I was driving up Jackson Avenue one afternoon, as the saying goes, just minding my own business.
I came upon a man sprawled out in the road up ahead. He looked drunk. I watched as he propped himself up, waving one arm wildly towards the sky as if to gesture his demons.
As I approached him I eased into the left lane and resolutely avoided eye contact as I crawled by.
On the sidewalk, two or three people stood watching. The impassive looks on their faces matched the thoughts running through my head: Not the first drunk I’ve ever seen on the streets of New Orleans; won’t be the last.
As I eased back into the right lane, about 100 feet past the guy, there was a car pulled over with its engine running, and at the wheel was a friend I hadn’t seen in a year or two.
“Hey, what’s up?” I called.
“He’s been shot!” she said.
“What the hell?” I gave a quick glance back at the guy and then told her: “I thought he was drunk.”
“So did I,” she said. “But there’s a whole bunch of blood. I’m calling 9-1-1.”
I did a split-second mental inventory but came up empty: I don’t know even know the most basic life-saving skills. Hell, I don’t even know how to take a pulse.
But I have seen a lot of movies. And it dawned on me immediately what to do. I got out of my car and dug out of my trunk the tangle of Bungee cords that I always keep for random travel and emergencies – though such tend towards broken bicycles and bulky furniture rather than gunshot victims.
I ran to the guy and found him sitting in a pool of blood yelling his head off. “It hurts!” he screamed. “IT HURTS!”
Not so incoherent after all; in fact, directly to the point.
“Look,” I said, “Let me try to help you. But this is going to hurt, too.” And that’s when I took one of the Bungee cords and did what I’ve seen on TV a million times before. I wrapped it around his leg, tied it off and then tightened it.
Looking at all the blood, I was reminded of the difference in color between a lot of blood in one place and just a trace, like a cut; it’s darker; thicker; and undeniably more unsettling and scary.
I looked over to the sidewalk and now there were about a dozen people watching us. All I could think was: What the hell am I doing here? And we stayed like that – me, the guy and the bystanders – until the ambulance arrived. It seemed like forever but was probably just a minute or two.
And that’s when things got weird.
Two EMTs casually walked up with their latex gloves on and went to work. Nobody said anything to me. In fact, no one even made eye contact with me. I looked down at myself and saw that my arms and hands were covered in blood.
The cops arrived about that time and immediately started taping off the scene, closing the street, pulling on their latex gloves and pulling out their clipboards.
But here’s the thing: Nobody looked at me. Neither of the EMTs acknowledged my presence and the cops started interviewing everyone but me.
It was really weird. Have you ever felt like you were oddly invisible? Alone in a crowd?
I stood there for what seemed like forever – but was probably just a minute or two. Then I slowly walked back to my car, which, it turns out, I had left with the door open. My friend was still parked next to it.
“Everything OK?” she asked.
“I have no idea,” I said.
We stood there watching as the EMTs lifted the guy up and into the ambulance and the detectives poked around looking for shell casings and other evidence.
We were invisible.
Finally we looked at each other and shrugged. As I started my car, I realized that I was inside the police perimeter.
Then a uniformed cop motioned me forward. He must have been a rookie; the guy looked like he was 16, all fresh faced and snappily dressed and shined. He lifted the tape as I inched forward. As I drove under it, he leaned towards me and said: “Nice job with the tourniquet.”
Tourniquet! That is what it’s called! I had been trying to remember the whole time.
I drove home with something between a smile and a grimace stuck on my face. I took the longest shower I have ever taken in my life.
The next day, the New Orleans Police blotter read: “Shooting at 11:48 a.m. at Jackson Ave. & S. Robertson. Male victim DOB 12-25-94. Injuries were not life-threatening.”
They managed to tell the story much more succinctly than I.