The Pierre Thomas Jersey
A Saints Fan Leaves New Orleans for New York
A little over two weeks ago, I moved away from New Orleans after about 4 1/2 years living there. I wrote over a thousand words on my personal Tumblr about why I pursued a job in New York, why I accepted it and how I felt leaving New Orleans, with several asides reifying the city and its culture and the people that make it what it is. But I didn’t publish it. Because really, as always, it all comes down to the Saints.
When I took this new job, I knew I couldn’t afford to hire movers and none of my possessions was worth renting a Budget truck. So I moved in my car, selling most of my big items, giving away others and donating a number to Goodwill. But when I was finally packing up my car the day before leaving, it became clear that I still had too many possessions, so I started offloading even more stuff, with a large amount of that going to my neighbor, the godmother of the 3000 block of Dumaine Street, Ms. Barbara.
Among everything I offloaded to Ms Barbara was a pair of 8”x10” Saints pictures—one of Marques Colston, my favorite athlete ever, and the other of Scott Fujita, both purchased for 20 bucks from Wal Mart in early 2009—that just couldn’t fit in the car. So I asked Ms. Barbara if she or her son Will, who is in his 30s and lives the other half of Ms. Barbara’s quintessentially New Orleanian double shotgun, would want them. She said, “Oh, honey, yes. Give those to me. Will’s got a whole room filled with Saints stuff, he’ll love these.” So I gave them to her.
A short time later, as I was making trips to and from the car in the suffocating heat of late July in New Orleans, Will came home, pulling up in front of our brightly painted cluster of shotguns and getting out of his car. Ms. Barbara told him to look inside his house—“Oh yeah, Alexander got you something, go in and check it out”—and then came back out to thank me. He told me what Ms. Barbara had said, that he had a whole room filled with Saints stuff.He asked me to come in and see it.
I followed him inside, taking off my shoes at Ms. Barbara’s request. I had lived next door to Will for a while now and never been inside his house. It was tidy—tidier than you’d expect from a thirty-something single man. The third room down the shotgun was his Saints room. It was tasteful, which is hard to achieve with something as silly as a room in your home based on a professional sports team.
The walls were painted black, of course, with the gold part of the black-and-gold just coming from the Saints memorabilia placed around the room. A blanket on the floor, partially covered by Will’s bicycle, propped on its kickstand and set on the blanket at just such an angle that it was obviously set there with care. Some signed photos and posters on the wall, as well as several jerseys—Jackson, Roaf, Deuce, Colston—signed and framed. Two Super Bowl XVIV balls sat inside glass cases on the mantle, one signed by the championship-winning offense, the other by the defense. My Colston and Fujita pictures were propped up on the floor in front of the fireplace.
But that Colston jersey, oh, that Colston jersey. It was one of those gold ones, scrawled with the player’s barely-legible signature. It had the spot on the wall just to the left of the fireplace, the only item on that section of wall. Everything else there was great, but I went straight to that item. It was huge, and something about it, in this room at this moment, was mesmerizing. I told Will about how Colston was my favorite player, I told him about my personalized “HOFSTRA GRAD!” shirt that was made for me. (I’m obnoxious in my Colston fanboy-ism. When he does something good, I yell “HOFSTRA GRAD!” Because it’s funny and great and inspiring that he went to a university with a minor football program that shut that program down shortly after he left. In a way it’s emblematic of everything that makes me respect him more than most athletes.)
So I stared at the shirt, and mumbled like a crazy fanboy about Marques Colston, and Will stopped me:
“You have his jersey?”
“No, I don’t.”
Will went to the closet. “I get one new jersey every season. Every year.” The closet was packed full of jerseys and other Saints gear. “What number’s Colston? 12? Damn, I don’t think I have a Colston.” Other than the signed one hanging on the wall, of course.
Then he asked me if I have a Super Bowl jersey. I don’t. I didn’t tell him this, but I only have two jerseys, a Deuce McAlister and a signed Lance Moore, both of which were found (by chance) on the ground in New Orleans, the former in the street in front of a Lower Garden District bar, the latter on a French Quarter sidewalk. I’ve never felt like a jersey was worth the expense. Especially now when I had wanted to buy all these mementos before I left but was instead offloading most of the relics of my time in New Orleans to clear room in the car.
So Will pulled out a Super Bowl jersey, black and gold with the SB XVIV patch on the sleeves, better quality than either of the jerseys I own already. Number 23, Pierre Thomas.
“Oh man, that’s awesome.”
“Man, I’ve got plenty. Enjoy New York.”
I mumbled something about how there was this Saints bar in Manhattan, I’d already done my research, and I would definitely wear this there for every single Saints game. He chuckled and I started to lose my ability to talk.
I could feel the tears coming, starting in my throat and taking over the tops of my cheeks, everything trembling and threatening to make me look like a sappy idiot against my own will. I scrunched my nose, which is the thing I do when I’m starting to cry and trying desperately not to. I thanked him as best I could and quickly left his house, nodding to his son who was watching television. I left his house. Ms. Barbara was on the porch watering plants but I don’t remember even acknowledging her. I went into my house and put my head down so that the brim of my Saints hat (a brown, cafe au lait color after years of use and sweat) hid my face from the people examining items in my living room that I was trying to offload.
I was sobbing. I went into my empty bedroom and I cried and I cried and I cried while squeezing that Pierre Thomas jersey like I was afraid of losing it. For days, I couldn’t even talk about Will giving me that jersey without crying. Even typing this now, I can’t believe the generosity and it makes me hurt—so intensely—for the 3000 block of Dumaine Street, the greatest block in New Orleans. When it came time to pack it away, I folded it carefully and made sure it was in the most secure spot in my car, and it’s now safely hanging in a prized spot in my closet in New York City.
Why did the gift of the jersey affect me so much? Up until that point I had not been sad to leave New Orleans. I had been working hard to prepare myself for the move and for work and life in New York and was excited about the new challenge and everything I would learn here about being a writer and a human being. I was moving forward, progressing, not taking the time to reflect on my time here.
But that jersey—more than everything I’ve brought with me from New Orleans, everything that gives me a connection to my life there in that city in which I spent the formative years of my adulthood—that jersey best vivifies my connection to that city. So long as you give yourself to it unabashedly, New Orleans will accept you completely. To wit: though I grew up in Baltimore, New Orleans is home. Will was never my friend, but we are both New Orleanians, and he accepted me even though I was relatively new to the city and was leaving it sooner than I ever wanted to. Will is New Orleans, Dumaine Street is New Orleans, Pierre Thomas is New Orleans, that jersey is New Orleans. I and the Saints and everyone in the Who Dat Nation across the country and the world: we are New Orleans.
Of course I hope to end up back in New Orleans, but even if life takes me in a different direction I know that my time there will always be an essential part of who I am. And I will always have that Pierre Thomas Super Bowl jersey.