I haven't been to New Orleans since 1976, when the circus I was with played Metairie, Louisiana. Metairie's just outside New Orleans proper. I remember the circus lot distinctly -- it was a really rotten lot, covered in broken up oyster shells that crunched underfoot everywhere you walked. If you got one of the shards in your shoe you could do some serious foot damage.
The lot was right next door to the largest grocery store I'd ever seen, called Schwegmann's. Schwegmann's was huge, especially for its time. I saw folks line up in Schwegmann's with seven or eight big grocery carts packed full with food, a month's worth of food! It took forever to check out with lines like that, and probably forever to shop.
Enter the Shopper's Bar. It was in the same building as the Schwegmann's, right next to the main entrance. Guys would drop off their wives to do the shopping; they'd go straight into the Shopper's Bar to drink and tell lies while the groceries were getting bought. Occasionally a couple would tag team the checkout line; as soon as one finished a beer, he or she would relieve the other. This would keep going until the groceries were paid for and it was time to load up the pickup!
As you might have inferred, I spent a fair amount of time in the Shopper's Bar, drinking cheap beer and eating corn nuts and pretzels. Cripes -- I think my eating habits are screwed up now; back then, I lived primarily on Hershey bars, candy floss, beer, coffee, and fried eggs. Ah, the four basic food groups: fat, sugar, salt, and alcohol.
My then boyfriend took me to the French Quarter one evening. He was really tired from setting up the big top and didn't want to party hearty. We agreed to walk around a bit so I could see the sights of the Quarter at night and then have a drink in some quiet, out of the way place.
Boy oh boy. From where we parked, we had to walk through the seedier part of the Quarter, the part filled with titty bars and peep shows, something I'd never seen before. I remember glancing in the door of one bar only to look right into a big mirror that was reflecting the action inside. AHHH! MY EYES!! I tried very hard to stare straight ahead from then on, although my boyfriend was highly amused by my discomfort.
We did get to a quiet bar for a drink. Of course, neither one of us noticed that there were no women in this bar; none, that is, except for me. We sat at the bar and ordered drinks, then talked for a bit. I got up to go to the bathroom. That's when I first suspected that we weren't just in a quiet bar. The bathroom was full of supplies: crates of paper towels, boxes of napkins, cases of cleanser.
When I came back to my seat, I noticed that my boyfriend -- my extremely well-built boyfriend, wearing his tight jeans, cowboy boots, and muscle shirt -- was surrounded by equally well-built men with perfect pecs and Andy Gibb hairstyles. I shooed one of the Gibb Brothers away from my barstool. My boyfriend looked at me and said, "Oops."
Yes, friends, it was a gay bar. We quickly finished our drinks, left the bar, and went back to the oyster shells.
It was also in New Orleans where I met Sweet Dave. Dave was a handsome Cajun fella with long, dark-brown hair and a musical voice. He rescued me from my feelings for the boyfriend a couple of times when things were rocky.
I specifically remember meeting up with Sweet Dave a year or so later when Circus Vargas played my hometown. Dave was canvas boss (and supplied the truck drivers with white crosses on the side). I went 'round to the back yard and asked some gazoony where Dave was; of course, the gazoony asked, "Big Dave or Little Dave?" Since Dave was a just a tad bit shorter than I, I said, "Little Dave, I think." Just then, there he was, smiling and hugging me.
That night in bed, he looked at me with his big, liquid brown eyes and said, "Thank you, Pretty Mary."
God bless him. I hope life has treated him well.