Under the Green Desk Lamp…
The stink of sweat, and the wet hiss of street cars. Saxophones screech from dark alcoves like debutantes that took a wrong turn.
Pedestrians rule the streets, beaten up cars working around them like Indians in a barnyard. New Orleans is a city alive in the truest sense—throbbing with its own potential, adorned in its own inequity like Joseph’s spastic coat.
Here, a man can drink on the streets—paved with cobblestone and flanked by sweaty brick buildings 300 years old.
Citizens crazed—with heat, booze, or lust I cannot tell—approach and talk cordially amongst themselves, and this stranger as well.
As the absinthe flows, the thick, cloying air lightens in tandem with the mood, and the night is alive with a thousand potential stories both new, and as old as the dry bones used by the Voodoo Mama just around the corner, ready to divine fortunes for a false smile and a real fee.
Some men look at a city and decide upon its potential early. They go to bed with the falling sun, counting the hours until they can rise to cut deals and exploit the less proactive denizens of this shared hell they inhabit.
Others rise late and party till dawn, seeing the promise of the city instead scrawled upon the cobblestone alleys and dark crevices of the establishments reborn at dusk; eager to meet and engage with the searing enthusiasm burning in a city alight in its own decadence.
For them there is no hell—and heaven is just a street corner away.
I struggle daily with an overwhelming compulsion to defy the norm, to taste and touch as much of life as time will allow while balancing an ‘acceptable’ life. Others fight for normalcy in a world fraught with turmoil. The most we can take from this is the weight of experience on the psyche, and the importance of mad rushes of varied tastes and flourishes of culture. Old cities like this are a natural extension of the social impulse…a thing lost in more modern complexes.
The Natchez steamboat screeches calliope tunes at me as I pass misshapen statues and covens of filthy pigeons. The $300 I came with has been reduced to a dirty pack of crumpled ones.
My knuckles are bloody—seafood or scuffles, I cannot be certain.
I stop to listen to a soapbox evangelist, the frenzy of vacation scaring off my familiar apathy. But his words are unfamiliar, unexpected. He says that religion is an affront to the spirit. God is an ideal. Original sin—as it is described, is the animal nature in us all, whereas God is the perfect goal we are meant to aspire towards.
True or not—this is not the point; the goal is soul, and perfection is a high watermark to all the savage bastards on this earth.
There is a great sense of ownership in this city. Men speak of renovations like child-rearing, and date each building with the care of tracking genealogy.
The ancient weight of history rests upon the streets like a shroud, cloaking the denizens in its comforting embrace, and a sense of community identity permeates all.
It was around 4:00pm, in a small jazz club off Bourbon, when I realized that I’d never leave this town alive if I couldn’t acquire a strengthened taste for straight liquor and twisted people. But there is something horribly sleazy about drinking fine Bourbon from kitschy party cups. Like hiding cocaine in an animal shaped children’s party balloon.
There can be no doubt that I am yet to find true equilibrium. The battle between the boisterous extrovert and the mumbling, cantankerous recluse wages on daily.
Also, I’m a big fan of absinthe.
It’s a funny line to walk—being tugged between the joys and regrets so inherent to a life well lived.
But if a man can persist, and persevere beyond the quagmires he so ceaselessly chooses to embroil himself in, soon enough the straight road may reveal itself.
And just like that, things were making sense again. The night must get dark before the stars appear again to light the way. And if they need still further darkness… it’s always waiting on Bourbon St. …just a breakdown away!
I’ve learned I lean towards an older crowd than my own age merits, more towards the 50+ blues crowd, willing to truly talk without any of the flirtatious pretension. But this knowledge does little to ease my mind.
A lovely lady lives behind the bar at ‘The Blue Note’ off Bourbon and St. Louis, and feeds me tastes of each drink she makes, providing shots for words as she purrs siren-like about her life and times in NOLA.
She was good, but he was better. She had the kind of angel voice and deadly looks that could with a word command a man into the sickest sort of depravities even he would never have imagined himself capable of. But he had the sort of prodigious talent, and plucked those strings with rhythm and precision sufficient to lift that same man to higher planes of self.
I’ve got to get out of this place. A city of saints and sinners in the truest sense—both more than willing to send a man off his rails and leave him begging for more while reeling with sickness and exhaustion… just as long as you tip.
But not just the tip. They’ll take it all. Your money, your ideals, your direction. Everything that separates a man from these goddamn flea-bitten apes you see on discovery channel as you drink your box wine and eat your cold pizza.
I’ll be dragged down for sure. Deeper than the determined bodies clawing their way up; jealous of those laying in the moldy crypts—spiting sea-levels and buoyancy for the sweeter rumours of voodoo and ancient evils.
No—they’re for another time. I’ll be down in the bayous, a bottle of Jameson clutched in my hand as the gators feast on my bones.
Elsewhere, a woman will stand alone, singing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ acapella as a man elsewhere strums out Beethoven on his guitar.
What am I rambling about?
I’ve got to get out of this place before I’m just a stain on its streets.
I’ve heard it said—both recently and before, that all the great things mankind has done have been the result of the powerful—corporations, empires, tyrants—these are the builders, and this I cannot deny.
But the stage is nothing without its actors, and the great stories and moments have always arisen from the fearless few willing to rise up and rage against the rat bastards with everything that makes us human and keeps us animal.
In the face of the depravity and madness I’ve faced, I still cast my lot proudly not with the world builders, but with the rabble and ravers of humanity.
I just need a woman with an eye for photography or an ear for music—either one will do.
I realized rather early on, but feel it all the more pressingly now, that this city must cease to fear the magic of the past and learn to harness that of the present.
A Guest Article by your Friend and Ours,