When I watch police using tear gas against protesters, I find it pretty appalling. I am well aware what tear gas can do, as I once had my own supply. Not pepper spray: an actual canister of the hard stuff.
I didn’t ask for it or buy it, of course, but I was working in a club in New Orleans and finished my shift very late.
There are always problems with walking in the States. It is regarded with suspicion. In Miami, I loved walking in the tropical rain but cars would always stop. Walking meant you were either a hooker or in some distress. When I explained that I just liked it, drivers looked very disturbed.
In New Orleans the police would stop me and ask for ID, even though it’s a much more walkable city.
And mostly I felt safe, as I worked till late then went out: so it would be getting light by the time I went home. But Roz, who ran the club for the dodgy owner, was worried about me.
Roz had been a nun. Not by choice. She had been put into a convent in Ireland for not being the full ticket. She’d not escaped until her thirties, and ran away to America. She never slept, which I put down to convent routine but maybe was to do with the jar of black bombers she kept under the till. She and the guys behind the bar were very protective of me, even as they laughed at my accent and kept making me say draught beer and tomatoes.
The head barman, Silv, would say: “How are you getting home, Suzie Q?”
“On the bus.”
They all found this incredible even though New Orleans had good buses – even the streetcars with Desire as their final destination.
“Here, take this,” he said.
“What is it?”
“Mace. But not that shit you buy in shops. This is the real shit.”
“OK,” I said.
“Anyone bother you, girl, straight in the face – they won’t get up again.”
This seemed extreme but they were insistent.
“And don’t go around with it in the bottom of your bag. Have it in your pocket ready to use.”
I did as I was told, but was rather put out that no one really hassled me. It was quite frustrating.
Then one morning at about six, when I was coming home from the most fabulous blues gig – you knew it was the real deal when the pianist pissed on stage – a guy came up to me at the bus stop and asked what time the next bus was.
“Get away from me,” I screamed. “I’ll Mace you.”
And before he had the chance to, I had. He was on the ground, screaming, writhing and unable to breathe. Thank God the bus came, so I got away from this attempt at
self-defence. I really hoped no one had seen the “attack”.
Still, it did make me think twice about accepting the “ladies’ gun” the barman offered me the next day.