Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Snorting Cocaine From a Butcher Knife

I was on Decatur Street in front of the Cafe Du Monde Company Store, playing banjo and singing for drug money. It was a slow night, which always made me edgy, so I was singing one of my more confrontational songs, “If Jesus Were Here...”

If Jesus were here he would give me a dollar right now.
If Jesus were here he would give me a dollar right now.
He saved your soul for eternity / so you could give a dollar to me.
If Jesus were here he would give me a dollar right now.
So why don't you live up to your phony ideals / for just one time and see how it feels?
If Jesus were here he would give me a dollar right now.

There weren't enough tourists to build collective momentum, making it a fairly grueling prospect. A festival crowd has a way of communicating enthusiasm amongst itself, creating a kind of snowball effect. If everyone is in a good mood, it becomes contagious, spreading through the entire population like the rage virus. Conversely, if the general atmosphere is sedate and static, that is the mood that will prevail throughout the crowd. In this way a street performer is somewhat at the mercy of fate, though a wise one can read the signs and adjust his or her act accordingly. As for me, I felt my will to live slipping swiftly away, so I was happy to see my friend Phoenix coming around the corner, apparently in a very good mood.

Phoenix was a homeless crack addict. This would probably bother most people, but Phoenix was one of the happiest, most carefree crackheads I've ever known. He made his money hustling palm frond roses in Jackson Square, and had cuts and scratches all over his arms from climbing the trees that surround Armstrong Park every morning. He had the smooth delivery of a natural salesman, and always had plenty of cash on hand for crack, or whatever else he needed to buy. He never bathed, smoked weed constantly, and was always smiling. I was so impressed with his positive attitude that I wrote a song about him called, “The White Boy Who Loves Smoking Crack,” and even went to smoke with him in his crackhouse one time as a sort of “National Geographic” experience. Just like a haunted house, it was spooky but fun. 

“Hey Hippie Bum, what's up man? You milking these fuckers?” he said, calling me by my old street name.

“Nah, I've only made like fifteen bucks so far.”

“Goddamn dude, I don't see why the crowd doesn't treat you better. Here I have a grip full of bills and all I do is make roses out of palm fronds, and you're out here playing your ass off for peanuts. It doesn't seem right.”

“Well, in all fairness, a lot of the time I sing songs to purposely make them mad.”

“You should learn some Tom Petty or some 'House of the Rising Sun.' These drunk girls love that shit. You'll be rolling in hundos and shwilly poontang from Bumfuck, Arkansas in no time. Some of these hotel rooms are pretty sweet.”

“You've taken the tour, huh?”

“Nah, I actually prefer local girls. That way you can drink all the milk in their refrigerator after they pass out.”

“That's not going to win you any second dates.”

“Dude, when they wake up the next day, all sober, and they see a dirty crack addict standing there, I honestly feel sorry for them. There's not going to be any 'second dates,' whether I shanghai their milk or not.”

“Do you ever feel bad about yourself? Because you're a really bad person. I often wonder if bad people ever feel bad about themselves.”

“Only when the drugs run out. Speaking of which, you wanna burn a fat one?”

“Yeah, maybe that'll get me in touch with the zeitgeist.”

“Should we go up to the river?”

“Nah, I don't want to lose my spot. Fuck these people. What are they gonna do?”

Phoenix sat down on the stoop beside me and started rolling an enormous joint, thicker than a cigar and almost as long. I'm not sure how we got away with smoking these huge joints on such a busy sidewalk, but we did it all the time. Occasionally an old lady would give us a dirty look, or some teenagers would call out, “Something smells good!” but people mostly ignored us. I guess they figured we were part of the ambiance.

As we were smoking the bomber, a fog began to roll in off the river of a richness and density one seldom sees outside the Quarter in the balmy months before winter. The mist was all encompassing, and prevented us from seeing even across the street. Every now and then, some tourists would pierce the shroud and briefly pass through our enclosed little world, but they were few and far between.

Then, from out of the murky condensation, strode a tall, lanky man with shoulder length hair and a red Ramones T-shirt that didn't appear to have been changed in many days. He walked up to the stoop, sat down next to me, and said, by way of introduction, “Do you know to play Ramones? I am from Russia on vacation. My name is Nestor. Do you know to play “I Want to be Sedated?”


“I will give you a dollar if you play Ramones for me on the banjo.”

I played “I Wanna be Sedated” for the guy, and “Beat on the Brat,” as he danced around cartoonishly in an exaggerated parody of how one is supposed to react to rock and roll. “Shit,” I thought, “at least he enjoys music.”

“That is excellent!” he said, as he threw a few dollars into my case, “I've never heard punk rock on the banjo before. Say, you guys seem alright. I think I can party with you. Do you know where to buy some cocaine?”

Phoenix and I both perked up and gave each other appraising looks in which we psychically agreed that Nestor almost certainly wasn't a cop. Without missing a beat, Phoenix was on the case, “It's funny you should mention that, because I actually do know where to buy some cocaine. As a matter of fact, I can get it in powder or rock form.”

“Powder. Only powder.”

“No problem chief, how much were you looking for?”

“What is the price of one gram?”

“A gram is fifty bucks.” said Phoenix.

Now, I knew, of course, that the going rate for a gram of shitty cocaine in the Quarter at that time was forty dollars on the barrelhead, so Phoenix was looking at a ten dollar profit on every gram he scored. Nestor pulled out his wallet and said, “I will take one gram for now. If it is good, I will get more. I will take care of you guys. We will hit the slopes.”

Phoenix took the money and said, “You can come with me if you want to. It doesn't matter to me.”

“I trust you. After all, why rip me off when I am buying more?”

“See, that's why I like Russians: you have this no bullshit attitude. And I know you fuckers totally won World War II.” said Phoenix.

“It's nice of you to recognize that.” Nestor replied.

And so Phoenix went off into the foggy night to score cocaine from whatever bar was hot that week, leaving me alone with Nestor from Russia. He looked at me with a wild eyed grin and said, “Do you know to play 'Sheena is Punk Rocker?'”

So it goes when dealing with a patron of the arts.

I only had to get through half of “Rocket to Russia” before Phoenix was back with the cocaine. “Was it easy to score?” asked Nestor.

“Easy? I'd say. There were three people slinging out of the same bathroom. If they had two stalls there would be six motherfuckers set up in there. I don't know, this gram looks pretty fat to me.” Everyone was in agreement that the gram looked fat. In a surprise move, Phoenix had opted not to pinch the Russian's bag, at least, not this first one. He'd told me before that he always pinched from the drugs he expedited as a matter of principal, but in this case he had shown admirable restraint in name of the greater good.

“Now we must try it, but I dislike doing key bumps,” said Nestor, “I want to do lines. Do either of you have a mirror or a CD case or something?”

“Yeah, my butcher knife will be perfect.” said Phoenix, unzipping his backpack and pulling out the large, square blade.

“Yes, that will do nicely.” said Nestor.

“I can't believe you carry that thing around with you.” I said.

“It's just in case someone invades my crackhouse in the middle of the night and I have to hack them up. I'll be all like, “What the fuck are you doing in my house motherfucker? Hack! Hack! Hack!” He pantomimed with the knife how he would hack up anyone who invaded his crackhouse.

“Why don't you leave it at your crackhouse then?”

“Because someone might need hackin' up while I'm out in the field.”

“Let me see that knife.” said Nestor.

After he'd doled out the lines, and we all snorted an enormous rail, the mood changed from serene to ecstatic. In the blanket of fog, and through the haze of our drugged out revelry, the night seemed to belong completely to us. If the police were present, they did not appear to be concerned with our activities. I was seized with a sense of joy and inner peace that I remember even to this day.

The Russian, on the other hand, turned out to be a “Weird Cocaine Dude,” or, a dude who exhibits weird behavior whenever he snorts cocaine. Grinding of teeth, the thousand yard stare, and semi-coherent jabbering are all hallmarks of the Weird Cocaine Dude. In addition, each individual Weird Cocaine Dude has a specific Insane Activity they like to engage in on top of the general weirdness homogeneous to them all. These activities can be bizarre and disturbing, like this one guy I knew who liked to dress up in ballerina costumes and take pictures of himself in seductive poses. (To his credit, he freely admits he's no fun to do cocaine with.) Nestor's obsessive focus happened to be drawing portraits. As soon as the coke started working on his system, he grabbed a cardboard box from the gutter, tore it into pieces, pulled a stick of charcoal from his pocket, and started sketching chaotic, angular portraits of women's faces. “This is my thing.” he explained.

In this way we sat for many hours: The Russian drawing his portraits, me playing every Ramones song I know, and Phoenix making periodic runs to the bar for more cocaine. It was ludicrous. The Russian clammed up after we started getting high, but he kept setting up rails for us on the knife, and throwing money into my banjo case. When he got too engrossed in his drawing, Phoenix and I argued over whose turn it was to remind him it was time to do another line, “I did it last time. Just ask him to set up a bump.”

“Shit, you're the one scoring it for him. You've got more pull.”

“No, that's why you should do it: So I don't have to do everything.”

“I'm playing him his god damned Ramones songs.”

“I can hear you talking. We will do another line in a few minutes.”

It was nearly four in the morning when our strange little party finally came to an abrupt end. As you would expect, the police were involved, though not directly. The streets were nearly dead, but through the fog we heard a car speeding down Decatur Street in our direction. We couldn't see it, but we could hear that it was going dangerously fast despite the limited visibility. As the car came into view, we all stood up, getting ready to bolt as it began swerving to the right, sideswiping three parked cars before jumping halfway up the curb, and skidding to a halt near the entrance of Jackson Square.

A guy jumped out of the passenger side door and ran off into the night. The driver jumped out too and yelled after him, “Don't leave me here you motherfucker!” He was extremely drunk, stumbling around oafishly and slurring his words. The three cars he had sideswiped were all badly dented and missing their driver's side mirrors. His car seemed to have been disabled by it's jump to the curb and looked like it had been pretty fucked up to begin with, as if this wasn't the first crash it had been in. The driver retrieved a pack of cigarettes from his glove compartment, and searched futilely through his pockets for a lighter. After several long moments he came stumbling over to us and asked, “Any a you guys gotta lighter?”

I gave him a light and said, “That was some pretty crazy driving there fella.”

“Yeah dude,” said Phoenix, “You hit three cars. Those people aren't going to be happy when they get back from Bourbon Street and have to talk to the police all fucked up.”

“Oh shit,” said the genius, “The police are going to be here any minute, aren't they? I'm totally fucked.”

“That's probably a good bet, buddy. And don't take this the wrong way, but we don't really need to be attracting any attention from the cops ourselves, if you get my drift.”

“Oh, OK. I feel you.” he stumbled off dejectedly to wait by his car and face his tragic destiny.

“Well, my friends, I think it is time for me to be going. I do not like the police.” said Nestor.

“Hey, right on bro, thank you so much for all the blow.” said Phoenix.

“Yeah man, and thanks for all that money you tipped me. I have enough to get stoned for two or three days now.”

“Think nothing of it. Thank you for scoring the cocaine, and thank you for playing the banjo. I love fucking Ramones!” he said, as he tossed the portraits he had been working on all night into the trash. Then he walked off to who knows where, still singing the chorus to “Blitzkrieg Bop” as he disappeared into the fog from whence he came. I felt we had done our parts to give him an authentic New Orleans experience.

Phoenix and I sat and waited for the police to arrive. They showed up after about a half hour, neither surprised nor amused by the situation. The guy was trying to claim that there had been someone else driving the car, but the police weren't buying it. It was good sport, if somewhat ominous.

“So what are you going to do now,” I asked, “The sun will be up soon.”

“I'm going to take all the money I made off of Nestor and buy crack with it. You should come along.”

“Nah, I've had enough stimulants for one night. It's turning me into a zombie. I think I might go over to Harrah's and play some slots to unwind before I go home.”

Phoenix laughed and said, “You're going to put your money in a slot machine? You must be smoking better crack than I ever sold.”



  1. Thanks for another captivating story Mad Mike

  2. I love these stories! You are amazing

  3. This shines man, shines through the grime and the fog