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New Kid On Block
I made eye contact with a Rocheblave area street kid at 6:30 a.m. because I was going for coffee and he was riding his bike right past my driveway as I put the key in the door of the truck. I double took him and burned him hard on the second take because he looked so familiar. I knew right off that he wasn't who I thought he was because the kid I was thinking of is hiding from some people who want to kill him. People around here these days say I want to kill you not as a figure of speech but as a literal promise. I guess civilization is not a static process.
But I'd already committed with this new kid, eye contact almost as powerful as a love poem to some people. I was in the truck when he wheeled up next to me. I rolled down the window and he said, "you straight?" Now some of you are going to think this is the beginning of a sexual come on but things have changed over the years and "you straight?" doesn't have sexual connotation anymore. It means, more or less, are you cool? Which means, more or less, do you have everything you need?
I said, "I'm good," which of course doesn't mean that I am but more or less means I am ok, or, I have everything I need, or want.
The kid asked me some personal questions about my drug habits and the truth is, other than alcohol, I haven't really messed with drugs for the last several months. But when he asked me if I smoke I just forgot, as I so often do, how handy it is to use the truth as a way to lie to people, and I blurted out, "sure." He told me what he could do for me but I just can't seem to find the interest for any of that right now, so I said, "no man, but thanks for asking. If I change my mind I'll look for you." He rolled by, down the street, a few days later and I can't help looking at him because he reminds me so much of this one person, or possibly two people. I tell him I have everything I need, which seems like a lie (I'm getting the hang of it now) but might be the truth. I want to tell him to be a good boy, go to church, study hard, respect his elders, look both ways before crossing, eat vegetables, and drink plenty of water, but I don't because what I want to do and what I end up doing don't always dovetail. He persists with the hard sell but I'm a busy man, a busy, busy man walking up my steps. I just shake my head and go inside.
Energetic Black Dog
More people wounded in Central City crossfire Friday, 14-year-old girl and her 51-year-old mother. And a dude in eastern NO answered the knocking of a front door and then closed it when he saw the assault rifle pointing at him. The door was insufficient to the task of saving his life, he died, and a woman in the back of the house was treated at the scene for a mild facial abrasion, otherwise known as a stray bullet wound to the head. (As of 5 p.m. Sat., 7 people have been shot in the city this weekend, two fatally, the second death a half dozen blocks from here at Bienville and Gayosa, 15-year-old boy shot dead.)
A belligerent man on the bayou yelled out at me did I have a cigarette. I just shook my head and went back to reading the morning paper's assessment of Rumsfeld. It was nice of him to warn us that there are worse images to come, even though imagining thus has become more or less the default for many of us.
An energetic black dog jumped in the bayou and retrieved a yellow tennis ball.
Over the ten years of occasional step sitting by that Dumaine bridge over the bayou there is only one person I recognize from year to year and to her I think I've only said hello once. I don't blame either one of us for our reticence. I wonder if seeing her today will be a last?
I replaced another window at the Dumaine house today. Saw an old pal, like me a former resident of the block. He was doing some work on a rental unit across the street. He shared his cold sugary juice drink with me. He told me something that I guess I already knew but had put aside so as not to feel everything at once. Sometimes I wish I could tell you the whole story but don't count on that ever happening.
We humans are so resilient and optimistic. Hoping for good things to happen even as all around us there is ample evidence to suggest those good things will never happen without a bucketful of bad to balance the scale. You get a raise, a man across town steps in dogshit; God grants you peace and understanding, four students get shot in Maryland; boogie down all day at Jazzfest, get shot in the head afterwards.
Sometimes the good and bad is such a stew you don't know whether to stir it, serve it, spit in it, or throw it out. Carol Robinson of Newhouse News Service writes, "Virgil Lamar Ware, 13, was reinterred in Birmingham this week with all the honor of a dignitary--15 white stretch limousines stood not far from his custom-designed bronzed grave ledger. A high school choir gathered on a pretty hillside to sing for him."
He was dug up and moved to a place of respect after 41 years in an unmarked grave in a makeshift cemetery, where he had rested patiently as a forgotten victim of Deep South atrocity.
"Virgil was the sixth person killed in Birmingham on Sept. 15, 1963, following the bombing deaths of the four girls (at the 16th Street Baptist Church) and the slaying of Johnnie Robinson, who was shot by police after he threw rocks to protest the church bombing."
That day Virgil rode on the handle bars of his brother's bicycle, around five p.m., oblivious to the day's previous murders. Two 16-year-old Eagle Scouts riding double on a red motorcycle with confederate flag decals, inspired and fired up from the segregationist rally they had just attended, came upon Virgil and his brother and fired twice a .22 caliber pistol, hitting Virgil once in the head and once in the chest. He fell off the bike, said a few parting words to brother James, and died.
The two Eagle Scouts, Larry Joe Sims and Michael Lee Farley, were punished. Sims was convicted of manslaughter and Farley pleaded guilty to second degree manslaughter. They both received the same sentence. Seven months in county jail. With probation. Which was then lifted the next year so they could attend college.
2Ks And G-Man
In cyberspace, no one can see you eat rare yellow-fin tuna.
A recent history of making not one iota of effort towards the healthy, fun, rewarding world of social interaction has not prevented me from accepting dinner invitations from complete strangers on the web.
I was a few days ago accosted in cyberspace by two word wielding corporate girls who threatened to stalk me to the end of my days if I did not give in to their demands. Dinner, as a going away (me going away) appreciation gift for this very blog, which they confess to occasionally reading when they damn well should be doing their corporate duties.
It was as if I had been secretly waiting for complete strangers to ask me out to one of New Orleans' premier Uptown eateries, Dick and Jenny's. I did not even think about not accepting.
One of the women brought her husband, and said husband did wear a badge, which caused nary a moment of emotional conflict for me except perhaps that I did at one point suffer badge envy. Because a badge worn down on the belt looks way cool, not to mention that it carries some of the same implications of a holstered firearm, while being so much lighter.
There was some doubt, on both sides, whether a meeting of strangers like this is a good thing. The roommate of the unmarried woman suggested that maybe she was crazy and that this was so unlike her. One of my readers, an actual Admiral, suggested it may be a trap. My nephew's wife expressed some real concern that I was going to be hacked to bits. "Yeah, but they're going to feed me first," I explained. Her return look was to imply that I had no way of knowing that. So I told her of previous experience with strangers as a hitchhiker but that only led to all of us realizing, well, truth told, people can be very strange, even dangerous.
In the end it was easy, and quite enjoyable, and no one was fed into a wood chipper. If there was anything marring the night I would say it was the very lightly-held resentment of one of the K's, who rightfully suggested that she be held in higher esteem than she felt is offered as a figment of Mark's imagination, not that Jim owes anyone an apology, I'm just saying.
Dope And Ideas
The New Orleans School Board is holding hostage the students of this city with an arsenal of weapons including incompetence, deceit, lack of vision, misappropriation of funds, and a general negligence comparable to that of a large block of the parental population.
Mayor Nagin, with no power to affect change but through cooperation with a willing school board, is meeting stiff resistance from Board president Cheryl Mills, who cannot seem to find the time to meet with him. Nagin was voted into office largely on the premise that his business background would be a useful credential in a city that, outside of its ability to attract tourist dollars, is a failed business. Nagin, in his first two years, has had some success cleaning up the administrative and fiscal affairs at City Hall and has suggested that given the chance he could find 50 million dollars in the district budget (a budget from which mostly recently 30 million dollars just disappeared into thin air) and use that money to secure 1 billion dollars in construction bonds, to repair old schools and build new ones.
It must be said that Cheryl Mills has ample reason to resist such assistance. I myself just ain't educated enough to know what the reason is.
From the Picayune Op-ed page today comes a remarkably simple, politically savvy solution to the, uh, Iraqi conflict, from Metairie resident, Mr. JC Jaeger. "Let's bring true democracy to the people of Iraq. Allow them to vote on whether they want the coalition forces, led by America, to remain in or to leave their country."
In another letter, from a resident of Baton Rouge, visiting Jazzfest last week with his son from Texas, is expressed a disappointment at the amount of open pot smoking inside the fairgrounds and possibly even a case of someone openly snorting cocaine. He queries--"Is this really the impression we want visitors to have of the Jazzfest." Pretty simply sir, the answer to that is, yes. And here I go again blathering forth my ignorance with no first hand knowledge to back my assertions but I would like to strongly suggest that most of the really good dope being smoked inside the fairgrounds is being brought in by those very same visitors you are suggesting might be offended by it. I mean, you know, maybe.
I didn't do anything Sunday, which is my God-given right.
I thought previous to not doing anything that I might do something, and that consoled me against any guilt I might feel for lack of accomplishment. I repeated this formula throughout the day to arrive at this point in time, at which I feel comfortable talking about it.
With things as they are in the world, or more accurately, as things are exacerbated by the carelessness of an evangelical inspired world leader, I feel it almost a responsibility to watch from this Central Standard Time, Chris Matthews at 7 a.m., to Stephenopolous signing off at 11:30 a.m., all I can stomach of everything offered on a Sunday morning regarding world affairs. I honestly think this is me taking queasy comfort in the fact that to whatever degree I am myself a hopeless fuckup, at least I have never aspired to be it on such a level as to inflict the entire goddamn world with my insanity. Let me suggest that when George Will is finding fault with the Republican vision, things are dire. And speaking of dire.
I bought the Sunday paper this morning to see who it was that got killed walking back alone from Jazzfest Saturday night, near the Bayou St. John, but all I can tell you about it from the words offered is that he was fifty, with white hair and beard, and that he wore a fanny pack, and that he was shot in the head, and lived for a couple of hours at Charity Hospital, and was announced dead slightly before 10p.m.
As if life is not absurd and brutal enough, I watched today for the first time, this is to underscore my earlier admission of not doing anything, an entire episode of the television phenomenon known as Friends. It is part of my ongoing attempt to embrace that which horrifies me. I am now invested, and can speak knowingly and nod sympathetically at those events in the future which require an understanding about things I could care less about. I will add with not one drop of irony that Rachael and I have birthdays one day apart. I can even hear from this past in which I sit the bubbly incredulity of response to that bit of birthday trivia.
I am not a snob against popular culture and I can see how the show might be a comfortable way to spend a few minutes every week (or as will be likely with future syndication, every day) but there is something about the smooth, warm, yet occasionally grating chemistry of that cast which makes me feel just a little bit nauseous.
There has been intense local coverage of the Jazzfest shooting victim over the last few days. Three of the four youngsters, ages 14--16, recognized the undercover cop car parked in the block, but the 14-year-old was walking behind his three friends when he demanded the 57-year-old man give him money. Allegedly, the man said he had no money and then told the kid to scram. The kid then, according to his friends, approached his friends, expressed contempt for being dismissed like that, said he had a "gat," and then scooted back up the sidewalk and perfunctorily shot the man in the back of the head. The cops were nearby and gave chase. Within 48 hours all four youths were in custody, the 14-year-old alleged shooter having turned himself in. Community response is predictable: horror, sadness, and finger pointing.
The mayor and the chief of police tell us crime is down and yet most every citizen of New Orleans speaks of crime as the foremost problem in the city. Is perception truth or is truth something that can be measured as a statistical certainty? One truth is, crime will often be down in New Orleans because of the relative spike which precedes a so-called (yet literal) downturn. But just to pick an arbitrary time period, say, the ten years I have watched, crime, measured statistically or perceptually, has never, ever, been down in New Orleans. Not to the point where you could sigh that sigh of relief and say--good fucking job fellow citizens, we put our heads to the problem, got a little dirty, and created a better place.
It’s a pesky problem, these 14-year-old killers. They are, like those "bands of thugs" in foreign countries you try to occupy, a difficult nut to crack. They are, by far, a minority as related to the general population. But in many cases they are barely distinguishable from "good" boys. It's hard to know with any certainty who will step over the line.
I am writing all these words as a way of searching for something that approaches constructive criticism of a problem that doesn't appear to be going away. Very unscientifically speaking, the ages of those willing to kill is getting younger and younger. I'm just wondering if we couldn't divert maybe a billion or two of our war fund into a tamper-proof account, make misappropriation of that money a capital offense, bring in volunteers, pay volunteers, re-educate our troops so that they could actually rebuild schools like some imagined they would be doing in Iraq. Refurbish a couple thousand (of the reported 70,000) of this city's blighted houses, pay people to live in them as mentors of the block and offer the full range of educational material available on this planet. Bring in 10,000 troops or so, forget the frisbees but put a portable hoop on every block, engage the children in sport, escort them to school, sit in their classrooms, encourage them. Bring in the ACLU, consult with them, learn from them. Then take chances. Set up boot camps for the hopelessly disruptive students. Often the disruptive kid has amazing talents, well worth developing. I bet there are not 2,000 or 3,000 truly disruptive kids in this whole city. They need one on one attention. Bring in more troops. I shouldn't have to mention this but I will anyway. Be respectful, never sodomize someone with a broomstick. Teach girl children benefits of postponing pregnancy. Or make mandatory classes for teenage mothers. Mandatory learning. Consult again with ACLU.
I haven't even gotten all that ridiculous and this already sounds ridiculous. Until I refocus on current events in this city and in the world, then it just seems kind of thin and not all that well thought out. But I mean, fuckit, let's Occupy America.
From my driveway after rolling down my window I did a screeching L of a backup and stopped by the opposite sidewalk where sitting on a four hundred-pound block of rough-cut granite was neighbor and agent of the street, C.
He had recently overcome a grass-cutting career ending clogged filter on the weedeater I had given him and it and the red plastic gas can that came with the deal were sitting on the ground next to him.
"I need to get rid of my couch and love seat and bed, can you move them, use them, or in anyway get them out of my house for me? And I mean without any effort on my part because if I have to expend energy to get rid of them I have numerous options that don't include you, or actually, may include you, but not in the fashion I am attempting to include you at this point in time."
He said, "Of course, let me think about it. She around the corner is offering me that upstairs, a room and board kind of thing in exchange for me doing some work for her…"
"Naw mane, just renovation work. So I maybe could use the bed but I don't wanna haul no couches up there. She say she has to run a water line up there and will run an extension cord so I can have electricity" (a thing the little shanty behind him hasn't had for over a year.)
"Hmm, could be ok," I said.
He seemed similarly enthusiastic. "When you want this?"
"Soon as possible, but maybe not the bed tonite."
"Okay, let me talk to Junkyard, he has a better clientele for selling larger items like that, maybe he can make it something worth the while for us."
About sundown they came and got the couches and stacked them across the street on the sidewalk, by the chunk of granite. This morning they were gone.
I have joined in partnership with God and the US Federal Government to provide housing for those that need it.
A woman from the Pentecostal church has been coming by to visit me. Yesterday between knocking and me answering she was singing a little bit and I thought--who that singing? I don't know singing people. It was her though, just checking up. I said I was lagging a bit and she said we were on God's time and he would direct us to our mutual best advantage. Cool, cool, very cool, dig it, I see the attraction. Give it to God.
She wants to rent the place but needs section 8 assistance and I need guaranteed rent money and a reasonably decent tenant. So the Federal Gov will pay her rent (110% of market value) directly to me and I will proudly side step my potential as a gentrifier. As to which level of hell is my due for partnership with the US Government I say one is like another, only different.
I am preparing to head back to that bucolic Rappahannock hill I was on last Fall and early Winter but I don't want to move, or ascend, to quickly and get the bends, so I'm moving slow, and my future renter's assertion that God is leading us I take as my convenient due.
I was on Dumaine earlier today; Mq did not get juvenile life and is out looking good. Just like his older brother (who last year committed suicide by motorcycle at an Orleans Street intersection, and previous to that was regularly in and out of jail for serious crime), Mq looks healthier and younger and more innocent after a lockup. He said hey Mr. Jim and I just smiled at him and he smiled back like he the definition of innocence. And in a way he actually is. F somehow has inherited the weight of the block, to carry by his lonesome, until backup returns. A recent shooting around the corner has certain players laying low. He could barely afford me a whisper and even when he did say hey I inadvertently ignored him.
Me and M we own and rent out a house together in North Carolina and sometimes, actually on a pretty regular basis, they miss rent payments. This last one is a kind of unique twist for us and when M called to check up the man told her everything was cool, they've been making the payments. So we said maybe (even though mailed statements show no such deposits), shit happens, we'll check with the bank, and by we I mean M, because I took the first seven years and she gets the next seven. As mean landlord, or bitch as she says, I say sure, and she says, yeah I guess it works for you.
I don't really dig confrontation that much (or read--he's a pussy) so I would during my term just deposit about a thousand dollars a year into the account from which both the mortgage is subtracted and the rent supposedly is deposited into. For the most part this would cover their slackness. At 300 dollars rent we ain't really making any money, just covering the mortgage. They get a small house on 2 acres backing up to hundreds and hundreds of undeveloped wooded and tobacco fielded acres. We put in new deep well a few years ago. Draws about a million gallons a minute, or so.
Sometimes we feel their pain; mostly we are pretty well individually immersed in our own. Just wish they'd pay the fucking rent.
Well the next day M gets a call from the wife all worried about being thrown out onto the street, or in the case of the North Carolina property, gravel road, or woods, and says she has been keeping her poor fiscal management a secret from hubby and can she make amends by such and such a fashion, please don't tell hubby. So that's the deal, for now. Partners in deception.
Christians are everywhere. Had a conversation with one, a friend, on Dumaine today. Hey, have you seen the Passion of Christ, I asked her. She said, No, I said don't bother. Two very enthusiastic thumbs down. She wasn't having it. I'm not attacking the story of Christ or religion in general (although I kind of blathered up to that later), I just think the movie sucked. Evidently the movie can't suck, from a Christian standpoint. Later I said I wanted to come to her BFC (big church, often televised) and spout my insane notions about the appropriate role of Christians in a modern world and she said no. But I could come if I just wanted to be a quiet little sheep. I pretended a great and fiery disdain for that alternative; I wanted to be up at the pulpit, to preach, to question what is the good coming from all you people sitting in your seats every Sunday?
I love this woman for letting me talk ridiculous shit to her. At one point she asked me what it was I was seeking and I said--someone to play with, an admission as truthful as it is pitiful.
She tried to get me back on safe ground, talking about movies. Yeah, Kill Bill 2 sounds good, and I told her I had rented the vampire/werewolf movie Underworld and liked it ok, Kate Beckinsale, yum, and she mentioned a new one, monster movie, haven't seen the ads I said, but saw one a minute ago, how serendipitous (yeah I know she was in something like that too), the new monster movie stars Kate Beckinsale. My Christian friend did not know, or mention this. She likes a good horror or science fiction movie though, or one with a high violence factor. So I suggested she see Passion of Christ as fourth on a list of what's out now. She wanted to see Hellboy, too.
I went to G's high school baseball game the other day and he sure do like to crowd that plate. Life in the 6th Ward has provided him with a courage that finds him smirking at the limited possibilities of pain from a 60 or 75mph fastball. He stands tall and perfectly still at the plate, none of that fashionable wiggling or bat waving. He took a pitch to the thigh, and advanced to first base. On his teammate's single and the subsequent bad throw to first base, G found himself safe at third after a head first slide. He scored that inning, giving his team their first run, against the opponent's seven. The pitcher for G's team gave up three homers and committed three errors and probably did not get the game ball. Still, G's team made a go of it, only to lose eleven to eight. G had a triple, and scored another run. Ran down and tagged a runner caught between the bases. Later made a long and strong throw from third base to out the runner at first.
Towards the end when the second base umpire made a couple of bad calls things turned a little racial and as me and that ump and one of the coaches from the opposing team were the only white people among the 150 or so black I just bowed my head a little bit and felt the warm protective glow of temporary Christianity course through my veins.
Up on that Dumaine porch people pass on the sidewalk right in front of you and some you recognize and acknowledge and others you don't. There is a sort of halfway house up the block a ways and there is this one long time tenant whom I recognize but only to just nod at. To unfairly judge by appearances, this man may have a mild mental disability. The Christian and me had paused in our conversation and this fellow passed by. The Christian and M acknowledged the man and when he was by me I gave him a cursory glance, a brief smile, and a quick hey. This was more or less like a hundred other passings by this man over the years. This time however, the man paused, extended his left hand, which I grabbed onto with my own outstretched left hand, and the man said to me, Praise the Lord, and then immediately continued on down the block towards the Broad Street bus stop.
It's Always Also
You might as well call it a crisis situation when you get a call from Dave just checking up. Just admit whatever errors have been committed, reconsider whatever messages have been relayed, and move on. Don't be blue, there's no reward in it. What are you dwelling on and why? Be cheerful, here we go.
I remember writing about stepping in dog shit and admonishing City Park area residents to pick up after their animals, even though poop scooping is not really mandated here in New Orleans. What I didn't write about was shortly after that, a day or two, I was parked in semi-rumination along City Park Avenue and I watched a dude, a hipster-looking thirty-something, walking his dog back through the neighborhood across from the park and his dog shat on an avenue yard. There was nobody watching but me and I was invisible. The dude looked around him, taking more than a little time about it, and found some trash on the street, a paper cup, and then went back to the pile of shit and rather ungraciously on several tries scooped up his animal's discard and then walked out of his way to place it in a trash can.
I also wrote about these dog walkers who were making a daily habit of using the unused Pentecostal lot next door to me to train their pit bulls and how it drove my neighbor's dogs crazy every day at precisely the hour I had chosen to begin chilling. One of the guys had sat on my side porch and I told him not to mainly because I was pissed about this appropriation of the Pentecostal lot which caused the everyday wildly barking dogs, not because I resented his mild trespass. I only said to the guy that the barking dogs caused me to be aggravated; I did not imply that the lot was mine, or that I had any authority, other than the implied authority of the uptight honkie. But still, they never came back, those pit bull walkers.
I haven't mentioned anything about good deeds going on but there are some.
And there are honest, if plodding, efforts to reform the New Orleans public school system, a school system that the word travesty barely even touches as description.
G, the only boy left from the original core Dumaine group who hasn't dropped out of school, is on the John Mac high school baseball team, and starts at an infield position. He has made preliminary efforts, with M's assistance, if not insistence, for college entrance.
And the weather here from December to now mid April has been close to idyllic, so much so that occasional reports from the east assuring me that it is indeed warming up there cause me to wonder just what the hell is meant, oh, you mean it's not sixty-five (or eighty) and sunny elsewhere, everyday(?).
I heard this local professor on the radio yesterday morning and it turned out to be my nephew, and I just keep saying, to the truck radio, wow man, you talk good. I liked the way you slid up to that crucial issue regarding the history of local school integration, and then how you diplomatically slid back away from it, and then slipped it in, white flight, without impregnating it with all that related fuzzy disgrace that we sometimes feel during our drunken conversations. I'm glad you got here and are tuned into the bittersweet essence of the city. And that you and J are raising your three kids here, when, uh, everyone else (including myself) is escaping. Orleans Parish population numbers are dipping again. Of course you realize that just means more beer for you, although let me suggest that the annual nine a.m. Tad Gormley all-u-can drink for five bucks beer party is hard on a body as it gets older.
The new streetcar line is up and running, I can look out the Rocheblave windows and see the pretty red cars moving up and down the neutral ground of the newly re-paved Canal Blvd. a few hundred yards away. And the Mid-City Bayou St. John, and City Park lagoons, have been stocked with more fish so kids and others can have easy access to the calming exhilaration of fishing. And those birds, those small green parrots, or large parakeets, I forget what they are actually, are everywhere now, so some populations are up and healthy. The wild dogs, ironically or not, remain some of the healthiest creatures roaming the city streets and outmatch the rather hapless occasional efforts of the local dog-catchers.
I was down to the French Quarter Festival Friday, which is still the best festival in town, even though it is very close to outgrowing itself and doesn't really so much feel like a festival for locals, as it was once advertized, and I saw Ingrid Lucia and her Flying Neutrinos, and the Ellis Marsalis trio, with son Jason on drums, and the Irvin Mayfield Quintet (who may represent the best Jazz coming out of New Orleans today), and I drank more than a few Bloody Marys and feasted on crawfish with lobster sauce and then later, barbecued chicken livers with greens and rice, before staggering back through the length of the Quarter to my regular parking space along side Armstrong Park.
The first day of the streetcar running was yesterday, Sunday, the last day of the Quarter Festival, and I thought about taking the streetcar downtown, but this idea seemed like a good one to a lot of other people, and the streetcars, by the time they got to my lower mid-city neighborhood were full of upper mid-city residents, and one car after another passed through this neighborhood too full up to fit anyone waiting on the neutral ground. Not that I was waiting, I just observed this while going out for my Sunday (Robert's Grocery) plate of pork loin with cream gravy and three cheese macaroni and boiled cabbage and beer six pack. Saturday's plate is baby back ribs and one or two of these, cleanly stripped of meat, I have tossed over the fence to my good friend, Killer.
Now I don't imagine that anything I have said up to now really falls into the category of cheering up but more just a walking in that direction.
Also, in New Orleans (pop. 470,000), yesterday, Sunday, April 18, in three separate incidents around town, five people were shot, two, to death. One of the three wounded was a 14-year-old girl.
American Inner City
I had hoped that many of them from that block, the ones I knew anyway, would become like ideas dredged from dreams, not odious but unrealistic, like nothing in the world they inhabited, that they would be retards, geeks, not cool at all, baton-twirling, toe-tapping freaks, not the least bit cool, not at all in synch with the beat of the street; they could wear suits and deliver bibles door to door or they could have nasal twangs and say yessir and no sir. It would be neat, really neat, if they could have gotten roughed up at school and come home crying with gold stars pasted to their foreheads. I wish they had not the talent to blend in so well, had no friends, had no sense of community, were aliens. I wish they weren't so smart, so proud, so good-looking, so strong, surviving by rote, the credo, kill or be killed. But hoping is a past time of luxury and it didn't turn out that we were dreaming the same dream. Instead they became dark super heroes, mini-gods, suave, silky-moving monsters. The beautiful thing is there is no one to blame, we don't have to take responsibility, we are profoundly dumbfounded by the simple, permanent truth of it. They are what we are and never wrong. They are the mirror of a good day, and the bad. There are no motives and there are no suspects.
Was a while back that me and my siblings fretted over my aging mother's lack of hearing and we badgered her to get hearing implementation but she resisted and we capitulated.
We adjusted to eardrum splitting TV and telephone-ringer volume. We forgive her for constantly saying "what?" when we forget to yell out our conversation. Or at least yelling is what it feels like for a soft-spoken person.
We try to forgive ourselves when we lose our minds, lose patience, get pissed off at the nature of things as represented by an 86-year-old mother with a pronounced widow's hump, lack of hearing, and an incrementally progressing dementia.
Her independence, desire for autonomy, ability to fight off our suggestions of professional assistance we console ourselves as evidence of her strength in the battle against disappearing from the map of usefulness. Nature is harsh.
That she wants to carry on alone in that big house we holler out cautiously, hallelujah.
That when anyone visiting leaves the house she immediately begins worrying about them we find charming.
That those that left the house are in her mind of a number far greater than actuality and that we can't answer when are they coming back with any more confidence than ten years ago we could play the role of dad's secretary when he gave you/she instructions from the realm of near-death dilaudid dreams, we just right off as curious but not debilitating.
That she maintains the grudge against the potentially helpful neighbor who once cussed at her ten years ago while going through his divorce trauma we just consider no big deal.
That the formerly vivacious woman across the street who lost her husband shortly after our mom did ten years ago, and then went into virtual seclusion, and who has now started making yard maintenance appearances but seems pissed off at our mother for some imagined or real insult we just say yeah well shit's weird all over.
That our mom can't sit in her nice private back patio without obsessing over the neighbor's over-hanging tree and whether or not it will crash into the house during some future storm from hell, but which she does not want to rightfully have trimmed because she doesn't want to get in a hassle with the neighbor and yet doesn't sense the irony that lack of communication is the cause of all her neighborly hassles, we just see as testimony to the fact that we are all fucked up in different ways.
That she is going to be able to maintain the allegiance off the autistic yardman who has been doing her yard for fifteen years and who persists with the insane, absolutely insane assertion that she owes him 30 dollars, we can only hope.
It's funny how things play out. How independence was taught and glorified as a strength and how you yourself know it to be one of the most alluring drugs, of the many you have tried, and yet how it seems to limit so much the experience of those under its spell.
At the beginning of my bachelorhood a few years ago mom expressed a totally non-insulting concern about my lack of mate and progeny to sustain me in old age and that is the cruelest of the many ironies that bombard me daily because of her six children, 20 grandchildren, and handful of great-grandchildren, not a lot of us are around to ''sustain" her. And this is no slight to my siblings that live near her and do obviously more than the rest of us combined to assist her. It's just that she is so goddamned stubborn, which is fine, but in old age is playing out less than fine. It seems we are all resolved to wait it out, for an incident that forces action. Until then, autonomy rules the day. I know it sometimes crosses her mind these last ten years without the old man around to annoy her, just what a long day it is.
My sister and I were talking recently, after a visit with moms, and we laughed, sort of, nervously, like you do about things that don't strike you as particularly funny, "remember when it was just her hearing we were worried about?"
Down at the bayou hoping for maybe one last lick from the Duchess two gabbing female joggers pass behind me as I listen to Hendrix Drifting and the only word I can hear over the music comes from the one on the left saying to the one on the right, "asshole." I am not so sensitive, or gluttonous for the punishment I am capable of self-serving, to think that the word was intended for me and yet how can the word not be considered my own special gift from this bayou to which I come for just such gifts?
You wouldn't think so many doubts and insecurities could be interconnected, separate, but joined in mass like black raindrops. What an impressive shitstorm is to be had if you only seed your own clouds with your own crappy thoughts.
I am going to remember this first part of 2004 and use it against myself (for myself) when I later on am being deliriously happy and guilty about it because imprinted inside of me is a world populated by so much misery and degradation. Just a small example of which lives a bit off center from across the street and to which I have lately been offering assistance and shitting on at the same time, a combination I find most contemptible. Thanks babe, you are so right. I am an asshole. But enough whining, self-debasement, how about a little free sex?
I do not mind admitting that I have some sort of mental problem. It does not embarrass me to admit this, nor do I care if it embarrasses you, however unkind a light that last admission might put me under. But there's going to be the mention of sex here, not the actual thing but the mention of it. The tension of it? not really, but what the hell, are you getting so much really good, uncomplicated, passionate and peaceful, self-regenerating sex that you are not at all intrigued, vicariously interested in my sex story? Hey everybody, free safe sex, come and get some.
I mean literally I am now running inside and locking my door to avoid having sex. She's out there right now (in a temporally artistic licensed sort of way), sitting on those steps across the street, waiting for my slightest nod, obviously not the least bit concerned that I now know that the two dollars and seventy-five cents I earlier gave her was not for bus fare to Kenner, but probably for cigarettes, or a couple of Hubig's sweet potato pies.
She showed me her tits. I'm not happy about this lack of decorum, neither the showing nor the mentioning but it's a thing that has happened; I swear to god I spare you quite a bit in the long run of things. Do you think I'm happy about unseemliness? Forget about it.
She told me she was m'dear's grandchild (m'dear is the mistress of the nearby crackhouse), snuck up on me to tell the lie, and me in the closest state I'll ever get to being ambitious, really giving it somewhat my all to complete this Rocheblave project after four years of drifting on a sea of forgotten teardrops. I don't take you for a dummy, I know you know I ripped that from Hendrix, but that's what I had my ears plugged into (again) when she snuck up on me to tell the lie.
I went to get the two dollars and seventy-five cents from my change cup while she waited and prepared to seduce me for profit below my new steps (the ones I just re-did because they didn't fall right according to the last inspector who busted me against his natural inclination to respect me in all my less than perfect glory.)
When I came out she had her blouse up, adjusting her bra. I turned away in a half-hearted attempt at being a gentleman and when I looked again she was still fixing herself and cussing m'dear for something about the bra which I did not understand. I gave her eleven quarters. She smiled at me. I smiled, sort of, or grimaced. I gave her eye contact and she was right there waiting for it. She had something on her mind. She lifted up her blouse again, innocently trying to fix something that wasn't right. I'm pretty slow but hit me in the head with a brick and it hurts so I knew now that her offered flesh and her leering were meant for me. I looked at her chest this time because it seemed impolite not to.
"Do you have a girlfriend?" she asked me and I should have said yes but I said no.
"Do you live alone?" she asked me and I should have said no but I said yes.
She was onto something, she thought, and I was preparing to back peddle, amazing myself again at how gullible I have remained after all these years.
"Do you like black girls?" she asked me and I should have said, ewww, no, ick, but I said--of course, what's not to like?
She said, "some white guys don't like black girls," and I said I bet that number is less than you think.
She asked me if I would like for her to come over sometime and she didn't need to be Halle Berry for me to say, well you're here right now, why don't you come in, but in truth, she would need to be a little bit more Halle Berry than she was. Crackwhore seems like a really unkind characterization and honestly I don't like how it implies the superiority of those that might use it to describe someone, because you know you ain't a hell of a lot better than what you think you mean when you say crackwhore, but all that said, ain't no crackwhore coming in here. In the unlikely event that Halle Berry takes to the street and shows up here on my doorstep, soliciting herself for the contents of my change cup, well then, I will just do my best to live with the earned title--hypocritical, crackwhore-fucking, shitheel.
But I just said I'm not seeing anyone or wanting to see anyone for a while longer, thank you, and she made a last ditch effort, no, you know, I mean if you need somebody to do some cleaning for you and I said no. She went away after a few more frighteningly unsexy come-hithers, and I went back to being dumbfounded about the specifics of the porch railing I was attempting to build.
90 Degrees To The Street
Five years ago he sank a three-pointer at the buzzer that gave his high school team a one point win that would have advanced them to the state semi-final game. The team had an illegal backup player and the losing squad as a secret weapon brought this to light after the disappointing loss. A brief investigation led to the disqualification of the winning team and put a nix on their chance for back to back state basketball championships. For five years after the team could not even win their district even as former players rose to impressive levels in the college and pro ranks. This year they made it back to the championship game in Lafayette and lost by one point. The former player who sank the three-pointer went on to college on a football scholarship, was red-shirted as a freshman and will finish his course studies this year. Back on Dumaine, his "cousin," an affable, high-spirited, dreadlocked youngster, who did not earn one of the very few available urban exit visas, was shot dead late Monday night in the 28 hundred block.
These past ten years in New Orleans are bookended by national recognition as the country's number one murder capitol. In the 26 hundred block there are fifteen children weaving and bobbing amongst each other and between passing cars. They are clustered by the portable basketball goal near the corner by the store. The rim is loose on the backboard and has a single strand of net hanging down at an angle that should be 90 degrees to the street but is not. The children are from adjacent neighborhoods and may be the children of children. They are the ages of the boys who lived around here ten years ago. Some of those boys from back then are graduating high school this year, some are not. Some are attending community college. Some are self-employed and highly visible. There is not ten years later the same degree of lawlessness on 26 hundred but the difference might not be discernible to an untrained eye.
Also two blocks away from the hanging piece of a net a murder did occur last week at St. Ann and Rocheblave. For the most part the kids are not literally dodging bullets.
A shiny brown Chevy with chrome rims and illegally tinted windows stops across the street and three white undercover cops get out and cluster around J who is leaning against a broke down car. They make him lift up his t-shirt. They are either admiring the scars of past bullet wounds or checking for the weapon that is not there. Time is money and less than a minute passes before they are back in the car, cruising slowly through the throng of juvenile basketball players.
My Friend, Killer
I can hear the guy plopping down on my side steps and there is no real drama around here these days and there is no real harm in him plopping down out there but I'm so pissed at this new routine where him and his brother or friend bring their pit bulls for a walk in the Pentecostal lot, and make Killer next door go absolutely nuts for about thirty minutes every night that I rip open the door and glare even as he is jumping up and apologizing. I just tell him it's nothing personal but his presence makes that dog go nuts and the farther away from me he and his pit bulls are the better. Even the logic of it sounds screwy to me. Why shouldn't someone make use of that park next door? So what if a perpetually chained dog is screwy in the head and doesn't like the smell of free dogs in close proximity? My whole point starts from wanting to be an asshole, not wanting to offer any kindness to someone whose dogs contribute to a situation that makes me suffer from lack of peace. Why should he get to sit on my steps and I can't even fully appreciate the moderate buzz from my second Heineken? It's a weak beginning to a good point. I don't know how to best address such a situation. Um, I'm thsorry, could you pleaazze not promenade your canine creatures in my vahthintity. I jus wanna enjoy some peacthe and quiet. So.
I am approaching the construction of my budget porch railing very cautiously and while I am making headway I really got to say that having no experience at something you are trying to do pretty much sucks. That's where I'm at on that, the pretty much sucks stage. But I go at it a little everyday, lining up all the difficulties in neat little rows, waiting for the lightbulb to come on. The thing about construction, oh hell, life too I guess, is that all your previous careless mistakes visit you in subsequent and perpetual fashion until you correct and address them properly and even then you run the risk that when it's all said and done the code inspector (God?) might tell you the whole thing is wrong, wrong, wrong, tear it down and start over.
I've been spending a little quality time with Killer (whom I now call by his Christian name, Butch, during those periods of quality time.) An idea that has crossed my mind is that Killer may be racist. This is not a point I am going to belabor. Regarding racism I tend to remember the words of Shelton who as a teenager once said to me "I really don't care if they call me 'nigger,' Mr. Jim." At the time I had wished he did care and equally admired him for not caring. Anyway, I don't think Killer's main thing is a problem with my whiteness. Finally it came to me last night, he's just lonely, and unhappy with his chain. He wants to play.
I set up my table saw in my side yard right outside his fence partly because the bitch in me was rising and I was tired of avoiding that part of my property just to accommodate that mthrfking whoredog, Killer. In between ripping 45 degree angles off the three and a half inch top side of pressure treated two by fours I would flick pebbles at Killer, the first time out of meanness and all the other times because he thought it was a game and he would lurch for them and cease barking for up to a minute at a time. He would almost look happy, in that expectant "hey throw me the ball, throw me the ball" sort of way that dogs have. And as if I'm not happy unless I'm considering a scene in its melancholy aspect the thing about this time with Killer is--I think I may be the best friend he's got.
I Don't Say
I got up early and drove the three or four minutes to St. Philip alongside Armstrong Park and brought the truck to a stop on the right side of the street by the fire hydrant near the side entrance to the park, right inside of which is a cluster of buildings and inside one of these is the headquarters for the public radio station, WWOZ. On the way back from the French Quarter (which at this point in the telling I have yet to reach and), which begins just outside the park on the other side of Rampart, I sat on the first of the two green benches on the right side of the driveway leading up to the building inside of which is the radio station. On those benches you can catch a little early morning sun if that is your inclination.
In the French Quarter I had walked its length or breadth all the way to Decatur and was one of the first customers at the Café du Monde, which is nearly an impossible thing to be considering that it is an establishment which operates 24 hours a day.
Walking back to the truck along St. Ann and then Dumaine I had passed some Quarter residents walking their dogs--one dog was a very cute puppy and I smiled at it--and a Creole-looking gentleman in a billowy dark pink shirt who greeted me a little more directly than I found to my liking but I just said back to him as my greeting, "all right," with none of the more street-wise urban inflection.
In the café trying to drink my small coffee black and eat my beignets before they got cold I was taken by the manner of a well dressed, grey-headed businessman who looked nothing like my father but reminded me of him just the same. My father is dead but he used to come here to New Orleans on business related to politics and it is possibly that, the headlines about yesterday's elections that I can see as the grey-headed man turns the pages of his newspaper, which triggers the part of my mind where my father is stored.
Right after I finished my coffee I contemplated briefly the beauty of the two young daughters at the table to my left but I felt myself drifting too far from the piers of provinciality so I got up quickly and left out of there, walking up that ramp to the moonwalk where there is a cannon that if operable could shoot a hole in the front of the St. Louis Cathedral. If you are looking at the Cathedral from up there the Mississippi River is behind you shimmering like some really impressive metaphor. Tankers and ferries and tugboats pass by. The two side by side grey steel suspension bridges are off in the distance stage right. The early morning winter sun is bright, blinding, and low in the sky.
When the grey-headed gentleman in the café turned to the metro section I read the headline about yesterday's shooting death at the corner grocer's in Central City. I was watching a Stephen King movie on tape last night and bored with a particular scene I had switched over to a news channel and caught the silent movie surveillance tape from the store. The tape showed a group of young masked boys exiting the store, the last one extending his arm straight out towards off camera behind the counter and calmly firing with very little recoil of his handgun the kill shot at approximately head height.
Bare Breasts Of The Bourgeoisie
The thing about trying to keep in tune with your environment is that you sometimes run the risk of already having a lot in common with your environment and it's not all good, you, or your environment. But you have pledged allegiance for better or worse and the thing that is your days, and your environment, will play itself out with or without your accord. You can set a thing into motion, which you cannot stop, until it plays itself out to its final act.
I've stopped reading books that make me want to kill myself and have set about the task of completing the thing I have tried to control for so long by not completing, Rocheblave. Church lady passersby sometimes pause and say "that's really pretty" and I go and assume they have been around long enough to know what was here before and I feel pretty good about it I don't mind saying.
I have to redo two of the three sets of stairs and put up a railing and this I started after much "let's wait just one more day dwelling in darkness." I was even doing other unnecessary detail work on the house rather than complete the thing that grants me this modicum of freedom; a taste of "you're not a complete fuckup."
I re-glazed the last 18 panes of glass on the two salvage yard replacement widows that I paid too much for but had to have to plug the fire-ravaged hole in the eastern wall of the bedroom. And that only needed doing in the sense that I knew I would use it against me if I didn't re-glaze them. I cleaned up a few years worth of giant sycamore leaves and accumulated construction debris from under the house and hauled two heavy pickup truck loads to the dump on Elysian Fields.
I had to listen to Killer bark relentlessly for two days and breathe in the smell of wet fermented dog shit on successive, hot, muggy, New Orleans days. In the end I was calling him Butch and suffering his sporadic and inexplicable silences. I used a reciprocating saw with a jagged blade to trim some junk tree limbs from the fence which separates us while his master lady yelled at him to leave me alone and I wondered would I increase or decrease his intense feelings for me if his snout got slashed while he tried getting his fangs on my white knuckles.
The book, excellent, despite the fact that only Dreiser's Great American Tragedy has depressed me more, was The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles. Here's your excerpt: "If she could only give up, relax, and live in the perfect knowledge that there was no hope."
Mardi Gras happened. Three bystanders got shot and one killed on St. Charles on a stretch of the neutral ground (median) that is known as the "freedom zone" (although that's not the exactly what it's called), which is a length of about 8 blocks prior to Lee Circle where rival gangs (although gangs are not exactly what we have here in New Orleans) and their families are supposed to co-exist peacefully for the duration of Carnival parades.
Also, I am told there was a letter to the editor in the Times Picayune bemoaning the fact that in 2004, the 21st century, 40 years after the hard won successes of many a civil rights battle, that in Metairie, the first westerly suburb of New Orleans, and the recipient of the great "white flight" legions those 40 years ago, that an all black New Orleans marching band participating in the suburban version of Mardi Gras, was racially berated along stretches of the parade route by a small but hateful and vociferous minority.
I quit going to Metairie parades after witnessing a similar situation eight or nine years ago. Anyway, there is always a whole lot going on here, during Mardi Gras, and otherwise, and not much of it makes it onto those tapes sold on independent TV stations featuring the bare breasts of the white middle class on Bourbon Street.
Rules Of Engagement
By the time you pass that corner, you have been so studiously avoiding everybody's street business that you are electrified by the calling of your name and the implied kindness of that declaration in that it says you exist in a way that is not a threat to others and that in fact he really is glad to see you, this despite or partly because you have hated each other for brief periods over the past seven or eight years (as love demands.)
You always knew you had no business asserting your idea of rightness into a system that in large part is disdainful of your presence but to let yourself be scavenged seemed right enough and in the end it turns out nobody took anywhere near as much as they gave.
The childish exhilaration of a (jailhouse) kid who is now a man by law and for so many years lashed out at the world at large for holding him back from this rightful position (king of a corner for a day?), is the part that gets me.
This simple thing he is telling me, him on the corner, me in my idling truck, as the cars line up behind me, is an admission of a shared lifetime lived out over a few lazy afternoons spent lollygagging about town with him and his cousins. I can't hold up traffic too long, it's not allowed. I want to get out and jump up and down with giddy abandon, and tell him just how "neat" is this thing he is telling me which in and of itself is nothing, nothing at all. But I'm way too cool for that, and besides, that would also be a thing that's not allowed.