The Android Speaks in the Seance of my Pocket August 12, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in The Odd, The Typist, WTF.
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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.
Happy Holidays December 24, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Fortin Street, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street, Xmas, Yule.
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from The Typist and Mr. Burroughs. My second favorite holiday tale after The Little Match Girl, which my mother loathed and my grandmother insisted she always read us.
Unhappy Hour October 29, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, Counting House, Dancing Bear, Moloch, New Orleans, Rebirth, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist.
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That hour when you realize you have lost the connection with the people you work with and wander off to another bar to drink alone. Some sadness is natural, after seven years together. Some anxiety at what comes next. Beneath it all is the realization that this is the moment you’ve been waiting for. At 56 and on your fourth “career” you remember that somewhere inside you is the spirit of Odysseus. You have lingered too long at the money tit of Circe. It is time to visit Tiresias.
Mr. Bubble October 23, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: bubbles, god, Solaris
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Studying the behavior of soap bubbles in a pan filling with water is not writing or working the day job but neither is it an excuse. When you live in the middle of the hurricane coast anything that creates a visible vortex immediately captures your eye. It is a lopsided storm, with bubble formation off to one side but you can see the soap and grease swirling around the falling water and watch the spawned mass moved toward the center and grow and you think of Solaris, watching the bubble island form in the middle, its center rising up as if volcanic but really a complex of bubble structures to transient to really study.
What is sentience? Why do the crew in Solaris think the planet a living thing? Perhaps they have gone mad from obsession and isolation, a possibility you must maintain until the very last moments of the film. We look in wonder at mystery and some will try to disassemble it like a clock, give names to quarks and postulate an unknowable constant to solve the equation and name the mystery. Others look at the mystery and see the working of an invisible hand, an indecipherable mind, and give it a name; bow down before it lighting josh sticks. The mystery of our own sentience lies somewhere in the middle, the ability to recognize mystery and bow our heads before it if only for a moment in unqualified wonder. Where you go from there is up to you.
Interrupted by Hummingbirds July 29, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, Poetry, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Compose your life like a prose poem suddenly interrupted by hummingbirds mistaking a woman’s perfume for wildflowers in Arles, a Scorpio moon the only excuse necessary for hallucinatory episodes at Starbucks’ counter, visualizing Cthulu in your latte foam and paralyzing the commerce of graven tablets. When confronted with a Don’t Walk sign, improvise. Sing. Tear up the book in your pocket and stuff a poem into each mail mailbox you pass. This is not chaos. This is the Coriolis force reordering helpless pedestrians into your chorus, storefronts into episodes, sparrows into characters.(Pages of illustrations). Don’t be pigeonholed into a notebook occupying a park bench. Don’t let your day be the litter of butts around an outside table. Don’t spend your nights lonely and mooning over your poetry. This is not how sonnets work. Follow a dark woman with a fistful of violets in your hand. When she confronts you, pass her the flowers, tell her she has mistaken you for a villanelle. Smile. Anything could happen, the moment you have been fomenting all day.
W.A.S.T.E May 8, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Sorting Out The Horrors April 16, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
don’t come round but if you do . . .
yeah, sure, I’ll be in unless I’m out
don’t know if the lights are out
or you hear voices or then
I might be reading Proust
if someone slips Proust under my door
or one of his bones for my stew,
and I can’t loan money
or the phone
or what’s left of my car
though you can have yesterday’s newspaper
an older shirt or a bologna sandwich
or sleep on the couch
if you don’t scream at night
and you can talk about yourself
that’s only normal;
only I am not trying to raise a family
to send through Harvard
or buy hunting land,
I am not aiming high
I am only trying to keep myself alive
just a little longer,
so if you sometimes knock
and I don’t answer
and there isn’t a woman in here
maybe i have broken my jaw
and am looking for wire
or I am chasing the butterflies in
I mean if I don’t answer
I don’t answer, and the reason is
that I am not yet ready to kill you
or love you, or even accept you,
it means I don’t want to talk
i am busy, i am mad, i am glad
or maybe I am stringing up a rope;
so even if the lights are on
and you hear sound
like breathing or praying or singing
a radio or the roll of dice
or typing –
go away, it is not the day
the night, the hour;
it is not the ignorance of impoliteness,
I wish to hurt nothing, not even a bug
but sometimes I gather evidence of a kind
that takes some sorting,
and your blue eyes, be they blue
and your hair, if you have some
or your mind — they cannot enter
until the rope is cut or knotted
or until I have shaven into
new mirrors, until the world is
stopped or opened
– Charles Bukowski
Ghostly January 24, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Fortin Street, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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It’s 8:45. With the blackout curtains drawn you are not sure if it is anti- or post-meridian and you are not too sure you brain is clear on the matter after it shocked you awake with a dream meant for that purpose. You dream you are urinating and it has happened before, you were taking some medication that left you so dopey you were doing just that. You ask your doctor if you should see the urologist but you have just been discussing the problem with the medication another doctor has given you and she–who is younger than you–confesses to doing exactly the same thing when taking a similar medication, too knocked-out to answer the call of nature)
You are dead knocked out when the dream empties into your full body like an electric shock, bolting upright and every muscle at attention. You begin to wonder if your unconscious is just as confused as the waking brain after a 14 hour day starting at 3:a.m., up at 1 a.m. to have time for cigarettes, coffee and food in that rigorous, monastic order of addiction. Lunch at 3:30 in the afternoon with beers you hope will take off the coffee adrenaline edge of the day and lead to you what you plan as a nap which you now realize clearly is going all night with this interruption. You turn on the light, decide to ice your sprained wrist and read but realize you can’t smoke, elevate and read at the same time.
You look at the hotel window with the blackout curtains drawn for some hint of light and notice what looks like a pale leak of daylight above the curtain top but then the valence is hung from something clearly attached to the ceiling that would block any such light, and the glow is only on one end and ghostly blue. It is the reflection of the screen of your laptop. Ghostly is such a diaphanous adjective, weak tea any decent teacher of writing would strike right out but until you have studied that light, its faint gray-blue, the way it appears to hover just below the ceiling like a cloud of smoke and faintly pulse with the cycling of a screen saver you don’t know ghostly
The witching hour is only by the clock if you blow out a candle before you go to bed. Jump a time zone then get up with five hours sleep for a long day of coffee and tension in a meeting room with a handful of dreadfully intent people, two phones going and the walls covered with lists and charts, other people coming and going with urgent rumors or looking for news, then a late lunch with beer until you finally pass out at 5 p.m. and it might as well be the stroke of twelve in a cemetery. You have your own ghosts, the texts from your ex-wife asking if you’re free to talk and no you are not, not in the middle of all this, are just the incantation to call them up.
Exhaustion and Belgian ale put you to sleep but don’t unwind the spring work has wrapped around your chest. The dream is just a warning from your lizard brain which doesn’t know if it is time to eat or shit, run or hide in the dark. By the time you have padded to the bathroom and back, found your water bottle and the ice pack for your wrist you are groggy again. You lie on your back examining that light in the corner and you begin to understand what a little moonlight could do to someone awake at the wrong time with the burdens of the world like a lead stole filled with the world’s sins, at an hour when one’s own haunts creep just beneath the skin and suddenly you are sure that light is floating just under the ceiling.
Ghostly is a fine word, just the one you are looking for. It is the reason you got up to write this. You decide to keep it, it’s perfectly rational cause a talisman against the others that rattle their chains in your skull at the most inconvenient times.
Little Miracles December 31, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Fortin Street, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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It is raining starling shit on the sidewalk in front of my house as I sit and smoke a cigarette.
At first I have no idea what these black berry-like things are raining from the sky. I pick one up. It is a little smaller than a coffee bean but about the same shape a color. I look up, and see birds ranged along the overhead wires. I step out into the street to be sure of the bird and the ones above me take flight to the right in a widershins spiral, and their brethren in the tree just up the street lift off to my left in a clockwise helix until they merge into two intersecting whorls of chattering birds. I watch them until the hypnotic black kaleidoscopic shrinks into a vanishing point.
I sit down to finish my cigarette.
I love my block.
See No Weevils October 26, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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It might well be an heretofore undiscovered coffee weevil, a clever adaptation capable of carefully retracting itself back into the appearance of dark roast grounds. The bottom of the can had returned to its customary repose after a protracted second glance, but he dug in his finger and stirred the fragrant grains just to be certain. He closed his eyes briefly to bask in the aroma, then checked again. Nothing moving down there. Not now, at least. When the sun glanced alarmingly off the microwave, he realized he had been standing there quite a while poised between coffee and afternoon. He decided not to make a second pot but to settle for a Bialetti of espresso, just too small cups, hardly worth counting, to help him settle down and determine how to complete the rest of today before tomorrow. His to-do list and calendar were a nightmare of gooey atmosphere and cement feet. He was falling irretrievably behind and something he would have to see to name—and he would rather not—was gaining. There could be no waking to safety without sleep.
Yakumo Fee Nah Ney October 21, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in City Park, cryptic envelopment, Mardi Gras Indians, music, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Bon Koizumi, Iko Iko, Japan Fest, Lafcadio Hearn, NOMA, Sugar Boy Crawford, Three Mountains of Dewa, Yakumo Japanese Garden, Yakumo Loizumi, Yakumo Nihon Teien
We go in the Wisteria Gate because the crowd is so large and the Japanese Garden in New Orleans is so small. We end up at the back of the crowd as the tour guide makes his spiel, and as everyone finally moves into the garden my friend pulls me back toward the plaque in front so she can read it.
She thinks the name Yakumo Japanese Garden is funny. I’m trying to explain to a gentleman with foreign-accented English why the name Yakumo Nihon Teien (Yakumo Japanese Garden) is funny to a New Orleanian. There’s no quick way to explain Jocomo fee nah nay except to say it’s a Mardi Gras Indian chant rooted in Creole and leave it at that. While we are talking a Japanese gentleman comes up and begins to earnestly read the plaque at the entrance. “And Yakamein,” my friend reminds me, “don’t forget to tell him about yakamein.” The Japanese man bends neatly at the waist to read to the bottom with the practiced habit of bowing rather than hunching over as I did. He comes up from reading the bottom of the plaque and stands admiring it. A woman behind me says something in Japanese, and the man turns to pose beside the plaque. “That’s Yakumo’s great-grandson,” she says in English over her camera, and I frantically dig for the phone. He is Bon Koizumi, a professor at the University of Shimane, Junior College and Adviser to the Lafacadio Hearn Memorial Museum in Matsue, I learn when I exchange my embarrassingly cheap and a bit tattered business card for his elegant one, trying to bow just a bit deeper as much for the embarrassing card as the honor. without getting into a contest that leads me to tip over, feinting like a lineman trying to draw an offsides so that I bow just a bit lower and come up last without provoking a second bow. It is not just an exchange of cards. It is a special moment, Yakumo’s great-grandson in the garden named for him on the day of Japan Fest.
This is an above average Japan Fest for me. After an early set by Kaminari Taiko I manage to watch the entire tea ceremony. In the past it was done in a small room and the doors were closed once it began, but this year it has been moved to the atrium. Once I’m done snapping pictures, I try to sit on my heels with my feet folded under and realize if I want to be invited to participate, I’m going to need a year of stretching and practice before I could sit in that position for 30 minutes. I catch most of the Kendo demonstration, and decide to take their offer to go up on stage and give one of them a few good whacks on the helmet. I take a card. (Another thing to do? Really?). I find the Haiku Society and enter the one I wrote the night before. I don’t know the man behind the table but he recognizes my name as last year’s winner, and we make arrangements to get my book prize. Always nice to make an impression. I once again stump the women who will write your name in calligraphy on a book mark with my annual request for Dancing Bear in traditional characters. The younger woman who draws mine resorts to voice searching some site on her iPhone but manages to make me another temple bell pendant for this year. I wander through the Go room and pick up a pen made from recycled paper at the City of Matasue table. Matasue is a sister city to New Orleans, based in part on Hearn’s residence in their city and our’s. I grabbed some lunch from Ninja sushi, and manage to chop-stick up the last few grains of rice from my plate one by one.
I’m having a fantastic time, and I haven’t met Bon Koizumi yet.
My particular friend and my son text me within minutes of each other. Both have decided to come. Awkward, the little sing-song voice in my head telsl me but it turns out fine. Later they sat and chatted naturally as I went to buy us waters, another fortuitous moment in the day. I buy them wristbands and my son is off to the anime room upstairs but I notice the ikebana table is already torn down. It is four o’clock and I forgot that the times had been shifted to work around the 5k race this morning. It is all over except for the final taiko set. She and I wander back into the hall full of vending tables and I go back to see if the porcelain plate, a fluted rectangle with a high-gloss tropical ocean blue finish in one triangular patch, and the other rough clay with fine striations like the rakings of a karesansui garden. Miraculously it is still there. I’m dead broke and trying not to buy anything but I desperately want one of the miniature net floats, the glass balls bound in a net of rope that I have seen before in Quarter shops long ago. I had a long conversation with the couple behind the table when I first stopped there earlier in the day about the full-sized float, telling them they used to wash up on Grand Isle and such places. They didn’t know they were found in the Gulf. We discuss the wide-ranging Japanese fishing fleet and ocean currents while I occasionally pick up and admire the plate, then wander off empty-handed.
When I come back, they remember me. We’re about to close up, he says, I’ll make you a deal on anything on the table. I pick up the plate. Ten dollars, he says. I smile and reach for the last miniature float and my wallet. As we turn to go I notice something I did not see before, or which was not on the table. It’s a clearly used walking stick inscribed with three Kanji characters. I love walking sticks and can’t resist picking it up, holding it in two open hands and staring after hefting it. The characters mean I have walked the three mountains, he tells me, explaining that pilgrims who visit the Three Mountains and climb to the Shinto temple at the summit of each have their walking sticks stamped with these characters. I think I manage a wow while nodding in appreciation and stand holding the stick out before me at forearms length in my open palms like a an altar boy holding the cloth for the priest at the consecration.
I will never know why, perhaps something about the way and length of time I hold the stick that way, my head moving slightly to take it in from handle to foot, stopping each time to rest on the three characters. Take it, he says.
What? I answer. Take it, he says. It’s yours.
I hardly know what to say. The couple are American enthusiasts. This is not the stereotypical story of admiring an Asian man’s watch too long or too enthusiastically.
Seriously? I ask again, impolitely I realize. I’m just dumbstruck by his offer.
Absolutely, he says with no further explanation,smiling, arms folded to end the discussion.
I don’t know what else to do but return the stick to is customary stance resting on the ground, and shake his hand and thank him.
Earlier I spoke with the architect who designed the Japanese garden, offering my admiration and hearing about his two summers studying in Japan. I offer to volunteer, to pick litter from the dry stream bed that wanders through the garden, the nod of karesansui in the small space, anxious to learn some of the secrets. I feel an invisible poke in the ribs through the corner of the eye from my friend. (Another thing to do? Really? When do you plan to sleep?). I tell him of the gardens I have seen in the U.S., and my dream of a pilgrimage to Japan to visit the gardens. We exchange cards; no bowing this time.
I have always spoken of my hope to visit the Prefecture of Kyoto in Japan and see the gardens as a pilgrimage. Now I stand in my house holding a pilgrim’s stick with its unearned, at least by me, inscription. Yamagata Prefecture is not near to Kyoto. Perhaps I will never climb the Three Mountains of Dewa if I go to Japan, but holding this object I think about the relationship between this gift and geis, the ancient Celtic curse of obligation. I know visiting the gardens of Kyoto is not just a bucket list dream of a man working paycheck to paycheck with no prospect of retirement beyond Social Security. It has always been more than just that but as I place the stick against the wall next to the front room bookshelves I know that I will go, that I must go. There was a reason for the gift neither I nor the gentleman who gave it to me understood at the time, an unspoken communication between the stones of the Shinto temples of Mount Haguro, Mount Gassan and Mount Yudono and those of the gardens of Kyoto and the American gardens I have seen, the stones I have seen today, a reminder of a dreamy, romanticized desire straight from the pages of Yakumo Koizumi become now an obligation of pilgrimage, no longer a possible indulgence of a man with time and money to spare but an ordained act of grace.
Postscript: Most readers will glance past the title and think it just a clever turn of phrase from a former headline writer, but there is something a bit deeper. The chants written down by Sugar Boy Crawford half a century ago and which became the song “Iko Iko” are phonetic appropriations from Creole, warped either by time or Sugar Boy’s phonetic transcription. Jocomo fi nou wa na né is one researchers assertion, meaning Jocomo caused our king to be born. Jocomo fi na né is approximately “Jocomo made it so”, and I think Yokamo did.
Endless Vacation’s Last Parade October 14, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Gentilly, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Endless Vacation, parade
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They came by twos and threes and fives by bicycle up Esplanade as I sat doing my laundry, everyone smiling like it’s a church picnic, the women all wearing something pink and gauzy in their hair, everyone dressed not quite in costume but like a circus on holiday. One guy had a horn case on his back. Something happening in the park, I tell myself as I crush my cigarette and go back into fold underwear.
I get home and toss the surplus dufflebag on the bed where it still lies. My son shows no enthusiasm for going to Blues Fest and frankly I have no stomach for crowds, beer and boogie today, a busy week behind me and another in front of me. I’m dead out on the couch when the sound wakes me coming up Fortin Street, a small band playing a slow, gay, vaguely European march, Nina Rota’s idea of a village band. I missed the banners in front, and call out to find they are Endless Vacation. “It’s their last parade,” I swear she said but in my half-awake, stuporous joy I might have heard them wrong. Most of them just walk wearing broad grins like masks, a few few high step and swing their arms high in time and others prace like parts of a carousel. They turn into the empty lot next door because it is there. The band stops in the middle and continues the same song, the same eight bars over and over again, and more of them break into a broad, skipping dance, a few by twos or threes join hands and do the same skip-dance in a circle.
I look for a camera, a microphone boom, a plump-faced man from off the wall of an Italian restaurant, hair pomaded high and back, to stand with a megaphone to shout directions but this is not Fellini, this is vérité, just another typically Odd bit of life in New Orleans, a reminder of why I am here. After perhaps five minutes, the banners move through the lot toward Maurepas and turn left against the one-way street. The parade slowly reforms, the solo dancers and circles aligning like filings to a magnet, and careens on toward downtown, the circus air fading in the distance, leaving the raucously quarrelsome feral parrots silent in the trees.
I stand on my stoop smoking, trying to reconcile Endless Vacation with a last parade and decide every parade must be the last until someone suggests the next, an inside joke informing their bright-eyed, psilocybin smiles. Perhaps they never mean to stop, the invincible certainly of youth, to march until they pass into that unrecorded ward where every day is sunny, Sunday and Carnival, leaving a puzzled city all humming the same song on Mondays as regular as red beans, with no idea where they heard it and unable to resist its lilting insistence.
Rhythm and Hooves October 11, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Fortin Street, New Orleans, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
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If you want to get women, forget the dog. Get a pygmy goat.
The owner moved through the crowd with the goat in his arms, his own tight Bacchic curls. He gladly offered the goat the moment you reached out to pet it then slid off to the side like a magician revealing the hidden woman inside the cabinet. The men always took the goat when offered. Each stroked it gently as a woman might a cat, cradled it like a baby with the broad grins of new fathers, the tiny horns suggesting a hundred sons. The women crowded around, oohed and took pictures and suddenly Socrates’ power was obvious, the wriggling virility beneath the curly pelt of petting-zoo cute. The blues act out of Tallahassee held center stage like a Ferris wheel but here in our corner under the oak the goat turned the tip away from the stage and into the promised sideshow mysteries.
Socrates never make a sound, even when he tried to gallop out of someone’s arms back to his owner, but I imagined him late, in the backyard beneath the bedroom window, bleating in time
Sea of Tranquility October 2, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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You lie in the tub reading the new book of poems and think: there is no ink black enough for this man’s words. This is not the tonic you require but you read on with the compulsive satisfaction of a cigarette, trading time for the the pleasurable release of smoke. You glance at the medicine cabinet and try to remember when the half becomes the whole, the moon white promised antidote to enveloping darkness. You lay the bleak but beautiful book aside and sink into the amniotic warmth, listen to the random minor notes of the solar lantern wind chime, a perhaps unwise impulse purchase of a man on the cusp of unemployment but the tones are soothing, the intermittence dissolving time in a minor key.
You wash, dry and dress and carry the book into the living room and contemplate: the yielding couch, the book of dark poems, the evaporation of the droplets left on the tile floor into an afternoon. Perhaps a nap, but no: the book commands your attention, the poems’ ability to turn darkness into light. There is magic in such pages and you would have it, more than a cigarette or your forgotten lunch. On the back patio the wind chimes count the time without regard for your presence, the infinite series of moments that constitute eternity, your own as insignificant as the higher iterations of pi.
When it grows dark you will retire to the patio, the book complete and consider the grammatical formula for the transmutation of darkness into light. The chimes will sound, and the frosted globe will glow—a personal moon—with its bit of stolen sunlight. You will search for the Sea of Tranquility in its soft illumination, imagine the boot tracks of your youth frozen there forever and your own transience will dissolve, the sum of your moments coalescing into something: these words perhaps. You think: I will forget these words before I can write them down, and will put the invisible manuscript where no one can see.
I Am Not Alright, But I Am Upright September 22, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, Poetry, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: Illusion Fields, Moose Jackson, O'Neill's Lament, Raymond "Moose" Jackson, Treme, We are not alright but we are upright
Four people came to Toulouse Street looking for “new orleans upright tattoo” and all four clicked through to hear Raymond “Moose” Jackson’s “O’Neil’s Lament”. Some words have power beyond their simple human utterance, and Jackson’s words struck me so strongly as an epigraph for a place and time, an epigram for what others had already forgotten, that I will wear them on my right arm until the end. Bury me in a sleeveless shirt, right arm toward the room.
As I finish re-watching Season Two and prepare to read a year’s worth of Wet Bank Guide in preparation for Sunday’s premiere and the conversations to come on Back of Town I recall last season’s Treme teaser poem by Gian Smith, “Oh Beautiful Storm.” I think the refrain from “O’Neill’s Lament” on Jackson’s Illusion Fields disk gets as close to the wound inside the characters of Treme, a hidden stigmata that haunts them like a waft of church door incense on a lapsed Catholic, as an outsider can possibly get.
New Orleans or New Haven, first-time viewer or Treme Sunday devotee, give “O’Neill’s Lament” a listen before Sunday’s show.
We are not alright, but we are upright.
Malfaubourlgia September 22, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Faubourg St. John, Fortin Street, Gentilly, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Detroit Lakes, Hell, houses
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There is a discount outlet of Hell in my attic. I’m convinced. The rule is never to turn off the ceilings fans in my son’s room and the back kitchen, and more importantly not to turn them on late afternoon if you’ve forgotten and turned them off. Switching on the kitchen fan at three, even when the window unit is set to 72 degrees and you don’t break a sweat doing two sinks of dishes, is like turning on the oven.
There are more reasonable explanations for this if you insist. The house is old. I think the landlord said sometime in the 1920s, and I wasn’t sure if that was pride in its sturdiness or an excuse for its shortcomings. It seems solid enough in the main, and shook no more in the worst gusts of Hurricane Issaac than it does for a next-door, kettle-drum peal of thunder. The claw footed tub is charming, but the lack of a shower is not. The floor beneath the bathroom is giving way, the bathroom tiles fracturing for a second time in a year, and I moved the refrigerator from the small back room into the small kitchen when it began to list dangerously to port. The fourteen foot ceilings are a blessing when it’s warm, at least until you forgetfully turn on the fan you should not have turned off in the first place. Thespiders are quite safe in their high corners, although the flies from the track prefer to keep company with the groundlings and never venture up to spider height. Behind those 14 foot ceilings is an attic only accessible by the small vents at each end, and I am quite sure that what ever material once passed for insulation, horsehair perhaps, has turned to dust. The house faces north-south and as the long run of the roof captures the afternoon heat it’s attention Hell-Mart shoppers, special on boiling pitch just over the kitchen.
The flies are another clue to the Beezelbublian nature of the place. It could be the race track: all that horseflesh digesting all that fodder into horseshit that draws the crows in great droves when the tractor rakes the dirt, but there’s no point in letting rational explanations get in the way of those that go best with cold beer on dark, warm nights. It’s an old habit of mine. Long ago I told my children’s mother that the thunk she heard every night around 10 pm in my basement apartment on Massachusetts Avenue N.E. in Washington, D.C. was the ghost of the tenant who hung himself upstairs at just that time. Don’t tell me about the settling of an old row house as the last of the afternoon Potomac heat escapes. Give me a good ghost story instead. I never got much more out of that story than a look I found charming 20 years ago, but then she was raised from German-Irish stock in North Dakota where over the generations imagination became reserved for private worry over whether the corn and potatoes would last until spring, and suspension of disbelief was reserved for church.
I lived in a house of similar vintage in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, a beautiful old Craftsman style that would look right at home in New Orleans. It was The Norby House, once the family home of the owners of the local department store. I used to tell the children that the fertility of that shady place in back where plants grew rampant was because old Mr. Norby was buried there, even if I knew it had probably once been the privy. The windows in that houes were original, handmade glass with the ripples and bubbles of their forging. Everything was original including the cloth wiring, which hung from glass insulators attached to the floor rafters in the basement. One run ran up a pipe to a wall sconce my my daughter’s room, a line that I think was not conduit but perhaps had once been a gas line. seller’s The fresh coat of paint on that house peeled the first winter, as the heat leaching out of the house met the below-zero air outside. You could feel it along the walls: whatever had once insulated them floor to ceiling had crumbled to dust in the bottom third of the wall. The house came with not one but two oil tanks in the basement which together would make a proper locomotive boiler, and I still wonder how we managed to afford to fill them. I would do nothing about the gorgeous original windows except to drag out a 24-foot extension ladder twice a year, and haul up and down the original wood-frame storm windows, each about 20 pounds of wood and glass. They hung from hooks at the top, and I had to lean back away from the house with feet and knees interlocked to the ladder to get them on the hooks, realizing that the best I could hope for is that the ladder would follow me down and knock me unconscious so I wouldn’t feel the pain of my other injuries.
You have to have at thing about old houses approaching the clinically disturbing to stand at the top of a fully extended ladder and do that.
This is not a bad old house. There’s that stain on the kitchen floor that is traceable either to human sacrifice or someone rebuilding a motorcycle engine on the linoleum. The brown carpet would do any U.S. route motel proud, and the color hides most stains pretty well except coffee, the thing I spill the most. The windows are cheap aluminum which I discovered in my first week here can be jimmied with a screw driver using less effort than opening a jar of pickles. (I though I had perhaps left it unlocked, until I went to close it after the police left and noticed the latch was closed, and the small dimple in the frame.) Then again there are fans beneath those high ceilings in every room, and that claw foot tub I can actually submerge myself in. I passed on several places with the brutally-industrial, wall-mounted gas space heaters but when I heard the rent for something here on the Gentilly frontier of the fashionable Faubourgh St. John, I resigned myself to them. I have lived in enough old New Orleans houses to find the singing of the gas on a winter’s night soothing, even if I’d rather have the tremendously less efficient and more dangerous ceramic and iron grate sitting inside the bricked up fireplace. The flies are a bother but I would rather sit on my stoop and watch the horses at their morning exercise than than sit in a sterile granite kitchen staring out the window at a holiday-swallowing lawn. The mantles may just be mantles but the scrap of Krewe du Vieux-salvaged plywood hell fire that sits under the one in front is as much of a fire place as needed in New Orleans and goes well with the infernal commerce upstairs, where I like to imagine there are demonic bats in their hundreds waiting for evening, mosquitoes and a chance to get tangled in your hair.
Odd Words July 14, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in books, literature, memoir, Odd Words, Poetry, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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I promise, we’ll get to Odd Words in a moment, but first a word from our sponsor” The Typist.
I think you have the right to tell your story and like I said I think you should do what you can to protect the privacy of those you write about . . . ultimately, what you’re really trying to do is tell the story of who you are. Sometimes you have to include other people, but mostly it needs to be about you.”
— Cheryl Strayed, who wrote the pseudonymous column Dear Sugar on The Rumpus.
The explosion of auto-biographical writing and creative non-fiction (and the line between the two is not at all clear unless autobiography appears somewhere in the cover, making the other people in the writer’s life just fuzzy enough to not be easily identifiable), may be the last gasp of the Me-X-Y generation. The seminar leaders take up the line as old as Hemingway: write what you know. That is what so many writers are doing, except they are not concerned with fictionalizing their material but with creatively structuring real lives, real people. If they do not do it well it will not be compelling and will fall by the wayside. Joan Didion has not fallen by the wayside. Tom Wolfe has not fallen into obscu1rity. Grab the reader by the short hairs and drag them into a compelling story and the lines between autobiography, creative non-fiction, roman de clef, and first-person New Journalism become matter for academics.
It would take more time than I have to find the point at which Toulouse Street began to become something other that just Odd Bits of Life in New Orleans. It begins with the first person nature of the vignettes that filled the early blog and I don’t think it happened all at once. First Moloch entered the picture, the large national bank I work for. I was not writing about the bank. I was writing about my own descent into burn out working for a corporate monolith. I don’t have time to scan through 1,150 posts to find the real tipping point but I jetted all the way to the back of the list and on Sept. 21, 2007 I posted up a You Tube video of Radiohead’s “Fitter, Happier” not just as another “I have nothing to say today bit of music I like but as a clue, no not a clue because I didn’t consciously know where I was going at the time, where it would lead. By October 2010 it has progressed to this:
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~Anais Nin
the that appeared Oct. 17, 2010, just a few weeks after I left the house on Toulouse Street, grabbing what I though most important and fleeing to the St. Vincent Home for Wayward Boys, the hotel on Magazine noted for its low rates, interesting clientele and bed bugs. I have not mentioned the world divorce in the first person until this moment. I searched and checked. If you are still hear not just for Odd Words (and yes we will get to that in a minute) you may or may not have found The Narrative hidden among the other posts. Perhaps you had to know me already. I hope not as that would mean I have failed in some sense, been too cryptic or simply failed to tell a compelling story. No, this is not a swan song. I am not about to stop now. Some things bear repeating, a technique known at tautology when it is used in writers as sparse as Raymond Carver. I am not half to clever. I am simply going to repeat the quote that has probably appeared too often in the main column in recent months, and cannot be repeated often enough: “I write about myself with the same pencil and in the same exercise book as about him. It is no longer I, but another whose life is just beginning. – Samuel Beckett.
& If I were a timely person I would not be telling you about an event that starts in less than an hour, but I’ll stick it in here anyway as we are in the summer doldrums at the bookstores. Garden District Book Shop features novelist Pamela Binnings Ewen and her book Chasing The Wind starting at 1 p.m. and running until 3 p.m., although by the time you see this the reading will probably be past and she’ll just be signing books. Shame on me.
& Today is Bastille Day and there will be all sorts of festivities just up the block and the Bayou (Faubourg St. John) location of Maple Street Books will be having 20%$ off sale. In fact all of the shops will be having a sale but I’m trying to lure you down to Esplanade. The party starts at 5 but the bookstore is already open. All day July 14.
& On July 18th the Healing Center location of the Maple Street
Empire Bookshop will host Kim Vodicka and her first full length book of poetry AESTHESIA BALDERDASH, published by New Orleans’s own Trembling Pillow Press. July 18th, at 6:00 P.M. Aesthesia Balderdash is Kim Vodicka’s first, full-length book of poems which “both mock and exalt femininity and feminine “types”. The text is drunk most of the time on seduction and repulsion. It satirizes the American girl’s desire to be an elle—a woman worthy of the belles and whistles of the French feminin suffixes (-ette, -euse, -enne). In short, Aesthesia Balderdash is “whispery, pink-packaged poesie signed by Elizabeth Arden and sealed with an adulteress.”
And that’s it for bookstore events, which I knew before I started and lapse into my rambling thoughts above. Open mic at the Maple Leaf on Sunday, and the weekly Spoken Word New Orleans Speak Easy Sundays Poetry at the Club Caribbean 2441 Bayou Road at 7 p.m. Cover. Visit their website for updates on other spoken words and visiting artists all around town.
An event I missed entirely until I was led their last night was the Southern Comfort Tour reading at the Mudlark Theater last night. The most memorable was local author Utahna Faith’s piece featuring Exile on Main Street. Somehow Sam Jasper and I managed to avoid rehashing, except for a raised eyebrow reminding me of our disagreement, the long standing argument over the place of Keith Richard’s triumphant monument’s place in the Stones’ discography. If I’d had Piano Dave there to back me up we might still be there disputing this point. We all got dinner at the St. Roch instead and grabbed cabs home.
“It doesn’t matter if I get a little tired” July 12, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Fortin Street, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Someone said to me the other day “If you don’t slow and and catch up on your sleep deficit, you’re shortening your life,” to which I replied:
I don’t think 12-hour conference calls or 12 hours of school work a week for one lousy credit is exactly what Zevon had in mind, but the rest of it’s pretty apt. (I do not own a .38 Special, so no worries).
Warren Zevnon died at 56.
I didn’t ever become a writer, or only by accident June 25, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, Fortin Street, literature, New Orleans, quotes, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street, Writing.
If I really appreciated literature I would have become a writer for that reason. But that’s not why I became a writer. In fact, maybe I didn’t ever become a writer, or only by accident . . . maybe I’ve only ever written to understand why I was so afraid. I never wrote to participate in a noble tradition. I wrote to communicate, to explore my own feelings and work through various interpretations of the world. You know, the search for meaning, stuff like that. It wasn’t until I was at Stanford, much later, twenty-nine years old on a creative writing fellowship, when I finally met all these other writers. They all seemed to write for exactly the opposite reason of why I wrote.
That’s not even true. But many of them loved literature and wrote for that reason. How would I know why anybody wrote? Where does the poetry in this come in? Sometimes a sentence is just beautiful, but how can I learn to appreciate a painting? Do I have to learn how to paint? I’ll never be able to tell you the difference between a very good painting and a great painting. I loved the Van Gogh museum. There you just immerse in the mind of this man. It’s not required to understand which of the paintings are minor and which are major. You’re just there, taking it in.
— Stephen Elliot
His Dream. His Toy. His Rest. May 18, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Fortin Street, poem, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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mumble grumble mumble work mumble tired grumble mumble drink, Yes? mumble YES mumble hmmmmm… thwssk!shhhh . . .
. . . There ought to be a law against Henry.
—Mr. Bones: there is.
Shield of Beauty April 27, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in Jazz, music, quotes, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Shield of Beauty, Sun Ra
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“. . . I am going to put a shield of beauty
over the face of the earth to protect us.”
– Sun Rha
Have A Banana April 25, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in The Narrative, The Odd, Theater, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Krapp's Last Tape, Samuel Beckett
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Hell, have two. You’re going to be here a while. Or have been here a while. Perhaps a very long while. It’s hard to tell.
It’s Gonna Be A Glorious Day March 16, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, The Narrative, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
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Survey the world from the top of the high board, 360 degrees of encompassing, concrete reality bending away and vanishing into the invisible. Feel the breeze with its barometric uncertainty, the subtle voice of possibility. Dip your toes over the edge. Test the spring. Belly-flop fearlessly into the mirror pool of the future.
It’s gonna be a glorious day.
Hellbound Brain March 6, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Savoy Brown
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Host to Chaucer: “And seyde thus, What man artow, quod he . . .”
Me to Chaucer: “one tyred sonne of a bytch, ye mooder swyver . . .”
Do I go read Emerson now? Really? Is there an energy drink with time release barbituates in it? Anyone know how to wire an alarm clock buzzer to my fillings to make sure I wake up? Does hearing Phillip Glass’s Glassworks in a distant train’s horn count as an auditory hallucination?’
When all this is over, I’m going to board a Hellbound Train and Pitch A Wang Dang Doodle (All Night Long).
The Octo-poca-lips February 4, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, NOLA, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Krewe du Vieux, Octo-poca-lips, Seeds of Decline
Mankind has paid for its Crimes Against Nature (leaving us at least the fun ones).
The Octopocalypse is upon us as the ancient calendar foretold.
We shall be among the survivors
It is eat or be eaten (or both which is particular fun).
Come with food or fuel or take your chances in the Go Down Under Dome for our perverse entertainment.
We are the Seeds of Decline which shall sprout in the wasteland, watered by the Holy Distillates
Float Eight. Don’t be late.
6 6 6 9
Run Like a Jimson-poisoned Buffalo January 27, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
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“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
– Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
The quote was originally a reference to the Oakland Raiders, as I recall either a part of or following the interview with Richard M. Nixon in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail in which the two discussed nothing but football.
I find a strange analogy between the pro quote and Caros Casteneda’s character Don Juan’s statement that “a warrior is impeccable”, but then I find strange analogies everywhere. All I know is when life gets weird, get down in three-point stance, take the ball life hands you, put your head down and crash through the hole like a jimson-poisoned buffalo run amok. Don’t let the bats distract you.
Now is the Winter of our Discomfort December 18, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in Carnival, Christmas, New Orleans, NOLA, The Odd, Toulouse Street, Xmas.
The cranky gas wall furnace is so old I sometimes think it is here by order of the Historic District Landmarks Commission, the committees we have set up to preserve New Orleans historic character by regulating with the fickleness of ancient gods such critical items as the appropriate style of doorknobs allowed. The ugly grey panel inset on my wall is inefficient, unreliable and expensive: the very model of histrionic preservation, but I believe it mostly remains through the inertia of a typical New Orleans landlord. It still works, after a fashion, so it stays. Its cousin the floor furnace is largely extinct as a result of the flood, and the wall furnace lacks the charm of stepping on a metal grate barefoot or the portal to hell sensation of passing over one in operation, but it’s what I have.
The instructions of operation on my wall furnace are so faded that with an eight-cell flashlight and my readers on it still requires the skills of a document historian experienced in the decoding of ancient and marginally legible texts to make them out. Fortunately, it is not my first, and even after 30 years I remember how to turn the regulator just so and to warm the temperature sender for a bit to get the pilot lit. Thank the gods for the invention of stick lighters, as this was once an operation requiring a pile of kitchen matches that brought back memories of reading Jack London’s To Build A Fire.
Once the faint pilot is flickering, after an extended period prone on the cold floor holding down the starter and counting slowly to sixty by Mississippis while the sensor warms up enough to keep it going, you can at last turn on the heat. I know never to turn the gas up past the point it just starts to flow, and to keep my face and arm out of the immediate vicinity of the works. Crank it up too high because the house is cold, the floor is colder and you are desperate for some heat and the explosive blow-back of ignition will belch out of the access panel like a dragon with indigestion.
Winter this far south is not the cozy Rockwell fantasy of the paintings of Thomas Kinkade. (Yes, there is a link. Follow it at your own peril unless you have a large collection of cherubic porcelain children). Our vistas are not snowy landscapes of farmhouses set against a backdrop of evergreens with a skating stream or pond in the foreground and perhaps a horse drawn sleigh in there somewhere. It is brown lawns and winter killed uncut lots, the latter revealing a year’s collection of litter, which is one of New Orleans’ major local products after cheesy t-shirts and tourist vomit.
Our winter season is a confusing mix of Indian summer days and a cold damp so penetrating we must swath ourselves in animal skins like Neolithic primitives. You can keep your expensive, technical mountaineering shell and layers of fleece that work so well for Nordic skiing. Nothing but a thick layer of wool or a shell of leather can keep out the wet chill. The pea coat will never go out of fashion in New Orleans because it is not a matter of fashion but survival. I spent my time up north decked out in Cabella’s most modern fabrics learning to navigate a pair of beaver tail show shoes, awkward constructions of bent wood and tanned animal sinew. with a design dating back to the flint knife. Originally a gift that spent a few years crossed on the wall, my friend who gave them to me insisted they were fully functional and he was right. It was good to get out of the house for some reason other than shoveling, scraping and chipping away winter to a standard acceptable to finicky Nordic neighbors fond of an orderly neatness that does not come naturally to a born Orleanian. Give me a good pea coat for a trip through the French Quarter any day.
Forget a roaring fire. The bricked in hearths below the lovely mantels that rob you of a functional wall were designed for shallow coal fireplaces. I had one still open for use when I lived on Carrollton Avenue that I determined would still draft by lighting a small torch of newspaper. I confirmed it was not terribly obstructed by getting my eyes and a flashlight up the flue by a contortion usually only attempted by advanced students of yoga. Still, it could just manage the smallest of commercial press-wood and paraffin fire logs. I’m sure it had not been properly serviced by a chimney sweep since the last ice man sold his mule to the tourist carriage companies, but somehow we managed not to burn the building down. The first Christmas Marianne and I had the family over for Christmas dinner I fired it up, hoping the most festive part of the afternoon would not be the arrival of the fire department but the damn thing worked and I miss it.
We are simply not built for winter in New Orleans: not our homes, not ourselves. Every few years the city gets the idea to line Canal Street with palms to amuse the tourists but one good, hard freeze (the local equivalent of a howling blizzard) and they are gone again. City government is a dumb and lumbering beast that survives because is just to big to kill, and then what would your Delgado drop-out cousin do if not supervise the mowing of the neutral grounds? If we had real snow down here, we would all die after burning up the last stick of furniture before they would get the plows out.
Other than the icicle winds there are few signs of winter in New Orleans. The feral green parrots still favor the neighbor’s tree, some weedy thing that has managed 30 feet but is so covered in cats claw it is impossible to determine the species. There is an odd dissonance in sitting out for a cigarette in a sweater, thick flannel pajama pants, and my L.L. Bean slipper socks (indispensable for uninsulated hardwood floors) listing to their raucous tropical chatter.
Few trees change color down here to warn of winter’s approach. Only the cypress and some species of birch favored by northern transplants reliably show some Fall color and the fickle things wait until just before the solstice to change. I remember brilliant October afternoons driving the winding roads and low hills of western Minnesota, stopping along the way for pumpkins and apple butter. Here the display of bright orange and red leaves is a catch as catch can affair, and must be viewed between the blustery cold front that triggers the brief display of color and the next which blows the leaves away. Before you know it, industrious homeowners and city workers are out blowing all the leaves into the gutters, ensuring we will all enjoy the occasional use of our pirogues and canoes in the flooded streets.
Winter does have it charms. There is the arrival at your holiday party of a fabulously drunk contingent just out of some other booze-fueled party, intent on making hot-buttered rum, spilling liquor and sugar and melted butter all over the newly installed granite counters. This drives the lady of the house to distraction–convinced they will be ruined–in spite of all of your attempts to explain that the damn things are rocks forged over geological time and not likely to be dissolved by hot dairy products.. There are the fiery hogshead cheese and pickled okra, the Pickapepper sauce over cream cheese and the oceans of alcohol to warm everyone with festive cheer.
Winter is racing season at the Fairgrounds. While bundling up to drink the best Bloody Marys in the city while gambling lacks the rustic charm of snow-shoeing or a sleigh ride through the park, it does get you out of the house and all of the frantic jumping up and down and hollering does get the blood flowing. There are the festive lights that the city’s residents take to a level only a place trained by the gaudy display of carnival would attempt. An inflatable Santa astride a Harley-Davidson may be a universal American icon of Christmas, but there is a Chalmette-aptness to them down here.
And while the rest of America settles in to watch the bowl games, sipping non-alcoholic cider next to their roaring fireplaces, we are busy pulling out hot glue guns and feathers, spilling sequins all over the kitchen floor, because Mardi Gras is just around the corner. Come Twelfth Night, when the true believers in the spirit of Creole Christmas will haul out their tinder-dry trees to the curb, we will all bundle up in our animal skins and pea coats to observe the ancient ritual of a mob of happy drunks boarding a streetcar to inaugurate Carnival. You can keep your ice-skating outings and sleigh rides. Me, I’m ready for the real pleasure of winter: the first parade of the season.
23 Skidoo December 17, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Jesus, John Prine, The Lost Years
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No Hostilidays on Toulouse Street this year, but here’s a bit of holiday cheer in honor of John Prine’s visit to all good little boys and girls tonight.
Fairy Sybil Flying December 7, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
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Somewhere high in this cold grey sky lie the mountains of the moon.
Thumb Studies December 5, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
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My father had wheels and wheels of 35 millimeter slides going back I don’t know how far. I remember the after vacation slide shows with the neighbors and cocktails and the children on the floor, mostly embarrassed to be put on display with various geographical and cultural artifacts growing out of our heads. The internet, the switch to digital photography and the loss of the sort of community of neighbors common up until the 1960s has killed this tradition.
While I don’t miss those travelogue evenings on the floor, I do regret that my children did not grow up in a neighborhood full of children (we were Baby Boomers, and every neighborhood teemed with kids), the knowledge that they could cut through just about anybody’s yard on the block to get to the lanes of Lake Vista without someone calling 9-1-1, knowing they could always stop by some neighbors for a band aid or a cold drink if there parents weren’t at home.
I do remember my father was a great one for managing to get his thumb into the pictures, a problem I seem to have inherited like driving on a near empty tank (although I haven’t run out as often as he did), or missing one-way signs because I was too busy admiring something as I drove along.
There is something about a phone camera that invites these sort of mistakes, but they look more interesting than the thumb pictures I remember from my childhood.
In the Belly of the Feast December 4, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Capital One Bank N.A.
“And there’s hamburger all over the highway in Mystic, Connecticut.”
— The Firesign Theater, Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers
I spent an entire morning last week going over my finances for the last year, pouring over bank statements because at some point I will get to do this for the lawyers. Bless me father, it has been one month since my last day at Moloch and the severance stub arrived and after careful research realized they had craftily structure the new compensation plan–bumping up base and cutting back on bonuses–so as to cheat me out of almost $20,000 gross in severance. Who’s in your wallet?
There is no longer any reason to hide the fact now the severance has cleared: Moloch is Capitol One, they of the apt Visigoths. If you pay Cap One 23% interest to buy Chinese crap at Target or Wal-Mart while they pay you 0.23% interest on your savings you’re too stupid for sympathy. Rant against Wall Street all you want but you are a willing dupe. Avoid the Three Card Monty men at your subway stop and the flashing poker machines at your corner bar.
I spent an hour pouring over the documents of my severance, writing an angry email to the bank, copying CEO Richard Fairbank, then another three hours accounting for where the money has gone this past year, working out a new budget, puzzling out how long I can live on the severance. The answer is: not long enough, not in this economy, not under the current circumstances. It’s pretty simple: I pay the mortgage on the house where I no longer know the alarm codes. I pay my own rent and utilities and other expenses. I currently pay my daughter’s full freight at a local private collage (minus her scholarship, aid and a small loan). I pay her share of rent on an apartment nicer than mine, and her spending money for groceries and miscellany, a check larger than my own rent. I paid all of last year’s taxes and the spring car insurance payment (another couple grand here in Louisiana). I try to live a decent life in this town: go out for drinks, pay the cover, and eat the occasional good meal in a town renowned for its food. I buy a lot of books (the books I need are not in the library).
Several thousand more went in “co-pays” for painful surgery that cured nothing. Nothing to do but wait for the pain to subside on its own and conserve the Vicodin for the really bad spells. Fuck Aetna and Ochsner: I’d have been better off to the tune of several big ones demanding more Vicodin (my first surgeon gave me none before; only my regular doctors on my pre-op visit said, “that’s a very painful condition” and offered them without my asking), swallowing what pain relief was offered and letting the condition heal itself (our first approach, and the one that ultimately worked.) First do no harm has given way to the FDA making doctors parsimonious with pain meds and there’s more money in surgery and I’m sure they have some quota.
This is not the relaxing sabbatical from soulless corporate banking I had imagined.
The money goes out faster than it comes in. That’s the New American Way and Capital One, Bank of American and Chase are banking on it; that and taking the near zero interest bailout money from the government and putting it not into mortgages refinanced but into T-Bills. Stop now. Go re-read that sentence and then go do something mindless like washing the dishes while you consider it. And after you smash that glass in careless anger stop and consider that you have not suddenly had an epiphany. the knowledge that America is a racket you are not in on, that you sit at the bottom of a giant Ponzi scheme that’s been going on since Reagan. Consider instead going into work every day knowing that in some small way you are a part of of all that. You take the decent salary and the bonus because you have a mortgage, children to somehow get out of the house and into college, we must have the bathroom and kitchen taken up to date (must we?), with fine quarter-sawn oak cabinets and thick granite.
The name Moloch came naturally when I felt it necessary to conceal my employer , the great line from Allen Ginsberg’s Howl: “Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks!” Daily for 10 years I tossed not babies but you, my reader, and all your friends into the furnace to feed that hungry god.
It nearly killed me, the last five years of cognitive dissonance; wait, fuck that: five years of watching the cogs turn and slowly grind our customers, my co-workers, myself into meat and I slowly became one of the hollow men and hid beneath my red rock (come in under this red rock) while my life slowly came apart at the seams. That is how I come to find myself going over a year’s finances. We have split the sheets (one of the consequences of us both discovering ourselves lost in corporate Apache country) but have not made it legal, and as that unfolds there will be an accounting, not just of finances but of sins of omission and commission; the usual apportionment of blame and the punishment of the innocent.
I put away the papers around noon and showered and decided to get the hell out of the apartment.
Not bad, thanks. How was your morning?
I don’t know why but I often find consolation in Chalres Bukowski and yes you have to plow through a fair bit of rambling travelogue from hell, like panning a worked out river for gold but when you find the nuggeyd buried in his work it is like finding an undiscovered codex of gospel hidden in the bill stubs. So I popped in a CD of him reading as I drive downtown and maybe this wasn’t the best choice in my state of mind but I haven’t listened to it be once since my sister found it at a garage sale, and I too I have felt these last years I was born to hustle roses down the avenues of the dead.
And so I walk into the library for the book I’ve reserved and it hasn’t been pulled so you walk far into the back of the stacks where poetry is kept, saving the better space for the new arrivals, the tables of best sellers, the practical books of self and home improvement. You walk past the tables full of men (they are all men) in worn clothes with worn faces, some reading, a few sleeping and one or two just staring. Their eyes do not follow you as you pass not because you are not there but because they aren’t. At the last table three men sit in presentable work clothes quietly talking, one with a large new laptop but they talk of prison, a conversation you can’t quite follow. And you wonder just how many more mortgage payments away you are from joining them.
Of course the damned book isn’t downtown (something not apparent on the website or even to the desk librarian who sent you back into the stacks to fetch it) but at the crumbling mansion uptown given to the city long ago as a library. So you climb into the car and drive uptown and at first these libraries can’t find the book either. A helpful young man sets out to find it, as they told the downtown librarian over the phone that yes, it was there. You enter into a former parlor of Milton Latter’s home and sit on one of the old Queen Ann chairs, imagine the gold paint perhaps hidden under a dozen sloppy layers of dripping white, and chose one with a long crushed pink cushion and unraveling seams from which you can observe the desk. Consider the two libraries, the downtown branch with its cargo of hollow men and this monument to the old money of uptown, it’s threadbare chairs and the workmen hustling through the halls trying to keep the old building from collapsing in on itself.
“If you’re losing your soul and you know it, then you’ve still got a soul left to lose” ― Charles Bukowski
Here at the margin of America, closer to the Caribbean than to Wall Street, the two libraries are the city in microcosm: the modern downtown building with its tables of capital’s rejects–their value added sucked dry, the lumpen proletariat–and the disintegrating landmark on St. Charles Avenue, side-by-side with the mansions in which generations of old money kept the oil men out of their exclusive clubs and so drove them all to Houston. I am out of work because my own job was sent away to Moloch’s headquarters, where everyone can be fully immersed in the corporate cul
ture. The story of this city: the wanderers come looking for some Big Easy and sleeping on the tables downtown, the ramshackle, paint faded shotguns of the working poor I pass on the back way Uptown through Central City, the old money folk so set in their ways they would send their children into an historic building the roof of which collapsed this past last year.
Finally I leave with my prize and decide to head downtown to pass the time in a nearby coffee shop reading my new book waiting for my son to get out of his afternoon music program at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. But Bukowski has done something to my head. I find myself instead at the far end of the bar at Mimi’s nursing a beer and typing out the first words of this onto a dirt cheap tablet computer (best I could afford), my fingers constantly missing on the tiny touchscreen keys. The music is too loud to read and there are stories that, left untold, fester like untreated wounds, stories crying like the sacrificial victims in their swaddling clothes before the furnace of Moloch, crying to escape..
“The artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him. At that point, he’s in business.” — John Berryman
A Sign November 29, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Apple Barrel, Coco Robicheaux
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Someone the bartenders and regulars didn’t recognize popped into the Apple Barrel and left this on the bar yesterday, and it’s now hanging behind the bar. Coco touched an awful lot of people.
Revelator November 26, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Coco Robicheaux
“Come killy killy killy quick as you can/Come take a look at a natural man/Waste my time like a Simple Sam/Come take a look at what a fool I am/Oh, Revelator. Oh, Revelator, Revelator, right now.’
– Coco Robicheaux, “Revelator“
There is something Odd about getting up this early on Saturday morning to listen to Coco Robicheaux. Like early Dr. John much of it sounds like a music of the night, the place I came closest to knowing him, as a regular at the Apple Barrel bar. (No, Mark, it is not a good idea to put whiskey in your coffee this time of day) We would speak for a while, he always had time and a word for everyone, and that was about it. I think I was always a bit in awe of him, the genuine natural man of his song.
Coco walked a strange path, drawn into a world where his Indian heritage blended with his Cajun-rooted joie de vivre, into the syncretic religion of New Orleans, a blend of Spiritualist church and after midnight barroom, a spirit candle and a bottle of whiskey. A natural man, walking with the spirit. “I am a pilgrim” he sang to close his last album over a joyous banjo. “I’ve got a home in that yonder city…it is not been made by hand. I got a mother, a sister and a brother, who are gone to that sweet home. And I am determined to go and see them…over on that distant shore….cause I am a pilgrim, and a stranger, traveling through this wearisome land.”
I have walked a strange path of my own in the years since the Flood, a road that takes a high toll of great cost, forking from the path I took when I left New Orleans in my rear view mirror New Year’s Eve 1986, traveling into the life I thought expected of me, drawn by another kind of power that resides in buildings of cold marble, filled with self-appointed archangels in rich Italian clothes. I forgot in my youthful blindness that here by the river marble is the stone of the houses of the dead.
I don’t regret the choice I made then, or those that followed. It was a good life. I have beautiful children their mother and I would not know and love if I had not taken that other path, but all that time something gnawed at me inside with nutria sharp teeth trying to get out. It finally got loose, that late Monday afternoon in August I sat in my driveway in Fargo, N.D. waiting for my son to come out to be driven to football practice. It was then that string of mojo beads I had carried back from New Orleans, which hung from the rear view mirror of my otherwise respectable Ford Taurus station wagon, suddenly and spontaneously burst. In that moment I knew the radio was wrong, that something terrible was happening far away, that a great and terrible wave had crashed and the power of it had carried all the way to North Dakota from New Orleans, from home.
And I won’t regret the choices I make now. There are only so many hours and days remaining to me, Coco’s death reminds me, and I can either spend my every waking moment trying to get back to that path that ran through Washington and Fargo, or I can spend it developing the natural talent I mostly suppressed on that other road, give all my waking hours to studying the arcane magic releasing the spirit that lives in words. Somewhere on that path stands Coco, a natural man, and behind the large hat and shades I see him smile. And I know I am on the right road.
Heartbreaker November 22, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in The Odd, Toulouse Street, WTF.
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Speaking of thoughtful Yuletide gifts…
The line comes from Rumpus columnist Sugar, who says among other things in her column #64: “Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet.”
I just don’t want you to get trampled to death outside Crescent City Books Friday trying to get me that Spanish language catalog of Diego Rivera or that signed first edition of Post Office.
Cassidy November 21, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
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The Grateful Dead’s Cassidy blasting through the dashboard, the hiss of the cranked, antiquated cassette deck of an ancient Custom 500 Interceptor, seals gone, car trailing a cloud of Sean Connery smoke covering a James Bond escape until the rusted iron head expands and the clattering cams dream again of high speed pursuits, the hiss of the cassette and the hiss of the balding tires passing over the long swamp causeway.
Cassidy is an elegy, yes, but not just a vanishing into the final night but the promise of tail lights merging into the arching continental darkness brilliant with Arcturus-red stars, an amphetamine stream of consciousness tossing worry like empties out the window, hurtling toward le petite morte, a flowering satori in a pair of cornflower blue eyes. Out there. Somewhere. Release. And you have to find it.
Until you understand why men go out for cigarettes in Mid-City and don’t stop until they hit Beaumont there’s no point in continuing this story. Rewind and play the song again, another pass at perfect harmony, another cigarette, another beer can clattering onto the shoulder, another chance
Isolation Is The Gift November 16, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, The Narrative, The Odd, Toulouse Street, Writing.
Tags: Charles Bukowski
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First posted here 3/27/10. Some things bear repeating, like an incantation, until new things you perhaps never intended but you were meant for, were sent here for, materialize at your command; things monstrous and wonderful, the favor of the gods paid for in horrible scars.
“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”
— Charles Bukowski (Factotum)
Rōnin Pen October 30, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
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Today I am a rōnin pen, unbound from service to Moloch’s hungry furnace of usury. It is a good day to be alive. It is a good day to die. Perseverance furthers.
THE TAMING POWER OF THE GREAT.
Not eating at home brings good fortune.
It furthers one to cross the great water.
Heaven within the mountain:
The image of THE TAMING POWER OF THE GREAT.
Thus the superior man acquaints himself with many sayings of antiquity
And many deeds of the past,
In order to strengthen his character thereby.
Har, vast ye wanderers October 27, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
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So of course its my last night together with my soon to be former coworkers unencumbered by early flights pr other inconveniences and drink has been taken and the jukebox of the Old Absinthe Bar tested to it limits but I must cab it home and reclaim my car as i have a box of stuff to haul home from my last day of work and must ferry these same coworkers to Jaques Imo’s tomorrow (tonight in fact) but first there is the damned radio set on WTUL-FM and I don’t know why but I think back to the early 1970s, when the station broadcast in single watts from an antennae all of four stories atop the student union and I was a radio geek who managed an antennae that could pull them in and it was about the time Larry found this albums in the garbage behind Lenny’s Music on Harrison Avenue and by some accident of fate I heard the same record played on WTUL and it was maybe 1971 and I would call in as the Lone Lakefront Listener and could command Micheal Perlitch of them and they would play it because it was 1971 and it was a low power campus radio station and some madman from a half-dozen miles away would call and introduce himself as the Lone Lakefront Listener and how could you resist such an obscure request from such an obscure listener and as my job winds down to done almost 40 years later I listen to ‘TUL on my way home and want to call and make the request but I can’t quite catch the number much less dial it while driving and I have to settle for the copy I put up on YouTu8be long ago and think as my job comes to its end that I am embarked on Perlitch’s Blue Sky Ocean.
“…to the far side of the deep blue sea is the island its waiting for me on my blue sky ocean…”
Unloose the topgallants and we’ll be there before morning…
Days of Disobligation October 24, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, fuckmook, FYYFF, Moloch, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
Now with spell checking (no IE Spell on the work PC) and less hungover proofing of other sorts at the same low price! –mf
It is the last Monday in my last week of service to Moloch, the financial institution where I have given good and faithful server for over five years. My reward is a pot-metal, gold-tone Five Year pin and the relocation of my job to Richmond.
I am not going to Richmond. We all pretended for a while that might happen but I don’t think anyone directly concerned believed for a moment I would.
I walk out to the car, dressed in chinos and socks and a collared shirt. The air is that state of damp just this side of drizzle and the air is rendolent of excrement and wet hay, the stable smell drifting across from the race track. Horse shit and fodder of docile, stabled animals are the perfect bas notes for a perfume bottled just for the event of my last week, my final trips into the office.
Over the next four days I will sit in what Moloch calls a huddle room, tastefully indicated by the skeletal outlines of tee-pees (I wonder if we are allowed to smoke here, if only ceremonially; I could use a cigarette in honor of the occasion). I will confer with two associates I am trying to train up to take over parts of my function, and spend too many hours on a Polycom, those conference telephones designed to fit into the decor of everyone who owns an English-Klingon dictionary, with those who will assume my other function.
There is a certain satisfaction that my job will be divided across multiple people, making up a substantial portion of the day of several. I like to think I will be missed, but better not to think of it as all.
At least I am starting the day out right, with a Revive vitamin water and now my third tall cup of coffee. Last night the Saints played the late game, a blow-out against the
Baltimore Indianapolis Colts minus Peyton Manning, petulant scion of the Saint fan’s own hero of the early days Archie Manning. The game was so one-sided the only real pleasure was in the cutaways to Manning on the sidelines in a Colts ball cap, looking every bit the student of Newman and annointed future NFL star denied, through some cruelty of fate, the homecoming crown.
Saints fans are long-suffering and as such a people, we have long memories. Peyton’s insulting tantrum at the end of superbowl XLIV and the failure of Archie out of some misplaced consideration for his brat, to say one kind word about the triumph of the franchise he helped establish are not forgotten, and will likely never bed. Watching Peyton sulk was better than any touchdown or suggestive shot of a cheerleader.
When the game is a blowout, the world divides itself into two sorts of people: those who take their leave early and so to bed, and those who drift into the kitchen, game ignored on the radio, speaking of other things, in dangerous proximity to the beer the others left behind. I fall into the latter category, and so have a wondrous hangover to amaze the druidly Druids to carry me through the first of my final hours of Moloch.
It is a week of disobligation, a set of rituals of the sort favored by the Catholic Church. Not an excomunication exactly but in the end my boss (whom I dearly like, a great fellow) will arrive to collect my badge, laptop, Blackberry, sword, cassock, &c. and take us all out to dinner on the company’s dime somewhere I will suggest. He has never been to Jaques Imos, has long desired to go, and may never have an excuse to come to New Orleans again so that seems settled. After that, Frenchman I think, d.b.a. and that glass of Johnny Walker Blue we were discussing. (Neither of us scotch drinkers, preferring our Jameson’s but we are curious and hope to pass the expense off as another travel meal).
As we drfit deeper into what our children will call the Great Something (everyone agreeing that Depression is formally retired like the names of particularly terrible hurricanes), I should be more concerned. I am not. They are giving my a decent severance and a retraining bonus, enough without other emergencies to get me through a semester at the University of New Orleans, which will kindly accept every last credit hour off my thirty year old transcript and plug them into the current graduation requirements and in as little as six months: voila’, I will be promenading through the sterile mothership cavern of the U.N.O. Assembly Center, in Privateer blue with a bachelor’s white hood.
I rather like that the color of the Liberal Arts in general is baptismal white, as getting my long-defered degree will not be so much an ending as a beginning, the start of yet another reinvention of my life. I left the university both to take a job in journalism at a local newspaper, and to evidence my displeasure at the place denying me the editor-in-chief’s post. It was not so much personal pique but rather that in the late 1970s the U.N.O. Driftwood was a broadsheet that frequently ran to 24 or more pages a week, and sold enough advertising to turn a small but tidy profit, some of which we were allowed to spend to pay staff and throw a fabulously drunken end of year party that culminated in depositing the crawfish shell bags outside the private entrance of the Chancellor (one Homer Hitt, a very nice man who did not deserve it, but it was his Office we were honoring, not the man).
At some point we began to take ourselves seriously as a newspaper and took sides with the Faculty Senate against a particularly odious Vice Chancellor of Administration, and so when it was my turn to assume the top position the newspaper was reduced to a typically hollow college student tabloid, and my job was given to someone from a respectable fraternity who had never before crossed the threshold of the paper’s office.
From college I managed to make my way through journalism with an award or two along the way, a stint on Capitol Hill as press secretary and speechwriter, then a jump into the lower echelons of IT through a general knack with computers and a program of self-study, when I had determined DC was not for me and I needed to arrange some more portable skill than public relations. When I was first hired by another bank, I managed to quickly get myself plucked out of the ranks of bit plumbers and tool pushers and made a project manager, which is where I find myself today. Or rather, where I find myself at the end of in the last days of Moloch.
What happens after that I am not sure. I look forward to another stint in a corporate world that bears a frightening resemblance to the world of Dilbert with all the relish of a felon at-large contemplating his appointed noose. I am much in need of what the academic world calls a sabbatical. After that, we shall see.
In an hour or two the Richmond contingent will arrive and we will get down to work. Until then, I think another Vitamin water for my dry mouth to wash down some Ibuprofen and a cigarette or two are in order. We will get busy once they arrive, and we have only four days to transact all our business. I will be off on Friday to the Louisiana Book Festival both as workshop student and correspondent for NolaVie, the arts and culture adjunct of NOLA.com, and so escape the last bit of the ritual of this week of disobligation, the tossing of the apostate into the jaws of Moloch. I hope instead to carry away a few more unwanted pounds and a Biblical hangover to rival Noah’s from Thursday night’s parting dinner as my fitting punishment.