I don’t usually spend much time here plugging my personal projects, but today, you’ll have to indulge me, because…
It’s finally here! The book that I’ve been working on the past two years has begun arriving in bookstores!
It’s called The French Quarter Drinking Companion, and it’s a guide to the Quarter’s 100 best bars.
My friends Allison, Elizabeth, and I wrote it because we were frustrated with most New Orleans travel guides. If you’ve ever read a guidebook for your own hometown, you know what I mean. You probably cringed at the glaring omissions, the over-simplifications, the gobs of utter crap that tourists were being fed.
In the case of New Orleans, the situation is about a bejillion times worse, because every visitor gets a different story of the city thanks to an off-kilter kaleidoscope of ghost tours and shopping tours and old home tours and — worst of all — mule buggy tours, which are like little Pilgrimages of Misinformation. In New Orleans, there are guidebooks about guidebooks about guidebooks, with errors piling up year after year. That kind of thing drives us crazy.
But what also drives us crazy is trying to explain the city’s nuances to everyone who swings through town. We tell visitors, “If you’re looking for a great cocktail, start here.” A few moments later, we add: “Unless Geraldo is working, in which case you should go to this other place.” And then: “But since it’s Wednesday, you should really avoid both of those and go to another bar three blocks over.” It never ends.
That doesn’t stop us from trying, of course, When travelers come to New Orleans — whether they’re family, friends, or complete strangers — we do our best to walk them through the city’s quirks and its unique cocktail culture. And every time, we fail. Miserably.
A couple of years ago, things go so bad that we decided to write a guidebook of our own — a different kind of guidebook. Instead of giving tipplers a fair-and-balanced list of every watering hole in town, instead of aiming for absolute, unbiased accuracy, we chose to profile our French Quarter favorites with 100 vignettes, anecdotes, snapshots. Sure, we’ve included the usual practical information: hours, prices, phone numbers, and so on. But the real focus of the book is the stories of our experiences at those bars.
When I went to bed on August 29, 2005, everything was okay. At least, news footage of New Orleans implied that everything was okay. There were no hints of lingering problems, other than lots of powerlines down, lots of shingles in the streets.
Jonno woke me up as he crawled under the sheets a bit later. He said: “The levees broke. New Orleans has flooded.”
And in my usual, nonchalant, Pollyanna way, I said something like, “Well, we can’t do anything about it tonight. We’ll take care of it in the morning.”
The next morning, eight years ago today, was the only time during the whole Katrina ordeal that I cried, hugging my friends who had taken us in, not knowing that they’d be hosting us for another seven weeks.
This is what I wrote:
I can’t tell you what it’s like to be in New Orleans right now. I can only tell you what it’s like to want to be there.
Obviously, I want to know that my house is okay. I’m not too worried about the things in it–we managed to secure most stuff before we left–I just want to know that it’s still standing. It’s a stupid psychological thing, but to me, if the house is still standing, there’s a possibility that things will return to normal at some point down the line.
I want to stop thinking about the minutiae of my daily life. I want to stop thinking about work, and the multiple jobs I had running at the print shop in Metairie–a print shop that is most likely underwater now–and how that’s going to affect my marketing plans for the year. I want to stop thinking about our theatre company and how our schedule is going to be seriously thrown off, and how we’re going to have to postpone the Facts of Life: “Carrie” project that we’ve been giggling about for years. I want to stop thinking about other things, other plans, other projects that will have to be cancelled, put off, or drastically re-envisioned. I want to stop thinking about paychecks and bills and all the practical things that I don’t usually think about–things that, thanks to direct deposit and online bill payments and other modern miracles, would normally manage themselves.
I want to stop watching the news. It’s deadening, and the broadcasters are prone to get things wrong. Yesterday, reporters kept talking about a levee break in the 9th Ward (my neighborhood), when, in fact, the break was in the Lower 9th Ward, which is further away and is separated from us by another system of levees. I guess the confusion is to be expected when you’ve got non-New Orleanians trying to make sense of our byzantine neighborhood naming systems–but that doesn’t make it any less unsettling.
Not least of all, I want to express my gratitude to our hosts. The mayor is saying that we won’t be able to get back to town for another week, and that utilities won’t be up and running for several more. I love spending time with Drew and Don, but I feel very, very uncomfortable imposing on them for that long. Hell, I wouldn’t feel right camping with my own family for that long. But Drew and Don have been nothing but accommodating.
And to CNN: would it kill you to do a flyby of the Faubourg Marigny? I mean, really, just one good pass up Royal Street…
Eight years ago, I thought everything would be fine. I thought everything would go as planned.
It was not fine. It did not go as planned.
But it started out fine because I was clueless:
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, as you’ve likely surmised, the boyfriend and I have evacuated. (I mean, I may be nonchalant and glib when it comes to hurricanes, but I ain’t no dummy.) We’re with the Drew in Lafayette. We’ll be here ’till Tuesday morning at least–maybe a little longer, depending on how things go and when la Nagin et al decide to let us back in. Bottom line: we’re here, we’re safe, we’re comfortable, we’re among friends. Still, I wouldn’t object if you were to send some luck and love vibes our way. See y’all soon…
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For a few years now, writing letters to your “younger self” has been a thing — a ridiculous, navel-gazing thing, but a thing. Since I am a ridiculous, navel-gazing kind of guy, I figure I’m overdue.
Oh well. At least it’s better than planking. Remember planking? Or goats that scream like people? Sometimes, I weep for our species.
Dear Younger Self,
If you remember nothing else from this letter, please remember this: you are in for an interesting ride.
I don’t want to pass value judgments, but compared to most of the folks you grow up with, you will have a rock star life. Not Led-Zeppelin-rock-star, but maybe Courtney-Love-rock-star, or My-Brightest-Diamond-rock-star, or Huey Lewis on a very good day. (NB: This is in no way an endorsement of Huey Lewis.)
Here’s some advice about what’s coming:
- One afternoon during third grade, while your parents are away, you will sneak into your mother’s closet. You will find her high heels and her negligee and her makeup case. Roll with it.
- Around age 14, encouraged by your one and only gay classmate, you will discover that you like kissing boys. In fact, you like it A LOT. Then, your sole gay friend will move away, and you’ll try to play it straight for the next six years. Don’t bother. You’ll just end up hating yourself. And honestly, everyone already knows.
- Your parents will try to convince you that certain men in town like to molest young boys. Your parents think that all gay men like to molest young boys, which is absurd. Call them out on their homophobia (even though the word “homophobia” isn’t widely used yet). That non-child-molesting “child-molester” will be you someday. Read the rest of this entry »