Milk Punch and Ponies


Friends about town want to see me now that I’m back from my travels. I’d love to put on my Qantas pajama bottoms and not leave this apartment for a few days, read and write, but people want to see me. And I want to see people. Wednesday night I was invited to a milk punch Thanksgiving Eve party on one of those balconies overlooking Jackson Square. I’d stared up at them hundreds of times, wondering what they were like inside. Last night I found out and it exceeded expectation. One of the things I love about New Orleans is that, even when things are maintained or restored, when done right, it allows for the story to remain. Otherwise everything comes off looking like a Disney set version of the thing. The guests were dressed to the nines in everything from ermine fur to feathered headpieces. The Baroness (yes, Baroness) wore all black, kept her back to the door, and held court facing the corner of balcony where people politely came and went throughout the night. I only saw her face when she was leaving. It was pretty and round and aristocratic and framed in a twisted braid with pearls that made her look like she’d stepped through time. She is the descendant of Micaela Leonarda Antonia de Almonester Rojas y de la Ronde, Baroness de Pontalba who actually was responsible for the building in which we raising our glasses. She was a wealthy real estate designer and businesswoman in the 19th Century who was responsible for, among other things, the great erections around Jackson Square in the French Quarter. At the party I met a lovely man named Peter who seems to know every single thing about the history of New Orleans and how to restore anything from any period without destroying it. He invited me to a chili brunch the next day at his shotgun house in the Quarter (dialed-in in the extreme as you can imagine). I arrived a little past noon and they’d already had their chili. I felt a little embarrassed that I hadn’t realized there was an actual sit-down time but my embarrassment was made better by Peter, upon seeing me said, “James! I’m so glad you could make it!” so after I’d corrected him on my name we shared a moment of mutual embarrassment, shared a quick blush, and moved onto the stylish company inside. Peter served me a bowl of delicious chili with delicious things sprinkled on top of it. He declared, “It’s wonderful chili, from a family recipe, but in truth the base started in one of those little pouches” as if to serve it without saying so would have been against some long-held Creole code of honor, and I ate while I listened to ridiculously smart conversations about art and politics, local and international. My French is sadly wanting so I must admit there was part that I missed. By the end of brunch someone had suggested that a play should be commissioned about the Baroness de Pontabla at which point Peter said, “And we have the perfect playwright here to do it!” I thought to myself “De ta bouche aux dieux, orielle” (from your mouth to the god’s ears)

After we toasted joyeux anniversaire in the back garden to one of the guests, I explained that I was late to the Fairgrounds to meet up with friends for the opening day of the ponies and then said what I always say when I leave a party: “Mother said to say I had a good time!” (Sometimes they laugh, sometimes they just look puzzled.)
I did find the Fairgrounds and began the search for the two different groups of friends I’d told I see there. At first I just sort of roamed around looking, taking in the peculiar sights of opening day at the races in The Big Easy. It’s sort of like The Kentucky Derby meets Burning Man. There are derbies and bonnets to be sure but they are as likely to also be Steampunk or have Skulls and Crossbones on them. I soon gave up on just sniffing out my friends and resorted to 21stCentury technology and started to text. One group of friends had found that the residual milk punch in their stomachs from last night’s audience with the Baroness together with a race track Bloody Mary and Indian Summer Sun did not mix so they had retreated to the Marigny for wet washcloths and mimosas. I trudged forward. Even though I was in contact with my other friends (also veterans by the way) I was having a super hard time finding them and the more I looked, the more muffled the sound of the crowd became and the more agitated I became. I know I’m in trouble when my masseter starts to hurt from how hard I have my molars clenched and when I start to be able to hear my heartbeat in my eardrums it’s usually time to find the door. I told them I’d rendezvous with them later and made my way towards the front gate. Right outside a beautiful young hippy girl, she looked like a fairy from a children’s book, was whisper-shouting, “Edibles. Edibles.” Her smile calmed me and I smiled back at her as I passed and took a few steps on Gentilly toward my truck. Sometimes when you’re in a rough moment, doing something nice to help someone who’s struggling can be the ticket out.  I have a friend who benefits from the use of cannabis to help manage her PTSD but recently she’s been struggling with some breathing stuff so—so I spun on my oxblood wing-tips and marched back toward the girl with the brownies and ribbons in her hair.

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