Here’s the thing about New Orleans: when you get here, you can be somebody else. Somebody totally different from the you you have to be in Cincinnati or Tampa or Des Moines. Somebody who doesn’t care if you left your make-up at home, or lost your panties in the cab.

You can dance, languidly, in doorways. You can sing into the mic. You can tell your stories to strangers. You can sit, quietly, on the riverbank, and hear the water pounding like blood. You can let the night sky swallow you up. You can remember who you meant to be, all those years ago.

See that woman over there, at the end of the bar? She was sick in Tampa; they told her she might be dying. But she’s not dying here — at least, not any faster than the rest of us. Did you forget that? That we’re born and the next minute we start dying? It’s hard to remember, when you’re fighting traffic and going to the dentist and balancing your checkbook.

She’s a seasoned woman. She stopped being someone else’s appetizer, and turned herself into a gumbo. Spicy and complex and always simmering. She’s not a side dish. She’s the whole meal, all by herself.

Like that one, over there, in the flowered dress. She stopped waiting for other people’s approval. She gave herself permission. She’s a pleasure-seeking missile now. See how they gather around her? They’ve caught her scent. The scent of a seasoned woman.

You should come with us tonight, to the Vieux Carre. You should take a long, deep whiff of a sazerac cocktail. You should grab that sax player in the tight black t-shirt, and wrap yourself around him. He hasn’t taken his eyes off you — did you notice? He’s watching you dance, hoping your skirt shimmies up just a little more, hoping your blouse falls down just a little more. And your hair — your hair is making him crazy. He imagines it spread out across his pillow. Or his body.

Spend at least one night lost in New Orleans. And tell us how Tampa looks now.

People will tell you it’s dangerous, down here in Nawlins. They’ll say wickedness lurks around every corner. Whispering to you of dark and forbidden things. Urging you to find pleasure like you’ve never known before.

But you’ll find out. Your urges are the only things you can trust. You want everyone to understand. But they won’t. Not until they’ve had a few decades of seasoning themselves. And after awhile, you stop explaining, even if you can’t stop remembering.

Maybe you only visit the Big Easy once or twice in your life. Just long enough to breathe in a little jazz, a little heat, a little scandal. Then you go back to Tampa, fix your make-up, and put on sensible shoes. You iron your clothes and wash the dishes and take the recycle bins out on Wednesday, just like you’re told.

Then something happens you don’t expect. You turn 50 or 55 or 60, and a wave of longing rushes over you. With the force of a hurricane it sweeps you up and out, and carries you away to the French Quarter for good. Reckless!Foolhardy! That’s what they say. But it’s too late now. You’ve set those urges loose, and they won’t be leashed again.

Yes, there are still traffic lights and social rules and pantyhose police. But, here, in New Orleans, you don’t have to obey them.

You don’t have to stay on the sidewalk.

You don’t have to quiet down or watch the clock or act your age.

And nobody can make you.

Laissez les bon temps rouler. Let the good times roll.

Categories: Flash Fiction