Rose is from Texas.
That was my very first night in New Orleans. Big Easy indeed. I had just been mugged in Louis Armstrong Project, right by the French Quarter, by two young black kids – one tall, one short. The big one had me locked up high by the neck. I saw the short one coming with a big pipe in his hands. I kicked my feet; I was wearing tongs… So the short punk went whack, whack, whack, right on my face. I felt, and heard, the bones in my jaw cracking quite clearly. Then I went to black.
Sure enough, when I came to, I spat my teeth. Pfou, pfou, pfou… Three times, just like in a cartoon. I had no idea how much time had passed. I was stunned, bad guys long gone with my $20 in cash. They took nothing else, not my car keys, not my wallet, just the cash. Because of those morons, it took me years and thousands of dollars to get my teeth fixed. And I’m still missing some.
Anyway, there I was, alive still, but my face a pulp. Fact is I could later, for the next weeks to come, only eat soup. With a straw.
The only soup in New Orleans is onions’ soup and onions would get stuck in the straw. Talk about misery.
Jim, the bartender who’d give me the soup, had a dog, an ugly small dog. The dog and I could spend long hours, from morning on, not moving nor uttering a word, me seated on a stool, the dog slouched about onto the bar. Jim wan an OK guy and would charge me nothing for soup, fruit juice or cola. That’s how awful I looked I guess.
Anyway Jim wasn’t much of a talker himself and he understood my switching to beer at night fall. My face all messed up, drinking beer with a straw, people thought I was weird. When asked, Jim would explain his side of the story and locals would eventually pay for my drinks all night long. The cooks of the joint – all blacks – were cracking jokes about me but were soon fixing soups for me where nothing would get stuck in my straw. God loves New Orleans’ cooks.
When I could swallow, Jim introduced me to Jumbalaya. For aperitif, we would share plates of raw oysters. Months later, finding myself eagerly sucking on hot crawfishes on pages from The Times Picayune, I’d think of him and remember the guy.
Anyway, I spent my first night in Saints’ country in Charity Hospital. When I got there, a nurse told me to go sit in the waiting room. I was thinking: “What, don’t you see I’m hurt and bloody? I JUST GOT MUGGEG!” But I couldn’t talk and she told me again to go take a seat.
So I did, holding my face together with my hands and my bloody shirt. Although I couldn’t say a thing, I in fact quickly shut up in my head. ER at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, on any given night, is only a matter of priorities. When I saw who was being taken care of first, I became patient.
After hours, a nurse came to get me and led me to a tired intern. “What do we have here?” he asked. I couldn’t answer to none of his questions. So when he asked for my name, I gave him my French ID, the only ID I had on me. When he saw I was French, it seemed to make him happy. Anyway, he told me my lower jaw was broken but that, for the rest of it, I’d be fine.
So, the first morning of the next day after my arrival in New Orleans, I got out of the hospital in a bleak steamy weather. It was Sunday. I walked to Downtown. I was in tongs, had no more shirt, had my face bandaged, people were looking at me. It was a long walk.
But, all of a sudden, there I was, right on the mighty Mississippi’s shore.
So I went back to my car, changed clothes and went to the French Quarter. There was nearby an outdoor food market, with a bunch of revelers and tourists and New Orleans ladies with ‘ombrelles’. Soon enough, right on the edge of the F….. Quarter, I got a cheap room at the Rebel’s Arm, a dingy sleep easy.
I paid but they didn’t give me a key for my room. What kind of hotel was this? I wasn’t sure to understand what the ‘concierge’ was telling me and I couldn’t say a fucking nothing! Yet, somehow, maybe because of how my face looked, this guy seemed to consider this was the right place for me. Maybe he thought I was a boxer.
He took my money and led me to my room.
Then I realized: no room had a key. It’s hot in New Orleans and ALL doors and windows were open to ventilate funky Rebel’s Arm. Thus, no need for keys.
I didn’t like that. My face was fucked up, I had just had a bad night, it hurt and I didn’t have a key for my room. And no air-conditioning!
And it itched.
Mother … Please!
So I walked onto the balcony, at the end of the corridor.
On the balcony, there already was Rose. And two of her buddies, from Kentucky or somewhere Dixie.
So she goes to me: “What’s up?”
“Humpf, humpf”, I suggested.
Rose, she asks me: “Vodka?”
At this point, I don’t know her name, much less that she’s from Texas. I had never seen her before in my life. Maybe she’s Russian.
I begged with my eyes: “Shit yes! Please give me a fucking drink!”
Rose could read into a man’s eyes I guess. She went in somewhere and soon came back with the drink, a stiff one, on ice, with a straw.
Then she told me she was from Texas and that her name was Rose.
She understood also she had to do the talking.
I’d say “hommg” or “humpfff”. Her friends would grunt.
Rose was a big woman, friendly and welcoming. So while she talked, I drank the vodka her buddies kept bringing, feeling the heat from the weather and the alcohol.
I was tired, I hadn’t eaten for more than 24 hours, but soon the pain was less intense.
Goddamned Texas! Yehaa !!!
I don’t remember how long I stayed with them on the balcony but I know that I had, at last, a good night sleep.
The next day they were gone.
Still, the Rebel’s Arm, in New Orleans, I recommend.