Hurricanes in My Youth

The Mississippi levee breaks at the end of St.
Mary, just three blocks from where we live and then water, snakes
and shit and creasoled logs come pouring into the streets left and
right, rumbling like an old tired Gray Line Bus. And then Mama starts
yelling put up the icebox and washer on something 'cause the water's
rising.

The stinky water's moving down the hall to my room so fast, and
crap there's my shoes right under the bed, floating out so I have
to go barefooted; and there goes a little black frog-thing and Mama
says never mind, never mind, let’s get on over to the Caldoni
place, they're up three stories. And never you mind the washer,
your Daddy's gonna pass a brick. Just bought it from JC Penney.

Mama's in her black stretch pants, red blouse loose and no bra
and I can't help but laugh at us two running, flopping, out this
nasty old house, willow tree outside and them Portuguese boys from
across the street climbing up it and looking in the window. The
water's so brown like diarrhea and something's on my foot then between
my toes. Oh hell. I'm sick of this, don't want to be here.

Hey Mama, Mama you forgot your teeth.

Hope I don't see them boys coming with us, following us, hope a
old big moccasin bites their balls. I told them I don't fuck with
no Por..tee..gee..guys. Swear to God they whispered so loud last
night Mama was gonna hear, and me with no period yet. Almos' fourteen.
Already gone to first year high school. That man Kennedy's gonna
be president and I went to the campaign down at Rocky's Movie House
last week. Father Malon says he's the first Catholic one and he's
gonna show us all right from wrong at last. 'Bout time the true
spirit of the south gets in the White House. Father's from Ireland
so what's he know about it and he's so young and, well, they say
he likes the coloreds. Somebody threw a brick through the rectory
last week. Damn, I hate going to confession.

Well, this town smells like a leaking sewage ditch, like the Mississippi
in the morning. The south ain't so sweet no more huh, Father? God's
wrath, like it says in the Bible.

Now Mama's in front of me yelling come on, come on. She's already
gone a block up almost to the street sign where I take the bus and
then she's around the corner and I can't see her. But I can see
the next street, that's Shalimar with a S, and I think who in hell
names streets 'cause I sure as hell don't know what that means except
could be the name of some teased-hair bitch goes to St. Theresa's
school for girls who'll do it with anybody. And then I see the water
rushing like in that First Story Ever Told movie just at the street
sign that says Jefferson and Davis. That old red truck Mr. Spadora
uses for selling vegetables is stuck there, like it's gonna turn
over and there past me goes cucumbers and tomatoes and a head of
yellow lettuce. Mr. Spadora sells cheap stuff I think. Only fresh
goes to the big restaurants where Daddy says the Mafioses eat in
style and us taxpayers pick up the tab 'cause the mayor and the
governor and all them politicians on the take. Corruption. Daddy
loves that word; says everything, everybody, the whole world's corrupt
and that's probably why he has to drive that Ding Dong truck 'stead
of sitting behind a desk and smoking. Poor Daddy watches the fights
on TV all the time and don't bother to talk to none of us kids.
Mama says he's lonely, but I can't see that she does anything to
make it go away.

Mama looks back and she's crying and her red lipstick is smeared
and I gotta laugh at my Mama 'cause who would think to put makeup
on when the hurricane's coming and the water and snakes and people
are peeing and shitting in the water and Mama, well, that's Mama.
Once she said go ahead and smoke but be sure you just don't do it
walking down the street. Be a lady, you hear now girlie. Man, I'd
like to tell her 'bout what them dego boys wanted to do to me one
night... and they didn't care if it's on the sidewalk neither.

We finally get to the stairs to go up to the Caldoni place and
there sitting on the steps just where the water's coming is Benny
Stern and his brother Manny and they're laughing and throwing a
little black cat in the water. They're yelling, mew, cat mew, and
the poor cat tries to swim back but the water's too fast and Mama
she catches the cat and yells you little bastards I'm gonna tell
your Mama how mean you are. And they get up and run upstairs and
Mama grabs the cat and starts to climb after them.

I yell, hey wait for me when a big log comes rolling towards me
and trash and some dead blue thing and I'm knocked backward. All
I can feel is water in my mouth and pieces of whatnot and I think
if I'm not gonna die right now then it sure will be later from polio
or typhoid or some disease that nobody can cure. Man, I'm gonna
puke. But I'm standing up again feeling the cold water under my
blouse and I'm just so scared a snake's gonna bite me right on my
teats. Oh God. I don't think I have time to say a Hail Mary. So
I spit out the water and I'm crying and Mama's real blurry through
the dirty water in my eyes and it's in my mouth and I push and cry
like some goddamned cry baby all the way to the stairs and climb
to Mama. I'm coughing and gross stuff is running out my nose. Mama
grabs my hand and says come on. She's still holding the
cat.

Dang! How in hell did all these people get here so fast is my question.
The whole Caldoni apartment is full of old ladies and little kids
running around and more cats, yellow and black and white and even
one of those wimpy sushi dogs. Ugly as sin, reminds me of a werewolf
face. Maybe when Mrs. Sullivan ain't looking, I'll kick it.

"Hey, I busta you head you lil pricka." That's Mrs. Petrelli
yelling at Tommy O'Brien. Always, she's yelling at Tommy, always
she's gonna busta something. One time she threw a pot with red flowers
at him and said she was gonna pray to God to busta his little dick.
Boy, that was one of the best laughs we had in a long time. So,
poor Tommy, he got a great nickname... busta, hey, busta dick, coma
here!

"Bella, how come your Nolan don't come to confession las'
Saturday. Father Boudreaux says he not going to be confirmed."
Mrs. Boisseau is picking on Mrs. Manella already. We know all the
sore places in this neighborhood. Mr. Manella hates the Catholic
Church, or maybe just priests, reason being one supposed ta' have
tried well you know what with Nolan. Nolan could care less one way
or the other. He says fuck them, he says that about everything,
cause he's gonna join the Mafia when he's thirteen and then the
Navy when he's eighteen and it don't make no difference about God
in neither one. Nolan always has something deep to say. Told me
the other day that girl's got it lucky since they don't have to
worry about being bad 'cause there's nothin' for them to do anyway.
Women just make heartache. Mostly he says people that don't have
to choose are the happiest. Choose you lose.

"Give me that sausage you little asshole. That's for Penny.
I brought that for Penny."

"The hell you say. We hardly have food here. Go look at the
water old lady and see when you think the grocery store gonna deliver.
Ain't giving no good pepperoni to no ratty dog."

What a bunch of tired asses! And so I think, oh swell world war
three. Old ladies rather die then see their little baby poochies
go hungry. Then the real baby in the other room starts crying and
God I hope Mrs. Hanlon doesn't whip out her knockers and start feeding
that kid 'cause that's disgusting and it just gives guys ideas about
how big a girl's oughta be and then they gonna be after me to show
'em.

"Hey, Dominic, you see Fats Domino las' Saturday?" Artie
Jones yells across the room. He's laughing like it's a big deal
his brother plays for the band. Only white guy they let do that.
Fats lives five blocks from here and nobody's allowed to go near
his place. They say there's bodyguards all over and if you go on
his property they kill you and well, like Fats sings it, it's the
big piano in the sky.

So then Artie goes to Mrs. Caldoni's icebox and takes out a Jax
and I'm thinking great, shit's gonna hit the fan 'cause we all know
about Mrs. Caldoni and Artie. I can tell everybody's holding their
breath like where's Mr. Tony and I can tell that he's probably not
here but out with the fire guys saving cats. Big bet goes around
about how long it’s gonna take for Mr. Tony to find out what
his wife's doing and kill Artie. Dominic laughs and gives Artie
the finger.

Mama's smoking another cigarette and her lips are all red and messy
and she looks at me and winks like she's got some goddamned secret
about being here. All of a sudden old Mrs. Shobanian screams something
about the eggs being stoled from her purse and all the kids are
laughing and she gets up and stands and I see she's got her shoes
on and then she plops down, the old fat witch, and the kids howl
and little Merci O'Brien is rolling on the floor, then the old witch
screams again you lil' rotten fuckin' tings and she's looking at
her feet and I see yellow goo coming out where her fat feet fold
over her old lady black orthopedic shoes and I can't help it 'cause
it's the funniest dang thing.

Here comes three cats and a yeepie poodle going after her feet
and they're licking and fighting and Mama and Mrs. Caldoni try to
stop it when all of a sudden the door bangs open and Manny yells
there's a dead guy floating in front of the house. He's bloated
like a purple balloon. And I think I want to see a dead guy and
get outta this place with all these disgusting people.

Mama's yelling for me to come back, but there's no way in hell
I'm gonna miss this. I run out and down the stairs and the sun hits
me like a hammer in my eye socket. Man, it stinks like the dumps
along Jefferson Boulevard, like when we have to stand by them graveyards
and wait for the nine-thirty transfer to Canal Street and I hope
Mama never finds out that I didn't go to Aunt Mary's but to Bourbon
Street and sat on the cool grass at Jackson Square and drank beer
with Ettiene Broussard. I'm heading down the stairs to look at a
dead guy and down the long road to ruin in New Orleans. And I'm
thinking that it can't be no worse than being in Mrs. Caldoni's
apartment with a bunch of retards live around me day after day,
hurricane or no hurricane. What kind of life is this anyway? Dead
man with a red shirt, eyes open and looking up at me like he's scared
shitless and cin't remember what to tell me, just knows that somewhere
out there where he come from was bad, real bad. And Mama has her
hand on my arm and says now Nikki Beaudoin you get yourself away
from that there man. You hear me. But all I know is she smells like
our house before the waters came.

Scroll to Top