Amzie Adams

NOLA Notes Pt. 1: Amzie

We were at a cafe on Saturday morning. Amzie’s black top hat was dusty around the rim – you’d leave a starkly contrasted trail with any finger swipe.  He had his winter jacket on; rust-colored with gold buttons – it reminded me of the jacket Bette Midler wore in her “Oh Industry” scene from Beaches shown below – without the frilly shoulder cuffs.

(Note that my favorite quote from this movie is also in this clip – can you guess which one? When I was young I had this entire scene choreographed and my dorkiness came through over this past holiday season when I accidentally remembered it)

His pants were tight black leather with alternating black & red star cut-outs from ankle to knee.  On his right thigh, a weathered black leather fanny pack.  He wore red doc martens which looked like they’d been traipsing the Quarter for months. His thick white beard wrapped from ear to ear – mustache to match.

I dumped copious amounts of honey into my tea as I glanced over at him reading the “A Section” of the Times Picayune while Om Lounge soared over the cafe space, complete with scratch beats.  As for the rest of the soundscape? Tips (change) being counted behind the counter, a barista ripping receipts as he takes orders, coffee chatter, the cappuccino machine frothing, two dogs barking at each other from opposing sides of the room, and a calliope from the steamboat Natchez announcing its lunch voyage on the river.  A tall thin black guy in his late twenties leaks a sonic glimpse from his headphones as he checks Facebook on his Sony Vaio.

This Week's Ambush Cover

I glanced over and Amzie was perusing the front page of Ambush, a local queer publication.  On the cover was a giant advertisement for “Big Freedia’s Big Gay Birthday Bash”, a Sissy Bounce show I had plans on attending later that evening (and did). He squirted ketchup on his hash browns.

It was good to see Amzie (my partner calls him ‘The Wizard’). One of my facebook posts over the weekend involved a metaphor of my soul as a wilted fleur de lis (the symbol of New Orleans) – Amzie is one of those characters that rehydrates it.  Several months ago I made a post about him and the homemade bass he brought in my living room while I was having a yard sale.

After breakfast at the cafe, I was walking down Decatur and my partner and I did a double-take when we saw a homeless guy picking through the trash. Normally, people do a double-take when they’re not used to seeing them, when they’re culture-shocked, or when they’re doing something “odd”. We did one and simultaneously said “he’s new”. That’s a good reminder for me that New Orleans is home. We can be in a neighborhood crawling with thousands of residents and tourists and still distinguish when new migrants/homeless folks are in the area – it means they aren’t part of  the group that we [as a neighborhood] collectively watch over. That reminds me – I didn’t see Bill or James this weekend (my two homeless friends). I hope they’re both okay.

Who IS that guy? If you lived here, you’d know.

Amzie Adams (photographer/”politician”/sculptor/musician/filmmaker/poet) is a French Quarter fixture. I met him for the first time several years ago when I was working in Jackson Square, as he was/is good friends with my boss over there. Many ‘Quarter Rats’ (established French Quarter residents) don’t know what to think of him, however he’s just as much a part of this city as the jazz, the streetcars, Ruthie the Duck Lady, or red beans & rice on a Monday. He’s part of the backdrop we’ve all been woven into, a functional character akin to seeing Mickey Mouse at Disney World – without the paycheck, with less clothes, and probably a little more frightening to little kids and their suburban parents.

So check out the instrument he has in this photo (taken 6/27/10). He stopped by our moving sale this past Saturday, and wanted to show K.D. (my wife) his new upright bass. He built it out of an old wooden dresser. The strings are weed-whacker line, and it sounds just like, well, a bass! Apparently he had purchased a new (traditional) upright, then liked the sound of his own better so he sold it and gigs around with the axe you see here.

You can read more about Amzie Adams here:
All Amzie All The Time
New Orleans Art by Amzie Adams