How to Bury a Friend

Young, vibrant, passionate about life, dead.

No, that’s not a typo, this is my eulogy for my beloved friend and former compadre, Javi.

Yesterday, he would have been 32.

32 years on this crazy planet, 32 years of love, loss, and a knack for knowing exactly what someone needs at the right time; most of the time oblivious you even needed it. Not knowing what I needed often translated into a kind of push and pull between us; he pulled me in and I pushed him away.

We met in our early twenties, two lost souls with the all the talent and none of the drive that propelled our peers to finish university and make it in the real world. We fretted through unsuccessful ventures and ended up as waiters. I had just cut the cord on the worst relationship of my very young and inexperienced life. Two years of physical and mental abuse left me with no friends, but the drive to take my newfound freedom and piece together my fractured life with non-toxic glue.

Javi was beautiful (I’d like to think he still is), a pale, milky complexion, soft green eyes juxtaposed with an intense stare, and the most mischievous grin to graze a face. His short stature gave way to a sinewy, slight build; none of which deterred his many suitresses. His wrists were forever adorned with his signature Colombian friendship bracelets, his finger tattooed and his pointer was often encased by a ring.

I was intrigued by him for several reasons; mostly because in a world (or restaurant) of our darker skin, hispanic brethren, we could have been siblings. There was nothing naive or untouched about me, but sometimes it helps to not stick out like a sack of flour. We struck up a sly and humorous friendship relatively quick.

As the weeks turned to months, we found ourselves part of a tribe of misfits, a motley crew of South Park-loving-stoners, and our clubhouse was none other than my Junior 1 bedroom. Here, we began to carve out the memories that would cement us to each other for years to come. We drank, we smoked, we faced the world together with a constant stream of laughter, no matter how scary our personal situations and lack of motivation were.

Javi was a central figure in our friendship, mainly because he was always “on”. As you get older, you learn this universal secret to interacting politely when you don’t want to do a fucking thing- always invite the person/people who are just as apathetic as yourself. You put yourself out there, and it’s up to them to follow through (someone always cancels at the last minute); Javi didn’t. One time he showed up with a stolen Heineken Keg Can (they were just released) and nursed if for a week (no one else would drink Heineken). When I locked us out of my second-floor apartment, he scaled a drain pipe like a spider monkey on speed, and climbed through my window. There’s also the famous Jersey Shore-drunken bike theft-group shower extravaganza (mom, I was home for this one). He showed me what to do with a pair of nail clippers and Gap body shorts (for the vault). There’s not enough screen space to list the many indiscretions, but also a sense of protection that I feel; I will hold on to our secrets forever.

As the months turned to years, we disbanded and most of us drifted apart. What cut our own personal cord was Javi stepping over the line of friendship and drifting into seemingly scary territory. When your relationship exists on a plane of fun, games, and occasional mischief, showing your vulnerability to me is  confusing and terrifying. I didn’t want to accept my part in this new-found dynamic, so I did what made sense at the time- I ran away. I ran away, and put a medieval wall between us.

I moved on, and so did he.

For the next several years, I watered the seeds of my most intense and loving relationship to grow from my Chang’s venture with my best friend and twin soul, Luis. This was the “I’m going to call you and tell you exactly what you’re thinking at that exact moment”, and verbal communication eventually gave way to simple glances. Staying attached at the hip, we were able to pull each other in to various drive-by visits and chill sessions with our lost amigos.

None of them, however, included Javi.

It should be noted that Javi left the area relatively quick following Chang’s. The next several years saw him in Cali, the Carolinas, the world. He was the eternal nomad, always traveling, never leaving footprints deep enough to stick, nothing the water or wind couldn’t wash away. We heard whispers and slight mentions of how he was doing, and each time, it was like winning $40 in a scratch-off; it sustained you for a day, but did nothing to lift your spirit full-time.

Then one day, he was there.

Not exactly flesh and blood, but virtually; which for him was so out of character you had to second guess the authenticity. But it was him, and here I was in a Korean Spa, neck-deep in a sea of Pepto Pink short sets. The greeting was classic Javi.

Yo, woman! How have you been? When are we gonna chill?

Years have passed….people have changed….he was the same.

I drew comfort in the fact that so many things can occur in a person’s life to make them bitter, cold, and closed to renewal, yet Javi was the giant rock of reliability and sameness. He was the kissing rock that middle schoolers met at and sprayed their name, as if Krylon lasted forever.

You stayed with him, you resonated with him, and you always mattered.

Here I was, with this mile above all of my friends; I had connected to our lost soul. Call it fate, Kismet, whatever you will, it was magic. We spent the summer reconnecting, first as a group, and soon enough, as a trio. Luis and I were already making tracks throughout the city, and we gently folded our Green-Eyed Bohemian into the mix.

Javi hadn’t developed an off button. He would drink until he needed to be practically carried out of a place. For Halloween, he dressed up as a 70’s-era Flasher, complete with a Burberry trench, giant floppy sock penis, Curly Wig, and Porn glasses. He spent the night yanking his coat open at unsuspecting strangers.

He was vivacious, lively, and spirited.

Everything was perfect again. Growing up made us happier and healthier. I gave up smoking altogether, and our drinks  (at least mine and Luis’s) were more refined, more elegant, more savored. The world was perfect for us; time stood still.

I wish I could have stopped time.

Not Zack Morris style, but the kind of time stoppage that exists in spirituality and enlightenment. Time doesn’t exactly stop so much as is ceases to exist. Your days are fluid and you live in one eternal moment. I believe Buddhists call this the 5th dimension of enlightenment (sleeping humans operate at the 3rd dimension).

I couldn’t stop time, and I learned nothing from the past, so I did what any self-centered person would do- I let him go.

Again, he drifted away from us, but this time he was truly cemented. The next couple of years, he made his home in his adopted city of New Orleans. This is where he truly lived, where he could be himself, a freak who loved the world and all of her creatures.

This is where he died.

But not so fast- I still had at least three chances prior to see my dear old friend. Each time he was here, I was summoned, and each time, I flaked. Luis was smarter and luckier. As if he knew that his time was fleeting. Luis and Javi connected on those nights that I flaked, and much to Luis’s delight, Javi was still Javi. This is what made Luis sit in the back of the funeral home and not pay his “respect”. He had this recent moment of pure Javi-induced joy, and refused to remember his friend as anything else but alive, really, really ALIVE.

It was May 3rd, and I had just picked up Dirty Bird, New York’s exorbitant answer to Boston Market. My little family was home waiting, my boyfriend, Boston Terrier, and the lovable, maniacal Labradane that simply “couldn’t”. Luis called.

There have been many occasions in our friendship where we’ve had to lean on each other through unbearable, soul-crushing pain. He knew I could be fragile and hyper-sensitive to the world around me and I knew he’d gone through more heartache than the average man would ever admit. Together, we were strong.

Still, nothing truly prepares you for “I have terrible news”.

The selfish, ego-centric being that inhabits my body immediately thought of some sort indiscretion against me. My boyfriend cheated was a big one. It never occurred to me that terrible news was terrible new.

“Yo, fucking Javi died……”

“What? You’re kidding me….wait what?”

He continued talking, but my brain just couldn’t catch up. No one knew the exact details at that moment, but he was hit by a car crossing the highway at 2:30 am.

FUCKING JAVI.

Immediately, we drew our own conclusions, which turned out to be surprisingly accurate. Javi would regularly cross the highway on his bike to get home. He was a man of the world, and had friends from all over the city, and secretly, my friends and I knew that he was too cheap to call a cab. Or take a car. Or waste time taking the long way.

He was brave, but he was also (supposedly) tripping. He had made it as far as the off ramp, when a taxi delivered the fatal blow. The driver, not surprising,  wasn’t charged.

There’s a space of time that has existed from finding out till today. Within this space, there are even smaller spaces that are broken down by different situations, people, and events. The time right after his death and up to his funeral is the most poignant.

Something inside my friends and I immediately pulled us together. It was a furious magnet of grief, despair, anger and complete denial. Javi died in New Orleans, but his family was up here. Are they flying the body here? Are they having the service there? Where did we stand in the vast sea of Javi’s admirers (which was in the hundreds) that now included a girlfriend and adopted city of a family?

Because we didn’t see a body, there was a chance that this was hoax. Normal people grieve and wonder these things I’m sure, but to know Javi was to understand that this was truly possible.

We fantasized and waxed poetic that he owed some powerful drug dealer money, and the death was staged. We imagined he would pop out from behind a curtain for his best performance yet, a simple “Gotcha!

Luis and I made our way to our friend’s house, and listen to our typical 90’s alternative Pandora. Everything was him, and everything spoke to the pain and confusion that we were feeling.

Yellow Ledbetter? Check. Bittersweet Symphony? Check.

I kept looking in the back seat and seeing him.

It’s not the worldly idea of seeing the dead, it’s a thing your mind and soul does when you feel someone’s presence in such a hyper state of reality, your mind shows you the person. I’m not saying he was even there, but in my ever-evolving view of oneness and the universe being inside of us/ being us, I refused to write it off.

When we got to my friend’s house, it was a sense of relief but also a much heavier weight of sadness. We were together, and we were safe, but we would never again be whole. Cracks and imperfections are beautiful, but death leaves a black hole, where depth isn’t even a possible measurement. We now measured this loss in terms of nothingness.

For the next few days, things became clearer, plans more adamant, and reality more real, like the wake was on Mother’s Day real.

We walked through life as ghosts, floated actually. If ever there were a time that I questioned physics, this was it. We stayed connected through phone, Facebook, group chats, and visits. We traded Javi stories like Pokemon Cards, although most of our communication is a blur now.

Still, there was a shared general notion of “why?”

Unconnected friends and coworkers wore proverbial hazmat suits around me. I was tainted, I was touched by death, and everyone was uncomfortable. I have been on the other end of these feelings many times, and tried my best to empathize with the sufferer, but it’s unlike anything you can prepare for.

To know that someone has stopped existing is sad. To know someone who has stopped existing is surreal.

The funny thing about death is the people who appear. We knew Javi was loved; it impossible to not be embraced by his spirit. As the hours turned to days, and the countdown to his wake began, we noticed something incredible- his Facebook page.

This was a man who despised social media, another paradox. He preferred to be social in person, and truly experience life with people, not at them. People from all over the world left messages, stories, anecdotes, and pictures. Each person was more colorful than the next.

Then it hit me- Javi was a collector.

He wasn’t collecting Jordans or watches or rare coins- he collected people. He collected beautiful and broken people, deep and complex people, and touched every single one. He made each of them, of us, feel as though we were the only important people in his life.

And through people he collected experiences, life lessons, and many, many stamps on his passport. He loved, he was loved, and he was rare. While we all tried to come to terms with living to work, he stayed high on the beauty that is this ever fleeting thing called life.

And now he was dead.

It was Friday night, and his body was just delivered to the funeral home around the block from my apartment.

Around.the.block.

I can’t make this shit up.

Here I am, the weather is beautiful, I’m young, I’m alive, but I’m around the block from one of my most treasured friend’s body. This was very hard for me to swallow. The journey of 1,304 miles lands him within spitting distance. The universe has a way of pulling open my eyes-A Clockwork Orange Style-and really just fucking me.

When Sunday morning came, my friends and I walked there together. We had to hold each other, brace each other, to even walk in the door.

You are dead.

It’s real. You are no longer alive and now you are laid out like a 6ft hero. It’s bizarre, it’s….twisted. The person who lived more than anyone, is now on display like my grandmother’s China. Everyone is weeping, devastated, shocked. We don’t go straight up to the casket. We take a seat all the way in the back and just stare ahead. You are far enough that we can’t see the death on you, but close enough that we can make out your features.

We finally get the nerve.

My lovely friends Crystal and Rosemary link hands with me, and we walk. It’s not the walk to the refrigerator, or even to pick up your things from your ex’s house. Shit, it’s not even the walk to sentencing. This is the walk through an ocean of pictures; your life story being told from beginning to

end.

You’re still sinewy and handsome. You’re in a grey pinstripe suit, brown shoes, and your ring. You have a beard (this is new).

You’re purple.

The funeral home didn’t do a good job. You were in a horrible car accident. Your body was in New Orleans, no doubt in a sub-par facility in scorching heat. You traveled 1,304 miles to be here.

And here you are, purple and I will see you this way for the rest of my life.

It’s not that I won’t see you alive, how I remember you. It’s not that I won’t see the different stages of your “look”. It’s not like I won’t see you in the middle of the dance floor with your almost floor length Biggie Smalls T-shirt. I can’t erase any and all aspects of you. So now, I will see you as the chameleon that you are, with purple being your final color.

The days that followed were another haze. I know I broke down several times for several different people. Each time I had to talk about you, it was like reading the book on your life, and never, ever being able to stop at “I’ll see you tomorrow” or “yo woman!” I had to finish the story that is your life, and burn your spirit, your beautiful spirit, into the souls of those who dared ask if I was ok.

Exactly one month passed, on the eve of your death anniversary, and you were in my dream.

I was standing on a regular street, a few feet away from a corner bus stop. The bus pulled up, and as you were getting on, you waved goodbye.

There was more to the dream, but nothing else mattered before. This was you saying goodbye, saying you were going to be ok. This was the first glimmer of hope and comfort that I felt, and it wasn’t religious in nature. I just felt like you were at peace, finally. You were back to your original self, before this violent ending. You were easy-going, so a bus suited you.

I also dreamt about you on the eve of your birthday.

xx

 

 

 

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Wildwood BBQ: Disappointing Fare in Union Square

I’ll be the first to say it; finding good barbecue in New York City is a difficult task. The city is a mecca for all things delicious from all over the world, but it often falls short when it comes to tantalizing the taste buds with the food of the southern Gods: Barbecue.

There are exceptions. Dinosaur BBQ on 125th St has ribs that could easily stand up to Kansas City’s best. Dallas BBQ has perfected the art of fried chicken wings. In short, they are hope in a bleak reality of the world’s best pizza and hotdogs.

Then there’s Wildwood BBQ.

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The interior rocks, obviously making up for the lack of edible food.

Located in the Union Square section of lower Manhattan, Wildwood BBQ manages to overly excite (the decor) and utterly disappoint (the food). Wildwood BBQ manages the impossible: A feast for your eyes that doesn’t manage to connect with your stomach; a gastronomical failure of epic proportions.

We had an 8:30 reservation, thankfully I had the foresight that a Saturday plus a mostly 20’s crowd equals an emergency room style wait. We sat at the booth and were warmly greeted by our server Tanisha.
Southern Hospitality? Check.

We ordered our drinks and Tanisha promptly brought two large Mason glasses filled with water, and a small complementary order of Vinegar Chips. The vinegar chips were exquisite, golden, fresh-cut russet potatoes peppered with spices. They were super crunchy without being uncomfortable to chew. The flavor literally explodes in your mouth; tangy yet sweet and the vinegar managed to grip every single taste bud and linger just enough to make them irresistible. These chips were the perfect start to a rather imperfect meal, and they stood out as the star of Wildwood BBQ. If the barbecue business falls through, the owners should consider branching out and making Wildwood BBQ Vinegar Chips; a guaranteed money-maker.

I started with the Kentucky Cooler cocktail, which is billed as a delicious mixture of bourbon, Firefly sweet tea vodka, white peach and lemonade. Like the water, it was artfully displayed in a mason jar with a fresh slice of lime.

The novelty wore off with the first sip.

Whatever was in the jar was nothing compared to the description on the menu. One sip and I was certain that they had made a horrible mistake and serve me a cup of rubbing alcohol but no, Tanisha assured me that it was indeed the Kentucky Cooler so the lightweight in me (or the non-alcoholic in me) sent back the drink and asked for “more of the other ingredients” anything else but the standard liquor that overpowered my palate and made me gag. What was returned tasted like a margarita minus the tequila and I’m not saying this in praise; it was simply awful. My boyfriend had a Sam Adams; simple and reliable, probably the only part of the meal that he enjoyed.

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Not one to waste a drink, I took it in stride. Highlight of the meal? My fab rings! Seen here: Owl.

Cornbread has a special place in our heart; we consider ourselves cornbread aficionados. We have traveled the likes of South Carolina, Virginia, Florida, and Maryland to name a few for the deliciously delicate yet earthy flavor native to our American ancestry. What we got was essentially a corn patty covered in grease. The menu bills this special corn bread as “The World’s Greatest Skillet Cornbread”, skillet must be French for rancid. The size of a paperback book, this cornbread had real whole kernel corn pieces and to be fair, was more traditionally southern in appearance than any southern style corn bread that I’ve had, but the buck stops there. The bottom was soaked in grease and the top was sweet and crunchy, almost caramelized but way too filling for a side cornbread. The mark of a good cornbread should be light and fluffy if it’s going to be accompanying baby back ribs and other stick to your stomach fare.

This cornbread just did not make the grade.

After the cornbread we finally received our entrées. I had the Carolina pulled pork with mopping vinegar sauce, baked beans with burnt ends and bacon, and creamy coleslaw. The pulled pork was bone dry, I started to believe that the mopping vinegar sauce was a way to mask the parched piggy in my mouth, but this reviewer was not fooled. The pork could have been moister. The beans were grossly undercooked, in direct contrast with the pulled pork that had apparently been cooking for weeks. The burnt ends were the littlest bit of saving grace, essentially small bits of burnt meat. I couldn’t imagine how awful the baked beans would have been without them. The sauce was independent from the beans; a sign of sheer undercooking. The coleslaw was generic as ever, but I didn’t love it or hate it.
My boyfriend had the Kansas City Sticky Ribs, and therein laid the problem of our meal. Smoked ribs will have a ring of pink that comes with the smoker territory; every good barbecue chef knows this.

Unfortunately, the pink did not stop there.

The entire half-rack was a step above bloody; in short, completely inedible. Tanisha insisted that they were, in fact cooked, but the smoker gives them the pink hue was could easily be confused for undercooked. A quick Google searched proved Tanisha was wrong, but our stomachs were already begging for our departure, so we politely asked for the check and a doggy bag for the ribs. After all, Tanisha was as knowledgeable as a waitress in a sub-par restaurant could be; I doubt the chefs were any wiser.

Bottom line; go to Dinosaur Barbecue if you want delicious food without the chance of being infected with trichinosis. Bring your enemies to Wildwood BBQ.

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Ring #2! Again, highlight of the meal.

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I Left my Heart in Turks and Frogs

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Luis and I found this gem.

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Just a Thought

gopstop

I often find myself thinking that this applies to a lot of people and situations. A Good Will Hunting situation, if you will. Think of how many amazing thinkers, athletes, performers, and humanitarians are overlooked because of their lack of financial power or other circumstances beyond their control, i.e., lack of a rich daddy, proximity to a major city, or even those who give up their dreams in order to care for a loved one. I think of the cluster fuck that is Beyonce and Alicia Keys performing at every national event, and I love Alicia, but there are definitely more talented individuals out there (don’t even get me started on Beyonce). There are better soccer players kicking around a rubber band ball in Africa than David Beckham, Better actors out there than Anne Hathaway (in fact, you will find better actors in your local theater than 99.9% of Hollywood, the nepotism capital of the world) and even better thinkers than Stephen Hawking (although I respect the hell out of the man, and do not discount any of his work. The point is, we should stop idolizing people who possess subpar talent and open our eyes to the possibility that amazing individuals exist through all walks of life; your circumstances should not dictate your place in this world.

(Thank you to Alex G. GOP Stopper and Veruca for the Photo and Caption)

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Taste

“What is lacking is the minutiae; the small seemingly insignificant moments in life that give the everyday Joe and Jane a reason to wake up, i.e.: the little things. A bottomless bank account and a Rolodex of Yes Men are no match for what feeds your soul.”

What Nourishes Me:

A great tapas board of my making.

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Delectable. Delightful. Divine.

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Little Lohan Lost

Wow, it’s been awhile (Stewie voice, ah-hwhile) but I have returned, wishing that blogging was possible through telepathy (translation: I’m lazy). But I digress. Time has passed, and many, many feats of human stupidity have presented themselves like tiny, pristinely wrapped boxes, waiting to be opened at my amusement. We watched Lindsay Lohan, my favorite Hollywood flower, wilt with the speed of an Olympic sprinter.
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(left) La Lohan, fresh as a daisy in her Freaky Friday days (right) Lindsay through the ringer, looking, well, Freaky

The world took pleasure in her demise, and I cannot lie; at times I found myself jumping on the mean girls bandwagon headed straight for the Mean Girl herself. To be clear, I believe in giving chances. Second chances. Third chances. Seven hundredth chances. Enablers make the world go round; turning the other cheek makes for amazing reading.

But let’s be honest, Lohan is a minor cog in a ginormous machine of mass destruction; one that eats young, impressionable Hollywood starlets for breakfast. Talent only gets you so far, so being able to resist the temptation to dive face first into a pile of coke can mean the difference between Oscar-worthy talent, and Dancing with the Has-Beens.

And Speaking of Dancing with the Has Beens……

Who could blame Lohan for turning her nose up to the circus that is reality show competitions; where do you go from there? Remember the Golden Globe that Pamela Anderson snagged? Brooke Burke’s Academy Award? Joey Fatone’s Grammy? (hint: they don’t exist). Lohan needs to dry off in a rehab, pack her shit, and move back to Long Island. If she’s smart, she’ll pen her own comeback. Don’t expect her to rid herself of the toxic influence of her parents; at the heart of the matter, she is still a scared young girl who never actually grew up. Maybe a trial separation is necessary for her family to heal.

Hey, it worked for Drew.

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Poplar Bluff:Katrina Catastrophe Part Deux?

The Story:  Poplar Bluff, MO- Over 1,000 people have been displaced due to a flood of the Black River flowing over failed levees.  It has been found that these specific levees failed inspection in 2008.  Because this failure was not fixed, the town and it’s people do not qualify for aid that is given through an Army Corps program.  As of Tuesday,it is unknown why the unsatisfactory ratings were given.

Why it Matters: The failure of Missouri to address the issue strikes an eerie similarity to breakage of the levees in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, which was one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history.

Shop Talk: Clear use of the 5 w’s, very short yet to the point.  Offers quotes from the chief of the emergency management office of Army Corp engineers.

Would Have Been Nice: A quote from the mayor of Poplar Bluff, as well as the engineering firm who initially worked on the levees.  Also a quote from a resident who may have witnessed the flood waters pouring over the levees.

TheLink:http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jNkeSNFefJAuA6Irpj3BSwM_4Ymg?docId=87e8031ca67e4a9782a6d3d400700cc7

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