by Art Chantry:
i’m almost 60 years old now. in that time i’ve seen a lot of mayhem, weirdness, insanity and just plain high strangeness. you might say i collected it. i’ve wandered through so many fucked-up subcultures and out-of-control events that there’s little that can really shock me any more (except hubris. that still shocks me). sometimes i like to think “i’ve seen it all”, but that is so ignorant of me. arrogant, too. as much as i’ve witnessed, i’ve barely seen anything in my time.
last week i was in new orleans for the first time. it’s been a long time coming and my expectations were both confused and high. i exected magic, but i knew i’d just get tourists. my first glimpse of bourbon street was from a shuttle bus taking me to my hotel at about 3 am. it looked like that acid trip scene from ‘apocalypse now’. dangling strings of lights, smoke drifting over the street, isolated people staggering alone in chaotic directions. debris and bodies on the ground. it looked like a scene from ‘dawn of the dead’. it was an typical friday on bourbon street.
the next night (saturday) i wandered down there around 10-11:00 at night. the level of debauchery was so extreme that i can’t really describe what i witnessed. let me just say that i usually judge the general overall health of a city by the amount of blood you see on it’s sidewalks. and, believe me, new orleans has a LOT to answer for. i was literally stepping over bodies bleeding out on the sidewalks (and yes, people were calling 911, who didn’t much seem to give a shit – “are you sure he’s hurt?”).
before you go thinking i’m some sort of wimp. i seen this all before. i’ve BEEN THERE before. i’ve been to parties you wouldn’t BELIEVE. i’ve participated in events that were the stuff of dark legend. i’ve partied with outlaw bikers and slammed my way through psycho mosh pits. i’ve been to parties where the women wore headcages (only). i’ve been to parties where people were (voluntarily) branded with hot irons. i’ve attended parties where i remained unconcscious for two days afterwards. i helped tear down a house at one party – just for fun. i even went to see the rolling stones with 60,000 fucked up drunken texas cowboys (and came away with stories not meant for mixed company).
but, bourbon street was a new level of crazy i can’t really do justice too. maybe i’m getting old and jaded, but it was sick. stupid rowdy crazy drunken assholes and gangs of hustlers feeding off the crowds. tourists from hell being eaten by suckish. everything about it was way beyond ugly. imagine the densest crowd you’ve ever been in – then imagine it puking screaming roaring drunk – and they’re all looking at YOU! it was something like that. like vegas on angel dust.
in the middle of this rip-roaring mayhem and disturbing chaos, i began to hear somebody lecturing on a bullhorn. as i worked my way near the source, a small clearing opened up. nobody would go into this clearing. it was like a feeding frenzy in reverse – totally clear and open. in the middle was a small group of clean, conservatively dressed christians holding placards and handing out flyers and preaching to the heathen puking blockhead drunks and their fatty hooker (show us yer tits!) girlfriends. i couldn’t hear the words over the din, but i sorta knew what was being said.
i grabbed one of the flyers out of the hand of one of the good clean xtians psychos. this is that flyer. frankly, i don’t know which side in this insane confrontation, this psycho stand-off was scarier….
AC:the first time you visit a city, you ARE a tourist. no way to avoid it. so i open my eyes wide. and what i saw as pretty awful. as i explored deeper, i saw a marvelous and very very black city. old and cool and full of wonder and deep beauty. but at it’s core was bourbon street…
…i went to an old graveyard in the garden district. when i got off the trolly, i went the wrong direction and immediately went into really beat up shabby buildings and broken junk everywhere. even the stores were horrible to enter. all the poor black folks were sitting on their porches trying to cool off a little. they looked at me like they wondered what i was doing there (a stupid tourist). then i realized my mistake turned around and backtracked across the trolley tracks. immediately i was in the garden district with million dollar homes and nothing but beautiful healthy tasteful white folks. it was almost as bad segregation as st. louis (not quite as bad)….