New Orleans Is Ageless


We're all enjoying the Dragon's Den, an unpretentious bar on Esplanade. It's a music venue that caters to the young -- you can tell because there's almost nowhere to sit, and the menu runs the gamut from macaroni and cheese to grilled-cheese sandwiches.

We've come to see Tuba Skinny, a crew of cool cats we happened across on Royal Street, but bonus: there's free comedy upstairs and a meandering patio out back.

But the coolest thing about the Dragon's Den are the couples spinning on the tiny dance floor. They are all petite -- the girls and the boys and those of gender I'm not quite sure -- and they dance with a vigor, precision and delight that reminds me of the Jazz Age. If youth means anything, it's the ability not only to dance like these gamines, but to look this good while dancing. I can't help thinking of Scott and Zelda.

New Orleans, I decide, is a city of the young.

My daughter Margot, who's 27, notices this as well -- and keeps saying how much fun it would be to be here without us. Although she doesn't lift a finger to buy so much as a Diet Coke.

The youthfulness of New Orleans is even more apparent a few days later when we visit The Country Club, a gay-friendly, formerly clothing-optional public swim club in the Marigny, where young women with tiny waists and hair dyed aqua or Pepto-Bismol pink walk around in little skirted two-pieces and ankle-high boots. Everybody but us sports a tattoo. Disco music (or whatever the kids are calling it these days) pulses non-stop.

By this time, Margot and our son Noah have flown back, and it's just Warren and me. The minute we take our chaises, we raise the median age by an order of magnitude. But nobody seems to care. The sun tucks itself behind a cloud, so I'm shivering the whole time, and wrap myself, bag-lady-style, in scarf, cover-up, sweater and rental towel. Clearly, a blight on the landscape. But the young and beautiful play their pool volleyball and take their selfies, oblivious.

The presence of a couple of 60-somethings doesn't seem to bring them down.

Afterwards, Warren and I walk through the Marigny, marveling at the mixture of the beautiful and the decrepit. There are shotgun houses 10 feet wide with tall Corinthian columns. There are blocks that are crumbling. It is, like all gentrifying neighborhoods, wildly uneven. Suddenly, I spy a warehouse with loading dock doors painted in splashy designs of pink and yellow, the colors I have on.

"Wait!" I say to Warren. "Take my picture."

Having my photograph taken has not been one of the unalloyed joys of my older years. But this spring -- with my hair growing out from chemo and my oversized black frame glasses giving me a baby duckling-like charm -- I'm kind of enjoying it. I direct Warren to step back far enough to get the whole warehouse in, and when I look at the result I smile. I may not be young, but I'm badass. Cool enough, at least, for Marigny.

Our final night in New Orleans, we wind up at the Carousel Bar & Lounge in The Hotel Monteleone. Nayo Jones is singing a jazzy mix of standards, and even though the lounge is filled with large eclectic comfy seats -- this is a venue that caters opulently to the middle-aged and up -- there's not an empty seat to be had.

This isn't easy for me. Since chemo, I've developed neuropathy -- a constant pain and numbness in my feet. But we're digging the music and we make our way up near the front. I lean against an ample sofa table, eyeing the seats of a bored-looking couple to my right like a predator.

But they are the clear exception. There's a super happy, almost tribal vibe. "It looks like everybody in the room knows something we don't," Warren whispers in my ear. "It seems like they all know each other, or they all know something together."

Still, I'm on my third Tequila Sunrise and pleasantly buzzed. And -- in an act of sudden kindness -- a lovely woman from Switzerland motions me to join her on her seat. "Big enough for two," she says with a smile. It is. And suddenly, we're part of the society of the people at the front of the room. We are welcomed in. We're now part of the secret of the room.

There's a short break, the bored couple leaves, and for the final set, Nayo and her trumpeter are on fire. Ten minutes in, we're all on the dance floor. Even me and my neuropathic feet. Nayo has us wrapped around her finger. Call-and-response, waving white handkerchiefs, oh when the saints go marching in. At one point, I'm dancing in a circle of five people, being twirled, in turn, by everybody.

I look around and, with one or two exceptions, I notice that none of us are young. None of us are gamine. We are the not the beautiful children of our first night, in the Dragon's Den. But neither are we, on the whole, bad looking. And we are enthusiastic. We are, in fact, raving.

When I leave, I have a buzz in my left ear from the music, but my feet don't hurt. I have transcended neuropathy.

And that is when I decide New Orleans is not just a city of the young.

New Orleans is ageless. And God bless, so am I.

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