Ghosts of the French Quarter

by Mark Wynn

Dave moved from Ohio to New Orleans shortly after high school. He was looking for some adventure after spending so much time in the Ohio Valley. He had a friend from High school who had lived there before meeting Dave and after graduation decided to return. So one day when his friend invited him down he agreed.

Dave ended up renting a room from a very shady character named Krekel in the Marigny district. The room was in an old building Krekel owned located on the corner of Burgundy and Mandeville. It was a two story building the type known in New Orleans as a double-gallery and it was conveniently walking distance from the French Quarter. It had one communal bathroom on each floor and a single kitchen on the first.

The place rented to transient types so it was very difficult to keep track of what rooms were occupied at any given time. The place had not been adequately cleaned in years. There was a large tree stump in the yard and sometimes in the evening swarms of winged termites would issue forth and blanket the neighborhood. Dave found out the easy way if this happened when you left your window open and your light on, you would come home to much of the swarm circling your light bulb.

Among the various riffraff was a witch living there, some bikers, a bicycling swede and a pair of punk rock lesbians, one of which was a very pregnant surrogate for some unknown couple. It was certainly weirder than the Ohio Valley. It was the perfect place for a guy starting an adventure he thought.

A common occurrence there was a couple nights a week Krekel and some equally shady associates would operate what appeared to be a clandestine motorcycle repair shop. Well after dark they would come to the house with a couple motorcycles and dismantle them and rebuild one motorcycle out of the pieces, all before the cock crowed. Dave was not surprised at all when later he heard that Krekel had fallen on hard times and joined the New Orleans Police Dept.

He successfully found work in the French Quarter tending bar at the Famous Door on Bourbon Street. He also worked the door and tended bar at a club a few doors down called The Jazz Cafe. The latter was the most fun of the two jobs. Dave just stood out on Bourbon St. all night promising that inside The Jazz Cafe all your dreams would come true. Along with $5 hurricanes and 70s R&B, it was a pretty happening place.

Dave would work both places on the same night selling ''Boodwiser'' to the foreign tourists at the Famous Door and running down the street to mix Hurricanes upstairs in the attic of The Jazz Cafe in a plastic tub 30 gallons at a time. He started at 6pm and would go full speed until about 3am or more. It was a great job for a young man.

He would leave work after having his shift drink sometimes at 5am. At that hour it was as slow as it gets in the Quarter. Most places would be closed down by this hour with mountains of garbage bags out front waiting for the trash trucks on the sidewalk. A permanent smell he called crab beer urine hung in the air. It was more charming than it sounds. Its was the smell of his adventure coming true. It was the French Quarter.

The best part of all this was when he would leave work in these wee hours of the morning and peddle his bicycle toward ''Krekelville'' he would always take a few detours before leaving the quarter because at these hours it was so quiet and peaceful. One could easily imagine it was 1810 and your bicycle was a time machine taking you back to a bygone era. In the darkness of the gas lights you could easily catch a glimpse in the shadows of the pirate Jean Lafitte or the voodoo queen Marie Laveau. At those hours their presence was as palpable and as real as the odors from the wet cobblestones.

True to course it didn't take long for Dave to witness some weird stuff. While working the door at The Jazz Cafe one night a heavy set black guy wearing jeans and a t-shirt came up beside him and started miming. The man lifted his shirt up exposing his huge round belly that was completely covered in stretch marks. The man then took his dentures out, turned them sideways and bit down on them with his gums so that they curled up and touched his nose. At this point he stuck his arms out and struck what can only be described as a robot pose. Instead of eliciting tips from the crush of tourists surrounding him it had the effect of Moses on the Red Sea. Creating a 10 foot wide ''no go zone''. It was awesome and reminded Dave of why he was here.

The guy wasn't done though, after he had held the motionless pose for the requisite amount of time, without putting his t-shirt down or reinserting his dentures, he pulled his cock out and without the slightest hesitation started pissing into the gutter. Amazing Dave thought, he has trouble relaxing at a urinal with someone beside him, let alone 200 eye witnesses. This was the weirdest thing Dave had seen to date, and hilarious too until later when he was unlocking his bike from the street lamp and accidentally dropped his keys into the gutter and they sank out of sight in the wrist deep effluent.

On an early morning ride home as he was leaving the Quarter he stopped for a drink at a 24hr convenience store. When he asked the young guy at the window for a ''pop'' the guy looked very confused and did nothing until another guy who overheard yelled at the window, ''He wants a cold drink!'' So that's when Dave learned ''pops'' are called cold drinks here. Interesting he thought as he peddled away.

Crossing Frenchman Street back into Marigny he stopped to have a drink. He took a sip and set the cold drink on the nearby stoop to rearrange his pack. When he did this a hollow voice from inside the screen door of the house cried out, ''Don't you be trashing up my stoop! I'm an old lady and i cant be getting out there to clean up after you.'' Somehow this turned into a conversation with this ancient Cajun lady who spoke with the thickest accent he had heard there.

Dave could tell she was an immensely lonely old lady and it seemed like the appropriate course of his adventure to promise to stop by the next night on his way home and say hi. So the next night as he crossed Frenchmen he thought of the old lady and her intense longing for company. He couldn't help it he had to stop on the way by and yell into the screen door. Sure enough she answered immediately, ''Hello Dawlin' bless your heart. Please come in.'' This wasn't part of the deal Dave thought to himself as he very reluctantly laid his bicycle over and walked up on the porch. ''Come on in Dawlin'' she called out as he reached for the door.

When he stepped into the room he noticed magazines and newspapers stacked neatly everywhere. The lady sat right in the middle of them in an old padded chair that looked as old and tired as the lady sitting in it.

Upon entering, the lady rose from her seat to offer him a drink, Dave thanked her for the offer and she walked very deliberately into the next room steadying herself on the stacks of newspapers as she went. She was repeatedly thanking him because, as she explained, she was alone in the world with no family and people rarely came calling.

As the lady reentered the room with a glass of water Dave noticed the thin but noticeable layer of baby powder that covered everything in the room. He could tell she did not receive many guests because, besides the tracks the old lady just made into the other room and back, his were the only footprints visible in the powder near the door. The lady handed him the glass with a shaking hand. He saw the immense look of gratitude in her eyes as he took it from her. She said, ''Dawlin tis sweet to be remembered''.

As he took a drink she said, ''I hope you don't mind rain water Dawlin'? That's all I have.'' Dave said it was delicious although that wasn't necessarily the truth but he noticed the glass was clean so it wasn't a big deal.

The lady who never introduced herself, immediately went into a story about 'Nawlins' when she was a child. She explained how her parents both died when she was just a girl, although she never explained how. She told him that she was left to take care of her younger brother when she herself was just a child. At some point she started to get visibly emotional as she explained that one day while her little brother was playing he stepped on a nail and her being so young she didn't know what to do. She was starting to cry now and she said, '' My baby brother was dead and in his grave in three days. Can you believe that Dawlin? Dead and in his grave in three days.'' Dave didn't know what to say but that he was very sorry and he was sure it wasn't her fault but she didn't seem to hear as she stared at a stack of newspaper. She repeated the last line a few more times growing quieter and calmer every time she said it.

  At several points since he entered the house he had wanted to leave but she wouldn't stop talking long enough so that he could casually stand up and go. After she continued for several more moments without looking at Dave he grew increasingly anxious to go.

Finally after 15 more minutes or so he stood to excuse himself and the lady's attention turned to him quickly as she said, ''Oh Dawlin! Please don't go. I so rarely get company and it makes me so happy to have some.'' So Dave reluctantly sat back down and let the lady drift off into her childhood memories. After about 15 more minutes he couldn't take it anymore, it had to be getting close to daylight he thought and he had to ask to go. So he stood again and again the lady was torn from her memory as she exclaimed with a more noticeably frantic tone, ''Please Dawlin, Please don't go.'' Dave felt absolutely horrible for this poor creature but he insisted it being so late that he must be getting to bed. Upon this the lady started sobbing uncontrollably and she kept begging for him to stay. This caused him to promise to stop by sometime soon when he had a day off to help her tidy up the place. This seemed to calm the lady down somewhat and Dave being so unsettled he quickly turned and went out the door.

She was choking on her tears as she continued calling after him,''Please come back soon Dawlin', Please do.'' He again repeated he would return very soon, and as he turned from the screen door, quickly grabbing his bike he wondered if that was a lie. As he mounted the bike he could still hear her pleading for him to come back soon. Dave gave one more goodbye at the screen door as he peddled away. My god he thought, that was horrible.

The oppressive loneliness of the old lady literally scared him and as he peddled away he hoped that such a fate did not await him. He also knew he couldn't return, it was just to difficult to see the old lady's broken heart and hear the sadness in her voice. As he crossed Elysian Fields Avenue he noticed that the glow worm had indeed made it's appearance.

Dave avoided going home that way for two weeks in fear the lady might spot him. But one day he was off and he felt obligated to check in on her hoping to be repaid in kind when he was inevitably old and alone. So as he crossed Frenchmen he saw the house. As he neared it he was struck with how neglected it was. He knew he would have to help her with it.

The roof was sagging dangerously and the eves were completely rotted out. He stopped by the porch and dropped his bike and as he mounted the steps, he started to call out to the lady but his foot went in a hole were a step was missing. How the fuck did i miss that he wondered as he reached the door.

When he looked up it was the first time he saw that the house no longer had a front door at all. It just had a piece of plywood where the door should be and that it look to be permanently sealed with screws. As he backed away he noticed the windows were likewise sealed. Obviously no one lived here any longer he thought, partly relieved and partly saddened for the fate of the old lady.

As he returned to his bike a noise from the neighbors house caught his attention and he saw a very old man standing on the porch watering a plant. Dave called out to the man and asked if the old lady that lived here passed away. The old man looked very puzzled and said, ''uh, yeah like 60 years ago.'' So Dave realized he had the wrong house after all. Then the old man said, ''I remember cause I was friends with her little brother and we were out playing and he stepped on a nail and died of lockjaw. My Mother told me she was so sad she hung her self standing on a stack of newspapers. You believe that?''

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