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The Torch – Quarter Stories 14

STORY: 1982—Max was at work at the point station, his head down deep into the jockey box scooping up ice in the cups taking orders three and four at a time. We were slammed. I was in my station picking up some of his to keep up. I looked over at him and saw his whole body was shaking and heard him yell this “oooooooohhhh” sound. The barback and I ran over. He was being electrocuted by the metal jockey box touching an electrical outlet. I got him to drop the soda gun and his body relaxed. He staggered into the barback, who grabbed him under the arms and started to drag him to the back of the bar. I could hear his cowboy boots clicking on the slats as he was dragged out. The look on the guys’ faces as I ran up to fill his space was another shock. I used my boots to kick the box away from the bar which broke the connection and picked right back up where Max left off. We didn’t miss a drink order.

The eternal flame in Cafe Lafitte in Exile burning.

When things slowed I went into the back, Max was literally in shock but was calm and drinking. We kinda laughed. Then he said to me, “Hey, you want my apartment?” I asked what and where it was. “Esplanade and Bourbon. It’s a loft, $200 a month.” “Absolutely” I agreed. He wanted to move in with his boyfriend and he was getting tired of bartending and this night had pushed him to do it. He gave me the key and the address. “I’ll be out of it at the end of the week, it’s yours—go check it out.”

I did. It was situated on the south side of Esplanade across the Neutral Ground that separated the French Quarter from the Marigny. It was a big house with large bay windows and his apartment was on the second floor. There was a large main room with wood floors, 12-foot ceilings, and three large bay windows facing the river. Max had built a loft in the main room that was on beams about seven feet high, you could walk under them. The mattress went on top of it and there was a ladder. It was sexy. It had a galley kitchen and a bathroom with a claw-foot tub but no shower. There was a large handled pot next to the tub that was used to rinse yourself off after your bath. I loved it. I didn’t have any furniture. I ordered blackout shades for the windows and bought a mattress. I went back to 1132 and got all my clothes. This was a new life and it was exhilarating.

As I was going in and out and putting what I had on the stoop outside, I reflected on where I felt I was.

My life had drifted into two parts, overlapping, like the Mississippi spilling its banks and part of it going where it wanted to. The start of my own life in New Orleans. Living at 1132 Bourbon St had opened up the long history of gay life in the city to me. The gay carnival krewes, especially Petronius from which, it was said, all gay krewes had sprung like Eve, from the ribs of Adam. I had listened to all the stories George South and his friends from Petronius told sitting in that drawing room or that courtyard under the large tree beside the koi pond. They would tell me the boundaries of what a gay man did in this life in those years—and what he didn’t do.

I thought of the manners they taught me, the desires left unsaid. George thought I was perfect material for a wealthy uptown man. That wasn’t me, but he’d still lecture. If I was to be given jewelry in a relationship and I got mad, do not give it back. Instead, give it to him and he’d keep it for me. I laughed at that, I didn’t like jewelry, but he did and had a lot of it. “Property and propriety” he’d say to me—you’ve gotten noticed in this town but don’t make waves, just keep moving along, like some past would catch up to me. Hide and watch he’d say. I didn’t get it. I began to understand that there was a generational gulf between George and his friends’ gay life and mine.

Their generation expected to be raided. They didn’t fight back, they slid back into the shadows and closed the shutters—the expected life of a homosexual that knew his place. These guys didn’t feel repression, it was natural to them, they didn’t know it any other way. It wasn’t natural to me. I disagreed with their acceptance. I knew how much Mardi Gras Day and the Balls meant to them. I could respect that and did, but would never truly understand it.

I was part of a new, younger generation. We were young and were fighting back against these old ways and we were pushing back against these boundaries. I had made some great new friends who were my age and we were cracking the very foundation of the gay guard of the past. We demanded entry into the gay Krewes that were closed in many ways, especially color. We weren’t going to wait our turn. We realized our sexual power, exploring it, not hiding it, and at times flaunting it. We loved it. Sex in the streets at Mardi Gras and the weekend Southern Decadence that had just become very gay.

This was a torch that needed to be passed but the earlier generation had yet to let it go. They wanted to keep holding on but didn’t know how. Our generation was taking it without permission. This torch was on fire every night in Lafitte’s.

We had a powerful yearning to be who we were, the fire in us taking over in this very old city of traditions and status. The burning was our desire. A caged eternal flame that attracted us all as fireflies. Drawing to it men from the past, as well as men like me, demanding our sexual love and freedom now, and all of the men in between.

I looked up at the billowing white clouds floating over the French Quarter and my reverie was broken by the neighbors across the street, their place had the big balcony opposite the gallery at 1132. They came over and were all smiles until I told them I had gotten my own place and was moving my clothes. “Oh no!” they said, “We were so used to your regular schedule!” I mentioned my bar shifts wouldn’t change, I’d be keeping the same hours and was only moving down four blocks.

They looked a little down. “Not that,” they explained, “We just love how you get up in the afternoons.” “Yes, well I work pretty late,” I went on and they started giggling. I looked at them quizzically and one of them began “Well, we’ll miss you throwing off your covers in the afternoons and then taking your time jacking off, and then you walk naked into the bathroom.” “You guys watch me?” “Oh yeah, you’re kinda like Big Ben, usually it’s the same time every day and your big hands start moving and there it goes! We’ve even had friends over for drinks between two and three to watch you through the window. We are going to definitely miss that show!”

They turned and kept giggling as they walked up the street. I had no clue you could see through my window. I shook my head, picked up my stuff, and began the walk to Esplanade and my new life.

—Bobby Young


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