I miss 99-cent margaritas served at the old strip from 6:00 a.m. to noon. I’d sit and sip and watch the sex workers rest on slot machine stools after their shift. Most tourists weren’t around at that hour—just the cleaners and the junkies and the loners, and I thought they were my kind of people. The bartender invited me to shower with her after her shift. I believed there was no better way to spend my last day in Vegas.
Her name was Holly. She wore a leather corset and when she took it off, tattoos took its place. I wore a pencil skirt and a silky blouse and when she took them off, my skin was bare. I was 21. I think she was 40. All we did was bathe. She told me she missed her daughter. I asked what happened to her. She pretended not to hear and washed my hair.
Dear guy from Boston, remember when you took me to dinner at the Bellagio because you wanted to fuck me at the Circus Circus? You said Hunter S. Thompson was your favorite writer. But the room was mine and I didn’t invite you in.
I was more interested in the old people blowing their retirement and the people getting married upstairs and the whole place reeking of cigarettes and Lysol and where the fuck was the carousel bar?
I saw you on the news. I thought being an anchorman suited you: you loved to talk and I loved to turn you off. Click. What was your line then? I have a girlfriend but don’t worry, you leaned in, I’m a bad boyfriend. It seemed like a line a boy inherits from his father.
I have a friend who worked at the Circus Circus. Her name is Megan. She was there when I was there, but I didn’t know her then. Megan has stories about dusty brothels and sandstorms and pole dancers and 3:00 a.m. cigarettes and missing her dad. She can’t tell them anymore though. Megan lost her head. She was hit by a car walking home one day. The car didn’t stop.
Megan isn’t dead. I am with her now as she looks out the hospital window.
“Megan,” I say, “do you remember the carousel bar? How people came from all over to see it and sometimes it was there and sometimes it was gone and sometimes they swore they sat at it even when it was closed?”
She smiles and her head doesn’t nod and her head doesn’t shake and today we can pretend.
Down in Holy Cross
There is only one sunset in New Orleans. To get to it, you drive down Robertson to cross over the canal by Poland. And maybe you laugh because the street before the bridge is Kentucky and the one after is Tennessee. But before you discover this, you’re stuck on the ramp, waiting for the bridge to come down.
You wait, your car slanted up on the ramp as you watch the bridge rise up and up and hear the ship’s horn calling below. If this was your first time, maybe you’d feel impatient. Sometimes it takes twenty minutes for that bridge to come down. But you’re thankful you have a car. You think of all the people who died trying to cross here, either on foot or bike. Then you laugh because the people in the van in front of you get out and start dancing, their music blasting, and it all seems so ridiculous. The horn blows again. The ship makes it through. The bridge lowers. The people rush back into their car. You go up and up then down, but not too fast because you have to make a right at the first light. And you do.
You drive slowly. There are a lot of potholes and kids running around. When you reach the motherload of potholes, the one larger than the street itself, you let the car sink in and out and make another right. It’s funny driving in New Orleans. All of the bumps and stops make it feel like you’re riding in a carriage. You go on and on down the road, all slow and careful, until you see a big green hill that leads to the levee.
You continue down Sister Street and you see the ramp for the St. Claude Bridge, but you are crossing underneath it. The road narrows quite a bit and you go real slow this time because it’s dark under there and you never know who’s waiting.
Maybe you think of the time last May when you rushed to roll up your windows. A swarm of termites waited for you. There are no termites now. You make it through and up ahead is a big yellow school bus that has sat there since you moved down and probably will always be there. You laugh about the first time you saw it. You were supposed to meet her here and thought her friends were living in it, but really she wanted you to meet her at the house just behind it.
A turn on Burgundy and you’re almost there. You drive up to the gravel patch, by the old baseball field, and think of the time it was just a hole, spitting out water until it flooded the entire street. The Great Burgundy River you waded through. Broken branches and garbage rubbed against your thighs as you waded to the gray double shotgun on your right. You park your car on the sidewalk because it is the safest place to park, but you don’t get out just yet. You sit and stare at the house.
Its ugly gray steps that lead to the torn-up, mustard chair on the porch. And you just stare at it. This is where it all started and ended. You don’t think that, but feel it. You try not to think about it at all. But it comes anyway. Her body. The couch. Cold. Alone. Gone. Never again.
You get out of the car, but you don’t go to the door. You don’t know the people who live there anymore.
Instead, you turn back down the street and walk slowly by the house on the corner because you’ve always admired their garden and today their amaryllis is in bloom. It is a delight to see the bright orange flower pop out from the evergreens. Then you’re at the wooden fence and the German Shepherd that always barks, barks, and you go on and cross the street to the parking lot.
Needles and weeds are scattered along the pavement. You follow the little pathway under the live oak tree and you’re in front of the old Holy Cross School. You don’t go inside. You’ve been inside before. Instead you walk around it through the field along Deslonde Street. The grass is tall, but not too tall, yet. And you go on, slowly, because there are holes mixed in and then you are at the bottom of the levee and you walk up it amongst the yellow flowers and then when you look up again, there is the Mississippi.
There is a swing set on the tower of the levee marker now. Two boys stand there with a long walking stick and point out across the water. They drop their stick and start swinging and you walk past them to the purple rock and sit.
Seagulls fly across the gray and violet sky and ducks swim below. You watch the seagulls land on the water, chasing the ducks out of their fishing spot. You see the boats go by, creating waves across the water, and wonder how the birds manage to fight the current. Then you watch the sun sink below the towers of the CBD where it glows an orange halo around the old Naval base at the End of the World. It is hard to see with the light glittering across the waves, but you keep your eyes open and wonder about the gray sky with the big orange crack running through it.
This is the only sunset in New Orleans.
Before it gets too dark, you get up to walk along the levee. You walk because you know it is there and right now you want to see it, and there it is— the little rock with the words “Be Brave” spray painted black across it. And when you look up again, all that is left are the city lights.