Damnit, Kuntz!

Trip Start Jun 19, 2010
Trip End Sep 01, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Louisiana
Monday, August 23, 2010

            DAY SIXTY-TWO  By morning we're relaxing at Mika’s, lazing on couches and in air conditioning, but some of us are getting restless and when it begins to pour rain in those plump Carribean gumdrops, humid and velvety, The Beard and myself take it upon ourselves to take to the city.  We walk past Lafayette Cemetery, pondering the futility of these grandiose tombs that only stand to rot flesh from within, and discuss the value of compromise.  You look around at all of these corpses, knowing that no matter what they did, who they were, what they earned, what they accomplished, the fact remains that their bones are fusing with the lifeless wood, soil and stone, that those vehicles of accomplishment and acquisition are still and done and only worth the plants that spout from them.  It’s liberating to an extent, this mentality, and helps to remind yourself that these moments, these experiences, define life as well as anything can as long as they enrich you personally, for no matter your efforts, everything about you will likely be forgotten, misinterpreted, or bastardized.  Do you find this cynical or beautiful?             
        The trolley cars are full of diverse faces, and the driver, speaking with a heavily-peppered accent full of life and joy, moves the car along while making sure everyone is comfortably getting exactly where they want to go.  Thusly, we get off down on Canal Street to tap the French Quarter, and take Bourbon Street do so.  Bourbon at this hour is waking like a monster who never really went to sleep, and it’s nice to stroll leisurely in this notorious den of sin, smelling the vomit aft from the gutters, spying the Mardi Gras beads tangled in the grates, while being afforded a certain kind of contemplative quietude.  There’s a carved stone plaque embedded in the wall that describes the past clients of the Old Absinthe something-or-other, listing numerous presidents, Babe Ruth, Falkner, O. Henry, mostly a who’s who list from the early part of the last century, and The Beard and I opt to dip in for a pint.  The taps are dead, so we get bottled Guinness for over six dollars while chewing over our forthcoming business model.  Someone leaves a bowl of blackened popcorn on the bar and we eat it up, and then walk further down the street for more food, to a jazz courtyard where Fats Domino used to play.  We sit and listen to the stuff and order beignets from Café Beignet and the girl with the fiery red hair all askew, who brings us the fried, sugared dough balls, walks with her hips leading the way, staring directly into you with her pasteurized eyes and milky, lightly freckled skin.

            By now, all of Bourbon has come alive more and more, live music, be it jazz, blues or country, blaring from every club with a looseness that may have been missing in Nashville.  We walk and walk, the buildings all electric and neon, offering tall pink drinks and frozen daiquiris and bikinied women, some of them sexy, some not.  Soon the shit gives way to a more relaxed feel down near Tolouse and Royal Streets, and we make a turn to reach the river.  The Beard tries to build a bridge out to a sand bank by throwing rocks into the water, but it proves to hard and we give way to a lone buster further on up the road.  Cornbread just broke the towel rack that I built, and if I were the sort to do smiley faces in text, I’d put a frowner right here ___.  Anyway, I’m on the phone when we’re passing the busker, but I hear him, with his ragged and welted voice, and salute him for it.  When I hang up, The Beard and I sit at a bench next to him and he, named, "Slew, but my friends call me Mickey," immediately launches into an explanation of how he’s tired of playing in C and of the one in G that his bassist gave him, an old model from the discontinued company of Wang.  It’s as if this old man, dressed in a yellowed polyester shirt that looks as if its red, white and blue trumpets and saxes were printed based on a cereal box design circa 1976.  He lights a cigarette butt that he extinguishes before every song, and talks to us a reverence as if to assume we were musicians, ourselves, and even when we give him a few bucks much later, he’s going, “shoot, man, you don’t even need to do that, I appreciate you for listening.  I’m really honored to meet you guys, since you really listen.”  And what’s damned is that he, singing pained behind his buckskin Cajun hat with those ancient veins popping from his skinny neck, is ignored by most passersby altogether, despite the fact that he’s quite good.  We too notice how people get away with it, sitting somewhere in the background to listen, then skirting away just as a new songs starts, avoiding eye contact, not dropping even a dime in the bucket.  He takes it in stride, but sarcastically yells to them, “thanks for listening, I only need that money for my blood pressure medicine, and food!”  He says he’s out there thirteen hours per day, on that same spot for thirty years, but he still sings with passion, and I’ll repeat what I said to The Beard when we were leaving: this guy has been steamrolled in life by his passion.  Even he admits that music is all he knows how to do, all he can do, and when you look at the guy in conversation, you see plenty of destruction, tons of disappointment and agony, but when he’s singing, he’s flying.  He says, “hey, you know, this guy donated all these guitar strings, you ever need some strings, you come by I’ll give 'em to you, no problem.  Some rocker gave ‘em to me, I think, like Van Halen or something, I forget.”  His friend, Luke, an old port rat with stringy hair who seems to have pockets full of half-eaten Baby Ruth bars and Diet Barqs, jumps wordlessly up and down when he sees a tug boat, anticipating with a child’s glee the waves that were to wash ashore.  Then, as quickly as the river quiets, Slew/Mickey senses that we have to be going, and begs us to stay for one more song.  “I’m going to give you this.  It’s a story about when I was walking along a month ago and a bird dropped dead, right out the sky, covered in oil, and it’s for all those bastards who keep lying, telling us that are waters are clean, our nature is safe again.”  And he goes on singing with a heart full of love and acid, mourning what he self-mockingly refers to as a ‘little bird’, this little insignificance that entraps so much meaning, and I want to include for posterity a certain lyric within, one that he got from an Irish poet friend of his:

            “Why is it that a bird only lands when it dies?”

            Anyway, I thought that was beautiful and quite appropriate.  The Beard and I continue on for a while, waiting to hear from the others, finding a lovely book store hidden just out of the way from Bourbon’s madness, all dusty and leather-bound, full of engravings and Victorian cookbooks, before we do meet up with the others and the reflective, introspective conversations that tend to occur between The Beard and myself give way to the group experience.  We go back to Bourbon Streeet, find a small liquor store, and buy quart-sized cans of High Life to drink on the street.  Ugly girls yell at us from rooftop bars, beckoning us their way, but we keep going until we’re at our jazz courtyard again, standing in front of a brilliant 1920s-style band, a trio consisting of a standup bassist, his instrument all blonde and slender, as well as a trumpeteer with a Jolson voice and a plunger and “Plink” Floyd, an angular, jovial guy with stretch fingers playing four-string banjo.  Plink rocks, and though of course he knows it, he and the others are as appreciative of us as we are of them; they’re playing Jolson, of course, as well as The Ink Spots and a few originals, and it all really grooves.  At intermission Plink (whose real name is Lee) approaches me and we chat for a while about his craft, his history, and his upcoming record.  I’m quite jealous of his abilities, the product of forty-seven years of practice, and vow to myself to practice the instrument more frequently upon my return, perhaps so far as to focus on that Dixieland stuff altogether.  We meanwhile sup on jambalaya and shrimp poboys – again I feel compelled to order something else when the others get the jam, even if I’m after the spicey ricey dish myself – while waiting for Hum-Yai Tictac to arrive from the airport.  When he does, it’s all yips and smiles; he’s recording us on his thing, and it’s in the face of all the music and it’s exciting to see him and hear my loveful sense of the muzak at the same time, and we have to wrap it up and high five the band for au revoir, and walk miles out of our way in the effort to find the train back, and soon we have to ask a wino named Darrell who spills out of a bar in a sweaty shirt with the collar stretched out and agrees to show us the tram site for a dollar, and when we get there the train is rolling away and we’re left to spend thirty minutes with him and his Joker grin talking about his experience in the Vietnam War and when I tell him I lived in Thailand he starts busting out phrases in the language all incredulously and we become brothers, high-fiving left and right as he dodges up and down the street with the energy of a toddler, not a fifty-something, and I think that though I can’t understand what he’s saying and I don’t really enjoy our conversation about nothing, pseudo-bums are the most fascinating, certainly in this city, and even if this joy belies the true pain they’ve suffered in this city, it’s still impossible to resist smiling and laughing in conversation with them, and I started writing this sentence five weeks ago.

            It’s dark by the time we return to the estate and they’re all there waiting for us.  We collect ourselves slowly, maybe we have showers, and while some people take off for our destination, Tapitina’s, Hum-Yai and I get trapped between the door and The Beard’s engagement with Tom’s knowledge of iron casting and the potential for his own conceptualized toy.  So while The Beard’s seeing the future, I’m only looking to the street, and eventually we just leave without him, walking three miles over the train tracks in the rusty, shadowy part of town before finding again the others on the balcony at the show.  They’re playing funk and the venue is big and crowded, and it feels like I’m walking in circles all night long, not really listening to the music, not really talking to anyone.  Hum-Yai stays by my side for the duration, thankfully, and after a couple of hours we go outside to a mobile man selling jambalaya; Hum-Yai buys us each a bowl, though I’m certainly not hungry, and, after dousing it in Crystal sauce, I find it delicious.  I try to milk the man’s brain for advice on running a food cart in a city, and then find everyone else in there, including Mika, who has come all the way to hang out!  Some weirdo that’s talking to Cornbread and Shmark sees me and rubs my hair, telling me he wants to lick my face or something disturbing on that level but I, completely secure in my sexuality, do not fret.  In clear contradiction to that Mr. X and I hitch up and start talking to some college girls for a while (I said, I’m COMFORTABLE IN MY SEXUALITY), and though they make an excuse to leave, it turns out that the petite girl in the red hat, who Kuntz calls The Girl of His Dreams, is friends with these ladies, and we all get lumped together right out of the place; they bring us to another bar that they say is the “best in town.”  At this bar, one of the girls is rejected by the door man – as is Cornbread, apparently, for his tank top, though few of us notice this – and in considering how dirty and clubby the music is here, we go immediately upstairs for some more quietude and spend the night shooting shit with the group.  One of them, the one who was rejected at the door, then sneaks in – oh, as this guy literally falls on his face and breaks his ankle, he’s so drunk – spends the whole night complaining about some half-boyfriend who failed to show up tonight, and she’s so negative, so narrow-sighted, so self-destructive that she becomes repulsive.  Mr. X, on the subject of repulsive, is, as he calls it, SHWASTED, and kisses both of them on the mouth as he reaches for a beer that isn’t his, and demands that we leave immediately, which is fine on my register.  After having spent a few hours talking to one of them, the level-headed, well-traveled, intelligent one, I ask for her phone number and she says, “how about you just write me your email address instead,” and I spend the whole walk home cursing life.  Kuntz, meanwhile, only seeing hearts and stars, takes a ride home with all of these girls, not worrying about his friends or their three mile walk through the worst part of town, and as Mr. X blabbers drunkenly, contradictorily, in my ear about beetles and fallopian tubes or who-knows-what, I secretly imagine the Robert Patrick character from Terminator 2 mistaking Kuntz for John Connor, putting one of those liquid metal finger morphs through the windshield, right through his forehead.  I get aggressively, morosely negative when I’ve had a few drinks.  Or am I always like that?  Oops.

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