– You’re a writer, he says.
– You look like a writer.
– I am.
That’s Stanley. He picks me up at the airport and drives me to The Banana Court Inn. Three days later, he drives me back.
– Here’s how to do New Orleans, he says, eat first and speak to everyone you meet. Avoid Bourbon Street. It’s Jerry Springer gone bad.
Earlier in the week, I run into P.K. on the street.
– I’m going to New Orleans, I say.
– Do you have a date?
I shake my head ‘no.’ I’m a little worried.
– I found the men there more than happy to date, she says.
She has an easy air about her. She laughs a lot. My psychic weather’s been slightly stormy and the sudden sprouting of a million grey hairs has me concerned. But I take her encouragement to heart and thank her for her preliminary research.
– I’m going to improvise, I tell her, and then play it by ear.
The day is forty degrees and sunny on the sidewalks of New York. When I stood really, really still, I felt cracks in the world creeping open.
Everything is easy.
Aside from a guy following my outside the Port Authority, inviting me to share his chicken meal, the bus to the plane to the car to New Orleans… seemless.
By the time I’m standing outside a cafe on Royal Street without my wallet, life seems like a dream.
The wallet, safe and sound at the bottom of the bag I left at the hotel, is thick and heavy with change. I walk a different way to a different cafe. The man behind the counter, dirty blonde hair and bright blue eyes, doesn’t look at me as he take my order. But when he delivers, for just a second, I see the flash of a smile.
Still waters run deep.
I’ve employed the help of the one person I know in New Orleans weeks ago. Sally knows of my mission and as an artist and fellow student of human nature, she approves of the project. She promises to find me a date.
I call her between losing my wallet and finding my wallet.
– Did you have a date, she asks.
– I’m winging it.
– I’ll pick you up in half an hour.
I wait. Half and hour. An hour. An hour and a half.
I decide to walk. We’ll met wherever I end up when she makes it to town.
And so I walk.
In no particular direction.
The side streets of the French Quarter are deliciously quite.
It’s warm on the sunny side of the street and brisk in the shade.
The Creole cottages stand shuttered, Carnival decorations making their way to posts and window boxes. I wonder what’s it’s like inside those delicious little homes.
I could live in this town, I think. In a small house on a narrow street. I’d walk these streets and drink coffee on the stoop. Live in the constant hum of the anticipation of celebration, history muted by the clear skies and small shops, swirling in the mouths of story-tellers and the minds of ghosts.
On Bourbon street, bleary-eyed tourists drink sugary alcohol through plastic cups shaped like the fleur-de-lis. I stop Jackson Square, where a row of card table psychics, different shapes and sizes, invite curious strangers to sit in their empty chairs.
Everyone believes in magic, I think. Even those who say they don’t pass fortune-tellers and magic shops with longing. They carry stones in their pockets and lucky charms in their bags.
I believe in magic, too.
I stand in front of the church. That’s where we meet.
It’s two o’clock.
She’s a girl I hardly know, but somehow, we have so much to say.
We sit at the bar in a fancy restaurant.
– It’s New Orleans, darlin’, she says. It’s okay to drink in the afternoon. This is what we do.
We order bloody mary’s, oysters, and coffee from a young and tired bartender and we chatter as she sends out smoke signals from her digital rolodex.
Each suggestion, each potential date, comes with a both a warning and a commendation.
– I’m easy, I say.
Four bloody mary’s, two cup of coffee, three espressos, a plate of oysters, a heavy pour of Sambuca, a shared Sazerac, and a couple of beers between the two of us, and there are still no answers on her queries for dates.
Sally stops the conversation and with a deliberate and genuine timbre to her voice, she takes my hand.
– I’ll be your date, she says.
We do a quick calculation.
Most dates are composed of talking and eating.
Most first dates are between people who have only a nominal association with each other.
And, we count that we’ve swapped spit approximately three times.
We shared a fork.
I tasted her drink.
She spit on me by accident during the passionate denouement of a story about love.
I am moved by her commitment to science.
– Thank you.
She takes me to the river.
– They call it Old Man River, she says, but to me, it’s a she. She is mighty.
The river churns in all directions, despite its peaceful blue. It brews with energy and we draw comparison with the Hudson, which we both know and love. New York, like New Orleans, is a city resting on the verdant power of nature.
A whiff of New Orleans jazz catches a bit of breeze and we walk through a secret door to the replicated boudoir of a cheeky madam.
As day turns to night and Frenchman Street comes alive, she leaves me, wrapped in the delirious sounds of New Orleans.
I believe in love at first site. I believe that places, like people, call to us.
I believe in romance and kismet. Fate and destiny. I believe in free will.
I believe that the rumblings of nature, which we no longer hear above the din of the white noise that surrounds our lives, still whisper to us.
I believe that the currents of the Mississippi, conflicted, mysterious, dangerous, loving and free carry secrets and stories from all the corners of the world.
I believe my first date with New Orleans won’t be my last.
– I think I am in love, I tell my friend. She nods solemnly.
– The same thing happened to me. She’s seductive. She’s strong. She’s a hard mistress, but if you love her, she will love you back.
I think of the places I’ve been and how I’ve fallen in love over and over again. The life force in L.A., New York, Alaska, and Peru is palpable.
I know she’s right about New Orleans. I feel it in my bones.
All I’m saying is, wherever you choose to stand, hold on tight. Life is a bumpy ride.