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October 21, 2014

My New Orleans Neighborhood

Roy Meachum

There was a man who showed up at the St. Claude streetcar stop at Canal. He insisted I was “beautiful.” He was Italian. I was almost eight; I had blonde hair and blue eyes and was impossibly thin. I drank malted milk-shakes to boost my weight.


Contrary to the notion, in the early 20th Century the general population in my hometown was not French – but solid Irish and Italian and Jewish. In St. Charles Avenue, there was a neighborhood called Irish Channel. Close by the Germans who formed sizeable population; they lent the Catholic priests.


“Uncle Pat” Brady was a stagehand at the St. Charles Theatre, later converted to the movie house. He was Irish, so was his father. His claim to fame was a picture in the Cabildo, once part of state court, now a museum. He “took” an earthquake in the 19th Century. He indulged in the French.


John McDonough built schools in New Orleans and Baltimore. I enrolled in McDonough 10, when I started my education. Pre-Holy Cross, the lady teacher I remember was Viola; she had a ribald sense of humor. I can recall when the lady who presided over the fourth grade spotted the wax in my ears.


Understand, I was waiting for somebody else. Ella Fitzgerald singing “A-tisket, a-tasket” I first heard in the late thirties; she stayed with me until the 1990’s. I never got tired of her.


He came with the name of Laurence Merrigan; I can remember when we caught the Pelicans games, of course. He decided I should go to Holy Cross; it was not revealed “Mr. Larry” paid or not. It was decided I should venture out at 4950 Dauphine, in the lower 9th ward, as it is known. Our favorite movie theatre, when the boarders go once a week, called the “itch,” was in a shabby shopping center. We also got to hang around the drug store. I remember Bing Crosby’s “Don’t Fence Me In.”


My shoulder had a contusion from covering a football on the ground. Welcome words from the doctor to the effect I bore the wounding much better than an adult, that happened a couple of times. I took such words seriously. Much too seriously. At my age, I was more fit than an adult.


In the New Orleans community, homosexuality was accepted; lesbianism was hidden. Gays “camped” all over the place. I don’t remember the special clubs reserved for young “fags.” They were there. Between the French Quarter and the rest of the city, they were more than “enow.” I lived through that when I moved to the District’s Georgetown community. I was there to get a Catholic education, at the university.


That was my neighborhood.


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