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Working For It

April 19, 2010


Every character is working their fucking ass off! These people are hustling and scrambling. Kermit Ruffins makes it look easy enough, and you can tell that it comes more natural to some of them (Toni, Janette) than others (Antoine, Davis)  but they are all having to bust ass just to get the simplest things taken care of. Everything is harder, more expensive, farther away, and takes longer to do than it ever did before.


New Orleans is a place where people “fucking live.”  So are Chicago and Wichita and Dallas and Sacramento, but those are places where home cooks don’t season their food properly, where you can live your whole life and never hear music played outside, where people clap on 1 and 3, and that matters. Appreciating what is here and only here is not an infallible tenet of hipsterism: it’s being alive and awake.  Ray says he’s in exile. How many people are trying to crawl back to New Orleans any way they can? How many people don’t yet know they belong here?  How many people will watch the show and realize that they’ve been asleep their whole life?

I have friends who come to visit me who cannot believe I can live here. Right now, outside my window, a siren’s wailing and my crackhead neighbors’ two chihuahua-pom-shit-zu-things are yapping at something only they can see and I can hear the echo of my upstair’s neighbor’s TV. Mercifully, she and I like the same music and she rarely brings home crowds of partiers because I can hear a lot of what goes on upstairs. The bedrooms are tiny. The plaster in the living room is coming off the ceiling and the back door never has shut right and the closets are weird because, I dunno, people in the 1920s didn’t need closets? Why do all closets in all old places suck?

The kitchen is too small and the bathroom is WAY too small and there is nowhere to park. Bikes crowd the streets anyway, it’s safer to ride except it snows all the fucking time, like 8 months out of the year. It’s insane. For what we paid for this shithole we could have gotten half an acre, a lawn, a garage, somewhere tolerably warm.

So why don’t we have that? Because the bedroom looks out on a courtyard and the sparrows nesting on the house next door are close enough to touch; their cheepings wake me at dawn every day. Because the light down the street when the sun first breaks over the skyline makes me want to believe in God. Because one rainy Saturday a couple of weeks ago we went to see a Swedish movie and then ended up at a Scottish pub drinking whiskey we could feel in our fingertips. Because a train away is a museum full of Cezanne and Degas and Monet (and other stuff, if you’re into that, but my inner dorm room is, cliché though it may be, full of water lilies) and another one full of dinosaur bones and then there’s the haze over the lake as people jog on the pier.

Why don’t we have that house with the yard and the roof that doesn’t leak and the hot water that comes out of the pipes hot and four guest rooms and the dishwasher and the whirlpool tub? Because we don’t. Because we all have places we fit, and when I was nine years old my father brought me down here and I fell in love with the canyons of the tall buildings and never fell out. People my age scheme to get away from the city; I wake Mr. A up at 6 a.m. with schemes to get farther in. Maybe if we sold this place and all our stuff we could afford an even smaller and shittier shithole in Lincoln Park, where we could have a porch so close to the train we could touch it as it roared past us at 3 a.m. That would be fun.

This isn’t a “whose city is the coolest” contest. I love Chicago like my own left breast, but even I say: New Orleans wins. And this isn’t me saying my search for a parking spot compares to the day-to-day fight people in NOLA faced after Katrina, I mean, Jesus.

But Treme is becoming, to me, a story about a place you have to battle for, and why you’d battle for it, and that’s a story I want to hear every night for the rest of my life. Why it’s yours, when to somebody else it’s a horror show. Creighton Burnette shouting at the idiot TV guy: How can you not see how glorious this place is? Because he’s not you, in the city he’s in. He didn’t feel that snap into place, like a train changing tracks, that you felt as you walked down the street you’d one day live on. All he can see is the garbage. All he can hear is the noise. And that’s not unusual; like I said, I have friends that think I’m just refusing to grow up.

That’s everybody’s story. The kids Davis sends to Bullets are wide open to it, looking: Is this a place I can dive into, and drink deep from? Their cluelessness leaves them open to contempt, but given the chance, by the show, by the city, they fall hard, and once fallen, they belong. Delmond’s been out of it a while, so it takes him some time, and it hurts, a little, rubs on the places where it no longer fits, but in the end he’s there, relaxing into the music, feeling home. LaDonna’s mom could live somewhere close to doctors, hospitals, her grandkids; this is her home. Janette by rights ought to have the greatest kitchen money can buy in some swanky Manhattan building; instead she, at the age of 40 or whatever, is begging her parents to get her through. Why? Why work so fucking hard?

Not everybody wants to hear music played outside every day or have speaker wars with their neighbors or steal back their own music and tools or slice up Hubig’s Pies for dessert in a restaurant or shovel shit and pay the water bill in a bar they don’t even own. For some people, that’s too much work. But to make it understandable to them, you have to show them the glory. To hustle, to scheme, to fight to get back to a place that makes you work that hard to just fucking live, there has to be something pretty goddamn extraordinary at the other end of the equation waiting for you. And that’s the music you heard as you first fell in love, that’s the food you ate when your mom cooked for you when you were sick, that’s the sun breaking over the skyline you saw when you first felt invincible.


  1. April 19, 2010 7:32 pm

    My rabbi recently tucked a small anecdote into a sermon of hers about a friend from her former city of residence who came down and fell in love with New Orleans…until said friend saw one of our grocery stores here and turned up her nose. The aisles weren’t wide enough, there weren’t enough varieties of food or quality produce, too much of the local flavor for her taste, blah blah blah.

    I know my parents and my in-laws would never live here; even when they were very young, it just wouldn’t have been an option for them. I also know that, when we were living in central Queens in an apartment a fraction of the size of our place here, my grandmother turned up her nose because it wasn’t what she had ever been taught to aspire to. Why weren’t her grandchildren in a three-bedroom split-level out on LonGuyland, like she was? What the hell was WRONG with us? How could we possibly be content with our tight lot? How could we have moved out of the high-rise on Queens Boulevard with its wall-to-wall carpets and its nice clean kitchen with all the latest appliances? Who in hell does that?

    So folks like you and me, A, may subscribe more to a Raskolnikov-style “love without some suffering ain’t true love” kind of thing for the places in which we live. As far as the majority of the population in this country is concerned, we’re crazy ’cause we’re not living easy by THEIR standards. But oh, what they don’t know…

  2. Danielle permalink
    April 19, 2010 7:39 pm

    So, so true.

  3. April 19, 2010 7:45 pm

    One of these days you and I will run off together and D and Mr. A will have to cry into their Great Dane beers or something.

    “something pretty goddamn extraordinary at the other end of the equation waiting for you”

    For me, it’s simply that New Orleans exists and is home to so many. HOME. I am envious of people who can live where they feel at home.

  4. Virgotex permalink
    April 19, 2010 8:06 pm

    I am lucky to have lived in “a city that lives in the imagination of the world” – NY, as well as a place as unique as Austin. Both those places taught me about loving people, as in humanity. But my feet feel most at home here in the limestone hills. And yeah, I know beter than to try and explain it to some people. Bit like I said, I’m lucky to have lived in places I was in love with. There’s nothing else like that.

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