We arrived on Bourbon Street for prime time. Televisions were set up outside of a few shops and stores showing the firey footage of the freshly uncoiled Iraq War. Occasionally people would stop stare at the screen for a moment then resume tossing beads at anything resembling a girl. And I was no better, trying to squash the dread of potential generation-long foreign offenses on top of the already screaming head creeps I brought down here with me.
The swirl of the night started quickly at the Blacksmith Shop which claims to be the oldest bar in America. I remembered this place well from the first time I was in town, we stopped in during a ghost tour and were advised to try the Voodoo Daiquiri which tasted like a grape slushy with the faintest hint of alcohol which turned out to be everclear. The place was candle-lit except for behind the bar and the flood light shining on Robert Duval playing piano and singing songs on a P.A. system filtered through hell.
We worked our way up and down, in and around, the street. The Shim-Sham Club was gone, so we found other stops -A bright-blue lit jazz club for a few minutes (“hey man, you fuck with coke?”), then lured into a strip club across the street where the girls ride the brass pole upside down 10 feet in the air, outside again into the fresh air until a 7-foot silhouette in a ratty cocktail dress and musk-smelling perfume is pulling me into the direction of another bar until O’Leary swooped in and pulled me in the opposite direction (“That’s a drag bar, that was a guy”) until finally we arrived and parked ourselves at the Dungeon; three chambers of goth-bar. The outside resembled a haunted house, fake steel gates and castle doors, the few windows were covered in red gels keeping out the horrible horrible day light to all the vamp dwellers brooding inside.
I walked in with a drunken chip on my shoulder: there were places like this in Jersey and all I could think about was how much she liked them. She went to them a few times and gushed about how weird and wonderful it all was. Strobe lights and smoke machines, leather and heavy makeup, can’t get a drink or hear anything except the bass speakers blowing your ear drum out. Everyone is thin and pretty and impressed with their own supposed weirdness and I’m sitting at the bar, fat and jealous sipping watered down whiskey at $10 a cup, un-ironically watching Oprah.
That is what I expect this place to be and at first, it looks like it is.
It’s not. With the exception of one shaved headed, black eyelinered, leather and chains pirate bouncing around in his own private mosh-pit (to fucking Disturbed of all things) the place is pretty relaxed but it’s too late, I’m in a foul mood. Now I’m wondering what she is doing back in Jersey. What kind of pale-faced, coke-eyed demons are chatting her up in between songs, pushing up against her and sweating their vampire-DNA onto her. Of course she is pushing back. She is absorbing it all, squeezing out all but the faintest memories of me, until I just become some guy she used to date. And suddenly the trip is a failure. Maybe I thought she’d be wondering if I was doing these horrible thing the whole time I was gone: What kind of trouble I could be getting into gliding down the country with a madman and Irishman. But here I was shrinking inside a little plastic cave booth.
The night goes on and shifts as it does and suddenly I don’t give a fuck about ex’s or if I ever go back to New Jersey. Paul is upstairs (chamber #2) talking up a blond visiting from North Carolina. O’Leary and I are leaning over the bar downstairs (chamber #1) talking to two of the bartenders who were technically on duty, but the place was empty, it was after all, a Tuesday and who the hell knew what time it was.
Finally it was closing time. The bartenders told us they were going to Johnny White’s, we started slowly shuffling towards the door when I realized there was a spotlight shining brightly in from outside. This turned out to be the sun. It was 6:30 in the morning. We followed them over to Johnny White’s the bar the bartenders went to when they got off. The streets were prettying themselves up for work, shop owners hosing all kinds of evidence away from their building and into the gutters. The smells of garbage ran across the air; it was enough to sober a man up. Johnny White’s was dark but not dark enough, we had a beer or two, the bartenders all knew each other and we quickly became bleary eyed, word slurring afterthoughts. Soon we were in a cab heading back to the hotel with O’Leary in the front seat talking to the driver and the two of them going back and forth cracked me up until the point of a headache. We made it back in time for the continental breakfast which was held in an empty office with microwaved pancakes and waffles and several varieties of cereals. I sipped a coffee and went back to the room. Turned the air-conditioning on full blast, pulled the drapes closed and wrapped myself in a blanket on the floor, having lost the drawing for a bed. I needed to sleep. It almost felt like being home.