Stand on a quiet street in Los Angeles at 4:00 am.
Order a Lyft.
Wait 30 minutes.
Stare at your phone: the computerized version of your ride flipping around from one cul-de-sac to another.
When your car finally arrives, the driver should be a woman in her late thirties: brushed out hair and soft smoker’s voice.
She will not be alone.
On the passenger’s side, sits a man.
He will be tall, Irish Catholic looking, Bostonian feeling: features reminiscent of where you were born, not of Alabama, where you lived as a teenager, nor of now, where you are standing, as he gets out of the car, pulls the seat forward and says . . .
— My friend is a great driver.
— Trust her.
Should we? Look at your husband.Trust her? Find his eyes. Lovely brown. You both age at the same time, so it’s never too noticeable. Maybe you will die together. In the car? Maybe you will die later. After tonight? If given the option, you would prefer to die in tandem. Maybe . . . but not now.
Hold your breath and reluctantly hand over your bags.
— Take us to LAX.
Musty air will softly putter from vents, newspapers will cover the floorboards, and her hatchback will smell like 1997.
You’ve been here before, in a car like this, but as the driver— your pal Becca: the passenger, her hand cupping a wooden pipe, flicking a BIC. You both work as ushers at the sixteen screen cineplex. Her puff burns then billows on a lag. Yesterday, a movie-goer demanded you fix the antennae. You tried to explain: It’s not about signals or transmission, but focusing the lens. He doesn’t understand. No one has iPhones or Google. You just have this town. That steering wheel. These uniforms that are tuxedos. A bowl that will be cached. This hatchback. That empty lot where you will park. An ability to drive. These projections. Where should we go? You will want to cry. You always want to. The cry has a story. It’s about the South and driving in cars. You never go anywhere. You just flip around in cul-de-sacs.
Take a breath and snap back to Los Angeles.
Your driver will creep down Glendale Blvd. Your head will rest against the backseat. Your husband will thumb through his phone. With no traffic, the driver’s slowness will feel ominous.
She will whisper.
—I sense some nervousness.
Your husband will respond.
— It’s cause we’re running late.
She will mumble.
— I’ll get you there.
Headlights will weave. Her Irish-Catholic friend will slump against the passenger’s side window, snoring, as cars whiz by, reverberating through the glass.
She will sigh and pull the car over, turning off the engine.
— I’m gonna ask you to do something weird. Can you get out?
She will continue:
— I don’t have my glasses. It’s hard to see.
Cranking the ignition, she will lose the thought and head back onto the Interstate with:
— I’ll get you there. I’ll get you there.
Welcome to New Orleans.
At your Airbnb, look in the full length mirror.
Hold your phone out.
Take a shot. Then another. Stretch your arms high above your head.
The phone is out of frame.
One more time.
Move your shoulders back and push your head forward. Another. You should feel unnatural and attractive; like a goose, you are making your best effort. You are pretending to not care about selfie, but still, it’s obvious that you care about selfie. So serious. Hello, lunatic. There’s a laugh. It’s you. Laughing at you. Your best you. Terrible you.
Drop the camera and jog around the Lower Garden District with your husband. Find Magazine Street then follow its sidewalk towards an apartment not far from Thalia Street. Admire all the dark brick, mud, and moss. So much moisture. Your desert lungs will have forgotten. How the earth breathes. Gaze up at the second floor.
You’ve been here before: on that balcony, near these tall windows, up those noisy stairs, sipping a go-cup, kicking your shoes off in the kitchen. You know the view: how plastic beads languish on tree limbs long after they’ve been thrown— except there was a kumquat tree here and you wore three pairs of stockings then.
Pause to catch your breath. Now, it’s not cold enough to see. The rain. Everyone skipping towards railroad tracks. Explosions overhead. The streets will feel the same, but still, some people are gone, so it’s not.
Later on, call Tallie and Chris. You all attended Alabama together before trickling off to Los Angeles shortly thereafter. They lived in a crummy Hollywood apartment ten minutes away from your crummy Hollywood apartment. You are still friends now, even though a few years ago they moved back to the South for work, for art, for another phase of their lives.
When their car pulls up, you will tug on the car door and crawl in, saying:
— I just ran by your old place.
There will be a baby in the back, their first. He will have the roundest face you’ve ever seen: so glowing, so delicate. You will be scared to touch him.
—Is your seat buckled?
Good. Get ready for the tour.
First stop: Lake Pontchartrain.
Chris will tell you about his buddy’s boat: taking it out at night with a few beers.
— The cops pulled us over.
Chris will say, touching his beard, continuing.
— We didn’t have headlights so they set our phones to flashlight mode, duct-taped them to the boat, and demanded we return to shore.
It will sound romantic: drifting in the night, knowing water in this way.
Chris will point out the window.
—Here’s where boats get stuck and can’t return to dock.
Second stop: Gentilly.
Chris will pull into the driveway of the modest home he shares with Tallie. Another first.
The four of you will exit the car with baby in tow and steadily walk from room to room, stepping over boxes, ending up in the backyard. There is a certain ease Tallie has as a mother, you will observe, as she finds her way to a patio chair, feeding the baby his bottle, cradling him, absorbing him. In this house, with this baby, she will look like an adult.
Your body will fill with warmth, so much so, you touch your own belly, thinking of something there. Across the lawn, catch your husband’s eyes: framed with freckles and soft creases from smiling. You both age at the same time, so it’s never too noticeable. Maybe you will die together. In a boat? Maybe you will die later. After tonight? If given the option, you would prefer to die in tandem. Maybe? But not now.
— During Katrina, this neighborhood was six feet underwater.
It will sound terrifying: drifting in the night, knowing water in this way.
Tallie will add:
— That was about ten years ago.
You will remember the Lyft driver in LA: driving you blindly towards a destination.
You will think about houses being filled.
It’s not a mirage. Some boats get stuck, but they still float.
This concept of destiny: We are always recalibrating.
Stroll into French 75 off of Rue Bienville.
In the early 1900s, this was the “gentlemen only” section of Arnaud’s Restaurant, but now it’s classic cocktails and cigars for everyone, even that guy in a windbreaker. So, sit at the bar and order one, not a windbreaker, a French 75. It’s made with cognac, simple syrup, lemon juice, and champagne. Always ask for cognac over gin.
Read a magazine as you sip.
You’ve been here before, with your college boyfriend, arguing about Jazz Fest, like you know anything about jazz. You’ve been here before, with you mom and dad, trying to talk about law, like you know anything about enforcement. You’ve been here before with your husband, wearing a thinly worn black polka-dotted dress with peter pan collar, acting both contemptuous and liberated as you sign the check while subtly sloshed, your pal Mollie puffing a cigar.
Tell the bartender you are her friend.
He will smile softly, whistling a tumbler clean, polishing a shine.
Mollie is memorable, not because she is loud, but because she is smart and gracious.
Ask him where to go.
He will draw this map on a napkin.
— Here. Here. And Here.
You will point to the scribbled intersection. We are?
Along for the ride, waiting to arrive somewhere, to a place you’ve been before, to another version of yourself in this place, like you know anything about people or places, or yourself as a person in this place right now.
The bartender will confirm.
— We are here.
Look at your husband. Find his eyes. Lovely brown. You will touch your belly, that lower abdomen, there’s a hollowed upside down pear tucked inside.
You will reply.
Move your finger from the napkin and place it on your husband’s sleeve.
— Here we are.
Use his sleeve as a soft space to rest your head, your mouth. Breathe deeply into his fabric and then out again. The fibers absorb all the heat from your lungs. You will want to live there, inside that warmth.
Say farewell to the bartender while digging around in your purse for some aspirin. When you can’t find one, prop your shoulders up against the wooden table and breathe into the cramp. Stretch your upper torso side to side.
Watch the windbreaker man slur and stomp. He will still be here, gesturing “titties” with his hands.
Fold the napkin into your pocket and wait for Karolyn. She will pick you up near Canal. She will have long reddish hair, glasses, and a soft gentle radiance. When not teaching, she takes Bounce in Bywater.
She will drive you to her place, show you a large papier-mâché Chinese lantern, and share her vision: add spray paint plus an ostrich feather for lashes.
—It’s going to be an eyeball.
She will continue.
— A costume for Halloween. I’m one and my friend is the other. Together we are a pair.
Karolyn possesses a certain Southern quality that you will never truly embody because, even though you spent eight years in the Bible Belt— you were never truly born here. Regardless, you flirted with the culture long enough to appreciate it— to have been a part of it in some capacity and to marry into it. So, when Karolyn shows you the “Javier Arenas Contemplation” corner of her apartment, you will be clueless of its reverence, but note the charm.
— Javie was a player for Bama a few years ago.
She will explain.
— He plays for the NFL now. I forget what team. My dad got me that signed photo for Christmas a couple of years ago. There is a little rocking chair under it, an acoustic guitar, and a wreath of red silk roses that my friend wore in the NOLA Running of the Bulls.
There is no significance to the corner, except that it is perfectly Karolyn.
— I think its funny to have a huge picture of a Bama player with an autograph across his private area in such a prominent spot in the front room. I think a rocking chair and a guitar are good ingredients for contemplating things.
She will conclude.
Appreciate Karolyn and what she cultivates.
Picture that hollowed-out upside down pear buried underneath your abdomen. Feel it ache then throb and gush. Place it on the grass and watch it bleed into a dumb football, then give it a kick. So serious. Hello, lunatic. There’s a laugh. It’s you. Laughing at you. Terrible you, like you know anything about fruit or how to bear it.
Walk to The Rusty Nail and buy Karolyn a drink.
Dogs are welcome to roam around inside, so bring her dog: Lamont.
He will meet another dog there. This other dog will be wrapped around an older man’s arm, seemingly already in a state of rigor mortis.
— What’s wrong with him?
You will ask.
— He’s dying.
Your husband will whisper back.
To contrast, look at Lamont: sitting politely on a chair at the table. Healthy— so young and fluffy, he will attract a slurry older woman, probably in her 60s. Definitely an alcoholic. One of the regulars.
— Jack Russells are only happy when they are trained.
She will stroke his ears and southernly murmur.
Lamont is not a Jack Russell.
The woman will dramatically snap her fingers, swing back one shoulder, slide a little hip shake, and gesture for Lamont to join her on the dance floor.
In her mind, they are Ginger Rogers and Lamont Astaire.
Ginger will clap her hands . . . and sway to the right.
— Boop. BOOP.
Lamont will ignore her.
Ginger will flap her arms like a bird.
Lamont will cower and Karolyn will say, with restrained agitation:
—I don’t think he knows Boop Boop.
The woman will angrily fire back:
— I know . . . that’s why I’m teaching him.
Your husband will suggest, sipping on a pint, edging between them in a careful way:
— Maybe this isn’t the right place to be teaching a dog about Boop Boop.
Ginger will declare:
— I really hate people.
The older man will return, unwrap the dying dog from his grasp, and gently place him on the ground to smell a lounging German Shepard. The dog will quickly collapse— urinating allover himself, soaking the wooden floor.
Karolyn will help clean the dog, your husband will close out his tab, and Ginger will walk up to you, place her hands on your hair and say:
— A wave like Veronica Lake.
A half hour later, while walking back to your Airbnb, you will pass a minivan that is wrapped head-on around a lamppost. Observe the twisted metal and door dinging open. No one is inside or on the street.
You have been here before, but in a car passing by with smoke pluming. Your friend Becca steadies the wheel with her elbows while sucking a drag. You are in the back, the middle, or bitch seat, as they call it, as the boys on all sides call you. It’s 1998 and you just arrived. No one has a cellphone. Most are one year from dropping out. You don’t want to have sex, a baby, or a family. There are no thoughts of returning, just moving forward— going there, getting lost. Out out out. Away away away. Soft guitar licks through the upholstery on the reverb. You want to cry. You always want to. The cry has a story. It’s about the South and driving in cars—
This concept of destiny: We are always recalibrating.
Take a breath and snap back to where you are.
The crashed minivan’s headlights will be on, pointing out, softly illuminating dust particles. Walking closer to the vehicle, you will realize it’s freshly abandoned. No cops in sight. No survivors to be found.
Should we? Look at your husband. Keep going?
A blonde sorority girl will brush by in a huff, accustomed to crashes— or comfortable with the air: how it settles— or certain of where she is headed: she is settled.
You will wrap your arm around your husband’s waist. He will pull you in close. You both age at the same time, so it’s never too noticeable.
At your Airbnb, walk from the bedroom— to the bathroom— to the office— to the kitchen— to the living room— to the porch in one straight-line like bang— bang— bang—bang. The ceilings will be high. The furniture will be quaint, rustic. You won’t want to touch anything because it looks so curated and not like yours.
This housing is temporary, for the interim.
Ginette, the curator, will warmly welcome you to the space and explain:
— Taylor was one of Andy Warhol’s actors. He was preparing to show here, but then he passed away; so, the exhibit found new structure, and now functions mostly in memorandum.
Together, you will review documents of Taylor as a young man and also as an elderly one. He will be naked with an impish grin. His smile will be unabashedly mischievous: a constant.
Walking from picture to picture, consider how collectively, this visual timeline tells a story: how he did many drugs and abused many things and maybe was abused himself without resolution.
Ginette will offer:
— He looks like he never grew up. Maybe we all never grow up. I still feel like I did when I was in my 20s. Our bodies surprise us.
Ask her if Taylor lived in New Orleans.
She will say:
— No, but he loved it. It’s a place where he always returned, but never stayed.
Something for the interim.
Thank Ginette for her time, then hop back on your cruiser and head for the Marigny.
Pull out the napkin from Arnaud’s. Stop at Mimi’s. Down your drink and eat tapas: cooked salmon and empanadas. The nicest you’ve had in a while. The bartender will give you table service, but not before saying:
— Don’t get used to it or expect it. I don’t do this all the time.
He will emphasize:
— So, don’t complain about me on Yelp.
Bike down to Vaughan’s. There will be a young woman in a torn T-shirt with a vulgar-looking older man. She will lean against a building, hip out, smiling.
Bike down barren streets lined with decaying colonial French architecture and sporadic storefronts. The light on your bike will be out, but your eyes will adjust.
Bike until you are 32 . . . and then 23 . . . and then 19.
Bike until you see a soft glow, illuminating an airstream in a field of darkness.
Now, chain this bike to a nearby fence. Walk into the party like you belong, like you are crashing something because you are crashing something.
You have been nineteen before. Not here, but somewhere similar, as an interloper. This is not the first time you feel this way. You always do. Because you are never at home. Because you moved. Because you are transient. Because you can’t identify yourself within yourself as you move. Because you are transient. Because you are always moving. Physically. Because lodging is less about home and more about being stuck. Mentally. Because you suddenly realize moving is the same thing as aging.
— Oh god.
Drink a free pecan stout beer and chill in this lawn chair. Listen to the local band play songs— from bands like Boston or Alabama about places like California.
Grab your husband’s hand and find his eyes. They will be sleepy or transfixed by the moment. See a glimpse of the little boy in him. These freckles. Those curls. That gapping mouth. You will want to take care of the moment, of this boy, so much so, you touch your stomach, reconsidering that upside down pear.
— We are here. . .
A man will walk towards the center crowd and make an announcement. Slowly realize, it’s not just a party for hanging, but a party for fundraising. Emerging filmmakers from the area need money.
You are 37. Suddenly. The oldest people at the party.
Give your husband a kiss, tug him away, and bike back towards Cafe du Monde on Decatur. With a whirl of pedals, pass by everything you saw before and lock your bikes to the wrought iron fence outside. Touch its twisted metal— this decorative shape indicates space reserved but not protected, forced to comply, older, yet still the same. On the patio, pass by the waiters: their white aprons, those paper hats. Move towards the kitchen: a room of metallic equipment and messily strewn powdered sugar. A wonderland of coffee and dough.
Maybe you will die together. Maybe you will die later.
Stand there under the fluorescent light. This place will feel familiar.
— Where should we go?
You will want to cry. You always want to. The cry has a story.