The Benny Poda Years
13 - Vegas, New Orleans
Well, I never shot a cue with Tugger, and that's the damndest thing. He was the hottest shot in Vegas, and at that point I was JONESING to rack with him, but things happen—in this case, for once, it was him, not me. He got rushed to the ICU by the EMTs after doing whatever the fuck his poison was the Friday before the Saturday I was supposed to play him, and I took this like the bad omen it probably was. And without any money to speak of and no real prospects it's a wonder I was able to get out of there, were it not for an acquaintance named Dietrich Bonhoffer.
It's a wonder that whatever gets done in your life that's worth a shit is usually done by half-known pals and not family or those who've sworn to stick by you forever. Well, this was such a case (and I've had many) and he invited me down to Nola with him to shoot a few gigs. God knows why. God looks out for drunks and half-assed pool sharks. Otherwise, faith without works is dead, motherfucker.
And booze or not, I was beginning to lose my Touch. But Deet was too, and the reason why in his case was probably closely related to his insatiable appetite for Basing Coke, an appetite I'd known before and knew again once we were on the road for Nola in his run-down Buick, stopping at cheap motels and at grocery stores for baking soda and the like.
Let me go ahead and tell your na•ve ass something. There, out there under the moon, are thousands and perhaps MILLIONS of people basing coke, and of all drugs known to humankind, it is the most insidious. By far and away, son. Shall I tell you WHY? Shall I describe it? Aren't you just KNEELING to hear what the big whoop about coke addiction is, cocksucker?
Oh, well, NO, you're NOT? Well, okay, we'll leave that for a different city, then, fool. I'm tired of talking about it myself. Did YOU want to talk for a change? Write me. Download Cowboy Junkies off Napster, I don't give a piss. Those years were rougher than the skin on a dead bricklayer's hands, my boy.
New Orleans is a third-world country. Sure, it retains some of that Mardi Gras feel all year, but it ain't a place where you instantly become a fratboy drunk on beer listening to Jimmy Buffet on Bourbon Street. It took so long but I found out what people mean by down and out and even Cincinnati wasn't like THIS because that had been MY fault, not Cincinnati's. That's where they make toothpaste. Proctor & Gamble, Cincinnati, Ohio. They don't USE toothpaste in New Orleans. Am I misunderstood, Frank?
We were crashing at a shithole on St. Peter Street in the Quarter and the first thing I did was get to a phone and call up Richard Harris, the actor. You didn't know he'd been living in Nola? Well, neither did he, when I called him, 'cause that was back when he wasn't just drinking vodka, he WAS vodka. The man was ENAMELED. We talked about Bob Vila and agreed that, sooner or later, Bob Vila's gonna Leave This Earth by his own hand, a bullet through the head from a Thirty-Ought-Six, and I still believe it—I don't know, I was just watching his damn show and realized that's what's gonna happen, y'know? And Harris said, you know, I think you're RIGHT! Wow. Come around at 8 am for some Smirnoff.
Since Richard Harris was Irish and Drunk I knew he'd want to suck my dick, and I needed the money. Plus, even if you're NOT a fag, like Nassir, a man can do worse than get his jimmy waxed by Richard Harris. To shoot you straight I rather enjoyed it. Hey, I'm holding NOTHING back about what happened in those years save for boring details like how and why I got from one town to another.
New Orleans is a pretty good city for a game of pool—all larger cities have pool halls to speak of, but some towns hold more promise than others, or at least they did in those years. Hell, for all I know people may not even PLAY pool anymore, just like they don't play badminton or Euchre or whatever, but what do I know. For that matter, what do YOU know? I rest my case, Ricky.
Many's the time in New Orleans I thought about just throwing myself into the River. I wouldn't have been the first. A perm of depression hangs over that place—the heart of some long-dead Storyville whore, which is why everyone in New Orleans is drunk. New Orleans is the only town in America save for Savannah in which EVERYBODY is drunk. Believe me. I've walked the earth, son. And why is the latter the case? Everybody SHOULD be drunk in Denver, Tampa, and Birmingham. Well, a lot of them ARE. But a lot of them aren't, too, they're just Hateful. Now, don't get me wrong, Hate has been seen as a Virtue in New Orleans since the Spanish set up Pirate's Alley and before. But hate is a matter of form and degree, like anything else, and New Orleans Hate is that it is utterly INURED of you, God, or ANYTHING. That's why people who stay there too long go insane and start playing chess on street corners near coffee mills or writing songs about downward spirals.
Me and Deet used to make a game out of fucking the drunk college bitches who came there to get drunk and get fucked. Why a GAME? Because 49.7% of America does not, at its sordid heart, care a DAMN about anything else but getting themselves to a space where they can get drunk, and get fucked. THAT is the Game—the Game is in the knowledge that you know something other people don't know, and add to it the fact that the rest of the percentile is either WAITING for this turn of events to transpire or is in recovery FROM it, well, pal, that's New Orleans. THAT is America. This land is your land. Deal with it.
I was literally becoming afraid of my own shadow. I was afraid of it because I couldn't see it anymore, because I was TURNING INTO it. I was a vampire. I was like a goddamn French Poet. I stayed up all night hustling and slept it off all day, and what I'd done to myself and turned myself into was a predicament shared by everyone I'd meet and I saw mirrors in their eyes. Let me tell you something: you NEVER sink as far as you can go, even dead inside in a city below sea level. There is always another basement waiting for your sorry ass to move into it.
This is the way life is. This is the way I was, in that part of those years. Nola was once owned by the French, and by the way, there's a shitty opera by Pooch that Harriet made me see with her once where they end up in the shithole, dying and being French and pining for love that doesn't exist. Do you know that opera? Well, I hate opera. And Nola? You disagree with me? Well, De tes conseils, je m'en fous pas mal. Fous-moi le camp.
Tell somebody that in New Orleans, and they won't know what the fuck you're saying and they'll just think you're drunk. Which you damn well should be. Because life doesn't end just 'cause you hate it.