Two Parties for Tootsie
Sunday, June 13, 1982
On Tuesday, I walked the Little Kids to their day camp at the Little Red School House, then went to the Bar to talk to Mama.
The Soap Opera crowd was drifting in. Mama always laughs because the Bikers watch the Soap Operas with the Shopping Bag Ladies. Some of these Ladies live at Maison Blanche and some at DH Holmes on Canal Street. They are Homeless, but you wouldn’t know it. They are middle aged and older, always clean and polite, wearing neat flowered dresses and pretty hats. They hang around in the department store restrooms which have fancy areas with comfy chairs. They also hang around the Holmes cafeteria. When someone gives them money, they come into the Bar to drink coffee and catch their stories.
Mama winked at me and fixed me a cherry coke. She seemed to be in a good mood.
“Listen, I’ve been tryin to tell you something all week, and you never settle down and listen to me.”
She came to the end of the Bar and leaned in close. Her huge brown eyes looked like a child’s freshly woken from a dream. “Honey, Honey. . . Don’t tell me. It’s a Boy. Oh Honey, believe me, the first time your Heart is Broken, that’s the hardest, but it gets better. There’ll be other Boys.”
“What? What-are-ya talkin about?”
“Well, that’s what you want to tell me, isn’t it? I mean, you ARE at that age, so I figured, well, what’s that song, Everybody Plays the Fool? We all been there, Honey, been there and done that, believe me. Look what I’ve been through with your father. You know what I do when my heart is hurtin? I play me some Irma Thomas on the Jukebox. Irma always makes me feel better.”
“Mama, my heart’s not hurtin. That’s not it at all. I mean, I do sort of like this Boy. But, no Big Deal. I have more Important Things on my mind.”
“Like what?” She puffed on her More cigarette.
The Weasel sat down next to us and pointed a scraggly skinny finger at a newspaper headline.
“Here’s a guy, a sumbitch, shoots his Wife and Kids and then Kills Himself, in a Jealous Fucking Rage. Now, I ask you, whynta bastid just Shoot his Own Self in the First Place, an leave the Wife an Kids Alone?” The Weasel kept tapping at the paper, as if his tapping could make sense of such a tragedy. Mama grabbed the newspaper.
“Oh, those babies, those precious babies.” Accompanying the story was a Sears studio portrait of the couple and their two smiling curly haired boys in happier times.
“Mama, we’ve gotta talk, come here, please,” I dragged her out from behind the bar. We stood outside on Toulouse Street. “I’ve got, I’ve got the money. From Papa’s duffle bag.”
“Honey, that’s wonderful, I knew you could do it.” She hugged me. “But where is it, is it Safe?”
“It’s Safe, it’s locked up, Mr. Carlo locked it up for me.”
“But how did you get it?” She lowered her voice. “and how much is it?”
“I need a BEER here,” yelled the Weasel. “This might be a good place to open up a BAR OVER HERE.”
Crazy Dave zoomed up in his Harley and parked in front of the bar. “What are you Two Lovely Ladies up to?”
“Honey,” Mama kissed me on top of my head. “I’ve gotta get back to work. We’ll talk later.”
The next night at the Bar we had a party for Tootsie. Mr. Carlo rented her old apartment to someone new, so Tootsie moved in with us and Dakota. The party was to celebrate her Quitting Heroin, and Mr. Carlo Getting her a Job dancing at a club down the street. Everyone was glad she was back, and Dakota hung on her all night like a four year old. I was glad for the Party, which kept Mama busy and kept her from bugging me too much about the Money. She still thought we could use the Money to make a deal with Mr. Beauregard.
“Mama, it’s not enough, he wants five thousand bucks. Besides, it’s too late, the deadline’s over with.”
“But I could talk to him, give him what we have, maybe make payments on the rest. Then Papa would only have to do one year in Angola. That’s not so bad. Then he’ll be back home, out on Parole. Back with Us, where he belongs.”
She busied herself making a cake for Tootsie. That night we let the Little Kids sleep upstairs by themselves and went to the Party. Ole Red Headed Tootsie was dancing on the bar, downing shots of Cuervo.
“Love ya, Dani,” she grabbed me and made me dance with her, even though I can’t dance too good. Mama says I “got no rhythm.”
Tootsie let me go, then grabbed Blue, our Willie Nelson look-alike. They twirled each other around, bumping into people in the dark, narrow, jam-packed bar.
I sat on a bar stool next to Dakota. “Guess what? My mom and me are gonna get a new apartment, maybe Uptown, Magazine Street or something.”
“That’ll be good. I like having you guys with us though.”
“Yeah, but it’s so Crowded.” Dakota smiled. “She looks good, doesn’t she?”
“Yeah, she does. She’s not so pale, an she’s eating. She looks better.”
Dakota was happier than I’d seen her in a Long Time. Tootsie danced and danced and danced all night long. I think every guy who came in noticed her. They noticed Mama too. One guy even asked Mama to dance. She turned him down.
“Thank you for asking, but I’m Married, and he is Fine.” Mama laughed. “He is some Fine.”
“Girl, you Crazy,” Tootsie said. “Your Man can’t do nothin now. Have some fun.”
“I am havin fun. This is how I have fun, watchin you be a Crazy Bitch.”
Then Tootsie and Mama sat their butts on the Bar, slid up and down knocking people’s drinks over, shrieking with laughter. Earl the Bartender yelled at them to stop. “NO! We won’t stop! We’re having fun!”
Earl imitated their high voices. “We’re having fun!”
I wondered if me and Dakota would be just like Mama and Tootsie in ten years. With Our Men in Prison and no money or help to raise our kids, drinking and drugging and dancing to forget our troubles. I shrugged the thought away. I know what Mama would say to that. “Girl, you’re Young, you need to Party and have some fun, quit Worrying so much.”
Tootsie took off with some guy she met at the Party that Night. She was eating a piece of the chocolate cake Mama made, some guy said Let’s go for a ride to the Lakefront, and she’s out the door. Dakota was Mad, but Mama said, “Let her go pass a good time.”
She didn’t come home for Two Days and Two Nights. Dakota just stayed home, slept and pouted. We don’t have a phone, but we all knew she’d call the Bar or Mr. Carlo if she got into any trouble.
I stood out in front of the bar and looked down Bourbon Street, hoping Tootsie would show up. Jesse the Hombre, owner of the Steak Pit, came out to talk to me. He’s this little short Mexican guy with shiny silver curly hair who used to go with Tootsie. He likes to boast that the Mob guys like him because he looks Italian.
“That Red Headed Broad, she’s cute but crazy,” the Hombre said. “She got nice shape.” He used his hands to draw an outline of a curvy figure in the air. “So Senorita, you workin for Mr. Carlo now?”
“On Saturdays, I help Mr. Melvin clean up, go to the A & P and stuff.”
“That’s good. Bueno. Kids nowadays, they don’t know how to work. How old’re you?”
“Gonna make thirteen in July.”
“Then when you’re Fifteen, you come work for me. Bus Girl. You wanta do that?”
“Yeah, sure. Sounds good.”
It was daytime and Bourbon was still open to cars. Sonny the Cab Driver slowed down in front of us. “Did’ya all hear about Tootsie?”
The Hombre shook his head.
“OD’d. Rooms over by the Hummingbird.” Sonny’s scarred face looked serious. “She’s gone. So Young. Ain’t it a shame?” He drove off. The Hombre put his arm around me.
“Senorita, so sorry. Her poor little girl.”
“I’ve gotta go, I’ve gotta tell Mama. I don’t know how we’re gonna tell Dakota.”
Tootsie. I still can’t believe she’s gone. Tootsie with the wild crazy red hair and freckles. Tootsie dancing on the bar. Tootsie dragging me around the room. Tootsie who all the men fell in love with. Tootsie with her laugh. Tootsie: Dakota’s mom and Mama’s Best Friend and my Friend too. How could a person be there with you one minute, and be gone the next?
Mr. Carlo and Jesse the Hombre paid for the funeral at Jacob Schoen’s funeral parlor. Mama dressed me and the Little Kids up in our Church Clothes. Gino and Antonietta cried and cried. Dakota wore a nice lavender dress with a white flower pinned to it. She stayed very quiet. I couldn’t look at her, couldn’t stand to see those large dark eyes in pain. Everyone from the Bastille came. Everyone from the Steak Pit came. It seemed like the whole French Quarter was there. After the funeral, they had another party at the Bar. Dakota didn’t go to the party, she went upstairs to our apartment with the Little Kids.
Clayton, the skinny bald headed waiter from the Steak Pit, rapped me on the head, hard with his bony white knuckles. “Whatsa matter, Kid?” He wore the same white shirt and black pants and black bow tie he always wore to work.
“Tootsie. I can’t believe she died. I still can’t believe she’s gone. I miss her so much.”
“Kid. What-are-ya gonna do? It’s part of Life. Losing people we love. I been to three funerals this year.”
“Really? This is the first one I’ve ever been to.”
“Kid. Hold the Phone. Hold the Phone.” He downed his drink. “I wish it could be your last. But it won’t be. All I ken tell ya is, keep on going. Take care of your loved ones. Just keep on going Kid.”
“I mean. Lead the best life you ken, keep on keepin on. Ya hear me?”
“I hear ya, Mr. Clayton.” He went to get another vodka.
The whole Steak Pit crew was there: the waiters Cookie and Kenny, the dishwashers Rufus and Clarence, Hershey the Cook. Melvin came up to me and hugged me real tight. Jeanie and Dumptruck came, and Angie and her kids Damien and Darius. The Weasel. All the Bastille bartenders: Earl, Buffalo, Gonzo the Wild Aussie, Cricket who I couldn’t stand. Tinkerbell the Fairy from Molly’s Irish Pub. Crazy Dave and all the Bikers. The Mobsters. The Shopping Bag Ladies. The Racetrack Guys. Mikey O’Hara, the gay Irish Catholic high school drama teacher who everyone loved, with a cigarette in one hand and a screwdriver in the other. The three black hookers: Chocolate, Sugar and Honey, who liked Tootsie and Mama because they’d let them bring their tricks in, as long as they didn’t rip anyone off.
Everyone told stories about Tootsie. Remember when she brought that live, crowing Rooster into the Bar? Remember when she drank 29 shots of Jagermeister, on a bet? Remember when she did a strip tease right up on the bar, and some friend of Mr. Carlo’s jumped up and started taking his clothes off too, and Carmela started screaming because he was so tall she thought the ceiling fan was gonna chop his head off, and the fan blades broke, right on his shoulder? If I’m lyin I’m dyin. They got louder and louder and louder and drunker and drunker and drunker. They smoked joints and snorted lines of Coke off the bar. They toasted Tootsie with bottomless shots of Jose Cuervo and shots of Jagermeister and Kamikazes. They blasted Tootsie’s favorite songs on the Jukebox. Some of the stories were funny and made me laugh. Then I would get sad again. Mama looked so lost without Tootsie. And I wondered. What would happen to Dakota?
Photo Credit: “Jose Cuervo Gold.” http://www.totalwine.com