daily preciousness

Friday, October 27, 2000

green mustang

The green mustang had its top down. Air rushed in at me from the first chilly evening of fall, whipping hair in my face.

Tim turned the heater on when he saw me rubbing my hands together for warmth. I grinned. "Subject is highly responsive to my physical needs," I made a mental note.

We sped through the suburbs along St. Charles Avenue. This was New Orleans at its 7 a.m. finest. Even at this late hour, crowds of people still spilled into clubs, trickled out of the bars. Neighborhood pubs flashed gaudy neon signs. Live oaks wrapped their branches around street lamps. Even at this hour, just moments before sunrise on a Saturday, there was still an energy in the air. I envied it. I was exhausted from an evening of moving and schmoozing.

The tree-lined boulevard was silent; its streetcar tracks were barren, the usual trolleys stored away somewhere, out of sight. The sky above us was cloudy, like a white russian spilled across the horizon.

A breeze of warm air met my expectant hands. I splayed them in front of the vent, smiling. I sat indian-style, keeping my feet under my knees to protect them from the October wind. Tim laughed at me. "Aren’t you cold?" I yelled at him, more as an accusation than a question.

"Nah, Ah’m not dat cold at all." Tim’s conspicuous New Orleans accent amused me. I have always been a fan of that peculiar blend of sweetness and attitude, like a shot of hot café au lait for the ears.

Tim’s a study in contrasts – at first glance, I might have dismissed him as a frat boy sheep, mindlessly following some Greek-lettered herd. But he’s not that way at all. His rough-hewn, nearly Bubba-esque exterior is a nearly perfect mask, were it not for his eyes. Through them, his genteel spirit is apparent. He is the prototypical Louisiana good-ol’-boy, but with added depth of character and spirit. He’s a renaissance-ol’-boy – old school charm meets digital age drive and demeanor. It’s an amicable combination.

Tim came out to meet me at club 735, a techno place named for its address on the infamous Rue du Bourbon.

On the walk to the club, we passed through the crowds of drunken humanity on Bourbon Street. Walking down this street is always a unique sensory experience. I can’t imagine a location in the United States with such extreme contrasts of smell, sight and sound.

Here you pass the rank odor of human excrement one second, then catch the scent of a perfectly prepared crawfish etouffeé the next.

While I’m paying close attention to where I’m stepping along the cobblestone streets, I usually catch glimpses of bare-breasted women, drunk on vacation-charged bliss and Pat O’s Hurricanes. The next moment, I will see a handsome gay couple making out against elaborate French ironwork on a second-story balcony.

The sounds of the street also intoxicate the casual passers-by. Bawdy peep-show music, heavy on the alto sax, leaks out of the blue-light bars. I hear the screams of sorority girls. They are in the midst of elaborate mating rituals with the socially apropos frat guys. These mating calls are thankfully drowned out by blues music coming from Preservation Hall just next door.

Then, quite unexpectedly, I hear "Jeffrey! Jeffrey!" in the gumbo of sounds. I don’t look over my shoulder. It’s a common name. And to crane around, hunting for the caller would be common, as well.

Besides, who would know me in New Orleans? I ask myself.

Someone does: "Jeffrey Brady!" they shout. A male voice. It’s D’Juan Thomas, my good friend from college. I walk up, face glowing with surprise, to embrace his thin frame. He’s with Daniel, one of my ex-boyfriends from five years ago. (Five years is half an out/gay lifetime ago for me!) We agree to meet later at the club.

We do. It is wonderful to see them and hear that they are dating one another. They are a cute couple. The D-boys and I catch up a little bit and dance together some. Mainly, it’s just good to hug them. They seem to be doing well. Sometimes just seeing an old friend happy and healthy is enough. Seeing two of them that way is twice the fun.

At the 735, I also dance and joke with my friend Lester Holland and her friend Sara Leaper.

"Lester," as Leslie’s better known, was in town on a business trip. She was sweet enough to invite me over to spend time with her. (The last time I saw her, I spent 5 hours dancing, bar-hopping and getting into cars with strange men in the Boystown section of Chicago.)

It wasn’t a big surprise when I found myself doing the exact same thing in New Orleans. Well, not exactly the same thing… I didn’t catch a ride from a stranger this time.

Instead, I drove around in a car with a guy that I met in a Chunk E. Cheese’s restaurant. (I rarely make the same mistake twice. But I enjoy committing new and interesting offenses all the time.)

Just in case you don’t know about Chunky Cheese’s, it’s a screwy chain of children’s arcade/restaurants that feature audio animatronic animals. The mascot is a rat with a tenor singing voice and more whiskers on one side of his face than the other. (I won’t go into the quality and cleanliness of the food. I’ll just say that the rat mascot is pretty appropriate.)

As I was pointing out the rat mascot of the place, I felt someone behind me rubbing cold, slimy liquid onto my neck. I quickly turned around to see a very pretty, pre-Raphaelite lesbian, whose big grin turned into a grimace of shock.

"Hi, I’m Jeffrey," I said, introducing myself to the person who’d just accosted me with a small bottle of oddly iridescent liquid. She thought that I was Tim’s boyfriend, who resembles me from behind. After a contrite apology and explanation of what she’d just rolled onto my neck (body glitter), she introduced herself as Amelia Aurduena. (A royal-sounding name, I thought.) Her accent was as thick as cane syrup – Mississippi through and through.

Tim told us about the concert that we had missed, which featured the hit, "Drinkin’ the cherry cola," a child-friendly version of "Livin’ la vida loca." (I doubt anonymous sex and elicit drugs figure into this version.)

Speaking of anonymous sex, I didn’t have the slightest urge to go after any, even in the Big Easy, where finding sex was, well, big and easy. It seemed like wasted effort. And I wasn’t really in that sort of mood. (I wonder if a vegetarian diet combined with regular exercise diminish those urges? Or am I reaching an early version of man-o-pause? I don’t know.)

Tim and I were speeding along St. Charles. The white russian sky now had a splash of bright pink at the western edge. My driver shared with me his thoughts on the mighty Mississippi River. Tim wants to be a tugboat captain, so that he can spend his hours on the river that’s wound its way into his heart. He spoke movingly about his love for Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Tim wants to be a part of the river that has shaped the Crescent City.

The real impetus for him wanting to work on the river was actually his poetry. I found that very curious. Although he’d worked maritime jobs throughout his youth, it took a college poetry professor to enlighten him about life. "He taught me to see the beauty in everyday things. This is a man who showed me what it was like to really be moved by simple things." Tim told me about his professor, David Madden.

Madden had been so passionately moved by an Emerson poem about the Brooklyn Bridge that upon reading it, he immediately got up, bought a ticket to New York, walked across the bridge, got back on the plane and came back. (Curious, isn’t it, that it took a straight man to teach this gay man about passion!)

The flashing lights of the club, meeting up with D’Juan and Daniel, dancing with the girls – all these visuals flash through my head as I’m riding in the green mustang. Tim drives me down back streets and through neighborhoods that bordered on old graveyards.

For a second, I imagine myself being lifted up out of the seat. I am flying above the car. It’s easy to do. I am not held down by gravity. I am weightless and hovering 10 feet over the dark streets. The creamy, brightening sky pulls me toward it. People are milling about in front of bakeries and coffee shops. The trees drift below me, their boughs reaching upwards and outwards. Their branches are like hands. And grasped within the fingers, there are pastel-colored beads. They are the airborne flotsam and jetsam of the city. (It reminds me of another unique form of geographical debris; the highways of North Louisiana are bordered by little pockets of snowy cotton patches. The cotton falls out of trailers on the way to processing, forming little snowdrifts on the sides of the road. It’s like Christmas all autumn long.)

My mind returns to my flight over St. Charles now. The towering points of the cathedral in front of Tulane University stick out at me, threateningly. I breathe in the momentary threat and exhale down back into the car. Tim does not notice my temporary body vacancy. I take another deep breath. The escape had recharged me a little.

I was on the verge of a good deed. "I am going to pay Tim back for the ride home from the club," I thought to myself. (Admittedly, it’s a strange position for me to be in. But, I didn’t mind doing a favor for him, since he was the first real live tugboat captain I’d ever met.) Tim’s boyfriend, Caleb was passed out at home, although his car was parked elsewhere.

As a favor to Captain Tim, I was going to pilot Caleb’s car safely home. Tim guided me through the curves and bends of the neighborhood. I navigated past eddies of potholes. I steered through the ripples of broken pavement. The blacktop, buckling and deformed, reminded me of cresting muddy waves on a moonlit night. But dawn was soon upon us. The dark rivers of pavement slowly brightened. Traffic picked up as several vessels passed by the starboard side.

We arrived safely into the harbor – I mean parking lot – of his apartment building. I parked the car and we rode back to the hotel. It was a short trip. We parted with a goodbye and a simple kiss.

The lobby was awash in bright light. It had the aura of an airport disguised as a breakfast buffet. Hampton Inns are like that – cheerful in a desperate way – as if they’re trying too hard to be homey. (You can’t change industrial design into a homespun parlor. It’s against all the laws of aesthetics.) A large island overflowing with breakfast food dominated the center of the room. I walked past two senior citizens. They were critically inspecting the pop-tarts and the banana-nut muffins with harsh, Yankee expressions. I ginned at them and helped myself to the bounty of fruit and bagel goodness.

At the back of the lobby, a bright green parrot was alternately announcing "I’m a good boy" and biting the bars of his cage with his sharp beak. I munched on cantaloupe and wondered if he wanted some fruit. Even in the cavernous lobby, his squawking was annoyingly loud. It echoed in the big room. I felt sorry for the hotel clerks until I remembered how short they’d been with Lester. (Maybe the parrot is so annoying that they’re just rude all the time? I guess I can forgive them for that.)

I got back to the room, disrobed, turned on the hot tub and soaked in the warm water. It was very relaxing. I’d had a long day. Before the wild night at the techno club, Sara, Lester and I had spent a morning and afternoon by the pool.

The girls read their gossipy glossies, filled with the beautiful people. Meanwhile, I studied my Time and Newsweek for all the news I’d been too busy to read during the week before. (That Napster creator was on the front cover again… I went weak in the knees. I imagined what it would be like to download his files.)

Under my coating of sunscreen, I managed to dodge most of the UVA and UVB bullets. I got just a touch of pink below my eyes, but that was about all.

We ordered a pancake, salad and egg brunch from the café next door, waiting by the counter long enough to read the "Karaoke Night Tonight!" announcement. I was tempted by it.

After our poolside spell, the girls went shopping while I stayed in the room to take a nap. They arrived, carrying bags of body glitter, thrift store fashion finds and other girly things.

Next on the agenda was our karaoke contest next door at the café. We got there as some local comedians were complaining about school board issues. It was very topical and too specific to the area. We had no idea what was going on.

We left after perusing the song palette, as it was too limited and far too country-oriented. I don’t want to embarrass myself with anything other than the finest pop. Songs about my exes living in Texas just don’t do it for me.

Leaving the café, we grabbed a quick bite at the Superior Grill just down the street. My belly was soon full of vegetable fajitas. Our next engagement was a surprise birthday party. It was a follow-up to the Chunk E. Cheese soiree the night before.

Like the pizza party, this was for Chasity. Chasity was (forgive the cliché!) the tough-but-loveable lesbian who was celebrating her birthday. A group of her friends and two strangers (me and Lester) hid in the little bedroom of the quaint shotgun-style apartment. I remember walking past a dozen or more paintings – vibrant water colors – on the way to the back bedroom. A large black lady with a closely cropped head of hair handed out little champagne bottle-shaped firecrackers.

One particularly talkative girl held hers, pointing the exploding section straight into my ear. Luckily, I noticed the way she was holding it before Chasity walked in. The explosion would have surely deafened me! (Even a fun-filled weekend of fun with Lester isn’t worth losing my hearing over.)

After the birthday girl walked in, we all yelled surprise and a mildly amused Chasity smiled and thanked us. "Boy, are you crashing my party again?" she asked me.

On the crowded balcony of the little shotgun dwelling, a crowd of eight people sat and drank with me. We had trouble holding a conversation because the girl who tried to destroy my eardrums kept squawking "Ah need tuh get me sum o’ dat good hurricane drink at Pat’s in duh quarta!" She wasn’t just drunk, she was a belligerent drunk. I nearly had to push you off the balcony.

Sara told me a little bit about her job at the flower shop. It’s on St. Charles Avenue right next door to the mansion made famous by MTV’s Real World. (I happened to meet a guy while at the club who’d supposedly had a brief affair with one of the show’s cast, Danny. The guy said he met Danny in a bar and experienced a short but memorable few hours with him.)

Danny, along with the rest of the Real World crew, lived right there next to Sara’s workplace. She had to sign a waiver, since she was so likely to be caught on camera.

Oddly enough, she never spotted herself on the show. But she spent time with Julie, the blonde girl in the cast.

The funny thing about Sara’s flower shop is that it isn’t famous for the Real World thing so much as the Easter thing. The shop has a huge Easter Bunny show every year with dozens of the little critters on display. (I wonder how they manage to sell any Easter bouquets with all of the bunny gawking going on?)

After Chasity’s party and the 735 experience, Sara, Lester, Tim and I stumble down to the Clover Grill, an all-night diner on the quieter, gayer end of Bourbon. The prissy little wait staff wore colorful, ridiculous paper leis that seemed far too tropical for the cool autumn weather. I ordered a chocolate shake and nibbled on group cheese fries as we discussed matters of crucial world importance.

The jukebox spit out Gloria Gaynor’s survival guide to romance and other gay dance favorites. We were soon encouraged to leave with not-so-subtle mopping of the ground beneath our feet.

Tim offers to drive me home to Baton Rouge the next morning, as Lester will have to catch her plane out of New Orleans. "I go just for the Cane’s chicken fingers," he explained. The oh-so greasy fast food place is right on the main university drag.

Health-wise, it’s the worst food you could travel 66 miles, over swamps and bayous, speed traps and plantation roads, to eat. But I don’t bother to mention this to Tim, who knows perfectly well how unhealthy it is.

Sara joins in the fun the next morning, accompanying us to Red Stick. The chicken place has pretty good coleslaw and even better Texas toast. So, I dine on that as Tim finishes off two of the 8 sauce containers he’s ordered. I laugh at his addiction to the food. He takes it in stride, mainly because he realizes how truly wrong the food is.

We dine overlooking a courtyard of the Pentagon Barracks in downtown Baton Rouge. It’s an old structure, built when the city was still young. Cannon guard the chicken finger stronghold as we watch the convict cleaning crew from the penitentiary.

Drew Barrymore provides us with a cute movie, Never Been Kissed, while we cuddle for warmth, the three of us, on the comfortable sofa.

A quick kiss and a hug goodbye – Sara and Tim part company with me… but not for long.

We fast forward to a week later. I am recovering from the wild weekend with Lester. I find out via e-mail that Tim has invited me on a weekend vacation extravaganza in Destin, Florida.

(Some names and details have been altered to protect the innocent.)


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