Martha, the city of new orleans

20Jan09

marthaI awoke on the couch at 2 p.m. with a cat sleeping on my crotch. My head pounding, I couldn’t help but smile; I was in my favorite city. I was seriously considering just staying there. Problem was, I had one more semester before finishing up my graduate degree in New York. The idea of another winter on the East Coast hurt me.

Martha was my host in New Orleans. A friend from up north connected us because I needed a place to crash while in town. I wandered down the hall to knock on her door and she was already dressed.

“Wanna go to Molly’s?” she asked. “Best Bloody Marys. Ever.”

I always loved a girl who could drink in the morning. Off we went to Decatur Street to pump the jukebox full of quarters, listening to every song from Rain Dogs. As we tipped back our drinks, she told me, excitedly, of a man she’d rescued from a dumpster when she was an art student in San Francisco. Outside a convalescent home she noticed a pile of junk, the artifacts of a dead Castro Queen named Constantine Von Fredrick, who collected the headshots of soap opera stars.

“They were just going to throw this man’s life away because he had no family to claim his things. So, I resurrected him. He lives now, through me. It’s silly, I know.”

“No,” I said. “It may be the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.”

Martha continued to be one great thing after another. She cooked me whole crawfish in a butter-lemon sauce while telling me stories about voodoo and spirits.

“I get to feeling like I’m communing with the dead when I walk the streets at night,” she said. “I once fell in love with a ghost. Everyone here has stories to tell, tales of debauchery, voodoo, misery, hope, disaster. They all give due respect to their own tragedies as they openly mock them. Oh, bury me here!”

I reveled in her, the way she spoke with a slight rasp. She had lost her voice from screaming her lungs out at a Saints game.

I started scheming, thinking about faking my death and assuming an alias, becoming a local character who lived in a flood zone shack with a banjo and a pistol and a typewriter, playing music in smoky bars where a Nubian princess moans true love through a microphone, making everyone in that room feel about as full as everything else feels empty. I wasn’t sure if it was Martha or New Orleans, but I was in love. And waking up that last morning in her bed, a curious feeling swam through me—a sense that on this street, next to this girl, the hangover will always be worth it.

I get to thinking of this at times, having gone back to New York in the end only to get expelled from NYU for throwing a rotten pumpkin at Bill O’Reilly’s head during a guest lecture. Martha may just be another thing I never saw through to the end for fear it would actually make me happy. I don’t know. She may never have even liked me that much. But, for whatever it’s worth, Martha, if you’re reading this, know that some boast to be “one in a million” types—meaning that there are thousands just like them in China. But you, my dear, are truly one of a kind. And I hope that, in the end, there’s a young girl in San Francisco to pick up the artifacts of my life next to a dumpster, so I might live again through the stories she tells.



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