Deadlands Noir Extinct in the Big Easy
The highest point in my life, you ask… well, not too many get higher than mine. I don’t usually talk about it, out of respect to the lady involved, but—I was a kid, barely 15, clearing tables for the fancy-pants folks at Brennan’s first dinner club— highbrow, y’ know? The gals that came in all wore ermine-trimmed capes and coats, the guys had spats— you know the drill. Well, it was a Wednesday, not a big night, and we were getting ready to close up. I finished bussing and helping the waiters do their end-work, sweeping— all the little tasks I did to get the big boss to notice me, notice what a good worker I’d be. The thing then was to get behind the bar, where the major tips were. Money tips and business tips, and especially sizzling gambling action. It was a hot bed!! So there I am, having a beer with the headwaiter, Martin, who liked me, and this girl comes in— tiny, with a tiny little heart-shaped face and the biggest eyes I ever saw. She was gorgeous, fairy-like- thin hands with long fingers, a swan neck, long skinny feet in rose velvet boots— a knockout, an angel. She was with a couple of idiots, guys that were hanging on her, but you knew from the way she looked at ‘em, neither of ’em had a chance with her, ever. She was just up for having fun, but maybe getting tired of warding them off, I guessed, and she said they’d come in for a late snack before going out to dance.
1. Martin started to tell her we were closed, and then he looked at her hard, like he recognized her. So I knew she must be a starlet or something, and I ran back to check if any of the kitchen staff were still there. They weren’t, but the back door was still swinging.“Goombahs.” I said to myself. But fuck it, I wanted to impress this girl, or at least keep her in the club for an hour. I told Martin the prep cook was there (lie) and I’d help him, and that’s how I ended up cooking there for the first time. I made Clams Casino, like my Aunt Maria used to, and Waldorf salad, plus a killer cocktail I made just for her. A frothy white, sweet drink with a big kick— I called it the Angry Angel (I heard, years later, that someone on our staff took out the egg white I added for froth and put in grenadine. Now it’s called a Pink Lady— okay, but not as good as mine). Well that sweetheart loved the food I made, and the cocktail— she lapped it up, asked to talk to me, and we ended up drinking three or four of them together while her pals got sober, and bored, and angry. They left at about 2:30 am, and me and the Angel— well, she took me home to her hotel in a taxi and made my night. I stopped being a virgin and got my first promotion at Brennan’s, making hors d’oeuvres and salads, all from that one evening. it was the best night of my life. I won’t go into details, but she was just as beautiful without her pretty clothes as she was with them. I didn’t know who she was till a couple days later when Martin was bragging about how we dazzled the famous French writer, Anais Nin.
Except for you, now, I’m still the only one that knows that a certain story of hers is true, at least about the sex parts. She sent me an autographed copy, and I have it hidden away. She might come back to New Orleans someday, and I don’t want her thinking I’m not discreet.
I laid in the gutter for two days, nursing my last bottle of homemade vodka for warmth, and then something weird happened— I got hungry. hadn’t been for a month, maybe, but now, an appetite grabbed me and made me WANT, really want.I washed my face and head with dirty water from a puddle, combed my hair with my fingers, and walked to the diner across the street. I begged, told them I’d wash dishes or sweep floors or clean the outhouse for food, even a bowl of soup. The owner took pity on me. Sally Ann was a mulatto, about fifty-five, with deep eyes, still pretty eyes— that had seen a lot. She knew pain when she saw it, and she reacted with kindness. We talked a little over coffee and a sandwich, and she
gave me a cot behind the cooler for a couple months while I worked first in back, then up front— and five years later I bought the place when she retired to Pennsylvania, where her daughters lived. I miss her, still. She turned the lowest place I’d ever been into a jumping off point. Not many people can do that.
3. My first year running my own place was no pique-nique, as the frenchies around here say. I ran short of capital a dzoen
times, lost two of my main suppliers, had a couple of staff fall in love and take a week’s profits for their honeymoon—
but that was all nothing to the day that those goombahs came in and tried to mess with me. they threatened my place, under
cover of provding protection— leaning on me hard, talking about old gambling debts I’d written off ages ago— hardball.
Thank holy hatshepsut I was pals with all the cops in the neighborhood. now, the cops were crooked, too, but they figured I
was already paying my security deposit byu keeping them supplied with info— and free pie and coffee, plus whatever else
they ate. Cops and military always eat free, at my place. There’s a lot of people that make long trips just to have my
cream peach pie. But in my nightmares, those goombahs come back, with axes and gasoline. The cops sit in the corner and
watch them tear the palce up, mess with my customers. They set my cat on fire in front of my eyes, and I give in— I start
paying ‘em. I bow to the mob, and my Aunt Maria’s ghost screams in my head, screams bloody murder.
4. My family never talks about Aunt Maria, but it’s right that someone hears, finally. She married my mother’s brother, Uncle Pete, and brought her own strong sensibility to the family. We had all kinds of background— a little French, some German, English, and Dutch— but Maria was all italian, and man, did you know it. She had that raven hair, thick and curling even after it went grey, and tits to the ceiling. She made the best seafood and pastires, and she could doctor cheap wine till it tasted like fine bordeaux. Her and Pete met over there during the war. He brought her home to us for a visit, and then they settled in Brooklyn, where they both got jobs in a clothing factory. They opened a laundrette, after a while, and then things got bad. we heard rumors of the Black Hand’s influence spreading, and who wouldn’t believe it? I spent a single summer vacation there, a ten-year-old helping out behind the counter and daydreaming on the stoop the rest of the time. I watched Maria cook, and sew. She sang me lullabies at bedtime and showed me how to thread a needle with my eyes closed.When she died, we were told it was the flu epidemic. That bastard virus ran through the cheap apartments in the burroughs like an Olympian, but that wasn’t what killed her. My uncle died two weeks after her, and that’s when we found out— they
had crossed the mob, and the mob doesn’t stand for that. I haven’t foudn out the whole story to this day, but I will someday. meanwhile, I try to ignore the goombahs I see on the barstools here in Nola. I sleep better if I don’t think about them.
5. From the adventures of Father Sean Patrick Ryan:I was in NYC for my cousin’s wedding— Maria’s only child, also named Maria, but she called herself Mary. We had fun together for a couple days before, and she took me to all the hot spots, of which there were quite a few. That girl could drink, and so could her fiancee, Don Giovannini Truro Palma. Mary was a social climber, so it wasn’t surprising she’d set her cap on NY royalty, but I was wishing she’d gone Jewish instead of Paisan— we hadn’t seen each other since her dad’s funeral, and now I wondered how she had the heart to marry a guy whose family might have been related to her own father’s murderer. Still we enjoyed our merrymaking, and I even got to go to a fight with Don— a dirty fight, it turned out; but the less said about that, the better.
6. from Ryan’s fourth:
I don’t believe God, I admit it, but after what I saw last week, I sure as hell believe in the devil.
We should have stopped, I know, but what we we have done? me and Tizzy the fruit guy, down deep in the farmlands, looking for good peaches and a little R&R, maybe some serious slant-eyed hooch, as they call their moonshine. I rolled the truck easy up onto some back road, dirt and piss road, you know, following a sign (in code, they were always in code then), and just when we were set to turn around for lost, damn, we ran into I don’t know what. I saw those things tearing up a wood shack like it was made of pie crust, and Tizzy just about fainted from fear. We backed down the road for half a mile and left.I don’t know what happened to that poor woman but me and Tizzy, we don’t make peach runs together anymore. He left the cooking business and went for a janitor, sweeping out a church. he feels safer that day, but me? I keep to the city, and stay away from country roads.