Wednesday, May 13, 2009

New Orleans 2.7.92: Outré Characters and Church Chat

A hot New Orleans afternoon. Have been here since Sunday the 28th June to teach two weeks.

A sense of the place: heat so palpable that it reaches for one’s limbs, to lap them with a soft wet tongue, one that doesn’t stimulate, but enfolds. Senescence, decadence, sheer lunacy: flaking paint on white-columned mansions surrounded by detritus, needles, other drug paraphernalia, used condoms. People as characters: a café au lait black man in a suburban supermarket, in a lime-green polyester body suit, with a flowered apron over it, from shoulders to knees. Thin, very odorous with stale perspiration, but lithe and proud and self-aware. His hair is pulled into a top-knot tied with a black ribbon. One wouldn’t know he was a man, maybe, except for his neatly trimmed little Hitler mustachio.

Fat people everywhere, on bicycles that allow rolls and sheets of fat to flow down over the bicycle seat, stuffed into bright synthetic pantsuits, eating furiously, devotedly, waving their crab claws, talking at the tops of their voices, dragging on cigarettes between bites.

Only in New Orleans. Today we stopped a while at Catholic Bookstore and talked to Mignon W. She grabs one by the arm and pulls one close, talking a mile a minute as her eyes dance. “Can you believe that? Can you believe it? A book to give retreats?”—this in response to a priest, Carl D., who wanted a guide for a retreat he’s to give. He’s the seminary formation director. All this she’s saying as he stands a foot away, then on to another nearby priest who’s buying rosaries. “He celebrates weddings, and look what he gives!”—sick-call crucifixes, rosaries, bibles.

But the worst is reserved for Harold C., who comes in to buy one or two pre-selected books, and practices custody of the eyes meanwhile, won’t look at any other sections of the store. “Dear, he calls me dear, can you believe it?” And Sister Veronica M., who is escorted in a limousine to the door, hops out to grab one or two pre-selected items, and runs to the counter ahead of all others in line: “Can you ring these up? I have to run to give a talk. God bless you.” Mignon says she thinks to herself, “And are all the people in line dead?”

We go outside, and talk under the red awning, and Reso’s funeral procession passes by, as Mignon makes emphatic, precise ejaculations, “Oh, my God, can you believe it? My dear Jesus, oh, it’s so sad.” Then a large young gay priest in a blue and green horizontally striped boatneck shirt, something H., comes in and talks to Steve in a saccharine Cajun accent.

New Orleans. New Orleans. Last night dinner at Bernard L.’s on Carrollton, with a brother in the house who’s acting director of religious ed for the diocese. Schulte appoints anyone only to acting positions until they’ve proven their absolute fidelity. Lots and lots of that ecclesiastical gossip New Orleans generates, rife with corruption, the phosphorescent stench of decay. I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially as we were a warm circle of outsiders, shuddering with frissons of horror at the deliciously outré culture we inhabit—from San Antonio, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Little Rock, northern Minnesota.

Tonight we drive across the lake for dinner with Dean R. at a Chinese restaurant there. Tomorrow lunch with C.J. McNaspy, dessert in the evening with Karen C., Saturday lunch with Chan N., supper with Diane. Mother comes Sunday, and another week of class, with a visit by Aunt Helen and Uncle Lee on Monday and Tuesday, and dinner with Stanley K., Al A., Peggy and Errol L., and who knows who else.

This is all pretty silly, isn’t it? My usual travelogue. But why do I feel introspection is real life?

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