Sep 17, 200912:00 AM
Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans
New Orleans might look like a big city, but everyone who lives here knows just how small it really is.
Errol Laborde recently wrote a blog titled “The Incident” in which he discussed being the victim of a scam in the parking lot of a Rouses. A woman claimed that she had been struck by his car while he was stalled in traffic. He was very concerned about the repercussions, and in the piece, he writes: “I did spot a departing shopper whom I recognized as having once worked for the city attorney’s office. I explained what happened, thinking that maybe he was aware of some obscure law that applied to victimless accidents. He merely smiled and said, ‘I wouldn’t worry about it.’”
When fellow blogger Tim McNally and I met over coffee last week, we discussed Errol’s incident, and Tim made an excellent point. “Scams like that happen in every city in America,” Tim said. “But only in New Orleans will you meet someone you know from the city attorney’s office right after it happens!”
God, that is so true! When I first moved back here, I was initially thrilled at reconnecting with people I hadn’t seen in a decade. I ran into high school friends at the Bulldog; my junior high sweetheart’s parents, who drove us to hundreds of bad movies and awkward school dances, at PJ’s; my former history teacher while out walking my dog; my parents’ friends in parking garages and restaurants and parties all over town.
Then it started to get a little less quaint and charming. It started when I was at Dorignac’s buying three bottles of cheap wine, a six-pack of Abita, a bag of Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles and a pint of Cherry Garcia. It was not a grocery list I was especially proud of, but they were definitely necessities. As I stood there with my basket of junk food and booze, I ran into none other than my old gym teacher. As you probably can I guess, I was not an athletic superstar at any point in my life, and this woman and I never had particular affection for each other. Her basket was full of fruits and veggies and granola bars, and I could feel her scorn and total lack of surprise as she surveyed my items. We made polite chitchat, but I emerged from the store feeling like I’d just failed at playing volleyball all over again.
“Just once,” I thought, “I’d like to be able to go somewhere without running into someone!”
Not long after that, I started running into the exact people I didn’t want to see at the exact moment that I didn’t want to see them. I ran into the boy who broke my heart in high school while I was wearing sweatpants and glasses and my daughter was throwing a fit on the floor of Whole Foods. I ran into my mom’s old boss while I was having a girls’ night out and my daughter’s preschool teacher while my husband and I were having a fight.
“Why is this town so damn small?!” I’d grumble to myself in the car on the way home.
And then my daughter got sick. It turned out to be minor, but she was admitted to Children’s Hospital for four days, and at the time, we were terrified.
To understand what happened next, I have to take you back to 1989, back to my stuffy fourth grade classroom in Lakeview, and introduce you to the terrible person I was as a 9-year-old girl. (I was not unique in this, I assure you; 9-year-old girls are by definition pretty much awful.) I’ve already acknowledged that I was an athletic failure, and this might lead you to believe I was a nerd who asked the teacher if I could have extra sentences to diagram at recess for fun. You’d be correct. If, however, you made the leap to assume that this meant that I was nice to other nerds, you’d be mistaken. For a few brief days in fourth grade, I was somehow in with the in crowd, and when my new friends told me that I had to cut ties with the lame kids I’d been hanging around with previously, I did so. To my favorite of these kids, I whispered: “We can still be secret friends, but I can’t be seen talking to you in public anymore. Sorry.”
I am still so ashamed of this incident, of that fact that I was so deliberately hurtful to someone who had always been kind to me, that I remember every single word of the exchange. I never tracked this girl down to apologize, and to be honest, I guess I’d hoped she’d forgotten.
So. Guess who went away to medical school and became a fabulous pediatrician. Of course: My uncool “secret friend.” And guess who decided to come back to New Orleans to work with the sick children in her hometown. Yep. And now guess who walked into my daughter’s hospital room when she was sick. Precisely.
My old friend couldn’t have been more competent and professional. My daughter couldn’t have loved her more. I couldn’t have felt like more of a jerk. (“Could you please go back in time and not be mean to people who will take care of my child in the future?” my husband asked me later.)
We didn’t say a word about what a rotten kid I’d been back in 1989, and we agreed to meet for a drink to catch up as soon as my daughter was well.
It was a typical New Orleans story with a happy ending –– except that we both got too busy and never did make it out for that drink. And honestly, it may be just as well: God only knows who we might have run into!