Boarded backyard fences, crumpled lattice wood and dry brush. A few Roosters stalked about in yards oblivious and content. Screen doors smacked open and shut as folks entered and exited their piece of the neighborhood. Pastel painted shotgun houses with green painted porches cracked but sturdy. Lemon trees and lizards, beads hung from limbs, feathers and masks left neglected from nights past.
It was the weekend before Mardi Gras, and a big parade was to begin a block down the street.
A small party of friends and a baby gathered on the porch across the street; loud laughter could be heard breaking in between the sounds of cliché Louis Armstrong playing from a stingy music player on the floor of our rented unit. We were visitors after all, attempting to fit into the culture. A few bottles of beer and a fair amount of wine consumed, Trevor began poking at the giant lemons with a wooden arrow discovered near the front door. Posing like a cajun gladiator, he finally speared his target. Walking inside, he proudly held his lemon. It smelled delicious, and would be cut and juiced for lemonade procured in an old dusty coffee pot found in the kitchen.
We drank our lemonade outside watching the freaks and musicians stroll behind long shadows towards the parade route in the street. In an hour it would be dark, and things would begin to change.
The ladies gabbed inside. I cheered Trevor to a day well spent- riding bikes into the Garden District, gawking at tired mansions and family grave yards, drinking coffee and beignets covered in powdered sugar.
Now by the Mississippi, in the Bywater neighborhood that slipped us effortlessly into her oddities and charm, like a frog placed in a pot of water set to boil, we had unknowingly been consumed. Down south, past and present fading when all that mattered were the people and this place. As if we grew up in the little white house that sat quietly behind us, whose history pressed against our backs, past alluded only by the haunted high-heeled footsteps we heard above us late at night as we tried to sleep, and the sudden smell of red beans and rice that would fill our nose around midnight.
All of us willing to travel thousands of miles, addicted to being misplaced for a few days.
Now in the dark of night, our modest Louise Street with working class folks and lazy roosters clamored with sounds of bass drums and blown speakers hitched to wagons and bikes. Swirly lights and disco balls, aliens and cone-heads approached dancing and swaying, possessed by spirits and quite possibly drugs and alcohol.
We ran to the corner of St. Claude Avenue where crowds of grown folk, children, and dogs formed. Adjacent to our stakeout was an open-air tire shop filled with people. A sign above the shop read “No Selling Cat, No Selling Crack, No Loitering! Be Nice or Leave”, the message illuminated by a big metal light. Standing to our right, a pink haired dancing gypsy woman begged for hand-outs from parade participants. Standing to our left, a short black woman cursing and mumbled in between fits of laughter and a rotten-toothed grin.
Waves of groups passed us by along the parade route, aptly named Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus, sci-fi characters dressed to the nines, painted eyelids and lavish glittering floats with giant E.T. heads and star wars battle ships. Beads and nicknacks flung about into the greedy hands of hoarders.
After an hour of screaming and music, loud drums and dancers, the last group of goblins passed by. Crowds thinned and people scurried back into the dark corners of the neighborhood.
Trevor, Kelly, Melissa and I needed food and heard about a local joint off the beaten path called Bacchanal Wine, known for their stinky cheeses and live outdoor music. With no access to a taxi we walked block after block, passing graffiti-covered fences and parked cars. A member of the Chewbacchus Krewe would occasionally zip by us on a bike towards a local bar. We headed east, hugging the Levee containing the Mississippi river. A giant barge moved through the night.
We finally arrived and joined a lively crowd of young people gathered in a big back yard. In every corner overgrown jungles of palms and tropical plants; a small wooden stage hosted a trio of musicians improving a slow-rhythm blues scale. Trevor and I climbed stairs to a tiny bar with an eclectic whiskey menu and ordered our group a round of drinks. We watched the bartender carefully mix each cocktail with painstaking precision before joining the ladies at a table. For several hours we sat and talked, enjoying lobster, beef carpaccio, drinks, while fantasizing about our next adventure. It became late and time to leave.
Together we made another long walk home to the little white house on Louise.
The next morning we woke early to fly home. Melissa and I cleaned the trail of glasses and beads that had begun to decorate our living room. Somber and tired, we hugged our companions good-bye, vowing to travel once more to a place where we could all feel misplaced, if only for a few days.