The Supreme Court Justice and the Wrong End of a Horse: Nola Recollections, Part I

New Orleans is that rarest of towns, the kind of city that imprints itself on you and doesn’t allow itself to fit any mold (a word that’s going to take on a whole new meaning soon) but its own. And while the French Quarter itself seems to be spared the worst of Katrina’s effects, it’s clear that the city has its own permanent stain, like New York and 9/11, Dallas and JFK, Memphis and Dr. King.

So here’s the first of some recollections I have about the city. We start in 1994, when I was living in Memphis and Annie was still in D.C. A friend of hers–a former White House intern before that became shorthand for a kneepad joke–was getting married to the son of Supreme Court Justice Scalia. Now, Annie and I had a bit of experience with high-level Washington–remind me to tell you about the Dan Quayle Incident sometime–but this was a whole new phenomenon.

I picked up Annie just in time to head to Bourbon Street and Pat O’Brien’s, where the wedding party had booked up the entire top floor for a rehearsal dinner party. The wedding party hadn’t yet arrived, but we and a few other out-of-town guests proceeded to down Hurricane after Hurricane (there’s an irony, huh?)

And then Justice Scalia and crew arrived, and brother, I don’t care what your political affiliation is, this is a man who knows how to have a good time–and happily brings you along for the ride. We spent the next few hours drinking (a lot) and eating (not so much), leaning out over the balcony with that air of superiority that comes from knowing that the Little People down there on Bourbon Street are looking up at you and trying to place your face–’cause if you’re in one of those exclusive rooms, you gotta be Somebody, right?

Then the justice and his wife left and, with a wave back at us up on the balcony, walked off down Rue de Bourbon. As we watched him plunge into the very depths of the kind of hedonism his supporters fear more than Hell itself, I started thinking–you know, unless his security guards are disguised as puking college students, empty cups, or strippers of dubious gender, there ain’t NOBODY guarding that guy. And I started thinking about the perpetual razor-thin ideological margins on the Supreme Court, and, well…I wanted to save the rest for a book, but that friggin’ Grisham beat me to it (see: Pelican Brief, The.)

So even though the celeb in attendance blew out, the party kept on keepin’ on. As is usually the case when you’ve pickled your brain, the night became a disjointed series of short films. Here, we see Jay and Annie stumbling their way down the winding stairs of Pat O’Brien’s. Whoops! Annie nearly stumbles into the flaming fountain. Bang—they’re across the street, Jay’s trying to buy a slice of pizza while Annie tugs on a guy’s sleeve and says, “Y’know who was jus’here? Jussis Scalia! Inn’at cool?” Zip–it’s twenty minutes or perhaps two hours later, and Annie’s patting a horse’s ass–no, not me, a REAL horse’s ass–as she coos into what she thinks is its ear.

We made it back to our hotel, somehow, and managed to get to a majestic Catholic church carved out of the bayou in time for the wedding. The food was exceptional, but since we both felt like we’d gargled with swamp water, we stayed calm, and had a politely pleasant tourist evening in New Orleans. That’s fine, though; the previous night was enough.

Jay

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