Cross country, surprise Bubbes, etc
Hi, my love. The crossing of the country has commenced.
(It is excellent and a little hilarious and Iris is packed to the gills.)
Like a cartoon clown car. I can see out of none of her windows except the front seat and the passenger seat, and José has my plant Walter on his lap while I drive. If that name sounds familiar you are both eagle eyed and correct: I brought Walt back with me when I moved from LA to NY in 2019.
My first ever house plant, he is a king among mere potted plants.
An asparagus fern with the fighting soul of 1,000 Rocky Balboas.
Got him at a farmer’s market. I didn’t know back then that you had to pot plants after buying them, so I tried my best and watched him slowly/seemingly completely die. Devastated, I took him to three (!) different plant stores and consulted my boyfriend José James.
All of them pronounced him a goner, but I had hope: Walter had one teensy tinesy little green centimeter in there amongst all the brown detritus.
Odds be damned.
I was gonna nurse that Rocky Balboa fern back to life.
And so I did - By the time I was packing my little studio up Walter was a thriving asparagus fern. He rode in the passenger seat of my car on that first cross country jaunt to remind me that nothing is every really truly dead.
That, despite a body full of gnarly stalks, one teensy green frond can be enough.
Walter liked New York upon arriving. Thrived, even. And now he’s dancing back with us the other way.
NY to LA, in a clown car of love and anticipation and optimism and us. Here is Walt in a much larger pot because he stubbornly refuses to be anything other than forever growing and excellent. Perched atop Iris in a Detroit parking lot.
(Forever a reminder.)
I pulled on his strength and buoyancy today as I navigated the backstage of the Detroit Jazz Festival, aka a beautiful weird jazz conservatory reunion of sorts where José played earlier.
Most jazz festivals are something like this beautiful weird jazz conservatory reunion of sorts, and usually include some variation of the below:
Five people you absolutely fucking adore. You didn’t plan to see them, but when you do your whole life lights up. You want to know what they’re listening to (!), what fabulous turn their always fabulous life has taken (!), and where they’re headed next.
Five to thirty people you neither like nor dislike. You pull your mouth muscles into a smile and try to pretend, despite the overwhelming facts, that you’re good at small talk. You will forget every single thing you say to them about five minutes after exiting. They will, despite your growing accomplishments, forever remember you only as José James’ wife. Weeks later they’ll DM you asking for his or Becca Stevens’ phone number.
Five people you absolutely fucking hate.
(Maybe they’re a sleazy producer who screwed over multiple friends of yours but keeps using those same friends’ names to trap young (almost always female) artists into their endless web of male music mediocrity!)
(Or maybe they’re the good friend of your sociopath ex-boyfriend, the friend who plays noodle-y forgettable melodies and wants to use this opportunity to finally hit on you!)
(Or, perhaps, they’re the insufferable scene hustler who ignores the successful record label you founded in favor of throwing around incorrect music business jargon and incessantly using pablum phrases like “nothing is worth it if it’s not to tape” and “records don’t sell anymore!”)
In other words, the backstage of any jazz festival is a high level human buffet.
Filet Mignon next to Twinkies.
And Detroit is no different.
We got in last night after an 11 hour drive and immediately ran into lots of people in category 2 or 3. Big “fans” of José who barely know his music. As for me, if they even were aware of my existence, they were happy to forever know me as just the former assistant of legendary executive Bruce Lundvall.
They had nice and also somewhat offensive things to say to JJ and all sorts of legitimately hurtful things to say to yours truly.
I wish I could say I don’t even let it phase me at this point, the truth is it stings every time. But I know better by now: This stuff is designed to throw women like myself off kilter. To keep us in the forever tortured dance of choosing whether we stand up for ourselves or stay sane.
There is no nobility in the fight.
And, worse still, there is no way to win it.
The only person who loses by engaging is me.
So instead I look away, vaguely nod, dissociate a bit. Text my best friend Dylan (who by now I hope you feel is your best friend, by proxy), get my head on straight and order a plate of “loaded tater tots,” aka the poutine of Detroit.
I save my energy for the best people.
Like Sullivan Fortner, legendary pianist with the greatest laugh in history. We lament about how terrible we both are at social interactions post COVID. He refers to the people in category #3 as “slime and grease.” The best, most succinct description of it I’ve ever heard, I promise myself I’ll make note of it and write it to you when I get to the ttalk.
Or Susan Winshall, bubbe of world’s largest mensch Daniel Winshall. She regales me with stories of her badass life while eating white cheddar chips and assuring me she bakes “a hell of a pie.” Eventually we sit together side stage in more or less a torrential rain storm. Despite getting periodically soaked, her feet tap to the music and she beams to high heaven every time Dan solos.
I lean on the beautiful people because Walter taught me right: One little green frond is all you need to drown out the nonsense.
One little green frond and the help of the right humans.
I’m excited to reunite him with his sunshine-y home (though I hear it’s baking madness over there amid 100+ degree temperatures?!). But first we put him in Iris and drive to Des Moines tomorrow. Take a few more days of my favorite thing: Open roads, sweeping white lines on freeways, the absolute awe inspiring beauty of this wild country of ours. Hills into farms into mountains within hours. The horizon always there and always changing.
And then we land, eventually. Unpack Iris, find Walter a new perch, and get to work on our own roots.
More next week.
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