This site requires JavaScript to be enabled to work properly. Please check your settings and try again.

The Last Hoot

* Story contains bad language

Breezy cotton dresses and a fragrance of cinnamon, a lazy dog at the door with one eye closed. Angel, late as usual, blows in the room like a weeping willow in a thunderstorm, all movement and no form as she shimmies across the room with a sweet song of hellos. The other Ladies respond lazily from their settees and Chesterfields and wave a dainty zephyr in Angel's direction then go back to talking about tomorrow.

Out on the boulevard, the boys in brown, stripes or slick sleeves, shuffle along restlessly, watching the sun go down for the last time on their piece of paradise pie. They don't come inside yet. That's for later. For now they want to enjoy the night air and all the bobbling faces on the walk.

Inside Celia's Veranda, Boonie plinks a barrelhouse Joplin tune on the upright and surveys the empty parlor with an eye on the clock. A big round dial with brass arrows turns slowly, marking off eternity in measured clicks. The hands of the clock semaphore six-twenty and tell him Celia's place has less than six hours to kick, but the night's just about to start. He wonders if he has the energy to diddle the keys until midnight this time. What's the point? Ain't no tomorrow. Hell of a way to go out, he thinks.

Next to him the Shark Tooth plops a big black fat arm up on the bar and bumps against the hurricane glasses stacked in ready rows. One falls towards the floor and an early retirement but the gin pusher has quick hands and the glass will live another night. The 'Tooth drops his chin down on his wrist with a sigh and wishes now he hadn't opened that bottle of Turtle Juice cause it likely won't get drunk up tonight and tomorrow he won't even be able to give it away. Personally, he hates the stuff and it's expensive and none of the Ladies will drink it either, even when he drowns it in soda. Too potato-ey, they say. Only the boys from Back East go for it and you don't see too many of them down here. Well, not before the war, anyway.

Over by the door, Woodrow's lounging on his stool, perched up there like a big raccoon, peeping down at the hound dogs passing by, waiting for the night hunt to begin. Celia always thinks he looks goofy in that long-tail coat and oversize stove pipe hat, like some kind of coal pile butler, but Woodrow knows it brings the boys over, makes 'em laugh, and poke fun at his choice in haberdashery, but once he gets 'em laughing, he's got 'em looking, and when he's got 'em looking, soon enough they're smacking lips at cotton dresses and hints of cinnamon.

And tonight for sure, hat or no hat, they'll come in. It's the last night in playland. Wouldn't nobody miss this night for all the glory they might find over there in France.

Celia comes down the spiral from her second floor boudoir in pink taffeta and stands on the landing, though when she does, she wraps her dress around her legs and stands dainty like a maiden. Herself, she don't show nothing, but building that winding rise of steps up to the second-story heaven was pure genius, 'cause now all the boys that come inside dash straight up to the altar and elbow one another to stand close by so when a Lady transcends, they can see what's up under those layers of silk, and once they see it, they want to follow it. The Ladies ain't paid to be coy. It's all there for the asking.

Celia's a looker, but raw like turbinado, unrefined and molasses sweet all at the same time. When she comes down the spiral, everybody knows it's time for business. She claps her hands together and calls out to the room, "Alright Ladies, let's get this place a-hoppin'." It's the opening bell, the starter's flag, the pop-pop-pop to get things moving just like she's done every night for near five years, but this time they all know she's dropping that flag for the very last lap and though nobody sees it, she drops a little tear out of the corner of one eye, too. It's not just a Gentleman's Parlor she's closing, it's the doors of the times. The Epoch of Love, a customer once called it, and now it's been ended by royal decree from the city's righteous, and though the Ladies will go on, will pour other wine, all the New Orleans grapes have been picked.

Celia wipes the tear away quick and leans over the rail. "Boof it up there, Pearly," she calls out to her Number Two. "Let's get some bounce at the door." Pearly jumps up and says to Harlene, "Go brang 'em in, Honey. Let's do the last one proud." Soon Harlene in her hoop skirt that makes her look like she's crawling up out of a big bee hive and Candy Cane in a jungle damsel's chamois siamoise are draped in the doorway, giving Woodrow's takers something to smile at besides his hat. Reelfoot, the lazy dog by the door closes his other eye and sighs.

Outside, Officer Buber strolls up to the door. With a shiny badge on his breast and a gun on his hip, he's the law of the Parish and everybody at Celia's knows him. Officer Buber is compressed power, a diminutive dusty butt, shorter than most of the girls, but they love his eyes and his cotton boll cheeks and they certainly all appreciate his hidden strengths.

"Hello-o-o, Officer Goober-r-r-r," Woodrow sings out with a tip of the stove pipe in the policeman's direction. Officer Buber hates the name, but he always lets Woodrow get away with it. Something Officer Buber likes in that goofy grin under that goofy hat that says the old boy don't mean nothing but fun by it. And besides, it ain't worth a hassle on the last night.

"Evenin' 'Row," Officer Buber answers. He looks at Harlene and Candy Cane for a minute and gives an little appreciative salute. "Ladies," he says nicely, then asks them all, "How's Miss Celia doin'?"

Woodrow sticks his lower lip out in that Celia pout that everybody's seen once or twice when it's time to scoot down the hall and out of her bad mood way. No mistaking what he means. "Aw, she'll be alright," he says unconvincingly. "We all will."

"You comin' in to find out?" Harlene asks. She means it friendly and twitches her bustle like a happy puppy to show it. They all like Officer Buber and figure maybe they won't see him any more after tonight, either.

"Ladies, you are the reason my sun comes up ever' mornin'," Officer Buber says eloquently. "Of course I shall be at your sides tonight." They beam and reach out to touch his arm for thanks, not caring whether he means it or not.

"And Woodrow," he says to the stick figure doorman, "Hope everthing turns out good for you too, my man. Hope your chickens keep on layin'." Woodrow's stove pipe tips respectfully once more as Officer Buber heads through the door.

Inside, Pearly spots Officer Buber coming in and gives him a big smile. "Little Blue man," she calls in a honeysuckle voice. "You come to see us off?" Pearly is the queen of baubles and a big grand woman. She only attracts a certain line of customers interested in her full-size charms, though Officer Buber, to her dismay, has never been one of those.

"Wish it weren't so, Pearl," he laments. "But it's a fact that I am."

Officer Buber doesn't want Celia's Veranda to close any more than Celia's Ladies do, but then, judges don't issue orders to cops just to make the newsprint. Well, this time maybe they did.

Celia glides over to Officer Buber likes she's on wheels and puts a friendly hand on the top of his shoulder. "Glad to see you here, Banana Man," she coos. "Wouldn't be the same if'n you didn't come by. This time next week, you know, we'll all be in Chicargo, livin' it up, and you'll be back to pinching soldier boys for throwing up on sidewalks in the Quarter. Won't be the same without us, will it? Why don't you just come along up North with us?" Her eyes twinkle with the invitation, and Officer Buber wishes he could oblige. It's true, next week the Ladies will all be sitting on tuffets in Illinois parlors, waving at soldier boys, hoping none of them be throwing up on the carpet. Some lucky bastard cop in Chicago is gonna be getting all the joy soon, Officer Buber knows.

"I'm here official, Miss Celia," Officer Buber says out of that kind round face-always has been too kind for a cop's face-and though he's known Celia near four years, known her almost two, he still calls her 'Miss Celia'. Something in the way her chubby cheeks scrunch up when she smiles makes her look innocent, like a farm gal tending goats, and he likes to hold on to that little illusion with his own illusion of respect. "We got to make sure all the parlors are closed at midnight, Miss Celia, and I get to close yore'n down. Ain't I the lucky one?" Celia smiles at him and pats his shoulder affectionately, but Officer Buber is disappointed that her hand stays up on the flat of his shoulder instead of sliding down to the meat of his arm where she usually gives him a good squeeze when she's in the mood. Instead, Celia takes his arm and strolls him across the room. "Let's go set a minute," she says.

Here and there the Ladies are boofing themselves up, curly-cuing their hair or pushing up cross-tie blouse fronts to make things look bigger, or tinkling on the last drips of flower water, anything to make the boys perk up and notice. Officer Buber sure notices; he always does. He smiles and says 'hello' to all of them. They smile back. He knows a couple of them, too.

They pass the bar where Shark Tooth grants a silent nod at the jack-boot man in blue. Officer Buber nods back. Long time ago, Officer Buber tossed old 'Tooth in the New Orleans can one night for beating up five white boys, and the 'Tooth ain't forgot about that time. When Officer Buber strolled by that night, what he'd seen had been a pretty fair fight as far as he was concerned, there being only five white boys jumping on the 'Tooth instead of the ten or twelve Officer Buber figured it would take to put him down, and the black boy with the neck like a bull dog was doing a passable job of chipping every white tooth out of every white faced that popped up in front of him. But the white boys swore through mince-meat lips and bloody gums that looked like corn cobs with no kernals left on them that the black boy had jumped all five of them for no good reason. Why, yust for no weason a'tall, one burbled painfully, while we wah wahking down the stweet peathable-wike on our way to the Youf Hall, and with that kind of story, crap that it might be, the good po-liceman had no choice but to take the boy in. Well it is Louisiana, the people on the street said, and the 'Tooth is a nigger, everybody agreed. Can't deny that. And the fact that some of the bystanders was talking about introducing the nigger to a rope made Officer Buber do his duty, and it also made him a hero in Shark Tooth's eyes that night, cause it sure saved his hide.

All that was way before Celia's, way back when Officer Buber was in new blue pants and buzz-saw hair, a little-boy policeman, but to this day, Shark Tooth still jumps over the bar if any fool tanked-up customer tries to put Officer Buber's head through a wall, and it don't take but one swat or two of them big black arms for Shark Tooth to help Officer Buber do his duty. The 'Tooth never forgets what he owes.

Celia and Officer Buber come to a Beidermeier, plump and soft and hidden away under the stairs where they can talk a minute. "Sit down," Celia says in that curious way Southern charmers can run two words together, yet make two-syllables out of words of one. "Siddayun" she says.

"Is this really the last night?" she asks mournfully. "You gon' lock the doors come midnight? Put us all out on the street?" She puts her hand on his shoulder again, but this time it slides down the heft just a ways, though not quite into signal territory.

"You know I got to," Officer Buber replies, pumping up his chest for authority. "It's the law, Miss Celia. The end of the story. You got to close up and move away so you won't be no bad influence on them boys out yonder." Or, 'outchander', as he says it.

Celia's hand goes back up on top of the shoulder. "Bad influence," she sniffs. "Any worse than sending them off to fight the Kaiser and go dead kicking in the mud? I'd say spending what ought to be the good years o' their lives in a coffin is a much worser influence that a little peek under a skirt now and then."

Officer Buber shakes his head sadly and agrees. "Yes'm, Miss Celia, yore probably right. But I'll still be here to see things locked up at midnight just the same. All the things. Come tomorrow morn, the sun won't shine on nothing 'round here but memories. It's my duty."

Celia understands. It isn't Officer Buber's fault. "The good people of New Awlins has spoken, I guess," she sighs, "but you can bet they ain't seen the last cotton candy in this town. They might throw us in the river, but what we're doin' won't never go away."

Out front, it's six-thirty and opening time, so Woodrow pulls himself up tall on his stool, standing bean pole straight. He's built like a carrot and when he primps his stove pipe up high on his noggin it makes him look eight feet tall. He's a long black tower of a man with a face like a boar, and when he starts to call 'em up it's like bringing the hogs to the trough. "Oodley-ooh, boys," Woodrow sings out, "Come and see it while you can, come-a take it like a man. Go to church tomorrow, but tonight you're here to sin." Sing song, sing song, sing song, sing, over and over he chants till the boys up and down the boulevard all hear and come a-moseyin'. With Harlene and Candy Cane puffed and boofed at the door, the boys start to sniff like doggies on a rabbit's tail and soon Celia's Veranda's fills with goodbye soldiers, dollars in their pockets and hunger in their pants.

"Gonna be a night," Officer Buber says, looking at the jubilation in the parlor. "Ain't no doubt about it. Gonna get wild."

But Celia suddenly has her pout. It ain't what she wants. "Not in my place, 'Nanner," she says right firm with that lip puckered up like the persimmon wasn't ripe. "I want Celia's Veranda to go out smooth and peacable. This may be a house of assignation, but we got style. We got dignity and we got respect, and we're going to the hills with our heads up high." She has decided. She jumps up from the Biedermier and drags Officer Buber by the arm right out to Boonie's ivory box and raps on Boonie's noggin with her knuckles. Boonie sees the pout and pulls down his tune. He knows when Momma wants the floor.

Celia nudges Boonie over and then she stands right up on his bench next to him. "Hey, ya'll sammies," she shouts out. "Tune your ear pieces over here a minute."

Like somebody's just hollered "Free Money", the soldier boys all turn and look and there's Miss Celia, standing on the bench with one foot up on Boonie's shoulder. Pink taffeta shimmers under the electric arcs and the boys look at her eagerly. There's young faces and old ones, and farmer boys and factory chubs and cotton pickers and bankers, and soldiers of every size and shape-though soldiers of only one color-and with eyes occluded by alcohol, they lean on the Ladies and wait for Celia to speak like she was the Reverend Jones on Sunday.

"My warriors," she says to them. "It's been a hell of a ride, but the train pulls out tonight." Officer Buber smiles at her mixture, but he knows her heart is in her words. There was always a lot of things Miss Celia's done better than speeching.

"Ya'll been good to all of us for the longest," she continues, then a shout from one of the boys answers back,

"But not as good as ya'll been to us!" The room breaks open in laughter, and even Miss Celia smiles.

"The good people of New Awlins believes we are a bad influence on you," she says, and they all "oh" and "damn" and swear it ain't so. "And you know what?" she swears right back, "It seems to me that there's do-righters everywhere who always thinks they knows what's best for everybody else, an' them kind of people just don't ever seem to think we can figure out for ourselves what's right or what's wrong, or what's good to drink or what's fit to eat. They believe God give them eyes so they can see where we ought to be headin', and fingers to point us on our way. But don't you forget," she adds, wagging a finger at them all, "it's the righteous people of the world that's pointin' you boys off to France to go fight the Huns so Mister Rockefeller can make another million." The boys jeer and whistle and around the room heads nod in drunken agreement. "Why, you boys are going out to fight for the very people that's tellin' you a little lovin' ain't good for you, and they're the ones who'll be writin' sad letters home to your grievin' Mommas, too. And ain't that the shame?"

She stops a second, looks around the room, and puts one hand on Boonie's head next to her knee, which is next to Boonie's ear, which is as steady as Thomas at Chickamauga while Celia uses him for a footstool. She rests her hand there like it was a pulpit, tapping her fingers on his skull. "I tell you this boys, they may think a little lovin' ain't good for your soul, but there ain't no amount of dying that's much good for it, neither," and the boys start to shout and clap and she's got 'em looking now. "But fellas. . .," she sighs, looking down at Officer Buber standing close by in uniform and badge and a going-out-of-business order in his pocket, "when good people get to beatin' the drums, I guess we all got to march, and boys, you all know it's time for us to be steppin' on."

She looks at Officer Buber with expectation, and he feels like he ought to have something to say. The soldier boys are looking at Officer Buber too, like maybe he's the very toady that signed the orders, so he decides he'd better clarify the situation. "Sorry, boys," Officer Buber tells them. "It's them Washington homers that's closin' the gate. Somebody up there wants to keep all the funnin' for himself. I just do what I'm told, and I got my duty to do, just like you.

The boys are sad, and the "oooh's" spread around the room like smoke, but they understand too. Glasses are raised and toasts are offered. Shark Tooth suddenly has a dozen glasses thrust in his face for refill.

"You boys mean a lot to me," Celia sniffs. She dabs a tear away from an eye, but as she does, she lifts the hem of her dress to do it, and from where it dangles over her ankle propped next to Boonie's ear, taffeta begets silk for just an instant and the boys in front fly elbows to get a quick look.

"I want you boys to know that wherever me or any of my Ladies may be, if ya'll find us, ya'll are always welcome to come in my place anytime." The boys cheer some more, then suddenly it's like Celia has a fly in her throat that makes her choke. "And I want you to know too, if any one of us here in the Veranda could jump on a ship and go fight, we'd be right there with you boys," and it looks for a minute like Miss Celia's really gonna cry. All around the room it's quiet, too quiet, and Miss Celia sniffles, "Ya'lls are going off to fight the Great War they say, the war to end all wars, and it's likely we won't never see some of you again," and that's when it looks like maybe one or two of the boys are about to tune up, too. Miss Celia opens her lips just a bit but no words come out, and all the boys in the room wait to see what sadness she's gonna say next, but before she does, a big drunk voice lobs up out of the crowd, "Well, hell, boys, it looks to me like we done lost the war to end all whores," and this time the laughter lets loose big time and the drinks go pouring. Miss Celia takes her foot off Boonie's shoulder and smiles big and there's no more crying to be done.

"Let her go, Boonie," she says and Boonie starts pedaling to Mississippi and the party goes back to rolling and for a little longer, the boys ain't thinking about dying.

After that, the night gets going good and the 'Veranda gets loud. Along about nine, after Boonie's had a deuceway, the ivory begins to sizzle and somewhere a sax man jumps and caterwauls notes alongside Boonie. Then somebody comes up with a trumpet and a clarinet and by ten o'clock, they're punching out notes like a steam hammer drives rivets, and the music's so hot it's melting the windows and blowing off the doors and spreading down the street in a fog on the ground. The boys are dancing and the boys are hollering and the boys are watching skirts go up and down the spiral, and most of all, the boys are going up the spiral themselves getting one last hoot, and then coming back down to celebrate.

Officer Buber is cool. When two soldier boys slide down the rail of the spiral in their skivvies and the hollers of all the boys below are louder than Boonie's band is playing, Officer Buber lets them go, let's them parade around the room showing everybody the lipstick smudges where a soldier don't normally find lipstick. Officer Buber laughs along with the rest.

When boys start passing out, cold and rag-limp on the floor, he lets them stay where they fall instead of hauling them in like he usually does, for Officer Buber figures they deserve to be able to splatter this one time undisturbed. Some day not too far away in a Frenchman's alfalfa, some of these boys will fall down splattered and never get up again.

Somewhere around eleven, a couple of the fellows get a bright idea. "They can't close this place at midnight if'n midnight never comes!" they conjecture, and down comes the big bull clock which then goes rolling right out the door. Officer Buber starts to grab the boys before the clock sails away, but from across the room he sees Celia's eye, sees her shrug as if to say, "Don't worry 'bout it anymore," and so Officer Buber steps back and lets the time fly. After that, the paintings start coming off the walls and the lampshades go on the heads and the place is getting to be a mess but Celia doesn't seem to mind anymore. She wasn't going to need this stuff much tomorrow anyway.

In the final hour, Boonie's band really lets it go. Now there's a trombone and another trumpet and here and there some sweet harmony jigs in time to the rattling drummer, but mostly the tunes are flat-out scorchers. Boonie and Catfish and Stultify and all the black boys with lightning fingers split their notes so high and fast that the laughing rolling soldier boys can't follow, can't hardly even dance to the racket, but the racket is a sweet dirge for Celia's Veranda, and it makes the boys run up and down the spiral in a frenzy, for clock or no clock, they know the end is near and the race for the last hoot is on.

At eleven-forty-five Celia comes over to the Shark, who's getting weary of trying to keep up with all the drink calls and all the change and all the boys that forget to tip, and she pours a tall bourbon in a hurricane and hands it to him. "This one's yores," she says to him, and unties the apron from his waist and puts a friendly hand on his arm. "You go on, my big man, and join the fun. Let the boys be." For the first time tonight, for the first time any Regulars can remember, Shark Tooth grins, and it's only then that everybody understands his name, for in the middle of his grin is one big black front tooth, broken off at an angle and looking like he could open cans with it. The bottom of his mouth is filled with yellowed incisors and bicuspids, all mostly still where God put them, but that black blade is the only tooth left on the top row and man, it looks mean. But the smile on 'Tooth's face is so broad and so clean that the boys around the bar forget to be afraid of him and they slap him on the back and raise a toast and that's when Celia says "Open bar boys, just come get what you want." Glasses raise to Celia and the race to midnight gets faster. Woodrow even comes in from outside and joins the fun, too, cause it sure don't matter much about calling soldier boys in no more. While he's pulling down one of Celia's farewell beers, a couple of soldier boys get to playing volleyball with Woodrow's stove pipe and as it bounces around the room it gets folded and bent till it starts to look like a tin can that's been kicked down the road about four or five miles.

Just about midnight, when they all know the end is near, the boys start drifting out to the street where the party can keep going even after Celia's closes down. In the parlor, the floor's still full of uniforms, but there's not a Lady in sight, for they're all up the spiral saying grace for the last grand time. At five minutes till, Shark Tooth goes up the climb and starts to bang on doors, driving the last customers out, like Officer Buber says he has to do. One big soldier with a thick jaw and anvil hands tries to bully Officer Buber with an argument all his own.

"If'n I pay by midnight," he supposes, "It seems to me I arghn't to be able to get my goods on my own sweet time," and when he stands up in Officer Buber's face, he towers mightily over the man in blue. "Are you gonna stop me little man?" he says with ugly in his eyes.

But Officer Buber is not interested in rationale or broader shoulders than his, and he quickly unplugs his revolver from his side and politely holds it on the tip of the big soldier's nose. "If I say you don't, you don't" he reasons with a smile, and the big man cross-eyes the barrel on his nose and decides Officer Buber has the better argument.

Then the last minute comes and the spiral fills with khaki and Ladies, all herding down ahead of Shark Tooth, down to the parlor, out to the door, tears and smiles, Ladies saying goodbye to soldier boys with hugs and squeezes. Shark Tooth signals from the top of the landing that the rooms are all clear, then midnight strikes, and the hammer of virtue comes down. Reelfoot finally gets up, his first rise of the night. He yawns, then trots outside. No fun in here anymore. Pearly closes the door and all the Ladies start to bawl. The boys are all gone and Celia's Veranda is, too.

Celia looks at Officer Buber, who nods that the law is satisfied, and Officer Buber looks at Celia and Pearly and Harlene and Candy Cane and all the rest, all of them snuffling now. Around the room Celia's Veranda is hurricane damaged, for the sofas are overturned and the drapes are sagging and the commodes and sideboards are covered with used glasses and burn-out cigars and the place has the slatternly appearance of an unkempt Used Bagnio Supply business.

"So much for dignity and respect," Celia sighs. "But what the hell, it's done now."

The Ladies all sit down and start to remove their wigs and makeup and lashes, and as they gradually peel the layers of cotton and silk from their tired backs and legs, they metamorphose into ordinary working women, relaxing at the end of a long shift.

Woodrow leans on the piano and he and Boonie and Shark Tooth are having a slow whiskey with the boys in the band. They offer one to Officer Buber. "It's not strictly legal," Officer Buber answers. "But I reckon my duty's done." They pour their glasses full of Celia's bourbon, and Woodrow and 'Tooth raise a glass to Officer Buber. For a white cop, he ain't too bad a jackboot, they say.

"I tell you what," Harlene creaks out from a smoky throat. "I done my part for the Yuu-Ess of A tonight. That's gotta be one happy platoon."

"Amen," Candy Cane sighs, "but what do we do now?"

The room is silent as all the Ladies, now just girls in tired paint, wonder the same thing.

"We'll be alright," Celia declares. "We all will." Maybe it's late and maybe she's tired, but her voice contains too little enthusiasm to cheer them. "Tomorrow we start again," she says.

Next morning, four Ladies are standing in the rising sun, just four more tired women out of work. They're parked outside Celia's Veranda where a board nailed across the pin oak doors says "Closed Fer Good," courtesy of a do-righter who came by a little after midnight to tack up the Good Citizen League's final goodbye. They yawn and scratch themselves and hold floral print valises in each hand and after looking at the sign for a moment, they start to shuffle slowly away. "Let's go find a train," Celia says, herding them on down the street. "Might as well see what's up the track a ways."

But before they get far, they hear from behind them a dusky yodel warbling across the morning. "Oodely-ooh, oodely-ooh, oodely-oodely-oodely-oooh," they hear, and turn to see Woodrow standing once more on top of his stool, tall and lean like a whippet, arms out wide. His stove pipe, recovered from the midnight mintonetters and creased in the middle and bent like a ship's smokestack, is still perched on his head. He sings out loudly to them, "Goodbye my shadow beauties. The New Orleans spring will never be so lovely again without you," then he bows deeply, bending so far over at the waist that his stove pipe tumbles off his head and lands in a heap on the sidewalk, crushed and still, stiff like a carcass. He stares blankly at the pile for a few seconds, then climbs down off his perch and turns to walk away in the morning sun without his trademark. His hands are in his pockets, and a bright whistle's on his lips. He is gone to his next calling, wherever that may be, and Celia's Veranda falls away from him like a vague reminiscence. Old Reelfoot gets up and saunters along behind him. His head and tail are high, too.

Celia watches her unemployed doorman saunter away in high spirits and just looking at him strut makes her cheery again. She sets her bag down. "Well, hell, ladybugs," she says, with her hands on her hips. "Springtime in New Awlins may be dreary but Chicago is gonna have one hell of a summer." The Ladies perk up. Summer's coming and Chicago is a day away.

Celia slaps her hands together and the starter's flag does down. "Let's go put some bounce at the door," she says.