Musings of the perennial outsider
Coming from a vastly different planet can be trying. Constant reminders of the differences between the two corners of the cosmos swarm around you. Whether it is the quizzical amusement on a face when you use the word ‘fortnight’, the infuriating, pleasant inquiries about whether your accent is from Australia or the looks of incomprehension from fellow road users when one’s transportation vessel actually seems to be following the speed limit. Yes, all of these factors and more contribute to the perennial feeling of being ‘other’.
Eventually, after trying to swat away these differences in vain, something caves. At least, an outward part of you does: you finally desist from clinging on to some of your own cultural benchmarks. You begin using words like ‘soccer’, ‘store’ changes from being a verb to a noun and the apparently overly polite British pleasantry ‘you’re welcome’ is often replaced by a distracted sounding ‘uh hmm’ (thus eliminating the small contrived gratitude and skipping to a more honest, mild contempt).
But, even when you start incorporating these near sacrilegious readjustments in an attempt to blend in with the natural habitat, something still singles you out as other.
Oh well, perhaps this is part of what makes a culture a culture just like an American’s predilection for topping sweet potato mash with marshmallows and a Yorkshire man’s invariable grumbling rage at having to pay more than £4 for a pint of beer anywhere (usually along with some enlightened reference to a time in the past when it was much cheaper).
Even in the convivial streets and drinking holes of New Orleans, with its fair share of multicultural hordes coursing through them, occasions of otherness did arise for me — The Yorkshire Alien — and it is with this focal point that I want to provide a fourth and final encounter from The City of Smashed Baubles…through the usual tight-fisted frugal lens of course.
Notions of Otherness #1: An alien walks into a bar
The bar was Bacchanal Wine in the Bywater area. On its website, it promises ‘NOLA’s Backyard Party’ and in getting there you can see it has a large dollop of Mediterranean ‘al fresco’ schmooziness to go along with it.
A trendy place such as this with patrons politely laughing towards each other in their fine garments certainly has the potential to make one feel out of place. Particularly if you shuffle in their wearing large January-ready coats as we did.
Never mind, one advantage to being a perennial outsider is that you can attribute feelings of otherness to much larger and uncontrollable cosmic forces of culture rather than any sartorial miscues.
Bacchanal seemed to be a well stocked wine shop in which you can purchase a bottle at the front shop, go into the large courtyard area at the back, find a table and imbibe. The third part of that sequence may prove to be quite tricky as it was for us and this was only January.
However, it also has an upstairs cocktail bar area with a balcony which means you can still stare at the performing humans on the small stage towards the back of the courtyard and lean over the courtyarders, trying to detect any signs of departure like a table hunting hawk.
It was up in this cocktail bar area that some otherness rays were firmly beamed in my direction. They came from a markedly different being of the human breed. One that I had only heard about previously from the ubiquitous wall of American media which dominates Earth’s television screens. Stood beside me at the bar as I waited to catch the attention of the bar staff, who were elaborately and protractedly concocting drinks, was a ‘guy-who-goes-to-bars-to-pick-up-women’ type of person.
I am not entirely sure this kind of species exists in the UK or, where it does, I think it generally exhibits more pack behaviour. Anyway, as far as I could tell, this dude was Jason Derulo-ing himself up in this bar and riding solo.
Still waiting for alcohol, I took up a seat on a stool beside this serious looking chap. Twiddling my thumbs and watching the bar staff add yet another light dusting of shavings to their masterpiece, I realised I had sat in someone else’s seat as in front of me was a female purse. No biggie. To pass the time, I decided to try and make some light humour about my hardly egregious faux pas with this stern fellow. The humourless look on his chiselled face and factual, joyless response told me that he was not amused.
Perhaps it was that my wit was slowed by meat from the previous meal and my gambit was not really funny? Or, more likely, that I had disturbed a staring charm he was performing on the initial chair occupant (presumably in the loo)? Either way, it definitely seemed that I had pierced the carefully preened image he had cultivated by being stood at the bar, alone. I moved along and was finally greeted by a human drinks assembler.
As I finally lay my hands on some booze, Jason Derulo sharply downed his bottle of beer and slunk off into the night, perhaps to somewhere they would show more appreciation for his brown leather jacket.
Jason, if you are out there reading this, I am sorry, I hope you find what it is you are seeking on this planet.
As for Bacchanal, which was clearly chic enough to be on this Derulo’s radar, the humans performing to the open-air courtyard was certainly a pleasant scene and the cocktails were pretty slurpable. However, it would not quite qualify full recommendation status, falling short of satisfying the Galactic Committee of Saving’s value criteria. Still, if you want an outdoor spot with style, ambience and many string lights on trees to fritter away some of your earth dollars then this is the place.
Notions of Otherness #2: “Who Dat!?”. “Ummm, me…?”
One morning, waking up in New Orleans and deciding to walk into town rather than use the Jazzy pass travelcard, otherness reared its disconcerting head once again.
Demands were made from a porch near the road we were walking on, “Who dat?” someone shouted towards us. I scanned the public thoroughfare, concerned that it had somehow turned into the interlocutors’ private farmland — but, it had not. I had to go nuclear and call upon the weapon that is always available to ‘the other’ when faced with these unsettling encounters: the small confused smile and nod whilst continuing to walk. As always, it worked.
I had navigated this impromptu encounter unscathed and continued on my steady progress to the township.
Minutes later, it happened again, “Who dat?” someone shouted from another doorway. The feeling that there was really something singling me out as ‘other’ was now palpable. In confused desperation, I responded: “…Good…thanks?”. This did not seem to satisfy what this second citizen was looking for and they simply turned away.
Confused and on high alert I continued walking, heading towards the Bywater area and, specifically, J&J’s Sports Lounge.
Only when I made it there did I understand what was going on — it was a momentous and historic day for The New Orleans Saints, they were playing in the NFL Conference Championship game — that much, I already knew, it was what had brought me to J&Js to begin with but what I learnt was that Saints’ fans like to bellow “Who Dat?” at each other seemingly with no clear answer to end the discourse, other than exhaustion through repetition on both sides.
The unsettling feeling of otherness was all of a sudden lifted from me! It wasn’t a hunting call to send Yorkshire Aliens back to their own planet. No, it was quite the opposite: a signal of concordance that you and your interlocutor both favoured a certain collection of ball hurtling humans!
Furthermore, J&J’s Sports Lounge and its patrons seemed to extend this hospitality. One kindly character, whose friends cajoled was a Woody Harrelson look-a-like (there was a definite resemblance), was offering us to grab a beer from the ice bucket. Everyone was in high spirits and this only increased as the large humans in padded Saints suits threw the other group of humans to the ground regularly with only a small human man, donning a black suit with white stripes, to abate them into dull obedience with his small, shrill mouthpiece.
Then, the small black and white human man made a mistake. The mood soured significantly when he failed to identify a flying object in the dying stages of the game and did not grant The Saints the benevolence of his whistling wisdom. Woody Harrelson and co were dejected (I don’t think the beers were on offer anymore) and my short lived kinship had fizzled out along with the Saints hopes of reaching a Superbowl. Oh well, we had fun while it lasted J&J’s.
Notions of otherness #3: Finding a home amongst the blindness of a corporate and faceless money grabbing corporation (a.k.a. a casino)
One activity you can do in New Orleans is throw money at smartly dressed humans and hope that their orbiting ball, guided by serendipity, lands on your selected earth number. Judging by the propensity of these institutions to stay in business, you would think this is not an activity one should partake in when trying to steady the equilibrium of their bank balance. However, it is possible to keep things on a relatively even keel. So, one evening, I headed to the bottom of Canal Street to Harrah’s Casino.
Harrahs Casino’s walls were plastered with the usual shallow marketing of excited smiling people gambling and grinning as if they were on a money log flume heading for a big splash and not further into the doomed, dark recesses of an unequal capitalist earth quarter.
All around feels like the empty pizazz of a cruise ship and, like a cruise ship, there is a strange feeling that you can’t quite leave yet surrounded by the waters of your own greed. Ahh, gambling.
However, with a little discipline (such as that of the more grounded earth partner I had travelling with me), you can go to a Harrah’s Casino and have a chortle without breaking the bank.
My top game was the video poker which was conveniently accessible in purpose built prodding holes cut into one of the long bars. You can play hands for as little as 25c and there is an actual ebb and flow of winning a few sometimes to keep you adequately intrigued and incentivised. However, as is mostly the case for casino goers, I did not win and spent my $5 chasing a royal flush dream. In contrast, my earth companion, to whom poker was always an implement used to stoke fire, strolled to the bar with a whole extra daiquiri’s worth of winnings (they then realised you have to put the ticket in a machine first to get the real life cash — still real-life drinking profit).
So it seems, you can go to the casino and not spend too much money! As long as you ignore the hollow nagging of rapacity and continuously feed a little money to the dark overlord Gamblor, the casino will make you feel right at home.
Notions of otherness #4: “Who Let The Dogs Out?” Who, who, who?
My final salvo for being an accepted member of the Norwelian tribe came at at the Hi-Ho Lounge on St. Claude Avenue.
The Hi-Ho Lounge was a dark and somewhat breezy bar the first night we visited. The friendly server exchanged cultural notes with us on the differences between Planet Nola and Planet Yorkshire whilst keeping us plied with affordable whisky (at this stage of the night, I was too far down the rabbit hole of debauchery to keep my usual, fastidious financial notes…).
Crucially, Hi-Ho Lounge had a small stage on which two performances were witnessed on consecutive nights (Hi-Ho Lounge was on our route home).
The first night we saw a live performance of the ‘country’ variety from a human male hailing from Tennessee. We had to hold our tongues, as we suddenly realised we were surrounded by fellow Tenessians and the light bigotry we emitted by poorly impersonating country folk would possibly not be well received.
On stage, the slight Crocodile-Dundee-looking performer sat with his amplified acoustic and (this was the first time I have properly seen one of these put to use) a harmonica on one of those large wire contraptions that look like Lisa Simpson’s braces. He gave the impression he was a journeyman of a performer (and he was still on that journey) and could expertly instruct his crew (a fiddler/bottle player and a rhythm guitarist) whilst taking up some of the hollered requests from the crowds.
I was tempted and drunk enough to demand a song. The only one I wanted and could think of in my limited knowledge of country was ‘Lodi’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
But then, the insecurities of being an outsider gripped me once again and I starting questioning whether this would be the Country equivalent of asking for ‘Ice Ice Baby’ at an underground Hip Hop bash.
So it seemed, despite J&J’s having temporarily broken down barriers through sports-based shouting, my otherness still had a hold on me. Next time I was in Hi-Ho Lounge, I would not let this happen!
I had the chance to dismantle the shackles of my otherliness the next night when we again found ourselves in the shadowy recesses of the Hi-Ho lounge.
It was Sunday and a highly-amusing local comedian was running what he called Koreyoke (I think his name was Korey).
Similar to normal karaoke, people would suggest songs they would like to sing. Where it differed,significantly, was Korey would then shift the genre of the song by using his sampler/drum machine to mutilate the backing track and create something altogether different but with an uncanny and recognisable element. Needless to say, this was hilarious, particularly as some of the initial koreyoke-ers were not fully prepared or aware of the dynamic and would end up delivering a sincere vocal performance of Adele to a heavy metal backing track.
I saw a window of opportunity. If I could get up on stage and deliver an out of this world performance then maybe the the night dwelling people of New Orleans would finally accept me. Forged through this aspiration and Korey’s creative dexterity on the drum machine was one of my greatest creations: a skat/be-bop infused version of ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ by the Baha Men!
This was way better than normal karaoke.
The crowd were stunned (…possibly appalled)!
I believe our performance could probably be best epitomized by the static shock between Korey and myself when, after the performance, we gave each other congratulatory daps — electric.
At least for this evening, it felt as though the layered looping of my skat vocals had earned me a slither of harmonious alliance with the handful of humans still out drinking late on a Sunday evening.
Yes, it was with a heavy heart that I left Hi-Ho Lounge and, the next day, the City of Smashed Baubles for good. A city which had taught me so much and yet left me feeling as though I knew even less about the vast expanse of America and the mores of its peculiar inhabitants.