Back to New Orleans, 2000
By Erik Wilson Copyright 2000. All rights reserved.
There are two distinct points in any trip I take when I realize the vacation is over. One is when I’ve finally dragged all my luggage upstairs to my apartment, have parked the car or paid the cab or shuttle driver, and am sitting in the living room staring at the piles of suitcases and clothing and souvenirs and other junk that surrounds me, looking at the familiar walls and floor and ceiling, and knowing that there’s nothing left of the trip now but memories and undeveloped pictures. The other occurs while I’m still wherever I’m vacationing, and the realization hits me that in a few short hours, it will all be over, and that I’m essentially living those last precious moments in a dream.
That moment of realization came to me on the last day I was in New Orleans, Easter Sunday, while sitting at an outdoor cafe between the French Market and Jackson Square, listening to some live jazz and eating a huge plate of crawfish so spicy it felt like someone was holding a lit match to my lips. There I was, sucking the heads, biting the tails, tossing the red exoskeletons aside when the reality that my vacation was over suddenly hit me like the drummer popping his snare drum so hard it sounded like a pistol shot. I knew right then that it was no use acting like a tourist anymore, it was no use trying to drink too much, or join in the fun that others seemd to be having on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, because in just a few short hours I would be sitting on a plane and heading west, to Salt Lake City, and then home to San Francisco. It was like being suddenly plunged underwater; the sounds around me became muted, the colors less bright, the sensations distant... everything slowed down. I continued to eat my crawfish, slowly, and reflected on the week I’d spent in this wild, amazing and unique city. So much had happened since Sally and I had arrived the previous Sunday afternoon -- we’d had a few days alone to play tourist and explore the city; we’d met nearly a dozen fellow cappers, from all over the country; I’d given my PCA presentation to a group that seemed to enjoy it; we’d seen the Mississippi, the French Quarter, Bourbon Street, the zoo, the aquarium, the Garden District, Harrah’s Casino, Marie LaVeaux’s Voodoo Shop and so much more...
In a dream -- a dream where my lips were on fire -- I tore apart another crawfish and slowly sucked the head, savoring the salty, spicy flavor of New Orleans...
* * *
I was up by about three that first Sunday to shower and get ready for our early morning flight from San Francisco. Sally got up an hour later, with no complaints, and we got to the airport while it was still dark outside. Though it had been threatening to rain all night, the clouds parted as we tooled down the runway, and we took off into bright early morning sunshine. The flight to Dallas was uneventful, which is the way I prefer my flights. We had an hour layover in Dallas before heading on to New Orleans, and Jeff (aka capper robofreak), who lives nearby, had volunteered to meet us for the brief stop. We just had time to walk away from the gate far enough to find a bar so I could have a noon-ish Bloody Mary, and engaged in some pleasant conversation about travel, Dallas, San Francisco, vacations, the Army, and a few other subjects, inluding, of course, capping. It was great to get to meet Jeff, and see the actual person behind the caps and the correspondence we’ve had, though he probably felt like it was an awful lot of trouble to drive all the way out to the airport just to watch me sip a Bloody Mary for an hour. I appreciated it, though, and Sally enjoyed meeting him as well -- which was a good sign, I thought, since she was going to be meeting a lot of other people that she had never had any previous contact with before the week was out.
The shuttle driver from the New Orleans airport to our hotel was very chatty, amusing and informative, and we were quite entertained by his stories, told in that peculiar New Orleans drawl that sounds like a Southern accent by way of Brooklyn. One of the first things that let me know I wasn’t in San Francisco any more -- or anywhere else in America, for that matter -- was a Wendy’s I saw just as we arrived at our hotel. In the window was a whole pile of Mardi Gras paraphernalia, beads and masks and such, and a white T-shirt that read -- in big, bold letters -- “Show Your Tits.” I coudn’t imagine a Wendy’s in San Francisco, or anywhere else, putting something like that on display -- I mean, what would Dave Thomas say? -- and it wasn’t until a day or so later that I realized the window didn’t actually belong to the Wendy’s, but to the souvenir shop that was next door. By that time, I was used to the sight of obscene T-shirts on public display, and souvenir shops lining the streets of the French Quarter.
* * *
Within two hours of arrival, Sally and I were eating local cuisine at the Acme Oyster House, where we discovered possibly the single best thing about New Orleans -- oysters for six dollars a dozen. Cold, fresh, plump oysters, with some spicy cocktail sauce and a local Blackened Voodoo Ale... I thought I had somehow booked passage to heaven right then.
* * *
Our room at the Marriott was on the 39th floor, in the River Tower, and we had a view that was spectacular. We could see much of the French Quarter., the Superdome, the cemetery where Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper and Karen Black and Toni Basil filmed the LSD sequence from “Easy Rider,” and all the way down Canal Street to Lake Pontchartrain. The room itself was smaller than I had hoped, though, and actually made our tiny apartment back home look big by comparison. Also, there was no refrigerator in the room, which meant no place to keep cold drinks or store leftovers. That was important, because I know from past experience that Sally rarely eats a meal at a restaurant without taking some of it home. Somehow, we managed to survive, however. A bottle of Stoli for me and a bottle of Bacardi for her, and the ice bucket constantly filled helped in that regard.
The first morning in our room, Monday, after we’d stayed up very late the night before, listening to jazz and drinking at Storyville, I opened the curtains early to discover that someone had painted the outside of the window completely white. It took me a few minutes to figure out that what had happened was simply that high fog (or low clouds) had socked in the city for the early morning hours. It was rather disconcerting, though, to expect that view when opening the curtains, only to be greeted by a solid square of whiteness, as if a sheet or a coat of paint had been thrown up against the window during the night. I went back to bed for some much-needed rest, and by the time we got up again, the fog had dissipated, and the view was back.
* * *
In those first few days alone, we did a lot of exploring. We walked all over the French Quarter, along the Mississippi, and took the St. Charles street car down to the Garden District, where we again covered lots of ground looking at the beautiful homes there. We saw the house where Anne Rice wrote “The Witching Hour” (apparently she owns a number of homes in the neighborhood), noticing the big black limousine parked on the street in front, and wondered if she might be inside. We saw many other old, historical homes, most of them in good condition, but some in a state of advanced disrepair, all overgrown and dilapidated, all looking like they could be the setting for one of Anne Rice’s novels. Somehow I began channeling Olympia Dukakis from “Steel Magnolias” while we walked, and couldn’t stop myself from saying things like “Oh, mah, thuh ho-uhms ah quaht luv-leh heah, ahn’t they?”
Sally’s raised eyebrow just seemed to make it worse, and I kept speaking that way for most of the afternoon. I have no explanation for this phenomenon.
We partook heartily of the local cuisine, trying gumbo, jambalaya, shrimp remoulade, crawfish pie, and plenty of oysters. I had my first Hurricane the Sunday afternoon when we arrived, and thought that I would probably never have another after tasting the sweet, diabetic-coma-inducing drink that is allegedly made with four or five different kinds of rum. Drinking in New Orleans is not only easy, it’s encouraged. There are walk-away bars lining Bourbon Street, and it’s legal to have alcohol anywhere in public, so long as it’s in a “to-go” cup. A martini in a styrofoam cup may not sound particularly elegant, but you can walk down Canal Street with one in each hand, and no one will say boo to you about it.
* * *
Because we arrived first, Sally and I felt like we should do something to welcome the other cappers to New Orleans, so we decided to put together a little welcome/survival pack for everyone. Each capper, when he or she arrived, received a small galvanized tin bucket containing three strings of beads -- purple, gold and green, the traditional Mardi Gras colors -- an airplane bottle of Myers’ rum, a little baby bottle of Tabasco, a bottle of aspirin, a pack of Tums, and a voodoo doll. The voodoo dolls all had magnets on the back of them that said “Made in China,” further adding to their exotic cachet.
I know that some of the aspirin and the Tums, at least, got put to good use while we were there.
Most of the group arrived Tuesday afternoon and evening. John, aka nashtbrutusandshort, the person who organized the PCA presentation (PCA -- the Popular Culture Association, an academic group that studies the effects that books, movies, television, radio, etc. have on the culture of America), drove in from Austin, and got there mid-afternoon. He and Sally and I were the only ones in the group staying at the Marriott, where the conference was being held. Everyone else had reservations a few blocks away at the Intercontinental Hotel, courtesy of a group deal that Pete (Buffoon) had arranged.
Gena and Paul (LuvBJones and suggs), from Denver, called a little later that afternoon to say that they had arrived, so Sally and John and I went to the Intercontinental to meet them and await the rest of the gang. Pete and Scout (Scouty), coming in on separate flights from Seattle, showed up not too long after we got there, followed by Jonathan and David (bugwber and DavidVader). Like John, they had also driven in from Texas, and Jonathan said that they would have arrived sooner, except that they had somehow managed to stop at every antique store and comic and collectible shop between Dallas and New Orleans.
Pete also had welcoming gifts for everyone, and we were all treated to Seattle SuperSonics baseball caps and other SuperSonic gear. That, and the strings of Mardi Gras beads we’d already purchased, was just the beginning of the huge supply of mementos that we ended up taking home with us.
Once we had all gathered in the lobby, it was getting to be dinner time, so we all trooped up a few blocks to our new favorite place, the Acme Oyster House. Standing in line, waiting for a table, we had numerous servers ask us “How many in your party?” When we replied, “Nine,” their eyes would glaze over, and they would go on to smaller parties behind us. Finally, though, we got seated, got drinks, toasted each other, toasted those who couldn’t or wouldn’t make it, or had yet to arrive, and began that peculiar socializing that happens when people who’ve known each other in a virtual community finally meet face to face. Pete discovered that “jambalaya” actually just means “rice and stuff,” and Gena and Paul discovered the joys of sucking the heads -- and sometimes the claws -- of crawfish. Sally and I had more oysters, worrying that our levels of zinc might be getting dangerously high, but figuring that the alcohol would counteract any possible negative side effects.
After our meal -- and more drinks -- we wandered out into the night, walking slowly up Bourbon Street on our way to Pat O’Brien’s, at Jonathan’s suggestion, for -- yes, that’s right -- still more drinks.
* * *
Bourbon Street is like no other street in America. A combination of the Las Vegas Strip, San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, Memphis’ Beale Street and some unnamed, neon-maddened road in Manila or Bangkok or Amsterdam, it is a wild, psychedelic melange of strip clubs, bars, hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops and nightclubs. Jonathan had warned us that the smell of Bourbon Street was similar to that of a passed-out drunk who’s urinated himself repeatedly while lying in a doorway, and I had to say that he was not far off the mark. After a few blocks, I had to concede that he had hit the nail on the head, in fact.
Walking on the street is like listening to a Battle of the Bands, with as many as four clubs at one intersection offering live music that all plays at once, and spills out onto the street in a cacophony of guitars and drums and accordions and horns. You might hear a song from one club, and before you’ve gone half a block, it’s drowned out by another song from another club further up the street. At night, they block cars from entering, so the crowds all walk in the middle of the street like they’re visiting some Satanic Disneyland. People line the balconies above, watching, yelling, tossing Mardi Gras beads. There is a tradition during Mardi Gras, that seems to have spilled over to the rest of the year, that a woman can get strings of beads tossed her way by flashing her breasts. Some women flash more than just their breasts, and some men get in on the act as well, dropping trou in the middle of the street just to get a string of cheap, colored pieces of plastic. When the crowd senses that a woman is about to expose herself to someone on a balcony above, a ring of gawking men immediately forms around her, blocking the view of most of the people on the street. Thus, we actually saw very little public nudity, even though there was quite a bit of it on display.
There are walk-away bars approximately every third or fourth doorway, and souvenir shops are just as numerous. The walk-away bars typically feature about a dozen slushy machines, churning like rainbow-colored washer-dryers, dispensing Hurricanes, Pina Coladas, Margaritas and other blended drinks made of alcohol, brightly colored flavorings and crushed ice. The styrofoam cups range in size from the small, four-dollar cup to the Big Gulp-sized nine-dollar cup, guaranteed to give even the hardiest drinker some semblance of a buzz.
The souvenir shops, which all seem to blast Cajun music at ear-splitting levels, and are required by law to play “Don’t Mess With My Toot-Toot” at least once every hour (though, strangely enough, we never once heard Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya” the whole time we were there), feature all sorts of Mardi Gras-themed junk, from beads and masks and dolls, to row upon row of hot sauces, to the most obscene T-shirts anywhere in America. One of the more modest shirts featured a drawing of a crawfish, and the quote “After you’ve finished sucking my head, you can bite me!” Another one announced “I’m here about the blowjob.” The single most offensive one, though, read simply “Fuck you, you fuckin’ fuck.”
I had to wonder where -- other than up and down Bourbon Street -- anyone in his or her right mind would be able to wear that shirt and not cause some kind of a stir. Gena suggested that the shops should offer a shirt reading “I Went to Bourbon Street and All I Got Was This Obscene T-shirt.”
* * *
Pat O’Brien’s was a safe haven from the madness and crush of Bourbon Street, though it had a madness and crush all its own. The main area for drinking is a courtyard insulated from the street, dominated by a fountain that is lit up with different-colored lights and has a huge flame burning at the top of it. We walked in and commandeered a couple of tables to pull together, and the group sat down to order while I got on the phone to leave a message for Scott (amycamus), who was due to arrive at the hotel at about 10:00. While I did that, Sally ran back to the hotel to get his “Welcome to New Orleans” bucket. Fortunately he was in his room when I called, so I gave him directions to find us and sat down with the group. I discovered that everyone had already ordered Hurricanes, and that one had been ordered for me as well. Though I’d said I wouldn’t have another, I figured, “when in Rome...” and went ahead and drank it. By the time we ordered another round, Scott had joined us and Sally was back with his gift.
The waitress approached Scott once he had been seated, and he had a moment or two of indecision. Should he join us in our touristy, lemming-like quaffing of Hurricanes, or should he order something that he actually liked?
“It’s times like this,” he said, “that I think to myself, ‘What Would Jesus Drink?’”
* * *
Though I’m convinced that the Hurricanes I drank had little to no alcohol in them (and I soon switched to beer and
Irish whiskey), somehow the group began to get a bit silly. One of the pictures from that trip that I’ll always treasure depicts all of us with our Hurricane straws -- long, long white straws -- stuck in various facial orifices. David with them coming out of his nose, Paul with them in his ears, Gena and Scott and me with them in our mouths like long buck teeth... we were the picture of class and elegance at that moment. I’m sure Jonathan was glad he’d suggested Pat O’Brien’s right then -- just as glad as Pat O’Brien’s staff was at having us there.
* * *
The next morning we all met at the Cafe du Monde, which is famous the world over for its beignets and chicory coffee. Not being coffee drinkers, Sally and I ordered orange juice and hot chocolate with our beignets. Beignets are simply the New Orleans version of a doughnut, deep-fried rectangular pastries covered with powdered sugar. I learned the hard way that it’s not a good idea to breathe out when biting into one, and that it’s an even worse idea to wear black jeans or a dark shirt there. There must be a half-pound of sugar on each beignet, prompting Pete to ask “Why do they put additional sugar on the table here?”
A fine cloud of sugar dust wafts through the open-air cafe, making the air hazy, and settling on everything there. One of the waiters, in black pants, served a table near us and turned to reveal a white handprint, obviously dipped in powdered sugar, square in the middle of his ass.
It was decided that we would all check out the French Market after breakfast, and then, figuring that one eleven-headed group (Scott’s friend Bob had arrived that morning, and had joined us) would be difficult, if not impossible to keep together all day, some of us would go our separate ways. So after wandering through much of the market together, Scott and Bob went off to explore other parts of the city, as did Jonathan and David. Paul and Gena announced that they were planning on going to the local history museum. “We’re geeks,” Gena said, by way of explanation.
“Smile when you say that,” I told her.
The French Market, another open-air spot, is a place full of fruits and vegetables, alligator sausage and spices and bottles of hot sauce, giving way to a larger area that is more of a flea market. T-shirts and jewelry, luggage and books and souvenirs and all sorts of goods are there for the tourist and the bargain hunter.
“Oh, look,” I said, when we first got in there, “crap! And lots of it!” By the end of the week, Sally and I had to buy an extra suitcase -- there at the French Market, of course -- to bring home all the crap we bought for ourselves and others.
* * *
“I’m Dan Dan the Shoeshine Man, and I bet you I can tell you where you got your shoes.”
Pete, John, Scout, Sally and I were walking along the promenade at the edge of the Mississippi when this fellow approached us, wanting to clean our shoes.
“I clean tennis shoes, anything! How about it, folks?”
In San Francisco, I pride myself on recognizing scam artists and removing myself from them right away. For some reason, I didn’t immediately walk away from Dan Dan. All I can say is that I was in full tourist mode, enjoying the local color, and my guard was not up as it should have been.
“If I can tell you where you got your shoes, will you let me clean them?” he asked, shaking my hand.
“Uh...” I said, trying to process the information, trying to recognize the scam.
“I know where you got your shoes. I can tell you where you got ‘em. Come on, man, let me tell you, and then I’ll clean ‘em.”
Too dazed by the heat and stupefied by the humidity to respond, I stood there like a rube, letting him shake my hand and chatter on. Finally, he reached down and sprayed some kind of foam on each one, saying “You got ‘em on your feet, here in New Orleans!” and proceeded to pull out a rag to wipe them off. Feeling especially dumb, I let him continue to clean the shoes.
“Okay,” he said when he finished, “that’s five for the shine, and five on the line.”
“Huh?” I responded. It sounded to me like he was asking me for ten bucks just to wipe some foam on my shoes. “What are you, kidding?”
“Five for the shine, five on the line, come on, man!”
I gave him four dollars and walked away, turning a deaf ear -- a bit too late -- to his protests. Even that, I felt, was too much, but I was so embarrassed at being caught in his scam, that I just wanted to put the incident behind me and get away from him. Later, Jonathan told us how he and a friend had been mugged in New Orleans a few years earlier by someone using the same line, stopping them, and then having a group of people surround them and demand money. Also, Scout said later that she had spoken with her father in Seattle on the phone that morning, who told her that if she went walking by the river, to watch out for Dan Dan the Shoeshine Man.
* * *
After a fabulous lunch at Tujague’s, one of the oldest restaurants in the city, and meeting up with Carmen (animebabe), who had arrived earlier that morning, it was getting close to the time of our presentation. The panel presentation of John, Scott and myself was ostensibly the reason this whole trip and meeting had come together in the first place. Sally and I went back to the hotel so I could shower, change and get ready for our big moment.
Joe and Diane (JoeCrow and Agent_Moldy) were due to arrive that afternoon, and it wasn’t until just a half hour or so before our talk that I actually got to see them. Unlike most of the other cappers in the group (other than DavidVader, who I was also meeting for the first time there in New Orleans), I had not previously met the two of them, and so I was anxious to say hello. They showed up in the lobby of the Marriott with the rest of the group not long before our scheduled time. Dressed in a jacket and tie, with my talk about to start and my nerves just a bit jangly, I felt like I probably didn’t put my best foot forward in greeting them. Joe seemed happy enough, possibly thanks to the watered-down kamikazes he drank while sitting with Pete at the hotel bar, and Diane seemed just a bit leery at meeting all the cappers at once in a strange setting in a strange city. They both seemed to relax pretty quickly, though, which is more than I can say for myself.
We knew at the outset that we had been paired up with another panel in our room and time slot, but all along we were hoping that the situation might somehow change at the last minute. It didn’t. We volunteered to let the other panel present first, thinking that might give us more time for our talks, but we were told before we started that we had fifteen minutes and no more to speak. Watching Sam, the chairman of the Electronic Communications Conference (the branch of the PCA that we were giving our presentation through) checking his watch and flashing his countdown cards -- “Five minutes,” “Two minutes,” “Conclude NOW” -- to the speakers ahead of us made me even more nervous. By the time I got up to speak, I felt like I was shaking noticeably.
* * *
It was during the first presentation, however, that one of the lasting memories of our trip was born. The speaker was talking about the relationship between early print media and the modern Internet, and he mentioned something about the history of printing. He put up an overhead slide of something called the Walter Press, which revolutionized the way newspapers are printed, and contrasted it with the earlier device it replaced, the Hoe Press. The overhead stayed up there for the rest of his talk, and we all got a good look at the Hoe Press. That was bad enough, but then he made mention of a type of printing he called a “ten-Hoe Press,” and it was all I could do to keep a straight face. I sat in the front, awaiting our time, with my back to the group of cappers assembled in the room, and I didn’t dare turn around for fear of catching someone’s eye and just losing it right then and there. Joe said later he had tears coming out, trying to keep from laughing out loud. Sally, sitting in the back of the room, also had to avoid eye contact with anyone in the group, and she said that she could see most of our group shaking noticeably as they held their laughter in. I know that if I had turned to look at Joe or Sally or anyone else in that moment, it would have been all over.
* * *
After John gave a brief introduction of our group, it was time for me to speak. Trembling, nervous, I got up and faced the audience. I’ve done public speaking before, and never had I been as nervous as I was right then. Fortunately, the group was very accommodating, laughing in the right spots and paying attention. It seemed to me that I got bigger laughs from the non-cappers in the room than from the group of people I knew, so I felt a bit better as my talk went on. Because of the time constraints, though, I felt as if I had to read my paper fast, and so didn’t give it the emphasis and elocution I should have. I even skipped over a couple of paragraphs as I went, editing on the fly, in the interest of getting to the finish before Sam could physically drag me away from the podium. Once it was over, I heaved a sigh of relief, and settled into my chair to listen to Scott’s and John’s talks. I have to admit, though, that I was still a bit unnerved by the whole experience, and so perhaps didn’t pay as much attention to the subsequent presentations as I might have otherwise.
Scott spoke about the history of captioning and art, using examples from the Renaissance to modern-day advertising, and John talked about the philosophy of humor as it is used in Caption This!, but I won’t try to distill down their presentations here. Their papers, along with mine, are (or will be) posted on JoeCrow’s website, and can be read in their entirety there. I will say, however, that both Scott and John had to do far more impromptu editing than I did, with both of them skipping whole pages, it seemed, before getting to their conclusions.
Afterwards, there were a number of questions, mostly from the audience members who were not previously familiar with CT. Had it not been so late, and some of the audience so anxious to get dinner and start drinking, we might have spent hours explaining CT to them, and possibly getting new converts to our group. As it was, one of the presenters from the previous panel, a middle-aged teacher, stuck around for quite a while, asking us questions and marveling at the fact that we had such a large, diverse group there just to hear our presentation about CT. John had brought numerous overhead slides of various saved captions, and we showed those to her in an effort to illustrate just what it’s all about. She seemed delighted at the humor and intelligence displayed, and we all enjoyed explaining the phenomenon of CT to her, and sharing in it ourselves.
* * *
We finally broke up the presentation, and while the others got a drink in the lobby, I went back to my room to change, going from jacket and tie to the infamous lobster shirt for the rest of the night’s festivities.
By the time we decided to go out and eat, it was nearly ten o’clock. The problem with having a group that size -- there were fourteen of us by that point -- is that decisions are not made quickly. We asked the concierge to recommend a late-night place to eat, and her first suggestion turned out to be a place that closed at ten. Scott finally found a spot in his guide book, a restaurant just a couple blocks from the hotel, called 201. We trooped up the street and walked in, asking if it might be possible to seat a group of our size without too much fuss. Fortunately, it wasn’t much of a problem, and the staff reopened a private room that had been shut down for the night, just for us.
The food turned out to be quite good, a bit pricey, but not ridiculously so. Joe, who lives in New Jersey, where the culinary milieu in terms of spice ranges from salt all the way to pepper, had some choice comments about the menu and our selections. “What the hell is that?” and “Are you gonna eat that?” were chief among them. The selection of breads set out at the beginning of the meal, and Gena’s tomato, basil and mozzarella tower seemed to elicit most of his comments. After we had all ordered fairly exotic local dishes, Joe got a steak, and the table oohed and aahed over it when it arrived. “All that fancy stuff you ordered,” he said, pushing aside in contempt the pearl onions that covered it, “and now you all drool about my steak.”
The first item I saw on the menu was a duck breast, and my choice was made. I’m a sucker for a good duck dish anywhere. Diane and I were discussing the options, and I said I wanted the “seared duck breast.”
“Oh!” she said; “At first I thought that said ‘SCARED duck breast’!”
* * *
“Yes, I’ll have some of that scared duck breast, please, and can you tell me what kind of emotional state your vegetables are in?”
* * *
After dinner, we once again walked to Pat O’Brien’s for some late night libations, losing Joe and Scout and Paul and Gena to fatigue and their respective hotel rooms in the process. The group seemed a bit more subdued on Wednesday night than we had been the night before, though that was partially due to the fact that we were arriving at Pat O’Brien’s much later than we had the previous night, and we were all tired and full. After a few more drinks, plans were made to meet at Cafe du Monde the next morning -- or, failing that, as Sally and I were afraid might happen to us, at the webcam outside the Cat’s Meow at 11:00, and we wandered down Bourbon Street back to our hotels in the wee hours of the morning with the endless block party going full bore all around us.
* * *
Thursday morning, just as I had suspected, Sally and I were unable to get up early enough to join the rest of the group for beignets and coffee. In fact, we barely made it to the webcam by 11:00. What happened then was probably one of my biggest regrets of the whole trip.
We had made plans before leaving to make an appearance at the webcam at a scheduled time, so that our friends and fellow cappers could get a look at us on their computers while we enjoyed ourselves in New Orleans. We had all seen exactly where the webcam was, and we knew that others would be watching for us that morning and again that evening. As I walked up Bourbon Street, I saw the group standing across the street from the Cat’s Meow, a good distance from where the webcam was situated. Parked directly in front of the entrance to the nightclub was an armored Loomis Fargo truck, effectively blocking the view of the intersection to anyone who might be looking for us at the appointed hour. Instead of just stepping in front of the truck immediately, which we should have done, we hung back at the corner across the street and waited for the drivers to get back in and take off. I vaguely remember someone saying that the drivers didn’t want people getting “too close” to the truck, but I’m not sure if that was accurate or not. In any event, we more or less blew our chance to be seen by our fellow cappers that morning. The truck stayed there for at least twenty minutes, and when it finally did leave, we stood in the middle of the intersection for a few short minutes -- not nearly close enough to the camera to get any good, recognizable pictures -- and milled around a bit, then decided to take off in the direction of the river. Our moment had passed us by, and we basically blew it.
* * *
After the webcam debacle, we all went to the ticket booth at the river’s edge to see about purchasing tickets for the zoo and aquarium tour. Scott and Bob opted out, choosing instead to take the St. Charles Street trolley to meet Robert, another friend of theirs who had come into town late the night before. The rest of us decided to take the tour, although Joe had a difficult time with the decision when I mentioned that there was also the Bourbon Street naked lady and tequila tour running at the same time (actually, that tour pretty much ran twenty four hours a day, but still...).
“Hmmm...” he held his hands out as if weighing his options, “naked women and tequila... the zoo... naked women and tequila... the zoo...” In the end he decided on the zoo, but before he did so, he had me seriously questioning whether that was the right choice or not.
Thanks to Pete’s expertise with the ticketing process, we were able to get a group discount for the aquarium tour and the boat that would take us to the Audubon Zoo. We went into the aquarium first, splitting up into smaller groups almost immediately. It was a pretty good aquarium, as aquariums go, not the biggest I’ve ever seen, but not bad. There was a good rainforest exhibit, with lots of strange-looking skates and fish and such, and also some very colorful parrots. The jellyfish exhibit was interesting, as was the otter pool, and they had one of the fabled albino alligators on display. Though he didn’t move much, Pete said he was still glad there was a big piece of thick glass separating him from us. I agreed, though Carmen had been hoping that we could get close enough to the one at the aquarium or the ones at the zoo to be able to poke them with sticks -- because, after all, poking ‘gators with sticks is pretty much the most fun you can have in Louisiana without getting arrested. A huge tank full of sharks and groupers and tuna and rays proved to be the highlight of the aquarium, especially when we realized that we had arrived at feeding time. There were a few comments made about the legal profession at that point, but, like many of the comments made that day, they are lost to posterity now.
Toward the end of our tour, we noticed a few birds in one section of the aquarium. There was an owl sitting above us, apparently sleeping, on a perch, and, not far from it, a bald eagle. I thought, “Yeah, a bald eagle in an aquarium. Makes perfect sense.”
* * *
Joining us on our zoo and aquarium tour that day were hundreds of school kids on a mid-week field trip, all of them in brightly colored T-shirts that identified which class they were in. There was a red group, a green group, an orange group, a yellow group, a black group, etc. It made me wish that Scott had somehow been able to pull off his idea of taking an image from one of the frozen screengrabs a few months back -- the image of a woman standing at a bar, with a row of bottles behind her -- and transferring it onto T-shirts for the capper group. We could have all been in matching T-shirts, just another class on a field trip, throughout our tour.
Of course, we could have all bought one of the obscene Bourbon Street T-shirts and worn those as well, but I imagine the school chaperones are just as glad that we didn’t.
* * *
The boat to the zoo was quite enjoyable, heading some seven miles up the Mississippi with full narration of the sights around us and the history of the area. I was happy to discover that there was a bar aboard ship, a little less happy when I discovered what they were charging for drinks, and even less happy when I saw what they had available in the way of food for sale. I had hoped to find a good muffaletta sandwich, which is a New Orleans tradition, but instead found overcooked, overpriced hot dogs sitting in tepid water and greasy chicken fingers that made McDonald’s fare look appetizing by comparison. So I had rum and Coke for lunch, and enjoyed the cool breeze off the river.
One of the things I found most interesting was the size of the ships that are able to navigate the river that far from the Gulf of Mexico. It’s one thing for me to see Princess or Royal Viking cruise ships, huge Navy vessels, oil tankers and container ships on San Francisco Bay; I expect that. But to see these same types of ships on the Mississippi was a surprise, to me, at least.
Two things stand out for me from the zoo: One was the swamp section, featuring all the local fauna in native surroundings -- alligators, turtles, nutria, raccoons, that sort of thing. It made me sorry that we didn’t take one of the many swamp tours that are offered. The other was the reptile house. We thought that Diane, who doesn’t care for snakes, might be a bit hesitant to go in, but she had no problem joining us. I did see her shudder once or twice, but beyond that, she seemed reasonably calm.
At the Komodo Dragon exhibit, we all stopped and marveled at the size of the huge, placid lizard. I was trying to decide who or what he resembled, when Pete, standing behind me, muttered “Moses, Moses, Moses,” and I realized right then that he actually did look just like Yul Brynner.
* * *
Thursday night was our long-planned dinner at Antoine’s, one of the most famous -- and oldest, and most expensive -- restaurants in New Orleans. By the time the boat brought us back to the aquarium site, we all had just about enough time to go back to our rooms for a shower and a chance to change. Our reservation was for 7:00, and we managed to get there more or less on time. We were to be given a private room --
The Mystery Room! -- and we were all looking forward to the experience. I was especially looking forward to it, since I had eaten nothing that day but a few animal crackers that Pete had with him at the zoo. Somehow, that had seemed appropriate.
We were guided through the restaurant by the maitre d’, wending our way through the main dining area, some of the smaller rooms, and on through the other private rooms to our table. The Mystery Room had pictures of famous people who had dined at Antoine’s in the past covering the walls, and some of the pictures went back nearly a hundred years (Antoine’s has been in operation since 1840). Our waiter, Eddie, gave us a speech about the specials, the different possibilities we could entertain as far as shared appetizers or desserts, and a little of the history of Antoine’s, all in that same peculiar New Orleans accent that our shuttle driver had used the first day Sally and I had arrived.
Being as hungry as I was, I went whole hog, ordering appetizer, soup, salad, entree, the works. We had drinks before dinner, and some of us shared a couple bottles of wine with our meal. One of the appetizers Eddie brought out -- actually three orders -- was a basket of potato puffs, deep-fried balloons made of potatoes. The baskets themselves were made of French bread and potato strips woven together, held in place by wooden skewers. Eddie advised us not to eat the baskets, because they were reused a number of times. His advice, however, gave way to a comment from the end of the table, where Scout, Diane, Carmen and Gena were sitting, about “biting the basket.”
“Bite my basket!” one of the women said, and of course it just got worse from there. It was Scout, I believe, who made the comment that she would “bite the basket for Mardi Gras beads,” though, thankfully, no one took her up on her offer.
* * *
Most everyone agreed that the meal we had was excellent, and by the time we got dessert, I was absolutely stuffed. I felt like Mr. Creosote in the Monty Python movie, ready to ask Eddie to “Bring me a bucket!”
For dessert, we had baked Alaska, a house specialty, decorated with the words “Antoine’s” on one side and “Since 1840” on the other. More than one person expressed concern that the words “Since 1840” referred to the restaurant, and not to the dessert itself. Eddie took it upon himself to include three pots of hot chocolate sauce (at $22 each!) to spoon over the meringue and ice cream concoction, thus further inflating our already enormous dinner bill. I believe it took us nearly an hour to come up with the cash to cover it, with a few people having to call their stockbrokers or get second mortgages to be able to make their share.
* * *
Some (paraphrased) quotes from that evening that I recall:
Joe: “Even though they didn’t take food stamps, that was without a doubt the best meal I ever had. I would definitely dine there again.”
Diane: “I thought the food was great, but I have never in my life seen a bill that size for a group of fourteen.”
Jonathan: “I’ve had lunches with two or three lawyers that included cocktails and a few bottles of wine that cost as much as this.”
Gena: “After all the noise we made at our end of the table, and I can’t remember a goddamn thing we said! I blame it on neuro-synaptic overstimulation.”
Pete: “Alligator bisque and turtle soup are damn good!”
Scout: “I’ll bite the basket for beads.”
* * *
After dinner and the promise of our collective first-born in lieu of payment, we had another date with the webcam at Cat’s Meow. At 11:00 o’clock at night, Bourbon Street is a drunken, roiling mass of people staggering about looking for more drinks, more beads and more naked women. Naturally, we plunged right in, dressed to the nines as we were, and walked the few blocks to the webcam for our appointment with history. Rather than shy away from it, the way we had that morning, we stepped right up into the glare of the neon from the Cat’s Meow and stood bathed in green and red light, staring up into the eye of the camera fixed just inside the door of the karaoke bar. Inside, drunken tourists were butchering everything from “Mambo No. 5” to “I Want to Know What Love Is.” We stood and stared, waved, looked around, waved some more and wondered if any of our fellow cappers were observing us in our nice clothes hanging out among the rowdies and the hoi polloi. Paul later made the comment that one of his most prominent memories of New Orleans was of me being “...drawn to the webcam like a moth to a flame.” I suppose that night, fortified with alcohol and that great meal from Antoine’s, I was whatever the opposite of camera shy is. Camera friendly, maybe?
We later discovered that a number of cappers (and other people) actually did see us that evening, and some even saved the pictures and turned them into e-cards or posted them on their websites. We had a brief, shining moment of semi-celebrity, and in some small measure, made up for our bungling of the shot that morning.
There was, however, at least one person that we knew who was watching us at that moment. Scott’s friend Bob got on his cell phone and called his brother, who was sitting at a computer with the webcam site on it. “Move closer,” Bob’s brother said. Bob relayed the comment to us, and we moved closer. “I see you now. There’s an old guy in a jacket and tie standing next to you,” Bob turned to me, standing next to him in my jacket and tie, and told me what his brother had said.
“He must mean somebody else,” I said. “Maybe he’s looking at Joe...” I looked around to see Joe well in the back of the group, off to the left. “He can’t be talking about me.”
During all this, Carmen and Diane seemed to hang back, and in all of the pictures I’ve since seen of that incident, they are barely visible in the back of our group. Still, they had a better showing than Scott and Gena, who managed to elude the camera altogether. I’m not sure where they disappeared to during our celebrity moment -- perhaps they ducked into one of the ubiquitous Mango Mango walkaway bars for a quick nine-dollar Hurricane -- but in any event, they are nowhere to be seen in any of the pictures that have been saved from that moment.
While standing there, we happened to see Sam, the PCA chairman who had been giving us the “Finish now!” messages during our presentation the evening before. He was with two women friends, also PCA members, and they were wearing shorts and T-shirts, and all had drinks in hand. They had obviously been enjoying -- and participating in -- the festivities in the street.
“Wow,” he said when he spotted us, “you guys are way overdressed!”
* * *
Jonathan and David took their leave of us there at the webcam corner, as they were planning on driving back to Dallas early the next morning, and there are an awful lot of antique shops and comic and collectible stores along the way. David had wanted to do a trick for the camera, something involving lighting a packet of powdered sugar on fire to produce a brief, bright flash, but was discouraged by the fact that it may not have been caught in one of the twenty-second interval snaps, and that in that alcohol-fueled crowd it could easily have immolated most of the people in the intersection, turning us all into protesting Buddhist monks for the webcam. I believe he ended up taking home a dozen or more packets of sugar.
* * *
After the excitement of standing and waving to the webcam, we headed slowly back down Bourbon Street towards our hotels. Pete, Joe, Carmen, Diane, Scout and Sally and I felt like we wanted to stay up a bit longer, and so we decided to change clothes and meet up at Harrah’s Casino. There, I was a bit chagrined to discover that there was exactly one blackjack table with a $5 minimum bet -- all the rest were $10 or more. The roulette tables also had a $10 minimum, which effectively prevented me from playing them. Pete and Sally took up positions at a couple of the nickel slot machines, as did Diane, while Scout and Carmen went off to watch some roulette. Joe and I found a blackjack table with a couple empty seats, but after dropping forty dollars in four hands, Joe decided to try his luck at something else, and went off to play some Caribbean stud poker, where he did pretty well for himself. I stayed at the blackjack table and actually did all right, walking away about half an hour later a winner. Carmen wandered by after Joe left, and she sat down and watched me play for a while. Once I had won a fair amount of money and then started to lose again, I decided I’d had enough card-playing. She and I went back to where Pete and Sally had been playing slots. Pete was up about $200 (on nickel slots!), and waiting patiently -- and interminably -- for an attendant to come and pay out the money the machine owed him. With Carmen and Scout in tow, I went to the dollar slots and played one of the Wheel of Fortune machines -- at $3 a spin. There, I did pretty well, hitting a few jackpots and raising my total won on the machine to over $200. After hitting a cold spell, I said I would cash out at $200. When I got to $202, I had to make a decision. Should I cash out at that amount, or play one more spin at $3, thus leaving me with $199? I was about to cash out, when Scout convinced me to try one more. I did, and hit a $100 jackpot. Hot damn! As Pete said, that took a lot of the sting out of the earlier dinner bill.
It was about 2:30 by the time we left, and both Joe and Diane had to fly out the next day, so we said our goodbyes there on the sidewalk outside the casino. I would have liked for both of them to have been able to stay longer, just as I wished that Jonathan and David could have stayed another day or two, but as far as that goes, if it were up to me, we’d probably all still be there.
* * *
Friday morning found Sally and me sleeping in as long as possible, with the curtains closed against the bright sunshine outside. We had talked about taking the paddle-wheel steamboat Natchez for a cruise out on the Mississippi, and were under the impression that Paul and Gena were set to go on the first cruise of the day, which we thought sailed at noon. By eleven we were still in the process of dragging our zombie asses out of bed, and hoping to be on the move by eleven-thirty. At eleven-twentynine, we were just about out the door when the phone rang.
“Relax,” Pete said. “The ship sails at eleven-thirty. We’ll have to wait for the afternoon cruise.”
Assuming that Paul and Gena had caught the earlier cruise, we then made plans to meet up in the lobby and get something to eat while waiting for the afternoon trip. Carmen had somehow sprained her ankle the night before, and it was a slow hobble up Decatur Street to the French Market and the river.
I still had a craving for a muffaletta, one of the unique-to-New Orleans creations that, like po’ boy sandwiches, are recommended in every guide book. Muffalettas are nothing more than sandwiches, with ham, salami, mortadella (a kind of Italian bologna), cheese and an olive salad on a round piece of Italian bread about the size of one of those tiny spare tires you see on Japanese cars. Half of one is a meal for two, and a whole one could feed a Boy Scout troop. We went to the deli where they were invented many years ago, called the Central Grocery, while Carmen and Sally gimped on over to the Cafe du Monde to wait for us. I ordered a whole one, as did Pete -- though he planned on sharing his with Scout -- and John ordered a half. We took them to the Cafe, ordered coffee and orange juice, and leisurely ate. I made it through most of a half of mine before I felt once again like balloon about to burst, and saved the rest for the afternoon cruise on the Natchez. I offered some to Sally, but she wasn’t interested.
Afterwards, we walked a bit by the river, then went to purchase our tickets. While we were in line, the Natchez pulled in and began unloading the group of people that had been there in time for the first cruise. We watched for Paul and Gena to disembark, but never saw them. Later, we found out that was because they hadn’t made it to the early cruise either.
* * *
While waiting in line we looked the ship over and decided where we wanted to sit. There were three decks, and tables and chairs under an awning at both the front and back on the top deck. We decided that the back, by the paddlewheel, under the awning, was the place to be, so once we boarded, we made a beeline to that spot and secured a table. Within a minute or so, we discovered why it was so easy to get that spot. Not only was the ship steam-powered, but it also had a steam calliope that played while it was in port. We had heard the calliope all over the French Quarter during the past week, but didn’t realize how loud it would be sitting just below the pipes themselves. After a few minutes of ear-damaging calliope tunes, we decided that moving to the front of the boat was probably a better idea.
The cruise itself was quite enjoyable, very sultry and relaxing. The captain kept up a constant stream of narration over the ship’s loudspeakers, and we got the lowdown on the history of the area: The Battle of New Orleans, some Civil War sites, the sugar and shipping industries... We passed a sugar refinery and were informed that it produced over six million tons of sugar every day.
“And half of that goes to the Cafe du Monde for the beignets,” John said.
Pete was good enough to go to the bar and get us all drinks, which entailed standing in line for about twenty minutes, paying way more than they were worth, and then carrying them out to us at our table. Something about the day, or the setting, or just the fact that we were in a muggy, humid place made me want a frou-frou drink, and I ordered a Pina Colada. I have something of a reputation for spilling drinks, and I had not lived up to that reputation all week, so it came as no surprise to me when, after just one or two sips, I took a hard backhand to my plastic cup and sent the drink flying all over me, Pete, Carmen, into Sally’s purse, and across the table and the deck.
“The bartender asked me if I wanted that on the rocks,” Pete said immediately, “and I told her ‘No, I’ll have it on the deck.’”
I went to the bar and told them what had happened, simply because it was a huge sticky mess for us and for the rest of the passengers, and I assumed that they would want to have someone come out and clean it up. I hadn’t figured that they would give me another drink, at no charge, but I was happy to accept it when they did. Then one of the crew came out to assess the situation, and decided the best thing to do would be to pour a bucketful of water on the spill, thus spreading it further over the deck and dumping it into the Mississippi. He eventually got a mop and cleaned it up, but by that time there was an oil slick on the water about a mile and a half long, and local birds and fish were dying from sugar poisoning and cirrhosis of the liver. Pete’s shirt, Carmen’s shoes, Sally’s purse and my shorts all had Pina Colada-colored spots on them, and my reputation was once again intact.
* * *
Somehow, while on the cruise, we began to comment on the names of the boats and ships we saw all around us, and it turned into a game of coming up with the strangest ship name taken from everyday phrases or slogans. Most of them escape me now (which is probably a good thing, upon reflection), but a few that I remember include the USS Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires, the USS Close Cover Before Striking, the USS Watch Your Step, Low Overhead, and the USS Contents May Have Settled During Shipping.
John, though, had the best one, we all agreed, with the USS Caution: Filling May Be Hot.
* * *
After the cruise, I was feeling the effects of too much sun, too much alcohol, too many late nights and too much laughter, so I elected to go back to the hotel room for a quick nap while the rest of the group took in the French Market again. (“Oh, look -- crap! And over there -- more crap!”) I think I made a wise decision.
That evening, the PCA had scheduled a showing of a film, and subsequent talk, that intrigued us all as cappers. The film was called “Hitler: Dead or Alive,” and was a particularly bad -- and hilariously so -- piece of wartime propaganda, made in 1943 and starring Ward Bond and a number of actors who should never have quit their day jobs. The premise was that an American businessman put up a one million dollar reward for the death or capture of Adolf Hitler (which was based on a true WWII incident), and that Ward Bond and two of his cronies were just-released-from-prison gangsters who wanted to take him up on the offer. They managed to get to Germany under the most ridiculously unbelievable circumstances, and actually kidnapped Hitler himself. One of the premises of the film was that Hitler wore his toothbrush mustache to hide a scar on his upper lip -- which would distinguish him from all of the “Hitler doubles” that roamed Germany to confuse possible assassins -- and because of this, Ward Bond kept a razor and some shaving cream with him at all times for his encounter with Der Fuerher, so that he could determine whether they had the real Hitler or an impostor. When the gangsters finally had Hitler in their clutches, they shaved him and saw the scar. Just then, Nazi troops burst in on the kidnappers, and, not recognizing their leader without his mustache, shot him on sight. This bit of historical revisionism was perhaps not the most ludicrous thing about the movie, but it was right up there.
Two lines really stood out for me:
“She’s got a pretty face, but she’s as dangerous as a pocketful of loose razor blades.” And...
“Yankee Doodle! That’s the one tune that no Nazi would ever whistle!”
* * *
Here’s John’s recollection of that evening:
“The PCA program had advertised a panel on Friday night in the ‘Film and History’ area devoted to a screening of ‘Hitler: Dead or Alive,’ described as a ‘B-travesty’ WWII propaganda film in which some ex-cons are hired by a rich man to infiltrate Germany and kill Hitler. I thought this sounded like fun, considering the kind of people I was in New Orleans with, so I suggested to the other cappers that we attend this session, and to my delight they all seemed to think it sounded like a good idea, too. Come Friday evening, thanks to the Marriott's congested elevators, I wound up running down about ten floors' worth of stairs, but thankfully I got to the screening only moments after it started. The room was quite large and quite dark, but thanks to the light thrown off from the TV monitor at the front of the room, I was able to spot some other cappers and took a seat next to Scouty and right behind amycamus and his friends. And just then I got hit with a pleasant thrill of recognition: Here I was about to watch a bad film in the company of my capper friends, sitting in a darkened room looking at a lighted screen, and between me and the screen there were the silhouettes of amycamus and his friends (which seemed so perfectly appropriate), and damned if the whole setting didn't seem... delightfully familiar. The film was indeed both awful and eminently cappable, and while we had to be somewhat restrained in our commentary out of respect for the rest of audience, thankfully, most everybody else in the room seemed to be in a jocular mood too -- everybody had the MST spirit. It turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. But I'll always remember that feeling I got when it hit me how all the elements -- the room, the film, and especially, the company -- came together just right, making it the closest thing to really living MST that I've ever experienced. Of all my fond memories of New Orleans, seeing ‘Hitler: Dead or Alive’ with a gaggle of cappers is definitely one of my fondest.”
* * *
With the film fresh in our minds, we wandered back to Bourbon Street and the Desire Oyster Bar for dinner. As we passed one of the strip joints, we noticed a sign telling potential patrons that they could “Wash the dancer of your choice!” (Which, judging from the looks of some of the dancers I saw going in and out of those places, was probably much-needed, and the closest many of them got to proper hygiene.) Of course, we turned that into “Shave the Hitler of your choice!”
We also discussed which other tunes “no Nazi would ever whistle,” and came up with quite a list of them:
“Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel.”
“Don’t Mess With My Toot-Toot.”
“In the Year 2525.”
“You Shook Me All Night Long.”
“The Lemon Song.”
I’m sure there were more, but once again, they’re lost to the ether.
* * *
While we were eating, Scout took a brand new napkin, folded it, and touched it to her jambalaya, getting just the tiniest spot of sauce on it, then put it away. All week she had been saving napkins from each place we ate (I don’t think she got one of the linen napkins from Antoine’s, though I could be mistaken), explaining that she has a friend who collects napkins, and that every time she travels, she has to bring him back a napkin from wherever she goes.
“But why the sauce on that one?” we asked.
“It’s more authentic that way,” she explained, even though it was nothing more than a plain white paper napkin that could have been from anywhere to begin with. Despite that little quirk, we all still pretended to be friends with her the rest of the time we were there.
* * *
After dinner, we headed up Bourbon Street, past the Cat’s Meow, past the three-block gay section, and on to Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shoppe, a bar that was originally built in 1795 or thereabouts, and that at one time housed the infamous Jean Lafitte while he plotted his various smuggling and privateering schemes in the area. It is one of the oldest buildings still standing in New Orleans, and now famous mostly for the incredibly mediocre piano player there, who will sing anything for a dollar or a drink. Rather than listen to him play, we opted to sit outside on the patio. It was out there that we got into a discussion of who should be killed first -- Elton John or Billy Joel? The consensus was that Michael Bolton should actually go before either of those two, but I believe Billy Joel edged out Elton for second place. Just moments after that decision, Gena got up to use the facilities inside, and discovered that the piano player was in the middle of a rendition of Joel’s “Piano Man.” Besides being a coincidence of near-cosmic proportions, we had another song to add to the list of tunes that no Nazi would ever whistle.
* * *
Sally and Carmen sat together there on the patio, a bit apart from us, so they could smoke without disturbing anyone. As they sat there, they witnessed a scene out on the sidewalk that had them laughing uproariously. Apparently, a very inebriated woman and her boyfriend were in the process of walking up the street, approaching the bar, when the woman managed to step completely out of her shoes. Sally got up to demonstrate, in true Foster Brooks fashion, how the woman was attempting to get them back on, stepping over and around them in staggering, drunken stabs, unable to focus and flailing her arms for balance. Her boyfriend tried to help her, but to no avail. Eventually they walked out of sight, and Sally couldn’t determine whether the woman had gotten the shoes back on or not. A bit later, Sally went inside and bumped into the woman, who was leaning precariously against the entrance to the ladies room. It was all Sally could do not to duck her head out the door and call Carmen to come in and see the amazing drunken woman.
When we left, Sally spotted the woman and her boyfriend sitting at the bar, still drinking. No one noticed if she had her shoes on, we were just so amazed that she could continue to drink after being so looped already.
* * *
Saturday morning found us once again meeting at the Cafe du Monde, where Scott passed around Xerox copies of Emeril Lagasse screengrabs for us all to caption. He claims to have quite a collection of Emeril caps, which he says he will someday reveal to the world by setting up a website for them, but some of us are skeptical. Regardless, we had fun writing caps and passing the sheets around, it being the closest any of us had come to Caption This! for a few days. Scout attempted to get some of the people at other tables to join in, giving them sheets to cap, but they all appeared mystified by the whole endeavor, and we were worried that someone would call the police, so we made her stop.
Pete, Scout and Carmen were due to fly out that afternoon, so we did a little last minute shopping with them -- actually, Carmen, with her sore ankle, waited on a park bench in Jackson Square while we shopped -- then said goodbye to the three of them. Gena and Paul did the Natchez cruise, Scott and Bob went off to meet still another friend who had arrived in town, and John went back to the Marriott to attend some of the scheduled PCA panels. Sally and I took the St. Charles street car again, taking more pictures of the beautiful homes in the Garden District. We rode it to the end of the line, then back to Canal Street in the late afternoon. Feeling hungry, we went to Acme for some oysters, and sat at the counter watching them shuck them for us. I plowed through two dozen oysters, mugging for the webcam that sits just above the counter (also found on the BourboCam site), and enjoying the hell out of each and every one.
At five, we rendezvoused with John, Scott, Gena and Paul in the River View bar atop the Marriott, up on the 41st floor, where the attraction is a sweeping view of the Mississippi and surroundings. We had a few drinks and discussed some of the memories we would take with us from our vacation. Paul and Gena had an early dinner planned, as they had a flight out at 6:30 the next morning. Scott was going that evening to the House of Blues with Bob and Robert to see Ruben Blades, so that left John and Sally and me on our own. After we split up, saying goodbye to Paul and Gena, we wandered about the French Quarter looking for a spot we hadn’t tried yet. We ended up at the Alpine restaurant, where our waiter was obviously a frustrated comedian (and with good reason for that frustration), but the food was wonderful. After dinner, we walked around some more, and John decided to call it a night. Pete had told us that morning that he had been back at Harrah’s the night before, and had again come away a winner, so Sally and I decided to try our luck once again. I ended up giving back most of what I had won the previous time -- thus putting the sting back into the Antoine’s dinner bill, I suppose -- and sometime before the sun came up, we dragged ourselves back to our room.
* * *
Some random memories from our week there:
All the street performers in the French Quarter. Much like Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, there are jugglers and musicians and mimes and balloon artists and people who spray themselves silver or gold and become “human statues.” Diane’s comment, upon seeing one of these folks, was “I’m supposed to give him a quarter because he can stand still?”
Living where I do, I’m used to seeing a lot of these types of street artists (if “artist” is the right word...). What I found unique were the dozens of little kids tap dancing on every street, some as young as five or six years old. That’s not something you find in San Francisco, or, I’m guessing, many other parts of the country.
One special memory I have is of a trumpet player outside the Cafe du Monde. Most of the street musicians play lots of Dixieland, and he was no exception. However, at one point, he played a version of Frank Sinatra’s “It Was a Very Good Year” that was absolutely transcendent. It was one of those moments that seemed frozen in time, lasting forever, and hanging golden in my mind as the notes cascaded all around me in the thick bayou air.
* * *
I also remember pecan pie a la mode at the Gumbo Shop... Bananas hanging from a banana tree growing up out of the sidewalk in the middle of the Garden District... Scout giving me a string of beads because I flashed my nipple at her... Literally hundreds of brands of hot sauce in every souvenir shop and deli, some with names and labels that were hilarious (Smack My Ass and Call Me Sally, 100% Pain, Hot Sauce from Hell, Dave’s Insanity), others that were close to being obscene (Ass in the Tub, Hot Bitch at the Beach, Fifi’s Nasty Little Secret, Cajun Viagra)... Poor Carmen gamely keeping up with us while limping around on her sore ankle... Folks in KISS regalia everywhere the first night we got there. They must have played New Orleans that night or the night before, because their fans were all over the French Quarter, including one foursome decked out in complete makeup and head to toe costumes, a perfect imitation of the dinosaur rockers... Meeting capper Nyssa23 by chance in the room at the Marriott where all the papers from all the talks were being sold. She was there with her husband, a long-time PCA official, and just happened to stumble onto our papers and meet John and Scott and myself to talk capping for a few brief minutes... Telling Carmen to meet us at Jackson Square near all the donkey carts that lined up, waiting to take people on tours of the French Quarter. “Yeah, just look for all the asses on the east side of Jackson Square. We’ll be standing next to the donkeys”... Mardi Gras beads everywhere, all over the city -- hanging from trees and telephone wires, strung up on porches and in windows and doors, around the neck of most every tourist in the French Quarter... Pete’s comments about some of the women wearing those beads -- “Earned ‘em. Earned ‘em. Bought ‘em. Earned ‘em.”... Bob videotaping us as we spoke at the PCA panel, and me shaking like a leaf while trying to speed-read my presentation... Scout’s friend’s napkin collection -- “Why napkins? Why not matches, or something more... conventional?”... Writing postcards at Antoine’s to a few of the cappers whose addresses we had, and passing the cards around so we could see what everyone wrote... Marie LaVeaux’s Voodoo Shop, filled with amulets and potions and powders, voodoo dolls and dried up alligator and turtle and nutria feet... The miles of cemeteries we saw coming from and going back to the airport, all of them in that above-ground style, some of the tombs nearly three hundred years old... How crooked and uneven all the buildings are, especially in the French Quarter, because of the high water table and the fact that the ground is constantly sinking. It’s almost impossible to find a building where anything is level... The flowers on so many of the balconies all over the Quarter... The number of people standing on balconies along Bourbon Street at night, watching the passing parade and ready to throw a string of beads at the drop of a blouse...
All these and more are memories I’ll treasure forever, not the least of which are the memories of the people I was lucky enough to get to spend time with that week.
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Easter Sunday, Sally and I packed up and got our bags out of the room and left them at the bell station until later that afternoon, when the airport shuttle would pick us up. John came up to our room while we were packing and said goodbye, ready to make the long drive back to Austin. After dropping off our bags, we went to the French Market, needing to load up with crap to take home for ourselves, our friends and our families. While we were there, we ran into Scott, who was also doing some last minute shopping. We assumed that we would see each other at the airport, and Scott hoped that he might be able to change flights at the last minute and fly with us, but as it turned out, it was not to be. We arrived at the gate of our flight just as his plane was pulling away from the terminal, and we waved at it as we walked by.
All week, Sally had been looking at the Weather Channel, and saying that it was supposed to rain later in the week. As we boarded the plane and sat on the tarmac, waiting for it to take off, we saw raindrops falling on the wing.
“There’s your rain,” I told her. “Perfect timing.”
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So on a bright Easter Sunday I sat with my plate of crawfish, under water, in a spicy dream, and savored the flavors of New Orleans and the week I had had, knowing that it was all about to end, and that there would never be another week like it. I sucked another head, I bit another tail, and I smiled a fiery smile. People walked around me in slow motion, and somewhere a Dixieland tune was playing. My vacation was over -- over in that moment, in that very instant -- but I knew it would also last forever.
Back to New Orleans, 2000