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A Writer's Damaged Sword Arm in New Orleans

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The writer has been in Southern Louisiana for all of three days. Already there are dozens of stories waiting patiently to be told, but her sword arm is prematurely exhausted. She is feeling guilty because she has fled mid-city for the peace, quiet, and safety of a bayou in Acadia. It does not seem fair that she and she alone has the means to escape a city that appears to have sunk deeper into despair since she was here four months ago. Perhaps it is the location, location, location. Mid-city New Orleans is in a state of neglect. It is easy to overlook the dirt and detritus—all one has to do is direct eyes blinded by the mean streets upward to the light of spring which filters gloriously through the branches and fresh greenery of hundred-year-old oaks.

But in order to find her way, the writer and story-teller eventually has to look where she is going, and the unfamiliar path leads past the broken houses and broken lives of mid-city. Every other house is either empty or boarded up, and ongoing reconstruction seems either non-existent or delayed. Potholes and uneven surfaces threaten to peel off her car’s exhaust system. A few residents are valiantly planting spring flowers in muddy yards, and the riot of color draws the eyes away from the wrecked buildings. Every block or so, there are one or two homes that are miraculously restored, or appear to have escaped the wrath of Poseidon.

This street is one of those that had boats going door to door in the aftermath of Katrina’s flood, and the flat the writer is renting has no furniture because the owner lost almost everything to the filthy water. The furniture that is left has been destroyed by a contractor who neglected to cover it while he was working. The writer feels narcissistic, wanting to complain about having nothing except a musty mattress on the floor. There are tens of thousands here who have far less. Physical comfort is a matter of a state of mind, but being able to work at least requires a mental sense of safety, and that is elusive.

The sword-wielding writer is in town for less than 24 hours and the shake-downs begin immediately. A young man is waiting as the wordsmith turns around after retrieving something from her car. It is midnight, but the bouncer at the club is less than a block away and within earshot. The young man is taking a bold chance.

“Mam. You ain’t afraid of black men are you?”

He asks the question in a manner that is meant to intimidate.

The writer smiles to herself, a private joke. She has spent years defending the rights of people of color. But he cannot know this.

The cocky young man in the “gangsta” pants pulls up his shirt.

“See, I ain’t got no gun.”

The writers’ eyes scan the waistband and see the bulge at the back. She is thinking, “I am here to write about the injustice, can’t you see in my eyes that I am on your side?’

“My mamma’s in the hospital and my cell phone is dead and I need some bus fare. How much you got?”

The writer’s eyes scan for the bouncer on the corner, focus on him, and now she is pissed off enough to vocalize her anger.

“You know, I don’t believe a word you are saying, but in case, just in case your mamma really is in the hospital, how much will it take to make you go away? How about two bucks?”

“You got five?”

“I’ve got five if you get the heck outta here.”

The young man hitches up his baggy pants and wiggles his hips in a gesture of hatred and defiance and snatches Abe Lincoln from the writer’s hand and struts down the street. The writer’s eyes fill with tears for one moment—not because of fear, but because of the irony of it all.

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill Magazine, the Huffington (more...)

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