... In Which We Find that Freedom is a Pretty Long Stretch from Being Free ...
And then after my Emancipation, I took to the bottle HARD. Which was pretty fucking hard, since I've always been quite a Drinker, being sensitive and a Water Sign and an Art Teacher and all. But I was trying not to be bitter: The Reduction of Bitterness is the Beginning of Wisdom, see. Know who said that? That Thus Spake Zarathustra fellow. And for the final ten years of his life, though he had no overtly perceptible difficulty neurologically, the man didn't say a word. Not a GODdamn word. Sorta makes you think, doesn't it? Least it did ME. But if it doesn't make YOU think, well, bless your heart.
I've always thought it was that French Quarter Pimp Raphael Fleetwhite who somehow set me up. Can't prove it. No one'd believe me if I could. But he'd hated me from the moment I met his ass at a Dinner Party in the District back when I first moved here and he was going off in his Cups about how Gauguind left his family to go paint naked women on Corsica. When I told him he had his Islands wrong, I knew the fucker was Out for me.
Never say ANYthing to ANYbody, ever.
But when it comes down to it, one can sooner forgive even such a bastard as Fleetwhite before they can, in all decency, forgive a bleeping Butt Pirate like Frankie Minot, a man who picks up young, desperate and dispossessed BOYS, gets them drunk or stoned on H, and proceeds to fuck them and then kick them out the door without so much as some potato salad. No wonder Algiers launched all those missile strikes on the Quarter.
Hell of it is, New Orleans is the same as anywhere in the world in that oftentimes the most rabid, leaking, Colostomy Bags of Humanity also happen to be close to the most erudite people around, or at least they can pull it off as such. Or so it seems. All I ever tried to do was Teach Art. Well, okay, I got down with a couple or three female students, Oh, but I was older then. I'm much younger than that now, as the man says.
So let me tell you a story. One I've never told before, and I'll just Hit the High Points.
I was nineteen or close enough to it for me to tell you I was, and though that was twenty-odd years ago I can still recall the excitement I felt on my very first trip to this City, on my Honeymoon. That we were too young isn't really the point. That I'm old enough to have regrets IS, or at least that's what I like to tell myself when I wake up in a cold sweat at 3 o'clock in the morning.
We stayed at the Monteleone, on Royal Street. My new wife and I. It seems like I recall the City being cleaner then, but of course it really wasn't it was just me.
I'd gone to school in Iowa and so had Colleen. But even if we'd grown up and gone to school in a Cellar at Sodom, New Orleans, romantic as it may seem to the young and impressionable, is way FAR from where you want to kick off your Life of Wedded Bliss. In fact, it was the end of the beginning. Just BEING here. I didn't know that THEN, of course, and neither did she, and I became a workaholic and she started doing dope, but THEN, man, it seemed like the Right Thing to Do so I don't have much to say about it if anyone else makes the same mistakes I've made. 'Cause New Orleans or no, you are GOING to make mistakes, BAD ones, so in a way, it may as well have been here as the next city. But these are memories, impressions. The kind that stick with you forever.
When in doubt, blame it on New Orleans.
So we were young, and we were naïve, and we were green, and we were stupid. Just like most adults, except we were all these things when it MATTERED. And really, not too many things in your life really ever do. Get drunk or don't. Get laid or not. Live or die, who gives a shit. You're past the point of being helped, and so am I not that we could ever have done anything different. Hell is seeing hindsight as a Yellow Brick Road.
And we checked into our room at the Monteleone and I carried her Across the Threshold and we made love, or we fucked, or we . . . whatever you need to call it. And within two minutes after we'd come the unsettled boredom set in, and boredom in New Orleans is a palpable, living thing, like the smell of the River or the patina of despair that cakes the old walls of the structures of the City, and Colleen and I felt awkward then, as if we'd eaten some fruit given us by a King Cobra singing Zeppelin backwards, so we had to get out of our room and this we did. This, indeed, we accomplished.
And here is where I will let you down. As a storyteller. As a man. There IS no punch line to the Crescent City. But we walked, holding hands at first, then slowly drawing away, then averting our eyes, then indulging our innate loneliness . . . it could've been the same in Des Moines, you say? Well, I wouldn't know. Try it. And I'll never know what your Verdict is, either, because I am not a Real Person, see. Once, I was. Or so I'd like to think. We need at least one or two good lies to hold on to on the way down Canal Street.
Yet I loved her, Goddammit! Or maybe that was an illusion, too. It wouldn't be the first one or the last. And something along the River took us over and we were never the same, some abject feeling of innate loneliness in the most furtive crevice of our then-joined Spirit, and yet we walked and we walked until the Rains came down, and those rains did not cleanse us.
Maybe that's why you wanted to come here in the first place: the unspoken suspicion that you are Beyond it.
We walked past the houses that are always decaying and we smelled the River's Breath, and at the end of that walk, tired, we knew that we would never be forgiven. We knew the meaning of Original Sin. It originates between the puddles you try to walk over when it rains, the half-flooded streets, the pitter-patter of your innocence bidding you a harsh farewell.
Yes, I know, it was only me. It was only us. It was never the City. Or all it had to offer, give, or sell. But there is an emptiness here you can never find in any other place on this Earth, and I've sense had occasion to travel it, and now I'm back. It suits me right, too. For over half the city, New Orleans Itself is our Penance.
I never felt so alone after that foggy murk-smogged stroll, even now. Even now, when I know far less than I did then about Love or the Sacred or the inverse of them both. And that night, Colleen and I slept at each the either end of our Queen-sized bed, and God knows I will never know how or why.
Except now, I live here in this City for better or for worse, in sickness and in some misleaded semblance of Health. What happened to me, or to us? I don't know, nor do I really want to know. In this City the humid air cuts through love like metal across the flesh.
But subtly . . . yes, oh so subtly. Subtlety is the charm of sin, and death. And they are gentlemen, beautiful in their oh so romantic eternal decay.
Never come here if you want to have an open heart. And if you do, what will enter in will make you like itself silent. Foggy. Gasping for air.