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The winter of our discontent

May 25, 2011

Sam Jasper is a hard act to follow but somebody’s gotta do it or we’ll have to hang out a gone fishing sign or something on BOT.

Slip Away was one of the best episodes of Treme thus far. BUT it was very hard for those of us who lived through that gloomy and depressing winter to watch. There was hope in the air in late 2005 and early 2006: there was a new wave of citizen activism and some of the more intractable pre-storm problems had eased. This hopeful tide began to recede slowly but surely over the rest of 2006 as Nagin was re-elected, the rebuilding planning process turned into a gynormous clusterfuck, and, most significantly, criminals with their guns and turf wars returned with a vengeance.

The murders of Dinneral Shavers and Helen Hill were devastating to the entire community. For one thing, New Orleans has long been the world’s largest small town; if you didn’t know these folks you had mutual friends, one’s Bacon (Baconlike? Mmm, Bacon) number in New Orleans is rarely more than 3. For another thing, Shavers and Hill were such positive people that their deaths shook many people’s faith in human nature and had more than a few wondering if they should stay. That’s why the march on City Hall was so important as well as empowering.

I was part of the contingent that marched from the River through the CBD to City Hall. I was with a group of NOLA bloggers including BOT publisher Maitri, Loki,  Sam and Celcus. We eventually met up with Ashley Morris, Dangerblond and Morwen Madrigal aka Gentilly Girl. (If I forgot anyone, apologies; the little gray cells don’t fire as fast as they used to.) I was waving a Rising Tide sign and Ashley had his drum. This is a picture of us taken by the novelist Louis Maistros that I saw for the first time only recently:

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I thought the Treme folks captured the moment quite well and I particularly enjoyed their use of archival news clips from WWL-TV including Bart Everson’s impassioned speech that applied the S-word to the whole sorry situation: SHAME. I never met Helen Hill so Bart was my connection to her:

What I did not expect, however, was a scene that came midway through the show. Suddenly we find ourselves at a crime scene in the Bywater. Hey, I recognize that house. I helped pack up those belongings into boxes. I remember finding a card someone had left behind, a professional crime scene cleaning service. But now we’re there before the cleanup. We’re seeing the police investigation. We can see them making a botch of it. (I never thought of it that way, but clearly that’s what it was: a botched investigation. Or so it seems to me, but I only know what I read in the papers and hear on the street.)

I’ve watched every episode of this damn show with a sense of detachment. Yes, it’s all very accurate. It captures some of the spirit of a time and place that I lived through, and that’s a trip. But all the same, it’s just a TV show. It’s just a story, safely trapped inside a frame of the TV set.

Until last night. That crime scene, and some of the follow-up, stripped away my detachment and made me feel grief anew. I shed a few tears. Hell, after Katrina I cried most every day for a year or three, but these days my composure is not so easily shaken. The scene showing the tributes of flowers and other offerings, piling up around the bicycle, was also fairly heartrending.

It was all so damnably accurate. It stirs painful memories. But at the same time I’m glad that Helen is not forgotten.

What Bart said. I felt as if I’d been gut punched after watching this flashback to that very difficult time. It reminded me, however, that we *have* bounced back from it and that we’re all more resilient than we think.

While I’m not always a fan of the show’s quick cutting approach to storytelling, I thought it worked very well in Slip Away. It was a relief to see Annie, Davis, Janette, Aunt Mimi, Antoine and the rest leading their lives while so much shit hit the fan; especially for those of who were in some way spattered by said shit. We needed a bit of comic relief so Davis’ antics made me smile instead of flinching as they sometimes do. Another thing that made me smile was seeing my friends’ Mark and Carol’s daughter Bailey in the Lusher School scene. She was perfectly placed: right in front of Sophia. Well done, kiddo.
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Finally, it’s time to circle back to Sam Jasper. Those of us who know Sam, think of her every time Aunt Mimi pops up. Sam says that she aspires to be Aunt Mimi but as far as I’m concerned she *is* Aunt Mimi.

-Adrastos

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5 Comments
  1. May 25, 2011 9:38 pm

    Great post, A. Think a lot of folks are still recovering from this episode.

    BTW, you’ll recognize D behind and to the left of Ashley, holding up the big obnoxious yellow sign that I huffed a lot of Sharpie to make.

  2. adrastosno permalink
    May 25, 2011 11:02 pm

    Of course it is. Warned y’all about the little grey cells…

  3. May 26, 2011 7:28 am

    This episode was a punch in the gut. I’ve not lived in new orleans for decades, but this episode touched me deep inside. I do not know how y’all can relive it the way Simon is portraying it. It’s too real.

    I must say, thought, the portrayal of the march was one of the most powerful moments of television I’ve ever seen.

  4. May 26, 2011 10:01 am

    Thank you, Adrastos, for the compliment and the beautiful piece. Yes, this one was hard. I started crying pretty much immediately as the funeral scene played out, and then just about all the way through the first watching. I felt the dread when I saw Helen Hill’s house and knew what was coming. Dredging, dredging. I was crying again when the meetup with the Central City contingent in the Rally happened as I remembered how powerful a feeling it was that all of us here had thought this important enough to be there. I still get goosebumps over that moment when I think of it–not just in the episode but in real life. I remember shouting and crying when Nakita spoke, when Glen David Andrews spoke, and when Bart spoke it was electric. See, dammit, I could start sobbing now just remembering it. It was truly a powerful moment of complete community.

    You nailed it. This episode put it all right there on the screen. And they did it perfectly.

    And thank you so much for publishing that photo. I had never seen it and the fact that our friend Louis took it makes it all the more precious.

  5. May 28, 2011 1:09 am

    It still hurts to have Helen gone. Such a senseless murder & a very brutal one. Before the Storm, I was in her Super-8 Filmmaking class. I also did/hosted Indie short film screenings across the Lake in Covington & she was always up for supplying her films & providing ideas to make the screenings better. She taught me so much about filmmaking & life itself. She was the closet person I have ever met that was saint-like. She had so much good in her. The randomness of her killing was part of the reason I had a series of seizures. I couldn’t & can’t make sense of it. Why? There are no answers, only muted acceptance.

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