Do What You Feel Friday!: Suck the Head for New Orleans

June 1, 2007 at 9:23 pm | Posted in America, Bush, DWYFF!, New Orleans | 2 Comments

crawfishboil3.jpg(This one’s way long.  To skip the BS and get to this Friday’s big recommendation, scroll down until you see Rosie Ledet’s delicious legs.) 

Things have not gone as planned.  Eventually, these feelings were to subside.  The lust for fried eggplant dripping with crawfish sauce would pass.  The sousaphone pumping through my head would take a break.  The dreams and the longings; the taunting thoughts that each day away from New Orleans is a day wasted.  All of this would go away. 

But if anything, conditions only worsened.

It’s been a month since we returned from Jazz Fest, our first trip to New Orleans since The Thing.  We’ve been to five Fests now, and while I realize the city is hardly the utopia that we tourists experience, I can’t get past the fantasy that it is the place for me.  The place I should be, now more so than ever.

This long-standing obssession once focused on the obvious – the music, the characters, the sunshine, and the food.  Proximity to the Peacemaker Po Boy at Acme’s.  Sharing the jukebox at Igor’s with a semi-deranged drunk who’s never been outside the city.  The ability to hit Vaughan’s any Thursday night and hear Kermit Ruffins

I’d stream WWOZ each morning and listen in agony as the DJ read the ‘LiveWire’ – the lineup of that night’s acts.  “Now go listen to some live music, baby.”  But how can I?  I’m all the way up here

(The fact that all the ladies call you ‘baby’ is better than anything the frosty northeast has to offer.  In Lowell, I’d be satisfied if a stranger walking by called me ‘mother-fucker.’  At least it would constitute some form of recognition, and maybe there’d even be a little eye contact thrown in.)

ruffinsmayfield.jpgLately, this NOLA obssession has been exacerbated by some lame but undeniable purpose-driven life shit that’s simmering, percolating, and bubbling to the surface of my soul.  It’s one thing to turn your back on the seductive LiveWire voice.  “No no, Ms. DJ.  Bonerama at the Maple Leaf sounds like an awfully neat time.  But I’ve got a Life here.  I’ve got Responsibilities.  A Foundation.  Family and Structure.”

But turning your back gets more difficult as the temptations grow more serious.  And since The Thing, the temptations have reached epically-serious levels.  The city is a less-pathetic but equally desperate version of the starving, homeless guy dying on the street corner, gasping, “Brother, can ya spare a dime?”  And everyone’s just passing by.

(As I finish this sentence, Pandora has launched the song “Don’t U Wish” by Rebirth Brass Band“Don’t you wish you could be like a Rebirth Brother?”  Come on now fellas, that’s just mean.  Of course I do, but I’m stuck being a white nerd in Massachusetts.  No need to rub it in.)

If I was to go ahead and uproot my life by moving to New Orleans, I’m not exactly sure what that would accomplish.  I don’t allow my mind to travel that route anyway, as it’s just not feasible.  The time for such endeavors is when you’re young and free, and I’m neither young nor free.  Which is not a complaint.  It’s just the way Life is. 

But I sure do wish I could do something.  Something beyond spending my tourist dollars.  Something of significance.  Because right now, no one’s doing shit.

It may not be in good taste to compare tragedies, but Lucy the Blog crossed the threshold of good taste a long time ago.  So I feel OK crowning The Thing as the greatest tragedy of my lifetime.  Clearly, the only other contender is 9/11, which would win if I was measuring by drama and not impact.  It would also win if I was including Iraq as part of 9/11, but truly 9/11 only gave the opportunity for Captain Stupid to put 2 and 2 together to make 5 and send us into this idiotic war.  Maybe the Bush presidency is the greatest tragedy of my lifetime, now that I think about it.  But let’s regain focus here.

While life supposedly changed for all of us on 9/11, that only lasted for about 10 minutes.  At the end of the day, it was a contained disaster that temporarily inured, but did not cripple, a major city.  The true sufferers – the people still feeling 9/11 every day – were those who lost friends and family.  But again, that’s a limited number of people.  And while the victims were randomly selected – people at the wrong place at the wrong time – that’s not all that different from getting mowed down by a drunk driver, which happens every day.

indian1.jpgAllow me to take this increasingly inappropriate comparison one step further and note that the reaction to 9/11 also diminishes it in my assessment.  At least 9/11 got a lasting reaction.  We will never forget, we said!  We still say it today, even if not forgetting is a fairly meaningless tribute.  The President will never forget.  He was so moved by 9/11 that he started a war that will screw us for decades, send us to the poor house, and kill more Americans than were killed in the original tragedy.  Those people who died in Washington, New York, and Pennsylvania at least had the honor of being ‘never forgotten.’

Meanwhile, a city – a major U.S. city! – struggles for survival in complete obscurity.  Sure, Regis and Kelly go down there for a week and rip a few bong hits on Bourbon Street.  And NFL Today does a recovery feature at halftime of the Saints game.  But beyond that, does anyone even give a thought to what’s going on in the Gulf Coast? 

Less than two years later, President Bush couldn’t even find a spot to mention The Thing in his 2007 State of the Union speech.  Did he mention Baby Einstein?  Yes he did.  Did he give a shout-out to Dikembe Mutombo?  Absolutely.  Yet nary a word of lip service on New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, recovery efforts, etc.  Zilch.  Zero.  Nada.

Of course, Captain Stupid is only the head of this Holy Trinity of Incompetence, joined by Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and Mayor Ray Nagin.  And admittedly, the people of the city didn’t help themselves much by re-electing Nagin.  But this is largely the problem.

I don’t blame those three losers for The Thing, and I’ll even give them the benefit of the doubt for their mismanagement of the immediate days that followed.  Obviously they all screwed the pooch, but mistakes happen.  Live and learn.

What I cannot understand is the complete absence of leadership today, two years later.  I may have mentioned this, but we’re talking about a major U.S. city that was obliterated.  It goes beyond a tangible, accountable death toll.  This was a complete infrastructure turned on its ear.  And that should mean something.  That should inspire action.  Policy.  A Plan.  What’s the fuckin’ plan, boys?

bushnagin.jpgWhere is the Al Gore of New Orleans recovery?  Someone who would be to New Orleans what Al is to global warming.  Whether you agree with him or not, Gore made himself the face of that issue.  He owns it, and right or wrong, he’s beaten its drum mercilessly.  He refuses to be ignored.

Why has no major figure adopted the New Orleans cause with such tenacity?  It boggles the mind.  Hopeless bureaucrats fiddle fruitlessly, and the only people who really do anything are The People.  But those people are tired and they’re broke and they’re hooked on anti-depressants and they’re reeling and they can only do so much before they lose their shit altogether.  Can’t some bigshot come up with A Plan?  Is that entirely unrealistic?

Perhaps New Orleans is not worth it.  That seems to be the perception.  It was sort of a dump to begin with, and they had so many problems already.  Plus, another hurricane will wipe them off the map eventually, so what’s the point?

This could be a reasonable premise if not for the fact that the government’s sole purpose seems to be to throw good money at bad.  Iraq is the most obvious example.  If New Orleans got a sniff of the money that’s being pissed away in the Middle East, it would be a fine start.  Violent crime is getting worse and will probably reach new lows now that the National Guard is pulling out.  I’m no xenophobe; in fact, I’m not even sure what that word means.  It sounds cool though because it starts with an X.  Like xylophone, which I’m also not. 

But I would much rather invest in the future of New Orleans than the future of Iraq.  Train Iraqi police or shore up the heavily-depleted, much-needed NOPD?  Build schools in Baghdad or Lakeview?  That’s not much of a choice.  Moreover, putting some effort toward New Orleans would seem to be more in line with the responsibilities of the U.S. government.  (Now, if you gave me the choice between Iraq or Texas, that might be a different story…)

I don’t know, I just don’t get it.  These people might not have had much down there, but they had something.

On our last morning before the painful drive back to Louis Armstrong Airport – errr, actually I’d just eaten three beignets at Cafe Du Monde and smoked a joint on the Mississippi, so I guess it wasn’t that painful – we got a full ‘devastation tour’ led by our friend Amy, who grew up in New Orleans.  She took us to three affected neighborhoods: one upper-class, one middle, and one lower.

The lower-class neighborhood was the Lower Ninth Ward, which you’ve undoubtedly heard about.  I’m no technical expert, but I guess the Lower Ninth is closest to one of the levees that broke, and those people were totally fucked.  And remain quite totally fucked.

Seeing that area was depressing but expected.  In words and even pictures, it’s tough to accurately describe.  But mostly it’s just barren.  Blocks and blocks of nothingness.  Deathly silent.  Lots of concrete stairs and concrete patios that lead to nowhere, rising up from overgrown grass and weeds.  Several boarded up houses, but many streets lined simply with emptiness.  And the streets suck.  Throughout the city, the potholes alone are enough to drive you loco.  Apparently there’s just not enough money to fix them right now.  As another sidenote, one thing I did not realize was how far the Lower Ninth is from the Superdome.  When I envisioned these people trying to walk there, I had an image of a mile or two walk.  I don’t know how many miles it actually is, but surely many of them didn’t have a chance.  Especially since they were walking through eight feet of sludge.

The middle-class neighborhood was more depressing, but only because it was not expected.  I knew that plenty of people were in bad shape, but this is just re-goddamn-diculous.  It’s the American suburbia many of you grew up with, turned into Dresden.  On these streets, some people have the money and will to rebuild, but many don’t.  So you’ll see a few houses where some poor saps are really trying to make a go of it.  They’ve pruned the bushes and replaced the roof and they’re giving it their all.  They’re rebuilding!  And yet they’re surrounded by a virtual wasteland.  Their neighbors and their community are gone, and they can’t rebuild that, regardless of their determination.

There’s definitely a chicken-and-egg, Catch-22 thing happening down there.  The population is about half of what it was before The Thing.  And people are wary of returning to the same levee system and political ineptitude that drove them out in the first place.  In many neighborhoods, there’s not much to return to.  And there won’t be unless people return.  So whaddya do?  I have no idea.

Actually, I do have a couple.  So on this Do What You Feel Friday, I encourage you to feel like helping New Orleans.  You can do it!

rosie1.jpgDespite all the bad news I’ve just laid on you – at far too great of length, I realize – you can easily go to New Orleans and have a kickass weekend.  In the French Quarter and the Garden District, you’d hardly know a drop of rain had ever fallen.  The club scene is flourishing and your head will explode trying to figure out which bands to see during your visited stay.  So go!  Do it!  They need yer dollars, and you need their spirit.  It’s a match made in heaven.  Book a trip today.  Right now!  I’ve never been in the fall, but I hear it’s lovely.  And Halloween’s apparently a blast down there.  Might I recommend the Terrell House?

If you don’t have the funds to book a trip today, why not bring New Orleans to you?  Anyone can have a barbeque.  Grilling is so last weekend.  Instead, go ahead and host the biggest crawfish boil this side of the Mason-Dixon line.  Act now, because the crawfish season ends in the beginning of July.  But until then, you can order them from Louisiana Crawfish Company, and the little bugs’ll be alive and kicking when UPS leaves them at your door.  Don’t worry, they want to die!  So boil’ em with some corn and potatoes, pick up some Abita beer, and rest assured, you’ll feel reeeeeal nice.

You’ll need music though.  And don’t you dare buy it from Amazon.com or iTunes.  Spending your money feels so much better when you can somehow rationalize it as being toward a good cause.  The expenses of this boil should all go straight to New Orleans, one way or another.  So hit the Louisiana Music Factory website.  You’ll need plenty o’ tracks, and this diverse collection will work just fine: Doctors, Professors, Kings, and Queens: Big Ol’ Box of New Orleans.

You should have some sexy gear for your boil, too.  My in-laws gave me this ‘reNew Orleans’ T-shirt, and whenever I wear it, the bitches say I look fine.  I kinda love all these shirts at the Dirty South site.  And Tide detergent is donating homes to NOLA from the proceeds of this shirt if you’re into that weird brand-name fad from a couple years ago (Oooh, a Cheerios T!  How ironic!)

reneworleanst.jpgNow the day after your boil, once you’ve come down from the high of giving your friends the best night of their lives, you may need to spend some time in the bathroom.  Don’t be ashamed.  Your stomach just isn’t used to the goodness that is New Orleans.  So take your time, and stock up on some reading material.  Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose put together a heartbreaking yet inspirational collection of his Katrina-related work, ‘1 Dead in Attic,’ and it’s available at Octavia Books.  I’ve also heard good things about ‘Why New Orleans Matters,’ though I’ve never read it myself.  Or maybe you should have a subscription to Offbeat magazine to keep you abreast of all the funky New Orleans sounds, some of which might be coming your way.

So that’s that.  Do something for our brothers and sisters down south this Friday, baby.  And if you have any other suggestions for ways to help out, feel free to leave them in the comments.

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  1. […] support you and the war on terror.  And I prayed for you when you made that error.  This is not the enemy, this is from a friend.  Bring our boys home and in the end we all […]

  2. It’s surprising that this troop withdrawal is receiving decidedly less fanfare than the Iraq withdrawal plan, considering troops are withdrawing from an American city. . .


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