By the time I got to Canal Street the idea of a foot massage had grown into a longing. A longing to have my feet massaged. There’s a lot of massage happening in this city so my odds were not bad. But first I had to walk around a huge group gathered in front of the courthouse. It was a somber protest, not silent but not the kind of protest with bullhorns and chants. They were protesting the military actions of Israel in the Gaza. As I went into the street to get by, I looked down and saw a little girl holding a sign that said, “Is this the face of a terrorist?” I’m not an idiot. I try to stay somewhat current in world events. I try to get my information from multiple sources and all that, but I have not been able to sort through the tangled history and vested viewpoints in such a way as to figure any of that conflict out. Manipulation or not that little girl silently asking that question hit me like punch in the gut.
However, in this land of plenty the siren song of a middle-aged Asian man shouting, “Massage. You? Massage. Whole Body!” came to my ears like the sound of a mother’s voice lifting above the crowd to find the panicky lost child at the mall. $22 for a 20 minute foot massage. I had just enough time before we had to leave for the show. The business was a large rectangular room open to the sidewalk, with beds in rows like a TB ward. He led me back and pointed to where I should lay down. A young woman came over to remove the layer of shame from my feet before getting to work bringing relief. As soon as I closed my eyes I felt a hand begin to rub my shoulders and the cackling voice of the crone I had recently seen reading on the couch:
“What? I just asked for the foot massage.”
“Hmmm… shoulder, neck?”
“No, just the 20 minute foot massage.”
“20 minute too short. 30 minute. Hour much better.”
“I barely have time for the 20.
“No, no thank you.”
Jesus, what have I walked into? Instead of the typical soothing sounds of pan flutes one hears at a spa, my 20 minutes settled into a rhythm of heavy sighs from the person rubbing my feet, occasional startling bursts of angry sounding Chinese conversation, and the desultory monotone of the old man back at his post, “Massage? You! Massage. Whole Body?” It helped a little.
We were playing a bar called the Circle Bar located on some circle with a large statue.* We were told the statue was facing North because you can never turn your back on a Yankee. A friend of mine had heard that on a tour. That tour stuff is big business around here. In certain parts of the Quarter there’s a tour on every block. As evening draws close and white legs in short pants begin to glow, the clarion call of hucksters everywhere rings out, “It’s a known historical fact!” And it might be.
We walked into the club and our hearts sank. It was a beautiful old place that was basically a hallway containing the bar and a little sitting room off to one side where we were to play. It was tiny, there were no monitors and tables everywhere. Keep in mind we were still a little raw from not just the night before, but really everything after Baltimore. We knew going in that we would be grinding it out a little more on this leg. The Southeast and Delta are pretty far away and for all intents and purposes this was the first time we’d played most of these towns. We’d been averaging about 20 people a night. Chapel Hill, Jacksonville, and Mobile added together was half of Boston which was half of Seattle. Whiny or not I think our collective shoulders drooped a little. And then the guy told us there were only three working mic stands. Ok, not awesome but no big deal. A few minutes later he looked up sheepishly and said, “I’ve got bad news. We’ve only got two working mics.” And when we went to test the two only one was really working. At this stage of the game Chuck lost it. Sort of. He was pissed and stated if only one mic was working we weren’t playing. Later on he felt bad because he acted like an asshole. And Rene’ scolded him for yelling in front of the waiting audience. I don’t know about all that, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to book bands without a sound system. Lisa, in a mood of diplomacy (she and Chuck frequently counter-balance each other) asked the audience if anyone had a mic. In the way of things a nice man named Rob Schafer lived up the street and had one at home. They managed to mostly get all three mics working (we usually have four) and we sallied forth hoping we could play quietly enough to not kill everyone but still sound like a rock band.** We had our southern 20-25 people show up, but they were so joyful and sweet they erased our misgivings. And while I don’t think it sounded at all awesome it was ok, and we played a nice, healing set. Afterwards we talked to a bunch of people including a group of maybe 8 guys from the same unit down in NOLA to celebrate one of their own retiring. They’d scheduled their trip around our show and were so excited. Even the self-absorbed has to be touched by that.
Tomorrow is Atlanta.
*I know I’m getting lax with details. I started walking around the statue to find out its name, but there was guy drinking and it seemed assured that he would talk to me. So I turned around and went back to the club. Sorry, some nights I’m braver than others.
*Someone asked why don’t bring our own equipment, but we really just don’t have the room in the van.