It's not that I condone lying. But there is something wonderfully freeing about wandering the streets of an unknown city; to find yourself with an utterly blank slate. I have recently discovered the fun of weaving elaborate and completely false histories for every person I meet in this strange new city. This is Bourbon Street, New Orleans.
The first time I walked down Bourbon St. it was about 7:00 p.m. I believe the first thing I said as I turned from Orleans St. on to the famed Rue Bourbon was, "Oh my God is that a man?" That pretty much sums up Bourbon. It is an endless flow of debauchery, drunkenness, and undefined gender. And of course, anonymity.
The first man I met on the street stopped me and my three roommates, I guess figuring that his chances of scoring was increased by the size of the group. The man drunkenly ambled up to us and yelled, "Ladies! What's happening tonight?"
I was tempted to take this question seriously, to sit him down on the curb, hand him a bottle of water, and try to explain that he was on Bourbon Street in a city called New Orleans, and that it is easy to get confused here, but as long as what he is drinking doesn't smell like it could burn if it touched skin, he should be fine.
I resisted, and joined my roommates in the dreaded mean girl group stare, a look that says "I don't even know what you are saying now because I find you so repulsive that the sounds coming out of your mouth are no longer recognizable as the English language and resemble a troll-like grumble. Also I'm too good for you if that wasn't clear before." Normally a guy would shrug it off and walk away to hassle another group of girls, but not our leech.
This guy now took a new approach, a surprisingly strategic move. Rather than attempting to attack the entire group at once, he executed a man-on-man play (or I suppose man-on-woman play, although that sounds like something entirely different that I think he hoped would be the result of said play). He turned to me and asked, "Hey, what's your name?"
In that moment, I realized I had plenty of options. I could stay silent and maybe he would leave. I could allow myself to be flattered by the attention and give him my real name and number. Or I could amuse myself and my roommates by creating a spontaneous yet surprisingly elaborate back story.
"Hi. I'm Sarah." This is how persona number one was born. Sarah, incidentally, is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill majoring in Renaissance studies. She is from Seattle, Washington, and although she really misses the coffee, she is happy to be down here for the weekend visiting her older sister Anna, who just graduated from Tulane.
Shockingly, the drunken guy wasn't that interested in Sarah the renaissance guru, and after chatting a little longer with my roommates, he stumbled off into the bright lights of the street, tripping over discarded beads and fading into the commotion.
My friends and I have since come up with some pretty ridiculous and amusing back stories. We have posed as the girls from the movie Mean Girls, foreign exchange students, and we are working on a bachelorette party outing where one member of our group will go as a bride complete with a veil, and the rest of us will dress in all pink like the hundreds of other bridal parties that make their way to Bourbon before they endure a day of jealousy and taffeta.
This is my second month in New Orleans, and lately I have not been able to bring myself to face the hour long streetcar crawl from Uptown to Canal St. to spend another night averting my eyes from the barely dressed strippers in the doorways of clubs and trying to convince men on balconies to throw me colored beads without any lewd exposure on my part. Much like the pleasures of Bourbon St. itself, the fun of anonymity is only temporary.
I suppose you are the lucky few who will get to know the real me rather than being fed some story of how I came to this country from Moscow to study American consumerist habits. My name is Jaime Zucker, and I am a rising junior at Washington University in St. Louis. I am spending my summer in New Orleans interning with the Public Defenders as an investigator, which has been a rewarding and eye-opening experience. But if anyone asks, I am a twenty two-year-old Bostonian seeing the South for the first time. I just can't wait to tell the others what beignets taste like!
Disclaimer: The views expressed by this author are not those of the Orleans Public Defenders or Washington University in St. Louis; they are those of the author alone.