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the night I lived on Bourbon Street

March 3, 2011

We’re still digging out from a 17″ snowfall.  I realize that our winters don’t match

those in Minnesota as reported by Kathy or in Saskatchewan by Kate, but this one

has turned into a true brute.  After a slow start, it has dumped 56″ of snow on the

neighbourhood.  And kindly bear in mind that we’re on the last road on the island

to be plowed.


Tuesday evening, in the middle of the storm, Jude and I moved the truck to the top

of the hardest hill to negotiate, parking just out of the plow’s reach.  We hoped that

the boys with the big blades would come out during the night, but realistically  we

knew that they wouldn’t.


They didn’t.  Yesterday morning we trudged a mile up our driveway and the road

in snow that was knee-deep in some spots.  Slinkee, the largest untapped source of

energy in the province, led the way most of the time.  She has a significant problem

with focus, though.  Her path looked like one of Billy’s routes in “Family Circus”.


Eventually even she wore out and fell in behind me and Jude.  After much laboured

breathing and second guessing about what would have been the proper number of

clothing layers, we arrived alive at the truck.  It cranked right over and Jude was on

her way.  Her Nibs and I trudged home, jubilant that it was downhill.


Right after we got in the door, it started raining.  Jude called shortly after that.  She

had made it to the ferry without incident.  The road had only been plowed to the

cannery turn-off.  Another triumph for capitalism.  She had just missed a sailing,

but had allowed for that.  She’d be fine on the mainland, where it was only raining,

if she could get the truck out of four-wheel drive.


I fed the dogs and reminded Ollie that I had fed him first thing.  It had slipped his

cat mind.  I posted the Andy Devine story, checked a few things on the net and ate

breakfast.  I started thinking about less snowy places where I had resided and re-

membered that in my rampant youth, I lived one night on Bourbon Street in the

French Quarter.


In 1965 I had dropped out of college for the first time and gone to New Orleans to

pursue the life of a bohemian writer — as best a clueless, lower-middle-class, newly

ex-Methodist lad could.  I knew it was my destiny because my folks had given me

a typewriter for my 16th birthday.


I took a job as a bellhop at the Sheraton Charles, which is now a parking lot.  It was

there I got involved in the Civil Rights movement for a few minutes, buying a box

of cough drops for a black co-worker who wasn’t allowed in the lobby.  Another

black co-worker, a doorman, told me that “they” were gonna send my white ass

to Vietnam.  I saw him several years later and told him he was right.


I had an efficiency on Dauphine Street in the Quarter, a block above Bourbon.  I

would walk to work along Bourbon at 5:30 am and laugh at the survivors of the

previous night’s merriment.  The few patrons left in the bars seemed to be frozen

in time, a drink halfway to their lips but not moving.  The strippers were barely

moving, as if to a waltz instead of “One Mint Julep”.


I wasn’t sure if Melpomene, the muse of tragedy, or Thalia, the muse of comedy,

would visit me first.  After a few unproductive months in front of my typewriter,

I wondered if they were working the bars on Bourbon.  Maybe a move one block

south would help.  It worked for Tennessee Williams.


So I rented a room near the heart of the action.  The landlord was quite clear that

I couldn’t have visitors, but I hoped that didn’t include muses.  I didn’t ask.  I put

my meager belongings on the bed and went out to eat at the Buck 49 Steak House,

because that’s actually what it charged for the house special.  And it was edible.


On the way back, I ran into a college chum and took a chance on showing him my

new digs.  “We’ll have to be quiet,” I cautioned him.  But we weren’t quiet enough.

The landlord caught us in the hallway and said “you’re out of here tomorrow.  I’m

keeping your deposit.”


I not only left Bourbon Street, I left New Orleans the next day.  I went down to visit

another college chum in Edinboro, Texas, and got a job irrigating tomatoes for a

dollar an hour.  I found out much later that Melpomene and Thalia can be found

in the Crescent City.  They’re streets in the Lower Garden District.  Except Melph

is now officially Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.



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