Yours Truly in a Swamp
Monthly column by
Leonard Earl Johnson
of Lafayette and New Orleans
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Easter on the River of Bourbon Street
Leonard Earl Johnson
Dedicated to the memory of New Orleans artist and parade master
passed April 7, 2014, at 83
"Our parade grows shorter" ~ L. A. Norma
We took seats on the balcony above
the Pub's swinging shingle, and watched
After Mass, L. A. Norma and I left the witch-hat-towers of Saint Louis Cathedral, and headed for the soaring balconies of Bourbon Street, where we were lifted on the chaliced wings of whiskey, served from temporal cathedrals named, Oz, and Bourbon Pub.
Pink Rabbit for New Orleans, Poydras Street.
Artists: Trisha Kyner, David Friedheim
There are many Ozs and Pubs on this street, but these two are dance-halls flanking the intersection of Bourbon and Saint Ann. Once they were populated exclusively by gay men. Then gay men and gay women. And now -- especially when balcony seating is open -- adventursome folks reading the National Geographic and taking Sea cruises.
The dance-halls stand as a demarcation between Reader's Digest tourists, on one side ebbing back towards Canal Street; and those tourists who yearn to venture towards the gentrified mysteries of the lower Quarter, Faubourg Marigny, Treme', and Bywater.
the masses with arms upraised in jubilation of Christ's Resurrection, or for beads.
|Courtesy of French Quarter Festivals |
Touched by Easter's spirit and the elfin Mr. Booze, we saw Jesus walking down this street of sin. He wore a crown of thorns over His long black hair.
He wore sandals, too, and was naked save for a loincloth cut like the one in the paintings. He was thin and looked like He might be Filipino, but mostly He looked like Jesus. Everyone on the balcony thought so.
True to The Book
He was slumming with local rabble, and reveling in their Easter experience. As they did His.
"Well, theirs is a damn sight better'n His," L. A. Norma said, tapping her fingers along the tiny silver figure on her crucifix necklace.
"I say skip the crucifixion, forget fasting, and go straight for the Resurrection."
Everyone laughed, glowing in the clear and righteous wonder of her thought.
A few years back, a few blocks up the street, Chris Owens, an elderly Bourbon Street dancer with staying power, conducted her annual Easter Parade. Grand-master was David Duke. A brass band made up of midgets played, while elder ladies of the snatched-bodies cult, and a half dozen or so young bunnies in pastel furs marched and rode atop convertibles. The bunnies threw underpants to the crowd.
Among this human eddy, none gave any notice whatsoever to the walking Jesus.
a tourist family standing against the downstream wall of Pete Fountain's (now Club Oz), directly across the street from where we sat.
The father was wide-eyed. The girl, about seventeen, waved up to us. The pubescent son giggled and hugged his mother. Then along came Jesus headed straight for them.
The tourist mother looked offended. She gathered her brood and paddled them off down the street. Jesus did not seem bothered by their departure. After all, He wrote the book on forgiveness.
The sinners went on about their sinning.
Then the Pope appeared on the Oz balcony. He stood directly above where the tourist family had been, dressed head-to-toe in yellow and white satin. He blessed all who passed beneath him. He looked across the river of Bourbon Street and blessed us, too. We waved, and he motioned us over. We crossed the street and took our seats at the Pope's table.
We looked back at the Bourbon Pub balcony. The Pope, ever wise, said, "You cannot see yourself on the balcony you have just left." We had all had a lot to drink. The Pope handed out Wild Turkey and water. "Holy Water, from The Holy River," he said.
Three real nuns, in old-fashioned black-and-white habits, came trotting down rue Saint Ann, returning from a later mass. They passed our intersection headed towards Cathedral School. The sea of sinners parted. We cheered.
"What would they think of seeing Jesus?" L. A. Norma asked of no one in particular. She leaned over the balcony rail and yelled to the crowd below for Carnival beads. A photographer looked up and took her picture. I yelled down asking if he had seen Jesus. "No," he shouted back. Would he like to? "Yes, of course, yes!"
The Pope lay his hands on my shoulders, and said, "Watch that woman, do not let her fall over the communion rail." Green Carnival beads landed on the Pope's pointy hat. They looked interesting, but he took them off and tossed them to two college boys on the street below. Norma told him the two boys should have opened their pants. He frowned and said sternly, "This is not Carnival!"
I said, "It is not Laughingyette either," but the Pope did not hear me -- he was gone to find Jesus.
Norma looked past my forehead, and talked of far-ranging things.
The Pope returned without Jesus. He was balancing fresh drinks and passed them round the table."He can not be found in this wicked den," said The Pope, handing me a Wild Turkey and water.
When we looked up from our drinks we saw Him again. He was at our old balcony table across the street waving. We waved back. His naked arms were lifted heavenward. His loincloth flapped in the whiskey-flavored air. The man with the camera jumped and shouted, "Your cross, your cross, show us your cross!"
Jesus looked down and bellowed: "Don't you know what holiday this is? It is Easter, I have no cross!"
The Pope, assorted communion-rail leaners, and other followers passing on the street below shouted, "Is it Carnival?"
|When I wore a younger man's beard |
atop the Presbytere coupla, Jackson Square
It wasn't. It was Easter on the River of Bourbon Street.
Copyright, 2014, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved
(A version of this story first appeared in the mid 1990s)
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