October 05, 2007

From the Past: Kindness of Strangers 99

I have a nervous breakdown every time I go to New Orleans. After four days of bourbon, clarinets and cemeteries--well, to make a long existential crisis short, life just wasn't worth living. My friend threw me out of the hotel room, claiming my whimpering on the balcony kept her awake. With five hours until a 6am flight, I wandered aimlessly through the streets, eventually winding up at a dive on the far edge of the French Quarter frequented by old men and punk kids. I sit at the end of the bar, makeup cried off, carrying myself like my bones might break.

"What's wrong?"

I never talk to strangers, being from New York City, but I'm drunk, I'm miserable and all bets are off. "Nothing. Everything. You know."

"Yeah." I look up: about 26, brownish-blonde hair, reminds me of a recording engineer I used to screw around with and a bass player I interviewed once. Somehow there's a conversation from there and he buys me drinks, lets me talk too much, even manages to make me giggle, eventually. But will I sleep with him, because that's where this is going. I mean, I figure I would, any woman knows whether or not she would within a minute, but the should and the will take a little longer. But I'm in the prime mindset to make a bad decision and, well, fucking a stranger might make me feel better. Or worse.

He suggests we go to another bar. It's rained while we were inside: the streets shine and the shadows deepen. "People disappear here all the time," they tell me--endless liquor, plentiful drugs, high murder rate, ghosts. People lose their reason. We walk back toward Bourbon Street, arm in arm, the whine of saxophones and roar of fratboys rising. A few more blocks to a smaller dive, the end of the bar again. He introduces me to his friends, none of whom seems surprised or even interested. Maybe he brings in teary-eyed out-of-town blondes every night. There's probably a lot of them around.

A few more drinks, he finally leans over and kisses me. Then the tumble into the taxi, driver adjusting the rearview, depending on whether or not he wants to watch. His apartment is high-ceilinged with slanted floors, empty except for a couch--he just moved here, so at least there's nothing to make awkward small talk about. I sit on his lap and within a few minutes he slides inside me: no shifting weight, no feeling for the angle, no pulling out and trying again--perfect fit. It's over before we remember to take our clothes off, but soon we're already trying to find another feasible position on the couch. I roll onto the floor and pull him on top of me. Bruises begin blooming on the small of my back and--Oh, Christ. "Ummmm...I have something really terrible to tell you."

He stops. "Yeah?"

"I--oh--this is awful. I--I forgot your name."

He laughs, kisses me. "Andrew."

We climb back up on the couch, I crawl under a sheet, cold but mostly sobering into self-consciousness. He tugs my hair, runs a hand between my legs and slips underneath me. I dig my nails into his shoulder, he tears off the covers. "What is this shyness thing? You're fucking beautiful."

We lie there until--"Holy shit! My plane leaves in an hour!" We run out to a payphone, call a taxi and wait, alternately making out and calling the dispatcher. I snuggle against the back of his neck, hand down the front of his pants while he bitches into the receiver and the sun rises. The cab never comes, the plane is gone, we give up and go inside.

In the bathroom, I stare at the shelf over the toilet: Royal Crown hair grease, Barbasol shaving cream. "I hope you're not putting your underwear back on," he hollers. I throw them at him. We fuck twice more. I hear a schoolbus outside as I fall asleep in his arms. Five hours later, he scribbles down his address while I brush my teeth.

I kiss Andrew twice and get into the cab, not looking back. As we ride toward the airport, I dig for the address. I can't find it. I don't know whether I lost it or picked up the wrong scrap of paper, but...nothing. I smile out at the freeways and bright blue skies, almost liking the lame song on the radio. Perhaps they're only kind because they're strangers.

Posted by lissa at 04:22 PM