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You Must Say These Words August 9, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pike and Fife June 24, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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I’m going to fight it, but I’ll let it live. What about my dynamite?
–Steve Zissou

Uncomfortably Numb June 4, 2010

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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For years after the levees broke and my city flooded I raged and wept at Wet Bank Guide, naked as an Old Testament prophet in our ruined temple and praying as best I knew how for New Orleans. At some point, I felt that part of my life had reached an end. I stopped posting there, and collected some of what I thought worthwhile as Carry Me Home — A Journey Back to New Orleans. I learned to live (through my writing) not in grief or anger but in the pure joy of New Orleans.

Now I stare for hours at the oil flooding into the sea and rolling onto the coast, scroll past picture after picture of things dead and dying, a pelican black wings half-raised and bill open as if to scream, read endlessly about the simmering anger and the broken blankness of the people of our coast and the flailing of incompetent government, powerless to protect it’s people. I cannot live in anger for ever. Someone I know, a fellow blogger, died in part from anger. Now I try instead for a calm something like numbness but it’s not working; the slow drill grinds against the rotten tooth and I’m yelling Stop! Stop! It’s not enough. It’s not working.

Black Anger May 31, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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An accidental silhouette of the speaker's platform at the BP Gulf Oil Protest at Jackson Square in New Orleans Sunday, May 30.

An accidental silhouette of the speakers at the BP Gulf Oil Spill protest rally at Jackson Square Sunday, May 30 in New Orleans.

Now, go read this un-bylined summary of just how dire our situation is. I wish this story had a byline so I could find the writer and thank them for this. Instead I am left to lament that a story that should have moved in time to run in every Sunday paper in America will be lost among the Monday holiday shopping ads.

If you think the timing of this story–led by the timing of the announcement that top kill had failed–is an accident, I have some Gulf-front property in Louisiana I want to talk to you about.

UPDATE: Credit for the story, from someone at the T-P who reminds me they pull the bylines and credits off of wire stores. The linked piecewas written by Mary Foster, the AP person in La., and Ted Anthony, who wrote from New York. Included contributions from Ben Nuckols, Seth Borenstein, Matthew Brown and Melissa Nelson. Matt Brown used to work for the TP, but left for AP in Montana a couple years ago

The Black Plague May 2, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, Federal Flood, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“We will armor the levees with their skulls”.

I wrote that once on this blog, but someone else said it first. I won’t remind you who that is, as there are people in the government who might find that statement provocative in ways that I’d rather not contemplate. It’s not like I’m some tea-bagger firing my AK-47 at Obama targets or some other acceptable American sub-culture. I am a citizen of New Orleans and a descendant of our neighbors in Acadiana, and I have learned by experience that I don’t count as a first class citizen of the country of my birth. Three-fifths, perhaps. If you think I’m exaggerating, wait until you see the response when the pristine tourist beaches are black with oil (sand much more easily replaced than an entire mash ecosystem).

I am too angry to write fresh words at length about the massive river of oil British Petroleum has let loose. Please don’t call it a “spill”. A spill is what you do to your shirt with red sauce. This is another flood–like 1927, like the one that followed the storm when the Federal levees failed below their specified load–this one of oil. They have no idea how to stop it, short of a relief well, and that will take more than a month, an oil field engineer acquaintance tells us.

We are urged to be calm. “This is not the apocalypse” say two Mississippi congressman after their helicopter overflight and briefing, one eye on the oil slick and another on the lucrative casinos that line their waterfront. Mary Landrieu, the Distinguished Senator from Big Oil takes to the floor and delivers for those campaign dollars, reminding us that we should not panic, endorsed President Obama’s view: “…when he said we want the industry to move forward [with offshore drilling]. We do not want them to retreat.”

It’s Jazz Fest but maybe I should stay in today. If I see a Hummer or an F-350 Crew Cab that has clearly carried nothing but groceries, I will be hard pressed not to run them off the road into a tree.

“We will armor the levee with their skulls.” There are probably not enough BP executives to go around. We will have to widen the pool to get enough skulls. As satisfying as that sounds, that will not save St. Bernard and east Plaquemine fisherman from a second disaster of biblical proportion in five years, or if the winds spread it west of the river.

Until then, from a time when anger seemed as natural a state as sleep and consumed almost as much time, from my retired Katrina blog Wet Bank Guide:

Thursday, December 27, 2007