Heading to New Orleans – Quarter Stories 2

1978: The stewardess gently told us to fasten our seatbelts, we were now descending into New Orleans. I thought it was part of a dream. I looked out the window and it was all green and water, swamps as far as the eye could see. It was just becoming morning. I was glad the flight had been a red eye from LA, I had a margarita aftertaste from the night before. I remember no one sitting next to me so I was able to lay out over the seats. Al Vorse had his own row too. Al was my good buddy from San Francisco who’d gotten me a job for Mardi Gras. Descending into New Orleans. That was a good way of putting my life at this point.


Al and I had gone out the night before with my boss Dave Pound. The 3 of us had had a blast all over LA. Dave took to Al immediately and we’d begun working on Dave to come along to New Orleans. I could see in Dave’s eyes that there would’ve been nothing he would have liked more. But it was complicated. He looked me in the eyes when he said that, with a lot of meaning behind it. “I can’t,” he said in a disappointed voice. I kind of knew why and we both knew he wanted to.

————

Dave had been a Roller Derby star in his day and with his money he’d bought up a lot of Ventura Blvd. in the Valley and owned a bar there called “The Office.” Dave was a great bear of a man, I had come in there one day desperate for a job as a bartender, anywhere, and against all recommendations, or you might say warnings, he’d gotten about me because of my ex, Sal, who’d owned a bar way down Ventura called Keith’s. Sal and I had been famous for fighting in the bar and he had recently burned down our house for the insurance money. The fire threw us both out of the house and I had only the clothes on my back and nothing else. The house was gone, then he wanted to break up. A one-two punch. Sal denied he’d set the fire until I got him drunk one night and he admitted to rolling the logs out from the fireplace and on to the carpet. That had been his birthday and I had been pretty much on my own ever since.


After the fire we’d had to stay in a motel for awhile which went badly. I came home to the door locked and the chain on and he wouldn’t open it. I pushed and it slightly opened- to him and some blonde guy in the bed. He denied it. Said nobody was in that bed. I felt he was trying to make me completely crazy and it was working. I was determined to fight, but was getting nowhere. So we broke up.

That New Year’s Eve he’d called me up and asked me to come in to the bar for a drink. I thought he wanted to get back together, I brightened up. But no. He decided to tell me he was getting together with someone else. Wanted me to be the first to know. He was so full of himself he made the mistake of coming around from behind that bar. When he passed I couldn’t resist and I gave him as hard a kick in the ass as I could. He went sprawling on the floor. We ended up fighting on the bar floor, getting pushed out the front door with the bartender screaming “all ashore that’s going ashore this ship is sinking fast!”


After that night my fate was sealed and my name was shit around LA and Sal made sure of it. I applied to a lot of bars, Hayloft was off limits, Driveshaft I loved but nothing. Then I walked into the Office which had the reputation of being barely open and applied to be a bartender. Dave Pound the owner, was sitting there with two drunks telling stories.


He interviewed me in front of them, he said “Hell you’re gonna be serving these two drunks everyday cause business is dead so they might as well be in on this interview too.” So they were. I liked Dave immediately, he was a man. He looked at me straight in the eye. We clicked immediately, he had heard all the stories about me, but he liked me and didn’t necessarily believe everything he heard. He gave me a job. Said “be here at noon.” I was.


Dave was depressed, but then so was I. He was probably close to 50, maybe younger but he drank a lot. I was a 23-year-old kid but I was drinking a lot too. His lover was much older than him, they didn’t do much together. He was very lonely. And I was very lonely too. So we’d end up drinking at his empty bar and he’d do the talking and I’d listen.


There was something about this man, his masculinity, his fearlessness. He’d been a roller derby star. Used to tell me the stories about that, how he’d had to have bodyguards cause they hated him so much in Philadelphia. He’d get the crowd all roiled up by slapping one or two of the women skaters. The crowd would go absolutely nuts. It was all planned. The women were his friends. He was in planned fights all the time. He told me one time they wanted him to get into a fight with the girls and have them hit him and draw blood. He would get $5K to pull that off. It took a while for them to figure out how to get the blood to excite the crowd, they tried hitting him in the mouth and it didn’t get much blood. Then Dave came up with the idea of sticking a piece of a razor blade under his fingernail. When the women slapped and punched him he wiped his forehead with his pinkie and his forehead cascaded with blood in his face running into his eyes and the tv and the crowds all closed in on it. The crowd was on its feet….the women punched again…. he yelled at them harder, taking swings at the girls who he’d pretend he’d missed swinging into the air, stumbled like he couldn’t see, and fell down. They screamed so loud till he was helped to the locker room. He roared telling me that one.


This was just one of many stories I could listen to from him. And I did, all the time. We were the only two around together. As he talked some of the depression lifted and my attraction to him started. Dave Pound thought life was passing him by and I told him it hadn’t. It wouldn’t. After many of these kind of nights—sometimes he’d just close the bar and we’d go out together—we ended up making out. It was never a group of us anyway, just him and me. It was natural. Then one of these nights ended up in my apartment and we went at it real good. It was rough and sweet and tender. As we laid in my bare apartment, nothing like his fancy home, he just held me and held me, this big burly man of such great strength whispering in my ear saying “you have so much love to give” over and over…. I just burrowed into him. We held each other so tight. I fell asleep hard. Then we were both so sad. He had to go home. But I could feel that spark beginning.


A few days later, Al called from San Francisco, saying “Let’s go to Mardi Gras in New Orleans!” I was like “Hell no, I can’t afford it and I’m too fucking depressed.” Al said “Just what you need. I can probably get you a job.” “Right,” I said not believing any of this. “Look, I’m flying down to get your ass in two days, I got you a place to stay with me and things are gonna work out. I’ll call you from the airport.” I was kinda numb to this but I had to do it.


I went to work that day feeling pretty good and asked Dave for the time off. “You coming back boy?” “Yeah sure, of course, Dave.” But that man knew life and he had a good sense of me. And Al showed up and we all went out and Al said immediately “I think you got a crush on that man.” I said “I don’t know,” and he said “Well it’s all over the two of you and I think I got one on him myself. He is a man’s man.”


That I knew for sure. I had just had the first incredible night in a very long time with him. And I was still feeling that spark.

————

“Please buckle your seat belt, we’re landing in New Orleans.” the female flight attendant whispered in my ear. I was jolted out of my reverie, I was expecting someone else.


—Bob Young

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