The End of the Nuclear Family

ANDREI CODRESCU

February 08, 1993|By ANDREI CODRESCU

NEW ORLEANS. — New Orleans -- I get my hair cut at Whodunit, a mystery-bookstore barbershop. Charles, the barber, cuts my hair while his son sells mysteries to people waiting in line.

Across the street from Whodunit is Reginelli's, an eating gallery that serves food and displays art. You're handed two menus when you sit down: one for art, one for food. Pasta con funghi, $9.50. Sunset at the Dump: $4,750. Most people take the pasta.

A few streets over is the DMZ laundromat-bar where single people with small loads of laundry drink while bluejeans spin. On the same corner is Suntan Clean, a dry-cleaners and suntan parlor where both you and your clothes get the same treatment.

The couples I see in these places are as oddly matched as shampoo and Chandler. As the nuclear threat recedes so does the nuclear family. I talked to a nostalgic conservative at Whodunit who told me he felt regret for all things nuclear but that his own household had never been nuclear, consisting as it did of his libertarian boyfriend, five members of both their bankrupt farm families, and several foreign students from good Latin American families.

I suppose the corresponding liberal family, on the other hand, would consist of adopted children with a sprinkling of homeless and a hard-to-disentangle gaggle of ex-spouses. Apolitical, misanthropic types will just add multiple personalities when they feel the need for company.

''You'll need a computer to know for sure who everybody at dinner is,'' grinned Charles while snipping a healthy segment of my flowing mane. Well, why not? Complexity without hostility is my motto, and the more complex people get the more interesting the services that will cater to them.

I mean, where does someone with 28 personalities go to get their hair cut? Whodunit is a start: At least one of them can read mysteries. The other 27 have to wait for the future. State communism's dead, long live the new communalism!

Andrei Codrescu is editor of Exquisite Corpse.

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