A Checkpoint For The Fringe NOLA Crowd

Laura McKnight's stomping grounds

NOTE: I incorrectly labeled Laura McKnight’s post on the Hubig’s Pies fire as her Cajun Tomato writing debut. It was not. I glanced through my archives and neglected this post that originally ran March 20, 2011. When I switched host servers earlier this year the link to this Checkpoint Charlie’s ode was broken, and the post disappeared from the site. Here it is again in all its glory.

By Laura McKnight
Cajun Tomato Correspondent

NEW ORLEANS – As I scribble the notes for this, my heart is working overtime trying to pump greasy beef through my veins. The Cajun Burger from my Laundromat is delicious, but loaded with grease. It’s the kind of grease that trickles out of the meat patty with each bite and dribbles onto jean shorts, staining them.

At this Laundromat, which also happens to be a bar, I could probably just take my shorts off, throw them in the nearest washing machine and chill in my panties with few stares, much less objections. One of my college professors told me he spent part of a rainy Mardi Gras here, buck naked, waiting for clothes to dry.

Stains aside, that burger did nothing good for my physical constitution. Likewise, spending regular laundry sessions at this place, known as Checkpoint Charlie’s, is likely not advisable for healthy living. But it’s fun and my clothes need washing, so I come here anyway. That’s how we roll here in South Louisiana.

Before we roll any further, let me introduce you to my neighborhood: New Orleans breeds strangeness, nurtures it, promotes it. And my particular New Orleans neighborhood attracts a disproportionately high percentage of the no-bath-taking, no-deodorant-wearing, street-banjo-playing nomads; the most dedicated of drunks; zombie filmmakers; professional harmonica players; and a range of other artsy types.

In other words, this neighborhood draws some of those who inhabit the fringes of society. But Checkpoint’s Laundromat/Bar attracts the fringes of the fringe – the semi-homeless, those desperate for clean clothes paired with High Life and cheese fries, the people often described as “real characters.” If you are wanted in multiple states – or should be – please check in here. If you rock a porno ‘stache with no sense of irony – please check in here. If you get angry when people stare at the python encircling your neck – please, by all means, check in here.

Though there’s plenty of action in Checkpoint’s bar area, I’ve learned the Laundromat section is where the cool kids hang out. These are the guys who sat in the back of the class, the back of the school bus, the back porch at Thibodaux High. These are now the guys who sneak to the back of the Laundromat/bar to enjoy non-D.A.R.E. approved items. And they love to share. I’m not a smoker of any kind, but I’ve never received so many generous offers as at Checkpoint’s. And I’ve never come so close to a contact high.

Back in January, I was giving friends a tour of my neighborhood and decided they must see Checkpoint’s. As we headed back to the Laundromat, a guy told us he once vomited into a washing machine here. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, but ever since I heard that, I’ve peered into the machines in search of partially digested food or other undesirables.

I’ve found the usual laundry remnants: nickels, safety pins, stray socks. But once, not long after this vomit discussion, I found a mysterious pink rubbery thing that I can only describe as looking like a finger from the rubber hand that stars in the David Sedaris story Who’s the Chef?

I have never witnessed vomit or an actual rubber finger at Checkpoint’s. But I have witnessed, mostly while waiting for my clothes to wash or dry, the following:

– A man wearing a visor perform a series of pushups next to the dryers.

– A man wearing a large snake repair a pinball machine.

– Bad karaoke.

– Decent karaoke.

– Live performances featuring jams of the following genres: sissy bounce, classic rock, hillbilly.

– A cute dog named Spaghetti produce a very large turd near one of the washing machines. His owner just left it there. It was huge.

– A visit from outsider artist and Houma native, Welmon Sharlhorne (check out my Facebook page for him here)

The Friday before Mardi Gras, I decided to sneak in a few loads of laundry before things got too out of hand. I walked over to my usual perch – a counter top next to the dryers where I like to sit and read and sip PBR – only to find a woman curled up on the floor beneath the counter, hard asleep. I watched for a while as random people wander back to the Laundromat and check to see if she was still breathing. Yup.

I cannot remember if she was still sleeping, or had already come clawing and screaming out of her hole, when another woman walked into the Laundromat, shouting violently in a slurred voice, a not-cigarette in one hand:

“You never stop listening not to me!”

A second or two later: “I don’t jack off enough…you have kids already!”

She offered further insights into communication issues/human sexuality, but a guy stooped over one of the nearby washing machines had better wisdom to impart. He wore a black fedora with a shiny silver band and black dress clothes, his long brown hair and goatee making him look not unlike Lucifer: “Clean socks – an essential thing in life.”

Indeed.

Now pass me a Cajun Burger. I’ve got the munchies back here.

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