Chapter Three

Casinos depressed Douglas Bishop. Disinclined to mathematics, he didn’t understand any of the games, and the haze of cigarette smoke triggered his tendency toward hypochondria.

If it were up to him, they never would have stopped in Tunica. He and Lenny would have driven straight through from Memphis to New Orleans, where Doug was keen on meeting Amandalou Breaux, the Voodoo Princess of Storyville, queen of the notorious red-light district. (He also wanted to see Ann Rice’s house, but he wouldn’t admit that to Lenny, who thought Doug’s fascination with vampires was a sign of latent homosexuality.) Madame Breaux, it was said, was quite possibly a direct (albeit illegitimate) descendent of Sidney Bechet, the mystical clarinetist, and she had in her blood some of the old man’s tempestuousness. Legend had it that although Madame Breaux practiced “white voodoo” – the good kind – she had the quick-to-boil Creole temper that made otherwise peace-loving spell-casters place irrevocable curses upon the lives of those that crossed them. Doug found that sexy, somehow.

They also said that Amandalou Breaux’s great-grandma was one of Storyville’s hardest working prostitutes, a woman named “Tin Can” Annie Fontaine, the sobriquet an homage to the endurance of Mme. Fontaine’s genitalia. It was said that Tin Can Annie could accommodate 18 men per day, one for each of her waking hours, six days a week. (She reserved the seventh for her family and the Lord.) Amandalou Breaux, according to Nawlins myth, was quite possibly a descendent of one of Louis Armstrong’s original Hot Seven, five of whom, on one legendary afternoon, availed themselves of Annie’s services. Some people said if you looked closely at Madame Breaux’s face, from the proper angle, you could see a hint of Pops himself in her smile. Doug found that somehow sexy, too.

Sure, he had a latent crush on Amandalou Breaux. His steadily growing admiration of her originated in the early 1990s, when Douglas Bishop had written the Voodoo Princess a letter gently inquiring if perhaps some of the principles outlined in Breaux’s critically unsuccessful but commercially triumphant book, “Tapping the Energy: Making Voodoo Work For You,” weren’t sympathetic in spirit to principles outlined in “The Tibetan Book of the Dead.” She wrote him back a mostly incoherent reply, which veered badly off the tracks on the subject of yak fur. But he liked her handwriting, which seemed old and antiquated, and he liked even more the small lock of hair she had enclosed as a good luck talisman. Plus, he imagined he could smell the lingering aroma of red beans and cayenne pepper on her stationery.

He kept the hair, black, with a streak of silver in it, in a yellow cigar box, with a small menagerie of charms he had accumulated over a lifetime of exploring “alternate energies,” the phrase Doug used to label anything that wasn’t readily explained by rationalism or logic.

He had been fascinated with aspiring religions and misunderstood spiritual rites ever since high school, when his then-girlfriend, Cindy Luck, had simultaneously introduced him to Khahil Gibran and psychedelic mushrooms. (And oral sex.) They would go to the Luck family’s basement every day after school, while her parents were still at their jobs. And while Pink Floyd serenaded them, Douglas and Cindy would read each other passages from “The Prophet,” consume enough wild fungi to make a decent omelet, and bring each other to ecstasy two or three times with their teenaged tongues.

Years later, Doug heard that Cindy had dropped out of Rutgers, where she was studying sociology, to take a job working in a store that sold gourmet coffee beans and held out the false promise of employee expeditions to Costa Rica and Kenya. Eventually, when the alluring prospect of backpack travel to exotic lands never materialized, Cindy had two children with a nice architect fellow, and ran a successful campaign for a seat on the local city council. (Unpaid, but highly respected.) She was known as the liberal do-gooder in her upstate town of Cliffburg, New York, and that made her feel like maybe she hadn’t completely sold out her youthful principles, heartfelt convictions that once made her shout so loudly at her dear departed mother that the Luck’s dog, Jitters, hid behind the garage for two days, scared that a wild beast had occupied the homestead.

Cindy Luck stopped writing to Doug after he (and Lenny) dropped out of Columbia to start their first business together. Doug was never sure if Cindy’s disconnection was because she disapproved of his career path – he and Lenny were selling massive doses of caffeine under the guise of “StA-Up,” an herbal precursor to Viagra – or because Ron, the architect/husband, didn’t want his betrothed corresponding with a man she had once fellated.

In any case, here he was, 41 now, and he still hadn’t been to New Orleans. He still hadn’t met Amandalou Breaux. (He still hadn’t been to Tibet, either. Or Egypt. Or India. Or New Guinea or Brazil or, hell, the Grand Canyon, for that matter.) What was he waiting for, he wondered? For Lenny to say it was OK? To say it was time that they paid a visit to the Dalai Lama?

Doug Bishop was angry at the notion. You could tell, too, because whenever he was angry he had a way of scrunching his brow that made him look like Robert DeNiro lost in thought. Yes, of course he and Lenny were friends, best friends. Yes, no question, they had a bond, a profound vocabulary of communication that often required no words, only the language of their eyes. Yes, absolutely, he loved Lenny like a brother. Maybe more.

But gosh darn it! Doug’s personal growth was, after all, his personal growth, and he wasn’t going to let the importance of his Us-ness with Lenny trump the ascendance of his Life Force, the personal growth that made Douglas Bishop Douglas Bishop.

And that was that.

Doug could almost hear the sound of Dixieland jazz and the smell of filet gumbo as he strode toward the blackjack pit in search of Leonard Wizenberg.

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