I Was Cured All Right December 31, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Toulouse Street.
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Holidays on Ice! December 31, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in Fargo, Toulouse Street.
Tags: fireworks, New Years, North Dakota
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I think I lost the thread of New Years living in North Dakota. The state climatologist tells me the average temperature for this time of year is somewhere between six and nine degrees Fahrenheit. Needless to say, there were no outdoor fireworks displays. The kids were small, we didn’t get out and socialize much and there were no party invitations. The plan on most holidays was to stay home or do something with the kids.
The only exception to the firework rule that I know of was the turn of the millennium. There were fireworks aplenty to be had, with year round stands up and down the Interstate, and I decided to blow the Fourth of July leftovers, because it was the New Years that rolled over the odometer and because I just missed the idea of fireworks on the holiday.
In spite of an alarm clock set to get me to work at 5 a.m. just in case the predicted technological Mayan apocalypse took down all of the computers at the bank, I insisted on saying up until Dick Clark made it official. I didn’t actually seem him, because I had pulled on my Rocky Minus 40 boots and parka and taken the bucket of sand I’d filled inside the garage (otherwise the sand would be rock hard) out into the back yard.
While the family huddled on the couch around the partially sunken basement’s window into the back, I serenaded the neighbors for blocks around with a respectable opening gambit of bottle rockets to get everyone’s attention followed by fountain (always a family favorite) and finishing off with moderate display of a half-dozen of Roman candles.
No one called the police. A single, frost-bothered dog howled in the distance after I was done. I could only hope that somewhere out in that frigid night, a few other people heard the first reports, stepped away from their television, pulled on a coat and boots and shivered in wonder at my bright display of temporary insanity.
So long, 2011. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. December 31, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Everette Maddox, New Years, THE MIRACLE
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By Everette Maddox
“Things are tight,” the man
said, tightening his
“We can’t give you a
job, we can’t give you
any money, and
we don’t want these here
poems either.” He
tightened his tie. “Fact
is, the old cosmic
gravy train’s ground to
a halt. It’s the end
of the line. From now
on there’s going to
be no more nothing.”
He went on, lighting
a cigar: “We don’t
wish we could help, but
even if we did,
we couldn’t. It’s not
our fault, by God, it’s
just tight all over.”
He brought his fist down
on the burnished desk
and lo! from that tight
place there jetted forth
rivers of living water.
A Bend in the River December 30, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in lyric essay, New Orleans, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Algiers Bend, Mississippi River
In the stillness of the night air damp and cold as Pacific fog but clear and starlit, across two nautical miles of low roofs rolling above the flat land like the waves of the sea, I sometimes hear the bellowing of ships horns as they make the blind turn at Algiers Point.
I spent last night buying textbooks online from Amazon. I dislike Amazon, but I have to be careful with money. I think about how it will feel to sit in a desk in a classroom, surrounded by people decades younger then I am, if professors will treat someone my age differently. Going back to school on my severance and retraining allowance 30 years after abandoning my baccalaureate for a newspaper job is a blind turn.
I also finished ordering a bed, dresser and small desk from Wal-Mart to put in my new, two-bedroom apartment. I dislike Wal-Mart more than I dislike Amazon. My lawyer says I need a two bedroom apartment if I want my son to divide his time between his mother and I, and he needs furniture. He sleeps now on a first rate sleeper sofa in my front room when he comes. I wondered if the lawyer had scheduled the meeting she promised for next week. More compromises, like buying from Amazon and Wal-Mart. Another blind turn.
I remember the reason the ships use their horns in spite of radar, radio and the Coast Guard system that works like air traffic control for ships. Then I remember how two vessels meeting signal their intentions. One blast means “I moving starboard and leaving you to port”, two blasts the opposite. In this day and age this could be negotiated by radio but the Algiers turn bound downriver is a difficult moment.The current wants to push the tow or ship into the Esplanade Avenue Wharf. The vessel has to pivot on the left hand side of the river, analogous to a car going into the other lane, engines turning furiously in counter directions to pivot while drifting slowly on contrary current to aim themselves downstream and get back into the down bound channel. This must be an intense and frantic moment, requiring the perfect alignment of forces.
Its easier to follow conventions on a blind turn. Perhaps that is why I am going back to school. I have bullshitted my way into several degree required positions but as I get older I wonder if I can do that again. I had two recruiters fighting over me last week for a local contract job. The one I worked with (he found me first) insisted the job was bachelors or eight plus years experience, but the description he sent me read and not or.
I had originally planned to spend my severance time furiously reading and writing, following the autodidact path that led me from the English Department to journalism, from journalism to politics and Capitol Hill, out of politics and into IT, from It to project management. Perhaps returning to school, at least to get one semester out of the way before the retraining money expires and the severance runs out, is as simple as following convention, choosing to use the signal horn at a difficult bend, a blind turn.
As I simultaneously apply for jobs and buy textbooks, and try to furnish a room for my son while dribbling money out of the severance pool as slowly as possible I feel the tension of that turn at Algier’s Point, left engine full ahead, right engine full astern, the dangerous insistence of the current, the intensity of the moment. There is no time for negotiation over the radio. The down bound ship has right of way. Just blow the horn and let everyone know your intentions.
Unlike the river pilots who guide the river boats and ships, I do not know what is around the bend. They cannot see the hidden low tow of barges but know every trick of the current, every sandbar. They sound two blasts–I am leaving you to starboard–and confidently navigate the turn. I am bound blindly upriver, and so a certain adherence to convention is wise, yielding right of way. I have no certain idea of what lies ahead: the gold of Eldorado, the madness of Kurtz, or the death of de Soto. I emulate the early explorers, conserving my supplies and proceeding with caution. I have my own obligations like de Soto’s to his king and his god, and like Marlow I have my own, sometimes dimly understood compulsion toward the unknown.
I sit outside, and light another cigarette, listen again for the sounds of the river but none come. The ships only sound their horns when they meet another to negotiate the difficult turn. I have my own difficult meetings and turnings to negotiate ahead. I have to learn the confidence of the river pilots as they dodge the ferry and the upstream traffic, master the difficult currents they have launched themselves upon, to signal my intentions when necessary and not trust any other to simply follow the rules of the road.
Aphorism 299 December 29, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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“He dedicated his scruples and his sleepless nights to repeating an already extant book in an alien tongue.”
— Aphorism 299 from David Shield’s Reality Hunger, attributed in the endnotes to Luis Borges in “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote”
Odd Words December 29, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in books, literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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Its that Odd, hollow week between Christmas and New Years, the week I always burned up that unused use-it-or-lost-it vacation. It is a time when I used to devour my holiday present book and take things slow.
I am not alone in this week of idleness. There is nothing going on in the bookstores. 17 Poets! is off for the holidays and Maple Leaf Poetry Reading is an open mic at 3:00. Check the website of other readings, like SpokenWordNewOrleans.com or the Readers Block Facebook page to see if anything is going on.
It is probably a good week for you to devour that holiday book if you haven’t already. If you have, my plans for today include making a pile of all the unread books I’ve bought over the last year, by size to ensure its stability I’ve bought quite a few because the things I want to read aren’t usually in the New Orleans Public Library. An anthology of poems I wanted to read is still “in cataloging” after two years.
I know from reading the literary corners of the Internet that I am not alone in this compulsion. I am tempted to go back through my stack of Believer magazine and catalog Nick Horby’s Stuff I’ve Been Reading, which includes lists of Books Bought and Books Read and see how big his pile is.
I know a trip to Barnes & Noble is on tap for this week because my son is staying with me, and he has a gift card. (I know, I know). He’s more likely to find something to his taste in their stacks, and my challenge will be to escape without buying another book. I need to make the pile first to remind me why I should not.
What I really want is a good book of short stories and there isn’t one in that entire pile (at least I don’t think so. I’ll know when I make my little Tower of Babel. I’m tempted to pull out some Barry Hannah or Haruki Murakami, to escape into the Odd. Instead, once I finish making notes on Hart Crane’s The Bridge (a classic, so I did find that at the library) it’s time to to make and tackle the unread stack. Or find a book of short stories at Barnes & Noble and succumb to temptation.
Soon I will either find a job or I will go back to school to finish the bachelors I abandoned 30 years ago, and either way I will lose the free time I have now to read. If you are one of those people who have an unused week of vacation you are using up this week, dig into that pile of unread books or re-read your favorites.
Not isn’t, either. December 28, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, Toulouse Street, Writing.
Tags: contest, Electric Lit, Retraint
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Electric Lit is running a contest titled Restraint, challenging writers to submit a story of 30 to 300 words in which no word is repeated. Contractions count as two words. Forget possessives. Plurals are out.
I haven’t had this much fun since I started writing villanelles to pass the time while doped up on Oxycotin and laying in bed after some surgery.
Here is one I did not submit (I managed three, then took what I thought was the best. I just revised it to meet the clarified rules about contractions, plurals, etc.)
This is not easy, but it is a pleasant challenge.
Story No. 2*: “Another Chance”
Would the bus never come? He sat, his bag of things, hastily packed, plus what was thrown. Cigarette? That always worked before. Light up and damned if it won’t appear. Wait: no smokes. Also broke (pockets turned out, white fabric gray from age, cheap detergent). Store closed anyway. Can’t bum one, street empty this early Sunday morning.
Without enough change why sit here? Trees, sun peeking over, winter naked, had nothing to say. Other days they spent many lazy afternoons, drinking, laughing under those boughs, flush with wine, money. Now just squirrels, their mocking chatter, leaves blown away south like birds, gone.
Could she take him back? Possibly: silence, explanations, tears, an embrace slowly crab walking backwards towards dingy sheets. Broken down cross-town comes coughing downhill, slows but doesn’t stop. Driver looks, glance unreturned, drives on. Go, slowly retracing steps, climb creaking stairs, knock, call her name. Only hope left, something resembling love, maybe some Marlboros. Perhaps scrounge breakfast or something, another chance.
Story No. 3: “The Doorbell”
The doorbell rang. Like Pavlov’s dog she made a quick check: face, teeth, smooth dress before long mirror; cup hand, breathe, sniff. Her first blind date in 20 years, all butterfly stomach somersaults not felt since high school, with someone chosen carefully from an online dating service. This was no act of desperation (divorced less than six months) but rather uncertainty over how else to proceed. His picture looked handsome, profiles perfectly matched in (promised) rigorous computer screening, company highly recommended by Cheryl, companion on double dates . No worries . (Flickering wings down below thought otherwise). Westminster chimed again. Grabbing the door and swinging wide open, scanning left then right outside: nobody. Coughing drew her attention. There he stood, about doorknob tall, holding flowers, ruggedly good looking face smiling.
* Story No. 1 is my submission.
Sins of Omission December 28, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, Toulouse Street, Writing.
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“Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make. You can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won’t know for twenty years! And you may never ever trace it to its source. And you only get one chance to play it out. Just try and figure out your own divorce.”
— From The Priest’s Monologue in the film Synecdoche, N.Y.
One word at a time. That is how it is done, how it is figured out, the million little strings. Words become sentences, sentences paragraphs. From the building blocks come a narrative, a character– call him The Typist–who is and is not the author, a composite of who I am, who I dream of becoming, who I might have been only if. If I come to understand him as every writer must to successfully create character, then I come closer to understanding myself.
Life is more complicated than you think. For example, what do I publish here, and what do I omit. I know what the divorce lawyer would say. I take into consideration whether my children read it (they say they do not), and who else might read it looking with a rigidly literal mind. Life is an adversarial competition. Everything is negotiation at best, furtive plotting at worst. If you think there is no one plotting against you then you must lead a very sheltered life. It is not what first comes to the readers mind when I say paranoia. It is something greater, a confluence of negative forces real and imagined you must understand and decode.
“…paranoia, it is nothing less than the onset, the leading edge, of the discovery that everything is connected, everything in the Creation, a secondary illumination — not yet blindingly One, but at least connected, perhaps a route In for those… who are held at the edge….”
— Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow
The Typist understands this corollary to the priest’s speech, must navigate the treacherous relations that constitute his life. A job lost and potential employers Googling, divorce and all that entails. I have of late imposed limits on what I write here, but increasingly I realize how counterproductive that is. What I write here is not an unraveling like divorce but the assembly of a quilt from bits of the real, the imagined and the desired. These highly personal pieces are not a solid thing but a phase transition, the evaporation by fire of who I was, the condensation of distillation, the transformation of one thing into another.
It is a story I am compelled to tell and not just scribble into a journal. I am not alone. Consider Sarah Fran Wisby.
A word. A sentence. A paragraph. If only it were as simple as I laid it out in the thesis above. It is the arrangement, the omission or inclusion, which makes it an act of personal transformation and ideally a transformative art. There are artful omissions, and cowardly if not paranoid sins omissions. I sat down to write something about this morning, about my son, about the realignment of our lives, but wrote this instead. By the time I reached that last sentence I began to wonder if this was a conscious omission, or a simple avoidance of action and consequences. I understand there are consequences: the poem by Wallace Stevens post about this time last year that resulted in a ranting phone call and which morphed into a peculiar present. I am too far down this road to allow for either, have said too much already, made what I write here to central to becoming.
A friend stopped public writing all together during his divorce. My lawyer would no doubt advise the same if I asked. I cannot. These words, this assembly of pieces, is too much a part of myself: past, present and future. To hold back is to omit a critical part of the formula, to fail to produce the desired result in the alembic, another failed attempt at the Philosopher’s Stone with only myself to blame.
If I stop now, I have risked everything and will gain nothing.
A Successful Adaptation December 27, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in books, literature, Toulouse Street.
Tags: David Foster Wallace, depression, Freedom, Jonathan Franzen
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…his understanding of the depressive personality type and its seemingly perverse persistence in the human gene pool was that depression was a successful adaptation to ceaseless pain and hardship…For Katz’s Jewish paternal forebears, who’d been driven from shtetl to shtetl by implacable anti-Semites, as for the old Angles and Saxons on his mother’s side, who’d labored to grow rye and barley in the poor soils and short summers of northern Europe, feeling bad all the time and expecting the worst had been natural ways of equilibriating themselves with the lousiness of their circumstances….This obviously wasn’t an optimal way to live, but it had its evolutionary advantages. Depressives in grim situations handed down their genes, however despairingly, while the self-improvers converted to Christianity or moved away to sunnier locales. Grim situations were Katz’s niche the way murky water was a carp’s.”
– novelist Jonathan Franzen reading from Freedom while discussing his friend David Foster Wallace on NPR
Happy Chrismas December 25, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, Toulouse Street, Xmas, Yule.
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This Day a Child Is Born December 25, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, Shield of Beauty, Toulouse Street, Xmas, Yule.
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For, Lo! today a child is born in the East and her name is Rebecca and her name is Azra. His name is Mohamed and his name is David. His name is Kripalu and her name is Yasmin. His name is Kibwe and her name is Ngozi. Her name is Lian and his name is Chao.
And farther East, across the Pacific which means peace, where East meets West and the circle is closed, her name is Maria and his name is Jesús .
Wise men honor them all.
May the peace of the gods of their names be upon them.
The Junkie’s Christmas December 24, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, Toulouse Street, Xmas, Yule.
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Burroughs does Xmas stripped of all the pretense. I love this story but then I was raised on The Little Match Girl. If you don’t understand why Jesus of Nazareth would love this story go back to wrapping presents. Better yet, burn your tree. Leave the angel on top so she can fly up to the heavens in the smoke and ash and ask whatever gods may be lurking behind the entirely ordinary stars of a mythical winter’s night to have mercy on your soul.
Christmas Future December 24, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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The Ghost of Christmas Future
“Quiet and dark, beside him stood the Phantom, with its outstretched hand. When he roused himself from his thoughtful quest, he fancied from the turn of the hand, and its situation in reference to himself, that the Unseen Eyes were looking at him keenly. It made him shudder, and feel very cold.”
–Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”
Maria settled into the hard, wooden seat as the antique red streetcar jumped to a start and slowly whirred up to speed, clutching a shopping bag close to her chest. A few rolls of half-used wrapping paper stuck out of the package, the odd cut ends flapping a bit in the breeze as the car slowly got up to speed. These cars had once been air conditioned, or so Maria was told, but it had not worked any time she could remember. At least the windows opened, unlike the even older buses that carried her for the last part of her long trip home, long fused shut by neglect and humidity. The December air was a lukewarm bath, not hot like August but not the cool that might come by Carnival if the city was lucky.
As she settled down for she glanced out at the brightly-lit high rise buildings that lined the river, then turned her head away. She had spent the day in one of those, scrubbing out toilets and kitchen floors. From a distance they looked glamorous, like a city in an old movie. The insides she knew well enough after a dozen years. The apartments did not look so glamorous from down on hands and knees scrubbing.
She peered instead into her package, trying to decide if there was enough paper on the rolls to wrap the cast-offs she had gotten from Mrs. Lafont: toys her employer’s children had outgrown, a beautiful silk scarf in a slightly out of fashion pattern for herself. It would be better than last Christmas, the first after their grandfather died; coughing up the last of his life with the black mold and stucco dust he had breathed ten and twelve hours a day as a young man demolishing homes after the flood.
She lifted up her shoulders and straightened her back as she took in a deep breath, then let it out in a long sigh to settle her mind, looking straight ahead as the car rattled toward the last of the high rises and the first checkpoint. A man in a black uniform with a small automatic pistol hanging at his waist from a shoulder strap stepped into the car, and Maria fished out her papers. It was the first of several times she would need them that evening, and she kept them in the little pocket of her bag ready to hand.
A pair of guards from Bywater Security stood laughing over a cigarette just outside the window at Maria’s seat, but the guard from the Downtown Security District who entered the car was not smiling. He walked slowly down the aisle, glancing casually at everyone’s proffered passes and ID cards. He passed Maria with just a desultory glance, but yanked the papers out of the hands of the young man sitting just behind her. Maria looked straight ahead but could see in her mind the scene unfolding as she had seen it a hundred times before: the guard staring intently at the card, then at the young man, then back at the card; his hand sliding back from its position resting atop the gun and toward the grip, his fingers stroking the metal as if the gun were a small lapdog. She heard him grunt and then shuffle on toward the back of the car. He pulled the stop cord, and the driver released the rear door to let him out.
It was the same at each of the neighborhood security boundaries on her long ride home to the back of town, the private police in their black uniforms t their check points to see who was coming into their zone. Her grandmother had told her stories about growing up in Chiapas in the days of the rebels, of the soldiers with their machine guns patrolling the streets. Here in New Orleans, her grandmother told her, they mostly left you alone if your papers were OK. Back in Mexico it was not so good. Many young men were killed by the soldiers there, their wives abused. It was so much better here; she was so, so lucky to be living in America.
She put her ID and pass back into her purse, checking to see that the envelope of cash Mrs. Lafont had given her as a Christmas tip was still safe in the bottom of her bag. Satisfied, she took out a small compact and looked into it instead of at the passing high rises or the river front parks her maid’s pass would never admit her to. In the mirror she saw two men she didn’t notice when she boarded the car, or remember seeing come down the aisle.
One was an older Anglo in a faded t-shirt, some design with a skull and a gun that said Defend, perhaps a retired soldado negro from one of the security districts. . Next to him was another man in a dark hoodie with the top pulled so far up and over his head that she could not see his face. It was so dark under the hood she thought he must be a Black, but she could not be sure. She was amazed the guard had not stopped this odd pair and hauled them off the car for further questioning. Even if the hooded one wasn’t a Black, and you never saw them inside the river front security districts, even if he were also an Anglo, wearing his face covered like that would be all the excuse they would need
The hooded one turned toward her as she watched them in the mirror, and still she could not see his face in the mirror. She snapped it shut and shuddered as she crossed herself and kissed her thumb, murmuring a Hail Mary under her breath. As she did so the last of the high rises passed them by, and the Old Quarter began. Her grandmother had taken her down to the cathedral when she was a child, before the security districts replaced the old police and instituted the passes. They would sit among the pigeons and tourists and grandmother would tell her of her own girlhood in Mexico, of the cathedral on a square where the boys walked one way and the girls another on a Sunday afternoon, where she had met her grandfather.
She crossed herself again, feeling safer as the three towers of the church passed. She turned her head to watch them go by. In the corner of her eye she saw the seats where the hooded one and his companion had been were empty. The car had not stopped, and no one had gotten off. Her head snapped back to the front. Without looking down her hands fished deep into her bag and she dug out her rosary.
Eban did a walk through survey of the house. The dishwasher was whirring away in the dark kitchen, and all of the food put away. He took away the last shreds of wrapping paper from the cat, and picked up the scattered instructions and parts. The Santa presents for the kids were laid out by the dining room fireplace. The cookies were out for the Big Guy (his teenage children had rolled their eyes), and he snagged one off the plate as he passed. His wife and children were all asleep. Christmas Eve was almost done.
He slipped quietly into the room they called the walk through closet, the one closest to their back bedroom on that side of the shotgun house, and took off his dressy Christmas Eve clothes. He pulled on some comfortable jeans and a Defend New Orleans t-shirt, one of almost a dozen he owned emblazoned with some emblem or slogan about saving the city. It was time for one last Christmas tradition.
He would slip out of his Uptown home as he had every Christmas Eve since he returned to New Orleans for a late drink with friends at the Holiday Lounge.. The place was a year-round tribute to Christmas, lit inside entirely by the fat colored bulbs he remembered from the trees of his youth, the walls hung with every sort of imaginable cheap holiday decoration: jolly plastic Santas and snowmen in top hats, rainbow-hued wire reindeer and candy canes, and a large Styrofoam figure of New Orleans holiday icon Mr. Bingle, the little snow man with the ice cream cone hat. The Holiday was a New Orleans icon, and Eban was all about the icons. He wore his love of New Orleans like a forearm tattoo, prominent and indelible.
He peeked in one last time on his wife and then his son before leaving. Tonight shouldn’t be about the damned blog, he thought. He was going to see some of his oldest friends, people he had known since they were in kindergarten. He set the alarm, locked the door and stepped out on the porch. As he double checked the latch by pulling on the door he heard a “pop-pop-pop” in the distance. It could be fireworks, he told himself. They were illegal in the city, but people started buying them across the river as soon as the stands open and shooting them off at all hours of the day and night.
As he left the Holiday and walked back to his car up by the river levee, something drew him up to the top to see the city strung out along the river, the lights of downtown in the distance. He lit a cigarette and looked at the city twinkling in the humid air, then up at the clear sky. A middle-aged man had no business out looking for magic in the Christmas Eve sky at 1 a.m. in a sketchy part of town, but nothing moved except a tow boat. All was calm, and city was bright.
When the figure in the black jeans and hoodie pulled up over its head suddenly appeared next to him, he froze in place. He could not discern a face inside the hood, as if covered with a black stocking. He was certainly about to be robbed, and he hoped it would stop with that. The figure did not pull a gun, or say a word for what was probably a minute but seemed in his adrenaline rush to be an hour.
The figure pointed at first without speaking, the long sleeve of the over sized hooded sweatshirt hiding its hand, in the direction over his shoulder. He turned and saw the city transformed. The low rows of houses were replaced by a row of high rise apartment . A red street car like those that ran up and down the riverfront closer to downtown was slowly crawling up River Road.
It had been a typical, warm Christmas night in New Orleans but he was suddenly soaked in sweat under his clothes and shivering as if he were coming down with the flu. The figure just stood there, pointing at the street car stop down the levee. He tried to speak to it but when he opened his mouth only confused bits of words would come out. Finally the figure spoke. “We’re going to ride the car downtown. There is something I need to show you.” He wanted to turn and walk away, but his legs seemed to be possessed. They followed and he went.
“How did it happen, Spirit, all of those ugly glass high rises, the private police? Why didn’t we stop them?” Eban asked. The empty black hood was silent, hands buried deep in the pullover’s. Eban was not sure he had ever seen hands at the end of those overly long sleeves. It set a brisk pace as they walked through the French Quarter. Little had changed here, Eban thought, as they passed by knots of laughing people roaming the streets, past restaurants with lines waiting outside, and crowded bars with music blaring.
“It’s quicker this way,” a voice from inside the hood said, clipped and business like, the voice of a policeman urging the crowd to move on.. Nothing to see here, it seemed to announce. “The back-of-town buses don’t run all the way up Canal anymore. They’re not allowed past the checkpoints.” “Checkpoints,” Eban repeated as if tasting a new word from a foreign language as he stumbled on a broken bit of sidewalk, trying at once to look around and keep up with his guide.
As they came up to Bourbon Street the crowds were heavy and boisterous, the sort of scene Eban had witnessed on a hundred other weekend or holiday nights. He could hear someone picking Christmas carols on a guitar and singing in a nasal, mid-South accent. The hooded spirit stopped for a moment in front of the busker just as he finished a song, turning his dark hood toward Eban. “Merry Christmas, y’all,” the busker said to no one in particular, as if Eban and the hoodie were not there. “Giving is the reason for the season,” he shouted to the crowd, nudging his guitar case with the toe of a western boot.
The spirit just stood there, the faceless hole seeming to glower at Eban, who dug into his pocket and pulled out a rumpled bill and tossed it in the case. “Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas to you, sir,” the busker bellowed. Eban looked at the Spirit, who said nothing, then turned to ask the singer where he was from. “Tennessee. I’m just down here working for the holidays,” he said. “The French Quarter Corporation doesn’t pay as well as Disney, but they’re a lot looser about how you look or what you do with your off hours. And who doesn’t want to come to New Orleans, at least once?”
Eban started to answer but the hoodie pushed through the crowd to cross Bourbon and Eban hurried to follow. He looked up and down Bourbon. It was the same strip of neon lit drinking joints it had always been, crowded with people wearing beads bought in t-shirt shops that alternated with the bars for blocks in either direction. Eban thought it odd that they all wore badges around their necks. Conventions usually didn’t come in town at Christmas. “They’re tourists, but not conventioneers,” the hooded voice said. “Those are passes from the security district. When the city voted to dissolve the police and let the private security districts take over, the Quarter was closed off to the rest of town, to keep it safe for the visitors.”
“But what about locals who want to come down here? Can’t they come to eat at Galatoire’s or Acme or Oliviers?” Eban asked. “Those places closed after the second flood,” the hoodie said and marched on. Eban stopped walking “Gone?” he said, his gaze sinking down at the sidewalk. “Second flood?” He looked at his hands, as if there was something written there that would explain, crib notes for some forgotten exam nightmare. He looked up as if to follow up his question and noticed his guide was almost half a block ahead. He hurried to catch up.
The streets were quieter on the Rampart side of Bourbon, just as Eban remembered them, but something was missing. There were no cars lining the curb. There were just a handful of gaudy colored little toy things that looked like a cross between a golf cart and the car George Jetson drove, each plugged into an outlet on a small post with a horses head at the top. The carts were painted on the side like cabs: Condo Conti, Vacance en Dauphine, Burgundy Street Guest Houses. The scene made Eban think of exclusive beach resorts of the sort that did not allow cars but gave each guest a buggy to use to get to the beach or the golf course. “Precisely,” the hooded voice said, as if once again reading Eban’s mind.
As they passed Burgundy headed toward Rampart Eban noticed the wall. At first he thought it was just the commercial building that had once stood between Rampart and Basin, but as they came out onto Rampart he saw it was a high wall that ran up and down where the neutral ground once stood. The river side of Rampart inside the wall was filled with men, but it was not the crowd Eban expected. These men looked like the spillover from a lobby of a hotel booked solid with visiting dentists, mixed with packs of boys wearing shirts with fraternity letters on them The women stood apart, on the steps of the houses or hanging out of windows, bare-chested in tiny miniskirts , or in burlesque lingerie, or in nothing more than body paint.
The black uniforms of the security district strolled up and down the street in pairs, stopping to eye the knots of drunken men as they approached the women. The men would stop, made hesitant by the guards’ stare, then the girls would grab them by the arm and lead them laughing down the alleys and into the doorways, and the guards would pass on. The sign on the corner did not read Rampart. It said Storyville. “Got to give the tourists what they want,” the hoodie said, pausing a moment while Eban took in the tableaux. Then it grabbed his arm, and started to frog march him toward the wall. “Hey, wait, where are we go… ”. Eban’s voice was cut off as they passed through the wall.
They were standing on the lake side of Rampart. The street was brightly lit by high street lamps but deserted. “How the hell did that happen?” Eban asked, but the hood just turned briefly toward him then started again to walk toward Basin Street. Eban just shook his head like a dog shaking off water, and hurried to catch up. “Are we going to the cemetery?” he asked the dark hood. “Not this one,” the voice inside the hood answered. “There is another. We have to catch a bus first.” It turned left at Basin and started to walk toward Canal Street.
The old housing project still stood on Basin, but it was dark. “Where are the people?” Eban asked. “Gone,” the hood answered. “Most could not to come back after the second flood. A lot were drafted into the Army after the riots.” “What riots?” “The government announced after the second flood that any return would be limited by lottery, and that the lottery tickets would be sold,” the hood said. “Most couldn’t afford tickets, and they wanted to come home. When they burned all the trailers in the New Treme resettlement park up by New Roads and rioted in the streets in Houston, a lot of the men were swept up and sent off to fight in the Chindopak.”
“Chindopak?” Eban asked, his voice cracking as he stopped dead in the sidewalk. His breathing grew heavy and his chest heaved as his body wrestled somewhere deep inside between anger and panic. “What. Second. Flood. You have to tell me. What the hell happened?” Eban labored to speak between gasping breaths, and finally bent over and put his hands on his knees and tried to get his breathing under control. “You have to tell me. Damn you.” The spirit had walked ahead a dozen steps. It stopped and turned. Laughter came out of the dark shell of a hood. “Damn me”. More laughter. “Too late,” it said, something like a chuckle in its voice, if you put a chuckle down the garbage disposal. “You need to worry about your own damnation. I’ll take care of myself.” It held out its sleeve toward Canal. There was a hand, Eban noticed this time, black and gaunt like an overcooked turkey wing, a thing of skin and bone. “Come on. We have a bus to catch. I’ll explain while we ride.”
“Yes, they built up the levees,” the spirit explained as it stared out the window , the ancient bus rumbling down a dark and lamp less Canal Street “ One of the new pumping stations was overwhelmed and the lakefront was inundated. The core city was saved by the second line levee they built over the old railroad embankment through Mid-City. That’s when they started to build the high-rises, to pull everyone into the high land in the old city’s footprint. No one argued this time.”
The bus slowly rumbled down Canal Street empty and surrounded by darkness. “No one knows where the fire started, but with several feet of water in the streets of Mid-City firetrucks couldn’t come and this section mostly burned,” the spirit said. Eban measured their progress through the dark by noting the intersections where the car stopped, although there was no cross traffic and no one got on or off: first narrow Galvez, then wider Broad and finally the open expanse of Jeff Davis. Here and there in the dark were bright islands of light, illuminating rows of identical white trailers on city blocks covered with white clam shell and surrounded by metal fences. “They built these parks for the workers they need to keep the tourist industry going.”
“I don’t understand. After the flood….” “The first flood,” the spirit corrected him. Eban stared straight ahead and through the empty bus for a moment, then down at his hands again and resumed. “After the flood, we all came back. We worked so hard. How could it they let it all happen again?” Eban looked not at the hooded spirit but up at the roof of the bus. “How could it happen again? How could it all turn out so wrong? ” sounding like a child who had just been told there would be no Christmas. The hoodie continued to contemplate the dark windows, ignoring Eban’s question. The bus rumbled on and Eban turned the other way and likewise stared into the darkness that surrounded him.
The bus pulled up to Carrollton, and the driver announced, “Cemeteries. End of the line,” as he set the brake and stepped out to light a cigarette. The hoodie stood up and waited for Eban to do the same. He rose up and walked unsteadily down the aisle toward the door, grasping the railings at the stairs until his hands turned white, unwilling to step out. “Go,” the voice behind him said, and its bony hand gave him a push.
He stepped out into the single bright street light that stood over the driver’s toilet and looked into the darkness. Moonlight glinted off the rows of white metal boxes that marched off into the distance on the lakeside of Carrollton. “Why isn’t this trailer park lit up?” Eban turned toward the hoodie and asked. “Because it’s not a trailer park,” it answered. “It’s what the driver said: Cemeteries.”
Eban walked slowly away from the light and toward the field of white boxes. The play of the darkness and the street lamp had confused his sense of proportion and perspective. The boxes were too small to be trailers. “Tombs,” hoodie said. “Government-issue ovens, like the trailers just scaled down for their new occupants. When this section burned, they turned it into a cemetery.”
Eban’s slumped like a cheap suit jacket on a wire hanger.
“When the new pumping stations and the high levees were finished everyone started to feel safe. They grew tired of evacuating for every storm. The first flood faded into a memory, like a story their parents told, something they never thought could happen again. All of it faded: all their parent’s work to rebuild the city. They forgot what it was like when the city flooded the first time.
“They grew complacent, stopped paying attention to what the government did. Or rather, what it didn’t do. Part of it was exhaustion. They fought for decades and were just worn out. The children didn’t remember because their parents grew tired of talking about it. Like their parents before them, everyone just assumed all the work was behind them, that the levees would protect them.
“After the second flood, this is where they put the dead,” the hoodie said, “the people who stayed, the ones who didn’t remember.”
Eban turned away from the tombs and looked up dark Carrollton Avenue toward the park. This was his old neighborhood, the streets he had run as a child. Everything he remembered, all the old storefronts on the riverside: gone. Venezia’s and Brocato’s, the old bar with the red door and the new Spanish place that opened after Katrina, the whole river side of the street was wiped clean. The old Reuters building was a hulk in the distance. And on the other side the white tombs marched away into the distance until he could not see but only imagine them enveloping his old house, flowing on until they merged with the old cemeteries he knew: St. Patrick’s, the Mason’s, Odd Fellows, Greenwood.
Eban collapsed to his knees and wept. The bus driver ignored them and climbed back into his bus and drove off. He had seen it before. The spirit stood there watching, silent. Finally, Eban looked up. There was a faint shimmer of twilight in the east. Soon the sun would come up. He rose unsteadily to his feet and turned toward the hooded spirit.
“If you are the spirit of a Future Christmas, then it’s not too late, is it?” Eban asked, his voice still cracked from his tears. “Isn’t that how this works, just like the old Dickens’ tale? If we don’t stop fighting, and always remember, it doesn’t have to be like this? Isn’t that it? Isn’t that how this works?”
The hooded figure was growing transparent as the sky grew lighter. Eban could see the the cemetery through the sweatshirt and black jeans. As it slowly faded it echoed his words back to him not as a question: as a statement. It raised its bony hand one last time and pointed at Eban. “Don’t stop fighting,” it said, the voice growing fainter as the figure slowly vanished. “Remember…”
Eban sprang up in bed, knocking over a tumbler half full of water and the bed side lamp. The back door of the bedroom in the shotgun house was open, and he heard his wife asking, “What was that?” He could smell coffee. He jumped out of the covers and ran around the bed to the back door and stuck his head out. “What’s today?”
His wife gave him a puzzled look. “Merry Christmas?” she said as much a question as a greeting. “Are you okay?”
“It’s not too late!” he whooped as he took three steps in two hops. He ran over and knelt beside his wife and gave her a bear hug. “Not too late for what,” she asked, “to make coffee? I took care of that.” “Mmmmmmm, never mind, Merry Christmas.” He held her silently for a moment. “I’m sorry, I just had a really weird dream.” He let her go, stood up and stretched. “Do I smell coffee?” “Uh, yeah, that’s what we were just talking about. You forgot to make any last night, goofball. I think you had a bit too much Christmas Eve cheer.”
“Yeah, coffee sounds really good right now. Are the kids up?
“No, so try to be quiet.” His children were teenagers, and as likely to sleep in Christmas morning as any other holiday of the year. They had opened their best presents on Christmas Eve, a habit his wife had brought down from the Midwest.
“OK.” He climbed up the steps to the house and tried to walk as quietly as he could over the hardwood floors. Living in these houses was like living in a boat. You could hear everything. He wondered again how entire families had managed to live in half of the double they converted into a single home. He grabbed some coffee in the kitchen and went out to the front porch, leaving his wife alone in back with her kitchen to-do list and her coffee. He slid the latch as silently as he could, and stepped out onto his porch and looked up and down his street. The mostly shotgun houses ran off in both direction as far as he could see and in his minds eye he could follow Annunciation Street all the way through the city to the French Quarter.
It’s not too late, he thought as he sat on the stoop and sipped his coffee and took in the warm Christmas morning in New Orleans. “It’s not too late,” he said out loud to a passing cat, one of the dozen ferals that lived on their street. It came up and he scratched its head. “We just have to remember, and never give up.” Two children from the house on the corner rode by on shiny new bicycles, laughing. A neighbor ducked out in her robe for the newspaper, and waved and shouted a Merry Christmas. As he echoed “Merry Christmas” with a broad smile and a wave, the bells Nativity Church rang for early mass.
A Long Winter’s Nap December 24, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504ever, A Fiction, Dancing Bear, NOLA, peace, Shield of Beauty, Toulouse Street, Xmas, Yule.
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Toulouse Street is now on holiday autopilot until the eggnog is gone. I’ve posted a few of these before but we all have our own old chestnuts to roast and the one original story is rewritten and I think improved.
The sun has closed it’s circle and is born again. As we gather around the fire with our circle of family and friends to tell the old stories may it’s waxing light warm the hearts of believers and nonbelievers alike.
Xmas Adam December 23, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, Xmas, Yule.
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Its Christmas Adam, I used to tell the children. They would roll their eyes. Because Adam came before Eve, I added. Whatever.
It may be my favorite made up holiday, better than Festivus, but I am the busiest unemployed person I know: call back two recruiters and the man about the apartment up the street (which means it’s mine if I want it). Then I’m off to pick up a turkey ordered from Whole Foods in Metairie, just across from Lakeside, on the Friday before Christmas. What was I thinking? Then Rouse’s for the making of Indian corn. Does Whole Foods even sell creamed corn? Even if they do, Rouse’s will be cheaper, but the idea of doubling up on check-out lines this close to Christmas is daunting.
I have to run my daughter to work, wrap presents, pick her up again later, and somewhere in there pick up the apartment before my son comes Monday, vacuum at least the front room where he spends all his time on the sleeper sofa (unless, of course, I take that two bedroom apartment). Moving even my few sticks of furniture is not on the list of holiday worries. Don’t think about it.
Tomorrow I will go with my mother and sister to Revillion dinner at ‘, at 3:30 pm, the best reservation I could manage because I always think about doing this two weeks before Christmas. Next year, I resolve, I will call at Thanksgiving. And quit smoking. And lose 30 pounds. Yeah, right.
If I survive all this I can look forward to a quiet holiday night, maybe drive around and look at some of the holiday lights, a coffee traveler of hot buttered rum in the cup holder, except that Rouse’s is sold out of allspice since Thanksgiving and never restocks before Christmas. (Add to resolutions: buy allspice before Thanksgiving). Then I can finally settle down for a long winter’s nap.
Or I could look up who’s playing on Frenchman tonight (add to resolutions: drink less coffee), imagine some trumpeter’s singing is the gravel-gargling voice of Pops doing Christmas Time in New Orleans because, well, it is.
Odd Words: Long Winter’s Nap Edition December 22, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, NOLA, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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Art isn’t anecdote. It’s the consciousness we bring to our lives.
— “Dear Sugar” on TheRumpus.net
Its the busy holiday week for most people but there aren’t any readings of note and your favorite local indie bookstore is hopefully too busy ringing up the gifts to have anything going on. 17 Poets! is off for their holiday break and there is no reading at the Maple Leaf on Xmas Day.
As you sit with family and friends this weekend, keep Sugar’s quote in mind. Collect up those anecdotes and family stories, and carry them home with the presents. Spend your lazy, overfed Sunday night weaving them into a tapestry of story. Imagine your own character in that narrative, and as you come up to the New Year’s begin the next chapter in your head, or better yet, write it down.
Resolutions are anecdote, fodder for idle holiday conversation. Oh, I promised to lose 20 pounds. How about you? Instead of making a list with the shelf-life of leftovers, take the beer man’s advice and write your own future.
Now is the Winter of our Discomfort December 18, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in Carnival, Christmas, New Orleans, NOLA, The Odd, Toulouse Street, Xmas.
The cranky gas wall furnace is so old I sometimes think it is here by order of the Historic District Landmarks Commission, the committees we have set up to preserve New Orleans historic character by regulating with the fickleness of ancient gods such critical items as the appropriate style of doorknobs allowed. The ugly grey panel inset on my wall is inefficient, unreliable and expensive: the very model of histrionic preservation, but I believe it mostly remains through the inertia of a typical New Orleans landlord. It still works, after a fashion, so it stays. Its cousin the floor furnace is largely extinct as a result of the flood, and the wall furnace lacks the charm of stepping on a metal grate barefoot or the portal to hell sensation of passing over one in operation, but it’s what I have.
The instructions of operation on my wall furnace are so faded that with an eight-cell flashlight and my readers on it still requires the skills of a document historian experienced in the decoding of ancient and marginally legible texts to make them out. Fortunately, it is not my first, and even after 30 years I remember how to turn the regulator just so and to warm the temperature sender for a bit to get the pilot lit. Thank the gods for the invention of stick lighters, as this was once an operation requiring a pile of kitchen matches that brought back memories of reading Jack London’s To Build A Fire.
Once the faint pilot is flickering, after an extended period prone on the cold floor holding down the starter and counting slowly to sixty by Mississippis while the sensor warms up enough to keep it going, you can at last turn on the heat. I know never to turn the gas up past the point it just starts to flow, and to keep my face and arm out of the immediate vicinity of the works. Crank it up too high because the house is cold, the floor is colder and you are desperate for some heat and the explosive blow-back of ignition will belch out of the access panel like a dragon with indigestion.
Winter this far south is not the cozy Rockwell fantasy of the paintings of Thomas Kinkade. (Yes, there is a link. Follow it at your own peril unless you have a large collection of cherubic porcelain children). Our vistas are not snowy landscapes of farmhouses set against a backdrop of evergreens with a skating stream or pond in the foreground and perhaps a horse drawn sleigh in there somewhere. It is brown lawns and winter killed uncut lots, the latter revealing a year’s collection of litter, which is one of New Orleans’ major local products after cheesy t-shirts and tourist vomit.
Our winter season is a confusing mix of Indian summer days and a cold damp so penetrating we must swath ourselves in animal skins like Neolithic primitives. You can keep your expensive, technical mountaineering shell and layers of fleece that work so well for Nordic skiing. Nothing but a thick layer of wool or a shell of leather can keep out the wet chill. The pea coat will never go out of fashion in New Orleans because it is not a matter of fashion but survival. I spent my time up north decked out in Cabella’s most modern fabrics learning to navigate a pair of beaver tail show shoes, awkward constructions of bent wood and tanned animal sinew. with a design dating back to the flint knife. Originally a gift that spent a few years crossed on the wall, my friend who gave them to me insisted they were fully functional and he was right. It was good to get out of the house for some reason other than shoveling, scraping and chipping away winter to a standard acceptable to finicky Nordic neighbors fond of an orderly neatness that does not come naturally to a born Orleanian. Give me a good pea coat for a trip through the French Quarter any day.
Forget a roaring fire. The bricked in hearths below the lovely mantels that rob you of a functional wall were designed for shallow coal fireplaces. I had one still open for use when I lived on Carrollton Avenue that I determined would still draft by lighting a small torch of newspaper. I confirmed it was not terribly obstructed by getting my eyes and a flashlight up the flue by a contortion usually only attempted by advanced students of yoga. Still, it could just manage the smallest of commercial press-wood and paraffin fire logs. I’m sure it had not been properly serviced by a chimney sweep since the last ice man sold his mule to the tourist carriage companies, but somehow we managed not to burn the building down. The first Christmas Marianne and I had the family over for Christmas dinner I fired it up, hoping the most festive part of the afternoon would not be the arrival of the fire department but the damn thing worked and I miss it.
We are simply not built for winter in New Orleans: not our homes, not ourselves. Every few years the city gets the idea to line Canal Street with palms to amuse the tourists but one good, hard freeze (the local equivalent of a howling blizzard) and they are gone again. City government is a dumb and lumbering beast that survives because is just to big to kill, and then what would your Delgado drop-out cousin do if not supervise the mowing of the neutral grounds? If we had real snow down here, we would all die after burning up the last stick of furniture before they would get the plows out.
Other than the icicle winds there are few signs of winter in New Orleans. The feral green parrots still favor the neighbor’s tree, some weedy thing that has managed 30 feet but is so covered in cats claw it is impossible to determine the species. There is an odd dissonance in sitting out for a cigarette in a sweater, thick flannel pajama pants, and my L.L. Bean slipper socks (indispensable for uninsulated hardwood floors) listing to their raucous tropical chatter.
Few trees change color down here to warn of winter’s approach. Only the cypress and some species of birch favored by northern transplants reliably show some Fall color and the fickle things wait until just before the solstice to change. I remember brilliant October afternoons driving the winding roads and low hills of western Minnesota, stopping along the way for pumpkins and apple butter. Here the display of bright orange and red leaves is a catch as catch can affair, and must be viewed between the blustery cold front that triggers the brief display of color and the next which blows the leaves away. Before you know it, industrious homeowners and city workers are out blowing all the leaves into the gutters, ensuring we will all enjoy the occasional use of our pirogues and canoes in the flooded streets.
Winter does have it charms. There is the arrival at your holiday party of a fabulously drunk contingent just out of some other booze-fueled party, intent on making hot-buttered rum, spilling liquor and sugar and melted butter all over the newly installed granite counters. This drives the lady of the house to distraction–convinced they will be ruined–in spite of all of your attempts to explain that the damn things are rocks forged over geological time and not likely to be dissolved by hot dairy products.. There are the fiery hogshead cheese and pickled okra, the Pickapepper sauce over cream cheese and the oceans of alcohol to warm everyone with festive cheer.
Winter is racing season at the Fairgrounds. While bundling up to drink the best Bloody Marys in the city while gambling lacks the rustic charm of snow-shoeing or a sleigh ride through the park, it does get you out of the house and all of the frantic jumping up and down and hollering does get the blood flowing. There are the festive lights that the city’s residents take to a level only a place trained by the gaudy display of carnival would attempt. An inflatable Santa astride a Harley-Davidson may be a universal American icon of Christmas, but there is a Chalmette-aptness to them down here.
And while the rest of America settles in to watch the bowl games, sipping non-alcoholic cider next to their roaring fireplaces, we are busy pulling out hot glue guns and feathers, spilling sequins all over the kitchen floor, because Mardi Gras is just around the corner. Come Twelfth Night, when the true believers in the spirit of Creole Christmas will haul out their tinder-dry trees to the curb, we will all bundle up in our animal skins and pea coats to observe the ancient ritual of a mob of happy drunks boarding a streetcar to inaugurate Carnival. You can keep your ice-skating outings and sleigh rides. Me, I’m ready for the real pleasure of winter: the first parade of the season.
23 Skidoo December 17, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Jesus, John Prine, The Lost Years
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No Hostilidays on Toulouse Street this year, but here’s a bit of holiday cheer in honor of John Prine’s visit to all good little boys and girls tonight.
The ever-bright hole in the door December 17, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
“Well, I’m all for leaving and that being done,
I’ve put in a request to take up my turn
in that forsaken paradise that calls itself “Hell”
where no-one has nothing and nothing is- well-meaning fool,
pick up thy bed and rise up from your gloom smiling.
Give me your hate and do as the loving heathen do.”
— Ian Anderson, from “The End” in A Passion Play
Are you OK? a friend asked by email after a few of my last blog posts. You sound depressed.
Well, the country is being overrun by the very sort of people last century’s Greatest Generation fought to save the world from. The arctic ice sheet is collapsing and you live about two feet above sea level. The world seems poised for apocalypse on a scale only the Christianist fascist in the check-out line next to you at Rouse’s can fully imagine. Your job is being sent overseas (OK, Richmond, VA but to me its about the same thing) or you are being replaced with a lower-wage import from Asia, and you have no immediate prospects in the middle of what the media have wisely decided not to call the Second Great Depression lest people start jumping from windows. My personal life? Don’t ask.
Fine thanks. And you?
Actually, I try not to dwell on all the above too often.I had to give up watching the national “news” of the he said/she said and talking heard variety years ago. I tend to get angry rather than depressed and that slow-motion-movie-helicopter sound in my ears tells me I should remember to check my blood pressure next time I’m in the drug store. The world is full of angry people and I would rather not be one of them. To surrender to anger is to not merely peer into the abyss but to jump in feet first, and whether your benchmark of evil is Ground Zero or Sabra and Shatila I have no use for anyone’s merciful god whose holy icon is a rifle. You can stick your head in a bottle of pills, or maybe just a bottle. Or you can watch the Emmys or Housewives.
I’m going to write, and not about any of the above. I was going to post about the destruction of an entire eco-system and indigenous culture to build a dam in Brazil, but decided against it. If you care about the news, you probably saw it. No need for me to repost the picture of the crying chief of the impacted people. There are two threads to this blog, a Narrative that is–to borrow Tim O’Brien’s clever subtitle for the highly autobiographical The Things They Carried, A Fiction–and another to catalog the city that will likely join Atlantis beneath the waves in a few generations. The last thought is enough depressing a concern to last a lifetime, but the writing of the city is also the source of great satisfaction and a worthy way to spend one’s time.
It’s a wonderful life.
The Lost Garden December 16, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, Poetry, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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When in doubt and the words run out: poetry. It’s been that kind of a weird week anyway, somewhere between Borges and Cortazar, while trying to finish Murakami’s 1Q84, which is a way to say through a looking glass darkly.
Adam Cast Forth
By Jorge Luis Borges
Was there a Garden or was the Garden a dream?
Amid the fleeting light, I have slowed myself and queried,
Almost for consolation, if the bygone period
Over which this Adam, wretched now, once reigned supreme,
Might not have been just a magical illusion
Of that God I dreamed. Already it’s imprecise
In my memory, the clear Paradise,
But I know it exists, in flower and profusion,
Although not for me. My punishment for life
Is the stubborn earth with the incestuous strife
Of Cains and Abels and their brood; I await no pardon.
Yet, it’s much to have loved, to have known true joy,
To have had — if only for just one day –
The experience of touching the living Garden.
Odd Words December 15, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in books, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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I was a bit tardy in getting up the podcast from last week’s 17 Poets! but it’s up there as of this morning. If you haven’t noticed that Podcast page, it includes performances from local readings, and panels of literary events including the Louisiana Book Festival and the Faulkner Society Words & Music Festival. The Roy Blount interview of novelist James Wilcox is flat out hilarious which won’t surprise fans of the radio show Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell me. Just click on the Podcasts tab at the top of the page.
& 17 Poets! Literary & Performance Series closes out its Fall seasons with Black Widow Press authors’ readings with poet, film maker, novelist and translator Julian Semilian and musician, vocalist and translator Laura Semilian followed by Open Mic hosted by the man Roy Blount Jr. hopes to be when he grows up, Jimmy Ross. Semilian is the foremost translator of avant garde Romanian literature. If that description makes your blue stockings run it shouldn’t. It is truly fascinating work and the Semillians are charming performers and, as host Dave Brinks would put it, “fantastic human beings.” Thursday Dec 15 at 7:30 p.m.
& On Saturday Octavia Books presents New Orleans architect, painter, professor Errol Barron in celebrating the release of his fabulous new book, NEW ORLEANS OBSERVED: Drawings and Observations of America’s Most Foreign City.Barron uses drawings and written observations to reflect on the physical nature of New Orleans and how it may offer alternatives to urban design as found in so many American cities Saturday, Dec. 17 at 2 p.m.
& Start the holiday’s off right by starting to put on a few extra pounds when Mitchell Rosenthall and Jon Pult discuss and sign their book, Cooking My Way Back Home at Garden District Books. Rosenthal delivers the same warmth, personality, and infectious enthusiasm for sharing food as can be found at his wildly popular San Francisco restaurants, Town Hall, Anchor and Hope, and Salt House, where he blends Southern-inspired comfort food with urban sophistication and innovation, for exciting results. The book includes the classics (Shrimp etouffee), updating regional specialties (Poutine), elevating family favorites (Chopped Liver), and reveling in no-holds-barred, all-out indulgences (Butterscotch Chocolate Pot de Creme).
& Also starting this evening two Maple Street Book Shop locations are all about starting you out on those extra holiday pounds. first, local culture mavens Peggy Scott Laborde and Tom Fitzmorris will be at our Maple Leaf Book’s Healing Center location on to chat about Lost Restaurants of New Orleans.Thursday, Dec.15, 6:30-8:00 pm. At the Uptown location John Besh makes a case for the comforts of home and hearth in My Family Table: A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking on Thursday, Dec. 15, 6:00 P.M. Laborde and Fitzmorris will also visit the Bayou St. John location Tuesday, Dec. 20 6:30-8:00 P.M
& Every Friday at the Red Star Gallery Spoken Word New Orleans offers Acoustic Fridays at 9 p.m. $5 with college i.d./$7 without. Friday, Dec. 18, doors at 9 p.m.
& On Saturday award-winning author/storyteller Dianne de Las Casas and illustrator Holly Stone-Barker for a cookies & cocoa pajama party, shadow puppet show and book signing featuring their latest children’s picture book. Blue Frog: The Legend of Chocolate. Think of an Aztec Prometheus gifting chocolate to mortals. This sounds like the sort of book that makes me look forward to grandchildren. Recommened for ages 4-8. Saturday, Dec. 17 at 5 p.m.
& Saturday and Sunday are your last chances to catch The NOLA Project production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet inside the museum’s Great Hall. Shows will be on Dec.17 and 18 at 7:30 p.m.
& On Sunday the Maple Leaf Bar Reading Series features readings by contributors to the short fiction anthology, Something in the Water, Portal Press, ed. by John Travis. Sunday, Dec. 18 3 p.m.
& On Monday, join local poets and performers for the weekly Writers Block on the steps across from Jackson Square on Decatur Street. Monday, Dec. 19 at 9 p.m.
& Also on Monday is the monthly meeting of the New Orleans Haiku Society at the Latter Memorial Library. Monday, Dec. 19 at 6 p.m.
If this sounds like a quiet week, consider that it’s the holidays and guest authors are probably not much interested in traveling, but it is that time of year to think about visiting your local, indie bookseller to get in that last minute Xmas shopping.
A Dream Deferred December 11, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, Ninth Ward, NOLA, postdiluvian, Toulouse Street.
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I don’t remember whose grandmother it was I went with Graydon to help fix a leaky tap I think. It might have been Graydon’s or Wanda’s but that’s not important. That she was the last white woman living in her Ninth Ward neighborhood somewhere far up St. Claude in the late 1970s is what I remember.
I remember Graydon urging her to consider moving out of the ramshackle single, not out of any sense of racial urgency but because the place was falling apart. The Ninth Ward was where working class New Orleans lived, often in houses built and always maimipntained by the man of the house, and a widow didn’t have someone around to keep the place up properly. Her neighbors had fled but she was having none of that. This was the house she and her husband had spent their whole lives, raised a family. She wasn’t moving.
In the early 1960s the first attempts were made to desegregate New Orleans schools in the Ninth Ward. I don’t know why they chose McDonogh 19 in the Lower Nine and William Frantz on N. Galvez in the Upper Nine. Perhaps it was more palatable to start in a politically disempowered working class neighborhood. Perhaps they thought the working class parents would provide just the sort of reaction the situation called for, the self-appointed “cheerleaders” described in the Encyclopedia of Louisiana’s chapter on The New Orleans School Crisis, the women who gathered in screaming mobs to curse and spit poor Ruby Bridges as she walkedalone to first grade flanked by federal marshals.
I don’t remember those scenes on the local television. In 1960 I was three years old, still living in Lakeview next door to my mother’s parents, and in love with my pedal firetruck. It was not until the early 1970s, when upper middle class Blacks first bought homes along St. Bernard Avenue, north of Harrison Avenue, that I witnessed this mindset firsthand. This was not a working class neighborhood. Owens Boulevard is a serpentine street lined with impressive homes that would not look out of place north of Robert E. Lee, would in fact dwarf many of the levee board houses and modest ranches that still dotted Lake Vista, before the late invasion of the McMansions. When someone traitorous buckled and sold to the first Black invaders, people who could afford such homes, the panic began. They would move in their entire extended family, everyone said, and park their cars on the lawns. It was then the retreat began, the white burghers falling back down St. Bernard like the retreating Confederate Army.
Times have changed. My oldest friend and his mother still live in their modest brick ranch on Dove Street in Lake Vista, sandwiched between monstrous houses that block the sunlight. On oneside lives a Black dentist who built to the property line and then up to the sky. And I am a child of Lake Vista seriously considering a half double on Bartholomew, second block north of St. Claude, just a few blocks from Poland Avenue and the Industrial Canal.
The owner, Miss Kelly, has outgrown her half of the double she owns. She and four children are squeezed into the two bedrooms between the front parlor and the kitchen, the baby happily kicking in the middle of her bed and it as time for something larger. I asked about the neighborhood, meaning crime, and she launched into a description of the people living there, stressing it was becoming a mixed block: the carnival float artist who lived two doors down, the lesbian couple who had just bought one of the houses. The rest were “mostly settled people”, by which she meant to delicately say that the Black families were upright folk.
I’m looking in the Ninth to keep my rent low, to stretch out my severance long enough to get at least one semester of my abandoned B.A. knocked out at UNO. Maybe spring and summer semesters, if I juggle the money just right, tuition paid as part of a retraining allowance. The rents in my current neighborhood, Faubourg St. John, are outrageously high. I could get a two bedroom in the old complex on Wren Street in Lake Vista much cheaper, but I don’t want to move back to suburbia.
I am an urban creature by long habit, since leaving the quiet confines of Lake Vista, and I have lived all over town–Gentilly, Treme, Carrollton. In Washington, D.C. I lived for several years on 4th St. N.E. behind Union Station, behind solid bars. (If you live in the city long enough, you become a connoisseur of iron bars, preferring them outside for aesthetic reasons, so long as they are well anchored with long and heavy one-way screws. I would just as soon live downtown or as close as I can, where I spend my free time, in the bars and restaurants and theaters of that booming bohemia.
That booming bohemia: the words are like the diagnosis of the first symptom of a coming illness. Once the artists and musicians and hangers on have settled in and fixed up the old houses of a neighborhood half abandoned by the long ago white flight, a better class of people start to move in for the atmosphere; not the artists but the gallery owners, and young professionals looking for a short commute to downtown and just a bit of funk to give their neighborhood character. Up go the rents, and out go the first settlers, in the long repeated pattern of gentrification. I would love to live in those places but the rents in he Marigny and now much of Bywater are also going through the roof, and places in my budget are often taken the same day they appear on Craigslist.
Bartholomew is not in the center of all that. It is a good mile past the Press Street tracks. After years in Mid-City, not more than 20 minutes from anywhere, I would be moving to the edge of town, would probably start shopping for what I cannot find in the city in Chalmette instead of Metairie. Riding my bike instead of driving to go out would be a much more athletic exercise if I had taken the place I looked at Marigny Street, an up and coming corner of Treme just up the block from the sign announcing a Tuba Fats memorial park in a so far empty lot. Hell, I could walk to a lot of my favorite haunts from there, but the prospect of painting the ugly beige-brown walls of a large place with 12 foot ceilings seemed too daunting.
I haven’t made up my mind about Bartholomew yet. I told Miss Kelly I wanted to drive by at night, and she understood. I had looked at other cheap apartments and come back at night to find characters on the corner I would rather not have as neighbors. I came back that night and drove not just Bartholomew but quartered the streets all around, and was struck by how much it looked like Mid-City or south Lakeview. There are a few abandoned houses and some uncut lots where the state took homes flooded after Katrina, but there are more Xmas lights illuminating the well cared for yards than in fashionable Faubourg St. John, bright new paint on the cottages and shotguns. It looks like a pretty nice neighborhood.
For all of the strife in this town, the racism we all carry just beneath out skin–white and black, imbibed with our mother’s milk–the city seems to have turned some corner. We are not comfortable with sudden change, and the proximity of Bartholomew to the history of William Frantz and McDonogh 19 (now the Louis Armstrong Elementary) remind me of that.
Gradual change is more our style, and while the residents of Audubon Place plotted a new New Orleans in their own image behind their guarded gates and the Black politicians railed on WBOK-AM against them, something quieter was happening. My mother’s apartment building on Esplanade at the Bayou, once the last stop for elderly whites, filled with the Black middle class from New Orleans East waiting endlessly for their Road Home check. My mother missed her old friends who didn’t come back, but nothing else changed much. The dentist built his grand house on Dove Street and no one panicked. People like me started looking north of St. Claude for places to live, and none of the neighbors I talked to (I always try to chat up the neighbors if they’re out) seem concerned. A quiet block is a quiet block, and if you’re going to fit into that pattern, well, that’s fine by everybody.
While the grand plans for a new New New Orleans were mostly abandoned, the upheaval and displacement of the Flood accelerated a gradual process already under way, a redistribution of the population of New Orleans in which people are judged by the content of their character (and the contents of their bank account) rather than by the old standards Once that was only a dream but my search for an apartment has taught me otherwise. Langston Hughes A Dream Deferred has not exploded, for all the crime and frightening statistics about incarcerated Black men. A Black man with an Islamic middle name sits in the White House, and the once bitterly divided people of New Orleans are settling into new patterns. The dream has waited patiently just beneath the surface, waiting for a change of seasons, the most famous dream of our generation peeking through the soil washed by the Flood, waiting for its moment to blossom. Perhaps that time has come, and we’ve hardly noticed.
Baudelaire’s Ear December 10, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, film, movie, New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Federico Fellini
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“Its the same story the crow told me/Its the only one you know” — Robert Hunter for the Grateful Dead’s Uncle John’s Band
It is not the eyes that read “monsters” instead of “mothers” in the email subject line but some part of the brain that takes over at moments, the subconscious peeking into the light of day. You’ve opened a door somewhere you do not know how to close, or rather out of that door that hasn’t closed quite right since childhood—an ill-fitted cabinet that opens every time you close another—something darker sometimes comes.
Often the misreadings or mishearings arecomic. You still play them for laughs with your son. In the case of hearing you often understood what was said; the creature inside just chose to play its tricks for laughs. Lately it is a different sort of comedy team: ladies and gentlemen, appearing for the first time at The Brain, the stage sensation of The Other Side Coyote and Crow, trickster and messenger, the greatest practitioners of the art of pointed and painful message comedy since Penn and Teller.
You would not close this door if you could. The words that tumble out are something like a muse: “something like” because it is not the mythic Greek creature of the Romantics, the whisper of birds in Wordsworth’s ear, but closer to the taloned thing perched on Baudelaire’s shoulder, murmuring darkly in his ear. You would not make Van Gogh’s mistake. You wish to listen. You want the mad sun of Arles, to turn your twisted ear to hear the words so you might assemble them into some form, a scaffolding in search of teleological order like the sets of Synechdoche, N.Y.
To return to a recurring character here, Federico Fellini (because of his willingness to perceive and listen and ultimately confront the madness of the world), you would build the mad gantry from 8½ (to which Synechdoche is clearly an homage), the director character attempting to assemble some sense in his confused life, to pay any price to reach for the heavens. Guido Anselmi does not fail but discovers in the ending that the only escape is into the mad Bacchanal carnival of the final dance, not out of but into life, like Marcello Rubini leaving both monster and innocence behind on the beach. Somewhere in that act is the promise of his novel realized: out of the senselessness bordering on madness of life not an answer but a story.
Odd Words December 8, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in books, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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My own musing on Twitter and poetry started with this article By Carol Ann Duffy, Britain’s poet laureate. Booker Prize winner Ben Okri released a poem exclusively on Twitter back in 2009. Poets are not alone, according to the New York times, reporting on one novelists attempt to spin out a story on the short-format social media platform.
These thoughts came to a head while on an on line discussion (more social media, a monthly event hosted by TheRumpus.net’s poetry book club, with poet T.R. Hummer. Parts of his book Emphemeron were composed on Twitter as well, he explained. Okri told Britian’s Guardian “My feeling is that these times are perfect for short, lucid forms.”
This tracks back in some indirect way to my own recent post, The Long Hard Slog of Poetry, the idea of lucid poetry, of a poetry that reaches a larger audience that just poets. At the same time, I mocked Tao Lin’s novella Shoplifting from American Apparel not long ago a “Twitterature,” although I think i suggested it was written on a cellphone.
Still, I am fascinated with the idea of publishing poetry via social media as a means of getting in front of a larger audience, which I think is poetry’s and literary writing in general’s greatest challenge. With a few exceptions the big houses are not interested in literary writing, and while there are hundreds of small presses their reach is also small.
How in the end is Twitter any more limiting than the sonnet, the sestina or the villanelle? Hummer suggested that 140 characters also match about his length of breath, not a new idea in poetry but one you can trace back to Charles Olson.
This is an awfully long introduction to the listings, so I’ll leave it there for you to ponder while I get on with it.
& so to the listings…
& Jumping out of my usual calendar order but this is big news: Maple Street Bookshop is expanding its empire of small, neighborhood shops with the grand opening of its newest location in Faubourg St. John on Ponce de Loen St, between Canseco’s Grocery and the Fair Grinds Coffehouse. On Saturday, December 10, 2011, Swirl is helping the new Maple Street Book Shop celebrate its grand opening. Starting at 10:00 A.M., bring Swirl a receipt from us for $10 or more and receive 50% off your second glass of wine; bring us a receipt from Swirl for $10 or more and receive 10% off your purchase! At 5:00 P.M. Catherine Campanella, author of New Orleans City Parks, will be here to sign and discuss.
Just what I need, a place to buy more books.
& Tonight Dec. 8 Octavia books features a reading and signing with authors Mark Yakich and Chris Schaberg featuring their new two-sided, reversible book, CHECKING IN / CHECKING OUT, that aims to rejuvenate airplane reading. Bringing together the stories of an ex-airline employee and an aerophobe, this adorable little book is a sincere, witty, and irreverent take on the routines and misadventures of modern flight. Personally if I don’t read on a plane, I would go mad from claustrophobia and bordom. 6 pm at Octavia Books.
& Maple Street’s uptown store will host several storytellers from Something in the Water on Thursday, December 8, 2011, 6:00 P.M. This book contains twenty stories about Louisiana, capturing the soul of the state. Meet or reconnect with authors James Nolan, Tim Gautreaux, and John Biguenet.
& Tonight 17 Poets features a double book signing and reading with Martha McFerren reading Archaeology at Midnight and James Nolan reading from Higher Ground. If you haven’t been hooked into buying Nolan’s novel by my past posts, come hear him read from it and I am pretty sure you will buy a copy on your way out the door. MCFERREN received an MFA from Warren Wilson college and is the author of four previous books. Her poems have appeared in the Georgia Review, Southern Review, Shenandoah, and many other journals and anthologies. 8 pm at the historic Goldmine Saloon, a literary venue for over 50 years.
Also this week, 17 Poets! releases the latest edition of its new literary periodical Entrepôt, featuring The sizzling story of legendary New Orleans Jazz & Blues Master “Emile Barns, The Meltdown Force of Poisons of Any Description”; John Sinclair’s extraordinary essay “Make a Joyful Noise” (parts 3 and 4); City Editor Megan Burn’s “STRAPLESS URBAN AVENUE” featuring contributors Kate Smash, Micheal Zell and Geoff Munsterman with in-depth reportage around the New Orleans Poetry Scene
Also inside this issue: a special limited edition broadside “A Creative Review of the EXISTOR SPIRIT” — commemorative poem by New Orleans’ cultural visionary BOB CASS (1924-2005), editor and publisher of CLIMAX (sneak preview below)
& Also this evening Dec. 8, talented writer and comedian Chris Champagne will join Larry Beron for the final performance of Win, Place and Show! Fairgrounds tales, at the Steak Knife restaurant on Harrison Avenue. Champagne, with his perfect yat delivery and razor wit may be the funniest man in New Orleans. $15 in advance, $20 at the door. 8 p.m. at The Steak Knife, 888 Harrison Avenue.
& Robyn Walensky, veteran news reporter, sat at the Casey Anthony trial and not only wrote articles, she decided to write a book, Beautiful Life? The CSI Behind the Casey Anthony Trial. She will be at The Maple Street uptown location Friday, Dec. 9 , 2011, 6:00 P.M. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the Children’s Safety Village of Central Florida. Maple Street Bookshop Uptown, 6 p.m.
& On Friday, Dec. 9 The PhotoNOLA, in partnership with Octavia Books and The Historic New Orleans Collection, invites you to a multiple artist book-signing event during PhotoNOLA 2011, the sixth annual festival of photography in New Orleans. The event takes place from 5pm-7pm at The Historic New Orleans Collection’s Williams Research Center located at 410 Charter St. in the French Quarter. The showing starts at 5 p.m. and the fascinating and talented Joséphine Sacabo’s keynote lecture presentation will immediately follow from 7PM-9PM
& This and every Friday at the Red Star Gallery its Open Mic for home grown poetry fun. No frills…just good people, poetry, and love. Hosted every week by Charlie V-Uptowns Illest MC. $5 with college i.d./$7 without. Red Star Gallery, 513 Bayou Road, doors at 9 p.m.
& On Saturday Crescent City Farmers Market together with Octavia Books hosts a special signing and recipe tasting with New Orleans’ own James Beard award-winning chef John Besh featuring his new book, MY FAMILY TABLE: A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking.
& More food this Saturday, Dec. 10 when Peggy Scott Laborde and Tom Fitzmorris will be signing their new book, Lost Restaurants of New Orleans and reminiscing at the Maple Street Bookshop’s Uptown location at 4 p.m. They will also be at Maple Street’s Bywater location on Dec. 15 at 6:30 p.m.
Christ in a creche, I’m already gaining weight and I haven’t had a single holiday treat to eat yet. (Hint: I am very fond of handmade fruitcakes. Do not, however, send me your store bought Secret Santa present from 1997.)
& On Sunday Dec. 11 the Maple Leaf Poetry Series will feature GROUP READING by John Gery’s UNO MFA poetry students. Maple Leaf Bar, 3 p.m.
& On Monday, it’s The Writer Block on the steps on Decatur across from Jackson Square where you always see the breakdancers during the day. So come bust a literary move at 9 p.m. and dress warm. You might want to bring a warm drink. Or a warming drink. Or an Irish Coffee from Molly’s to go for the best of both.
& On Tuesday Dec. 13 New Orleans artist Thomas Mann will celebrate the publication of METAL ARTIST’S WORKBENCH: De-Mystifying the Jeweler’s Saw at Octavia Books, 6 p.m.
& Every Tuesday, don’t miss Susan Larson’s The Reading Life on WWNO-FM at 6:30 pm. If you do (shame on you) you can catch the rebroadcast at 12:30 pm on Saturdays, or wait for the podcast.
& On Wednesday Garden District Books presents Mitchell Rosenthal delivering the same warmth, personality, and infectious enthusiasm for sharing food as can be found at his wildly popular San Francisco restaurants, Town Hall, Anchor and Hope, and Salt House. With his trademark exuberance and good humor, Mitchell blends Southern-inspired comfort food with urban sophistication and innovation, for exciting results. Garden District Book Shop, 6 p.m.
& Again, I usually don’t do children’s books but I watched many a Nutcracker with my daughter from the time she was a “pink girl” of four through her years at NOCCA, and it’s got that Louisiana twist and I loved to boy those books for my children when I was living away. At Octavia Books on Wednesdeqy, Dec.l 14 there will be a storytime and a booksigning with children’s book illustrator Jean Cassels featuring her new book, THE CAJUN NUTCRACKER. 4 p.m. at Octavia Books.
One last thought: everyone loves getting a book for the holidays, expecially if you’re taking that week of use it or lose it vacation while the kids are out of school. While they’re off trying to figure out how to build a sulfur stink bomb with the new chemistry set, what better time to settle in with a new book. A better yet, get the child a book, too, and everyone curl up in front of the crackling, um, space heater under bundled up in those lovely purple-and-gold LSU blanket-with-arms things your thoughtful brother-in-law gave everyone.Ever since my son graduated from the abridged YA editions of The Clasics, he always loves getting a book card so he can go pick something out himself. Yes, graphic novels are literature. That’s why novel is in the genre’s title.
Fairy Sybil Flying December 7, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
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Somewhere high in this cold grey sky lie the mountains of the moon.
A Star in the Beast December 7, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, Xmas, Yule.
Tags: A Celebration in the Oaks, City Park, Fargo, winter
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The rain falls in a dismal Oregon mist, a drizzle so fine my Fargo-raised son says it feels like snow. It is not. It is only in the low fifties out, and it is raining, the steady, penetrating damp of New Orleans winter.
It drives Northerners nuts. Before moving here she said: I’ll never get to where my sweaters, looking at that hope chest full of good Norwegian wool. Yes, you will, I answered. They come from the north expecting palms and balmy breezes and instead get a cold so bleak I wonder if this is how Ernest Shackelton’s men felt marooned on Elephant Island. I expect to pass a restaurant chalkboard and see Booby Soup featured.
When I lived up North the great moment of vernal excitement was when “the ice was off the lakes.” It then commenced to rain instead of snow, the icy rain of clouds off the North Pacific riding polar air masses south, on days cold enough to wear a sweater even if the sun were shining. This they called Spring. For someone from New Orleans, it was a second winter, more depressing than six months in an igloo, a winter without the pristine joy of fresh snow still a wonder to a Southern boy after a decade.
Granted that here in New Orleans we all might be swimming in Grandma’s pool come Christmas Day, but December is one of the city’s cloudiest months, and near the top for rainfall. This is the month when I remember and wonder: we almost moved to Portland, attracted by an guaranteed job with the company I worked for. My Portland-based boss and co-workers would have been pleased if we had come. I had looked at houses on the Internet, studied the tide tables of the Columbia River thinking of sailing on strongly tidal waters. Then I thought of endless drizzle and clouds. Then the Flood came, and all other plans were off. I was coming home.
I stood in a bar last Saturday, and fell into conversation with a group of Canadians. The day’s high had reached into the fifties but begun to fall outside. They all wore light fleece, the sort of thing one wears in “Spring” or in the warming house in the north. I have had this conversation two dozen times before: would we trade 50 and drizzle for a clear and windless 10 degree day, the sound of snow shows biting through the crust, the swoosh of cross-country skis?
Tuesday was another gloomy evening of drizzle. As I turned to take my shortcut through City Park along Roosevelt Mall to get to Esplanade–car heater blasting like Satan’s chimney, blessed seat warmers up on high–I was greeted with the sight of a new set of Christmas lights in the park: an avenue of blue stars with white comet tails hanging from the oaks. I took my foot off the gas and let the car slowly roll beneath them. I was struck with the wonder I felt as a child visiting the Centanni House on Canal Street, oblivious to the weather, crunching into a candy apple from the several vendors who gathered there. When Salvador “Sam” Centanni died, king of over-the-top Christmas lights Al Copeland sent a lighted Christmas wreath instead of flowers, addressed to “The real King of Christmas.”
Once the children abandon Santa the way you left the church behind years ago, Christmas is a strange season: dinner at the in-laws stretched from hours to days, an obligatory Mass where you hope no one notices that you don’t even bother to mumble anymore to the Apostles Creed. Catholics are rotten singers but there was still something about midnight mass, waiting impatiently to bellow at the end Gloria in Ecelsis Deo over the woebegon Catholic pioneers around you. There was a ballooning joy in seeing the children’s faces when they opened their presents on Chritsmas Eve but I never quite got over the idea that presents belonged to Christmas morning. For half my life Christmas Eve was a time for parties and visiting neighbors, my father and my uncle drunkenly assembling a bicycle after midnight. But the great pleasure of the season wherever I lived was the mid-winter carnival of lights.
When I first got home to Mid-City, I would drive down City Park Avenue and look at the tangle of torn wires in the oak trees, all that remained of the Celebration in the Oaks. Over the years it has slowly recovered, and the site of the chase-light candy cane tunnel over the miniature train tracks no longer leads to my slamming on the breaks at Marconi. I am sad they moved the dragon far back into the lagoons and replaced it with the swans at Wisner and City Park. That dragon blown akimbo by the storm and left in the lagoon for seasons was for me not just a a memory but a promise, that mythical creatures still have meaning, manifest themselves in our lives if only by the magic of lights strung on a wire frame.
I don’t believe in a star in the east, but I do believe in the power of a hundred thousand glowing bulbs–the CO2 soaked atmosphere be damned for a month or so–to lift the cold-soaked soul toward the heavens.
Simple Twist of Fate December 6, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Bob Dylan, Shelter from the Storm, Synecdoche N.Y.
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“Do I understand your question man, is it hopeless and forelorn?”
— Bob Dylan
My New Gambit December 6, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in literature, New Orleans, The Narrative, Toulouse Street, Writing.
My first paying piece of journalism in over 25 years made the print copy of Gambit, page 13. Damn, it feels good to see my byline in print again. I have already sent one query letter to a magazine, and have another I am drafting this morning.
And so we begin again. The bank I called Moloch these last six years was my third or fourth or firth career depending on how you count. I have been over the last 30 years: journalist, political PR flack and speechwriter, pre-press manager, IT fix-it guy, project manager. These jumps have occurred in a cycle of about seven years, so after almost 11 years I was long overdue. On the other hand, I began writing seriously about six years ago, was noticed by other writers, made connections. That would be my latest career, right on time.
Every jump has been difficult. It usually means a pay cut, long hours of study and hard work. When I ran a pre-press shop for a newspaper and commercial experience, with no better experience than some limited history with page layout software and a prior career in news papering, I came up with a rule. The time estimate for every type of work I had to re-learn or teach myself from scratch was 50% of how long it took me to manage the first one. There were hours when I labored in that shop past midnight, and was back at my station by six a.m., rolling my caster chair from one Macintosh computer to another and over to check the RIP, standing over the light table with a loup registering four-color work. I devoured every O’Rielly book I needed, as my actual title as IT Manager so in addition to the shop I baby-sat all of the computers. I turned an intended loss leader into a profit center and doubled my salary in three years.
I am older now, and it will be harder. The aging brain is harder to retrain, but if you have any natural talent (as I found I had for computers), it is that much more feasible. My obligations are greater, with one in college and another on the way, and there is that inevitable pay cut that comes with a career change, but I have always managed to turn that around in a matter of a few years. Now I just need to find a way to make it pay. I have bought a year’s subscription to Writers Market, read sample cover letters, reached out to other writers who have been fans of the blogs. Motivation is simple. I am on the only road worth traveling. The corporate cubicle was the road of Willie Loman, and we all know how well that turned out.
Thumb Studies December 5, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
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My father had wheels and wheels of 35 millimeter slides going back I don’t know how far. I remember the after vacation slide shows with the neighbors and cocktails and the children on the floor, mostly embarrassed to be put on display with various geographical and cultural artifacts growing out of our heads. The internet, the switch to digital photography and the loss of the sort of community of neighbors common up until the 1960s has killed this tradition.
While I don’t miss those travelogue evenings on the floor, I do regret that my children did not grow up in a neighborhood full of children (we were Baby Boomers, and every neighborhood teemed with kids), the knowledge that they could cut through just about anybody’s yard on the block to get to the lanes of Lake Vista without someone calling 9-1-1, knowing they could always stop by some neighbors for a band aid or a cold drink if there parents weren’t at home.
I do remember my father was a great one for managing to get his thumb into the pictures, a problem I seem to have inherited like driving on a near empty tank (although I haven’t run out as often as he did), or missing one-way signs because I was too busy admiring something as I drove along.
There is something about a phone camera that invites these sort of mistakes, but they look more interesting than the thumb pictures I remember from my childhood.
A sad farewell December 5, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Memory, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Coco Robicheaux, Marie's Bar
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The crowd was small at first, a few dozen in the bar , half watching the LSU game and seemingly unaware of the memorial to come, less than that milling about outside Marie’s Bar on Burgundy, another favorite haunt of Coco Robicheaux. The promised second line never quite materialized as the crowd built to fill the streets around the bar. One peck horn player, a guy with a set of bongo’s strung over his shoulder and a fellow (familiar, but I don’t know his name) with a hubcap hung from a stick. Someone later told me he was the owner of the old Dream Palace.
A woman stood in the middle of Burgundy and made a shouted announcement that there would be a parade around the block, a few more odd musicians having arrived by this time, but no one made a move to start. There was no snare in site to call us all to attention, no trumpet to issue a call to post. Since we seemed to be going no where fast I slipped back inside to try and get us another couple of beers. I understand they managed a parade around the block while I was inside, the sort of impromptu collection of amateur musicians you are liable to encounter wandering the Quarter on Mardi Gras. From the size of the crowd when I came outside, it seemed most people had stayed put, drinking and talking about Coco or LSU.
The crowd outside had started small, with knots of people talking in quiet voices, but had grown by this time into the sort of crowd you will find outside any crowded club on a Saturday night with the band on break, out to escape the steerage conditions inside, laughing and drinking and having a cigarette. There were a handful of familiar faces I couldn’t quite place with names, my friend Dave and over across the street novelist and photographer Louis Maistros, poet and playwright Moose Jackson. Dave introduced me to a few people he knew and I went over to talk to Louis and his son Booker, who was roaming with a camera.
Inside Don “Blue Max” Ryan set up and played a weak species of blues on Coco’s own guitar, reminding the crowd to toss some money in a bin in front of the state for Coco’s widow Danielle. Ryan announced himself as “Coco’s brother” but I have to assume he meant that metaphorically as he is not listed in the obituary. I understand he was Coco and his wife Danielle’s landlord, and one of the notice’s “host of cousins,” a few of whom dropped by the Apple Barrel after the family’s private memorial service last week and regaled us with stories of young Curtis. Ryan wore a feather bedecked gambler hat that might well have come out of Coco’s own wardrobe but even with Coco’s guitar in hand and his best attempt at Coco’s look he was a poor substitute
I tossed a five in the bucket and took my beers back outside, and so thankfully missed this, Ryan dropping one of Coco’s guitars in front of Coco’s wife Danielle while she “watch[ed] in horror.” according to Dylan James Stansbury, an amateur videographer who can be found at just about any music event worth catching, posting up performance on YouTube. The video is dark (almost thankfully), and the ending truly sad as he balances the guitar on one hand and it crashes to the ground. It’s hard to make out the cacophony of voices after he drops it. There is a clear “oh, God” right after it falls, another voice saying “Coco didn’t want it played any more” and toward the very end, very clearly: “asshole.”
I missed the moment on video, Dylan told me later. because it happened later in the night, probably after I had already left for another obligation, a Krewe du Vieux event up on Architect street. The memory I took away was a happier one, of a street full of people drinking and laughing, just another bar overflow street party, as if Coco himself had just finished a set inside. The failure of the promised second line was of no consequence on this Saturday night in New Orleans. Coco was sent off by the neighborhood with drinking, conversation and laughter, which in his case is probably better than a second line.
In the Belly of the Feast December 4, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Capital One Bank N.A.
“And there’s hamburger all over the highway in Mystic, Connecticut.”
— The Firesign Theater, Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers
I spent an entire morning last week going over my finances for the last year, pouring over bank statements because at some point I will get to do this for the lawyers. Bless me father, it has been one month since my last day at Moloch and the severance stub arrived and after careful research realized they had craftily structure the new compensation plan–bumping up base and cutting back on bonuses–so as to cheat me out of almost $20,000 gross in severance. Who’s in your wallet?
There is no longer any reason to hide the fact now the severance has cleared: Moloch is Capitol One, they of the apt Visigoths. If you pay Cap One 23% interest to buy Chinese crap at Target or Wal-Mart while they pay you 0.23% interest on your savings you’re too stupid for sympathy. Rant against Wall Street all you want but you are a willing dupe. Avoid the Three Card Monty men at your subway stop and the flashing poker machines at your corner bar.
I spent an hour pouring over the documents of my severance, writing an angry email to the bank, copying CEO Richard Fairbank, then another three hours accounting for where the money has gone this past year, working out a new budget, puzzling out how long I can live on the severance. The answer is: not long enough, not in this economy, not under the current circumstances. It’s pretty simple: I pay the mortgage on the house where I no longer know the alarm codes. I pay my own rent and utilities and other expenses. I currently pay my daughter’s full freight at a local private collage (minus her scholarship, aid and a small loan). I pay her share of rent on an apartment nicer than mine, and her spending money for groceries and miscellany, a check larger than my own rent. I paid all of last year’s taxes and the spring car insurance payment (another couple grand here in Louisiana). I try to live a decent life in this town: go out for drinks, pay the cover, and eat the occasional good meal in a town renowned for its food. I buy a lot of books (the books I need are not in the library).
Several thousand more went in “co-pays” for painful surgery that cured nothing. Nothing to do but wait for the pain to subside on its own and conserve the Vicodin for the really bad spells. Fuck Aetna and Ochsner: I’d have been better off to the tune of several big ones demanding more Vicodin (my first surgeon gave me none before; only my regular doctors on my pre-op visit said, “that’s a very painful condition” and offered them without my asking), swallowing what pain relief was offered and letting the condition heal itself (our first approach, and the one that ultimately worked.) First do no harm has given way to the FDA making doctors parsimonious with pain meds and there’s more money in surgery and I’m sure they have some quota.
This is not the relaxing sabbatical from soulless corporate banking I had imagined.
The money goes out faster than it comes in. That’s the New American Way and Capital One, Bank of American and Chase are banking on it; that and taking the near zero interest bailout money from the government and putting it not into mortgages refinanced but into T-Bills. Stop now. Go re-read that sentence and then go do something mindless like washing the dishes while you consider it. And after you smash that glass in careless anger stop and consider that you have not suddenly had an epiphany. the knowledge that America is a racket you are not in on, that you sit at the bottom of a giant Ponzi scheme that’s been going on since Reagan. Consider instead going into work every day knowing that in some small way you are a part of of all that. You take the decent salary and the bonus because you have a mortgage, children to somehow get out of the house and into college, we must have the bathroom and kitchen taken up to date (must we?), with fine quarter-sawn oak cabinets and thick granite.
The name Moloch came naturally when I felt it necessary to conceal my employer , the great line from Allen Ginsberg’s Howl: “Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks!” Daily for 10 years I tossed not babies but you, my reader, and all your friends into the furnace to feed that hungry god.
It nearly killed me, the last five years of cognitive dissonance; wait, fuck that: five years of watching the cogs turn and slowly grind our customers, my co-workers, myself into meat and I slowly became one of the hollow men and hid beneath my red rock (come in under this red rock) while my life slowly came apart at the seams. That is how I come to find myself going over a year’s finances. We have split the sheets (one of the consequences of us both discovering ourselves lost in corporate Apache country) but have not made it legal, and as that unfolds there will be an accounting, not just of finances but of sins of omission and commission; the usual apportionment of blame and the punishment of the innocent.
I put away the papers around noon and showered and decided to get the hell out of the apartment.
Not bad, thanks. How was your morning?
I don’t know why but I often find consolation in Chalres Bukowski and yes you have to plow through a fair bit of rambling travelogue from hell, like panning a worked out river for gold but when you find the nuggeyd buried in his work it is like finding an undiscovered codex of gospel hidden in the bill stubs. So I popped in a CD of him reading as I drive downtown and maybe this wasn’t the best choice in my state of mind but I haven’t listened to it be once since my sister found it at a garage sale, and I too I have felt these last years I was born to hustle roses down the avenues of the dead.
And so I walk into the library for the book I’ve reserved and it hasn’t been pulled so you walk far into the back of the stacks where poetry is kept, saving the better space for the new arrivals, the tables of best sellers, the practical books of self and home improvement. You walk past the tables full of men (they are all men) in worn clothes with worn faces, some reading, a few sleeping and one or two just staring. Their eyes do not follow you as you pass not because you are not there but because they aren’t. At the last table three men sit in presentable work clothes quietly talking, one with a large new laptop but they talk of prison, a conversation you can’t quite follow. And you wonder just how many more mortgage payments away you are from joining them.
Of course the damned book isn’t downtown (something not apparent on the website or even to the desk librarian who sent you back into the stacks to fetch it) but at the crumbling mansion uptown given to the city long ago as a library. So you climb into the car and drive uptown and at first these libraries can’t find the book either. A helpful young man sets out to find it, as they told the downtown librarian over the phone that yes, it was there. You enter into a former parlor of Milton Latter’s home and sit on one of the old Queen Ann chairs, imagine the gold paint perhaps hidden under a dozen sloppy layers of dripping white, and chose one with a long crushed pink cushion and unraveling seams from which you can observe the desk. Consider the two libraries, the downtown branch with its cargo of hollow men and this monument to the old money of uptown, it’s threadbare chairs and the workmen hustling through the halls trying to keep the old building from collapsing in on itself.
“If you’re losing your soul and you know it, then you’ve still got a soul left to lose” ― Charles Bukowski
Here at the margin of America, closer to the Caribbean than to Wall Street, the two libraries are the city in microcosm: the modern downtown building with its tables of capital’s rejects–their value added sucked dry, the lumpen proletariat–and the disintegrating landmark on St. Charles Avenue, side-by-side with the mansions in which generations of old money kept the oil men out of their exclusive clubs and so drove them all to Houston. I am out of work because my own job was sent away to Moloch’s headquarters, where everyone can be fully immersed in the corporate cul
ture. The story of this city: the wanderers come looking for some Big Easy and sleeping on the tables downtown, the ramshackle, paint faded shotguns of the working poor I pass on the back way Uptown through Central City, the old money folk so set in their ways they would send their children into an historic building the roof of which collapsed this past last year.
Finally I leave with my prize and decide to head downtown to pass the time in a nearby coffee shop reading my new book waiting for my son to get out of his afternoon music program at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. But Bukowski has done something to my head. I find myself instead at the far end of the bar at Mimi’s nursing a beer and typing out the first words of this onto a dirt cheap tablet computer (best I could afford), my fingers constantly missing on the tiny touchscreen keys. The music is too loud to read and there are stories that, left untold, fester like untreated wounds, stories crying like the sacrificial victims in their swaddling clothes before the furnace of Moloch, crying to escape..
“The artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him. At that point, he’s in business.” — John Berryman
Odd Words Sculpture & Literature Edition December 3, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in books, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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A closing celebration and literary reading for the last afternoon of “Redheaded Stepchild,” an exhibit of sculpture by local artists. Writers Eve Abrams, Richard Goodman, Benjamin Morris, and Ingrid Norton and theater artist Helen Jaksch will read or perform in the gallery. The event will celebrate the artists’ beautiful exhibition, showcase the work of talented performers/writers, and bring together NOLA’s visual arts and literary scenes. The show features magnificent sculpture and installation by Keven Baer, Thor Carlson, Kourtney Keller, Jonathan Pellitteri, Cynthia Scott, and Patrick Segura, and is co-curated by Scott and Brian St. Cyr. Homespace Gallery, 1128 St. Roch Avenue, Sunday December 4th , 2-4 p.m.
This is an oops on my part. I lost track of the email so it didn’t make Thursday’s column. My apologies.
Odd Words December 1, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in books, literature, Memory, New Orleans, NOLA, Odd Words, Poetry, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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This is the 1,000th post on Toulouse Street — Odd Bits of Life in New Orleans. I did not win at Pick 3 on 999 last night. And so it goes.
If Odd Words seems obsessed with ideas of truth, reality, memory and fiction that is because ToulouseStreet.net is none and all of those things, the items closest to vanity blog posts (oh, isn’t my life interesting?) walking a fine line between fact and fiction, mediated by an idiosyncratic memory and by the motivation to tell a story. It is, as the tag on the most recent posts of that sort is The Narrative. It is not about who I am but someone else, the person described in the Samuel Beckett quote on the right (scroll down a bit). Memory and agenda transform everything, something that came to the fore for me this week.
I had a newspaper assignment, and needed to remember to set aside any agenda (so-called journalistic objectivity) and a clear agenda: do right by Coco, and his second family at the Apple Barrel. It was also a story about memory, about anecdote, about speculation: none of these hard and firm subjects like what happened in Occupy or the Obama White House yesterday. In the course of the story, someone sent me this video of Coco Robicheaux recounting a story from his youth.
Coco was the very model of a character in New Orleans, a beloved eccentric in the last place in America where a person can come and re-invent themselves. You should watch the video to understand this but in brief: he tells a fishing story, what might easily be taken as a fish tale about catching a Louisiana-record jack crevalle he put in the freezer and his plans to mount it. This could easily be taken as a fish story, a tall tale by a man noted for his tall tales.
Until I talked to his cousin, and later his sister. It seems that as a very young boy he had sent off for a pamphlet on taxidermy, and had a bird he was working on but abandoned in the garage. And his sister in fact recalled some fish his father had kept for quite a while. It is certainly easy to imagine a boy living in Slidell with no boat fishing the trestle, which I’m told is a great spot. There were kernels of truth in this story, and whether he Coco set out to tell a fish tale or believed he was recounting facts mediated by memory and time, was perhaps the most interesting thing I learned in the exercise.
The video also led me to this book, which I had not previously seen around town: New Orleans Walls: Still Standing is a collection of double-exposed photographs, and stories celebrating the people of New Orleans, coming from all walks of life, and bound together by a common passion for the city. The book is available at the local indies, and its website is here.
& so to the listings…
& Tonight at the 17 Poets! at the Goldmine Saloon poets Kelly Harris and Andrea Boll will read starting at 7:30 pm. Boll is best known for her chronicle of second line culture The Parade Goes On Without You, and Harris’ poems have appeared in: Say It Loud: Poems for James Brown, Yale University’s Caduceus, PLUCK Magazine, Reverie Journal, Poets for Living Water, and The Southern Women’s Review
& Maple Street Book Shop will expand its indie empire with a new store in the Faubourg St. John. While official details are sketchy, the neighborhood knows it will be on Ponce de Leon, and there is only one commercial building there unoccupied and under renovation so it will be right off Esplanade in the strip of shops anchored by Canseco’s Grocery and Fair Grinds Coffee Shop. The Facebook page promised as Dec. 10th opening, so watch here for more details.& Tonight at 17 Poets at the Goldmine
& Tonight at Garden District books Katherine Soniat will present her new poetry collection, The Swing Girl, which contemplates the present through the fragmented lens of history. She swings the reader out across time, to ancient Greece and China, and into the chaos of contemporary war in Serbia and Iraq. Her poems move between present culture and the ghosts of history, between modern metaphor and the rhetoric of myth.
& Also tonight and again Dec. 8th Poet, humorist and Orleanian to the bone Chris Champaigne and Larry Beron again present their trip to the track Win, Place and Show at The Steak Knife at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 advance $20 at the door.
& Downtown Friday night at the Love Lost Lounge, the No Love Lost Poetry Reading hosted by Joseph Bienvenu kicks of at 5:30 p.m., just in time for the bar’s Jazz Happy Hour and opening time for the excellent Vietnamese kitchen in the back.
& Later Friday New Orleans premiere spoken word event Acoustic Fridays the Red Star Gallery, 2513 Bayou Road, hosted every week by Charlie V-Uptowns Illest MC. $7 cover, $5 with college ID.
& On Saturday, Jose Torres-Tama, author of New Orleans Free People of Color & Their Legacy: The Artwork of Jose Torres-Tama, will be at Maple Leaf’s Healing Center store on Saturday, December 3, 2011, 3:00-4:30 P.M. Tama was able to produce this book chronicling the exhibit of the same name.Creole historian Keith Weldon Medley contributed the biographical notes and a time line of New Orleans colonial history, both written by Creole historian Keith Weldon Medley.
& Also this Saturday at 12 noon Shaquille “Shaq” O’Neal will appear on Garden District Books to discuss his new memoir Shaq Uncut: My Story. I might need to recount for the Odd Words audience his background: a four-time NBA champion and a three-time NBA Finals MVP. After being an All-American at Louisiana State University, he was the overall number one draft pick in the NBA in 1992. In his 19-year career, Shaq racked up 28,596 career points (including 5,935 free throws!), 13,099 rebounds, 3,026 assists, 2,732 blocks, and 15 All-Star appearances. This is going to be an event as big as the man himself, so I suggest you get there early.
& At 2 pm on Saturday the Poetry Buffet hosted by Gina Ferrara at the Latter Library on St. Charles Ave. features Martha McFerren and Mark Yakich.
& Saturday evening at Garden District Grammy Award-nominated American humorist, writer, comedian, bestselling author, and radio contributor will be on hand at 6 p.m. to read and sign Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, which features Sedaris’s unique blend of hilarity and heart, this new collection of keen-eyed animal-themed tales is an utter delight. Though the characters may not be human, the situations in these stories bear an uncanny resemblance to the insanity of everyday life. This is a ticketed event, the price of admission a copy of the book, so if you want to meet Sedaris you had best hustle over their today or tomorrow to get your copy before they’re all gone.
& I usually don’t cover children’s book events but this Saturday at Maple Street’s flag ship store on Maple Street (or course) they will feature Jean Cassels on December 3, 2011, 11:30 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. to sign her new book, The Cajun Nutcracker. This tale and music has a special place in my heart, as my daughter danced from her days as a three year old “pink girl” until she abandoned her studies at NOCCA, realizing that if she was not intended to audition for a company or study dance in college, the punishing routine of a pre-professional dance program was too much. I often dreamed when she was young of accompanying her to Moscow where the prima ballerina would be a guest artist of the Ballet Russe, of being patted heartily on the back over too many vodkas and told, “such a fine artist, such a fine dancer” (such are the dreams of daddy’s). I also supported her decision in the end. The industrial sized bottles of Ibuprofin and a freezer full of blue ice packs were too much for a girl who came home exhausted to a pile of Ben Franklin homework. Still, I tear up at the sound of Tchaikovsky’s ballet.
& Also on Saturday at 6 pm The Dirty Coast book release party for “Y’all’s Problem,” and “New Orleans: the Underground Guide,” is at the new Dirty Coast store, 329 Julia St.
& On Monday Crescent City Books will hist its Black Widow Salon #3. Noted photographer Josephine Sacabo will be our guest this coming Monday, December 5th. We will be discussing literature as a key kernel of her work. Readings included of Rilke, Huidobro, Mallarme, Sor Juana, Rulfo, etc. Upstairs at Crescent City Books @ 230 Chartres St. 7-9 p.m. (We will start promptly at 7:15 p.m.) Seating is limited. RSVP’s preferred.
& On Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 5:30 pm The Arts Council, 935 Gravier Street presents The Writing Institute of the Arts Council Group Booksigning featuring a list of local Katrina-themed books and authors including James Nolan’s Higher Ground, Richard Deichmann’s Code Blue, Carolyn Perry’s For Better, For Worse, and Sally Forman’s Eye of the Storm & How They Did It. It does not feature the one, indispensable Katrina book A Howling in the Wires (available at right and at your local indie bookstores) but all of these look interesting. I have just cracked Nolan’s higher ground, a book that will wind up on my shelf next to Confederacy of Dunces.
& Sunday Dec. 4 you have another chance to catch Poet Katharine (Bonnie) Soniat reading from and signing her new book from LSU Press, Swing Girl, at the Maple Leaf Bar reading series at 3 p.m., or whenever the Saint’s crowd in front quiets down enough to hear.
& Every Monday at 9 pm Kate Smash hosts The Writer’s Block, an open air performance by poets and any other performers who care to stop by. They meet on the amphitheater steps across from Jackson Square. No list, not mic, all performers welcome, so if you can juggle the collected works of Shakespeare in small duodecimo editions, do stop by.
& A week from today Maple Street’s uptown store will host several storytellers from Something in the Water on Thursday, December 8, 2011, 6:00 P.M. This book contains twenty stories about Louisiana, capturing the soul of the state. Meet or reconnect with authors James Nolan, Tim Gautreaux, and John Biguenet.
And so, with my return to the role of ink-stained wretch of newspapering, I’ll end this weeks column with a simple: