I had a little trouble coming up with things I wanted to discuss today. When we describe What the Funk here at Red Beans and Life, it is meant to express a general pondering, a bemused musing about the city of New Orleans. But then, I’ve been living here for a while so maybe I think that I know everything. But I will tell you the more I live and learn about New Orleans, the more fascinated I am by all the weirdness that happens in this town.
So I started thinking, what do other natives think about this weirdness?
My first thought was “I guess they like it. No one ever really mentions anything about it.”
Then it came to me, they’re just never surprised.
I mean, last year I was working on the balcony of a French Quarter restaurant. It’s a breezy Sunday, about noon, when an entire parade of 300 or more people come bicycling down Decatur Street, laughing and waving their wands and throwing flowers. Naked. While most of my customers were trying to pull out their phones and avert the children’s eyes, all I could think is “There’s nothing like seeing 60 year old balls coming at you in motion.”
Just so you know, that shit would not fly in most other towns in the U.S.
Or, when I am walking down the street and see a man with his hand down his pants in broad daylight on Rampart. Am I disgusted? Sure. Am I offended? Not exactly. My response?
GET YOUR HAND OUTTA THERE YA PERVERT!
You just have to be firm with them.
You have to be tough and unfazed when you see things in New Orleans. I mean the strippers hang out in the doorway of clubs like a mother looking for her wayward kid, drunks, dopeheads and degenerates yell things from windows and street corners right into your face. What are you going to do? Cry every time? No, you learn to barely blink at it.
When you live in New Orleans long enough, you get a pretty laissez-faire attitude toward the unusual. Nudity is normal. Obscenity is acceptable. Perversion is preferred.
But where does this behavior come from? Perhaps the reason behind this lack of shock value is just a part of the historical bloodline of this town. New Orleans has always been an exotic port city. It’s a city filled with different people from so many different places. Trying to get all of them to conform seems impossible. As a Catholic colony, there was and still is plenty of room for guilt, just none for that Puritanical no-fun-is-be-had-it-is-of-the-devil attitude. Voodoo and ghost stories and demons seem to be a part of the scenery and no one ever appears bothered by anything.
Maybe it is because New Orleans has always been considered a party town. People come here to blow off steam, to get away from their boring, Midwest lives and let the good times roll. So they go to a strip club for the first time. Or get annihilated in the streets. Or they walk through a shadowy bar entrance and come out in the daylight feeling like they stepped out of a dream. When this is your hometown’s reputation, when you have a front row for America’s freak show, how can you be surprised by what people do?
But what do you when the fun bleeds into other areas in the wrong ways? Most locals don’t bat an eye when yet another story about political corruption surfaces. Governor Kingfish Huey P. Long lied, extorted and bribed his way to making Louisiana better and he is still considered the people’s hero. Edwin Edwards spent 8 years in Federal prison and now he has a reality show. Former Mayor Ray Nagin was found guilty of 20 counts of federal misconduct is definitely going to do time. While people may be pissed, no one is surprised.
No one is surprised about the fact that this state has one of the lowest education rankings in the country. Or that we have one of the largest populations of incarcerated people. Or one of the highest murder rates in the country.
Why does none of this stuff shock us? I know that isn’t because the people don’t care. They do. They’re just not surprised anymore. What would it take, I wonder.
What shocks you about New Orleans? Tell us all about it in our Comment section. Don’t be scared.