Law taught me about nonconformity. "If you want to fight a corrupt, patriarchal, capitalist system based on privilege, you have to remove yourself from it," he explained when I asked him why he was asking for change on Frenchmen. "I'm from Chicago. I dropped out of school and with the last of the money my bourgeoisie parents gave me I got a ticket here. Now I'm free."
"How does it feel?" I asked.
"I feel like a rock star," he said. "But not a sellout. Can I have some change?"
I asked him down the street Cafe Negril and bought us both quesadillas. We ate outside among the passersby. It was unusually quiet on Frenchmen that night. The air was spicy and, whenever the wind picked up, brass music and the scent of whiskey and beer hit us from the direction of the Spotted Cat.
"Why 'Law?'" I asked
"It's ironic," he said. "My last name is French. 'Droit.' I decided to embrace my name to emphasize my living outside the System."
"Did you just say that with a capital 'S?'"
"Only unintentionally. Capitalization is hierarchical."
This was August, just after I arrived in New Orleans. He said it was good that I work to rebuild homes, but that AmeriCorps was essentially just a part of the larger, unjust, inhuman machine. My clothes were a particular problem. Working in the office, I have to wear business casual.
"You're dressing like a classist," he said. "You can't even afford those clothes on your stipend."
"So tell them to go fuck themselves."
"Then I couldn't eat."
"So. I don't have job or a stipend and I eat."
"If I got fired then you wouldn't eat either."
"That's not the point."
We made a compromise. I would continue to wear my bourgeoisie clothes, but I would find other ways to undermine the System. I stopped using credit cards and shopped locally. When the election came up, I didn't vote and let everyone know that I wasn't participating. I decided I would only shit at Walmart.
The last part of my lifestyle change presented the greatest challenge. I don't live near any Walmarts. There is one on my way to work, though, and so I devised a system of detours. I never bought anything. I just used their paper and water, chipping away at their profit margin, and issuing an indirect, albeit not terribly subtle, protest.
Once I got into the rhythm, things got easier. Usually I would take my lunch break, walk to Walmart, defecate, and be back in plenty of time to actually eat and go back to the job. The only time I had a serious difficulty was during Tropical Storm Lee.
I biked through wind and rain all the way to St. Bernard Parish and by the time I arrived I was drenched and shivering. The greeter began to say, "Hello!" and stopped short. "Oh, honey," she said. "Why are you out in Lee?"
"I have business to attend to," I said and then carried out my social duty.
On the way out, the greeter waved to me grimly, looking pointedly out at the catastrophic rain. "You be safe."
When I got home I collapsed in bed and slept for the rest of the day. It was a long weekend, thankfully, because of Memorial Day. My throat was swollen and I could barely move when I woke up on Sunday afternoon. Law was there. He sat next to my bed with a cup of chamomile tea and honey. The storm hadn't let up at all and I could hear the cacophony on the roof and see water dripping down from the ceiling into a pan to a perfect rhythm. The lights were off.
"Are you awake?" he asked.
"I'm proud of you," he said.
The tea was hot, sweet and had a rich, herbal flavor. Sitting up was agony. I fell back on my pillow and felt a wave of nausea pass through my whole body.
"By now in Chicago it would be a lot colder. It would be jacket weather," Law told me. "You know, that's why things move at their own pace down here. The weather. It has a twelve month growing season. Why do things now when you can plant your crops any time of the year and be all right for food. In the north, you have to worry about starving if you don't plan ahead. "
He was quiet for a long time. Just as I drifted off, I thought I heard him murmur, "The cold weather makes me hungry."