An Imaginary Genocide The Cause of Which Is Unsupported by Fiat by Any Government Funded Science, or Your Tax Dollars At Work February 17, 2016Posted by The Typist in fuckmook, FYYFF, je me souviens, New Orleans, postdiluvian, The Dead, The End, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.
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And so the end begins, a slow-motion genocide as a byproduct of The American Way and Dream, swallowed by Moloch the infant-feasting god of Capital, a land poured into the tank of your SUV, a people’s way of life devoured to supply you with an endless supply of plastic-wrapped things.
And I chose that word carefully, and mean it.
The individuals will mostly survive. nly the multiple, unique, World Heritage cultures of the place will be diluted until untastable. Their children will be assimilated and the great machine will move along, consuming them in the more convention ways. Except of course the very old who cannot manage the transition, as they died in the thousands after the Federal Flood and the Great Evacuation of 2005, the largest forced movement of US citizens in history. The old could not cope. Their deaths ride shotgun with you, are the faint dark spots you sometimes spy in your high-riding review mirror.
Nice Day, Fuckmooks.
Unremembering August 29, 2015Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, postdiluvian, The Journey, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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You are a young soul, I think, he said, and not much troubled by ghosts.
Ghosts, she said, without the inflection of a question, but as if he had said pixies or unicorns, and with a just perceptible wrinkling of the features as if sniffing a carton of milk and pronouncing it spoiled.
You believe in ghosts? Have you seen one? And what exactly do you mean?
You have watched too much bad television, he replied. You don’t need to see them. He took another large swallow of his drink. It was a party, a deliberate unremembering party, and he was venturing into topics forbidden to the guests. They are just a sense of the age of a place, like the dust somewhere neglected but not quit as corporeal, not even as dust to dust. You sense them in things, such as the sagging of these old houses, and the noises they make settling into the earth, like old men sinking into their rocking chairs.
Uh, huh, she said, taking an ironic sip from her Stella Artois to punctuate her response. I thought ghosts were the spirits of the dead, some lingering part of a person’s consciousness, someone with unfinished business or some neurotic compulsion.
There is much unfinished business here, or rather there is finished business of an unpleasant sort. This is an old place, built by slaves and poor immigrants set to unpleasant tasks such as digging the old canal that is now a freeway and a long park. They buried the poor Irishmen who dug it in the spoil bank as they fell, you know. It’s like the old saying about an unlucky place: built on an Indian graveyard,. And then there are all those who died of the fevers, settling at the edge of a mosquito infested swamp. All this before the flood, and the guns.
That was all long ago, old man, she said, and has nothing to do with me. I look at these old houses, all gutted and rebuilt, the way they have been painted to highlight the oldwork of the facades. It’s as pretty as some corner of Europe. Everything is being rebuilt so beautifully.That is why we come here. From what I’m told, the flood was the best thing that could have happened here, washing away your old ghosts but leaving these houses ready for fixing up. They probably were never as beautiful as they are today.
That is because you are a young soul. You don’t see the beauty that was there before, even as the weatherboards weathered, and the porches sagged like a middle-aged stomach. They were beautiful when they were painted in plain white wash, when they were built by night by men who worked all day, to make a home of their own for their families. They were built simple but sturdy. Once the walls were plaster-and-lath, and the houses could breathe. Now that is all torn out and if they are not sealed up like coffins for the new air conditioning, the mildew creeps past the mill work and onto the walls. When they were plastered, carefully applied trowel by trowel across the delicate lathe work, that would not have happened. But so much of that was torn out, a bit of the soul of the house put out to the curb. The dust of it that lingers, that is a sort of ghost.
We still have plaster, and bargeboard floors. We bought our house because it was old, because it still had those things.
And you appreciate their beauty, or simply their potential appreciation?
What does that mean? Why do you talk in riddles?
They are only riddles to you because you are a young soul.
Again with souls and ghosts. Another sip of beer. We appreciate the house’s beauty. That’s why we bought it, cheap and rundown, and are putting it not just back together but back together better. And it is “it’s” appreciation. It is a thing, not a person. Sorry, I’m a teacher, and people here have laziest habits of speech. Now all the schools are new, and we can help lift the people up out of that laziness, make them ready for a brighter future. We just need to break their old habits and teach them proper speech, punctuality, and careful work. This will be a much better place for our coming, out contribution
What you call their lazy habits of speech are just another sort of ghost, the lingering gendering of things from the time when French was still spoken. We are not a lazy people. Who do you think built your beautiful house, its strong bones without which it would not be there for your to fix? Is it lazy to value time over money, and spend it freely? You may pile up all the money you might ever want, but it won’t buy you more time. I don’t mean what you, in your teacherly fashion, would call free time, but one’s own time, owned in a sense by yourself, time spent lingering over coffee mid-afternoon instead of running back to sell your time for money. What you might think laziness, a luxury you must steal away every now and then to enjoy, free time as in freedom to spend it with friends, or in a book, instead of watching time slip away on a cheap plastic clock on the wall waiting for your free time to begin.
That’s not the way the world works, old man. Time is money, and that money pays to fix up our house and all these others.
The world has its own notions of time, and we have ours. The two are not so far apart as your’s is.
More beer, buying time to think.
Whatever, was still all she could muster. People like you need to realize this is a different city now. Your ghosts and your excuses and your old notions were washed away. It will be a better city, keeping enough of the old to be charming, but not left behind the times as it was before.
Perhaps it was better to be left behind, he said, to amble along as we did than to march in lockstep to the ticking of a clock. I have lived in other places, you know, for many years. I have marched dutifully into work at the appointed time, mowed my lawn as required, and even chiseled the plow-melt snow on my corner lot up to the curb where the sidewalks crossed. I waged war on the dandelion and for what? So that someone could walk their dog along a perfect sidewalk past identical lawns undistracted from their podcast, or admiring the colorful repetition flats of annuals dutifully planted provides? I never did that, myself. I only planted perennials. Not as colorful except at their appointed bloom time, but themselves a sort of clock or calendar running on a time uninterrupted by the clangor of appointments on your smart watch.
Uh huh, again. I’m going to get another beer.
Enjoy the party, he said. She didn’t answer. He walked away from the crowd, none of whom smoked, out to the sidewalk and lit a cigarette, trading a bit of lifetime for the pleasure of it, mindless of the consequences. He watched as someone at the corner carried plastic sacks of groceries from their tiny, hybrid car into the door set at an angle to the corner, and wondered if they knew why it was built that way, framed by what they called two picture windows which did not look out onto any sort of vista as a proper picture window would because, he knew ( but suspected they did not), they were meant to be looked into and not out of. The blinds were drawn tight and his gaze wandered off down the street with no particular purpose in mind.
Ten. August 28, 2015Posted by The Typist in 504ever, 8-29, Federal Flood, Flood, ghosts, je me souviens, New Orleans, postdiluvian, Shield of Beauty, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Three years August and the storms are being named like epic ships, a doom upon our shore, and I think of the levees still leaking and of the flood-walls patched with paper mache, our Potemkin defenses are not ready and we are not ready and the Big One is out there, invisible, a mighty wind, waiting for us. Someone empties a pistol into the night and I think of Jessica and Chanel and Helen and Dinerral as I watch the MPs in their Humvees roll by like armored ghosts. I think of the streets running into blocks running into miles of houses houses houses houses houses empty eyed with plywood doors and ragged lawns. And I think I’ll have another drink and light another cigarette and then another drink and then–I stop thinking. That is when this thought comes into my head. It is a compulsion, like biting ones nails until they smart and bleed, this thought that what we blog may not be our Genesis but an Apocalypse, the history of the end. And yet we stay because to live here is to walk through wrack and ruin counting the flowers in the weeds and discover you are not alone, everywhere there are people smiling, people with crumpled souls and rough stomachs, suffering what you are suffering, worse than you are suffering, suffering beyond your imagining and all for the sake of this place, because they see this city as you do, because they are the figures in the frame that make the landscape. A terrible beauty spills out of their eyes like tears and bathes the city in light.
~ Fini ~
In The Zone August 28, 2015Posted by The Typist in Federal Flood, FYYFF, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, Memory, New Orleans, postdiluvian, Remember, Sinn Fein, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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The reconstruction of the city around me will last at least as long as WWII. There will be long periods of boredom and routine punctuated by times of great excitement, much of that of the unpleasant kind. Yes, we will have shore leave for Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest but most of our time will be spent scrapping rust and paint knowing all the while that just over the ocean’s horizon there is something threatening.
In this peculiar armada the officers are as useless as the French nobility. They look fine high up there in their crosswise hats and give marvelous speeches, but we know from hard experience that they are worthless. People mutter all around the city about mutiny of one form or another, but mutiny is a lot of damn work and it is awfully hot. I like to think we could yet rise up and have our storming of the Bastille moment but every passing day it seems more unlikely. No Fletcher Christian or Maximilien Robespierre has stepped forward to lead us, and every angry mob needs a leader.
Perhaps I ask for too much. If history and the city consumes us all one-by-one but the city lives on, that perhaps what was always intended, why were were all lured home. In the end, perhaps 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 Slothrop’s harmonica, to disappear into the random noise in the signal.
And death shall have no dominion August 27, 2015Posted by The Typist in Federal Flood, FYYFF, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, Memory, New Orleans, postdiluvian, Remember, Sinn Fein, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Postdiluvian August 26, 2015Posted by The Typist in Federal Flood, FYYFF, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, Memory, New Orleans, postdiluvian, Remember, Sinn Fein, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“It is no longer I, but another whose life is just beginning.”
Resurrection Fern August 24, 2015Posted by The Typist in Back of Town, je me souviens, New Orleans, postdiluvian, Remember, The Journey, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Grandfather Cypress, oaktrees, resurrection ferm, spanish moss, The Federal Flood
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How long their beards have grown in ten years, the oaks along Roosevelt Mall. The wind, such as it was and the coast got the worst of it, stripped away much of the Spanish Moss from the oaks that stood through it all. Ten years, and now it hangs in long, Confucian threads, the oaks like monks who have stood in long silence on the high ground on what was once the spoil bank of Bayou Metairie. The Great Depression, the men who came and built much of the old park around them, the hump bridges that gave a thrill to the stomach, the widely spaced row of chiseled concrete eagles along the Mall, were as the brief passage of a gnat.
The moss is back, the Resurrection fern that lines the branches–taking its name from its habit of drying brown during dry spells but coming back after a grain, and some small fan palm has rooted in the crooks of a few where the wide base trunk divides into the branches, the lowest of which tend back toward the ground as they lengthen, granting easy access for adventurous children to scramble into the trees. The oldest oaks, the ones with names and stories–Dueling Oak, Suicide Oak, and another name I heard the other day and have forgotten because it has not been repeated since childhood–are old, older than any building in the city, older than the arrival of Europeans.
The idea that the oldest grow on the spoil bank of Bayou Metairie, the last bit of which is the one natural lagoon in the park, the one south and parallel to City Park Avenue, came to me the other day walking out for cigarettes from my girlfriend’s house in south Metairie. The crazy job of which you have heard too much of late in these virtual pages, the one that keeps me trapped in the house rather than out noticing the oaks, has started me smoking again. It was Sunday morning, and I have developed the habit of going out for a really dark cup of coffee, not the weak store-brand Colombian she buys. I needed cigarettes and set out first down toward Dolly’s gas and cafe, taking the next cross street to Canal Boulevard and there I found a cypress of incredible girth, and a crown the size of a hot air balloon, which I immediately christened Grandfather Cypress. My arms (not the longest) stretched out encompassed a third a best, perhaps only a quarter of the trunk. This tree, I thought, was so much older than south Lakeview, older than the spur track just south that grew up along what was once the Lafitte Canal toward downtown, older than Metairie Road when it was a farm-and-cattle track before the bayou was filled in ,older than the cemeteries sited at the back of town to bury the yellow fever dead far out-of-town. I have never seen a cypress of such size but I am a city boy. This tree clearly predates the city.
On my way back from coffee (in the opposite direction, up the boulevard and back toward the L&N line), I went out of my way and passed the shortest cross-street home in spite of the early morning heat of a record-setting August to see this tree again. The current owner of the house was out watering her front garden, and we spoke for a bit. The crown was once even larger, and she had called an arborist to have it cut back a bit, to make sure it would weather any storm. She told me once she described the three she didn’t have to give her address. The man know it well, a tree familiar to those whose care for trees. I did not kneel as I had meant when I broke open a cigarette and sprinkled some tobacco as an offering and said a silent prayer, much as I had on my way out when I stood in silence several minutes, my hand against its trunk. I explained before I started how I had come back to do just that, and she just smiled. She had bought the house, she said, because of that three.
Ten years since the last Great Flood, what I once called the Federal Flood for the failure of the levees, but to Grandfather Cypress and the old oaks on the river end of the park it is simply the last great flood. They have weathered many, no doubt, and survived. The City survives as well, rebuilt by what I called the 200,000, those who came back in the first year and rebuilt it with their own hands and the help of a flood of immigrants from Latin America, the children of people who built even greater cities and saw them abandoned back to the forest, or destroyed by Spanish conquistadors, the bricks of their temples taken to build the new cathedral and palaces. i wonder if they think at all of the transformations their ancestors underwent, or if they just think of the beer and dinner at the end of the day, of a weekly remittance to family back home wired from the corner store now well stocked with familiar baked goods and tubs of iced, cold Modelo.
We have our own conquistadors in our own small way, the influx settling into and transforming the old neighborhoods in the sliver by the river, the high ground running down from downtown toward the mouth of the river, come to bring us Yankee ingenuity and industriousness while they take the pleasure of an entirely different culture which does not care so much of such things, and which may or may not survive their arrival, the resulting dispersal from their old neighborhoods of the people who made that culture. That is all the worry these days, in the bands of land from which the old trees were cleared hundreds of years ago.
I don’t live down there, and while I find it regrettable that they come as the Spanish came, greedy and bearing an alien religion in which the dollar sign supplants the cross of the Jesuits I live in the back of town, where the oldest trees survive, and now think more of them. The culture of the dollar at all costs has pushed nature too far, and I walk past grandfather oak in the warmest August since records began in the 1880s. Worse, the best minds tell us we have pushed the oceans themselves past the tipping point already. These will steadily warm, the distant arctic ices will melt and the water rise as sure as Noah’s flood. Other’s argue about whether the levees are really any better but I know that New Orleans is doomed, if not in my life time than in my children’s and their children’s. A greater flood is coming than the old oaks and cypress have ever seen, one that will not recede. Even the resilient cypress, accustomed to flooding, will not survive. Grandfather Cypress has seen his day in which the minutes are decades, in which we are less than the passing buzz of a mosquito.
At 5 o’clock in the afternoon, or perhaps 7:45 April 18, 2015Posted by The Typist in A Fiction, cryptical envelopment, Fortin Street, fuckmook, FYYFF, ghosts, je me souviens, New Orleans, postdiluvian, Remember, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Metairie encroaches from the East, swallows Carrollton Avenue. Brooklyn comes from the west across the Industrial Canal in a pathetic, staged white second line. We lost the north when they made Lakeshore Drive the private dog park of the of Lake neighborhoods along Robert E, Lee. To the south loom the gas-flare, metal islands of BP, Mobile, Exxon.Sucking the black ghosts of marshes long past was not enough.The water must run red as blood.
There is no retreat, no defense. When America erupted in flames and east Detroit held off the National Guard for two days, nothing happened here. Riot is not our style. Its too damn hot and a lot of work.
You are left only one choice, to chose the place, the once familiar corner with its shuttered store, and the moment (Esplanade in the rare, painterly golden light of late afternoon, perhaps) when New Orleans dies inside you.
Postdiluvian Afternoon Manscape with Bulldozer April 5, 2015Posted by The Typist in Back of Town, Bayou St. John, City Park, Federal Flood, geo-memoir, Hurricane Katrina, levee, Louisiana, postdiluvian, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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This was once bottom land, he says with the practiced eye and assurance of a successful environmental engineer. He is probably right. This recently mown rough at the edge of this former fairway is not far from the ridge of Bayou St. John and less than a mile south of Filmore Avenue, the line your grandfather told you was once the start of the softly indeterminate shore of the lake, the gradual transition from bottom land to open water, before the concrete seawall, the back fill and subdivision, when the land followed the natural contours of water.
Across Harrison Avenue snowy egrets play tag with a bulldozer returning another feral fairway to its appointed state of gracefully sculpted landscaping. They have carefully fenced off the trees they elected to keep just outside their crowns, but they have not bothered to put up runoff barriers along the lagoon. The other trees, the once mature oaks and cypress older than the park, did not fit into the new PGA-caliber design and were themselves bulldozed, cut and chipped into mulch (one hopes), the thicker branches and trunks, the massive root balls hauled off to some dump itself perched at the edge of useful bottom land, to cycle back into muck, the gumbo mud of marginal land that will suck the boot off a man’s foot as if to say: careful where you tread. You do not belong here.
This was all bottom land in flood a decade ago when the lake toppled the less-than-carefully designed levees, the work of a hundred bulldozers sculpting golf and parkways and neighborhoods, the labor of decades, was undone in a few hours. How we clamored to rebuild back then, even as we and the water birds reclaimed the ruins of golf for our own pleasure in spite of the lurking coyotes, after the hired guns had cleared the park of ill-tempered feral hogs washed in from the East, that last failed attempt to fill and subdivide marked by exits to nowhere on the highway out of town.
We follow a well-worn but little used path this beautiful afternoon until we find a shaded spot to plant our beach and Jazz Fest chairs, crack open the cooler filled with rare ales and settle in for a beer tasting. We used to do this in the Couterie Forest, another bit of man-scaping which was once an open field where the local AOR station staged free concerts, but the Couterie has grown crowded since the acres of feral fairway around it have been fenced off for construction of the new golf course, the confluence of FEMA dollars and the investments of men who could not play a PGA caliber game to save their lives but who can afford $150 for a round of eighteen holes, who will crowd the sponsored tents when the golf circus comes to town. (Build it and they will come, they tell themselves).
The FEMA relief we all fought for requires the reconstruction of what was and nothing more, although the men who run the Park have found a loophole big enough to drive a bulldozer through, to try to steal away the local PGA stop via a “public-private partnership,” that popular euphemism for privatizing profit while socializing risk; a great racket if you can get in on it, and our carefully-groomed and well compensated politicians love these sort of arrangements. Without them the contributions would dry up and instead of campaign billboards they would litter the landscape with solicitations for litigation, become just another schmuck lawyer grafting a living off of our ridiculous insurance rates.
In the middle distance is a beautifully bifurcated cypress, rising out of the roots of a clump of dying, non-native palms planted by some long-ago golf architect. The land here takes its revenge slowly but surely, as slowly and certainly as the land upon which we sit and the cypress prospers gradually subsides from bottom land to bottom of the lake. In another hundred years the furor over golf versus a carefully manicured wildness will be settled not in court but simply settled, back into the Back of Town, more wetland than bottom land. The golfers will move north as the water moves back in. Anyone who treads this path along the spoil bank of the artificial lagoon down which this afternoon past three women in a rented canoe, two paddlers and one lounging beneath an orange parasol, will likely find a very different landscape, too boggy to mow and covered in water-loving grasses. The lone cypress in the middle of the field, suited by temperament to flooding, will perhaps have grown into a stand, safe from bulldozers which will have moved on long ago to more certain and stable investments, far from the gulf that will someday reclaim this all, when my imagined stand of cypress will stand as denuded grey ghosts, victims of the relentless salt sea from which we all came and to which all this will return.
Y February 28, 2015Posted by The Typist in Bloggers, Fortin Street, FYYFF, je me souviens, Katrina, postdiluvian, Remember, Sinn Fein, The Narrative, Theater, We Are Not OK.
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[Baraka’s] are the agonized poems of a man writing to save his skin, ot at least to sette into it, so urgent is their purpose. — Richard Howard’s jacket blurb for Amiri Baraka’s S O S Poems 1661-2013
Klonopin does not differentiate between a panic attack and the sudden urge at the edge of sleep to turn on the bedside lamp and find a notebook. — The Typist to his Psychologer, on why he wants to “wash out”
Nor can the inflexible chemistry of psyco pharma recognize what might be thought an anxiety attack if it did not present as righteous anger. Yesterday I should have been emblazoned with the red lightening bolt of danger, caught in a fit of righteous anger, the fire that blossomed into the shield-boss flower of the old NOLA Bloggers, the warriors for New Orleans. I am not done with that. More2com, not –30–.
Rastaman the Griot: You got to be a spirit! You can’t be no ghost.
Before pharma entered my life there was beer, there was coffee, and after The Federal Flood there was writting, the countless typos of a hundred thousand plu words written in wee hours on not enough sleep. The dispensers of psycho pharma do not recognize the world around them, the urgency of that world’s dysfunctional condition, their patients but presentations of a broader illness. If people are not angry or depressed some significant portion of the time they are at best ill informed and at worse complicit dupes. I am not sure Toulouse Street is the platform for such an anger. The name lacks the resonance of the names of the prophets. The Typist is not Ezekial, fresh from the desert. Before Toulouse Street there was the Wet Bank Guide, where anger, sadness and hope argued drukenly around a table in a halo of smoke. Somewhere in the middle was a famous and druken, attempted but incoherent eulogy atop a fountain in the courtyard ofa bar at Ashley’s wake I don’t need a Klonopin. I need a fountain. And a beer. FYYFF, The Typist
Poetry and Blood September 21, 2014Posted by The Typist in FYYFF, Louisiana, Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, second line, The Narrative, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: John Law, New Orleans exceptionalism
Yes, there is poetry in the ground, as the famous 19th century Creole poet said, and there is blood on the streets. If you look at the sagging shotgun shacks at the edge of the fashionable neighborhoods, the ones with the paint peeling from their gingerbread, and see opportunity and not poverty, you are part of the problem of the new New Orleans exceptionalism.
I am a New Orleans exceptionalist with every chauvinist drop of Gallic blood in my veins, but it is tempered by my nearly 300-year old Cote des Allemans heritage, the practically of finding enough to eat in this city, a problem solved three centuries ago by the arrival of my people who came with no glint of gold in their eye but with strong backs and a willingness to make it work, to feed the foolish Frenchman seeking Spanish riches in a land of mud.
The joy that manifests itself in the brass band on the corner or at the head of a second line, the flavor of every forkful of real New Orleans food seasoned with the cast off bits of the pig, is born out of the ecstatic Black church, the fanciful celebration of slaves dreaming of the land of milk and honey in their weekly escape from the Exodus of the hustle, the daily struggle.
The newcomers are as ignorant as my own ancestors, who fell for John Law’s flyers with imaginary palm trees promising tropical indolence and mountains in the background no doubt filed with gold and silver. What the newcomers lack is the experience of the toil of serfdom and a willingness to work hard to build a city. They are not fleeing religious persecution and war but arrive with the uniquely American dream of a quick buck with as little work as possible, with the mark of Wall Street and Silicon Valley stamped on their heads as clearly as the mark of Cain. They come not to build, for all their modern talk of entrepreneurship, but to destroy. They come like the famous swindler and gambler Law to remake an alien land in their own image. They come to a city 300 years old not to build but to destroy.
Orleanians know about entrepreneurship but are more likely to call it the hustle. Grilling pork chop sandwiches in the street without a license or selling ice cups out your window in the summer is entrepreneurship, but it is an entrepreneurship of people looking to make next month’s rent, who have never had enough money in the bank to dream big. There are big dreamers standing on corners selling crack, who are ethically and economically no different from real estate flippers. They see a need and fill it because it’s all about the Benjamins, not the consequences.
The real entrepreneurs are those pushing the pork chop sandwiches, the people who get up in the dark to catch the Michoud bus for the long ride in from the East to a low-paying job. What the newcomers don’t understand is that the people here dream different dreams. They dream of Indian and Second Line suits that will set them back month’s of wages. They dream of a midnight brass band on Saturday night in the club up the street, and a ghetto burger on the break from the back of a pick up truck; not of a vacation in the Caymans. They dream and hope that their eldest child will get the rest out of bed and off to a second-rate school in the dearly bought uniforms of our new exercise in segregation: the charter school. They dream the same dream their parents did at the start of desegregation: a less laborious life, and more time for joy.
New Orleans and much of South Louisiana live by a different standard that the rest of America. They live for the joie de vivre that brings the tourists and the newcomers. A hard way of life has trained them to live not for money but for the joy wherever they can find it. Yes, they dream of nice clothes for church and Saturday night, that tricked out car, that big-ass pickup, the way the generation of the Great Depression dreamed of those things, and when the money is good they will get them. They will dress up and drive that car or truck to a house full of friends where the grill is burning and the drink is flowing and the music a bit too loud. The house may be a small but righteous brick ranch–each a perfect mirror of the post-WWII white Lakeview of my youth before the McMansions builders moved in–or a tumbledown in the city, because so many don’t understand investment. They understand rent. The closest they ever came to investment was the opportunity to buy a Schwegmann’s bond as they stood in line to cash their paycheck and pay the NOPSI bil. The house does not matter. They will go in search of the joy.
The newcomers don’t understand this but they are the joy-killers. Every lease or mortgage they sign at exorbitant rents drives the joy away. They destroy the neighborhood that supported that corner store with the magnificent po-boys at the counter in the back. They will find the corner bar where each generation of musicians learned their trade a noisy nuisance. They will loiter over their free trade coffee, mocking our own chicory as the drink of people who don’t understand coffee although the coffee shop was the center of social and business life in this city centuries ago. They will wax excited when the sketchy store with its square-bottled wine and mouth-watering po-boys turns into some fusion cooking monstrosity.
What will happen when the speculators drive everyone out of the neighborhood at the center of which stands the Indian-practice bar, when some of the newcomers complain of the noise on the street and the odd go-cup abandoned on the hood of their car. When the people who assembled their on Sunday to practice the ancient chants are driven into diaspora, how long will they persist? One hopes they will, just as so many city churches survived a generation or two after their parishioners fled to Metairie, Chalmette or the East. Even if their sacred meeting place of faded bar signs survives, will they bring their children in (sorry, not allowed) or to just stand on the street outside listening and learning? And how long before the NOPD drives by to scatter those children for loitering while Black in the neighborhood of houses their grandparents built?
New Orleans must market its exceptionalism to survive. It brings the tourists, and maintains the remaining jobs in the city. The wealthy men reluctant to admit newcomers to the clubs that were the center of their inner circle drove away the oil men and let the port go to ruin. There are no other jobs. Their narrow-minded stupidity and Southern comfort in the ways of segregation built the city we have today. Is out only choice to mimic them–to try to drive the newcomers and their money away in an effort to preserve our dream, our joy, and yes our exclusivity, our exceptionalism–as they did to preserve their’s? Do we let the newcomers come, and place out hope in the city’s incredible power of assimilation, of Creolization, that our own exceptional melting pot will convert them not into Anglo-Saxon Yankees but blend them into our Pan-Caribbean gumbo?
More importantly, what should we do, what should we expect them to do unless we model it for them and make it a part of that gumbo to care about the dissolution of public education, the generational poverty, the busy Second Line’s worth of bodies that fall each year in a pool of blood? If I knew the answers I would tell you, and I have pondered these questions since the days of the Wet Bank Guide, since that moment a decade ago when we confronted absolute hopelessness and met it with resolution. What should the people who cashed out their IRAs and maxed out their credit cards to rebuild a city with their own sweat and blood say to those arrive with a down payment in hand looking to buy a piece of the dream? That your hustle is nothing unless you understand the roots of the joy you seek to have stamped on your hand Saturday night. That unless you understand this city and are ready to bleed for it, the dream you are buying will ultimately prove as empty as John Law’s promises of three centuries ago.
Ghosts of the Flood August 29, 2014Posted by The Typist in A Fiction, Corps of Engineers, Fargo, Federal Flood, Flood, FYYFF, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, memoir, postdiluvian, Shield of Beauty, The Dead, The Narrative, The Typist, We Are Not OK.
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” . . . so many, / I had not thought death had undone so many . . . ”
The Wasteland, T.S. Eliot
Sometimes I feel them, my wife told me, their spirits, as I’m driving down the street. All that suffering, she explains, all those people. As if 300 years of yellow fever and the lash, the lynchings and gansta gun battles weren’t enough to populate a parallel city of spirits in this place where tombs are mansions and burials a celebration, the Flood came.
Now there is a brooding presence even in the bright of day, looming over us all like a storm-bent house on the verge of collapse. These empty shells of former lives that line so many streets are a daily reminder of the vast catastrophe; the windows staring lifelessly at broken sidewalks, the facades washed pale and colorless. Each still bears the esoteric marks of the searchers that mimic the scratching on tombs in the old cemeteries, some the dreaded number at the bottom that totals up the lost.
The tally marked beneath the cross now rises to 1577, a crowed like that described by Eliot. I imagine not a host but solitary figures, the ghosts we know from childhood stories. In their newness to death, I picture them wandering as curious as children in the house of an aged aunt, getting underfoot and touching what they should not, interrupting and making unwelcome mischief. The brush of their passing is still strong enough to reach out and touch a good Catholic girl from North Dakota, one as innocent of the spiritualist shadows cast by every flickering candle flame before a New Orleans saint’s statue as a Midwesterner could possibly be.
Even the most rationale and disinclined among us imagine ghosts in a city this old, where the steamy air is a tangible presence on the skin and lights flash erratically in the night through the stirrings of the thick, tangled foliage, where the old houses creak and groan as they settle into the soft earth like old men lowering themselves into a chair. Once I wished to experience that touch of the other, a product of reading too much fantastic fiction. One of the signature scenes in film for me is John Cassavettes as a modern Prospero in The Tempest, standing in his urban tower and saying, “Show me the magic.” For him, the sky erupts in lightening. I would sometime catch myself whispering those words, but they were simply blown away by the night wind.
Then one bright August afternoon I was sitting in my idling car in my driveway in Fargo, North Dakota. At just before five o’clock that 29th of August a string of Carnival beads which hung from my rearview mirror–black and gold beads interspersed with black voodoo figures–suddenly burst. It seemed strange at the time that they would break as the car sat still, would break at the bottom and not at the top where they routinely rubbed against the mirror post, where the string was tied off, the knot weakening the line. It was not the way that I, as a sailor with some idea of how a line will wear, would expect them to break.
Perhaps the beads slid about at the end of the string as I drove around, causing the string to wear through at the bottom, so that it was inevitable that is where they would break first, given enough corners turned, sufficient applications of the accelerator and brake. The timing of just before five o’clock on that Monday in August of 2005 was just a coincidence, the inevitable laws of physics unfolding without regard for the observer and his sense of time.
Be careful what you wish for is the lesson we learned in a dozen fairy tales. The longed for touch of the other, and the tide that washed me up on the shores of my personal Ithaca, into this house on Toulouse Street in the only place I have ever thought of as home, came with a terrible price: both are tainted with graveyard dust. I would undo it all in instant, if I only knew how.
I’ve written this post before–or ones very like it, that tell this story of the broken beads–and then deleted them. It seems just too strange and personal a tale to share with just any aimless visitor wandering the Internet. What will people think? I ask myself in a voice that sounds vaguely like my mother’s. What if some future employer Googles up this article? worries the husband with a mortgage and two children to raise. I don’t expect them to understand.
Unless you learned from the maid that cleaned your family home that crossing two matchsticks in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary and sprinkling them with salt would bring rain, unless you believed that a piece of candy found on the ground could be made safe to eat by making the sign of the cross over it, if people did not come in the night and scratch odd marks on certain tombs on the grounds where your family is buried; if these were not part of your earliest experience, then my tale of the broken beads sounds like the product of an overworked imagination, something like Scrooge’s undigested bit of beef, a spot of mustard.
There is a spectre over New Orleans. As the August anniversary slipped away, I thought the grim, invisible cloud that hung over the city would begin to drift away. Instead, as the weeks passed, I was increasingly convinced: everyone in New Orleans was haunted. You could see it in people’s eyes, in the way they walked, hear it in the words they spoke, or the ones they wrote online as they spoke about their lingering pain. It was a spirit as much inside as out, the ghost in the machine that haunted our every step.
Then came the Monday Night Football game. I thought about the curse of the Superdome, the one that suggests destruction of the Girod Street Cemetery has cursed the ground and all who play there. Was the spirit of the people in the Dome that night just the charm needed to lay that particular haunting to rest, to break that curse? The morning after the strut in people’s step, the lilt of their voices told me that perhaps, just perhaps a healing had begun. We were not a city in need of an exorcism: we were the exorcism.
The ghost of the Flood is now a part of who we are. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if it is ectoplasm or the synchronized firing of a million neurons in ways science does not yet understand. In the end we have to come to term with it. This is something that we as Orleanians, the people who live next to our dead in their exclusive farbourgs of marble and white-washed stone, should be able to do.
We need to honor these dead and respect them, not with the weight of Confucian ancestor worship but in the simple spirit of the pre-Confucian Japanese who venerated odd stones, in the ways inherent in our own Latin roots mingled with the traditions of Africa, where the community of saints and the loa of Africa intersect. We don’t need an exorcism. We need a conjuration, a ritual that calls up the ghosts and honors them, that welcomes them in the way the way the devotees of Vodoun welcome the possession of the loa.
Perhaps next August 29, we should all tie a brown cord on some pillar or post of the house at just the point where we have carefully painted over the water stain. Just above that, we should mark in dust of ground gypsum the rescue symbol that is now as much a part of our selves and our city as the sign of the cross. We will do this to tell whoever is listening—Our Father, Oshun, Mother of God, ghosts of the Flood—we remember. We have suffered, and we will never forget the Flood and those who did not come through. We are the people who came through and came back. We remember the lost. We remember you. Je me souviens.
When we accept and embrace this spirit, perhaps the haunting will end once and for all, will not be a permanent pall over the city, a fearful sound in the night like a howling in the wires, or an unpleasant knotting in the stomach as we pass an abandoned house. It will cease when it becomes instead like the glinting of the sun on white-washed stone above the neat green grass of the cemeteries, just another comfortable part of who we are.
First posted Oct. 5, 2006 on Wet Bank Guide.
The Glory That Was Home September 23, 2012Posted by The Typist in Federal Flood, Fortin Street, FYYFF, Memory, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Rebirth, Recovery, The Narrative, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: Rising Tide 7, Rising Tide NOLA, Rising Tide VII
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I thought I would share an email reply I wrote this morning, to answer anyone who asked after me yesterday at Rising Tide VII:
Thank you for the pictures and write-up. My absence from Rising Tide 7 is sadly more than a case of overbooking, but I won’t spread troubles except to wish them bon voyage. The NOLA Bloggers Movement, born out of a mailing list started by some guy in North Dakota of all places, baptized on an Ash Wednesday evening at a bar in the French Quarter, and which birthed the first Rising Tide was one of those bright shining moments of solidarity like the crime march or the first anniversary (who were those two young Black women at the 17th Street Canal bridge between Bucktown and lily-white Lakeview? I dared not ask that day) that is behind us. The rag-tag assemblage has, like so many things down here postdiluvian, reverted to form: the latent conflicts of purpose and personality reasserting themselves, paths parting, new projects taking precedence.
It is a parade I no longer ride, but sometimes finger the old doubloons thoughtfully when I come across them
A Dream Deferred December 11, 2011Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, Ninth Ward, NOLA, postdiluvian, Toulouse Street.
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I don’t remember whose grandmother it was I went with Graydon to help fix a leaky tap I think. It might have been Graydon’s or Wanda’s but that’s not important. That she was the last white woman living in her Ninth Ward neighborhood somewhere far up St. Claude in the late 1970s is what I remember.
I remember Graydon urging her to consider moving out of the ramshackle single, not out of any sense of racial urgency but because the place was falling apart. The Ninth Ward was where working class New Orleans lived, often in houses built and always maimipntained by the man of the house, and a widow didn’t have someone around to keep the place up properly. Her neighbors had fled but she was having none of that. This was the house she and her husband had spent their whole lives, raised a family. She wasn’t moving.
In the early 1960s the first attempts were made to desegregate New Orleans schools in the Ninth Ward. I don’t know why they chose McDonogh 19 in the Lower Nine and William Frantz on N. Galvez in the Upper Nine. Perhaps it was more palatable to start in a politically disempowered working class neighborhood. Perhaps they thought the working class parents would provide just the sort of reaction the situation called for, the self-appointed “cheerleaders” described in the Encyclopedia of Louisiana’s chapter on The New Orleans School Crisis, the women who gathered in screaming mobs to curse and spit poor Ruby Bridges as she walkedalone to first grade flanked by federal marshals.
I don’t remember those scenes on the local television. In 1960 I was three years old, still living in Lakeview next door to my mother’s parents, and in love with my pedal firetruck. It was not until the early 1970s, when upper middle class Blacks first bought homes along St. Bernard Avenue, north of Harrison Avenue, that I witnessed this mindset firsthand. This was not a working class neighborhood. Owens Boulevard is a serpentine street lined with impressive homes that would not look out of place north of Robert E. Lee, would in fact dwarf many of the levee board houses and modest ranches that still dotted Lake Vista, before the late invasion of the McMansions. When someone traitorous buckled and sold to the first Black invaders, people who could afford such homes, the panic began. They would move in their entire extended family, everyone said, and park their cars on the lawns. It was then the retreat began, the white burghers falling back down St. Bernard like the retreating Confederate Army.
Times have changed. My oldest friend and his mother still live in their modest brick ranch on Dove Street in Lake Vista, sandwiched between monstrous houses that block the sunlight. On oneside lives a Black dentist who built to the property line and then up to the sky. And I am a child of Lake Vista seriously considering a half double on Bartholomew, second block north of St. Claude, just a few blocks from Poland Avenue and the Industrial Canal.
The owner, Miss Kelly, has outgrown her half of the double she owns. She and four children are squeezed into the two bedrooms between the front parlor and the kitchen, the baby happily kicking in the middle of her bed and it as time for something larger. I asked about the neighborhood, meaning crime, and she launched into a description of the people living there, stressing it was becoming a mixed block: the carnival float artist who lived two doors down, the lesbian couple who had just bought one of the houses. The rest were “mostly settled people”, by which she meant to delicately say that the Black families were upright folk.
I’m looking in the Ninth to keep my rent low, to stretch out my severance long enough to get at least one semester of my abandoned B.A. knocked out at UNO. Maybe spring and summer semesters, if I juggle the money just right, tuition paid as part of a retraining allowance. The rents in my current neighborhood, Faubourg St. John, are outrageously high. I could get a two bedroom in the old complex on Wren Street in Lake Vista much cheaper, but I don’t want to move back to suburbia.
I am an urban creature by long habit, since leaving the quiet confines of Lake Vista, and I have lived all over town–Gentilly, Treme, Carrollton. In Washington, D.C. I lived for several years on 4th St. N.E. behind Union Station, behind solid bars. (If you live in the city long enough, you become a connoisseur of iron bars, preferring them outside for aesthetic reasons, so long as they are well anchored with long and heavy one-way screws. I would just as soon live downtown or as close as I can, where I spend my free time, in the bars and restaurants and theaters of that booming bohemia.
That booming bohemia: the words are like the diagnosis of the first symptom of a coming illness. Once the artists and musicians and hangers on have settled in and fixed up the old houses of a neighborhood half abandoned by the long ago white flight, a better class of people start to move in for the atmosphere; not the artists but the gallery owners, and young professionals looking for a short commute to downtown and just a bit of funk to give their neighborhood character. Up go the rents, and out go the first settlers, in the long repeated pattern of gentrification. I would love to live in those places but the rents in he Marigny and now much of Bywater are also going through the roof, and places in my budget are often taken the same day they appear on Craigslist.
Bartholomew is not in the center of all that. It is a good mile past the Press Street tracks. After years in Mid-City, not more than 20 minutes from anywhere, I would be moving to the edge of town, would probably start shopping for what I cannot find in the city in Chalmette instead of Metairie. Riding my bike instead of driving to go out would be a much more athletic exercise if I had taken the place I looked at Marigny Street, an up and coming corner of Treme just up the block from the sign announcing a Tuba Fats memorial park in a so far empty lot. Hell, I could walk to a lot of my favorite haunts from there, but the prospect of painting the ugly beige-brown walls of a large place with 12 foot ceilings seemed too daunting.
I haven’t made up my mind about Bartholomew yet. I told Miss Kelly I wanted to drive by at night, and she understood. I had looked at other cheap apartments and come back at night to find characters on the corner I would rather not have as neighbors. I came back that night and drove not just Bartholomew but quartered the streets all around, and was struck by how much it looked like Mid-City or south Lakeview. There are a few abandoned houses and some uncut lots where the state took homes flooded after Katrina, but there are more Xmas lights illuminating the well cared for yards than in fashionable Faubourg St. John, bright new paint on the cottages and shotguns. It looks like a pretty nice neighborhood.
For all of the strife in this town, the racism we all carry just beneath out skin–white and black, imbibed with our mother’s milk–the city seems to have turned some corner. We are not comfortable with sudden change, and the proximity of Bartholomew to the history of William Frantz and McDonogh 19 (now the Louis Armstrong Elementary) remind me of that.
Gradual change is more our style, and while the residents of Audubon Place plotted a new New Orleans in their own image behind their guarded gates and the Black politicians railed on WBOK-AM against them, something quieter was happening. My mother’s apartment building on Esplanade at the Bayou, once the last stop for elderly whites, filled with the Black middle class from New Orleans East waiting endlessly for their Road Home check. My mother missed her old friends who didn’t come back, but nothing else changed much. The dentist built his grand house on Dove Street and no one panicked. People like me started looking north of St. Claude for places to live, and none of the neighbors I talked to (I always try to chat up the neighbors if they’re out) seem concerned. A quiet block is a quiet block, and if you’re going to fit into that pattern, well, that’s fine by everybody.
While the grand plans for a new New New Orleans were mostly abandoned, the upheaval and displacement of the Flood accelerated a gradual process already under way, a redistribution of the population of New Orleans in which people are judged by the content of their character (and the contents of their bank account) rather than by the old standards Once that was only a dream but my search for an apartment has taught me otherwise. Langston Hughes A Dream Deferred has not exploded, for all the crime and frightening statistics about incarcerated Black men. A Black man with an Islamic middle name sits in the White House, and the once bitterly divided people of New Orleans are settling into new patterns. The dream has waited patiently just beneath the surface, waiting for a change of seasons, the most famous dream of our generation peeking through the soil washed by the Flood, waiting for its moment to blossom. Perhaps that time has come, and we’ve hardly noticed.
Remember August 29, 2011Posted by The Typist in 504, 504ever, 8-29, Corps of Engineers, Federal Flood, FYYFF, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, Katrina, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Remember.
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This image is (c) 2006 by Mark A.Folse and free for all non-commercial use and posting on all blogs. Please circulate widely.
Remember 8-29 August 29, 2010Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Requiem August 27, 2010Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Remember, The Dead, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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In the dark night of our soul Your shattered dreamers Make them whole O! Mother Mary find us where we’ve fallen out of grace Lead us to a higher place/Mary…
I remember where I was when I first heard this song, on an NPR broadcast. The NPR archive reminds me it was Sept. 14, 2005. I was driving through South Fargo to pick my daughter up at junior high school. I had to pull over because I could not see. I was late.
This video contains disturbing images of the dead. Here on Toulouse Street, as on the Wet Bank Guide, above all we Remember them:
…”[All] Father, Oshun, Mother of God, Ghosts of the Flood—we remember. We have suffered, and we will never forget the Flood and those who did not come through. We are the people who came through and came back. We remember the lost. We remember you. Je me souviens.”
Thank you to songwriter and singer Eliza Gilkyson (who sings in duet with her daughter on this piece). When You Tube sent me a nasty gram about me stealing someone’s audio, I wrote to her and she intervened to allow it to remain. Thank you and apologies to all of the photographers who’ve worked I’ve liberated for this.
Odd Words August 26, 2010Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, books, Hurricane Katrina, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, Odd Words, Poetry, postdiluvian, Toulouse Street.
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Its been frantic this week of “vacation” and I won’t go into the gruesome details except to say that in spite of everything else we are ready for tonight’s book launch of A Howling in the Wires at Mimi’s in the Marigny, 2601 Royal Street, in the upstairs bar from 7 until. Open to the public. Books aren’t in stores yet but we will begin to deal with that Friday. The vast staff of the Gallatin & Toulouse Press publishing empire had to put down one’s dog while the other got their daugter settled in college.
If you can’t make it, check your New Orleans Indie book stores, visit our website or Alibris.com. Just please don’t go to Amazon, where I haven’t had time to take the book down. We will loose two cents on every book we sell on Amazon, minus shipping, because as best I can figure the written terms don’t agree precisely with the practices. (i.e., I will not be reimbursed my shipping cost to Amazon. And they take more than 50%. Fuck ’em. I’m going to cancel my pre-order for Treme and close my account. Hopefully the book will disappear from there and I will beat Amazon with the club of Alibris.com and IndieBooks.com (shop local) every chance I get.
Harumph. Rant over. The summer doldrums are behind us (a dangerous cliche in New Orleans) and things are starting to pick up again this weekend.
§ Not specifically a literary event but this weekend is the annual Rising Tide conference. I’ve been too busy with the book to be involved much but would not miss Maitri Erwin’s Treme discussion panel for the world, which will involve two of the writers for the series, Eric Overmyer and Lollis Eric Elie. And I am pretty sure a third writer will be in audience if he can exuent his conflict in time for that panel, because he told us so the other night. Featured speaker is Mac McClelland, human rights corrrespondent for Mother Jones magazine, and there will be panels on the environment, crime and of course levees, which is how all this got started. And Tom Lowenberg of Octavia wlll be there again selling books and media featuring New Orleans and the panelists. It’s hard to get away without an armful every year. While your browsing, don’t forget to pick up a copy of ↑ A ↑ Howling ↑ In ↑ The ↑ Wires ↑ while you’re there. A number of contributors will be on hand to autograph it.
§ Dave Brinks and Megan Burns are keeping 17 Poets! dark for our book launch (bless ’em) but planning a big celebration of the fifth year of our recovery Sunday, Aug 29 at 5 pm at the Goldmine Saloon, called the All-Hands-On-Deck Poetry, Art, and Music Fundraiser. Featuring music by Rockin’ Dopsie, Jr and the Zydeco Twisters with special guest Cyrill Nevill, poetry, multi-media performances and a silent auction including work by George Rodrigue. All Proceeds will benefit the nonprofit: Protectourcoastline.org $15.00 Donation at Door.
§ I feel bad because I know Paul Benton reads the blog and is a fine poet, but I’m probably going to be at Brink’s thing (since he was going to reopen on the 26th and stayed dark in deference to our book launch, but Paul is the brave soul who took the slot on 8-29. As if poetry weren’t evidence enough of madness.
§ There will be a ONE BLOCK Block Party in the 500 Block of Caffin Street from 4 pm – 7 pm celebrating the book ONE BLOCK, photographs by Dave Anderson, essay by Chris Rose, a powerful portrait of post-Katrina New Orleans as seen through the prism of a single city block whose residents are attempting to rebuild their homes. There will be performances by Rebirth Brass Band and Little Freddie King, a photography exhibition by One Block residents and local artists Chaundra McCormick and Keith Calhoun, and special guests and Octavia will be selling books. (If they are at Rising Tide and this event and their own in-house singing, I think there must be capes and tights involved here somehow)
§ There are a slew of other Katrina and the Flood related books signings, etc. going on this weekend so I’m reduced to a bullet list.:
- I’m not going to diss Dave Eggers even though he’s scheduled up against our book launch, so: The author discusses and reads from Zeitoun. 7 p.m. Thursday. Tulane University, McAlister Auditorium. Still plenty of time when that’s over to get to Mimi’s, Dave.
- Josh Neufeld – A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge – paperback release at Octavia Books, 2-4 p.m. If you haven’t gotten this one yet, there’s no excuse now its out in paperback. If you’re not at Rising Tide getting a copy, hie yourself over to Octavia.
- Garden District Books hosts three events. First: John Biguenet and other contributors discuss and sign their book Before During and After, Saturday 8-28 1-3 pm
- Also at GDB Rebeca Antoine, (Toulouse Street favorite) Barb Johnson and Niyi Osundare discuss and sign their book Voices Rising 2 Tuesday 8-31 5:30-7:30
- At the same time on Tuesday at GDB Cynthia Hogue and Rebecca Ross discuss and sign their book When The Water Came: Evacuees of Hurricane Katrina.
- And even though I need to get myself over to Megan and Dave’s event at the Goldmine, I don’t know how I can miss Remembering Katrina: A Commemorative Poetry Reading – Yusef Komunyakaa and seven other poets present a reading. 3:30 p.m. Sunday. Tulane University, Lavin-Bernick University Center, McAlister Drive. I mean, Yusef Komunyakaa man. And of course the feature will probably read last.
I think after this weekend going back to work will be relaxing. My plan to diminish the pile of books at my beside at leisure has instead grown it by a couple, and I think I’ve managed few chapters. Maybe next year.
Tootie’s New Suit April 12, 2010Posted 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.
Tags: David Simon, Treme
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.
Tags: 504, Al Copeland, Dudley Leblanc, John Schwegmann, New Orleans, NOLA, Popeyes Famous Fried Chicken
Al Copeland was New Orleans through-and-through, a character who could as easily come from the pen of John Kennedy Toole as out of old Arabi. He was one with the rogues’ pantheon that would have to include Dudley LeBlanc and perhaps John Schwegmann, men with enough ego to stand up and make perfect fools of themselves while laughing all the way to the bank. Like LeBlanc and Schwegmann, he has passed into history and myth.
From a little chicken-shack on St. Claude to the manse on Folse Drive, Copeland bestrode his city like a paper-maché Carnival colossus rocking down Veterans Boulevard atop a flashing triple-decker float. He raced world class offshore speedboats, flitted about in his “chicken copter” and his Maserati, and caught and released trophy wives like a tournament fisherman.
The closest I ever got to Al was watching him and his lieutenants go over customer comment cards after the monthly Popeytes manager’s breakfast, held at the hotel where I did banquet work in college. He would shush and chase us off if we tried to clear tables once that intense meeting started, so we would not disturb their pursuit of chicken perfection. I saw him close up again at the lakefront when a connection to my girlfriend’s family came to town with their own offshore racing boat (Still Crazy was it’s name, and I still have a grease-stained t-shirt somewhere). We could not, however, manage to finagle our way into the racing teams party out on Copeland compound on Folse Drive.
Al brought us the sort of spice we like, whether it was in a bucket with two sides and biscuits or on the six o’clock news. We all like to chatter about the older musicians passing on, but a big piece of New Orleans just checked out with Al. How many more little guys like him will the homogenized, box-box economy of the nation to north let rise up among us? We may never see his likes again.
Instead the comfortably milquetoast, Perlis-attired, revenant anti-Long sorts that fill the pages of Gambit with their advertisements are what remains to us, people out-of-state investment bankers are comfortable having lunch with at Galatoires, thinking they are slumming in wicked old New Orleans. They will bring Borders to St. Charles and Nike Factory Stores to Mid-City; Moloch will roll out the big Targets and little Starbucks like a stinking volcanic mudslide, obliterating everything in its path.
A little bit of us all died with Al, and if we aren’t careful soon all that will remain to differentiate us from Atlanta will be our broken and littered roads rolling beneath the faded beads dangling in the branches of the winter trees.
Kudos to KamaAina for catching my O’typo on Toole’s name. Oh, for an editor!
The Great Wave March 4, 2008Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, art, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Hurricane Katrina, Japan, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: 504, art, Hokusai, Japan, New Orleans, NOLA
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I found this postcard of a picture by Hokusai while in Washington, prompting the following caption-cum-fable for New Orleans..
The foamy fringe is a nest of threatening fingers reaching out to swamp the boats. The mountain is distant, cold capped, oblivious as the gods. The men’s backs are turned to the wave, and bent to the task of rowing. They did not choose the sea; the sea chose them. It is the world they were granted by their ancestors, a way as deeply ingrained in their souls as the salt in their sea-glare furrowed brows. The sea is a mirror of the sky, sometimes placid and other times fierce with wind, and where else shall men live except between the sky and the sea, those promising and pitiless fields of blue? They have heard the tale of tsunami, whole villages swallowed by the sea, places where people no longer beach their boats, coasts given over to ghosts. Still, they rise up with the sun and go down to their own nets. When confronted with the Great Wave, there is nothing to do but row.
This is a repost from long ago, back when visitors number in the high single figures, inspired by taking down the postcard off the wall where it had become buried by other things since summer of 2006. The mood seems apt to me at the moment and it is now my computer desktop and home and work. Tje idea it inspired in 2006 worth repeating for a larger audience now that this is my primary blog.
Tales of Grave Ulysses February 28, 2008Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, quotes, Toulouse Street, Uncategorized.
Tags: art, Bloomsday, James Joyce, literature, New Orleans, NOLA Rising, Ulysses
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….O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gilbraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
— James Joyce’s Ulysses
Soon it will be June and where then shall we meet, and who shall read? I have never done a Bloomsday and have always wanted to. The last hereabouts looks to have been June 2005 and then, well, you know. So, who’s in?
P.S.–It’s hard to see online, but this has a NoLa Rising tag painted down the left side.
Bellona on the Bayou February 26, 2008Posted by The Typist in 504, Carnival, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, literature, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Bellona, Carnival, costume, Dhalgren, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, Samuel R. Delany, scorpions
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In reponse to Greg’s suggestion in the comments on “That Bright Moment” that the real connection between postdiluvian New Orleans and the work of Samuel R. Delaney is the dystopic novel Dhalgren, I offer you this Scorpion-like figure I encountered while waiting on Royal Street for the Krewe of St. Anne to come by.
The scorpions in Dhalgren are criminal gangs that decorate themelves in elaborate electronic costumes that project figures of light such as dragons around them. This picture (which I hadn’t originally posted to my Carnival Flikr set) reminded me more than anything else of what I have seen of my mental pictures of those scorpions. I wish that thought had popped into my mind on Mardi Gras so I could have asked this fellow (who sat at the next table at the coffee shop for quite a while and bummed a cigarette) if that was in fact what he intended.
That Bright Moment February 24, 2008Posted 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.
Tags: 8-29, alternative media expo, City of a Thousand Suns, Fall of the Towers, Federal Flood, land of nod, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Remember, Samuel Delaney, Waiting for Godot, We Are Not OK
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.