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Waiting for Godot on the Road Home October 17, 2012

Posted by Mark Folse in Back of Town, Gentilly, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Treme.
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A new post up at the Treme blog Back of Town, on the scene from Waiting for Godot and my own experience of the play.

I thought it was my house. A left-side double with a carport on the right attached to the next door neighbor’s single-level ranch. My stomach knotted convulsively. The panic bands tightened around my chest. A wave of Permanent Traumatic Stress Disorder, the tension of being transported into a scene I didn’t quite remember, being among the hundreds turned away every night from the Gentilly production of Waiting for Godot in 2007 but I knew the play, knew the text, knew the essential and painful rightness of it like a necessary amputation. I had only been there in spirit but had gone home the last night and after dispirited drinks at the Circle Bar I wrote in the small hours of the morning my reaction to a play I had just not seen.

That could be my house.

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Endless Vacation’s Last Parade October 14, 2012

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Gentilly, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
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They came by twos and threes and fives by bicycle up Esplanade as I sat doing my laundry, everyone smiling like it’s a church picnic, the women all wearing something pink and gauzy in their hair, everyone dressed not quite in costume but like a circus on holiday. One guy had a horn case on his back. Something happening in the park, I tell myself as I crush my cigarette and go back into fold underwear.

I get home and toss the surplus dufflebag on the bed where it still lies. My son shows no enthusiasm for going to Blues Fest and frankly I have no stomach for crowds, beer and boogie today, a busy week behind me and another in front of me. I’m dead out on the couch when the sound wakes me coming up Fortin Street, a small band playing a slow, gay, vaguely European march, Nina Rota’s idea of a village band. I missed the banners in front, and call out to find they are Endless Vacation. “It’s their last parade,” I swear she said but in my half-awake, stuporous joy I might have heard them wrong. Most of them just walk wearing broad grins like masks, a few few high step and swing their arms high in time and others prace like parts of a carousel. They turn into the empty lot next door because it is there. The band stops in the middle and continues the same song, the same eight bars over and over again, and more of them break into a broad, skipping dance, a few by twos or threes join hands and do the same skip-dance in a circle.

I look for a camera, a microphone boom, a plump-faced man from off the wall of an Italian restaurant, hair pomaded high and back, to stand with a megaphone to shout directions but this is not Fellini, this is vérité, just another typically Odd bit of life in New Orleans, a reminder of why I am here. After perhaps five minutes, the banners move through the lot toward Maurepas and turn left against the one-way street. The parade slowly reforms, the solo dancers and circles aligning like filings to a magnet, and careens on toward downtown, the circus air fading in the distance, leaving the raucously quarrelsome feral parrots silent in the trees.

I stand on my stoop smoking, trying to reconcile Endless Vacation with a last parade and decide every parade must be the last until someone suggests the next, an inside joke informing their bright-eyed, psilocybin smiles. Perhaps they never mean to stop, the invincible certainly of youth, to march until they pass into that unrecorded ward where every day is sunny, Sunday and Carnival, leaving a puzzled city all humming the same song on Mondays as regular as red beans, with no idea where they heard it and unable to resist its lilting insistence.

Malfaubourlgia September 22, 2012

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Faubourg St. John, Fortin Street, Gentilly, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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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.

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