And now another memory that you have sparked: a story about a madam I knew. She was a black woman from the deepest of the Deep South, Natchez, Mississippi – the oldest town on the Mississippi River. Her name was Nelly Jackson and she ran a beautiful little whorehouse there for over 60 years.

I got to know Nelly when I was teaching high school in Natchez. I was renting a guest house from a doctor and his wife, and the whorehouse was just around the corner. It was a white clapboard house with a small well tended yard. It had a red and white striped awning that hung over a screened in porch. There were crepe myrtle trees on one side of the house that bloomed pink, white and lavender flowers in the spring. Inside, lived Nelly, her many white poodles, and usually five or six of her working girls.

The doctor’s name was Thomas Gandy, and he used to joke, “I am Nelly’s doctor, not the company doctor.” He, an elderly white doctor, and she an elderly black madam, knew that they were both part of a fading Faulknerian world that would soon be no more. There was an unspoken kinship between the two. People went to Dr. Gandy as much for their ailments as a need to give confession and receive his council. He was a vault of secrets, one who saw the denizens of his little town arrive into this world as well as leave. He was an institution, part of the life cycle.

And so too was Nelly’s Whore House. Fathers brought their sons to Nelly’s to have their first experience of a woman. Husbands would retreat to these dark corners to punctuate the monotony of their upright marriages and have someone who would listen to them for an evening. Politicians would get serviced by Nelly’s most skillful, and then these same politicians would see to it that her whore house was not shut down.

One morning I was having coffee with Dr. Gandy and his wife. Their cocker spaniel began yapping. I looked out the window and on the front lawn were a half dozen willowy women. They seemed uncomfortable in their own beauty, or perhaps uncomfortable in the light of day. They had baskets with them and chairs. Dr. Gandy put down his coffee and began to laugh.

“That time of year,” he said.

“What?” I enquired.

“Every year I let Nelly’s girls come and pick crab apples from our trees so Nelly can make jelly. I jar it for her. I put a label on it. We call it Nelly’s Whore House Jelly. She gives it away as gifts to her friends. We still got some around her from last year. Joan, find that jar so this damn Yankee can try some Whore House Jelly.”

A few minutes later there was a knock at the door. One of Nelly’s girls was standing there. She held a blue t-shirt in her hand. “Sir. Miss Nelly wants the man you have staying with you to have this t-shirt.”

She handed it to me. On the front was printed FOLLOW ME TO NELLY’S, beneath which was the drawing of a lopsided house with footprints leading up to the front door. Nelly promoted her whore house with t-shirts.

At summer’s end, I was having an afternoon vodka gimlet with Doctor Gandy and Nelly’s big white Lincoln convertible pulled up. One of her girls was at the wheel and Nelly was in the passenger seat. In the back were her white poodles and two more girls. She was on her way to The World Series and had swung by to honk her horn and say good bye. As I learned later, she loved sports and hated to fly. Each year she treated herself to both the Kentucky Derby and The World Series.

I left Natchez and went back to New York. From time to time I would think of Nelly. Sometimes when I put jelly on my toast, the phrase “whore house jelly” would emerge from a languid and dreamy recess of my memory bank. I would laugh to myself. I would also think that perhaps it was time to see a neurologist. What sort of misfiring of synapses makes such connections?

One day I received a phone call. It was from one of my former students. “John, have you heard about Nelly? It’s horrible. It’s made national news. They’re showing it on CNN.”

“Hold on, what are you talking about?” I said.

“Nelly is dying in the hospital. The whore house almost completely burned down. Dr. Gandy is with her, at her bedside. He says she will not make it.”

As was reported later, a 20 year old exchange student from the University of Mississippi apparently had had a fight with his girlfriend. He showed up at Nelly’s doorstep intoxicated and after midnight. Those were her two rules, don’t be drunk when you arrive and don’t show up after midnight. She refused him and he returned later with an ice chest full of gasoline. He knocked at the door again. When Nelly answered he doused her, spilling some on himself.

He struck a match …

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About the Author

John Rexer, the founder and editor of La Cuadra Magazine, expatriated himself from Los Estados about 12 years ago because he couldn't stand seeing his city, New York, lobotomized by the metastasizing sameness of WalMart America and didn't have a pillow large enough to Chief Bromden the place out of it's misery. After knocking around Mexico for a while he landed in Antigua, Guatemala - broke but certain about the decision to stay out of the States. Without much of a backup plan he opened Café No Sé (with a rusty credit card) on a residential street, in this sleepy, third-world, colonial town with the intention of creating the best bar in the known universe. For those of you who've been through Antigua, you know he succeeded. Primary mission accomplished, a few years later John started "creatively transporting" mezcal from Oaxaca into Guatemala with the intention of creating a multi-national company that would deliver the finest agave spirits to the citizenry of the world. That company, Ilegal Mezcal, is currently selling its booze around the globe. La Cuadra Magazine, an idea hatched a decade ago in a booze fueled bitch session with current Editor-in-Chief, Mike Tallon, is actually just the first step in larger plan to develop a publishing company that will create a genius literary movement in this new century in much the same way that Ferlinghetti's City Lights project launched the Beat Movement of the 1950s. Writ short, his aspirations are as big as his liver. Or, as Mike has noted on a number of occasions, John Rexer puts the "messy" back in "Messianic."
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