THURSDAY: Five of us pile into a SUV, Megan Volpert and Mindy Friedman, Theresa Davis, Collin Kelley and myself. We’re being green by carpooling and saving money on plane tickets. It’s not a bad drive, Atlanta to New Orleans is probably usually eight or nine hours, but the way Collin drives we make it in under seven. It feels sexist but for most of the trip me and Collin end up sitting in the front with the “girls” in the back. Only because we’re both big boys, and they’re all on the skinny side and our SUV isn’t as wide as most. There’s some conversation, we stop a couple of times for gas and fast food. Megan and Mindy make a point of PDAs in front of rednecks, but it adds excitement to an otherwise very typical ride.
Then New Orleans, me and Theresa are staying at the big convention Marriott on Canal. They were running a great special. The lobby is an odd mix of totally wasted college kids, and some sort of military operation where they’re welcoming Iraqi war vets back home from their tour. The lobby is cool, and we love the funky elevators, you punch the floor button on the outside and it tells you what elevator to go to. On a couple of occasions people get in to the elevator and then look for a button, not realizing they’re trapped.
We walk down to Jackson Square, looking at funny t-shirts, and the kids tap dancing with mashed soda cans duct taped to their feet. Theresa mentions that she knows a poet, Nick Fox, who is now in NO and drives one of those mule carriages for tourists, and then voila, he magically appears right in front of us. We get together with M&M, their NO friends, and Collin and proceed to try to find a place to eat. Collin’s hurt his foot, so can’t walk far, we end up doing decent fast foot po-boys. We try to talk Collin into getting a cane, just for the literary cred/hip factor, but he won’t buy into it. You see people with canes though all over NO.
We split up after dinner and Collin, Theresa and myself, start to pub crawl. We watch the videos, enjoy the surprisingly cheap cocktails and kind of watch the parade of characters go by. It’s not even dark yet and the bartender is having to throw out drunk obnoxious bar patrons. We also overhear the best worst pick-up line of the trip “you know you look just like Danny Gokey from American Idol.” We float around a bit, but then settle in at Lafittes. Josh the bartender was great, lots of fun, friendly – he seemed to be impressed that we were writers and we were actually able to point to a full page ad in the local rag with our names listed to prove it. We’d been drinking a good bit at this point, and started with the shots, I’m even smoking cigars with means I’m really drunk. I was hitting the Yaeger, the rest Goldschager. At one point out of the corner of my eye I think I recognize someone, and run out to the street and sure enough it’s Michael Montlack who edited the My Divas anthology, along with another writer Lewis DeSimone. We continue to party, and get pretty wasted (see my facebook photo album for proof of that). We finally wander back to our respective hotels with anticipations of great hangovers.
FRIDAY: Yes hangovers. We check in at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel to register, get our goody bags and I catch one of the Master Classes on making a living at writing. Like many of these things it’s not so much a class but some guy telling everyone his own story. From what I understand the takeaways were, 1) making a living as a writer sucks, 2) editors suck, 3) you need to move out to the sticks of Kansas, or North Dakota, or Maine if you are going to be able to afford to write as a profession, and 4) if you ever do have a break-away hit and make any money at writing, your friends that are still schlepping around doing literary festivals and master classes, are going to be bitter.
For breakfast/lunch we hit the Clover Grill which was fun, a nice little diner. This also began what seems to be a particular NO theme of impossible hard to find and bizarre restaurant restrooms. At the Clover you actually go through the kitchen, out the back into the courtyard, through around by the dumpster and there is obviously what used to be an outhouse, stuck under a flight of stairs. It at some point had been barely plumbed, but still has the homemade door with the big cracks in the slats. I’m surprised it didn’t have the crescent moon thing carved in the door.
We were all pretty subdued after the escapades of Thursday night. We retired at some point for naps. Collin’s friend had come into town so he disappeared for a while. Later we went to eat at the Camellia Grill, an old diner, where they serve great burgers (I got a fabulous Reuben) and really deliciously decadent chili-cheese fries. (There restroom is actually through the kitchen, and around through a dishwashing area and pantry.) Then we were going to meet up later to catch a movie (Star Trek) in one of NO’s oldest theaters, the Prytania. Now when someone said old theater I was thinking they meant movie palace, and I do love seeing old movies palaces that cities have to offer. The Prytania though is not a movie palace, but actually a pretty small old single screen, community theater. Though the pictures in the lobby show the original building, the place seems to have suffered a horribly misguided remodeling in the 70s. The inside is nice though, and it is a fun little place, Star Trek was fun (my second viewing). On the way home I was dropped of at the W Hotel for a reception that was being held. It was a great party, met some fun people, and the setting of the W courtyard was perfect. It was sort of boutique hotel chic with still a touch of the quarter, and overall just very comfortable and relaxing. After a couple of free cocktails, I’d managed to meet up with Theresa and Michael and Lewis again. We stopped for desserts and I was able to get my obligatory bread pudding fix. We had a great conversation, Michaels a great listener and gets people to really open up. We were even treated to a performance of Theresa’s “Octomom” piece right there in the restaurant. The plan was to go out for cocktails again, but it had been a long day and we kept losing people as everyone would just hit “the wall” and call it a night. By the time we’d made it back to the Bourbon Orleans where Michael was staying, me and Theresa were ready to head back to get some sleep ourselves.
That night though at about 3 am, I couldn’t sleep so grabbed my notebook and went down to the lobby. Instead of peace and quite to get some writing done, I was faced with an army of cleaning staff riding these mini-zambonis all over the expanse of marble floors and others with these back-pack vacuums making this loud alternating whine, whurr, whine, whurr, as they cleaned the upholstery. I actually blocked it all out though and wrote for a couple of hours. Then I realized that I’d left my hotel key card in my wallet which was still on my dresser. When I called up to the room, Theresa had her earplugs in and couldn’t hear, neither could she hear me knocking on the door. So I had to get security to let me in, though it gave me a chance to have a good conversation about NO with the security guard.
SATURDAY: Reading day. There was an early am reading that Megan and her friend Amy were in so we showed up to support. Then afterwards was a memorial reading for Reginald Shepard who’d recently passed away. A quick lunch at Clover Grill and it was back for the Diva reading. It went very well, though I wish turn out had been better. We all got to sign books aftewards. Also reading were, Peter Dubé, and Christopher Hennessy, and then Collin, Michael and Lewis were there as well. I was ill prepared and a nervous wreck for it. I’m terribly shy about these things, but generally find if I feel half-way prepared and have practiced enough I’m fine. I really hadn’t had a chance to brush up on the work though since early that morning and this was my first actual reading of that piece.
We went back to our respective hotels and then planned to meet back for a reading at FAB which bills itself as “a queer gathering place, museum, gallery and bookstore.” I thought how great, it must be some sort of little cultural center. It is in fact a tiny, tiny, cramped bookstore with every aisle full of one thing or another, and every inch of the walls plastered with decades worth of old posters and paintings by local artists. Stuff here goes way back, even the old porn magazines in the back went all the way back to they 70s (I looked for one of my old Numbers spreads from ’82 but couldn’t find it). So the reading was basically people taking turns standing behind or around the counter, with every aisle packed with a standing crowd to listen. On top of that it was HOT, I understand last year some poor guy had a heart attack. As much as I loved the quant little place, it was probably the most uncomfortable reading I’ve ever been too – the only benefit seemed to be that people were making their sets short. Next year maybe the festival could rent a little portable Penguin AC for the place.
We regrouped afterwards and went to the hotels for a break. Then went out again to the ALLWays Lounge for the “Rough Trade Review” it was out a bit further out, and is apparently the bar for the theater crowd. Collin compared the patrons to something out of a David Lynch movie – all that was missing was the dancing midget speaking backwards. We ended up catching the festival play, which was okay, a decent enough local production. Afterwards we went back out for the go-go boy/burlesque/review – we waited and waited, we were assured that it was going to start soon, but when it finally did it was almost two hours late. It was probably one of the worst burlesque/reviews I’ve ever seen, and I’m a big fan of the new burlesque movement, of which Atlanta has some fine examples of. This felt like a fraternity talent show. The guys were all very awkward (and nothing special to look at), and the skits consisting of a trite set up with the guys rather clumsily “losing” their clothes in fight scenes. One scene in particular of someone putting the moves on another guy in a public restroom and getting beat up was just tasteless and uncomfortably homophobic. After that scene, we left. The show was so bad, it was hilarious for all the wrong reasons.
SUNDAY: Up early and out, a fairly uneventful return trip, though a bit slower with bad weather. We stopped at SONIC on the way back, Mindy apparently really LOVES Sonic.
All in all a good first Saints and Sinners. I’m pushing big time to find a publisher for my new book so by next year I have something to read again.