It’s very early on the first post-Mardi Gras Saturday morning and I am doing dishes. Well, actually, the dishwasher is doing the dishes in it’s own half-assed way (our dishwasher is of the variety where the dishes have to enter the chamber almost entirely clean or they come out stained) and I’m waiting on the coffee. The coffee, made on the stovetop in my grandfather’s old tin drip coffee maker, takes awhile. Nothing happens quickly around here.
The room is almost completely dark, save for a few glints and glimmers of Mardi Gras beads hanging from our curtain rods — the last few survivors that have not yet been taken down; they have a droopy countenance similar to those in the trees on St. Charles Avenue. The party is over — for now — until the next party rolls around. The sheer number of parties in New Orleans is overwhelming and exhausting. I’m exhausted right now and fighting a virulent cold that came on strong in the waning hours of Carnival, as I tried to wring one last drop of cheer from Mardi Gras Day after maybe a wee too much Tullamore Dew. At 5 a.m. on Ash Wednesday, my sinuses and chest on fire, I found a way to make it into work because the work I do is too important to ever call out sick from, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing about my Mardi Gras Day: from hunting Indians in the morning, to balconies in the French Quarter, to dancing at the Candlelight Lounge and late night at Finn McCool’s Pub, New Orleans is my marrow bone. I ate well that night.
My work is important to me. Without going into too much detail, I am chef’ing again, as well as working with at-risk New Orleans youth as a mentor. For those from here, I’m sure you can connect the dots. Regardless, it feels wonderful to do meaningful work again, and to humble myself as a servant. It is very easy to get caught up only in the indulgences of this city and to miss her true heart. The real New Orleans is about generosity — lagniappe — and there are a lot of people around here that could use a little of it. I have seen the despair on the streets of Central City and I’ve seen the hope as well. I’ve seen the homeless outside the New Orleans Mission just trying to catch a break while others are catching beads just a few blocks south on shimmering Saint Charles Avenue. It’s a rather sobering thought that tempers my bacchanalian nature.
It’s been almost a year since I made the decision, at forty, to abandon everything I’ve known and move to New Orleans. It has been a trying year, with small victories scattered throughout. I have ceased to measure years by the static dates on the calendar, but instead choose the fluid schedule of festivals and food. How many Mardi Gras? How Many Jazz Fests? Is it crawfish season yet? What goes on in the rest of the world at this time? I don’t know anymore. But I do know I’ve started to put down roots here. Wide roots, like the live oaks in Audubon Park, but not too deep yet. I’m still scared to let this place get too deep into my heart, but it may have already have.
Being away from my son has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I haven’t made it home nearly as often as I would like to or should. Fortunately my parents were able to bring him down for Thanksgiving. He immediately fell in love with the fried shrimp po’boy at Domilise’s and beignets at Café Du Monde, which is the only paternity test I’ll ever need. Still, I feel like a failure as a father, and my guilt is only exacerbated by working with young men that, in many cases, were abandoned by their own fathers. If this is what irony tastes like, a cold copper penny, I do not like it. I’m determined to make this work, however. I am going to do something here that I could never afford to do in NYC: save for my son’s future. And in between I’m going to have to pick up more frequently flyer miles because I need to.
I moved down here because I was offered a job as a writer. They told me they liked my voice. Of course, that subsequently fell through, and now I am back in a kitchen. I have made peace with it. I am a servant doing servant’s work. I am a servant of my city. This is where nobility lies. One day I’ll be a writer again. But if I never write another word, I have already written enough. It’s what is being written for me that currently holds my interest.