I moved down to New Orleans in the autumn of 1997, and I got hit by lightning a year later.
My first year of my unexpected Yankee Relocation Agenda was going pretty well. I thought I was only going to be visiting "The City That Care Forgot" only momentarily to produce a the 25th anniversary recording for The Wild Magnolias, but the project went long, and I spontaneously decided to escape for good.
I scored a great little furnished inlaw apartment in the back of a mansion on the 600 block of Esplanade Avenue, and in the attached slave quarters the New Orleans offices of NYNO records was right next door.
NYNO was a joint venture between Allen Toussaint and Josh Feigenbaum, who owned a bunch of radio stations up in NYC, hence NY-NO. But the staff and the artists alike could always be found poolside in our shared courtyard. Trisha Boutte, The great gospel artist Raymond Myles, and even Mr. Toussaint himself could always be found looming about my backyard on any given day. For a skinny assed Yankee invader who loved New Orleans music with all his heart, I really was living in a surrealist dream come true.
I was picking up gigs here and there, playing with Cyril Neville and The Uptown Allstars, James Andrews, and a few others, just trying to slowly assimilate and soak up the culture. Life was slow, but sweet as the night blooming jasmine scented air.
One (freakishly to me) typical New Orleans summer night, I was walking back from a little pick-up gig at Donna's on Rampart with another Central New York musician transplant, Mark McGrain. We decided to pop over to Royal Street to pick up a bottle of wine and some smokes at the Verti Mart before we hit his apartment. I walked in, and that's when lightning struck.
She was at the counter, buying a pint of vodka and a pack of American Spirits. She turned around, her blond mane swinging sympathetically, flashed her smile, her eyes sparkling like corn flower colored stars, and gave Mark a hug. They were friends. I just stared at her dumbfounded and tongue tied. She had a sexy rasp in her voice that mere mortal men would die for to have whispered directly into their ear.
I can't even remember if he introduced us. Before I got my bearings, she was ambling out the door, and into the driver's side of an illegally parked caramel colored VW Super Beetle.
I never believed in the concept of love at first sight. My Dad, when talking about the first time he laid eyes on my Mother, always said that at that very moment, he knew that this was the women that he would marry. I never believed him until I found myself in front of the counter of The Verti Mart, staring at Miss Kimberly Ann Krohn. Now I knew exactly what he was talking about.
Me: "Who was that?"
Mark: "That's my friend Kim... and George, don't even think of going there. She's out of your league."
Me: "I'm in a league? Since when?"
He wasn't going to knock me off this path, no matter how hard he tried... and he tried valiantly that night. I was having none of it as I pretended to accept his warnings in earnest and nod my head in assent.
She met up with us at Mark's apartment that he shared with his girlfriend Cheryl. Evidently she was a piano entertainer at a duelling piano bar called Pat O'Briens, and had a few minutes to have a glass of wine with us before she hit the stage. I really don't remember much of this, because all I could do was be mute, stare, and try not to be a fool by opening my mouth and removing all doubt. I'm sure I didn't leave much of an impression.
But I did leave Mark's apartment with a prime directive, along with the critical tidbit of information about her place of employment. The actual battle plan would have to be developed, but I knew down to my toes that this women's heart would be mine, or I would die in the attempt. Victory or Death. Failure just wasn't an option.
But I'm a "slow" player. I just went down to Pat O'Brien's randomly every night, until I casually and not so coincidentally "bumped" into her.
But there was a flaw in my "stalk subtly" methodology: The dueling pianna plunkers at Pat O's appeared nightly in two sets of two, and alternated shows every hour on the hour. Every time I went down there, the alternate set of duellists would be playing, and since I didn't know how shit worked down there, I made the erroneous assumption that the pair on the the stage were going to be there for the duration of the evening. I never knew there was going to be a second pair of entertainers coming up at the top of the hour.
It was just bad timing. I never arrived during a "switch-over", so I would just show up, sit at a table, drink a Heineken, be crestfallen, and then leave depressed. I lost her before I even had a chance.
This went on for about two weeks. Flaming courtyard fountains, sticky table tops befouled with Hurrican juice, and abyssmal piano reductions of "Brown Eyed Girl" can quickly lose allure. I could only hang for twenty minutes at a crack.
But I was not to be deterred. Every time I decided to make an appearance with my chances slim, I still walked down to St. Peter Street filled with hope even though I knew there was a high probability of returning home about a half hour later with hope dashed. And for two weeks, with that dashed hope, I'd walk out of Pat O's breezeway entrance, stop at the A&P to make some groceries, and take the left turn down Royal and mosey dejectedly home; Listening to the palmetto bugs scuttling across the sidewalk in the dim gas light infused darkness. The iconic Blue Dog in Georges Rodrigue's gallery window would mock me as I walked past it , despondent. I would mutter aloud for it to go fuck itself after every failed attempt.
Kim was probably right across the street from Pat O's at Johnny White's on her one of her three hour long breaks, but I never thought to look there.
It was a typically steaming New Orleans summer. Not much going on in August, especially at tourist destination French Quarter entertainment spots. And not much going on for the people that work at them. In retrospect, my timing couldn't have been better, even though I was being the victim of bad timing in the short term.
So finally, the planets and the stars aligned, and my persistence paid off. When I walked into the piano bar of Pat O's that night, I walked into the beginning a dream. There she was, all decked out in some sort of sequined ensemble, on the stage commandeering one of the copper sheathed pianos.
Her singing and her playing outshone the dress she was wearing. I was done for.
It was the last set of the night. Again, in her presence, my cognitive and comprehension skills were short-circuited, my rehearsed patter inaccessible. But I must have made enough of an impression, because in very short order she just adopted me like the lovesick puppy I was, and took me home for the night, and the greatest romance of my life commenced.
The first night was a little bumpy, but I must have showed potential. Maybe she just was bored. But by the second, we got all the kinks worked out, and by the third we both knew we'd be inseparable lovers, so she gave me a spare key to her flat that sat atop The Cafe Brasil on the corner of Frenchmen and Chartres Street.
Not exactly pragmatism at its finest, but when you are caught in the middle of the maelstrom of an endorphin fueled biological imperative, pragmatism gets thrown out the window. The sound of her voice in my ear reduced me from human form into a puddle of gelatinous, pre-evolutionary primordial goo.
I would lie awake and wait in her boudoir, the walls painted Chinese red with a Pepto-Bismol pink trim, like a starving lion waiting for prey to pass his sight line. I had only one mission. Devour completely. And when she arrived home from work (at either 3:15, or 4:15am, depending on the rotation at Pat O's), devour I did. By the break of every day, we dropped out in total exhaustion in a bedroom that had transformed into an apres meal bone yard permeated with the sweet stench the human funk of love gone mad. My tarot card had been dealt, and my future foretold. I was a way gone daddy.
Our lifetime bond of friendship was forged in the foundry of the unbearable heat of a sweat-soaked New Orleans summer.
She was talented, charismatic and beautiful at first encounter. Everything that I was not. But as those lazy days passed, I discovered more and more. She was brilliant. Well read and whip smart, equipped with a razor sharp Dorothy Parker-esque wit. Unending laughter was part our deal. She had boundless energy, and a lust for life experience that I had never encountered in any singular human... she was absolutely fearless, or it least it seemed that way. She had a complete set of R.Crumb trading cards carlessly tossed about her coffee table! I often talk about reading and receiving the subtle signs gifts that The Universe offers everyday, but I was caught in a Universal torrential rain, and experiencing total sensory overload. The Universe broke out the sledgehammer, took aim at the space right between my eyes, and swung with all of it's infinite might to make sure I didn't screw this one up.
When she walked into a room, she commanded it. Kim didn't just walk down the street, she sashayed down it, and all attention spans followed her wake, like rats following the Pied Piper of Hamlin, and she was absolutely oblivious to what was obviously happening all around her. And I was more than happy to walk behind her, assuming the role of a long haired Arthur Miller in sympathetic vibration to this French Quarter Bohemian version of Marilyn Monroe.
Every day revealed a new discovery for me, and although I had resigned myself to a lifetime of lonliness prior to meeting her, everyday I fell down the rabbit hole of consuming adoration that was seemingly bottomless, deeper and deeper. I was in total free fall. If I hit the bottom at high velocity and ended up as a fiery ball of mangled human wreckage I didn't care, because the eventual Wile E. Coyote poof of smoke at the bottom of the canyon was going to be worth every minute of the trip.
Love, and lightning, strikes when you least expect it. Especially in New Orleans, the land of dreams and epic thunder and lightning storms.
"Lightning and Thunder; Puts the World All A-Wonder"... Big Chief Monk Boudreau of The Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indian Tribe.
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THANK YOU KINDLY,
COLONEL BEAUREGARD "IRON THIGHS" JEFFERSON, A.K.A. "THE MANAGEMENT"