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Leonard Earl Johnson (photo credit Frank Parsley) covered Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005), and the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for ConsumerAffairs.com. He is a contributor to Gambit Weekly, New Orleans Magazine, SCAT, Baton Rouge Advocate, Advocate Magazine, The Times-Picayune, Country Roads Magazine, Palm Springs Newswire and the anthologies: FRENCH QUARTER FICTION (Light of New Orleans Publishing), LOUISIANA IN WORDS (Pelican Publishing), LIFE IN THE WAKE (NOLAfuges.com), and more. Johnson is a former Merchant Seaman, and columnist at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans; and African-American Village. Attended Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship at Piney Point, Maryland. Winner of the Press Club of New Orleans Award for Excellence, 1991, and given the Key to The City and a Certificate of Appreciation from the New Orleans City Council for a Gambit Weekly story on murder in the French Quarter.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Easter on The River of Bourbon Street / May 2017

Carnival Esprit   /     Janice Turk

LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp

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May 2017

Easter On The River of Bourbon Street
BY  Leonard Earl Johnson
© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

2013  ~  Spring  New Orleans,                       Photo-credit:   Jessica ReeTull

L. A. Norma and I left the witch-hat-towers of Saint Louis Cathedral, and headed for the soaring balconies of Bourbon Street. 

There we were lifted on the chaliced wings of whiskey served from temporal cathedrals bearing names like Oz and Bourbon Pub. 

There are bars named Oz and Pub on many streets in this World, but there is only one Bourbon Street. It is in New Orleans' French Quarter, and it flows like the Mississippi River towards Big Swamp City's first Faubourgs

It is there, just inside Faubourg Marigny, where the street's name changes to Pauger, after Adrien de Pauger, the French engineer who designed the colonial streets of New Orleans ~ in use today, and the only grid system in Town.

The two dance halls flanking Bourbon Street ~ where it intersects Saint Ann ~ were once populated exclusively by gay men. Then came gay women and gay men. And today ~ especially when balcony seating opens ~ anyone, gay or not.

These dance halls stand at a demarcation point between Reader's Digest- tourists ebbing back towards Canal Street; and those yearning to venture towards the literary mysteries of the gentrified Faubourgs Marigny, Trem
é, and Bywater.

We found a table on the balcony above the Pub's swinging shingle, and watched.
Courtesy of French Quarter Festivals 

The masses raised their arms in jubilation of Christ's resurrection ~ or for beads!

This day, touched by Easter's spirit and the elfin Mr. Booze, I saw Jesus walking down this famed 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 the local rabble. And reveling in their Easter experience. As were they in His.

"Well, theirs was a damn sight better'n His," L. A. Norma said, tapping a finger along the silver figure hanging by tiny silver nails from a crucifix hanging around her neck. A ringed crown of thorns ~ oddly made from gold ~ sat on the little silver Head. 

Norma lifted her whiskey, inhaled from her cigarette, exhaled a plume of smoke larger than her head, and said, "Skip the crucifixion, forget fasting, go straight for the Resurrection!"

We all 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 mega staying power, conducted her own Easter Parade. Tall and seemingly leading the crowd was David Duke. A brass band made up of midgets played. Elder ladies of the snatched-bodies cult, and a half dozen or so young bunnies in pastel furs marched and rode atop pedibikes and convertibles. The bunnies threw underpants to the crowd.

Among such a human eddy no one would have given notice whatsoever to a walking Jesus. 

But this day, a tourist Family standing against the downstream wall of Pete Fountain's (today, Oz) did. They were directly across the street from where we sat. The Father watched 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," Norma said, "He wrote the book on forgiveness."

The Pope appeared on the balcony directly above them. He stood dressed, head-to-toe, in yellow and white satin. He blessed all who passed beneath him, and tossed beads at the tourist Family as they scurried away.  He looked across 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 so 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 ~ on their return from a later mass. They passed our intersection headed towards Cathedral School. The sea of sinners parted. We joined the cheering. 

 "What would they think of seeing Jesus?" L. A. Norma asked of no one in particular. She leaned way 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 waving from our old balcony seats across the street. We waved back. He lifted his naked arms 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!" 

When I wore a younger man's beard
The Pope, assorted communion-rail leaners, and other followers passing on the street below shouted,"Is it Carnival?" 

It wasn't.  It was Easter on the River of Bourbon Street.


Copyright, 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved
(A version of this story first appeared in the mid 1990s)

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