Home Travel Stories Destinations DESERT OLDS Part 10 New Orleans, LA
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Written by Magnus King
Saturday, 11 August 2012 21:18

DESERT OLDS Part 10 New Orleans, LA

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Writing and photography copyright Double Dragon One Owner Collector Car Ltd.

Once the swamps recede Interstate 10 drops down off concrete stilts to run flat on the ground cutting a path through thick green foliage. A sign flashed past. Martin exclaimed,

"New Orleans city limits!"

The little travel clock on the Cutlass dashboard shelf read 1:19 PM. The two lines of grayish concrete leading us through dense jungle started to rise up off the ground again. Our side of the interstate split off into a separate curve high up like a rollercoaster angling to the right and climbing higher up on concrete stilts. As we sped above the city Martin remarked,

"I guess the highway is elevated due to New Orleans being below sea level. A good flood could swamp every road in town."

Traffic flow halted. We crept down into one lane for the first of two police cordoned off areas we encountered as we entered the city. The first situation was not a car accident but some kind of shootout. Yellow police tape was everywhere. As the highway came within view of a metal bridge spanning the Mississippi, we took the St. Charles Street off ramp to our right.

The ramp dropped us a hundred feet under the Interstate into a new world. Grass grew out of the crumbling sidewalk. Faded worn and torn streets flashed past like a crinkled color photo aged to caramel sepia by time. Rough roads pounded the normally smooth riding Cutlass. We gingerly crawled over bashing and crashing potholes and gaping holes full of loose broken up slabs of road concrete.

desertolds-NOLA streetcar st charles

The streetcar on our left paced us in the grass 'neutral zone' where the tracks ran between the lanes of St Charles. Once the streetcar passed on, we U- turned over the tracks doubling back under the Interstate to Lee Circle then headed to the French Quarter.

Lush low hanging trees bordered the road. Well kept ornate houses sat alongside bombed out shells of formerly luxurious large homes. New Orleans also has many old churches still standing.

desertolds-NOLA carondelet st church

We crossed Canal Street and entered the French Quarter and crawled into backed up traffic. Old ornate balconies and elaborate ironwork surrounded us. About the middle of the Quarter some plainclothes cops busting drug dealers inspired me to get directions. An officer wearing a Hawaiian shirt, his badge hanging loose on a chain above his stomach explained,

"Wahl, you fellows need to cah-rry ahn up this street past Burr-gund-ah and I belieeeve thar is some kahnd of hostel down on Bouh-bahn."

He returned to overseeing his drug bust. We thanked him and tried to decipher what exactly 'Burr-gund-ah' and 'Bouh-bahn' meant. Martin the language man came to the conclusion the words were 'Burgundy' and 'Bourbon'. We found Bourbon Street covered by a whole whack of drunken heat befuddled tourists wandering about in a daze, but no hostel. Someone directed us back the way we had just come from to Marquette House, an international hostel.

Retracing our route out of the Quarter back to St. Charles we found the hostel. The hostel was on Carondelet, a block above St. Charles counting away from the Mississippi River. We were already thinking in terms of the river. No one uses North or South here. Roads twist and turn along the shores of the river and flip about like a run over snake contorting in a death agony.

Beneath a huge tree, the sidewalk erupted upwards from a paving stone split in half by the roots. The root skewed the road, pavement buckling upwards, lifting the Cutlass into a weird angle. A steel gate opened to the main entrance of a large house converted into a hostel. Our room on the second floor ended Martin's journey. He sunk onto his bunk bed, everything taken out of him. I went out to explore while he slept.

One of the nicknames for New Orleans is the Big Easy, but this doesn't apply to navigation. All streets including major thoroughfares change direction constantly, some even bend back upon themselves. I was banging around the city like the silver ball in a pinball machine, this way and that way.

An infinite vista of ghetto squalor unfolded through the windows... baleful glaring black guys on decaying porches of faded houses falling apart. Miles of guys with dead eyes, beer in hand in rotting houses fronted by crashed up rusty cars with multiple colored panels from junkyard fixes, caved in on every surface. The "Raw Ass Motherfucking Cutlass" looked like a new car compared to these junkheaps. The mystery of why cars only 10 years old were totally thrashed was quickly revealed. No one here knows how to drive. Aside from the immediate experience of dodging fools making moron maneuvers, further evidence of rampant stupidity on the roads was abundant in the form of abandoned cars crashed into poles and mashed into cement medians.

I rumbled through two University districts and discovered that even here there was no solid 'safe' ground. Dilapidated drug dens sat side by side with perfectly maintained old money family homes. The projects were something else again. One second it was residential, then you suddenly dropped off into miles of projects... mattresses, sinks, plumbing, couches... you name it, it was in the road... giant holes in the street... abandoned burnt out cars torched to bare blackened metal... I half expected to see tanks advancing... this is a the middle of a war... in the street gang guys milling about with gun butts sticking out of their pants belts... gold toothed guys swarming the car trying to sell me drugs...

Along the river I cruised past vacant lots grown over with grass six feet high bordering abandoned buildings... businesses long lost... a water tower made of wood sticking up out of foliage... I kept driving through this mess... it seemed like some kind of science fiction post nuclear holocaust... back under the highway heading towards the Quarter the scene reverted from chaos into a core of high rise business buildings where locals with jobs and tourists mixed on the streets in a tranquil slow motion stroll. Canal street was reminiscent of Market Street in San Francisco with a mix of cars, pedestrians, streetcars and even cops on horseback.

Decay and degeneration scales back to sane levels downtown. It was safe to walk around. Business men in suspenders draped their jackets over their arms as they exited air conditioned buildings. Most smoked cigars and walked slowly, mainly interested in the conversations they were holding, less so in going somewhere. The famous laissez faire attitude in evidence everywhere. No frenzied walkers, honking cars or hustle bustle.

Just a short distance up from the river out of the Central Business District, I found a supermarket. Cops stood tensely, alert hands wrapped around their gun handles in holsters that were undone in readiness, eyes watching. The stance and eyes would fit right into the final showdown close-ups of a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. Cop cars sat right up on the entrance way facing outwards.

At first I thought something big had happened, but the cops informed me that this was routine. Gun battle readiness is just a normal state of mind here. Robberies are so common here it requires teams of cops to guard supermarkets in shifts 24 hours a day every day of the year. Dusk settled as I ate dinner in the parking lot: a can of tuna and some fruit.

I headed back to the Quarter. I found parking just South of Rampart street about the middle of the Quarter. The dark street was ominous and quiet, skirted by a few black guys lingering. Large projects on the other side of Rampart disgorge shady guys lurking in the quarter looking for an opportunity... warily watching. They set my alert into hyper mode.

Just a few blocks deeper into the Quarter towards the river it is loud and busy. Up down and around, Bourbon Street never stops. Very much like an amusement park. A neon sign simply says 'Sex Act'... this is the name of a bar. Strip joints and bars. A girl on a trapeze partially visible through a window opening into the street, next door to a 25 cent porno movie bar. Millions of discarded plastic cups and crowds filling street and sidewalks enjoying the novelty of drinking in the streets.

I escape the crowd. Observing some people on a side street opening a green door with peeling paint I follow. The door opens into a courtyard. At the far end of the open courtyard stairs lead to The Dungeon bar, insulated from the noise, relaxed. It was quiet here away from the madness. I relaxed into in the mellow New Orleans local social scene, immersed in alcohol and meandering chat. There were quite a few drag queens in the bar. New Orleans has a huge gay party scene much like other ocean/ port towns. There were drugs on offer in this bar but it seemed the majority of people were just serious dedicated drunks. I got out on the roof and took a shot of the flurry of activity of Bourbon Street with the Central Business District skyscrapers in the background.

desertolds-NOLA-bourbon street roof

Eventually returning to finish exploring loud hectic Bourbon Street I covered its length in twenty minutes. Seen it all and seen enough. I head Riverward, into relaxed bars. So easy to go in and out of bars here. The shutter doors and windows wide open to the street. Similar to the way you can't separate the water in a river into portions the bars are joined to the streets, all one piece. Cheap drinks everywhere.

Down at the Mississippi River the smelly dark murk that is the river laps at the shore where period style paddle wheelers are moored. Entertainers and buskers entertained tourists despite the late hour in Jackson Square. I started floating with groups, tagging into various bars in clusters of people, joining and easily detaching again like a flower floating in a river... currents taking me up and down streets...

Music playing too loud, everyone yelling, a slim blonde girl in bare feet at the bar curving herself forwards on her barstool, pushing her ass out to accentuate it, flirty eyeing me, drunk big time trouble, two loose pointy perky tits in a v neck cut baggy billowing tank top... everyone's eyes following each jiggling movement as she animatedly twists and turns on her barstool exchanging stories with the barmaid.

I stop, drop into a table talking to tourist girls... properly English drunks, despite alcohol haze... they view this as a movie on a screen... Nawlins seeping into my skin, I'm with it, still trying to avoid the crazy girl at bar, her eyes keep finding me.

I'm too drunk to know what the English girls are going on about, they are analyzing, in control, thinking, thinking, thinking... drinking, drinking, drinking they keep my vodkas coming...then shooters... i can see the wheels turning but can't hear the words coming out of their mouths, I can't answer, the blonde at the bar is smiling, I try to look away but keep watching her body vibrating always moving.

One of my English friends is doubled over in the gutter puking. Still talking between heaves. Rational even while the body rebels. The mind erroneously believes that it asserts control over the body which always wins. The English girl's body overrode her logic with spasmodic emphasis as she contorted over and over. She furiously screamed at solicitous onlookers,

"Let me alone!"

All over the Quarter people are puking outside bars. The English girls stay inside while the friend retches miserably outside. The taxi arrives. They are staying in a nice hotel and expect my call tomorrow "no later than ten." I try to memorize the hotel name.

My eyes lock with the blonde.

I remind myself of my 'no drunk girls' rule,

"Barefoot drunk girl... she'll waste your night, she'll end up crying for hours or start a fight you have to finish..."

My mind runs through the standard scenarios that come with these girls, but I don't care, I'm one with the energy and New Orleans is not about rational strategy. Sitting with the crazy hillbilly blonde babe at the bar letting her stream of consciousness life story pour over me I'm relaxing into it. Drinks keep appearing... she's a barmaid... Brenda... age twenty two... a local born and raised Louisiana girl... out on the bayou... came to the big city... drunk, wild and exuberant. Up close she's a hurricane.

The drinks keep coming room is swirling, who is paying? On the house? She is arguing with someone... here it comes... but it is anticlimactic... jostling and yelling, then some girl is shoving her, then they are down on the floor. In NOLA crazy drunk cat fighting is an everyday occurrence... she is barred... gently Southern charm style... kicked out but not so you would know it... helped out the door... I'm escorted out with her, not roughly, just guided....

"See she gets home OK, and have yourselves a good night..."

Stumbling with Brenda to her place in the Quarter I am reminded of the end scene in ANGEL HEART where Mickey Rourke is going to hell down the freight elevator into a pit... above us, a big metal rusted fan turns slowly in a hole in the brick wall above our heads... i could swear this is the same wall they used in that movie which was filmed in New Orleans but I'm too drunk to recall the title of the film much less enunciate the idea I'm having as I teeter with her wrapped around my torso... long kiss... some dark street towards Canal end of Quarter...

Her place. In the door, then partway through the lobby I fall backwards into the metal mailboxes. CRASH! A door opens with a chain on it... Asian girl with blank expression looking. I right myself and get lost in her eyes. She closes her door. 1A. Brenda pulls me up the steps curved and worn, creaking and twisting upon themselves to second floor.

Brenda's place faces the dark street, not the river. A small metal fire escape behind ornate wrought iron balcony. A few plants in pots... washing on the line drooping hanging flat in the humid air. Distant voices, hubbub of Quarter bars and people stumbling on street riverward of us by a block... I turn back to see Brenda slowly undressing... the light from outside highlighting her body... shadows show her curves under smooth soft skin... darkness swells up and then drops into valleys along her torso.... cigarette glow in her mouth as she drags on it... hot thick air washes through the room. A ceiling fan above us vibrates in wobbly circles... I go to her... sensuous sex washes me away into another world... she is liquid and graceful... all the drunken harshness is gone... we're in the bed, seems like we ride the wave forever... then we fall, fall, fall... blissfully floating...

I jerk awake, the room spins. She is passed out still as a stone but snoring loudly... I look at the night sky out the window. Quarter noises continue. Moving her small thin velvety soft body onto its side to try and stop the snoring fails utterly. She snorts angry, thrashing, flops onto her back again. Mumbling garbled drunk half coherent... then out cold and snoring again. No way to sleep here.

I write a note to Brenda with the name of our new home, the hostel which I have yet to actually sleep at. I use a magnet to attach the address onto the old 1950s fridge. I stand staring past the round edged fridge with art deco style handle at Brenda in the other room. Then out the apartment dizzily descending the stairs, still drunk, slowly quietly making my way through the landing.

1A opens again. The Asian girl. Chain still on. Looking.

"Sorry if I woke you when I tripped."

The Asian girl just smiles, no response. But she keeps looking at me. I keep looking back trying to focus my eyes as her eyes seemed to fluctuate and turn at the center of a whirling vortex of drunken insanity.

"You are friends with Brenda?"

Her voice is so soft. I move forwards to catch it, automatically dropping my own voice to a whisper. Even this blitzed I recognize her attempt to create an opening. I'm so drunk I can't take her line and make it go. I barely get out an answer,

"Yes".

She keeps looking. It's dark. Hard to see what is happening in those dark eyes half slit leading down to a very sensuous mouth. I watch her lips move,

"I'm Crystal."

The lobby is pulsing and warping, but I smile and introduce myself. I hear my voice reverberating around the lobby as if it was a distant movie soundtrack laid atop chaos... I ask if she was sleeping when we crashed into the lobby. She shook her head,

"No."

She held up a finger,

"Wait."

She returns to hand me a business card through the chained door. The card is for a t-shirt tourist trap along the river.

"Come see. I work Wednesdays."

We both smiled. The strange little interlude ended when she closed the door to 1A.

Back out in The Quarter I was drunk, swaying and could barely walk back up the street.

"Where the hell is the car?"

I flop down on a barstool...

"Can I have a glass of water, please?"

A breeze runs through from one corner of an intersection open to all sides... the place is still hopping with people... close to Bourbon... or maybe actually on Bourbon... is this the corner of Bourbon? i don't know where I am... Get my bearings. I already know to look to the river to get my baseline set. But who cares where i am,

"I'M HERE!"

Everyone turns. I scream it again louder, laughing... The tourists set up shots before me,

One of them yells,

"A toast to HERE!"

The tourists drink with gusto ordering round after round... I'm integral to each round, included in the toasts and yelling and backslapping. The drinking escalates, every few seconds we're downing another.... so damned drunk... carried along with it all.

Why do I call them tourists? Why do they all think I live here? I don't have a Southern accent or molasses slow mannerisms. But there is another type of person that lives here; the rebel at the end of the line. That is the person they see. Just like Vancouver, everyone ends up here in New Orleans. Port towns are the last stop for people on the roam, never satisfied, seekers... soon we were talking to the end of the line adventurers living in Nawlins. I met Florida fugitives on the lam, sailors who jumped ship, ex cops now stone alcoholics, strange conspiracy types... you name it.

My new friends one by one crawl out into the street to puke and moan. One of them lay in fetal position passed out when the taxi came. We lifted him up into the back seat. I have an inhuman ability to resist puking, but could feel the saliva building in mouth, the roaring wash of sound blasting me, dizzy, a prelude to puking, the nausea bending you forwards... I resisted...

"I am made of iron... I am so strong..."

Temporary respite. I sat utterly motionless breathing slowly. A second wave crashed over me. A sudden sheet of sweat covered my entire body... this is it... I relaxed and used will power,

"I can roll with the punch... everything is flowing... it flows through me... I'm with everything... don't fight... ride over it... I'm with it..."

After riding it out and successfully suppressing the strong attempt to eject I bought myself twenty minutes before the process will rise again. If I stop drinking and inject a lot of water into my system now the alcohol might dilute and get metabolized down just enough to spare me the next wave altogether. Despite being drunker than anyone has any right to be, I'm not a true party sportsman. Partiers drink to stay up with the gang turning the whole thing into a contest. I only drink to augment the mood and to relax my tight muscles. I hate getting sick.

I'm suddenly heavy tired, head on my forearms which are resting on the bar.

"Just for a second."

Pow. I was out. A hand on my forearm. The barmaid. i looked up. It wasn't night anymore. The bar was vibrating quickly buzzing in my eyes. Lines squiggled wavering in an energy fever pitch...

Blue dawn was starting up with that hungry nausea adrenaline feeling in my stomach. A strange feeling of dread but also of safety as the black receded. Night madness drained out of the place as daytime energy pushed me out the door like a vampire. I have to get home. Imperative.

"That sure was some night you had."

She laughed, shaking her head at the memory of it. I nodded affirmative. A little fan whirled on the bar; looking at it made me so dizzy I almost fell over. I looked away.

The Quarter is a very dirty place. The heat stench of rotten food and garbage and tourist puke is intense. My head was starting to clear... looking back into the bar from the street, almost everyone from the night was gone. The bar stays open twenty four hours a day. Two guys sat there staring, zombified by alcohol too tired to get out barely able to stay on the stools rooted to the spot, blank, dazed.... the barmaid smiled at me as I said 'good night' which seems a silly thing to say in the morning.

The car was still there just below Rampart. Back at the hostel Martin was a motionless lump under his blanket. A few tourists occupied the other bunks. My bunk was the bottom one. A ceiling fan whirred away in concert with an old air conditioning unit churning somewhat unsuccessfully against the humidity. I dropped into a coma on my bunk fully clothed at 6:45 AM. I was one with New Orleans. I had let go of myself and let it seep inside me. I was here.

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Noon.

Hungover.

Tourists eating in the kitchen area of the hostel. Martin and I ate cereal while lunch preparing people bustled about us.

I drove Martin to Kelly Temp Services downtown to see if he could land himself a job. Boiling hot and humid. I watched him slowly pace his way up the street vainly attempting to avoid sweating in his immaculate suit.

I cruised slowly up Canal Street. Canal is a bit like Market Street in San Francisco. Streetcar lines, car lanes, sidewalks, cops on horseback all made their way along this giant wide street. Old high rises and ornate department store buildings lined the way.

I wove the labyrinth looking for Brenda's house. The Quarter is different in daylight while sober. The Quarter is not that big, and I knew vaguely where her place was... learning the layout of the Quarter was useful, but I couldn't locate Brenda's building. Backtracking to the river I couldn't even figure out which bar I'd met her in.

Crystal's business card had an actual address printed on it which led me to a hole in the wall t-shirt place on Decatur. Ugly gray perforated pressboard festooned with t-shirt hooks. Garish t-shirts with randy or stupid slogans related to NOLA covered the walls. In the middle of the room postcards, coffee mugs and some other knickknacks depressed the hell out of me. Pointless dross gets to me when I'm hungover. Crystal wasn't there.

"Is today Wednesday?"

An old woman behind the counter started laughing. She confirmed that it was Wednesday. Little did she know that this was a vast improvement over the total lack of time sense that Martin and I honed on the road. I overheard Martin on the pay phone yesterday telling the temp agency he was coming on a Wednesday. If not for that I wouldn't have been able to even guess the day of the week at all. I asked about Crystal.

"She's usually here on Wednesdays. She'll be here next week. Next Wednesday."

My camera didn't work. In the camera shop on Dauphine, they informed me that my camera shutter was jammed because of the extreme humidity here. A sharp rap brought the mechanical shutter back to life.

I hadn't done any hard exercise since the night I did pushups in the desert back on Route 666. The camera guys directed me to a free community center on Rampart which 'might' have weights. I went there. The guy said they were closed and sent me up through Louis Armstrong park to another community center. The park had old fountains and remnants of a nice park starting to fade out a bit, but still resisting the total decay affecting most places in NOLA.

Great big huddles of black guys sitting on worn out 1950s style kitchen chairs on street corners drinking beer and chatting confirmed I was going the right way. The building was just about deserted inside. The few guys inside did a double take when I walked in. I was the first white guy they had seen enter the building. Ever.

I was told by the guy in charge that the weight room was open whenever the guy with the keys showed up. No regular hours. So much for that. Then I noticed a free public pool. The guy said if I came back after six, someone would have unlocked it by then. Back at the hostel Martin lounged on his bunk reading. We made a spaghetti 'dinner' in the hostel kitchen. No sauce. Just bare noodles and two tiny pieces of steamed broccoli.

I drove back to the Louis Armstrong Park and noted that every car on the street there had multiple colored junkyard body panels replete with dents and caved in parts, weird little space saver spares being used as a regular tire and other Mickey Mouse 'fixes'. Inside the community center there was still no one up at the weight room. I swam a few laps of the pool all on my own. Absolutely no one took advantage of a completely free pool. A few guys played basketball in the gym but mostly, the people living here were sitting on chairs on street corners drinking and bullshitting.

I went to a park to do some chin-ups on the monkey bars and instantly attracted a small group of black kids who emulated the chin-ups and dips. They stared closely at my light blue eyes. They hadn't seen a white person close up before and kept comparing their forearms and palms with mine.

Back at the hostel around 9 PM the night was set to wind itself down quietly. Then everything exploded.

A supercharged vixen kitten blonde stalked into the kitchen with a swagger obliterating all possibility of anything other than her,

"I'm Arabella",

Her voice was low, flat and heavily accented. Arabella oozed with sex appeal underlain with a tinge of arrogance and detachment. Her sister, Dora was a very beautiful girl, but simply eclipsed by her younger sister's charisma. Charisma aside, Arabella is very petite with movie starlet sex bomb curves. Dora's hourglass figure is slightly less exaggerated but scintillating enough to dominate any room, except one occupied by her sister.

It must have been frustrating for Dora to have her fire stolen constantly, but over the next few days we discovered that Dora was above pettiness or jealousy. The girls had just arrived at the hostel after a tour through much of USA. They left their hometown of Stuttgart, Germany in the middle of the previous month to travel before resuming school studies. I mentioned that the Space Needle in Seattle was designed to emulate the Stuttgart tower.

"Yes, we know about that."

Memphis and Graceland were the highlight for them. Elvis' time in Germany created an impact that lasts to this day. Arabella is an ardent Elvis fan. Martin came down from the room just in time for my suggestion,

"Let's go for a drink in the French Quarter."

The night clerk at the hostel recommended taking a taxi to and from the front door of the hostel for safety reasons. New Orleans had recently edged out Miami as the murder capitol of USA. The clerk further discouraged driving; stating emphatically that we would never, ever find anywhere to park in the Quarter.

I acted like a big man tour guide despite having only a day's lead-in ahead of the others. My day and night cruising around NOLA taught me precisely how to get anywhere in this disorienting labyrinth. I pulled the Cutlass into one of the several free parking spots in my cache. Parking in the heart of the Quarter despite mobs of tourists descending on this small square from all over the world choked with no parking zones was indeed impressive. Free parking was nothing short of miraculous since the rare open spot usually had a parking meter.

Dora pointed to the door of Pat O'Brien's bar right on Bourbon Street,

"I want to try the Hurricane drink."

In we went. The main courtyard area was very well kept with lush plants and ornate metal tables and chairs. The orange-ish Hurricane drinks were served in large glasses with the bar logo on them. It was mainly rum and ice- not bad on a hot night.

The girls were proud of the German education system. They spoke several languages.

"No one from North America could get a decent job in Europe knowing only one language."

They were math geniuses and up to snuff in most subjects you cared to mention. Neither Martin or I cared to mention. We were both in a trance watching the girl's hot bodies turning this way and that way in their chairs. Dora was fondling the smooth yellow amber stone in the necklace sitting on my chest. Her other hand supported her weight resting on my shoulder. I felt a giant wave of heat from her and for her. She was sexy and this was a sure thing. I just had to let it unfold naturally, but I didn't want to go with the flow. There was something about Arabella besides her obvious knockout build that kept me looking sidelong at her.

I was now about to make things difficult for everyone by holding out for Arabella who might be forced to resist due to the political complications of Dora having already demonstrated her interest. I could lose both of them on this course. I had to walk this tightrope pretty carefully. In my head I tried to set myself straight,

"You like Dora and if it wasn't for her sister this would be a done deal. Besides she's already set you on the path all you have to do is ride with it. You could make things easier for everyone this way."

But I kept allowing my glance to steal over to Arabella. Back in Las Vegas I had followed the path of least resistance with Pilar instead of forcing my hand with the waitress I was originally flirting with. This time I was going to hold the course. It was better for everyone if I took the difficult path in this delicate scenario.

None of the looks and interactions had escaped Martin's notice and he looked off into space for a second after showing a flicker of a smirk, knowing that things were racing headlong towards deep convolution as usual.

We toured around Bourbon Street and then drifted riverward. After some more drinks we got in the car for a ride around town. I had found these viaducts the night before. Martin and Dora were left engaged in a formal discussion while I stole Arabella away. She was a bit careful around Dora but once we were out of sight she moved up against me. I kissed her. She responded and we passionately made out for a few minutes. She looked over her shoulder peering into the gloom where we left Dora,

"We should get back."

We rejoined the others acting casually but the die had been cast. From that point Arabella didn't conceal the attraction between us. It was just accepted.

Back at the hostel the girls bade us goodnight. I crashed out for a chaste night around 2:30 AM satisfied that I had managed to get things on track with Arabella without angering Dora.

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The first thing I heard next morning was Martin's voice. Then the girl's voices drifted in from outside our door. Dora and Arabella stood on the narrow uneven sloped balcony hemmed in by foliage. Without having actually contemplated anything I rattled a list of some things off the top of my head to occupy the day which pleased the girls. That bar hopping and talking to locals about the city in my first night here provided a storehouse of knowledge about a place that I knew virtually nothing about until yesterday.

We started at the St. Louis Cemetery Number 1 which is the oldest of the above ground cemeteries. Most of New Orleans is below sea level which makes it tricky to bury people in the conventional fashion; hence above ground crypts. In the movie Easy Rider the two travelers took a pair of hookers to a cemetery during an acid trip. Aside from lack of acid and the fact that these girls weren't charging us, it seemed fitting to visit so soon after our arrival.

The grave of Marie Laveau the famous voodoo priestess was decorated with incense, X marks, flowers and small animal bones. My Contax camera which uses an electronic shutter refused to take a picture of the grave. I changed the batteries but it remained frozen. Martin warned,

"Don't try to tell me this camera screwup is related to voodoo."

The girls seemed to be amenable to this explanation but it was likely the humidity again. The shutter in my mechanical camera had frozen yesterday because of it. This time the mechanical camera worked and I got my shot.

My senses were heightened the whole time we were in the cemetery. During my drinking frenzy in the Quarter the barmaid had told me that ghetto dwellers routinely jumped the walls to the cemetery which bordered the projects and robbed or killed tourists. One gang had been brazen enough to hold up an entire bus load of 50 tourists at once. No safety in numbers. People getting killed for video cameras or jewelry. Despite that ominous knowledge lurking in the back of my mind I was able to frolic about the cemetery with Arabella. Walking around the Quarter we slipped into doorways frequently to make out then rejoined Martin and Dora.

Martin was enthralled by New Orleans despite his hatred of humidity and the sun which were in superabundance here. After years of pooh poohing any talk of destiny or fate he sounded like he had succumbed,

'I feel as if I was meant to be here."

I nodded and resisted the urge to tease him about his newfound mystical tone. To the girls and I this seemed to be a magical place but also a temporary oasis between adventures and travel. But it was more for Martin. He was 'home'.

Arabella doused me with cool water from a fountain, rubbing the water all over my sweaty torso. She somehow managed to remain 'cool' in 100 plus degree weather. Her composure and slow deliberate moves radiated confidence and casual mastery of her surroundings. Of course none of this came to mind for anyone on a conscious level. The way she rolled along the street the only thing on anyone's mind was what a knockout she was. Red face bedraggled wheezing sweating exhausted tourists plodded about fanning themselves and stopped dead still in their tracks to gape at Arabella as she floated along imperturbably fresh and gorgeous.

Back in our former lifetimes in Vancouver Martin and I were given the name of a girl named Rocket who worked at Checkpoint Charlies in the Quarter. We didn't find Checkpoint Charlies but then again we hadn't looked up the address or anything so pedantic as that. If it appeared as part our continuity with the universe then it was meant to appear. Random strolling about ate the day up right till dinnertime. A storm came at dinner but the broiling heat made it a warm rain. The air filled with the scent of dust as the big fat drops of rain hit the dry ground. The heat dissipated any sign of the rain almost instantly after it ceased.

After dinner the girls asked,

'Can we go look for more cemeteries?"

We didn't find any but the random driving eventually led us back to the Quarter where I found a parking spot right in front of a battered sun blasted 1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass 4 door sedan. This twin to our car was green with factory A/C visible in the dash, otherwise exactly like our car. Even Martin who is oblivious to cars actually noted the fact of its existence,

'Well this raw ass mo-fo Cutlass appears to be even more raw assed than our raw assed mo-fuckin Cutlass. I wonder how many of these raw ass mo-fuckin cutlasses are in the city of New Orleans right now? I would wager a guess that the number is pretty low."

"Most of the 4 door posts have been crushed. We've been on the road for months and I also drove around at night, too... and the only other 1960s Cutlass I saw was that 1966 Cutlass in Oklahoma. That one wasn't even the same year as ours and it was a 2 door."

The girls wanted to try drinks named Cherry Bombs. I sipped Arabella's sickly sweet drink and stuck to my vodka Greyhounds. A strong drink should be somewhat bitter. That's my taste. Women should be sweet, though. And our two girls certainly were. They were incredibly low maintenance girls who enjoyed roaming about with us. Martin and I toasted one another in a bar somewhere on Bourbon Street congratulating ourselves on our successes so far.

Several Voodoo shops were open late at night playing up the drama with dry ice fog hanging over the entrance. We rounded out the night in Preservation Hall where the musicians kept a groove going despite being harassed by tourist flashbulbs. As we left the echo of the song 'It's a Wonderful World' drifted up along the street behind us.

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The next morning Martin had a job interview. I dropped him off in his suit into the strangely incongruent world of business and straightness among all this flow and lassitude. While Martin gave the right answers I raced back to my hostel room to steal some precious private alone time with Arabella.

Once all four of us were back together we cruised around Highway 61, then took River Road to cross the Huey Long Bridge over the Mississippi River. At the junction of 310 there was a huge railyard and further along we found a giant old mansion along the river. Destrehan Plantation had Weeping willow branches hung low over the well maintained property which centered around a well preserved old house. Later we discovered another historic mansion on St. Charles street but it was closed to visitors today.

It was a very hot humid day with the bugs and hardly any breeze from the river. Back in town I decided it was time for a cooling swim and took everyone to the ghetto community center at Treme. The girls and I swam while Martin hung back and waited. Being underwater with everything except our heads out of sight made for some flirting, fondling and general making out and not a hell of a lot of swimming.

I wanted to find the address from the play Streetcar Named Desire where Stanley Kowalski supposedly lived: 632 Elysian Fields. There were no streetcars here nor the house with the balcony. There was a barbershop nearby. We also stumbled on the bar Checkpoint Charlie's but Rocket was no longer there.

'Go to B.J.'s on Lessup and Burgundy."

Everyone was tired of walking. A pickup truck full of partiers paced us in the snail pace traffic jam. Anywhere these hot two girls were people began talking. Soon we were all heading to the center of the Quarter in back of the pickup truck. Despite the blazing heat two of the guys were wearing expensive suits which they took care not to sully on the sides of the pickup bed. They passed joints around as the truck slowly crawled through languid traffic to the action.

After another round of bars with our new found acquaintances the girls were worn out and wanted to go home. Back at the hostel Martin wanted to read.

I headed back out alone. The pickup truck partiers had told me about the University district uptown which I had briefly crossed through in my marathon ramble my first night in town. This time I approached it systematically and got a feel for this refined Southern area. Soon the area devolved into a Mexican cantina kind of ambiance which quickly became full a scale rough area. I was back in the thick of things and decided to not press my luck.

I went back to the French Quarter and did the rounds of the quieter bars up near Rampart instead of down by the river. Up here less tourists meant lower priced drinks. Everything is easy and simpler in New Orleans. Drinks are cheap, food is cheap and things are informal.

I bounced around through some strip joints mercifully free of the frenetic hassle and massive money drain that is the usual hallmark of a strip joint. Like everything in New Orleans things were loose and easy. Strip joints aren't high pressure 'clip joints' here. The girls came to tables to hustle customers of course but not in an aggressive draining manner. It was casual.

'Want a lap dance?"

"Nah, I'm OK, thanks.'

The small brunette nodded without annoyance and continued her rounds. After 10 minute she was back.

'I'm Carol.'

She drank steadily while the other girls danced. She had a terrific body and an OK face. Not a beauty queen but something about her was enticing. She chatted about her life from a small town and how she ended up in New Orleans 2 years ago when she was only 17.

"I was mistaken."

The finality of her explanation shut down further inquiry. It also reminded her of what she was drinking to forget which escalated her drinking pace into a frenzy. Keeping up wreaked havoc on my intention to avoid getting wasted. She indicated to the bartender to refill me whenever she got a new drink. I appreciated the free drinks but they were starting to pummel me down in my seat at a crazy pace. Considering her petite frame it was impossible for her to process all that alcohol and be capable of getting back up on stage when it was her turn to dance. The bartender seemed unworried about this massive consumption. He had apparently seen her doing it regularly.

Defying the laws of nature she got up on stage doing some acrobatic moves with perfect coordination. Serious drunks can maintain motor function despite being blitzed. There's another breed of drunk who maintain a normal outward appearance until the alcohol suddenly hits them all at once. I wasn't sure which of those types she might be but once she buckled down into heavy drinking I began trying to disengage.

It was far too late for that now. She clung to my arm and convinced me to see her back to her hotel safely. She also murmured sweet somethings in my ear as further enticement. She was cute enough to hook me into waiting out the night until her shift was over. I also justified the long wait by reminding myself of the great sex I'd had with Brenda. I had broken my 'no drunks' rule with Brenda and she had magically transformed that night into a beautiful thing when the door closed. Maybe my rule should be suspended in New Orleans. So went my rationalization. Libido is the cause of so many wasted nights.

Carol's hotel key was attached to a blue plastic square that had once had the hotel's name embossed on it but it was worn smooth. Carol couldn't remember the name of her hotel but 'knew where it was'. In a replay of the stupid night I endured back in Tulsa, Oklahoma we drove around lost until sunrise. I hadn't completely mastered this city yet and her vague confused directions sent us into stupid endless aggravating mazes. Makeout sessions interspersed with the directions had kept me somewhat keen but now I was done. We had driven so long that I was nearly sober again. I felt an impending hangover hovering and shut off the engine and turned to her,

"You're too drunk to realize this but we've been driving for 2 hours and we haven't gotten anywhere.'

She nodded staring at me trying to focus her eyes and mind.

"We're just driving in circles. The gas tank is down near empty. You can come back to my hostel with me and we can try to find your hotel when you're sober tomorrow.'

She shook her head,

'NO! Not a dorm! I want us to be alone."

She slid across the seat and snuggled up and started kissing and caressing to emphasize this point then stared in my eyes and said,

"PRIVATE! Understand?"

I nodded and she purred and kissed me again which turned into another make out session. Then she pushed back a second and declared solemnly,

'Besides I've already paid for a whole week up front at my hotel!"

She suddenly switched gears from horny to sad and leaned her head on me. Then her unhappy tale trailed off track onto something else. Her moods whipped about like laundry on a clothesline in the wind. Now she was tired and slumped in the seat.

I ignored her half baked instructions to nowhere and came up with a new approach to this hassle. At a gas station I showed the worn out key tag from the hotel to the gas station attendant to see if the shape and color triggered a memory. I practically carried Carol to the glass. She was staggering. I held her up while the attendant tried out various names of nearby weekly hotels to see if something registered.

Finally we got somewhere when she slurred,

"YES yes that's it... that's my hotel..."

The attendant directed me to the hotel which turned out to be within a mile of the Quarter. We must have driven at least 50 miles in circles to get to this place. What a relief when her key actually turned the lock. The nightmare was over.

Inside the room she started to strip in a very seductive way that belied her wasted state. But the combination of her sloshed condition and my fatigue didn't make for a hot session. After a few minutes of action everything was over and she switched back to a monologue about her life's tragedy. What a stupid night.

It was already a new day. I was as dumb as those gamblers who lose money for hours on end hoping to finally make a score. The more you invest the harder it is to cut your losses. Too bad. Carol actually had a hot body and she was a well meaning girl. But she was also a drunk using up time as if it was something that you can get back again. Time is gone forever and my gas was run down to empty.

New Orleans or not, I broke my 'no drunks' rule so this colossal waste was my own fault. Carol probably wouldn't remember most of this long drawn out night as she slid away into oblivion. Aside from massive time waste the other hassle with chain smoking drunks is that they snore. Just like Brenda a few days earlier, this petite young girl sawed wood like a 60 year old sailor.

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My strong urge to sleep in Carol's dark hotel with the A/C whirring prevailed even after she started snoring.  I was pinned to the bed with exhaustion and tried to block out the snoring and drop into peace but it was impossible. Once outside, the sun was brilliant and forced my system to revert to wakefulness. The flip flop of modes scrambled my mind. My eyes were bleary as I drove to the hostel. Adrenalin was pumping a second wind into me smothering my fatigue.

The German girls were at the hostel with Martin in the kitchen but made no comment about my appearance. My clothes were saturated with smoke and perfume and I was rapidly becoming hungover.

After breakfast I was poised to dash upstairs and crash out. Arabella said,

"We want to see St. Louis Cemetery Number 2."

I agreed.

Was I insane?

It was ludicrous to believe that lack of sleep and backlash of booze wasn't going to hammer me with a crushing hangover. I told myself the lie that I could miraculously escape my savage destiny. Grandiose notions about my superhuman powers made me believe I was immune to the laws of reality.

In the shower upstairs I knew I was doomed. Standing under the water with my eyes closed and head pressed up against the wall I was twitching back and forth between brief sleep jags and wakefulness as every cell ached. The laws of reality didn't seem to understand that I was superhuman.

The Number 2 cemetery seems more open and spread out than the older Number 1 version. Under ordinary circumstances it would seem peaceful. The brilliant sun and my washed out fatigue made the cemetery seem distorted and strange as the acid trip from Easy Rider. My state of mind made the day seem disjointed. I didn't feel connected to the moment. Images seemed to flash into focus then morph into daydreams as my mind wandered and my body ached. I walked slowly and gingerly and wished I could crawl into one of the crypts and die. Arabella had not noticed that I was in the depths of an acute hangover.

I was struck by the contrast between Arabella and Carol. Carol had been solicitous of my feelings and even in a drunken state reacted to subtle changes in my mood. The moment my mind wandered somehow she intuited the shift inside me despite a wall of booze washing over her and changed her approach. More than anything she desired to understand and to be understood. She was seeking solace from her troubled thoughts.

Arabella was utterly independent, happy go lucky and oblivious to small changes in my behavior. She was here to experience life and wasn't worried if people 'understood' her or not. She was cavalier and oriented to action not brooding.

A tomb had the eye in the pyramid design which held my attention raptly for awhile. Then I felt Arabella's embrace from behind which brought me back to reality and ripped me out of my stupor. Her touch made me feel supercharged and alive. I turned to kiss her which then escalated into an intense session. She looked over at Martin and Dora who were awkwardly making small talk pretending not to notice us. She whispered,

"Not here!"

We snuck away from everyone else for a passionate moment. It all felt like a dream. Later as Arabella and I trailed far behind Martin and Dora I suddenly flashed on the fact we were walking on Mystery Street. What a name for a street in a place full of mystery. Walking slow with Arabella we deviated into doorways to makeout then resumed walking... steel and glass doorways old ornate doors up high steps, beaten wood doors with flaking paint. The wind blew and the sun shone. Arabella said,

"New Orleans for you and me is turning into an endless succession of doors!"

At one point while we were snuggled up in a doorway she told me her main drive in life is to be in control and to lead others. This struck me as a funny thing to say because she operated completely independently and gave the impression of wanting freedom above all else. I ventured a guess that autonomy was her real goal and that she needed some leadership position simply to free herself from being subordinate to other people's rules. She gave me a funny long look and answered,

"That theory has some truth in it."

We caught up with Martin and Dora and drove back to the hostel. This was my chance to catch a nap if I wanted one. Strangely I felt OK and decided to just ride it out. A strong dose of Arabella had somehow revived me. The 4 of us went for a great Italian meal in the Quarter with real cloth napkins, tuxedo waiters and most importantly very excellent seafood linguine. Martin hates fish and ordered a plain dish. In any other city it would have broke the bank but here it was actually on par with a normal restaurant.

Walking around the French Quarter at night we encountered a strange skinny cross eyed guy doing elaborate gyrations in front of a club attempting to entice people to come in. A different approach from the usual routine where the greeter would drape an arm over a passer by and rope them in.

Arabella and I slipped away to a blank space behind a wall. When we eventually rejoined the others it was late and everyone was ready to go back to the car. It was 3 AM when we made it back to the hostel. Tomorrow was racing towards us. Tomorrow was the girl's last day here.

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The next morning it was hard to get out of bed at 9 AM. I quickly got my second wind and had a sudden inspiration when looking at the map of New Orleans.

'We're going to drive across Lake Pontchartrain. Look at this! The bridge actually spans more than one inch of paper on the map."

Dora quickly informed us that it was the world's longest bridge over water with a length of nearly 24 miles. It spans the lake from Metairie in the south to Mandeville on the north shore. Metairie is just a bit east of New Orleans.

The Causeway Bridge is a long seemingly endless white cement interstate type structure with 2 lanes flowing in one direction and 2 lanes coming back separated by about 100 feet of water. We cruised at 65 MPH in a straight line directly across. Almost no other traffic appeared during our crossing.

Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side. That was what it felt like when we made it to the north side of Lake Pontchartrain. There were some distant buildings indicative of some life in Mandeville but it was mainly deserted on the shores. Broken up slabs of concrete decorated the edge of the water and then dropped away into the black depths.

Coming back to the other side we made our way back through Metairie and into New Orleans in time for the girls to pack up and leave.

Once they were gone I didn't get moody or contemplative. I was too tired for that. I passed out on my bunk upstairs for an hour.

I woke up disoriented and then remembered that the girls were gone. Now it sunk in. The morning seemed a long way in the past. Downstairs Martin was in the day room on the ground floor reading. That night we hung out in a bar called Southern Lounge and toasted the girls.

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We'd been in New Orleans long enough to have settled into a groove. Too much time had gone past since I did a hard workout. I had swum a bit and had walked a lot but I was getting thin. Part of it was probably from our marginal diet and the rest from lack of hard exercise.

Down at Treme the interior of the community center seemed dark and desolately quiet. It was akin to going underwater in a pool when contrasted with the brilliant sunlight outside filled with the boisterous back and forth between the guys hanging on the streets out front.

The guys inside the community center told me that 'Mack' had the keys to the weight room upstairs.

"He's gonna be here at 4 today."

I wandered the neighborhoods and sauntered about the Quarter then returned promptly at 4. At the top of the stairs the door to the weight room was unlocked.

Finally!

I walked in. All activity in the room ceased. Everyone did a doubletake at the sight of me. One angry looking skinny guy started squawking,

"White motherfucker what de fuck do you think...'

He was shut down by a booming voiced gigantic guy in his late 50s.

"If this man has the balls to walk in here all alone through this ward then the man has earned the RIGHT to do a workout."

The giant introduced himself as Mack. The rest of the guys followed his lead and we all shook hands. Besides Foster the nasty skinny guy, there was Jimmy and Taylen. The rest of the guys were known by nicknames: 'Dr. Tony' who was known as 'Dr. T', 'Scribbles', and 'Booker'. As I surveyed the workout equipment Mack read my reaction,

"It may not look like much. We don't have any fancy machines like the 'Y' but we have our MINDS! We have TOTAL CONCENTRATION. If you can press 200 here you can do 300 on one of those machines."

Mack got back to his bench pressing. The bench was not only missing the vinyl cover but all the stuffing was long gone. He lay on the rough wooden frame used long ago to secure the stuffing in place. Bolts protruded through the wood from the rickety metal structure below. Mack was wearing shades, smoking a cigarette and had a towel tied around his enormous neck like Superman's cape to protect his back from bench's splintered wood. The 'cape' allowed his bare torso to cool somewhat. Incredibly he maintained steady drags on his cigarette while pressing 225 pounds for 20 easy reps. He believed he was only pressing 200 pounds. I explained that the Olympic bar he was using actually weighed 45 pounds so adding 180 in plates made 225.

"Sheeit! I figured that bar to be no more than 20 pounds. So I've been doing 225 all along. That's 325 at the Y!"

It was unbelievably hot in the weight room. There were no windows except one sealed plexiglass window that overlooked the swimming pool. Mack was right. Whatever weights you could handle in here would translate to a lot more in a place with air conditioning, fresh air and decent equipment. Just being in the room made you sweat before you even touched a weight.

Mack had 4 of the 45 pound plates on his bar. There were no other 45 plates just some 25s which he soon added to his bar. The guys had welded 2 old truck wheels onto another bar that was used for arm curls. A rusted and dilapidated Universal machine with the remnants of a leg press and bench press still attached sat in the middle of the room. The chinup bar from the machine lay on the ground. A curl bar lay on the ground nearby. Most of the guys focused exclusively on arm curls and bench press.

Only one other guy seemed of like mind to me by trying to get a whole body workout. Dr. T and I alternated with one another on the dip bars doing leg lifts for abs alternating with dips. When I tried to use the leg press I commented to Dr. T,

"This wonky leg press is going to create muscle imbalance because the right side is bent. You end up pressing more of the weight with your left leg."

He nodded,

'Watch this."

He simply did one legged presses alternating back and forth. Solved. He was the only guy there wearing shorts and the only one doing any legwork. I wondered if the rest of the guys were like the bulldog from the Sylvester and Tweety cartoons: hugely built from waist up supported on tiny legs hidden under the track pants that must be broiling hot in this sauna space.

There was no squat rack and no squat cage, hence no leg workouts other than the Universal machine and even then only Dr. T used it. I got Dr. T and Mack to pick up the barbell one at each end then I got under it to do squats and calf raises. When they set it down I did deadlifts. Everyone stopped what they were doing to observe these mysterious exercises I was doing. Mack was familiar with the exercises but hadn't bothered because of the lack of a rack.

Despite months without a gym workout the reps came surprisingly easily and fluidly. I added the remaining 45 pound plates and a pair of 25s. I did my regular old squat weight of 275 pounds despite the heat and smoke and 3 months of inactivity.

Dr. T and I held the bar for Mack who insisted on STARTING his squats with the same 275 pounds that I had taken years to build up to. He assured us he used to squat 400 pounds when he was 'in the joint'. He effortlessly pumped out reps. He was just naturally so huge and strong he was able to load up the bar and go for broke right away at an exercise he hadn't done for years. Dr. T wisely stayed with an empty bar while getting used to the new exercises.

The guys argued about boxing and got so heated there seemed to be a real life boxing match about to commence in the weight room. As it escalated everyone started laughing so hard no one could work out.

At the end of the workout we were all streaming with sweat. My veins and muscles were standing out like an anatomy chart. Not eating much had stripped off all my fat and months in the sun had deepened my tan. The guys started telling me I looked like Rambo with my shoulder length hair and pumped up look. Also being a white guy of course. By the time we were ready to leave my name was Rambo and my actual name was forgotten.

Mack and Tony offered to be my bodyguards on the walk to the Cutlass. I didn't want to put them out because they were heading the other direction. I was wearing nothing but my runners and black underwear which had no pockets so there was clearly no jewelry or money or gadgets on me to steal.

But I kept my wits about me on the short walk back to the Cutlass. The guys in the weight room repeatedly drove it into my head that they were the exception to the rule in this area. I thought the guys sitting around bullshitting in the streets seemed friendly enough and they agreed. Those guys were 'chill'. But there were a hell of a lot of young punks roaming who didn't give a shit about anything. They would shoot anyone for the smallest of reasons or even no reason at all. Mack said,

"It's bad enough for me walking these streets but a white boy like you? Sheeeitt!"

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Over the next week Martin and I went out to Checkpoint Charlie's and wandered the French Quarter. Visiting tourists in the hostel kept Martin in whiskey and me in vodka all night. We usually didn't make it home before 3 AM most nights. Knowing the layout and owning a car made us invaluable to tourists. We met European tourists on a daily basis at the hostel.

One night I had an intense flirtation with a super hot British teacher but it went nowhere. Life meandered past us while I wandered around town or lay on my bunk and read. Martin spent his afternoons in the lounge area reading. He also made occasional forays out to seek a job. My days often included a visit to the Treme gym. Mack had given me his schedule and I usually got there when he opened up. The guys all greeted me with a shout,

"Rambo!"

Mack was still hobbling a bit. Not from doing the super heavy squats but from doing super heavy deadlifts. Dr. T had wisely tried the exercises for the first time using an empty bar and had now progressed to using single 25 plates on the exercises. Mack had to take a week off from legs to recuperate from muscle shock. He was now doing the leg exercises again but still regaled us with stories about how he had to crawl down the hallway to make it to the bathroom the day after he did 275 pound deadlifts.

Mack trotted out one of his cautionary stories about the various routes that lead to jail and how minor infractions can snowball into big things. He had served a lot of time in prison and usually devoted the first few minutes in the gym to one of his lectures. It was clear that he directed all his wisdom towards Foster who was the skinny guy who gave me attitude when I first came to the gym. Foster thought Mack was full of shit and gave a smart ass answer. Dr. T was all over him for his rap gangsta aspirations,

"That bad ass shit is nowhere. I ain't never been in the back of a police car. That shit ain't nothing to be proud of."

Mack resumed his theme,

"All those gangsta mofos are just bullshit motherfuckers on a TV set. They don't live on the streets no more and they don't have to make it in the joint. How long you think anyone going to last on the street or the joint talking shit like that? They ain't about GETTING ALONG it's all pushing the trigger again and again. You think they cool but they nothin but skinny ass weaklings holding a gun. They don't set any kind of an EXAMPLE. Big mouths like that get taken down in the joint. Take away the gun and my fucking sister could whup their bony ass. Sheeeit!"

The guys also took time to 'lesson me' about black girls. They had seen me making pretty good time with a girl in the lobby of the community center and they warned me of the perils of black babes. I said all girls are basically the same but they disagreed.

"Now the white chick. When you're done what does she do? She got her pride and nose up and she says you don't want me no more then we're THROUGH. And you're off the hook. Now we seen you down there. That was a really nice piece you were working. But you gotta understand that the sisters come back at you like a boomerang. They are boomerang girls. You get it?"

"No. What the hell is a boomerang girl?"

"You get in and you get out and you are on your way and life is good and then BAM! They back again! A boomerang! They seen you coming like some country boy in the big city for his first time. That girl going to LOCK YOU DOWN."

They told horror stories about endlessly fertile girls roping guys in popping babies out day and night without let up. Jimmy from the gym had 6 kids by 6 different girls. Dr. Tony was the only one of the guys who had escaped the fate of multiple children from various women. Even young Foster already had '2 by 2'.

The guys invited me out with them after we finished our workout.

I wanted to eat and they assured me there was food in the strip joints we were going to. We all piled into the Cutlass and entered the depths of the ghetto. Mack completely filled the front seat with his head touching the headliner even when he slumped down. Seeing him dwarfing the roomy interior of the Cutlass emphasized how enormous he was.

I finally found out where 'Dr. T' got his name. He made us all laugh when he whipped out a pair of surgical latex gloves and expertly snapped them on as he entered the first strip joint. He was as serious as a doctor entering the operating theater. He wore gloves so he could touch the strippers without danger of contracting some kind of disease.

At the first joint I ate some jambalaya while they guzzled beer. I was the only white guy anywhere in sight but because I was with the pack no one said anything. Mack cut out after 2 beers because he had a home life. Dr. T didn't drink at all but he committed for the duration because of the women. The other guys had nothing to hold them anywhere and seemed totally at ease in these ghetto clubs. The 'clubs' were ramshackle houses converted to commercial purposes or just rickety shacks. The girls put on outrageous shows that would have any legit club shut down for all eternity.

Dr. T thanked me for respecting Mack by listening attentively to his pep talks. None of the regular guys were in any danger of leading criminal lives but they allowed Mack to preach to them about the pitfalls of crime and jail. Dr. T had a city job and was a meticulous careful guy. Some of the others had intermittent work but none of them were tempted by crime. Mack would repeatedly bring some new blood into the gym like Foster. Young guys teetering on the verge of gang stuff who inevitably washed out back into the streets as lost causes. No matter how many times it happened Mack kept trying.

I eventually joined in the rounds of beer but headed home 'early' in the blue smoke dawn. Next time I saw the guys they told me that the partying had gone right round the clock till dinnertime the next day.

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One day at the hostel Martin and I met new people who weren't transient tourists. Martin and I had just returned from the Times Picayune building. I headed for the hostel kitchen and met Pete who had worked and lived in Los Angeles and New Orleans. His wife had just died from cancer and he and his 8 year old daughter were returning to New Orleans. While looking for a place to rent he was camped out in the hostel.

Standing off to the side a girl named Simone had just arrived here from France. She had won a green card lottery and was getting established in New Orleans. Simone wanted to check the Famous Door 1934 Jazz Club.

That night we took her to the Famous Door. Charles the doorman welcomed us. Inside the club a fat trombone guy really hit the groove. The skinny sax guy was all over the place. The honky tonk piano player called into the mike like a preacher. The guy on drums looked like he was 80. "It had to be You." and 'When the Saints Come Marching In' and other standards were cranked out with exuberance. A girl from New Jersey got up on stage to sing along with them.

Our group went over to Embassy and then we took Simone to see Marie Laveau's store in the Quarter. We made it back to the hostel early by our standards at about 2 AM.

Despite the 'early' hour sleep didn't come easily because for the second night in a row I was being tormented by some kind of insect. Martin was blissfully asleep on the top bunk.

Next morning an examination of the room revealed that the bottom bunks were overwhelmed with tick infestations. Some fools had brought their outdoor sleeping bags into the room and set these insidious monsters loose. My upper arms and shoulders were covered with welts from tick bites. These were definitely not mosquito bites of which all of us had our fair share. This attack had my shoulders swollen up like I had the plague. The desk clerk arranged for the mattresses to be fumigated and Martin and I switched to a new room C6. I turned to Martin,

"I'm taking the top bunk this time."

The bottom bunks were formerly my preferred spot. They allowed me to slink into the room at as late an hour as possible without disturbing anyone. But now I wanted to be high off the floor away from the creeping onslaught of insects that seemed to be teeming through all of New Orleans. Cockroaches, earwigs and spiders and other creatures were squiggling about in most of the buildings we saw, whether it was a bookstore, junk shop or high end restaurant. Bugs everywhere. Someone told us that termites were eating up the wood in the French Quarter at an alarming rate. If anyone slacked off from the continuous cycle of replacing wood foundations then the termites would win and the whole place would collapse.

Now I was getting some kind of fungal irritation in my toe after a lifetime free from athletes foot or any other things that I had only read about. Martin shrugged and said,

"It's all because you insist on racing around and sweating. Exercising is bad for you. If you could learn to be a lazy sod and stay cool in the A/C none of this stuff would be happening to you."

Martin was right. I was out wandering around in the blazing hot sun and then pouring buckets of sweat out at the gym. Not a great idea in this humidity where things seemed to be able to grow in front of your eyes.The leafy trees were constantly being cut back from the balcony behind our room but encroached on the narrow walkway on a nearly daily basis. Things multiplied and grew at a ferocious pace here.

I was almost never in the air conditioning. I did hang out in the lounge for a few minutes everyday after breakfast which proved to be fortuitous for our quickly dwindling financial situation. I started chatting with a pair of British tourists Anthony and Ian after breakfast one morning,

"We're hoping to explore the swamps south of here today. You see, I'm a geography major and I'm very interested in the terrain."

I mentioned the car. They practically leaped up out of their chairs. Anthony exclaimed,

"That's just splendid! It costs 55 dollars each for a tour. How would it strike you if we were to fill up your gas tank and then we have a look at the swamps? It would save us money and we'd be happy to see you make a bit of profit from this."

We took off immediately. To get to Jean Lafitte swamps we crossed the Mississippi River on the steel bridge then took Highway 45 south into the bayou where Jean Lafitte park had visitor facilities. Dense foliage and hanging vines blocked out the sun while mosquitoes relentlessly swarmed about. In the black water as thick and turgid as oil my eagle eyes spotted something that set my hair on end. Two nasty eyes poked up through the green floating scunge.

"An alligator!"

Further up the riverbank we spotted a monstrous alligator awkwardly walking to the water. Once he slipped into the water he glided away with sinister ease. These primitive monsters lay silently in wait for prey hidden in the murk under the white noise of insects and frogs.

The evil lurking menace and the buzz of the swamp suddenly broke wide open when a park ranger rode past on a speedboat run by a giant fan mounted on the back. The bow of the boat cut open the green moss surface of the water leaving a black wake in the water which quickly sealed back over again after he had passed.

Back out of the swamp we checked out the ranger station which had books on voodoo and the swamps. We learned a bit about the Barataria Preserve which is the area we were in.

Martin and I were grateful to Anthony and Ian not just for introducing us to the sights in the swamp, and not just for the replenished tank of gas. Because of them we had now expanded our array of tour services available for tourists hanging out in the lounge of the hostel. Tourists at this cheap hostel didn't have a lot of money to throw around and they appreciated a bargain tour of the Quarter, or a plantation or maybe a cemetery or the swamps. We were able to stay afloat day by day based on chance meetings in the day room that led to us conducting one of our 'tours'.

Bar crawling remained our main bread and butter. It seemed weird to me that people who were only in town for a limited amount of time would travel all that distance just to be inside a bar which was pretty much generic and interchangeable with any bar in their own hometown. But who am I to question free drinks and a free meal?

Checking into our new tick free room we met Donny a motorcycle guy who had just completed a tour of the USA on an old Norton. Donny and I discussed the various places we had both gone and as he packed up his stuff he gave me some old maps he'd scored of New Orleans. One was a nice old vintage map that had been around. It was tattered, greasy and had missing bits where the folds had worked right through.

The new room was mercifully free of bugs but trying to sleep in a room with 6 people and no A/C and a weak ceiling fan made for more sleepless nights.

Our routine stayed the same with a constant turnover of new tourists coming through. The days rolled away from us like the tide going out.

One day Martin surprised me by wanting to accompany me on one of my wanders around town. We parked in the Quarter and visited the Voodoo Museum, some primitive art store, and some photo galleries via Pirate Alley down near Jackson Square. Martin was keen to see Faulkner's house. The exact location of the houses that Tennessee Williams and Charles Bukowski stayed at weren't known to the proprietors however. Artists did tourist portraits and Tarot readers abounded in Jackson Square. Magicians, buskers, tap dancers, you name it. Congregated near the river the drivers of horse drawn carriages talked to one another smoking and trying to drum up some business.

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One typical morning in the lounge we met some tourists named Marianna and Selena. They wanted to go out to the Quarter with us. Marianna was a bank clerk from England with refined features and a knockout figure. I was making marginal progress in the siege of Marianna throughout the day. That evening the typical day went awry when the hostel doors flew open and Simone and her friend burst in,

"We just got mugged!"

Her friend yelled,

"Right in front of the door!"

The guys responsible had already vanished into the dark night. Martin and I dashed out to see if we could locate their purses which contained all of their I.D. and credit cards and so on. Anyone robbing the low income travelers staying at a youth hostel had to be amateur hour crooks and wouldn't have any connections to sell passports or use up credit cards. I guessed they grabbed the meager cash and dumped everything else.

On our search of the area a neighbor named Belinda invited us up on her rooftop for a view of the neighborhood. She related tales of arson, robbery, murder and rape which seemed to be uncontrollable regular occurrences here,

"A doctor just got shot to death a few blocks up from here. If you call 911 it takes 2 hours for anyone to show up.This town is nothing but mud and oil. We're pumping oil out of the swamps all day and we have the money. Where does it go? A 911 response should take 2 minutes and not 2 hours."

Martin and I made it back to the hostel at 2 AM with the horror stories of rampant crime fresh in our minds. I switched bunks again as a strategist searching for the ideal nook to sleep in. My seemingly inexhaustible energy stores were slowly winding down it seemed. Maybe the oppressive humidity?

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Simone ironically would have escaped the mugging last night if the timing was slightly different. She was moving into her new apartment today. Martin and I took one of the newly met lounge tourists along with us because Simone had depicted her new area as being quite nice. Karen rode and chatted with Simone in back while Martin held shotgun spot.

Simone's new apartment was off Tara and Lake Forest Drive. Simone explained,

"If you follow the tracks you end up on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain."

Simone suggested that I try wearing a pair of swim trunks instead of my customary black boxer shorts. She couldn't help but observe all the pissed off people in my wake when I was walking around in a pair of underwear. Of course it may just have been her French aesthetic taste coming to the fore. The pair of swim trunks I found myself wearing were probably even more scandalous than the boxer shorts. They seemed to be the smallest tightest pair of blue Speedo bikini trunks ever manufactured. They felt like a g string.

Both Simone and Karen applauded with glee when I emerged into the living room in these 2 sizes too small briefs. I had to admit that the cooling effect was pretty nice. Being 98 percent nude helps blow off the heat. It was also amusing to get catcalls from women as we strolled about. Somehow Martin the guy who hates heat continued to wear long jeans, runners and a t shirt. He was broiling hot. The girls were wearing skimpy clothes which made it enjoyable to walk with them. There was always a view.

We followed a small river draining into the lake. The lake was barricaded by enormous high dykes to guard against floods. A dirt road ran along the top and sparse grass grew on the giant mounds flanking the shores. Some areas of the lake had concrete steps leading down to the water and people sat here fishing. We followed one of the streams back away from the lake where people swam in water that was filled with murky dark water, bottles, tires and even a big old gas can. The 4 of us made our way down through City Park.

Near the art museum Martin and I spotted a pair of palm trees with trunks that extended out horizontally before soaring upwards. Reclining back on the trunks was as nice as lying in a hammock. Martin and I chortled as we lay back in a tropical paradise without a care in the world.

Later that evening back at the hostel 3 tourist girls Mary, Sharon and Laura wanted to hit the French Quarter. We complied and they treated me to steamed shrimp and vodkas. Martin stuck to some of the dinner bread and whiskey. The girls had heard of something called the Unisex Strip Club and wanted to investigate. It turned out to be pretty dull stuff but the girls were keeping us in drinks so we contentedly sat in the booth with them. Later they wanted to check out a club neither Martin nor I had been to before. A heavy voiced guy belted out songs. It was hard to see his face beneath a giant black cowboy hat but there was no way to miss his voice. Good singer.

The girls were feeling good mingling with big rowdy crowds on the streets. People sat on curbs with drinks to get out of the heat in the bars. I made some subtle moves on the hottest of our trio of girls but was so low key about it that it added up to nothing. Where was my usual intensity when zeroing in on a girl? New Orleans 'big easy' attitude was getting under my skin. Nothing came of the flirtation. The languid trance like days of our life here seemed to have fallen into the deep groove of New Orleans slowness. Both Martin and I felt a strange lack of urgency about everything.

This was different than our supreme confidence and rambling on the road. It was almost as if some insidious vapor was slowly filling us up smothering initiative or purpose. Some kind of a fog enveloping us had mired us into the nonchalant New Orleans lifestyle. As long as tourists came into the lounge at the hostel we could drum up enough money to roll through another day. Martin was still making half assed attempts to get a job New Orleans style. What that meant was he wasn't getting up early and hitting 20 places a day or researching businesses or anything remotely pro active in the expected concept of job hunting typical in any other city.

Karen needed a ride to the Times Building early one morning. More accurately it was early by the standards of New Orleans and our late night clocks. She wondered if we could hang out and wait for her. She felt a bit nervous with all the crime. We were glad to chauffeur her around and she was happy to pay our admission while we accompanied her to the Voodoo Museum. Later she picked up the tab for a jambalaya lunch. We took Karen up to a virtual ghost town where old weathered shacks on stilts withered in the sun and kids and great big turtles swam about in the clear water.

When we came back to the French Quarter later for something to eat it seemed just another typical lazy day rolling around. For the first time in eons the loose blur of N'awlins came into sudden focus.

Sitting in the small cafe the radio stopped playing music and a hurricane bulletin came on. The announcer's voice coming over the old speaker sounded just like the voice on all those old GILLIGAN'S ISLAND episodes where the castaways would raptly listen to the small transistor radio.

An old man cocked his head as he listened to the report trying to glean the subtext from it. I looked around. The proprietor had frozen in mid movement as he was about to grab a beef from a glass fronted fridge. The walls of this place were composed of glass fronted cool beer. Looking past the neon beer brand signs in the french windows I could see several people outside who had stopped and were earnestly talking. The bulletin ended. The only sound was the air conditioner and the wobbly ceiling fan. Then the music resumed. Martin and I gave each other a glance that said,

"Let's just see what happens with this."

We felt no urgency to act at this point but an undercurrent charged the locals for the first time in memory. Martin and Karen wanted to have a look at a bookstore. I dropped them at the front doors. There is no parking near Canal so I left them there for an hour while I went to Treme to fit in a workout. No sign of the guys anywhere on the streets. Treme's windows and doors were boarded up with the word 'RECALL' spraypainted over one of them. That was FAST.

When I retrieved Martin and Karen they had heard more about the coming hurricane from people in the store. The hurricane was being discussed in the hostel kitchen. Many people were packing up and getting ready to leave town.

Much talk about the traffic jam scenarios due to hit tomorrow inclined me to just stay put. But Martin pointed out that there is nowhere to park in New Orleans that isn't under huge trees,

"All it takes is one tree branch through the windshield and we're screwed."

I nodded. He was right. We were living day to day off our 'tourist business'. There was no money to fix any damage to the car if it happened. Seemed like a good idea to get the Cutlass out of town.

"But we have no money so we're not going to get very far without gas."

Fortuitously Karen came over as if on cue,

"I'd like to get out of town for the hurricane. I'm willing to pay the expenses for gas and hotels if you you can take me ou of town."

I thought Memphis might be fun. She was cool with that because it was a straight run up north.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 18 March 2021 21:08 )