Portraits of New Orleans

Prah-leans

Miss Rose sells pralines and asks if that’s Mom. It is, I tell her. Her yellow hair matches the Easter egg yellow of her shirt’s collar, but somehow, she works it.  Her long, narrow shop has a clean white floor that makes the whole room glow under the lights, bright enough to see from the shaded streets outside. Shelves stretch up to the ceiling, filled with things I shouldn’t buy. Books, candies, large bundled packages that say “please, try this at home!” There are sample plates laid out, crumbles of pralines and chocolate turtles. I’m afraid to touch them, afraid it’s too good to be true. Miss Rose leans across the counter to talk to a local guy who doesn’t ask for a praline. His loss. We split one, even though it’s too hot for that kind of a straight sugar/butter hit, I don’t regret it even later that hour when I return to my air conditioned bed to clutch my stomach in pain.

Buses are everywhere

We take the bus from Magazine Street back to Canal, near the Quarter. It’s crowded; kids coming home from school, working folks, tourists. Sweaty. Everything here is sweaty. Buck seventy-five, cheap compared to the CTA. Buses scare me because it’s hard to tell where they’re going until you’re already there.

There’s that lady a few rows back talking loudly. For this ride, she’s that person. I hear her talking about great, convenient public transport. She says BART. I know that one and I stare at her a little. If you’re going to be the only one talking, I’ll probably stare at you. She’s wearing green shirt I know I would sweat through, and big sunglasses on the top of her head. Her hair is not quite curly, and she has that skinny middle aged woman skin, tan and taut. She waves her hands a lot.

Her victim is pretty, petite, with a cargo-style beige dress  and a big belt that declares “I AM FASHIONABLE RAWR.” Her high heels are cute, but not typical buswear. They mean business—I would totter myself right into someone’s lap. She has a soothing accent, something Hispanic, but I can’t tell where she’s from. She says she dosen’t work, and that takes me aback – not unemployed, not looking, just not working.

BART lady is a raw foods chef, or a wannabe maybe. Honey, do you know where you are? This is the capital of food so good you can’t help but gain 300 pounds. This is not a carrot juice kind of town. Go back to San Francisco. She talks loudly, tosses around the word detox a lot. My mom wants to strangle her with bacon.

Accented girl mentions a husband – she looks too young, but her ring is huge. She describes him as big, dreads maybe. BART woman knows him, small world. Thinks he’s cute. They’re going to detox together, long distance, once the girl moves to Fort Lauderdale. I want a bus friend.

Lunchtime

Joey K’s – checked table clothes, local artwork on the walls, $13 all you can eat catfish, the real deal. There’s a man in the cornier wearing a black and white checkered jacket over a blue paisley/maybe flowered shirt. He has big round brown framed glasses, like an indie kid, but he doesn’t seem cool enough to pull them off ironically, and a huge beard — almost Tolstoy-esque. When I walk by his voice isn’t as deep as I expect, it’s high and nasally. He looks like a Toby.

The Spotted Cat

We wander into a bar called the Spotted Cat. Two guys we saw at dinner are there too. We can’t tell if they’re twins or a couple. They both wear black polo shirts, with wire-rimmed glasses. They’re about the same height, same salt and pepper hair beating a quick retreat  from their forehead. A band is playing, the reason we came in. The singer looks like a 50s big band type singer from Cuba. Her hair is piled high on top of her head with a giant red flower, matched to her bright lipstick. She sways her hips in that graceful singer-way that some classy women can. The guitarist, too, looks like he’s from a different age, with floppy 1940s hair and a steel bodied guitar like the kind my grandfather had. He probably gets carded a lot.

Someone calls for La Vie en Rose, but she doesn’t know the words. A man steps up from the bar, 70 or something years old. Out from under his cute, old-man hat, he declares he only knows it in French. He sways to the music, snapping his fingers and mouthing words. Nothing comes out for a solid few minutes. When he does sing, it’s in English. Bye Bye Blackbird. “See how everybody’s listening?” he asks. “That’s jazz.” We tip them anyway.

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