I haven't slept in weeks.
Each time I close my eyes, fear settles in and I hear a voice ominously declare "Ain't no rest for the wicked."
I open my eyes and Cage the Elephant's song is mysteriously playing - again.
I spend hours searching the internet, hunting for details.
My family recently drove 15 hours to New Orleans for a Spring Break Cruising Vacation. It was a disaster. We spent too much money and ended up with too much chaos. As a cathartic exercise, I wrote a cruising review about my experience.
The only redeeming part of the trip was our incredible time in New Orleans.
Well . . . until that last morning when I may have accidentally been a walk-on extra in an episode of Scooby-Doo and the Great Art Caper of 2012.
And I'm afraid it's going to take a whole lot of Scooby Snacks to get out of this one.
Scene One: Frenzied Mom, Lots of Luggage and Approaching Cruise Embarkation
Neglected middle child with a severe case of JBS (Jan Brady Syndrome) spies a cat painting hanging in Jackson Square.
"Mama!"Phillip grabs my arm. Hard.
I stumble and trip my youngest, Brooks. "What, Phillip!? The taxi is waiting at the hotel!"
Phillip gestures to the painting of a black cat. "I want that painting for my souvenir. That's all I want, Mama, I swear. Can we get it?"
"Dude! Seriously? The taxi is waiting. Let's go!" I swing my big black purse of death and accidentally whack Brooks - again.
Scenes Two - Seven: Panicked Child and Annoyed Mother Aboard the Cruise Ship of Disease and Despair
Phillip is relentless in his pursuit of the must-have Jackson square cat painting.
The cruise is a five day frenzied example of all that is wrong with modern-day permissive parenting, and I am stuck with Phillip's daily questions about the painting, which I, frankly, only vaguely recall.
Scene Eight: Child Spies Painting. Mom Makes a Serious Miscalculation
Apparently all roads in New Orleans lead to Jackson Square, as the taxi passed by it on the ride from the ship to our hotel.
Of course, Phillip noticed that his painting was still hanging on the iron fence."Mama, there it is! Can we please stop and get it?"
I, suffering from an intense case of PTCD (Post Traumatic Cruise Disorder), barked in response, "NO!!"
I glimpsed the fear in our cab driver's eyes and lowered my tone. "Phillip, we need to check into our room before we do anything else."
By the time we walked to Jackson Square, it had started to rain.
Scene Nine: Rain, Frenzied Artists and a Surprise Reaction
As we approached the Square, artists scurried past us hauling their paintings on large carts. Phillip longingly watched the parade of carts pass us by.
To assuage my mommy-guilt, I bribed my children with ice cream.
Not even a frosty dairy treat could cool the heat of accusation in Phillip's eyes, so I grabbed my 14 year old daughter's arm like it was a life-preserver and yanked her into a store as I yelled to my husband, "I'll text you when we 're done shopping! Have fun with the boys!"
Apparently, Phillip's radiating anger was contagious because my husband developed an identical case. I closed the store's door quickly.
Hours later, a sunny sky emerged and I was ready to try again with Phillip and reunite my family. Cassie and I walked to our meeting place.
I glanced at Cassie holding her bags of New Orleans' fashion treasure and at Brooks carrying his own cartoonish cat painting and worried about Phillip's reaction as he stood next to them with empty arms.
Phillip surprised me. Phillip surprised all of us. He checked out Brooks's painting and said, "Cool." He glanced at Cassie's treasures and said, "Wow!"
And, then, Phillip turned to me with true remorse and regret in his eyes and said, "I'm sorry that I was such a jerk, Mama."
We were not going to be leaving New Orleans at 5:00 am the next morning. I was not leaving New Orleans until my son had his painting.
Scene Ten: A Punishing Heat, Brutal Wait and Finally a Resolution - Kind of
9:00 AM The boys and I arrived in Jackson Square and spied -- The Holy Grail (The Cat Painting). We noticed an empty chair and a loaded cart with other paintings. The boys and I sat on a bench nearby and waited for the artist to return.
9:30 AM Other artists arrived all around us. I relished the atmosphere and daydreamed about moving my family to NOLA.
10:00 AM My pleasant daydreams faded as perspiration dripped down my face. The boys started fighting, so I moved between them. Brooks climbed onto my lap and Phillip's fidgeting foot repeatedly kicked my leg.
10:15 AM The heat suffocated me and the boys continued to argue on either side of me. Our artist was still missing. His cat painting mocked me. I was told from artists nearby that my artist had to have his "sugars checked." That phrase made me hungry. I grabbed the boys and walked to a food cart.
10:30 AM I started to panic. I suggested that Phillip consider another painting. Brooks cheerfully suggested other paintings for Phillip. The boys started fighting again and I developed a headache. Phillip rejected all of the other paintings. Brooks bought his second painting.
11:00 AM A homeless gentleman decided to befriend me. While I normally welcome the opportunity to meet new people, I was hot, tired and frustrated. Plus he smelled like body odor and booze. And he was a "close talker." Like really close. He did offer to share his drink with me, though. I never accept mysterious drinks from strangers, especially those hidden in paper bags, so I politely declined.
11:30 AM My inquiries finally paid off and we were approached by a man, who claimed to be friends with the artist-whom-we-seek.
"Yeah, yeah. I know him. He's got bad sugars. Getting them tested today. You want that one?" He gestured to the painting.
I, desperate to escape the heat, my new homeless friend and my bickering boys, nodded enthusiastically and ignored that little annoying voice in my head telling me to question him further. "How much for the painting?"
The man walked over to the cat painting and examined it for a price. Of course, it had none. He scratched his chin. "$20? $40? I really don't know what he charges anymore. Whatever you want to give is fine, ma'am."
Alarm bells exploded in my head. I ignored them.
I paid him, grabbed the painting, gestured to my boys and started walking.
Phillip asked in a stage whisper, "Are you sure he will give the money to the artist?"
He stopped and watched the man disappear into the crowds of tourists and street performers. "Mama, what if that man is going to keep the money instead?"
"Phillip, everything will be fine. That man said that he was friends with the artist and that he would give our money to him."
My son looked me straight in the eye and asked, "Mama, did we just steal this painting?"
And like an old-fashioned detective movie montage in which the detective finally pieces together all of the clues, still-framed camera shots stored in my brain flashed into my consciousness: the price uncertainty, his lack of eye-contact, the way his eyes shifted about us, how he never mentioned the artist by name. F--k!
But it was hot. And I was tired. And frustrated. And after a really shitty cruise experience, I just needed for something to finally go my way.
And so I looked directly at my son and lied.
"I trust him. The artist will get his money. This conversation is over."
I pivoted my body, held that painting up high for everyone to see and blazed my own path to our hotel.
Weeks later, the guilt gnaws at my insides.
Did our artist actually get paid?
Or is a crude police sketch drawing of my shady visage stapled on the telephone polls all over New Orleans?
Does anyone have any ideas how to find our mystery artist? I would really like to make sure that he was paid and to tell him how very much my son adores his painting.