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Just Another Day 

I've been slinking around like a cat (with glasses) to see what's what in New Orleans. In the morning, the Mexican workmen in the courtyard started work with good cheer, talking to each other in normal but happy voices. Happy about what? Happy that they had jobs, that they were a team, that the sky was clear and it wasn't too hot, that they had gotten a good night's sleep, that their consciences were clear. What do I know? That's what they sounded like. I'm stressing their cheerful calm as opposed to the level of anxious noise raised by the crew next door. Those guys, whose faces I couldn't see, shouted at each other like they were deaf, or working at a great height where the wind whipped them. There was no wind, but a radio turned way up to some staticky hip-hop that sounded just like crazy wind.

The Mexicans smiled sweetly and all at once when I said, "Good morning" on the way out. I made some other comment, but they kept on smiling. "Good morning" had exhausted their English.

I walked to the top of the stairs of what used to be Virgin Records to look at the river and read the paper. The river looked like it didn't give a damn, which was a good thing. Next thing I knew, I was awakened by singing. A couple of tender-aged lovebirds with bright all-night eyes came skipping up. The girl was mostly unwrapped in a sari-type thing, and her boyfriend had bird bones in his ear holes. She was carrying a handful of flowers that looked freshly picked from the cemetery. I smiled and she stopped and rewarded me with a carnation and a kiss. "I'm a wildflower," she explained, just in case I didn't get it.

I took my Dianthus caryophyllus down to Decatur Street. Out in the great outdoors of the French Quarter, garbage piled up high on the sidewalk, uncollected for at least four days judging by the bouquet. We, the people of New Orleans, like the people of France, have demanding noses. We appreciate funk. I noticed a meter maid happily writing a ticket, so things were back in some respects. Things were also functioning at the Croissant d'Or, where despite shorter hours, the croissants were fresh and the cafŽ-au-lait spumous.

I slinked on to La Vie en Rose to use the Internet and admired the punks draped over the two outside chairs, feeding their dogs tuna from cans. Different kind of wildflowers. Inside the cafe, I saw my friend, the poet and police detective Liz G., doing her paperwork and maybe sneaking in a poem on her laptop. "Welcome to my office," she said. Liz is a marvelous poet, but also a tough cop, so I can always ask for the real scoop on anything going down in the city. And she knows what goes on, trust me. I didn't ask. I just sat down and hooked up to America.

After a few hours in cyberspace, it was cocktail time at Molly's. My pal Peggy was at the bar, sparkling under a huge flower-festooned hat that said "Jazz Fest" all over. Peggy disdains most mob-related activities, but she does Jazz Fest. She calls it "festering," and there is a hint of irony when she admits it. From under the hat came also the assertion that, "I'm not leaving, I don't care!," which I took to be the answer to the unasked question on everybody's mind about what to do when they announce the next storm.

The bartender brought me a cocktail and said, "It's free. Some guy came in a couple of weeks ago and bought you a drink." She leafed through the bar's thick and damp journal. "Here," she said, "It says his name is Dave Smith. He said to give you whatever."

I was dying to see what else was in that journal. Molly's is open at all hours, and I'm extremely interested in the hour of 4 a.m., for some reason. I sipped my "whatever." I was in New Orleans, alright, and the hours were starting to stretch.

Andrei Codrescu's new book is New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years Of Writing From the City (Algonquin Books).

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