On a recent Sunday morning I had parked at the corner of South Roman Street and Tulane Avenue, up the block from St. Patrick’s church. As I opened the car door, I noticed something that would change the rest of my day.
On the opposite corner a body, that of a man, was sprawled on the sidewalk. Such sights are unfortunately common in the city. The prevailing questions are always: homicide? Or “under the influence?”
Since the man was lying uncomfortably face up on a steaming sidewalk with the bright morning sun glaring right into his face, I feared the worst. Nearby was an old vendor’s cart covered with blankets. That, I assumed, was his world— a battered collection of possessions archived from trash sites that he was pushing toward a nearby shelter. The cart stood practically unnoticed.
I thought about approaching the man to see if there was any sign of life, but then I thought better. Instead, I called 9-1-1. I felt some vindication when the operator’s instructions included not going near the person.
Instead, I gave what information I could – male, copper colored skin, no visible sign of violence.
During this time two men walked down the sidewalk. Both stopped; looked down and then started walking again. I told them that I had called 9-1-1. They seemed relieved, as a person might be when facing a human tragedy, but not sure what to do. A few moments later one of the men came back and thanked me for making the call. I nodded appreciatively while knowing that what I did was instinctive and not heroic. In the distance I could hear the real heroes on the way.
There would be five murders in New Orleans that weekend. The EMS squads would handle every one of them, and now they were perhaps heading toward a sixth.
From the time of my call, which was answered quickly, to the arrival of a police unit, and then the ambulance, was only a matter of minutes. It was all very impressive.
Quickly the emergency workers gathered around the man and then I saw a weak wave of his wrist. The victim was obviously very sick, nevertheless an emergency worker turned to me and signaled a thumbs-up. The patient was going to survive. Moments later the man was carried on a stretcher into the ambulance. Other than one wrist, he was still motionless.
Left behind was the cart, still topped with blankets. A policeman approached it and pulled back the covering. To everyone›s shock, there was a woman in there—and she wasn’t happy. All the commotion had awakened her. She’s had nothing to do with the fallen man. She did see when he arrived at the corner. She had watched when he sat down and then passed out. Now she insisted, while pulling the blanket over her head, she wanted to go back to sleep.
Within a three-block radius of the corner of South Roman and Tulane Avenue there is a hospital complex, a church and a homeless shelter; yet for two people, life crashed somewhere in the middle. I have thought about both of them. Each I assume survived the day, but then what would happen on the day after?
Lyrics from Kris Kristofferson’s song, “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” came to mind:
“There ain’t nothin’ short of dyin’
half as lonesome as the sound
on the sleepin’ city sidewalks
Sunday mornin’ comin’ down.”
For the two souls from the corner, may their worst Sundays be over.