The silent crime happening on Frenchmen Street…
Friday, Oct 16, 2015. I was sitting outside my normal Sidewalk Smut hauntâ€”Bicycle Michael, on Frenchmen Streetâ€”with the usual cast of characters: three writer types, the bum with one leg and a cup for change, and me, the sidewalk pornographer. And hundreds of drunk rubes, looking for more to drink and a piece of smut. They didn’t know that last part yet. They never know, until they see the signs, and then they know they need smut more than they had ever needed anything else in their life up until that point.
It was a warm night, 10:30pm and I was still sweating while I banged away at a commissioned piece. I didn’t know what I was writing, I never know what I’m writing until I reach the end. That’s part of what makes me sweat. Mostly, though, in New Orleans, it’s the weather. And then the copper came up, and I had something new to sweat about.
See, the pavement poets and jewelry barkers and the grifters and the guitar players, we had heard things, about a new business association, about private security forces and a crackdown on the street life on Frenchmen Street. Those of us who have been going out there a while, we’ve been watching the buildings go up and the chain-link fences go down and the upmarket dolls and their thick-wallet guys come in. They get bored with Bourbon Street, see, so they come down here, and you don’t need to be the tarot card reader who sets up in the doorway of the market down at the corner to know which way they’re taking this street. So we knew, but we kind of let it roll and hoped for some luck.
We had seen these dicks earlier, three flavors of ’em, city, parish, and state, plus some private Brunos in their fancy polo shirts. It was a goddamned parade of buttons. I’d never seen anything like it. One cop stopped and had a jaw with the poet broad at the far end of Typewriter Row. When he drifted, we all said, what’s the dope? Nothing to spill, she said, I just slipped him my pitch and he told me to have a good evening. We breathed a little easier; we thought we were tight.
But then an hour later, another flatfoot came up, with his hand on his pops, and said, “You can’t be here, you’re obstructing the sidewalk. You can stay until the end of the night, but tomorrow we start issuing citations.” Meanwhile, the dive bar to my right was spilling out onto the pavement, all boozehounds and cheap molls who were taking up more room than we could swing with an entire printing press. It was a bit of a wet blanket, you know? The two poet dames packed up their pounders, and then Matt-the-Poet ankled up with his gear, said a different cop had given him the bum’s rush from the next corner down. “She said I needed a license, and I asked her where I get one, and she said, City Hall, but they’re not issuing any licenses.” Biggest goof I ever heard.
It’s the bar owners, you savvy? They’re tightening the screws. They wanna clean up the joint for those butter-and-egg men, those schmoes with more cabbage than smarts, who get scared by someone asking for a bit of sugar, and get irritated by potholes and cover charges and things they don’t understand. They wanna make it like Bourbon Street, the place those palookas are bored with.
So we’re laying low for the time being. Not blowing entirely, just spreading ourselves out, taking turns on the pitch, that’s flat. Some of us are peeping out other turfâ€”I’m doing a shift or two on Bourbon Street this week, early hours before the lushes really let loose. We even pulled together an informal collective of Frenchmen street buskers, artists, and vendors, to see what we can do.
Mostly, I’m just trying to get through, not get brushed off the street entirely. This might be the end of an era. I hope not. New Orleans has been good to me, sweaty nights and all.
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[EDITED TO ADD]
FRENCHMEN STREET FACTS
As of October 23, 2015, the heightened police presence and private security patrols on Frenchmen Street are only scheduled for Fridays and Saturdays. You will almost certainly see the typists out there on other nights, and a couple of intrepid poets have been testing the weekend rule, in smaller numbers than normal. 1940s pulp-detective vernacular notwithstanding, this satirical piece contains a true, accurate, and first-hand record of events that happened on Friday night, Oct. 16, 2015. You can read more about the state of affairs at the official website of the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MACCNO).