After a duel with a duo of cockroaches in the bathroom, I was in no mood to finish off my chicken fried bacon BLT in the kitchen of my temporary apartment. If the roaches are willing to eat toothpaste and soap scum, just imagine how they might feel about pork belly. Stepping out onto the porch, my hair wrapped in a towel to wick away the incessant perspiration and give my shoulders a break from the heat, I take a seat on the bench. Glancing to my right, the porch swing belonging to the neighbor is swinging mightily. Checking out the branches and my own arm hair, I register that there is no breeze to speak of, let alone a wind. Either the neighbors heard my shuffling to come outside and decided to make haste to avoid me, or, who knows? This is New Orleans.
Below me, I notice a drain and sewer service van. He’s blocking the driveway, and it is rather late-- past midnight. He begins dragging heavy equipment out of the building, but not before pulling a towel out of the cab, with which he makes a great show of wiping down not only his brow, but his entire face and both of his arms, shoulder to hands, over and over again. The landlady (Cruella,) and the caretaker, Tommy (all greasy hair and cromagnon brow, and seemingly BFF—lovers?—to Cruella) are also on the curb, thanking the drain man profusely. The drain man refuses to respond, and seems, for lack of a better term, disgusted. In between telling him what a good job he has done, Cruella and Tommy are talking in hushed tones amongst themselves.
Meanwhile, the porchswing still sways in absence of its catalyst.
The longer I watch the drain man, Cruella, and Tommy in their surreptitious exchange, the more uneasy I become. I don’t like this place, I don’t like the cockroaches in the bathroom, I don’t like these people and their mysterious late night plumbing crisis, and I most definitely don’t appreciate the ghostly pink porch swing. My mind begins to concoct scenarios. Codrescu’s tales of crime, murder and ghostly, ghastly scenes overtake my judgment. I wonder if I should stay here any longer, even tonight. My instinctive, reptile brain is luminescent with defense mechanisms.
I hear Tommy tell the drain man that the situation was certainly “unique.” Now. If you have spent any time at all in this city-- where red devils take morning coffee with you, where handicapped people are spilled out of their wheelchairs onto the sidewalk, asleep (?) and no one takes a single moment of notice, where rats share with you your backyard, where lesbians all but make love in the rain in the daylight on street corners, where brass bands are your lullabye and your alarmclock, where a girl walks the streets twentyfour hours a day holding a fishbowl filled with blue booze-- you might imagine that circumstances would be well unusual to have a New Orleanian describe anything as “unique.”
With a palpable start of surprise, Cruella notices my presence on the porch, and she’s suddenly sweet as a praline. “Hi Mecca!” This alone evokes suspicion on my part. I tell her about my “visitors,” and off the bat, she knows I’m referring to roaches. She apologizes, says she had an emergency this evening, and that she’s not going to try to fix anything else, at least not tonight. She makes her way to her apartment. Tommy and drain man make a brief exchange in Tommy’s apartment, and drain man is off like a shot.
I want to wash off the ick. I want to flee. I want to do anything but stay here tonight. I think of chasing down the drain man to ask him what he found, but truly, I don’t want to know. I turn out the lights and acquiesce to the night, still in my clothes. The rats coo their disgusting song, the roaches do their thing with the soap scum, and I try to tune out the clang of the ceiling fan as it fights with the Louisiana humidity.
Tomorrow is a new day in New Orleans.