Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Three Farewells and a Racist

In the last three weeks, we have gone to three farewell parties, two just this Sunday. One couple is moving to Portland, Oregon hoping to find more stability. One woman is moving back to Connecticut as her dad is ill and she needs to help him. She was also struggling to find an affordable apartment in NOLA on her bartender's salary. Another guy is moving back home, to Monroe, LA, not so far and he says he was only here for a short time anyway, which was true. While attending that crawfish boil, one of the other bartenders said he was moving soon. Back to Chicago where he owns a home and is a chef. He has no timeline, but thinks it won't be long. My guess is he'll become a snowbird and go to Chicago for summers and return here during the fall and winter.

Still it was disheartening. I understood all their reasons for leaving, and they were good ones. We didn't bear them any ill will, feel that they were traitorous for leaving, or feel superior to them for staying. We did, however, wish they had made different choices because we'll miss them. What was interesting was that with the exception of the apartment hunting bartender, most weren't saying they were leaving NOLA because it was doomed, or hurricane season was coming, or anything like that. That was progress on a strange level, and a level that only we who live here can probably understand. These three, soon to be four, weren't leaving out of complete despair like the exodus after the storm. I truly wish them well. They were part of the fabric of the city for us.

One of the evenings we were walking a couple blocks from our house, heading for the corner store. My husband had wanted to point out a "really unique brick building" about two blocks from our house. We went over to look at it, and it looked just like the slave quarters at the Hermitage in Tennessee, Andrew Jackson's home. Small, very compact, tight bricks, square and squat. Definitely an architectural anamoly here in the Marigny. Next to it is an imposing home, in front of it a fence in need of repair with two gates gaping mouth open toward the sidewalk.

We see a man sitting there in the dark in a plastic lawn chair, and so we ask him what the building was back in the day. He says, "It's the slave quarters." We tell him we hadn't been sure, but that it really looked like the ones we'd seen in Tennessee. I commented that the quarters were so very small, it must have been very hard to live in there with possibly two parents and a few kids. His response, "Well, it was better than living in a mud hut in Africa waiting for the Chief to sell you." We were both stunned, both trying to find a way to extricate ourselves from the conversation, when suddenly he became chatty.

"You say you live near here? Not north of St. Claude do ya? Ya know we call that the Congo." Shocked we tell him where we live. He continues, "Well ya know with all the drunks and druggies, I've had to shoot a few of them," at this he starts laughing conspiratorily. "It's not worth renting this thing out. Those people just. . ." at that point I start moving quickly to the open gate knowing that if I stay there another ten seconds I'm going to open my mouth and say something that I'll regret. My husband felt the same and was backing out behind me. We left quickly and headed up to the corner store, both of us shocked that anyone could actually feel that way in this town in this century and worse in our neighborhood.

Once we got over the shock, we realized the guy was about 70 and he was never going to see things another way. No matter what we had said, his mind would not have been changed, and that was the scary part. We learned long ago that some people are not worth wasting your outrage or your breath on as they will go to their graves, prejudice gripped tightly to their still bosoms like a talisman that brings them safety. As Poppy Brite says in "Prime," (paraphrasing), "Some old white guys in this city felt that THEIR black workers or co-workers were okay, but all the others were criminals or worse." This guy definitely fit into that category.

I can still see his bald white pate glowing and nodding, conspiratorial grin on his face, waiting for our agreement. I wonder if it bothered him that we clearly didn't agree. I'd like to feel sorry for him and his behemoth ignorance, but instead, both of us carried disgust with us all weekend, as we said good bye to some people we cared for.


Marta said...

It is very refreshing to meet people, on the internet or otherwise, who are motivated to take a PROACTIVE stance against racism and other forms of injustice. When I am around people who ignore such social problems, tacitly accept them, or even seem PERPETUATE these problems, it deadens my soul. I find it a hard fight, at times, to keep the flames of idealism alive, in a culture which wants to browbeat people into blind submission to authority and/ or lure people into excesses of hedonism. And it's a hard balance of selfishness vs. selflessness. All of my most ardently liberal friends currently have MORE money than I do, live in bigger places than I do, travel a LOT more than I do, etc. -- and yet I'll still feel conflicted sometimes about having any materialistic desires! (Alright, so maybe I'm a little bit OBSESSIVE...)

Leigh C. said...

I ran into someone like this at the local dog park, only he was the grandfather of a four-year-old (I'd put his age at a bit younger than my parents', probably late forties). He had a terrible opinion of the people that he deemed were some kind of societal rejects and was happy that fewer of "their kind" were back in the city after 8-29. Man, I felt a little sorry for his grandson...it was definitely my cue to leave the park.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to rent the place, and then sublet it, just to piss him off more.