Monday, August 03, 2009

Katrina -- the Gift That Keeps on Giving

So Saturday mr. delagar and I are at his favorite liquor store, me buying enough black strap rum to get me through grading final exams and final portfolios (yes! it is the last week of Summer II!) and him buying enough Scotch to get him through the final revision of his dissertation (yes! he is almost done!) when we hear --

Well, it's not a ruckus. It's just a guy talking, up at the counter. But the counter women are sort of arguing with him.

Now I had seen this guy and his friend earlier, sort of hitting on a woman among the whiskey aisles, so I knew who they were: see, over at the fairgrounds, which is about three blocks from this liquor store, there's a roping contest in town. People from all over the four-state area, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, are here to show how well they rope, um, cows, I suppose. (I am at the limit of my knowledge here, even if I do teach cowboys on occasion.)

So I knew this guy and his buddy were cowboys. This guy was black and his buddy was Latino. I mention this because it's about to come up. Given that they're cowboys, not to mention from his accent, which was totally northern Louisiana, I doubt seriously either was from New Orleans. (Also going to come up in a moment.)

So mr. delagar and I have our mind-altering substances in hand, and head for the checkout. This is like a Wal-Mart superstore of booze, btw, huge, towering, because it's on the county line between Sebastion and Crawford County, and Crawford County is dry -- so if you live over there, you can whip right across the line and buy your booze here, see.

We get up there to find the big cowboy explaining to the checkers how no, in fact, bottles of booze where he lives don't have little plastic rings around their necks to stymie shoplifters, because in Louisiana there aren't any liquor stores. (Apparently the discussion started because he wondered why the bottles of whiskey had those tiny plastic anti-theft collars around their necks.)

They argue with him: of course there are liquor stores, everywhere has--

Naw, naw, he explains, you buy booze everywhere there, but you can't steal it--

Oh, people don't steal in Louisiana, sure! they exclaim.

You can't steal it, he's trying to explain, because it's not kept out in the open, it's behind the country, where you can't walk up to it, you have to ask for it. He gestures to the tiny nip-size bottles and packets of cigarettes kept on the shelves behind them. Like those there, he says.

People steal everywhere, his checker insists.

Not people I hang out with, he says, pays up and leaves.

Once he's gone, they start in: They don't steal in Louisiana, ha, they don't.

I saw that Katrina right here on this television, the other says. You tell me they don't steal?

Did you hear that? the first asks us. Did you hear what he said?

Things are different in Louisiana, mr delagar tried to explain, trying to explain how we don't, in fact, have liquor stores in much of the state, since it is legal to sell liquor anywhere, including in grocery stores, gas stations, and through drive-through windows. My wife, he said, gesturing at me, is from New Orleans --

This did not work. Now I was included in their circle of hostility.

What was that about? Another worker came up.

Apparently it's racial if we try to keep people from stealing, the first worker said.

At which point I walked out.

(a) I didn't hear the entire conversation, but I am willing to bet the guy said nothing about being black.

(b) I can't tell you how many times this Katrina meme has come up around here. "You saw what happened after Katrina," or "I had to deal with some of those people that came up here after Katrina once," or "I know someone who used to rent to some of those Katrina people, and she says--" or "You remember what those people from Katrina were like."

My favorite is when they say it to someone who actually is one of those people who came up here after Katrina, since they're still around. When they say it to me, I always look them in the eye and say, "I'm from New Orleans. My entire family live in New Orleans. They still live there. My brother was in the city during Katrina."

They're quick to say, "I didn't mean you!"

Which of course they didn't. They meant, well, you know. Those people.


See also this.

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