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Remember August 29, 2013

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Debrisville, Federal Flood, geo-memoir, ghosts, home, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, Sinn Fein, The Dead, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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I am not sure when I made this graphic. Friends in the core group of NOLA Bloggers who came together after the storm were talking about draping the blogs in black back in ’06 or ’07. I thought this was just simpler. And strangely, it never occurred to me to post it today until this morning until someone I just met a few months ago made it their avatar on Facebook.

I supposed I knew at some deep level the anniversary was coming. I still get email from the Rising Tide conference that core group of bloggers spawned years ago, which continues even without a lot of its founders who have moved on, and that is always on the weekend before or after. Still, Katrina–what we came to call the Federal Flood–was not in my mind. I have other worries: a son struggling in his first days of college, an ill mother, a play I want to mount, troubled friends and lovers, a complicated life.

The story goes on: the new levee authority sues the oil companies, the levees such as they are, are as fixed as they’re going to get, the giant gap along Marconi Drive at the Orleans Canal pumping station included. The blighted houses remain, some with their fading residue of rescue marks. The new pumps as the canals will or will not work when the time comes, and the evidence of tests is mixed at best.

As busy as I am I can’t help but feel that I dishonor the ghosts I made a commitment to years ago. I think of the folder of bloated bodies I collected via news photographer friends, lost with my last computer. I think of the abandoned homes I still see in Gentilly, “[t]hese empty shells of former lives that line so many streets … the windows staring lifelessly at broken sidewalks, the facades washed pale and colorless.”

I spent my crisis day this week, the day I made a cocktail at 3:15 p.m.to steady myself for all of the news of that day, going out with a friend to eat sushi and see Jon Cleary and drink a little too much for a weeknight. Lest you think me irresponsible I did all I could to board and shore up the catastrophes of that day, and then went out to escape it for a few hours in pleasant company. It’s how we do. Before I went out I had to go sell some things from the house we bought when I uprooted my family and brought them here to the heart of a disaster zone. I sold some pots and trellises to the Michelle Kimble, a pre-eminent preservationist both before and after the storm, and we talked about a lot of things. The storm never came up. After she left I looked at some tile art my ex-wife had bought laying on the floor for this weekend’s sale, including one of St. Francis Cabrini church. I left it there for the sale.

With all my current problems and work perhaps I have reached the point I wrote about long ago before I abandoned the Katrina-blog Wet Bank Guide. ” If history and the city consumes us all one-by-one but the city lives on, that perhaps what was always intended, why we were all lured home. In the end, perhaps [Thomas] Pynchon has given us the model to surviving It’s After the End of the World. If history has gone too wrong for any one of us to stop what is happening around us, maybe it is better to amble down a shady street in New Orleans without a particular thought in my head except the distant sound of what might be [Tyrone] Slothrop’s harmonica, to disappear into the random noise in the signal.”

A Howling in the Wires August 9, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Debrisville, Federal Flood, FYYFF, Gallatin & Toulouse Press, Hurricane Katrina, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Gallatin & Toulouse Press announces the publication of A Howling in the Wires: An Anthology of Writings from Postdiluvian New Orleans. This collection combines the vivid post-Katrina experiences captured by internet-based “bloggers” from New Orleans–individuals who don’t think of themselves as writers but who were writing powerfully in the months after 8-29–with the work of traditional writers. Some of those, like novelist Dedra Johnson and poet Robin Kemp, share their most immediate reactions from their own blogs. The book deliberately blurs the line between formats and focuses on cataloging some of the best-written and most powerful reactions of the people who experienced Katrina.

Editors Sam Jasper and Mark Folse are writers who turned to the Internet to chronicle their own experiences and reactions to Katrina and found in the months after 8-29 they were part of a larger community sharing the public and very private events of the period. The book will be published late August, 2010. A launch party and reading is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 26 at 8 p.m. upstairs at Mimi’s in the Marigny.

Contributors include cookbook author and travel-and-sailing writer Troy Gilbert, poet Valentine Pierce, Professor Jerry Ward of Dillard University and poet/playwright Raymond “Moose” Jackson together with the work of bloggers who are by day engineers, teachers, geologists, computer programmers, bankers, and social workers but in their spare time writers of talent whose only prior outlet has been their Internet-based blogs. These works were edited minimally for basic spelling and grammar, mistakes easily made writing first hand accounts created under great duress, in an attempt to preserve the original “howl” of people who experienced these events first hand.

Editor Sam Jasper’s preface explains: “When we started this project, our goal was to find some of the best words that were howling in those wires once the wind stopped and the levees broke. We read through hundreds of thousands of words for weeks. Sometimes the pain in those words re-opened wounds we thought had healed. Sometimes the words gave us insight into another person’s experience and we were astonished by the nakedness, the vulnerability, the ferocity and often the defiance being expressed so soon after the event. Naked and raw and very, very public.”

“These voices, oblivious to each other and miles apart, sing in pitch perfect harmony—a phenomenon only possible where truth is absolute. Stunned courageous but always in motion, the Every Man and Every Woman of these Gulf Coast narrations and poems lean blindly towards recovery and redemption just as they struggle to comprehend the enormity of what has happened to them. Here you will find no analysis ad nauseum, no academic dissections, no punditry or pretension. Just ordinary folks caught up under extraordinary circumstances, telling their stories in real time, absolutely in the moment—in grief, in anger, and—most miraculously—in good humor. If you only ever read one post-Katrina related book, and if you think you can handle for that book to be an unapologetically unfiltered and dead honest journey back into those dark days and months after the storm, this thin volume is all you will need.”

    — Louis Maistros, author of The Sound of Building Coffins

“A powerful and immediate look at post-Katrina New Orleans. Sam Jasper and Mark Folse have done a great service to America by compiling these early writings from the storm.”

    — Stephen Elliot, editor of TheRumpus.Net and author of The Adderall Diaries and Happy Baby.

“There are no better guides to post flood New Orleans than the bloggers who emerged here during the immediate wake of the levee breaks. What’s particularly remarkable about these writers is that none hew to the snarky, cynical, superficial style found on most blogs–instead there is an enormous passion for New Orleans, real anger at its injustices and much needed rebukes to the received wisdom surrounding this moment of man made disaster.”

    — Ethan Brown, author of Shake the Devil Off and Fat Cat, 50 Cent, and the Rise of the Hip Hop Hustle0072

“From Greg Peters’s prophetic warnings before the levees failures, to Jerry Ward’s abandonment of romance, to the rhythms of Sandra Grace Johnson’s arrest, to Mark Folse’s lifetime of Mardi Gras memories (pre- and post-dilluvian), the pieces in this book form a powerful chronicle of those terrible days when New Orleanians looked around and decided that, more painful than any of these things, would be the failure to move forward.” .

    — Lolis Eric Elie is is the producer for Faubourg Treme: the Untold Story of Black New Orleans and a staff writer for the HBO Series Treme

Gallatin & Toulouse Press is a new endeavor, publishing the work of emerging New Orleans writers to a wider audience. This is the first in a planned series collecting short, Internet-published works chronicling the storm and flood collectively known as Katrina and the recovery of the city of New Orleans.

A Howling in the Wires: An Anthology of Writings from Postdiluvian New Orleans, Paperback: 160 Pages, Gallatin & Toulouse Press, ISBN 9780615388793. Inquiries to: gallatin.and.toulouse.press@gmail.com. (504) 324-6551 Available direct from the publisher Aug. 20, 2010.

You can pre-order here. Please shop local or direct. Amazon charges a ruinous discount to small publishers and we make only pennies on a sale there. Patronize your local bookstores or order directly from Gallatin & Toulouse Press.

Tootie’s New Suit April 12, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, Debrisville, Federal Flood, je me souviens, Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Last night America saw a ghost and they don’t even know it.

It spoke a language they did not understand, took a stand, gave a command: Won’t bow. Don’t know how.

When that spectral yellow figure stepped out of the darkness with that downtown sparkle and spoke, the spindly cemetery trees all across this town moved in the windless night and the hairs on the back of a ten thousand necks stood up like the feathers in its headdress.

Won’t bow. Don’t know how.

The last night Tootie Montana spoke he died at the microphone, defending his culture to tone deaf politicians and against a hostile local police force, demanding respect for a century old tradition with roots in in the bead work Yoruba and a strange and never clearly explained solidarity with the American Indian, something I think similar to the identification of the Black Christian church with the Isrealites in bondage.

Won’t bow. Don’t know how.

That ghost wasn’t speaking to me, or to any of the people in the room with me on Toulouse Street. It wasn’t even speaking to New Orleans. It spoke to all of America, to the entire planet. It stood amidst a desolation the American continent has not seen in a hundred years, one only those who came home with nothing to nothing, and the few privileged tens of thousands who came to volunteer, can understand. That ghost said all you need to know about the people of New Orleans.

Won’t bow. Don’t know how.

If that phrase still seems cryptic to you, try this: watch a repeat of Pacific that leads into a repeat of Treme.

Won’t bow. Don’t know how.

5 – 0 – Forever April 11, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Corps of Engineers, Debrisville, Federal Flood, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, St. Bernard, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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The Tragedy of St. Bernard [excerpt]
Wet Bank Guide
September 01, 2005

….I want to show my children the beauty in a place they don’t understand, growing up in the Midwest. I want them to see people who live with the water the way people in Fargo live with air; people who shrimp and crew towboats and work on rigs in the Gulf and, when the refinery lets out for the day, go fishing; people who chose to live on an island in the middle of a swamp, and not in Kenner or Fargo, ND; people who worked hard and set aside a little and built a place for themselves out of a swamp, a place they would not willingly let go.

I want them to know why I am crying at my keyboard for people who’s views on issues of race I could never understand, and teach my children to abhor; people who took me into their homes and fed me sweet tea and told me stories until the stars and the mosquitoes came out; people who chose to live apart, surrounded by capricious waters, an island; people who would not willingly surrender their island back to the waters.

I want them to understand why some people stayed , and why they would come back and start over again

.

Carry Me Home April 10, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, Debrisville, Federal Flood, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Since I’m getting all this traffic courtesy of David Simon and Ashley Morris, no reason not to remind visitors that some of the essay originally posted on Wet Bank Guide are collected as Carry Me Home, A Journey Back to New Orleans, available direct at Lulu.com, the usual online locations, and the best New Orleans Independent bookstores. It’s a journal of the time that frames the Treme story and one man’s journey back to the town nicknamed Debrisville. In the end it is an odd genre of my own inventing–the geo-memoir–because it is not really a journal. As I did on the original Katrina blog, I serve mostly as narrator. It is ultimately about the city and it’s people and our long journey to make once again a place recognizably New Orleans.

“Mark’s writing is about skill and heart. A blend of reporting, memoir and analysis, [the book] is as immediate as it is reflective. It’s more than a love letter to New Orleans—it’s a survival guide for post-Katrina America. Mark shows how to go through a disaster with your soul intact”
• Michael Tisserand, author of Sugar Cane Academy and The Kingdom of Zydeco.

So if Treme leaves you wanting to crawl into the heart of New Orleans, here’s another chance to get you some.

“It belongs on the bookshelf alongside the other worthy
post-Katrina works”
• Chin Music Press

Treme too authentic for the New York Times April 9, 2010

Posted by The Typist in Debrisville, Federal Flood, fuckmook, FYYFF, New Orleans, NOLA, We Are Not OK.
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Cross-posted from Back Of Town.

I am struggling to figure out what precisely offended New York Times TV Reviewer Allessandra Stanley about Treme. The gist of it seems to be that it is not didactic or angry enough, that is “is more an act of love, and, odd as it sounds, that makes it harder to embrace…

“[Treme] is a tribute to the “real” New Orleans by filmmakers who have become connoisseurs of the city, depicting its sound and ravaged looks with rapt reverence and attention to detail…

“The effort to get New Orleans “right,” to do justice to the city’s charm, its jazz tradition, and now its post-Katrina martyrdom, is at times so palpable it is off-putting, a self-consciousness that teeters on the edge of righteousness.”

Let’s start with her use of the phrase “its post-Katrina martyrdom.” I want to know when New York plans to get over it’s post-9/11 martyrdom. If Allessandra gets back to me on that one, you will read it here first.

She is also disappointed that Treme is “an elliptically told tale, and it takes a few episodes for the plot and the characters to pick up steam.” I’m sure you’re quite busy up there in New York, but it is kind of hard to tell a story of this sweep and depth in a way that you can watch episodically on your I Pod while waiting on the platform for your train. MTV is shooting a Real World New Orleans episode. Maybe you should wait for that.

On balance, she manages a good job of retyping the material that came with her review copy, giving a basic idea of the plot outline and characters, sort of a TV Guide snapshot for people who would not be caught dead reading the TV Guide. With some tight editing, bits of it might make for decent jacket copy for the boxed set but I suspect most of it was written up the first time by Simon’s staff.

In the end, she casts the show (I presume she saw the first one or two episodes most reviewers got) as a reflection of the snobishness of some locals toward the outside world (keying in on the scene when the visitors ask to hear The Saints), that the film is taken with that attitude and is too reverential towards its subject.

One wonders what she expected. Perhaps she is a die hard Wire junkie and was just itchily waiting for that new package. As she points out, Treme ain’t that. If I went looking for analogies I wouldn’t think of Simon’s prior oeuvre, or Spike Lee’s move or even Trouble the Water. If I hope for anything, it is precisely achingly reverential treatments Ken Burns gave to subjects like the Civil War and Jazz, mingled with strong and representative characters (because at one level, New Orleans is all about the characters), characters who tell the story of one of the great cataclysms of American history, a story that attempts to convey what Ashley Morris and all the New Orleans bloggers have been talking about since 8-29: it’s not just about saving not just the real estate, but about saving something recognizably New Orleans.

I don’t expect everyone to love Treme, anymore than I expect everyone to love New Orleans. Some people are only happy in their own tightly constrained milieu and are never going to be happy outside of it. If they travel, they go to all inclusive resorts and tell every one they went to Jamaica when they really went to a fucking Marriott and never set foot outside the door. New Orleans is different, and not just in the way Idaho is different from New Jersey, but rather z a place with a unique local culture that has evolved over three centuries, longer than most of America has even been settled by Europeans. If you don’t like it, that’s OK. I’m not too fond of Phoenix, but then I haven’t heard anyone nominating Phoenix a world heritage site.

If Allessandra Stanley doesn’t understand what she calls our chauvinism, if she doesn’t understand why someone of Simon’s talent would want to reverentially recreate New Orleans, she’s entitled to her opinion. She’s a reviewer, that’s what she does, but a reviewer who approaches their subject with a closed mind or one that snaps shut like a trap at the first whiff of something that does not fit some preconceived notion, well that’s a waste of perfectly good trees.

I think most New Orleanians are like the people I met traveling to New York, people who would gladly stop and give us directions or swipe my wife into the subway with their own fare card when my wife couldn’t get her to work, people who were glad we came to share in one of the great cities of the world even as they carried deep inside a profoundly chauvinistic conviction that New York is one of the great cities of the world, and that it was perfectly natural we should want to be there.

— wet bank guy

A Continual Farewell March 20, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, Bloggers, Debrisville, Federal Flood, je me souviens, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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But I still hear them walking in the trees: not speaking.
Waiting here, away from the terrifying weaponry, out of
the halls of vapor and light, beyond holland into the
hills, I have come to

— the last lines of Samuel R. Delaney’s Dhalgren

this, not an end but like Delaney’s circular last and first lines in the novel both an end and a beginning. Maitri of Vatul Blog and Loki of Humid City (and their respective spouses) are both bound for Ohio, that place famously derided by Lafcadio Hearn in comparison to New Orleans.

It is an end to the counting of day’s since 8-29-05 by Maitri but many more beginnings–new jobs, houses, friends, challenges. It is a continuity of things that will not change: HumidCity.com, or an abiding love of New Orleans. Listen to their own words:

Maitri: “It’s hard to fathom leaving New Orleans, its wonderful culture, color, cuisine and craziness, and all of you, my amazing friends and blogger buddies here. Without you guys, the Exile would have been truly unbearable and, on our return, we made something good together. New Orleans is my love. I died a little when I told some of you…that we’re leaving.”

Loki (long ago and from a context that makes it bitter sweet); “The pull of one’s roots is strong. The call of generations of Blancs, Monroes, Williamses, Martins and other blood relations is loud and persistent in my mind. This is my home…”

George and Maitri will be remembered for many things, not the least of which is the crazy amount of energy they both bring to life here in a place famous for its insouciance. Listening to D talk about Maitri’s (and his) adventures in Krewe du Vieux, I felt like they were personally putting on a parade for us all to share. The loss of their intensity is a grievous blow but to live here is to learn to roll with the punches.

It is hard to see them leave, to see anyone leave New Orleans, but the pull of life’s demands–jobs, families, spouses–is irresistible. It led me to spend years living in places that seem strange to other Orleanians, small town Minnesota and Fargo, N.D. in the howling cold winters. I know from my own experience that life leads us where it will, to places never imagined, but also that the mark this city leaves on us all is indelible, that wherever we go we carry the city with us.

While in Fargo some music professors at a local university who had a traditional Dixie Land band put on a Mardi Gras festival. A local caterer managed very creditable red beans, we spent one of the funniest moments of my life as the leader tried to teach hundreds of Scandinavians how to clap on the downbeat, and we ended with a second line parade. A local radio personality whose station sponsored the event led us and not very far down the path he handed the decorated umbrella to me and said, here, you lead. You look like you know how to do this. It was one of the happiest moments of my life in the North.

I know that as sad as the parting will be for the strange band of NOLA bloggers it is not the end of New Orleans in the aggregate or the individual. Immigrant Maitri and old line Creole Loki are like us all deeply imprinted by this place, and will carry it with them wherever they go. Their leaving does not dilute the city but expands the franchise. They will go to their separate corners of Ohio and teach the Buckeyes how to cook and to eat, how to drink and to dance, how to live and be happy, how to turn sack cloth and ashes into a costume and parade.

~~~

Dhalgen ends on a circular note, the words above wrapping around to the opening lines below:

to wound the autumnal city.
So howled out for the world to give him a name.
The in-dark answered with wind.

I am continually drawn to the bizarre tale of Dhalgren as an analogue for life in postdiluvian New Orleans. Our city seems afflicted with a madness we cannot diagnose and still it pulls at our heart, whether we struggle mightily against it or simply immerse ourselves in its slow, wild life, drinking deep at the happy delirium to drown the noise of dementia. As it was in the time of Hearn New Orleans can be bleak and beautiful all in the same frame.

I am not Delaney’s Kid: nameless and lost, answered with wind. This city is a maze and every step in takes me closer to something that calls to me, unfolds a fractally perfect pattern I could find no where else. I do not know if I will find a bright treasure or the Minotaur and madness at the center. I many never reach the center. Perhaps New Orleans like Dhalgren is a puzzle never meant to be solved, and that the entire point of it. I know I am called to stay, and judge no one else by that measure.

My journey is not through but into the city and when I lay dying in New Orleans the worth of the journey will not be what we saved (and how do you “save” a city, a thing that by definition is at once permanent–at least on the scale of a single lifetime–and yet constantly changes as much as this place has since 1957). The measure of the journey will be the people I met in and about and because of this place, the noisy crowd of NOLA bloggers I once described this way: “We’re not paragons, of virtue or anything else. We’re as dysfunctional a band as any mid-career high school class, mad as bats as often as not, cranky as an Ash Wednesday hangover and drunk 24-7 on the elixir of New Orleans.”

It will not matter where these friends are tomorrow (or tomorrow or tomorrow). From the first meeting of bloggers at Fahy’s and the first Geek Dinner to this last Mardi Gras and the farewell parties yet to begin: we’ll always have New Orleans.

To Maitri and D and Loki and Alexis, all I can say is this, the words ground control in Houston once spoke to a famous Buckeye named John Glenn: God speed.

Wasting Away A Day At The Acura May 5, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Debrisville, Toulouse Street.
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Yes, Peter, I spent last Saturday at the small patch of high ground at the Jazz Fest Acura stage I took to calling Base Camp Biloxi to make sure we had a good view of Jimmy Buffet. And I did not mangle the words to “Let’s All Get Drunk And Screw”. Hell, everyone at Betz Brown’s Abbey on Decatur (not to be confused with the Abbey of subsequent owners) was required to cease all conversation and sing along when ever that came up on the juke, which occurred with alarming frequency. In spite of the fact that I was probably every bit as much afloat at that point in my life as the legendary Mr. Buffet, those words are pretty much imprinted on my consciousness forever (even if that song is in a solid tie for least-favorite Buffet song with “Great Filling Station Holdup”).

There was no way I could miss seeing Buffet, whatever my feeling about the other “big name” acts that Jazz Fest brings in. Jimmy Buffet has always had a special connection to New Orleans and the whole Gulf Coast. And for me it was another of the special moments of healing at this Jazz Fest. Belting out Jimmy Buffet songs at the top of my lungs while I shoveled a foot of snow off my corner lot’s extensive sidewalk, or listening to Biloxi sitting in the cockpit of my sailboat after a day on the water during our all-too-short northern summer were some of the ways Jimmy Buffet Saved My Life. He was, along with all of the music of New Orleans, a large part of what kept my sanity during that long decade in the cold and the dark. I’m glad he did not sing “Biloxi” or I might have wound up curled up in the mud balling, but I have to admit that I pretty much misted up for “Mother Ocean”. Buffet is one of those songwriters who become a part of your life if you’ve lived it right, a good friend you’ve never met.

Jimmy and I have have cleaned up our act a bit since the Mardi Gras day I saw him on Conti just off the corner of Royal, back in the days before the police station was on the corner of Royal, before the state building there was fenced. Back then the people who hung at that corner paid hearty tribute to the building’s name of Wildlife and Fisheries Building (and not in any way involving fish), and it was the place to hang or regroup. He borrowed a guitar from some longhairs who had stopped there to practice their rice paper origami skills and belted out a couple of songs–I only remember clearly that he closed with “Volcano”, then split before the crowd got too big.

In spite of Jimmy and the rest of us being on the High Road of Good Living (now, stop smirking; that’s not what I meant), we are all at some level still “The People Our Parents Warned Us About”.

Forget Jazzland and Six Flags. I’m Going To Debrisville! April 23, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Debrisville, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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A $70 million plan proposed to resurrect the twice-failed Six Flags (formerly Jazz Land) amusement park in New Orleans East! Finally, an idea that could actually produce cranes, if only to drive them into the air to fly away from all the racket.

If this falls through, I think I want to put together a package for a Katrina/Flood themed attraction. I mean, why should the bus and van tour companies be the only ones making money off misery?

Announcing: Debrisville! After your solemn ride through Gentilly and New Orleans East, you’ll be ready for a hurricane of fun living the post-Flood lifestyle! Experience the genuine exhilaration of the frightening Road Home Roller coaster! Hold on to your lunch as you experience Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride Down Annunciation! Don’t miss the thrill-of-a-lifetime ride to the top of the Helicopter Hoist! And dare to live dangerously as you play Red Light Bumper Cars!

Don’t forget to visit our water attraction Lakeview Lagoon and thrill to the latest in wave pools technology in the When The Levees Break flood pool! When that big wave come be sure to watch out for those cars and houses! Or take a leisurely tube ride down our careful fiberglass reconstruction of St. Claude Avenue in Escape from the Ninth Ward!. While you’re there, be sure to experience the ultimate in Roof Top Dining in Lakeview’s MRE Cafe!

And just because it’s not Six Flags doesn’t mean you have to miss some old-time excitement. Be sure to visit Gangsta Town, where we will revive the old Six Flag tradition of cowboy shoot outs updated for the 21st century. In Gangsta Town you can not only visit the Rock Candy Store and see the girls do the booty shake while sipping a 40 oz Barq’s at the all-ages, family-friendly Hip-Hop House Party, you can thrill to a realistic gangta gun battle right there in the street. They’ll be poppin’ and droppin’ like nobody’s business!

Anybody else in on this?

The Underground Man April 17, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, Debrisville, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“So long live the underground. I already carried the underground in my soul.”
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from the Underground

New Orleans Times-Picayune pop-culture columnist Chris Rose discovered the city’s digital underground, as he puts it, when he stumbled into the occult and hermetic bloggerhood of New Orleans, “…a massive community of underground writers, cranks and misanthropes who are keeping it real around here.”

Hmmm. I think he gets curmudgeon in there at some point as well. I don’t think we’re quite as far underground as he finds us to be. Certainly there are a lot of people who would recognize bloggers Karen Gadbois of Squandered Heritage or Bart Everson of b.rox. Karen was written up in the Wall Street Journal (with a picture, no less). Bart was one of the leaders of our neighborhood’s recovery process and before his daughter was borne sat on more committees than most know exist. Both spoke at the 2007 crime march. Not precisely misanthropic. Now we certainly can be the cantankerous bunch, especially when confronted with the class of people Ashley Morris liberated the movie line “fuckmooks” to describe.

Later, Rose is a bit kinder (possibly after he recovers from being called a douchebag by one local blogger, although I have to wonder how easily offended a guy is who calls his standup comedy routine “the Asshole Monologues.”) We are, Rose continues in a more positive vein, “…members of the vibrant New Orleans blogosphere, virtual warriors who lock and load for hours over their computers at night, driving legions of opinions, complaints, vitriol and humor out onto the Information Superhighway, giving both locals and outsiders alternative, sometimes insightful and always uncensored accounts of life in the Big Uneasy. ”

Damn. Well, that was nice enough, although I often write early in the morning. After a long day in the Big Uneasy its often difficult to put words together that would make any more sense than the drunken and incomprehensible speech I gave (or should I say attempted to give) rather late at Ashley Morris’ wake. And it’s certainly a bit nicer than his opening gambit. Still, on balance he makes us sound like 21st century variants of Dostoyevsky’s unpleasant character, well versed enough in modern technology to make our mark but consumed, at least some of us, with complaints and vitriol.

The Big Uneasy. Most people down here actively hate that trite bit of marketing nonsense Big Easy. But this play on it I rather like. It summarizes us all and where we live with a minimum of fuss. It fits in well with the neologisms of the NOLA Bloggers: Debrisville, Federal Flood, We Are Not OK. Rose has taken on for himself the stage role of Mr. Big Uneasy, beginning with a fabulous column he wrote back in the Fall of 2006 and later when he first dropped from the paper’s columns, then returned to publicly recount his struggle with depression.

In case you are not from around here, and fall into that group of fu——–, uh, I mean people who think that 1) New Orleans was wiped from the face of the earth two years ago by a vengeful god and is no longer your problem, or 2) everything down here in just peachy after Mardi Gras, the bowl championship game and NBA All-Stars, let me set the record straight: We Are Not OK. I am one of the few people I know not taking some sort of psychoactive meds to combat a condition I think strongly resembles combat fatigue as much as anything else. Chris Rose became the poster child for this condition, but he is one among tens upon tens of thousands.

Almost 1,000 days after the failure of the Federal levees life down here is still a struggle most Americans can’t imagine. For people who have invested themselves beyond just their own house and circle of friends and family, the people who have taken on in some small or large way the rebirth of the entire city, it can be as bleak at times as the denuded WWI battlescapes I believe the stage directions for Waiting for Godot were meant to invoke.

The thing is, Chris, you’re not unique; not in the way Ashley was unique. Most of us who write as you do, as we all do, about the city and our lives here share a common stage and read from the same script, function not as characters but as members of a chorus. We act from the same flaws and echo each other’s lines, waiting to share that moment of carthasis with the audience. Now Ashley, there was a character. When he walked onto the stage it was: cue the lights and orchestra (snare and kettledrum, fortissimo please). We’re glad you found him, sorry you missed knowing him, and appreciate that you helped to share his story to the larger world of newspaper readers.

He struggled as we all struggled, but as with everything else in his life he did it with more gusto that most. If he seemed at time cantankerous or misanthropic and downright cranky, he was entitled. We’re all entitled: you, too, Chris. The NOLA bloggers are not, however, the caricature of the cantankerous blogger: that 21st Century, Web. 2.0 version of the crank with a typewriter and a mimeo machine, guys who write and mass mail letters to every member of Congress, who litter coffee shops with uncollected petitions.

We are, as you admit in one moment, a lot like yourself. We are people who write about this city and the people in it, not for a living as you do but as a very important part of our lives, as one of the tethers for our sanity in this crazy place where It’s After the End of the World. We are underground men (and women), but not in the Dostoyevskyan sense. We are in part an underground resistance to the poor, lost fuckmooks on Perdido Street and everywhere you can find them, here and away; to the “shootings happen to someone else, to bad people but not to me” mind set; to the “charter schools are wonderful, just like Catholic school without the tuition or the knee patches and let the rest rot” view of the world; a resistance against anyone who would profit from our pain or settle for less than something better for New Orleans.

We’re not paragons, of virtue or anything else. We’re as dysfunctional a band as any mid-career high school class, mad as bats as often as not, cranky as an Ash Wednesday hangover and drunk 24-7 on the elixir of New Orleans.

Welcome to the underground.

That Bright Moment February 24, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, quotes, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Sinn Fein, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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YOU ARE TRAPPED IN THAT BRIGHT MOMENT
WHERE YOU LEARNED YOUR DOOM
— Samuel R. Delaney in City of a Thousand Suns

Trapped not as you might think, given the juxtaposition of the word doom; trapped instead in the complex web of postdiluvian New Orleans in the way light is said to be trapped by a cut and polished gem, refracted by the complex play of facets until made into a flashing thing of beauty: that is how I try to live with what was once the shadow of The Flood, the rafts of ghosts it unleashed.

I have not finished Delaney’s novella trilogy Fall of the Towers, so I am not certain how the moment described by that recurring line will play out, the mass, simultaneous discovery by an entire society that a key assumption about their lives–that there was an enemy beyond the barrier; that they were at war–was a complex fiction constructed by their ruling class.

I am not certain how something terribly similar will play out here in New Orleans, among people who’s fundamental assumptions have been washed away: that the basic infrastructure of our lives is built well enough that we will not die of living upon it; that our government will rise up to protect and succor us at a moment of great peril; that if we pay our bills to the insurance company they will help make us whole. How do we live when all of the illusions that underpin life in modern America are suddenly swept away.

Some will drift into cynicism: all governments are corrupt, all big corporations dishonest: what did you expect? Nothing to be done. There is a certain beauty when that sardonic surrender is contrasted with the insistent evidence of hope, with the irrational and irresistible persistence that is one of the hallmarks of life, prominently displayed here in New Orleans like flowers erupting on a cooled lava flow. For evidence I offer the rush by Orleanians to embrace the dark and complex Waiting for Godot this year.

Complete cynicism in its modern sense is the fate I want to avoid for fear we become the new Dog Philosophers, mindless of our personal or civic obligations from a misplaced belief that the world is beyond redemption. I started down that road once on the blog I once kept called Wet Bank Guide. For a time the anger there over the Federal Flood and all that followed was palpable, the anger that once led me to ask if it were possible to renounce my citizenship in the United States of America and become a resident alien in the only country I wish to recognize: New Orleans. Over time, I transmuted that ugly funk into something else, a celebration of what I believe it means to be “trapped in that bright moment”. At what I thought the high point of that transformation, I put Wet Bank Guide to bed.

Now I try instead to celebrate the found moments of odd or profound beauty that come out of All That: the moments of simple, quiet pleasure and ecstatic, public joy that mark life in postdiluvian New Orleans, the surest signs that what we are building here is indeed New Orleans, heedless of the violent transfiguration of our landscape, the vast swaths of ruin that still blanket the Gentilly and the East, the last exits on the road to the modern Land of Nod.

I cannot entirely surrender that anger, not while I have this public forum and a handful of readers I might influence. There is too much to be done to realize the potential that arises out of that bright moment when we learned our doom. What the citizen journalists of the blogosphere call the ground truth must continue to be told in pieces like the one below, Crazy Like a Fox, until we have — like Saint Patrick — driven the snakes out of paradise.

Until that work is accomplished there is still a life to be lived here. For all of the constant struggle and the occasional horror of that life there are still the moments that flash out like shinning from shook foil, as Gerald Manley Hopkins put it. Our world is charged with the grandeur not of God precisely but of who we are, of how we live: every bar of music and snatch of song that puts a lilt in our step I never saw on the streets of Washington or Fargo; every sloppy po-boy unrolled from its waxy wrapper like an Egyptian treasure, that sustains us as much by the thought of which neighborhood joint it came from and by the sight of it laying there like a woman in dishabille, as we are as by the smell and the taste of it; the peculiar site lines of a city built to conform to the zaftig geography of the river’s crescent and our slow descent into the ocean. All of these flash out of the cold, hard moment when we rediscovered who we are, flash out with a beauty that should settle the question once and for all: why do we choose to live here having learned our doom?

For Orleanians, as I believe it will unfold for Delaney’s characters, living in that bright moment is not an end but a beginning, not so much a scar but like a smudge of transient ash on the forehead that reminds us of who we are, that helps us to rediscover for ourselves who we are and where we live.

The quote that eventually came to rest prominently at the top of Wet Bank Guide was from the jazz and performance artist Sun Ran: Its After the End of the World, Don’t You Know That Yet? For Sun Ra, it was a profound renunciation of the ugly history of what it meant to be Black in late 20th Century America. It was not the presumed despair of some character in a Left Behind novel (I can’t bring myself to read those Christian tracts, but I can imagine what that world is like, borrowed no doubt in large measure from works like Stephen King’s The Stand).

Instead Sun Ra’s aphorism calls us to a celebration of the realization that we have been unshackled from the conventional, from so much of our history and attachment. Perhaps I can help all those around me who still cling to the past, to the ugliest parts of the long story what makes us who we are; I hope I can push them to recognize that those shackles lie about their feet and no longer bind them, that they have been freed by that bright moment in which we knew our doom to become something at once old and new: not the city bequeathed to us like a curse by our ancestors who held or felt the lash but instead the city of memory and of dreams, the city that lives in our hearts.

The Land of Creamy Beans February 13, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, New Orleans, NOLA, Odds&Sods, Rebirth, Toulouse Street.
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It is not necessarily the big moments, the arrival of the Krewe of St. Anne at Frenchman or the first steps onto the Fairgrounds at Jazz Fest, in which I find myself most perfectly at home in New Orleans. Rather it is in the little moments that make up life here, the odd bits of life in New Orleans that are the sub-title of this blog.

In the months that have passed since I rolled over the Causeway on Memorial Day 2006 some of the sense of wonder at being here after a 20-years’ absence has been replaced by the commonplace that I am, in fact, home in New Orleans. Most days I drive down the usual routes — Carrollton Avenue, say — and it is as if I had never left, had never walked out of one home and turned down the street to view the Capitol rising down Massachusetts Avenue North East, or bundled up in the foyer of a Fargo, N.D. home to go out and shovel snow off of my driveway.

There is a familiar parade of sights–Brocato’s and Venizia, Jesuit High School, the Rock ‘N Bowl in the mostly unchanged strip mall where my mother once purchased our school clothes at the D.H. Holmes discount store; crossing the Palmetto Canal, then past the seminary to the leonine pillars at Pritchard Place and the arches at Fountainbleau and then I’m in Carrollton: passing Palmer Park to where the restaurant names change but the buildings stay pretty much the same.

And them I’m rolling home like a small boat in a light swell, dodging potholes like a river pilot navigating sandbars. I might look up from the traffic and see on one hand the branches of a row of oak tree branches extended over the streets like the hand of a priest murmuring a blessing over a small child; on the other side, a procession of the bowed shapes of palm trees slouching on the neutral ground like women waiting to cross, the trunks in the arc of a body with a hand on one hip pushing the other out in a saucy pose, the crowning leaves like an elaborate Sunday crown. And then, the odd bit: something as simple and strange as a man standing like a saintly scarecrow, arms out and hands filled with breadcrumbs, his body covered with pigeons.

At that moment I almost expect to hear a shout of azione! and see Marcello Mastroianni stride into a scene suddenly reduced to black and white, raincoat draped over his shoulders and a cigarette hanging from his lip. He is watched intently by man with a high, furrowed brow and a full, combed-back haircut last seen in a faded photo on the wall of Brocato’s, who peers at the scene over a cameraman’s shoulder. The bird man in a fabulous landscape of trees receding into infinity is reduced to the backdrop of something more than the merely fantastic, becomes part of a pattern that is as comfortable with the irrational as any other state. It feels as if I have been tipped out of a cart, transported away from my routine commute between Carrollton and Mid-City and into a sound stage bounded only by the imagination, arriving suddenly and without warning in the New Orleans of dreamy dreams.

Some days the moments are not quite as mystical but are instead as perfectly New Orleans as any instant could be. Last Sunday as I was taking down the Mardi Gras beads I had wrapped the columns in front of the house with I hear a sound I at first feared might be gun shots. Then two children with drum heads and sticks marched side-by-side up Olympia Street to the corner of Toulouse, beating a march time. They were led by a third child in front with a whistle and, from the motions he made with his arm and the way he rocked his head first one way and then the other while tilted back on his shoulders, an imaginary drum major’s staff and feathered hat. He would blow a few notes on his whistle and the drummers would answer with a few beats of the drum, over and over in perfect parade order. They marched into the middle of the intersection, and with a wave of the imaginary staff and a long, shrill whistle burst, they stopped. The leader, after some pointing and prodding and appropriate huffing on the whistle, got them turned around and they marched off back up Olympia: tweet, tweet, tweet, DUM da dum dum; tweet tweet tweet, DUM da dum dum…

I looked at the beads in my hand after they had vanished, shaking my head slowly and smiling as I silently reminded myself: no where else, man, no where but .

Queen of Denial? February 9, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, Carnival, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, French Quarter, home, Hurricane Katrina, Jazz Fest, je me souviens, Katrina, levee, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, NOLA, parade, Rebirth, Recovery, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Hollywood Reporter columnist Ray Richmond came to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, wandered Bourbon Street and its immediate environs like a good tourist–noting the drunken hordes, the breast obsession, and the beads, all of the touchstones of a Tourist at Mardi Gras. His blog notes that he did venture out of the Quarter and into The Ruins, fand found “a watterlogged [sic] ghost town pockmarked with wide swaths of untouched damage. Meanwhile, those who dared stick it out — or more likely, had no choice — are forced to live in flimsy FEMA trailer housing where their homes once stood.”

His reaction to this odd (to him) juxtaposition was to wonder at the boosterism of the city fathers in promoting Carnival, and the commitment of the costumed locals to have their day even in the middle of Year Three of the postdeluvian era.

The local and national media don’t really talk about this stuff anymore, as Hurricane Katrina is yesterday’s crisis. It’s also far better for tourism and for the city’s tenuous self-esteem to promote the fact that New Orleans’ self-gratifying, anything-goes character is back in full. “New Orleans Hotels at 90% Capacity — and Counting!” exulted one headline. The only hurricane you seem to hear about anymore is the one that’s served in a glass (dark rum, pineapple juice, splash of grenadine). It’s all something of a facade, of course, but that’s spin marketing for ya. There’s simply not as much to be gained from peddling the slogan, New Orleans: Merely a Shell of What We Once Were.

“….We can all sleep better knowing that New Orleans is once again safe for the rowdy and the inebriated, the naked and the perverse. For a city that’s still struggling to crawl out from under the lingering devastation of Hell and high water, it now finds itself drowning in denial, which rapidly has become the most powerful of opiates for these huddled, thinned-out masses.”

Ray, we are not merely a shell of what we once were, even if half of the city’s buildings are. Carnival is not denial; for us it is life. The picture of the man dressed as a soiled baby president is part of (or a dedicated hanger on to) the Krewe of Saint Anne, one of the groups dedicated to elaborate costuming in Mardi Gras. The people who worked half the year on fantastic costumes in spite of the state of our city are no different than my wife soldiering through celebrating Christmas while her mother died. To suggest Mardi Gras is inappropriate would be tantamount to suggesting that commerce in New York be suspended for a few years because of 9-11. If that were to happen, what would be left of the city? Would what remains even be New York? The same is true for New Orleans: to cease to be ourselves would be to surrender, and we have not, will not give up.

For people like the Krewe of St. Anne and all of those you saw following them, Mardi Gras is not a denial but instead a celebration of who we are, of why we live here. It was an affirmation that we do live here, that we will live here, come hell or high water or both, in the way we have for close to three centuries. We not only had Mardi Gras this year, we had it last year, and we had it in 2006 — six months after the Federal Flood, when half of the city had no running water or telephones. We costumed and paraded and partied.

We’re glad the tourists are back, even the vomiting hordes of Spring Break in Hell types. We need their business. We need your business, and that of your readers. Tourism remains a top industry. We want you to come for Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, and we want you to take time out from those celebrations to see the rest of the city, the real city that stands in hollow, gray ruin not a mile from the Fairgrounds where Jazz Fest plays. We want America to know the one thing your story missed. We stand in ruin because we have been left to our own devices to rebuild. The money is all gone down the rat hole, parceled out to pay for fabulous no-bid contracts to Haliburton and their ilk for debris clean up and other tasks that followed the storm and flood. The money meant to help rebuild is tied up in Byzantine federal red tape. Little has actually reached the people who live here. And still they come home, maxing out their credit cards and cashing out their retirement and one-by-one rebuilding their houses and lives. We are doing it on our own because we just. Sinn Fein, baby.

They come home because they have tried life elsewhere in America when they had no choice but to leave, and they chose to come home. The come back because there is no place for a Krewe of St. Anne’s in Houston or Dallas or Atlanta or Memphis. They come home not for Bourbon Street but for the joie de vivre of the entire city, for the way of life which Bourbon Street caricatures for the tourists. The come because we have built a culture here over 300 years which is different than what the rest of America has, a life visitors don’t understand but are drawn to, which they come and sample with envy. A person may still be waiting — two-and-a-half years later — for a final insurance settlement or a check from the Road Home program, living in a camper trailer beside a home they are trying to rebuild themselves after a long day’s work elsewhere. They may be tired and beaten down, but they will have Carnival.

This is not denial. This is who we are. This is why you came, why the hordes on Bourbon Street came. This is why the floats rolled and the marching crews walked. They city may lay still half in ruin, but New Orleans is back because New Orleans is a people and a way of life. We have risked everything and spent every penny we have to be here because we will not let that way of life vanish from the earth, cannot imagine spending a life elsewhere, a life different from this.

See you at Jazz Fest.

Winter in New Orleans February 8, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, New Orleans, NOLA, poem, Poetry, Rebirth, Toulouse Street.
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Winter in New Orleans


Red Against Blue

The small azalea, potted
on my porch, draped
in wilted clippings ripped
from neighbors nearly killed
by that frost insists
on budding, perhaps mourning
the red ribbon removed
on Twelfth Night. Bloom
I whisper and chase
these winter blues away.

The Last Mardi Gras February 4, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Carnival, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, French Quarter, ghosts, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, Mardi Gras, Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans, NOLA, parade, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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As I did last year, I’m going to just re-post a piece I wrote in the fall of 2005 on Flood Street – Dispatches from an Imaginary Disaster, and then for Carnival 2006 and 2007 on Wet Bank Guide called The Last Mardi Gras.

If I don’t see you at St. Anne’s or on Frenchman, I’ll see you on the other side. As I once heard a Mardi Gras Indian chief say on WWOZ one Monday night in the long ago, “don’t be fallin’ outta yo’ house with no needle and thread in yo’ hand.”

The Last Mardi Gras

In this city, people talk incessantly of past pleasures and of those to come, even as they regard the meal or the drink or the parade in front of them. We live in a stream of memory as dark and deep and powerful as the river. Memory’s currents clutch at us and steer our lives, must be compensated for just as the ferry pilots must at every crossing, must be feared less they take us down into an eddy from which no body returns.

Some of my earliest memories are of Mardi Gras. I remember as a child of perhaps five seeing Indians dancing at the corner that might have been Galvez and Canal as we drove to my great aunts’ on Royal Street. Later that day or perhaps a year before or after, I can clearly recall watching Rex passing down Canal from atop my father’s shoulders. Half a life later, my girlfriend and I slouched outside a hall in Arabi in the lost hours before dawn on the night of MoM’s Ball, and a famous photographer took our picture. I’ve never seen this photograph, but I will go to my grave easier knowing that years from now, on a wall or in a book, someone will see us in our motley glory, dissolute and unrepentant and utterly glorious in the moment. They will see us and say: this is what Mardi Gras was like back then.

Twenty years separate those moments, and another twenty separate that MoM’s Ball from the first postdiluvian Carnival. For all that span of years and a century before, Mardi Gras has been as reliable as high water. No one really needed to tell me there would be a Mardi Gras this year as there has been every year in my living memory, and as I am certain there will be a Mardi Gras when no one remembers what it meant to sit on the lawn of the Wildlife and Fisheries building of a certain winter Tuesday. No disaster leaving behind life more complex than the cockroach could prevent it.

Just as certain, at some point of during Tuesday;s twilight people will begin to talk of about last Mardi Gras, and of the Mardi Gras to come with the certainty of the sanctified they are most certainly not. The last time in living memory Carnival was interrupted was during World War II. Frankly, I don’t understand why. The soldiers and sailors on leave wandering Perdido Street drunkly in search of women wouldn’t have been harmed by the tableaux of paper maiche floats lit by the dripping oil burners of the flambeau. Carnival was probably canceled by somebody from the wrong side of Canal Street, whose father before him decided Storyville had to be closed to protect the doughboys of World War One from dissipation. There always a Do-Good Daddy looking to tone the city down.

I don’t think anyone with the city in their heart understood the cancellations, but I’m sure those generations accepted those losses the way we accept the closing of a favorite restaurant: by finding a new and equally good one to sit in and eat and drink and discuss the loss of the old favorite, remembering what we ate on such a date and with whom. Until, of course, we discuss where the owner or the cook of the failed place is expected to return, and start to anticipate the day we will sit at that as yet unset table, and remember what we ate on such a date and with whom.

Of course there will be a Mardi Gras. I might need to ask which krewes would roll on what nights, to inquire of friends where the MoM’s Ball might be. But no one needed to tell me that Mardi Gras would happen, especially the one hidden inside private parties in bars or in courtyards, punctuated by forays out into the streets to parade. The year the police went on strike and the parades all fled to the suburbs and the Mardi Gras of the hoteliers and the airlines was canceled, we dutifully assembled at the Wildlife and Fisheries Building on Fat Tuesday.

Suspicious National Guardsmen and out-of-state troopers warily regarded the ragged parade of the early intoxicated, smelling of burnt leaves and breakfast screwdrivers, dressed in ways only the part-time preachers among them could have imagined, and then only in a place warmer than the city in February. We were not about to let a simple thing like a police strike spoil the party. Several among us dressed as the National Guard in uniforms from the surplus stores in Gentilly, armed with perfect replica rifles by Mattel. When we went to buy wine and beer at the Walgreen’s on Canal, and our friends burst into the door yelling “secure the beer cooler,” clerks fell to the floor in fright, fearing perhaps that the Guard had had enough, and were about to shut down carnival.

I fled the city a few years later, and did not return for Mardi Gras once for almost two decades. The few Mardi Gras that followed the police strike were colored by my reasons for leaving the city, memories rent by heartache and drowned in drink. Those last few years did not yield the stories I would tell my children if they fed me too much wine at some holiday dinner years from now. For many years, the police strike was the Last Mardi Gras. My children, a boy ten and a girl fourteen, grew up knowing Mardi Gras through the Disney film fairy tale filter of the stories I dared to tell them, from the magazine that came with the king cake from Ma Mere every year, in the music I played them from Twelfth Night until the day. We ate jambalaya and king cake, and donned masks and beads to dance wildly to Mardi Gras Vol. 1 in front of the large plate glass window of our home in a small Midwestern town. Neighbors across the street peered through their curtains intermittently at the scene, but no one ever worked up the courage to ask us what we were doing.

I have taken my family to New Orleans. The kids had sneezed powdered sugar all over each other at the Cafe du Monde, fondled baby alligators on flat boats out of Barataria, had learned to eat seafood and gumbo and jambalaya, had even wandered with me through Storyland in City Park. I took them to the exhibit at the Cabildo to learn about Mardi Gras. It’s a wonderful set piece but, like a high school health film on sex, it is not quite the same as the actual experience.

So we piled onto an airplane bound for New Orleans the year before the Flood, and went to Mardi Gras. I took them to St. Charles and Napoleon, and my son waved his deftly caught spear with complete abandon. My daughter was bashful about begging trinkets from strangers in a strange land, until I flung myself stone cold sober on my knees in the middle of the Avenue and begged as loudly as I could for a female horse posse rider to give me a purple, green and gold flower for my daughter on her first Mardi Gras. After that, she got the idea. No pretty girl on St. Charles Avenue should go home without her weight in beads. She only needed to ask.

We stood for hours all weekend, parade after parade, never tiring of it, interrupted only by a friend’s party Endymion party on Saturday night. After Endymion, I left them with Ma Mere and set out after midnight to return to the MoM’s ball for the first time in two decades. MoM’s had always been one of my favorite things about Mardi Gras, a gathering of all who chose to live in the fabric of Mardi Gras and not just inhabit a costume for a few hours, a party only the resolutely dissolute can enjoy, or survive. MoM’s is what I hope Saturday night in Hell will be like, should I find myself stuck there between planes. But thousands in a shed did not hold up to the memories of hundreds in a hall in Arabi decades before. I don’t know if I will return to MoM’s, preferring this one true memory of carnival’s past. And then I can say well, I don’t go anymore, you know, but back when…

I agonized for weeks and months before we went: should I take the children to the Quarter on Mardi Gras Day, or back to St. Charles? As I child, I spent most Mardi Gras at my great aunt’s apartment on Royal Street, now the Hove’ Parfumier. I decided they should have a glimpse of the secret heart of Mardi Gras, or as least as much as they could handle. So we rose up early on the day, donned our costumes, and boarded a cab bound for Frenchman Street. We waited endlessly across from the R-Bar for St. Anne’s, not knowing those marchers had chosen another route. Facing a rebellion, we took off and made our own way up Royal, stopping to sit a moment on Tante Gert and Sadie’s stoop, making Canal just in time for Zulu.

After Rex, I left them in my sister’s care for the endless truck floats, and retired to friend’s places in the Quarter. I stopped briefly in the Abbey, a place that had never been the same since Betz sold it. Instead of the usual motley crew of bikers or transvestites or other folk I had often encountered on past trips home, I found it full of drunken twenty somethings who looked frighteningly like the crowd I remember from my own days, as if the Abbey were haunted for the night by the spirits of the place of my memories. I bought a round of snakebites for a familiar seeming couple and then the currents swept me back to Frenchman Street, a mad Green Man second lining with a huge palm tree totem given to me be someone who knew just how to complete my costume.

Now I have a new last Mardi Gras. We are coming back to the city to stay, to march again and again, so that there is no longer a Last Mardi Gras, just the last Mardi Gras. I will march until my time is done, and then I will borrow a ritual from St. Anne’s, in this city of borrowed rituals. I will have my children scatter what remains of me into the river on Fat Tuesday. For me, it will be the Last Mardi Gras. For them, it will simply be a moment from last Mardi Gras. They will say a few words, shed a tear, and then all of us will be swept away by the currents. They will turn away from the river, while nearby a drunken trumpeter will perhaps blow a few bars of Oh Didn’t He Ramble, and I will march in their hearts back into the Quarter once more.

Samedi Gras February 2, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Carnival, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Mardi Gras, Mid-City, New Orleans, Rebirth, Recovery, Toulouse Street.
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I took a stroll up and down Orleans with the camera running. My wife and son are sick as dogs so the long anticipated Begindymion Bachanal will have to wait for another year. For now, I’m just wandering the neighborhood and enjoying the scene.

Burn your t-shirt February 1, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Carnival, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Radiators, Rebirth, Recovery, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Has it really been thirty years since the Radiators first took the stage? Me, I go back to my time at UNO in the late 1970s–when the Driftwood newspaper staff had a firm claim on the center table in front of the gas log at Luigi’s every Wednesday night–and as far back as the Rhaps before that.

Sadly, I missed the 30th Anniversary shows at Tipitina’s due to the below mentioned funeral and sickness all around, and won’t make MoM’s Ball. As I’ve written before, I rather prefer the memory of s smaller MoM’s with primarily the Lakefront crowd back in the day to the current version, but that means I’ll miss seeing these guys again.

As we finally crawl out of the hole of funeral, sickness, etc. and get ready to finally start Mardi Gras (better late than never) with tonight’s parades and Samadi Gras up the block tomorrow here’s a bit of the Rads from ’91. May their fire never go out.

Update: I decided I needed more a a fix than I could get off of You Tube or the records I had (well, tapes mostly). I force marched past the Divine Protectors of Endangered Ladies (sorry, y’all) to Louisiana Music Factory, where I found Work Done on Premises (the Rads first, self-produced recording captured live at Tips many moons ago) on CD. Talk about a traveller in time…

Legalized Vandalism and Vigilantism in New Orleans January 21, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Citizen Journalism, Debrisville, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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What a mean spirited little golum is this Fred Radtke? A vigilante who dashes gray paint over public and private property wherever he spots graffiti or advertising posters, who is allowed to roam the streets with impunity and deface public and private property at whim, sometimes covering public safety signs (stop signs, for example) in his demented quest to cover all of the city’s graffiti.

An interesting turn of urban life is all it was, until Radtke took off after folk artist Michael Dingler and his NOLA Rising project. Today’s Citibusiness weekly reports that Radtke initiated a complaint and resulted in Dingler be charged with 1,100 counts of unlawfully posting signs on telephone poles that could cost him more than $50,000 in fines.

Dingler explains his act of civic art making on the NOLA Rising blog in a June 2007 posting. This is a public art installation, not criminal activity. Sadly, the N.O.P.D. seems to agree with Radtke, who’s own clearl acts of vandalism of public and private property they condone and even encourage.

The New Orleans Police Department, however, condones Radtke’s actions. NOPD often calls him directly to cover graffiti and spokesman Sgt. Joe Narcisse said they have no intention of charging Radtke with any crimes.

Here’s an interesting response from street artist unknownparts which found on Flickr.

radtke.jpg

I can’t believe that the city has given tens of thousands of dollars to some mean-spirited freak so he can spread his own form of ugly paint-based vandalism all over public and private property at his own whim. I have no problem with the city removing or covering obvious gang tags. However, by going after street artists like the NOLA Rising group or even unknownparts and his sort–artists who appropriate public space for what is arguably art–Radtke is no different than the tagger thugs.

This is insane. I just fired of a letter to my City Council Person Shelly Midura demanding Radtke be required to return the tens of thousands of city tax dollars he’s been given, that all charges against Dingler be dropped, and that the N.O.P.D officers who colluded in Radtke’s vendetta against Dingler should be required to apologize, if not in fact be fired for their collusion in Radkte’s own campaign of vandalism.

What NOLA Rising has done is a tremendous work of civic betterment, one tiny poster at a time, contributed to by tens if not hundreds of people. It is a bright spot in the gray landscape of our continuing disaster, a landscape not improved one bit by Radtke’s own gray tags. It is not Dingler that should be stopped and punished but Radtke, and everyone in city government–in City Hall or the N.O.P.D–who has supported him

Coming to Take You Away January 19, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Carnival, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, French Quarter, Krewe du Vieux, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, Rebirth, Remember, Toulouse Street.
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The Magical Misery Tour is coming to take you away (coming to take you awaaayyy….). Perhaps, once you’ve seen us all out on the streets, you’ll think they should be coming to take us away. No matter. It’s time for the Krewe du Vieux to once again stain the shiny, Sidney-Torres washed streets of New Orleans and once again diminish the city’s magical brand as They City That Forgot to Care.

Our King is Ronald W. Lewis of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans: Director, House of Dance & Feathers and President, Big 9 Social Aid & Pleasure Club.

The secret sub-subKrewe of B.L.O.G.* will once again celebrate by getting notoriously drunk and failing to each other at the ball. Our featured drink will be Absinthe. As the self-appointed captain of this nearly non-existant group, I proclaim Bec our Queen, since I’m so pickled she’s going to make it and march. Not as pickled, however, as I will be later tonight. My personal theme this year is Getting L.H. Really Drunk and Taking Embarrassing Pictures I Can Use To Advance My Career at the Bank. My costume is titled: Oh! Wendy? but only someone who thinks Capitol when they hear “hill” will figure out how the hell it fits into the Seeds of Decline’s theme of Fools on the Hill.

Don’t forget the new start time–6:30 PM–and the new route. route08.gif

And don’t forget the Krewe du Vieux Doo, at 2121 Chartres St., featuring 101 Runners (Mardi Gras Indian Funk), Juice with Special Guest J.D. Hill, Honey Island Swamp Band, and Late Night Trip by Quintron and Miss cat (whatever that is). Tickets are advance sale only at:

  • Mardi Gras Zone: 2706 Royal Street
  • Louisiana Music Factory: 210 Decatur Street
  • Up In Smoke: 4507 Magazine Street
  • Miss Claudia’s Vintage Clothing and Costumes
  • *B.L.O.G. is the Benevolent and Order of the Garrulous.

Space is the Place January 18, 2008

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, home, Hurricane Katrina, New Orelans, New Orleans, NOLA, poem, Poetry, quotes, Rebirth, Remember, Sinn Fein, Sun Ra, Toulouse Street, Uncategorized, We Are Not OK.
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Space is the Place

“The first thing to do
is to consider time
officially as ended.
We work on the other side
of time”
— Sun Ra

I want to march like Sun-Ra
in glittering alien threads
into an Oakland pool-hall
and declare our intention to embark.

New Orleans, as ruined as the pyramids,
rising up majestic in the air
on howling trombone notes of joy
to launch another crescent in the sky.

The sun will strike us colorblind
once we’re beyond the atmosphere.
We’ll cast the last debris off over Kansas
and shower them a carnival of stars.

Together like stranded astronauts
who’ve exhausted the last of our air,
we’ll lift off the mask at last
and dare to breath together.

We’ll claim our place at last
in the ancient parade of zodiac
where Bayou Andromeda
brushes up against the Milky Way

Cross-posted from Poems Before Breakfast.

Stringing up dozens January 13, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Carnival, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, French Quarter, Mardi Gras, Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, Uncategorized.
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In a world where all of our holidays come cleverly packaged on the shelves–Christmas trees with embedded lights decked and holiday cookies ready-made at the local grocery’s bakery–most people no longer have the simple traditions long ago. I once cut my own tree, wading through a foot of Minnesota snow at 20 degrees to do it, but I can’t say I’ve ever strung up popcorn. Holidays like Halloween are much the same. Our children’s costumes come in plastic bags and no one dares put out a homemade treat since we now another parents will just dump it in the garbage.

Mardi Gras is one place where the handmade is still valued. Yes, the parade floats are largely mass-produced and much recycled by a handful of shops, the stores are full of kitschy decorations and of course there will be lots of people roaming St. Charles Avenue and the French Quarter in costumes from some store named The Party Pit. That is part of Carnival, but not the heart of Carnival.

On the big day, hundreds of African-American men and women will step out of their houses in costumes like these. The Societé de Sainte Anne and all of the other small marching groups will step out in elaborate costumes made by hand, either by themselves or by seamstresses. My own costume for Krewe du Vieux is still forming up, but it’s fairly simply and mostly conceptual. I may find it easier in a busy life to dress my son store-bought, but I’ve always tried to assemble my own costumes. I don’t got to the lengths of Danger Blonde, who yearly makes custom beaded-object throws and fabulous bustiers for the Divine Protectors of Endangered Pleasures, but if you’re going to dress you might as well be do it right. Every year around this time, I head in my head the admonishment of one of the Mardi Gras Indian chiefs being interviewed on WWOZ sometime back in the 1980s: Don’t be fallin’ out of your house with no needle an’ thread in your hand. I wish to hell I knew who had said that, but it’s stuck with me forever.

One thing we must do every year at our house is collect all of the caught beads we’ve saved up (and my son and I are dogged parade goers, working the neutral ground from morning to night all the week-ends before Carnival), and begin the slow process of untangling, matching up by size, and making up new dozens to toss back out when we march through Marigny and the Quarter.

Stringing up dozens is one of those tasks like cleaning out the attic that is often is slowed down by “remember when” moments (wasn’t Chaos funny last year? Remember the guy we saw….), as well as interrupted by comedy: finding that whoopee cushion, or the little foam rockets you can launch with a rubber band on the tip that turns our bead stringing party into a temporary war zone.

My son groaned this year when I told him it was time to string up the beads into dozens. He would rather hang out with a friend and play his WII. For him, Carnival is mostly new. I am a native with thirty years of Carnival under my belt before we came back to New Orleans in 2006, but this is really only his third year and his second as an Orleanian. It was not, for him, a tradition but a chore like cleaning up his room: until we got started, and found the whoopie cushions and rockets.

As long as I have legs to march I will look forward to stringing up the dozens, especially the few years I have left before my 12-year old boy is either too damn busy to help (like his socially swirling 15 year old sister) or gone from the house. For me, it is not the arrival of King Cakes in the stores (and most places were putting them out with red and green sugar in December), or the first time I open the paper and it falls open to the débutante pictures of Krewe’s ball, or even taking down the Christmas decorations with Mardi Gras Vol. 1 blaring on Twelfth Night. Carnival begins at the Folse house when I start to haul in and down the bags of tangled baubles and dump them out onto the table, and we closed the circle that connects the last Mardi Gras to this year’s Carnival, one string at a time.

We Remember You January 12, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Debrisville, Helen Hill, je me souviens, New Orleans, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember.
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As I check my blog statistics (visitors, links in, search terms, that sort of thing) late last night, I started to notice people who had come here searching for individuals by name and finding them in the list below.

I don’t want to invade what was almost certainly a private moment of grief by listing them, but I want to say to everyone who came here searching for one of the murder victims in New Orleans, (even if they have come and gone and will never stop by again), or to anyone else who comes here because you found your loved one in the list below: we remember, we remember them all.

Last year, 4,000 Orleanians marched. This year around 40 people stopped by City Hall to hear the speakers–Nakita Shavers, sister of slain drummer and music educator Dinerral Shaves; the brother of slain filmmaker Helen Hill; Ken Foster and Baty Ladis–founders of Silence is Violence.

No, we were not 4,000 yesterday; only 40. But we are tired. All of those terrible but apt marketing slogans, the things we don’t say ourselves–Big Easy, The City That Care Forget–may have once been apt but no longer apply to life here in Debrisville. By the time I’m done arguing with my wife over the latest Sewage & Water Board bill and hauling my children all over town because there are no school buses for the charter schools or waiting for the plumber to come unclog our pipes again because god-only-know-what has backwashed up out of our monstrous sewers, there’s simply few hours left in the day and little energy. Maitri is right: we are all tired.

Forty people standing at City Hall is not enough, but it is a start. Decades ago in my own radical youth I was talking to a Trotskyist about the candidates the Socialist Workers’ Party had run for city office. They had managed several hundred votes and were excited. If I had 400 dedicated comrades, he told me (and he actually used that term), we could begin the revolution tomorrow. Yeah, good luck with that. Still, there was a kernel of truth in what he said. What I learned yesterday on the steps of city hall was there: there is a core of people committed to making this city better, safer.

Those people have not forgotten. Organizer Ken Foster summed it up well: He didn’t know Shavers or Hill personally, he told us. “To survive as a community, we can’t wait until things become personal to us,” the T-P quoted him, and he is right. There is a nucleus of people who care, but if we’re going to make the revolution we need not those 40 or my old comrade’s 400. We need the 4,000 committed and ready, we need 40,000 who will watch the streets and not be afraid to testify, we need 400,000 to stand up and say: enough.

We are not there yet, but the lesson of yesterday’s recital of the names listed below and press conference is this: we have not forgotten. We remember. The Times-Picayune is wrong: this is not just about the high profile cases. We have not surrendered. It may not be enough, not yet, but it is a beginning.

Je me souviens. We remember.

P.S. Hat tip to the bloggers who also came to City Hall and those who also wrote about this on the anniversay: Bart of B.Rox who was a friend of Helen Hill’s, Leigh of Liprap’s Lament, Karen of Northwest Carrollton and Squandered Heritage. Bart and Karen are two warriors in the last battle of New Orleans. Also Maitri and Peter and Ashley and Morwen of Gentilly for remembering. Can’t everybody get off work for stuff like this. I should also mention Brian Denzer, another selfless spear carrier in this campaign, for his work on so many fronts including the New Orleans Citizen’s Crime Watch map site.

Silence is Violence Remembers January 11, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, Crime, Debrisville, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, We Are Not OK.
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Update: Not a day passes that this page isn’t visited by someone searching for the name of a person on the list below. As I suggested here in a more recent post, if you knew one of these people I encourage you to take a minute and leave a memorial comment. Be a part of the dialogue of remembrance.

Silence is Violence will mark the one-year anniversary of the New Orleans March on Crime with a press conference at noon today, Jan. 11 2008, on the steps of City Hall, and an evening concert at the Howlin’ Wolf.

Blogger md filter (formerly da po boy), who tracks issues around crime, lists those who died in needlessly in violence in 2007. The list is below.

Remember. Silence is Violence.

Corey Hayes
Cedric Johnson
Hilary Campbell Jr.
Randall Thomas
Kevin Williams
Helen Hill
Jealina Brown
Steve Blair
Jeffery Santos
Chivas Doyle
Christopher Ruth
Tyrone Andrew Johnson
Ronald Holmes
James McGittigan Jr.
Roy Warner Jr.
Eldon Gaddis
David Crater
Daniel Allen
Chrishondolaye Lamothe
Tamara Gabriel
Robert Dawson
Michael Dunbar
Damon Brooks
Ivan Brooks
Alden Wright
Harrison Miller
Roy Grant
David Cagnalatti
Lionel Ware III
Aaron Allen
Josh Rodrigue
Herbert Preston
Byron Love
Ronnie Keelen
Mitchell Pierce
Kevin Pham
Kevana Price
Warren Thompson
Glynn Francois Jr.
Sean Robinson
Larry Ramee III
Warren Simpson
Antoine Williams
Terry Despenza
Eldridge Ellis
Travis Johnson
Phillip R. Boykins
Charley Zeno
Carl Anthony McLendon
Terry Brock
Cleveland Daniels
Alexander Williams
Terry Hall
Dominic Bell
Gregory Singleton
Damont Jenkins
Troy Thomas
Artherine Williams
Keith Moore
Nicholas Smith
Eligio Bismark Espinoza
Daniel L. Prieto
Curtis Helms Jr.
Troy Dent
Curtis Brenson
Michael Combs
Jay Landers
Mark Oneal
Corey Coleman
Emanuel Gardner
Edward Charles Balser
Arthur Dowell
Montrell Faulkin
Anthony Placide
Ernest Williams
Harry Heinzt Jr.
Robert Billiot
Willie Simmons
Tammie Johnson
Larry Hawkins
Terrell Ceazer
George Hammond
Persale R. Green
Joseph Magee
Albert Phillips
Samuel Gonzales
Darryl Williams
Robin Malta
Jason Wynne
Jerrell Jackson
Christopher Roberts
Samuel Williams Jr.
Jeremy Tillman
Jennifer Williams
Gary Walls
Arthur Jackson IV
Henry Newman
Johnny Martin III
Travan Coates
Jeffery Tate
Jerome Banks
Eric Fobbs
Keith Page
Adrian Davis
Paul Burks
Leon Williams Jr.
Dallas Jerome
James Johnson
Anthony White
Dellshea LeBlanc
John W. Barrow III
Kevin Underwood
Pablo Mejia Jr.
unidentified man
Thomas Jackson
unidentified man
Demond Phillips
Michael Phillips
Luong Nguyen
Anjelique Vu
Terry Johnson
Chauncy Smith
Cornelius Curry
Nia Robertson
Kadeem Wise
Percy Read
Freddie Davis II
Edwin Stuart
Corwin Shaffer
Julio Benitez-Cruz
Wilford Holmes
Perry L. Oliver
Donald Gullage
Kong Kham Vongvilay
Wisan Inthamat
Boon Roopmoh
Louis Heim
Brandon Snowton
Carnell Wallis
Thomas Dominick
Larry Gooden
Gerald Howard
Larry Butler Jr.
Phillip A. Carmouche Jr.
unidentified man
Aaron Harvey
Mario Anthony Green
Jason Snyder
Perry Watts
Lionel J. Hills
Warren Martin
Dwayne Landry
Don Smith
Demetrius Gooden
Townsend Bennett
unidentified man
Thelonius Dukes
Gregory Hayes
Charles Miller
Eddie Bernard
unidentified man
Carmen Leona Reese
Cedrick Brooks
Waldon Howard
unidentified man
Antwon McGee
Jason Anderson
Archie Solet
Shana Thomas
Brian Lee
David Bryan Alford Jr.
Brett Jason Jacobs
Howard Pickens
Darryl Daggons
Matthew Qualls
Aubrey Powell
John Batiste
Toran Landry
Anthony Walker
Lester Denis
Cardero Davis
Javier Sanchez
Julian Mathins
Theodore J. Leach
Daniel Baham
Jubbar Scott
Tyrone Lanaux Jr.
Andre Toussaint
Eddie Spiller
Carlos Miller
Sheldon Dean
Rigoberto Dominguez
Angela Thomas Bryant
Brandon Brown
Jermaine Turner
Alejandro Pecina Ruiz
George Hankton III
Aaron Williams
Frank Whittington
unidentified person
Jesse Jones
Chanell Sanchell
James Jones
Wendell Millro
Elizabeth Chapman
Clayton Johnson Jr.

You’re In Bad Hands with Allstate January 8, 2008

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Hurricane Katrina, New Orelans, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Welcome to New Orleans, courtesy of the ongoing criminal enterprise that is sponsoring the Sugar Bowl and BCS champsionship game. Watch the lovely pre-game d cememonies, the sanctimonious adds on the diamondtron I endured at last year’s Sugar Bowl. Try to tell yourself, America, that if you’ve been gullible enough to fork over tens of thousands of dollars to Allstate that they won’t cheat you out of any settlement should you dare to file a claim. Good luck with that. Just ask Michael Homan. Here on the Hurricane Coast, we know better.

They have systematically tried to cheat their way out of paying out fair claims to Gulf Coast victims, and made record profits in the year of Katrina. They stand accused of systematically falsified engineering reports to cheat their customers and bilking the Federal government out (that’s you, Mr. and Mrs. You-Think-You’re-In-Good-Hands) out of millions. They have made their business model denial of claims. You pay them; they don’t pay you. They are not businessmen. They are racketeers. They are criminal scum. If you work for Allstate, you are scum. You are no less a predator than the drug dealers in central city.

Next year I propose we dispense with the niceties, and simply have the Medellin Drug Cartel Sugar Bowl.

Better yet, let’s make sure that next year, their is no more Allstate. As I proposed last May:

…consider this: Allstate proudly lists $157 Billion in assets. They’ve already lost one $2.8 million judgement based on one of their fradulent “engineering” reports. We could build a lot of levees and houses with $157 Billion. All we need is an attorney general with some balls…

Xmas in Hell (aka You Tube) December 13, 2007

Posted by The Typist in Bloggers, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, New Orelans, New Orleans, NOLA, parody, Xmas.
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I didn’t want to have to do this. They made me do it. It’s all their fault.

There, you’ve gone and ruined Xmas for all the little kiddies. I hope you’re satisfied.

Mr. Bingle December 2, 2007

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, New Orelans, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Thanks to the New Orleans Radio Theater website of local broadcast memorabilia for this snapshot of of our long-ago childhoods.bingle3.jpg Picture are Al Shea, a stalwart of Golden Era local television, along with Mr. Bingle and Pete the Penguin. The website tells us Shea was the voice of the Penguin, while the Mr. Bingle fan site tells us that Edwin Harmon “Oscar” Isentrout was the voice and puppeteer behind Mr. Bingle

Mr. Bingle was the star of an extended advertisement for the long-departed Maison Blanch department store chain which ran on late afternoon television back in the early 1960s. Those of us of a certain, late-Baby-Boomer age remember Mr. Bingle as one of the touch points of Christmas in New Orleans. In addition to the television show, Mr. Bingle was the start of the store windows at the Canal Street store.

Here’s a scratchy but listenable audio-only recording of an long ago Xmas Eve broadcast of the Mr. Bingle show.

Where I want to be November 19, 2007

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, New Orelans, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Hail Atlantis

Fellini’s beached monster November 16, 2007

Posted by The Typist in Debrisville, New Orelans, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Toulouse Street.
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Sometimes at night the darkness and silence weighs on me. Peace frightens me. Perhaps I fear it most of all. I feel it’s only a facade, hiding the face of hell. I think of what’s in store for my children tomorrow; “The world will be wonderful”, they say; but from whose viewpoint? We need to live in a state of suspended animation, like a work of art; in a state of enchantment… detached. Detached.
— Divine Comedy The Certainty of Chance Lyrics
as a speech by Steiner in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita

No, I am not about to violently snap, like Steiner in La Dolce Vita. The speech always struck my differently, perhaps the way it struck Marcello in the film before the tragic murder-suicide, not as advice but as a framing for a life in a seemingly pointless universe. Isn’t that the way Marcello chooses to live in the end, almost in a state of suspended animation?

I have always found a strange sort of solace in what others might find depressing. I do not seek the peace which passeth understanding, except perhaps in despair as one might seek solace in drink or in death. Satori seems tempting, but strikes me as ultimately dehumanizing. I am not ready to surrender up my self and my suffering for an empty bliss. Instead I need to learn to survive in this world where the first noble truth is inscribed like scar tissue somewhere deep beneath the skin.

Here in the original land of misfit toys we call New Orleans we need to find the truth hidden in Dante’s speech as filtered through Fellini’s Steiner, not as Marcello did by embracing the emptiness but in our own way; not precisely in a state of suspended animation but instead isolated from the sterility of late American culture; by defining our own space, “like a work of art; in a state of enchantment…. detached”; defining our own fourth noble truth, our own Way of celebrating through the darkness that leads us to the light; leads us not to Fellini’s monster on the beach, but to the innocence of the girl on the strand.

We must not detach from our world, but from theirs, must insistently be ourselves at whatever cost.

Another milestone on the long and winding road home November 13, 2007

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Debrisville, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Hat tip to local blogger and street car fan mysticknyght.

Still waiting, still dreaming… November 11, 2007

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, Katrina, New Orelans, New Orleans, Rebirth, Recovery, Sinn Fein, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Since all of the tickets for the Theater of Harlem’s outdoor production of Waiting for Godot were long gone by the time we arrived, we decided not to wait around under the tree at Pratt and Robert E. Lee and debate, but instead withdrew for more drinks, starting back on the porch at Chez Folse and ending at the Circle Bar for Gal Holliday.

I heard (from someone who asked last night) that there would be no Sunday show added as they did last weekend. So tonight instead of seeing Becket’s play, I am–after a prolonged episode of absurdest, existential angst in my friend’s club level seats at the Dome–reduced to watching bits of video.

I had read the script through online during a business trip this week. There is something essential in it to the current experience of so many in New Orleans, the discovery that we are not suffering from post traumatic stress disorder because we are not past the thing but instead in the very midst of it, in a landscape and a plot as bleak and confusing as Beckett’s, on a road of dubious prospects in a landscape swept clear of familiar geography and of hope, no prospect that over a hill or beyond a wood there is something different, something better.

Nothing to be done.

And yet we came in the hundreds last night, into the thousands, turning our back on the well-lit streets of the sliver by the river, forgoing the restaurants of Magazine and the lively nightclubs of Frenchman to try to sit through this difficult work, a comedy as black as the streets were for months in this part of town, as dark as the picture windows remain in so many of the empty brick boxes that line the streets. We came because all of us are so like these characters, lost in a landscape from which familiar references have been erased, clinging to the one thing that keeps us all from dropping over the brink: each other. We know Godot will not save us, that the Pollo’s of the world care not a whit for the outcome.

The careful fictions we have erected like pyramids in this country were all swept away by the flood, were taken from us as cataclysms of the Twentieth Century destroyed the illusions for Beckett’s generation. We have peered into the abyss, an abyss where many waded or swam in desperation and too many drowned, while the newsreaders stood puzzled on dry streets and the relief trucks stopped at the edge of town, waiting for word that it was safe to come, waiting for instructions from Godot. We were not simply ignored or abandoned by America. Instead we tasted the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, and were driven out of the garden of mass marketing, ashamed of our nakedness. We have peered into that abyss and come away filled with uncertainly and angst, equally incapable of trust in god or government. What is left? What reason is there to live here, to live at all?

And still we come home, even as we came to see Godot. The ticket rules changed without announcement, more turned away than admitted, we left the site of the play not confused but affirmed in the life we have found here. We left that open air stage, but we can no more leave this place, this city than these characters can hang themselves: not because we are incapable, but instead because it is beyond our human nature to surrender this life we call New Orleans. Perhaps Godot will come. Just as likely he will not. All we can be certain of us ourselves: Sinn Fein. In the end, however bleak the scene, we will not give up hope.

VLADIMIR:
Well? Shall we go?
ESTRAGON:
Yes, let’s go.

    They do not move.

Deja vodoo over Tabasco November 9, 2007

Posted by The Typist in Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, Hurricane Katrina, Katrina, New Orelans, New Orleans, Tabasco, Toulouse Street.
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If you know my story of homecoming and how and why it happened, you will understand why this quote from Root Coffee’s blog, talking about the massive flood in Tabasco in Mexico, gives me (and Ray) shivers:

My husband means well when he tells me I should get some sleep and gather strength to keep helping tomorrow; but the anguish eats at me, I can’t feel comfortable, it’s my hometown, my people, the place I grew up in, I can’t just let it go.

You will understand why I will be here tomorrow night, to hear these words:

VLADIMIR:
…So there you are again.
ESTRAGON:
Am I?
VLADIMIR:
I’m glad to see you back. I thought you were gone forever.
ESTRAGON:
Me too.

Meanwhile, donate to Tabasco relief.

And never forget, never surrender. We can all rest in the grave.

New Orleans students take on Corps of Engineers November 7, 2007

Posted by The Typist in 8-29, Corps of Engineers, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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If you have a You Tube account/login, please visit this video’s page and vote for and favorite this video produced by New Orleans school children in support of an 8-29 commission:

Hey, Mr. Blakely: I found your cranes October 20, 2007

Posted by The Typist in Cranes, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Katrina, New Orelans, New Orleans, New York, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Cranes Over Ground Zero

I found them towering over Ground Zero, what our esteemed mayor once referred to as “a big hole in the ground”.

think only this of me September 28, 2007

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Everette Maddox, New Orelans, New Orleans, NOLA, poem, Poetry, quotes, We Are Not OK.
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…Oh if this moment
should indeed prove
to be the corner
I’ve spent 35 years
painting myself into

think only this of me

That one more cheap camera
has shattered
against the world’s beauty.

— Everette Maddox

Shelton Alexander–When the Levees Broke September 28, 2007

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, Hurricane Katrina, Katrina, New Orelans, New Orleans, poem, Poetry, Rebirth, Recovery, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Update: I talked to Shelton via MySpace mail and he has no idea who put this up or why it was taken down. Sorry.

Ground truth has a face. It is Shelton Alexander’s.

I have found a new version. It’s a crappy capture but it’s Alexander’s interview and the entire speech.

I told you I would be here.
It was important that I came.

Damn.o

For New Orleans September 21, 2007

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Debrisville, Everette Maddox, New Orleans, NOLA, poem, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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Another Everette Maddox poem for and about the city:

New Orleans

for Ralph Adamo

From the air it’s all puddles:
a blue-green frog town
on lily pads. More canals
than Amsterdam. You don’t
land — you sink. When
we met, you, the Native, shook
your head. Sweat dropped
on the bar. You said:
“You’re sunk. You won’t
write a line. You won’t make
a nickel. You won’t hit
a lick at a snake in this
antebellum sauna-bath. You
won’t shit in the morning if
you don’t wake up with
your pants down.” And you
were right: Three years later
I’m in it up to my eyebrows,
stalled like a streetcar.
My life is under the bed
with the beer bottles.
I’ll never write another line
for anything but love
in this city where steam
rises off the street after
a rain like bosoms heaving.

Complicated Life September 16, 2007

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, French Quarter, New Orleans, NOLA.
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As my own swirls life madly out of control and into what a acquaintance who moved from professional musician to corporate citizen once called The Swirling Vortex, it’s time to stop and listen to some fine advice for everyone who lives in New Orleans, or wishes they did: remember why we’re here.

Damn, that felt good, now, didn’t it? Go ahead, play it again. Or better yet, click on the Share This link and give this video five stars now to show your appreciation.

Here’s some info from the You Tube posting:

Filmed in mid-2005, this is a glimpse into life on the French Quarter’s lower Decatur Street before Hurricane Katrina.

Originally written by Ray Davies of the Kinks, this track is performed by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band featuring Clint Maedgen on vocals with a guest appearance by the New Orleans Bingo! Show in the video.

http://www.myspace.com/preservationhall
http://www.myspace.com/clintmaedgen9
http://www.myspace.com/thebingoshow

My Name Is New Orleans July 7, 2007

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, New Orleans, NOLA, Poetry, Rebirth.
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Thank you to a blogger I just found, Hoodoonola, for finding this.

Its after the end of the world May 26, 2007

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, Hurricane Katrina, Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Sun Ra, Toulouse Street.
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It’s after the end of the world.
Don’t you know that yet?

— Sun Ra

Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue May 26, 2007

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Jazz, New Orleans, NOLA, Odds&Sods, Toulouse Street.
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I forget what this weekend is about: some sort of compulsory festivity organized by the central government. They don’t care about us. Why should we care about them? Build me a fucking levee, pay my neighbors what you owe them and maybe I’ll care again. Until then…

Join us instead for the Virtual Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue.