Po-Boy Views: La Pura Vida or Time to Go
Aug 17 2020

Po-Boy Views: La Pura Vida or Time to Go

By: Phil LaMancusa

The headline would read "New Orleans Oldest Working Pot Dealer Turns Himself In," and, indeed, he will. Whitey Jackson, age 84, will take his walker into police headquarters and explain to the desk sergeant that he needs to make a statement to the narcotics officers, the DEA, and, especially, to detective Bobby Phelps. The sergeant will explain that Detective Phelps retired years ago and could he (the sergeant) help him (Whitey)?

"I'm here to turn myself in. I've been dealing in New Orleans for almost 70 years, and it's time that you caught me. I figured that I'd tell Bobby first, as he's the one who's been trying to nail me. Here I am. Lock me up. What's for dinner?"

Two smiling plainclothes cops will escort Whitey to an interrogation room and have him sit down, get him a glass of water, and, "Now, tell us: What's this all about?"

"Well," Whitey will say, "I've been to the IRS to turn myself in for tax evasion, and they said that until I prove I was actually making money, that they couldn't charge me with having not paid taxes. What I really want to do is go to a federal facility. It's much nicer than state, you know. I got names."

It's true, Whitey has been "selling vegetables" since high school, never filed taxes, made a good living, supported a couple of families and some of his friends through hard times. It was well known that if things got tough, you could always reach out to Whitey. He drank smooth gin and always tipped well but was never flashy. He used to have an old four-door white Crown Vic that he'd take on trips to Texas border towns. He said it looked so much like an undercover cop's car that no one dared pull him over. He especially liked Laredo and across the border in Nuevo Laredo, with its dirt streets, seedy bars, and easy women. Sometimes, he moved "freight."

But times have gotten tough in the last dozen years, old contacts have gotten older, suppliers have become unreliable—some jailed or gone out of business. It was more difficult to get "product" across the borders, and prices increased with inflation. He could have diversified, but he was against "hard stuff," and mind-blowing substances were iffy in quality and result. No, Mary Jane was her name, and connecting her with people was his game.

He fell on hard times. His landlord passed, and the landlord's kids kicked him out of an apartment that he had had for 40 years, he had to sell his cameras (a dear but expensive hobby), downsize (a word he hated), and move to smaller quarters. He had no savings. He got a minimum from Social Security and qualified for Medicare and other forms of geezer "on-the-dole" incomes. He had never had an occupation other than his dealings and had no marketable skills. His health was failing, and he had just one plan B: turn himself in and become a ward of the state.

Some friends got him into an assisted-living facility, which was a postage-size room with an alcove kitchen and a bathroom the size of a footlocker. It was vermin-infested and mildewed, but it was close to the French Quarter and fit his budget.

He wasn't used to being broke, and he missed his old hangouts. He remembered the old days and sitting in coffee houses for hours espousing wit, witticisms, and philosophy with high like-minded miscreants. He enjoyed opera and jazz and, for the life of him, couldn't understand "woke" music, and he hated rock and roll. He was used to the easy life: strolling around New Orleans like a king, anticipating the arrival of "vegetables" after he retired his car, and taking his time leafing through his book of names to ascertain who had not scored for a reasonable period of time. He'd make a quick call on his burner phone and set up meets, pass a good time and a package, and head out into the humidity toward another watering hole and possibly another exchange of goods and services.

It all came to a head when he took a fall in the hallway of his facility. He hit his head, limped back to his room, and lay on the floor bleeding for almost two days, until one of his friends got worried and came to check on him. He was in the hospital for about a week and had a lot of time to think. "Time for plan B," he decided.

Whitey made the headlines; it was a slow news week. It was a slow court week as well, and he was charged, booked, and let go on his own recognizance; he wasn't considered a flight risk. He promised names, dates, and places around half the city, including society swells, bankers, politicos, real estate brokers, and high-priced madams. It would never come to charges, but it would make great gossip, which was something New Orleans ate for breakfast.

Then Whitey disappeared. Theories and conjectures flew. The Mob? Some guilty big shot? All anyone knew is that one night, a long black limousine pulled up outside his building, and Whitey was whisked away.

Six months later, Slick Willie showed me a copy of a photo of some old dude on a beach (skinny legs and all), with a handwritten message. Finally, news of Whitey was circulating. Slick said he got his copy from The Dodger, who got it from Princess Diana via Lady Blue, Sonny Duprey, Raspberry Mahogany, and a few dozen others. It read:

"Dear folks,

On the lam in the Papaya Republic with old friends. The grass certainly is greener and free. Love, W.

P.S. If the phone's not ringing, that's me not calling."

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