Listen to the Bayou
Can you feel the blues
In my lonely heart…
“The Bayou is a river that moves with the ties,” Kaitlin’s dad explained to me as we drove along a branch of the Mississippi river that used to be a heavy trading route back in the days. I realize how often I use the phrase: back in the days when we used to go to Franklin, back in the days when Coach Firneno’d make girls bend over to check if their skirts were long enough, back in the days when we’d roll down Saint Charles on the streetcar named Desire and lazily sipped a paper cup of latte at the Café du Monde…
3437 Napoleon Ave was never quiet on the bathroom front: something was always stuck, or missing - most often toilet paper. Someone (impossibled to identified, since there were at least 20 of us living in the space of 5) had hiden the toilet paper away, right on the day Elisa dropped by and had to pee. So we ran to the public library down the road and stole all of its toilet paper. Becky O'Malley - upon learning this - condemned us of stealing against the Catholic Archdiosese and the next day, brough me a package of 12 rolls, which lasted me till the day I left.
Becky was the first true American friend I had. Apparently she had noticed me thanks to the school bus incident. You see, I didn't belong to the yellow school bus that picked kids up from their houses. I usually took the public bus, but somehow that day I needed to get home fast. So I kinda just climbed on the yellow bus, hoping the lady wouldn't noticed. But of course she did, stopped the vehicle, and tried to kick me out. And well - I begged, please, i'm from Vietnam, I don't know how to get home, please take me. I must have reminded her of a strayed dog, because she let me stay. True, I was a strayed dog. In the back, Becky had a great laugh out of the incident, and noticed the next day that I was in her homeroom. So she asked me to come over her house to watch some animation.
I have too many stories to tell about Ben Franklin High School - its notorious green roof, the Rapuzel-haired Ms. Fontenot, Coach Firneno - an ex-marine who taught with a yard-long rulerstick and many many other characters that could have come straight from the satire The Confederacy of Dunces. Kaitlin Baudier took me back to Franklin the night before I left, so I could glue my nose to the glass door and squint at the status of Monsieur Benjamin, standing so proudly in the centre of the hallway, like he has always. Kaitlin is the female version of a true Huck Finn. Her famous Hess story goes like this: Mr. Hess - the economic teacher - always wore red socks. His classic pose: slumping in the armchair, arms folded, his feet on the table, red socks exposing, the corner of his mouth sagged down , ready to spit out sarcastic comments as the students poured into class. One day, Kaitlin realized she also had red socks on. So she pulled up a desk straight in front of his table, put her feet up and assumed the same pose. Hess said nothing but looked at her. They just sat there for 10 mins, red socks looking at each other. All the students pointed, laughed, talked, then got really quiet. Eventually, Kaitlin couldn't hold it anymore, so she broke out into a laugh. "Ha!" Hess said, put his feet down, and started the class.
Bruce was my first kiss - a 6 feet 4 muscular guy with a huge smile and goofy mind. Like Kaitlin, Bruce is the kind of kid that can sit down at all cafeteria tables (the Asian table, the Black table, the Gothic squatting group, the nerds) and would be welcomed. Everytime he saw me running down the hall, bookpack unzipped and notebooks spilling out, he'd pick me up with one arm, hailed me across his shoulder and carried me and my books to the next class. On weekend, he'd take us out on his beat-up truck - whose wheel was not even working unless you banged on it hard. We cruised down the water front, along the lake, veering left and right, bruised as we smashed side to side in the tight cabin.
One day, Kaitlin and Paoblo - a sturdy red-headed with a long beard - were fighting in the hall. Paoblo smashed Kaitlin's head, so she punched him in the stomach and pulled his beard down. Just their luck, Ms. Gills - the grumpy Creative Writing teacher - turned the corner and caught them. So, they stopped as quick as lightning, stood mellowly side by side like two innocent statues. Ms. Gills looked at them tentatively, and decided they were making out, so she gave them a PDA offense. Kaitlin later explained to her parents, "No, we were fighting, and Paoblo is dating a man right now!"
Apparently Paoblo has become gay - which was funny to me since he once asked me out on a date. James Page - my biggest high school crush - has also declared that he is gay. And Brian Pittman - the anime fanatic - got married and played a vampire movie in the church (the priest ran yelling, you cannot play images of the undead here!) Elisa and Kaitlin are now living in FEMA trailers because their houses were flooded. Ben Franklin has become a charter school. Ngoc has committed suicide. And Lanisha died last May of a brain tumor, after beling locked out by her crack-head boyfriend. I remember she was so pretty, the prettiest girl in school. I always bumped into her crying in the bathroom because her family did not approve their relationship ("he is white, but so what!")
And... life goes on.
Does Ms. Fontenot still have long hair? Does Coach Firneno still have his yard-long rulerstick to make girls bend down so he can check the length of their skirts? Mr. Hess still wears red socks?
Life must go on.
Goodbye New Orleans. I come back there everytime I need a little bit of soul, a little air to breath, a little right to be ridiculous, a little jazz down in the French Quarter - a little me.
Goodbye New Orleans, time to move on.