There was a mom with a toddler who was walking around, named Alexander, an old fashioned sturdy name, an old fashioned sturdy child. I was waiting for a doctor’s appointment, and I crouched down and talked to him, and when he wandered over to the other side of the room, another woman leaned down and sort of hummed a song at him.
Alexander’s mom said, “I bet you don’t even know it but that song is from one of my favorite shows!”
At the same time, both women said “Treme!”
“I know where it’s from,” the singer said. “I lived in New Orleans for a while. Pre-Katrina. I sing it all the time in my shows.”
“Where do you gig?”
“Different places. A bar on Roncy, on Sunday afternoons.”
They chatted more about music, and Alexander’s mother tried to manoeuvre the stroller out the door, fix the brake that had applied itself for no reason. I held the door, and she left, and I asked the singer the name of the bar on Roncy.
She gave me her card. There was a line drawing on it, a silk screen of a girl with a guitar shot from the back. She’s wearing a dress and little socks and the guitar is jaunty, a coat slung over her shoulder. A grainy pebbled image.
“That’s me, when I was in New Orleans. It was the best time. I lived in the Ninth Ward. That’s where Katrina hit the hardest.”
I looked at her, no trace of that girl in the socks with the guitar. Weary.
“My father is dying.” Her eyes wavered with tears.
“I’m sorry… I think it’s hard whenever you lose your parents. My dad died when I was in my 20s, and I’m 49 now, and sometimes I think it would be even harder to lose a parent at my age, someone you’ve come to take for granted, think is always going to be here.”
“You’re turning 50 this year? Me too.”
“It’s hard isn’t it?”
“I got divorced the year I turned 40. I think I thought 50 would be easier. It isn’t, somehow.”
“I turn 50 in September. I’ve lined up gigs for the whole month. I need to get through that time singing. When I turned 30, I was in New Orleans. I was wearing gold lamé onstage, and had a 25 year old lover and thought I had the whole world.”
“The thing is, you know the other side will be just FINE — but getting through the turning point is a squeeze. It’s like… there just isn’t an endless array of possibilities any more. You have to get serious about saving money, people around you get sick, some paths are closed. It’s not bad, it’s not dire, it just is.”
She nodded, close to tears. We looked at each other, recognizing.
“I’m sorry about your dad.”
I folded her card, the girl with the guitar, into my wallet. “I’m going to come and hear you sing.”