Postcard from the End of America: New Orleans

This time, I got to New Orleans on a bus named Mega, and it also dropped me off at Elysian Fields.  In Nola, there’s a street called Arts, so of course there has to be one named Desire, and Tennessee Williams clearly saw the two as intertwined, thrusting and plunging their bodies against each other.  Of course, death will interrupt this coupling not just finally but every step of the way.

Across the avenue, there was Gene’s Daiquiris, with its colorful All Night Long, Suicide, Sweet Dreams and What The Fuck rum concoctions, etc., and on this side, there’s the Phoenix Bar, home of the Bears and Bear Trappers Social Club.  If I was into hidemen, I could have headed to the second floor to be chained, strapped, whipped and have my parts serviced or abused to my heart’s desire, all while being showered with titillating insults.  At street level, however, there’s no hint of this theatrical decadence, and since Elysian Fields has eight lanes, including two for parking, it’s mostly just cars zooming by endlessly, like they do all across this land.

I came to New Orleans to hang out with Brooks Johnson and his crew of squatters, see how they were scraping by on the fringe of a fringe city.  Son of poet Kent Johnson, 29-year-old Brooks is struggling to stay afloat as he finds his way as a writer, artist and man.  Half an hour after my evening arrival, we were sitting on the tailgate of his canopied, beat up pickup truck.  Drinking Coors, we chattered.  Before this, we had only met in Chicago in 2009.

“So how are you making a living, man?”

“I’m doing house painting and plumbing, but I was tutoring for Delgado Community College.  They let me go.”


“They never said.  They were just kind of dicking me around.  They’d say they had the budget to hire me, and then no, and then yes, and then no.”

With so many humanities majors desperate for teaching jobs, colleges can afford to dick around just about everybody, even very accomplished candidates with multiple degrees.

“So how did you hook up with a contractor?”

“A lot of my friends work with this lady, Carol.  She doesn’t have her license or anything.  She hires punks and queers.  I do house painting, plumbing and demo shit.  I work off the book, have to, because this is the only way for me to make OK money.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to pay back my student loan.”

“How much do you owe?”

“$12,000, so it’s not too bad, comparatively.”

“But it’s still bad, because before you know it, it will become 20!”

“Totally!  And it’s like, fuck, I’ve gotten just one job from my degree, and it paid $12 an hour for 20 hours a week.”

When a thumpingly raucous bus drove by, we had to pause.  Here, you can rent a “party bus,” and at the high end, it’s like a 40-foot-long limousine with a granite-top bar, leather seats, flat screen TV, disco lighting and brain-damaging sound system.  The cheapest version seems no more than an old, yellow school bus with a boom box.  Since I don’t understand the allures of being trapped with a fixed cast of people inside a very narrow, loud and expensive moving bar, you won’t find me booking a party bus anytime soon.  Still, it was charming to catch a glimpse of the laughing and hollering young people with their heads stuck out the windows.

“What did you major in?” I resumed.

Laughing, Brooks confessed, “English and art history.”

“There you go,” I laughed along with him, “It is pretty funny.”

“It’s hilarious!  It’s like a fuckin’ scam.  They got me!  It’s based on a lie.  It’s like, you can go to college, borrow this money, get a job and make it back.”

“For pointing some of that shit out, I can’t get hired now.  I kept saying how problematic this whole set up is.  Since you’re the paying customer, the professor will pretend that you’re some kind of a genius, that everyone’s a genius.  He’ll flatter you to keep you hooked.”

“Yeah, totally.  They have to keep you tied in and borrowing from the banks.”

I taught creative writing at Bard, Penn, Montana, Naropa and Muhlenberg.  It’s not that people shouldn’t study English, art history, ceramics or creative writing, etc., but they shouldn’t be juked and jived about their dismal prospects while being fitted with a bankster shackle around their callow neck, and if they suck at what they do, and I mean really, really suck, then they should be told to cut their losses right now, rather than be led on so cynically by those who are only pretending to be nurturing.  It’s you, young man or woman, who is supportive of your professors’ salaries, not to mention the bulging bureaucracy above them.

“The last thing you want to do is to scare them away,” I continued.  “Let’s say they’re not doing the work, let’s say they’re really stupid or whatever, but you can’t warn them about how precarious their future is because you’ll be losing customers for the fuckin’ corporation!”

“Exactly, and the other part of it is, I liked that job a lot because I could be real with people.  It’s the kind of dynamic education where you can be personal, one-on-one and talk about life and what’s going on.”

I chuckled, “But you’re not supposed to talk about life, man!  That’s why it’s called a campus.  You’re not supposed to point to anything outside, since it will scare the students!  You weren’t a good soldier, man!”

“Exactly, and that’s why I was getting the stink eye from the other instructors.  Another thing is, I didn’t have a shower for a long time.  We were squatting and didn’t have running water, so we were just drinking rain water from a rain barrel, but finally, we got our shit together, so we’re stealing water now.  It’s insanely easy!  There’s a water meter in front of every house, so all you need is a copper pipe, a right-sized gasket and a water key from Home Depot.  There’s a trick to it, but it’s very simple.”

“Can you steal electricity?”

“That’s a lot harder, and dangerous.  What we have is a temporary electric pole.  After we paid the tax lien on the property, we became its caretaker, so now we’re legal with the electricity.”

The property, a double shotgun, is owned by one Rufus Rose, a black man in his 80’s.  Before the first squatter moved in, it had been left empty for six or seven years and was falling apart, with a leaking roof, sinking foundation and wrecked walls.  Since Rose ignored his taxes for years, the squatters could claim the property by paying the city $1,200, but this modest sum is also all Rose needs to reclaim his house, and once he does that, these benign anarchists, or obnoxious spongers, depending on your point of view, can be booted out within a week.  Instead of paying up, however, Rose tried to get the city to help him demolish the property, and he also came by to give the squatters a piece of his mind.  The old man bought houses when they were dirt cheap, and he owns a bunch.

The white squatters moved onto this all-black block in the Eighth Ward one by one, and now there are five of them, four males and a female.  When their neighbors saw them come in, there was widespread suspicion and even hostile looks, for who knew what these grungy types were up to, but all negative feelings have dissipated.  “People have even given us food,” Brooks said.  “One lady brought us spaghetti.  Another gave us yaka mein.  We’ve also brought food to our neighbors, and I’ve done a couple of easy repairs for them.  You know, basic neighborly stuff.”  After taking over the house, the squatters have put in a new roof, painted the front in cheerful colors and fixed this and that to make the dwelling more habitable and not an eyesore.

In Streetcar, Williams writes, “New Orleans is a cosmopolitan city where there is a relatively warm and easy intermingling of races in the old part of town,” and this appears to hold more than six decades later.  Of course, the city now has a black majority, but its current mayor, Mitch Landrieu, is white, and Laudrieu’s father, Moon, also a mayor, is remembered for his fight in the 60’s against segregation.  One can assume that those who can’t stand blacks, punks, queers or Vietnamese, etc., have removed themselves from New Orleans or never cared to live there in the first place, for this has long been one of the most eclectic and iconoclastic cities in all of America.

As for squatting, New Orleans has the tradition of the Batture Dwellers.  Most numerous during the Great Depression, these are the poor and hardy folks who squat on a precarious strip of land between levees and river bank.  Technically dwelling on the Mississippi itself, their homes are not just ramshackle stilted shacks and houseboats, but also fairly spacious and sturdy cottages.  When a storm comes, the river swells and I picture a couple lying on a bobbing bed while, next door, a cursing old fart stands belly button-deep in a turbulent pool that’s garnished with Mardi Gras beads, aluminum cans and driftwood.  “Oh shit,” he mutters.

Tennessee Williams never squatted in New Orleans, but he did skip out on his landlord, if we’re to believe the account in his autobiographical “The Angel in the Alcove,” “When I finally left there I fooled the old woman.  I left by way of a balcony and a pair of sheets.  I was miles out of town on the Old Spanish Trail before the old woman found out I had gotten past her.”

Now, it’s clear that this Postcard is anchored by the theme of petty criminality, with the implied justification that one’s soul, not body, cannot be sustained any other way, for if a person squats, defaults on a bank loan, steals water or software, he’s not trying to gain riches or comforts, but merely a bit of breathing room for his mind and spirit.  Working at a restaurant and writing mostly on weekends, Tennessee Williams still couldn’t make rent so had to hightail from his landlady, but the eventual results are so nourishing for the culture, no one would think of faulting the genius.  Most turnstile jumping or train hopping young writers, though, won’t yield even a single sharp sentence.  Still, we must let as many of them go at it as possible, for not only may a Tennessee Williams emerge from the fray, but the much dimmer lights can also illuminate a basement or storefront theater for a moment or two.  In any case, it’s the local culture that will sustain us, and not the calculatingly concocted poison that’s beamed relentlessly from the brainwashing centers!

“So what brought you down to New Orleans?” I asked Brooks.

“I’ve been trying to come down here for years.  I rode a freight train down, like, eight years ago.”

“All the way down?”

“Most of the way down.  I got to Memphis, but they pulled me off and put me in the Shelby County Jail for a couple of days.  They gave me time served.”

“What did the judge say?”

“Basically, get the fuck out of here!”

“Was there a moral lecture?”

“Yeah, it was like, ‘You guys are living all wrong,’ that kind of stuff.  It was my first time being in a jail.  When I first went in, I was worried, like, oh shit, it’s going to be all race ganged out, but it was chill. Memphis is really a prison town.  It’s either you’re a guard or you go to jail.  That became clear really quick, and my worry about the race gang thing wasn’t real at all, because people were really helping us out.”

“They could tell you were just kids, right?”

“For sure, they were super cool about it.  After we were charged, we were put in this holding cell, and I was almost in a prison riot, because they kept pushing people in until there were, like, 70 of us in this small room.  People had to stand on these benches.  Two guys were standing on the toilet.”

I roared at this detail, and Brooks laughed too. I said, “I’m sure it wasn’t too funny then.”

“Fuck, no, it was hot as hell!  There were four dudes in the corner having a really serious conversation, then one of them said, ‘All right, if they put anybody else in here, we’re going to grab the fuckin’ guard and hold him until they let us out!’  It was one of those moments where it’s like…”

“Enough is enough!”

“Yeah, enough is enough.  I knew I was supposed to be out soon, but I had to be down with this, although I might have had to stay there for a lot longer.”

“You didn’t want to be the lone pussy!” I laughed.

“Hell, no!  You have to go all the way with it!  Thing is, they didn’t put another person in and they let us out in about five minutes.  It’s insane, man, but it’s not funny, really, especially with the women.  Two of my friends, Candy and Vanessa, were kept at this prison that’s way out of town, and when they let you out, it’s at a time when no bus is running, you can’t get a cab and it’s a long walk to get anywhere, so women will walk down this road…”

“Holy fuck!”

“Yeah, and a car might stop to offer them a ride, but lots of time it’s an undercover cop who would arrest them on prostitution charges, and send them right back.”

“Why?!  That’s bizarre, isn’t it?”

“It is super weird.”

“I half expected you to say the guy was going to rape them, or make a deal, you know, like if you suck my dick, I let you go.”

“Maybe that happens too, but from the stories my friends were told, it’s about revenue for the city.”

“So they’re just eager to keep people in?”


“I had a Philly friend.  She tried to be a prostitute but wasn’t successful.  I guess she just wasn’t good looking enough.  She studied print making, by the way, and was pretty good too.  Anyway, her first potential client was this Japanese guy who slammed a door in her face, so her pimp wasn’t too happy about that.  Not knowing what to do, she just walked down the street, you know, and when she saw a cop car, she waved or some shit because she thought the cop would rescue her, but the cop then tried to fuck her, so she had to jump out of the car and run away from him!  That’s the easiest thing, you know, because if you’re a prostitute and a cop fucks you, who’s going to care?”

“Exactly.  Cops are predators, man.  They got a gun.  They got everything.”

In Tennessee Williams’ “The Poet,” a wandering, scrounging poet is occasionally raped when he sleeps outside, and though this leaves “his clothing torn open and sometimes not only a dampness of mouths on his flesh but painful bruises,” the poet doesn’t feel “any shame or resentment.”  In “The Alcove,” Williams describes himself being more or less raped by a fellow tenant, a tubercular young artist who coughs up blood.  It’s telling that Williams would depict the poet as a raped and battered being, but in a 1981 interview with the Paris Review, Williams also spoke of the “terrible indignities, humiliations, privations, shocks that attend the life of an American writer,” and this from a time when a serious artist like him could still be a national figure.  Many of Williams’ plays were adapted for Hollywood or television.  Arthur Miller wrote screenplays, married Marilyn Monroe and the TV movie of his Death of a Salesman drew 25 million viewers on CBS in 1985.  I’m citing relatively recent examples to show that it wasn’t all that long ago when we still had functioning synapses between our ears.  Jackson Pollock was profiled in Life magazine, and Steinbeck and Salinger were read by high school kids.  Now, they have never heard of Mark Twain or think he might be a country singer, for in these gleefully illiterate and belligerently philistine United States, there is only a miniscule, coterie audience for any of the high arts, and this has been arrived at by design, of course, because it’s a lot easier to rob and manipulate an idiotic population.  Though we have a vast cultural heritage, it’s being buried deeper and deeper, like a forgotten time capsule, while on the surface, blathering morons of every type are being pumped up and feted on a revolving stage.

Driving away from Elysian Fields, Brooks mentioned that a cop had been shot just outside Gene’s Po-Boys two weeks earlier.  Both killer and cop were black.  Half a mile away, the shooter had killed another man at a party.  New Orleans’ murder rate is consistently about seven times the national average, and since 1985, it has led the nation in murders for 12 different years.  In 2014, only 121 people have been killed through October 15th, however, so that’s a considerable dip from the all-time high of 424 in 1994.  Most of the time, New Orleans is the Big Easy, with old men playing dominoes beneath trees, chickens crossing roads, slow walking, outdoor drinking and slurry trombones, but then the shots would ring out.  Among states, Louisiana has had the most murders per capita for 25 straight years.  It is also the third-poorest.

The latest murder involves two men and a woman.  The shooter is the father of her two kids, while the victim was someone she “knew through a current sexual relationship.”  Drunk, the hapless fornicator came by to borrow a scale, which was fine, but when he started to “squeeze” her, he was shot.

Leaving Marigny, we went to Fairgrounds, and at the Seahorse Saloon, I met one of Brooks’ squatmates, Heather, as well as his boss, Carol.  In her mid 60’s, Carol was a very large woman with an extremely well-developed beer belly, but I shouldn’t talk, for my nickname during my house painting days was “Pol Pot Belly,” I kid you not.  (Screw you, Hank, for giving me that moniker, though I wish you happy boozing and health wherever the hell you are.)  Carol also had a very masculine voice, and as I shook her hammering hand, I actually thought she could be a man.

Raised on a small farm in Oklahoma, Carol was slim and pretty in youth, with the photos to prove it too.  She married, had children, divorced, quit drinking then came to New Orleans at age 42.  Carol hadn’t been in a bar in years, so was rather subdued this evening, but her pool game sure hadn’t left her, for she simply kicked Heather’s and Brooks’ asses in quick succession.  Clownish with a cue, I didn’t dare challenge her.

In her early 30’s, Heather’s from a tiny village in South Dakota.  She had on a black cap, black wig, black and tan top, black shorts, black fishnet stockings and black shoes, with just about everything quite weathered, like a beat up barn.  Granting her bits of good luck, a tiny horseshoe pendant rested on her sternum.  At seven O’clock from her right outer canthus, there was also a single French quotation mark, elongated and face down, but I forgot to ask her what it meant.  Like Brooks and, in fact, all of the other squatters, Heather studied English in college.  Paired with a fiddler, Heather plays guitar and sings in a plaintive, sometimes cracked voice, and the music is a combination of Appalachia and Dylan from his Desire album.  They’ve performed at the Mudlark, a hub of underground arts.  At the Seahorse, though, I hadn’t known that her lyrics tended to be queer, and so I asked if she had ever been married. “Look at me!” She guffawed.  “Do I look like I’ve been married?”

“I don’t know! What does a married face look like?”

That night, I was given my own room at the squat, and though the sheet was stiff with old sweat, I was grateful to be taken in and horizontal.  In the middle of the night, I had to get up, and since I didn’t know that the toilet was inside, and the shower a makeshift stall outside, I groped my way out to stand among the banana tree and chicken coup, beneath a crescent moon.  With the weather so balmy, I felt I could kiss the equator and half a world away.

At Brooks’ age, I lived over a print shop in a space that was so poorly insulated, I froze my nuts off through two winters.  It was almost as bad as sleeping outside, but with the smell of a kerosene heater plus chemicals from downstairs, not to mention the unceasing grinding of gears during the daytime.  My sculptor roommate had two cats that didn’t seem to like the maddening cold any better than us, and when Betty, a scrawny oxicat, fell sick, Jay promptly suffocated her under a pillow, then threw her out with the trash.

As an unknown painter in Greenwich Village in the late 30’s, Franz Kline survived mostly on sugar and coffee, so it was definitely not a good idea when a friend asked Kline to take care of his German Shepherd.  Starving, the dog tried to eat a bar of soap and died, which prompted Kline to remark, “It just shows you that a bohemian is someone who could live where an animal would die.”

To eat at all, bohemians must be extra resourceful.  Before New Orleans, Brooks spent a couple of months in the California desert, and there he learnt to catch pheasants with a box trap, “All you need is a box, twig, rope and some breakfast cereal.”  It’s a simple, almost childish skill, yet most of us don’t know it, and of course few can feather and gut a chicken.  Perhaps they can set this up as a four-year, fully accredited program?  Borrowing $100,000 from Bank of America, a student can major in gizzard removal.

Squatting or no, one still has to make a living, and Chris, the 32-year-old head of this crew, runs a tour guide business.  Starting from The Sweet Palate, tourists are led through the French Quarter or nearby cemeteries, and they pay whatever they feel like at the end, which usually ranges between 10 and 20 bucks.  Originally from Milwaukee, Chris is a playwright and fiction writer.

Rhode Island-born Jeremy, in his early 20’s, is a poet who admires Frank O’Hara and Kenneth Koch.  This summer, he went to Humbolt County in Northern California to trim marijuana.  Paid $200 a pound, he averaged 1 ½ pound per day, working 12 hours.  Listening to books on tape, he endured this tedious task for three weeks.  “It’s crazy to be in a room with thirty pounds of weed, and the illegality of it all also bothered me.  It’s still a felony in California to grow that much weed, so even though I was just a trimmer, I don’t think I’m going to go back.”  Since logging is dead in Humboldt County, pot growing is the meat, skin, heart and backbone of the local economy, and for pot price to stay high, its cultivation has to remain illegal.  What you have, then, are a bunch of towns where just about everyone is a criminal, and they want to stay that way forever just to survive.

Connecticut-born Sergio, in his early 20’s, is also a poet.  In a red bathrobe, he sat with the others on an old, frayed couch to watch a movie.  I didn’t talk to him.  Without cable television, the squatters get their screen fix by staring at videos.  There were about 70 in the house.

In the end, though, there is no romance in going without a proper shower, stove or heating system, but one must handle it with resilience and even defiance and humor should that become one’s lot, and of course, poor artists are just a tiny fraction of the millions of Americans who have gone neo primitive, and this number will only spiral up.  Missing a few utility payments, one will be plunged into the dark and cold, but at least there won’t be anything left in the refrigerator to go bad. Rotting slums, ragged trailer parks and tent cities already dot this “greatest of countries.”

For a contrast to Brooks, let’s check out, briefly, his girlfriend, Shira, from Brooklyn Heights.  Twenty-four-years-old, Shira studied media arts at NYU and has already published a well-received comic book.  Besides drawing comics, Shira also plays bass in punk bands and does performance art.  Though only working part time in a library, she lives in a Mid City apartment that costs $1,100 a month.  Clearly, Shira’s much better situated and more advanced artistically than the others, but she also comes from a completely different background.  Her mom is a noted modern dancer, her brother a rising star in Hollywood and her dad was a publishing executive.

Burning to make art, poor kids ignore or are ignorant of the fact that it’s essentially a rich man’s game, but as Tennessee Williams observed, “If they’re meant to be writers, they will write.  There’s nothing that can stop them.  It may kill them.”  Further, if a poor kid can tough it out somehow, he has stories to tell and experiences to relate that his more privileged peers have only read about.

In 2011, Brooks Johnson and another cultural guerrilla staged a demonstration at a Raul Zurita reading at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago.  Flyers were handed out and two banners were unfurled from a balcony, “WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF EMILY DICKINSON HAD BEEN PRESCRIBED PROZAC?” and “VIVA CADA.”  The Prozac dig refers to the Poetry Foundation being funded by the maker of Prozac, Cialis and the autistic-causing Thimerosal.  At the end of America, poetry is supposed to put you to sleep with a hard-on.  Also, the Poetry Foundation’s President was John Barr, a former investment banker and leading figure in energy deregulation.  Such a sick knot of symbolism deserved to be mocked, but the Poetry Foundation was certainly not amused.  They called the cops.

Soon, too soon, it was time for me to leave, and before I went to the station, I sat for a while at Canal and Basin, right in front of the Simon Bolivar statue.  As I ate some leftover Mexican meat balls, a black man in his mid-60’s, sitting on a nearby bench, started a conversation, “I have a new apartment, and it only costs me $300 a month!”


“Three blocks from here.”

“Sounds way too cheap!”

“I’m in this program. It’s brand new too, with a dishwasher and everything.”


“You damn right! You see that hotel there? People pay $150 just to sleep there for one night.  That’s insane!  I can’t imagine spending that kind of money, and for what?!  All you’re going to do is shit, piss and lie down, and before you know it, it’s time to check out!  It’s insane, I tell you.  I’d rather sleep outside, on this bench.”

“I hear you.”

“I’m thinking of renting my room out.  For $300, you can stay in my room for two weeks!”

“Then where would you sleep?”

“On the couch, but you can have the rest of it, and I won’t get in your way.  I’ll be gone most of the day.”

“It’s a pretty good deal.”

“You need a room?”

“I’m leaving town.”

“How about $20 for just tonight?”

“I’m leaving, and I’m kind of broke too.”

“You don’t have $20?”

“Actually, no,” and I really didn’t. I had $19 which must last for the next 40 hours.

“I’m down to three bucks myself,” my new friend commiserated.  “I want to buy a bag of weed, but I’m two dollar short.”

“When will you get more money?”

“The first!  That’s three days from now. I’m on Social Security.  I get $800 a month. I’m all right.  I have some sausage and bacon cooked up at home, and I also have beans and rice with some butter in it. I’m all right.”

“Do you drink?”

“Very little.  I know a place on Bourbon where you can get three cans of Budweiser for five bucks!”

“And how much weed do you smoke?”

“Just two bags, though sometimes I buy me a $10 bag.”

When a woman walked by, he shouted, “How are you doing, baby?” She ignored him.  Turning to me, he growled, “She ain’t from here. People down here are friendly.”

Though in his 60’s, he was remarkably trim yet muscular, and to show off his physique, the old man wore a low cut, lead colored tank top, with an open indigo-and-white-striped shirt draped over it. Pop was stylin’, to tell you the truth.

“This chick I know can’t pay her phone bill,” he continued.  “She’s $66 short, so she said, if I gave her that, we could have sex.”

“How old is she?”

“Thirty-two, and she’s pretty good looking too.  She works at a strip club.”

“But you only have three bucks, though.”

“I wouldn’t anyhow.  I have never paid for sex!”

“That’s pretty good!”

“All night long, they walk up and down Canal, trying to sell their pussies, while on Bourbon, they’re just trying to give it away!  A woman can only do two things, sell it or give it away!  I have never paid for sex!”

Most men have a hard enough time giving it away, much less selling it, and there’s no transcendence in their in-and-outs, but Oliver Winemiller, Tennessee Williams’ New Orleans gay prostitute, is described as not just a sexual but psychic savior, and even a Christlike figure, “To some he became the archetype of the Savior Upon The Cross who had taken upon himself the sins of their world to be washed and purified in his blood and passion.”  Handsome yet missing an arm through a car accident, Winemiller is also compared to “a broken statue of Apollo,” but more than Jesus or Apollo, Winemiller is really a reincarnation of Bras-Coupé, a New Orleans slave turned bandit.  Considered an avenging hero by blacks, and a demonic terror by whites, Bras-Coupé first became notorious for his dancing in Congo Square.  A place for slaves to let loose once a week, Congo Square was an intensification of those qualities we’ve come to associate with New Orleans, wild, unassimilably alien, joyous but also seething.  After he was shot by whites and lost his arm, Bras-Coupé got even by leading a growing band to rob and kill whites.  The fictional Winemiller, on the other hand, kills only one rich guy, a yacht owner who has hired him to have sex in front of the camera.  Denied ownership of their bodies and treated like meat, they both retaliate and are punished by death. New Orleans is itself a maimed yet transcendent whore, and unlike Las Vegas, it is essentially real.

In New Orleans, Amtrak and Greyhound share the same building, and with so much traffic passing through, I simply assumed the station would be open all night, but when I got there around 10:40PM for my 7AM departure the next day, they wouldn’t let me in, so I ended up, only too appropriately, sleeping on concrete under the Pontchartrain Expressway.  Using a corner of my backpack as pillow, I curled up clutching my camera bag and managed to sleep fitfully until five, when the station finally opened.  Around 3:30, a man lay down a few feet from me, which was not remarkable in the least, since we gave each other added security.  A mugger would hesitate to approach a group of sleeping homeless, since there’s a pretty good chance someone is not quite sleeping, and may even have his eyes wide open in the dark.  What was remarkable was a man who appeared out of nowhere to place a jacket under the sleeping man’s head, since he didn’t have anything to use as a pillow.  Done with this task, he simply disappeared, and if I was a liar, I’d even add that he had one arm.


Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on September 10, 2014, on State of the Union, a website featuring commentary and photography by Linh Dinh.  It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Dinh.


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