Against all odds, Jerry died in his sleep Friday night. I haven’t seen him in years and I already miss him.
I wouldn’t call Jerry a mentor, exactly, though he did spend a decade on the graveyard shift at Igor’s before I took over in 1995. He wasn’t a father figure either, though he is the same exact age as my father. He was definitely a close friend, although I didn’t know his last name until he joined Facebook a few years ago. And I admired the hell out of him then — a guy who answered his own call in life, gained a deep understanding of human nature through unique points of entry, danced to the very edge of the abyss and made it back whole — and I admire him still.
He was a genuine Okie from Muskogee, though he left that part of Oklahoma when he was still a teenager to become a carny. He criss-crossed the country for years in caravans and freight trains. And when he got to New Orleans, like so many before and after him, he decided to stick around awhile.
He read a lot of books and devoured the newspaper each day. Later, when he was driving a cab, he became a conduit for great intel — sometimes stuff that I could pitch to my editors but more often dirt I could spread along the avenue. He spoke like an academic. He drank like a workingman, slow and steady. He carried himself like a lesser duke — barroom gentility.
He had been manning the bar at Igor’s on St. Charles from 2-10 a.m. for years by the time I met him, when I was still in college just starting to savor the pleasures of the wee hours. His time there was legendary: He broke up fights and foiled robberies. He made the bloody marys for Spyro Gyra the morning they became inspired to write their 1993 song “Breakfast at Igor’s.” One morning, around sunrise, he helped deliver a severely underweight and undernourished baby on one of the downstairs pool tables.
It was there he met his wife, Kerryn, and together they danced through the city for 30 years — laughing, laughing, laughing.
Oh, I saw Jerry laugh. I also saw him stagger, saw him fall, saw him bleed. But Jerry always carried on. And I know he stuck around a lot longer than he thought he was owed.
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