Monday, April 13, 2009

The City of New Orleans: And Dance by the Light of the Moon

Day Five: Continued.

We’re not in that courtyard for long. Four seconds or so.

Out one door, u-turn right into another, we walk through a small room full of jarred herbs and then right into the altar room. The room itself was small, but splattered with junk.

Every inch of wall adorned itself with chiseled artifacts and drapes of fabric, statues and tokens and everything anyone had left there over the course of the past twenty-five years or so, because in the end, this is a new temple.

In the back of the small room, entertaining two young women sitting on the floor, was Priestess Miriam, cackling like chicken. She had a throne, kind of, a normal chair someone had painted and draped with...I don't know, gauze? Doused in jewelry. Leathery and soft. She sat in front of a coffee table covered with tiny jars of crap, a notebook full of repetitive lines of the same scratchy gibberish, a house phone and a big old jar full of something.

We browse, touching nothing, conquered by this treasure altar of garbage and crap and love. People left cigarettes, lollipops, sticks of gum, pencils, pennies, whatever they could as offerings to whatever divine element. Thousands of coins just lying all over the floors and the tables, in scattered piles and mason towers. Dollar bills stuffed themselves in the corners, the hands of statues, crammed into any open crevice. Dried fish, cracked ballet slippers, golf balls, sketches and photographs, burned out candles…a freaking hubcap. Everything drips onto something else.

After a couple of minutes the two girls stand up and say their goodbyes, and Priestess Miriam opens up her jar and takes a long sip.

"Girls. Come on."

We all look around. Did she mean us? She wants to talk to us?

So we step towards her. The incense is lush. You can't help but move slowly, flowing with the simple extravagance of the room. With a slight lift of your foot you can feel the thickness of your limbs, the thickness of air, you swim through that room with a heavy, hesitant ease.

Muffy slowly guides us towards Priestess Miriam and chooses a chair, and the other three girls settle onto the floor while I sit on the remaining chair. Not so much on it as in it. Its paint and limbs moan.

"Wha' can I do for you girls?" our Priestess mumbles.

How about give me some of whatever’s in that jar?

We’re silently trying to connect our eyes, hoping someone will speak first, trying to remain courteous while scanning the collection of bones and canisters, pots and jars, ceramic and glass, bike handlebars. Forks. Napkins scrawled with prayers. A dumpster of hope and gorgeous, fleeting, trashy belief.

"Well, I have a prayer request..." Muffy hesitates, leaning forward.

The Voodoo Priestess leans back and pulls a scarred hand up to her temple. "Thass a heavy requess. Wha di you have in mine?"

"Well, ummm..." Muffy suggests, fumbling. "To make good decisions."

"Ohhhh, Lord. Wha dya need to desside? Iz i' something like, for a jahb, or for a...something more impohtin? Becuz..." she's interrupted by that phone. She stops talking completely, staring at it, waiting for the ringing to stop. "I'm poplar today! You know how that iz. Somedays you have no one, talkin' to the mine and the head, wondrin' where you--" deep sigh "--gotta be. An' then somedays you gotta be...e'rywhere alls atwonce." She spasm slightly, and leans back and laughs, loud and shriekish, hiding her face in her hands.

Muffy and I both laughed, uncomfortably. This bitch crazy.

In a good way.

"I gotta whet my whistle." She takes another sip from that jar in front of her. Moonshine? Totally. There are bottles of rum and whiskey littered throughout the room, full and half-full, hidden between handmade dolls and guitar branches.

Priestess Miriam starts chatting away, pausing strategically to grab the arm of her chair and cackle and squeal at her own jokes that none of us quite understand. She rambles for a good half hour, somewhat incoherent, but eloquently so, about politics, choices, living in Chicago.

Oh, she’s originally from Mississippi, but she lived in Chicago for years, where she met Priest Oswan and planned on running away with him to Belize, leaving behind her children, the church where she acted as bishop on the South side, her job at the hospital. And they stopped in New Orleans on their way to Belize, founded this temple, and never looked back.

I feel heavy and try to concentrate on her words, because they seem to make sense, but I have no idea what she says half the time. She pauses only in her story to stare at the randomly ringing phone, cackle at the sky. Grab the arm of her chair, sip from the jar. All hopped up on spirits.

She asks what we do for a living, what brought us to New Orleans. We tell her about the soup kitchen and the train, and she spirals into some story about how no one cared about New Orleans until a catastrophe, and now everyone wants to help. Shouldn’t they want to help the places that are always in trouble, all the time?

Sometimes, I think she takes little jabs at us, as Priestess, as a beautiful, drunken, philosophical savant. No, I know she does. She flat out makes fun of us. Not to diminish our self-worth, but as a matter of perspective. What do five white girls from the Midwest know about life in New Orleans?

Because in the end, when we take our turns explaining our jobs, we aren’t a group of young women who are individually on sabbatical, teaching special ed, finishing our masters, building playgrounds, and raising money for inner-city schools, who collectively choose to head out to New Orleans to volunteer at a soup kitchen. We are unemployed, an instructor, a wayward student, a salesperson, and an office manager, and we’re on fucking Spring Break.



Mia Watts said...

A dumpster of hope and gorgeous, fleeting, trashy belief.

Brilliant, as is the note that a spiritist is "hopped up on spirits". There is profundity beneath your stories, Rassles. Meaning and substance. Take care or they'll be collected into a bound book and birth a new religion of disorganization and depth.

Le Meems said...

A dumpster of hope and gorgeous, fleeting, trashy belief.

Brilliant, as is the note that a spiritist is "hopped up on spirits". There is profundity beneath your stories, Rassles. Meaning and substance. Take care or they'll be collected into a bound book and birth a new religion of disorganization and depth.


Can we write a screenplay together?

Mrs. Booms said...

Someday, when I'm living in the Ozarks with my shot gun, I plan to drink moonshine out of a jar and take as many jabs as possible.

The other day it was beer in a bottle while I called a guy a douche.

I was just practicing though.

Did you leave anything in the alter?

formerly fun said...

That is a room I wouldn't want to try to dust.

Beautifully captured.

Nikki B. said...

YOU were speechless????

that place must be powerful!!

Anonymous said...

Did NOT see the ending coming. Wow. The whole thing, this entry & the others, were captivating and beautiful and wonderful. And I refuse to think less of those girls.

renalfailure said...

This reminds me of the end of Easy Rider. Not the hillbillies shooting Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda part, I mean the part when they're at the fire and Peter Fonda says "You know Billy, we blew it."

Muffy said...

"I feel heavy and try to concentrate on her words, because they seem to make sense, but I have no idea what she says half the time. "

I've never heard a more truthful statement.

I'm linking this shit!

Rook said...

Rossi, I would have loved to be there...and I hear what you are saying -- or an echo, anyway. I spent my Spring Breaks at Augie in Appalachia, rebuilding homes, and I have to say it was pretty similar...having an old lady tell me that she found Jesus while smoking a joint at her kitchen table...
Anyway, I am eager to see you again, holler at me when you are homeward.

Rassles said...

Mia: Disorganization and depth, huh? I like that.

Le Meems: I've been trying for awhile, but plot eludes me. You got one in mind?

Boomer: Moonshine and jabs just seems like the sexiest life ever.

FF: That's a good thing, because if you touch the altar, you'll fuck up your mojo.

Nikki: You didn't meet her, man. You feel compelled to listen.

Ginny: I don't think less of us either. It's just kind of a dose of reality, after you try to dress up your words all pretty.

RF: It's hard not to come to that conclusion after watching George Hanson get diced with a machete. Poor Nicholson.

Muffy: I could very well go on and on about the trip, and write a hell of a lot more, but my fingers are tired. PDA Represent.

Rook: I will...and we've been thinking of planning another Pub Chugga Chugga Choo Choo...

The Ambiguous Blob said...

Your dedication to a one-time volunteer effort means much more help for those who need it on that day. Spring break or not.
This sounds like an odd, memorable moment in time.

kaila said...

The last paragraph was actually my favorite.

There is no better way to drink moonshine, btw, than from a jar. Just saying.

Rassles said...

Ambiblob: It was surreal and it smelled funny. Loved it.

Kaila: I've already decided that from this day forward, when moonshine is on the list of things to consume, I'm a-gonna utilize a jar.

Bluestreak said...

that woman got to you, you can tell. How come I don't have friends that are as cool as you guys?