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Independence Day July 4, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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If you remember nothing else about history on this day, remember the American city of New Orleans “dodged the bullet” until the Federal levees failed and the combined might of the United States of America stood by and watched them drown. We will never forget.

So have a Happy Independence Day from Toulouse Street as we Go 4th on the River and celebrate, an activity we have pretty much perfected for all occasions even in the face of death.

Independence is a grand thing to contemplate..

You may grill your weenies. We will boil our shrimps. Eh la bas.

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I Know You Rider April 10, 2008

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Toulouse Street.
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Jesus the Jew jumped up in his pew and sang a simple song:
I Know Your Rider and then for an encore You Just Keep Me Hangin’ On
–Some Drunken Idiot

I’m tired about writing about the Other, about all of It, this crazy After the End of This World we live in. This is for me. It is my invocation for tomorrow morning, to carry me through the day. It is for all of you, my blessing on a sad day; but most of all for myself:

“I wish I was a headlight/On a north bound train.
I’d shine my light/Through the cool Colorado rain.”

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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10 comments

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.

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.

Silence is Violence Remembers January 11, 2008

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

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

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

Remember. Silence is Violence.

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