Lost on Bourbon Street
June 19, 2013 at 6:30pm Public Friends Only Me Custom Close Friends Horror Types 2 See all lists… Horror Types 1 Black Bed Sheet Books Self Sacramento, California Area Family Go Back
LOST ON BOURBON STREET
By Nicholas Grabowsky
I wasn’t supposed to attend the 2013 World Horror Convention in New Orleans.
I came out of the one of the year prior in Salt Lake City all amped up and inspired and ready to go to the next one, but as time went by I just couldn’t afford going, not at all, and there was too much for me to do right here at home where I run and operate Black Bed Sheet Books. A few of my authors were going to attend, and I was going to exploit that as much as I could with their help. And then, three to four weeks prior to the con, I receive correspondence from author Sue Dent saying she was thinking of going. She only lives two hours away in Mississippi and she could drive there. Flashback to WHC Toronto, Canada, a handful of years prior and before BBS: I invited Sue along with other authors as my guests for my appearance there, and paid for their tables. This time around, Sue wanted to return the favor, and if you ask her she’ll say with enthusiasm that she would naturally ask me anyway because my presence at her table validates her as a writer. Awe shucks, Sue. You’re a great writer all on your own, anybody can tell you that.
The way it worked out (and rendered me incapable of saying ‘no’ to her invite regardless of my financial state) was she’d use her Delta miles on my round trip, pay for our table in Black Bed Sheet’s name, and rather than pay for a hotel room we can both stay at book reviewer/author Char Hardin’s house, who lived locally and about a half hour away. Within days all that was set in stone, and suddenly I had a thousand and one other things to do on top of what I had before I was going. But that was okay, and I was excited. I made great plans. I ordered books, created a special banner (that Sue elected to pay for), largely focusing on our new Vincent Price book and recent releases, and on who would be at our table throughout the con such as authors Rey Otis, Shannon Lee, possibly SC Hayden and Sean M. Davis, Sue, Loren Rhodes who has a new book, and Char herself selling choice books from her local book store. I created an hours-long video of cool BBS content to be playing continuously on our monitor, and special flyers. I planned a live special edition of our Blog Talk radio show Francy & Friends where I’d be passing along my phone to a wide array of acclaimed horror fiction writers after the Bram Stoker Awards ceremonies (a smart phone my dad surprised me with as a gift so I could have the ability to accept credit cards at our table there and bring home more sales). It was going to be a wonderful, thrilling and prosperous time….I mean, you’d think it would be……and I envisioned myself coming home as triumphant as Captain America approaching Tommy Lee Jones with all the soldiers he just saved following him from behind and Alan Silvestri’s music blaring around me like in the movie. Well kind of, at least.
My experience began exactly as it started, with a phone call from Sue Dent, around 8pm the evening before my 6am Thursday flight. A few months prior, half of Sue’s house burnt down. By this time, the reconstruction was far enough along that packages and mail could once again be delivered there. So because Sue was driving, we thought it was a good idea to direct all shipments of books and hand-outs for the convention, including the banner, to her place and she would drive everything with her. Nothing arrived. UPS had assessed the house was vacant and all packages including lots of books I ordered and the Vincent price books, and Alex Beresford’s CHARLA book/movie poster package, were reverted back “return to sender” just like the Elvis song. To further emphasize impending doom, as soon as I got off the phone one of our three cats, Rocky, piddled all over my stack of clothes rising from my open suitcase, and my laptop carry bag. Bad Rocky. The only cat left to get his nuts cut. And I was going to dress more colorfully this time. Later, on airplanes, I could smell the cat pee from the laptop bag I had with me and I could swear people could smell it, too, and thought it was me.
The next morning, I was given special treatment by airport security because I went through the spacepod thingy where you raise your hands and they scan you because I failed to empty my pockets, and because I had my belt off and been losing weight lately my pants fell to just above my knees and I wasn’t wearing underwear. It went by so quickly and I was so embarrassed I only paid attention to whoever officer gave me instruction and I don’t even know if anyone else was even paying attention, and I had a long t-shirt. I felt like Mister Bean for five minutes. It wasn’t anything compared to how, next, the airport lost my carry-on bag which held an exterior hard drive containing all my publishing company’s files and invaluable information I was determined to keep with me. It was a drive the size of a brick and it wouldn’t fit in my laptop bag. It also held the remainder of the clothes Rocky hadn’t peed on and the CDs onto which I was going to copy ebooks and give away. But they took it at the gate because there was no more overhead room and assigned it a ticket, and when we arrived at our stopover in LAX I was instructed to retrieve it at baggage claim with my suitcase when I arrived in New Orleans. Wrong wrong wrong! In New Orleans, it wasn’t there! And when I asked and presented my ticket, they located my bag still sitting in LAX. I gave them Char’s address where I’d be staying at for them to forward it there. A bit of good news when Sue & Char picked me up: Sue had gone by her local UPS and they had the banner and Alex’s package. No books I ordered, though. At least not yet….
We went straight to the convention in the French Quarter and made it there just fine, set ourselves up in the dealer’s room, and the front of our table was facing a wall, probably no more than four feet between the wall and the front of our table. We made use of that wall though, and duct-taped banners and posters all over it with no objection from the hotel staff, and double-sided our six-foot wide banner stand so people could see who we were from behind. We also got away with three registrations and badges when Sue had paid for two, and it seemed the hotel was ripping dealers off by charging carrying their boxed merchandise from the car garage to the dealer’s room at five bucks a box and they never approached us about it. Authors Sean M. Davis and Shannon Lee met up with us, I was meeting more and more friends and authors I knew, I’d snuck in a little rum from the liquor store and together with things were starting to look pretty okay until Sue told me the arrangement regarding my stay at Char’s house fell through because Char lived with her dad and her dad didn’t want a man spending the night.
Then Francy called, and things were suddenly going wrong at home. She’d invited friends over I didn’t care much for who’ve made a mess of the place in recent times and who I didn’t trust around my office equipment for a night of drinking and one of them was spending the night in the bed my son uses when he stays there, and somehow in the commotion the cat we rescued from a meth house two years ago and with whom I’d bonded with extremely, Smokey, had darted outside and was spooked away.
Filled with worry and with no money for a place to stay myself, I was at Sue’s mercy. So we drove two hours away to Sue’s house in Mississippi. It seemed worth the drive anyway, just on the chance my box of BBS/Price of Fear books miraculously showed up at the UPS office near there. My printer had said they’d made arrangements with UPS and diverted the package’s return just in time. So I spent the night in Mississippi, and the next day we went down to UPS only to find out the printer lied, they never spoke to UPS, and none of the precious stock of books I was hoping to sell would arrive at all. To top it all off, I’d gotten word that Smokey hadn’t returned home and he was nowhere to be found. With very little for me to sell and my head held low, I returned with Sue after a two hour drive back to Char’s to pick her up, then to the con. By then it was already after three pm Friday, and half of the day had already gone by. Rey Otis had already been at our table, dropped her books off. Shannon Lee had been manning it off and on, God bless her, yet not knowing at which price to sell what, and a few people were interested in books I managed to bring along anyway in my suitcase. Because the contents of my lost bag carried what was to be shown on our monitor, we had nothing to show, and I had no ebooks to give away, no flyers to print out once I got there.
By the time seven hit, the dealer’s room was closing to the public. I’d already had a handful of drinks at the bar down below, both from a little mad cash I’d brought and friends I ran into, and between that, a new pint of rum from the liquor store down the street, and the tequila samples the table next to us was handing out, I was feeling excited and social and in my own element, and ready to party and network. Sue then had to leave with Char for the night. It was much too early and I was just getting started, so I opted to stay, of course, and Sue told me to call her when I was ready to be picked up and she’ll have somewhere figured out to take me to.
My best time there was that evening. I attended awesome parties and the mass author signing, met up with great friends, was introduced to a few new ones. I looked all over for Rey Otis and Loren Rhodes, still couldn’t find them, but it seemed I’d found everyone else, and I went from one party to another to the bar downstairs where a jazz band was playing, to another party where they had a rock band, switched from rum to vodka and found myself happening upon a balcony where I enjoyed the street musicians and the ambulances below on the crowded narrow one-way streets where the pedestrians were kings and the cars just had to deal with them. Got another message from Francy: still no Smokey. By then she had the whole apartment complex looking for him.
At one point, smoking a cigarette outside the hotel’s front entrance with a group of us, several author friends were announcing that they were headed off to “The Dungeon” off of Bourbon Street and invited me to tag along. This was probably before midnight. So I did. It was time to see Bourbon Street anyway, a must and a scratch off my bucket list, I admit, and it was a long time comin’. It was packed with people and sights and sounds and for some reason I’d expected the town to not be as lively with no Mari Gras around. But what did I know? The street seemed endless before and behind me, a river of bedlam and wandering drunken people flowing in and out of bar entrances and souvenir shops like mice darting in and out of holes in walls. Everywhere I went, it smelled like a sewer, and every tourist bar claimed to serve the world’s strongest drink. There were cops on horseback and prostitutes blatantly hitting me up while the cops were more into the people petting their horses, ambulances would often part the crowd and fights around me would erupt and then vanish, groups of people were dancing in the streets and men in suits would try to entice me inside the Hustler and other gentlemen’s clubs by calling me over and me responding “Who, me?” Fortune tellers and musicians filled otherwise vacant storefronts, and the air was filled with Blues, Country, Rap and Rock n’ Roll, police sirens, laughter and vomiting. My eyes were wide and my jaw in constant dropping mode in awe of the whole spectacle, and for awhile I was truly glad to be there to soak the experience in. I followed my way to The Dungeon and hung out for awhile inside. It really did look like a dungeon from some sort of dark Disneyland ride, and I wanted to live there. It was a deep multi-floored labyrinth of rock and stairways with tiny bar rooms and dance floors the size of my kitchen, and if you were overweight you certainly couldn’t get inside because the hallway entrance was only narrow enough for two thin people to pass each other.
Sometime between twelve and one, I decided I’d best call Sue and call it a night. But she wasn’t answering. Jump to 4:30 am. Sue had finally answered; her phone had been out of range the whole time, and she had happened to wake up and check her messages. The last few hours had turned into a nightmare. I had no idea where or if I was going to sleep before the convention opened up again in the morning. I had about fifty bucks to my name, and everything I had was locked up in the dealer’s room. The few people from the con I ran into during those hours, I was exhausted and asked if they knew of a place to crash, and they’d either direct me to a café or advise me to just stay up and party. And damn, it was hot. And humid. I was pouring sweat and I hadn’t changed clothes since Wednesday. I spent a lot of time sitting on the pavement in front of the hotel, and made friends with a frog and a drunk lady who fell over my feet and after I helped her up wanted to sleep with me. I told her I didn’t think I’d be sleeping any time soon. When wandering around a bit more, a guy came out of a bar and thought I was his friend from high school, and I went along with it and when he asked me where I’d been working I told him I was working in a noose factory and I just came out of rehab because my daughter beat a man to death with her bicycle and was sentenced to hang by one of the very same nooses I made with my own hands, and when she was dead the wife and I divorced and I’d come back to live in the swamps. He believed me and had a difficult time taking all that information in.
When Sue and Char at last arrived to pluck me from this endless, penniless, brainless, woe-stricken wandering, they’d already figured out where they were going to put me so I could get some shut-eye: Char’s used book shop. They dropped me off, locked me inside, and told me should customers ring the doorbell in the morning to not move a muscle or make a sound, lest I scare them, and to keep the lights off or the police will investigate because they know nobody’s supposed to be there, and if I should go number two in the john to not flush the paper towels but to place them in a bag. Well, alone in a part of the country I’d never before visited and in a situation I’d never before been in, I made the best of it, helped myself to the water in the fridge (I’d only eaten a sausage egg Burger King muffin since Friday morning), I decided to scratch one thing off of my bucket list. You’d think sleeping in a book store would be the kind of thing that would be on a writer’s bucket list? Well…..walking around naked in a book store was more along the lines of truth, and for five minutes I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity. It was a quick five minutes, just to be able to say I did like the one time I streaked through a cemetery on a dare in front of a bunch of friends….some story that would make if someone saw me through the window and called the cops!
The next morning, Saturday, the busiest day of the con, I woke on the floor behind the register and spoke to Francy on my phone….. Smokey remained lost, and this time she had our apartment complex office and maintenance looking for him. My heart was breaking and I wished I could transport myself home to look for our cat myself. Just the other week, two people got shot in our complex, and another was shot the week before. Another was shot the week we moved in. There were feral cats running loose from the nearby railyard that kill domestic ones, and strange neighbors with kids who chase cats. Why still live there? Ask me in December when the lease is up.
Sue picked me up a little after twelve noon and we waited at Char’s for my lost bag to arrive after lots of back-and-forth with Delta over the phone. Finally, a courier arrived along with my bag! And my clothes! My hard drive!
By the time we made it back to the con, it was almost four and the dealer’s room was closing soon. We’d missed most of the day! And in the same hour we got there, just as I was trying to find a way to get Sue’s monitor working, Sue was already packing her things for Char and her to leave for the rest of the convention! And the dealer’s room was closing with no access to my things until the next day! And there was so much to do, so much planned for that night, what with the Stoker Awards, the huge hotel parties, and Francy’s show I was supposed to do from the con! And my smart phone was dead! I had no idea what to do. Sue had found a room for me for $59 a night online and had booked it for Saturday and Sunday night, but that was way near the airport, and we figured the fifty bucks I had left would pay for a cab ride to get me there. We’d visited the hotel and I’d already placed my previously-lost bag in there. But after Sue and Char bade me final farewells and left, I realized that not only did I need money to get to that hotel that night, but I needed it again to return to the con Sunday, to leave from the con back to the hotel, and from there to the airport Monday morning. So I looked at my table, tried to ignore the announcement for everyone to clear out because they were closing, and thought of a plan. I gathered some of my author friends together, had them write down their cell numbers, and left in the only cab I could afford for the night, before the night had even begun. I figured once in my room, I could set up operations there for everything I needed to do. I could use the room phone to call Francy while my smart phone charged, have Francy call the other authors during the show just as the Stokers ended and they could be interviewed and do interviews for me and the show would go on. Then there was the nasty business of getting Francy to drive over and visit my parents to explain my desperate situation and perhaps wire me some money. They called me themselves with Francy there, and for awhile I had an earful of yelling and frustration and pleas to give up this useless waste of time years-long publishing and writing crusade and get a real job, and they sent me money. Because of the whole ordeal, and because Francy was distraught over Smokey’s absence, the broadcast that night collapsed into eternal abyss.
That night, in spite of the fact that I was exhausted and finally in my own room where I could crash whenever I pleased, I couldn’t sleep and aimlessly paced the floor, talking to myself, figuring out how the hell I get myself into these messes, why I’m always working every single day and night with scarcely a pause for any fun or family in this entire publishing and writing career corner I’ve painted myself into, always broke, the kind of reflection that makes one not want to sleep. But I did eventually sleep that night after a Wendy’s burger from next door, and about ten am I was able to use my debit card and withdraw money for another cab to the con. I hung out for as long as I could, still hoping to see Rey Otis and Loren Rhodes, catching opportunities to say goodbyes as I slowly and wearily found myself already packing with the rest of the dealers a couple hours into it. I had to stroll down Bourbon Street one last time, this time holding a video camera and taping the entire stroll so Francy could have the feeling she was with me when she watched it later. Afterwards, I gathered my things, got a cab, and made my escape. That new The Band Perry song “Done,” regrettably, came to mind on the ride back across town to my room. I bought cigarettes, Popeye’s Chicken, and Taco Bell and spent the night watching the British House of Commons people yell at each other on TV and worrying about where Smokey might be.
In the morning I checked out around 6:05 am and requested their airport shuttle. The clerk told me the next shuttle service is at seven, for they run every hour on the hour. My flight departure was at eight. I went outside to smoke and wait, and I’ll be damned if the shuttle wasn’t parked there the whole time. Still, they made me wait, and just before seven I went in and the clerk saw me and shouted to the Hispanic woman cleaning the counters around the continental breakfast, “Rosabla, seven o’clock, shuttle bus.” When I checked my suitcase, they made me pay an extra $90 bucks….it was nine pounds overweight. Turns out that was about the weight of the books and book marks and trinkets they gave away to everyone at the convention’s registration tables in a backpack from Samhain Press. That gosh dern thing cost me ninety dollars to take home….it was the only thing I brought back with me. So even after borrowing money, I came home broke. And when Francy picked me up, she told me Smokey was still missing.
As soon as I arrived home, let my luggage breath before unpacking, I went into a sort of a breakdown. I started yelling at Francy about the circumstances of Thursday night when Smokey got spooked away, and then I started raving about every pet peeve I have about her, and then at the top of my lungs I went on for what seemed like a long long time about everything that was wrong with my life and the world much in the way Jack Nicholson did with his church rant in The Witches of Eastwick. All Francy could do was stand in the kitchen and gawk at me. If it was videotaped for Youtube it would have gone viral. If it was acting I would’ve won an Academy Award. If there were a transcript, at least a partial one, it would read something like this, shouted at the top of my lungs for the whole apartment complex (where people shoot each other) to hear: “What the hell is wrong with everybody!!? Why is everything so dysfunctional??? Why am I so dysfunctional?? I can’t take it anymore! I’m tired of working my ass off and still being poor! I haven’t had a real job since 2007 because when I started publishing, I swore I was going to do it ‘til it works no matter how hard it is, and life keeps bombarding me with an all-out daily assault of BULLSHIT!!!! Every day I ignore my friends and family and I’m superglued to a bunch of computer screens from ten in the morning to five the next morning, half of the time I’m troubleshooting because something malfunctions or something goes wrong and I spend days trying to solve it, and every day I hear people telling me to get a real job, that I’m a bum, when am I going to wake up and get a life, and I see myself every day aging more rapidly, I’m smoking more, my teeth are falling out and rotting, I never have time to live, I’m neglecting everything else. I keep telling myself if I bust my ass and commit myself 100%, everything will start coming together and we’ll start making great money and I’ll be telling everyone ‘see? It all paid off!’ I should be able to pay for and plan for my own convention trips, I used to when I was only a writer, and now that I’m a publisher it’s a swirling decent into a bottomless pit and some of these authors don’t even appreciate it!! For some of them, it’s always “how many books have you sold for me” when MAYBE it should be me saying “how many books have you sold for ME???” After all, I’M the one that took a chance on YOU! I’m relying on YOU to keep me from losing my home and everything I have! Doctors are advising my parents to give up our family home so they could go into an elderly home because they’re losing their minds and sometimes can’t even remember what the hell it is I do! And I don’t even have time for them! I sometimes can’t even remember what it is I’M doing! And why the hell did Sue and Char go through so much trouble and expense going to the WHC when they were barely there??? What’s wrong with people??? WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME!!!!??”
I went on and on. And then I ran into a back bedroom and had a crying fit. Then I rushed into the bathroom and puked up my guts. I crawled back out into the livingroom, and I couldn’t breathe. I was flushed and burning up and dripping with sweat, and then I started panting heavily and I lied there for a brief time. Francy was by then sitting in the patio probably trying to ignore me.
Then, I gathered myself up, found some determination, smoked a little green a friend had left for me and that calmed me down immensely, splashed water in my face. I gathered my keys and sunglasses, and went out on foot to search for Smokey. And I wouldn’t stop until I found him. He was the best cat I ever knew, and I wasn’t going to waste any more time bitching and boo-hooing mindlessly while he was out there somewhere waiting for me to find him. The whole time I was away, I knew if I could just get home and go searching, I’d find him. I walked everywhere, calling out his name, asking neighbors. Francy joined me, and I told her it reminded me of when my sister went missing and Francy said “I hope this doesn’t have the same outcome.” We looked and looked, behind every bush, down every path, beneath garbage bins.
And then, after awhile, my voice tiring, we found ourselves in a corner section of this vast property near the freeway where it was more shaded, and in calling out once more I heard a response. A faint meow. I called again, “Smokey!” Another meow. I turned, looked, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. There he was, on the top of the staircase to the second floor apartments, making his way slowly down, his eyes never leaving me. I could barely recognize him, he was so thin, beaten-up, leaves and thistles covering his fur. He was scared to death. His pupils were black and huge, and his eye sockets were blood red. I crept up to him and opened my arms and gathered him up in them, and there was this feeling of overwhelming relief that seemed to pass between the two of us, my cat and I, I don’t know how to explain it, something spiritual. He clung tightly to me as I held him and brought him home, and as we drew nearer he got more excited to see his familiar surroundings. I kept repeating, “Smokey we found you, we found you, it’s okay, I wouldn’t stop looking, and I found you. I knew I would. You’re home, my little friend, it’s all better now.”
And I realized something that to me seemed profound. He and I had both been away for the same length of time, both feeling quite lost, and the whole time I was gone I knew all I had to do was go home
and look for him, and I would find him, and I wouldn’t stop looking until I did. I don’t know if Smokey had the same confidence, I got the feeling he thought he’d never see his home or us again.
But that is just like me. You see, I’m extremely stubborn, and when I set my mind to doing something, something I believe in, regardless of how large or small it is, I just have to do it. I am a horror writer and publisher, and I want to make a difference in this world, somehow, being just that. I know who I am, I know what I believe. I may not always know what I’m doing, but I do it anyway.
As Smokey and I both recuperated together that night from the circumstances of the last week, I realized that the world can be one vast, endless, gigantic Bourbon Street itself, just like life, and you could get lost and confused and exhausted in it, and not know where you’re going or what’s going to happen next, but sometimes you just have to lose yourself to find yourself again.