That’s how many of them there were standing with him outside Mother’s Cafeteria.
We shook hands but one of his buddies had to remind me that we’d met before.
More than once.
I hate when that happens.
Anyway, Tulane coeds.
More than 10 but not 20.
And all of them were drunk. More than a few of them had hurled their hurricanes in the gutter. Or were about to.
Spent Blue Curaçao being an easy tell.
Sure. Sure I’ll come to the party. His place was just down Bourbon almost to Esplanade. I tried not to stare as he quickly filled in the blanks. His nephew’s girlfriend was having a sorority party at the house.
And all along I had thought it was his sparkling personality.
A modest enough looking place from the street but once inside it was old south opulence. High ceilings and chandeliers, Gone With The Wind staircase with a ballroom on the 2nd floor. All the way through out the back there was a slate pool and further still what had been slave quarters now a pool house.
He insisted on us seeing the slave quarters first.
There were a hundred or so kids in and around the pool as we passed by. Some form of collegiate mayhem going on but I tried not to notice.
Like, Hi Dad.
It felt lame.
It was lame.
Inside the converted pool house, staring at the preserved slave era relics, chains and manacles just about then the guy disappears and the creepy feelings began to set in.
Ok I admit I take pride in being from San Francisco, on being a musician who’d spent formative years playing every kind of moderne slap and tickle gig imaginable but this was starting to bug me and I wasn’t sure why.
I wandered back past the pool up to the 2nd story ballroom. Giving the party a chance, resisting the urge to run down the street screaming, I tried to preoccupy myself with the floor to ceiling ancient melting class encasement windows and the finished thick slab floor and still more chandeliers.
I was all by myself. I poked around and found a small office up front adjacent to the ballroom facing the street. A wood desk and chair the only things in the room. A huge desk that had these weird 5 foot high carved eagles’s wings as sides and a chair carved with the bird’s neck extending up over the back of the chair with its head up over the desk.
“You like it?”
I turned and he was in the doorway.
“It was Himmler’s desk at Eagle’s Nest”
I jumped up wigging even more.
With that he sits down at the desk and pulls open a drawer handing me this parchment as proof of it’s history.
Creepy meter starting to pin now.
“This house is haunted. My wife and have heard them dancing in the ballroom and more than once she’s seen them out back in the pool house.”
He smiled enjoying my discomfort. Like telling a story at a campfire…”The call is coming from inside your house…” That kind of thing.
Whatever. I walked myself back to The Meridien and did a nice job of putting the whole episode behind me. I forgot about it.
That was years ago.
Then last April I played two days at Jazz Fest out at the fairgrounds , Saturday with Roy Rogers and Sunday with Marcia Ball. The night in between I walked around the quarter with friends. We had dinner and then I took them and some of their friends and crashed a party over on Dauphine. Friends of friends of mine I think it was. Champagne on ice and oyster duck gumbo on the stove.
And there he was standing there in the kitchen and immediately started talking where he left off. Like 10 years hadn’t passed.
He allowed that after Katrina he and his wife had sold the house on Bourbon and moved back up north. They’d sold it to a developer they knew and like a lot of people they just left and never looked back.
But then last year they started coming down to visit and one weekend at the beginning of the year, on a whim, they bought a penthouse condo over by the river. A sprawling place made over with period themed doorway arches and paneling.
After they moved in his wife began to sense (again) something wasn’t right. She was spooked. Carefully inspecting the place now for the first time, to their disbelief they recognized the paneling in one of the rooms in the back, away from the river.
It was the same barn wood interior siding that had been in the slave quarters on Bourbon. They scurried to get a hold of the contractor. What the hell? Yes, in updating the Bourbon Street house it had been decided to tear out all the remnants of slavery and make it a straight up cabana.
He’d held on to the stuff and used it years later in the new condo development by the river. AND when the workers has torn out the floor they had found a suicide note underneath from a woman who’d been having an affair with the original master of the house way back when.
More evidence that he and his wife were being followed by ghosts.
The next day I played with Marcia, driving to Clarksdale on Monday, then to Memphis for The Blues Music Awards before flying back to California on Friday. Travel for work continued on like that for a month or so and at one point, in trying to remember if that conversation had actually happened, I called a mutual friend who had been there that night back in April.
Did I really see him that night?
“Yes he was and he wanted me to be sure and tell you that he still has Himmler’s desk and that you’re welcome to come see it anytime you’re in town.”
I smiled and thought to myself:
If he’s having problems with ghosts, maybe he should lose all that slave stuff and the Himmler desk too.