The Jonathan Newsletter, Vol. 1
(An e-mail, to many friends and perhaps a few strangers)
Hi. I know all of you, somehow: I've worked call centers with you, hogtied children with you, had papers graded by you - and in all likelihood, talked smack or made merry with every single one of you. At various points, a few of you have requested 'a Jonathan newsletter.' Well, OK.
It is, as you might guess, a long story.
Some of you might know that I was in the Pacific Ocean for a month
. Dolphins duked it out on the port side, 7' hardass Romanians made us dinner, and thirty foot swells are the bee's knees - especially when they hit the boat at night and make you dream of bad heavy metal concerts.
From there, I headed east - to D.C. I would spend five months there, scrutinizing disease vectors for a West Nile Virus project at the National Zoo
. It was one of the best jobs I've ever had - like, I admit, most of them. But it was the only job I've ever had that allowed me to wake up at noon if I felt like it, as long as I would later leave work by jumping the zoo fence (they didn't give us keys). And nothing freaks out innocent dogwalkers quite like jumping a zoo fence, at midnight, in a pinstripe suit, and with a lumpen satchel clutched quietly in your hand.
D.C. surprised me. I was expecting a bureaucratic wasteland, and found instead a smorgasbord of Ethiopian food, go-go, hardcore punk, and packs of idealist and/or power-hungry pages. I broke a shoe while dancing in the streets, as a local brass band played ragtime. I also got Lyme Disease, with a rash so impressive that doctors invited interns to come ogle.My brother got married in Chicago, and madness ensued
. His was an anti-wedding: held at a museum, a red silk dress for the bride, New Wave and Britpop from the DJ, bachelor parties which inevitably involved Dungeons and Dragons and bachelorette parties which obviously involved zombie burlesque . They played Morrisey and The Pixies when going up and down the aisle, and my sister-in-law's uncle busked for change on city streets. Dancing, also, ensued.
A post-DC roadtrip took me to Biloxi, Mississippi - although by way of Asheville, North Carolina, where I won a t-shirt by eating a box of cereal in under thirty minutes (twenty-two, bitches
). I volunteered for a month, surrounded by brilliant and idealist dorks
. I did minor things - mere tidbits - like research hurricane-resistant design, or update city maps where overgrown fields occupied 90% of former cul-de-sacs. And I helped build at least one playground, and the local kids gave us thank-you cards with little foam cut-outs of bulldozers crazy-glued onto the front. Best. Cheapass. Card. Ever.
I headed west. I visited family in San Diego. And I played Rock Band on New Year's.I also put out CDs
. I got tired of being 24, and not having put out a CD - so I put out two. I've been told this is 'a typical Jonathan move,' but to me it's common sense, and I recommend everyone do it, because you can. And so I recorded twenty of my stories in a proper studio, spoken word-style, and put ten each per volume: Geek. Bookworm. Hero. Volumes 1 and 2
I sold my first copies, for $5 each, on the train back east.
I spent a month in New Orleans. Most of that time, I worked in a sustainable salvage yard in the Lower Ninth
, as whole subdivisions of lumber were rolled in to be denailed and reused. I rode to work every day on a pink bicycle with green polka dots. But I actually spent my first few days slogging through wetlands, and one afternoon did everything I could to stay away from a mob of middle-aged, machete-swinging Jewish women. Terrifying.
But New Orleans is a magical city. It is filled with spirit: both alcoholic, and non-alcoholic. It is a land of king cake
, jazz funerals
, and no last calls. Half the homeless have instruments on their backs, and people start to dance on the first song. They also have crawfish boils, and I have infinite respect for any people who stir their dinner in fifty-five gallon drums. With an oar.
I also had no idea that Fat Tuesday is, in fact, Obese: Mardi Gras is a month-long affair. The old-society, inner-circle, official parades throw not just beads, but coconuts, and shoes - and just behind them are an army of street-sweepers, who clear the streets of a landmass of cheap plastic within minutes. Hulk Hogan presided over Bacchus, one of the most boisterous parades of them all. And you know what? "Outside of the French Quarter, Mardi Gras is for kids."
But the unofficial parades? They're a free-for-all, a democracy of soulful debauchery: I saw one in honor of 'Queen Colleen,' who was in fact the eighty year-old woman being wheeled around in a grocery cart
while wearing a hula skirt. Faux American Gladiators battled it out in the streets, underwear-clad rock stars played Slayer on Decatur St. balconies, and I ran into one old friend who was dressed as a zebra at the time and hustling tourists with hula-hoop tricks. Purely by accident, I stumbled into a cavalcade of gutterpunks and bohemians at 9pm: some were dressed as beetles, others as zoot suit-clad devils, and still others as exterminators whose bug-sprayers were loaded with cheap whiskey. And from there, I biked back to my couch, through the French Quarter, at midnight, through some of the most beautiful fog I've ever seen.
I then left New Orleans, to demolish houses in Waveland, MS with a band of transsexuals.
This crew included my father
, her electrologist, and her electrologist' friends. On the first day, we demolished Popeye's house - and I mean that, because the man was 5' tall, eighty years old, and his name...was Captain
. We built a damn tool shed! And we had lunch with a pair of confused Southern Baptist Ministers, teased adopted stray dogs named Katrina and Mugsey, and repeatedly informed a sweetheart ex-cop that, no, she couldn't test her stun gun on us.
I left a month ago, on my "2008 Midwestern Axis Tour." I didn't expect to include Cleveland. And yet, by early March, Ohio had become important - for the first time in my life. Possibly, ever. A weekend there had me walking past block after block of foreclosures, in a city with a 31.5% poverty rate, as I canvassed for Barack Obama. Southeast Cleveland reminded me of Biloxi, except that Cleveland had been hit by the economy, and not by a hurricane. I spent that Tuesday evening marching face-first into an ice storm, which was a fine night for democracy. 'Dedicated white people!,' one local marveled. And I met Forrest Whitaker, for some reason.
There have been other cities, that I've seen on the way. I visited Austin, and spent at least one Friday night making spring rolls with Polish girls, and waking up every morning to a cat sitting on my face. I passed through St. Louis, and jumped down seven-story slides at an old shoe factory
, which is in fact the world's largest jungle gym. In Atlanta, I rubbed shoulders with a whole hotel of drag kings and rabblerousing genderqueers
. And in Madison, an old roommate of mine has learned to ride a unicycle down State St.
I've been in Minneapolis this week, gathering my grandmother's stories and pouring over sepia photographs. Her favorite uncle was the town drunk, named 'Copper Donahue;' she was first patted down for weapons at a mobster funeral, by a woman who 'looked like a door;' and she once raised a crocodile in the bathtub when she was eight. She named him Baby. And so on.
But come Monday, I'll be in Seattle. And I leave the country ten days later, to Japan. I'll be there for three months - after which I hope to be in Cambodia, for another three. Obviously.
It is, as you might guess, a long story. So what's yours?