Love in the Time of Corona, Part 11. Bloody, Bloody Jim O’Quinn

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“Hey man, you wanna throw your favorite redneck in the back of your pickup again and dump him at the bike shop?” That was my text to my buddy Vic.
“They done already?! Yeah, I’ll be out front of your place in an hour.”

I pile in the back of my buddy’s pickup and he turns the bowsprit toward the Marigny. The sunny breeze feels amazing on my face and I smile and wave to the cars who pulled up behind us; any human “contact” these days is premium. I think it’s actually illegal to ride in the back of a pickup now but NOPD has bigger fish to fry right now, I reckon.
Vic’s pickup comes to a stop in front of Alex’s Bike Shop and I hop out the back like a sharecropper arriving in the fields. I wave to my circumspect chauffeur, “Thanks for the ride brother! Call me later.”
He lowers his window 3¼ inches, domino-trills his fingers through the crack,
“Stay healthy, m’man!” and drives away.
I call the bike shop. “Hi it’s Jeff Key. I’m right outside. Can I pay by card over the phone?”
After the payment has been secured, Alex brings my bike outside, lowers the kickstand and gives it a nice antiseptic bath in front of me. “Thanks lil’ bro!” I yell through the open door of the shop as my bike and I depart. He responds from the dark, cool workshop, “Thanks for physical distancing!”
I look up at the perfect sky and think how much easier this 3.8 miles home is going to be riding the bike as compared to yesterday when I walked it. Then I remember I’m less than ten minutes from my dear friends Jim and Richard’s place. I give Jim a buzz.
“Hey I just got my bike back from Alex’s and I was wondering if you’d like to go for a walk around the neighborhood.”
Jim responds, “Well actually a bike ride sort of sounds nice.”
“Even better!”
On the peddle over, I remember another day Jim and I rode together. It was the day it was made clear that I was supposed to move to New Orleans. That was Fat Tuesday, Mardis Gras day, three years ago! I seem to remember we had some sort of mycological tea with our light breakfast before striking out to love on this city. Jim is an amazing figure in my life. I often call him my “bro-dad” because he’s my confidant, co-conspirator, theatre buddy, pal, and partner in crime; but he’s also a father figure when I need one in matters affecting the Arts world or in the space where a Queer man would have context and experience to guide me where my dearly departed father did not. Jim is an absolute treasure in my life, his husband Richard too. On that fateful Mardis Gras, I followed Jim on the bikes all day. I could live to be a hundred and still would be able to see in my mind’s eye, the red t shirt he wore that day. Almost no words were spoken for hours, he just took me to places he wanted me to see. We went out to the Domino Sugar Plantation and military installations, most long since repurposed. We rode through the 9th Ward and saw the ruins of houses that will never be reclaimed since Katrina. We stopped at a mom-and-mom coffee shop for iced lattes and helped a hippy boy look for his bag of weed he’d dropped from the tree. He’d been perched, like Zacchaeus of Sycamore fame, when we’d arrived at the café.
We spent the day riding, me following my venerated vanguard as he guided us through the multiverses of New Orleans.
As we road the levee toward home in the crepuscular light, I looked to the opening heavens and heard these words exactly: “Look, you can’t be one more white boy coming from Alabama to take something from this city, but if you have something inside of you, something to give, something that must have its birth and life here, then come on.”
I yelled as loud as I could, “Yes!” and thereafter I knew I would come to live here, the city on the crescent of the Mighty Mississip’, the city they call “The Big Easy.”
Today when I arrive to pick up Jim for our bike ride he’s already astride his trusty boneshaker. I love him so much. As I pull up, I stop Facebook Live (I share my life continuously and compulsively on social media; it’s embarrassing) after greeting my friend who stands waiting and well-equipped with bicycle helmet. (How cute, I think, he’s being safe.)
“Where you wanna ride?” he asks.
“The river sounds nice. I need the breeze.”
We head out south down Congress Street towards Chartres which New Orleanians pronounce “charderz.” The “pavement” on Congress is like Swiss cheese and trying to navigate around the creators puts one in mind of what it must be like to bike on the moon. At the first intersection I tell Jim, “Hol’ up. I gotta lose this shirt.” (I’m basically allergic to cotton in the Summertime and try to stay bare chested and barefoot as much of the time as possible.) We bang a left at Elizabeth’s and ride along the smoother Chartres, pass my gym on the left; the parking lot without a single car looks eerily apocalyptic. We come to the ramp that will lead us up, across the railroad tracks and to the Crescent City Park bikeway which runs along the banks of the Mississippi River. There are a few people out, all keeping their respective and responsible distances. Jim is riding about fifteen yards behind me. It’s a beautiful day, the smell of the river and the feel of the wind help me forget the plague for a fleeting second.
I hear a terrible crash and a man’s voice I don’t know yell, “Oh my God, are you alright?!” I turn and see Jim, face-planted into the pavement and not moving. I didn’t realize I could run that fast anymore. I was yelling his name as I ran to him and reaching for my phone to call 911. Where’s my phone?! I had it five minutes ago. “Who’s got a phone?” “I’m on it!” a man nearby shouts at me. I know not to move someone who’s taken a fall. I keep trying to wake him by yelling because I don’t want to shake him at all. He’s facedown and his arms and legs are sort of woven through the apparatus of the bicycle. Then my friend begins to snore. I fear for a moment it’s the sound of the aspiration of a tracheal bleed but I listen close and it’s a snore. I check pulse, try to see the pupils to see if they are equal and responsive but I can’t see them at all because of the angle of his face. That “cute” helmet likely saved his life. I reach underneath to give him a good sternum rub but just before I do, he starts to stir. I‘m relieved of course but immediately a new problem is created; although he was “conscious” again, he was still confused and disoriented. Jim starts to stir. The man who’d called 911 was standing 6 feet away and trying to relay messages to the 911 Operator. Finally in frustration, he walks over and puts the phone down on the pavement by where I’m working on my friend. The lady on the end is yelling instructions to me.
“I want you to put your hand on his sternum. Put your other hand on top of that hand and start doing hard chest compressions.”
“What? No! He’s conscience he just—“
Jim wanted up! “Stay put Jim! We don’t know that you didn’t break anything!” But it’s as if he can’t hear. His body does not like the way it’s positioned and is going to try to straighten out, everything else be damned! One of the passersby, his name is also Jeff, has been standing nearby, trying to keep social distance. He sees me desperately trying to untangle Jim from the bike. He and I look at each other and have a whole conversation without words. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s military. I essentially place my palms on Jim’s iliac crests and lift him up, cradling his whole pelvic girdle in my hands, trying my best to keep everything as stable as possible just in case. The other Jeff, we’ll call him “Saint Jeff, the Passerby Who Stopped” grabbed Jim’s bike and just started pulling it away slowly like combing wet hair. A couple of times Jim’s Birkenstock got caught on something; the first time Saint Jeff unstuck it, the second time it took both of us. When the bike was free of Jim’s legs and Jim’s legs were free of the bike, we both celebrated briefly like two people who’d been jointly trying to untangle Christmas lights for an hour. As soon he’s unencumbered by the bike, Jim decides to stand and all the pleading in the world is not going to dissuade him. After a few failed experiments with standing unassisted, I finally persuade him to have a seat on the grass while we wait for the EMS to arrive.
“What happened?” that was Jim.
“You took a spill on your bike, buddy.”
“What were we doing?”
“We were just going for a little ride by the river.”
“Well what happened?”
“You were behind me so I don’t exactly know except that you took a tumble on the bike and ended up face-down on the pavement.”
“Oh wow. What happened?”
“Just sit tight man, I hear the sirens coming. I bet there are some hot men on that fire truck who want to talk to you.

Jim looks a lot better sitting there on the grass. Well, better than he looked as part of the meat-and-metal performance art/sculpture he’s just performed for us all. And now he’s laughing a bit.
“What happened?” he asks.

I explain to the medics that he’s my friend. I tell them I’m an EMT and a Marine and had done what all I knew to do right after it happened. “If these were normal times,” I tell them, “I think it’d be a good idea to have a doctor give him a once-over but since every medical facility in this city is basically a virus-soaked nightmare right now, I’d be afraid I would be sending him to his death!”
One of them looked at me and just said, “I think your thinking is solid.” Economy of language is good in writing and in crisis situations.
We run it by Jim. “I’m fine!” So the heroes climb back into the fire truck and ambulance to make their way back to the front lines. What am I saying? This is New Orleans. These are the front lines.

Another one of the Good Samaritans, his name is Thomas, comes back on his bike after making a few laps of the park looking for my phone, has come back with empty hands and apologies.
“No way man!” I tell him. “That was so kind of you to go look. We’re going to slowly walk the bikes back to his place. I’m sure I’ll see it along the way.”
“Feel better!” St Thomas says to Jim.
“Stay healthy!” I yell after Saint Thomas as he rides away.

On the slow walk home Jim asks me a few more times what happened. After a couple stabs at what I considered to be pretty fine NCIS New Orleans detective work (even those don’t satisfy for more than five minutes), I take to making up stories involving aliens and terrorists. Jim nods equally at each story’s presumed plausibility.
When we get to their place on Congress, I say to Jim, “Take out your phone.” He obeys.
“Who am I calling?”
“Richard.”
Jim dials his husband.
“Okay now give me the phone.”
Richard answers, of course thinking it will be Jim.
“Richard, it’s Jeff. We’re just out front. Jim is just fine but he had a little bike accident. He looks more or less like he’s been whipped with barbed wire but he’s going to be fine. I just didn’t want you to have a heart attack when you saw him. I’m not really up to anymore triage today.”
When I help Jim to the door, Richard meets us there.
These two men, whom I love so much, who’ve loved each other for thirty-five years now, look at each other and in tandem ask,
“What happened?”
I point my bike toward the street with a promise to check in frequently and go off to look for my phone.

To be continued.

note: Though this is the blog for Thursday, April 2, I’m publishing it on Saturday, April 4. I just checked in with Jim and he continues, though sore, to recover nicely.


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