Here’s an excerpt from Bourbon Street Blues, to celebrate its release at long last as an ebook. You can order it here for only 2.99!
KNIGHT OF WANDS
A light complexioned young man with an adventurous spirit
It’s not the heat, it’s the stupidity.
A T-shirt bearing that slogan hangs in the window of every shop in the French Quarter that sells cheap souvenirs. The tourists, wiping the sweat off their foreheads with napkins while holding a forty-eight ounce plastic cup filled with an exotically flavored daiquiri in their other hand, nudge each other when they spy it. They exchange knowing smiles. The slow pace unique to New Orleans has irritated slightly ever since they got off their airplane. The long wait at baggage claim and the even longer wait in the taxi line. The check-in process at the hotel seemed endless. The line at Walgreens that just didn’t seem to move at all. The lackadaisical attitude everyone they have encountered since walking off their airplane seems to have toward efficiency has been all explained and summed up by a slogan on a cheap T-shirt. The heat is bearable, after all. Everything is air-conditioned, for one thing, and there’s all those forty-eight-ounce daiquiris with names like Cajun Storm, Swamp Water, and Mind Eraser for another. Yes, the heat can be borne. It’s the stupidity that is truly annoying.
What the tourists don’t know is, the stupidity referred to on the shirt is theirs.
New Orleans is a whore who makes her living by dressing herself up as the City That Care Forgot. We peddle cheap gimcracks to the tourists who checked their brains at the airport along with their suitcases but apparently forgot to claim the brains again upon landing at Armstrong International. We sell them refrigerator magnets with a drunk with X’s for eyes holding on to a Bourbon Street lamppost for support. We sell them beads they proudly wear even though Mardi Gras has been over for months. We sell them porcelain masks of white-faced harlequins made in Taiwan. We sell them forty-eight-ounce daiquiris that are flammable, or drinks in clear green plastic cups that are shaped like a hand grenade. We smile and avert our eyes as another vomits into the gutter. We plaster a smile on our faces as they drive five miles an hour through the city looking at the architecture even though we have to be somewhere in three minutes and they’ve backed up traffic for blocks. Tourism is our biggest source of revenue, after all, and if they can’t hold their liquor, oh well.
We have sold our collective soul on the altar of tourism.
In the summer, the French Quarter reeks of sour beer, vomit, and piss. At seven ever morning, the hoses come out and the vomit and spilt liquor and piss is washed down off the sidewalks. By eight, Bourbon Street stinks of pine cleaner, a heavy, oily scent that cloys and hangs in the air. It hit me full force when I slipped out of the front door of the Bourbon Orleans hotel at eight-thirty in the morning. The bellman on duty winked at me. I shrugged and grinned back. I wasn’t the first non-guest to slip out of the Bourbon Orleans that morning, and I wouldn’t be the last that weekend.
It was Southern Decadence, after all. Urban legend holds that Southern Decadence began in the 1980’s as a bar-crawl-type party a group of gay guys had for a friend who was moving away. They had so much fun, they did it again the next year. Each year it grew and grew until it became a national event, drawing gay men from as far away as Sweden and Australia. As opposed to other circuit events, for years there was no big dance party. It was just a big block party held in what we locals called the Fruit Loop, a five-bar, four-block stretch that runs from Rawhide to Good Friends to Oz and the Pub to Café Lafitte’s in Exile. All the bars have balconies except for Rawhide, and of course you can always take your drink with you.
The gay boys had started arriving yesterday afternoon, with the big crush coming in today, Friday. Labor Day weekend. The end of summer, when the locals can begin to breathe a little easier. The mind-numbing heat will break in the next few weeks, and what passes for our fall season will begin. Sunny days with no humidity and the mercury hovering in the seventies and low eighties. In New Orleans, we turn off the air-conditioning when the temperatures drop into the low eighties and open the windows.
I headed for the corner of Orleans and Bourbon. My stomach was growling. The Clover Grill was just a few blocks up Bourbon, and one of their breakfasts was sounding damned good to my slightly swollen head. There’s nothing like scrambled eggs and greasy full-fat bacon to make you lose your hangover. The food at the Clover Grill is one of the best hangover cures in town. I shifted my gym bag to my other shoulder.
The bars at the corner of St. Ann and Bourbon still had patrons. It was probably too early for new arrivals from out of town, so these were the holdouts from the night before, who still hadn’t grasped the fact that the bars don’t close. Tourists always have trouble pacing themselves in New Orleans. Bars that have no last call is an alien concept to most. The bars had been packed with tourists who had come in early for the weekend, the liquor had flowed freely, and there were very likely a lot of drugs to be had. Today the bars would be packed again, almost impossible to navigate through. I waved at Abel, the morning bartender at the Pub.
I was dancing at the Pub this weekend for extra cash. One of the porn stars, Rock Hard, who was supposed to dance this weekend, had overdosed on crystal meth on Wednesday. Condition stable—but no condition to dance. Randy Westfall, the manager, had called me on Thursday afternoon to fill in. It was very good timing. I was behind on some bills. It probably wasn’t very good karma to be happy that Rock Hard had overdosed, but I reasoned that it was probably a good thing. Perhaps the overdose would wake him up to the fact he had a substance-abuse problem, and he would now get some help for it. The summer’s heat is always a bitch on my personal training business, but this one had been particularly bad. It had been hotter than usual, which is a staggering thought. Everyone who could afford a trainer had left town. Those who didn’t leave didn’t want to sweat any more than they already were. Can’t say that I blame them—except when the second notices from my utilities start arriving.
The Clover Grill was crowded. I swore under my breath. Goddamned tourists. A wave of nausea swam over me. I shouldn’t have let what’s-his-name talk me into those tequila shots. What was his name? Bill? Bob? Brett? He was from Houston and tall, with a shaved torso and a nice, round, hard ass. He’d flirted with me early in the evening, wanted to know what time I was off, and had come back. You’d think at twenty-nine I would know better than to do tequila shots at two-thirty in the morning. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Well, not that there’s a good time to do tequila shots.
I headed down Dumaine Street to the Devil’s Weed. The Devil’s Weed is a tobacco shop specializing in fine cigars, pipe tobacco, and imported cigarettes. They also serve coffee, muffins, and bagels. Not quite the greasy scrambled eggs and bacon my hangover was demanding, but it would have to do. I walked in.
“Scotty!” Emily, the cure twenty-two-year old lesbian who worked the morning shift, grinned at me. She wore her hair shorn close to her scalp and Coke-bottle glasses that magnified her big brown eyes. She always wore a tank top with no bra restraining her big full breasts, and a loose-fitting cotton skirt over sandals. She was from Minneapolis and had come down for Mardi Gras. New Orleans got to her and she stayed. New Orleans has that effect on people. You come for a weekend and get caught in her spell and can’t leave. It just gets in your blood. I’ve lived here all of my life and have never wanted to live anywhere else. When I was on the stripper circuit, every weekend a different town, I never found another place I wanted to live, and I had looked. I always came back with a healthy appreciation for my home city. If a city isn’t open twenty-four-seven, I don’t want any part of it. Here you can drink at any time of the day without feeling any guilt. You can eat whenever you want to, because there’s always someplace open. You can keep whatever hours you want. You don’t have to be a part of that whole nine-to-five rat race unless you want to be. I don’t. I hate waking up to an alarm.
My parents, who owned the Devil’s Weed, had practically adopted Emily. She was so likable and cute, you couldn’t help wanting to take care of her. She was a genuinely nice person, without a mean bone in her body. She has that good energy.
“Coffee and a bagel,” I sat down on a stool. She had a cigar burning in an ashtray.
“Liked the day-glo G-string.” She grinned as she put my coffee down.
I grinned back at her. “I made close to four hundred last night.”
“All right!” We high-fived. “Your mom and dad are still asleep.”
“Of course.” Mom and Dad were unrepentant stoners. They were hippies and counterculturalists, who’d never sold out, despite their successful shop. My first name isn’t Scott—it’s Milton. Pretty awful, right? Coupled with my last name, which is Bradley, and you can imagine the horror my childhood was like before my older brother started calling me Scotty. Of course, his name is Storm, and my sister’s name is Rain. When Mom was pregnant with me, both sets of grandparents had apparently sat Mom and Dad down and insisted I not be named after a force of nature. I can almost see the stoner glint in my mother’s eyes when she agreed. Milton was Mom’s father’s name. She always claimed she was simply honoring her parents by naming me that. That was her cover story, and she has stuck to it my whole life. I think both she and Dad regretted it later. They’re actually pretty cool parents. When I came out to them when I was sixteen, they wanted to throw me a coming-out party. They are both pretty active in P-FLAG. A huge rainbow flag hangs out in front of the store year-round. It’s kind of hard to be pissed at them for naming me after a board game company when they’re so cool. I’m sure it sounded like a good idea after a couple of joints.
“Since you’re up so early, I’m assuming you’re just now on your way home?” Emily raised her eyebrows and winked.
I winked back. “I never kiss and tell.” Well, I really do, but Emily was more like a little sister to me since she’d started at the shop. I would never give my sister Rain the details of my activities. Besides, Emily was also still a virgin. She was saving herself for the right woman, bless her heart. See what I mean about sweet? How could I corrupt her with my sordid tales?
I smeared cream cheese on my bagel and leaned over the counter to kiss her cheek. “You gonna be out tonight?”
“Yeah.” She giggled. “See ya on the bar.” She did a little dance for me. “I wanna pick up some of your moves.”
Laughing, I walked back out into the street and headed home, chewing on my bagel and sipping my coffee. I was tired. The bagel was helping the hangover. Thank God.
My apartment was on Decatur Street in the last block before Esplanade. The coffee was hot and strong. Carrying the cup was making me sweat. I could smell my armpits and it wasn’t pretty. All I wanted to do was get home, turn the air down to about sixty degrees, wash off the sweat and smell of sex, and sleep for a little while.
My building has a little mom-and-pop grocery store on the first floor. It opens pretty early. I waved to Mrs. Duchesnay, who always worked the morning shift. She and her husband had started the shop years ago, when they were both pretty young. All six of their kids had worked there at one time or another. Her husband had been a mean old man. He was always yelling and threatening kids about shoplifting. He’d accused me of stealing a pack of gum once that I had come in with, and called my mother. I don’t think he was expecting the furious harpy who stormed in and backed him up against the soda cooler and called him a fascist. He was always nice to me after that. The Quarter kids called him Mr. Douchebag. He’d disappeared about ten years ago. Quarter lore and legend believed Mrs. Duchesnay had killed him and gotten rid of the body. He’d been a bastard, so if she had, I always figured, more power to her. Those who believed the story didn’t hold it against her. He’d been a pretty miserable person.
I unlocked the gate. There were three floors above the shop, all apartments. My landladies lived on the second floor. Velma Simpson and Millie Breen had been together for about thirty years. Velma was watering the plants in the courtyard when I got back to the staircase.
“Morning, Scotty.” She nodded at me. She was nearly sixty, with steel-gray hair and wire-rimmed glasses. She was wearing a pair of tired old jean cutoff shorts and a white, sweat-stained tank top with no bra. She played tennis three times a week and jogged on the levee every day. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on her anywhere. She’d been a high school gym teacher and girls’ athletics coach until she’d taken early retirement a few years ago. Millie and Velma had baby-sat us when we were kids, whenever Mom and Dad had one on a private vacation or been arrested at one of their many protests. “How’d you do?”
I opened my bag and pulled out a wad of ones, fives and tens. “About four hundred.”
She put the hose down. “Give me three hundred.”
I counted out the money and handed it to her. She tucked it into her pocket. My rent was only four-fifty a month, which was a steal for the place. She and Millie could have gotten fifteen hundred for it easily. Luckily, Millie had been my mother’s best friend since grade school. She was also a lawyer, so they didn’t really need my rent money. I was pretty damned lucky. Anyone else would have thrown my late-rent-paying ass out on the street years earlier.
She pulled a joint out of her cleavage. “Need some help to sleep?” She and Millie always got the best pot.
“You gonna join me?”
She laughed. “Stupid boy.”
I sparked the joint and took a long hit. She took it from me, took two, and handed it back to me. She waved me into a lawn chair and sat down herself. She inhaled, long and deep, then pinched it out and set it on a table. “What you gonna do today?”
“I’m gonna sleep.” I felt quite pleasantly stoned.
She leaned back. “Leave your gear. I’m gonna do a load of laundry later this morning. I’ll bring it up.”
“Cool.” I yawned.
“Does your getting home at this hour mean you got lucky?” Velma and Millie always wanted details on my sex life. I didn’t mind telling them, although I did think from time to time that was a little weird that two lesbians in their late fifties were so interested. It was a small price to pay, though, for them being so cool about the rent.
I smiled at her. “Guy from Houston.”
“You like them cowboys.”
“He had the nicest ass.” I winked at her and then launched into the gory details.
I’d been dancing for about an hour when he came up to the bar. I’d seen him in a corner, sipping on a Bud Light long-neck. He was good-looking, all right. Short black hair, blue eyes, dark tan. He had a red tank top tucked into his belt, and a torso shaved smooth. Big pecs, melon-sized, abs you could do your laundry on, and a pair of tight jean shorts rolled up at the knee. He grinned up at me. Nice, even white teeth. He stroked my calf. I knelt down with him in between my legs.
“You’re pretty.” He said, pulling a five out of his pocket.
“You ain’t bad either.” I put my hand on his chest. Solid as a rock. Skin smooth as a baby’s butt. Definitely shaved.
“What time you getting off?”
“Two in the morning.”
“I’ll be here.” And he was. Simple as that. A 2:10 we were down tequila shots. Half an hour later we were in his room at the Bourbon Orleans with our tongues down each other’s throats. He did have the nicest, tightest, hardest ass I’ve come across in a long time.
I’d left his five on the nightstand when I left.
Velma sighed. “Ah, to be young again.”
I yawned. “Can I go to bed now, Aunt Velma?”
She handed me the roach. “Take this for later.”
I kissed her cheek. “Thanks, doll.”
I was so tired by the time I got upstairs that I decided not to shower but just go straight to bed. I collapsed on my bed and closed my eyes.
I was asleep in a matter of seconds