Although A Free Man is still new to me, technically, I'm playing catch-up on his blog, and it's really super neat. Partly because he's got this Michael Stipe thing going on, and partly because he's an excellent writer with good stories to tell, and partly because he's got this glorious, fair outlook on on everything that's inspired by feelings rather than complacency. That's a killer combination.
So because I'm in New Orleans right now, he's driving in a post about his time there. Oh, I can dig it.
“Turnaround is fair play”, my fictitious folky uncle always would have said. Rassles fills in for me while I was basking on an Antipodean beach, so I fill in for her while she is no doubt drinking Bourbon Street dry. I jumped at the opportunity when I saw the words ‘New Orleans’ and guest post, because I’ve got a story I’ve been itching to tell since I started blogging.
I made a crucial novice blogger mistake back in those early days – I gave the URL to my Grandma. Now she’s no elderly internet prodigy, but she can peck out a few letters and being an older lady she’s got the patience to wait for her Paleolithic dial-up connection to sputter out a picture of her great-grandson. But the critical bit is that she occasionally reads whatever nonsense I’ve posted for the day and calls me up on the carpet the next time I talk to her on the phone.
Long story short – I have to censor myself over on my site. Have to leave out the juicy/sexy/tragic stories. But no more. I’m hoping that dear Grandma won’t bother to follow the link over here, granting me the anonymity that I so covet.
(Grandma, if you’ve found your way over here. Please stop reading. Nothing to see here. Why don’t you give Esther across the lake a call and go out for a nice stroll.)
Sometime in the early spring of 1993-ish I was wallowing around in Florida’s capital city. I had rented a cheap cockroach infested studio in an old house in a particularly fetid part of Tallahassee. I was half in school, half working and half drunk – really doing only the latter with any kind of verve. Most of all, I was bored.
So one Friday afternoon, I called up an old school friend – let’s call him Erwin because that will annoy him - who happened to be in another Florida university town and said “Erwin, let’s go to New Orleans. The Big Easy.”
“Yeah”, Erwin replied, “let’s do that sometime.”
“No, let’s go tonight.”
Erwin was always the yin to my yang. Responsible and well-mannered where I was reckless and boorish. Studious and serious to my lucky and drunk. But to his credit, he had an inner rebel that needed little plying to leap out. About three hours later – around nine o’clock at night - Erwin pulled up in the drive. I was prepared with a towel, a swim suit, a bottle of Southern Comfort and half a sheet of blotter acid.
“I’ll drive”, I declared and with a grinding of gears and a cosmic groan.
I have a philosophy of life by which I stand pretty firmly. It’s not a great philosophy, nor really one to live with. In fact it’s more of an excuse for bad behavior than a philosophy per se: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Fifteen or so years later, I can’t imagine why it would have seemed like a good idea to pop two tabs of LSD onto my tongue as I accelerated onto I-10, but there must have been one.
I honestly can’t remember if Erwin dropped acid that night or not, but either way he’s an idiot. It’s a six hour drive from Tallahassee to New Orleans dead straight through dank cypress swamps down I-10 – fortunately for anyone that may have encountered a late 80’s Japanese pick-up truck piloted by a drug addled moron on that late night. Curves or hills may have resulted in a different story told by a Panhandle coroner or Alabama state trooper.
You’ll be surprised to hear that I don’t remember much of that long midnight drive. Only one thing in fact – R.E.M.’s “Life’s Rich Pageant” playing on a loop on my truck’s tape deck. Particularly…
I believe in coyotes and time as an abstract
Explain the change, the difference between
What you want and what you need, there's the key,
Your adventure for today, what do you do
Between the horns of the day?
Over and over.
I’m not a religious man. I’m a scientist. I demand empirical evidence before declaring a truth. But I can guaran-damn-tee you that there is some kind of benevolent higher power out there, because Erwin and I crossed Lake Ponchatrain with the dawn sun peeking up behind us a matter of hours later. Unscathed, slightly damp (to this day I don’t know why) and beginning to come down.
Ladies and gentleman, Bourbon Street at five in the morning is not a nice place when you’re coming down from an LSD trip. It stank of urine and vomit, was littered with trash and comatose drunks. It looked more like my fraternity house after a kegger than the depraved glamour that I had in my head. Both Erwin and I, being sensitive intelligent lads, hadn’t fared well with the ladies thus far in our young lives and I know I had visions of exotic, smoky voiced New Orleanian ladies of the evening that were riding streetcars just waiting for a little piece of A Free Man-boy to complete their day. When I saw what, even to my sexually naive eyes, was clearly a drag queen vomiting into a Dauphine Street gutter I realized that I wasn't getting lucky that morning.
We sat in Jackson Square for a little while shivering both mentally and physically. I took a slug of SoCo and said, "Let's go."
And we did. And that might have been the end of the story. But I decided to take the scenic route home, the long Highway 190 causeway across Lake Ponchatrain which ends up in the small town of Covington. At that time, and today for that matter, Covington Louisiana means only one thing to me - Walker Percy. If you don't know who Walker Percy is then you're either a Yankee or a moron and you should get off the internet and go read "Lancelot". If you do know who Walker Percy is, you'll understand why Erwin and I spent a good part of that day scouring the cemeteries of this sleepy Southern town looking for his headstone. If you've ever read "The Thanatos Syndrome" you'll understand why we spent the rest of that day drinking Southern Comfort at his grave. And if you've ever read "The Last Gentleman" you'll know that he probably would have approved.
I always like to end my posts with a take-home message - a lesson learned. But I don't think I have one for this story. I don't do acid any more nor do I drink Southern Comfort. But this particular adventure has little to do with those decisions. I think I'll throw it up to Walker:
"You live in a deranged age, more deranged that usual, because in spite of great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing."