Written by Sarah K. Inman
Saturday, 21 March 2009 03:52
On a gray winter day, the temperature rises, providing relief from the latest cold front. Along the river a cyclist pedals with silver hula hoops slung over her shoulder. She stops to say hello to a poet who contemplates the River and watches passers-by between his shifts at two different jobs. As the sun pokes from behind the clouds and lowers into the west, the hula hooper rides away.
In the Central Business District, seven entertainers—two acrobats, a juggler, a mime, a ballerina, a flag twirler, and the hula hooper-- alternate short performances upon a clean, well-lighted stage. The audience, members of the National Automotive Dealership Association (NADA), which has its 92nd convention here in the Big Easy, regards them with mild curiosity.
Backstage, between sets, the paid revelers dance dirty, thrusting their hips inappropriately. One of the acrobats, while trying to juggle, drops a ball. A loud thunk overpowers the ambient music. He’s a tall, beautiful man, one whose mere presence demands attention. He retrieves the fallen ball, slides it up the front leg of his unitard, and discusses what he gets paid to model underwear.
After an hour of entertainment, the buxom ballerina escorts her cohorts outside through an alley so they cannot be seen by the partygoers. Along the way, they pass a Washington pundit and his political strategist wife who prepare to take the stage. From the green room, the performers are free to listen. The man with the serpent’s head quizzes the audience on its knowledge of American presidents as the handsome acrobat goes outside for a smoke. The ribbon twirler and hula hooper munch healthy snacks while hearing the speech, but the mime from South Africa wants to talk.
“What do you think of the new president?” her voice is a high-pitched bell’s tinkle. “I think he’s just a wonderful, confident man. I’m so happy he’s president.”
“I’m relieved,” the hula hooper says.
“How long does it take you to get made up?” the flag twirler who sews costumes asks.
“About an hour and a half,” the mime replies.
“Your make-up is flawless,” the hula hooper says and then adds, “I’ve seen bad white face.”
“Oh, so have I,” the ballerina/burlesque dancer/Pilates instructor agrees. Then she asks, “What do you think of the economy?”
“The entertainment business has always done well, even during the depression,” the flag twirler/costume designer assures. “Ever since I can remember, things have been bad in New Orleans, and I’ve been here since the 80’s. Whenever I’ve been employed, I’ve always had more than one job.” On Mondays, she explains, she has a casual waitressing gig, one which involves bussing tables for famous musicians, one she wants to find a substitute for because she can farm herself out for better money this week with the NADA convention. Also on Monday, the hula hooper will teach English, one acrobat will teach yoga, the ballerina will dance burlesque, the other acrobat will sell drugs, the mime will clean houses, and the juggler, will, perhaps, just juggle.
While a conversation with anyone who lives somewhere else in the country reveals soul-crushing economic anxiety, most who live in New Orleans have at one time or another dealt with this. Here, the hustle is, and always has been, a fact of life.
Later that night, in the bathroom of a French Quarter club, a Camel Toe Lady Stepper drops her iTouch in the toilet. “Oh, fuck,” she screams. Backstage, the MC munches an apple provided by Whole Foods while trying to keep his mustache in place, and the bartender, tired from the dry hump booth, collapses on a couch. They gather to raise funds for the Roots of Music Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing instruments for school children.
The ballerina performs burlesque. Then the hula hooper hoops to Bollywood-esque music from the popular film Slumdog Millionaire. A happy but awkward dance sequence closes the movie. One brother becomes a millionaire; the other gets shot up in a bathtub and dies, all this amid poverty-stricken India. Knowing this, the hula hooper summons the spirit of the film as she lies on her back, rotating a hula hoop in each foot.
At the front bar, two women discuss vibrators, new technologically advanced sex toys that can be programmed to move to the beat of an iPod’s bass and ones that are custom-built with engravings of Tank Girl.
“Your pussy is worth $300,” the woman who works for the film industry declares.
“Necessity dictates invention,” the hula hooper adds.
“And my pussy needs a $300 vibrator,” the tired bartender agrees.
Not long past midnight, with the silver hoops glowing in the dark, the hula hooper rolls home to the Bywater. A check from the NADA gig is folded and snug to her person. About four blocks from the Industrial Canal, the streetlights glow, but there aren’t enough of them to keep the area well lit. Across from the funeral home on St. Claude, white people gather for art’s sake. From the gallery new noise fills the air, quiet, eclectic music. People spill onto the sidewalk with plastic cups of cheap wine. A compact car with a bumper sticker of Obama, a small, circular one that depicts his smiling blue face, is parked in front of the “no parking” sign beside hula hooper’s home. She rolls up to her house and sighs relief, knowing that there are other people to rob.
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