14. CHARITY HOSPITAL part V

Morris came over to my bedside. “Mister Wikstrom, I’bin tol’ you got someone here t’see ya”. I nodded my head a bit and mouthed the letters, “OK”. My old high school buddy Boggs came in with two young ladies that he had introduced me to a couple months earlier. “Oh my God! Brom” cried Lisa, the cuter of the two who had been my date for part of that year’s Jazz and Heritage Festival. “Are you gonna be okay?” I shrugged my shoulders and tried to smile a little. Her friend Betsy, Boggs’ date, sat on a nearby folding chair and was staring at all the IVs, monitors and straps holding me in place.

Betsy looked over at me with a tearstain. My long brown hair still had Mississippi mud caked in it and was pulled into pigtails on either side of my head. I had the beginnings of my first full beard. “We’re praying for you, don’t forget that.” She said in a broken voice. “I know you’re gonna be alright” assured Boggs. “I’ve already talked to your brother William. He’ll be here tomorrow and will be staying at my place up on St. Charles”.

This was great news. Marino and I had stayed at Boggs’ place for the first few nights after Mardi Gras night until we’d found ourselves a small place of our own on Leake Street in the Black Pearl section of Uptown. Boggs had moved to New Orleans shortly after Queen Anne High School and had scored an upstairs apartment with a fully screened-in deck looking out over the St. Charles Streetcar Line not far from Audubon Park. His exotic pet kinkajou named Suzie slept most of the day in a spare bathroom that he had outfitted with a huge tree branch. Her prehensile tail would wrap around you and she was affectionately curious and quite a hit with the ladies when Boggs had her along to the bars.

Boggs and Betsy had arranged a blind date between me and Lisa and we’d hit it off right away. Our first date had been the Maple Leaf Bar up on Oak Street. It was a legendary bar, near enough to Tulane to attract the student crowd with an open mike stage and a small upright piano. Pick-up bands would form during the weekday evening hours and the scheduled players on weekends showcased the amazingly diverse musical forms New Orleans is famous for. Across the street from the Maple Leaf was Jed’s. It was much larger with a big dance floor and a spacious stage. The funkiest band in town, the Meters, was the house band and played most weekends. Lisa and I went in a half hour before they started collecting a cover charge and ordered our drinks.

“What do you do?” she had asked. I looked at her soft round face and dark green eyes framed by straight brown hair that brushed the nape of her neck. “I guess I’m still trying to figure that out. I’m looking for a job as a sign painter but in the meantime I’m mowing lawns for the parks department” I said. “Ooh, I heard they hire ex-convicts to do that” she said, raising her eyebrows.

It was true. I had met robbers, petty larcenists, burglars and drug dealers who worked side by side with me as I picked up trash, mowed parking strips and municipal grounds all over the city. “Why you workin’ here?” one had said, “Don’t work so hard”, this older black man had told me “You’re makin’ us look bad”. At the end of one particularly hot and dirty day I had treated the crew to a six-pack of cold beer and they had treated me with cordiality from then on.

The Meters’ crew came into Jed’s and started setting up for the evening’s show. “I’ve taken my art samples around to some of the big sign companies and applied for work” I said, “I can do some lettering and know about paste-ups and things like that”. “I think you lost me.” She said, “I’m in the sociology program at Tulane and should get my Master’s next year.” We talked, drank, made eyes at each other and played footsy under the table until the Meters struck up their smokin’ set with “Fire on the Bayou”. “Let’s dance,” I had whispered in her ear.

“Excuse Me”, said Glenda, my nurse, just coming on duty. “We’re going to need to rotate Brom back onto his stomach now, so y’all need to say Bye”.

Boggs and Betsy rose from their metal folding chairs. Boggs said “I’ve managed to get all your stuff from Marino and I’ll let William go through it and use what he can while he’s here. Marino’s staying in your French Quarter apartment right now so your Uptown space is locked up. I think some of the neighbor kids got in and ripped off your bike and fishing pole.” No big loss, I thought to myself.

Now tears were forming in Lisa’s eyes too. “You’re gonna be alright” she repeated Boggs’ phrase and put her fingertips to my cheek. This lovely lady, whom I might otherwise had come to know very well, said one more thing to me. “Don’t worry! We’ll come to see you again soon.” I’d never see her again.

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