for my friend Jenny, and her husband, they aren’t here yet!” I say, draping my arm across the two sad empty seats next to me. “Don’t want them to wind up over there…” Across the patio, the forecast at the degenerate table looks pretty grim.  Jay Cruiser’s all shmushed between Red Specs and Donnie Dab, with Willy swilling a beer and holding court.

“Hey, down here – a Corona!” Jimmy shouts, like a short-circuiting toddler.

Aimee, who kind of situated herself next to Pops,  mostly buzzes in his ear and rushes to and fro to no apparent destination while Pops sadly attempts to order a bloody caesar beneath the ceaseless din of his ignoramus son.   Aimee talks over him too and confuses the poor waiter boy who clearly has no clear idea what a bloody caesar is.

“Bloody ceasah…” Pops meekly mumbles, “Ceas-ahhhhh.”

“I want a long island iced tea,” Aimee interjects. “And marinara bread.” 

All I want is a tidal wave of pinot grigio to wash over me and take me away from this stupid, sad, embarrassing mess.  Waiter boy brings the drinks.  My perfectly chilled glass is filled to the brim with the most sparkling, the most quenching, the most majestic liquid my eyes ever did see.

“You’re beautiful,” I whisper.

A lovely 8-year-old girl and her Generation-X father plus his mother are at their own small table to my right.  She is the most composed person here. It makes me sad really,  childhood innocence mixing with utter mayhem.  The cold cruelty of the world. But maybe she’s seen it all before. I saw her, graveside, holding a floppy hat in her hands and staring down into the grave.

‘What, no alcohol on the table?”  Fireball Jimmy emerges onto the patio with a drunken sneer, like a reject from Jersey Shore auditions.  Jenny and Harry, her on/off hubby, have finally arrived and grabbed the seats to my left.  I stare down at my cobb salad so long avocado slices dance in front of my eyes, and pray that it swallows ME.

“What is wrong with that fool?” I whisper to Jenny.  She just laughs and looks uncomfortable. 

“So what grade are you in?”  I strike up a conversation with the 8-year-old girl at the table to my right. 

“Third,” she says.  

“Aw,” I say.  And I talk to her ‘grandmother’ although that designation isn’t really fair as this woman is only around 50-something.

“How long did you guys date for?” she asks.

“Only a year and a half,”  I say.  Too little time together, it’s not fair. “But in 24 hours, we’d go to the beach, a show, make dinner and watch movies,” I continue, “I guess we crammed a lot into a short amount of time.”

Aimee suddenly appears back at the table, her untouched Long Island iced tea dripping condensation next to the bread and marinara she was mandated to order.  Pops ordered for her, while she was darting about with Fireball Jimmy, standing around Pop’s silver convertible parked in the lot, smoking cigarettes and Lord knows what else. She’s back now, and looking wretched.  There is a ring of marinara sauce looped around her mouth, like the lipliner of  a diseased homeless clown.  The top row of teeth now reduced to nothing but gums rests dumbly upon her dry, mummified skin, and her expression is perpetually glazed over and slack-jawed.  So many people, when speaking of dear, sweet, parasite Aimee, say – “She used to be pretty.”  Well,  not anymore. 

 “Look, look at this,” she butts her head directly between Tim’s face and his lunch plate, shoves her phone in front of him.  “Me and Jay at Sportsman’s,” she shoves the picture into my face now, and in it, Jason looks like complete shit, with greasy hair and a bored expression.  

“Uh, yeah, I remember him telling me about that,” I brush her hand away.  “That’s not a very good picture of him.”

Now suddenly Aimee’s in the mood for a grown-up conversation, sits down across from me and asks, “So when did you last see him?  What did you guys do?”

I finish choking down a piece of dry chicken, swallow.  “I was there the night before,” I begin, “We made coconut rice, watched The Muppet Movie -”  While I’m talking, Aimee is dialing a number into her phone without looking at it and looking straight at me; her dead eyes are murky as a pond, cloudy like a neglected fishbowl sitting stagnant for decades. “He really was looking well -”

Before I can get to the meat of the story, Aimee puts her phone to her ear and seems to be listening to something, probably checking to see if anyone transferred funds to her account – so I roll my eyes and end it there.  “Nevermind,” I say. “Forget it.”

Eventually I muster the strength to pass around the Polaroids Aunt Barbara gave me.   In one, a maybe 12-year-old Jason and his father kneel in front of a Christmas tree decked in a multitude of fun-looking ornaments and tinsel.  Next to his father, who perpetually wore tinted aviators, is poor sweet white-haired Tucker the Dog.  Both men are in flannel shirts, jeans and socks.  Father and son.  

When I went into Jason’s room after getting The Call, his boombox still played the classical radio station he put on to go to sleep.  It held the poignancy of a child’s music box left behind, abandoned and forgotten, forever stuck on repeat, churning out its lonesome melody.

I called out for Char, but she was nowhere to be found. 

“There’s no despair – I love you!” Jason shouted one night I wanted to break up with him again.  Because honestly, was it all for real? Could I really trust him?  But our last night together it was still the same – making rice, watching Muppets. I guess things really could be quite simple.  But what went on outside of our little bubble?   What even killed him, anyway?  We still don’t know.  The autopsy report has not been released to Cousin Cindy yet, and the mind can wander to some dark places.  

He has sent me signs. A bluejay appeared on my windowsill three times and peered into my room. Jason was into bluejays. I read that bluejays are in fact monogamous creatures and keep the same mate for life. They are supposed to represent patience and truth.  Hmm. 

As morbid as it is I go and hang out besides Jason’s grave (which has yet to be engraved with his name). Sometimes I leave a little trinket, other times I just sit and talk or smoke and cry, and I feel his presence there. We had a picnic there, just me and him, which is conveniently located directly across from John & Mary’s pizzeria.  I almost forgot that he lives so close.  When I feel the most sad I remember that he is really only a minute away if I need to tell him something important. 

Urban Exploration

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