Conspicuous Consumption

At the risk of sounding like some kind of Jada Yuan wannabe, I am obligated to open this post by letting you know that I’m writing after a day of eating my weight in beignets and dancing down streets with just-married brides. Yeah, I’m in New Orleans. And yeah, whatever anyone said was true. It has been twenty-four hours packed with sousaphones on street corners and “Go ahead babies!” called out from open windows of cars that let us cross the street even though we don’t have the right-of-way. We’re definitely not in New York anymore, Toto.

I have to be honest, though. I’ve only been here a short time, but the food is not what has caught me so far. As much as I want to write about the beignets and the gumbo, it would be too contrived if I tried. But you know when you are hungry and you follow your nose? New Orleans starts to taste really good when you do that very same thing, but with your ears. We are walking down the street. We have a mission. We want to see the St. Louis cemetery. A block behind us, we hear music. It’s moving? It’s a fucking parade! “What day is it?” we ask. “Saturday,” someone answers with a shrug.

The parade consists of one band, and we never actually get to see them because as we’re power-walking down Royal in an effort to catch up, we are stopped in our tracks by a banjo-violin-guitar group and we are following our ears and so we lose the parade. It’s hard to say when you’ve had enough, difficult to detach yourself from that dizzying sound of music pouring through the streets, but when we decide we’ve had enough, we return to our original mission of trying to catch the parade. It is a lost cause, though, because on the next corner is a different group, different in every facet. I’ve never been moved by a clarinet, and I’m pretty sure I’m an atheist, only now I’m confused because I’m also pretty sure I experienced divinity when her clarinet bell turned up towards the heavens. I understand, now, what it precisely means to be moved, because I literally cannot keep still, no one can. She doesn’t even drink water between solos.

When this band finally decides to break, we carry on down Royal. A lone guy, with a loop recorder, playing the electric violin in that way where you know his mom wells up when she watches him play. A few feet away, some guy in a bathrobe and cowboy boots, balancing on a ladder with a plank of wood on his chin. The moment is indulgent.

The next crew we watch pauses for too long between sets, as if they are still finding their footing, and yet, once they start playing, my feet are moving and not by their own volition. I’m not mad about it. I watch the saxophonist ask a member of the audience for a light. He is a skinny guy. His saxophone hangs on his chest like a baby, his shirt is unbuttoned most of the way down, and he has his cigarette and beer delicately weaved between the fingers of his right hand. Sustenance. The liberty of being sustained by things besides food, of not being a slave to some neat breakfast-lunch-dinner schedule. He offers his beer to a couple in the audience. The distinction between entertainer and consumer disintegrates. He is a waiter taking a bite out of his customer’s entrée.

This time, we aren’t separated, rather we are carried. We think there is another parade, but really, holy shit it’s a bride and a groom! Bridal parties dancing down the street, marching bands in tow, white napkins flailing with the electricity of a new life, a new start, love, booze whatever! Congrats! we shout, and they shout back thanks and we take that as our invitation to jump in the precession. Nobody seems to mind, and now we aren’t only dancing in the streets, we are dancing down the streets, pushing off cracks in the sidewalk to twirl around the trumpets, stopping traffic with a police escort we didn’t have to hire. This is conspicuous consumption, I think to myself. This is to meticulously decide what goes into your body, to reject what doesn’t nourish.

We are on the corner of Frenchmen Street and something, and there is a crew of kids who must be in some marching band during the day, but it is dark now and they have stopped traffic without a police escort, the sheer size of the crowd they have drawn has all but put it to an indefinite halt. Everyone is dancing. Above them on a light pole is a sign that reads “Think you may be wrong,” and it occurs to my that I have never really heard jazz music. I’ve never been touched by it. I’ve consumed it like one consumes cereal for breakfast. Out of necessity, because its available, because it’s the best option at one moment. But have I ever really tasted it? I can’t remember, but with two trumpet bells, two trombone bells, and the bell of a sousaphone wholly saturating my senses, I can’t have. I’m moved by it, and not figuratively. I’m steeped with it. I can think of nothing else. I can think of nothing else.

-NG

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