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 doing bad and getting rich
doing just about nothing. It’s the art of making it big while taking
If I appear to be working, then I’m
doing the city an injustice. Whenever I am not cheating, I am
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. I am as slippery as fried chicken fingertips when it comes
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 Criminal Court.
All I knew about New Orleans I
learned from Sunday school — that it was the home of vice,
gangsters, and fallen women. That was one heavy sales pitch, and it
bagged me good. Like so many Cajun rednecks throughout the
centuries, I fled to New Orleans to escape everyone that told me who
I was and what I was supposed to be.
It took only one night in a New
Orleans bar to give me a profession, a mission in life: to be a
French Quarter character. To a bored and lazy hick with a hunger to
rebel, the diamond-drenched characters I met in the French Quarter
were cooler than Hollywood, cooler than Rock ‘n’ Roll, definitely
cooler than Hard Work and the American Dream.
From then on, I have never lifted a
finger with honorable intentions. 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. Jail is a small price to pay
for a life worth living. Y’all can have work and a good night’s
sleep; leave the mayhem, devilry, and the easy money to Frenchy.
For these lessons, I thank New
Orleans — and, if the bitch could talk, she’d have the good sense to
thank me, too.
Though I was hardly what you might
call a good student, I learned the lessons New Orleans taught me
backwards and forwards. Don’t take the word of a bona fide
degenerate: 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 respectable employment.
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. Nonetheless,
I’ve owned strip clubs, bars, casinos, brothels, and even a goddamn
The moral of my story is that crime
doesn’t pay, but fun pays and pays and pays.
I don’t deal in crimes – those get
you imprisoned or killed. I commit fun.
I don’t deal in victims – you catch
beefs and religion from them. I deal with willing customers.
You could call my specialty
“victimless crimes” if you were in the mood to sound stupid. Be
honest, baby: if there ain’t no victim, there ain’t no crime. Cops
shouldn’t arrest you just for living.
I made my bread exclusively through
the sale of the sort of fun no one wants you to have. I have
committed about a million so-called “crimes”, and they were just
about all the same: selling people a good time they desperately
wanted. Only the brand names and charges were shuffled — the product
has always been fun.
And to sell fun, you need to have fun, or at least look like it. For
a half-century, my profession has been to party. 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 fun to
every party so that I can cut the squares in on the action — for a
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 cheerleading squad of beautiful women at my side.
For added flare, I took along either a steroid-jacked coal black
German shepherd or a gigantic flaming red parrot with a Cajun accent
worse than my own.
I guess you could say I was cool.
Others might have called me a walking
fiasco, or a stumbling fiasco depending on the time of night. As far
as I was concerned, I was a work of art. Without meaning to
be, I was probably 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 had a mind to
visit. 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 march 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 to
create a town wino, not a gangster kingpin.
Then again, I sure was paid like one.
I hate the misconception that all
underworld characters corrupt and hurt people. We just sell a
customer something he may use to hurt himself, no different than a
priest or a door-to-door knife salesman. Whenever I hear a
politician talk about gangsters corrupting the innocent, I think
they must have lost their mentality somewhere on the campaign trail.
You think you need to sell
drugs, gambling, or sex?
Baby, I don’t even know what
marketing means. I can’t string twenty words together without
someone to spot me a syllable here and there. I’d starve if I had to
rely on manipulating and corrupting the innocent.
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. I am just a salesman whose workday ends at sunrise.
Though there are police station
riff-raff who will call me a pitch-black predator and a ruthless
killer, they are all wrong. They are being selfish, ruining my name
to puff up their own. The only thing I’ve ever shot was booze, that
and a damn sparrow I shot off her nest when I was a lil’ redneck
That damn sparrow and her
starving-mouth chicks have haunted my nightmares for seventy
consecutive years. Baby, I had a nightmare about that
big-mouthed bird last night!
But the cops would have you believe
I’ve been dropping human bodies helter-skelter since the Eisenhower
administration. 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
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 . . . or the week
before. This makes me a victim of a weak constitution, not a
criminal mastermind, and the only person I tend to hurt is myself.
And despite the sixty years I’ve
spent boogieing down the lumpy streets of New Orleans, I don’t think
of myself as having changed much from the seventeen-year-old hick
that sped out of Marksville, Louisiana 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 taken up pottery after he saw 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, who has been haunted by a murdered sparrow since
Unless you’re a bottle of champagne,
I don’t mean you no harm. I’m just a happy-go-lucky, shiftless, shy
redneck who tools around well-dressed and well-pickled to hide my
true nature. Far from being some tough guy, I just happened to be
carried away to this life by the strong current of fun that has
dragged small-town hayseeds down the Mississippi to New Orleans for
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 vice capital of the South, and thanks to that coincidence,
you a have much more interesting story on your hands.
I come from the same grand New
Orleans tradition as the pirates Jean and Pierre Lafitte. Though I
wouldn’t put myself in the same category as the Lafittes, my
associates included three men who could go toe-to-toe with them any
day: New York’s Frank Costello and New Orleans’s own Carlos Marcello
and Sylvestro “Silver Dollar Sam” Carollo.
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 the least they could do as gentlemen.
Some politicians were easier than others. The easiest was the most
powerful of all: four-time Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards, a
coonass conman from Marksville who just happened to be my very own
cousin. Life is as easy as a paid date when your own family runs the