My attendance at the wedding was a ruse.
When my friends announced their engagement, I expected New Orleans to be high on their list of possible destinations. The bride-to-be loves the city. She needed only a nudge to cement the choice and provide me with an official excuse to visit.
Telepathy is hard. For one, I don’t know how to do it. Two, I don’t know if it exists. But I tried anyway, spending the better part of a day beaming thoughts in her direction.
Choose New Orleans. Serve my needs.
The invite came; I booked the flight. Registry gifts were purchased. Pleasantries were exchanged. The passive voice was used.
But I spent the most time on my own research, planning the real reason for my visit. Wedding events would get in the way, but I was up to the task.
Why use the wedding as an excuse, you ask? If I had important business there, why not just fly to NOLA another weekend on my own?
If only it were that simple! (It may have been that simple. Sometimes I complicate things.)
I took the first airship out of Atlanta and arrived in the city early Friday. Friends in the Garden District offered up their apartment as a base of operations. I repaid their hospitality with lies.
For their own good.
Just a block from their home sat Lafayette Cemetery, a small but ornate collection of tombs. It reportedly inspired Anne Rice in her early years. Good enough for her, good enough for me.
There were few tourists that early hour, leaving some corridors entirely free of people. A blessing. I crept along, pressing my ear to each tomb and listening for movement inside. When that proved inadequate, I used the stethoscope I bought off Amazon.
Stealth has never been my strong suit. The tourists eventually noticed my creeping and pointed. A passing tour guide asked me to leave.
I hissed at them.
No matter, I thought. This is only the beginning, and the city is wide.
I walked to the next cemetery. Texts came in from other wedding attendees. Let’s meet for lunch, they said. I promised to join them for dinner.
I searched three more cemeteries and found nothing. Not surprising. The tombs here are quite public, and the flow of tourists is constant. The easiest places to search were always least likely to yield my prize.
On to the next level.
I opened my list of the oldest structures in New Orleans. Many from the 18th century still stand. I picked the closest, about three miles away, and got a trip estimate for an Uber.
Surge pricing: “plus 1000%.”
I spent the afternoon searching the deepest cellars of those old buildings. Or I would have, if New Orleans had cellars. I should have known that ahead of time. If the dead sleep above ground, then residents probably don’t store their holiday decorations six feet under.
I searched the old places anyway. Bribes and lies got me past the tourist ropes in some of the historic sites.
Private residences were trickier. Dogs seem to HATE it when strangers crawl through the window.
I found nothing.
Evening came. My phone vibrated with more texts from friends. Dinner? Where are you?
I wasn’t ready to give up the day. I replied with the same message to all: *Sick face emoticon* Not feeling well. Resting up for tomorrow’s ceremony. Hooray for love! *Three heart emoticons*
With the sun down, I could concentrate my search on crowded areas. But it’s a big city, and every place is crowded. Too wide a net.
My solution: high society balls. New Orleans is famous for them. And if the books taught me anything, rooms packed with glamorous people are a favorite of my quarry.
They are also hard to find. This isn’t the kind of thing advertised on Yelp. Creeping around the wealthier neighborhoods only got me questioned by the police. I began to wonder if high society balls still exist.
I settled for wedding receptions. Better than nothing, I thought. Not high society, but full of people looking their fanciest and drinking alcohol; the kind of thing that might attract the ones I’m looking for.
And before you say anything—yes, I appreciate the irony of sneaking into strange weddings while avoiding the one I’m invited to. But I do what I must.
Weddings proved much easier to find, but harder to slip into than anticipated. Even though I had the right clothes, the guests were surprisingly suspicious.
I guess there are a lot of weirdos in this city.
A private security guard punched me in the eye at the second reception I snuck into. Rude. The bruise made further sneakings impossible, as I can’t pull off sunglasses at night.
I wandered the Quarter for another hour, standing under eaves and trying to look vulnerable. Nothing happened. My eye hurt. I decided to call it a night.
As I trudged back to my friend’s apartment, jostled by drunken revelers, a bit of melancholy set in. I had come to New Orleans for magic, but all I’d found was tourists and beer and fried dough. The city was beautiful, certainly. The music was nice. But I needed more.
It’s only one day down, I told myself. Saturday would win me my prize.
I was back on the streets before first light. I walked past cemeteries, hoping to catch something returning before the sunrise. No such luck, but I found the ambiance encouraging.
I traveled to locations famed for voodoo. Caribbean magic has little to do with my particular objective, but I thought one might lead to the other.
The voodoo shop owners ignored my questions, interested only in selling souvenirs. I walked through the famed Rosalie Alley, asking locals for advice. They laughed and pointed toward the restaurants.
“Have a po-boy,” they said. “And put some ice on that eye.”
“I hate you.”
Late afternoon arrived. The wedding would start at six, but I was sweaty, mosquito-stung mess. Worried texts poured in, asking my ETA. If I was going to attend, I needed to go back to the apartment right then and there.
I did not attend.
Instead, I paid a local woman to ferry me into the swamps. She left me at dusk among the cypress trees and the ruins of old estates, ankle-deep in sludge. We established that she would return in four hours. With any luck, I wouldn’t be there.
The mosquitoes found me. All of them. Not some of them; all of them. I stood alone in the dark and suffered, collar pulled low, reading blogs by the light of my phone. Only mosquitoes took the bait.
The woman returned at the appointed time. She jammed her flashlight beam in my face and belly-laughed for a full minute. “Skeeters got ya, eh?”
I did not reply.
She dropped me off in the Quarter at 11 pm. I stood in the lane, staring up at the street lights and burning with failure.
It wasn’t fair. I’d done everything I could. This city of all cities should have been the one.
People stumbled by in the street, shouting and laughing, all their cares forgotten. I hated them and envied them, and it was all too much.
I screamed at the city. “Is this all there is? Is there no magic left in this world? Was it only ever in my head?
The locals laughed. I raged at them. They spat on me.
A woman on the balcony above stopped watering her ferns and leaned over the railing.
“Relax, fella. Have a beignet.”
“I don’t want a beignet.”
“Eat one anyway. Rough weekend?”
I kicked an empty beer can. “I didn’t find them. Anne Rice promised.”
“Did she, though?”
I stared at my shoes. “Kind of.”
“I met her once. Nice lady.” The woman went back inside. Sludge-water from her ferns dripped onto my shirt.
My friends drove me to the airport the next morning. They asked why I seemed so down. I forced a smile and lied. “Tired from all the wedding shenanigans.”
Members of the wedding party passed by in the airport. I ignored them, and they ignored me. A woman asked about my eye.
The minutes swam by at the gate. I felt myself sinking into the rest of my life.
The flight boarded late. I got the middle seat. They offered me pretzels.
I read an article about cholesterol on my phone.
Back in Atlanta, I gathered my luggage and dragged it to the far end of the economy lot. The sun had reached the horizon, but rush hour was still in full effect.
I didn’t mind the longer drive home. There was nothing special waiting for me.
My house—when I finally reached it—did not look inviting. At least I can sleep, I thought. And get some cortisone cream for my face.
As I pulled luggage from the trunk, I glanced over at the far street corner. Under the neon light of the dry cleaners sign, almost into the trees, a small woman sat atop a gigantic suitcase. Her feet dangled several inches above the ground.
Waiting for an Uber, I guessed. Or a Lyft?
She seemed nervous, or confused, hugging herself and casting furtive glances up the street. I wondered if her phone was dead. What if the driver tried to call, and she couldn’t answer?
She glanced in my direction; I waved to her. To my surprise, she beckoned me over. I grabbed my phone and trotted across the street.
“Waiting on a car?” I asked. She shook her head. “Well, you can use my phone if you need it.” I held it out.
She smiled up at me. Not nervous or confused at all. “Where did you go?” she asked, nodding at my luggage. I couldn’t place her accent.
On closer inspection, I saw that her suitcase wasn’t a suitcase at all, but a trunk with rusted copper latches. “You taking that to the airport? It’s probably too big, even for checked bags.”
She giggled. Was that an answer? I wasn’t sure how to continue, or why she had even called me over. “Are you from Atlanta?”
Ah, common ground! “That’s great. I used to live in DC, but sometimes we went out in Alexandria. Usually this Irish pub, Murphy’s. Have you been?”
She shook her head. “The other one.”
“The other Irish pub? I haven’t-”
“No, the other Alexandria.”
“I…” She waited for me to catch up. “Oh.”
She nodded, still smiling. “Oh.”
My heart beat faster. She was cute, but that didn’t feel like the reason. It wasn’t the good kind of raised pulse.
She slipped off the trunk and stood next to me. “I’m glad you came over. Are you glad?”
I glanced back at my place. It seemed very far away. The lights I’d left on during the trip still shone through the windows.
“I think that’s ok.” She smiled even wider, and I understood.
I’d found what I was searching for.
I was starting to miss New Orleans.
**** This utter silliness is a very loose adaptation of my favorite childhood picture book. A friend’s daughter recently turned one year old, and I thought it might make a nice gift. Sadly, I could not remember the name or the author, and every permutation of google search I have tried turned up nothing. I even asked the staff at multiple bookstores. No luck.
So… I need your help! The story is simple: An explorer searches the world for a particular kind of monster, which (if I recall correctly) was a small humanoid beast with white fur—sort of gremlin-ish, but nicer. He travels every continent, searches the remote places, follows clues and leads. He finds other monsters, but never the one he’s looking for. Defeated, he returns home, lays down on his bed, and turns out the lights. The last page of the book shows him sleeping as a whole troop of the searched-for creatures dances around his room. Sort of the whole “the thing you’re searching for is always right next to you” theme.
If this rings a bell, let me know!
**** The real wedding was lovely, and I ate multiple beignets.