New Orleans is a big, fat, sticky, sweaty, messy kiss with tongue. She seizes you by the nape, thrusting you forth into her seamy embrace, twisting and turning in humid grasps, then shoves you away when she’s done— sputtering, reeling and gagging.

Cafe du Monde, beignets and sticky tables, Vietnamese ladies with paper hats clipped askew. Even the most dignified amongst us finds leftover powdered sugar dust on her cheek and hardening glops of sweetened coffee on her blouse when it’s done.

Strings of beads and ill-fitting clothes on obese, white tourists who lumber like lost penguins. Flat-topped flabby 12-year-old in a red T-shirt that reads, “I put ketchup on my ketchup.” Belly rolls, double chins, love handles and chubby fingers that greedily grasp the crawdaddy heads as they crawl down the plate. Creole sauce slips between creases to pool while showers of crumbs find crevices in fanny-pack grooves.

Painted girls, with thighs barely ringed with a dress; ironed hair, eyeliner, and over-tanned legs. Acrylic nails, acrylic shoes, acrylic smiles and sweet plastic minds. When you meet one who’s different, she’s from Baton Rouge.

The flawless ebony black, the sweet French drawl, the “honey-baby-child-sugar-darling-ya’ll.” Where else are such informal appraisals not the least bit demeaning?

“Did you know that they call Tulane, ‘Jewlane?’” he asks as we glide through the Garden District. Scrub medians populated with sparse bus stops, linked by palatial homes and a penitent populous—Episcopalians, Baptists, Catholics, Protestants, and yes, Jews like my family. Church, church, home, church, home, home, temple, church, church. More praying done in this town of vice than in the holiest city, methinks.

Peeling paint, cracked and flaked, on boarded-up shotgun houses, burned out and abandoned. They sit dormant next door to sunflowers and yards with families, where a woman hangs laundry behind a chain-link fence. Her head is wrapped with an orange bandana, her cocoa-colored skin glistens under the 87-degree roast, as she barks gentle warnings at her kids who play with a rag-tag dog in the weedy lot.

Granny, with her skin soft and grooved like long-lived elephant leather. The wet smooch of gulf winds frizz up your hair; no products, no styling, no straightening iron rules here. Without a choice, you join them—plastic carrying cups for the drink in your hand, the sway and step of the house’s jazz band, the rhythm and thump, the smell of the dump, the river, the breeze, the homeless asking you, “please,” the casinos, the hum, the banging Mardi Gras drum, the pulse of the clubs, the Vet seated on stubs, the working girls and the bouncers, hearing words like madame and monsieur—it all seems unreal, like a fair.

But—there is life. There is life. There is life.