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History, inside and out January 20, 2009

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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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.

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Comments»

1. rickngentilly - January 21, 2009

this is the best summation of the day in new orleans i have read so far.

thank you.

at work today people were either happy or pissed off.

i just didn’t get it.

i guess im the odd white guy out.

the last eight years have been a real anal reaming of the lower middle class and yet i work with people of the same take home pay as me who see today as the worst day we have been thru in the last 8 years.

what a fucking trip.

they bitch about how the new prez.is gonna spread the wealth.

they been bitchin’ about this for months.

i don’t freakin’ get it.

i wish i could be as articulate as you are on this subject.

all i know as a fifty year old white boy in the south i’ve seen a lot in this life.

i feel like the old lady who saw orville and wilber and the space shuttle.

every day is a w.t.f.? moment.

god bless us.

or as my friend rick used to say i like allah dem gods.

2. Wet Bank Guy - January 21, 2009

Thank you. This was an odd place to watch the event but it is one of the closest places to my building with several large TVs, and good food. It turned into an Odd (which here we often count as good) but ultimately distracting experience.

In retrospect I’m sorry I didn’t go to the counting house’s lunchroom. As one of the few white guys who would eat from the pie man at our old location, I guess I should have jut gone there. Hell, it’s not like my immediate boss would care (if other’s up the chain might). At 7:45 Monday morning he was at my desk, saying “Hell, I thought you’d be in Washington today” in a happy, casual way. (My history is in my resume,and includes almost 10 years working for Democrats on Capitol Hill. I watched Clinton’s first inaugural on TV holding down an office in the Raeburn Building due to a broken leg.)

Still, I am relieved to have witnessed the first peaceful and orderly transition of power in sixteen years. I had reached a point not long ago where I feared this might no longer be possible in our country. I had ralso come to a place at which I had begun to refer to Washington as “the central government” in my blog spaces and was unsure if I would ever vote in a Federal election again. I will hold my vow that no other flag will fly at my house except the flag of New Orleans until this place is made whole, but I am glad to have lived to witness the return to an orderly democracy and and to have participated in it’s entry into the third American era.

3. vs-f - January 27, 2009

one of your very best blog postings. All I can offer in return is this cool column by the SF Chron’s Jon Carroll, who truly got the semiotics of Aretha’s hat. I had exactly the same thought he did as I watched her at the podium.

I brought a tiny tiny tiny bell to work and sat here at my desk ringing and ringing it after Obama was semi-sworn in by the semi-chief justice. The atmosphere on the ferry that morning was beyond ecstatic. Everyone had the same sense: morning had returned and just maybe we could become a good nation again.

Sent out the MG invitations the day after the inauguration and of course included your take on masking. I’m thinking of Medusa, myself. Have gone so far as to order a mess o’ plastic snakes and am figuring out what to do with a yard of the most fabulous snake-printed velvet you ever saw in your life.


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