The City of New Orleans’ recently began the process of removing statues honoring heroes of the Confederacy from its city plazas. The lists reads like who’s who of the southern insurrection; gracing plaza, overlooking vistas, situated near the halls of governance, welcoming visitors world-wide, telling the story of a divided nation. One side insisting on the abolition of slavery as an institution, the other willing to take up arms, destroy a forming union in order to protect their perceived God given right to own human chattel. History tells us the treasonists’ bid failed; history constantly reminds us their mark on history did not fail.
Enacting laws to maintain a caste system, engaging in terrorists acts against those they deemed inferior, using the rule of law and law enforcement to protect the subjugation of another, erecting statue’s in every courthouse plaza, hall of power the use of public and private funds could finance, making the lyrics of the song, This Land is Your Land is much like Mickey Mouse, a fallacy.
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The bartender seemed friendly. Moving back and forward, appearing to be tethered – on a line- moving up and down the bar, attentive, filling orders, far more efficient than Siri. At times ending the order by saying “okay”, but never “Google Okay”; speech pattered spoken at a time prior to the birth of either.
“Picture of beer … anything else?
“You’re sure, you don’t want another? Okay?”
Sliding free popcorn down the bar, proclaiming, keeping others engaged, never forgetting who ordered what. “Good catch!” “Whoa, heads up!” “Freshly popped…!” Much like a miracle worker, multi-tasking, wiping, pouring, filling, commenting, turning, retrieving clean glasses – stacking them, sliding filled vessels across, down on end, down the other end; polishing, polishing, polishing – the counter, glasses; engaged – listening – not listening – remembering names, completing incomplete sentences, stories, seemingly a multi-linguistic mutant possessed with the ability to engage in multiple conversations with different creeds, emanating from the other side of the divide. Moving forward, backward, forever remaining tethered; assuring everyone was content. Watching his movement, interaction, concentrating, then it happened, appearing in the form of a blur, seen not seen, accompanied by a pat-pat sound, not at all graceful, not clumsy though; moving rapidly left to right, then out of sight; disappearing behind the large mirror taking up most of the back wall.
I turned to Jeff, he to me. “Did you see that?” Jeff didn’t answer initially, peering downward, looking into his beer, crewing, rolling a straw which was situated in his mouth, before answering, “I hope not.”
I wasn’t drinking alcohol. I knew my vision would not have been affected by the Coke and water which sat on the counter, which was being consumed between every two handfuls of popcorn. Still I reacted, picking up one, then the other, looking about; shaking my head in disbelief, followed by “no” before going back to our previous conversation, sharing our day, listening to others’ conversations, watching, watching, watching, with country and western music rafting through the air. We were young lawyers at the time. I was months out of law school. Working for Staff Counsel for Inmates, throwing the facts of cases around, sharing our visits to other parts of the State, and the reaction of the judges when they realized the law compelled the release of a convicted inmate.
Not getting far into the conversation before the again occurred again – this time from right to left – accompanied by the same sounds – patter, patter – a scratching slide, across the track formed by the proximity of the mirror and wall – patter, patter – rapid movement under subdued lighting, causing much the same reaction, now however accompanied with new movement, shoulder blades moving upward, hands pushing off the counter, releasing the free popcorn from our grips, no longer looking at our drinks, placing them instead on the counter, movement backward, followed by an immediate comment, “I know I’m not drunk; did you see that?”
“Yes, I saw! I saw!”
Looking around, watching for others’ reaction, seeing none, wondering whether we were seeing ghosts, Mickey’s great revenge for not believing, he – Mickey – appearing in the form of a wood-rat. Patter-patter, slid.
“No one else is reacting.”
“Maybe we are seeing things.”
Jeff chewed on the straw much like a cigar smoker, not with any certitude, pulling the straw inward, with a small portion protruding, aptly reflecting of our uncertainty. Looking left, looking right, refusing to take our eyes off the track, seeing All Seeing Eyes and Ears stand between our eyes and the wall, confirming what we saw.
“His name is …”
I don’t remember “his” name, but his was the image we saw; a well-fed black wood-rat. All Seeing Eyes and Ears didn’t stop there however.
“A pet …”
“Yes, a pet.”
Perhaps All Seeing Eyes and Ears’ words served as the appropriate introduction, causing “them” to come forward. “Them” – the big black one and a companion; the other was brown, with white patterned spots. Blurred images moving rapidly across the horizon, like The Roadrunner, like Wile E. Coyote; one leading, legs moving, in circular motions; one chasing, legs moving in the same circular motion … pitter patter… pitter patter … pitter patter.
He – All Seeing Eyes and Ears – smiled. “The bar’s pets.”
Looking around, seeing no one else move. No one else reacted, remaining in place, content, feasting on rat infested popcorn, consuming urine colored beer. We – Jeffrey and I – were having none of it, acting instead the part of rude houseguest – moving backward, pulling, tugging, pushing, tossing money on the bar (“Keep the tip”); letting the locals have their place, their ways; watching out for the two obese wood-rats as we made our way out. No, no, no, not us.
I know some of you may well be insulted by my implied disparagement of wood-rats. Others may believe I am disparaging you, owners of pets. I am sorry, wood-rats! – All Creatures Great and Small – my ass! I don’t care. I simply don’t care. I was trained by a grandmother to kill – “all rats and most snakes” – with few exceptions. “Carry a stick, with you.” I obeyed, walking with one eye ensconced, safely guiding the path; the other eye was the wandering one, much like those circular security eyes, mounted in the corner, or ceiling, high above, out of the way, snapping, snapping, snapping, away. Even if you are insulted, I must confess, I have digressed woefully, running amok much like the way Jeffrey and I ran that evening years ago, fleeing those crazy folks enjoying a beer with their disease infected brethren. I muse to say my existence in Huntsville, Texas, served as an appropriate contrast to the Confederate statures which remain in place laying claim to history, the land, and the difference between right and wrong. Our fleeing the local watering hole was a mere inconvenience on our part, causing us to pray and hope the popcorn was actually freshly popped; visiting another establishment telling them what we saw and being the none surprised, when they too named the rats.
“No, not cool, those are damn rats. Do they ever cage them?”
The new server never answered the question, instead, treating us like the strangers we were (Brother’s from Another Planet, indeed. Yes indeed.), instead answering our question with a question, “You’re not from here, huh.”
The difference between the long persistent Confederacy statues is more pronounced. Remaining in place, not an oddity; scattered throughout the South, making clear to the descendants of slaves they are and will remain second-class citizens, even when the enshrined heroes were enemies of the United States and sought the overthrow of the United States. Sidney Sherman, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Jonathan Stonewall Jackson, and if he had been alive during the Civil War, Andrew Jackson, an others – prominent names of the Confederacy, engrained in stone, a testament to historical arrogance in which the City of New Orleans finally called. Absolutely we fled from that bar. Our insult was not an insult felt by the other occupants. We left them secured in place, enjoying each other conversations, their drinks, the bar tender’s skills, those two fat wood-rats and that nasty-ass popcorn.
Sons and daughters of the south possessed no such right, forced instead to exist in a constant state of occupation, permanent figures standing guard, idolized in novels, movies and Americana lore. Confederate flags flying overhead, affixed to cars and trucks, incorporated into welcoming signs when entering small southern towns, plastered on the front of stores during the time it was unsafe for the descendants of slaves to travel the highways and byways. Ever persistent, unlike a bothersome gnat, more like a psychological hammer forever hammering the supremacy of the White race, justifying the insurrection, slavery and the ugly strain embedded in the annals of history. So bravo New Orleans, bravo!