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On Your Last Nerve

May 4, 2010

I saw the pothole debacle on the show this week, as well as the Entergy debacle, and my ire went up all over again.

Oh, sure, we’re built on pudding here. The ground can shift and shimmy into interesting, subtle positions, making the asphalt paving above it give way when you least expect it … or, repairs can get started and then hastily abandoned in the name of not enough financing to continue.   Everyone ’round here has a story, not just about the ones that opened up, but also the ones that the city left hanging for quite a while.  And it’s still going on – just check the Fix This, Please section of the Times-Picayune online, or every Monday in the dead-tree edition, and you’ll see the craters in our streets that must still be avoided.

And I don’t even want to get started on Entergy, ’cause I’ll be here all day and night, otherwise … but the key with this latest episode of Treme is how to deal.

What came to my mind first was the following from Cheryl Wagner’s Plenty Enough Suck to Go Around, the saga of a New Orleans native’s, her boyfriend’s, and her two basset hounds’ return to New Orleans and their slow rebuilding of her flooded-out home in Mid-City:

We inaugurated the Get Aggravated the Fifth Time, Not the Third method.  But then we quickly had to up that five to ten.  It wasn’t exactly like letting go, though it was.  It felt more like learning to take a hit.

So when the hammer breaks in your hand and you drive to the hardware store to replace it but the hardware store flooded and never reopened and you finally find a place that is open and you have to get a thirty-dollar hammer or no hammer at all and you suck that up and grab the last one and head to the checkout and the telephone is still out so they only take cash and you go to the ATM and it’s smashed and then you finally, somehow, someway get cash and go back and get that golden hammer but also a nail in your tire, don’t get mad.  Just take the deepest breath of your life and figure out how to get that tire fixed.  When you go back home to discover you’re thirsty and out of bottled water and that Clo (the dog) ate some plaster, shit it on your mattress, and Buster (the other dog) ate it, then go throw some bricks at the collapsing shed.  Then cry like a baby into Clo’s fur.

So what that five hours have passed and you only managed to replace a hammer?  Call it a day.  Go find a friend’s shower hopefully and briefly collapse on her warm sofa afterward instead. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Strategies.  There are still strategies that must be employed to hold up your head another day, even after the gas line hasn’t been completely flushed out, killing your business at the restaurant for that night, and you go off to drown your sorrows.  Even if you are an insurance agent telling a hard-working man his insurance policy doesn’t mean what the man thinks it means, and confiding that you, as a continual bearer of the bad news, can’t get by without drinking.  Even if you drove into a gravel-filled cavern of a pothole that snapped your car’s rear axle like a twig, then entrusted a stranger in good faith to take care of your valuables inside only to come back to find your stuff missing and, also, to find that you can’t refrain from taking out the would-be Samaritan’s inflatable skiing Santa because you are fresh out of holiday cheer.  Even if you are holed up in your house because your workplace isn’t back yet and you can’t figure out what to do with all the ways in which you are full to bursting of how your home, your people, your reality has been, and continues to be, screwed over regularly.

What do you do when you are on your last nerve?

You find a way to cultivate a new one.  Any way you can.

  1. May 4, 2010 8:06 am

    What do you do when you are on your last nerve?

    1) Well, as Wyatt Cenac reported to Jon Stewart last night, we New Orleanians do what we do best when beset with troubles and iniquity: Drink.

    2) Dream like I did last night that I was out in New Orleans East and the rear of my car was stuck in a pothole.

    3) Trudge forward. What else is there to do?

  2. May 4, 2010 8:56 am

    It’s Apollo 13. Yeah, you got the ship flying straight, but now there’s no power. Okay, you fixed the power thing, but now it’s cold. Okay, you can deal with the cold, but now the carbon monoxide’s building up and your crew is starting to talk to pink bunny rabbits and recite Lewis Carroll. Okay, you have extra filters but they’re square and your holes are round. Okay, you’ve made an air filter out of a tube sock but now the computer panels might short out. Tell me this isn’t a government operation.

    And as Maitri says, you trudge forward. If all you can do, as an act of defiance, is to get up, if that is all you have is your ability to take more punishment than the next guy, then that’s what you have and that’s what you’ll use. You might not have heat and you might not have power and you might not have water and you might not have any idea where to go next but when they hit you, you get back up.


  3. liprap permalink
    May 4, 2010 10:45 am

    Still one of my favorite chalkboard messages in front of Henry’s bar on Magazine, up there with “We Take Lehman Brothers Stock” and “Free Balloon Rides” with a pic of the Balloon Boy’s supposed vessel:


    Seen ’round the time of the Gustav approach and evac.

  4. May 4, 2010 10:58 am

    The line I used to open my panel at RT last year, my local performance poet Raymond “Moose” Jackson from his recorded poem “O’Neil’s Lament”, about says it all: “I am not alright, but I am upright.”

    And let us not forget Ashmo, Entergy and the street tiles.

  5. May 4, 2010 11:00 am

    Moose Jackson’s O’Neil’s Lament.

  6. May 4, 2010 11:01 am

    Trying again with the HTML:

    Moose Jackson’s O’Neil’s Lament

  7. May 4, 2010 11:11 am

    It’s all your fault for living in New Orleans. If you lived somewhere else, you wouldn’t have problems. Well, maybe you would, but they wouldn’t be your fault because only the people who live in New Orleans are to blame for their problems except of course for poor people who are to blame wherever they live and come to think of it there are a lot of poor people in New Orleans who therefore must be to blame for the levees breaching. So quite blaming your problems on good corporate citizens like Entergy who, after all, are only people. The Supreme Court says so.

  8. liprap permalink
    May 4, 2010 11:28 am

    Heh. satirically attributed these words to former Entergy president Dan Packer (he didn’t actually say them, but the way Entergy’s still behaving towards NOLA residents, he could well have) :

    “Good faith is optional, but belief in quasi-public utility monopolies is mandatory.”

    Mandatory, my ass. Excuse me while I stick it to Entergy by installing some solar panels on my house.

  9. May 4, 2010 11:30 am

    Ain’t daid yet. Don’t plan to be for a long time. Deal with me.

    See, “They” think we”ll go away. But we won’t.

    Love, c.

  10. May 4, 2010 12:05 pm

    So, just got back from most frustrating appointment with incompetent eye doctor and an encounter with a rather nasty pothole. Up here in the OH.

    America may like to think it’s better than New Orleans, but would be more correct in viewing it as one of their own small rust belt towns with serious, conveniently-denied socio-economic problems.

  11. The Central Scrutinizer permalink
    May 4, 2010 5:19 pm

    One of the FYYFF shithole cities checking in here…

    I don’t know if America in general really thinks it’s better than NO, but for sure its perception of the city is colored by both its lack of understanding of the depth of culture, and because to us NO had always been a party city where we’d go for a some debauchery then leave a little money on the dresser on the way out.

    For many, Katrina changed all that. Not so much from media coverage of the disaster but from the diaspora of survivors who shared their stories. That human element got people to thinking differently about NO, a long-overdue consideration of it as on par with any great American city. I’m hoping that pieces like Treme and Lolis Eric Elie’s fine documentary further the education of us cultural knuckledraggers. Sure, part me would want to punch the late Ashley Morris in the throat for his shotgun indictments, but from reading blogs like this one I understand the frustration much better.

  12. Anita permalink
    May 5, 2010 12:31 am

    One of my favorite little finds in the street tile category is on a corner of Freret Street a few blocks downtown from Carrollton where Freret is identified as Elm. I always imagined that back, before it was named for Freret, it was Elm Street, which would fit in with Maple, Oak, Plum, and Willow along there but somebody missed a corner when changing the tiles and Elm it remains to this day.

  13. May 5, 2010 6:23 am

    The frustration of FYYFF hasn’t passed entirely, but it’s mostly reserved for the fuckmooks on the far right for who we are still a convenient whipping horse. I think that When the Levees Broke, Lolis’ documentary and Treme will continue to realign people’s thoughts about New Orleans. Still, America is full of people who wonder what they pay taxes for if the benefit doesn’t come back to us, and we’ll be an easy target for them. I ran into plenty of that when I was in North Dakota after the storm, a state that would have reverted back to empty plains grass without massive Federal agriculture subsidies and two unnecessary air bases, oh, and a huge flood protection project for the Red River of the North.

  14. May 5, 2010 8:05 pm

    I have never come so close to committing violence as I did to those relatives and other Nodaks who would smugly make a point of telling me how differently they handled everything with their flooding than those welfare handout lookers in New Orleans when they flooded. “We didn’t ask for nothing we helped ourselves we didn’t get nothing but we got up and fixed things neighbor to neighbor with God.”

    They just flat out were shocked when I ticked off every point where none of that was true. It really didn’t enter their minds that the money that came in from being declared a disaster area or from anything else had anything to do with taxes or the federal or the state or the county or the township monies. Even when they got those checks it didn’t occur to them that taxpayer money was involved.

    Love, C.

  15. May 5, 2010 11:00 pm

    Was it just a coincidence that the same week Davis hit a huge pothole, we got a new mayor who was quoted in the Times-Picayune talking about potholes. Mitch recalled the advice of father Moon, “And he said, you know, all these folks like you and they’re happy about you and that’s great. But on Monday, you own that pothole.” I think Dad’s right, Mitch: the honeymoon will be brief.

    We are a city peppered with potholes. And I’m not just talking about the streets, you know.

    Davis hit a big one this week, and we can be sure and others will hit more. Are the Treme writers aware of how symbolic that is? It makes us all wonder: Can we fix the streets? Can we fix this city?



  16. Scott Harney permalink
    May 6, 2010 11:36 am

    This episode hit the right notes for the time. Jannette’s scenes in particular resonated with me as did the pothole frustration. You take the generic level of dysfunction you find in a typical urban area, layer in nola’s natural propensity for additional incompetence, and then multiple that by 1000. You trudge on but it’s death by tiny paper custs and you wonder, like Janette did, if it’s all futile because it will never get back to the way it way anyway. And it may never get back to anything worthwhile at all. Man, I remember feeling like that.

    And of course some of that gets expressed with rage — beating up a blow-up figure, FYYFF yelled at all the people who assailed us from without.

    The music, as always, was superb. I really like the way they take the time to let the songs stretch and play. I like it that all the recordings are live and you can hear that. And I got a good chuckle out of Delmond’s comment: “Portland. yeah. nice town. nice people. But you know they clap on the 1 and 3 up there” Particularly funny just a few days after jazzfest ending.


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