My wife and I were on the Vampire Tour in New Orleans when I saw the woman with the Barbie doll on her shoulder. That’s more interesting than vampires, I thought. I wondered if my wife would agree, but I noticed she had strayed to the other side of the group. She did that sometimes which most of the time bothered me, left me wondering what kind of husband gets ditched by his wife and if my wife secretly thought I was a dick. But this time I didn’t care. I had the girl with the Barbie. I had toys.
Even plastic Barbie knew a vampire tour was bullshit. I could tell she was intuitive like that. She could sniff out Camp, and she didn’t care how much everyone else fell for it or if they were dumb enough to pay fifteen dollars for it. She was going to let them all know things could be cooler, that there could be a better way to live. She was going to smirk until the humans got it.
I made eye contact with the one holding the Barbie, and I knew it meant something. I didn’t know what for sure. This story isn’t the kind where a man suddenly understands what women are thinking. If it were that kind of story, my wife would stop it right here and say that I couldn’t be in it. Regardless of what my wife would’ve said, I thought the contact meant this: This woman knew that I knew she had a rare Barbie. Not the kind my daughter had like Ballerina Barbie, Nurse Barbie, or even Desert Storm Barbie. She knew I knew this was the rare Subversive Barbie. She knew I got why a grown woman would have a Barbie on her shoulder at a Vampire tour. I was in. I wanted to help this woman and her Subversive Barbie start the revolution.
The perfection of this encounter reminded me of something my wife had said to me the first night we were in New Orleans, something that, just by the way she said it, I knew would require perfect circumstances. I’m not talking about when she said, “Hey, follow me to the bathroom with these guys I just met. I’m going to trade them some weed for coke.” Nor am I talking about later when she said, “Hey, we should have sex out on the balcony. When else will we get the chance to do something so crazy?” Instead, I’m talking about when we came in from the balcony for a cigarette and she said, “Hey, if we were to meet the right girl, I’d be open to trying a threesome.”
I have to admit, my wife did have a way with words. I have to admit, all of this was a lot to expect from one vacation. But this wasn’t supposed to be just any vacation. This getaway was supposed to be the one that would save the marriage. This one was where we were supposed to break through the day-today malaise, the way of life we sometimes had affectionately (other times depressingly) called The Grind. This break wasn’t about sacrificing our lives to help our little children make their little dream lives. It wasn’t about nurturing a life-long commitment to love that my father, the preacher, had blessed in his God’s name. It wasn’t about our faith or lack thereof. It wasn’t about our future at all. It was about shedding our past and leaving it in the Bayou with the other rattlesnake skins that could have been perfect if they had been given room to keep growing.
As it turns out, it’s hard to be under the influence of bathroom-bartercoke, pay attention to a vampire tour, and kindle a three-way romp you’ve only recently learned was hypothetically acceptable. I was trying to slow my mind and make sure I was thinking straight. Subversive Barbie Girl sure seemed like the right kind of girl to me, but I assumed I would have to confirm this with at least one other girl, if not two. Talks with my father hadn’t covered this stuff. Neither did my mother. I decided the best thing to do was keep laughing with the subversive, let her know that I for sure got it.
As it turns out, guys running vampire tours didn’t like guys paying more attention to girls with Barbies on their shoulders. It took me a bit, but after an abnormal break in the flow, an uncomfortable silence, and the tour guide asking if I had something to add, I did seem to get it.
“Nope, not a thing,” I said in my most rebellious voice and then looked at Barbie Girl as if to say, “What a clown. Let’s start the revolution.” She seemed to agree, but she moved forward with the rest of the group except for the leader and my wife.
“How about this is the end of your tour right here pal?” the little drama queen said. I watched them leave me. Watched the girl holding on to the Barbie bouncing on her shoulder, saw her turn slightly as if she were letting me go. It was as if she didn’t know for sure what had been possible, but she had the clue we were missing something special.
“What was that about?” my wife asked.
“I don’t know, right? What’s that guy’s problem?” I knew then exactly what to say to fend off any more conflict. Sometimes I did know the perfect thing to say and for a bit, even imagined the vacation could work. Luckily, the coke wasn’t close to wearing off. “Want to go dancing?” I asked.
But then again, some vacations just don’t go to plan. On some vacations you end up on a thirty-square-foot dance floor with a three-thousand-square-foot dance floor in your head, cutting the hell out of the rug to Britney Spears like you and her catchy pop hooks are going to change the world. Some vacations you don’t remember everything that happens at night and, when you wake up, you don’t ask your wife too many questions. You accept your death sentence hangover even if it has no intention of ever completing the punishment. Maybe that’s just New Orleans.
I was trying to eat one of those pastry things everyone told me to get when I remembered the girl and her Barbie. I put the pastry in my mouth and bit off a chunk, but it all just sat there and asked what next. I moved my teeth, but the pastry just giggled and lolled around like a dumb little kid. When my wife wasn’t looking, I blew it all out over my shoulder. Those pastry things seemed overrated. I wanted to think more about the girl, but my brain wanted me to suffer more, and my wife wanted me to move more. She wanted more New Orleans.
Maybe it was the fear my mouth might never again process food, or the paranoia lingering from the bathroom-barter-coke, or the guy at Jackson Square driving his car alongside our bus while fervently masturbating, but I just wasn’t into New Orleans anymore. I just wasn’t feeling it, but I kept this from my wife. I had to be a trooper, I knew that much.
And then on our last walk through the Quarter, something perfect happened again. We were going down the sidewalk, and I looked up to a balcony. Even through a foggy haze where everything that had happened the night before could have been a myth, I knew without a doubt that I saw the girl with the Barbie, and she saw me. We looked at each other like we had just found water. I had faith in this. She was across the street and on the second floor, and she was so far away, the distance hurt.
“Hey, what are you doing?” I asked.
She smiled and held her arms out and looked around, and I knew that meant, I’m just doing New Orleans, just like you, man. I knew that much, but I believe part of it also said, I’m right here, can you believe we found each other again? Come on up.
My wife asked, “Who’s that?”
This story also isn’t the kind where the narrator sometimes tells lies. I’ve told nothing but the truth: I did know a lot by the end of this vacation. I knew my dancing would never change the world. I knew Britney Spears, at best, was a shooting star. I knew if you go to New Orleans, you have to try a beignet, your mouth should enjoy it. I knew the idea of saving intangible things was an intangible idea itself. I looked at the space between me and the girl on the balcony, and I wondered if intangible was lover’s code for impossible. I knew the vacation wasn’t for me. I didn’t want a romping threesome even if it magically aligned right in front of me. I wanted the revolution.
(Originally appeared in Corvus Review)