An Imaginary City August 25, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in Fortin Street, New Orleans, Odd Words, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, Uncategorized, We Are Not OK.
I live in an imaginary city. Its borders on one side are indistinct, the gradual erosion from solid land through marsh to water. These boundaries shift daily with the tide, and monthly with the moon, and every day grow a little closer, the city a little smaller. On the other sides there are walls built to keep back the sea, to contain the river. These are not ours to command. All we have with certainty is our imaginary city, its rituals of uncertain origin, its people of many colors and languages. They walk and dance on streets that ripple like the water, fracture like ice on a river breaking up in the spring, and crumble from neglect. These are the only streets we have ever known. Only the names are important: Pleasure, Desire, Humanity, Music. The names are part of the dream of the imaginary city. Martin Luther King Boulevard and Jefferson Davis Parkway intersect and end where Earhart Boulevard flies toward the Potemkin America of the imaginary suburbs.
There are in fact many imaginary cities I inhabit, all in the same place. There is the city of the tourists, the ones who buy Carnival beads in August and wear them drinking in the streets. This is a city of imaginative drunkenness and lewdness, mostly confined to a few blocks of one street, where people buy Big Ass Beers and drinks the size of goldfish bowls or shaped like hand grenades, as if they wish to immerse themselves in liquor or explode into outrageous behavior. They holler at women on party balconies to “show their tits.” Some drunkenly comply. They behave, in short, like drunken louts released from all restraint. This is encouraged. Virtually every doorway in these few blocks leads to a bar, the rest to t-shirt and trinket shops where they can buy their beads and shirts only someone completely inebriated would consider wearing. They show these shirts to friends at home, snicker, and put them in a bottom drawer. I occasionally inhabit this city if only for a moment, to cross the street of the endless Carnival, to escape to another imaginary city. A few people I know work there. Some love it. Some hate it. It either is or is not a particular person’s imaginary city. For the visitors, it is the only city.
I can cross Canal Street, the famous divide between two of the largest imaginary cities, to the skyscrapers and renovated 19th century office blocks of Uptown. (Don’t call the skyscraper village Downtown, or you will quickly become lost. Downtown is Another City). This is where the wealthy sit in air-conditioned comfort–over lunches that would cost the waiter a week’s wages–and wonder at the indolence of so many of the people of their imaginary city. They are the God-fearing Protestants from the north who came after the war and built that side of Canal Street into a landscape of mansions and shotgun shacks for their servants. An antique streetcar, long out of manufacturer and kept running entirely with hand built parts, rumbles under great oaks down the avenue. On this avenue the wealthy and those who would be wealthy enact the ritual of Uptown Carnival, in which these people ride atop massive papier-mâché barges tossing imaginary jewels of Chinese plastic to the grateful (if indolent) throngs that line the street. This has been my imaginary city, at times, looking out from the nineteenth floor contemplating what fine restaurant a salesman might take us to. I too have stood where the streetcars run and fought for my share of worthless plastic.
Downtown is not where the business of the city is done. This seems appropriate to an imaginary city. Downtown begins with the blocks of the Old Quarter where drunken tourists reign and slowly gives way to the city downriver. Things run down quickly going toward the sea but that is to be expected. The certainty of the land beneath this imaginary city dissolves with each block further down toward the delta. The clocks on abandoned bank buildings stand forever at some o’clock. Here it is Central River Time. Paint peels more slowly in this imaginary city, and so is left as it is. I can think of a half-dozen facades in this imaginary city with faded advertisements for beers out of style longer than I can remember. The sidewalks here are not fractured by the stately oaks of Uptown but more likely by a weedy camphor or blackberry. People do not call the city to complain. They crush a camphor leaf in their hand and inhale, or stop to pick a handful of berries. They step over the heaves and holes on their way to more important business. There is cooking to be done, music to be sung, cold beer and friends to attend to. I live far in the back of this imaginary city, off the portage that once ran from the Bayou to the River. There was a clerk at a drug store not four block away I had not visited in 20 years who took a long look at my driver’s license, and remarked I looked just like my father (20 years dead). No doubt there are dwindling towns scattered in the rural landscape where such things might happen, but only one imaginary city where it could happen to you today.
The imaginary city is old by the standards of the New World. Only the pyramids of the displaced Natives are older. Yet nothing here is as old as the imaginary city. Over the centuries, fire and flood have erased everything but the names of the streets in the French Quarter, lined with Spanish colonial buildings. Kings, founders, a street called Barracks that explains the curious grid streets of the French Quarter, a fortress built in a conquered land. Elsewhere the streets run perpendicular to the river, slowing pulling away from each other or colliding as the river dictates: new streets appear, others disappear. The cross streets follow the bends of the river or simply begin and disappear in a geometry that defies simple formulae. It is a fractal city, chaotic order out of chaos. You can spend an entire lifetime here and still discover new streets and wonder: was this always here? Or is it simply a symptom of an imaginary city? Were the houses a Carnival façade, something erected for some private entertainment, or has another imaginary city intersected ours like two bubbles colliding?
It would be impossible to live here if it were not an imaginary city.
In the concrete world of rotting sideboards that hides beneath the imaginary city, things can be too awful to imagine. The bloodstained streets are the killing fields of a constant, random war. The newspaper of the imaginary city counts the daily dead and wounded, but it is easier not to take the paper if you wish to live in the imaginary city. You can live in your own imaginary city and cluck and shrug and say: not in my imaginary city. These things don’t happen Uptown. These things don’t happen in the blocky, post-War suburbs of the Lakefront. And how about them Saints? Football season is upon us and in the imaginary city football crosses all boundaries, melds the imaginary cities into one imaginary city, if only for a Sunday afternoon, a Monday morning. Football and Carnival are the pillars of the imaginary city, the many imaginary cities that make up this imaginary city. We imagine ourselves one city.
Behind all this, the uncivil war goes on, cousins killing cousins, neighbors killing neighbors. You can try to ignore it but every now and then, you step outside for a cigarette at night and hear in the distance not the horns of the ships making the tight bend in the river but the crackle of small-arms fire, and then the sirens. In your heart, you pray that a stray bullet has not taken another child. You step back inside, suddenly distracted by a song on the imaginary city’s radio station where they do not play the top hits of an imaginary nation but the music of the imaginary city. You return to the collective imaginary normal until the sound of a snare drum or a trumpet calls for forth a slow spiritual, or vibrant gospel song you know will be played somewhere in this imaginary city to walk and wake those who have just died.
It would be impossible to live here if it were not an imaginary city.
Forty Two: Of Course It Is March 8, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, 504, Fortin Street, Louisiana, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist.
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Eric: “This is the best bar in New Orleans.”
The Typist: “At this moment, yes it is.”
Blue Lights on a White Tree December 25, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in blues, cryptic envelopment, Fortin Street, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, Xmas, Yule.
The promised clouds have not appeared, an unexpected Xmas gift. It is brisk but not frigid, and I half-hope someone sees me step out in my snowflake boxers to unplug the lights but the streets are quiet in south Lakeview. No one it seems has gotten a bicycle or a skateboard from Santa, or perhaps the children are too busy commandering the television to connect the new PS/4 just at the moment that somewhere out in the ether the dog attacks the family turkey for the umpteenth time. Probably no BB guns under the tree either but it is neither a 1940s fantasy nor Egret Street 1963. In a few hours I will see my beautiful grown children and among their gifts with be a Razr DeathAdder gaming mouse which is as close to a BB gun as it gets in 2013. My own gifts are few but precious: to see two practically perfect children grown into the grace of cocktails and conversation with the other adults and the love of a woman her friends christened Patrice Navidad for her love of Xmas.
The night I promised to help her haul out her tree she instead rushed her brother to the hospital for a detached retina, and I sat alone in her house while my son hosted movie night for his friends at my house. What the hell, I thought, and set about deconstructing her cluttered front closet in search of the pieces of the tree. Blue Grinch that I think I am I thought I might as well get it done. Miraculously I got the pieces together on the second try and set about untangling the still-attached lights, a fire hazard rat’s nest with the carbon footprint of occupied Bethlehem. Miraculously they all still worked. Cheered by a second beer and success, I set about digging out the three Christmas piggies and some lights salvaged from Toulouse Street. A quick trip to Walgreens for an extension cord and voila. I stood next to the bare crepe myrtles sipping another beer while the loose black cat I call Beezelbub rubbed against my leg. I recalled 20 degrees in the afternoon, a 24-foot extension ladder planted precariously in the lumpy, crusted snow hanging my own vast collection of lights against the December darkness of 45º North and somewhere in my blue heart all the Whos down in Whoville sung around their barren tree.
Not a day has passed since when she hasn’t told me how it made her cry.
Last night we watched The Polar Express and I told her the story of The Christmas Toy, an obscure Muppets film that enchanted my daughter when she was three or four, and spawned an ask to Santa for Rugby Tiger, perhaps the only Jim Henson creation to not make it out of marketing and onto the holiday shelves. The Internet offered nothing, and calls to every toy store in Minneapolis and Chicago were fruitless. The thought that your tiny daughter’s dearest Xmas wish might go unfilled is the bluest of Xmas possibilities. And then one snow grey day I searched the stuffed animal pile at the local drugstore in the small town where we lived and found not just a passable facsimile but a dead ringer for Rugby Tiger. My ticket was punched Believer by the gloves of a contender.
As I sit here listening to the Chieftain’s Bells of Dublin–a beautiful combination of ancient tradition and whiskey-too-early Ceili–contemplating whiskey in the coffee, with the presents here unopened and two stops to make before we are certainly late to my sister’s, I feel compelled like Ebenezer to share these few bits of Xmas joy with anyone out there watching a movie while contemplating a Chinese menu.
Xmas morning spelling errors in the first post courtesy of Google Android and Samsung.
Happy Holidays December 24, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Fortin Street, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street, Xmas, Yule.
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from The Typist and Mr. Burroughs. My second favorite holiday tale after The Little Match Girl, which my mother loathed and my grandmother insisted she always read us.
Solstice Brothers December 21, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Fortin Street, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, Yule.
Tags: City Park, cypress, solstice
It’s been seven years since I left the land of Norman Rockwell seasons, fields of trees in their fiery finery and frost on the pumpkins. I am lucky enough to have a row of burr oaks across Fortin Street that put on a moderate display but the understated seasonal star of Louisiana is the cypress. Here where winter is mild, theirs is not the bright fireworks of more northern trees: more the burnished copper, bronze and gold of bangles on brown arms. There is one spot hidden in plain sight, not far from the Christmas twinklies that draw the crowds at the holidays, right up against the Friday night lights of Tad Gormley Stadium, a field of cypress drapped with moss that look their best when half done, the armature exposed with just enough leaves left to qualify as nature’s contribution to the seasonal decorations, their grey beards suggesting some wild creatures of the forest learned in the seasons.Today’s windstorm will, I suspect, strip them bare, a reminder to those with eyes to see them it’s the tipping of the year.
Crisp November 3, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in Fortin Street, geo-memoir, lyric essay, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Fall Autumn
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To say the insubstantial air is crisp is to notice the absence of summer floral profusion, the sweet olive blossoms fallen and the jasamine gone to pods. Deprived of garden aromas and the spice smell of crawfish and shrimp boiling, the hearing becomes more astutue; the sounds of football and concerts carry through the evening air with the alacrity of flocks of starlings. As the flowers dwindle to funereal marigolds, the evergreen oaks’ deep green is familiar and comforting as a favorite sweater, the cypress and odd fellow’s oaks that dot the landscape like Jazz Fest banners echo the marigolds reds and oranges and yellows, hearth colors announcing the imminent birth of the cool.
Set The Controls for the Heart of the Gone October 22, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Fortin Street, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Emptiness as a quality of dharmas, in the early canons, means simply that one cannot identify them as one’s own self or having anything pertaining to one’s own self…Emptiness as a mental state, in the early canons, means a mode of perception in which one neither adds anything to nor takes anything away from what is present, noting simply, “There is this.” This mode is achieved through a process of intense concentration, coupled with the insight that notes more and more subtle levels of the presence and absence of disturbance.
— Thanissaro Bhikku
Thinking Man’s Spam May 17, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Fortin Street, New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Fellini, La Dolce Vita, Spam
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Why, oh, why is this the most attractive post in five years for comment spammers?
Fellini’s beached monster November 16, 2007
Posted by Mark Folse in Debrisville, New Orelans, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Dante, Divine Comedy, Fellini, film, La Dolce Vita, New Orleans, NOLA
Sometimes at night the darkness and silence weighs on me. Peace frightens me. Perhaps I fear it most of all. I feel it’s only a facade, hiding the face of hell. I think of what’s in store for my children tomorrow; “The world will be wonderful”, they say; but from whose viewpoint? We need to live in a state of suspended animation, like a work of art; in a state of enchantment… detached. Detached.
— Divine Comedy The Certainty of Chance Lyrics
as a speech by Steiner in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita
No, I am not about to violently snap, like Steiner in La Dolce Vita. The speech always struck my differently, perhaps the way it struck Marcello in the film before the tragic murder-suicide, not as advice but as a framing for a life in a seemingly pointless universe. Isn’t that the way Marcello chooses to live in the end, almost in a state of suspended animation?
I have always found a strange sort of solace in what others might find depressing. I do not seek the peace which passeth understanding, except perhaps in despair as one might seek solace in drink or in death. Satori seems tempting, but strikes me as ultimately dehumanizing. I am not ready to surrender up my self and my suffering for an empty bliss. Instead I need to learn to survive in this world where the first noble truth is inscribed like scar tissue somewhere deep beneath the skin.
Here in the original land of misfit toys we call New Orleans we need to find the truth hidden in Dante’s speech as filtered through Fellini’s Steiner, not as Marcello did by embracing the emptiness but in our own way; not precisely in a state of suspended animation but instead isolated from the sterility of late American culture; by defining our own space, “like a work of art; in a state of enchantment…. detached”; defining our own fourth noble truth, our own Way of celebrating through the darkness that leads us to the light; leads us not to Fellini’s monster on the beach, but to the innocence of the girl on the strand.
We must not detach from our world, but from theirs, must insistently be ourselves at whatever cost.
The Crows Come Home May 16, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in Crow, cryptic envelopment, Fortin Street, Toulouse Street.
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The crowds are long gone, and the end of the noisy disassembly of the tents is almost done. The neighborhood crows who roost somewhere back around Maurepas Street, are once again calling in the morning although I have not spotted one yet. You would think the garbage feast of Jazz Fest would be a prime time of year for the Fortin Street crows but every year they leave for some spot unknown. Perhaps it was not just the distraction and exhaustion of living across from carnival for two weeks but also their absence which has kept me from writing much, here or elsewhere.
Welcome home, brothers. I have stories for you.
Black sinner that I am,
lay me out
naked as I came.
Let them feed
& I’ll fly away
It hardly rains in Eureka, California February 25, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in Bayou St. John, Crow, cryptic envelopment, Fortin Street, Louisiana, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: California, crows, Eureka, Oregon, rain, Washington
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Certainly it’s rainy west of the Cascades: Oregon, Washington, Northern California; all those dreary grey days, redwoods and ferns, heroin and grunge. Portland and Seattle are the sentimental favorites. Along the Hurricane Coast it rains buckets, pissing pythons my girlfriend’s text message said the other night. It’s February 24th and we have had twenty cloudy days and thirteen of rain, including Mardi Gras Day. January we had twenty-six cloudy days, thirteen of rain. December: twenty cloudy days and eleven of rain. You get the idea. A rain of frogs would be an interesting relief.
Winter here makes you long for summer when the unrelenting heat and humidity are relieved by the afternoon monsoons, the fairly regular afternoon thunderstorms, watching the inbound cumulonimbus crowning over the coastal wetlands and the lake, the dense tropical splendor of the cooling downdrafts and downpours. One night not long after the flood I was stopped on a dark Marconi Avenue (the lights not yet restored) by a parade of ducks crossing the road to see what the raucous chorus of frogs were singing about in the small wetland that lies between the road and the levee. I rolled down the window and stopped the engine in the middle of the then-deserted road and simply listened in the cool aftermath, watched the egrets high-stepping through this cypress-studded niche eco-system.
The black sky is just turning gray as I write this but I can already hear the crows calling the laggards over the breakfast at the racetrack stables. When it’s this wet the seagulls will be with them, and I can stand just inside my door with a cigarette and watch their chessboard battle over the soggy infield and the best bits left by the horses. If I were a true naturalist masochist I could grab my hurricane slicker and an umbrella and walk the blocks to the park and watch the pelicans over the bayou but I have an inexplicable love of crows, love to watch the stark battle of black versus white against the gray sky. I don’t understand the attraction for the seagulls with the bayou a half-dozen blocks over. I understand the attraction to me, to stand with the heat of the house pouring out behind me just under shelter from the next downpour watching the crows loud party. We are rather fond of large and animated dinners down here.
Splish Splash February 11, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in Faubourg St. John, Fortin Street, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Splish Splash, washeteria
There is something about the laundromat, a plastic electric resonance it shares with the two-tap-and-a-tv dive bar and the bus terminal which makes these places as familiar to their likeliest visitors as the parade of names at the mall is to the people they most likely work for. I love the fluorescent shabbiness, the incessant televisions, the chairs designed for some proximate species but we’re not here for the ambiance, exactly. The comfort in these places is the instant camaraderie of people who are there by necessity. It doesn’t matter if you are Charity-born poor or fell into it by way of that degree in art which led to a career in tattoo, once you walk in you’re one of us.
I live on the sketchy edge of the fashionable Faubourg St., John just over the renters-insurance redline and facing the track. Just up the block the owners of the grand homes beneath the oaks have their own front-loading washers and dryers. Smack in the middle of this atmosphere of elegance sits the Splish Splash, next to the now closed neighborhood drugstore and the abandoned, half-renovated Circle K, a reminder that all around the stately homes of Esplanade and Ursulines lies a neighborhood of once working class shotgun doubles. Inside the stucco-faced washeteria there is nothing faubourg about it: a vinyl floor, clean enough early in the morning but past all point of mopping, rows of large and small washers and dryers rolling along except the one half disassembled for months with the parts inside the drum. The only place to sit inside is in front of the television, and there is never enough table space and no sitting on tables allowed. The crowd is about equally divided between those who pick up a coffee at Fairgrinds or a single beer from somewhere or an orange drink from the vending machine. The last are the Latino workers from the back of the track. The women stay inside and chat and laugh while their children run about. Their men or the single men tend to congregate on the bench outside and talk about trabajo and futbol as best I can make out when I step out for a cigarette.
The Splish Splash is not some chic urban cruising laundromat but there is always a certain amount of side-eyed appraisal between the singles of the coffee variety. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anyone striking up a conversation with a stranger for more than a few sentences. Laundry is a chore and double if you have to haul it down to the corner and fight for a dryer. The Latina women always seem to come in pairs, with or without their men, and their endless and gay conversation is a soothing relief from the chattering television and the endless thump-thump-whop of the machines. (We will, we will, dry you, dry you). Many patrons come and go between wash and dry, coming back with a fresh coffee or groceries from Cansecos. It is that kind of corner, with two neighborhood groceries and until deBlancs closed, a drugstore. Easy enough to get all your errands in if you drive over and park in the deBlancs lot
It’s easy to live in this city and never see past your unconscious blinders what sort of city this is. Many people like to compare New Orleans to San Francisco but in reality this city is much closer to the blue-collar bricks and sticks of Baltimore than to tony Frisco. It’s a working man and woman’s city with most of the real money–outside of the faubourgs with their Lloyd’s real estate signs and hired police patrols–long fled to the outskirts. Those who cling to the lakefront often take Orleans Avenue on the other sketchy edge of my neighborhood, one only real estate agents would call Bayou St John. They travel that road to and from work every day and I wonder if they see the old men in straw hats laughing in the shade on the neutral ground, the beers from the corner store their fountain of eternally recalled youth, or that elderly couple sitting on their porch, silent, their bent metal clam chairs angled apart as if what was between them were a repulsive anti-pole, a force they could only overcome together but can’t or won’t.
Back on Esplanade the Splish Splash never rises to discussion on the neighborhood mailing list, although every other local business does. Unless someone pulls a gun or the place burns to the ground in a flash fire of neglected lint it is invisible, a little puddle in the gutter of elegant Esplanade Avenue, lacking the bohemian charm of the bicycle clutter outside of Fairgrinds. Inside we know it is as warm and friendly as Liuzza by the Track, with its own crowd of first name or nodding acquaintance regulars as familiar as the check-out girls at Cansecos, as much a part of why some of us live here as Cafe Degas.
Ghostly January 24, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Fortin Street, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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It’s 8:45. With the blackout curtains drawn you are not sure if it is anti- or post-meridian and you are not too sure you brain is clear on the matter after it shocked you awake with a dream meant for that purpose. You dream you are urinating and it has happened before, you were taking some medication that left you so dopey you were doing just that. You ask your doctor if you should see the urologist but you have just been discussing the problem with the medication another doctor has given you and she–who is younger than you–confesses to doing exactly the same thing when taking a similar medication, too knocked-out to answer the call of nature)
You are dead knocked out when the dream empties into your full body like an electric shock, bolting upright and every muscle at attention. You begin to wonder if your unconscious is just as confused as the waking brain after a 14 hour day starting at 3:a.m., up at 1 a.m. to have time for cigarettes, coffee and food in that rigorous, monastic order of addiction. Lunch at 3:30 in the afternoon with beers you hope will take off the coffee adrenaline edge of the day and lead to you what you plan as a nap which you now realize clearly is going all night with this interruption. You turn on the light, decide to ice your sprained wrist and read but realize you can’t smoke, elevate and read at the same time.
You look at the hotel window with the blackout curtains drawn for some hint of light and notice what looks like a pale leak of daylight above the curtain top but then the valence is hung from something clearly attached to the ceiling that would block any such light, and the glow is only on one end and ghostly blue. It is the reflection of the screen of your laptop. Ghostly is such a diaphanous adjective, weak tea any decent teacher of writing would strike right out but until you have studied that light, its faint gray-blue, the way it appears to hover just below the ceiling like a cloud of smoke and faintly pulse with the cycling of a screen saver you don’t know ghostly
The witching hour is only by the clock if you blow out a candle before you go to bed. Jump a time zone then get up with five hours sleep for a long day of coffee and tension in a meeting room with a handful of dreadfully intent people, two phones going and the walls covered with lists and charts, other people coming and going with urgent rumors or looking for news, then a late lunch with beer until you finally pass out at 5 p.m. and it might as well be the stroke of twelve in a cemetery. You have your own ghosts, the texts from your ex-wife asking if you’re free to talk and no you are not, not in the middle of all this, are just the incantation to call them up.
Exhaustion and Belgian ale put you to sleep but don’t unwind the spring work has wrapped around your chest. The dream is just a warning from your lizard brain which doesn’t know if it is time to eat or shit, run or hide in the dark. By the time you have padded to the bathroom and back, found your water bottle and the ice pack for your wrist you are groggy again. You lie on your back examining that light in the corner and you begin to understand what a little moonlight could do to someone awake at the wrong time with the burdens of the world like a lead stole filled with the world’s sins, at an hour when one’s own haunts creep just beneath the skin and suddenly you are sure that light is floating just under the ceiling.
Ghostly is a fine word, just the one you are looking for. It is the reason you got up to write this. You decide to keep it, it’s perfectly rational cause a talisman against the others that rattle their chains in your skull at the most inconvenient times.
The Small Rain January 16, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in Fortin Street, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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One step out the door and I know I’m not going out, no way am I dragging my lingering smoker’s bronchitis out to the 7:10 Esplanade and downtown.Thank god and DARPA and whoever else is responsible for VPN. I linger a minute, immersed in the shocking north-blown damp, my hand out to capture to bit of icy rain. Spring they used to call this in North Dakota; I mean, the ice is off the lakes and the crocus are poking up through the last black bits of snow. That ice-cold rain even in the middle of June. The temperature has crept into the 70s but the rain comes down like some terrible accident at the ice house, stinging reminders of why the early pilots wore fleece-lined leather jackets, that 46.8 N is just over halfway to the pole.
It’s a small rain, as if the just visible mist were a distant cloud of tundra mosquitoes resolved into a swarm at the first scent of warm blood. I’ve just had my transom window repaired against the driving rains of New Orleans, the fat drops flung like missiles against the flimsy low-rent plastic and caulk that once passed for a window until there would be a fair-sized puddle just inside the door. I love the drenching New Orleans rain as long as I can sit just out of reach and contemplate its impenetrable jungle splendor and warmth, enjoy the cooling downdrafts. This winter rain is an entirely different animal, an arctic pseudo pod reaching out from the north to swallow its surprised victims.
Waiter, this is not the Wednesday I ordered. Take this unseasonable gazpacho back and bring me something warm.
Some Where on the Far Side of Eisenhower January 12, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Fortin Street, Jazz, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Frenchman Street, Linnzi Zaorski
Eric and I are the oldest people in the room I think, the only ones who might have heard these ancient swing tunes coming from the cloth grill of a hardwood hi-fi set or or on some long-reprogrammed station from a Solid State AM Radio in the Chevrolet dashboard of 1960. We stand up at the front of the bar because every seat along the bar and wall is taken by a crowd born in a time when the guitar was the undisputed king, when trumpet and strings meant Peter and the Wolf. Linnzi Zaorski stands willow-sapling straight at the microphone, the swing mostly in her sweet-tea voice with just with just a bobble-doll accompaniment from her head and shoulders, her hips and one hand keeping time as softly as brushes on a snare. Her publicity photos like those of the other jazz standard singers in town suggest sultry but under the spot tonight she is all wholesome blond and smile, ready for the pageant judges.
The band of trumpet, violin, hollow-bodied electric and upright bass doesn’t need a drummer to swing. Close your eyes when they start “Lady in Red” and you would swear there were two trumpets instead of Charlie Fardella’s one and a violin. Matt Rhodi’s fiddle reminds me that somewhere between Carnegie Hall and Church Point there is a whole other sound, that nothing swings quite like a violin. The bassist is late and through the first set Matt Johnson’s hollow body drives the band, comping Kansas City swing warm and bright as the glow of antique amplifier filaments, taking delicate solos that complement Zaorski’s voice. Once Robert Snow sets the dance floor thrumming its just a matter of time before the dancers peel off the wall and start to take the floor. I don’t have a notebook and I’m too beer-tipsy fascinated by it all to keep a set list in my head. The sound is almost too clear. You expect the wandering modulation of a distant short wave station broadcasting from somewhere on the far side of Eisenhower like the RKO tower. These songs were growing old before most of the band was born but here tonight they are fresh again. The seated players lean into the songs, intent as surgeons, while the base player’s eyes close and off he goes where ever the hell it is bass players go when they are mounted by the melody. The dance floor fills by fits and starts, one couple at a time at first as if by prearrangement, the jitterbug and Lindy Hop couples each taking their turns, inviting the crowd to marvel at their steps like the first Lindy Hoppers at the Savoy in Harlem most of a century ago.
“Can you believe this? That we’re here listening to this?” Eric asks. We are like two old vaudevillians between shows grabbing a glass of beer and of course I answer as I always do. “Yeah, this sucks. Cleveland. That’s where we should be tonight. I bet it’s happening in Cleveland.” We both laugh and the people around us give us the slantwise eyeball and edge away a just-visible inch. Cleveland. Right. Somewhere in Cleveland in a Holiday Inn there may be a quick-silver blond with Betty Grable legs crooning with a pianist who misses his ashtray more than his youth, but I don’t think you would find a house full of kids and wish-they-were’s leaning in toward the singer just as the band does, swept into Zaorski’s updo and baby-doll vocals. The whole room–band, dancers, audience– is titled slightly toward the singer and you can almost see the energy flicker by spark jump from the crowd up to her and come back in a brilliant million candle-power flood of Forties poise and song.
I first heard Zaokrski sitting in with the Jazz Vipers at the Spotted Cat, before the big split in the band, before HBO’s Treme packed that place like the last dry room on the Titanic and they moved the stage and took away the old wicker chairs and couch where non-dancers like me could wait for a chance to collapse and just get lost in the sound. I’m not about to Google a lady’s age but Zaorski started a dozen years before that in a barroom called Southport on Bourbon Street. Between songs she talks about singing over the football game, of the bartender vacuuming around the bands’ feet during the last set. Swing has come a long way since bands like the Jazz Vipers took swing out of the dance-class and wedding ballroom and brought it back to the smoke and mirrors of the barroom where it was born. Half a dozen bands work the trade now to fill all the dance cards of the jitterbug-crazy retro fedora and nylons crowd. Its impossible for a stand-and-drink man like myself not to watch the footwork of the dancers but when singers like the sparkling Zaorski and pin-up sulty Ingrid Lucia and the fiery Meschiya Lake with her updo and tattoos take the stage the real magic is straight up center over the microphone. The magic of all the swing cats–men and women, singers and players–is the magic of jazz, the ability to bend space and time like notes, to take you out of yourself and toward another time and place, in this case to a scene out of some Ronald Reagan Rest Home dream, where the syncopation of music and feet among the sharp hats and shapely gams made old cats like us first twinkle in someone’s eye.
Odd Words Update January 5, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in books, Fortin Street, New Orleans, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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Two Three stellar events didn’t make it into this week’s column, mostly the fault of your host’s death struggle with a mutant uber-rhino virus for over a week now.
& Saturday its Poetry Buffet at the Latter Memorial Library, hosted by Gina Ferrara, at 2 p.m. Featured this months are poets Dave Brinks, Carolyn Hembree and Brad Richard. All three have new books for sale which I’m sure you can pick up a copy of here. I have not read Richard’s, the subject of the review mentioned above, but I can personally vouch for Hembree’s and Brink’s. And if you haven’t seen Hembree performing from her work Skinny don’t miss this opportunity.
& The Black Widow Salon kicks off its second year on Monday, Jan. 7th from 7-9 p.m. with Pandora Gastelum and Ratty Scurvics reading and discussing fairy tales, puppetry, performance, and more. Upstairs at Crescent City Books, 230 Chartres St. Hosted by Michael Allen Zell No cost, complimentary wine/beer/water. Gastelum is the driving force behind The Black Forest Fancies and Mudlark Theatre. Scurvics is the catalyst for Black Market Butchers. Both appeared in the recent production of “Sweeney Todd” at the Allways Lounge Theater.
& On Wednesday, Jan. 9 at 7 p.m. Multi-media artist jenna mae will host Secrets for Lucky 13 at her home/salon space, 1501 St. Roch Avenue, featuring readings by Maurice Carlos Ruffin, Jenna Mae, Kristina K. Robinson and Michelle Embree. Ruffin} has published work in Apalachee Review, South Carolina Review, and Regarding Arts & Letters. His short story, “The Pie Man,” received the 2011 Ernest Svenson Award, a prize given by the University of New Orleans for excellence in fiction. Maurice will probably read in English. mae is a mixed media healing artist. She practices poems in both hand and heart genres. She dreams of publishing a full-length manuscript, and keeps a lucky arrowhead in her coin purse. Robinson is pursuing an MFA in fiction at the University of New Orleans where she is working on a collection of stories focused on race, class and the war on drugs and publishes the blog Life In High Times where she muses on race, all things Hip-Hop, love, and sexual politics. Embree is the author of Manstealing For Fat Girls, a young adult novel nominated for a Lambda Literary Award in 2006. She is an award winning playwright and sometimes even a pretty lovely person. She will be reading from her memoir in progress, By The Skin of These Words. jenna says bring your favorite cookies and byob.
Little Miracles December 31, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Fortin Street, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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It is raining starling shit on the sidewalk in front of my house as I sit and smoke a cigarette.
At first I have no idea what these black berry-like things are raining from the sky. I pick one up. It is a little smaller than a coffee bean but about the same shape a color. I look up, and see birds ranged along the overhead wires. I step out into the street to be sure of the bird and the ones above me take flight to the right in a widershins spiral, and their brethren in the tree just up the street lift off to my left in a clockwise helix until they merge into two intersecting whorls of chattering birds. I watch them until the hypnotic black kaleidoscopic shrinks into a vanishing point.
I sit down to finish my cigarette.
I love my block.
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.
The Dream Eater December 22, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, Fortin Street, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
The city swallows dreams as it does the cars of the morning commute. Approaching from the east barricaded exits to nowhere stand as monuments to the vanity of speculators imagining hydrologically impossible towns, an endless extension of the city’s fringes farther into the dissolving marsh. The closer you approach, the towers of downtown bathed in a damp haze, the city appears like Atlantis ascending to reveal itself to a new age but this is just another soluble delusion. The exits to nowhere, the road collapsing into the soft earth which rolls the car like a small boat or drums a rattling tattoo, are reminders that the waters are gradually reclaiming the black muck bottom of forgotten dinosaur oceans, washed down by continental rivers, returning itself to the sea.
Every boarded corner barroom with its murals for Regal Beer is a dream. Canal Street with its tourist streetcars and its empty sailor’s stores is a dream. The mansions of forgotten cotton along St. Charles Avenue are a dream. The Lakefront shuttered at dusk against the predation of old fishermen and young lovers is a dream. The swallowed dreams confront us everywhere like empty bowls with the crazed scrapings of forgotten suppers, rattle in our ears like a bottle tree. They suck at our ankles like quicksand but the natives know the trick of crossing. We quicken our steps toward the corner spilling music and beer into the street, moving toward gumbo and corner smokers and everywhere the brass alleluia and the African drum. We move beneath the notice of the Manhattan-fashioned condos of the New Americans. Their dreams of bringing us the Anglo-Saxon gospel is another morsel for the hungry city.
Only those who willingly surrender their dreams to the city will see the windows of heaven opened and poured down upon them a blessing of dreams until there is no need. Sure its the old Malachi racket of every UHF messiah but just ask any oilman banished to Houston perdition contemplating the ex-wife bedrooms of his empty mansion as he puts the revolver to his lips. Look in the sunken, shadowed eyes of the skeleton woman backing her pearlescent Escalade into the shopping mall parking space. What use is an immortal soul without a guitar? What good is prosperity without a bar-tab entry to balance the books? What is the reason for a dream if you will not place it on the table and spin the wheel? Only the broken angels of St. Claude understand the bargain and make it freely and wear their dreams like ink in the skin. A terrible light pours out of their eyes like tears and bathes the city in dreams.
Odd Words December 13, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in books, Fortin Street, literature, New Orleans, novel, Odd Words, Poetry, publishing, Toulouse Street.
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Odd Words is on the road this week so this will be brief. I do hope to slip away from Moloch’s clutches long enough to visit the jazz jam session at HR-57 in D.C., where last time poets were welcome to come up along with musicians. But for now, its Breakfast with the Executives and something called a “deep dive” in which we all sit around a table intently hiding last night’s hangovers while “drilling down” into the topic at hand.
& Tonight is the final installment of the fall series at 17 Poets! featuring Laura Semilian and Julian Semilian. All the details are on the 17 Poets! web site and all I can add is that I’m damned sad I’m going to miss their annual visit.
& Tonight Octavia Books hosts a reading and booksigning with New Orleans writer and poet Malinda Palacio celebrating her just released book of poetry, HOW FIRE IS A STORY, WAITING. Palacio’s newest poetry collection creates images that are at once heartbreaking and humorous. She tackles elemental subjects of family and childhood with the same depth and grace as that of myth making and deathThursday, Dec. 13 at 6 p.m.
& New Orleans author Moira Crone will present a reading of her new novel, The Not Yet, which takes place in the near future, in a post-apocalyptic Mississippi Delta in which resources are slim, society is radically stratified, the elites are hellbent on living forever, and one young hero is left to piece together a life in a world that likely resembles our own future. AT PRESS STREET, 3718 ST. CLAUDE Avenue, 7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 13. There is an interview with Crone on the Room 220 web site.
& Also this evening, Emily Ford presents The Jews of New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta at Garden District Books. The early days of Louisiana settlement brought with them a clandestine group of Jewish pioneers. Isaac Monsanto and other traders spited the rarely enforced Code Noir banning their occupancy, but it wasn’t until the Louisiana Purchase that larger numbers colonized the area. Immigrants like the Sartorius brothers and Samuel Zemurray made their way from Central and Eastern Europe to settle the bayou country along the Mississippi. They made their homes in and around New Orleans and the Mississippi River delta, establishing congregations like that of Tememe Derech and B’Nai Israel, with the mighty river serving as a mode of transportation and communication, connecting the communities on both sides of the riverbank. Dec. 13 at 5:30 p.m.
&Friday at the Martin Luther King Branch of the New Orleans Public Library there will be a poetry workshop for adults funded in part by Poets & Writers, Inc. through a grant it received from Poets & Writers, Inc. New Orleans. For more information call the Martin Luther King Branch 596-2695. From 3-5 p.m. Dec. 14.
& Friday Maple Street Books Bayou St. John continues its The Diane Tapes reading series, featuring: Christopher Lirette, from Chauvin, Louisiana, lives in Atlanta, Georgia. His work appears in The Southern Review, Hayden’s Ferry, PANK, and other places; Mel Coyle is from Chicago and other places where the corn grows. She co-edits the poetry journal TENDE RLOIN; and, Metta Sama, author of Nocturne Trio and South of Here. Dec 14 at 6 p.m.
& Saturday is Story Time with Miss Maureen, this week featuring Shall I Knit You a Hat: A Christmas Yarn by Kate Klise, Illustrated by M. Sarah Klise. Kids will make paper snowflakes and eat carrot cake, like rabbits do when it’s winter. Dec. 15 at 11 a.m.
& Saturday New Orleans artist Phil Sandusky comes to Octavia Books to sign NEW ORLEANS IMPRESSIONIST CITYSCAPES: The Alure of the Image. More than 130 plein air paintings created between late 2006 and early 2012 portray the many angles of New Orleans, from intimate scenes to magnificent vistas. Dec. 15. at 2 p.m.
& On Sunday evening at 7 p.m. Spoken Word New Orleans presents Speak Easy Sundays Poetry at the Club Caribbean 2441 Bayou Road. Cover. Visit their website for updates on other spoken word events and visiting artists all around town.
& The New Orleans Haiku Society’s monthly meeting is Monday at 6 p.m. at the Milton Latter Memorial Library. 5-7-5ers welcome.
& Every Monday at 9 p.m. on the amphitheater steps on Decatur Street across from Jackson Square it’s the outdoor open mic Writer’s Block. No rule, no mic, no rules, just right. Bringing cookies is an excellent introduction, and stay for the weekly finale, a rousing sing-a-long of Mercedes-Benz led by organizer Kate Smash.
& Susan Larson, the former book editor of the former Times-Picayune newspaper and member of the National Book Critics Circle hosts The Reading Life on WWNO (89.9 FM) on Tuesdays at 1:30 p.m. She features interviews with authors of local and national interest.
& Wednesday poets Allan Peterson and Ben Kopel will appear at Maple Street’s Uptown location at 6 p.m. Peterson’s fourth book, Fragile Acts, is the second title in the McSweeney’s Poetry Series. His prior books are: As Much As (Salmon Press, 2011); All the Lavish in Common (2005 Juniper Prize, Univ. of Massachusetts), Anonymous Or (Defined Providence Prize 2001) and six chapbooks, notably Omnivore, winner of the 2009 Boom Prize from Bateau Press. Local poet Kopel, author of poetry collection, Victory, will be joining Peterson.
I’m in such a hurry I’m afraid I must have missed something, but I’ll get it updated this afternoon.
Cranes December 1, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Fortin Street, Toulouse Street.
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The rain erodes rock,
crevices for the trees but
cranes are eternal.
So long, and thanks for all the fish November 22, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in Fortin Street, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: America, Thanksgiving
It is too easy to slur Columbus Day and ignore Thanksgiving, for fear of upsetting the neighbors. Today we sit down to celebrate the complete incompetence of European settlers to feed themselves and contemplate the gratitude they showed to their Native neighbors, to offer our thanks to their omnipotently paranoid god who blessed the casual erasure of humans and bison from sea to shining sea, to engorge ourselves on indigenous corn and potatoes and African yams without a thought to their origins, eat thick slices from the engineered breast of a native bird bred like Chevrolets in a feed house it could not survive without constant dosing with antibiotics.
There is nothing America cannot conquer, master and seek to improve if it but sets its collective mind to it. All that is needed is a willing bit of trickery over those less blessed than us and there goes the neighborhood.
Let’s just fess up and admit our model of a republic is Roman not Greek, that we are setting out to a gourmand’s banquet at which we will eat until we are barely able to bend forward and reach the bottle to pour yet another glass of wine. I am Orleanian to the bone and have no problem with this. The gods of my hearth are not cosmic, are small and indigenous to this place and take great pleasure in our banquet. They are the absent ancestors whose places we have taken at the table. I will give thanks not to a remote god but to the stooped-back women who picked the cranberries and the men who wielded the power knives of the slaughter house. I will wish them joy of their possibly-distant families, camaraderie over food as best they can manage, and a day of rest.
Free Radicals November 16, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, Fortin Street, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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The Writer: “Why piece together the tatters of your life – the vague memories, the faces… the people you never knew how to love?”
The Not-So-Black Death November 2, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in Federal Flood, Fortin Street, Murder, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
I open the folder that spent the last seven years in the Toulouse Street shed, and you can smell the light dusting of black mold. I go through it page by page, toss a few on the scanner, and tuck the most precious into gallon zip lock bags but my sinuses are on fire. I imagine the almost microscopic spores settling into the carpet and couch. I should have done this in the kitchen but it’s too late now. I will have to vacuum the front within an inch of its life. I never gutted a house like Ray, never faced the decision of my friend Eric to lose the respirator because working in a Type III in August in New Orleans is a choice between strangulation quick or slow. I remember the workers back in ’06 in the convenience store, grabbing a large, milky coffee and a Mexican sweet roll to start the day, bandannas bandito-style around their necks, the only protection they would have against the gypsum dust and mold.
You gotta die of something I think as I step out onto my stoop for a cigarette. The air is laced with hydrocarbons from the upriver refineries and my coffee is brewed with water from the sewer of mid-America. The other night I saw a man I haven’t run into in a while whose daughter suffered from dangerous levels of lead when first tested, an educated man and wife living in a carefully renovated house, not your idea of a tenement with peeling yellow paint, children stuffing flakes in their curious mouths but in parts of this city the dirt is thick with lead and arsenic. Their daughter is fine now but how many other children are playing in a packed-dirt rental backyard right now?
You gotta die of something, and that fried oyster po-boy might kill you in ways your clucking doctor might not imagine as she renews your cholesterol medicine. R.I.P., Mr. Folse, the shrimp boat captain said on Facebook when I told her I would continue eating wild caught Louisiana seafood. The planes had been out that day, she said, spraying Corexit on the latest sheen from British Petroleum’s Deep Water Horizon wellhead. For now those initials stand for Reel In Po-Boys, and who can blame her for still fishing when I-10 is lined with smiling chefs telling us to Eat Louisiana Seafood? What happens to Corexit when you dump it into a deep fryer? Who knows? Nothing to see here. Move on. What do you say to people who came home to complete ruin that would deter them living here? What would keep the people suffering today in New York away from a steady diet of diesel exhaust, Jersey VOCs and stress? What would take the farmers off the land, the ones who wrestle 50-gallon drums of poison without which they couldn’t make the bank note? What could keep that shrimp boat captain off the water? Short of Chernobyl and soldiers loading people onto trucks, nothing.
You gotta die of something, and if I put down the cigarettes what other diabolical entertainment might my grandfather’s ghost reach up from his alcoholic’s grave to suggest? If I were forced to stop eating seafood you can put me on suicide watch right away. The water is as clean as the Sewerage & Water Board can manage, and wins taste tests, but I know from a local brewer that Dixie used its own purified well water because the city’s Ph was skewed because there are still antique lead pipes in the system. They just don’t know where. I once found a slug beneath my patio chair one New Year’s Day, the hole where it went through the webbing. So it goes. You pick your place and take your chances. You are more likely to be killed or seriously injured by a car while walking in New York City than you are to be shot in New Orleans. After the flooding from the second hurricane in two years to strike New York you start to ask the question you answered a thousand times yourself: why do people live there.?
I am not worried about how I die so much as where, and that is the one decision about death most of us get to make. I was born here in New Orleans in a hospital on Perdido Street. I will die here and invite anyone who wishes to dispute that point to join me. I want to die where my diet is a cheap and easy contributing factor, where a wake is an occasion to shame the Irish, where a band is more essential than a minister. No bouquets for me. Just bury me when the sweet autumn clematis are in bloom, on a cool October day with someone cooking with the windows open, and the sound of the band carrying to the next ward on the apple-crisp air. Just put a pack of smokes and my Zippo in the box to get me through the day.
Odd Words Omissions October 24, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in books, Fortin Street, literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, Poetry, publishing, Toulouse Street.
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A couple of items I missed (it happens) for tonight:
& The Faulkner Society and partners will present a program on the importance of reading to students of the Roots of Music program today at 5 p. m. in the Arsenal, 3rd floor, reached through the main entrance of the Cabildo. Some 150 students and staff will hear the Guardians of the Flame Mardi Gras Indian Tribe perform and discuss the importance of reading to success and personal satisfaction in life. They will be focusing on A Lesson Before Dying by Louisiana Literary Master Ernest Gaines. The program will begin with a presentation by Tulane’s Dr. Nghana Lewis, an expert in the work of Mr. Gaines,who will explain to these middle and junior high students (all of whom are having difficulties with reading and with their studies in general) how to properly read the book to get the most out of it. Then, the Faulkner Society will present each child with a fre copy of the book, a book mark, and a readers’ guide to the book. Each book will have a book plate with a place for each child to personalize his/her book. Then the Indians will enter, enact a scene from the book, talk about reading and play with the students in place.
They will then lead the kids out into Jackson Square for a concert with the kids in front of the Presbytere, preceding refreshments and and program for adults on the second floor of the Presbytere.
& The NOCCA Creative Writing Program is pleased to present the Fall installment of its Creative Reading Series for 2012 – 2013 with authors Jamey Hatley and Brad Richard Wednesday oCT. 24 AT 7 p.m. in the Kirschman Artspace at NOCCA. 2800 Chartres Street. Reception to follow. Free and open to the public.
Jamey Hatley is a native of Memphis, TN. Her writing has appeared in the Oxford American and Torch. She has attended the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, the Voices of Our Nation Writing Workshop and received scholarships to the Oxford American Summit for Ambitious Writers and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. In 2006 she won the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Award for a Novel-in-Progress. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Louisiana State University.
Brad Richard’s books include Habitations (Portals Press, 2000); Motion Studies winner of the 2010 Washington Prize (The Word Works. 2011); and Butcher’s Sugar (from Sibling Rivalry Press (2012). He has also published two chapbooks, The Men in the Dark (Lowlands Press, 2004) and Curtain Optional(Press Street, 2011). His poems and reviews have appeared in American Letters & Commentary, Guernica, The Iowa Review, Mississippi Review, New Orleans Review, and other journals. He is chair of the creative writing program at Lusher Charter High School in New Orleans. He is also co-director of the New Orleans New Writers Literary Festival, a festival for high school writers, and the Scholastic Writing Awards of Southeast Louisiana, a regional affiliate of the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers.
Jumping the Groove October 22, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Fortin Street, Jazz, New Orleans, Shield of Beauty, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Ali Jackson, Snug Harbor, Victor Goines
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like a skittering stylus, a warp in the musical continuum when even the moderately sophisticated listener who is not a player loses connection to the time, the drummer Ali Jackson’s soft foot on the bass drum and his mad, scattering drum licks like the branches of lightning in a duo with Victor Goines’ tenor, playing inside the time that lifts the listener outside of the time, outside of Time entirely, into a void bright as stage light with only two voices, reed and drum, murmurs of appreciation and cocktail clink muted to zero, everything not born of breath and stick muted to zero, the players trading off one to the other, trafficking in time on a wavelength undefined by sine and cosine, mind to mind, instrument to instrument. When great players recalibrate time your body, unnoticed, still dies cell by cell but your mind is briefly illumined by the infinite, your life not longer but broader, your personal event horizon expanding in a perfect sphere to encompass everything which, in that moment, is not, the Big Bang and Gabriel’s horn reconciled.
On the Eighth Day October 14, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Fortin Street, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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Consider that the Laundromat opened seven minutes ago and that you have not showered and must go to the bank first for money, that something must be cooked tonight for dinner in case we do not make it to Blues Fest and that Clarence Carter plays until eight and Treme starts at nine, that the vacuum cleaner is working again and I am fairly certain there is more square footage in my bedroom to vacuum than I can currently see, and that I should either file all the papers I’ve pulled our or acquired or check the fire extinguisher, that it is highly unlikely to spend an entire afternoon at Blues Fest not drinking beer, and I will have to go out to watch Treme and will almost certainly jump on the open thread at Back of Town when I get home with a comment, and feel the desire to answer other commenters. Somewhere in here I have to explain Hamlet to my son, and cannot fathom when I’ll fit that in.
And on the eighht day, the secret one He tells no one about lest they bother him with prayers and all that damned incense, the day outside the sphere of creation, the one to which only His Omnipotency has a key, He rested, having spent the seventh day not resting exactly but, having broken the door locks on his microwave, created Wal-mart and explored all of its consequences. On that eighth day he collapsed onto the couch with The Word and after reading only one century took a nap. He woke from a mild nightmare, having dreamed of a million alarm clocks simultaneously announcing Monday, and lay pondering whether the fjords were all they could be. He could always go back and revise them again.
Odd Words October 11, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in books, Fortin Street, literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, Poetry, publishing, Toulouse Street.
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“If the writing is honest it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it.”
— Tennessee William
The chiseled academic definition of Creative Non-Fiction allows no room for creativity beyond style and there are only so many songs in the world. Tennessee Williams wrote drama, a species of fiction but when my brother died and my boss waited for an explanation all I could think to say was, “you probably thought Tennessee Williams was making all that shit up.” I try to imagine her, this Nordic woman from the polar edge of North Dakota, in her college-career crowning role as Blanche DuBois. All stage magic is dishonest, the pickpocket elevated to gentleman in a top hat with a pocket full of silk handkerchiefs. The best magic starts with “give me a quarter” and ends with it appearing behind your ear, just another moment on a street but more than that. What does it matter if it was a nickle or a dime? No one will dispute the creative power and the inner truth shining out of recognizable faces in Williams’ plays. Creative Non-Fiction is just another pigeonhole and good writing, fictive or factual, should draw you out of the mail room and into an unfamiliar place filled with familiar objects, people whose names you are certain you should know. Tell a story and tell it true, letting the facts arrange themselves as necessary. Don’t let exact change get in the way.
& so to the listings….
Comix Comics fans will want to check out Stephan Pastis: Pearls Freaks the #*%# Out: A Pearls Before Swine Treasury at 5:30 tonight at Garden District Book Shop. From fire-breathing jugglers to sword-swallowing illusionists, this treasury showcases all strips from “Larry in Wonderland” and “Because Sometimes You Just Gotta Draw a Cover with Your Left Hand,” along with Pastis’ original commentary, which provides insight into what Pastis was thinking at the time random strips were conceived, and also fan reactions. Tackling topics ranging from current events and modern technology to human and croc nature, “Pearls Freaks the #*%# Out” offers up a sideshow of feisty characters, including arrogant, self-centered, and totally hilarious Rat, who leads his four-legged collection of freakish friends through a carnival of misadventure. Joining the circus-like cavalcade are Pig, the slow but good-hearted conscience of the strip; Goat, the voice of reason that often goes unheard; Zebra, the activist; and those eternally inept carnivorous Crocs, who we learn happen to taste a lot like chicken. Pastis’ cynical humor and sharp wit imbue this entertaining vaudevillian collection
& Thursday at 8 p.m. 17 Poets! presents Ben Kopel and Carrie Chappell followed by open mic hosted by Jimmy Ross. Doors open at 7 and sign up for open mic begins at 7:30. Kopel was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1983. He holds degrees from Louisiana State University, The Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and The University of Massachusetts Amherst MFA Program for Poets and Writers. Chappell is a poet by ways of Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and now living in New Orleans. Her poems have appeared in Boxcar Poetry Review, Bateau Press and elsewhere. Currently, she is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of New Orleans, where she serves as Associate Poetry Editor for Bayou Magazine.
& Saturday from 10:30 am – 12 noon the Poems and Pink Ribbons project will host a reading by workshop leaders and participants. This program gives women with breast cancer and cancer survivors an opportunity to express themselves through poetry, working with local poets. At the newly renovated and expanded Rosa Keller Library, 4300 South Broad. The instructors in Poems and Pink Ribbons are Jarvis DeBerry, Kysha Brown-Robinson, Geryll Robinson, Kelly Harris-DeBerry, Melissa Dickey and Gina Ferrara. Come out and show some love and support for their brave students.
& Saturday afternoon the New Orleans Dickens Fellowship will host their monthly discussion on their current reading, Great Expectations. They will Part I, Chapters 7-14 at 2 p.m. at Metairie Park Country Day School’s Bright Library.
& Also on Saturday Crescent City Books will host George Schmidt Reading and Reception on for the Crescent City Books 20th Anniversary Celebration. The event will run from 2-4 p.m., with the reading/q&q/discussion from 2-3 p.m. and reception/signing following until 4 p.m. George Schmidt speaks about his art and signs his retrospective book “Satire, Scandal, and Spectacle.”
& At the Downtown Library on Saturday check out the Mutabilis Press/Improbable Words Poetry Reading featuring a Louisiana All-Star cast including Stella Brice, Megan Burns, Peter Cooley, Gina Ferrara Bruce Fuller, Ava Leavell Haymon, Julie Kane, Rodger Kamenetz, James Nolan and Biljana Obradovic. It’s not on the library’s Nutrias.org site and there’s no time posted on the event’sFacebook page so check back there and here later for the time.
& Downtown on Saturday Oct. 13 at 1 p.m. David Lummis will be signing his new book, The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans, Part 2: The Last Beaucoeur at Maple Leaf Book Store’s Healing Center location. This much anticipated sequel picks up almost exactly where Part 1 left off. It’s the morning of Friday, August 26, 2005, and B. Sammy Singleton is still reeling from the night before. Something is very wrong. Sammy’s best friend, Catfish Beaucoeur, is missing, having left behind clues including a book of lynching photography and a disturbing handwritten poem.
& Don’t pig out at Sunday dinner or you won’t appreciate the Sweet Potato Guacamole when Garden District Book Shops hosts Fred Thompson and Fred Thompson’s Southern Sides. Side dishes are the very heart and soul of southern cuisine. So proclaims Fred Thompson in this heartfelt love letter to the marvelous foods on the side of the plate. From traditional, like Pableaux’s Red Beans and Rice, to contemporary, like Scuppernong-Glazed Carrots, Thompson’s 250 recipes recommend the virtues of the utterly simple and the totally unexpected. “Fred Thompson’s Southern Sides” celebrates the sheer joy of cooking and eating these old and new classic dishes
& Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Maple Leaf Bar Reading Series poet Chris Champagne reads from his work, followed by an open mic.. Followed by an open mic.
& On Sunday evening at 7 p.m. Spoken Word New Orleans presents Speak Easy Sundays Poetry at the Club Caribbean 2441 Bayou Road. Cover. Visit their website for updates on other spoken words and visiting artists all around town.
& Monday at 7:30 p.m. in Tulane University’s Dixon hall hear authors E.O. Wilson and Alex Harris discuss their book Why We Are Here. Presented by Tulane University’s A Studio in the Woods; Center for Bioenvironmental Research; New Orleans Center for the Gulf South; and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, this historic collaboration between a beloved naturalist and a great American photographer presents a South we’ve never encountered before. Perceiving that Mobile was a city small enough to be captured through a lens yet old enough to have experienced a full epic cycle of tragedy and rebirth, the photographer and the naturalist joined forces to capture the rhythms of this storied Alabama Gulf region through a swirling tango of lyrical words and breathtaking images.
& Susan Larson, the former book editor of the former Times-Picayune newspaper and member of the National Book Critics Circle hosts The Reading Life on WWNO (89.9 FM) on Tuesdays at 1:30 p.m. repeating Sundays at Noon. She features interviews with authors of local and national interest.
& & Tuesday night at 6 p.m. at Octavia Books and again Wednesday, Oct. 17 at the Maple Street Book Shop Michael Zell of Crescent City Books celebrating the launch of his debut novel, ERRATA. A young New Orleans cabbie named Raymond Russell has been dramatically shocked by the intensity of a crime and is blocked such that he cannot write about it directly. He lets elements leak out associatively so as to prime the engine of his obsessive mind for what he must reveal. Picture a neo-noir Nabokov. The title Errata reflects Raymond’s 22 day attempt at correction of his seeming culpability. Associative language forms the building blocks of the story via Montaigne-esque essays, 1984 World’s Fair era history, and literary ruminations. Errata uses neo-noir conventions as the trappings for an ambitious boundary-blurring meditation on balancing the in between of isolation and sociability, wisdom and madness, symbol and text, and innocence and guilt.
& Also on Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. the Hubbel Library in Algiers will host an author night featuring New Orleans Impressionist Cityscapes: The Allure of the Image by Phil Sandusky in the carriage house behind the Algiers Courthouse, 225 Morgan Street.
This book looks beautiful. It’s a good thing I don’t have a coffee table or I would be one broke-ass, semi-employed student and writer who can’t afford a coffee table much less this book I’m sure. It’s going on the imaginary display shelf close to that Diego Rivera catalog all in Spanish I couldn’t afford at Crescent City Books.
&If you can’t get across the river check out the Alvar Library also on Tuesday night but at 7 p.m. featuring Delia Tomino Nakayama & Peter Nu: Poetry, Song, & Piano Music. Peter’s amazing steel drum is not out of the question, I hope.
& Heads up: It’s time to register for the workshops at the Louisiana Book Festival held the day before the Festival, Friday, Oct. 26. This year’s four WordShops will focus on the fiction writing process, writing for young adults, writing about Louisiana and the process of getting published or self-publishing. The all-day WordShop will feature Robert Olen Butler who will present “After Craft: The Process of Writing Fiction.” It starts at 9 a.m. at the Capitol Park Museum. Butler is the author of Pulitzer Prize-winning A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain. Three half-day WordShops are also scheduled, one morning session and two afternoon sessions. From 9 a.m. to noon, The New York Times bestselling young adult author and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Walter Dean Myers will teach “Just Write: Here’s How! A Workshop for Writing Young Adult Novels” in the Seminar Center of the State Library. From 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the Capitol View Room of the State Library, authors Cheré Dastugue Coen and Ronald M. Gauthier will present “So You Want to Be Published?” This WordShop takes a look at the challenges and rewards of getting work published. Also from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., author Ken Wells will present “Selling Louisiana: Think Locally, Publish Nationally” in the Seminar Center of the State Library. To register for WordShops call Michelle Hobkirk at 225-342-4931 or download the registration form from the “Exhibits & Workshops” section of http://www.LouisianaBookFestival.org. Registration and payment are due by Oct. 23, $40 for half-day WordShops and $75 for the full day. Free parking is available.
If you are not on this list well I’ve asked you before and will remind you again: send the deets to email@example.com as soon in advance as possible.
Rhythm and Hooves October 11, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Fortin Street, New Orleans, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
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If you want to get women, forget the dog. Get a pygmy goat.
The owner moved through the crowd with the goat in his arms, his own tight Bacchic curls. He gladly offered the goat the moment you reached out to pet it then slid off to the side like a magician revealing the hidden woman inside the cabinet. The men always took the goat when offered. Each stroked it gently as a woman might a cat, cradled it like a baby with the broad grins of new fathers, the tiny horns suggesting a hundred sons. The women crowded around, oohed and took pictures and suddenly Socrates’ power was obvious, the wriggling virility beneath the curly pelt of petting-zoo cute. The blues act out of Tallahassee held center stage like a Ferris wheel but here in our corner under the oak the goat turned the tip away from the stage and into the promised sideshow mysteries.
Socrates never make a sound, even when he tried to gallop out of someone’s arms back to his owner, but I imagined him late, in the backyard beneath the bedroom window, bleating in time
Railroad Tales October 8, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in Fortin Street, geo-memoir, Memory, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Alabama, Amtrak, Birmingham, Lincoln Beach, Shelby County, Southern Crescent
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12:06 p.m. Train 19 is waiting for a freight. Ballast, ties and razor wire, the statue of Vulcan in the distance gazing distractedly at a idle rail car salvage yard, capsized tankers and broken rust-brown boxcars like some hobo graveyard. The New South is just visible over the brickwork lofts where cotton factors and coke brokers once counted prosperity in locomotives: So long, Birmingham.
12:52 p.m. Where the line crosses the highway it’s crew-cut America, not a brick out-of-place, Golden Arches by Walgreen’s by Winn-Dixie, Advance Auto Parts and Pawn America, not a button missing but down a drive beside the tracks and just out of sight of Hardee’s there’s Harold’s Auto, dirty white stucco on the railroad side, a customer in front.
1:07 p.m.–We stop to let the northbound Crescent pass just up from the Tuscaloosa depot. Na-hah, no time for a smoke, the conductor says and by the time I’m back in my seat I’ve missed the chance at a snapshot of the station sign. When I pick up the phone again the little weather man says I’m in Green Pond. I look up and there it is outside, more blue than green except where the cypress are flooded just below my window.
1:54 The plastic compartment at the end of the car is not the gentlemen’s smoking compartment of the Southern Crescent I rode 35 years ago. I wash my hands and find the Formica “club car”. A fiftyish couple sit alone sipping Miller Lights. He’s in his Saints jersey. She is, I will later learn, bat-shit crazy drunk and hungry for company. He is just back from three months in rural Alabama. “A whole lotta nothing and cows. And they’ll steal anything right out your yard while you’re asleep: tractors, 18-wheelers.” No one on the platform wants to hear your story. It washes over them like a puff of smoke. They all want to talk, to tell you their’s.
2:05 p.m. You no longer slide past the blast furnace kitchen with its smoking stove to a table served by Black men in white jackets juggling the travel bottle liquor before they pour your drink. Refrigerated sandwiches, mostly gone. I’ve had too much good pulled pork to risk the cellphane version. I buy a water bottle at a stadium-seat price to carry back to my airline first-class coach seat. I need to study biology I remind myself, but look up at every flashing box car siding and am captured by the landscape as it rolls by in its monotony searching for that glimpse of variety. Every now and then a tar paper and trailer family compound is a creek and some trees away from a big brick ranch with horses in the back. Biology is hopeless.
2:15 p.m. We cross a river lined with chalk bluffs Google does not bother to name, somewhere just north of Livingston and west of Demopolis.
Active transport across the phospholipid bilayer is via locomotives and requires the expenditure of energy in the form of diesel.
2:35 p.m. I am ready for a cigarette. Every time we slow down for curve or a bit of bad track I touch the Zippo in my pocket as if it were a saint’s medallion but so far no luck. I am entirely at the mercy of a conductor who does not wear a pocket watch and manages his passengers via iPhone. I finish my Crystal Geyser and wish I’d packed a sandwich.
2:50 p.m. Gravel loading to a row of short hopper Southern cars, rusted lines of iron pipe, stacks of lumber, the utility co-op, pulling into Meridian. I will kill for a cigarette and a vending machine with a grander ambience than the club car.
3:07 Time for a smoke and a half, as the train stops to take on fresh water. There’s a boil order in New Orleans. Meridian has a pretty little station, all brand new that puts Birmingham’s dingy under-the-tracks kiosk to shame but there’s not enough time to step inside to look for anything to eat before they “board!” us back inside. We move 20 feet and stop. Look’s like it’s the club car microwave fare or nothing. I had hoped for a wrapped egg salad sandwich as I learned a long time ago that’s the safest bet under such circumstances. If it gives no indication of color, smell or taste it’s usually safe to eat. “Smell up the cars, it would,” the British-inflected attendant says.
A parade of graffiti
One chalk mark flower
Love in the railroad ruins
3:55 Somewhere in the deep south of Shelby County, Alabama a Scots-Irish mechanic with a misspelled French name utters an ancient German expletive while lowering a Japanese transmission.
Somewhere between Meridian and Picayune the landscape’s blur looses its relation to the speed of the train. Invasive vines strangle the stunted native pines, farmstead follows no ‘count town, all in endless repetition regular as freckles, an embryonic recapitulation of the South.
The tale falls off. Coffee. Biology. Pine trees.
5:18 p.m. Two hours out of New Orleans and they’ve put the coffee cups away so I get a crew cup free and must not tip. “I know. That’s the rules. I’ve got too many years to break them.” I take my little coffee and peanut M&Ms back to my car.
Past Hattiesburg the trees get twiggy, the bottom lands more often flooded. What once were rippling little rivers take on the somnambulant character of bayous. I am getting close to home.
6:22 Across the Pearl and Bogue Chitto, briefly leaving the spindly pines behind for cypress swamps and houseboats, then passing beneath I-10 and into Slidell. My Louisiana begins south of I-10, but we won’t be truly south of South, deeper south than any bit of Dixie in our own peculiar territory, until we cross the Lake and it becomes a cardinal direction unto itself.
6:39 What’s left of sunset over Lake Pontchartrain. Highway 11 has cut across and left us for the first time since we started. After the bridge the high embankment of New Orleans East, rip rap replacing ballast, and I watch for the sad skeletal pilings of the camps that once ran from Little Woods into town. I spot an intact gazebo and I’m suddenly surprised to find a half-dozen reconstructed camps. A little spit of scrub covered land behind a low chain link fence is all I guess remains of the ruins of Mayor Maestri’s “gently” segregationist Lincoln Beach, reminding me of where I’ve just come from. Across the Seabrook Bridge, bits of weather-worn wooden platforms are all that are left of the old, single-car lane with its wait-your-turn stop lights once tacked to its side like the old Huey P. Long and we are in the city.
I’m hungry. After that gazebo against the dying sky, the remains of the old Seabrook crossing to Haynes and it’s almost forgotten, gone-to-Kenner promise of fried oyster “boats”, it must be freshly caught and fried. Nothing else will do.
The Glory That Was Home September 23, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in Federal Flood, Fortin Street, FYYFF, Memory, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Rebirth, Recovery, The Narrative, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: Rising Tide 7, Rising Tide NOLA, Rising Tide VII
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I thought I would share an email reply I wrote this morning, to answer anyone who asked after me yesterday at Rising Tide VII:
Thank you for the pictures and write-up. My absence from Rising Tide 7 is sadly more than a case of overbooking, but I won’t spread troubles except to wish them bon voyage. The NOLA Bloggers Movement, born out of a mailing list started by some guy in North Dakota of all places, baptized on an Ash Wednesday evening at a bar in the French Quarter, and which birthed the first Rising Tide was one of those bright shining moments of solidarity like the crime march or the first anniversary (who were those two young Black women at the 17th Street Canal bridge between Bucktown and lily-white Lakeview? I dared not ask that day) that is behind us. The rag-tag assemblage has, like so many things down here postdiluvian, reverted to form: the latent conflicts of purpose and personality reasserting themselves, paths parting, new projects taking precedence.
It is a parade I no longer ride, but sometimes finger the old doubloons thoughtfully when I come across them
Malfaubourlgia September 22, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Faubourg St. John, Fortin Street, Gentilly, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Detroit Lakes, Hell, houses
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There is a discount outlet of Hell in my attic. I’m convinced. The rule is never to turn off the ceilings fans in my son’s room and the back kitchen, and more importantly not to turn them on late afternoon if you’ve forgotten and turned them off. Switching on the kitchen fan at three, even when the window unit is set to 72 degrees and you don’t break a sweat doing two sinks of dishes, is like turning on the oven.
There are more reasonable explanations for this if you insist. The house is old. I think the landlord said sometime in the 1920s, and I wasn’t sure if that was pride in its sturdiness or an excuse for its shortcomings. It seems solid enough in the main, and shook no more in the worst gusts of Hurricane Issaac than it does for a next-door, kettle-drum peal of thunder. The claw footed tub is charming, but the lack of a shower is not. The floor beneath the bathroom is giving way, the bathroom tiles fracturing for a second time in a year, and I moved the refrigerator from the small back room into the small kitchen when it began to list dangerously to port. The fourteen foot ceilings are a blessing when it’s warm, at least until you forgetfully turn on the fan you should not have turned off in the first place. Thespiders are quite safe in their high corners, although the flies from the track prefer to keep company with the groundlings and never venture up to spider height. Behind those 14 foot ceilings is an attic only accessible by the small vents at each end, and I am quite sure that what ever material once passed for insulation, horsehair perhaps, has turned to dust. The house faces north-south and as the long run of the roof captures the afternoon heat it’s attention Hell-Mart shoppers, special on boiling pitch just over the kitchen.
The flies are another clue to the Beezelbublian nature of the place. It could be the race track: all that horseflesh digesting all that fodder into horseshit that draws the crows in great droves when the tractor rakes the dirt, but there’s no point in letting rational explanations get in the way of those that go best with cold beer on dark, warm nights. It’s an old habit of mine. Long ago I told my children’s mother that the thunk she heard every night around 10 pm in my basement apartment on Massachusetts Avenue N.E. in Washington, D.C. was the ghost of the tenant who hung himself upstairs at just that time. Don’t tell me about the settling of an old row house as the last of the afternoon Potomac heat escapes. Give me a good ghost story instead. I never got much more out of that story than a look I found charming 20 years ago, but then she was raised from German-Irish stock in North Dakota where over the generations imagination became reserved for private worry over whether the corn and potatoes would last until spring, and suspension of disbelief was reserved for church.
I lived in a house of similar vintage in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, a beautiful old Craftsman style that would look right at home in New Orleans. It was The Norby House, once the family home of the owners of the local department store. I used to tell the children that the fertility of that shady place in back where plants grew rampant was because old Mr. Norby was buried there, even if I knew it had probably once been the privy. The windows in that houes were original, handmade glass with the ripples and bubbles of their forging. Everything was original including the cloth wiring, which hung from glass insulators attached to the floor rafters in the basement. One run ran up a pipe to a wall sconce my my daughter’s room, a line that I think was not conduit but perhaps had once been a gas line. seller’s The fresh coat of paint on that house peeled the first winter, as the heat leaching out of the house met the below-zero air outside. You could feel it along the walls: whatever had once insulated them floor to ceiling had crumbled to dust in the bottom third of the wall. The house came with not one but two oil tanks in the basement which together would make a proper locomotive boiler, and I still wonder how we managed to afford to fill them. I would do nothing about the gorgeous original windows except to drag out a 24-foot extension ladder twice a year, and haul up and down the original wood-frame storm windows, each about 20 pounds of wood and glass. They hung from hooks at the top, and I had to lean back away from the house with feet and knees interlocked to the ladder to get them on the hooks, realizing that the best I could hope for is that the ladder would follow me down and knock me unconscious so I wouldn’t feel the pain of my other injuries.
You have to have at thing about old houses approaching the clinically disturbing to stand at the top of a fully extended ladder and do that.
This is not a bad old house. There’s that stain on the kitchen floor that is traceable either to human sacrifice or someone rebuilding a motorcycle engine on the linoleum. The brown carpet would do any U.S. route motel proud, and the color hides most stains pretty well except coffee, the thing I spill the most. The windows are cheap aluminum which I discovered in my first week here can be jimmied with a screw driver using less effort than opening a jar of pickles. (I though I had perhaps left it unlocked, until I went to close it after the police left and noticed the latch was closed, and the small dimple in the frame.) Then again there are fans beneath those high ceilings in every room, and that claw foot tub I can actually submerge myself in. I passed on several places with the brutally-industrial, wall-mounted gas space heaters but when I heard the rent for something here on the Gentilly frontier of the fashionable Faubourgh St. John, I resigned myself to them. I have lived in enough old New Orleans houses to find the singing of the gas on a winter’s night soothing, even if I’d rather have the tremendously less efficient and more dangerous ceramic and iron grate sitting inside the bricked up fireplace. The flies are a bother but I would rather sit on my stoop and watch the horses at their morning exercise than than sit in a sterile granite kitchen staring out the window at a holiday-swallowing lawn. The mantles may just be mantles but the scrap of Krewe du Vieux-salvaged plywood hell fire that sits under the one in front is as much of a fire place as needed in New Orleans and goes well with the infernal commerce upstairs, where I like to imagine there are demonic bats in their hundreds waiting for evening, mosquitoes and a chance to get tangled in your hair.
Monsoon Afternoon September 2, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in Fortin Street, geo-memoir, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Taken in part from an old post to Wet Bank Guide on July 7, 2006.
The power is out again. As the storm pours down around me and the fan sulks quietly in the corner, I think: gin-and-tonic, no ice (best not to open the fridge, old boy). Time to take up the white man’s cocktail and succumb to the climate here on my comfortable mini-veranda. No, I correct myself. Just because I’m sitting on a porch in New Orleans in shorts and sandals in the cool of the downpour, I am not on vacation. This is my home. Inside is my office. The power will come back, and I will have to take up the burden again, to make the world a better place through the automation of banking.
I pad into the house, leaving the front door open to let in the storm cooled air, and make my way back for more iced tea. Taking the advice of my inner nabob, I gab an umbrella and head to the back shed to take some ice from the outside fridge. Nothing out there but ice trays, nothing to spoil should the power stay out. As I open the back door to the house, the rain-chilled air rushes in, reminding me that the shotgun floorplan was not built for easy target practice. The design allows, among other things, for the circulation of air through the house, front to back. It is an accommodation to the climate from the days when light came from lamps and ice was a rare treat this far South.
Europeans and their African slaves lived here for centuries before the widespread introduction of air conditioning, or even the simple relief of an electric fan or an ice-cooled drink. They built lives and houses and customs that made it livable. I had learned to live in this antique climate before I left, to make the same accommodations. My partner of some years was allergic to the nasty critters that make their homes in the damp of air conditioner condensers, and are blown out with the frigid air in search of sinuses to aggravate, and so I lived for several years here mostly without air conditioning, choosing old houses built before even electric fans were common place, running up the water bill instead of the light bill with more frequent showers. I chose my clothes in the same, sensible way. When left back in 1986, I arrived in Washington, D.C. with a suitcase full of Haspel suits and short-sleeved Oxford cloth dress shirts, a straw hat perched on my head.
I was quickly corrected against such a quirky if practical wardrobe. Here in America, with ubiquitous air conditioning and in-the-door chilled water and ice dispensers, where Ready Kilowatt had spit atom and electricity would someday be too cheap to meter, my wash-and-wear suits and short-sleeved shirts were a silly anachronism, an affectation inappropriate to the serious halls of Congress. Never mind that the climate of Washington is the same as New Orleans, simply a few less weeks of it. I succumbed and bought a new wardrobe.
When I came home to New Orleans and became a full-time telecommuter, I had promised myself I would dress every day in collared shirt (perhaps a polo, I allowed myself), with chinos, shoes and socks. I would dress as if I were headed in to the casual-every-day Midwestern office I had left behind, the company logo pin we are all encouraged to wear clipped just beneath my collar. It would be, I told myself, an important psychological aspect of becoming a full-time home worker.
Yesterday I wore socks for the second time since I abandoned this resolution. The last time I dug through my sock drawer was for dinner at Galatoire’s, and that seemed a worthwhile reason to clap myself from neck to ankle in tropical wool (dreaming of my long lost seersuckers), and pull on a pair of the lightest socks I could find. Today even the business casual polos are gone: sleeveless shirts, shorts and sandals are my daily work dress. This way, I reason, I can keep the air turned up and the fan turning and likely manage to both eat and pay the utility bill. It’s not slovenliness or affectation to dress this way. It’s just how to live in a country where the air is as thick as rain even on a sunny day, where thunderstorms are as routine as the passage of the mailman every afternoon, and the storms can sometimes steal away your modern lifestyle, and leave you sitting on the porch with a glass of tea, debating whether to open the freezer to steal some more ice.
The mailman (who unknowingly prompted this entire train of thought) makes his way through the curtain of rain under a blue poncho, the top held off his face by the bill of his ball cap. I wonder when the local mail carriers stopped wearing pith helmets, something you rarely see anymore. People increasingly retreat into their energy-efficient homes and forget how to live here. It’s not just simple matters of dress or habits. For most the marsh is something that occasionally smolders in the East, a place as remote as the farm that supplies the meat in the case next to the seafood counter. The back of town swamps are now simply the places we avoid driving through when the rain is measured in inches an hour. Slab houses flood because of the corruption of politicians, not as a fact of forgotten geography.
When the storm passes and the convection from the thunderhead is gone, the heat will come back like the wave of a tsunami. I’ll get up and close the doors to the house, and trap the storm cooled air inside. I won’t save the arctic ice pack, or even that much on my light bill, but I will have reclaimed some of what we have all lost over the last generation. I will recapture another small piece of how to live in a place called New Orleans.
Remember August 29, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in Federal Flood, Fortin Street, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Walking in August August 18, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in Fortin Street, History, je me souviens, Louisiana, memoir, Mid-City, New Orleans, Remember, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Cansecos, DeBlanc Pharmacy, Dudah's, Faubourg St. John, Lake Vista, Miranti's, Terranovas
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By August we’re done like long basting turkeys in the oven, well-browned and in danger of drying out. The wasps proliferate in the back yard, nesting in the neighbors wild vines behind their shed. The mushroom cloud rising out of the line of cumulonimbus is all the weather forecast that you need, convection foretelling the afternoon’s thunderstorms which coax the grass into miraculous growth the landlord never tends to properly. The pigeons come up to my stoop like hobos although I never feed them. Still, my neighbors walk up toward the grocery on Gentilly or on Esplanade, a subtle racial divide on my quiet street. The feral parrots complete the tropical scene.
We still walk the sunny side up sidewalks not to prove a point but out of habit. Bicycles are almost as frequent as cars on my street not to make some fashionable statement like a car plastered in stickers but out of necessity. Pedestians converge from the fashionable bayou Faubourg and edge-of-Gentilly Fortin Street toward Cansecos and Terranovas groceries, Dr. Bob’s drug store–where you can put your prescription on account or have it delivered–to the democratic coffee shop and the fashionable wine bar and salon.
If I walk up at noon the pavement is brighter than the sky and a hat is advisable. Even the pigeons have sensibly retreated to the shade. I don’t pass as many people on their porches as I would in the evening but air conditioning has driven people inside in the Faubourg unlike black, working class Orleans Avenue ten blocks away where neighbors still gather on shady side stoops and old men drag kitchen chairs beneath the trees of neutral ground trees. Still I am almost certain to converge with or pass someone with a shopping bag when the only others out are tradesmen with their heads bound in bandanas working a saw table, pausing to wipe the sweat and sawdust from their brows with the crook of their elbows.
I sit writing this beneath a whirring air conditioner in South Lakeview. The nearest grocery is on Harrison Avenue a good 25 blocks away around the railroad tracks and a car is a necessity. Lakeview is where the city meets its suburbs, just over the 17th Street drainage canal from the typical American sprawl of Metairie. To the north is the lakefront: Lake Shore, Lake Vista, Lake Terrace and Lake Oaks, the desirable addresses of doctors, lawyers and other men and women of educated industry and the luck of the draw. I grew up in Lake Vista, designed as a paradise of cul-de-sac street divided not by alleys as in Lakeview but by pedestrian lanes named for flowers as the streets we named for birds, shaded paths converging on broad parkways that radiate from the center. Once there was Dudah’s Grocery and Miranti’s Drug Store with its nickle-plated conical cup cherry Cokes a nickle at the soda fountain, a cleaners and a post office. Some idealistic planner once hoped the residents would walk there but in the Fifties and Sixties the automobile ruled. Over time people found it just as convenient to drive up and down Robert E. Lee Boulevard to the new strip malls and the stores of the Center faded into memories.
Across City Park Avenue from South Lakeview in Mid City only stalwarts and holdouts walk to the stores of Carrolton Avenue. When I lived on Toulouse one couple always engagaed in caffinated morning conversation would walk down the street to make their daily groceries in the big greocery up on Carrollton Avenue. The corner doors in that neighborhood are all converted to houses, the shop windows drapped or shuttered. The houses of Mid City are narrow, nestled Craftsmen relics of another era, most with no parking, but even there its hop in the car for the identical aisles of Rouses Grocery and Walgreens, indistinguishable from the stores of Metairie.
You have to journey further into the city or across the bayou to my neighborhood off Esplanade to find where the folk and the houses still match, where the corner store still prevails, and in the evening the closer you get to Mystery Street the walkers proliferate on their evening errands. At six o’clock the sun is hidden by the trees along Esplanade but in August the 90s don’t abate until much later and still they come slowly up the shady side or coast on their bicycles in their after work tanks and shorts and sandals, old habits persistent or forgotten ways rediscovered, a neighborhood that lives in its history like a worn and comfortable pair of shoes.
Odd Words August 2, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in books, Fortin Street, literature, Odd Words, Poetry, quotes, Toulouse Street.
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… I’ve driven to Amarillo
in one day and one night, through St. Louis
and Cuba, Missouri, where an old Coke facade
hung ike a stage prop above the gas station,
through Miami, Oklahoma, where there were birds
and cottonwords and Do Not Drive Through Smoke
signs and we wondered what could be burning
along a highway with so few exits, but by then
we were half-asleep and so when I say birds
I am inventing them. I am a revisionist.
– Poet Leigh Stein
Ms. Stein was the featured poet in this month’s The Rumpus Poetry Book Club. I could never pin her down on how autobiographical maIterial informed here book, especially the first sections. If I had enough space in my small apartment for a wall of poems (I have a place in mind but I think that’s where the bookshelves might have to go) this would be up there. “I am a revisionist.”
Sometimes I am the Typist. Sometimes I am a Revisionist. I am sitting at my home work desk while I type. While you read this your brain is soaking in dish-washing detergent. Relax, it’s Palmolive. I am wearing a promotional orange polo shirt embroidered with a Trystero logo and smoking an American Spirit Yellow. Your ashtrays are emptying the coffeepot. I am a terrible liar. I am a revisionist.
& On Saturday, Aug.4 at 2 p.mm. the Latter Memorial Library will host the monthly Poetry Buffet at 2 p.m. featuring Chris Champagne, Megan Harris and Valentie Pierce .
& On Sunday, Aug. 5 at 3 p.m. Poet Harry DelaHoussaye and writer Jeanne Soileau read from their work at the Maple Leaf Bar reading series.
& Spoken Word New Orleans Speak Easy Sundays Poetry at the Club Caribbean 2441 Bayou Road at 7 p.m. Cover. Visit their website for updates on other spoken words and visiting artists all around town.
& On Monday at 7:15 p.m. The Black Widow Salon will feature award winning writer and director of Loyola’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Uriel Quesada is coming Monday, August 6th to the Black Widow Salon. Upstairs at Crescent City Books @ 230 Chartres St. 7-9 p.m. (We start promptly at 7:15 p.m.) Seating is limited, so come early if you want to sit. Complimentary refreshments of wine, beer, and water.
Uriel Quesada (San José, Costa Rica) is the Latin American Studies Chair and the director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Loyola University. His areas of interest are Central American and Caribbean literatures and cultural studies, U.S. Latino studies, Queer studies and Latin American Popular Culture studies. He has written about Central American detective fiction, Latin American masculinities and travel writing. In 2009 he co-edited a special issue of the academic journal Istmo devoted to the study of gender and sexualities in contemporary Central American literature
& On Monday Aug. 6 Octavia Books will be present for the launch of Tom Wooten’s WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED, a narrative nonfiction account of recovery in five New Orleans neighborhoods. The event will be held at the Rosa F. Keller Library and Community Center at Broad and Napoleon. The evening will include Talks by residents featured in the book, Author talk and book signing, Light dinner provided by Tsai NOLA and Live music.
& On Tuesday Aug. 7 McKeown’s Books and Difficult Music will host a reading by Gina Ferrara, Scott Nicholson, Danny Kerwick & Dennis Formento. There will be a collection for the recovery of FootHills Publishing, publisher of Dennis Formento and Danny Kerwick, which suffered a catastrophic fire. Michael Czarnecki and most of his family were out of town and his oldest son escaped unharmed, but they lost the house, the press, the back catalogue and books in progress.
South Lakeview Safari July 29, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in Fortin Street, New Orleans, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Mound Street, Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, South Lakeview
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I tried to leave a friend’s house the other night, following Woodlawn Place south toward the tracks and confronted what is possibly the worst stretch of road in New Orleans. To call Mound Street where it turns at tracks a road is generous. There are places in this world it might be considered a road. Any semblance to what is considered a street in the developed world is gone. Track might be a better word. I stopped just short of this stretch and turned on my pothole lights (known as fog lights in the developed world) and considered my options. Anything resembling pavement had crumbled into dust which apparently reset itself like a cooling lava flow every time it rained. The way was crisscrossed by transverse ruts and pot holes where I suspect fragments of meteorites might be found.
My car is a Saturn VUE, a sort of mini SUV I bought to pull my boat out of the water. (Hint: if you try to pull a boat of any size out of the water with a front wheel drive station wagon the weight of the trailer’s lever action reduces your traction on a wet and slimy boat launch so much you have to recruit a couple of standers by to sit on the hood and a couple more to push). When I was looking for a car I discovered that there is an Off Road Club for the VUE, but I decided I wasn’t going to try Mound Street in anything less than a Toyota Land Cruiser with a bumper winch. I grew up watching Wild Kingdom, and during some despondent moments found myself addicted to the Discovery Channel (the equivalent in my world of standing on a ledge throwing pigeons at the fire department. If you ever call or email me and ask me what I’m doing and I reply watching Ice Road Truckers, an immediate intervention is required. Bring The Medicine and a bag of limes.) I actually enjoyed the show about the desperate people from the lower 48 who hock everything they own and buy an old gold claim in Alaska. Yes, it is an opiate for the long-term unemployed masses but there is something just too Jack London about that show. I don’t think young boys read Jack London anymore except under English class duress and with no pleasure. I just read a book of poems by an older gentleman, and one ends “the boy disappeared into the map on his wall.” I am that boy.
I am fairly certain I am going back to Mound Street. Orleanians are a proud people, and it is not just a culture of music and food and art but our triumph over kiddie roller coaster streets, sub-tropical weather and incessant insects. I am cursed with a Pandora curiosity about what lies at the other end of the aptly named Mound Street. It is the same curiosity that led me past the Road Closed for Season sign in the Everglades, a glimpse of dark, mangrove swamp just visible. I wanted a picture. I doused myself in enough Deet to probably take a year or two off my life, grabbed the camera and discovered that Everglades bugs are weaned on Deet, that there is a species of Stukka-diving, biting flies who come at you to fast to even notice the nasty chemical you have doused your body with. The pictures were rather blurry.
I can’t afford a new axle or drive shaft any more than I can replace the duct tape that substitutes for a working gasket on my sunroof. A strike plate bolted to the bottom of the car would be advisable. In the absence of a bumper winch when you get stuck you just jack yourself up and drive off. I did this once not long ago when, in a hurry, I drove over an abutment in a multi-level outdoor parking lot. Thankfully screw jacks just tip over and don’t go flying like an old GM bumper jack when you drive off.
Mound Street taunts those of us who daily traverse streets logging trucks would avoid and ford fast-running streams like Palmyra Street without having to leave the comfort of the city. I am fairly sure at the other end of Mound Street is just more backwater, post-war suburbia, the sort of small wood frame houses you find in the corner of a neighborhood crowded up against a tall railroad embankment, homes comfortable with the rumbling of late night locomotives. Then again, I’ve never seen an actual wildebeest.
“It doesn’t matter if I get a little tired” July 12, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Fortin Street, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Someone said to me the other day “If you don’t slow and and catch up on your sleep deficit, you’re shortening your life,” to which I replied:
I don’t think 12-hour conference calls or 12 hours of school work a week for one lousy credit is exactly what Zevon had in mind, but the rest of it’s pretty apt. (I do not own a .38 Special, so no worries).
Warren Zevnon died at 56.
I Sing the Body Domestic July 7, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in Fortin Street, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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I sing the body domestic. The laundromat is calling, but lets not talk about the sheets. There are clean sets in the closet so they can wait. The borrowed vacuum needs to be returned. The precarious stacks of paper and books, reshuffled off the floor to make way for the vacuum need re-arranging. Some go into the folder labeled File. I need a bigger folder. Having a salad for breakfast while writing a grocery list. I remember the first episode of The Odd Couple, Jack Klugman slicing a head of lettuce in half, pouring on dressing and eating it over the sink, but I like salad olives. Another dirty bowl. Afterwards the precarious dishes must be disassembled, the plates off the bottom pulled out to find their place at the end of the drainer. Pick out the delicate glasses first. I don’t use them much but they are nice to have for occasional company. The second-hand bar ware can fend for itself. The inexpensive ham for lunch again, I guess, before I forget to put it out on garbage day. Fruit flies prove spontaneous generation, appearing an hour after the rotten peaches come out of the refrigerator. Slobs should never buy a glass-top desk and I’m out of Windex. (Grocery list). I cleaned like a maniac on July Fourth. A bachelor’s holiday is not some fantasy yacht of ascots, bikinis and martinis. My son grew up in a Southern Living fantasy of hospital cleanliness and I actually dust before I try to slaughter the dust mites in their millions, manage some semblance of clean in an old, rental bathroom.It is possible to make the plated spigots shine with some effort, to scour the toilet white but hairy men should not clean bathrooms in their boxers, scattering hairs behind every sweep and wipe. This is annoying on a pot-of-coffee cleaning jag and a leading cause of divorce. I don’t think my son really cares given the litter of wrappers and water bottles I must collect before I can vacuum his room but I try. I own a Swiffer but unless you use it every day it’s too much trouble and expense to change the cloths every two minutes. Mop, bucket, and the stuff I used to clean the lake scum off the bottom of my boat. The moderately expensive couch slouches mockingly, the back pillows sewn on. Nothing to be done but get the crumbs out of the crevices. Brown carpet is no defense against clumsiness and coffee. The next major holiday I will dust the bookshelves properly but once your book collection reaches a critical mass you blast it with canned air before vacuuming. The forty hours work is a myth in the era of working couples and divorce. I would rather straighten the art that covers the wall, a quick swipe around the cheap and leaky coffee pot, then pick up a book from the floor and climb onto the couch (my end is the one with the slumpy pillow). A few chapters and the afternoon nod, but the gruesome work week is days away and I would rather not spend Sunday doing all of this. Sundays are for a bike around the park to sweat off the hangover and an afternoon on the couch reading. Make quick instant jambalaya before my son comes (grocery list: french bread).I only hope the laundromat isn’t mobbed but it’s Saturday and that happens. Bring a book and a journal.
Somewhere today men play golf and women crowd Target. I do not envy them because they do not as a habit stack books around their couch within easy reach.
I didn’t ever become a writer, or only by accident June 25, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, Fortin Street, literature, New Orleans, quotes, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street, Writing.
If I really appreciated literature I would have become a writer for that reason. But that’s not why I became a writer. In fact, maybe I didn’t ever become a writer, or only by accident . . . maybe I’ve only ever written to understand why I was so afraid. I never wrote to participate in a noble tradition. I wrote to communicate, to explore my own feelings and work through various interpretations of the world. You know, the search for meaning, stuff like that. It wasn’t until I was at Stanford, much later, twenty-nine years old on a creative writing fellowship, when I finally met all these other writers. They all seemed to write for exactly the opposite reason of why I wrote.
That’s not even true. But many of them loved literature and wrote for that reason. How would I know why anybody wrote? Where does the poetry in this come in? Sometimes a sentence is just beautiful, but how can I learn to appreciate a painting? Do I have to learn how to paint? I’ll never be able to tell you the difference between a very good painting and a great painting. I loved the Van Gogh museum. There you just immerse in the mind of this man. It’s not required to understand which of the paintings are minor and which are major. You’re just there, taking it in.
— Stephen Elliot
Pistachio Afternoon June 15, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in Fortin Street, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Rattling through the metallic junk drawer: assorted batteries , dull pocket knives with frozen tools, chargers to forgotten things. random parts to things you can’t bring yourself to throw away. For want of a Danish twist lock. In there is that rattling custodian’s key chain full of keys for old doors: horrible room mates, the better one up the block, good jobs and bad, girl friends’ kept out of spite. All those doors are closed.
A brass and stainless dream journal, an afternoon cleaning the attic until you find the comic books but you have have pressing business, the slowly encroaching walls of your studio apartment You have forgotten what you were looking for. You put the ring back in the drawer. You take the one lonely key from your pocket, still attached the the landlords plastic tag. You turn it in the lock in the door leading out to dreary, dreamy street. Turn either direction, past the rows of locks.
Two blocks down is the park. A beautiful woman stands next to an ice cream cart. She has just ordered pistachio, your favorite flavor. Licking the green trickles on the ring-less fingers of her left hand while fumbling coins, purse and wallet with the other her keys tip out onto the ground at your feet. She stands there a moment considering the physics of dissolving cone, keys, coins, purse. difficult trajectories, the unsteadiness of summer ice cream. You bend over and retrieve her keys. Before she can say thanks you order a double scoop. She never does thank you, but she smiles.
Across the path you find benches and a fountain, swans, possibilities unlocked by a pistachio cone. Somewhere up the street is your house key, but you are not about to notice that now. When her single scope is gone, you lean your double towards her. It’s going to melt anyway, you say. She hesitates then takes a generous lap with her tongue from the collapsing cone, shaping it back into balance, wiping the dribble from her chin with a finger, laughing.
Few things are better than a first kiss. Pistachio ice cream cones are one.