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Happy New Year!

Two years ago, at about 3:00 a.m. on New Year’s Day, my wife and I came home from a party in our neighborhood, within easy walking distance of our apartment. I maintain to this day that, while I had indeed imbibed, I was not excessively inebriated. It was a particularly cold night, with some precipitation, so there was some icy groundcover. But the chill was bracing, and the walk home was not unenjoyable. New York interiors tend to get uncomfortably warm during the winter, sometimes so much so that running outside in your shirtsleeves is a welcome relief. Having spent the night inside at a party, I was indeed warmish, and I’d had enough to drink that I was warmish inside and out; so this wintry walk home felt delightful. It was slippery, though, as there was already some packed snow on the ground, and a little frozen light rain on top of that. So, it was delightful but dangerous, like a cute little baby holding a weapon.

Anyway, we get home, and my wife got ready for bed while I took the dog out. My dog is a sweetheart, and she’s deaf. That means she’s distracted by everything she sees or smells, and she doesn’t listen, but she’s adorable while she’s ignoring you. We were about a block from the apartment when she did her second order of business, right on a really slick section of sidewalk. And somehow, when I went to pick it up, she pulled the leash, I lost my balance, and I cracked face-first into the pavement.

My first thought was that I’d gone straight into the poo. All at once, I was trying to keep hold of her, get to my feet on the ice, and make sure my face wasn’t smeared with doggie doo. I stood up, sufficiently convinced myself I was unbefouled, and bent down again to pick up the poop…and she jerked the leash in the opposite direction. I fell again, harder this time, on the other side of my face. By the grace of God, I missed the poo again. My face was stinging and throbbing. If I’d been in a cartoon, birds would have tweeted around my head in an orbit of stars. I pulled myself up using the wall of the building – this all happened on somebody’s doorstep – and staggered the long block home.

In the garish light of our bathroom, my face looked horrible. Worse than horrible. I probably should have gone to the hospital, but I was too embarrassed. I looked like a bloodied ThunderCat. I iced it for about an hour, took three or four Aleve, and went to bed. The next morning, it looked even worse. That was the beginning of 2010.

And then, not long after, I wrote a lyric about it. I think it’s one of the better things I’ve written, one of the things I’m not shy about sharing. It’s very much in my mind today, too, because 2011 was such a strange year, full of blissful highs and abysmal lows. It’s a way of reminding myself that there’s always something good ahead, I guess, and I need some good things to happen in 2012.  And it’s even better when you can hear Josh Freilich’s fantastic music for it, but I don’t have a recording, so the lyrics will have to do for now.

UP

THREE HOURS INTO A BRAND NEW YEAR,
I’M WALKING MY DOG, OOH,
WALKING MY DOG, AND SHE POOPS ON A PATCH OF ICE.
BENDING DOWN TO PICK IT UP,
I FALL ON MY FACE.
BOOM.
WITH INEBRIATE GRACE, I FALL TWICE.
BOOM. BOOM.
THE LEASH IS ALL TANGLED,
MY FACE IS ALL MANGLED,
BUT IT’S HARD TO BE MAD AT MY PUP.
WHEN YOU START OFF THE YEAR FALLING TWICE ON YOUR FACE,
THERE’S NOWHERE TO GO BUT UP.

YEAH.

AND THIS’LL BE THE YEAR,
I’M GONNA GET ALL MY SHIT STRAIGHT.
I’LL PAY OFF MY DEBTS,
LOSE THIRTY POUNDS AND WORK OUT.
THIS’LL BE THE YEAR,
I FIGURE OUT WHAT TO DO WITH MY LIFE.
GOODBYE TO INSECURITY,
SELF-DELUSION AND DOUBT.
I’M TIRED OF THE DREGS,
I WANT TO SIP THE FOAM,
SPILLING OFF THE BRIM OF MY CUP.
WHEN YOU START OFF THE YEAR FACE DOWN ON THE GROUND,
THERE’S NOWHERE TO GO BUT UP,
NOWHERE TO GO BUT UP.

THIS’LL BE THE YEAR,
I RECONNECT WITH ALL MY FRIENDS.
I’LL REBUILD THE BRIDGES
I SWORE I WOULD NEVER REBUILD.
THIS’LL BE THE YEAR,
I MAKE MONEY IN MY GODDAMN SLEEP.
I’LL GET CAUGHT UP ON MY TAXES,
AND MY BANK ACCOUNT WILL BE FILLED.
I’M TIRED OF BEING SHY,
STANDING OFF TO THE SIDE,
AFRAID TO STEP OUT AND SAY, ’S UP?
WHEN YOU START OFF THE YEAR SMACK KISSING THE DIRT,
THERE’S NOWHERE TO GO BUT UP,
NOWHERE TO GO BUT UP.

OH, EACH SCRAPE WAS A RESOLUTION,
AN UNSPOKEN VOW,
WRITTEN AND SIGNED IN BLOOD.
OH, EACH SCAR MARKS MY EVOLUTION,
REMINDING ME HOW,
I’M RISING UP OUT OF THE MUD.

AND

THIS’LL BE THE YEAR,
I FINALLY LET MY DEFENSES DOWN,
LEARN ALL THE LESSONS
THE UNIVERSE WANTS ME TO LEARN.
THIS’LL BE THE YEAR,
I BRAVELY STEP INTO THE SPOTLIGHT,
EARN EVERY REWARD
OPPORTUNITY ALLOWS ME TO EARN.
AND EVERYONE I MEET,
THEY’LL SAY, “MY, YOU’VE CHANGED,”
I’LL WINK AND I’LL SMILE AND SAY, YUP.
WHEN YOU START OFF THE YEAR MAKING OUT WITH THE SIDEWALK,
THERE’S NOWHERE TO GO BUT UP.
NOWHERE TO GO BUT UP.

IT’S NOT SO STRANGE,
END OF DISCUSSION,
YOUR LIFE CAN CHANGE
WITH A MILD CONCUSSION.
IF YOU START FEELING LOW,
LIKE YOU’RE STUCK AT THE BOTTOM
YOU DON’T NEED TO MAKE PLANS,
‘CAUSE YOU GOT ‘EM.
YOU ALREADY KNOW,
YOU GOT NOWHERE TO GO,
BUT…
UP.

Happy New Year, y’all!

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Before Hurricane Katrina, I used to go to Walmart with embarrassing frequency. My suburban sensibilities are comforted by stores that are open twenty-four hours a day, and pre-K Greater New Orleans had two or three Super Walmarts where you could get your shop on whenever you felt like it.

Of course, after the storm, and for a long time after the storm, you were lucky to find a gas station open all night, and Walmart was no exception.  In fact, five years on, there still isn’t a New Orleans Walmart that’s open past 11:59 p.m.

Truth in advertising, New Orleans edition.

I didn’t realize when I made an emergency Walmart toiletries run during part of our evacuation in Lafayette, Louisiana, that that trip would be my last for a long time. Sure, over time, the reduced hours in NOLA had something to do with it, but I also had a growing awareness of lousy business practices, and an urge to buy locally, and of course, a desperate aversion to acquiring more cheap crap that we didn’t need. So, I stopped going. I went about five years without so much as setting a foot in a Walmart. And I was cocky about it, too, and in that very self-righteous/other-contemptuous way that’s so popular nowadays.

It was really easy to do that once we moved to New York, because there are no Walmarts here.  Out of sight, out of mind.  This summer, though, I was in New Orleans for a few months, and I started seeing Walmart again.

At first, it was just random drive-bys, here and there, going from this place to that:  “Oh, look, Walmart. I haven’t seen her in a while.  She looks the same.”

Then, she was surprisingly near wherever I happened to be staying: “Wow, she’s really close by. Huh. That’s convenient.”

I’d have to drive past her on my way to rehearsal: “Isn’t it funny, Walmart?  I went years without thinking about you, and now I see you everyday.”

It happened like this. Tchoupitoulas Street. I'm just innocently driving along. See how she's taunting me, calling me like the Sirens called Odysseus? Do you see? Now imagine that EVERY DAY.

And then, one day, I got out of a rehearsal late, and I was hungry and tired, and I guess, weak, and well, she was RIGHT THERE.  It was almost midnight, and I knew she’d be closing soon (I still hated her for that, but I respected her tenacity all the same), and I pulled into the parking lot. I told myself that I would run in for a second, say hi, get something to eat, some deodorant (so I’d look like I had a purpose), and maybe some gum (so I’d look casual and carefree).  And I went in.

And Walmart?  Well, Walmart just acted nonchalant, barely even registering my presence.  I say “acted,” because Walmart totally knew I was there, let’s not pretend otherwise.  She’s got cameras everywhere, right?  No matter how you feel about her, I think we can all agree she’s just a leetle obsessive. I mean, greeters? Receipt checks? What’s next? Going through my texts and hacking my Facebook page? But I digress. I got what I needed, went to the register, paid, and left.  It took maybe eight or ten minutes.  No drama.

But I swear I heard her whisper, just as I was leaving, “I knew you’d come back.”

The rest of the time I was in New Orleans, I’d stop in and visit her a couple of times a week (sometimes more) and always secretly. Always alone. It always ended the same way, with me getting something — anything — and paying for it with my dignity. By the end of it, I was so ready to come back to New York, where I knew I’d never run into her at all, much less accidentally. Back to New York, where my wife was. New York, where a different kind of convenience holds sway. New York, where I could go to the Associated, or the Key Foods (two locations in walking distance), or the C-Town, or the Pathmark, or any number of places that wouldn’t make me feel as dirty as you-know-who. I’d even be able to hit her classier cousin Target (or Tar-JAY), although we all know it’s not the same. Target can be pretend she’s better, but it’s so obvious what she’s trying to do, who she’s trying to be, and it’s a little sad.

Yeah, you can dial down the cuteness, because we know what you're doing, and it won't work. Well, not all the time, anyway.

When I got back to New York, I confessed to Cammie what I had done.  She knows Walmart all too well in her own right.  (Walmart doesn’t discriminate, and we like to think we’re progressive.) Cammie didn’t shame me, as I half-expected her to do. No, instead, she said something like, “I miss her, too. I’ve been wanting to see her again. You know, she’s got a place in Jersey now. We should go.”

So now, Cammie and I drive over to Jersey every couple of weeks and do our thing. We don’t make a big deal out of it. Sure, we still go out in the neighborhood. Associated is so close, Key Foods has variety, and C-Town is low-class but a pleaser. Pathmark is a hot urban mess, but she does some stuff the other ones don’t do, and sometimes you need that. But they all pale compared to WM. She does everything they do, and a whole lot more. Hey, Associated, will you do a little TV and video?  No.  Key Foods, how about a bed, a couch, or a kitchen table? Not a chance. C-Town, how about some garden stuff, like outside, where people might see? Nope, sorry, that little rack of greenery by the front door’s not gonna cut it. And Pathmark, you don’t do any of that either, so quit the huffing and puffing, and besides, I already told you, the little selection of scrubs and socks you have does NOT count as clothes, so don’t even try to pull that crap again, okay? Oh, and ALL OF Y’ALL ARE CLOSED BY MIDNIGHT, while Wally World is open two-four-seven. I can hit her up whenever I want, whenever I need to. (Yes, she may not do it in NOLA anymore, but she still does it in Jersey, and I am not complaining.)

Oh, let me count the ways...

Now, look. I know she’s a problem for a lot of people. She doesn’t treat everybody as well as she could, I admit that. She’s unfair and nowhere near as civically, socially, or ecologically responsible as she could be. But I like to think she’s working on it. I could be deluding myself, though. There are lies we tell ourselves just to make it through the day, and this could be one of them. That’s okay. I have to do something to assuage this self-loathing.

And let’s face it, sometimes, she’s just unforgivably ugly.

She does this on purpose.

Now she wants to come to New York, and everyone’s up in arms about it. Some people object just on principle. They’ve heard about her, they know what she’s like, and they are not cool with it. Some are curious. They’ve heard about her, too, and they want to see if she lives up to her reputation. And then there are those of us who know her. We know that she might take advantage of us, teasing us with ample size and low price, offering us so many things we never even thought we wanted or liked. We may walk out of there with more than we intended, but damn, if it wasn’t a bargain.  (And besides, it’s not like New York hasn’t embraced IKEA and Whole Foods; it’s just that those brands are cool.)

The New York Post has a piece today about a price comparison between Walmart and Key Foods. The New York Times has done a few pieces recently, one about her plans to put down roots here, one about her skipping a public hearing about her community worthiness, and one about a healthy makeover she’s trying to get people to think better of her.  She’s even started her own website specifically targeted (no pun intended) to New Yorkers.

I think it’s just a matter of time before she’s here, and that could be a good thing. I don’t mind trekking from Brooklyn to Jersey, and I love that we can go any hour of the day or night.   It saves us money, even enough to cover the $8.00 toll on the George Washington bridge and the Holland Tunnel. But I hate the toll on principle, and if she were close enough that I could walk to her, well, that could be a game-changer.

I see you.

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