b Papa Dog's Blog: Why My Belly Is Tattooed With a Picture of a Raccoon, Bearing the Legend “Anywhere I Lay My Head I Will Call My Home”*

Papa Dog's Blog

A Thing Wherein I Infrequently Write Some Stuff

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Why My Belly Is Tattooed With a Picture of a Raccoon, Bearing the Legend “Anywhere I Lay My Head I Will Call My Home”*

Another trip down memory lane, inevitably arriving in New Orleans…. I’ll try not to make it too tedious.

When Ambrose and I were kings of the road, we grew used to circumstances so reduced I would have found them unthinkable not long before. We started off couch-surfing with friends, and then acquaintances, and then half-remembered acquaintances, and finally complete strangers who were willing for whatever reason to put us up for the night. Our most reliable home was Ambrose’s car, the Raw-Ass Muh-Fuh’n Cutlass, a menacing road boat from 1960s Detroit. We had our last couch in Albuquerque and didn’t see another bed until I sprung for a hotel in Oklahoma City a week or two later. It depleted the bankroll, but I needed a shower more than I ever had in my life. It got so bad when we were driving through Texas that I found myself licking my lips looking out the window at a stagnant pond, fantasising about jumping into it from the moving car.

I thought I’d learned everything there was to know about sweating by then, but Oklahoma and later Louisiana proved to be the doctoral course. Bobby’s apartment was our thesis. It was a windowless studio in the courtyard behind the Voodoo Museum. Bobby kept the door open partly to get a little breeze but mostly because the only way of locking it was by a padlock on the outside. Door open or door closed, the place was an oven. It sucked heat in and held it, and there’s no shortage of available heat in New Orleans in July. No amount of breeze was going to make a difference even if it could be felt inside the house, which was doubtful. The first morning I was there, I took a cold shower to make myself feel human again, but I had a rude surprise when I was done. The mere act of towelling off left me instantly re-enveloped in a sheen of sweat.

Bobby had an air conditioner but never used it. Like many locals, he considered that to be “bad air.” He also, for reasons I never enquired into, left the television on at high volume around the clock. When Bobby went to work at the museum and Ambrose and I were alone in the apartment, we did an odd thing; we muted the TV, but never turned it off. We never discussed it, but just fell into the routine of blanking out the sound as soon as Bobby was gone. For most of the day we’d be able to hear ourselves think without violating the letter of Bobby’s peculiar law.

The apartment consisted of a combination bedroom/living room, a kitchenette, and a bathroom. Ambrose and I spent the nights camped out in the hall outside the bedroom, which was the most stiflingly hot part of the apartment. We had sleeping bags, but it was too hot to get inside them. We lay on top of them, and it was too hot to do that either. One night Bobby brought home a bar pickup and the guy stumbled over Ambrose on the way to the bathroom for a post-carnal leak. Not long before I would have imagined that if I were lying in sweet repose at three in the morning on a sweltering patch of thickly carpeted floor, with the soothing sound of a high-volume infomercial trumpeting from the next room, and I were woken from this good slumber by a strange naked man off to drain his recently exercised pizzle, I would take that as a cut to go immediately in search of alternative accommodations. As it was, he mumbled, “Oh, hi,” and we both mumbled “How y’ doin’?” I rolled over to the wall so my back was to the bathroom light and was soon lulled back to sleep by the merry splash of our temporary roommate seeing a man about a horse.

In fact, it was Bobby who asked us to leave. We hadn’t done anything wrong – well, Ambrose fucked up one of his pots and I broke a plate while washing dishes, but nothing major. The thing was, when we moved in, Bobby said we could stay for two weeks, and when two weeks came it was time for us to go. He really didn’t seem to mind having us there, but it was important to him to stick to the arrangement he had made. We respected that like we respected the fact that he wanted the TV on all day, so we packed up our shit and headed out into the Quarter, wondering where we might be spending the night.

With no place else to go, we carted our cases over the Molly’s, figuring we could at least sit there and drink while we tried to come up with a plan. Candace was bartending and she let us put our bags behind the bar. Ambrose had been flirting with her off and on over the past few weeks, and that proved to be a fortunate thing. When she heard our sad tale of homelessness, her generous heart went out and she told us we could stay at her place for a couple of weeks. She gave us a spare key, and we carted everything back the way we came to her place a block or two riverward of the Voodoo Museum on Dumaine.

After the two weeks in the sweat lodge, Candace’s place was paradise. It was on the third floor of a building, up where the air’s cool. There were windows that opened. If she needed to, she used the AC, but she generally didn’t need to. Most crucially, the place was huge. It was like two apartments in one. There was a kitchen in the middle and two of everything else, fore and aft; fore bedroom, aft bedroom; fore bathroom, aft bathroom. We even had our own television, which we kept off most of the time. We marvelled at our good fortune.

The second day or so that we were there, Ambrose and I took stock. We had done very well by the kindness of strangers. We were sitting in someone else’s apartment, watching someone else’s TV, eating someone else’s food. I was flipping through channels, looking for something to watch. I skipped past a nature documentary on PBS, but just as I went past it we heard the phrase “…this resourceful creature can live anywhere, eat practically anything….” Ambrose and I glanced at each other, laughing. “That’s us!” I exclaimed. I flipped back to find out what the remarkable creature in question was. It was the raccoon. And I figured, as much as I could possibly believe in such silly bullshit, that I had found my spirit animal.

*Slightly paraphrased from a Tom Waits lyric.


Anonymous Mama Dog Duvalier said...

Raw-Ass Muh-Fuh’n Cutlass, of course! Thank you for reminding me of the origin of my favorite literary construction: "ADJECTIVE-ass muh-fuh'n NOUN."

10:36 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

Some things never change - New Orleans is STILL the heat/humidity capitol of the South!

8:14 AM  

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