Took this one off my shelf the other day. Think I was supposed to read it in college but never finished it. The plot didn’t propel me along, but there’s some magic to it for sure. A relaxed New Orleans kind of existentialism.
What’s the narrator looking for? Even he doesn’t know.
He sees a young man reading on the bus, and types him:
Good old Walker Percy:
At one point the narrator sees William Holden on the street:
Ah, William Holden. Already we need you again. Already the fabric is wearing thin without you.
By the time Costa got fired for using it, ’Bama had been around for quite some time, and its meaning and use had changed. Most likely, the word was first used to put down recent arrivals to D.C.’s black neighborhoods from southern states—especially Alabama, says cultural anthropologist and long time Smithsonian staffer John Franklin. “It’s had currency over several generations,” Franklin says. It was a way of calling someone a black hick: “There was some disdain for people who didn’t live in the city and weren’t sophisticated.” The word had particular weight during the Great Migration, when many African Americans left the rural South for northern cities. Then, the point was to differentiate the newer arrivals from the longtime Washingtonians—who worried that the countrified Southerners flooding the District would reflect badly on the whole community. It was, essentially, the way D.C.’s black residents called one of their own a redneck. (Around the same time, German Jews who had already been in the U.S. for a few decades coined their own slang term to put down their less sophisticated Russian and Polish cousins—and thus, “kike” was born, only becoming a generalized ethnic slur afterwards.)
Eventually, ’Bama lost most of the geographic connotations it once had, and melted into just another piece of regional slang. Even white kids like Costa learned what it meant, picking it up by osmosis from the culture around them. Costa says his own definition of ’Bama is that it refers to a person who is “stupid.” He spent most of his life in the Baltimore-Washington area, and says he and his friends grew up using “the B-word” all the time.
In the Cajun people of Louisiana writers find what writers always find in the remote peoples of the world: pride of race, a healthy love of pleasure, a gift for spinning sorrow into beauty, ruddy confidence, a balance and a rhythm of life that seems enviable to the alienated wanderer. I have gone to their parishes myself on several auto trips.
In the wrong mood I find their men crude and ribald. But their women are at every age attractive. A girl of 13 or 14 from the Acadian parishes can be almost impossible to look at in her beauty and passion. Look her in the eye and it can stop you cold. You will think on her for days. Many of the older women spend the rest of their lives in the consequences of their first sexual blossoming.
Of their men I will say this: in a tight situation they are heroic. None can argue they bleed life.
But above all it is this, you can feel it in their humor, in their food, in their music, in their religion, in their stories: they don’t treat life as though it’s too damned important. Sad, beautiful, sorrowful, happy: it’s something, good and bad, take it as it comes, do your damnest.
– Vivien Kent, How To Travel (1947)
[HT our Virginia Beach office via Garden & Gun magazine. As of last reading, all the comments on this video were perfectly nice (“she was my substitute teacher in 4th grade!”)]