by Omar Cayenne
Wake up, heart, ’cause while we drank and slept
That sweeping machine in the sky, the sun, has swept
The stars like littered cans from night’s high way,
And over the Quarter and Superdome has crept.
“Whatcha gonna do when the well runs dry?”
I hear Fats Domino on the jukebox cry.
And, while parishioners at St. Patrick’s pray,
At Hummingbird we worship Bacchus high.
And, as the light starts flashing for the poor
Day laborers Handiman employs next door,
We rise to go to work, but I propose,
To toast our industry, just one drink more.
As uptown bankers lace their wingtips up,
In seersucker suits raise coffee cup
And scan exchanged commodities and stocks,
We thumb our noses at the Boston Club.
So Huey’s chicken cooks in every pot —
Did that stop Huey Long from getting shot?
And, as the jukebox plays their jazzy songs,
Don’t Jellyroll, Kid, King, and Satchmo rot?
Stick McGhee’s children are drinking that wine
Down in New Orleans where everything is fine.
Stick’s passed away, but you know he went to his grave
Drinking wine, spo-dee-o-dee, drinking wine.
Dixie beer gets hot; red beans get cold.
If you don’t know it yet, it’s time you’re told:
You’re only young once, there’s no second chance,
And everyone alive is getting old.
Gentilly, Carrollton, Irish Channel, Algiers —
Our town’s illuminati guzzle beers,
Because a beer that’s not will soon go flat,
And faster drinkers hear more frequent “cheers!”
Each morning brings a new newspaper, yeah,
And yesterday’s Times-Picayune is where?
It lines bird cages, wraps up trout, starts fires,
Packs boxes, catches spills, and we don’t care.
Big deal. It’s boring anyway, and news
Read avidly historians refuse,
And history’s what’s remembered, not what was,
And facts and truth are things we pick and choose.
Salvation Army’s up on Magazine,
The street that separates the blue from green,
The pampered Garden brats from Channel trash:
Ignore them both and conjure that tureen.
A Times-Picayune beneath Lafayette,
A Dixie beer, a muff, and Ruby Yat
Beside me with her junk-filled shopping bag —
Oh yeah, Lafayette Square is where it’s at.
The earth or heaven, which is where it’s at?
No argument will ever settle that.
It doesn’t matter: if you want to sing
And you don’t know the words, you just sing scat.
Watch the parading revelers as they go
On floats of papier maché that tractors tow,
Tossing trinkets, beads, doubloons galore —
They care not for the worth of things they throw.
And those who stow away each dollar bill
And those who spend it all upon a thrill
Will neither have enough to make the moon
Linger longer on Blueberry Hill.
Men stake their money on a thoroughbred
To finish first that loses by a head
Or runs away and wins by several lengths —
To be disqualified for drugs instead.
How many actresses interpret text
Auditioning for directors oversexed
And for five minutes pour their hearts out just
To hear them say “We’ll let you know” and Next!”
Bienville, Lafreniere, O’Reilly compete
With Galvez, Napoleon, Claiborne, and Lafitte
For prominence in our history, yet to us
They are no more than names of city streets.
I sometimes think that every traffic light,
Which turns to red whenever I’m in sight,
‘Sa tribute to the men whose names are streets —
The more the signals, the more the fame is bright.
So, next time you decide to run a red,
Remember: stopping shows that you’re well-bred,
For failure to observe a traffic light
Shows disrespect for all the streeted dead.
Ah, Ruby Yat, ‘syour round, and time you treat.
Don’t worry where you’ve been or who you’ll meet:
Just set ’em up and drink ’em down, because
Tomorrow you may be a city street.
And there was Peg-leg Pete and One-eyed Jack,
Stump Lady, Brother Luke, and Hank the Hack,
Who all would die again, if they could twice,
To learn their names aren’t worth a cul de sac.
And we, who drink and drink at Hummingbird,
Where they once drank and drank, and slurred and slurred,
Must vacate too the stools they occupied,
Let others speak and hear the drunken word.
So, if you’ve got a nickel, I’ve a dime;
Let’s bum the rest on Camp and buy some wine
Before we crumble into dust and trade
Alcoholic spirits for divine.
And we won’t go each day to the laundramat
Or buy those radial tires t’avoid a flat.
Our clothes can stink and we can ride on rims,
Because today, tomorrow ain’t where it’s at.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Humanists,
The Moral Majority, and Communists
Will all return to dust and blow about
With Krishnas, Moonies, and the other ists.
When young I learned from every school the song
And dance they teach concerning right and wrong,
And each impression made on mind was such
My bladder would retain a beer as long.
For I devoured each course, absorbed it fast,
And, being in the honors section classed,
I made straight A’s and learned there isn’t time
To savor anything before you’ve passed.
Not knowing what I’d left, I came to earth
Against my will and didn’t ask for birth.
And, when he likes, no doubt the Reaper too
Will come to get me without calling first.
Is that the sort of treatment I deserve?
Say, wouldn’t you complain if thrown a curve?
And so I drink my beer and upward shout,
“Hey, whoever you are, you’ve got some nerve!”
I got my bachelor’s and my Ph.D.,
‘Cause everything I learned came by degree,
I published in the journals, made a name,
And saw the more I’d learn the less I’d see.
It seems I labored all those years for naught
And must conclude the secret that I sought
Will yield to other skills than scholars have
And ‘snot the sort a student can be taught.
I count the schools as hopeless, and the church,
And, ’cause they’re so deserving, I besmirch
The reputations of our town’s elite,
And at the Hummingbird renew my search.
“I hear you knocking, but you can’t come in.
I hear you knocking; go back where you been”
‘Sthe riddle of my jukebox oracle:
The game of life provides no way to win.
And then I heard a voice, but saw no one:
“You only live once and when you’re dead you’re done.
It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old:
Just let the good times roll and have some fun.”
Uncannily came the voice from my beer can,
As though that cylinder had been a man.
I said, “Ruby, that’s recycling!”
Said Ruby, “Metamorphosis, Cayenne.”
Imagine all the beers he had to drink
To get himself a body that would clink!
The only drawback’s that he must go flat,
And, when he’s lost his head, how will he think?
If God could fashion man’s progenitor from
Some clay, and Jason’s armed opponents come
From serpent’s teeth, why should I wonder at
A man transformed into aluminum?
Do all the other beers before they’re canned
Lead human lives, or just my favorite brand?
Are they transformed because we call for beer?
Or is it that supply creates demand?
I wonder does it pain him when I wrench
His tab and turn him upside down to quench
My thirst and drain his vital fluids dry.
Does he make protestations? Does he blench?
The questions troubled me and so I bit
My lip and thought and thought until I hit
Upon a workable solution: drink
And drink until you done got over it.
A beer is made to drink, so what’s the use
Of wondering if the can can feel abuse?
And, when you’re hanging from the gallows, why
Complain about the rope burn from the noose?
So, when at last it’s time to pay your tab,
Just search your pockets for what’s due and grab,
Besides your hat, one for the road before
The Great Bartender puts you in a cab.
And, if you leave as thirsty as you came,
The only thing to say is “Shame, shame, shame.”
‘Cause, if you leave the barroom with your thirst
Unslaked, you’ve only got yourself to blame.
A carnival parade in which the main
Objective is to have some fun and gain
Canal Street with your floats and bands intact —
That’s life, unless it’s canceled due to rain.
Don’t think that when you’re gone parades will stop,
Or that your absence will upset the cop
Who’ll take his beaded bribe from someone else,
Who’ll quickly take your place soon as you drop.
And some there’ll be who’ll say, “Ain’t that a shame
That no one can remember what’s-his-name?”
— Your mother and your father, creditors,
Your wife and children, and old flame.
You got there early but you had to wait,
‘Cause all the bands and tractors showed up late.
And, when you’d finally started to enjoy
Yourself, you found you’d reached the Rivergate.
And would you wait until the field had dried
To start the game? Buy silver sets and hide
Them in a cabinet? The race is on,
The track is short: get on your pony and ride.
Reminds me of a friend who never knew
His wife didn’t have no hair, and that’s a clue
To help unravel all life’s mysteries:
Truth wears a wig, ’cause it’s baldheaded too,
And masquerades beneath the coiffured guise
Of washed and set and teased and bouffant lies,
Decked out in all the latest fashions just
To teach discretion and to tantalize.
The honest whore, the innocent untrue,
The stingy socialist, the generous Jew,
Perfidious friends and faithful enemies —
You need a program to determine who is who.
But if you think that you’re confused, just think
What’s thought of you, who sneer at nuns and wink
At cops, and slobber when you’re interviewed,
And make up ghastly stories for your shrink.
You’ll argue, but you won’t forgive what’s said;
You’ll long for children, but you won’t be wed;
You’ll stay up all night long and wonder if
You brushed your teeth before you went to bed.
Ah, Ruby Yat, you don’t deserve me, bitch.
You threw me out and left me not a stitch,
Used all my savings for your escapades,
And prompted me to make my fateful switch.
Admission to the House of Love’s too dear
When heartache is the only souvenir.
And so I checked in at the Ozanam,
Transferred allegiance to my Dixie beer.
And what of all the students that I taught?
And what of all the essays that I wrought?
One question only weighs upon my mind:
What of all the beers I could’ve bought?
And sometimes at the Hummingbird I see
An angel enter — real or fantasy,
Too drunk to say. He grabs a stool and says,
“Where y’at, Cayenne. The drinks are all on me.
“You know why angels get along so well?”
He asks. “Why Satan and his cohorts fell?
‘Cause everyone in heaven — Virtues, Thrones,
And Seraphim — is always drunk as hell.
“So tell the theologians at Loyola
That sometimes even angels go for Bolla.
And tell them all to pray for our indulgence
Like Christian Brothers. To hell with Coca Cola.
“I’m no mere speculator, but a viewer,
And so I can assure you nothing’s truer:
No beer on earth will get you higher than
The premium served by Heaven’s Master Brewer
.”So you on earth should drink without a twinge
Of conscience as you practice for the binge
Of eternity. God knows you’d rather have
Your insides burn than have your outsides singe.
“You damn them all to hell, for heaven’s sake,
The systems you think strange, and yet you take
Your own so seriously and pride yourself
On moral and religious codes half-baked.
“Before you purchase land, don’t you inspect
The property, and, having signed, expect
The title to be registered? And don’t
You tend to doubt those ‘facts’ that can’t be checked?
“So why then take on faith fantastic lines
Delivered by the sages and divines
About a place they’ve never seen, and not
Invest in Chalmette gold and diamond mines?
“He bought another round, we chewed the fat;
When I admired his wings, he praised my hat;
And when I begged him tell it like it is,
He said this only: “Heaven’s where it’s at.
“For that I need an angel? Hey, come on,
Just what is man — free agent or a pawn?
Is death the living end, or dusk ‘fore dawn?
And if souls never die, where have they gone?
He said, “I might say man’s the angels’ pet,
Or I might say that man’s a marionette
Whose strings are pulled by God, or then I might
Say man’s an aerialist without a net.
“What does it really matter what I say?
You humans never listen anyway.
And so I counsel all who ask, to drink,
And leave the questions for another day.
“Can stoplights claim free will because they blink,
Computers claim to live because they think,
And men to never die because they fear
The thought of nothingness? Who cares? Let’s drink.
“The Mississippi River never shows
Mercy to the men who presuppose
That they can overcome a natural force,
Contain it, or divert it, or oppose.
“The Corps of Engineers cannot delay
Th’Atchafalaya switch another day.
The vanity of humans notwithstanding,
The Father of the Waters goes his way.
“And all the sweat of men and all the blood
Will only raise the level of the flood
That someday soon will sweep us all away
And transform all the Montzes into mud.
“So drink!” he said. I said, “I’ll drink to that!”
He said, “Forget the past!” I said, “Forget
The what?” He said, “Don’t worry what’s to come.”
I said, “Hey, don’t tell me. Tell Ruby Yat.
“You listen to that angel, Ruby Yat,
‘Cause one thing that he knows is where it’s at.
And don’t make faces if he wants to trade
His brand new wings for my old crumpled hat.
And Ruby said, “Cayenne, you’re seeing things.
I told you that’s what overdrinking brings.
I’m sick and tired of fooling ’round with you.
Now where’s your hat, and where’d you get those wings?
“Another thing, Cayenne: Don’t sing the blues
And pass the buck. I hate a man who rues
The money and the time he’s spent on me.
The members of my fan club must pay dues.
“And, if you play a game, you can’t confuse
The lot of those who win with theirs who lose.
There are no ties, no rematch: when you pick
Opponents, then, be careful how you choose.
“And, though you may, I haven’t any clues
To what the difference is what error’s whose,
When neither one of us has won the game,
And’s clear we’ve both been beaten by the booze.
“Don’t speculate on life outside the ditch
And all the things you would have done if rich.
Don’t envy what you can’t obtain, and don’t
You ever call me ‘bitch,’ you sonofabitch.
“Ruby! Ruby! Ruby! Ruby Yat!
How can you talk to old Cayenne like that?
You wouldn’t say those things if you weren’t drunk.
Now drink your beer before the thing goes flat.
We turned attention back upon our beer,
And one more draft apiece was ‘nough to steer
Our hearts back toward each other, and we smiled,
If only ’cause we’re both too drunk to sneer
.Of every beer upon a bar or table,
Or crumpled in the trash, this much is sayable:
No matter what distinction claimed, they all
Taste pretty much the same without the label.
And any one we drink will serve our purpose,
To slake our thirst and get us high and burp us.
Choose Bud or Schlitz or Miller and dispense
Into a common vessel all the surplus.
The key to life’s in volume not in choice,
I argued, but that canned, uncanny voice
Corrected me, contending, “There’s a world
Of difference ‘tween Volkswagen and Rolls Royce;
“‘Mong Dixie, Guinness, St. Pauli Girl, and Beck’s;
‘Mong Venus, Bacchus, Elks, the Plates, and Rex;
‘Tween black, white; young, old; male, female; hot, cold;
‘Mong passionate love, ideal romance, and sex.
“Expressed by bum, by socialist, by monk,
This notion of equality is bunk:
We’re made unequal and we end that way.
The only time we’re equal’s when we’re drunk.
“Th’equality that all religions preach
Requires intoxication just to breach
The wall of proof established by our sense —
For color, odor, tone, and touch to bleach.
“Belief in equality is insincere
When used to advocate a life austere.
For raising spirits to a common pitch,
The greatest equalizer is a beer.”
Sitting here in Limbo in that city,
So pretty, called the Crescent (Walter Mitty
Of a city), drinking beers and hearing
Things — now that’s what I call nitty-gritty.
Ah, purge with beer and render all the flab,
Then gut and clean and lay out on a slab,
And ship my body to the world’s deprived,
Dipped in Remoulade and stuffed with crab,
Not Africa’s or Asia’s, but Uptown’s —
The Garden District Needy, who’ll renounce
Their status symbols, lick their lips, dig in
And break their fashion diets with the pounds,
Discovering just how tasty is the life
Led by the other half, for mine was rife
With misconceptions too, until I met
My match and had my knock-down, drag-out fight,
Succumbing to a better man than I —
No man at all, but bourbon, scotch, and rye,
And vodka, gin, and rum, tequila, wine,
And Hadacol — becoming an ally,
For canned or bottled power inebriates
All those who try to cling to neutral states:
No middle ground, no zone demilitarized
Divides ascetics and insatiates.
Before the curtains of our lives commence
Their fall, let’s shun all sham, discard pretense,
Remember that it’s later than we think,
By God declare ourselves, get off the fence.
The sun will shortly set, our shoulders droop,
Our bunions remonstrating as we troop
Down Magazine toward Lafayette Square,
Savoring our Salvation Army soup.
How pleasing just to know we’re no one’s dupes,
No one alive can make us jump through hoops,
Revered by loyal Skid Row retinue,
His Royal Highness, King of Camp Street Stoops,
Omar Cayenne, and Royal Consort, Queen
Of Everything Licentious and Unclean,
Her Majesty, the Empress Ruby Yat,
The Sovereign of the Sauce, Princess Obscene.
With liquor on my side, I’m not about
To waste my time in worry and in doubt.
And, though I’ll never make “The Social Scene,”
Among the folks who matter, I’ve got clout.
My worship of the juice is so devout
It gives me pleasure every day to flout
Laws made by sober men, each night to end
With Ruby on the banquette, passing out.
©1982 F.R. Duplantier