Take Me To The Mardi gras

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
Here's another experience of mine concerning prejudice. After remembering it, I now add it to the others--which, in turn, become part of the rationale relating to why prejudice matters to me and why I continue to post segments of my thesis which I wrote on prejudice.

Submitted: September 05, 2009

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Submitted: September 05, 2009

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New Orleans

Jan.  1970

 

Just before arriving in New Orleans, the bus crossed a twenty-six mile long bridge, (the bus ticket ride that kept me from freezing to death back in St. Louis, Missouri). From the middle of the causeway, you felt like you were driving across the ocean. Due to many delays, the bus ride ended around 6 p.m., lasting more than eighteen hours. I was not in the best of moods when I arrived in New Orleans. I planned on getting an apartment, but I wanted to get to know New Orleans before I made a major decision like that. Back on the street, I immediately started looking for New Orleans’ hip culture. When I asked the street people where the local hippies hung out, they looked at me like I was from a foreign country. Their responses were cold, but not as cold as the nippy breeze that chilled every bone in my body. I finally asked a hotdog vendor where I could get a cheap place to stay. He told me about a few cheapies and then told me I might be able to get a place in his boarding house. He said, “It’s clean and you can cook there too.” I didn’t want to turn away any luck that came my way; these days luck for me was a precious commodity. I thanked the man and left to try and find his place. At least the hotdog vendor was friendly, a friendliness that in my opinion, was in short supply in New Orleans.

 

After a long walk, I rented a room in a large house from a nice landlady who spoke in a heavy southern accent. The room had a double bed and was fairly clean with adequate ventilation. A stove and sink were in the corner of the room and the bathroom was off to the side of the facilities. I liked my room on the second floor of the house, but living with all the uninvited insects was not my idea of ideal living conditions. I found out later that in the South, even among the more respectable rent districts, living with insects was quite common. The cockroach came in all sizes, with the largest one being the most disturbing. I guess I never did get use to living with my roomies, although I did manage to put up with them.

 

I became a tourist for a couple of days. I was in the most visited of all southern cities and before I went job-hunting, I wanted to soak up some of the local culture. Without spending much money, I took in the sights and sounds of

Bourbon St.

and

Royal St

. The closest thing I could find to hip-culture was a little boutique at the end of

Royal St.

called the Far Out. Here, the hippies would linger until the cops moved them along. There were a lot of hippie-looking people around, but they were scattered about the French Quarter with no apparent cohesiveness. I believe the cops were the reason there was no organization to hip culture down here. Oh, I’m sure there was some organization, be it at concerts, or at a friend’s houses, but it’s just that it wasn’t happening on the street. This lack of organization, I am sure, had something to do with my living a solitary existence in the middle of a city known for conviviality and its party atmosphere.

 

With my books to keep me company, my nights were mostly spent reading in my room. Having only a few dollars in my pocket and even fewer friends, painting the town was not an option. One night was worth remembering, barely. After a disappointing day job-hunting, I stopped by a local tavern. At the bar, I sat next to a pretty girl. I listened as she poured her life story out to the bartender. She was new in town and unattached. When she said she was from Huntington Beach, California, I thought to myself, “Now there’s a connection, I’ve been there and I can use that to begin a conversation with her.” Drinking my beer, waiting for the right moment to begin talking to her, a Dylan song popped into my head. In the song, the protagonist in the song strikes up a conversation with a girl at a bar and discovers that both he and she share a common hometown and acquaintances. Sitting there, with the song playing over and over in my head, it was easy to wait for the right opportunity to talk to the girl. Just as her conversation with the bartender was tailing off, in walked this guy who sat down on the other side of girl, and when he heard that she was from California, he asked, “Where in California?” As it turned out, both he and the chick happened to be from Huntington Beach, and they shared many friends in common. That could only happen to me!

 

 Back in my room, I was not in a very good mood. I didn’t feel like reading, but I needed to do something, so I sat down and started to write. I guess I wrote a poem. Well, maybe it wasn’t a poem. The only thing that really mattered is that it helped me get through the night.

 

My Despair

 

Discontent is as much a part of my soul

as being human is a part of my body.

I say look to the future for salvation.

You say, wallow in your shit.

I say there is always hope.

You say the future is present now,

 

and shit stinks forever too.

I say you are a fool.

You say eat shit,

hope for an early death

and win paradise.

 

 

I had arrived in New Orleans four weeks before Mardi Gras. The whole time I was there I could feel the excitement building. Every day the city was becoming more alive with its new decorations, fresh paint, and newly installed bleacher seats. Although I was looking forward to Mardi Gras, I didn’t figure on any surprises. The people in the French Quarter were already celebrating. The excitement of watching people throw beer cans, scream obscenities, and, in general, act like jerks, loses its appeal after awhile. I suppose I could be speaking out of envy, since I was not one of the good-time people, but I hope not. The week before Mardi Gras there was the pre-Mardi Gras party.

Bourbon St.

and

Royal St.

were awash in drunken celebrations. The highlight of the party came when this muscle bound peacock stopped traffic and tried to pick up a Volkswagen full of terrified tourists. Even with his drunken buddies cheering him on, he could not pick up the car.

 

The thing that turned me off more than anything else, however, was the indisputable prejudice that was all around me. Although the black population got the brunt of the prejudice, there was more than enough to go around. It seemed some of the people down here were still fighting the Civil War. Being from the north and looking like a hippie, I was not immune from being the object of prejudice. Not one to back down, though, I would often walk through the black section of town up where I lived and stop to swing on one of the swings in the playground reserved for black kids. Everybody, blacks and whites alike, gave me dirty looks. The anti-social stigma of being the wrong color in the right swing, or being the right color in the wrong swing, did not win me points among the locals. Fortunately, I wasn’t trying to win a popularity contest. I just learned to swing with my eyes closed.

 

 


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