54. Never Again Pork
The Year Of Paying Attention
Sarah and I continued squabbling last night, during dinner, debating whether I’d wrecked Max and Trish’s visit with my bad mood. I’m not sure if it was the mid-kerfuffle arrival of the BBQ shrimp, but we were arguing, then arguing and eating, then not arguing, only eating. This afternoon, caffeinated and sedentary back at French Truck coffee, it’s easy to see the pattern — I feel insecure, my behavior unsettles Sarah, who retreats emotionally, which exacerbates my unease, which reinforces hers. Why can’t I just be a badass who doesn’t give a shit? Which is, I think, the definition of an asshole.
This morning the spell was broken. We regained our connection. Put another way, I had a tender physical experience with my partner. We had sex. It was like the ground grew firm beneath my feet. Let me be clear: like any good dilettante semi-Buddhist, I believe there really is no ground to stand on. I know that everything I love is going to disappear, feelings are going to change, people will get old and get sick and die, my children will experience trouble and heartache of their own, and I can’t do a thing about it. I know my relationship with Sarah isn’t guaranteed to last for the rest of my life.
Yesterday’s movie, “Lady Bird,” (spoiler alert) is the sweet tale of a high school senior and her mother, the girl falling in love with a sensitive classmate as he discovers he’s gay, then discarding her virginity with a callous jerk, another big disappointment, followed by her journey to college in New York City, which takes her into an emergency room with alcohol poisoning. Portrayed by Saoirse Ronan with soul and heart, our heroine is noble in her naïveté, and so damned lovable. Her character and I want the same thing — for love to be real and true and magical. We also don’t appreciate it when others think we’re ridiculous.
When science insists my emotional experience is merely the play of chemicals in my brain, I don’t buy it. You won’t convince me that romance is a hallucination. “I think we should start with my therapist,” Sarah said on our way to the coffee shop. “Maybe she’ll have some ideas about someone else we can work with.” Couples counseling. I’ve tried it. It didn’t fix my busted marriage. “Are you dying to go back to New York?” Sarah asked as I drove through the French Quarter for the six thousandth time in a month. I read a text from a friend in Manhattan: “When are you back? I’ve had enough of this.”
This morning I cried in the arms of a married woman I hardly know. It was after the last New Orleans 12-step meeting I’ll attend for who knows how long, after I thanked the tall, good-looking man who led the meeting with a deep southern drawl. He asked if I knew a guy in New York, looking on his phone for his friend’s picture. Unlikely, I thought. I squinted at the picture — wrong again. “I was talking to that guy a few days before I came here,” I said, and we shook hands goodbye.
Returning my mug to the coffee shop across the street, I saw another attendee doing the same. “How much longer will you be in town,” she asked. Flying home tomorrow, I told her. She said she’d been thinking of me earlier. I told her I’d repeated to my friends a Thanksgiving incident she’d described a few days before in her share, about her visiting Pittsburg in-laws going on about how amazing Pittsburg is, oblivious to how amazing New Orleans is. I told her I loved that story, and while I’d never been to Pittsburg, that didn’t prevent me from having a dim view of the place. “I’m a New York snob,” I said, “and I was telling my partner that Brooklyn is Squaresville compared to New Orleans — they should be so hip.”
I’d been emotional all morning. Yesterday I couldn’t wait to get on that New York plane, but now I felt like I was being torn from my ancestral home. “I’m so grateful to have this meeting when I’m here…” I said, choking up. Then she got choked up. We regained our composure. This is not unusual around 12-step meetings.
We bid each other farewell. For the final time I unlocked my bike outside the coffee shop and strapped on my helmet. I passed HiVolt Coffee, and realized it would be a grave mistake if Sarah and I didn’t go there at once for breakfast. Pedaling across Nashville Avenue from St. Charles, I had an epiphany — I was about to complete my final bike ride in New Orleans, and not once had I been maimed or killed. Another tragedy that never happened.
I’m exhausted from all the eating. I’m worn out from driving all over this little city. And right on schedule, the thought comes to me: When can I get back here? The boxes of superfluous clothes and unnecessary stuff I sent ahead a month ago have been shipped back to Roosevelt Island. Now our wheelie bags are in the rental car, and we’re sitting drinking our final French Truck Coffee, my bright yellow Uptown study this past month. Sarah and I already ate breakfast at Breads on Oak, ordering from two young, tattooed employees straight out of central casting. For the first time in recorded history, Sarah ordered a sandwich with sausage and I didn’t. We’ve fallen through a hole in the space/time continuum. “I could use another week here,” Sarah told me yesterday. “I don’t feel like going back to New York right now.”
When I called about it, Hertz said returning the rental car to the airport instead of the original remote pick-up location would incur a $1600 surcharge. Seriously. Hertz would, however, provide us with a free ride from drop-off to airport. I do not believe this. The magical New Orleans aura that thwarts efficiency and screws things up is in full effect. Yesterday my landlord Jeff agreed to hold my bike, after my friend Don’s plan to retrieve it in somebody’s pick-up truck fell apart. Of course it did. Early this morning I texted Jeff again — the man has four children, he must be up early, right? — to alert him that I was dropping off the bike. It took sixty seconds to pedal around the corner to Jeff’s. The house was dark and utterly quiet. At the curb in front of his house, the back door of Jeff’s minivan was wide open, revealing a kiddy seat in back. A long colorful scarf was trapped in the closed passenger door, resting forlornly in the dirt. It looked like an alien abduction scene, or like what having four kids does to one’s life.
I pedaled back to Tchoupitoulas HQ and sent a new text: I’d leave the bike in the rental unit, and thanks a million. Four kids, I was thinking — unless there are twins involved, you already have three when you decide to go for another. Is it the delirium of chronic exhaustion that allows you to think, “another baby, let’s do it!”? My friend Nell is one of a dozen kids. She and her husband knew they didn’t want to be parents. “I already raised a bunch of kids, my younger siblings,” she said. I asked how she dealt with the steady pressure to have children that all childless married people experience. “It’s hard,” she said. “’But you’d be such great parents!’ our friends tell us. So now we say, ‘You’d be a really great firefighter — why aren’t you a firefighter? You’d be so good at it!’”
I’m happy I have two grown up daughters, making their way. I’m so happy I had girls instead of boys. A friend said, “I’m glad I had three boys. I don’t know how anybody can raise daughters.” He had two sons and they decided to go for a third. Delirium. My daughters love little kids and babies, and I’d be happy to be a grandfather. I’m glad to be done with car seats, Disneyland, Disney World, and G-rated movies that suck. And I’m completely ready for all of it again, if it’s a grandkid that resembles Lizzie or Ellen.
Goodbye New Orleans. I expect to have breakfast with Peter and Sean tomorrow morning in New York City. Oatmeal. But no pork. Never again pork.
Next week: The Pursuit Of Wonder Is A Stupid Waste Of Time
The Year Of Paying Attention Starts here.