So, I am sure you have read Jules Bentley’s self-pitying, navel gazing, and outright nasty Sober in New Orleans in Gambit Weekly.
I was so angry when I read the piece that it took me days to be able to organize my thoughts and prevent whatever I wrote from coming out as a primal yelp.
Bentley’s argument boils down to this: alcohol in New Orleans is not only unescapable but its absence also prevents you from functioning properly or enjoying yourself. Essentially, if you stop drinking and sober up, you are like Neo in the Matrix having taken the pill and now dealing with the exposed lie. Without booze, New Orleans is nothing more than the stink of piss and second-rate art.
The more you read, the more Bentley sounds like that same movie’s Joe Pantoliano savoring imaginary steak and wishing himself back under the veil.
The biggest problem is Bentley began with this thesis and then set out to confirm it.
Notice I said confirm not prove. There is a distinct difference. The first means you have made up your mind and only seek validation; the second, instead, seeks to test the theory under difficult circumstances.
Confirming his thoughts was easy. All he had to do was talk to sober people hanging on for dear life in The Sliver by The River. Think about the thrust of his efforts: he hung out in bars talking to those who make their living off drunks and to recently sober drunks who resent having to be sober.
Congratulations, Jules, they agree with you.
Setting out to prove his idea might have been more difficult.
He had moved out of his contempt for live theatre, he might have encountered the numerous costume designers who love to build outfits every year at Mardi Gras and Halloween. They get their highs off their clients’ joy at fitting into their imaginary worlds. Had he dug deeper, he might have met at least one burlesque dancer whose sobriety has led to a better show, a thriving business, and a deepening love affair.
If he went onto Magazine Street the Sunday before Mardi Gras, he might have seen the amazing spreads and happy families who await Thoth with nary a drop of booze around them. And speaking of Mardi Gras, he should really volunteer to march with a High School Band in search of additional chaperones. I have done it twice, and it was one of the most galvanizing experiences of my life.
Delighted children supported by sober adults and all coming together for the music that unites their community. Sound pretty New Orleans to me.
Ever work for a political campaign in New Orleans? Find a candidate or an issue you believe in? It is like electioneering no other place in the country, and for a would-be-writer, it is an experience not to be missed.
I have two friends that are sober who are intoxicated by the music in this town. They catalogue it, play it, and attend every event they can, so they can write about it, cover it, and spread the good news near and far.
I am sober 20 years in this town, and I still marvel how the fun and friendship never ends.
The other morning I woke up in my Fabourg St. John apartment and walked up Esplanade Avenue. During that amazing walk through the oaks, I mentally worked out the problems I am having with a commissioned screenplay, stopped at a collaborator’s home to give her notes on the book for a musical she is crafting, and then she and I completed the walk to Croissant d’Or where I had cafe au lait and an almond croissant that almost seemed injected with butter. We talked for two hours.
Notice what is not present in that previous paragraph?
If you feel self-consicuous around drinking, you are around drunks. If people constantly ask you if you are not drinking, you are around drunks. If you are sadder because you are not drinking, you are a drunk. And you haven’t sobered up.
You are merely not drinking for the moment.
Of course, the lonely and broken places fueled by alcohol look lonely and broken when you stop drinking. But so many places in New Orleans look better with the haze of booze gone.
Bentley should come find us, and we’ll show him where.
I am not sure what possessed Gambit to take Bentley up on the story. But they did, gave him a wide audience, and allowed him to take a couple of potshots at a city that is so much more than the sloshed nightmare that appears once you take the pledge.
And for that, shame on them.