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Remember Them All November 21, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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Remember Brian Thickstnan and Kendrick Thomas, murdered in front of a broken crime camera. (See the post on Humid City).

Remembering No. 37 July 29, 2008

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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The New Orleans Times-Picayune has started an excellent series chronicling the investigation into one of the city’s homicides. As easy as it is to pick on our on-again, off-again local newspaper, every now and then they put up something like this and you think: Pulitzer.

Having taken more than a passing interest in the forgotten victims of the city’s murder epidemic, I applaud the TP for investing the effort in this series. It reminds us that the assumption so common here–it’s happens to “them”, in “their” neighborhoods, places I would never visit; it’s all black-on-black and drug related, and so it is unimportant to me–is a false one. It’s a comfortable lie we can no longer afford.

Victim No. 37 of 2008 does not fit into that false bottomed box. We learn installment two he “had no police record. That’s rare in a New Orleans killing: As often as not, the detectives seek justice for victims who might be shooters themselves, or at least players in drugs and guns… had been an altar boy. [He]attended catechism classes at nearby Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church. He planned to be confirmed soon at the altar, the religious rite of passage into adulthood.”

When the newspaper visited his home, there was a picture of No. 37 and the only girlfriend he ever had on this desk, next to a neat stack of homework in progress. The room was littered with video games. He was by all accounts pretty much the same as my own kids. And now he is dead, guiltyof being at the wrong place at the wrong time on his way to buy some snacks at the convenience store up the street. If you have kids and live in, say, Metairie or the Northshore or even nice, mostly safe Lakeview, next time you think this happens to “them” take a hard and long look at your own child. Then tell yourself it doesn’t matter.

Lance Michael Zarders, 17, was No. 37. Thanks to this story he is not just another name on the list or a dot on a map. He has a name, and a face, and a story told. He is remembered.

If you find youself here and you know one of the anonymous victims, those who get only a line or two in the newspaper and then disappear, I encourage you to take a few moments and leave a comment. You can do it on the 2007 list post, where I still get a dozen or more vistors every day. Tell us something about them. It doesn’t matter if they were a victim in 2007 (and on that list) or 2006 or 2008. Just help us all to remember.

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Big h/t to M.D. for his 2008 tracking maps and everything else he does to make sure this issue doesn’t go away. His maps are one way in which we remember.

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.

Thank you, Wendy and Keyonna May 15, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, Crime, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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A while back I posted up a list of all of the people listed by m.d. filter as having died by criminal violence in New Orleans in 2007. I invited anyone who came to the sight to leave their own memorials to those who died.

Not a day goes by that I don’t have visitors coming in from Google or somewhere else to that page, a constant reminder on those days when the newspaper is free of reports of another shooting. Not many people leave comments, but I got two in one day and thought I should call them out. Please go read Wendy and Keyonna’s comments on the post Silence is Violence Remembers.

I get almost daily visits for George Hankton. I don’t know who he was, but a lot of people are looking for somone by that name, and I can’t find any famous person who matches up

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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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.

Remember Chanel, Remember Them All February 29, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, Dancing Bear, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Ever since I posted a list of all of the New Orleans dead of 2007, not a day goes by that this site is not visited by people searching for their loved ones on the internet. Yesterday, someone searched the internet for “chanell sanchell new orleans”.

Today, we’re going to remember Chanel. I didn’t know this person. That doesn’t matter. If we only choose to remember the people we knew, or the people like us, then remembrance is an act of selfishness. If we only worry about people who look like us or move in our circles and places, then it will never end.

It doesn’t matter that I did not know her or her family. It only matters that she has joined The Ghosts. To be among the ghosts is not to be denied the heaven of one’s dreams. It is to be in an honored host, as honored as those who stand at the foot of the throne if you tend to that version. It is to be remembered, to be a part of the city forever.

Here is Chanel’s story from Nola.com. From the news reports, she sounds like a good kid who ran with the wrong crowd. Perhaps it was the only crowd she knew, was full of the faces she knew from the time she first toddled down the steps of a building in St. Bernard on her own two feet, a crowd that perhaps included her first best girlfriend, the first boy she kissed. How easy it would be for someone like Chanel to fall in with that crowd, the people she grew up with good and bad, and to suddenly find herself on the wrong side of an argument with one of the bad in that crowd, one of the worst; an argument that ended with a gun shot through the heart.

Here is a blog post from a cousin. I think The Book and the comments on his blog say more than I can. Or read the comments on this post from last October at m.d. filter.

Many of those on the lists I and m.d. filter have published are otherwise invisible on the internet. There is only the list, perhaps a mention on this blog or m.d. filter. For most, there is a brief paragraph in the Times-Picayune. “The coroner has identified… Detective so-and-so is investigating. Call Crimestoppers…”. That is all; nothing more.

If you are one of those who stumbles onto this blog looking for someone you knew, please take a moment to leave some memorial in the comments. I know you are out there, looking for something about this person. You can leave your messages anonymously. Or you can email me and I will post it as a comment. Everyone person on that list, even if they had gone down that dark path and died with a handgun in their waste band and an empty look in their eyes, all of them were once as Chanel once was, as my own children once were: as innocent as a lamb in the lap of Jesus. Someone, somewhere who uses the internet remembers them not as a name on a list but as a person. (I know because you come looking for them.) Tell us something about that person. Tell us what you perhaps said or wish you had said when the minister at the funeral asked if anyone wanted to speak.

Some of us chose to remember, like the bone men. I want the dead and the living to know that we remember, that in this city there are many who remember. We will never forget one of you.

Update: I also just found this blog, which mostly captures police reports about violent crime in NOLA.

Update 5-16-08: Corrected spelling of Chanel’s name (except in the Google reference, because that’s how they find this page), per her cousin who published The Book blog.

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.

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.

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.