I. Strep To.
Who wants to riverboat gamble? Bramblewine, Charley Pride, kiss an angel good morning. At 4:35 a car on St. Ann honked, a woman whooped and I coughed this cough I’ve got, craning for health, for a clear cranium, for enriched uranium, for heavy water—Enough. It’s not a cough I’ve got but a sore throat and a wicked one. All my life I’d hear about other people getting strep throat and I can’t recall ever having it myself…until now? Dunh, dunh, dunhhhh! I have been under the weather for weeks and now I’m in New Orleans, Louisiana—what am I doing here? Sipping room coffee at five a.m. because I can’t sleep and my throat hurts and I don’t have my trusty foam contour pillow, upon which I have grown heavily reliant. The day will unfold, though, and it might just get better. The only tool of destruction I have here is the liquid—no grass and no pills. I have a legitimate chance of remembering the good time I’m going to have out there on those patchworked cobblestone streets in this old amorous city on the river.
I have little else factual to report. It’s Friday morning. This is vacation. B and I sprung this trip on ourselves, by ourselves. I fear we might get a little lonely. We had no trouble getting here. The security line at Lambert-Southwest was no line at all. Indeed, I’d fly on a Thursday evening again. The plane was full because there is never a shortage of people heading to New Orleans. The flight is not quite an hour and a half. I finished a sudoku and read just a little of Peter Reading‘s, Perduta Gente. There’s no reason you should have heard of it. I bought it, used, at Subterranean Books on the Delmar Loop back when that store sold used books. It’s considered a work of poetry but I’d call it mixed media, a poetic collage. There are stanzas of verse but also handwritten “diary” excerpts and photocopies of newspaper articles and ads spliced into the story, which deals with street people in London: winos and dipsos. Dipsomaniacs I take it—drunks. There is frequent mention of peoples’ ‘meths,’ which I conclude is a neologistic mashup of meds and methods, or maybe he is simply talking about methamphetamine though I don’t think so.
I was struck by a line in the second diary entry, handwritten, torn from a small wire-bound paper notebook not unlike what I’m writing in now, with the derbis hanging like loose textile at the top. It goes, “Tuesday: In the crypt of St Botolph’s we got a mug of tea and some bits of bread. It’s like a sort of air-raid shelter with us all waiting for something awful to go away, or worse, to happen.” I’ve run with my erstwhile college friend Bill Williams’s great line, “It’s all a wash—we move, we walk, we travel and, yet, we rarely really talk” as the tagline for Hierophany for years but I think it’s time for a change. This line of Reading’s, penned 27 years ago, fits today as well as any could.
I am struggling in this New Era of the Great America because I am afraid of disagreement while also finding myself unwilling to agree with others, as if agreement would make me complicit in a conspiracy supporting something unknown but ugly. My selfish act is condemned by those who would tell me what it was I was supposed to have done for them or for their flock. I find myself in some sort of self-imposed exile, having placed my own mind in quarantine, my opinions the germs I must suppress. If I let them out the arguments and recriminations will become bigger than my reality, swamping a vacation, killing a friendship, stunting a family tree, poisoning the water supply for the whole damn town. Not gonna do it, wouldn’t be…prudent. Ah, those were the days, when I didn’t know what a politician was, when I wasn’t interested in the fight. I’d feel better if I could just get a pen and some paper, and observe a lot just by watching, like some yogi.
II. Magazine Subscription.
We’re on Magazine, 3000 block, east of Lafayette Cemetery No 1. The first time I was in New Orleans, with Brett and Tab, we took the streetcar down to the Garden District, went to the Cemetery but weren’t sure what to do with ourselves once we’d toured the graves. Magazine Street is what we were looking for, a tight corridor of neighborhood bars, restaurants, and stores. That first time, with them, we never found what we were looking for; we turned around.
Today, I went to the American Apparel on Magazine and bought a couple of their deep V-neck t’s. In the last twelve months I’ve bought deep Vs in Portland, Chicago, and now New Orleans. This store was on the sparse side, dazily attended, what you’d expect from a store whose outfit is in bankruptcy, again. I’ve been drawn to the Am App deep Vs as a replacement for my jaundiced white undershirts. The last time I tried to buy more large tall Jockey V-neck t’s they were not nearly as long/tall as before. With the Am App Vs I can give them a second wear as a running or a gym shirt after first having worn them to work as an undershirt. And they’re made in the U.S., which makes them something of a dying breed. I am getting them while I can. They have no idea, but a couple of my old jaundice-pit whities will get the ax when I get home. [Ed. note: Apparently Gildan, the activewear company, has bought Am App out of bankruptcy, and has made clear its intent to start manufacturing some American Apparel-branded textiles in other countries.]
We’re gonna walk down to a deli at 2207 Magazine. We’ve done a fair bit of walking already today (plus the 4.5 miles I ran this morning on the hotel treadmill). Worth the walk was Willa Jean at Girod and O’Keefe. The shrimp and grits I had was as good as any shrimp dish I’ve had here in three trips. The grits were gritty and creamy and then there was a reddish sauce that I feared might give me heartburn but hasn’t yet. B had a biscuit, eggs, bacon, grits. The place was doing a brisk morning business but we got seated within minutes and the service was attentive. I had a grapefruit juice. I’d give the place four out of four or five out of five stars. They have a lunch menu, too. We would go back.
My fear of some major sickness having taken root in me has come and gone in the wake of whatever it was that moved through me earlier. My throat is still sore but I’ve discounted the possibility of flu, which is widespread in this area, according to Weather Underground. Can you imagine if there really were an epidemic, of flu? Or something else? Are any of us prepared? I don’t think we have a sense of what emergency really means. The best argument I can imagine as to why we should let refugees into the United States is so they could tell us about what it means to live life with urgency. But I’m not sure how many of us would stop and listen. Would I? Would it strike me right, or would I be just too damn busy carrying on with my carrying on?
III. Widespread Accounts of Progress.
Jackhammers, stone cutters, cement mixers, bricklayers, orange cones, yellow tape—this city is Under Construction. Fences throughout Jackson Square. Sidewalk ends torn up corner after corner to splice in bizarre renditions of ADA compliance. Other sidewalks are closed altogether for major building renovation. There was a house on Sophie Wright stripped down to the studs and it looked like even the old studs themselves were being swapped out for new ones in a complete and total retro-fit.
Other properties, which we passed while walking through the Garden District, are wood-exterior homes in dire need of paint. For some, the moment for paint has long passed and rotting wood needs to be excised and replaced altogether. It made me think of our stucco bungalow back home, with its wood trim. The maintenance requirement is never-ceasing but manageable. There is no freezing and thawing in New Orleans but there’s plenty of rain and nearly year-round moisture. I have no doubt those parcels are worth a bundle but it’s not a hold I’d be interested in taking on myself. We might get back to the Garden District/Magazine Street yet again this trip. If we do I’ll want to look at the houses some more. We saw one that sported a restoration company’s sign out front. The house looked clean and trim and fresh and made me envious and happy.
I meant to do some study on parts of buildings in advance of this trip so better to describe them. I want to call everything a balustrade or a parapet. Wall. Stairs. Balcony. We saw two gents working on either side of the railing of a porch along the front of a bed and breakfast. One man kneeling up top, one standing below. They were scraping and chipping the paint from the balusters making up the railing. They watched me watching them as we walked by, first in the wrong direction, and then again as we doubled back.
We took the bus back to the French Quarter. We had taken the St. Charles streetcar down to the Garden District after eating at Willa Jean this morning. The bus seemed like the better way to go—quicker and roomier. It was the number 11 we took back up to Canal. There were other riders but they seemed more like locals whereas the streetcars seemed more the tourist vehicle. We wouldn’t turn down the streetcar, though, if it were the better option—considering time of trip and the amount of walking involved. Same cost either way: $1.25 per ride. We each bought a $10 pre-loaded card this morning. After one trolley ride and one bus ride we are down $2.50 each to $7.50. There is a machine on either the trolley or the bus into which you slip the card and it pops back out, minus the fare.
I’ve had a few Andygators. I just poured a vodka and tonic. We have new neighbors on floor 3, who appear to have us surrounded. They are flitting back and forth between their numerous rooms making enough clatter with doors banging to distract me from this task. My job is to deal with it. Unless it gets ridiculous and then I’ll ask the hotel to move us. I don’t like being surrounded. The only failsafe is that we’ve got this “split-level suite”—an oddball of a room where we have entrances on both floor three and floor four. These old partyfolk shuttle-diplomats are not on four but they have the third floor balconies on either side of us. There is now an ashtray out on the balcony to the left that I’m pretty sure wasn’t there before. Patrick or Ray would probably make friends with these folks but I have a hard time at that. I’m unsure where else I could go just to hang out, perhaps the lobby like I did last time, or the wrap-around staircase mezzanine near the lobby. I’ll have to pull that starter at some point.
WWOZ, the legendary local radio station, is currently playing a string of funky jazz, emanating upstairs on the actual FM radio signal (90.7). Downstairs, I have it going on my phone using their app. It is filling our split-level nicely, though the timing is a little off. “It’s a round, don’t you get it? The delay is intentional. It adds to the effect.” The two guys sitting next to us at Stein’s deli were talking movies and seemed to be old friends. One was quoting and making references left and right. He said something about Matthew McConnaughey in Mud. I don’t know that one. There might have been references to comic books or a comic book movie. My memory has been mud lately. I’ve had a hard time remembering some of the expenditure amounts. I need my recall facility to work if my style of travel writing is going to yield the expected result. They mentioned some specific other flicks but I just can’t remember. Perhaps I got distracted when one of the sandwich baristas yelled at a customer who was picking up his finished sandwich while also being on his phone. “Hang up the phone, motherfucker!” My back was turned. Was the patron in offense merely because he was on the phone while picking up the finished order? Or did this patron try to converse with the barista while also on the phone, thereby angering the sandwich maker? I am uncertain but I know for sure that it created an air of tension in the place. I went up to get our finished order soon thereafter, phone nowhere to be seen, and the yeller was still fuming, muttering “fuckers…” under his breath. The sandwiches were good but we opted to eat them outside once we had them in hand.
Ship’s left the station now, another little vodka and tonic, this time with a lemon. WWOZ played an advert about a food festival being held, alas, after we leave but the location is one Central City BBQ, a destination on my list of 14 “Other Food Options.” It’s at 1201 S. Rampart, 26 minutes away via the 28 bus, open from 11 a.m. Thursday through Monday. I had visited and left New Orleans the first time having stayed a block “east” of Rampart without having stepped in its direction once. My second time here I had a sense of where the street lay but could apprehend that it was “a complete mess” due to construction and had no reason to tackle it. Things could change this time around. Rockets red glare and the ramparts they wail.
IV. Writing in the Dark.
It’s 3:05 a.m. Saturday morning. I’ve not slept well the last couple hours. I woke up a lot between two and three. I dreamt of June, doing a crazy jump. I dislike the pillow arrangement here. Two crummy pillows. I’ve become a pillow prig.
I looked out the window, took my earplugs out. There isn’t a whole lot going on. A group of seven fifty-ish black gals walked by. One of them stopped, looked back up St. Ann in the direction of Bourbon and said, “Whatch’all doin?” A minute later three more gals and a guy walked by.
There is a trickle of taxis and other cars, their lamps washing over the ceiling of our room as they coast by. My ears were starting to hurt from the plugs so I pulled them. I’m a little tight. I can feel yesterday’s walking in my calves. The fridge kicks on, sounding kind of like an oink. We saw a pig on a leash yesterday. It somehow reminded us of June. The whitish fur, being low to the ground, and the placid look on its face.
V. Room Coffee and a Coup.
I went to an ATM and withdrew some cash. It’s 7:30 a.m. and chilly outside—low forties. But it’s clear and it’s Saturday and the mercury’s got nowhere to go but up. B went to grab some breakfast at her favorite bakery, Croissant d’Or Patisserie. I am going to put in a couple of miles on the treadmill and then do approximately five exercises with the dumbbells in the fitness center. I’ve had one room coffee and one lobby coffee. WWOZ flows from the radio upstairs. Stevedores were unloading boxes and boxes of “15 dozen eggs” for consumption at Brennan’s on Royal. The street machines have doused their cobbles, making it look like there has been rain. Activity begins to percolate in the hall.
A wild-eyed man in a hoodie at the streetcar stop on Canal and Dauphine was saying, “There’s an attempt to overthrow the U.S. government. Half the people don’t know.” Anything’s possible. I should have stopped to see if there was anything more to go on, or if this was his annual message, irrespective of current events. But I was headed to Crescent City Books and I was not stopping.
My feet are beat.
My feat is a beet.
My feta are beta.
My fate is bait.
My fete is bet.
My fat is bat,
enough of that.
VI. Stories about French Quarter Used Bookstores.
I just snagged a copy of J.F. Powers‘s Lions, Harts, Leaping Does from the compact labyrinth that is Arcadian Books, right across Orleans from our hotel’s main entrance. I had heard Annie Proulx read “A Losing Game” on a New Yorker fiction podcast a couple of weeks ago.
“J.F. Powers,” said the proprietor when I handed him the book. “I haven’t heard that name in years. He used to be a big deal.”
He checked the cover for the penciled-in price.
“And that’s an old price, too,” he told me, looking over his glasses.
I didn’t say anything but inside I was feeling like I had won something we both knew was important, our secret, and he was playing the good sport. I recall Proulx suggesting Powers was out of print. So, a tip of the hat to the New Yorker fiction podcast and its host, Deborah Treisman. So too a nod to Annie Proulx who said she had wanted to read Powers because she thought he was in danger of being forgotten. I’ve never read Proulx’s most famous work, The Shipping News, but I would buy it or a collection of her own short stories were I to encounter them.
Powers might have fallen from favor because, according to Proulx, he writes mainly about religious professionals—priests, deacons, vicars, prelates and bishops. It’s not a subject I would otherwise be drawn to but “A Losing Game” was a remarkably clean, well-dialogued, straightforward, secular story in my estimation. Character-driven on the small scale. I like short stories because they allow me to get in and out without having to lend hours and weeks to one story that might curdle three hundred pages in, having grown maudlin or politically quagmired.
I just wish I could write a decent short story or two. I had a chance years ago. I feel very far from being able to do so now. I wrote two pretty bad stories in 2015. They were bad to the point I left them both unfinished because I didn’t care about them. They were the epitome of me writing just for the sake of writing. I fear I’m too hostile and red in the face and sodden; that I spend too much time in a car related to work to write something decent nowadays. I suspect I will be unable to write a decent story until I can still everything out. I can’t see achieving that now or soon from now. But this helps. Just to go through ink and paper does help. Yet, getting to a state where I can create characters who have important lives or who have something important to say…. It’s the old joke about asking for directions, “You can’t get there from here.”
I’ve opened an Andygator, fourth of six from yesterday’s sixer. Bottles. I am heavily emphasiZing aluminum lately but I like the Gator and it’s not in cans to my knowledge. The Gator is an 8.0% ABV doppelbock, not at all like an india pale ale, or a stout, or a belgian ale, or a barleywine. It’s a “high gravity, strong, slightly fruity” badass German-style beer, made by Abita in Abita Springs, Louisiana. There’s also a strawberry version, of which B and I split one last night. Not bad.
As previously indicated, I went to Crescent City Books after running. It’s below Canal Street now, having moved about a year ago. They had a handful of books temporarily housed in their “New Arrivals” section that I wanted to buy. I did snag one of them, classified as Nature writing, by J.A. Baker, about a guy in England (Baker himself) who tracks the “comings and goings of a pair of peregrine falcons across the flat fenlands of eastern England.” I picked it up, looked at the neat drawing of a peregrine falcon on the cover, read the description, and said to myself, “Oh, I am buying this book!”
I also bought a travel writing volume called Expats by Christopher Dickey. The subtitle is “Travels in Arabia, from Tripoli to Tehran.” I read a lot of fiction but I’m not sure it’s giving me all the spectrum I need. Plus, the type of writing I have managed to pen is best called travel writing so I might as well see what’s been passing as some of the best of the form. I then went and scanned the expansive fiction area. I was working from a list of writers or readers from the New Yorker fiction podcast: I always look for Donald Barthelme, and I never find him. (I have his Sixty Stories, one of my desert island books, but I did not realize until recently that his Forty Stories is not a leaner version of Sixty Stories but forty stories distinct unto themselves, and I search for it, unsuccessfully on end. What the frequency, Kenneth?)
I looked for David Means. I looked for Mary Gaitskill, and found her, but it was not only hardback but also “signed by the author” and cost $24 so I passed. There was a J.F. Powers hardback, $10, I passed. Tobias Wolff’s A Boy’s Life is reputed and I have enjoyed the work of his I’ve read—Old School is worth reading, and I read one of his short story collections, he has a story called “Chain” that is memorable—but I couldn’t pull the trigger on Boy’s Life. There was no Sherman Alexie (B, that’s the author of the surprise gay Indian sex story from the podcast series). No Muriel Sparks. There was a huge tome of Nadine Gordimer; a pricy hardback of Coover; no Peter Stamm; no George Saunders; only a novel by Joseph O’Neill, carrying a president’s endorsement on the cover, which I took to say, “This is an overtly political work” and I passed; only a novel of Antonya Nelson; no Joshua Ferris, etc etc.
I started getting texts from B so I bid the bookstore and its cat adieu, paid $17.05 for my two books and then went in search of a USPS mail drop box. I walked to a closed post office. Locked to the world is a federal building at noon on a Saturday. Ready to call that half-hour odyssey a fail, I crossed paths with a postman just back inside the Quarter. I asked him please to put my card to my aunt and uncle in the mail, he said he would. There aren’t any blue dropboxes around here—none in the whole Quarter and none that I espied in the Central Business District either. I know people still mail things. Damn! I walked up to Esplanade to mail a card to my aunt and uncle from here the last time. I was resigned to walking back up to Esplanade this time. Or I could have taken the card to Post on Royal, a shop that sells packaging materials and will apparently also put your letters in the mail. I hesitated going to Post only because I’m reticent to rely on a business for a favor when I have no intention of doing any business with them. Maybe mailing cards for tourists is a loss leader for them but I have a hard time even walking into a place of business and walking out without buying something.
Yet, I managed to do precisely that at Faulkner House Books in Pirate’s Alley near the Cathedral after lunch. Their fiction was either new, hardback, or special e.g. “First Edition” or “Signed”. I don’t give a whit about any of that, I’m buying words not collecting paper. Plus, I like slim books that I can fit into my fanny pack. That said, there was a pretty awesome J. G. Farrell Siege of Krishnapur and Troubles combo but it was a tome, with small print. His Singapore Grip was a damn fine account of Japan’s ass-kicking of the British in Singapore during World War II. Krishnapur covers England’s fumbling with colonial rule in India while Troubles is about the troubling conflict spanning Ireland, Northern Ireland and England in the latter half of the twentieth century. I could use some education on that stretch of time. His is a dense style of writing and although both books won the Booker Prize I’d probably not read them one after the other. There was a Jennifer Egan book comprising a set of intertwined stories, each its own but weaving certain characters back into and out of each successive story a la Cheever or Paley or Beattie, a construct I admire. I feel that’s what Salinger did with the Glass family. But the Egan was $25 hardback and I didn’t want it that bad.
A handful of other patrons came in, asking for this or that, an old Sue Grafton title from before she was popular. “Don’t have it,” said the matter-of-fact proprietor. Someone else asked for something else. Again, “Don’t have it.” The proprietor did proffer a list of all of the other shops in the Quarter. The New Orleans French Quarter bookstores seem to operate based upon the hive mentality, they all help each other out and there is a synergy to their existence. This is why bookphiles love New Orleans.
Someone bought a book called White Trash and I scooted over to the aforementioned Arcadian Bookshop, where it rains books. I almost got an Ann Beattie short story collection but I have her Distortions at home, unread—and might have bought it at Arcadian last year!—so I held off. There was a collection by John Berger, who has been in the New Yorker but whose work I do not personally know. The book’s setting appeared to be rural and unusual. I might go back for it. That leaves me the shop on Dauphine—Dauphine Street Books—and Beckham’s Bookshop on Decatur. I’ve been to both stores before but I missed Dauphine on the last trip, perhaps because it was not open when I happened by it.
VII. Tip and Go.
Now I’m working on this account, sipping my Andygator, and I’ll start to get ready for dinner. Cochon at 17:30. A half-hour walk. It’s 16:00 now. I’m tired but in an acceptable way. I’ve got WWOZ going, eclectic as ever. The only other thing of interest that happened today was the come-on I triggered as a result of tipping the jazzman playing along the river after we ate our muffuletta. I tipped $2 and started to walk on. That’s my move: tip and go.
But then this guy starts with, “Where you from?”
“What’s your name?”
He said, “OK, Jack, I’m gonna play a song for you and your lady, a song about missing New Orleans.”
He had a strange presentation. He had a saxophone and a trumpet. Unbeknownst to me he also fancied himself a singer. Using an old mini-boombox he somehow got a recorded version of this song going—the mini-boombox had a CD player but its lid was open, the disc was not spinning, maybe the music was playing via tape?—and he sang along to this song, the lyrics of which at one point included the phrase “bitches in New Orleans”—awkward ha-ha’s—but he also dropped in a Soulard reference, which told me he knew something about St. Louis.
What he really wanted was for us to buy his CD. I don’t think he really even needed the money. He just wanted a little bit of fame, he wanted to be remembered. So, here you go, River Walk Jazzman, this in remembrance of you. Oh, I’d be remiss if in my description of him I did not acknowledge that he was, as B said, a “close singer”—he would get right up in her face for the moments in the song where he would customize the lyrics, e.g. substituting in Jack or St. Louis in place of the standard lyrics. We were glad, and maybe he was too, when before the last verse he briefly broke away from the tune to say, “Last verse.”
VIII. Parading back from Cochon.
We caught sight and sound—flashing lights, a sousaphone hoisted in the air, bouncing, fat vibrations of jazzy horns—on our way back up N Peters from dinner at Cochon. We trailed it for awhile. They took a left on Iberville and appeared headed for Bourbon. I really had to use a restroom so we continued back to the hotel. One other note of use: while following the sound of the parade on N Peters I saw the much sought-after blue metal USPS dropbox, located at N Peters and Iberville. It’s been there the whole time, right outside the Mister Apple Candy Store.
At Cochon, we had eaten a pork cheek appetizer. It had the consistency of meat, which surprised me. I’m not sure what I thought it would be like: fatty I guess. Then the salads. I had a beet salad that was incredibly good: shaved fennel, mint, a goddess-type dressing, mandarin slices. That beet salad along with the shrimp and grits at Willa Jean are so far the dishes I most want to take back home with me. B had a mushroom salad that was good but it paled next to the beet frolic on my plate. My entree was a fisherman’s style gulf fish. I was told it was redfish but another waiter told patrons at the next table it was red snapper. It was good fish, and I’ve not had much redfish in my time but I’ve got a little doubt that it was indeed redfish. I looked at the scales on the underside of the fish. I’ve compared that vision to photos online. What I had looked more like snapper. Redfish are huge. This fish I had was most of half of a whole fish laid out across a plate—no head, no tail, no fins. Maybe I’ll find some redfish somewhere else before we go and I’ll have a better basis for comparison. [Editor’s note: Upon further review, the term “redfish” is somewhat generic and could indeed refer to red snapper as well as at least a couple of other fish.]
We each had a cocktail and then a glass of wine (red for her, white for me). I was telling B I thought I might try to switch to white wine instead of so much beer and vodka. The beer is layering me up. The vodka I drink like water, which could be part of my rosacea-cheeks problem. Yet, I’m unsure I can find decent-enough white wine within the cost confines of my drinks budget. But as beer gets more and more expensive, that gap is closing.
I’m drinking a mini vodka tonic now. A bleary-eyed gal just knocked on our door looking for “Tom?…” I just looked at her. “I am so sorry, I’ve got the wrong number.” Like she and I were having a phone conversation except I never said a word. I enjoy not talking while still being present. I don’t want to be on my phone or otherwise distracted in some way but I am willing to sit and say nothing or very little. I can let other people do the talking while I listen, or play devil’s advocate.
Earlier, a different bleary-eyed person, a fellow perhaps my own age or maybe a little younger, stopped me at Royal and St. Louis to ask me if I knew where Jackson Square was.
“You know, with the psychics and stuff,” he said.
He looked like one of the New Orleans faux-street people, not quite an all-out Decatur Hater but along those lines. I thought, “OK, here comes the come on.” But he was for real, I guess. I told him to go down St. Louis a ways and then make a left. That should have gotten him there.
I was in Jackson Square myself, briefly, this afternoon. It was nice despite being under renovation. I have not seen that violin duo with the baby in the backpack that had me captivated and loving them with emotion a year ago.
IX. WWOZ Again.
There is a big parade next weekend, krewedelusion. We’re a week off. James Brown just came on though. B is reading and eyeing a muted Harry Potter marathon on the upstairs TV. I’m writing this and listening to J B getting funky. I’m also working through the introduction to my falcon book.
(Some time passes, maybe half an hour…)
She’s out and I’m in bed with her, music still going on my phone but low. There—now I’ve turned it off on the phone and switched the bedside radio on. I’ve got my headlamp going. There’s some sporadic hooting and hollering out on St. Ann below us. That adds to the ambience. What detracts from the ambience is the way the doors of this place resound shut when our neighbors go in and out, resulting every time in a stud-shaking thud. Some very thin weatherstripping would cut well down on all of these needless sound-hammers. It’s too much. It’s the sliver in my paw.
X. Kevin Bacon and George Orwell.
1. I’ve given the WWOZ app a prominent spot amongst my iPhone app lineup. Will I really listen to it ‘back home’? I hope I will but I fear I won’t. Sub-question: I like KDHX plenty but I don’t even have their app on my phone. Is this local-hate? Hypocrisy? Me being a fake?
2. I don’t want to get into this topic right now. It’s big and unwieldy. It involves Kevin Bacon and George Orwell. If those two have not already been linked via the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon then I heartily accept your plaudits and I will return to my falcon book, whose first sentence I have now read, 9:38 p.m. This is us with our brain “off friends”. We miss our travel buddies. And though I’ve gone incommunicado for reasons I might not have I keep thinking about my boy Roy and I miss him too. In his element he could operate in this town and it would be something to see. Jacket, cigarettes, collared shirt. Barry Hannah wrote a book about him, called
XI. Overnight James Brown.
I passed someone on the street who looked a lot like what my high school girlfriend could have looked like by now. But this person told me she was not her. Yet, she knew who I was—so I had to know who she was. As I tossed and turned, this stumper somehow morphed into baseball trivia B was giving me, hinting that this person (the answer) had killed a rally in a World Series game with a sac fly. She couldn’t believe I wasn’t getting it.
I told her, “My mind’s just not working right.”
On the bright side, at the close of this dream I had some funky soul music going on the (dream) radio that was still in my head when I woke up, music quite similar to one of the two James Brown songs on WWOZ last night. There is a section of that krewedelusion parade, next Saturday, that will boom solely James Brown tunes. The host of last night’s show said she would not be hosting next week’s show because she would be out dancing in the streets, starting in Marigny and proceeding on down into the French Quarter. As my dad might say, “New Orleans: You gotta love it!”
Thus, another Saturday night has tested the public’s readiness and willingness to trash these streets. It’s 7:30 but it appears the street cleansers have not yet swept by. Looking out the window I can see what I think are the contents of a trash bag that had been put out for pickup yesterday afternoon, moved early last night and then thrashed open and tossed about somewhere nearer to light.
XII. Oysters at St Roch Market.
I’ve just ordered some oysters! Two each of: Capt Johnny Smith (wild); Bay Sans Bois, LA (maricultured); and, Point Aux Pins, AL (off-bottom cultivated). It’s the Gulf Coast Oyster sampler at Elysian Seafood in the St Roch Market. We walked here via Royal, detour to Touro, to Dauphine to Marigny to St Claude to St Roch. There is some revitalization but also some dereliction along that route. We snapped a few photos, cute houses, vacant restaurant fronts, parking lots ‘scaped with trash blowing about.
The oysters join the beet salad and the shrimp and grits on the food Mt Rushmore for this trip so far. I loved the presentation, on ice, half-shell, raw. Two little forks, dab of cocktail sauce, bit of horseradish, lift and slurp them on down. A little chewy, viscous like a jelly, so fresh-tasting, like they have hailed from a clean cold niche not too far off the coast. A thunderstorm roared in off the coast, dropping not hail but shells; in those shells, oysters. First we ordered a pair of each of the three kinds, then I ordered one more of each. $24.
St Roch is an unusual collective approach but it works. It’s a big, open space with a variety of culinary offerings, each proprietor having his or her own little counter or stall—kind of like a food court, but in this old building (established 1875).
We have moved on from the oyster counter and now we’ve ordered Viet street food from the T2 tall. For me, jasmine rice with pork tenderloin and it hit the spot. I just flicked down out of the sky at the speed of a peregrine and cleaned the bowl of its contents: an egg, thin strips of sweet crunchy pork, shredded carrot, cilantro, cucumbers and a few of what I believe were corn flakes. B liked her shrimp and noodles, too. We just leave the bowls where they are, the tables get bussed. B bought coffee from Rwanda as a gift. We will walk back now.
XIII. I Can’t Start Drinkin’ Yet.
The walk to St Roch was a success and got us out of the Quarter again, this time following the river sourceward. We traveled away from th’estuary. Now, I will take a 25-minute walk out to bookstores while it’s miscellaneous shopping for the lady. We bought a bottle of pinot gris and put it on ice….
… And we’re back. It’s 13:22. I can’t start drinkin’ yet. B has herself a glass of pinot gris. She can take a nap. I might still try to put in 2.0 on the treadmill. I bought one more book. It is called The Snow Geese by William Fiennes. It is about the author following snow geese north from their winter quarters in the southern U.S. to their breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic. I imagine the author had read The Peregrine. I take it Fiennes relies much more heavily on memoir than J.A. Baker, the Peregrine author. The map within Snow Geese indicates a journey from just south of Austin, TX to Baffin Island way up there. I find snow geese fascinating. I hear them before I see them, their squawks trickling down from very high above as they wing north, often in a loose V, dozens of them, perceptible against a clear blue sky only as silhouetted objects in flight. B and I and my cousin and his wife—and our late, great Squirt—heard them time and again when we camped at Pere Marquette last February one unseasonably pleasant weekend. I told B recently that I was thinking about the snow geese and very much wanted to see them again soon.
I’m sitting out by the pool reading my falcon book but I’m also thinking about oysters. Why would someone want to eat oysters? Are they healthy? I checked the internet. One site says eating raw oysters is not recommended because they could give you food poisoning. OK, fine. Are they nutritious, though? Yes. They’re loaded with Omega-3 fats and vitamin B12. They contain smaller amounts of thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin B6 and vitamins A, D, E and K. Then there’s the minerals. They’re full of zinc and offer smaller amounts of iron, phosphorus and calcium. Zinc is key for cold prevention. Maybe I am not getting enough zinc.
XIV. Hashtag Super Bowl: Sell Your Violence Here.
If it’s a movie trailer or a FOX TV advertisement it’s: explosives, cars and guns. THEY did studies saying there was no causal link between all of this gun-based entertainment and gun crimes on U.S. streets. Bull. Let’s let the hunters shoot their deer and ducks but let’s please end the Fast and Furious enterprise now that it has splashed an astounding eight films on the screens of our mind-numbed cinemas. Meanwhile, FOX has to bring 24 back, to honor its “legacy”. Two seconds into the intro the bullets are flying, end over end. The quickest and easiest route to cutting the gun crime in our country is for us as consumers of content to start saying no to the gun shows.
B says me and Brady have the same head of hair. I’m live-blogging the Super Bowl, on paper. Now she says I probably have more hair than him. She comes down from the Harry Potter half of our split-level and musses my hair. I offer her the finger nail I’ve been chewing, telling her, “It’s a good one.” She demurs.
I’ve got the Super Bowl on the lower TV, an Andygator, WWOZ going on my phone and a pen in my hand with no work tomorrow. I’m wearing pajama pants!
XV. King Cake Beer = Disgusting.
“Did you empty the vodka?”
“No, there’s still some in there.”
“Do you need the sock?”
It was late in the afternoon when we drove to the parking spot back in St Louis, upon embarking on this trip. My sunglasses were already packed so I cribbed on the pair I had stashed in the car, an old pair of Ray Bans I bought on S Congress in Austin, 2006. But I got on the airport shuttle with them.
I told B, “I made a mistake.”
“The sunglasses I’m wearing, I’ve no case for them, no place to put them.”
She had a pair of socks in her travel sack. The glasses went into one of the socks, but that’s not enough protection so she ensconced them also in the second sock!
XVI. The City of New Orleans, For the Birds.
Birds at Audubon: white ibis, monk’s parakeet, anhinga, black-bellied whistling duck. Coot. Great egret. Chickadee, mallard. Some sort of gull, black tips on its wings. Pleasant breeze, mostly sunny. A pile of turtles on a rock. Magnolias. Egret feathers made wispy in the wind. A warbler with blue on it? Cerulean? The sound of a train in the distance. An anhinga makes a water landing, its long neck like a snake darting above the water. Landed, it dives, like a submarine. Now it returns.
It is 15:41 on a Monday afternoon. I had too much to drink last night and I haven’t written much at all today. I haven’t read a page either. But we did accomplish a six-hour outing, of which Audubon Park and the area fronting the river just to the south of the park, apparently called The Fly, were the highlight.
We left about nine this morning, once I cooled down and stopped perspiring post-workout and post-shower. Even a little hung over I put in 3.25 on the treadmill and did one dumbbell exercise. I’ve been on the treadmill every day so far— 4.0 Friday, 3.3 Saturday, 2.2 Sunday and 3.25 today.
Because each morning dawns anew, we allowed ourselves once again this morning to hold hopes of getting in at the Ruby Slipper but the wait was forty minutes. The crowd milling around outside was anxious as wolves. We got on a number 11 to Magazine Street and ate at the Red Dog Diner. I thought I was hungry but my appetite skipped town when the food arrived. I should’ve gotten pancakes, something simple. The biscuits and gravy I ordered proved daunting because the gravy was heavy on sausage and low on sauce. I don’t really even like sausage when I’m not hungover. There were eggs, too, which I couldn’t finish. The coffee tasted like carbon black, or pencil shavings.
The water tasted like water, and was essential.
Food in the belly, the day dangled out there in front of us like a hanging slider and we didn’t miss it.
We got back on the number 11 and took it through more neighborhood along Magazine, in the direction away from the Quarter, which for awhile looked a little more upscale, if that is possible in New Orleans. There were then a profusion of pizza joints and never a dearth of construction. We disembarked when our field of vision opened and turned green. We crossed over busy, split Magazine and walked down Tea Room Drive toward Audubon Zoo.
The zoo was closed which was just as well because it was not our destination. Continuing west we found the head of the Mississippi River Trail. We thought we were on the trail pretty good but we lost it somehow, or were never on it at all, and as we turned east we were behind the zoo, in the section of the park they call The Fly. There is a road going through it and there were drivers here and there, some parking to get out and walk their dogs. Some just sat in their cars, doing who knows what. There were two cop cars, parked in opposing directions, their drivers kibbutzing. We took a path to the river’s edge and looked at the wide, brown, strapping Mississippi. River traffic was brisk. We saw long, low-slung barges but also two huge enormous metal-clad plowhorses of the water that piqued me as to their purpose.
The second of these somehow-floating monsters was the Dream Star—I’m on a site called Maritime Connector and I’ve got some information. The Dream Star was built in 2010 in Tadotsu, Japan. It is a bulk carrier, Japanese-owned. It flies the Panamanian flag.
The first large ship was the Eagle Kinabalu, which I could only guess at it’s being an oil tanker, which it is. It is about a quarter-mile long, its hull bi-colored, orange on top, black metal below. At the back is the brains of the ship, the bridge, white with an antenna array on top. The castle. The ship was built in 2011, also in Tadostsu, Japan though it is owned by a company in Bermuda and flies the flag of Singapore.
I thought the Eagle Kinabalu would leave more of a wake but I guess wakes are more of a lake-based phenomenon. I could sit and watch ship traffic all day. For a moment, though, we turned our attention to something glinting in the azure way above the river, a flock of about thirty-five birds. Immediately I thought of snow geese, because of these birds’ altitude, and also because the color seemed about right. They were circling, circling, flapping for a while but then pausing their flapping to swoon, glide and float in the sky. When the light caught them at just the right angle I could see some black on their wings, which would be true of snow geese, their wings tipped black. Still, it nagged on my conscience that these birds weren’t going anywhere. I’ve never seen snow geese in the sky that were not intent on getting to someplace else, fast: south to winter in the fall, north to breed in the spring. I remained puzzled.
We continued walking along the path until it ended abruptly at a warehouse called New Orleans Cold Storage. I’m on their site now. They claim to be, “(T)he oldest cold storage company in North America.” They say that they have the capability “to blast freeze larger amounts of product in port than any other company in the world”! Flash-frozen gulf seafood, happening in there.
I realized at that point for sure we weren’t on the river trail and we turned around. Some of the people just sitting there in their cars, not seeming to be there to enjoy the river traffic, did creep me out a little. Between the river and the zoo were a collection of ball fields and just regular open fields, something like a levee and a railroad that has all sorts of arteries fanning off to support companies operating along the river, such as New Orleans Cold Storage.
Along the river there were all kinds of cranes and lift mechanisms and warehouses and just a cornucopia of large commercial machinery that I can’t name and now that I’m back in my hotel room can’t adequately describe. B needed a bathroom and I had seen one. I tried the men’s but it was either in use or it was just plain locked. B gave me a wild look upon exit of the women’s and described it as probably the dirtiest bathroom she’s ever used.
We walked back toward where we had first started looking for the River Trail trailhead. We passed a trio of white birds that I guessed were ibis, not really believing it. I had never seen any ibis before and I was under the incorrect impression that they weren’t very common. These birds before us were white with a pink-orange down-turned long, thin bill. They were sticking these bills into the ground. B had her Merlin app going. It indicated these birds were indeed white ibis, which not only do flock together but also have black feathers on their wings. Those birds we had been looking at way above the river, those little flecks of white rising and falling, soundless in the day’s clear, breezy light, backdropped by blue sky, contrails and stratus were in fact white ibis. Extraordinary.
As we continued back the way we came, we were buzzed by two green birds that I could only imagine were parakeets. B looked it up on Merlin—they were parakeets, Monk’s parakeet to be exact. They had built stick nests on at least a couple of the telephone poles running concurrent with the train track. They have a loud, brash squawk of a call. Quickly these green parakeets, birds I thought were only found in the tropics, became the second of two new species I was adding to my very informal, mental-only life list.
Leaving The Fly we saw where we should have gone to get onto the real River Trail but it was sunny and warm and we’d already been down there on The Fly for a while. A train, not especially long, rolled by and I snapped a couple photos of it, thinking about Steve Goodman, and Helm, and my father. We crossed the tracks and walked through a little neighborhood south of Magazine, its homes mixed among high-rise apartment buildings. I could live, or at least spend a month a year, in one of those units—facing the river, of course, so as to watch the river traffic.
Crossing back over Magazine I made what I thought would be a quick pit stop at a restroom in Audubon Park. It was then that we happened across that large pond with the anhinga and the whistling ducks…. I woke up hungover, I felt awful staring at my overwrought breakfast but then we realized that New Orleans had all of these birds hanging around not that far from the Quarter. Back in the hotel room, with the map in front of me, I see that the “large pond” is officially listed as the Audubon Park Lagoon. We saw just one end of it. There is quite a bit more to it, apparently, lined with a walk and bike path.
XVII. Words I Wish I’d Used.
Sitting in the hotel with the hours of this trip slipping futilely through my hands, I am reminded now—by words in The Peregrine—of the sights and sounds of New Orleans that I wish I had managed to describe or had described better.
Vibrant, as in: the ibis were vibrant white flecks in the azure sky.
Plume, as a means of describing the clouds above the river or as a way to refer to spray from pressure washers, or as a means of recreating the plumes of exhaust issuing from the tailpipes of delivery trucks in the French Quarter.
Exultant, the way to describe the sound made by jazz instruments.
Sibilant, referring to a speech sound that is made with a hissing effect, like the air escaping with sibilance from a tonic water bottle.
Hastily, as in the manner I walked back to the hotel after we bought our pre-loaded RTA cards that first morning.
Vivid, to portray the flavors in the beet salad at Cochon or the colors of the art in some of the French Quarter galleries. Or as a way to describe the palette of paints used to color the homes of this place, “the vivid exterior paint palette drawn upon by the residents of New Orleans, Louisiana”.
Exaltation, what we felt when seated back at Felix’s for a second night in a row, me slurping sibilant oysters, B hastily working her way through a cup of jambalaya.
Stagnant, the pools of water left behind by the street cleanser quickly become stagnant in the lower spots of the topographical streets of the Quarter, pieces of asphalt or slate or cobble missing, water and last night collecting and spinning aimlessly, reeking a little.
Stolid (of a person)—calm, dependable, and showing little emotion or animation: even on a morning when I’m moving slow and the breakfast spots are filling while I’m sweating B remains stolid because she has faith we’ll find the right place to start our day, and that the day will take care of itself from there.
This is a good exercise but I’m getting tired. It’s 22:00 in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA on Monday, February 6th. I’ve had only one drink today, an Andygator with dinner. I feel good and a workout to sweat residual toxins in the morning is near at hand.
XVIII. Epilogue: An Oyster Called My Name.
It is Tuesday morning, near eleven. Our flight leaves in an hour and a half. The airport is in the brunt of a hailstorm at the moment. The flight leaving gate B7 before ours was in the midst of boarding but the captain got on the CB and asked all the would-be passengers at the gate to please have a seat.
“The runway is closed as long as there is lightning in the area,” he said.
I’m reading The Peregrine and I will now resume my exercise.
Plangent (of a sound)—loud, reverberating and often melancholy. It seems kind of hard to be both loud and melancholy but maybe that was Marlon Brando crying “Stella!” There is an oyster bar on Bourbon called Desire, not far from Felix’s. We passed it last night but heard no plangent cries wafting out to us from inside.
—New Orleans, USA, February 2017.