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Le mal du pays October 19, 2014

Posted by The Typist in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, home, Murder, New Orleans, the dead, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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‘Le mal du pays.’ It’s French. Usually its translated as ‘homesickness’ or ‘melancholy.’ If you put a finer point on it, it’s more like ‘a groundless sadness called forth in a person’s heart by a pastoral landscape.’ It’s a hard expression to translate accurately. — Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukiru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgramage

Homesickness. Home sickness. Home. Sickness. “…they are the figures in the frame that make the landscape.” There is nothing pastoral about the Upper Ninth Ward. Taking the shortcut to Poland down Galvez to avoid the no left turn signs, the Musician’s Village is just a few blocks over but you don’t see the pretty stick-and-Tyvek houses. You see the aging wood-frame shotguns sagging with and into the ground, come to a stop at Poland across from a scrap yard filled with rusty anchors.

A man gunned down in the middle of a street in the Lower 9th Ward Friday night has been identified by the Orleans Parish coroner’s office. Malik Braddy, 18, of New Orleans was killed shortly after 10 p.m. in the 1600 block of Lizardi Street.

When I come to post here the dashboard shows statistics for most viewed posts and pages. The leaders are always the list of victims I started several years ago, and have semi-abandoned. (Somehow I have to find time to finish 2013 before 2014 is over). Melvin Labranch III.

Once upon a time downtown in the nine, what it don’t mind dyin’ Sworn to a life of crime, was a youngin’ standing only 5’5, big money on his mind Clothes ain’t wrinkled with his hand on the iron, shot six times Shot six times, ran in from of my mom (dear lord) — Downtown, Kidd Kidd

People come looking for Labranch, the subject of the R&B style hip hop elegy by his cousin, who elsewhere in the song sings “somebody done killed my brother, now I gotta get back/let ‘em know cause a nigga gotta feel that/Sitting shotgun with the shotgun: when you hear the shots come, nigga don’t run.” The song is a hit of sorts, which is I guess what drives the traffic: the celebration of a child “sworn to a life of crime” and someone “riddin on those niggas” looking for revenge.

Guess this is the game we chose to play Crazy how it’s always been the same.

Has it? Has it always been this way when I was growing up on the Lakefront just off Robert E. Lee Boulevard, and the Times-Picayune and States-Item just didn’t bother with dead black me? I don’t think so. There is nothing pastoral about the Upper Ninth Ward, but there is a terrible sadness. There is as I suggested above, a home sickness, the old style proud of the working class–black and white–that was once settled with fists that has metastasized into a violence most Americans only read about in the paper, stories of some far away country, and then only the body count of the American soldiers, not the million and a half Arabs dead for what? Killing random people because they live in the wrong ward of the planet just for revenge. A friend went ballistic on Facebook after attending a memorial for the man everyone in her hood in the upper nine knew as Sappy. She was mostly going after the hipsters in the same bar looking for food but avoiding any contact with the largely black crowd at the memorial, black except for her and her partner. She grew up in San Diego in poverty to match any sad story from the Ninth Ward, but chooses New Orleans. She lives there, running a small business with her partner while both work part time, and make themselves a part of their stretch of St. Claude. What is sad about Sappy is not the hipsters gathered in a tight, white knot at the other end of the bar is that he was a country kid from Mississippi who also chose New Orleans, made a living as a minimum wage worker at Rally’s. When he was gunned down over some stupid argument in the parking lot of Church’s Chicken on St. Claude he asked the woman who drew the gun, “Are you going to shoot me?” She did. Was his tone of voice confrontational, the braggadocio that is part of a life in that part of town, or was he incredulous that some dumb argument could turn so quickly to a gun? I like to imagine the latter, but either way it doesn’t matter. The man born Derrick Christmas is cold in the ground. It was not his first brush with senseless violence. He was the victim of a vicious beatdown in a bathroom with Harrah’s for brushing a man’s shoulder. To chose to live in New Orleans is to chose to live with the body count, to walk back to your car in the relative safety of the Marigny like a soldier on patrol, every sense hyper-alert, suddenly sober as the adrenaline prepares you for the man passing on the street who might be a road side bomb waiting to go off. To chose to live in the Ninth Ward is to put your plastic piece down on the Monopoly block where many go directly to jail, do not pass home and collect $200. No real hope going in, less coming out. And too many do not pass home but go directly to the cemetery. How to live in this city when every morning I go to the blog to grab the day’s Odd Words to post and see my statistics, the numbers next to the list of the dead. Sometimes they leave comments, as I ask, the way people leave plastic flowers, bottles of a favorite rum, a faded picture in the spot where another one fell. I don’t need to open the newspaper to be reminded that I live in a city at war with itself. How to live in this city? When my daughter came back from a semester in Amsterdam there was a seminar they were all required to take on readjustment to one’s home culture. I only had a week of jet lag, and a second week frantically finishing a paper and a manuscript for the courses I took there. It was only then that the culture shock began to sink in. I met an old friend for drinks and after walking back to her house to sit on the patio on Conti Street. When I left, she insisted there was no way I was walking alone through the quarter the nine blocks to Buffa’s, or standing on the corner of Esplanade and Rampart waiting for the last 93 bus to take me home. She shoved money in my hands and walked me up to the corner for a cab. It wasn’t safe, she insisted, to walk nine blocks through my town, although I count myself a street-wise former quarter rat, keep to the well-lit, no-parking side of the street. Too many robberies, and the latest craze, senseless beatdowns. 14786415702_24147f966b_o How many died while I was wandering Europe? I could consult my local newspaper’s helpful online Murders page. Does your hometown newspaper have a Murders page? How to live in this city? Those who know me know I have sworn a blood oath to New Orleans as serious and final as any gang initiation, and yet I find I can’t stop asking this question. I know a woman alone could not walk the dark streets of Rome or Barcelona as I did, but I wandered lost and enchanted in the Barri Gòtic looking for the familiar square that had become my landmark, from which I could easily find my way out of the maze and back to my hostel. Now I am home and am told I dare not walk Burgundy or Dauphine nine blocks to get a burger. “A groundless sadness called forth in a person’s heart by a pastoral landscape.” Were I to look back at my pictures, the view from the castle in the Tyrol of northern Italy, the vistas of Granada from atop the Alhambra, my memories of Lorca’s beloved vega (and that was le mal du pays, but not homesickness but rather the pain of leaving, of going home to the place I love); in those visions it is not a groundless sadness in the pastoral landscape. It is a sadness born not of homesickness but home sickness, a culture shock the two women returning from the castle to San Diego will never know. It is a deep sadness, born of blood, like the Deep Song of the gypsies of southern Spain, the black and terrible angel or familiar demon of Duende that lives deep in the gut, born of love and suffering. Le mal du pays.

The victim was never publicly identified December 27, 2013

Posted by The Typist in Crime, Memory, Murder, New Orleans, NOLA, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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I don’t know how many times I have typed those words in the last 24 hours, but it is far too often. After neglecting my memorial lists for murder victims, I set out to complete the 2012 list and the 2013 list before New Years, resolved to start up again fresh come January. I get my information from the NOLA.COM murder map which ties back to stories on NOLA.COM tagged “new-orleans-murders”. When I started the list in 2010 the victims were almost always later identified by the coroner and reported by NOLA.COM. That continue through 2011. But as I began to catch up from mid-year 2012, I increasingly found no corresponding story of the unidentified victims, and then often much later when a suspect was identified or arrested. I fear when I count up my entries for 2013 I will find that the stories on NOLA.COM do not tally to the number in the sidebar of the Crime page. My memorial has become as much a catalog of murders as a memorial to victims, and says as much about the death of the Times-Picayune as it does about the people who fall on the streets of New Orleans.

Shit Is Fucked September 9, 2013

Posted by The Typist in Murder, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, Violence, We Are Not OK.
4 comments

Child Funeral

Every single day, someone comes to this blog searching for the victim of a murder in New Orleans. Some days, perhaps birthdays or the anniversary of a death, there are dozens of hits on the list of murder victims I have kept for the last several years. I have not finished last year’s list because it is just so fucking painful. We all have our crosses to bear. Why take up this particular one of cataloging the dead?

I ask myself that question, and then I see a photograph like this of Paris Samuels, age 2, looking at the casket of her sister, 13-month-old Londyn Samuels, who was murdered by gunfire on August 29, as reported by the New Orleans Advocate. And I think if I do not do something, I shall go mad.

Shit Is Fucked. The drunken scene from The Wire where McNulty and Bunk lament the state of their lives, their police work, the general inability to deal with a world gone mad.

We live in a city full of golum-hearted motherfuckers, and short of God going all Sodom and Gomorrah I have no idea how it ever ends.

Traveling with the Dead March 19, 2013

Posted by The Typist in Crime, cryptic envelopment, je me souviens, Murder, New Orleans, Remember, Toulouse Street.
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This comment posted day before yesterday explains why I haven’t been posting but instead trying, in my limited time to blog, to finish my list of the dead of 2012.

“My Love, My Soulmate, My Hubby….
*Arthur Jackson* 05/08/78-07/01/07

It’s been 5yrs and it feels like yesterday…some days are better than others, but the pain remains…I’ve know this man since 1st grade, we attended elementary & high school together….He was my friend,soulmate,my LIFE…Our kids miss him so much, I wish he was here to mentor,guide, his boys(2) or see his daughter as she blossoms into a beautiful,bright,intelligent, young lady….although he died during his 2nd surgery it was still a result of gun violence…this type of savagery has claimed the ives of so many of Nola’s fathers, my youngest son’s kindergarten class had 6 kids including my son whose dad was killed…my really goes out to the kids, because they’re the ones whose really suffering….this has to STOP, just the thought of some poor child being told they’re dad is DEAD, gone foever and haing to endure the pain on their face, (as I recall my kids experience) breaks my heart….PEACE*”

The Not-So-Black Death November 2, 2012

Posted by The Typist in Federal Flood, Fortin Street, Murder, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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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.

April 28, 2012

Posted by The Typist in Fortin Street, Jazz Fest, Murder, New Orleans, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
2 comments

If you open a beer while making boudin for breakfast at, oh, 11:30 it must be Jazz Fest on Fortin Street. The mini Bose are in the window playing Crescent City Soul Vol. 3 and 4. I found these disks in the Fargo library and promptly burned myself a copy. Someone had stolen Vol. 1 and 2 already. When I priced them I found out why. Out of print, they go for about $400, more if the box they came in is in what book sellers call Fine condition.

This is not a bad way to enjoy Jazz Fest, sitting on the stoop hearing the music loud and clear and watching people go by. The crowds fun watching them pass by the house instead of elbowing your way through a beer or food line. People look at the sign and stop to take a picture and talk. It’s friendlier out here on the perimeter.

And I’m closer to the Blues Stage than you’ll ever be in this lifetime.

Brother Tyrone & the Mindbenders are up on the Blues Tent stage, maybe 50 feet from my stoop so I’m saving Vol. 4 for the next break. Better to check the beans and plant myself in the V.I.P* section of the Fortin Street Stage. Last year no one ate the four pounds of red beans because everyone comes out full, but I figure my neighbor Jimmy and I will have lunch.

* Very Intense Proximity.

Remembrence March 24, 2011

Posted by The Typist in je me souviens, Murder, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
2 comments

Every so often, someone searching the Internet for a loved one lost to the chronic violence of New Orleans lands here on Toulouse Street, finding them listed in my (almost) annual catalog of the victims of murder. This one just appeared the other day on the list for 2008.

Felix Pearson: I love you and you will always be my number one cousin. Even though most of the people in life have forgotten you. God and me will always be here. I love you and miss you. XoXo!

Sadly, the day I noticed this I also noticed someone was out searching for the Hanktons again which always bother’s me. These guys appear to be a couple of New Orleans most dangerous, but someone finds them interesting as I regularly get hits searching for their names.

Today is not about the Hanktons, but about the victims, about Felix Pearson whom I never knew in this life. However he died, an innocent bystander or a player with a pistol in his waistband I will never know. I only know he was a part of New Orleans, a part of a family and a neighborhood and he is gone forever but not forgotten.

Silence is Violence 2010 January 11, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Crime, je me souviens, Murder, Remember, the dead, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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I began listing the murder victims of New Orleans from 2007 in early 2008, partly because I could not make a Silence is Violence march. I did it again the following year because of the number of people I discovered go searching for their loved ones (I hope, and not gloating over their victims). I didn’t do this last year because I started a writing project (unfinished) called Murder Ballads instead, but I feel bad I did not post a list last year. Since NOLA.com now has a database of murder victims with links to the news stories on that site, I may go back and do 2009, but for now, here are the victims of 2010.

I have copied liberally from NOLA.com, giving more detail than I have in the past.

What I wrote in a piece about one victim still about sums up the reason for this exercise best:

Everyone person on that list, even if they had gone down that dark path and died with a handgun in their waste band and an empty look in their eyes, all of them were once as Chanel once was, as my own children once were: as innocent as a lamb in the lap of Jesus.

The list is long so I’ve placed it on a page here.

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