Bourbon Street was the same as last night, with people wandering through the bright neon-lit humidity looking as much at each other as at the store fronts and bars. Music poured out of every doorway and was sort of soothing after a while, the booming bass of one place fading into the cajun wheedle of the next as we walked, Bart bright-eyed like a fever victim and me, well, me just me.
We didn’t talk, but we didn’t not talk, if you know what I mean. My brain felt busy even though I wasn’t really thinking about anything in particular, repeating loops of free floating anxiety and loose ends. The usual. We were away from Ziggy and that suited me. One piece of logic had lodged itself in my mind which I clung to a little–if I couldn’t predict what he’d do, and he often did the exact opposite of what I expected, then if I expected him to make me miserable… well, then maybe he wouldn’t. It didn’t seem likely, but hey.
I followed Bart down a side street and we went up another street lined with two- and three- storey buildings, store fronts on the ground floor and the balconies of townhouses above. The people were fewer here but still numerous. A leathery-faced black man in a loose leisure suit and hat stood on one corner in a darkened doorway playing the tenor sax, another hat at his feet with a few scattered coins and bills in it. He looked like something out of a postcard; you could cast him as an extra to play the part of “New Orleans Jazzman” on a sitcom. A little voice in my head said, jeezus, did he intend to grow up to be a stereotype? And another voice answered, hey, stereotypes have to come from somewhere. I was too distracted by my discomfort over that whole concept to listen to what he was playing.
Bart wasn’t exactly wandering aimlessly and he led us to an Italian restaurant someone had told him about during the course of the day, and he sat me down and got us some fabulously fresh-baked bread, and menus. My thoughts: shit, this bread is too perfect, like you can hardly imagine bread more exactly perfect. The crust, the texture, the smell, the flavor. It is The Bread. Just like that guy was The Jazz Man. These thoughts were giving me a chill, like there was something Twilight Zone about the whole thing, like we’d gone from the real world into some kind of marketing wienie’s dream, where everything was Exactly As Advertised. Better than sliced bread, you might say.
And who were we in the marketing wienie’s dream? Hot, new, up and coming, different… I was wishing I’d never read the Spin article or any of the propaganda BNC’s media machine put out. So what if it was true? Did the hype’s being true make us any less of a cliche than that sax player on the street?
“Bart,” I said softly, my eyes on the dimly lit wall in the restaurant’s distance and my calloused fingers digging slightly into the white cloth. “I think I’m having a crisis of faith.”
He stopped in mid-chew and one eyebrow dipped low on his face. “What sort of crisis of faith.”
“I mean, crisis of faith.”
“As in, not sure what you believe in any more.”
“Uh, no, more like sure that what I believe in is crap.”
“Oh.” He took a swig of water from a tall, elegantly curved glass. “Care to share with the class?”
I nodded while I waited for words to bubble up. My eyes stayed fixed in the distance. The restaurant was all off-white plaster and stucco on the inside, with painted figures on the ceiling and vaguely Mediterranean sconces, rounded doorways, a grape vine motif that popped up in wrought iron decorations and plaster friezes. White-shirted waitstaff flitted back and forth in my blurry vision.
“You know that guy playing the sax?”
“On Royal Street? Yeah.” Bart broke off another piece of uber-world bread and buttered it.
“He was like, I don’t know, so stereotypical.”
“Daron, there’s a difference between typical and stereotypical.”
“But neither of those words has a happy connotation, does it.”
He bit down on the bread and made a little mmm sound as he chewed. “You’re going to say you’re afraid to end up like that guy, busking on the street corner.”
“You’re going to say you wish you were busking on the corner instead of doing what you’re doing.”
“You’re going to…”
“Will you let me explain already? Jeezus.” His face came into focus at last. “I’m not kidding around here.”
“You did use the word crisis.”
“Yeah. I did.” I looked at him sitting there, eating the world’s best bread and for some reason I couldn’t help but smile. He smiled, too, like he’d been hiding it by chewing. Then he started to laugh, through his nose, silently, but I saw his shoulders shake. And that started me to laughing a little bit, too. “What’s so funny?” I said, but I was already shaking my head.
“Eat your bread,” he said, putting a hunk onto my plate. “I can’t handle a crisis on an empty stomach.”
“Okay, all right.” I didn’t butter my bread. I poured a green puddle of olive oil onto my plate and dipped it. If the bread was perfect, I was crazy to let a crisis get in the way of my enjoying it. If typical things were always this good, there’d be a lot less to complain about in the world. “I’ll tell you later,” I said with bread in my own mouth. “I’ll tell you some other time.”
“Well, okay.” He gave me a that’s-my-boy kind of pat on the side of the arm and neither he nor I mentioned that particular crisis again.