Tuesday, October 25, 2005

stoop conversations

More thoughts from Chris Rose via nola.com

The elephant men
Stoop sitters can't talk about anything but Katrina
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Chris Rose
Every night, we gather on my front stoop. We are multiple combinations of jobless, homeless, family-less and sometimes just plain listless.

We sit and some of us drink and some of us smoke and together we solve the problems of the city -- since no one in any official capacity seems able or inclined to do so.

We're just one more committee howling at the moon. We are a civic life-support system.

It began with close friends and neighbors, gathering as we trickled back into town, comparing notes and stories and hugs of comfort and welcome home. But the breadth of visitors has widened.

One night, while I was sitting with a couple of friends, a guy pulled up to the curb in an SUV and regarded us carefully. As the passenger side window rolled down, I assumed it was an old friend stopping to say hello, so I stepped up to the door.

Turns out, it was a total stranger. He said: "Displaced dads?" He had a six-pack of Corona on the front seat and he was just driving around randomly, looking for someone to connect with, someone to talk to, something -- God help us -- something to do.

We nodded. Yeah, we are men without their women. Women without their men. Parents without their children.

But not without beer.

And he got out of the car and he sat with us for hours and we told our stories to each other and asked about each others' families, now spread across the planet, and when it was over we had a new friend. A displaced dad. Just looking for a place we used to call home.

We stoop-sitters tend to get very wry and blend dark humor with our rants against the machine, but sometimes it gets very sad.

We often deal with First Timer Syndrome. As my immediate neighbors trickle back into town, one by one -- either just to clean up and move on or to move back in for good -- they generally end up on my stoop. And they often cry.

It's the first time they've been back to town and they are shaken to their very core at what they've seen and smelled and we grizzled veterans of this war try to provide shelter from their storm.

They apologize for losing it but we tell them that many tears have been shed here on this stoop and they are ours and it's OK. It happens to all First Timers. Hell, it happens still.

They're easy to spot, the First Timers. They either sob or they sit silent and sullen, the occasional pull on a bottle of beer, with very little to add to the conversation of the night.

The next night, they usually come back, and they are a little better. One day at a time. Ain't that the way of life around here?

We sit around night after night because some of us are unable to sit still in a restaurant for 90 minutes or aren't ready to go back to the bar scene. Many can't concentrate on reading and television seems like an empty gesture so we talk, and we talk about the same damn thing over and over.

We talk about it. The elephant in the room.

I suspect many folks have sat with us and thought, upon going home: You guys need to get a grip. You need to talk about something else. You need to get a life.

That may be, but I, personally, have been unable to focus on anything but the elephant. I have tried to watch TV or read a magazine but when I see or hear phrases like "Tom and Katy" or "World Series" or "Judge Miers," my mind just glazes over and all I hear is the buzz of a fluorescent light. That is the sound of my cerebral cortex now.

I can't hear what they're saying on TV. I don't know what they're talking about. I think: Why aren't they talking about the elephant?

Once, in an out-of-town airport, I searched desperately for something to read about the elephant, but we have been tossed off the front pages by other events. Finally I found a magazine with a blaring headline: "WHAT WENT WRONG" and I thought, finally, something about us.

It turns out, though, it was People magazine and "WHAT WENT WRONG" was not about FEMA or the levees or the flood, but about Renee Zellweger and Kenny Chesney.

And the fluorescent light goes zzzzzz.

One newcomer to the stoop one night said something along the lines of, "Can you believe that call at the end of the White Sox game the other night?" And you would usually think that such a statement made in a group of drinking men would elicit an argument, at least -- if not a bare-knuckle brawl -- but the fact is we all responded with silence.

We're a porch full of people who don't know who's playing in the World Series and don't know what movies opened this week and don't know how many died in Iraq today.

We are consumed. We would probably bore you to tears. But it is good therapy and we laugh more than we cry, and that's a start, that's a good thing, that's a sign of winning this war, of getting this damn elephant out of our city -- out of our sight.

. . . . . . .

Columnist Chris Rose can be reached at chris.rose@timespicayune.com; or at (504) 352-2535 or (504) 826-3309.


Blogger R J Keefe said...


Tue Oct 25, 11:32:00 AM  
Blogger Ms. NOLA said...

I never thought I would live to say that Chris Rose captured the spirit of New Orleans, but -- dammit -- God bless Chris Rose.

Tue Oct 25, 12:26:00 PM  

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