The Surreptitious Lens

I have a secret. I may look like an aimless pedestrian and for the most part I am. I have no agenda. I just roam. Sometimes, spontaneity will dictate the route; other times a situation will trigger me to take a turn. One thing is certain: even without a plan, I am on a mission.

I am hunting truth. I don’t know where I’ll find it. I believe I’ll discover it on the streets and that’s why I’m filming.

My large black patent leather handbag is vintage but unremarkable to the average eye in this sea of people on Canal Street. Only on close examination could one detect a small round lens peeking through a perfectly burned-out hole. This little eye dutifully records everything it sees. I keep the purse close to my body as I slowly walk the wide sidewalk of this palm tree-lined downtown street.

There are several lanes of traffic on either side of the neutral ground which accommodates red streetcars- the Canal line. City buses, tour buses, taxis, limos, and motorcycles roar down the street.

I am not alone on foot. There are many walkers of various paces. The business types and delivery people move the fastest. Workers head quickly, if reluctantly, to their places of employment. Yet, even the strolling tourists have their agendas- their destinations- their must-sees. I am free to wander.

A helpful local asks a group of out-of-towners, “What are you guys looking for?”

“Bourbon Street!”

All too familiar. As I continue on my random way, I may not know my path or where my adventure will take me, but I do know I will not be on Bourbon Street.

A couple moves in time with my saunter, unknowingly caught by my camera.

There is a distinct Midwestern accent in the woman’s voice. “I know Elaine paid for the wallet and the purse. That’s why I am so upset. I just don’t know what to do.”

Her companion, a man with a full head of white hair, flicks his cigarette into the street without a verbal response.

I wonder if Elaine has a shopping addiction. Maybe she is continuously picking up the slack for some stingy relative. At least she didn’t steal them. Am I really hunting truth or am I just eavesdropping? My camera doesn’t ask questions; it continues documenting my directionless journey.

As I pass the shops, a strange medley of conflicting music adds to the myriad of the landscape. Cajun music is followed by pop; an 80s’ hit is trailed by Hindi music. The wares and services stretch from Japanese electronics to Swedish massages.

A white cane moves right and left. The owner shakes a plastic Mardi Gras cup holding coins. “Help the blind.”

I hear stilettos click-click behind me. I allow them to pass me as I marvel at the balance some women can manage on the thin heels. I wear them too, but not today. I consider these black patent leather penny loafers decent walking shoes. I have skipped the traditional pennies and put in nickels instead. I prefer the silver coins and justify it as inflation. Unfortunately, they do squeak as I walk and I know my audio will be tainted.

At least they aren’t flip-flops. The sound of such a sandal now hits my ears. While I love the onomatopoetic name and have worn the shoes frequently, this slow drag of a certain wearer is almost painful. There is definitely the flip, but less of the flop as it shuffles bedroom slipper-style down the sidewalk. Yet despite her lack of speed, the woman is clearly on an errand, shopping bags in hand.

I turn right on North Rampart. People say it’s dangerous. It’s the back of the Quarter. I’m the lone walker now. I see a man passed out in a doorway. I detect a faint smell of beer and urine.

Rastafarians on bicycles leisurely pass me on the sidewalk. As the cars rush down the street, I can’t say I blame them for avoiding the road. My sinister side wonders if they are cruising for something. It is not my business, but my camera keeps filming. It catches my image in the mirror glass of a door.

Two tourist-filled buggies make their way down Conti Street. Seeing the mules on the job, I decide to turn in solidarity- I too am hoofing it. As they clip-clop, the guides holding their reins relay tales of our city’s colorful past.

I take in the hanging ferns above balconies. I love how the French and Spanish architecture blend. I feel lost in the beauty of the Quarter. Just when I truly believe I am invisible, I’m nudged.

“Where’s Bourbon Street?”

Slightly shaken, I reply, “It’s just one block ahead.” I am a proud agent of my city. As much as I wish to go unnoticed, at least I’m not mistaken as a tourist.

Despite my earlier declaration, I cross Bourbon Street, technically traversing it no matter how briefly. As I walk over air vents I call “Lady Traps,” I’m relieved I’m not in stilettos. A quick gust raises the skirt of my black dress in a brief Seven Year Itch moment. I am no Marilyn.

Further down Conti, I spot a parking lot attendant, less attentive as he leans, eyes closed, against a sign reading “Lot Full.”

I realize the camera will be turning itself off soon. I take a right on North Peters. Two elderly women are ambling.

One asks, “Do you like those pralines?”

“Oh no. Too sweet,” the other replies.

I foolishly believe again I am undetectable in urban camouflage when two young women approach me.

“Ew, she Goth,” says one. They both cackle as they pass me.

Goth? I didn’t think Goth existed for anyone over the age of nineteen.

As I consider a wardrobe change, I see temporary signs for “No Parking.” Reason? Filming.

Kristin Fouquet