JULY 2nd INDEPENDENCE DAY (REPRISE)
When I awoke Tuesday July 2nd, or Independence Day as I came to know it, Jake was already shuffling around nervously. “I fixed your bike this morning,” he said before confiding that Debra was on her way. He was genuinely distressed. “She’s one of my best friends, man,” he said, shaking his head. “But everything’s cool between you and me.” The writer in me was fascinated. He was absolving me of my sins, unaware that I may have a lingering gripe and mystified that Debra was turning on him.
I’m fairly certain (though I never got a reason) that Debra’s annoyance stemmed from Jake’s failure to acquire work and, as she said, “contribute.” To her. Even though I’d been pulled into this unwittingly, she later told me that what happened between the two of us was between the two of us . . . she was not our mother. That went over like a Led Zeppelin.
As I said before, Jake never struck me as malicious. He at times tried to be helpful and wanted to connect, complaining that he hated to eat alone and cooking that contraband breakfast before I left. He had met Debra consoling her after a bad break-up. From the start, though, he struck me as someone who never grew up and took responsibility—like an early teen who feels small acts of kindness (I took out the trash and called grandma in the hospital) are sufficient exchange for food and shelter. He arrived from three weeks in Africa helping his brother-in-law on a film project, allegedly falling ill and subsequently being abandoned. I’d always suspected he’d quickly outstayed his welcome, as he now had once again. I can’t know for sure, but like a good scientist I have a strong body of evidence with which to form a theory.
SUGAR RATIONING (SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE)
As he packed, Jake asked for a cup of coffee with the crestfallen look of Charlie Brown realizing he hadn’t got a single Valentine. I nodded. Holding grudges wouldn’t change anything. “You got any sugar?” I shook my head. “You somehow consumed an entire container while I was gone.” He waved nonchalantly. “No problem. I’ll run over to Café Envie and nab some packs.” No problem. Sometimes, all you can do is smile. My inner Faulkner suspects that my unwilling investment of coffee, sugar, and beer will someday beget literary gold.
PARALYZED IN A NERVE GAS ASSAULT?
When Debra arrived in a flurry, I was in my room assembling a computer desk. I’d left it and the dresser downstairs upon my return, ready to move back out if the petty kitchen pilfering had moved into my bedroom. I’d later moved the stuff upstairs, but my annoyance had prevented me from committing to assembly. I now found the labor cathartic and symbolic. Plus it kept me out of the way. Debra never spoke a word to me, never made eye contact. I heard her over my music arguing with Jake outside the door, but her attitude towards me exhibited equal annoyance, as if I were partly responsible. She had repeatedly assured me that Jake would not bother my stuff and that he’d never taken from her. Although perishables count as property, he had stayed out of my ‘stuff,’ but living with him forced me to take the leap of faith I wasn’t comfortable with. He compared himself to a dog ready to eat anything and often was ‘out of it’ in an unnatural way. One time I was in bed reading when he walked into the kitchen and stuck his head in the sink for ten minutes. He didn’t throw up. He didn’t rinse off. After a while he snapped back to life, went in the room, and passed out Indian style with his music blasting and his head in his lap, an open knife beside him. I couldn’t shake him awake so turned down the music, retreated to my room, and locked the door. Maybe it was a rare African disease. Maybe it was something else. But this was just one in a daily string of incidents that kept me guessing.
NAVAJO CODE BLOGGERS
Nevertheless, Debra had been reading the blog and seemed upset that I didn’t trust her friend, though everyone else was telling me I was way too accommodating. New Orleans is a city where getting held up or ripped off is considered a part of life, so you’re constantly vigilant. This is the kind of story that you bring to the police station only to have them smirk and ask, “What did you expect?”
It didn’t take long for Jake to pack up, so I ventured out to ask about the washing machine in the stairwell that was broken and half filled with festering water. Debra impatiently mumbled something incoherent and escorted Jake out. Once again I was left feeling confused and slightly guilty, as if I were the one acting impertinently.
ALL’S QUIET ON THE WV GUMBO FRONT
Alone at last, I cooked a late breakfast feeling instantly more at ease. It is hard enough to live with a roommate you choose. I didn’t realize how on guard I’d truly been until I sat at the table and melted over an omelet. It was the first moment I’d felt at home since moving in. Whether justified caution or bratty intolerance, the fact was that I’d been on edge. The arrangement was supposed to have been that Debra would spend maybe a week a month there and I’d be alone otherwise, though even that was seeming problematic now that our interactions were deteriorating and would continue to do so. She would later angrily object that I’d only had to live with him two week in her place (since I’d been gone two weeks) but the situation was never clear and hadn’t been disclosed before I moved in. A couple of times she had hinted at Jake getting a job and contributing to rent, so I had always been unsure of just how long this would go on. But I didn’t worry about that as I finally settled in. It was over now. Or so I thought.
That evening I boiled some shrimp and made white beans, feeling at home enough to really cook. Later I wandered over to watch Treme Brass Band at d.b.a. and nursed a single beer for a couple of hours. I’d had enough of late nights and was up early the next morning. It was a beautiful day and I considered taking a bike ride to Elizabeth’s for breakfast, exploring Bywater and Marigny for the first time since becoming neighbors, but opted instead to enjoy a quiet breakfast at home and catch up on the blog. I would later be grateful I held onto those hours of serenity.
TWO-WHEELED PEARL HARBOR AND DECLARATIONS OF WAR
I was still feeling grand at 3 p.m. when I hopped on my bike and started down Decatur, executing two turns of the pedal before I was greeted by a metallic ‘thunk’ and nearly launched over the handlebars. My cursing echoed down the narrow street. After pulling the bike onto a sidewalk, a construction worker on break spent ten minutes helping me try to get the chain back on track. With each turn it simply popped back off.
As I stormed back upstairs to get my truck keys, I shot Debra an angry text, now bereft of kindness: “Dipshit messed up by bike before leaving!!!” She responded and suggested I take it up with him when he got out of the hospital (apparently she’d checked him in for his lingering African bug) as if we were going to be pen pals. I responded that I’d not asked for this and he was not my responsibility, so she immediately called, literally screaming over the phone. To be fair, I’d let him borrow the bike, though in futile hope of recompense for the access she’d give him to my life. Regardless, I’m not used to being screamed at by another adult and, after pointlessly yelling back I hung up shaking with anger. Twenty minutes ago I’d been zen, but Jake was the gift that keeps on giving. Both my bike and rapport with Debra were thoroughly trashed.
STORMING THE BAYOU
I drove straight to City Cycleworks, the shop I’d stumbled into by chance operated by the quirky libertarian who always treated me fair. Neil fiddled with it a minute and pronounced that the derailer was bent. It was late and tomorrow was Independence Day for the rest of the nation so I’d have to leave it over the weekend.
As I drove away Debra’s shrill accusations were still bouncing around my steaming head. I apparently had more problems than anyone she’d ever met (unlike her well-adjusted buddy Jake). Unable to think clearly, I drove to City Park and set off on a frantic walk up Bayou St. John, breathing deeply and talking myself through my anger. Nothing would change now. I needed to cut my losses and get back to enjoying my adventure. Too agitated for music, when I turned around 45 minutes later I queued up crass but clever comedian David Cross of Arrested Development fame on my ipod whose biting, sarcastic observations were just what I needed to right my mental ship. Thank you Paul and Alex Erickson for passing this on!
A SUBMARINE . . . ERR, PO-BOY . . . VICTORY
By the time I made it back to my truck I was physically and emotionally exhausted but starving so decided to make lemonade from lemons. I’d passed the fairgrounds on my way up and thus Liuzza’s By The Track where Sara Roahen writes lustily of their frozen schooners of Abita and a BBQ Shrimp Po-boy that is one of the most decadent offerings in a city of decadence.
I was skeptical, nonetheless, as I sidled up to the bar and greedily attacked a schooner. So much of the ‘famous’ food I seek out falls short of expectations and I feared my sour mood would further handicap dinner. Not today, my friend.
The mass of peppery shrimp goodness that soon emerged from the kitchen was so divine it could make the sinner cry Amen! The light, buttery gravy caressing the shrimp was heavy in garlic and pepper and somehow managed to overwhelm the tastebuds without overwhelming the shrimp (my usual BBQ shrimp complaint). The French bread was crisp and fresh, hollowed and filled like a receptacle rather than sliced. It was perhaps the best po-boy I’ve ever had, making me instantly forget the forgettable salad that preceded it. I retrospect, I should have set aside my gumbo snobbery and went with their equally renowned rendition.
THE OTHER INDEPENDENCE DAY
A second schooner of Abita and a ship’s hold worth of buttery shrimp finished off my waning energy so I retreated to the barracks and bunked for the night. By the next morning I was feeling the best I had since moving in. The battle was over and the financial toll was regretful but not crippling. Going forward, either Debra and I would learn to co-exist or I’d pack up and move, which seems to be my fate in New Orleans. That evening, though, a friend was flying in for the long weekend and over the next four days we would eat and explore like a tourists as I finally warmed my new home with a welcome guest. There are no paid holidays when you take a permanent vacation, so I spent the day working and writing, knowing I wouldn’t be productive again anytime soon.