I assume this will be a 37 part series.
In the time-honored tradition of the holidays, where the average person consumes more than their share of alcohol due to stress, travel, and parents (all of them combined can push you over the edge), The Bartender Knows is here in good cheer and full of bourbon. The bourbon part is a lie. I’ve been off the hard drink for 3 weeks now and may I say here before a jury of my peers that sanity is boring. You think I’m kidding, but all this ‘lightness’ and ‘clarity’ makes me yawn. I’m healthy and bored, in bed with Chinese food watching Wes Anderson movies by 930pm.
Will I start wearing sweatpants now? If I buy a yoga mat, please hunt me down and shoot me between the eyes because I’ve been abducted by foreign entities and my personality has been compromised.
Now I understand those men at the old home are about wearing slacks and a beige sweater, seemingly staring into space. Calm and comforted, alone, watching the sun fall behind the old buildings in Brooklyn, the light fading just right.
See what happened right there? I faded off, happy with the last sentence, feeling a floating sensation beneath me, my heart happily rising in my chest. Please, dear reader, save me from the slow suicide of mediocrity.
However, there have been one or two occasions where mediocrity could have saved me from some deranged decisions when it came to ‘drinking heavily’.
Sitting with my aunt last weekend, she, smiling over mimosa’s and the French guitar player doing his best Django Reinhart impression with the small, brunch hour band playing, said: “Everybody loves a drinker. Everybody hates a drunk.”
Flashback. New Orleans, 2007. The city is ravaged from Katrina, trying desperately to build itself back up from the failure of the City Corp, the Federal Government, the corrupt police, and the usual rampant chaos that fuels that city’s frail and beautiful existence.
I’m there writing my first novel, living on my friends floor uptown above the Buddha Belly on Napoleon and Magazine. It’s in the middle of a dead heat, June in the South, and sweat is a commodity every one shares with glistening skin together. I’m on some kind of 15 dollar a day budget and have taken to stealing cold cuts from the local Sav-A-Center off Tchoupitoulas. Now, if there ever was a town invented that specializes in living and drinking cheaply it’s New Orleans. But even 15 dollars doesn’t stretch too far. My usual routine would be to print up the writing from the day before, head down to the café off Magazine (Rue de la Course, which I’ve heard closed down, a fucking shame) to edit the manuscript and write up a couple new pages, and than take the long walk back to the apartment. My lovely friends set me up a little writing desk by the window and there I would type up the new works, print them out, and take them out to the local bars to do a night edit. At the time Miss Mae’s (still there!) was the cheapest game in town (beers 2 bucks, shots too). Although habitual hanging out at Miss Mae’s increased chances of both personal and spiritual injury, no one bothered me and I edited and drank and quickly learned art of pool hustling (I’ll save that story for future blogs).
However our friend, ‘Simon’ lived with us but worked down in the Bywater. I would grow bored with the routine and to change things up ask Simon to let me lean on the bar from time to time. The mission down through the Quarter and to the R Bar was to drink before his shift. The only problem, on my minimal budget, would mean I would be stuck in the Bywater until Simon got off his shift. Which means he’d be completely smashed by the time he got off work, and I as well. But he’d have enough money to get us back. Let me tell you that Magazine Street walk from the CBD uptown to Napoleon was a long and dark walk.
One night trying to catch a taxi off Chartres to get back uptown, both Simon and I had lost all type of reason. We sloppily fell into the back seat of the smoke smelling cab, the back seats torn in places, and the windshield was cracked in the corners.
The cabbie exhaled hard in his collared shirt weathered, as if he’d been sitting in an OTB overnight waiting on some bets. He tisked when we entered, putting the car in park.
“Where are you going?” he asked harshly. Simon, cross eyed drunk, cigarette in one hand and a plastic cup of beer in his other hand gave a big smile. The driver growled as the old taxi screeched forward down Chartres.
“What are you doing?” The cabbie asked Simon with glaring yellow eyes in the mirror. Simon senses the anger, and even completely hammered, breaks from his drunken abandon.
“What’s your problem, man?” Simon asked quite innocently. "Napoleon and Magazine."
The man grunted and turned quickly down Canal Street. It was 5 am and the streets were still packed with throngs of people stumbling around, draping around pay phones and standing out in front of liquor stores. The dull purple from Harrah’s neons glowed along side the red light of the sun through the streaked windshield.
“You cannot smoke and drink in my car. No.” Angrily, he twisted his neck to look a Simon taking a long puff from his Marlboro, beer splashing over his knuckles, looking like a neo Pagan God, smiling with glee wearing women’s sunglasses. He blew out a cloud of smoke. “This is New Orleans, man.”
“Get out of the car. Go. Now!” He slammed on the breaks, we both lurched forwards, hitting our heads on the damp drivers seat. “What the fuck?” I said loud.
“No, you go. Both of you, get out!”
Before we knew it, Simon and I were amongst the drunken masses on Canal Street.
He looks at me as I squinted, holding a hand over my eyes, the light now an enemy.
“Go to the Alibi Bar?" He asked. "It’s where the working girls hang out.”
All in all this was just another night in New Orleans. At any given time, you can find yourself outside strange bars, smoking unknown substances with foreigners, ending up on odd blocks, and waking up in homes of people you do not know. Folks still smile at each other when they pass on the sidewalk. So this cabbie was either new or just another attitude problem in a city trying to heal from one of the worst natural disasters in America. There was a born, well-known hedonism in the city. We could die any moment so let's live it well. New Orleans was never just about wanton drinking and sex. Not all about it anyway. In New York, people look at people who dance as assholes. In New Orleans, if you the one not dancing, you’re the prick.
Fast forward. Two weeks later. My novel was going well, clocking in past the 200 page count. And the time came for celebration. I again followed Simon’s path, off Royal Street drinking wonderfully, on his way to work. The night went long and Simon and I found ourselves very drunk coming out of Molly’s on Decatuer Street. We signaled for a cab, me holding up Simon. A car slid up in front of us.
I fall into the back seat, laughing. Simon hugs lamppost in the gold light. “Get in fool,” I said to him.
“This is madness!” He yelled with glee. Some other people across the road yelled back. Simon raised his glass. Then shrugging he let himself into the backseat. “Okay, where are you going? What’s happening? Where are we?”
“Just down Magazine sir…” I told the driver. Simon slammed the back door closed. “We going! Yessir!”
The car jutted forward. The damp smell returned. And then I knew. It was the same cabbie, the one that took umbrage with our own hedonism. I looked to Simon. He seemed to find a quiet place, staring out the window, a smile imprinted on his face in the moonlight.
If we could just keep quiet, everything would be fine. We crossed Canal Street, further now than we had made it the other night into the CBD. Then Simon turned to me, a mouthful of smoke: “Hey you got the weed, right, man?”
I did. But all I could think about was watching our driver, who at the mention of weed, turned and noticed the little neon ember end of Simon’s cigarette. “What is going on?” He asked.
I breathed in deep. I wanted this guy not to remember us as the wild people he shunned out of his vehicle on Canal Street. But I could see in the rear view mirror the man’s brow furrow, he knew instinctually we were ‘bad people’ even if he couldn’t place exactly why. His eyes continued to dart back and forth angrily in the rearview.
Simon was happily oblivious, sucking on the cigarette. The cabbie yelled back: “No smoking in the car!”
“Whoa, calm down man, okay, okay.” Simon flicked the cigarette out the window. The cabbie continued muttering under his breath: “Fucking Americans have no goddamn respect…”
Simon not even skipping a beat, brought out a whole new cigarette and lit it, his beer sloshing around. I chugged my down hard.
“You can’t be drinking in my fucking car. You can't be smoking…” The vehicle lurched forward hard as he slammed on the accelerator.
“Careful brother,” I said.
“What? What! I am fucking careful.” He turned quickly over his shoulder. “What did I say? What did I tell you?”
“Chill out man…” Simon said, scratching his head and dropping the cigarette to the cab floor. Thank God we were nearing the intersection. “Right here, buddy.” Simon said, digging in his pockets for money.
“Fucking bullshit. People come and they do what they want!” He fumed.
“Simon, you got the cash, right?” I asked.
“I’m looking for it. Shit. It’s upstairs.” Simon opened to the car door. “Wait here, man.”
Fuck. The engine purred low as the steaming driver sat huffing in the drivers seat. I was directly behind him. I tried to ignore the man, but he was wheezing with anger.
“It’s cool, man, my friend will be right back and…” I started to say.
“Fuck that! There is no respect. Americans are unbelievable.”
“Take it easy now.”
“I’m not going to take it easy!” He eyes glowed in the rearview mirror.
“Man, I told you. It’s not me. We’re just drunk. This is New Orleans. Just chill out…”
He exploded. “Bullshit. You come and you smoke in my car and drink in my car and I tell you…”
I was fed up. “Buddy. It’s over. We’re leaving now.”
I went to step out of the cab when he turned. “You are not going anywhere!” And he hit the petal. I was a quarter out of the car as it veered a hard left across the red lighted intersection. Somewhere out of the corner of my eye I saw a blissful Simon walking down the steps, money in his hand. But it didn’t matter anymore.
My body had already taken flight swinging out of the backseat and rolling onto the concrete street. In these moments everything happens in slow motion. The cab peeled around the intersection. I remember falling towards the sidewalk and Simon, standing mid pace, stopping still.
My wrists, elbows, and knees were scuffed, and little blood patches slowly formed. The cab soared off, down the opposite direction. Simon rushed over. “Fuck. You okay?”
“I need a drink,” I said, brushing myself off. "Maybe 5."
Sober people in their right minds find themselves to happy places. When there’s heavy drinking involved, the chances of odd things happening is assured. It just could go either way, that’s all.
IF YOU SEE ME DOING THIS, APPARENTLY I HAD A SEX CHANGE IN MEXICO.
THIS FUCKER MIGHT NEED SOME YOGA…TAKE IT EASY, PAL!
MATTHEW IN FLIGHT!