Photo: Sara Kelly.
There’s a brand of New Orleans evening that begins on a whim, dissolves into multiheaded spectacle, and explodes into something else entirely. A few nights ago I was talking politics outside of C___, this chalky bar tucked between the French Quarter’s nether regions, and the question came up, there as in everywhere else in the city: Saints game or debate? Their run times conflicted.
A buddy of mine said of course he would watch the debate. What a question, he said, what a farce. He added something else about the future of Everything.
Another friend expressed ambivalence. Six beers sat on the table between us, his words rolling across their rims. Whenever we knocked the legs the bottles tinkled along in agreement.
I was about to embarrass myself when the woman smoking quietly behind us—quite literally in the shadows—said that of course she was watching the Saints game. It wasn’t even a question. And before we could ask her why, she gave us a story.
Her name was L. She used to tend bar at C___.
Not once in the past four elections has anyone given a fuck about us down here. Not once. Not one of them. And it won’t matter this time either. We’re still not gonna have any jobs. We’ll still have fucking potholes in the road. I’ve been living in this city since I was seven years old, driving over the same motherfucking potholes.
Nobody’s gonna change that. It’s not gonna happen.
Saints are playing, I’m not watching some fucking debate.
Let me tell you why. I went with my friend to this game downtown a couple years ago. She’s a black chick. So pretty. We work together. We’re waiting in line, about to give the guy our tickets, and it’s moving so slow. You would not believe how fucking slow it is moving. And there’s this white man behind me, this old white man, and he picks me up by my shoulders and he moves me out of the way.
I shit you not. I am not bullshitting you. And my friend, she’s with me, she asks if I know him. I say of course I don’t fucking know him. I don’t know him from Adam. So my friend, she grabs his shoulder, she tells him he can’t do that. That he’s way outta line. She says, Apologize.
He’s this old white man. White hair and everything.
He looks at my friend—you would not believe the way he looks at her—and he tells me to control my puppet.
No election’s gonna change that. I don’t care who they put in there. I don’t care what they’ll do or what think they’re gonna do, but that’s always gonna be here. That’s not gonna change.
That old fucking white man in line.
But listen. Let me tell you something. You remember when the Saints won ten years ago? You remember what people were feeling like? Right before that game? That was a shitty year. Shit was literally in the air. It was a shitty year, and then the Saints won it all, and that made everything a little better. I saw that in the streets. There was a visible difference. You could see the change on people, on the way that they walked. The way they treated each other. I saw it every single night. That’s why I’m watching the Saints game.
They’ll probably lose. But whatever. It is something that can change my day. So don’t you ask me that stupid fucking question. That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.
L finished her cigarette. She apologized for interrupting. Said she cooked at a restaurant nearby. C___’s traffic had dissipated, but the humidity hadn’t dropped, and these bikers shouting power ballads in Spanish rolled right by us.
On the contrary, we said—thank you. Thank you.
A few days later, the Saints did lose. 45–32.
Bryan Washington divides his time between Houston and New Orleans. He is working on a collection of short stories.
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