The afternoon sun is baking drunk pies on Bourbon street. Neon signs are always on. The street is swarming with curious tourists, easy going couples, cheerful bachelorettes and bachelors sipping their tall Hurricanes. In the dressing room of Scores on Bourbon street I meet the most thrilling girls in the world. Dancers. Hustlers. Artists. MamaWolves. Predators. Rockers. Adventurers. The kind of girls they won’t write about in New York Times, section Weddings. There’s Charlotte, a drop-dead gorgeous blonde, tall and strong, and defiant as Beatrix Kiddo from Kill Bill. She enters the club in her knee-lenght stylish floral southern belle dress, wearing cute bob, short bangs. This girl is a gun. Only a few weeks ago Charlotte had spent 48 hours in prison for knocking out her baby daddy. “What a pussy, that mother fucker, called a police on me for just a bruise on his face. I’m fighting a restraining order, a custody battle. By the end of next week I need to make $4000 to pay that damn family lawyer. Whatever, I’ll do everything to get my 15-month baby boy back.”
Then there’s Mona, a twenty-four year old brunette with pale skin, curvy body, full sensual lips, hazelnut eyes, pure, natural, eloquent and smart. Mona had given me a real introduction of New Orleans and explained that those vicious, high and stinky kids, aimlessly hanging all over the French Quarter with their sad, malnourished dogs are not hippies but gutter punk kids. Mona never works night shifts. “I am afraid of the club at night. After ten pm the club is gradually becoming wicked and by midnight it’s a haunted house. I don’t care for making lots of money here. The other day I only made $50. I have two years of college degree and I am trying to figure out what’s next. I didn’t have enough money to finish the degree. The job market is kinda shitty here. Next week I’ll be working in a movie theatre. I’ll get benefits and all and maybe Ill be doing this once a week until I have enough money to move somewhere else.” The other day Mona came down the red carpet stairs, wearing a mini dress and white socks. A wealthy regular came in. A regular who only blows and drinks. He’d booked a VIP room and took a few girls with him. Mona was in, playing pool for five hours for which she got paid $1500. She was really worried about getting the check. After the club cut her a check, I could sense I won’t see her at Scores again.
Mona’s friend, Julie, a petite dancer, looking no more than 18 is a professional gymnast. Her bright blue eyes are childish and naive. But don’t be fooled by her innocent appearance. Julie is a real hustler, making a few thousand a night. She puts only a little of make up to look older. She is both, a Southern Belle, Scarlett O’Hara from Baton Rouge and Eliza Dolittle from Pygmalion. She is Eliza Doolittle because when she spoke to me for the first time I must have fallen into a linguistic coma after that swirl of words dropped from her red hot mouth. Her strong Southern emanated so much music and rhythm that it just struck and mesmerized me once and for all. Everything about her, from her blonde ponytail, to her strong skinny legs, elegant ways and the ability to work on the pole with agility of a toad is intriguing. Perhaps Charles Bukowski was right when he said that the few natural American women left were mostly in Texas and Louisiana. You just don’t meet these kind of girls on the East Coast.
Then there’s Nellie – my favorite girl. Mysterious, melancholic, skim milk color skin. When she takes off her lather jacket and jeans, her pale body covered by a few tattoos reveals imperfections, a few bruises, and tiny stretch marks. You could tell by looking at her that she is special. It’s probably her face. Her face, her big bright blue eyes, pretty cheekbones, and dark circles just like mine are ambiguously lit up. In the dressing room filled with booze and scents, fluids and cajun spice, with no underwear on, Nellie and I had an unexpected conversation about Rachmaninoff, our favorite classic composer. It was probably the deepest conversation I’ve had with a dancer in my entire dancing career. She told me she was a composer, writing scores for movies, commercials and all. She took out one of her earbuds and inserted into my ear. “Here, this is my music I wrote for a movie.” It was good, lyrical and sad.
“Hey Mr, would you like to go upstairs for three special? Bump n’ grind, three for a hundred?” I ask. Upstairs where the remnants of ol’ past still reside, the Nobel Prize book collection looking down from a dusty shelf, looking down forgotten and neglected and yet in an weird twist of fate continuing its existence in bedlam on Bourbon street. Upstairs on red rotten velvet and leather couches I put off my little nylon dress and press my topless body in a G-string against a stranger. There are other girls out there who stick their tities n bottoms into strangers’ face. No shame. Just a game. Scores on Bourbon, a touristic attraction… I meet some interesting customers, like a good looking guy in a traditional Scottish kilt and a leather sporran. I come up to him and start a conversation. His name is Dave, a handyman from Lafayette, LA. He is not wearing kilt because it’s a Scottish holiday, he is just chillen because it’s his day off and he feels good and he’s half Scottish and all. I can’t imagine a chill New Yorker like that. I flirtatiously lift his skirt and immediately pull it back. I flush. Dave has no undies.
Almost every day at five o’clock a midget comes into the club under pretense of selling bags. Everyone knows what he really sells. In the club everyone is in the business of selling or re-selling something, uppers and downers, pills, weed and powder and God knows what.
“Hey Sista, we like you,” Sugar walks up to me. “Come hang with us in the courtyard. It’s too early to hustle, there’s no one at the club yet. You wanna smoke? Swallow? Blow? We share everything. Sharing is caring.”
I slowly sip a shot of Jack Daniel’s and they giggle and laugh at me and say incomprehensible things in their strong Southern. Everything about this place makes me high. Later, when it gets busy, a white collar, well-dressed tourist from London takes me by the hand
“Do you party? We want to party? Do you sell?”
“Jeez, what am I? Your local drug-dealer? Call eight-hundred number or something.” I rant.
I get upbeat texts from Victoria about meeting her for lunch, dinner. We complain to each other about how slow the club is. When we start a day in the club she shows off her fresh face, hot body and kind spirit, her entire essence emanates genuine warmth. “Hey, honey, so my dad will be in town, he doesn’t know what I do. He thinks I work in a bar. Can you please join us for dinner? He’ll take us some place nice.”
In a few hours her fresh good looking face disappears, her speech slurs. “Aleeex, dear, I made $500 but I hate that customer, I went upstairs and he touched me everywhere, he abused me. Come with me let’s have a, let’s have drinks at the…” She doses off at the end of the sentences. It takes her great efforts make a sentence. It’s painful to see her like that, losing control of her body, losing control of her self. Anti-depressants and booze. Days ago when the club was sober and quiet, when we shared a huge po boy sandwich with cajun shrimp she opened up about her life. When she was growing up her grandfather had molested her. He was a prominent dignified and wealthy judge. Somehow it all led to disastrous events because her parents never believed her and thought she was just making things up. So they made her see a shrink who also thought she was just a teenager making things up and the best way to deal with it was just to prescribe Xanax. She was outta parents’ house as soon as she finished high school. A year ago her grandfather finally died. She’d inherited only a fraction his wealth.
“But it’s going to be okay.” Victoria says. “I moved to a new apartment. It’s nice. Soon, I’ll quit this after I get a real-estate license…”
My landlord Smoky reminds me that I only have 10 days left until his friend, a musician from Cali will take over my studio in the French Quarter for JazzFest. We go out on a balcony and share a joint. I look up. White clouds are racing on the blue sky, touching up the sunlit roofs. “I don’t want to leave to NYC yet.” I say. What’s the rush to come back to cold, jaded New York City? I can stay for another month or two until it gets unbearably hot here.”
My friend from New York had introduced me to his friend Arielle, a freelance artist and illustrator focusing on bunnies, bunnies comic books and bunnies movement. I met Ari in a coffee shop in the French Quarter to discuss subletting a room in her shotgun house in Irish Channel. Ari was 27, a redhead, shy, hippy-ish. Like most progressive women artists in New Orleans, Ari didn’t shave her armpits and legs, didn’t use deodorant and was into everything queer. We both we agreed that we had some things in common. We both resented conformity and everything corporate, nine to five jobs, and we both liked reclusion and could spend a day or two without talking to anyone. In a few days Ari invited me over to meet her bunny named Saddie and boyfriend named Jared. Her house was just a few blocks from Magazine street. It was a hundred year old creole house, with lots of character, old vintage furniture and plenty of her own art work. Saddie had her own room at the rear end of a shotgun stretched house. A true New Yorker would have done bunny justice, a true New Yorker would have brought the bunny to an animal shelter or roasted it in the oven with prunes and vegetables. A true New Yorker would have converted that rabbit room into Airbnb for $100 a night. But here in New Orleans, my faith in humanity was restored. People didn’t seem to be obsessed with money or success or real estate or rent. I didn’t like Saddie, the furry little dumb thing shitting pigeon poop all over the wooden floor. Anyway, Ari and I had gone to a grocery and I bought mushrooms, kale, onion and blue cheese. I cooked it all on coconut oil and we sat and ate it sadly in complete silence. Outside was dark and motionless. On the stove a huge pot lentils cooking slowly and sadly. I was craving music and wine. The silence was interrupted when Arielle’s boyfriend came in. Her pale face transformed from sullen to luscious. He was a young dude, stiff and bitter, afraid to make an eye contact with me. I said goodbye and took off back to music and life.
The next day I was with my laptop walking around the Marigny and Bywater. I wasn’t looking forward to moving in into Arielle’s house. Deep inside I fantasized about finding a place in Bywater which came with a cool boyfriend artist. A place where I could fall in love and stay after years of being restless, a chill place where you don’t talk about fucking rent all the time. For a moment I was imagining my life in a creole house with two adopted pit-bulls and a humble chill artist or rocker. I’d go back to playing violin and learn harmonica and I’d eventually gig some place on Frenchmen street. And I’d make money busking on Royal street. Music is the kick inside.
I got back to reality. I looked around, the streets were deserted. The French Quarter is always swarming with tourists, weddings, bachelors parties, events, concerts, conventions. But it’s not real, it’s all staged staged, it’s a museum. Outside was the real New Orleans – unpopulated, stretched, warm in spring, filled with evanescent melancholy, well-preserved remnants of the past and old money in old mansions next to cottages and shacks and oak trees with their deep centennial roots breaking thru the pavement. The warmth in the air made me sad and hungry. I went to the Madigras Zone and had homemade pork chops with pickled cabbage and crab soup. And then I walked back to the Orange Couch, my favorite coffee shop in NOLA and probably on planet earth. I got affogato and picked the table outside, under a palm tree. I worked for a few hours and noticed a guy sitting across from me. I’d seen him here the day before. Ginger hair, pale skin, blue eyes, blue jeans, he was about five-feet-seven, stout and speaking with a slight distinct accent. It was the day before Easter and the band dressed in Bunny costumes passed past us. Our eyes met.
“Don’t you find this enthusiasm about celebrating holidays charming? I’m in love with this town.” I said out loud and smiled at him.
“Yea, this town is crazy. He said. “But I love it too. he said and smiled back at me.
“I prefer it crazy to normal, anyway. I dig NOLA. I’d love to attend a traditional New Orleans jazz funeral. They say they dance and crack jokes to celebrate the live of a corpse. I said.
We exchanged numbers and agreed to meet later in the evening on Frenchmen street. His name was Ronan. Ronan was from Ireland but he spoke with an american accent except for that one crazy interjection “eh” which he was using before and after and in-between words which made his European roots come out. Ronan had Ph.D in Philosophy and had spent a few years living Canada and a few months in New Orleans and now he was based in Germany. His was doing post-doctoral research in Social Cognition and was visiting NOLA for a conference. I took him to Bamboulas to see my landlord’s Smoky’s band perform live on stage. I couldn’t tell if he liked blues. He seemed reserved and shy. We didn’t wait until the end and left half way thru the show. Somehow we ended up in the seediest bar on Decatur street, small, empty, half-lit but not without charm and humor. The bartender was drunk to pieces and so was the waiter. But Ronan, a true Irishman who had once bartendered in the French Quarter was delighted to handle the situation. He came up to the bartender and started chatting with him and pointing to the ingredients for making two white russians. The bartender despite being drunk maneuvered opening liquids and bottles and jiggled glasses skillfully. The cocktails tasted real good. We discussed everything, Russian aggression in Ukraine, religion, abortion situation in Ireland, music, philosophy. We repeated the cocktails and shared a warm apple pie pudding and laughed. Outside was a starry night. I pointed out to the moon and stars and I slightly leaned on him. Ronan pulled me closer to him, our heads bumped into each other and he quickly moved his lips towards mine. It felt good, it wasn’t enough. We went to my place, settled in on a balcony. I set on his lap, his sweaty palms travelled from my neck, shoulders, down to my cups, spiraling and circling around my rounds and then slowly sliding down my belly, hip, knee and then making a U-turn and resting his hand on my pelvis. His heart pounded louder and his breath shortened. An electric stream ran thru my body.
“So, when are you leaving?” I asked
“Tomorrow it is.” he said
“So soon! Dam, murphy’s law. I pouted.
“Well, eh, it’s been good, don’t ruin it. I am so happy I met you.”
“Tell me something’ funny.”
“Why did the chicken cross the road?”
“To avert an existential crisis.”
“ Okay, Let’s go.”
We took a cab to his place deep in the Marigny. It was a quiet and overpriced bed and breakfast in an old creole house with a stale odor. Before I could even utter a sound Ronan put his palm across my mouth. “Tshh, I am not even allowed to bring people here.” he whispered. “What? Are you renting it from a nun or something?”
His room was hot, half-lit, with a huge king size canopy bed. It was 2 am, we both were tired and tipsy but the appetite for lust was coming back full force. Ronan was lying on top of the quilt cover in plain cotton boxers and white shirt. I went to take a shower and came out all fresh, wrapped in a white towel which I slipped in front of him. We kissed and rolled and made a sandwich. I removed his shirt, traveled down his body and made a contact with a fish-like slippery, sticky skin. I let his warm and heavy artillery out to roam free. He turned me over and plunged his head between my legs exploring me with his lips and fingertips. Then he was ready to sail his ship through me. At first the ship was entering the desert which was slowly turning to bayou, until bayou was becoming the sea and the ship sunk deep into my sinkhole and it was about the ship exploring the sinkhole in the sea. The life above the surface ceased to exist.
The rest of the night I slept restlessly. I found myself clinging to Ronan, nestling down on his chest, holding his hand – the things I do when I have feelings. He didn’t push me away. We woke up late hungry for love, lust, hungry for each other. So we did it again feverishly, thrusting each other, riding, biting, galloping until we both spasmed. We took some time to disentangle, our bodies still glued to each other. My fingers ran thru his salty shiny sweat drops and then I pressed my lips and tasted ’em. Slowly our hearts rates returned to normal. We talked and joked lingering on the moment, trying to delay the looming separation. Then it was time to leave. He quickly showered, packed, put on his European cologne and we went outside. Outside was a strong afternoon sun beating down on us mercilessly. We went for brunch to Who Dat Cafe and ordered eggs with beacon and pancakes. The sun revealed his pale freckles and little fine lines. Handsome wasn’t the word to describe him. He was alright. His brains, his kind philosophies and a few other manly assets made him look real good. It felt good being around him. He was easy to confide to, heavy stuff and secrets. It’s always easier to confide to someone who you might never ever see again. Then we finished eating and Ronan walked with me towards the end of the Marigny. There near the cross street of Royal and Elysian Fields we kissed each other goodbye. “Damn, I am so glad I met you” he said. We parted ways and as I waited for the light I looked backed to see if he looked back. He did. I have this kinda silly theory that when you part and you both look back, it means something… It was a bitter sweet feeling. My skin was glowing but my heart ached a little. I felt like too many things in my life went according to Murphy’s laws. I really liked him. Not that it meant that we could actually work and make a couple together. I felt like I had revealed myself too much and too fast. He was too right, a little uptight and academic. But you never know how those things work anyway. Truly clicking and falling in love with someone is always a mystery. Hell with matchdotcom, eharmony.
The following week after Easter I moved to Arielle’s bunny-theme shotgun. She gave me a place in the attic. To get there I had to climb really steep sketchy stairs. The kind of stairs if you miss a step you’ll break your neck. Despite some serious life-threatening concerns it was a romantic attic which came with a wooden vintage desk and chair and it was filled with natural light, and a lovely view to the abandoned wild garden which had not been touched in years.
Victoria texted me that she had gotten two tickets to NOLA Jazz Fest. I was stoked. And so on Sunday morning I was there waiting for Victoria near the main entrance. I waited and waited and waited and waited. And I called her, called her. She didn’t show up. And so around noon I approached a security man. I first showed him my puppy eyes, then a flirty smile, then a pouty half-smile. “Sir, I am here visiting from Ukraine just for a few days and my friend has stood me up…” It worked on him alright. He let me into the festival grounds. I doubt I could pull it off in NYC. There’s no place like NOLA, there’s no place like the Big Easy. I was having a quality time by myself dancing to Elton John’s old hits. Being alone, living an adventurous life in the Big Easy was one of the few enlightening things that ever happened to me. After the Jazz Fest was over I walked around the street blocks of the Mid-City. There were small bands playing and after-parties, and open doors and jambalayas and po-boys. My phone rang, it showed Victoria’s number. I picked up it was her boyfriend Vince. “Hey, Alex, I am so sorry Victoria couldn’t make it, she didn’t feel well. But I can pick you up. I am near you.” I almost felt like making a lie and keep hanging by myself but getting back to the Irish Channel was a drag. Vince pulled over his Range Rover van and yelled at me, “Come on baby, get in. I got in reluctantly. I hadn’t yet located a seatbelt when the car took off like a torpedo, making screeching sound from hitting the gas. I nearly puked my jambalaya. Vince was driving with his left hand, the same hand also holding a cigarette, the right hand had a tight grip on a small bottle of Jameson. I felt like I couldn’t swallow anymore. Something was familiar. Quentin Tarantino. The Death Proof . I was trapped in the scene from the Death Proof. Will I make it one piece to Magazine Street?”
“Aren’t you afraid of being pulled over by cops?” I asked as we were speeding down the highway,
“Nah, don’t worry, babe, I am the best driver in the world. We don’t have enough cops here. Nobody wants to be a cop here. There’s a lot of corruption here.”
Vince was thirty-five. He looked much older, scruffy, hungover, jaded by life but never jaded by music or love. His dark hair was short, thick and oily. He was a poet and a musician.
“Hey, Alex babe, wanna hear me singing? My band singing?” He emptied half bottle of whiskey. For a moment his left hand let go off the wheel, while reaching towards his smartphone, while his right hand kept holding the whiskey bottle. The car was on auto-pilot. “Here, I found it, the Parish Prison Band.
He definitely had some talent and voice but I wasn’t in the mood to appreciate it. Besides, it was hard to appreciate that kind of music after Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road. I could only think of getting outta the damn car. “Jeez, Vince, you text, drink and smoke while driving. This is fucking badass. I am really scared now. Won’t you please put your hands on the wheel?”
“Nah, y’all be fine. Tell me darling, is Victoria just giving lap dances, she doesn’t do anything else? Does she?”
“Of course she doesn’t. She is a very sweet girl and she’s in love with you. She keeps talking about you all the time.”
I was surprised he asked me that. Didn’t he know that she was pretty much on downers and booze all the time she worked? Didn’t he know that she was losing herself? Or maybe addicts are all illusional. Not just addicts. Most people are illusional about many things. Vince was delusional about Victoria. Victoria was delusional about treating her anxiety and depression with xanax and booze. I was delusional about myself. I’d been delusional about my life, about being a lawyer, working on wall street, going with the flow, being normal. I’d been delusional about my last employer not revoking my fucking work visa. Normal man is a fiction. Fiction. Fiction.
But you. You. Don’t you make judgements? You young and mature, self-righteous, squeamish and condescending. Don’t ever judge this crazy, salacious, dysfunctional, dirty, and twisted world because this world is alive and real than that “normal”, nine to five, disguised by sterile conformity, 401(K), compliance and dental plan. The impure, dysfunctional world wrapped in pain, agony and perpetual dilemma is a lot more interesting and enlightening than the world of academia, grad schools and just books and things they write about in the New Yorker.
I never saw Victoria or Vince again. I took a break from dancing. Summer was approaching, the business was slowing down. Ari and her boyfriend left for Texas for a week, so I had a house to myself. I fed and watched over the bunny imagining her in a fancy dish. I cooked and ate plenty of good meal dishes with meat and fish. I sucked Saint Louis BBQ ribs to House of Cards, I ate almost 2 pounds of crawfish with andoville sausage all by myself. I ate fresh oysters and drank cold draft beer and watermelon margarita on Magazine street. I walked around the Irish Channel, befriending neighbors and their friendly dogs. I went out to a few hipster parties and art galleries. I took Ari’s bike and biked to Audubon park, falling asleep under live oak trees. Long spanish moss, hanging from an oak tree is touching my head. I open my eyes and fall asleep again. Soon it all will be over. Soon Ari will come back from her trip. Soon the Bourbon street will be deserted for summer. Soon I’ll go and work at Visions just two more times until the manager will yell at me and some girls will get mad at me for doing too well and staying too sober. Soon tropical mosquitos will get too comfortable sucking my blood. Soon crawfish will be out of season. Soon the streets will be empty. Soon I will have the last best bloody marry with my friend bartender Flip in the french quarter. The merciless sun will beat down on unapologetically. But Flip will remind me to smile, to smile regardless of life’s circumstances… Soon I will be back in Brooklyn, New York, soon I will miss NOLA and soon I will be hoping to go back there again…