Thursday, September 3, 2015
I’m on episode 18 of Breaking Bad and it is delightful.
I’m on episode 18 of Breaking Bad and it is delightful.
It was still hard—I didn’t have a home, or an income, and I was having to go to Lincoln Center four nights a week to go to law school classes I was already two weeks behind in. The school actually wasn’t that helpful. Welcoming, sure. It was really strange to go to that fancyish part of town, so far from where I was staying, and take these classes in things I didn’t care about. One class was advanced business law, it was really about who gets screwed if the mail is slow. I tolerated it. The other one was European Union law. It was taught in a huge auditorium though there were maybe twenty students. Very easy to have a cocktail in class. The teacher loved EU law, which is just the worst. You will defend the US constitution wholeheartedly if you ever hear any of the EU constitution, just because of the different qualities of prose. Also, all EU cases end with the majority winning. So outlier Portugal, which cans its mutton in flat square tins, was required to adopt the flat oval tins favored by the rest of the Eurozone. Meanwhile, I needed to get a job.
I will say, I had so much help during this time. Obviously having a place to stay with a woman I was really excited about getting to know was the pinnacle. And I have to credit FEMA, who kept surprising me with direct deposits. I hadn’t had that much money in the bank for a while. And the Red Cross gave out those great white debit cards that you got like $600 on for tax-free clothes and food. Visiting the Red Cross office was nice, there were lots of New Orleans people hanging out there, always a few that you knew. I expressed interest in the nice, gorgeous Red Cross volunteer who took down my new address information, but I assume so did everybody else.
Amazingly, my former employers, a small design firm on Broadway, got in touch with me. I hadn’t seen or talked to them since I moved to New Orleans, but they found my phone and called and offered me a desk and keys to the office. I would go there and work on graphic stuff at night and just enjoy the privacy. (I never studied for school at this point.) That is not a pretty part of town but it is a very New York part of town and the deli sandwich guys knew me. The office was old (1144 Broadway) near the Flatiron, and it had a nice old lockable bathroom down the hall which felt like a perk.
I got school kind of under control. For some reason I took a trip by the student counseling office. I went in and said, “Hey, just wanted to introduce myself; I’m one of these hurricane transfers from New Orleans, but I’m fine, I don’t need anything.” They said ” Hey wait a sec, say hi to the doctor”, and a few minutes later I had a standing therapy appointment. It would end up going off the rails because of scheduling issues and us getting frustrated with each other, but it was nice, at the time, to have a sympathetic ear to lean on.
Another helpful thing: I had worked for a temp agency in New York years before and I wondered if they could get me some quickie jobs again, so I went by. They had moved to the Chrysler Building, which is such a treat to visit. You come out of the filthy subway into the architectural equivalent of a zoot suit. Like American Art deco meets conspicuous consumption meets plain old overdecoration. I went to the firm and the woman who had assigned me jobs was about to retire but she was still there. She seemed so happy to see me and made me feel like I would be fine. I had been making an embarrassing amount at that law firm so even temp money sounded all right. She got me a job in a day or two, at the Direct Marketing Association, in Mid-Town, as an assistant business analyst, and that’ll be the next part.
We got to Huntsville really late and it was just great, seeing my friends Kip and Melissa and their kids and they made us really comfortable. I remember little else about that part of the evacuation but watching the news about 24/7 on a big TV and realizing, after a brief few hours of optimism, that I wouldn’t be going back. I was divorced, I hated my garbage law firm job, I probably couldn’t find any other work, and to top it off I had just started my last semester of law school, and I had to think about how I was going to finish that up. But mostly we just watched the TV.
I think we stayed just two nights, maybe three. It was obvious we couldn’t go back; I had nothing of value to go back to. My mom decided she would go stay with my sister in Maryland for a while, and I decided to move back to New York. I had to leave Betty with my mom, a temporary arrangement that I didn’t know would become permanent; I couldn’t stand to take her away from my mom once they teamed up, and she lived a very happy and dignified life in New Orleans. I took Amtrak from Baltimore to Penn Station.
All I owned then was what I had in my small duffle bag and my computer—an eMac. (They were really cheap if you were in school, and pretty good computers too, like the old colorful iMacs, only white, but I really wished I had a laptop about then.) I can’t remember how I got it to New York; I can’t believe I would have carried it on the train. I probably shipped it to my brother’s place, where I thought I would be staying, I just don’t remember actually doing it. Maybe I actually bought it with FEMA money in New York. All this was ten years ago, and you think you wouldn’t forget a big purchase like that, but I can.)
I seem to recall getting to Greenpoint while my brother and his wife were still at work, and going to a pizza place on Manhattan Avenue, and thinking, I guess I live in New York again. I felt like a real amateur though. When I finally got to their place it was obvious I couldn’t stay there long. It was just too small even for the two of them; they had a couch with a lot of cat-hair coated blankets and not much room for anything else.
Fortunately I had things to do that kept me out of the apartment. A couple months earlier I had met a woman from New York at a friend’s dinner party in New Orleans (we really met the night before and, as she liked to remind me later, I paid no attention to her at all, but I’ll counter that she was in the back seat and I was driving). I really liked her; she had a dry sarcastic sense of humor and a really nice voice; and a really beautiful freckled face. I had talked to her a couple times on the phone under I-can’t-imagine-what pretext, probably I was just bored at work. Anyway, I called her up as soon as I got to Brooklyn and made arrangements to get together.
That whole episode is a part of the story to itself. The practical aspect is that I was soon hanging out with her a lot, and since she was never home during the week because of her job making tv shows, she suggested I stop schlepping back to my brother’s place across Brooklyn and just stay at her place until I found a place of my own. So I moved in after knowing her for maybe a week. If her housemate objected she didn’t say anything. I was frantically job hunting and enrolling in school (Fordham Law took a bunch of displaced Loyola and Tulane students) at the time so I wasn’t there a whole lot either.
I had a yard sale scheduled for the day the hurricane happened. I had five hundred LPs, among other things, in crates in my front room. I had seen the crazy forecast and I thought it was a put-on. “ALL STRUCTURES WITH GABLED ROOFS WILL BE HEAVILY DAMAGED OR DESTROYED” or whatever all-caps hyperbole it included. That can’t be real; they don’t say stuff like that. Anyway, I talked to Jeanne, who I had been planning the sale with, and she got me to thinking there was maybe something to these forecasts. So I spoke to my mom.
She hadn’t made any plans (she’s lived through several hurricanes, as a kid in south Florida) but she was up for evacuating if I was, it seemed. Her car was a bit better than mine so I left my old Volvo at her place and she and I and the cat (Betty) took off to visit friends in Huntsville, Alabama. We weren’t freaking out. We didn’t think it would be bad. It was mostly just a day of planning out our urination. (That poor cat! I think we brought a litterbox for her though. I can’t remember details unless they were funny or incongruous. Like when I was sleepy and driving so I bought an energy drink (I hate them) called Pimpjuice and it almost made my mom cry.
But the urination. Most stops off the side of the highway were closed down already, like suddenly the Taco Bells and KFCs didn’t want that many people in them. We’d investigate, I’d find a spot somewhere, and my mom would just get back in the car. We drove a long way very slowly. I talked to Trey on my cellphone (soon to be a luxury; I didn’t have a text messaging plan then cause I thought that was unnecessary, I sent my first texts ever two days later and I never looked back) and said I was doing fine but mom was seeming pretty uncomfortable.
“Hmm. Yeah, I guess she can’t really go Evian Gold,” Trey said. I still say that.
We sat in traffic for hours. Finally we found a place that had open bathrooms. Can’t remember what it was called to thank them, I think it was some kind of non-chain restaurant, if you can imagine that. (I’m kind of mad I don’t remember more about that basically very boring day, and that I didn’t take notes.) Mom got in a long line of women, women of all kinds, casually-dressed laughing women with neck tattoos, tank tops, cigarettes, flip flops, and babies everywhere. I went out in some pines and pissed on the carpet of needles.
I sat with the cat for a while, stoic traveler. When my mom came back she was positively glowing with joy. She was waving at the women she’d shared the line with, shouting and wishing everybody well.
It was an interesting meeting, or lecture, if you’re wondering. I still like to draw while I listen.