Sep 17, 200912:00 AM
Joie d'Eve

Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans

Small World

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!
 

Reader Comments:
Sep 18, 2009 09:18 am
 Posted by  joev

Had me own run ins here in NOLA and I'm not even a native. It is a small world. Odd how the past has a way of exacting a bit of retribution eh?

Sep 18, 2009 10:18 am
 Posted by  JGClingenpeel

Last time I was there I didn't have many of these incidents. But it happened enough in the past that I was sure it would again everywhere I went. Each time I came back to New Orleans to visit, I'd run into people in the strangest places. The cutest girl in class working as a cashier at a Winn Dixie. A childhood friend looking like a junkie and not recognizing me even when he looked me in the eye. Two people who I remember disliked each other as little kids found together, dating, and happy. It's always inconvenient, and always awkward. But you compare notes for thirty seconds, mentally check off all the ways you're better/worse off than the other person, and move on. And I don't think it happens as much anywhere else.

Sep 22, 2009 12:35 pm
 Posted by  tmloving

Maybe it's just certain people that these things happen to, Eve. I've run into local car dealers in Disneyland in California, former college friends in San Antonio, family members in the mountains of New Mexico. It's gotten to where we look for people from our home city where ever we vacation. The latest was a waitress at the Disney World resort...her hometown on her name tag identified her as from our city!

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Joie d'Eve

Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans

about

Eve is further proof, if any is needed, that New Orleans girls can never escape the city. After living here since the age of 3 and graduating from Ben Franklin High School, Eve moved to Columbia, Mo., where she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Missouri School of Journalism and became truly, unhealthily obsessed with grammar.

She had originally intended to strike out to New York City and work in the cutthroat magazine industry there, but after Katrina, Eve felt a strong pull to return home, to her roots, her family, her waterlogged and struggling city – and a much more forgiving work atmosphere that would allow her to skip a routine of everyday makeup and size 0 designer label business suits and enjoy the occasional cocktail or three with an absurdly fattening lunch. She moved back home in January 2008 and lives in Mid-City with her two daughters, Ruby and Georgia; her stepson, Elliot; and her husband, Robert Peyton.

Eve blogs about the joys and struggles of living in post-Katrina New Orleans, the unique problems and delights of raising a child in such a diverse and challenging city – including her experiences with the public education system – and her always entertaining and extremely colorful family.

Eve has won numerous writing awards, including the Pirates Alley Faulkner Society Gold Medal, the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence award for column-writing and Press Club of New Orleans awards for her Editor’s Note in New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and for this blog, most recently winning the award for "Best Feature Affiliated Blog."

She welcomes comments, advice, empty flattery, recipes, drink invitations and – most especially – grammatical or linguistic debates.

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