Wherever The Roads Take Me

“You’ve never been to Burning Man? Darlin’, you belong there. I wasn’t sure if I was going this year, wasn’t even planning on it – but now, I guess I am. I’ll give you a ride.”

New Orleans, 2006. I had recently moved there about five months before, the first time I had ever stepped foot in the city. Though I had seen it on the news a lot recently, nothing prepared me for what I was in person, stepping on the ground, smelling the decay and rot – but still, underneath that, there was something else it took me a while to put my finger on, a feeling… and then I realized what it was. There was a strength to the city, a spirit that even The Storm couldn’t take away. I fell in love with it instantly.

It was a strange path that led me there. My work with The Dresden Dolls had ended in Colorado, and with it the move to Boston. In thinking back all of these years later, I think it may have been a combination of a couple of things that prompted the email from Amanda. The first two were that The DD were going a slightly different direction, and also – I think The Brigade – what we called, and still call ourselves, were perhaps getting too big, too strong, especially the Boston chapter. Hell, we were even working on making it into its own entity, looking into becoming a 501(c)(3) performance group, renting a building where we could inspire & teach others.
And without question, one was my drinking. Though my work with them had never faltered for it, I was again trying to escape something dark & wrong inside of me by numbing it however I could. Still, I helped inspire hundreds of young people across the world to reach beyond themselves, to walk through their fears, to realize how beautiful they are. It was the first time I had ever, in my life, actually felt needed, felt appreciated. The first time I had ever felt loved.
Then everything I loved was ripped away from me.
Such is life. The Universe had other plans. I needed to pick myself up, to try to find the strength to keep moving forward.
In Colorado I found a good place to busk, saving up money I would need for gas. I would listen to the radio in my van at night, stretching out as much as I could in the back seat with Bean, my beautiful dog, caressing her as she rested her head on my chest and hoping sleep would come soon. It was then that I heard about Katrina and the devastation it left in its wake. It was September 5th, my birthday. I was alone with Bean, in our van, crying.

The next morning I started emailing people, and I connected with an old lover who was now living in New Orleans with her family, asking if there was anything I could do to help them. They were fine; she was safe with her family and out of the city. I asked if there was anywhere or anyone she knew of that needed help, and she gave me the contact information to a place in Austin.
“We need people. Show up anytime.”
I smiled for the first time in a week. Within the hour Bean and I were back on The Road.

Going through Kansas & Oklahoma, driving hard, Bean asleep on the throne I had built for her in the back seat. In the black of night there was nothing but the hypnotizing dashed lines on the highway, as if nothing else existed after the reach of my headlights. No signs, no horizon, no hills or turns. Only every few hours would another vehicle pass going the opposite way. 80mph and I would close my eyes, seeing how long I could keep them shut before opening them again in sheer panic. The rapid pumping of my heart helped keep me awake. I knew how stupid I was being, but only when I thought of Bean did I decide to pull over to the side of the road and rest for a bit. The morning brought sunshine and a beautiful view that stretched for an eternity.

19 hours later I was finally in Austin.

It was an amazing place. The “Austin Enchanted Forest”, a private 3 acre wild forest in the middle of Austin, art everywhere. They had set it up with donated tents, blankets, and everything else people who had to leave their home with next to nothing might need. I was “in charge” of welcoming people, showing them around, making sure they had everything they needed.
Bean was in absolute heaven. She had an entire forest to run around in and sniff, other dogs to play with, and every night she would sleep just outside of my tent. In the morning she would poke her head inside the flap if she thought I was sleeping too late and do this kind of “rrrroooowwrr?” thing, a cross between a growl, bark, and asking me to get the hell out of bed because it was time to play, to go on our morning walk in The Forest.

I lived there for four months in a 10’x10’ tent, going from volunteering for a couple months to helping set up and performing for their yearly “Austin Haunted Forest” through the month of October. The time I spent in Austin is another story, though.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“I’ll give you a ride.”

Burning Man was coming up fast. Raven, the kickass woman I had promised a ride to and I started preparing. We bought our tickets, figured out the route – there was just one thing we needed.
A van.
The van I drove there in had only made it that far because I needed it to, and it had done its job. Shortly after I got to NOLA when I needed to move it for parking and found that it had a flat tire and no spare, I decided it was time to let it go to the city. Considering that it was breathing its dying breaths, I wouldn’t have felt right selling her to someone who might depend on it. The next day it was gone.

My work was busking, doing street performance as a Living Statue. I was making good money, saving every penny I could for a van to get Raven & I the 2,200 miles to the Black Rock Desert. Once I had saved $800, I started looking…

Coming from the West Coast where vans & large vehicles are plentiful and cheap, I was surprised at how few there were for sale here, and how expensive even the crappy ones were. I couldn’t figure it out – and then it hit me. I understood.
This is hurricane country. People here need to regularly throw everything they can grab into a car and bug-out, and the bigger the vehicle, the more space for family & things.
I hadn’t thought of that. Time was getting close to our planned departure.

Shit.

I worked extra hours, every day forcing my body to the limits of what it could stand, standing perfectly still. I took the suggestion that a nurse whispered to me one day and started taking aspirin to hopefully prevent blood clots from forming. At night I would look on craigslist for a van, widening the search, increasing the amount I could pay by working the extra hours.

It was grueling, painful, exhausting, but I had given her my word. I wasn’t going to let her down. Far too many people are so full of empty fucking promises, and I won’t be one of them. Hell, if I couldn’t find a van I was ready to buy her a flight to Reno – but hopefully it wouldn’t come to that.

Every night as I laid in bed and every morning, I would do a manifestation meditation. I would picture Raven & I driving up the road to the front gate of Burning Man, blasting music and singing along in a plain white van. In the visualization my window would be down all the way, arm resting on the door as we laughed triumphantly.

The days continued. Still no van. I refused to worry, and just *know* that it would work out.
Well, maybe I worried a little bit. I mean, c’mon, I’m at least *somewhat* human.

Then, finally. Less than a week before we were planning to leave, I found a van for sale in Baton Rouge, at just a tiny bit under what I had saved – and get this: It was the exact van I saw in my mind; white, plain, even a Ford. And it didn’t have a driver’s side window at all. I guess that when I saw it in my mind, every time with the window all the way down – maybe I should have visualized at least a little of the window there. Still, the Universe had given me *exactly* what I was asking for. It likes having fun with me, I’ve found over the years.

The van wouldn’t idle, the driver’s seat felt like it was one of those things in kids’ playgrounds – the animals with the big springs under then that you sat on and leaned every which way, then sprung back up headed in the opposite direction. It felt like the seat was trying to throw me out the window with every right turn I took.
I managed, with the help of a friend following me, to limp the thing home, then spent the next three days making it not only stay running, but idle smooth and strong. I ripped out the driver’s seat and fixed the base of it, checked lights, brakes, tires, fluids, everything. It would get us there. We had a van. It didn’t have a license plate, so I made one out of cardboard that looked almost real, if you didn’t look *too* close.

Then, something unexpected. An email from the seller, a nice lady when I met her. She told me of her uncle – Conrad, or “Uncle Connie”. He had lived as a homeless drunk in New Orleans, and after most of his life spent that way had finally gotten sober. He had bought the van to fulfill a dream he had – of driving West to see the ocean for the first time. Unfortunately, he had died before he could make the trip. Before he could make this dream of his – his only dream – come true.

In her email, she said that when we were talking and I was telling her my plans with the van, she felt something in me that reminded her of her Uncle Connie. She said he had a wonderful heart, a warmth and kindness to him – and she told me how much she had adored him, feeling so fortunate that they at least had a little time to spend together after he got sober. He would have loved something like Burning Man, she said, after I explained it as best as I could to her.

“This is going to sound really strange, but… would you mind helping him realize his dream? Would you take his ashes with you? Take him to the Ocean?”

As Raven & I made our way across the country, we took the time to enjoy it, pulling off to sit in silence and look out over beautiful, expansive views – and I would leave some of Connie there. In kitschy tourist spots, I would leave Connie. Native American craft shops, roadside diners, places that felt, in their way, sacred. Connie was on the road with us, living his dream.

Well, not really “living” it, being as dehydrated as he was – but at least doing it.

That year at the Temple of Hope, I left two silk bags of ashes – and then finally, on a cold overcast afternoon in San Francisco, I again poured two different piles of ashes on the sand, just a little bit below the tide line.

One, of course, was Uncle Connie’s. The other ashes were of the best friend I have ever had.

I stood there for a while, alone and holding my coat tight around me and silently crying, as I watched Bean’s ashes being taken out into the heart of the Sea.
She had always loved running in the ocean.

I live for…

I met T. in Austin in 2005, during the four months I lived in a tent in the Austin Enchanted Forest. It was during Katrina, and that’s why I was there. To help.

T was kind, warm, comforting, and we became friends quickly, easily. There were many nights she stopped by my tent when I was writing, and quickly learned that I meant no harm when I told her to shut up for a little bit. I liked that.
We sometimes cuddled, often held each other. She was everything for me when Bean was killed, just letting me cry as I held her and not saying anything, because there was nothing and certainly no words that could make it better.
At least, that’s how I remember her during those months.

We’ve seen each other once since I left Austin, in a beautiful home I was staying at in New Orleans a few years later. I xzerbited her belly as I taught her to stiltwalk, desperately trying to maintain her grip on the rafters while I did nearly everything to distract her, both of us laughing hysterically while she tried not to fall & I made sure I was ready to catch her if she did.
She let go of her fears, held onto the rafters.

Some time after that, she sent me a message saying she was pregnant & was going to name her child, whether boy or girl, after me.

It’s difficult to render me speechless, but that certainly did it.

the amount of gratitude & love I feel for not only her, but so many other people I have met along the road, as well as the incredible family of friends I have here is truly overwhelming – and it’s because of all of you that I fight the way I do when things turn scary and I need to remember the Warrior inside of me to keep going – to keep creating, keep changing, keep dreaming – and making my dreams come true.

I will never be able to thank you enough, any of you – but I *can* show you ho grateful I am for having all of you in my life, and you better fucking believe I will – and gloriously.
I’ve had difficulty with getting past certain points with my book and the campaign for publishing, but figured out why now. IT’s also the reason I’ve been getting sick. Stay tuned for an apartment purge as soon as I get out of here – most everything will be for free, others I’ll need either trade or scratch – but we’ll cross that bridge in about a week when I escape this place.

This is what I found this morning in my PM’s, and the reason for this entire post.
I just couldn’t help but share it with you, because I like sharing the things that make me feel amazing with people…

“…Just wanted to check in on you, and am sad to see you are a mess right now. I hope you are getting proper veggies and such from your local friends.

Nico Ksea **** is 5 years old now, and a big sister!

I keep a little picture of you I stole from the interwebs in a frame, and recently she asked about it.
I said, “this is the man who taught me how important it is to write, and use beautiful words, even for ugly things. He is one of the most amazing, most special people in the world, so that’s why I gave you his name.”
And she stole the picture to hang on her wall. Little stinker.

I love you, big time! Even though I have been away and under a rock raising my little goblins, I keep you in my heart all the time, every day.”

This is what keeps me alive, what I live for.
I live to be all I possibly can be – for you.

Thank you for letting me.

I fucking love you.

Street Solidarity & the sweetness of Sugar

Of all days to not bring my camera…

Saturday – it was another hot, humid day in New Orleans. I got down to Jackson Square about 3:30, then checked to see if the prime pitch was open, directly across Decatur Street from Cafe’ du Monde, and the prime tourist location for busking in The Quarter. I’ve always done well statuing there.
The pitch was being used, but the guy using it told me he had to split at 4 – so I waited, and when it was time, set up, got up on my box, and began the work day.
It was the usual crowd, tourists, families, groups of girls and boys, drunken fools who can’t seem to think of anything else to say except the typical “I’ll bet you he’d move if I grabbed his box/grabbed his crotch/tickled him – har har har…”
It’s an incredibly peaceful job at times, but also one that you need to be on guard pretty much all the time. I recently described statuing to a friend as “much more of a discipline than a talent”. It’s a strange combination of ignoring everything, but at the same time being accutely aware of everything that’s going on around me. It’s the people that make it so rewarding – the children whose faces completely light up in amazement as I offer them a wink and subtle smile as their parents look away, as if letting them in on a secret that’s just for us; it’s the older people who walk by and quietly give me beautiful compliments, even – and perhaps the most appreciated, the occasional gutter punk who digs deep in his/her unwashed pocket to give me what change they can offer. I will never cease to be amazed and humbled by that…
But it’s also the *other* people that sometimes I can’t help but slowly look down at, raise a dissaproving eyebrow, and solemly, silently, shake my head in pity. Fortunately, this frequently seems to get approval from their friends.
Most commonly I have found it to be, predictably, the people with drinks in hand, drunk and wandering around, who can’t help but fuck with the statue a bit – but they’re usually harmless, and after the initial foolishness switch over to words of appreciation, then they’re off to the next bar.
That’s always nice – both the switch, and the leaving.
The worst I have encountered, however, are the packs of whatever-teen year olds. Some of these kids just mess around harmlessly, saying silly things, searching for the approval of their friends, having fun – but only a couple of weeks ago I came the closest I have ever been to putting my cane to use before looking at the two most offending of this pack of about 15 and saying “Little boy, little girl – get the fuck away from me, now.” They had been standing there for about twenty minutes, and as much as I have dealt with doing this, as much as I can tolerate – or “stand for”, (pun intended) as the case may be, at that point I was pushed to my limit. Thankfully, they left shortly after.

That’s why this past Saturday, as I saw a pack of about eight or nine girls making their way directly towards me from Cafe’ du Monde, I was a bit aprehensive. When I heard one of the two in front say “Okay – you ready?” to the girl next to her as she was looking at me, I thought to myself “Oh, shit, this is it…” wondering how I could react, somehow, with grace to whatever they were about to do to me, or how I could prevent it altogether. I wasn’t coming up with anything. I had no idea what they had planned. I had no choice but to wait and see, as jumping off the box and asking them just what the *FUCK* they thought they were about to do just didn’t seem too graceful or appropriate just yet…

What happened next was truly amazing.
For those that don’t know, Cafe du Monde sells a french style pastry called a bignet (bin-yay)- a rectangular donut type thing with no hole – and completely covered in powdered sugar. Completely. More powdered sugar than you could ever have a use for in a simple order of three bignets, and inevitably there will be mountains of it left on the plate, long after the bignets are gone.

When the two leading girls were about two and a half feet away – just at the very edge of the box people put money in for me, their hands simultaneously came up – and as I tried to asses just what the hell was going on, saw the powdered sugar streaming from them – and then, they did something I couldn’t have imagined – they smeared the powdered sugar all over their faces. First the two, then the rest of them, coming to stand beside me, making their faces as white as possible with the powdered sugar, and doing quite a good job of it.

In a glorious way, I had been beaten. I could not have felt more honored.

I laughed – laughed well, stepped down off my box and bowed deeply to them all, then handed one of the first two my cane, and set my hat on her head as I helped her get up on my box for the pictures.

Once the pictures had been taken, one of them asked me if they had made my day. “My DAY?” I said. “You have made my day, my week, my month, my year. This is hands down, the best experience I have ever had statuing – and thank you.”

For some reason, that seemed to suprise her – but then a huge smile of peaceful satisfaction for a job so *very* well done crossed her face, she giggled, I talked to the rest of them a bit and offered my thanks, and then, doing their best to wipe the powdered sugar off of their faces, they were off to their next adventure.

I stepped back up onto my box with a huge smile – then just a few seconds later, stepped back down and started to pack up.

It was getting slow and late, and besides – it couldn’t get any better than that.

I smiled for hours afterwords, and it’s a smile that I will carry inside for a long, long time. As the daily fools come by with their lack of imagination, with their rediculous words and comments, I will think of them, those wonderful little girls, and I just may occasionally look down at one of these people…
and subtly smile.