jump to navigation

Rising Tide IV: Sinking to New Heights July 29, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Bloggers, Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,


Rising Tide IV, the annual bloggers conference on the recovery and future of New Orleans, will be “Sinking to New Heights” on Aug. 22 at the Zeitgeist Multi Disciplinary Arts Center in New Orleans. Our featured speaker: the multi-talented Harry Shearer, a great champion of New Orleans on Huffington Post and elsewhere, along with panels on the status and future of New Orleans music, food and parading culture; the state of New Orleans health care, politics in the Last Year of the Reign of Nagin, and more.

Our artwork (feature above) is once again produced by the award-wining editorial cartoonist and artist Greg Peters of Suspect Device.

I am working with NOLA Slate on a panel on the state of New Orleans culture, with panelists who will speak on the state of parading, food and music culture in the city in Year Four after the Federal Flood. Speaking on parading culture will be Edward Buckner of The Porch Seventh Ward Culture Organization and the Original Big 7 Social Aid and Pleasure Club Our food panelist will be Susan Tucker, editor of New Orleans Cuisine: Fourteen Signature Dishes and Their Histories. Our music panelist will be Bruce Raeburn of the Hogan Jazz Archive and author of New Orleans Style and the Writing of American Jazz History.

Registration is open
and is only $20 until August 12th and includes lunch from Cafe Reconcile.

The site of our legendary Friday night social is TBD but we will spread that word as soon as we lock in our location.

Happy Trails July 26, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, Bloggers, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: , ,

We would lay in bed in the hot August night in our unairconditioned house in Detroit Lakes, MN under the humming fans I had installed and not be able to sleep for the heat or the distant, hollow sound of the last act of the WE Fest country music festival, what we not-from-around-here folk referred to as the redneck Woodstock, until we would hear this song on the distant PA across the lake and know it would soon be quiet, a song I also associated with the end of the MoM’s Ball, a festival of an entirely different sort far away, when the lights would come up and reveal us exhausted in our debauched finery.

I knew this song before then, before both MoM’s Balls in Arabi or those years sweating out an August festival night in the otherwise cold north. I would rise up every Saturday morning as a child and make myself a bowl of cereal while my parents slept in and turn on the old Roy Rogers movie reels that ran at 6:30 in the morning.

That was a more innocent age, when it didn’t seem to matter that Cookie drove a jeep or that the bad guys might try to make their getaway in a high wing single engine place as Roy galloped Trigger alongside to shoot out the tires with his pearl handled pistol. In a time when men flew rockets into space it did not seem incongruous that there would be a shortwave radio back at the ranch. In the early Sixties we were closer to our parents generation, the ones who sat around the radio with their decoder rings than we were to our own children at the same age, the electronic tentacles of the world that intrude on their childhood too soon.

This was the song that closed each episode and as I crawl out of bed a bit beer bleary with not enough sleep after an evening sending off Ray Shea back to Austin it seems a fitting thing to post up here. Ray was one of those who, like myself, moved back to New Orleans after the flood from a home he had established somewhere else. When the out-of-town reporters who found me asked if I knew anyone else who chose to move here after the storm, I always gave them Ray’s name.

He was one of the people I thought would never leave, as I plan to never leave. When the divorce decree came down and allowed his ex to take the children to Austin, he had no choice but to follow. None of us would do any differently even as leaving compounded the pain of parsing out a life to spit it into two piles, the pain of being at best a part-time father.

But the world rolls on unmindful of the pathetic specs that crowd its surface and the gods such as they are never tire of troubling us for their own amusement, so we the best we can do is throw a damned party (this is New Orleans; there will be a party) and get on with it. Last night’s went particularly well, with all the best of the gang crowded into a Marigny bar until someone came in the door and announced “there’s a brass band up the street” and we spent half the night on a little spit of concrete across from a house where the New Generation Brass Band played on a balcony.

We couldn’t have arranged it better ourselves and the happy accident of horns and drums, provided by some spirit that watches over this city and watches over us all who love it produced a band just when we needed it, a reminder to Ray (sadly) of what he leaves behind but also an omen: the city provided and will not forget him as long as he does not forget the city, that always somewhere there will be friends and a band when he returns.

So, Happy Trails Ray. Till we meet again.

Wet Bank Screed (Slight Return) July 22, 2009

Posted by The Typist in assholes, Federal Flood, FYYFF, New Orleans, NOLA.
1 comment so far

Getting this post up on HumidCity.com, sort of took the blogging out of me for a couple of days, so go read that instead. It’s an old Wet Bank Guide style screed against the idea that New Orleans is going to be saved (largely from itself) by fashionable entrepreneurs (mostly from elsewhere).

I just finished a fawning article in The Atlantic touting the revitalization of New Orleans via the importation of young entrepreneurs, a self-styled new “creative class” for the city. The real subject of this glowing in-flight magazine puff piece is Sean Cummings, a young real estate developer and the appointed director of Reinventing the Crescent, the quasi-public program funded with public dollars to extend the landscaped an open riverfront from Poland Avenue to Jackson Avenue.

The piece starts on a bad note: “[a] city nearly destroyed by forces of nature nearly four years ago.” What struck New Orleans was no more a force of nature than the explosion of the Space Shuttle or the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis. Referring to the Federal Flood as a natural disaster is a good indication that the author is clueless and comfortable to remain so. We are not disappointed by this assumption…

The rest is on HumidCity.com

Life, friends, is boring. July 18, 2009

Posted by The Typist in literature, New Orleans, NOLA, Odds&Sods, poem, Poetry.
Tags: ,

While I try to scrape something together that does not bore me (much less you, poor soul who’s wandered in here looking for the Doobie Brothers or something), I offer you this:

Dream Song 14
By John Berryman

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) “Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no

Inner Resources.” I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as Achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into the mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.

Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins July 16, 2009

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.

Is our heroic age behind us? Yes we still send brave men and women into space and marvel at the tiny robots that wander the surface of Mars but somewhere along the road the glory leaked away. Today our famous dreamers give us Twitter and call themselves geniuses for creating the phone that doubles as an ocarina. Once not long ago, in our living memory (in my living memory) men equipped only with slide rules and adding machines and their own brilliant minds built machines of unimaginable power to carry us to the stars.

Perhaps I just grow old to be misty eyed and a bit sad (as I regard what pass for heroes on the news today) when I recall three smiling, mortal men climbing into the tiny capsule perched atop millions of pounds of explosive fuel and pointing themselves at the sky.

And they go.

Buy Us Back July 14, 2009

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: ,


Maybe it’s just me but every time Bastille Day rolls around I don’t think of the wreath laying tonight at the Joan d’Arc statue (the one where the city has yet to repair the lights last I heard) or of waiter racing around Jackson Square. I think instead of Ashley Morris as the Angry Mime under the Buy Us Back Chirac sign in the Krewe du Vieux parade. I find the picture, and queue up La Marseillaise; a song with such lovely lyrics, words that could have been written by a locally famous, angry mime: “To arms citizens/Form your battalions/March, march/Let impure blood/Water our furrows!” Damn. Anyone know how one would say, in French, “we will render the carpetbaggers to make ourselves a roux, and armor the levees with their skulls?”

And ultimately I end up in Rick’s. A perfect little desktop Bastille Day perched here precariously on the edge of America. Eh la bas.

Alone on Union Street July 12, 2009

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: , , ,

Union Street is one of those forgotten thoroughfares hidden in every downtown, four narrow blocks of windblown trash and fetid puddles and a handful of cars parked in front of headless meters. It feels like an alley, at once constricted and yet yawning with emptiness, abandoned. You see few people in the normally busy downtown of rush hour morning. Most of the surrounding buildings do not open onto Union Street and many of those that do are boarded or chained shut, windows so grimy with abandonment it is impossible to tell if there are lights on inside, but I suspect not.

The street begins in a checkerboard of unattended parking lots facing a row of forgotten pawn shops and abandoned restaurants faced in plywood. Across from my lot stands the old Eagle Saloon building. If not for the 10-story tall mural of a Selmer clarinet on the side of the Holiday Inn you would not know you stood where Jazz was born in the bars and bordellos that once lined Basin and Perdido Streets in the old “back of town”. Today it is just another bit of urban wasteland, mute testament to the evacuation of businesses out of downtown and into the dull suburbs.

Only a handful of other solitary commuters walk up Union Street from these cheap lots at the back of downtown toward the business district. For some reason the few people I see are mostly women. I pass the slow ones, carefully placing heels on the stable slabs of the broken sidewalks, as intent as Eskimos crossing the ice. I follow along behind the others, plodding just a bit quicker in their commuter shoes and burdened like mules—a purse, a work bag, another for the gym or lunch—haunches working pleasantly as they march to work. In these dreary blocks the women stand out like flowers forced up through the cracked concrete.

When I am alone I study the interesting bits of garbage, which vary by season like the flowers or birds of greener places. By June the last of the beads and parade cups are gone. The sports seasons are behind us and the go cups of the stadium and arena, the lost foam fingers and crumpled programs have vanished as well. Today I mostly I see white plastic bags, the sort every store uses today; the fluttering white flags of civilization that seem to be everywhere: bunched up on the beach like stranded jellyfish or flagging themselves into ribbons on a lonesome fence line in Empty, North Dakota.

Once I leave behind the open asphalt and concrete of the parking lots I notice the old Dryades Savings building, a tall work structure of brick and barred windows. I don’t know the history but from its appearance I imagine it was once a processing center, back in the days when all of the checks written in town passed in and out of the Federal Reserve Bank up on Poydras. The tall windows hint at a high ceiling and I picture sweaty men hefting trays and humping carts full of checks in the glutinous atmosphere of New Orleans summer pre-A/C. I can almost hear the big sorters working, the thawping and thrumping of tensioned belts and the hissing of compressed air flapping the gates, paper racing down the line, sorting and pocketing into bundles and Ican see the names of all the old local banks where those bales of paper would have gone, the names faded and forgotten like the sign on this building.

Because I work in just such a back of the bank world I am often prompted by the sight to pull out the Blackberry and check my work calendar, but I usually stop myself. My saunter down Union servers a purpose: to avoid the co-worker chatter about nothing sports or the weather or whatever I might fall into walking along Gravier. Union Street is a hiding place for me, an escape from unwanted company as it must be for the homeless men huddled there at night over a bottle. The cheap wine empties and puddles of vomit they leave behind tell me their story, and I sometimes find them huddled in corners still asleep.

Union Street in the morning is also an escape from the now, a little window into a past when buildings were another character on the street, before the measure of prominence was to climb into the sky. The old Dryades building is simple brick but I admire its tall ring arch windows of the same dark brick and the sooty concrete stringcourse that runs above. The end of the Dryades building runs into the back of the old New Orleans Public Service office its narrow basement windows protected by iron balustrades while the main floor openings are hidden behind corrugated metal storm screens, their age and neglect measured like geologic strata by the way the lines sag and warp. At the top of the first floor runs a stringline more baroque than the Dryades’, covered with curlicue figures suggestive of waves, running in from the left and right piers toward an indistinct central figure vaguely suggesting a fleur de lis.

Across the street stand the typical brick row buildings of the older corners of downtown. One backing into a hotel parking lot still bears the shadow marks of the neighboring building long removed where the darker or lighter brick of the demolished adjoining wall still cling. These row houses do not look neglected but there is not so much as a brass plate to tell me who or what is housed there. Many of the old offices and warehouses downtown are being converted to residences, but I never see a telltale garbage can or other sign of life here. Union is a bit too far from the its fashionable cousin Lafayette Street across Poydras, where condos frame the office of architects and the Humanities Council. Lafayette has been artificially narrowed to give it the feel of a street in an old European city while Union is a standard width street where the old buildings and their history press in and narrow it into an alley.

At Baronne Street the traffic picks up, and the buildings on my left across from the old NOPSI headquarters have the polished stone and broad windows facades of newer construction. There is a walk in clinic where early arrivals loiter outside and behind that a barge company. This is the only business on Union where, in the hour before the start of the work day, I routinely see people come and go. Across the street the old row houses continue dark and silent. A little closer to the city center, I can make out the glow of row of doorbells in one recessed doorway, the first hint that the buildings are not abandoned.

I come up on the old Hibernia Building with ornamental white wedding cake peristyle high above but to my eyes fixed at street level it is just another parking lot. Across the street stands the New Orleans Reproduction Company, missing many of the letters in the old blue name above the door. I know this place, would go there sometimes with my father to pick up fresh blue prints with their sweet solvent smell. I rarely seen any activity inside but it has the comfortably cluttered look of old printing shops, work piled precariously on tables and shelves, the apparent disorder of a business run by people long at the same trade with a set of regular customers, workers who recognize you and can find your order in those piles before you reach the counter.

As I come up on Carondelet street I hear the rumble and whine of an approaching street car, a minor chord played on an odd set of stops on an organ. There is the loud clack as the motorman stops the throttle, the hiss of the air brakes and the thrump thrump thrump of the compressor as the air tanks recharge. He comes to a stop in the traffic that piles up at Carondelet and Common, here in the center of the busy downtown where my dull office building stands. I crush out my cigarette and merge into the busier pedestrian traffic here, march toward another day of dull work buoyed by the sound of lost coronets and the aroma memory of blueprints.

The Lordly and Isolate Satyrs July 10, 2009

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, poem, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
Tags: ,

Various recent events–some conversations, listening to a few local performance poets in person and their CDs–Moose Jackson in particular–put me in mind of the Beat angels, the people Kerouac described as “mad to live, made to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”.

And it lead by strange paths but for reasons self-apparent if you make the long read below to one of my favorite poems from many years back. (I grow afraid to take this book down, the 35 year old paperback’s glue coming undone). Those of us who read widely and we hope well, who still read poetry, who write a little: we desperately admire those who burn bright as tigers with their creative voice and stand a bit in awe of them.

This poem is not kind to its subjects, to the Admitted and their Schools, famous among themselves but as irrelevant as faery to the wide world, but it does not diminish them. It simply places then–a still life, fruit in a bowl in just such a light–into a world transformed by their presence. And if you don’t read poetry and know something of them then you walk through a world bereft of magic, as if visiting a museum blindfolded.

(This looses much of Olson’s formatting, but that can’t be helped here. You can read this in its proper format here.)

The Lordly and Isolate Satyrs
by Charles Olson

The lordly and isolate Satyrs—look at them come in
on the left side of the beach
like a motorcycle club! And the handsomest of them,
the one who has a woman, driving that snazzy
Wow, did you ever see even in a museum
such a collection of boddisatvahs, the way
they come up to their stop, each of them
as though it was a rudder
the way they have to sit above it
and come to a stop on it, the monumental solidity
of themselves, the Easter Island
they make of the beach, the Red-headed Men

These are the Androgynes,
the Fathers behind the father, the Great Halves

Or as that one was, inside his pants, the Yiddish poet
a vegetarian. Or another—all in his mouth—a snarl
of the Sources. Or the one I loved most, who once,
once only, let go the pain, the night he got drunk,
and I put him to bed, and he said, Bad blood.

Or the one who cracks and doesn’t know
that what he thinks are a thousand questions are suddenly
a thousand lumps thrown up where the cloaca
again has burst: one looks into the face and exactly as suddenly
it isn’t the large eyes and nose but the ridiculously small mouth
which you are looking down as one end of
—as the Snarled Man
is a monocyte.

Hail the ambiguous Fathers, and look closely
at them, they are the unadmitted, the club of Themselves,
weary riders, but who sit upon the landscape as the Great
Stones. And only have fun among themselves. They are
the lonely ones

Hail them, and watch out. The rest of us,
on the beach as we had previously known it, did not know
there was this left side. As they came riding in from the sea
—we did not notice them until they were already creating
the beach we had not known was there—but we assume
they came in from the sea. We assume that. We don’t know.

In any case the whole sea was now a hemisphere,
and our eyes like half a fly’s, we saw twice as much. Every-
thing opened, even if the newcomers just sat, didn’t,
for an instant, pay us any attention. We were as we had been,
in that respect. We were as usual, the children were being fed pop
and potato chips, and everyone was sprawled as people are
on a beach. Something had happened but the change
wasn’t at all evident. A few drops of rain
would have made more of a disturbance.

There we were. They, in occupation of the whole view
in front of us and off to the left where we were not used to look.
And we, watching them pant from their exertions, and talk to each other,
the one in the convertible the only one who seemed to be circulating
And he was dressed in magnificent clothes, and the woman with him
a dazzling blond, the new dye making her hair a delicious
streaked ash. She was as distant as the others. She sat in her flesh too.

These are our counterparts, the unknown ones.

They are here. We do not look upon them as invaders. Dimensionally

they are larger than we—all but the woman. But we are not suddenly

small. We are as we are. We don’t even move, on the beach.

It is a stasis. Across nothing at all we stare at them.
We can see what they are. They don’t notice us. They have merely
and suddenly moved in. They occupy our view. They are between us
and the ocean. And they have given us a whole new half of beach.

As of this moment, there is nothing else to report.
It is Easter Island transplanted to us. With the sun, and a warm
summer day, and sails out on the harbor they’re here, the Con-
temporaries. They have come in.

Except for the stirring of the leader, they are still
catching their breath. They are almost like scooters the way
they sit there, up a little, on their thing. It is as though
the extra effort of it tired them the most. Yet that just there
was where their weight and separateness—their immensities—
lay. Why they seem like boddisatvahs. The only thing one noticed
is the way their face breaks when they call across to each other.
Or actually speak quite quietly, not wasting breath. But the face
loses all containment, they are fifteen year old boys at the moment
they speak to each other. They are not gods. They are not even stone.
They are doubles. They are only Source. When they act like us
they go to pieces. One notices then that their skin
is only creased like red-neck farmers. And that they are all
freckled. The red-headed people have the hardest time
to possess themselves. Is it because they were over-
fired? Or why—even to then beautiful women—do the red ones
have only that half of the weight?

We look at them, and begin to know. We begin to see
who they are. We see why they are satyrs, and why one half
of the beach was unknown to us. And now that it is known,
now that the beach goes all the way to the headland we thought
we were huddling ourselves up against, it turns out it is the
same. It is beach. The Visitors—Resters—who, by being there,
made manifest what we had not known—that the beach fronted wholly
to the sea—have only done that, completed the beach.

The difference is
we are more on it. The beauty of the white of the sun’s light, the
blue the water is, and the sky, the movement on the painted lands-
cape, the boy-town the scene was, is now pierced with angels and
with fire. And winter’s ice shall be as brilliant in its time as
life truly is, as Nature is only the offerer, and it is we
who look to see what the beauty is.

These visitors, now stirring
to advance, to go on wherever they do go restlessly never completing
their tour, going off on their motorcycles, each alone except for
the handsome one, isolate huge creatures wearing down nothing as
they go, their huge third leg like carborundum, only the vault
of their being taking rest, the awkward boddhas

We stay. And watch them
gather themselves up. We have no feeling except love. They are not
ours. They are of another name. These are what the gods are. They
look like us. They are only in all parts larger. But the size is
only different. The difference is, they are not here, they are not
on this beach in this sun which, tomorrow, when we come to swim,
will be another summer day. They can’t talk to us. We have no desire
to stop them any more than, as they made their camp, only possibly
the woman in the convertible one might have wanted to be familiar
with. The leader was too much as they.

They go. And the day

Hanktons and McCoys July 8, 2009

Posted by The Typist in Crime, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.

The single largest group of people who wander into Toulouse Street come looking for one of the victims of murder I have listed in a post the last two years. And the name that has continued to pop up constantly over the last two years is George Hankton, who was murdered on a bloody weekend in December, 2007.

Here is an excerpt from the 2008 list:

May 13: Darnell P. Stewart, 23
3400 block of South Claiborne Avenue – Central City –
Suspect Andre Hankton
Suspect Telly Hankton
I left the suspect note from NOLA.Com on this one. Please see my past post about George Hankton, one of the most searched names leading to last year’s post. I hope this wasn’t a retaliation killing.

George Hankton came up in this post from May 2008, when I was already wondering if there was some link between all the Hankton visits I got. Turns out I was right.

The good new in that story is that on July 6 “Hankton, described as one of New Orleans’ most dangerous criminals, turns himself in to police.” Then today’s paper tell us that the murder victim in New Orleans this past weekend was a witness to one of Hankton’s murder charges.”

The recent stories ignore the whereabouts of his brother Andre Hankton. He was arrested last May not long after the murder of Darnell P. Stewart. I hope to hell he’s not out on bail.

I have never had a good feeling seeing all those Hankton searches hitting Toulouse Street, and tonight I will feel compelled to look and look again, and wonder if Andre Hankton or one of the brothers’ friends is sitting in front of a computer tonight Googling his notices in the never ending last act of this tragedy where we keep piling up the bodies and the curtain never falls.

Silence is Violence July 8, 2009

Posted by The Typist in Crime, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
add a comment

“And when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcome, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive.” — Audie Lorde

Orleans jurors deadlock after victim fails to ID assailant

“…[Nigel] Daggs, the police detective, testified that in the nation’s most murderous city, this corner of Hollygrove doesn’t produce eyewitnesses to shootings.

“People in that neighborhood are very frightened and very scared of individuals who live in that neighborhood,” Daggs said. “They spoke to us but they aren’t willing to give their names.”

Star Spangled Bangers July 5, 2009

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

I wouldn’t say that I’m fascinated by fireworks. Compulsion is probably a better word to describe New Year’s 2000, sticking Roman candles into a bucket not of sand but of loose snow in my backyard in Fargo, N.D. I don’t think it was exceptionally cold: probably hovering within ten degrees of zero give or take. When I lived up north I had to remember to buy enough Roman candles and fountains and rockets to have some left over for New Years and store them carefully in the garage. Fireworks are not a big tradition in the frigid New Years night. There is something obsessive about setting off fireworks under those circumstances.

There is something almost religious in my zeal, although I don’t suffer for it living here as I did up north, part of it the ritual nature of shooting off one’s own. First there is the obligatory trip across the river to buy them (as they are illegal in Orleans Parish), taking my son along to initiate him into entire event. I usually purchase the same sort of things: ground blooming flowers (crackling and plain), fountains, Roman candles, the little ground effect items–hens laying eggs, rocket propelled race cars, tanks spitting sparks–that my son loves. I select the items not for their explosions but for their spectacle.

On the trip back the car is filled with the fine silver smell of gunpowder, not the essence of the individual constituents but a smell in its own right. I won’t smoke in the car even though the fireworks are in the back, this small denial allegedly so I don’t set the car on fire but also a part of the liturgy, and so I can breath the aroma and begin to build the anticipation. Like any pleasure which must be deferred–dinner before seduction, waiting patiently for cocktail hour–the build up enhances the satisfaction of the ultimate moment.

Then comes dusk. Perhaps it’s just my German ancestry that makes the preparation and presentation as carefully choreographed as a fine meal or a high mass. The fireworks are laid out in such a place and such a way to make them easy to select and keep them away from stray sparks. I chose the pieces in certain orders not only for variety but also so that one thing flows naturally into the next: first a few of my son’s sparkling cars, them some ground blooming flowers leading up to the fountains. A break for beer, bathroom, and more ground blooming flowers while we wait for everyone to reassemble and the cycle repeats until all of the fountains are gone. The Roman candles, my one remaining fascination with aerial effects, come last.

There is a ritual aspect to the lighting as well: carefully unfolding the red paper to find the green fuse, placing the item just so in the street (checking the overhead wires, and for oncoming cars), then kneeling before it with a cigarette or smoldering punk in hand to light the fuse. Then I stand up, bent over slightly to watch that the fuse is good as I step back carefully and watch the sparking light disappear into the tube or box and wait for the powder to ignite.

Then comes the reward: the first small sparks and the whistling hiss of the escaping gas as the colored cinders launch up and out, the plain yellow of the burning powder turned to flowering blues and greens, reds and violets by the mix of powdered metals, the sharp snapping and popping and occasional big bang of the reports. Good fireworks have an arc of presentation, the initial trail of sparks building as colors are added onto colors and the tiny explosions of the crackling fountains and loud report of the Roman candles popping off high in the air.

God, I love it.

So the same preoccupation that sends me over the bridge to Gretna twice a year to buy fireworks will find me on the river levee Fourth of July waiting for the big show. My own little presentation is really just the appetizer for the big event, for the carefully choreographed presentation over the river. New Years is a bit more complicated. I will buy fireworks of my own, but my preference is to stay by the house for the more atavistic Mid-City Bonfire. On that night the fireworks just over the tree tops down the site line of Orleans Avenue are just a side show, although the street in front of my house will be littered with the charred shells of one firework or another. The big show is the great blaze of Christmas trees.

When we lived in Washington, D.C. we of course had the big national show, although it was difficult for plain folk to get close enough to see the orchestra it was piped in at various spots along the mall to you could hear the music. My wife remarked last night that it just didn’t seen as fine with out the Boston Pops banging out the 1812 Overture. But as we wandered back down the Algiers levee the riverboat Natchez calliope let loose with Stars and Stripes Forever just behind the batture trees, so everyone was pleased.

When we lived up north public fireworks were exclusively a Fourth of July event, and we first lived in then kept a boat at a small town called Detroit Lakes which hosted a passable show. Mostly the town was overrun on Independence Day by teenagers and 20-somethings in search of the beach party once written up by Playboy as great destination. The locals lived in fear of this event, stretching what we called up there snow fence (that orange webbing you see around construction excavations) across their yards to keep people from defecating, making love or just passing out on their laws.

I found the whole thing pretty tame but then I was used to Mardi Gras Day downtown. I would sit on the stoop of my 1910s house just up the block from the lake and watch the crowds pass back and forth. And of course, come fireworks time, we would wander down to the lake shore with all the other families. After we moved up to Fargo we would watch it from the cockpit of my little 18-foot sailboat Tchoupitoulas parked in the Detroit Lakes marina. (There were just too many damn pontoons rafted up in the lake all day for a late comer to try and get a decent spot).

Now I get my fix of large pyrotechnics on the Mississippi River levee if only once a year now but I also remember the time before riverfront redevelopment when the holiday fireworks were a feature at Pontchartrain Beach and were watched instead from the levees along the lakefront. Fireworks on the river are tied to the World’s Fair of 1984 and the subsequent redevelopment. The Moon Walk was built in the 1970s but until the downtown wharves began to be replaced with the open promenades and shopping gazebos there was simply no place to put all the crowds.

As I’ve grown older there is a memory that always comes to me as I watch the fireworks over the water. Some quick arithmetic tells me it was New Year’s 1967 somewhere along Lakeshore Drive with my family, a boy of 10 who marveled at what looked to him like the explosions of distant stars. While we waiting in the gathering dark I was talking to my father, and we wondered what the fireworks on New Years would look like in the year 2000, at the turn of a millennium. We wondered how long and loud and extravagant such a display would be. And we figured out that in the year 2000, I would be exactly the same age as my father was that day–45–and would probably be sitting with my own son watching the show.

When 2000 came, there was no big fireworks show in Fargo, N.D. Instead my family watched me crowded around a basement window in the fireplace room, kneeling in a row on the sofa as I ventured out into the white-breath shivering night in Fargo to put on my own little show. It was not extravagant by any means. A handful of fountains and two packs of Roman candles. I knew as early as July that I would be the only fool out in the cold, and I wanted the extra Roman candles not only for my neighbors to hear but to be able to see the stars bursting overhead if they stepped outside to figure out who was crazy enough to be out in that weather lighting fireworks.

That would be me. I just can’t help it.

July 4th, 2009 July 4, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 8-29, Federal Flood, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Sinn Fein, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: , , ,

On this day, I will remember the heroism of the Coasties and the moment Lt.Gen. Russel L. Honore told the soldier at the Convention Center “put down that rifle, son. This is a relief mission.” I will remember the tens upon tens of thousands of good Americans who have come on their own time and their own expense to rebuild a city.

And I will remember that at first the Guard came with rifles and no water and until Honore came they watched the people die in fear and horror because no one in command could figure out what to do. And I will remember the photograph of the elderly woman at the Convention Center, her body hidden beneath the American flag. I will remember the other pictures I have seen of bodies hidden under flags torn down to cover them because after the storm the flags were still there.

I will remember it wasn’t much of a storm here in town (never forgetting the rest of the coast, the Hiroshima barrenness of Waveland) but instead that here the Federal levees failed. And I will remember that this city has largely been rebuilt by the survivors and those church groups and earnest college kids while the central government discovers new ways not to compensate us for the failure of their works. I will remember they rebuilt Hiroshima, and did not need fraternities and church clubs from the Midwest to do so.

And through all these thoughts I will join the tens of thousands of others and Go Fourth on the River to watch the fireworks because if you detect feelings of ambivalence here you are fucking well right, but America is not something I left behind because I think I’m so damned smart and Euro-leftie-sophisticated. It is something that was brutally taken from me, the last illusions torn away by the Federal Flood and its never ending aftermath. I still miss it sometimes.

So I will stand on the river levee and watch the rocket’s red glare and bombs bursting in air here on this transient earth in the only place to which I can honestly and without reservations still pledge allegiance: New Orleans.

You may roast your weenies. We will boil our shrimps. Eh la bas.

My Name Is New Orleans July 3, 2009

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
Tags: ,
add a comment

“Professor Arturo” Pfister returns to New Orleans this weekend to receive an Asante Award and read his book at various venues around town. I discovered him online through another blogger about two years ago, when I stumbled into this (audio quality is not terribly good, but you can get the words).

Pfister appears Thursday, 5:30-7 p.m., at Garden District Book Shop; Friday, 6-8 p.m., at Faubourg Marigny Art and Books; Saturday, 3-5 p.m., at Louisiana Music Factory; Sunday, 3 p.m., at the Maple Leaf Bar, and 6-9 p.m., at the Ashe Cultural Arts Center; Tuesday, 9:30 p.m., at the Open Ears Music Series, 532 Frenchmen St. (above the Blue Nile); and July 8, 7 p.m., at the East Bank Regional Library in Metairie.

Later: I stopped by the Maple Leaf to see Professor Arturo and heard him read several stunningly funny fiction pieces that were, to my ears, prose jazz poems titled Last Time I Saw Jeanine (the title taken from the song). Backed up by some sympathetic conga work by Willie Cole (a drummer with some impressive credits) the poems rocked through his long on and off again affair with a younger woman in the days before and after Hurricane Katrina.

It was a small crowd of about 20 and I didn’t stay for the reading, faulting a creeping sleepiness I blamed on the large lunch(with a couple of beers) of shrimp and grits I cooked and ate before, really although I had some manuscript pages in my pocket I think before I try to read for a group of strangers, however nice, I need an encouraging entourage and a couple more drinks than I was ready for on the day after a party. Maybe next time.

Meanwhile, check out Professor Arturo’s schedule. It’s not too late to hear him read while he’s in town for a few days.