I Cannot Go where Love is Not

Natchez, MS

Magnanimous.
Magnanimous.

Courtney is magnanimous – money flowing, love.  He says, “I’m gonna take y’all out t’night an’ I don’ wanna hear no shit about you can’t cuz…”  I cut him off:  “Not a peep out of us.”  Smile.

It’s The Corner Bar again.  The same bar we met.  The same bar where the newspaperman told us we “needed to show [him] how we do what we do.”  Music is playing; it’s beautiful; I don’t drink but Courtney’s buying.  “Colorado Bulldog,” I order and the bartendress looks like she’s going to punch me in the face.  “Can you make a White Russian?” I say trying to wipe away her scowl.

Now she looks like she’s going to kick me in the face.

“Good.  Make that in a tall glass.”

She does.

“Now fill it with Coke.”

She looks like there is something on my face.

“I swear to god it’s good,” I promise.  “Tastes like a root beer float.”

She serves; it’s good; and from here on out I’m known as root beer float boy.

Ole Miss is playing South Carolina on the TV.  Ole Miss fans (the whole bar) are hooting and hollering:  “C’mon you gol’ darned mother f—er!” and “aw shit that’s a personal fowl” and “ you gotta be sh— what the god damned…!”  Ole Miss loses.  Grown men are crying like babies.  The bartendress serves root beer alcoholized floats until I am as the Germans say blau.

“Don’t break the seal!” a woman shouted to me one time in a bar.  I was on my way to the men’s room; she stopped me.  “If you break the seal, you’re drunk,” she implored and tugged on my arm.  “Huh?” I said and did my thing.  She was right – after your first pee, you’re usually drunk.  I stumble out of the bathroom where grown men are cursing Ole Miss to high heaven, throwing tantrums – “goddamned number 4! knocked off by the gol’ damned South Carolina, gol’ damned hump me with a hose!”

“Ryan, you want another?” Courtney says.  Magnanimous. And we’re off to what’s next.

Courtney is drunk too, and if you are a member of law enforcement, not driving.   “I’m gonna drive you to The Castle,” he looks devilish.  Dunlithe Mansion – the most famous of the Natchez antebellum mansions.  Columns all around, front, back, sides… all… columns.  It is the eye candy in front of The Castle Restaurant, and we pass it on the drive in.

“Dig me,” Courtney explains.

“What?”

“It’s all about ‘dig me.’  It’s all about who can build the best shit, who can look the best.  Take my house.  Looks good, don’ it?”

“Yeah.”

“Shit, that’s like having twenty-inch rims.  This house [the Dunlithe]

Dig me.
Dig me.

is like having 24-inch rims.  Ain’t no difference between them.  Shoot!  These old, crotchety white people think they’re different than blacks with their bling bling.  No difference!  None!  It’s all about ‘dig me’ – who can look the best.”

Once again Courtney has taken my breath away with his insight.  It won’t be the last time he has laid me silent tonight.

The Castle

“Hey Ryan, this is Miss Miriam…”

“Oh dear!  Courtney don’t be bothering these nice young gentlemen…”

Gentlemen?

“Ah now, Miriam, listen, Ryan, this…”

“Stop!”

“This hot young thing…”

“Courtney!’

“…I used to work for her.  She is the sweetest lady…”

“Courtney!  All right, now what are you boys doing?”

“We’re paddling the river.”

“Oh!”  She covers her mouth, then her heart.  “That’s… my, that’s…”

“I know.”

I’m drunk.  I have no filter.  For some people that’s a bad thing; but, for me it tends to make me more soulful.  “I’m so glad I ran into you boys,” Miriam says.

“Shit,” I say, “we are complete fools next to you, madame!  We are nothing!  Thank you for allowing us the pleasure of talking to you, mademoiselle!”

Madamoiselle, if you please.
Madamoiselle, if you please.

She’s laughing now.  Flirting in French gets ‘em every time.

Miss Miriam’s husband was a son of a bitch.  He cheated on her and made her life a living hell.  He’s dead now, and she tells us that it’s hard getting over him; and, though I’ve never met him, I want to strangle him.  F—ing good, I think, if I knew where it was I’d pass this drink through my kidneys and empty it out on where Mr. Miriam’s is now. I offer Miriam a drink.

“Oh, Ryan, you dear, no, I’ll get you one though.”

“Colorado Bulldog,” I tell our waitress/bartender.

“Oh my god!”  Her face lights up.  “It’s been so long since I’ve made one of those!”  She looks like she wants to kiss me in the face.

Miss Miriam gives me a hug and tells me she wants to follow our journey but she can’t because she doesn’t use internet but will call, but I can’t remember if I gave her our number – the night is hazy and so is my memory of it.

Dunlithe is large and wavy on the drive out.  Dig me, I think to myself.  Dig me.

Back at the ranch, Courtney’s wife is angry.  He was supposed to spend time with her tonight before she left for Jackson in the morning.  He didn’t; he spent time with us.  “What’s she gonna do?  Divorce me?” Courtney asks.  “No,” I say, “probably not.

(Before you judge the cat, I saw him make his wife breakfast no less than thrice, tell her he loved her no more than 800 times and pretty much convinced me he was the coolest, best husband around.  That’s why she wasn’t going to divorce him.)

“She’ll get over it,” Courtney assuages us.  We’re about to walk up to the carriage house, our guest home, when he stops up.  “Boys,” he says, “listen.  Y’all are going to make this movie and there’s something important you need to know – make it about the people.”

Way ahead of ya on that one.

“No, listen,” he says reading my mind.  “You make it about what matters – love.  Look, Jesus Jones — I used to play in a rock band.”  He’s told us this before. “I remember we were doin’ this gig down South, and we got a copy of Rolling Stone and on the cover is:  Jesus Jones – The Savior of Rock and Roll.  The Savior of frikkin’ rock and roll.  C’mon.  I guess he could have been, but the problem was he believed it.  When he was just makin’ music, he was fine.  Remember the…”

“Riiiight here, riiight now,” I sing.

“Yeah!  That’s it!  That was his only hit!  After that, he was nothin’.  Nothin’,” he marks.  Courtney gets deeply, deeply silent:  “You boys need to focus on your work – nothing more nothing less.  You focus on making movies that matter, just like Jesus should have focused on his music.  That’s all he needed to do; instead, he bought into it – savior of rock n’ roll,” he mocks.  Same thing happened to me,” he says and looks away.

Courtney’s band was to do a photo shoot with Rolling Stone in the 90s when the lead singer got cold feet.  Courtney sighs: “Didn’t want to be portrayed in that light, he told me.  What the hell does that mean?  Focus on your work… don’t take it seriously… just play, just play.”

Courtney, I promise you… to just play.

St. Francisville

Courtney has dropped us off in St. Francisville, and good thing too.  The river slows way down between here and New Orleans; and, if we are to make our Oct. 5 deadline, we’ll need all the help we can get.  The river between St. Francisville and Baton Rouge passes by like a droning song.  Phil and I paddle unceremoniously.  It’s work now; it’s good work, but it’s work.  Paddle, one two, paddle, two three, paddle.  The miles pass on.  A certain amount of effort is required to produce a certain amount of result, a success guru once told me; and, I know how many paddle strokes will be needed to make it to the Gulf – more, one more, and one more.  Stroke, to Baton Rouge.

Baton Rouge

Phil and I have not been getting the press coverage I would have liked since St. Louis, and I am not happy.  “I don’t know what to tell you,” Phil offers sympathetically.  I’m still mad; I want someone to blame – my vibe, myself, something.  But nothing.  You win some, you lose some.  In Baton Rouge, we’re about to win big.

Bam, an email comes back – “We want to cover you.”  Bam, a cell call comes in – “Ryan, where are you on the river; we will meet you under the I-10 Bridge in Baton Rouge.”  Two big-city reporters want our blood, and I am happy.

Baton Rouge is beautiful.  In the words of Allen Tumey, “Our Capitol Building sticks up like a penis.”  I laugh because Allen is 60 years old and shouldn’t be saying things like our capitol building looks like a penis.  I laugh because he’s our reporter for Channel 9 and shouldn’t be saying these things in front of important interviewees like Phil and myself… snicker, snicker, snicker.  I laugh again when Allen is watching Chris Nakamoto, the bigger, scarier and younger and cooler and hipper reporter from Channel 2 (the big boys in Baton Rouge TV news) finish up their interview with Phillip.  Allen leans into me.  Chris’s hair is perfect and spiky; his shoes are 400 dollars.  Phil tells me later his cameraman’s sunglasses were $200.  Allen is wearing New Balances and doing his own camerawork.  “I have something up my sleeve,” he whispers.  He winks at me, and I hope to God he’s straight.  Chris comes up and shakes my hand.  “Great interview, Ryan,” he says.

“Thanks.”

“We’ll let you know when it’s up.”  He nods at Allen.  “Allen.”

“Chris.”

Chris and his nicely-frocked cameraman are off in a clean, white news van.  Allen pulls his camera out of the back of a Toyota Camry.

“I’m going to film you guys on the water,” he says.  “The Port Allen Police Department is going to take me on their boat so I can get some on-the-water shots.  Like I said, we’re friendly in the news business, but I don’t have to give my secrets away.”  Devilish, not gay.

The Port Allen Police Department zooms their twin-275HP motors by us like we were standing still.  Allen gets his shots.  The police wish us well, and our day in Baton Rouge is done.  Devilish.

Side note:  The news pieces ran in Baton Rouge and were excellent.  Both Chris and Allen did an excellent job.  They even ran the piece several times and several people even 100 miles downriver came up to us and told us they saw us on the news.  Terrifique!

Scathing Friction

South of Baton Rouge, Phil and I fight in the boat.  I am being too negative.  I am; it is true.  But I don’t like him calling me out on it, or I don’t like how he calls me out on it.  We fight.  It is vitriol – the worst we’ve had.  We really want this trip to be done.  We are tired of one another, tired of the boat, tired of the water, towns, people, everything.  Though we love it, we hate it.  A teacher once told me that the opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference.  This trip, this life, this boat has been anything but indifferent.  It has been life, good or bad, through and through.  Those twenty minutes of fighting were ugly, really ugly.  That’s all I want to say about because it hurts too much to talk about.  I was possessed, a demon – mad and angry… devilish – the bad kind.  When we got to shore to camp for the night, we said nothing and got in our tents.  I looked at the roof of my tent.  I’ve got to stop this, I thought.  I don’t know whose fault this is, but this has got to stop.  I just… can’t do it anymore. The next morning, I planned to offer an apology, but the pain-body as Eckhart Tolle likes to call it (sort of like an angry demon that can travel from body to body) has traveled to Phil.  He’s angry and spiteful and I am not.  Downstream he snaps at me and tells me that we need to be on the other shore.  Where yesterday I blew up, today I calm down.  I take in deep breaths and am not angry.  “That’s cool” I say.

“Yur goddamn right it’s cool!”

“Yes,” I say and am not fake calm; I am real calm.

“You wanna always fight and I’m…”  Blah blah blah, vitriol, vitriol, vitriol.  I face the pain-body with calmness.  I do not get mad at Phil.  I can’t do this anymore, I promised myself yesterday and keep the promise today.  Phil lets the demon escape his body, and we are levity itself for hours and hours.  We paddle on and find a group of Cajun fisherman hooting and hollering and throwing catfish into their nets.  They offer us beer and tell us to turn our cameras on them because “they gon’ be mov’ee staws!”  One big ol’ Cajun self-labeled “Cracker”

Ooooooeeee, Cracker, you gon' be on duh Cineplex!
Ooooooeeee, Cracker, you gon' be on duh Cineplex!

says, “OOOOOEEE you gon’ see me one day on the Cineplex!  Shoot!  A’least get me on PBS!”  Cracker shows us his dog, Chopper, whom he gets to play dead for 7 minutes straight, and frowns when I throw the stick for Chopper who fetches it.  A nice but dirty Cajun has gaps between his teeth and points my eyes out into the “wawtuh wheah you gon’ see a sink bawge; duh sink bawge kin just throw them big ol’ smokestack lookin’ things into the wawtuh, an’ he don’ hav’ tuh use no ankuh (anchor).  An’ den ooooh lookey here!  Das a big ol’ ship a comin’!”

And so it is – a big ol’ HOLY CHRIST! ship.

“I never knew they could be that big on the wawduh, um, water,” I say.

“OOOOOO,” he says, “dey jus’ gon’ get bigguh!”

G U to the L to the P.
G U to the L to the P.

Phil and I paddle on.  The demon is not here, has not been here for some days.  (We’re in New Orleans now!  Go us!)  I think about Courtney, Baton Rouge… people.  All ways of thinking and being, they are. One stroke, two three stroke.  A certain number of strokes will get us to the Gulf.  How many to go?  It doesn’t matter.  I’m here; this is now; Courtney is Courtney; I’m me, and Phil is Phil.  We are… us, moving, flowing, life.  What will happen when this is over?  How long will the film take to edit?  Matters not.  I can take life one stroke at a time.

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