Saturday, October 6, 2007

Beautiful Losers

Journal Entry
Sept 29

Nearly October and still warm in Nashville. I'm sitting on the porch to write this, my neighbors have just run past, playing that inexplicable chasing game they play, and it's 80 degrees. It's probably getting cold in New York, days getting short and brittle.

But I don't want to go back - nothing and no one is left for me there. No one has been returning my emails. I was nearly catatonic the other night with the thought: I'm unrecognizable from the person I was 3 years ago. Everything's different but the tattoos.

In my dreams everything is ending. Recurring dreams are shoring up. Old friends turn against me for a Battle Royale in the streets. Zombies chase me to the End of Days.

I think about the charming, lost, beautiful set I used to hang out with. I miss the glamour, the boys' club delinquency of the whole scene. Worshipping at the church of No Way Back. The autonomy of misfit-ism, the implied danger. There is nonesuch here, that I've found. Everyone is perfectly acceptable.

I miss being young and drunk and absolutely without ambition in that city studded with beautiful losers.

Monday, October 1, 2007

What Nashville Has...

... and New York Lacks

1. A preponderance of earnest conversatons about God.
2. A preponderance of presumptuous conversations about God.
3. fruit tea
4. salvage yards
5. team spirit
6. widespread distrust of labor unions
7. eye contact
8. cheerfulness in the streets
9. Vanderbilt University and Vandy "clones"
(You know those super all-American fetishistic Abercrombie-&-Fitch-wearing Chelsea fags? Nashville is stocked with the straight boys they stole the look from. And their female counterparts)
10. State Fair grounds

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Nashville 99

The local film house is playing sci-fi movies on the first Saturday of each month, and I was thrilled to see that the first movie of our residence was Plan 9 from Outer Space. Omid and I dragged ourselves and our newly-purchased lawn chairs down to the parking lot of the film house, where the movie was being projected against the exterior wall of the theater.

And proceeded to snooze. Plan 9 was not as hilarious as my 15-year-old self had believed. And the people-watching had been ky-bashed by our own early arrival. Fresh from the New York Bryant Park Monday night movie sardine-fest, we got to the feeble Hillsboro Village parking lot at least 2 hours before nightfall, the scheduled start time. Chuckling at our fellow Nashvillians' lack of foresight, we positioned our chairs front and center and spent the next couple of hours reading magazines. During which time maybe 100 unconcerned people slowly gathered. Behind us.

As we considered the possible Buddhist practice of non-being our old cutthroat, New York selves, we were thrilled for a bonus showing of an episode of Nashville 99: a 70's-era cop show set in Nashville and featuring various country-music stars in advisory roles. Our episode featured Tammy Wynette giving solemn counsel from a heavily-carpeted night club in Printers' Alley, while the cop she was helping gulped coffee.

Next month... Ghidra the 3-Headed Monster (VS. Godzilla, Rodin and Mothra). Is it just me, or is Godzilla the feyest monster ever?

The Settling Down

In which the author spends the final few weeks before the Return to Work painting the interior of her house, ruminating on Buddhism and poverty, and employed in the Discovery of a Soothing and Politically-Motivated Hobby.

We have painted the living room pink. Yes, bubble-gum, fairy-princess pink, with Omid's complete knowlegede and consent. It really is lovely: cheerful and bright and a nice contrast to the heavy club chairs and dark mantel. The color is called "Hopeful." How optimistic! and appropriate: Omid's name means "hope" in Farsi. We are still working on furnishing and decorating the living room, but we love the happiness of this color.

Getting the house painted before school started was a goal I had set before we even left NYC: I thought having a project would lessen my move anxiety, and I suppose it did. But there was another reason for the timing, and her name is Birdie. My cat, so named for her chirp-like vocal styings, had taken a year-long hiatus at my mother's, where she lived in the basement, happily killing mice and garter snakes and completely indifferent to the imminent Nashville arrival of her real mother. Well, with the last stroke of pink announcing that we were Mostly Settled In, with the Large Parts of the Move Officially Behind Us, it was time for Birdie's return to the fold, and a joyous reunion was had by all. Well... by me anyway. Birdie and Omid were fairly unaroused.

Moving on, a second Back Lot Beaut was located in the form of a 1996 Toyota Paseo, maroon, missing a driver's side door handle but in possession of a tenaciously persistent and ever-vigilant Check Engine light. Purchased from one Dano Walker, arrangements were made for the car to pass its emissions test (with considerable coaxing of the Check Engine light, which will cause any car to fail Nashville's emission's testing. It blinked back on 5 minutes after passing the test, and remains on to this day.) and the replacement of the door handle.

It was a cool and sanguine summer morning. Omid had started work already; I was feeling purposeful after completing without major malfunction my home-improvement painting project. Using my index finger and thumb, I eased open the Paseo's door with the crumb of the handle, and took off for my appointment to have it replaced. Stopping at the Dickerson Pike dealership for directions, I encountered my first whiff of forboding when the man behind the desk, a square-shaped and intellingent-looking Black man, informed me that he himself did not tarry in the neighborhood where I was to have my car worked on. I unhappily recalled a conversation I had overheard the day before at the laundomat, between the attendant and her mother, about the relative number of crackheads and hookers in the neighborhoods of Dickerson Pike. None of the numbers had sounded good. Shaking his head, he called ahead, thereby waking the man who was to perform upon my vehicle and informing him of the appointment, of which he was not previously aware. To embolden myself, I got a gumball out of the machine.

Upon arrival at the house on Linda Street (an ironic name, to be sure), I found that Gregor, my ersatz mechanic, was apparently in the beginning stages of recovery (or withdrawal) from an all-night George Dickel-drinking marathon, the indicators of the early stages of recovery being a virtual sloughing off of cigarette and alcohol fumes from Gregor's pores, a droopy right eyelid, a lack of fresh clothing despite the hour, and slight tremors in the hands (DTs?). As I sat in an old steel lawn chair in the garage pretending to read The Magus (poor choice) and Gregor removed the interior door panel, a child emerged from the back door of the folded-looking home and began desultorily chasing a soccer ball around the concrete backyard in his underwear. I smiled and waved good morning, but he was apparently inured to gestures of good will. The boy was followed by two other men, obviously Gregor's colleagues in the Dickel marathon and none too pleased with the arrival of either myself or the morning sun, feelings they made clear by brightening their eyes my way and muttering quietly to Gregor in a manner I found decidedly menacing. (They were also unresponsive to gestures of greeting.)

As is my usual procedure in these situations, I began simultaneously to create an emergency escape plan (down the driveway, into the alley and out onto Dickerson) and recite the 8 Wordly Dharmas (pleasure/pain, gain/loss, fame/disgrace, and praise/blame). Clearly, these men fell squarely in the pain/loss/disgrace/blame side of the fence, and I empathized with them. My resolve to not buy into the Dharmas was strengthened, and I wanted to go. Luckily Dano was right, and the replacement of the door handle was a simple matter, one we could have done ourselves. I shook Gregor's hand and drove away down Linda Street, wondering why poor people in Nashville seemed somehow more desparate than poor people in New York.

In the month I had in Nashville before the school year started (excruciatingly early in August), I began whiling away the hot afternoons in thrift stores, absorbed in long-forgotten (and often Jesus-related) knick-knacks, furniture, and unwanted clothing. I was charmed when I went to the cashier in a Salvation Army with a copy of Edith Hamiltion's Mythology and the Bible - only to be told that my price was only $0.75: the Lord's Word was free! And I liked the idea of buying second hand: not only is it thrifty, I don't have to worry about supporting sweat-shops or contributing to sickening levels of American consumerism. The stuff, in the way of so many American "consumables," has already been bought and cast aside.

Thrift stores in New York are terribly picked-over and over-priced. Even if you find something decent, it likely will cost you 10 - 20 bucks, and what's the fun of that? You can get clean, new, more fashionable clothes at H&M for cheaper! (Though, as far as I know, those clothes are produced in sweat shops. Which is not to say I haven't done considerable shopping there.) At $1.50 - $4.00 per average item in Nashville, you can afford to take a chance on fushia and sapphire rose-patterned muumuu. That is, if you're lucky enough, like I was, to find such a thing.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Arrival

Welcome friends! Below you'll find the first post in my "culture shock journal."

We said our final goodbyes to our lovely, wicked city in a shocking summer downpour which my brother stood in and let drench him. The streets of the Verrazanno Bridge were black and slick on our way out of town.

Our drive down to Nashville was unremarkable except for the godawful stench that filled the cab of the U-Haul every time my brother opened his bag of beef jerky and the two boys went at it. I stuck to my vegetarian diet of ShockTarts and Gatorade, thank you very much. We arrived in the middle of the night and unpacked (with much grumbling from yours truly).

Our first Nashville activities: celebrating the Fourth of July by attending the First Annual Hot Chicken Festival; and buying a car (Exhibit 1). Both were carried off gallantly! We withstood the heat magnificently! We bought an ’86 Toyota Camry for $1200 thriftily! For those not in the know: “hot chicken” is Nashville’s specialty regional food and describes a chicken that has been fried in a batter consisting largely of cayenne pepper. “Hot” is an understatement: it is barely edible. Extreme caution and volumes of iced tea are urged.

We found the car after scouring the scummiest used car lots imaginable, think toothless hill folk smoking Marlboros in stifling trailers marked “Almost Perfect Used Cars” and you’ve got the idea. (Yes, I know that’s your idea of the entire city, New Yorkers!) But we found our little honey and off we went. She does a serene 55 on the highway – what’s the rush?

Our house is just as cute and perfect as when we left her, though there is more petty thievery in Nashville than Brooklyn! (Or at least it seems like it.) Most of you know that our AC was stolen while we were still in NYC. Also stolen: custom storm window and gate to the backyard fence. Why? I haven’t the least clue, and neither does anyone else.

Our neighbors are friendly! The woman from next door, Hattie Henderson, divested herself of the hugest cabbage Omid and I had ever seen in a show of neighborly generosity (Exhibit 2). Thankfully Omid has a passion for cole slaw, but wow. Neighbors of note: Hattie's grown son, Spanky, who sits in the backyard all day drinking 40s and smoking reefer. He gave Omid a confused leer through the window the other day, and when Omid went outside to see what was up he asked to “borrow a dollar for a few hours.” (Omid declined.) Also: the woman across the street is known to all to be crazy and obsessed with kids. She follows kids to the bus-stop, trespasses at the day care and keeps her medication in her mailbox (or so we’ve been told by other neighbors). We met when I was doing a little yard work and within minutes she asked if I had kids. Gulp.

One of the things I’ve found most pleasing about moving to Nashville is the streamlining of possibilities. In New York, everything is going on all the time; it’s a virtual glut of activity that sometimes feels unmanageable. Nashville, being a much smaller city, has fewer things to offer at any given moment, but a greater sense of intimacy. Case in point: Omid and I were invited to Nashville’s monthly “gallery crawl” by our friends Don and Marissa. The 5 or 6 galleries involved were easily within walking distance, and the atmosphere was one of a progressive party: snacks, people-watching, art-chat. It was fun! (And a lot of the artwork was affordable – and did NOT involve corn cobs.)

Omid and I are looking forward to exploring Nashville, from the metal club The Muse to the shops and yoga studios and restaurants. Everyone keeps telling us we arrived at the “right time” to be part of Nashville’s culture explosion! Yes!

Bad news:
According to my mother, who tramped around to survey, poison ivy grows everywhere in our back yard. Being allergic in the extreme, I had only to hear that and see the evil vine and I was immediately plagued with the grossest, most miserable affliction of poison ivy from shoulders to knees. Sigh. Our moving in and settling down has been slowed for the moment, as I pause for an extended Benadryl daze, and a vain little prayer that it doesn’t spread to my face.

Culture shock items:
Of these there have been oddly few, and I expect I’ll start feeling it more when I return to work and mingle a bit more extensively with the natives. But so far I’ve noted: women and girls wear tons of make-up and walk around in the summer practically naked. Overheard from a security guard at the Nashville Board of Ed: “I’ll tell yuh, some a these little girls look lahk they just stepped out of the Klassic Kat club down town!” I assume I don’t have to tell you what kind of establishment the Klassic Kat is.

Note: Names have been changed to protect the innocent.