The Benny Mason Fan presents:
“A Night in New Orleans”
October 11th, 2015
“Gimme a Sazerac cocktail.”
“Up, or on the rocks.”
The barmaid’s eyes gleamed, sultry and black as jet. She stirred in the sweet absinthe, bending down just enough so Benny could make out the ink design nestled between the firm slopes of her obsidian breasts. A fleur de lis, rimmed with dark, purple roses.
“Y’know, Benny, nobody tickles my keys like you.”
“Well, the thing is, Marie, it ain’t but a matter of ebony and ivory…”
Benny’s long, white fingers danced across the bar and over the brass rail, like a dancing snow crab.
“All it’s ever been….”
He withdrew a lemon rind from the sectioned fruit container, then chewed it, slowly and seductively. He winked. Marie’s dark lips curled into a sly grin, like a Frito covered in A-1 sauce.
“Benny, this town hasn’t been the same since you left the Music Factory. Heck, it seems like music ain’t been the same, neither.”
“Well, Marie, thing is, these are different times. They don’t like my kind anymore, it seems…”
“That’s because you’re one of a kind, Benny.”
Benny looked up at Marie, trying to read her face, then looked down at the bar and laughed.
“Yeah, tell that to Paul Fleshman. Christ!”
Jeering, he downed the dregs of his Miller High Life: a hot, salty sip. He slammed the bottle down, then tipped the brim of his wide-brimmed brown hat. He was also wearing a trenchcoat and a tie.
“Well, Marie, I guess this is it. Till next time…”
Marie pushed the Sazerac cocktail towards Benny – small droplets of amber sin dripped onto the slick woodgrain. Benny chuckled, and shook his head. She remembered to serve his favorite drink in a clear plastic cup, since in New Orleans it is permissible to drink from an open container in the streets.
Outside it was a typical night on Bourbon Street – hot, and sultry. Benny sipped his Sazerac gleefully. The cry of merchants peddling their wines and wares, the flashing lights, the commotion of the frozen daiquiri stands, the air so heavy you could almost taste it, salty and sweet – this is why I love this city! he sang through hysterical gasps of absinthe and rye. And of course, above it all, the hot, brassy jazz music, screaming from the mouths of the little cafés. Benny found himself stumbling into a dark den with a brilliant marquee overhead: The Music Factory.
Before he knew it he was hunched over a small table, his gaunt face illumined by a small candle. A laminated rectangle of menu stood before him, held upright beside salt and pepper shakers and a stack of coasters. Benny took one and held it before him, its elegant motif catching the light. A black fleur de lis, trimmed in gold and surrounded by golden flames.
“Sir, what would you like?”
Benny had already disposed of his plastic cup before entering the Music Factory. He had also spit out the lemon rind he had been chewing on.
“Gimme the usual.”
He glared up at the young waitress. She stared back with confusion, a hint of fright. Boy, things have really changed around here, he thought.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart, it’s been a while since this old stormcloud….”
“Wait – is that – are you Benny Mason, the great composer and pianist?”
“No, sweetheart. You must be mistaking me for somebody else…”
Just then the band started up, and the dark, warm room was enveloped in a veritable placenta of horn and accordion. Benny stared out at the stage, and his mind began to drift, back to the days when he used to sit on that very stage and entertain crowds that would line up out the door and around the block. He was back, over the keys, under the lights, white hot – and boy, how his fingers moved back then! Now all they’re good for is slipping dollar bills into the aprons of waitresses, which Benny did just then as he ordered another Sazerac, a Bud Lite and a flight of oyster shooters.
An hour later Benny was vomiting into a trashcan outside the Music Factory. A young busboy came out back with two huge black sacks of smelly garbage. He threw them down when he saw Benny, silhouetted against the dim alley.
“Aw shit,” the young man wiped the sweat from his brow, and let out a heavy sigh.
“Wait – hey, are you –”
Benny stormed away into the darkness, bile dripping from his chin.
In drunken stupors and times of adversity, which Benny endured all too often since his exile from the benevolent womb of the Music Factory, he found his only refuge in New Orleans’ throbbing heart, the city’s kitchen, Café du Monde. The sweet purveyor of confections and hot potables that served the wayward souls and lost prophets of the South for generations, and for generations forthcoming, and where he found himself barreling towards once again as the clock struck 11pm.
“Gimme a beignet, and a little cup of coffee, with the chicory.”
An hour later Benny’s sallow face hovered above fresh, brilliant mounds of powdered sugar, transfixed. He was beginning to sober up. With the vivid attention of a hawk he watched the grains at the bottom of the pile melt into the cushions of dough. But his soul was adrift.
He was interrupted by a foul odor.
Sitting next to Benny was a filthy vagrant, mottled gray hair sprouting from his wizened face. He trailed several leaky garbage bags in tow, and was covered in vomit.
“Hank! How did you find me here?”
“You ralphed all over me, son, outside the restaurant.”
“Oh, Hank, why didn’t –”
“I didn’t want to further embarrass you, son, but now I’m here aghh aggh AGHH—”
Hank let a huge globule of brown saliva fall between his knees.
“I’m here because you seem deeply troubled, son. I’m here to counsel you.”
“Hank, thank you, but I don’t know how much help that would do me. I’m so far down I don’t know what up is anymore. And you’re crazier than shit.”
“I know, son, but here, I want you to have this.”
Old Hank turned away from Benny, and turned back holding a weathered guitar. It was chipped along the edges, and rattled as Benny drew it to his lap.
“I may have lost the pick in there earlier, but—”
“Hank, this has no strings on it.”
“Oh, yes, agh AGH urggghhh AGGGH!”
Benny gave the broken instrument back to Old Hank and stood up, then strode away into the night, bereft.
Benny walked silently along the bank of river. It was half past midnight. He circled back through the French Quarter, where jazz still poured like a hot sticky syrup through the streets. Despite the molten pleasure all about him, though, Benny was in a melancholy mode, thinking of all the faces he’d passed by that night. The waitress, and the busboy – so young and carefree, so helplessly divorced from his existence! He nearly sank down and cried. But somebody was passed out on the sidewalk so he kept walking.
Then there was Old Hank and his chipped-tooth, cock-crazy smile.
Then there was Marie.
His heart lurched. No, not love – he knew that sting all too well! But perhaps, admiration? Yes, he admired her careful measurements, her effortless chit chat, her balloon ass and magnificent tits. How he sought for them every evening, like he sought for his daily Sazerac, mingled with just a hint of citrus…
Benny turned onto a shady street of rowhouses and rubble. Among the abandoned pallets and heaps of old clothing sat a squat, desolate spinet. Suddenly curious, Benny moved briskly towards it, and tested one ragged ivory key, applying just the slightest pressure from his fingertip. It responded with a gentle, “dong….”
Luckily the former owner had also put the adjoining bench out on the curb, so Benny sat down at the small piano. He was instantly at ease, and placed his hands over the keys. He grinned, softly.
“It ain’t but a matter of ebony and ivory…”
His hands burst into a flurry of sound, and he erupted in song.
Faces made of clay!
The ghastly apparitions of night,
The harbingers of day!!!
His furious accompaniment ended in a defiant “donk.” Something was off. Benny closed his eyes, leaned back and took a deep breath. Returning his finger pads to their practiced arch, he began a new rhapsody, melancholy, but resounding with rich chords of triumph and praise:
so softly, so sweetly…
Benny craned his neck to the handful of bleary stars. Through the dense, hot, sultry air they twinkled, unperturbed, soaked in his song, but far from it.