Tag Archives: French Quarter

The Rooms on Rampart

Fiction © Copyright 2017  by Sara Jacobelli

New Orleans

Late 1970s

The Rooms didn’t have a name, just a hand-lettered sign, “Rooms.” Other weekly rooms on the street had names: “Uncle Mike’s Place” “Sunset Inn” “OK Corral.”  The Rooms on Rampart had rules.  Guy who ran the place, Pete, wouldn’t rent to women, insisted one man to a room. He made signs on cardboard and posted them in the lobby and hallways. No cooking in the room. No booze. No drugs. No fighting. No guns. No knives. No sneaking broads up to your room. I done enough time, I know how to follow the rules and mind my business.

Rooms were eighteen bucks a week, head down the hall.  Soon as they got there, Shorty and Dave broke the rules: Dave rented the room and snuck Shorty in. They’d only have to pay nine bucks a week, long as they dodged Old Pete. Pete had this way about him, reminded me of an old giant snapping turtle I saw at a roadside stand out in Kraemer.  When he talked, he bobbed his head, sniveled, cleared his throat.  Had this window in his door so he could stick his turtle head out, see what was going on.

Pete had the best spot in the building: one-bedroom, kitchenette, and a TV. He got all that for collecting the rents, kicking out deadbeats, breaking up fights, enforcing the rules. Shorty and Dave were jealous of Pete’s sweetheart deal. I met these two sitting on the front stoop smoking.

Shorty said he was from Chicago, spent his life riding the rails. Dave said he was from Bakersfield. Shorty was short of course, and skinny, clothes too big, shifty dark eyes, pock-marked face.  About forty but looked sixty. Dave was younger, taller, bright green eyes, reddish-brown hair, freckles. Shorty looked like a hobo. Dave at first glance could pass for a regular working guy. You looked twice, you could tell by his raggedy teeth and sallow skin and the desperate look in his eyes that he was a man on the edge. Type that would follow around the Manson Family.  Shorty drank MD-2020 but Dave scored speed whenever he could. Both claimed to have done hard time. Both were full of shit. I been in the joint and I can pick up right away, by the way a man walks and moves, the way his eyes take in his surroundings, I can tell whose done hard time and who’s talking outta his ass.

“Where you taking the bus to fella?”

“The fuck you care?”

“Don’t gotta get surly with me, Mac. Just making conversation.  They call me Shorty. You know what churches give out free food?”

“Right down the block by St. Jude. I don’t bother with it. Pete don’t like cooking in the rooms.”

Shorty smoked his hand-rolled Bugler. “This here’s Dave, my running partner.”

Dave ignored me and picked up an almost-new cigarette he found on the sidewalk. “Bus stop’s the best place for these here.” He held up the cigarette like it was a diamond ring. “People drop em when their bus comes.” He giggled. “Hey, you notice you never see no baby pigeons? You see growed ones all over the place, you see dead ones, but you never see no God-Damned baby pigeons?”

My bus came.  We get a lot of strange ones in the Rooms but these two gave me the creeps.

***

Shorty and Dave brought a girl upstairs, a big-eyed teen-aged speed freak with scraggly black hair and Olive Oyl eyes.

“Old Pete ain’t gonna want her up here.”

“Fuck Pete.” Shorty was the boss. Dave grinned his evil grin.

Olive Oyl leaned against Shorty. “You said you had some shit.”

“She OD’s, the cops come. Nobody wants cops here.”

“Whyn’t you mind your own business, Mac?”

I shut the door to my room. I could hear Shorty talking and Dave and the girl giggling. Then they shut up. I figured Dave and Olive Oyl were shooting speed, Shorty was drinking Mad Dog. A radio blared Mama got a squeeze box she wears on her chest, and when Daddy gets home he never gets no rest. Sounded like Dave was screwing Olive Oyl; the mattress squeaked and they banged against the headboard. There was a framed picture on the wall of a sailboat on a blue-green sea. I looked at the painting before I fell asleep, dreaming I was on that boat on that sea. My room was much better than sleeping in abandoned buildings or the Ozaman Inn.  I was hoping for a steady gig in the Quarter mopping floors or washing dishes.  Life was doing me pretty good and I didn’t want them bastards to ruin it.  There’s guys in this town desperate enough they’ll kill somebody for a hundred bucks.

Old Pete said he had nothing but his Routine and he loved his Routine like a man loves his woman. Coffee, cigarettes, newspaper. Lunch at the Clover Grill or the Tally-Ho. The track. Back home to the TV. We had some drunks in the Rooms.  Whiners. Deadbeats. Not much trouble. Once in a while a lonely old guy would die in his room and Pete always said the same thing. “Well, you never know. You never know.”

We didn’t have much trouble til those two showed up. Shorty and Dave.

Shorty and Dave wouldn’t shut up about Pete’s apartment.  Kept hatching up ways to get rid of him, take over his job. I kinda liked Pete. Had this fridge in the hallway, stocked it with popsicles in the summer, then gripe that everyone stole them. But he kept stocking the fridge with more popsicles.  Me and the other roomers, Lucky Dog Daigle and  flower-vendor Moonbeam, we raided that fridge. A popsicle tasted just right on sweltering summer nights, specially when you couldn’t scrape up enough quarters and nickels for a sno-ball or a Dixie beer.

“Could put poison in his coffee cup. Just move into his crib, collect the rents. Have us a good ole time.” Shorty picked his nose, inspected the booger, wiped it on his dirty jeans.

Dave pointed a bony finger at me. “That one there’s listening.”

I brushed past them and opened the heavy front door.

“Hey Mac!”

I turned around. “Did I tell you the story bout the time they sent me to the loony bin up in De-troit, on accounta I kilt a man?” Dave took his knife out of his pocket and flicked the blade open and shut, open and shut, glared at me with his Charly Manson eyes.

“Pete’s all right. Let’s you pay rent a day or two late.  These rooms are two bucks cheaper than Mike’s next door. I don’t got no problems with Pete.”

Shorty rolled his Bugler, leaned against the stair rail. “Don’t seem fair he’s got that place with the windows and the TV.  You come in on our plan.” He nodded in the direction of Pete’s door. “We’d collect the dough, split it three ways. No telling what he’s got, we could pawn.”

******

Old Pete died in his sleep three days after winning twelve hundred bucks in the Trifecta.  I moved into Pete’s apartment. I collect the rents, send the California landlord a money order every month. Never told him I raised it from eighteen smackers to twenty-two.

I got rid of Shorty and Dave, with a grand left over. Wash dishes two days a week, spend the rest of the week at the track during the season. When the track’s closed I play bourre’ and knock rummy over by Johnny White’s. Waitresses at the Clover Grill and the Tally-Ho pour my coffee soon’s I walk in the door. Might treat myself to dinner at the Steak Pit on Bourbon Street and drinks at the Bastille on Toulouse. I’m gonna ask out that cute waitress with the nice ass that waits for the bus in front of the Rooms. Take her to the movies over by Canal Street.

Old Pete. Good Luck and Bad Luck in the same week. That’s life for you.

I put the sailboat painting on the wall in my new bedroom.  You need a room to rent, you come see me. I kept Pete’s signs up. Just make sure you follow the rules.

 

 

***************

Song Lyrics: “Squeeze Box.” The Who. 1975, https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/who/squeezebox.html

 

Picture Credits:

Rooms sign: “Greek Islands Rooms.” Dreamstime Stock Photos:  https://tinyurl.com/y9rr8yvx

“Sailboat Painting” by Jennifer Branch: https://jenniferbranch.com/PaintingWatercolor/Art-Tutorials/Sailboat-Painting-Tutorial.html

 

 

 

 

 

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Meeting Rutherford

humphrey-bogart-619157__180

 

Fiction

Setting: Good Friends Bar, French Quarter, New Orleans

For my brother, Nicky

© Copyright 2015 by Sara Jacobelli

“Truman Capote said, Truman said, I don’t remember the exact quote, but it was something like, ‘You can get anyone in bed you want, if you really put your mind to it.” Good looking, fortyish, wearing a tight blue polo shirt and tight jeans, he surveyed the street from his barstool, flexed his gym-toned muscles, downed his margarita in two gulps. “Anyway, SOMEthing like that.”

“Sounds good to me,” the bartender said, mopping up some spilled beer on the bar. “If only I could concentrate better. I can’t concentrate on nothin but sports.”

“Oh, it sounds like a terrible waste of time,” said the denizen of the corner stool. Older, serious looking, sporting a seersucker suit and bow tie, he took off his Panama hat, revealing a mane of silver hair. “Why waste your time pursuing some shallow being that you probably won’t want once you get him. People like you—” he waved his hand in the first man’s direction—“people like you just want the thrill of the chase. People like you are so terribly shallow and vain that they don’t see what’s really important in Life.” He frowned. “G & T, Gerald. Bombay, with a squeeze of lime. And whatever Lover Boy over here is having.”

“Gimme a shot a Jaeger. “ The first man rolled his eyes. “You don’t even know ME, or what the fuck I’m talking about. I do like that natural gray of yours though, very classy, you got a whole Dashiell Hammett thing going on there. I know I come across as shallow. You see—there’s this guy—alright, he IS young and cute. So what? He’s a short order cook over at the Clover Grill, and believe me, when he bends over that grill and fries those eggs. The point I’m trying to make is, at one time, see, I was the hottest boy dancing upstairs in the Parade Disco at the Bourbon Pub. Slender, tan, bleached blonde, and I mean hot. My Levis had a twenty seven inch waist. So—”

“Don’t tell me. Your name has to be Barry. It’s Barry, Lance, or Ken. It has to be.”

“Well, it’s Lance, actually, and yeah, it IS a bit much, I know. I changed my name in the eighties. I’m from St. Louis, and my parents named me—get this—John Michael Johnson. I mean, I had to do something. And they dragged us to church constantly, Baptists, I had to get out of there and sleep with some Catholics. Anyhow, my parents threw me out when they find out I was gay. They prayed for me, then tossed my ass out. First I hitchhiked to The City—San Francisco—the Whole Armistead Maupin Tales of the City deal—hustled my tight little ass to survive—-partied, partied, partied—slept with every cute boy I met in the baths and the bars, and DIDN’T get AIDS. I felt so lucky, with so many friends dying, I felt like I was fucking Invincible. Immortal. Plus I was shooting a lot of speed at the time and that shit makes you feel like you can run to the moon and back and then go out and party all night, stay up for days, living on nothing but onion rings and love. That sounds like a song, doesn’t it? Onion Rings and Love?” Lance downed his shot and pointed at his glass. “Yuck. That stuff’s so nasty, but I gotta get my nerve up and try to get this young hottie’s attention. He goes to Oz every night. He’s so fucking cute. Twenty two, twenty three, something like that.” Lance grabbed his cigarettes and lighter and stood on the sidewalk. “We can still smoke out here in front of the bar, can’t we, Gerald, honey?”

The bartender nodded and waited on a herd of tourists who wandered in screaming for drinks. Lance turned toward the older man. “So, after burning myself out in San Francisco, I took the Greyhound to New Orleans, got gigs waiting tables, and well, here I am. Still here. So what’s YOUR name? Herbert? You look like a Herbert. Definitely a Herbert.”

“My mother, poor misguided soul, gave me the most unfortunate name known to Mankind. ‘Milquetoast Tiberious Rutherford.’ Hence, everyone calls me ‘Rutherford.’ “

“Oh God, should I go to Oz and dance the night away and snort coke and drink tequila and then have hot wild meaningless—but very good— sex with Jimmy—or was it Timmy? Whatever. Or should I stay here and indulge in deep, meaningful conversation—with—‘Milquetoast Tiberius Rutherford’?”

“Go ahead and laugh,” Rutherford adjusted his striped bow tie. “Everyone does. Have fun with your Little Friend. I’m going home, to Charlie and Gertrude and a bottle of Chianti and a stack of Bogart movies from the library.”

“A threesome? You hardly seem the type!”

“Charlie is a long haired dachshund. Gertrude is a Manx cat. I’m a widower. Martin died eight years ago. The problem with a perfect relationship—and it WAS perfect—we drank, we danced, we dined, we traveled throughout Europe—enjoyed our pets, our friends, our Mardi Gras Krewe. The problem with a perfect relationship is that—unless you die together in a plane crash—the problem is that one of you must go first, and leave the other behind. Leave the other to roll over in bed in the middle of the night and reach for you, and you’re not there.”

“Oh honey, that’s way too morbid for me. I’m too young for that kind of talk. Enough Jagermeister, gimme another margarita, Gerald. And hurry. Please.”

“You’re not THAT young, Lance.”

“Oh, I am, I still have a lot of growing up to do. I mean. My teens were just tragic. Tragic. Except for that one football player in high school. But He wouldn’t be seen with me in Public. Kids today don’t know how lucky they are. I mean, it’s fucking Cool to be Queer nowadays. High School was like Lord of the Flies meets Dante’s Inferno meets Mean Girls meets Hairspray. Then I went wild with all that freedom when I got to San Francisco. I bounced through my twenties—literally bounced—from club to club, from party to party, from drug to drug—oh God, remember Ecstasy?”

“I believe that I skipped that particular sensation.”

“Well, anyway, by the time I got to thirty, I was like, you know, I’m not dealing with that mortality crap. So I kinda put off dealing with thirty, until—” Lance finished his cigarette, leaned in close to Rutherford. “I didn’t really accept thirty, until I got to forty. Now, forty—I’m putting that puppy off until, well, you know,”

“Fifty?” Rutherford raised his eyebrows. He took a sip of his gin and tonic.

“Shhhh, not so loud. Anyhow, wish me luck. I’m off to the Wonderful World of Oz, and I’m gonna try that Truman Capote thing, where if you work really hard, ooh, you know, HARD—you can get ANYONE you want in bed. Absolutely Anyone.”

“You gentlemen need anythin else?” the bartender pointed at their glasses. “Hey—Tiberius—that’s James T Kirk’s middle name, Captain Kirk, from Star Trek. Your ma’s taste ain’t so bad.”

“Mother had the worst taste. That Sears furniture and those canned peas—they’re IMPRINTED on my mind for Eternity.” Rutherford stood up, stretched his long legs.

“I didn’t realize you were so tall,” Lance said. “Well, gotta go! Wish me luck!”

“You two ain’t together?” the bartender asked. “Thought you was a couple.”

“Me and him? Rutherford? Chianti and Humphrey Bogart and Charlie the Dog and Beatrice the Cat?”

“Gertrude. The Cat’s name is Gertrude. Maybe later, when you’re done dancing.”

“Really?” Lance stood on the sidewalk and watched Rutherford walk down Dauphine Street, a tall elegant, and yes, distinguished gentleman.

“Hey Milquetoast Tiberius! Do you have popcorn?”

Rutherford stopped at the corner and turned around. “Popcorn? Of course I have popcorn. Do you think I could watch Casablanca, To Have and Have Not, and The African Queen, without popcorn?”

“Wait for me!” Lance ran down the street, remarkably light on his feet for a forty seven year old.

**********************

Photo Credit: “Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall,” studio still. Pixabay Free Images. CC Public Domain Photo.

https://pixabay.com/en/humphrey-bogart-lauren-bacall-619157/

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Strangle Your Darlings, Dahlin!

Memo, Note, Notepad, Office, Paper

 

© Copyright  2015 by Sara Jacobelli

 

New Orleans Writing Marathon

(part of the Greater New Orleans Writing Project 2015 NWP Urban Sites Network Conference)

French Quarter Mini Marathon

Friday, April 17th, 2015, 1-5 pm

I signed up to participate in this mini Writing Marathon. Most of the participants paid to be in the whole program, which included various writing workshops held at UNO. (most of these sessions are for teachers, to improve their confidence in teaching writing and to improve their own writing skills)

It was scheduled to start at 1:00 pm. First I had to scramble around the apartment looking for a notebook with some empty pages in it. Of course, being a New Orleanian, I was late, and being me, I got lost. (Yes, I got lost in the French Quarter. Never mind that I walked those streets before most of my fellow marathoners were born, but we were supposed to meet at 916 North Peters, and I can never figure out where North Peters and South Peters start and stop. I had to stop at the tourist info center on Decatur Street, walk in and say, “This is embarrassing. I’m a Local but I’m lost, I can’t find this place.” Turns out it was at that little Jazz Heritage Park behind the Café du Monde. I had to walk by the statues, including MY statue, but I realized that you can’t live in the past and no one at this thing wants to hear about MY statue and my Quarter memories. (There used to be a fountain by Café du Monde, and some of us on drunken crazy nights used to put laundry soap in the fountain to make bubbles spill out. Guess that’s why they took the fountain out, but I’m sure you don’t want to hear about that.)

So I walk in about 1:30 and a nice young guy hands me a bottle of cold water in a New Orleans Writing Project koozie. Richard Louth, the lean gray haired easy going moderator, tells us how the writing marathon started—inspired by Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones. The idea is to write in spurts of seven or nine or ten minutes, read aloud and share, without compliments or criticism, to just say “Thank you” as each reader is done.

The longer session takes place in the summer, costs about a hundred bucks and lasts about five days. (This one was $16.82) Most of the thirty five or so people are from out of town, many of them are teachers. (So many are from Portland I almost feel I’m in an episode of Portlandia. OK, I only saw one episode, but I been to Portland. I get it. I tell all the Portland folks how lucky they are to have such good public transportation. I’m not sure if they appreciate their wonderful fast efficient light rail system. Maybe you have to do what we do: wait two hours for the bus, get to work in clothes dripping with sweat and smelling like funky stale dog, get written up for being late, then wait another hour and a half in the rain and the dark for the bus ride home. Maybe you have to experience the RTA on a daily basis— until you can appreciate the zip-zip-zip of the Portland system. But I digress. . . )

It’s not clear to me if any in the group are already writers or wanna be writers or published writers. (I think most of them are teachers.) Then Mr. Louth tells us that an important part of the program is to start calling ourselves Writers, and now we need to state, “I’m a Writer” to anyone sitting nearby. (Reminds me of that awkward old “Peace be with you thing” from the Catholic Church. And no, I haven’t been to church in a lotta years.)

The “I’m a Writer” thing seems to make folks happy, although I feel silly saying it. Maybe it’s because I was a newspaper reporter for three and a half years, or maybe it’s because I’ve been writing long enough and published in enough places that I shouldn’t have to say it. Then it dawns on me, we’re not saying it for others, we’re saying it for ourselves. OK, that’s a good idea, a good way to boost people’s confidence. I get it. (I still don’t have to say it. Some people love my stories and come to my readings and some don’t give a shit and some have never read them. I still write.)

 1) Jazz Park   916 North Peters  While at the Jazz Center building Mr. Louth directed us to pull out our notebooks and write for ten minutes. There was no time to read these out loud in such a large group. Here’s mine:

The Foster Home

She called herself Foster Mother. He didn’t really like her. She smelled like old root beer bottles. He wondered what he should call her. Not Mom. He decided not to think about his Old Life, that would make him Sad. He would think only about this New Life. There would be a New School and maybe New Friends.

Foster Father wasn’t home much and seemed kind of Mean anyway. There had to be something to like about this New Life. Foster Mother turned on the TV and sat back in her big chair. “Gonna watch my stories, then take a God Damned nap.”

“I don’t want to. I’m not tired.”

“Not you, kiddo. Me. I’m tired. All these God Damned kids wear me out. Gettin too old for this.” She closed her eyes. “The money’s good though. I get seven hundred bucks a kid.”

She’s going to sell me? He wondered. Who would buy a used seven year old boy who stayed back in second grade? Who would pay seven hundred dollars for me?

It’s not really fair, he thought. It’s not fair at all. He lay on the rug. It smelled like cat pee. He didn’t see a cat anywhere. “She probly sold the kitty too,” he mumbled. “I gotta figure out how to survive here. I gotta figure it out.”

 

2) Croissant D’or    617 Ursulines

We divided up into small groups of six or seven. They gave us maps of the Quarter with various places highlighted. I felt silly again, a local saddled with a bunch of clueless tourists. Couldn’t I just do this by myself? Spend the $16. 82 on booze and go to bars and write by myself? I decide to be a good sport and play along. We have a young moderator in our group, a charming smiling guy with long hair who suggests Croissant D’or on Ursulines.

After we introduced ourselves, we write for about twelve or thirteen minutes. I write two pieces. The first piece of flash fiction is loosely based on a time I was held up at gunpoint. The second piece is a blur of fiction and nonfiction about my days as a Quarter Street Kid. (Before the Dirty Kids, before the Gutter Punks, we were just Street Kids.)

I have many memories of sitting in this courtyard, listening to my pal Little Jimmy whining about how hard his life was. Jimmy is long gone but the place is still there, cheap enough that the locals can afford to buy the coffee and the soups and sandwiches. (I think they make their real money off of the gourmet French pastries that the habitués of the nearby boutique hotels buy.) I get an iced coffee—I have sixteen dollars and some change to make it through the day. I write one piece about an armed robbery—then start another piece and find myself lost in writing about some of my adventures with Jimmy Fontaine. I can see how the “no comments just say thank you and no criticism thing” can help the shyer, more sensitive types. (Having been a reporter, not only did I receive criticism from the editor, my colleagues and the public but I also got angry letters, had irate readers screaming at me over my scrambled eggs in breakfast joints, death threats, attempted physical assaults, and my reporter boyfriend—now my husband—was brutally attacked by a speed freak with an ax.)

Here’s the first story I wrote at Croissant D’or:  (I didn’t read this one out loud)

The Hold-up

He stuck a gun to her head and all she could think about was the rent—she was late on the rent and now she wouldn’t have to worry about it. The Entergy bill too—they were about to turn off the electricity. Now that didn’t matter either.

“I said, give it up. Girl. You don’t listen.”

“I only have two dollars. Two. Fucking Dollars. You should be robbing the Rich People on Wall Street. Not poor people like me.

“Two dollars, that’s all?” He stood there, young and confused and angry and nervous all at once. His partner on the corner got agitated.

“Hurry the fuck up, Big D. Get the money and let’s get outta here.”

Big D looked at her. “Give it up, then.

She threw the two dollars in the street and he scrambled to scoop them up. She didn’t give him her ID, which was scrunched deep into her other pocket.

He ran to meet his partner—turned around to look at her. “It’ll get better,” he said.

She walked back to Markey’s. “Somebody’ll buy me a drink, they hear this story. Somebody’ll buy me a fucking drink.”

Here’s the second story I wrote at Croissant D’or. (This is the one I read out loud.)

The Last Ride

Sometimes when no one was making any money panhandling on Dauphine or hustling on Bourbon we’d break up into groups of two or three and head out to the highway to do some interstate hitch-hiking—east to Mississippi or west to Texas—in a last act of desperation hoping lonely travelers would buy us truck stop meals. Little Jimmy whistled the tune of “Riders on the Storm” as we climbed into a van driven by a middle aged crew-cutted guy with a scar across his neck that looked like a zipper. Jimmy whispered, “There’s a killer on the road” and I smacked him to shut him up but hated myself for ignoring the funny feeling in my gut. My stomach betrayed me by growling louder with hunger.

Crew Cut didn’t talk—he just chewed gum and drove—chewed gum and drove— and Little Jimmy rolled his eyes while I looked out the window at the empty gas stations cheap motels greasy diners zipping past —and thought of all those cross country hitch-hiking days—Boston Denver Miami Cleveland—and wondered if this was my Last Ride. I was seventeen.

Everyone read their stories. They were well written and interesting to hear. Some wrote about the past and some wrote about sitting here in a New Orleans courtyard. No one else wrote fiction. The young long haired guy wrote about his wife’s experience teaching sixth grade in a New Orleans public school, which I could relate to, since I attended similar schools and taught special education for four and a half years. Keeping with the program’s focus of free writing and “no criticism” we all said, “Thank you” as each reader finished.

3) Harry’s Place      900 Chartres

I have a lot of memories in this bar, dating back to before Buddy and Cindy bought it and it was owned by Beachball Benny. I didn’t want to bore anyone with my life story, so I sat at the bar and chatted with a charming old duffer. (OK, I must admit. I was embarrassed walking into Harry’s with a bunch of composition-book carrying visitors.) The duffer and me chatted about Bob Smith—who used to work at Harry’s but now bartends over by BJ’s in da Bywater. Then we talked about the recent Times-Picayune article about the impending no-smoking ordinance, complete with a photo of harmonica player/ bartender Bobby Lewis—who this guy didn’t know. Then he says, “an ken you believe that ole Jimmy LaLa got quoted in that article? He’s so full a shit.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I was over in Florida after the storm and they quoted him in every article I read online and saw in the newspaper. Jimmy LaLa. Jimmy God damned Lala.”

I bought a well drink vodka cranberry and sat by myself at a window table. I got inspired to write about some of my old Quarter character cronies. Everyone huddled and wrote for about twenty minutes. When I was done, I joined several ladies at a table that were part of the group. One local—the rest from out of town. A bar patron crashed the party—chatted up the ladies—then one of his buddies wanted to play a game on him and pretend to get one of the lady’s phone numbers. I said to just play along. That led to a discussion among the women about how they can’t even go into a bar without guys trying to pick them up. I disagreed, said it was just part of the camaraderie of bars, and I grew up in bars and worked in bars and spent more than half my life in bars, at which point I realized, hey I’m a fuckin bar fly and no one wants to hear this.

Here’s the story I wrote in Harry’s Place: (I did read this out loud, but since it was noisy in there we didn’t read our stories until we got back to the Jazz Park.

You Remember Bob Cass, Dontcha?

“Bob Cass useta live upstairs”, the old guy said, adjusting his baseball cap. “He had that Jazz magazine, Climax? You remember? He lived upstairs from the Rue Royale Coffee Tea and Weed store rightchere on Royal Street. Back when rent was cheap—the seventies, the eighties. He sold weed too but they weren’t really rivals. All kinda folks useta come inna place lookin for em, buyin weed and reminisin. They knew him from back in the old BeBop days—the nine-teen fifties. Even the comedian Mort Saul come in one day lookin for em. Sure he did.”

He coughed, lit another cigarette and downed his whiskey. “You buyin? Gimme nother Jameson’s. So, I was tellin bout the Rue Royale. It’s a fuckin yuppie art gallery now. Useta have jazz music playin on the record player and all kinda folks comin in and out. Characters. All kinda characters. Crazy. It was some kinda crazy. If I’m lyin I’m dyin. One time these two ladies come in—they was lookin to buy them some weed. They was lookin for Bob Cass—the upstairs dealer—or Red Headed Ray—the downstairs dealer. Well Ray had alla these post cards for sale on this here rack. And one a them post cards had a famous pitcher a that broad—that pretty broad—who was it? Married Kennedy?”

“Joan?”

“No, no, not that Kennedy. The president. First she married JFK. Then he got shot, ya know. Jim Garrison had him some kinda trial about it. Then she married that Rich Greek, what’s his name?”

“Onassis?”

“Onassis. Yeah, you right. So anyway, these two ladies—they see that famous pitcher a the First Lady onna post card and they say, “Who that?” So Red Headed Ray’s girlfriend, Saratoga, she says, ‘That’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.’ Figurin ever-one inna whole wide world has heard a her. So one of em says, she says, “Kenny who?” and the other one, she says, “Oh I seen her—she live in da French Quartahs.”

He choked, guffawed, sputtered. “Saratoga—she loves to tell that story. Tells it alla time. Always gets a laugh. “Kenny who? Kenny who?”

4) Jackson Square

One of the members of the group said it was too noisy to write in there and asked if I wanted to join her in Jackson Square. We walked over to the Square, sat on a bench. I wrote a short piece about a long ago moment in that very spot.

Perry Como Said Hi To Me                      (I didn’t get to read this out loud)

One time I watched them film a Christmas TV Special in Jackson Square starring Perry Como. His music was just Old People’s Music to me—but I watched them film the show anyway.

Perry walked by. Me—-All skinny and scraggly, tough street kid sittin onna bench.

Him—some kinda big singer wearing a sweater making a dumb TV special.

He said “Hi.” I said “Hi” back to him. I thought of asking him for money—then thought better of it.

Decided to save the moment. Perry Como looked at me—treated me with respect—didn’t just walk right past me—but stopped and said “Hi” to me.

Me—a skinny straggly hungry ain’t-got-no-money ain’t-got-no- home but got-a-lotta-attitude street kid. I wasn’t invisible. Not to Perry Como.

Not sure why I never forgot that day. The day Perry Como said “Hi” to me.

Thanks, Perry.

5) Jazz Park   (outside table) 

        

Our group met back at the Jazz Park and ringed our chairs around a table and read some of our work. Once again, the stories were well written, the writers were very earnest, everyone was very nice. I am so grateful that the writing was pretty angst-free. (I don’t like-a lotta angsty. All that angsty make-a me feel kinda icky. But I digress.) Richard Louth read about when he first came to New Orleans, sat in a window at Molly’s on Decatur, writing and people watching. He was funny and affable and entertaining.

As we walked through the Quarter. I stopped to chat to folks we passed by: uniformed restaurant workers standing outside on a smoke break, panhandlers, falling down drunks. I spent so much of my life on these same streets, yet every time I pass by I see or hear or smell something new.

Some of the participants had cars so we piled into them to go to Big Class on St. Claude, where we had free pizza and wine. This was part of the Pizza and Poetry Project, the pizzas each had poems written by elementary school kids. (Good poems, too!)

I think the writing marathon is a great space/format/idea for beginning writers, shy writers, nervous writers, and for people who have never read their work out loud in front of others. For me? I need a tougher workshop with lots of constructive criticism. (I was a reporter, I can take it! I’ve been screamed at about everything from school board reports to murder trials.) Criticism isn’t so bad. Some of my fondest memories are when I wrote for the AVA in Mendocino County, Northern California—and The Editor would scream at me over the intercom that connected his office to the newsroom: “If the movie is so God Damned bad, why is the review so long?”

(And once my husband told me that a character in a short story I was writing was “too annoying.” “He’s supposed to be annoying,” I said. “Yeah but he’s too fucking annoying. You’re being too cute with it. You’re going too far.” He was right. As a reporter he interviewed Jessica Mitford, author of “The American Way of Death”. She told him, “Kill your darlings.” “What?” he asked. “Murder your darlings. Get rid of any unnecessary words in your writing. Or anything you’re too crazy about that you like too much.” That, and the fact that she could read his notes upside down, truly amazed him. (There’s some controversy as to who originally said “Kill your darlings” or “murder your darlings” but it’s sage advice. Advice that we all need to hear.)

The idea of just saying “Thank you” after each person reads is too much like the “Everyone gets a trophy, everyone gets a prize” bit. I do like Natalie Goldberg’s book, “Writing Down the Bones”—there’s great ideas in there for teaching writing, holding writing workshops, or just getting started. And I do believe that just writing and writing and writing and letting your first draft flow without interruption is really the way to go. (Save the rewriting and editing for later. That’s how I write stories. Write. Write. Write. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite.) And I like the idea of the whole project. I want to support writers and writing. (Warning to participants: when you do a public reading, the audience may or may not be supportive. They may be loud. They may be drunk. They may laugh in the right places. They may laugh in the wrong places. Reading for an audience is tough, but I get through it by reminding myself that it’s not nearly as hard as being a comedian. Now that’s hard! Say something that’s supposed to be funny and they just sit there? Whoa baby, where’s the tissues, I’ma gonna cry.)

But I don’t have much money, so if I don’t sign up for the workshop next time, I could spend the whole $16.82 on drinks. (Three vodka cranberries plus tip—or two vodka cranberries and a better tip. I used to be a bartender so I better give them a good tip.)

The next day I received an email telling me that my short story “Half Moon Bay” is going to be published in Fiction on the Web. I get another email, asking if I want to sign up for the Summer New Orleans Writing Marathon. (This one is longer and costs $150.)

No way can I afford to pay for the workshop and take five days off of work. I need the money. I got to eat. I got to pay rent. And I got to buy those vodka cranberries.

Keep writing. But don’t get too sensitive about it. Sometimes you gotta kill your darlings, dahlin.

************

Greater New Orleans Writing Project:

http://gnowp.org/

New Orleans Writing Marathon: (Registration for the July 13th-17th Summer Retreat is Now Open:

http://www.writingmarathon.com/

Who Really Said “You Should Kill Your Darlings”? Slate Magazine Article:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2013/10/18/_kill_your_darlings_writing_advice_what_writer_really_said_to_murder_your.html

Jessica Mitford’s Obituary in the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/1996/07/24/arts/jessica-mitford-incisive-critic-american-ways-britishupbringing-dies-78.html

 

Mitford. Jessica. “The American Way of Death.” Fawcett. 1963.

Mitford, Jessica. “The Making of a Muckraker.” Michael Joseph. 1979.

Mitford, Jessica. “The American Way of Death Revisited.” Vintage Reprints. 2000.

At BJ’s Lounge, Smoking Cigarettes Keeps the ‘Atmosphere’ Going:

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/04/smoking_ban_bjs_lounge.html

 ************

Picture Credit: Pixabay Copyright Free Images.

 

 

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First Place Winner in the Drunk Monkeys Summer 2014 Short Fiction Contest!

My short story, “Hustler Boy” won 1st place in the Drunk Monkeys Literary Magazine’s Summer 2014 Short Fiction Contest. I won $50, publication on the website, and publication in a print anthology. The second and third place winners are also published on the website.

2nd Place: “Dictionary of a Timid Lust for Life” by Moneta Goldsmith

3rd Place: “Welcome Back to Waldo County” by Allie Marini Batts

Animal, Animals, Jungle, Lion, Elephant

Here’s a link to the website so you can read all three stories, and check out the other articles. They also feature nonfiction, poetry, book and film reviews, along with articles about popular, (and not-so-popular) culture.

http://www.drunkmonkeys.onimpression.com/hustler-boy/

Picture Credit: “Animals-Aminals.” Pixabay copyright free images. CC NonCommercial ShareAlike.

http://pixabay.com/en/animal-animals-jungle-lion-220237/

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Conversations Overheard on North Rampart Street

 

Mt Kili.jpg (21177 bytes)

Two girls and one guy walking down the street.

 They look like college students.  

Girl # 1: “So, like, I’m going hiking on Mt. Kilimanjaro, and I’ve got like, the clothes and everything. But, like, it’s going to be real cold up there and I’m going to be like, the only girl with all these guys. So, like , a friend of mine was telling me I’ve got to buy this, like, device for twenty dollars that lets you like,  pee like a man, for when I’m, like, at the top of the mountain. So, like I bought it. . . “

Girl # 2 giggles.

Guy: “Did you try it out yet?”

Girl # 1: “No, but, like, I haven’t had the nerve to like try it yet, but it’ll come in handy I’m sure.”

 

 ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Two fiftyish men sitting on a stoop waiting for the bus. They check out a tall woman walking by.

Guy # 1: “Hoo-eeh, mm-hmm, look at that big broad. Nice big tall woman. That’s what I like.”

Guy # 2: Yeah, but around here, bra, you don’t know if that’s a big woman or a big man, know what I mean? You see what I’m sayin?”

Guy #1: “I hear ya, bra. I hear ya.”

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

 

Photo Credit: “Mt. Kilamanjaro.” EverestNews.com. CC NonCommercial ShareAlike.

http://www.globetrot.us/stulinks/1StuLinks/13Africa/Mt_Kili.jpg

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

 

 

Conversations Overhead on North Rampart Street.

©  Copyright 2014 by Sara Jacobelli

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The Devilishly Attractive Earl is Your Host

©  copyright 2012    by Sara Jacobelli

 

“So I dealt with it.” Earl drained his Heineken, looked at me. We were sitting at Johnny White’s on St. Peter.

“What are you talking about?”

He had a solemn look on his face, Earl who was usually so funny and so full of mischief.  Earl the French Quarter Bartender who patiently listened to every drunk’s endless tales of triumphs and woe. Once described in a Gambit bar review of the Bastille as “your host, the devilishly attractive Earl.” Now he had a story to tell.

“Listen. I need you to listen to this.”

I no longer heard the jukebox, or any of the people talking in the bar. My eyes focused on Earl’s eyes. Sometimes you do have to shut up and listen.

“I went to this therapist; she helped me deal with it. This middle-aged black lady, she was incredible. She got it all out of me. Why I have these nightmares, what I’m so angry about, why I would get so fucked up, why I’m so crazy and irresponsible and go through life making a joke of everything.”

I looked at Earl again. I always loved looking at him and picking out what was Irish and what was Cherokee. His features, definitely Irish, but there was a smooth brownness to his skin that the pale sun-starved Irish could never achieve. The getting-crazy-when- you’re-drunk part, both Irish AND Cherokee, no doubt.  Still, it was hard to imagine regular guy Earl seeing a counselor, a therapist. That sounded so California New Age. I resisted the urge to tease him. He looked so serious.

“This is the story.” He took a deep breath. “Four of us, we grew up together, in Peoria, Illinois.  Played hooky,  scavenged for glass bottles to cash in for change, shoplifted, got into too many fights, drank too much, ran away from home, stole clothes off clotheslines.  We all ran around together in high school, like a pack of wild dogs. Then we dropped out. We all joined the military. We all got married when we got out, had a bunch of kids. Our wives were friends, our kids played together. Four best friends, like brothers, really.”

“Then one night, we were out, drinking, partying, just being crazy, you know. At this point we were probably 27-28 years old. A semi truck slams into us, dead on. I remember it, the instant it happened. “

Earl had tears in his eyes. He touched my arm. “I have to tell you this. This is really important.”

He leaned closer to me. “They all three died. Instantly. I was the only survivor. I lost my three best friends in the whole world that night. And I’ve always felt guilty about surviving. Why me?”

There were no words to say. None.

“Not long after that, I left my family and came to New Orleans, ended up bartending. Been here ever since. But I’ve dealt with it. That therapist helped me. I’m OK now. I’m alright.”

As far as I know, Earl never spoke of the tragedy again. He died a couple of years after this conversation. As much as I like to talk, I’m glad that I stopped talking and listened. I’ve thought about that night at Johnny White’s often, when Earl decided to confide in me, and of the secret pain he held inside. Most people have scars you cannot see. Everyone has a story.

************

Note: I hope to include some photos of Earl. If you have any, please let me know.

 

 

 

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Suicide is Not Your Friend

Suicide is Not Your Friend

or “Flesh and Blood”

(Fiction)

By Sara Jacobelli

© copyright 2012

https://capitareafagiolo.wordpress.com

Robert-Vickers-Laundry-Day
The only club my mother ever joined was a Suicide Club. “It’s not about killing yourself, really. We just talk about wanting to die, the right to die, how bad our lives are. . .” Mom’s voice trailed off. I pictured her lighting the filterless Lucky Strike with the Zippo, holding the cigarette in her bitten fingernails. Taking a gulp of vodka with grapefruit juice.

“Yeah, I guess.” I stood at the pay phone and jiggled the change holder. I never knew what to say when she got into this stuff. I didn’t really feel like fighting. Besides, who ever heard of an Irish Catholic mother extolling the virtues of suicide?

“Well, ever since your father died, I’ve been very depressed. And the people in this group are the only ones who understand. Nicky tries, but he’s so busy with Chuck and the wiener dogs and his job.”

Now that Papi was dead, she acted like he was straight out of Father Knows Best. His heart attack made him a saint.

“I know, Mom. But maybe another interest besides suicide would be healthier for you, you know?” The Lucky Bead Lady walked by, eyeing me. She loved to pick up the receiver of the pay phone and babble voodoo curses in some mysterious language. She probably put a curse on me for using the phone.

“You wouldn’t understand. First of all, I wouldn’t be so depressed if you didn’t give away my grandbabies.” This was a low blow, and she knew it. I’m sure she puffed out a triumphant little smoke circle.

“Mom, that’s not fair. Tony’s mother got custody, what was I supposed to do? I didn’t have any money, OR a lawyer, OR any family that could help me.” I felt like we were playing a deranged game of backgammon, hitting each other’s little men and knocking them off the board.

“She could at least let me see them. Miami’s not that far from Brooklyn. I could get on a plane, IF I was invited.”

What did Lillian Hellman say in her memoirs?  My mother was dead for many years before I realized I loved her very much. Really, Lillian? How many years does it take?[1]

“So, I wanted to tell you. I met this girl at the meeting, and she was so nice. She’s young, and very depressed. She’s so pretty and smart. Her husband robbed a convenience store, and the cops shot and killed him, the bastards. No one else could relate to her, but I could, because of your father. Remember your father and the bank robbery, in Baltimore?”

screenshot of James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart...

“Yeah, I remember, I only heard the story a million times. Mom, look what I went through when Tony went to jail. I’ve been there too.”

“I felt so sorry for her. Just a couple young kids, trying to survive. A nice young couple. They had their whole lives ahead of them. You should have seen his picture, as handsome as your father. Oh, and did I tell you I joined the Hemlock Society?”

“That’s great, Mom.”

“You don’t have to be so sarcastic. Anyhow, I called them because I didn’t get my membership card, and I spoke to Derek Humphries, in person, on the telephone. Can you believe it?”

“Humphry. I think it’s Derek Humphry.”

“Well, whatever. The point is I TALKED to him on the phone. Oh, and I made a friend, this nice young man, from the Miami Suicide Hotline. His name is Paul.”

“Oh, that’s good.” I decided no more fighting, I was just going to get off the phone and not call again for a few months. “Mom, this must be expensive, a collect call and all.”

“Well, let me tell you this.” I could hear the TV news blaring on the portable in the background. “One thing about Miami, their Suicide Hotline always has a real person pick up the phone. Not a recording. Can you believe, at 3:00 am, in San Francisco, their Suicide Hotline put me ON HOLD?”

“Why were you calling their Suicide Hotline? I thought you were visiting Nicky and Chuck.”

“Oh, they’re so busy. Nicky cooks for these rich snobs. They’re in the Forbes 400.  Chuck works for the Customs Department, they have all those spoiled wiener dogs, they didn’t really have time for me, so I was depressed. But it’s a beautiful city and they have a lovely apartment, just filled with antiques. You should see it.  They have all of these wonderful friends. You should see it. You should see Chinatown. And when are you getting a job?”

“I have one, I’m bartending in the Quarter. It’s this place called The Sugar Shack.” The Bead Lady stopped pacing, stood and stared at me. I was cursed.

“Well, you don’t need to be in those places. You should be a good mother, and move closer to Jersey to be near your children.”

“Mom, I don’t even have visitation. And it’s Brooklyn, not Jersey.”

“Well, maybe you could get visitation if you didn’t live with that drug dealer, whats-his-name.”

“We split up.” The Bead Lady spit on the ground and stared at me, emitting a low ominous growl.

“I never heard, really, of a mother giving up her parental rights. Men, sure, they don’t care. But a mother, a woman who gives birth–“

“Mom, it’s complicated. I didn’t have a job, I was being evicted from my apartment, I had nowhere to go–”

“So she should get custody, and she goes to AA, her husband’s a bum, he gambles, you know. Her house is a pigsty—“

“Mom, it’s not that bad. It’s better than foster care. Besides, Papi gambled too. You guys spent your whole paychecks on cigarettes, booze, and lottery tickets.”

“We never did that! I DON’T UNDERSTAND YOU!  I’ll. Never. Understand. You. “

“Alright, Mom, gotta go. “

“IF your father was alive, this never would have happened. New Orleans, drugs, giving away the babies.”

“OK, you’ve made your point. This is painful for me, you know.”

“For you? I should be raising MY grandchildren, not that bitch. Antonio and Allessandro don’t even know me. She gets to watch them grow up.”

“Mom, you don’t have any money, you live in a studio apartment.  If you could make peace with Tony’s mother, you could see them. They’re really smart, they speak Italian, they go to Head Start.”

“Italian? They should speak Irish, and those names, what’s wrong with nice Irish names like Patrick or Ryan? And Fran, she never sends me pictures. She could send pictures.”

Pictures. No point in telling her I couldn’t even bear to look at their pictures.

“Mom, it’s not called Irish, it’s called Gaelic. And you don’t speak it either. You hate Irish music, what’s with this whole Irish thing now?”

“It doesn’t matter what I say. You don’t listen. That’s why I like the people at my club, they listen.”

“ I’ve gotta go. I’m going to need your Suicide Club if you keep this up.”

“Sure. Go ahead. Go ahead to the bar and tell all your friends your mother’s crazy.”

“Mom, you’re not even Jewish and you’re laying a guilt trip on me.”

“I should be Jewish. Every Jewish girl, her parents give her her own little bank account, her own little pot of money. She never has to depend on a man, she never has to worry about a thing. But have you ever heard of an Irish American princess? There’s no such thing. You know how many years I worked in Reliable laundry on Stillman Street? And for what? For nothing, that’s what.”

“OK, gotta go. The Lucky Bead Lady needs the phone. Not too many phone booths left around here.”

I hung up. She was still talking, something about the generations of O’Hara women forced to toil in laundries. I walked down Chartres Street to the square, sat on a bench and thought about the boys. The Legal Aid guy told me I had a chance at supervised visitation, but there was a lot I had to do.

I completed probation, that was good. But there was more. A long line of Things I Had to Do. Parenting classes, drug tests, a job, maybe a GED. The young lawyer was friendly, with longish hair. He didn’t think I should keep the bartending job, he didn’t think the judge would like the sound of it. He also said I had to buy some clothes for court, and wear a watch to cover up the tattoo on my wrist.

Everything seemed so hard and so complicated. The boys would be grown by the time I could do all that stuff. If Papi were alive he wouldn’t wait around for paper pushers and follow all the rules. He’d just get a gun and grab the boys, cuss everyone out in Italian, and hit the road. I could just picture him, grabbing the boys, shoving them in his Cadillac, and shouting about “carne e sangue, carne e sangue.”

I didn’t want to think about that stuff anymore. I walked down St. Peter and headed for Johnny White’s. I was broke, but someone would buy me a drink.

*******************

 

1] The actual quote is “My mother was dead for five years before I knew that I had loved her very much.”  Hellman, Lillian. An Unfinished Woman: A Memoir. New York:  Little Brown & Company, 1969. 5.

Artwork Credit:  Wikipedia,  Robert Vickers, “Laundry Day”

Photo Credit:  Wikipedia, “The Roaring Twenties,” James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart, Public Domain Photo.

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