Facets: A Blinding Light & the Lost Shadow of New Orleans Circa 1967

A blinding light, and the lost shadow of New Orleans, 1967

By TLB Contributing Author: Ken LaRive

Maddy, two years later…

It had been raining that night, and as the signal flashed from yellow to red, glimmers and sparks flashed from it’s reflection on a street slick with a thin veneer of exhaust oil and city dander. In the bounce and roll, I made my way down the aisle, holding on to the chrome edge of seat-railings to keep balance… I put my unlit cigarette to my 16-year-old-lips, and descended down to the second step… and as the bus slowed, I braced.

The bus gave off a low and steady toned/high pitched vibration from deep inside, and it throbbed from the hand-hold into my arm, and into my chest. I retrieved my silver Zippo, the one I had found in a Quarter-bar a million years ago, and clicked it open and shut like absent-minded taps on concrete.

I put one foot up and glanced at the old Driver dressed in his faded, dark blue uniform, and he looked me up and down. I had never seen him before, and found his stare curious. I had a brand new pair of patent-leather beetle (fruit) boots, somewhat hidden under the wide cuffs of my well-washed Nega jeans that flared-out like some gaucho dungaree. Tucked inside of my 32″ black alligator belt was my dark, mint-green ban-lon shirt, and the silver threads running through it showed my social ranking… My left sleeve had my smokes rolled up tightly. It was the registered trademark of my kind, and as I thought there was no one else like us in the world, I see now that I was right…

That red flashed molten through the window, and as the grinding broke to silence, it seemed to ignite my slicked-back Brylcreamed hair… My beardless face looked vacant to a casual observer, but I saw everything from the 360 degree parameter of my mirrored Ran-Bans…  It was a method taught to me by boys who looked, acted, and dressed just like me…  It was but a few of the elements that separated us from the frats and pits, who we considered weak-natured, dependent, with a victim mentality. We were no victims, in fact we though ourselves to be the very top of the food chain. I carried a roll of silver dimes in my left pocket for a killer right hook, an ejectable slot “mace” pin in the other, just in case, and with a switch-blade in my right boot sock, it seemed the icing.

They were a kind of comfort, a validation of my true station, I suppose… but tools to survive in a jungle. None that I knew, like me, thought to carry a gun, unlike the cesspool New Orleans has become today, where life is cheap.  We needed only the first punch… A Hood only needed one. When we squared off, there was always blood, but both survived to try again… most always.

“You getting off here son?” he said with a raspy, pulsating voice. “This is a bad-ass neighborhood after midnight, man.” I saw that he had what looked to be a burn-mark on his chin…

The door opened and I could feel the cool night air, wafting on a thick perfume of honey-suckled tar… with the familiar melody of our midnight train-whistle, coming all the way from People’s avenue canal, it sounded like WTIX in Mandeville…  My little Microcosm was but a pinhead on a world map I knew nothing about… that AM station, along with WNOE, played loud and clear everywhere.

My silver Zippo sparked and lit a yellow-kerosene flame to my Marlborough Red, and a cloud of ruby and silvered smog appeared like magic dust. It enveloped me like a protective shield, a Dulcinea, dissipating as concentric spirals seeking the humid Gentilly night… A second went by, and then another… but a second was an eternity to me then…

I looked at him with a practiced laugh and said. “Bad ass? I AM the bad ass, sir.” And like a spider-monkey swinging on a well-worn handle, I jumped… and before I even hit the St. Augustine, that door had shut…

I walked to the sidewalk, and headed south on Elysian Fields Avenue toward Saint Raphael School.  In one hand, I held my rocket-pen that could shoot a small-condensed cloud of mace 16 feet…  I practiced a dozen times, and learned quickly to be upwind… The other inserted a key to unlock the door of my 66 Mustang, and as the light turned to green overhead, I fit perfectly into my bucket seat.

All in one motion… smoothly practiced from the solid click of the door locking, to the start of it’s 289… I pulled from the curb, and in a moment was passing that public service bus.  I saw in the distance the lights of Pontchartrain Beach, and I was free… and in what seemed like a moment, that bus was but a spec in my rear view.  I was a samurai, a knight for right, Conan the Barbarian, and a song of my own creation… I was the son of the inner city, New Orleans borne, and my experiences had molded me to be fearless… and as I moved under the neutral ground oaks, under blue soda lamps and tungsten street- lights, I noticed I no longerhad a shadow…  I thought myself a blinding light, and a blinding light leaves no shadow.

Yes, I know now I had a lot to learn… but no one could tell me that back then… and no one is really at fault when you are a product of your environment… as life’s lessons will attest.

These days I carry a 9mm concealed, with two extra clips, and with practice I can now shoot directly into the wind. I figured to leave New Orleans because I was responsible for my family’s safety, and it was the Murder capital of the US when we left in ’76… I don’t drink or smoke any more, and now retired oilfield, but in my heart I still consider myself a hood, from the old neighborhood, and my experiences there served me will from Viet Nam to Saudi Arabia…

And really, New Orleans was invaded by a new kind of thug, of low-quality, mean spirited, and a limited IQ… who trashed everything white out of spite. They cast a shadow on what they touched, and destroyed, because they had little to nothing inside to ignite…  Those days have made the man I am today, good or bad, right and wrong, and yet without them I would not have the love of my life, nor a lifetime of being responsible for myself. That, to me, is of great value, and I am what I am….very lucky.



Ken LaRive – FacetsIt’s a simple but beautiful metaphor. Our soul is likened to an uncut diamond, pure, perfect, and unrealized. Each learned experience cleaves a facet on its face, and leaves it changed forever. Through this facet, this clear window, new light, new questions and ideas take shape and form. This process is our reason for being …

More information about Ken LaRive.


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