A Long, Strange Trip

Oct 16, 2005 by

Well it seems that we may well be home soon. Either this weekend (hopefully) or right after Halloween we shall depart the village of Dobbs Ferry, and the 38 minutes of train into Manhattan, for the struggling remains of our fair city.

I wanted to write something that explains my feelings right now, but then I stumbled across this piece of work I did for WWOZ. I think that putting it up will be appropriate (even though it is about two weeks old) as a substitute. I do not have the inspiration needed to wax eloquent right now. I am tired. Tired of seeing what has happened to my home. Tired of learning second hand of the lossses my friends have suffered. Tired of only being able to write about it.

Despite the awful realities we will return and rebuild as best we can. The following article explains why. I do not miss the NOPD, the friends who have lost their souls to intoxication, or the many other downsides of the city. But there is so much more that easily counterbalances these things. We will be back, and if we make it before the Day of the Dead we will be wearing white on Piety St. as we show our respect for those who did not make it as well as our resolve to rebuild.

Anyway, without further ado here is that article. Make of it what you will:

Adrift in New York

“If it keeps on raining the levees going to break
If it keeps on raining the levees going to break
When the levee breaks, got no place to stay.”

-Led Zeppelin

The buildings of New York City rise above me as I wander through the streets, some old and historic like our own but titanic by comparison. This area of the country is steeped in history, ancient by the standards of the USA, but still shiny and new compared to home. There is a lot of rich history here, but NYC did not exist above 10th Street when New Orleans was already a thriving port city steeped in music and culture. I miss the aged buildings of the Vieux Carre, attributed to the French despite their Spanish ancestry. The lack of live oaks and Spanish moss gives nature here a sharper edge. New Orleans I miss you terribly.

I am surrounded by a cacophony of languages and ethnicities yet nowhere do I hear the soft edged and humid speech of the Crescent City. People here are wonderful to us, but my friends are scattered to the corners of America and only a very few who made it to the Big Apple are accessible. Despite my friends here I feel unbearably lonely.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this crazy town with its endless ranks of buildings, gruff but compassionate people, and something new everywhere you look. I’m better off than many that ran this far for I have lived here before and know my way around. I still know the F Train to Brooklyn and Coney Island. I know Nathan’s hotdogs are the best in the world. I know that coffee and chicory can be found in Chinatown if you know where to look. There is so much to love here, but there is no Midsummer Mardi Gras. There is no Olivier’s Restaurant to get Creole Rabbit in Oyster Dressing. There is no walking down the street to see friends in every block, ready for a beer or a crawfish boil. It is not home.

I am a man cast adrift. I have become, as my fiancée has pointed out, “the strange thing in everyone’s day.” When people here ask me how I broke my hand and I answer, “running from Katrina,” I can see the shock and horror on their faces. Suddenly it becomes real for them and not just a newscast. A woman at the corner store noticed my accent and asked me where I was from. When I said New Orleans she said, “Oh my God!” and gave me ferocious hug.

I’m so weary of the news, the nonstop barrage of acrimonious spin management. Weeks of nonstop newscasts have left my eyes red and my soul weary. The sight of buildings I know intimately now submerged and drained and re-submerged by Rita (like the Hi Ho Lounge on St. Cluade where I met my wife to be) repeated over and over by a media that only cares about milking the drama for all its worth has begun to numb me. But I intend to return.

A world without New Orleans does not bear contemplating. When New York City did not exist above 10th St. New Orleans was a thriving port and center of culture for North America. When Chicago was undeveloped wilderness, music reverberated through our streets. It is a city that straddles this world and another stranger land, a world of pirates and rogues and parties that greet the dawn. It is a city of decadent opulence and bone crushing poverty. It is a place where people, “make groceries,” rather than shop. Only there could street gangs evolve into Mardi Gras Indians. Only there could the rhythms of Congo Square have changed the face of music across America. Only in New Orleans.

For weeks I have been disillusioned. The constant reports of murder, rape, and looting have torn my heart from my chest over and over again. As any native can tell you the best days in New Orleans are the ones right after a flood or hurricane. Those are the days when everyone is, “in it together.” Those are the days when people join together, sharing resources, cooking and drinking together while they are united by shared adversity. I was disappointed in my fellow New Orleanians for failing to take care of each other.

I no longer feel this way. Instead I am disappointed in myself for buying into the hype. Current reporting from the Times-Picayune’s website states plainly that the, “piles of bodies,” in the Superdome attributed to violence actually totaled six. Four of those six died of natural causes. My friend Karl told me of watching gun toting “gangsta,” kids aiding an old woman as she struggled through waist deep water, helping her to a dry porch above the water line and securing supplies for her. The people of New Orleans DID step up to the plate. I doubt that major media will provide a recap that includes these facts. It is conventional wisdom that only bad news sells.

Time shall continue its march. The water’s are receding, the black mold and mildew will eventually be banished, and many of us will return because New Orleans is not just a place- it is a state of mind. It will require a lifetime, but we are a hardy people. Generations of living in the subtropical swamps have bred us to be resilient and stubborn, a trait that the people of New York share.

Mardi Gras will arrive on the 28th of February and it will bring healing, the healing of a city’s soul. The Krewes will march, green chartreuse will be imbibed, and a wild healing decadence will hold sway even if there are only a few of us to do it.

So raise your glasses and drink deeply, be you southerner or yank, white or black, democrat or republican. Raise your glasses and toast us and our fair city of roguery and romance for we are scattered but we are not destroyed.

Catharsis is essential.

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