New Orleans adventure | From The Letters of William Gaddis

 For just about cocktail time (I use it only as a figure of speech, to indicate the hour, for no one thought of such an amenity) we arrived in New Orleans. There the fun started. And it was so consistently folly that I cannot take it from day to day. Enough to say that we slept in the car for a few nights (I have not thought it necessary to mention that it was raining—rain such as Malay gets once in a generation), being low enough on funds to consider selling the car and sailing across the Gulf (until we were told that sailboats bring around 1500$), and other similarly unfelicitous notions. We spent one night in a great house belonging to friends of Bill’s family, who apparently had not been posted on his standing (though one look at either of us should have told them that we were not exactly eligible bachelors). The living room was so big that a grand piano was passed quite unnoticed in one corner; there were, as a matter of fact, two kitchens, abreast of one another for no reason that my modest eating interests could resolve, and a dining room which should have been roped off and ogled at. By this time we had become rather legendary mendicants, with a good part of the city crossing the street when we approached. Fortunately New Orleans has a French Quarter. I was pulling at what was becoming a rather eager mustache and waiting for the time-honoured greeting: “Hello, friend/ Where are you from?”, this being the first step to any southern or western jail on a vagrancy charge, when we were introduced to a young man by a girl who had not the sense to see the desperation in our characters, and pictured us fondly as Bohem . . . This southern gentleman (for he is, or rather was before he became involved with us) found something in us which prompted him to offer an apartment which was kicking around in his hands. And therewith another resolve: sell the automobile, live for a little time in New Orleans, perhaps even work, and then go to Mexico in somewhat less sportive fashion than a Cord car. Oh, the gladsome effect of plans and resolution. We moved out of the car, into the apartment, had the lights and gas turned on, bargained with a passerby to sell the Cord for 300$, I wrote you a letter giving my address and settled state of mind, clothes were taken to be laundered and cleaned, and we drank a quiet glass of absinthe in what was once Jean Lafitte’s blacksmithshop and went ‘home’. As was well to be expected, dawn broke the following morning and so did everything else. The real-estate company appeared with legal forms which practically made us candidates for the penitentiary for our brief tenancy. The man who had made arrangements to buy the car had talked with some evil companion who convinced him that nothing could ruin him so quickly as a Cord (which is something I cannot quite deny flatly at the moment), and once more we were free to blow our brains out in the streets. But even New Orleans has laws against that, so what could we do but take miserable pennies to Lafitte’s and invest them, this time in defeatingly tiny glasses of beer?

The proprietor of Lafitte’s is a man whose name has passed me without ever leaving a mark. He is quiet, pleasant, 42, and believes that everyone should have a quiet little pub of his own, at least fifty yards from his. I approached him modestly simply to ask if he had any sporting friends who thought life had come to such a pass that they would enjoy sporting about the Quarter in a long low and very moderately priced automobile. From there we went on to the intellectual world, bogged through its vagaries for a little while, and after I had proved my metal by reciting a few lines from T S Eliot, he encouraged us with tasteful portions of absinthe and loaned me 10$.

From a letter William Gaddis wrote to his mother Edith Gaddis. The letter is dated 9 March 1947. It is collected in The Letters of William Gaddis. 

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