Visiting The Magician and His Wife

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When I was 19, I fell in love with a poet. When I was 23, the relationship ended, and I was left with a deep-rooted friendship, a head full of lovely words and experiences, new interests, poems, books, films, and most importantly, an extended family that gratefully asked to keep me. For the past ten years, Stella Jane and Ken Meaux have let me stay in the inner circle of their light, a magical place where we all sit in a cozy kitchen in Kaplan, Louisiana and talk about ghosts and life and recipes over strong coffee. It’s a relationship that has evolved into something that I can’t quite describe in words. For me, they exist as the physical embodiment of mystery. They fill my heart up with stories. Each visit is a release, a renewal. Confession is a long drive followed by cake and coffee. Communion is a bowl of red beans and rice. Salvation is a blanket in the sun encircled by the hymn of birdsong. Mr. Ken, also known as “The Great Boudini” (Google it), still performs magic shows on the weekends and is slowly perfecting his performance for his last “BIG show,” an event that will be held in a small haunted cabin in the woods.

Eight miles East from Kaplan on Golden Grain road sits an old house with a rusted tin roof and boarded up windows. It is guarded by an angry rooster and a pair of chickens. The small field across the street is littered with white tombstones. It’s a forgotten cemetery that is always bright and baking in the sun. For the past nine years, on each visit, I make a special trip past the rice and crawfish fields to see this house. I take pictures of it from every angle, always trying to get a glimpse inside through its exposed beams. I’m not sure why I’m attached to it or why I keep going back.

I hope it’s always there.

Stella Jane calls the blackbirds “Mardi Gras Birds” because they shine “an iridescent golden blue, green, and purple in the sun.”
“How do they sound, babe?” She asks Ken.
“Like glass dropping,” he replies.
“It’s like rusted hinges,” she tells me, mimicking the sound. “To him, every blackbird is a crow,” she says. “But there are so many different blackbirds. Red-winged Blackbirds, Starlings, with their speckled bodies and yellow eyes, Grackles.”

It’s obvious how their son became a poet.

“Kenneth had a show at an old house near Evangeline. I was standing up and I felt two small taps, like a small child’s fingertips pressing against my back. I asked Kenneth if he had touched me, and he said he hadn’t. Kenneth spoke to the owner of the house, and he said his family had moved and that they now lived in Houston, but he still stayed in the house when he was in town. He said at night that there were always sounds upstairs. When they lived there, his daughter’s room was also upstairs. He told her if she ever needed anything, to call him, and he’d come get her. He didn’t want her falling down the dark stairs at night. One night, he woke up, and she was in the bed with he and his wife. He asked her why she didn’t call him, that he didn’t want her coming down the stairs on her own. She said, ‘But Daddy, you carried me.”

This first night I couldn’t sleep. I tried to force Annie to cuddle with me. She wasn’t interested.

I’ve always believed that my purpose in life has been to craft meaningful relationships, to try and be a benefit to someone else’s life, to create something beautiful out of my connection with other human beings. I know that even for my closest friends this can be unsettling. I get too wrapped up in the problems of others, have too many relationships that I can’t live without, become a beacon of anxiety. Empathy can be a curse, and sometimes I feel like I’m plowing through emotional war zones in my tank, armed with what I think is goodness, but in the end, the tank is made of cardboard and my bullets are just tears, and the only power I have is to carry weight, not lift it. Sometimes though. I think I’m getting it right. I just keep hoping all this cardboard is stronger than I think it is, and that all of these interesting and strange relationships I’ve made are perfect. And even if cardboard isn’t strong, with enough imagination and a bit of mystery, I can make my cardboard tank a boat, a house, a time machine, maybe even a spaceship. See. There is enough room for everyone.

*I would have loved to have ended this post with the poem that Kevin Meaux once wrote about his parents called “The Young Magician and His Wife.” I wish I had it at my fingertips, but my poetry books are all packed up from my last move, and I can’t remember it word for word. Samantha Meaux (always understanding and lovely wife of Kevin Meaux, if you read this, post it for us! Secretly. I know he probably still hates all forms of social media.)

Crystal “Clean” Beach, TX

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For the past few weeks, I’ve been driving back and forth from Beaumont to Bolivar Peninsula, where I’ve been, among other things, cleaning beach cabins with my grandmother. This “in-between” phase of my life is covered in Comet, bleach, Lysol Kitchen Cleaner, dust, Windex, dirt, Pledge, as well as all sorts of grime, and I couldn’t be happier.

After leaving my former full-time job to pursue other life opportunities, I’ve found myself again. When I have half of my body shoved in a stove and am wearing plastic gloves up to my elbows in a sea of Easy-Off, I smile. When I’m pulling out each drawer of a fridge to soak up a pool of fish blood left by a renter (not joking) at the bottom, I unroll the paper towels and soak it all up. I soak up that feeling of being young and motivated and free to choose what field or job I pursue next. With a rag tucked in each of my pockets, I make sure to step out on the porch every now and then. The ocean reminds me that I’m right where I’m supposed to be. Some days it’s still and peaceful, other days it’s littered with whitecaps, but one thing remains constant and awe-inspiring. Near sunset, this muddy sea filled with the runoff of the Mississippi turns purple and blue, and the sky bursts into flames of pink and orange that lick the skyline.

In between jobs, I drink coffee and listen to the waves. I take pictures of wildflowers. I listen to my grandfather play his saxophone. I walk down to the shoreline and watch the waves bite at my feet. I pick through seashells. The “in-between” is not so bad.

Though my advice may be a bit warped due to both sun and chemical exposure, it is rather simple stuff:

Comet works best for sinks. Magic Erasers are actually magical. Never clean with things that smell like lemon or pine trees. Fabuloso smells nice and is great to pour into toilets after they’ve been cleaned. Dyson’s are spectacular.

If you fold your toilet paper ends into a lovely, little triangle, you win at life.

Mr. Ed 101: A Horse is a Horse

For the past few years, I have had these iconic visions of seeing myself riding horseback. There I am, atop a black or white stallion (I’m not even sure of the difference between a stallion and a plain old horse at this point), with the wind gently blowing through my hair, and a soft spray of freckles making an appearance across my slightly sun-kissed face. It’s a feminine and healthier version of those Marlboro ads that used to be littered throughout magazines.

The only thing I have to go on right now, in terms of reality, however, is the advice given to me minutes ago by a “Miss Jerry” from the “Rock-N-Dollar Ranch” who says, “Just wear some jeans and a boot with a small heel,” in a warm southern accent. I’m not going to lie. I was really hoping the name of the place would be something like “White Stallion Stables” or “Red Barn Pastures.” I’m such a romantic. “Rock-N-Dollar Ranch” sounds A) a bit aggressive and B) a tad too “give us your money.” But, hey, I called at ten and she said, “Come at noon.” So, it looks like within the next few hours, I will finally have a chance to fulfill my dream. When I return with sweat dripping from every pore, dirt in my hair, and a sore bum, I can give you the real life version of how it feels to learn to ride a horse.

I’m twenty-seven, and I’ve never actually ridden a horse before. The closest I have been was in the early nineties. I was five or six. A guy came to the house with a pony of some sort, a squat, black and white spotted thing, and convinced my mother that she should allow us to “experience” putting on a cowboy hat, a pair of chaps, and a vest. We then posed for a picture that looks far from authentic. There was also a generous sum involved, I’m sure.

It’s funny because when you travel, people assume that as a Texan, you have access to green pastures and horses and cows and whatever else they can drum up that goes with the whole “bigger and better” package. I don’t personally know a single person who owns a horse. I looked. I asked. The one girl I found that rides horses and said I could come along lives in Louisiana. I had to resort to the yellow pages. In fact, my image of the term “cowboy” comes from one Western movie that I watched with my dad and brother when I was a little girl called, “My Name is Nobody.” The guy was dirty, fished with his hands, and was one with nature. Right now, in my mind, horses are damn near close to unicorns. Even without the cool, spiraled horn, in my eyes, they are magical creatures. Because I, of course, am romanticizing the hell out of them, they represent freedom, a spiritual connection to the earth.  Have you ever seen that photography collection by Keith Carter called “Ezekiel’s Horse”? Take a look at it. I think he does an excellent job at capturing the essence of that strange, mysterious aspect of their nature in those images. I especially love the photograph called “Freckled Nose.”

* * *
Never walk behind a horse. Do not squat or sit by a horse. These are two bits of information that frighten me. Reality is a bit different, topped with more flies.
When I drove up to the Rock-N-Dollar Ranch, it was pretty picturesque. There were green pastures, little man-made ponds, complete with a winding, unpaved road. At the end of the road there was a giant, log beach-cabin-like-structure in the middle with a very organized looking stable with various signs around that say things like, “Do not leave gate open.” I can handle that.
Miss Jerry is a brunette in her thirties, and I trust that she knows what she is doing. She is tan, her boots are worn, (mine are from Brooklyn and don’t have the same worn-in look at all) and I like her immediately. As I sign the form that says I won’t sue if I get kicked in the head or some such thing, I take a look around.

There is an old man sitting at the table next to us that I assume is another horse handler, and later Miss Jerry tells me that he is one of the best. He looks it. If anyone is the Marlboro man around here, he is. There is a small orange and white hen that is walking around my feet. Yes, this is what I imagined. Next step: prove that I am a natural at all this.
Miss Jerry first takes me into what I think she called the “tack room,” where a hundred or so saddles lined the walls. It smelled of sweat and leather, but I immediately wanted to grab my camera and take a picture. I contained myself. I wanted to let Miss Jerry know that I meant business.
My horse, also known as “Bug” was 27-years-old, with giant brown and white spots covering his body. He was gentle, but a bit stubborn. Before I hopped on the saddle, here is step-by-step of the process (from what I remember).

1. Spray the horse for flies. The flies don’t seem to bother the horses, but I suppose they would have bothered me.
2. Brush the horse to make sure there is nothing poking him when you put the saddle on.
3. Place saddle blanket on horse; leave a little hole between blanket and horse so that it doesn’t stretch the horse’s skin when you are sitting in the saddle.
4. Place saddle on horse. Unpack saddle.
5. Tighten girth (but not too tight).
6. Make a strange, tie-like knot with straps and whatnot.

I hope I didn’t forget anything.

Well, after the ceremony of preparation, I grabbed the reigns and hopped atop my lumbering beast, very carefully.
For the next thirty minutes I learned to stop, go, and turn. My main problem was that I didn’t want to hurt the horse, so I was barely tapping him with my heel when “aiding” him to turn left and right. “You aren’t going to hurt him. He’s a giant,” Miss Jerry kept saying. At one point, “Bug” decided to ignore me and just started following Miss Jerry around, which probably wasn’t a great thing.
So, I guess I’m not a natural. And, in case you are wondering, a stallion is the same thing as a stud: a male horse that hasn’t been neutered. The rest are called geldings.
Well, I’m not running through green pastures yet, but it was a great start. Next thing you know, I’ll be wearing a cowboy hat and going to rodeos. We’ll start small. The August heat keeps the ranch closed for the month of August, so in September, I’ll let you know how round two goes.