Christmas after the Storm / December 2012
|Coleen Perilloux Landry|
cap with cotton pasted around its rim. A silver bell dangles from the bill, which points forward. A great effort, indeed, but the bell rings hollow.
| Coleen Perilloux Landry|
Occasionally a cascade of generator-powered Christmas lights pour from some brave heart's gallery. They cast a faint light over a forest of refrigerators strung out along the curb, wrapped in industrial strength tape and the sweet smell of a Mafia funeral.
"Mistletoe is poison," our friend is telling the bartender, "and those berries should be white."
A beer representative from Saint Louis, Missouri, is also behind the bar. He is wearing a sport coat that looks to be made from Anheuser-Bush Beer labels. He is passing out free samples of Red Wolf Beer. My friend takes a free one and lifts it towards us. We move down the bar and accept the brew.
"Must be a Santa after all," our friend says loudly to the largely empty room.
No one is dealing. His cards are laying face up. We tip our beer towards them. They are wearing evening clothes and his gold studs are set with diamonds that flash back at the mural. She is blond, well painted, and wearing a red sequined gown. She unzips the gentleman’s tuxedo.
We nod and say in a stage-whisper that she looks like an expensive date.
They laugh and she says, "How better to spend our FEMA money." She laughs again and slaps him playfully.
|Coleen Perilloux Landry|
"Where is the vice squad," our friend asks me in real whispers, "protecting patrons from FEMA brothels?"
Our friend is in his cups and hanging observations with dull Chicago bluntness. He laughs.
"Christmas in New Orleans," he notes,"is not going through the woods to grandmother's house, is it?"
"It's a good system," we say, "The City That Works."
He snorts at the irony of laying Chicago's motto up against New Orleans' work ethic.
"Cops protecting brothel patrons," our friend says, "And people in evening clothes entertaining themselves for free."
We both look back at the couple in evening clothes and laugh. He mutters, "Maybe not free, but a lot less than the cops charge."
The beer rep hands us two more Red Wolfs. He wants to finish and leave. Our friend asks, "Shouldn't you call this stuff Red Riding Hood?" None of us are quite sure what he means by this, but we all laugh the laugh required of our station.
The beer distributor gives us two full six packs of Red Wolf and smiles, "Please, I gotta catch a plane back to Saint Louis."
The bartender says, "Let me put that on ice for you gentlemen."
I get up to go to the restroom as our Chicago friend yanks a blue snowflake from its tether and bellows at the bartender, "What fathead told you to hang blue snowflakes in this swamp-flooded city!"
The bartender is startled and blurts back, "The fatheads in Chicago who own this bar!" Of course, he does not know he is talking to fathead number one.
The Saint Louis beer distributor smiles weakly and moves towards the French doors. Through the glass we see a waiting limousine with rental license plates.
The man in the tuxedo falls from his chair. The woman in the red gown helps him to his feet and they stumble outside, balancing themselves by holding onto each other's clothing. They lunge into the limo and motion for the Saint Louis beer man to join them. He shrugs and climbs in.
Coming out of the restroom, we drop a quarter in a slot machine. The last of our FEMA money whirls away. We don't care! It is Christmas and our friend is in town to wine and dine us for three fat days. We have known each other since fabled Sixties college days in Carbondale, Illinois. He likes having, as he puts it, "A writer bum for a friend." We like having a rich one.
In a wastebasket beside the slot machines, we spot seven paper teddy bear ornaments. Each bearing the name of someone lost in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We pick one up and read the name, "Senegal Breaux, August 29, 2005." We gather the teddy bears and put them in our shirt pocket.
Back at the bar, we sip our beer in silence. The bartender is smarting from our friend's harsh words and punches up Blue Bayou on the jukebox. He also pushes a remote-control button next to the cash register, and one of the gray helicopters opens its bomb bay and lets red-and-green glitter fall in our beers.
We stand to leave, and tell the bartender to keep the remaining Red Wolfs. Our friend gives him a one-hundred dollar bill and his business card. "Tell those fatheads in Chicago to go jump in Lake Michigan," he says, "New Orleans is in a swamp not a snowy wonderland."
Outside, our friend stares at the empty curb. "Where the fuck is my car!" he yells, throwing his arms in the air.
We say, "Forget it, let's walk."
He slips out of his topcoat and hands it to a bewildered man in dirty blue jeans and a T-shirt that reads: "FEMA, Find Every Mexican Available."
|Coleen Perilloux Landry|
We walk beside mounds of rubble towards Tips. Our friend accepts a paper teddy bear and holds it up to some ambient Christmas light. "Ah, Christ! What am I supposed to do about this?" Then he hands it to a passing pair of National Guardsmen.
"Let's distribute them like hand bills," he says.
When someone says, "Where is your other king?" We hand them a paper teddy bear and keep on our way. "Bearing gifts we traveled so far ..."
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