THE NEW ORLEANS MONOLOGUES
C. Rosalind Bell
Copyright 2008; C. Rosalind Bell
(In Order of Appearance)
ELAINE MADONNA BERGERON (African American woman 50-55 yrs)
PEGGY Le BLANC (White woman 50-55 yrs)
DeSHON JACKSON (African American young man 19 yrs)
BERNADETTE DeLaCROIX (African American woman 60 + yrs)
SHEILA ROUGEAU (African American woman 25 yrs old)
W. R. DANFORTH (African American man 47 yrs old)
MARTINE MARIA MARTIN (African American woman 29 yrs old)
LENORA JENKINS (African American woman 45 yrs old )
NACA GOMEZ (Latina woman 23 yrs old)
MELINDA BARKER (White woman 19 yrs old)
RAY PHIM (Vietnamese man 38 yrs old)
ARNOLD BURKS (African American man 28 yrs old)
THE MAYOR’S ASSISTANT (African American man 32 yrs old)
JILL MAJOR (African American woman 22yrs old)
GILDA SIMONSON (White woman 48 yrs old)
DR. FREDERICK BARRY (White man 39 yrs old)
TRACY FRROM (White woman 33 yrs old)
BOBBY MINDAL (East Indian man 39 yrs old)
MEDIA and THAT’S RIGHTS (may use any 7 cast members available)
New Orleans and beyond
Some months after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in the late summer of 2005.
1. LOOKING BACK
2. HUMAN GARBAGE
3. SINKING SHIP
4. PINK, SPONGY HAIR ROLLERS
5. CUTIE PIE ANDERSON
6. RINKY DINK
7. SHEILA, BENNY, AND THEY BABY
8. FEELING ALL UNSANCTIFIED
11. HURRICANE GRANNY
15. JANE’S ADDICTION
17. BIRDS AND BEANS
18. LEAP BACK INTO THE WORLD
20. THE WINDS COME
21. THE MAYOR’S ASSISTANT
22. ALL THAT WATER
23. TRYING TO KILL US
24. GO-GO BOOTS
25. HALF A TANK
27. FIXING TO DIE
29. KISS MY ASS
33. MY BABIES
35. TWO CITIES
36. PURPLE MOUNTAINS
38. MY ROUTINE
39. ELIZABETH CONSUELA RUTH ELLA HAYES
40. SEARCH OUR CONSCIENCES
41. SKINNY JESUS
42. NEW WORLD
Actors enter stage in black. Lights up to reveal a tableaux. Actors, except Elaine, slowly leave the stage.
Sometime you look back on a thing and you can’t do nothing but just wonder. Water. A can opener . . . a basketball. Some gas . . . garbage . . . you never know what’ll save your life . . . so you want me to look back on it, huh. I don’t know how far you want me to go back so I’m just going start from where I think the beginning is. And Ima talk to you like you a friend or something, right? Ace, boon coon, or just a friend? Doesn’t matter? Oh, okay.
Well, this is where Miss Katrina start as far as I’m concerned.
They be out there all the time, you know. Human garbage is what I called them. These men. Bums. I’m sick of them, me. I live in . . . make that used to live Mid-City. Anyway, they be out there all time of the day and night. Ain’t got no job, ain’t hitting a lick at nobody’s stick. Just out there hanging out. Ain’t doing nobody no good. But I’m lying. I’m wrong. They got a job all right. They in the supply business . . . if you know what I mean.
Why they got to be in decent people neighborhood? And don’t think the police is the answer. Shit, half of the Police Department probably in cahoots with them addicts if you ask me. Now I know they ain’t all addicts cuz they wouldn’t have enough sense to be out there making money . . . but they all addicts to me.
I know one thing, this wouldn’t be happening if me and my neighbors was all white . . . I tell you that.
And since we talking about New Orleans here—I may as well clear something up. I’m not talking about looking white—I’m talking about certifiable white—like you can look it up in the records . . . your driving license and your birth certificate . . . it’s where you lived in the ’50s and ’60s before we could live anywhere our money would let us. . . and that’s another thing—that day still ain’t here. You think you can find somebody black along that stretch of St. Charles Avenue where the tourists be about to break they neck, ducking tree branches and poles, hanging out the streetcar with a camera to catch a picture of them big ass houses?
Think again. Nothing black there but the maid and the butler and the man driving Miss Daisy. I hear they got some kind of covenant, supposed to be secret, but ain’t nobody never kept nothing secret in New Orleans except they recipes.
But like I was saying, you’ll never see one of those good for nothing drug bums in no white people’s neighborhood. Not less he riddled with bullet holes and buckshot. And another thing, you know everybody in New Orleans who ain’t black want to classify theyself as white now. I was growing up, it wasn’t like that. Them Greeks, them I-talians, Sicilians, Cubans, all them people dark as anybody in my family used to couldn’t even get into no white clubs.
This is off the record, right?
Katrina brought me back to God. I’d lost all faith in him and his so-called Almightiness before the storm—quite a ways before the storm.
This gorgeous, immeasurably wonderful in ways too many to count city of New Orleans had become ghastly, unsightly, a demon strewn with reckless abandon across the magnolia scents of my most precious memories.
My friends decried my absolute devotion to stay with the old battered and scarred lady. They chided me for years: “Peggy, you need to get off that sinking ship. Come out to Metairie where the living is truly easy—where you can trust your neighbors, you know, where our children”—now grandchildren—“can play safe and be with each other—go to decent schools that will prepare them for their futures, where they can meet the young man or woman they’re to marry, where we can carry on the traditions of our parents.
Understand what I’m saying. New Orleans had become too . . . too full of people with their hands out. Even if they wanted to work . . . we’re a tourist town . . . there’s just so many jobs to go around . . .
Not many people will tell you this, but they’re surely thinking it . . . the hurricane was a good thing for New Orleans. One way or the other this city was going to blow up.
I think the intervention of God was the best way. We have a very good chance to reclaim this place.
Don’t look at me like that. I know what I’m saying. This city needed to be taken back. You know there’s a saying, a place for everything and everything in its place? You know that saying? Well, it’s useful for people, too.
Understand me. I know times have changed. I’m no fool. I know that. We can hardly get young ladies to be presented to society anymore, and I’m talking about from some of the city’s best families. We’ve had to change our charter for the debutantes and allow all sorts of nonsense that we wouldn’t have allowed before . . . many of these young ladies have already been defiled, yet to have any semblance of tradition we have had to turn a blind eye.
Lives were in disarray long before the storm.
You know who I miss? Dutch Morial of all people. I did not vote for him. That was too odd. A black man running for mayor of New Orleans! But I also did not flee the city of my birth. I did not run to the outskirts of town like every other person on my block. I did the “wait and see.” And what I saw, I liked.
But that was then and this is now. . . as soon as we get that very odd man, Mr. Nagin, out of here, we can reclaim New Orleans . . . reclaim this city, set her back on course. She’s lost her footing, but thank you, God, for your intervention, because now we can take her back to where she used to be.
Peggy LeBlanc, former City Council Member, Garden District Resident, New Orleans, Louisiana bred and born.
PINK, SPONGY HAIR ROLLERS
The thing I find most frustrating, the thing that perturbs me greatly, vexes me no end about Katrina is this: We are not all poor.
The no good media did a number on us.
We are not all poor, bedraggled, forlorn. But you wouldn’t know it from what the news showed you. All you saw, all you heard were those poor anguished, godforsaken souls walking around New Orleans in shower shoes and pink, spongy hair rollers, with a baby strapped to each hip.
Did you know New Orleans has more black architects per capita than anyplace in the country?
We don’t all live in the 9th Ward . . . in fact, some of us have never even seen the 9th Ward. I live, make that lived, right down the street from Dillard University in an area called Gentilly. I need to tell you that I’m a homeowner in a neighborhood of all homeowners. I’m the 4th generation in the DeLaCroix family to have owned a home.
I do think it was deliberate, it was a conspiracy to create a category called “Black People.” Tar us with the same brush. It wasn’t enough that the flood came to destroy me and my neighbors and everything we hold dear, that wasn’t enough, the whole wide world had to be treated to a jumbo platter of lies . . . there is such a thing as the sin of omission, you know, and that’s what I’m here to correct. I’m here to put back into the story what was so injudiciously left out. . .
CUTIE PIE ANDERSON
Yeah, yeah, I know I’m getting there. I had a life before her, you know.
What you don’t want is a slow moving storm. Katrina was slow. You’d think the faster a thing hit you the worse off you’d be. Fact of the matter the opposite is true and the opposite is what happen. I call it a slow snake dance she did. Kicking us and watching us long and hard before she moved on. A real nasty one that one.
See that Katrina, she all over the news . . . she in the Gulf of Mexico and yeah, yeah yeah you see and hear that kind of thing ALL THE TIME during hurricane season. It’s going to come straight toward us—destroy us all—hellfire and high water—ALL THAT CRAP, you know, but like I say, you get inundated with so much of that till your brain say, “That’s it. Enough. I ain’t paying that no never mind.” So off and around it goes.
But I got me a back up plan for my brain me. It’s CNN. I keep it on. That Anderson Cooper is my baby. And he know he like him some black people. Not like that Lisa Meyers on NBC. She can’t stand us with her Republican-leaning ass. Don’t believe me? Watch her. You got to study people to make it in this world.
You from ABC? Or NBC? CNN? Cuz I’m telling you I’m tired of talking to all these rinky dink fly by the night news people. Everybody got a camera and a notebook.
What I want to know is when I’ma be on TV?
I’m tired of telling my story for nothing. All that fancy equipment and yall ain’t paying nobody? Yall taking advantage of us that’s what that is. Me? I ain’t having it like that no more. Either pay me or tell me when I can expect to see myself on television.
My mama always told me, say the world work like this here: “when you see a sucker bump his head.” Well, yall done had your last bump on me.
DeShon Jackson. I’m a Freshman at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, largest land grant college in the country. Part-time dock worker Port of Baton Rouge, in honor of my pops. Love you, daddy.
SHEILA, BENNY, AND THEY BABY
I was talking about Cutie Pie Anderson.
Anderson Cooper face sweet like my cousin and them live next door. Sheila, Benny and they baby, six months—sleep through the night—that’s a good baby—smile at the pretty people—cry her heart out if you ugly. Now ain’t that too much. Harder the ugly people try to make her smile, the uglier they face be getting and the louder her mouth. It’s quite an amazing thing to witness. You think I’m lying?
Course everything shifted now. The baby hardly smile at anybody except her mama.
Benny, Sheila’s husband, work off-shore. Seven days off, seven days on.
Now that’s how you keep you a marriage going. They act like it’s a honeymoon every time they see each other. Like it’s the first time they fell in step with one another. And then, it’s seven days passed and he’s gone and she’s glad, because he was just starting to get on her nerves. Out in the gulf they got free telephone calls . . . so he calls her every night and they talk, talk, talk. He fish out there; brought us lemon fish one time. Talking about good.
I’m talking too much? Oh, okay. Just checking . . . Like I was saying . . . since Benny, that’s short for Bernard . . . since Benny work off-shore . . . something blowing in the gulf, they get them off them oil rig platforms quicker than you can say Jackie Robinson. That’s quick, fast and in a hurry.
He called up. Sure enough all that stuff about Katrina and they had him on his way home.
That was Saturday. I never will forget I was watching Dateline NBC about the woman who killed her rich husband. That show is just like Dallas. Except these people don’t be acting, they be seriously killing the people they supposed to love. Trips me out. I can’t stop watching it.
After Sheila came over and told me it was him, Benny had called, you could just see the relief in her eyes. She a tiny little thing. Well, everybody tiny next to me . . . . but she all muscle . . . and I don’t mean just in her body. In her mind too. She got something against tears. Not me. I ain’t holding shit in. Not with the kind of pressure I got. And sugar, too?
FEELING ALL UNSANCTIFIED
Well, Benny phone call might have settled Sheila nerves but not me. You know how you wake up feeling all unsanctified—like something just ain’t right with the world—well, I examined my conscience first thing. What’s troubling me? Who I did something wrong to? I searched—couldn’t find nothing out the ordinary. Cussing them druggies, that human garbage on the street (cussing them under my breath, of course, you ain’t looking at no fool) cussing them out do not fall under the category of who I did something wrong to—now if I’m telling you the truth—wishing they was dead—that do belong in that category—but I go to Mass and confess my sin to Father McKay. Every Saturday evening. Like clockwork. Father, I say, forgive me, because I all the time think about getting me a AK47 or whatever the hell the name of that gun is and shooting every last one of them. Shoot, I know he understand, more than a few of his former alter boys done succumbed to that mess. But confessing didn’t do a thing to ease what was rattling up inside of me.
I forego my coffee and went to check on Sheila them, say hey to Benny. See what they planning on doing, you know? See how they going play this Katrina.
Get there and still no Benny.
Something strange. He ought to be here by now, you know.
Come Sunday morning. And let me tell you Sunday morning was no joke. The mayor, the governor, all of them trying to tell us what to do. The mayor started on Saturday. Urging us. Get out of town. We in the direct path. No shit, Sherlock . . . my Anderson been saying that. But WE ALWAYS IN THE DIRECT PATH. And then, all the time since Betsy, in the ’60s, the hurricane do a little shimmy around the Crescent City, blow by us and we get back to normal, well, our normal anyway.
W. R. DANFORTH
Form follows function, what can I tell you. I’ve been in the business of designing structures for over 30 years, and that one central element, that easy piece of the puzzle, that first thing you learn in architecture is that form follows function.
Except that is in New Orleans. The native settlers, the First Peoples figured this place out and designed a manner in which to live in sync with their environs. They knew the part of the area that was unfit for human habitation and they avoided it. Hundreds of years later, we ignore their insight and disregard, with no small measure of disdain, I might add, their computations as primitive and backward and myopic. We instead deigned to massage and manipulate the mightiness of the Mississippi River to suit our plans and feather our respective development and shipping enterprises. Oh, but the natives have been vindicated and we, the conquerors have been vanquished.
New Orleans is broken. Badly so, and Humpty Dumpty has had a big fall. Whether all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can put Humpty back together again . . . well, I’m not a betting woman/man . . .
W. R. Danforth. Principal, Danforth Architects. New Orleans.
So I check on Sheila, all this phoning and stuff making me more nervous than I already am, so I went to gas up, pick up my pressure pills—but ain’t no way, lines and lines and lines—I wasn’t worried, least not about the gas because I always have me 1/2 a tank. I was a little girl and my daddy taught me that. A car drive better when it’s full or 1/2 full.
So I came on back—which took too damn long. All that traffic at the Winn Dixie, at Krogers, every which way how come people wait till the last minute to get stuff they know they going need every year ‘round this time? And I didn’t like the look on people faces—they was looking like I was feeling on the inside—perturbed and all outside theyself you know.
I sure wish Benny get here soon or call back or something, but we didn’t hear nothing about no rig breaking up and falling into the Gulf or about none of they helicopters crashing either. That’s the on the job hazards of working on the oil rig platform in the middle of the gulf—you just might die. But Benny say at least his family will be cared for. Won’t have to worry about nothing. “Sheila be a high falutin’ widow.”
With a new car—a brand, spanking new Lexus.
Sheila love her some Benny and boy you ain’t seen love till you see him throw his sweet brown eyes on her. Whew! He look at that woman and I know it’s time for me to carry myself on home. I’m getting dusty just thinking about it.
So I ask Sheila, I say, “What you going do about the hurricane?” She looked at me like I asked her to run backwards naked to the world through uptown New Orleans. Then she got salty with me.
What you mean, “What I’m going do? I’m doing what I’m going do. Waiting on Benny.”
I felt like a nickel’s worth of dog meat.
You go on and do what you got to do. . . but me, me and Carlotta . . .
That’s the baby name—named after Benny’s Mama who couldn’t stand Sheila—Carlotta, the elder—may she rest her evil ass in peace —is gone from this earth—thank you, God. Lord that woman hated her some black people. I’m talking about the color black, cuz we all black. But oh! You want to hear some bad words! Call Miss Carlotta, Black—she’ll grab something, anything and beat you to a pulp if you let her crazaa ass. Moms Mabley had a joke about if you can’t say something good about the dead then don’t say nothing. Well, I can . . . she dead. Good.
You go on and do what you got to do . . . but me, me and Carlotta . . . we staying put.
That was Ms. Sheila—defiant in her voice, yeah, but the tears was right there—right behind her eyes. I got to give it to her—she ain’t let them fall.
My Granny. My Granny, Lena Faye Martin, been living inside 1966 since 1989. That’s when time came altogether for her, jumbled up on itself and just stopped. On February 26th, 1989 she was fifty years old. Granny went to bed thinking she was twenty-four . . . from that day to this one she’s still twenty-four years old. In her mind. In her own mind.
She’s really for true sixty-seven. I’m looking out the window you know trying to figure this hurricane out. I say to Granny, I say, “Come on, Estella, we’ve got to go.” She never moved a peg. All day I’m trying to cajole her. I put her suitcase on her bed, laid out fresh clothes. All day long she ignored me . . . she getting herself ready for Freeman Lewis to come pick her up for the picture show. They going catch Sidney Poitier starring in “Lilies of the Field,” in her mind, you know.
In the real world I’m trying to get her ready because we going catch a ride out of town with Rev. Brougham them from our church, True Life Way of God and Christ, and his wife, Jeanne. J-e-a-n-n-e. Make sure you pronounce it right: Jahanne, otherwise you likely to get called a bad name and thrown out they car; a bright and shiny silvery thing with lil slender windows, look like it belong to somebody in a mob movie: Chrysler 300. They keep a new car.
Now my red beans, my Camillas, that’s the best red beans money can buy . . . they steady soaking through all this rigamarole going on swirling through the streets—the sky is just beautiful—it’s got a little ominous-like going with it, but mainly things are bright up there.
I got me a secret Ima tell you . . . when I was little, I loved me some hurricanes, at least the “before” part . . . before the thing takes to the streets. Before the thing reveal who it truly is. Before your life is . . . well . . . anyway, that’s when the excitement is . . . that’s what it is . . . the thing that makes you feel . . . what I’m trying to say? . . . Feel like you going somewhere in the world . . . I don’t know . . . It’s more than feeling alive . . . Hell, I feel alive every day the Lord send . . . what I’m trying to say, atonement might be too strong, but it’s close to that feeling—like okay, renew yourself, here’s a chance to redo, do something else with yourself, get the thing right.
A hurricane come and wash all the dirty shit out the way. Dirty people, too. Nasty assed neighbors who don’t hardly speak. Oh yeah, they be speaking then.
Hurricane turn people around in more ways than one. I’m here to tell you.
There’s plenty beauty in those hellacious winds. Plenty beauty. You ever heard of ugly beauty? That’s what I’m talking about. Rip roaring beauty. Take you by the throat and ever so gently rip your heart out beauty. That’s cause it’s not everyday. Everybody be crying about how devastated things be, I be saying how lovely the truth is. How I like to see underneath a situation and the hurricane allow me to do that.
Trouble is some people hold on to they nastiness like it’s a prize possession . . . can’t even the ferocity of a hurricane pry it loose. 175 mile per hour winds and they still be telling you to get your black ass back on the other side of the bridge. Standing with loaded shot guns drawn and cocked. Ready to blow your head off if you take another step toward “they side the river.” I’m talking about they hearts . . . what’s in some people’s heart is hard to look at hard to stomach. . . but you can damn for sure sense it if it’s in them. Hell, I can see it me.
Katrina is hard for me to talk about. You can tell, huh?
Sunday was hell. Pure D hell. No Benny. No sign of Benny. Sheila cell phone shut down. She threw the thing through the front room window and fell against the wall, grabbing herself like this . . . I stood there watching that poor child slide down against the wall. Lord, I said to myself, send that girl some tears.
Where on earth is Benny?