A few minutes after midnight, there's a pleasant ruckus coming up the street. No sight is more cheerful than a group of chums, stumbling arm-in-arm, singing boisterous Taoist drinking songs. They usually don't head home this early, so it's doubly nice that everyone on the block is still up, and can join in.
"You can't go wrong with the best burley raised in lucky Kentucky." This should be a slogan. For what, I don't know. It came to me while I was thinking about Prince Albert in a can, but I don't think the good prince restricts himself to bluegrass burley, or if he contracts with only the best suppliers between Lexington and Paducah.
Kentucky produces about 70% percent of the burley in the U.S. of A. The next highest producer is its neighbor to the south, the one and only Tennessee. The Volunteer State is responsible for contributing 20% of the total burley crop. The remaining, roughly, ten percent is scattered among a handful of other states of more or less importance.
If none of this makes any sense to you: I am writing pipe smoking stories. 'nuff said.
Tyler is a city with the profile of a busted kidney in the heart of Smith County, Texas. Tylerites call their city the “Rose Capital of the Nation.” Their claim is justified.
As the capitol of Smith County, Tyler serves as a hub for surrounding cities many people are familiar with. These include: Lindale, New Chapel Hill, Whitehouse, Edom, Bullard, and Chandler, and Brownsboro. In contrast to the unpredictable East Texas climate, Tyler is as stable as the East Texas bedrock. Just as tectonic plates lift mountains, Tyler’s reputation as a great place to live has increased the population from 83,650 to 96,900 in only ten years according to the latest, official U.S. Census Bureau statistics.
Money doesn’t grow on trees in Tyler, but many businesses find that the same ground that grows roses is also fertile for other profitable pursuits. Two thousand one hundred employees diligently work night and day to keep communities in four states outside Tyler’s borders well fed. Walmart is the sixth largest employer. If there is anything a Tylerite enjoys, it is a bargain.
Don’t believe for a minute that Tyler’s economy revolves solely around the fickle service industry. Several heavy industries have located their operations in Tyler’s business-conducive atmosphere. Among them are: the Tyler Candle Company, Tyler Products, and Greenberg’s Smoked Turkeys. Good wages and plentiful opportunities abound in scenic Smith County, Texas, and Tyler is the center of it all.
Interpretive signage along Tyler’s magnificent “Azalea Trail,” and at the Cotton Belt Railroad Depot Museum, will deepen your appreciation of Tyler’s rich and diverse history and culture. If you follow an interstate highway, you are bound to hit Tyler. Once you cross the outer loop of asphalt that surrounds the city, you will be sure to pass the inner loop, and so on.
Turn on your radio as you drive through Tyler to enjoy the sounds of Hot 107.3 Jamz. Tyler is a city large for its stature. Tylerites enjoy urban contemporary music that is both old school and today’s R&B. On the other end of the dial, 89.5 KVNE is the voice of encouragement to a large proportion of the community. Big city sophistication rules the air in Tyler, Texas.
Of the 204,655 lucky people call Smith County home, 96,900 are the luckiest of them all. They live in Tyler, Texas, a natural beauty.
“I need to pick my granddaughter up from school” she says, “then I need to pick up my son from his school. Then I need to pick up my daughter when she gets off work. Then I need to take her to babysit her boyfriend’s children. After that’s all done, I have to get here, to work.”
She is telling me this as we take a carriage ride through the French Quarter. She is driving the mule, so she is in charge. It was quite the tour. We passed by the statue of Saint Joan of Arc. I don't remember much else.
Copyright DC Comics, and probably the estate of Bob Kane.
I've had the opportunity to perform a similar feat twice in my life, before slipping out to the open sea. I have always lived close to Long Island Sound, Narragansett Bay, or Boston Harbor. Given the necessity that I may have to startle the populace where I live now, I wonder, should I cruise over Lake Pontchartrain, or circle over the sparsely populated marsh country of Plaquemines Parish?
The whole point of the artful getaway is being left alone until the excitement dies down. Of course, any panic caused has always been unintentional. I am just a man going about his business, much of the time. If I am ever on assignment, it is a covert operation, and I pass unsuspecting pedestrians incognito, as I bivouac between Uptown and Downtown.
Should I have to launch a dirigible in the shape of a whale, I should find a suitable launching and landing pad. I could inflate the whole apparatus with a couple of hand pumps, helped by the neighborhood schoolchildren, on North Johnson Street, but air patrol requires only one pilot. He should be able to take flight by himself. What if civics class is in session?
I've been scouting some sites in New Orleans East, and also a couple of empty lots in Chalmette. I am negotiating with Tulane University to contract air rights over the university's natural history museum. The staff is afraid that a flying whale may excite their specimens, and disrupt their experiments. Since the museum's grounds are not open to the public, I think this abandoned WWII munitions station would be a good place to stow my gear. The sight of a flying whale excites more than fish. Evil-doers cower in a whale's shadow.
Walking back to my office, a bicycle built for two passed. Then a bicycle built for four. Then more. It was a parade of people propelling themselves forward in tandem, all their muscles working together in concert on a frame. The wheels turned on their spokes. The pedals circled in humid air.
This is what I saw en route to City Hall. Most parades pass by Perdido Street.
The Contessa asked me if I had heard she is pregnant. I hadn’t, and I admitted as much. “I’m pregnant!” she told me. I offered my congratulations.
The proud father works as a bus driver at the Louis Armstrong International Airport in Kenner. Kenner is the fourth-largest city in Louisiana, no small boast. Louisiana is named after a French King, not Louis Armstrong, though true royalty knows no established bloodline. The Contessa’s mate drives in circles for eight hours at a time, five days a week, around the airport. He sleeps eight hours a day, as often as he is able. Sometimes he takes a long, snoring nap. Sometimes he plays with his sons and daughters.
“I’m the mother of his seventh child!” the Contessa says. She seems very happy and very proud. “When you meet him, you’ll know he is the sweetest, best man there is in the diocese.” The Archdiocese of New Orleans is made up of the following Louisiana parishes: Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines, Saint Bernard, Saint Tammany, Saint Charles, Saint John the Baptist, and Washington. The father of seven children must be the sweetest, best man in so large an area, if not all of Louisiana. I’ll be able to witness itself, myself, if I get the chance to meet him.
The Contessa and I are sitting on the sidewalk, leaning against the outer wall of St. Louis Cemetery Number 2. The Iberville Housing Projects are across the street. We are looking at the Contessa’s front door, off to the left behind the crooked oak tree.
“He’s going to take me away from here!” the Contessa said.
“Away from New Orleans?” I asked.
“He’s going to take me out of Iberville!” Contessa said. “He’s going to take me to Mid-City!”
Mid-City is not to be confused with Central City in New Orleans. Nor is it to be confused with the Central Business District. It is neither Uptown nor Downtown. It is both and more. It is vast. It is home to the Criminal Court and the Orleans Parish Jail. It is where square blocks of homes have been destroyed to replace a perfectly good hospital with a newer, smaller, shinier, less attractive, more superficially expansive model. New Orleans is full of baubles, some are more noticeable than others. It is Bayou Saint John. It is Ursulines Street. It is gelato and Old World Pizza. It is where the best snowballs can be found. It is Greater Treme, but not Historic Treme. It is Banks and Broad and the Fairgrounds. Jefferson Davis is memorialized in Mid-City. So are aluminum cans, mayonnaise, and Falstaff Beer.
The Contessa has a pretty face. She has skin like a soft, muslin shawl in the dark. Her eyes are bright and her teeth are white. She is in love. We are sitting on a bleached sidewalk, leaning against the whitewashed outer wall of Saint Louis Cemetery Number 2 in the humid, noonday sun of a New Orleans September. New Englanders would cry from joy if they could feel a hot sun like this in the ninth month of the year. When the Contessa smiles, the day seems brighter, and cooler, at the same time. She is in love.
“When I move to Mid-City, everything will be better!” the Contessa tells me. “I’ll be happy,” she says.
I mention that she has always seemed happy living in Iberville. She looks at me like I don’t know anything. She looks at her front door across the street, then she looks at me again. Then, she looks at her feet.
“I never had a good man until now. Now I have one.” The Contessa looks at her feet and she rubs her belly. I see a ring on the pinky of her left hand. Burnished tin catches the sunlight, and it sparkles in its scratches. “His name is Jared, and he has a college degree. He told me he is going to live with me in Mid-City. I believe in him, and he believes in me!”
I asked Agent 11 to do a background check. One hour and twelve dollars later, I had a dossier full of Mr. Jared O’Doul’s vital statistics and details of interest. He does in fact have a college degree. It is a BA in Political Science, granted by the University of New Orleans in 2004. He does drive a bus, or a shuttle van in airport parlance, at the New Orleans Airport in Kenner. He has been employed by the same company for eight years.
He has, in fact, if birth and baptismal certificates can be believed, fathered eleven children, not counting his begetting with the Contessa. The mothers are scattered all over the Louisiana parishes of Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines, Saint Bernard, Saint Tammany, Saint Charles, Saint John the Baptist, and Washington. Eleven children in eight civic jurisdictions, soon to be twelve children. It is a virile accomplishment to sire so many progeny within a single archdiocese. What boasting rights it grants him, I cannot imagine. There but for the grace of the angels, go thee and me.
His current address is an apartment leased under the name of a Ms. Chardonnay Mercedes. He has lived there for six months.
When I saw the Contessa last Tuesday, her belly was a little big bigger than when we sat in the sun outside the cemetery. She was a picture of health. She was the most beautiful woman on Canal Street waiting for a bus. She smiled when she saw me, and I felt relaxed in her company. I asked how she has been.
“I’m pregnant!” she told me. I congratulated her. “It’s not going to work with Jared,” she told me. “He’s no good. He’s been living with a dancer the whole time he was with me. He’s been living with her, two-timing me. No man of mine two-times me. I gave him the rush and hit him in the head with a frying pan.”
“I’ve got myself a new man now,” the Contessa told me. “He’s the kindest, most responsible man in the whole diocese.” Who could this new paramour be? I didn’t want to ask. I complimented the Contessa on how she looked like a perfect mother.
“I don’t have any business on Saint Claude Avenue,” the Contessa confesses. “I take the 88 bus on Tuesdays because that’s when I can talk to my man. He’s the driver, and I sit in the front seat. When the bus is empty at the end of the line, we get to be a little romantic. He accepts me!
“He doesn’t take me out or anything. We just meet on the bus. Tomorrow, I’ll be going to Audubon Park on the Number 11. I like it out there, and Lester has the sweetest voice when he talks. Not just when he talks to me, but also when he talks to his passengers who don’t have the correct change, or who don’t know how to put the transfer ticket in the machine. He is really very kindhearted and patient.”
I have always found New Orleans Regional Transit Authority employees to be professional and courteous. Unlike mass transit workers in other cities, Boston, for instance, Philadelphia also comes to mind, NORTA drivers and conductors are cheerful ambassadors of goodwill. They have time for every concern, and they have assistance for every handicap. They know their routes the way they know their own neighborhoods, intimately and thoroughly.
It isn’t a surprise that a woman can fall in love with a streetcar or a bus driver in New Orleans. The surprise is that more women don’t. Though the NORTA mailbox is stuffed with fawning fan letters, they represent only a fraction of the annual ridership. A lonely lady streetcar driver is as uncommon as a unicorn. As for the men, let us only say that they have a reputation.
I had an appointment on Gravier Street, so I bid the Contessa farewell. “Too bad,” she said, “I was hoping you would take the 88 Bus with me. I know you would fall in love with Lester if you met him.” I couldn’t predict if that would be the case, but the Contessa certainly looked happy on the corner of South Rampart and Canal Streets. The day was overcast, but continued to sparkle come what may. “Momma always told me I was a special baby,” the Contessa whispered to me, “Now I’m gonna have a special baby!” She smiled so brightly, I could only smile back in return as I wished her godspeed.
I posit that this may be the first published mention of DeLille Street as actually existing. I'm just waiting for the city to change the signs.
Who names a baby Anthracite? I would think no one, but there it was, plain as the day, in the Times-Picayune obituaries. Francis Lemulet, recently deceased, left behind, as one of his survivors, a son named Anthracite Lemulet. This called for further investigation.
I am not the kind of busybody to go and pry into someone’s funeral, so I hired a professional. Someone who has to make uncomfortable choices, during all hours of the day, for a living, is known as a professional. Agent 11, with whom I had the pleasure to make contact soon after moving to New Orleans, was willing and able to get me the tale behind and around Anthracite Lemulet’s name.
A few months went by with only sporadic communication with Agent 11. Most of that consisted of brief notes stating that he was following up leads. Truth to tell, I was starting to forget about my curiosity until I received another message, and accompanying invoice, from my man in the field. Agent 11 and I had originally negotiated a reasonable, flat, weekly rate to solve the mystery underlying Anthracite Lemulet’s back story. When he began to send me receipts for expenses, I flatly told him that I was not paying for nights out at Syndey’s or Sweet Lorraine’s or Buffa’s. He retorted that these expenses were justified since he was following up leads. I terminated this mission, and asked for a summary of what he had learned thus far.
I received the following reply:
I regret to inform you that Mr. Anthracite Lemulet is with his father in Heaven. The younger Mr. Lemulet met his demise while still grieving the loss of his father. NOPD sources state there was no evidence of violence to the body. The Coroner’s office agreed with the police department’s assessment that the victim died peaceably. No arrests have been made while detectives continue to follow up leads.
The senior Mr. Lemulet’s motive for bestowing the name in question upon his son is not yet conclusively determined. Please follow these instructions .... .... and you will find the location of the latest information I have thus far unearthed.
Please don’t hesitate to call if I can be of any assistance to you in the future. I found this assignment very stimulating, professionally, and I look forward to working with you again.
With sincere regards,
The ellipses above stand for how many steps I should take in one direction, what quizzical landmark I will see when I get to that point, then how many steps I should take in another direction. There was a treasure map, drawn on a roll of butcher paper, without any features except for a pattern of dashed lines, each dash representing a footstep.
I followed the instructions.
When I was finished, I was standing on the corner of Governor Nicholls and DeLille Streets, facing Saint Augustine’s Church. If I knew what any of this meant, I would be a smarter man than Agent 11. Was I the victim of a practical joke? Did Anthracite Lemulet get his name by inspiration from the Holy Spirit? That is certainly within the limits of the probable, but why the secrecy? Why the opacity of what I was supposed to achieve by walking a winding path from Gentilly down through Treme?
I wasn’t sure.
I walked home on Governor Nicholls Street, and I passed the Tomb of the Unknown Slave. The DeLille Street side of the church is a place of piety. The Governor Nicholls Street side of the church is a place of memorial. I think I know the answer to a riddle, but I don’t know it well enough to say it right. There are bones in the earth.
When I try to explain it to Eric, he says he’s got some crazy ideas, himself. “Everyone has them,” he says. “When you live here long enough, you’ll be lousy with them. It takes some getting used to, but after awhile you won’t mind not being sure what’s going on. Sometimes the best way to tell something is not to describe it, but to provide an example.”
Ask anyone to speculate what it would be like to go through life as Anthracite Lemulet. The person who could tell us from firsthand experience is dead without a so much as his own obituary. I’ve been looking. He merited only a brief mention in the summary of his father’s life. As to the son’s life, it remains unspoken.
Where is his monument on Governor Nicholls Street? There is a cross forged of rusty, iron chains at the Tomb of the Unknown Slave. Anthracite Lemulet was born and died a free man. He was born a few streets away uptown. He died a few streets away downtown. There are bones in New Orleans’ graves.