Have you ever danced in the streets until 6:00 AM on the third day of a 72 hour binge of sleepless excess? Have you ever gorged to the point of nausea, walked it down for a few hours and then – impossibly – eaten and drank again? Have you ever spent days reposing in bed, postponing every thought of responsibility and care while you lazily nibble a lover’s affections? Pushed the limits of your physical and emotional ability to feel and reveled in the frailty of the overextended nerve ending?
The dank humidity hanging from the lush gardens of New Orleans creates a mystical aura of slow, confident calm… invincibility at times. It is a place where time slips away unnoticed because you can see, hear and taste each minute in the bud of a magnolia flower, the cadence of a marching band, the juices of a crawfish head. Subsequently there is a sense of detachment, in the moment, from the consequences of one’s actions that can be gleefully entertaining at best, and woefully tragic at worst.
While growing up as a local, there was always a mysterious allure to the nighttime that called for me even as my staunchly religious family resisted most of the secular traditions the city reveled in. My great-grandfather was a jazz musician, a trumpet or trombone player if I remember correctly, and was perpetually partially-employed. Great-grandmother was a shrew of a woman who never held her tongue and lashed with both words and physical objects, turning to religion as a respite from the hardships which came from a “sinful” life of pursuing a career in art or music. While my grandmother and her brother were mostly obedient and pursued stable careers in teaching and public service, my grand-aunt took up the family mantle and plunged headlong into nightlife entertainment.
Listen: LaVergne Smith – Stormy Weather
My grand-aunt LaVergne Smith – the New Orleans Nightingale – was a celebrated pianist and songstress on Bourbon Street for many years, for whom my grandmother sewed costumes and in general disapproved of her lifestyle choices. She recorded a number of albums with Savoy Records in the 50s and enjoyed a successful career until it was largely derailed by alcoholism and abusive relationships. I never got a chance to meet her as she passed away shortly after I was born due to complications from years of alcohol abuse. However, I was told that she held me once before she died… and I’m sure that she imparted into me not only a fever for showbusiness that took me years to shake as well as an affinity for “the sauce”, but a curiosity for all of the things that the nighttime streets of NOLA could offer up.
And so, after spending my adolescence training to become a professional dancer and safely ensconced in a religious bubble of spiritual pursuit, even to the point of preparing for ordination, I moved onto campus at university and plunged headlong myself into challenging my own spiritual, emotional, and physical boundaries as I attempted to navigate my identity as a young adult. I shaved my head, “lost my mind” many times over (abandoning a pre-ND biochemistry major for Dance and Women’s Studies), and indulged in experiences that challenged every notion I had of what was right and proper. Eventually I became involved in nightlife promotion and made a career of going out, throwing parties, and the wasting of brain cells until such a point when I cried out for divine intervention, because the fruitless frenzy I’d whipped my life into had begun to take its toll. That’s when Hurricane Katrina happened, and snapped everything back into perspective.
Moving to New York, I was exposed to a level of purpose and responsibility that I’d never known, and it was invigorating. This is a place of limitless possibility, if only you can get through the first year without being “thrown off the horse”. It was at this point in time that my entrepreneurial thirsts were rekindled, and managed to find gainful – a.k.a. salaried with benefits – employment while attending evening classes to get my MBA. The luck of my opportunity was that I was able to work in marketing and business development for a hospitality technology company, meaning that I was able to get paid to research and stalk the owners of the hottest new restaurants and bars in NYC in hopes of selling them very expensive software before they opened the doors. Not only was I getting paid to eat and drink my way through the city, but I was also developing an encyclopedic knowledge of where to eat and party in NYC. After 3.5 years there, I’ve moved on to various and sundry things that are still unfolding in the most exciting ways, but my personal obsession with restaurants and nightlife persists in a way that has led me to writing this blog.
All that said, I’m 28 years old, skipping along on my merry way around the Capitol of the World, having the time of my life… tag along!