I haven't been to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, but today I was remembering past visits there. I always looked forward to the street entertainers in the French Quarter: artists, musicians, dancers, magicians and always at least one mime. I wonder if they're still there.
About this time of year in 1983, when the weather should have been cool but wasn't, I went to New Orleans with a relatively new boyfriend. At 6'6" tall, my friend walked with his head above the crowd. He was hard to miss.
We ambled along Bourbon Street in the thick of a Saturday afternoon crowd, and I noticed a mime across the street and down the block a little way. He was a slender young man, wearing full-face white makeup and dressed in a black-and-white-striped shirt, black pants held up by red suspenders, and a shiny black top hat. He was at the center of a small group of people, pantomiming with exaggerated motions while remaining totally silent, as mimes are supposed to do.
The mime was amusing, and we kept watching him as we continued to walk. Suddenly, he looked in our direction. He raised his painted-on eyebrows, formed his lips into a big round "O", and did an exaggerated doubletake. He placed his palms flat together, praying-hands style, at waist level, then quickly stretched his arms forward and parted his hands, gesturing to the crowd to part and let him through. With dancelike movements, his body leaning forward like a man on a mission, he zizzagged through the tourist-filled street and continued moving toward us.
We realized the mime was coming our way and stopped walking to watch him. So did other people near us. Trying to figure out what had attracted the mime's attention, we glanced quickly at the people around us, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The closer the mime came, the more it appeared that he was directly approaching my friend and me. In fact, that turned out to be exactly what he was doing.
The mime stopped about two feet away from me. He stared intently into my eyes, pointedly ignoring my unusually tall friend. He walked around me in a tight little circle, not touching, but close enough to cause my friend to step back. Then he stopped abruptly and faced me again. Leaning in close, his eyes still locked on mine as my friend towered overhead behind me, he spoke the only words I've ever heard from a mime: "Are you alone?"