“They say we’re eighty, ninety percent back. We ain’t ninety percent back. We lost two whole generations. They ain’t coming back,” the barber said.
A barbershop isn’t something you stumble on in New Orleans, and stumbling around mapless is my way of being a tourist. I kept thinking I’d come across a neighborhood main street (Bourbon Street does not count) but no luck, and as the shadows of the afternoon lengthened I forgot about a haircut. Then, turning a corner in the Tremé district, I saw the familiar red and white swirl.
The shop was tiny. I opened the door and asked if I could get a haircut. The bartender, black, thirty-ish, said officially he was closed since it was Monday but he could give me a haircut. A pit bull got up from its recumbent position as I entered but without any evident hostile intent.
Like everyone in New Orleans the barber had his Katrina stories. Evacuated to Houston where he spent only two hours before he left for Dallas. Lived there until three years ago he came back. “I want to be the one who makes the decisions in my life, not some storm,” he said. He swung the chair thirty degrees and I was facing a photograph of a row of four houses, the third one twisted off its foundation, looking like some buildings in San Francisco after the earthquake. “That was down the street,” the barber said. “There’s a hole there now.”
“How old’s your dog?” I asked.
“Fourteen,” he said.
Wise old dog to find me unthreatening. Keep the thoughts positive, I thought.
soulful, still here
“Two whole generations.” I didn’t quite know what he meant but then I did. I felt it through the missing trees, the ones that blew over, the ones that died. Whole stretches of ranch style houses replacing historic neighborhoods that, were it not for palms, more resemble Hays, Kansas than the mossy quarters of the imagination inhabited by Stanley and Stella. And those palms; fate adding insult to injury, a freeze this winter (the high teens) blasted almost all of the palms and cycads in town, killing some, damaging all. Cruel fate.
I went to church with Francine on Sunday, to a white brick building built post Katrina. Soul-free in every way. The previous day we visited one of the cemeteries. A worker was whitewashing a crypt. The roadway down the rows of crypts was better than those outside the grounds. This was St. Louis Cemetery #3. Cemeteries #1 and 2 you have to pay to enter. Or die, presumably. If they can still fit you in. They sift down the old bodies, stack the new ones on top. So Francine said.
Only one day did I drink alcohol, which is what I think many people go to the Big Easy for, to loosen inhibitions. As far as I know, no inhibitions of mine were loosened, although my stumbling might have been augmented. What I got out of my walk on the wild side was this exchange: “How you gonna go on that cruise?” the blond bartender asked the herculean black guy playing a video game. He pointed to a guy across the bar, “They got the fairy over there.”
I got on the wrong streetcar to get back to Francine’s and got stranded, a little drunk, at the end of the line at the Greyhound Station. A desolate hub with the fumes, the sidewalk sleepers, the hard benches. No streetcars named desire came by.
selfie after a visit to the Voodoo Hut