Saturday, August 2, 2008

Christmas, Elvis and New Orleans

Po boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered
Santa Claus Is Back In Town

I didn’t want to work on my birthday, much less around Christmas time and December in general is not a good time for me; but the call came. I was to chauffeur Elvis (yes, he’s back) while he was in town to give a speech on globalization. I couldn’t refuse, I mean, how often do I get be behind the wheel of the Beast. You know… my 410, duel carb, three on the tree, ’67 Checker limousine? You know, the one with the speedometer that goes up to 140 MPH and doesn’t lie? The one that will do 90 in second gear …up hill? The one that takes up as much parking space as my girlfriend’s apartment? I’ll tell you…not often enough. I welcomed any excuse, even if it was only to drive Signor Presley, as he was now known, around the French Quarter. Dressing for success, I put on clean underwear and a rare smile. I sharpened my wit for the unsuspecting.
The first stop was at Claire’s on Conti where we hooked up with three waitresses of my recent acquaintance; comparisonwise, they made the Witches of Eastwick look like girl scouts. Their assignment was to keep Elvis practicing his Cuban accent (he said that it had helped Desi Arnez remain undetected for decades and was working wonders for him as well).
While I was grabbing a smoke in the patio by the pool, the ladies grouped around him and drilled him in the art of accent. Even though only one of them was actually Cuban, they all knew their stuff (“no, no no!…not ‘Evre tahm Ah’m taykin’ thuh elevaduh’, “say it again”… ‘Ebbree tine Ayne een de allibater’”). I moved out of earshot and practiced blowing smoke rings. Lucky Strikes make great smoke rings.
Christmas in New Orleans is like that; a perpetual light drizzle in an unctuous gray sky, slightly depressing, but not particularly cold yet, smoke rings in the air, and ‘The King’ practicing his Cuban accent in a cozy patio bar in the French Quarter. Go figure.
Imagine a wet Labrador, after rolling on a dead snake, or in mule dung, insisting on a big lick of your face and a cuddle up. It doesn’t get any better than this. Unfortunately.
I wandered outside to check on the Beast. As I passed the door of the ladies room, and arm shot out and dragged me in. It was dark in there and someone, decidedly feminine, was nuzzling me, the scent of tea olives was heady in my senses. ‘What’s the worst that can happen, I thought?’
Suddenly the lights slap on and an elderly Asian couple, escorting an overweight mentally challenged young woman relative burst in with their language barrier in tow and I dive for the shower. Meantime Elvis is in the back seat of the Beast making out with all three of the waitresses. A train whistle blows.
It’s quiet now in the rest room and I sneak back to the bar dressed in the only thing I could find to wear, a lavender waitress uniform. I’m looking for my clothes.
I come up behind Claire who’s taking a drink order from a table and I hiss my demands. She out-hisses me with something that I could swear sounds like “f#cking moron” and proceeds to ignore me. I slither towards the door, hugging the wall. A small boy sitting on the floor by the door, back to the wall, tosses me my dripping trousers and jerks his thumb, indicating that, apparently, the rest of my apparel is outside on the street. In a rare fit of clarity, I decide that it’s time to wake up from this dream and find a drink. It’s not easy living in a cul de sac of sanity; it’s kind of like being backed in to a corner that you’ve painted yourself into.
Outside everything was back to normal. Christmas lights were strung everywhere, Dads were lugging home dead fir trees, and blindfolded children were swinging long sticks at piñatas. ‘Twenty somethings’ were snake dancing down Bourbon Street with hunger in their eyes and beer on their breath, singing “play that funky music, white boy”. There were women in tight clothing and men with powerful hand guns. Large birds were about to be sacrificed for the Baby Jesus' birthday. My goose would be cooked. Bells would ring, dogs would bark. It was good to be home. It was a street gumbo study in black and white. A regurgitated pasta jambalaya with fettuccine.
Somehow I felt safe in the harsh olfactory reminder of excess, impatience and inebriation. These were my ‘peeps’, my ‘rounds’, my ‘dogs’.
Here, I’m Peter with the lost boys. I never have to grow up; I’m not a face in the crowd, I’m not some ugly rumor, I’m not just tolerated. I’m loved because of who I am, not left alone because no one cares.
I could cross Canal Street; I know a half a dozen bars that house incoherant mutants that, since noon, have been jabbering nonsense into the air, passed one another and into outer space. Cosmic debris, like me. But no, I prefer to be who I am with people who know me.
I go to Molly’s on Toulouse, Polly pours me a ‘chilled beverage’. “Lovely to see you again my friend”.
It is amazing to me that after traveling, no, after wandering. those hundreds of thousands of miles that I can find the spirit of Christmas in a friend’s eyes, right here at home.
Or as the Moody Blues said a long time ago: “Isn’t life strange?”
Or as Ren and Stimpie said, more recently: “Happy, happy… Joy, joy”. Only love can save you.

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