Monday, June 30, 2008

New York, Part One

$15: that’s all you need for a bus ride from Boston to New York City, and so we went. The Bolt Bus travels just four hours before dropping you just a few blocks from Broadway and Time Square, and as luck would have it, it deposited us – of all places – at the doorway of the hotel where our friend Kim lives while interning for DKNY. Kismet.

In just over 24 hours, we stuffed in more activities than I usually do in a week. Upon arrival, we picked up Kim and a gigantic slice of pizza, most of which I ended up wearing, and took a Liberty Cruise to see the statue in all her glory, passing by that strange absence on the ride there. Even if you’re not sure where the Twin Towers used to stand, you know you’re there when you reach the most silent part of one of the noisiest cities in the world. The first time I saw it, I didn’t have my bearings and was unsure what part of New York we were standing in, but as soon as we crossed the street to where the memorial now stands, I just. . . knew. No one was talking. Everyone moved slowly. Cars didn’t honk, people didn’t yell, no one shoved or catcalled or anything. They just – looked. Even passing it by boat, I felt the same thing.

After the tour came Saks Fifth Avenue, the only store I’ve ever seen whose shoe department literally has its own zip code. Prada, Jimmy Choo, Gucci, shoes shaped like fish, shoes in bright blue, shoes with tall heels and rich leather flats and women EVERYWHERE, pulling, pushing, trying on, discarding, debating, arguing, considering, purchasing madness. I just watched.

Then, Macy’s with its odd wooden escalators and a children’s department that is every person’s nightmare: children wailing, throwing clothes, mothers begging, making bargains, jamming hats on infants, pinching chubby little arms, exhausted fathers negotiating strollers through narrow aisles, insanity. I buy a hot pink dress.

It’s Pride Parade weekend. We pass transvestites in hot pink wigs and black miniskirts. Everyone’s wearing a rainbow.

Night falls. We enter the Eugene O’Neill theater, an intimate place. The set of Spring Awakening involves the audience; four rows of wooden schoolchairs sit on the actual stage, and we have tickets to sit there. I notice nervously that some of the chairs lack numbers, and Andrew points out the little bottles of water under the unmarked seats. Before I can really fathom that possibility, the actors march out in single file and those not singing sit beside us, all around us, on chairs behind us, stomping, singing, cursing, spitting, sweating – our friend Phoebe, who plays Anna in the production, takes the seat next to us and laughs when she sees we’ve purchased seats 111 and 113 right next to where her character is always placed. I squeeze her on the arm, completely overwhelmed to do anything else. After the show, she grabs us and pulls us through the side door for a tour backstage. I’m not sure what I’m expecting, but the alleys and rooms and byways and stairs are precariously narrow, the walls dingy, the light dim with bulbs out here and there and exposed pipes hanging low from the ceiling. We brush actors from the show and I don’t speak, entirely too afraid to say anything in case I say something stupid. “This is where we have birthday parties,” Phoebe says and points to a stale case of doughnuts and laughs. I can’t imagine living her life and am so glad for her that I have nothing adequate to say.

We eat and walk her towards her home, past a group of men who yell “titties titties titties” at every woman who walks by. Phoebe is unfazed. A tall young guy touches her shoulder and says “Phoebe Strole!” and kisses her face and says “Ohmigod I’m not a crazy fan I used to work with you don’t mind me I’m drunk woohoo!” and she walks away. “I’ve never seen him in my life,” she says.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

It's the City

When we arrive in Boston, Toni is there to meet us. Toni is a transplanted New Jersyite African-American lesbian buddhist classic-pianist/sociology professor with a law degree. She likes to use the word "gentrification" and she refuses to let people take pictures of her because she says she wants to own the rights to herself. I love her. But she didn't love us, at least not at first. She had several misgivings about housing two white kids from Mississippi, and she told us as much. We only had a short time to help her peel away her reserve, which was heavy on her and almost tangible. Before she got on her plane, she said, "Come next time when I'm here. We could talk for a very long time," and she seems surprised.

We spent a good part of the morning learning the idiosyncrasies of this old house, which is beautiful and newly refinished, from its shiny pine floors to its stained glass windows. Each time Toni would show us something that was supposed to bolster the security of the house, she would sigh the same refrain: "It's the city." Like, "This is how you turn on the house alarm. You know, it's the city." Or, "the television and lamps are on a timer, in case you're late. It's the city." And, "Please hose my car off for me while I'm gone, so that dust doesn't settle and people suspect I'm not here. It's the city." These are parts of her routine I would never have thought of in my life, and yet, here they are, part of her daily existence, and now, mine.

Toni lives in Roslindale, which is Boston with the shine taken off, situated at the end of the Orange Line. It's a wonderfully confusing place, which bright-white new condos and sturdy detailed porch stoops and landscaped yards next to burned buildings and Taquerias and auto shops. Roslindale boasts a triangular city center with a bakery and a coffee bar and a tiny grocery store that sells chickpeas and wheat germ and expensive cheeses. It is unsafe to walk to the subway, so we stuff onto the bus, where I'm forced to stand. Naturally, I launch into a man's lap, prevented from direct touching only because he's carrying an oversized suitcase.

The subway smells like tar and heat and it's littered with odd signs, like "Do Not Feed the Pigeons," even though there are no birds underground. There's also "Flash someone and find yourself on surveillance" and "If someone touches you inappropriately, take a picture of them with your camera phone." Who knew public transportation could be so erotic? I suppress a giggle picturing myself being fondled by an aggressive youth only to make him pause in his endeavors so I can snap a picture of his face.

We head to Chinatown for dim sum and find an abandoned-theater-turned-chinese restaurant. The theater-restaurant retains its gold ceilings and walls but has been added that strange gilded Chinese deco that adorns most Chinese restaurants you're familiar with. So next to marbled cherub faces are bright blue-and-gold dragons and the room is enough to hold 500 people, though only 3 tables are taken. We order dim sum and the waiter insults me by bringing me a fork, which I end up needing. Andrew orders a meatball that entirely too closely resembles bull testicles that we are unable to finish because I tell him so. I do not tell him that I have never seen bull testicles; perhaps he assumes that, being from the country, I am just born knowing such things.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Night Before

The night before is always daunting. You know what I'm talking about -- when you were a kid, and you went to summer camp for the first time, how did you feel the night before? I was terrified and nauseatingly excited, that butterfly excitement that makes you unable to eat or breathe in all the way.  I still get that feeling; I have it today. 

We leave tomorrow to begin our negotiations with the concrete jungle. When I get really anxious about something, all I want to do is sit in the middle of a room and hug my knees and picture how it'll go, over and over and over, like mental rehearsal will make the actual experience all okay. This tendency can be debilitating, however, since there are 1,000 little things that come with leaving bills, a house, and 4 animals behind.  So I'm resisting the urge to let my inner autism get the best of me. 

So here's to anticipation. Here's to that nervous not-sleep that precedes long trips and possibilities.  

Sunday, June 15, 2008

In the Clouds, In the Heights

It all started when I was 8 years old. I was stuffed in the back of an AstroVan coming home from a movie with my parents and was arguing with my dad, who had switched the radio off of my favorite station and had put in a tape. I was whining because the music was unfamiliar.

"What IS this?" I demanded.
"You'll like it. It's called Phantom of the Opera," Dad said.
" I WON'T like it. I HATE opera. This woman sounds like a bird on crack."
"It's not that kind of opera, Kacy. Where did you learn about crack?"

Despite myself, I listened to the music. I believe I pouted all the way home until some part of the story sucked me in. I was completely unwilling. And I was hooked, somewhere deep down where few things are permitted to settle and stay.

Phantom and all of the shows like it quickly became for me the ultimate escape. Even though I might as well have been an ocean away from Broadway, stuck in the East Texas Piney Woods with kids who made fun of me for drawing pictures of Mungojerry and Rumpleteazer from Cats, I was truly in love with musical theater. I was a dumpy short fat kid with glasses and braces but when I listened to Starlight Express, I twirled around in my room and sang at the top of my lungs -- thank the Lord for everyone involved that I was (am) an only child -- pretending I was really there, in New York, a place I could only imagine. And I forgot about everybody who thought I was a spoiled hideous weirdo kid and I was somewhere else entirely.

Fast-forward to spring of 2007. I'm weary from a 2-day drive in a snowstorm from Mississippi to New York City, riding an escalator out of the subway, when we emerge onto Times Square, right under a gigantic, bright sign for Phantom of the Opera. I remember that I couldn't breathe, or move, even though stopping on the sidewalk in Times Square is almost impossible. Sign after sign after sign of the musicals I'd followed for years, and the only thing that separated me from them was a door. It was like someone had given me a present I hadn't earned. I was almost positive a taxicab would instantly kill me right then and there and prevent me from going into a theatre to see Wicked, which I'd been butchering in my car and the shower for over a year. We'd bought front-row tickets -- supercheap for their "obscured view" -- and I had one of Elphaba's monkeys in my lap for most of the performance. I'm fairly certain I let my mouth hang open for the entirety of the show, completely unable and unwilling to pull myself together to behave like a normal person just out to see a show.

At the end of this month, I may have the chance to redeem myself. While we're in Boston, we're taking a bus to NYC and, due to the grand generosity of a good mutual friend, Kim, we'll be bunking on her floor and stuffing in as many shows as we can in a 24 hour period. The first one, Spring Awakening, we'll see from a unique vantage point; we'll be on top of the Eugene O'Neill stage and I'm ecstatic. I have a friend in the show who plays Anna, and that makes it even more special. In an effort to get ready for the euphoria, I just watched the 2008 Tony Awards and when I saw "In the Heights," my heart stopped. Hip-hop Puerto Rican Rap does Broadway? If it were a show I could eat, I would have. And thanks to and my complete willingness to sit behind a pillar on the last row in the very back of the theater, I'm going to, and now all I can do is blog about it because it's 2 weeks away and I should be in bed and there's no way I can go to sleep now.

I can't really describe it but seeing New York is like going to see someone I've been infatuated with but separated from ever since I first experienced what an "obsession" was but being told that, now that the reunion is official, I'll have to figure out a way to bide my time until then. The anticipation is sure to make me, yet again, an absolute fool in the audience. If you happen to be there, and I'm squealing, or sobbing, or gasping, and unable to stop clapping, just know that I'm well aware very few adults act that way in public. I'm fully cognizant than grown women who enjoy themselves typically just nod, smile, and write journal entries about something they want to remember. But I'm not like those women. If you see me visit Broadway, just know you're in the presence of pure, unadulterated joy. And I just can't apologize for that.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Did you know my bird has mites?

I've come home to Linden for a couple of days before we set out for Boston. I love to come home because I always hear stories about people I thought I knew really well but clearly didn't. My favorite so far is this one about my great-grandmother, Mary Magdalene Jackson, or, affectionately, "Magda," the sweetest human that ever lived. Somehow, she gave birth to one of the cruelest -- my grandmother. During reminiscences over dinner, my parents told me a story about Grandmother Jackson I'd never heard before. It went like this:

Grammy (my grandmother) would frequently come over to her mother's house to "unload" all of the day's woes on her. As a school principal suffering from actual hypochondria and some kind of disease I'd call "chronic anger", my grandmother often had woes. So one day she sat in Grandmother Jackson's kitchen and said something like this: "The kids are horrible today and my children never behave. All of the parents are stupid and come to me with stupid problems I can't solve and the cleaners messed up my laundry. AGAIN. I can't see how they can't remember to just steam the shirts instead of starch them theyalwaysusetoomuchstarch and nooneeverlistenstomewhenItalk and Idon'tseewhypeoplearetooincompetenttodotheirjob" and just when she was about to get good and wound up, Grandmother Jackson would smilingly interrupt her, asking, "Did you know my bird has mites?"

This question would cause my grandmother to lose it. The conversation would end with I-DON'T-CARE-ABOUT-YOUR-DAMN-BIRD and Grammy would stomp out of the front door and not speak to her mother for a week. Grandmother Jackson would go back to stirring her butterbeans with the hamhock in it and tending to "Underfoot" and "Loudlung," her showcats, until Grammy would come around again to repeat the cycle all over again.

Monday, June 9, 2008


After a very hard week of working in the yard, setting up the yard sale, writing dissertation chapters, and completing various projects, Andrew and I fixed up the jetski and went waverunning at Sardis Lake. There's something so odd about being in the middle of a big body of water. I always feels like hope is the only thing keeping me afloat. Nothing feels more tenuous, like one wrong sneeze could toss me in the water, never to be seen again. But there's something really defiant about the experience too, like despite everything I know about the properties of water and the body, I'm still on top of the waves. It's amazing.

When I'm riding, I like to imagine what would happen if I stopped at one of those floating lake islands and camped there for the rest of my life. I picture fashioning sticks into spears and pilfering cornmeal from boathouses and frying catfish for three meals a day and loving it. In my daydream, it's never winter, or raining, and no one ever finds me, and I'm ok with that. Then I think of one of my favorite books, Life of Pi, where the floating island turns out to be carnivorous. That always ruins my fantasy.

I like to think of a name for the color of a lake when you look down into it and you can see through the top layer of water but not beyond it, a translucent/opaque conundrum I have always wanted to describe but couldn't. Opaluscent, perhaps.

My favorite thing to do on a waverunner isn't to jump waves; it's to cut the engine and lie back on the seat, which is always so hot that the vinyl sticks to my wet back, but it doesn't matter because lake water is freezing until July. I like to look straight up at the sky where I can't see any land around me and imagine I'm in the ocean with nothing around for miles and miles.

This is pleasant until a motorboat runs me over, or some vindictive skier glides by and splashes my open eyes with lakewater. But most days this doesn't happen and I get to go home and bask in languid sun-exhaustion, that exuberantly happy feeling that can be likened to a cross between eating too much chocolate but not feeling sick about it and being shot with codeine but skipping the hazy, addictive side effects.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


Today, I am 28. Please do not hold back on the party horns.