It’s almost 2 a.m. as I leave a bar on Frenchmen, grab my bike and head for home. This counts as an early night in New Orleans. I didn’t get to bed the previous until seven in the morning.
I turn up Esplanade and say hey to Boogie. Pretty sure he doesn’t remember me, but he’s friendly back, as always. I stopped and spoke with him a few weeks ago. He’s a doorman at that place on the corner I don’t know the name of.
No cover, no charge.
I asked Boogie how he managed to remain so upbeat all the time — he seems to revel in his work — and he told me he used to run his own business, made good money, had a nice house and a few cars. But he worked all the time. At a certain point he realized he was on a treadmill, decided to quit.
Now he’s a doorman in the French Quarter. He goes to work, he does his job, he goes home. Seems happier than most.
From Esplanade I turn on to Dauphine and cruise through the Quarter. Quiet streets and flickering lamps gradually give way to dull thumps of dance music and neon lights.
I’ll stay off Bourbon tonight, still exhausted from the ten consecutive nights out I had with friends mid-month. We rolled hard and hit on a lot of ladies. Truth be told, we didn’t have a lot of success for all the effort we put into it. It’s not fear that’s kept me from approaching since. It’s pessimism. Do what you’ve always done and you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. I guess I’m looking for a better way.
Across Canal and through the CBD on Magazine. A friend of mine loves this part of town, the mix of buildings and businesses, dive bars and old brick around the corner from plush hotels and clean slab.
I’m taking the long way home, under the big bóthar then a quick jump up Erato to Coliseum. This is my favorite stretch of street in the crescent city. I won’t meet a live motor for a couple miles. I have it all to myself, through cross streets named after muses, generals, saints and ordinals, under thick limbs of live oaks, alongside a crumbling cemetery, past a house where a man grew young.
I’m in no hurry. I slow down when I catch a whiff of flowers, or see the glow of a TV in an upstairs window. I imagine a couple snuggled up in bed at the end of a movie night, empty take-out boxes and a bottle of wine on a hardwood floor.
Loneliness has found me in this town. I didn’t think it would, given that I have history here, people who know me. But they don’t really. And I don’t know them. A lot changes in four years.
I’ve been reading a book about presence. The author reckons we shouldn’t be looking to feel better, but to get better at feeling. Anger, fear, grief. The problem isn’t that we feel these things. The problem is that we try not to, bottle them up rather than let them out.
Cycling down this beautiful street, seeing such a glow in an upstairs window, imagining those imaginings, I try to let the feelings breathe, tell myself it’s okay to be sad. There’s a freedom in it.
Coliseum is closed off past Marengo, so I turn up towards Saint Charles, weaving from curb to curb, like a kid on his new bike.
My days here are numbered, so I’m trying to savor nights like this. I know each goodbye might be my last. Who knows how long these streets will stay dry, or how long before I die…
A few blocks up the avenue and on to Valence. People I care about live nearby. I picture young families asleep in their beds, wrapped up warm and snug in love and blankets. They chose a different path than I did. Sometimes I envy that choice.
I reach Freret and a single car goes by. Must be close to 3 a.m. A couple more blocks and I’ll be home, climb some steps and unlock the door.
I was thinking to watch a movie before bed, but maybe I’ll write instead.
Usually when I write a piece like this, I get back comments and emails from well-meaning folk, telling me to cheer up and reminding me of all the good things in my life. Which is nice and all, but I think it kind of misses the point.
As I mention in the video, the problem isn’t that we feel bad, it’s that we’re bad at feeling, that we try and suppress negative emotions like anger, fear and grief, rather than let them breathe.
Writing helps me give air to those difficult feelings. And hopefully some of my words resonate with you, the reader, so you don’t feel all wrong and broken when you encounter similar.
Here’s to experiencing the entire spectrum of human emotions. May we all feel sad and lonely sometimes, and love ourselves anyway.