Louis Armstrong, Divorce, and Brothels

You ever just sit and think about Louis Armstrong? Now most people, when they think of him, they think of this dude with blown out cheeks, singing about how wonderful everything is in that raspy tone that makes you think of a wolf choking on a rooster. But he wasn’t always that fat old guy you’ve probably got in your head.

Hell, once upon a time in New Orleans, Armstrong was some skinny little kid working a job just like the one you probably had when you were a kid: helping Morris Karnofsky deliver coal to whorehouses in the red-light district called Storyville. Now, the good thing for Louis was that part of what Morris had him do was blow on a tin horn all day long (so as to let the whores get their clothes and come out to buy coal), and doing all that blowing helped the boy get the stamina he’d later need to play the trumpet like a living God. Then, one day when little Lou was ten, he saw a beat-up old cornet (a kind of cool, twisted-up trumpet thing) in a store window with a pricetag that said $5, so he borrowed the money from Morris and paid him back at 50¢ a week. The rest, like they say, is history.

I recently read about Louis Armstrong’s early years, and it got me to thinking not just about how cool his music is, but also about how you never know how one thing might lead to another. Like, when little Lou bought that old cornet, did he have any idea it would change his life for good, or that delivering coal to whores was just the right thing for him?

When I got divorced last year, I thought it was kind of the end of the world. I felt damn miserable, alone. I couldn’t stop drinking bourbon and smoking my corncob pipe. (Well, that part’s pretty normal, if I’m honest.) I mean, I knew I had to get divorced. Things with my now-ex just weren’t working for a damn. First we fought about small things, then about big things, then about everything. When I think of the end of my marriage, I kind of picture it as my period of delivering coal to whores. ‘Course, it was my ex-wife doing all the blowing, most of it on the side, but you get the idea.

So one day, sitting here in the country shack that used to belong to my Uncle Remus (a great bootlegger until his still blew up — he’s badly missed), looking at my computer and feeling low, I just went ahead and started writing a story I thought might cheer me up. I’ve always dug reading books on account of my old man having a real fine library, but I never thought about writing one. I think I was scared of what people would think, or if it would be any good. But after the divorce, something changed, I just didn’t care what anybody thought anymore. So I started writing short, funny books, with no other purpose than making myself and my friends crack up. And doing that, it made me feel better. It was like I could take all the shitty sadness I felt burning up my insides and put it down on paper.

Man, this post is a little sadder than the others. But maybe this isn’t a sad story. Maybe the divorce is the thing that had to happen to get me to do what I really should be doing. I’m not the happiest I’ve ever been, but I do feel really good about what I’m doing. Also, all this reflecting is making me damn hungry! So, in honor of old Louie, here’s a mighty fine recipe for New Orleans style red beans and rice:

Red Beans and Rice á la Clayton Diggs:

  • Olive oil
  • I Onion, chopped
  • 10 Garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Green pepper, chopped
  • 1 Celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 Fresh jalapeño, minced
  • 1 t Thyme
  • 1 t Cayenne pepper
  • 1 T Chili Powder
  • 2 Hot sausages, cooked and chopped into cubes
  • 1/2 lb Boiled ham, chopped into little cubes
  • 1 Bag dried red beans, soaked overnight
  • Cooked white rice
  • 1 Louis Armstrong album, preferrably on vinyl
  • 1-8 Sazerac Cocktails — The Officical Cocktail of New Orleans™
  • (3 oz. rye (or other sweet whiskey), bitters, sugar, absinthe (pastis liquer works if you can’t get absinthe), lemon peel, ice. Muddle sugar and bitters in a glass. Add in ice and rye, shake in shaker ’til nice and cold. Coat a highball glass with absinthe. Pour in the strained rye mix. Garnish with a lemon peel.)

Sauteé your veggies for a couple minutes in hot oil, then add the spices and fry a little longer. Now chuck in all that tasty meaty goodness, the beans, and enough water to cover it all up. Cook it in a big pot for 4 hours, adding water as it’s needed. While it’s cooking, play Armstrong loud and proud, the hell with your neighbors, and drink Sazerac Cocktails. When the beans are done, if you can still find your feet, serve them with hot white rice. It’s time to change your life! Yeehah!

“I enjoy brothels and coal delivery. And the trumpet.”