I GOT TO ADMIT I’M GETTING BETTER
I slept late that first Sunday back, having rolled in after 3 a.m., but awoke able to breathe. Perhaps the douse of bleach I gave my entire room before leaving had worked. Perhaps it had just been a weird seasonal allergy—something is always blooming in this city. Either way, it felt good to actually feel good.
Since the traces of ground coffee I’d left behind were gone, I walked down the block to my favorite French Quarter coffee shop, Café Envie, and ordered an omelet and coffee to nurse and refill all afternoon as I caught up on email and blogging. The food here is excellent for a coffee shop and the open air atmosphere rustic and quaint. You would think there’d be more coffee shops like this in the French Quarter, but most of the good ones are Uptown like favorite Krewe Du Brew.
THE LONG & WINDING RUSE
It was lunchtime when I arrived and nearly dinner before I heeded the weary stares of the baristas and headed home. Upstairs I ran into Jake for the first time since he’d taken off the night before. I calmly confronted him about my missing groceries, first bringing up the beer. “Man, it gets hot up here [as if water doesn’t work], and, besides, we weren’t sure you were coming back.” As if moving my guitar, amp, futon, and clothes up those winding stairs was easier than dropping them off at Goodwill before fleeing forever. His excuses and apologies changed course seventeen times, including his standard hunger plea, reminding me not to throw food away: “I’m like a dog, man, I’ll eat anything.” How do you respond to that? I had always helped him out when he asked.
Before I left, though, Debra had arranged a one week on, one week off construction gig so I inquired I asked why he didn’t have grocery money. He shrugged and said it didn’t work out. Likely. What about food stamps? He’d also mentioned Debra had suggested he apply. He grimaced, and waved a hand. “Nah, man. It’s too much hassle. I called the other day and they put me on hold for a half hour.” My jaw hit the floor. Most days he hardly left the bed (claiming illness which was perhaps true . . . to a degree) and was unrouseable during his long periods of sleep. Most days his primary effort was walking up two flights of stairs, which he complained about incessantly. So he was desperate enough to steal food but not to wait on the phone half an hour?! When I relayed this story to my oldest, more conservative brother that evening he laughed and said: “You’re starting to sound like a Republican!” Damn you, Jake!
Nevertheless, I was in a good mood and didn’t feel like arguing. He confided that he and Debra weren’t getting along and begged me not to tell, swearing he’d pay me back. I doubted it but was still struggling with how much to reveal about my misadventures so said I’d remain quiet if he paid me back. Moving on, I tore into the package on the table. It was the new phone T-Mobile said they were going to overnight me a month ago. They’d sent a Galaxy III because they couldn’t locate a II, so it was an upgrade without a contract extension. Finally some good luck.
I GET BAR WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS
After getting my new phone minimally running (I only seem to figure out these complicated smart phones when it’s time to upgrade!) I drove Uptown to the giant Rouse’s, skipping two smaller and more expensive locations. Sometimes grocery shopping, especially in a nice store like this with its olive bar, cheese samples, and awe-inspiring seafood and deli sections, can be cathartic and creative as a million possibilities spread out before you. I had a friend coming in town Thursday and, ever the entertainer, wanted to impress so my leisurely browsing lasted over two hours. Back home, it felt good to stock the shelves again, though I quietly wondered how much I’d lose to attrition.
It was too late to cook so I grazed while I unpacked and planned on a quiet night at home. As I settled in with a book and sought the motivation to shower, my new phone dinged with a message from my singer/songwriter friend Vince whom I’d met through chance as we both repaired flats at City Cycleworks. He was in the mood for a drink and was heading to the Quarter. Even though I was feeling lazy, I don’t know enough people in town to turn down social invitations so put my book aside and jumped in the shower. When I headed downstairs he wasn’t yet in the area so I ducked into the elegant brick and chandelier bar that had just opened directly beneath me. I’d been watching the renovations since moving in and the place opened while I was away, still lacking a sign announcing its name. We were planning to see some music but, despite his protests to the contrary, Vince is more of a conversationalist than me and soon had us chatting with the owner, the bartender, and a group of the owner’s friends that had shown up to imbibe in support. Those are good friends! We ended up staying close to three hours and, this being my second night in a row of living like a local, my spirits were high.
As the conversation progressed past politics and mutual career advice/encouragement (it’s so much easier to see what someone else should be doing!), I filled Vince in on my crazy living situation and conflicted feeling about documenting it. He put a hand on my arm and looked me in the eyes incredulously: “Wait: You’re a writer, correct?” I nodded. “And they knew you were a writer when you moved in.” Again I nodded. “And then they pulled this on you? Dude, you have every right to write about it. I would.” He laughed. “Hell, I’d read that. It sux but it’s a great story!” I laughed and agreed, though wouldn’t be entirely convinced until things escalated in the coming days.
By the time we wandered down to Frenchman Street it was past midnight. On most night, things would just be cutting loose, but on a Sunday in the off-season every club on the strip was shutting down. We wandered back to my Voodoo bar for a while where I spared him Survivor on the jukebox, although I did suggest he do an ironic acoustic jazz version of “Eye of the Tiger.” Hey, it sounded hilarious after a few bourbon and gingers!
It was closing in on 3 a.m. and the conversation had deteriorated to lounge versions of Survivor songs so we cashed in and headed out. Wandering back down Decatur, Vince ran into a musician friend leaving a gig. A street artist selling his wares and a guy selling beer from his backpack and bragging about liberating ‘unattended’ bikes soon joined the conversation. The beer seller’s thin rationalization seemed less to assuage his conscience as to make himself feel clever, but I was too tired and jaded to care. This shady element is part of living in the French Quarter, but I had enough waiting at home. Jake had earlier advised me to buy a horseshoe lock for my bike, producing a cutting tool he uses to liberate ‘abandoned’ bikes and explaining how quickly he could do it. It was well-intentioned advice, yet I felt pretty sure he, like the beer seller, had a pretty loose interpretation of ‘abandoned.’ I bid Vince a farewell and headed home where I immediately passed out.
THE FOOL ON THE HEEL
I rarely drink excessively anymore, yet the older I get it seems how long I stay out affects me as much as how much I drink. I’d had a little buzz Sunday night but Monday woke up feeling like I’d just celebrated my 21st on Bourbon Street. When I drug myself out of bed for breakfast, John was waiting downstairs asking to borrow my bike. He had a job and, though only a mile away, “It’s a hard mile.” I’m not sure how one mile differs from the next in a city without hills, but my mind was too muddled to think. I wanted to object that I was about to use it, but I was clearly too ill to pedal. He again promised money for groceries and to lock the bike inside the house he was working on. Although deep down I knew I’d never see a dime, my mind was too clouded to argue. I needed coffee. I needed food. I needed aspirin. I acquiesced. How much damage could he do in a mile? Such impaired logic must be why some people don’t drink.
I accomplished little all day and by early evening dozed off watching Netflix on my computer. Such deep disorientation is achieved only through hangover or fever. Suddenly my door started rattling as if attacked by poltergeist and God began booming out my name: “Errrriiiiicccc! Errrrriiiiiiicccc!”
Huh? The room was dark as I sat up, Bones still playing on my computer and drool stringing from my pillow. “Errrriiiiiicccc! Errrrrriiiiccc!” Rattle! Rattle!
“What?” I blinked rapidly to cut through the fog.
Jake suddenly ripped the door open, sweating profusely, his eyes darting frantically. “Dude, I got a flat tire on my way back from work, but don’t worry. I’ve got to grab a bite to eat and then I’ll come back and fix it.”
His demeanor screamed something worse. Shit. I followed him downstairs where my bike was leaning against the wall, the rear tire replaced with the narrow tire of a street bike. My flat tire lay against the wall. “A friend let me borrow a tire just to get it home.” (That tire is still leaning up against the wall downstairs. I’m guessing it came from an ‘abandoned’ bike.)
I WANNA SCOLD YOUR HAND
Knowing this was bound to get worse before it got better, I went back upstairs and collapsed. It was around six o’clock. By eleven, Jake still hadn’t returned from dinner. Debra soon texted to inquire about July’s rent and I, in turn, inquired about Jake’s future on Decatur Street. She called and simply said: “Jake is gone tomorrow.” When I asked her if something had happened—he obviously had no intentions of leaving so I was worried about what could have finally bankrupted her goodwill—but she simply said, “He’s had plenty of opportunities to contribute and has chosen not to.” That’s as much as I’ve ever learned.
Feeling what little slim hope of compensation for groceries slipping away and now facing further expense with my bike, I let loose. This bleeding heart liberal was on the verge of going Bill O’Reilly.