Well. What a couple of weeks. It would be impossible to recap it all, but suffice to say that drinks were drunk, food was eaten, dances were danced. I had a major computer problem that prevented me from writing here, so I took to pen and paper, which suits this city much better anyway. Easier to "work" while hunkered down over a glass of wine at a a blues club.
While I've been having my fair share of fun, the transition has been equal parts tough, and challenges abound. I finally took my leave from my gracious host Jo, and left her to liberate her home from nearly three weeks of houseguestdom. She must be breathing a heavy sigh of relief. For the moment, I'm in a temporary housing situation that is interesting to put it lightly.
The house is on a lovely street in the Marigny/ Bywater area, the same building that will house my more permanent apartment in a week. I met the landlady via an ad I had placed on Craigslist in search of temporary housing. In short time, I received a phone call from a person I have come to dub "Cruella." She was terse, and she was telling me how it was going to be. Were it not for my conviction to "stay open to all possibilities" while on this journey, I would have hung up on her fool face.
Cruella is a tight, grey, petite woman with enormous breasts. She looks like she might have been beautiful once upon a time, but some fate, the likes of which I cannot begin to fathom, has taken the joy altogether out of her. The building houses approximately six rental units, and she lives on the property. When she let me move in yesterday (in exchange for $200 for a week) I was told that I "walk heavy." I was also instructed on how to open and close the door, how to put my shoes on the "welcome" mat (ha,) instructed that she expected me not to cook, but that I could put my things on the sink edges but not inside of the cabinets. My other items were to go right into the walk in closet, and that I was to make my bed each morning. I was to be scrupulous about cleaning up after myself. I was also told that the plaster was put up in this home in the 1920's. I didn't find out why that was relevant until 7am this morning.
The apartment, which seemed charming enough in the daylight, has a depressing quality by night. Decades of cigarette smoke has accumulated in dank yellow clouds upon the ceiling. The walls have been plastered, and then plastered over again to hide a century of flaws, and the heavy curtains hang with the dejected pallor of a million sad tales. The bedding is cheap and scratchy and as I lay awake in the insomniac irritability of being alone in a strange, dark room, I pay attention to every itch and scratch in silent prayer that the linens are free of bedbugs. When I came to look at the place, it was fresh and chill with the central air, but now, she has it set to low, which at least takes the heavy Louisiana humidity out of the air, but the air is still, silent and dank and I wish I could throw open a window to remind myself of life. Outside, like most other places in this city, you can hear the night chatter of rats. I pretend its crickets or frogs.
I put the local radio station on very low to keep me company-- I can usually count on this station for jaunty rockabilly, vintage country, and lovely old blues, but in the middle of the night I'm awakened by music so haunting and otherworldly it causes me to hit the off button.
At five, I hear footsteps so close, I swear they are walking past the foot of my bed. I am on the top floor, so they cannot possibly be coming from above. It happens again, so close, that I bolt upright in bed and switch on the light. I remember that in my grandparents old house, the floorboards would stick, so that after you had climbed into bed, an hour or so later, they would unstick themselves in the very pattern of your own footprints the hour previously. I decide this is the same phenomena, as it is the only reasonable explanation at the moment. That, or the fucking place is indeed haunted.
At seven, Cruella gets on the phone with her mother. It's as if she is standing at the foot of my bed. I learn that the walls here are walls in name only. They might as well be made with paper mache, and in fact probably are. I could probably push a hole through a wall by leaning on it. I am regaled, for the next two hours, with why Cruella is such a bitch. She comes by it honestly-- her mother. I remember with a start that I had forgotten to turn off the fan before I left, and I have no doubt that I'll be scolded about this upon my return. (She'll enter the apartment in my absence, I haven't a single doubt.)
I haven't slept a solid night in precisely twenty days, and I'm looking at the world through the reddened, bagged eyes of the non-sleepers. The zombies. My heart flutters constantly with palpitations, and I have a slight knot in my belly from homesickness. Some moments, like this one, I have to fight back waves of tears.
It doesn't help that I've been reading Andrei Codrescu's essay My City My Wilderness, where he recounts tales of the brutal police corruption and horrendous violence that plagued New Orleans in the '80's and '90s; terrible stories of bloody murder, disappearances, and mind-boggling human cold heartedness.
I'm lonely. I miss my friends and my boyfriend, my beautiful niece and my sister.
And yet, this is where I ought to be, for now. This strange, strange, often eerie city filled with characters, ghosts, and redolent with life has jolted me out of my comfort zone, and made me aware of my aliveness-- heartaches and woes right along with the laughter and fortitude I had become accustomed to back home. I'm not a crier. A half a year can go by before I shed a single tear. Here, I'm overcome by emotion several times a day.
Speaking of emotion, the smooth jazz in this cafe is sending me into fits of violence, so I'll have to take my leave soon. But before I hang up, a scrap from my notebook:
Last night, leaning in the threshold of the door at the Spotted Cat, I watch two couples dancing. Let me first say that under normal circumstances, I abhor people who stand in thresholds. Catlike in their nonchalance for others, their indecisiveness, their refusal to make a decision (in, or out?) making it impossible for the rest of us to simply pass through. But in New Orleans, it's a thing. If you're the first to hold up a door frame, taking in the auditory pleasure of a gypsy jazz band in non-committal appreciation, soon a gathering will follow you, and suddenly, it's a party. On a good night, dancing might flow onto the sidewalks, maybe even the streets.
From my vantage point in the doorframe, the window got disjointed into a double-sided frame, like a dissected television screen. On the left side, a shiny happy couple, maybe lovers, maybe not, but dancing beautifully, skillfully, like jewelry box ballerinas. In their early thirties, in the prime of their adulthoods, virile, straightbacked, pink-cheeked, coiffed and in sync.
On the right danced a silver-haired couple. Lovers surely, married probably, they danced more expertly than the first couple, but perhaps not as perfectly. The wife, clearly tipsy, held her balance precariously and yet, even with her unsteady gait, was elegant in her floral dress, her heels, her chignon held back with a silk flower. Her partner leaned his face into her silver hair every chance he got. They smiled in the contented way of Cheshire cats, their eyes closed as they shuffled.
Meanwhile, on the left side of the window, the young couple danced their way to the right.