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Probation, But Congo Square
Prior to actually having electricity in my neighborhood I received a bill for a couple hundred dollars and I bitched about that for awhile but then I just went ahead and paid it and then five and a half months after arriving back in New Orleans my block got back on the grid, and as my required electrical work had been done I just sort of assisted the energy company and switched on my own electricity and then about a week ago a new tag showed up on my meter, which made me feel all official, but the tag was purple, the same color as my expired break tag on the truck, instead of red, which is the normal color for active meters, as opposed to yellow which is the tag they put on meters to signify inactive accounts.
I just figured this new color was part of the new world order we exist in down here, welcome back to New Orleans and all that, but every time I mentioned it to someone they would say the exact same thing--what does that mean, this purple tag of yours?
Well, Phillis knows someone down there at the energy company and she said she would ask that person and yesterday she called out to me while I, after my nap after the day job, stretched beyond what is optimal on the too short ladder I am using to scrape the high parts of the Dumaine house. I climbed down and she told me that basically what this means is I am not a special person and I am not being welcomed back to the new New Orleans but rather that I am on a probation which at some point will end with me receiving either the proper red tag, or, having my purple tag replaced with a yellow tag and my electricity being shut off.
This is all to say that, hey you Jazzfests guests visiting me next week--Welcome to Louisville, welcome to New Orleans. Good thing one of you is an electrical engineer.
Mr. BC, you still got time to jump on that jet and get down here this weekend for the French Quarter Fest. If only for Sunday at noon in Congo Square where Wynton Marsalis with his Lincoln Center jazz orchestra will perform the 80 minute world premier of his new composition--"Congo Square." Congo Square is by the way, where, arguably, American music began. Not to be missed. See you there.
Letter To Clifford, 12
Dear Mom, Aug. 2, 2005
It is 5:30 in the morning and I am up listening to the birds chattering and wondering when the neighbor's dogs are going to start barking. I have a fan running in the room to drown out the noise a little but I can still hear them barking most nights. And then they start up in the morning. The dogs live down the hill a ways, about as far as Marsh Middle School is from you, but there are no buildings between this bedroom and the dogs, so the sound travels unobstructed. People say I should go talk to my neighbors but I am not aware of anything a person can do to make a dog stop barking, short of buying the dog a one way ticket to a land far, far away. I was talking to this nature-boy recently and this nature-boy doesn't kill snakes and gets out of his truck to remove slow moving turtles off the roads and generally is a friend to animals everywhere and he offered me this bit of insight--"It's not the dog's fault." What a wonderful insight, huh? I asked the nature-boy would it be, in his opinion, my fault, if I went down the hill and shot the barking dogs? Nature-boy did not even give me the benefit of a response.
I don't reckon I am going to shoot any dogs though. When I lived in New Orleans I slept through gunfire in the night on a regular basis and so I guess I can forgive the dogs their barking. You know mom, it's not the dog's fault.
I'm waiting for a slightly more respectable hour and then I will go over to T's house and wake her up so we can go on a hike in the woods.
I am still in Virginia. Haven't seen JF in a few weeks. Have talked to him once or twice recently and he said he may come out this week and talk to some of the townsfolk who are trying to convince him not to develop this property. He doesn't really want to develop it but the townsfolk are nervous about his potential to develop it and so have initiated movements to take away his rights, which means the property would be worth less money. So it's sort of like stealing, but in the townspeople's mind, for a good reason. The only legal way for Jeff to fight off the stealing of his rights is to actually initiate the movements to develop the land so it is a pretty pickle sure enough. I'll let you know what happens, if in fact anything happens. love, Jim
Letter to Clifford, 11
The beerless Spur convenience store on N. Broad St. has gone 24 hours, so once again a Louisville establishment puts it's neck out to make New Orleans all it can be. I came home from work yesterday and took a nap and woke up about six to a tapping on the front door and I got up and it was Raheim with his head nearly shaved, in flip flops. He looked forlorn and desperate in that way 10- year-old boys look when they are bored. I don't try not to be an old fart around kids, except when they make me, and I asked him the predictable questions--how was school? (he didn't go, duh, look at my flip flops, you can't go to school in flip flops, left my shoes by my mama's house over Easter and evidently his stepmom and dad around the corner don't have an extra pair for him), are you bored? (his eyes expressed a yes in the most definitive fashion, he looked as if he might perish forthwith). I wanted to play with him a little, humiliate him on the basketball court, perhaps that would make him feel better, but I was still so nap groggy I couldn't find my way to it. He finally said, like a full grown proper Englishman, well I won't disturb you any longer, I will let you get back to your nap. He rode off on his second hand razor, performing a neat little hop trick at the grabble (tm) apron of my driveway, amazing his ownself, and looked back to see if I was impressed and so I tried to look like I was. He sped off down the middle of Rocheblave to the Iberville corner and I heard his flip flops slid-breaking to a stop on the beaten asphalt as a car sped through the intersection. I went over to Dumaine for an hour and worked on re-glazing a window in the shade while the Muslim across the street worked his ass off, by himself, on a project that would seem undoable, but won't prove to be. Joe was laying almost flat across the steps of the former hitman's house, listening on the radio, or sleeping through, the mayoral debate. Following is the fifth-to-the-last letter I wrote to my mom last year, who suffered from Alzheimers and the good intentions of her children.
As a continuation on the theme of socializing well beyond what I would think is possible for me, I went to a dinner party last night. I met some more new people and even though meeting new people is the last thing I would intentionally put on my list of things to do, it was fine and fun and if nothing else gives me an opening for this letter to you.
At the party besides me and my girlfriend T, were: a female chef, the owners of the restaurant where the chef works, two gay men who told funny stories, a gray-headed long-haired computer expert, an environmentalist/tennis pro, the girlfriend of the environmentalist (who was also the hostess), and the mother of the hostess (who came up, to Virginia, from Ft. Worth, and made enchiladas). Ceviche was also served. Ceviche is raw fish (red snapper in this case, cooked by the acidic power of citrus juices instead of heat, mixed with a wide range of vegetable matter, depending on your tastes.)
The mother from Ft. Worth asked me if I two step (which is Texas cowboy dancing) and I said no. Later, holding up a big metal cooking spoon she said--you must know what this is? and I said, no. It turned out to be a spoon for making roux, which is the base for all New Orleans-type dishes like gumbo. I had told her I lived in New Orleans for ten years previous to coming to Virginia. I never seem to do things that are most associated with the places I live. There was also plenty of tequila served and I drank enough to be polite but not enough to crash my truck into one of the trees lining the steep driveway.
The really good news is that the mother gave up the recipe for the enchiladas, and her daughter, the hostess, looked on perhaps a little perturbed while T copied it down for me. Before I met T the hostess might have implied some little attraction to me. At that time however, the hostess had both a boyfriend (the environmentalist) and a husband (from whom she was separated, and is now divorced). So I never really encouraged her attraction, but did and do innocently enjoy her company. T has an ex-boyfriend in the area, and plenty of friends who are men, so we take turns being jealous of each other. The hostess has two young boys and she brings them over occasionally to swim in the pool on this property I take care of for JF. So, if I don't ever write the story about New Orleans, maybe I could write some sort of Virginia-based Peyton Place. love, Jim.
The Amiable Thief
This guy called out, Jim, from across the street on Dumaine and I turned around and he said you don't remember me, do you? Look, all you people who I have known casually who go off to jail for five or six years I can honestly say I do remember you, but how am I going to remember your names? He lived straight across from the Dumaine house and was a nice guy. Installed security systems. Worked at the corner store for awhile until late one night he compromised the security system, robbed the store, and then two days later met the gunpoint of the owner who put the two's together and then the guy went off to jail. He asked about M , but I think he called her Lisa, or Nancy, or Maria, and I corrected him in that subtle way by saying her actual name, told him a little about her deal, and he said God would bless her and take care of her, which is not necessarily a crock of shit, so M, you got that going for you, the blessings of God via the amiable thief.
He said he was trying to get some of that FEMA money and I told him about Joe, who as far as I can tell, just by appearing slightly retarded, got 22k. That news seemed to encourage him. He had just seen Joe himself, who had come by the store where the amiable thief was helping the Muslim gut the store. You know the adage, keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer? Joe had pointed to the security camera and asked if he could have it. In my opinion, this was Joe's little joke, referencing the amiable thief's crime. Joe is a funny guy. Years ago, at a Super Bowl party at his sister's house across the street he had made some attempt at humor regarding the dysfunction of M and I's relationship and I stood up in front of where he sat and unzipped my pants and suggested he fellate me.
The amiable thief pointed to the former Mama D's house and said did I know that old man that lived there, mowed grass around the neighborhood, and I said I seem to remember people talking about him but I was on Rocheblave by then so I didn't really know him. He said the old guy and his wife and a little girl drowned in there during the flood. I said, but the water was only ankle deep in those houses and he suggested various scenarios which could account for drowning in ankle deep water.
I washed the front of the house in the late afternoon and then poured a little more than a little Jameson's in a glass and sat on the porch and got my buzz on. I was deep in reverie when a banger drove by playing at alarming volume the most patently ridiculous rap song I have ever heard and I just busted out laughing, but then stopped because it really wasn't that funny.
Snow had been walking back and forth from his perch on the steps of the nearly and impressively renovated Esnard Villa to up past the Dorgenois corner (where he got shot a month ago) and on one of his circuits I got up the courage (my friend Jameson egged me on) to ask him where he got shot.
Raised eyebrows (He never actually spoke very much but now I think he doesn't speak at all).
Where did you get shot?
Raised eyebrows saying--say again.
I spoke louder and tried to rephrase in a way that would rule out the regional misunderstanding of unfamiliar dialect. I said, where-did-you-get-shot?
He slowly raised his shirt and showed a small, well healed pucker, close to his hipbone but still in the soft flesh of his outer belly.
Just that one? I asked.
By no movement of eyebrow nor verbal utterance did he dignify that question with response. He started moving on.
I read about you in the paper.
He stopped, eyebrow saying--say again.
I read about you in the paper.
I think he almost smiled.
Ok, so I only lasted that one day without complaint. It's almost 90 degrees here in New Orleans today and that is too damn hot for April. I took the day off from work so I could work in the hood and I keep coming over here to Rocheblave because it is a little cooler over here than on Dumaine but most of the work is on Dumaine.
I'm going back over there in a little while and wash the front of the house. That will involve spraying water and scrubbing with a truck brush dipped in soapy bleach, on an extension pole, and then more spraying with water, so I could get wet, and cooler.
I have an airport? card in my laptop so I got Internet in the house now.
I better call those guys about replacing my flooded AC compressor. That's the last major thing I have to do over here on Rocheblave. If I had the AC working I would be running it now.
I might have bitten off a little more than I can chew with the Dumaine exterior paint job but that's not a complaint just a statement of fact. I've gotten a good bit of the shit work out of the way, the power sanding, the scraping, a lot of the priming except the front, but I still have some more scraping on a couple of high sections, and a fair amount of window re-glazing, and replacing a few pieces of window glass. The painting itself will be a large job but child's play compared to the prep work.
This paint job was something I was supposed to do a long time ago so me doing it now is not me being a helluva guy but rather a day-late flunky. And it is a pretty good environment to work in, without all the high drama that could sometimes overwhelm Dumaine. And this will not be my A+ work but more like my B-minus work, just in case you look too closely. There are a few window sills that need replacing but I simply won't have time for that. I'll be lucky if I get all the windows re-glazed. And some of the weather boards could use some nails, and I just don't think there's any way in hell I'm going to cut out that bad caulking job from the last painters, who instead of nailing the weather boards tighter, just caulked the underside gap and now it's harder to nail and harder to make right, so I'm just going to paint it up and hope for the best. Most of the siding is original, so it's 110 years old, and the paint may be the only thing holding it up. Anyway, I think it will look better than it did (it's going to look stupendous), and hopefully, if M gets her insurance figured out and gets that money then maybe her contractors can tighten it up a little bit.
Ok, I'm going back over there now. I'm going to take my Irish friend, Jameson, with me.
Easter New Orleans
A couple of things. There aren't anymore marauding rats in the Dumaine house and as for the occasional mouse, if I bother to set the traps, I might catch, that is kill dead, one every other week, so I hardly even bother with such inconsequential threats and as for threats of a more serious nature, all it took was locking the side gate at Dumaine and I don't see anyone hanging around for over a week, even my little helper, who it just so happens is not the embodiment of pure innocence. So it was a false alarm thinking the drug 'n thug scene was starting up again around Dumaine. However, the corner store guys are beginning their gutting and rebuilding process, so when the store gets going it could liven things up in a not necessarily good way, I guess.
The person who will rent from me when I go back to VA in June wanted to do a little landscaping so the backyard and side yard have become a veritable garden paradise (at least relative to the post-apocalyptic feel of it prior to two weeks ago) and without the manic barking dogs (Sheba, Killer, and Watchdog, in the backyards backing up to my side yard) and constant threat of roaming knuckleheads, the Rocheblave property has really catapulted to become one of the top two places I live.
It is so quiet here in New Orleans that even though I still get a little choked up when I pass through the many dead neighborhoods, I mostly am feeling very calm, and happy, if just a little tired. If I hadn't worked so hard on renovating this abandoned property over the last six years I would feel guilty about how fortunate I am, having this nice little place surrounded by so much catastrophe. But, perhaps contrary to my nature, I have worked my ass off on this property, granted over a rather longer than necessary time period, but that I didn't take but a few inches of water in the front two rooms, and am now almost fully operational, while so many people are still suffering their losses, is not something about which I am persecuting myself.
Raheim, the 10-year-old kid from around the corner that I can almost beat most of the time at basketball, doesn't come by too regularly but he shows up once in awhile. Because there are so few open schools here in New Orleans he is attending school in Jefferson and it is an all white school and Raheim longs for his old school, his all black school. He is getting scary good at talking like a white kid and he plays it as a gag until I can't stand it, and say, thank you Raheim, but that's enough. At ten, he's still got more of the innocence and less of the street on him, and when I look at him and his fresh little innocent smile I hope he doesn't get his wish of going back to his all black school because but for a few exceptions to prove the rule, the public schools here in New Orleans, predominately black, were killers of children. The accomplices in the murder of New Orleans children are the absent fathers, and...I don't know, I guess the list is long.
In the past, as I was all about the mayhem and murder and degradation here in the hoods of New Orleans, I want to go on a little bit more about how quiet it is here now. On top of being quiet in general it is especially quiet because it is Easter Weekend and all the workers have taken three days off. Other than me, the reprobate, and the Dumaine corner store guy, Muslim, I don't think I've seen any grunt workers in the neighborhood, this Easter Sunday. It is so quiet and de-populated that I go out in my backyard periodically, in my underwear. Biafran babies are obese compared to me with no leggings on and I just rarely go around without my legs covered. Anyone that knows me knows this. So, I'm going out in my backyard in my underwear, how de-populated is that? This is the first worker break since the area has become somewhat more operable, stop lights mostly working and and a corner store or two (still not one of the five or six fast food establishments open in my area though) and a grocery store within a mile, so what if there used to be five within that same mile? And from here you can still hear the barges and the ferries at night blasting each other on the river with their horns and the old St. Charles streetcars running on Canal, a block away, make more noise, in a good way, than the newer (but flooded) Canal streetcars. And the weather lately has been almost perfect, if slightly hinting at the heat to come.
Um, that's pretty much it. I am without complaint.
There Go Your White Man
I have probably more time in construction crappers (port-a-toilets) than most of my readers and I'm bragging about it.
Things have really gotten better here in the Deep South as regards to hateful racial graffiti in the crappers.
I remember this English teacher I had during my abbreviated student tenure at the University of Texas, she was from England no less, and once I remember she was going on about how far the United States had come in the arena of civil rights and I just shook my head condescendingly, an 18-year-old know-it-all, and she cited all the obvious advancements and I said take away the laws and not a damn thing would be different. Sure the laws have changed but not the hearts of men, I argued. And eventually men will break laws.
But I'm big enough to admit being wrong, in fact I revel in wrongness, so Teach, you were right and I am wrong.
In Metairie to where I go for work and the most hateful racial attitudes (or not, really) I read in this particular crapper a fairly common sentiment which I have seen year after year after year--KKK, kill all blacks. It is etched in the plastic with razor knife. It is most often hard working black men who drive the crapper suction trucks that clean out these toilets. And I know they are as relieved as I am that we have come as far as we have. Love in the21st century. I mean, in the past, it was always the N-word used. We are truly blessed, all of us, in these times.
Then I will drive home, stop by Rocheblave, and head over to Dumaine to try to do a little something at the house that 11 years ago began my insight into a culture I will never do proper justice to, by description or understanding.
I guess I have a mean stare sometimes, or an edginess. I'm not bragging about it because it is a weakness, although except for choosing otherwise I could have been a good little hard-ass fucker of a businessman, with my edgy persona. I could have been somebody, I could have been a contender, ha.
It ain't nothing really, not yet, but the little dudes are starting to hang out, just lightly, around the 2600 block of Dumaine. I didn't even glance at Dumaine the week my back was most troublesome but pulling up to the curb day before yesterday and seeing some youngster I may recognize as 8 or 10 years older than the 10-year-old kid with the black heart or just bad luck of circumstance, and I hard stare him because he is leaning against the fence of the Dumaine house, and I'm tired, and I don't have the patience for this stupid shit all over again. It's too hard to work, period, without doing it to an audience of lazy fucks. I could love the kid if he would make the slightest effort of respect, but he won't, and I won't. He'll hang, deal drugs or not, smoke or not smoke the blunt, not lift a finger, leave his trash on the ground instead of three feet away in a bag hanging on the fence, and make no courteous hello, so you give up and hard stare, and they hard stare back. It's all fear and anger, on both sides. Something better could be easy if it weren't so hard.
I unlock the grate and kill some time inside because I don't want to have a confrontation on account of I am feeling irrational. It's like counting to ten I guess. I hear the kid outside talking to another kid I know, and he sounds all pissy and punk ass bitchy. I can't hear anything but tone and the words "white man.'' White man this and white man that. I just stay inside even though all the work I am trying to complete is outside. I am not going to wait indefinitely. Although my main goals in life are not to be mean to other people (I often fail at this) and to not get killed, I must get to work. I'm still feeling too irrational though so I wait a few more minutes until I can't stand it any longer and then I bring out the ladders and move back and forth from the foyer to the front porch. The kids have moved on and I start doing some scraping but my heart isn't really into it. I'm not sure scraping is something you can really put your heart into.
Later, I'm back in the foyer, with the front door open, and I hear from across the street the kid I know egging on the kid with the black heart, "there go your white man up in there." Something. Something. "There go your white man." I have never in my life referred to a man as nigger or black man, except the first to describe or act out other people speaking it and the latter to describe the popular conception of African American skin color. Give me the same, you little pissants. But really, I do love you guys when I'm not hating you.
Down south in the 21st century.
Letter To Clifford, 8-9-10
Dear Mom, 6/27/05
How are you doing? I am doing fine, waiting on the guests of JF to wake up so I can do a little work up at the bighouse. That's what I call the main house on this property--the bighouse. J and his wife, L, don't come out too often because of busy schedules with their kid's activities, but occasionally let people use the bighouse for a weekend getaway. I have been painting the metal roof of the house but have met one obstacle after another. First, the pollen from the many trees surrounding the house was so coating the roof that I could barely walk on it, much less prep and paint it. So I waited for that stop happening and now it is getting so hot I can't do much on the roof except for early in the morning and maybe a little in the evening. The roof is peeling pretty bad and some of the cleanser I am using makes it peel even more, so I end up having to scrape it twice.
The section of the roof I am working on now has a view through windows into one of the upstairs bathrooms, so I don't want to make their guests nervous, and am just staying down here at my cottage for awhile. This house is not really a cottage but people want to call it that because they can't really call it a guest house on account of I live here all the time, and I ain't much of a guest. And cottages are associated with country property, which this certainly is. I am pretty much considered the caretaker but there seems to be some slightly negative connotation to that word because of the way caretakers have been portrayed in various movies and pieces of literature, over time. Caretakers have been portrayed as tall thin silent loners who are a little grumpy and occasionally unpredictable in their behavior and rude to strangers who happen onto the property. Which I think describes me pretty well.
I am very slowly getting to know more people around here and before you know it I will know everyone, because there aren't that many people out in this part of Virginia. The town I live in, Washington--sometimes called Little Washington so as not to be confused with Washington DC--has a population of only 186 people. There are no stoplights in town. The entire county, Rappahannock County, has only about 7,000 total residents, and likewise, in the entire county, there are no stoplights. Needless to say, if I don't leave this immediate area, I don't get stuck in traffic jams.
I had two extra tickets to a musical concert in Washington DC recently (which is 70 miles away) and I don't know if you know this or not but your oldest son and my oldest brother, D*n, has a son living in DC this summer, the son's name is J*ck, and he is acting as tour guide, before going back to Texas A&M in the fall, to enter his senior year. So I invited Jack and his girlfriend, K*m, who is also in DC this summer (what a coincidence), and they joined my girlfriend, T, and I for the concert and we had pretty good time. J*ck's girlfriend is summer interning with the CIA and will also go back to A&M in the fall to finish her senior year.
Speaking of Washington DC, let me just remind you that your good friend [sarcasm, my mom was to say the least, not a big fan] and president of the United States, George W. Bush, only has three and a half more years on his second term, so clearly, there is a future worth looking forward to. love, Jim.
I am having some problems writing you a letter this morning. The computer I am writing on tends to freeze up, which means the keyboard won't respond and then I have to turn the machine off and when I turn it back on the words I have written are gone. So this is attempt number three this morning. You might ask why I don't just use a pencil and paper and if you did ask I would say because I can't find a pencil.
Your oldest son (who lives in Arlington), D*n, is my oldest brother, and his youngest son, J*ck, is in Washington DC for the summer, as is his girlfriend, and they have driven out to visit me this weekend. They are driving around the property in a jeep right now. I asked him to be careful and not tip the jeep because that happened to a guest once and the person tore his knee up pretty bad.
I went hiking yesterday with a friend who knows the trails around here as well as anyone and he knows many private trails that lead through and around rather exclusive private properties with giant homes, and manicured, landscaped ponds, and guest houses. Many of these properties around here are weekend homes for well-to-do Washington DC residents. We are 70 miles from DC.
I've been socializing more than I'm used to, going to parties, throwing parties, and I've met some nice people and some other people I could live without.
My guests, nephew J*ck, and his girlfriend, K*m, have come back from riding around in the jeep and we had a little talk and now they are either going to walk into town to window shop or they are going to stay on this property and play tennis and swim. Later tonight, my girlfriend, T, who plays trumpet in a musical band, is having a concert and we are all going to hear her play.
The owners of this property I take care of are my childhood friend, JF, and his wife, and they have three young boys, 11,8, and 5, and they were out for the July 4th weekend. They had some guests staying with them at their house and I had some guests down here at my house and it was an interesting mix of people and we shot off some fireworks and didn't burn the place down so I guess everything went well.
I am going to lay around and read now. I bought 15 used books for about 4 dollars the other day and I got some nice ones.
You be good. love, Jim
Yesterday I saw a movie set in New Orleans. I recognized much of the scenery and the neighborhoods and I felt the effect the movie makers were trying to create and it made me a little lonely for New Orleans, which is where I used to live before moving here to the Virginia countryside. But mostly what I couldn't get over was how they shot the movie without really showing a lot of black people and I thought how could you film such and such a neighborhood in New Orleans without showing more of the people who actually live there. I wonder sometimes, in general, if there is a story to be told that hasn't been told yet, and when I think about that I always think about New Orleans and how so much of the story I know from there doesn't seem to be tell-able or if it is tell-able how to my knowledge it hasn't been told yet. Sometimes I think about trying to tell it but except for a few hundred pages written about it while I actually lived there, sort of a journal I kept, I haven't really begun to work on the New Orleans story as I know it.
Its Sunday and I went hiking again this morning, this time up in the Shenandoah Park proper. I got up there about 9 a.m. and there was a large group of people having a get together at one of the picnic sites. I walked an easy, not overly-inspiring section of the Appalachian Trail and then I turned around and walked back. When I got near the lot I could hear people singing and it turned out that that large group at the picnic site was some sort of gospel, bluegrass, Christian musical group, and, they were pretty good. When I got to my truck though they had finished the song and some guy was just talking the talk, which turned out to be a whole lot less interesting than the music. So, I drove home and went for a swim.
One of your grandsons, J*ck Louis, who is the youngest son of your oldest son, D*n Louis, has been visiting me for a couple of days here in Virginia. J*ck and his girlfriend both attend Texas A&M University but are working in Washington DC (which is about 70 miles from where I live) for the summer and so I have seen them a couple of times.
I learned a secret handshake this weekend. Next time I see you I will let you in on the secret. love, Jim
Letter To Clifford, 7
If it gets any better on Rocheblave I don't think I could stand it. Across Rocheblave from the NOPD PIB (Internal Affairs) building is the parking lot for the United Way building which fronts Canal. Never before, but today there is a free concert over there (and the Chauffeur just walked over and brought me back a couple of free chili dogs) and the stage is such, facing Iberville, that sitting on the porch of my house I can hear this very credible female soul/blues singer belting out standard covers and she pretty damn good, so again the question remains, why leave the porch, why get off the boat? The Chauffeur is over across the street putting some oil in his van so it doesn't burn up when his replacement uses it to deliver advertising circulars (his bread and butter gig and only gig until he gets another limousine to replace the one that flooded) to a major drug store chain. Chauffeur has to fly to Houston, which is where to his mother and father evacuated when a rather impressive natural Corp of Engineers disaster occurred here in New Orleans seven months ago. His mother is in the hospital and very sick.
I am at that stage where I won't be able to put off finishing Sea Wolf by Jack London much longer and I don't know to where I will go next to find such an enjoyable and improbable tale of turmoil, catastrophe, high adventure, love, brutality, and philosophy. Following is a another letter I wrote to my mom in the months preceding her death.
Dear Mom, 6/12/05
The last time I wrote I was going to a Memorial Day party and I'm here to say I survived that. It was a little dicey at the beginning because the ex-boyfriend of my girlfriend, T, was there, and for awhile just by himself, even though he has a girlfriend of his own, and I thought--holy cow, what fun it is to live in a small town. You can't really go anywhere around here without running into people you would easily avoid in a larger town. After awhile the ex-boyfriend's girlfriend showed up and so I cared less about him being there, because If I wanted to be small-minded, I could always flirt with his girlfriend. I am proud to say I took the high road and we were all respectful of each other.
It finally started getting hot around here and my air-conditioner stopped working right about that same time so I got a fan going and am pretty cool if I do say so myself.
Also, there is a swimming pool on this property so I can go jump in that if I get too hot. Usually it cools off pretty well at night.
I have a birdhouse up out here and it was supposed to be for Purple Martins but I didn't attract any of those and instead got a couple of swallows, which I don't mind at all and enjoy watching. A mockingbird was perched on top of the birdhouse the other day and the swallows, Mr and Mrs I guess, took offense to the mockingbird's presence and flew in cirlces around him, swooping in close enough to pick the fleas off of his neck, and the mockingbird just acted like he didn't even know they were there but eventually did fly off and leave them alone.
I found a small copperhead snake near the back porch of the main house (I live down the hill in a caretaker's cottage) today and I was going to kill it but T objected and we had already had a small fight over something stupid the night before so I decided to play it cool and do whatever the hell she wanted, which was to scoop the snake up and take it somewhere off the property and let it out. And that's what I did, so don't tell me you can't teach an old dog new tricks. I had it in a glass jar with a snap on lid and as me and the snake drove along the country roads together I thought wouldn't it be funny if that lid came off and that snake was to take up residence in my truck. But the lid didn't come off and I stopped along the side of the road (although I thought about taking it to T 's house) and I shook it out, and the last picture in my mind is of one pretty ticked off baby snake. If I run across the ma or pa of that baby snake though, I will chop off their heads. I am, afterall, the caretaker out here.
Just a few blocks from here (this property I am at, 70 miles from Washington DC, is on the edge of a small, quaint town) there is a 5 star restaurant [The Inn at Little Washington} and presidents and heads of state are often to be seen dining there and last night T and I walked into town and plopped ourselves down in some comfortable chairs set up in an outdoor pavillion that nobody ever uses and we just watched the fancy people walking to the restaurant from the many surrounding Bed and Breakfasts. T was able to verify that what she sees in fashion magazines is in fact what the women are wearing when they go out with their husbands or men friends who are willing to spend five or six hundred dollars on a meal (or in some instances that amount of money will only buy a single bottle of wine). So I am here to tell you that for women's fashion the color black was all the rage for awhile but now pink is the new black and a lot of women seem to be splitting the difference and are wearing pink and black. That is all for now. Hope you are well.
Renovating At Midnight
My boss and I, both in our forties, six years apart, moan and groan at work, him mostly doing the trim carpentry and me mostly doing the painting. Our backs are for shit and speaking of shit, today at work I made a little funny to myself in the bathroom of a Metairie flood job on which we're doing the final touch-ups. It was so dark in the bathroom, even with the light on, I remarked to myself, I can't see shit in here. Get it? I talk to myself a lot, sometimes out loud and sometimes not. I told bossman on Tuesday that I would only be working to noon until I could put my shoes and socks on in the morning without crying. It happened the next day that I didn't cry like a little baby girl so it wasn't much of a break for me. You're not taking off at noon? he asked me the day after I first took off at noon and I said, no bossman, I didn't cry this morning. Yesterday there were five of us in the house at one time and we all have the same back problem, lower left and into our buttock, and the one woman has it running down her leg a little so she's going for an MRI soon.
Crying out in my sleep doesn't count, I do that even when I'm straight. If they made a movie of my dreams it would evidently be a woeful tale of woefulness (I don't remember my dreams so well for the last twenty years or so, like I ever wanted to be Casteneda's, Don Juan).
Once, when I was twenty-something, I made a mistake in California and spent two weeks in San Jose County jail and one morning this bad seed kid hit me on the bottom of my feet while I laid in bed reading Michener and he said, hey man, you were moaning in your sleep last night, which was very embarrassing indeed, but nobody liked this kid who was sort of making fun of me and the two guys who liked him least beat the shit out of him one day and he cried like a little baby for the guards to rescue him, and they did eventually, but they didn't really like him either, his jailhouse etiquette was wanting, and so they put him in the group cell with the psychopaths, I think that was C-block, and we were all much happier then. There were about forty of us in our block, in a group cell with bunk beds along two opposing walls, an open shower area with three sinks and four non-private showers and three or four stainless steel toilets, and there was a TV room, with no door, connected to the bunk room. There was never anything good on TV but as I remember it, after early breakfast, to which we marched single file to a cafeteria and back, there were exercise shows with women in leotards and those shows were very popular.
I don't cry for no reason any more here in New Orleans, like I did when I first arrived, but if I long for that feeling of unbridled weepiness I just get in the truck and drive north for several miles and then veer east for five, six, ten, twenty, or forty miles, witnessing not even the entirety of flood wrecked homes, and then come home again, and during these trips If I want to cry (sometimes its a good thing to do) I can easily do it.
I'm not sure what is wrong with the St. Charles streetcar line, because that part of town did not flood but their unflooded green streetcars are now running on the two or three year old Canal St. line, which had pretty, new red cars (however they flooded badly in the streetcar barn about six blocks from here) and so I can look out from my front porch, like right now, to this gap, or view corridor if you prefer, across the Pentecostal-owned half acre lot next to me, and across Iberville St. and the NOPD Public Integrity Bureau parking lot and beyond that to Canal St. and can see the cars go by every once in awhile. It's free to ride them until June. And I think the city buses are still free to ride.
I believe the Chauffeur has trailer fever. I'm ready to get back into my house, he says. Not a lick of work has yet been done on his house unless you count talking about work. It is hard to find reliable contractors and none of them want to come and give you estimates because they are overwhelmed by the so many people who are required to get estimates to free up insurance money, but the contractors just want to focus on the people already with the money, who have work they want done right away. Trailer living is not for me, says the Chauffeur. I say, it's very nice in there but it is sort of jail-like. He walks away, depressed, saying, yes, it's a very nice jail.
Debris from gutted homes is still being picked up and regular trash removal, while not exactly reliable, and certainly not twice a week like before, or even once a week like promised, still, eventually, the black trash bags you put in front of your home get picked up. Some people, in some of the nicer areas, are getting pretty wrecked about this trash thing, but it doesn't weigh too heavily with me. I think, honestly, under the circumstances, things are going swimmingly here, unless it is your druthers to bask in woe, and then, let me tell you, you can bask at full throttle twenty-four seven.
I had one last thing the electrician didn't finish but I finally figured out how to fix that myself, so I can now write that jackleg limp boner, Charlie Labourd, off my "dickheads who bother me" list. Problem is, I, even with the qualifier that I don't really know him, recommended him to the Sculptor and he screwing her bad, so I'm not overly happy about that.
The one crackhouse on this block will never be a crackhouse again, I think. The Sculptor wants to buy it and tear it down and thus improve her property. Still, once in awhile, people who desire what used to be available there, mosey by and call out to people who aren't there. The moldy couches and end tables and beds and book cases offer no condolences. The madam of the house I don't think will come back and even if she does, there ain't no place for her to live on this block, unless she moves into that little shed next door, which is possible I guess. I saw her son a few months ago and he was down from Houston rummaging through the crap to retrieve some things his mom desired and I should have sent a book or two back with him, because she was an avid reader, but I didn't. I used to fix her reading glasses with duct tape and she used to hit me up for three or four dollars somewhat regularly. It was not exactly a symbiotic relationship but on two separate occasions where I was gone from here for months at a time, and with no one in my house, it was not broken into, so maybe she kept her dogs at bay, and was returning my frequent but sometimes begrudging kindnesses.
It would also be good to see Charles, who lived there and worked for me occasionally, so that we could reminisce, even though it would probably cost me twenty dollars to do that. I can be an easy touch if I like someone. He would want to do some work for the money but I don't think I would work him too hard because I would probably just want to talk with him for a while, until he became bored of me. He is an interesting fellow and skates convincingly on that plain where poverty meets richness and intellect meets ignorance. He always wanted to travel out of New Orleans so one can hope that he is happy wherever it is he ended up, if in fact he survived.
It is midnight now and I can still hear the buzz of a circular saw, someone in the neighborhood renovating through the night.
Letter To Clifford, 6
You may be musing, Jim, in the last seven months you've lost a girlfriend, a mother, and pretty nearly the city that most inspires you, does anything good ever happen to you? and if by that you mean something other than being (sort of) free, (mostly) white and (considerably older than) 21, then I would say, well, let me think on that, while you go about minding your own f-ing business, what do you think this is, some sort of online gab forum where I spill my guts about everything from safely sordid sexual encounters with boxes of fried chicken, to personal letters to my recently deceased mother? Because if you think that then you have got another think coming. But all right, Ima give you a bone, because clearly these curiosities of yours imply that you're at a commercial break of American Idol and, although generally I don't do requests or answer questions, except obliquely, or sometimes straightforwardly and you can't shut me up but that's your punishment for even talking to me. I got this gift from Mr. BC over a year ago and it was a 5gb digital music player, a pre-release limited edition, number 131 out of 500 and I don't know what value that adds to what is essentially a disposable piece of electronics but it was really just the right player for me. I had it loaded with the equivalent of about 80 CDs or albums of music and even though I didn't pay for the music any more than I paid for the player, we're talking, in some world, where people actually pay for things, about $1,300 worth of pure musical enjoyment. The music I got from this music hoarding Cajun Russian Jew who holes up on New York's Lower East Side, and on his better days seems pretty intelligent, but still insists he won't come down south for a visit--not just because all his Cajun relations are long departed, or ficticious, but--because he blames the south for the holocaust. When I tell him the holocaust didn't happen down here, exactly, he insists, "oh yah it deed, it moist cer-tain-ly deed." I sometimes suspect his accent is as affected as my every supposition, as spurious as my ability to spell it out effectively. But, accented or not, how you gonna argue with a boneheadedness so thick and complete? This particular chunk of digital music I got from him is a sublime playlist of a thousand songs which often very effectively blot out the noise going on in the internal confusion machine of my being. Stuff like The Velvet Underground, Yo la Tengo, Calexico, Dylan, Cat Power, Four Tet, Fruit Bats, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Fuck, to name a few. The thing about digital music players, and really, so many things if you think about it, is that they don't perform that well, or at all, after being dipped in soapy bleach water. Which is what happened to my Rio player when I stupidly stored it in my front pocket while scrubbing the black, greasy flood line off of my house back in November. Bending over the bleach bucket the player took a bath and henceforth did not work. I bought a little replacement player, a 1gb Ipod, and I hate it, just hate it. In fact, I bought the Ipod product just to prove to myself what I have said all along, I hate them, just hate them. The Rio player sat in my room, first on the table saw I was using as a bedside table and then, when I had to use the table saw to actually cut something, the shiny Rio sat on the floor. I would look at it occasionally, and sigh, wistfully. The other day, almost four months after the bath, exercising my option towards futility, I pushed the on button, and the Rio lit up and came on. I then crawled through the attic, my backseat, and every box I brought with me from Virginia, looking for the charger, because the battery icon was low. I found the charger and even though the player acts just a bit wonky now and again, it still performs beautifully, all the digital music data is intact, and I listen to it at work, painting, with small, cheap, over the ear headphones, the player comfortable of weight and operable through the fabric of my front jeans pocket, and there you have it, requested or not, a good thing that happened to me. I think American Idol is back on. As for me, I leave you with another Letter to Clifford. Her first name was not an informal appellation but rather her given name.
Dear Mom, 5/29/05
Today is Memorial Day and I went to my girlfriend's house (her name is T ) and worked on her (small) farm, or (very large) garden, whatever you want to call it. She is growing part of her vegetable crop in rows of concentric circles and today we weeded around and around in the asparagus ring.
I got a letter from my brother, and your son, W*lter, yesterday and it says his oldest son is getting married, I think in August, in Kansas. I don't suppose you are going and I'm not sure if I am, but I am thinking about it. His oldest son is M*cah. I think he is still in college.
I am still working on this vacation property of my childhood friend, JF, out here in Virginia, near the mountains, and it is very pretty countryside but kind of dull sometimes if you are used to lot's of excitement, which I'm really not, but I am used to being closer to excitement than I am out here. I am going to the Memorial Day gathering of some people I sort of know, later this afternoon, and that, I expect, will be as much excitement as I can stand. I like people well enough but I don't usually go out of my way to be around them. T, she likes socializing a little more than me so this is one of those things--me being a good sport. I'm sure I will have some fun, even though I don't feel overly sure of that at this point in time.
JF came out for a day with his kids and his wife and that is always a bustle of excitement but then they leave and it seems like a lot of effort and expense just to keep a property like this for such short stays. They bought the property as an investment so I'm sure they know what they are doing. There is plenty of work to do out here on the two houses and the grounds of the property, but it is kind of a strange job, with me deciding what to do more than I am ever told what to do. Like this is something I should complain about, but still, it leaves me feeling a little unsettled, at times.
T is younger than me, she just turned 30, and I just turned 46. I'm not complaining about that either and what good would it do if I were?
It's raining now. I hope this gathering later is not outside.
Letter To Clifford, 5
The stop light at Broad and Bienville is working now, so the stretch of N. Broad St. most surrounding me is totally stop-lit and bigger news than that is the opening of Betsy's Pancake House at Canal and Dorgenois. Now, back to Letter's to Clifford, sponsored by Hallmark.
Dear Mom, It's Sunday and raining here in Virginia. I am still near the Shenandoah Mountains on JF's weekend property. Most of the time I pretty much have this whole property to myself, and sometimes I share it with my girlfriend, T, whom you have met twice. Right now she is watching a movie while I write this letter. The sun is coming out a little and behind me out the window is a fringe tree, a stand of pine trees, and a rather strange version of the magnolia, and it is called a big leaf magnolia. The white blossoms are different than regular magnolia blossoms and the leaves are not shiny. The leaves are, however, bigger than any leaf I have ever seen on any tree. Also on this property are sweet gum trees, dogwoods, crape myrtles, two different kind of chestnut trees, two elm trees, a pecan, a maple, some peach trees, some crab apples, and one or two other varieties that have mostly died out in the United States. The property is on a small hill and is elevated above the town of Washington, population 185, and it is named for the original surveyor of the town, a 17-year-old kid named George Washington. The same George who went on to become president number one. Not to be confused with that idiot in the White House today, who is also named George (and is the 43rd president). I have been working pretty hard out here this spring. There are two houses, a cottage which I live in and then a much bigger house up the hill which is where the F's and their guests stay when they come out. The roof on the big house is metal and I am repainting it and the roofs of the few out buildings are metal too and I am repainting them as well. And I just repainted the back porch and repaired some of the rotten spots. I dug two new flower beds this year and am growing a bunch of flowers, most of which I have never seen before and have no idea what they are going to look like when they bloom. I also started a new vegetable garden and am growing a few different varieties of tomatoes and bell peppers, and cayenne, and jalapenos, okra, beets, string beans, cucumbers, and maybe some cantaloupe. T lives five miles away and I help her in her garden, which is much bigger than mine, almost an acre, and she sells her vegetables and flowers at an outdoor market on Saturday mornings. When I'm not arguing with her I learn quite a bit from her considerable experience. There is a pool out here and it is covered for the winter but was opened up yesterday and the pool guy gets it going right and then I maintain it for the summer until it's time to cover it up ( a fabric covering which allows rain and melting snow to pass through but keeps out falling leaves and other debris). The water is still ice cold and will be for about another month but is nice to look at and occasionally put your feet in. The fact that I am living out here like a king is just further proof that fact is truly stranger than fiction. Hope you are doing well. It was nice to see you last week when JF flew me down in the private jet with him on his business trip. Also, remember, if the volume on the TV gets stuck too loud you can stick your fingernail around the edge of the little button on the TV that makes the volume go up and jiggle it and it will pop out and and then you can push the down volume button and adjust it to your liking. love, Jim.
Letter To Clifford, 4
These are letters to my mom written last year. I am on hiatus. Good books I have read or am reading, Crichton's, State of Fear, not by far his best writing but extremely thought provoking and a hell of a 5 or 6 page bibliography, with notes, at the end, A Paul Auster, I can't think of the name though, about a fireman drifting meeting a skinny card sharp, and they have adventures together, really good. And I'm in the middle of Jack London's, Sea Wolf, it really good, too.
Dear Mom, 3/30/05
Spring has sprung here in Virginia. Daffodils are blooming and Forsythia is coming on and there is this hedge surrounding my back porch which I think is called Winter Jasmine and it has yellow flowers all winter so there is a lot of yellow around here. For another month or so there is still the possibility of frost or snow so the only thing going in gardens right now is spinach, carrots, potatoes or other cool weather crops. T, my girlfriend, whom you've met twice, grows over an acre of vegetables and flowers so she has started over a thousand plants indoors under lights and is now starting to harden them off and they spend the days outside. They are grown in 18X24 inch flats, each of which holds fifty plants. She is also starting an asparagus bed this year and raspberries and blueberries and a few grapes.
As agent for J and LF I am this year undertaking the task of attracting a Purple Martin colony to the property (40 acres two hours west of Washington DC). I have been given the go ahead to purchase two more expensive four-room additions to go on the existing pole with one four-plex, which I put up a few months ago in anticipation of the May-June nesting season. Apparently, the attracting of Purple Martins is a somewhat exacting science and so in the four to six week window in which I have to attract Martin sub adults to their new home I will be playing a Martin dawn song bird tape in the hours preceding dawn (I will put the tape on a timer so I don't actually have to get up to start the tape every morning), and I may have to keep some of the birdhouse holes plugged until they are needed so that sparrow and other common birds don't invade, and I may have to smear a little mud around the openings and stick a little pine straw to it so it has that messy lived in look that Martins evidently like, and I have a couple of plastic Martin decoys to attach on or near the birdhouse, and I may for all I know have to put on a Purple Martin suit and sing a little song my ownself and maybe wear a sandwich board that says--Young Martins Welcome, or, Hey, Young Martins, If You Lived Here, You'd be Home Already.
I repainted a utility shed yesterday and it looks pretty damn good.
I hear that me and my four brothers and one sister were successful in getting you to graciously accept the idea of in-home help and that there is a young woman named Katrina Washington coming by a few hours every day. I hope she is to your liking or in the likely event that she is not exactly to your liking I hope you can find some peaceful middle ground on which to stand, and be peaceful, about it.
I received your Easter card last week. The card was nice even though Easter day itself was cold and rainy.
Take care--from your youngest 45-year-old son, Jim Louis.
Letter To Clifford, 3
J's wife, L, brought out here last summer two birdhouses. They had to be put together. One of them was octagonal, you know, eight-sided, and me and her and her oldest son (10) spent the better part of an afternoon screwing together the metal sides of the two tier birdhouse. So, each tier had eight sides, which meant 16 total sides for this birdhouse. There were 400 nuts and 400 bolts, so small that a person would be better served to have tweezers instead of fingers to handle them.
There used to be little rubber pads covering the bridge of my reading glasses but they are now lost so when I bend over they fall off. While I was helping to construct the birdhouse I had to keep pushing up on my glasses. When I started sighing L said I didn't have to do this if I didn't want to but you and I know she didn't exactly mean that. And anyway, I have a lot more than one or two sighs in me for any given job.
In addition to the difficulty presented by the large number of parts there was the danger of slicing off one or two fingers because the metal was thin, and sharp, like a steak knife. Telling her son, J, to be careful, was about as useful as yelling at a deaf person.
The F's, J and L and their three sons, J, A, and W, don't usually stay out here for the whole day, and so when they left that day last summer I still had a few mystery parts to add to the birdhouse. It was a mystery I was able to solve but then I had to consider the construction of a second birdhouse. The second birdhouse turned out to be much simpler, and studier, so I decided to erect it first, out in the back pasture. The problem with this studier birdhouse is that it only comes with four bird apartments as opposed to the other less sturdy birdhouse, which has sixteen. These are supposed to purple martin houses and you need more than four apartments if you expect to attract even a small flock the first year. And you start trying to attract them in March or April, depending on which part of the country you live in. This being February I thought I should start looking.
I looked on the Internet recently and found several suppliers for the sturdy birdhouse that is known as the American Heritage Quad Pod Purple Martin Birdhouse system. As the name (Quad) implies, each unit, sold separately, had four bird apartments. I had set up just one Quad (four apartments) and the pole can hold up to three more, for a total of sixteen purple martin apartments. I was thinking two more, for a total of twelve apartments, would be adequate. But on sale they cost $125 a piece (regular price--$175). I have the ability and permission to spend J and L's money for property related expenses but I'm not going to spend that much money on a birdhouse, without talking to them first.
I have some tree trimming to do today. Perhaps that will take my mind off of $700 birdhouses.
Take care, from your youngest 45 year old son, Jim.
Letter To Clifford, 2
Due to apparent fatigue or March Madness I am, instead of my usual drivel, posting letters I wrote to my mother last year. My mom died recently, just two weeks after me and my siblings took her from her home and put her in an assisted living facility.
Dear Mom, 3-24-05
I hope everything is going well for you, but as I have heard you say, even if everything is not going well, there's not a heck of a lot you can do about it.
After visiting with you in January and seeing the ease with which you make and carry out doctors appointments*, I decided to make one for myself today because I haven't had a check-up in 10 years and they say you should get checkups more often than that. It took me most of the day to get up the courage to make the call. There are only two doctors in this town and only one of them was recommended to me and predictably that one is booked clear into the next century. But his receptionist allowed me to go onto a waiting list, from which maybe they would call me, she said as long as two months from now. I told her if I had waited ten years I could wait another two months, but I'll probably look into making another appointment in one of the larger nearby towns, like Front Royal, or Culpeper, or Warrenton.
This property I live on is a weekend property and is owned by my old childhood buddy from down the street, JF, and he and his wife and three boys (ages 5, 8, and 10) come out when they can, or not at all in the winter, and maybe every other weekend during the summer.
The property is forty acres on the edge of the quaint Virginia town of Washington (population 300) and is named for the 17 year old surveyor, George Washington, before he became a revolutionary, and first president of the US. It is the first town to use the name Washington in the United States. And there aren't many or any facts about this town much more interesting than that, which is to say the town itself is not that interesting. But it is a nice, quiet, scenic place to live. Manassas, the place where the Civil War began, is about 35 miles away so in the area there is some interesting history.
There are deer and fox and wild geese out here. And black bears, but I have only seen one of those, once.
There is a local guy who makes hats from road kill, like foxes and squirrels and such. If this guy sees a dead animal on the road, he is thinking--hat. While this seems like a peculiar avocation, the hats, the few I have seen, are actually pretty nice looking. Not that you will ever see me wearing one.
I heard that Sar*h came to visit you in February so I hope you two had some fun.
I am writing this letter on a computer. I now have to print it out, put it in an envelope with a stamp, address it, and take it a block away to my Post Office. If you receive this letter it will be proof that minor miracles do occur.
from your youngest 45 year old son, Jim Louis
Letter To Clifford, 1
Phillis say no, Erica didn't have a baby so the baby thing can be a little more speciousness in a day that probably already had plenty.
Between the demands of the day job--painting high end new residential the last few weeks--and the side projects, I'm too tired or time constrained to do much writing so for my few NOLA junkies I'm posting separately the fifteen letters I wrote to my mom last year. Now the only thing holding me back will be do I have the energy to drive over to a St. Charles Ave. curb (my most recent reliable wifi corridor) in the evening, or do I get up a few minutes early of my usual 5:30 a.m. and do it before work.
My mom had progressing Alzheimer's the last couple of years of her 88-year-old life and so I repeat myself a lot over the course of the fifteen letters and any other brief explanation will be done inside of brackets. The girlfriend mentioned was pseudonym-ed Lorina in posts from that era and is referred to in the letters by her real initial, T. Right before I left for New Orleans we reached a point of irreconcilability.
For real-time posts out of New Orleans the best thing going is Editor B at Brox.com, I think, Google it. He lives a few blocks north of my Rocheblave residence, so check it out, and be sure (if you have some high speed) to watch his movie #93, righteous.
I got me now some Krispy Krunchy from the 24 hour Ideal/Spur, corner Galvez/Canal, and a mixture of bottled beers in the cooler behind me in the bed of the truck and last night I had some pretty average grocery store sushi from the first Mid-City area reopened super Supermarket, Save A Center at Bienville/Carrollton. We are at about the 7 month mark post-Katrina.
The rats are gone from the Dumaine house, now just a few mice. Talk to you later.
Feb. 7, 2005
Dear Mom, (did not send)
After I left your house on Bencrest, where I had been visiting you for more of January than you care to remember, I went to spend the night at brother Al*x's, and leaving at 4:30 that next morning I drove straight from Dallas to the town in which I live, Washington, VA., which is about 70 miles west of Washington DC and is situated up against the Shenandoah mountain range. It took me 22 hours driving straight with only a 30 minute nap somewhere after the halfway point, near Nashville, TN. If you count all the money I spent on strong coffee and various energy drinks, which cost over two dollars a can, you couldn't say I saved that much money from not staying in a motel for one night. But I was eager to sleep in my own bed so it seemed like a good idea at the time.
I arrived here at 2:30 in the morning of the next day and after taking a hot shower and a snort of whiskey I went to sleep for eight hours. I woke up feeling like I had just driven 22 hours followed by an eight hour nap. It had snowed here the day before so there was still some snow on the ground. I went hiking up in the Shenandoah mountains because I wanted to try out my new waterproof hiking boots that T got me for Christmas. The boots worked pretty well and so perhaps overconfident I went hiking the next day with T, to a mountain called Old Rag, which is considered one of the more difficult local hikes. A number of times I came to a place where I would say--well, I just can't do this, but T would show me a simple rock climbing maneuver and I would be good to go. We made it to the top and then back down just before it got really dark. There was still snow and ice on the trail and a few groups of people behind us who were leaving themselves some of the more difficult parts of the descending, to do in the dark. I was glad not to be one of them. I hope they all made it down, or slept up there. I have been sore for the last two days, and that is without ever falling down on the rocky trail.
I am starting back to work on JF's weekend property, which is where I live, maintaining the grounds and working on the two houses on forty acres.
Hope you are doing well,
from your youngest 45 year old son, Jim Louis.
Shootings, More Work, And Babies
Last week at the corner of Dumaine and Dorgenois a man was shot and then that man walked a mile to the First District police station at N. Rampart and St. Louis. The man was described as being reticent about the location and circumstances surrounding the incident. He said he had been shot somewhere near Orleans Ave. Police later interviewed the few neighbors existing in the area and found four or five shell casings on the ground at the Dumaine/Dorgenois corner, two blocks from Orleans. Perhaps only one of the bullets entered the man's side.
About ten days ago I reacquainted with Fermin after he came sauntering out of the Dumaine backyard with two of his little buddies. I have known Fermin since he was nine-years-old. He is now a few months shy of his twentieth birthday. A graduate of Clark High School where he played baseball and football, Fermin in his senior year in front of several thousand fans at Tad Gormley Stadium returned a kickoff for a hundred yards.
Did anybody touch you?
Nobody touched me, Mr. Jim.
Fermin was also in marching bands, playing the closest thing to a french horn most marching bands will permit, the mellifone? and also plays trumpet, if he had one, and is self taught on the keyboards, and would play that too if the six D batteries we purchased at the beerless Spur on N. Broad had been enough to make the the portable keyboard in M's Dumaine foyer work. But they weren't.
Fermin also likes to drink dacqueries (which I can't spell) at the lake with his girlfriends.
I don't drink 'em myself, Mr. Jim, I just get them for the ladies and then...
That's more than I need to know, Fermin.
That hairstyle I referred to the other day as long braids is not actually braids. The individual braid-like locks are called twists (which I know thanks to the diligent efforts of my research assistant; I can only ask Fermin so many direct questions about fashion).
The same day I reacquainted with Fermin I saw Snow. He was sitting on the steps of Esnard Villa crouched in the same way I showed him pictured up in the top left corner of this page where the cat sits, when I briefly ran revolving pictures up there. He has always a fathomless expression marked by black unblinking eyes. Jailhouse tattooed teardrops spot his black skin just below his left eye. I paused in the truck that day and called out to him.
You don't remember me, do you?
The faintest nod.
How you doing?
You doing all right?
(Was that a nod?)
All right man, I'll see you around.
The first Saturday I put Fermin to work on the Dumaine house I took him and my friend Laureen to Mother's for breakfast.
Sitting at one of the two tables by the kitchen and knowing that Fermin spent most evenings with his buddies somewhere on St. Ann, I said, Hey Fermin, did you hear about that shooting at Dumaine and Dorgenois?
He said, Oh yeah, that was Snow got shot.
Holy cow, who shot him?
Everybody that ends up on Dumaine wants to know when Mandy coming back. Yes, it's nice to see you, too. Mario (who, by the way, minding his own business, was also shot near the Dumaine/Dorgenois corner a year or two ago) and a few other well behaved boys I recognize but don't know that well, were gathered around Fermin as we finished up work the other day and they all want to know when Mandy coming back. I don't tell them not to lose hope, I'm sure she'll be back soon enough, and when she gets her house fixed up I'm sure she'll welcome you all back so you can have a safe house that people don't shoot at, yet, and you can all go about tearing the house up, again.
Somebody called out to me from over by Phillis's house on Sunday and I turned around to see a woman I did not truly recognize, walking across the street towards me. I went out to meet her in the middle of the street as she said, you don't recognize me, do you? I said, not really, and she said, it's Myrna (Shelton's mom). I kissed her on the cheek and told her she looked good and she said, when Mandy coming back? (nice to see you, too). I really been hoping to see Mandy to thank her for everything she done for me while I was in jail. I said, I'm sure she'll appreciate that, I'll tell her you were asking about her. She looked like someone who could really accomplish what she stated as her goal--not going back to jail.
Phillis's baby boy, D, is walking now, and is the king of Dumaine, next generation.
Oh, and Fermin told me this too--Erica had a baby. I haven't seen Erica since she was nine-years-old. I just loved that girl, but her aunt adopted her and took her off Dumaine because she felt the influences over there were not conducive to uprightness. Wow, what? she must be...? Thirteen or fourteen, Fermin said. Even as a one-year-old she had a remarkably mature bearing, and just amazing eyes, very worldly, as if she'd been here before, and seen the world turned asunder. I bet she'll be a good mom, probably very strict.