There’s a little bridge in Louis Armstrong Park in New Orleans, which encompasses Congo Square, the birthplace of jazz. 20 years ago today I stood on that bridge in the only suit I owned, Chuck Taylors on my feet, hand in hand with my hot Chinese girlfriend wearing the only dress she had with her.
She had finished officer’s training at Maxwell Air Force base, Alabama, just a couple days before, and the dark tan lines from three months of PT in the sun didn’t match up with the neckline of her dress. My friend Dave, an old New Orleans head who had driven us there in his restored, powder blue Volkswagen Beetle was lying on the deck of the bridge between us and the judge, taking photos with a black and white camera he had found at Goodwill and brought back to life. I called him Old Dave, even though he was only about ten years older than me, because he had a vintage soul.
Dave was high as one of those Mandeville pines on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain. He liked to breakdown his weed in a coffee grinder and drop it onto a half a stick of butter in a cast iron pan. Make some eggs and spend the morning whistling at the finches he kept in cages in his old house. Old Dave was lost in his own version of the blissful moment, whispering the word “love” over and over to himself as he clicked pictures and advanced the film while Susanna and me held hands, listening to the judge speak.
My friend Matt was the best man and witness. He had taken the train down from Michigan the week before, and we had been partying pretty hard in the days leading up to the clandestine wedding. Me, him and Old Dave had had some fun times together, but to look at him you wouldn’t know we were thick as thieves. Matt stood there a few feet from us with his shaved head and brick shithouse frame, wearing a pair of quick-dry hiking pants made long and respectable by the zippers concealed beneath a discrete seam just below the knees.
That was all the invited guests–just me, Susanna, Old Dave, Matt, and the judge–but this was New Orleans, and more to the point this was Congo Square. It was a good place to drink on a warm, sunny morning. And so an honor guard of bums had formed, their beer cans clasped reverently between interlocked fingers like a New Orleans prayer. They kept an acceptable distance, and we were all both thankful for their participation and for their sense of decorum. When the judge gave me permission to kiss the bride, they all clapped. People driving by honked their horns.
I can’t find the words to put a twenty year marriage in perspective. There’s a temptation to judge it, to give the relationship a grade. But I can’t bring myself to do that because, honestly, I’m afraid to face what that assessment might be. And also because I think such a thing might miss the point.
The point is, we are both still here, and we are both still trying.
This is supposed to be a blog about writing, about the creative process, so I’ll offer an analog to wrap this up that may or may not ruin this post. And anyway, you probably already see it coming . . . it’s simply this. The creative process isn’t about a letter grade, about judgment. It’s about showing up and trying. Just that.