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This is kind of a cool thing I think. About a week ago I called the local power company, Entergy, and told them I was renovating a house that for all practical purposes had never had gas run to it ( the Rocheblave house was moved to its' present address from its' original location which was about three blocks away, on Dorgenois, across the street diagonally from Betsy's Pancake House, and was set on its' new cinderblock piers, some say it was Christmas Day '91, and then forgotten about for nine years, until I came along). I make it sound like I just made the call but for some reason calls like that take a lot out of me and so I am prone to putting them off. But the thing is, people in the business world don't really care if you are somewhat retarded communicationally [sic] speaking. You can stutter, stammer, hem and haw, or have a frog in your throat, the people on the other end don't really care as long as you can tell them your name, address, social securtiy number, and telephone number. Which I did, and the woman said, "Ok, you're all set, you are on the fifteen day waiting list" I asked her if I needed to be around when they came out and she said no I didn't. She also told me it would be free unless it ran over a hundred feet, and I told her it would not. A few days later I got a letter from some Entergy office in Arkansas, or St. Louis, and it told me there would be some cost involved, but their estimates were nothing, at least when you consider what is involved...
So today I show up at the house, after my day job, and there is a four by six by six foot deep hole in the street in front of the house, partitioned off with four metal saw horses and some of that yellow plastic caution tape. About ten feet into the driveway there was apparently another hole punched through the concrete and ten feet from that, near the shade tree, another hole punched in the concrete and then a trench six or eight feet in length running up to the house with a new gas pipe sticking up at its end. All the holes on my property are pretty much covered over with new river sand, which of course leaves the original fill (black dirt, clay and old bricks), and large pieces of driveway concrete, in various piles about the driveway. It is really quite a scene, and implies the use of heavy equipment that those of us who are prone to do so--can only dream about operating.
At The Movies
The last two dollar theaters in New Orleans closed down recently and my other favorite site closed down as well, losing the competion to the new stadium seating theaters which are springing up not everywhere, like weeds, but everywhere that matters, in the market.
In the case of the latter loss, a multiplex venue for first run movies (3.50 for matinees), and the last surviving business at the defunct Belle Promenade Mall in Marrero, I knew I was enjoying a thing which would eventually spell doom for the proprietors, that thing being having the 800+ capacity auditoriums almost all to myself, and in fact the next to last movie I saw there, The Replacements, I did have all that air-conditioned cubic volume to myself and never let it be said that I don't praise the Lord because I do praise the Lord for circumstances like that, Praise the Lord, I don't take gifts like that for granted.
So I cooled on movies for awhile, ocassionally hitting the Palace (in Harrahan) for my first run stadium seated fix. That's where I saw Almost Famous. But I've had to consider alternate venues. And really up until today, "consider" is all I've done. I thought I could go to Movie Pitchers on Bienville to see independent/art films which I haven't done much while here in NO. It's a "multiplex." The theaters though are actually rooms and the seating is more like easy chairs and couches, which is nice but not that nice when you consider the screen is more like something you might be able to hang on the wall of your home. Also, a new grocery store is planning to build around the corner and there is talk that they may level the MP for parking. I don't want to get comfortable with something and then have people suggesting I sign their petitions to save them. I sound so uppity saying I don't sign petitions.
Now Canal Place is a mall near the foot of Canal and shows independent/art films and is across the street from that struggling Harrah's Casino which is whining to our governor that unless they can get a break on their 100 million dollar yearly tax commitment, they will have to shut down. Our governor, God bless him, even though his familial ties to the Klan are not so Godly, has thus far proven to be anti-gambling and is basically telling the Casino people to go fuck themselves. And I like him for that. I should probably add that I also like the loveable ex-Governor Edwards who was corrupt as a public official can be and is mostly responsible for the presence of gambling in Louisiana. He's being punished for that though.
I have for the last few days been power sanding the lead based paint from the cypress siding on the Rocheblave house and even with goggles and mask that powdered material enters the lungs and eyes and so today being Sunday, the day the Lord commands we rest, I took a break from it, and did some piddling on the inside. Until about 11:30 anyway, at which point I decided to head for Harrahan to see a movie. But I started feeling that the Palace (stadium seating) Theater could not be my only remaining choice for movies so I turned right out of my cracked driveway and traveled the block and a half to Canal, turned left there and made the short drive to downtown and Canal Place and becoming confused about the garage parking situation headed back up Canal to find something to eat. I ended up at the KFC on Claiborne, directly across the street from the community that recently became a national news story because of a shooting at Woodson Jr. High. I like that original recipe, and looking across Claiborne I don't know if its the Melpomene or the Magnolia projects (currently known as Guste and CJ Peete) I can see but true enough its not an easy neighborhood and although at first I was pissed off for the media attention, because it didn't seem right that these local children have been killing each other all year, year after year, and now just because school shootings are a hot topic the local and national media does that little frenzied dance they do. But after further review, I'm glad for the attention, no matter the motive, no matter to what purpose our politicians play it, because it needs to be seen, and seen some more, until, I guess, the right people get killed, which then causes the national consciousness to wake up and say, "oh my god, this can't go on, something radical must be done." Our great murdered numbers have no great cause behind them to at least add a sense of higher purpose--be it religious or political--to the insanity that is the killing of your neighbor. Our legacy as a nation is indifference. Our national complacency about casual killing will someday find its season to molt, and out of that will come an outrage which unfortunately will be but a first step. Or not.
I saw the Tao of Steve, it was a love story.
Dreiser And The Chipmunks
I really have to wonder sometimes if the practical joke on me is so obvious as having a sign around my neck or pasted to my forehead which says "Feel Free to Take Advantage." When I look in the mirror I don't see any such sign but with brow furrowed in disappointment at the lack of obvious explanations I did once see what looked like a big letter G and I knew it could only stand for Gullible.
At 41 I don't think I should be said to suffer from angst--which I think is a twenties and thirties disease--but for a couple of days now it sure feels like that which I used to experience and then later learned to call angst. Pardon? Oh no, no, not ennui. Not that I feel above the emotion but I wouldn't go on and on about it like I appear to be ready to do in this case. I need to be careful though because I think New Jersey Bill hinted at the subject of overt online whining possibly being seen as a cry for help and I do wish to avoid being accused of that. But if the subject should ever come up, the answer is no, he's not. At worst, he, that is I, suffer(s) from occasional delusions of utmost safety while wrapped in the cocoon of my (his) wordplay and story telling. He, or is it I, sometimes feel(s) so capacitated with the imagined power of (imagined?) honesty that he/I will go on about things which are really not appropriate for the polite dinner table discussion. And I should add here: I don't get invited out to dinner very often.
When I did finally get back to work at Rocheblave it was behind the momentum of a surging magnanimity that had me not cowering at the possibilities that can present themselves on Rocheblave (and to the point, Dumaine, for that matter), that is--the hustling of the man who looks like he can afford to be hustled. This phenomenon is not limited by race and yet race is a single factor among many which I would be remiss not to address on ocassion. I am a less than wealthy white man in a predominately less than wealthy black neighborhood. As to what race has to do with it I offer that for my years spent here I have been given the privilege of having wee bits of untainted colloquialism spoken in my presence. The same black man who believes, or wishes to believe, or wishes me to believe he believes, that there is no essential difference between the two most dichotomous races will quite honestly refer to any member of the governing or policing power structure as "the white man," and this despite the fact that here in New Orleans the mayor and chief of police are black men, as well as the majority of beat cops in this here the First District. It seems unfair (to the whining bitch anyway) that a world where race won't matter can be imagined and yet never achieved.
And I said I'm not wealthy and that most of my neighbors--on the most obvious scale of relative monetary wealth--are not wealthy, but let me be so bold as to say that the youngest possible reader of this will not see the day when the not addressed but inherent mood of man is that of white is better than black. Many a northerner would shake their heads on account of that imagined separation they might feel due to the geneology which puts them on the winning side of that Civil War, one aspect of which was anti-slavery. But if one will look there is far more history suggesting that "the white man" both North and South has at least a benign sense of superiority over the man whose skin is tinted black. So I am imbued and invested--like it or not--with the currency of that dubious privilege of lightness, and therefore who do I blame for the easy rationalization of white man as "wealthy."
Back at Rocheblave, and perhaps overcompensating because of shame felt for the attempted murder of midsummer's drunken shoe solictor, I am friendly to all who pass and confront me. I told the one man that his offered steel toe workboots were two sizes too small and his thirty pounds of grocery plastic wrapped fine china were simply not what I needed. I was drinking an ice cold budweiser at the time and so I told him with the tone of good buddy "that if you come back in the future when I have the porch built out here, I'll drink a beer with you." His smile and nod was to say that's all fine and good but promises are a comfort to fools so, "could I have a dollar now to get me one at the store." No doubt. I give it up.
I'm running this Roto-zip tool with the masonry cutting blade along the paint filled grooves of my beaded porch ceiling and LuLu shows up below me and I raise my goggles but do not lower my dust mask. Ralston in his blue SUV is by the curb and LuLu wants to know can he have ten dollars until some such day in the future. He always pays me back so I don't worry too much about the specifics of when. Other than a couple of large bills all I have is nine dollars. "Do you think nine is OK?," I ask LuLu. She seems to think that's OK so I step down from the ladder and carry the cash to the car.
A few minutes after Ralston pulls away this couple I call D&D--because their names are Dennis and Diane--show up and want to know do I have any work for them, and if not that, then a few dollars, and if not that, a quarter. I give Diane a quarter.
Later I have to go to the Home Depot to get some two by fours and as I'm cruising the lot for a parking space this Beaudreax lookin dude (that would be the local cajun red neck hell raiser), asks me will I take his merchandise and return it for him because he doesn't have the receipt or a drivers license. I don't even pause, just tell him I will give it a try. He pats me hard on the back and I dislike him immediately. Inside the store they almost try to arrest me but I'm not having any of that so I grab the bag and go outside. Beaudreax can't hide his disappointment while asking "what happened?" I tell him the guy acted like he was gonna bust me and Beaudreax says, "I knew I should have gone in with you." I tell him he'll have to run his game without me. I can't even go back in the store now I'm so embarrassed and besmirched. I drive the several miles back to New Orleans, the last part over that mine field which is Earhart Blvd. and I can't work so I go to Dumaine.
I'm in a such a shitty mood that when Erica Lewis stops by for a visit I have barely a bit of affection for her. At one point she tries to bring me out by reciting the title of the book I have been reading for some time now. "An," she says. And then, "Ameglia." I correct and say, "American." "Talahomey," she says. "Tragedy, An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser."
"Theodore is one of the chipmunks."
"Yeah that's right, and Alvin is another, and the last one is..."
"Simon. They bright" (as in light skinned black person).
"But that man in charge of them, he's..."
"No, he your color," she says pulling on the hairs of my wrist.
The next day is Saturday and I go to a different Home Depot and buy fifteen recessed cans for my electrician, who is coming to do rough in on Monday. I drop the stuff at Rocheblave and decide catching an early movie would be better than working. I see the Cameron Crowe flick, Almost Famous, it seemed to be about purity, and that actor who played the part of Lester Bangs was great. Movies intoxicate me. And oh yeah, for some reason, one of the opening songs is that chipmunk Christmas ditty. I remember the night before telling Erica how I grew up with those chipmunks. "You grew up with them?" she said. "Yeah, " I lied, "We went to the same school."
Shortly after posting to Mr. Wilson there was a hard boot; electricity out; out to the porch to confirm with neighbors, a word here, a signal there, it's unanimous, the block is down. The sky to the south, over the mile distant French Quarter, is black.
The weather gods bringing fifties and sixties to the northeast has us down here praising hallelujah the windy upper eighties, so I sit on the steps with the budweiser, which has gone warm in deference to the single malt, and converse with Van, saying comfortably little.
We are approaching the day that is Mama D's birthday and this will be the first year she won't be here with us to celebrate, which is to say there won't be any celebrating on Dumaine.
A young man from Maurice's Impressive Designs Haircutters turns the corner of opportunity, lights out, and stares hard at the house I sit leaning against. Shelton comes out and I adjust my position on the steps to allow him passage. Instead, he jumps off the porch and crosses the street, shaking his hand like a maraca, apparently to gain the attention of the young haircutter. They proceed to play craps against the still vacant former home of Mama D, Shelton holding and showing to the world his small wad of green which to him and many equates to a successful manhood. To a crackhead with a gun he would equate to an easy mark.
Former neighbor, and Mama D companion, Ralston, driving his low end SUV, pulls up to the curb and says hello to Van and I. Erica Lewis is in the backseat so I get up and tap drag fingertips on her window like to a prisoner. She smiles briefly, and my heart responds in kind. Ralston is a good man and to Erica is mostly her "daddy," but her blood mama, Tesa, has recently married a man who can now also lay claim to Erica, but is not to be confused with Erica's actual father who is either dead, or in jail. Erica's seventh birthday is day after tomorrow.
Ralston gets a legititimate social security check, and, a disablility check, the combination of which is a recent thing, and for which he has shown me the paperwork and letters from said agencies. "Wow Mr. Ralston," I said to him after reading, "you're gonna be fat after these start coming." He nodded in appreciation of my literacy. So when he asks for twenty until Friday, "to get her some food," I don't hesitate, even though the twenty is kept company in my wallet by only a single one, and even though Van might see it as an opportunity to "touch" me while I'm acting generous.
Ralston starts telling me the all too familiar tale (Erica listening: it's her life afterall), of how Tesa doesn't really want to take responsiblility for Erica but has made an issue to the police of a certain party who has shown Erica kindness, and generosity, which are two traits many are suspicious of deep down in the hood. Van steps up to say that "Tesa don't really want the girl but she make it hard for people who try to help." I have met Tesa enough to like her. She is young, Erica's senior by only fifteen or sixteen years. She is Shelton's sister. I do not report any of this in hopes of leading you to simple judgements, but more, I guess, to show there is a rich humanity behind the stereotypes. There is a little girl with eyes that listen, seeing every word spoken.
Wheels Of Transport
After driving north across a big hunk of eastern America in a high performance BMW, landing in NY, training to DC, and flying back to NO on AirTran, I am let off by the cab driver in front of my boarded up blighted property on Rocheblave (Row-shuh-blave) street. My beat to shit school bus yellow 85 Dodge pickup truck is a welcome if not slightly pitiful sight. The same can be said of my dwelling. But it is good to be home such as it all is even if yesterday (Saturday) set a new temp record for September (101 F), and the sky is hazy with polluted heat, and I'm pretty well tired of this hottest summer in the history of mankind. You know it will end, this heat, but it's still so oppressive so late in the season you have to convince yourself and act out a future of cheery optimism you don't really feel.
The Rocheblave house was not broken into while I was away so I decide to prolong my vacation away from this awful summer climate by camping out with a Stephen King novel on my old bed by the AC window unit on Dumaine, even spend the night.
Shelton comes in with one of his friends, a polite, well-dressed kid, and welcomes me back. He comes in and out a couple of times, pausing once to tell me my mother called while I was away and said my niece's new husband had his heart transplant. I had received the news by email from a sister-in-law and had talked once to my mother while on the road, but I thanked Shelton for his effort to remember an important message. He seemed relieved to be done with it as he had been holding the information for over a week. Later he said, "Mr. Jim, you remember I told about those friends of mine got shot? The one died and the other was in a coma."
Shelton knew more than two of the young people murdered in New Orleans this summer so I paused before answering, trying to figure which ones he might be talking about. He went on to tell me the one who was in a coma came out of it recently and was in the neighborhood this week. "Brandon (that's the kid who threw the eggs at the house for which I blamed someone else) cut his hair, " Shelton said, "and he remembered me, so that's good, huh?" Shelton seemed unsure. "Do you think he'll be all right, Mr. Jim?" I was thrown off a bit by the question so I stalled by asking one myself. "Is he in a wheelchair?" I asked that because I have seen many a warrior put to wheels around here and I can picture him at the corner by the barbershop, telling, and being told tales. Shelton answered, "No he's got one of them," and he pantomimed a walker.
"Yeah, do you think he'll be all right?"
"Yeah, he'll be all right, he'll be fine," I opined with certainty, wiping a bead of sweat from my brow.
Sitting in Tompkins Square recently emulating the heroin addict, nodding very close towards what some would consider ultimate self satisfaction but not so limber as that am I and memories past blur present vision into one. Nothing will change yet our obvious evolution into sameness will keep us mightily confused for centuries--which will seem like daze--to come.
Sun Summer Tour
The streets were wet with a light cool rain yesterday so I drove the five speed BMW cautiously, not knowing how it's owner, who was sitting in the passenger seat, would react if I wrapped it around a four hundred year-old live oak tree.
Later, as the brownies were wearing off, he showed me the art of "driving within the power band," and how it's ok in some circumstances to be going forty miles per hour in second gear.
Today, Wednesday the twenty-third of August, year 2000, we wait for the abatement of Mark Magee's stomach cramps, I think we have something in the kit bag for it, and then we load up and head not for New York, but for up above Hattiesburg, Miss., to a speck on the map that is Magee, Miss., then continue on not to New York, as we hope to make it to the Crossroads (I think it's 61 and 49), which again, is not on the way to New York, but Clarksdale Miss.
Yesterday coming home to Dumaine I almost ran over this drug dealer, him riding his bicycle in circles through the intersection and being so leisurely solicitous at the corner of Dorgenois and St. Philip--that's one block diagonal from the Dumaine crib, and is where I make my right turn up Dorgenois almost everyday--and there is no place in my personal history from where I can criticize this guy's lifestyle but I do have a long-standing New Orleans history of absolutely no business at that intersection where quite frankly too many people get killed and too many automatic weapons have been fired. And my right turn is protected by that stop sign to the left so I always crawl right on through that corner, cautiously, but don't get in front of me thinking I will stop, because I won't, and the guy on the bike, perhaps just out of jail new to the neighborhood, not aware of this particular white boy's buying habits, solicits me. I guess that's what he was doing; go figure that brand of American English spoken on the street, part grunt, part code.
And as sure as I say I'm not working twelve hour days, I work twelve hour days--am I operating with some sort of code language too?--and I don't have time for any of this street bullshit right now, so I say, "get out of my way," but clearly (and to my benefit) he's not imagining there is such a thing as this uppity white boy that is me, and he figures my words were one's of longing need. So while I'm making my slow turn he adjusts his turn back into me, and as I mentioned earlier I don't brake for endangered species, or their opposite, the drug dealers, at this corner, so, really, it is his miscalculation which finds him almost kissing my front bumper. I keep moving and he curses me as a, "bitch." I'm still moving as I yell, realizing or not the Doppler effect in my favor, "fuck you." There is an old turn of the century police station at that corner, vacant, awaiting a long promised renovation as a mini cop shop and community center. And the years pass.
This is the first roof I've ever put on--that is laying of tarpaper and shingles, I only replaced the decking itself on a selective basis: that which was burnt or rotten--and I'm here to say while it is not very complicated, it is pretty damn hard.
And after several weeks of comfortable Rocheblave camping I was the other night visited by horror, in that space between wakefulness and sleep, where one can float, leave the body, even fly, a night phantom grabbed my toes and gave good wiggle, so that my over reaction of swift upward kick and hard downward thrust gave the heel of my right foot a good drubbing against the unfinished wood floor, which I'm sure it deserved for some damn wrong down the road, and my pounding heart reminded me that I'm alive, I'm alive, I'm alive.
The next day circling the house to inspect for tampering, I came upon a most curious pile of what appears to be yellow rice, under the house. The neatness of the pile and the absence of any carton or plate or other material which might have transported this "rice" adds to the picture, in my mind, a sinister deliberateness. This is not a neat town and I can't conjure an answer to the question of why there is a neat pile of yellow rice under my house. "Upchucked by an animal?," I suggest to myself, hopefully. "Too large for that, and you know it."
The next night, which is last night, Friday, and whereas I used to eschew trips to the dollar show on Friday night because let's face it, it is an act which has "loser" written all over it, but I have come to embrace that, and inhale the air surrounding me which is filled with the exhalations of fellow losers, and get, well, frankly, almost high off it.
But during the excruciatingly poorly written Frequency with Quaid and Cavaciel (sp?), both of whom I really like as actors, I had the time, unfortunately, to leave the reality suspension, and consider the horror which awaited me at Rocheblave. And it began to bug me, scare me. I had embraced the horror, and now it was embracing me. That night, last night, I entered the house scared, and went eventually to sleep, scared.
Today, after my sun up to noon shift on the roof, preparing to leave Rocheblave for various air conditioned hideouts, and I went to contemplate the pile of rice again, came up with nothing, the voice inside me said leave it be, and then, as floating afterthought, I picked up two splinters of wood and laid them as a cross, across the pile.
His casting of the digital I Ching reads
51. Ch^ en Shock brings success. Shock comes-oh, oh! Laughing words-ha, ha! The shock terrifies for a hundred miles, And he does not let fall the sacrificial spoon and chalice.
Copyright 1996, Cloud Dragon Designs
And he responds, to himself, because there is no one else now, "oh God, now what?"
Five Letter Words
Last night I did not attend any of the many New Orleans Night Against Crime block parties, not Phylis's, not the Zulu's around the corner (who the day before had representatives canvassing the neighborhood handing out invitation flyers to all the gangsters who were sitting on the steps of all us homeowners. The gangster's laughed, just as they did last year, when I witnessed the same scenario), and I did not attend, nor was I invited, to the (Rocheblave) block party of Mr. Earnest Bunn, but I was happy to hear it going on and the white Christmas lights hung from the eaves of Mr. Bunn's corner store at Rocheblave and Bienville made me smile and feel festive as I sprayed myself with mosquito repellant and laid down flat, headed for sleep on the excercise mat in the construction site that is my new gutted home. I stroked the wood of the sawed off shovel handle penetrated in all directions over the top six inches by 3 inch exterior grade screws and breathed myself towards sleep as a seven month old baby in his mother's arms in the Seventh Ward is shot dead, through his eye, and the baby's blood and that of his mother, who was shot in the neck, mixes and drips down mother's clothing (check the tense, motherfuckers, it's happening right now in a theatre near you), to become the art of the graph, as what might be termed a spike, in statistical parlance--six murders in four days--gives rationale to our parties, coalitions, and chants against crime.
Our Daily Bread, or, Jesus Said Eat Me
I'm daring me, boring me, listening to James Hendrix and James Booker, Nick Drake, and Steve Earle too. Write something because there is nothing else to do and yearning for some essence of sex or the more artificial snortable inhalable versions are not your thing anymore, hear me, listening, not likely.
And its not that there aren't enough hours in a day, it's that there are too many, and we get uncomfortable with all the daily waste. We can't live up to the visions so we bore ourselves with the mediocrity of our times. We convince ourselves with false enhancements. Not to worry though, we are what we are, and that's nothing to be ashamed of.
Do you ever wonder what I'm thinking when you don't hear from me?
Brighter, Whiter, Fresher
It is always the same question in the back of the mind, "why scribble another one?" and "simply because you can" never seems valid, but it's probably the best I'm going to do, and so I scribble another one.
All the cliches are true and we are better off not forgetting that and "be careful what you wish for" is sometimes my favorite and what I'm referring to in this case is something, frankly, I can't remember fast enough to insert in its' proper place, but it has to do with my current living arrangements, washing and writing at Dumaine, sleeping and working at Rocheblave. If I remember my point I'll get back to it but let's face it, I'm not going to get overly bogged down with the point. It is almost always a disappointment.
And throwing segues to the wind let me add further, that that (I love a good that that), recent local weather phenomenon which will so to speak be burned into my memory, did finally break, and normal New Orleans weather patterns now ensue, and relatively felt, feel cool cool cool.
Also I seem to be walking with a limp, but I'm to suggest that as noteworthy to an audience which includes John Schwarz, who was recently enough stampeded nearly to death by a flock of wild stallions while harvesting the much sought after organic dental floss on the prairies of Montana?
Let's face it twice folks. This is all about waiting on my laundry
His Secret Is Safe
Kids have to go in and out on hot days breaching that questionable vapor/heat lock that is a front door, and I don't blame Raticia for opening the freezer door and asking Mandy vague questions about melted ice while that cool air tickles her face, and Kizzie's youngest, Lil' Corey, howling his discontent, peeing on himself, drooling, and generally exhibiting all that normal toddler behaviour doesn't seem to weigh that much, but stepping out on the front porch to test the theory is it possibly cooler outside, and seeing that speedy spin of the electric meter (the big window unit works ok if you sit right in front of it), and realizing that it is about equal, that heavy heavy density of heat inside, and outside, just seems plain criminal.
The three lil' girlz all have bowls of cereal, happily yet grumpily clustered around that ubiquitous Capn' Cruch Computer game. It's hot. And we are grumpy, all of us. I scare myself with my heat n' the hood inspired fantasies of evil behavior, and so when I am alerted by Erica that Shentrell just shot her the finger I am not too overwhelmed by the audacity.
"That means a bad word," Raticia said.
"It's the f word," Erica said.
"Tell her to quit messin' wit me and I won't do it," Shentrell said.
I call Shentrell into my work station, "closer, closer," I have to coax, she's ready to be hit, "closer," I say, "you know I ain't gonna hit you," I'm saying impatiently almost angrily now. Erica looms close to be witness to the dressing down. "Go away," I order, and she does.
"Shentrell, you are a pretty girl and when you do that finger it makes you ugly. Don't be ugly Shentrell, don't be common, don't be like everyone else you see, be different Shentrell, be different." I can't think of anything else to say so I puncuate my simplicity with repitition, "be different Shentrell."
Shentrell seems ready for more of my quietly polite abuse, so different from the maniac she witnessed screaming at Shelton last week (a screaming inspired by Shelton hitting Shentrell), but I don't have anymore time for her, I have to get back to my writing, which doesn't exist without her, but she doesn't know that, and so my secret is safe, for now.
Mr. Jim Get's A Jacuzzi
Last week my plumber, Jack, who will be played by Sam Elliot in the movie told me to make a decision between cast iron tub and fiberglass tub/shower insert because it would effect how he went about the roughing in of his pipes, and if I was going with the insert it would need to be there tomorrow. I went to one of the five area Home Depot's, haggled with the hands off "salesperson," because both the left hand tub/shower inserts were damaged and I'm thinking 50% off this damaged merchandise would be a favor to me and the Home Depot but my "salesperson" gets on the phone with her supervisor and comes offering me 10%. Just getting to the point of this bogus offer had wasted more of my time than that so I waved her off and bid her adieu.
Traveling in a somewhat easterly direction I crossed the river into the area generally known as the Westbank and got off at Stumpf Blvd, Home Depot Number 2. There I found the same insert, undamaged, and asked a man to help me load it onto a flat cart. I picked up a Price Pfister tub/shower valve and handle set also, old timey style, complete with valves, tub spout, separate porcelain handles for the hot, cold, and shower/tub diverter, and a very handsome shower head. I paid for it all and then rolled my sizeable (and large too) purchase out to the truck, where I slid it up onto the plywood bed cover and strapped it down for that high and windy ride back over the Mississippi River.
I passed by Dumaine hoping to find a helping hand for the unloading into the Rocheblave house and as I approached the front of the Dumaine house there came the out cry from one of the large group gathered there--"Mr. Jim got a Jacuzzi."
"Gotcha Jacuzzi, huh, Mr. Jim?, Jermaine said as I rolled to a stop at the curb and leaned my head out the window to survey the crowd, looking for a helper.
"No, it's a shower insert," I said.
Bryan Henry said, "Zatta-jacuzzi, Mr. Jim?"
"No, it's a shower insert," I said. It was mostly little kids up on the porch and when I ask where was Shelton no one knew. Cadillac Shelton was wandering off and as I was about to give up on this crowd, maybe cross the street and see if Van was home, Jermaine offered to help.
"That's a five dollar job," Cadillac Shelton kidded Jermaine.
I was going to pay ten.
Over on Rocheblave I had to widen the front doorway a bit as Jermaine balanced the not very heavy, but awkward insert on the stairs. Once in the house it became obvious that I was going to have to rearrange a couple of doorways to get the thing in place so I thanked Jermaine for his ten minutes of help and offered him two fives. He took one of the fives and gave the other back. I gave him an ice cold budweiser and we chatted for awhile. He wanted me to know that if I had any work I could count on him, that he could work, that he didn't do anything, you know, but hang around all day. And I know him as a conscientous worker and I wish I could hire him and the many others who ask me for work, and although those that are sincere are probably a minority, there is no doubt a good many young, able, bored, and ambitious drug dealers floating around this city who would rather be filling up at least some of that vast amount of wasted down time that is inherent to dealing drugs, doing something productive. I told him I didn't have anything he would probably want to do right then but if something came up I would let him know, however the chances of a suitable job coinciding with his availability are slim.
I dropped Jermaine on Dumaine and went back to the house. With a sledge hammer for force, three short lengths of galvanized pipe for the wheels of finesse, and a level and square for verity, I was able to situate the tub/shower insert in its proper place. The next day Jack the plumber asked me was I living two lives, and that was the first real Rocheblave compliment I have received.
After I placed the insert I was back at Dumaine to clean up and I'm not sure which kid it was, but he asked me, "You got a jacuzzi, Mr. Jim?"
Girls From The Hood
A darkroom thermometer inserted between the two stacked rolls of paper towels which plug the gap not being taken up by the 32,000 btu Fedders window unit is reading 105 degrees Sunday night at seven and has been reading that for the afternoon hours for what seems like forever but is probably more like five days.
I don't wake up here at Dumaine anymore but bathe here in the evening and have stopped by once or twice at six or seven in the morning to pick up some forgotten toothbrush or pair of socks and at that early hour have seen that thermometer to register over 90 degrees, and as I pause and ponder the splendor of extreme heat in the deep south I am interrupted in real time by Raticia (7), who is visiting along with Shentrell (6), and Erica (6, although the other day I suggested 7), and she comes up to me and asks, "what you say," and I tell her I didn't say anything, but I am struck by her question, the third such, in three days, by three different people. I know I can be way too noisy for such a quiet guy, Mandy used to bust me on that all the time, but am I actually speaking to people now and not being aware of it?
"You're the third person to ask me that in the last three days. Did you hear me say something."
"Yes, you said you wanted me to help you turn the computer back on."
I think she has it backwards because I just watched her turn off one of computers in the front room and so I ask her if she wants me to help her turn that one back on. Clearly annoyed by my lack of understanding she shakes her head and says, no, she's going off to Mandy's room.
Not writing but pondering still, and Shentrell comes over and says, "why you crying?"
"I'm not crying, am I?" and I trace that line where tears fall and it feels dry, and when I suggest to Shentrell that she trace the same path, she does, and says, "you cryin.'" To be so transparent to an artist like Helen Oliver who caught my melancholy years ago in a NYC nude, minus ass and genitals, is one thing, but that these little girls from the hood can see it all too is disconcerting, unless I consider the possibility that such transparency is probably my goal.
Rocheblave is still a gutted hotbox, tar paper on the roof awaiting shingles. Plumbers and Heating/AC guys have nearly finished their rough in. There's copper in the house now. I sleep as guard on an excercise mat--smeared with deet, fan blowing--like a baby yet to experience the weight of conscience and doubt. Working from six to eleven Saturday and Sunday (and with four hours of paid help) filled up a construction dumpster this weekend to a level three feet over the top with a huge pile of compressed weeds and tree limbs, concrete and bricks, and various lumber products. Cleaning myself at Dumaine and then hiding in two different movie theaters, and one volume discount restaurant both days, Saturday working the dusk, fullish moon shift, Sunday, writing this instead, I am able to offer four movie reviews. Rocky and Bullwinkle, enjoyable. Perfect Storm, quite good, and companioned with the book, a high recommend, and no matter your ('s and mine) previous negative opinions of George Clooney, he is on a strong roll with We Three Kings, and this latest. Chicken Run is good, and The Kid with Bruce Willis and his new haircut, and Lily Tomlin, pulls all the familiar emotional strings, but the script, for me, is intelligent, and despite the obvious downside of stretching emotional subject matter beyond the level of disbelief suspension, I liked this movie ok. And while I'm confessing to mediocrity let me add I'm reading, for the three or four minutes of consciousness I enjoy at nighttime Rocheblave, John Grisham's, The Testament, so shoot me.
Rushing now, have to alter somewhat and send this before the phone line gets tied up with this night's call from prison. Had another fight with Shelton this week. It was ugly.
Cries for help.
Tampered with doors.
Children boxing in the street as proud guardians look on.
I love you's.
Children I've never seen before calling me by name.
Kids who know.
Kids who do not.
The one who stays away in the name of shame.
These are a few of my everyday things.