Once upon a time, Grand Isle, La., was your average, everyday, sleepy Gulf Coast fishing mecca and tourist trap.
No more. BP changed that in a heartbeat.
Or . . . could it be that the BPocalypse -- this stress-inducing gumbo of lawyers, guns and money (and a big, big oil spill) -- merely has broken down inhibitions enough, just like extreme stress or extreme drink can do to people, so that now it's just more of what it already was beneath a carefully constructed facade?
This is the kind of question we'll be pondering all across the Gulf for a long, long time as klepto-capitalism rides the waves, crying "Havoc!"
IF YOU'VE NOT been regularly reading the oil-spill dispatches of Mother Jones' Mac McClelland already, now would be a good time to start:
I hear about the race riot at Daddy's Money almost as soon as I arrive on Grand Isle, Louisiana. My friend and I are going to the bar tonight to catch the "female oil wrestling" oil-spill cleanup workers have been packing in to see on Saturday nights. When we stop by the office of the island's biggest seafood distributor, he tells us that two days ago a bunch of black guys and a bunch of white guys got into a big fight at the bar. It spilled out all over the street and had to be broken up by a ton of cops.THE LONGER I live away from Louisiana, the more I think I'd consider it a badge of honor to be called a Yankee by some good ol' boy.
According to the Census, 1,541 people live in this slow Southern resort town. An estimated 2.9 of them are black. That was before the spill. The seafood guy gestures in the direction of the floating barracks being built on barges in the bay to house the lower-skilled cleanup workers, and says that people think the barracks will keep those workers—who are mostly black—from "jumping off" onto dry land and causing trouble.
That night, dozens of men in race-segregated packs crowd around to watch strippers dance around and then tussle inside the bouncy inflatable ring set up inside Daddy's Money. Female oil wrestlers need, obviously, to be oiled. Plastic cups full of baby oil are being auctioned off, along with the right to rub their contents all over one of the thong-bikinied gals. "I hope there's no dispersant in that oil!" someone quips. The bidding before the first match starts at $10; it ends pretty quickly when some kid offers $100.
"He outbid me!" the guy next to me yells. His name is Cortez. He bid $80. He has dollar bills tucked all the way around under the brim of his hat, and piles of them in his fist. He has spent $200 of his $1,000 paycheck already tonight. "I am coming here every Saturday from now on," he says. He gestures expansively at the scene—writhing women; hollering, money-throwing men. "Sponsored by BP!" he yells, laughing, then throws his arms around me and grabs my ass.
Upstairs, on the open-air deck, the supervisors and professional contractors drink. One comes over to talk; he calls me a Yankee when I don't get that when he says "animals" he means black guys. Another tells us about the crime-prone "monkeys." I have already stopped counting how many times I've heard the n-word on Grand Isle today.
That said, chances are, Grand Isle -- and the rest of the eroding, subsiding Louisiana coast -- will sink into the toxic sea before the spill-induced societal Armageddon has run its course there, giving way to the everyday, ordinary Louisiana pathologies that have proven so resistant to enlightenment.
"We'll be here as long as oil keeps washing up," the contractor says.THE HUMAN CONDITION can be an ugly thing. And leave it to a titty bar in some oil-soiled backwater of a too-poor, too-ignorant and too-hateful Southern state to "kick it up a notch."
"So..." I laugh sort of helplessly. "A year?"
"Three years..." he says. "Five years..."
"Hopefully forever," the guy next to him says. "I need this job if I can't work offshore anymore." Last week, the emcee that accompanies the oil wrestlers yelled into the microphone, "Let that oil gush! Let that money flow!" The workers -— part of the new Grand Isle scenery of helicopters, Hummers, and National Guardsmen, serious people in uniforms and coveralls and work boots -- the workers around the wrestling ring, drunk and blowing cash from jobs that might kill them, cheered.