It seems like there’s one in every family. The alcoholic aunt who abandoned her husband and kids because they were too boring, and shacked-up with some fat, ugly biker dude for a year, and then came crawling back to her family, only to do the exact same thing again four years later. The trash-mouthed, strangely proportioned aunt who wears short-shorts and two-inch clogs and too much makeup and odd, tie-on halter-top-like blouses that you’ve never actually seen for sale in any store that you’ve ever been in. The aunt who flirts with every man who’ll make eye contact with her, whether she’s drunk or not. The aunt who’s strangely attractive and repellant at the same time. The once-removed – the outsider – the tanned trash – the smelling of sweat and sometimes beer and occasionally a whiff of urine or that time of month – the loud – the obvious – the obnoxiously self-confident aunt. Always teetering on some bizarre edge of happiness and pathos. That’s my New Orleans, my Aunt Nola.
Whenever other large American cities would get together for a family reunion, it was Aunt Nola that raised the eyebrows, the hackles, the blood pressure, and a few and sundry other things; when she finally arrived, late and already tipsy.
“What smells?” Newark would ask.
“You should talk,” New York would snort.
L.A.’s jaw would drop, and Seattle would choke on its drink as all eyes followed Nola across the room. The other cities stared at her with that inexplicable mix of desire and disgust that only one American city can induce. And then all of a sudden, there’s that Bourbon Street, that black vein down the backside of the crawfish of capitalism, right there, cresting out of those short-shorts. Just a little more, just bend over a tiny bit more, and I’m gonna have a frigging heart attack, Minneapolis would think. And right out there for everyone to see, even the children.
All the other cities still mumble their thousand told-you-so’s under their breath. Told you not to go to that hurricane party. Told you to beef up those levees. Told you to fix those pump-houses. Told you, told you, told you. But, she always used to just laugh and take another drink and tell stories about Betsy and Camille and blustery old Andrew with his teeny little spent penis, thinking he could take her for sloppy seconds after ravaging greater Miami.
“Bullshit to that!” She’d slur.
“Statistics,” Chicago said, “just think about the statistics.”
“I’d rather think about sadistics, honey, if you know what I mean,” she’d retort while reaching out to pinch Chicago’s balls and then convulsing in so much laughter that a glistening thread of gin reeled out of her pancaked nose like a long arc of fishing line cast into oblivion.
Their citified reunions have been somewhat quieter in recent years, but still they murmur and mumble and shake their heads, and tell the occasional joke, and the obviousness of her wasted figure often makes her a topic of conversation. I’ve heard the pontifications of the other cities, coming from my television, my radio. I’ve heard their thousand variations of the story, the problem, their reprimands, their advice, their honest grief; but they do not help me understand my anger at the ravaging of my favorite aunt, the one to whom I lost my virginity.
Seven years ago, I watched her dying on TV. I watched her dying down the road from me. I watched her life come streaming out of her and into my nearby city: oozing to a stop but not knowing where to pool, not knowing how to start again, not knowing how to live outside of her, how to live without her. And I see her now, laying there beside the river, still only half-conscious, still distorted like a stroke victim, like a turkey-necked heart-attack survivor, like a woman with a shattered hip who doesn’t know if she ever leave the bed again. But then I look at her eyes. Her eyes are bright, and her tongue is sharp, and that slutty, smiling, gap-toothed bitch can still spin your head around and take you down two notches before her first drink of the morning. She may be riddled with crime, she may have a bird’s-thread of a pulse, and breath as shallow as her eventual cement grave, but she’s not dead yet. Not yet.
The vampires in her veins aren’t dried up yet. I don’t think her pickled guts will ever completely leak out. They’ll get caught on something in the river; some wire grating, some scrap of metal. But for now she’s the crazy aunt in the electric wheelchair zooming around the room poking other cities in the ass and making them spill their drinks. She tells filthy jokes, and swears in front of the children, and laughs till she almost pisses herself in her chair, and she cries herself to sleep in a corner of the room when she’s too drunk to talk anymore. But, she gets up the next day and dissolves her hangover-sure-cure powder in her Bloody Mary. She gets up and cleans herself off and starts getting ready for the next party, and someday soon, when you least expect it, she’s gonna rise like the undead out of that wheelchair and suck all the blood out of Houston’s aorta. And she won’t let even one iota of concern enter her mind about the next storm. She doesn’t even watch the weather. The only hurricane she’s worried about is the one she’s going to order for lunch. Stupid bitch lives only for the moment. You can’t help but love her.