November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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New Orleans in the A.M.

NOLA Vignette

By Bill Dixon

 It’s 5:30 EST, but it’s 6:30 here, and my stomach reminds me that our last meal was smoked fish spread on crackers and local draft beer, eleven hours earlier. We set off for Cafe’ du Monde. Beignets and cafe au lait are our goal. The restaurant is always open. It’s ten blocks away, more or less, on the far side of Decatur, across from Jackson Square.

Dixon at rest

Dixon at rest

New Orleans is filthy most of the day, and at its worst early in the morning. Within two blocks of my hotel, I count five open bars, all with customers on stools. I stop counting. The light is fairly dim, but I dodge vomit and garbage on the sidewalks, and walk in the nearly vacant streets where the walks are blocked with trash or construction debris. I see occasional garbage trucks and street cleaners crawl past all at a distance, removing last night’s party tracks, groaning through their tasks. Lights from the bars reflect in broken neon patterns on the wet pavement and puddles. At one point, midway, there are wind chimes tinkling, from a balcony. I stop and look up to find them, but there is only the darkness and the sound.

When I reach my destination, the guard at the entry to the restaurant regards me warily and gives no response to my, “Good morning.” There is a disheveled man asleep in a chair, protectively clutching an assortment of battered tablets and notebooks to his chest. He had sat beside me the evening before at Maspero’s, nursing a draft beer. He had had the same papers, stacked on the bar in front of him, last night. From my vantage point next to him at the bar, the parts of the notebooks I could see were covered with illegible scribbles, erased and rewritten, the leaves creased and grubby. There were two battered pencils in the breast pocket of his ragged tweed jacket and he eyed me with deep suspicion when he saw me looking at his papers. Moments later, he swept them up, gave me an angry look and darted out onto the busy sidewalks. Debby, my barmaid, shrugged as he scurried away.

I’d met her a couple of years earlier, at a bookstore she and her partner owned a few blocks from Maspero’s and she had remembered me. We’d talked about the commercialization of Christmas, the silliness of beliefs based on religion, customs or politics, and what we’d both been up to over the last couple of years. Her shift was ending then and she began counting out her drawer. I paid my tab and walked back to my hotel. I’d decided to skip an evening meal and read in my room.

Cafe’ du Monde was across Decatur from Maspero’s, which was dark at six AM and a little traffic was starting to go past. As I left my breakfast dishes and went out to the street, a young woman crossed the street diagonally, right ahead of me. She was nicely dressed, with a short leather jacket, a crisp white blouse, black slacks, and wearing a dark beret. She was barefoot, crossing the filthy street with her shoes in her left hand. She was in no particular rush to get to where she was going but on a purposeful path. There was something in that moment…a short story, a painting, a song?

I watched her walk steadily away, and as I turned toward my hotel, a bum sitting in a dark doorway asked me if I had a cigarette.


About the author:

Bill Dixon is author of  Disorderly Conduct, about the group he hung with in the 1960s at Ohio State, described as “A most curious assemblage of characters, indeed…a humorous account of  misbehavior in ‘interesting times,'” and Guitar Collecting,  a niche book about building a collection with minimal investment. He spends summers in Maine, where he has an art studio, and winters in mid-coastal Florida.