We Didn’t Insult Anybody’s Dad

In celebration of two years away and/or the ability to finally afford plane tickets, I reunited with several of the friends I made teaching English in Turkey through the Fulbright program. As we’re scattered across the continental U.S., we voted on cities to descend on. New Orleans won. It was the only place I could drive to. I still can’t afford a plane ticket.

ImageI arrived early and spent the first night in a most original hostel. The closest fictional counterpart to the India House Hostel would be the Happiness Hotel from The Great Muppet Caper – a place where drifters mean to pause and wake up twenty years later, working as the bellhop.

The India House Hostel was never built but rather it has been grown for several decades. It seems that every traveler to pass through has left a postcard, picture or poem plastered onto the walls. Posters in the hallways are turning yellow with age. Murals, both horrible and beautiful, decorate the facade. Arriving late that night, I knocked a Hindu goddess bust over and the head rolled off. When I reported my crime, the desk clerk says, “No one knows who put that there.”

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The hostel is a converted house with several lean-to’s resting against it, no doubt built on hot summer day’s when backpackers had nothing better to do. There’s an above ground pool and a posted sign of 40 maximum occupants. We were told that in July, the pool and pool deck will be filled to capacity, and a fifteen minute timer will call for rotations between those two and the house bar, located under a lean-to.

Though I was given a key, the door to the shed I slept in didn’t lock. I had the top bunk above an Indian man who was sleeping both when I laid down and when I packed up the next morning.

As my friends as I collected ourselves over coffee, we eavesdropped on a nearby phone conversation: “Yeah, it was an awesome night…no, it’s not my fault…he deserved to get punched…” The man was in his sixties, white beard and pony-tail, and he wore an open shirt that had once been red. His skin was weathered by good times and he seemed to want it that way.

After he hung up, we asked him about his night. It was wonderful, he said. He had lived in New Orleans his whole life and he obviously favored it above all others. I mentioned the characteristic flavor of the hotel, so much different than the cold dormitories in Europe.

“Europe,” he scoffed. “Pyramids? Stonehenge? It’s a bunch of rocks. Where’s the jazz? Who’s dancing? What’s cooking?

“Rocks. Yeah – we should get some of those. Let’s get some rocks.”

He meandered, waxing about the city and it’s general disposition, until we turned the conversation back to his previous night. He still hadn’t revealed the specific story behind his phone call, so I asked: “What’d you do last night?”

And he uttered these immortal words:

“Last night? I’ll tell you what:
We ate well. We drank everything.
We danced with everyone’s mother,
We stared at everyone’s girlfriend,
But we didn’t insult anybody’s dad.
We fought everyone
And we bet on everything.”

One day I’ll write a book solely to use that quote as an epitet.

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Elementary Story Telling

I’ve been asked twice to speak to a friend’s elementary classes about writing. They all want to meet her “writer friend.” When I arrive, the first question is always, “What book did you write?” Kids. Worse than adults. This is why I don’t talk about my dreams at Christmas gatherings.

After deflecting a few of the more on-the-nose question – including, “How much money do you make with words” – I’m asked to tell a story. The challenge is always the same: the current group of eight-year-olds will provide me with characters, a setting and a problem and without further ado, I tell them a story.

The first time I did this I had to include Psy, a momentarily famous Korean rapper, alongside a flying monkey bellhop and a popular video game enemy, a Creeper (I am told they behave very much like zombies). Psy had forgotten how to dance (that was the given problem) and, alongside a shambling and depressed Creeper, they stayed at a cave-hotel ran by the aforementioned monkey and discovered a crystal that released music into the world.

The second classroom I spoke to gave me a “fat momma”, a goblin named Pip and Mean Pickle Ted. I was assured that it was an inside joke. Pip had too many chickens, so I was told, and I related the story of how he gave half of the chickens away to Mean Pickle Ted only to have the other half run away – attempting to rescue the first half. There was a lot of context about human-goblin relations and the chicken market, but I won’t waste time on that now. After I finished, two children hugged my legs as I left.

I like to tell stories and I secretly write but I don’t speak about it much, anxious about the very same questions I fielded from first-graders. However, as my friend the elementary teacher broke down my stories, she asked her students why my stories were good. The students said that they liked the details. Psy had a blue axe that was shaped like a music note. Ted the Mean Pickle smelled like shoelaces. Human-goblin relations were precarious. Though it came from children who imagine Mean Pickle Ted as a hilarious and intimidating villain, it did provide a brief ego boost.

I enjoyed the exercise so much that I practiced it with our after-school program. After gathering suggestions, I told the story of Derek the jellyfish, who had to rescue his best friend the whale shark from a mysterious monster in a subterranean lake in Antartica. A little full of myself, I gave Derek a little bit too much backstory and lost my elementary-age audience. To win them back, I had the evil monster vomit up all his previous victims. That garnered modest applause, I’m happy to report.