Yours Truly in a Swamp
by Leonard Earl Johnson
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Reprinted from Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans March 2005
The Fight Between Carnival and Lent, 1559, Oil-on-panel, Pieter Bruegel (Dutch).
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"A Short Carnival, then Hunter S. Thompson dies!"
~ Overheard, Easter 2003, leaving Saint Louis Cathedral
Easter on the River of Bourbon Street
by Leonard Earl Johnson
After Mass, L. A. Norma and I left the witch-hat towers of Saint Louis Cathedral and headed for the soaring balconies along Bourbon Street two blocks away. There we were lifted on the wings of whiskey poured from the chalice of the Bourbon Pub and Club Oz, two large dance halls flanking the intersection of Bourbon and rue Saint Ann. They stand guard as signals of demarcation between Reader's Digest tourists ebbing back towards Canal Street, and those who might read the National Geographic and venture on freely towards Faubourg Marigny, Faubourg Bywater and Faubourg Treme.
We took a balcony table above the Pub's swinging shingle and watched masses with arms upraised on the street below. In jubilation of Christ's resurrection. Or beads.
Touched by Easter or the elfin Mr. Booze, we saw Jesus walking down this infamous street wearing 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 saw Him.
True to The Book, He was slumming with the local rabble and reveling in their Easter experience.
"Well, a damn sight better'n His experience," L. A. Norma pointed out.
Every one simply glowed in the clear and righteous wonder of it all.
Earlier, Chris Owens, an elderly Bourbon Street dancer, conducted her annual Easter Parade. Her finely feathered flock consisted of David Duke, a brass band made up of midgets, elder ladies of the snatched-bodies cult, and a half dozen or so young bunnies in pastel furs. The bunnies threw underpants to the crowd. Among this human eddy, none gave any notice whatsoever to the walking Jesus.
A tourist family stood against the downstream wall of Pete Fountain's former club (now Oz). 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 straight towards them. There He was, Jesus, strolling along sin's busy thoroughfare.
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 other sinners, noting nothing of this drama, 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 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 can not 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 along rue Saint Ann, returning from a later mass. They passed the intersection with Bourbon, heading towards Cathedral School. The sea of sinners parted.
"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, and 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 sternly said, "This is not Carnival!"
I said, "It is not Lafayette either," but the Pope did not hear me -- he was gone to find Jesus.
Norma looked at me, then past my forehead, and talked of far-ranging things.
The Pope returned without Jesus. He was balancing fresh drinks that he distributed round the table."He can not be found in this wicked den," he said handing us Wild Turkey and water.
When we looked up from our drinks we saw Him again. He was at our old table across the street. He was waving from the Bourbon Pub's balcony. 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 your cross!"
Jesus looked down and bellowed: "Don't you know what holiday this is?
"This is Easter, I have no cross!"
The Pope, assorted communion-rail leaners, and followers passing on the street below shouted, "Is it Carnival?" It wasn't, it was Easter on the River of Bourbon Street.
Copyright, 2010, Leonard Earl Johnson
All Rights Reserved