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All That Jazz, and Then Some!

After twenty years in Manhattan, it was time to water my Southern roots. Since I’d always loved New Orleans food, music, history and unvarnished hedonism, I took an apartment in an 1840s Creole townhouse in the French Quarter. My landlord Frank, an eccentric elderly Sicilian with an eye patch, quirky attitude and murky past, occupied the downstairs and slave quarters while I took the second floor with a gallery overlooking the street. Frank explained that the mansion fell into decline when the Quarter became a slum in the ’30s. By the ’80s it was a derelict pasta factory which Frank (whom I discovered was once heir to an Italian food empire), restored to a fare-thee-well. A deeply superstitious charismatic Catholic with a life-sized Jesus in his...

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Village People

My 1967 summer in Margaret Mitchell’s Atlanta apartment building was a revelation, but that old house was only a nostalgic island in a mundane commercial district. Eager to live in a truly historic neighborhood I moved to New York’s Greenwich Village and took a second floor apartment on West Tenth Street. Tucked between Bleecker and Hudson Streets I was happily immersed in another century. The only modern interloper on the block was the Sixth Precinct Police Headquarters across the street. Our paths would eventually cross but more on that later. My new life in America’s Bohemia was magical. Because I was still an unpublished novelist, I walked around in a daze, trying to grasp how many writers I had followed there. Mark Twain, Herman Melville,...

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Southern Comfort

One long ago summer, I was a college student living in Atlanta’s Windsor House apartments. When I tell people it was where Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind, they often ask if I saw her ghost. Not exactly but first things first. Because rents were cheap in 1967, the place attracted the sort of picaresque Southern characters I would later write books about. Someone once said writers are metaphysical pickpockets, and believe me the Windsor House had very deep pockets. Half my neighbors were fellow students but there was also a man who conducted music only he could hear, two gay brothers who owned the building and an artist’s model who grew pot on her windowsill. My favorites were a faded Southern belle and an elderly ex-madam. The first was a...

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