and Stan in New Orleans
by Stephen Clair || Author's Links
Mack and Stan are spending the summer in New Orleans, housesitting an apartment just outside the French Quarter. Only a couple of broke musician-poet types like Mack and Stan would even consider going to New Orleans, a region even the early Indians thought was uninhabitable, especially in the summertime. Throughout July and August, Mack and Stan are discovering it is 95 degrees and 95 percent humidity 24 hours a day. Every resident who can, leaves. That explains why Mack and Stan are not paying rent for the temporarily deserted apartment. Fortunately, their perspiration and bodily stench will not be a hindrance. Bohemians that they are, Mack and Stan will not have jobs to get up and go to each morning. In fact, there is no place that they will have to be, no superior to whom they will report. They can bathe as little or as much as they like. They can be clothed as much or as little as they like. They can be sober as much or as little as they like. You really might say they will have the run of the place.
Mack shares the only bed in the apartment with Gypsy, the dog who belongs to the apartment, or rather, to the tenants who are currently away. Feeble and somewhat lazy with age, Gypsy is a shaggy, brown-and-black mutt, although her owners refer to her as mixed-breed, giving off a distinct odor which impassions fleas. The only time she gets off the bed is to eat or to go outside to empty her bowels. She has a set routine, and any given morning Mack can expect that he'll be ushering Gypsy up Spain Street to do her thing. It doesn't take Gypsy long to take care of business and she's usually liberated a near perfect stool before she's halfway up the block. Gypsy's turds are produced with perfection, and throughout the summer, the two bohemians remark on the compact softness, the homogeneity from one stool to the next. Mack pats Gypsy on the head, congratulating the dog on her fine work. Stan tries to look distracted and turns to watch the neighbor examine the bananas growing in her front yard. Mack sleeps with Gypsy, feels closer to her, therefore prouder.
It is fine with Stan if Mack takes the only bed in the apartment because the mattress is too soft for Stan's back, which bothers him lately. Even if his back were fine and the bed firm, Stan says to himself there is no way he's sleeping with that fleabag, Gypsy. Removing the large oval cushion each night from the wicker chair in the living room and placing it on the floor to use as a bed is fine with Stan. Some nights he sleeps directly on the hardwood floor because the buttons in the cushion dig into him, causing him additional, though different, back pain. The hard flatness of the floor, he claims, is even good for his back.
Mack and Stan put the portable manual typewriter on the kitchen table, where it stays throughout the summer. Working in shifts, they molest the typewriter under the manufacture of their endless poetry and songwriting. Some of the poems they write are dirty because they are young, sweating men living together in New Orleans with a stinking old dog, spending their days wandering the streets ogling the girls. They even ogle the anchor on the local news. Although her head seems strangely askew, she is worth ogling because she is female and on television.
When one or the other of the two bohemians is at a loss for what to write about, they will remain seated at the typewriter and vandalize it, although that is not how Stan or Mack would describe it. They decorate it by painting it with markers and nail polish that they find in the bathroom, and by prying unnecessary parts from its exterior. They have also mutilated the typewriter by melting some of the plastic that encases the apparatus. To do this, they use their lit cigarette ends or matches. One time, Mack places his burning cigarette on the typewriter to melt it and he walks out of the room. Stan sits in the balcony doorway with his guitar, watching a lizard climb the pot plant. Stan sees Mack walk by and smells the burning plastic. "Cool," says Stan. Also, they glue things, like a picture of Charles Bukowski and broken guitar picks and Mardi Gras beads to the typewriter. Eventually, the typewriter, though still functional, resembles nothing whatsoever. It becomes a shrine to itself.
When there is no part of the typewriter left to decorate, Mack and Stan start drawing and painting on their clothes, even poking holes in their own tee shirts while they are wearing them with the burning cigarette ends. Their daring enthusiasm makes Stan and Mack feel like true artists. They get so keyed up by their ingenuity that they decide to set their clothes on fire, and then Stan, on one occasion, whose shirt front now has a small flame just above his left nipple, yells, "ah, ah, I'm on fire," and then Mack extinguishes flaming Stan with some of his beer. "Could you be any more sparing with the Schaeffer there, Mack? You barely put the flame out." "No point in wasting good beer," says Mack. They take turns until their garments are uniformly singed. Looking into the bathroom mirror, they are satisfied with their efforts. Their clothes have an antiqued look.
After the typewriter and the clothes, Mack and Stan walk to Schwegmann's and buy the least expensive, blondest hair dye they can find. They both put it in their hair, really working it in, and then sit out on the balcony in the sun for the afternoon with a four-dollar jug of burgundy that they pass back and forth.
Next, they are blonder but their scalps are very tender. They cannot take showers because the water causes tremendous pain. Even their pillows hurt. With their new looks, they take their positions on street corners, play their guitars, and sing songs in the French Quarter with their guitar cases lying open on the ground in front of them. Stan and Mack each take whatever change they have in their pockets and toss it into their guitar cases to encourage passers-by to do the same. Vacationing families with small children walk by the buskers but rather than stop and be entertained by the singing bohemians, the parents tightly clutch their children's shoulders and elbows, moving them around so that they, the parents, are between the bohemians and their children, protecting them.
Neither Mack nor Stan is making much money playing on the street so they decide to go to Kaldi's Café where many young people spend entire days rolling cigarettes and drawing on their clothes and writing in journals. Stan orders two iced coffees while Mack finds a table and starts rolling cigarettes. They spend most of the afternoon smoking, writing in their journals, drawing dirty pictures and making lists. They make lists of all the other cities they would like to live in, like Chicago. They make lists of the songs that they would like to play in a band when they finally find a bass player and a drummer, like "I Can See Clearly Now." They make lists of band names, like Lifting Belly. They make lists of titles of albums that they will record, like Gypsy. They make lists of the cities you couldn't pay them to live in, like Buffalo. They make lists of places they hope they will visit, like Mexico. They roll more cigarettes and Mack asks a person with a watch what time it is and the person says, "six." "Thanks." After a moment, Mack taps the same person on the arm and asks, "What day is it?" When they discover it is Monday, both Stan and Mack, without looking at each other, pack up their guitars, blank books, pens, and rolling tobacco and start walking down Decatur Street. They get to Checkpoint Charlie's just in time for the Monday night Happy Hour special: complimentary Red Beans and Rice. They are happy to be at Checkpoint Charlie's any time, but especially on Mondays, when they get their one square meal of the week. The air conditioning relaxes Mack and Stan so much that they are able to eat slowly while watching the girls in the adjoining laundromat do their wash. Mack and Stan pool the contents of their pockets, stacking the coins on the bar. The last of their day's earnings is enough for a pint of Turbo Dog, which they share; they even manage to get seconds on the beans and rice.
The second floor apartment is on the corner of Royal and Spain and has a balcony that wraps all the way around the building, so that Stan can step through the French doors from the living room, which faces Royal Street, onto the balcony, while Mack can go out through the bedroom's French doors, which face Spain, and they can meet at the corner, which overlooks the intersection of the two streets. Directly below Mack and Stan, embedded in the sidewalk, are tiles that spell out SPAIN, and ninety degrees to that are tiles that spell ROYAL. The building is white, the floor of the balcony is a deep tropical green, the metal railing, black. The tranquil neighborhood is residential, save for one or two bodegas and liquor stores with bars on the windows. The jungle-like quality of New Orleans in summer is exemplified by the fifty or so potted plants that the real tenants keep on the balcony. At dusk, Stan and Mack water the tropical forest of trees, ferns, and colorful flowering things, many of them the size of a person. The jungle occupies a large part of the balcony, inviting transparent lizards and exotic insects to set up housekeeping there.
Among the wildlife with whom Stan and Mack share their newfound habitat are the copper colored flying warriors. Each of these stealth insects are the size of a finger. They congregate in a busy buzzing mob, chattering, mingling and getting drunk on the dregs of a crawfish party. This time, the party leftovers are in the downstairs neighbor's trash. The bags of scraps overflow beyond the garbage can that has been dragged out to the sidewalk edge directly below Stan and Mack's balcony. "What is that sound?" asks Stan, from out on the balcony, looking up at the stars against the orange-black sky. Mack steps into the doorway holding a spatula in one hand and a mitt over the other and says, "Holy what the hell is that buzzing?" "That's what I was asking you," says Stan, leaning over the railing toward the sound. "Shit almighty!" "What is it?" asks Mack. Stan straightens up and starts heading for the French doors. "Look out!" Wedged shoulder-to-shoulder in the doorway, both men turn to face the buzzing as it comes over the top of the railing. "Whoa." Mack and Stan rush inside while directly behind them the buzzing wings of the hovering fiends power down and one by one, a platoon of enormous bugs touch down, click-clacking, onto the hardwood floor.
Stan and Mack remain perfectly still. They watch as the soldiers matter-of-factly conduct their investigation of the domestic terrain. There is a clatter, as deliberate steps are taken across the wood floor. It is as though the peculiar beasts wear taps on their shoes, or stiletto heels. Click clack. Click. It is a disturbing sound, the footsteps, if you can even call them footsteps, of a small band of oversized cockroaches, as they carefully conduct a surprise investigation of the apartment. The roaches have a look around, making no quick moves, momentarily approach one another, linger and then walk away again.
Mack is still wearing the mitt on one hand, holding the spatula in the other. Stan, looking down, doesn't remember dropping his half-rolled cigarette during the commotion. Neither of them makes a move.
A week later, the sun has set, the French doors are open, Gypsy lies alongside Mack on the floor. Stan sits in the corner. They are watching a video documentary on Charles Bukowski for the fourth time. Mack doesn't say where he got the video, which is three hours long, but it's the only thing they watch. That and the local news. One day on the street, Stan thinks he overhears that Charles Bukowski is dead. The two of them congratulate each other for doing Bukowski the favor. They figure they must have killed him by endlessly watching the video and then imitating him day and night. To celebrate, they buy a tall can of Schaeffer beer and split it in Jackson Square Park. Stan and Mack walk into Kaldi's and while ordering a couple of cups of coffee Mack casually leans forward and says to the counter person, "Hey, uh, you know - we killed Charles Bukowski." At an open mic night one night at Checkpoint Charlie's, Stan plays a few songs, and in between each of the songs he says to the audience, "Thank you very much. I'm Stan, of the Mack and Stan who killed Charles Bukowski." Late one night out on the balcony, each time a car rolled up Royal Street, Mack and Stan stood up and in a loud whisper exclaimed, "We are the killers of Charles Bukowski."
On this particular night, the first of the two videos ends, and Mack clicks off the TV and turns to Stan who hasn't moved from the dark corner. "Ten o'clock?" asks Mack. Stan holds his watch up to the light from the street, "Only minutes to go." "Okay, let's do it." "Places." The bohemians get to their feet. Gypsy barks. "Shh, Gypsy. Stay there."
Armed with scissors, Stan and Mack saunter into the kitchen, step up to the kitchen counter and flip on the light. Snip. Snip. Snip. "Ha ha." Snip. Snip. "Got him." A few more brisk snips and they are done. "Carnage!" exclaims Mack. In a week's time, with nothing better to do, Mack and Stan have determined that watches can be set to the nightly incursion. Rarely do more than six or eight of the giant cockroaches come to call at any given time. This is a reasonable number for Mack and Stan to take on. After flushing the soldiers' remains down the toilet, Mack sits down to write a poem about the successful ambush while Stan enjoys the quiet breeze on the balcony.
"They're setting the coffee on fire again," says Stan, stretching his arms overhead, yawning in the early sunlight. Day and night, the air feels like warm beer. On certain days the heavy air does not allow the burnt coffee smog to dissipate. Instead, the black soot lies fat and low over the neighborhood. The coffee factory is only five blocks away and the stench that it produces is barely recognizable as coffee-related. It smells more like something gone wrong. Fortunately, the process that produces the toxin, presumably roasting, is carried out only on Mondays and Thursdays, so Stan and Mack make a point of getting out of the neighborhood early on those days.
Given that they are surviving on three dollars a day, there aren't many places Mack and Stan can go. If they hadn't lost Mack's car, they could have bought a dollar's worth of gas and driven somewhere. Mack's car had only been with them for about a week when it died on the street. One afternoon, not so long ago on Iberville Street, they got into the parked car and Mack turned the key and nothing happened. With only a few dollars between them, there was nothing they could do but leave the car where it was. They sat in the front seat a while listening to Johnny Cash on the tape deck, thinking they might as well use up the battery. As they sat listening and discussing songs, Johnny Cash, Charles Bukowski, a giraffe-like girl walking past, their ideas about the band they were going to start, they tore off the dashboard and threw it in the backseat. They removed every piece of the car interior that they could jimmy free bare-handed. Mack removed the picture of his girlfriend from the rear view mirror and put it in his shirt pocket, then he pulled the rear view mirror off the windshield and threw it in the backseat, then he took the horn button from the steering wheel and put it in his shirt pocket. "Anything you want?" Mack asked. Stan said he would take the dashboard speaker, but ripped the paper cone while trying to pry it loose. Mack knew that it would only be a couple of days before the city had the car towed for being illegally parked.
After a few days, Mack walked by the spot to see for himself that the city had taken his car away. Parking violations and notices telling him to come get the car eventually came in the mail and went into the trash. Eventually, he figured, the city of New Orleans would realize they were the beneficiaries of Mack's generosity and quite audacious asking for anything more. With the car gone, Stan and Mack rationalize that they are better off without the burden and the distraction of potential mobility. Without the car they will be more likely to focus on their music, their poems, and their immediate surroundings. They decide that limited options only make for a more enriching experience. Besides, there is always the bus.
The bus costs a dollar, and the one time they decide to indulge they catch the bus at Canal Street with the intention of riding it all the way to Lake Pontchartrain so they can at least see the lake. Because they only have enough money for one bus fare each, they plan to remain seated on the bus when it arrives at the lake, and wait it out for the ride back to the quarter avoiding paying a second fair for the return trip. But they get on the wrong bus and it takes them way off in some direction that they have no idea about. Mack says they better stay on the bus and no matter where it goes they will undoubtedly get to see some part of New Orleans that they've never before seen, and eventually the bus will bring them back to where they originally got on. After about forty minutes of driving through relatively uninteresting neighborhoods and college campuses, the bus pulls over under some trees near a chain link fence and nothing else and the driver cuts the engine. Mack and Stan remain seated in the back of the bus, facing forward, figuring they'll just wait it out.
The bus driver is getting off the bus himself and says, "Gentlemen, this is the end of the line. You have to get off here. It's the last stop." Mack speaks up and says, "We were hoping to just stay on, Sir, and ride this bus back to Canal Street." "Ride it back to Canal Street? Well, why'd you get on the bus if you were going to Canal Street?" "We got on at Canal Street, Sir," Mack clarifies. The bus driver starts to make his way down the aisle of the bus, "Well, why'd you go and get on the bus at Canal if Canal was where you were going?" So Stan answers, "Sir, we were just looking to get out of the heat, that's all ." Mack hits Stan in the chest. "Well, whatever your reasoning…," says the bus driver, "this bus is calling it a night. Now, I can't issue you a transfer because you've crossed from one zone into the next, but you can buy another ticket and catch a bus back to Canal from here."
Mack and Stan get off the bus and start walking. "Now what?" asks Stan. "We walk," says Mack.
With time on their hands, Mack and Stan have taken to writing letters to everyone they know. The letters and packages that they send to their friends are treated with the same level of deliberation and attentiveness that they employ on the typewriter's and their own outward appearance. It seems to them that there is nothing that they cannot touch that does not become a work of art.
The letters are answered and despite having real jobs and commitments, Mack and Stan's friends write back, making an effort to be as creative as time will allow. Stan and Mack share their mail and feel good that they have inspired friends throughout the country to have some fun with their correspondence. Stan and Mack find it awe-inspiring the number of care packages they receive. Stan's mother sends raisins, nuts and a can of potato chips. Mack's girlfriend sends band-aids, aspirin and beef jerky. Mack's mother sends a twenty-dollar bill and licorice. Stan's ex-girlfriend sends naked Polaroids of herself.
"Hey. Let me see," Says Mack.
"Forget it," Says Stan on his way into the bathroom with the pictures.
The Polaroids pose a problem for Stan. His ex-girlfriend, Connie, is a big reason why he is in New Orleans. He had to get away from her. Although Stan admits she's great to look at, and even better to screw, Connie's personality poses some problems. For instance, she drinks quite heavily and then becomes angry and violent. Mack didn't realize how bad things were until one day back at home when he and Stan were in a used record store, Mack asked Stan, "So, why can't you drive to the show tonight?" "My car's in the shop," answered Stan. "What's wrong with it?" asked Mack. "Oh, nothing. Needs a windshield." "What happened to the windshield?" "Got smashed." "How did it get smashed? You mean somebody smashed it?" "Sort of, yeah." "Hm. You mean they just came along and whacked it in? You know who did it?" asked Mack. "Yeah. I sure do. Connie." "Connie smashed in your windshield?" "Not in, Mack. Out." "You mean from inside the car?" "Yeah, with her foot." "Where was she? I mean where was the car when she did it." "We were in it. I was driving. We were on our way back from her mom's." "You mean you were on the highway and she kicked out your windshield? How fast were you going?" "Dunno. Seventy." "Jesus. Was she drunk? Was she hurt?" "What do you think? She was tanked and having one of her screaming fits yanking on my arms and I finally blew up at her, like can't you see I'm trying to fucking drive, you know, and then she sunk way down in her seat and got real quiet, you know, and I thought, finally, and I kinda let out a sigh of relief. I thought, wow, maybe I should have blown up at her a long time ago." "Yeah? Then what?" "Then it's perfectly quiet, totally still, dead of night. No other car in sight. We're trucking along. I reach behind the seat for a tape, a cassette tape, and smash. There's the heel of Connie's foot slamming into the windshield, the glass spidering there in that one spot around her foot, and then the windshield is kind of wrinkling, or rippling a little, like in slow motion, and then the whole piece of glass just kind of lifts up, like it's on hinges, and then it goes over the top of the car and belly flops onto the road. I can barely hear it but I can picture the glass spraying all over the highway in a million pieces. I have slowed down quite a bit because all of a sudden there's all this wind hitting us in the face." "So then what?" "Nothing. I kept driving until we get home. I was beyond what to say. Outside of pulling over and murdering her there on the spot, I couldn't think of anything else to do, so I kept driving." "What was she doing?" "Hell, if I know. She probably passed out instantly. We got home at about 3 am. I went inside and went to sleep. She was still passed out in the car and I was like, fine." "Listen Stan, you know I'm going to New Orleans for the summer right?" "Yeah." "Why don't you come along?" Stan sits on the toilet and spreads the Polaroids of Connie out in front of him on the floor. He thinks he would like to fuck her relentlessly just to show her, just to use her, to get her back. He knows she sent the Polaroids to lure him back to her when the summer finally ends. That's why he's afraid of jerking off while looking at pictures of her naked body, pictures that she took specifically with him in mind. Blackmail. Fuck it, he thinks. Fuck her, dumb bitch. If only he had had the balls to call her a dumb bitch to her face. Angrily, Stan jerks off. As he comes on the pictures and the tile floor there is nothing sexual about it. He sees himself punishing her with his spooge. Stan's off-white blobs of revenge are as big as her ass in some of those pictures, as big as her head. In one of the pictures, her head is completely disguised behind a blob of sperm. He gives a little chuckle. Stan rinses off the polaroids under the tap and stands them in a row along the ledge behind the sink. He comes out of the bathroom and walks past Mack, who is seated, facing the typewriter. "How was it?" asks Mack. "She's all yours," says Stan. "Are you sending them back to her?" "Hell no, they're the only naked girlie pictures we have in this apartment."
One August night the temperature drops and it is suddenly the best sleeping weather all summer. The local news comes on and says something about the devastation in Florida, where thousands of homes are lost during the night to a hurricane. Then the news stays on for two days straight. Mack and Stan miss Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, The Simpsons. With the eleven or so channels they have there should be something besides news. But no. Every channel is saying it, every hour, every day. Hurricane. Hurricane. It is definitely cooler though, they agree. Nice breeze. The Florida Governor, followed by the US President, declare a state of emergency in that state while the hurricane, which has amputated Florida, ventures into the Gulf of Mexico. Mack and Stan yawn in front of the TV while trying to decide what city to move to next. They throw paint pens and magic markers at a U.S. map. Meteorologist Meg Tomlinson announces, Florida blah blah. Hurricane blah blah. Gulf of Mexico blah blah. New Orleans blah blah.
Mack and Stan go about their business, whittling poems from the candle wax-covered typewriter that has become stuck fast to the kitchen tabletop. The imminent threat of the hurricane takes place in a world inside the TV set. Mack tosses a broad-tipped gold pen across the room at the map that makes a splat in Death Valley. At the corner of Royal and Spain it is cooler than usual, otherwise the same.
It is the end of summer, and Mack and Stan are bored with the cockroaches and the dog and the lizards and the lady on Decatur Street who charges people a buck to climb a ladder and look in her telescope at Saturn's rings. They're bored with being broke and with playing their guitars on the street to people who are afraid of them, they're bored with the late night girls with drooping boobs and missing teeth, they're bored, bored! Bored! Everything smells worse than ever: the refrigerator, the dog, the burnt coffee smog, the bathroom. At this point any distraction is welcome. Between the two of them they can't think of anything they'd like more than a nice juicy hurricane. Mack turns off the television. They go for a walk in the French Quarter. Rounding the corner at Elysian Fields, Mack says, "what the ?"
"Where'd everybody go?" asks Stan.
"Where'd they go nothing," says Mack, "where's all the windows?"
"Windows?" Stan looks around. "Right."
Where normally there would have been storefront windows, apartment and house windows, bank windows, there is plywood. "It's all boarded up," says Mack.
"These people take this seriously," says Stan, stopped in his tracks, holding his elbows. The two of them stand there in the middle of the street. The French Quarter is desolate.
"You think we could get in there?"
"Inside the bar? It's all boarded up."
"Everyone's gone. I mean, look around. I doubt if they brought the beer with them -- wherever they went."
Later, the TV tells Mack and Stan that 60,000 New Orleans residents have evacuated, loaded up their cars and driven to Baton Rouge, 80 miles inland.
With the map now spread out on the floor, Stan lurks over it, dangling a green magic marker with the back of his clutching hand up close to his eye to take aim. Stan breathes in the marker fumes, and releases the pen. West Memphis is wiped out by a wavy green smudge.
Mack walks past, taking notice of the mark bridging Arkansas and Tennessee, and gives an approving shrug, "Memphis in the meantime."
Both Mack's and Stan's mothers call within the same fifteen minutes. The news has gone national. The moms are worried, they're calling the Red Cross and such. Come home. Come home. They call every hour.
"No, mom, we're going to stick it out."
"We'll buy candles and duct tape and canned food and water just like they say on the news." Mack and Stan buy bottled water, a jug of burgundy and a pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk ice cream. They might die. It could be a cool way to go. Whatever it is, they can't wait.
Hurricane Arnold is heading straight for New Orleans. He will be their nightmare, he will save them from New Orleans. New Orleans will be torn to bits. They will leave this planet with ice cream and cheap red wine in their bellies and a little glory. They should seal all their poems in plastic baggies. Someone might want them. They'll be famous.
One of the care packages that Mack's friend Walter sent from Texas is a crate stuffed with cans of Shiner Bock beer with wads of single dollar bills used as packing material to protect the cans. Mack and Stan drink the beer and take the 37 dollars to Schwegmann's where they purchase what little is left in the supermarket. Rainbow colored religious candles with depictions of Saints who protect young men from hurricanes, Chips Ahoy, Schaeffer tall boys, and tape.
Mack and Stan tune in to see that Arnie, as the newscasters have taken to calling him, has sped half way across the gulf, and it has only made him stronger. It would be impolite, they think, for no one to be around to greet him. The big gyrating dude will dance across their rooftop and go stomping up the Mississippi River, which lies only three blocks from the corner of Royal and Spain. The river will rise and devour the neighborhood. It will be grand. It will be instant. Windows will burst and spray like stars. Mack and Stan and Gypsy and the lizards will doggy-paddle their way to their respective makers, with wide-open mouths, swallowing shards of glass and tidewater. Rooftops will shriek while sleeping houses are scalped. Houses, wood, people, rubber, windows, blankets, mattresses, typewriters and refrigerators will be mixed into a thick paste that will be spread across the city limits like a new foundation that will dry in tomorrow's hot sun upon which a new New Orleans will be built.
One mother then the other calls and calls.
It gets to Mack and Stan and pretty soon they're glued to the set. They worry. Rejoice. Anticipate.
"Yes, mom, we have some money, we got the food, the last of it."
"That is, we went to Schwegmann's. There was one loaf of bread in the entire store. Can you believe it? The aisles were vacant! There was nothing on shelves!"
"No mom, what's the Red Cross going to do?"
"We'll stay here."
"We've brought the plants in from the balcony, all fifty of them, we're safe in our indoor jungle." The transparent orange lizards came in with the plants.
"We'll go to bed with the French doors open so that the hurricane won't spit them at us in our sleep."
"We've made up our minds, mom."
"Mom, when the hurricane arrives we'll be ready."
Mack and Stan have a plan. They will lie down in the stairwell.
"Mack and I decided that we are going to lie down in the stairwell while holding the mattress on top of us."
"What do you mean what good will that do?"
"What good will anything do?"
A transparent orange lizard the size of a thumb falls out of the rubber tree that is sitting on the corner of the U.S. map and falls onto Minnesota and doesn't move.
As evening rolls in early, wet and black, Mack and Stan tremble on counter tops and window sills, climb behind end tables and hoist themselves onto dressers, affixing protective duct tape letter X's to every individual pane of glass in the apartment. They do as instructed by the round-the-clock newscasters, whose voices crack and eyes deepen in their pale, chiseled heads. The hands on the clock yawn and stretch, and so do the reports, which are five minutes apart and predictable. Arnold's a half-mile closer, ten miles an hour faster, and so on. The hurricane will rest his violent glance on the Crescent City just before the break of tomorrow, aka the end of time. Mack and Stan will wave goodbye, but right now it's time to roll a cigarette and pass the jug of wine. We're going to die in a hurricane, they say, they wave and nod, and grimace and pout and cheer and fret and salute and smirk.
"Hello, mom? You just called a half hour ago."
"Don't worry, mom."
"Yes, I've seen the news, mom. We've seen it"
"Yes, we know, mom, 171 miles per hour at the eye of the storm."
"Yes, we probably won't get much sleep tonight."
"But you should try."
"Of course we're sorry we no longer have a car."
"There's nothing we can do about that now."
"Mom, what good is it going to do if you keep calling?"
"I love you too, mom."
"Love you, mom."
Mack and Stan sit down inside the apartment with the lights off and look at each other through the crazy foliage. The French doors are wide open, propped that way with heavy potted plants. There's rain outside and a streetlight illuminates the windows, casting X-shaped shadows across the room, onto the big black-green fleshy leaves. Mack and Stan have finished the beer and they're working on the last of the burgundy, slowly eating the emergency ice cream, savoring their last meal together in New Orleans.
New Orleans, all voodoo and cops with billyclubs raised over their heads chasing frat boys on Bourbon Street, the breathtaking Lake Pontchartrain where Mack and Stan had seen an actual funnel cloud come ripping up from the lake's surface (even if it was on TV), black magic and witches, and men with pierced whatevers, above-ground cemeteries, bad dreams of girlfriends who refuse to bug off, now just sitting empty and waiting. A town so strange and possessed, normally unlike any place, but now not weird at all, not with Arnie on the way. Boarded up businesses, half the population gone to Baton Rouge, and Mack and Stan feeling a quiet peace in the somber night, under the orange-black sky, the cool mist. Everything hovering.
"This is the best night for sleeping we've had all summer," says Mack.
"Yeah," hiccups Stan. "The big sleep is upon us."
One o'clock rolls around and Stan gets up from the floor and Gypsy and Mack follow him out onto the balcony. Mack cups his hands to his mouth and lifts his voice to the sky, "Come on, Arnie, ya windbag. Get on with it."
At eight o'clock the next morning the phone rings, disturbing Stan from a deep sleep, the kind where you sweat so much you have to leave your own body. He moans, holds his head, tries to block the bright light in his face, mushing the pillow against his head. Jesus Fucking Christ. Could the sun be any goddam brighter? He pries himself from the papa san chair, cursing, "fucking after-life bullshit." Maybe it has all been a dream, he and Mack never even came to New Orleans, or maybe they've been there all along. His eyes are open, but what? Finally, after a hundred thousand goddam deafening rings, Stan lifts the receiver and looks at the floor. Something has crapped in the middle of the map.
One mother, then the other, calls.
Standing out on the empty balcony, the sun already strong on their necks, Mack and Stan clink coffee mugs, holding their aching heads. They wouldn't have drunk the cheap shit had they known they weren't going to wake up dead.
The news comes on inside. Sparing them, Arnold broke ground at 5:30 am in South Central Louisiana, 30 miles west of New Orleans, where it was quickly demoted to a tropical depression, and headed straight for Baton Rouge. During the early morning, the river rose, rats walked on power lines, the roof stayed put, while an overcrowded Baton Rouge experienced power outtages and substantial damages. Now, steaming cars edge slowly over fallen branches on Royal Street. Already, the squeal of nails can be heard, as they are backed, one by one, out of plywood and window frames.
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