It's not easy being a French Quarter ghost tour guide. I wouldn't go so far as to call it difficult either. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is, actually. I've tried many times to do so on paper, to no avail. But I will say this, if you're a writer and you're not a ghost tour guide, you're a jackass of the highest form. Where do you think all the good stories come from? Being a banker? A hooker? Pssh. You have no idea. In my one year of ghost tour guiding alone I've experienced moments of absolute hilarity, tragedy and madness, and everything in between.
But we're not here for a big expo on what it's like to be a ghost tour guide, that may come later if this goes well, along with other crazy stories, right now I just want to sit you down and tell you a quick story about how I once found myself at the mercy of an injured and rather hysterical tourist. Enjoy!
My first day as a tour guide was on Halloween night. As you can imagine, that was a night of decadent insanity. The quarter was filled to the brim with demons and degenerates and all of them seemed to be looking for ghosts. Not a bad day to be a paranormal tour guide. I must have walked away that night with both my front pants pockets and back pants pockets stuffed with tips. I remember thinking at the time that this new profession of mine was going to be just fine for me and my bank account.
So imagine my surprise the day after the devil's night when I discovered that the quarter had pumped out all the degenerates and had become something of ghost town (no pun intended). I asked one of my supervisors where everyone had gone, and he told me that the end of October marks the beginning of the period that tour guides call the dead season (not sure if pun is intended). He put a hand on my shoulder and told me not to expect any tours for a while.
And he was right, of course. I didn't get any tours for weeks on end. Instead, I got a sign. A big, black sign with spooky white font that proclaimed to all that read it that there were ghosts in the quarter and if they wanted to find them they had to come to us. Since I was the new guy it was up to me to stand in the street and hold that sign while the more experienced tour guides were given the few groups of tourists that showed up.
This was a humbling time in my life. But I soon became even more humbled when the cops came up to us one day, lights ablazing, and took away my sign. You see, it turns out it's illegal to hold up a sign in the quarter. Guzzling gallons of bourbon on the street and then puking it back up into the gutter is perfectly legal, but you have to be one brazen criminal to try to pull some sign holding shit.
So now my one job had been shut down by the fuzz. Now what? Luckily, the owner came up with a brilliant legal loophole to get out of this little problem. He learned that while it's illegal to hold a sign in the quarter, it's not illegal for a sign to be standing on it's own. And so the next day I found that an umbrella stand had taken my job (actually, not only did it take over my job, but it was much better at the job than I ever was. It's hard to admit when you've been outmatched by an umbrella stand, but sometimes that's just how life goes...) But my boss told me not to worry, for while my days of sign-holding might be over, my days of sign-watching were just beginning.
"Just stand by the sign and make sure it doesn't fall down from the wind or some drunken tourist." He told me, before adding. "And remember, don't actually grab it unless you absolutely have to."
And so those are how my days went for awhile, coming to work and watching a sign until the end of the night, where I then had to drag the stand and the sign back to the company closet that was located right off the sidewalk, in between a voodoo shop and a tavern.
And now we come to where the trouble begins. For it was on one fatal night in early December, when it was cold and windy and I was ready to go home and it was the end of my shift, that I carried the sign and the stand down the sidewalk over to the closet. I was in a foul mood that day for reasons I can't recall, and my foulness soon took aim at the stand itself, which was rather heavy and cumbersome to carry. So when I reached the closet door I dropped the stand to the ground with an angry grunt and then fumbled in my pocket for the keys. Once I successfully opened the closet door, I walked in with the sign, leaving the stand right there on the sidewalk, hoping that maybe if I turned my back from it, the lousy job-stealer would disappear.
Instead, something bad happened.
It all started with the sound of a metallic thud. Followed by the sound of a loud, annoying cry. And then, three words shot out into the air that will likely haunt me for years to come.
"My leg! Oooh!"
I suppose that's more like two words and a moan, but in any case, it soon became the chant of the wounded that night.
"My leg! Oooh!"
If I had been smart, I would have slammed the closet door shut and barricaded myself inside, not leaving until all moaning had ceased. But instead, I hurried back out to the street to see what the fuss was all about. Not that I didn't know already, deep in my heart, but part of me was praying that something else, other than the obvious, had happened.
No such luck. For as I left the closet I found a rather large woman who appeared to be in her fifties, rolling on her ground holding her leg, and right next to her was the cursed umbrella stand.
"What on earth happened, Debra?!"
In an instant, two women of the same age but of slimmer build, encircled her. They appeared to be her friends.
"My leg! Ooh!"
"Yes, we get it, your leg! What happened?" One of the friends said in a tone that sounded far more annoyed than concerned. I found this to be odd, but I was far too panic-stricken to really do anything with this information.
For the sake of candor, I don't mind telling you that I wasn't quite in my right mind at this time. I had already been in a sour, tired mood before all this, and adding terror to the concoction did not help. Yes, I said terror. In that moment I was terrified. I mean good god, this seemed to be the end of everything. If this old bat complained to my company that one of their employees' actions had caused her harm... well, that was it, I was done for. And what if she sued? Dear God, what if she made a huge deal out of this and went after the company's money? Or my money? That'd be no good at all. I had very little of the stuff but what I had I very much needed.
"My leg! Ooh! It hurts!"
I tried to push the terror away and see things clearly. I looked at this injured woman on the ground and tried to assess the kind of person she was. When you deal with tourists all the time, you develop a skill for sizing them up just by appearance. So I looked at her to see if she was the kind of person not to let things go lightly, the type of person who demanded to see the manager even for the slightest of reasons?
I looked at her round red face that was scrunched up in what seemed to be a well-rehearsed expression of pain. I looked at her clothes and saw an outfit that seemed more suited for a church or a PTA meeting in the midwest than a night on Bourbon Street. And I listened to that moan of hers, that moan that suggested that she was in more pain than anyone in the entire world had ever faced before.
Dear God, I thought as I felt the cold hand of death grip my heart, this woman is the personification of a jesus fish. I was a dead man. Again my thoughts turned to barricading myself in the closet. That wouldn't be such a bad life. Sure it would be a bit cramped, but at least I could avoid the wrath of this large, miserable moaner.
"Look, can't you just try to get up, Debra? I'm sure it's not that bad. You just walked into something, how bad could it be?"
"It's bad! My leg is done for!" She looked at me as she said this. Before this, none of them had actually acknowledged my existence, I was just kind of standing there like a concerned turd. But now she had brought me in. I should have ran when I had the chance.
"We have five minutes it to make it to the bar. We don't have time for this, Debra. Just get up and let's go."
The moaner looked hurt by this, and again I could see that this friend group was not based on equality. Debra was clearly the lowest on the totem pole. At any other time I would have felt sorry for her, but at that moment I was two pom-poms short of cheerleading this decision to ignore this woman's pain.
"OK, fine, Marcy! You want me to try to get up! Fine, I'll try!"
And with that, the large moaner left the ground, with the help of her two friends, and tested out her injured limb. The three of us, her two friends and me, waited with absolute bated breath to see if this would lead to another bout of floor rolling and caterwauling. But instead, the moaner put some weight on her leg, then cautiously took a step with it, then another, and then another. And then, as if by some miracle of god, without even looking back or talking to her friends, she casually walked right down the street as if nothing had happened. Her friends scurried after her while I hightailed it in the other direction... before quickly returning so I could put that blasted stand back in the closet, but not before cursing that umbrella stand for being a coward, hurting an innocent woman for no reason at all. And then I left it there to think about what it had done while I grabbed a drink at the local tour guide watering hole, listening to war stories from the other guides while keeping my mouth shut about any moaners or their friends I might have come across that night...
And that's my story of a quiet night in the quarter.