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Pedestrian I: Sky Blue Heaven February 18, 2014

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, Pedestrian I, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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A Community of Saints

Thirty Two: Time Flies February 18, 2014

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time flies
Time flies are empirical proof that time is not a linear ray (or “arrow” if you will), but rather an elastic present measured by the recurring Cycle of Proximity (what might also be called the Cycle of Annoyance). Within this elastic cycle of fly time other parallel time events (say, a television program or your partner preparing dinner) will continue each in its own time continuum without your awareness of the process of time external to fly time. Your own activities when you entered fly time become disconnected from your own time flow one you have entered fly time It is possible to kill the time fly, establishing a discrete “moment” relinking fly time with parallel times (dinner, the film) and so exit the time fly cyclical vortex. However, if you do not succeed in killing the time fly you may be dislocated from your prior time state for an extended period, the duration of the Cycle of Proximity or Annoyance being dependent on the variety of time fly. Imagine trying to explain why you missed work.

The existence of fly time as a separate temporal entity is best demonstrated by the inexplicable annoyance of your partner whose protestations to leave the damn thing be and sit down before dinner is ruined cannot penetrate the time fly vortex unless he or she takes the swatter away and whacks you with it, creating a disturbance in the cycle similar to the moment of the fly’s death. This transient relinkage does not, however, truly break the time fly vortex because the fly is not killed. It merely expands fly time to include your partner in the Cycle of Proximity or Annoyance once dinner is set out and the fly enters the dining doom. If you do not kill the fly it is possible that the time fly vortex might prove disastrous to your domestic relationship, shifting you and your partner onto separate, orthogonal temporal paths regardless of the ultimate fate of the time fly. Imagine the havoc fly time might wreak on the wider world. You must, for the sake of all humanity, kill the time fly and its dangerous temporal vortex at all costs, and the roast be damned.

Thirty One: Patterson February 17, 2014

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As if in answer to yesterday’s post, as I sorted through the weekend mail, I found a long-forgotten order of Williams Carlos William’s Paterson–cost, $0.99 plus shipping–had finally arrived. I opened it to a random page.

II

    Blocked.
        (Make a song out of that: concretely)
    By whom?

  In its midst rose a massive church.     .    .    And it all came to me then–that those pour souls had nothing else in teh world, save that church, between them and the eternal stony, unfrateful and unpromising dirt they lived by   .  .  .

    Cash is mulct of them that other may live
    secure
    .  .  and knowledge restricted.

    An orchestral dullness overlays their world.

Williams labored by day as an pediatrician and obstetrician, and read and wrote far into the night. Perhaps then that is meant to be my fate. No,scampering off to Europe for a month’s writing workshop. No graduate school tomfoolery. I am not sure I am meant to be a teacher. I believe I am meant to be a creator. If I have to give up other parts of life and sleep to do so, well, I have done that before.

Then again Googling Mark Folse seems to be a major preoccupation of someone lately; possibly recruiters and employers. I may be making myself unemployable but what I write here. Still, I cannot be silent.

Thirty: Coincidence February 16, 2014

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Coincidence

I have lost all faith
In coincidence
And marvel in horror
at the dark clockwork
of the stars.

–Poems Before Breakfast

wpid-20140216_135227.jpg

I found this in a plastic bag in the immense bag of beads my sister gave me for the parade. It looked as if it were from a special throw bag, the sort people assemble for the friends you rarely can find as Krewe du Vieux rolls through the quarter much to quickly. I laid it aside to contemplate later.

The Page of Wands is a younger, less mature cousin to The Fool. “The Page of Wands is a well-dressed young man who stands alone in the midst of a barren wilderness, talking out loud of his dreams and desires. This scene indicates that much of the Page’s creative energy is still very much only a potential or, at best, only an idea. He holds his staff upwards and looks to it with confidence. His shirt is covered with the design of salamanders, a mythical creature that is associated with fire and transformation,” one web site tells me. “He has a true passion for life, despite his understanding of this world is not yet fully developed. He has not yet been weighed down by the burdens of the material world, coming and going as he pleases, and usually encouraging change wherever he goes.”

The card is not me, unless it is a much younger version of myself. I cannot tell from this one card alone if it is a messenger of encouragement in my current journey, or a warning that I am being little-L foolish, dreaming of writing programs as I come to the end of my degree, ignoring the responsibilities of my age and prior choices. There are people who depend on me, and I can’t get that out of my head as I try coast through my unemployment benefit until I graduate in May. Passing on what most would consider a well-paying job at Moloch was a considered decision, but one I insistently question. I am weary of that work. “His shirt is covered with the design of salamanders, a mythical creature that is associated with fire and transformation.” I am ready for a transformation. My strange seven year cycle of careers, one leading inevitably to the next, has led me to a dead end, and I lingered two long in the world of Moloch: twice seven years and then some.

Whether the card is an oracular messenger or a warning is beyond me to divine. I have always been drawn to The Fool, his eyes on the sky with this bindle of wisdom over his shoulder, ready to step over the cliff. I keep going back to Catch-22 the film, the existential dilemma, the silly Chinese finger tube of responsibility.

MAJOR MAJOR: How do you feel?
YOSSARIAN: Fine. No, I’m frightened.
MAJOR MAJOR: That’s good. It proves you’re still alive…
You’ll have to jump.
YOSSARIAN: I’ll jump.
MAJOR MAJOR: Jump!

Twenty Nine: Onward Through The Fog February 15, 2014

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It’s Krewe du Vieux day, but my enthusiasm was last seen struggling in the third Valentine’s martini and is now listed as officially missing. So goes a strange but ultimately happy Valentine’s Day, in which a letter from the Louisiana Workforce Commission informed me I had been disqualified for benefits because of some obscure requirement missed in their twelve pages of instructions. This was the secret signal all of my tiny demons had been waiting for to come out and do their fire dance of inner torment, which I attempted to douse with Jockamo much to early in the day.

So it goes.

Is there any better way to start this day than a hangover, an unfinished costume and incomplete throws? Final touches to costumes, makeup and of course drinking starts at three at the Hidden Rendezvous of the Secret Sub-Krewe of Sugar Skulls. Lately I’ve been seen struggling in confused seas, trying to make the riptide shore, so best to put on my costume in the way only Orleanians do, somewhere between method acting and trance, and lose myself in the rush down loud and crowded streets, surrounded by brass bands and friends, and the devil and the Pizza Sluts take the hindmost.

Twenty Eight: Fashioned February 14, 2014

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For Patrice Bradish

The plasticity of beauty
forms to the mold
accommodates the age
in which we live
not as in a magazine
but with the grace
of the age
in which we live
fallen leaves shaped
by the rain, bold
autumnal rainbow
your bare arms
raised into the sky
in the Hebraic Y
of I Am     I Am
as your eyes
see me

Odd Words February 13, 2014

Posted by Mark Folse in books, Indie Book Shops, literature, New Orleans, novel, Odd Words, Poetry, publishing, spoken word, Toulouse Street.
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This coming week in literary New Orleans:

& Thursday at 6 pm Octavia Books Errol Laborde comes to present and sign his beautiful and informative, must-have new book, MARDI GRAS. (Yes, king cake will be served.) This extravagantly illustrated coffee-table book covers such topics as the place of the old-line krewes in the evolution of Mardi Gras, women’s groups, flambeaux, the Carnival foods, and more.

& At 6:30 pm Garden District Books features Sarah Baird signing Kentucky Sweets: Bourbon Balls, Spoonbread & Mile High Pie at out Uptown shop. Illustrator Chase Chauffe will also be present. We’ll have treats from the book, so please join us for refreshments prior to the signing.

& Also on Thursday at 6 pm Garden District Book Shops features Natalie Baszile’s Queen Sugar, a mother-daughter story of reinvention—about an African American woman who unexpectedly inherits a sugarcane farm in Louisiana. Why exactly her late father left her eight hundred acres of prime sugarcane land in Louisiana is as mysterious as it is generous. But for Charley Bordelon, it’s also an opportunity start over: to get away from the smog and sprawl of Los Angeles, and to grow a new life in the coffee-dark soil of the Gulf coast.

& Thursday at 7 pm the East Bank Regional Library hosts a poetry event featuring Gina Ferrara and Jonathan Kline, writers, authors, performers and educators (Ed.’s note: and spouses), who will read from their works and discuss the importance of poetry in a presentation that honors the spirit of Valentine’s Day. This special day is known for couples dining out in special restaurants, the giving of roses and the exchange of cards. It is also connected with poetry. Valentine’s Day is an opportunity for partners to show how much they love their significant others, or to hint at crushes and infatuations. During this presentation, Ferrara and Kline will read from their writings and talk about love and romance and the concept of longing that form a basis for their work.

& Every Thursday at 7 pm the JuJu Bag Cafe hosts the spoken word event Word Connections hosted by John Lacabiere. Call 504-307-9969 to sign up or for more information.

& Friday at Maple Street Books Joel Dinerstein will be talking about cool and signing American Cool, a catalogue for the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibit by that same title. The term “cool” has become such a part of America’s modern lexicon that it seems to have lost its meaning. This stellar collection of photographs from the National Portrait Gallery and from prominent artists, museums, and archives nationwide would argue otherwise. The idea of cool is not only older than we think – it’s also constantly changing, aided by the mediums of portraiture and film. Readers will find unexpected and familiar faces here: Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglass, and Georgia O’Keeffe, as well as James Dean, Bob Dylan, and Chrissie Hynde. In perceptive essays, Joel Dinerstein investigates the evolution of cool from the 1930s to the present while Frank Goodyear explores how the mediums of film and photography have helped define the term.

Saturday at 10 am Garden District Book Shop hosts Brandi Perry’s The Jury. Thomas Urlacher knows his wife wants him dead and so does the rest of the town. So, when he is killed in a mysterious boat explosion, it’s not long before law enforcement points the finger at his young bride. What follows is a sensational trial where Britt Urlacher somehow wins a not-guilty verdict. Within a week, jurors from the trial start dying under unusual circumstances. Has Thomas come back from the dead to exact revenge on those who allowed his killer to go free or is someone else defending Thomas?

& Saturday at 11:30 it’s Story Time with Miss Maureen at Maple Street Book Shop. This week she’ll read Penguin in Peril by Helen Hancocks. Three hungry cats. One little penguin. The odds don’t look good.

& Every Sunday at 3 p.m. The Maple Leaf Reading Series, the oldest continuous reading series in the south, founded by Everette Maddox, features guest poets and an open mic.

& Sunday is Slam and Spoken Word Day in New Orleans. WhoDatPoets.com lists five Spoken Word shows on Sunday nights. For phone numbers with more details on all these readings visit WHODATPOETS.COM. (I stopped listing all of the events because one venue’s name forced me to limit this post for readers over 21. Check WHODATEPOETS.COM for all the latest on slam and spoken word in New Orleans.

& Speak Sunday is hosted every Sunday at 7 pm by Duece the Poet at Therapy, 3001 Tulane Avenue, also featuring live painting of the performers by C.C. Givens.

& Monday at 4 pm at the New Orleans Public Library Main Branch GLBTQ teens & their Allies are invited to join in the book club conversation! We will provide paper and digital copies of a short story the week before; the subsequent discussion will be guided by the themes and issues explored in the reading.

& The New Orleans Haiku Society shares Haiku on the third Monday of every month at the Latter Branch Library, 5120 St. Charles Ave., from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. All are invited to attend. For more information call 596-2625.

& Monday at 7:30 pm the East Jefferson Regional Library Fiction Writers Group meets. Candice Huber, a fixture on the local literary scene and a computer wizard, will make a presentation on how technology can help writers. The Fiction Writers’ Group is a support group for serious writers of fiction. We do not focus on poetry, essays or nonfiction. Events consist of critique sessions from group members, author talks and writing exercises. Free of charge and open to the public. Registration is not require

& Susan Larson, the former book editor of the former Times-Picayune newspaper and member of the National Book Critics Circle hosts The Reading Life on WWNO (89.9 FM) on Tuesdays at 1:30 p.m. She features interviews with authors of local and national interest. Watch Odd Words on Facebook and Google+ on Tuesdays for a complete list of her guests and features.

& Tuesday at 6 pm Garden District Books features Michael Murphy with Sara Roahen & Poppy Tooker and Eat Dat: A Guide to the Unique Food Culture of the Crescent City. Eat Dat New Orleans is a guidebook that celebrates both New Orleans’s food and its people. It highlights nearly 250 eating spots—sno-ball stands and food carts as well as famous restaurants—and spins tales of the city’s food lore, such as the controversial history of gumbo and the Shakespearean drama of restaurateur Owen Brennan and his heirs. The books includes a series of appendixes that list restaurants by cuisine, culinary classes and tours, food festivals, and indispensable “best of” lists chosen by an A-list of the city’s food writers and media personalities, including Tom Fitzmorris, Poppy Tooker, Lolis Eric Elie, Ian McNulty, Sara Roahen, Marcelle Bienvenu, Amy C. Sins, and Liz Williams.

& Tuesday at 6 pm Octavia Books hosts a reading and signing with Dawn Ruth celebrating the release of her new novel, THE NIGHT WALKER’S SONG. Jo Nell James thinks her life is on the upswing when she rents an antebellum mansion stocked with valuable antiques in a blighted New Orleans neighborhood. Even though the truth lurks everywhere, in the iconic oaks, her bed and even at the piano in the parlor, she hangs on to that fantasy for far too long. Unknown to her, the former occupants’ long ago tragedies are about to become her own.

& Tuesday at 7 pm the East Bank Fiction Writers Group meets at the East Jeffereson Regional Library for a critique session.

& Every Tuesday night get on the list to spit at the longest running spoken word venue in New Orleans at Sweet Lorraine’s Jazz Club hosted by African-American Shakespear. Doors open at 7pm and the Mic pops at 8pm. It is $5 to get in.

& Wednesday at 2 pm at UNO in LA 236 three writers, Tom Cooper, Kathy Conner, and Michael Cooper, speak about fiction-writing at our first 3rd Wednesday Talk of the semester. The three are part of the same family.

& Wednesday at 6:30 pm the Nix Library on Carrollton Avenue features Members of the MelanNated Writers’ Collective will share poetry, fiction, music and everything in between. While the group is predominantly African-American, it boasts members who have roots in the Philippines, India, and Malaysia. MelaNated Writers are journalists, professors, MFA students, published fictionistas and poets, and even one Pulitzer winner.

Twenty Seven February 12, 2014

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Grim, she said.

Bleak, I answered, thinking this somehow an improvement. There was a look.

[Road noise].

Grim suits me, I said.

No it doesn’t, she answered.

I still got a kiss as I dropped her off, and a smile. Someday I will understand how she tolerates me, and Dr. Phil will be our best man.

“You have a melancholic personality,” he said, fingers steepled in reverent medical detachment. I scanned his office for the jar of leeches. In his office, meant to be comforting in its dimly-lit muted colors, the couch was a cold black vinyl, reporting every squirm of affirmation.

Ask a Russian “how are you?” and they will tell you in grim detail exactly how bad. I am thinking of ordering a Ushanka hat and a case of vodka.

Neither grim nor bleak, I think. A thoughtful melancholia, put down into words, is a great tonic.

Drift into Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Imagine outside the concert hall Russian winter, bleak and grim. Imagine what happens if the words no longer come, be they sanguine or sad. Let no sparrow fall unnoticed.

The ocean conducts The Typist into spindrift monsters or moonlit ripples according to its own mood.

Twenty Six: Man-in-disorder February 12, 2014

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YOU ARE TRAPPED IN THAT BRIGHT MOMENT WHERE YOU LEARNED YOUR DOOM
— Samuel R. Delaney in City of a Thousand Suns

I agonized for days when the recruiter called me on a Saturday night, not two hours after I posted an application for the position. I knew I was a perfect fit for the position, but I had resolved to try to remain unemployed until I finished the bachelor’s degree I abandoned 35 years ago. Still, I have bills, responsibilities, a child about to start an expensive program of graduate school in psychology I would just assume not fall into the trap of an immense college debt. A bachelors in English Literature, whatever personal satisfaction I might take from it, is worth about as much as a piece of confederate currency.

I could tell from his excited voice that the recruiter was sure he had found his man. The job was with Moloch. I knew the hiring manager, had worked closely with this department in the past. The work was precisely what I had delivered during my time at the bank, greatly to their profit: the automation of financial data exchange. I had resolved before he called to take the job if the money was right: to insist on the flexibility to finish my classes and graduate, to find some way to continue Odd Words and 365 and still read and write what was important to me, not what was on the syllabus. I essentially resolved to try to spend the next three months on a few hours of sleep a night.

Then we got down to money. The job was a contract position, at two-thirds what I had just been paid as a contractor. That figure itself was a significant takedown from what I had earned as an associate, considering benefits, Long Term Incentives and bonuses, but I had taken it. Forty dollars an hour is nothing to sneer at. America is filled with former professionals who would leap at that figure, like myself the victim of the corporate rearrangement into a contingent work force, living examples of the elasticity of demand. I am, I realize, simply another piece of just-in-time inventory, a human resource no different from a a flat of plastic parts.

As a student I hear a lot about the commoditization of instruction, the huge contingent workforce living in poverty who are educating your children in the basic of English, math, science for sometimes fantastic amounts of tuition. The closest they will get to a real professor in their first year and seven second year of college is their advisor. Still I think of going to get my master’s, to become one of them.

Why would an unemployed person walk away from $40,000 for six month’s work? Because I am politically aware enough to realize that America has taken a terrible wrong turn at the hands of people who would reduce us all to credit card penury, willing to take any job to keep the house and pay the bills. I am no longer one of those people.

At my lowest moment between the first, missed call from the recruiter and yesterday’s conversation I thought often of the anarchist in Lina Wertmuller’s The Seven Beauties. An article on the film summarizes the moment: “…against the fascist Nazi ideal of order, this anarchist holds up what one is tempted to see as Wertmuller’s “solution,” an existentialist ideal of “man in disorder.” The anarchist’s last act, when the prisoners are assembled to hear Pasqualino read off the serial numbers of the six he has chosen for death, is to walk slowly out of formation, shouting, “I’m tired of living in terror, I’m a free man. I’ll go jump in the shit—man in disorder,” and dives into the cesspool, to be followed by bullets from the guards’ machine guns.” I would rather jump into the cesspit and certain death than to cooperate with the new slave masters. I will not be the collaborator Pasqualino nor the stalag guard.

Delaney’s words in his Cold War fable are a bit a graffiti that appears recurring in the novel until the moment in which the populace realizes there is no enemy over the mountain, no real war. It has all been a construct to maintain a certain order in society. I had the experience of that bright moment after Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Flood. I have had it again, or had it reinforced. I am a free man, a man-in-disorder, free of social delusions: a defective cog with no socially responsible role in the creaking of the great American machine in its progress toward the looming cliff.

Twenty Five: Haiku Zero February 10, 2014

Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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When the observations come from an exponential family and mild conditions are satisfied, least-squares estimates and maximum-likelihood estimates are identical. The method of least squares can also be derived as a method of moments estimator.

The sparrow dancing in the leaf-stained, oil-leak rainbow puddle outside the Splish Splash is not an ironic haiku. There is too much dread in the atmosphere masquerading as overcast and low clouds, that phone call you are afraid will come, counting out the quarters one-by-one to zero. Reset. The leak-stained, leaf-oil rainbow puddle sparrow-dancing outside the Splish Splash is an iconic haiku. There is too much dread in that phone call you are waiting to come, counting out the clouds one-by-one until overcast, zero masquerading as quarters. Reset. The leaf-stained overcast is haiku zero, low clouds masquerading as a sparrow. The quarters will come, one-by-one, only if the phone dances. The puddle outside the Splish Splash is isotonic rainbow, counting out the oil-leaks one-by-one. Reset. Haiku is isotropic. The sparrow dances Splish Splash rainbows in th epuddle outside. Leaf-stained oily clouds one-by-one masquerading as low overcast. Count the dread phone call that doesn’t come as zero quarters.

Twenty Four: Dinosauria, we too February 9, 2014

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[Sound of gun shots & screaming. Silence. Then, a voice on the microphone.]

Radio Free Toulouse is now in the hands of the Committee for No Tomorrow.

Your water is poison.
Your food is a mutation.
Your breath is the sputum
of universal electrification.
When the frogs
with their thin
sensitive skin died
you thought:
I am not a frog.

When God was
pronounced dead
you rioted
in bachic exaltation
to the soundtrack
of the waiting sacrifices
& later raised
your feral children
in minivan prisons.

You sacrificed them
on the altar
of Our Ford
with patriotic regret
& rode proudly
in the open convertible
behind the closed casket.

When they came
for your government
you voted for
an orderly transition.
There’s a special
at Red Lobster:
how could the oceans
be dying?

There will not be
a knock & announce
when they come for you.
Curl up comfortably
in front of the TV
&pretend you
are not on their list.

Twenty Three: Sad Baritone Saturday February 9, 2014

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Cheating: it’s a busy day so unearthing an old favorite piece.

A sad baritone blowing big round Jello-tremulous Os of the blues.

That’s what started this ramble into a pleasant melancholia      a fizzing afternoon beer buzz of sadness not quite cheerless, simply there like a color in the air a sky so blue and clear you can hear it, a faint hum beneath your fee t    a Fall afternoon so perfectly empty you just want to lay down in the arms of some big oak and root, thinking:  well, if the world is going to caterwaul in a crashing train wreck, I guess I’m not busy today. Go ahead. I voted early.

And then you remember the Indians, stuffed into the lobby of the museum. So you go and the colors aren’t quite right all that expanse of white marble flattening the chromatic feather colors into something cartoonish, stealing the scene’s perspective like some VCR on endless loop, alone in a neutral cream room of neatly labeled artifacts under glass instead of    the slow approach up a street lined with long, low rows of shotguns and maybe a catercorner store.

First just a spyboy peering around the black chalkboard brightly proclaiming Hot Breakfast and Cold Beer, then     a hammering of tambourines in the distance and then you spot them, turning a corner:     bright-beaded bird creatures from a dream, singing in a language they have made themselves.

That’s when you decide:  No, thank you I want to slap the snooze button on that doom clock your time doesn’t apply to us down here we’re on Central River Time and things     things are just a bit slower and we’re not quite ready for all your rapturous end times of votes and riots. We’re all in pawn up to the brim of our sharp fur felt hats so here’s a quarter: call in all your tall Wall Street stories to someone else.

If you’re going to destroy your world try to keep it down to a manageable rumble in the distance, please, perhaps a smudge of smoke on the horizon like a marsh fire and leave us to ourselves     to the scat-o-logical chantings of Fi-Yi-Yi to mad tambourine time     the bright side of the poverty and sadness you turn into columns and hours of politics and we turn into     a sad baritone sax blowing big round Jello-tremulous Os     measuring the girth of the blues just about city sized and right for us, thanks.

Twenty Two (& 1/2): Catch, Caught, Not February 8, 2014

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I applied for a job online at about 5 p.m. Saturday evening. I am a perfect fit. I included my salary requirements which make most people in New Orleans laugh even though I was a New Orleans hire by Moloch. I made it clear I was not willing to relocate. I noted I do not have my bachelors and would appreciate any accommodation in finishing it this semester.

I got a call back, and a prompt follow up email from a technical recruiter. Within two hours. On Saturday night. I used to work with these people, the ones who check their Blackberry on Saturday night.

The area code was 804, the same area code as the main campus of Moloch Capitol One Bank.

Yossarian

I have decided to insist I be able to work remotely when I get the interview call. When he asks why, I’m going to tell him I am naked. Because I will be naked. I will offer to switch the Skype call to video if he doesn’t believe me.

“Mother, his name is Yossarian.”

Twenty Two: Cracking Plato’s Egg February 7, 2014

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My backyard neighbor’s rooster is screwy. I’m not awake enough at dawn to hear him, but I certainly can’t miss his predilection to crow at odd moments of the day. He is a new addition to the neighborhood, and perhaps just feels it necessary to announce himself the cock of the walk. Or else he is just calling out to the hens, a perfect example of the male of all species, that one irrepressible drive underlying everything else.

Its true enough for men. I remember an old cartoon from long ago, the thought balloon over the head of the average Joe in the street wondering why he was always thinking about sex. The dotted thought balloons over the heads of everyone around him on the street were a mild Kama Sutra suitable for the open magazine rack. We are all familiar with the idea of the male gaze as defined in the cinema, but it is not just a trope of criticism. I read an article recently on 21 ways to please women, and one of the highest was to give her your entire attention when in public. No eyes grazing the room or following a passing woman but our programming to spread the genes is hardwired deep in the lizard brain perched at the back of our skull. It get worse when recently freed from a long spell of monogamy, a cold bed, to find myself at the bar with friends, my head swivelling like a stock shot of a Cold War missile tracking system, the one exception Saturday’s at Mimi’s when a hundred clones of my daughter passed in their spray on mini-dresses to see Soul Sister and some better angel made me try to ignore them.

I don’t think this makes me a horrible person, but in the modern environment of gender relations I am certainly standing out on the ledge. I was called a misogynist by someone I don’t know for weighing in on the entire controversy on Woody Allen and Dylan Farrow—the fallibility of memory and the flexibility of truth being subjects dear to my heart—but I don’t think anyone who knows me would agree with that. I think perhaps pig is the word they were looking for but I believe there is a significance in Circe’s decision to turn all of Oddysseus’ crew into swine. I don’t believe to admire attractive women is to objectify them, especially if one’s definition of attractive starts with beautiful eyes and moves promptly to intelligence, wit, and learning. A nice pair of legs doesn’t hurt, but for me it starts with the eyes and what lies behind them. If that’s objectification, you’ll need to add a lobotomy to castration if you seek to cure me.

What I struggle with is separating the lizard impulses from genuine affection for a woman when everyone’s intentions (at least as far as I know) are purely friendly. I know men with very close women friends who appear to be able to separate the two easily, but I think back to that cartoon and wonder if they are poseurs. I am uncomfortable with this particular personal failing to the point of (subconsciously I realize) avoiding at least one person, if only because I have been burned by having (hand-in-hand, mind you) stepped one foot over that line once. If I have anything like a resoluti,n for 2014 it is to learn practice the art of friend-love. If one is attracted to intelligent and witty women, this should be easy. Look into their (beautiful) eyes and keep your mind on the conversation. Be as passionately connected to their intellects, to their stories, to their feelings as you would be to their bodies in other circumstances. When the lizard brain flickers its tickling tongue, enjoy that pleasant tingle but don’t let the serpent swallow you whole.

Twenty One February 6, 2014

Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Today is all biology:
The birds and bees that both have wings
the one that sings, the one that stings
and both of them made out of these things
called cells.
[Bump]
They’re coming to take me away
Ha, ha, hee hee, ho, ho
To the Funny Farm…

Which one of these things is not part of a eukaryotic cell’s organelle structure:

a) the rough endoplasmic reticulum
b) the Golgi Apparatus
c) the chronosynclastic infundibulum
d) none of the above

Odd Words February 6, 2014

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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This coming week in literary New Orleans:

& Thursday at 6 pm Octavia Books hosts a presentation and signing with Michael Murphy celebrating the release of his new book, EAT DAT NEW ORLEANS, a story filled portrait of New Orleans food culture. Emeril Lagasse said “EAT DAT is full of everthing we New Orleanians pride ourselves – incredible passion, food culture, and unique stories of the people and places that make up this great city.” Petit Fours from Bouligny Bakery will be served. (That’s Marnie Carmichael’s – Michael’s wife’s business which she launched in October 2012. She’s been featured in VOGUE, SOUTHERN LIVING, and ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST.) EAT DAT NEW ORLEANS is a guidebook that celebrates both New Orleans’s food and its people. It highlights nearly 250 eating spots-sno-cone stands and food carts as well as famous restaurants-and spins tales of the city’s food lore, such as the controversial history of gumbo and the Shakespearean drama of restaurateur Owen Brennan and his heirs.

& Every Thursday at 7 pm the JuJu Bag Cafe hosts the spoken word event Word Connections hosted by John Lacabiere. Call 504-307-9969 to sign up or for more information.

& Also at 6 pm on Thursday Maple Street Book Shop features Tulane finance professor Peter Ricchiuti, a former chief investment officer for the state of Louisiana and the host of WWNO’s popular radio program Out to Lunch, be discussing his book Stocks Under Rocks: How to Uncover Overlooked, Profitable Market Opportunities.

& This Saturday at 10 am at the Nix Library on Carrollton Avenue trisha Rezende, MFA, leads a dynamic writing workshop every month. Students produce, share, and critique texts while learning how to develop character, voice, and style. Limited to ten students. To RSVP, please call 504-596-2630.

& Saturday at 11:30 it’s Story Time with Miss Maureen at Maple Street Book Shop. This week she’ll read Cheese Belongs to You by Alexis Deacon and Viviane Schwarz. Rat Law says that if you’re a rat, cheese belongs to you. But there are exceptions. For example, if a big rat wants it, cheese belongs to him. Unless a bigger rat wants it, or a quicker one, or a stronger one. And if a big, quick, strong, scary, hairy, dirty rat wants it, well . . . where does it end? A tumble of cumulative adjectives and a frenzy of hungry critters build up to a final note of politeness in a book sure to satisfy kids’ appetites for zany humor.

& At 1:30 p.m. Saturday Octavia Books hosts a children’s book event featurning Dianne de Las Casas’s CINDERELLAPHANT.

& Sunday at 2 pm Garden District Book Shop hosts Alan G. Gauthreaux’s Italian Louisiana: History, Heritage & Tradition. At the close of the nineteenth century, Louisiana’s ports hosted an influx of Italian immigrants. Like so many immigrant communities before, acclimating to their new home was not easy. Though the Italian contribution to Louisiana’s culture is palpable and celebrated, at one time ethnic Italians were constantly embroiled in scandal, sometimes deserved and sometimes as scapegoats. The new immigrants hoped that they would be welcomed and see for themselves the “streets paved with gold.” Their new lives, however, were difficult. Italians in Louisiana faced prejudice, violence and political exile for their refusal to accept the southern racial mores. Author and historian Alan Gauthreaux documents the experience of those Italians who arrived in Louisiana over one hundred years ago.

& At 7 pm Saturday the TENDE RLOIN reading series presents The Third Weird Thing reading. TENDE RLOIN’s choicest reading series, featuring TOM ANDES, M.E. RILEY and BENJAMIN LOWENKRON at Kajun’s. Cold Cuts is a poetry reading interested in performance and a performance interested in reading poetry. Each reading will consist of 3 – often on the theme of 2 poets and a 3rd weird thing: the performative. But we encourage all our poets to perform and all our performances to poet.

& Sunday the Apple Barrel hosts Thaddeus Conti’s Cabaret of Poetry and Music, featuring Bill Lavender , ChickenSam, Jeff Pagano , Bernard Pearce , Thaddeus Conti and Joseph Bienvenu. The event does not have a published time but look for the weekend rundown on Facebook and Googe+ for a time when I get one.

& Every Sunday at 3 p.m. The Maple Leaf Reading Series, the oldest continuous reading series in the south, founded by Everette Maddox, features guest poets and an open mic. Poet Jacob Dilson reads from his work, followed by an open mic

& Sunday is Slam and Spoken Word Day in New Orleans. WhoDatPoets.com lists five Spoken Word shows on Sunday nights. For phone numbers with more details on all these readings visit WHODATPOETS.COM. (I stopped listing all of the events because one venue’s name forced me to limit this post for readers over 21. Check WHODATEPOETS.COM for all the latest on slam and spoken word in New Orleans.

& Speak Sunday is hosted every Sunday at 7 pm by Duece the Poet at Therapy, 3001 Tulane Avenue, also featuring live painting of the performers by C.C. Givens.

& Monday at 5:30 pm the Robert E. Smith Library hosts a free Creative Writing Workshop. Do you think in verse that could become poetry? Do you imagine characters, dialogue, and scenes? If so, in at the corner of Canal Boulevard and Harrison Avenue.

& Monday at 6 pm Octavia Books feature poet Peter Cooley reading from his book NIGHT BUS TO THE AFTERLIFE, published by the Carnegie Mellon Poetry Series. With the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans his initial subject, Cooley meditates on transience and mortality as he moves through the landscape of the Gulf South, the sky and his inner weather reflecting one another

& Susan Larson, the former book editor of the former Times-Picayune newspaper and member of the National Book Critics Circle hosts The Reading Life on WWNO (89.9 FM) on Tuesdays at 1:30 p.m. She features interviews with authors of local and national interest. Watch Odd Words on Facebook and Google+ on Tuesdays for a complete list of her guests and features.

Tuesday at 6 pm Garden District Book Shop hosts Arthur and Pauline Frommer and their new EasyGuide to New Orleans. Frommer’s EasyGuides selling for a lower price than any similar guidebook, and deliberately limited to a short 256 pages, this EasyGuide is an exercise in creating easily-absorbed travel information. It emphasizes the authentic experiences in each destination:the most important attractions, the classic method of approaching a particular destination; the best choices for accommodations and meals; the best ways to maximize the enjoyment of your stay. Because it is “quick to read, light to carry”, it is called an “EasyGuide”, and reflects Arthur Frommer’s lifetime of experience in presenting clear and concise travel advice.

& Monday at 7:30 pm the East Jefferson Regional Library Fiction Writers Group meets. The Fiction Writers’ Group is a support group for serious writers of fiction. We do not focus on poetry, essays or nonfiction. Events consist of critique sessions from group members, author talks and writing exercises. Free of charge and open to the public. Registration is not required.

& At 6:30 pm the Hubbell Library on Pelican Avenue in Algiers hosts an author night featuring Kim Marie Vaz and The Baby Dolls: Breaking the Race & Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Tradition.

& Tuesday at 7 pm the West Bank Fiction Writers Group meets at the The Edith S. Lawson Library in Westwego. Writing exercises or discussions of points of fiction and/or critique sessions of members’ submissions. Meets the second Tuesday of every month. Moderator: Gary Bourgeois. Held in the meeting Room.

& Every Tuesday night get on the list to spit at the longest running spoken word venue in New Orleans at Sweet Lorraine’s Jazz Club hosted by African-American Shakespear. Doors open at 7pm and the Mic pops at 8pm. It is $5 to get in.

& Wednesday at 6 pm Garden District Book Shop will host Nancy Horan and Under the Wide and Starry Sky. The book chronicles the unconventional love affair of Scottish literary giant Robert Louis Stevenson, author of classics including Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and American divorcee Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. They meet in rural France in 1875, when Fanny, having run away from her philandering husband back in California, takes refuge there with her children. Stevenson too is escaping from his life, running from family pressure to become a lawyer. And so begins a turbulent love affair that will last two decades and span the world.

& Wednesday at 6 pm Mimi’s in the Marigny hosts The Oblivion Atlas upstairs. Big Easy Award winners Richard Mayer and Michael Martin present readings of two stories from The Oblivion Atlas, by Michael Allen Zell and louviere + vanessa. Photos from the book by will be projected. he Oblivion Atlas explores and accumulates an aviary of themes, including dreams’ time-sculpting; memory; madness; resistance; nihilism; the frequencies and trajectories of the mind; absorbing/dissolving; and infinity in a finite space. New Orleans and Louisiana remain steady companions

& The UNO Creative Writing Workshop and Department of Fine Arts will host a reading by guest poet Lara Glenum on Wednesday at 8 p.m., at the UNO Campus Art Gallery: uno2.uno.edu/maps/lakefront/ The reading will be followed by a booksigning and reception. This event, which is free and open to the public, was funded in part by Poets & Writers, Inc. through a grant it has received from Poets & Writers, Inc.

& Love is in the air at Fleur de Lit and Pearl Wine Co.’s Reading Between the Wines. The featured authors for February’s Reading Between the Wines are romance writers Farrah Rochon, Viola Russell, and Alice Kemp, plus poet Gina Ferrara. The reading will be held Wednesday, February 12th, at 6:30PM at the Pearl Wine Co. in the American Can Company. Maple Street Book Shop will be on-site selling books. You must be 21 to attend this event.

Twenty February 5, 2014

Posted by Mark Folse in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Twenty was yesterday. So much happened yesterday and the day before that yesterday apparently didn’t happen. The two days were part lifeboat drill, part floating in the water watching your link to the land list and vanish, part obligations that couldn’t be missed. A 365 post did not make it into the lifeboats. The void here arose from the void in my chest, the passing feeling that love had gone away, a palpable hollowness in the chest as if something had deflated. Not a pain but the absence of one where you are sure it should be. Unspoken resentments are a poison to the soul, a toxin not processed by the liver but by honesty, by speaking your truth even when you know it will hurt everyone. In the end it is no more than the old-fashioned pulling of a rotten tooth. Best to get a good grip, yank hard, and get the damned thing out.

The day ended well, is all I can say: a belated birthday dinner at Elizabeth’s for my daughter along with my son. She and I had three cocktails each, Sazeracs for me and Sidecars for her, and no one asked for an ID when my son ordered a Maker’s Mark after dinner. A wonderful meal and a long wandering conversation with two charming adult companions. Wonderful grown children are a consolation against everything else.

The emotional dental appointment, the diagnosis having been made, will have to wait until I reach the end of the chase light calliope fun house of madness that is this week. I hope to leave with a happy, gap-toothed smile.

Ed.’s Note: There will not be a 365 post on Odd Words Thursdays. Unless I decide to write one.

Nineteen: Long ago and yesterday February 3, 2014

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Cy Mathe was a Creole widower in his late twenties when he first saw the women I called Aunt Tante. He was at the rail of a steamboat passing Deslonde Street in the Ninth Ward.. She was a frail girl of sixteen or seventeen in a wheel chair, taking the cool breeze at the levee in what I imagine as the billowing white clothes of summer, underneath a hat or parasol or both. At the next stop, Cy hired a horse and rode back to find her. Not long after they were married and settled with Cy’s father on Red Cross Plantation in Plaquemines Parish. Later they would live at Mary (named for Cy’s mother) and Stella, named for Tante. My mother frequently visited them in the summer and against her father’s orders would daily ride in front of her Uncle Cy atop his black stallion Satan. In the back lived a couple, freed slaves who never left and were the house servants.

If this smacks of fairy tale well that is part of the allure of New Orleans. Such things happened once, and even today people walk from their hotel up to the river, look back over Jackson Square and fall in love. We have all had this sensation, the temptation to run away to that favorite beach town and open some tourist shop, imagining endless vacation. Few people do but New Orleans is different. I run into people in bars who are on their third or fourth visit and I ask them: when are you moving? Almost always they have a plan, some half-formed like the beach dream but as often as not something concrete, a date in mind, a neighborhood in which they wish to live.
Even locals are not immune to this fever, imagine living in the French Quarter or opening a restaurant.

The city is not quite of dreams but of fantasy, a city of maskers. We wear masks of civility while living in the legacy of slavery and the failures of desegregation, the portraits of my Haitian slaver ancestors a daily reminder. Tante I am told would have nothing to do with the Mathe family after her husband passed away, and I have to wonder what my grandfather’s family thought of their eldest marrying a Creole at the turn of the last century, but those stories are lost to the tomb. The poorest among us spend thousands of dollars to mask Indian and second line. The rich pretend generosity by dressing as Louis Quatorze tossing worthless aluminum coins and plastic jewels to the throngs in the street. My father planned to take his oil painting hobby to the fence of Jackson Square when he retired before Parkinson’s stole that dream. We delude ourselves, think it is OK to stay for that second set knowing the alarm clock is waiting, to eat the last fried shrimp instead of finishing the salad. Is it any surprise that visitors are taken in by the show, want to live an eternal Carnival of Frenchman Street nights?

Eighteen: Moloch, N.Y. February 2, 2014

Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, the dead, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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phillip hoffman death 1

This was not the news I needed to awaken to from a nap taken to escape an apocalyptic and existential hangover.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of the most critically acclaimed actors of his generation, was found dead in New York on Sunday morning of an apparent drug overdose.

When I first watched Synecdoche, N.Y. it was like watching a possible alternate version of my life. It was only the fourth time I watched it that my girlfriend noticed the stricken expression on my face, and pointed out it was intended as a black comedy.

Was it? Did I miss something? Was Lear a black comedy? I have I must admit a defective sense of humor, have never been able to laugh at pratfalls of truly sympathetic characters. Something about The Out-of-Towners never clicked with me. One of my favorite films is Little Murders. Allen Arkin as the near-breakdown detective is one of the great comedic scenes of all time, but the image that remains with me at the end is Eliot Gould riding the subway covered Patsy’s blood. Roger Ebert’s contemporaneous review in the Chicago Sun Times said, “One of the reasons it works, and is indeed a definitive reflection of America’s darker moods, is that it breaks audiences down into isolated individuals, vulnerable and uncertain.”

That could as easily be from a review of Synechdoche.

Synecdoche was existential and absurdist. Perhaps its best to laugh at the angst and absurdity of life. Or else to make a monumental film that stands aside T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” as a landmark of the horrific banality of human life and death. I think the part where Caden finds the present he sent his daughter, and later discovers her a tattooed oddity in a peep show particularly hilarious. And Caden’s inability to emotionally connect with the woman he clearly loves until the moment of her death in the smoldering inferno of her house a hoot. His clumsiness in relationships with women is just to painful personally to dwell on.

Critics of film had to call it something, put it in a safe box called dark comedy, or confront the fact that there is a very real hell, right outside the door (heaven something we invented to escape from it) and that we are frequently willing collaborators with the demons all around us in our own torture.

Forty: Instant Karma’s Gonna Get You February 1, 2014

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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It only took a minute. “Step back behind the barricade, sir,” the police officer said.

“Just give me a minute,” the out-of-town photographer replied. Wrong answer.

Marianne and I used to watch parades no St. Charles just over Canal when we lived downtown back in the early 1980s, and had struck up a friendly conversation with the photographer and his girl friend. She was so proud. He had just had the cover of Time or Newsweek the week before. I forget which now but I remember checking and it was true.

They let him hand his camera and bag to his girl friend before they cuffed-tied him and led him off to the nearest Orleans Parish Prison bound bus. She was absolutely inconsolable. I thought about but did not vocalize beyond a glance exchanged between Marianne and I the Kafka meets Dante in Hell experience he was about to have on Carnival weekend at OPP.

And then I remembered. An old friend I had fallen out of touch with, a Republican Commiteeman back in the days when they had parole power for municipal offenses. I hadn’t talked to Walter since they’d raised the drinking age to 18 and his bar on Veterans had gone under, and probably years had passed between that and the last time I saw him tending bar at Nick’s Original Big Train Bar, a landmark long gone the way the Dixie Brewery across the street is about to go. We went back to first grade at St. Pius the X and our older sisters had been friends.

This was before cellphones so I had to find a payphone on a parade route at which one could actually hear. I dialed information, and hunted down the only Walter P- (thankfully) in the phone book. I dialed is number, thinking there was little chance he would be home on a parade night. Thankfully he answered.

I don’t recall exactly how the conversation went, beyond asking him how he was doing and could he do me an urgent favor. Without hesitation, he said he’d take care of it. And the photographer was standing on the corner of Broad and Tulane by the time we had managed to wrangle a cab and get to Central Lockup through the parade madness.

You have to love this town, and the people in it.

If I had to pick an incident where I paid this back the first that comes to mind is meeting my new good friends from Brooklyn John O’Dwyer and Lori Youmans. As is my habit I was hanging on my front stoop drinking coffee and contemplating switching to beer, watching the Jazz Fest crowd go by. I don’t know how John or Lori picked me, but they did. She had blown out her sandal before even setting foot through the gate. We managed a duct tape repair intended to get to inside to buy some ridiculously priced pair, but it managed to hold the entire day. They stopped by on their way out, bought some of my neighbor Jimmy’s barbecue while I supplied the beer. Patrice admired his Bob Dylan shirt so much he gave it to her in exchange for one of mine. They are now regular visitors, and I have an open invitation to crash with them if I’m ever up in New York.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, right actions, tzedakah, hasanat, punya: there is no rule more basic to the religions of the world. My favorite reformulation of this idea is a song by Leon Russell, “Prince of Peace”:

Never treat a brother like a passing stranger
Always try to keep the love light burning
Sing a song of love and open up your heart
For he might be the Prince of Peace returning

Seventeen: The Coyote Bounce January 30, 2014

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As I pulled off the shirt I had slept in and worn to the laundromat, the moonstone I wear at the end of my que fell off and took a coyote bounce. It’s gone, or at least hidden from my prying eyes for the moment. If you are wondering–what the hell is a coyote bounce–then you do not have tricksters in your life. Or perhaps you are a good Catholic and don’t’ believe in such things. Instead, you would pull out one of the little purple plastic prayer pamphlets of St. Anthony my grandfather was so fond of handing out. I don’t know what St. Anthony granted him, but he was a convinced devotee.

You can blame the disorganization of my cluttered rooms at the Fortress of Squalitude, or my ADHD attention span, but I’m not convinced that’s the reason things go missing in my house. This has been going on mostly since the end of my nuclear family and setting out on my own. Before that, through over a dozen years of children, I styled myself The Finderator. Whatever they were looking for, I could usually locate. Over the last several years that has reversed. Too often what I am looking for is laying out in plain sight (as they were before), but when I am determined to look for them, they are not there. I have an affinity for crows, master tricksters, and when find myself in this position instead of beseeching St. Anthony I say, “OK, Brother Crow. You’ve had your fun. Please return [whatever] to me. Thank you.”

I had spent all morning looking for the book for tonight’s poetry chat, which I set aside about a week ago, thinking I would bringing it to the Splish Splash for another read. It was nowhere to be found. Granted there are many piles of books and papers in my house, but my system of organization should pretty much guarantee it would be near the top of one. I finally found it in a filing box top full of things I had cleared out of the front room to clean and put in the back storage place of my apartment. Relieved, I went back toward the front to finish putting away laundry, and as I passed the dirty basket I triaged aside for today, that’s when I pulled off my shirt, and the stone went gone.

OK, Brother Crow

If you are a skeptic you will find an explanation. Someone recently studied and computed the mathematical geometry behind why a string left in a drawer will ultimately tangle. The universe if filled with perfectly explicable mysteries. Certainly I am not looking hard enough, not considering the shape and construction of the lost object, anything that might contribute to a logical explanation of where it went. Feel free to explain it to me over a beer someday. For now, I’m going into the backyard where I pushed the coyote pin someone gave me once, the one I wore in my hat until too many funny things happened, and light a little stick of sage on the angle bracket that serves as a censor for him.

I am sure there is an explanation for that as well, somewhere between the statistically documented but mysterious power of prayer and perhaps just the allowance of enough time and focus on something else for my ADHD brain to process the moment and realize where to look. Still, I find my explanation more comforting, as equally connected to the mysteries and laws of the universe as the most obscure details of theoretical physics. In the end we are all trying to find something, and my way saves me no small amount of math, which was never my strong suit.

Postcript: Coyote, it seems, has moved on. The pin was firmly planted in the fence board, and I don’t think any wind could have dislodged him that wouldn’t have taken the fence down. I lit the sage and left it in his place. The moonstone was precisely under a fold of the drape that separates the two rooms. And so it goes.

Sixteen January 30, 2014

Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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A day late and a dollar short; a day missed. The story of my life. Yes, we should avoid cliches like a plague of adverbs, but sometimes you need an adverb, especially in first person, an adverb not of superfluous description but an adverb of uncertainty: “If our mother had known, she certainly would have done the right thing.” An adverb not of certainty but of doubt, a tiny spot illuminating the conclusion she most likely would have not.

Odd Words January 30, 2014

Posted by Mark Folse in books, Indie Book Shops, literature, memoir, New Orleans, novel, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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This coming week in literary New Orleans:

& Thursday at 6 pm Octavia Books hosts a presentation and signing with John H. Baron featuring his recent book, CONCERT LIFE IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY NEW ORLEANS. During the nineteenth century, New Orleans thrived as the epicenter of classical music in America, outshining New York, Boston, and San Francisco before the Civil War and rivaling them thereafter. While other cities offered few if any operatic productions, New Orleans gained renown for its glorious opera seasons. Resident composers, performers, publishers, teachers, instrument makers, and dealers fed the public’s voracious cultural appetite. Tourists came from across the United States to experience the city’s thriving musical scene. Until now, no study has offered a thorough history of this exciting and momentous era in American musical performance history. John H. Baron’s Concert Life in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans impressively fills that gap.

& Every Thursday at 7 pm the JuJu Bag Cafe hosts the spoken word event Word Connections hosted by John Lacabiere. Call 504-307-9969 to sign up or for more information.

& Friday all New Orleans Public Libraries will be closed for an All Staff Day.

& Saturday at 11:30 it’s Story Time with Miss Maureen at Maple Street Book Shop. This week she’ll read Fog Island by Tomi Ungerer. In this imaginative tale from master storyteller Tomi Ungerer, two young siblings find themselves cast away on mysterious Fog Island. No one has ever returned from the island’s murky shores, but when the children begin to explore, they discover things are not quite as they expected!

& Saturday at 2 pm the Poetry Buffet returns to its home at the Latter Memorial Library, feeaturing poets jonathan Kline, Geoff Munsterman and Mike True reading from their new books.

& Saturday at 2 pm Octavia Books and Kid Chef Eliana celebrate the launch of her third cookbook. Come meet her and learn about the mouth-watering recipes in COOL KIDS COOK: Fresh and Fit. Everyone benefits from healthy menus, and Kid Chef Eliana has created a collection of twenty-six recipes that focus on flavor and fresh ingredients. Her recipes are easy to prepare and kid-friendly. With mouth-watering dishes, including such tasty treats as Vinegar and Sea Salt Kale Chips, Beef and Broccoli Stir-Fry, and Inside-Out Peach Crumble, the whole family will be eating nutritious meals prepared by their very own kids!

& Starting Saturday Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer, co-founder of The French Pastry School and author of the new cookbook, The Art of French Pastry will be visiting New Orleans. He’ll be hosting a demonstration Saturday, at the Ritz, and Sunday he’ll be at Sucre. Maple Street Book Shop will be on-site selling the books. Monday morning at 1 1AM, he’ll lecture and sign at the Maple Street Book Shop, and do a macaron tasting

& Every Sunday at 3 p.m. The Maple Leaf Reading Series, the oldest continuous reading series in the south, founded by Everette Maddox, features guest poets and an open mic. January is a series of open mics.

& Sunday is Slam and Spoken Word Day in New Orleans. WhoDatPoets.com lists five Spoken Word shows on Sunday nights. For phone numbers with more details on all these readings visit WHODATPOETS.COM. (I stopped listing all of the events because one venue’s name forced me to limit this post for readers over 21. Check WHODATEPOETS.COM for all the latest on slam and spoken word in New Orleans.

& Speak Sunday is hosted every Sunday at 7 pm by Duece the Poet at Therapy, 3001 Tulane Avenue, also featuring live painting of the performers by C.C. Givens.

& Monday at 7 pm the East Jefferson Regional Library Fiction Writer’s Group will host guest writer Janet Moulton, the author of The Headless Palm. The chaos of life after Hurricane Katrina places a local attorney and her contractor son at odds with a broken legal system. When they befriend two college students, they agree to help them in the search for a missing cousin. The investigation uncovers horrors worse than anything the storm did. Janet Moulton graduated from the University of Connecticut with bachelor degrees in psychology and English. She obtained her law degree from Tulane University and has lived in various parts of the New Orleans area since 1972. The Fiction Writers’ Group is a support group for serious writers of fiction. We do not focus on poetry, essays or nonfiction. Events consist of critique sessions from group members, author talks and writing exercises. Free of charge and open to the public. Registration is not required.

& Susan Larson, the former book editor of the former Times-Picayune newspaper and member of the National Book Critics Circle hosts The Reading Life on WWNO (89.9 FM) on Tuesdays at 1:30 p.m. She features interviews with authors of local and national interest. Watch Odd Words on Facebook and Google+ on Tuesdays for a complete list of her guests and features.

& Tuesday at 6 pm Octavia Books hosts best selling author Wendy Webb and her new book The Vanishing. Set on the roguishly beautiful Northern shore of Lake Michigan, THE VANISHING begins with a past séance that goes unpardonably wrong—and then leaps forward to today’s most troubling headlines. The widow of a Ponzi-scheming genius who escaped through suicide, Julia Bishop is shocked by an offer so intriguing she cannot refuse: she’s offered the position of companion to a famed gothic novelist who much of the world believes has died. The authoress’s son offers Julia refuge from the cruel media and vicious personal attacks surrounding her husband’s misdeeds—she can vanish into his family’s cloaked estate, just has his mother, Amaris Sinclair, did some decades ago. But when Julia arrives at the aptly named castle-in-the-wilderness, Havenwood, she becomes unsettled: by voices from figures that are not there; by intruders who must mean someone harm; by legends surrounding the estate and the Sinclair family that seem all too true.

& The 1718 Society literary group will host its first first reading of the Spring semester is Tuesday at 7 pm. Shelly Taylor is the featured reader. Shelly Taylor is the author of Black-Eyed Heifer (Tarpaulin Sky Press) and Dirt City Lions (Horse Less Press), as well as two poetry chapbooks, Peaches the Yes-Girl (Portable Press of Yo-Yo Labs) & Land Wide to Get a Hold Lost In (Dancing Girl Press). Born in southern Georgia, she currently resides in New Orleans, where she teaches at Loyola. All readings are free and open to the public. Maple Street Book Shop will be on-site selling books. The 1718 Society is a literary organization of Tulane, Loyola, and UNO students, which holds a monthly reading series at the Columns Hotel, 3811 St. Charles Avenue.

& The Great Books Club meets at the Old Metairie Branch of the Jefferson Parish Library Tuesday at 7 pm. The Great Books Foundation is a nonprofit educational organization whose mission is to advance the critical, reflective thinking and social and civic engagement of readers of all ages through Shared Inquiry discussion of works and ideas of enduring value. Since 1947, the Foundation has helped people throughout the United States and other countries conduct discussion groups in schools, libraries, community centers, and other venues.

& Also on Tuesday the Jefferson Parish Library Teen Book Club will meet in the Lafitte Library. Teens ages 12-18 are invited to join in an exciting discussion of this month’s book, BETWEEN THE LINES by Jodie Picoult. Registration required. Please call 504-689-5097 to register. Held in the adult reading area.

& Every Tuesday night get on the list to spit at the longest running spoken word venue in New Orleans at Sweet Lorraine’s Jazz Club hosted by African-American Shakespear. Doors open at 7pm and the Mic pops at 8pm. It is $5 to get in.

& Wednesday at 6:30 pm Garden District Book Shop features Joshua Field Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus discussing their book Everything That Remains. Twenty-something, suit-clad, and upwardly mobile, Joshua Fields Millburn thought he had everything anyone could ever want. Until he didn’t anymore. Blindsided by the loss of his mother and his marriage in the same month, Millburn started questioning every aspect of the life he had built for himself. Then, he accidentally discovered a lifestyle known as minimalism and everything started to change. That was four years ago. Since, Millburn, now 32, has embraced simplicity. In the pursuit of looking for something more substantial than compulsory consumption and the broken American Dream, he jettisoned most of his material possessions, paid off loads of crippling debt, and walked away from his six-figure career. So, when everything was gone, what was left? Not a how-to book, but a why-to book.

& On Wednesday Esoterotica’s local provocateurs are bringing you a celebration of the all different forms of self-love… and we don’t mean in the Depak Chopra kind of way. 8 pm at the Allways.

Fifteen January 28, 2014

Posted by Mark Folse in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Last year I read Righteous Dopefiend and thought if I were 20 years younger I could change majors to anthropology. A magnificent collaboration between author Philippe Bourgois and photographer Jeffrey Schonberg, it examines the situation of street heroin addicts living in an area of San Francisco. I think I fell in love with the book partly through the influence of David Simon. I remember posting in this online class after reading one chapter, “everything I just read I already learned from Bubbles,” the street addict character in The Wire. Once you plow through the Marxian preface and digest the concepts of anthropological agency (people form their own lives through their own choices) and structure (people are formed from choices limited by social circumstances), you are treated to a poignant and painful picture of the lives of two dozen addicts, with particular focus on a half-dozen. It is not a dry tome but a strong narrative arc and elucidation of character that was irresistible. If you loved Bubbles, or watching or reading The Corner, you should pick up this book immediately. I have not read The Corner, only watched the film, but I think I’m going to read it and re-read Righteous Dopefiend, because Simon’s film had it so right.

The best part of the class was watching the evolution of attitudes among my forty some-odd classmates, mainly self-identified in their early reactions as young, suburban, and completely unexposed to the subject. A few bravely recounted stories of addiction battles in their own family. Somewhere between those two threads, the majority these mostly twenty-somethings set aside their conventional, judgmental attitude toward street people in general and addicts in particular, and discovered compassion. It was a fundamental lesson for me in one of the functions of anthropology, of the liberal arts, and the power of a well-done book to change the world.

I was excited to take the Visual Anthropology class partly because of my experience of the intersection of Simon’s film and Bougois and Schonberg’s fieldwork. There’s a great deal of reading in the class, but the primary work is viewing films and three of four grades will be short papers examining the films we watch. (I already touched on Nanook of the North in a prior post). Aside from Susan Sontag’s On Photograpy the reading is proving dreary. I just finished a paper on the social relations of the Neur people of Sudan written in the 1930s. A turgid bore, the only interesting thing was a reference to Mahdist prophets which led me to read about that Suffi sect and the origins of jihad as an obligation ahead of haji–the pilgrimage to Mecca–in their theology. As I type this the United States has drones circling over Sudan looking for targets, the descendants of the anti-colonial Mahdist movement, operating under the loose umbrella of al-Qaida. The paper itself is an almost incomprehensible account of the tribal governance structure of what the author admits is an “organized anarchy”, with a lot of explanations along the lines of a member of Tribe A and Tribal District B and Clan C can still go kick the shit out of someone from Clan Din Tribal District B. The accompanying charts are not much help.

Anthropology, I discover, is like everything else. You get a first taste that sinks the hook only to discover–yarn–it’s another Theory contorted academic discipline.

I tried another article which I thought might be fascinating, on indigenous people producing their own video. The article opens with a quote that put me immediately in mind of the debate over cultural ownership of derivatives (mostly photography) of Mardi Gras Indian culture. Instead, I am half-way through a rant over whether the introduction of cameras and video editing equipment violates the Prime Directive or whatever it is called in anthropological ethics.

Yawn.

leaderThen I reread how the Kayopo people of the Brazilian Amazon were using video, and the skills in video and production they were learning, to stage telegenically their protests against a dam that would drown much of their land. I thought of this picture that was widely circulated on the Internet not long ago of Chief Raoni crying when he learned that the President of Brazil approved the Belo Monte dam project on the indigenous Xingu people’s land.

Just when I thought I might check HBO GO and Yahoo video to see if I can watch The Corner the rest of this frigid night, Or check the syllabus and see if the next film we would watch tomorrow night if class weren’t cancelled is online, I suddenly linked back in. I remember the powerful emotions I felt when I saw that photograph and suddenly this monograph on the Kayopo people was interesting again. If giving cameras to the Kayopo violets the Prime Directive, so what? Should we give them AK-47s instead to protect their land against development? Something clicked . And I was reminded of the dramatic conversion of attitude among my young fellow students reading Righteous Dopefiend. I thought about listening to drumming on tribal radio when I was in western North Dakota, of trying to explain Mardi Gras Indians to the drum circle that came to the Katrina benefit in Fargo.

The world became a little smaller, the picture a bit clearer, these distant people with their brilliant feathered ritual capes a bit closer, as close as Bayou St. John–just blocks from my house–on Super Sunday.

Fourteen January 28, 2014

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But then I like my little projects. They make me happy. I like big projects too, though. I like the big projects that aren’t expendable. I like gestures but I don’t want to create too much disposable art. Like when someone reads your book, if they like it, if they connect, it’s such an incredible intimacy, IMPACT! That’s what you hope for with a book, or a movie, or a painting (though I can’t paint), or a song. Someone was saying every song on an album has to be a classic for an album to matter. You think the musician doesn’t want that? You think they aren’t trying?
– Stephen Elliot’s The Daily Rumpus email, 1-28-14

Is blogging a little project? So much depends on your level of obsession. If you have a Tumblr about women’s shoes you are probably obsessed with shoes, spend hours every day scouring the internet for today’s pair of leopard skin stiletto boots. I don’t think I’m obsessed; more like possessed. I was almost exorcised over the last year, and now I’m back. I started 365–a post a day for year–because I wasn’t really exorcised. My writing block was part of my, not depression exactly, hibernation. The drive was still there. The words, the belief in my self were not. (Of course I’m depressed. Given the circumstances of my life if I weren’t depressed some of the time, I would be a sociopath. The pill nurse always smiles when I say that. I think my level of self-absorption and awareness, my ability to articulate what exactly is going on in my head and in my life, is a relief at the end of a day in which his patients mostly shrug and say, “not too bad.”)

This project is a small thing. Just write something every day. On this tiny platform it doesn’t matter if its good, but I am trying to make it good. As Stephen said, ” Someone was saying every song on an album has to be a classic for an album to matter. You think the musician doesn’t want that? You think they aren’t trying?” Every day is a challenge. Three hundred and sixty-five days is a steep climb. I have my pilgrim’s stick. It’s not really mine. I was at Japan Fest at a vendor’s table, where I had purchase a small reproduction of a Japanese net float, and a ceramic dish I liked. I picked up the stick and something happened. I held it before me on my open hands. The moment was one of reverence, I think. I stood there a long time. It must have been palpable to the man. My girlfriend said I looked transfixed. He didn’t sell it to me. He gave it to me. It’s mine and it’s not. Someone climbed the Three Mountains of Dewa, and at each had the character for that mountain painted on the stick. I took his gift as a sign, an encouragement to begin my own pilgrimage. It took six months before I began, but here I am on the low path, the mountain looming over me. Every day I take a few more steps.

A side note: I don’t think I realized it until today but Stephen Elliot’s Daily Rumpus email is partly the model for 365. I’m not starting a novel. I’m starting a series of periodic reflections including small tales of one sort or another. Along with those unopened McSweeney’s I mentioned the other day, a lot of his emails passed me by unread over the last many months. I read today’s and found this quote. Like the gift of the stick, another sign, a post in the road counting the miles and pointing the way.

Thirteen January 27, 2014

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I spent half an hour Sunday in my mother’s bedroom and wandering the house, looking at what remained, thinking of what would have to go. My mother is in a nursing home with a ruined knee and without the will to walk again. Without that, she can never come home, and my sister can’t afford to live in the expensive apartment in Park Esplanade. Other than her knee, she is fine. There is an enlarged artery she is too old to explore that almost certainly hides an embolism. That could go tonight, or next year, or ten years from now. She survived a rare cancer, undergoing a rigorous and hideous chemo regimen that included spinal chemo.

I just wrote all this the other day or at least part of it. I only come back to it not just to meet my self-imposed geis to write something every day, but because instead of going to bed, although I’m feeling frail with exhaustion, I had to read my friend Ray Shea’s piece on the Rumpus about his last months with his dying father. You should to. I hope there was solace for him in finishing it and seeing it published. There was solace in me for it as I contemplate the disposal of my mother’s things while she wastes away in a nursing home. Like Ray’s father, she still has most if not all of her marbles. She will finally die of nursing home, in a nursing home, because we don’t live in arrangements that allow for any other end. My sister has selflessly cared for her for over a decade, but is well into her 60s with bad knees. She can’t do it any longer, and shouldn’t have to. Even if I were in a situation to take my mother in, she wouldn’t come. She wouldn’t even let my girlfriend and I stay over a weekend so Pam could take a trip to the beach with our sister and her family. And I wouldn’t do that to Patrice, who spent a decade caring for her dying partner, then her mother, then her step-father-in-law. She should never have to do that again.

My siblings and I were all born at Hotel Dieu on Perdido Street. Hotel Dieu is an old French name for hospital because it was, in the days before modern medicine, the last stop on the way to meet your maker. My mother’s last stop is at Notre Dame, where there is a statue of Our Lady of the Rosary standing in the lobby. She was a Dominican College girl, and the Dominicans were very big on the Rosary. If there were a window without heavy curtains always closed in her dreary room it would look out at Dominican High School. The communion ministers are mostly Dominican College alumnae, women my mother has known for decades. As much as she complains I hope it is some small comfort to her to see those women, to count the beads on the beautiful Rosary my daughter brought her back from Belgium, that it never occurs to her as it does to me that she is counting out an untold but dwindling number of days in that small room, mystery by doleful mystery. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and through the hours until our death. Amen.

Sunday Morning January 26, 2014

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That was The Typist. We now return to our program of music for a heroin-nod of a Sunday Morning.

Twelve January 26, 2014

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Somedays are clearly intended for leisure. You wake up from a good night’s sleep but can’t quite shake off the bedclothes, drift to the couch as lazy as a dream and a second cup of coffee doesn’t help. These are the days we of course fill up well in advance with things to do, not aware that something–the final release of a prior day’s stress, a strange dream–will leave you staring into space watching the thin trickle of smoke from an ignored cigarette. I pick up a book I started avidly a few days ago, and my eyes wander around the page, unable to follow the thread of a sentence.

Even excuses and rearrangement seems to much of a bother, although my excuses for not going to the den are good. My foot still hurts, and now my left wrist, from my luge run down the icy stairs. I won’t be wrapping popsicle stick mummies today. Other things must be done, and eventually the full pot of coffee will be drunk and the day will begin in earnest. Down days are a luxury and since I became unemployed I’ve been cutting back on luxuries.

I read a long personal horoscope by a Jungian astrologer yesterday, a gift from a friend, that was so apt it was frightening. That started off a long day of introspection punctuated by frustration, nothing quite coming off as planned. One of the things the horoscope reminded me was a tendency to neglect my body, my health. Listen to your body, it counseled. Today my body is saying: chill. You’ve been under a lot of stress and I strongly suggest you lay back down on the couch, it says, or I’ll find some handy virus and put you there.

Later, I have to help my sister start sorting through my mother’s things. It is clear she is not coming back from the nursing home, and the three-bedroom apartment in Park Esplanade must go. This is not a particularly stirring task to look forward to. Those rooms are filled with things I remember from my earliest childhood, from the tiniest tchotkes to the large, much faded Afghani rug in the living room. Even the newest pieces my sister purchased, a chair and fabulously expensive couch she found cheap, are the same stern Danish modern that filled the boxy house of my father’s modernist design on Egret Street. There is something peculiarly off-kilter about doing this with the things of the living, but at 56 I recognize the inevitability of death. I’m not quite at the point of reading the daily obituaries, something my mother did before her eyesight failed, but I’ve lost friends too young over the last several years and made a point of buying my last suit in black.

Later I will take my son to the nursing home, bringing an order of my mother’s favorite Teriyaki wings from the restaurant on Bienville. I will be relentlessly cheerful for my mother and son’s sake, in spite of spending hours handing things she and my father selected to decorate their lives. Perhaps tonight would be a good time to take down the red box containing all of the letters my father wrote to my mother during World War II, something I’ve felt not quite right about doing while my mother is still alive. Or maybe that will be too much, too soon: the war-time, airmail paper as fragile and transparent as the last.

Eleven January 25, 2014

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“Many years later, in front of the firing squad, colonel Aureliano Buendía would remember that distant afternoon his father took him to see ice.”
― Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wearing my socks out into the freezing rain to take out the garbage seemed perfectly sensible: the traction they would add, my plan to change into my L.L.Bean leather-soled slipper socks once I got settled inside. Perhaps if I had noticed the icicles hanging from the mailbox, or put my hand on the rail, thickly coated with ice, before I put my foot down and began my bumpity luge run down the front steps. I fell almost perfectly straight down but the top step offered no purchase for the seat of my pants, and away we went.

It’s not a long staircase, just a few steps, but after living over ten years in northwest Minnesota and North Dakota I suffered an especially large bruise on my dignity. Literally. My backside was fine when I stepped out of bed this morning but my foot was not. I must have stopped myself at the sidewalk with the bugly bit at the end of the second metatarsal. (I think I spelt that right. I had to look it up this morning but did not write it down. Catholic boys did not take health in high school. Or Louisiana history. We took catechism instead.) (Yes, I know. Spelled. I also use grey, and no amount of ruler hand slaps or erasers to the head has ever corrected it).

Fortunately I have an old tourist blackthorn, the paint beginning to chip here and there, with a rubber end on it. I discovered in my years on Capitol Hill, standing in the marble and terrazzo corridors of power in my thin-soled but expensive Bostonians that I have something called Greek foot or a Greek foot. Apparently there are types, and mine are prone to bearing the weight on the wrong bones until I’m hobbled. Fortunately, of all of the options I was offered: start wearing Rockports and crepe souls, custom inserts, custom shoes, or breaking the bones in my foot and putting them together in a better order, Rockports worked. And so the purely decorative blackthorn (which is a hell of a thing to try to pack, forcing every geeky tourist in Ireland to step onto the airplane with it in hand) acquired a rubber tip. The Rockports, even the dressy blood Oxford ones, were no doubt the beginning of the end of my career in Washington public relations. I would never be selected, wearing shoes like that, to arrive to work for my first day at Burston-Marstellar to read the case study on how to make the deaths of thousands of Indians at Bhopal go away. Which is probably a good thing.

I lived on the snow/ice line of Washington, D.C. and Arlington, Virginia long enough to know better than to fall down the steps. There are certain places, Washington and Dallas commining prominently to mind, that suffer from real ice storms: a quarter-inch or more covering everything. Even a slight coating is enough to be a problem. One morning I could not get up the hill to Mabel’s to drop off my daughter at day care and I had to call work from a pay phone–not having risen high enough in the ranks of Washington power to have one of those late 1980s walkie-talkies–and lather my daughter up in its-not-really-butter and syrup for an hour while the sun slowly melted the streets.

New Orleans has its occasional ice-storms. I remember the comic expedition from ’84 or ’85 to make it two-and-a-half blocks from my apartment to the K&B for cigarettes. I set out like Robert Scott for the South Pole, ill-equipped and vastly underestimating what I was undertaking. Unlike Scott I survived trek with my bones and dignity intact, although this was before ubiquitous digital cameras and Your Tube. Otherwise my dignity might have been in great peril for all the pratfalls I made before I discovered that the grass was not slippery. Still, I had to get across two lanes of Carrollton, Willow, Plum and Oak to reach the store. If I had to do it again, I would lash the fireplace poker to a broom handle and push tacks through my shoes. But, well, cigarettes. There was no alternative.

There is one thing I think everyone in New Orleans has that helps. We all have a foodie relative who insists that we keep a box of coarse seat salt around. What precisely we are supposed to do with it I forget. It’s the only salt I have so I use it sparingly to cook, but my current box–at least two years old–is still half full. It works much better to de-ice steps and sidewalks than the two boxes of Morton’s I tried back in Arlington while trying to get out and begin de-icing the car.

Fortunately our esteemed governor declared a state-wide state of weather emergency. As soon as the FEMA offices open I’m going to present myself and demand I be given the cost of a proper cane, something that Uncle Lionel would approve of, and a new rubber tip. The old one is getting a bit cracked from age.

Ten: Nine, Eight, Seven… January 24, 2014

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I heard it. I’m certain of it: the unmistakable wail of what must be the last Civil Defense siren in New Orleans howling noon. What fresh apocalyptic hell might this signal, or was it just an accidental misfire of memory, the passing ghost of a missleman who spent one day too many in the hole until he ate his .45? Was it just some accident of the atmosphere that carried this forgotten sound to me from somewhere in the bowels of Gentilly, a chance collision of groceries and noon?

I had just been sitting in my car listening to Oasis Champagne Supernova at an entirely unreasonable volume, composing this in my head:

If the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency ever discovers the digital signature behind a song like Champagne Supernova, the kind that fires every roller coaster orgasm cocaine pleasure center in your brain and send you straight to 11, Big Pharma will lose the race for universal Soma and we will all be deeply and truly fucked. Perhaps they already have. That would explain so much: the dumb truck cowboy Kiss spectacle of Ameriker First county rock hybrid dragging everyone back into some Stetson hat stars-and-bars fantasy land that camouflages the sterility of the ranch box big box lunch box of their daily lives; the relentless throb of misogynistic hip-hop glorifying the quick and the dead, feeding the assembly line of prison disenfranchisement.

Never mix synchronicity and portent. It’s a hell of a hangover.

Tomorrow at noon, if you find me standing outside staring into the sky, you will know why. Unless of course our own Rocket Zero is making its reentry blaze somewhere over Alexandria right now.

Nine January 23, 2014

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“But no matter how old we get there should always be that sense of living on the margin of impossibility.”
— Ray Bradbury, from his introduction to Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow, taken from McSweeney’s No. 45.

Just in time, I am caught up. Committing to write something on this blog every day worth more attention than Like button affords is a serious undertaking. I don’t think loosely bracketed quotes are cheating. Long-time readers will remember these fondly from before I let things here fall into a state of wobbly, cob-webby neglect. Am I caught up at nine? I’m not going to go back and count but I’m fairly certain. I am so far behind on so many things. I have two unopened McSweeney’s Quarterlies, I discovered while looking for a book. Writers are like sharks: if we stop reading, we die. That little sliver of pixels–”Past: Writer” I saw on my Facebook profile were like a pair of defibrillator paddles on my chest.

When I saw the cover of this number of McSweenney’s, titled Hitchcock and Bradbury Fight in Heaven, off came the slip wrap in a moment. I skipped the letters for later and breezed through the introduction to get into the piece quoted above. I should be reading Anthropology or studying Biology For Dribbling Liberal Arts Idiots, Section Two, but I think that unlikely today. Will I make it to class even? Will I hide in the back as I did through months of my sophomore year in high school attentively devouring Gravity’s Rainbow?

“True, the greater part of life is a real and nasty business, with more failures than successes, more illnes than health. Many of us quit early and threaten to drop out of the game. But give us another afternoon in a field, or a certain rain in the air outside the office window, or an hour of night when we wake to find the house asleep in moonlight, surrounded by our families, and we are set to go again. An occasional breather, a refresher, a bit of luck, a happy meeting, can make us cling once more to this soiled small bit of existence with a ferocity that borders on and surpasses insanity. “
— Ray Bradbury, ibid.

Hello, hello/
Hello, hello/
It’s good to be back.

Eight: Truth Slippery as Ice January 23, 2014

Posted by Mark Folse in 365, Creative Non-Fiction, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Last night I watched Nanook of the North, considered the precursor to all documentary and ethnographic film making. It is entirely staged, with selected photogenic Inuit portraying a “family”. One woman in class was Googling during break and said Nyla the wife in the film was actually film maker Robert Flaherty’s woman. At the time of filming, the Inuit of eastern Hudson’s bay were already being integrated into the 20th century life style that would later destroy their way of life, including rifles, outboard engines, Western clothes. It was, in formal terms, a fiction, an entertainment produced for Pantone films in 1922.

We then watched People of the Seal, a 1970s documentary about the last group of Inuit to be settled into villages by the Canadian government. I watched a man wield precisely the design of fish spear, a peculiar forked arrangement with the spear point in the middle, used by Nanook. I watched them build an Igloo precisely as Nanook and his “family” did. I watch them hunting seals precisely as Nanook did, but with more documentary detail.

Everything in Nanook is fabricated. Everything in Nanook, allowing for the filmmaker’s point of view, is authentic.

Authenticity, we learn, is one of the slipperiest words in the dictionary.

Everything on this blog is authentic.

Odd Words January 23, 2014

Posted by Mark Folse in books, Indie Book Shops, literature, New Orleans, novel, Odd Words, Poetry, publishing, Toulouse Street.
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This coming week in literary New Orleans:

& Thursday at 5:30 pm the Norman Mayer Library continues its Writing Workshops led by Youths. Upstairs in the teen area. Encouraging creative arts exploration through reading, engaging discussions, and group activities. Youth ages 12-17 are invited! Group limited to 15 participants. Call the branch to reserve your spot: 596-3100.

& Garden District Book Shop will host Fredrick Barton reading form and signing his new novel Courting Pandemonium at 6 pm. Raised by an outspoken single mother, Mac coaches women’s high school basketball in a New Orleans public school. When Mac encourages a star athlete, Barbara Jeanne Bordelon, to play on the boy’s basketball team, he incurs a flurry of public scrutiny that puts him in the path of radical feminists and evangelical Christians. Set in the 1970s to coincide with the Title IX ruling, Courting Pandemonium looks back on the landmark equal rights case with the singular mix of poignancy and absurdist humor, for which Barton is known.

& At 7 pm Thursday the East Bank Jefferson Parish Regional Library hosts an author event featuring Carolyn Kolb whose work provides a look into the heart of her city, New Orleans. She is a former Times-Picayune reporter and current columnist for New Orleans Magazine, where versions of these essays appeared as “Chronicles of Recent History.” Kolb takes her readers on a virtual tour of her favorite people and places. Divided into sections on food, Mardi Gras, literature, and music, these short essays can be read in one gulp or devoured slowly over time.

& Friday at 5 pm is the deadline to register for the New Orleans Public Library’s Black History Month Essay Contest. The theme of the contest is “Blacks and Reconstruction in Louisiana”. Entries must be received by the African American Resource Center by 5:00 pm CST, Friday, January 24, 2014. Sorry I didn’t catch this one earlier.

& Friday at 6 p.m. Jesmyn Ward, whose novel Salvage the Bones won the National Book Award in 2011, will be reading from and signing her most recent book, Men We Reaped, will be reading and signing at the Maple Street Book Shop. In four years, five young men dear to Ward died of various causes, from drug overdose to accident to suicide, but the underlying cause of their deaths was a self-destructive spiral born of hopelessness. Surrounded by so much death and sorrow, Ward closely examined the heartbreakingly relentless deaths of her young relatives and friends growing up in the small town of DeLisle, Mississippi, with few job prospects and little to engage their time and talents other than selling and using drugs and alcohol.

& Saturday at 11:30 it’s Story Time with Miss Maureen at Maple Street Book Shop. This week she’ll be reading Fog Island by Tomi Ungerer. In this imaginative tale from master storyteller Tomi Ungerer, two young siblings find themselves cast away on mysterious Fog Island. No one has ever returned from the island’s murky shores, but when the children begin to explore, they discover things are not quite as they expected!

& This is it! The big night when National Slam Poetry Champions Team Slam New Orleans decide their 2014 team! Expect a no holds barred all out best of the best from beginning to end. The winners will be representing New Orleans in the 2014 National Poetry Slam Championships. Eight poets will compete two rounds for a spot on the reigning back-to-back National Poetry Slam champions, Team SNO. In addition, we will crown our Individual World Poetry Slam and Women of the World Poetry Slam representatives. Your Grand Slam Finalists: A Scribe Called Quess,Desiree Dallagiacomo, Kaycee Filson, FreeQuency, Sam Gordon, Justin Lamb, Akeem Martin, Preach 

& Not a literary event but a sad day. Saturday at 9 pm McKeown’s Books and Difficult Music will host it’s last Difficult Music concert before closing at the end of the month. Stop by and say good-bye to a great bookstore and music venue.

& Every Sunday at 3 p.m. The Maple Leaf Reading Series, the oldest continuous reading series in the south, founded by Everette Maddox, features guest poets and an open mic. January is a series of open mics.

& Sunday is Slam and Spoken Word Day in New Orleans. WhoDatPoets.com lists five Spoken Word shows on Sunday nights. For phone numbers with more details on all these readings visit WHODATPOETS.COM. (I stopped listing all of the events because one venue’s name forced me to limit this post for readers over 21. Check WHODATEPOETS.COM for all the latest on slam and spoken word in New Orleans.

& Monday at 5:30 pm the Robert E. Smith library in Lakeview hosts a Creative Writing Workshop. Do you think in verse that could become poetry? Do you imagine characters, dialogue, and scenes? If so, join the Smith Library’s free Creative Writing Workshop.

& Monday at 7 pm the East Bank Jefferson Parish Fiction Writers Groups will host a critique session at the East Bank Regional Library. The Fiction Writers’ Group is a support group for serious writers of fiction. We do not focus on poetry, essays or nonfiction. Events consist of critique sessions from group members, author talks and writing exercises. Free of charge and open to the public. Registration is not required.

& Susan Larson, the former book editor of the former Times-Picayune newspaper and member of the National Book Critics Circle hosts The Reading Life on WWNO (89.9 FM) on Tuesdays at 1:30 p.m. She features interviews with authors of local and national interest. Watch Odd Words on Facebook and Google+ on Tuesdays for a complete list of her guests and features.

& Tuesday evenings the Old Metairie Library branch Great Books Discussion Group meets at 7 pm. No title is announced for this meeting. Contact the library at 889-8143 for more information.

& Every Tuesday night get on the list to spit at the longest running spoken word venue in New Orleans at Sweet Lorraine’s Jazz Club hosted by African-American Shakespear. Doors open at 7pm and the Mic pops at 8pm. It is $5 to get in.

& Wednesday at 6 p.m. Author Micheal Zell and photographers Louviere + Vanessa will celebrate the launch of their collaboration Oblivion Atlas upstairs at Mimi’s, 2601 Royal Street, featuring projection of images from the book, readings of selected stories by noted actors Michael Martin and Richard Mayer, and more. Copies of The Oblivion Atlas will be available for purchase and signing.

Seven: The Never-Ending Mexican Chicken Breast Menu January 22, 2014

Posted by Mark Folse in 365, food, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Nobody wanted to cook, so we decided I’d pick up the Dominos large carryout special. At $8.60 with tax it didn’t seem an extravagance considering I’m unemployed. Was it the healthiest thing to eat? Probably not, but it was accessible,  convenient, and cheap. We had eaten tacos the night before, and while I was at Winn-Dixie I ran a quick tab on our prior night’s supper. The Mission Taco Kit was 2.99 but I had gotten it on sale earlier. Just over a pound of hamburger was over $6, so we busted the pizza budget even before we added cheese, lettuce and onion. We each probably ate 20 grams of fat from the hambuger and another 20 in cheese, so the pepperoni only put us 5 grams over the tacos. We had black olives and onions as well along the the Marinera sauce that contains 2 grams of sugar per serving, but I’m pretty sure the unlabeled mild taco sauce in the kit had sugar. My Valentio sauce is basically peppers and vinegar. For eight dolars I could have picked up meat and a box of Hamburger Helper but the second ingredient is corn starch, the fourth sugar, and the fifth salt. It could have been worse. Popeyes current special is hot wings with fries and a biscuit: two order for the same $8 plus tax. I know I could have gotten out of the Ideal store with enough Krispy Chicken, fries and biscuits to satisfy us for about the same.

This my friends is how poor America eats.

In theory an educated person like myself could have gone hunting and gathering for something healthier but my girl friend is allergic to seafood. The cheapest fish you can get today is tilapia. Go Google tilapia and feces. Yum. I could have gotten out of Winn-Dixie with a bag of frozen chicken breasts, at $10 enough for three meals. Toss in some frozen veggies and a bag sweet potatoes and I could have gotten out the door for about $20+. Good thing we have all of the illegal aliens who are at the root of contemporary America’s long-standing cheap food policy. Throw in the already bought olive oil and condiments for cooking the chicken and we’re probably under $8 but just how many nights are you going to eat the same thing? My girlfriend’s food stamp allocation for a single person on disability works out to just under $4 a day. Next time you’re in Rouses or Winn-Dixie repeat my $8 exercise, but come up with a meal plan for the week for $28. You’re going to be eating a lot of frozen chicken breasts. Pity the poor migrant who’s slaughtered and butchered the things all day and comes home to find chicken on his plate.

And we’d have to cook. Unemployed doesn’t mean I’m not busy: three plus hours on the phone with unemployment and job hunting, three more hours doing homework for my night classes, unplug the vacuum and finish that task, clean the catbox: without the idle chatter of the workplace, the trip out for a $4 cup of coffee and a real lunch hour, I’m pretty sure I worked at least as many productive hours as you did in your cubicle or office.

The new Whole Food on Broad promises to make healthy eating accessible and affordable. We’ll see. The company universaly known as whole paycheck isn’t somewhere I shop often. I go there for curry paste and naan for my son and I’s favorite meal (based on a Winn-Dixie bag of frozen chicken). That’s about it. We’ll see if I can get out of this new store with a reasonably tasty, nutritious and easy to prepare dinner for two for less than $10, even shopping for a week’s worth of food. I’m not counting on it.

Six January 21, 2014

Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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To write every day is The Work. To commit to write every day for publication, even on an increasingly obscure blog, is a recipe for intermittent failure. Yesterday there was no Six in this 365 project, the idea that I write something every day for a year I am comfortable pushing the Publish button with. In The Work, you can try and fail, put down hundreds or thousands of words and revisit them the next day, prompting sending them to the wastebasket.

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.
– Samuel Beckett

If you are a writer or any other variety of artist; hell if you are anyone of ambition whatsoever, if you do not have these words tattooed on your forearms where they can remind you every moment of every day, I will pause for a moment while you find a sticky note or a bit of tape and paper to put these up on the wall above your writing space, or write them in the fly-leaf of your notebook.

There. That’s better.

Yesterday was a self-inflicted failure, the temptation while unemployed to ignore the clock, to catch an early show by Dave Easley at the Maison and then his late show at The Apple Barrel. In between I met a French bassist (or perhaps Québécois; I didn’t ask) who was wandering Frenchman Street making contacts, sitting in, trying to find gigs. I met a pair of roommates freshly back from Zambia who tried to convince me that the cure for unemployment ennui is the Peace Corps. I heard a shredding modern jazz combo at the Spotted Cat, the home of swing and trad. I finished writing Five while in Check Point Charlies, not precisely the place you would expect to find quiet and a well-lit bar top. I might have gone home earlier if I had not found that bar stool, and had a long conversation about scooters versus motorcycles, exchanged stories of spills we had both taken, the merit of leathers versus the kids in shorts and sandals on the unstable mini-wheels of a Vespa on the minefield streets of New Orleans.

That is The Life, one of the several reasons we live here against all rational sense. It is also, in a way, The Work, collecting the specimens nurtured over beers that are the germ of future posts. I did not scribble in my notebook as I did last week in similar circumstances but I was too lost in Easley’s magic finger on his pedal steel guitar, in the discovery of a new sound at the Cat, in pleasant conversation. I don’t mean to let 365 make a monk of me, or what the hell would I write about?

Five January 19, 2014

Posted by Mark Folse in je me souviens, memoir, Memory, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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There was no time to stop or drop. Three-quarter throttle up Jackson Avenue, Honda Passport in the right lane (no, not Uptown you fool) when that long Detroit hood pulled out of the side street. The impact and somersault over the hood are mostly a matter of recollection after the fact of the possible mechanics, wondering how I’d come to land on my feet in the middle of the Avenue. My first clear recollection were the corner forty boys hooting and applauding.  “Hey, man, if we call Eyewitness News can you do that again?”

It took the heavy, middle-aged man a minute or more to come to his senses and makes his way around the car. I slowly removed my helmet, waved to the corner guys and told him I thought I was OK. My feet wouldn’t start to hurt until the adrenaline wore off. I wave off his apologies with a smile, lost in a reverie of appreciation  for my lucky stunt. The tiny 70cc bike,  however, was clearly done. The front wheel survived, looking true if flat. When I stood the bike up, it was clear the frame was not, just enough of a bend to render it unrideable. 

Marianne had a car, had  bravely ridden the Passport to work in her Eighties office skirt suit when I’d broken my arm in the bar stool-vaulting contest at the Abbey. (Some other time; a story in its own right)  but the little bike was my ride, the only way I had to get from Carrollton to work in Gretna and out to my newspaper assignments. It was a fixture on the West Bank, the man in the land of Harleys and Goldwings gassing up his tiny bike in a suit. It had carried me across all three ferries and against all sense across the Huey P. Long and Greater New Orelans Bridge, survived the time it dropped out from under me on the slick deck of the GNO just in front of an 18-wheeler. My head hit hard but god bless helmets; I rolled out from under the wheels and the bike passed under the truck between the wheels.

Now its was done and I was stranded. It would be for weeks until my brother-in-law gave me his father’s old  Ford Custom 500 with 300 plus on the odometer.  I don’t remember the driver’s name. I wish I did. We loaded loaded the bike with room to spare in the trunk of his beat Detroit wheels, and he drove me home, apologizing profusely the entire time as shock slowly set in and I kept moaning over and over again, “how am I going to get to work?”  He promised to make it good, and asked how much the bike was worth. I had learned on the way to my house he was on his way back from a no-luck day at the labor pool.  I really had no idea, and understood he was broker than I was with my $280 a week suburban newspaper job. Two hundred, I muttered. OK, he said. He gave me his phone number and took mine, but I never really expected to hear from him again

It was a few weeks later when the call came, and I fired up the blown muffler Custom 500 in a cloud of bad gasket smoke like a ghetto James Bond, and drove to somewhere on the Uptown side of Jackson between Magazine and the river. I sat on the spfung couch drinking sweet tea and politely refusing his wife’s cookies while he peeled of the wrinkled tens and twenties, a lot of money for a man with a car almost as gone as mine who spent his days sipping coffee outside of labor pool. At this point in my life Schwegman’s was my bank: cash the check, pay the NOPSI bill, get a money order for the landlord. I knew thar I was barely one rung up the ladder. I was wearing a Haspel wash-and-wear suit when he hit me. For all he knew the bike was a hobby and not a necessity. And he made it good.

We are all suspicious of each other, especially across color lines, but I’ve learned from experience there are times when color only matters when you make your coffee, that honesty is more common than you think. I’ve forgotten the man’s name but I hope through the miracle of the Internet that perhaps a grandchild or someone else who’s heard the other side of this story will know that he was a good man and he is remembered for it.

Wandering I January 19, 2014

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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image

Memorial, 1325 St. Bernard Ave. One hopes this is where he lived and not where he fell. Someone left an open box of josh sticks. I lit one..

Four: Improvisation No. 4 January 18, 2014

Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Memory is the steam in the mad engine of creativity. Without memory there is no story, no order to the song, no foundation upon which to build. Without: gathered fragments of flotsam, a fragile daub and wattle hut that will not stand. Even surrealism cannot function without context. The avant-garde carry the weapons of dead generals into the uncharted, following the map of memory into fields of dream. In the Maple Street Bar the juke box is moved, the old upright piano is gone, the tables and chairs swept away, but the tin roof and walls still remain, the roof the color of a well worn penny, the walls a familiar maroon, the bar the same pocked barge board varnished and polished by tens of thousands of bar rags. The studied improvisations of the Johnny Vidacovich Trio, psychedelic vibraphone pedal effects floating over the jittery LP groove of bass and drums fill the space with space, a new theory of gravity that allows for the Assumption until a young trombone player joins them. Suddenly the trad jazz ghosts of Andrew Hall’s Society Jazz Band are present, admiring the wild profusion of flowers in the formal garden they once tended on the same stage decades ago. You can feel the gleam in Booker’s hidden eye.

Three: Swing Low, Sweet Charity January 17, 2014

Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Ed.’s Note: Three should have been Two

I heard him out the window as I squeezed my car into the front of Canseco’s grocery. “Spare any change or a dollar?” I gave him a sidelong glance as I was getting out of the car but he was retreating to his stoop spot between the grocery and the next building. I could see him raise an eyebrow in my direction but I was in the door before he could speak.

I thought about him as I wandered the aisles leisurely grabbing a few things. Skinny but not particularly malnourished looking; spry, not too jittery, nothing crying out DTs or crack. His eyes were a bit blood-shot but his speech was clear and deferential. I’ve heard the well-rehearsed and well-intentioned routine before. Don’t give to beggars. It encourages them to not reach out for help, perpetuates their situation of poverty and possibly homelessness. In Washington, D.C. there were little cards you were encouraged to pick up and give them, listing social service agencies and contacts for AA and Nar-Anon. How they were supposed to avail themselves of these services without a quarter for the phone or bus fare I have no idea.

As I shopped I also thought about something I read today. A top search term on the blog, for Melvin Labranch III, one of the murder victims listed in I think the 2010 list you will find at the top of the page. A search of his name to see where my listing came up in Google led me to this: a story about his younger brother’s rap song about his older brother’s murder. “Alsina tapped fellow N’Awlins MC Kidd Kidd as his song’s guest feature. Kidd Kidd didn’t disappoint, rapping, ‘Once upon a time downtown in the 9 (9th ward), what it don’t mind dyin’/Sworn to a life of crime, was a youngin’ only stood 5’5, big money on his mind/Clothes ain’t wrinkled while his hands on the iron, shot six times run in front of my mom.’”

Sworn to a life of crime. Big money on his mind.

I don ‘t judge the victims. I just list them. They were all, as I have said before, once as innocent as lambs in the lap of Jesus before something went wrong. I just keep the list.

Lately, even in my own state of unemployment, I’ve started to be more generous with panhandlers, especially young black men, less so with the travelers, what you probably like to call gutter punks. Neither is likely to have much luck at the labor agency. Since the storm, contractors prefer docile Latin Americans–especially the illegals, with their bowed heads and that good old-fashioned “sho’ nuf’ Boss” demeanor born of fear of La Migra over African-Americans, raised on the promises of television and Martin Luther King, their sense of entitlement to be treated as human beings. Gutter punks just look like too much trouble and most probably chose that path, although some are probably on the street for good reasons.

Is it wrong to hand these guys a dollar? Back in D.C. I had my regular, and man with crutches, a VFW cap and a jungle camo coat in the winter. I look at the beggars with The Three Penny Opera running in the back of my head and for all I know h this guy is the big shot treasurer of the Beggars Union with a good shtick. I just felt good about him, and he got his dollar a day under the arches of Union Station. One night a young man came to my door pushing a grocery cart with a toddler bundled up against the cold in the kiddie seat, a bundle of belongings in the basket. The child’s mother gone and living in his car was his story. Here comes Peachum’s Morning Song up in the back of my head: “Get up and steal from your neighbor. The beggar, the banker, the cop: they’re all of them out on the take. And the treadmill is not going to stop, so wake you poor sinners awake.” Still it’s a cold night; there’s the child. I pass him $20 and a handful of diapers through the iron grate, and his thanks are honest or at least nomination worthy. He came back a few times. He had found a place to stay but still no job. Another $20, another handful of diapers. He disappeared after a while and I forgot about him until he showed up one afternoon at my door with three $20 bills in his hand. He had found a job delivering the Wall Street Journal to the nabobs of Capitol Hill. He wanted to pay me back. I wish him the best of luck and refuse the money. “God bless you” were his last words.

When I see people like the young black man this afternoon I think: better a job than begging, but better begging that stealing or dealing. I won’t recite the statistics on segregated education (continuing today under our anarchic charter system), the unemployment and incarceration disparities, the preference for docile Latin illegals over black Americans in casual employment. You’ve heard them before and believe them or not. Maybe its the young man with his baby daughter that has skewed my opinion toward giving, combined with the ugly reality of the prospects for a young black man in America today, but I’ve grown more willing to give up one of my own dwindling dollars unless the person asking is a raging crack crazy or falling down drunk. Consider the alternatives. Sworn to a life of crime. Big money on his mind. There is a different look in the eyes of the simply down-and-out: embarrassment at the being reduced to begging, or desperation in those newly put into those circumstances. If you look closely, you can tell who’s going to buy a forty and who’s going to be a dollar menu burger, but even that distinction fades unless I can tell if it’s their second or third beer of the day. I size them up, give them a dollar and–although not a believer in a conventional sense, I remember what the young man in D.C. said when I refused his reimbursement–I say God Bless.

This is the third entry in 365, a commitment I have made to write something here every day to try and get past a writer’s block. The last post was labeled Three but was really Two.

Two January 16, 2014

Posted by Mark Folse in 365, A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, Odd Words, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Why 365? The idea took hold when I was on Facebook and looked at the column on the right and noticed this:

Past Writer

Past: Writer. Sadly apt, that.

I don’t know how I got into this situation. At one point I blamed the SSRI antidepressants and their nefarious side effects (the most amusing of which is the possible combination of anorgasmia and dangerously persistent erections; I asked my pill doctor if he was trying to kill a man my age with that). Anhedonia, the inability to feel strong emotions, I have addressed elsewhere at length in “Confessions of a Pill Eater“. That was a cheap and easy explanation, but not an entirely satisfactory one. At some point poems stopped coming, or rather the inspiration, the absolute drive to put a line, an idea onto paper, to explore it and expand it and finish it, simply stopped. Writing here on Toulouse Street trickled down to nothing. To quote myself from “Confessions”:

I have a blog where I wrote incessantly what I hope are phenomenal personal dispatches from a place of constant wonder, Leopold Bloom crossing Bourbon Street. It is sometimes a personal journal as well, what most writers keep but don’t publish. I have another Beckett quote in the sidebar of the blog: “I write about myself with the same pencil and in the same exercise book as about him. It is no longer I, but another whose life is just beginning.” I was not afraid to write about myself when it was true and right and burned to get out. The pieces don’t come anymore, the spontaneous energy that drove it all dissipated…I walk down the street and instead of that perfect moment of New Orleans for the blog I look for a good place to put out my cigarette.

That’s not entirely honest. I don’t walk down the street enough. My office is a corner of my living room and I spend entirely too much time in this 12 by 15 foot cave, the blinds drawn to keep the glare off the screen. This is easily fixed. As I am unemployed, I have the liberty and will take it to shower as soon as I finish this and head out the door, not to return until sometime tomorrow. Perhaps I will go to my girlfriends after class tonight and watch movies, drifting off to sleep on my side of the bed. Or maybe I will slip out after dinner to go see the Johnny Vidacovich trio, notebook in my bag, sipping beer at the bar and observing. Music, and jazz in particular, takes me out of myself, the performance itself a platform for reverie. I rarely sit through a session of the avant-garde jazz show Open Ears without pulling out my notebook.

My other writing block is actually a reading block. Between work and school and the obligation I felt for a while to attend simply everything literary in town in my Odd Words persona, I found less time to read for myself. If you do not read you will not write. You will not come across that line that makes you lay the book down and consider that cluster of words as if you were purchasing a gem stone, will not be driven from that meditation by an urge to rip those words out of their context and make them your own because it has opened a door. I go nowhere without a book in my bag, but lately never find time to take it out. If I am free in the evening I am as likely as not at my girlfriend’s house, where we can talk for hours in her two cat-tattered wing back chairs. At the point in such evenings when I would once take out a book a read, we are more likely to cuddle up in front of a movie on her laptop. As much as I love her companionship, I need to rip myself out of that comfortable cocoon more often. She can watch a movie or one of her television series with her headphones on while I read, or I can retire to my own couch back in the cave and plop myself on the couch to read myself to sleep as I was long wont to do.

The idea of myself as writer, the internal definition and not the cocktail party throw away line when asked what you do, grew out of my Wet Bank Guide blog starting in 2005 and grew and grew until the writing stopped coming. I fretted about it but did nothing concrete until I saw that small block of text on Facebook. Past: Writer. The part of my self-identify became over the last nine years as important to me as anything and everything else in life; its gradual loss as painful the divorce that transformation contributed to. To lose that would be to lose everything. Like every other writer I desire readers, recognition, occasional applause, but the real drive is internal and deeply personal. Losing it is like losing your libido or your taste for food. Ability becomes disability. Something is wrong and you ignore it like an itchy mole at your own peril.

The term writer’s block implies something beyond our control. We unbarricade the torn up street at our own peril. We cannot perform a home angioplasty. It is only truly a writer’s block if you have set yourself time and space for the work, and do it daily. You reach a point in a piece where the next line is not coming. Fine. Go read a book. Go take a walk and observe the world around you. It is not a writer’s block as much as a writer’s lock. Somewhere there is a key. Go write something else until you find that key. In my case, 365 is that time and space and that something else, the work. And when I am done writing this I will walk out the door with eyes and ears open and a fresh notebook in my bag.

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