21 September 2008...11:39 pm

We Don’t Make Eye Contact

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Fuck, I said, loudly, fuck this broke ass city.

TV On The Radio_Family Tree

My Liberty scarf was dragging in the gravel and my yoga clothes had spilled out of my backpack.

I pulled out the credit card sized map Tulane had given my class at orientation.  I’d never looked at it before: I’d evacuated from New Orleans almost as soon as I’d gotten there, and for most of my time in the South maps of Mississippi have been more valuable than anything else.  As it happened, the Tulane map looked like this:

Fuck Tulane, I said.

I was trying to find the Orleans Parish Public Defenders Office so I could start volunteering to conduct First Appearance interviews.  In Orleans Parish, most offenders meet their lawyers in the same courtroom where they’re arraigned.  This means that there’s no chance to discuss mitigating circumstances—the children, jobs, educations and women most people accused of crimes will lose in the initial weeks they spend in jail awaiting trial.  If the accused can make bail, there’s a chance of salvaging some of that.

Of course, it’s hard to make bail when your lawyer doesn’t know how to argue for you, so First Appearance interviewers try to fill in the gap—a gap, I must mention, that is particularly wide in New Orleans’s under-funded, overburdened criminal justice system.

So that was me, scarved (scarfed?  no, not that) and lipsticked, riding through Mid-City.  Caroline and I had walked four miles through Mid-City the previous Saturday, but on that afternoon we were oblivious, directionless and armed with the Brooklyn transplant’s foolish courage.  Mid-City looked different when I was alone, stuck on one side of the I-10, in a rush to get to the other.


I’m home, with guns.

The directions I’d googled told me to stay on Broad Street, but from my vantage point in the parking lot of Orleans International Fish, Broad Street turned into a highway-speed on-ramp when it went over the 10, and all of my new law school analysis firmly informed me that getting on such a ramp would be, at the very least, a failure to exercise “ordinary care,” and probably also be reckless.  No recovery for the reckless, guys, that’s what I like to say.

I took off my scarf and my sunglasses and rode circles around in the bleakness: shells of buildings, sprawling light industry complexes and dim white noise radiating from the highway below.  Mid-City is the kind of neighborhood where you don’t want to listen to your iPod, because someone might ask you for it, and you don’t want to smoke a cigarette because someone might ask you for that, too.

TV On The Radio_Ambulance

I-10 reached out to the horizon in both directions, gashing the city like highways always do.  Last week, Andrew and I were downtown, wandering around after the Farmer’s Market.   I wanted to see the river, which was still roiled and murky after Ike; in the effort to do so, we found ourselves inside the Riverwalk, an eerily anemic mall, filled with aimless and armed National Guard troops and separated from the water by towering panes of glass.

There was, inexplicably, a bust of Eisenhower near the food court, and Andrew said something probably smarter than what I will attribute to him, which is, Old Ike and the military industrial complex.  I then said something probably dumber than what I will attribute to myself, Oh, Ike, if only we knew then what we knew now, and we moved on.

I’ve come to appreciate that milk faced Fudd-ish president because of his prescience, but as I circled around the west side of I-10 I remembered that interstate highways are a really good reason to hate him.  Whether the highway skirts a city or bisects it, it still cinctures street life: the Big Dig?  Sure.  Let’s do that, guys, right after we give every person arrested in Orleans Parish a right to legal representation.

Unbeknownst to me, two employees of International Fish had come out to the parking lot for a cigarette break.

Ma’am? one of them called.  Ah, ma’am, are you trying to get over the highway?

I rode over, wariness and pride suspended indefinitely.  Well, yeah.  I just—that seems like kind of a scary road to bike on, you know?

They looked over at it and nodded, yeah, it seemed kind of scary.

You know, uh, ma’am, there’s a pedestrian path? the second International Fisher said.  It’s over on the other side.

Oh, I said.  So that was that: the kindness of strangers and the inadvertent grace of pedestrian paths.  I got to the Public Defenders in a matter of minutes and walked into the lobby.  A man was standing at a desk labeled “Security,” and I said, I’m going to Suite 700?

He looked at me and slowly began unwrapping a Snickers bar.

Oh.  You’re not the security?

I’m not the security, he said, but if I were, I’d tell you to try the 7th floor.

Thanks, I said, I really appreciate that.

TV On The Radio_I Was A Lover

When I got to the office, I sat down in the waiting room with a man applying for services.  He smelled like Cherry Life Savers.  I start interviewing next week.

2 Comments

  • Fuck Tulane? Fair enough. Fuck this broke ass city?! Wow. After four years, the Big Easy will have grown on you like a strangler vine and you’ll never want to leave.

    And what’s with freshman bitching about the evacuation?! Sure, you may be out a few bills, but New Orleans is still here. Imagine coming to Tulane back in ‘05, evacuating the first day you got there, and going home only to watch the entire city go under. Not to mention, our little “hurrication” lasted an entire semester and for most of us, that semester was spent at the nearest in-state university that had begun three weeks prior to Katrina.

    Oh, and Mid-City isn’t anymore dangerous than the Quarter. It’s a bit more deserted since it was completely taken out by Katrina, but I wouldn’t worry too much about a pack of cigarettes. Take a bike ride down Esplanade to Frenchman and you’d be able to bum an entire pack.

    Great TV On The Radio song, though.

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