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At the Laundromat

Upon our return to New Orleans, we had a bit of laundry to do, so I made my way to a nearby laundromat. This place was flooded, but it finally re-opened during our absence. The proprietor was hanging out in front, listening to Earth, Wind & Fire with his dog. I congratulated him on his renovation. We got to talking and eventually he offered me a cold beer. Then he offered me the remainder of a marijuana cigarette. Then a cop came out of the laundromat and stood next to me. I was nervous, but played it cool, and nothing happened. I guess this is the city’s way of saying, “Welcome back to New Orleans.”

For the record, drinking a can of beer on the street is legal here. Marijuana is not, but believe me when I say that marijuana is not the problem drug here. Heroin, cocaine and, yes, alcohol are our big problems. Maybe crystal meth too.

In the past I would have found this experience amusing and even charming, fodder for a good story. I still feel that way, sort of, but I’m also a little unsettled by the whole experience. Part of me wants to say, “This is why I love New Orleans.” But part of me also wants to say, “This is highly dysfunctional.” I’m caught between these two contradictory responses, and I don’t know how I feel. I can’t find the dividing line anymore.

As a rule I don’t like to drink beer in the morning but in this case I made an exception.

Published inDrugzNew Orleans


  1. Mark Folse Mark Folse

    You haven’t been here long enough to remember shopping at schwegman’s on Gentilly Road. You could pick up a Schwegman’s beer at the snack bar and sip-and-shop any time of day.

  2. I am amazed you didn’t end up at Tulane and Broad – folks that do the same thing on the neutral ground outside Tipitina’s always seem to be hauled downtown.

    Until 24 access to liquor is restricted, I don’t think the illegal substance problem in New Orleans will ever resolve – and I don’t see restricted alcohol purchases happening anytime in the future. Restricted alcohol access is not the be all, end all of curbing illegal drug use in New Orleans, but it is part of the problem promoting easy access to mind altering substances.

    Then again, who was it that wrote that humans have a natural tendency to pursue altered consciousness, insert intoxicant of choice?

    just random musings…

  3. I grew up here, and I remember when I was a little kid my grandpa took me to the lower 9th bars with him in the afternoons. I’d just sit on a stool with a coloring book while all the gritty old Cajun-Irish men got drunk. Good times.

  4. If I read “restricting access to (any substance)” and “the answer” in another sentence, I am going to wretch. Restricting personal freedom does not improve anyone’s quality of life. The freaking Puritans need to get over this crap before the city becomes permanently unlivable.

  5. I was in a case consultation with a bunch of fellow shrinks a few months ago wherein everyone was discussing the various New Orleans dysfunctions. The one most commonly cited was the sanctioning of public drinking–particularly public drinking in the morning/afternoon. Also discussed was the tendency for employees to leave work early on Fridays. All I could think of the entire time was how much I love the city. So…is it dysfunction or is it “charm?” Can it be both?

  6. Garvey Garvey

    “drinking a can of beer on the street is legal here”

    Did they rescind the open container law? I always thought it had to be in a cup.

  7. Garvey, I believe the law stipulates that the container not be glass, so cups and cans are both OK, but bottles are not.

    However, I could be wrong.

  8. David David

    I share your feelings–both pre- and post-K–about the cop.

    I’d like to believe that he’s making a principled decision not to enfore a ridiculous and unjust law, but he’s probably just blowing off his job. And, as so many people here know, he’s likely to blow off his job when the circumstances are much more serious.

  9. We see so many people with a beer in their hand at 8 a.m. not just because they can, it’s because generations of New Orleanians have been screwed by a wretched public school system and a piss poor economy and have few prospects in life. The beer doesn’t help, of course, but for so many of these guys I see on Baronne Street in Central City when I ride my bike to work, for example, it’s not so much a choice anymore. They’re alcoholics, and no “interventions” are forthcoming.

    Changing the public drinking laws will not cure them, though it would criminalize their behavior and further wound them (if that’s possible). It wouldn’t change the dynamics of what produces the street corner alcoholic.

    I found your story charming, b rox, and it reminded me of G Bitch’s story about when she was 16 she first smoked a joint on a cop’s lap in a French Quarter gay bar. The contradictions can get messy here, I suppose, but they’re entirely human.

  10. Frank S. Frank S.

    This is a city of contradictions. From our City Hall all the way down to the streets and homes [or lack of] in some of our poorest neighborhoods. We want law & order and cling to religous dogma [here like in few other places in the world], but our fame as a region [and our tourist reputation] is based on revelry, excess & chaos. The contradictions are both why some of us love this city so much and why so many of us can handle some of the really rotten things that ARE done here. Personally, I don’t think you should look at the dynamic here as one of public alcoholism, substance culture [whatever that is] or a cop’s duty [or lack of] and more about a moment shared. In the context of our city [both pre & post storm] it IS natural and mabye your first instinct [“amusing and even charming”] is probably the best one.

  11. Anonymous Anonymous

    if it bothers you too much, you could move 80 miles up I-10 where there IS an open container law, a “blue sunday” law and PLENTY of puritans ready to squash every little aspect of personal freedom…and then honk at you in their $45,000 sedan on the way to their church in a building the size of the metrodome…or just stay put

  12. Do tell, is drinking and smoking grass somehow akin to smoking crack and chasing the dragon? If what I am reading as a response to promoting “personal freedom” then it can be assumed y’all also give your blessing to the illegal drugs being sold and consumed which are related to the horribly high murder and crime rates in the city? Funny that there aren’t any replies addressing cocaine, crack, and heroin, only the public consumption of the green, worn proudly as a badge of “personal freedom” honor.

    “Personal freedom” is going to hasten the death of the city, unless the rising waters inundate it first

  13. DSB

    These days, I shy from the two sided debate, which is what you’ve done. The argument about alcohol in New Orleans is one that is too simple. Public consumption of alcohol will lead to more drinking, more alcoholism, I don’t doubt that.

    That word you use, human, is one that has been on my mind. It is in the context of human rights. I don’t know when we stopped calling them civil rights. I much prefer the word civil, because that which is purely human can be quite violent and unjust. By now, we are aware that tribal societies are not peaceful societies. That humans, quite naturally, do harm to each other. Civilization is a struggle against that nature.

    We are not born with certain inalienable rights, because we declare it to be so. These rights may be a birthright, but the recognition of those rights come from civilization. They come from law.

    Human rights leads one to believe that to be human is to be civil. Which is why we’ve begun to pathologize anti-social behavior. We give names to things like being unfocused, being under the weather, or being prone to worry, and medicate accordingly.

    At the extreme, we consider homosexuality a dysfunction that can be treated.

    Which is one thing that I truly, deeply love about New Orleans. It is that, I’ve slowly shed a history of poor mental health, as the symptoms thereof began to strike me, more and more, as all together ordinary. In my day to day, people are friendly and well disposed to strangers. More importantly, I never find myself characterized in clinical terms. Even when someone presents pop psychology in New Orleans, they present it for what it’s worth, not with a seriousness.

    Elsewhere, disquieting behavior is seen as sickness, while in New Orleans, it is seen as human. We have our moments. We make our transgressions. We sincerely forgive. We sincerely forget. We must, because this city is small, and no one really goes away.

    My train of thought has not been that poignant.

    It has been led to thoughts about misconceptions about democracy, that were rampant in the summary of planning. This is a world where you’ve suggested to that an inhabited land mass should shrink. Can anyone find a faster route to war? Imagine a summer of planning in Jeruselum, where people discuss which neighborhoods will be “coming back”.

    It has been marveling at the way we devour or celebrities like lions in the Colosseum. Plus, the duplicity of the standard bearers, who are so shrill when their opponents sin, but are perfectly forgiving when it is one of their own.

    This all ties into this discussion, somehow. Somehow, I don’t think that New Orleans needs the sort of law and order proscribed by those shrinks. It would only provide more excuses to round up young African-Americans, and have them serve the Parish as prison labor (which freaks me out the more I see it).

  14. England has stricter drinking laws than New Orleans, yet much more loutish behavior. England, France and Germany allow drinking at much younger ages than in the US, all with different behaviors.

    I really don’t see the correlation between the various laws and any specifically more desirable outcomes.

    The people on Bourbon Street stumbling around are most likely to be from elsewhere, rather than New Orleans.

    Ultimately, it’s simply an issue of personal control.

  15. Alan:

    It’s an interesting point you make with regard to “human” versus “civil.” I, of course, wasn’t getting into the legal/political implications but rather striving towards a simple embrace of human limitations. It was also an expression of sympathy. (I still prefer “human” over “civil,” but I’m persuadable).


    “Funny that there aren’t any replies addressing cocaine, crack, and heroin, only the public consumption of the green, worn proudly as a badge of “personal freedom” honor.”

    Well, b rox’s post didn’t address heroin, so who wanted to bring it up and spoil the mood?

    Okay, I’ll take your bait. Heroin et al. are terribly destructive drugs, though I have noticed that their illegal status has done nothing to limit their rampant use. So my solution remains: fix the schools, fix the economy, and fewer people will need a fix.

  16. Tim Tim

    B, you’re unsettled by this because you appreciate the contradiction, which is, 1. We should obey the laws because they make civil society possible, and 2. Some laws are foolish, arbitrary and violate our liberty. In this case, the law in question is that pot is illegal. There was clearly no harm in your behavior or in the behavior of your pal, but you understood that what you were doing could result in an arrest.

    The solution is easy: legalize recreational drugs that are no more harmful than other legal substances like alcohol and tobacco.



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