“It feels like we’re walking around inside someone’s mouth,” Alex says more than once about the humidity, and from then on, whenever the smell hits, I think of food trapped between molars.
But the thing is, it never lasts. A breeze sweeps through to clear it out, or we wander past another restaurant with all its doors propped open, or we round the corner and stumble onto some beautiful side street where every balcony overhead is dripping with purple flowers.
Besides, I’ve been in New York for five months now, and during the last two months of summer, it’s not like my subway stop has smelled like roses. I’ve seen three different people peeing on the steps inside, and watched one of those people do it a second time a week later.
I love New York, but, wandering New Orleans, I wonder if I could be just as happy here. If maybe I could be happier. If maybe Alex would visit me more often.
So far he’s visited New York once, a few weeks after his first year of grad school ended. He brought a carload of my stuff from my parents’ house to my apartment in Brooklyn, and on the last day of his trip, we compared calendars, talked about when we’d next see each other.
The Summer Trip, obviously. Possibly (but probably not) Thanksgiving. Christmas if I could get time off work at the restaurant where I’m serving. But everyone wants off for Christmas, so instead I floated the idea of New Year’s Eve and we agreed to figure it out later.
So far we haven’t talked about any of that on this trip. I haven’t wanted to think about missing Alex while I’m with him. It seems like a waste.
“If nothing else,” he joked, “we’ll always have the Summer Trip.”
I had to actively decide to see that as comforting.
From morning until hours after dark, we wander. Bourbon Street and Frenchmen, and Canal and Esplanade (Alex is particularly enamored of the stately old houses on this street, with their overflowing flower beds and sun-blanched palms rising up alongside craggy oaks).
We eat fluffy, sugar-dusted beignets in an open-air café and spend hours picking our way through the knickknacks being sold outside the French Market (alligator-head key chains and silver rings set with moonstones), the freshly baked breads and chilled local produce and dense little cakes topped with kiwi and strawberries and bourbon-soaked cherries and pralines (in every imaginable manner) being sold in the booths inside.
We drink Sazeracs and hurricanes and daiquiris everywhere we go, because “Staying on theme matters,” as Alex says dramatically when I try to order a gin and tonic, and from there, we have both our mantra and our alter egos for the week.
Gladys and Keith Vivant are a Broadway power couple, we decide. True performers, to their very cores, and as their matching tattoos read, All the world’s a stage!
They start every day with some acting exercises, stick to one prompt for a whole week at a time, letting it guide their every interaction so as to better inhabit the Character.
And theme, of course, is vital.
Or, you could say, it matters.
“Theme matters!” we scream back and forth, stomping our feet whenever we want each other to do something the other isn’t thrilled about.
There are a whole lot of vintage stores that seem to have never been cleaned before, and Alex is not thrilled about trying on the suede leather pants I pick out for him in one of these, just as I am not thrilled when he wants to spend six hours in an art museum.
“Theme matters!” I shout when he refuses to enter a bar with an—no joke—all-saxophone band playing in the middle of the day.
“Theme matters!” he cries when I say I don’t want to buy shirts that say Drunk Bitch 1 and Drunk Bitch 2 like those Thing 1 and Thing 2 shirts they sell at theme parks, and we leave the shop wearing the shirts over our clothes.
“I love when you get weird,” I tell him.
He squints tipsily at me as we walk. “You make me weird. I’m not like this with anyone else.”
“You make me weird too,” I say; then, “Should we get real tattoos that say ‘All the world’s a stage’?”
“Gladys and Keith would,” Alex says, taking a long drink from his water bottle. He passes it to me afterward, and I greedily chug half of it.
“So that’s a yes?”
“Please don’t make me,” he says.
“But, Alex,” I cry. “Theme matt—”
He pops the water bottle back into my mouth. “Once you’re sober, I promise you won’t think it’s funny anymore.”
“I will always think every joke I make is hilarious,” I say, “but point taken.”
We hit happy hour after happy hour, with varying results. Sometimes the drinks are weak and bad, sometimes they’re stiff and good, often they’re stiff and bad. We go to a hotel bar that’s mounted to a carousel and each buy one fifteen-dollar cocktail. We go to, allegedly, the second-oldest continuously operating bar in Louisiana. It’s an old blacksmith shop with sticky floors that looks like a half-assed living museum, except for the gigantic trivia machine set up in the corner.
Alex and I sip slowly on one shared drink while we wait our turn. We don’t break the record, but we make the scoreboard.
The fifth night, we wind up at a fratty karaoke bar with an over-the-top stage and laser-lights show. After two shots of Fireball, Alex agrees to sing Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” onstage in character as the Vivants.
Halfway through the song, we get into a miked fight about the fact that I know he’s sleeping with Shelly from makeup. “It doesn’t take an hour to put on a freaking fake beard, Keith!” I shout.
The applause at the end is muted and uncomfortable. We take another shot and head to a place Guillermo told me about that serves a frozen coffee cocktail.
Half the places we’ve gone have been places Guillermo recommended, and I’ve loved all of them, especially the hole-in-the-wall po’boy shop. Having a chef for a boyfriend has perks.