Cyber Corpse 2
Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
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Don't Roll Those Bloodshot Eyes at Me
by James Nolan

Tomorrow I've got to bail my boyfriend out of jail. As if I'm made of money, what everybody thinks. But he's better than some of the people who have crashed here. Like that one-armed contractor who begged me to go on jobs with him to hold the damn nails. Finally, I said look, honey--and gave him four hundred dollars to lease a fruit stand in a truck parked in front of St. Louis cemetery. First week someone ripped off all four wheels. Now it just sits there propped up on cinder blocks with ratty cardboard signs about strawberries from the country. And every time he gets a hard-on he takes the day off.

They call me a "remittance man." Means my family pays me to stay away. That's how come I'm back in New Orleans, where years ago I finally finished at Tulane with a thesis called "Madonna: A Woman of Gender," which I won't go into now. If I hadn't gone to Tulane, I wouldn't know who I am. I mean, socially. Even if I do live with a penniless old alcoholic and am in love with a dreamy hustler named Ernest Royal Breaux, who's in for assault.

Like everyone I meet these days, I had a miserable childhood. My mama was a drunk, my daddy chased women, and my grandfather was the governor of the state of Louisiana. I'm not telling you which one he was--I'm too ashamed--but I will say PawPaw escaped over the state line with a paper bag over his head after my grandmother Mimi tried to have him committed. Then he gave a press conference from a motel in his drawers eating grits without his teeth in. They broadcast that over the whole world, and I just about died. Especially about the teeth, which Pawpaw forgot on the back of a commode in the capitol washroom, he was in such a hurry to get the hell out of Louisiana.

When they brought him back, Mimi's like "You go play bourré with him, boy, and keep him quiet." This was back around when Mama and Daddy were getting their divorce, so I was staying in the mansion a lot. Pawpaw and I had played bourré together while he decided on some important legislation, emptying a bottle of bourbon in the process. One thing I can say: He cheated at bourré.

That's only part of my miserable childhood. Fact is I'm a flaming faggot.

"We don't care if you a hoMOsexual, Bib," my big sister always goes, "but why you have to turn out a flaming faggot."

Then I go, "We don't care if you a WOman, but why you have to turn out a fat sow with a kid hanging off each of your six tits. Or those supposed to be your knees and elbows?" That gets her every time. She really does need to reduce.

Daddy caught me the first time. I'd managed to hogtie myself in the stable, bareassed except for Mama's bra, and was rolling around in horse shit. He beat the tar out of me because he said I was aroused. What really got him: so was his favorite thoroughbred. That was the beginning of shrinks and military schools. They said they wanted to make a man out of me but really just wanted me out of sight, like Pawpaw when he wound up with the paper bag over his head.

"PU-lease," I pleaded, flipping bug-eyed through a military school yearbook, "don't send me away to be locked up with all those muscle-bound boys in uniforms." But they wouldn't listen to reason. So by the time I was kicked out of the last one, Culver Military Academy in Indiana, for starting the midnight action in the wheelchair-access bathroom, everyone was calling me Longjohn. Cadets are a bunch of size queens, if you want to know the truth. My first name is John, though everyone calls me Bib. And I'm not telling you what my last name is.


I've been back in the French Quarter ever since I broke up with my second husband, a dentist named Bernard I lived with in Daytona Beach. "Why a dentist?" I ask myself in moments of introspection. But after the plastic surgery, I feel comfortable with doctors. They can see me for who I really am, beyond all the glamour.

Only with all the Perocodin and coke we were doing, Bernie and I started working on each other's nerves. After smashing every piece of glass in his condo one night, I took off with a guard who had just been fired for running a security golf-cart into the lagoon looking for a bottle of vodka he'd stashed behind a philodendron.

Too Too is a 62 year-old Alkie I used to pal around with while Bernie was off doing root-canals. He listens to opera and is into butt plugs, one of the sweetest men I've ever known. I drink a lot too, if you want to know the truth, so I took him hostage and caught the Amtrak to Baton Rouge. We got there just in time for my 35th birthday. After two nights at Mama's, she made a few brisk calls that set me up with an apartment in the Quarter and a check every month. She had discovered one of Too-Too's playthings wedged into her Lay -Z-Boy.

"I'm getting too old for so much commotion," Mama says. She dried out a long time ago.

"Rehab is for quitters," I tell her. She just shakes her head, says stay in touch.

One thing, as the daughter of a former governor, Mama has flawless taste. The apartment she got me on Dauphine is a restored shotgun with plaster moldings, bronze fixtures, hardwood floors, and glass chandeliers. I really didn't mean to trash the place. Things have just gotten out of hand.

The day I moved in I met Crystal, a forty year-old crack whore who had just been evicted and was circling the Quarter with a U-Haul filled with all her stuff. Her fourth husband, a teenager who works as a clown on Jackson Square, bought me a half-gallon of good vodka and convinced me to let them keep everything here for just one night. I didn't have much to move in except for a boombox, my Madonna poster, and Too Too, who had managed to lose his suitcase on the Greyhound from Baton Rouge.

Our welcome to the neighborhood wasn't exactly cordial. The director of the Vieux Carré Commission, who lives across the street, said he didn't particularly object to Crystal's five-foot cage on the gallery with the squirrel inside who thought it was a human being. Or to her mangy white cockatoo in another cage. What got him was her leatherette couch we couldn't fit through the door. Said it was tacky and had to go and suggested cane rockers or a swing or a loveseat in white rattan. All my new friends were on the floor next to the dishwasher getting high. I didn't want to ruin my first evening fussing with that old queen.

Now you know how the Quarter is on a July night. At dusk everybody comes scampering out like roaches hiding from the scorching light. Then the neighborhood is one big cocktail party. Music blares out of open bar doors. Hunky guys in tank tops and cut-offs lean against car hoods sucking on ice cubes, rattling go-cups at you as you pass. People scream to each other from balcony to balcony, hang out on their stoops, draining beers and mopping their brows and shooting the shit with everyone who walks by. It's too hot to touch. And too hot not to.

So I slipped on bathing trunks and some Mardi Gras beads Crystal gave me, found a garden hose, and wet my curly self down every half hour. Dauphine Street was the only place I ever wanted to be, stoned on the steps with a Screwdriver and my boombox, carrying on with everyone in the street. I kept turning up the Stones, singing "Wild, wild horses couldn't drag me away."

That first night I was drunk as a monkey, rolled up in one of Crystal's old sheets in front of the floor-to-ceiling window that opens onto the gallery, when somebody crawled inside on all fours. I said to myself, "Bib, honey, prepare to expire." But then the intruder curled up beside me like a lost lamb--or should I say ram? He was sporting a monster down there, and it wasn't until the first rays crept in through the jalousies that I realized he didn't have any top front teeth and smelled like a free box. But by then I didn't care. It was a new morning and he was mine.

Said he grew up in Crowley and his name is Ernest Royal Breaux--I do believe that's the only true thing he's ever told me--and he's a veterinarian at the Audubon Park Zoo. He's twentyish with wavy chestnut hair and soft green eyes, tanned and built like he's been doing hard labor, not another gym bunny hanging out in the free-weight room like those Muscle Marys in Daytona.

"So what's a veterinarian from the zoo doing crawling into my cage in the middle of the night?" I wanted to know.

"Last week three assholes mugged me at the ATM. Niggers punch my teeth down my throat, take all the money out my account, then leave me broke and bleeding in Pirates Alley," he explained with a coonass accent.

"So you crawl in anybody's window you please like a dog in heat?" I don't fall in love before breakfast. That's my policy.

While I was in the shower, I heard Royal in the kitchen informing Crystal and her clown, who was putting on his make-up, he's a golf pro judging an open competition at Elmwood Country Club. I was some mad. Then, tossing everything out my suitcase trying to find something to wear, I hear the golf pro tell Too Too--get this--he's the director of the Vieux Carré Commission.

I maxed Madonna on the boombox, sashayed onto the gallery and threw myself onto the leatherette couch. Everybody was already high and talking to that stupid squirrel like it was a human being.

"Let's get something straight," I hissed, lighting a Camel and tossing the burnt match in his direction "The director of the Vieux Carré Commission lives right across the street, and yesterday him and me had a little tete-a-tete. And I know you're not him or a golf pro or a fucking veterinarian at the goddam zoo. You can't con a con man. Who are you really?"

Now whenever you ask anyone in the Quarter who they really are, pull up a chair, loosen your girdle, and get ready for a real pack of lies. Ernest Royal Breaux said before he won the "New Meat Night" contest at The Rough House and became a hustler, he was a member of a white militia on his sister's survivalist ranch in Alabama.

"If Pawpaw could see me now, he'd be so proud," I said, casting my eyes heavenward.

Like all hustlers, he said he has a girlfriend he adores who serves him champagne barefoot but he just can't stay off the pipe. And in his sick mind, he becomes his tricks. Takes on their identities. Ever since that time he ripped off a trick's wallet and impersonated him across the country on a drug-crazed credit card spree.

"Last night I tricked across the street," he said, pointing at the door of the director of the Vieux Carré Commission. "That guy has a security camera that's not a prop, like most around here. Lays in bed jerking off watching his front steps on video, and when he sees someone setting there he likes, he comes out and yanks him in. He's into spanking, so we have to tell him how bad we been while he spanks our butts. So he throws me out at five in the morning and tells me I can probably crash on that tacky sofa cross the way. Then I see you sleeping in there like an angel and come in to keep you company. Tricking's lonely."

That afternoon we hung out on the gallery and organized Crystal's stuff into a sidewalk sale. And met more neighbors, like Cloris the bald drag queen who lives in the slave quarter out back with his eighty-two year old father. Royal stayed around until evening when he took his shirt off, stuffed it in his back pocket, and went to stand on the corner. And around dawn, he crawled back in through the window to curl up with me, and in the morning handed me a twenty and a bunch of change. That's how I got started with Ernest Royal Breaux. Believe me, walking on the street with him is like being with Mae West. Everybody's like in awe until they check out the teeth. At least he pays his own way.

Too Too, on the other hand, doesn't have a dime to his name and plans to retire on Social Security in Mexico next year. He only has one shirt and a pair of pleated gray slacks, so he started spending the day dressed in nothing but a beach towel. He's the one who cooks, slept on the floor by the stove. Until Cloris showed up one day with a cot after the ambulance left. That girl was a mess.

"Dad just died," Cloris said, all puffy-eyed. "Can you all use his bed? I can't stand to look at it no more."

"You mean that's where he died?" Too Too wanted to know. He opened it up to inspect the mattress for stains. "Hey, you want a drink?"

So they had a good bawl, and now Too Too lolls around on the Bed of Death all day like a beached whale, listening to opera wrapped in a towel that says SURF'S UP! When the black football players drop by to see him, he closes the kitchen door. But it still drives Royal crazy. Last week he threw a hissy-fit.

"Take your tricks out to the alley," he screamed. "Decent people have to eat in here."

But then Royal started scoring rocks off Too Too's tricks, and on New Year's some defensive-end from LSU even brought over a bottle of Dom Perignon. And that's made an uneasy peace between the watermelon queen and the white survivalist.

In the meantime, I've kicked everybody else out, the one-armed contractor, Crystal and her clown, and all the eighteen year-olds who would hang out all day rolling joints and grabbing my remote. I can't take it anymore. I started feeling like the Mother Teresa of hustlers and con artists, running a soup kitchen in the quarter of lost men.

Wherever I go, they find me, and like Pawpaw, I never learned to say no until it's too late. They fall in love with me because I listen to their stories about who they were, or who they think they are. No one else bothers. Just fuck 'em, pay 'em, and throw 'em out. Their raps are all lies, I guess. Although sometimes they're telling the truth, sprawled on my scuzzy mattress and staring up at the chandelier. They go on about their grandmas and their dogs, stuff like that. And know I don't want anything from them except maybe a hit off their joints. I can't help it. I like damaged people because I'm one of them.

Like that blues song goes, don't roll those bloodshot eyes at me.


Cloris, the only neighbor I get along with, has moved out. After his dad died, he went on a bender and emptied all the drag out the armoires and chiffarobes into the middle of his bedroom floor. Then he threw the scarves, skirts, wigs, and padded bras into Seagram boxes, along with make up, tweezers, and everything else he called his "woman's stuff." Then he took the day off from his welding job, stacked the boxes in the back of his pickup, drove them to the Goodwill, shoved them across the counter and announced, "I quit."

I see Cloris in the bars, his eyebrows have grown back in. He took his dad's death real hard.

So except for Royal and Too Too, no one's left to hang out with this January. It's damp and cold and I feel like a lizard at the bottom of a well. Tonight I stopped by Your Little Red Wagon to say hello to Miss Mamou behind the bar and find Royal. Just a bunch of hustlers playing video-poker or nursing beers in the corner-- waiting for a ride to their mama's wake, it looked like. It was all spiders, no flies.

Except for an old black gentleman who comes in every night--a choir director or voice teacher, something like that--who was trying to have a birthday party. Half-eaten paper plates of gooey cake were all over the bar, and he was wrapping the leftovers up in the MacKenzie box, tying it again and again and looking at each of the guys like, now what? He kept twisting the red string around the box like he couldn't believe nobody loved him on his birthday because he was old.

I mean he couldn't keep his hands off his cake.

So I went over and hugged him and told him happy birthday and how handsome he was. One day I'll be wrapping up my cake in a bar too like this, after the party's been over for 25 years but nobody's told me. So while this guy's revving up the story of his life, Miss Mamou comes over to tell me Royal's been popped.

"Dude's a beeper queen," Royal cackled. I'm his one call, and the phone was ringing when I walked in.

"A new one on me." I never believe a word he says, but I listen. "What happened this time?"

"I tie him up in his bed, just like he says, set his beeper to vibrate, slip it in a condom and shove it up his ass. Then I shut the door, go into the kitchen, crack open a cold one, dial his number, and hit redial every few minutes."

"Ever do a three-way with call waiting?" I asked.

"Hey, no shit. He works for the phone company, so he's got all kinds of gadgets and beaucoup bucks. But tries to pass me a 20 when we settled on 50. So I punch out his lights and he gets the cops to pick me up. Says the jab to his kisser wasn't consensual."

"Look, this is the last time I bail Ernest Royal Breaux out of jail. Try to stay out of trouble till I see the bail bondsman in the morning."

"All right, babe, but hurry up. This place is filled with.... I might get raped."

"And you might enjoy it."

"Fuck you, Bib," he said, and hung up.

So I got off the phone to Baton Rouge. And tomorrow I have to hightail it over to Merrill Lynch on Poydras then take the bus to Parish Prison on Tulane and North Broad. I told Mama I need some dental work. God forbid I tell her the truth. Not that she'd recognize it if I did. Or anyone in this town, for that matter. Every time I start with what Too Too calls that "governor's grandson shit," he walks out of the room. I don't care if he or anyone else believes me. It only costs a drink or a joint for someone to believe you. Or at least listen to you. And I haven't run out of people yet.

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