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Pat Came Back
by Nicholas Barnes

Willy Bradley fell asleep with his foot on the heater. He passed out. He was a drunk. The infection might have killed him, but didn’t. His family was rich and he was a cast-off. I wasn’t a cast-off, far as I could tell, but I took up a crappy job at Modell’s Restoration & Polishing nonetheless, because I was new and in the right place. New Orleans is where people go to die. They don’t know it, but that’s the truth. I came here by choice. Willy Bradley was born here. He was one fun motherfucker. His family’s money allowed him to live and then tell stories about listening to Louie Armstrong beside the Seine. His family’s forsakenness brought him to me, with me, fixing lamps and antique chandeliers for people who looked down on us, but needed us, and so treated us with respect. Fake respect is the same as real respect, especially when there’s valuable fixtures involved. As far as the relationships go, it’s the same. People respect people who have power over them. And a Bavarian-crystal chandelier is the same thing as power.

Willy Bradley was a horrible alcoholic, yet I took him to Miss Mae’s after work – on days he showed up – and bought him straight vodka. All the time. It wasn’t my place to look out for him, or to cure him. Or to care if his Antabuse was doing its thing. It was simply my place to have somebody, with me, here on the next stool. It’s not my responsibility.

I wrote a song about Willy Bradley. I know two people who listen to it, put it on repeat. It’s a very good song for a bedroom studio on Constantinople. I loved that guy. He is burnt into me with the corner of Magazine and Napoleon.

Willy Bradley was found dead last night at the bulkhead. We hung out there by the fire.

***

We were first invited to the bulkhead by Pat Kelly, who was a myth until he came back to Modell’s and started working again. He had long red hair, Indian feathers, and a staff, like Moses. His whore died last night under I-10. The reality of Pat is more than the myth of Pat. One does not come across people like this in Ohio. People don’t come to Ohio to die, or be more than their own myths.

When Pat came back he borrowed twenty dollars. Modell told me not to give it to him; that he would screw me over. “You’re talking about a guy who took drugs to make his tits grow up and a guy who ate industrial cyanide after his tits didn’t grow up to where he wanted ‘em.”

I gave Pat twenty dollars and told him I’d kill him if he didn’t give it back. I whispered it in his ear, in fact.

Pat whispered back: “Resenting something, being drawn to it at the same time, is something I’ve felt before…about music…a landscape, maybe. Never a person, though. Never something that might realize it.”

I said: “I hope you give me my twenty dollars back.” He invited me to the bulkhead. I, in turn, invited Willy Bradley.

Pat Kelly killed himself by drinking a bucket of something we called “trabs.” To this day, I don’t know what trabs is, but it cleaned the shit off silverware like you wouldn’t believe.

Patrick Kelly once found a box by the river. The box contained a Bible and a scorpion. The Devil was following him, he said. When asked of the nature of America, he said “George Washington -- cannabis sativa is rope, see, George’s main crop; thing is, he got stoned and cut down that cherry tree. He didn’t want just one cherry, he wanted them all.”

“But he did that when he was just a kid,” I said.

“You don’t understand,” Pat said. “You haven’t looked in my box.”

I will never see a scorpion without thinking of religion. I will never think of religion without seeing a stinger. I will never be the same.

Because Pat came back.

***

Al Sutton works at Modell’s too. He is old and gay. He was one of the founders of Southern Decadence. He did too much cocaine when he was young, and now his nose is made of plastic. One day, he, Modell and I joked about the high prices of cosmetic nose replacement. I said, “You know, you should get a big dildo, glue it to where your nose is supposed to be, go to the doctor, and say, ‘I can be a dicknose for $19.95; you got something better, lay it on me.’”

In the 70’s, when even New Orleans wasn’t so happy about gay guys, Al’s roommate tried to kill himself with a butter knife. Al came home and his roommate was on the couch, trying to stab himself in the heart with a butter knife. The roommate never even breached his sternum. It was a big joke. Not to the guy who was trying to kill himself with a butter knife, but to everybody else. This guy Al, one of my best friends, worked in the oil fields near Houston for fifty cents an hour when he was young. This guy Al was at Cat’s Meow one night when my wife’s parents were in town. I saw him in there. I smoked a pack of cigarettes with him, drank many colorful drinks. Television screens above the bar showed naked dancing hotfucking manmeat. My father-in-law, a hunter from Ohio, enamored with Bourbon Street (but would not want to live there), saw me – all the doors are open. He came in and witnessed me smoking cigarettes and drinking colorful drinks with Old Gay Al. He pretended not to care. Maybe he didn’t. But he got a sense of me, at least, and now he treats me with respect and fright.

Old Gay Al died of AIDS last year. Modell emailed me. I didn’t go to New Orleans for the funeral, because the funeral was in Galveston. I didn’t go there either. I just sat here and made myself several colorful drinks

***

The Old Absinthe House is my favorite bar. Not because it has good or cheap drinks, but because, well, just look it up. My brother and I drove our dad down to Decatur, parked, and walked up there. To the Old Absinthe House. We wanted good whiskey in a historic setting. This was important.

We did not talk about death. Rather, we stared straight ahead.

We stopped every half-block because Dad had to catch his breath. He was ravaged. It was not fun; we did not talk of important matters, or philosophy. He gave no advice, or indications of sorrow. He was not scared. We sat on three stools, we looked straight ahead, talked of football and scotch. We mostly fell silent. This would have been the time, if ever the time comes.

Not here. Don’t come here, to New Orleans, to die. Say something important. Make it TV drama, because I’ll take it. Don’t make me sit here beside my brother, neither of us acknowledging anything beyond the old Packer helmet over the bar. He’s from Wisconsin, Ben. Say something.

But don’t come here.

Or do. Fuck it and do. Let’s have whiskey. Please go home. Go back home and die there, please, before I came here in the first place. You are not interesting enough to drown yourself, to poison yourself, to fuck yourself to death. This is my place. It’s my place. I’ve sat at Crowley’s table, for God’s sake, sipping personal stash because they only serve Pernod. I’ve leered at young women, just like him, and treated euphoria. Don’t cramp my style. I have good fiction here; you need not be part. Let me bury your little box in the backyard, back home, like I did. I’ve already done it, Dad. Do not go gentle. We know it. Look ahead. The three of us. Just drink this.

Or say something important.

I have this story about a guy named Pat, who came back…


Nicholas Barnes has been published and self-published, has played music in Ohio and Louisiana coffee houses for tips and business cards, has written and produced original music for feature films (well, "film"), and has recorded three independent albums. He lives in Upper Sandusky, Ohio; but New Orleans will always be home. Visit his website.

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