In this next chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, the country boy Ben goes to New Orleans to visit Tulane and see the sights of the city. After going to a movie (“South Pacific”) and riding the ferry back and forth across the Mississippi River, he’s tempted to go into the French Quarter, which his Daddy had expressly forbidden.
To read BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 10. SIN CITY, right click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at your leisure whenever, select “Save Target (or Link) As.” You can access the previous 9 chapters for reading or download from the chapter list on the book page.
BAT IN A WHIRLWIND
Excerpt from Chapter 10. – Sin City
Walking back up Canal Street, when I came to Bourbon again, I wondered what kind of trouble I could get into simply walking down the street and taking a gander at goings-on. At the end of the second block at Bienville Street was a bar with a crowd milling around, and you could see into the back where a band of black men was playing some awful loud Dixieland jazz, good as the stuff on the Lawrence Welk Show.
Farther along was a dark, falling-down place called the Old Absinthe House. The rickety roof looked like any minute it’d fall on your head. Meanwhile the sidewalks were fairly full of mostly white folks, and everybody with drinks in their hands and acting drunk. I’d dodge out of their way to be polite and often step down into the street with the constant stream of cars.
On the corner of Conti Street was a place called Madame Francine’s that sounded like a whorehouse, but the pictures along the walls showed dancing ladies covered in feathers and glitter and not much else. One poster was for Jada, an almost naked lady wrapped up in a huge boa constrictor. I’d never thought of dancing with a snake before.
A man in a dark vest with a pointy beard was on the steps of Madame Francine’s, and as I passed, he called, “Hey, stud! Come on in and see some fine ass.” I hurried on but glanced in the open door at a lady up on a stage dancing with bare breasts and rubbing her thighs lewdly. If that was a strip-tease, I definitely preferred Joe Ray’s version.
In the next blocks with more bars and loud jazz bands, there were still folks staggering around everywhere. I reckoned business was pretty good for a Tuesday night. Passing a house across the street with a pretty lacey iron balcony, through the tall windows upstairs I was impressed to see glittery crystal chandeliers and big gold-framed pictures on the walls. The smell of beer was almost overwhelming, and it was hotter than blazes for being so late in the evening. I figured this must be what a sweat bath feels like.
At St. Peter Street I stopped to lean against a wall and watch the flood of folks of all sorts and shapes. I’d never seen so many in one place before. Across Bourbon on the other corner was a big bar with a sign for Dixie’s Bar of Music. While I was looking at it, two very stylishly dressed, handsome young men came out, followed by a girl in tight black slacks and a silky yellow blouse. Her black hair was teased out full, and she walked with her hips moving slinky. She was incredibly beautiful.
They crossed Bourbon and then came across St. Peter toward me. Coming near, the girl looked straight at me with a smile that made my knees go weak. Like lightning, I recognized the Sno-Cone boy, sure as shooting! He had the same exquisite eyes. The two fancy boys looked me over like maybe sizing me up for a fight, and he, (or was it she?), called brightly to me, “Hi there, handsome.”
I stood there gawking, dumbfounded, and as they passed, one of the boys said, “Oh, Mary, don’t go wrecking butch numbers on the street.”
“But it’s so easy,” she-he, Mary, replied with another flirtatious look at me and walked away as sexily as Marilyn Monroe. Frankly, I did feel wrecked. Mary was absolutely, positively gorgeous, prettier than Annette by a long shot. I wondered if he-she was maybe one of those “morphodites” Danny once told me about. I couldn’t wait to tell him about seeing one.
Panting in the crazy heat, I continued up the street past St. Ann Street, and the bars and foot traffic thinned way out. It was mostly just houses now with front steps sticking out on the sidewalk. I picked somebody’s stoop near the corner of Dumaine to plop down and cool off. Kitty-corner across from me was a dark bar with a sign saying Lafitte’s, like the pirate.
There were still folks walking up and down the sidewalk, but lots fewer. If anybody looked at me, I’d smile at them and say hi. But it got no cooler. Like doing a striptease myself, I took off my T-shirt and dried my face off with it. Shortly a guy who’d passed by a while before came back and nodded again at my hi. He stopped and asked, “Got a light?”
“Sorry,” I said, “don’t smoke.”
The young crew-cut guy smiled curiously at my hairy chest and asked, “Busy tonight?”
The way I was draped over those front steps, I couldn’t imagine why he’d think I might be. “Not so as I’ve noticed,” I replied.
When he said he was Harry, I told him my name. Meanwhile he looked again at my chest with a suspicious expression that made me think I ought to put my shirt back on. Next thing he asked if I was looking for some fun. “I already had lots of fun today,” I said. “I went to the Zoo and to a movie and on a ferry ride.”
Harry leaned up against the house beside me and asked, “And what about tonight?”
“I’m about ready to hit the sack,” I said. Wiping my face with my shirt again, I groaned, “I don’t think I’ve ever been this hot.”
“You do look really hot,” he chuckled and with a nudge, asked, “How’d you like to come over to my place? It’s air-conditioned.”
I couldn’t get over all this southern hospitality, two perfect strangers inviting me to their place. “Thanks anyway,” I replied, “but I got me a place to sleep.”
“How about I buy you a drink then?” Harry asked, eyeing my pants now like looking for something in my pockets.
Finally realizing he was a pickpocket, I hopped up from the stoop and said, “Thanks kindly, but I best be going. Nice to meet you, Harry.”
Before you go, Ben,” he said, “how much you want for a trick?”
I laughed that I didn’t know any tricks and headed off down the street putting my damp shirt back on. Did I look like I was in a circus? Or a magician? He seemed normal enough, but he must have been a tad touched in the head. Good thing Joe Ray warned me about this kind of stuff.