Two men, one black and wearing a baseball cap, the other white and covered with sores from what must have been a rough night before, sit side by side on the Moonwalk. Both are seated on their own inverted bread crates. The former has an overturned plastic barrel at his knees and clutches a pair of drumsticks. At any moment he might be expected to create rhythm, though he does not do so. Another man comes by and sits on a nearby bench. The three men seem to know each other, so much so that the would-be drummer moves to the bench, leaving his bread crate and drum behind but still holding his drumsticks. There is little evidence that fortune has done more favors for the new arrival than for the other two men, but he does have one advantage: He carries a cell phone. To the drummer, the new arrival is a conduit to the world. He begs to use the phone and for the next few minutes is engaged in what sounds like an angry commentary directed at whomever is listening,
Nearby is a shopping basket belonging to one of the men. A pink blanket covers the possessions of his life. A different basket for a different owner is parked behind a pole. Another man, this one wearing a red knit cap and a red sweatshirt, arrives. Though he is color coordinated, his place in life seems no greater than the others’. The men sit and talk. And the drummer holds tightly to his sticks.
Life moves in many directions along the Moonwalk across the levee from Jackson Square. Joggers, tourists, locals, losers and lovers share the domain of the drummer and his friends, without incident and rarely bothering each other. At this spot where the Mississippi River makes its widest and deepest turn into the belly of a sparkling city, there are too many appeals to the senses for any one event to hold attention very long.
A tug-pushed barge makes the bend, intersecting the wake of the Canal Street ferry, now docked briefly at Algiers, safely out of the path of an emerging freighter gliding downriver past the behemoth Carnival cruise ship but within echo range of the riverboat Natchez’s calliope.
An engine-pulled train hurries down the track, its rumble and whistle blotting the calliope’s sound while leaving in its dust a red riverfront trolley, whose path parallels the train’s but whose frequent stops allow the tour buses, lured by the calliope, to cross the rails.
Meanwhile, the drumless drummer, the man in red and the guy with the cell phone are in heavy conversation, strategizing about the fate of their worlds. The man with the bruises, still parked on his bread box, stays apart. He stares toward Decatur Street with his back turned to the river’s choreography.
In rapid fire, the calliope plays one song after another: “I’m Getting Married in the Morning,” “That’s Amore,” “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?” and then, as the train approaches, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” somehow reaching the line “Dinah, won’t you blow your horn?” between whistle blasts.
By now the man with the drumsticks has returned to his crate, still positioned before the overturned “drum,” which is waiting to be beaten. Eight minutes have passed in the life of the Moonwalk, and the rhythm is just beginning. •
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