Seen on the road: “Ron Myers, elected rodeo clown for the fourth year”. This is proclaimed on an imposing caravan. Each person is seeking their niche, trying to make their small business flourish. A little further but in the same area, a large sign announces: “One Nation Under Good”, Sponsored by pest control company Bidderman!”. I swear, I am not making this up!
Minimalist country cemeteries, a field without a fence, a few bouquets of flowers and small modest tombstones. A Christ in cheap plaster sometimes overlooks the whole thing. It is reminiscent of the family farm tombs in Western movies.
ARRIVAL IN ST. LOUIS
The south is truly over. But black clubs still exist, with the same trademark southern culture. I locate one and let a young bouncer search me before I go in. He looks younger than the age limit shown on the signs that state “You must be 30 years old or over to enter”. You can’t get in either if you have a gun, or a backward baseball cap. Inside, people went through the whole nine yards in their attire. Men have their hats and impeccable polo shirts, the women are in heels and sexy dresses.
I sit alone at a table. With my T-shirt from the juke joint in Alabama, I’m obviously less elegant than the average but I’m happy to be wearing my Fedora hat from Meyer the Hatter in New Orleans. A mature woman crosses the packed room and comes to me with a big smile. She asks me if I am alone, and after introducing me to her fiancé(a guy with an impressive stature), invite me to sit at their table. They come here every Friday night and don’t like to see single people alone, she says. We drink abundantly. The waiter brings some friend chicken –cooked right in the back room… They’re very warm.
As I witness this resilience, this seemingly endless patience enduring till better times, I can’t help by think about Africa.
They tell me: we don’t all live in the same country… You get used to it. They tell me about the dynamics of language.
The lady who invited me to sit with them works in a call center. It’s not uncommon that white people don’t understand her accent and ask to speak to someone who speaks “proper English”. But mirroring this experience, she has a hard time believing black people that don’t speak like her… that she accused of talking “white”… This is hopeless.
Alcohol also helps a little… to let go… to love and comfort… Just like church, this comfort seems so vital in the ability to survive reality. Batteries get recharged on the weekend in order to face another week. The next day, I meet Liz and her husband through a colleague. I had to recruit some “white” participants for the sake of diversity. They volunteered with a sense of humour. They are indeed very white, nice neighbourhood, nice house. They both work in marketing, but live in the anxiety of an uncertain tomorrow… They both had full time jobs. They are now freelancing, not sure if it was really their decision.
Savvy intellectuals, they are the first to ask me how I felt the country and admit that they themselves feel the threat that’s hanging over their heads. They know they’re privileged, but for how long? Everything could collapse in one day.
I stop by the local Salvation Army, unlike any other I had seen before… A huge warehouse where everything is in piles. There are many people. I score a brand name jacket for $2.57.
WHO IS JESUS?