Sunday, July 1, 2018

the last book I ever read (Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation, excerpt seven)

from Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler:

As Perry circulated throughout the Quarter, Roger Nunez tossed fitfully on the couch of his friend Cee Cee Savant at 606 ½ Iberville Street—just two doors down from the Up Stairs Lounge. Pungent odors wafted through the open windows as Roger attempted to sleep. His dreams were night terrors, and he periodically yelled in his half-awake state, drenched in sweat. The night before, Roger’s roommate had found him drunk on the street and guided him home.

In testimony she would give to deputies from the Louisiana Office of the State Fire Marshal, Savant recalled a knock on her apartment door early that Monday morning. Two plainclothes officers, she remembered, flashed their badges and asked to speak to Roger Dale Nunez. She said that one of the officers had questioned Roger out in the hallway, while the other man kept her away. When the conversation with Roger got loud, Savant grew enraged, and the officers agreed to leave. This entire episode supposedly lasted less than thirty minutes. “They think I started the fire, but I didn’t,” Roger Nunez told Savant afterward, and she quieted him with two sleeping pills. Later, Savant awoke half-sober and noticed that Roger’s jaw was swollen. He claimed to have a toothache. She asked if he’d been in a fight, and he replied woozily, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

In his sleep, Roger saw a horrible, violent blaze that he kept reliving in a loop. At the end of this dream, he was met by a row of accusers, who told him that he had set the Up Stairs Lounge fire and wouldn’t accept his denials. He’d wake up shouting things like “I didn’t do it!” and “Help me, I didn’t start it!” and “Tell them I didn’t.” Although this behavior might seem incriminating, what exactly went on in Roger’s sleep is hard to decipher. Fire had already played a significant role in Roger’s life. His arrest record, in fact, noted a burn scar on his right elbow, a place where heat had met flesh and scalded deeply. No one knew how or why. Moreover, Shelton Nunez, Roger’s young uncle and contemporary, had perished by flame in a terrible explosion on an offshore oil rig three years earlier.

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