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Forty: Ring of Fire March 3, 2014

Posted by The Typist in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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The doom jukebox sings Ring of Fire in the chase light calliope fun house of madness. Betz Brown is lining up snake bites for the regulars. The front door is a barricaded beer and cocktail stand but the regulars know to come down the buildings side entrance. The men’s bathroom is ankle-deep but what can you do? It’s Carnival Day at the Abbey in the late 1970s, the reign of Queen Betz, den mother to the lost. Molly’s with their Media Night thinks they attract the best and brightest, but the Abbey (which still had a shelf of books to read atop the cigarette machine in those days) were the best, the brightest, the most golden-tongued and the most drunken. It was where Marianne and I spent the election night, the year I convinced Guide newspapers to hold the Section I press for late election coverage and we kicked the Times-Picayune West Bank edition’s ass.

It was the place to be.

Betz left, finally pregnant by a regular selected by her but kept secret. (It was not me). Molly’s could have the ghost of Walter Cronkite tending bar one night, but if you consider your patrons a suitable gene pool for your child, Molly’s at the Market will never hit that mark.

I have never stopped visiting the Abbey, through its boring, immediate post-Betz days as a darts bar, and then biker bar, trannie bar, and its return as the watering hole of the dissolute twenty-something. Through all its transformations (except perhaps the first) I was, after explaining over my beer my presence, welcomed like family. The Abbey is not just a bar, it is an exclusive club, a secret society, and the mere mention of the name is the only signal we have.

I wandered in the evening of my first Carnival home in 21 years, in 2006, and found it returned to something familiar: the young and wild lined up at the bar. Is was as if I had stepped into a time machine, expecting to recognize faces in the crowd. I bought the couple at the end of the bar I was talking to a memorial snakebite but was taken aback when the barmaid asked me “what kind of snakebite?” Back in the day there was only one kind, and I only drank them when Betz was working two cocktail shakers while the bartender lined up the shot glasses.

There are two reliable stops on my Carnival itinerary. To sit on the stoop of the building where my great aunts once lived in the 800 block of royal, the spot from which I watched Carnival pass as a small child, calling up my earliest memories of watching Rex from my father’s shoulders back in the day when a moss man was instantly recognized. The other stop will be the Abbey. My days of snakebites are behind me but if I can get a PBR and a shot for $5 I’ll take it. Fortified by whatever cheap whiskey they might be pouring I will wade into the still dysfunctional bathroom and be a bit disappointed if I don’t leave with my shoes wet.

I will then take my anointed dancing feet down toward the drum circle of Frenchman having touched the holy relics of Carnivals past.


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