Ghosts of the Flood August 29, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, Corps of Engineers, Fargo, Federal Flood, Flood, FYYFF, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, memoir, postdiluvian, Shield of Beauty, the dead, The Narrative, The Typist, We Are Not OK.
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” . . . so many, / I had not thought death had undone so many . . . “
The Wasteland, T.S. Eliot
Sometimes I feel them, my wife told me, their spirits, as I’m driving down the street. All that suffering, she explains, all those people. As if 300 years of yellow fever and the lash, the lynchings and gansta gun battles weren’t enough to populate a parallel city of spirits in this place where tombs are mansions and burials a celebration, the Flood came.
Now there is a brooding presence even in the bright of day, looming over us all like a storm-bent house on the verge of collapse. These empty shells of former lives that line so many streets are a daily reminder of the vast catastrophe; the windows staring lifelessly at broken sidewalks, the facades washed pale and colorless. Each still bears the esoteric marks of the searchers that mimic the scratching on tombs in the old cemeteries, some the dreaded number at the bottom that totals up the lost.
The tally marked beneath the cross now rises to 1577, a crowed like that described by Eliot. I imagine not a host but solitary figures, the ghosts we know from childhood stories. In their newness to death, I picture them wandering as curious as children in the house of an aged aunt, getting underfoot and touching what they should not, interrupting and making unwelcome mischief. The brush of their passing is still strong enough to reach out and touch a good Catholic girl from North Dakota, one as innocent of the spiritualist shadows cast by every flickering candle flame before a New Orleans saint’s statue as a Midwesterner could possibly be.
Even the most rationale and disinclined among us imagine ghosts in a city this old, where the steamy air is a tangible presence on the skin and lights flash erratically in the night through the stirrings of the thick, tangled foliage, where the old houses creak and groan as they settle into the soft earth like old men lowering themselves into a chair. Once I wished to experience that touch of the other, a product of reading too much fantastic fiction. One of the signature scenes in film for me is John Cassavettes as a modern Prospero in The Tempest, standing in his urban tower and saying, “Show me the magic.” For him, the sky erupts in lightening. I would sometime catch myself whispering those words, but they were simply blown away by the night wind.
Then one bright August afternoon I was sitting in my idling car in my driveway in Fargo, North Dakota. At just before five o’clock that 29th of August a string of Carnival beads which hung from my rearview mirror–black and gold beads interspersed with black voodoo figures–suddenly burst. It seemed strange at the time that they would break as the car sat still, would break at the bottom and not at the top where they routinely rubbed against the mirror post, where the string was tied off, the knot weakening the line. It was not the way that I, as a sailor with some idea of how a line will wear, would expect them to break.
Perhaps the beads slid about at the end of the string as I drove around, causing the string to wear through at the bottom, so that it was inevitable that is where they would break first, given enough corners turned, sufficient applications of the accelerator and brake. The timing of just before five o’clock on that Monday in August of 2005 was just a coincidence, the inevitable laws of physics unfolding without regard for the observer and his sense of time.
Be careful what you wish for is the lesson we learned in a dozen fairy tales. The longed for touch of the other, and the tide that washed me up on the shores of my personal Ithaca, into this house on Toulouse Street in the only place I have ever thought of as home, came with a terrible price: both are tainted with graveyard dust. I would undo it all in instant, if I only knew how.
I’ve written this post before–or ones very like it, that tell this story of the broken beads–and then deleted them. It seems just too strange and personal a tale to share with just any aimless visitor wandering the Internet. What will people think? I ask myself in a voice that sounds vaguely like my mother’s. What if some future employer Googles up this article? worries the husband with a mortgage and two children to raise. I don’t expect them to understand.
Unless you learned from the maid that cleaned your family home that crossing two matchsticks in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary and sprinkling them with salt would bring rain, unless you believed that a piece of candy found on the ground could be made safe to eat by making the sign of the cross over it, if people did not come in the night and scratch odd marks on certain tombs on the grounds where your family is buried; if these were not part of your earliest experience, then my tale of the broken beads sounds like the product of an overworked imagination, something like Scrooge’s undigested bit of beef, a spot of mustard.
There is a spectre over New Orleans. As the August anniversary slipped away, I thought the grim, invisible cloud that hung over the city would begin to drift away. Instead, as the weeks passed, I was increasingly convinced: everyone in New Orleans was haunted. You could see it in people’s eyes, in the way they walked, hear it in the words they spoke, or the ones they wrote online as they spoke about their lingering pain. It was a spirit as much inside as out, the ghost in the machine that haunted our every step.
Then came the Monday Night Football game. I thought about the curse of the Superdome, the one that suggests destruction of the Girod Street Cemetery has cursed the ground and all who play there. Was the spirit of the people in the Dome that night just the charm needed to lay that particular haunting to rest, to break that curse? The morning after the strut in people’s step, the lilt of their voices told me that perhaps, just perhaps a healing had begun. We were not a city in need of an exorcism: we were the exorcism.
The ghost of the Flood is now a part of who we are. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if it is ectoplasm or the synchronized firing of a million neurons in ways science does not yet understand. In the end we have to come to term with it. This is something that we as Orleanians, the people who live next to our dead in their exclusive farbourgs of marble and white-washed stone, should be able to do.
We need to honor these dead and respect them, not with the weight of Confucian ancestor worship but in the simple spirit of the pre-Confucian Japanese who venerated odd stones, in the ways inherent in our own Latin roots mingled with the traditions of Africa, where the community of saints and the loa of Africa intersect. We don’t need an exorcism. We need a conjuration, a ritual that calls up the ghosts and honors them, that welcomes them in the way the way the devotees of Vodoun welcome the possession of the loa.
Perhaps next August 29, we should all tie a brown cord on some pillar or post of the house at just the point where we have carefully painted over the water stain. Just above that, we should mark in dust of ground gypsum the rescue symbol that is now as much a part of our selves and our city as the sign of the cross. We will do this to tell whoever is listening—Our Father, Oshun, Mother of God, ghosts of the Flood—we remember. We have suffered, and we will never forget the Flood and those who did not come through. We are the people who came through and came back. We remember the lost. We remember you. Je me souviens.
When we accept and embrace this spirit, perhaps the haunting will end once and for all, will not be a permanent pall over the city, a fearful sound in the night like a howling in the wires, or an unpleasant knotting in the stomach as we pass an abandoned house. It will cease when it becomes instead like the glinting of the sun on white-washed stone above the neat green grass of the cemeteries, just another comfortable part of who we are.
First posted Oct. 5, 2006 on Wet Bank Guide.
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.
All The Things August 19, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Radio Free Toulouse Street now ends its broadcast day. ZRFT broadcasts from high atop a pigeon-bespeckled ledge on 1,420 MHz at 1 billion Tezlas iridescence. Mad Toms and Mauds o’ Bedlam, our Notional Anthem.
Forty Days & Forty Nights:Dos June 21, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in The Narrative, The Typist.
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First floor, first room: the Vorticists, as if the directors of The Museo Thysen-Borneimisza knew my next stop was Brunnenburg, Italy to study Ezra Pound. So much for my flighty idea to simply stay in Spain.
I am trying not to dress like a tourist, but apparently I am the only man under 70 in Madrid wearing a hat, except the jovenes in their embroidered-bill gansta caps. And I need to get a bag mas tipico, the narrow vertical sort instead of my purse-shaped Pategonia. My high school Spanish comes and goes. Sometimes I can make myself understood, and others must sound like the village idiot after a visit to the cervescaria. I catch answers better than I thought I would, enough fragments to find my bus stop home yesterday afternoon. (I took the night bus back the first night). The men in the ETA kiosk (t as in transito, not terrorist) are complete idiots. Two different guys sent me to two different places to catch el autobús 53 por Ciudad Lineal and both were wrong. (Google says I should say hacia not por but they understood me well enough to send me to the wrong stop for 53. I’ve learned to find a driver having a cigarette at the busy transit terminal at the Plaza de Artistes if I need directions.
I have another long day planned–Parque del Retiro, Museo Prado, jazz again at ten–but I clearly need to take some time to just wander and take pictures. There are enough modern buildings for a modern capital city but there are so many baroque facades, the Moorish Plaza des Torros I pass on my return bus (I must get off today or tomorrow for pictures, then catch the next bus), the Mexican Embassy which looks like a miniature Worlds Fair. There are so any things I did not think to do: visit the Naval Museum, the Centro des Cervantes, perhaps the Biblioteque Nationale . Still, I think tomorrow I will avoid the busy flea market with its pickpockets and faux designer goods, and simply wander El Centro and let myself get lost in the narrow streets, wait for the synchronicity that placed the Vorticists as the first paintings in the museo yesterday, that landed me in the cafe with the marvelous anchovies before my first night of jazz.
Planeta sin Soledad: 2 June 20, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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1. The guys in the ETA booth (T as in transito, not terrorists) are complete fucking idiots. If you want to find your stop, ask a bus driver in your best high school Spanish.
2. The Pop Art exhibit at the Thyssen-Bornemisza was a comlete waste of 7 Euro. The only worth while thing was a small collage of James Dean and Rimbaud in grey-scale and pink by Ray Johnson. And of course the special exhibit was the only part of the museum that didn’t allow photography.
3. OK, I haven’t been to the Prado but it is going to have to be exceptional to match the breadth and taste of the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza.
4. I pass the Plaza de Toros on my homeward bus, and tomorrow I’ getting off to take pictures. It is a Moorish wonder.
5. As I am off to the Gezuversity to study Ezra Pound, I was amazed to walk into the first room at the Thyssen-Bornemisza and find a small selection of Vorticist paintings. I think the universe was correcting me for suggesting I toss off several thousand and tuition and just stay in Madrid. Still a tempting thought.
Planeta sin Soledad: 1 June 20, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in The Narrative, The Typist.
Tags: Madrid, planeta sin soledad, tourist
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1. I am dressing conservtively to avoid screaming tourist, but I am apparently the only man in Madrid who wears a hat (as opposed to a gansta-embroidered ball cap).
2. The bus drivers speak better English than their supervisors at central locations and the men in the tourist kiosk at the plaza near the Biblioteque National.
3. I think I need to get a bag mas tipico and vertical than the sling bag I have.
4. Try to remember the way home from the N3 bus for tonight. My stop: Condesa Venadito. More importantly, veer left and not turn left at the roundabout.
5. Also, thank you TSA for cutting my TSA-approved lock (TSA 2). Remember to pack a second lock for use after arrival.
Forty Days & Forty Nights: Uno June 19, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in Odd Words, The Narrative, The Typist.
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Madrid, Espana 18 Junio 2014
I can’t help think of Washington, D.C. as I traverse Madrid on the N3 night bus back to my hotel, set in Ciudad Lineal, a quiet apartment block suburb much like Arlington, VA just outide the ring road. Both are great capital cities, but one was built by bureaucrats and acountants and one by kings and their artists. The meandering path from where the N3 night bus drops me requires I ask for directions three times before I manage to traverse the three blocks back to my hotel, via a rounabout intended to gather up and redirect the traffic directed by the radial imperatives of a monumental city . ¿Qual izquirda when five street meet? I am not sure it helped that the bus stopped across from an all night gas station where I picked up a tall boy of Malhou to combat the jet lag confusion of seven time zones and my first two sets of direrctions in Spanish.
My first mistake was setting my phone (which does not work in Spain) and my tablet an hour slow. I was up from my jet lag sieta an hour late, and took 40 minutes to realie it. I decided to take the autobus anyway to save money, and managed to find the Cafe Bogui Jazz in time to grb a hasty tortilla patatas and two cup of strong coffee before the show in a clearly local cafe. The second small cup of black dynamite was a bad idea, but I was still in my jet lag haze, trying to converse in my collegio Spanish with the waitress in what a learly a neighborhood joint. Three beers at Bogui Jazz did not help much, nor did the adverture of discovering my 53 bus did not run at night, figuring out that I needed to take the N3, followed by a amble through the neighborhood, tall boy in hand, in search of my hotel. Now know the way, and that I can grab a beer if Ithink sleep wil be slow coming and find my way back all in 10 minutes.
The “free jazz” night of Bogui Jazz was more of a straight-ahead modern set with a few moment of transcedently improvizational glory. The saxophonist told me on break they had played with Donald Harrison, Jr. In their hometown of Leon, so I was clearly in the right spot. I was thrilled enough to write a poem on scraps of paper inspied by one duet beteen the singer and the drummer, and pressed it in her hands while thanking her in village idiot Spanish and then English for making a perfect first night in Madrid. I was clearly in The Zone.
I know I am going to love this city. I think I am going to find my way back to that cafe with its rack of dry cured hams one man was carving the whole time I was there to try the boqurenones rellenos con jambon before I wander off to another night of jazz flamenco, even if it takes me an hour to navigate the narrow and convoluted Europen streets from Salamanca to El Centro to the Cafe Central.
If it weren’t for the prepaid tuition I might consider abandoning a month in the Ezra Pound castle and spend 40 days here recovering my forgotten Spanish, and finding those one or two things each day that demand a poem,spend my siestas in the Bibliotque National or the Cervantes Center with pen and notebook, or early mornings in a plaza soothed into concentration by a baroque fountain. I think I may have found my haven when Atlantis comes to pass.
P.S. It’s 3:19 am here and sleep is hopeless, and I hope to be in the Prado by morning. Thank the Powers for strong Spanish coffee. It ay have to do in lieu of sleep.
56: Heaven on 11 May 14, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Jimi is fixed on Channel 13. Davis paces behind him muttering, “if they only had a horn. ” “Quiet, Miles. Have a taste of this. Listen. This is what we could have done if we’d only had Time.”
“Time, gentleman. Choir and harp practice in fifteen minutes,” an angel reminds them.
“Fuck you and your white-ass cracker choir,” Miles said. “Tell the Big Man the Spheres are in here.” Miles plugs the Pyle and Polks into the TV and cranks it until the clouds dissolve and ranks of angels are left fluttring, wondering what exactly is happening.
The Big Man man walks in and plops on the couch next to Jimi. “Pass that shit over here.” Miles and Gabriel play their muted horns, trading licks with the Joel Harrison.
The Big Man takes a hellacious hit, expanding to galatic diameters and lets it out slowly, a celestial tempest. “You know that’s why I brought you here” the Big Man says.”I want them all to tempt the Devil and aim for heaven.”
“Shut up,” Miles says, “and listen.”
55: Manna from a Raven April 20, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Easter, Sublime
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I can never quite figure out what to do about Easter now the children are grown, except to stay out of the aisle filled with candy. I am a true apostate in the Church of my baptism, cannot in good conscience recite the Apostles Creed and swear fidelity to a single name among the hundreds for the Spirit that inhabits us all. I’ve kicked the dust of that crabby old bastard of the Old Testament off my sandals. Apologies to those who live by those books, but the catechism version is all woman is the root of all evil and drowning His mistakes and if there’s love in all that well blame the sisters and brothers who preferred we walk in fear and guilt.
The Easter story still resonates because it speaks of mystery, and mystery is at the heart of the Spirit. You can’t touch it but sometimes you’re pretty sure it has touched you, if only through a sunset you can explain in perfectly secular terms but which still found you gasping for breath remembering to breath, and in that breath is the Spirit. We have a capacity in us to succumb to the Subime, a word I used hundred times I’m sure after forgetting about Edmund Burke. I took a class in American Nature Writing since going back to school and early on we ploughed through A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful and in all this rush to convert our universities into advanced technically and business schools, I don’t think you can call yourself an educated person unless someone makes you sit down and some point and read that.
Taking some basic anthropology to finish up my degree I understand the evolutionary purpose of altruism but the sublime, the combined feeling of wonder and terror in the face of what is larger than us (at its simplest) seems at first to serve no purpose. Mystery and wonder all in one word, and in that word, taty primal logos, is the capacity to recognize that there are forces larger than us at work in the universe, so many of which we struggle to explain in spite of our big-brained, self-important selves. Emerson and Thoreau and all that crowd understood the sublime, found scripture in mountains and river, the same ancient impulse that gave this mountain or that rock its sacred space, a mountain you might climb and in a blinding light find the logos in a handful of words. Better than a set of rules however is simply to be open to the Sublime. To do so is to walk the Tao, to walk in beauty, to cry in horror at those who top mountains and clear cut forests, to realize that desertification is not just a condition of the land but of what we usually call soul.
On your way to church or to gorge on ham in honor of a no-doubt observant Jewish teacher, don’t forget to look round you :at the sky, at the park as you pass, at your beautifully dressed children. Pause a moment in awe of it all. Gasp at it, and in the breath let spirit enter into you. Easter comes but once a year. Let every day be a Pentecost.
54: Funny Old World April 13, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
There I am, the difficult first step of my project for school done plus half a dozen other errands, the first good day in a carpet of nails week that reached its nadir when I realized I owe the IRA a pile of money. I am are literally sitting on top of the rainbow sipping a beer and then I call my girlfriend and she is having a terrible no good very bad day and my little bubble goes: pop. Fibromyalgia results in a lot of terrible no good very bad days. I coo comforts, especially for the “terribly lonely part”, promising to stop by after the poetry reading I’m off to.
How terribly lonely can a person be, I find myself thinking moments after hanging up, when I last saw her yesterday? I begin to feel boxed in by the situation, its terrible frequency. How the hell am I going to go to Europe and leave her behind? Her condition gives her both tremendous strength and fragility, and when I am handy fragility is an available out from the pain. There is a reason, I think, there are boxes marked Dependent on the tax forms I finished and not all of it is fiduciary. The molars start to grind, the chest starts to tighten and suddenly the rainbow is a little grey cloud and you, Oh Eeyore, are the butt of the universe’s whimsical sense of humor.
So I go to the bar (all the poetry readings in New Orleans are in bars) and instead of sticking to my unemployed Hi-Life budget I order a nice draw and a shot of tequila good tequila. One of the poets shows up and sits at my table and asks how it’s going. I answer “fair”, then hold up the glass of tequila I shouldn’t have ordered and make a correction. “Changeable” I say, holding the blue agave barometer up to the light. “It needs to get to about there,” pointing toward the bottom,” to be fair.”
I’m about to launch into a totally unwanted Slavic litany of complaints when suddenly the juke box erupts with “In Spite of Ourselves”, a duet by John Prine with Iris DeMent. It’s “our song”, or as close as we have to one. Twenty minutes before the first of the millennial poets steps on stage and speaks a single line the stage lighting switches as if to a stage direction: Dark Irony. I feel my ears and tail growing, the first drooping and the latter swishing away the flies while I think: “earthquake weather.”
The poets are quite good but in my life’s movie director’s viewfinder kit is the Male Gaze 1000+ Deluxe and in the relationship mood I’m in, it’s the first one my hand instinctively plucks out of the case. [Women of all persuasions, you may want to stop reading here, or just note that the comments are open). It’s not so much the biological notion that we are bred to spread our seed as it is the fragility we will not admit of the male ego, as easily bruised as a peach in a shopping cart. Of all the reactions to that, short of the one that involves storming out to the workshop and finishing that new cabinet you want in record time, few are pretty. Altruism in sexual arrangements is as old as the chimpanzee but leave us feeling hurt and we’ll be siting some distance from the fire brooding, bearing our fangs at any who approach, scratching our nuts and wondering what’s for dinner. We look across the fire and wonder what old Gruntle’s partner Melon Breast is like on the animal skins.
I struggle now to remember the lines of poetry, although much of it was good. (My memory is not the best, and I really wanted to buy at least one book but I am no longer the poetry reading Medici who always buys a book. I’m just too broke). All I recall of the first reader is that this young M.F.A. student is so drop-dead out of my league I would need the Barbie Firewoman Rescue Ladder Company truck to get within decent gazing distance of her sandaled toes. The next vents about her ex-girlfriend and I remember the line “fisting your hair” and nope. The third poet, I think, is the best [if you allow for the few poems about selfies but that is what the age demands] but she also writes about her boyfriend, whom I meet when I go over to complement her, give her my card and tell her there will be pictures up on the Odd Words site later tonight.
Then my friend takes the stage and after a few damn fine poems of his own, brings out a translation of Catullus he has published and the second poem is “8. Advice: to himself,” which begins like this is A.S. Kline’s translation:
Sad Catullus, stop playing the fool,
and let what you know leads you to ruin, end.
Once, bright days shone for you,
when you came often drawn to the girl
loved as no other will be loved by you.
Then there were many pleasures with her,
that you wished, and the girl not unwilling,
truly the bright days shone for you.
The rest of the poem is about the girl rejecting him, and Catullus counseling himself not to continue to pursue her, probably as far from my actual situation as could be but the troubled male ego doesn’t approach every challenge with logic and tool in hand, and I think very hard about ordering another tequila. It doesn’t help that the next is “27. Falernian Wine”
Serving-boy fill for me stronger cups
of old Falernian, since Postumia,
the mistress’s, laws demand it,
she who’s juicier then the juicy grape.
But you water, fatal to wine, away with you:
far off, wherever, be off to the strict.
This wine is Bacchus’s own.
This night, I think, is going swimmingly, as in the backstroke in bathtubs of gin. Instead of more unwatered wine I head out the door for the promised visit and hug but there are a dozen competing emotions ratting around in my head like an untuned engine with bad lifters. Some days I feel this is what our relationship is like. My god you love her and want to drive around town and show her off to everybody in the Classy Woman Club but parts are impossible to get and the necessary repairs are impossible. We’re both getting older and the hand-holding to more-exciting-contact ratio is regressing rapidly backwards toward middle school.
I hug her with genuine affection, hold her until she is ready to sit down again. Then I plant myself at the far end of the bed and begin to vent. This really goes no where except to deplete her supply of tissues. We part with another long hug, not really wanting to let go even after agreeing “we’ve had this ‘discussion’ before,” and no one is really satisfied. There is nothing to resolve. You love each other, and love is hard; sometimes so hard a person just wants to walk away from it for a while and kick the rocks in their head down the street. We think the partner we find by our age is the one we’ve been waiting for and that’s mostly true, older and wiser, but it doesn’t mean it’s all smiles and unspoken but knowing exchanges in the rocking chairs. Still, you know for all the usual and unusual trials and tribulations, as Prine and DeMent croon, that you’re never going to let her go.
She tells me to go home, which my lizard brain intercepts before it can reach the frontal lobes and translates: go to the Holy Ground and sulk over a pint. I go and everyone there is relentlessly cheerful with drink but I’ve put on the cape of inviolable male entitlement and resentment and the atmosphere doesn’t help much. The cheerfull and cute redheaded barmaid slips me an extra pint since I had to wait for the first while they change the keg, one from the old and one from the new. I think she is just being sweet but I can taste the difference, the malty savor of the last of the old keg like a bottle of the rare XXX Export instead of the overly gassed typical American pint. I escape into the flavor, taking it in sip-by-sip and insist she compare them herself when she gets a free minute. She lingers, lets me try her new vape (hibiscus flower, not tobacco) and it’s like a whiff of her perfume, She lingers and talks perhaps a little too long, until the other barmaid interrupts and asks if she’s busy.
When she brings me another (my third) there is a little heart drawn in the foam. Flirting with bar maids is great craic but I realize my sulk is probably so palpable it’s hurting business, that it’s probably just another part of the transaction between a great bartender and regular customer. She’s cute and a real sweetheart but also a pro who makes mean martinis when you’re in the mood for them, and knows the trade well. Still, there was that night we talked about writing, one of the nights I go their to scribble in the cheerful, neutral brown noise of Guinness and crowd. She always wanted to write, she said, started and then stopped. She asks where she would find the time and energy. If you can get out of bed and make coffee and you have it in you to write, I tell her, then you are two thirds of the way there. Before the day gets away from you, take that first cup and a pen and curl up and write whatever comes into your head. There’s really no other way to get started. I scribble that advice again on a napkin, along with the Cheryl Strayed quote “write like a motherfucker”, secure it all with the clip of a spare pen with her name written on the outside of the bar nap so the other tender won’t just scoop it up, and put it atop her last tip. I like to think I left something more on the bar that night than the usual wad of dollars and the musk scent of men alone at a bar. Whether that beaming smile is strictly professional old-regular or genuinely meant just for me, it doesn’t matter tonight. That little gesture of a heart on the foam pokes a pinprick hole in the balloon of miasma I’ve blown up around my self-absorbed ass, and I go home after that one. I’ll not get a better pint tonight, not even the last of a barrel.
The radio is off in the car and I catch myself whistling “In Spite of Ourselves.”
He’s got more balls than a big brass monkey
He’s a whacked out weirdo and a lovebug junkie
Sly as a fox and crazy as a loon
Payday comes and he’s howlin’ at the moon
He’s my baby I don’t mean maybe
Never gonna let him go
In spite of ourselves
We’ll end up a sittin’ on a rainbow
Against all odds
Honey, we’re the big door prize
We’re gonna spite our noses
Right off of our faces
There won’t be nothin’ but big old hearts
Dancin’ in our eyes.
I may be an ass, but at least I’m not Eeyore anymore.
52: THAT BRIGHT MOMENT April 8, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
YOU ARE TRAPPED IN THAT BRIGHT MOMENT
WHERE YOU LEARNED YOUR DOOM
— Samuel R. Delaney in City of a Thousand Suns
I’ve just finished my taxes and realized i made a $5,000 mistake last year. Also, the IRS does not do payment plans for the unemployed.
The unemployed who plan to to run up a credit card to go the Europe and lock themselves in a castle in the Tyrolean Alps for a month were I will determine if I am a poet or a poseur, doing an intense side class on Ezra Pound because we all have our mountains to climb.
We all have our mountains to climb and so in spite of all this I will do whatever is necessary to make sure my daughter is settled safely at Columbia University for her graduate degree and Matthew realizes his musical dreams no matter the cost.
No matter the cost even if you are on the black diamond slop to penury. You have been poor before and remember how it is done. Marianne and I lived for years as two, first in college on a fraction of my daughter’s allowance, managed when my newspaper salary was in the high four figures and don’t regret a moment of those days.; I made my choices and I remain convinced they were the right thing to do.
The right thing to do is to find the life you were meant to live and do it regardless of the cost. I pray my children discover their path young and are ready for every ugly bump, blowout and broken axle life throws in their way. I waited until too late in life and now I pay in currency of blood.
In currency of blood I would pay the price demanded of me. My family’s blood is older than the Lakota in the Dakotas, and no less bound to the land I stand upon. My claim to this place, Mr. Jefferson, is more honest than your patrimony as is my honest Creole blood. I am home and here I make my stand. For all my decisions there is a cost and now I have to pay.
Now I have to pay the bankers who unmanned me and the Central Government I foreswore any real allegiance to almost a decade ago, proudly tossing the American flag in the trash when I needed a new pole to fly the ensign of the City of New Orleans every July 4th, Memorial Day and any other inappropriate occasion. I wish I’d kept them so I could fly the charred remnants upside down at half mast when George Bush take his last overlight to hell. No matter: I am a citizen of New Orleans and an accidental resident of any other entity. I know who I am.
I know who I am and not a citizen of Delaney’s dystopia. I’ve known for a long time there was no enemy over the mountain, that pro patria nonsense. I know who I am, a poet not a poseur, and yet rebel against my own cause. “A post-post-modernist” someone kindly inscribed in an autographed book but that is not quite right. I am a broken link in the DNA array of the next step of evolution. Farewell Aquarius and your outworn Piscean god. “We are ready for a new avatar,” Coco sang but I am not it. Perhaps a fraction of John the Baptist, wailing in the wastelnd, fit only to wash her feet but not to baptize.
Trapped in that bright moment in which I learned my doom:, mountains to climb no mattèr the cost, whomever I must pay in currency of blood. I know who I am. I am finished.
Radio Free Toulouse: Hey Man, Slow Down April 5, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Radio Free Toulouse
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“sometimes I get overcharged. that’s when you see sparks.”
Fifty: Traces of Angels March 29, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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This is my entry in Harriet “Happy” Burbeck’s call for stories for her art show “Illustrations Stories That Haven’t Been Written Yet” (which closed last night).
She goes out in the morning looking for traces of angels. Her momma’s house is chock-a-block with cherubs and delicate porcelain nymphs with gilded wings. Even the fractured worm of ash of the cigarette her mother passed out smoking sits in a bowl cradled by the hands of a pieta-headed angel. These are not the creatures she hears in the night, the woosh of muscular wings, the cries that frighten the hoot owls. The curio cabinets rattle at their passing. When she can no longer fight off sleep she dreams of their hot breath on her neck, dark forms standing guard against darkness. She goes out in the morning, gathers their tremendous feathers and takes them into the woods behind the house. She plants their spines like saplings. With each new plume the forest grows more fiercely green, the trunks and branches more muscular and rough. She sits in her feather garden listening to the crows talk, listening for the familiar voices from her dreams.
Forty Nine: This Fresh Hell March 28, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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You can’t imagine a city like this. The archetypes are all wrong. You’ve drunk so much you’re sure you going straight to Baptist hell the minute you cross the Mississippi line but don’t realize it’s right outside your curtained hotel window, the vomit brimstone steam from hoses rinsing off the blistering streets, the smell of gluttonous garbage decomposing in the brutal, golden sun of August, the flash of gold from the teeth of the last tranny hooker stumbling home. Cathedral Jesus knows what you’ve been up to but he’s been hanging in this city so long all he really wants is to bum a cigarette, something toward bus fare to somewhere less molten, more regular in its habits, some place evil orders the breakfast biscuit and eats it methodically before it pulls out the gun, the horror and the glory of the certainty of Satan’s works on a placid landscape.
Forty Eight: INSERT TITLE March 25, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, ambition, sloth
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If I don’t shave, would I be starting a new, full beard? It seems an inauspicious day to start something and equally so to do anything as ambitious as shaving. If I were any less ambitious today I might be mistaken, should someone discover me on the couch, for a catatonic. I have a house full of unread books, one clean plate, a rinsed out coffee up and a fractious garbage can that refused to move itself to the curb unaided. I’m not sure what time it is because my upended bicycle, waiting these two weeks for me to repair the front tire, has become a fixture in front of the bookcase and obscures the clock.
I am, for the moment, perfectly happy with this situation. I am wearing my Hefner burgundy velour robe, managed to make a pot of coffee and when the last cigarette in the pack runs out, I have a pouch of loose tobacco and can resume my project to save money and smoke less by rolling one. Except: rolling cigarettes is such a bother, but it is still more in keeping with my current state of affairs than actually putting on pants and walking four blocks to the grocery..
This is New Orleans, and should I choose to appear at Canseco’s wearing nothing but my robe, my thin hair a charged nimbus about my head and my cheeks suitable for removing paint, I might be worth two sentences between the check out girls before the next neighborhood character. This, however, smacks of intentionally eccentric performance, and intentionality (Christ, I hope that’s not a neologism) is not on the agenda.
Which is all to say that I started this (yet another) project 365–to write something on the blog every day–with entry Zero on January 14. It is March 25th, and I am only up to 48. No, I am not going to launch Excel and do the date math necessary to quantify my failure to meet that goal. I carefully explained to my children while helping them with math that estimation is an important skill in addition to precise arithmetic, that I used it almost daily in my job as a project manager, and I leave calculating precisely how far behind I am to the earnest and eager reader to figure that out.
I think, with another cup of coffee, I might manage to stand in the shower long enough to feel clean, put on yesterday’s jeans, and pick out a book from the clutter and walk toward the park. Walking is an almost automatic act once you set out, requiring no particular ambition. If I had a loaf of bread, I might even make a sandwich, but I don’t so I won’t. Grabbing a couple of apples that have never made it off the kitchen table and out of their plastic bag into the refrigerator may have to do. They are Pink Ladies and delicious, and should provide just enough sugar energy to put off walking back from the park to the coffee shop later.
Forty Seven: Love in a Word March 21, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, Odd Words, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: #twf14, 365, Justin Torres
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What I wrote during Justin Torres’ master class at the Tennessee Williams Festival. The prompt was to write about sex using only monosyllabic words.
Touch, her teen skin, bare arm, long thigh, breasts brushed through blouse, the way a man boy’s hands move but ah! the kiss, all else is less than that: lips press, faces brush, shared breath, as close as we will get to that soft bliss.
Forty Six: One More Drop of Poison March 17, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, St. Patrick's Day
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There’s devils on each side of you with bottles in their hands
You need one more drop of poison and you’ll dream of foreign lands
— Shane MacGowan of The Pogues
Someday I will learn to act my age, but at a particular friend’s St. Patrick’s Parade party there’s not a lot of positive encouragement or enough in the way of positive role models. It’s still only the 16th and I somehow have to recover from my Shane MacGowan imitation to get through an online test and quiz and be fresh enough to venture out tomorrow for the Downtown Irish Parade on the Big Day.
A fellow blogger lamented the leprechaun carnival that is St. Patrick’s Day in America, but by Christ’s nails this is New Orleans. Give us the opportunity of a party in nominal honor of a Catholic saint in mid-Lent and the outcome is predictable. I didn’t catch any beads yesterday but I managed a cabbage or two for the boil that followed the parade. And what is more suitable to a saint’s feast day than drunken float riders hurling large, heavy vegetables at the equally intoxicated parade watchers? They can dye the river green in Chicago and cover Fifth Avenue in a carpet of green vomit but I don’t think anyone quite takes is to the extreme of playing drunken cabbage dodge ball.
Honestly, I think New Orleans is more entitled to its St. Patrick’s Day and i’s St. Joseph festivals than most of the rest of America. Here where everyone is essentially Creolized into Orleanians, observing one’s roots takes on a special meaning. New Orleans is full of the Irish, who were brought to dig the New Basin Canal and whose bones litter the spoil banks that are now West End Boulevard. There were the waves of Sicilians who were lynched when convenient by practiced hands. There are all the Germans of course, whose culture was mostly eradicated by the quasi-fascist hysteria of WWI, but their descendants still bake all of our French bread. And Deutsches Haus manages its own festival of too much beer and food, Oktoberfest, every year. I think I brought my best German to yesterday’s celebration. I was once having dinner with an old colleague’s daughter and her Austrian husband in DC. He remarked after I downed a glass of beer (and not my first) with my first bowl of gumbo that I “drank like a German”, and I’ve always taken that as a compliment.
Things got a bit out of hand by mid-afternoon Saturday. Biscuits for breakfast were no match for whiskey and strong ale for lunch and I’m not as young as I used to be. There was a stumble-and-tumble and the Shirtless Nipple Sticker Incident but mostly we’ve learned how to role with it down here. The root-heaved and muck-cracked sidewalks have sent us all ass-over-Evil-Kenievel on our bicycles more than once and we’ve learned to roll and post like a small boat breasting an Irish wake. At St. Patrick’s Day Lent is the penance of an early riser who ought to be sleeping it off rising up groggy and foggy to make breakfast and coffee. There were the listings to post, a manuscript promised to read and a test to be taken later. Somewhere on Sunday was a brilliant Irish stew with the last can of Irish Channel Stout to give strength because really Saturday’s parade is just a rehearsal for the 17th.
Forty Five: The Lost Tribe of the Celtic Race March 15, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, Acadian, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, St. Patrick's Day
I am 1/32 Irish as best I can tell. Having an LDS sibling with the obsessive geneoligizing helps one to know these things). I have, however, always been an Hibernophile. I fell in love in Yeats at an early age, helped restart Bloomsday in New Orleans, and actually started Finnegan’s Wake before this semester, then laid it aside. Too much for class work. My delayed honeymoon with No. 2, an incorrigible Irish-American of the went-to-Notre-Dame sort, was to Ireland. And I love the music perhaps most of all. There are two main threads that inform American popular music: the Celtic and the African/Caribbean.
So shall I wear green and head out in the rain (again) to the parade today? The Uptown Irish parade drives me mad in a way. I am in Krewe du Vieux, and I would love to see all those drunks frogged march through the Quarter the way the NOPD drives us like cattle through the streets. Then again there is always the chance that I will manage to catch an old friend who is legally blind but still goes out on his own on Carnival Day, and marches in the parade today. (That, my friends, is a dedication to celebration few of us can match).
I imagine I will dig out one of my rugby shirts, either the wool County Offaly one I bought in a sports shop because I like the look of it, or the cheap green one with the shamrocks. I prefer the more authentic one, which I only learned were the colors of County Offaly when a guard at Shannon Airport greeted me with an Up Offaly! and explained it to me.
I may not be Irish, but I am in good part Acadian along with German and French via Haiti. My paternal German ancestors were long ago creolized into the Acadian way of life. As a fan of the music, I was listening to Fiona Richie’s Thistle and Shamrock national broadcast the day she was interviewing Micheal Doucet of Beausoleil. Somewhere toward the end of the conversation, they were discussing the similarities of Celtic and Acadian music, and Richie pronounced the Acadians “the lost tribe of the Celtic race.” I know what she meant. My trip to Ireland often felt like a trip to a hilly version of South Louisiana: the ease of the people, the music I heard in pubs, the craic.
That’s always been a good enough reason for me to join the drunken throngs in their tacky t-shirts and other things green. See you at Magazine and Louisiana.
In the spirit of “everyone is Irish” here are the Chieftains with the Rolling Stones and Ry Cooder.
Forty Four: Redemption Songs March 13, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Now at the annual collision of our African, Celtic and Sicilian cultures, in this town where the African’s ripped from their villages and put into bondage were too valuable a property to risk so the hungry Irish were set to work and die digging the New Basin Canal, where the Sicilian residents of the French Quarter were lynched by practiced hands, the Mardi Gras Indians will come out even as the Irish and Italians stage their parades and the green beer and red wine will flow, and the streets will be lined with pork chop sandwiches and loose feathers, a celebration in the way only our entirely Creolized culture knows how to do best. In this one place God set aside like Nod for the rejects of Anglo culture and in which we have established (with a wink and a blind eye from God) all that the propaganda of the north promised in their lies, the true melting pot. It is time to to sing Redemption Songs.
Forty Three: The Dog Breath Variations March 9, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, Cafe Borrega, Siembra Azul
If I have to explain how one gets from the hubcaps in the bathroom of Cafe Borrega to lying in bed listening to Frank Zappa’s Uncle Meat you are likely to get lost along the way. There is no map.
The place is packed and the bartender is slammed. They’ve been getting some good press but just lost a chef. “Come back in a few weeks, then Yelp us,” one server tells me, after another suggests a kind review. “Only people who want to complain ever post on Yelp.” It takes a while to get served at the bar, until a regular hails Hugo. The couple next to me are dressed to go out: she’s in a nice dress and he’s wearing a British tan sports coat. Yuppies, you discover, can be people, too. I watch Hugo hand mashing the limes for the margaritas. There is a twenty minute wait for margaritas.
Pachuco: a Mexican-American subculture that emerged in West Texas and migrated to Los Angeles. Zoot suiters. Gangsters. Also a style of doo-wop music that emerged from this culture in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
I order a Hornitos Reposado, iced, and a Bohemia. I have a sentimental attachment to Bohemia. It was the first beer my father ever ordered for me. We were on a trip to Monterrey, Mexico to visit the mountains where the flyways of the eastern monarch butterfly converge.
I walk into the Apple Barrel
& there you are, Venus de Miller
perched on your bar stool pedestal.
The barmaid asks me what I want
but I’m not paying any attention to her
& anyway I’ve left my stomach behind
somewhere in the mountains outside Monterrey
filled with a million Monarch butterflies.
— “Venus de Miller”, Poems Before Breakfast
“Cucuroo carucha (Chevy ’39)
Going to El Monte Legion Stadium
Pick up on my weesa (she is so divine)
Helps me stealing hub caps
Wasted all the time”
— “Dog Breath, In the Year of the Plague” – Frank Zappa
No Hornitos, Hugo tells me. Would you like to order something else? I hesitate. I’m not a tequila connoisseur; I just know I like it. Another sentimental attachment, the drink of Coco Robicheaux. We trade Coco stories. “May I suggest something?” Of course. Out comes a bottle of Siembra Azul. It is a wonderful tequila, with a strange flavor that somehow makes me think of a peyote button, something earthy with a dusty fruitiness. (Blue agave is not a cactus, or related to peyote. Agave is a cousin to aloe). I give Hugo a twenty for my drinks, and leave him the five in change as a tip. Boisterously friendly, he tells me the next one is on him after an appreciate sigh on my first sip and a compliment on his selection. There is the immediate male bond of one guy inducting another into his passion. He leaves the bottle on the bar.
It is not just the Chevrolet hub caps (suggesting a particular fondness for that make) but one is a work of art, a Louisiana license plate dated 1956 with the outline of a pelican in the center, beneath an old, unidentifiable but clearly 1950s hood ornament. “Primer mi carucha (Chevy ’39)…” The pachuco rhythms and voices of the first part of Zappa’s delirious concerto grosso starts to hum itself in my head.
Outside the bathroom Alex McMurray and Paul Sanchez are trading licks and lead vocals. This is as far as you can get from Uncle Meat but not so far removed from pachuco. There are brilliant acoustic guitar moments in the third movement (if I may call it that, and I will), “The Dog Breath Variations.” The pairing of New Orleans’ two premier folk rockers are why we are here. The two rows of tequila and the smells coming from the kitchen are incidental. Cafe Borrega is very much a Three Muses sort of place, set up as a restaurant with music. We spend half our time there leaning on the railing between the stage and the pick up window, trying to stay out of the way of the servers. Whatever the waitress says about the fill chef, the smells are wonderful. Later they tell me he is just too slow, and that this is the first time they’ve had an overflow house. I swear to come back soon and eat.
Eric’s friend Allison reaches over and picks up the menu face down on the musician side of the railing. On the back are a set of what appear to be fortune telling cards. Her British friend (whose name is drowned in agave), she says is El Borracho. He doesn’t know any Spanish and asks, what the hell is that? Is he taking a shit? (In the picture the drunkard is bent a the knees, suggesting unsteadiness). Eric, she says, is El Gallo, the rooster. No one who knows Eric would disagree. I have on a red shirt, and so I am El Diabolito. A little devil? I can own that I tell her. She goes to put the menu down and and stop here. Which are you? La Estrella, I announce, and she smiles. Enamoramiento. (Love sick fool. Diabolito, si).
I had to text Eric to get Allison’s name, although we’ve met at least twice before. For the rest of the night, I think of everyone by their card names: El Borracho, El Gallo, La Estrella.
We get another round, and I manage to spill half my glass. We are all laughing, and Alex McMurray says “I hear someone talking about tequila.” “I spilled half of mine,” I holler back. “The hand of an angel spilled it,” I say “This much and no more tequila tonight.” “You better tip that angel well,” Sanchez says. They break into The Champs song Tequila. After a few choruses they stop, and McMurray offers a shot to anyone who will dance on the bar like Pee Wee Herman. Eric rushes to steady the stool I put my knee on but I think my angel is still close, and then I’m up and they’re playing Tequila again and Hugo has his iPhone out, a huge grin on his face, as I shuffle and shake.
I try to decline the shot. Hugo will hear no objection.
“Please hear my plea.”
The first non-doo wop line of Dog Breath, spoken in exaggerated baritone by Zappa.
Given his fascination with pachuco music and his last name, it would be easy to think Zappa Chicano. Actually, he is from Baltimore and of Sicilian, Italian, Arab and Greek heritage. His family moved to Los Angeles County when he was a child.
“Zappa grew up influenced by avant-garde composers such as Varèse, Halim El-Dabh, Igor Stravinsky, and Anton Webern, R&B and doo-wop groups (particularly local pachuco groups), and modern jazz… [b]y his final year, he was writing, arranging and conducting avant-garde performance pieces for the school orchestra.”
–Wikipedia entry, “Frank Zappa”
Zappa’s first national exposure came in the late 1950s, in which a clean cut young man in a suit demonstrates to Allen how to play the bicycle as a musical instrument, and jams with the show’s band.
We meet the two women who are clearly their for the musicians after the last set is over and Sanchez and McMurray come to the bar. Nicole says she lives in Mid-City. I tell her I live in Gentilly. What we both mean, after discovering that we live maybe three blocks apart, is that neither of us wants to own the stuff Faubourg St. John moniker. She is friends with Sanchez, and the younger woman with her is his niece. “I’m sure I’ll see you around Canseco’s.” Eric, we discover, also know’s the co-owner Linda, Hugo’s wife. This is a very small town of half a million people. This is one of their stories.
I am slowly sipping Bohemia by this time, and Eric is deep into conversation with Paul Sanchez. It is one of Eric’s life time goals to befriend every musician in New Orleans. I lean around Eric and ask McMurray how one auditions for his Valparaiso Men’s Chorus project, in which he leads a small band and a group of men in singing chanteys. “Show up for the next show. Show you can sing.” He tells me the next date, but I had already bookmarked it in my calendar, being fascinated but never having witnessed their performance at the Saturn Bar.
As I drift deep into the complex second movement “Legend of the Gold Arches” I lay in the dark and think: concerto. No single instrument is featured, so the correct term is concerto grosso. The form died out in the late 18th century, but was revived by a long list of modern composers ranging from Stravinsky to Phillip Glass. I don’t think about them as I listen in the dark. I listen to the intricate play of Zappa’s studio mix orchestra and think of J.S. Bach. I resolve to ask the guy who runs the Open Ears free jazz series, who teaches at Loyola, if he thinks “Dog Breath,” “Legend of the Gold Arches” and “The Dog Breath Variations” could be considered a concerto grosso. His answer will not really matter. This is the music they would play in any heaven worth of the name and in the hell reserved for the classical snobs of the sort who drove the jazz program out of the University of Chicago.
By the end of the night, as my eyes drift over the collection of Latino brick-a-brack that decorates the bar, I am fixated again by the rotating Virgin of Guadaloupe over the cash register. She spins around a counter-moving inner psychedelic transparency projecting ever changing colors and a halo of parabolas of light on the nearest walls. I can not get “Dog Breath, In the Year of the Plague” out of my head. (It is, in spite of the name, a catchy pachuco pop/doo wop song). Eric I know will talk all night if Sanchez lets him, and I know the hours musicians keep. I go to Patrice’s and she about to go to sleep. Before she puts the light out, I dig my headphones out of my bag and dial up Uncle Meat on my ‘Droid and jump to the fifth track. I close my eyes in the dark, but can’t get to sleep until almost the end of the record.
“Primer mi carucha (Chevy ’39)
Got me to El Monte Legion Stadium
Pick up on my weesa (she is so divine)
Helps me stealing hub caps
Wasted all the time
Bongos in the back
My ship of love
Ready to attack”
— chorus and refrain from “Dog Breath” by Frank Zappa
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.”
Forty One: Adiu Paure Carnaval March 5, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, Carnival, Mardi Gras
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At the conclusion of Carnival in Nice, France, an effigy of Monsieur Carnaval is burned, the ancient story of the burning man, the sacrifice in fire. As told by Mama Lisa’s World Blog, in that rite Monsieur Carnaval “is responsible for all the wrongdoing people do throughout the year. At Carnival time in France, Monsieur Carnaval is judged for his behavior throughout the preceding year. Usually he’s found guilty and an effigy of him is burned.”
Accompanying the ritual is a song, and I offer the lyrics collected by Mama Lisa below, both in Occitan (the language of the Troubadors) and in English. I suggest you click the link to open in a new tab or window so you can follow along as far as the MP3 goes.
And so, from New Orleans, Adiu Paure Carnaval.
Adiu paure Carnaval
Adiu paure, adiu paure,
adiu paure Carnaval
Tu te’n vas e ieu demòri
Adiu paure Carnaval
Tu t’en vas e ieu demòri
Per manjar la sopa a l’alh
Per manjar la sopa a l’òli
Per manjar la sopa a l’alh
Adiu paure, adiu paure,
adiu paure Carnaval
La joinessa fa la fèsta
Per saludar Carnaval
La Maria fa de còcas
Amb la farina de l’ostal
Lo buòu dança, l’ase canta
Lo moton ditz sa leiçon
La galina canta lo Credo
E lo cat ditz lo Pater
Farewell, Poor Carnival
Farewell, poor Carnival
You are leaving, and I am staying
Farewell, poor Carnival
You are leaving, and I am staying
To eat garlic soup
To eat oil soup
To eat garlic soup
Farewell, poor Carnival.
The young ones are having a wild time
To greet Carnival
Mary is baking cakes
With flour from her home.
The ox is dancing, the donkey’s singing
The sheep is saying its lesson
The hen is singing the Credo
And the cat is saying the Pater.
Forty: Ring of Fire March 3, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, Carnival, Mardi Gras, The Abbey
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The doom jukebox sings Ring of Fire in the chase light calliope fun house of madness. Betz Brown is lining up snake bites for the regulars. The front door is a barricaded beer and cocktail stand but the regulars know to come down the buildings side entrance. The men’s bathroom is ankle-deep but what can you do? It’s Carnival Day at the Abbey in the late 1970s, the reign of Queen Betz, den mother to the lost. Molly’s with their Media Night thinks they attract the best and brightest, but the Abbey (which still had a shelf of books to read atop the cigarette machine in those days) were the best, the brightest, the most golden-tongued and the most drunken. It was where Marianne and I spent the election night, the year I convinced Guide newspapers to hold the Section I press for late election coverage and we kicked the Times-Picayune West Bank edition’s ass.
It was the place to be.
Betz left, finally pregnant by a regular selected by her but kept secret. (It was not me). Molly’s could have the ghost of Walter Cronkite tending bar one night, but if you consider your patrons a suitable gene pool for your child, Molly’s at the Market will never hit that mark.
I have never stopped visiting the Abbey, through its boring, immediate post-Betz days as a darts bar, and then biker bar, trannie bar, and its return as the watering hole of the dissolute twenty-something. Through all its transformations (except perhaps the first) I was, after explaining over my beer my presence, welcomed like family. The Abbey is not just a bar, it is an exclusive club, a secret society, and the mere mention of the name is the only signal we have.
I wandered in the evening of my first Carnival home in 21 years, in 2006, and found it returned to something familiar: the young and wild lined up at the bar. Is was as if I had stepped into a time machine, expecting to recognize faces in the crowd. I bought the couple at the end of the bar I was talking to a memorial snakebite but was taken aback when the barmaid asked me “what kind of snakebite?” Back in the day there was only one kind, and I only drank them when Betz was working two cocktail shakers while the bartender lined up the shot glasses.
There are two reliable stops on my Carnival itinerary. To sit on the stoop of the building where my great aunts once lived in the 800 block of royal, the spot from which I watched Carnival pass as a small child, calling up my earliest memories of watching Rex from my father’s shoulders back in the day when a moss man was instantly recognized. The other stop will be the Abbey. My days of snakebites are behind me but if I can get a PBR and a shot for $5 I’ll take it. Fortified by whatever cheap whiskey they might be pouring I will wade into the still dysfunctional bathroom and be a bit disappointed if I don’t leave with my shoes wet.
I will then take my anointed dancing feet down toward the drum circle of Frenchman having touched the holy relics of Carnivals past.
Thirty Nine: Always for Pleasure February 26, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, MoMs Ball
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OK, cheating although I just pumped out 800 words at the Holy Ground trying to come down from today’s coffee and class buzz. This is getting so many hits this week I thought I’d dust it off and shared in again.
It’s sometime toward four in the morning as we amble in loose groups down Newton Street toward our cars and away from the Mystic Order of Mysfits Ball. There’s no real point in wearing a watch to MoMs unless its necessary to your costume, in which case you should find a broken one to wear. The point is to step briefly outside of time and the world and into the by turns quixotic and erotic bestiary of the MoMs, a moment at the peak of Carnival reserved for those who truly understand the masque, who step into their costumes so completely that they are–for a few hours–transformed, surrender themselves completely to pleasant ecstasy the way the devout surrender themselves to be mounted by the loa.
At MoMs are lieutenants whose job is to inspect people’s costumers. The tickets read Full Costume Required, and those who don’t comply are placed in Costume Jail for a while and given the alternative of surrendering their pants. We slip past the inspection line through a break in the police railings just to save time, confident we pass muster. The lieutenant who frisks everyone who enters, with particular attention to womens’ breasts and everyone’s crotch, sticks his hand down the back of my pants and announces loudly that’s he’s found crack. He peers into our eyes and says, well, the only problem is your pupils are not sufficiently dilated. We’ll get to work on that, we tell him. This is definitely not the Family Gras a nearby suburb hosts the same weekend. This is as far from the Chamber of Commerce vision of child-friendly daytime parades and the frat adventure travelogue of big ass beers and show your tits as the Coliseum was from the rites of the mystery cults. It is the ancient Dionysian spirit of surrender to animal pleasure resurrected for the modern world.
This particular party has gone on for over 30 years, a core of a few hundred people from the Gentilly who started out at a Disabled American Veterans hall in Arabi and which has grown into a coveted ticket, a massive party of a few thousand old friends and total strangers in costumes that tend toward the lewd and the illuminated. The same band–the Radiators–has performed for over 30 years but is breaking up this year. I haven’t been to MoMs in seven years, finding the all night revelry with no where to sit and an irresistible urge to stroll and costume-watch and dance until almost dawn a bit much, but I remember the early MoMs balls, spent Wednesday nights in college at the Luigi’s pizza restaurant where the band the Rhapsodizers transformed into the Radiators, and I can’t imagine missing what I feel like may be the last genuine MoMs.
It’s done now and you think you are, too, a pleasant exhaustion in which the muscles are not tensed by hours of dancing but deeply roll-back-on-your-pillow-and-light-a-cigarette-with-a-sigh relaxed. You are aware at some level that it’s cold and damp and your costume is bare-chested but you are flush with warmth. You should be watching the broken and puddled industrial street but your eyes wander off to the constellation of sodium lights in the sky that mark the twin river bridges, a reminder that it’s time to go home.
“Can you give us a ride across the river?” Marie Antoinette asks. Two women in period dresses, one in a full out Louis Quatorze wig and matching makeup, are walking along beside us. “We’re going to Mid-City.” Well, so are we and the chances of their getting a cab in Algiers this time of morning are slim, although an empty United Cab glides by as we walk, ignoring their hand signals.
I look at my friend for a moment. “Sure, come on.” As if rewarded for our generosity, as we reach Lamarque Street and the car we find an abandoned cooler. I open it,and find it is full of well-iced citrus-flavored soda water. A mystic and perfect piece of luck. Our little group and the people around us all fish out a can, and we drag the cooler out of the street so we can leave. As the two women climb into the car I start rearrange things out of the back seat to make room for them. One hands me a stack of books and asks what it is. I give them my best calling-on-a-bookstore spiel about a Howling in the Wires, and one immediately announces she wants to buy a copy. Things are off to a fine start.
Our passengers are bubbling with excitement after their first MoM’s Ball and can’t stop talking about it. We ask where they are from. They’re in from L.A. for their first Mardi Gras and I pepper them with questions, putting on my best cab-driver-out-for-a-tip manners including some blow-by-blow travelogue. We pull up to a stop sign and I tell them we can take a right into Gretna, where the local police could match the L.A.P.D. club swing for club swing on a D.W.B. stop, or a left if they wanted to pick up some crack.” They break up laughing over the crack remark. “This is the over the river and through the hood shortcut.” I can’t help it. If someone is on their first trip to New Orleans I immediately act as if they were guests of friends who just stepped into my house. And there’s something in me of the voluble cabbie once I have a couple of smitten visitors on the hook.
We all fumble in our costumes for a dollar for the bridge toll, and as we drive up the span with the city laid out before us they start to debate if they want to be dropped off downtown to find a cab to Mimi’s, a popular local bar in the Bywater. I know the place well, I tell them. We launched the book upstairs. They turn out to be friends of the owners, and to know the tapas chef well. Marie Antoinette tells us how her friend (Lisa G is all I remember of a name) once spent a night in a sleeping bag with the chef after a wedding they all attended.. “But he’s married now,” she adds. I never get the other woman’s name straight and she remains Marie Antoinette in my head for the rest of the night. Marie has been in town before, and was supposed to interview local blues player and character Coco Robicheuax for her thesis, but I never manage to get out of her what her thesis was about. (He’s the fellow who decapitates a chicken in the radio studio in Treme). I ask them if they’ve been watching Treme and Marie has. Her “sissy” works from the Treme team, doing makeup.
We are a set of four old friends by now in the way that only strangers who share a table in New Orleans ever seem to be. If they want to be dropped at Mimi’s, I think: no problem. Glad to show the visitors a good time. I look at my companion. “You want a drink?” “Sure.” We pull off the expressway at O’Keefe and head downtown. As we near Canal Street, the corners are crowded with people trying to hail full cabs. They would have been lucky to make it home much less Mimi’s if we’d dropped them in the middle of downtown, and Mimi’s is a fair walk from Canal. We make our way around the edge of the Quarter, comparing cities we have known to New Orleans. “I can imagine what would happen if you started asking strangers for a ride in L.A.” and they agree whoever was stranded would be there until it was a safe hour to call a friend for a ride.
We roll down Rampart, Marie pointing out Armstrong Park (“it used to be called Congo Square, she explains”) to Lisa G, proudly showing off her New Orleans knowledge to her first-time visitor friend. When we park on Franklin, Lisa G. holds out a twenty and says she wants a book. “Keep the change,” she says and I wrestle with layers of elastic to find the short pants pockets under my costume. “Fair enough.” Its getting on toward morning but Mimi’s is still full. The woman find a table empty except for a glassy-eyed drunk sitting bolt upright against with wall with a thousand yard stare. They ignore him and circle up at the rest of the chairs and we join them. I excavate the twenty and get a couple of drinks from Neptune the bartender, forgetting that Marie and Lisa G. had promised to buy. I barely sip my whiskey, wondering why I bought it but gulp down the water back. Our table is suddenly crowded with strangers and a few people Marie seems to know. “Y’all just come from MoMs Ball?” people ask, looking at our costumes. A complete stranger comes up and hugs a couple of us. We look at each other trying to figure out who knows him, but he seems to read that. “I don’t know y’all, but I could tell you just came from MoMs. Wasn’t it great?”
Lisa G. keeps telling us how much she loves this place, wants to move here. Lisa G. has lived a lot of places and traveled. Chicago. San Francisco. New York. She’s not crazy about L.A. San Francisco feels comfortable to people from New Orleans, I explain, and tell her the old saw that it’s one of the few places people who leave the city don’t eventually return from. San Francisco is just as bad, says says. People there don’t make eye contact with each other. “Yeah, it has this vibe” Lisa G. says, but it’s not New Orleans.” Yeah, it’s not, we all agree. She has the bug bad, the “NOLA gene” that gets switched on when certain people first visit, my friend says.
“There’s just no other city like this in the world,” Lisa G. says in that wistful way locals know means: she’ll be back.
People in costume continue to pour into the bar, ready to continue their party until dawn. We all admire each others attire and nod appreciatively. More strangers stop to talk about MoMs, and our little foursome grows into a boisterous, impromptu party of extravagantly dressed people who were all strangers 30 minutes ago but who recognized initiation in the mystery cult of MoMs the way Masons once noticed each others watch fob. Here in New Orleans it might have taken a little longer to assemble an impromptu party without that cue, but it likely would have happened anyway. It always does.
No, we all agree, there really isn’t any other city like this in the world.
Thirty Eight: Mr. Bones Chimes In February 25, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, Dream Song No. 4, John Berryman
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“The last two stanzas remind me of Berryman,” he said. I nearly collapsed at his feet onto my knees, and fawned instead within an inch of beheading or banishment.
Resolved, I was, to write again. Not just here, although I will keep the promise of 365 as best I can. It came to me last night, reading Robinson Jeffers’ Cawdor, the promise I had made myself: two longish poems (one a play in verse, really) in manuscripts languishing, and all the hours in the world for them if I do not fritter it away on bars and Carnival.
And so I am off to the coffee shop to drink myself within an inch of twitchy bewilderment, and climb atop that rock from which words glimmer like the ocean in the distance, and call like water birds.
Until tomorrow, I will leave you with this (– Mr. Bones: you forgettin’ what you said, remember?). — I am, Mr. Bones, I do.
Dream Song No. 4
Filling her compact & delicious body
with chicken páprika, she glanced at me
Fainting with interest, I hungered back
and only the fact of her husband & four other people
kept me from springing on her
or falling at her little feet and crying
‘You are the hottest one for years of night
Henry’s dazed eyes
have enjoyed, Brilliance.’ I advanced upon
(despairing) my spumoni.–Sir Bones: is stuffed,
de world, wif feeding girls.
–Black hair, complexion Latin, jewelled eyes
downcast The slob beside her feasts . . . What wonders is
she sitting on, over there?
The restaurant buzzes. She might as well be on Mars.
Where did it all go wrong? There ought to be a law against Henry.
–Mr. Bones: there is.
Thirty Seven: Hubris February 24, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, je me souviens, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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What hubris to think I could write something every day worth punching the Publish button. To write every day, that is the injunction, but to write toward a distant end: a poem, a story, an essay, something complete. What could I possibly have said yesterday worth sharing: that the morning was spent in a pleasant hangover-and-coffee stupor? That the chilli came out well? That I read a chapter of physical anthropology and took the quiz?
I made an effort to get through a good bit of Susan Sontag’s On Photography for my Visual Anthropology class. Among the professor’s professional subjects are the Mardi Gras Indians, whom he has photographed extensively. When he asks us at the beginning of class if we have questions or comments on the reading, do I dare ask him about this passage?
Moralists and conscienceless despoilers, children and foreigners in their own land, they will get something down that is disappearing–and, often, hasten its disappearance by by photographing it.
Does the extensive photography of the Indians first by Micheal Smith, Christopher Porche West and, yes, Dr. Jeffery Ehrenreich honor or despoil something once the exclusive property of its own community, the Black neighborhood in which a particular tribe lives, something as powerfully spiritual as any drum ritual of humanity’s invention, something as beautiful as any art humanity has created? The Indians sewed and came out before the cameras arrived. What now of the flocks of tourists and natives alike with their cheap digital cameras? Is this a fusion of cultures, an integration never achieved in the schools, or rather part of what I once called the descent into Disney?
We are figures on a disappearing landscape, a city that has maintained much of an original culture against the onslaught of universal television and economic conglomeration. We are as beautiful and alien and endangered as any tribe at the edge of Amazonian development. And what will gentrification do, when the Indians are driven out of their own neighborhoods and the corner practice bar becomes a nuisance to the new neighbors? Old urban churches could survive for a while on the parishioners, black and white, who fled to the suburbs returning on Sunday. What will become of the Indians when the corner bar becomes a coffee shop and they are scattered in diaspora?
I worried about these issues into the tens of thousands of words when I was publishing the Wet Bank Guide blog. Would the Indians be able to return? What would happen to the next generation of musicians, the children scattered to Texas and Atlanta, when they decided to take up 50 Cent’s microphone instead of their uncle’s trombone? I don’t voice those worries as I did once only out of fear that I was looking over the black precipice and in danger of tumbling over. Still, I worry, especially about gentrification and the Indians. The famous scene used as the lead still for the first season of Treme, when Chief Lambreaux comes up the street in full regalia, emerging out of darkness to insist to Robinette they will still come back, reduced me to tears.
I still worry that what I write is part of our Apocalypse, about those in power who think we should model ourselves on Atlanta instead of pan-Carribbea, that we are among the last men and women who will walk the streets of something recognizably New Orleans.
And that is hubris, the unquenchably Gaullist chauvinism of New Orleans exceptionalism, that I will only give up as the rattle of my last breath. Until the gods strike me down, I will always find something to say because I live in one of the last places on Earth worth saving from insect humanity.
No one loved Uncle Benny, except Aunt Marilyn. And well his children I suppose, but I’ve never been close to them. I haven’t seen them since Benny and Marilyn’s 50th anniversary party several years ago and doubt I’ll recognize any of the boys at first glance. Still, I must appear at the interment this afternoon at Metairie Cemetery.
My last strong memory of him was sitting on my mother’s sofa next to my ex-, with a big picture album he had brought full of photos of my first wife. He was insistent on sharing them with my ex-. That only begins to plumb the depths of my distaste for him, but they say never speak ill of the dead so perhaps I will stop there. I know that my mother would stop talking to my aunt or vice-versa at times, usually over something Benny did.
Fortunately, they moved to Baton Rouge when I was young, and I rarely saw them afterwards unless they drove down to visit my parents. I do not even wish to imagine the Southern Gothic consequences if we had all lived in some smaller Louisiana town. There is enough oddity and sadness in the branches of the family I like to fill a book. I think if all of the branches of the Folse and Hilbert families were stacked up together in some mythical parish I could write something that would make Lie Down in Darkness positively cheerful.
Everyone down here thinks they have an odd family, but I would gladly put mine up on display for a bet. When my brother took his own life and my boss raised an inquisitive eyebrow while I was asking for leave, I simply told her, “you probably thought Tennessee Williams was making all that shit up.” She had played Blanche DuBois in a Minot, N.D. college production of Streetcar. That was explanation enough. (I still chuckle to think of all those sons and daughters of Ibsen doing Williams.)
It would be easy enough not to show up this afternoon, but my sister is down from Kansas and insisted mother come out of the nursing home in an ambulance company van for the service. I would not be burning any bridges of significance if I were absent, but if mother is there then it is time to go into the closet and take out the dark suit and the heavy, ceremonial mask of filial piety.
Thirty Five: Man Child in the Famished Land February 21, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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As the second fitted sheet fell perfectly into place over the hanger rack of the washeteria’s basket, my mind drifted back to my first lessons in laundry from the glass-eyed college widow at the Lake Terrace laundromat favored by UNO students in the seventies. She finished the lesson in perfect golf-pro fashion, pressed against my back and guiding my hands to fit the corners and fold to produce a near-perfect rectangle. I was living with my first partner over on Wadsworth Street and took that moment and the looks she gave me with her one good eye as I went up for change as just a good story to share over a beer at Luigi’s. Perhaps college widow is unfair, as she also advised me to wash M’s blood-stained panties in cold water. It may have just been a motherly instinct toward the young college kids, but that ruins a perfectly good anecdote. And there’s no other good explanation for that lesson in folding fitting sheets.
I was raised in a typical mid-century, upper-middle class southern household, where boys and young men were not expected to know how to do laundry. Instead, we were expected to sell our sister’s band candy door-to-door, as proper young ladies did not go house-to-house ringing the doorbells of strangers. We were not even allowed to mow the lawn, that work reserved for the colored men in the rust-bucket pickup who came once a week. I was well into my twenties before I knew how to iron a shirt. I admit having watched Sylvia the maid with fascination with here sprinkler bottle of water doing the household ironing. It was certainly more entertaining that watching my mother reclined on a couch reading a book. I was young enough that perhaps my mother was out doing the things proper to a Lake Vista house wife, and Sylvia just wanted to keep an eye on me while she worked. To this day I can not help but think of her when I clear off the ironing board that stands in my bedroom covered with odd things to iron a few things, and at some point the theme song of Days of our Lives comes into my head. Sylvia always ironed in front of the television.
By the time I was getting suggestive lessons on how to fold sheets, I also learned how to sew a button back on, more or less, and figured out how to hem a pair of pants with a proper break in an emergency with fabric sticky tape. I could sew a ready-made men’s pants pocket onto a Mardi Gras costume well enough to survive the day. I made every effort to overcome the deficiencies of my overly-protected and sexist childhood well enough to survive. M wasn’t one to drop what she was doing and offer to iron a shirt for me. The eldest of a family of three sisters from Massachusetts, she suffered from none of the southern upbringing I did. If her mother ironed her father’s shirts, it was probably while she was at school.
I am about to apply to a study and writing program in Europe this summer and realize I will be leaving my son alone in my apartment for an extended period of time. My children’s mother was a model of her own mother, who would do everything for them. I remember the struggle to be allowed to prepare a holiday meal at our own house. Its hard to break the model of our parents, and I was a guilty enabler. I still remember the time I spent half a day with a box of Oxyclean trying to bleach out a white blouse of my daughter’s I had accidentally tinted in the wash. My son’s cooking skills are limited to scrambling an egg and heating a Hot Pocket in the microwave. I’m not sure he understands how to do his laundry. And I do not want him to throw himself on his mother for food and laundry while I’m gone. That is not fair to her or good for him. I think if he gets to be on his own at my place half the time I’m gone (the rest spent at his mother’s) he needs to learn a few lessons in independence. I think if we have curry this weekend (out of a packet), he needs to make it, and learn to run the rice cooker or boil it on the stove. I no longer own a copy of the Betty Crocker cookbook, but I think I need to pick one up. If he has laundry this weekend, I think a trip down to the Splish Splash with me is in order. Vacuuming up the cat hair and cleaning the box are as essential to survival in a house with a cat as not running out of toilet paper. He’ll be nineteen by June, and I think its time he began to learn to live independently.
Thirty Four February 20, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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The story I am telling here has been told many times before. Change the name of the father (or from that of the father to some other name) and the story may well be about you. It may well be a story about how your sense of connection to other people can never be told entirely apart from a feeling of anger (theirs toward you, yours toward them).
5156. Reign of Terror — Jeff Nunokawa
Change the name and then sit with your aging parent, trying to cheer them and be a loving son. Try not to remember that slap in anger the day you cried when forced to wear an over-started dress shirt, scratching at your skin like sandpaper. Try not to remember the other slaps or wonder why this one stands out in memory. Try not to remember instead (but never forget) the sisters to whom you were the darling baby brother, the family maid who looms as large in your early memories as your own parent. Try instead to remember the person who got drunk that Christmas at the dinner you and your girlfriend hosted–turkey and ham and goose and far too much wine–and the stories she told them. Try to find the strength to open the ribbon-tied box of tissue-thin airmail letters written from Europe by your father, to find the person he knew then, the one in the silver-framed picture of a young soldier and his bride.
Try, as the nursing home slowly claims her for its own, to fill the blank holes in your childhood with love.
Thirty Three: Blank and Anxious February 19, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Blank and anxious.
Sounds good like a mess of wings but there`s no words on the bone, the flavorful arrangement of nothing much. I`d have to write a pile of these to satisfy the usual crowd in my head but my it’s empty as this bar: beer man, barmaid and a woman whose retirement plans involve Parliments and lipstick red vodka glasses. I thought the burnished brown Guinness on a polished bar would do what the Klonopin could not, that the ashtrays would speak their secrets, the ghosts of stories from a hundred last nights would reveal themselves but Irma Thomas is relentlessly cheerful and carefully arranged and I’m a mess, in the mood for a gin neck slow hand and some kind of sorrow sliding down like cool beer, an antidote for anxious and blank. Each sip is a step down the rickety panic ladder but blank is harder. Staring at the hole in the wall and waiting for a rabbit is a recipe for a finger-licking mess of habanero volcano trouble that will leave me wondering: what was I thinking when I ordered that?
Pedestrian I: Sky Blue Heaven February 18, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, Pedestrian I, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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Thirty Two: Time Flies February 18, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, Time Flies
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Time flies are empirical proof that time is not a linear ray (or “arrow” if you will), but rather an elastic present measured by the recurring Cycle of Proximity (what might also be called the Cycle of Annoyance). Within this elastic cycle of fly time other parallel time events (say, a television program or your partner preparing dinner) will continue each in its own time continuum without your awareness of the process of time external to fly time. Your own activities when you entered fly time become disconnected from your own time flow one you have entered fly time It is possible to kill the time fly, establishing a discrete “moment” relinking fly time with parallel times (dinner, the film) and so exit the time fly cyclical vortex. However, if you do not succeed in killing the time fly you may be dislocated from your prior time state for an extended period, the duration of the Cycle of Proximity or Annoyance being dependent on the variety of time fly. Imagine trying to explain why you missed work.
The existence of fly time as a separate temporal entity is best demonstrated by the inexplicable annoyance of your partner whose protestations to leave the damn thing be and sit down before dinner is ruined cannot penetrate the time fly vortex unless he or she takes the swatter away and whacks you with it, creating a disturbance in the cycle similar to the moment of the fly’s death. This transient relinkage does not, however, truly break the time fly vortex because the fly is not killed. It merely expands fly time to include your partner in the Cycle of Proximity or Annoyance once dinner is set out and the fly enters the dining doom. If you do not kill the fly it is possible that the time fly vortex might prove disastrous to your domestic relationship, shifting you and your partner onto separate, orthogonal temporal paths regardless of the ultimate fate of the time fly. Imagine the havoc fly time might wreak on the wider world. You must, for the sake of all humanity, kill the time fly and its dangerous temporal vortex at all costs, and the roast be damned.
Thirty One: Patterson February 17, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, Paterson, William Carlos Williams
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As if in answer to yesterday’s post, as I sorted through the weekend mail, I found a long-forgotten order of Williams Carlos William’s Paterson–cost, $0.99 plus shipping–had finally arrived. I opened it to a random page.
(Make a song out of that: concretely)
In its midst rose a massive church. . . And it all came to me then–that those pour souls had nothing else in teh world, save that church, between them and the eternal stony, unfrateful and unpromising dirt they lived by . . .
Cash is mulct of them that other may live
. . and knowledge restricted.
An orchestral dullness overlays their world.
Williams labored by day as an pediatrician and obstetrician, and read and wrote far into the night. Perhaps then that is meant to be my fate. No,scampering off to Europe for a month’s writing workshop. No graduate school tomfoolery. I am not sure I am meant to be a teacher. I believe I am meant to be a creator. If I have to give up other parts of life and sleep to do so, well, I have done that before.
Then again Googling Mark Folse seems to be a major preoccupation of someone lately; possibly recruiters and employers. I may be making myself unemployable but what I write here. Still, I cannot be silent.
Thirty: Coincidence February 16, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, Catch-22, Page of Wands, Yossarian
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I have lost all faith
And marvel in horror
at the dark clockwork
of the stars.
I found this in a plastic bag in the immense bag of beads my sister gave me for the parade. It looked as if it were from a special throw bag, the sort people assemble for the friends you rarely can find as Krewe du Vieux rolls through the quarter much to quickly. I laid it aside to contemplate later.
The Page of Wands is a younger, less mature cousin to The Fool. “The Page of Wands is a well-dressed young man who stands alone in the midst of a barren wilderness, talking out loud of his dreams and desires. This scene indicates that much of the Page’s creative energy is still very much only a potential or, at best, only an idea. He holds his staff upwards and looks to it with confidence. His shirt is covered with the design of salamanders, a mythical creature that is associated with fire and transformation,” one web site tells me. “He has a true passion for life, despite his understanding of this world is not yet fully developed. He has not yet been weighed down by the burdens of the material world, coming and going as he pleases, and usually encouraging change wherever he goes.”
The card is not me, unless it is a much younger version of myself. I cannot tell from this one card alone if it is a messenger of encouragement in my current journey, or a warning that I am being little-L foolish, dreaming of writing programs as I come to the end of my degree, ignoring the responsibilities of my age and prior choices. There are people who depend on me, and I can’t get that out of my head as I try coast through my unemployment benefit until I graduate in May. Passing on what most would consider a well-paying job at Moloch was a considered decision, but one I insistently question. I am weary of that work. “His shirt is covered with the design of salamanders, a mythical creature that is associated with fire and transformation.” I am ready for a transformation. My strange seven year cycle of careers, one leading inevitably to the next, has led me to a dead end, and I lingered two long in the world of Moloch: twice seven years and then some.
Whether the card is an oracular messenger or a warning is beyond me to divine. I have always been drawn to The Fool, his eyes on the sky with this bindle of wisdom over his shoulder, ready to step over the cliff. I keep going back to Catch-22 the film, the existential dilemma, the silly Chinese finger tube of responsibility.
MAJOR MAJOR: How do you feel?
YOSSARIAN: Fine. No, I’m frightened.
MAJOR MAJOR: That’s good. It proves you’re still alive…
You’ll have to jump.
YOSSARIAN: I’ll jump.
MAJOR MAJOR: Jump!
Twenty Nine: Onward Through The Fog February 15, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, Krewe du Vieux
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It’s Krewe du Vieux day, but my enthusiasm was last seen struggling in the third Valentine’s martini and is now listed as officially missing. So goes a strange but ultimately happy Valentine’s Day, in which a letter from the Louisiana Workforce Commission informed me I had been disqualified for benefits because of some obscure requirement missed in their twelve pages of instructions. This was the secret signal all of my tiny demons had been waiting for to come out and do their fire dance of inner torment, which I attempted to douse with Jockamo much to early in the day.
So it goes.
Is there any better way to start this day than a hangover, an unfinished costume and incomplete throws? Final touches to costumes, makeup and of course drinking starts at three at the Hidden Rendezvous of the Secret Sub-Krewe of Sugar Skulls. Lately I’ve been seen struggling in confused seas, trying to make the riptide shore, so best to put on my costume in the way only Orleanians do, somewhere between method acting and trance, and lose myself in the rush down loud and crowded streets, surrounded by brass bands and friends, and the devil and the Pizza Sluts take the hindmost.
Twenty Eight: Fashioned February 14, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, New Orleans, Poetry, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, Love, valentine
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For Patrice Bradish
The plasticity of beauty
forms to the mold
accommodates the age
in which we live
not as in a magazine
but with the grace
of the age
in which we live
fallen leaves shaped
by the rain, bold
your bare arms
raised into the sky
in the Hebraic Y
of I Am I Am
as your eyes
Twenty Seven February 12, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, Melancholy
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Grim, she said.
Bleak, I answered, thinking this somehow an improvement. There was a look.
Grim suits me, I said.
No it doesn’t, she answered.
I still got a kiss as I dropped her off, and a smile. Someday I will understand how she tolerates me, and Dr. Phil will be our best man.
“You have a melancholic personality,” he said, fingers steepled in reverent medical detachment. I scanned his office for the jar of leeches. In his office, meant to be comforting in its dimly-lit muted colors, the couch was a cold black vinyl, reporting every squirm of affirmation.
Ask a Russian “how are you?” and they will tell you in grim detail exactly how bad. I am thinking of ordering a Ushanka hat and a case of vodka.
Neither grim nor bleak, I think. A thoughtful melancholia, put down into words, is a great tonic.
Drift into Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Imagine outside the concert hall Russian winter, bleak and grim. Imagine what happens if the words no longer come, be they sanguine or sad. Let no sparrow fall unnoticed.
The ocean conducts The Typist into spindrift monsters or moonlit ripples according to its own mood.
Twenty Six: Man-in-disorder February 12, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, Moloch
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YOU ARE TRAPPED IN THAT BRIGHT MOMENT WHERE YOU LEARNED YOUR DOOM
— Samuel R. Delaney in City of a Thousand Suns
I agonized for days when the recruiter called me on a Saturday night, not two hours after I posted an application for the position. I knew I was a perfect fit for the position, but I had resolved to try to remain unemployed until I finished the bachelor’s degree I abandoned 35 years ago. Still, I have bills, responsibilities, a child about to start an expensive program of graduate school in psychology I would just assume not fall into the trap of an immense college debt. A bachelors in English Literature, whatever personal satisfaction I might take from it, is worth about as much as a piece of confederate currency.
I could tell from his excited voice that the recruiter was sure he had found his man. The job was with Moloch. I knew the hiring manager, had worked closely with this department in the past. The work was precisely what I had delivered during my time at the bank, greatly to their profit: the automation of financial data exchange. I had resolved before he called to take the job if the money was right: to insist on the flexibility to finish my classes and graduate, to find some way to continue Odd Words and 365 and still read and write what was important to me, not what was on the syllabus. I essentially resolved to try to spend the next three months on a few hours of sleep a night.
Then we got down to money. The job was a contract position, at two-thirds what I had just been paid as a contractor. That figure itself was a significant takedown from what I had earned as an associate, considering benefits, Long Term Incentives and bonuses, but I had taken it. Forty dollars an hour is nothing to sneer at. America is filled with former professionals who would leap at that figure, like myself the victim of the corporate rearrangement into a contingent work force, living examples of the elasticity of demand. I am, I realize, simply another piece of just-in-time inventory, a human resource no different from a a flat of plastic parts.
As a student I hear a lot about the commoditization of instruction, the huge contingent workforce living in poverty who are educating your children in the basic of English, math, science for sometimes fantastic amounts of tuition. The closest they will get to a real professor in their first year and seven second year of college is their advisor. Still I think of going to get my master’s, to become one of them.
Why would an unemployed person walk away from $40,000 for six month’s work? Because I am politically aware enough to realize that America has taken a terrible wrong turn at the hands of people who would reduce us all to credit card penury, willing to take any job to keep the house and pay the bills. I am no longer one of those people.
At my lowest moment between the first, missed call from the recruiter and yesterday’s conversation I thought often of the anarchist in Lina Wertmuller’s The Seven Beauties. An article on the film summarizes the moment: “…against the fascist Nazi ideal of order, this anarchist holds up what one is tempted to see as Wertmuller’s “solution,” an existentialist ideal of “man in disorder.” The anarchist’s last act, when the prisoners are assembled to hear Pasqualino read off the serial numbers of the six he has chosen for death, is to walk slowly out of formation, shouting, “I’m tired of living in terror, I’m a free man. I’ll go jump in the shit—man in disorder,” and dives into the cesspool, to be followed by bullets from the guards’ machine guns.” I would rather jump into the cesspit and certain death than to cooperate with the new slave masters. I will not be the collaborator Pasqualino nor the stalag guard.
Delaney’s words in his Cold War fable are a bit a graffiti that appears recurring in the novel until the moment in which the populace realizes there is no enemy over the mountain, no real war. It has all been a construct to maintain a certain order in society. I had the experience of that bright moment after Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Flood. I have had it again, or had it reinforced. I am a free man, a man-in-disorder, free of social delusions: a defective cog with no socially responsible role in the creaking of the great American machine in its progress toward the looming cliff.
Twenty Five: Haiku Zero February 10, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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When the observations come from an exponential family and mild conditions are satisfied, least-squares estimates and maximum-likelihood estimates are identical. The method of least squares can also be derived as a method of moments estimator.
The sparrow dancing in the leaf-stained, oil-leak rainbow puddle outside the Splish Splash is not an ironic haiku. There is too much dread in the atmosphere masquerading as overcast and low clouds, that phone call you are afraid will come, counting out the quarters one-by-one to zero. Reset. The leak-stained, leaf-oil rainbow puddle sparrow-dancing outside the Splish Splash is an iconic haiku. There is too much dread in that phone call you are waiting to come, counting out the clouds one-by-one until overcast, zero masquerading as quarters. Reset. The leaf-stained overcast is haiku zero, low clouds masquerading as a sparrow. The quarters will come, one-by-one, only if the phone dances. The puddle outside the Splish Splash is isotonic rainbow, counting out the oil-leaks one-by-one. Reset. Haiku is isotropic. The sparrow dances Splish Splash rainbows in th epuddle outside. Leaf-stained oily clouds one-by-one masquerading as low overcast. Count the dread phone call that doesn’t come as zero quarters.
Twenty Four: Dinosauria, we too February 9, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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[Sound of gun shots & screaming. Silence. Then, a voice on the microphone.]
Radio Free Toulouse is now in the hands of the Committee for No Tomorrow.
Your water is poison.
Your food is a mutation.
Your breath is the sputum
of universal electrification.
When the frogs
with their thin
sensitive skin died
I am not a frog.
When God was
in bachic exaltation
to the soundtrack
of the waiting sacrifices
& later raised
your feral children
in minivan prisons.
You sacrificed them
on the altar
of Our Ford
with patriotic regret
& rode proudly
in the open convertible
behind the closed casket.
When they came
for your government
you voted for
an orderly transition.
There’s a special
at Red Lobster:
how could the oceans
There will not be
a knock & announce
when they come for you.
Curl up comfortably
in front of the TV
are not on their list.