When I moved into my New Orleans neighborhood, I quickly became acquainted with Albert, who is legendary and beloved around here.
He is someone I probably never would have met in Baton Rouge, because in that city, you cage yourself up in an arctic car to get around and go about your life. But here, in New Orleans, you have every motivation to stay within a few square blocks, easy walking distance, because there is so much life and magic in even that small amount of space. Especially in my neighborhood.
I didn’t quite know what to make of Albert when I first met him outside the A&P, which has since become a slowly renovated Breaux Mart. An older black man wearing shabby, dusty black clothes, with a cataract and a constant smile, he looked like a shaman who’d crossed a desert. Every time I saw Albert after that, no matter what, he always said to me, “God bless you, baby” as we crossed paths.
I soon learned that he blessed everybody he met and saw, each and every day. This in no way diminishes the fact that each time he spoke with you, it was a unique and personal greeting. He and Jamey seem to have a very special bond, as do many people and merchants up and down Magazine in particular – spoken, unspoken, negotiated, created, serendipitously discovered, it makes no difference – everybody around here knows and loves Albert, takes care of him when they can and receives his blessing no matter what.
“God bless you, baby.” It always made my day to see him, to be blessed by our neighborhood shaman, but I took him for granted as part of my neighborhood, part of the fabric and magic of my life here. I didn’t realize how much until today, when I discovered that Albert has died and passed on from this neighborhood to another.
While those of us here in his old neighborhood will miss him, I know he will be beloved there as well, and bless all those he meets.
[8.7.10 Update: The bench memorial has grown. And I found a wonderful picture of Albert online. Look below: