On the Steps of Harrah's Casino near the Mississippi River, Wilbo Contemplates Socrates, Buddhist Monks and the Pure Conversation.
Airbnb has offered to waive fees to people displaced by the New Orleans tornadoes. Which is interesting because most people who use the service are savvy travelers with credit cards. People knocked out of a "family property" handed down over generations might not work that way. I see an adequate instant booking room near my current situation for twenty a night. Instant booking means that the host has said yes in advance. Now if I were tossed out by the storm, I would have jumped on that by now.
I encountered a woman last night on the steps of the casino, panhandling. She had yet to have the marks of the outdoor all the time life bite into her youth. Six slender bags scuffed with grime hung from straps around her shoulders.
She said to three of us in conversation, "We can get a room in a hostel for twenty-two dollars". I answered, "I'm working and I never give alms while I am working". I was waiting for a page to a restaurant ready to send a meal to a customer. A man next to me said, "We have no cash. We use cards for everything".
She walked away in a huff and waved the fingers of her right hand in a salute that wasn't the middle finger but clearly wasn't a gesture from the American south. I was reminded of Italy.
"I've never been panhandled so much in my life", said the man. He had traveled to New Orleans from Virginia Beach for a conference on disaster preparedness. He fixed me with the eyes of a Ranger or a Seal when he talked to me. His girlfriend, his girlfriend since last April, chimed in with questions about my purpose in New Orleans. "I'm writing and working, trying to keep occupied until my teaching job starts in June", I answered.
I told them all about my series of plays honoring my father, whose nickname in high school was Jughead. I call them the Jughead plays. The first sent to a playhouse in Lowell, Michigan failed to be accepted for performance. "Congratulations, you were so brave to send up this play, and yet, we'll not move forward with it". Playwrighting is a tough row to hoe. (Yes, I am still besot with the Lowell Playhouse).
After fifteen minutes of shooting me question after question, the two felt the call of their nice hotel room at Harrah's Casino and shook my hand and wished me well. He had skill in asking questions that showed when he deflected all of mine.
Another brief conversation struck up on the streets of New Orleans ended with a small transaction of information. This is the currency of this old city that requires no begging. How to use that currency as if it were bitcoin has eluded this writer up to today.
It's nuts to think, but it might be true. I practice the street art of pure conversation as if I were Socrates or a Buddhist Monk.
It's different. Socrates had disciples who memorized his every word and eventually had to drink hemlock as his poison. His students brought him roast lamb from their leftovers. Buddhist Monks are taught to beg for food as novices and followers flock to the streets near the temple to fill up begging bowls held by the young monks in their saffron robes.
My writing is my begging bowl.