Wednesday night, New Orleans. Day 26.
In an effort to ease my homesickness I have built a strong beer buzz watching NHL playoffs, and bullshitting with tourists. After getting under the skin of some San Jose Sharks fans I’ve taken my leave to wander down Bourbon towards an inevitable uber ride back to my current home by Tulane University.
Even on a Wednesday night the Quarter is brimming with tourists of all types. Fat white midwesterns bumbling from one oversized cheap beer to another and ashing expensive cigars all over themselves. Pan-asian tourists in reserved dress drag their kids along, their faces awestruck by the architecture and bawdy street hustlers. Tourists throw dollar bills at the bucket drummers and tap dancing local kids that occupy gaps in the crowd. White hot afro americans kitted in fresh kicks, bright athletic clothing and fine kangol hats savour the evening with their peoples. European seniors with tucked in polo shirts and fluffy blouses carry a distinct air of civility in these manic city streets while carrying green bottles of Stella and Heineken wrapped in black bar napkins. Of course no visit to Bourbon is complete without the ever present pack of sweating wet faced frat bros in cargo shorts and boat shoes who bolster their dad bods by sucking down an array of neon coloured liquid garbage while taking the opportunity to hoot and holler at anything with a pair of tits over the age of 15. All of the people above walk directly into bear trap hustles such as strip clubs advertising no cover or the even simpler sell: Big Ass Beers or Fishbowl sized drinks. Drug dealers wander up and down Bourbon street brazenly advertising their wares: weed? coke? Got that good coke, here! 50 milligrams of viagra? This American wonderland is, unlike Las Vegas, is carefully disguised by the history and character of the surviving buildings and organic culture. Weathered mason work and splintering streets sing under the feet of the people and vehicles, it is a duet backed by the ever present southern soundtrack that floods this street in particular.
I was thirsting once more taken a slash before I’d left the last bar I’d been in and as such wasn’t eager to suck down another canister of rental fluids. The Nola culture of public drinking is kept in check by the strict policing of public urination and basic stupidity. If you need to piss you’re going to need to find somewhere appropriate to do it, and in keeping with the City’s tradition of hustle, every joint in the Quarter bears a sign reading No public Washroom. To enforce this, and other laws meant to keep the intoxicated quotient of the City in check, NOPD are spread out on foot, motorcycle, car and horseback throughout this central tourist district. They all pack heat in the form of glocks, batons, tasers and pepper spray while wearing body cameras mounted in the center of their bright blue short sleeved uniforms. NOPD seems like the appropriate acronym, but if what I’ve heard from the locals is true it’s more of a cruel joke. With understaffing and poor pay comes corruption and it had been explained to me by more than one local that most officers of the NOPD, like everyone else in the town, had their own side hustles. This was apparent in the swagger of officers who rolled with a similar confident body language to the strip club pimps I’d seen hollering at the tourists . The nonchalance of these officers is further accented by cigars carried like nightsticks in their leather gloved hands.
I stop up to lean against a light post and light a Marlboro red and once more soak up the sights of this looney place. A hastily assembled brass band jams in front of me, the street talk of tourists echoing in my ears. The strip clubs send their women to wander out into the street tugging at the edges of revealing negligee in an effort to charm the eyes of wasted young men and lure them with their fishing tackle. Bars on Bourbon pay men to carry oversized signs shaped like beer steins, booty and busts which they use to pause tourists eager for a backdrop for a tacky picture. The tourist’s phone in hand they lure them into their drink dispensary of hire for another bucket of soon to be warm draught. Many men of all races and ages wear a variety of clothing emblazoned with some form of American military endorsement, many of them limp their way down the uneven streets. A face tattooed crust punk carrying a paper sheathed tall can of something moves down the sidewalk and yells: USA! USA! USA! We bombed the Ruskies this week motherfuckers! We bombed the Ruskies! USA! USA! USA!, and there is a collective chill that runs through those around me as many people check their phones for news updates and the crust punk cackles and moves on. Despite the lingering bite of that frosty prospect, those that have gathered this evening are soon warmed by the music and the hot New Orleans night.
A small crowd has formed in front of the six piece brass band and a hammered young white guy hoots and stomps next to a group of black tourists, nodding his head to them in the familiar way white people do while touring this mecca of black culture. One of the black men in this group eyes the inebriated caucasian up and down as he dances off rhythm, his limbs jangling like a marionette, before heartily laughing at the honky’s expense. Dejected and embarrassed at the shunning of his intoxicated expression of brotherhood lite the white guy backs up to the streets edge beside me and exacts a petulant modern revenge. He withdraws his cell phone and from the cover of a lamppost and films the dancing and jubilations of the group of afro americans while sniggering to himself.
Across the crumbling cobblestones from me is one of the alcoholic slurpee joints, serving up thirty two flavours of booze soaked chemically flavoured ice slush out of your choice of towering tourist cups. At the entrance to this place three blonde girls of ascending heights wearing white jean short stand calling to those that stumble by to join them for a shooter, or two, or three! I laugh to myself and exhale smoke, soaking up the heat of the night and the trill of the crowd.
“Hey!….Hey!” I look up to see that the center of the three blonde girls has cupped her hands ‘round her mouth and is yelling at me. “Yeah you, tall guy, what you doin’ over there all by yourself?! Yeah you!” Her voice has that heavy southern twang and she moves her hips like a western music singer.
I wave and put my smoke in my mouth.
“Well don’t just stand there!” Calls the taller girl next to her.
“Yeah, c’mon we’ll buy you a shot, maybe even two.” Chirps the shortest of the three.
Had it been just one girl, even two, or had I been a few beers shallower, or less lonely for someone to talk to I probably would have been able to defend myself against such a frontal assault of brazen luring, but such was not the case. I flick my smoke butt into the street and jump off the elevated sidewalk to stroll over to the other side.
As I approach the beer suds wash out of my eyes and I begin to get a better look at the blondes, all three lacquered in thick orange makeup, the roots of their aging bleach jobs showing with prominence. The girl in the middle has a scrunched in face with narrow eyes and little bird lips dressed in clumping neon pink lipstick. The taller girl to her right wears a white halter top with the rims of a neon pink bra bursting at the edges while the shortest of the three wears red cowgirl boots and a pink and blue plaid snapped shirt tied in a knot to reveal her midriff. At a table beside them is a rack of test tube shooters of a variety of colours unnatural to liquids in nature. In the background three far more normal women work the slurpee machines, all of them giving me an eye like I’m just another stupid rube getting suckered in by the jean short cut-offs and bleach blonde hair, and I guess in this state of stupidity I am.
“What’re you doing all on your own ?” twangs the girl in the middle with sour lemon face who had called me over.
“Just havin’ a night, what are you girls doin?” I respond with my own cosmetic southern tone.
“My sisters and I are just sellin’ some shots, but we said we’d buy you one so which one do you want? There’s pina colada, hurricane, blue hawaii, melon, lemon drop.”
“Your sisters? These are your sisters, for real?” I laugh as I eye the vials and then to the girls on either side of the one in the middle.
“Yes, I have four sisters and three brothers.” Says the one in the middle, and I hold back a grimace at the continued reinforcement of her trashy stereotype.
“Dang.” Is all I respond with.
“So which shot do you want?”
“Uh hurricane sounds good to me” I respond with a shrug and she pulls me up the steps and into the slurpee shack before she snags up a pair of red vials and hops up and kneels on a stool in front of me. She places the plastic vials in her mouth and tilts her head back, before resting her arms on my shoulders. I roll my eyes while she’s not looking and open my mouth while she leans forward and pours the shots into my maw. She removes the shot tubes from her mouth, gives me a kiss on the cheek and then asks if I want to repeat the process for her. I say why not and she chooses two blue vials, placing them into my mouth so I can tip them into her slimy pink caked lips. I keep my hands to myself even as she tries to push herself closer to me. I ask her how much they are and she tells me they’re four bucks. I give her a twenty and she doesn’t even pretend to reach for change.
“Wow you sure are nice, real polite even.” Her canned response sounding stale.
What a laugh. None of this is a turn on, it’s obvious gratuity is the kind of tacky grossness I typically avoid like the plague. But fuck me, you only live once. Behind me her sisters continue to hustle the street, drawing in a pair of brothers one of whom is crowned in a Duck Dynasty hat, the other in a Toby Keith Red Solo Cup shirt, they both drink the Bourbon street standard: neon green hand grenade shaped slushies. The pair of ladies reel the fresh fish in. Once landed the slobbering rednecks immediately begin to wrap their arms around the girls as if they’d known them their whole lives and before long they’re taking cell phone pictures with the girls and shelling out bucks for test tube drinks of their own.
Ol’ lemon face beside me looks me up and down and I wonder how many guys grope the shit out of her on a daily basis. “What are you doing here in town?”
“Just vacation.” I saw with a shrug.
“You’re just so nice, I don’t know what it is about you?” She says again and the alcohol in my brain nudges me to wonder how low, not to mention temporary, the bar has been set of her expectations of men.
“I guess I’m just a nice guy.” I shrug, the shots I’d just had were strong as all get out and the booze in my is system picking up speed nudged along by the nicotine laced night air.
“Say, you smoke weed?” She asks.
“Uh yeah!” I respond, far more interested at the prospect of smoking dope than I am at having to continue this bland nice guy conversation.
“Great, hey Amber! Cherry!” She yells at her sisters in a tone that encourages me to believe that they really are all related. “I’m gonna take break.” They look at her, unimpressed as the pair of Ozark’s most eligible continue to grind up on them.
The girl I’ve been talking to approaches the slurpee bar and yells at one of the girls behind the counter, a brunette gal with tattoos wearing all black, who lets out an audible sigh before responding to the shrill calls of the blonde’s demand to get her purse out of a cupboard. The tattoo girl momentarily looks at me with a snort like the schmuck I am before turning back to her slush vending duties. The number one blonde starts fishing in her purse with no luck of finding her weed. She gets her phone out and uses the flashlight to search in her bag some more before exclaiming “Fuck it” and then ripping the bag almost in half before explaining “I’ve gotta a lotta purses, it’s allright.” Then from behind us there is a commotion as a large round afro american police woman pushes up into the store pointing at the shooter vials and speaking with derision at Cherry and Amber.
“This is not happening. What the fuck! Fuck this!” exclaims the tallest of the three girls, leaving the open bay doorway and storming across the room and out of sight, leaving the shortest of the girls to shrink at the aggressive advances of the lady cop.
The number one blonde throws her purse over behind the bar and onto the floor before she gets into the mix. “What? What now? What’s going on huh!?” She yells getting in the face of the lady cop who tells her to back the fuck up.
The tallest girl storms back into room to scream “What the fuck! This is fucking bullshit! I’m not doing this right now! I can’t even! Agghhhh!” before disappearing once more from sight.
Out of nowhere two weathered older women wearing yoga pants, neon coloured tops and sporting ragged dye jobs of their own appear and join the number one blonde in shouting at the lady cop. I’ve been standing in the same spot for all of this with a stupid look of drunken amusement on my face while I hope that when this is all resolved the offer of weed is still going to be on the table. From the looks of things they’re going to want it. The women behind the counter have crossed their arms and roll their eyes watching the three blondes continue their firestorm confrontation with the officer.
“What do you mean we don’t have a liquor license?!” Screams ‘Ol Lemon Face directly into the mug of the officer, who holds up her hand to shield herself from the spit that flies from those pink lips.
“No, no, no these girls do this every night of the week they are-” enters the gravelly voice of one of the older women, who I can only assume are the girls handlers. The presence of these older women start to enhance the idea that these blondes are hustling more than just overpriced shitty shooters.
“Ma’am, you don’t take that tone with me!” commands the lady cop who has since had two male officers, both smoking cigars, join her as backup. They stand at the edge of the shop looking from each other to their female counterpart and then the blondes and their handlers.
The tallest blonde returns to scream more profanity and stamp her feet and I can’t resist laughing. My chuckle draws the ire of one of the handlers who gives me a stank eye so I restrain myself. I step outside the slurpee shack and onto the street where I put a fair distance between myself and the commotion, lighting another cigarette and watching the rest of the conflict transpire at a safe distance.
There are continued wails and visual cues of indignance from all the women involved in the liquor hustle. The female police officer appears to be writing tickets to all three of the girls who continue to verbally protest. As the female cop ignores the girls they turn their attention on the male cops who listen for a moment before stating something to the extent of you’re right we wouldn’t ticket you, but this is her beat tonight. I’m unclear as to the legality of everything involved, but it has all the hallmarks of a shakedown. Maybe, had the girls not exploded at the female officer there could have been something they could have done that would have allowed their hustle to continue. But their shrill denial of legal infraction had not aided them, and the presence of two older women as their representation and council had only made their infraction look worse. Before long all three of the blonde girls are holding tickets, dispensed by the lady cop, and are storming around the establishment like it’s their bedroom. The women behind the counter are not amused, standing by and waiting for the storm to clear so they can return to making their own straightforward money. In the ensuing chaos the number one blonde catches my eye and makes it clear that she’s still going to smoke me up, although the look in her eye gives me an icy chill even in the New Orleans heat. As the blondes file out of the slurpee vendor paradise I follow and catch up as they turn down a side street. Lemon Face fishes in her shredded purse and procures a joint which she lights and passes to me.
“Can you believe that fat fucking nigglet bitch?!” Shouts Lemon Face and I choke on the weed.
“What the fuck was her fucking problem?” Screeches the tall one and I mask my expression of holy shit with another cough.
“That bitch, that fucking nigger bitch!” comes the shrill voice of one of the handlers as we all steam off down the street. “Every fucking time!”
They all, except for the short one who just seems exhausted, continue a steady stream of racially charged cussing. I’m disgusted by their attitudes but I’ve ridden this coaster of weird entitlement this far and besides we just got to the weed. Eventually we come to a stop by a large planter box outside a hotel and the joint continues to go around. Lemon Face is frantically yelling at her phone, on speaker, and what I assume is the girl’s mother’s voice occasionally cuts through only to be interrupted by her daughters.
“She had no right momma. What the fuck, that’s our job. That’s how we make a living and that pig gonna tell us what we can’t do!”
“Is this the first time this has happened?” I ask, to no one in particular but I grab the attention of Lemon Face.
“No it happened last week, and a few weeks ago. But it’s always the bitches that are going after us.” She responds to me before shouting into her phone once more. “Yeah, no it was the woman again, yeah the guys were there but those faggots didn’t do shit!”
“Who the fuck are you?” Says one of the older handler women, putting her hands on her hips and giving me a look of derision.
“He’s fine, she’s probably just gonna try and fuck him.” Sighs the taller of the three blondes who is texting and periodically screaming at nothing.
“I’m a lawyer.” I lie, the weed and the generally shitty personalities of the women emboldening me to just say whatever I feel like.
“What?” Says Lemon Face. “Momma one second. Did you say you were a lawyer?”
“Yeah, that’s what I said.”
“Here.” She shoves the phone into my hand and I hold back a snort before I take a few steps back from the cackle of hens who continue to fudge pack each others shitty opinions and interpretations of the event.
“I don’t know who you are, but are my daughter’s going to be alright?” Comes the voice of an older woman, her southern accent heavy.
“They’re going to be fine.” I start putting a bit more southern in my voice.”Trust me, they were serving liquor inside a licensed establishment. The officer in question appeared to just want to be giving them a hard time. However I would recommend that they make sure to dispute their tickets, which should have the officer’s information and badge number present on them.”
“Oh thank god, I’m…I’m just so worried. My baby girls! Thank you.”
“Ma’am.” I respond and then hand the phone back to the number one blonde who continues talking a blue streak like she’d never let go of the phone before eventually , “Yeah, I love you momma yea, I’ll talk to you later.”
The notion of pretending I’m a lawyer, encouraged by the booze and dope, has put me in character and I’ve pulled out my notebook and am hastily jotting down the basic instructions for disputing a ticket like this, when I’m interrupted by Lemon Face.
“What are you doing?” She asks indignant.
“I’m taking down some notes for you so you can legally dispute that ticket.”
“I don’t even need to dispute it! Fuck that bitch. How dare she, how dare she tell me what I can and can’t do. You know, I know you know what I mean.” She snarls, and sadly I do. You’re a racist piece of shit lady. “The fuck that nigger can tell me how I can make my money. Tell me how to do what I’ve been doing since I was….since I was sixteen.” She says and my weed heightened imagination is triggered to deliver an image of this gal, sixteen years old and learning how to hustle men with her body and attitude. Perhaps spurred on by her mother, perhaps it’s a result of having so many siblings and needing to take care of your own self. I won’t go farther to rationalize her awful nature but there is some pity in me for people that have turned out so malignant.
I put the notepad down, and check myself. I don’t want to help this person in any way. It had all been a fun trainwreck to watch and I am happy that I got smoked up, but the vitriol and ugliness that oozes from the anus like puckering face of this woman have stripped me of any more true amusement I have for the situation.
“Yeah, I don’t even need to dispute it! You know why she was doing that. You know why. The guy cops, they never bother us. They said this was her block, and she gonna do the policing. Well fuck her!” Her voice has become even more shrill.
The rotten root of this anger is that a black woman, cop or not, dared tell these ratchet ass white girls what they could or couldn’t do. That was the most offensive notion to the girls. I’d wager that the girls probably were breaking the law in some way, but their racism overrode their concept of their wrongdoing, or even their ability to preserve their hustle with a payoff for such an obvious shakedown. The status of authority of police meant less than shit to these shooter hustling bimbos. Every time they used the word nigger I felt that hate in them, that toxic separatism that displayed that these girls, despite their rather basic vocation, believed that they were better than any black person. And the Police? Corrupt or not, it didn’t really matter to me. Through the whole process, before anyone had started throwing the N word around, I felt a satisfaction in watching that black lady cop shakedown those girls, even more so once their protests of foul play became less rational and more audible. They displayed and enhanced version of that very special entitlement and preferential treatment that flows through the veins of white america. The same sentiments are telegraphed, though less severe, when I’ve watched white employers speak to their employees or even co-workers of colour, their authority in their minds is without question. The brand of white American social conditioning presented without fanfare.
“Kendall our fucking ride is here, just get his number. Lets go!” Yells the tallest girl to her sister.
I wouldn’t take her number even if she offered it. Instead she fires up another phone call, half turns from me, still furious, angrily waves and then storms away without saying another word.
I shake my head. Have a good hard laugh and stroll away in search of a better type of person.