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Fires of the Season November 22, 2014

Posted by The Typist in A Fiction, cryptical envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Walking out for a forbidden cigarette I take a turn around the lot and notice the neighbor’s overgrown oleanders are in full fall bloom, while the seed pods of the adjacent Chinese lanterns have withered to a color somewhere between grocery bag and old parchment (and just as fragile could I reach them): the same old story–the one the crow knows–of the turning of the wheel. I am so engrossed in my new job I did not notice the odd oaks across the street and just outside my window had turned, but walking to Canseco’s Grocery I did see one of the deciduous cypress dressed in scarlet and yellow,  the color of the fires we light against the cold and dark, the bonfires to guide Papa Noel and the ones once lit on Orleans avenue, dressed in the colors of the diminishing sun.

Having lost the thread of Xianity long ago, I dread the holidays. I miss the orgiastic liquor and fireworks around the bonfire on Orleans, a proper New Year’s display to call back the sun. Run around it three times, close enough for a mild, one-sided sunburn, for good luck in the New Year.  Sadly, two city administrations have thought otherwise, even after we raised the money to get a welding cloth to put under it and agreed the NOPD could fence it off. The fire department was often held up as the scapegoat for the ban, but as a small crowd of us who helped make the last bonfire happen left a meeting with the police and fire chief, a high official of the firefighter’s union pulled us aside and said, “we are with you,” the men of Engine 35 thought lucky to watch over the festivities every year.

It is time to clean up my backyard, which the house painter turned into a white trash tableau of studied neglect. It looks like the still in the garage exploded, but most of my things are in a random pile in the center. I need to scrub the black mold off the chairs and spread the black plastic lawn rug I bought because the landlord’s man is slow to mow. I can flip over the rusting fire pit, give it a quick shot of Rustoleum for Grills and take my chances on the good will of the sparks that flit about like dangerous faeries with a will of their own.  Behind the flames I will light a candle before the Green Man who watches over my little bit of weed-wild meadow..

There are spirits in need of propitiation if my own are not to remain mired in the dark. Yesterday my eldest and dearest sibling turned 69. My mother is now officially on Hospice Care, free to refused her dinner and medications, only oxygen and morphine as required. I went to see her the evening after what gave every indication of a heart attack. She picked a bit at her food because I was there. She tried to take her pills but the orderly forgot to raise the bed and almost chocked her. My sister knows she is not taking her medication or eating but she always puts on a good show for the boys. Or rather, for me.  I am the only one she has left besides grand children. Someday the paper will read, “preceded in death by her loving husband Sidney Joseph and her son Paul Omer.”

Will she fulfill the holiday wishes of the statisticians and hang on until after the holidays? She is a Hilbert bone and sinew, built to last. Still, she will be the chair that is not there when my nephew takes us all out for Thanksgiving. Knowing our family, I am thinking of taking a cab, although Ralph’s on the Park is halfway between P’s house and mine and within staggering distance.. In these circumstances intimations of mortality are inevitable but not to be confused with inclinations. What I post on Facebook after a bit too much rum are not bits of morbidity but a few of the more beautiful expressions of death that I know.

If Coca Cola’s jolly red elf and the hanged god bring no solace, the trees remind me there is always comfort and color in a fire, to warm the hands and backside, and shed an uncertain light on an uncertain world. The firefly fairy sparks call to the things half seen in the flickering, just out of the corner of the eye, that delight in man and his fire, spirits of fire and earth drawn toward light. Perhaps a prayer is in order, starting with the green man who guards my house, that I not burn it or any of the neighbors’down. Or better yet, just sit as the fire burns itself down, leaving winking embers and the scent of the season ascending to the heaven the earthly flames reach for but cannot, the solstice incense that comforts men in the dark.

The Famous and The Dead August 12, 2014

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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Robin Williams’ death has left me feeling uncomfortably numb. I am still processing Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and trying to reconnect to the bestial realities of life: finding a job, managing my son’s sophomore crisis of identify, managing my own crisis of identity after years of remunerative and soulless work. Williams made me laugh and also made me think. Hoffman made me cry and also made me think. (Synechdoche, N.Y. was just a little too close to home; someone had to tell me it was meant as a dark comedy and not a straight tragedy, with Hoffman as both Lear and fool. I am still not completely convinced).

As the ages of the famous and the dead begin to merge with our own there is a temptation to recoil in horror rather than to run to You Tube and watch Williams in his Mork costume talking to an egg. (Yes, I did this). In New Orleans we treasure our musicians. It is one thing to think “another old and great one gone” and to recall from no very great space of time the last time you saw someone who is also gone. Perhaps I have just buried too many people two young, about one a decade since I was ten, doubling up in the last. There was a great outpouring of grief recently over the loss of local actress and designer Veronica Russell. I did not know her, but saw Glenn Meche’s production of Battle of Angels in which she glowed even when the lights were dimmed. Such natural grace and beauty, such talent: dead at 44.

I don’t watch television as a rule, living off of Netflix. I haven’t seen Williams new sitcom, but perhaps that is the memory of a subdued Elliot Gould out of his element in the sitcom Friends. Some connection broke inside, and I’ve never seen the Ocean’s films. I have not watched a Robin Williams film in probably a decade, maybe longer. He is simply there, inside me somewhere, informing who I am much as do Gould and Donald Sutherland and other actors who represented in my youth the absurd comedy of life. I cannot watch The Priests Monologue in Synechdoche without thinking of Sutherland in Little Murders pronouncing Gould’s wedding “an abandonment of ritual in the search for truth.” Perhaps I am just too dark for much of Williams, but Sutherland’s line could serve as a definition of comedy, a central summation of one of the darkest comedies, perhaps the darkest comedy ever made into film. The best, most curative comedy is not the play upon our own insecurities that struts the stages of comedy clubs and fills the cable network. It steps outside of the expected, takes us out of ourselves into an absurd space where demons fear to tread. People nostalgically reach back for Mork and Mindy, or perhaps Mrs. Doubtfire. I am put in mind of Terry Gilliam’s brilliant The Fisher King, or The Dead Poets Society. The Fisher King is dark for all its comedic moments, but it ends on a note of hope: the Red Knight banished, the two couples united, all’s well that ends well. The oldest trope in the book: older than the camera, older that Shakespeare, Everyman redeemed.

I finally got around to watching Reaching for the Moon last night. I loved it, but was disappointed not to see the flying lanterns of “The Armadillo” rising up the hills of Rio de Janeiro. I understand it would have been a distraction from the film’s eponymous focus on the moon and the lights of the park, of the place of the moon in “Insomnia” and the poem itself in the story. Still, I wanted to see the flying lights: some ascending to heaven, some crashing in catastrophe. I like to remember that those which fail to scale the heavens begin as fire and light, an act of man reaching toward some greater glory, ascending the terrifying stage of night to shed their light.

The Real Storm Season Begins June 3, 2008

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Forget the National Hurricane Center and Dr. Grey and that transgendered tropical storm in the Bay of Campeche.

The real summer storm may already be upon us.

Violence erupts in Jefferson Parish

by Allen Powell, The Times-Picayune Monday June 02, 2008, 12:15 PM
Three people were murdered and six others shot in Jefferson Parish in an unusually violent weekend in Jefferson Parish, leaving investigators scrambling to pick up the pieces this morning.

In addition to the murders and shootings, two cuttings and several armed robberies were reported throughout the parish. The incidents were almost evenly divided between the West Bank and East Bank and began Friday night shortly before 11 p.m. and continued until Monday morning, according to alerts.

You know, for all our bad rep, sometime we are flat out pikers when it comes to killing each other.

Wake
Tell all my mourners
To mourn in red —
Cause there ain’t no sense
In my bein’ dead.
— Langston Hughes

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.

Ashley Morris April 3, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, Odds&Sods, We Are Not OK.
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UPDATE: Click here to donate to the Ashley Morris Memorial Fund to help out Hanna and the kids.

Update 03-21-10: This post seems to be getting a lot of hits, so when you’re done reading the links eulogizing Ashley Morris, stop by this post to read about the character based on Ashley, played by John Goodman, who will be featured in David Simon’s Treme.

—————————————————————————————————-

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

It is not right that the fuckmooks should live and Ashley should not. There is no person alive who loved this city more than he. No one.

He leaves behind his wife Hana and three small children: Katerina, Anabel, and Rey d’Orleans.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

More later. here and here and here and here and here.

Ray was one of Ashley’s closest friends here. By all means read his memorial.

And this:

ashleytattoo.jpg

Another update: Ashley, you glorious mofo, you have two-and-a-half times the hits Al Copeland got when I wrote about his passing.

More Here: Never Let The Fire Go Out


Update 6-14-10:
Interesting. “Fuck, fuck, fuck” was the text message I sent two people last night just as the Treme charcter Creighton parks his car down by the river. Just for the record: Creighton Burnette is a composite of several people who were the basis for creating a fictional character. While FYYFF and the series opening rant were pure Ashley Morris, it would be a mistake to conflate the man with the fictional character. For more on the Creighton character, visit the Back of Town blog.