30 Century Man December 11, 2014Posted by The Typist in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
The video is a complete waste of your time: full of sound and worry, signifying nothing. I created it a few years ago Christmas after spending an entire day watching a House marathon, an activity for me that is not far removed from standing on a ledge throwing pigeons at the fire department while shouting gibberish.
Perhaps it’s not a complete waste of time. Not of mine, at least. Despite any desire to vanish into Africa or the South Pacific, I am not that likely to jump the next freight west to search for the ghost of Charles Bukowski in the sun-shocked underworld that is L.A. Maybe it’s just something I needed to get out of my system, a swollen psychological boil painfully anticipating the sitz bath of annihilation.
If this video speaks to you in some way, it may not be too late to get help. I find the drug stores in New Orleans among the finest in the world. You traverse the liquor aisle to reach the pharmacist.
Its Black Absence November 27, 2014Posted by The Typist in Poetry, Shield of Beauty, The Narrative, The Typist.
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Notice the crow
the artist’s calligraphy
“Crow is flown”)
is not pictured
in his kakejiku
its black absence
from the spray
of violet oleander,
a single petal falls
like a farewell tear
Do Horses Named Satan Go to Heaven? November 25, 2014Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
The hospice nurse, a Carmelite nun, asks me if I am Catholic (she asks if my mother is Catholic, as if that were not a rosary around her neck). Apostate, I say. Surely you were raised Catholic she asks. Well enough to know the difference between apostate and lapsed, I reply. She gives my shoulder a wrestler’s squeeze. If her god had caller her to lift and break rocks and she had obeyed, she would have been brilliant, a saint.
Talk to her, she said. I read some Psalms to your mother. I sure she can hear, are her parting words, reminding not to sit there like some adjunct to the oxygen machine but to talk to her. She was unresponsive to my name when I came in. I continue to sit and watch and think, not long after the nun has left, this is how the crucified die. The way she flairs her arms, tries to lift herself a bit off the pillow to suck a little more air into her contracting lungs, much like a typical crucifiction, the men hung by their arms so that they had to lift themselves up to breath. The Romans, out of kindness, boredom or an aversion to overtime, would break their arms if they lingered too long, so that the victim could no longer pull themselves up to catch a breath.
So much for the comforts of Mother Church. (At least one of the sinners was saved. Not a bad percentage).
My mother was wearing the rosary my daughter Killian brought her back from Europe.
Pleural effusion of fluid around her lungs, related to congestive hear failure. Effusion I thought a property of gasses but apparently the pre-meds weren’t paying attention in that part of chemistry. My mother’s lungs are drowning from the outside, the buildup of fluid between the chest cavity and the lungs leaves less and less room for each breath. It can cause chest pains: pleurisy, now there’s a word you probably have used in casual conversation in a long time. We won’t know if the event last Sunday was a heart attack or pleurisy. All she said was it felt like an elephant sitting on her chest. As of Friday she is officially a hospice patient, and so was simply given morphine to dull the pain. I was surprised it came in a little dropper bottle, like something for the ears or eyes. Then I thought: hospice. This means no more trips to the hospitals. No more trying to find an uncollapsed vein to put in one shunt too many.
Ninety-three and the battle over. She survived chemo at 87, including spinal injections. I sat and watch her suffer through that until the technician gave up and called for the Special Man. He looked a bit like Cat Stevens in the 70s, and I told him so. He got her on the second try. If you are giving spinal chemo injections to an 87 year old woman why would you not call for the needle ninja in the first place? She went into remission, and got to ring the bell in the chemo ward at Ochsner. They took another cancer out of her in 2005, after my sister rolled the car in the ditch driving exhausted, trying to reach sanctuary in Kansas. At my mother’s age the E.R. though at CAT scan in order, and they found it. If my sister had not rolled the car, what happens then? God works in mysterious ways, I told the kindly nun-backer after relating that story, as if to apologize for my unrepentant teasing of her.
The regular chugging of the ancient oxygen machine is an hissy, high pitched pneumatic counterpoint to my mother’s irregular struggle to breath, the rattles deep in her throat, her vocalized exhaulations deep as long vowels and sharp as glottal stops.
The suffering on the cross, the physical struggle to breath, not just wheezing and rattling but a pushing up as if toward the surface, began after the nun left. I had been there maybe an hour and a half of mostly just listening to her battle for breath. Sometimes she would open her eyes while pushing out and down with her arms, trying to lift her head. I stood up and put the hand that wasn’t holding hers on her forehead and stroked it. I leaned in and told her, you don’t have to stay and fight. I know it hurts. We love you and will miss you but Sidney (my father) and Paul (my brother) and your father and your Uncle Cy and everyone will be waiting for you.
She loved her Uncle Cy Mathe’ dearly. He was legally a Creole by post-Plessy law but hundreds of rich acres and a plantation home trumped that. He was probably brighter than all the Italian truck farmers and Slavic fisherman settled around the plantations of St. Bernard and Plaquemine. He was riding the boat up from his father’s plantation and saw the woman we very young children ignorantly called Aunt Taunte, a teenager, convalescing in a wheel chair under a parasol on the levee at the foot of Delaronde Street. He was so smitten, he hired a horse when the boat landed at the French Market and rode back to the Ninth Ward to find her.
He built two plantations of his own, Stella for Taunte, and Mary, named after his mother. My mother would go visit Cy and Stella, under strict orders from her father that she was not to go out riding in the front of Cy’s saddle on his huge black stallion, Satan. This was, of course, the favorite part of her visit.
Uncle Cy will have a new horse, I told her, all pure white as an angel. I’m sure they wouldn’t let him bring Satan into heaven.
I’m sure he’ll take your riding, I said.
I had to stop there.
I have to stop here.
Everything eventually stops.
Fires of the Season November 22, 2014Posted by The Typist in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: death, solstice, Xmas
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Walking out for a forbidden cigarette I take a turn around the lot and notice the neighbor’s overgrown oleanders are in full fall bloom, while the seed pods of the adjacent Chinese lanterns have withered to a color somewhere between grocery bag and old parchment (and just as fragile could I reach them): the same old story–the one the crow knows–of the turning of the wheel. I am so engrossed in my new job I did not notice the odd oaks across the street and just outside my window had turned, but walking to Canseco’s Grocery I did see one of the deciduous cypress dressed in scarlet and yellow, the color of the fires we light against the cold and dark, the bonfires to guide Papa Noel and the ones once lit on Orleans avenue, dressed in the colors of the diminishing sun.
Having lost the thread of Xianity long ago, I dread the holidays. I miss the orgiastic liquor and fireworks around the bonfire on Orleans, a proper New Year’s display to call back the sun. Run around it three times, close enough for a mild, one-sided sunburn, for good luck in the New Year. Sadly, two city administrations have thought otherwise, even after we raised the money to get a welding cloth to put under it and agreed the NOPD could fence it off. The fire department was often held up as the scapegoat for the ban, but as a small crowd of us who helped make the last bonfire happen left a meeting with the police and fire chief, a high official of the firefighter’s union pulled us aside and said, “we are with you,” the men of Engine 35 thought lucky to watch over the festivities every year.
It is time to clean up my backyard, which the house painter turned into a white trash tableau of studied neglect. It looks like the still in the garage exploded, but most of my things are in a random pile in the center. I need to scrub the black mold off the chairs and spread the black plastic lawn rug I bought because the landlord’s man is slow to mow. I can flip over the rusting fire pit, give it a quick shot of Rustoleum for Grills and take my chances on the good will of the sparks that flit about like dangerous faeries with a will of their own. Behind the flames I will light a candle before the Green Man who watches over my little bit of weed-wild meadow..
There are spirits in need of propitiation if my own are not to remain mired in the dark. Yesterday my eldest and dearest sibling turned 69. My mother is now officially on Hospice Care, free to refused her dinner and medications, only oxygen and morphine as required. I went to see her the evening after what gave every indication of a heart attack. She picked a bit at her food because I was there. She tried to take her pills but the orderly forgot to raise the bed and almost chocked her. My sister knows she is not taking her medication or eating but she always puts on a good show for the boys. Or rather, for me. I am the only one she has left besides grand children. Someday the paper will read, “preceded in death by her loving husband Sidney Joseph and her son Paul Omer.”
Will she fulfill the holiday wishes of the statisticians and hang on until after the holidays? She is a Hilbert bone and sinew, built to last. Still, she will be the chair that is not there when my nephew takes us all out for Thanksgiving. Knowing our family, I am thinking of taking a cab, although Ralph’s on the Park is halfway between P’s house and mine and within staggering distance.. In these circumstances intimations of mortality are inevitable but not to be confused with inclinations. What I post on Facebook after a bit too much rum are not bits of morbidity but a few of the more beautiful expressions of death that I know.
If Coca Cola’s jolly red elf and the hanged god bring no solace, the trees remind me there is always comfort and color in a fire, to warm the hands and backside, and shed an uncertain light on an uncertain world. The firefly fairy sparks call to the things half seen in the flickering, just out of the corner of the eye, that delight in man and his fire, spirits of fire and earth drawn toward light. Perhaps a prayer is in order, starting with the green man who guards my house, that I not burn it or any of the neighbors’down. Or better yet, just sit as the fire burns itself down, leaving winking embers and the scent of the season ascending to the heaven the earthly flames reach for but cannot, the solstice incense that comforts men in the dark.
If this is the corner I’ve painted myself into November 22, 2014Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Everette Maddox, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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…think only this of me
That one more cheap camera
against the world’s beauty.
— Everette Maddox
Spill That Wine Dig That Girl November 21, 2014Posted by The Typist in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist.
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Morning will come before you know it pouring through the door like the boiling oil of hash browns on the side. It is not time yet time for breakfast. Another rum? I could think of a hundred good reasons why not but none of them is rum, the liquor of the loa, the universal Pan-Caribbean elixir of frantic ecstasy, the shuffle and the dub, the wiggle of the skiffle, the because of Carnival.
Bring it dawn. I’m steady, and ready to roll. Sunny side up.
Mr. Bones October 31, 2014Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, Poetry, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Halloween, Mr. Bones
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is knit with
throat slit pig
hung one long night
over the slow fire.
is bound by
food for crows,
a buzzard’s buffet
for the worms.
come some tomorrow
is all what’s left
I speak these words
& you remember.
That Wound That Never Heals October 21, 2014Posted by The Typist in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Frederico Garcia-Lorga, La Luna, Luna
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When the Muse sees death appear she closes the door, or builds a plinth, or displays an urn and writes an epitaph with her waxen hand, but afterwards she returns to tending her laurel in a silence that shivers between two breezes. Beneath the broken arch of the ode, she binds, in funereal harmony, the precise flowers painted by fifteenth century Italians and calls up Lucretius’ faithful cockerel, by whom unforeseen shadows are dispelled.
When the angel sees death appear he flies in slow circles, and with tears of ice and narcissi weaves the elegy we see trembling in the hands of Keats, Villasandino, Herrera, Bécquer, and Juan Ramón Jiménez. But how it horrifies the angel if he feels a spider, however tiny, on his tender rosy foot!
The duende, by contrast, won’t appear if he can’t see the possibility of death, if he doesn’t know he can haunt death’s house, if he’s not certain to shake those branches we all carry, that do not bring, can never bring, consolation.
With idea, sound, gesture, the duende delights in struggling freely with the creator on the edge of the pit. Angel and Muse flee, with violin and compasses, and the duende wounds, and in trying to heal that wound that never heals, lies the strangeness, the inventiveness of a man’s work.
– Garcia-Lorca, Theory and Play Of The Duende</blockquote>
Le mal du pays October 19, 2014Posted by The Typist in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, home, Murder, New Orleans, the dead, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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‘Le mal du pays.’ It’s French. Usually its translated as ‘homesickness’ or ‘melancholy.’ If you put a finer point on it, it’s more like ‘a groundless sadness called forth in a person’s heart by a pastoral landscape.’ It’s a hard expression to translate accurately. — Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukiru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgramage
Homesickness. Home sickness. Home. Sickness. “…they are the figures in the frame that make the landscape.” There is nothing pastoral about the Upper Ninth Ward. Taking the shortcut to Poland down Galvez to avoid the no left turn signs, the Musician’s Village is just a few blocks over but you don’t see the pretty stick-and-Tyvek houses. You see the aging wood-frame shotguns sagging with and into the ground, come to a stop at Poland across from a scrap yard filled with rusty anchors.
A man gunned down in the middle of a street in the Lower 9th Ward Friday night has been identified by the Orleans Parish coroner’s office. Malik Braddy, 18, of New Orleans was killed shortly after 10 p.m. in the 1600 block of Lizardi Street.
When I come to post here the dashboard shows statistics for most viewed posts and pages. The leaders are always the list of victims I started several years ago, and have semi-abandoned. (Somehow I have to find time to finish 2013 before 2014 is over). Melvin Labranch III.
Once upon a time downtown in the nine, what it don’t mind dyin’ Sworn to a life of crime, was a youngin’ standing only 5’5, big money on his mind Clothes ain’t wrinkled with his hand on the iron, shot six times Shot six times, ran in from of my mom (dear lord) — Downtown, Kidd Kidd
People come looking for Labranch, the subject of the R&B style hip hop elegy by his cousin, who elsewhere in the song sings “somebody done killed my brother, now I gotta get back/let ‘em know cause a nigga gotta feel that/Sitting shotgun with the shotgun: when you hear the shots come, nigga don’t run.” The song is a hit of sorts, which is I guess what drives the traffic: the celebration of a child “sworn to a life of crime” and someone “riddin on those niggas” looking for revenge.
Guess this is the game we chose to play Crazy how it’s always been the same.
Has it? Has it always been this way when I was growing up on the Lakefront just off Robert E. Lee Boulevard, and the Times-Picayune and States-Item just didn’t bother with dead black me? I don’t think so. There is nothing pastoral about the Upper Ninth Ward, but there is a terrible sadness. There is as I suggested above, a home sickness, the old style proud of the working class–black and white–that was once settled with fists that has metastasized into a violence most Americans only read about in the paper, stories of some far away country, and then only the body count of the American soldiers, not the million and a half Arabs dead for what? Killing random people because they live in the wrong ward of the planet just for revenge. A friend went ballistic on Facebook after attending a memorial for the man everyone in her hood in the upper nine knew as Sappy. She was mostly going after the hipsters in the same bar looking for food but avoiding any contact with the largely black crowd at the memorial, black except for her and her partner. She grew up in San Diego in poverty to match any sad story from the Ninth Ward, but chooses New Orleans. She lives there, running a small business with her partner while both work part time, and make themselves a part of their stretch of St. Claude. What is sad about Sappy is not the hipsters gathered in a tight, white knot at the other end of the bar is that he was a country kid from Mississippi who also chose New Orleans, made a living as a minimum wage worker at Rally’s. When he was gunned down over some stupid argument in the parking lot of Church’s Chicken on St. Claude he asked the woman who drew the gun, “Are you going to shoot me?” She did. Was his tone of voice confrontational, the braggadocio that is part of a life in that part of town, or was he incredulous that some dumb argument could turn so quickly to a gun? I like to imagine the latter, but either way it doesn’t matter. The man born Derrick Christmas is cold in the ground. It was not his first brush with senseless violence. He was the victim of a vicious beatdown in a bathroom with Harrah’s for brushing a man’s shoulder. To chose to live in New Orleans is to chose to live with the body count, to walk back to your car in the relative safety of the Marigny like a soldier on patrol, every sense hyper-alert, suddenly sober as the adrenaline prepares you for the man passing on the street who might be a road side bomb waiting to go off. To chose to live in the Ninth Ward is to put your plastic piece down on the Monopoly block where many go directly to jail, do not pass home and collect $200. No real hope going in, less coming out. And too many do not pass home but go directly to the cemetery. How to live in this city when every morning I go to the blog to grab the day’s Odd Words to post and see my statistics, the numbers next to the list of the dead. Sometimes they leave comments, as I ask, the way people leave plastic flowers, bottles of a favorite rum, a faded picture in the spot where another one fell. I don’t need to open the newspaper to be reminded that I live in a city at war with itself. How to live in this city? When my daughter came back from a semester in Amsterdam there was a seminar they were all required to take on readjustment to one’s home culture. I only had a week of jet lag, and a second week frantically finishing a paper and a manuscript for the courses I took there. It was only then that the culture shock began to sink in. I met an old friend for drinks and after walking back to her house to sit on the patio on Conti Street. When I left, she insisted there was no way I was walking alone through the quarter the nine blocks to Buffa’s, or standing on the corner of Esplanade and Rampart waiting for the last 93 bus to take me home. She shoved money in my hands and walked me up to the corner for a cab. It wasn’t safe, she insisted, to walk nine blocks through my town, although I count myself a street-wise former quarter rat, keep to the well-lit, no-parking side of the street. Too many robberies, and the latest craze, senseless beatdowns. How many died while I was wandering Europe? I could consult my local newspaper’s helpful online Murders page. Does your hometown newspaper have a Murders page? How to live in this city? Those who know me know I have sworn a blood oath to New Orleans as serious and final as any gang initiation, and yet I find I can’t stop asking this question. I know a woman alone could not walk the dark streets of Rome or Barcelona as I did, but I wandered lost and enchanted in the Barri Gòtic looking for the familiar square that had become my landmark, from which I could easily find my way out of the maze and back to my hostel. Now I am home and am told I dare not walk Burgundy or Dauphine nine blocks to get a burger. “A groundless sadness called forth in a person’s heart by a pastoral landscape.” Were I to look back at my pictures, the view from the castle in the Tyrol of northern Italy, the vistas of Granada from atop the Alhambra, my memories of Lorca’s beloved vega (and that was le mal du pays, but not homesickness but rather the pain of leaving, of going home to the place I love); in those visions it is not a groundless sadness in the pastoral landscape. It is a sadness born not of homesickness but home sickness, a culture shock the two women returning from the castle to San Diego will never know. It is a deep sadness, born of blood, like the Deep Song of the gypsies of southern Spain, the black and terrible angel or familiar demon of Duende that lives deep in the gut, born of love and suffering. Le mal du pays.
Box Three, Spool Five October 3, 2014Posted by The Typist in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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How to live in this town when every saxophone is a glittering instrument of pain, its every note a howl of anguish?
I can’t tell you this story, not unless I am prepared to call in the final airstrike: the raging curtain of napalm on Kurtz’ temple over the mournful sound of the Doors.
“Calling PBR Street Gang, Calling PBR Street Gang. This is Almighty. Do you read me? Over.”
I have bared my soul here but there are limits. There are other souls I love more than the fitful god they say created them and I will not reveal their secrets, but how to live in this town when every saxophone comes in under what resounds like the final trumpet, wails painfully with the most human voice of any instrument built by man. There are songs I will never be able to listen to again.
I have walked the darkest streets of Barcelona at unreasonable hours and not heard a gunshot. I can manage enough Spanish to scan the headlines that still hang from kiosks in Europe, and no where did I read of the kill count. In Granada I stood in the Huerta de San Vincente and thought of Ezra Pound, and was ashamed. I live in the world Pound warned us of, when you subtract his predictable anti-Semitism, leaving only the banks and the war machine. I live in the world Garcia-Lorca died defying, the machine gun Inquisition with no questions, no promise of redemption through confession.
Suffering is. If I met the Buddha on the road I would kill him. If I happened upon Calvary I would weep at the brutal senselessness of it all. I would become, as in Gaudi’s masterpiece, the faceless person imprinted with suffering, his Veronica. Because suffering is is larger than any individual.
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
— Psalm 13, which I have quoted long ago
What do you do when the magic is gone? Once I bled for this city, gave friends up to the soft ground who shared my love and anger. Today I wonder why.
I think it is time to pull out the expensive BBC Collection of Samuel Beckett, to listen to Krapp’s Last Tape.
Box Three, Spool Five: the perfect absurdity of the banana peel, tragedy not comedy, the traps we set for ourselves.
…” clear to me at last that the dark I have always struggled to keep under is in reality”…
Ambulatory at Best October 3, 2014Posted by The Typist in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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I awoke this morning in in my tub in the remains of an ice bath swaddled in crudely-wrapped bandages, the apparent victim of an involuntary fuckectomy. I had already somewhat anesthetized myself with three pints and three shots in cross-wired celebration of my first paycheck in nine months and learning on the same day that my recruiter’s promised six month contract is in fact tied to a 12 week Statement of Work, and that my manifestly less productive predecessor burned a bunch of those weeks doing not much. There is no clarity on extension. So my new job will last about six weeks, maybe 10, but not six months. Better than Henry Chinaski in Factotum, which is absolutely the wrong book to be reading right now. I just finished Ham on Rye, but I’ve gone from the consolation that someone’s life is much worse than mine to the temptation to crawl into bed with a bottle.
Perhaps somewhere there is a network, a bounty system in which young IT contractors identify productive older contractors and have them taken out of the market to keep rates up by arranging these ambush fuckectomies. Now my ability to fully give a fuck is in an organ cooler passing as some construction worker’s lunch. The man in the truck bed is not a pick-up from the front of Home Depot but a sworn devotee of Santa Muerte. Under his shirt the haloed death’s head is tattooed in prison purple and the dull red of pilfered BIC pens and also underneath there is a submachine pistol. The bloody remains of my fuckectomy are off on its way to whomever doesn’t sufficiently give a fuck, but could afford to pay to steal someone else’s give-a-fuck-ability. Perhaps they are transplanted into burnt-out executives who can afford to have one to regain or even boost their ability to give a fuck, seven by 24 by 365 by the synced clock on the office smart phone, nine nines of ready to roll fuckability.
I Just Want To See His Face September 6, 2014Posted by The Typist in art, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Goya, The Black Paintings, The Dog
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“I don’t wan’t to walk and talk about Jesus. I just want to see his face.”
— Mick Jagger/Keith Richards
Can you see the face, the one with the long beard, and the left hand raised as if watching this scene through some impervious barrier of glass or time? Or is it simply an illusion, the wish to believe that some being is at least disturbed enough by this scene to press their face into it like Jesus into the veil of Veronica? You can see it in some reproductions but not others. It is hard to see here. I can see it in the card on my wall if I turn the desk lamp directly on it. It is not, however, anything holy. Perhaps it is just mad Jehovah reveling in his ability to destroy what he has made. There is no suggestion of redemption. Or perhaps it is simply a disturbance in the pigment, a bit of holy toast for the damned.
Songs of Innocence August 31, 2014Posted by The Typist in The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
I could not publish until Anya was gone from fear of upsetting my daughter. We put Anya to sleep Aug. 29, very close to what would hvave been her 19th birthday.
My daughter’s cat is clearly dying. She has stopped eating–again–and spends her days laying in her chosen spot on the linoleum just outside the bathroom. She gets up to use the cat box and drink water but that’s it. She has become a bag of skin and bones. Her name is Anastasia: Anya for short. That should give you some idea of her age. I won’t send you off to the imdb database to look up the release date of the Disney film. Suffice it to say the cat is pushing eighteen.
I think I will take this just as hard as my daughter, or my son (who loves the cat). I was the person who gave her the most sustained attention before my separation (she was always a little afraid of my son, who was too young when we adopted her to fully understand the difference between a plush toy and a livinv animal.) As my daughtef grew older she was less and less around the house, and was I believe somewhat allergic fo her cat. Matt persisted in his more tender attentions until she relented and his bed became a favotite place to sleep. I offered her a warm chest to nap on while I lay on the couch. When she came home to me, after a period of adjustment she returned to nudge her head against my book anytime I lay on the couch to read.
What I am afraid of losing is not my animal companion but one of the last cherished icons of innocence. Anya was my daughter’s fifth birthday present. She represents for me both innocence, and those nights I intentionally fell asleep on the couch reading instead of in bed with my ex-, a symptom of the loss of innocence. Innocence, that cherished belief that the world is not out to recycle you to better purposes the minute you stop looking over your shoulder, is one of more difficult pathologies of the romantic. It is usually extinguished early in life, but the romantic carries at least a kernel of it with them indefinitely. Yes, I have my dark side. Consider William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience as a good example of the balance of both in the pathological romantic. Then consider that I can recreate Allen Ginsburg’s recording of “Oh, Rose, Thou Art Sick!” (minus harmonium), note for flat note.
Children exacerbate that pathological extension of innocence into adulthood, particularly in the romantic. One continually sees an expression, a gesture, a turn of phrase that wooshes one back to a more innocent time, before the terrible twos turned into the twenties, before the credit card was over limit again. Even looking last night at the cat’s whiskers called up a memory of how my daughter had cut the whiskers of her favorite stuffed animal–Rugby Tiger–when she was small. I was probably wallowing at that point, stroking the cat beside me in the bed. (Wallowing is another romantic pathology we shall discuss another time).
I don’t want to take up and find innocence dead on the floor, but she does not seem to be suffering and we both take comfort in the time my son and I spend sitting on the floor stroking her. She will even attempt to climb into my lap, although her hindquarters are getting weaker by the day. I feel that innocence is dying all around me, and with it trust and love. There is trust that is earned, and the practical love of adults, and the tangle of obligations taken on for love. I understand that. Unconditional love and trust: those are another matter. I am not the sort to give myself up to a blue or bloody avatar. To do so is to lose too much of one’s humanity. For now, I want to keep Anya with us as long as I can, and tie Pollyanna and Pangloss in a burlap sack with rocks and toss them into a river.
Ghosts of the Flood August 29, 2014Posted by The Typist in A Fiction, Corps of Engineers, Fargo, Federal Flood, Flood, FYYFF, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, memoir, postdiluvian, Shield of Beauty, the dead, The Narrative, The Typist, We Are Not OK.
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” . . . so many, / I had not thought death had undone so many . . . “
The Wasteland, T.S. Eliot
Sometimes I feel them, my wife told me, their spirits, as I’m driving down the street. All that suffering, she explains, all those people. As if 300 years of yellow fever and the lash, the lynchings and gansta gun battles weren’t enough to populate a parallel city of spirits in this place where tombs are mansions and burials a celebration, the Flood came.
Now there is a brooding presence even in the bright of day, looming over us all like a storm-bent house on the verge of collapse. These empty shells of former lives that line so many streets are a daily reminder of the vast catastrophe; the windows staring lifelessly at broken sidewalks, the facades washed pale and colorless. Each still bears the esoteric marks of the searchers that mimic the scratching on tombs in the old cemeteries, some the dreaded number at the bottom that totals up the lost.
The tally marked beneath the cross now rises to 1577, a crowed like that described by Eliot. I imagine not a host but solitary figures, the ghosts we know from childhood stories. In their newness to death, I picture them wandering as curious as children in the house of an aged aunt, getting underfoot and touching what they should not, interrupting and making unwelcome mischief. The brush of their passing is still strong enough to reach out and touch a good Catholic girl from North Dakota, one as innocent of the spiritualist shadows cast by every flickering candle flame before a New Orleans saint’s statue as a Midwesterner could possibly be.
Even the most rationale and disinclined among us imagine ghosts in a city this old, where the steamy air is a tangible presence on the skin and lights flash erratically in the night through the stirrings of the thick, tangled foliage, where the old houses creak and groan as they settle into the soft earth like old men lowering themselves into a chair. Once I wished to experience that touch of the other, a product of reading too much fantastic fiction. One of the signature scenes in film for me is John Cassavettes as a modern Prospero in The Tempest, standing in his urban tower and saying, “Show me the magic.” For him, the sky erupts in lightening. I would sometime catch myself whispering those words, but they were simply blown away by the night wind.
Then one bright August afternoon I was sitting in my idling car in my driveway in Fargo, North Dakota. At just before five o’clock that 29th of August a string of Carnival beads which hung from my rearview mirror–black and gold beads interspersed with black voodoo figures–suddenly burst. It seemed strange at the time that they would break as the car sat still, would break at the bottom and not at the top where they routinely rubbed against the mirror post, where the string was tied off, the knot weakening the line. It was not the way that I, as a sailor with some idea of how a line will wear, would expect them to break.
Perhaps the beads slid about at the end of the string as I drove around, causing the string to wear through at the bottom, so that it was inevitable that is where they would break first, given enough corners turned, sufficient applications of the accelerator and brake. The timing of just before five o’clock on that Monday in August of 2005 was just a coincidence, the inevitable laws of physics unfolding without regard for the observer and his sense of time.
Be careful what you wish for is the lesson we learned in a dozen fairy tales. The longed for touch of the other, and the tide that washed me up on the shores of my personal Ithaca, into this house on Toulouse Street in the only place I have ever thought of as home, came with a terrible price: both are tainted with graveyard dust. I would undo it all in instant, if I only knew how.
I’ve written this post before–or ones very like it, that tell this story of the broken beads–and then deleted them. It seems just too strange and personal a tale to share with just any aimless visitor wandering the Internet. What will people think? I ask myself in a voice that sounds vaguely like my mother’s. What if some future employer Googles up this article? worries the husband with a mortgage and two children to raise. I don’t expect them to understand.
Unless you learned from the maid that cleaned your family home that crossing two matchsticks in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary and sprinkling them with salt would bring rain, unless you believed that a piece of candy found on the ground could be made safe to eat by making the sign of the cross over it, if people did not come in the night and scratch odd marks on certain tombs on the grounds where your family is buried; if these were not part of your earliest experience, then my tale of the broken beads sounds like the product of an overworked imagination, something like Scrooge’s undigested bit of beef, a spot of mustard.
There is a spectre over New Orleans. As the August anniversary slipped away, I thought the grim, invisible cloud that hung over the city would begin to drift away. Instead, as the weeks passed, I was increasingly convinced: everyone in New Orleans was haunted. You could see it in people’s eyes, in the way they walked, hear it in the words they spoke, or the ones they wrote online as they spoke about their lingering pain. It was a spirit as much inside as out, the ghost in the machine that haunted our every step.
Then came the Monday Night Football game. I thought about the curse of the Superdome, the one that suggests destruction of the Girod Street Cemetery has cursed the ground and all who play there. Was the spirit of the people in the Dome that night just the charm needed to lay that particular haunting to rest, to break that curse? The morning after the strut in people’s step, the lilt of their voices told me that perhaps, just perhaps a healing had begun. We were not a city in need of an exorcism: we were the exorcism.
The ghost of the Flood is now a part of who we are. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if it is ectoplasm or the synchronized firing of a million neurons in ways science does not yet understand. In the end we have to come to term with it. This is something that we as Orleanians, the people who live next to our dead in their exclusive farbourgs of marble and white-washed stone, should be able to do.
We need to honor these dead and respect them, not with the weight of Confucian ancestor worship but in the simple spirit of the pre-Confucian Japanese who venerated odd stones, in the ways inherent in our own Latin roots mingled with the traditions of Africa, where the community of saints and the loa of Africa intersect. We don’t need an exorcism. We need a conjuration, a ritual that calls up the ghosts and honors them, that welcomes them in the way the way the devotees of Vodoun welcome the possession of the loa.
Perhaps next August 29, we should all tie a brown cord on some pillar or post of the house at just the point where we have carefully painted over the water stain. Just above that, we should mark in dust of ground gypsum the rescue symbol that is now as much a part of our selves and our city as the sign of the cross. We will do this to tell whoever is listening—Our Father, Oshun, Mother of God, ghosts of the Flood—we remember. We have suffered, and we will never forget the Flood and those who did not come through. We are the people who came through and came back. We remember the lost. We remember you. Je me souviens.
When we accept and embrace this spirit, perhaps the haunting will end once and for all, will not be a permanent pall over the city, a fearful sound in the night like a howling in the wires, or an unpleasant knotting in the stomach as we pass an abandoned house. It will cease when it becomes instead like the glinting of the sun on white-washed stone above the neat green grass of the cemeteries, just another comfortable part of who we are.
First posted Oct. 5, 2006 on Wet Bank Guide.
An Imaginary City August 25, 2014Posted by The Typist in Fortin Street, New Orleans, Odd Words, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, Uncategorized, We Are Not OK.
I live in an imaginary city. Its borders on one side are indistinct, the gradual erosion from solid land through marsh to water. These boundaries shift daily with the tide, and monthly with the moon, and every day grow a little closer, the city a little smaller. On the other sides there are walls built to keep back the sea, to contain the river. These are not ours to command. All we have with certainty is our imaginary city, its rituals of uncertain origin, its people of many colors and languages. They walk and dance on streets that ripple like the water, fracture like ice on a river breaking up in the spring, and crumble from neglect. These are the only streets we have ever known. Only the names are important: Pleasure, Desire, Humanity, Music. The names are part of the dream of the imaginary city. Martin Luther King Boulevard and Jefferson Davis Parkway intersect and end where Earhart Boulevard flies toward the Potemkin America of the imaginary suburbs.
There are in fact many imaginary cities I inhabit, all in the same place. There is the city of the tourists, the ones who buy Carnival beads in August and wear them drinking in the streets. This is a city of imaginative drunkenness and lewdness, mostly confined to a few blocks of one street, where people buy Big Ass Beers and drinks the size of goldfish bowls or shaped like hand grenades, as if they wish to immerse themselves in liquor or explode into outrageous behavior. They holler at women on party balconies to “show their tits.” Some drunkenly comply. They behave, in short, like drunken louts released from all restraint. This is encouraged. Virtually every doorway in these few blocks leads to a bar, the rest to t-shirt and trinket shops where they can buy their beads and shirts only someone completely inebriated would consider wearing. They show these shirts to friends at home, snicker, and put them in a bottom drawer. I occasionally inhabit this city if only for a moment, to cross the street of the endless Carnival, to escape to another imaginary city. A few people I know work there. Some love it. Some hate it. It either is or is not a particular person’s imaginary city. For the visitors, it is the only city.
I can cross Canal Street, the famous divide between two of the largest imaginary cities, to the skyscrapers and renovated 19th century office blocks of Uptown. (Don’t call the skyscraper village Downtown, or you will quickly become lost. Downtown is Another City). This is where the wealthy sit in air-conditioned comfort–over lunches that would cost the waiter a week’s wages–and wonder at the indolence of so many of the people of their imaginary city. They are the God-fearing Protestants from the north who came after the war and built that side of Canal Street into a landscape of mansions and shotgun shacks for their servants. An antique streetcar, long out of manufacturer and kept running entirely with hand built parts, rumbles under great oaks down the avenue. On this avenue the wealthy and those who would be wealthy enact the ritual of Uptown Carnival, in which these people ride atop massive papier-mâché barges tossing imaginary jewels of Chinese plastic to the grateful (if indolent) throngs that line the street. This has been my imaginary city, at times, looking out from the nineteenth floor contemplating what fine restaurant a salesman might take us to. I too have stood where the streetcars run and fought for my share of worthless plastic.
Downtown is not where the business of the city is done. This seems appropriate to an imaginary city. Downtown begins with the blocks of the Old Quarter where drunken tourists reign and slowly gives way to the city downriver. Things run down quickly going toward the sea but that is to be expected. The certainty of the land beneath this imaginary city dissolves with each block further down toward the delta. The clocks on abandoned bank buildings stand forever at some o’clock. Here it is Central River Time. Paint peels more slowly in this imaginary city, and so is left as it is. I can think of a half-dozen facades in this imaginary city with faded advertisements for beers out of style longer than I can remember. The sidewalks here are not fractured by the stately oaks of Uptown but more likely by a weedy camphor or blackberry. People do not call the city to complain. They crush a camphor leaf in their hand and inhale, or stop to pick a handful of berries. They step over the heaves and holes on their way to more important business. There is cooking to be done, music to be sung, cold beer and friends to attend to. I live far in the back of this imaginary city, off the portage that once ran from the Bayou to the River. There was a clerk at a drug store not four block away I had not visited in 20 years who took a long look at my driver’s license, and remarked I looked just like my father (20 years dead). No doubt there are dwindling towns scattered in the rural landscape where such things might happen, but only one imaginary city where it could happen to you today.
The imaginary city is old by the standards of the New World. Only the pyramids of the displaced Natives are older. Yet nothing here is as old as the imaginary city. Over the centuries, fire and flood have erased everything but the names of the streets in the French Quarter, lined with Spanish colonial buildings. Kings, founders, a street called Barracks that explains the curious grid streets of the French Quarter, a fortress built in a conquered land. Elsewhere the streets run perpendicular to the river, slowing pulling away from each other or colliding as the river dictates: new streets appear, others disappear. The cross streets follow the bends of the river or simply begin and disappear in a geometry that defies simple formulae. It is a fractal city, chaotic order out of chaos. You can spend an entire lifetime here and still discover new streets and wonder: was this always here? Or is it simply a symptom of an imaginary city? Were the houses a Carnival façade, something erected for some private entertainment, or has another imaginary city intersected ours like two bubbles colliding?
It would be impossible to live here if it were not an imaginary city.
In the concrete world of rotting sideboards that hides beneath the imaginary city, things can be too awful to imagine. The bloodstained streets are the killing fields of a constant, random war. The newspaper of the imaginary city counts the daily dead and wounded, but it is easier not to take the paper if you wish to live in the imaginary city. You can live in your own imaginary city and cluck and shrug and say: not in my imaginary city. These things don’t happen Uptown. These things don’t happen in the blocky, post-War suburbs of the Lakefront. And how about them Saints? Football season is upon us and in the imaginary city football crosses all boundaries, melds the imaginary cities into one imaginary city, if only for a Sunday afternoon, a Monday morning. Football and Carnival are the pillars of the imaginary city, the many imaginary cities that make up this imaginary city. We imagine ourselves one city.
Behind all this, the uncivil war goes on, cousins killing cousins, neighbors killing neighbors. You can try to ignore it but every now and then, you step outside for a cigarette at night and hear in the distance not the horns of the ships making the tight bend in the river but the crackle of small-arms fire, and then the sirens. In your heart, you pray that a stray bullet has not taken another child. You step back inside, suddenly distracted by a song on the imaginary city’s radio station where they do not play the top hits of an imaginary nation but the music of the imaginary city. You return to the collective imaginary normal until the sound of a snare drum or a trumpet calls for forth a slow spiritual, or vibrant gospel song you know will be played somewhere in this imaginary city to walk and wake those who have just died.
It would be impossible to live here if it were not an imaginary city.
The Android Speaks in the Seance of my Pocket August 12, 2014Posted by The Typist in The Odd, The Typist, WTF.
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Forty Days & Forty Nights:Dos June 21, 2014Posted by The Typist in The Narrative, The Typist.
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First floor, first room: the Vorticists, as if the directors of The Museo Thysen-Borneimisza knew my next stop was Brunnenburg, Italy to study Ezra Pound. So much for my flighty idea to simply stay in Spain.
I am trying not to dress like a tourist, but apparently I am the only man under 70 in Madrid wearing a hat, except the jovenes in their embroidered-bill gansta caps. And I need to get a bag mas tipico, the narrow vertical sort instead of my purse-shaped Pategonia. My high school Spanish comes and goes. Sometimes I can make myself understood, and others must sound like the village idiot after a visit to the cervescaria. I catch answers better than I thought I would, enough fragments to find my bus stop home yesterday afternoon. (I took the night bus back the first night). The men in the ETA kiosk (t as in transito, not terrorist) are complete idiots. Two different guys sent me to two different places to catch el autobús 53 por Ciudad Lineal and both were wrong. (Google says I should say hacia not por but they understood me well enough to send me to the wrong stop for 53. I’ve learned to find a driver having a cigarette at the busy transit terminal at the Plaza de Artistes if I need directions.
I have another long day planned–Parque del Retiro, Museo Prado, jazz again at ten–but I clearly need to take some time to just wander and take pictures. There are enough modern buildings for a modern capital city but there are so many baroque facades, the Moorish Plaza des Torros I pass on my return bus (I must get off today or tomorrow for pictures, then catch the next bus), the Mexican Embassy which looks like a miniature Worlds Fair. There are so any things I did not think to do: visit the Naval Museum, the Centro des Cervantes, perhaps the Biblioteque Nationale . Still, I think tomorrow I will avoid the busy flea market with its pickpockets and faux designer goods, and simply wander El Centro and let myself get lost in the narrow streets, wait for the synchronicity that placed the Vorticists as the first paintings in the museo yesterday, that landed me in the cafe with the marvelous anchovies before my first night of jazz.
Planeta sin Soledad: 2 June 20, 2014Posted by The Typist in The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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1. The guys in the ETA booth (T as in transito, not terrorists) are complete fucking idiots. If you want to find your stop, ask a bus driver in your best high school Spanish.
2. The Pop Art exhibit at the Thyssen-Bornemisza was a comlete waste of 7 Euro. The only worth while thing was a small collage of James Dean and Rimbaud in grey-scale and pink by Ray Johnson. And of course the special exhibit was the only part of the museum that didn’t allow photography.
3. OK, I haven’t been to the Prado but it is going to have to be exceptional to match the breadth and taste of the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza.
4. I pass the Plaza de Toros on my homeward bus, and tomorrow I’ getting off to take pictures. It is a Moorish wonder.
5. As I am off to the Gezuversity to study Ezra Pound, I was amazed to walk into the first room at the Thyssen-Bornemisza and find a small selection of Vorticist paintings. I think the universe was correcting me for suggesting I toss off several thousand and tuition and just stay in Madrid. Still a tempting thought.
Planeta sin Soledad: 1 June 20, 2014Posted by The Typist in The Narrative, The Typist.
Tags: Madrid, planeta sin soledad, tourist
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1. I am dressing conservtively to avoid screaming tourist, but I am apparently the only man in Madrid who wears a hat (as opposed to a gansta-embroidered ball cap).
2. The bus drivers speak better English than their supervisors at central locations and the men in the tourist kiosk at the plaza near the Biblioteque National.
3. I think I need to get a bag mas tipico and vertical than the sling bag I have.
4. Try to remember the way home from the N3 bus for tonight. My stop: Condesa Venadito. More importantly, veer left and not turn left at the roundabout.
5. Also, thank you TSA for cutting my TSA-approved lock (TSA 2). Remember to pack a second lock for use after arrival.
Forty Days & Forty Nights: Uno June 19, 2014Posted by The Typist in Odd Words, The Narrative, The Typist.
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Madrid, Espana 18 Junio 2014
I can’t help think of Washington, D.C. as I traverse Madrid on the N3 night bus back to my hotel, set in Ciudad Lineal, a quiet apartment block suburb much like Arlington, VA just outide the ring road. Both are great capital cities, but one was built by bureaucrats and acountants and one by kings and their artists. The meandering path from where the N3 night bus drops me requires I ask for directions three times before I manage to traverse the three blocks back to my hotel, via a rounabout intended to gather up and redirect the traffic directed by the radial imperatives of a monumental city . ¿Qual izquirda when five street meet? I am not sure it helped that the bus stopped across from an all night gas station where I picked up a tall boy of Malhou to combat the jet lag confusion of seven time zones and my first two sets of direrctions in Spanish.
My first mistake was setting my phone (which does not work in Spain) and my tablet an hour slow. I was up from my jet lag sieta an hour late, and took 40 minutes to realie it. I decided to take the autobus anyway to save money, and managed to find the Cafe Bogui Jazz in time to grb a hasty tortilla patatas and two cup of strong coffee before the show in a clearly local cafe. The second small cup of black dynamite was a bad idea, but I was still in my jet lag haze, trying to converse in my collegio Spanish with the waitress in what a learly a neighborhood joint. Three beers at Bogui Jazz did not help much, nor did the adverture of discovering my 53 bus did not run at night, figuring out that I needed to take the N3, followed by a amble through the neighborhood, tall boy in hand, in search of my hotel. Now know the way, and that I can grab a beer if Ithink sleep wil be slow coming and find my way back all in 10 minutes.
The “free jazz” night of Bogui Jazz was more of a straight-ahead modern set with a few moment of transcedently improvizational glory. The saxophonist told me on break they had played with Donald Harrison, Jr. In their hometown of Leon, so I was clearly in the right spot. I was thrilled enough to write a poem on scraps of paper inspied by one duet beteen the singer and the drummer, and pressed it in her hands while thanking her in village idiot Spanish and then English for making a perfect first night in Madrid. I was clearly in The Zone.
I know I am going to love this city. I think I am going to find my way back to that cafe with its rack of dry cured hams one man was carving the whole time I was there to try the boqurenones rellenos con jambon before I wander off to another night of jazz flamenco, even if it takes me an hour to navigate the narrow and convoluted Europen streets from Salamanca to El Centro to the Cafe Central.
If it weren’t for the prepaid tuition I might consider abandoning a month in the Ezra Pound castle and spend 40 days here recovering my forgotten Spanish, and finding those one or two things each day that demand a poem,spend my siestas in the Bibliotque National or the Cervantes Center with pen and notebook, or early mornings in a plaza soothed into concentration by a baroque fountain. I think I may have found my haven when Atlantis comes to pass.
P.S. It’s 3:19 am here and sleep is hopeless, and I hope to be in the Prado by morning. Thank the Powers for strong Spanish coffee. It ay have to do in lieu of sleep.
56: Heaven on 11 May 14, 2014Posted by The Typist in A Fiction, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Jimi is fixed on Channel 13. Davis paces behind him muttering, “if they only had a horn. ” “Quiet, Miles. Have a taste of this. Listen. This is what we could have done if we’d only had Time.”
“Time, gentleman. Choir and harp practice in fifteen minutes,” an angel reminds them.
“Fuck you and your white-ass cracker choir,” Miles said. “Tell the Big Man the Spheres are in here.” Miles plugs the Pyle and Polks into the TV and cranks it until the clouds dissolve and ranks of angels are left fluttring, wondering what exactly is happening.
The Big Man man walks in and plops on the couch next to Jimi. “Pass that shit over here.” Miles and Gabriel play their muted horns, trading licks with the Joel Harrison.
The Big Man takes a hellacious hit, expanding to galatic diameters and lets it out slowly, a celestial tempest. “You know that’s why I brought you here” the Big Man says.”I want them all to tempt the Devil and aim for heaven.”
“Shut up,” Miles says, “and listen.”
55: Manna from a Raven April 20, 2014Posted by The Typist in 365, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Easter, Sublime
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I can never quite figure out what to do about Easter now the children are grown, except to stay out of the aisle filled with candy. I am a true apostate in the Church of my baptism, cannot in good conscience recite the Apostles Creed and swear fidelity to a single name among the hundreds for the Spirit that inhabits us all. I’ve kicked the dust of that crabby old bastard of the Old Testament off my sandals. Apologies to those who live by those books, but the catechism version is all woman is the root of all evil and drowning His mistakes and if there’s love in all that well blame the sisters and brothers who preferred we walk in fear and guilt.
The Easter story still resonates because it speaks of mystery, and mystery is at the heart of the Spirit. You can’t touch it but sometimes you’re pretty sure it has touched you, if only through a sunset you can explain in perfectly secular terms but which still found you gasping for breath remembering to breath, and in that breath is the Spirit. We have a capacity in us to succumb to the Subime, a word I used hundred times I’m sure after forgetting about Edmund Burke. I took a class in American Nature Writing since going back to school and early on we ploughed through A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful and in all this rush to convert our universities into advanced technically and business schools, I don’t think you can call yourself an educated person unless someone makes you sit down and some point and read that.
Taking some basic anthropology to finish up my degree I understand the evolutionary purpose of altruism but the sublime, the combined feeling of wonder and terror in the face of what is larger than us (at its simplest) seems at first to serve no purpose. Mystery and wonder all in one word, and in that word, taty primal logos, is the capacity to recognize that there are forces larger than us at work in the universe, so many of which we struggle to explain in spite of our big-brained, self-important selves. Emerson and Thoreau and all that crowd understood the sublime, found scripture in mountains and river, the same ancient impulse that gave this mountain or that rock its sacred space, a mountain you might climb and in a blinding light find the logos in a handful of words. Better than a set of rules however is simply to be open to the Sublime. To do so is to walk the Tao, to walk in beauty, to cry in horror at those who top mountains and clear cut forests, to realize that desertification is not just a condition of the land but of what we usually call soul.
On your way to church or to gorge on ham in honor of a no-doubt observant Jewish teacher, don’t forget to look round you :at the sky, at the park as you pass, at your beautifully dressed children. Pause a moment in awe of it all. Gasp at it, and in the breath let spirit enter into you. Easter comes but once a year. Let every day be a Pentecost.
54: Funny Old World April 13, 2014Posted by The Typist in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
There I am, the difficult first step of my project for school done plus half a dozen other errands, the first good day in a carpet of nails week that reached its nadir when I realized I owe the IRA a pile of money. I am are literally sitting on top of the rainbow sipping a beer and then I call my girlfriend and she is having a terrible no good very bad day and my little bubble goes: pop. Fibromyalgia results in a lot of terrible no good very bad days. I coo comforts, especially for the “terribly lonely part”, promising to stop by after the poetry reading I’m off to.
How terribly lonely can a person be, I find myself thinking moments after hanging up, when I last saw her yesterday? I begin to feel boxed in by the situation, its terrible frequency. How the hell am I going to go to Europe and leave her behind? Her condition gives her both tremendous strength and fragility, and when I am handy fragility is an available out from the pain. There is a reason, I think, there are boxes marked Dependent on the tax forms I finished and not all of it is fiduciary. The molars start to grind, the chest starts to tighten and suddenly the rainbow is a little grey cloud and you, Oh Eeyore, are the butt of the universe’s whimsical sense of humor.
So I go to the bar (all the poetry readings in New Orleans are in bars) and instead of sticking to my unemployed Hi-Life budget I order a nice draw and a shot of tequila good tequila. One of the poets shows up and sits at my table and asks how it’s going. I answer “fair”, then hold up the glass of tequila I shouldn’t have ordered and make a correction. “Changeable” I say, holding the blue agave barometer up to the light. “It needs to get to about there,” pointing toward the bottom,” to be fair.”
I’m about to launch into a totally unwanted Slavic litany of complaints when suddenly the juke box erupts with “In Spite of Ourselves”, a duet by John Prine with Iris DeMent. It’s “our song”, or as close as we have to one. Twenty minutes before the first of the millennial poets steps on stage and speaks a single line the stage lighting switches as if to a stage direction: Dark Irony. I feel my ears and tail growing, the first drooping and the latter swishing away the flies while I think: “earthquake weather.”
The poets are quite good but in my life’s movie director’s viewfinder kit is the Male Gaze 1000+ Deluxe and in the relationship mood I’m in, it’s the first one my hand instinctively plucks out of the case. [Women of all persuasions, you may want to stop reading here, or just note that the comments are open). It’s not so much the biological notion that we are bred to spread our seed as it is the fragility we will not admit of the male ego, as easily bruised as a peach in a shopping cart. Of all the reactions to that, short of the one that involves storming out to the workshop and finishing that new cabinet you want in record time, few are pretty. Altruism in sexual arrangements is as old as the chimpanzee but leave us feeling hurt and we’ll be siting some distance from the fire brooding, bearing our fangs at any who approach, scratching our nuts and wondering what’s for dinner. We look across the fire and wonder what old Gruntle’s partner Melon Breast is like on the animal skins.
I struggle now to remember the lines of poetry, although much of it was good. (My memory is not the best, and I really wanted to buy at least one book but I am no longer the poetry reading Medici who always buys a book. I’m just too broke). All I recall of the first reader is that this young M.F.A. student is so drop-dead out of my league I would need the Barbie Firewoman Rescue Ladder Company truck to get within decent gazing distance of her sandaled toes. The next vents about her ex-girlfriend and I remember the line “fisting your hair” and nope. The third poet, I think, is the best [if you allow for the few poems about selfies but that is what the age demands] but she also writes about her boyfriend, whom I meet when I go over to complement her, give her my card and tell her there will be pictures up on the Odd Words site later tonight.
Then my friend takes the stage and after a few damn fine poems of his own, brings out a translation of Catullus he has published and the second poem is “8. Advice: to himself,” which begins like this is A.S. Kline’s translation:
Sad Catullus, stop playing the fool,
and let what you know leads you to ruin, end.
Once, bright days shone for you,
when you came often drawn to the girl
loved as no other will be loved by you.
Then there were many pleasures with her,
that you wished, and the girl not unwilling,
truly the bright days shone for you.
The rest of the poem is about the girl rejecting him, and Catullus counseling himself not to continue to pursue her, probably as far from my actual situation as could be but the troubled male ego doesn’t approach every challenge with logic and tool in hand, and I think very hard about ordering another tequila. It doesn’t help that the next is “27. Falernian Wine”
Serving-boy fill for me stronger cups
of old Falernian, since Postumia,
the mistress’s, laws demand it,
she who’s juicier then the juicy grape.
But you water, fatal to wine, away with you:
far off, wherever, be off to the strict.
This wine is Bacchus’s own.
This night, I think, is going swimmingly, as in the backstroke in bathtubs of gin. Instead of more unwatered wine I head out the door for the promised visit and hug but there are a dozen competing emotions ratting around in my head like an untuned engine with bad lifters. Some days I feel this is what our relationship is like. My god you love her and want to drive around town and show her off to everybody in the Classy Woman Club but parts are impossible to get and the necessary repairs are impossible. We’re both getting older and the hand-holding to more-exciting-contact ratio is regressing rapidly backwards toward middle school.
I hug her with genuine affection, hold her until she is ready to sit down again. Then I plant myself at the far end of the bed and begin to vent. This really goes no where except to deplete her supply of tissues. We part with another long hug, not really wanting to let go even after agreeing “we’ve had this ‘discussion’ before,” and no one is really satisfied. There is nothing to resolve. You love each other, and love is hard; sometimes so hard a person just wants to walk away from it for a while and kick the rocks in their head down the street. We think the partner we find by our age is the one we’ve been waiting for and that’s mostly true, older and wiser, but it doesn’t mean it’s all smiles and unspoken but knowing exchanges in the rocking chairs. Still, you know for all the usual and unusual trials and tribulations, as Prine and DeMent croon, that you’re never going to let her go.
She tells me to go home, which my lizard brain intercepts before it can reach the frontal lobes and translates: go to the Holy Ground and sulk over a pint. I go and everyone there is relentlessly cheerful with drink but I’ve put on the cape of inviolable male entitlement and resentment and the atmosphere doesn’t help much. The cheerfull and cute redheaded barmaid slips me an extra pint since I had to wait for the first while they change the keg, one from the old and one from the new. I think she is just being sweet but I can taste the difference, the malty savor of the last of the old keg like a bottle of the rare XXX Export instead of the overly gassed typical American pint. I escape into the flavor, taking it in sip-by-sip and insist she compare them herself when she gets a free minute. She lingers, lets me try her new vape (hibiscus flower, not tobacco) and it’s like a whiff of her perfume, She lingers and talks perhaps a little too long, until the other barmaid interrupts and asks if she’s busy.
When she brings me another (my third) there is a little heart drawn in the foam. Flirting with bar maids is great craic but I realize my sulk is probably so palpable it’s hurting business, that it’s probably just another part of the transaction between a great bartender and regular customer. She’s cute and a real sweetheart but also a pro who makes mean martinis when you’re in the mood for them, and knows the trade well. Still, there was that night we talked about writing, one of the nights I go their to scribble in the cheerful, neutral brown noise of Guinness and crowd. She always wanted to write, she said, started and then stopped. She asks where she would find the time and energy. If you can get out of bed and make coffee and you have it in you to write, I tell her, then you are two thirds of the way there. Before the day gets away from you, take that first cup and a pen and curl up and write whatever comes into your head. There’s really no other way to get started. I scribble that advice again on a napkin, along with the Cheryl Strayed quote “write like a motherfucker”, secure it all with the clip of a spare pen with her name written on the outside of the bar nap so the other tender won’t just scoop it up, and put it atop her last tip. I like to think I left something more on the bar that night than the usual wad of dollars and the musk scent of men alone at a bar. Whether that beaming smile is strictly professional old-regular or genuinely meant just for me, it doesn’t matter tonight. That little gesture of a heart on the foam pokes a pinprick hole in the balloon of miasma I’ve blown up around my self-absorbed ass, and I go home after that one. I’ll not get a better pint tonight, not even the last of a barrel.
The radio is off in the car and I catch myself whistling “In Spite of Ourselves.”
He’s got more balls than a big brass monkey
He’s a whacked out weirdo and a lovebug junkie
Sly as a fox and crazy as a loon
Payday comes and he’s howlin’ at the moon
He’s my baby I don’t mean maybe
Never gonna let him go
In spite of ourselves
We’ll end up a sittin’ on a rainbow
Against all odds
Honey, we’re the big door prize
We’re gonna spite our noses
Right off of our faces
There won’t be nothin’ but big old hearts
Dancin’ in our eyes.
I may be an ass, but at least I’m not Eeyore anymore.
52: THAT BRIGHT MOMENT April 8, 2014Posted by The Typist in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
YOU ARE TRAPPED IN THAT BRIGHT MOMENT
WHERE YOU LEARNED YOUR DOOM
— Samuel R. Delaney in City of a Thousand Suns
I’ve just finished my taxes and realized i made a $5,000 mistake last year. Also, the IRS does not do payment plans for the unemployed.
The unemployed who plan to to run up a credit card to go the Europe and lock themselves in a castle in the Tyrolean Alps for a month were I will determine if I am a poet or a poseur, doing an intense side class on Ezra Pound because we all have our mountains to climb.
We all have our mountains to climb and so in spite of all this I will do whatever is necessary to make sure my daughter is settled safely at Columbia University for her graduate degree and Matthew realizes his musical dreams no matter the cost.
No matter the cost even if you are on the black diamond slop to penury. You have been poor before and remember how it is done. Marianne and I lived for years as two, first in college on a fraction of my daughter’s allowance, managed when my newspaper salary was in the high four figures and don’t regret a moment of those days.; I made my choices and I remain convinced they were the right thing to do.
The right thing to do is to find the life you were meant to live and do it regardless of the cost. I pray my children discover their path young and are ready for every ugly bump, blowout and broken axle life throws in their way. I waited until too late in life and now I pay in currency of blood.
In currency of blood I would pay the price demanded of me. My family’s blood is older than the Lakota in the Dakotas, and no less bound to the land I stand upon. My claim to this place, Mr. Jefferson, is more honest than your patrimony as is my honest Creole blood. I am home and here I make my stand. For all my decisions there is a cost and now I have to pay.
Now I have to pay the bankers who unmanned me and the Central Government I foreswore any real allegiance to almost a decade ago, proudly tossing the American flag in the trash when I needed a new pole to fly the ensign of the City of New Orleans every July 4th, Memorial Day and any other inappropriate occasion. I wish I’d kept them so I could fly the charred remnants upside down at half mast when George Bush take his last overlight to hell. No matter: I am a citizen of New Orleans and an accidental resident of any other entity. I know who I am.
I know who I am and not a citizen of Delaney’s dystopia. I’ve known for a long time there was no enemy over the mountain, that pro patria nonsense. I know who I am, a poet not a poseur, and yet rebel against my own cause. “A post-post-modernist” someone kindly inscribed in an autographed book but that is not quite right. I am a broken link in the DNA array of the next step of evolution. Farewell Aquarius and your outworn Piscean god. “We are ready for a new avatar,” Coco sang but I am not it. Perhaps a fraction of John the Baptist, wailing in the wastelnd, fit only to wash her feet but not to baptize.
Trapped in that bright moment in which I learned my doom:, mountains to climb no mattèr the cost, whomever I must pay in currency of blood. I know who I am. I am finished.
Radio Free Toulouse: Hey Man, Slow Down April 5, 2014Posted by The Typist in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Radio Free Toulouse
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“sometimes I get overcharged. that’s when you see sparks.”
Fifty: Traces of Angels March 29, 2014Posted by The Typist in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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This is my entry in Harriet “Happy” Burbeck’s call for stories for her art show “Illustrations Stories That Haven’t Been Written Yet” (which closed last night).
She goes out in the morning looking for traces of angels. Her momma’s house is chock-a-block with cherubs and delicate porcelain nymphs with gilded wings. Even the fractured worm of ash of the cigarette her mother passed out smoking sits in a bowl cradled by the hands of a pieta-headed angel. These are not the creatures she hears in the night, the woosh of muscular wings, the cries that frighten the hoot owls. The curio cabinets rattle at their passing. When she can no longer fight off sleep she dreams of their hot breath on her neck, dark forms standing guard against darkness. She goes out in the morning, gathers their tremendous feathers and takes them into the woods behind the house. She plants their spines like saplings. With each new plume the forest grows more fiercely green, the trunks and branches more muscular and rough. She sits in her feather garden listening to the crows talk, listening for the familiar voices from her dreams.
Forty Nine: This Fresh Hell March 28, 2014Posted by The Typist in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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You can’t imagine a city like this. The archetypes are all wrong. You’ve drunk so much you’re sure you going straight to Baptist hell the minute you cross the Mississippi line but don’t realize it’s right outside your curtained hotel window, the vomit brimstone steam from hoses rinsing off the blistering streets, the smell of gluttonous garbage decomposing in the brutal, golden sun of August, the flash of gold from the teeth of the last tranny hooker stumbling home. Cathedral Jesus knows what you’ve been up to but he’s been hanging in this city so long all he really wants is to bum a cigarette, something toward bus fare to somewhere less molten, more regular in its habits, some place evil orders the breakfast biscuit and eats it methodically before it pulls out the gun, the horror and the glory of the certainty of Satan’s works on a placid landscape.
Forty Eight: INSERT TITLE March 25, 2014Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, ambition, sloth
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If I don’t shave, would I be starting a new, full beard? It seems an inauspicious day to start something and equally so to do anything as ambitious as shaving. If I were any less ambitious today I might be mistaken, should someone discover me on the couch, for a catatonic. I have a house full of unread books, one clean plate, a rinsed out coffee up and a fractious garbage can that refused to move itself to the curb unaided. I’m not sure what time it is because my upended bicycle, waiting these two weeks for me to repair the front tire, has become a fixture in front of the bookcase and obscures the clock.
I am, for the moment, perfectly happy with this situation. I am wearing my Hefner burgundy velour robe, managed to make a pot of coffee and when the last cigarette in the pack runs out, I have a pouch of loose tobacco and can resume my project to save money and smoke less by rolling one. Except: rolling cigarettes is such a bother, but it is still more in keeping with my current state of affairs than actually putting on pants and walking four blocks to the grocery..
This is New Orleans, and should I choose to appear at Canseco’s wearing nothing but my robe, my thin hair a charged nimbus about my head and my cheeks suitable for removing paint, I might be worth two sentences between the check out girls before the next neighborhood character. This, however, smacks of intentionally eccentric performance, and intentionality (Christ, I hope that’s not a neologism) is not on the agenda.
Which is all to say that I started this (yet another) project 365–to write something on the blog every day–with entry Zero on January 14. It is March 25th, and I am only up to 48. No, I am not going to launch Excel and do the date math necessary to quantify my failure to meet that goal. I carefully explained to my children while helping them with math that estimation is an important skill in addition to precise arithmetic, that I used it almost daily in my job as a project manager, and I leave calculating precisely how far behind I am to the earnest and eager reader to figure that out.
I think, with another cup of coffee, I might manage to stand in the shower long enough to feel clean, put on yesterday’s jeans, and pick out a book from the clutter and walk toward the park. Walking is an almost automatic act once you set out, requiring no particular ambition. If I had a loaf of bread, I might even make a sandwich, but I don’t so I won’t. Grabbing a couple of apples that have never made it off the kitchen table and out of their plastic bag into the refrigerator may have to do. They are Pink Ladies and delicious, and should provide just enough sugar energy to put off walking back from the park to the coffee shop later.
Forty Seven: Love in a Word March 21, 2014Posted by The Typist in 365, Odd Words, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: #twf14, 365, Justin Torres
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What I wrote during Justin Torres’ master class at the Tennessee Williams Festival. The prompt was to write about sex using only monosyllabic words.
Touch, her teen skin, bare arm, long thigh, breasts brushed through blouse, the way a man boy’s hands move but ah! the kiss, all else is less than that: lips press, faces brush, shared breath, as close as we will get to that soft bliss.
Forty Six: One More Drop of Poison March 17, 2014Posted by The Typist in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, St. Patrick's Day
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There’s devils on each side of you with bottles in their hands
You need one more drop of poison and you’ll dream of foreign lands
— Shane MacGowan of The Pogues
Someday I will learn to act my age, but at a particular friend’s St. Patrick’s Parade party there’s not a lot of positive encouragement or enough in the way of positive role models. It’s still only the 16th and I somehow have to recover from my Shane MacGowan imitation to get through an online test and quiz and be fresh enough to venture out tomorrow for the Downtown Irish Parade on the Big Day.
A fellow blogger lamented the leprechaun carnival that is St. Patrick’s Day in America, but by Christ’s nails this is New Orleans. Give us the opportunity of a party in nominal honor of a Catholic saint in mid-Lent and the outcome is predictable. I didn’t catch any beads yesterday but I managed a cabbage or two for the boil that followed the parade. And what is more suitable to a saint’s feast day than drunken float riders hurling large, heavy vegetables at the equally intoxicated parade watchers? They can dye the river green in Chicago and cover Fifth Avenue in a carpet of green vomit but I don’t think anyone quite takes is to the extreme of playing drunken cabbage dodge ball.
Honestly, I think New Orleans is more entitled to its St. Patrick’s Day and i’s St. Joseph festivals than most of the rest of America. Here where everyone is essentially Creolized into Orleanians, observing one’s roots takes on a special meaning. New Orleans is full of the Irish, who were brought to dig the New Basin Canal and whose bones litter the spoil banks that are now West End Boulevard. There were the waves of Sicilians who were lynched when convenient by practiced hands. There are all the Germans of course, whose culture was mostly eradicated by the quasi-fascist hysteria of WWI, but their descendants still bake all of our French bread. And Deutsches Haus manages its own festival of too much beer and food, Oktoberfest, every year. I think I brought my best German to yesterday’s celebration. I was once having dinner with an old colleague’s daughter and her Austrian husband in DC. He remarked after I downed a glass of beer (and not my first) with my first bowl of gumbo that I “drank like a German”, and I’ve always taken that as a compliment.
Things got a bit out of hand by mid-afternoon Saturday. Biscuits for breakfast were no match for whiskey and strong ale for lunch and I’m not as young as I used to be. There was a stumble-and-tumble and the Shirtless Nipple Sticker Incident but mostly we’ve learned how to role with it down here. The root-heaved and muck-cracked sidewalks have sent us all ass-over-Evil-Kenievel on our bicycles more than once and we’ve learned to roll and post like a small boat breasting an Irish wake. At St. Patrick’s Day Lent is the penance of an early riser who ought to be sleeping it off rising up groggy and foggy to make breakfast and coffee. There were the listings to post, a manuscript promised to read and a test to be taken later. Somewhere on Sunday was a brilliant Irish stew with the last can of Irish Channel Stout to give strength because really Saturday’s parade is just a rehearsal for the 17th.
Forty Five: The Lost Tribe of the Celtic Race March 15, 2014Posted by The Typist in 365, Acadian, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, St. Patrick's Day
I am 1/32 Irish as best I can tell. Having an LDS sibling with the obsessive geneoligizing helps one to know these things). I have, however, always been an Hibernophile. I fell in love in Yeats at an early age, helped restart Bloomsday in New Orleans, and actually started Finnegan’s Wake before this semester, then laid it aside. Too much for class work. My delayed honeymoon with No. 2, an incorrigible Irish-American of the went-to-Notre-Dame sort, was to Ireland. And I love the music perhaps most of all. There are two main threads that inform American popular music: the Celtic and the African/Caribbean.
So shall I wear green and head out in the rain (again) to the parade today? The Uptown Irish parade drives me mad in a way. I am in Krewe du Vieux, and I would love to see all those drunks frogged march through the Quarter the way the NOPD drives us like cattle through the streets. Then again there is always the chance that I will manage to catch an old friend who is legally blind but still goes out on his own on Carnival Day, and marches in the parade today. (That, my friends, is a dedication to celebration few of us can match).
I imagine I will dig out one of my rugby shirts, either the wool County Offaly one I bought in a sports shop because I like the look of it, or the cheap green one with the shamrocks. I prefer the more authentic one, which I only learned were the colors of County Offaly when a guard at Shannon Airport greeted me with an Up Offaly! and explained it to me.
I may not be Irish, but I am in good part Acadian along with German and French via Haiti. My paternal German ancestors were long ago creolized into the Acadian way of life. As a fan of the music, I was listening to Fiona Richie’s Thistle and Shamrock national broadcast the day she was interviewing Micheal Doucet of Beausoleil. Somewhere toward the end of the conversation, they were discussing the similarities of Celtic and Acadian music, and Richie pronounced the Acadians “the lost tribe of the Celtic race.” I know what she meant. My trip to Ireland often felt like a trip to a hilly version of South Louisiana: the ease of the people, the music I heard in pubs, the craic.
That’s always been a good enough reason for me to join the drunken throngs in their tacky t-shirts and other things green. See you at Magazine and Louisiana.
In the spirit of “everyone is Irish” here are the Chieftains with the Rolling Stones and Ry Cooder.
Forty Four: Redemption Songs March 13, 2014Posted by The Typist in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Now at the annual collision of our African, Celtic and Sicilian cultures, in this town where the African’s ripped from their villages and put into bondage were too valuable a property to risk so the hungry Irish were set to work and die digging the New Basin Canal, where the Sicilian residents of the French Quarter were lynched by practiced hands, the Mardi Gras Indians will come out even as the Irish and Italians stage their parades and the green beer and red wine will flow, and the streets will be lined with pork chop sandwiches and loose feathers, a celebration in the way only our entirely Creolized culture knows how to do best. In this one place God set aside like Nod for the rejects of Anglo culture and in which we have established (with a wink and a blind eye from God) all that the propaganda of the north promised in their lies, the true melting pot. It is time to to sing Redemption Songs.
Forty Three: The Dog Breath Variations March 9, 2014Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, Cafe Borrega, Siembra Azul
If I have to explain how one gets from the hubcaps in the bathroom of Cafe Borrega to lying in bed listening to Frank Zappa’s Uncle Meat you are likely to get lost along the way. There is no map.
The place is packed and the bartender is slammed. They’ve been getting some good press but just lost a chef. “Come back in a few weeks, then Yelp us,” one server tells me, after another suggests a kind review. “Only people who want to complain ever post on Yelp.” It takes a while to get served at the bar, until a regular hails Hugo. The couple next to me are dressed to go out: she’s in a nice dress and he’s wearing a British tan sports coat. Yuppies, you discover, can be people, too. I watch Hugo hand mashing the limes for the margaritas. There is a twenty minute wait for margaritas.
Pachuco: a Mexican-American subculture that emerged in West Texas and migrated to Los Angeles. Zoot suiters. Gangsters. Also a style of doo-wop music that emerged from this culture in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
I order a Hornitos Reposado, iced, and a Bohemia. I have a sentimental attachment to Bohemia. It was the first beer my father ever ordered for me. We were on a trip to Monterrey, Mexico to visit the mountains where the flyways of the eastern monarch butterfly converge.
I walk into the Apple Barrel
& there you are, Venus de Miller
perched on your bar stool pedestal.
The barmaid asks me what I want
but I’m not paying any attention to her
& anyway I’ve left my stomach behind
somewhere in the mountains outside Monterrey
filled with a million Monarch butterflies.
— “Venus de Miller”, Poems Before Breakfast
“Cucuroo carucha (Chevy ’39)
Going to El Monte Legion Stadium
Pick up on my weesa (she is so divine)
Helps me stealing hub caps
Wasted all the time”
— “Dog Breath, In the Year of the Plague” – Frank Zappa
No Hornitos, Hugo tells me. Would you like to order something else? I hesitate. I’m not a tequila connoisseur; I just know I like it. Another sentimental attachment, the drink of Coco Robicheaux. We trade Coco stories. “May I suggest something?” Of course. Out comes a bottle of Siembra Azul. It is a wonderful tequila, with a strange flavor that somehow makes me think of a peyote button, something earthy with a dusty fruitiness. (Blue agave is not a cactus, or related to peyote. Agave is a cousin to aloe). I give Hugo a twenty for my drinks, and leave him the five in change as a tip. Boisterously friendly, he tells me the next one is on him after an appreciate sigh on my first sip and a compliment on his selection. There is the immediate male bond of one guy inducting another into his passion. He leaves the bottle on the bar.
It is not just the Chevrolet hub caps (suggesting a particular fondness for that make) but one is a work of art, a Louisiana license plate dated 1956 with the outline of a pelican in the center, beneath an old, unidentifiable but clearly 1950s hood ornament. “Primer mi carucha (Chevy ’39)…” The pachuco rhythms and voices of the first part of Zappa’s delirious concerto grosso starts to hum itself in my head.
Outside the bathroom Alex McMurray and Paul Sanchez are trading licks and lead vocals. This is as far as you can get from Uncle Meat but not so far removed from pachuco. There are brilliant acoustic guitar moments in the third movement (if I may call it that, and I will), “The Dog Breath Variations.” The pairing of New Orleans’ two premier folk rockers are why we are here. The two rows of tequila and the smells coming from the kitchen are incidental. Cafe Borrega is very much a Three Muses sort of place, set up as a restaurant with music. We spend half our time there leaning on the railing between the stage and the pick up window, trying to stay out of the way of the servers. Whatever the waitress says about the fill chef, the smells are wonderful. Later they tell me he is just too slow, and that this is the first time they’ve had an overflow house. I swear to come back soon and eat.
Eric’s friend Allison reaches over and picks up the menu face down on the musician side of the railing. On the back are a set of what appear to be fortune telling cards. Her British friend (whose name is drowned in agave), she says is El Borracho. He doesn’t know any Spanish and asks, what the hell is that? Is he taking a shit? (In the picture the drunkard is bent a the knees, suggesting unsteadiness). Eric, she says, is El Gallo, the rooster. No one who knows Eric would disagree. I have on a red shirt, and so I am El Diabolito. A little devil? I can own that I tell her. She goes to put the menu down and and stop here. Which are you? La Estrella, I announce, and she smiles. Enamoramiento. (Love sick fool. Diabolito, si).
I had to text Eric to get Allison’s name, although we’ve met at least twice before. For the rest of the night, I think of everyone by their card names: El Borracho, El Gallo, La Estrella.
We get another round, and I manage to spill half my glass. We are all laughing, and Alex McMurray says “I hear someone talking about tequila.” “I spilled half of mine,” I holler back. “The hand of an angel spilled it,” I say “This much and no more tequila tonight.” “You better tip that angel well,” Sanchez says. They break into The Champs song Tequila. After a few choruses they stop, and McMurray offers a shot to anyone who will dance on the bar like Pee Wee Herman. Eric rushes to steady the stool I put my knee on but I think my angel is still close, and then I’m up and they’re playing Tequila again and Hugo has his iPhone out, a huge grin on his face, as I shuffle and shake.
I try to decline the shot. Hugo will hear no objection.
“Please hear my plea.”
The first non-doo wop line of Dog Breath, spoken in exaggerated baritone by Zappa.
Given his fascination with pachuco music and his last name, it would be easy to think Zappa Chicano. Actually, he is from Baltimore and of Sicilian, Italian, Arab and Greek heritage. His family moved to Los Angeles County when he was a child.
“Zappa grew up influenced by avant-garde composers such as Varèse, Halim El-Dabh, Igor Stravinsky, and Anton Webern, R&B and doo-wop groups (particularly local pachuco groups), and modern jazz… [b]y his final year, he was writing, arranging and conducting avant-garde performance pieces for the school orchestra.”
–Wikipedia entry, “Frank Zappa”
Zappa’s first national exposure came in the late 1950s, in which a clean cut young man in a suit demonstrates to Allen how to play the bicycle as a musical instrument, and jams with the show’s band.
We meet the two women who are clearly their for the musicians after the last set is over and Sanchez and McMurray come to the bar. Nicole says she lives in Mid-City. I tell her I live in Gentilly. What we both mean, after discovering that we live maybe three blocks apart, is that neither of us wants to own the stuff Faubourg St. John moniker. She is friends with Sanchez, and the younger woman with her is his niece. “I’m sure I’ll see you around Canseco’s.” Eric, we discover, also know’s the co-owner Linda, Hugo’s wife. This is a very small town of half a million people. This is one of their stories.
I am slowly sipping Bohemia by this time, and Eric is deep into conversation with Paul Sanchez. It is one of Eric’s life time goals to befriend every musician in New Orleans. I lean around Eric and ask McMurray how one auditions for his Valparaiso Men’s Chorus project, in which he leads a small band and a group of men in singing chanteys. “Show up for the next show. Show you can sing.” He tells me the next date, but I had already bookmarked it in my calendar, being fascinated but never having witnessed their performance at the Saturn Bar.
As I drift deep into the complex second movement “Legend of the Gold Arches” I lay in the dark and think: concerto. No single instrument is featured, so the correct term is concerto grosso. The form died out in the late 18th century, but was revived by a long list of modern composers ranging from Stravinsky to Phillip Glass. I don’t think about them as I listen in the dark. I listen to the intricate play of Zappa’s studio mix orchestra and think of J.S. Bach. I resolve to ask the guy who runs the Open Ears free jazz series, who teaches at Loyola, if he thinks “Dog Breath,” “Legend of the Gold Arches” and “The Dog Breath Variations” could be considered a concerto grosso. His answer will not really matter. This is the music they would play in any heaven worth of the name and in the hell reserved for the classical snobs of the sort who drove the jazz program out of the University of Chicago.
By the end of the night, as my eyes drift over the collection of Latino brick-a-brack that decorates the bar, I am fixated again by the rotating Virgin of Guadaloupe over the cash register. She spins around a counter-moving inner psychedelic transparency projecting ever changing colors and a halo of parabolas of light on the nearest walls. I can not get “Dog Breath, In the Year of the Plague” out of my head. (It is, in spite of the name, a catchy pachuco pop/doo wop song). Eric I know will talk all night if Sanchez lets him, and I know the hours musicians keep. I go to Patrice’s and she about to go to sleep. Before she puts the light out, I dig my headphones out of my bag and dial up Uncle Meat on my ‘Droid and jump to the fifth track. I close my eyes in the dark, but can’t get to sleep until almost the end of the record.
“Primer mi carucha (Chevy ’39)
Got me to El Monte Legion Stadium
Pick up on my weesa (she is so divine)
Helps me stealing hub caps
Wasted all the time
Bongos in the back
My ship of love
Ready to attack”
— chorus and refrain from “Dog Breath” by Frank Zappa
Forty Two: Of Course It Is March 8, 2014Posted by The Typist in 365, 504, Fortin Street, Louisiana, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist.
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Eric: “This is the best bar in New Orleans.”
The Typist: “At this moment, yes it is.”
Forty One: Adiu Paure Carnaval March 5, 2014Posted by The Typist in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, Carnival, Mardi Gras
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At the conclusion of Carnival in Nice, France, an effigy of Monsieur Carnaval is burned, the ancient story of the burning man, the sacrifice in fire. As told by Mama Lisa’s World Blog, in that rite Monsieur Carnaval “is responsible for all the wrongdoing people do throughout the year. At Carnival time in France, Monsieur Carnaval is judged for his behavior throughout the preceding year. Usually he’s found guilty and an effigy of him is burned.”
Accompanying the ritual is a song, and I offer the lyrics collected by Mama Lisa below, both in Occitan (the language of the Troubadors) and in English. I suggest you click the link to open in a new tab or window so you can follow along as far as the MP3 goes.
And so, from New Orleans, Adiu Paure Carnaval.
Adiu paure Carnaval
Adiu paure, adiu paure,
adiu paure Carnaval
Tu te’n vas e ieu demòri
Adiu paure Carnaval
Tu t’en vas e ieu demòri
Per manjar la sopa a l’alh
Per manjar la sopa a l’òli
Per manjar la sopa a l’alh
Adiu paure, adiu paure,
adiu paure Carnaval
La joinessa fa la fèsta
Per saludar Carnaval
La Maria fa de còcas
Amb la farina de l’ostal
Lo buòu dança, l’ase canta
Lo moton ditz sa leiçon
La galina canta lo Credo
E lo cat ditz lo Pater
Farewell, Poor Carnival
Farewell, poor Carnival
You are leaving, and I am staying
Farewell, poor Carnival
You are leaving, and I am staying
To eat garlic soup
To eat oil soup
To eat garlic soup
Farewell, poor Carnival.
The young ones are having a wild time
To greet Carnival
Mary is baking cakes
With flour from her home.
The ox is dancing, the donkey’s singing
The sheep is saying its lesson
The hen is singing the Credo
And the cat is saying the Pater.
Forty: Ring of Fire March 3, 2014Posted by The Typist in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, Carnival, Mardi Gras, The Abbey
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The doom jukebox sings Ring of Fire in the chase light calliope fun house of madness. Betz Brown is lining up snake bites for the regulars. The front door is a barricaded beer and cocktail stand but the regulars know to come down the buildings side entrance. The men’s bathroom is ankle-deep but what can you do? It’s Carnival Day at the Abbey in the late 1970s, the reign of Queen Betz, den mother to the lost. Molly’s with their Media Night thinks they attract the best and brightest, but the Abbey (which still had a shelf of books to read atop the cigarette machine in those days) were the best, the brightest, the most golden-tongued and the most drunken. It was where Marianne and I spent the election night, the year I convinced Guide newspapers to hold the Section I press for late election coverage and we kicked the Times-Picayune West Bank edition’s ass.
It was the place to be.
Betz left, finally pregnant by a regular selected by her but kept secret. (It was not me). Molly’s could have the ghost of Walter Cronkite tending bar one night, but if you consider your patrons a suitable gene pool for your child, Molly’s at the Market will never hit that mark.
I have never stopped visiting the Abbey, through its boring, immediate post-Betz days as a darts bar, and then biker bar, trannie bar, and its return as the watering hole of the dissolute twenty-something. Through all its transformations (except perhaps the first) I was, after explaining over my beer my presence, welcomed like family. The Abbey is not just a bar, it is an exclusive club, a secret society, and the mere mention of the name is the only signal we have.
I wandered in the evening of my first Carnival home in 21 years, in 2006, and found it returned to something familiar: the young and wild lined up at the bar. Is was as if I had stepped into a time machine, expecting to recognize faces in the crowd. I bought the couple at the end of the bar I was talking to a memorial snakebite but was taken aback when the barmaid asked me “what kind of snakebite?” Back in the day there was only one kind, and I only drank them when Betz was working two cocktail shakers while the bartender lined up the shot glasses.
There are two reliable stops on my Carnival itinerary. To sit on the stoop of the building where my great aunts once lived in the 800 block of royal, the spot from which I watched Carnival pass as a small child, calling up my earliest memories of watching Rex from my father’s shoulders back in the day when a moss man was instantly recognized. The other stop will be the Abbey. My days of snakebites are behind me but if I can get a PBR and a shot for $5 I’ll take it. Fortified by whatever cheap whiskey they might be pouring I will wade into the still dysfunctional bathroom and be a bit disappointed if I don’t leave with my shoes wet.
I will then take my anointed dancing feet down toward the drum circle of Frenchman having touched the holy relics of Carnivals past.
Thirty Nine: Always for Pleasure February 26, 2014Posted by The Typist in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, MoMs Ball
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OK, cheating although I just pumped out 800 words at the Holy Ground trying to come down from today’s coffee and class buzz. This is getting so many hits this week I thought I’d dust it off and shared in again.
It’s sometime toward four in the morning as we amble in loose groups down Newton Street toward our cars and away from the Mystic Order of Mysfits Ball. There’s no real point in wearing a watch to MoMs unless its necessary to your costume, in which case you should find a broken one to wear. The point is to step briefly outside of time and the world and into the by turns quixotic and erotic bestiary of the MoMs, a moment at the peak of Carnival reserved for those who truly understand the masque, who step into their costumes so completely that they are–for a few hours–transformed, surrender themselves completely to pleasant ecstasy the way the devout surrender themselves to be mounted by the loa.
At MoMs are lieutenants whose job is to inspect people’s costumers. The tickets read Full Costume Required, and those who don’t comply are placed in Costume Jail for a while and given the alternative of surrendering their pants. We slip past the inspection line through a break in the police railings just to save time, confident we pass muster. The lieutenant who frisks everyone who enters, with particular attention to womens’ breasts and everyone’s crotch, sticks his hand down the back of my pants and announces loudly that’s he’s found crack. He peers into our eyes and says, well, the only problem is your pupils are not sufficiently dilated. We’ll get to work on that, we tell him. This is definitely not the Family Gras a nearby suburb hosts the same weekend. This is as far from the Chamber of Commerce vision of child-friendly daytime parades and the frat adventure travelogue of big ass beers and show your tits as the Coliseum was from the rites of the mystery cults. It is the ancient Dionysian spirit of surrender to animal pleasure resurrected for the modern world.
This particular party has gone on for over 30 years, a core of a few hundred people from the Gentilly who started out at a Disabled American Veterans hall in Arabi and which has grown into a coveted ticket, a massive party of a few thousand old friends and total strangers in costumes that tend toward the lewd and the illuminated. The same band–the Radiators–has performed for over 30 years but is breaking up this year. I haven’t been to MoMs in seven years, finding the all night revelry with no where to sit and an irresistible urge to stroll and costume-watch and dance until almost dawn a bit much, but I remember the early MoMs balls, spent Wednesday nights in college at the Luigi’s pizza restaurant where the band the Rhapsodizers transformed into the Radiators, and I can’t imagine missing what I feel like may be the last genuine MoMs.
It’s done now and you think you are, too, a pleasant exhaustion in which the muscles are not tensed by hours of dancing but deeply roll-back-on-your-pillow-and-light-a-cigarette-with-a-sigh relaxed. You are aware at some level that it’s cold and damp and your costume is bare-chested but you are flush with warmth. You should be watching the broken and puddled industrial street but your eyes wander off to the constellation of sodium lights in the sky that mark the twin river bridges, a reminder that it’s time to go home.
“Can you give us a ride across the river?” Marie Antoinette asks. Two women in period dresses, one in a full out Louis Quatorze wig and matching makeup, are walking along beside us. “We’re going to Mid-City.” Well, so are we and the chances of their getting a cab in Algiers this time of morning are slim, although an empty United Cab glides by as we walk, ignoring their hand signals.
I look at my friend for a moment. “Sure, come on.” As if rewarded for our generosity, as we reach Lamarque Street and the car we find an abandoned cooler. I open it,and find it is full of well-iced citrus-flavored soda water. A mystic and perfect piece of luck. Our little group and the people around us all fish out a can, and we drag the cooler out of the street so we can leave. As the two women climb into the car I start rearrange things out of the back seat to make room for them. One hands me a stack of books and asks what it is. I give them my best calling-on-a-bookstore spiel about a Howling in the Wires, and one immediately announces she wants to buy a copy. Things are off to a fine start.
Our passengers are bubbling with excitement after their first MoM’s Ball and can’t stop talking about it. We ask where they are from. They’re in from L.A. for their first Mardi Gras and I pepper them with questions, putting on my best cab-driver-out-for-a-tip manners including some blow-by-blow travelogue. We pull up to a stop sign and I tell them we can take a right into Gretna, where the local police could match the L.A.P.D. club swing for club swing on a D.W.B. stop, or a left if they wanted to pick up some crack.” They break up laughing over the crack remark. “This is the over the river and through the hood shortcut.” I can’t help it. If someone is on their first trip to New Orleans I immediately act as if they were guests of friends who just stepped into my house. And there’s something in me of the voluble cabbie once I have a couple of smitten visitors on the hook.
We all fumble in our costumes for a dollar for the bridge toll, and as we drive up the span with the city laid out before us they start to debate if they want to be dropped off downtown to find a cab to Mimi’s, a popular local bar in the Bywater. I know the place well, I tell them. We launched the book upstairs. They turn out to be friends of the owners, and to know the tapas chef well. Marie Antoinette tells us how her friend (Lisa G is all I remember of a name) once spent a night in a sleeping bag with the chef after a wedding they all attended.. “But he’s married now,” she adds. I never get the other woman’s name straight and she remains Marie Antoinette in my head for the rest of the night. Marie has been in town before, and was supposed to interview local blues player and character Coco Robicheuax for her thesis, but I never manage to get out of her what her thesis was about. (He’s the fellow who decapitates a chicken in the radio studio in Treme). I ask them if they’ve been watching Treme and Marie has. Her “sissy” works from the Treme team, doing makeup.
We are a set of four old friends by now in the way that only strangers who share a table in New Orleans ever seem to be. If they want to be dropped at Mimi’s, I think: no problem. Glad to show the visitors a good time. I look at my companion. “You want a drink?” “Sure.” We pull off the expressway at O’Keefe and head downtown. As we near Canal Street, the corners are crowded with people trying to hail full cabs. They would have been lucky to make it home much less Mimi’s if we’d dropped them in the middle of downtown, and Mimi’s is a fair walk from Canal. We make our way around the edge of the Quarter, comparing cities we have known to New Orleans. “I can imagine what would happen if you started asking strangers for a ride in L.A.” and they agree whoever was stranded would be there until it was a safe hour to call a friend for a ride.
We roll down Rampart, Marie pointing out Armstrong Park (“it used to be called Congo Square, she explains”) to Lisa G, proudly showing off her New Orleans knowledge to her first-time visitor friend. When we park on Franklin, Lisa G. holds out a twenty and says she wants a book. “Keep the change,” she says and I wrestle with layers of elastic to find the short pants pockets under my costume. “Fair enough.” Its getting on toward morning but Mimi’s is still full. The woman find a table empty except for a glassy-eyed drunk sitting bolt upright against with wall with a thousand yard stare. They ignore him and circle up at the rest of the chairs and we join them. I excavate the twenty and get a couple of drinks from Neptune the bartender, forgetting that Marie and Lisa G. had promised to buy. I barely sip my whiskey, wondering why I bought it but gulp down the water back. Our table is suddenly crowded with strangers and a few people Marie seems to know. “Y’all just come from MoMs Ball?” people ask, looking at our costumes. A complete stranger comes up and hugs a couple of us. We look at each other trying to figure out who knows him, but he seems to read that. “I don’t know y’all, but I could tell you just came from MoMs. Wasn’t it great?”
Lisa G. keeps telling us how much she loves this place, wants to move here. Lisa G. has lived a lot of places and traveled. Chicago. San Francisco. New York. She’s not crazy about L.A. San Francisco feels comfortable to people from New Orleans, I explain, and tell her the old saw that it’s one of the few places people who leave the city don’t eventually return from. San Francisco is just as bad, says says. People there don’t make eye contact with each other. “Yeah, it has this vibe” Lisa G. says, but it’s not New Orleans.” Yeah, it’s not, we all agree. She has the bug bad, the “NOLA gene” that gets switched on when certain people first visit, my friend says.
“There’s just no other city like this in the world,” Lisa G. says in that wistful way locals know means: she’ll be back.
People in costume continue to pour into the bar, ready to continue their party until dawn. We all admire each others attire and nod appreciatively. More strangers stop to talk about MoMs, and our little foursome grows into a boisterous, impromptu party of extravagantly dressed people who were all strangers 30 minutes ago but who recognized initiation in the mystery cult of MoMs the way Masons once noticed each others watch fob. Here in New Orleans it might have taken a little longer to assemble an impromptu party without that cue, but it likely would have happened anyway. It always does.
No, we all agree, there really isn’t any other city like this in the world.
Thirty Eight: Mr. Bones Chimes In February 25, 2014Posted by The Typist in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, Dream Song No. 4, John Berryman
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“The last two stanzas remind me of Berryman,” he said. I nearly collapsed at his feet onto my knees, and fawned instead within an inch of beheading or banishment.
Resolved, I was, to write again. Not just here, although I will keep the promise of 365 as best I can. It came to me last night, reading Robinson Jeffers’ Cawdor, the promise I had made myself: two longish poems (one a play in verse, really) in manuscripts languishing, and all the hours in the world for them if I do not fritter it away on bars and Carnival.
And so I am off to the coffee shop to drink myself within an inch of twitchy bewilderment, and climb atop that rock from which words glimmer like the ocean in the distance, and call like water birds.
Until tomorrow, I will leave you with this (– Mr. Bones: you forgettin’ what you said, remember?). — I am, Mr. Bones, I do.
Dream Song No. 4
Filling her compact & delicious body
with chicken páprika, she glanced at me
Fainting with interest, I hungered back
and only the fact of her husband & four other people
kept me from springing on her
or falling at her little feet and crying
‘You are the hottest one for years of night
Henry’s dazed eyes
have enjoyed, Brilliance.’ I advanced upon
(despairing) my spumoni.–Sir Bones: is stuffed,
de world, wif feeding girls.
–Black hair, complexion Latin, jewelled eyes
downcast The slob beside her feasts . . . What wonders is
she sitting on, over there?
The restaurant buzzes. She might as well be on Mars.
Where did it all go wrong? There ought to be a law against Henry.
–Mr. Bones: there is.
Thirty Seven: Hubris February 24, 2014Posted by The Typist in 365, je me souviens, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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What hubris to think I could write something every day worth punching the Publish button. To write every day, that is the injunction, but to write toward a distant end: a poem, a story, an essay, something complete. What could I possibly have said yesterday worth sharing: that the morning was spent in a pleasant hangover-and-coffee stupor? That the chilli came out well? That I read a chapter of physical anthropology and took the quiz?
I made an effort to get through a good bit of Susan Sontag’s On Photography for my Visual Anthropology class. Among the professor’s professional subjects are the Mardi Gras Indians, whom he has photographed extensively. When he asks us at the beginning of class if we have questions or comments on the reading, do I dare ask him about this passage?
Moralists and conscienceless despoilers, children and foreigners in their own land, they will get something down that is disappearing–and, often, hasten its disappearance by by photographing it.
Does the extensive photography of the Indians first by Micheal Smith, Christopher Porche West and, yes, Dr. Jeffery Ehrenreich honor or despoil something once the exclusive property of its own community, the Black neighborhood in which a particular tribe lives, something as powerfully spiritual as any drum ritual of humanity’s invention, something as beautiful as any art humanity has created? The Indians sewed and came out before the cameras arrived. What now of the flocks of tourists and natives alike with their cheap digital cameras? Is this a fusion of cultures, an integration never achieved in the schools, or rather part of what I once called the descent into Disney?
We are figures on a disappearing landscape, a city that has maintained much of an original culture against the onslaught of universal television and economic conglomeration. We are as beautiful and alien and endangered as any tribe at the edge of Amazonian development. And what will gentrification do, when the Indians are driven out of their own neighborhoods and the corner practice bar becomes a nuisance to the new neighbors? Old urban churches could survive for a while on the parishioners, black and white, who fled to the suburbs returning on Sunday. What will become of the Indians when the corner bar becomes a coffee shop and they are scattered in diaspora?
I worried about these issues into the tens of thousands of words when I was publishing the Wet Bank Guide blog. Would the Indians be able to return? What would happen to the next generation of musicians, the children scattered to Texas and Atlanta, when they decided to take up 50 Cent’s microphone instead of their uncle’s trombone? I don’t voice those worries as I did once only out of fear that I was looking over the black precipice and in danger of tumbling over. Still, I worry, especially about gentrification and the Indians. The famous scene used as the lead still for the first season of Treme, when Chief Lambreaux comes up the street in full regalia, emerging out of darkness to insist to Robinette they will still come back, reduced me to tears.
I still worry that what I write is part of our Apocalypse, about those in power who think we should model ourselves on Atlanta instead of pan-Carribbea, that we are among the last men and women who will walk the streets of something recognizably New Orleans.
And that is hubris, the unquenchably Gaullist chauvinism of New Orleans exceptionalism, that I will only give up as the rattle of my last breath. Until the gods strike me down, I will always find something to say because I live in one of the last places on Earth worth saving from insect humanity.
No one loved Uncle Benny, except Aunt Marilyn. And well his children I suppose, but I’ve never been close to them. I haven’t seen them since Benny and Marilyn’s 50th anniversary party several years ago and doubt I’ll recognize any of the boys at first glance. Still, I must appear at the interment this afternoon at Metairie Cemetery.
My last strong memory of him was sitting on my mother’s sofa next to my ex-, with a big picture album he had brought full of photos of my first wife. He was insistent on sharing them with my ex-. That only begins to plumb the depths of my distaste for him, but they say never speak ill of the dead so perhaps I will stop there. I know that my mother would stop talking to my aunt or vice-versa at times, usually over something Benny did.
Fortunately, they moved to Baton Rouge when I was young, and I rarely saw them afterwards unless they drove down to visit my parents. I do not even wish to imagine the Southern Gothic consequences if we had all lived in some smaller Louisiana town. There is enough oddity and sadness in the branches of the family I like to fill a book. I think if all of the branches of the Folse and Hilbert families were stacked up together in some mythical parish I could write something that would make Lie Down in Darkness positively cheerful.
Everyone down here thinks they have an odd family, but I would gladly put mine up on display for a bet. When my brother took his own life and my boss raised an inquisitive eyebrow while I was asking for leave, I simply told her, “you probably thought Tennessee Williams was making all that shit up.” She had played Blanche DuBois in a Minot, N.D. college production of Streetcar. That was explanation enough. (I still chuckle to think of all those sons and daughters of Ibsen doing Williams.)
It would be easy enough not to show up this afternoon, but my sister is down from Kansas and insisted mother come out of the nursing home in an ambulance company van for the service. I would not be burning any bridges of significance if I were absent, but if mother is there then it is time to go into the closet and take out the dark suit and the heavy, ceremonial mask of filial piety.