The second half of our New Orleans excursion was spent reading The Moviegoer by Walker Percy, an existential novel that seeks to find the answers to life’s great mysteries through movies and casual sex. Our protagonist, Jack “Binx” Bolling is droll, unhinged in a cool-headed way. He moves lethargically from secretary to secretary the same way he moves from one major life decision to the next.
Sitting here out front of Between The Bread, a small café overlooking Lafayette Square, it’s easy to understand Binx’s attitude towards life, how easy it is to remember something so inconsequential in the grand scheme of things: “Other people…treasure memorable moments in their lives: the time one climbed the Parthenon at sunrise, the summer night one met a lonely girl in Central Park and achieve w/ her a sweet and natural relationship…I too once met a girl in Central Park, but it is not much to remember. What I remember is the time John Wayne killed three men with a carbine as he was falling to the dusty street in Stagecoach…” (7). Binx’s outlook on life is depressing at face value but when experienced, makes absolute sense. We’ve seen incredible sights here, walked through streets full of vibrant history, where legendary authors wrote famous novels and screenplays, and artists created masterpieces, and musicians ascended to kings of their domains. Yet all of these spectacular sights and sounds compound with each other as they fight their way to the top to be most memorable, the most interesting. That is a good thing – so many experiences are appropriate for that position but they tend to crush one another, suppress the effectiveness.
I say this because I witnessed an interaction that solidifies Binx’s attitude for myself. For the past hour I’ve watched an inebriated couple argue around the park while I read The Moviegoer. Every once in awhile I’d lift my head from the pages to see them yelling into each other’s faces, throwing hands into the air and sighing loudly to the sky above in obvious exasperation. I’d see one of them walk off, phone in hand, while the other sat on a bench and buried their face into palms, so I’d turn my attention back to the book.
Binx would be on another mental excursion watching the world pass him by, with me trying to keep up in his rearview mirror, but several minutes later, I’d see a commotion out of the corner of my eye, and sure enough one half of the couple would come storming back with a newfound fury in dire need of yelling their current thoughts. This happened multiple times before I decided that Binx wouldn’t mind me putting the book down to observe what was happening in Lafayette Park, so I placed it on the table and sat back, living in their moment. This cycle repeated itself over and over again: yelling, the separation, the grand re-entrance, and it wasn’t just myself who became interested. Passersby in vehicles, the passengers in streetcars, random people in the park, we all became attached. Often one of the combatants would barely make eye contact with me before I was able to whip the book back up over my face, where’d I’d let a second pass before slowly dropping it below my eyes. I never caught a specific word, never felt I knew what was going on, but when they walked down the block together, hand-in-hand, I knew I had been part of the resolution.
Binx moved through personal relationships without so much as a second thought and that didn’t resonate within me until I became a fly on the wall to this domestic battle royale. Out of everything New Orleans has graciously offered me, this stands out the most. How strange is that? Maybe it’s because the situation is more ridiculous than anything I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a Saint’s themed Darth Vader dancing in the street at 2 A.M. with a cigarette in his hand. Maybe it was because I could witness this without having to leave my chair as I sipped my coffee. Maybe it’s because Binx found more interest in a movie than a human relationship and this event was unfolding in front of me like a scripted movie. Perhaps it was the complete discord that arose from the situation: me sitting comfortably in front of a coffee shop quietly reading a book, and just across the street, a yelling match that sucked the world in. It was the perfect demonstration of how the opposite lives of New Orleans can be separated by something as trivial as a street.
As the second half of our New Orleans portion dwindled to an end, our mandatory activities lessened as well, providing us ample time to do nothing but relax and read. And fall into the lethargic mindset that Binx often found himself in. Each day became a treasure hunt for the perfect café, the emptiest bar. At one point, we even found ourselves sitting in the middle of the Audubon Golf Course, reading and climbing trees. Suddenly we were given this free time to explore the secrets of New Orleans and we ended up sitting in a park and reading. I think Binx would be proud of that choice. As we made our way to Baton Rouge, the next destination, we traveled along Elysian Fields – the road Binx uses to get from his home in Gentilly to the business district – a long, almost endless road that proved the perfect opportunity to lose yourself in thought, to contemplate everything that took place in New Orleans as you lazily moved away from it towards another adventure.