History, inside and out January 20, 2009Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 2009, Barack Hussein Obama, history, inauguration
I watch the inauguration at a downtown lunch counter, one of those Odd place we so love here, frozen from the time our fathers ate at those same benches, where only the football team schedules change. A group of older men huddle at the end of the counter around the owner, a man with leonine silver hair and ham-lifting arms planted outward on the slab in the immortal pose of the innkeeper.
The owner and his court are the tipsy peanut gallery at a funeral of someone they didn’t like very much in life, cracking nervous jokes and looking to each other for approval. History has passed them by, retreated into the suspended televisions and left them here, watching the end of the antebellum. Death plays odd tricks and their “not in my lifetime” looks down upon them from the podium, triumphant.
The lone Black employee, the one who every week acknowledges my Monday entry into the shop with a nod and brings me without further ado a plate overflowing with red beans, bursts into applause, bouncing up and down and clapping rapidly like an excited small child. This is her day. History has taken her up to its bosom like Abraham, and left the old men standing nervously around the old brass cash register, sipping at their Cokes as their grandfathers did. They stare at the cook, and only the owner smiles as he feels he must, the fixed grimace of a man who works a counter. There is no other applause.
A delivery man enters and now there are two black faces in the restaurant. The small early crowd sits transfixed by the television or looks down at their lunch and the sports section, oblivious. None pay the cook or delivery man any mind. When the speech is over, I leave my sandwich half eaten and step out again into the day.
The sun is as brilliant, blinding as that light on the road to Damascus, my eyes adjusted to the dim restaurant its shine does not enter. I have work to do, so I shake off the pallor of the lunch room, its burdensome burnish of history, and hurry away step by second into the future.