This is not a good place to be creeped out in.
Many people have been creeped out here before me, sure. It’s a cliché. But that does not help when it happens. And it’s happened. Now. To me.
I am all creeped out in New Orleans.
This hotel room is creepy and the lobby is creepy, and I can’t find the man I came looking for. But I can’t get drunk in my room, either. For me that is not an option. For standing with one’s back to the wall – my back – and scanning for something to be creeped out by is no way to get drunk. Not even in New Orleans.
I feel as though he’s here with me, already. The man I came looking for. In this very room. Only I can’t see him because, I don’t know, I have been hypnotized to not see him, perhaps. Is that a possibility?
This is too much. My mad dash for the door is entirely successful and then I’m down the hall and pressing the down arrow. Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap.
The yellow line street car will take me down Loyola Avenue. Down to Elk Place. To Canal Street. Around Hurrah’s. And then back again. Round and around. And there’ll be lots of other people getting on the street car and there’ll be lots of other people getting off the street car and I will not feel so creeped out anymore.
At least that’s what I tell myself, right? I can sit in this street car and I can get drunk and I can just people-watch and it will be better because this is not a good place to be creeped out in.
This is my plan and it is a good plan if I do say so myself. And I do say so myself, for it is always important to give myself credit on the occasion of having made a good plan.
The people who get onto the street car are tourists, mostly, come to New Orleans because it’s ten years since Katrina, which was the name of a hurricane. And waitresses come on, on their way to work. The tourists are loud and the waitresses are quiet and I am drunk and getting drunker.
At Dauphine Street, the tourists and the waitresses, they get off, and the people who get on creep me out.
These are not tourists. They are not waitresses. They don’t fit.
They look like gardeners. Or rather, how I imagine gardeners would look, if I knew any gardeners.
Nine people who look like gardeners get onto the otherwise empty street car and gather around me, smiling. Time passes and then a woman – she is fifty-something with very kind eyes and she’s wearing a shawl – speaks to me. She says, “Hello, Katy.”
I check myself for a name tag. I have to wear a name tag sometimes, you know, but this is not one of those times.
She says, “Can we ask a favor of you?”
I do not reply.
Then one of the nine, a man, this one, says, “In chapter 18 of the Book of Genesis, we read that Yahweh has sent two of his angels to the city of Sodom, which is soon to be destroyed.”
Ah! It appears I have fallen in with the wrong crowd. In with that most irreputable of all crowds, in fact: Preachers. Proselytizers. Missionaries, even. I require more alcohol.
The man says, “Yahweh remains back at Mamre. With Abraham. He tells Abraham of his plan to destroy Sodom. Abraham is shocked! Abraham says to Yahweh, ‘But people will die, my Lord! Good, upright people!’
“Abraham says, ‘Okay Yahweh, if there are fifty upright men in Sodom, what then? Would you kill them with the others?’ Yahweh says, “No, I will not destroy the city if there are fifty upright men there.’
“Abraham says, ‘What about forty-five? Will you destroy the city if there are forty-five upright men there?’ Yahweh says, ‘No. I will spare the city for forty-five upright men.’
“And this goes on and it goes on like this and finally, Abraham has bargained Yahweh down to sparing the city for just ten upright people. But they stop when they get to ten.”
The man shrugs. He says, “Whether Yahweh would have gone any lower, we don’t know.”
I nod. I look at the window, out at all the lights of the stores and of the bars.
Another of the gardener-looking people speaks up. He says, “But what Genesis doesn’t reveal is this: Since the time of Sodom, a secret group of ten good people has roamed the Earth, going from city to city to protect mankind from Yahweh’s wrath. To be present in just the right city at just the right moment it is most at risk.
The woman next to me says, “Sometimes, we don’t get there in time. Like with New Orleans, ten years ago. Like with Sumatra in 2004. Like with Pompeii.”
Me, I realize something now. These might not be proselytizers after all. They might merely be madmen. Escapees from an asylum, perhaps.
What a relief.
The first woman, the one with the eyes and the shawl, she talks again. She says, “We would like you to join us and be one of the ten upright people, Katy.”
See? Madmen! For I am not upright, as anyone with eyes can plainly see. I am a sodomite, not a savior.
I say, “Can I think about it for a bit?”
Eyes-and-shawl lady says, “Unfortunately, no. We are one person down, as you can see. This city is at risk of being destroyed the moment you leave it.”
One of the men says, “It’s a heck of job, Katy. The pay sucks, but you get to see the world!”
He says, “Well, you get to see New Orleans, Las Vegas, Amsterdam, and DC, mostly, but still. Travel while you’re young!”
The lights in the streetcar blink off and then the lights in the streetcar blink back on again. Then a bell clangs.
For a moment, I forget where I am and I forget about the smiling people all around me. I forget I am drunk and I forget I am creeped out. I even forget I was sent to New Orleans to find someone and that I have yet to find him.
I say, “Okay.”
I say, “I’ve always wanted to see Amsterdam.”
The good, upright people push in closer, nearly smothering me. They are trying to hug me, not crush me, but I’ve never really been around good, upright people before so I am a little creeped out by it.
Saving the world is going to take some getting used to.