Saturday, September 10, 2005

Everybody has a story about New Orleans.

And I'm not talking about any of the heart-wrenching ones that have been written in the past ten days.

For a moment, let's just reminisce about the bon temps.

This is a good one:

I stepped off the Braniff flight from Tulsa, Okla., at Moisant Field on Jan. 12, 1973, with $34 in my pocket and the promise of a job as a Bunny at the New Orleans Playboy Club. I was 19, with big, proud titties suitable for framing, and wearing enough Maybelline to sink a barge in the Industrial Canal. I didn't know it yet, but I would spend the next seven years in the City That Care Forgot. By the time I escaped its humid clutches, the Big Easy would fill me up and wring me dry.

I would marry a cop of easy virtue, pose nude in Hef's magazine, appear in some of the worst movies ever made and lie on the AstroTurf floor of the Superdome with former football star Paul Hornung, wondering why he had such bad cigarette breath.

When I was in college in the late 70's, one spring break six of my fraternity brothers and sisters all piled in a '57 Chevy and headed for New Orleans, with a stopover in Baton Rouge at one of the guys' father's house, a huge plantation-style home where we had a crawfish boil for about twenty-five. We met some brothers at Loyola University, secured some plastic tubing from the chemistry department, proceeded to Pat O'Brien's and drank six of their large vat-sized hurricanes (using the tubes to run down to the bottom of the glass so we didn't miss a drop). We stayed all in one room at the Hyatt, the one right there across from the Superdome, and one of my buddies succeeding in getting with the girl I had angled for all weekend.

Ten years later, shortly after my wife and I were married, we went back to New Orleans with her parents and stayed downtown at the Doubletree on Canal, shopped at the mall along the river, and did all those newlyweds-vacationing-with-the-in-laws kinds of things.

Mrs. Diddie and I last visited the Big Easy one December a few years ago. It was surprisingly cold, nearly down to freezing during the day; the Saints were playing the Lions in the Dome, and R. L. Burnside was appearing at the House of Blues. We stayed right in the heart of the Quartah, at the Hotel Provincial. We would step out of our room, walk down the hall, take a turn down the stairs, go through the bar/coffee and beignets store, and pop out on Decatur Street looking directly at the French Market. To the right, half a block away, was Cafe Du Monde; to the left about two blocks, Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville restaurant.

Over the long weekend, in addition to all that, we jumped a streetcar up to the Garden District and took a ghost tour in Lafayette cemetery, went past Anne Rice's home, ate lunch at Commander's Palace, had Sunday brunch at the Court of Two Sisters...

Besides the tremendous toll of suffering, besides the outrage at the failure of those whose responsibility it was to protect the people and avoid the suffering, it simply makes me sick to think of the great places where we all had good times and good food all gone, some of them never to come back.

Some of it will, of course, come back, but we also -- all of us -- know the Crescent City will never be again what it once was. New Orleans has suffered the modern-day fate of 1900 Galveston, a fine city with both its grand past and future suddenly wiped away like a spilled drink on a bar counter.

It's not nearly as big a tragedy as all of the lives that were lost, but it's a sadness nevertheless.

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