I, Dockenstein, awoke at six to the coo of my alarm, momentarily distressed at finding myself in a bed. How had I gotten here? Where was our boat? Had it all been a dream?
I snoozed the alarm and studied my surroundings. Beside me, Crimper lay with his head buried in the double bed's pillows. Across the room, River Hair and Grommeter shared a similar bed. The evening began returning to me: driving through Mordor at night, the walk over the levee, showers all around, the other three watching White Men Can't Jump on the hotel TV while I did laundry. Yes, I remembered, I'd left my clothes in the dryer when I'd gone to sleep around two a.m., though I could not remember my head hitting the pillow.
I left the other Cat Sassers sleeping and headed to the laundry room, planning to fold my and Grommeter's clothes right quick so we could head to New Orleans and I could catch my 10:15 bus to Memphis for my flight back to New Jersey—a vestige of the phase when we'd only hoped to get as far downriver as Memphis and its mighty mirrored ziggurat. I'd be leaving earlier than the others, who'd hang around the Big Easy trying to sell our boat.
To my horror, the mass of clothes in the dryer was as warm and damp as the inside of a boat-pitched two-man tent at dawn. These clothes included every stitch of clothing I had with me (I'd brought everything indoors to pack), and all the clothes the others had worn. I jogged back to the room in boxer shorts, discovered I didn't have enough quarters, jogged to the front desk, swapped a dollar for change, and sprinted back to the laundry room. I set the dryer on another cycle and hoped intensely and specifically, the atheist's semi-prayer I'd exercised so often on this trip, though with much lower stakes. No oncoming barges, no broken motors, just some moist jeans. Come 6:50, I had no choice but to prematurely interrupt the dryer cycle and fold the clothes, most of which—Cat-Sass be praised—were nearly dry. The other lads were happy to receive their shorts again. We packed up and enjoyed a quick complimentary breakfast. Nick remarked that consuming this food was the most he'd ever enjoyed and appreciated a continental breakfast, and the most he'd ever felt like an animal. After looking down and realizing we had each taken several heaping platefuls of prepackaged cereal bowls, bagels, English muffins, and cups of milk and apple juice, we couldn't help but agree.
We hit the river around 7:30. The journey to New Orleans proper was twenty-one miles, so we needed to make at least ten knots in order for me to catch the bus, and on this bright Friday morning the river was good to us. Around nine fifteen we pulled into a dock at the Audubon Park near Tulane University. I said goodbye to the others, and a nice local doing some water tests took a photo of us with the boat.
Before I knew it, the boat had pulled away and I was sitting in an Uber on the way to the bus terminal, my Mississippi trip nearly over.
My driver, Jim, said he'd moved recently moved to New Orleans from Atlanta. "My bride and I were called," he said.
"What do you mean by that?" I asked.
Jim explained that he and his wife had received a message from God that they needed to drop everything and move to New Orleans to found an apostolic center, where people could organize to spread the word and do good in the community.
"What was it like getting the message?" I asked.
"It's funny," Jim said, "my bride and I always said we'd never move to New Orleans, but then Poppa—I call Him Poppa—started sending the message loud and clear. As clear as this conversation we're having here, you and me."
"How did you get the message?"
"Weird little things. People moving to New Orleans, sending us back packages. I said to my bride, 'We both know we need to move somewhere. Let's both say where on the count of three.' And it was New Orleans."
Jim says he loves the city, and that even in a mere seven months the apostolic center has boomed. They started in someone's living room but have since moved to an office. Several other people have specifically received calls to relocate to Mandeville, across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans. Jim mentioned another couple and a former world-touring evangelist "who made, like, six figures a year."
"I've never seen anything like it," Jim said, shaking his head. "The best part is the peace. I know for sure that I'm supposed to be here. There's no striving. Sure, we could find striving, but we don't need to. This job, I only drive this car because I like it. I like driving."
Jim parked outside the station and shook my hand.
"You're the man," Jim said.
"You're the man," Jim said.
I boarded the bus, watched the city recede. I rode the bus all day, reversing in hours a journey that had taken weeks, back through Natchez, Vicksburg, and Greenvile, where a storm appeared ahead of us, and I felt anxiety rise in my chest as my mind raced with the precautions we'd need to take, rolling down the tarp sides, sealing our waterproof duffels, finding a place to beach, until I remembered I'd left the boat. We were safe inside this bus, no longer at the mercy of the wind. We hit the storm, and rain drenched the windows, and we all stayed dry, listening to music or chatting quietly on the phone or sleeping or watching the light fall across the scenery—cornfields, mostly, and every now and then, beneath a bridge or through the trees, the river.
• • •
Though we were sad to see fair Dockenstein go, we could not dwell long on the Dockenstein-sized holes he left in our hearts. Grommeter, River Hair and I (Clement AKA Crimper) carried on south towards central New Orleans (or N'awlans as the locals say), concerned about if we'd be able to sell Cat-Sass, and if it would be enough money. Our last stop was to be Lake Pontchartrain, just a canal and lock away from the New Orleans-bordering Mississippi. We arrived at "Industrial Lock" and radioed them for a time estimate. We received no answer. After repeatedly radioing, we finally decided to call the lock, where we were instructed to radio again. We did so, begrudgingly, only to finally receive the response that they could not give us a time estimate. Though we were further enraged, the ensuing 5 hour (!) wait proved to be an adventure in and of itself. In the midst of a distracted game of "Settlers of Catan," Bennett, who had been negotiating the whole game (which made for a sorry performance) with the guy who had checked out Cat-Sass in Baton Rouge, broke the news that we had a confirmed sale and would be dropping the boat off with him that evening. Though the price was not as high as we had hoped, we were all flooded with relief at the knowledge that the old girl was off our hands once and for all. The Settlers of Catan game was never finished.
After losing a 3-way game of Rock Paper Scissors, I, Crimper, was left with the boat while River Hair and Grommeter went to get some food and water. Though the temperature was well into the 90's and I felt a bit like I was going to be reduced to a raisin-man, I had a good time chatting with two barge-workers standing at the bow of a butane barge across the lock-wall from me. From them I learned some interesting barge-facts, such as: barge work is non-union; no qualifications are required; once you get on a barge, you don't get off until the cargo is delivered, and you sleep in shifts because the barge never stops moving; sometimes barge workers treat the barges as a manner of hitch hiking, quitting at their desired destination; if anyone that isn't a barge worker or the coast guard gets on a barge, everyone would probably lose their job; the more seasoned of the two workers had only been boarded by the coast guard twice, once when his captain smashed a tugboat (at the fault of the tugboat) and once when they found a dead body in the water.
Bennett and Nick returned to Cat-Sass, and roughly 30 minutes later we were told we'd be locking through with a tugboat and two police boats. Nick, who was at the wheel, drove us into the lock, but due to varied and conflicting instructions from the lock, the tug and the police, Nick ended up slamming the back of the boat into the lock wall to the total disgust of the policemen.
We ended up tying off to the tug, and waited for the water to fall. As soon as the gates opened, we were off, delighted to be rid of what was far and away the worst lock we'd ever encountered. Both over-powered police boats followed closely behind us, and soon rocketed past us, keeping us safe by almost capsizing us with their enormous wakes. Shaken by the whole grueling 6 hour ordeal, but excited to sell the boat, we took turns cleaning the deck as we made our way to the designated marina.
Upon arrival we took all our personal effects, including the attractive custom toilet seat lid and the fake duck, and left the rest for the future Cat-Sassians. They soon arrived to load her up, and, fully aware of what an incredible bargain he'd gotten, Mike (buyer), offered to give us a ride to our hostel. We gladly accepted, and loaded our bags into his pick up. We watched forlornly as Cat-Sass was driven onto a trailer, and her Bimini top folded down. In the words of a young Che Guevara, the trip was "a glimpse of [five] lives running parallel for a time, with similar hopes and convergent dreams," and now the five lives diverged, Cat-Sass going one way, and each crew member going his.
Mike said he'd have to follow the pick up with the trailer back to his house before he could take us, because the trailer didn't have tail lights and he didn't want them to get a ticket. On the way he gave us some incredible insight into his time as a firefighter during Hurricane Katrina. He and his fellow firefighters slept on an abandoned cruise ship docked at the submerged Domino sugar plant, and during the day drove boats around the 8-foot floodwaters that were his childhood streets, picking up refugees on rooftops and bringing them to the local high school from which they were evacuated. He reflected on the neighborhood's recovery, pointing out what used to be stores and houses, where an oil refinery had burst and had been legally obliged to buy up the real estate, and where a sewage plant had acted as a fertilizer for the regrowth of the cypress swamp that had been ruined by the sea wall.
Finally the trailer reached his house, and began to back down the driveway. Mike pulled a u-turn and started to head the other way.
"Look at this guy," he said, disgusted, and we turned to see his son mooning us as we drove off. Though the adventures of Cat-Sass's crew continued that night in the Big Easy, it was clear that Cat Sass's spirit had already imparted enough (cat) sass into Mike's son to prompt him to reveal his (cat's) ass, and we knew she was no longer our boat, and that it was here that our story had come to an end.
One final thank you is in order: to everyone who followed our journey. We are honored to have shared this time with you.