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An Odd Fellow’s Memorial Day May 25, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 8-29, Federal Flood, home, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember.
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I was born in 1957 and so I am reckoned one of the last of the baby boomers, that generation borne by the parents who went through World War II. I grew up in a neighborhood full of fathers who had served in World War II, some later in Korea, and frankly I do not remember anyone making much of Memorial Day.

It was the sort of day when the grownups would sit outside, cocktails in hand and laughing; one of the last days before the heat became unbearable, when they could reenact the ritual they knew from the days before air conditioning of sitting out and visiting with the neighbors; a day when the children would run wild up and down the lawn-flanked, oak-shared lanes that ran behind all our houses, as tipsy as our parents on the first days of summer freedom. The fog man might come by in his war surplus jeep pumping God only knows what sort of poison out in a bright, white cloud to keep down the mosquitoes, and the kids would run after him and into the cloud yelling, “the fog man, the fog man”, our small bodies sucking up the DDT while our parents drank bourbon and branch and let us run wild.

Most people’s childhoods must seem an idyllic time looking back from the age of fifty-something but ours seems particularly so as I watch my children grow up without a pack of children on the block and among neighbors who mostly don’t socialize as our parents did. The place we grew up, the upper-middle class suburb of Lake Vista with its cul de sac streets and the shaded sidewalks called lanes that ran behind the houses and up to broad parkways that bisected the neighborhood, was certainly Edenic compared to most every other place I’ve lived.

By the early 1960s it was full of families whose fathers had made something of themselves after the war, professionals and small business men who had done well. These were not people who came home and joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars or the American Legion, the ones who kept their old uniforms and decorations to pull out on Memorial Day to parade down the street. Those were not our fathers: men who after the war were busy trying to finish school or start careers with small children and wives they married so young, who were busily trying to sort out and make something of their life. No one in our neighborhood joined those groups or marched in those parades.

Our father’s did not talk much about the war to us even as we ran through the neighborhood armed with plastic replicas of the very weapons they had carried, acting out the hundreds of old war movies that were a staple of television of the time. We did not much go in for Cowboys and Indians, but preferred to play act the battles of the TV show Combat! For my own father perhaps it was the one experience he told me of, huddled in a beet furrow somewhere in France pinned down by machine gun fire and raked by mortars. He huddled in that furrow, dug small shelves into the mud and lined them with tissue and tore down his Browning Automatic Rifle which had landed in the mud.

He was one of the few survivors of that event, and while he never spoke of it except in outline (and to proudly recount how he cleaned his BAR) I can readily imagine laying there in the dark and the rain, cleaning his weapon while around him most of the young men he had trained with for this day lay dead or dying, some of them perhaps crying out, others fingering the rosaries like the one I still have, the one my mother made for my father to take with him. If to these men Memorial Day was not a time to remember what they went through but to celebrate their survival, to relish friends and family over cocktails on a buggy, summery afternoon I can find no fault in that.

I grew up in an era when the little cardboard bank calendars, the ones with the bank’s name in faux gold leaf and a mercury thermometer in the frame, still listed Confederate Memorial Day (observed on Jefferson Davis’ birthday on June 3rd in most of the South, so soon after the current observance). Perhaps that is a small part of the lack of enthusiasm for the official Memorial Day. And this far toward the equator a Monday in late May is not the first day warm enough for the beach or a big picnic in the park, not by a long shot. If anything, Memorial Day is likely as not to be the first truly miserable day of summer, when the mercury in those little calendar thermometers would first climb above ninety and the breeze in from the lake was as full of water as the pitcher that sat on the patio table and we were just as sweaty.

So come Memorial Day down in New Orleans we might catch the President laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns on the 10 o’clock news as we crawl into bed, stuffed with grilled steak and itchy with bug bites and sleepy from too much beer in the sun, but the reason for the day will largely escape our notice. As the air conditioning whistles us to sleep it might occur to us that summer, at last, has truly arrived, as wet and heavy and ominous as a blizzard turned inside out.

Memorial Day has a new and special significance for me: this is the day I arrived home. In May 2006 I left the children with their grandparents in Fargo, N.D. to be put on a plane later, hitched the boat to the back of the car and started south. Three days later on Memorial Day, 2006 I parked the boat in a marina yard in Mandeville, and made my way across the lake to the small house on Toulouse Street that is now our home. When I sat down to write about it this time last year the real significance of the date finally began to sink in. The first years it was, “oh, this was the week the kids and I got to New Orleans”, but not a day fraught with meaning.

I read those old words (trying to recall how many beers in the sun proceeded that post) and I once again recall that drive as if it were yesterday. It occurs to me that taking a short cut down Polk in Lakeview–over broken streets that already looked like Patton’s Third Army had rolled over them 20 years before the flood, lined three years ago with houses that looked like the combat-broken landscape of the war movies of my childhood–I had missed passing all of the large monuments of the cemeteries.

I can’t quite name them all unless I jump in the car or on the bike and ride up and down City Park Avenue but a few some to mind, the firefighter’s memorial from the days of the old volunteer fire companies and the mounded hill that covers the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks mausoleum in Greenwood, the tall Grecian column just across the street that memorializes I don’t know what (but will have to wander over later and find out), the pharaonic family tomb that squats in a corner of Metairie Cemetery just off of the interstate.

Somewhere behind the perpetually uncared for broken clock that stands at the head of Canal Street in Greenwood Cemetery lies the Hilbert family tomb where my father and brother lay with my mother’s family. Someday when my mother and her sister are not around to question me I will put up a stone that says Folse atop the one that reads Hilbert, but I don’t want to be buried there among the Hilberts. I have no idea what anyone reading this should do with my remains, but that tomb is not the place. It will not be my own tiny monument in that field of raised tombs.

I often spoke of building a raised tomb when I lived in Fargo, anxious that I might just be tossed into the ground like the rest of them, wanting my far off branch of the family to have a proper memorial of the sort someone from New Orleans expects. Now I think: better to be cremated and hope I have friends who survive me who will know what to do with those ashes, the places that were significant enough to me to be fitting. The thought that those friends will know what to do is probably memorial enough, to know I will be remembered.

For now the only personal monuments I care about are the ones I have built here, the Wet Bank Guide and this one, Toulouse Street, and the pieces out of the Wet Bank Guide that make up Carry Me Home. I don’t want to be remembered for myself but rather as just another of the people who came home, that one cross you see in some pictures with a flag planted, or a spray of flowers in the endless fields of green and white that are military cemeteries. I want to be remembered as one of them all, as someone who helped to tell their story.

As we planned for the next Rising Tide conference the other night, the talk turned to how New Orleans has changed, and its people with it. Someone madet he comparison that occurs to me over and over again: that of the people of the Federal Flood to those of the Greatest Generation. Orleanians are thought indolent and silly with our devotion to festival and food above all else but all around me are people who have been through a profound trauma most Americans can barely imagine. They survived the biggest displacement Americans seen since the Civil War, returned to a city more like Europe after the bombardment and battles of WWII than anything ever seen on this continent, have struggled for years (still struggle today) to live here and rebuild.

These are a people who have seen death and devastation, known loss and disappointment that is painful to catalog, suffer from a traumatic stress that is not post traumatic stress because it is not yet over, may never be over for people of the generation of the flood, and still they get up on certain days and march down to the appointed place and eat and drink and dance and are happy. They are at once not that different from my parents sitting out on Memorial Day and at some deep level they are profoundly transformed. As we approach the fourth anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Flood they are people who have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and made the case for why we should be here. Few people since the days of the pioneers have a stronger claim to a place.

Some will think it irreverent and disrespectful to say this on Memorial Day, even as soldiers patrol in far off lands and on this day sacred to soldiers some may die, but I have said it before and I will say it again. I look at the people around me and all they have been through and all they have accomplished to remake their home and I think: there is no finer place to be an American today than in their company, here in New Orleans.

* Yes, I’ve cribbed this title from last year’s post, but it still seems apt. I will leave it to the burrowing graduate students of New Orleans history, the ones I imagine pouring over our blogs a hundred years from now as our own generation scoured the letters of civil war soldiers, to figure out if I was onto something or just lazy.

PARK BENCH POEM May 20, 2009

Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, poem, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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Busy and a bit cross-eyed and at a loss for words. Thankfully, others have come before us and found all the best ones. The rest of us just collect and rearrange them, like old homeless men shuffling in their carts to make room for one bright shining bottle among the crushed cans.

PARK BENCH POEM
By Everette Maddox

Mind if I put up
a park bench
in your mind?
I mean, if
the mind is a park,
why not have a poem in it?
After all, when
you get through
buying hotdogs &
getting a load
of the swans
you’ll want
some place to
sit down. It
ought to be fairly
comfortable by
the time a few
generations of
transient assholes
have worn it
smooth, & the paint
off – though
the original idea
was to advertise
my product: my own
green life, now
flaking into winter.

On another note, EveretteMaddox.org is down again. I have to hunt up that guy’s name (lost in the last hard drive crash) and remind him to check the site.

A Tale Of Ill Will May 14, 2009

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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Dear Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra,

You don’t get it, do you.

Earlier this week I got emails from You Tube informing me that your organization requested two very-low-fidelity excerpts of the 2008 Jazz Fest performance of Terence Blanchard’s A Tale of God’s Will be taken down.
Both ere posted there so that I could embed them in two blogs posts, one as an update to a post pimping Terence Blanchard’s performance with the LPO while I worked on a second post, a glowing personal review of the event.

It’s sad that an organization that has struggled terribly in the recent past would essentially waste time chasing down my crappy little camera videos, which I had put up on You Tube only so I could embed them in posts promoting and praising your collaboration with Terence Blanchard.

Some people just don’t get this new media thing, and cling to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and other protections like someone cowering behind a triple locked door thinking that will solve the crime problem outside, thinking it will save their little corner of the music industry. It will not. Instead, you spurned my small act of promotion for your participation in this event.

Hell, you’re not even the copyright holder. If Terence Blanchard had complained, I would feel a bit better, but would probably write to ask him why. He probably has more sense that to yank my two tiny, tinny recordings out of what is otherwise a glowing review of the event.

If the Jazz & Heritage Festival had done it, well, I’ve said enough bad things about their management, and using my $100 camera to capture two minutes excerpts of Jazz Fest performances explicitly violates their policies. I would not be surprised even though they would also be spurning free publicity from the one part of the public media that is actually growing in reach year by year while television, radio and the prints shrivel.

Fine. I have removed the embeds for these, and I repeat myself, very low fidelity video excerpts (placed per my statement of Fair Use below on the right) from the posts We Will Drown the Bitch in Beauty and A Tale of God’s Will and replaced them with more of my own still photography which is explicitly allowed by the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. And I will remove any references to the LPO from those posts, lest you come after me for the unauthorized reproduction of your name.

If you and the RIAA and others (the Associated Press comes to mind lately) think you can quash reasonable fair use by bloggers, good luck with that. The Internet was designed to survive a nuclear war. I think we can survive you.

Your’s Truly,

The Big Scary Blogger Trying To Steal Your Soul with a $100 Canon

Find someone or something to cling to May 9, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Bloggers, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, poem, Poetry, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Purloined from today’s Poetry Daily (see the RSS feed down the gutter at right), something in this piece at the bottom of this post seems to speak to this day in New Orleans like an especially apt horoscope. The news that another one of us is leaving, torn away by the whirlwind of a bitter child custody dispute, reminds us that we defy the gods to be here and risk the price they can extract.

When I first moved here and through some contacts in the media was interviewed as a willing transplant to a disaster zone, I was asked if I knew of any other post-Federal Flood arrivals. I always recommended Ashley Morris and Ray Shea.

Ashley died last April. In the afterword to Carry Me Home, I recalled something from his funeral:

Three of us were written up by the Los Angeles Times: Ray Shea, Ashley Morris and I. Ashley died April 2, 2008 at the age of forty-four of a heart attack. As we listened to the Hot 8 Brass Band playing at the cemetery after wards, someone came up to me and said, “Now it’s just you and Ray.” It sounded not precisely like a curse, but certainly an unlucky thing to say in a cemetery in New Orleans….

Does that make me the last man standing? By no measure. NOLA is full of people who love this place madly, who by words or paint or music or food or costume or dance live out that madness in a very public way. Its not only false, its a vain conceit, and if one is even a bit superstitious perhaps a dangerous one. Not precisely a curse is what I wrote last year, but Ray’s departure still seems a reminder of the potential price of our defiant stance here on this uncertain ground.

May he, like Odysseus, return home.

Storm Catechism

The gods are rinsing their just-boiled pasta
in a colander, which is why
it is humid and fitfully raining
down here in the steel sink of mortal life.
Sometimes you can smell the truffle oil
and hear the ambrosia being knocked back,
sometimes you catch a drift
of laughter in that thunder crack: Zeus
knocking over his glass, spilling lightning
into a tree. The tree shears away from itself
and falls on a car, killing a high school girl.
Or maybe it just crashes down
on a few trash cans, and the next day
gets cut up and hauled away by the city.
Either way, hilarity. The gods are infinitely perfect
as is their divine mac and cheese.
Where does macaroni come from? Where does matter?
Why does the cat act autistic when you call her,
then bat a moth around for an hour, watching intently
as it drags its wings over the area rug?
The gods were here first, and they’re bigger.
They always were, and always will be
living it up in their father’s mansion.
You only crawled from the drain
a few millennia ago,
after inventing legs for yourself
so you could stand, inventing fists
in order to raise them and curse the heavens.
Do the gods see us?
Will the waters be rising soon?
The waters will be rising soon.
Find someone or something to cling to.

Kim Addonizio

Five Points
Vol. 12, No. 3

Figured It All Out (Sort Of) May 7, 2009

Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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As I sit around desperately Trying To Figure It Out (and realizing I am neither Einstein nor Buddha so I am never going to figure IT out and this is a form of procrastination bordering on mental masturbation and well…). Damn. Time to put on a record. And get another beer.

If I’m going to figure anything out I think I need a bit of space to work in, and what better space than the one figured in Paul Kanter’s pompously perfect space opera Blows Against the Empire, possibly the most star-studded studio record of the whole San Francisco era.

And if in fact I am not going to figure IT out (that much we have arrived at by long and careful consideration), at least not tonight (and by counting the empties on the porch), then I might as well Dream…

Have you seen the stars tonight? Would you like go to up on A Deck and look at them with me?

earth1

La Dolce Vita May 6, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative.
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Sometimes at night the darkness and silence weighs on me. Peace frightens me. Perhaps I fear it most of all. I feel it’s only a facade, hiding the face of hell. I think of what’s in store for my children tomorrow; “The world will be wonderful”, they say; but from whose viewpoint? We need to live in a state of suspended animation, like a work of art; in a state of enchantment… detached. Detached.
— Divine Comedy The Certainty of Chance Lyrics
as a speech by Steiner in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita

No, I am not about to violently snap like Steiner in La Dolce Vita. The speech always struck my differently, perhaps the way it struck Marcello in the film before the tragic murder-suicide, not as advice but as a framing for a life in a seemingly pointless universe. Isn’t that the way Marcello chooses to live in the end, almost in a state of suspended animation?

I have always found a strange sort of solace in what others might find depressing. I do not seek the peace which passeth understanding, except perhaps in despair as one might seek solace in drink or in death. I understand the attraction of satori but it strikes me as ultimately dehumanizing. I am not ready to surrender up my self and my suffering for an empty bliss. Instead I need to learn to survive in this world where the first noble truth is inscribed like scar tissue somewhere deep beneath the skin.

Here in the original land of misfit toys we call New Orleans we need to find the truth hidden in Dante’s speech as filtered through Fellini’s Steiner, not as Marcello did by embracing the emptiness but in our own way; not in a state of suspended animation but instead isolated from the sterility of late American culture; by defining our own space, “like a work of art; in a state of enchantment…. detached”; defining our own fourth noble truth, our own Way of celebrating through the darkness that leads us to the light; leads us not to Fellini’s monster on the beach, but to the innocence of the girl on the strand.

We must not detach from our world, but from theirs, must insistently be ourselves at whatever cost.

Originally published in a slightly different format as Fellini’s Beached Monster in November, 2007 I revisit this often enough that it merits reposting, with some edits.

504ever May 4, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, meme, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Because today is 5/04, the 504ward group is asking people who Twitter (where I am @wetbankguy), to write up their best reasons to live in New Orleans, limited of course to 140 characters. I rarely do memes (with one recent exception), but thought I’d tout this one as it sounds like a fun challenge.

Here’s my entry. You can make your own by going to your favorite Twitter client and entering your own with a hashtag (keyword preceeded by a hash or “#”) of #504ward.

@WetBankGuy Food smells and horn swells over the funky shuffle drumming parade in the bright costume of naked joy, down to the river, forever. #504ward

Mystery Street May 2, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, Jazz, Jazz Fest, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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The Jazz Tent can be a lonely place (however crowded) when most of your friends are off shaking it at Dr. John or Zachary Richard. If Mrs. Toulouse were coming she would come sit with me most of the afternoon, but I’m solo today. That will not, in the end, keep my away from the last tent by the Mystery Street exit.

I will try to catch Zachary Richard and Bonerama early so if you see an old geek in a Tilley hat doing the solo stoner shuffle that will probably be me. And at some point this afternoon I will find myself bidding farewell to all that and will head across the baking concrete of Heritage Square (thanking the Boggess for the good beer booths there) toward the Tent, getting ready to hear Jimmy Cobb’s tribute to the 50th anniversary of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.

If you want to hear people who know their stuff talk about the record, you can jump right down to the short documentary at the bottom of this. This is the one jazz record you can buy at Target, has become iconic of jazz in so many minds of Jazz (capital J intended) because its just so damned perfect. The line up is an all star roster of the time (1959): John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderely, Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly on keys, Jimmy Cobb on drums and Paul Chambers on bass. The sound is perfect late 50s-early 60s Cool, so its easy on the ears as a Jazz 101 record to give friends, but sufficiently complex and damned near perfect that it bears up to listening to over and over again however deep into jazz you are.

Part of my musical experience is the transcendental sound of much of later 20th century jazz. As Americans drifted out of the old churches and into the secular world in that period we fashioned as we went our own pantheon and replacement religions. Out there somewhere behind the Cult of Kennedy, the Temple of the Most Noble Quarterback and the Shrine of the Four Liverpudlians is a path that takes you away from the noisy temple square and down toward a quiet and secret place. Before the arrival of the Merry Pranksters and the jam bands, jazz was our first mystery cult.

I am at best a minor acolyte, lacking the musical training to take apart recordings like diagramming a sentence or the inclination to memorize song and sidemen lists that jazz aficionados share with baseball fans. This record has much that captures my own call to jazz: that mystical something that draws the listener in, a captured vibration as old as Bog’s Big Bang; a swing that makes your feet move and your head nod, not danceable but a rhythm that spreads though the body like the a reverb heavy remix of your own heartbeat; the sparse notes building enormous colors that are wall of sound turned inside out, and solos like the high point of low church, a call home of tremendous voice and power to persuade.

Kind of Blue is just the record for initiates of the lowest order, and still speaks to the most high (many quoted in the brief film). If you don’t have a copy you can buy it at Target for chrissakes. Today the last surviving member of the session, drummer Jimmy Cobb, and his band will present a tribute to the record and I know I will be at the Jazz Test early to make sure I can claim a seat. If you don’t know the music but I’ve stirred the tiniest bit of curiosity come on by. Yes John Mayall will be next door and the O’Jays right over at Congo Square, but if you’re going to come to the Jazz and Heritage Festival (remember the name, right?) you should make at least one stop in The Tent, and this will be a good one.

So if you think you’re ready for your initiation, come on down toward the Mystery Street Gate (natch), last tent on the left. Initiation begins at 5:40.

Fess Up May 1, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, Jazz Fest, New Orleans, NOLA.
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What the hell are you doing sitting at a computer reading this. Yeah, I’m got the Counting House’s Future of Shirk ankle bracelet on here on Toulouse Street, but if you can plead, beg, cheat or lie your way out of work today, you had best get busy. Gates open in just a couple of hours.

To get you ready here’s one last piano player who will not be on any stage at the Fairgrounds this weekend but if you want to find his spirit, throw away the cubes and follow your feet until they bring you to the place where they can’t stand still.

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