This Is No Tight Ship December 31, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in Everette Maddox, Faubourg St. John, Federal Flood, Fortin Street, Mid-City, New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
An open letter to the members of the Faubourg St. John Neighborhood Association, our Mayor and other leaders, the people of New Orleans and of the world:
with Huck Finn’s taste for
the mixed-up. This is no
tight ship. I wouldn’t
want my moments run off on an
assembly line like toy ducks. That’s
not the point…”
— Everette Maddox, “Just Normal”
Once again I hear the cry raised against the indiscriminate use of fireworks on New Year’s Eve. Yes they are illegal and to some people and their animals terribly annoying. I am sorry for your inconvenience. What disturbs me about this protest is that it is part and parcel of a snowballing intolerance for the transgressive by some citizens and the current city leadership. Whether it is fireworks on New Year’s Eve (or the sadly lost Mid-City Bonfire), unlicensed artisans at Jazz Fest or guerrilla food vendors at second lines or music clubs permitted only by the tolerance of neighbors who have long lived next door, we are losing the tolerance for the transgressive that is fundamental to who we are, to what this city is. It is that tolerance that made New Orleans a haven for gays and a magnet for artists, that makes Carnival and the year-round debauchery of Bourbon Street possible, that puts a pie-man on a bicycle at just the right corner at the very moment when you find you are most in need of a piece of sweet potato. Without it the inherent spontaneity of the city will be lost.
I spent 20 years wandering in regular America with only one dream, to return to this La La Land. I returned after the storm to a city that was not precisely the same one I left in my rear view mirror in 1986, and certainly not the city of my childhood, but so many of us spent so much effort in the years after the flood working to make sure that whatever came out of the events of 2005 it would be recognizably New Orleans. If we allow this creeping intolerance to take over the city it will become a Disney cartoon shadow of itself. If that is allowed to happen everything we have done in the last seven years will have been for nothing. We will become post-Hugo historic Charleston, S.C., a dark ghetto of transient tourist condos for the wealthy. The corner bars and restaurants that birthed the food and music of the city will be permitted out of existence. The city will keep its pretty buildings and fine restaurants but will no longer be New Orleans. It will be a frozen diorama of what once was.
I would not want to live in a city where a bar across from a church was not at least a grandfathered if not an explicitly permitted use.
I’m just a renter across from the race track but I still own property in Mid-City. I understand the complex and abstract math of property values. The banning of the bonfire depreciated my property on Toulouse Street in my eyes. I found Endymion to be mostly a bother (but a great excuse for an open-house party) and would never suggest it be moved out of Mid-City. When I lived in Treme years ago, I walked out of my large and cheap apartment (now an expensive condo) to listen to the New Year’s service music through the open windows of St. Anna’s that opened onto my yard. Before I sat down I noticed a hole in my plastic webbed lawn chair and beneath it a slug smashed on the concrete patio. There are common sense limits to tolerance but trying to ban fireworks, which have been both illegal and ubiquitous since my childhood in the 60s, is probably not a good use of the police’s time on National Amateur Drunk Driver Night. We need to learn to tolerate the inconveniences (fireworks, Endymion, all of Carnival if you happen to live uptown) in exchange for the pleasures our tolerance of the transgressive provides.
If you seek the perfect, suburban peace of the grave New Orleans is probably not the city for you. I am sorry if this statement angers you. I am one of you, if only a renter of a run down half shotgun on Fortin but I searched for a year for a property I could afford in this neighborhood. I have called Lake Vista, Gentilly, Treme and Carrollton home, but once I landed here I knew I had found the best neighborhood of all. When I walked into DeBlancs for the first time in 20 years and the woman behind the counter looked down at my license and up at me and said, “you look just like your father” who had passed on 20 years earlier I knew I was home. I’m not looking to stir up trouble but I have to say all this: I cannot idly sit by and watch the old and rough-running engine of this city throttled by the growing climate of intolerance until it stalls and dies. If you enjoy Endymion I have borne that burden for you, gladly. All I ask is the same forbearance in return.