Lies and Untruths

Peter Gillette

It was Tuesday, it was rather warm, and we were in the home of a 60-something-year-old gumbo chef called Bozo in St. Bernard Parish, outside of New Orleans.
Ask any local and they’ll tell you that the place where we were is his home, still is his home, and will always be his home as long as he so chooses. The past tense is an expletive in today’s Louisiana.
Water-marked photo albums – uncomfortably beautiful – sit out on the curb with suit coats, mattresses, wheelbarrows upon wheelbarrows of insulation, wallboard, or anything that stands between making Bozo’s home a construction rather than a demolition site. After the fridge, we’d have to remove the nails, the floorboards, the other fridge, the shower, the “commode,” and the bathtub.
We’d eyed the two fridges a bit suspiciously all morning until – right before lunch, as fate would have it – push came to shove. The folks standing over it were Nils, Julian, Bozo – who could still out-lift most of us – and a 36-year-old, foul-mouthed, hard-drinking San-Francisco-by-way-of-East-Texas drifter everyone called – with varying degrees of affection – “John Deere.”
John Deere would piss off the Rice Rocket – a name responded to by a woman named Debbie, a blunt, abrasive, high-strung 20-something Asian woman with a weak stomach and terribly unsafe driving habits who nonetheless knew how to organize and mobilize work crews – but you don’t drift across the country with truckers for over a decade without learning how to lift, and so she put up with him.
The Rice Rocket had supervised her share of fridge removals over the past few months, and she set about to tape the sides to prevent leakage of “the Katrina juice,” the liquid insides of a perishable container that sat on the Mississippi’s temporary river bed and steamed, still full, inside a humid, electricityless house for seven months.
The fridge flattened the dolly, and so John Deere – with the exceptional efforts of Nils, a Lawrence fencing star – just lifted as everyone ran away from the juice that leaked anyway. I may have helped push it across the yard once or twice so I didn’t feel like a sissy.
It was tough for me to write much of anything when we were down there – it felt like wasted time – but my mind made its own photo album of watermarks, faces and stories that took on commonality to the point of archetype.
I think the deepest image is that of a rotund gumbo chef, a cranky Asian and an absolutely crazy Texan working with a serious Jamaican and a German metalhead – both by way of Wisconsin – to bring a giant box of sludge to rest in the front yard.
The stench was not so foul after a while, but part of me wishes that I could have bottled the smell right away, sealed it up, and grown more of it so I could spray it in Northern newsrooms, insurance offices, church offices, and government buildings everywhere: the cure for the catastrophic strain of ADHD.