When you move to New Orleans, you have to make certain adjustments in your life.
You have to replace the very straightforward concepts of north, south, east and west with the winding ones of upriver, downriver, lakeside and riverside.
You have to adapt to the Cajun dialect (which you do by giving up on ever understanding the Cajun dialect).
And you have to develop a lifestyle immunity so that behaviors that would kill most college freshmen become a perfectly acceptable, some would say healthy, everyday norm.
Me? My biggest adjustment has been to New Orleans bugs. There are a lot of them. They have severe boundary issues. And, every year, they break our winter peace with an iron-fisted show of power that would make Kim Jong-un proud.
It comes in four stages.
First, you have the mosquito hawks. Yes, hawks. In the only case of non-embellishment I’ve seen around here, mosquito hawks are so named because they are the size of hawks. They look like mosquitos. They visit you in February. And stay for about a month. In your home.
What’s most unsettling about these freaks of nature? When you live in New Orleans you actually welcome them. When I first posted about them on my Facebook page, I was swarmed by comments from locals saying, “Whatever you do, don’t kill them. They eat the mosquito larvae!”
And so, for a month, I allowed them to take up residence in my living room and study, making both look like they belonged in a Tim Burton movie.
Mosquito hawks are followed by caterpillars. First, there are the run-of-the-mill caterpillars that commute along the sidewalks to their desired destination: your plants. The ones you kept alive all winter long. The ones they will devour in a single afternoon. And, is it me or do the caterpillars seems larger, hungrier and faster this year (who knew you could move that quickly with so many tiny legs?!?).
But the run-of-the-mill munchers are nothing compared to what comes next: the buck moth caterpillars. Which devour oak tree leaves until they get so full that the weight of their chubby body becomes too much for what’s left of the leaf. And they fall. Onto you. Which scares them (I’d be scared too if I plunged 24 feet from my dining table). So they sting you. Badly. There really is nothing quite like strolling down Esplanade on a beautiful spring day and having your bliss interrupted by a shriek 50 feet away, followed by a “*%$^ buck moth!”
Next up, termite swarms. Now, I didn’t know much about termites living up in Boston. But, apparently, they’re quite social. In fact, when they mate, they like to do it with thousands upon thousands of their friends joining in on the fun. And they’re not bashful. They have their little swingers’ parties while swarming around street lights so that any and every one can see (activity that surely would not be tolerated in a Santorum administration).
Sadly, the inevitable happens and a few Lotharios, literally, get too close to the light. And die. Falling to the ground with an eternal look of ecstasy on their little termite faces.
Unfortunately, there also are times when the termites decide to take the party inside. To your house. For all of swarm season, New Orleanians are, literally, in the dark (some would argue this is a year-round occurrence). No porch lights, no inside lights. Because to do either would attract the swarm (and, really, who wants that type of activity on your good sofa? Or your kitchen counter?).
The very first time I felt like a New Orleanian was one warm May night last year at the Candlelight. Someone opened the door and said, simply, “swarm.” In true New Orleans fashion, we all picked up our cups and headed outside to gaze at the wonder of termite love.
“What’s going on?” my neighbor Beth asked.
“It’s a termite swarm,” I said as I watched the termites make a, I guess you would call it termite-line, towards our block of North Robertson. “Wait. Beth, is that your porchlight I see? Are your inside lights on?”
“Well, of course,” she said. “My boys are home.” I then quickly explained to Beth that she had a choice that night: her boys or the termites. Beth then did something I’ve never seen a New Orleanian do: She handed me her drink. And ran. We never saw her again that night.
She had to get home. Turn off all the lights. And tell her loved ones yet another chapter from the strange tale of what it means to live in New Orleans.
P.S. I know I’m not mentioning mosquitos or flies here. They deserve their own column. Perhaps someday they’ll write one.
This column is dedicated to Tommy Green, Kermit Hartzog, Constance Streho, Tommie Thurmond, and an, as of this writing, unidentified 16-20 year old black male. These five residents all were murdered in New Orleans since last week’s column.