Jesse Millner: The Bus Driver's Book of the Dead

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  MEMOIR by Jesse Millner
Polish Wedding  Devolution  Aliens Among Us  Eddie Jones  Dave   Tom MarionStarved Rock State Park  The Alcoholic Point of View   My Lost Season  Listening for God  
I Remember a Pet Peeve  Hair Salon Panic Attack!  
Please Don't Bury Me in that Cold, Cold Ground

Hair Salon Panic Attack!

It was sunny and cold (for Florida). I had to wait fifteen minutes because the joint was busy. The music was terrible, some kind of smooth rap women singing clichés in high voices. Kathryn beckoned me and I sat down in the chair. I glanced at myself in the mirror, noticed how I looked old, how the lid over my right eye hung down a little, making my face appear weird, unbalanced.

Worse, as I looked at myself, I started trembling, had an anxiety attack for the first time in years. It came out of nowhere. I tried to think about pleasant things, you know that old imagery-summoning deal where you think of the Shenandoah Valley in fiery fall when the tulip poplars and oaks and beeches are throwing off their leaves and the ground turns yellow-red and crunches beneath your feet. But there I was, still looking back from the mirror, a thousand tremors rippling through my body. And Kathryn must have known because she turned the chair sideways away from the mirror.

Sideways was good. Sideways calmed me a little. Sideways allowed me to banter a little bit with Kathryn: Yes, I said, we do have plans for the holidays. We’re off to New Orleans. My father-in-law has a timeshare. She tells me she’s never been but wants to go. I tell her she should, even though, given the way New Orleans has changed since Katrina, I’m not sure it’s a good idea. Yes, the French Quarter is the same and the restaurants and clubs are coming back. And I’m sure she wants to go to Bourbon Street and party like it’s 1994, but the problem is, it’s not 1994, it’s 2009, the very end of a dreary decade of murder and mayhem.

Can I tell you the truth? I find New Orleans depressing. Partly it’s because I don’t drink anymore. And hey, I’m not angry with all the non-alcoholics who can drink. But there’s something about the false revelry of the French Quarter, something about the public drunkenness and ribald frivolity that bugs the shit out of me. Ribald frivolity! That’s sure a mouthful of gumbo.

And worse, if you drive around New Orleans at night, you see the vast swaths of darkness where city used to be, those abandoned places by the levee where feral dogs bark toward the brighter constellations. And here’s something I’ve never told anyone because it’s so unsettling, but since I’m writing honestly now about anxiety attacks and hairdressers and hurricanes and drunk people, here goes: I used to play tennis with a Serbian woman who was a Miami firefighter. She went to New Orleans after Katrina and did search and rescue in the Ninth Ward. She found lots of dead people. She told me that finding dead people is disturbing, but the worst thing she encountered was a poodle. A poodle? I asked. Yes, a poodle, she said. A poodle that had lived for a week by eating the legs and feet of the old man’s corpse it lived with.

I don’t blame the poodle, even though I don’t generally like poodles. At what point do our loved ones become meat? When does the soul leave the body? Exactly at which moment does hunger overcome revulsion?


© 2010, Jesse Millner

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