A Bend in the River December 30, 2011Posted by The Typist in lyric essay, New Orleans, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Algiers Bend, Mississippi River
In the stillness of the night air damp and cold as Pacific fog but clear and starlit, across two nautical miles of low roofs rolling above the flat land like the waves of the sea, I sometimes hear the bellowing of ships horns as they make the blind turn at Algiers Point.
I spent last night buying textbooks online from Amazon. I dislike Amazon, but I have to be careful with money. I think about how it will feel to sit in a desk in a classroom, surrounded by people decades younger then I am, if professors will treat someone my age differently. Going back to school on my severance and retraining allowance 30 years after abandoning my baccalaureate for a newspaper job is a blind turn.
I also finished ordering a bed, dresser and small desk from Wal-Mart to put in my new, two-bedroom apartment. I dislike Wal-Mart more than I dislike Amazon. My lawyer says I need a two bedroom apartment if I want my son to divide his time between his mother and I, and he needs furniture. He sleeps now on a first rate sleeper sofa in my front room when he comes. I wondered if the lawyer had scheduled the meeting she promised for next week. More compromises, like buying from Amazon and Wal-Mart. Another blind turn.
I remember the reason the ships use their horns in spite of radar, radio and the Coast Guard system that works like air traffic control for ships. Then I remember how two vessels meeting signal their intentions. One blast means “I moving starboard and leaving you to port”, two blasts the opposite. In this day and age this could be negotiated by radio but the Algiers turn bound downriver is a difficult moment.The current wants to push the tow or ship into the Esplanade Avenue Wharf. The vessel has to pivot on the left hand side of the river, analogous to a car going into the other lane, engines turning furiously in counter directions to pivot while drifting slowly on contrary current to aim themselves downstream and get back into the down bound channel. This must be an intense and frantic moment, requiring the perfect alignment of forces.
Its easier to follow conventions on a blind turn. Perhaps that is why I am going back to school. I have bullshitted my way into several degree required positions but as I get older I wonder if I can do that again. I had two recruiters fighting over me last week for a local contract job. The one I worked with (he found me first) insisted the job was bachelors or eight plus years experience, but the description he sent me read and not or.
I had originally planned to spend my severance time furiously reading and writing, following the autodidact path that led me from the English Department to journalism, from journalism to politics and Capitol Hill, out of politics and into IT, from It to project management. Perhaps returning to school, at least to get one semester out of the way before the retraining money expires and the severance runs out, is as simple as following convention, choosing to use the signal horn at a difficult bend, a blind turn.
As I simultaneously apply for jobs and buy textbooks, and try to furnish a room for my son while dribbling money out of the severance pool as slowly as possible I feel the tension of that turn at Algier’s Point, left engine full ahead, right engine full astern, the dangerous insistence of the current, the intensity of the moment. There is no time for negotiation over the radio. The down bound ship has right of way. Just blow the horn and let everyone know your intentions.
Unlike the river pilots who guide the river boats and ships, I do not know what is around the bend. They cannot see the hidden low tow of barges but know every trick of the current, every sandbar. They sound two blasts–I am leaving you to starboard–and confidently navigate the turn. I am bound blindly upriver, and so a certain adherence to convention is wise, yielding right of way. I have no certain idea of what lies ahead: the gold of Eldorado, the madness of Kurtz, or the death of de Soto. I emulate the early explorers, conserving my supplies and proceeding with caution. I have my own obligations like de Soto’s to his king and his god, and like Marlow I have my own, sometimes dimly understood compulsion toward the unknown.
I sit outside, and light another cigarette, listen again for the sounds of the river but none come. The ships only sound their horns when they meet another to negotiate the difficult turn. I have my own difficult meetings and turnings to negotiate ahead. I have to learn the confidence of the river pilots as they dodge the ferry and the upstream traffic, master the difficult currents they have launched themselves upon, to signal my intentions when necessary and not trust any other to simply follow the rules of the road.