I wrote this almost exactly six years ago. My inspiration was a friend who had... well, let's not get into that: they know who they are, and I love them. My other inspiration was the song "Planet of New Orleans" on Dire Straits's album On Every Street. I stole the title of Mark Knopfler's song for the story, and for this post. The piece is written in an odd voice: second-person (sometimes slipping into first -- oops), present tense, oddly repetitive, and very internal. I'd never been to New Orleans when I wrote this, but maybe I didn't do too badly.
The light wakes you up, it's way too damn bright in here, what the hell time is it? The clock's blinking a bunch of ones at you, and you finally resolve four of them, with a colon in between. You try to move, but you're sweat-stuck to the sheets a bit, and you lie back, heedless, you don't have much to do anyway. You smell a woman in bed with you, and some of the previous evening floats back. What the hell were we drinking? I thought it was illegal. They drink it in Spain? Rat-crazy bastards. Give me Jack Daniel's any day. But this isn't a Jack Daniel's sort of town.
The body next to you stirs, and the scent comes back to you again. It's the same scent you've smelled before, and you're scared again you won't smell it again for a century, but the part of your brain that isn't working very well right now knows you'll be smelling it when you're in that place where the sheets are white and cool and changed out from under you every day so they don't stick to you (like these do) and kill you. You get up.
Coffee coffeee coffeeeeee.... You stagger to the kitchen you've never fixed a damn thing in. Nothing in the right place, in fact there's precious little nothing anywhere. Your feet hurt. You open and shut, open and shut, cabinet doors creak. You know there's no caffeine to be had here, but you open and shut anyway, look look look. The noise, or the heat, or the light, or something, wakes the sleeper. Damn. Huh? More voices? Sleepers? More of last night comes back. Oh, ok, ok.
Women bathe. Where are the towels in this damn place anyway? In boxes, like everything else. The maid's had the day off for about fifty years. Wet towels all over the bathroom. Find chemicals, apply them. Stomachs are grumbling. Lunchtime? Not fair! I haven't had breakfast! Grumble grumble grumble. Laugh a bit, the water was cooling. Wet hair is tied back. Dry clothes soften as they go up against over moist skin. They'll dry out some tonight after they come off and go on the floor.
Huh? Oh coffee. Yeah. What was that place? World Cafe'? We went there once, about a month and a decade ago. It should have been like a vacation, but it wasn't. This shouldn't be like a vacation, but it is. Get out, do anything. Go. Car keys, gas, strange streets, but familiar rituals: at least they're driving on the right side of the road. Where the hell are we going? Drive drive drive. Park a long ways away. Walk. Why the hell did we drive? Walk. Damn it's hot. Why the hell are we walking? Walk.
Walk walk walk. Damn, this place is *different*. Riotous vegetation. Evergreens everywhere, in a place where it never freezes. Almost never. The shade hides away under the evergreens. The porches hide in the shade. The people hide on the porches. The houses are hidden by trees. Trees or iron porches. You finally reach some shade. It's still hot. Damn. You drift back into the sun at a measured pace. Everything is flat, the pace is constant. Shoes slap rhythmically against hot concrete, hot asphalt, hot dirt. Walk walk walk. This is a walking town. Walk.
Who the hell are all these people? I just want to wake up and eat. The cafe' is crowded. These people are all crazy, drinking coffee, it's fucking hot. Damn, it's two o'clock. We get coffee and beignets, a big basket of doughy sugar-dusted lumps.
Thank god there's a table. It's for two, but three'll work. A single guy is at the next table, a blissful expression on his face. He's ripping off chunks of doughnut and sticking them in his mouth. No, beignet. Food. The smell is intoxicating. He's following each lump with a sip of hot coffee. He closes his eyes, navigates another chunk into his mouth. He's got dinner-plate-size sweat rings under his arms, the shirt sticking to him, then falling away. He's smiling, a shit-eating grin, but he's not eating shit. He's sweating like a pig, but he's smiling, his broad features upturned, happy. Smiling, chewing, sipping, smiling. Smiling.
Food. Flour, milk, egg. Hot from the fat. Pick it up. Hot. Damn, everything is hot here. Hot. You open your mouth. A faint scent of nutmeg and mace tickles the base of your brain. You inhale, damn, powdered sugar all *over* my shirt. Powdered sugar over everything. Now I'm more sticky. Great. Try again. Put food in mouth. Chew. The saliva starts coming out. You chew some more, then swallow. Blissful. Another bite. Chewing, chewing, swallow. You wake up a bit. Another bite, the gassy voids in the beignet collapsing under your teeth, the sugar dissolving on your tongue. Good, sweet, good.
Drink. Coffee. Hot, damn. The bitterness makes the coffee seem even hotter. What *is* this shit? Chicory. Coffee. It wakes you up. Take another sip. Drink. Drinking coffee. Your brain starts working like a team. Take another bite, another sip. Waking up. You see the table, your friends, the customers, the World. Suddenly it slaps your head, a crooked cop black-jacking you with a five-pound andouille: It's August. This is New Orleans. Life is good.
Thinking of you, with my love,