As a young adult, I moved to the west bank in New Orleans Algiers neighborhood. The city buses had advertisements for Bum Phillips’ Saints. I thought Bum Phillips was a cult preacher and the Saints were like Moonies. It took me a while to unravel that mystery. I was a young, novice from New England, a character in my internal drama, naively unaware of the outside world.
Initially, I shared a house with my boyfriend and some roommates: Kenny a welder at Harvey Shipyard, his girlfriend Rhonda a stripper, and Tim who was a graduate of the Chino Prison dive school program. Kenny was a big-old, kind hearted biker from West Virgina. Rhonda was a hardened hustler; a type of person I hadn’t encountered before. Tim’s prison history was restricted information. He was a private, noir person. I desperately wanted to tap into his angst to get the whole story but I could never figure out how. My boyfriend was a diver, for the same commercial diving company as Tim, in the offshore oil industry. As soon as we saved enough money, we moved out.
We found a little place at Forest Isle Apartments. It was fun. Practically everyone there was affiliated with the offshore oil industry and in the 20-40 demographic. My female friends were like me, Gulf widows, left alone for long stretches of time while their boyfriends or husbands were offshore. We worked through the week to congregate at the pool on weekends, perfecting our tans and drinking the afternoons away. The complex was thoughtfully designed with a bar in convenient proximity to the largest pool.
We knew a lot of guys who became incorporated in our social lives when husbands and boyfriends returned home. I befriended a “company man” from Texas named Russ. Company men were oil company representatives who went offshore to the rigs to assure uninterrupted production. He was of an older generation. Several wives had divorced him. He put all of his kids through college. He was never without a sippy cup. Sometimes I’d run into him at Schwegmann’s, grocery shopping, cup in hand. In spite of Russ’s high alcohol content, he told a great story. Younger guys were interested in listening to him. There was more respect for sagacity then. In turn, he took all of us under his wing like de facto kids.
I knew Robert and Dave too. I never knew what they did. Dave was American, overshadowed by his friend Robert, who was Belgian, and introduced me to the music of Kate Bush, which he pronounced Boosh. Robert was a wiry, little European, thus innately sophisticated. He was smitten by one of my tall, blonde, married girlfriends. Dave and Robert were caricatures of single males. Dave was eternally soaking in a social snafu of his own creation (sobriety was not one of his strengths) while Robert talked him through the steps for extricating himself from his current dilemma.
Forest Isle was fun but it lacked privacy and architectural interest. Eventually, we migrated to Algiers Point. Our building was between the movie theater and the fire department. It was there that we met the Pot Smoking Fireman. I can’t remember how we became friendly. He knocked on the door and we let him in so he could smoke pot. It didn’t occur to me to question the prudence in fighting fires stoned.
I was barely 21. My mother was sheltered from the worrisome details of my life as I made my way, unattended, through the big, bad world. My experience wasn’t radically different from others. We grew up and became responsible citizens on our own. It is inconceivable that my generation will allow its offspring the freedom to falter, subsequently developing the critical thinking skills necessary to live independent lives.
I was as protected as my mother, graced by oblivion.