Thursday night at an old beaten up bar, down in the Crescent City Bywater, was just another showcase of the drunk and the dissolute. Cars all sticky peeled past along the potholed streets whilst bodies staggered and stumbled down the bombed out sidewalks. A couple of old negro drunks were loitering out front, making the most of a bottle of rye for which they’d barely scraped enough change together, by panhandling on the neutral ground off of Claiborne and Elysian. They’d taken to squabbling and fussing over the last filthy suck from the sloppy dog end of a shared cigarette, the last of many they’d gleaned from the streets that afternoon.
‘Gunna drop a terrible gris gris on your ass Cleveland,’ said Wilson as he slapped at another mosquito attempting to draw from his neck whilst four more were going at it on his ankles, ‘gunna drop a gris gris on all y’all asses.’
‘Oh yeah?’ grumbled Cleveland, his untrusted partner in grime, ‘you bin mad-doggin’ my shit all af’ernoon, axing me fa smokes, axing me fa beers. You bin fixin’ ta swoop down on my treasures like a dog gawn seagull since sun up, and I’m tellin’ you I’m a fixin’ to get hog wild on your black ass.’
‘Oh yeah?’ replied Wilson, ‘How ‘bout my lettin’ you have my spot under da tree out tha on Claiborne! Dog gawn sun nearly scorched another hole in my ass dog gawn!’
‘Lurd knows Willy, you do not require another asshole!’ said Cleveland.
‘So you gunna pass that bottle over before I gets to gettin’ crazy up in here?’
‘Stimulatin’ as it is to entertain your request Willy,’ said Cleveland as he pouted his lips and sat up straight, ‘it appears you got nuthin’ to exchange in this here transaction.’
‘Oh there you be goin’ again with that fancy talkin’, like some Park Avenue attorney or sumptin’, whilst all the time ol’ Willy be dryin’ out an gettin’ ta shakin’ an sweatin’. It’s some kinda heavy heart you be carryin’ about there,’ grumbled Wilson.
At this point a fully grown man with a shaved head walked past wearing nothing but a diaper and entered into the bar, the muffled sounds of blues suddenly poured into the street more clearly, then quickly dulled once again as the knackered old door snapped shut behind him.
Over by the street corner a sinewy old lady pulled up riding a three-wheeled bicycle all fixed up like a rickshaw, with a plethora of adornments and trinketry. The canopy was battered and torn with tassels festooned from all around to a sign on the back saying ‘The lord will pick you up, rise up to meet him’. There were speakers rigged up to the handlebars where more tassels were hanging, and fixed atop of the bars in the middle was some macabre animal skull of an unknown genus.
The old lady climbed down, clutching at a bottle of Colt 45 to sit on one of the benches. She laid out a cover of purple velvet upon which she got down to the business of laying out a deck of tarot cards.
The minutes slipped away into the night, perhaps even an hour or so, with people coming and going to the persistent rhythm of cicadas rising and falling in the live oaks overhead. Roaches would be ripping and running across the sidewalks, unmolested by anyone, not even the younger cats sleeping on the flagstones. The very bar itself seemed to inhale and expel patrons to where you could almost believe the stud walls and gabled A frame roof itself were flexing against their fixings.
‘Oh yeah!’ screamed Cleveland, ‘what’s that you got there Willy boy, you bin holdin’ out on me!’ Old Wilson had pulled out a bottle of his own to which he’d now been rumbled, although he’d made little attempt to be discrete about it.
‘Oh, see now, this here be somethin’ from my personal stash I got from the other day now.’ said Wilson without a trace of humility.
‘Personal!? You be shittin’ with me?’ grumbled Cleveland. ‘Guess it’s your dawg gone retirement fund huh? You see this is what’s fundamentally wrong with this here country, when a man can’t be trustin’ his own shadow for his so-called buddies to be holdin’ out on him with the fixins of a day’s work.’
‘Now stand down Cleve, this there here’s the fruits of my very own labours, and therefore be representin’ what is by rights my private property now.’ said Wilson as he painfully raised his dirty old ass from off of the sidewalk. ‘It’s unfortunate you had to hold out on me with our shared whiskey from today.’
‘Shared? By gawd that there’s a tall tale of hog shit by gawd,’ said Cleve as he found his own feet. ‘Alls I recall is you sandbaggin’ it all day under the tree or droolin’ all over car windows at little school girls. Damned near got your sleazy ol’ drunken ass pinched by the bulls for harassing the traffic. I don’t seem to recall you makin’ dime one for this here rye whiskey.’
‘Gawd damned you Cleveland, I’m the last free American!’ screamed Wilson as he swung a haymaker which barely glanced the swollen red nose of Cleveland.
Inside the bar the band was whipping up a storm, the crowd dancing and drinking on the floor, asses getting grabbed and glasses spilling in the smoky air. Nobody noticed the bar door swing open and two drunken old men tumble in tearing at one anothers filthy old clothes. Indeed no one noticed when the pants fell down on one of the men as he picked himself up from the floor, exposing his unmentionables to all of creation. It is possible that somebody thought they’d seen something, when the two men grappled once more and tumbled straight back out the door into the street, but that is uncertain.
Under the moonlight the nervous chatterings of the cicadas began to crescendo, as the fight took its course in the street below. What an inglorious sight to behold for such creatures whose life had been marked by thirteen to seventeen years underground, to now bear witness to this unholy spectacle during their all-too-brief time above ground. What else to do but gaze into the infinite canopy overhead, as the stars glimmered in the great blue darkness.