I complain that I never get to go anywhere, that my world is so small because I am confined to our shop day in and day out. And then, in walks another world. Travelers from Alabama to Australia cross our threshold with regularity, and with them, my ears are graced with varying accents and anecdotes. If I’m lucky, they become friends. Just a moment ago, Patrick and Bryan, tourists-turned-friends from Adelaide and Sydney, Australia, popped in to share some conversation. While they were here, we googled Judy Hill, a New Orleanian they had befriended during previous vacations. There on YouTube, she is walking the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival after being featured in a locally shot documentary. And thanks to my Aussie friends, I met her here in the shop last year. So, right here, trapped at my desk and never going anywhere, I vicariously traveled to Australia and Venice.
This happens all the time here. Our little shop seems to draw in interesting characters, whether tourists or locals. I have met the already-famous and the soon-to-be, the bat-shit crazy and the boring-as-dirt, beggars and braggarts, and, as they say, all walks of life. The folks who have wandered in over the past 13 years have profoundly changed my life and that of Boyfriend’s. (Note to those new to this column: Boyfriend, aka Husband—I still like to call him my beau—and I have a small cookbook shop together.) Certainly, we have both been psycho-magnets; maybe we’re just too nice to strangers before we realize they are truly crazy, or we simply have that magnet that indiscriminately draws folks—all folks.
Speaking of drawing in people, we are utterly cursed with a daily hammering of solicitors, marketing agents, salespersons, nonprofits needing donations, charities needing even more money, fundraisers requesting items for auctions, the “May I have a moment of your time?” sales-pitchers, and every automated/computer-generated, pre-recorded/non-human phone-call pitch imaginable. And, trust me, the “Just press #9 to be removed from this list” is bull. The real problem with all of the above is that it makes you a bit jaded and downright exhausted, and when that truly amazing soul walks in or telephones, I am at risk of being brisk. So, I take a deep breath and start all over again with “Hello there, welcome to our shop.”
Some days, I look about the walls and see the photographs, greeting cards, and various memorabilia that friends, customers, and tourists have given us: postcards, thank-you notes, their kid’s drawings, newspaper clippings, and an array of tidbits to remind us of the personalities we have come to know. And often (well, always), our own personal opinions are displayed among the artwork—Bernie Wants You to Vote For Hillary, We Know You Can Get It Cheaper on Amazon, Cheryl Gerber For Mayor (my friend whom I keep hounding to run for office, any office). And these opinion posters sure make for great dialogue with folks, especially our international travelers. But the one universally popular wall hanging is an autographed photograph of The Golden Girls. I never knew there were so many straight young men who love these “broads of a certain age”! Yep, our walls make for conversation.
So yes, our shop plays the part of the perfect cocktail-party hostess—she (of course our shop is a “she”) is bright and full of sass with lots to say. But like any party, it’s the guests who make it work, make it a success. Boyfriend and I can put together a venue, a business; but what good is that without the personalities of those who walk in? Now, with that said, there have been some personalities that sauntered through the doorway and kinda took me by surprise, some of which we’ve had to extricate as quickly as possible (the man who wanted to live in our restroom, for example). And then there are some we mistook for odder than even our business model could embrace, but who lingered long enough to prove themselves utterly amazing.
One such fellow visited our shop when in the Quarter. He walked in and pretty much stayed the day, and the next day, and the next day. We simply couldn’t figure out why he wanted to spend so much of his vacation time in our shop. We just thought him an odd bird and would try and work our days around him as he sweetly nattered and chattered. Then, near the end of his seemingly endless visit, something clicked. All of a sudden, a connection was made, whereas until that moment, he was like a 70-watt bulb trying to fit into the 40-watt socket of an unplugged lamp. So, for reasons still unknown to me, he right then and there became one of my dearest friends, and this relationship grows stronger each year he visits.
So, as I sit here, day in day out, sometimes feeling sorry for myself and my small world, I look about and realize my world is not so tiny, but rather it is larger than life, full of people who deem me worthy of their time and friendship. These days are peppered with conversations thick with international inflections, titillating twangs, and brogues from boroughs I may only get to visit vicariously. Therefore, I am able to feel—albeit briefly—transported to other cultures, countries, and communities.
And sometimes, I am able to return the gift of in-house travel. Our visitors most always fall in love with this city and express sadness upon ending their vacation. This is when I turn them on to WWOZ, so they can access our musical culture anytime, anywhere. I suggest New Orleans-centric books, film/television, and, of course, cookbooks. I encourage them to plan a return and partake in Jazz Fest. I invite them to stay in touch. I give them my world.