New Orleans has always been a fabulous place to people-watch so I must admit that David and I were just a bit disappointed during our April visit. We kept commenting on how *normal* everyone seemed — even on Bourbon Street. Oh, perhaps not exactly what you find on Main Street, America, but pretty darn close. So it is with great delight that I am able to report that the nuts, freaks, and lunatics are slowly but surely returning to The Big Easy.
Having been born and raised in Southern California, “Land of the Fruits and Nuts”, David and I are well qualified to evaluate the quirky-ness level of any given place. Trust me when I say that New Orleans ranks high, and in my opinion, that’s a good thing. Not only is it just plain fun to watch, but there is a never-ending supply of character ideas for future novels parading down the streets. It would be pretty difficult to make up anything more interesting than what one can see by simply taking a stroll through the French Quarter. Here are just a few of the more unusual people we encountered this past week:
Our first night of the trip ranked high on the lunatic meter. David and I were sitting on *our* stools at The Tropical Isle (www.tropicalisle.com — check out this site for a cool Bourbon Street webcam) enjoying the music of our favorite band, Debi and the Deacons, just chillin’ out and enjoying being back in what is beginning to feel like home. A man who appeared to be in his 50s, although it’s often hard to tell with people who lead *interesting* lives, came in the bar. He had a bandana tied around his head and an expression of pure joy on his face. He danced around the bar trying desperately to talk someone into joining him. I politely declined his many requests, as did most of the other women in the bar. In addition to not being much of a dancer, part of my reason had to do with the fact that he told us he had just been released from prison after serving three years (for something he didn’t do, of course). Three years without a woman is a loooong time, if you know what I mean. He did eventually find a young girl willing to dance with him for a little while and he was obviously one happy man. His excessive enthusiasm was fun to watch for awhile but it began to get a bit annoying. Besides, he wasn’t purchasing any alcohol so he was finally asked to leave. I understand why but I must admit it broke my heart to see the look on his face as he gathered up his duffel bag and left the bar. The joy that had previously lit his face had suddenly turned to sadness. I hope he found another place to dance — at least for awhile.
Not long after “Freebird” left, “Monkey Woman” arrived. Blonde, late 40s/early 50s, wearing dark sunglasses and a stuffed monkey pinned to her left sleeve, she attracted little attention for the first hour or so (which says something about a place, doesn’t it?). She had come in with a man she had met that night and the two of them sat near us at the bar. At one point she told him to go “wash his nappy hair”, which he did in the teeny-tiny bathroom, and came back to the bar with his hair wet, although I’m not sure how much cleaner it was. And then things got weird.
I don’t know whether her medication wore off or kicked in but she suddenly became quite animated and talkative. However, much of her conversation was with the monkey on her sleeve. She kept going around to everyone in the bar trying to engage them in conversation with her and the monkey. At one point she came over to us, listened intently to the monkey and then told us that he had asked if we would adopt him. Hmmm…no thanks, he looks perfectly content with you. Later on she went up to Debi (of Debi and the Deacons) and informed her that they were twins. She kept saying, “Look at me; we’re twins!”. Other than both having blondish hair, there was simply no resemblance. Eventually she was asked to leave, too. Wow, two people too weird for a bar on Bourbon Street on the same night! Cool!
This is one of those people you really needed to see to get the full effect. He didn’t stick around long but he was truly an energetic dancer.
Slap Yo’ Mama:
Things were pretty tame after the previous characters left but we stayed until the band finished, mostly because we enjoy their music but partly because we didn’t want to miss any of the crazies who were obviously out in force that night. I think it was around 2 a.m. when we finally left. We decided that beignets and café au lait would be a fine way to end the night (or start the day) so we headed off for the famed Café du Monde. In the past we’ve always sat at one of the outdoor tables but they were cleaning that area and directed us to the tables inside. We placed our order and then soon became aware of the obviously homeless woman sitting nearby. She was fairly large and utterly filthy. She had several bags with her, one of which contained a bottle of Chlorox, although I can’t begin to imagine why. Pretty soon she began quietly talking to someone completely invisible to the rest of us. Apparently her imaginary friend said some pretty awful things because the woman began slapping him/her/it. It’s truly sad to witness such a degree of mental illness and realize so many people are not getting the sort of care and treatment they need.
By the way, the café au lait was perfect and the beignets were hot and messy. What a way to begin our vacation!
The Man in the Yellow Pants:
A couple of days later we were waiting for the Riverwalk streetcar when David pointed out someone walking toward us. We both initially thought it was a fairly tall, extremely skinny, black woman. “She” was wearing skintight, bright yellow pants with a black thong, and a black swimsuit top. Upon closer inspection we realized “she” was a “he”. A couple of male tourists made the same discovery as they walked by, as was evident by the look of shock and then disgust on their faces. Hey, they should take a walk down Bourbon Street where some of the prettiest women are men.
Over the course of our eight day visit we saw lots of other people who might be considered unusual in most places but who are just a normal part of this unique city. Sure, there are some truly sad cases like the homeless woman in Café du Monde, but many of the people we saw were simply dancing to their own music and making the most of the life they’ve been dealt. When you think about it, that’s a pretty cool way to live.