I could be wrong about everything but most likely I’m only wrong about some things. This is sometimes a comforting thought. Today has been disquieting and unsettling for so many reasons. It started at 6:00 a.m. after I checked my Loyola email and found that classes had been cancelled for the day because Hurricane Harvey (demoted to tropical something or other) was on its way. As I walked past the concierge desk on my way out of the building at 6:30, I was warned that it would probably flood in the quarter. When I arrived at the corner of Bourbon and Canal, my manager was relieved because I had arrived. Other employees had called in because they would not be able to make their shifts. It was like getting into work during a blizzard on a snow day in Iowa. The regulars did not appear and I was able to get a lot of cleaning and restocking done. That is unusual. Now, today also happened to be the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s deadly strike in New Orleans so those who lived through it were on edge anyway. The weather was not easy, but it was not as hard as it could be. We made it another day without large scale flooding.
I learned this morning a little more about the stabbing incident which occurred a half block from where I work. It was the night before last that a homeless man stabbed two young men at McDonalds, killing both. The young men had been messing with him so he stabbed them. They ran from McDonalds past the drugstore, collapsing in front of the windows where I stand each shift. They lost their lives out there. There are a number of homeless folks who live on Canal Street. They usually sleep in doorways and under awnings. Sometimes their heads are laid on backpacks and they are wrapped up in old blankets or clothes to keep warm. Most often they have nothing between them and concrete but hair and the clothes on their backs. It is disturbing to walk past them in the early morning. You wonder where they came from and where they will end up. The other day a 36 year old man who told me his name was Orlando was trying to persuade me that we could be a “couple” somehow. Another asked me if he could touch my butt. I laughed at them both and said I was old enough to be their mother. And no, we couldn’t be a couple and he couldn’t touch my butt. They seemed to take it well and I assume they were drunk and hoping to manipulate me into giving them money but no need to get ugly about it. But you never know how much to give and how much to hold back because you could get stabbed for messing with someone. And your criteria for messing with could be completely different than the stabber’s criteria.
Race matters here, just like it matters everywhere. Sometimes I want to cry because it is so easy to fuck it up. Today I had a delightful customer who left upset, unbeknownst to me. We had a greeter today who let me know that the customer was upset when she left and that it was due to the fact that I did not put her change in her hand. As a cashier I sometimes feel that people put a lot of stock in whether you put the money in their hand or on the counter and usually I am sensitive to that. But with this woman, I didn’t even notice that I had not put her change in her hand. Nobody has explained this to me but I think that some folks feel that you don’t respect them if you won’t touch them and this is an easy way for them to test that hypothesis. I’m afraid this lady thought I believed I was better than her. Which couldn’t be further from the truth. I really liked this lady and would have been happy to touch her hand. She was so pretty and positive and sunny. It was nice to see some sunshine on a cloudy day. And the thing is, who am I to think I’m better than anyone I meet as a cashier at a drugstore? Are there such people – people who think they are better than other people based on some superficial trait like skin color? Of course there are but I don’t think about them because I don’t have to think about them. Unlike people of color who find them way more often than they should have to, thereby being forced to think about them.
There was the weather and the stabbing and the touching (AKA white privilege problem). They all conspired to keep me on edge and doubting myself. Which I do constantly here. I’m okay with that because I know change is hard and it never goes the way you think it will. If you knew how it would go then you wouldn’t have to change in order to evolve. Right? But sometimes I get tired of learning hard lessons, of doubting my decisions, of realizing I am a dumb ass like everyone else who is honest. I have a picture in my mind which I find freeing but which may be wrong (see first statement of this article). It is of a human buttocks with a piece of toilet paper stuck to it. It is not soiled or anything (do I hear a groan out there along with a feeling of frustration that I even mentioned soil) – it is more like a cartoon butt. A color cartoon, not black and white. No genitalia is involved in this butt situation. The idea is that we are all human and susceptible to getting pieces of obvious human failing stuck on us as we go about our human lives. It’s just the way it is. Hopefully we will wipe it away later. Or shower.