Jacob woke me at around 4:15 in the morning complaining of excruciating back pain—so bad it went through his entire torso. I found a huge, hard knot of muscle right next to his spinal cord that didn’t want to go away. After an hour of massage, hot cloths, a hot bath and a large dose of pills, the pain subsided enough for him to sleep in a makeshift bed on the floor. By morning it was gone. We never did figure out what caused it—maybe his heavy computer backpack, but he carried it all day today and had no trouble. I suppose we’ll find out at 4:15 tomorrow morning.
I had been sleeping restlessly before the Interlude of Pain and I didn’t sleep any better afterward. When I woke up, it was almost 1 p.m. and I still felt groggy and not all there. So I decided to call off the day’s plans and take it easy. There was, after all, laundry to do, most of it mine.
Getting it all done was far too complex. Public laundromats require quarters—lots and lots of quarters—and the Marriott is no exception. It costs $1.50 to use either a washer or a dryer, and the washers are tiny. I felt very smug about having exactly enough quarters for two loads washed and dried until I remembered that I would need two boxes of detergent. $1.25 each. That’s right, in quarters.
I started the wash and went down to the snack shop to buy something that I could turn into quarters. Unfortunately, the snack shop is more of a place for hurried convention-goers to buy an overpriced breakfast than an actual snack shop, and they had no sandwiches. The gift shop next door sells bags of chips along with their hideously overpriced Pepsi, but no sandwiches. I made it all the way back to the laundry room before I remembered, in my hunger-addled state, that the point was to buy something because I needed change. I went back and bought orange juice laced with gold dust or something, based on the price (could have bought a whole freakin’ gallon of the stuff back home for that price, grumble grumble) and then sat around for a while waiting for the laundry to finish drying. I was not surprised to learn that the inefficient dryers failed to get the heavier things totally dry, but I didn’t feel like sitting around much longer and I was getting really hungry. So I stuffed the dry clothes into one bag and the damp clothes into another and took them all upstairs to sort and fold.
By this time it was 2:30 and my stomach was trying to secede from our union. I did what I never thought I’d do in New Orleans: I went to Arby’s.
Here’s the thing about chain stores in general and chain restaurants in particular. People gripe about them destroying the unique character of a neighborhood or city, taking business away from the small businessperson and so forth. That’s mostly true. McDonald’s has to be recognizable as McDonald’s wherever you go, and it is truly odd to see the familiar logos of the golden arches or the Subway sign on the edge of the French Quarter. But when you are in an unfamiliar city, and you need a particular thing right away—lunch, or a toothbrush, or something—you can’t always go looking for the local option. When we go out to dinner, for the most part we wander around checking menus or even storefronts to see if we want to eat one place or another (about which more later). When you’re really hungry and a little off-kilter, you need a known quantity even if it isn’t anywhere near as good as the po boys from last night. So Arby’s it was. (The Arby’s, by the way, has old exposed brick inside and a second floor with ironwork railings.)
Back in the hotel room with my low-quality not-really-Philly sandwich and the Coke I had so sensibly procured for myself last night, I settled down and ate and read a book and didn’t care that I wasn’t doing anything cool in the city. Around 4:00 I started feeling antsy and wanting to go out, so I packed up and went shopping. I visited the store of the artist I’d admired last night and bought a pair of earrings; the truth is, I can make them myself, but I’ll never actually do it and I think it’s important to support any talented artist who doesn’t overprice her work for the tourists. I went in and out of antique stores on Royal St., window shopping mostly. One store had a bunch of old scientific and medical tools that I almost blew a ton of money on except that I couldn’t get them home.
I had one really fun encounter at New Orleans Lagniappe, where I found some <censored> and <more censored> for friends. I was admiring this really great leather purse when the proprietor told me he could make me a good deal on any of the purses. I told him the one I’d been looking at and he came and picked it up, admiring the leather. That’s when I noticed the price tag--$89 marked down from $129! I backed
down and said I thought it was too large for me. He told me to make an offer, so I lowballed him and said I’d take it for $40. He looked at me for a couple of seconds and I thought he was about to tell me to get out of his store and stop insulting him, but he said “You buy the purse for $60 and I’ll throw in the <censored> for free.” I told him he had a deal. It was the most fun I’ve had interacting with a shopkeeper so far!
About this time I realized I’d left my phone in the hotel room, so I started heading back. I was a little afraid Jacob would get there first and worry about where I was, but fortunately I got there before him. I was overheated enough to be happy with his suggestion that we not go to dinner immediately. We left around 8, which is pretty late for us.
Let me just say right now that Jacob is a lot pickier about where we eat than I am. Of course, some of that was probably because a lot of the places we checked out were enormously expensive, even for New Orleans. Still, it was a while before we decided on the Copper Monkey bar and grill. I was glad to sit down and desperate for some ice water (no air conditioning). It took a while for the food to get there, but it was totally worth waiting for. I had fried catfish with corn on the cob and potato salad; it was, no kidding, the best potato salad I have ever eaten in my life. I’m starting to have a real love of catfish, especially batter-fried, where the meat is rich and buttery-textured. Jacob ordered the chicken and sausage gumbo (this is a joke because our favorite Campbell’s soup is chicken and sausage gumbo) and it came with the chicken still on the bone—two meaty little legs swimming in the broth around the mountain of rice in the center. Jacob said it was incredibly good (once he borrowed my fork to peel the meat off the bones). We both agree that it seems to be impossible to find bad food here, except of course at Arby’s.
It was after nine when we started back for the hotel, and I discovered that there is a point in the day when I can walk around comfortably outside. It’s just a time when there’s nothing good open. We went to the corner store (Canal and Chartres) because I was in the mood for pralines, then came up to the room. It was good to have a relaxing day, but I hope I can do more of the things on my list tomorrow.