Not necessarily true

In a streetcar in New Orleans


A sadly underreported fact about the famous streetcar named desire is that when it stops to reverse direction at Poydras and St. Peters streets, the driver of the Sunday evening shift leaves the streetcar with its power off and doors open for twenty minutes, twice. Once before he turns it around, and once after he turns it around, he enters the casino for a “bathroom break.” One function of the break is to release an ambiguous distribution of flows that has built up over the course of the shift, but its second function is to create the effect that the streetcar turns around. For, the streetcar named desire never turns around. Rather, it only moves forward and backward, and even this is disputable given the stupidity of such a distinction in the present case. In a transfixing basin of the most vulgar flows and breaks, a lowly circuitry connects a classic American waterway to voodoo-electric rails, which plug Yankee Doodle dandies into the raw and base truth of what is called, I think, sometimes ironically, true love.


I was born somewhere in the northeast of the United States in 1986 as the bastard brat of an Irish peddler. Pursuing a profession that does not permit regular exercise of my formerly youthful literary talents, I trust the reader will excuse any minor error or awkwardness in my prose. I write to you, the public, not on account of any particular stylistic ability I possess (although I do believe I possess such ability, as is evident in my prose) but because I have experienced something unique and of a general human interest, because I alone have seen and heard exceptional things and can formulate a small story that, I believe, amounts to a whole greater than the sum of its parts and is truly profound and of the utmost urgency to my peers.

I will skip several interesting details of my life and begin with the year 2004 when my first and current serious girlfriend first obtained me. She was beautiful, the best, I daresay. My parents never divorced but despite this, or because of it, I have always held the strictest conviction that romantic relationships should imply absolute erotic fidelity. Everyone cheats: celebrity cell-phone penis and crying family-men on my computer and television, respectively. But I would not and do not cheat, on anything or anyone. Although I am modern and emancipated, I am classically educated in the western, Christian tradition and I, for one, have a taste for the pathos of ascetic self-abnegation. How else is one to live a life of any depth and gravitas if not through a certain accumulation of resources, a continually unreleased pregnancy of energy?


Then one night in New Orleans, Louisiana, there on business, I met an interesting woman a few years older than myself. When I first met her she told me a curious fact: when a novice hunter first shoots a rifle at big game, it often happens that he misses his shot but also gets an erection, as if through some cosmic inter-specie compensation. Standing under one of those very southern, very slave-owning-like New Orleans second-story balconies that line the streets of the French Quarter, I was surprised by this statement. She did not look the hunting type: her pale and mean visage of disaffection was of the liberal-urban variety, a disaffection similar in origin but distinct in manifestation to the back-to-basics, neo-luddite, hunting kind. But when a beautiful stranger tells you something questionable in a contemporary American city underneath slave-owning-like balconies, you believe it because you like it, and then you like it even more, so much that you then simply and truly believe it without qualification. In any event, we did some drinking and a lot of walking around in circles; we walked a short stretch of the Mississippi, silently waiting for something profoundly American to happen; having little money and less desire to spend any, we walked into the Harrah’s casino for some free oxygen, the purest oxygen available in the middle of a New Orleans evening, oxygen pure enough to wake the dead and which, in fact, serves no other purpose than precisely to keep the dead awake.

It was when we walked out of the casino that we saw the driver of the streetcar named desire pretending to turn it around.


“How long until it starts up again?” I asked the man.

“Twenty minutes,” he said.

Both of us needed to go uptown eventually, but neither of us would have objected to riding the streetcar in whatever direction it might have been going. It was cold outside and since, despite the doors being open, the streetcar retained some of its interior heating, we naturally went inside and took our seats. I cannot speak for the lady but, of course, I made some mental calculations and conjured up a montage of film scenes in which someone other than I makes a very efficient use of twenty minutes within a dark, warm New Orleans streetcar. This musing itself being pleasant enough, and my being in a serious romantic relationship of absolute fidelity to another woman not present, combined to result in what I deemed at the time to be an outstandingly honorable self-restraint. First, as I said before, I do not cheat on anything or anyone. Second, who knew if anyone else might board the streetcar or if the man would return in less than twenty minutes? Nonetheless, I grappled with the possibility that my so-called restraint was in fact simply a tragic impotence to assume heroically such a rare and mythically-saturated inflection of my own destiny.

Eventually, after nobody else boarded the streetcar and the man came back exactly twenty minutes later, he turned on the streetcar, moved it one hundred feet westward, and then turned it off again. He exited the streetcar saying to us, once again, “I’ll be back in twenty minutes.” As I sat with the lady once again in a dark, empty New Orleans streetcar, by this time the indicators of our joint destinies had become so palpably insistent and demonstrative that this second chance defeated itself in the obviousness of its divine generosity.

“Thank you, God,” I thought to myself, “I get it, but now you have insulted me.”

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Murphy, Justin. 2009. "In a streetcar in New Orleans," (December 14, 2018).