The bone corner

corner

SITTING IN THE living room on the scarlet sofa thinking about life.

Looking across the room at the bone corner.

No gainful employment, no money concerns, no health worries, just creaky, that’s all. My own bones. It could be worse, far worse. Sunday morning, and I already did some gardening, trimming the bothersome bougainvilleas, cut a few branches from the neighbors’ fruit trees that are hanging over to my side. Lousy, surly neighbors.

We’re doing more stuff away from home these days, weary of this Kung Flu hullabaloo. Tomorrow I’m taking the Honda to the garage for an overdue servicing, plus replacing the water pump and the AC Freon. This afternoon we’ll be lunching at a restaurant downtown that’s been closed for weeks but now is open weekends, just weekends. Gonna eat Sloppy Joes and French fries. I love anything you can dip in ketchup.

I crave raw oysters dumped into a cup of ketchup and horseradish. Problem is that there are no raw oysters on the mountaintop, and I wouldn’t eat them anyway, not anymore. Too much pollution. Plus, you need Dixie Beer with raw oysters to do it right.

Sitting on a stool in the dim, air-conditioned bar at Schwegmann’s supermarket on Airline Highway in Metairie, Louisiana, while the summer sun buckles the street tar outside would be the ideal setting, but those days are gone. For me, at least.

Made some rounds around downtown yesterday afternoon, hunting biscuits. Went to my usual place on the big plaza. No biscuits. Drove to another pastry shop, a newish one near the Downtown Casita. No biscuits. Drove back near the plaza to yet another pastry shop on Romero Street, and bingo! Biscuits. I bought six. Whole wheat.

Biscuits are the Staff of First Breakfast at the Hacienda. Costco sells biscuits too, but they are ponderous with butter, and I don’t like that.

Sloppy Joes, French fries, raw oysters and biscuits. Three out of four ain’t bad.

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.

* * * *

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.

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.)

* * * *

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.

* * * *

(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.)

Monotony of Mexican meals

THERE ARE LOTS of positive aspects to Mexican life. Food ain’t one of them.

Basically, here’s what we eat. Rice, chilies, cheese, beans and stuff made from corn. Pork chops are like old, thin, shoe soles. Beef is gristly. We do fairly well with chicken, especially roasted chicken.

We cannot make a decent salad, and when we make one we offer no dressing. We’re expected to squeeze lime juice on top, period. The Mexican table, at home or in restaurants, will have salt. It will not have pepper.

Here’s a partial list of what I miss from above the Rio Bravo:

  1. Grits. A great way to start any day is a mound of grits next to runny eggs, white-bread toast, butter and jelly. You’d think that, due to Mexico’s love of corn, we’d have grits, but we have nary a grit.
  2. Muffuletta sandwich. This is primarily a New Orleans thing. A good muffuletta is a religious experience. There is an Italian whiff about it. Get it to go, and walk down Decatur Street to Jackson Square. Sit on a bench.
  3. Sausage like andouille, Italian and, especially, boudin. I do love boudin. Andouille and boudin are Cajun items. I lived in Louisiana for 18 years. Sausage in Mexico is usually greasy chorizo. It can be tasty. It can also spawn a heart attack.
  4. Boiled crawfish. What I would not pay for a plate of spicy boiled crawfish and a couple of cold Dixie beers. If you say crayfish, please step away.
  5. Po-boys. Best ordered in New Orleans. My favorite is Italian sausage, but since there is no Italian sausage here … I also used to eat fried-potato po-boys. Greasy French fries inside sliced French bread. Carb attack! But tasty!*
  6. Boiled peanuts. Leaving Louisiana now and moving east. It’s a seasonal thing you’ll find in Georgia. Probably Alabama and Mississippi too. I could eat these things till I’m sick to my stomach.
  7. Raw oysters. You can find raw oysters here sometimes, but not the big, plump ones. I wouldn’t eat them anyway. Not now, not anywhere. I don’t want to commit suicide. I ate my first raw oyster one afternoon in the bar of Schwegmann’s supermarket on Airline Highway in Metairie, Louisiana. I had quite a few beers in me or I wouldn’t have braved it.
  8. Vietnamese pho. When the war ended, lots of refugees settled on the Texas Gulf coast. Houston is full of funky Vietnamese restaurants, and I used to eat in one almost daily. My favorite dish is something called pho. You’ll find no pho anywhere near me now, sadly.
  9. Paella. This is a Spanish dish, not Mexican. Finding paella in Mexico is not difficult. Finding good paella is almost impossible. The only passable paella I’ve encountered was here in Ajijic. I used to frequent a wonderful Spanish eatery in Houston that served a killer paella. You had to phone in advance.
  10. Fried catfish. Another Southern specialty you won’t find south of the Rio Bravo. I do so miss it. My child bride loves fried catfish after that evening we ate in a restaurant near the Howard Johnson’s motel on an interstate in central Alabama about 12 years back.

Alas, I am condemned to live out my life with tacos, tortillas, skinny beef and pork, rice, beans (never beans & rice like you get in New Orleans), and stuff swimming in melted, white cheese.

* * *  *

* I weighed 50 pounds more when I lived in New Orleans.