1979 – “The rules of this house during Mardi Gras are” as George South proceeded to tell all of us hung-over guys at about 11am on Saturday morning of Mardi Gras weekend in his large double parlor “if you got keys it’s your house—no tricks—but if you fall in love then I’ll be watchin! Everybody’s ass is home for dinner at 7pm every night.” “No excuses, even for bartenders. Now, ya’ll get out on them streets or on the stoops and have some fun!
George South ran this house and had for many years. It was in the double parlor for living and dining that they could pull enough chairs up to the double-leaf dining room table so it would seat 20. A sit-down dinner on Bourbon Street! I would learn manners at this table and a lot of gay history and eat some home-cooked New Orleans food. Conversations, laughing, bawdy history.
The guys all moved on either back to bed or most of ‘em hitting the streets. Through the iron gates I could see Clyde and Al on the stoop and Bourbon Street was already heavy with foot traffic of people in costume walking up and down in front of the house. I had to get something to eat and there was Cajun sausage and scrambled eggs and biscuits and gravy in the kitchen with coffee and juice. I thought I’d gone to heaven. But if this was hell then i was more than comfortable. I ate and felt a lot better, my body was adjusting to the bartending, the lifting, carrying, reaching, bending.
I walked out to the courtyard. The air was sweet, only George was out sitting in his chair gazing up at the tree and the sky. The sound of the water trickling in the pond with its thick huge swamp water lillies mesmerized me. “Sit,” George said. I did. He began telling me about 1132 Bourbon, that it had been called “Arkady” and had been owned by Frances Benjamin Johnston, a photographer back in the early part of the century. She was called ‘the photographer of the American court’—she photographed presidents,” George said, “who just happened to be a dyke.” I listened, he pointed out the slave quarters, and mentioned “of course we have a ghost and it’s probably her, but she avoids this time of year.” The tinkling of the ice in George’s cocktail was almost in rhythm with the pond tinkling I thought. Then he went on telling more stories about the house and his working as Paul Newman’s stand-in for “The Drowning Pool” movie and that Paul and Joanne had visited and stayed at the house and saw the ghost. I was blown away at all this history and decided I needed a very hot shower and I wanted to hit the streets and maybe make some history of all this for myself.
I took a shower at the top of the stairs bathroom luxuriating in the hot water. I walked out naked cause the room was just across the hall from the bathroom door and ran into three Texans on their way to the back. “There’s our bartender from last night” and they chased me into the room grabbin and tryin to wrestle me to the bed getting my towel -I begged for a reprieve and it was temporarily granted.
I came downstairs and could see through the iron gates to the stoop and the street. Clyde was on one stoop on one side of the stairs and Al was on the other. I came out before they saw me. “Sit,” Clyde said. So I did, for the second time.
“See that house across the street?” Clyde said. It was more of a Victorian architecture than 1132, a little fancier with a larger balcony that looked straight at us. Clyde was pointing and waggin his big ol finger. He stated “That’s a story about Lafitte’s.”
Clyde settled in for one of his long southern stories. He grew up in Louisiana and said he had been gay since he”d been born. He began by pointing at the house directly across the street and began. “Yup, well, ol Ben Brown who owned Lafitte’s lived there with Noah. I moved ‘em in. Did some work in there for ‘em too. Beautiful home. Yes it was…” he was taking his time.
“Noah lives across the street?” I asked. I didn’t know if Clyde was going to take us over there or where he was going with this. He looked at me, “He don’t live there no more.” He paused. “No more, Noah was a smart one. Yes he was.” Another pause like he was reliving those days. “Beautiful boy, used to see him around the streets. Then he met Ben, and moved in. Noah was an artist. That boy drew some fine sketches of Ben Brown. Real talent. Yep. Lived right there. He and Ben were lovers and Ben had bought Lafitte’s when it wasn’t doing so good.” Clyde was being lazy about this story. “But ol Ben had some history, and couldn’t have his name on some documents and such so they were in Noah’s name.” Al and I were both staring at the house. Clyde got a little more animated, “Then there was some big trouble. Ben met Corky, a hot little fucker who was working where you are. Same bar.” Clyde gave me a stern look. “Now Ben was probably in his late 40s, Noah 20s. Nothing Ben ain’t handled before. But he fell hard for Corky. Real hard.” Clyde shook his head and looked at us hard to make his point, “That man was gonna do anything to have that boy. So he upped and told Noah, ‘look here, I’m in love with Corky and that’s that and I’m gonna give you this and that and I’ll give you the house.’ Ben thought that was done, been honest and generous with him.”
“But now Noah, he saw it a whole different way. He was a smart boy. He just disappeared. No one thought too much of it until Ben realized Noah had been in the office at the bar and took the books. He hired an accountant and a lawyer. They’d holed up in a hotel room. The office at Lafitte’s was paralyzed. Ben was nervous cause he was the only one who had an idea what Noah might be up to. Rossalyn couldn’t find him. Heard Cecil was his lawyer. Then about 3 days later Noah shows up and he and Ben get in a big fight. You could hear the yellin.”
Clyde was silent a bit. I didn’t know all these players at all but they were evidently important. “Now Ben tells Noah real strong and simple, ‘Now listen here, I’ll tell you what you can have and let’s be done with this. That’s how we’re doing this. But Noah has none of it. He had never stood up to Ben like this before. But that boy stands his ground this time. Noah says ‘I know what you been takin outta this bar and I know what’s been goin on here.’” Clyde now raises his voice telling this and pointing at the house and at me, ‘‘I know its been going on a while too. And I’ll tell you what you can have cause you’ve taken most of it already. You get the house and your goddamn boy and that’s it. You try and fight me and I’ll win, and we both know why.’”
Clyde was silent and bent his head down and slowly shook it and spoke kinda quiet. “And ol Ben had to take it. Like a whipped dog. But that man wanted Corky so bad he traded Lafitte’s. Ben took what was given and did what he had to do and he and Corky moved to Lafayette.” Clyde looked at me. “and that’s how Noah got Lafitte’s”
Al and I were quiet, taking this in. Al said Rosalynn had been to the house but I didn’t remember her. Clyde was quiet his head down thinking, like it was still happening. Then it was as if a thunderstorm had passed, he looked up and smiled and laughed. “Guess maybe they both got what they wanted. That Noah is a smart one. Never saw that in him. Gotta give him credit. I sure as hell respect him now.”
I had yet to meet or even catch sight of my boss, the elusive Noah.