Jesus and the Devil down in New Orleans

There was nothing much left on the street but the bar. It was empty except for the Devil, who was able to make the place seem too small just by being there. He was wearing a cheap suit and drinking Caribbean rum — one of his favorites from the old days. He sprawled across his chair and orated across the room to the bartender.

“I got the best job.” he bragged, “I hardly have to do anything, I just go with the flow.”

“Some people say you’re pretty busy here.” the bartender said, pushing up her beehive hair.

“I’m never busy,” the Devil smirked, “I work smart, I have a system. Like this levee breach, once you have the system in place, the results are guaranteed. I just get people to look at the short-term gain.”

The bartender stared at him blankly.

“The short-term gain, Nola,” he laughed. “No new taxes! That’s one of my favorites. We just move some funds from line item A to line item B on the state budget and everyone’s happy. No one’s thinking about the levees, they’re thinking about how their politicians are stealing their tax money — and you bet, the politicians are on the take, I’ve got that covered too. I was there when the Army Corps of Engineers were doing it fast and cheap. I’ve got my guys in the Federal bureaucracy, timid and career-minded. They don’t want to be Chicken Little. I got so much mileage out of greed and denial I hardly even had to play the race card till after Katrina. Then I spread those lies about gangs of rampaging Negroes with guns and the reporters fell for it. The friggin’ Red Cross wouldn’t even go in. What a laugh– they go into Lebanon and Bosnia, but they were scared away from New Orleans when little old ladies were dying in their wheelchairs. The race card is my ace, it never fails.”

Right then, the door opened by itself, and a moment later Jesus walked in.

“What up, bro?” called the Devil, trying to sound Black. It sounded weird coming from him, because he was wearing the aspect of Jerry Falwell.

Jesus sat down next to the Devil. “The usual, Nola,” he said in a voice like violins. The bartender brought him a bottle of Fiji water.

“I love that stuff,” said the Devil, “It’s seriously underpriced when you consider the carbon footprint. Plastic bottle, transport, waste disposal, and those poor Fijians who ain’t got no water now. What a bargain!”

“I appreciate quality.” said Jesus meekly. He passed his hand over his glass and the water turned red as blood.

“Folks giving you credit for all this.” the Devil said, waving his hand at the window where boarded storefronts and weedy lots baked in the sun. “They say you sent Katrina because you don’t like sin.”

“Hey, I took a loss like everyone else.” Jesus said. “I had a church on every block, almost as many churches as you have bars. Anyway, I’m not a weather god, and even if I was, the hurricane didn’t do all this damage. It was the levees.”

The Devil smiled modestly. “You have to know how to work with human nature. Keep them focused on the short-term gain. Invite them to cut corners, steal a little when no one’s looking. I got to give you some of the credit too, keeping their eyes on the hereafter. If they built something for themselves instead of sending their money to our televangelists they might have had some clout. They might have got those levees fixed before the storm. They might have had some buses to take the old people out. But I’m working on a new trick for the race card. Listen to this…”

The Devil sat up straight and deepened his voice, just like a talk-show host. He sounded righteously indignant. “We gave billions of our tax dollars to these people and what good did it do? Murders are up, trash in the streets, they’re chronic, you can’t help them.”

Jesus looked pained. “You know that most of those billions are going to your friends in Washington, or tied up in red tape.”

“Yeah, pretty slick, huh?” chuckled the Devil.

A shadow passed across the door and a small dusty man walked in. He stood waiting for the bartender to notice him. “Nola, cherie, can I have a glass of water?”

“You ever going to buy a drink here, Least?”

Least smiled, a little embarrassed. Nola turned her back on him, and then turned around with a big glass of water with ice and a straw. As Least reached for the glass Jesus and the Devil vanished in a puff of cigar smoke and a whiff of dead carnations. It was as if they had never been.

“How’s the house coming, Least?”

“Got the windows in, Nola, in time for the rain. We’re still in the trailer but it’s getting there. Little by little, shovel by shovel, cherie, step by step we’re coming home.”

3 thoughts on “Jesus and the Devil down in New Orleans

  1. I love it, too. It’s very nimble in its telling, and funny — not easy to mix with rich allegory. Like a political cartoon, and also magical realism.

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