FOR GENERATIONS, IF YOU FLEW TO WHAT IS
TODAY LOUIS ARMSTRONG AIRPORT, JUMPED INTO A CAB, AND TOLD YOUR HACK
THAT YOU WERE IN THE MARKET FOR LOOSE WOMEN, NO-LIMIT GAMBLING, HOT
JEWELS, CHEAP BOOZE, OR A PREMIUM HIGH, THERE WAS A GOOD CHANCE HE
WOULD TAKE YOU TO SEE FRENCHY, BABY. THAT DOESN’T MAKE ME EVIL; THAT
MAKES ME MR. NEW ORLEANS.
Being Mr. New Orleans is not a job, but an art. It is the art of
looking good while doing bad and getting rich doing just about
nothing. It’s the art of making it big while taking it easy.
If I appear to be working, then I’m doing the title an injustice.
The honor of acting as New Orleans’s mascot comes with a profound
responsibility to forsake stress, stability, sobriety, monogamy,
respectability, and all manner of legitimate employment and lawful
behavior. The ideal Mr. New Orleans is an outsider who flees from
all the consequences of responsibility—just like the city, baby.
As the reigning Mr. New Orleans, I have been on a working vacation
since the summer of 1953. I was seventeen years old when I snatched
my big brother’s Harley Davidson and gunned that sucker all the way
from Marksville, Louisiana, down Highway 61 to the Orleans Parish
All I knew about New Orleans I learned from Sunday school—that it
was the home of vice, gangsters, and fallen women. That was more
than adequate motivation to convince me to leave my backwater
hometown and my job unloading potatoes from moving trucks. Like so
many Cajun rednecks throughout the centuries, I escaped
responsibility to my family, religion, and hard work by fleeing to
From then on, I have never lifted a finger with honorable
I have committed 100,000 crimes, and those crimes were just about
all the same: selling people a good time they desperately wanted.
Only the products and the charges were shuffled—rarely the
transaction at the bottom of it all. My sin was the sale of
consensual fun, which is up there with cussin’ and coveting your
neighbor’s wife on the bullshit sin list.
The moral of my story is that sometimes crime pays and pays and
pays. Outside of the few prison assignments I did not escape through
green-palming guards and trustees, I have not done an honest day’s
work since I was a teenager, yet I’ve owned strip clubs, bars,
casinos, brothels, and even a goddamn bank. I made my bread
exclusively through the purchase and sale of the sort of fun no one
wants you to have. Don’t take the word of an irredeemable convict:
you can read every letter of my 1600-page FBI file, my dozens of
Louisiana criminal indictments, and my various divorce settlements
without finding a single reference to anything resembling
For all of this, I thank New Orleans—and, if the bitch could talk,
she’d have the good sense to thank me too.
New Orleans taught a no-nothing Cajun virgin the pleasures of wine,
women, and the type of good time that gets you sentenced to hard
time. To a bored and lazy redneck teenager with a hunger to rebel,
the diamond-drenched characters I met in the French Quarter were
revelations and inspirations. It took only one night in the New
Orleans underworld to cure me of any notion of living a normal life.
Y’all can have work and a good night’s sleep; leave the mayhem,
devilry, and the easy money to Frenchy. Jail is a small price to pay
for a life worth living.
For a half-century, I’ve been paid to party. I rarely lay down
scratch for my own drinks, and there have been occasions when
catfights erupted over which of my dates deserved the honor of
picking up the tab for my dinner. When I raise hell, the wallets of
everyone nearby somehow empty into mine. My secret to success is
simple: I have fun, look good having fun, and am always open to
share with company. I make a living bringing extra to every party so
that I can cut the squares in on the action—for a price.
You’d be surprised how many millions of dollars worth of free
advertising making a public disgrace of yourself can be. In my
heyday, I was a superstar on the street—a good-looking, muscle-bound
bodybuilder who tooled around town wearing Italian silk suits,
unbuttoned fluorescent shirts, a diamond ring on every finger, and
spit-shined alligator boots. I drove only new convertibles and would
never show my face in public without a detachment of beautiful women
at my side. For added flare, I took along either a steroid-bloated
coal black German shepherd or a gigantic flaming red parrot with a
Cajun accent worse than my own.
I was what you might call a walking fiasco. As far as I was
concerned, I was a work of art, a masterpiece of advertising! My
appearance gave degenerates confidence that I was the sort of
gin-soaked Moses who could lead them to whatever sick Promised Land
they fancied visiting. It’s no surprise that I’ve spent my adult
life being followed by a mob of whores, johns, junkies, gamblers,
gangsters, go-go dancers, and G-men, who all stumble after me like I
am leading the Devil’s own Mardi Gras crew on parade.
I bet that you could take a peek behind me and follow the trail of
empty wine bottles, discarded lingerie, and crumpled up citations
all the way back to the Absinthe House—the centuries-old French
Quarter bar where, in 1953, Mafia bookmaker Dutch Kraut bought a
nobody nicknamed Frenchy his first beer. That beer was the ruin of
me; until then, I had never found the courage to put my bad judgment
into action. I had a gentle heart but a weak will and worse work
ethic—which is the perfect recipe for a high-caliber alcoholic
fuckup, but not a hardened gangster.
Though there are police station riff-raff who will call me a
pitch-black degenerate and a ruthless killer, they are all wrong.
They are being selfish, ruining my name to puff up their own. The
cops will transform every crook they arrest into Al Capone if you
give them the leeway, and Lord knows I’ve given them a couple
hundred chances to smear my name over the years. I’ve worn handcuffs
so often that some people look at me strange when they see me
without them, as if they were my favorite piece of jewelry.
In general, you’d be better off forgetting whatever the cops have to
say. You can’t listen to those sorts of people and ever expect to
make sense of the world. I am a criminal of the decent sort; I’d
never hurt anyone with my wits about me. I am the kind of hopeless
romantic who sometimes wakes up in a jail cell with heavy charges
pending and no memory of anything but that first sip of wine the
night before. This makes me a victim of a weak constitution, not a
criminal mastermind, and the only person I tend to hurt is myself.
My crimes are what you would call “victimless crimes,” if you were
so stupid to think that phrase even makes sense. What a joke! Let’s
be honest here: if there ain’t no victim, there ain’t no fucking
crime! They’re just arresting you for living.
I don’t deal in crimes. I commit fun. People approach me, and I
arrange to introduce them to the fun that they desire. It’s a
service industry built around putting smiles on faces.
I don’t deal in victims, only willing customers. I hate the
misconception that we underworld characters corrupt people and force
ourselves on our customers. Whenever I hear that bullshit
politicians spout about gangsters corrupting the innocent, I think
they must have lost their fucking mentality somewhere along the
campaign trail. Can they really believe you need to sell pussy,
drugs, and gambling? Baby, I can’t talk worth a shit and don’t even
know what the word “marketing” means. I’d starve if I had to rely on
The marks have always come to me. Never in my goddamn life have I
had to hustle like a used car salesman to convince some unsuspecting
pedestrian to buy a piece of ass or play a game of craps or smoke a
little dope. That’s what I call science fiction. Supply never has
shit on demand in the underworld, and that’s the lay of the land
north, east, south, and west.
And despite the sixty years I’ve spent pounding the lumpy, potholed
streets of New Orleans, I don’t think of myself as having changed
much from the seventeen-year-old that sped out of Marksville on his
big brother’s motorcycle. Yes, the decades of violence, drinking,
and drugging have taken their toll on my looks—baby, Michelangelo
would have thrown down his brush and looked for a new gig after
seeing me—but deep down, I’m just as soft and simple as I ever was.
I’m the same bumpkin who feels more comfortable with horses and dogs
than people, who can’t keep a dollar in his wallet for more than a
day, who can’t pass a church without performing the Sign of the
Cross, who still gets nervous and refuses to speak blue in front of
ladies, who’d rather eat jail time than sit at a desk. Unless you’re
a bottle of champagne, I don’t mean you no harm.
I am my only victim. At heart, I’m just a happy-go-lucky, shiftless,
shy redneck, who was carried away by the strong current of
debauchery and easy-money that has dragged small-town hayseeds down
the Mississippi to New Orleans for centuries. If I had been born in
the deserts outside of Hollywood, I believe I would have become an
actor; if I grew up in Nantucket, I’d have been carried out to sea,
and I’d be writing this story by dipping the big silver hook on my
wrist into ink.
Lucky for you, it just so happens that I grew up in the shadow of
the sex trade and organized crime capital of the South, and thanks
to that coincidence, you now have this memoir of infamy in your
I come from the same grand New Orleans tradition as the pirates Jean
and Pierre Lafitte or the bootlegging king Silvestro “Silver Dollar
Sam” Carollo: I’m an outlaw trafficker on the wild black market of
the Mississippi. Though I wouldn’t put myself in the same category
as the Lafittes, my business partners included two men who could go
toe-to-toe with them any day: New York’s Frank Costello and New
Orleans’s own Carlos Marcello.
When those legendary Mafia godfathers had big fish in town who
needed to be treated right, they gave Frenchy a call and let me take
care of business. I gave the whale gamblers reasons enough to stay
in town until they lost their money; I made sure the labor union
bosses were too eager to get back to their girls to haggle over how
much money they loaned the Mob from their pension funds; I drowned
them politicians in good times until the favors seemed like nothing
to worry about.
That was the key: the politicians. Thanks to my political sway, my
good friend Carlos Marcello treated me like a son. He wasn’t the
sentimental type; I did my share to keep the most notorious gangster
in the history of the South from being imprisoned.
How did a “coonass” Cajun nobody from Marksville, Louisiana, like me
become a Mafia political fixer? Easy: by being related to an even
more powerful coonass Cajun nobody, four-term Louisiana governor