We ate at a sushi restaurant last night. Going out to eat in New Orleans is still a pleasurable, yet surreal experience. You can almost forget that 80 percent of the city is drowned and dead. Almost.
We went to the Ninja on Oak Street. There was a full menu of specialty dishes and all the rolls you could imagine. There were moist towels to clean before eating, warm saki in little cups, chopsticks and wasabi.
And then there's the plasic spoons and styrofoam plates and bowls.
We asked the waiter, what's up with the throw-away plates?
"Can't find a dishwasher," he said.
Here was a restaurant filled with patrons, upstairs and down. Plenty of people coming in and out, plenty of people working at the sushi bar, lots of activity in the kitchen. But no one to wash dishes.
No college students, no low-skilled laborers, no teens looking to make a few dollars to get that first car. And we are reminded again that we are the lucky few, the ones who for some reason or another still have a place to live, still can find a place to rent, still have a job to be able to pay for it all.
No matter how good the food, no matter how nice the friends and the conversation, the reality of our city's plight fills the room.
Beyond the walls, the happy sounds and smells of fine Japanese cuisine, we know the city of New Orleans lies stretched out like a rotting corpse. Large tracts of the city remain dark and lifeless, slowly decaying. No amount of wasabi can cloak it.
We enjoy our meal anyway. We talk about life before and after Katrina. We talk about the possibility of leaving New Orleans, to places that aren't so damaged, to jobs that might offer more opportunities. We console each other about the poor leadership we're getting from the city, the state, congress and the president. We toast better times, past and future, and depart into the dark, wet night.
As Chris Difford sang, "The past is just a portrait, The future’s ours to frame."