Reflections on My Favorite City

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I came across the lines below from a journal entry of a few years ago.  Back then I would go on “retreats” to New Orleans to clear my head.  I would stay in an Uptown hotel that had no phone or TV.  I would just walk the streets, think and be mindful.  Oh, and I had lived in New Orleans some 35 years before during some of my worst blackout drinking.  Here is a story from a few years back – 

When I sat in the Vietnamese Restaurant I wondered if I had the energy to walk back to hotel.  I thought I might pass out on the street.  But I started to walk and really felt good in the heat and humidity.  I continued on toward Washington going down Prytania.  I was sweating quite a bit.  The humidity is intense, but enveloping and feeling good.  So what is this place to me?  I thought of how I walked these very blocks so many times in an alcoholic stupor many years before.  I thought of how angry I was then – how much I hated “them” whoever was not me . . .  I noticed that I was not feeling faint any longer.  I got to the Washington St. cemetery and leaned on the gate and looked in.  I tried to think of where it was in the cemetery that I used to sit with my beer to drink myself into oblivion.  It seemed my favorite place was against a brick wall and a cracked vault.  That was 30 years ago now.  I felt somehow cleansed by the humidity and the sweat that  was coming off me.  I walked down to Washington St. and looked to the right toward Commanders Palace and all the fine folk waiting there for the valet parking.

I started walking down Washington St. toward St. Charles and was approached by a fellow whose introduced himself as Paul.  He said he was shaking so bad he just needed money for a drink.  He was in his mid-20s and more-or-less a mirror image of me, temperament and story wise from 30 years ago.  I told him that I could give him drinking money as I had been sober for some 20 plus years.  I told him that I was just looking over at the Washington St. cemetery where I used to drink myself  into oblivion 30 years ago.  I suggested that he try sobriety and offered to go to an AA meeting with him.  He started telling me why he was a special case, using emphatic gestures, and I countered his arguments with the standard AA replies.  So he asked me, so how do I stay sober?  And I had to think, and talk about one day at a time, the standard stuff.  Unfortunately, in hindsight, I can come up with more passionately personal responses now, but on the street, I rattled the correct slogans, cliché’s and such.  Paul is me, going back some 30 years, bumming drinks, having every story, excuse, con in the world.  Smelling bad and sweating out the morning beer and shaking wanting more as the sun was going down.  So Paul realized he hit a bad hustle, did not want to particularly listen to me keep on preaching, so he just raised his hand, for a fist bump – asked me to say a prayer for him and he walked away.  I did not even have to turn around to know that the “Yo Yo” I heard was Paul chasing down another candidate for the hustle.

So I think – why did I take those first steps to get some sobriety under my belt?  The best I can know is that I wanted to live more than I wanted to die.  I look on these streets and think of the joy and pleasure we have in New Orleans today.  I can remember and savor events of today.  I cannot do so when I think of the drinking times.  I cannot even begin to conjure up something as simple as during my first visit down in sobriety with my wife where we sat at Cafe Du Monde and I had bought that book of poetry by Thomas Merton and he is doing this ecumenical thing on the Itza Maya at Chichen and that just blew me away.  I will remember that for a very long time.  I try to even think of the drinking days and of jazz bands at Lou and Charlie’s on Rampart or Mardis Gras and it really seems so much a blur – a haze – that I cannot slow down or get solid enough for a clear snapshot.  I am grateful that I have the opportunity to experience my favorite city sober.

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