Unclassified Info: Thoughts of Satchmo and 'Starman'

It's not often that I write my column with the Mississippi River, Jackson Square and the rest of the French Quarter at my feet. But here I sit, exhausted and bleary-eyed after spending the last five days enduring all the festivities, pomp and debauchery associated with the NCAA Final Four.

While the games are easily one of the greatest sporting events of the year, they were almost an asterisk to the events of the last five days. That's not to diminish the games themselves, or the athletes. It's a reality when the setting is someplace like New Orleans.

Truth be told, I had nothing invested in any of the teams involved in the games played over the weekend. Had Long Beach State made it through the tournament all the way to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, I might only be writing about the experience of rabidly cheering for my alma mater in the same way that more than 144,000 fans in attendance did.

For those who have never been to New Orleans, and for those who have, you don't visit the place so much as you survive it. I assume locals have the opportunity to acclimate themselves to the constant presence and perpetual temptation of worldly pleasures. For mortals like myself, the unbridled opportunity for decadence proves all too enticing.

Or maybe it's coming here on an expense account, where one can cater to nearly every whim without fiscal consequence.

Whatever reason, as I sit in the hotel lobby looking for a concise description of what unfolded from Friday until this moment, I can see a similar look in the eyes of other guests. We all seem to be collectively saying, “It's time to go home, make amends with our livers and get back to reality.”

For the last five days, I've survived on less than four hours of sleep per night. My throat is raspy and withered — not from screaming at the games, but from laughing and cajoling all through the night at various taverns, clubs and late-night spots I can't, or shouldn't, remember. My vegan, sober lifestyle was abandoned — left behind in Glendale like some estranged spouse in exchange for the allure of a more enticing mistress.

Strangely, to put my experience in New Orleans into perspective, I'm drawn to a quote from the movie, “Starman.” In the movie, an alien takes human form to experience and study mankind. Toward the end of the film, he offers an opinion on what he's observed during his brief visit to Earth.

“You are a strange species. Not like any other and you'd be surprised how many there are. Intelligent, but savage. Shall I tell you what I find beautiful about you? You are at your very best when things are worst.”

That's not to say that New Orleans or its people represent the worst of mankind. It is we, the tourists, who play that part, stumbling around like a hoard of drunken zombies. It's no wonder the city survived Hurricane Katrina. It endures us 365 days a year.

Its residents offer themselves up with not much expected in return. It is the miscreant strangers who pillage and plunder. We are the modern-day pirates and rogues who carry on in absinthe bars tucked away in shadowy alleys adjacent to the old St. Louis cathedral.

But in our revelry and stupor, we also find the best in ourselves.

I arrived with nine others — cast together as a reward for service to our company. We became a band of brothers during our brief campaign through the lush swamps of Louisiana. The bayou gave me a new group of friends accompanied by memories thick as the moist, humid air.

And of course, in the Superdome, we gathered to cheer the accomplishments of young men on four teams striving to achieve their personal best. And in the end, when that one champion was crowned, we marveled at the magnificence of those who seized that rarest of opportunities to climb to the top of the ladder and cut down the nets in one of the hallowed traditions in basketball.

We saw those smiles. We felt their elation, if only vicariously. And as we watched, I thought of “Starman” and, more appropriately, Louis Armstrong.

“And I said to myself, what a wonderful world.”

GARY HUERTA is a Glendale resident and author. He is currently working on his second novel and the second half of his life. Gary may be reached at gh@garyhuerta.com.

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