Sunday, December 18, 2011

Cold Moon

Here we are, at the end of the year and the project. It's been a tumultuous year, though when I look back on it, I'm not sure what happened. I do know that having this project was a common thread that seemed to hold much of the rest together. Of course, there was the month or two when I wondered if I'd ever finish the essay. I suspect Diana had much the same feelings, if at, perhaps, different times.

Like Jimmy Buffett sings, I took off for a weekend last month just to try and recall the whole year. Okay, it was this month and last weekend, but the idea was the same. I went to New Orleans for a tromp through the French Quarter. It's one of my favorite places, and I've long held that every municipality would benefit from an area similar to the French Quarter. I'm without doubt that if Raleigh's Warehouse District was configured with more sensible liquor laws, the world would be a far happier place. At least, my corner of it would be.

Now, with all this talk, you're probably bringing up scenes of Rue Bourbon and Mardi Gras. Let me tell you now: There is a whole lot more to the French Quarter than the first few blocks of Bourbon Street, and if you don't cast your vision wide, and follow with your feet, you're going to miss most of the important stuff. However, I was here to unwind from a long year, so let's see where all this led. Don't worry. I know you're not old enough for all the details, but I'll fabricate a day that's close enough.

Breakfast is a treat. Upon check-in the evening before, I noticed that the peeps across the hall had discarded a large tray of mixed nuts, M&Ms, and some kind of party mix. I brought that in, knowing I'd be hungry the next morning, and I was. Yes, you may be impressed by such prescience, not to mention serendipity.

Sure as shooting, I awoke hungry the next day, fired up the in-room coffee to heat water for the sticks of decaf I carry, and started snarfing down the nuts, M&Ms, and whatever the other thing was. After all that exertion, it was time for a morning nap, a substantial morning nap, followed by a shower, and then a launch into the late morning for a walkabout.

Yeah, I needed ice cream, and a cup of PinkBerry's original with sliced almonds was just the thing. Some thirty minutes later, it was time for the second course, that means a Lucky Dog with mustard and onions. No, cole slaw was not available, and that probably explains the lack of bodies stacked along the street. I do love me some street dogs. They're right up there with the gas station roller dogs as fine cuisine. Just ask my brother who gets to eat all he wants at the end of his shift when he has to toss the unsold dogs into the trash.

And yes, Grandpa needed a tall taste of Abita Amber to chase that dog. Abita is a local brewery, and they make the Amber just for me. It's my special beer, but they make far more than I can drink, and while I know that is difficult to believe, it's true, and I leave orders for the brewery to release the extra to the public. Yes, it helps with expenses.

After that, it's time for a massage, a foot massage to be precise. An accupressure foot massage in the shop on Canal a few blocks down from Bourbon. Of course, the practitioners in the shop spent all their time in China learning accupressure, not English, and we communicate with points and grunts. That means I pointed at the sign describing what I wanted, turned, smiled, and said okay? They waved me back to the chair with glee where a gentleman about my age proceeded to induce some of the best pain I ever paid for. Afterward, I was barely able to sign the credit card slip, and totally unable to roll down the cuffs of my jeans, much less remember my hat, though it was there later when I finally returned after noticing my head was chilling faster than the rest of me.

It'll take a little time to return to earth, and the walk over to Margaritaville seems about right for this purpose, and off I go. People actually live in the Quarter, and the gardens are spectacular, if they are hard to see. You have to squint down a long, usually dull, alley between the close houses. That alley ends in an explosion of color over a verdant base. This would be a good place to sit and reflect except that I'd need four jobs to pay the rent.

Approaching Margaritaville with a little help from Google maps, I'm thinking a piece of beef cooked exceptionally rare would be a good place to start, but the line snakes out the door. There's not even a seat by the bar. Oh, poo! Okay, I didn't really say that. Didn't think it either. It wouldn't do to write what I really thought and said. Yes, I tend to emote aloud at times. However, the Fates are about to smile on me: There's a walk-up bar. Yes, Good People, the Quarter has walk-up bars. I won't be ordering a half-side of beef, but I will indulge in a 16 ounce Incommunicado. You can find the recipe for this magical drink online with a quick Google search, but in this incarnation, it packs the punch of four regular drinks. Perhaps more if the bartender's happy.

At this point, I feel compelled to explain how your liver works. The average peep can process one ounce of alcohol in an hour. This means you can have two ounces in the first hour, and then a follow up shot every hour thereafter to keep your buzz, and mischief, managed. Break that rule, and you'll be yet one more reason they need to hose down the streets at 4 in the morning.

However, there's a gotcha in that shot per hour thing. Add sugar to the drinks, and now you have trouble because your bod is going to work harder to get rid of the sugar than the alcohol, leaving the alcohol to oxidize without permission in your bloodstream. In time, we have carboxylic acid coursing though your innards, and you have a hangover because your blood pH is shot to hell. Well, that's close, but we don't have a few months to build up the organic chemistry, and you'll just have to nod in agreement. This is why I do not drink the sugary drinks. They are deadly, or more likely, you'll just wish they would kill you.

So I have a big exception in my hand regarding abstinence of sugary drinks. To manage this, I take the long way back to the hotel. I'll need about 90 minutes to sip, and I do mean sip, this thing, which'll take some discipline because it's delicious and inviting and seductive and deadly. Much like some women. Not to mention the go-go boys. We'll walk about three slow miles, admire the December flowers, the silver jewelry, and ponder just which lottery would make it possible to live here part time. At 125 calories for each mile, we're burning off the sugar faster than sitting at the bar would permit, and by the time I'm back at the hotel, there's a delicious afternoon nap in my immediate future.

After the extended precision nap, a little dinner seems appropriate, and I set my sights on Geisha at the corner of Canal and Tchoupitoulas. (Good luck with the pronunciation unless you already know. I learned it from a cabbie years ago.) I've been to Geisha often before, and it's never a disappointment. However, I left the sushi alone this time to focus on some sort of beef soup. Yes, it was chilly outside, and I needed the additional warmth of what was, for the most, part Asian beef stew.

With a full and warm tummy, I returned to the hotel to powder my nose. You know how the glare of street lights can inflate the stature of my little pug nose.

And now the ribaldry begins. Rue Bourbon. Saturday night. A very few $20s in my pocket.

A few steps down the street, past the man playing Home Depot buckets and sounding better than any percussion I've ever heard before, I paused for a tall Abita Amber. I'm sure the fellow heard I was coming and had it iced just for me. He even agreed to that statement when I asked.

I walk farther down the middle of the street. Hucksters from the sidewalks bid me to step into some of the establishments. They assure me it's like nothing I've ever seen before. The bored gal teetering on her stilettos in the red lace brassier and matching boy shorts reminds me that it's also something I never want to see again.

And then it happens. A very well dressed couple of 20-somethings step from the crowd and bid me hello. The gal is uneasy, but the fellow carries himself with that air of false confidence, pretension, and self assurance that I've come to associate with damned fools. After a few syllables of nonsense, I've determined that neither is in obvious distress, and I encourage him in about as many words to cut to the chase and tell me what he wants.

He wants to speak with me about Jeebus. In the middle of Bourbon Street. On a Saturday night. Me freshly supped, napped, and massaged. With a perfect sample of amber in my hand. With me generally still stone cold sober. On my one weekend to not suffer fools, not that I have any talent with that latter part, and my psychological profile makes that perfectly clear, which was one of the warnings a clinical psych gave me regarding success in the business world. It didn't take, obviously.

He steps back after my first verbal outpouring, but then returns for the next volley. His over-dressed girl friend who reminds me of the chicks in Sunday school in the short, tight polyester dresses that made sure you could assess everything that you were never going to touch did not step back in. She stepped farther away. Her eyes were wider.

He assures me with the lie that he's not here to judge. Of course, that judgment is what brought him to this place and this night. Otherwise, he would be somewhere else irritating someone else. He reminded me much of the damned fool Jeebus Freak friend of my damned fool Jeebus Freak roommate in Morrison dormitory (UNC-Chapel Hill) during the fall of 1971. The pudgy boy assured me that he could jump from the balcony, and angels would lift him up and settle him back down safely to earth. Despite that professed belief, nay, it was knowledge, he said, he let forth with a mighty scream when his keys fell to the ground as I dangled his sorry bohuncus over the rail. The RA precluded the finish to my experiment, suggesting that I return back to his room for a lecture. And a beer.

I suspect such a moment would lead to unpleasant follow-up discussion on a college campus now.

Standing in the street, my progress yet again blocked by this man eager to introduce me to Jeebus, I inhaled to speak one last time. I also wished mightily that he would just reach out and touch my shoulder so I could introduce him to a much closer view of the pavement beneath our feet lest his shoulder twist from it's socket while his elbow threatened to crack from a seriously abnormal hyper-extension, but he didn't touch. He didn't even reach. He just stepped forward, smiled again, and spoke, after which I said, “You need to get away from me right now.” Oddly, his girl friend understood that sentence far better than he did because she had to pull him away.

With the poor fellow shouting that Jeebus was coming and that he loved me, and no, I did not take the fellow up on that profession of love, I walked on down the street, somewhat miffed, and somewhat deep in thought. A few years back, I did meet a fellow here named Jesus, and he also professed a certain fondness, but I think his passion was motivated by my passport and his lack of a green card. Of course, I could be making that up. In a few more steps, I had to dodge a whole flock of Jeebus Freaks standing about a cross wrapped in aluminum foil, probably generic. They also had a sign of things they would discuss if I wanted. I didn't. I really didn't. Discussion is never their intent.

Finally, I reached my destination unscathed. Cafe Lafite in Exile. This is my favorite bar in New Orleans. I made my way to the second floor, picked up a rum and Diet, and settled down on the chilly balcony with its view of the full length of Rue Boubon. There, I communed with the shade of Hemingway for a few hours and several refills. My new friends up the street didn't follow, though a piece of me was wishing they would because there on the balcony, with a communal drink or two, we might be able to have a reasoned discussion without the need to proselytize. Yeah, I'm dreaming. I'd've been dangling that one over the balcony too, and no jury of my peers would do more than applaud.

Bear in mind that I have no problem with people following their religions. I find it, at times, quaint, and it's important, if for nothing more than the enrichment, that we tolerate these personal differences. I just see nothing to be gained from it, and people telling me what I should believe with no more compelling reason than they believe it also just drives me to distraction, as you can likely tell by now. However, I do believe that some form of moral underpinning is important, especially as we rear children, but I'm pretty sure there's very little in the Old Testament that's worth a flying flip for this purpose, and it's only been in the past year or so that I understood why my grandmother chose to give me only a copy of the New Testament, the one with all the red letters.

She knew.

The thing is that there are many religions out there. Truth be told, and it so seldom is, there were perfectly good religions on this continent long before the Christians arrived and started the wholesale slaughter of anyone who wouldn't convert. Of course, that idiocy didn't start here, and it won't end here. At least, I fear it won't. I'm just glad the extraordinary assemblage of intelligence that framed the constitution of this nation understood the abject danger of religion, especially Christianity when it becomes involved in the governing process. We still receive daily reminders of this in our evening news of the Illiteratti who toil daily in their Holy Labors to promote the superiority of the one over the other.

And so with that, I'll hush. We'll let someone else stand on that stump a while. The rest of my long weekend in New Orleans was uneventful, just as it usually is. No hangover. No police interrogations. No antibiotics. Just a lot of people-watching and time to reflect. Okay, there was this flock of Santas and Santa's Helpers, the latter in nets and heels, and the one substantially upset with her otherwise disinterested Santa, but they seemed harmless enough and probably disinclined to engage the introspection of just where and when Santa originally came from.