21 August 2008...1:21 am

With No Loving In Our Souls And No Money In Our Coats

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LAW REVIEW
I just moved to New Orleans to start law school. This will be my review. A periodical review. A periodical.

Today was my first day of law school orientation. Because of my last name, I was scheduled to pick up my orientation packet between 8:30 and 9:30. Last night, my roommates got home from a pre-orientation bowling party and told me, “Since we can get our packets between 8:30 and 9:30, we’re thinking we’ll get there right at 9:30.” “Oh,” I said, “okay.” My parents were picking me up right at 8:30. So I guessed I’d see my roommates there.

For the entire three days I’ve spent in New Orleans, I’ve had no qualms about spending most of my time with my parents. I’ve been thanking goodness that I’m not the same girl who showed up at South Orange Middle School on September 2nd, 1994, or the same girl who showed up at camp during summers in the nineties, or really the same girl as any other time.

There’s something about moving to New Orleans that has liberated me from most of my social anxieties about not being well liked, about not being cool enough or ever being right about anything about which cool people had an opinion. During the recent years I spent in New York, I wound up understanding most of those things, or, at least, my aesthetics and politics and sensibilities meshed well enough with those of people I liked, and all was harmony. Most of the time.

Because I believed so thoroughly in that New York which I inhabited, because I felt like it was the norm, rather than the exception, to step into a place and feel like it made sense, I have been largely ambivalent about pleasing New Orleans. I don’t think this is a sustainable existence, and I don’t think it is nice, but as I sit here with an earplug in my right ear, ignoring the dips and squeals coming from the dining room where my roommates, Rachel and Kit, and Kit’s mother, Bettina, are eating falafel and talking about rainstorms in kindergarten, I feel more peaceful than anxious. I am petrified of Bettina, and I really want Kit and Rachel to like me, but it’s okay. I’ll have time to spend with them, and Bettina will go back to Cajun country and to watching my father on the television, and I won’t have worry.

We met Bettina yesterday, when my parents and I were looking at a map in the living room. First Kit’s father banged in, carrying something heavy and yelling to Kit, I’ll get this stuff out of the car, but then I’ve got to get back. Bettina came sauntering in moments later, her shocking orange hair up tight and to the side, wearing flared jeans, platform sandals, and a long lace tunic with bell sleeves. She was carrying a gigantic fast-food Styrofoam soda cup, and I mentioned this to my mother later, when my mother called her slick.

What did you think of Bettina? I’d asked.

I think she’s very slick, said my mother. I had never heard my mother use the word “slick” before.

I didn’t think that giant soda was very slick, I offered, and grinned at my father in the rearview mirror.

Well, said my mother, I just think she’s very Southern. Like, beautiful smiles, but then, if you cross her— and then that was it. I thought that was a kind of antiquated way of judging your modern Southern lady, but then my mother told me Bettina was very racist. That made me sad. I hadn’t thought Kit was. I asked my parents what they and Bettina had been talking about while the girls were cleaning and straightening and sorting out the mail.

Did she recognize Daddy? Bettina had seemed to take strongly to my father, although most women do, star struck or no. My mother said no, Bettina hadn’t said anything, but that, she might have, and just been slick enough not to.

I love when my mother is catty, but this time, I wished everyone could just be friends. I didn’t want any Cajun lady in flip-flops to perturb my mother.

It turned out Bettina had recognized my father, but she didn’t say anything until they left tonight. She recognized him from Guiding Light, a soap opera he was on in the mid-eighties. He played a child molester. I am a standoffish Yankee, in here typing madly while there’s dining going on, and my father is Bradley Raines, child molester. I think that, even though I am not the same sweaty, skinny kneed, anxiety-ridden girl who I was, I should go sit with Bettina and my roommates. Oh! And now they’re talking about the Superdome. This is something I will want to hear.

—–

It was, or wasn’t. When I sat down at the dinner table, Abita in hand, Bettina was talking about the evacuations after Katrina, and the subsequent rising crime rates in Houston, Baton Rouge and Layfayette, where she lives. She had brought this up the day before with my father, too. This is a common trait of people who are trying to historicize a recent wound; the telling and retelling of stories so that they become sociological myth.

To illustrate her point, Beyrl said, And after they closed our stadium, kicked New Orleans refugees out of Cajun Stadium, in Lafayette, after they closed our stadium, the twenty four hour Wal Mart was closed! All the stores that used to be twenty-four hour just started closing, at, like, ten!

Rachel said something about displaced people coming from neighborhoods where homes had been in the family for generations, where people hadn’t been accustomed to providing for their families very much in the first place. The day before, my father had talked about reconstruction companies only hiring undocumented immigrants, about the fact that unemployment rates among native New Orleanians had skyrocketed after the storm, even though there were many jobs to be had.

Bettina shook her head regretfully and said, It was like they opened the zoo.

I drank more beer. I was not going to change Kit’s mother’s mind in one conversation, and if I’d wanted to, I didn’t know where to start. Bettina continued ranting about the refugees, talked about the atrocious things that happened inside the Superdome—did not mention the atrocities that happened outside it—and then came back to Cajun Stadium, home of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Ragin’ Cajuns.

And the price they quoted after those people left, Bettina started, even though I hadn’t realized we were talking about budgetary concerns, was not even to repair the stadium. It was to sanitize it.

So the lesson of my first day of law school is that my mother was right, about that one thing.

5 Comments

  • You’re back (here)! Yay!

    My goodness, the slickness. Don’t let it wear too much on your much-celebrated New York sensibilities. ;) I’m sure you’ll soon be able to say you’re satisfied.

  • I’m sure I will be able to say I’m satisfied, Austin. I am glad that you’re glad I’m back!

  • I’m just so proud of you I can’t believe it. Right on time to pick up your packet. Keep up the good work!

  • I will try, Nathan! I am full of new resolutions, these days, arriving on time merely one of them.

  • Oops. Update: today I was late and put my underwear on backwards.


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