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Herbert Huncke's America - Edited By Jerome Poynton Literary Executor - New Orleans, 1938 - June 2019

NEW ORLEANS, 1938
BY
HERBERT E. HUNCKE


I recall a night in New Orleans on St. Charles Street—walking. It had been raining—the streets were glistening—pools of rainwater reflected the night. Sounds of drops of water dropping and splattering on the leaves of the magnolia trees. The streets were deserted—only an occasional passing automobile. I was crossing a side street when as I glanced up I saw a man approaching. He was about my own height. He was of stocky build, inclined a bit toward fat—wearing dark trousers and a white shirt open three buttons at the neck—exposing a heavy growth of black hair. His complexion was swarthy—his eyes were small and dark brown. His hair was black and oily which he wore combed straight back from his forehead. His hands were in his pockets—a dangling cigarette hung from the corner of his mouth.

As I gave him a light for his cigarette he stood in front of me— wavering—sort of off-balance—placing his hands on my shoulders— squinting his eyes—staring into my face—saying, “You look like a nice guy. I bet a person’s color doesn’t make any difference to you. Want a drink? Come on—I’ll buy you a drink.”

I was strictly on the bum—any situation had—so to speak—to be taken advantage of—also I was curious about the man.

We turned off St. Charles Street—walking in the direction of—I believe—South Rampart Street near a railway depot. Reaching Rampart Street we entered a saloon—almost the first we encountered. The interior was lighted by a single unshaded lightbulb hanging suspended in the center of the room. A large neon-trimmed jukebox occupied space along one wall. Several tables surrounded by straight back chairs were placed around the room—at one slouched a dark-skinned Negro—wearing blue denim overalls —his arms and hands hanging limp toward the fore—his head resting on the tabletop. At the bar—which was painted bright orange—two men stood talking. A record with a lot of horns and beating drums was on the jukebox.



We stood at the bar drinking wine. The man was telling me something about cockroaches. He kept saying, “Never kill a cockroach—never kill a cockroach.” Several were walking around the spots of spilled wine and beer —waving their antennas. Suddenly he said he wanted to get laid. “Let’s go and find a bar where there are some women—come on—I know where one is—it’s not far—just around the corner.”

We departed Rampart Street for about two blocks. The street was bare —lined solidly on either side with stores. One street light shone dimly—set high up on a pole—two men were walking—hands in their pockets—talking —hurrying—just out of the glow. We turned down a side street a short distance into a store—the glass windows painted black on the bottom halves. Inside—another unshaded lightbulb—a few tables—no jukebox but a number of people—some standing at a short bar of unpainted lumber. A few were women—rather bedraggled appearing—none young—clothing rather shapeless—hanging askew. They were speaking, almost shrilly, moving around—laughing, watching everything with their eyes. One came slightly stumbling toward us—carrying a wine glass—saying, “Is you going to buy me a drink—honey?” She was thin—not young—her hair sticking out in stiff wisps from beneath a black hat. She was short in stature—light brown in color—with small facial features—her mouth narrow—open showing bad teeth—two or three missing in front.

The man bought her a drink. They began talking—joking lasciviously at one another. He asked her what she charged for a lay. She said, “A dollar —I’se a good lay, mister—I’ll show you a good time.” He replied, all he had was seventy-five cents—and he wanted me to go along and watch. She agreed. She led us out of the barroom down the street to a small brick building set back a small space from the street—lighted inside the hallway at the top of a flight of stairs by a gas-jet flame—into a room just off the top of the stairs—holding a large brass bed—a dresser and mirror with a kerosene lamp burning, sitting on the surface in front of the mirror—a straight-back chair and a small table—a large white crockery pitcher—a bowl set on top of a bedside stand.

Without removing her hat she flopped backward on the bed—pulling her skirts up around her waist. He approached her clumsily—finally lowering his weight down on her—his pants partway down to his knees. They began squirming and panting. She began repeating obscenities— supposedly to excite him—interspersing remarks about him being good— also saying, “Come on, daddy—oh—daddy—you’se good—you’se make baby feel good.”—moving rapidly and frantically. This lasted a long while —until perspiration was rolling down their faces making a squelching sound as they would come together.

Suddenly he stopped—arose from her—mopping his face with a handkerchief—then fumbling pulling on his pants—saying, “I ain’t going to pay you—nothing happened—you ain’t any good.” She stood up—her clothing half-falling into place as she sort of tugged at it—saying, “Please, mister, I did the best I could—it’s hot—you been drinking—please, please white man—I needs the money—a half dollar—that’s half—a quarter so I can buy a drink.”

I had been sitting. He motioned for me to leave ahead of him. As I walked through the door he followed close behind. We moved rapidly down the stairs—back out to the street in the general direction of St. Charles Street. Reaching a better-lighted area—we stopped—saying good night. He gave me a dollar just before he stumbled away—disappearing into the night. I never knew whether he gave the woman any money or not.



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