Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A Quarter Life

Ensconced with my girl in an evacuated courtyard apartment on Ursulines Street. A midnight call to my mom for her birthday leads to two hours of telling the old French Quarter stories. I'm older now, and now I'm more curious about her crazy life back then, as a teenage hippie runaway on Bourbon Street in the sixties, back when the French Quarter was truly weird.

She told me about how she go-go danced (not stripped) in silver boots at the Gunga Den. It was owned by mob boss Larry Lamarca, who's girl my mom also knew, Linda Brigette, a famous bombshell burlesque dancer. About how one night a local guy grabbed Miss Brigette's boob, and Lamarca went off, told the bouncers to watch the door, told the band to play loud and don't stop, and took the man into the back courtyard and beat him bloody in front of the dancers, including my mom.

She told me about Ruthie The Duck Girl, who used to roll through the streets of the Quarter on roller skates, holding a big white duck, bumming Kools and beers off locals, and occasionally screaming "Fuck off and die, motherfucker!" to startled, nervously amused passersby.

So many stories. I thought her life after I was born was full of turmoil and craziness and stress and eccentricity, but it was always so. Things I've seen in this life lead me to believe that some people are fated to a wild, erratic life, tossed from storm to storm. My mom is one of those people.

That's what I was trying to do when I bought her her Eden, make a place for her that wasn't erratic. A place with no strings attached, and no landlord breathing down her neck. A safe home for the runaway. But now she's a runaway again, of a sort. Back to square one. Try again.

She said, laughing, "Thanks for the trip down memory lane." And I had been Googling while she had been telling me her stories, not because I thought they were tall tales, but because I wanted it in front of me, to see as well as hear. And Google confirmed everything she told me. And I told her what Google said about the characters she told me about.

It told me that Miss Linda Brigette died of a stroke a couple of years ago. That Ruthie The Duck Girl became the Duck Lady, and went mad, and wound up in a nursing home. Hopefully not one of the Flooded Death Nursing Homes Katrina left behind.

"Awww," she said, "New Orleans was easier on people like that back then. I don't know if it would be possible for them to exist the same way, now."


Jamie said...

I thank you for these words. You've given me a window into another world. I am thinking good thoughts for you and your family and for all of the families displaced by this fucked up disaster (both the natural one and the man made one). My family and I will do what we can tell help your family out. Just keep writing man...it's gonna serve you sooo well.

CM Evans said...

I found your blog today, and after reading it for about an hour -- I'm just amazed & stunned by the words and images. My heart goes out to you, and your family, and community. I knew there was horrific suffering, but you've brought it up close with such honesty and dignity. Two years ago in San Diego (my town) thousand of homes were burned to ashes and several of my co-workers had to evacuate. Lucky for my associates, they did not lose their houses. Fire was everywhere and the sun was orange and ashes fell like snow. What you and your family have experienced is exponentially more devastating, yet you have survived. So many have not.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your blog. I live in central New York state, and the worst natural disasters we get here are snow and ice storms (and occasionally very mild earth quakes). I can't imagine what it's like to go through hurricanes and floods (or fires, either). I've been haunted by your words and images. Recently I saw a woman in a convenience store up here who looked exactly like your Mom! Keep writing and keep letting us know what you think we can do to help.

"Big Ray" Jones said...

That was a wonderful story. I also first came to "Da Quatah" back in the 60's. Your mom's memories pretty much mirrored my own.

I knew Ruthie the Duck Girl and I knew Ruthie the Duck Lady. As a United Cab driver, I often gave Ruthie free rides home when she was drunk. Before they moved her to the nursing home, she was living at 1330 Dauphine which was mentioned in "JFK" as the former home of Clay Shaw; how ironic.

I remember the Gunga Den and all the rest. Thanks for the memories.


"Big Ray" Jones - RETIRED New Orleans tour guide, cab driver and mule-drawn carriage driver. Author of "The Complete Idiot's Travel Guide to New Orleans"

Anonymous said...

I remember Ruthie, too. I used to go down to the Quarter every Sunday night to play Bouree and hung out down there for all major occasions. Some of which were just invented.

I was in college when I was introduced to my first Belle Reve (?) which was third time it was held. I last heard of it a few years ago and my jaw dropped to find out what an event it had turned into and how many people were parading in what we used to call a "tour of tours". I grew up on a Louisiana bayou, went to college in New Orleans. Returned 12/20/00 to 1/25/02. Now I live in Las Vegas. Volunteered at the Red Cross for 2 weeks. Found out they were "specifically told to stay out of New Orleans".

I haven't finished reading your blog, yet, but there is so much in it that is familiar to me. I wish I had found it earlier and had money to spare for a print.

Questions: How can anyone with the talent you have not believe in God? Can you actually think that something so powerful is what, just a random accident of birth in a fickle universe?

Answer: Anything that good, that powerful is God-given. You've been blessed, bro, and your mom is sooo right. He's working through you. And, personally, given how intelligent you seem from your blog, I agree with her that you will come to believe. And here's a little tip. He's right there, waiting for you to turn to Him. Try it sometime. Or a bunch of times. What do you have to lose?

It's like having your own private superhero. You don't even have to figure out what to ask for. He knows what you need and when you need it better than you do. Just one "Dear God, please help me." can bring relief, if only a brief respite from worry, a small space of serenity. Go ahead, just turn it all over to Him. Let Him help you make decisions about what to do. But even if the most immediate thing you end up with is a little peace in your soul, that's certainly worth it all by itself. Right?

I'm broke, unemployed and at a crossroads in my own life. So I wasn't able to give much, although I did what I could. But I'm praying for you and your family. My bet is that is what will do the most to get you all to a better place. Best of luck. And, please, keep us posted - literally.

Anonymous said...

It's an interesting world you're living in, and your perspective of it will determine your future. Where you are is not who you are.
Forty some years ago, when Linda (Georgia) left Larry but still worked at the Gunga Den and before she hooked up with the light bulb, I was kind of "in between". That was '62 or '63. I was working the alley during the day doing profiles for $8 and full face in color for $35. Johnny Donnell had the starving artist gallery and sold some of my stuff, the two old gays at the Brandenbourg bought something every week, hoping for something else. At night I tended at the Bourbon House, and my 21 year old wife waited at the IHOP on Royale. She ended up in bed with another artist, so I sent her home to KC. Deaf Harold said it was best and introduced me to Linda who also had a place at 633. Did you know that was the old "Doll House"? Anyway, one morning I woke up, looked at the date on the newspaper at my feet and realized I hadn't been out of the quarter in a year. I packed my bags and was gone by noon. Never looked back, still looking forward, have a pretty good life.