April 21, 2012
What I Do When I’m Down & Out

I remember the last time I felt sorry for myself.  It was a few months ago, sitting a block adjacent from the Superdome in New Orleans.

My legs flopped over the curb.  A guitar case filled with a guitjo by my side.  A guitjo is a banjo with a guitar neck and a heavy resonant wood body, and I had been lugging this thing with me wherever I went for a week.  I can walk like a horse, especially in a city like NOLA.  It’s perfectly flat for miles in all directions, but after what I reckoned to be 8 or 10 miles that day, I was empirically exhausted.  A leather satchel of all my worldly possessions tucked under my ass.  I’d been left out, forsaken, despaired, refused, like some fat bespectacled and freckled kid at a preppy’s birthday party that he’d/she’d been invited to as a parental/political formality.  

I had come to New Orleans believing I’d have some easy board.  I wasn’t asking for fucking showers and breakfast, after all, just a base.  A place to divide my carriage.  And to the fault of that umbrage did I shed a frustrated tear on that curb.  All lonely, strung out in alcoholic daze, and I’d no success busking.  I’d like to say that, sometimes the more blues you got, the less you want to sing the blues.   But it’s not true.  I’m just a fuckwit Nancy Boy.   A po’ boy a long long way from home, burdened by a sickness, by a broken heart, zero self-esteem, by that oafish instrument and a leather satchel filled with only the most dear possessions, being a few books and a few changes of clothing.  

I’d been in a car meandering through these lazy metropolitan grids a day or so before, espousing to Marqueeta, by dear dear Lily of Loam, my Brownstone, my Nubian Princess, effluviating to her how I’d never again feel sorry for myself.  I was on a fast manic cycle.   I’d spent four nights total on Tulane Avenue, in a seedy crackwhore motel.  I’d burned through the money too fast, on account that Marqueeta’s own living situation was tenuous.  She had put me up for a night at St. Vincent’s guesthouse.    And now here I was, so tired I didn’t want to walk, collapsed outside of some ultra-fancy restaurant just outside of the the Superdome, and texted her about how I felt a little let-down.

"I feel terrible" she texted.  I should hope so.  We went over this a couple weeks ago.  But now, don’t let me get ahead.  This is not a sob story.  This is the Fates working through the nearest female in my life that they could find.  In this case, it’s Marqueeta, and she’s escaping an asphyxiating living situation into one where according ((sighs)) to the story, you can’t move in when we said because we’re-insert excuse such as bug bombing, fixing a floor, etc, here now-and could you please wait.

She’s a sweet ebony baby momma.  I’m in love with her.  No, really, I keep it hid, but I actually texted it to her many months before she moved back here.  All she said was, “wish you’d said something sooner.”  I’m not holding any flames at this point, but, ok, I’m holding lots of flames.  And not all of them seriously.  All I know is that after a few days, I really have fun with her and her daughter.  And I fucking love New Orleans.   

For one, it’s all flat.  It’s nothing for me to walk the length of the French Quarter, through downtown, and down to the southside of the Garden District.  And  back again.  Nothing.  Even with my pack.  But anyhow; I digress.  So I’m feeling sorry for myself.  And I start ranting via text at her.  And at the exact time that a couple fellas who are on break from a very fancy downtown restaurant allow me to share their spliff, I get a text from Marqueeta.

"Nigga, you need pull yo head out yo ass and get yo hustle on.  No sense bawling like a lil bitch ain’t no thing turn out yo way ain’t nothing gon’ come ‘less you make it that way.  GET YO HUSTLE ON!"

Or something to that effect.  Actually, I kinda nailed it.  I was stoned by then, just then, at that very moment.  It all came together.  I realized two things.  The most important was: I AM NOT GOING TO FREEZE TO DEATH.  You see, I’m northern. It was February.  I literally couldn’t freeze to death.  The temp wouldn’t drop below 55 degrees.   The second thing I realized was: shit, I’m stoned!  Everything is going to be all right!

I had no place to go for the night, and at the least I could cop a snooze in Marqueeta’s backseat while she worked in the morning, but that was 9 hours from now.  I could have found a nook in an overpass, I could have crawled behind a dumpster and literally had to fend off rats (I was carrying sardines and Nice brand Corn Nuts).  I could have snuck riverside and contended with the riverwalk security.  But I bucked up,  I was really stoned for the first time in a long time.  I looked down the street, pulled out the money from my pocket and counted it. 14 dollars.  I knew exactly what I was going to do.

I was going to Harrahs for the night.

Casinos have no choice but to cater as well to all the satellite vices that gamblers acquire and dabble in.  Thus, they must cater to all the strange agendas that people cop when in the grips of delusion and desire.   My phone is dead, so I go to the penny slots, and take the last in a row of machines, directly in front of the security office, because it has an electrical outlet next to it.  They are like bees humming and going, walking right behind me, and sometimes I even press the button as they walk by—See, I’m a good boy! I’m spending money!  I sit there for a few hours.  Just drinking my pint, spacing off, occasionally browsing Facebook, occasionally hitting the stupid button on the machine.  I’m getting really jacked up and it’s warm and safe.  At one point a woman plops down a few machines down and passes out sitting up.   A little later I notice what I surmise is a secret-shopper of sorts; a plain clothes security agent playing slots.  She’s about 25, athletic build, shorter, blonde, and absolutely too intense in her brown eyes to be another sucker on the vine here at 1 or 2 am.   I think I spend a dollar in a little under 2 hours.  I finish my pint.  Next, the video poker bar.

I must be a sight with my dark tan corduroy, my Wrangler vest and baja hoodie, my ranchero hat, big blue mirrored aviator sunglasses, hauling around this guitar case and leather satchel.   A queer but inviting vagabond with an easy smile wide swinging gait.  A fella hails me by the craps table and I shoot the shit with a guy for a while.  Tell him some stories and explain how Craps got it’s name.  

When I get to the bar, I sit down next to a tall gangly buzzcut with no chin.  He’s seems a sort of hyper type, a wisecracker and pretty cynical.  He’s burning through 20’s.  I find that he’s a military air traffic controller.  He’s been in Europe off and on for 10 years.  He’s there with his mother, who is off somewhere in the gravestone yard of high pay-off slots.   He explains that  the house has to wait 15 minutes in-between free drinks.  I put a fiver in the machine, and get a bottle of Coors.   Soon he’s taken to chippy conversation with a blonde seated a few stools down.  She’s a got soft features but rigid brow line.  Her smile seems mocking.   I guess her age at 33.  She really does look it, and so when I challenge her, at first she says, yep!  34!   After a little longer she confesses she’s 45.  No-Chin is working his game on her, but it doesn’t seem to be working.  Though I am too drunk to fuck, and heartbroken besides, I get up and leapfrog over to her.  Here, I learn that it’s not best to be forthcoming about these things.  She is completely unimpressed that I really just want to go someplace and talk or walk the streets looking for weird happenings.  I say to her that I could surely rock her socks for hours, but hey, you seem nice.  You seem like a nice person.  This guy who’s hitting on you is married.  He’s here with his fucking mother for christ’s sake.  And he has NO CHIN!!!   Come on babe.  We can do whatever you want, but with me, it’s gauranteed fun.  A boyish smile, a rural deference.  I tilt my hips and tell her she’s got the face of an angel.  I suck at pick-ups and women are fickle, if not deranged.

When they leave together, I figure it’s because she’s working.  Seems the most plausible scenario.  Or she’s just going to fuck him in worse ways.  I can’t complain.  At around 3 or 4, I’m bleary eyed and empirically exhausted, besides the pint I snuck in, I’ve had several beers and sweet talked the bartender into a few extra shots of whisky.    I cash out my vouchers, and I don’t think I’ve lost more than 4 dollars in almost 4 hours of drinking for free.   I walk out to the sidewalk, take a look up and down the street, and toss my guitar and satchel into the giant robust tropical leaves of the opulent landscaping right outside the casino.  Another look up and down, and I crawl up.  I lay down on the mulch, use my knife to cut some big-assed leaves for a camouflage & blanket, and pass out for a little under two hours.  

For some reason, since that night, I’ve never felt a panicky woe-is-me.   I used to do it all the time.  Something changed just there, like I let go of something.  My last night in New Orleans I slept on the public library steps, underneath the red neon sign across the street that reads “CITY HALL”.   There were about 40 of us there.   Around midnight a man walks up and takes the last slot, next to me.  He’s wearing a blue janitor uniform and hat.  His name, as his embroidered name tag, is Bobby and he’s out like a light, lying supine on the cold granite.   When I wake up again around 5, I give the couple audibly shivering beside me my 3 plastic trash bags.  It’s strange being told “God Bless You, Thank You So Much!” just for giving somebody some trashbags.  I woke up a few times, walked around the block a few times to build heat.  The rats are everywhere, skating the edges of our encampment.  Some drunk frat boy type walks up and asks loudly if this is the Occupy Camp.  At another point, some asshole walks up castigates us all in a loud sarcastic holler, “WHO WANTS SOME CRACK?  NOW I KNOW THERE’S SOME CRACKHEADS HERE.  COME ON NIGGAS GET YOUR CRACK.  I SAID WHO WANTS TO SMOKE SOME CRACK!?”  I’m told he does this nearly every night.  He’s just looking for heads to crack.  That night, I felt completely free in my destitute squalor.  What was it Tyler Durden said?  “Only when you lose everything are you free to do anything.”

The next day I sold my guitjo on the street and headed back North.  It had been 4 days by then since i’d had a drink.  Since the night I convinced Ralphie Brunson that life was still worth living and he called himself an ambulance.  Of course, he called me an hour later and said he’d left the hospital and would I come get him.   I told him get back in the hospital.  I can’t get a cab for you anyway, remember I gave you my last cash so you could get vodka and crack?   I wonder whatever happened to Ralph.  The last text I got from him said “You should have stayed.  I hit it big.”   I know that’s bullshit.  Guys like me and Ralphie, we don’t hit it big.  Unless it’s a pipe or a bottle or a rail, we don’t hit it big.