27. RAMPART & ESPLANADE
I started haunting the French Quarter looking for suitable apartments. It wasn’t an easy task. Although the street grid is straightforward and rectangular, there are hidden alleys and unobtrusive courtyards and for let signs discreetly posted. Since people there enjoy sitting on the stoop and engage passersby I subtly inquired in a few conversations.
One fellow complained of his landlord, “Completely paranoid, man. He’s a trip”, he said. “Used to be the police chief and put a lot of bad people away. That was years ago and now they’re comin’ out of prison. Lives next door and always carries a gun”. He went on about opportunities he had in Texas with family and was thinking of leaving town. “I’ll be throwing the I Ching tonight”, he said. “Depending on the outcome, I might be vacating my place”.
I got his phone number and asked him if I might see the place. “Sure. It’s just down Rampart”. We walked past Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. We stood on the corner of Esplanade and he pointed to the fire escape out one window on the top floor of an ancient building. “I been usin’ that as a balcony”, he said. “C’mon”. He unlocked the tall paint stripped door and we walked down a long hall to a wide three-story spiral staircase and started up. An old battered Victorian couch was set off to one side on the second floor landing with some half-filled boxes around. “Just up here”, he said, and climbed up the last flight.
It was a simple studio apartment with high ceilings and a separate mini-kitchen off to a corner. It did have a king-sized bed and a chair with an attached desk but that was it. “How much?” I asked. “Sixty bucks a month and another sixty for a damage deposit”. I checked out the bathroom and saw that it was completely covered in aluminum foil. “I did that just last week”, he stated proudly. The apartment was perfect for me and I hoped that I Ching might bounce my way.
Next morning, I walked up to the payphone at the corner gas station and dialed his number. I hadn’t told Marino about it and figured he’d be glad to have the Uptown place to himself anyway. We hadn’t paid rent there for two months. Whenever the landlord had come by to collect we’d pay, but made sure he fixed something that had broken and now he seemed to be staying away.
The phone rang and the familiar voice answered. “Yeah, Looks like I’m outta here” he said after I asked him the outcome of his throw. “It’ll be a couple days but I’ll tell the landlord about you and you can get the keys by the weekend”. “Yes!” I was cheering inside and pumped my fist. “Okay, thanks”, I said. “Via Con Dios”, he said on the other end of the phone.
I walked into the nearby Camellia Grill and sat down at the counter and ordered breakfast of eggs and grits. I’d have to outfit the apartment from scratch but I figured I could get a few bucks out of Marino for my share of our radio, fan and cedar chest. I’d take the pots and pans I got from Molly along with my gear and a small oriental carpet I’d pulled out of a trash bin. I tallied up my overhead costs and was glad that I’d be getting a raise soon.