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glbt new orleans history

V o l u m e 1 5 I s s u e 10

Madame John Dodt's Legacy #13

by Jon Newlin, NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana

(Thirteen Is Unlucky)

Which land is dreamier, Arcadia or Bohemia? Which is the right man, Walt Whitman or Paul Whiteman? Which? These are just some of the questions of the utmost cosmological, and cosmetological, importance that I'd been pondering (though borrowing Cole Porter's words to do it), when, in a spasm of Cassandraesque prescience, I told Press Lord Naquin and Press Lady Delain who were preparing to spend April In Paris (dare I quote Cole Porter again? dare: Who never knew Paris minus you? Who said Gay Paree? Who said, of all towns under the sun, all lovers here should be? Who failed to add Paris could be sad? Who said Gay Paree?) that I was going to have to skip a month, just as if I were announcing that I'd a bun in the oven-or somewhere.

So here I sit at my antique computer, listening to Xavier Cugat and his band playing "Alla en el Rancho Grande," and rather than press on-you know, dears, as with nails-with gay history, I'll explain to my intense psychic relief and your no doubt intense boredom what has happened in the interim.

First, I got violently ill. As I tossed and turned in my sickbed, hoping to roll over on one of my dogs and put it out of my misery like an oblivious cow walrus on the shores of some frozen sea, I thought perhaps I'd just take a leaf from the clever book of Francis Fukayama, a California professor who, some years ago, announced The End Of History. And lemmetellya hermanas, everybody was some relieved at that. It was like No More Pencils, No More Books, etc. So I thought why not announce The End Of Gay History. But as soon as my temperature dropped into the more temperate ranges, I realized no, dreary old Hegel was probably right and History is marching on to some grand Culmination, though what it might be even Hegel didn't know, and I'm certainly not gonna stick my dainty little foot out.

At the same time, I was involved in an equally feverish romance-flirtation and romance, nothing physical, all of my prostheses have rusted-with a young man half my age; now this was in the nature of an experiment that got out of hand: scientific method, proving hypotheses, and all that, duckies. (I may as well put my business in the street before someone else less refined does it.)

Being thoroughly smitten, I decided to see if without money or drugs or drinks, nothing but coasting on charm and savoir faire and eclat and all that Mickey Mouse stuff, I could at least ignite the pilot light. It turns out that I could, but his wife, it seems, had other plans for him and spirited him out of town. I know, I know, we've all heard of affairs that are strictly platonic, but diamonds are a girl's best friend, and the rest of it.

It was almost enough for me to revise my usual universal distaste for anyone under forty-he reminded me a bit of Izaak Walton's famous remark about that strawberry, to the effect that Doubtless God could have made a cuter boy, but doubtless God never did. Et maintenant, I had cannonballed stupidly into the deep end, while carrying a torch with me. Of course, I'll always have the tattoos he gave me, just as Bergman and Bogart will always have Paris in Casablanca.

I heartily recommend Heartbreak as a cure for what ails you, by the way. It affords endless excuses for drama, for being even bitchier to your solicitous friends (for you know they Don't Really Mean A Word Of It), for not cleaning your house or making your bed, for smoking too much and drinking obscene amounts of coffee and brandy (or both), for dragging out those Chris Connor and Jeri Southern records and a sparkling new set of wooden spoons and doing the most lugubrious living-room-drag shows ever seen by man or beast. (The dogs now run when they see the cover of "Chris Connor Sings Ballads of the Sad Cafe" or Jeri Southern's "When Your Heart's On Fire" and they scamper for the safety of the back yard when those wooden spoons get unwrapped.)

Of course, one can luxuriate in those dreamy thoughts of La Belle, La Perfectly Swell Romance ended for no good reason, and sigh and sniff as if one were turning the pages of that deb album one stows under the bed with those yellowed, foxing dance cards from one's first ball and those pressed corsages....

Besides this, there was the additional strain of being treated like an Historical Personage by Mr. Batson in his fulsome profile of y.t. in that other paper (my naturally unkind and suspicious cast of mind leads me to think that this was partly engineered by publisher of same to make himself look like a Great Guy since, unlike his distinguished predecessor, he has a mortal terror of appearing as anything else though he often does. (That may read convolutedly but it will be understood). Being approached as some sort of weird hybrid of William Cullen Bryant and Marie Antoinette was a bit disconcerting-I say this as someone who has been written about more than once, mostly kindly-but I have to say that I had a decent enough time cutting up on tape, even if virtually none of it made it into the final edition.

Being treated as historical, like some walking Parthenon, still tottering around the street with bits of plaster and ancient paint flaking off all over everyone like dandruff, is a bit, well, curious; creepy I calls it, as either Blair Ziegler or Una O'Connor-same difference-once put it.

One of the things that crossed my mind, if not my palm, while Bob Batson and I were sitting in Brocato's on Carrollton Avenue for a little post-prandial sweet, was that among the many forgotten, semilegendary figures swept away by the Tides Of History was the incomparable Miss Tommie, waitron to and under the stars at the late, lamented Burgundy House (corner of St. Peter) where, twenty-odd years ago, one could get an absolutely delicious meal for mere pennies, or so it seems, filled with interesting vegetables and good bread and always some obscure Broadway show piped in; the charming gentlemen who ran the place never forgot a request so that everytime I went in, they put on High Spirits.

Miss Tommie was a tall, willowy creature with a rather large head with an immense corona of ice-cream-blonde hair, always natty in a jacket that fell about her like Carole Lombard's lounging pajamas and always with a tie on, just to kill for. To say that Miss Tommie was androgynous is to realize how paltry and limited the English language can be at important moments; that voice-low and sultry and utterly free of any taint of gender-and that fashion model posture made of rubber bands!

John Desplas (with whom I was working at the Figaro at the time) and I concocted a drive-in movie scenario for Tommie called Killer Waitress. We'd gotten as far as the ad copy: Kickin' Ass By Day, Slingin'Hash By Night!

La Batson told me two wonderful anecdotes about Tommie: one night, when there was no one in the Burgundy House, Miss Tommie looked about the empty dining room, and exclaimed to no one in particular, "You'd think they could at least mail their tips in!" And on another evening when the Kitty Kat Kocktail Klub (of which Miss Tommie was a founding member, and whose doings used to be chronicled with breathless excitement in the Impact of the period) was invading Finale II or somewhere in the more raffine precincts of Rampart Street, Batson stopped Miss Tommie, who was apparently more than usually glamorous that evening, and Tommie told him that as a child, "I won a June Allyson sound-alike contest."

Well, there were giants in those days. Alas, Miss Tommie's story doesn't end happily with Tommie married to some doting octogenarian billionaire like Anna Nicole Smith or being discovered sipping a soda in a sweater in Schwab's like Lana Turner.

Miss Tommie was murdered out in California by someone he had taken home through the goodness of his heart, i.e., someone brought home simply as an act of Samaritanism. I'm sure he put up a good fight; but this incident remains as floating proof (in this floating world) of that usually grotesquely inaccurate truism about the good dying young.

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