New Orleans, a While Later

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New Orleans is the dream city of wrought iron and powdered sugar. Of sandwiches as long as my arm and kids playing the trumpet in the street at 10:00 pm while people stream out of the bars, away from the bands they paid to see, to drop dollar bills in a box. Bourbon Street smells like vomit in broad daylight and the famous cemeteries are crumbling and shattered as the bones beneath them.

We see the Preservation Hall Jazz band in the front row that’s even closer than the front row, because we’re on the spindly chairs by the piano and the band has to walk around us to get to their places. And I am in this blue dress that I fancy makes me look like a vintage 1940s princess, and even if I don’t, there is no one to tell me that I don’t, because this is vacation in the dream city and I cannot hear bad words about anything.

And mostly I just feel like I have dressed the part because the room is a step back in time. It is what places in New York pay millions to replicate — a kind of weathered, low-lit perfection that makes people want to eat and dance. I have to move my hurricane so the saxophone player doesn’t kick it over. The piano player says, “Hello, ladies.”

I smile the whole time, the smile that I can’t see but that people have told me about — dreamy, elsewhere, perched on the edge of my seat.

A_____ makes me walk out onto Bourbon after “just to see it” and the horror is real. Fights everywhere and crowds. We don’t stay long. Later in the trip, I will walk around the neighborhoods and take photos of people’s houses like a creep, but I want to take them all home with me, or put my home into one of them, even though I have no idea how I would sort this out. How I could split my life in half, buy another one and set up shop in this other place where it’s always warm and where the food would make me gain weight in a month. Where I would have no job and no friends but I would have a house with rainbow-painted gingerbread and two front doors and the kitchen way in the back and strings of lights in the trees. I would have everything and nothing in the dream city, the real city.

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