[Aya Salman / Unsplash]

Tales from a French Quarter New Orleanian

09:00 August 30, 2022
By: Debbie Lindsey

Dinosaurs Still Roam

More and more, I see my life, even my recent past, as seemingly obsolete. Oh! I am fairly current and more than relevant today, yet much that is near and dear to me has become a thing of the past in the eyes of younger folks. And not just sentimental stuff but simple everyday, commonplace terms, phrases, and references that were second nature to me. I first noticed this a decade ago as my elevator humor caused a "duh" look among the other riders in the lift (there I go again—a term no one uses). Anyway, I thought myself clever with my, "Second floor: ladies' apparel," or "Fifth floor: household goods and appliances. Watch your step please." That's when I realized I had outgrown my hotel elevator audience—they were too young to have known that lady operators clad in snappy uniforms once controlled the elevator and its etiquette.

A few years back, in my book shop, I often had to take credit card info directly from a customer and when requesting the security code for the card, I would follow with, "And now we will share the secret hand-shake and your decoder ring will be mailed to you." Then one day my two twenty-something customers paused, a bit confused, until one said to the other, "Oh! I'll explain it to you later. I saw it in an old movie." Also, I was beginning to notice a curious look when I would count back a customer's change—they were now accustomed to a computerized register doing the math and flashing "change due." Both ways achieve the same results, but mine required being able to count—a little motor/brain skill no longer widely used. At this rate adding two and two will soon require a calculator.

Does anybody remember phone numbers anymore? You know—have them stored in your head—your memory. It began with speed dial on my landline, and that was a slippery slope. Now our devices store and remember these for us. Is this healthy for our brains? Perhaps we shouldn't overburden our gray matter with mundane stuff; yet, doesn't our memory need the exercise? Then again, don't we get enough of a work-out just trying to remember all those damn passwords and user names we are burdened with these days? To protect ourselves from identity theft, we're told not to use the same ones for everything—screw that. They want my weird-ass identity (and all my neuroses), they can have it, and I say best of luck.

Another rear-view moment recently was the discussion with a young tourist, of my childhood road trips from Mobile (hometown) to New Orleans. They asked how long a drive that was, and I replied, "Well, before the Interstate, it was a four to five hour drive." They just stared at me. I responded to that look, "Yes, I am that old." For that look of near pity, just give someone under fifty your AOL email address—@aol really freaks them out. God, I just wanna slap 'em with a flip phone. Okay, with a degree of regret, I must fess up: I no longer have a burner phone (you get more street cred asking the Boost Mobile sales assistant for a burner). Fun fact: Guinness World Records lists Debbie Lindsey as the "Last Person on the Planet to Get a Cell Phone."

When dinosaurs roamed, we had phones that remained attached to our houses. They did not fit in your pocket, or your ear, and they only accepted a human voice for communication. No typing notes, no viewing movies or TicToking, no breaking news. They still exist and are known as landlines, but their habitat is shrinking. You didn't talk on them during dinner or when you had company. Only doctors and drug dealers had mobile phones, and they were big and looked like a walkie-talkie, also referred to as "the brick." And it wasn't that long ago that cell phones were not allowed and/or frowned upon at work. Now, you damn well better have a cell on you at all times for work related interactions. Times change; rules change.

The Good Ole Days never really existed. Racism went virtually unchecked, and women were kept in check. There was no LGBTQ, just a lot of lives lived in secret with unnecessary, unwarranted shame. Therefore, I am relieved for much that is gone and grateful for so many of today's changes and advances. But much change is careless, profit driven, and cloaked in the disguise of progress. Replacing people (jobs) with self-serve check-outs, gutting the soul of a historic cottage, and placing digital tablets, cell phones, and e-books in the hands of children without at least showing them the beauty of a real book and the pleasures of a library. Change requires thought and care.

Admittedly I'm spoiled by the conveniences our current world provides. Do I find it easier to write this column from a device that allows me to edit, spell-check, research, attach, send, and make copies without carbon paper? Heck yeah. Do I find this piece of equipment to be a mine-field of rabbit holes and mindless distractions? Yes. Did I rail against digital cameras? Vehemently. Do I use my cell phone camera now? Constantly. I feel conflicted, like a sell-out. So I suggest to myself and others: compromise. Stay current, enjoy the perks, but take the time to dust off that vinyl, check-out that library book, get lost in the genius of classic films, and bake a batch of cookies from scratch.

The other day, I saw evidence of roaming dinosaurs. First, there was a young boy content with a real book. Then, a young woman was reading a newspaper. Later, a twenty-something spoarting a Golden Girls T-shirt was loading film into her Minolta. Maybe we're not extinct, just endangered.

Evidence of Dinosaurs

This magazine has allowed me a space for over twenty years to rant, reminisce, rejoice, and review everything from Jazz Fest to my earlier life in Mobile and subsequent escape to my beloved New Orleans. I have climbed upon my soapbox and written about social and political issues and you, dear readers, have endured my opinions on all. I have been repetitive with my Katrina experiences, initiation into the Who Dat Nation, years as a waitress, my cats, my dogs, my family, and my friends. I wrote about a bag of flour, a cockroach, a cast iron skillet, a house, litter—just about everything I could think of. Oh! And the Covid Cootie Monster nudged my writer's block many times. Jobs, relationships, health issues, and my love of food have gifted me with many topics to exploit. Yet, every month my deadline looms over me like a loaded gun. I panic and can't think of a topic. And then along comes Tony, a neighbor, and once again I am brimming over with stuff to say-to write about. I want to use my column as a "thank you" card to all the Tonys in this neighborhood.

In a matter of one hour, Tony walked by my porch to chat, joke, and share political commiserations and kindly give me a Covid test-kit to assuage my concerns over my attendance at Jazz Fest (super-spreader event?). Then another visit over the fence with Mary, and, on her heels, came a lovely gal bringing me a gift her mom made for me—a cloth purse bursting with a sunflower print (solidarity for Ukraine). So despite the time-lag from today (May 9) to this July issue, I am able to send them a "thank you." For all my pontifications and bitching that this column has expressed through the years, I am also able to openly share my love for so many people, places, and things (thanks dear editors). Also my writer's constipation of what to expound upon this issue has been resolved. My neighbors once again have come to the rescue in allowing me to exploit them for my word count.

Many New Orleanians (and those visitors/readers from other hoods) have great neighborhoods, but, with due respect, I think my neighbors are the best. Okay, you may think yours are and then that just means there truly are more good people than not. It's a win/win situation. But allow me to shout out my peeps.

You know who you are—you're the neighbor that makes me feel like a million bucks by taking the time to say good morning, to remember my dog's name, forgive her barking, and shower compliments over my garden. You are the neighbor that drops a Gambit off on my porch every week for me. You are the neighbor that sewed face masks to protect Husband and me. You are the neighbor who rescued birds from a gutter and expected no thanks for such kindness.You are David and Mary who power washed our entire block's sidewalks with the help of Gene and Chris, and many others, kept our street clean during Jazz Fest. And hurricane season always requires much prep and clean-up and showcases the best in team efforts. I remember Tom, just off from work, still dressed in his "good" clothes, cleaning a neighbor's storm drain and gutter in anticipation of street flooding since they were out of town. Same thanks go to Rene, Karen, Chris, Lezley, Margaret, Christian, Michael, and the list goes on and on of those who pitch in when needed.

Manuel gets the humanitarian award for giving his front steps and porch over to the dining needs of two slightly homeless/mostly nomad cats. And, Manuel, thanks for sharing your trash bins with me when my grass clippings and yard trimmings overwhelm my garbage can. (Hey Mayor, how's 'bout a composting program?) My gardening passion also relies on Christian for allowing me to clutter his alley space with all my rakes and brooms—thanks for never once bitching about it. In addition, I rely on your humor which has always made me howl.

There is something special about this entire neighborhood. Maybe it's not unusual to have a familiarity and even friendship with those next door or across the street, but block after block, folks are so friendly, approachable. Perhaps it's due, in part, to New Orleans with her style of architecture that gives most a front porch or stoop to socialize from. Also more folks than not have dogs that are tethered to them for daily walks. We may not know all the bipeds' names, but we damn sure know each other's dog's name. Yo, Rocket, Roxie, Maple.

Husband and I live at the crossroads of Maurepas Street and North Lopez between Liuzza's by the Track and the Holy Land (Jazz Fest). And this corner house was a godsend during the Pandemic because most everyone passed us with walks to Canseco's Grocery and Terranova's (open as "essentials" during lock-down). Also folks could safely take to the streets with their kids and dogs for some social outings. Our porch allowed us a chance to meet all the folks in the neighborhood and friendships were formed or grew. I know this was a common occurrence everywhere back then, but I still stand by the uncommon friendliness of this little hamlet.

Before I ramble aimlessly anymore and wear out my welcome with you, my patient readers, please indulge me one final shout-out to my neighbors. Thank you John and Mabel for allowing us the privilege of renting half your wonderful house—you rock. And to each and every business and neighbor that makes this a special place-take a bow. You guys lift my spirits and make my life sweet.


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