Monthly Archives: November 2015

Blog #105 – A Ghost Story

The following is an excerpt from my memoire, “The Kid Who Got Away.”

A few months ago, I began a story that I never finished. If you haven’t read it or need a refresher, I’ve re-printed it here in it’s entirety, including it’s “ending.”

Gipsy and I returned to a Katrina-ravaged New Orleans and our old carriage house in the French Quarter. We had only just begun to unpack our boxes. We had only moved in several days before evacuating. Her apartment had been completely destroyed, mine had been under eight feet of water for three weeks. Once again, my Angels were working overtime. All of my belongings were safe and dry in our new digs.

Just around the corner from trendy Royal Street, our house at 624 Dumaine Street was built in the early 1700s. A two story 1600 sq. ft. carriage house with skylights and a newly installed modern kitchen, it had huge french doors that led out into a beautiful courtyard filled with tropical plants. It was magnificent. The only sounds you could hear inside were the “clop-clop” of the mule driven tourist carriages and the bells of majestic St. Louis Cathedral. We shared a wall with Madame John’s Legacy, the mansion/museum where the now-famous fire scene in “Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles” was filmed.

The first thing that made me feel somewhat uncomfortable were the looks. The other occupants of our little compound would greet me each day as if expecting a different response to their “Hi Jesse” than the one they’d been getting. Eventually, I asked, “Why are you looking at me in that way?” The response was not what I expected.

One day, my neighbor Jimmy Nolan asked, “Have you noticed anything strange going on in your place?” I said, “No.” even though I had. “Well, somebody hanged himself in your bedroom and most couples who’ve lived there have gone through a terrible breakup.” Hmmm, I thought, maybe that explains the eerie vibe we’d both felt since returning, the sounds of someone walking just above us late at night, and the cats.

Magic and the Walrus were sitting peacefully on the couch when their heads snapped to attention. The door to the atrium (my office) to their immediate left opened up. In tandem, they watched something we couldn’t see move slowly from their left to their right. Their heads stopped as they gazed in the direction of the bathroom door to their immediate right. It opened slowly then slammed shut.

On another occasion, Gipsy was bent over washing her face in the bathroom between our bedroom and the guest room. Straightening up she noticed me standing in our bedroom staring at her. She said something to me and bent back down over the sink. She suddenly stood up straight and looked back at me. I was gone. She then realized that at that very moment, I was in the middle of my second set at Margaritaville, just as I had been everyday since returning.

I was lying in bed one afternoon and actually saw him/her/it, whatever. Without warning, I suddenly felt as if I were being choked. I could feel the life being squeezed out of me. My anger rose and I fought back. It was only then that I saw a leathery grey mask of a face hovering over mine. I roared and it faded, along with the choking sensation. It became obvious that we need help.

It came in the form of Mr. Glover.

Early one evening, we heard a light tapping at the door. I opened it and a diminutive creole man tipped his black bowler hat and introduced himself as Mr. Glover. He informed me that my friend Brandi,

Brandi

the lovely Voodoo Priestess up the street at Voodoo Authentica had informed him of our heint (ghost) problem. Mr. Glover was the go-to guy when it came to expelling troublesome spirits. I had been told that all sorts of people throughout New Orleans, doctors, lawyers, politicians and everyday folks all sought him for help with pesky spirits. The French Quarter is loaded with them.

We explained our problem in great detail. He told us that there were lots of heints on our particular street. He said, “Lots of ‘em are just hangin’ around, causing trouble.” He assured us he could help. We were so desperate that we were willing to try anything. After all, we were in New Orleans’ French Quarter and, when in Rome…

He reached into his satchel and pulled out a huge bundle of sage, a bottle of camphor and what looked to be a very old bible. He lit the sage and asked us to stand together. He then passed the smoking incense around us in a circular motion, up and down, front and back. We were completely engulfed in a cloud. All the while, he recited the 23rd Psalm. “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” etc. He then led us to each corner of every room and closet, carefully placing some camphor in each corner, repeating the biblical recitation and the circling smoke.

When Mr. Glover was satisfied that he had covered every corner and had exorcised the heints, we gave him a small, voluntary donation and he was on his way, with a smile and a doff of his bowler. The peace we felt in our big house in the French Quarter was palpable. We felt free of the negative vibes that had permeated every square inch of the house. That night, Gipsy and I were passionate lovers again. Our house felt tranquil. No apparitions or strange noises disturbed our sleep at 624 Dumaine Street. At least not for a while.

We didn’t know that the bad ones could hide.


nolatravelinman

Something terrible has happened in New Orleans. The city is in mourning. There’s a little less light in every sunrise in the Crescent City. Allan Toussaint is gone.

New Orleans is like a patchwork quilt. Each patch in the quilt is different, some intricate, some simple, each unique in what it adds. There’s a common thread running through it all: the music. When an integral patch of that quilt gets ripped away, the entire fabric shudders. The quilt is just not the same.

Allen Toussaint was a presence. If you saw him walking down the street, or driving by in his trade mark Rolls (usually on his way to the studio) you felt as if he were a PART of the street, those buildings, the cathedral, the city. He still is. I will always remember him as a humble, soft-spoken, classy dude. RIP, Mr. Toussaint. You will be missed in ways you could never have imagined. Your impressive legacy lives on in the music.

Mr.AT

Be excellent to each other and remember: Think twice before hitting “Send.

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Meow zzzzzzzzz

Blog #104

The following is an excerpt from my memoire, “The Kid Who Got Away.”

This account grew out of a discussion a former bandmate (we’ll call him “Brian”) and I had last year at my home in San Miguel de Allende.

In the early ’70s, we visited opium dens throughout the far east on a pretty regular basis. Drugs had become an integral part of our nomadic lifestyle. Opium dens were so much cooler then hanging out somewhere smoking joints with groupies and listening to Hendrix blow out your ear drums. They were just like Hollywood depicted them: shelf-like levels with people reclining on their side, small wooden pillows propping up their heads, while their pipes were refilled and lit. All you had to do was lay back and enjoy the ride while sweet opium dreams tip toed across your mind. For Brian, it became a problem. He was hooked.

He had connected with a wealthy young Chinese woman during our six-month residency at Singapore’s Ming Court Hotel After our six-month stay at Singapore’s Ming Court Hotel. That finished, we headed for Bangkok. All of us, that is, except Brian. He and his girlfriend took off for London. His goal was to book some gigs for the band in Europe. He was gone a long time and found upon his return that there was no room for him in the band in Bangkok. Brian hit the drugs with a renewed zeal. He was going down fast and we could all see it. He dropped by the club one night while completely out of it and asked to sit in with the band. He was such a mess that my partner Slim took him outside of the club and asked him, “Do you want to shake this stuff.” When Brian said yes, Slim hit him square on the jaw, knocking him out cold. He picked him up, carried him to his house and locked him in a room. It was cold-turkey time.

It worked for a while but, depressed by the band’s rejection, he returned to Singapore. Opium dens were illegal under it’s repressive regime. Lee Kuan Yew brought the hammer down heavily on anything that smacked of a counter culture. There were signs in every government office stating, “Long haired persons will be served last.” There were regular visits by a government official with a decibel meter checking the noise level at each club.  In order to obtain a working visa we’d had to supply a photo of the band looking like the good, wholesome boys we were not instead of the hippie travelers we actually were. So we pulled our hair back and presented this:.

BFP 004

Officials turned something of a blind eye toward the few opium dens that still remained. They pretty much existed as a homage to the Chinese culture of the past. It was an unwritten rule that the dens were only tolerated if the visitors were Chinese.  For a skinny white hippie to be seen making regular visits to these places was very uncool. On his way out of a den one night, sure enough, he got busted. The Feds  arrested him and he was sentenced to prison where a “Midnight Express” nightmare awaited him.

There he was issued the usual prison uniform. It was basically just a big adult diaper. He was then escorted to his cell, a cramped, claustrophobic room with about one hundred other inmates, all Chinese. He was not a welcome visitor. The cell was lit by a single hole in the ceiling which provided sunlight during the day. There was a single hole in the floor for everyone’s bodily evacuations. There was no bedding. Soon, the beatings began.

He’d had a fair sized roll of money when he entered prison. It was confiscated and “held” for him until his release. They watched him closely. As soon as Skywalker came off his in-prison cold turkey experience, they dragged him out of his cell and offered him some heroine. He said that he was now clean and wanted nothing to do with that shit. The guards held him down and beat him mercilessly until he acquiesced. They brought him some of his own money, beat him until he asked for some smack and “sold” him some with his own money. They then held him down and shot him full of drugs. He was back in the race.

They then returned him to his cell. They would peer into his cell and laugh as the inevitable withdrawal began. Eventually, he would beg for more and they would “sell” him heroine paid for by his own confiscated money. If he protested, he was beaten. This repeated cycle of withdrawal, begging and beatings went on and on and on, seemingly forever

All this time, his girlfriend was trying to locate him to no avail. Eventually, she bribed the right official and the right judge and secured his released. His 3-1/2 years decent into hell had ended. The night he stepped out of the federal prison, he saw his girlfriend there waiting, raised his arms and cried out, “Free at last!” It was then the local police grabbed him, handcuffed him and locked him up in a local jail where his nightmare continued. They saw him as a cash cow and wanted their piece of the pie. Six months later, he was released after another fresh round of bribes, this time to local police and judges.If it weren’t for the persistence and deep pockets of his girlfriend, he would have probably died in that prison.

Thank God for wealthy young Chinese girlfriends.

 Be excellent to each other and remember: Think twice before hitting “Send.

Blog #103

The following is an excerpt from my memoire, “The Kid Who Got Away.”

(This concludes the story I began in Blog #102)

I was very successful in Bangkok. My band was playing regularly in our club, “The Electric Shadow.” We were often pictured on magazine covers. Our posters were everywhere. We were living the life.

BFP1BFP2

I was happy, but things were getting hairy in Southeast Asia. I knew it was time to leave. Of course, that would require bribes. Probably, LOTS of bribes. My wife Savitri had been arrested years earlier for gambling. I paid to have her record expunged. We had never been legally married. Now that she had a clean record, I bribed a Thai official at the American Embassy for a marriage certificate and visas for her and our children. Her daughter Anjali was not legally my daughter. I had made the decision to bring her to the States, despite her grandmother’s protestations and her mother’s ambivalence. Another bribe secured a birth certificate stating I was Anjali’s legal and biological father. I was NOT going to leave her behind.

All that was left was my securing an exit visa. That meant finding Anand. That would prove to be easier said than done. That meant either hiring a private army or somehow finding Anand alone, without his goon posse.

I sent my family off to wait with my mom in New York and began inquiring discreetly about his habits and whereabouts. After a hefty bribe, one of his guys told me that he went to the racetrack every Tuesday, always unaccompanied. He went there alone because he would head straight from the racetrack to the house of his “Little Wife” (his “chick on the side”), a woman named Noy over on Sukhumvit Road. There the Fat Man would indulge in a little afternoon delight.

I went to the racetrack and there he was in the grandstand. He was very focused on a race and didn’t notice me in the crowd. On his way out he took a shortcut under the grandstand and headed for his car. I saw my opportunity. I slammed his fat ass up against a concrete wall, my face inches from his. He reeked of fear sweat and Old Spice. I felt like puking but I was angry, VERY angry. He was the only thing standing between me and my family. I informed him of my predicament and made him an offer he could not refuse. He whimpered and simpered and acquiesced. I was to buy a one-way ticket on that night’s midnight flight out of Bangkok on the Russian airline, Aeroflot. I was to bring a carton of filtered Marlboros and a bottle of Johnny Walker Red as a bribe and an indication that I was his guy.

I had just a few short hours to get my affairs in order and head out to the airport. As I stepped out of the taxi at the airport, the thick Bangkok night air hit me like a steaming hot wet towel across my face. I was scared, VERY scared. I was all too aware of Anand’s potential for treachery. I knew I could be walking into a trap. There was no way out but the course Anand had set for me.

As I walked through the nearly empty airport, it seemed like every eye along the way was casting a suspicious glance in my direction. The atmosphere was tense and heavy. I felt like everything was moving in slow motion. I suspected to be whisked away to a Thai prison at any moment.

I was led to a sparsely furnished room. There was a picture of Bhumibol Adulyadej, the beloved King of Thailand. In a corner stood a Buddhist alter with joss sticks pouring their perfume into the air. Five men were staring at me as I stood alone with a small suitcase on the floor and the requisite bribes in either hand.

I was asked for my passport. I hesitated. I knew that once I handed that over, I was at their mercy. I asked in Thai who the boss was. One smiled and stood up. He took the bottle and cigarettes and said, “You are with Anand?” I nodded and the tense air grew just a bit lighter. I gave him my passport. It was stamped and I was escorted to the waiting aircraft. I was the last passenger.

I didn’t relax until the plane lifted up toward a brilliant full moon. Bangkok and all it’s memories fell far below me. I had gotten away once again.


nolatravelinman

It’s 4:00 A.M. I can’t sleep. I could feel it coming on, alone in bed. Tears have  been frequent visitors in the past few days. They come each time I stop and think: I have finally pulled the trigger on my trip to the motherland: Cuba. One of the main reasons I left New Orleans and headed south of the border was in order to connect with my Latin roots. The goal was always Cuba. I spent about an hour working out my travel itinerary with Interjet. The flights are so amazingly cheap! Because of my residential status in Mexico, there’s no problem with a visa. I’ve been dreaming of this for so many years that it all still feels like a dream. I’m in a very emotional state.

Cuba2Cuba1CUBA8CUBA11

I’ve needed to get out of San Miguel for a while now. It’s the type of place you need to leave occasionally. Then when you return, you appreciate it so much more.

I’ll take a bus to Mexico City, spend a couple of days there, then fly to Puerto Vallarta for a little beach time at a friend’s condo. After a week there, I’ll fly back to Mexico City and hook up with my flight to Havana. I’ll spend a couple of weeks there (including Christmas and New Year’s Eve!) then return to Mexico City. I’ll spend a day or two there then fly to San Francisco and visit my granddaughter along with my dear friends Barry and Maya. After that it’s back to Mexico City for a couple of days, then back to San Miguel de Allende and a private engagement with the band on Jan.16, which just happens to be my birthday.

Now the studying begins in earnest. I’ll double up on Spanish lessons for the next month, read the pages and pages of info I’ve gathered about Cuban history, geography, social life, music, etc. I’ve been collecting this treasure trove of life in Cuba over the past two years. I’ll plan out some of my time while I’m in Cuba, leaving lots of time for unplanned adventures.

I’ve been given a lot of contacts that will help me hit the ground running. For $20 a day, I’ll have a taxi driver all day and night each day that I’m there. I’m told he’s “in the know” and can get me to all the right clubs and great music. Before I go, I’d better brush up on my bachata and merengue dance steps.

When you dream of something just about your entire life and you turn it into reality, it’s a little challenging to accept. Every time I think or write about it, tears fill my eyes. I’m actually going to Cuba, to see, feel, touch and taste her. Life is pretty amazing, eh?

 Be excellent to each other and remember: Think twice before hitting “Send.
 SoloKittie2
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