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Une Saison en Enfer August 27, 2011

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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If Hell has a season, dear Authur, it is the last of August: black asphalt, the squinting light of bright concrete, scalding metal. A layer of cotton armor beneath our shirt to pretend we do not sweat, handkerchief at the ready to mop brow and hat band at every block, feet swelling in leather shoes.

This week it is every day into the office, visitors from the capitol, training my replacement. Come October my job moves to a city in Virginia thought safe from natural disasters, and my masters are rewarded with an earthquake. Image of the Earth over Water. The lake trembles before the mountain. Joy in the Misfortune of Others. I pray for the Atlantic hurricane to jog left and imagine their panic when there is no power for Moloch’s vast central campus for weeks on end.

Somewhere above on a shady ledge a crow calls.

There are no prospects in August. Here people do as little as possible if they are not in fact vacationing on some cool mountain or a laying in the reliable sea breeze of a beach. I scan the papers and prowl the online job sites but I am a paper tiger. The gazelle are elsewhere in August, laying in the mud around some watering hole, and I remain. I fold the paper, undisturbed by breeze on the table, light another cigarette and imagine clerking in some dim and cool used bookstore.

Escape into some dark bar, cold beer in glasses wet with condensation. Hold the cool against your forehead, then drink deep. Drink too deep and too long and August will have its revenge: too much coffee in the morning and the frog march ten blocks into the office racing against the clock. Sweat penetrates your wife beater and soaks your work shirt, and the calm lawyers with shady indoor parking step back as if there were three feverish men in stained hats and not just yourself.

There is relief come October, when the heat retreats back to its tropical winter quarters, but you imagine walking from the office to the car one last time and file that thought away like a bill, minimum payment made. Better to live in this moment: admire the glinting of a hundred years of beer bottles, understand the unraveling that leaves the sidewalks broken in New Atlantis, greet the crows that haunt the downtown canyons. Imagine the flash of brass instruments later in the streetlight. Come sundown, stripped to sandals, shorts and beater, taunt August beneath the cold moonlight. Forget Moloch and dance while you can and the heat be damned, for tomorrow you may not hear the crows.

School’s Out For Ever July 2, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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At Easter the horses left for other tracks, and with them the crows laughing at the sun I loved to follow in the morning. It was not long after the heat rolled in as if the loading of the thoroughbreds into trailers bound for Evangeline Downs were a natural migration, a signal that summer was imminent.

It came in May like a plague on Egypt, the high nineties and humidity the weathermen said felt like one-ten. It came like a tsunami with no warning, swallowing Spring and leaving us all wrecked on our porches, dripping. It came without afternoon storms of cold downdrafts and downpours to cool the concrete: hot and drought enough you could feel the trees dreaming of the Ozarks and Appalachians, shedding new leaves like Okies on the road to California.

I seemed to be the only person who didn’t much mind. True, I spent a part of that early onslaught mostly inside healing up from some minor surgery but every time I stepped out somewhere inside a clock turned back and I remembered the sweetness in May’s heat, the end of school and the summers to run the lanes of Lake Vista and City Park just across the street. I sweated like the rest of us but increasingly didn’t care. Because I worked from home I lived in shorts and flip-flops, bought another pack of wife beaters, showered twice a day (at least) as I did when I lived with Marianne who was violently allergic to the spores that grow inside the condensers of air conditioning.

The few times I felt compelled to appear in the office, I looked at the socks and leather shoes laid out and tried to remember the order of assembly, recalled teaching my children how to lace their shoes (cross the bridge and through the hole to see the rabbit). I pulled on the fine-spun golfer’s polyester pants I favor in the summer for their coolness, and wondered who decided men should wear an undershirt beneath a polo: some fool in New York or California who wears starched long sleeves and summer-weight wool in June out in the noonday sun and thought of Snoopy thinking to Linus who wondered about fur in the summer: some of us must suffer for fashion.

Not me.

Perhaps I am finally re-acclimating to the climate after my long absence, in the same way I learned to haul the garbage out to the snowbank in leather-footed mukluk socks and shirtsleeves when I lived up north. When I step out into the dazzling morning, blinded by the heat, I don’t recoil but embrace it as the way of things, thinking sometimes of summer afternoons of blanket heat and cold swimming pool: the simmering afternoon, the icy water, the natural order of things.

Perhaps a part of it is my age, my children grown enough to miss the vicarious experience of childhood. And so my mind drifts back to my own youth. I live near the park and sometimes walk over or cutting through by the museum stop and park and walk around what they now call the Great Lagoon across from Christian Brothers School. I spent five years in that old mansion, playing water polo in the marble-lined pool, bats dying in the heat dropping out of the rafters onto the basketball court, searching for entrances to the catacombs rumored to run beneath.

On the last day of school we would eschew a ride from our parents and tell them we would take the Canal bus home. Released at noon, we would linger for a while at that lagoon when it was still part of a golf course, toss the odd notebook or two into the water, an offering to the landscape of summer in honor of our release from bondage. After a while we would make it to the Casino for ice cream-desert first–and wander dripping chocolate down our regulation chinos and colored shirts along the south lagoon, past the tennis courts toward the Peristyle, trying and failing to scale the low branches of the old oaks in our leather shoes.

Ice cream done and the park wore out (thinking of cane poles and dip nets and three point gigs with which we would return to torment the wildlife in days to come even as, at thirteen, we slyly watched the young mothers at the playground, the women in their short tennis skirts bending to return a low lob), we wandered slowly under the oaks of City Park Avenue toward Bud’s
Broiler, not so much from hunger (chocolate still wet on our shirts) but to go in and sit beneath the dripping air conditioners suspended from the ceiling, and eat a Number Four just for the savory barbecue sauce, the taste of summer in our mouths.

Our skin and clothes dry at last from the refrigerated air (thinking old tin signs with dripping cubes) and something freshly carved into the tables with the knives we had brought against all school rules expressly for the purpose, we would finish our amble down past the cemeteries, the marble and white wash blinding white against the carefully tended green, until we reached the Cemeteries stop. We would cadge a few STP stickers for our bikes from the old man at the gas station long gone from Canal Boulevard, and sit under the tin roofs waiting for our bus.

There is something of those days when I step outside my door now. At first blinding white, after a moment a golden glow settles over everything and the sauna-warm air slaps an instant coat of sweat on your body that catches the sight breeze. I am learning again to walk slow, to favor the shade, to leave the windows down until the air blows cold in the car. I’ve bought more handkerchiefs, and leave an extra bandana in the car. Its summer and there is no more point to complaining than there is about age, which means to say we will complain but settle in and live with it. Now that the rains have returned the trumpet flowers grow rampant on the racetrack fence. Picking my way over the broken sidewalks to Canseco’s grocery a few blocks over I am met in every block by some new scent, sometimes a garbage can missed (there’s a reason we have twice a week collection here) but more often some hidden flowers behind a fence, the Spring’s sweet olive succeeded by fragrant honeysuckle and nicotinia.

I am tempted to pick up a stick and rattle it along the fence boards, to pick some rock and kick it all the way to the store and back, but I don’t. Not yet. Instead I select a mostly flat rock and hum it sidearm at the Goliath light tower in the race track parking lot. I miss, but that’s OK. I have months ahead to practice.

A Poem for Summer June 21, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Odd Words, Poetry.
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An excerpt from Mutra by Octavio Paz

Like a too-loving mother, a terrible mother of suffocation,
like a silent lioness of sunlight,
a single wave the size of the sea,
it has arrived noiselessly and in each of us has taken its
place like a king
and the glass days melt and in each breast is erected a
throne of thorns and live coals
and its dominion is a solemn hiccup, a crushed breathing
of gods and animals with eyes dilated
and mouths full of hot insects uttering one same syllable
day and night, day and night.
Summer, enormous mouth, vowel made of fumes and

This day wounded to death creeping along the length of
time and never finished with dying,
and the day to come, now scraping impatiently at the
no-man’s-land of dawn,
and the rest waiting their hour in the vast stables of the year, this day and its four pups, morning with its crystal tail
and noon with its one eye,
noon absorbed in its light, seated in splendor,
afternoon rich in birds, night with its bright stars armed
and in full regalia,
this day and the presences that the sun exalts or pulls
down with a simple wingblow:
the girl who appears in the street and is a stream of quiet freshness, the beggar raising himself up like a feeble prayer, a heap
of garbage and whining canticles,
red bougainvillea black through darkness of red, purple
in accumulated blue,
women bricklayers carrying stones on their heads as if
they carried extinguished suns,
the beauty in her cave of stalactites, the sound of her
scorpion’s scales,
the man covered with ashes who worships the phallus,
dung and water,
musicians who tear sparks out of daybreak and make the
airy tempest of the dance come down to earth,
the collar of sparkle, electric garlands in equilibrium at midnight, the sleepless children picking fleas by moonlight,
fathers and mothers with their family flocks and their
beasts asleep and their gods petrified a thousand years ago, butterflies, vultures, snakes, monkeys, cows, insects
looking like madness,
all this long day with its frightful cargo of beings and
things slowly being stranded on suspended time.

– Octavio Paz

Hot Time August 8, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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Is it the heat that leaves me as mindless as a humming monk when August finally settles in, the hot, damp air thick and clinging? I ask others and they answer with shrugs as they reach for their iced drink: the zen perfect non-answer. So much to be done and so little energy. Work rolls in at the counting house as relentlessly as waves off the ocean, and I have to catch up from a week at Destin in Florida and another few days in Miami. Summer is ending for the children. My daughter has already started at NOCCA, and I need to finish laying in school supplies. The period called summer vacation on the school calendars may be drawing to a close, but we are deep in the middle of the scorching season.

I try to wrap my brain around work as I trudge up the sweltering canyon of Common Street in the morning, but some days the long, sweaty slog is like Everest without oxygen. I stare off at no fixed point and mechanically plant one foot ahead of the other. In spite of the city’s fabulously expensive sanitation contracts, the lemony-fresh smell is long gone. Most days it smells of sun-roasted garbage, and one morning it was the cloying aroma of all-the-rats-in-the-sewer-have-died.

Days working at home are almost as bad. If I dare to step out onto the porch to sit and have a cigarette I am like my laptop suddenly unplugged: my eyes go dim just as the computer screen does, and little warning messages pop up–something internal has been disabled. I have to retreat quickly back into the house. Nights we sit out endlessly–it is near to our favorite spot in the house in all weathers–and as I try to organize what was accomplished today and what must be done tomorrow my thoughts simply evaporate even as the sweat does not, and I stare for a long time at the tricolored ginger plant potted on the porch.

My wife suffers from the heat even more than I do as she bravely sits beneath the porch fan, her feet bathed in a basin of cool water. She was not raised to this climate but a childhood spent in blizzard country, where they say forty below keeps the riff-raff out, has produced a person not easily intimated by simple weather. In spite of her complaints she manages to keep as busy as a farm wife, sitting with her notebook of endless lists of things to be done, adding and subtracting activities as industriously as the fabled ant. She asks me questions or reminds me of this or that and I find myself slowly peeling my gaze away from the ginger plant and asking, “what?” all too often. A distant, vaguely Asian voice in my head prompts me: focus, grasshopper.

When we came back from Destin in the Florida panhandle, we had resolved go to back in June next year. It was not so much the heat as the swarming jellyfish that kept us mostly out of the ocean that prompted this discussion. I recall from my childhood that jellyfish were an August phenomena, and the chair attendants are too young to remember when they didn’t come in mid-July. As I sit at home and thoughtlessly scratch at the sun burn itch under my shirt I have to wonder if perhaps July is not the perfect time to go, ideal for collapsing into a canvas chair and becoming just another bit of flotsam slowly baking on the beach. I was fairly active in Miami, venturing into the bug-cursed Everglades of August, shopping Little Havana for cigars and wandering for several sun-delirious hours along Ocean and Collins Avenues in South Beach. Still, I spent an awful lot of time at the Biltmore Hotel beside its enormous pool, wagging my empty mohito glass at the strolling waiters as the hovering pool boys brought glistening cups of ice water.

Now those trips are behind us and I must somehow catch up at work and at home even as the temperatures consistently climb into the nineties. Today is a relief as a large front has passed, stirring up storms all night and leaving a breeze from the north behind it. The wind cools a bit as it passes over Lake Pontchartrain, and between that change of weather, the clouds and the fan the porch seems positively pleasant. It won’t last. In a day or two, August will roll back in and over us as it always does.

I was talking to a neighbor yesterday and they said something that reminded me of the line I mentioned above from North Dakota: forty below keeps the riff-raff out. We spoke of the weather and he said that if it weren’t for the heat and the humidity, everyone would want to live here. I haven’t heard that one in a while, but it holds a world of truth: the idea that New Orleans is worth the suffering of summer and the subtle dread of the start of the real hurricane season. While the rest of the world trudges across sun-backed acres of shimmering shopping mall blacktop to escape into the A/C, we chose instead to wander art galleries on White Linen and Dirty Linen night, to taste new drinks at Tales of the Cocktail and listen to hot music at Satchmo Fest. It sounds stupid as I say it in my head but I can’t resist: even in the swelter of August New Orleans is cool, cool in every way the word has been used since the first hipster spoke it as a way of being and not a temperature.

These may be the dog days, but you’re as likely to find us out baying at the moon as curled up beneath the porch fan. If you love New Orleans, you’ll tolerate the weather and even drag yourself out into it. (My wife tolerates it because she loves me, an even more mysterious phenomena). For us it is not just a matter of coping, but also of learning to live through the swelter. I lamented long ago that we’d forgotten how, but the longer I’m home the less I think so. You’ll have to excuse me now but lunch hour is over and I need to crawl back into the air conditioning of my office. But first I need to check and make sure there are limes. A mohito is sounding very good right now and, in the absence of pool boys, come five o’clock I will need to be ready. If you pass by later you may not see us behind all the plants, but we’ll be on the porch. Stop by and join us under the fan at the coolest place on Toulouse Street.

Summertime May 20, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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Soon it will come: an invisible tsunami rising out of the Gulf and overwhelming our every defense, leaving us ruined and awash each in our own sweat. For some, it is a time and a weather both to be escaped, as everyone in the far north dreamed of a winter vacation to the islands or the couple from whom we bought our house who now summer in Maine. (Ah tiempo, time and weather all in one, such an exquisite bit of Romance vocabulary).

And in spite of it all, as I sit on my porch beneath my fan in the least amount of clothes decency will allow (and why did you think Stanley wore “wife-beater” undershirts?) and sip an Abita as densely beaded by condensation as my own skin is drenched with sweat, my heart will sing like a host of cicadas: a aboriginal drone which will eventually call forth this song–if only in my mind–and only as sung by Janis.

In The Summertime July 6, 2007

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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It’s too damned hot to post.

So instead, I offer this bit of summertime diversion. And I always had a thing for jug bands.

And I thought my sideburns in the early 70s were extreme…