January 20, 2004
Pictures from an Institution, VII; by anon.
Get your first six chapters here. Herewith, the seventh installment, "Triumph."
Friday, December 28: Lacey Carsey stomps the streets of the French Quarter, her curls frizzing and bobbing in the wet New Orleans air. Her boots clop like militant hooves. Her jeans squeak as her thighs swipe back and forth. Beneath soft boxy flannel her breasts keep time with her stride. A bag from Alternatives, the Quarter's gay and lesbian bookstore, swings in her left hand. A bandage wraps her right. A crazy weather of scowls and pouts and frowns and grins crosses her scrubbed unplucked face, interspersed with sporadic commentary spontaneously addressed to the air. Lacey Carsey has just come from her interview, and has much to replay and relive.
Lacey Carsey has always talked to herself, and she has always been most given to doing it on the street. Something about walking triggers talking in Lacey Carsey. The even rhythms of locomotion deepen her breathing and lull her mind; they are the closest she ever comes to meditation, to calming her mental storm into a slow, almost still roil. Out of these smoldering depths comes conversation--endless, animated, aimless, directed at no one. When Lacey Carsey walks she speaks to empty open space. Space, Lacey has discovered, is a very good listener.
Lacey Carsey has not felt so empowered since she first laid eyes on Chelsea Lain. She has never felt so centered in her life. She tells the air around her all about it as she clomps down Dumaine Street, past the Biscuit Palace and the Voodoo Museum, describing how she swept into that suite full of bourgeois complacency wearing combat boots, black jeans, and a black tank top; how she took possession of a straight-backed chair, crossed her legs, and proceeded to dominate the room. How it had been twenty minutes before anyone else could get a word in edgewise; how it had been forty more before they stopped asking questions about her research, her activism, her queer positive teaching strategies.
No one asked about the bandage on her hand, she reassures the air, but she could see them staring at it, and could tell they thought it was a wound acquired in the line of protest. She could see, when she spoke of her activities organizing graduate student labor and chairing the new campus chapter of the Coalition to Rescue an Environmentally Endangered Planet, that the bandage consecrated their respect for her.
Lacey Carsey bristles with laughter. Her teeth flash in the light and seem, to the vagrant shambling out of her determined way, to throw sparks.
It was true, she confessed confidentially, that she had had a slight mishap that morning, with the makeup and the clothes. She had let her love for Chelsea Lain get the better of her, and had allowed herself to be led by a girl's advice into a compromising complicity with the heterosexist male gaze that would be evaluating her candidacy. It had been wrong to attempt the standard feminine attire of blazer, skirt, hose and heels; wronger still to let her Chelsea Lain's misguided ideas about professional attire interfere with her sense of herself as an intellectual force to be reckoned with. But she had recollected herself in time, and when she put her hand through the bathroom mirror she had recovered her radical feminist core. The cuts were good. They were the sharpest of sharp reminders. Her days of letting Chelsea Lain lead her around by the nose were over. Chelsea Lain had a lot to learn about feminism, and Lacey Carsey would be the one to teach her.
She had been lax and self-indulgent, she owned, waiting to cross, in allowing her feelings for her protege to get in the way of the work she had to do. Never again, Lacey Carsey vowed. From now on, she would answer solely to her inner compass. She would do righteous work and never forget her purpose. And she would lead Chelsea out of her confused interpellated state and into the politicized light of the cause. "Because for Chelsea," she explained as the light turned green, "it's all still an abstraction, you know what I mean? She is still, like, eccentric to herself. She hasn't moved from theory to practice. But she will. I will see to that. But first," she continued, glancing at her watch, "I have to get back. In half an hour there's a talk on mahogany and slavery in Jane Eyre that I have GOT to hear."
At the foot of Dumaine, Lacey Carsey spies a Cafe du Monde. She stops, frowns, struggles to remember. She feels as though there is something she has forgotten to do. "Coffee!" she exclaims. She has not had breakfast, and is suddenly aware of a painfully empty stomach. There is just time to pop in and grab a cup to go.
to be continued