When I moved to New York City from New Orleans in 1992 one of the first things I realized was that there are quite a few fellow Louisianans walking these streets, riding these subways, and having a blast, as I was. Turns out there were many first things I would need to realize – such as that the stereotype that New Yorkers are rude is a complete exaggeration: by and large, New Yorkers have just as much (and sometimes more) genuine hospitality in their DNA as the southerners I grew up around, but let’s not quibble. I would also quickly realize that New York City has four distinct seasons and that it can snow as late as May (which happened in my first year).
The fact that there are so many of us from the Bayou State inspired me to toy (seriously!) with the idea of creating a Louisiana Embassy. Since New York is America’s embassy city, what with the United Nations clinging to Manhattan’s East Side, why not add one more, very much needed embassy to help sort out the pertinent issues of Louisianans living in or visiting our fair city?
Like the UN embassies, the Louisiana Embassy would be a place for official guidance, of course. But it could also be a resource for helping with job searches, finding apartments, providing a social outlet, and, most important – a place to purchase hard-to-find-above-Shreveport food items such as boudin, crawfish, tasso, and other culinary goodies not reliably available here. There’d be a restaurant, of course, and a music venue. I SO wanted a place like this when I landed here (not on a heaving vessel like so many of our forebears, but in a Ryder rental truck, co-piloted by my pal Victor Andrews, on a 50-hour drive from New Orleans that involved lots of cigarettes, a box full of mix tapes, and an abundance of Vic-N-Moe hilarity – but we’ll save that story for another post).
Obviously, I got busy with other things, so the Louisiana Embassy never happened (though I still think it’s a capital idea). So, what am I getting at? Oh, I don’t know. This is a blog post. What do you want from me? Sheesh. Oh, that’s right – I intended to write about being a Coonass in New York.
Here’s my favorite part about being a Coonass in New York: you don’t stick out. Rather, you blend in, just as people with Bette Midler’s “fried egg on their heads” do. Just as the Naked Cowboy in Times Square does; just as the other 19 million or so people who live within the immediate metro area do. One of my favorite not-sticking-out people was a guy on the No. 4 train going uptown one morning. He had on office slacks, a short-sleeved cotton shirt, and penny loafers. His hair was bright orange (naturally – not that there’s anything wrong with that). The odd-anywhere-else thing about him was that he was holding – not a briefcase or backpack or other going-to-work apparatus – but a box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes in one hand, and an empty bowl and spoon in the other. Well I noticed this because I’m a Coonass, me, after all. But no one else seemed to be the least bit amused or bothered or curious. My burning question for Cereal Boy was, “Where’s the milk?”
Another such blend-in-er was a lady all dressed up as if going to an elaborate event – full ball gown, opera-length gloves with pearl buttons, sparkly shoes, and a matching sparkly handbag. Nothing fishy about such a getup when you’re in the vicinity of Lincoln Center on any given evening, but it was only 8:30 in the morning. Is she coming from or going to a fabulous memory? one might wonder. But that wasn’t the thing that actually aroused my curiosity. What did was the fact of her walking up and down the subway car asking for a dollar. Not “any change” or “something to eat” or some such. Nope. She required a full dollar. She’d ask, “You got a dollar?” as she passed each person. No explanation as to why she needed a dollar (I was robbed and need to get home! or Four of my sequins need to be replaced pronto!) No one gave her anything from what I could tell, and she got off at the next stop.
As you can imagine, my being one of many Coonasses in the city musters no suspicion, alarm, or curiosity. Mind you, we don’t typically wear sparkly evening gowns on the subway – at any hour – or carry Corn Flakes and a bowl on our commute to work. We get nary so much as a second glance. And why should we? We’re not strolling casually along Central Park West with a pot of crawfish in one hand or playing a fiddle or accordion for the tourists at Battery Park, or talking loudly like Justin Wilson on a bus going uptown. Nope – we just blend in, like all the other New Yorkers. And that’s what it’s like being a Coonass in this big, baggy old town.
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