It’s six thirty on a nice Friday evening in New Orleans and I am sitting on on my skateboard across the street from a crowded bar in the Marigny that’s hosting a crawfish boil. I’m drinking stoli and soda and smoking a Newport while I watch the crowd of people milling around the cook trailer enjoying themselves. I begin the process of revving myself up to be more aggressive with my socializing. In New Orleans just under a week and I had yet to make even a temporary new friend.
“Hey any y’all know where can I buy smokes around here?” Comes the voice of someone speaking to no one in particular. I look over to see a scruffy young guy wearing a fraying fatigue green baseball cap and a red nascar t-shirt which covers a generously protruding stomach.
“There’s a few corner stores down on Frenchman.” I reply, assuming he’s a tourist like me.
He sighs like the two hundred metres to Frenchman street are too far away and shrugs it off. My eyes follow him as he goes back to wandering around the street, crowded with overflow from the bar. The crowd is a respectable cross section of young and old adult styles, though most of them are white. With the sun dipping behind the buildings there’s the same feeling of comfort and enjoyment that I’d typically associate with the dog days of summer, except this is the Spring. Beautiful young women roll up on bikes, greet their guys and hug their girlfriends before locking up their rides. On the curb beside me people, who’d arrived early to beat the now massive line, suck down crawfish served in styrofoam take out containers and drink tall boys of PBR or Highlife. I feel rude as all hell smoking next to them while they eat, but I’m not the only one and they don’t seem to give a shit. There isn’t any live music coming from the bar, a rarity here it would seem, but on the steps of a small building behind me a leather faced guy rips on acoustic guitar playing standard hits from Sublime to The Beatles. For the past hour I had been circling the neighbourhood on my skateboard, a big soft wheeled cruiser cobbled together from discount pieces purchased at the local skate shop. I had been sifting through the populist venues and tourist traps waiting for the evening to start.
“Fuck it, hey can I have a cigarette?” says the same guy having circled back around to me.
“They’re menthols but yeah.” I reply fishing in my shirt pocket for the Newports.
“Ah really?” He thinks on it for a second. “Ah whatever.”
I hand him the smoke and he sits down on the curb next to me to light up, a few minutes later a apparent friend of his, comparable in size, toting a po-boy, sits down next to him. They talk back and forth to each other for a few minutes about buying and selling something but I can’t figure out what it is. Sounds like models of cars with names like an X7 and such. A pickup truck with a pack of cute girls in the bed pauses for a moment in front of us.
The guy eating the overflowing po-boy, raises half the sandwich in the air, “Want a bite?”
“Uh, is that bread? No way.” Says one of the girls with a scoff before the truck pulls away.
All three of us on the curb laugh out loud.
“Dang, did she say ‘is that bread’?” asks the guy who I’d given the smoke to.
“Fuck her. I didn’t want to give her a bite of my damn sandwich anyway.” The friend speaks through a mouthful of food, lettuce and sauce falling onto the wrapper that he’s laid at his feet like a drop cloth. “This is a panko crusted po-boy. One of the best po-boys in the whole city and it’s amazing how many people don’t even know about it.” He continues to speak, mouth still full, then opens the sandwich to display the neatly the arranged shrimp coated in the spiky japanese style breadcrumb.
“Oh yeah where’d you get it? I’m not from around here.” I ask.
“Oh where you from?”
“Damn, I met some guys from Vancouver a couple weeks ago, and they was lookin for weed. I was like yo I got this one nug I could sell you and he was like ‘ten bucks’ “ Continues the sandwich man.
“No shit?” says his friend turning his head and picking a piece of tomato off the sandwich wrapper on the ground.
“Yeah, then he was like ‘in Vancouver weed is so cheap I can get a half ounce for a hundred bucks’, and I was like ‘that’s nice’. “
“That’s just ignorant.” I say to him, “Assuming you can come from somewhere else and get your hometown prices.”
“Yeah, that shit’s non negotiable.”
“Weed is pretty cheap back home. You just walk into a store and buy it. Eighth for thirty bucks, quarter for seventy.” I state and they nod along at the prospect.
“Speaking of which, yo you want to roll a blunt?” Asks the guy eating the sandwich.
“Sure, hook it up man.” Says the scruffier of the two holding out his hand which is filled by his friend with a blunt wrap and a healthy green emerald of weed.
Typically a consistent weed smoker I had yet to have the inclination to go looking around like a dumbass for any in Nola, but the vodka in my bloodstream, the glowing embers of the neighbourhood’s skyline, and the straightforward good nature of the pair of guys had me hankering.
“Hey you mind if I hit that with you?” I ask as the guy next to me starts to break down the sticky dense herb with his fingers. It smells pretty good.
“Yeah sure man, cool Ty?” he says to his friend.
“Yeah that’s cool man.’
“Sick, say what’s your names?” I ask.
“I’m Kyle” responds the scruffy one rolling the blunt.
“Tyler.” the other says, digging into the second half of his lunch.
“Nice to meet you guys, can I buy you a drink or something?”
“Nah, I’m good man.” responds Kyle without looking up.
“We got a case of Bud Lite comin’ later. It’s cool man.”
“A case of Bud Lite?” I laugh.
“Yeah, I know but we’re getting it for free. We were shooting video all day for them. Bud Lite I mean.” says Tyler.
“What kind of video?”
“Man I swear there was a can of Bud Lite in like every single shot anyone took today. Just before Glenn did that front side three I got him slammin a whole tall-boy.” says Kyle without looking up from his handy-work.
“It’s gonna be on Bud Lite’s snapshat and stuff. It’s tight. Yeah you skate.” Tyler gestures to my board, sandwich bits falling on Kyle’s leg.
“Yeah, got it this week, but it’s a grandpa board. Big soft wheels. I’m just here riding ‘round. Shit I can’t even ollie.” I said pointing to the fat rubbery wheels beneath me.
“You buy that here?” asked Kyle.
“At Humidity?” asked Tyler.
“Yeah man, just the other day. Gotta say I’m surprised that there’s really only one skate shop here. In Vancouver we’ve got a bunch of them, but I guess it’s more of a subculture here? I don’t see a lot of people riding, ‘least not in the streets.”
“Yeah and if anyone opened another skate shop here?” Chimes in Kyle while he puts the finishing touches on the blunt.
“Yeah, that’d be like a major front on Philly. He’s the guy that owns the store. We done some filming for him before too.”
“Yeah, I don’t know what people would do if someone opened up another skate shop in Nola.” said Kyle as if the very notion was beyond all possibility.
Tyler finishes his sandwich then Kyle fires up the blunt and it we pass back and forth. It has been a few weeks since I’ve smoked so it hits me like a Mac truck. My desire for conversation and social interaction increases tenfold but my abilities to conjure anything interesting to say is compromised by the overwhelming high. I just sit and grin, taking the street in while Kyle and Tyler continue on talking about some special release of some special model of something. Not long later a tall skinny friend of theirs, Lee, arrives on a pedal bike drinking a paper sleeved tall can. Lee has a long neatly groomed beard and a serious array of leg and arm tattoos. The cotton-mouth starts creeping in on me and after first depleting the rest of my drink I guzzled the remains of the water from the bottle in my backpack. Still not quenched I go back to the bar for a drink, which takes a lot more effort than it did a half hour ago.
In the past hour the sunny watering hole of day drinkers of indeterminate origin had been dominantly overtaken by a pride of locals. Those who had been pursuing an afternoon buzz, tourists and layabouts like me, had passed that hard to maintain measure and were now audible in their inebriation as they attempted to speak over the music. Sidling up to a free square inch of the the full bar I look at myself in the mirrored wall beyond the bottles and laugh at how ripped I am, my face lining up beside a photograph of Mark Twain which I take as a good omen. Schlock piano music punches out from speakers surrounding me and I feel the sweat pushing through my pores before I take a deep breath and tent a twenty in my hand, waiting on the bartender to make it my way. In the cooler behind the bar I examine the glowing bottles of beer, the Corona and Sierra Nevada pale ale are the most depleted. Down in the far right hand corner was a column of Becks, a German style pilsner, so on a stoned whim I order one of those to find that it was so rare a request that the bartender couldn’t find them.
I left the rowdy barroom and returned the chill of the street to Kyle, Tyler, and Lee continuing to discuss, and with much fervour, the topic which had been on their lips since I met them.
“Sorry guys, what are you talking about?” I interrupted.
“Shoes man.” Said Lee.
“The air jordan 1 black and royals.”
“Oh, I hear you now.” I responded, having met a few sneaker fetishists in my years.
“Yeah man, Lee runs a shoe store and last time they released those he sold his for like sixteen hundred bucks.” chimed in Kyle passing me the still smoking blunt.
“No shit?” I say to Lee before taking another huge pull on the blunt and passing it off to Kyle.
“Yeah, but I don’t even know if I’m gonna get any this time. Had to put my name in a lottery.” Sighs Lee.
“Better than me, I’m gonna have to get my ass up at like four am tomorrow if I want to get a pair. I buy and sell shoes online.” Tyler explained to me.
“Hey man, just to give you a little advice” Kyle got my attention, “Right now, with the crawfish cook up it’s like a street party and everyone’s chill, but you don’t want to be carryin’ around a bottle most of the time. Cops give you shit, some people might think you a mark, a tourist, y’now? You get wasted you don’t want that. Throw it in a plastic cup next time.” He gestured to the beer bottle in my hand.
“Thanks for the tip.” I responded.
At that moment a big blue shipping truck with the words Bud Lite rounded the corner and the vehicle parallel parked in a space just across the street from the bar.
“Shit they’re here. Finally” Said Tyler, blunt in his hand, cockiness elevated.
Out of the vehicle comes a thin latin guy in a baggy t-shirt and pants with a red cap on and a pretty mulatto gal in a black dress and jean jacket. The guy approaches us with a six pack of Bud Lite in hand, tossing out beers to people on his way across the street.
“Yo Philly!” Shouts Tyler.
“Hey Philly!” Follows up Kyle.
Phil, the owner of Humidity Skate shop approaches us and goes to toss someone a beer but with the condensation on the can it slips from his grip and hits the street, a single spray of beer shooting into the air. Tyler runs forward and picks it up off the ground, cracking it open and shot-gunning it down. Phil apologies to a lady sitting on the curb next to us and then comes over, slapping and gripping the palms of Lee and Kyle before giving me elevator eyes which settle on my skate. He doesn’t say anything to me instead turning his attention over to Tyler for some skin.
“You drive that truck?” Asks Kyle to the girl that came with Phil.
“All the way from New York.” She says with bravado.
There’s some brief conversation but the pair of them don’t hang out with us for five minutes longer before moving along behind the crawfish cook up trailer to hang with a pack of other skaters. Stoned as I am time begins to blur together until I’m hanging with Tyler back on the periphery of the other skaters.
“Yeah, I can’t skate for real. Few years ago I messed my back up snowboarding, had to take like five years off’v riding anything. So now I can only ride these fat ass wheels and cruise around.”
“Yeah man. I used to skate too.” Says Tyler in a sad tone that has me envisioning him as a rotund teen being ridiculed by a pack of hardcore inner city too cool for school n’er do wells.
“So you like, buy and sell shoes online?” I ask.
“Like, that’s your job, that’s what you do full time?”
“…yeah for the most part man. Gotta have a few hustles in this day and age though. Maybe I’ll hit that big score sometime and flip some stacks. I’d love to get my hands on those Jordans tomorrow.”
“You ever work in the service industry? It sure looks like good money.” I point to the bar.
“Nah man. Too crazy for me, those people make bank but you get a reputation. You just spend all your money back in the bar.”
Lee joins us from the miamasa of people. “Fuck, those fuckin’ dickheads in New York.”
“Another one?” responds Tyler.
“Yeah, every goddamn time.”
“What’s the score?” I ask, nestling another smoke in my mouth while juggling my skate and beer in my hands.
“People from New York always orderin’ stuff. But when it doesn’t show up on the exact day, they’re phonin’ our asses looking for a goddamn refund, which we’re obligated to do, but then we give them their refund and then they get the package and they keep both and you never hear from them again. Pricks. I get them though.”
“How you do that?” Asks Tyler.
“Always keep your receipts man. UPS, Fed-Ex, shit most of the time I just use the Post office. United States Postal Service, now there’s some people that understand the value of keeping the receipt. You keep that they’ll sort it out. It takes time, and I never really get all the money back but-”
“Beats taking a straight up loss.” I say out loud, while in my head thinking about how using the federal postal service may not be the best way to do your shipping and receiving as an online business.
“Damn right.” Finishes Lee.
“I got that jacket this week.” Tyler tells Lee.
“Yeah but it was the dark green one, not the black one like I wanted. I was thinkin’ about sending that back-”
“Is that like another limited edition thing?”
“Yeah man, less than thirty of ‘em made. But it’s gonna be fuckin’ summertime, no one gonna want that shit right now.” Tyler purses his lips and shakes his head.
“Why don’t you just hold on to it, keep it mint and then in the fall when everyone else is sold out of that jacket, you just re-release it and jack up the price.” I say.
“Shit man, now you’re talkin’ hustle.” Laughs Lee slapping me on the shoulder while Tyler nods his eyes drifting off.
For the past hour we’ve been milling behind the exhibition of crawfish cooking. The guy cooking in the small two man trailer is a bearded fanatic adorned in a big ass apron who, based on his erratic temperament and the volume of his voice, is half lit. He dances back and forth in the aluminum trailer which houses the heavy duty aluminium cook pot heated by a turbo propane torch range. Having brought the crock of water and several packs of Zatarain’s seafood seasoning to a full steaming boil the cook dumps the mud bugs in twenty pounds at a time. While the creatures cook he jumps back and forth, preaching to the crowd and screaming unintelligible, but highly entertaining, phrases like Burn me down! And This is the dawn of time! at the top of his lungs.
“Christ is he on mushrooms?” Says Lee.
“Could be, where can I get some?” Laughs Tyler.
“It’s a damn shame is what it is.” Laments Kyle who has appeared next to me.
“How so?” I turn and ask Kyle.
“He’s been cooking those suckers for like ten minutes.” replies Kyle, shaking his head.
“They’re a bit delicate for that huh?” I respond, offering him another cigarette, which he takes.
“Hell yeah they are. Using a kettle that big and a heat range that powerful? You only wanna have them in there for two or three minutes tops.” Kyle sounds like he’s watching child abuse.
The most recent batch of crawfish appears to be ready and the cook kills the heat on the range.
“Ice, you wanna get that ice in there.” continues the commentary of Kyle.
“Man, that’s some hot stuff. Imagine dumpin’ that on your legs? What a horrible way to die.” Muses a thoroughly stoned Tyler. “That’’s so hot, burn your fuckin’ skin right down to the bone.”
Kyle has his cigarette hand right up across his face while he watches the crawfish Prophet fumble with the giant colander which sits right in the kettle. “Ice, get that damn ice.” he says again and again.
“What just to bring the heat down?” I ask, lighting my own smoke.
“It’s not just that. You want to put the ice right into the pot, a whole lot of it. It brings all the flavour and seasoning to the top of the pot, so when you strain it out them crawfish collect it all. Lord, this is just painful to watch.” At first I thought he was at least half goofin, by Kyle is clearly pained by this procedure.
“You do any restaurant cooking?” I ask him.
“No, not really. I mean my parents live just outside of Nola and they run a crawfish joint. I worked there when I was a teenager.” He speaks of it as if those days gone by were working in a gulag, not a kitchen.
Throughout this I’ve been holding onto my skateboard, never really letting it out of my hands. By light posts and grass patches there are stacks of skateboards, all lined up against each other, their owners out and about in the crowd. Since I’d gotten to New Orleans not a day had gone by where some random stranger or kid hadn’t asked if he could ride my deck for just a second and I’d become paranoid of losing my new wheels. Now, hanging out on the cool kid side of the cook out, despite my slipping sobriety, I’d become very aware that I was on the receiving end of some harsh mean muggin’ from a variety of Nola skaters. In Vancouver neither my style nor my demeanor passes for that anarchic apathy stereotypical of a dyed in the wool skater so it wasn’t surprising to me, what with my geriatric ride, that I was not the most popular new person in the crowd of hard core New Orleans skateboarders. Easily the most square person in a fifty foot radius I didn’t bother trying to socialize with anyone besides Lee, Kyle and Tyler. The local skater’s style was that of oversized tee’s and ultra loose or tapered ninja pants and look of dedicated indifference. Occasionally a moment would present itself to inject my thoughts and opinions into the mix of a group of strangers but sensing I was already an interloper I decided to keep my mouth shut and my positioning at the edge of their scene.
Then a big white Chevy Tahoe with giant chrome rims pulls up beside the crowd I’ve associated myself with, blocking off traffic and banging hot jams. A black guy wearing a dew rag and sporting a variety of metallic teeth and sparkling finger jewelry sticks his head out the window while his driver kept the engine running.
“Yo! Tyler where you at!? You got that weed?! I know you got it!” Yells the guy into the crowd who collectively moves back from the vehicle.
Tyler emerges from the crowd and approached the vehicle speaking to the guy but keeping his volume down. He appears casual, confident even, but from where I stood I could see his brow loading up a clip of sweaty bullets. It didn’t seem to matter what Tyler told the guy, every thirty seconds or so he’d yell, “Where that weed!? I know you got it man!” or something of that nature. This went on for ten minutes or so until someone allowed Tyler some space and approached the SUV to pick up the bullshit where Tyler had left off. Tyler, in the meantime, went around back of the ride looking it up and down. Before too long the SUV’s music jacked up even louder and started to pull away from the cook up. As it passed I could make out some sort of skull and crossbones decal on the vehicle’s back window and something that amounted to the phrase thug crew. The specifics were lost to my booze blurred vision and memory. What wasn’t blurry was a stat I’d read earlier in the week stating that New Orleans had seen fifty one murders in the first three months of 2017.
“A total fucking shame.” returns the voice of Kyle from not far in front of me. He had torn one of the finished crawfish limb from limb, it’s juices coating his hand and face as he was once more shaking his head. “Not good at all. Fuckin’ idiot.” He threw the crawfish carcass into a trash bin next to us and licked off his fingers.
“Shit the bed huh?” I say, to which I received a saddened nod.
Tyler appears next to us, visibly shaken. “Yo man, you got any rolling papers?”
“Nah man, we outta blunt wraps too.” responded Kyle. “You want me to go find some papers?”
“Yeah man, can you do that?” Said Tyler, those sweat bullets now firing down off his forehead.
“No problem, these crawfish suck ass anyway.”
Behind us one of the cool kid skater guys has jumped the lineup of over fifty people and retrieved several trays of crawfish which he now doles out to the rest of his gang. People in line groan but their lamentations fall on deaf ears. The Bud Lite chugging skaters nosh on crawfish. I cling to the edges of the group, receiving dirty looks for my oversized wheels. I start getting the feeling my welcome is all about worn out and that even famous southern hospitality has limits. That’s fine, my blood alcohol levels are nearing an altitude that have me thinking it’s time to pull the ripcord as well.
I’ve seen and interpreted most of the story for myself. The scene of locals in New Orleans is much the same as anywhere else. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know and how much are you holding. I’d gotten lucky by giving a smoke to a nice guy who had a nice friend, who had with generosity shared a fat ass blunt of some real solid weed with me, but these two gems were on the periphery of their own community. Relegated to shooting cell phone videos for skaters to promote Bud Lite on their snapchat, bowing down to local demagogues and tastemakers, and paying lip service to the shady guy in the SUV who I’ll assume is relatively dangerous. I’d asked earlier and discovered that both Kyle and Tyler were 24. 24 and chasing the very ridiculous modern american dream. Get rich, any way you can. Whether it’s selling collectible sneakers on the internet, dealing out dimes of weed or pandering to those who’d already made it in that very special, very lucrative, very american way. I like Tyler and Kyle. I like them a whole heck of a lot more than the entourage of skaters that eyed me like a dead fish in the sun because I was wearing bright colours and packing a cruiser skateboard. Tyler and Kyle truly did not give a fuck who I was or what I was about. They were happy to share their world, however brief, with me, even though they must meet a million dickhead tourists like myself every year. Yet their authenticity and general lack of reservations and pretensions greatly endeared me to them, which is maybe why I was so honest with Tyler when I spoke to him again and for the last time that night.
“So what was the deal with that?”
“What’s that man?” Tyler replied huffing and looking around.
“The deal with those guys in the SUV?”
“Ah man, it happens. It’s Nola. You know people come around askin’ things.”
“Yeah? Seemed kinda intense to me. That happen a lot?”
“Sure, yeah guys pull up like that, load the block with sound. Take off.”
“Do they usually roll up yelling your name out the window of their ride, declaring that you got the weed? Seemed a little intense man.” He doesn’t respond. “And what was the deal with that decal on their back window? Like thug crew or something? What’s up with that.” He still doesn’t respond, and I realize that I’m drunkenly stumbling through my point.
Kyle returns with rolling papers.
“Yo man, let’s get outta here.” Says Tyler to Kyle.
“Yeah?” He says handing his friend the papers.
“Yeah, I gotta get up early, buy some shoes yo.”
I thank them both for their hospitality to which Kyle says, almost absent mindedly, “Ehn, I’m sure we’ll see you again.” before they shuffle over to Philly and the rest of the Skaters to burn one more joint. I finish the remains of my beer, hear a siren in the distance, then the unbridled yell of the crawfish cook before I laugh at the pleasures of the evening and very slowly roll out of the Marigny.