Saturday, April 14, 2007

New Orleans Day one

When I was leaving on this trip and I told people I was going to New Orleans, every single person said "Don't stay in your van in New Orleans, make sure you have a safe place to stay." So, before I even left I started making arrangements for a place to park. When I left the bayou I thought I was all sorted out with my friend's sister on the north shore of lake Pontchartrain, I spoke to her husband in the morning and he said "Come on by, I'll be here all day, just call when you get to town and I'll give you directions.” I didn't know that it is 25 miles across the lake and the drive from Houma took longer than I expected so I got to the North shore stressed out, hungry, dirty and frazzled. I called my friend's sister's husband from the parking lot of a Wal-Mart and there was no answer. Shit. I needed a shower so badly and I was really looking forward to having a safe place where I didn't have to worry about the van and everything in it. The last place I wanted to be while the sun was setting was in the parking lot of freakin' Wal-Mart!

Luckily my good friend Shannon McNally was helping me out and calling some friends in New Orleans at the same time. After waiting in the parking lot a bit I decided to turn around and go back to New Orleans and just figure it out from there. All I had eaten all day was 2 cookies and some donut holes that I stole from the writer's convention that was happening at the Houma Library so I was starving and cranky. Shannon pointed me in the direction of some food at Coop's, I had the Gumbo, which was bland and expensive, then asked about the grease for which the owner wanted to give me the third degree and a hard time to boot so I said "Thanks anyway, but I've had easier times getting free beer", ate the last shrimp in my bowl and split. I stopped in a few doors down on Decatur street to check out a big party in a courtyard with music and fire and a very San Francisco kind of vibe.

I had parked the van on Frenchmen street, which is ironic because I can’t stand them, and I wanted to walk back and check on things so I didn’t stay at the party. As I was walking through the French quarter I asked a man walking towards me if he thought I was parked in a safe enough place to sleep in and he came to my van with me to check it out. Leo thought I might be safer in his neighborhood so we drove over there and parked. I could see that I was in a much less populated neighborhood, not far from North Robertson and Ursulines.

Leo asked if I felt like having a beer so we went walking around, looking for a pool table. We played a few games in an empty bar and then went to another joint and I played against some other people. I was having a great time. I was shooting good pool, I was enjoying good company, Leo was a great tour guide and escorted me through the French quarter with his eye on my back all night, I felt as safe as I was going to in New Orleans.

I was down to my last ball and my opponent had just missed a shot on his last ball when Leo approached me and asked if I wanted to smoke some crack.

“Well will you give me 10 dollars for crack?”
“How about five?”
“No, not for crack.”

I then missed my shot, lost the game and told Leo “I want to get out of here.”

There was no way around it. The whole crack thing really dampened my spirits. I try not to be judgmental about people’s habits. I know that walking around and parking with Leo that I was totally safe and in good hands but the mention of smoking crack definitely heightened my awareness of my surroundings and safety. We walked some more though the neighborhood and drank a beer on a step. It was then that I asked Leo if he had been in New Orleans during Katrina. He replied that he had been in jail in Texas at that time. I didn’t ask why. As the conversation continued he told me it was due to some implication when his sister had tried to kill her third husband.

“How did she do it?” I asked
“Stab him, bunch of times” He indicated the area above his heart with a rapid, stabbing motion.

As the conversation continued further he told me that though she had failed to kill the last one she had been successful in stabbing the first two to death. She didn’t do any time because it was proven to be in self defense in both cases.
“They was mean” Leo told me “They come at her and she couldn’t take it no more.”
“Well you’re her big brother, why do you let her get involved with these assholes in the first place?”
“It’s her choice. She wants to be with them, nothing I say is going to stop her, she can take care of herself.”
“But Leo,” I said “you should be showing her an example of how a good man acts, don’t you think?”
He agreed and saw my point and eventually I saw his and then we walked back to the van and I used Leo’s bathroom and went to sleep with one eye open.

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