Let It May 11, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Beatles, rain
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Having established a stable orbit and allowing for the radio delay from Saturn, we resume our old habit of Radio Free Toulouse Street.
W.A.S.T.E May 8, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
At five in the afternoon May 1, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Beckett, Godot
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Spectator: “He’s not coming.”
Spectator: “The man. He’s not coming.”
— from the Godot episode of Treme
Yes it’s a Beckett sort of afternoon: the gray threat of rain, the interminable diesels idling across the street, my best chance of distraction a call from a lawyer. Where would the savor of happiness or pleasure be without their absence?
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
The Foreman April 8, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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His voice is a holler, or better spelled a hollah: the flat, chesty, uninflected trumpet that carries between mountains and across battlefields. The attack is moderately steep, allowing each word or phrase to build to the correct crescendo to carry over the sounds of front loaders dumping metal girders in a crash and to reach the roustabouts perched atop the framework leading guide ropes to pull up the tent tops. Long before the first sound check of Jazz Fest the sound is idling and roaring diesels, the back-up warning and crash of cargo, the hollering of men over their machines to orchestrate the erection of the tents. They work with the urgency of a crew of SeaBees erecting a desperate bridge. I imagine one could hold this job with a megaphone, but I think it would diminish the foreman’s authority as king of the roustabouts. Like a drill sergeant or a lion tamer, a good set of lungs is an essential job requirement, the ability to command by tone and volume.
Daydream Believer April 8, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, Shield of Beauty, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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The tragic, formulaic sitcom of my life, as viewed with excessive empathy which renders too much of comedy painful. [I watched Synechdoche, N.Y. several times before someone pointed out it was a dark comedy.] Swallowing the draft of poison every day until I become invincible. Possible side effects include madness and sharing too much in writing.
“You give me a reason to live
You give me a reason to live
You give me a reason to live…”
– “You Can Keep Your Hat On”
Hypnotic Progression Therapy April 7, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, je me souviens, Memory, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: helical stairs, John Clarence Laughlin, spiral staircase
2 comments An icon of childhood memory, I cannot describe that spiral staircase in the gallery behind my great-aunts’ Royal Street apartment with any certainly. Is it as grand as I think it was, or simply amplified by the dimensions of my own smallness and the fog of memory? What remains is an ideal of the spiral or helical staircase; really the latter, with an opening instead of a newel pole. It is the view up that central shaft that gives such staircases the dizzying illusion of a gateway into the third dimension, neither the limit of a ceiling nor the infinite distance of the sky; not the abstract geometry of a tree for climbing but the precise spiral diminishing in perspective that lends a sense of motion toward a destination usually reserved for loose balloons.
What Not To Read April 2, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in books, New Orleans, Odd Words, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, Writing.
Tags: Maud Newton, Quarterly.co, The Colossus of New York
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I anxiously opened the latest package from Quarterly with your most recent book selection because it was unexpected, my debit card gone lost on Carnival day and the number the company had no longer valid. I will read the enclosures later today. I know Roxanne Gay’s work through The Rumpus, but first I had to pick up the book. I hefted The Colossus of New York, weighing the “A tour de force” from the Times Book Review between the title and the author’s name. I wasn’t far into the opening, “City Limits” when I laid it down again, worried this book could be The One, except she’s already married. It could be the book of New Orleans I’ve been writing by fits-and-starts, in private and on my blogs, for the last seven years. It is the book I have to write or I’ve run my life all to hell for nothing. And it will have been done already, by another writer for another city.
The jacket copy alone should have been enough to warn me but I had to go ahead and open it, read through the blurbs (Danger, Will Robinson) and into the first chapter and I know New York isn’t the only place one where the initiated live in the memory of what’s gone. I just read Elena Passarello’s Let Me Clear My Throat, the excellent essay on the sportscaster Myron Cope and that piece basically could just as well have been about New Orleans’ own Hap Glaudi and the essay says exactly the same damn thing as “City Limits”. Whether its New York or Pittsburgh or New Orleans the old souls carry that geography of used to be in their heads. It’s not unique to Colson Whitehead or New York. Still, I’m afraid this is the book that would ruin me to write the book I should, afraid it might swallow my own voice like a haunted box or I will find my own plans laid out before me, my ship taken and me left to rot on a waterless rock, that it might leave me feeling incapable of the task, might rob me of the right idea of how to organize my own love letter cum ode and all of the other fine words of the reviewers on the back Whitehead’s.
But I’m going to keep it. I guess I’ll have to pay Quarterly who just dinged me again after trying to bill my old debit card, just when I was about to drop the subscription along with the Rumpus Poetry Book Club because when you are down to rolling your own cigarettes even some necessities have to go. I’m going to wrap this book up in Christmas paper and put it in the box where I keep my measly Christmas things, a drug-store Charlie Brown tree and the Marilyn Monroe skirt-girl ornament that hangs from it, that wicker basket cone with the red berries I wore as a hat to the Brew du Vieux holiday party with a bicycle flasher on top and the doorman wrote “Blinky” on my taster cup and “Sparklie” on my date’s and we took one look at our cups and could have danced all night, and still have begged for more—there I go, off on a tangent again but that is not just me, or a conscious, writerly voice: it is this city. If you are not ADHD when you arrive in New Orleans you will be when you leave because Look a tuba! Our squirrels carry parasols and saxophones and dance at funerals and peek out from the carpet as bits of glitter you still find 40 days after Mardi Gras and you can’t help but stop and look.
So, I’ll put this book in away in that box wrapped in dollar store Santa paper and leave it until then, until I have a manuscript. No, I haven’t been writing much of that sort on the blog lately, those odd bits of New Orleans. I walk down the street and instead of finding those perfect bits of New Orleans—Leopold Bloom crossing Bourbon Street—instead I find myself looking for a good place to put out my cigarette. And I need to snap out of it. I know it’s a curse to say My Book aloud and in public when you don’t have one but I think of it as a geis, a particular sort of Celtic curse the universe lays on you that will either lead to tragedy or triumph and it is all on you to live within its bounds. And when I unwrap this book at the end of the year, I’ll write you again—perhaps privately, this time—and say, ah, Maud, you shouldn’t have. I didn’t even send a card.
It hardly rains in Eureka, California February 25, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in Bayou St. John, Crow, cryptic envelopment, Fortin Street, Louisiana, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: California, crows, Eureka, Oregon, rain, Washington
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Certainly it’s rainy west of the Cascades: Oregon, Washington, Northern California; all those dreary grey days, redwoods and ferns, heroin and grunge. Portland and Seattle are the sentimental favorites. Along the Hurricane Coast it rains buckets, pissing pythons my girlfriend’s text message said the other night. It’s February 24th and we have had twenty cloudy days and thirteen of rain, including Mardi Gras Day. January we had twenty-six cloudy days, thirteen of rain. December: twenty cloudy days and eleven of rain. You get the idea. A rain of frogs would be an interesting relief.
Winter here makes you long for summer when the unrelenting heat and humidity are relieved by the afternoon monsoons, the fairly regular afternoon thunderstorms, watching the inbound cumulonimbus crowning over the coastal wetlands and the lake, the dense tropical splendor of the cooling downdrafts and downpours. One night not long after the flood I was stopped on a dark Marconi Avenue (the lights not yet restored) by a parade of ducks crossing the road to see what the raucous chorus of frogs were singing about in the small wetland that lies between the road and the levee. I rolled down the window and stopped the engine in the middle of the then-deserted road and simply listened in the cool aftermath, watched the egrets high-stepping through this cypress-studded niche eco-system.
The black sky is just turning gray as I write this but I can already hear the crows calling the laggards over the breakfast at the racetrack stables. When it’s this wet the seagulls will be with them, and I can stand just inside my door with a cigarette and watch their chessboard battle over the soggy infield and the best bits left by the horses. If I were a true naturalist masochist I could grab my hurricane slicker and an umbrella and walk the blocks to the park and watch the pelicans over the bayou but I have an inexplicable love of crows, love to watch the stark battle of black versus white against the gray sky. I don’t understand the attraction for the seagulls with the bayou a half-dozen blocks over. I understand the attraction to me, to stand with the heat of the house pouring out behind me just under shelter from the next downpour watching the crows loud party. We are rather fond of large and animated dinners down here.
Splish Splash February 11, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in Faubourg St. John, Fortin Street, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Splish Splash, washeteria
There is something about the laundromat, a plastic electric resonance it shares with the two-tap-and-a-tv dive bar and the bus terminal which makes these places as familiar to their likeliest visitors as the parade of names at the mall is to the people they most likely work for. I love the fluorescent shabbiness, the incessant televisions, the chairs designed for some proximate species but we’re not here for the ambiance, exactly. The comfort in these places is the instant camaraderie of people who are there by necessity. It doesn’t matter if you are Charity-born poor or fell into it by way of that degree in art which led to a career in tattoo, once you walk in you’re one of us.
I live on the sketchy edge of the fashionable Faubourg St., John just over the renters-insurance redline and facing the track. Just up the block the owners of the grand homes beneath the oaks have their own front-loading washers and dryers. Smack in the middle of this atmosphere of elegance sits the Splish Splash, next to the now closed neighborhood drugstore and the abandoned, half-renovated Circle K, a reminder that all around the stately homes of Esplanade and Ursulines lies a neighborhood of once working class shotgun doubles. Inside the stucco-faced washeteria there is nothing faubourg about it: a vinyl floor, clean enough early in the morning but past all point of mopping, rows of large and small washers and dryers rolling along except the one half disassembled for months with the parts inside the drum. The only place to sit inside is in front of the television, and there is never enough table space and no sitting on tables allowed. The crowd is about equally divided between those who pick up a coffee at Fairgrinds or a single beer from somewhere or an orange drink from the vending machine. The last are the Latino workers from the back of the track. The women stay inside and chat and laugh while their children run about. Their men or the single men tend to congregate on the bench outside and talk about trabajo and futbol as best I can make out when I step out for a cigarette.
The Splish Splash is not some chic urban cruising laundromat but there is always a certain amount of side-eyed appraisal between the singles of the coffee variety. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anyone striking up a conversation with a stranger for more than a few sentences. Laundry is a chore and double if you have to haul it down to the corner and fight for a dryer. The Latina women always seem to come in pairs, with or without their men, and their endless and gay conversation is a soothing relief from the chattering television and the endless thump-thump-whop of the machines. (We will, we will, dry you, dry you). Many patrons come and go between wash and dry, coming back with a fresh coffee or groceries from Cansecos. It is that kind of corner, with two neighborhood groceries and until deBlancs closed, a drugstore. Easy enough to get all your errands in if you drive over and park in the deBlancs lot
It’s easy to live in this city and never see past your unconscious blinders what sort of city this is. Many people like to compare New Orleans to San Francisco but in reality this city is much closer to the blue-collar bricks and sticks of Baltimore than to tony Frisco. It’s a working man and woman’s city with most of the real money–outside of the faubourgs with their Lloyd’s real estate signs and hired police patrols–long fled to the outskirts. Those who cling to the lakefront often take Orleans Avenue on the other sketchy edge of my neighborhood, one only real estate agents would call Bayou St John. They travel that road to and from work every day and I wonder if they see the old men in straw hats laughing in the shade on the neutral ground, the beers from the corner store their fountain of eternally recalled youth, or that elderly couple sitting on their porch, silent, their bent metal clam chairs angled apart as if what was between them were a repulsive anti-pole, a force they could only overcome together but can’t or won’t.
Back on Esplanade the Splish Splash never rises to discussion on the neighborhood mailing list, although every other local business does. Unless someone pulls a gun or the place burns to the ground in a flash fire of neglected lint it is invisible, a little puddle in the gutter of elegant Esplanade Avenue, lacking the bohemian charm of the bicycle clutter outside of Fairgrinds. Inside we know it is as warm and friendly as Liuzza by the Track, with its own crowd of first name or nodding acquaintance regulars as familiar as the check-out girls at Cansecos, as much a part of why some of us live here as Cafe Degas.
Ghostly January 24, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Fortin Street, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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It’s 8:45. With the blackout curtains drawn you are not sure if it is anti- or post-meridian and you are not too sure you brain is clear on the matter after it shocked you awake with a dream meant for that purpose. You dream you are urinating and it has happened before, you were taking some medication that left you so dopey you were doing just that. You ask your doctor if you should see the urologist but you have just been discussing the problem with the medication another doctor has given you and she–who is younger than you–confesses to doing exactly the same thing when taking a similar medication, too knocked-out to answer the call of nature)
You are dead knocked out when the dream empties into your full body like an electric shock, bolting upright and every muscle at attention. You begin to wonder if your unconscious is just as confused as the waking brain after a 14 hour day starting at 3:a.m., up at 1 a.m. to have time for cigarettes, coffee and food in that rigorous, monastic order of addiction. Lunch at 3:30 in the afternoon with beers you hope will take off the coffee adrenaline edge of the day and lead to you what you plan as a nap which you now realize clearly is going all night with this interruption. You turn on the light, decide to ice your sprained wrist and read but realize you can’t smoke, elevate and read at the same time.
You look at the hotel window with the blackout curtains drawn for some hint of light and notice what looks like a pale leak of daylight above the curtain top but then the valence is hung from something clearly attached to the ceiling that would block any such light, and the glow is only on one end and ghostly blue. It is the reflection of the screen of your laptop. Ghostly is such a diaphanous adjective, weak tea any decent teacher of writing would strike right out but until you have studied that light, its faint gray-blue, the way it appears to hover just below the ceiling like a cloud of smoke and faintly pulse with the cycling of a screen saver you don’t know ghostly
The witching hour is only by the clock if you blow out a candle before you go to bed. Jump a time zone then get up with five hours sleep for a long day of coffee and tension in a meeting room with a handful of dreadfully intent people, two phones going and the walls covered with lists and charts, other people coming and going with urgent rumors or looking for news, then a late lunch with beer until you finally pass out at 5 p.m. and it might as well be the stroke of twelve in a cemetery. You have your own ghosts, the texts from your ex-wife asking if you’re free to talk and no you are not, not in the middle of all this, are just the incantation to call them up.
Exhaustion and Belgian ale put you to sleep but don’t unwind the spring work has wrapped around your chest. The dream is just a warning from your lizard brain which doesn’t know if it is time to eat or shit, run or hide in the dark. By the time you have padded to the bathroom and back, found your water bottle and the ice pack for your wrist you are groggy again. You lie on your back examining that light in the corner and you begin to understand what a little moonlight could do to someone awake at the wrong time with the burdens of the world like a lead stole filled with the world’s sins, at an hour when one’s own haunts creep just beneath the skin and suddenly you are sure that light is floating just under the ceiling.
Ghostly is a fine word, just the one you are looking for. It is the reason you got up to write this. You decide to keep it, it’s perfectly rational cause a talisman against the others that rattle their chains in your skull at the most inconvenient times.
The Small Rain January 16, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in Fortin Street, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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One step out the door and I know I’m not going out, no way am I dragging my lingering smoker’s bronchitis out to the 7:10 Esplanade and downtown.Thank god and DARPA and whoever else is responsible for VPN. I linger a minute, immersed in the shocking north-blown damp, my hand out to capture to bit of icy rain. Spring they used to call this in North Dakota; I mean, the ice is off the lakes and the crocus are poking up through the last black bits of snow. That ice-cold rain even in the middle of June. The temperature has crept into the 70s but the rain comes down like some terrible accident at the ice house, stinging reminders of why the early pilots wore fleece-lined leather jackets, that 46.8 N is just over halfway to the pole.
It’s a small rain, as if the just visible mist were a distant cloud of tundra mosquitoes resolved into a swarm at the first scent of warm blood. I’ve just had my transom window repaired against the driving rains of New Orleans, the fat drops flung like missiles against the flimsy low-rent plastic and caulk that once passed for a window until there would be a fair-sized puddle just inside the door. I love the drenching New Orleans rain as long as I can sit just out of reach and contemplate its impenetrable jungle splendor and warmth, enjoy the cooling downdrafts. This winter rain is an entirely different animal, an arctic pseudo pod reaching out from the north to swallow its surprised victims.
Waiter, this is not the Wednesday I ordered. Take this unseasonable gazpacho back and bring me something warm.
3:40 AM January 16, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Diurnal dysrythmia is today’s neologism, the inability to remain flaccid when desired; premature exclamation, the brain suddenly engaged when one ought to role over and go back to sleep. Associated symptoms include waking on weekends to feed dogs long departed and children who are not around, aural hallucinations of the Barney theme song over 0-dark:thirty Cheerios. Facebook at 4 a.m., the informal fraternity of the insomniac, is a bad idea. Do not encourage the squirrel that has leaped onto its wheel at this ungodly hour. Do not feed the squeak. Make coffee, yes, but only to turn on the program mode for a few hours from now when it will be badly needed. Turn off the architect lamp (upgrade to laptop with illuminated keyboard). Go back to bed while it is still warm between the sheets. Do not light another cigarette.
Isn’t it time you had a conversation with your doctor about these conversations you are having with your reflection?
Some Where on the Far Side of Eisenhower January 12, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Fortin Street, Jazz, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Frenchman Street, Linnzi Zaorski
Eric and I are the oldest people in the room I think, the only ones who might have heard these ancient swing tunes coming from the cloth grill of a hardwood hi-fi set or or on some long-reprogrammed station from a Solid State AM Radio in the Chevrolet dashboard of 1960. We stand up at the front of the bar because every seat along the bar and wall is taken by a crowd born in a time when the guitar was the undisputed king, when trumpet and strings meant Peter and the Wolf. Linnzi Zaorski stands willow-sapling straight at the microphone, the swing mostly in her sweet-tea voice with just with just a bobble-doll accompaniment from her head and shoulders, her hips and one hand keeping time as softly as brushes on a snare. Her publicity photos like those of the other jazz standard singers in town suggest sultry but under the spot tonight she is all wholesome blond and smile, ready for the pageant judges.
The band of trumpet, violin, hollow-bodied electric and upright bass doesn’t need a drummer to swing. Close your eyes when they start “Lady in Red” and you would swear there were two trumpets instead of Charlie Fardella’s one and a violin. Matt Rhodi’s fiddle reminds me that somewhere between Carnegie Hall and Church Point there is a whole other sound, that nothing swings quite like a violin. The bassist is late and through the first set Matt Johnson’s hollow body drives the band, comping Kansas City swing warm and bright as the glow of antique amplifier filaments, taking delicate solos that complement Zaorski’s voice. Once Robert Snow sets the dance floor thrumming its just a matter of time before the dancers peel off the wall and start to take the floor. I don’t have a notebook and I’m too beer-tipsy fascinated by it all to keep a set list in my head. The sound is almost too clear. You expect the wandering modulation of a distant short wave station broadcasting from somewhere on the far side of Eisenhower like the RKO tower. These songs were growing old before most of the band was born but here tonight they are fresh again. The seated players lean into the songs, intent as surgeons, while the base player’s eyes close and off he goes where ever the hell it is bass players go when they are mounted by the melody. The dance floor fills by fits and starts, one couple at a time at first as if by prearrangement, the jitterbug and Lindy Hop couples each taking their turns, inviting the crowd to marvel at their steps like the first Lindy Hoppers at the Savoy in Harlem most of a century ago.
“Can you believe this? That we’re here listening to this?” Eric asks. We are like two old vaudevillians between shows grabbing a glass of beer and of course I answer as I always do. “Yeah, this sucks. Cleveland. That’s where we should be tonight. I bet it’s happening in Cleveland.” We both laugh and the people around us give us the slantwise eyeball and edge away a just-visible inch. Cleveland. Right. Somewhere in Cleveland in a Holiday Inn there may be a quick-silver blond with Betty Grable legs crooning with a pianist who misses his ashtray more than his youth, but I don’t think you would find a house full of kids and wish-they-were’s leaning in toward the singer just as the band does, swept into Zaorski’s updo and baby-doll vocals. The whole room–band, dancers, audience– is titled slightly toward the singer and you can almost see the energy flicker by spark jump from the crowd up to her and come back in a brilliant million candle-power flood of Forties poise and song.
I first heard Zaokrski sitting in with the Jazz Vipers at the Spotted Cat, before the big split in the band, before HBO’s Treme packed that place like the last dry room on the Titanic and they moved the stage and took away the old wicker chairs and couch where non-dancers like me could wait for a chance to collapse and just get lost in the sound. I’m not about to Google a lady’s age but Zaorski started a dozen years before that in a barroom called Southport on Bourbon Street. Between songs she talks about singing over the football game, of the bartender vacuuming around the bands’ feet during the last set. Swing has come a long way since bands like the Jazz Vipers took swing out of the dance-class and wedding ballroom and brought it back to the smoke and mirrors of the barroom where it was born. Half a dozen bands work the trade now to fill all the dance cards of the jitterbug-crazy retro fedora and nylons crowd. Its impossible for a stand-and-drink man like myself not to watch the footwork of the dancers but when singers like the sparkling Zaorski and pin-up sulty Ingrid Lucia and the fiery Meschiya Lake with her updo and tattoos take the stage the real magic is straight up center over the microphone. The magic of all the swing cats–men and women, singers and players–is the magic of jazz, the ability to bend space and time like notes, to take you out of yourself and toward another time and place, in this case to a scene out of some Ronald Reagan Rest Home dream, where the syncopation of music and feet among the sharp hats and shapely gams made old cats like us first twinkle in someone’s eye.
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.
The Dream Eater December 22, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, Fortin Street, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
The city swallows dreams as it does the cars of the morning commute. Approaching from the east barricaded exits to nowhere stand as monuments to the vanity of speculators imagining hydrologically impossible towns, an endless extension of the city’s fringes farther into the dissolving marsh. The closer you approach, the towers of downtown bathed in a damp haze, the city appears like Atlantis ascending to reveal itself to a new age but this is just another soluble delusion. The exits to nowhere, the road collapsing into the soft earth which rolls the car like a small boat or drums a rattling tattoo, are reminders that the waters are gradually reclaiming the black muck bottom of forgotten dinosaur oceans, washed down by continental rivers, returning itself to the sea.
Every boarded corner barroom with its murals for Regal Beer is a dream. Canal Street with its tourist streetcars and its empty sailor’s stores is a dream. The mansions of forgotten cotton along St. Charles Avenue are a dream. The Lakefront shuttered at dusk against the predation of old fishermen and young lovers is a dream. The swallowed dreams confront us everywhere like empty bowls with the crazed scrapings of forgotten suppers, rattle in our ears like a bottle tree. They suck at our ankles like quicksand but the natives know the trick of crossing. We quicken our steps toward the corner spilling music and beer into the street, moving toward gumbo and corner smokers and everywhere the brass alleluia and the African drum. We move beneath the notice of the Manhattan-fashioned condos of the New Americans. Their dreams of bringing us the Anglo-Saxon gospel is another morsel for the hungry city.
Only those who willingly surrender their dreams to the city will see the windows of heaven opened and poured down upon them a blessing of dreams until there is no need. Sure its the old Malachi racket of every UHF messiah but just ask any oilman banished to Houston perdition contemplating the ex-wife bedrooms of his empty mansion as he puts the revolver to his lips. Look in the sunken, shadowed eyes of the skeleton woman backing her pearlescent Escalade into the shopping mall parking space. What use is an immortal soul without a guitar? What good is prosperity without a bar-tab entry to balance the books? What is the reason for a dream if you will not place it on the table and spin the wheel? Only the broken angels of St. Claude understand the bargain and make it freely and wear their dreams like ink in the skin. A terrible light pours out of their eyes like tears and bathes the city in dreams.
Cryptic Envelopment December 21, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Jerry Garcia, New Yea, solstice, The wheel.
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The faster we go, the rounder we get.
Happy New Year.
Bad Apples December 16, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Coco Robicheaux, Frenchman Street, Kenny Holladay, The Apple Barrel
The Apple Barrel is a trip hazard with a liquor license, 500 square feet maybe counting the superfluous jukebox I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard. In front Kenny Claiborne in once-white Western boots sings Indian Red like a Seventh Ward Kaddish over a mournful dobro. Momma Cat passes the tips spittoon while keeping time with a tambourine stick she says she got at church. Marco and Monica who painted the mural behind the band are in from Sarasota and as we talk Claiborne calls “Coldplay. Because we can” and the dobro hollers its own metal voice into the song. Piano Dave says the tattoos at Electric Ladyland are overpriced but I still contemplate Bukowski and Maddox on my forearms and think anyone I have to explain them to is probably not worth working for. The tourists sit mostly in the back, as expressionless and obvious as tinsel Christmas trees in a bail bondsman’s office, nursing incongruous Stella Artois until they give up or get a table at Adolfo’s upstairs. Photos of Coco Robicheaux watch over us with a Bodhisattva’s Cheshire serenity and I write and have to scratch out Kenny Holladay instead of Claiborne when I start to jot these notes but as long as there’s a band I am half right: Coco and Kenny and a host of others whose boots will never pass through these door again are as palpable as the smoke from the musicians’ cigarettes. I contemplate my bottle and think that if I have another Jockamo there’s no telling what’s going to happen but we are prepared to exercise the uncertainly principle until we raise Schrodinger’s cat from the grave. We order Reposado shook over ice and tell J.D. to make one for himself, then pour the first taste onto the floor. Somewhere outside the door is the heart of Saturday night and Apple Maps will never get you there. You have to follow the woman dressed in wrong-holiday rabbit ears through this door and never be afraid to drink what’s in front of you.
Geography is Wrong December 9, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Geography is wrong. The world has its edges. You first discover this in school, especially if you are a quiet or odd child. Forget Pythagoras. Whatever your teacher said about a circular world you begin to find its corners, in retreat or in escape. Definite rectangles. Less tangible than the globe in the corner but clearly there.
Later, older and out in the world, you discover its edges.
This one is beautiful, indefinite, a faint, prismatic progression from sky to sea blue. You wonder if it has a sound, water falling over the edge like the surf on the rocks below you but steadier, a sound like sunlight on the skin, bound to the edge like the sun to its circuit. I can no more hear it from here than I can sunbathe at midnight, but I can imagine it and for now, that is enough. This is a quiet corner like those you remember from childhood, perfectly suited to lapses into imagination. I have had enough of edges—the crumbling soft rock and plummeting air, the hard mathematical choices, knives like laughter—and prefer this one keeps its distance for now: remote, beautiful and available.
There are two ways down from this rolling hill. One leads through the scrub to a road that leads to a highway that leads to an airport where planes roar backward and tail first in time toward places I have been and will not visit again. The other wanders lazily down until it is it cloven into two forks: left toward town, right toward the beach. Not a complicated choice and one completely out of your hands. You either need to go into town for something, groceries and bit of human company as you sip a beer, or you need nothing and want nothing and so go down to the beach, lay in the warm sand with your head pillowed on a spare towel, and look toward that striated edge-sky in the distance.
I arrived here, passport expired, with just enough money in a distant bank to make myself welcome. There is no need to renew my papers. Dollars are introduction enough and I am in no hurry to go. As long as the money lasts I am greeted at the market, poured my regular beer without asking, and mostly left alone. I ignore my fellow countrymen whenever I can, who arrive here only by accident or worse, driven by a sense of adventure I recognize and avoid. I wear the loose-fitting local clothes and a straw hat and let the sun be my disguise. Cornered, I smile and shrug and hold up my hands to say, not much, then direct them towards the magnificent cliffs further up the road, the explosions of surf, the rugged, sculptured stone, the cliff divers. I recommend a hotel there I have never visited and walk back up the sloping path toward the cottage.
I stop at the fork, select a comfortable rock and watch a liquid sun slowly pour over the horizon, spreading a molten orange line that momentarily illuminates the edge. I wait for the green flash, a signal to proceed, but it does not come. A shadowless twilight illuminates the path. The further I go from the shore the more the surf takes on the steady roar as of water over a cataract. Someday the green flash will come, and I will know it is time to go. Until then the sound of distant water lulls me to sleep.
Falling November 27, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, Memory, New Orelans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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It was not the burr oak across the street, the only tree I know of that reliably turns gold and red come November. It was not the ridiculously sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner, or sitting with my oldest friend the next evening on a screened porch feeling the shift in the wind that brought the first real cold snap. It was the sight of them, squirrelly in the first cool afternoon, each knot of Catholic plaid or khakis energetic as particles of a textbook atom but drifting home as slow as dust motes. Those are the days cemented in memory as the first of Fall, the irresistible urge to be outside in the cool air, an hour to cover the dozen blocks home, goofing and never breaking a sweat, the blanket of summer lifted and the holidays ahead not quite a conscious thought but somehow simply present like the warming patches of afternoon sun between the trees.
So long, and thanks for all the fish November 22, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in Fortin Street, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: America, Thanksgiving
It is too easy to slur Columbus Day and ignore Thanksgiving, for fear of upsetting the neighbors. Today we sit down to celebrate the complete incompetence of European settlers to feed themselves and contemplate the gratitude they showed to their Native neighbors, to offer our thanks to their omnipotently paranoid god who blessed the casual erasure of humans and bison from sea to shining sea, to engorge ourselves on indigenous corn and potatoes and African yams without a thought to their origins, eat thick slices from the engineered breast of a native bird bred like Chevrolets in a feed house it could not survive without constant dosing with antibiotics.
There is nothing America cannot conquer, master and seek to improve if it but sets its collective mind to it. All that is needed is a willing bit of trickery over those less blessed than us and there goes the neighborhood.
Let’s just fess up and admit our model of a republic is Roman not Greek, that we are setting out to a gourmand’s banquet at which we will eat until we are barely able to bend forward and reach the bottle to pour yet another glass of wine. I am Orleanian to the bone and have no problem with this. The gods of my hearth are not cosmic, are small and indigenous to this place and take great pleasure in our banquet. They are the absent ancestors whose places we have taken at the table. I will give thanks not to a remote god but to the stooped-back women who picked the cranberries and the men who wielded the power knives of the slaughter house. I will wish them joy of their possibly-distant families, camaraderie over food as best they can manage, and a day of rest.
Free Radicals November 16, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, Fortin Street, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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The Writer: “Why piece together the tatters of your life – the vague memories, the faces… the people you never knew how to love?”
The Not-So-Black Death November 2, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in Federal Flood, Fortin Street, Murder, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
I open the folder that spent the last seven years in the Toulouse Street shed, and you can smell the light dusting of black mold. I go through it page by page, toss a few on the scanner, and tuck the most precious into gallon zip lock bags but my sinuses are on fire. I imagine the almost microscopic spores settling into the carpet and couch. I should have done this in the kitchen but it’s too late now. I will have to vacuum the front within an inch of its life. I never gutted a house like Ray, never faced the decision of my friend Eric to lose the respirator because working in a Type III in August in New Orleans is a choice between strangulation quick or slow. I remember the workers back in ’06 in the convenience store, grabbing a large, milky coffee and a Mexican sweet roll to start the day, bandannas bandito-style around their necks, the only protection they would have against the gypsum dust and mold.
You gotta die of something I think as I step out onto my stoop for a cigarette. The air is laced with hydrocarbons from the upriver refineries and my coffee is brewed with water from the sewer of mid-America. The other night I saw a man I haven’t run into in a while whose daughter suffered from dangerous levels of lead when first tested, an educated man and wife living in a carefully renovated house, not your idea of a tenement with peeling yellow paint, children stuffing flakes in their curious mouths but in parts of this city the dirt is thick with lead and arsenic. Their daughter is fine now but how many other children are playing in a packed-dirt rental backyard right now?
You gotta die of something, and that fried oyster po-boy might kill you in ways your clucking doctor might not imagine as she renews your cholesterol medicine. R.I.P., Mr. Folse, the shrimp boat captain said on Facebook when I told her I would continue eating wild caught Louisiana seafood. The planes had been out that day, she said, spraying Corexit on the latest sheen from British Petroleum’s Deep Water Horizon wellhead. For now those initials stand for Reel In Po-Boys, and who can blame her for still fishing when I-10 is lined with smiling chefs telling us to Eat Louisiana Seafood? What happens to Corexit when you dump it into a deep fryer? Who knows? Nothing to see here. Move on. What do you say to people who came home to complete ruin that would deter them living here? What would keep the people suffering today in New York away from a steady diet of diesel exhaust, Jersey VOCs and stress? What would take the farmers off the land, the ones who wrestle 50-gallon drums of poison without which they couldn’t make the bank note? What could keep that shrimp boat captain off the water? Short of Chernobyl and soldiers loading people onto trucks, nothing.
You gotta die of something, and if I put down the cigarettes what other diabolical entertainment might my grandfather’s ghost reach up from his alcoholic’s grave to suggest? If I were forced to stop eating seafood you can put me on suicide watch right away. The water is as clean as the Sewerage & Water Board can manage, and wins taste tests, but I know from a local brewer that Dixie used its own purified well water because the city’s Ph was skewed because there are still antique lead pipes in the system. They just don’t know where. I once found a slug beneath my patio chair one New Year’s Day, the hole where it went through the webbing. So it goes. You pick your place and take your chances. You are more likely to be killed or seriously injured by a car while walking in New York City than you are to be shot in New Orleans. After the flooding from the second hurricane in two years to strike New York you start to ask the question you answered a thousand times yourself: why do people live there.?
I am not worried about how I die so much as where, and that is the one decision about death most of us get to make. I was born here in New Orleans in a hospital on Perdido Street. I will die here and invite anyone who wishes to dispute that point to join me. I want to die where my diet is a cheap and easy contributing factor, where a wake is an occasion to shame the Irish, where a band is more essential than a minister. No bouquets for me. Just bury me when the sweet autumn clematis are in bloom, on a cool October day with someone cooking with the windows open, and the sound of the band carrying to the next ward on the apple-crisp air. Just put a pack of smokes and my Zippo in the box to get me through the day.
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.
Railroad Tales October 8, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in Fortin Street, geo-memoir, Memory, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Alabama, Amtrak, Birmingham, Lincoln Beach, Shelby County, Southern Crescent
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12:06 p.m. Train 19 is waiting for a freight. Ballast, ties and razor wire, the statue of Vulcan in the distance gazing distractedly at a idle rail car salvage yard, capsized tankers and broken rust-brown boxcars like some hobo graveyard, the New South is just visible over the brickwork lofts where cotton factors and coke brokers once counted prosperity in locomotives: So long, Birmingham.
12:52 p.m. Where the line crosses the highway it’s crew-cut America, not a brick out of place, Golden Arches by Walgreen’s by Winn-Dixie, Advance Auto Parts and Pawn America, not a button missing but down a drive beside the tracks and just out of site of Hardee’s there’s Harold’s Auto, dirty white stucco on the railroad side, a customer in front.
1:07 p.m.–We stop to let the northbound Crescent pass just up from the Tuscaloosa depot. Na-hah, no time for a smoke, the conductor says and by the time I’m back in my seat I’ve missed the chance at a snapshot of the station sign. When I pick up the phone again the little weather man says I’m in Green Pond. I look up and there it is outside, more blue than green except where the cypress are flooded just below my window.
1:54 The plastic compartment at the end of the car is not the gentlemen’s smoking compartment of the Southern Crescent I rode 35 years ago. I wash my hands and find the Formica “club car”. A fiftyish couple sit alone sipping Miller Lights. He’s in his Saints jersey. She is, I will later learn, bat-shit crazy drunk and hungry for company. He is just back from three months in rural Alabama. “A whole lotta nothing and cows. And they’ll steal anything right out your yard while you’re asleep: tractors, 18-wheelers.” No one on the platform wants to hear your story. It washes over them like a puff of smoke. They all want to talk, to tell you their’s.
2:05 p.m. You no longer slide past the blast furnace kitchen with its smoking stove to a table served by Black men in white jackets juggling the travel bottle liquor before they pour your drink. Refrigerated sandwiches, mostly gone. I’ve had too much good pulled pork to risk the celephane version. I buy a water bottle at a stadium-seat price to carry back to my airline first-class coach seat. I need to study biology I remind myself, but look up at every flashing box car siding and am captured by the landscape as it roles by in its monotonous variety. Every now and then a tar paper and trailer family compound is a creek and some trees away from a big brick ranch with horses in the back. Biology is hopeless.
2:15 p.m. We cross a river lined with chalk bluffs Google does not bother to name, somewhere just north of Livingston and west of Demopolis.
Active transport across the phospholipid bilayer is via locomotives and requires the expenditure of energy in the form of diesel.
2:35 p.m. I am ready for a cigarette. Every time we slow down for curve or a bit of bad track I touch the Zippo in my pocket as if it were a saint’s medallion but so far no luck. I am entirely at the mercy of a conductor who does not wear a pocket watch and manages his passengers via iPhone. I finish my Crystal Geyser and wish I’d packed a sandwich.
2:50 p.m. Gravel loading to a row of short hopper Southern cars, rusted lines of iron pipe, stacks of lumber, the utility co-op, pulling into Meridian. I will kill for a cigarette and a vending machine with a grander ambience than the club car.
3:07 Time for a smoke and a half, as the train stopped to take on fresh water. There’s a boil order in New Orleans. Meridian has a pretty little station, all brand new that puts Birmingham’s dingy under-the-tracks kiosk to shame but there’s not enough time to step inside to look for anything to eat before they “board!” us back inside. We move 20 feet and stop. Look’s like it’s the club car microwave fare or nothing. I had hoped for a wrapped egg salad sandwich as I learned a long time ago that’s the safest bet under such circumstances. If it gives no indication of color, smell or taste it’s usually safe to eat. “Smell up the cars, it would,” the British-inflected attendant says.
A parade of graffiti
One chalk mark flower
Love in the railroad ruins
3:55 Somewhere in the deep south of Shelby County, Alabama a Scots-Irish mechanic with a misspelled French name utters an ancient German expletive while lowering a Japanese transmission.
Somewhere between Meridian and Picayune the landscape’s blur looses its relation to the speed of the train. Invasive vines strangle the stunted native pines, farmstead follows no ‘count town, all in endless repetition regular as freckles, an embryonic recapitulation of Southern history.
The tale falls off. Coffee. Biology. Pine trees.
5:18 p.m. Two hours out of New Orleans and they’ve put the coffee cups away so I get a crew cup free and must not tip. “I know. That’s the rules. I’ve got too many years to break them.” I take my little coffee and peanut M&Ms back to my car.
Past Hattiesburg the trees get twiggy, the bottom lands more often flooded. What once were rippling little rivers take on the somnambulant character of bayous. I am getting close to home.
6:22 Across the Pearl and Bogue Chitto, briefly leaving the spindly pines behind for cypress swamps and houseboats, then passing beneath I-10 and into Slidell. My Louisiana begins south of I-10, but we won’t be truly south of South, deeper south than any bit of Dixie in our own peculiar territory, until we cross the Lake and it becomes a cardinal direction unto itself.
6:39 What’s left of sunset over Lake Pontchartrain. Highway 11 has cut across and left us for the first time since we started. After the bridge the high embankment of New Orleans East, rip rap replacing ballast, and I watch for the sad skeletal pilings of the camps that once ran from Little Woods into town. I spot an intact gazebo and I’m suddenly surprised to find a half dozen reconstructed camps. A little spit of scrub covered land behind a low chain link fence is all I guess remains of the ruins of Mayor Maestri’s “gently” segregationist Lincoln Beach, reminding me of where I’ve just come from. Across the Seabrook Bridge, bits of weather-worn wooden platforms are all that are left of the old, single-car lane with its wait-your-turn stop lights once tacked to its side like the old Huey P. Long and we are in the city.
I’m hungry. After that gazebo against the dying sky, the remains of the old Seabrook crossing to Haynes and its almost forgotten, gone-to-Kenner promise of fried oyster “boats”, it must be freshly caught and fried. Nothing else will do.
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.
Faction September 15, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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“I wish you had explained how my eye works,” he continued. “I enlarge, that’s undeniable, but I don’t enlarge the way Balzac does, anymore than Balzac enlarges the way Hugo does. Everything hinges on that, the work resides in its style. We all lie more or less, but what is the mechanism and mentality of our lie? Well-perhaps I delude myself here-I still believe that my lies serve to advance the truth. With a wingbeat, truth ascends and becomes symbol. “
– Emile Zola
Hat tip to Sam Jasper, who left this as a comment on an earlier post.
Monsoon Afternoon September 2, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in Fortin Street, geo-memoir, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Taken in part from an old post to Wet Bank Guide on July 7, 2006.
The power is out again. As the storm pours down around me and the fan sulks quietly in the corner, I think: gin-and-tonic, no ice (best not to open the fridge, old boy). Time to take up the white man’s cocktail and succumb to the climate here on my comfortable mini-veranda. No, I correct myself. Just because I’m sitting on a porch in New Orleans in shorts and sandals in the cool of the downpour, I am not on vacation. This is my home. Inside is my office. The power will come back, and I will have to take up the burden again, to make the world a better place through the automation of banking.
I pad into the house, leaving the front door open to let in the storm cooled air, and make my way back for more iced tea. Taking the advice of my inner nabob, I gab an umbrella and head to the back shed to take some ice from the outside fridge. Nothing out there but ice trays, nothing to spoil should the power stay out. As I open the back door to the house, the rain-chilled air rushes in, reminding me that the shotgun floorplan was not built for easy target practice. The design allows, among other things, for the circulation of air through the house, front to back. It is an accommodation to the climate from the days when light came from lamps and ice was a rare treat this far South.
Europeans and their African slaves lived here for centuries before the widespread introduction of air conditioning, or even the simple relief of an electric fan or an ice-cooled drink. They built lives and houses and customs that made it livable. I had learned to live in this antique climate before I left, to make the same accommodations. My partner of some years was allergic to the nasty critters that make their homes in the damp of air conditioner condensers, and are blown out with the frigid air in search of sinuses to aggravate, and so I lived for several years here mostly without air conditioning, choosing old houses built before even electric fans were common place, running up the water bill instead of the light bill with more frequent showers. I chose my clothes in the same, sensible way. When left back in 1986, I arrived in Washington, D.C. with a suitcase full of Haspel suits and short-sleeved Oxford cloth dress shirts, a straw hat perched on my head.
I was quickly corrected against such a quirky if practical wardrobe. Here in America, with ubiquitous air conditioning and in-the-door chilled water and ice dispensers, where Ready Kilowatt had spit atom and electricity would someday be too cheap to meter, my wash-and-wear suits and short-sleeved shirts were a silly anachronism, an affectation inappropriate to the serious halls of Congress. Never mind that the climate of Washington is the same as New Orleans, simply a few less weeks of it. I succumbed and bought a new wardrobe.
When I came home to New Orleans and became a full-time telecommuter, I had promised myself I would dress every day in collared shirt (perhaps a polo, I allowed myself), with chinos, shoes and socks. I would dress as if I were headed in to the casual-every-day Midwestern office I had left behind, the company logo pin we are all encouraged to wear clipped just beneath my collar. It would be, I told myself, an important psychological aspect of becoming a full-time home worker.
Yesterday I wore socks for the second time since I abandoned this resolution. The last time I dug through my sock drawer was for dinner at Galatoire’s, and that seemed a worthwhile reason to clap myself from neck to ankle in tropical wool (dreaming of my long lost seersuckers), and pull on a pair of the lightest socks I could find. Today even the business casual polos are gone: sleeveless shirts, shorts and sandals are my daily work dress. This way, I reason, I can keep the air turned up and the fan turning and likely manage to both eat and pay the utility bill. It’s not slovenliness or affectation to dress this way. It’s just how to live in a country where the air is as thick as rain even on a sunny day, where thunderstorms are as routine as the passage of the mailman every afternoon, and the storms can sometimes steal away your modern lifestyle, and leave you sitting on the porch with a glass of tea, debating whether to open the freezer to steal some more ice.
The mailman (who unknowingly prompted this entire train of thought) makes his way through the curtain of rain under a blue poncho, the top held off his face by the bill of his ball cap. I wonder when the local mail carriers stopped wearing pith helmets, something you rarely see anymore. People increasingly retreat into their energy-efficient homes and forget how to live here. It’s not just simple matters of dress or habits. For most the marsh is something that occasionally smolders in the East, a place as remote as the farm that supplies the meat in the case next to the seafood counter. The back of town swamps are now simply the places we avoid driving through when the rain is measured in inches an hour. Slab houses flood because of the corruption of politicians, not as a fact of forgotten geography.
When the storm passes and the convection from the thunderhead is gone, the heat will come back like the wave of a tsunami. I’ll get up and close the doors to the house, and trap the storm cooled air inside. I won’t save the arctic ice pack, or even that much on my light bill, but I will have reclaimed some of what we have all lost over the last generation. I will recapture another small piece of how to live in a place called New Orleans.
Walking in August August 18, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in Fortin Street, History, je me souviens, Louisiana, memoir, Mid-City, New Orleans, Remember, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Cansecos, DeBlanc Pharmacy, Dudah's, Faubourg St. John, Lake Vista, Miranti's, Terranovas
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By August we’re done like long basting turkeys in the oven, well-browned and in danger of drying out. The wasps proliferate in the back yard, nesting in the neighbors wild vines behind their shed. The mushroom cloud rising out of the line of cumulonimbus is all the weather forecast that you need, convection foretelling the afternoon’s thunderstorms which coax the grass into miraculous growth the landlord never tends to properly. The pigeons come up to my stoop like hobos although I never feed them. Still, my neighbors walk up toward the grocery on Gentilly or on Esplanade, a subtle racial divide on my quiet street. The feral parrots complete the tropical scene.
We still walk the sunny side up sidewalks not to prove a point but out of habit. Bicycles are almost as frequent as cars on my street not to make some fashionable statement like a car plastered in stickers but out of necessity. Pedestians converge from the fashionable bayou Faubourg and edge-of-Gentilly Fortin Street toward Cansecos and Terranovas groceries, Dr. Bob’s drug store–where you can put your prescription on account or have it delivered–to the democratic coffee shop and the fashionable wine bar and salon.
If I walk up at noon the pavement is brighter than the sky and a hat is advisable. Even the pigeons have sensibly retreated to the shade. I don’t pass as many people on their porches as I would in the evening but air conditioning has driven people inside in the Faubourg unlike black, working class Orleans Avenue ten blocks away where neighbors still gather on shady side stoops and old men drag kitchen chairs beneath the trees of neutral ground trees. Still I am almost certain to converge with or pass someone with a shopping bag when the only others out are tradesmen with their heads bound in bandanas working a saw table, pausing to wipe the sweat and sawdust from their brows with the crook of their elbows.
I sit writing this beneath a whirring air conditioner in South Lakeview. The nearest grocery is on Harrison Avenue a good 25 blocks away around the railroad tracks and a car is a necessity. Lakeview is where the city meets its suburbs, just over the 17th Street drainage canal from the typical American sprawl of Metairie. To the north is the lakefront: Lake Shore, Lake Vista, Lake Terrace and Lake Oaks, the desirable addresses of doctors, lawyers and other men and women of educated industry and the luck of the draw. I grew up in Lake Vista, designed as a paradise of cul-de-sac street divided not by alleys as in Lakeview but by pedestrian lanes named for flowers as the streets we named for birds, shaded paths converging on broad parkways that radiate from the center. Once there was Dudah’s Grocery and Miranti’s Drug Store with its nickle-plated conical cup cherry Cokes a nickle at the soda fountain, a cleaners and a post office. Some idealistic planner once hoped the residents would walk there but in the Fifties and Sixties the automobile ruled. Over time people found it just as convenient to drive up and down Robert E. Lee Boulevard to the new strip malls and the stores of the Center faded into memories.
Across City Park Avenue from South Lakeview in Mid City only stalwarts and holdouts walk to the stores of Carrolton Avenue. When I lived on Toulouse one couple always engagaed in caffinated morning conversation would walk down the street to make their daily groceries in the big greocery up on Carrollton Avenue. The corner doors in that neighborhood are all converted to houses, the shop windows drapped or shuttered. The houses of Mid City are narrow, nestled Craftsmen relics of another era, most with no parking, but even there its hop in the car for the identical aisles of Rouses Grocery and Walgreens, indistinguishable from the stores of Metairie.
You have to journey further into the city or across the bayou to my neighborhood off Esplanade to find where the folk and the houses still match, where the corner store still prevails, and in the evening the closer you get to Mystery Street the walkers proliferate on their evening errands. At six o’clock the sun is hidden by the trees along Esplanade but in August the 90s don’t abate until much later and still they come slowly up the shady side or coast on their bicycles in their after work tanks and shorts and sandals, old habits persistent or forgotten ways rediscovered, a neighborhood that lives in its history like a worn and comfortable pair of shoes.
Singing July 30, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in quotes, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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In the dark time, will there be singing? Yes. There will be singing about the dark times.
– Berlolt Brecht
The Drafts of August July 29, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: bats, bicycle, drafts, Faraday Cage, Mound Street, Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, South Lakeview
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Actually, July, but the first sounds better. I either never finished them or abandoned them without remembering to publish them. And so direct to you from the Royal Courts of Europe (time served and a small fine), for the first time ever in these United States of American and now in your very own home town, for just two bits, a trifle, step inside my July.
The Holiday Nod
To live in the collapsing moment: a couch, a particular picture on the wall, a cup of coffee. You just want to go on the holiday nod but the vacuum lurks in the next room, the piles of paper and books around you, all of it must go first. The laptop a glowing post-it note for homework. The collapsing moment, so many monks in their temples and once, long ago, on their mountains, the forest as company and example but the wind must never stop on the mountain. Mountains live in the wind and the trees are never still but if you sit quietly long enough and contemplate the trunks the motion of the crowns is just the sound of the invisible wind, the endless rustling drowning out the world, living in the collapsing moment until suddenly a dragonfly.
You are not a monk. You are a man with an apartment that appears ransacked by primates. Your son hast left a trail of crumbs that mark his path through the house. You don’t own a vacuum and you have to give it back at some point. The litter to pick up first, some of the papers are important and others are garbage. Sit and sort. Pass the vacuum. Sweep and mop the kitchen, clean the bathroom. Two men can turn the once acceptable porcelain and chrome of a week ago into a public urinal. It’s an old bathroom in an old house, clean is relative but toothpaste scraped from the basin, the spigots still polish, the toilet needs a good scrubbing. Ammonia and Pinesol, the scent of fresh chemicals, the American obsession. Then a lecture on the nomination of candidates. You returned for your degree in English but 30 years ago you kept you English courses and dropped the others. You have one English course remaining and a stack of electives, intellectual drudgery. PoliSci 4600. Chop wood and carry water.
The collapsing moment. The nod as inverted desire. You begin to understand heroin but then just another frantic chase. Your life is already a rodent’s wheel until you collapse on the couch and the nod comes naturally. Who needs heroin? Coffee on the other hand a necessity. Something the kind doctor warned against. . Anxiety the diagnosis and of course he asked you how much you smoke, how much coffee you drink and you lied. Symptom of addiction. Coffee and tobacco are difficult. Aroma, flavor, ritual: all the temptations accompanying the habit. Try walking in for a cigar and not leaving with cigarettes.
The coffee is clearly working or I would not be typing this. I would still be on the couch contemplating how to make the digital antenna on the wall into another work of art. Get up and work and later the bicycle, your birthday and Father’s Day present to yourself three weeks ago and so far just another thing to vacuum around. An hour around the park and then home, the pretense of a book, the nod. No mood for fireworks later but you know you can’t resist the ritual. Instead you sit in the yard with pine branches snapped from a neighbor’s tree, shucking the green needles into a pile. Tossed on the glowing dinner coals they pop and snap, send red sparks up into the night and somewhere else in China a thousand years ago a man at the bottom of the mountain watches the sparks and imagines fireworks.
Lay back in the prone folding chair. Imagine the mountain, the wind, the sudden dragonfly. Not a nap exactly, but the collapsing moment.
As the neighborhood firecrackers and bottle rockets drift off to bed, only you remain. No cars or laughing people in the street stumbling home pass. If they do you do not hear them over the rustle of the trees.
Over the Hills and Faraday
I must start the class paper due midnight tonight. I’ve already decided to take the five point penalty and turn it in tomorrow. When I am done with this post I will turn off the wireless radio in the laptop so I can sit and work on the couch without untangling the cord. I am considering turning off my cell phone.
In this Year of Our Motherboard Twenty and Twelve I will let the information stream pass me by. I will briefly cease to exist in our increasingly intemporal world. Facebook and Twitter will count off the minutes since posted and I will not be there. There will be only one time event of indeterminate duration inside this imaginary Faraday Cage, its only flaw a tiny signal leakage between The Paper and JSTOR. If you know what I’m doing, you won’t know when. There will be no orthogonal alternatives, unless the stars unwind and the clocks run backwards.
I will occupy this one point in space/time called The Paper, reduced to three dimensions shrinking rapidly toward a dimensionless line because I will not give a fuck about the outside world and that world will not notice me because I will not be available for chat, wholly consumed by the task at hand. Who knows, time travel may be possible this way, but that is just wishful retrospection, looking for hours lost under the bed. I am a prisoner of a clock-less personal and singular linearity until the paper is done, after which bat shit all might happen. Billions of years from now astrophysicists may identify the birth of their universe in what they decide to call, during one fabulously drunken night of shop talk, The Mark Zero Anomaly.
A Bicycle Built for You
So, you go out and buy yourself a belated birthday/Father’s Day present: a brand new matte black single speed coaster bike with shiny red-hubs, a pedal back to break bike one like you had when you were a kid. Hey, you read on the Internet that all those pictures you see of people wheeling home with a baguette and tonight’s dinner in their panniers are riding single speed coaster break bikes, and it’s not like I’m about to enter triathlon unless the categories are cigarettes, Belgian Ale and napping. Mostly the bicycle sits. Your life is a roaring shop fan and a shower of sparks: they keep tossing you more and more work but hey, you get paid and paid well by the hour so who’s to complain. And then there’s that Internet course you signed up for. Some readings, a couple of lectures that will only play in the dog awful Windows Media Viewer. Chat in the discussion board (minimum three posts) and a couple of short answer questions.
Short answer: what does that really mean? Probably not something you need to edit down to 1,500 words. Show off, but then you fucked up the first assignment, posting one in the wrong place (score out of ten: zero) and turned the other one in late (score:seven). It is easy to become disoriented when you reach age when a.m. and p.m. are easily confused, especially if you laid down for a nap and set your phone alarm for six and when it starts its long awful ringing you aren’t quite sure which six it is. It doesn’t help if you’re taking medication and the agate package insert mentions “bats” and “emergency room” in the same sentence, but doesn’t specify how many bats. May cause loss of coordination is funny when you spill coffee on a brown rug. Falling into the bayou helping someone launch a kayak is not so funny. s. I’ve already started taking half of what was prescribed even after a phone chat with the doctor who said, well, you’re coming in next week and let’s see how you’re doing. No point mentioning those bats, I think. The poor bastard will see them soon enough.
Through a highly technical analysis involving my $29 on-sale-at-Walmart weather station (which has lost communication with the outside sensor; again) and the ancient Indian method involving rolling up the magic window scroll until the sky reveals itself, it looks like today might be a good day for a bike ride. You live 10 blocks from the park. You are going to ride that damn thing. But you’re not going to go to close to the bayou. And no matter how geeky it makes you feel you might run out and get a helmet, at least until you do something about that “loss of coordination” problem. And those bats.
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 Sing the Body Domestic July 7, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in Fortin Street, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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I sing the body domestic. The laundromat is calling, but lets not talk about the sheets. There are clean sets in the closet so they can wait. The borrowed vacuum needs to be returned. The precarious stacks of paper and books, reshuffled off the floor to make way for the vacuum need re-arranging. Some go into the folder labeled File. I need a bigger folder. Having a salad for breakfast while writing a grocery list. I remember the first episode of The Odd Couple, Jack Klugman slicing a head of lettuce in half, pouring on dressing and eating it over the sink, but I like salad olives. Another dirty bowl. Afterwards the precarious dishes must be disassembled, the plates off the bottom pulled out to find their place at the end of the drainer. Pick out the delicate glasses first. I don’t use them much but they are nice to have for occasional company. The second-hand bar ware can fend for itself. The inexpensive ham for lunch again, I guess, before I forget to put it out on garbage day. Fruit flies prove spontaneous generation, appearing an hour after the rotten peaches come out of the refrigerator. Slobs should never buy a glass-top desk and I’m out of Windex. (Grocery list). I cleaned like a maniac on July Fourth. A bachelor’s holiday is not some fantasy yacht of ascots, bikinis and martinis. My son grew up in a Southern Living fantasy of hospital cleanliness and I actually dust before I try to slaughter the dust mites in their millions, manage some semblance of clean in an old, rental bathroom.It is possible to make the plated spigots shine with some effort, to scour the toilet white but hairy men should not clean bathrooms in their boxers, scattering hairs behind every sweep and wipe. This is annoying on a pot-of-coffee cleaning jag and a leading cause of divorce. I don’t think my son really cares given the litter of wrappers and water bottles I must collect before I can vacuum his room but I try. I own a Swiffer but unless you use it every day it’s too much trouble and expense to change the cloths every two minutes. Mop, bucket, and the stuff I used to clean the lake scum off the bottom of my boat. The moderately expensive couch slouches mockingly, the back pillows sewn on. Nothing to be done but get the crumbs out of the crevices. Brown carpet is no defense against clumsiness and coffee. The next major holiday I will dust the bookshelves properly but once your book collection reaches a critical mass you blast it with canned air before vacuuming. The forty hours work is a myth in the era of working couples and divorce. I would rather straighten the art that covers the wall, a quick swipe around the cheap and leaky coffee pot, then pick up a book from the floor and climb onto the couch (my end is the one with the slumpy pillow). A few chapters and the afternoon nod, but the gruesome work week is days away and I would rather not spend Sunday doing all of this. Sundays are for a bike around the park to sweat off the hangover and an afternoon on the couch reading. Make quick instant jambalaya before my son comes (grocery list: french bread).I only hope the laundromat isn’t mobbed but it’s Saturday and that happens. Bring a book and a journal.
Somewhere today men play golf and women crowd Target. I do not envy them because they do not as a habit stack books around their couch within easy reach.
I didn’t ever become a writer, or only by accident June 25, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, Fortin Street, literature, New Orleans, quotes, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street, Writing.
If I really appreciated literature I would have become a writer for that reason. But that’s not why I became a writer. In fact, maybe I didn’t ever become a writer, or only by accident . . . maybe I’ve only ever written to understand why I was so afraid. I never wrote to participate in a noble tradition. I wrote to communicate, to explore my own feelings and work through various interpretations of the world. You know, the search for meaning, stuff like that. It wasn’t until I was at Stanford, much later, twenty-nine years old on a creative writing fellowship, when I finally met all these other writers. They all seemed to write for exactly the opposite reason of why I wrote.
That’s not even true. But many of them loved literature and wrote for that reason. How would I know why anybody wrote? Where does the poetry in this come in? Sometimes a sentence is just beautiful, but how can I learn to appreciate a painting? Do I have to learn how to paint? I’ll never be able to tell you the difference between a very good painting and a great painting. I loved the Van Gogh museum. There you just immerse in the mind of this man. It’s not required to understand which of the paintings are minor and which are major. You’re just there, taking it in.
— Stephen Elliot
Oh Say Can You See? June 21, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Thursday? Odd Words? I don’t think so.
I am getting too old to pull an all nighter. The weekend was mixture of busy and trying to relax. Relaxation comes to me as naturally as a gerbil in a cage, grinding my teeth and eyeing that wheel. Tuesday night I was so tired I went to Loews and bought a bigger mailbox so my mail won’t get wet,then found myself wandering the aisles thinking there must be something else I needed. (There wasn’t so I bought a cheap eight dollar outdoor rug in an attractive thundercloud gray since the landlord really needs to mow the back more often and I do like to sit there. I’m an habitual stoop sitter. I think it’s better than halogen lights, a neighborhood watch and a security district. You get at least a nodding acquaintance with everyone in the neighborhood, chat up the closest, and the guy in the other half of the house is pushing old store plastic containers of what he last cooked into your hands. That smothered pork chop is a message. You’re one of us. You have your back covered.
But sometimes you’re not feeling chatty and you just want to sit under the disintegrating beach umbrella in your tiny New Orleans yard, listening. That bit of grey plastic will come in handy in your tropical yard.. (I passed on the astroturf green one for a dollar more because the color looked about as relaxing as passing a pint of cheap tequila at a bullfight. My new backyard is awfully quiet. I miss the two women up the street. (You know its a nice street when you move from four door down for a better place). If these two aren’t sisters they ought to be, have probably lived next door to one another since they first got to sit in front of the streetcar. They chat, they sing a bit when they hang out the sheets (yes, they still hang out the sheets; ain’t nothin’ better than sun dried sheet, no way, no how), they bicker like sisters. Sometimes younger men and their women come and cookout and there’s smoke and laughter enough for the whole neighborhood. You wish you live on the other side of the block, because you know there would be a piece of barbecued chicken with beans and greens knocking on your door any time now.
The crows call and the wild parrots in front riot every time someone walks their dog in front and the sparrows have taken to plucking next grass three feet from you. They’re cautious neighbors, the sort who peer out the grate as you walk by until one day you catch them out front carrying groceries. You offer to help but they say no but you’re in. Its like the time the young man came out from the house next-door on Toulouse Street to offer to change my tire for me. I’ll let you know when I’m too old to change a tire, I told him, but you’re welcome for the company. He went inside and came out with two tall Modelos and I let him help me heft the little spare on. He wanted to help.
Here I go again, wandering off my topic–look, a squirrel–bit sometimes I think the ADHD everyone tells me I have is part of these dreamy words, the sparrow landing three feet away that breaks your run away train of thought and that detail that makes the landscape, the grandness of the mountain in a tiny man on horseback, and you just sit and watch each other until Mr. Sparrow flutters away with a bit of seeded grass. I wonder if they pick the seed pieces because they’ll manage to sprout and grow just a bit, one less trip out to build the nest. What was I thinking about before. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter.
Then Tuesday was an anxiety disaster, the kind where you pull out all your files and scatter them on the floor looking for something you don’t really need. Sometimes someone or something sinks its claws into your head and you run around screaming like the second to last guy in an Alien movie. A certain someone knows exactly how to do this and I think, when they are bored, they send me just the text message pr e,ao; they know will set me off. I try to leave the phone inside more when I’m sitting out, to ignore its mechanical chirp. If it was important, they would call. That’s what I tell the kids, who probably don’t even know how to access the numeric key pad on their phones. If you text and I don’t answer, call me. You know, like dial my digits and hear my actual voice. One’s at college and one spends only every other week with me and hearing their voices is better than any little blue pill.
So, I find myself Wednesday with a pile of work and since I get paid by the hours I can’t let it side. Moloch can dump a contractor faster than you can get the garbage from the back kitchen to the front door, and I need the money. This leaves me at supper homework hell reading two chapters, watching two online lectures, browsing the same damn Power Points you just watched online, then sit down to write a short answer to two questions. I am going to finish my degree, dammit, if I have to start cashing out 401k or, better yet, get a Heisenberg hat and take up some new lie of work.
Online courses should be illegal in Louisiana. It’s far to easy to find yourself letting it slide, then spending Wednesday in a frenzy, telling yourself you really ought to try out that new espresso pot you got for your birthday, and you can’t just go back and work while it brews. You have to wait for the sizzle of the boil to turn into the gurgle of the black elixir. I finally get back to my desk and I’m not sure what a short answer is but it is probably not 1,500 words with pertinent examples from outside the text and lectures but if you are a garrulous show off you have nobody to blame but yourself. You are trying to do all this the night before its due and if you run out of cigarettes at 1 a.m. you are truly fucked. You are almost too tired to drag yourself out the back door for a cigarette at 2:30 a.m. when you are finally done, but then there’s that rug you just paid eight dollars for, and the solar wind chime you bought on sale for still way to much but its paid its way.
Its the next day. Or rather later the same day. Sometime after lunch you decide to steal a nap. You set your work computer’s message notice sound to that WWII submarine klaxon you found on the Internet, plus in the mini Bose speakers so there’s no sleeping through it and stretch out on the couch.. Its a quiet watch, nothing on the horizon, the room rolling gently on the swells until the next thing you know its quarter of six. You’re due for dinner somewhere around 7:30 so the first thing you do is sit down and write a blog post about why there is no Odd Words today. The wheel gleams in the corner of the cage. This time you wiggle your way onto it backward and start it turning but its more of a casual walk than a workout. You just want to see the world whirring with the clackity sound of an old school projector. No real class today. The teacher is tired himself so its 30 minutes of 16 millimeter amoebas pulsing on the wall and the sounds of the Jefferson Airplane echoing in your head. You drag out of class with no more clue about the Golgi apparatus than when you walked in but you’re finally remembered all the words to Wooden Ships.
Facing the wrong way on the wheel there is no urgency. There is no visible window from this direction so there are no squirrels but you can still hear the birds sing and if you listen closely enough, from four doors down, you can just catch an old spiritual interpreted periodically by a mouthful of bed sheets.
So I guess Odd Words will come out Friday again this week.
Can’t find my way home June 17, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, Uncategorized.
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The true light awaits.
Come out of your hermit’s cave
Detached from the past
If you cannot fathom the relationship between the poem and the song it is not the true light that you see. Return to your cave and consider that the next time I climb this mountain my aging form may become as the fallen leaves. The trees will grow taller, stronger and more beautiful. Meditate on this until you hear and smell and taste the light.