A jazz funeral in New Orleans is pretty much a thing of the past. Nowadays you only find them when a musician or VIP dies—except for the ones staged for the tourists. The way they work is pretty easy—everyone follows the hearse, on foot, to the cemetery while a band plays a somber dirge with everyone marching, slowly and solemnly, behind. Then on the way back from the cemetery the band plays some knock-your-socks-off jazz while everyone dances in the streets in a joyous celebration of life. This is known as a Second Line because it's the second time the line of mourners follows the band but this time it's a party to give the deceased a rousing sendoff.
One of my best friends, Robert DeLaRonde (Robert pronounced Frenchly—ro-BEAR) always said that's what how he wanted to be sent to his reward. “If nothing else,” he would say, “forget about the dirge! When my saints go marchin' in I want the whole damn city to Second Line their asses off!” In life, Robert wanted more than anything to have been multilimbed and was one of the few normoids I ever met who deserved to be one. He was certainly in that mindset and was one of our biggest normoid supporters. He once paid a skanky shapeshifter a chunk of his savings to shift him into a boytaur. The shapeshifter did but it lasted only a day or two and he shifted back. A few other shapeshifters offered to do a permanent shift on him but after what he called his “back alley” job he didn't have much trust. That's the one gift I wish I could have given him—to help him come to terms with who and what he was. But to his dying day he wished to be someone—something—else. Anyway, he always wanted a jazz funeral but when he died the money just wasn't there. I contacted all of his friends in the multilimbed community to see if we could quickly raise the funds to give him the sendoff he wanted so badly, but it turned out they weren't as friendly to him in death as they pretended to be in life. So, Robert had a quiet service and is resting as peacefully as possible in a New Orleans cemetery—may the click, click, click of the tourist camera not disturb his slumber.
As soon as the funeral was over I went down to the French Quarter and decided to sit at the river's edge for awhile. Robert and I used to sit together on the wooden steps the lead to the water to watch the huge, ocean-going freighters sail by and to contemplate history. Occasionally tourists would want a picture of me and my 6 arms and, when the mood took me, Robert would challenge three husky tourist guys to arm wrestle me simultaneously. He'd always turn it into a wager and my right arms always won it for us, hands down! (We paid for more cocktails that way….!) So I went and sat at the water's edge, just sort of meditating. The water was high and almost covered the bottom step and I watched the waves, caused by passing freighters and the river current whipping the water around the sharp bend at Algier's Point, lapping up against the wooden stair. I don't know how long I sat staring into the river, but it was quite awhile until, gradually, I came to the realization that I was being watched. I turned around and saw a young man standing at the top of the stairs with his arms crossed in front of his chest.
He was wearing those enormously baggy pants with the huge legs, so popular among teens. But he wasn't sporting a sag—the waist half-way down his thighs with the crotch at his knees—they were just very big and very baggy. He was in his late teens or early twenties and, although he was a cute twink, I could see that as he grew older his cuteness would give way to a rugged masculinity. And then, as I looked at him, all at once a third hand came around from behind and waved at me. On second look I saw he was 4-armed, two in front, two in back. I smiled a broad smile and returned his wave. Standing, I beckoned him to come down the stairs. He hesitated. There was a sadness to his face—indeed, to his entire being. After he waved he noticably put his rear arm back into hiding and there was an insecurity to his carriage—his stance, his expression, his body language were more than a bit melancholy. I wasn't sure if he intended to come downstairs or not, so I went up.
“Hi.” I said, extending two right hands to shake his. “I'm Randy.” He held out his front right hand.
“Well, Evan, it's nice to meet you. But let me give you a hint—when you meet another multi-armed person it's polite to shake as many hands as you have.”
“I'm sorry, I've never done this before.” He sheepishly held out his right rear hand and I shook them, firmly. “Wow!” He said, 'I've never met anyone else with more than two hands. It feels weird having someone hold both of my hands at the same time.”
“What about your parents?”
“My folks are normal.”
“Well,” I said, “normal for them. Ok, your first lesson in multi-ettiquette. When you meet another multi-armed person, it's rude to hold out more or less hands than the other person has. It would also have been impolite for me to offer three right hands when you have two.”
“I'll remember.” I suggested we go sit on the bottom step and we started down. That's when I noticed that protruding from each baggy pants leg were 2 feet.
“Oh, you're a boytaur.” I said. He didn't know what it meant, so I gave him lesson #2 and told him, technically, being 4-armed and 4-legged, he was an octo-taur but not to worry about words. Clearly he was the product of normoid parents who had sorely neglected his mulitlimbed education. “So, how come I've never seen you before? I thought I knew most multies in town.”
“My parents don't let me out of the house much.” He said. “The only reason I could sneak out now is that they went out of town for the weekend.” Poor kid. No wonder he was so melancholy. His normoid parents had instilled in him a sense of shame instead of helping him to grow into a proud, confident mantaur!
“What about the rest of your family? Multilimb is genetic, I'm sure you have an aunt or an uncle or grandparent…”
“Maybe on my mom's side. She never talks about her family and I've never met any of them. I don't even know where they are.” Well, then, that would explain it. I grabbed a handful of pebbles and shells with my middle left hand and started tossing them into the river with my upper right. “So why were you sitting here all by yourself?” He asked. I told him about Robert. About how sad I was that I couldn't give him the jazz funeral he wanted, how ashamed I was of the multi-community for abandoning someone who'd always been a good friend and especially how Robert always wished he was multilimbed. At that, Evan's face clouded. “Why would anyone want to be a freak?” He said, bitterly. The very word, “freak,” sends me into a fit of rage and if it were anyone else under other circumstances I would have used all 6 arms to pound him into a pulp and then pollute the river with him. But in this case I held my temper.
“First off,” I said, maintaining control, “don't EVER let me hear you say the “F” word again! And second, understand this: You were born with the body you were meant to have! And don't let anyone—not anyone—tell you otherwise. You have a magnificent body. Be proud of it. And as far as why would Robert wish he was multilimbed, well—admit it there are certain advantages. I'm sure you've held video game controls with your front hands while your back hands held a soda and sandwich.”
“Well, yeah, but never when my parents are around. They won't let me use my back hands.” My rage shifted directions. Typical normoid bastards! I was rapidly coming to hate his parents!
“You have to use your whole body. It's not healthy to let some of your limbs go unused, your muscle and bone will turn to oatmeal. Here,” I handed him a handful of pebbles which he instinctively started to take in his right front hand. “No, no—take them with your rear hand. And toss them into the river with your other rear hand. And if your parents tell you not to use your rear hands, ignore them. You're over 18, right?”
“Well then. Don't let them control your body.” He transferred the pebbles to his left rear hand and pitched them, awkwardly, with his right rear hand. “May I ask you something personal?” he asked.
“Other than your 6 arms, do you have extra… anything… else?” Hisquestion made him blush.
“Well, if you really want to know, I have two navels and also three penises.” His expression brightened.
“Yep. One in the middle and one on each side.”
“And are they….can you…?”
“They all work just fine, thank you very much.”
“Cool!” He smiled broadly, without discomfort or embarassment—the first true smile I'd seen since we met—and his smile devastated me! And then, he looked down at my fly. The turn in the conversation, his dazzling smile and his obvious interest in my crotch made my boys sit up and take notice. I opened my legs a bit, but only to give them some extra room. (Robert would have said, “Yeah, right!” but it's true—when they come to life they need space.)
“I have two.” he said. “One between each pair of legs.” He looked up and smiled at me. Oh, that smile! Evan and I sat on the step for the longest time, talking and pitching pebbles and shells into the river, watching the freighters go by. Periodically we'd hear St. Louis Cathedral chime the hour, but we never counted the chimes or kept track. I imagine several tourists took pictures of the 6-armed man sitting with the 4-armed boytaur, but we were completely oblivious to them. He had a multitude of questions that he fired off. Luckily I could answer most of them but some, mainly the ones dealing with multilegged hygiene, I couldn't because I'm a biped, myself. As we talked he kept throwing pebbles into the water and his rear pitching arm became more used to being utilized. The shells and pebbles went further and further out. So, too, did his entire demeanor change as he experienced the epiphany of his understanding and acceptance. He began to take on a look of assured confidence and his body spoke a different language as he stopped hiding that which nature had given him. This was not the first time I'd ever been a mentor to someone, but usually I helped other multies come to terms with their sexuality. Never had I met a multi whose parents were less concerned with their son's sexuality than they were about denying him his birthright and the freedom to sing the body electric. By and by he glanced down at the watch I wear on my left middle wrist. “Oh, my GOD! Is it really almost 7:00?”
“I guess so.” I said, glancing at my watch.
“I have to go! My parents are going to call at 8 and I need to be home to answer the phone.” I offered him a ride but he said he could take the streetcar. We stood up and I went to the top of the stairs with him. “What would you say,” he asked, sheepishly, “if I asked you if I could see your…your three…you know.”
“I would say let's have dinner first. In fact, after you hang up from your folks, why don't you come back here and I'll take you to Spider Joe's? It's a restaurant where a lot of multies hang out. You like soft-shelled crab?”
“Me too—all those little legs sticking up in the air, waiting to be eaten.”
“Well then, I'll come back after they call.” He held out his hands to shake mine. I grabbed him and pulled him close in a tight hhug. He hugged back with his front arms; with my upper middle arms holding him tight I reached behind him with my lower arms, took his back arms and guided them around my waist. He gasped as he gave his very first 4-armed hhug. When we let go he started up the walk at the top of the levee. In the few hours we'd spent together he'd transformed into an entirely different being. As he walked away all four legs fairly danced and his four arms swung jubilantly, openly and freely. I thought of the young man I'd met a few hours ago. How he walked and stood and carried himself like a mourner marching to a dirge and now he was a joyous celebration of life. And that's when I realized:
“Take a good look, Robert.” I said, aloud. “There's the Second Line you wanted so badly.” As Evan reached the old brewery he turned and waved all four hands, then he broke out into a run and disappeared around the corner. And as the cathedral chimed the hour I knew, somewhere, Robert's saints were, indeed, marchin' in.