Tuesday, September 25, 2012

So, I'm actually pretty awful at being an adult.

My first big-girl purchases when I moved into my apartment in New Orleans were a washer and dryer. I did this mainly because the laundromat up the street is one of the sketchiest places on the entire planet, with a tiny parking lot that somehow exists at an angle perpendicular to the rest of the earth and is therefore impossible to drive onto, and populated by people who may or may not actually live there, huddled amongst the dryers for warmth and subsisting entirely on lint sheets and fabric softener.

For the first few weeks after I moved here, while my mom was helping me settle in and in the incredible heat of July, my mom and I visited this laundromat in order to wash volumes of humidity-induced sweat from our clothes and sheets. After a few incidents of accidentally dropping a sock or a pillow case on the floor of the laundromat and realizing that it now needed to be immediately deposited back into the washer for bacterial delousing, I broke down and bought my own washer and dryer. 

New Orleans is famous for having limited closet space, and this tends to include the little alcoves where people usually put washers and dryers. There are no hook-ups for a washer inside my two-story apartment. Instead, the washer and dryer are housed securely on my breezeway. 

The concept of a breezeway is something with which I was entirely unfamiliar back when I lived in Colorado. No such things exist there. I knew what a balcony was, and I knew what a porch was, and I even knew what a lanai was, having experienced one at my grandmother's house in Florida. 

A breezeway is all and none of these things. It's a raised porch that's flush with the first floor (which is a good four feet from the ground to avoid flooding, because New Orleans), surrounded by a wooden half-wall, much like a balcony, and screened in with a sort of iron mesh from there to the roof, so that the air can move through, but the bugs and lizards can't. Mostly. It's not really part of the house, but it's got some outlets to plug things in, and the aforementioned washer hook-ups. This means that I sort of wash my clothes outside. And also that I have to contend with trying to keep the washer from rusting. But whatever. 

Emboldened by my new purchases, I washed clothes like a boss. Everything I owned was clean, all the time. Paranoid about insect infestations, I was constantly scouring, bleaching, scrubbing and disinfecting things. My apartment freaking sparkled. Even my cats were lemony-fresh.

And then I got used to living alone. I realized that there was no one looking over my shoulder to make sure I washed my dishes after dinner, and that my mom wasn't going to remind me to wash my sheets every month or so. 

Things went rapidly downhill from there. Dishes began to pile up in the sink. Then the sink was full, and the counter became a wasteland of used plates and bowls. It got to the point where all my dishes would be dirty at the same time, and I would only clean as many as I needed to make new food, and then only half-assedly. My floors grew ruddy and sad-looking, and while I still swept up stray cat litter (mostly because it feels like walking on Legos when you're barefoot), and occasionally vacuumed the rugs or cleaned the toilet, a steady steam of dilapidation was creeping in around the edges of my home. 

Laundry was the most forsaken of all my chores. Because I've been effectively accumulating my wardrobe for something like the last ten years, ever since I began to obtain shirts that fit, if you get my drift, I have truly massive quantities of clothes. Because my closets are tiny (because New Orleans, again), my clothes are spread between three closets, a dresser, the drawers under my bed and another freestanding wardrobe in my office. I know that sounds like a lot, but I like to think that, for a twenty-something female, I have vaguely average amounts of clothes. And considering that most of those are the argyle sweatervests I wear to work and astonishingly nerdy T-shirts with references to Firefly and Doctor Who on them, I don't feel too bad about it. 

But as the months marched on, I wore more and more of these clothes without ever doing a single load of laundry. I think that once in a while, I would do a load of just underwear and bras, but for the most part, I just moved clothes from the closet to my body to the hamper, and then in an ever-expanding pile near the hamper, and then in scattered piles around the room, and then just covering the floor in general, and then in stacks on my bed and chairs. In the winter, that actually worked quite well, because instead of purchasing a second comforter to keep warm during the astonishingly cold New Orleans nights, I just curled into a ball beneath several layers of dirty clothes, like a bear in a nest of its own shed fur, comfortable in my complete laziness. 

In the spring, my mom came to visit. Appalled at the state of my house and person, she promptly shooed me off to work and proceeded to work her fingers to the bone scrubbing down the kitchen and tackling the massive backlog of laundry like a lone soldier going into battle against an orcish horde. 

During the course of her stay, she effectively helped me combat the bacheloritis that had overtaken my life, and for a time, I managed to keep a lid on things like laundry and preventing mold from forming on most of the eating surfaces in the kitchen. Most of the summer, in fact, minus that brief period of time wherein I purchased a PS2 and was lost to the world. 

But then fall rolled around, and with my reentry into the classroom and a new herd of incredibly germy children to teach, I got sick. I got really, really sick. I got so sick that I missed two days of school, and spent much of the weekend that followed in an awful, half-panicked/half-already-dead fever coma. (During said coma, I apparently sent a number of fever-texts to a friend of mine about pirate diseases, and how Rickets would be a wonderfully badass name for a cat. Said friend recently procured a kitten, and thanks to my brain stewing in its own 102-degree juices, there is now a kitty named Rickets in the world.) 

Anyway, during this span of time wherein all I could do was stumble hazily through my workday, go home, sleep and try not to die of fever, I fell behind on chores again. There are perhaps eight loads of laundry, a sink full of dishes, a rusty washer, a cat box loaded to the absolute gills with cat crap, and about a million square feet of floors to be scrubbed waiting for me at home. I think it gets to a point where the level of work to accomplish becomes so daunting that even beginning it seems like wasted effort. Thankfully, Mom's coming back to visit next month. 

I just need to wash enough underwear to make it till then.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

In which I am almost murdered to death by hipsters.

I ride my bike a lot in New Orleans. It’s often the most efficient way to get from place to place, as long as none of those places is the West Bank. Riding my bike, for me, is a leisurely activity here: In Colorado, bike riding involved pedaling laboriously up the sides of mountains and careening at break-neck speeds down inclines that may as well have been completely vertical. It induced in me a sort of incoherent, helpless terror.

Here, though, everything is flat. Everything is actually more flat than flat things are, seeing as most of New Orleans is below sea level. So cruising around on my adorable little city bike is not only easy, but very zen. I get to look around at all the iconic New Orleans architecture, culture and vegetation, all the while moving quickly enough to avoid becoming a target of random street crime, which, while unlikely, is something I am constantly paranoid about, in much the same way that I worry about whether or not I'm cleaning the cat box frequently enough, or what would happen if I ever ran into Brad Pitt in his office at the TFA building. 

I share the streets here with the drivers of New Orleans, all of whom are absolutely batshit insane, and also with other bikers, all of whom appear to be hipsters with death wishes.

First, the drivers. Because this is the South, people here tend to be pretty nice. You can chat on the street or in line at the store and come away thinking, “Aw, isn’t it neat how people of all types and walks of life can co-exist here and just be cool about it.” And that’s awesome. It’s one of the things I love about living here. But when those same nice people get behind the wheels of their cars, it’s like a switch is flipped in their brains, and all the crazy they’ve been repressing their whole lives is suddenly channeled into a wild melee of murderously aggressive road rage.

I used to be a polite little biker, obeying the rules of the road, pretending to be a nineteenth century English sailor as I signaled semaphore directions with my arms, riding along the shoulder, trying to stay out of the way.

I quickly realized, after coming within inches of being killed by an speeding Prius, that this was in fact the way to ride my bike around New Orleans if I wanted to completely fucking die. Since that is not my ultimate goal, I now wear the brightest colors I can and ride down the middle of a lane, taking up as much space as I possibly can, and slowing down when cars pull up behind me. In my brain, I narrate my interactions with drivers: Bitch, if you want to pass me, change lanes and pass me. Yeah, honk all you like. I’m not moving. You’re gonna have to suck it up, move four feet to your left and haul your shiny metal ass around me. And so forth.

But it works. I’m safer that way because it inconveniences the drivers around me, forcing them to alter their course and therefore giving me a precious buffer zone from their homicidal designs in which I can stay alive.

But other cyclists don’t always share my wanting-to-keep-breathing ambitions. Hipsters are a plague upon New Orleans in much the same way that cockroaches are, swarming to underground grunge bars and wandering, listless and mustachioed, through the Warehouse District, searching for PBR and scarves to wear when it’s 300 degrees outside. And it seems that all of these hipsters have bikes. Little narrow ones, with curved handles and removable seats that they carry around with them after they lock their bikes to benches and street signs.

Bike-riding hipsters weave back and forth among the cars of New Orleans, reveling (ironically, I’m sure) in the adrenaline of their constant near-death experience. In the Quarter a few weeks ago, I was riding behind this hipster girl whose bike did not have brakes. Like…they just weren’t there. In order to stop, she removed her right foot from the pedal and contorted herself so that the sole of her shoe was pressed against the top of her back tire, so that the friction slowed her down. I stared at her for the full ten minutes it took to get down to Jackson Square, watching her strange bike Pilates, and wondering how she managed to move like that in her overly starched skinny jeans.

Sometimes, the hipsters congregate. They come together in Biblical proportions, from every corner of the Bywater and also probably Treme, for special hipster events. Dirty Linen Night, for instance, was packed to the gills with hipsters. As I rode through the CBD, I was forced into a sea of hipsters wearing sullied white garments and horn-rimmed glasses, the smell of cheap wine and body odor in the air. I was drowning in hipsters. They were everywhere, and I knew in that moment that those were the last seconds of my life. I was going to die there on Julia Street, trampled by Converse and thrift store flats, as an uncaring, overly-jaded mob of young hipsters fulfilled their instinctual mandates to find other hipsters, mate, and make tiny ironic babies.

By throwing my weight into forward momentum and unabashedly crashing into a number of pedestrians, I managed to escape that fate, leaving a band of disgruntled unwashed hipsters in my wake. And as I pedaled away, I muttered with loathing, in the same way I would about a cockroach appearing suddenly in my room, “Fucking. Hipsters.”

Saturday, September 8, 2012

One of these things is not like the others.

I got about a mile into my bike ride to the Quarter today and realized that something about it was different from all the other rides I’ve taken in the last five months. Something about this ride was magnificent. I felt good. Really, really good. 

I took one arm (because who rides their bike with no handlebars? Screw you, Flobots, you dirty, dirty liars.) off the handle and pretended that half of my body was flying, because damn this ride was pleasant.

It took me another half mile or so to figure it out. It wasn’t the smell, because everything still smells like rotting timber and spoiled food in the wake of Hurricane Isaac. It wasn’t that I was suddenly in marvelous shape, rendering moot any exertion. 

Then it came to me, in a choral epiphany, straight from Heaven: Why am I not dripping with sweat right now?? Why is the back of my shirt still dry? Why is my makeup intact?
It was the temperature. A "cold" front moved through New Orleans last night, and I just hadn’t noticed it because I’d been cooped up in my office all day. But outside, just beyond my sphere of awareness, there was air that was twenty degrees cooler than the air was yesterday and also all of the last few months.

It was only, like, maybe 80 degrees out today, instead of 105. 

And it was more beautiful than riding a unicorn over a triple rainbow.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Regarding civil ordinances and also aliens.

Working in the French Quarter at night is a strange experience, as I’m sure the hundreds of people who do so can attest. Since I work as a tour guide for an agency which prides itself upon its numerous ghost, vampire and other-supernatural-beasties tours, I encounter not only the world’s weirdest tourists, but also the most bizarre co-workers and acquaintances New Orleans has to offer.

Don’t get me wrong, the other guides I work with are really quite nice people, and I know that if I ever got into a pinch while out and about ‘round Bourbon Street, any one of them would make sure I made it safely back to my car, but good Lord some of them are strange little men and women.

One of the older guides, whose family came to New Orleans as part of Iberville’s original settlement in 1692, is a wonderfully caring and pleasant grandfatherly type. He also carries a gigantic staff with a skull on the top of it, which he addresses as Yorek. Another guide grew up in India and wonderfully intelligent, having come to New Orleans to complete his dissertation. That was seven years ago, and I’m pretty sure that paper still isn’t finished. New Orleans does that to people. It sucks you in, and runs through your veins a little more every day. I think it’s funny that his accent, discernible but not thick in regular conversation, suddenly becomes overpowering when talking with tourists. 

Along with guides and tourists and pirates, the Quarter is full of street performers of every kind, musicians and artists and tarot card readers and actors and dancers and the occasional eight-foot-tall costumed neon demon/alien/thing. Actually, I only know one of those. His name is Joe, and he wanders the Quarter in his demon suit nightly, snapping pictures with tourists and I hope collecting enough tips to make it worth it. He’s a nice dude, and stops by to chat with guides while we wait to go out on tour. Tonight, he was talking about how absurd it is that the city is cracking down on an outdated ordinance which dictates that no street performers are allowed in the Quarter after 8 p.m., which resulted in him getting a ticket recently on his walk home in demon-garb.

I had a moment of surrealism on my bike ride home. I realized that I’d had an intelligent conversation tonight about evolving civil law and discourse with a spattering of the strangest people I’ve ever met (and also a man on stilts, dressed in a skin-tight alien costume), while tourists milled about the door of the Voodoo shop where we guides hang, and that this was my life now. It felt normal, and happy, and laced with that brilliant, viral New Orleans character, that luscious urban heartbeat that is part acid and part light, and I realized that however much I miss my Midwest mountains, New Orleans is my home now, too, and it’s never gonna let me go.