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When I came home from the party, everything had changed

June 13, 2010

Depending on your dictionary, when you look up “tradition,” you may find one of its obsolete forms:

“a surrender or betrayal.”

From the Latin “traditionem,” accusative case of “traditio” – the act of handing over, of passing on.

No matter how we’d like to think so, with our partying like there’s no tomorrow, tomorrow will always be here.  It’s us that might not.  Time remains, it’s us that are future dust, us that time leaves behind.

“meanwhile”: n. The intervening time.

Our persistent illusions that we can hold it back, stretch it, redirect it, meander in its slipstreams, are not unlike our notions of holding back great lakes, long rivers, swamps. We don’t always lose, but when we do, we pay dearly.

“Any minute, mama.”
“Shoulda put the gumbo on but I can’t till they get here.
Once I get started with that roux, I’m stuck.”

The sun rises and sets. The clock ticks, the calendar pages turn, the feast days come and go.  We surrender and let the time flow underneath us, alongside us, between us.  And we build bridges, from steel, ritual,  music, food. Acts of handing over, of passing on that which we were given, at least what we’ve managed to hold on to till now.

When LaDonna’s mom says she’ll wait to go to the parades next year, when everyone’s finally back, we see LaDonna didn’t fall far from the tree.  Just as she refused to bring Daymo’s death home to ruin her mother’s Carnival, so too does her mother try to wield control by sitting out as much of it as she can. Just because there might be no tomorrow doesn’t mean she has to settle for this day. Last year, that’s the one she’ll remember for now, that was a good one. Not this nobody together at the same time coming and going ghost town Mardis Gras. And sure as hell not moving to no Baton Rouge Mardi Gras. Last year, now let me tell you, Daymo walked in that door at 11 a.m. sharp. That boy was always on the dot.

all the sunlit faces
marching through the crowd

all the sunlit faces
marching through the crowd
all that day and all that night
our dead friends walked
into the streets
their faces in the doorways
like a mirror to your photographs
they mingled with the crowds until
the living and the dead became
each other

The Creighton story line is creeping me out, as a ghost story should. It seems out of sequence and not moving toward or away: the rants, the wrestling with the book, don’t seem to carry any more weight than the pleasant enough, albeit muted interstitials of Bernette family life. Then we lurch into another Toni-goes-looking-for-Creighton scene. We hold our breath expecting to see Creighton has checked out one way or another but then he’s not. And we keep breathing and life goes on in the big house full of tasteful empty. It seems more like a loopy cycle than a descent, left on repeat till someone turns it off.

“It’s really creepy.”
“It’s good to get out and see the destruction. It’s good.”

So says Creighton the Friendly Ghost, missing and mourning his pinhole camera construct of a great city that lives on in the imagination of pretty much just Creighton. It’s fitting that when he appears to be his truest self – his video rants – he’s just a floating head. Creighton Bernette’s last known address, c/o The Isle of Denial.  It’s good to get out and see the destruction because it confirms, not denies his tortured view of the romantic treasured imperfection of a New Orleans ruined by the idiocy and greedy piracy of others, and most especially by their clumsy ignorance of what made it worth living there in the first place.

I want to go back
and die at the drive in

Die before strangers can say,
‘I hate the rain.’

Written about another ruined city stolen by outsiders. By someone who moved away and then wrote about it, rather than actually dying.  But Creighton can’t move, not the FYYFF guy. And the only thing he can write is himself further and further into a corner. He’s losing a little bit more every time reality pushes him back further into his head.  And it’s not like he was really ‘from here’ to begin with.

People being people, we like to try to unbraid things, try to delineate between character defect and illness. I alternate between feeling angry at Creighton and Toni because they are surrounded by privileges and resources while others are dying for the lack of them, and then I relent and see them as all the more tragic because of it.  Mostly I see a man in need of medication. Also, a family with more of an appetite for, rather than a connection to, the culture they are immersed in.  For Creighton, tradition seems to be about rigor and mastery, not very much about surrender. Really though, who can tell what it is for him now? I see a family not realizing they’ve lost their mooring, not realizing how far they’ve floated away on the current.

“I’m just not feeling it.”

It’s an odd gesture he makes, taking off the mask and putting his glasses back on, because it makes him no less blind to what is happening all around him. He bemoans the skimpiness of the crowds, the differences, the missing.  And we know, we see with our own eyes, all around him people have come together in spite of a great fucking many obstacles. Creighton can only see the empty spaces in between all the extraordinary, gloriously deliberate surrender to life noisily happening around him. Not that far from where he walks as a free, albeit satirically clothed man, another man who would gladly trade places with him, in majestic dress prettier than anyone else in town, is in jail.  A real jail, not just one in his head.

In any other house, in another family, maybe someone would notice more, but they seem okay with empty spaces in the Bernette house. If everybody know everybody, why don’t the Bernettes seem to know anyone else? And Toni, why so fearful the next morning of what Sophie might see? Her dad, the day after Mardi Gras, impossibly hungover? Sad yes, but certainly not the only hungover dad in the city that morning. No sadder, Toni, than the somber little lonely supper the night before. If the Bernettes were people of faith, it seems they’d know better than to take up the sackcloth and ashes before midnight. When time hands you a get out of jail free card, you use it.

“Thank you for yesterday. That was nice.  I needed a real day off.”
“Yeah that’s pretty much a normal day for me…”
“I know! That’s the problem with New Orleans. Too many people live like you.”
“Au contraire. Not enough people do.”

21 Comments
  1. June 13, 2010 3:34 pm

    And we keep breathing and life goes on in the big house full of tasteful empty. It seems more like a loopy cycle than a descent, left on repeat till someone turns it off.

    If I had written just these two sentences, I could take the rest of the month off and feel satisfied.

    You capture the Bernettes and a whole lot more.

    Thank you, girl.

  2. June 13, 2010 3:49 pm

    Isn’t that the truth! American needs it some Virgotex! Wow.

  3. Martin permalink
    June 13, 2010 4:07 pm

    I spent about a year in and around New Orleans until last August when I returned to my home in Oregon.

    The thing is, I didn’t like the area much – at first. ‘Way too flat. ‘Way too hot. ‘Way too somethin’.

    But after awhile it got to me. The big old Live Oaks, reachin’ out. The History. The great old houses. The not-so-great old houses. The music. Everywhere. The almost endless food. Everywhere. The wounds that still show, from Katrina and other events, physical and non. The ‘suchness’ of the place.

    Wouldn’t, couldn’t live there full-time, but it has a place in my heart now and ‘Treme’ massages that place every week. Hope it keeps on keepin’ on for awhile….

  4. June 13, 2010 4:17 pm

    virgotex, I love your description of LaDonna and her mother, talk about control issues. It’s the survival of the fittest, and the ones who give up control drop off at such a vulnerable time & place. That’s one reason why New Orleans is strengthened now, the ones left have a firm mission and deep love and appreciation of life. And, yes, we the viewers of Treme are set up to think the Creighton family has a sadness to it. You must not have been out in the sun too long today, this is beautifully written. thanks, sp

  5. June 13, 2010 5:35 pm

    If the Bernettes were people of faith, it seems they’d know better than to take up the sackcloth and ashes before midnight. When time hands you a get out of jail free card, you use it.

    And this is the hardest thing to do, in the throes of the worst of the worst times, because all you can do, locked in your dark mental room, is think about what’s going to come tomorrow and get you. That today may be a good day is completely irrelevant, that there may be more good than bad in a Mardi Gras party doesn’t matter. Tomorrow’s looming. It’s the knot in your stomach Sunday afternoon, thinking of Monday morning. Times a thousand.

    A.

  6. June 13, 2010 5:43 pm

    This is a good post.

  7. rickngentilly permalink
    June 13, 2010 5:52 pm

    amen.

    the feeling of death has been scratching the back of my skull all week.

    the show has made me think of mortality ,

    i think mom , creigh, and daymo all get funerals at the end of season 1 tied in with cheifs’ tribe marching on st. joe’s day.

    for lack of a better way to write it , the circle of life.

    this is the best post i have read about treme anywhere.

    thank you virgotex.

  8. David Simon permalink
    June 13, 2010 6:14 pm

    Great stuff.

  9. Anita permalink
    June 13, 2010 6:38 pm

    “this is the best post i have read about treme anywhere.”

    Echoing rickngentilly, here. This is a stunning post. Yes, indeed, “thank you virgotex.”

  10. June 13, 2010 6:46 pm

    Just because there might be no tomorrow doesn’t mean she has to settle for this day

    Control. Thus so many of us go through our lives. A self-destructive yet admirable quality this.

    (Also, our lives. What a strange concept in light of all this.)

    Lovely work, Virgo. I know I recently placed something y0u said at the top of this blog’s About page for a damned good reason.

  11. June 13, 2010 6:54 pm

    Creigh is certainly falling farther into darkness each week. Who can save him? He did not personally suffer from the flood: he still has his house, his job, his family. But he suffers for the entire city. His online rants and drinking binge, and particularly his desire to go out and see the destruction remind me of Reverend Dimsdale torturing himself. What is it that gives Creighton this guilt, this crushing feeling of inadequacy? Will this be revealed soon, or will we just have to infer that he feels guilty because he did NOT lose his house, his job or his family, a sort of “survivor’s guilt”? I like this character so I hope he finds a rope, or someone is able to toss him a rope, to climb out of this funk he has fallen into.

    Peace,

    Tim

  12. doctorj2u permalink
    June 13, 2010 7:59 pm

    I use to tell newcomers to the city to give it some time. It is like a fungus. It takes time to grow on you. Once it does, you will never be rid of it. LOL!

  13. Virgotex permalink
    June 13, 2010 8:33 pm

    Thanks, y’all are kind.

  14. June 14, 2010 3:04 pm

    People seem too hard on Toni. She is connected to many circles of people, as well as her work — certainly her daughter — in a way that Creighton is certainly not connected — even, it seems, to any members of his department, or to his students, nor to his work.

    Partly from life experience, partly from team-teaching a session on The Awakening last fall — at Tulane, honors English — the connection between the overt actions of a person and the person’s conscious choice to disappear her/himself, is, ultimately, forever not to be known by the rest of us.

    One also thinks in this context of Hart Crane, who chose to do the same, though it was from the steamship SS Orizaba[3] heading back to New York from Mexico.

  15. alli permalink
    June 14, 2010 10:16 pm

    can i please live in your brain for a little while?

  16. wigatrisk permalink
    June 15, 2010 7:19 am

    “For Creighton, tradition seems to be about rigor and mastery, not very much about surrender.” Brilliant stuff and a key to much of what’s going on around us, and has come before.

    The teaching scenes were very well done, and felt so true to my own undergrad teaching experience over the last decade that I could both not watch and not stop watching. The resigned, the unreachable, the hopeful, the eager, the insightful, the surprising. Honestly written and filmed.

    When I was a student in Toronto many years ago, one early fall afternoon I was waiting for the subway on a nearly deserted platform, about 50 feet from where the train enters the station. I was reading a book and daydreaming until a shout (gleeful? unhinged? alarmed”?) caused me to look up and hear the rush of wind from the coming train. The only other person on the platform, about 30 feet away between me and the entry tunnel, had jumped down onto the tracks and was darting along the tracks toward the screech of the coming train. As the lights of the train appeared, he ran to the side and tried to climb up onto the concrete median between the tracks. The subway caught his hip, in front of the driver’s window, and he disappeared. It all happened in probably not more than 2 or 3 seconds, just long enough to register and burn into my memory, but not long enough to grasp what was happening.

    I remember the aftermath more vividly. The stopped train; the mechanical PSA about transferring to buses coming from the speakers overhead; the faces of confused and annoyed commuters; the transit police escorting me away; seeing the driver carried away, devestated. I never told anyone I knew, I couldn’t seem to find the words. At the time I thought more about the driver than about the victim. The city police who phoned me later said when I asked, only that the victim had “mental issues”, which I suppose was as true as it is horrible and ambiguous. Only later did I think more about what led a man in his 30s to such an act, and to wonder about the final urgency with which he tried to climb the median. Survival? Regret? Indecision? Climbing ecstatically to heights existing in his head?

    You all amaze and startle me with your perceptions and your ability to express your interior lives. It is a privilege to read here and to watch art unfold. I’m not sure what I learned from what I saw as an 18 year old, but I know what it requires of me when I play with my kids and feel their faith, hope and unmitigated joy. Practicing acts of love indeed.

  17. liprap permalink
    June 15, 2010 7:40 am

    Wig, thanks for that. Glad this thread brought that out in you.

    Can’t speak for everybody here, but I know I started blogging because I couldn’t keep my experiences bottled up inside me, or I’d explode. The bonus was the blogging community I found that also happens to have jumped off into the real world, another bonus. The biggest lesson I’ve certainly learned from all this city has been through, all that these people have been through, is that once you are alone, you are in the most vulnerable state. I’ve been there, and I know there are times when I still end up there, but there are things that bring me up out of it – my family, the meds, reading good books, getting out and about, my pets, my friends online and offline, being a part of the Jewish community here. Studies and stories of folks with mental illness have found that when they feel they are not alone, it gets them taking their meds, gets them back into the swing of things, gets them less likely to want to end it all.

    You are doing the best thing for your kids, practicing those acts of love. Keep them going. Let them know you will always be there for them. It’s the best gift we can give to each other.

  18. June 15, 2010 8:56 am

    Kindred spirits are lifesavers. Without (pre-2006) Sepia Mutiny and then the New Orleans bloggers, I would have been one wretched creature, sending bottled messages out into the binary ether. The nice thing about being human is that it is a finite set of experiences: for all our individual uniqueness, there is always someone else who has gone through similar or worse. Through others’ stories and yours coming together, you start to feel something, some of the time, and it moves you along.

    But, these interactions, too, are moments and not lives. You can’t live for me and I can’t live for you, a spouse or family. Who are we by ourselves? Who are we when it counts? We can walk each other to a certain point and then it is up to each of us to keep going. And, god, it is so incredibly frighteningly lonely on that road past town, but also the ultimate truth of living. And dying.

  19. virgotex permalink*
    June 15, 2010 10:24 am

    sure you can, if I get to be in NO while you do. You can have the brain and I’ll just be a zombie on the streets.

  20. wigatrisk permalink
    June 15, 2010 12:05 pm

    Indeed, well said. Television seems unusually well suited to illustrating and exploring that ultimate solitude of existence, in exploring interactions and space and outlines around people. Even someone like Antoine, although rarely shown alone seems to suggest it – that profoundly moving solo in the courtyard played for his Japanese patron seemed at once to show the human connection his art allowed but also the separation introduced by (mis)understanding and the instrument itself.

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