Russ Ringsak

From a Water Buffalo Into a Cheetah

March 29, 2004

With a few weeks off we did go to New Orleans and it was a good time and I have the beads to prove it. We flew down and drove the rental car back, because the Internet travel agency messed up our tickets and had us returning in December. It was their mistake and they knew it but they still said I had to cough up 260 bucks to change the tickets. I said I didnít want to change the tickets, I wanted them to get the tickets right. Was on hold a good part of two days and finally got to speak to an overlord and he was as stubborn as was the minion: their company could do no wrong and I would pay for it and I said no way was I paying cash money for their mistake. I naturally donít want to get my employer messed up in this so I wonít say the name of the company. Although I might say it starts with ĎTravel.í And it might end with Ďcity.í But thatís all Iím saying. You couldnít beat the name of that sorry crowd out of me with a rubber boarding pass.

Had a real good time tooling around the Big Easy in the rental car, which I hired on my own. You get a good view from up there in the truck but itís not much fun in the city and naturally impossible in places like the French Quarter and the Garden District, to say nothing of the beautiful aboveground cemeteries. The car is about five times faster, too. I was nimble, I was quick. I was like, Zoom! Car drivers are used to it but if youíre in a big rig for a few weeks, driving a car feels like you kissed a princess and she changed you from a water buffalo into a cheetah.

Spent some good time down there in the Secret Agent Lounge, one of a cluster of connected sheds in the back yard of a fine home at an undisclosed location outside the city limits. Itís an elegantly funky room built of found objects, like used 2x4s. The four barstools are booty from a Chicago Mafia hangout and the ceiling is of canvases salvaged from the reject pile of a neighborhood artist. The sofas sag authentically. A room so immediately engaging that it makes your heart sink, knowing that when she walks in she will say, ďOh, this is so cool! Why donít you build something like this, Russ?Ē And thatís precisely what happens, word for word. The music in the Secret Agent Lounge is exactly right, Itís a Mardi Gras World with A.J. Loria, aka King Nino, who happens by some miracle to show up in person. And there is behind the bar a 19-year-old bourbon so sweet it would be blasphemy to put ice cubes in it. A case of it would likely cost more than the entire construction budget for the building, a prime instance of properly placed priorities.

The road trip back wasnít all that bad, either. Had lunch in the Blues City Cafe on Beale Street in Memphis, where their motto is ďIf You Donít Get Your Food In Thirty Minutes, Thanks For Trying.Ē I wouldnít put the vertical Interstate stretch between Memphis and Wisconsin on a scenic highways list, but I hear itís real interesting if you take your time and go by way of Highway 61 along the Mississippi River.

As for the red-hot fat gator Dixie gumbo ya-ya back in Nawlins, I think that stuff is different for everyone who tries it. I think you can find it but it wonít necessarily be the same thing as it might be to someone else. Itís one of those variable mysteries.

Being on the road for seven weeks like we were in January and February and then returning to the Crescent City somehow awakens in the belly a desire to go its own way, to take a shape separate from that of its owner and to make itself known as an independent sphere. I find mine now indicating that it wants to be all it can be, to break away, to secede from the republic and become a nation unto itself. From the side in a full length mirror I see it bulging outward from the main body, rising like a biscuit or a puffball mushroom. I look like an amoeba fixing to split off a piece and become two. I need to quell the uprising, or in this case, the outrising. For me to be all I can be the belly needs to be much less than it can be, and in fact needs to be less than it already is.

I know how to put this rebellion down. Iíve done it before. A return to the Atkins method would take care of it. But knowing how to fix something is not the same as fixing it. And wanting to fix it doesnít fix it either. How it is that making oneself do the right thing can be such a struggle is an ongoing mystery in itself. Youíd think itíd be easy. Like being nice, right?

Looking over photos of New Orleans cemeteries and the coming of April Fools Day brought to mind a story of a young woman from northern Minnesota. Her name is Melanie. Sheís a nurse in a small town hospital where, in the last days of March some years back, the ambulance brought to the emergency room an elderly great-uncle of hers. He had suffered a heart attack and was wheeled into a trauma room which was outfitted for the situation, and after an intense series of procedures and some ups and down in his prognosis he finally, after four hours, gave up the ghost.

She was much involved in the effort to revive the old guy, and another emergency came up right away and it wasnít until she took a short break two hours later that she realized her glasses were missing. Sheís nearsighted and doesnít need them for close work and typically takes them off when things get vigorous. She went back to the room and couldnít find them. Theyíd cleaned the place already. She went to the cleaning folks and they hadnít seen any rimless glasses like that and neither had anyone else. They checked the rolled-up sheets, the waste bags and the adjacent rooms. The glasses were just gone. They were prescription and it was unlikely someone would have put them on accidentally. She didnít want to buy a second pair. Nothing like that could just disappear in a hospital.

It bothered her for three days. That Friday morning she went to the uncleís funeral, and as they passed by the casket and she was looking at him for the last time, tears running down, she realized with a jolt that he was wearing her glasses. She quickly buried her face in her hands and was grateful that laughing and crying were so similar. In the conflict of emotion she couldnít help but think he would really be enjoying this. The undertaker was able to make a discreet retrieval on the trip to the cemetery.

He had been a joker and her cousin had said to her the day before, ďItís kind of a shame old Kenny didnít make it a coupla more days, at least until April Fools Day, doncha think.Ē She still doesnít know how it happened but she carries a mental picture of the old man waiting until no one is looking and reaching over with his last dying spark for her glasses.

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