The Devil's Walk

The Devil’s Walk in New Orleans
“’Twas so cold in the North
That ‘Old Nick’ grew quote wroth,
So he called round his favorite fiends,
Says he, ‘by my troth,
‘I’ll be off to the South,
‘For they’ve plenty of Hells in Orleans.’"
Anonymous 1837 Poem




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 it easy.

If I appear to be working, then I’m doing the city an injustice. Whenever I am not cheating, I am cheating.
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 to responsibility.

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 bank.

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 price.

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 kid.

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 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 . . . 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 the 1940s.

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 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 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 state.

“He’s the strongest sonfabitchin’ governor we ever had.
He fuck with women and play dice, but won’t drink.
How do you like dat?”

Carlos Marcello

on Edwin Edwards