Punch Drunk 

Jack explores the dunces and dives of New Orleans

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I dust a bit. ... in addition, I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip. — Ignatius J. Reilly. New Orleanian. True Genius. (“A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole)

Fly into the Crescent City for an alternative weekly newspaper conference in the French Quarter — the world’s largest continuous cocktail party. Hundreds of people are out partying at 3 p.m. on a Thursday. I shudder just thinking about Mardi Gras.

Add the obligatory Katrina mention here. Rebuilt, strong, resilient, a city that has returned to the brink of greatness.

Everyone satisfied? Good.

I stumble down an alley near Frenchman Street. I’m told by every single person who has an opinion on New Orleans, which is everyone, that Frenchman Street is respectable. Bourbon Street is for idiots. The French Quarter, full of hidden jewels. Bourbon Street, still for idiots.

I don’t remember cabbing it to Frenchman Street.

Bands are everywhere. Every doorway emits loud, raucous shouts. I don’t see police. I don’t see rules of any sort. I smoke a cigarette with a street chicken vendor.

Am I in America?

Hours later I walk in the direction that I assume my hotel is in. Drenched in sweat, delirious with exhaustion and exhilaration. No idea where I am but I find myself smiling, oblivious to muggers and boozy hobos on street corners.

Harrah’s casino at 3 a.m. Drop hundreds (?) at the Let It Ride table and find myself eating broiled oysters minutes later at a nondescript joint I probably couldn’t find again if my life depended on it. Best oysters the world has known.

This city is remarkable.

Rebounded. Optimistic with a pessimistic eye. Locals seem to know that it could all go back to shit.

Still happy? Good.

Ostensibly here for the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies convention. I’m sure my bosses aren’t under any illusions about my reasons for coming. My event attendance record is subpar to say the least. Unless the event offers booze.

My mornings and early afternoons are generally spent in the comfort of high thread-count sheets and I feel no remorse.

When I do encounter the alt-weekly types, I discover that most are John Kennedy Toole in their own minds. Tortured artists, underappreciated by society at large. The swaggering dicks from the Village Voice all saunter around like they’re Norman Mailer.

You live in New York City. We get it.

You wrote a book, man? You have an award-winning column on culture in Greensboro, N.C.? I am impressed. Don’t even ask for my name. Not important. Continue.

There’s a distinct stench to New Orleans. Swampy fumes rises from the sewers at all hours. People tell me that it’s remnants of the flood. I think it’s the smell of any large city. I walk blocks at a time. There’s a bar every 5 feet.

We wash up at a local dive called Erin Rose. There are no tourists here and the bartender is drunk and happy. She’s a spitfire. She stares at us mouth-agape when I tell her bartenders can’t drink behind the bar in Virginia ... or that it’s closing time here at 2 a.m. We’re one street away from Bourbon and its alcoholic slushy machines and hand grenades and crappy strip clubs. It feels like we’re in another world.

I love this city.

Mother, I must attend to my bowels. They are revolting against the trauma of the last twenty-four hours. — Ignatius J

Richmond bartender Jack Lauterback contributes to Mixology magazine in Germany, tweets @jackgoesforth and blogs at jackgoesforth.blogspot.com. Email: bartender@styleweekly.com.

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