Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The houses look like centipedes. Long and stretching into the ground in the backyard. The backs of the houses always taper like owners tried building an addition and got halfway through the project and just said fuck it that’s good enough. The fences are covered in ivy and ferns and kudzu lining the outer banks with a deceptive presence. You have to stand a few hundred feet away from the house to appreciate its look. One of those spiraling helicopter shots with water in the streets and all you see are the rooftops and fronts of houses. The reflection off the pools of water in the streets show the sky and the heavens above mirroring a place where its not so hot and not so diffused with alcohol and the sounds of the street carrying like thunders from cannons.

Shadows of the treeline litter the street and I like driving my truck in figure eights careening around the cars that move like steel coffins to their graves. The treeline changes from Uptown to the Quarter to the Faubourgs and so do the birds. Sparrows, pigeons, ducks, and pelicans maneuver their way into backyard bonsai gardens or atop wharf piers. The birds see the shadows and detect the movements of the city with a watchful eye. The noise of cars in the street, the clatter of hurried footsteps, kids playing a game of hide and seek in the corridors and back alleys of the Marigny. Sometimes the sounds shake me awake and I’m placed in a world not like other cities. A land of pirates and shamans and one-eyed gypsy fortune tellers…and I laugh and share a joke with myself about a fortune teller I saw one time with the Magic Eight Ball. Outlook Does Not Good he read to me. A bizarre foreshadowing of my future years. The streets blend the likes of Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean. Vendors occupy the sidewalks and somebody on a bike rides by singing an old soul song. Sings it right in my face when he passes by me. The stale stench of beer from last night and possibly this morning on his breath.

Sugar Momma, you ain’t go no sugah no mo
Sugar momma, I’ve got anotha sugah momma
Sugar momma, brings me coffee in the moanin

There is a river above me rising into the sky like the towers of Babylon. A great waterway of the superunknown that made this crescent of land I walk on. The river stretches as far west as the Rockies and as far east as the Alleghenies in New York. Smack in the center of the United States, I’m sure Jean Baptiste stood on the high ground of the muddy Mississip and wrote letters to kings and queens of the Old World telling them of this river that will make us all rich because it goes everywhere and this river it makes the Tiber and the Sabine look like a stream. The outbreak of disease (yellow fever, malaria) cautioned this early foreground as the gateway to the United States causing fear of epidemic to surrounding parts, but nary the thought was ever carried about going upstream just downstream everything dumping into New Orleans. The sediment from rock slides in Colorado cascading along the Red River and parts of flash floods from the Missouri dumping its collective rock and soil into our banks making entry from the Gulf nearly impassable and then there’s the lake. Pontchartrain stretching the horizon like the channel on the pond. Cypress trees and Pine Trees scraping the sky with Spanish Moss and needled leaves. Floods would inundate the town and a storm would kick up in the turquoise waters south and those still left in the wake would pick up the pieces and levee themselves inside the town like walls from the river of riches and the lake of destiny and the gulf of destruction.

I’m really hungry at this point filled with whiskey from a corner bar and drunk on the romanticism of the city and its environs. My hand runs along the windows and doors of the stores on Chartes Street. At the Napoleon House I stand on the corner of the Customs House and shout towards the green cupola in the sky “They will not find you here Bonaparte! I cannot even find myself! Keep to the sides of streets! Duck into a bar if someone sees you!” The sound of horns and crazy street characters will keep you safe. No need for pirates on this rescue mission. You just need to stay alive.

The hard sun beats down upon the cobblestone streets. Wavering, dancing almost with the shadows once more, I find myself running into a Lucky Dog stand and asking for one of the city’s finest delicacies. This is like that book I say to the vendor. Remember Ignatius? When he dressed up like a pirate in order to drum up sales but the fat bastard just ate all the goddamn hot dogs. Yea they chased his fatass down Pirates Alley. Right there I pointed with my finger. The vendor did not look nor was he amused. Another crazy Toole fan he thought to himself. Like you’re the first to tell me about Ignatius Reilly jackass.

I rambled down to Dauphine and knocked on a friend’s door. He’s rich, walks around in vintage suits with glasses like a 70s detective smoking clove cigarettes. In his house he plays John Lee Hooker all day long and it fills the scene with the brick walls and plaster breaking onto the floor. In his bed is an older woman and he yells at her to get her ass up and go make some money he says. She’s striking even at two in the afternoon. Her breasts are spilling out of spaghetti strap blouse and she has on underwear covering only her bottom. Don’t take my damn sheets woman he tells her and then we leave. On the street he tells me I’ve got a job for you. Easy money while shaking his head to a funky beat. His gait is slow and he straightens his sleeves from his jacket with nervous tension. What is it I ask him and he tells me about driving cars around a dog track in Destrehan for a police auction. I even talked the guy into giving you a Cadillac if you do a good job. We shake hands like brokering a business deal. He puts another hand on top of our handshake the way I’ve seen Italians do in mafia movies. This is a good thing he tells me good work here Ross don’t leave us and then he’s getting into his car.

I crumple the piece of paper with the phone number into my pocket and move on down the street a little further. Collapsed in the tunnel of balconies and patios and slow heat waves crushing the air. I am a ghost. No one can touch me. No one can find me.


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