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Much later we would go to Bennie's, an after-hours club in one of those clapboard shacks built for poor families before the Second World War. From a distance, the bar looked like a music box, alone on its dark street, bursting with noise. In a comic strip, it would be surrounded by jagged lines. On the outside, it was no different from the other houses near Magazine Street, but it had been gutted and there was a stage in what had been the kitchen. The crowd squeezed in, no more than twenty or thirty people at a time. There was no cover charge and the music did not get going before 3 a.m., but on that makeshift stage you might see the greatest musicians in the world. They came from gigs at the big arenas; their shows had ended and still they wanted to play. During the Jazz Fest, when musicians came to New Orleans from all across the country, you might see a local guitar hero playing with Michael Stipe, or Marcia Ball backed by Stevie Ray Vaughn, or who knows. Between songs, an empty water bottle was passed around. Patrons stuffed in dollar bills, quarters, watches, rings. When we left Bennie's, we were always surprised to discover that the sun had risen and people were on their way to work.

"Rich Cohen"

There are men, destined to outshine others in the readily measurable aspects of life, for whom the dawn of possibility, with its attendant joys and expectations, coincides with the dawn of each day. These are lucky men. A restlessness on rising will propel them, in all likelihood, through a long and happy existence and when, after many decades, they are gone, they will leave behind a great number who, while deeply saddened for a time, will find themselves inwardly more confident and settled than they would otherwise have been. Lucky men indeed and lucky those who know them.

But there are also men in whom a sense of possibility awakens only late at night and then almost inevitably through a mild sheen of some chemical or other. They are suspicious of dawn unless they sneak up on it from behind and they see in a new day a fallow period that must be gotten through. For these men, the body's frailty and its near unconquerable desire for continued existence must be seen as a grace. After repeated beatdowns, most will adapt more feasible long-term behaviors and abandon or greatly restrict their involvement in the tumultuous night. Until self-preservation asserts itself, however, their lot is to endure, to sleep it off and to wait for those happy moments which appear just often enough to make continuance of the game possible. When these men are gone, their grand and fuzzy memories are likely to go with them or to live on only in those who aren't quite sure it would be appropriate to share them with others who weren't, after all, there.

The reader will almost automatically imagine where each type of man can be found prospering. A serious American youth has many options -- interning on Wall Street or in Washington, perhaps working to secure a full-time position as Junior Assistant Brand Manager for General Mills or General Motors. But a deeply unserious youth has only two real options in this country: the road or New Orleans. Neither offers or requires much money, but a fixed address offers at least a couch on which to sleep until early afternoon, a place relatively free from legal interference and a shower. So those not completely lost to middle class values and those not particularly angry about the world or their own lack of direction in it, should generally choose New Orleans over the road. In addition to its sybaritic attractions, the city is home to an educational institution of sufficient repute to provide a cover for one's activities and an excuse for continued funding. (Among the items which were once possible to charge to a student account and which would appear under the heading "Tulane University Bookstore", were beer, cigarettes and other manners of indulgence leading up to and reserved for those who really wanted to punish their parents for some past sin in a disturbingly passive aggressive manner -- $2,000 mopeds.) It was in New Orleans and among the late night type of men that the author of this book and I spent what would commonly be called our youths.

Aside from the occasional misuse of elemental forces such as that enacted by our belief that there was something deeply proper about a 30 foot high bonfire in the middle of a residential area, those happy moments which made it possible to continue this game, were of course largely the result of successful interaction with the opposite sex. Unlike the construction and ignition of a bonfire, which is a marvelous and often lasting example of human intent, applying force of will in situations with the opposite sex can only result in failure, followed by equal measures of self and non-self loathing. In the absence of great good looks or other significant outward forces of attraction, we were forced to await our possibilities patiently, only making sure to be awake and ready when the moment presented itself. So we waited and remained alert. If the reader imagines a bird of prey, I apologize, for that is a far creepier description than I wish to portray. Preying is what the old men do and we were not old then. Passive trying (a practice akin to half-hearted Buddhism), or at worst perching, was our approach. In nightly progression we tried, perched and waited at one bar or party after another until events or the growing light of day overtook us. And in proportion to our patience, we met with success. And in proportion to our success we met with absurdity. There were encounters with women who were not quite as old they claimed to be and whose fathers would almost certainly have been eager to inform us of that had they been able to locate us. There were others who were accurate about their years of birth but not about their marital or mental status. Wonderful things would happen sometimes and sometimes fairly awful things would also happen, but something happened often enough. And so, for a while, we kept at it.

Predictably, inevitably, we grew older and grew more like the men who awaken before noon. We became the people who, going about our morning business, stare at young drunks stumbling home rather than the young drunks stumbling home who avert their eyes from the stares of people going about their morning business. This was necessary, for we were not angry and we did not particularly care for the alternative (an early death being romantic only for those one doesn't know). But we did those things and had those times -- in New Orleans which is still there and still surprisingly available for such experiences. I heartedly recommend it to all but my own children, who will, in any case, be informed that the University long-ago changed its policy on charging beer and mopeds.

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