Friday, February 06, 2004

Rude Clown blog.

After I looked around the Pittsfield Building, it was nearly lunchtime, so I crossed the street to the Garland Building, a building of similar vintage with tenants of a similar ilk -- a lot of doctors and dentists. In fact, we'd published a sidebar about the Garland in my magazine a few years ago, as an example of an old medical office building in a feature about new medical office buildings. But that was well in the back of my mind.

At the Garland Building, I beat the lunch crowd by a few minutes to a small restaurant called Heaven on Seven, where I enjoyed a plate of red beans 'n' rice, plus flecks of sausage. It's a New Orleans-style eatery, very popular considering its out-of-the-way location on the seventh floor of the building, as the name suggests. But its popularity is no mystery. It's really good eating, just about as good as in New Orleans.

Right now the place is decked out for Mardi Gras, with a purple, gold and green streamers dangling thick from the ceiling, plastic beads hanging here and there, and balloons. On one wall there's every hot sauce known to man on display, mostly in Tobasco-sized bottles. I guess some of the sauces aren't made any more -- there couldn’t be a demand for that many kinds, not all at the same time. Heaven on Seven had a couple of decades' worth of bottles, at least.

But that's just restaurant frippery. The soul of the joint was on my plate, spicy beans 'n' rice, the real kind, with the right spice and texture and light aroma. All of which naturally reminds me of the Rude Clown of Jackson Square.

Back on a stiflingly hot day in 1989 -- a steamy, normal south Louisiana day in May -- I had lunch at a cafe on Jackson Square with my girlfriend of the time. We'd just gotten to town a few hours earlier. I had red beans and rice, of course, and wandered out of the cafe mighty pleased.

Suddenly a man came up to us, someone I hadn't noticed lurking around Jackson Square. It's anachronistic, but I can describe him this way now: it was as if Billy Bob Thornton had decided to make a movie called Bad Clown instead of Bad Santa. This clown (figuratively and literally) had put on clown makeup and costume, but beard stubble poked through the white on his jaw, his mop wig was dirty and crooked, and his rainbow suspenders were tattered.

"Hey," he snarled at me, "Are you a homo sapiens?"

Coming off a fine meal in a fine setting, I wasn't much in the mood to be snarled at, but I'm not easily angered either, so all I did was stare blankly at him for a second. I'm fairly sure he didn't want me to answer, anyway. Or maybe he got the same answer so many times that he heard me say it, even though I hadn't.

"Well, think twice before you deny you’re a man," he said, and walked off.

After the initial surprise, my girlfriend and I got a good laugh out of this. Later in the trip, or for that matter, after the trip was over, we'd joke about running into the Rude Clown. It was one of those never-to-be-explained experiences. Who was he? A pierrot manque, sacked by Ringling Bros. and spending his days as angry drunk? A performance artist? A local Character? Someone compelled by vague righteous anger to stick verbal pins in vacuous French Quarter tourists? I might have been a tourist, but by God I'm not vacuous, and would have gladly claimed my place as a homo sapiens -- a category, I might add, that would have included my girlfriend, so the Rude Clown was as careless with words as his costume.


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