It was ten years ago. I was summarily banished from the couch I'd been sleeping on for several months and once again found myself homeless on the streets of The Big Easy. Living outdoors is difficult in any city, but New Orleans presents a unique set of problems for the prospective vagrant. Squats with hidden dangers, a harsh, unsympathetic police force, drug crazed maniacs around every corner, and the constant threat of sudden, spontaneous drunkenness, all serve to make street living in NOLA a dicey affair.
Plus, back in those days, I had yet to develop my superior homebum survival skills. I had an innate talent for it, yes. I had been planning my path as a bum since childhood, but was, nonetheless, lacking in the kind of practical wisdom that only experience can bring. All I had was a cheap, beat up guitar, a quarter-bag of weed, and a two month old copy of Time Magazine.
I wandered aimlessly for a long time. I tried to ground score some daiquiris on Bourbon St., went up to the river and climbed around on the rocks, all the while growing more and more tired. Sleep deprivation is one of the homebum's greatest enemies. Public sleeping is strongly discouraged in New Orleans, and there are very few, truly safe, nooks and crannies. The rare good spots are guarded with lion-like ferocity and missionary zeal by their long time inhabitants, who'd sooner die than be displaced by some would-be usurper. As the night wore on, I began to get confused and desperate.
Sitting on a bench in Jackson Square, I had an idea. I remembered this guy I knew who had an apartment on Burgundy. He'd never let me sleep there, but maybe I could sneak into his courtyard and find a hidden spot to curl up in. I knew if he discovered me he would be angry, but I also knew he probably wouldn't call the police. It hardly mattered, since if I didn't find somewhere to crash fast, I was going to fall out in public and go to jail anyway.
It was four in the morning when I arrived at the apartment, a shotgun affair with slave quarters in back. Quite typical for the neighborhood. There were no lights and no signs of activity. I knew that the inhabitants were hard partying Quarter Rats who could be out getting fucked up in the early morning hours, or long unconscious, so I figured my chances of avoiding detection were pretty solid. I quietly checked the door to the courtyard, and sure enough, it was unlocked.
After walking down an alley that ran the length of the house, I was in the courtyard, a fenced in oasis in the heart of the Quarter. There was a coffee table covered in empty beer cans, surrounded by folding chairs, and assorted detritus from many a drunken gathering. In the rear of the patio was a small stone building, the slave quarters, which is exactly what it sounds like. A throwback from Antebellum times, these particular slave quarters were larger than most, with a rickety stairway leading up to a small, unstable looking balcony.
I felt at home on this patio. My stint as a salesmen of rare, and exotic, hallucinogens had made me quite popular with the tenants, and I had spent many nights there presiding over bizarre, psychedelic rituals, conducted with gutter punks and teen runaways. I had a seat at the table, kicked up my feet, and began rolling a joint on my copy of Time Magazine.
Not two minutes had passed before I heard voices, loud, drunken voices, coming down the street. My blood turned to ice as the latch of the gate clicked open.
Now, the guy who rented the apartment, let's say his name was Anus Lips Murgatroyd, was not my enemy, and was not negatively predisposed to me, in general. He was a drama queen, however, and I knew that if he found me on his patio, it would become a minor scandal in our insular, little world. I looked frantically around the courtyard for a place to hide. The voices got louder as they came walking down the alley. With mere moments to spare, I threw my weed back in the plastic bag, rammed the bag in between the pages of Time Magazine, crammed the magazine into my back pocket, and ran up the stairs to the balcony of the slave quarters. I put my guitar on the ground and lay down next to it. I pressed myself as close to the wall as possible and tried to shrink on the thin strip of dilapidated wood. I prayed for invisibility.
I heard the voices come into the courtyard. It was Anus Lips and Lula, the teen runaway from Monroe who was sleeping on his couch. They sat down at the coffee table. They were very drunk.
"Have you ever had sex with a girl?" asked Lula, with what I imagined to be wide eyed fascination.
"Oh sure, I've had lot's of girls. Once me and ten other guys had a pool party and invited all our female friends to come. Let's just say, after the party, the girls had trouble walking home."
"Wow. That's so amazing."
"Have you ever had sex with a girl?"
They went on for hours.
"I think quantum physics is really interesting." opined Lula.
"Actually, I know everything there is to know about quantum physics. Don't tell anyone, but I have an IQ of 250." Anus Lips replied.
"Jesus Christ, What a horrible fate!" I thought, "How do I get myself into these situations?" I decided that if they spotted me, I would give my best war cry and jump down from the balcony onto the coffee table below. Then, in the ensuing panic, I'd run off down the alleyway and make my escape.
Fear transitioned into boredom. They discussed their sex lives and the implications of quantum theory on Yoga, all in great detail. The minutes ticked by. Finally, as the sky was turning red with the first light of morning, Lula said, "Hey, lets go have breakfast at Deja Vu."
"That's a great idea!" Anus Lips replied. I secretly agreed.
As I heard them getting up to leave, relief washed through my system. It seemed I had evaded detection. But just as I was popping Champagne corks and lighting the cigars in my mind, I heard Lula say, "Hey look, it's a copy of Time Magazine."
Oh Fuck! The magazine had fallen out of my pocket in my rush up the stairway. My weed, the only thing creating a buffer zone between me and total despair, was now in grave danger of being found. Even worse, I was in no position to do anything about it. I would have to lay there listening to them, smelling them, smoke my weed.
I heard someone pick up the magazine and flip through the pages. I knew any second I would hear Anus Lips sing forth with great rejoicing, "Holy shit, there's a bag of weed in here!"
But that didn't happen. What happened instead was, they threw the magazine on the table and started walking down the alley, "I wonder how it got back here." said Anus Lips, nonchalantly.
After their voices disappeared down the street, I waited for ten minutes to make sure they were really gone. Then I grabbed my guitar, ran down the stairs, and grabbed the magazine off the table. I flipped through the pages and, within seconds, my bag of weed fell to the ground. Somehow, they hadn't found it. It was a miracle.
I snatched my bag off the ground, stuffed my magazine into my back pocket, (securely this time) hurried down the alleyway, and out onto Burgundy where the morning sun loomed large on the horizon.
But that's not the end. The dawning of a new day was to bring fresh dangers, and my copy of Time Magazine was to save me from blacker fates still.