My mother-in-law sometimes insinuates I’m not the best housekeeper in the world. Like for Christmas, she gave me a Heloise household hints book and says I should read a chapter a night.
Maybe she’s right. Maybe Heloise would’ve cleaned under her bed and noticed there was a coffin under there.
I haven’t spring cleaned since Hurricane Katrina.
That is one good thing about your house getting washed away. Along with the valuables, you also get rid of all your excess junk. I just called in the bulldozers and I had a clean slate. And slab.
But, like evil spirits, junk followed me to my new apartment and slunk behind the couch and under the sink and in the cornets and cabinets; and procreated. Lo and behold, three years later, here I am in the same boat, which needs a good cleaning.
My apartment is behind the back patio of The Sloth Lounge in the French Quarter.
It has the square footage of a portable john and no extra storage space. But it came with furniture, a little balcony and cheap rent, because my gentleman friend Lust is the landlord. It is fine for myself and my daughter Gladiola. Plus, we got no room for houseguests, which I used to think was a big advantage.
This is because, if you live in New Orleans (or Chalmette, which is close enough) you always got people staying over at Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest and whenever else they get the urge to carouse. This means you got to make your house presentable every couple of months.
I used to get sick of all that cleaning but now, I realize it was a good thing. If you got the housekeeping standards of myself, it stops you from descending to the stage of having to tunnel through your house like an anthill just to get to the bedroom.
Then last month, my gentleman friend Lust, who also owns the Sloth Lounge, hears from some people who are willing to pay good money to rent this place during Jazz Fest. So me and Gladiola decide to vacate for a little while. She is going to her friend Glamorette’s and I’ll park myself with my daughter Gumdrop in Folsom.
I tell Gladiola we can split the proceeds, but first we got to get our apartment in shape. So she starts cleaning at the back, and I start in the front and we’ll meet each other halfway.
I am discovering surprises in the couch (five socks; two pairs of Rex beads; something that’s either a candle or a petrified hot dog) when I hear her first shriek.
She had pulled out the row of shoeboxes just under the edge of my bed, then reaches for what was behind that, and touches a brass handle. She pulls on it and out slides the coffin. It isn’t just a boxy coffin either. It is tapered at either end and rounded at shoulder level, like a mummy case, or like the pods under the bed in that old movie, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which she was too young to have watched but which I remembered instantly when I ran in and started screeching myself.
Lust gets there two seconds later, with his hair still standing on end from the shriek.
Finally, after we are all screamed out, he explains that nobody is in this coffin; it’s never been used; it came a long time ago from some play at the Le Petit Theatre. He was thinking of renting it out for the mock jazz funerals that them active people hold to symbolize the death of high taxes, or crime, or litter, or excess abdominal fat or whatever it is they hate.
Mostly, though, he’s waiting for the day he will display it in the Sloth Lounge, wrapped in the colors of whoever plays the Saints in the Super Bowl.
He had been storing stuff in this apartment before Katrina, and then he cleared it out for us to live in, but he didn’t have no where to put the coffin – and he can’t give up on the Saints.
I tell him he’s going to scare the bejesus out of these renters, when they bend over to get their shoes out from under the bed.
He says he’s busy right now getting the Sloth ready for extra business during Jazz Fest; it’s up to me to figure out something.
Well, Heloise got no hints for this. I rack my brain. I already got a coffee table. I can’t find space for a coffin-shaped flower planter. If I stand it up and stash it in the shower, they’ll probably notice.
We go back to cleaning, and just naturally, when we can’t think of where to put something, we dump it in the coffin. A deflated rubber raft with paddles, Carnival beads, a folded blue tarp left over from when the roof blew off… Then the light bulb pops on over my head.
We push the coffin out onto our balcony, prop it against the railing and wrap it up in the blue tarp, with the paddles tied on top. We will tell the renters that everybody in New Orleans keeps a boat around, just in case.
So now we got our extra storage space.
I bet Heloise would never have thought of that.