I went to New Orleans for the weather.
That was my joke, anyway, the weather being about thirty degrees Fahrenheit. Apparently they get one week of cold in New Orleans, and it just so happened to be the one week I was there. It was literally like some cliche? - it got nice on the day that I left.
My idea was to go to New Orleans and play music on the street. I ended up in Jackson Square my first day pumping out the only two songs I knew with "New Orleans" in the lyrics - Proud Mary and Tangled Up in Blue - a couple times over, then I played "Short People" and some old lady who was the only one who remembered the song came over and give me a dollar.
Street performing in the cold is a bad idea for so many reasons. It hurts your voice, it warps the neck of you guitar so you're constantly out of tune, it makes your strings break, and no one wants to stop and listen to you and most importantly, give you any money. So eventually I gave up and went into a strip club.
I got into the strip club for free, the guy was giving away tickets and it was some kind of promotion.
Here's how to get a lot of attention in a strip club: Go sit in the corner and look moody. Every time a stripper comes up to you, whatever she says, she just wants to give you a lap dance, so tell them that you don't want a lap dance within the first 5 seconds or so. That way if they stay, then they're just there to talk to you. Don't watch the dancers much. Sigh heavily to yourself, as if you cannot take the overwhelming heart-ache of your own ennui. Soon the strippers will all be fascinated with you. It helps if it's not a busy night and you're the only guy under thirty. Try it sometime.
Bourbon street is kind of like Times Square was supposed to be. It's an ugly glitzy tourist trap that few locals in their right minds would ever go to, but it also held onto the sleaziness in the same way Vegas did - there are tons of strip clubs and sex shops and gay leather shops and whatever your fetish might be - there's even, in the middle of January and in the middle of the week, still hoards of frat boys getting drunk off of really cheap beer and throwing beads to women on balconies so they'll take off their shirts.
It's an adult town, is all I'm trying to say.
It's also an incredibly drunk town. Even the pizza places here - little pizzerias - have fully stocked bars. People just don't stop drinking, they wake up in the morning and drink until they fall over sometime the next morning. There's the touristy drinks - the hurricanes and hand grenades - tropical concoctions of rum and fruit juices, but mostly people drink beer. For four dollars I got the tallest biggie size plastic cup of Budwiser you've ever seen, and it came with two free refills. There was also this thing where the clubs would pay these girls to girl around with little vials of brightly colored drinks and put them in places in their bodies (like their mouth, cleavage, pants) while tourist men drank from the other end. I had never seen that before, but it struck me as one of the most singularly stupid things to pay for ever.
There are a lot of really truly crazy people in New Orleans, and while there are certainly a lot in New York as well, I think the ratio in NO seems to be higher. At one point while I was street performing a guy walked up to me and grabbed my hand and started staring intently at my palm. Then he said "you have a nice bear there". Naturally I looked at him like he was out of his bleeding head. "Nice... nice little grizzly bear". He patiently explained to me that my animal totem was the grizzly bear and his animal totem was the timber wolf and grizzly bears and timber wolves don't get along so he couldn't talk to me. Then, despite his own warning, he introduced me to his friend the "dragonite" ("dragon knight"?) and that's when I carefully removed myself from the situation.
And there was Keith the Cabby, the decisively overweight, long-haired sunglass wearing cab driver who drove me from the airport to the hostel, where I stayed. He saw my guitar and well, nothing would stop him from telling me all about how his band was signed to Geffen records and he had to leave because he got his girlfriend pregnant (I nod nod nod) and how he was a big player back in the day and, well, there's nothing like having two women at once let me tell you (I nod nod nod), and his wife was fucking some other dude but that didn't matter because he was fucking some other chick too and that wasn't what was really important (I nod nod nod) and well, fuck it all, I'm driving a cab now and who gives a fuck about anything anymore anyway because nothing really matters and I just hope my son does better then me little brat he's just like me (I nod nod nod)...
And of course I had heard about the much vaunted "Gothic" scene in the home of Trent Reznor and Anne Rice, but all the Gothic clubs were pretty small and lame and I ended up one night escorting two Gothic girls through a really bad neighborhood off the French Quarter in the middle of the night to get to a club where they were supposed to be having a "Heavy Metal vs. Punk Rock Night", that we got there just in time to miss. We ended up having a drink and being joined a man who called himself "Chris the Dick" but who I prefer to think of as the Single Most Pierced Man Alive as he regaled us all with the brief and fascinating life of his Prince Albert.
"Yeah, so I got everything pierced except for, y'know, that, and I tried it once. I had it, but like, you can't y'know DO anything for like WEEKS after you get it and man that was just two much because not four days after I got it did this girl who I had been after for like ever and suddenly she was into to me and I was like " - makes funny mouth noise - " off it comes, y'know."
And the story of his ex-girlfriend -
"I mean fuck, girl fucked with me once but fuck, look at the tattoo on the back of my neck, okay?!" (tattoo reads: FUCK OFF in big, bold letters) "So the fucking bitch dumped me on my birthday, right, can you believe that shit? She dumps me on my birthday so, you know, I went out and found some other bitch and we had a fucking great time. Then the fucking first bitch is like 'how was your birthday?' and I was like 'great! Better without you in it!' y'know, I'm such a dick, I remember I was moving my stuff out of her apartment and she had some other guy over there and I like had a threesome the night before and I'm like 'yeah, sorry, I gotta wipe all this shit off my dick before I can talk to you, yeah, that's it'. I'm such a dick."
Then there was the polar opposite characters down there. I was talking to this little Christian girl who was very sweet ad nice and she was telling me about how she had never been further north then Atlanta and that she thought people from the north were scary - they're just scary, scary people.
So, naturally, I mugged her.
But the moment that felt most New Orleans to me was when I was walking down this street which is right on the border of the French Quarter (which is the touristy district) and the really bad neighborhood. I was heading for an open mike night at some bar when I heard some people calling out to me. I turn and there are these two short-haired old ladies - in their sixties at least - sitting on their porch. "Play guitar for us!" they called out, "we'll give you wine!" Not one to pass up free wine, I went up there, and these two little old ladies told me that they had just gotten married that night and were celebrating. So I congratulated them, and though I didn't know any old lady lesbian wedding songs, I did my best.
And it was there under the cool night playing New York songs for this strange couple, on a nice wooden porch on a nice wooden house that could have been a wooden porch on any wooden house in any little town in the world, when I saw a palm tree out of the corner of my eye, and suddenly had a sense of vertigo that made me dip and let go of the guitar. It was the first time in a long while that I had felt like I was in a truly alien environment.
That, and New Orleans is probably the only town that can make a palm tree creepy.