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Eulogy For Jack2/7/2000
Jack was ubiquitous. He would be across the street, right in front of you, and then down by the corner. He moved to all these places at once with purpose.
He was not a menace to the society of which I am aware.
Crack means (processed) rock cocaine, Dope means heroin, and marijuana is hardly worth mentioning in this context. Marijuana does not lead to harder drugs. Insecurity, pain, anguish, lost love, never being hugged, having to wake up every morning and pretend a life of sensibility, watching your friends die on the streets and decay in prison; these are things which in some cases might lead to harder drugs.
He, Jack, was mentioned once in these missives on a first day of school, in a sentence that included Kojack.
He liked his dope, and today he died.
Last night about bedtime, except I wasn't tired, and because it was stormy much of the day I was only mildly alarmed at the crashing noise from next door at the still burnt out Esnard Villa. Heavy rains sometimes make pieces of the house fall down and crash. But these noises soon became more reminiscent of its former occupants, my good little buddies, Justin, D'Andre, and Chris Alexander, who would occasionally, overwhelmed by boredom, hurl objects from the second floor of their house onto this one. Because the irregular syncopated beat was definitely being drummed out on this house now, and because I was able to remind myself that there are no occupants next door, I was at a loss to explain, I was in the dark, I was ignorant. And their was an element of bliss to that.
The next vivid image that came to mind was of a large group of heavily armed men firing off weapons from some distant courtyard, and the bullets were coincidently landing mostly on this roof. I was able to feel for a brief moment what I think would be the most literal interpretation of "under siege."
Then I opened the front door and witnessed, with my neighbors, a hail storm of gradually increasing intensity that did in short time become so severe and frightening that I rushed myself inside and shut the door. And then the wind kicked up another notch and the beating against this non-insulated hollow structure became what will later be called--memorable.
Not softball sized hail, and not golf ball sized hail, but definitely not pea sized either. It would be fairly accurate to say, ice cube sized hail.
Shelton was excited, thought it was snowing, "Is it snowing, Mr. Jim?" I told him no, and don't go outside. He asked would it hurt and I said, "Yes." He immediately got on the phone and called Glynn's mom, his Aunt Nettie, who along with BaBa, and others, lost the battle to keep the family home across the street, and now live in an upstairs apartment on Claiborne, near Frenchmen. "Nettie," Shelton exclaimed, "It snowing."
All of the windows on the vulnerable side of the house are double hung six over sixes. The hail that found glass made loud cracking noises to go along with the loud drumming against the wood siding, and hard asbestos roofing. I was gathering materials: a razor knife, cardboard, duct tape. In ten minutes the worst of it had passed. Mandy was vaccuming glass, Shelton was asking me the difference between snow and hail. I did not have a ready answer, so I asked him to get the ladder for me.
Five window panes busted out, probably that many more cracked. Hail was still hitting the house and I had three cardboard replacement panes cut and ready to place. In the time it took me to tape up the last two windows in the back, Mandy had gotten under the covers of her bed, Shelton on his couch.
It was about 11:30 by then, passed my bedtime, but I was taking Monday off so I stayed up and started reading this book sent to me by Jeff Franzen, called--Black Panthers for Beginners. Pretending to be nothing else, it is a pretty good simplistic, fairly liberal representation of the Panther History, with cartoon drawings.
In between pages I would think about this house I would like to buy, the second one I have been serious about since I started looking in earnest.
This morning I got a couple of loads of laundry going, found my tax returns in the attic, organized account numbers, phone numbers, addresses, and other stuff that applies to me, called the realtor and was told the house was already under contract.
It is 11:30 again, twelve hours later, and Shelton, who also seems to have Monday off, and has had his breakfast, is out the door wearing his insulated Dallas Cowboys warmup jacket.
I guess I'll go look at a house over in the lower ninth ward, on Chartres, and maybe that one over in Hollygrove, uptown near the river.
The Sleeping Clergymen
They were fighting about it last night which is what woke me from a sleep started at 8:30. That's kind of early to be going to sleep, even for me, but sometimes sleep is all there is for it.
I've been wanting not to write this one all week.
I'm still not writing it so there's still hope. Always hope.
I haven't had uninterrupted sleep for three nights now but I'm not going to complain about that because I pretty much get my sleep over the long haul which is now measured in years over forty, and some people, for example procreators, go nearly unbearable amounts of time deprived of the sweet deep sleep.
I had wondered what she would do about vacations, what with the additional responsibility she took on when she for all practical purposes adopted a sixteen-year-old inner-city teenager who is quite a handful, let me tell you, or just say he is basically a good kid, and interesting too, but carrying too much circumstantial weight, which causes him to lash out at the world, or simply--be a bully, and occasionally, when not being a sweet, intelligent, well mannered (ocassionally bullying) kid, behave in ways that appear, simply evil.
Never (or a million times over) has there been a better case for the value of a stable home life, and the importance of a two parent family.
Anyway, she's taking him with her on the trip to Oregon and Canada, and like the last time there was a trip which included him, before he lived here, he made such a thing happen that caused him to be banned ( a punishment? handed down by his now dead guardian) from the trip.
And from what I could tell, that was what the fight was about last night, him not wanting to go on this journey that will take him away from this tiny world of his in which he has--mean and spiteful though much of it is--some power, and into that glorious world of unexplored territory where lies doubt, uncertainty, and he is sure--a package deal of other unpleasantries that will throw him head first into that final spiraling descent towards hell, a place palpable to his being, so why travel geographically to get there.
"My Mama in jail is a crackhead, and my daddy in jail is a crackhead, and my brother in jail is a crackhead, and my one sister is crazy, and the other one is just too nice, I mean like there is something wrong with her she so nice, I can't stand her she so nice."
But since I've been putting off the point of this, days have passed, every one filled with cold, incessant rain, and they're gone, to Oregon, where they will drive the western coast northward, until they reach Canada, and then do it again in reverse, the four of them--two middle aged white women, and two teenage black boys (he was allowed to bring a friend), at least one of which wants to grow up to be a gun-toting gangster.
If you are still here, take my advice and flee, don't look back, for example there is a nice article on Janet Reno in today's Parade Magazine.
There will arise on occasion chinks in the armor of our belief that basically everything is all right, not perfect, no, no, not perfect, but ok. But you caught a glimpse of the machinery one day; the cold, gray, hardened steel gears of it all, and saw it to be a loop, and never ending, and you wondered how will you carry the weight of this knowledge, and knew immediately the answer was also a loop--forget about it.
All this cold and gray is no good so let me tell you a single thing that warms the cockles of my heart: to sit on a porch in the afternoon and watch the young black school children coming home from school with their book backpacks half again as big as they are, and to imagine the turning of their little minds and the learning (if they are so lucky to be in a school that actually teaches), and the hope of it all, that through education they might rise above the station they were born into, on streets littered with crack vials, hypodermic needles, loose cigar tobacco, potato chip and candy wrappers, bottles and cans, dirty diapers, crawfish and shrimp shells, chicken bones, and chickens and cats and pigeons both alive and dead. Or rising above it is not so much the issue as living amongst the pestilence with dignity, and respect, and not adding to it.
This was always going to be about Ruby Bridges, who forty years ago this November 14th, at six-years-old, integrated Frantz Elementary school in New Orleans. US Marshals ushered her to school that first day and the few days after, but for the rest of the year, as the protesting crowds became less and less, she continued to come to that school everyday, and the vitriolic speech of her detractors became less and less meaningful, but my point was going to be that it was always there, and most published reports only refer to the little coffin with the black doll in it someone held up (which scared her, go figure), and someone else who threatened to poison her. She herself said she didn't pay much mind to the language, and for the things they threw at her that first day, she thought it was like Mardi Gras, she did not perceive the hatred (which is the only sign of a g(G)ods intervention in all this I can see). But it was God her mama exhorted her to pray to and being able to imagine that such a thing was of use to the six-year-old Ruby is enough to make me almost regret my status as reprobate.
But the thing is, I know the people who lined the streets outside Frantz, not by name or social security number, but I know who they are, they are too real to me, and so I was gonna go for shock value, you know, replaying for you what they spewed from their wicked mouths, things even worse than "you fuckin' nigger bitch," ( to a six-year-old child), and such, I can hear them, as if there that day, but that's my immaturity, going for shock value, because even the child Ruby didn't get hung up with all that. But with God's help right, and I'm so lucky? Anyway, it's your gain in the long run, that when I "go there" I start losing vision and can't properly see the screen in front of me.
All week I have existed inside this vision and when one of the boys caught me at it and asked, "what's wrong with you?" I didn't have an answer, but was able to obfuscate inside the ever-moody Mr. Jim persona.
David Duke exhorts his followers: Don't Be Ashamed Of Being White, well, I'm not a follower, and I'm not ashamed of being white, I love being white, if the the alternative is being black in a white world, no thank you. So I'm coming out on this one. I agree with David Duke. You followers of his, listen to the man, don't be ashamed of being white, but also listen to me: be ashamed of your small minds you pencil dick freaks of nature. Be ashamed of teaching your children hate. Be ashamed of your fear. Be ashamed of your lineage which is clearly the result of inbreeding. Be ashamed of every breath you take.
I should be done, but I'm not. I haven't addressed those specific clergy who have known what goes on around them: you are falling down on the job, hell awaits you.
Sure it makes you a little uncomfortable to hear me write this way, even embarrassed for me, but sometimes sleep just isn't enough for it. jml
A Regular Conduit
Early morning dreaming has me trying to focus on the pleasure of lost loves, sex doesn't get any safer, but the object of my mental yearning slips the snare and instead appears she with the last name that is a color, only ever a casual acquaintance, but what an incredible presence she projected on that morning seated across from me at my dream table. Even now, deep breathing her image calms in me whatever lay riled.
It is a mixed bag though, that which goes on inside me, and focus is not a strength I lay claim to. Because focus would have me better controlling the images of my dreamworld instead of what really happens. Case in point the middleclass (in every sense of the word) housewife from the suburbs (probably Metairie, La.), seated across the table from me this morning who rather demands that I call Jesus and ask Him a question to which she desperately needs an answer. I evidently have a hotline to Jesus because only a few numbers dialed has Him responding audibly and patiently (amazing really, the patience, when one considers how many of these calls He must receive in a day) , and I then look over to the housewife (who is now talking to another woman) so she can relay her question through me and she looks perturbed that I should interrupt her conversation with another housewife. Her audacity is such that I explode with vehemence, letting her know quite frankly that Jesus and I are busy people and how dare she interrupt our busy schedules with her carefree commonality and less than adroit mental capacity.
And even inside a dream I know this dream has been occurring since I shut off the alarm, so times up, no perfect lovers for me this morning, and disappointment on top of disappointment, I had Jesus on line and didn't even think to ask him could he nudge it just a bit (okay a whole lot) and put the Saints in Superbowl 2002, inside the Superdome.
The first gangster came running from behind me while I sat on a bucket next to the stolen white Buick staring at the back of the Rocheblave house (with the rapidly decaying Iberville dance hall to my back), considering work done and work to be done, much, and I barely had the care of this world to turn my head around to see what all his oncoming commotion (the climbing of the vine covered cyclone fence, and his exclamations and panting made quite a bit of noise) was about and then I saw him to recognize him, and nodded barely, while he just kept trucking along through my back yard and then across the vacant lot next to me on his way to the corner of Rocheblave and Iberville, pulling those goofy oversized gangster-pants up every other stride, and I'm thinking--"It's your goddamn fashion sense gonna send you to jail this time," and almost immediately a NOPD cruiser enters stage left and disappears stage right where also the gangster went.
Another youngster, well dressed, and panting, with walkman headphones on his head comes through a short while later and runs along the other side of my house, a trespass of which I am less tolerant, but he looks so scared, caught in the headlights of bad judgement, that I can't help but feel some sympathy so I don't mention my displeasure but simply call out to him loudly (because of the headphones), "You're running the wrong way."
He keeps on going but a few seconds later comes back and tries to catch his breath standing out of site up against the back of the house. He relays to me the all too familiar lament that he is surrounded by his enemy. I tell him I was glad to give him directions but I won't protect him and he quickly interprets my meaning and runs back to his starting point.
Cruisers, grouped in two and threes, speed up and down Rocheblave, looking at me sitting in front of the long forgotten four-door a hundred feet away from them and are apparently unaware of my proximity to a rather prominent passageway.
End Of The Day
I was hacking weeds into darkness over at Rocheblave and wondering if that rich black soil was contaminated with Chlordane or something else evil that might effect future backyard vegetables when one of my new across-the-street neighbors--there's only two to choose from, all my other known neighbors front Bienville, and on my side of the street I am the only residence in the block--wandered into the vacant lot next to me and waved me over at which point I went to meet him. He said, "My girl" (that's slang, in this case meaning his mother), "would like to know if she can borrow six dollars." I just always say yes, until a time comes when there is an obvious problem with repayment of loans, and then I get rude, or moody, but she paid me back last week and so we'll carry on like this as long as we can be respectful to each other.
I crossed the street and sat down on the rough block of granite which sits in the sidewalk in front of her steps. She sat on the steps and told her son to get change for the ten I gave her. I said if Earnest Bunn's store was still open he could break the ten by getting me any available size of full strength budweiser (although I didn't really want the 24 0z can). He came back with a sixteen oz. can and a wad of change, from which I gave his mother six dollars. She then gave her son the six dollars and told him to go get her medicine. He went around the corner in the direction which has no pharmacy.
Me and his Ma talked awhile, and she told me about her recent long term hospital stay, and we talked meds and when I asked her what they gave her she said demerol and I said IV? and she nodded and tugged her house dress down to reveal on her upper right chest needle bruises. I said, "Oh man," with envy, and she nodded appreciatively, and told me that's why she didn't want to come home, and she went on to describe a menu fit for royalty, and cable tv too. "I could use about six months of that," I said, and she said, "I know."
Its dark. At 5:30 you could barely see and at six it was what it was which is black as night so I retired to Dumaine and had to parallel park right in front of Van's, with whom I needed to speak anyway. Joe was there with him on the steps and I haven't been cordial to Joe since that incident at last year's Super Bowl party where we pushed and shoved some and I told him he could fellate me. I got out of the truck all world weary and overworked, the ambitious white boy carrying a box of Church's (from the Broad and Bienville location where last year a man entered, tapped a woman on the shoulder and then with a hand gun blew out the brains of the man standing in line next to her) chicken, two breasts but they cut their breasts in pieces so its not all you might think, and I ate the biscuit so its gone but I have two side servings of collard greens and all this is for lunch tomorrow so that's looking forward brightly. And I have a five gallon bucket loosely containing the tools to gain front door entry at Rocheblave: a cordless drill, a pair of pliers, and a dead bolt key. I nod to Van's brother but ignore Joe completely and go on to ask Van if he can work for me a single short day tomorrow because I really can't take off to be there to meet the guy installing the phone line and there's a little bit of priming of the exterior siding that Van can do, and I really just need him to be on site in case the guy shows up before I get there at three. Van is working with his brother some lately and so they confer but he assures me he can make it so I say thanks and give him the bucket that will get him inside.
The thing is, right before it became too dark to see I got another nasty cypress splinter in my index finger, and it hurt like hell although later during the slow moving one act that had me dealing with it, Bryan Henry 11, called me a "splinter in his finger crybaby." I acted like I was getting out of my chair and Brian Henry ran for the door giggling, and this we repeated with some side splitting-ly hilarious variation for almost an hour.
Lulu 18, said she's gonna be a nurse and described how she would take the splinter out. Sounded good to me so I soaked the finger in hot water but Lulu disappeared, perhaps to enroll in Nursing school.
Tiesha 16, is researching political party platforms on the Internet, but said she plans to be a dentist so I asked her if she could clean my teeth and then take out the splinter. She laughed at me.
Nettie 13, is going to be a pediatrician. "What, what, a podiatrist?" "A pediatrician, that's a doctor for kids." "That would be great if I had a splinter in my kid's finger." "You don't have kids, Mr. Jim." "Well, thank you for your time, what do I owe you?"
"Jacque, come over here and hold this magnifying glass."
"Good, no, stop moving, be the mannequin Jacque, and don't be afraid of failure, embrace the failure," this I said embracing myself, just as example.
"I don't think I can do this," Jacque 14, said.
"Get away from me."
"Mr Jim is a 'splinter in his finger crybaby,'" said Bryan Henry.
"Stay right there a sec," I said all nice and cordial while lifting myself partially from the creaking desk chair, and Bryan Henry giggled out the front door and onto the porch where a domino game went/goes on as part of the festivities surrounding Jermaine's 28th birthday. Earlier, him and some friends were barbecuing in front of the still burnt and defunct Esnard Villa next door.
I snapped off two sections of the snap off blade on my razor knife and sliced next to the splinter, insanely, it seems insane how loudly I heard the ripping of my flesh. I don't think I even cut through the ridges in my finger print but I swear I could hear it. Does no good though so I go for a needle in Mandy's room and overhear her telling Tiesha that George W. Bush is a moron. I don't tell Tiesha that Mandy is not a registered voter. I grab a needle and go.
The needle worked well, just like Lulu imagined it would. Heather 15, entered the house just as I rudely ripped off a tiny flap of finger flesh that left the splinter head exposed. "Heather," I said, "Where have you been? I'm having a medical emergency." She came over all business-like and told me to wipe the soapy water off of my finger. She then grabbed the tweezers and steady of hand pulled the splinter free.
"That can't be all of it, that's so small," I said.
"mr jim is a crybaby."
A couple of weeks ago I had an episode working over at Rocheblave where I almost "fell out" from heat exhaustion. It had been cooler for the previous week and I had under estimated the need for hydration, thinking it would be ok to be careless for one day. It's not ok.
Today is like a typical winter day, with lows in the forties, highs in the sixties. The wind is blowing hard out of the north and looking out the front door I can see the leaves of the banana trees on the south side of the property are shredded as testimony to a losing battle.
I have not been supervising, or doing myself, any maintenance of Dumaine street this year so stickered weeds are growing high in the cracks (or high from the crack(s)) in the sidewalk and along the curb. Candy and food wrappers and plastic bottles are compacted against the curb in front the house.
Across the street the dumpster is familiarly overflowed, garbage and broken down cardboard boxes strewn about. An emaciated black cat lurks nearby. And although I've never mentioned this before there are a few free roaming chickens in this area. Mostly they stay down around Dorgenois, but this morning one crosses from this side of the street and does that aggressive chicken walk dance towards the dumpster, and pecks a few times at the hardscrabble urine and greased soaked cement. The scrawny dark cat suffers a fleeting moment of grand illusion followed by the survivor's instinct of flight, which keeps us all breathing, and alive, to lurk by the dumpster another day.
Within the definition of "life" as doing interesting and fun stuff to ward off the potentially dangerous realization that our existence is wholly meaningless, I have not really been having much of a life lately. Not that I'm complaining, just thought I'd bring it up to myself to see what happens; what the hell I can say about it.
I could console myself by saying that I've been busy finally breaking up with Mandy (although we still live together), and buying and slowly renovating the new house and also that it was so hot this summer that what kind of life are you going to have anyway, sweating, and breathing air that has the weight of hot water on your lungs?
While I'm writing this I make a batch of bachelor's spaghetti (that's just regular boiled spaghetti but I cook the sauce in the toaster oven, wrapped in aluminum foil, to reduce the dirty dishes), and while in the kitchen making final preparations, Mandy comes home and right behind her is Heather in her school uniform. Heather at 15, (or 16?) has been a woman in the world of adult men for a couple of years now. She is quite pretty of face and figure and her school uniform, kept neat and clean and worn tightly as if painted on is the only symbol of childhood she can cling to. I'm pretty sure she doesn't spend much time studying either in or out of school, but the school acts as a central body for social interaction among a peer group, and she clings to it. She confronts me in the kitchen. She rarely asks me for money (I have made a point of telling all the children not to), and because of that I always give it to her. Her eye contact is telling me she's getting ready to ask something like that and I'm a little disappointed because the last time was only a couple of weeks ago and that would be her playing me for a soft touch.
She lowered her voice a little and softy said, "Mr. Jim, you gotta box cutter?"
"Why, so you can kill someone?"
"So you can slit someone's throat and watch 'em bleed?" I know why she wants a box cutter and I'm not pretending otherwise. Heather has no interest in the labor of cutting up boxes.
"No, there's a (football) game tonight and just in case we get jumped."
And I had just earlier been thinking about the abuse of women by men and maybe this is what she wants to protect herself from, or maybe from another gang of girls, which as I write this I think is more likely, because Heather's purpose for going to a football game would be to cruise for guys, especially guys from the other side, but even though I know it wasn't strictly the right thing to do, I gave her one of my razor knives, and showed her how to lock the blade. Because if she does need to ward off a male predator, in this particular environment I want someone who is willing to use a weapon to have a weapon, not a whistle.
"You don't have anything smaller?" she asked. She wanted a bonafide box cutter which is really a mean device because it is virtually invisible to an opponent.
"No, that's all I have, and don't go thinking you have to use it just because you have it."
"Oh no, I won't, Mr. Jim."
On the way home from work today I saw a billboard advertising an upcoming free concert by the Village People out at the Treasure Chest Casino in Kenner. I haven't been to one of those things in awhile. Jesus, the Village People, that could be a real lark, watching, and being a part of a group that goes through all the letter motions when they play that huge hit of theirs, YMCA. I've seen those Metairie/Kennerites form those letters with their arms to taped versions of the song. How this same group would respond to the live act, hmmm, if I have the courage that day, maybe I could get a life.
My mom is 82-years-old and you would think that advanced number of years would lead me to more seriously consider the importance of a regular dialogue. You would be wrong of course if you thought that but still I try, no, not my best, I'm saving that for the day after the end of time, but I try to think of her, and I do punish myself with that wasteful emotion, guilt, and then when I'm done with all that I ring her up on the phone, feeling bad some more that it's been so long since the last call that I'm not sure my memory is getting the right area code (afterall they changed it a few years ago). But I always get it right and how I know that is when I hear my mom's unmistakable, "Hello?"
I announce myself the same everytime, "Hello mom, this is Jim Louis." I do it that way because at some point years ago I realized that just saying "Hello Mom," only gave her those two words to try and distinguish me from my four brothers, and to be fair, my one sister. I could tell those years ago that she sometimes wasn't sure who the hell I was. Why punish her that way after all the grief I provided for her over the previous twenty or thirty years. Its her golden years, try to be nice, if you can.
So yesterday I'm talking to her on the phone because it is she who called and left the message regarding the birth of my new nephew, Sam Clifford.
"It's about time this family got another Clifford," I said. (My mom's name is Clifford, and there is no family story as to why that is).
"Yeah, you think so?" she said.
"I, for one, was not going to rest until one of the Louis Baby Makers produced a 'Clifford.'"
"Well that's good, you can take a nap now," she said.
We talked some, and I pressed her for details on other family members, just in case there was anything juicey going on, but according to my defintion I would say, no, nothing really juicey, but still, some things one might consider food for thought. I told her about myself such as is pertinent to a mother, and at one point she intoned with that alarmed voice of the maternal one, and said, "What, you quit your job!!!?" And then I became impatient with her, my 82-year-old mom, and assured her I still had a nice paying job, and what I was referring to was the Rocheblave house, which is my non-paying job. I wish I could get over that childish impatience with my mother's misunderstandings which always come from that equal mixture of my mumbled speaking voice, and her less than stellar hearing ability; it feels so impure and improper to snap impatiently at one's mom. Or maybe its more accurately a boorish adult behavior I wish to abort. Hell, when I was a kid I used to get a kick out my mom's alarmism. I can remember my brothers and I would amuse ourselves with this little game: Loudly opening the back sliding glass door of the North Dallas home and using our own special intonation, to crescendo the word "Mommm!!!," which would grant us the sick pleasure of our dear mother's Pavlovian response--borne from all the years of tending to our broken bones, and sliced and punctured fingers and feet, and overall bad judgement--which would look and sound like this: her running from wherever in the house she happened to be and crying out in that voice that is only Clifford, "Whaaat, whaat, what!?!?!"
And although I know not every child is as sinister as I was, most at least go through some period where they can be only described as god awful. And so birth always amazes me, and puts me into a mode of reflection.
No really, I can't go on and on, I have to get ready for the presidential debates, which I hope to listen to on the radio, maybe get some visuals from the internet but probably not, unless I start to think I'm missing something like a sick Nixon, or an impatient Bush Sr., then I could log on, might be worth it if I could catch Dubayou snorting up the back drain from the blow he inhaled before the debate. Or Al blowing kisses to his wife, whatshername, while George explains why he's against aid to the Bosnian rebels in the Middle East. One things for sure, I can't dillydaddle around, got to hose down, and chow down, and at least read the comics before the debate starts.
I have time to say this one thing though, to my brother Paul, the criminology professor at that small private Catholic University in Austin, TX, congratulations on the birth of your new son, Sam Clifford, and to his wife Judy, good job, you're the greatest, but next time he aims that thing at you, call a cop. Also, I'm outing my brother as a radical, because I know he intends to vote for a minor candidate in the presidential election and that's fine and good because this is America, Land of the Free, but let me say this about that, and "that" is a vote for Nader, or anybody else who isn't Gore or Bush. A vote for a minor candidate is a vote for the fratboy. Which one you might ask?, and that's fair enough, so let me break it down for you: Bush is a fucking idiot from the aristocracy, Gore is a fairly well educated dweeb. The election process will always be a choice between lesser evils, let's not hope for or pretend otherwise. Its a tough decision really because I can imagine a scenario of the candidate I like least actually having better access to the "oil" which will make this country run most smoothly, and the one I'm going to vote for, if I get out that day, doesn't inspire me in the least. So why do I care, and what does it matter? Some would say--"do what thou will, that is the whole of the law," I'm saying always vote for yourself, and to this audience that I know and love in varying degrees, I say, Vote for the Dweeb.
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.