To listen to Brett Will Taylor’s on-air essay about stoop-sitting on WWNO-FM, click here.
“What’s it like to live in New Orleans?”
I get that question a lot.
I get it from family in Texas, friends in Boston, where I lived before moving here in 2010, and I get it from tourists.
It’s a tough question to answer. That’s because there is no one answer.
It all depends on where y’at in this three-ring circus of a city we call home.
Are you ringside? Up high on a trapeze? Or … riding in your very own clown car?
Where you sit defines what you experience.
Me? I sit on my stoop on Robertson Street in the Treme.
It brings me up close and personal to the cycles of life. In all their sweet, juicy, unpredictable glory.
Birth stops by first thing Monday through Friday, as the buses and the mamas bring the kids to the Craig School. Faces scrubbed. Minds innocent. The birth of a new day. The birth. Of potential.
Sit on my stoop certain Sundays this time of year and you will witness all of life’s essential ingredients come together before your very eyes. It starts with a slow simmer. The sausages go on the grill, the beers pop, the social aid and pleasure clubs gather, and the trombones warm up … all in anticipation of whatever second line is stepping off at noon. Then, when the roux comes together, we turn the heat up and up and up until the music, the people, the streets, the sweat erupt into a four-hour rolling boil. The embodiment of what Joseph Campbell called the rapture of being alive.
Death’s a frequent visitor to my stoop, too. That’s because I live right across the street from Charbonnet Funeral Home, which has been helping New Orleanians come home since 1883.
Every time I see their horse-drawn hearse pass my house … every time I hear the mourners sing “I’ll Fly Away”… I’m reminded that the party does indeed eventually end for all of us.
Unless you’re from New Orleans.
Now, Birth, Life and Death aren’t my only stoop visitors. Stop by on the right day and you’ll be lifted up to the Great Beyond, too. You see, there’s this street preacher who comes by at about 9:30 on those Sunday mornings when there’s not a second line. He sets up five metal folding chairs in front of a boarded-up building that stands on the corner of Robertson and St. Philip.
Gives a “hallelujiah” shake to his tambourine.
And starts preaching.
Soon enough, the seats fill and the voices rise.
Now … I’m pretty sure that preacher and I wouldn’t see eye to eye on much of anything, including his gospel. But, you know, when that sidewalk church starts singing “Creep Along Moses,” I just feel better. I’m grateful that their voices have called the Spirit to our little corner of the Big Top.
And I know what it means … to live in New Orleans.
Brett Will Taylor is a southern Shaman who writes Love: NOLA weekly for NolaVie. Visit his site at ashamansjourney.net.