Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Real Place

Yesterday, someone commented that Minneapolis is a “real city,” as in, a real city, as opposed to New Orleans, which is not. That might be true. But while Minneapolis is a city with amenities like bicycle racks and recycling programs, I would say that New Orleans is a real place, in ways that cities like Minneapolis are not. My neighbor and new friend, who is known to decorate his stoop with giant mannequins and and holiday motifs, complete with a guestbook for passersby to leave their thoughts (right now it’s Abe Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth duking it out with boxing gloves,) says that this is a place where you can live a “real life.”

I had just been contemplating that while I don’t know what I want to do with my life exactly, I know what I don’t want to do: I don’t want to live in a box, work in a box, and spend my days driving back and forth between them in yet another box. I’ve managed pretty well to avoid that fate so far, and I think New Orleans is a step on a larger journey toward getting further still away from that model of living.

My neighbor spends his afternoons on the sidewalk, painting beautiful, colorful canvases with happy, cartoonish people enjoying their lives. By night, he's grilling meat from the comfort of his big white rocking chair, and inviting the likes of me to join him. Later, he might spin some vintage vinyl on his record player while sipping mojitos from a bell jar, or attend a party in costume, or sink into a couch with a stranger and kiss her. I think he’s living a real life; an authentic life. New Orleans is his place in the world-- he says he never wants to leave, not even on vacation. I sort of envy him.

But I did just pass three magical days and nights. There was night skinny dipping and shucking oysters on the sidewalk, there was dancing to old soul in a sweltering, unairconditioned hidden nightclub and there was the kinds of things that ensue after that kind of dancing is done. There was standing on a balcony in the French Quarter and being serenaded about my polka dot dress, and there was buying a mint green bike off a guy on a street corner. There were other things, whether real or imagined-- the lines tend to blur. It’s has been said many times and it’s the truth: this is a city where moments abound. There are so many moments in this city, where you turn a corner thinking you are going for a simple cup of coffee and suddenly instead you are on an adventure. You end up on the other side of town many hours later, not with coffee in your hand but with a cocktail, following a tuba player down the street.

Later, I have to go and buy a broom. I’ll go not to a Target or a Home Depot, but instead to a crumbling, creaky old hardware store, redolent of the universal scent of good hardware stores everywhere—sawdust and metal and perspiration. I’ll poke around the ancient heaps of saws and nails and keys and packages of seeds and shovels and bicycle locks and doorknobs and rakes and eventually I might find a broom and buy it off of the old characters behind the counter who look like they’ve been sitting back there, unmoved, for the past two hundred years, as organic to the landscape as the tree roots that break the sidewalks around here.  

I’ll put that broom in my bike basket and head back home, or, you never know, I might just hop on it and fly, fly away.

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