Charming, but single

A journal in dates and drinks

A certain je ne sais quoi

A dear lawyer friend of mine moved to a suburb of New Orleans in early August. She got a great job in the city, rented a cute condo and was settling into N’awlins just fine. Just fine indeed. And she was well poised to continue her storybook life as a high-heeled, well-suited attorney with a nice firm. This was the life that she’d dreamt of and that dream kept her focused through each all-nighter, each early class, each final. And she loved the life she’d earned. Things didn’t work out as she had planned, obviously. Mother Nature is stronger that human will sometimes. But she’s a hard worker, a nose-to-the-grindstone type. And she wasn’t content to have her story end somewhere around a molded out townhouse and the end to her dream job. So she did what a high-heeled, well-suited attorney should do. She sent out more resumes than we can count. And she landed a job, making more money, at smaller shop in her hometown of sorts. And she bought herself a cute little house and some new furniture and things are very different, as she misses New Orleans very much. And on Saturday, friends, family and new co-workers met at her cute little home for a housewarming. I made the trip to the North Shore for the occasion. It reminded me of why I love this place so much. There was food, rich with flavor and so many fat grams and calories that I didn’t count. Gatherings like these – complete with loud talking, music and overflowing drink – are the same in every household ‘round here. Sure, there are different ingredients each time, like how my friend’s family puts corn in their gumbo and mine is more the okra type, but the end result is the same. It was spicy and good, like the company. After the “grown-ups” left, we drank more. Did shots. Played cards. We were loud and cursing and young. And it was fun and relaxing. Sunday morning I woke up still dressed in clothes from the night before on an air mattress in the spare bedroom with hair mussed and head pounding. A small crew of friends had crashed on various couches and beds, and we convened in the kitchen to relive the night before. (Apparently I had called the girl who got in the actual spare bed a whore because I’d wanted to sleep there and demanded that my friend bring me “my pills,” because I wanted to take a Tylenol before bed. Angry drunk, I guess.) And we munched on leftover crackers with cheesy spreads and crisp carrots in ranch dip and muffins the Lawyer’s mom left for the occasion. My friends tried to convince me that the “hair of the dog” would perk me right up. They made Mimosas and Bloody Marys, but I was in no mood for more alcohol. People slowly dispersed. I lounged around, trying to build up the energy to drive home. “Do you want to go?” asked the Lawyer. “Do you want to go see where it flooded?” I didn’t. I’d been avoiding this for months, changing my New Year’s plans just days before the big night because I didn’t want to go to New Orleans. Tears had welled in my eyes as I’d driven in on Saturday, just to see the thinned out treeline and debris lining the roads. And I hadn’t seen anything yet. Some people I know had been to the city and visited the hard-hit areas. The Lower Ninth, Chalmette. I’d never gone. Something about it just seemed improper, as if I’d be sightseeing in someone else’s personal destruction and misery. But I needed to see what happened, I suppose. And the Lawyer wanted to take me. I think she wanted to tell the story and to have her friends know just how bad it was, since telling doesn’t work. Everyone always told me that pictures don’t do it justice. And everyone was right. “It doesn’t always look like this,” she said as we drove through her town. “I mean, with the trash. And the trailers everywhere. It should be cleaner.” She made excuses because she didn’t want me to think poorly of where she’d grown up. “I know, baby. Sweetie, I know.” Trees were mangled, houses blown out. Or sometimes there were just pilings, with no house to be found. And the Lake was smooth and calm looking, not angry and vicious like it was six months before. Cars, boats and trucks decorated the sides of the road and people’s front yards. No person could destroy in this way. Not with a million machines and bombs and the will of an army could you cause such uniquely terrible devastation in a mere matter of hours. It is so terrible that there are no words, and I don’t even know why I’m trying to force there to be. I blinked back tears behind the big sunglasses I’d worn specifically to hide my emotion. And the Lawyer pointed out landmarks, houses of people she knew. There was a sense of randomness about the damage, with some homes just being totally demolished and others looking like they just needed a good gutting and some remodeling. “You know, people work their whole lives to get here,” she said. “To live on the water, on the lake. This is their retirement, their nest-egg.” “From rich to poor,” she said. “From the nicest houses in the town to trailers in their front yards.” I left shortly thereafter. I didn’t go see my family’s property; most notably because it’s been years since I’ve been and street signs and landmarks are hard to come by right now. (“You’ll never find it, babe,” Mom said when I’d called and inquired about the street name. “And if you did, I know you wouldn’t recognize it. Not now.”) It’s just as well, I suppose. I wasn’t paying attention when I left and I got on the wrong Interstate as I went westward home. I felt nauseous thinking about driving on a bridge that was previously washed out and passing by New Orleans East. From the highway I could see blue-covered roofs, with tarps to protect the homes from the elements. And homes where the tarps weren’t necessary, because you can’t cover a gaping hole if you don’t have a roof to begin with. More tears, only this time there was no reason to hide them, as I was alone. Words to sad songs filled my mind. And I let them, because sometimes you need to be sad, to get it out, to wallow in pain. “Rained real hard / it rained for a real long time / six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline” I grabbed my phone and called a friend who’d moved back to the city for his graduate program just a month ago. He was free, so I promised to hop of the Interstate for a glass of wine and to catch up for about an hour. I’d avoided being in the city for long enough. I am a big girl, a grown up. And it was now or never. “Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans / And miss her each night and day” I knew I was nearing the city when the driving became more defensive. Out of shock because of the missing rooftops and tangled trees, I’d unknowingly dropped my speed to barely 45, much to the chagrin of my fellow drivers, who flew around me with angry eyes. Yes, the angry drivers meant I was back. It wasn’t exactly same in the city. A lot of things are closed and still boarded up. But is was similar. I still missed my exit. I still turned the wrong way and had to loop back around. I still got lost. “Some people got lost in the flood / Some people got away all right” But at its core, the city still has that certain je ne sais quoi. I know this because I always get a feeling of history and wonder and culture and everything good when I am there. And as I passed familiar restaurants and shops – Rue De La Course and the Whistlestop Café, where for some reason I remember I'd eaten breakfast with my great aunt one time many, many years ago – I felt that sense of amazement creep back in. There is something brilliant and intangible about this city. It feels so old, like it has seen so much, and that if you listen it will tell you. “It’s been a real hard time, cher,” the city would say if it could speak. “But don’t cry, because darlin’ it’s gonna be alright.” It is odd to see gorgeous uptown homes spray painted on the front or on the sidewalk, marking the houses as checked for survivors or those who perished in the days after the storm. (I think.) Some are painted over, but some you still see, like a scar you can cover with make-up. But is doesn’t go away. I had Merlot at my friend’s new place. It is smaller, which is probably for the best since he didn’t save much furniture from his flooded apartment. He seemed to be doing okay. He said he misses living in a fully functional city. When I said I had to get back on the road, he said, “I want to go home, too. I wish I could go with you.” “Now, now, do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?” I teasingly quoted Louis Armstrong, pronouncing it “Or-leans” and not “Awlins,” as we often do down here. “You will be fine. You’re in New Orleans! A great city! A fabulous city! You will be fine.” And just like that, I conquered my fear of seeing a place I love in such disarray. I sighed as I left, remembering nights at bars, good dinners, walking down Canal Street at 3 a.m. in a panic because I couldn’t find my hotel. Parade-watching during Mardi Gras and that year when I was a child and I tumbled off of my parade seat atop a ladder, falling head first to the ground, on what I think was St. Charles Street. I had really wanted a doubloon from that parade and I’d leaned forward and slipped out of my father’s firm grasp. I stood up screaming, and my parents cleaned me up and I’d shaken it off. I wish I’d seen a Streetcar on Sunday, because as long as I can remember, I’ve associated the Streetcars with the city. They are in all of my romanticized memories of New Orleans. When I was little, I’d always been so scared when we drove on the cut throughs across the Streetcar lines. I’d worried the Streetcar would smash into our little van and push us into traffic, which I’m sure has actually happened more than once. And as an adult, when I saw weeks ago on the news that the Streetcars were running again, I’d cried just like a baby. Just like when I fell off that ladder into the street. But I didn’t see the Streetcar on Sunday evening, so I guess I’ll just have to go back for more visits. ‘Cause, Louis, I do know what it means to miss New Orleans. And the feeling’s getting stronger the longer I stay away.

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Charming, but single is 25 26 27(!), lives in the Southern part of the U.S.A. and likes both her drinks and her boys tall. E-mail (listed below) her and she may respond. You can also IM her in AIM/AOL. (If she ever remembers to sign on.)
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Former taglines of this blog: "A Journal in Dates and Drinks" and "A Dateless Journal of Drinking."

Those Particulars
Some Backstory
Memories of the Way We Were
Updates and Towel Snapping
One Year Wrap-Up
Just As She Is
An Open Letter to Myself
After 26 years, she HAS learned something
An Open Letter to the Men Who Message Me Through Match
Sharing a smoke

Associated Content Interview with Charming
The Hindu: Blog Sisters are here

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