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New Orleans is ...

By Laura McKnight

New Orleans is ...

taking a break from schoolwork late Sunday night to slouch over to Frenchmen Street and into the Apple Barrel, a place aptly named as it feels insular, wooden, a bit rotted from the inside. The Apple Barrel is a claustrophobic’s bad dream, an electrician’s nightmare with its cramped space taken up almost completely by a small bar and several round tables and chairs near the windows. A narrow strip of floor runs down the center, stopping after about 15 feet. The place feels not much larger than the living room in my shotgun home – but the ceiling here feels much lower. I fight a constant impulse to duck, to at least hunch over and crunch myself into some formation that will have my body demand as little space as possible.

Musical performers are relegated to a rectangle of space opposite the bar and tables, right near the front door, so that every person entering or leaving the Apple Barrel must step awkwardly – or triumphantly – in front of the band, blocking the performers from view with every cigarette break or breath of fresh air. The bench outside, nestled right into the windows of the Apple Barrel, usually features a collection of the same elderly men with various flamboyant canes and hats who sink into the rickety wooden seat with the exhaustion of 65-plus years of scrounging for dollars and High Life, sweat running along the lines in their faces no matter the temperature outside.

To enter tonight, I must pass within inches of the keyboard player, a scowling  funk artist who yells “I know YOU!,” into my face, and then do a clumsy sidestep to avoid bumping face-first into the singer, a tall and graceful woman with a muscular voice. I squirm my way to the bar and order a Guinness, laugh as a thirsty black-mouthed cur named Lucy stands on her hind legs next to me and places her paws on the bar, panting at the bartender.

New Orleans is ...

knowing that this dog is a black-mouthed cur named Lucy, because by the time I finish patting the dog’s head and complimenting her penchant for beer, I have already befriended Lucy’s owner, Jeremy.  By the time the band breaks, I know that Jeremy is from Florida, has lived in New Orleans for several years, loves his work at Adolfo’s restaurant, and found Lucy wandering the streets here. By the end of the first set, I have “dog-sat” Lucy several times, gripping her leash while Jeremy takes bathroom and beer and cigarette breaks. People ask my permission to pet her.

New Orleans is ... giving people in a bar permission to pet a dog that belongs to a guy I just met five minutes ago.

New Orleans is ...

cleaning your clothes in a red-lit bar that one night presents a jaw-harp gutter-punk band, another night a Flamenco guitarist, another night a classic rock outfit, another night a bounce-rap squad fronted by an effeminate man in neon-pink spandex, another night the bartender behind the mike.

It’s dropping your underwear on the filthy floor and knowing you should just throw those underwear in the garbage or at least wash them again but you don’t.

New Orleans is being offered more free marijuana in this bar-slash-Laundromat than you have ever been offered in your entire life. New Orleans is saying “no” to the weed only to have some dude leave some for you anyway, a dusty crumble of dark green plant from Mexico, lying in a tiny pile on the wooden counter next to the dryers, forcing you to say “yes.”

Laura McKnight is a local writer and contributor to Nola.com. She submitted this piece to NolaVie.