Our first day in New Orleans was supposed to be a restful day. It was the day before the start of Jazzfest, and we knew once the jazz started that the next three days would be nothing but endless partying at a hardcore level. So yeah, the first day was supposed to be a restful one.
But like most things, this day didn't turn out at all like the way we planned it.
It started out innocently enough.
After some much needed sleep, we rose from our bed and grabbed breakfast in the main house. After breakfast, Shorty asked if I could take him on a tour of the city.
"Uh, sure. It's just that..."
"Just that what?"
"Well, I don't really know my way around the city."
"But I thought you've been coming here since you were a little kid?"
"Well, yes. But I never really had my own car. I always just kind of stared out the window while my cousin drove me around."
"Oh. So, you can't take me on a tour then."
"No, but I know someone who can."
After my cousin took us on an idyllic drive through uptown I decided it was time for things to get a little real.
"Cousin, how about we turn this into a Katrina tour? You know, so we can see the damage that has been done to your beloved city."
"Yeah... OK, I guess."
As we drove towards the poor neighborhoods of the city, my cousin pointed out the water marks on the buildings." You see those water marks on the building? Those marks show how high the water level was when the town was flooded for days on end. You'll notice that the closer you get to the poorer neighborhoods, the elevation gets lower and lower, and the water marks get higher and higher."
When we started our Katrina tour, the water marks were barely a foot off the ground, by the time we reached the Ninth Ward, the water marks had damn near reached the roofs of the dilapitated houses.
As we approached the ill-fated ward, I recalled the last time I had made a visit.
It was during my last stay here, and only a couple of years after Katrina. I was shocked to find that so much of the destruction still remained. I mean the place looked like a graveyard for houses.
Actually no, that doesn't fit. The word 'graveyard' implies that the houses were properly disposed of after their destruction. This was more like the aftermath of a house battle. And by that I mean, it literally looked like a group of houses decided to declare war on the rest of the houses in the neighborhood and savagely fought and attacked them for days and days and days, until every house on both sides had been destroyed. And now, years later, all that was left were the countless house casualties that just continued to rot away on the battlefield that was once the Ninth Ward.
When we first drove into the ward, it didn't look like things had changed. The house corpses were still decomposing in a forgotten world.
But then I could see houses in the distance that didn't look dead at all. In fact they looked new. And they appeared to be on stilts.
As we got closer I realized that they were indeed brand new houses on stilts. I also realized that they were designed to look really, really cool.
Did the government finally step up and take action in an awesome way, I asked my cousin.
No, he told me, the houses had been built by the actor Brad Pitt.
Yes, that's right. Apparently, Brad Pitt walked into the mayor's office one day and said,
"Look, we're going to build cool, innovated new houses in the Ninth Ward that are cheap to build and even cheaper to buy. Also they're going to look like cool future houses."
And the mayor said, "That's genius. How many workers will we need?"
And Brad Pitt said, "None. This is just going be a job for you and me. I've got all the tools and material in my car. Let's go."
And the mayor said," I can't do that! I have a city to run."
So Brad Pitt replied, "Fine. Then I'll do it myself. And I'll see you in hell!"
And then he walked out of the mayor's office and built 50 houses in the ninth ward.
Now this is obviously a great thing, but I remember thinking that it was odd that he hadn't taken any action in removing any of the dead houses before he built the new houses. The way those new futuristic stilted house just rose above the sea of rotten dead houses was a surreal sight. It made the Ninth Ward look like a scene from a weird sci-fi movie.
A sci-fi movie starring Brad Pitt, I thought, realizing what that son of a bitch was up to. Clearly Brad Pitt needed a location to shoot his new sci-fi movie about a world that was once run by houses until the houses' greedy nature destroyed them all. Now there was a new type of house that had risen from the ashes of the dead and they were the only ones who could turn things around. All they needed was a leader...
Brad Pitt would stop at nothing to get his location so he could shoot this movie. Even if it meant turning a decimated neighborhood into a suitable and affordable place to live. That selfish bastard..
On a lighter and more coherent note, here is a adorable girl selling Pralines down at the Ninth Ward. Pralines are a southern delicacy. They are kind of cookie that are made entirely out of sugar. They are extremely tasty.
French Quarter in Daylight
Once we finished the Katrina tour, my cousin asked us where we wanted to be dropped off. I figured the historic French Quarter would be a good place.
"You want to go to the French Quarter during the day?" He said like I was crazy.
"Yeah, " I said. "I've only been at night. I've never really seen it in the daylight."
I could tell that he thought that this was a bad idea, but he said no more.
Instead, he just dropped us off at the edge of the quarter and got the hell out of there. I watched him speed away down the nice, clean street behind us and then turned and looked down the dirty street that lay before us. I realized right then that there was a great deal of difference from the Quarter at night and during the day.
For one, the place was now far more empty than I had ever seen before.
But that I expected.
What I didn't expect was the smell. Of all my nights at the Quarter I could not recall a single one where the smell stood out in my mind. Perhaps all the excitement and visual stimulation available to the Quarter night dweller allowed the nose to be spared of the stench.
Whatever the reason, neither my nose nor I was spared the stench during our day trip.
It was the unmistakably pungent combination of stale booze, rancid body odor, curdled vomit and diseased urine; and as we made our way deeper and deeper into the Quarter, the smell became stronger and stronger.
Soon the stench was so strong that I wasn't just smelling it anymore, I was tasting it.
I could actually taste this perfect storm of various spoiled waste, this collection of millions of microscopic particulars of scum, scuzz and filth, as it infiltrated my mouth and nestle down on the top of my tongue.
And then, like a predatory tab of acid, this perfect storm soaked through my tongue and hightailed it up into my brain; unleashing the many repressed memories that I had accumulated from my nights at the Quarter.
Some of these memories were just ones of public embarrassment. Like the time when I was in a red dress on Bourbon Street and asked strangers for hugs.
Other memories were stronger and caused my stomach actual nausea. Like the one of me vomiting up the famous Nawlins drink The Hand Grenade seconds after chugging down the sickly sweet liquor.
But there was one memory above all the others that was so nauseating, it made me want to die.
It was the memory of the girl with the most disgusting breath in the world.
The one I made out with on these depraved streets many, many months ago.
Yes, that was the memory that made me want to die. Because I could also remember her breath, and how it tasted. Believe it or not recalling this taste was worse than the present taste of the Quarter.
I tried my best not to gag, because I knew that once I started I would never stop.
"We have to get out of here." I said miserably to Shorty.
"Yeah, this place is dead, and kinda gross." He replied, not aware of the state I was in.
I struggled onward, keeping my focus on the cross street in front of us.
That will lead us to salvation, I thought.
But I could see that before we reached our salvation we had to cross a gauntlet of seedy doormen, all of whom were standing by their places of ill repute and ready to serenade us with promises of pleasure. As we approached them I lowered my head and pressed forward.
We were so close.
But then one of the doormen stood in front of us, blocking our path, and we were forced to stop and look at his unsightly face that had undoubtedly turned vile after years spent in these toxic surroundings.
My stomach turned at the sight of him and it turned once more after hearing his nasal voice as he described what the girls behind his door could do with their mouths.
It was all too much for me, I couldn't take another step. I felt woozy.
So I grabbed a nearby pole for support.
This completed my nightmare, as I found that the pole was covered in a thick layer of stickiness that was now glued to the palm of my hand. Now all five of my senses had been taken over by the unspeakable contamination of the Quarter.
And as I stood there, desperately trying to wipe the impure goo off on my jeans, the unsightly doorman made another attempt at swaying us into his place.
" Leave me alone! I'm sticky!" I yelled at him.
And then I ran. I ran to the cross street as fast as I could and then I continued until it was safe to breath.
Eventually, Shorty caught up with me, and when he did he asked me what had happened back there.
"Oh nothing," I said calmly, now fully recovered. "I just realized that my cousin was right. The Quarter is no place for the day."
" I can't imagine it's any less filthy at night." He said.
"Oh it's not. But for some reason, it seems better. A lot better. You'll see."
A Concert in the Park
After I found a place to wash up Shorty and I walked around the area until we stumbled upon this day concert being held at a park.
I asked someone if this concert was connected with Jazzfest. They gave me a puzzled look and replied, "No it's just the ordinary Wednesday show. It goes on every Wednesday. There's always a party here on Wednesday."
I thought about this for a minute. Only in New Orleans can you find a free concert in the park where you can party and enjoy life. And on a Wednesday at that. A Wednesday!
During the concert I received a call from a friend of mine, Leia. Shorty and I knew her from when she lived in a LA, but she recently moved to New Orleans and we had made plans to meet up at some point during our stay. I told Leia where we were and she said she lived close by. She told me she was going to get ready and meet us there in about an hour.
So with some time to kill, Shorty and I grabbed some food and some beer and sat down on the grass and enjoyed the scene.
Whatever negative impression of the city that my day trip to the Quarter had left on us was washed away by this moment of relaxing in the grass with great food, great music and the great energy.
I had a feeling that this was a small preview of what Jazzfest would be.
Once again, life was good.
Leia found us just as the sun began to set. She joined us on the grass and we caught up. We filled her in on the funny stories of our trip and she told us about her new life in The Big Easy. It was a nice time, and restful.
Then the concert ended and darkness was upon us.
Shorty and I found ourselves at a fork in the road. We could either stay out and keep drinking or stick to the plan and save our strength for the next three days.
"Maybe it would be smart to take it easy tonight." I said in a rare moment of maturity.
"Look dude," Shorty said. " I'm fine with whatever, but the truth is I happen to have infinite energy. I know you're worried about your endurance and everything, and that's cool. But we don't have to go home on my account."
This statement puzzled and annoyed me more than you can possibly know.
Who was he kidding?
Had he forgotten that I've known him since college?
Was he trying to show off for Leia?
Or was he simply trying to infuriate me? If the latter was true than he succeeded, because now I was determined to show this motherfucker that he did not have limitless energy. Even if it meant spending all of my energy to prove it.
"Well in that case, Shorty, let's stay out and go crazy. Because I too have infinite energy, but like you, I decided not to reveal this until just now."
"Oh fun," Leia said, not aware of what had really just transpired. "Tonight's gonna be awesome. But do you guys mind stopping at my place for a second while I drop off my bag? It's close by."
"Not at all Leia." I said, while staring at Shorty. " In fact, let's run there."
"Why would we run there?"
Because fuck you, Shorty. Fuck you.
Much like how the concert in the park had washed away any negativity I acquired from the Quarter, the sight of Leia's house washed away any lingering anger I had for Shorty.
I mean just look at this place. Can you imagine living here? Granted, this house had been divided into apartments, but still. Look how cool it is. There are hundreds of houses all over New Orleans that are just as cool as this, some even cooler.
I thought about this as we went through the front gate and I couldn't help but wish that I lived there. I imagined returning home after a long day and being able to see this sight. I was certain it would uplift my spirits every single time I saw it.
But there are no houses like this in LA, at least not that I've seen.
After drinking some more beer at Leia's place, the three of us discussed our next move for the night. Leia named off a number of different things we could do in the area, but we all knew that the French Quarter was the best place to start. For one, it was incredibly close by, and for two, Shorty needed to see it during the night, as God intended. So we headed back to the Quarter, and I just prayed I wasn't making a big mistake.
The Return to the Quarter
We reached the edge of the Quarter for the second time that day. It felt like a completely new area. Not just because of the massive addition of tourists, musicians, and drunken life lovers, but because of the exciting raw energy that had followed these people into the Quarter.
This energy made everything more tolerable. It also made me want to get a drink. And so I did. In fact we all got a drink, and danced to the music, appreciating our time at the edge.
But we couldn't stay there forever. We had to plow ahead just as we had done before.
And so we did. And I'm happy to report that I was able to enjoy our journey without doing something that I would eventually remember and regret. At least I think so...
In any case, what I do know for sure is that Leia provided a balance of calmness in contrast to the high energy that Shorty and I brought. I believe that it was because of this, that I was able to have fun without losing my head in the wilderness of Bourbon Street.
But what would happen when Leia wasn't around? I worried.
But there was no point in worrying. I just had to focus on the tasks at hand. Drink moderately, have fun, don't touch any poles, and if I did decide to kiss someone I would smell their breath first.
We had walked a good number of blocks when we came to this sizeable crowd.
There seemed to be a great buzz of excitement from the crowd so Shorty and I rushed over to see what was going on. Once we were up front we found that the crowd had formed around this fenced off empty lot that had the semblance of a make shift stage. There was even a drum kit set up.
But there was no one in the lot.
"I'm gonna see what's going on." Shorty told the two of us, like he knew people on the inside.
While Shorty went to find answers I noticed people getting out of the parked red car. And they were carrying instruments and other weird, mysterious things.
As they came up to the crowd, I could see that they looked to be in their earlier twenties.
I could also see that despite their best efforts to keep cool, they were clearly pumped for what was about to happen.
Then the sound of drums echoed out from the makeshift stage and the crowd went nuts. This was immediately followed by brightly multi-colored christmas lights lighting up on the walls and trees behind the band, as well as neon glow sticks being thrown out of the passenger door of the parked car and landing at the feet of the crowd.
Then they decided to really get the crowd excited.
Yeah, they weren't just a band, they were a band with freaking fire twirlers. If there is anything a drunken crowd is guaranteed to love at any given time, it's fire twirlers.
Their show went on for a good twenty minutes, until it was finally stopped by the police. As the cops asked the kids to show them a permit, Shorty leaned over to Leia and I and told us what he had learned.
Apparently these kids would drive to random cities and put on a crazy show in a populated area and play as long as they could until the cops shut them down.
I don't know about you, but to me, this is just a great example of how to fully enjoy your youth. I even wondered if maybe I had spent the last five years of my life poorly. Maybe I was supposed to be showing up at different cities and twirling fire.
After we watched the cops shut down the fire twirlers, Leia mentioned she was hungry so we decided to grab a bite.
She took us to this place called the Trolley Stop. I found myself incredibly annoyed by this because I was always been told that you should never refer to the streetcars of New Orleans by the San Francisco term "trolleys".
I caught myself as I was getting angry about this, and I realized there was only one reason why I could be so upset about something so trivial.
The liquor was starting to take effect. If I wasn't careful I was going to have another embarrassing memory at the Quarter, and after all I had been through that day, I really didn't want that.
It's okay, I told myself. As long as Leia is around I'll be fine.
After we ate, Leia told us she was tired and, since she had work the next day, she was going to pack it in.
Now there would no one to stop me from myself.
"Don't get into any trouble." She said before she got into her cab.
Easy said then done, I thought.
Left to Our Own Devices
After she left, Shorty looked over at me.
"So how are you doing? It's midnight right now. You wanna pack it in, or can you stay out?"
"Are you kidding me. I was made for this city." I said, realizing I had just sealed my fate.
We made our way back to Bourbon Street and began to mosey our way down the quarter like a couple of real winners. We eyed each drinking establishment we passed to see what the girl situation was like inside.
Shorty nudged me when we were passing this fancy bar that looked very much out of place for the French Quarter.
"Nah dude, they're closing." I said as I watched the bartender stack stools and wipe down the bar.
"But look at the two girls." He argued.
I looked, and saw not girls, but women. Fully grown women that looked to be in their mid thirties. They also looked out of place as they carried themselves respectably and were holding sophisticated drinks that they carefully sipped.
But they probably had good breath, I said to myself.
We approached the women in the upscale bar and cracked a few jokes. They laughed, and we convinced the bartender to let us buy a round a drinks before we got the boot.
We were a couple of real winners.
Just like in Austin, Shorty waited until I decided which girl to pursue and then acted accordingly.
As you know, he was eager to help me because he was spoken for. And like all guys who are no longer in the game, they want to help their friends get some action so they can live vicariously through them.
This desire to help can be a blessing or a curse, depending on the guy and his state of mind.
At the moment Shorty was definitely a blessing. He focused his attention on the other girl so the girl I was going for wouldn't be hesitant to focus her attention on me. All I had to do was be funny, confident, and give off a dash of mystery.
After all, this was the Big Easy, and we were all strangers. Mystery was a necessity.
Things were going great, but the bartender kick us out after we finished our drinks. Now these ladies had to decide whether to call it a night or join us two scoundrels for some more good times.
If we had been anywhere else on a Wednesday night I wouldn't have even bothered hoping for a good outcome, but we were here, and anything goes here.
And wouldn't you know it; they decided to go with us.
Obviously this meant things were going well. But we soon realized we couldn't just take these women to some nasty hole-in-the-wall. It took us awhile but we finally found a place that had an acceptably low amount of sleaze.
Now in bar number two, Shorty and I continued our strategy, and I felt like it was working. Just keep them talking and we'll be fine, I told myself.
" I like older women," I heard myself say. "They're just easier to talk to."
As soon as I said that I knew how cheesy it sounded. But she knew it too and playfully teased me about it.
"Yeah, I bet you can't stand the sight of some twenty two year old hoochie who's showing you her ass and cleavage."
"Well, ok, sure, I don't mind the sight, but I was referring to talking. It's the talking with them that I don't like. The looking is great for me."
She laughed at this and then asked how old I was.
"26." I said foolishly. She gave me a smile when she heard this and I could tell I just ruined the game.
"Do you know how long it's been since I was 26?" She asked.
"A couple of years ago." I said, going for the flattery card.
"Hey Rhonda, Rhonda!" She called out to her friend. "How long ago since we were 26?"
"Age is just a thing." I said like an idiot. Shorty gave me an incredulous look as the women giggled and snickered.
They declined our next offer of drinks and excused themselves for the night. The only thing I managed to get out of my girl was a goodbye hug and this picture:
|Make a guess...|
"Why would you tell her your age?" Shorty asked after they had left. "What possible good can come from that?"
"I didn't think it was a deal breaker."
" It's not necessarily a deal breaker, but nothing good can come from sharing that information. It can only hurt you to give her those kind of facts, it can't help."
He was right of course, I should have kept things mysterious.
Leaving the Quarter Again
After that whole incident, we both figured it was a good time to head back home. Not that either one of us was the least bit tired, mind you. Not at all. It was just that it felt like this was a good time to go.
And so we hailed a cab and headed back home.
And this is where the night is suppose to end, right? That's what I thought at the time. But I had made the mistake of forgetting that New Orleans is a town where anything can happen at any time, at any place.
Case in point, we tell the cab driver to let us out a few blocks away from the house so we can sober up a little before we go to my cousin's place.
So there we were walking down this nice uptown suburb, and there was not a sound to be heard except for the two of us.
And then we came to this weirdly shaped house with a blue light shooting out onto the sidewalk. That was when we heard a lot of odd noises. Particularly, the sound of constant laughter, loud chatter and general merrymaking.
It was, without a doubt, the undeniable sound of a large party in progress.
At first I thought it was some high school party being held at some poor parents' house while they were away. But then we saw a group of young adults come out of the house and light up cigarettes. This was no high school party.
"Wanna crash a party, or are you too tired?" Shorty formed the statement like a question, but I knew it was a challenge. A challenge I was all to eager to accept. Sleep was for the weak.
"Let's do this."
I wish I could have seen our faces when we realized what we had walked into. I'm sure we just looked utterly confused for the first three or for four seconds.
First of all, as soon as we walked in we were blasted by red light. This red light was the only thing lighting the place and it made it difficult to see.
But it then we saw the display of countless booze bottles on the wall and realized that we hadn't walked into a party, we had walked into an actual bar. In the middle of the suburbs.
Am I the only one who thought this could never happen? Weren't there rules and court orders that made it impossible for a bar to reside in the middle of a freaking peaceful suburb.
And yet, here we were. In a suburb. In a bar. A loud bar at that. Very loud.
"I'm gonna go snoop around and get some answers."
While my partner in crime went to investigate, I went off to find the pisser.
After I had found it and was doing my business, I noticed this graffiti on the bathroom wall.
"Real eyes realize real lies." I read aloud. "Real eyes realize real lies." The wheels in my head started turning.
"Oh! I get it now! This is a college bar!"
I washed my hands and went back out to the drunk academy kids. I found Shorty at the bar talking with some other guy. When he saw me he told me what I had already put together.
"Dude, we're so stupid. It's a college bar. Tulane is like five blocks away. I think your cousin told us that."
The other guy Shorty had been talking to turned to us and loudly said, "Of course it's a college bar. Isn't it obvious? The beer of choice is pabst and it cost 2 dollars. And everyone hear is way too excited about being in a dive bar on a Wednesday."
As if to bring the point home, a minute later a woman across the bar yelled "I'm a lesbian!" before doing this:
This prompted a large guy next to me to flash the crowd too.
I'm not sure how long I giggled about all of this, but it was a good long while.
Once I was composed myself, I made introductions to our new friend; his name was Dylan and he turned out to be a real character.
Sadly I don't remember much of the details about Dylan, just that he lived out here and went to school here and he thought most people, especially his schoolmates, were morons. It was clear he was a funny oddball, so I knew he'd fit in with us two. The three of us enjoyed each others company over the next couple of rounds.
We stayed until last call, which wasn't until around four, I believe. At that point, we wished Dylan the best, used the pisser one last time, and then prepared to finally end the night.
But nothing can be easy, can it.
When we reached the house, I retrieved the set of keys my cousin had given me and tried to unlock the big steel gate that protected the house.
But try as I might, I couldn't seem to unlock the damn thing. Being impatient I decided to try and climb the ten foot steel fence, which had sharp steel spikes shooting out the top of it.
I was at the top of the fence with one foot hanging over the other side, when Shorty decided to try his luck with the keys. I heard the sound of a lock unlatching and then Shorty shouted "I did it!" before he ran through the gate and into the front yard.
I told him not to shout, but my voice was cut off by the deafening sound of the gate door crashing back into place. This was followed by the sounds of all of the dogs on the street barking and howling as loud as possible. There was no way we didn't just wake up everyone in my cousin's house, if not the neighborhood. And I was still stuck on top of the fence. And it was four in the morning.
It was one hell of a way to end the day. But now that I think about it, it was the perfect ending. And I only had to wait four hours for Jazzfest to begin!
Four hours is a good amount of sleep, I thought. But I gotta make sure Shorty falls asleep first.
After all, it wasn't like I was tired.