You donít have to take my word for it, go check for yourself. Two posts in one day.
I canít even remember the last time I pulled this off.
Outfoxed. Where posts run about as predictably as government. Where the muse has the author by the short hairs, smacking him about at will. You might not wanna read it, but IĎm damn sure gonna write it.
I was restless all weekend, and I donít doubt for the preceding week as well.
Sometimes stuff prowls in the backyard and wonít go away, scratching at doors and howling at all hours, and about the time you think youíre going to get some sleep at long last it just takes another breath and hollers some more. Iíve been both running away from it and clutching it like a favorite shirt all last week / last month, holding it to my face and breathing deep even as the scent grows faint along the way.
Ally would probably aptly describe it as an obsession, if I were to let her in on it, Iím kinda scared to, because Iím not sure if I want to admit it to myself even. She notices the time spent on the internet, the reading, the distance, the brooding, the vacant look. The thing yesterday with the vacuum and the washer was about the only normal humor we had all weekend.
Hold up, sounds like Iím describing a marital thing here. It ainít. Not that way, no.
I just fucking canít get away from New Orleans.
Post Katrina New Orleans, P-K theyíve taken to calling it. I know these little acronyms, the little signs. You learn them after compulsively looking up every thing you can about it, for hours upon hours, and finding blog after blog and articles and quotes, you learn. You hear pain by the foursquare and a little grim rejoicing, feel mud on boots and smell toxins on a wind blowing out toward the River, ever the River down here. Theyíre down there, the few thousands that wanted to go back and theyíre weeping and laughing, sometimes all at once, and slogging garbage and knocking back high-test grog and buying porch doors.
I donít think Iíve ever heard of suffering like this, across the board, and stories of rage against a faceless tribe a thousand miles off who determine, by the twitch of finger on pen, who survives and who does not. The rot of drywall up to the four foot mark, and beyond. The crashing of wind against structures feeble, and most of all the death and displacement.
Let me back up here, and take a long breath.
I was only there once, five years ago. Iím one of the fanny pack touristís that a native of the place would see walking about, then or now, and see the shorts and the camera and give a snort of grim humor. The tourist that helps his city stay solvent and erodes away the tradition all at the same time. I went for the music, the food, and left with the mystical. Iím not unique. Thousands before me have gone and done the same thing, returning for the fix year after year. Itís not a thing explainable unless maybe youíve done it too, and can hear the beat and smell the peppers and the sweat around you. I donít doubt for a minute that what they say about the place, the voo-doo and the ghosts, that itís true. To some. If youíre of a mind to listen and look for them. Itís a hook and a grabber to some. My wife went and I donít think anything hooked her, exactly. Some get bit, some donít. I remember the last couple of days there, how all I wanted was to go out and walk the streets, Festival be damned - I didnít need a Festival, I wanted to smell and taste and look, in grungy jeans and a T-shirt, to fade into it and slink down alleys where I probably should not have, get away and be alone and crushed all at once.
Itís an old place. Even things that are new, like a new restaurant or shop are often just a resurrection of the old. They save the old there, and thereís not a big historical push about it that I can see, no City Planner mashing you into saving a wood sided house with woeful details and shotgun rooms.
Itís a dingy sort of place. We went first night there with a friend who pulled up to a bar, God I couldnít ell you where it was on a bet, not in the Quarter for sure, but a bar that looked like something fit to be condemned here in my spanky little corner of the South and he proclaimed, with no lack of pride that ďThis here . . . This is one of the locals. Wonít find better anywhere.Ē And later, we ferried over to Algiers and he nodded a caution, ďDonít be doiní nothiní crazy over here lad, theyíll slice you quick, but dammit thereís a band . . .Ē, and he trailed off and you knew. There was a band worth dodging the hands with a blade, a cold beer and a tattered vinyl seat you ordinarily wouldnít pluck from a trash pile. There was a sound that made heads swivel slow, something right from the River, guttural and earthy, a fuzz on the fatter guitar strings and a wail from no place at all.
Read. A guy, on his own, flitting into and out of a city he made his own. He did the remodel on a house in the middle of the projects, the very black projects and as a white guy, he was the pioneer, he was the minority. He fixed up a shack and slid in there with neighbors, some of whom probably wanted him laid on a slab, and survived. Watched from afar as the water went up and the dream got shaky, did a recon afterwards and found all the neighbors gone, drifted off and he would sit in a swampy house at night with no one around him for blocks on end. Alone, with a street of a dozen ghosts helicoptered and bussed away, and would walk to the corner of a morning for a newspaper just to see if maybe there was life anywhere hereabouts.
Read. A dozen displaced writers, some have made it back, some have damned little to go back to. Dreamers some, they got the hook early and couldnít stay away, it grabbed and held. They haul festering freezers from homes that are half standing and wind tape around them, mocking the gods and doing a little mystical graffiti here and there. They look deep into styrofoam from the Red Cross and see lunch, keep fists clenched behind backs when talking to insurance guys who say thereís really nothing, nothing to be done. Watch young boys in Army trucks rumble past with fingers on trigger guards, waving, watching. Stink and slop and chainsaw and carry, a week. Then two.
Read. Maybe the most angry and anguished of all, not in the city, not even in the same state, but east. Wiped out as if by the blast of all the bombs dropped by a government confused, and swinging wildly with a large stick, blinded by the enormity of it all. Sitting in rubble as high as the trees that once were, right now, today.
Because this is just now getting started.
This was a pinball game of a sort. The ball rolled over and crushed, it pinged off the walls and sometimes never got near you. Itís the way of things like this, the acts of God. Thereís no wave off for the debonair or the gangster, it either takes you or slaps you or does little at all. But itís there, and the little fumblings of man to explain or correct do nothing to make it not stare you in the face every day? Pointless, useless.
There are not a few, and voice changes daily and there are as many Ďsplainings going on as there are voices to Ďsplain, not a few that say ďTake the D-8 and push it aside. Itís not going to be the same, never and no how will it ever be the same. Make a hill, send in the trucks and tote it all away.Ē
And you know, Thereís not a doubt in my mind that some places will have to be that way. Read. Some places are already that way. Thereís hysteria and backpedaling. And the money. The River money. Enough money to fill in the River and then some. Levees, sustainable marsh land, the jackings and raisings, the loss of income, the materials, the labor, the cronies and the outright thieves, and every little bottle of water and bag of handi-wipes and every shovel and nail and gallon of gas and vial of blood.
I donít think the powers that be will ever explain the voo-doo, I think they know, in some fashion, that itís there, the hook and grabbing. Some of them might be part of that mystical and not know how, not know where to put a sheaf of papers that might just convince and explain that things need . . . things just need to be done here. And in all the part and parcel of land for hundred of miles around it. This great brooding center of a people torn away.
I just fucking canít get away from New Orleans.
I sit here in a perfectly dry and clean place and dream of it. Iím a relatively rational 46 year old and I dream of this at night. I see people sleeping in vans full of tools and breathing mold spores and eating Red Cross food without the first hint of a shower for days and wake up in a sweat because it should be me.
I donít have any noble ambition. I need to make a living, need some sort of livelihood. I donít have a need to sing happy songs about coming together or being brothers and sisters with everybody, or holding hands and looking at sunrises.
Hell, Iím pretty well convinced that thereís a fair share of assholes in New Orleans. Because Iím absolutely sure that, after 100 days of this, Iíd be an asshole myself.
Iíve got a wife with a job and an eighteen year old son with an attitude and I look down to the River and clench the hammer a little tighter. Should go. Should be there, and the grab lifts me by the seat and whispers, and the fuzz on a guitar hums. And a thousand new ghosts in a mostly dead city laugh at my fanny pack and my naivetť, ďBoy you ainít got clue one. You goní come down here and get yoíself fucked up, sure.Ē
But I got the chisels sharp, I do. And I read about Louis wandering around an empty neighborhood with a newspaper and a poíboy sandwich and I want to flip the Ford southwest and pick up the generator from the shed and a box of vinyl gloves from the Rite-Aid and go.
And the River sits there and stares at me, and I stare back, and neither of us are making a move, except at night. When the sleep wonít come and I see ten thousand roofs, a million feet of buckled floor and a mile of broken cabinets.
I see it every night, and I canít get away from it, sure.
I can't let it lay down there forgotten, as it seems everyone has.
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