Memory Lane

The Algerian

ACROSS THE Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans is an area called Algiers, and I lived there for a while. Following is a true story that I published online years ago, but I like it still, so here it is again. I first wrote it in the third person, so I’ve left it that way, but the “he” is me.

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He downed four cold Dixies in the bar on Canal Street during his lunch break as the sun pounded the pavement outside. It was sticky summertime.

Fortified, he rode the black BSA back to the office and bid the boss goodbye. Four years at the desk were quite enough.

But he still had to eat. You can’t dodge that.

Yellow Cab hired him for the early shift, leaving him work-free by mid-afternoon. He always walked the heat-cracked sidewalk to a close-by tavern from his shotgun duplex on Verret Street. It was Algiers Point, a ferry ride across the murky Mississippi.

Every afternoon he sat in that bar inhaling cold Pearls and quail eggs, blowing the taxicab tips.  The air-conditioning was terrific.

The duplex was dusty, stuffy and sparsely furnished. A table and two chairs adorned the kitchen. A fridge chilled cold cuts and gin. The ceiling was old pressed tin, and the windows were very tall.

There were two rockers on the front porch for air and a mattress on the bedroom floor. That completed the Louisiana decór.

A wanderer girlfriend visited now and then. She was eye-bogglingly beautiful and sat cross-legged on the floor in the darkness combing her long blonde hair as Leonard Cohen sang Suzanne.

(He ran into her again a few years later at a news stand. She was Easyrider magazine’s cover girl. A photo spread inside showed her half naked dancing atop the bar in a tavern somewhere in the Gila Desert of southwestern Arizona.)

Two months later a call came from the Caribbean. A better job. And soon after, the BSA swayed in the hold of a Sealand freighter churning toward San Juan in the Antilles.

And he was flying high, skirting the Bermuda Triangle and sipping a cuba libre the silky stewardess had sold him.

A first step into America Latina.

Memory Lane

Songs from an old lover

WHEN I WAS far younger, I lived for a spell in a penthouse that overlooked the sea in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. It also overlooked the supposedly perilous slum of La Perla, but that’s a story for another day.

I lived in that penthouse with a black-haired, freckle-faced Argentine girl of 20 whom I met in a bar just a few blocks away. Our relationship was often iffy, but always fascinating.

Returning once from a flight to her home in Buenos Aires, she brought two record albums, the old style you played on a turntable. Here are two songs from those albums, tunes that have remained in my mind for decades, and I now have the compact disk versions.

The first singer is Atahualpa Yupanqui, whose real name was Héctor Roberto Chavero. He was considered Argentina’s most important folk singer of the 20th century. He died in 1992. I like his style.

The second video is Vinicius de Moraes, a Brazilian. The song is my favorite from that album. He is singing with Maria Creuza and Toquinho. I think Portuguese is the loveliest of languages. I wish I spoke it.

Either of these songs immediately takes me back to the hammock on the terraza outside my very small apartment in San Juan. The sea breeze was always soft. The music was always marvelous. The Cuba Libres were always strong, and they were handed to me by the lovely, young Argentine through the window from the living room.

I lacked for nothing that mattered.

Memory Lane

The Sunday ride

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Church in a town called Huecorio.

WHEN I WAS a kid, I often spent summers with my maternal grandmother in rural, southwest Georgia.

We had a routine on Sundays. After lunch, the two of us would get into the old Ford with me driving. I may not even have had a license at that time. I was 14 or 15.

We’d head down the red-clay road about half a mile to her sister’s place. We called her Bubba. Bubba would get into the backseat with her cigarettes and Coca-Cola, and off I would drive. Bubba likely did not weigh more then 85 pounds. She rarely ate, but she loved cigarettes and Coca-Cola.

The car was straight-stick. It had no air-conditioner, so we all had the windows open for the hot summer air. Nobody ever felt uncomfortable. We weren’t spoiled.

We’d travel through red-clay roads for miles before heading home, dropping off Bubba at her place, and parking the Ford in the wooden garage that leaned a bit. It had gray tarpaper on the exterior with a fake brick façade.

At times, my child bride and I take Sunday drives through the Mexican countryside. Instead of an old Ford, we use a 2009 Honda CR-V, a far nicer ride. It sports automatic transmission with air-conditioning and cruise control.

We are spoiled.

We did that yesterday, and I took some photos.

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This house rests alone in the woods near our large lake. It’s been abandoned since I moved here almost 19 years ago. It’s probably haunted.
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Departing the grounds of the church in Huecorio.
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Inside another church. This one is in Santa Fe de la Laguna.
lakehouse
The owner of this place is one fortunate S.O.B.
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The entrance to the church in Santa Fe de la Laguna.

The final town we visited was Tzintzuntzan. Can you pronounce that? I did not take any photos, and we didn’t visit any churches. We did buy blue-corn gorditas on the street. We ate them while sitting on plastic stools on the sidewalk.

Then we came home.

Memory Lane

Tube Steak’s mystery vacation

(The following is a true story. The names have not been changed to protect the innocent because who is innocent and who is not is unknowable.)

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AT A CONSIDERABLE distance in the past, I lived alone in a slave quarter apartment on Dauphine Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Alone as far as human companionship is concerned, which is not to say I lacked human companionship on occasion, especially of the female variety because this being decades ago I was young and quite the manly looker.

I still hold my own in the geriatric category.

I lived with a fellow whom I kept in a cage. He was a small parrot, and his name was Tube Steak. I don’t recall his specific species in the avian world, but he was smaller than your usual parrot, but about twice the size of a parakeet.

One morning, on leaving for work, I left the kitchen window open. It must have been a pretty day, and there were banana trees in the small patio that grew up to my second-floor apartment, which consisted solely of one largish room, a small bathroom and a tiny kitchen. A bachelor pad. I was between wives.

There was a small balcony that overlooked the lush patio, and I occasionally purchased a burlap bag of oysters, invited friends over, and I’d shuck the mollusks, which we enjoyed with cold Dixie beer.

Tube Steak exhibited no interest in raw oysters or Dixie beer.

But, as I said above, one morning I went to work, leaving the kitchen window open, not thinking of the cat that I knew lived in the patio below. Neither did I think of his being a second-story man which, of course, all cats are.

When I returned in the afternoon, the cage sat on its side on the floor, the sliding bottom was open, and Tube Steak was gone. I reached the logical conclusion that the cat had entered via the kitchen window and made off with my bird.

Sadly, I retrieved the cage and stashed it in the closet.

About two weeks later, I was sprawled on the bed for a nap with the French doors opened onto the balcony. It was not an oyster-and-Dixie day. I was alone.

And then I wasn’t. Tube Steak walked through the door from the balcony. He did not fly in. He strutted in, right there on the floor. He seemed no worse for wear. He appeared unconcerned, offering nary an explanation.

I pulled the cage from the closet. Tube Steak hopped in, and life returned to normal with one exception. On leaving for work, I shut the kitchen window from that day forward.

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(Note: What brought this to mind was another bird yarn that I read yesterday, The Myna Bird by Ray Clifton, an Alabaman who wanders in the woods and writes good stories to boot.)