It’s that time again – time for “something a little different”! Inspired by one of my favorite stories, Rashomon, I solicit the thoughts and opinions of others who have tread the same path as me, but (inevitably) they bring a different perspective. End result: you get twice the story. (I’ve successfully wrangled a “second voice” three times now – so I’m gonna say, this is officially a thing! Woo-hoo!)
You may recall this “voice” from my first Rashomon post, my beloved partner in love and wandering, Danger. He accepted my challenge to tell the tale of The Notebook. (Which notebook, you ask? Read on!) I’ve also included my various thoughts on the events, along the way.
Chapter One: When You Gotta Go, You Gotta Go
DANGER: “You have to get lost, to get found.” – Jim Jarmusch
From my perspective, this fateful story begins with my tiny bladder. Here’s the rumpus – I have a tiny bladder, always have, always will. I’ve been much maligned for this condition for all of my life. However, for the purpose of this particular tale, I propose the notion, that on this particular evening, on this particular sidewalk in the French Quarter in New Orleans, were it not for my tiny bladder – I would have never stopped in to visit the restroom of this dive bar, leaving my gregarious traveling companion out on the sidewalk, with a few minutes to kill…
(Cue a quick Edgar Wright inspired montage of shots from our day)
(Cut to close up) Let’s back up a bit – It’s our second night in New Orleans. Our first full day in The Big Easy, so naturally we’ve been drinking all day. We’ve just come out of Jean Laffite’s Blacksmith Shop Piano Bar and Lounge. While I adore that place (it was an important stop on my pilgrimage), it’s a bit of a logistical nightmare. Crowded to say the least. Difficult to even get into the bathroom, which is very small, and there were a few cockroaches in the urinal. We were having a phenomenal time, but we had not eaten dinner yet, and it was becoming important that we get some food into our systems. So, we went in search of a place to eat. I left without using the restroom, for reasons that I outlined earlier. I knew that I wasn’t going to make the many blocks walk to our intended destination, without having to stop and pee. Which brings me to this corner bar (I think it’s called Dejavu) where I have stopped in, ordered an Abita, and politely excused myself to use the restroom.
In the minutes that Hezaasan waits for me to do my business, she meets, and befriends a lynchpin character of this story. A young man named Aslan, who is camped on the street corner. If not for my tiny bladder, perhaps Hezaasan never meets this character, and this story never happens. So, cheers to you tiny bladder! Thanks for the adventure!
HEZAASAN: I feel seen! Truer than true. Smallest. Bladder. Ever. I utter no joke, no hyperbole, when I repeat this very important, crucial, essential detail. It’s actually quite hilarious, and adorably predictable.
I remember we were just getting to know one another on this trip, and as an ambivert, I appreciated having sporadic moments throughout the day when Danger would take a temporary exit to see to his bodily functions. It allowed me to take a breath, take in my surroundings, and sometimes even take out my notebook and write a poem or two.
Teensy weensy bladder for the win!
Chapter Two: Aslan, the Street Artist
DANGER: I staggered out of Dejavu, bladder emptied, with two Abitas in hand, to discover my traveling partner engaged in a deep conversation with the gentleman who was camped out on the sidewalk. I was still somewhat new to traveling with Hezaasan – so I did not totally understand her traveling philosophy yet. I wasn’t sure exactly what her plan was, so I paced around the sidewalk, and drank my Abita.
As I eavesdropped on their conversation, I was quickly drawn in by Aslan’s charismatic and eccentric personality. They are talking about the book that he is reading, and about their mutual interest in reading and writing. He casually reveals that he is also an artist, who does drawings and, much to my shock, Hezaasan reaches into her backpack, takes out her own personal journal, and hands it to him.
(Close up slow motion shot of The Notebook)
My jaw dropped. From what I know about Hezaasan’s relationship with her journals at this point, to describe it as precious cargo, is an understatement. Her journal is where she keeps her poetry, memories, and the chronicles of her many incredible adventures. In my eyes, that journal is the equivalent to a Hattori Hanzo crafted Excalibur. Her own personal Sakabato (that’s a reference one person will get, and I am fine with that), filled with many years worth of her musings, and memories.
HEZAASAN: To be fair, this wasn’t my Journal journal. I actually have two books that I carry whenever I travel. One is my Journal journal (which nobody can touch nor get within six feet while I’m writing — when it comes to my journal, the law of social distancing does NOT have an expiration date), a true “dear diary” where I protest about the lot I’ve been cast in life — and brag about the lot I’ve been cast in life — and otherwise ramble on and on (and on). Let me be clear that nobody – not even my bestest, dearest friend that I’ve effectively shared a brain with since I was 12 — is getting anywhere near my baby. I would torch it before I let it be read. It’s sacred, between my past self and my future self, and that’s what allows it to be the ridiculous, unmitigated, unedited pile of tripe that it is — but it’s my tripe, dammit!
Suffice to say, I didn’t carry my Journal journal in my backpack on this day – it was secure in the hotel room, buried under tampons and nondescript plastic bags (aw, look at past me, being all paranoid and clever-like).
This was notebook #2, which I also guard pretty carefully, but it’s a different part of my universe. Story ideas, poems, notes on character development I’ve formulated during my acting and writing projects, my “compost heap” of ideas that strike me during the day that I don’t want to forget. It’s a Writer’s Notebook, essential travel gear because writing brains are fickle and what strikes us one moment is very easily forgotten in the next unless you were super wise enough to write it down somewhere the very moment it strikes you. So, this is that “somewhere” — all those moments of inspiration, cemented into its pages for potential future use. Whereas my Journal journal is essentially recordings of events and feelings of the past, my Writer’s Notebook represents hopes and ideas for my future.
DANGER: (Cut back to) Aslan takes the notebook carefully into his hands, showing all due respect, and reverence. He asks Hezaasan to borrow a pen, and then he starts to draw. They continue to converse while he sketches. As his drawing starts to take shape, it occurs to me how profoundly greater this encounter is to any “tour” that we could ever possibly take in this city. This is a truly perfect authentic NOLA experience.
To some degree, this guy is me from 20 years ago, and I am enormously honored to be sharing in this phenomenal gonzo travel experience which Hezaasan has wandered her way into.
Eventually he is finished, and he reveals a beautiful image that is part Neil Gaiman’s vision of Death and/or Desire, and part a beautiful portrait of Hezaasan herself. It’s beautiful, haunting, moody, dangerous, and gothic. It’s Ink Jazz, conjured from the spirits of the French Quarter. It’s voodoo heart and soul, and one hundred percent – NOLA. I am deeply impressed.
We say our goodbyes to our new charismatic friend (after tipping him very generously), and we make our way to our dinner destination – Bayou Burger. Over burgers and drinks, we excitedly chat about the day, read some of Hezaasan’s poetry, and revisit Aslan’s artwork. Eventually, we pay our tab, and make our way back onto Bourbon Street, where we joke around with the drunken pro wrestling fans (Wrestlemania was the next day). We stumble our way back to our base camp at the gorgeous Hotel Monteleone. We drink some more, laugh and sing a bit, and eventually pass out.
A completely epic night for me. This night is one of my most cherished memories from my years on this planet. (Fade out)
HEZAASAN: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there’s a ton of good in the world, if you know where to find it. Aslan did not disappoint.
Our conversation started out “normal” enough — a friendly hello, where are you from, what are you reading — and soon we were talking about his life living homeless on the streets of the French Quarter, about people watching, avoiding the drunks, sucking the marrow out of poetry and literature, and the politics of chickens.
In other words, best small talk ever.
Then he said he was an artist, and found meaning in visual art. And he uttered the fateful words, “I would draw something for you if I had a piece of paper”.
I responded, without missing a beat, “Funny you should say that.”
The rest is — well, the rest is what Danger wrote.
Chapter Three: This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
DANGER: (Cut to) The next day. Things take an unfortunate turn. Upon waking up, as I attempt to navigate the fog of my hangover, Hezaasan tells me that she has lost her notebook.
My heart sinks thru the floorboards, and is swept downstream, into the currents of the Mississippi River.
For better or worse, I have learned to roll with loss over the years. It happens, and part of being on this planet (and being a bit of an “airhead”) is learning to live with that fact. However, this was a heartbreaking loss that I simply couldn’t put behind me. Our first memories of this trip were wrapped up in the experience of obtaining that soulful drawing. Now that memory would be tainted by my feeling (at least partially) responsible for Hezaasan not only losing the drawing, but also losing years of her own work that she had inscribed on those pages.
Naturally, we did our due diligence, and we backtracked our steps quickly. We both knew that the notebook had to be at the place where we had dinner. That was the last time either of us could remember it being out of her bag. I became 100% confident that if we went back to the restaurant, we would find it. After all, why would anyone pick up someone else’s notes? If you work there, I’m positive you place it in the lost and found. If you are a patron, you definitely would turn it in to the staff. There’s no way that anyone would take it with them.
HEZAASAN: For any reader who knows me, I know, okay? I know.
Minimalism isn’t entirely a lifestyle I have chosen, it’s also chosen me. Leaving my material things behind is par for my every course, and not at all surprising.
But remember, this is one of the first times Danger had traveled with me. He hadn’t yet experienced the wonders of my supreme inability to keep track of my crap. Until this.
DANGER: When we arrived at the scene, unfortunately the staff at the restaurant did not share my confidence, and they were not super sympathetic to our plight. They sort-of listened to our story, and then casually asked around, in cursory fashion, only to come back and inform us that they did not have it.
I was angry, to say the least. I was positive the notebook was sitting on a shelf in the back, and they had not bothered to look for it. They didn’t even offer to take down our number, and call us if they found it. I had to ask them to do so, which was clear evidence that they were not going to bother.
Hezaasan, who is a highly practiced minimalist, with significant experience with loss in her own life, assured me that our wisest move was to let it go, move on with our vacation, and try to enjoy the remainder of our time in NOLA. Not having any other options, and wanting to heed her desire to continue enjoying our vacation – I agreed to put it behind us, and move on. (Black out)
HEZAASAN: First of all, I have to say, I’m absolutely loving the “black outs” and “fades” in Danger’s story. I feel like that elderly couple in the seats behind you at the movies, who whisper to one another during the pauses between the action to try to catch one another up on the plot and which character they’re rooting for and where else they remember that one actor from. But I digress.
Second, I really was touched by this whole search party initiative that Danger spearheaded. It was incredibly sweet of him to go to such extensive efforts to try to convince lackadaisical, unmotivated staff to raise maybe just one little finger to try to help us out. Much character was revealed on this day.
Finally, I was convinced it wouldn’t lead to treasure at the end. Worse, I believed that the more we searched the more frustrated Danger would potentially become. I understand the nagging desire to find what has been misplaced, and did my best to support his efforts … but ultimately my inner empath and inner minimalist joined forces and made a compelling argument to set the matter aside. The fact that he listened to that argument, is yet another reveal of his incredible character.
That thing I said earlier about goodness in the world? Let’s just say I know where to look.
Chapter Four: Persistence is a Virtue
DANGER: (Fade in – A Coen inspired musical montage) So, that is what we did.
We spent the next few days having an incredible time in and around the city. We shot the St. Louis Cemetery, and made a special stop at Faulkner’s House Books, so that Hezaasan could purchase a new notebook. We had an amazing time visiting all sorts of incredible bars and restaurants, where we sampled our fair share of phenomenal Jambalaya, numerous Sazeracs, Hurricanes, and other favorite local staples (yes- we stopped by Cafe Du Monde). We took in the awesome music scene that is Marigny, and Frenchmen Street (twice). We checked out the Garden District, and even got an unsolicited tour of the amazing house at 1120 Sixth Street, from our new friend Ron, and his little doggies too!
It was a truly magical trip, stuffed to the brim with wonderful adventures, but I would be lying if I said that the loss of Hezaasan’s notebook did not linger in my brain ~ It did.
(Cut to – Close up : eyes only. Noir voiceover) It bothered me. Like an itch you can’t quite scratch. I was still 100% certain that it was in that restaurant. Nothing else made any sense to me, and I strongly believed that if they would just take a good look around for it, that we would be able to reclaim it. I didn’t think that was too much to ask. (Fade into…)
Fast forward a few days, to the final day of our trip.
On our last scheduled day in town, I requested of Hezaasan that we make one final pass at the restaurant. I thought that if we went around the same time that we had been there before, we might encounter some people who were on shift when we were there originally.
She assured me that she was over the loss, but agreed to accompany me on one last visit, in order to close the chapter completely for me.
HEZAASAN: Okay, so the persuasive power of my inner empath + inner minimalist only lasted a couple days. I figured I owed him a feeding of his nagging notebook retrieval radar, after his noble effort to relax and live in the moment for a few days. Plus, if he actually found it …
Stop, stop, stop, I yelled at my brain. We’re appeasing Danger, we’re not actually going to find the darned thing. My life doesn’t work like that. Don’t let the bastard also known as Hope drag you down.
Thus we went back to the scene of the crime, one last time.
DANGER: We got to Bayou Burger, went to the bar and ordered some drinks. I once again asked the bartender about the notebook, but the staff still didn’t seem to be super interested in helping us.
Committed to doing everything that I could, I managed to track down the server who had waited on us the night that we lost the notebook. I asked her about it, and her face lit up with recognition.
She said that she remembered us, and asked me to wait at the bar.
My heart jumped in my chest, as I considered the possibility that she might actually have what we sought, but I tried to play it cool.
She came back, and quietly asked me to come with her. I did not say anything to Hezaasan, because I did want to get her hopes up. She took me into a back room, reached over to a counter, picked up the notebook off of the shelf (exactly where I had pictured it in my mind), handed it to me.
“Is this it?”
I nearly fainted on the spot. I grabbed the notebook like I was claiming Excalibur from Nimue (cut to a still shot of Arthur claiming Excalibur, and then back).
I vigorously hugged the server (somewhat out of character for me), thanked her profusely for hanging onto it for us, paid her a handsome reward, and I made my way back to where Hezaasan was sitting at the bar. My memory is that I ‘bluffed” Hezaasan a bit, and shook my head, as if to indicate that they did not have it, before revealing that I had indeed recaptured her book.
The look of joy on Hezaasan’s face upon the reveal, was an image that I will never forget for the rest of my life. She hugged me, as powerfully as I have ever been embraced in my lifetime. We both cried for a bit, and then we laughed heartily, and commenced to celebrating the recovery of our own Holy Grail.
We had been lost, and now we were found.
HEZAASAN: *Sniff.* I’m really glad Danger is writing this story, because I truly have no words to describe how amazing this moment was.
Not only because we recovered ideas and creations that I very much missed, but in a strange and beautiful way, this completely changed my mindset about myself, and my life.
I found myself shifting away from a stubborn tolerance of my annoying idiosyncrasies to maybe, possibly, surrounding myself with people who can help me rise above them.
I realized that some people in this world actually know how to be decent f*cking human beings.
It was pretty frickin’ magical.
Chapter Five: Epilogue
DANGER: Eventually we made our way back to Jean Lafite’s for another wild session of sing along piano Karaoke. Somewhat proud of myself, I drank more than a few celebratory drinks, and eventually we had our Super Last drinks, and then made our way back out onto the sidewalks. As I recall, we were planning on calling it a somewhat early night, since we had to fly out the next day. On the way back to Hotel Monteleone, we took the same path that we had taken on that first full night of the trip. The path which had led us to our memorable encounter with Aslan.
Sure enough, kismet was still steering our story, and when we arrived at the same street corner, there he was.
We joined him once again, on his corner, and shared with him the details of our crazy story. He followed along with interest, and excitement, and seemed to enjoy hearing the ups and downs of our journey. Hezaasan produced the notebook again, and asked if he would be willing to share another drawing. He obliged, and in a glorious gesture of closure, he crafted another piece of beautiful Ink Jazz.
It was perfect.
Eventually, armed with Hezaasan’s notebook, and now *two* amazing original works from Aslan, we said our goodbyes once again, and headed back to our hotel.
The remainder of the trip was filled with more terrific times, including an adventure that involved us being so wrapped up in an incredible conversation, that we actually missed our flight home, which led to us being stranded in town for a few extra days. This led to even more adventures, including a knock down drag out fight during a drag show at OZ… but I suppose those are stories for another time.
Best. Vacation. Ever.
HEZAASAN: Can you say, organic unity? Because it totally was! A double stroke of serendipity, Aslan was the bookend of the tale of the notebook, almost as if the notebook summoned his presence, or something … Okay, maybe not, but it was so cool!
I also concur that there are many, many other stories, for another time. Adventures abound in NOLA, and unlike Vegas, they definitely don’t have to stay there.
DANGER: Heartfelt thanks to Hezaasan, for this awesome journey down Memory Lane, and for asking me to play a part in her telling of this amazing story. I am deeply honored to have shared this memory with you, and that you asked me to participate in sharing it here.
“Il faut se perdre, pour se retrouver… À votre santé.”
HEZAASAN: Agree a million percent, Danger! And again, and times infinity. Thank you, so much, for “driving” us along this journey. It was a helluva ride. I can’t wait to ride shotgun alongside you again, very soon.