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Never Get Off The Boat (Unless You’re Going All The Way)) August 30, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Biography, cryptical envelopment, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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Well, no
thanks. I’ve had enough. I’m going to
pull myself up over the side, and get
all the way out of my mind.

Just Normal, by Everette Maddox.

I introduced someone recently to the film Bulworth. Whether your are a regular reader of this blog or an accidental visitor, this may strike you as just another (uncharacteristic, for me) Dear Diary blog entry of the sort that litters the internet.

Instead, I wanted to use this moment to explain to the reader when it was I started to get all the way out of my mind, as Everette Maddox puts it. Or, as the person I was introducing to the film suggested, when I found it. Some people assume it was Katrina and the Federal Flood that was the watershed moment in my life, and to some extent that’s true. It was, however, just a milestone in a journey that began earlier with the viewing of this film.

Bulworth came out in 1998 but I didn’t see it until the early oughts, at a time when I was a legislative district chairman of the North Dakota Democratic Party, had stood as a nominal candidate for the state senate against an undefeatable Republican incumbent in our suburban district. A veteran of statewide and presidential campaigns and former Capital Hill staffer, some people in the party no doubt had high hopes for me. In the period after the Clinton impeachment I was, however, already drifting away from politics, disillusioned at any practical hope for comity necessary for a real democracy to work.

The film is the story of a United States senator from California, a former cast iron liberal with a charcoal drawing of Bobby Kennedy on his wall. It opens with him watching reels of his campaign ads, which attempt to recast him as a moderately conservative neo-liberal of the Clinton stripe. He is unshaven, with an uneaten pizza on his desk. He is crying.

I won’t reveal too much of the film (as part of the purpose of this post is to encourage you to finish this piece, navigate to Netflix or Blockbuster and order it immediately.) It is enough to know he is having a nervous breakdown over this opportunistic transformation, and as he watches his spots in endless loop has already arranged for his own murder, has decided to betray his principles completely to kill an insurance reform bill in exchange for an under the table gift of a $10 million life insurance policy payable to his daughter from the insurance lobby.

In the last days of his campaign–and his life–he breaks down completely, crumpling his carefully written speeches and instead telling various constituents the unvarnished truth: they only matter in so far as they can donate money. He starts in an Africa-American church, and in the delirium resulting from days without food or sleep he picks up three young black women, who lead him ultimately to an after hours hip-hop club in Compton where the patrons must check their weapons at the door. By the end of a long made night of smoking blunts, he emerges and gives a scathing, hip-hop inspired performance to a multi-million dollar fundraiser, wandering through the audience and calling out each special interest in the room, what they have paid and what has been delivered in return.

It is brilliant.

The plot you will say is implausible Hollywood. I will grant you that. It is A Fiction (as Tim O’Brien brilliantly subtitled his compelling narrative of the Vietnam War) and yet every moment and word of dialogue is true, the capitalized and dangerous Truth: producer and star of the film Warren Beatty laying out the dirty secrets of our profoundly broken and corrupt political system for all the world to see. It is possible for the sort of politically attuned viewer who would be drawn to the film to treat it as comic exaggeration with the same dishonest ease I would, as a Capitol Hill press secretary and speech writer, defend the Political Action Committee system as groups of thoughtful citizens banding together to advance their beliefs.

Bullshit. Bulworth was a revolutionary act of propaganda masquerading as entertainment, and among a more thoughtful people it might have become the spark that started an an uprising but Americans are a lazy, self-satisfied people. I watch the revolutions sweeping North Africa and the East the way I watched those that took down the remnants of the Soviet bloc and wonder how the residents of the land of the free and the home of the brave sat dumbly through the coup of 2000, the angry mob threatening violence to disrupt the counting of votes. And we did nothing.

In our very real and carefully crafted system of corporate-regulated free speech and superficially open markets, Bulworth was missed or ignored by most, dismissed by the Right as the very propaganda it was, trumpeted by the powerless left who learned nothing new from it except some current urban slang, and the film was allowed to slide into obscurity on the shelves of Blockbuster by the people the film was intended to perhaps unseat.

I’ll stop here because I don’t want to spoil the film for you, but watching it uncorked something inside me. I wanted to rent a room at the Fargo Civic Center and show the film on endless loop to the earnest, white-bread delegates at the state Democratic Convention where my wife and I would serve as the page coordinators. If you have seen the film, you understand why I would have been thrown out of the Civic Center, if not the party itself, as someone who has lost his mind, someone as dangerous as Bulworth unleashed.

I never screened the film but somewhere inside I had lost interest in the Democratic Party as a meaningful institution, in politics in general. In that same year, the candidate for governor–a beloved and long-serving woman Attorney General who seemed a shoe-in for the job–had her campaign smashed when someone lead her private medical records to the press, revealing she had breast cancer. Although such a leak was a felony, there was not even an attempt at an investigation. No one was punished, the murmuring began, and she lost.

After that, I had no more faith in the system than Bulworth. I stopped reading the liberal site Democratic Underground, found reasons not to attend local party meetings, quit watching the talking heads on cable news: just drifted away.

All through the movie, the blind seer Rastaman the Griot appears, repeats some variation of the phrase “you got to be a spirit, Bullworth, you can’t be no ghost,” tells him at one point he must sing. I have one phrase tattooed on my body and if I were to choose another, that would be it, my soul exposed on my skin in a bit of ink, but at the time while I understood exactly what Rastaman meant I was to weak or confused to take his advice myself. I made it the signature on my email, that cheap refuge of the Internet intellectual, and got on with life.

A few years later, in the build-up to Gulf War II, then-president George Bush visited Fargo, N.D. Some zealous state party operative assembled a list of 41 people who should not be admitted to his speech, a list including my own city councilwoman. It was leaked to the press, a large black headline above the fold, and a list of names that would come to be known in liberal circles as The Fargo 41, mine included. My wife was flabbergasted and angry, embarrassed by this dangerous publicity. What would people think?

It was one of the proudest moments of my life.

Bulworth broke something inside me, the same lingering naive faith in change and possibility that lead me at 20 to join the Young Socialist Alliance, fraternal youth wing of the Fourth International. (That’s Trotskyist gibberish for a commie), the same change-the-world impulse that led me to become a suburban newspaper journalist at a salary in the high four figures (pause for arithmetic), what brought me back to the N.D. Democratic Party even after I had walked away from a decade on Capitol Hill years earlier.

Fast forward a few years to late August, 2005. I am standing atop a renovated old hotel in downtown Fargo at a political fundraiser, drinking too much and in shock. I was expecting my cell phone to ring at any moment, a reporter from The [Fargo] Forum calling to talk to me about the failure of the levees in my home town of New Orleans. Every one of the political and news junkies on that roof-top bar had spent the last several days watching scenes from the Convention Center and the Superdome. At one point I stood in a circle that included the former chief-of-staff to a North Dakota U.S. senator. I was trying to explain why people would be trapped in the city, would take desperate measures to find food and water, do what they needed to survive.

At one pause, the former chief-of-staff took a leisurely sip from his drink then said, our people would never behave like those animals. The entire circle of people turned to look at me. I said nothing for what seemed an eternity but was more likely 30 seconds, still a long pause in a conversation. I was later told that my drink hand was just perceptibly trembling, that every vein above my neck was visible, my blood-pressure no doubt at some dangerous figure. I was contemplating if it would be possible to drag this man from his chair and throw him over the railing, leaving him a broken splatter on the street six blocks below.

Instead of impromptu mayhem, I ultimately uprooted my family and moved them to the disaster zone, itself an act of questionable rationality. I remember reading the Little House on the Prairie books to my daughter when she was very young and finding in these tales of supposed Midwestern fortitude echoes of the dark Southern Gothic, wondering why no one saw in the father a tragic figure dragging his family from place to place on the godforsaken Plains of the nineteenth century, twisting straw to burn so as not to freeze to death.

I became that man and they dutifully followed, but they could not hear the howling ghosts that haunted Faulkner and Styron in Little House either.

Katrina was a long time ago. Get over it.

I can’t know if the person who supposedly said this about me truly did, as I only heard it second hand and the situation doesn’t permit me to ask. The words were intended to wound like a slap to an hysterical person in a movie, as if my current personal circumstances were a weakness, an inability to pick myself up, slap the dust off with my cowboy hat like a good American and get on with life.

The fact is, I have, just not in the way intended by the remark or implied by the movie analogy. I walked away from the fight, left the obvious plot unresolved and rode off not into some Technicolor John Ford sunset but into the barren hills and desert, a man with no name leaving my American dreams behind me.

I don’t write about Katrina and the Federal Flood much on this blog. That was another time, another place. I reached a point a few years ago when I hung up the Closed sign at the Wet Bank Guide, ending on what I though was a perfect coda to that tale. Still, you can never escape the past. The road you are on, winding over the hills before you to god only know where, unwinds behind you just the same and every twist and turn has formed your soul the way climbing the hills of San Francisco shape the calves of the natives.

Katrina was a damned big hill to climb and my legs still ache, but it was not as simple as a single event upending an otherwise carefully scripted life. It was instead just the snapping of one critical strand of the rope that kept me moored to conventionality, a strand in which many threads had already unraveled.

Watching Bulworth I realized that I had spent a third of my adult life in the service of a lie, not just a simple lie, the stories we tell ourselves to live, but one of the Big Lies, a term coined by Adolft Hitler in Mein Kempf. He attributed this to the Jews in his book, but used the same technique effectively to his own ends. I used to jokingly refer to Joseph Goebbels as the father of modern political public relations, not the sort of remark that makes you popular on Capital Hill,but it illustrated the Big Life I was a part of, telling myself I had good reasons to be an actor in that drama. The movie laid out for me, my own role, the stories I had told myself to live.

Katrina was another strand snapped, not a fiction like Bulworth but the reality of seeing all the big lie tapestry of modern American life unravel. This snapped not just another thread but a critical remaining strand, the moment Our Hero is left spinning in the wind, suspended and helpless and the camera turns to the rocks below. Still, I had to get up and go to work in the morning to pay the homeowners insurance I knew was worthless, to pay the taxes to a government I recognized did not exist to serve me and which did not represent me in any meaningful way, reminded routinely in the evening in a casually emasculating way that I was not paid enough for the stress and hours of the job that paid all those bills, just another sucker on the corporate treadmill.

I had to try and be present as a husband and father and not drift into Willy Loman fatalism but it was hard. I was shell-shocked not by a single event in the past but by the horror of getting up every morning and pretending none of it had ever happened, that I still believed, as bitter as a priest consecrating the eucharist to an absconded god, doing so because as a man he understands and tries to fulfill his obligation to the people in the pews who look upon him as the agent of their own salvation.

And somewhere in this tragi-comedy, unconsciously at first but deliberately as time went on, I finally “[pulled] myself up over the side, and…all the way out of my mind” as the poet puts it. I was in the condition Joan Didion famously catalogs in her essay The White Album, the piece that opens with the line “We tell ourselves stories in order to live…” and continues:

[My life] was an adequate enough performance, as improvisations go. The only problem was that my entire education, everything I had ever been told or had told myself, insisted that the production was never meant to be improvised. I was supposed to have a script, and had mislaid it. I was supposed to hear cues and no longer did. I was meant to know the plot… [In] what would probably be the middle of my life I wanted still to believe in the narrative and in the narrative intelligibility, but to know that one could change the sense with every cut was to begin to perceive the experience as rather more electrical than ethical.”

I have not mislaid my script exactly, except perhaps at the end of the last act, a consequence of my unconscious decision to cut the last strands. The script instead fell apart, large parts of it blown away on the wind until the larger tale was incomprehensible, the individual stories unraveling in predictable drama but without continuity. To quote another film, my life had become something like Synechdoche, N.Y., a sound stage production in which the only coherent thread was my own unraveling.

There was only one thing to do: send the crew home, and go back to re-write. The answer to the problem of lost coherence, to the unraveling of my own personal narrative, was to take back the script and begin again. The convenient Wal-Mart verities of that life, the conventional measures of career and marriage, had lost their hold on me (and I my hold on them), and so had no place in the script not because they were wrong but because the script was a mess of revisions, the story unraveling in the telling.

We tell ourselves stories in order to live. I had been doing that, I realized, for years, but the stories where changing. Here on these blogs, and in other places where I write: the much revised first chapters of a stalled novel, in poetry, in more private journals: all these words and all the hours on the computer from which they were born were leading to something, the discovery that there was a door in the horizon of that sound stage, that I was writing the prologue of the story of the rest of my life.

What have you ever done for New Orleans, someone once asked me in anger. You haven’t gutted a house or help build a new one in Arabi. Fair enough, but I’ve written and done it well enough at some moments to be noticed, to fell the Potemkin villages and tell instead the beauty of the Dnieper River. Once you realize that it’s not a wonderful life and that like Willie Loman you are worth more to this world dead than alive you have choices to make.

And I choose to write, to spend as many hours of the rest of my life as I can reading, studying and writing because somewhere deep inside I have both a cautionary tale to tell and an abiding love of the beautiful particulars of this fucked up world to share. Perhaps no one will notice. Perhaps I am only good at poetry and, by definition, irrelevant. Still, I don’t understand how any rational person can sit through Bulworth or The Truman Show and get up and go to work the next morning. Am I the only one who has finally recognized that to go all the way out of my mind as the only rational response?

Didion, in The White Album, writes about her psychiatric evaluation after “patient experienced an attack of vertigo, nausea and a feeling she was going to pass out.” The extended diagnostic notes are worth reading She ends that section: “By way of comment I offer only that an attack of nausea and vertigo does not now seem to me an inappropriate response to the summer of 1968.”

If I have made bad choices they are my own, and some of the alternatives–Willy Loman’s for example–are worse. In the end it only matters that I spent an entire morning alone in a half-furnished apartment finishing this piece started a few weeks ago, that I had the strength of conviction or (lack of sense enough, take your pick) to pull the publish trigger before I iron my shirts for work, and that you read it through to the end .

You got to be a spirit, Bulworth. You can’t be no ghost. You got to sing, fool.

Rise Up Singing August 29, 2011

Posted by The Typist in 504, Federal Flood, FYYFF, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.

Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Dancing on this day because we must.

Here on Toulouse Street, We Remember with all the joy that is New Orleans.

Remember August 29, 2011

Posted by The Typist in 504, 504ever, 8-29, Corps of Engineers, Federal Flood, FYYFF, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, Katrina, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Remember.
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This image is (c) 2006 by Mark A.Folse and free for all non-commercial use and posting on all blogs. Please circulate widely.

Lucky August 28, 2011

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, NOLA, The Narrative, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Survivor guilt is a peculiar condition. I am one of a small handful of avid New Orleans partisans who lost nothing in 2005 except our minds. Two of us moved home, the third completed his interrupted relocation to New Orleans. To this day I ask myself (as every man who has not served does as he scatters popcorn on the floor watching an old war movie): what if I was there? What would I have done? Would I be equal to the task.

If I knew the answer to the question I would have grabbed Ray by the lapels and slammed him to the wall until I could tell him, and I expect he would have done the same. The third of us died never knowing the answer. I think of Ray gutting house after house in the miserable heat, of Ashley always in the front rank banging his spear against his shield, taunting our enemies. Did Ashley die in part because of that lingering doubt, the drive to prove himself not just the equal but of the first rank? Did they do this because of that survivor guilt, because (as Ray once explained eloquently) we were not at Bastogne?

What did you ever do? I was once asked in anger. Did you gut a house? Did you volunteer for habitat? All you did was write, she said, and that’s true: all I did was write, vaporous words that amount to what? Perhaps that is why I am haunted by this video, why I was heart-broken when the original poster took it down from You Tube (and perhaps some copyright holder will be on my case in the morning, demanding I do the same).

I missed the production of Waiting for Godot in the Gentilly Lakefront in 2006, unable to drag a collection of friends away from drinks in the back yard in time to get in, and I have been disappointed about that every since. What better place to watch Godot than in the Ninth Ward or in the brown fields of broken Gentilly, but perhaps there was a healing in that evening I missed, people too busy lingering as we will over cocktails to be on time. I look back and I understand it was better that way, ending up at the Circle Bar listening to Gal Holiday instead of experiencing the existential angst of Godot on a flooded lot.

On good days Radiohead’s Lucky runs through my head. Those are the good days. I feel my luck could change. Its gonna be a glorious day.

Still, I am haunted by this video. When I was searching for another post on Wet Bank Guide I was reminded it was gone from the Internet, and I went searching, finally finding the entire Beckett on Film version in slices online, finding the complete set on Amazon and spending a hundred dollars I don’t have to order it, spending more money on an online service that let me scrape this off to edit down to what is for me the essential speech, the question I will spend the rest of my life answering.

Was I sleeping while the other ones suffered?

Vaporous words.

In all that what truth will there be?

The air is full of our cries.

Requiem August 28, 2011

Posted by The Typist in 8-29, Federal Flood, ghosts, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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In the dark night of our soul     Your shattered dreamers     Make them whole     O! Mother Mary find us where we’ve fallen out of grace     Lead us to a higher place/Mary…

I almost didn’t republish this video I first put up last year on Aug. 28.

This week I was on WWNO and Susan Larson asked me to read a few lines she had selected from the book Carry Me Home, which first appeared as a blog post Ghosts of the Flood on Wet Bank Guide.

“We need to honor these dead and respect them, not with the weight of Confucian ancestor worship but in the simple spirit of the pre-Confucian Japanese who venerated odd stones, in the ways inherent in our own Latin roots mingled with the traditions of Africa, where the community of saints and the loa of Africa intersect. We don’t need an exorcism. We need a conjuration, a ritual that calls up the ghosts and honors them, that welcomes them in the way the way the devotees of Vodoun welcome the possession of the loa.

“Perhaps next August 29, we should all tie a brown cord on some pillar or post of the house at just the point where we have carefully painted over the water stain. Just above that, we should mark in dust of ground gypsum the rescue symbol that is now as much a part of our selves and our city as the sign of the cross. We will do this to tell whoever is listening—Our Father, Oshun, Mother of God, ghosts of the Flood—we remember. We have suffered, and we will never forget the Flood and those who did not come through. We are the people who came through and came back. We remember the lost. We remember you. Je me souviens.

“When we accept and embrace this spirit, perhaps the haunting will end once and for all, will not be a permanent pall over the city, a fearful sound in the night like a howling in the wires, or an unpleasant knotting in the stomach as we pass an abandoned house. It will cease when it becomes instead like the glinting of the sun on white-washed stone above the neat green grass of the cemeteries, just another comfortable part of who we are.”

Today there is a second line down Rampart to celebrate the opening of the new Healing Center in the Bywater. My son isn’t interested in going so I guess I’m going to miss it. It is time for us to look around and notice that our troubles are now often of our own making, the same curse of class and the lash that has troubled us for generations. Some days I wonder if we are no more capable of of overcoming ourselves than the Balkans, that we are too long practiced in our judgements by race and place. I have to hope not, to think that in every generation we here in the city grow a little better.

“We are the ones who came through and came back”, back to wrack and ruin, taxes and Entergy bills that would break a weaker people. We are the ones who did not flee to Metairie and Chalmette or to the East. My neighbors are the strongest people in America, and all I can think of is sitting on my stoop all the days of Jazz Fest and yes, there were tourists but there were many of us as well, those who could afford a ticket and the artists listening like me from across the fence hoping to see a bit of jewelry, and those hawing water at days end to pay the water bill, all milling about on Fortin Street in the joy and excitement of the moment.

Tomorrow is a solemn day, and I am going to post this piece because from the earliest days of the Wet Bank Guide, from the speculation on the dead through the first posts of All Saints Day 2005, all of my posts about those events have centered on one theme: Remember. Je me souviens. But simply to post this without recognizing it is only half the story is false. It is funereal in a way that does not fit New Orleans. Before this long weekend of remembrance is over, it is time to kick the dust of the grave from off our shoes and remember the city as it was, the way we would make it again. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, if the women don’t get you then the liquor must, bass drum going one, two, one two three four and fast military tattoo of the unmuffled snare and at last the first trumpet notes of Oh, Didn’t He Ramble.

I think I will post that later today. For now, it’s Eliza Gilkyson’s Requiem which I first heard on NPR in early Fall of 2005, a song written for the victims of the Christmas Tsunami but which someone at NPR wisely picked up again after the Federal Flood. The audio on this is poor. You can hear the song still on NPR if you prefer, as this video contains disturbing images of the dead. I remember that moment clearly, driving down 16th Street South in Fargo to pick up my daughter at junior high. Before the song ended I had to pull over to the side of the road. I was late.

Une Saison en Enfer August 27, 2011

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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If Hell has a season, dear Authur, it is the last of August: black asphalt, the squinting light of bright concrete, scalding metal. A layer of cotton armor beneath our shirt to pretend we do not sweat, handkerchief at the ready to mop brow and hat band at every block, feet swelling in leather shoes.

This week it is every day into the office, visitors from the capitol, training my replacement. Come October my job moves to a city in Virginia thought safe from natural disasters, and my masters are rewarded with an earthquake. Image of the Earth over Water. The lake trembles before the mountain. Joy in the Misfortune of Others. I pray for the Atlantic hurricane to jog left and imagine their panic when there is no power for Moloch’s vast central campus for weeks on end.

Somewhere above on a shady ledge a crow calls.

There are no prospects in August. Here people do as little as possible if they are not in fact vacationing on some cool mountain or a laying in the reliable sea breeze of a beach. I scan the papers and prowl the online job sites but I am a paper tiger. The gazelle are elsewhere in August, laying in the mud around some watering hole, and I remain. I fold the paper, undisturbed by breeze on the table, light another cigarette and imagine clerking in some dim and cool used bookstore.

Escape into some dark bar, cold beer in glasses wet with condensation. Hold the cool against your forehead, then drink deep. Drink too deep and too long and August will have its revenge: too much coffee in the morning and the frog march ten blocks into the office racing against the clock. Sweat penetrates your wife beater and soaks your work shirt, and the calm lawyers with shady indoor parking step back as if there were three feverish men in stained hats and not just yourself.

There is relief come October, when the heat retreats back to its tropical winter quarters, but you imagine walking from the office to the car one last time and file that thought away like a bill, minimum payment made. Better to live in this moment: admire the glinting of a hundred years of beer bottles, understand the unraveling that leaves the sidewalks broken in New Atlantis, greet the crows that haunt the downtown canyons. Imagine the flash of brass instruments later in the streetlight. Come sundown, stripped to sandals, shorts and beater, taunt August beneath the cold moonlight. Forget Moloch and dance while you can and the heat be damned, for tomorrow you may not hear the crows.

Odd Words August 25, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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Big news sometimes comes in a small box. Longtime fixture of the local indie book scene Maple Street Books is exploding into a mini-chain even as the big boxes shrivel and die in the shade of Amazon. Founding in 1964 in a house on Maple Street, the shop expanded into a new and used bookstore, taking over the former children’s bookstore space and acquiring the used book stock of deVille Books and will now open two new branches, the first in The Healing Center on St. Claude Avenue.

The grand opening is Sunday, Aug. 28, and will feature a second line parade from Canal and Rampart to the store, along with kids’ activities, music, food and general good times. Some of the musical guests will be John Boutte, Henry Butler, The Treme Brass Band, Mardi Gras Indians, Chuck Perkins & Voices of the Big Easy, and Sean Johnson & the Wild Lotus Band. Another branch will open later this year in the Faubourg St. John neighborhood hear Bayou St. John.

This weekend is the sixth annual Rising Tide Conference which will feature a number of authors among the panelists and featured speakers. There will be two keynote addresses, first from noted geographer Richard Campenella, author of BIENVILLE’S DILEMMA, GEOGRAPHIES OF NEW ORLEANS and LINCOLN IN NEW ORLEANS. The afternoon feature will be David Simon, creator of The Wire and Treme HBO series, and the author of HOMICIDE and THE CORNER. Other notable writers appearing include Jordan Flaherty, author of FLOODLINES: COMMUNITY AND RESISTANCE FROM KATRINA TO THE JENA SIX and Bob Marshall, the Pulitzer-prize winning Outdoors Editor of the Times Picayune.

As co-editor of A Howling in the Wires, which sought to break down the false distinction between blogging and writing, there will be a raft of talented writers on all of the panels. You can get the details and register in advance here. Once again, the talented artist, satirical cartoonist and blogger Greg Peters, who produced the cover of A Howling in the Wires, produced the poster and t-shirt image available at the conference.

Before we get to the listings, a big thanks to Susan Larson for inviting me to appear on The Reading Life this week. You can still catch the re-broadcast Saturday as 12:30 pm on WWNO-FM or you can listen to the podcast. And thanks to Octavia Books for underwriting this wonderful program, which fills the gap left by the Times-Picayune’s abandonment of their book page.

& Tonight you have another chance to get a signed copy of Jennifer Shaw’s Chin Music Press book HURRICANE STORY (the slow boat full of books having finally arrived from China). A fascinating collection of staged miniature images shot with a disposable medium format camera illustrating a brief text of her Katrina exodus, it is (like everything else from CMP) a physically gorgeous and textually fascinating book. And you get to hang out at the Ogden (I may have to get the seersucker out if I can only find a pair of bucks somewhere cheaper than Rubenstein’s). And it’s during Ogden After Hours so you can grab a real cocktail instead of signing wine and listen to some excellent music. Thursday, Aug. 25 at 6 pm., Ogden Museum of Art.

& We’ve all heard the horror stories of the hospitals after Katrina, the anecdotes about the nurse who stayed for Katrina and will not come back to New Orleans. Here is a piece of the back story to that tale: “What’s it like to be a patient with advanced cancer trapped in a hospital with no electricity or running water and no way to escape? Carolyn Perry vividly recounts her husband’s ordeal in the flood-ravaged devastation following Katrina. In “FOR BETTER, FOR WORSE: PATIENT IN THE MAELSTROM Perry tells the gripping story of two people in a loving marriage, fighting a relentless disease and swept up in the chaos of a man-made disaster. Thursday, Aug. 25 at Garden District Books, 5:30 p.m.

&This Friday I can promise the return of the No Love Lost poetry reading at the Love Lost Lounge, hosted this week by Joseph Bienvenu. Pay no attention to the hulking figure in the corner. Its jazz happy hour in front and poetry in the back and the kitchen is open serving fabulous pho so stop by and get your weekend started.

&The Maple Leaf Poetry Reading will feature Thaddeus Conti and Francis Matherne, 3 p.m. ish at the Maple Leaf Bar. Words and possibly other things will fly, drink will flow and poetry will be celebrated in the grand manner established by Everette Maddox in the South’s longest running poetry series.

&Downtown on Sunday after you visit the new Maple Street bookstore, you might want to continue your Rising Tide weekend by attending the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society’s annual My New Orleans: A Katrina Remembrance event at 2:00 p. m. at the Presbytere in the Louisiana State Museum’s Katrina & Beyond exhibit. Faulkner Society guests who RSVP for this event will be able to see the museum’s Katrina exhibit at no charge. Featured authors include Zelia “Lisa” Williams, author of the new post-Katrina memoir, Why Can’t I Get Over Katrina: The Greatest Disaster Ever MADE!, which is being released concurrent with the anniversary of Katrina; a reading by New Orleans poet Brad Richard, whose new collection, Motion Studies, is Katrina related; and readings by the distinguished professor of literature, fiction writer, poet, and playwright John Biguenet from his prizewinning plays Rising Water and Shotgun about Katrin. Sunday, Aug. 28 at 2 p.m. at the Presbytere at Jackson Square. RSVP to Faulkhouse@aol.com or call (504) 524-2940 to reserve your place or reserve copies of books in advance. For more details on authors, visit http://www.wordsandmusic.org

&A continuing Wednesday event is the spoken word open mic at VASO on Frenchman Street, hosted by Carl SMUT DA POET Smothers. There is a $5 cover, drink specials, and free admission for all participating artists. “All Poets, Singers, Musician’s And Anyone With Something To Express Are Welcome.” Doors at nine, show at 10 p.m. Wednesday, VASO Ultra Lounge, 500 Frenchman St.

& If there’s anything more frightening than Jessica Fletcher walking into a room (OMG RUN! SOMEONE’S GOING TO DIE!) it’s next Thursday at Octavia Books when serial crime novelist George Pelecanos will read from, discuss, and sign his new book, THE CUT. Among fans of David Simon’s television series The Wire, Pelecanos is also known as Simon’s Hitman. When you see his name in the title credits, somebody is going to die. I’m going to take my chances and be at Octavia Books. Thursday, Sept. 1 at 6 p.m.

The Loyola Writing Institute Fall 2011 Writing Workshop: Writing Well-Crafted Fiction will be led by Stephen Rea, author of FINN MCCOOL’S FOOTBALL CLUB. The class will run eight weeks starting Tuesday, Sept. 27. Cost is $250 and you can register here. Deadline to sign up is Sept. 13.

If its this busy, summer must almost be over, right? Right?

In Search of Futures Past August 24, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.

Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo was born this date in 1899 and in the 20th Century he and a handful of other whimsically wise souls–Albert Einstein, Albert Hoffman, Allen Ginsburg, your own list may vary–opened all the doors and windows and let into our fathers’ mechanical and decrepit world the universe in all its vast and particular beauty.

…When it was proclaimed that the Library contained all books, the first impression was one of extravagant happiness. All men felt themselves to be the masters of an intact and secret treasure. There was no personal or world problem whose eloquent solution did not exist in some hexagon. The universe was justified, the universe suddenly usurped the unlimited dimensions of hope. At that time a great deal was said about the Vindications: books of apology and prophecy which vindicated for all time the acts of every man in the universe and retained prodigious arcana for his future. Thousands of the greedy abandoned their sweet native hexagons and rushed up the stairways, urged on by the vain intention of finding their Vindication. These pilgrims disputed in the narrow corridors, proferred dark curses, strangled each other on the divine stairways, flung the deceptive books into the air shafts, met their death cast down in a similar fashion by the inhabitants of remote regions. Others went mad … The Vindications exist (I have seen two which refer to persons of the future, to persons who are perhaps not imaginary) but the searchers did not remember that the possibility of a man’s finding his Vindication, or some treacherous variation thereof, can be computed as zero…

The methodical task of writing distracts me from the present state of men. The certitude that everything has been written negates us or turns us into phantoms. I know of districts in which the young men prostrate themselves before books and kiss their pages in a barbarous manner, but they do not know how to decipher a single letter. Epidemics, heretical conflicts, peregrinations which inevitably degenerate into banditry, have decimated the population. I believe I have mentioned suicides, more and more frequent with the years. Perhaps my old age and fearfulness deceive me, but I suspect that the human species — the unique species — is about to be extinguished, but the Library will endure: illuminated, solitary, infinite, perfectly motionless, equipped with precious volumes, useless, incorruptible, secret.

Monday, Monday August 22, 2011

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
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The 18th Floor
A cubicle
Monday Morning

Monday is a day of conversations at the copier and coffee pot everyone reluctant to start the work week in earnest, the elevators and coffee shop full at 8:15 and no one looks like an early rising lawyer. Any sense of excitement is centered in the past, in the game Saturday and how much fun Sunday. I don’t think we’re unique in this but I sense none of Monday’s hunched hustle I see when I visit ‘Moloch’s central precinct in Virginia, that current of urgency that sweeps the malingerers back to their desks.

I lived for years in the mid-Atlantic. While Richmond is well in from the coast I know the main difference in our summers is duration, the sultry Gulf Stream sweeping the Caribbean up the coast but the proximity of DC and Virginia to the Anglo metroplex that runs along I-95, country overrun with the army ants of of the Yankee work ethic, overwhelms the wise grasshoppers resting in the shade for an evening of music on the porch.

Nothing to be done, not even a convenient tree and rope. Nothing to be done except a flow chart, a report and meetings. If one is going to spend the day in existential angst the company of Estragon, the hope of Godot, would be something.

And so I stretch my cigarette break past the reasonable and write this instead, and dream of a carrot waiting at the end of the day after the dull turnips of work.

ESTRAGON: I can’t go on like this.
VLADIMIR: That’s what you think.

Greatly Exaggerated August 19, 2011

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, New Orleans, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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It wasn’t but a few hours after I posted Odd Words that I drove off to look at an apartment (appointment cancelled en route) and who is coming on foot through the mad dog sun down Fortin Street Jimmy Ross. After a brief, street-blocking conversation of the sort common to New Orleans, I head on my way and call someone who immediately asks: The Jimmy Ross Memorial Book Sale? Is he OK?

No fear: Jimmy is alive and well and riding the bus down from the Bywater to stroll up Bayou Road, cut along Gentilly Road to Fortin to stop and knock at my door on his way to Fairgrinds. I referred to the Latter Library sale that way because Jimmy swears the Latter used to throw out their old books and he would dumpster dive for them and sell them to used book stores. This he claims is the genesis of the Latter’s twice weekly sale, Jimmy’s adventures in dumpsters having inspired them to do their own book selling.

This tale my be taller than one Mr. Lavender but is too good not to repeat, is of the sort of stories that fuel New Orleans meals more than all the natural gas in the Tuscaloosa Trend, facts be damned and let’s have another and did I ever tell you about the time…

Haiku (gesundheit) August 18, 2011

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, New Orleans, Pedestrian I, Poetry.


A maple leaf blows
Across the cool Fall asphalt–
Lost ideogram.

Fixed to make it singular and a better (more particular, i.e. specific) haiku.

Odd Words August 18, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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Is it Wednesday? Already? Again? Where’s the big red Emergency Stop button? Wait, by the time you read this its Thursday. Don’t panic. You didn’t lose a day. I’m the one with time management problems.

& Whether you’ve got the blues & can’t be satisfied, or if you’re satisfied, please join Octava Books for an evening of literature and music as Philip Ratcliffe gives a presentation and signs his new biography of the immortal Mississippi John Hurt, one of the greatest blues musicians of all times. Ratcliffe will be joined by local singer/songwriter Joe Barbara for a live performance of some of the music of Mississippi John Hurt. Thursday, Aug. 18 at 6 p.m.

&OK, class, it’s time for another Drunken Spelling Bee. This one is to benefit artist T-LOT’s show “Range” which opens this October. OK, it’s not a book event but a drunken spelling bee? I mean why the hell not. And the idea as best I can tell originated with the sponsors of the annual New Orleans Book Fair so I’m making an executive decision and letting this one in. If you find any misspelling in this post, I will buy you a drink which is about the surest bet you can get in this town. Thursday, Aug. 18 at 7:30 p.m. at the Love Lost Lounge.

& Fridays at The Love Lost Lounge, black knight errant Thaddeus Conti is cooking up another poetry reading, in the back room starting at 5:30 p.m. just about the time the kitchen opens. And damn the food is good. At least I think he’s doing it regularly so check back in case I’ve got it wrong. Fridays, 5:30 p.m., Love Lost Lounge until we’re all 86ed and onto the next juke joint.

& I always forget to list this but the Jimmy Ross Dumpster Diving For Books Memorial Book Sale at the Milton Latter Memorial Library is on Wednesdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. as well as Saturdays. Because you can never have too many books. I mean, you know that zombies can’t smell you if you’re in a room full of books, right?

& Don’t forget to tune into Susan Larson’s The Reading Life show on WWNO-FM (its the one right next to WWOZ, fool) every Tuesday at 6:30 pm with a rebroadcast on Saturdays. I would be remiss in my editorial duties if I didn’t point out that I’m the first guest this coming Tuesday, but you should go ahead and listen anyway because you’ll probably like it anyway. The other guest is Jordan Flaherty, author of FLOODLINES: COMMUNITY AND RESISTANCE FROM KATRINA TO THE JENA SIX. Flaherty will also be a panelist at Rising Tide 6.

& A week from today you have another chance to get a signed copy Jennifer Shaw’s Chin Music Press book HURRICANE STORY (the slow boat full of books having finally arrived from China). A fascinating collection of images shot with a disposable medium format camera illustrating a brief text of her Katrina exodus, it is (like everything else from CMP) a physically gorgeous and textually fascinating book. And you get to hang out at the Ogden (I may have to get the seersucker out if I can only find a pair of bucks somewhere cheaper than Rubenstein’s). And it’s during Ogden After Hours so you can grab a real cocktail instead of signing wine and listen to some excellent music. Thursday, Aug. 25 at 6 pm., Ogden Museum of Art.

& We’ve all heard the horror stories of the hospitals after Katrina, the anecdotes about the nurse who stayed for Katrina and will not come back to New Orleans. Here is a piece of the back story to that tale: “What’s it like to be a patient with advanced cancer trapped in a hospital with no electricity or running water and no way to escape? Carolyn Perry vividly recounts her husband’s ordeal in the flood-ravaged devastation following Katrina. In “FOR BETTER, FOR WORSE: PATIENT IN THE MAELSTROM Perry tells the gripping story of two people in a loving marriage, fighting a relentless disease and swept up in the chaos of a man-made disaster. Thursday, Aug. 25 at Garden District Books, 5:30 p.m.

& Mark your calendars for two weeks from Thursday when George Pelecanos will read from, discuss, and sign his new book, THE CUT, at Octavia Books. Thursday, Sept. 1 at 6 p.m.

My Peculiar Education August 17, 2011

Posted by The Typist in 504, books, cryptical envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, Poetry, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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“Only in New Orleans can you play Red Garland on the jukebox of your corner bar, and have someone walk in 2 minutes later and say, ‘hey, is that Red Garland?’.”
— musician and WWOZ host Jeff “Snake” Greenburg

I love jazz but I am in no way a student of it. I am a reader of liner notes (remember those?) but I don’t commit them or discographies to memory, cannot list every group in which John Coltrane played or everyone who passed through Miles Davis’ bands.

Like most of my education the accretion of jazz around my life has been a matter of serendipitous accident, like waking up this morning and checking Facebook to find a post by local musician Jeff Greenburg quoted above, wondering who Red Garland is. The name is familiar. I am certain to have read it before but I do not recall his role as pianist to Miles Davis or his work with John Coltrane but again I am not an aficionado, a fan who can call up the entire Blue Note catalog like the batting stats of the 1950s New York Yankees.

When I was a a teenager there were no hot brass bands. Jazz was to me Pete Fountain and Al Hirt, the entirely square music of our parents. Little did I know that by falling into the Grateful Dead and Frank Zappa, by the intersection of John McLaughlin and Miles Davis, I would find myself years later owning as much Jazz as I do anything else even if my own collection is as idiosyncratic (go ahead, say it: Odd) as my collection of poetry.

How marvelous to live in a city where you can hear fabulous jazz in a neighborhood dive, to be able to ask someone who that is and the next thing you know you have a new Miles Davis album, and you are reminded to return to work on your Miles poem for the series of jazz poems. People talk about New Orleans as a small town with a big footprint, of no more than two degrees of separation between where you went to school and the person you are talking to but sometimes I think there is more to it than that. We are perhaps the last city in America to still believe in magic: not the stage magic of Hollywood but instead the collected prostheses and crutches in St. Roch Cemetery, the wax puddles in front of famous tombs, the curse of the Girod Street Cemetary.

Funny that all of the examples that fall off my fingers reference death but when you make of death not the closing of a lid and a clod of earth but a joyous celebration of transformation, when after the widow falls out the last time there will be a parade and she will march in it like a queen, perhaps we open a door into elsewhere, admit a bit of its mystery into our everyday lives.

And we in New Orleans trust to luck. Fortuna features prominately in the famous Confederacy of Dunces but is not numbered in our pantheon with Joan D’Arc and Our Lady of Prompt Succor, Dambhala and Marie Laveau. Stil we are always inclined to trust our luck: yes, stay and have one more beer and tomorrow will work itself out, have another shrimp because your grandfather lives to be eighty something crushing his cigarettes out in the puddles of butter, not to bet the rent exactly but to understand that somehow the rent will get paid. Work to live and live to eat. We rely on Fortuna more than most people realize.

There are two approaches to life: the studious (how I trained myself to be an IT worker with most of a degree in English Literature and a history working in newspapering and PR) and the fortuitous (or how I fell into jazz and poetry, by hearing or reading something and letting it lead me into a beautiful Borgesian labyrinth at the heart of which is something magical).

The last time I studied poetry in a structured way was over thirty years ago, and I owe a great debt to Raeburn Miller and Seraphia Leyda for creating a love of it that never died, and after thirty years of continuing to read poetry the way most people consume mysteries, and occasionally writing my own, I find myself scheduled as a featured reader, compiling a limited edition chapbook of my own work for the occasion. My history with jazz is much the same, although I had no mentor the once again fortuitous intersection of the WTUL jazz show in the days before WWOZ, the rise of ‘OZ, finding WAMU in Washington in its glory days or KNDS when I arrived in Fargo programmed as a jazz station for years before it was given over to the students to program indie rock. I have never stopped listening, jotting down titles and artists even as I was driving.

As I stand at the cusp of my second Saturn return, the cycle of 27 to 29 years in which it takes that planet to make an orbit through the zodiac, I am at a crossroads. A Saturn return is the point in life at which major decisions and changes are made, a time for planning the next large phase of one’s life. Moloch is calling all his acolytes home to the central temple on the East Coast and I have told them I cannot (will not in truth) come. A decade in the corporate grind has worn down the edge that sort of work requires. I have changed careers or jobs every seven or so years all through my life, but in my early fifties this suddenly seems a more daunting challenge.

Studious or fortuitous? My Project Management Professional certification book lies hidden under a pile of literary books on the floor by the bed and I find myself seriously considering a writer’s retreat if I haven’t found a new job by October. Or calling up the University of New Orleans and to find out if they will let me finish my last credits toward a degree in English Literature after a 30 year interruption. I have a decent severance with an education allowance, and perhaps it is time to turn the fortuitous path into the studious one. I have to ask if the events of this year point in a new direction: learning a prestigious New York literary blogger reads Toulouse Street, an invitation to appear as a featured reader at the city’s most prestigious poetry forum and another to discuss my books on the radio show hosted by the city newspaper’s former book section editor. Lately even the rejection notes have become personalized and encouraging.

Perhaps if my avocation becomes the studious part of my life, then fortune will find me a job to keep body and soul together, to somehow manage to get two grown children through college. A dangerous gamble for a normally cautious person but for all the troubles of this life Fortuna has always kept an eye out for me. I have lucked out of so many bad situations I stupidly placed myself in that I have seriously considered the question of the guardian angels the sisters instructed us in at primary school, have gone so far as to prayerfully discharge them and bequeath their protection to my children. I am not a religious person or exceptionally superstitious (for an Orleanian), but too many things fortuitous and strange have happened in my life to completely discount some greater and mysterious agency at work.

If I have completely upended my life to dedicate every spare hour to close reading and to writing, If I have uncorked a talent I bottled up long ago in favor of a more conventional life I should recognize I will not easily get that genie back in the bottle a second time. I would in fact feel my life largely wasted in spite of other accomplishments: a couple of pretty nearly perfect children, some moments of triumph in the work-a-day world: that moment my mother describes, as I lead the newly elected U.S. Senator through the crowd from the back of the room to the microphone and my father “tried to crawl into the television” as she described it, or sitting in The Abbey with ink-wet copies of my newspaper and the major daily, celebrating our triumph in beating Goliath’s election coverage all to hell, moments that come back in memory in rich technicolor with music under, your vaguely cinematic triumphs.

Those moments were glorious but sic transit gloria and they were not as ultimately soul satisfying as seeing your own words in print and better still when others recognize those words as worthy.

“So we see that even when Fortuna spins us downward, the wheel sometimes halts for a moment and we find ourselves in a good, small cycle within a larger bad cycle.”
— John Kennedy Toole (A Confederacy of Dunces)

A Facebook post leads to a new record that takes me back to a writing project. Clearly it seems things have begun to align some almost imperceptible way, and I can’t tell if I am the frog and the pot is going to boil, whether that tingling sensation foretells jackpot or lightning. I know the road just ahead is rough and fraught with peril but I also know that I am too far down this road to turn back, the shadowy Disney forest of twisted finger limbs is clearing and I have to believe that somewhere over one of these inevitable hills the Emerald Jerusalem sits nestled like Hollywood beneath a monument in words.

God & Ghosts August 16, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, cryptical envelopment, literature, odd, Toulouse Street.
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For my 888th post, something Odd. Of course. If you read the whole interview, anyone this whack who reputedly once assaulted Thomas Pynchon, well, it just seems like a natural fit. Here’s on to 999, at which post the entire internet may abend. Just warning you.

So imagine the capabilities of a 4D being—a 4D being could change anything about our 3D world at will. Again, it’s the same as the drawing of the snowman. The snowman can only see in terms of length and width, so when I use an eraser to erase his carrot nose, or when I use my thumb to smudge his striped scarf, he can’t see me do it, because the eraser and my thumb both exist at a height above his, on a different 2D plane. All the snowman can see is that his carrot nose vanishes, or his striped scarf smudges.

A 4D being would have those same abilities in our 3D world—it could trigger a tornado at the edge of a wheat field, or erase cancer cells from the brain of a seven-year-old child. And we would never even see its pencil, so to speak, because it would exist outside of our seeing.

And when it looked at a 3D image, a 4D being would be able to see all of that image all at once. Again, back to the snowman: a 2D snowman can only see certain parts of himself at one time. If the 2D snowman looks at a 2D box, the snowman can only see the side of the box, or the top of the box. But when I look at the 2D snowman, I can see its entire outline, all at once, can see even its insides—if I look at the 2D box, I can see all four sides of it at once.

A 4D being would have the same capabilities: it would be able to see all six sides of a 3D box, all at once, and, at the same time, it could see inside of the box, the contents of the box. And it could change those contents of the box—or erase those contents—without ever opening it.

In other words, a 4D being would be both omniscient and omnipresent. It would see everything at once and be everywhere at once. And it could change anything at will.

— From An Interview with Michael Martone

Over Easy August 12, 2011

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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Easy is not a condition so much as an unconscious decision, pure Darwin and simple as a lizard on a sunny winter rock, crazy not to be lazy when you’ve been running shiftless in a red dress on the skillet streets from bar to bar, stride becomes slide when quick means slick and why don’t we have siesta when we have so much fiesta, that fried shrimp po-boy curled up in your gut like a dog under a porch. Reprogram you phone so it sounds like distant birdsong, take up a penknife and recall how to whittle.

Odd Words August 11, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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Correction: The NO LOVE LOST: POETRY READING event is FRIDAY night. Sorry about that.

The blurbs on Tom Piazza’s DEVIL SENT THE RAIN remind me of an acquaintance in DC who played drums for the Nighthawks back in the 1980s, and during their extended stay in New Orleans he was taken around Dooky Chase by none other than Zigabo Modaliste and introduced as “a bad muthafuckin drummer.” Or so he said, and I have no reason to disbelieve him and even less reason not to tell such a damn good anecdote. You want nothing but the facts I think you can catch Dragnet on cable somewhere. I don’t know why anyone who can manage that sort of high praise would get out of the music business and into telecommunications (what he used to call The Maelstrom back then) but sometimes life presents the bills and you have to come up with the money.

& On Friday night Thaddeus Conti & Known Associates will host NO LOVE LOST: A POETRY READING at of course The Love Lost Lounge. “Expose the trapeeze. No music please. Drink specials!” are promised starting at 5:30 p.m. Friday 8/12, 5:30 p.m. at the Love Lost Lounge.

& One of the blurbs on the Octavia events page for Tom Piazza’s DEVIL SENT THE RAIN is from Elvis Costello. The man do know some people, but once you’ve established your cred with the WHY NEW ORLEANS MATTERS and a string of music-related books you know this is a book you want to get over to one of your local bookstores and get a signed copy of this collection of essays. The book is in three parts which form a narrative arc of the cultural character of America over the last fifteen years. Part One contains searching and unorthodox looks at iconic American musicians, including Bob Dylan, Jimmie Rodgers, Charley Patton, Carl Perkins, and others. In Part Two, Piazza turns his lens on his adopted hometown New Orleans, post-Katrina, in articles that are by turns deeply touching and achingly funny. Part Three finds Piazza taking stock of the tumult of these years in a brilliant meditation on fiction and its relation to what is sometimes called “real life.” Saturday 8/13 at Garden District Books at 1 p.m. and again Wednesday, 8/17 at Octavia Books at 6 p.m.

& The word “dive” tends to put me in mind more of pickled eggs and Slim Jim’s behind the bar, I guess I have to allow for people who think of places to eat first and drink secondarily, which is how Octavia Books comes to be hosting a book signing with Morgan Murphy featuring his recently released book OFF THE EATEN PATH: Favorite Southern Dives and 150 Recipes That Made Them Famous, published in association with Southern Living. I’m more of an Oxford American sort of guy, but I do love out of the way places to eat as much as anyone. Saturday 8/13 at 3 p.m. at Octavia Books.

& Also on this busy Saturday Gina Ferrara will restart her monthly series of poetry readings at the Latter Library after a summer hiatus (OK, it’s still August but hey school has started so get over it) featuring Dennis Formento, Michael Quess Moore and Andy Young. Saturday 8/13 at 2 p.m. at the Milton Latter Memorial Library (& 70’s-era De La Salle Hookah Garden).

& The Maple Leaf is an open mic this Sunday but mark you calendars for the following Sunday 8/21 when Lee Grue reads from her new book DOWNTOWN. If you don’t have a copy of this you want one, and here’s a chance to grab an afternoon beer (or a tumbler of bar scotch) at the same time. Resistance is puerile.

You Must Say These Words August 9, 2011

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“You must say these words: Klaatu barada nikto”
— The Day the Earth Stood Still

A few days before I headed off with the kids for a long weekend at Orange Beach, Alabama, I found myself watching the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still with Keanu Reeves as Klaatu. I did this because I have at least eight books I should be reading, submissions to prepare for the fall opening of literary journals, a trip to pack for, vacation days to “make up” for and a filthy apartment. What else should I have been doing?

If you haven’t seen the remake of the 1951 classic, the twist is that we are a danger not to other life in the universe, but to one of the handful of planets capable of supporting complex life. Klaatu commands a fleet of globular arks that are collecting all the life forms available prior to unleashing Armageddon on the human race. I found myself rooting for Klaatu to relent and listen to the Jennifer Connelly’s character’s plea to not destroy the earth. We can change, she kept telling Klaatu. Really we can. I mean, what else should I have been doing?

Then I drove to Alabama. There are an awful lot of British Petroleum-branded gas stations in Alabama, not far from where local fisherman rose up last year and blockaded Bayou Le Batre when they were not hired by BP for clean up. The Gulf Coast was perched at the very edge of a genuine Armageddon last year, and while I found the water clear and full of fish it is not certain what the long term affect of all the Corexit spread in the water will be, or where that sunken oil slick the Corexit was intended to create to keep the magnitude of the spill keep out of site is and what that hidden oil will mean to the future of the Gulf. Take away tourism and fishing and the coast will die. We would see a forced displacement of populations that would dwarf Katrina’s millions, and be for all intents permanent.

And I found myself wondering how to say in Klaatu’s language: “kill us all and let god sort it out.”

The trip to Florida was a last minute affair: the realization I had a couple of empty days on my work calendar, the weekend before school starts for my 16-year old son, a desire to get the hell out of town for a few days and do as little as possible. I wound up booking a place across the highway from beach, a room thankfully in the back away from the Perdido Beach Boulevard.. As I sat on the balcony to smoke, looking out southeast over the highway and the ocean beyond, I could not hear the breakers the way I could in the past in a beach-front room. Instead I could hear a perverted echo of it, the doppler effect of the incessantly passing cars on as they moved out of my sight and behind the building, a sinister sonic twin to the sound of a breaking wave and its hissing retreat down the sand.

All those cars, so many pulling sports fishing boats on a weekend afternoon, and god only knows how many gassed up at the local BP station. Barada nikto my ass.

Still, I managed to have a good time. I felt the fish tickle my feet and laid in the sun until I was a pleasant Zatarain’s red. We ate a couple of good meals, watched movies, talked. It was a good weekend. Underneath it all, however, were all those BP signs I passed, the cars lined up at the pumps. My faith in the human race continues to dwindle every time I find something like a coastal county full of unburned BP stations. My own personal disaster film begins to resemble one of the zombie movies: a small band of people I genuinely care about and respect against a world gone monstrous.

The first time I saw Day of the Dead I thought it had an almost happy ending, at least the promise of survival for those on the boat. This weekend I caught the last five minutes (my son loves zombie moves) and watched the credits, which sneakily offers an alternate ending of zombies on the island. I walked back out onto the balcony to smoke and listen to the whizzing cars, frantically spinning the wheel on my Ipod looking for something uplifting, perhaps Woodstock or even Wooden Ships, without luck. Instead I discovered I have three different songs with Down in the Hole in the title. I settled for the Eighties Stones song. “Will all your money/Buy you forgiveness/Keep you from sickness/Or keep you from cold?/Will all your money/Keep you from sadness/Keep you from madness/When you’re down in the hole?”

I saw a sunbow the last day at the beach, something I often saw in cold weather up north but don’t see very often down here. As I walked along the shore, looking for interesting bits of shell but thinking Plastic is Forever and imagining dark variants on the old diamond jewelry ad the appearance of the sunbow seemed a marvelous miracle, for a moment lifted me out of a dark reverie. I remembered the promise to Noah and thought of the water thick with fish and only one dead on the beach. Then I remembered that god lied and the waves of last year blood red as Exodus.

To mungle up yet another movie reference: You must say these words, “Dump everything you got left ON MY POS. I say again, I want all you’re holding INSIDE the perimeter…”

The ragged hem of Ocean August 6, 2011

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
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February 26. Covered 172 miles. Cloudy sky, grey sea. Nothingness.

February 27, Covered 94 miles. Blue sky, blue sea. Nothingness.

— Two log entries from Bernard Moitessier’s The Long Way.

This is not the ocean, these mild ripples washing the crowded shore. It is merely the edge of the thing, a ragged hem. The loud, brown devotees of sun and surf who assemble each morning at the water’s edge do not really understand the depth and breadth of what lies past the dim gray line that is the horizon.

I have never voyaged out onto the true ocean, the place where land is mostly memory, but one of my compulsions is reading the literature of adventure, particularly that involving long, solo voyages into the rolling blueness. Here on the shore we are barely acolytes of the sea, mere poseurs compared to men and women like Moitessier, the ones who sail out far and alone into the very depths of the Southern Ocean.

There is no Poseiden lurking off the shores of the Redneck Riviera. The young women basking in the sun substitute weakly for sea nymphs, sandy-diapered children chasing the sea birds and the rolling breakers are our only water sprites. The ocean of the water gods, the ocean of Moitessier lies far beyond anything the beer sipping sunbathers can even begin to conceive.

I think my neighbors in the sand would find the epigram above confusing. To me it is one of the best descriptions of Oceanness, of the true nature of the great rolling thing at my feet that I have ever found. I know that Ocean is out there, and I am as humbled as a Haji standing in the sand just gazing out towards it.

Odd Words August 4, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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Its a funny old world, how a new comment on this old post leads me to find a local writer I didn’t know about and her new book, which includes a novella about a woman who witnesses a crime not far from the spot on Rampart that inspired the post, the corner in fact of Rampart and [pause for effect] Toulouse.

A funny, Odd world I should say.

A now, from the deportment of correktshuns and profereeding: Tom Piazza’s new book DEVIL SENT THE RAIN is not a novel but a collection of non-fiction pieces. Look for announcements on upcoming release events around town in August and September (Garden District Aug. 13, Octavia Aug. 17 and Faulkner House Books at a date I don’t have yet).

Speaking of Faulkner House, the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society annual Words & Music Conference is just a few months off, Nov. 9-13. The Society’s annual Fall literary happening, allows published authors and scholars to showcase new work in theme sessions designed for readers and writers. The annual event will once again present a full program of sessions designed primarily for yet unpublished authors, writers who want to improve their work and get it publishes— such as manuscript critiques and one-on-one consultations with top-notch literary agents and editors; workshops with hands-on attention to developing writers by agents and editors, established fiction writers, non-fiction writers, and poets. I haven’t done this before but certainly will be there this year.

And so to the listings:

& Now with proofreading for the same low price (last week’s listing, not her book): Pamela Ewen’s DANCING ON GLASS sounds like the sort of chick-lit I would normally pass over: successful lawyer meets magical Mr. Right who turns out very, very wrong but this Successful Woman happens to come to New Orleans and meets and marries an artist with dark secrets who takes her life down (literally) an unexpected road. This sounds like a perfect fairy tale of the dark side of New Orleans’ fey charms. Bonus points for Ms. Ewen if her character Amalise Catoir is she’s a Nice Girl from Jersey who graduated Tulane Law and decided to stay. Thursday, Aug. 4 at 5:30 p.m. at Garden District Books.

& Also on Thursday at McKeown’s Books and Difficult Music, a free form book club featuring r a lively discussion of the various nonfiction books people have read. Thursday, Aug. 4 at 7 p.m. at McKeown’s.

&If you missed Times-Picayune music writer Keith Spera at Octavia on Tuesday he will be signing his new book GROOVE INTERRUPTED: Loss, Renewal and the Music of New Orleans at Garden District Books on Friday at Garden District Friday, Aug. 5 if you miss this one). The danger of the loss and ultimate recovery of New Orleans core music tradition and culture from the Federal Flood 0f 2005 is one of the greatest stories of travail and triumph since the Isrealites lit out for the Promised Land. As the TP’s music guy Spera was perfectly positioned as a witness to this, and his book “captures both the elation and the heartbreak of post-Katrina New Orleans through the stories of some of the city’s best musicians” per the blurb. I’ve only read two Katrina books in the past year, Dave Eggars ZETOUIN and Dan Baum’s NINE LIVES and each so knocked me on my ass I couldn’t read another for a while. Or so I thought, because I know I won’t be waiting for the paperback on this one.Friday, Aug. 5 at Garden District Books.

&Ricky Riccardi will give a presentation and sign his new book on Louis Armstrong’s later career WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: The Magic of Louis Armstrong’s Later Years Saturday at Octavia Boosks.. While many of the new school jazz musicians of the post-WWII era dismissed Pops late career as the work of a buffoonish minstrel, trading his seminal early work for Hello, Dolly and Mack the Knife, he was the true rock star of his era who collaborated with Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and Dave Brubeck, and who toured the world as the ambassador of American’s unique music. Saturday, Aug. 6 at 7 p.m. at Octavia Books.

& The Faulkner Society will host a Cocktail party and book signing for Tom Carson, author of the new novel, Daisy Buchanan’s Daughter, and Tom Piazza,author of the new collections essays, Devil Sent the Rain. Free to the general public with advance reservations. To reserve, contact Faulkner Society at Faulkhouse@aol.com or call (504) 524-2940 to reserve or reserve copies of books in advance. Aug. 10, 6 pm, Faulkner House.

Duende August 1, 2011

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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“It’s no accident that Lorca came to understand the duende as a result of watching and listening to Andalusian Gypsy singers, whose troubled voices defy virtuosity. The best among them drag a spirit of revelation up into the room, and when this happens, the duende has been wrested from his den. And the songs that make such revelation possible in the first place are always—always—about struggle. They are always a kind of serenade to the resilience and the resistance that struggle creates—and offers proof of its success.

“Any poet who is honest with him or herself recognizes a struggle very near the impetus to write. The Gypsy struggle might be described as the struggle to subsist, to resist absorption by a larger more powerful culture. It’s a struggle, literally, not to disappear…”

— From Survival in Two Worlds at Once: Federico Garcia Lorca and Duende by Tracy K. Smith