I'm entirely too sleepy to be writing. Two and a half sleep-deprived days in New Orleans, and I couldn't stay awake long enough to drink the place in.
I didn't know the air would be so soft. It's heavy like Hawai'i, but not so aggressive about it. The air wraps sweetly around my shoulders. Coming from the airport, my eyes are wide open, looking for the thing that makes people go all loopy for this place. "It's not the skyline," I write in my little notebook, trying to see in the dark, my scrawly pen marks barely readable. I'm finishing the word "skyline" when we're in the city, and I say, "Oh." LIke every New Orleans movie you've ever seen. Free-standing houses, a hundred years old and older. Porches.
Of course the guy behind the bar is named Dmitri. Of course there's a writer with glasses and his toothsome girlfriend in an eye-popping red dress. Of course his blue-haired friend, the guy with heavy mascara and platforms, but I'm from San Francisco. What else you got?
What else: a buddha-headed guy on the sidewalk at midday, his head doused with thin red paint or blood, his hands dipped, too. His eyes a shock of white when he lifts them to look at me. He holds his hands out from his sides like he's been bathing them in gore, and maybe he has.
What else: a man on the street says Hello. A woman says Hello. A guy taking a smoke break from a restaurant asks how I'm doing. None of these is a come-on. Maybe here I can stop even trying to wear a metro face.
What else: for $5 I get to see John Boutté play. He's smaller than I'd expected, narrow-shouldered as a kid. But he sings Halllelujah, and it prickles up the roots of my hair.
Hallelujah is in my head as I turn down Chartres Street, only a block away from the Saturday night crowds and it's quiet, just me and my footsteps. A guy is taking a photo of one of the houses, his girlfriend posed in front. I duck to stay out of the photo as I pass, and they laugh.
A few steps down the street, a smell stops me. In San Francisco, in my neighborhood, I might keep walking. I'm not proud of this. Here, I stop. I circle back. The couple is behind me now, and I ask them if they smell gas. They cock their heads as though listening, and then nod. It does. I'm looking around, and finally see the streetlights. They're gas flames, the real thing. I point, feeling a little sheepish.
"You really care," the guy says.
Is it because I've only been here a day, or would it increase the longer I stay? Either way, he's right.