Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Unpacking Butterflies & Setting Them Free

Fourteen years ago, I took a trip to New Orleans with my sister. We were both very excited about going to The Big Easy because of it’s history, the mystique around it, and because of the movie “Interview With A Vampire.” It had come out a couple of years prior and had such an eerie feeling about it I was entranced and very much looking forward to it. In fact, we wanted to go for Halloween but flights were either unavailable or too expensive, as were the hotels.

So we pushed it back and went the week after.

Mind you, this was a trip we’d planned close to a year before. It seemed so far away and I put it out of my mind. And the day finally came to leave. Not only did I feel weird about going, I felt awkward too because if I remember correctly, at the time, my partner and I had only been living together close to 6 months; if that.

My sister flew from New York, while I flew up from Florida, and we met in Atlanta. The closer we got to New Orleans, the more excited she got. I just pretended to be. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I started getting weird vibes. It was like butterflies in my stomach only not in an exciting way. I kept telling myself it was just flying jitters and nerves about going someplace new, compounded by the fact that my partner couldn’t come.

The moment the plane landed, the strangest thing came over me. It was like everything in my body was screaming, “Go away! NOW! Just get back on the first flight back home.”

But I couldn’t do that. Not to my sister. She was totally beautiful in her black, goth dress that looked like something Morticia Addams might have worn, long raven hair and a choker that was almost identical to the one Lily Munster used to wear. I do remember asking her if she felt something weird and she calmly said no.

At the hotel, on Canal and (I think) Rampart, we checked in and were told under no uncertain terms that we shouldn’t leave money or valuables laying around the room. They urged us to use the safe and suggested that if we were going out later that night, we should stick to well-lit streets. They even went as far as suggesting boundaries within which we should stay.

Having already felt ill-at-ease since landing, all this information did not fill me with good will.

Then we headed to our room, where we discovered that there was one King-sized bed, not two doubles like we had originally asked for. My sister and I looked at each other and I said, “Honey, I love you but we’re just not THAT southern.” No offense to those of you who might be southern but I was pissed by that point.

After an annoying conversation with the woman behind the desk that only put me even further at edge, the fiasco was resolved.

Shortly after settling in, my sister and I decided that the night was young. We were in New Orleans, and we were going to walk around. Now, remember that we’re from New York City. There’s very little that frightens us and we know what to do when we feel threatened.

The night was a bit humid but breezy and not too warm. We went down to the main drag that runs along the river; I can’t remember the name but I know it was where Cafe du Monde is. We’d heard about their chickory coffee and beignets so, naturally, it was the first place we hit. Along the way however, people kept asking us the time. Of course we knew what time it was but our response was always the same: Sorry, we don’t have a watch. It’s what you say in New York because sometimes the person asking is working with someone else and is trying to distract you.

On the way to Cafe du Monde, we felt as if we were being followed. Even my sister, who is far less afraid of things than I am, was a bit worried.

We got to Cafe du Monde, put the experience behind us, and were grateful nothing happened.

The following day, we must have explored just about every block! We were mesmerized by the architecture and the “feel” that it was such a haunted place. The weather was beautiful. We couldn’t have asked for better conditions. We bought tickets to a local production of “Dracula” for the following evening and were thrilled to have purchased tickets to a walking “Interview With The Vampire” tour.

That night, we did one of the ghost tours, which I highly recommend. We met across from Jackson Square and the group was led by a man with a top hat, a cape and a cane. He was totally decked out and my sister and I enjoyed ourselves immensely. Things were definitely improving, despite the fact that earlier in the day, there were certain blocks where we’d turn and I felt as if someone were watching us. Yet when I turned to look over my shoulder, there was no one there.

And then, just when I thought things were looking up, the following morning came.

We were in front of the church and we’d just had breakfast at, I think it was called Madelaine’s. We were set to go on the vampire walking tour and we were quite excited about it! So there we are, standing in front of the church trying to figure out which way we needed to go to meet up with the group. My sister thought we should go one way and I thought we should go another. Except that when I turned, I feel. I was no where near the curb. I did NOT have anything to drink. And I didn’t even feel like I was falling. All of a sudden it was just like, oh, that’s weird. That tree’s upside down.

Not even the cop, who was just coming out of a bakery with -- and this is the truth, I swear -- his coffee and donut, stopped to help.

Fast forward back to the hotel where I spent the day in bed with my leg propped up while my poor sister walked Canal Street (or is it Avenue?) looking for a drugstore to purchase an ace bandage, aspirin, and a few other things for me. Somehow, she was able to get our money back from the walking tour but Dracula wasn’t buying back their tickets. So off we went, with me hobbling along.

The performance turned out to be really awful but what was worse was that my ankle was by now the size of a large grapefruit. I was in excruciating pain and, though I hated to admit it, suggested to my sister that she stay at the hotel and I would cab it over to the nearest hospital, which I think was Tulane.

And do you know what they had the nerve to ask me at the hospital once my sister (who insisted on coming with me) and I arrived and I was with doctor alone? They wanted to know if I’d been drinking when I fell. I hadn’t touched a drop, though I don't think they believed me. And then the had the audacity to ask me if my girlfriend had pushed me. I was like, Whaaaaaat? What kind of a place IS this?

Turns out I tore ligaments in my left foot (I’d already torn ligaments in my right foot five years before that) and was put in a cast, given crutches, and my sister and I called our trip short. Luckily, we’d gotten travel insurance and got some of our money back but the damage was done.

Needless to say I had a bad experience with New Orleans and vowed never to return. Ever.

And yet, here I am, two weeks shy of a full fourteen years later. It’s the night before I head back to New Orleans, this time for the Gay Lit Retreat. For those who don’t know, the GLR is the first of it’s kind, designed specifically as a forum where fans of the m/m genre can meet their favorite writers and…well, mingle and schmooze!

I must confess I’m a bit more than leery; not about the mingling and schmoozing. I think I’ve got that down. I think it’s because of the memories that kept flooding back and I kept repressing. Oh, and coincidentally, my partner wasn’t able to take time off to come with me this time, either. I guess New Orleans isn’t in his future; at least not now.

The other reason why I’m leery is because I don’t know what to expect at GLR. I keep second guessing myself: Should I have gotten swag? Should I have signed up for a reading? Should I have volunteered to sponsor a breakfast, a lunch, or a dinner? And then, of course, there’s the little kid inside tugging at my shirt and looking up at me.

Will they like me?

Ahhh, ain’t fear a bitch?

Frankly, bad memories and experiences aside, deep down I’m very excited. I’ll be seeing Treva again and I’ll be meeting, for the first time, readers and fellow writers with whom I’ve already shared so many things on Facebook.

I hope to see you there. If you see me first, come on over and say hello. I promise I won’t bite or push, but I just might creep into your head!

Safe travels, everyone.


  1. I'm so sorry you have bad memories of New Orleans! I lived in Baton Rouge for 6 years and went there a lot during that time. I love the city and especially the food :) I wish I was going to GRL! Next year, I've promised myself. I know you'll have a wonderful time. It's going to be a good trip!

  2. Johnny I cant wait to met you!

    Sorry about the bad memories babe, but I swear I will be happy to see you! SMOOCHES!

  3. @Silvia: I'm sure this trip will be different. Going after Halloween was just bad mojo.

  4. @Rawiya: I'm looking forward to meeting you as well!

  5. Aww...everyone there will adore you. (I'm not going but I adore you as well.) I'm sure it will be loads of fun and you'll be excited to go back with your partner. Have fun!

  6. Johnny, sorry you had bad experience before and I hope, for all our sakes, this time will be different. I'v lived in Louisiana all my life, yet had never been to New Oleans until March 2010. I was plesantly surprised with what I found. My mama always said it was dirty, but what we saw of it was not and we were right there on Bourbon St. We walked nearly the whole French Quarter and none of it was dirty and most of the people we met, were nice.
    I am so looking forward to meeting everyone this week. Will be driving in on Thursday morning. See you there Johnny!

  7. I no longer consider myself a shy person, but even now that old feeling creeps in when I'm in a new place. I recently got back from a conference in Atlanta, Georgia. I got there fine, felt great but just as my roommates were about to arrive and all the week-end conference type stuff was about to begin, that old pal fear seized hold of my heart. What if this experience isn't everything it could be? What if people don't like me? What if people don't take my goody room stuff? What am I doing here? It's amazing how these old demons like bad high school friends creep up on you and pat you on the back wanting to tag along. I consciously have to tell them to get lost, that everything will be ok. And it was!

    Have a great time, Johnny :)

  8. I hope you have a wonderful time to make up for the bad experience the first time you visited. I'm not going, but if I was I'd stop by and say hi.

  9. @Mika: Thank you so much. You're a love! Hopefully we'll meet next year.

  10. @Mary Gresham: Thanks for your words. I have a feeling New Orleans, at the time I went, might have been like NYC when I was growing up. The people are very different now.

    On my way to NO shortly. Looking forward to meeting everyone!

  11. @Kellie: I know! Isn't it a pain in the ass? Thanks to my partner I've managed to squash all that as it concerns this trip. I want it to be fun and I know it will turn out that way if I remain open. Good things will come!

  12. @Pender: Thank you, so do I! I'm sure it will be a great experience.

  13. You can come hide in my room if you want.

  14. @Treva Harte: You can do the same in mine. There's a (I think) double? king? bed in the room but there's plenty of room in the bathroom! It's frigging HUGE!!