Will the Circle Be Unbroken

I always forget how noisy New Orleans is until it’s silent.

Today I went into the office to help screen clients before they enter our facility. There are times when it feels silly to ask everyone the questions we do–basically, we run through the COVID 19 symptoms and ask if they are having them–and then we squirt hand sanitizer on their hands, give them a small personal hand sanitizer dispenser that had a loop to go on their keychain, and then let them in. Today was our syringe access program, which made this trickier and a bit more complicated–and it was all set-up last minute and pulled together by the program coordinator. It went remarkably smoothly, with only a few hiccups, and I was amazed yet again by how remarkably my co-workers can rise up to meet a crisis, pitch in, and get it done.

I left the office at quarter past five, walking out to my where my car was parked. ALong the way several strangers, just out walking or from the neighborhood, all called out to me to “stay safe” as I passed them; again, the people of New Orleans are a unique brand of Americans, and I really wish sometimes the rest of the country could be more like we are here when it comes to certain things. But I got into my car to drive home–stopping at the grocery store again on the way–and was stunned to see little to no traffic on I-10. I managed to get to Rouse’s, do my shopping, check out, and drive home–during the busiest part of the day, on a Friday–in less than thirty-five minutes. A lot of the shelves in the store were empty, lots of staples (rice, bread, milk) long gone; but it was also interesting to see what was missing and what was there. Who knew breakfast sausage was an item in huge demand during a quarantine? But there was lots of bacon. Go figure.

But it was the silence that was the eeriest thing about the entire adventure. Silence. As I put the groceries into the car, no sound. As I drove home from Rouse’s, I didn’t connect the phone to the stereo, instead choosing to listen to the silence. I saw a couple of people waiting for the oncoming streetcar (which was empty). The cops were chasing some people out of Tacos and Beer–not sure what that was about–but the bar on the corner was dead silent. My neighborhood was dead silent. No noise, no music, no car engines, no voices, no nothing. It was kind of like that weird post-Katrina period after I returned in October 2005; this weird, eerie silence in a usually bustling city full of life and laughter; like something out of a post-apocalyptic film or television program.

And after I put the groceries away, I realized how exhausted I am. I collapsed into my desk chair, and exhaustion just swept through my body like an electrical charge. I can feel the tension in my shoulders, and my lower back is tight as well. I definitely need to spend some time this weekend relaxing. I also need to try to get some writing done. Is everyone else worn out and tired? This fucking week, this fucking month, this shitshow of a fucking year.

Our mayor did issue a “shelter-in-place” order today, but most of the businesses affected by the order had already shut down (although I am wondering if that’s what the cops were doing at Tacos and Beer); my job is exempt from this, even though the Louisiana Office of Public Health has suspended all STI testing in clinics like ours throughout the state, with no end date in sight. New Orleans is rapidly becoming an epicenter of the disease, as we knew it would–so much socializing, so much partying, so much Carnival (despite it being apparently cursed) and so many tourists. Everyone hugs and kisses cheeks as a greeting. It’s a very social and sociable city; our whole mentality here is about spending time with people you care about and enjoying your life as much as you can.

And now, I am going to go open a bottle of Chardonnay and drink myself into a stupor watching highlights of LSU’s 2019 football season BECAUSE I CAN.

Hope you all are safe, and okay, and taking care of yourselves.

adam hagenbuch 1