Slouching Towards Soulard

February 24, 2010 at 8:32 PM | Posted in Journal | 1 Comment
  I’m fairly certain that Detroit wants to kill me and take the insurance money and use it to buy a house down in the city.

  Saturday was my birfday, and Sunday we went out to eat.  We had made  reservations and we were both excited about going to this new place that wasn’t exactly new.  Not by a long shot.
  I work at The Three Jakes in the Soulard area.  If you know anything about the history of St Louis and what is in that part of town, you should be familiar with this.  If you have an appreciation of beer, you should be familiar with this.  Also, if you are a student of the paranormal, you should be familiar with this as well.
  Let me give it to you in brief, and you can look it up on your own if you like.  Before Prohibition–a tremendous example of the progressive idea of state controlling behavior–there were more breweries in St Louis than you could shake a stick at.  Afterwards, many of them folded and disappeared.  One such was the Lemp brewery, maker of Lemp Beer. 
  The brewery and the family mansion are in St Louis, south of Soulard, and directly south of the world-famous Anheiser-Busch brewery.  The Lemp mansion is also famous as one of the most haunted places in the Midwest, I think.  Several family suicides and other violent acts have taken place there.
  The Mansion is now a restaurant and bed and breakfast and catering facility, but they do paranormal tours as well.
  On Sunday, they have an all-you-can-eat chicken dinner served "Family Style." 
  It was a cold, rainy day, and we went down there a little early, because I wanted to give Detroit a tour of the area.  Just as an incidental, as we passed by I said, "Oh, yeah–there’s The Three Jakes," where I work.  We didn’t stop.  There is so much more that is so interesting and cool to see.  We drove up and down streets, oohing and ahhing at the architecture.  If I was smarter and more learned, I would know what the style is.  Many of the buildings are over a 100 years old.
  There were some single houses, but mostly two-and four-family flats.  Some very big houses.  In the Soulard area everything has been redeveloped, rehabbed, and rebuilt.  The areas to the south and the west you can see the encroachment coming, like the reverse of an infection–whatever is spreading is making it better.
  We saw houses for sale, empty buildings, and potential.  Detroit said several times, "I want to live here.  I want to move here.  I want, I want.  Me-me-me."  Geez.
  The closed Lemp brewery was an impressively large complex.  It looked like someone was trying to develop it into a business park/small industrial/office space/storage. 
  I drove her down Lafayette, and showed her a large building.  At the very top, engraved in large letters, it said, "City Hospital."  In the past, it was.   It was part of Malcolm Bliss, which had been a mental hospital.  Or, in the parlance of the times in which it had been built, a lunatic asylum.  If not a house, I would love to have an apartment there, just so I could say I lived at the mental hospital.
  Either that, or a church.
  Several churches had been closed as heathens moved in, and many have been converted for other uses.  One was a catering and banquet hall in the middle of Soulard.  I saw a couple of them for sale.  I’d totally buy one, and start my own church.  Besides having a big, kick-ass place to live with high ceilings, I could use part of it as a garage.  Parking is a premium in the city.  I tell you what–in the last month and half, I have gotten so much better at parallel parking.  By this summer, I’m going to be a world champion expert.  If it was an event in the Olympics…
  But I’ve always wanted to own a church.  Especially a big brick or stone one–So cool.  And if I went ahead and started a religion, all the better.  In my short-lived stand up career, I wanted to have fans and groupies.  If I have a church, they are called acolytes.  No taxes, collect from your followers, and have sex with them.  Tell me what could be better–Seriously.  All I need is charisma (which I have) and that book "Starting a Cult for Dummies"–A.K.A Dianetics.
 
  By then it’s time to head to the Lemp Mansion for our reservation.  It’s for three pm, and we get there at 230.  They go ahead and seat us.  It’s very nice.  High ceilings are standard–people 150 years ago must have been tall.  The wait staff are all dressed very formally, making me feel as though I were under-dressed.  Should I have worn pants?  I mean, dress pants, as opposed to jeans?  We checked our coats–another sign that it was too fancy for me.
  We were served family style, just Detroit and I.  We had plates–real China–with cloth napkins.  I never knew quite what to do with mine.  We had a cloth tablecloth as well.  The server brought out a tray, and placed on our table…let’s see…A plate of chicken, with the four standard pieces; a small plate of roast beef, a small plate of ham with pineapple, a cup of gravy, a bowl of mashed potatoes, a bowl of corn, a bowl of German-style green beans, a bowl of dirty rice, a bowl of cole slaw, and bowl of some odd mixed vegetables.  I made out a piece of pepper and a slice of cucumber possibly on the top.  Oh, and a small bowl of fried cinnamon apples.  Am I forgetting anything?  Oh, yeah–rolls with honey butter.
   Everything that I had was so good.  I can’t remember ever having anything this good, ever.  The best meal, period.  I remember my favorite steak place–which I won’t mention by name–and the first time I went there.  I got a little angry.  Why the hell is this so good, and why the fuck haven’t I been here before?
  With the Lemp it was the same surprise, but a different emotion.  I was giddy.  It was so good I was laughing in disbelief.  How come this is so good?  The chicken was hot and moist, and tender and tasty–just like a college girl.  The other meat was really good too.  Ham–I’m pretty picky about my ham.  The shit was good.  Lean and tender, with a good flavor.  The pineapple didn’t overpower it.
  The gravy for the potatoes was phenomenal.  But I never tasted anything like the green beans.  German style?  I don’t know what that means.  They were in a kind of brown gravy.  I don’t usually do seconds on vegetables, but these were the best.  I didn’t have any Cole slaw because I don’t *do* Cole slaw.  I don’t have anything against people that like Cole slaw–I feel it’s a personal choice.  However, I don’t believe you are born liking Cole slaw.  People can change.  They can learn to like Cole slaw.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
  It’s just not for me. 
  Neither, too, for me were the odd mixed vegetables or the rice.  Or the apples.  It just looked like lumpy applesauce.  It smelled good, and I almost tried it.  But not quite.  Everything else I ate, and I ate a lot of it.  If it had been just a meal with this, it would have been worth the price.  But all you can eat?  I stuffed myself, as did Detroit.  Of course, it took more to stuff me.  They brought out more roast beef and more chicken.  I so wanted more mashed potatoes and more green beans, but I couldn’t make myself do it.
  While eating, Detroit again said, "I want to live here."
  I said, "You can’t live here; it’s a restaurant.  Besides, it’s haunted."
  And then we had desert.
  Detroit loved hers; she had carrot cake, her favorite.  I selected a slice of chocolate cake, and I wasn’t as impressed.  It wasn’t made there–I could tell it was processed, pre-made, frozen, and shipped.  Still not bad, but not hand-made.  Still, everything else was fabulous.
  After dinner, we went to the gift shop.  It was small and hard to get away from the lady running it.  Let me just look around for crap’s sake.  I’m not married to you, so I don’t have to listen to you.  But she did say–go ahead and look around–the basement and all three floors.  Wow.  Okay.  This was the famous haunted Lemp Mansion, after all.
  Maybe it was just the power of suggestion, but in the basement, I felt like I was being followed around briefly.  We went to the second floor, and saw some of the rooms.  These are rooms you can actually stay in.  That is something I’d kind of like to do.
  The third floor was odd.  We went to the far end room, and I had an odd feeling in the doorway.  Detroit went in walked around, and walked out quickly.  She said, "I didn’t like it in there."  I get that.  It was a little weird.  I had a dream-like, reality-bending experience, ever so slightly in there.
  Finally we left.  We cruised up and down a few more streets in the rain.  I wish I had the words to accurately describe the sense and feel of the neighborhood, as well as the look.
  I thought everyone lived in the suburbs before this.  It turns out that regular, normal people live in the city.  Not as many with school-age kids, however, and that makes sense.  The city schools are for shit.  We have a local weekly newspaper here, the RFT–the Riverfront Times.  Although I enjoy reading it, much of it never seemed to really apply to me, because it was so city-centric.  But now I see the appeal, and the draw.  In my sleepy little suburb, people go to work, go to the store, go to the drive-thru, and go home.  A portion of them go to their child’s sports activities.  By nine or ten pm, it’s roll up the sidewalk time. 
  At least in the city, people stay out later.  They stay up longer, and *do* stuff.  Like till eleven o’clock.
  There’s just an air of bustle, of *happening* in the city. People live in suburbs to get away from the bustle, from the noise.  The houses sit back from the street, there is space between the houses, and fences in the backyard where you can lounge in quiet in your own private Idaho.
  In the city, the houses are about two feet apart.  There’s no front yard–you can walk by on the sidewalk and see in.  There’s very little backyard, and they are connected by alleys–by definition a second, back-door way to gain entry.  In the city, it seems you can be more connected to people.  You can know more people, have more friends, more acquaintances.  Know your local grocer and other business people.
  It used to seem to me to be a scary place, but then again I come from the country, where you seldom have line of sight on another house, much less another person.  Now I see it for what it wants to be–what it once was:  A community, a place of gathering for friends and neighbors.  A place of familiarity and comfort.  An eclectic place where different people can do their own thing, and be considered cool for doing it.  A place where you can lean out your front window–or side window, or back window–and talk to someone.  A place where there are always interesting people around.
  Knowing all of this, I wonder:  does Detroit *really* want to live here?  She really doesn’t like people all that much.

  Speaking of people who don’t like people, I talked with my friend Serena this morning.  She and her man-meat have been looking at houses.  She wants to live in the Ferguson-Cool Valley area, which is definitely more dangerous than living in the city.  She had looked at some city places, but her conclusion (which I agree with) is that the *idea* is more appealing than the reality.
  But although I noticed this before, when we analyzed it and I was able to put this conclusion into words, it was a bit shocking to me:  In the area of the city that I work in–Soulard–I have not seen any children.  None.  Zip.  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.  In the outer areas I have seen less than half a dozen.  In Soulard proper there were none whatsoever, unless you count the overgrown and socially underdeveloped man-children bunking with two others exactly like him in a coldwater shotgun flat decorated with beer posters and pizza boxes.  

  *An Actual conversation I saw between roommates*
Dude1:  Dude!  Asshole!  You order food?
Dude2:  I’m taking a shit, hold on!
Dude1:  (stomps up the steps, throws a beer can at the door) Food’s here, dickhead!
Dude2:  (muffled exclamation)  Fucker!
Dude1:  (comes back down stairs, he crosses to me) He’ll be right down.  Sorry, dude, my roommate’s an asshole.
I wait.  In a minute, enter Dude2, who I couldn’t distinguish from Dude1, except for the clothes:  Different team jersey.
Dude2:  Sorry about that, dude.  My roommate’s an asshole.  Here you go.

  I wanted to explain to them, that *I’m* not the Dude–
  But in addition to being an up-and-coming gay neighborhood, it seems to home to repressed homosexuals in denial as well.
  Be that as it may–the area is replete with yuppies, guppies, and hipsters (oh, my!) all without children.  The young straight couples will move out when they have kid; the suburbs beckon to the fertile uterus like a Siren’s Song. 
  But the whole thing reminded me eerily of the story I wrote:  "Whatever Happened to Mesopotamia?"  I actually rewrote the story and submitted it to a writing contest.  (I didn’t win, of course–maybe I’ll re-post it here in it’s new, improved form.)  One theme of the story was a societal death wish, a collective unconscious desire to end the species.  It manifested itself first in the people when they no longer had any children– 
  This has given me a different perspective of the place I work and secretly lust after.  I now remember that when I envision the town in the story, it was much like the neighborhood in Soulard.  Hell, the movie version of the story could be filmed there.
  All manner and variety of people, brought together with one thing in common:  they have no children.  Either old people, whose children have grown, or young people, who very carefully haven’t had any yet.  Or the gays, who never will. 

  Christ, I go on and on.  But I’m wrapping it up here, I swear.  Detroit once again made me self-conscious about how long my writing is.  But at least I stay on one topic (more or less) per essay.  And it’s my journal, and I’ll drag on if I want to.
  So.  The question I now have, after the analysis is this:

  Detroit’ children are grown (in the legal definition) and mine are almost so; in any event mine live with their mother.  Do we now not fit in the suburbs?  Do we now belong in the childless world of hip urban living?  Or does staying here make us more hip and eclectic by not following the crowd?

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  1. We absolutely MUST win some lottery money. We have to keep this house for the old woman, so she can keep up with her old fogie friends and live her old fogie life.. but I really want to experience living in the city. And I\’d still kinda like that country house for when we\’re old and don\’t want to be bothered by anything other than coyotes and Big Foot.


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