Two people I love got married in Louisville this weekend.
Part of their goodness is generosity; characteristically, they put a bunch of us up in a very nice house in a part of town that is called the “Cherokee Triangle” and/or the “Highlands”. I thought these were abutting neighborhoods but per Wikipedia: “[Cherokee Triangle] is considered a part of a larger area of Louisville called The Highlands…”
We were pretty wrapped up in wedding stuff, but I got to do a couple of runs and had a long walk to yoga (solid!) Saturday morning, which gave a taste of the neighborhood.
Highlands (“The Highlands”? the “Highlands”? anyway)
is a lot like this mural. I know nothing about Louisville. I’ve never been here and have no ties or family here.
I really liked it.
Okay so you know how glossy publications that do long-form sometimes throw in pictures with captions that are on the same topic as the overall story but kind of a different thread, thus surreptitiously shoehorning in content that didn’t make the main copy? [note: Slimbuttons has no idea if this is “why” they do this. — Ed.] That is how this entry will be: some pictures thrown in, while the words are about two Lyft rides I took.
Lyft #1: B
First of all: both of these Lyft rides were good. Nice, responsible drivers picked me up on time and efficiently took me where I needed to go. Both were friendly; both were chatty, once I signaled that I was receptive to that.
First was B.
B tells me that he’s originally from Iraq; actually, as he shortly clarifies, he is in fact from the mountains of Jordan. His mother is Arab is father is Kurdish. He does a thing with his hands, stacking right-to-left: “Iraq, Jordan, Israel”. I wonder, as he does this, why he includes Israel, which never otherwise comes up in discussion; if you’re going to throw another nation-state in that geographic layout it seems like the comparatively very big one immediately to the south would better anchor the map; I wondered and still wonder if B illustrates Jordan’s location in this way because he assumed that I, as an America, would be more familiar with/interested in Israel?
Most of our conversation is located outside the complexity of B’s point of origin. It comes up, but glancingly, and in much the same way that my being from Manhattan comes up: we are talking about the upsides and downsides of places like Louisville vs. places like Chicago (rather: we talk about the upsides and downsides of Louisville vs. Chicago, those actual places). Cosmopolitan-ness, diversity, food, nightlife, etc.
I saw this walking to yoga Saturday morning.
F*ck yeah, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School. Towards the end of the ride, we gravitate towards questions of how long he’s lived here and continue from there. B is excited about America in a contagious way; this has already been made clear in our conversation about cities and comes up again with an assertion he makes that, essentially, people in America from different backgrounds all feel “American”, even if they also feel “African-American” or “Chinese-American” or what have you.
Then we loop back more explicitly to his own point of origin and sense of identity. We start talking about the Kurds — with no expressed animus to “the Arabs”, he makes it clear that he speaks Arabic because of his mother but that he himself is/feels Kurdish. Once I say a couple of things that signal my interest in and basic awareness of the topic, he dives into the question of Kurdish independence and the position they find themselves in: caught between Turkey’s wishes, the current Iraqi government’s wishes, and their value as a coalition partner to external actors (not least: America) seeking reliable forces on the ground to assure stability.
B connects this to his enthusiasm for America by saying that, in terms of how he feels, he used to feel Iraqi first, and then Kurdish as a sub-categorical identity. But since the invasion and subsequent fracture of the Iraqi state, B no longer feels “Iraqi”; he seems unsure what that means or to whom he’d be giving allegiance. It is clear that, while he is enthusiastic about America and living here, he feels negatively about the invasion and its impact on the civilian population. I do not ask how directly he has experienced some of the things that he mentions.
That’s about it. We reach no conclusions. It is a “good talk.”
B drops me off at the thrift store whose revenues benefit a non-profit that supports individuals infected with HIV; my parsing of Yelp has led me to believe this place will be good. I need clothes for the wedding of these wonderful people — for a variety of Slimbuttons-typical reasons I have no appropriate clothes even for just like being out and in public, nevermind attending a wedding.
Lyft #2: R
The thrift shop is great! It has a good selection and a friendly gentleman minding the till who is thoughtful — perhaps clocking my appearance — about making sure that I in fact purchase everything a man would require in order to be presentable at a wedding.
I do that. It costs like thirty-three bucks. Thrift stores: great.
Waiting for me upon completion of shopping is R.
I think, from R’s Lyft pic, that a young woman is coming to pick me up — the little pic in the app shows a face with finely plucked eyebrows, light make-up, wide lips pinched in a sensuous moue. The sex of the person who picks me up, of R, is male; R’s gender is male as well, but my misunderstanding is not a random accident.
R and I get to chatting and the two — no, the three things that become clear at once are:
- R is gay
- R is young; maybe 20? I wonder what Lyft’s minimum age is
- R is in a place where the transitional process into a public gay life still feels tentative to him
He presents a mix of caution and candor that is sad and inspiring. His Lyft pic is obviously a kind of declaration; as are the rainbow-striped sunglasses he wears. But he soft floats balloons throughout our conversation, and when I’m gentle with them — asking about them, rather than either puncturing them or letting them fly up and away to spare us both what I guess would be the awkwardness of my disapproval — he increases his frankness and specifies his terminology.
I approve this message. So, for the first leg of the ride we are talking about how Louisville compares to the small town in Kentucky where he grew up. And the diction here is of people “like him”, the lack of such people and the negative view of such people and what he experienced as a claustrophobic and judgmental social environment.
Then — just to skip a bit — by the ride’s last ten minutes, R is telling me in some detail about his gig in Louisville as a drag queen (!!!) whose name I will not share in case he’d prefer I not do that but which is pretty great, and the freedom of inhabiting that persona and how he is proud that she is not one-dimensional: that he can play with different looks and makeup and songs all within the same persona (i.e., not “playing” a different character, but rather adding layers to this one persona, who is his alter-). And he talks about the “friend” (I’m putting that in quotes, but actually by this point in the conversation I think that this person maybe was in fact just a friend, that R might use a different word if this person were something else; but I dunno!) who kind of swept into R’s small-town and helped R not recognize his own orientation (he, R, had had no trouble recognizing his own orientation) but helped R live it and — specifically — introduced R to the drag scene. R says that he’d not even know what “drag” was.
R opines that the drag scene in New York and other big markets is more about extravagance and being OTT, whereas in Louisville he characterizes it as being more about being “feminine” and “beautiful.”
It is expensive. “You can’t just buy something off the rack”; it’s still a drag show — you have to be a creation, fantastic.
He loves it — it’s clear.
But he’s taking a break!
Sometimes, “you know how it is” (it had relaxed R a lot when I’d said that I used to be an actor; that I was unsuccessful but did get some work and share some of his feelings about inhabiting a persona), sometimes R feels a little underappreciated and (my editorialization) the scene sounds kind of political/dramatic. So R, though he loves it, who after all is a freaking kid in a state of identity flux, says that he’s taking a break.
An urban place without some measure of picturesque decrepitude
is, at best, a suspect urban place. Which is perhaps how I had the good fortune to get a ride from him.
We also talked about how nice the houses were getting as we drove towards my destination. Then we got to my destination and parted with handshakes and wishes of good luck.
Originally published on Blogger