My work friend Hank gave me an invitation to his birthday party in New Orleans about a month ago. It sounded really cool, and I really like Hank, so I thought I’d RSVP and see what the day might bring. I knew nobody else there, so I’d have to put on my social hat and make new friends. This morning I drove across the pond to the Crescent City and met Hank’s gang at the Rock N Bowl on Carollton. The place was so cute! A man outside greeted me and asked if I was going to a beauty pageant. I laughed and thanked him for the over -the-top compliment and headed inside. I was smiling already.
I was one of the first people there because the party started with a ceremony at Hank’s temple. It was the 50th anniversary of his Bar Mitzvah. I checked in and noticed another couple sitting by themselves. I got my resolve up and headed over to introduce myself and ask if they were there for Hank’s party. They sure were, and they invited me to sit with them. Debbie was adorable and dressed to the nines. She worked with Hank’s wife, and her husband Jack seemed like a really sharp guy.
Jack and Debbie
They told me this amazing story about how they met. She worked at the attorney’s office where Jack’s divorce was handled, but she was still married. They didn’t see each other again until 6 years later when their daughters were involved in the same event. I want to say it was a soccer game, but I can’t remember. Debbie was going through a divorce then, and Jack gave her some great advice to see a marriage counselor before they made the decision to divorce. One day – years later – Debbie spotted Jack out shopping with his daughter. Debbie’s daughter went over to ask them to lunch, and the rest – as they say – is history. Who would have ever thought they would have ended up married at their first meeting?
We chatted for awhile and stuffed ourselves with some really good chicken wings, and then I got up to mingle. I met a fellow named Oscar and his sister Ida. We chatted for awhile and then Oscar and I decided to go bowl. I rounded up Jack and Debbie and we bowled for awhile. I didn’t bowl very well, but I bowled.
We danced and hula-hooped while the band played. At one point, I caught the words to one of the songs, and I laughed out loud. The refrain was “ain’t no place to pee on Mardis Gras Day.” I knew this had to be a New Orleans original.
Ain’t No Place to Pee on Mardi Gras Day by Benny Grunch
We left Rock N Bowl and headed over to Hank’s place for another party. I wasn’t sure I was going to go, but Jack and Debbie were going, so I thought I’d give it a shot. The house off Carrollton was lovely. It was one of those old New Orleans homes that has been lovingly and colorfully remodeled and decorated. I chose a room to hang out, grabbed a plate and waited to see who showed up.
This short guy with a goatee came up and introduced himself as Benny Grunch. He started talking about his music, and then I realized he was in the band at the bowling alley. He mentioned some of his songs, and it dawned on me that he was the songwriter of “Ain’t No Place to Pee on Mardi Gras Day.” I asked him if he was famous, and he said yeah. I told him I had to get a picture with him then.
We sat around and chatted with several different long-time New Orleans residents. I heard about Schwegmann’s – the New Orleans grocery store chain – where all of my college girlfriends made groceries with their Mommas. Schwegmann’s carried everything. In fact, they were a grocery store AND a bar. Men would accompany their wives to “make groceries” and hang out in the bar with their kids. A president of Chevron had his retirement party at the Schwegmann’s bar where he spent most of his fun times. Only in New Orleans would grocery shopping be combined with a barroom. No wonder Louisiana’s grocery stores look like liquor stores. It’s a long-held tradition.
My new friends told story after story about old New Orleans. The towns and areas that I’d heard mentioned often when I was in college came to life before my eyes. An old restaurant in a store in Arabi rivaled fine dining in New Orleans, and the locals had fun tricking their friends by taking them there for dinner. They were always impressed after eating, but they were pretty worried as they parked in the back of an old store by a dumpster. I could see my friends Angel, Ann, Laura, and Valerie as they grew up in this colorful culture and how it might have impacted their view of the world and their view of mine. What a different place this was from the small country town where I was raised!
Ain’t Dere No More
Benny spoke of roadhouses all over the state where children danced alongside grandparents and parents on Sunday afternoon. Another fellow reminded me of the bars across the river in Baton Rouge where trouble and great music frequented in equal measure. And then Benny mentioned his song “Ain’t dere no more” where he sang about all of the old local department stores that no longer exist in New Orleans. He evacuated for Katrina after the water started rising, and he went to his daughter’s house in Denver. He was stunned to see reports of people standing on rooftops when the floodwaters rose holding signs that said “Ain’t dere no more.” That was his song, and now it was his city’s song. They say he was the first musical venue to perform in the city after Katrina, and he performed at the Rock N Bowl where I was today. I could not believe my luck at meeting him – and Jack and Debbie and Oscar and Ida and all of the others – today.
I have not had a good couple of days. This morning I loudly and clearly pronounced my frustration at the Universe for the patterns in my life where I get myself into situations that are not that easy to unravel. And then I am paralyzed by my fear to take risks because I’m afraid I’ll get myself into yet another situation I can’t unravel very easily. It happens over and over again. And then I met my friend Dyer for coffee.
Dyer reminded me of the power of daily meditation. Yes, of course that will help. It helps because it changes my brain and gives me time to slow down so that I can pull the threads of the next right thing instead of feeling like I need to change my world. If I hadn’t seen him today, I wouldn’t have remembered that. If I hadn’t gone to the party, I wouldn’t have met all of these people that stirred so many beautiful memories. The day would not have been so rich and flavorful. It was a magical day. And it made me forget what I was so angry about – at least for awhile.
When I pull a thread that takes me somewhere I don’t expect, I am reminded that life doesn’t really show you where it’s headed. I have to pull the threads. But, I don’t know where they lead. Debbie and Jack had no idea they’d get married some day, but they pulled the thread when it was handed to them. Benny had no idea his song would be famous. But he wrote it anyway.
Dyer told me that he has a dream of living and working in Melbourne. He has no idea if he’ll ever get there, but he has a jar where he collects change and dollars that is marked for the move to Melbourne. He’s not trying to make it happen and has no immediate plans. But, he has a jar designated for the journey. He’s pulling the thread.
I see a jar in my future marked with “North Carolina” or maybe “Mountain Home”. Who knows what I’ll call it? On days when I’m really upset I can throw a twenty in there. On other days, I may just toss a dime or two on the pile. And, hopefully, there will be some days when I don’t even remember it’s there. If I stay in my comfort zone and keep pulling the same threads over and over, I’ll never get a different outcome. I never know when I pull a new thread if it might lead me to the next best thing in my life… whether it’s on a mountaintop ….. in the city of New Orleans ….. or right in my own backyard.