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Unhappy Hour October 29, 2013

Posted by The Typist in A Fiction, Counting House, Dancing Bear, Moloch, New Orleans, Rebirth, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist.
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That hour when you realize you have lost the connection with the people you work with and wander off to another bar to drink alone. Some sadness is natural, after seven years together. Some anxiety at what comes next. Beneath it all is the realization that this is the moment you’ve been waiting for. At 56 and on your fourth “career” you remember that somewhere inside you is the spirit of Odysseus. You have lingered too long at the money tit of Circe. It is time to visit Tiresias.

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The Glory That Was Home September 23, 2012

Posted by The Typist in Federal Flood, Fortin Street, FYYFF, Memory, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Rebirth, Recovery, The Narrative, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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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

The Brink January 8, 2011

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, Rebirth, Recovery, Sun Ra, The Narrative, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK, Writing.
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Today’s literary tidbit is courtesy of Marco who sent this on to me as an example of Something Not To Read while I was posting something else indicating I was perhaps less than cheerful. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s public recounting of his “crack-up” isn’t the typical confessional piece of someone who’s gone completely over the brink. This isn’t William Styron’s Darkness Visible, a chronicle of the descent into near madness. No white coats or shock treatments or pill cups from Nurse Ratchet; just a withdrawal from it all and a deep peer over the brink that lies inside all of us. And some quiet time to think about it all.

I’ve hesitated to post this essay but it would seem to answer a private question from one reader who wishes to know how I’m doing, or rather what I’m doing. Like Fitzgerald, I’m trying to figure it all out somewhere on this side of the brink, and not in the monstrous way Fitzgerald resolves it. My problem, or rather my solution, is quite the opposite.

I wrote a lot in college and right after (somewhere I have a poetry manuscript, alas, but there’s always hope the cockroaches and mildew have gotten to it), but as I fell into journalism I wrote less and less and typed more and more. I wrote perhaps a half-dozen poems over 10 years when some line stuck itself in my head, only because I never stopped reading poetry. I wrote a theme for the Washington Mardi Gras that led my co-worker to ask me what I was on in college, but they used it anyway because it was good. I started a novel but didn’t get far. Mostly, I read and went about the business of life: small children, a series of houses, rungs on a Jacob’s ladder to the conventional American heaven on earth.

Then something happened one afternoon August 29, 2005. Something literally snapped and it wasn’t just a string of Mardi Gras beads hanging from my rear view mirror. The experience of Katrina and the Federal Flood, witnessed from 900 miles away, didn’t so much break something as steal something away from me. Call it faith: faith in anything. I looked at the social contract and it appeared to have been written in another language with its own alphabet. All the threads that tie us into society from the family up to the nation state snapped at once. All bets were off and the rules became as bizarre of those of Calvin and Hobbes’ ball game, made up on the spot to suit the situation.

And somewhere in all that I lost the ability to lie to myself.

I could no longer convince myself that what I witnessed was an anomaly and not the way the world worked. When all of your assumptions about life and society, even those one mocked (religion, the government) were proved to be made of thin tissue that could not stand up to the flood waters, when confronted with all of the lies required to live as a decent, respectable human being in this place and time, it was more than my mind could handle. I struggled to assemble some new organizational scheme, some way to make sense of the world and myself.

This isn’t the same as suggesting I could not or cannot today deceive myself. We’re all much too good at that. It’s as deeply wired into the survival instinct of modern man as any carry over from our days with sticks and skins. It just became impossible to keep up for long. Eventually all such attempts—societal, professional and even personal–fall apart. It’s a personal, interior version of the film Liar, Liar, and it is not particularly funny.

It also doesn’t suggest that I’ve lost the ability to lie to others, to put on the mask appropriate to the situation. I still have responsibilities I can not just walk away from. I have to hold onto a job and pay all the bills that come with decades on the treadmill. It’s just that over time things start to leak out, especially once you’ve started writing in a public forum like this. Not just the piece about the broken beads, suggesting some extraordinary connection beyond coincidence, which someone–say a future employer–might find disconcerting. There is the piece long ago where I announced I am (as almost everyone in this town is) a racist, but one who has recognized the disease I inherited from my family and city and from which, like an alcoholic, I will spend the rest of my life in recovery. Then there are my occasional posts expressing my obvious dissatisfaction with my current career and carefully never-mentioned-by-name employer, the Counting House.

What the Hindu’s call the veil of Maya was torn away, the illusions proved not to be something mystical, a natural by product of our creation from some greater soul but rather the cheap tricks of a casino lounge magician, the chicanery of politicians we agree with. We were all having such a good time; it wasn’t worth trying to puzzle out how it was done and spoiling the moment.

When the underpinnings of your world suddenly shatters, when even the convenient fictions of every day life prove to be just a drapery in front of something more monstrous that you imagined in your darkest moments, something is going to happen. One in a million people becomes the Buddha. Sorry, not me; not this time around. Most become suicides, substance abusers, or aimless drifters standing on the corner all day with a stare fixed on some distant point but no idea where to go.

Some become writers, madly cataloging their thoughts and creating fictions knowing that is what they are doing but knowing it is of their own creation, an extension of the preservation impulse that raised the gods up out of the muck and gave them names, the stories told around the fire that animated the stars. The author and editor of TheRumpus.net Stephen Elliot has an excellent essay titled “Why I Write” in which he talks about “the scream,” the sudden realization that you have something you must say, a impulse so powerful it comes out (must come out) as a shout. This is my shout, not a cry for help but something like the fierce, instinctive howl that came out of my throat once when cornered by a pack of feral dogs that scared them away.

I should probably be writing this privately as a journal entry somewhere, or as a letter to some specific individual who will (or will not) understand. That’s how things like this are handled, right? Except that as with the alcoholic or other twelve-stepper, if you’re going to succeed at healing yourself you need to stand up and announce to the world: I am a terrible liar. And given the path I’ve gone down, once I decided to post the story quoted above about the broken beads and all that has followed, what is the point of writing to myself or an audience of one when there’s a whole world out there to remake, millions of pieces to rearrange until they make sense and become something beautiful?

I am very fond of the jazz and performance artist Sun Ra, who used to speak about “the shield of beauty” which I have come to understand as something like the shield of Perseus held up to the Medusa. Writing is my shield of beauty, without which the monstrosity of the world would destroy me. It’s that simple. And that complex. And if I don’t spend the rest of my life at this, well, there’s always the bottle, the razor, the silent man sitting in the chair in the corner thinking and doing nothing, but who—once you are this conscious of the decision involved—would chose those?

So, that’s why I’m here. Why, curious reader, are you?

Village Ghetto Land December 8, 2010

Posted by The Typist in Dancing Bear, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Shield of Beauty, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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It has probably been 20 years since I last heard this song. I think I still have my vinyl but it’s somewhere I’m not, as is the turntable, or I might have played that record to death last night instead of climbing into bed at six to sleep off a burgeoning cold. It puts me in mind of Sun Ra’s words about lifting the Shield of Beauty against all the ugly of the world. I think of Stevie Wonder and Rahsaan Roland Kirk but the image of the blind seer has been with us since humanity first learned to tell stories. Just ask Tiresias should you be (un)lucky enough to find yourself in a position to ask.

I have very eclectic taste in music, but when I offered my son a copy of spoken word artist Katalyst’s CD he told me he’d been listening to gansta rap, something I have no use for. I was a professional propagandist too long to not take seriously the impact of glorifying violence, misogyny and death, and the evidence can be found all to often on the streets of New Orleans,sometimes lying cold in a pool of blood. This song is taken from the same mean streets, changed only since the 1970s by the drugs of choice and the efficiency of the weapons and the demolition of everyone’s momma’s house in favor of Urban Renewal (remember how well that worked in the Sixties and Seventies).

So somewhere here at the midpoint between Thanksgiving and Xmas, when most people are too busy at the orgy of shopping and parties to consider what these holidays are about, too deeply enmeshed in their traditional Xian faith to see the turning of the solar year as a time to stop and think about what those holidays tell them about the world, about the cyclical rebirth of the world and what opportunities that presents (think New Year’s resolutions), to sated by celebration to think back on all the parables of the Carpenter they’ve snoozed through the rest of the year, along comes this song and perhaps if they hear it, it will hopefully stop them in their tracks for a minute and give them pause.

I think I may buy a stack of those mini-CDs and give everyone I know this Christmas a single (with an A and B side of course) of this song and The Rebel Jesus (which I’m bound to post up here before too long).

Gather by the river March 14, 2010

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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How am I going to manage to watch the David Simon’s new HBO dramatic series Treme if I can’t sit through the trailer without my eyes welling up in tears? There are some images that haven’t crossed my consciousness in a while: a floor caked in cracked mud, a desert camo Humvee rolling down a street of flood-stained houses, one ruined home’s contents scattered on the curb as the owner stands over it with one thing in his hands transfixed with grief. When a half-million of us sit down in April to watch this I am not sure what will happen. It will be a shared, civic catharsis to rival winning the NFC Championship and the Superbowl, a powerful psychic bomb the shock waves of which will do something profound to this city.

I am just not sure what.

Will it be the car backfire that takes the shell-shocked homeless man back to some long ago battle and sends him careening into a crowd, releases his government issued, muscle memory instinct to kill? Or instead like the blinding light and hallucinatory voice that transforms a minor government functionary into an evangelist revolutionary?

Or something else? One of those things that makes you think: only in New Orleans?

I find myself listening in a loop (party out of a conversation I had last night) to “Gather by the River” by Davell Crawford from the Nonesuch RecordsOur New Orleans recording of 2006. Perhaps Treme will be one of those strangely transcendent moments, the eerie scene from Brother, Where Art Though when the people in their baptism whites come out of the woods and down to the water’s edge, something like the gathering of Daddy Love’s faithful in William Styron’s Lie Down in Darkness.

We shall gather
At the river
With each other
Cause you’re my brother
And our souls
put in the water
for the healing
of each other.
Be saved
Sanctified
Freed from sin
Where freedom lines
Fly away
From the land
Because we can
Because we can.

A few months ago my friend the writer Sam Jasper started republishing parts of her Katrina Refrigerator blog documenting the months after. And now Ray in Exile (aka Ray in New Orleans and before that Ray in Austin) has been moving over his Katrina-period writing to his new site. They are both powerful writers and while some blog posts have the telegraphic simplicity of a front-line dispatch (two hundred and fifty six Viet Cong captured) or seem like pieces of a accidentally found private journal, the sort of thing you might find open and waterlogged in the debris pile at the curb, to the people of the Flood, they are like the notes toward a gospel: a narrative fraught with significance to the initiated and attractive enough to the curious outsider that perhaps they are the basis of a conversion to the truths revealed by the waters.

I never finished David Brinkley’s The Great Deluge. A work of history on the most important event of my lifetime shouldn’t begin be transposing two major geographical features (Lake Borgne and Bay St. Louis), then start with a vicious deconstruction of Ray Nagin as if his performance were the most important thing that went down in September 2005. I haven’t picked up Zetouin or Dan Baum’s book either. There is a lot I will have to make the time (and find the strength) to do before the fifth anniversary: watch Treme, read those books and re-read some others, to scan again the fragmentary texts of the blogs of 2005. I will have to figure out how, without the intervention of the distant and indifferent gods, to turn tears and anger into redemption, how to “fly away from the land” not into the sanctified clouds but into the bath-warm and comforting soul of New Orleans, washed clean by the waters.

Fly away
From the land
Because we can
Because we can

The Turning of the Year January 1, 2010

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Toulouse Street.
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As the wheel turns away from the dark, let us all follow and second line into the light.

The wheel is turning
and you can’t slow down
You can’t let go
and you can’t hold on
You can’t go back
and you can’t stand still
If the thunder don’t get you
then the lightning will

Won’t you try just a little bit harder?
Couldn’t you try just a little bit more?
Won’t you try just a little bit harder?
Couldn’t you try just a little bit more?

Round round robin run around
Gotta get back where you belong
Little bit harder, just a little bit more
Little bit farther than you than you’ve gone before

Too Loose Street February 20, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, home, Mid-City, New Orleans, NOLA, parade, Rebirth, Recovery.
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Finally, we get to have the party.

The Ghost of Christmas Future December 18, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, food, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, Katrina, Mid-City, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK, Xmas, Yule.
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I wrote this little penny dreadful in one furious draft on Monday night, and I have been plinking at it since. I think it probably needs a serious once over with a blue pencil by someone else but Christmas is almost here and I’m not a patient person. Criticisms by comment or email welcome.

This is a work of fiction. Any perceived resemblance to persons living or dead should be discussed with your therapist at your next session.

Finally, this is the sort of thing that happens when you read the early short fiction of P.K. Dick around Christmas, something I don’t recommend. I have since switched to Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather and feel entirely better.

The Ghost of Christmas Future

“Quiet and dark, beside him stood the Phantom, with its outstretched hand. When he roused himself from his thoughtful quest, he fancied from the turn of the hand, and its situation in reference to himself, that the Unseen Eyes were looking at him keenly. It made him shudder, and feel very cold.”
–Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”

Maria settled into the hard, wooden seat as the antique red streetcar jumped to a start and slowly whirred up to speed, clutching a shopping bag close to her chest. A few rolls of half-used foil wrapping paper stuck out of the package, the odd cut ends flapping a bit in the breeze as the car slowly got up to speed. These cars had once been air conditioned, or so Maria was told, but it had not worked any time she could remember. At least the windows opened, unlike the even older buses that carried her for the last part of her long trip home, those windows long fused shut by neglect and humidity. The December air was a lukewarm bath, not hot like August but not the cool that might come by Carnival if the city was lucky.

As she settled down for her long ride home she glanced out at the brightly-lit high rise buildings that lined the river, then turned her head away. She had spent the day in one of those, scrubbing out toilets and kitchen floors. From a distance at night they looked glamorous, like a city in an old movie. The insides she knew well enough after a dozen years working there as a maid, the apartments did not look so glamorous from down on hands and knees scrubbing.

She peered instead into her package, trying to decide if there was enough paper on the rolls to wrap the cast-offs she had gotten from Mrs. Lafont: toys her employer’s children had outgrown, a beautiful silk scarf in a slightly out of fashion pattern for herself. It would be better than last Christmas, the first after her husband died; coughing up the last of his life with the black mold and stucco dust he had breathed ten and twelve hours a day as a young man demolishing homes after the flood.

Better than last Christmas. She tried to convince herself the children were still so distraught over the loss of their father that the lack of presents that Christmas was a small thing, but she could see it in their eyes as she dressed them for mass on Christmas morning as they stared at the empty corner where her husband had always managed a small, leftover tree on Christmas Eve.. It was just another measure their loss, the first of many days when they would miss his presence.

She lifted up her shoulders and straightened her back as she took in a deep breath, then let it out in a long sigh to settle her mind, looking straight ahead as the car rattled toward the last of the high rises and the first checkpoint. A man in a black uniform with a small automatic pistol hanging at his waist from a shoulder strap stepped into the car, and Maria fished out her papers. It was the first of several times she would need them that evening, and she kept them in the little pocket of her bag ready to hand.

A pair of guards from Bywater Security stood laughing over a cigarette just outside the window at Maria’s seat, but the guard from the Downtown Security District who entered the car was not smiling. He walked slowly down the aisle, glancing casually at everyone’s proffered passes and ID cards. He passed Maria with just a desultory glance, but yanked the papers out of the hands of the young man sitting just behind her. Maria looked straight ahead but could see in her mind the scene unfolding as she had seen it a hundred times before: the guard staring intently at the card, then at the young man, then back at the card; his hand sliding back from its position resting atop the gun and toward the grip, his fingers stroking the metal as if the gun were a small lapdog. She heard him grunt and then shuffle on toward the back of the car. He pulled the stop cord, and the driver released the rear door to let him out.

It was the same at each of the neighborhood security boundaries on her long ride home to the back of town, the private police in their black uniforms manning their check points to see who was coming into their zone. Her grandmother had told her stories about growing up in Chiapas in the days of the rebels, of the soldiers with their machine guns patrolling the streets. Here in New Orleans, her grandmother told her, they mostly left you alone if your papers were OK. Back in Mexico it was not so good. Many young men were killed by the soldiers there, their wives abused. It was so much better, she was so, so lucky to be growing up in America.

She put her ID and pass back into her purse, checking to see that the envelope of cash Mrs. Lafont had given her as a Christmas tip was still safe in the bottom of her bag. Satisfied, she took out a small compact and looked into it instead of at the passing high rises or the river front parks her maid’s pass would never admit her to. In the mirror she saw two men she didn’t notice when she boarded the car, or remember seeing come down the aisle.

One was an older Anglo in a faded t-shirt, some design with a skull and a gun that said Defend, perhaps a retired soldado negro from one of the security districts. . Next to him was another man in a dark hoodie with the top pulled so far up and over his head that she could not see his face. It was so dark under the hood she thought he must be a Black, but she could not be sure. She was amazed the guard had not stopped this odd pair and hauled them off the car for further questioning. Even if the hooded one wasn’t a Black, and you never saw them inside the river front security districts, even if he were also an Anglo, wearing his face covered like that would be all the excuse they would need.

The hooded one turned toward her as she watched them in the mirror, and still she could not see his face in the mirror. She snapped it shut and shuddered as she crossed herself and kissed her thumb, murmuring the last phrases of a Hail Mary under her breath. As she did so the last of the high rises passed them by, and the Old Quarter began. Her grandmother had taken her down to the cathedral when she was a child, before the security districts replaced the old police and instituted the passes. They would sit among the pigeons and tourists and grandmother would tell her of her own girlhood in Mexico, of the cathedral on a square where the boys walked one way and the girls another on a Sunday afternoon, where she had met her grandfather, back in the years before he came to the city to work after the first flood.

She crossed herself again, feeling safer as the three towers of the church passed. She turned her head to watch them go by. In the corner of her eye she saw the seats where the hooded one and his companion had been were empty. The car had not stopped, and no one had gotten off. Her head snapped back to the front. Without looking down her hands fished deep into her bag and she dug out her rosary.

***

Scrouge did a walk through survey of the house. The dishwasher was whirring away in the dark kitchen, and all of the food put away. He took away the last shreds of wrapping paper from the cat, and tucked away the important looking bits of paper or odd bits of gifts. The Santa presents for the kids were laid out by the dining room fireplace. The cookies were out for the Big Guy (his teenage children had rolled their eyes), and he snagged one off the plate as he passed. His wife and children were all asleep. Christmas Eve was almost done.

He slipped quietly into the room they called the walk through closet, the one closest to their back bedroom on that side of the shotgun house, and took off his dressy Christmas Eve clothes. He pulled on some comfortable jeans and a Defend New Orleans t-shirt, one of almost a dozen he owned emblazoned with some emblem or slogan about saving the city. It was time for one last Christmas tradition.

He would slip out as he had every Christmas Eve since he returned to New Orleans for a late drink with friends at the Holiday Lounge deep in the Bywater. The place was a year-round tribute to Christmas, lit inside entirely by the fat colored bulbs he remembered from the trees of his youth, the walls hung with every sort of imaginable cheap holiday decoration: jolly plastic Santas and snowmen in top hats, rainbow-hued wire reindeer and candy canes, and a large Styrofoam figure of New Orleans holiday icon Mr. Bingle, the little snow man with the ice cream cone hat.

The Holiday was a New Orleans icon, and Scrouge was all about the icons. In the years since the hurricane and flood he had worn his love of New Orleans like a forearm tattoo, prominent and indelible. Since his return to New Orleans his life had been part pilgrimage, making a point of visiting all of the city’s notable spots at least once and his favorites whenever he could. He wrote about these places on an Internet site he had founded dedicated to preserving a small bit of each: an anecdote, a photograph, some scrap like a coaster scanned and saved for ever. That was not tonight’s agenda, but he knew he would likely write something out of tonight’s visit.

He sometimes wondered, sitting at the computer late at night, why he felt compelled to do this. It was more than just the web site, although it made him something of a notable character about town, something like always wearing a hat (which he did), and he relished the attention. Some times when the words would not come and he knew he should go to bed, he would instead sit on his porch smoking wondering: was there something more personal driving this constant comparison of the city he had left in his rear view mirror New Year’s Eve 1986 with the one that was slowly rebuilding itself all around him, the compulsion to stuff as much of the city as he could into his head. He told himself it was research, preparation for doing what he most wanted to do: to write something important about the city, a book immortalizing it against the slow erosion of time or worse the final flood, the one that would erase it for ever.

He peeked in one last time on his wife and then his son before leaving. Tonight shouldn’t be about the damned blog, he thought. He was going to see some of his oldest friends, people he had known since they were in kindergarten, the people after his wife and children he most cared about. Tonight should be about a different kind of remembering. He took the pen and small pad out of his back pocket, and laid it on the kitchen counter, and left.

He set the alarm, locked the door and stepped out on the porch. As he double checked the latch by pulling on the door he heard a “pop-pop-pop” in the distance. It could be fireworks, he told himself. They were illegal in the city, but people started buying them across the river as soon as the stands open and shooting them off at all hours of the day and night.

Or it could be something else: gunshots. The city had been in the middle of some level of crime wave—going from bad to horrible to back to simply bad—for years. He felt safe in his immediate neighborhood but there were vast stretches of the city that were simply dangerous, just as there were enormous areas that looked not much different three years after the hurricane and flood than they did three months after.

He often wondered if it was enough just to be here, to just write about the city, if that would really make a difference for a place at once so wonderful and so wounded. He had tried to do more the first year he was home, but the cross-currents of planning meetings and volunteer projects, and of family and his new job, had nearly drowned him. He had spent almost three and a half years writing almost every night about New Orleans, sharing it with the world. That had to count for something.

***

As he left the Holiday and walked back to his car up by the river levee something drew him up to the top of the levee to see the city strung out along the river, the lights of downtown in the distance. He lit a cigarette and looked at the city twinkling in the humid air, then up at the clear sky. A middle-aged man had no business being out looking for magic in the Christmas Eve sky at 1 a.m. in a sketchy part of town, but nothing moved except a tow boat. All was calm, and city was bright.

When the figure in the black jeans and hoodie pulled up over its head suddenly appeared next to him, he froze in place. He could not discern a face inside the hood, as if it were covered with a black stocking. He was certainly about to be robbed, and he hoped it would stop with that. But the figure did not pull a gun, or say a word for what was probably a minute but seemed in his adrenaline rush to be an hour.

The figure pointed at first without speaking, the long sleeve of the over sized hooded sweatshirt hiding its hand, in the direction over his shoulder. He turned and saw the city transformed. The low buildings of the Bywater were gone, replaced by what he was sure were a row of high rise apartment buildings of the sort he remembered from his years in Washington, D.C. A red street car like those that ran up and down the riverfront closer to downtown was slowly crawling up Chartres Street.

It had been a typical, warm Christmas night in New Orleans but he was suddenly soaked in sweat under his clothes and shivering as if he were coming down with the flu. The figure just stood there, pointing at the street car stop down the levee. He tried to speak to it but when he opened his mouth only confused bits of words would come out. Finally the figure spoke. “We’re going to ride the car downtown. There is something I need to show you.” Confused and feeling ill, he pulled his jean jacket closed in front and hunched his shoulders and walked unsteadily down the levee.

***

“How did it happen, Spirit, all of those ugly glass high rises, the private police? Why didn’t we stop them?” Scrouge asked. The empty black hood was silent, its sleeves buried deep in the pullover’s pockets like a robed monk. Scrouge was not sure he had ever seen hands at the end of those overly long sleeves. It set a brisk pace as they walked through the French Quarter. Little had changed here, Scrouge thought, as they passed by knots of laughing people roaming the streets, past restaurants with lines waiting outside, and crowded bars with music blaring.

“It’s quicker this way,” a voice from inside the hood said, clipped and business like, the voice of a policeman urging the crowd to move on.. Nothing to see here, it seemed to announce. “The back-of-town buses don’t run all the way up Canal anymore. They’re not allowed past the checkpoints.” “Checkpoints,” Scrouge repeated as if tasting a new word from a foreign language as he stumbled on a broken bit of sidewalk, trying at once to look around and keep up with his guide.

As they came up to Bourbon Street the crowds were heavier and more boisterous, the sort of scene Scrouge had witnessed on a hundred other weekend or holiday nights. He could hear someone picking Christmas carols on a guitar and singing in a nasal, mid-South accent. The hooded spirit stopped for a moment in front of the busker just as he finished a song, turning his dark hood toward Scrouge. “Merry Christmas, y’all,” the busker said to no one in particular, as if Scrouge and the hoodie were not there. “Giving is the reason for the season,” he shouted to the crowd, nudging his guitar case with the toe of a western boot.

The spirit just stood there, the faceless hole seeming to glower at Scrouge, who dug into his pocket and pulled out a rumpled bill and tossed it in the case. “Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas to you, sir,” the busker bellowed. Scrouge looked at the Spirit, who said nothing, then turned to ask the singer where he was from. “Tennessee. I’m just down here working for the holidays,” he said. “The French Quarter Corporation doesn’t pay as well as Disney, but they’re a lot looser about how you look or what you do with your off hours. And who doesn’t want to come to New Orleans, at least once?”

Scrouge started to answer but the hoodie pushed through the crowd to cross Bourbon and Scrouge hurried to follow. He looked up and down Bourbon and it was the same strip of neon lit drinking joints it had always been, crowded with people wearing beads they had bought in t-shirt shops that alternated with the bars for blocks in either direction. Scrouge thought it odd that they all wore badges around their necks. Conventions usually didn’t come in town at Christmas. “They’re tourists, but not conventioneers,” the hooded voice said. “Those are passes from the security district. When the city voted to dissolve the police and let the private security districts take over, the Quarter was closed off to the rest of town, to keep it safe for the visitors.”

“But what about locals who want to come down here? Can’t they come to eat at Galatoire’s or Acme or Oliviers?” Scrouge asked. “Those places closed after the second flood,” the hoodie said and marched on. Scrouge stopped walking “Gone?” he said, his gaze sinking down at the sidewalk. “Second flood?” Everything felt like a dream in which he had shown up in a classroom prepared for the wrong exam. He looked at his hands, as if there was something written there that would explain what was happening, but there were no crib notes. He looked up as if to follow up his question and noticed his guide was almost half a block ahead. He hurried to catch up.

The streets were quieter on the Rampart side of Bourbon, just as Scrouge remembered them, but something was missing. There were no cars lining the curb. There were just a handful of gaudy colored little toy things that looked like a cross between a golf cart and the car George Jetson drove, each plugged into an outlet on a small post with a horses head at the top. The carts were painted on the side like cabs: Condo Conti, Vacance en Dauphine, Burgundy Street Guest Houses. The scene made Scrouge think of exclusive beach resorts of the sort that did not allow cars but gave each guest a buggy to use to get to the beach or the golf course. “Precisely,” the hooded voice said, as if once again reading Scrouge’s mind.

As they passed Burgundy headed toward Rampart Scrouge noticed the wall. At first he thought it was just the commercial building that had once stood between Rampart and Basin, but as they came out onto Rampart he saw it was a high wall that ran up and down where the neutral ground once stood. The river side of Rampart inside the wall was filled with men, but it was not the crowd Scrouge would expect to see on mid-Bourbon around the epicenter of the gay bars. These men looked like the spillover from a lobby of a hotel booked solid with visiting dentists, mixed with packs of boys wearing shirts with fraternity letters on them The women stood apart, on the steps of the houses or hanging out of windows, bare-chested in tiny miniskirts , or in burlesque lingerie, or in nothing more than body paint.

The black uniforms of the security district strolled up and down the street in pairs, stopping to eye the knots of drunken men as they approached the women. The men would stop, made hesitant by the guards’ stare, then the girls would grab them by the arm and lead them laughing down the alleys and into the doorways, and the guards would pass on. The sign on the corner did not read Rampart. It said Storyville. “Got to give the tourists what they want,” the hoodie said, pausing a moment while Scrouge took in the tableaux. Then it grabbed his arm, and started to frog march him toward the wall. “Hey, wait, where are we go… ”. Scrouge’s voice was cut off as they passed through the wall.

They were standing on the lake side of Rampart. The street was brightly lit by high street lamps but deserted. “How the hell did that happen?” Scrouge asked, but the hood just turned briefly toward him then started again to walk toward Basin Street. Scrouge just shook his head like a dog shaking off water, and hurried to catch up. “Are we going to the cemetery?” he asked the dark hood. “Not this one,” the voice inside the hood answered. “There is another. We have to catch a bus first.” It turned left at Basin and started to walk toward Canal Street.

The old housing project still stood on Basin, but it was dark. “Where are the people?” Scrouge asked. “Gone,” the hood answered. “Most could not to come back after the second flood. A lot were drafted into the Army after the riots.” “What riots?” “The government announced after the second flood that any return would be limited by lottery, and that the lottery tickets would be sold,” the hood said. “Most couldn’t afford tickets, and they wanted to come home. When they burned all the trailers in the New Treme resettlement park up by New Roads and rioted in the streets in Houston, a lot of the men were swept up and sent off to fight in the Chindopak.”

“Chindopak?” Scrouge asked, his voice cracking as he stopped dead in the sidewalk. His breathing grew heavy and his chest heaved as his body wrestled somewhere deep inside between anger and panic. “What. Second. Flood. You have to tell me. What the hell happened?” Scrouge labored to speak between gasping breaths, and finally bent over and put his hands on his knees and tried to get his breathing under control. “You have to tell me. Damn you.” The spirit had walked ahead a dozen steps. It stopped and turned. Laughter came out of the dark shell of a hood. “Damn me”. More laughter. “Too late,” it said, something like a chuckle in its voice, if you put a chuckle down the garbage disposal. “You need to worry about your own damnation. I’ll take care of myself.” It held out its sleeve toward Canal. There was a hand, Scrouge noticed this time, black and gaunt like an overcooked turkey wing, a thing of skin and bone. “Come on. We have a bus to catch. I’ll explain while we ride.”

***

“Yes, they built up the levees,” the spirit explained as it stared out the window , the ancient bus rumbling down a dark and lamp less Canal Street. “In the last big storm they mostly held but the East and St. Bernard were drowned again, and abandoned. One of the new pump stations was overwhelmed and the lakefront was inundated. The core city was saved by the second line levee they built over the old railroad embankment through Mid-City. That’s when they started to build the high-rises, to pull everyone into the high land in the old city’s footprint. No one argued this time.

The bus slowly rumbled down Canal Street empty and surrounded by darkness. “No one knows where the fire started, but it was a dry storm with very little rain, and with several feet of water in the streets of Mid-City this section mostly burned,” the spirit said. Scrouge measured their progress through the dark by noting the intersections where the car stopped, although there was no cross traffic and no one got on or off: first narrow Galvez, then wider Broad and finally the open expanse of Jeff Davis. Here and there in the dark were bright islands of light, illuminating rows of identical white trailers on city blocks covered with white clam shell and surrounded by metal fences. “They built these parks for the workers they need to keep the tourist industry going.”

“I don’t understand. After the flood….” “The first flood,” the spirit corrected him. Scrouge stared straight ahead and through the empty bus for a moment, then down at his hands again and resumed. “After the flood, we all came back. We worked so hard. How could it they let it all happen again?” Scrouge looked not at the hooded spirit but up at the roof of the bus. “How could it happen again? How could it all turn out so wrong? ” sounding like a child who had just been told there would be no Christmas. The hoodie continued to contemplate the dark windows, ignoring Scrouge’s question. The bus rumbled on and Scrouge turned the other way and likewise stared into the darkness that surrounded him.

The bus pulled up to Carrollton, and the driver announced, “Cemeteries. End of the line,” as he set the brake, opened the door and stepped out and lit a cigarette. He headed off toward a portable toilet set on the neutral ground. The hoodie stood up and waited for Scrouge to do the same. He rose up and walked unsteadily down the aisle toward the door, grasping the railings at the stairs until his hands turned white, unwilling to step out. “Out,” the voice behind him said, and its bony hand gave him a push.

He stepped out into the single bright street light that stood over the driver’s toilet and looked into the darkness. Moonlight glinted off the rows of white metal boxes that marched off into the distance on the lakeside of Carrollton. “Why isn’t this trailer park lit up?” Scrouge turned toward the hoodie and asked. “Because it’s not a trailer park,” it answered. “It’s what the driver said: Cemeteries.”

Scrouge walked slowly away from the light and toward the field of white boxes. The play of the darkness and the street lamp had confused his sense of proportion and perspective. The boxes were too small to be trailers. They could only be one thing. “Tombs,” hoodie said. “Government-issue ovens, the trailers they used after the first flood, just scaled down for their new occupants. When this section burned, they turned it into a cemetery.”

Scrouge’s slumped like a cheap suit jacket on a wire hanger.

“When the new pumping stations and the high levees were finished everyone started to feel safe. They grew tired of evacuating for every storm. The first flood faded into a story their parents told, something they never thought could happen to them. All of it faded: all the work their parents did to rebuild the city, the constant battles over decades it took to build the levees and try to put things back. They forgot what it was like when the city flooded the first time.

“They grew complacent, stopped paying attention to what the government did. Or rather, what it didn’t do. Part of it was exhaustion. There parents had fought for decades and were just worn out. They stopped trying. The children didn’t remember because their parents were tired of talking about it, and the memories grew distant and vague, just history but not their history. Like their parents before them everyone just assumed all the work was behind them, that the levees would protect them.

“After the second flood, this is where they put the dead,” the hoodie said, “the people who stayed, the ones who didn’t remember.”

Scrouge turned away from the tombs and looked up dark Carrollton Avenue toward the park. This was his old neighborhood, the last of many he had called home in this city. Everything he remembered, all the old storefronts on the river side: gone. Venezia’s and Brocato’s, the old bar with the red door and the new Spanish place that opened after Katrina, the whole river side of the street was wiped clean. . The old Reuters building was a hulk in the distance. And on the other side the white tombs marched away into the distance until he could not see but only imagine them enveloping his house on Toulouse Street, flowing on until they merged with the old cemeteries he knew: St. Patrick’s, the Mason’s, Odd Fellows, Greenwood.

Scrouge fell on his knees and wept. The bus driver ignored them and climbed back into his bus and drove off. He had seen it before. The spirit stood there watching, silent. Finally, Scrouge looked up. There was a faint shimmer of zodiacal light in the east. Soon the sun would come up. He rose unsteadily to his feet and turned toward the hooded spirit.

“If you are the spirit of a Future Christmas, then it’s not too late, is it?” Scrouge asked, his voice still cracked from his tears. “Isn’t that how this works, just like the old Dickens’ tale? If we don’t stop fighting, and always remember, it doesn’t have to be like this? Isn’t that it? Isn’t that how this works?”

The hooded figure was growing transparent as the sky grew lighter. Scrouge could see the driver’s toilet through the sweatshirt and black jeans. As it slowly faded it echoed his words back to him not as a question: as a statement. It raised its bony hand one last time and pointed at Scrouge. “Don’t stop fighting,” it said, the voice growing fainter as the figure slowly vanished. “Remember…”

***

Scrouge sprang up in bed, knocking over a tumbler half full of water and the bed side lamp. The back door of the bedroom in the shotgun house was open, and he heard his wife asking, “What was that?” He could smell coffee. He jumped out of the covers and ran around the bed to the back door and stuck his head out. “What’s today?”

His wife gave him a puzzled look. “Merry Christmas?” she said as much a question as a greeting? “Are you okay?”

“It’s not too late!” he whooped as he took three steps in two hops. He ran over and knelt beside his wife and gave her a bear hug. “Not too late for what,” she asked, “to make coffee? I took care of that.” “Mmmmmmm, never mind, Merry Christmas.” He held her silently for a moment. “I’m sorry, I just had a really weird dream.” He let her go, stood up and stretched. “Do I smell coffee?” “Uh, yeah, that’s what we were just talking about. You forgot to make any last night, goofball. I think you had a bit too much Christmas Eve cheer.”

“Yeah, coffee sounds really good right now. Are the kids up?

“No, so try to be quiet.” His children were teenagers, and as likely to sleep in Christmas morning as any other holiday of the year. They had opened their best presents on Christmas Eve, a habit his wife had brought down from the Midwest.

“OK.” He climbed up the steps to the house and tried to walk as quietly as he could over the hardwood floors. Living in these houses was like living in a boat. You could hear everything. He wondered again how entire families had managed to live in half of the double he’s made into a single home. He grabbed some coffee in the kitchen and went out to the front porch, leaving his wife alone in back with her to-do list and her coffee. He slid the latch as silently as he could, and stepped out onto his porch and looked up and down his street. The mostly shotgun houses ran off in both direction as far as he could see, from City Park Avenue up toward Carrollton Avenue, and in his minds eye he could follow the street all the way through the city to the French Quarter.

It’s not too late, he thought as he sat on the stoop and sipped his coffee and took in the warm Christmas morning in New Orleans. “It’s not too late,” he said out loud to a passing cat, one of the dozen semi-feral cats that lived on their street. It came up and he scratched its head. “We just have to remember, and never give up.” Two children from the house on the corner, just moved home from evacuation and who barely remembered this city, rode by on shiny new bicycles, laughing. A neighbor ducked out in her robe for the newspaper, and waved and shouted a Merry Christmas. As he echoed “Merry Christmas” with a broad smile and a wave, over on Canal Street the bells of St. Anthony of Padua began to ring.

sta

Three Years August 17, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“I never thought I’d need so many people.”
–David Bowie, Five Years

Every day I drive slowly down rough and littered streets beneath sooty overpasses, through neighborhoods lined with hollow houses, the empty windows watching over the slow collapse of the roads into rubble, the rampant lawns and the vines claiming the roofs. Familiar landmarks are vanished into weed-choked lots even as new buildings rise up here and there. I tell myself this is not a disaster area, it is the New Orleans of memory, the postdiluvian city of shabby gentility slowly settling back into itself. It is the place I remember not transformed but instead amplified by the flood, the decay accelerated by the casual incompetence and common corruption of a government that would shame Haiti.

The streets and sidewalks still sag and heave as they did before, as if something beneath them were trying to break through and reclaim its place. There are more of these upheavals now, as if the flood had woken something that once moved slowly as in a dream, as if what lay below has grown hungry and anxious to completely crack the thin veneer of concrete we call civilization and begin to consume us in ernest. I can no longer be certain whether the roots that tear up the sidewalks run down from the trees, or if they are something clawing up from below, tossing up oaks and cypress to reclaim us for the swamp primeaval.

That is my city: not the delicate traceries of iron balconies or mossy-bricked patios at the end of a gas-lit carriageway in the Quarter–a postcard place for tourists–or the clean and quiet, manse-lined streets in the better parts of Uptown untouched by the flood. I live in the heart of the place, a section named Mid-City but called Back of Town by the cab dispatchers, rows of small houses crowded up to streets drapped in a tangle of overhead black wires, an early 20th century working class neighborhood made good (just), clinging desperately to gentility just a block from the railroad tracks.

Things mostly look good on our stretch of Toulouse Street three years after the levees failed and the city was drowned. Our biggest problem is that all of the rentals are full and its getting hard to park. I can drive to work up Orleans and tell myself it doesn’t look that different, until I get to the fields of sand and debris that were once the Lafitte Housing projects. Or I can take my son to school first, taking a part of my own boyhood route to school up Jefferson Davis and Nashville, and convince myself that things looks much the same as they did three years ago today, or twenty years ago when I left for the east coast.

I can make a point of not venturing into the heart of Gentilly Woods or New Orleans East. I can leave my newspaper folded on the porch, not reading of peoples homes demolished by mistake, or a building badly in need of demolition but ignored collapsing onto someone’s nearly restored house. I can pay no attention to the latest recovery scandal, the diversion of funds to help the elderly and poor into the pockets of the mayor’s brother-in-law. Instead I can make head out to any of a dozen of world’s finest restaurants in the country, then wander out into the night to listen to music you won’t find anywherre else in America, and tell myself everything is going to be alright.

Instead, I find myself getting up most mornings or coming home at night not to the daily paper but to a computer. I login and after vainly checking for comments and counts here, I pull up the writings of dozens of New Orleans bloggers who will not let us forget, who will not let you forget wherever you may be. They are a daily reminder of the ground truth of this place, that our recovery still struggles after three years and will continue for years to come. They remind me as well that I no longer have the time or energy to crusade as I did on Wet Bank Guide for the first two years after the flood, but that the battle goes on.

We are an odd bunch, the NOLA bloggers. I wrote not long ago:

“We are people who write about this city and the people in it… as one of the tethers for our sanity in this crazy place where It’s After the End of the World…part an underground resistance to the poor, lost fuckmooks [in City Hall] 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.

“[w]e’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.”

Our community is an on-line analog of the movement that blossomed two years ago when the government failed to step in to rebuild the city. Organizations rose up in the neighborhoods among those who came home first, and became a movement of civic engagement. Among the leaders that movement cast up were bloggers: Karen Gadbois and Bart Everson most prominently, with dozens of others in the ranks. When it became clear that the government would not save us, the people of New Orleans moved to save themselves and blogging became an important part of that movement.

What we all blog is important because we will not let the government write our story, or the out-of-town journalists with their own angle or even our local newspaper, beholden as it is to the lot of carpetbaggers and scaliwags who are swarming like flies around the recovery money that dribbles down like. We tell our own story, the real story of the drowning and slow rebirth of New Orleans, sometimes from the fly-over view of what might be called the big picture, but more often in the stories of our own neighborhood, our block, ourselves. The people who would write our history for their own ends must contend with us. They have their own reasons, their own agendas. We have only one purpose: the salvation of the city and our own post-traumitized selves in the bargain.

Who do I read? If I start to name names, I know I will leave someone out, but on the odd chance you have just stumbled in here from elsewhere, I have to call out at least a few. Karen’s Squandered Heritage, Eli’s We Could Be Famous, the anonymous bloggers David’s Moldy City and Dambala’s American Zombie do not just take apart yesterday’s news; they are a at least a day (if not months) ahead at least. Karen and Eli can take credit for breaking the most recent City Hall Scandal. For a taste of life in the postdiluvian city you should be reading Micheal Homan, Kim’s Dangerblond, Mominem’s Tin Can Trailer Trash, Gentilly Girl, Cliff’s Crib, author Poppy Brite’s Dispatches from Tanganyika or Ray in New Orleans (currently on a blogging sabatical, but read back through his story of working on gutting houses in New Orleans). If you want to see people get their snark on and find a way to laugh through the veil of tears, then visit Peter’s Adrastos or Jeffery’s Library Chronicles.

Ah, what a slippery slope this is. See, I’ve gone and left out Leigh, Derek, Deidre, Glen, Bart, Lisa, Greg and Oyster and bog only knows who else. If you come away from this list hurt, hit me up for a drink at Rising Tide III, the bloggers conference on the recovery of New Orleans. You see, we are not just a lot of computer-equipped malingerers and malcontents. Many individuals (Ray, Bart, Karen, and others) have gone great things for the city. As a group, we have mounted Rising Tide, an annual conference on the city’s slow reconstruction. We have been able to attract national authors for featured speakers and active locals to our panels because they too have learned that there is a force moving in the world called blogging. It is not just a spin-off phenomena of politics or the ugly murmurring of the mob you read below the stories on NOLA.COM. It is as powerful and as democratic as Tom Paine setting type and as powerful and as ethereal as William Blake carving visionary plates.

Three years is too soon to know if we will succeed or fail, whether we are writing small pieces of the history of a great beginning or a tragic ending. It is a tremendous task, not merely to rebuild a city but at the same time to try to correct a century of past mistakes that had led to the city I described when I began, the city already full of broken streets and broken dreams before the flood came. Will we collapse of our own internal contraditions like the revolutions of the 20th century, or be drowned beyond recovery by yet another storm? All I know for certain is that unless the Internet collapses or is suppressed you can watch it play out here. Or even play your own part. Blogging alone, we have learned, is not enough, but it is a start: a public declaration that you care about New Orleans, and will not let is fade away.

Cross-posted from Humid City, where this first went up as part of Loki’s Carnival of Blogging for the anniversary and Rising Tide.

Last Act at the Private Street Stage May 6, 2008

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Sinn Fein, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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By Sunday, I was done in. The combination of days treading through treacherous, treacly mud pits and an unballasted wallet left me walking like a sailor just back from the Horn, with a Odd swinging gait and a permanent list to windward. I was burned without and within by too much sun and too much fun and could in no way contemplate another day at Jazz Fest.

Somehow I drug myself out of bed that sunny morning and managed to plow through all the necessary chores for a weekend: laundry done and my shirts ironed, something cooked easy to serve up for the week, a trip to K-Mart for some necessities, a blog post written up. After all that I was beat, but managed to find the energy to replace my back bicycle tire. I was determined that I was not going to let the last of April, first of May pass without hearing Carlos Santana. His is an almost quintessential Jazz Fest act, combining jazz, rock and Latin rhythms in a way an Orleanian can digest as easily and with as much relish as a crock of creme brulee: an almost impalpable richness and sweetness touched with fire.

It is not just the sheer beauty of straight ahead guitar jazz like Europa or the cathartic drum rite of a perfect Black Magic Woman that drew me there, but something elemental like the Odd forces that hold atoms together, a species of the Strong Force. Santana is one of the generation of musical bodhisattvas: a line of musicians running back to jazz artists of the 1960s like John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, powerful jazz innovators who expressed a profound spirtuality through their music. Somewhere along the line musicians with that sort of overtly spiritual inclination seem to have vanished. Perhaps they were all sucked into one of the many marketing arms of the Cult of the Gospel Inerrant, that peculiar religio-business that has replaced Christianity in much of America, to pop up as acts like Jars of Clay or Third Day.

Santana is one of the last of a different breed. To hear him is not to experience the happy, corporate pop of what little I have heard of popular “Christian” music. The instrumental second part of Black Magic Woman is not some toe-tapping, feel-good cant. It is what was called in the decade from which Santana emerged An Experience. What comes through is not the gentle spirit of the shyly-smiling blond guy with a lamb on his lap. It is instead music that could be the song in the head of the demiurge as he raised the first roaring volcanoes out of a chaotic ocean, and then tossed the burning sun into the sky, the frenetic rites of the first peoples upon discovery of the drum and the dance.

And so while my tired wife napped in the sun with the pretense of a book in her lap I applied myself to the bicycle pump and set out to find a spot where I could at least hear Santana’s mid-afternoon performance. I pedaled up the narrow cul-de-sac streets between St. Louis No. 3 and the west side of the Fairgrounds, and found myself on the corner of a quiet residential street abutting the Fairgounds and a narrow strip of asphalt with a city street sign reading Private, right behind the port-o-lets west of the Acura stage, not fifty feet from where I’d turned the corner the day before to go buy a beer and some food over by the Jazz Tent.

Private was an apt name for the place. I had pedaled over expecting to either be disappointed that I could not find a good spot or instead that I might find one that would look like Frenchman Street on Mardi Gras night. Apparently the world is divided into people who plop down their $50 and go in the gate to Jazz Fest and people who find something else to do. Except for one fellow in sleevless black smoking Marlboro’s back propped against the fence and a handful of the people who lived back there sitting out in lawn chairs, Private was very nearly just that: my own personal place to listen.

There’s not much more I can say about Santana that I haven’t already said. I was so tired that I can no longer remember the entire play list, only highlights: an ecstatic Black Magic Woman and rocking versions of Oye Como Va and No One To Depend On, Maria Maria, a John Contrane number my tired brain can’t recall two days later. There was a long speech on politics that I silently applauded, not for its overt electioneering, or even for the long list of activists and musicians Santana cited as being in the tradition he tries to uphold (it was long and I couldn’t recreate it without notes). Instead, what wowed me was the way Santana wrapped it up with Jimi Hendrix’s famous aphorism: “We are about the power of love, not the love of power.”

Oddly enough, I had picked up a button with Jimi’s picture on it and the same saying just two days earlier when passing the Save Our Wetlands table. I visualized the button laying atop my muddy poncho on the porch back home, and immediately connected the three note base line and the simple, whammy bar guitar riff that goes with it, the one common to Hendrix’s Third Stone from the Sun and Santana’s Black Magic Woman (listen hard in your head; you know the one). “We are about the power of love.” The phrase is still ringing in my head days later even as the discrete events of Jazz Fest retreal into a blur.

That is what this last Jazz Fest was about: a healing that during the last two we were not ready to receive, an experience no Big Chief from Kansas City could possibly understand. There is enough distance now for healing, and the line up was perfect. Jimmy Buffet was my touchstone to the Gulf Coast during my cold years of exile, and the party that life here can be if you so choose. Terence Blanchard was It, The Thing, distilled into music of such emotional power that it lifted you past The Event and into the place that healing can begin. And finally Santana: the ineffable essence of beauty Keats once found on an old urn and which I found at the corner of Verna and Private; a rollicking tribal celebration with drums and fire of the Power of Love; the love of this place that brings us home, that drags us out of our tired patio chairs and back to this lonely corner of Mid-City because we need cannot get enough, the power of the love of those who have come home to stay and rebuild New Orleans.

I left before the Neville Brothers played.

We Will Drown the Bitch in Beauty May 1, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Dancing Bear, Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, Jazz, Jazz Fest, je me souviens, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Sinn Fein, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“I told you I would be here.
It was important that I came.
I’m leaving but I’ll be back again.
Will you be here?”
Shelton Alexander


Terrence Blanchard.
Requiem for Katrina. Tomorrow at Jazz Fest

We will drown the bitch in beauty and flood the city with tears of joy.

Will you be there?

Update: Replacing generic Terence Blanchard YouTube with a camera video shot May 2, 2008 at Jazz Fest, an excerpt from Funeral Dirge from Blanchard’s A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina), featuring Blanchard’s Quintet and the —————- —————— Orchestra.

Update 5-12-09 Based on an objection from the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, I have removed this brief, low-fidelity excerpt which I had posted pursuant to fair usage for comment and criticism. Apparently they don’t appreciate free promotion. I will also remove any references to the LPO from this piece as well.

Never Let The Fire Go Out April 4, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Some of us make small marks on paper or simple bits of dark on a light screen. It is not much, these words, but it is something; perhaps to be read by a stranger who discovers a different New Orleans than that gleaned from the television news or some bad film, or by someone who finds a kindred spirit or who discovers in one of us something they did not know about themselves.

Words on the internet are more transient than bar room banter or check-out line chit-chat. In a few years, without some special effort, much of what we all write about New Orleans may be lost forever, stored on some disk or tape for which all of the readers have been lost. Most of us will be happy if we can leave something our children can remember, like the ribbon-tied bundle of letters from my father to my mother from World War II I have stashed away; something they can sometimes touch thoughtfully, can show to their children and say: “this was your grandfather’s; he did this.”

A very few of us rise above that personal level of history, make a larger mark in this life, like elephants passing on the savanna: something monumental moving through the world, a rumbling in the earth and a trumpeting cry, a trail of marks left behind which other men will find in some dim future and say: that is what it was like in that place and time.

Ashley Morris, was one of those few.

There are a scores of us who write passionately about New Orleans. What we do is little enough but it is something. Just to live here in what one wag called Debrisville is more than a little. It takes a commitment most Americans couldn’t begin to muster. The ones who most likely could manage it have all volunteered for Iraq, and we seem to be running out of them.

Above the simple bloggers and patriots of New Orleans like a hierarchy of angels are the people who don’t just live here and count that enough, who not only make the time to write about New Orleans but who do so much beyond, who give so much of their life to the city–Karen Gadois, Ray Shea, and Bart Everson come first to mind from among the ranks of bloggers.

And then there was Ashley.

His was not simply a life ardently dedicated to New Orleans. His life was inseparable from the city whose fleur de lis symbol he had tattooed upon his arm. He was not just spirited in his love of this city, he was in some sense a spirit of this city, a sort of deva or force of nature, the dedication so many people feel for New Orleans concentrated and made incarnate in living flesh.

I think Greg at Suspect Device may have said it best yesterday: “Ashley was fire. Ashley was the furnace where the rage was forged, where the steam pressure built, where raw anger began its conversion to power and motion. He was not a one-sided man, by any stretch of the imagination. He was intolerably funny. Talented. A father. All of that. Not an angry person except when driven to it. I feel tonight as if the fire has gone out and the boilers have begun to cool and the whole beastly thing is slowing to a crawl.”

Ashley burned with an angry flame that made something holy of the word fuck and gave names and faces to a throw away movie line–fuckmook–and made it a part of our everyday vocabulary. . But he also burned with a consuming fire for New Orleans’ food, the high and the low, and the more of it the better; for the New Orleans Saints, heroes and bums, winning or losing; and finally for the musicians of the city. Ashley was the one who stepped up to challenge venerated icons like Habitat for Humanity and Harry Connick, Jr. when it became clear that the “Musicians Village” would not be reserved for musicians.

He certainly lived large. A born raconteur (and don’t we love them more than any other people in North America), we all listened breathlessly to his tale of trying to hunt down Hunter S. Thompson while doped up and hampered by injuries from a motor cycle accident. He loved the aura of people with a bad boy shtick of their own, most of all Warren Zevon. He took a line from Zevon, “Excitable boy, they all said” and made it the signature of his blog.

His energy was borne in part of contradictions. For all of his incendiary bravura, around his three small children he was a model of tenderness and fatherly energy, his fire banked to the glow of a warm hearth on a cold winter’s night or the crackling fun of a fire for roasting wienies and s’mores. He didn’t post pictures of his kids up in his internet persona. They lived in a separate world, carefully guarded and at the same time taken out to experience all of New Orleans they could from the very first. They were , kept away from the man with the burning brand in his hand as they were initiated by him into the ways of the city.

It was the mix that made Ashley the person he was, the person we all loved. His anger, his humor and the palpable aura of love and pride when around his wife and kids: all of these made him more than just an angry, ranting blogger or another fan with his team inked on his arm. He seemed the complete package and then some, an edgy something extra like painted flames on a car visibly built to exceed not just the speed limit but all common sense. He seemed to signify some thing or other we all perhaps felt we lacked because he seemed to have it all going, plus that bit of Thompson-esque crazy most of us don’t dare try. If you know a little of his life story, you know he was not the complete package, that living large was perhaps a compensation for his past, for the demons that likely stalked him right up to his last day in Florida as he tried to put his deceased mother’s affairs in order.

Now is seems the fire is all out and the demons are all fled. Perhaps.

I was not as close to Ashley as some other bloggers became. He was for me one of our crowd, our krewe of bloggers, and I mostly saw him at blogger functions: our parties, the planning meetings leading up to our Rising Tide conferences, times like this. I would run into him on the street, and he would almost always offer me a cigar, and they were always the best damned cigars I ever smoked. But I can’t say we were close. Instead I knew him as I knew so many of the other bloggers through our constant exchange of blog comments and emails, because we talked as constantly as the people of a small farm town.

And so when I woke up this week and wrote a quick blog post to excuse myself from not posting much because my own life seemed to be spiraling out of control. I then opened my email and found out Ashley was dead. I was devastated. It was as if someone had ripped a huge hole in my chest, carving out that piece of ourselves unrelated to circulation that we still call our heart.

I remembered that feeling. The last time I had it was a Monday night in August two-and-a-half years ago when I came home from my son’s football practice to find that my city had not “dodged the bullet” but instead was drowning, that the Big One–the flood we all knew could come–had happened at last. This week I was once again the hollow man. Something was taken from me, a place left empty that I was left to my own devices to fill.

And so I read what all of Ashley’s friends had posted on line. I only left a short comment on Hana’s message on Ashley’s blog telling us the news, and a short post of my own here. The word Fuck in my post that day appears not because I was angry. It was too soon for anger. It was instead an invocation of the spirit that Ashley carried, that Ashley was. It was like Eliot’s final Shantih Shantih Shantih at the end of the bleak “The Wasteland“. It was the yell tens of thousands of southern boys hollored running up hill to their death in battle long ago. Ashley had fallen, and I wanted to pick up his damned flag–the white field with three gold fleur de lis–and carry it charging against all of the fuckmooks of the universe. It was the whispered invocation of the Bone Men, an invitation to Ashley not to leave but to stay and be carried through the city once again.

As the day of the announcement of his death wore on and became the day after, the strange communities we have built for ourselves in this dystopic, postdiluvian world – the NOLA bloggers, Hana’s fellow Roller Girls – rallied to help Ashley’s family. I realized that while Greg Peters had nailed Ashley to the canvas perfectly he had gotten one important part wrong. The fire was not going out. It was spreading like a Pentecost. Like the equally tragic loss of Helen Hill the year before, I know his death will become a galvanizing moment that will ultimately feed the bigger fire of all of the people Ashley represented: the partisans of New Orleans.

That is not to excuse the fuckmook god that would take Ashley from his widow and young children and leave all the in-his-craven-image fuckmooks to live, this callous mechanical universe that randomly takes the best and the innocent and the beautiful and leaves the rest of us with the wreckage, that seems to laugh in its trickster sleeve as it silently mocks us: figure it out. Well, we have figured it out, with Ashley’s help: Sinn Fein, Ourselves Alone. We get it, god. So as Randy Newman, another partisan of New Orleans, once said long ago: “Lord, if you won’t take care of us/Won’t you please, please let us be.”

The world is a smaller and colder place without Ashley Morris. And that’s easy for his friends to say. We are not his family robbed of husband and father. But still I know that Suspect Device got it wrong (for once, Greg: it happens to us all). Ashley’s fire has not gone out. It has moved on. It has spread itself through his friends in their hundreds and will unleash itself first to help Ashley’s family and ultimately to save the city that was as inseparable from his identity as his head was from his body.

We will never let that the fire go out.

  • IMPORTANT UPDATE: Please visit www.RememberAshleyMorris.com and give generously to help his family (he leaves three pre-school children behind). There’s a Pay Pal account so it couldn’t be easier. There’s a direct link to the Pay Pal at right under Ashley’s picture.

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.

Down by the riverside February 6, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Carnival, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, French Quarter, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, NOLA, Odds&Sods, parade, Rebirth.
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This year on Mardi Gras, with my family all home sick I took off all on my own oddy-knocky and made a point of trying to catch all of the marching krewes I could and taking a lot of pictures, starting with waiting for the Krewe of St. Anne’s on Royal Street in the Marigny and ending with finding St. Anne’s as they marched down to the riverside. I managed to track down the Ducks of Dixieland and Kosmik Debris, but never saw Pete Fountain (largely because I stayed in Marigny until after 11 waiting for St. Anne’s). I also found the Krewe of Whoo Hooo, Mondo Kayo dancing on Frenchman, and a few other odd groups I had not seen before.


Video of Krewe of St. Anne at Royal and Frenchman Streets

As a result, I missed most of the day’s parades, only catching a half dozen perhaps of Zulu as they turned onto Canal Street. The corner of Royal and Canal is not a great place for throws. The floats make a turn there and the barricades are kept far back. The only beads I had for the day were two pair I got from Queen Colleen, mother of old friends who famously parades through the Quarter pushed in a shopping cart by her adoring students and family.

colleen.jpg
Queen Colleen

My one throw was from Zulu. Not a coconut, but a walnut painted in gold. At the day’s end, when I joined St. Anne’s at the riverside and had taken my fill of pictures, I joined the St. Anne members who were memorializing their dead of the past year by throwing beads or more personal items into the river. I clambered down onto the rocks, and offered the Zulu nut to all of the ghosts of New Orleans and the Federal Flood. Inspired by the story of the Bone Men below, I invited them all to come and walk with me the rest of the day, to come and taste the visions of a day spent walking through Mardi Gras, to see the pictures I had captured not with my camera but with my memory.

riverside.jpg
St. Anne’s at the river

mourner1.jpg

St. Anne’s mourners
mourner2.jpg
More St. Anne’s mourners

Memo to my friends and family: this is how I want to go. Hire a band, invite everyone I know, and take my ashes and put them in a cart and parade them through the quarter on Mardi Gras Day. Take them to St. Anne’s in the Marigny, and parade down Royal to Zulu and Rex at Canal Street. At mid-afternoon go to the Moonwalk and wait for St. Anne’s, and scatter them there.

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.

Shoe February 2, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Carnival, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery.
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All Hail Muses!

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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…

Nothin’ but the bones January 26, 2008

Posted by The Typist in assholes, Carnival, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Mardi Gras, Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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The weekly newspaper Gambit brings us this story of the fearful future of the bone men and other African-American Mardi Gras traditional marchers. In on of the city’s oldest neighborhoods outside of the French Quarter, the local population is being squeezed by gentrification, rising rents and the demolition of the Lafitte Housing Project. What is at risk here is not just affordable housing or the comfort of coming home, but something infinitely more rare and precious: a living culture unique in North America.

For Bruce ‘Sunpie” Barnes, Mardi Gras day begins quietly in the darkened pre-dawn hours as he takes a solitary journey to a local cemetery to commune with the dead. Kneeling before graves, he asks the spirits of the past to enter his body so that he can become their living vessel, joining his soul with theirs as he takes to the streets. Later, at sunrise, he emerges in full costume, calling out and waking up the Treme neighborhood with his group, the Northside Skull and Bones Gang, which has followed the Carnival tradition for decades.

‘We’ll bring all the past dead spirits to the streets,” Barnes says. ‘Mardi Gras is the one day we do that.”

How much longer will the bone men and downtown Indians survive? That’s part of the focus of the story, which first emerged when the police broke up a traditional second-line parade in Treme honoring a musician who had passed on, scuffling with and arresting musicians. These unscheduled events are a century old tradition cherished by the neighborhood’s longtime residents.

Speaking to the Times-Picayune back in October when the confrontation between musicians and the police took place, lifelong Treme resident Beverly Curry explained why she came out that day in spite of bad leg: “I need to be here, to show my support for our heritage”

For a century, she said, that heritage has included impromptu second-line parades for musicians who die, “from the day they pass until the day they’re put in the ground,” she said. Those memorial processions still occur with regularity, without permits, as is the tradition. But, increasingly, NOPD officers have been halting them, citing complaints from neighbors and incidents of violence at similar gatherings.

….”Curry and other longtime residents point fingers at Treme newcomers, who buy up the neighborhood’s historic properties, then complain about a jazz culture that is just as longstanding and just as lauded as the neighborhood’s architecture.

“They want to live in the Treme, but they want it for their ways of living,” Curry said.

Who the hell decides to move to Treme, then calls the police when a second-line parade passes by? Why did they chose to live downtown, in this neighborhood of all places where second-lines (impromptu and the scheduled social aid and pleasure club versions), where bone men and Mardi Gras Indians are part of the very fabric of the place? What possible benefit is there to this redevelopment if it strangles the area’s culture?

Yes, you, yuppie scum. If you people feel you must live downtown, buy yourself one of those lovely high-rise condos being thrown up in the CBD and stay out of the traditional neighborhoods. You can climb into your Lexus and drive yourself to your favorite Uptown restaurant, if you can bring yourself to pass through or even (gasp!) park in the neighborhoods where the best ones are, neighborhoods full of the sort of people you apparently do want to live next to.

Is this the vision of the future of the city–gentrification leading to the death of the real New Orleans, what happened in Charleston after Hurricane Hugo, the threat I warned readers of WBG about over two years ago? It is a fearful thought, more so than a block-long trooop of possessed bone men: the death of the spirit that walks and sings and dances daily in the people of New Orleans. If the yuppie property flippers and their customers destroy Treme to save it’s quaint architectural charm, then it will not be Treme but something else. Only the bones of the houses of the old place will remain, and the spirits of three centuries will rest uneasily when the bone men no longer come to call on Carnival day.

Note: Hat tip to Anima Mundi and Library Chronicles for first calling out this story.

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.

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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

Its a new day January 21, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 8-29, Bloggers, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Flood, home, New Orleans, NOLA, NOLA Blogroll, Odds&Sods, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Uncategorized, We Are Not OK.
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Just a note if you’ve wandered in from Wet Bank Guide, as I transition out of that project and on to others, to welcome you to Toulouse Street — Odd Bits of Life in New Orleans. This is a different space, one I originally started as a place to put odd things that didn’t seem to fit on the high tone I had set at WBG. If you scroll down, you’ll find plenty of odd bits of life in NOLA here, and some just plain odd things that just pleased me as I sit here typing on Toulouse Street.

I have updated the once brief blogroll here to incorporate everyone (I think) who is still publishing that was listed at WBG. I’ve I’ve left you off, sorry. I often steal time away to blog late at night or early in the morning when the faculties have sometimes sent themselves to sleep early even as I bask in the glow of the monitor and thoroughly screw up my circadian rhythms, or else are still lying tangled in the mind’s sheets even as the body stands upright and stares intently at the dripping coffee.

New Orleans remains my theme, my obsession almost. That deep connection was always there in me during the 20 years I lived away, in the manner Catholicism is imprinted upon me by growing up in New Orleans and twelve years of Catholic school regardless of professed or practiced faith. New Orleans will still predominate here, but since this is more a blogger’s blog–what I once called (no insult intended) a vanity blog–I feel freer to drop in bits of favorite music, poetry and the just plain weird.

If you’re looking for something more like what Wet Bank Guide had become over time, keep coming. I am not going to stop writing about New Orleans and I will continue to find joy and sorrow worthy of note and a special effort on my part, and will post some of that here. You can also drop by Poems Before Breakfast and find where some of my creative energy has been going lately.

And here, as at Wet Bank Guide, we will always Remember. The events that drove WBG are as imprinted on us as the necessity that any dish in a pot worth having should begin with celery, bell pepper and onion in a sizzling roux. It is still After the End of the World. Don’t you know that yet? My touch stones remain: Je me souviens Remember 8-2; We will never forget. Still, Toulouse Street is more a celebration than a lament. Jim Morrison’s lyric “I love the friends I have gathered together here on this thin raft” is our slogan, even if we are still huddled together here because it is after the end of the world. For us it’s a new day every day, a continual act of will and creation to make again one of the great cities on this earth.

Ok, that’s enough cheerful stuff this early in the morning. We now return you to your regularly unscheduled coverage of my view from Toulouse Street — Odd Bits of Life in New Orleans.

Krewe du Vieux Soldats: Fading, fading… January 20, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Carnival, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Krewe du Vieux, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, New York, Rebirth, We Are Not OK.
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This morning’s exchange of emails among the New Orleans bloggers who march in Krewe du Vieux:

Me, 9:32 am: Subject Line: Ughhhhhh Message: Who turned on the sun?

Maitri, 10:10 am: Just woke up. Hobbling around kitchen in search of coffee and bloody marys. Oy.

Karen, 10:20 am: My fallen arches are killing me.

Peter, 11:29 am: My feet are still cold and my legs are in need of an amputation or something.

Kim, 11:41 am: Can ya’ll please keep your voices down? It’s making my head hurt.

On another note, my last blog post was perfectly prescient: two years running now I’ve managed fabulously drunk and I managed to not find several of the bloggers in a space of a few thousand square feet. That tiny space was packed, however, with the skimmed cream of New Orleans insanity. I tried several times to get back to Mama Roux’s table to try to cadge a jello shot and find Kim, but it was simply impossible to squeeze back there. (I finally got one from my co-worker, L.H.; questioning him and his charming wife still didn’t uncover the secret of how two newcomers to New Orleans managed to get into MR).

Peter, Grace, Lisa, Ashley and his bride looked fabulous in their seersucker robes and cocktail hats honoring Lafacadio Hearn. I also never managed to squeeze my well-lubricated body into C.R.A.P.S’ tight cranny (now cut that out, filthy minded old sot), and so I never did see Matri, either. I did see Ray, who walked with C.R.A.P.S. as security. Bec of New Orleans Slate marched with us and shared our throws since she rejoined our Krewe at the last moment when the captain sponsored her to march. (Hurray for Billy). She’d been out of circulation mostly taking care of her husband after his terrible accident involving his mule and carriage.

I lost my flask of Absenthe somewhere early along the parade route. (Dude! I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you drink the greed shit in that bottle in the street). This was probably a good thing, as a little absinthe goes a long way. Thankfully d.b.a was close to hand, and in spite of their sociopatheic manager-cum-bouncer we finished up the night with a raft of good German beer. I didn’t know a single name on the band list but spent an hour or more scrunched up at the front of the stage and had a blast. It was all good.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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”.

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

I need New Orleans more than New Orleans needs me September 2, 2007

Posted by The Typist in art, New Orelans, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Noted sculptor, Xavier professor and of course Orleanian John Scott, interviewed on June 29 from Houston as he struggled with the illness that took his life this week:

“That’s the only home I know. I want my bones to be buried there. I belong there. I need New Orleans more than New Orleans needs me.”

Amen.

Remember August 29, 2007

Posted by The Typist in Corps of Engineers, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Flood, flooding, Hurricane Katrina, Katrina, Mid-City, New Orelans, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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remember.jpg

Stoned Immaculate July 29, 2007

Posted by The Typist in jim morrison, New Orleans, NOLA, Poetry, Rebirth, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“…I love the friends I have gathered
Together here on this thin raft…”
— Jim Morrison

A Loud Color July 13, 2007

Posted by The Typist in Flood, flooding, New Orleans, Rebirth, Recovery, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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A true New Orleans voice, crying out in the wilderness.

“[If] we dobn’t come back and build it, its going to be worse even than it was before Katrina.”
— Louis Harding iof the Marcus Garvey Center for Economic Development
in the film “A Loud Color” by Brent Joseph

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.

Kaminari Taiko at NOMA Japan Fest June 10, 2007

Posted by The Typist in Japan, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery.
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In addition to an attachment to Japanese gardens, I’m always drawn to any opportunity to experience taiko drumming. This year’s New Orleans Museum of Art Japan Fest featured the return of Kaminari Taiko of Houston, TX. The incredible athleticism of this art was even more impressive in the 98 &#176 heat index. The large drum seen here is the largest playable taiko drum in North America.

Among the pieces they performed was Seiichi Tanaka’s “Tsunami”, from which I’ve captured this excerpt. You can hear the composer’s own Taiko Dojo of San Francisco performing the piece here.

I feel a strong connection to the victims of the Tsumani of 2004, and I have been drawn to art that addresses that event. In particular, I was drawn to Hokusi’s Great Wave when I found it at at the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C., and to this piece of music by Austin singer Eliza Gilkyson, written for the tsunami but which haunted me through the early months after 8-29.

As Kaminari Taiko played masterfully in the dire heat, with every stroke they gave me greater strength to live here now.