Jazz Fest Memories

I have lots of good ones, but they’re not all good.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

But honestly, don’t. Because this is New Orleans, where everyone tells the same stories again and again but slightly different each time. 

I have two main Jazz Fest tales that I always trot out this time of year. 

The first one I thought was funny until I told it to enough people, including my kids and my therapist, to realize that it was actually pretty much textbook trauma. (Although I still think trauma can be funny with the right telling.)

That’s the story of how my dad, in 1990, brought me, then 9 years old, to Jazz Fest, ingested various substances, met the woman who would become his fourth wife (and then his fourth ex-wife) … and sort of forgot he had a child and … left me at Jazz Fest. The police picked me up as the sun was setting, and my mom ultimately came to collect me. My dad, forced by my mother to apologize to me the next day, thanked me for having the good sense to call my mom and “not narc [him] out.”

The other story, I think, is actually funny-funny, not just trauma-funny.

When I was 14, I got into Jazz Fest on a kid’s ticket (meaning I looked 12, which I did) and then bought a beer (meaning I looked 21, which I definitely did not).

I had come to the fest with two friends who were dating. They started making out on the blanket we had thrown down, so I hopped up on one of the recycling cans they had sitting around the Fairgrounds — they had a solid top with just a hole cut out for cans so that no one would throw trash in there – to give them some privacy on the blanket (in the midst of thousand of other people).

I was enjoying the music and sipping my illegal beer when a much-older guy caught my eye across the crowd. He smiled at me. I smiled back. We looked away. We looked back, locked eyes, and smiled again. He made a gesture to indicate that he was going to walk across the crowd to stand by me. I made a gesture to indicate that he should do this. We smiled again, and I waved my encouragement as he walked toward me.

And then the lid of the can caved in, sending me plummeting into a hot, wet mass of mostly empty beer cans.

The guy didn’t even come over to try to help me out.

I ended up having to kick and kick and kick the side of the can until my friends heard me, stopped making out, pulled me out of the can, and then immediately went back to making out while I sat on the edge of the blanket sulking and reeking of stale beer. 

Every single detail of this story now horrifies me as a mom with a kid old enough to go to Jazz Fest. 

But at least she knows I’ll be there to pick her up, just like my mom always was for me, no matter what happens. 

Happy Festing, y’all. May all of your memories be free of trauma and embarrassment … or at least make for good stories later!

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