Buskers’ bunkhouse is a self-proclaimed artist refuge in New Orleans’ Bywater neighborhood; its couchsurfing profile indicates everyone is welcome. The Big Easy proved to be a city of fascinating people, yet I received few invitations for a roof over my head. So, I called Ms. Pearl, Buskers’ proprietress, if that term applies, a day in advance. She seemed surprised and half bothered that I got in touch beforehand, told me I could stay, and instructed me what to do if she was absent upon arrival.
There were nine of us: Ms. Pearl; Ian and Lara, Skooch the guitar player; Mike, the raisinet man, two girls who never introduced themselves, a woman who hacked phlegm in bed during my entire stay, and me.
Two weeks before, the kitchen building burned down. The charred remains filled the back corner of the lot. In its place, a refrigerator, sink, and washing machine sat beneath a lean-to roof sheltering the back stoop. Ian made a continuous pot of Pho on a portable propane stove. As folks scooped the broth into large bowls, Ian added more liquid, more vegetables, and more noodles.
Four twenty-something’s showed up; claimed they drove straight in from Austin. The two girls had purple mascara, nose rings, and wore long striped shirts that doubled as dresses. Two guys had fledgling beards that didn’t quite mask their college scrubbed faces. Ms. Pearl told them welcome and then started a maelstrom about racism; fifteen solid minutes of rising tide, white privilege, and black anger. The discomforted quartet excused themselves to get dinner. Ms. Pearl boasted, “There’s different ways to make people leave. You don’t have to turn them out.” Although everyone is welcome at Buster’s Bunkhouse in theory, Ms. Pearl’s tongue can make that welcome rancid.
After dark, we moved into the main room, which includes two sets of bunk beds and a few random chairs. Scooch cleaned his guitar and took off to play the streets. Ian explained the app he’s creating, fartpnp, which GPS locates free public bathrooms. Mike continued to pop raisinets; the girls remained silent.
Ms. Pearl sat in the center of the room in a straight back chair. She wore a black fleece with a hood that enveloped her rice paper skin. The pale oval of her head, the lines of her face, her persistent tirade against the ills of our nation brought Edvard Munch’s painting, The Scream, to life.
“This neighborhood became popular when the flooding stopped at the red light and we stayed dry. The city has raised taxes and driven all the blacks out. Now it’s full of rich white people. There are over 250 AirBNB’s here. The average price is $175 per night. The Ninth Ward is going to turn into a place that rich white developers own.”
Ms. Pearl was recently served notice from the city to improve her property, a $500 fine per day until improvements are made. Before Katrina her taxes were $350 a year, now they are $1800. “The city of New Orleans is the largest owner of blighted property in the city.
“Immigrants used to come here and work hard. That’s how we developed liberal ideas. Now there are no liberals. I know how Fascism happened.
“Anthony Robbins was a personal coach his motto was, ‘try something. If it doesn’t work, try something else. If that doesn’t work, try something else…’ Trump does that. He’s also not tied to a party. I think that fierce party loyalty is damaging.
“This isn’t America. America is on the other side of Canal Street.
“We don’t have colors, we just have shades.
“They just love their bombs, these Americans.
“I think there are energies here in this house. It heals people.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“I’m interested in multicultural, but it only works if everyone is on board. The Muslims coming in here now are angry and aggressive. That’s not multicultural. They want to take Jackson’s statue out of Jackson Square.
“When they zoned the cities and took away Norman Rockwell’s America, we lost our empathy. We sit in our houses alone and isolated.”