Leslie, the aforementioned bartender of the Corporation Bar in New Orleans, probably greets a lot of people with the above salutation. The Corporation Bar, or "The Corp" as it is known resides in a squat ramshackle building in the Warehouse District. First, a word about dive bars. "Martini's Place," makes an appearance in "It's a Wonderful Life" as George Bailey's bizzaro world bar -- a place, in Nick the bartender's words, "Look mister, we serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast and we don't need any characters around to give the joint atmosphere." Basically saying a dive bar is a place you cannot order a flaming rum punch or a mulled wine, heavy on the cinnamon and light on the clove. If every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings, perhaps every time a shot glass is emptied a devil gets his horns. I think a simpler dive bar definition is an Edwin Meese notion of I know it when I see it (or drink in it.) The Corp is a dive bar through and through. Are the wedding collage photos above the cigarette machine people known at The Corp or did they come in the frame? The kitchen closes at 5 pm, but if you are a regular they might hold a fully dressed baloney and cheese po-boy for you around 11 pm. They have very poorly executed taxidermy. They also have two dollar shot specials, which Homer Simpson would regard as the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems. I think you understand now The Corp and realize it's a drinkers' heaven.
Back to Leslie greeting me, at the Old Mint stage for the Rouse's Crawfish Eating Contest at the height of French Quarter Fest. Rich Shea, Major League Eating's President and MC is revving the crowd through the media round where James Karst of the Sun Times Picayune is attacking the mudbugs like he types 900 words a minute. I make sure Leslie has two beers and a front row seat for the crawfish eatathon. Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas is a four time champ, but Adrian "The Rabbit" Morgan is a local hero and tied her last year before losing in a eat-off. Adrian's very attractive fans all wear bunny ears and the crowd, still reeling from Dr John returning to French Quarter Fest after a twenty year hiatus, wants a local win. The Rouse's crawfish, 400 pounds in each boil, has corn, sausage, and garlic, but for Major League Eaters, we each get twenty pounds in the shell, and eat for ten minutes in a shuck and awe campaign to determine whom ate the most tail meat (and occasional shell, despite it being against the rules.) My fans are not dressed in bunny ears, but perhaps droopy hangovers -- the crew from Superior Seafood and the band, The Bare Handed Bear Handlers, are out in force as Team Crazy Legs. The Bunny Ears would take it -- The Rabbit would edge out the spider with 2.7 pounds. My hung-over cheerleaders would settle for third with 1.9 pounds and enough prize money for me to pick up the bar tab at Molly's on Decatur.
Like sitting at the Old Point Bar in Algiers, serenity settles upon me. Granted, my hands are cut from speed shelling crawfish and my lips sting from spice, but I present 60 pounds of Rouse's crawfish in two giant platters (it's good to be a Rouse's VIP) and my fans present me with several Abita Strawberry Draft. I am content because I am in New Orleans -- besides being the greatest food city in the United States, it has a spirit that is uniquely its own. Defiance, respect, ridiculousness, and love all form the bouillabaisse that makes New Orleans, N'Awlins. You got dem shoes on your feet and it's the best way to make your way. You see it in the faces of the folks that line the streets for a parade, you hear it in the brass of hundreds of bands ringing the sky with their instruments, you taste it in the smoky red beans and rice with alligator sausage burned perfectly on only one side, you smell it in the night jasmine that fills your nostrils, you feel it in the hip-shaking movement of the second line. The bumper sticker is true, NOLA puts the fun in funeral. In a place that can celebrate silly death, you know they know how to live. True dat!
Crazy Legs Conti's heart and stomach belong in New Orleans, and perhaps his liver is still there.