Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ah, New Orleans: Part 3

When we last left our heroine, she was just about to meet Mike Kobrin, a trumpet player from NYC who recently relocated to New Orleans, and who was recommended to contact by my very great and close pal John, who always knows good people. The destination was 13, a great little bar/restaurant on Frenchman St. It happens to be one of the few places I encountered in the city that has food with actual vegetables in it, some of the dishes without meat! Not like I was ready to slow it down yet, but good to know it was there. A little late, but Mike found me at the mostly empty bar soon enough.

I think we had what can only be described as like at first sight. I didn't know what to expect, or even how old he would be since John is friends with old and young alike. But in walked, well, tall dark and handsome with a cute, scruffy beard, early 30s. We immediately got into a comfortable repartee. I think Mike was just as apprehensive about this strange chick from Brooklyn as I was of this whack trumpet-playing dude who left NYC to move here, and made himself an out just in case. But since we were already getting along well, decided to invite me to dinner so that I could accompany him to a little gig he was playing later. We opted for Coop's on Decatur, which I had been dying to try, heard it was one of the best cajun/creole places in the Quarter.

We sat at a corner table which was really two pressed together. We tried to separate them but were encouraged to leave them as is since it was easier for the staff to get around us that way. We ain't in NYC anymore, folks! Mike got a coronary sized portion of cajun pasta, which is crawfish and other seafood in a heavy, 10 alarm cream sauce. I opted for the cajun fried chicken, perfectly crisp and well seasoned, which came with a generous heap of moist, spicy, rabbit and sausage jambalaya and cole slaw, which I navigated around due to my fear of mayonnaise. I couldn't wait to tell Steph how great this place was. During the meal, we talked and laughed a lot, telling each other our stories and I kept thinking how amazingly well we connected considering how we had just met like half an hour ago. Of course I got to hear the story of how Mike and his current girlfriend got together. She is a childhood pal who professed her longtime crush after years of lives apart, and who lives in NYC, but he is trying to get to move to New Orleans. Throughout our time together, I never even learned her name. She is simply "my girlfriend." Possessive. Pronoun. His. Somewhere in NYC at the same moment, she was probably invoking the same possessive for "my boyfriend." My life is a cruel, cruel bitch.

Sadly, I am getting used to such sad realities, being single in my late 30s. The good guys, the ones I get along with and know how to talk to me, who don't go around quoting Seinfeld incessantly and show genuine kindness, appreciation and respect, are always taken. Or gay. Sigh. But I'm a good sport. And it was time to move on and keep enjoying my night regardless.

Next was a welcome tour deeper into the Garden District, still light out so I could see it in all its deep summer, lush glory. Big porches, balconies, intricate wrought iron embellishments, weeping willows, hanging gardens, lilac and lots of gas lanterns. It made me long for a swing, iced tea and firefly sightings, but we were late for the gig at Neutral Ground Coffee House.

We arrived as the band had already started cooking. There was a hot female pianist on an upright and another attractive backup singer who looked like a modern day fashion mag spread on hippie love children, a male lead singer/guitarist and another guitarist in rockabilly style. Mike took his place on a couch right in front of the band and I nervously sat opposite, but was quickly beckoned to sit next to him. It didn't take long for him to warm up and improv right along with classic covers such as "American Pie." They only played for another half hour or so since another band was due to play, but it was fun. I was glad I got to see Mike do his thing, and do it so well under the circumstances!

He had just signed a lease that day for a new 1/2 house pad nearby, so we drove by to check it out. Ample front porch, gaslights and lilac trees. Very niiiiice. The place had the added attraction of being just around the corner from a very cool local bar, the Bons Temps. We entered as a friend of Mike's jammed Southern jazz on the upright piano, there were free oysters (which I didn't trust, but others seemed not to care) heaped in plates at the corner of the bar and a big pool table. We got a couple of bourbons and Mike showed me the back bar, no A/C, but a great space for a band some other night. We hung out up front for a bit, then transferred our bourbons into to go plastic cups (one of the great features of the city) and went back to the car.

We made a pit stop at Mike's soon-to-be-former residence he was leaving for the lilac and gaslights. It's on a rough, abandoned block just outside the Quarter, but the interior is lovely. Big open slate kitchen and bathroom, jacuzzi, cool open shower (no doors or curtain, tres sexy) and pretty outdoor patio with lots of plants. If it weren't for the scary, desolate block, this would be prime real estate. And probably will be someday once the other houses get built up again. But still, it was another reminder of how far rent money stretches in places outside NYC. For the same price I couldn't even snag a dingy studio in Canarsie. I noticed that his place was nicely, but not TOO nicely decorated for a straight male's pad. Lots of Mexican touches, like little rugs and pottery, with a couple of photos on the wall. One was of a young black guy with big ears and a trumpet, obviously a jazz idol of Mike's. I asked who it was and he told me Lee Morgan. I knew who he was! Never seen a photo of him, but The Cooker has become one of my favorite jazz albums, I learned about it from a bartender friend in Brooklyn who was playing it in his bar one night, and I told that to Mike. Obviously impressed, as Lee Morgan is fairly obscure, he pointed at me and said, "YOU'RE alright." I beamed.

Back to Frenchman St. We pop into Cafe Negril, a reggae spot with lots of painted Bob Marley murals, where a band that Mike used to play with before they did away with a horn section, is just setting up. We met his bartender friend (sorry, name escapes me) and got another round of bourbons. Didn't stay long since the band wouldn't start soon, so went up the street with the ubiquitous plastic cup and stopped and listened outside a few other joints. I love Frenchman St. On one city block, you can be treated to live blues, jazz, funk, reggae, soul, you name it. And is that a tuba player on a bike??? I loved hearing the sounds wafting out to us on the humid streets. A new club, all wood floors and balconies, was getting set to open at the end of the block across from our original meeting spot, 13. We got past the doorman, a friend of Mike's and took a seat at a table near the window. No A/C on yet, and there was only one other table occupied farther in. A woman with blonde dreds with seated with three others and Mike pointed out this was Cassandra Wilson. Wow. I looooove her. Been a fan and CD collector since my pal Lisa introduced me to her music in the mid 90s. We got to see her live at Carnegie Hall once too. But I couldn't approach her here. She looked like she was having a nice, mellow time and I didn't think a fan interruption would be welcomed.

By now, the humidity and bourbon and sounds, the increasing lateness and fatigue and fact that I had essentially been drinking since noon (was that really the same day?) were washing over me and I knew the night needed to end soon. One more stop to hear the grooves from outside Negril, once the band got going, and they sounded fantastic, and then finally a fun blues band down the street, one more bourbon inside (momentum got the best of me) and finally a ride back to the hotel. A hearty hug from Mike (I'll take it) and into the Prytannia Park I went, happy to have seen the city at last and to get a break from the Cocktailians for a while. I ended up watching an infomercial for Dean Martin's variety show for twenty minutes, then passed out, dreaming of Frenchman St., Cassandra, sea monsters (it's a dream, remember?) and a new great friend.

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