LAST NIGHT I HEARD JOHN BOUTTE SINGING THE THEME SONG FROM THE HBO SERIES TREME COMING FROM ANN'S BEDROOM. "SHE'S GEARING UP," I THOUGHT TO MYSELF. WE'RE HEADED FOR NEW ORLEANS IN A MONTH FOR THIS YEARS MARDI GRAS. I CAN THANK TREME FOR EXCITING ANN ENOUGH FOR HER TO STATE A DESIRE TO BE IN NEW ORLEANS FOR MARDI GRAS. I JUMPED AT THE CHANCE. I WILL JUMP AT ANY CHANCE TO GO TO THE CITY OF MY DREAMS.
I WROTE THIS OVER 3 YEARS AGO. IT SPEAKS DIRECTLY TO MY LOVE FOR THE CRESCENT CITY.
i was staying w/mark applegate down in key west. walker was w/me. we stayed for several weeks on the downstairs couches in a large old key west house. there were seven or so other folks staying too. i remember it was winter. one of the guys wore his wetsuit to bed at night. this probably had something to do w/the fact that there were only a few extant windows in the whole house. when you're way down in the sub-tropics, who needs windows, right?
this was a real introduction to the key west experience for me. the guys in the house took us to several bars that were off the beaten path(green parrot, boat bar, the bar w/no name over on shell island). this was when the shrimpers still ran the town. there were no tourists. i remember seeing a college kid in the boat bar beaten savagely & thrown out onto duval street because he insisted to one of the shrimpers that he hadn't hit the 8 ball. he wouldn't drop it, even when a voice from the darkness in the bar bluntly stated, "that's how we play it here, kid." the kid didn't even finish his next sentence. things happened to him quickly & very violently & then it was over & he was gone. there was a kind of general shrug in the bar. no police were ever involved. this happened before we were run out of the house because walker used & ruined spider's delicate leather work tools to open a coconut he'd proudly obtained by climbing up a coconut tree. when we were told it would be best for us to leave NOW, we did. no questions asked. we understood. but before that i'd noticed that everyone in key west seemed to be harboring the same life plan, or shall we say, the same dream. "i'm gonna build a boat & get offa this rock," came out most often unsolicited but it came out nevertheless. it came out of the mouths of bums, strippers, waiters & cooks. it came out of the mouths of people at the pier house & down in the marina. everyone said it. it was kind of like the pod-people in "body snatchers." deeply creepy. it began to stike me(before we were unceremoniously hussled out of town)that these folks might actually be dangerous. men w/dreams, no matter how outlandish, are dangerous because they had something to aspire to.
i've been thinking about new orleans lately. i got an email from my buddy mark talking about mardi gras(which actually lasts for a month there in the city)& some of the lesser, tho no less exuberant, krewes. he was planning on attending a happening over in the marigny on frenchman. we've been going to that neighborhood for years(i remember slow dancing w/nat there at cafe brasil to the iguanas)& it's become my home base area when i'm there now. my new college buddy, nancy, also called & since she & i had just spent an eventful week there last summer, her call served to also stir up all the memories & desires that city conjures.
nan got pierced there last summer & broke my long standing(so to speak)record of falling down drunk. i'm giving her the benefit of the doubt here because several of her falls were in the privacy of the hotel room while, i believe, most of mine were done right out in public. the outrigger kids loved to tell the story of leaving a bar & joking that 'we'll probably find jones in some gutter' & me rising up from said gutter to greet them & begin round 3 or 4 of the evening. fun times were had by all &, of course, we all have stories of new orleans.
right before i got accepted to new college, i'd been debating on which city i wanted to flee p'cola to, new orleans or key west. philip & i had just had a great trip to new orleans. we'd spent time w/philip's gay friend, marty. philip introduced me to several older men, prefacing each intro w/"i'm not really sure that he's gay," whereupon a door would swing open & the most flamboyantly gay man would come mincing out, exclaiming & gesturing about this or that in diva-like dramatics. it never bothered me &, in this case, i liked marty a lot. educated & cultured & well-traveled. w/him as our guide, we went to quite a few off the beaten track places too. these weren't as life threatening as the key west dives that walker & i had been to w/mark & spider.
actually, what struck me back then was how life affirming the places & people of new orleans were. no one i met was planning on building a boat. did i meet people who were planning to leave? you bet. i met people who'd just arrived too. the comings & goings had nothing to do w/dreams or life plans, at least as they were articulated. when you left you didn't sail away on a boat; you had stories. when you arrived, you heard stories from & about others. i was run out of here too. i was asked to leave new orleans by no less of an eminence than jim monahan(rip), owner of the molly's empire. as menacing as the request was, i knew it would work itself out & it did. but i did leave, taking cirota & jayne w/me(the toxic combo that landed me in rehab...along w/my own bad habits). this was a fundamental difference between key west & new orleans as far as i was concerned. things would & could be forgiven. they'd be forgiven because you were needed to add to the life & times of new orleans. at least, i think that's why i was renting another room from mr monahan 6 months later(w/o cirota & janie this time). i didn't think about key west much after that.
of course, key west didn't have the music or the food either. new orleans stands as the only major city w/its own indigenous music & food cultures. that's frosting on the cake to me. new orleans was & is a city in which living & loving is primary to the project of being in the world. & then, you tell the stories.