The hardest part about living as a nobody poorling in a fantastic, interesting urban center is that you know exciting, amazing, spectacular events are taking place all around you. And you aren’t a part of them. In Missoula as an MFA student, I was pretty much guaranteed an invite to the best time in town. If a famous writer was downing shots of Jack Daniels at a bison ranch, I was there. Now I’m sitting (and at least writing) alone in my apartment most of the time. This is New Orleans. I can’t exactly complain that there are no good restaurants, no fun parties. It reminds me of a Jack Nicholson line from As Good as It Gets, “Some have great stories, pretty stories that take place at lakes with boats and friends and noodle salad. Just no one in THIS car.”
In the interest “getting out there and meeting people” I attended two happenings last night. The first was release party for the Oxford American New Orleans issue at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. The second was an event held by the “504 Ward” which is “an innovative community seeking to build a world-class New Orleans by connecting fledgling New Orleanians to one another.” Both I was invited to through a random email from a friend of friend. Both were scheduled at 5 on a Thursday. Guess that’s the hot time in the city these days. Here I go all week with nothing to do at any particular time, suddenly I’m in huge demand for an hour.
This being New Orleans, I wasn’t particularly worried about punctuality. I left my house at 5 to walk down to the Ogden Museum of Art. As a writer and a fan of the Oxford American I put this event first in the queue. I savored the walk knowing from experience this would probably be the best part of the night. Ah, the moment of possibility — my buzz from that first, home pre-cocktail taking hold, the smell of fresh shampoo, the fall crisp in the air, that hot taxi cab driver who noticed my dress. I strolled from the Lower Garden to the Warehouse District, checking out real estate, fantasizing about my book deal so I can buy a two story home on Coliseum Street, second story wrought iron balcony and floor length windows a must.
At the Ogden, the art was cool, but the happening was not. It was one of those things, where you have no idea what you are supposed to do, why you are there, why you have been invited. The OA had a table set up with a few pamphlets and one copy of the New Orleans issue, which some woman with spiky hair, red lipstick and horn rimmed glasses promptly snatched up and stuffed in her purse. I meandered, hating that I looked like everyone else, a whitey, artsy liberal in search of something to do, living like a blog entry for Stuff White People Like. And as much as it sucks going to plastic cup events with a friend where you huddle in the corner and don’t talk to anyone, it sucks even more by your self. I walked up to couple and asked if there was something I was missing. Was there something else? Wasn’t this missing something? No, they said, nothing else, but they agreed it seemed there should be something. By “something” of course, we all meant cocktails. Here I was at a plastic cup event, but no plastic cups! In New Orleans! The horror!
On Napoleon, cars were piled in the median for blocks. You would have thought the Neville Brothers were playing for all the cars jammed around Tipitina’s. People were spilled out on the street. Turns out this event had open bar. And food. The crowd was more conservative, more of a khaki pants, shoulda moved to Georgetown type crew. One of those Joe Blo and Kokomo Blo Boy jam bands was playing, and although by myself, felt okay slipping around by myself in the dark, especially after a couple of complimentary Old Charter and Cokes.
The organizers seemed very nervous. Money was at stake here. I could smell it. A small throng gathered on stage grinning for their presentation. They passed a mike around, telling us that we were the bold, bright future of New Orleans. I didn't mind. They played a short flim/ad that featured some Dave Eggers looking guy waxing the poetic about “his city.” After that we were encouraged to “network,” that the person standing next to us might be our next lawyer or financier. Intentions seemed good, but like all events that try to force intimacy, felt awkward.
Finally, I realized the only hope was to try and meet the other people who hate these things but come anyway. I went outside to find the smokers. I found my friend Anne Marie who I had tempted with the open bar, so I would have someone to huddle with. She is a smoker, and sure enough, within ten minutes the Camel Light trap lured two people who work with NOVAC, a company that works to promote the Nola film industry. Through chitchat, Old Charter and Joe Camel I maybe found a band to play with. So maybe I networked after all. I’m not happy about it though.