Apparently a couple of times a year I need to use my little corner of the interwebs here to rant about something. I’m going to call this one “What I Should Have Said to that Prick or What New Orleans Has to Teach the Rest of America.”
So last night I was at my place of employment, facilitating the good times of visitors to this city, when I was encountered by a drunk, would-be patron in an expensive suit, wearing Mardi Gras beads and lighting up a cigar, the smell of which was only outstenched by his air of entitlement. I informed him of our “no-cigar” policy when he proceeded to call me “sweetheart” and tell me how sexy I was (read: diminishing my power through sexual harassment) and then asked me where my nametag was. (I know, right?) I informed him that he was not at Applebee’s.
So, while there is a great trad jazz band playing, and people expertly swing dancing, and some unrivaled people-watching unfolding around the man, oblivious to it all, he starts to spew a litany of half-baked neo-con drivel to his colleagues, and, because of his volume, also to the rest of the bar. After hearing the seventh “Do you know that you don’t live in a democracy?!” I finally cracked and said clumsily, “No, actually it’s a fascist corporate plutocracy.” (The seasoned bartender in me knows that you don’t respond to people like this guy, they are like negative attention-seeking children, but I couldn’t help it). Then my coworker chimed in, much more coolly, “I don’t live where you do, Man.”
I thought about that. This man surely lives in that “America.” The one I occasionally have to face when I need to go to the cell phone store. The one of snaking strip malls populated by corporate franchises. Big gated houses, where you live as far away from people who don’t look like you as you can get. And out there, the whole point of existence is to accumulate wealth, and then to parade that wealth so that you feel better than other people. And, of course, there are people in New Orleans who have that value system. But, more than any other place in this country I have been, in New Orleans, people don’t live to accumulate wealth. Work is that thing that is necessary to do so that you can enjoy life.
This guy kept yelling, to anyone who would listen, “Have you read the Constitution?!” I wish I had asked him if he had read the Declaration of Independence recently, because there is a founding principle in there that I think the guy has missed: the pursuit of happiness.
I finally figured out what this guy’s problem was: His entire worldview was collapsing in the environment of the bar that evening. He wanted to be treated like the rich guy, and no one around him cared about what he had. People of vastly different backgrounds, from all over the world, were loosening up and drinking and dancing and talking to people, and maybe laughing a little too loudly, and taking the lead from the locals, and us who work at the club, that this is a place to have a good time, to not care what anyone thinks, that everyone is equal on that side of the bar, to abandon care, to have fun, and to be happy. And, yes, here in New Orleans sometimes we pursue happiness to a fault, but I think the lesson we have to teach people visiting from “America” is that laughter and dancing and abandon and pleasure are true happiness, not the accumulation of money for its own sake. I cannot tell you the amount of times I have seen middle class couples on vacation, sitting in silence on the other side of the bar with NO IDEA how to have a good time. And I am proud of the fact that I have truly helped a lot of people loosen up and figure out how to do it.
I thought about how this man was a symbol for a lot of other people in this country right now–white men mostly who are wealthy or who have pipe dreams of being wealthy (I’m looking at you Tea Party), who are throwing a tantrum because their “America” is changing. (Read: We have a black president, and a woman Speaker of the House.) And all that fear and anger is predicated on the fallacy that the more money and power you have, the happier you are. The guy was there, in the middle of this incredibly great moment, and blind to all of it, because he wanted to be the richest, most important person in the room. And, perhaps, if I had been a little better rested and a little more articulate I could have helped him see that.
Or, maybe he was just a dick.