And now, part two of a potential three-parter that’s part three of this five-part series…
First stop on Jamie’s bar napkin: The Spotted Cat. The house band was perfect. Think 1980s Stray Cats drug through blend of 1930s Mickey Mouse cartoon soundtrack and Sons of Anarchy theme song.
After the band played a few songs, I drifted to the back and observed humanity.
I made a graceful taxi out of the place. I lined up on the duty runway of life and launched into the night with a favorable thrust-to-weight ratio, rattling windows, and scorching earth with the trailing flames of raw fuel ignited by my afterburner exhaust. I digress.
My last stop before the L+V exhibition had no visible name. I call it The Place With No Visible Name. The sign in front read Free Live Music but there was no live music playing. I guess one gets what one pays for, doesn’t one?
Man on one side of the “Live Music” sign: “The band should have started playing 30 minutes ago.”
Woman on the other side: “They’re probably on the way.”
Man: “Or not.”
Woman: “Doesn’t matter.”
Man: “If they no-show, someone else will step up.”
Man: “Go on in and enjoy the show.”
Woman: “Hurry. It’s already started.”
Me: “… OK.”
There was one empty seat in the entire place, and it was in the middle of the bar. “I’m Vanessa,” the bartender said. “And…”
She lifted the side of her tight black skirt and raised her left leg.
“… this is my new tattoo!”
On her upper left thigh was a large, intricately detailed, multi-colored tattoo of an undead voodoo bartender serving absinthe, a highly potent drink made illegal in the early 1900s because of suspicion of having hallucinogenic qualities (and sometimes kept in cool-looking bottles at the end of the Kingfish bar?).
Right away, I saw through her devious plan of extorting exorbitant tippage from potential patrons. She wanted to score extra tips too. I wished I had ink of my own to flash her and say, “That’s not a tattoo. This is a tattoo!” Instead I said, “I’m tattooless Todd. I’ll just order from the menu, thanks.”
I heard a familiar phrase from a girl facing away from me.
“Southern Maryland,” she said, no doubt as a reply to some generic, “Where are you from,” question. Interrupting the conversation, I started one of my own with the back of her head.
“Where in St. Mary’s County,” I asked. She spun around.
“Just south of Waldorf! You?”
“Leonardtown, which, as you know, is just south of Waldorf! Over 25 years.”
“No way! We’re practically neighbors!”
She introduced me to 21 others from the same town. She selected the camera app on her phone and gave it to me. “Do you mind,” she asked. For the rest of my time there, I photographed her in goofy poses with family, friends and strangers.
Sensing that the gallery opening would start soon, I waved goodbye to the voodoo tattoo and the girl with it. I said goodbye to the Waldorf girl and waved to the 21 others on the way out. As I passed them, each one, male and female, gave me a strong hug and called me neighbor.
The last smothering embrace came from behind. An elderly woman somehow spun me toward herself as she hugged me. She explained that her family had recently experienced a terrible tragedy. She wanted her family to let go in a controlled way for a New Orleans weekend.
The elderly woman thanked me for being a part of the fun. I told her that I had just come in for the no-show band, thinking that she was hugging the wrong person. She explained.
The cell phone girl next to me was her granddaughter. The grandmother had watched the way I entertained her granddaughter (“Lord, that girl is a handful!”), and she thanked me for, “putting up with ‘wild child’”. She was convinced that my presence there was no coincidence.
“That bar stool was taken until you walked in that door,” she said. “I saw it happen. Now they tell me that we’re all practically neighbors! That’s my sign! My family is looked after and everything will be OK.”
I don’t often feel used in a positive, transcendent way, especially not in a loud bar in the midst of the Uncanny Valley, but I did that night. Maybe I’m just not as open to the possibility as I should be, including the possibility of others being used in a similar way in my life.
The grandmother pulled my face down to hers and kissed me on the cheek. “Bless you baby,” she whispered.
“Thank you, Grandma from another family, for being here to watch over me too, even if pain drove you here.” That is what I wish I had the wisdom to say.
I could have (and probably should have) spent the rest of my night there, but I felt it would have been a waste of the dork protection granted by the book I carried. The book of fine art was my sign of being looked after. That looks stupid in type compared to what had just happened, but sometimes our life logic is best understood through an alternate definition.
On the street, I checked walking directions to the gallery on my iPhone 4 with IOS 7 after being fully charged overnight. Translation: Cell phone approaching battery death. The screen went black before the mapping app had fully opened.
I looked up into a sky that was as black as my phone screen. Only somewhat larger. A fine mist of rain coated my face. I decided to walk in the general direction of where I thought the gallery was. 241 Chartres Street, here I come.
After a while, I looked around and saw nothing familiar. Therefore, I kept walking. Soon, I saw things that appeared definitively unfamiliar, such as abandoned and neglected post-Katrina mansions. And train tracks.
For a long time, I was the only person on the dark streets for blocks. Since I had a fine art book under my arm, I defiantly kept walking and walking.
Shouldn’t the Mississippi River be on the other side of me?