As you may have noticed, I’ve been absent for the past couple of months. At first, this was due to a lack of interest in the gaming series I was writing, but quickly became about just not having the time to sit down and string a few predicates and participles together. My new job is great, but it’s fairly exhausting. Especially when I’ve made two week-long trips to New Orleans in as many months. I think I kind of hate New Orleans.
First up, the food. Everyone raves about how the city exists as some sort of culinary holy grail, where the very mud of the Bayou transforms the most mundane chicken soup into a gastronomical delight. And that’s true…as long as you think chicken soup is improved by throwing alligator and crawfish in it, along with all manner of conspicuous spices and questionable ingredients of a slimy and suspicious nature. I, for one, do not.
I’m a pretty simple eater, despite my tendency toward food snobbery. I like simple dishes prepared simply. Nowhere in my vast and limited knowledge of the culinary arts do I subscribe to the notion that a hamburger can be made better by inviting crustaceans to the party. But that’s the sort of thing they do here in New Orleans. I tried a roast beef sandwich today. Something simple. Only, it was layered with an odious and unidentifiable cheese that hid below it some sort of Cthulhuian horror of brownish chucks of questionable viscosity that somehow evoked images both fungal and cephalopodial. I have no idea what it was, but I’m not the sort of person who goes around trying new things. Not when the new things remind me of homicidal, antediluvian god beasts.
So let’s skip the food discussion. I’ve mostly stayed in my hotel, feasting on $16 uncooked chicken fingers battered in the broken dreams of a disheveled kitchen staff forced to prepare a dish without slipping something terrifying into the marinara sauce. Yeah, they tasted like they were deep fried in some unfortunate soul’s liposuctioned backfat, but that’s Louisiana. That’s just how they do things here.
Of course, the $16 chicken fingers are actually $20 after the hotel adds a $2 service charge (presumably because you had the nerve to order something without Swamp Thing’s penis in it) and a $2 delivery fee for the long trek up the elevator to your room. Throw in an insulting $3 tip to the mix, and you get $23 of chicken finger-shaped regret in a little square box that the hotel staff insists – beyond all reason – upon placing on a massive room service tray that literally barely fits through the door. Oh, and they cover it with a fancy metal hat. You know, because nothing screams class like salmonella fingers at midnight.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been moments worth remembering here and there. The hotel has a vicious no-smoking policy, forcing smokers to make their way through the labyrinthine corridors of the hotel to ground level, then out past the entrance to a tiny alleyway that reeks of nicotine and murder. There’s been a guy out there most of the times I’ve made my way downstairs and to the scary little alcove of smoky terror. He sits on a bench and smiles and argues with himself, or perhaps with an unseen mystical entity in another spatial dimension of which mankind is not yet ready to experience, and he waits. He waits for someone to finish choosing cancer over spending another second inside the high-priced hotel that’s probably feverishly working out some way to charge guests for how much oxygen they breathe inside its marbled halls even as I write this. He waits for them to slip their cigarettes into the holes on the special cigarette putter-outer…and he makes a mad dash to the box, where he rips off the lid and reclaims the still smoldering butt. Then he smokes it and grins some more, while making an odd clucking noise on his way back to his bench. It sounds way less freaky than it actually is. Trust me.
The scary alleyway with the crazed smokeman sits between the hotel and where I’ve been going for work during the day, which I could talk about now, but I’m not going to talk about it now. One of the most efficient ways of leaving the job market is to speak publicly about your job, even when you have nice things to say. And I have mostly nice things to say, but I also have some not-so-nice things to say involving a week’s worth of mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations punctuated by a presenter making awkward and violent stabs at humor. A Waterworld reference was involved at one point. I felt embarrassed for him, empathically speaking. Like Counselor Troi, only with better acting. And less cleavage.
So no, I’m not going to talk about work. I will talk about how horrible it is to be away from my family, though. If I’ve learned one thing from traveling – especially to a party city like New Orleans – it’s that I’ve become totally incapable of having fun alone. I need my family with me, or it’s just pantomime. I can smile and laugh and pretend to enjoy my tiny $12 glass of watered down Long Island Iced Tea at the hotel bar. I can even flirt back with a few of the drifters in the endless stream of desperate women that seem to have booked entire floors of this hotel, presumably for some sort of motivational seminar involving hitting on married guys sipping overpriced drinks at pretentiously named hotel bars. It isn’t pretty, though. And it isn’t fun.
Mostly, I just slink back to my room where I load up a few shows on my iPad and catch up on this season of Walking Dead. (Speaking of, I’m pretty upset about what happened in the last episode. But I’m even more upset that Shane hasn’t been murdered in the face yet. And no, I don’t hate him because he’s the ‘villain’. I hate him because his character is obnoxious and stupid and reminds me of everyone I’ve never liked in Texas. Seriously. Just write him off the show already. They’ve proven they’re willing to write characters off all the time, only they keep getting rid of the good ones. We haven’t seen Lennie James’ character since the first damn episode, and that wasn’t only a great character; James is a great actor. And now we’ve lost…well, I won’t spoil it. But let’s just say they killed off the Giles of the group, and we all know how well that worked out for Buffy.)
But anyway, that’s been my week. I fly back home tomorrow after one more session of slideshow waterboarding, and it can’t come soon enough. I’ve tried video chatting with the family over the hotel’s $15/night Internet, but all it did was remind me how horrible things like video chatting were back in 1997. I really hate this hotel.
And I hate it even more now that someone has apparently detonated a 50-kiloton thermonuclear frat boy bomb in the lobby, thanks to the SEC basketball tournament. They’re everywhere all of a sudden, stumbling into and falling out of the elevators, dropping their overpriced drinks to crash and shatter upon the polished marble floors and generally making a nuisance of themselves. You know, like frat boys do. They’re like an obnoxious plague of drunken locusts in TapOut shirts. And I loathe them.
I never thought I would be so eager to get back to Texas. But then again, I’ve never been in Louisiana so frequently or for so long. It really is a different world here, and I’m not just talking about the food and the voodoo, or the fact that New Orleans is the murder capital of the country. It’s a different world here because it’s…different. Too different. Crustacean pudding and alligator ice cream different. The sort of different that creeps up on you in the middle of the night and runs a shiv through your spleen for looking at it funny. The sort of different that I could do without.
Oh, and I just remembered that my ex-wife is from New Orleans, which made me think of her for the first time since the last time I felt like dragging sandpaper over my eyeballs. So thanks for that, NOLA. You have yourself a good night. I hope you choke on it.