In My Room
New Orleans ’70
The room had a double bed and was fairly clean with adequate ventilation. A stove and sink were in the corner of the room and the bathroom was off to the side of the facilities. I liked my room on the second floor of the house, but living with all the uninvited insects was not my idea of ideal living conditions. I found out later that in the South, even among the more respectable rent districts, living with insects was quite common. The cockroach came in all sizes, with the largest one being the most disturbing. I guess I never did get use to living with my roomies, although I did manage to put up with them.
I never did get a real job, but it wasn’t because I didn’t try. Just
thinking about the mileage I put on my shoes makes my feet hurt. I was finally humbled into taking a job selling encyclopedias. I
didn’t really want the job, but they promised good money and I was getting desperate. When it came to giving a sale’s pitch, I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off. Actually, I was lucky to get the job. Many of the people didn’t get past the first day. After the interview, I was given a three page long dictation to memorize. On the following day, many of the other people didn’t have their lines memorized; they were dismissed on the spot. If it weren’t for the fact that I was bored at night, I wouldn’t have taken the time to memorize the shitty speech anyway.
With my books to keep me company, my nights were mostly spent
reading in my room. Having only a few dollars in my pocket and even fewer friends, painting the town was not an option. One night was worth remembering, barely. After a disappointing day job-hunting, I stopped by a local tavern. At the bar, I sat next to a pretty girl. I listened as she poured her life story out to the bartender. She was new in town and unattached. When she said she was from Huntington Beach, California, I thought to myself, “Now there’s a connection, I’ve been there and I can use that to begin a conversation with her.” Drinking my beer, waiting for the right moment to begin talking to her, a Dylan song popped into my head. In the song, the protagonist strikes up a conversation with a girl at a bar and discovers that both he and she share a common hometown and acquaintances. Letting the song play over and over in my head, made it easy to wait for the right opportunity to talk to the girl. Just as her conversation with the bartender was tailing off, in walked this guy who sat down on the other side of girl, and when he heard that she was from California, he asked, “Where in California?” As it turned out, both he and the chick happened to be from Huntington Beach, and they shared many friends in common. That could only happen to me!
Back in my room, I was not in a very good mood. I didn’t feel like
reading, but I needed to do something, so I sat down and started to write. I guess I wrote a poem. Well, maybe it wasn’t a poem. The only thing that really mattered is that it helped me get through the night.
I had arrived in New Orleans four weeks before Mardi Gras. The whole time I was there I could feel the excitement building. Every day the city was becoming more alive with its new decorations, fresh paint, and newly installed bleacher seats. Although I was looking forward to Mardi Gras, I didn’t figure on any surprises. The people in the French Quarter were already celebrating. The excitement of watching people throw beer cans, scream obscenities, and, in general, act like jerks, loses its appeal after awhile. I suppose I could be speaking out of envy, since I was not one of the good-time people, but I hope not. The week before Mardi Gras there was the pre-Mardi Gras party. Bourbon St. and Royal St. were awash in drunken celebrations. The highlight of the party came when this muscle bound peacock stopped traffic and tried to pick up a Volkswagen full of terrified tourists. Even with his drunken buddies cheering him on, he could not pick up the car.
The thing that turned me off more than anything else was the
indisputable prejudice that was all around me. Although the black
population got the brunt of the prejudice, there was more than
enough to go around. It seemed some of the people down here were still fighting the Civil War. Being from the north and a hippie, I was not immune from being the object of prejudice. Not one to back down, though, I would often walk through the black section of town and stop to swing on one of the swings in the playground reserved for black kids. Everybody, blacks and whites alike, gave me dirty looks. The anti-social stigma of being the wrong color in the right swing, or being the right color in the wrong swing, did not win me points among the locals. Fortunately, I wasn’t trying to win a popularity contest. I just learned to swing with my eyes closed.
I stayed with my encyclopedia job for better than a week, and
learned all the sales pitches and promotion exercises. I was one day away from getting my first paycheck when I told the whole fucking establishment to kiss my ass. I couldn’t picture myself as a
salesman anyhow, but the real reason I got pissed had to do with the way they treated one of the girls who I became friends with. She was from Silver City, New Mexico and she was counting on her promised paycheck so she could buy a bus ticket home. The guy in charge found out that she wasn’t going to stick around and sell encyclopedias, so he fired her. She spent what little money she had on clothes and now she was out of money and a job. She was devastated. I felt sorry for her since I knew how she felt. I guess quitting my job wasn’t the best way to show my support for her, but the thought of working along side garbage, like the guy who fired her, made my skin crawl.