Monday, November 20, 2017

New Orleans Part II

“I got ‘the look’ from the doctor. Like, into my soul.”

We’d shown up in town on a Tuesday morning and people were already partying. We started at Cafe du Monde, immediately covering my trip uniform - black dress shirt, black pants, and black jacket - with powdered sugar from the three beignets. I made a light attempt to clean it off, but decided to just allow New Orleans to dirty me up however it wants to.

Hopelessly exhausted, we threw ourselves onto a lawn on the edge of the Mississippi and just laid there, seemingly for hours. As terrible as I felt physically, I was blissed-out to be in this new place, to see the Mississippi River for the first time. I turned to my girlfriend more than once to say, “I’m so happy right now.”

We returned to the river later after hearing some sort of incredibly loud, mildly-out-of-tune organ. It was the Steamboat Natchez’s steam calliope and it was the best thing I’d ever seen. Some shadowy figure was playing this wild-sounding organ while the boat docked at the Toulouse Street Wharf. The steam from the calliope was illuminated in the night air by multi-colored lights, as if each note had its own hue. Tunes were strung together into one big, unrelenting medley, until finally you hear the last cluster of notes echoing off all the French Quarter’s buildings at once.

Corn cakes at Who Dat Coffee Cafe and then a streetcar journey to the fantastic art museum, sculpture garden, and botanical garden. My camera and I hunted for the most beautiful batch of Spanish moss. There wasn’t a sign saying we couldn’t stuff a bunch of clementines into Nicky’s purse, so we did. I bought her dinner for her thirtieth birthday that night, but I think we had more fun eating stolen clementines on a porch swing.

An omelet with alligator sausage at Cafe Rose Nicaud. To field the phone calls and text messages and emails about my dad’s health in such a party-positive environment has been a bit strange, but it’s a familiar dance. Besides, New Orleans is not afraid of the dark side.

Walking away from the circus-like sounds of the Steamboat Natchez’s calliope to better hear my sister as she updates me about the doctors’ theories about our dad’s unconsciousness. There’s no good time or place to deal with such things, so I’m doing it under a palm tree, drinking chicory coffee.

My dad’s health has been an ongoing concern for sixteen months (and, in a broader way, for seven years), but this new hospitalization is the kind of thing that puts you into shock. Your body protects itself. Slows ya down. This is a good place to move slow.

Befriending street musicians, drinking Hurricanes and Sazeracs, eating top-notch food. We got a huge serving of pork chops at Adolfo’s and gave part of it to a dog named Disable. “He used to be Able, but then he got hit by a car; so now he’s Disable.”

“I started making your drink and my hand wouldn’t let me stop pouring.” This server at the historic Antoine’s Restaurant didn’t know he was my guardian angel. I fist-bumped him, as you do when you meet your guardian angel.

The following morning, I’ve followed the sun to a lounge chair beside the pool. We found the perfect hotel through our friend Marianna - a few dozen steps from the action, yet isolated and quiet. We wake to the muffled sounds of the courtyard pond.

New Orleans keep giving.

I asked someone, “have I taken too much?” They said, “take as much as you’d like.”

“Creole mustard. There’s creole mustard everywhere.”

“How are we ever gonna eat anything again?”

“This is your second chance to buy weed.”

Walking the streets of New Orleans - particularly the day we finally bought Hand Grenades - I actively tried to put the situation out of my mind. Like some sort of invisible fog I was trying to sidestep.

Early morning musicians in Washington Square. I walk down Elysian Fields Avenue as an old man sings “Mama Tried” as well as anyone ever has. A small group of friends listens intently, looking like they’re in the same spot on which they slept.

We’d come home at night and still be able to hear the Frenchmen Street street corner band from bed. Lamothe House, in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood and built in 1839. Bourbon Street was a little too Times Square, but Frenchmen Street was always just right.

Some of those songs from Automatic For The People I was listening to were recorded across the street from our hotel in the supposedly haunted house that used to be Daniel Lanois’ studio. As great as my time in Nashville has been, I found myself trying to deny that New Orleans is the best music city I’ve been to. Each day, it became harder to deny.

The day of the news about my dad’s setback, I brought my brunch leftovers to the edge of the Mississippi River and listened to a grey-bearded, top-hatted man from Minnesota play a set of country songs. I imagined spiritually connecting to my dad. This scene, like so many in my life, was one I could imagine him enjoying.

We took a streetcar to the Garden District, first stopping at Lafayette Cemetery #1 with its above-ground tombs. Somewhere over 7,000 have been interred on this single block. The tombs were often funky and weather-beaten, but much more beautiful for it.

On the way there, a hilarious, charismatic streetcar driver stopped between stops to ask that we have a moment of silence for the sexually abusive politicians who have not yet been caught. The older white couple behind us grumbled a little, but I thanked him when we get off at our stop. “Thanks for telling the TRUTH.”

At Dat Dog, a Crawfish Etouffee Dog washed down with an Abita Andygator. I finally ordered something too spicy to finish in one sitting. We took a standing-room-only streetcar back to the French Quarter and I finished the other half.

We’re in Louis Armstrong Park for the Gumbo Festival, laying in a field with our beers, listening to yet another brilliant band.

For our last day, we got a rental car and drove out to a park. But first, PoBoys and gumbo at Restaurant des Families across the highway. Out the window, an alligator sunbathing on a tree branch.

Like so many flipped-over insects before me, I found myself on my back at Jean Lefitte National Park in Louisiana. Some sort of anxiety was hitting me so hard that I felt like I needed to jump out of my skin. I thought about trying to make myself sick, but I knew it wouldn’t help. I put on a podcast and we walked a little faster, eventually leaving this strange panic behind me. Something in my psyche was breaking; perhaps I’d finally spent too much time away from my parent in crisis.