New Orleans is the Vegas of the South, a town where debauchery is not only allowed but compulsory. A combination of Confederate and freak flags fly above it—they make strange bedfellows, of course, but find common ground in the intoxication levels of the people flying them. Bourbon Street alone is a veritable jambalaya of bars, all catering to wildly different demographics, from people who unironically collect Hard Rock Cafe merchandise to absinthe aficionados. There are also things like bookstores, yes, and very good ones at that. But if you happen to enter one, a dusty refuge from the ceaselessly blowing hurricane that is Dauphine Street, your solitude will be inevitably ruined by the existence of someone in an "I Got Bourbon Faced on Shit Street" shirt stumbling inside looking for a place to piss.
I no longer drink. I used to, quite heavily. So heavily, in fact, you might think I was trying to kill myself, and you might be right. Scratch that. You are right. My sobriety is a recent development—so far, so good, but, as with anything in life, able to shatter apart at any moment. This machine doesn't run on dreams, and I was in New Orleans for a stand-up comedy gig that would pay a substantial chunk of my rent this month.
I have been to New Orleans. I have lived in New Orleans. Though rarely, if ever, did I let the bon temps roulet during my tenure there. My partner at the time, a man who did not drink or drug and made a point of letting you know the reasons why, barred me from doing so. The days I spent there were not the darkest, but they were also not especially bright. My partner and I would cut the tedium of our directionless existences with meaningless arguments, usually predicated on a slight I had committed in his eyes. Hurricane Katrina provided a forced break from our regularly scheduled programming—an opportunity to argue in a series of new environments, which we took to with aplomb. In spite of it all, I didn't drink—a feat I now consider miraculous.
To say New Orleans triggers emotions that would normally lead this garden variety lush to the bottle is an understatement. But there I found myself, alone, no longer forced to answer to my ex, or to anyone else for that matter. I was merely there, powerless, wondering... now what?
Once you get off the plane, demon alcohol is there. Hell, you get on the plane, and it's there. It's everywhere. Tempting you, taunting you. Escape from the psychic terrors that plague your existence, it promises, is but sips away. Bereft of these sips, in a situation where you would normally take to them like a duck to water, coping appears impossible. You intellectually know it is possible, of course, but fuck if you know the cheat codes to pull it off.
The check-in person at my hotel handed me two vouchers for free "welcome punch," served in the lobby's filament bulb-laden bar. Fantastic. When I entered my room, a complimentary bottle of wine sat on the desk with a note from the concierge, instructing me to enjoy it with her compliments. Fantastic-er. It felt as though the entire goddamned world, or at least the state of Louisiana, was conspiring to convince me to hit the sauce. I sighed and sat on the bed, staring at the enormous statue of General Robert E. Lee outside my window. (The South is not known for its subtlety.)
I used the bottle of wine as a doorstop, as I felt I needed to give it a sense of purpose, a reason to justify its existence in light of the fact that I was incapable of enjoying it in the manner in which it was actually created.
Now lying on the bed, I could see the wine out of the corner of my eye. Tired of staring at a defiant General Lee, I shifted my attention to it; soon it consumed my entire thought process. It was a red, one I'd drank before, from a country I'll never be able to afford to visit. My chest tightened with anxiety.
I gave in. Who the fuck was I to turn down free anything, even if that anything was poison? Cunning, baffling, powerful poison, ready, willing and able to destroy my life?
The only problem, other than the obvious problem that I was about to willingly hop off the wagon, was my lack of a wine opener. I consulted YouTube for a solution, eventually deciding to heed the advice of an excitable Russian who had successfully opened a bottle with a mere door key. I had one of those! Heck, I had THREE of those!
Approximately 15 seconds later, the key to my best friend's apartment snapped in half, its teeth wedged permanently in an impenetrable cork. All at once, my ability to accept logic kicked back in and I realized this was a fortuitous development. Why I was willing to waste my sobriety on a perfectly good doorstop without a second thought? I suppose it was because I wasn't thinking, just devolving back into my former self.
I took to watching the hotel channel—you know the one, the one that exists in every tourist trap and informs you, the visitor of its fair city, about all the things you simply must do while briefly in its confines, for the sole purpose of distracting me from myself. I watched nothing else, even after the channel's programming looped and began again. In my favorite segment, a woman interviewed two inebriated men outside the birthplace of the Hurricane, a rum-based beverage that looks and tastes like hummingbird nectar. The man on the right, sweating into his polo shirt, pronounced the drink "Whore-icane." This was not intentional, merely a byproduct of his supremely altered state. The host, slightly tipsy herself, chortled. I found her level of intoxication charming; his, the antithesis thereof. I knew, if I drank, I could never be her level of intoxicated. I would always be his.
And so, in the interest of, at the very least, not looking like a fucking putz, I once again resigned myself to a lifetime of abstaining. The overwhelming majority of my fellow visitors, of course, had not taken such a pledge, but they also weren't drunks. They were drunk, sure, but they weren't drunks. Big difference. I didn't hate them. I didn't resent them. I just wasn't them. I turned the television off and went to bed, ignoring as best I could the sound of their revelry outside.
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