If The Spirit Moves You: Frenchmen Street, New Orleans

Cafe Negril

MARIGNY, New Orleans, LA

29.96° N, 90.05° W

Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead!

Admiral Farragut, who captured New Orleans from the Confederacy

Allons, mon chere…

The look of the devil, he, she says. Eshe grabs my neck with both hands, her thumbs working my jaw line.  She takes a step back and jabs my liver with an index finger. Shaking her head, Eshe says to Doc, I do not do exorcisms. We met Eshe at a boutique loft she rents in the French Quarter where she cleanses the afflicted of our bad juju & the gris-gris we’ve collected along our travels. Her gown is colorful, tightly-wrapped, much as her secrets. I can make the man a tea, she says to Doc. Well, if you think it would help, Doc says, concerned about me, concerned my days, if not my breaths, are numbered. The tea will clean him of ills, Eshe says, but he cannot purge here. Sure, Doc nods, you have standards. Eshe nods once. A high priestess of Vodou, she’ll cure anything for a cost, but she doesn’t want some strange dude with a doomsday plague backing up her toilet. Doc Kelly turns to me with a glimmer in his eye. He says to the high priestess, here’s the thing, we’re kind of en route someplace and I don’t know if my boy is going to have the luxury of a peaceful place to purge. Hmm, Eshe hums as she checks the folds of her dress. I can give him a Benadryl. It will help with the itching. Doc Kelly smiles, hey, now we’re talking. With a smile, he says to me, what have we to lose on Toulouse Street? Am I right?

Allons, mon chere…

The Benadryl helps with the itching. My inflamed forearms and neck do appear less engulfed in flame. My lips – which were cartoonishly bloated this morning, as if some damn clown had blown & twisted a balloon animal to glue onto my face – are fat, resembling a Hollywood Botox gone wrong, but not as bad as before. I still cannot sip out of a pint glass without half of the beer dribbling off numb lips into my beard. The plan is to stick to bottles of beer for the rest of the night. 

Vic has the plague, Doc Kelly says as he addresses the team, Budowski pulled a hammy crossing Canal Street and Kornberg is hungover from his pre-noon drunk, but we’re rolling with the punches. And you know why? Because we’re a bunch of punch-rollers, that’s what we are!

Laissez le bon temps rouler…

Afflicted Vic

We’re headed northeast along the farthest stretches of Bourbon Street, with the sound of drumming buckets and the putrid stench of spoiled milk (a gumbo of street vomit, urine, alcohol, desperation and sweat) lessening with every step. I’m still itchy. Probably bed-bugs, Budowski says, from whatever boxcar you slept in last night, you damn hobo. More-than-likely scabies, Kornberg says, from the hippie-chicks you frequent with. Maybe it is a new strain of coronavirus, Doc suggests. Fuck off, all of you, I curse as I paw at the boils on my arms, this bubonic shit has got to stop. I assume this is an allergic reaction; something I ate. Perhaps an out-of-season fried-oyster in my po’boy or a bad crawdad in my creole or radioactive gator-tail in my jambalaya. Or are my hives a reaction from the absinthe in the Sazeracs I’ve tossed back? Could I be allergic to wormwood? Or have I been poisoned? The Qatari Royal Family has a beef with me, as does the Chicago Board of Revenue, not to mention my ex-wife who assumes she’s still the beneficiary on my life insurance policy. You can’t be too careful these days and apparently, I’ven’t been. 

Farthest Bourbon…

Allons, mon chere…

We arrive on Frenchmen Street and Doc guides us to the Spotted Cat jazz club. Don’t worry, Doc says to us, I looked-up “spotted cat” on WebMD and it has good reviews. The venue is packed and with alternative options at our back, we bounce over to Snug Harbor and eventually Cafe Negril where Doc finagles our foursome VIP status by suggesting we’re a delegation of diplomats from British Honduras. Doc says he is the Minister of the Interior, Budowski is Minister of the Exterior, Kornberg is Ambassador to Panama! and this jaundiced one is Prince Victor the 23rd. 

Blair St Clare is our anxious hostess who speaks of bottle-service as she guides us past the velvet ropes to the VIP section. She looks at me and says, oh my God, is he going to die? No, Doc says, shaking his head, it’s just a bout of hemophilia. He adds a smile and a joke, when royals can’t keep their hands off their cousins, this is what you get. Am I right? Blair St Clare tilts her head like a dog who doesn’t recognize the command. Doc asks of her, do you have a priest handy for last rites, just in case? Blair sends for the house clergyman who Cafe Negril keeps on-hand for moments like these. Kornberg, ever the contrarian (who took one look at the Mississippi today and said, well, it isn’t the Danube), dismisses the night club priest, Padre Pedro, off-hand for his apocalyptic candor. Every generation thinks theirs is the end of days, Kornberg says. Yeah, but this time it really is, Padre Pedro tells him. The apocalyptic priest asks me to stick out my tongue and say Ahh-men. It is as I feared, Padre Pedro says after grabbing my crotch and asking me to cough, Asmodeus has taken possession your lower intestine. Is it fatal, Father, Doc asks. He’ll live, says Padre Pedro, but I would suggest laxatives to send this demon back from whence he came. I ask the obvious, how did my intestines become possessed by a demon? The exorcist asks, have you eaten any oysters in a month which does not have the letter “r”? Or have you flown Southwest Airlines? As I contemplate, Padre Pedro inhales from his vape cigarette and sprays me with holy water from an Aerosol can. I lick the holy water off my fat lips; it tastes salty and pure.

If the spirit moves you, dance with us…

The woman on vocals is calling me. Dance yourself clean, she insists, if the spirit compels you (it does). My companions, however, are compelled elsewhere. Kornberg, ever the contrarian, has fallen asleep just as things are getting lively. Budowski has found himself a television to watch a tape-delayed Yankees spring training game. Doc Kelly is apologizing to a nervous Blair St Clare for Kornberg’s behavior; she’s concerned with the optics of Rip Van Winkle in the VIP room. I decide on baptism by fire and leave for the dance floor.

Ain’t nobody… loves me better…

I made the mistake this morning of passing through Jackson Square to get from here to there and each of the tarot card-flipping fortune-telling charlatans I passed catcalled after me with their own dire warnings. You sir – beware of Mercury in retrograde! Ay Guapo, you have something I need tell you!  You there – you’ve placed your heart in a nest of vipers! Hey boy, you look awful good in them jeans! Mister, mister, did your father not warn you of redheads? 

The grandson of a gypsy, I know their game and know to shirk off their warnings, but I did not make it to the French Market unscathed. I began harboring doubts. What did they see I do not? How did the cross-eyed witch know I have a tendency for Sagittarian women? How did the ‘guess your weight’ geek peg me at 194 lbs? I certainly woke lighter, but that was before the beignets.

Makes me happy… makes me feel this way…

For the sake of the crowd, I hope this isn’t a new coronavirus strain I am sweating out on the dance floor. The brass instruments sound like Hannibal’s elephants marching on Rome. I’m in tears, maybe from the allergic reaction to toxic alligator or maybe because the ghost of my father is dancing beside me. What’s especially eerie is my old man and I appear to be the same age. We could be brothers, except he’s a hallucination and I clearly have my mother’s good looks. But man, Old Man Neverman’s fucking digging the vibe and the lead singer is feeding off his energy and is singing directly to him. His zombie eyes are glossed over; his hands want for a cigarette.

Don’t go anywhere man, I got to piss, I say to my dad.

Pissing in the men’s room, my Modelo poised on the toilet tank cover, I think how there’s some old history new to him my father’s ghost would want to know. Perhaps we can discuss over gut-boxes of chicken at Willie’s. You would’ve loved her too, dad. And she would’ve broken your heart. And it would’ve been worth it. Now there’s someone new and I know what you said about reds, but this girl’ll rewrite your book, hombre.

Ain’t nobody… loves me better than you…

I leave the lavatory to find all saints have marched on. Oh sure, the band is playing and the VIP section still has Doc and Budowski tossing back beers, but the ghosts are gone and so too is Kornberg. Last we saw Kornberg, he was chin-on-chest snoring. Now, he is loose on the night, Mister Hyde at play as Jekyll sleeps. There may be another late night rescue mission in my future. 

I wonder about my father’s ghost. I should’ve pissed where I stood rather than leave his side, but then the problem with moments is they’re fleeting. Most nice things are.

Allons, mon chere… let’s go find Kornberg.

Where: Cafe Negril, Frenchmen Street

When: the end of days

What to drink: a bottle of Abita, especially if your lips are swollen from radioactive reptilians 

Poor Kornberg

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