A Hero for Our Times

May 11, 2009 by

I got to pass some time last night with a buddy of mine, let’s call him Jim. Jim’s not doing too well these days.

See, before Katrina, Jim used to be a school teacher here in town. Nowadays, he does construction work, building maintenance, all-around handyman jobs for wages paid under the table. I know, it’s wrong to live like that, but that’s how some people choose to make their way in the world. What can you do? Jim is not a lazy man, however. He works on at least three of these jobs at a time.

That’s what’s making it difficult for him to determine on which of these jobs he developed what he believes might be a hernia. Not that he would want to sue anyone over it. He just believes he might have been able to garner a little financial help in getting it taken care of. Not to pay a hospital bill to get it fixed, mind you, (hell, he could get that done at University Hospital right now if he wanted to) but to help him make it through the recovery time when he wouldn’t be able to climb or lift.

So he’s at a loss, but still pretty philosophical about it. What was getting him down last night was something else, something anyone of us could be facing following one of those unguarded moments when the bottom – literally – falls out of our lives.

Yesterday afternoon, long before I’d come upon him, Jim had gingerly dressed himself and left his home in the lower Quarter to head down to the Walgreen’s store on the corner of Elysian Fields and Saint Claude. He was going there to buy himself a jockstrap or two. From Jim’s house to that Walgreen’s is not normally a bad walk, but it was hot, and he did have to watch how he put his left leg down with each step he took, so let’s just say the walk was a little uncomfortable.

Finally, he arrived at the swooshing door that blew out a rush of cool air-conditioning to slap him in the face and wake him from his torpor. He made his way to the back of the store where such items are to be found only to find there were none.

With a sigh, he left and wondered where next to go. There was another Walgreen’s on Decatur Street in the Quarter, a block past Jackson Square, and he set out for that one with a careful limp.

Finally, another swooshing door, another blast of cold, another lack of “support”. This second Walgreen’s had no jockstraps either. What to do?

Well, he was only a few blocks now from Second Skin Leather on Saint Philip Street. He’d try to backtrack that far.

Lo, and behold, once inside, there they were, dozens of jocks in all kinds of styles and fabrics. Typical elastic cotton. Leather, Rubber, Vinyl. Double back-strapped, single back-strapped – no back-straps, an engineering marvel, probably useless for Jim’s needs, but something to keep in mind for the holidays. Sadly, Second Skin did not exhibit any in Jim’s size. There were smalls, larges, extra larges, double-XL’s, triple-XL’s, even 4-XL’s (something for me to keep in mind for the holidays), but no mediums. He asked the cashier if there were any others in the back and was told there were none.

“… But we’ll be ordering more in September.”

Jim figured he couldn’t wait that long, so he decided to gird his loins, so to speak, and try to make it to Canal Street where he could surely find what he was looking for.

Canal Street has long since crumbled from its high perch as a capital of commercialism and is now a banal street of empty buildings perched alongside ritzier-than-ritzy hotels, McDonald’s burger joints, a Radio Shack or two, and lots of athletic shoe retailers.

But you know what? Nobody sold jockstraps. Not even Saks Fifth Avenue in One Canal Place. Jim checked.

He finally had to admit defeat and succumb to a bout of despondency. He found a bench to rest his nut on and bewail his fate until he had regrouped enough energy to make his way back through the narrow Quarter streets to sit with friends at his neighborhood bar and quaff a few pitchers of beer. Perhaps not a wise choice of beverage for a man in his condition, but people are people. Whatcha gonna do?

That’s where I found him and heard him roll out his tale as if he were some blind and bearded bard from a long-ago world creating a new myth. It’s a myth that fills my soul with a particular existential terror. No common jockstraps (in medium) to be found within walking distance of – of all places – the French Quarter of New Orleans.

We live in a wasteland of despair.

But Jim goes on. I imagine him this morning, tentatively climbing another long ladder to reach the second-story eave of a home in the Bywater to slap a coat of paint onto it. Tomorrow, he might be cautiously carrying lumber from a nearby truck to another place in the Marigny where he will saw and later hammer it between two posts to make a wall.

All without a ball …


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