Saturday, October 22, 2011

Marfa Road Trip: Memphis to Marfa, Part One

The fact that I have yet to post about the final leg of our trip is exemplary of just how exhausting the last three days of driving were. By that time, the shiny hope of embarking on something new was dulled by my tired eyes that just wanted to get there already.

It is my feeling (and I think my Mom would agree) that the road was split into three distinct emotional parts. Our drive from Chicago to Memphis was all curiosus; seeking eyes and a fascination with just how long Illinois really is. Memphis was a series of good-natured, unfortunate events and a puzzle of a city that seemed at once stuck in time and museum-fied. After we left Memphis and spent time at Ole Miss (which was culture shock in a way I had never felt in my own country), we winded down through the Mississippi Delta, accidentally following the Blues Trail, a seemingly romantic fate, but more common than it felt to us. The Mississsippi Blues Trail consists of more than 100 Blues Trail Historical Markers throughout Mississippi, mostly concentrated in the western delta region. In fact, you'd have to try pretty hard not to be immersed in the Blues history of Mississippi, like be in another state perhaps. Before I get into the wet, dusty magic of the Mississippi delta, I need to talk about Memphis.

Our night in Memphis was the only hotel stay we had pre-booked before we left Chicago and, besides Austin, it was the only chain hotel that we stayed in. I generally hate staying in Fairfield Inns and other chain hotel/motels - something about the carpet gives me the willies. It’s a struggle to feel present in Memphis or whichever city I'm visiting if the interior of my hotel is the same interior as my hotel in say, San Diego or Lubbock. There were certain cities we visited that demanded we stay in a smaller bed and breakfast, just to feel the place, but Memphis was not one of those places.
The only place I would have rather stayed in Memphis was the Peabody, just to be closer to the tourist trap of The Peabody Ducks. I won’t hide the fact that after my Mom dropped me off in front of the Peabody, I breathlessly ran through the ornate hallways, looking for the best vantage point from which to watch the ducks march out of the elevator, down the red carpet, and up the custom-made duck stairs into the fountain of the Memphis Peabody Hotel. I’m still practicing self-guided meditation to figure out why I’m particularly susceptible to tourist traps involving small animals and men in tails. So far, I know its somehow connected to my clockwork tears at the mention of Princess Diana or JFK.

Here’s a little history:

The Peabody Ducks march from their Duck Palace on the roof of the Peabody Hotel to the lobby fountain of the historic Peabody Hotel at 11AM and 5PM everyday, led by the esteemed Duckmaster. I wish the position of Duckmaster was no ceremonial title, but I’m pretty sure it’s not even a ceremonial title, but the a great opportunity for an out-of-work actor with a service background. The original Duckmaster, former Peabody bellman Edward Pembroke, was also the longest reigning Ducksmaster, holding the title for 50 years until his retirement in 1991. As with all great traditions that end with Alice standing in a crowd full of chumps with a camera, it all started with a practical joke. After drinking too much Jack Daniel’s, the general managers of the Peabody decided to play a trick on one of their bosses by putting their live duck decoys from a recent hunting trip into the ornate Peabody Fountain - since then the tradition has been franchised out to many of the Peabody hotels throughout the country, but we won't think about that because - Look! Marching ducks!

Curious Peabody Duck Facts

1. Duck hasn’t been served in the Peabody since it’s reopening in 1981.
2. The ducks do not have individual names because, as it says on the Peabody’s website, “The hotel recognizes that its resident waterfowl are wild animals, not pets”.
3. Ducks working the Peabody gig only get to reside in the Royal Duck Palace for three months before returning to the farm to live out the rest of their days among the plebian ducks.

Before we visited the Peabody, my mom and I woke up early to hit up Graceland before the line became ridiculous. I was really excited to go to Graceland because this kind of stuff just gets me. I’m not sure why, but I now it’s a kind of base place that I don’t want to explore quite at this moment.
Now, I love Elvis’ music, but Graceland was completely bizarre. I was in the minority of women who did not dress up for Elvis. There were short shorts and lipstick and bouffant hairdos and billowing skirts and high, high heels.

My mom had said that we have to visit Graceland just to see the retro interior decorating of the mansion and I agree that was the most interesting part. The Jungle Room was filled with chairs that took the “claw-footed” look to its ridiculous extension. The walls and ceiling were filled with mirrors and six televisions. What struck me most, besides how small the place is, is the fact that Lisa Marie Presley is still here. She’s watched her father’s home be turned into a museum, all of his photos, paintings, kitchen equipment, ashtrays and outfits be lined up behind white velvet ropes.

It was this similar sadness that struck me when my Mom and I visited the Lorraine Motel, which is now the National Civil Rights Museum. Inside, it’s a wonderfully informative museum, with a winding exhibit full of information, most definitely more than we could absorb in the two hours we were there. But on the outside, as you approach, and at the end of the exhibit, when you can walk into the motel rooms in which Martin Luther King, Jr. and his friends stayed, you are struck with the gruesome reality of what happened in that place, not that long ago. The museum replaced the bloodied slab of porch concrete outside of Dr. King’s room with a fresh pour of concrete, which now draws just as much attention for its jarring freshness in relation to the surrounding porch slabs.

For me, our visit to the Lorraine brought up questions of what it means to turn a specific place into a museum. Along with the exhibit within the Lorraine itself, your price of admission also allowed you to visit the building and park across the street, from which the shots were fired. My mom and I agreed that element of the museum felt too much like assassination voyeurism. There is a line to be toed here, between informing yourself, paying homage to the event and the movement, and historical tourism, which seems appropriate for landmarks of the civil war, but feels almost dismissive only fifty years later.

It has to be mentioned that on our first night in Memphis, my Mom locked our keys in the trunk of the car. This was a Sunday, but it only took an hour or so for our surprisingly phenomenal locksmith to show up with his bag of variously sized crowbars. When it comes to locksmithing, I always thought that it was a more sophisticated version of the clothes hanger in the window technique. But it turns out that if a locksmith can get into your car that way, it’s a pretty good chance that a thief can get in your car that way as well, so car manufacturers have made it extremely difficult to locksmith a car door – it doesn’t hurt that the car company can then charge you an exorbitant fee to reprint your car key (try upward of $300 if you have a BMW). Essentially, I watched as this very interesting locksmith named Pete broke into my trunk by disassembling the back seat.

As he rummaged through my canned goods and once neatly folded Hanes underwear, Pete told us about living in Memphis and the locksmithing trade. Some of his stories were funny (like the extremely fat woman who refused to get out of her front seat while he attempted to break into the trunk) and others were sad, about having to carry a gun while locksmithing in the uglier parts of Memphis and opening someone’s trunk only to find pounds upon pounds of cocaine.
When we told Pete where we were going and how we were getting there, he told us to buy a gun. He said in a joking tone, but when he saw that we weren’t taking him seriously, he changed his voice. Down here, he said, everyone carries a gun, it’s an unwritten law. Two women driving this car (gesturing to my 1993 Oldsmobile with its gender equality sticker) through southern Mississippi? Buy a gun.

To be completed.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Marfa Road Trip: Chicago to Memphis

This morning at 6:45AM, my mom and I set out on a 1500 mile road trip to Marfa, TX. After six hours driving through southern Illinois, we were both happy that we chose this route instead of the more direct route through Missouri and Oklahoma. No offense to the Ozarks, but Louisiana on the horizon makes the idea of 30+ driving hours bearable.

Today was a geography lesson. Although we spent the vast majority of our road time in IL, we also went through Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee. The South seems to spring up on you about four hours south of Chicago, reinforcing the fact that I know nothing about Illinois. All told, I think we spent about nine hours and forty five minutes on the road today. I'm glad we packed in a lot of driving on the first day, when I am excited just by the idea of it all and am entertained by the sunrise on golden acres of corn and crosses the size of skyscrapers.

Our mascot, Birdie Poop, was there to see it all with us, including the county fair moving down I-57 on converted pick-up trucks. Looked like the set-up for the part of the fair that's just for kids, which looked creepy to me even when I could fit into those little boxes. Even so, it was a romantic sight to see a circus marching down the Mississippi to another town, another show. One of the buildings looked similar to the circus jail Dumbo was locked up in and I got misty. Then I saw the carnie who was driving the truck. A friend from Sturgeon Bay once told me that when the County Fair was in town, nobody used the laundromats because if you did your laundry after the carnies your clothes would come out filled with grease stains and cigarette butts.

Down the road, I discovered the subject of the greatest comic strip novel yet to be written. A mile out, we started seeing a series of billboards for a store called Boomland, advertising one item at a time in massive red and white lettering. FIREWORKS...CHICKEN...CIGARETTES...etc. I counted ten billboards before one read EXIT NOW.

Boomland is a world unto itself. Swirling with complicated social hierarchies and awkward taxidermy, I could have stayed for hours to pick apart the social terrarium that is Boomland.

When, at the register, I told the cashier that I didn't need a bag for my three Clif bars and bag of trail mix, she looked me in the eye and said, "Oh, we have to give them to everyone, or else that little man over there in the wheel chair, the manager, will tackle you and then come after me." It was then that I started noticing something different about Boomland, beyond the mounted picture of "Tim, the Taker" under his slaughtered and stuffed ten-foot-long moose from Alberta. I started noticing notes. In the woman's rest room, taped to the soap dispenser, was a note that read simply, "DON'T FILL SOAP DISPENSER". Instead of in the dispensers, the soap was in a hodge podge of containers along the ledge above the sink. One was a pretty straightforward stand alone soap dispenser like one would have in their home, but the other (and I only recognized this because I just left a job at a restaurant) was very specifically the same type of bottle restaurants use to drizzle sauce on a finished dish. Even though it made the handwashing experience more exciting, it still stuck me as determinedly convoluted. Was the wheelchair-bound store manager behind it all? In a store so big, perhaps it was up to everyone, even the customer, to spread this bulletin of soap policy so it reached even the employees of Wally's Pizza Parlor, who were, let's face it, ostracized. Although I was happy to accept the plastic bag to make mine and the cashier's life easier, I couldn't help but feel...managed.

Then my Mom showed me this picture, evidence of just how personal things can get in Boomland. A note on the thermostat reads, "DO NOT TOUCH. HANDS OFF, WALLACE". Could it be the same Wallace behind Wally's Pizza Parlor and could that explain the downturned faces of Wally's staff?

As I exited the building, passing underneath a banner that read "WE LOVE GOD, AMERICA AND HOSPITALITY" I looked over at the manager in the wheelchair, surveyed his short-sleeved dress shirt and belted khakis and watched as he stood up, scratched his butt and sauntered towards the hot sauce aisles.

Goodbye, Missouri.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Coffee as a means to the end of laziness.

There is something romantic about coffee in the morning that you have to move on from. I seem to always miss the deadline, around 11AM, when one should get up from the coffee and newspapers and email and actually begin the day. I would choose to have it last forever, the posturing moments structured around my double short soy cappuccino. While we were leaving our favorite coffee bar the other day, one of my best friends remarked to me, "Some people aren't alive before their coffee in the morning. I'm glad we aren't like that", or something to that effect. He said that we like it as a ritual, but it's not strictly necessary. I wasn't so sure.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

This is not quite what I was looking for.

The fact that I haven't written in this blog since April 27th and that entry was a cop-out with photos is just one of the many things that I am choosing not to give any weight to. I have worked six shifts in half as many days and am going in to work again at four. I fell off my bike going zero miles per hour in front of someone I used to date and I chose to laugh instead of cry. I've been making a lot of money. I wrote something that has a good potential trajectory. I'm not going to live on a boat because it doesn't have a stove. I can't find cheap enough housing. I'm used to really cheap housing, but I want to live by myself. I love living alone. Not having a phone is making me feel like I'm on an island of internal bleeding, soon to be rescued.

If I'm being brutally honest, I'd say that I engage in self-pity more than is advantageous. Let's move on, shall we?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

because this is the place for rough drafts

Cecille in the Fort Du Roule Years

Dear Smithwick,
You are standing across from me on the dirt floor
of Fort du Roule, the WWII museum my daddy takes care of.

No one will see us here, these tunnels are off-limits
to visitors – and the hard hats they wear make it difficult
to see anything but the info placards and videos.

I could speak to you, since you are so close, but I cannot
because you know, since you have seen me in the schoolyard,
that I am sweaty, and the dust here clings to my face and arm hair like solid dew.

I will write you notes about my thoughts
in this journal, whom I shall call Smithy (for coherence)
and pass them to you, damp from my palm sweat.

This is too much for you, I can see by the way your jaw hangs,
but I cannot stop because I have taken a vow of honesty,
administered by that fountain that made me pee my pilly, maroon sweatpants.

Under your butt, under dirt, run two metal tracks that boy soldiers used
to run food and ammo to each other, “not much older than you!”, daddy says.
I know you would have been lousy in the war, but so would I.

I need to tell you that I get into the ammo crates
and touch my breasts, thinking about dead
German soldiers, and all the letters they wrote.

That is why I am writing to you, Smithy,
I want you to know that I am going to be famous
when I die, because I’m a romantic. Then you’ll feel good about these notes.

Close your jaw now, the air in here doesn’t taste good,
like those bad strawberries you made me eat. I vomited
pink stuff, but I forgive you for that so you don’t die of shame when this all gets out.

Monday, April 25, 2011

this is what today looks like

I am very tired. This morning I took a walk into town before my 9:30AM class to get some coffee. I remembered last evening that I really enjoy walking, so I had planned the walk since the previous evening. I woke up at 7:45AM, brushed my teeth and put on a weather appropriate outfit. The walk was very pleasant and made my legs feel alive and muscular. I ordered a hot latte even though it was 65 degrees out. Cold coffee isn't as satisfying as hot coffee. If I drink a cool coffee beverage I find it to be useless. Much like I perceived myself to be today. Someone told me that every day is a journey. Today felt like a journey. Sometime in the afternoon I convinced myself that I should keep working. I mean working on the project of life, not one particular project. I have been working in the particular sense for quite some time now and today I felt that nothing had come of it. That I was invisible. That nothing I am doing matters. For some reason I decided this wasn't true and I began writing on a large piece of cardboard with an extra large sharpie. I tried to remember every object that is in my room and I wrote them down on the cardboard, separated by dots. Now I am back in my room and writing down every object that is in my room. I have five pages so far and I haven't opened any drawers yet. Tomorrow will probably be different.