Saints

22 Apr

First thing I ever did when I arrived in New Orleans was buy a bottle of cheap bourbon from the ABC to go with the cheap room in the cheap transients’ house on Josephine Street just at the edge of the Garden District. I set the bottle on the filthy table by the window and poured the golden juice into a small, dirty tumbler which I had packed in the duffel bag, and listened to Mahler’s 5th on my small radio. I watched dozens of streetcars going down St. Charles with happy tourists ready to pop hundreds on drinks and po’ boys and shirts and voodoo dolls and…something. Always something for sale in this goddamn town. Snake oil for the aching joints. Beads to throw in return for a peek at bare tits. People are so goddamn thick. Always, always something. Every bloody town. For sale.

When the booze ran out I crossed the street and sat down at the bar in Igor’s and ordered a seven and seven. Hard on the Seagram’s and easy on the seven. I put down a tenner. I had money from a tax return that previous year. I had worked. And I had also won three hundred dollars at the roulette in Vegas the previous week. Red fourteen. My only win, aside from the time I hit the trifecta at Pimlico in Laurel my last year in high school. That brought in a bit over two hundred. Igor’s was a great place, right on St. Charles in uptown. It had a big neon sign on the front: “A half pound burger is always waiting for you!” Inside there was the bar and then some: laundry facilities, so you could drink while you washed and dried your loads of stained, infested junk. The chippie barkeep wore short jean shorts and was all legs. And she knew it. She made sure to exaggerate her squats whenever she’d pick up a bottle from below the counters, and gave a good show to all the barflys smoking the day away. She made a good double-seven, and that’s really all that mattered.

There were video poker machines just behind me, and the most decrepit, down-n-outers were pumping coins into the bastards at an alarming rate. Somehow they had money. I drank. A storm or hurricane or something rolled in. The barkeep shift changed and the chippie disappeared into the laundry facilities. Some woman next to me snorted and said she was probably turning tricks upstairs, the whore. That’s what she called her. There was a room above the bar you could rent by the hour or day, she said. I just drank. The rain came hard outside and we couldn’t hear the jukebox with the door open like that. It sounded like some giant waterfall in Argentina.
–About time, the new barkeep said. He was an old dog with boils on his nose and cheeks and when he poured, his hand shook and spilled booze all around the shot glass. He cleaned it up with a yellowing rag. He also blew his nose with it. Right in front of everyone.
–About time, he said again first looking at me and then quickly swinging his head toward the window. Gusts were spraying water into the bar but no one got up to close the door.
–Yeh heh?
–I like it. Rain comes in and washes all the scum away. All the shit and piss on these cursed streets. The saints and ghosts and pimps…
I tuned him out and cross faded him with Travis Bickle: “All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.”

Nothing changes. Not even the weather. I left after half an hour of being bothered by a soliloquizing former pirate who had lost everything in a divorce and was looking for work as a carpenter, only he wasn’t really looking. None of us are. All he did was talk and smoke my cigarettes. And so I left.

Later I walked by Fritzel’s in the French Quarter and heard Terrence Blanchard inside. I couldn’t afford the ticket. But he was brilliant for those fifteen seconds I hung around before the big goons came out to sweep the sidewalk clean of transients. And so it goes. Chickory coffee and two beignets at Café Du Monde for buck-ninety and some lonely soul at midnight telling me how beignets ought to be made with cottonseed oil and how chicory was developed by the French during their civil war because coffee was scarce during those times, and they found that chicory added body and flavor to the brew.
–The Acadians from Nova Scotia brought this taste and many other French customs to Louisiana…
I cross faded him with…I couldn’t. He was adamant.
–Chickory is the root of the endive plant…
I couldn’t make him stop. He wanted fifty cents for his history lesson.
–Don’t have fifty cents.
–How ’bout a dollar?
And that got him to walk away and start in all over again at a table of well-fed, nocturnal warrior-tourists. Always something for sale in every bloody town. Always. Cute little black kids tap dancing on the corner: 75 cents. Man blowing into a rusty sax needs a new reed: dollar. Man with box of shoe polish and brushes:
–Skew me. Skew me, sir, you dropped somethin’
–What?
–You dropped your shine!
Deluxe job on the go with wax and moisture protection: Five twenty-five.
Shit, son…people got to make a living.

I took the streetcar back up St. Charles and jumped off at Josephine. There was a group of frat boys pissing on the side of a building, laughing and screaming something about going backdoor on some girl one of them had met, and how much she’d like it from all of them. Nothing ever changes. People are mostly shit to one another. Even the cockroaches exploit the other cockroaches. I went to my room, sat at the table in the dark and turned on the radio. They were playing The Blue Danube waltz; von Karajan conducting.

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10 Responses to “Saints”

  1. momentofchoice 22/04/2008 at 8:20 PM #

    i may be slightly biased but this is so much more fulfilling than the book i am currently not (but should be) reading.

  2. (S)wine 22/04/2008 at 9:48 PM #

    at the very least, it kills a good, fast couple of minutes; more than i can say for the aforementioned book, which somehow manages to pass time in the most excruciating way.

  3. zombieswan 23/04/2008 at 12:03 AM #

    I like it! I love N’awlins. I heard that a conference I need to attend is going to be there in ’09. Paper on Tarot & Yeats. Coolness. Haven’t been there in a long time.

    “Betcha I can tell ya where ya gotcher shoes”
    “You got em on Bourbon street”….

    Biegnets. mmmmm. Powdered sugar all over the place and good Cafe Au Lait. Mmmmmmmmmm.

    Lazy, lazy heat. Wandering looking at antiques. The pawn shop with a white signed guitar and the label Signed by rock group “Nirvana”. Nirvana in quotes, as though “ironic.” :)

    Sigh. One of the reasons I stalk you is this kind of prose.

  4. (S)wine 23/04/2008 at 2:31 AM #

    you don’t really stalk me, though. i know. i am paranoid and look over my shoulder all the time. all i see is a couple of guys with fedora hats and trenchcoats…they all look like Ed Harris. the hell could that be?

  5. Slyboots 23/04/2008 at 5:46 AM #

    Probably Jackson Pollock. Or at least his ghost. Saying, “watch out, son. Bad idea to drink and drive. Bad idea to burn the fuck out so blasted young. Coulda held on and made a shitton of money on those paintings- have you seen what they fucking auction at? Shit.”

    Did you know that his wife played a lesbianish character in “Streets of Fire?” Now THAT’s the kind of info I collect neither by choice nor by inclination. Cheers.

  6. (S)wine 23/04/2008 at 7:25 AM #

    sly, i do. i like amy madigan.
    she also played peggy guggeneim in pollock.
    cheers back.

  7. Erin O'Brien 23/04/2008 at 7:16 PM #

    You are a good writer.

    Now I think it’s about time I tried a Ham on Rye.

  8. (S)wine 23/04/2008 at 7:18 PM #

    thank you.
    indeed.
    some of us miss Hank terribly.

  9. Rachel 26/04/2008 at 8:00 AM #

    More proof that the we humans are a disaster. Good intentions perhaps but inevitably a rotting cesspool.

    And then there’s nova scotia and the blue danube, leaving me with a couple of lighthouses; glimmers of hope.

  10. (S)wine 27/04/2008 at 5:22 AM #

    glimmers, yes. only glimmers.
    never been to nova; sounds beautiful and calm and kind.
    maybe one day.

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