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Semper Fi-Yi-Yi

November 4, 2012

“There’s a difference between sin and vice … New Orleans gets it and the rest of the world doesn’t.”
— Lt. Colson

It’s an Open Thread. Do watcha wanna.

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The Land of Dreamy Dreams

November 1, 2012

“I love the friends I have gathered together here on this thin raft.”
— Jim Morrison

There was a lot of chatter in this week’s open thread about Nelson Hidalgo and a lot of time was spent this week on Sonny, another less than sympathetic character. It is easy to hate on Nelson at a superficial level, or shrug off Sonny’s seemingly predictable struggles but I love these two characters. Both are a type of the outsider swallowed by New Orleans, the story of every Tulane student turned bartender, of every Jazz Fest visitor who now makes an annual pilgrimage to the city at off times (I run into these couples a lot on Frenchmen, it seems) and I always ask: so when are you moving?

I often say New Orleans gets its hooks into you but it’s more subtle than that, something as fragile as a sea anemone and as attractive as a pitcher plant (and for some, just as fatal) which entraps. If I could put my finger on it I wouldn’t be hundreds of thousands of words into ToulouseStreet.net and the old Wet Bank Guide but I remember that scene from Season Two after Nelson’s introduction, standing on a hotel balcony, his “big village” moment when you realize he has moved past the tour of bars and restaurants and into the city’s fatal attraction. Sonny is much the same. He seems to have arrived from Amsterdam with enough of the canon in his piano bag to set up up busking. Nelson came for the money but Sonny came for the heady, wet atmosphere. There was a line this season about “dreamers and drunks” from Colson’s meeting with his wife and there’s truth in that, although the drunks are just a subset of the dreamers, the ones who have given up on finding the secret and simply surrenders to the city’s more dangerous charms.

It’s clear from the discussion that Sonny and Nelson are not the most popular characters. No one (except maybe me) has faith in Sonny’s possibilities of redemption, much less Nelson’s but there is some subtle link between the early meetings between C.J. Ligori and Nelson with their discussion of Catholicism that hints at redemption, that leads me to wonder about the division of hustle and honesty when he puts Robinette on the papers for his new LLC, the one doing honest work with the NOAH money. He seems to be slipping back onto the bus to Easy Street but he is hovering at the edge, just as Sonny is tottering between the gutter and wedding bells at Mary Queen of Vietnam. There is a story in these characters by a couple of guys from up north (and yeah, Baltimore is up north from here) who were themselves lured by the magic of New Orleans music, who have perhaps themselves considered New Orleans’ allure and its effect on people, who have perhaps met more than a few fellow dreamers sitting in the Carousel or the gutter outside, lost in the dream.

Nelson and Sonny may seem like plot devices on legs but there is an old story acted out many times before on these streets without the benefits of catering and No Parking signs. That they represent, and that a couple of guys with no grandparents in the graveyard capture this particular facet of the story of New Orleans says something about the depth of Treme’s writing. You can go ahead and hate on Hildalgo or groan every time Sonny picks up a drink but this is one story line (and it is one, two-headed story line) I hope gets fully played out before the end of the series.

— Wet Bank Guy

Now There Just Aren’t Enough Lifeboats

October 28, 2012

There never were enough lifeboats. They just got rearranged like the deck chairs on the Titanic.

An Open Thread. Everybody dig in.

Careful of What?

October 22, 2012

In last week’s episode we were gifted with the appearance of James “Sugar Boy” Crawford on screen singing secular music. Davis McAlary was awed, as were we. Why? Oh so many reasons, not the least of which is that Mr. Crawford went home in September 2011, which means that that scene is probably the very last recorded note, visual or audio, that we’ll ever have of him. Every single time you hear Jockamo/Iko coming over your iPod speakers, on stage, on your car radio, it’s this man you can thank. (We’re not going to get into the whole Jockamo-Crawford-1953/Iko-Dixie Cups-1965 history here. I’ll post some links in the comments if you’re really interested in that, and it is interesting.) Those of us here in New Orleans, however, know the back story to why he only sang in church, or occasionally with his grandson Davell’s band, for the last 40+ years of his life.

Before I explain that though, I gotta say that all week, I felt a dread-that “waiting for the other shoe to drop” dread. L.P. Everett in Sofia’s car, both looking over their shoulders in the dark, and the overwhelming sense of a powerful darkness following them. No words. No chainsaws. No screaming girls falling down in the forest. No big chase scene. Just big, quiet, unspoken fear that was more frightening than any slasher film. It’s the kind of fear that ties your guts into a knot. This week that other shoe dropped. This was not something unknown in the City of New Orleans or the State of Louisiana, not something brand new that Katrina short sheeted so that the dropping shoe was finally recognized as a boot. That boot had been around for a long, long time, the bogeyman’s boot, but here the bogeyman wore a badge.

Mr. Crawford’s appearance was a warning, again unspoken, except by his grandson who gave a short explanation to Davis, when asked why his grandfather no longer sang secular music. He said, “Police beat all that out of him. Now he’s singing for the Lord.” He followed that up with, “That’s New Orleans.” You see, Mr. Crawford and his band were in a nice car, going to a gig in Northern Louisiana in 1963 when they were stopped. According to a great interview in Offbeat Magazine in 2002, one of the state police officers didn’t much care for Mr. Crawford’s attitude and set about pistol whipping him to such a devastating degree that it took him two years to recuperate. According to that interview, he attempted a comeback, but by 1969 he made his choice to sing only in church, only for the Lord. We sure can’t blame him as he most assuredly wasn’t the only person to find himself on the wrong side of a conversation with a police officer in the 40 intervening years.

As we watched that episode and felt the fear becoming more and more palpable, the appearance of Sugar Boy Crawford singing was akin to keeping an eye on the canary in the coal mine. This week we saw what we were being warned about.

Grayson’s face as Toni tries to reason with him about family being off limits, is stony and openly hostile. The police wielding pepper spray and tazers in the midst of the housing protestors are wreaking havoc with relish. The uniformed cop who knocked on the door to inform Toni that her windshield had been smashed was almost mockingly and defiantly nonchalant. Super-imposed over those events is the image of Henry Glover’s skull flickering on a laptop screen, still with us from the week before.

So now the bogeyman has been shown to be a many headed creature, and Toni’s mild reassurances to L.J. about attorneys or journalists having relative safety compared to “people who live round the way” have been shattered along with her windshield.

For our City this was a frightening time. Crime was up. Housing stock was down and soon to be down even further. Monied interests were heading in with the New York-ification ideas that are behind the Jazz Center and Janette’s restaurant and the knocking down of the “Big 4” (which is a whole topic in itself.) Reeling from the storm, the staggering challenges of rebuilding and disappointment that followed, we watched as the bodies fell in the streets wondering sometimes if we’d be the next one whose photo would be surrounded by votives and grief on the street corner we fell on. We were vocal but ultimately helpless as LSU decimated Mid-City with guys like Hidalgo charming people out of their homes. We saw the wrecking balls and sorrow of the NOAH catastrophe. We formed committees and neighborhood groups and called our City Council person and wrote letters to the editor (we still had a paper then) and the Mayor. We were sad, angry, disillusioned, disgusted, disheartened, but we held each other up as we joined with our friends, downing our Prozac with whiskey and a beer back. We played our music loud, danced til we collapsed and wished we could sit astride Old Hickory’s bronze horse in the Square spouting the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V to rally our flagging spirits. In short, we did whatever it took to keep it together to fight the good fight again tomorrow.

But the bogeyman lurked and the fear made itself at home in our bones as we heard multiple stories of regular folks calling the police to report a crime only to wind up handcuffed in the backseat of the cruiser themselves. We watched the news reports of indictments on the Danziger Bridge cops and knew they weren’t the only ones out there who might wish us harm on any given night. We saw a badge not as a sign of protection and security in this trying time, but as a warning to abandon hope all ye who enter here. In a time when a sense of community was so necessary, and folks were still trying to stand strong, it was an us vs. them time instead, and the number of “thems” grew by the day. We despised the way the recovery was handled by the “thems”, but we were frightened by those sworn to protect and serve.

I had been told long ago that there was no black and no white, only blue, on the police force. This is not entirely unique to New Orleans. During that time we knew it, we knew the bogeyman when we saw him (or her), so while we sobbed over the murder rate we felt no sense of safety or hope because the police had been shown to be murderers and thugs themselves. Certainly not all of them were bad cops, but the bad cops didn’t have a special insignia designating them as such so all were given a wide berth.

Had L.J. come to any of us at that time and asked his question, “Careful of what?” we would have asked him to take another look at young Mr. Glover’s skull and to listen for the sound of the other boot dropping as he looked into the powerful darkness behind him.

These have been tough episodes to watch, but that tells me that the writers can pack a lot of PTSD into a 2 minute exchange, and that’s great drama. Although, frankly, I would have preferred a bit less drama in our real lives at that time. This season is at the half way mark, so we won’t be faint hearted, but will go once more into the breach, my friends. Still wish I could shout that drunkenly from Old Hickory’s horse.

By the way, the Offbeat interview from 2002 is wonderful and can be found here: .http://www.offbeat.com/2002/02/01/james-sugar-boy-crawford/

This Is Their Golden Opportunity

October 21, 2012

Tear the roof off the mother, tear the roof off the mother sucker, tear the roof of the sucker…

Open Thread Crazies and Germs.

Waiting on The Road Home

October 16, 2012

ESTRAGON:
I can’t go on like this.
VLADIMIR:
That’s what you think.

I thought it was my house. A left-side double with a carport on the right attached to the next door neighbor’s single-level ranch. My stomach knotted convulsively. The panic bands tightened around my chest. A wave of Permanent Traumatic Stress Disorder, the tension of being transported into a scene I didn’t quite remember, being among the hundreds turned away every night from the Gentilly production of Waiting for Godot in 2007 but I knew the play, knew the text, knew the essential and painful rightness of it like a necessary amputation. I had only been there in spirit but had gone home the last night and after dispirited drinks at the Circle Bar I wrote in the small hours of the morning my reaction to a play I had just not seen.

That could be my house.

I didn’t see the double next door in the first sequence, only the characters, the tree, the house behind them. I saw the carport in the second sequence and that confirmed my suspicion if only for a a moment.

I think that’s my f—ing house.

I went off to Google Maps and did a virtual drive through my old neighborhood, looking for a double with a carport next door, to see if there were any others. Sam Jasper texted me back that Dave Walker had placed the scene on Warrington Drive, two blocks over and then I remember that’s where it was. Still, I had lived in that place, in one of those houses, back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I rewound HBO GO and watched the scene over and over until the gnawing thing, the one that sends me down Paris Avenue past the new Holy Cross School that stands where the church my father built once stood, the one that pauses at the City Park exit to gaze at the now almost invisible watermarks on the Pontchartrain Expressway columns like an infernal river gauge, until that thing was quieted. I saw the double next door. I came out of myself and went back to the scene.

54:39.

The lines chosen were perfect for Toni Burnette, the final lines in which the characters summarize their plight. “Perhaps it were better if we parted.” The cathartic shot of Toni fingering her ring-less left finger. Her tears.

ESTRAGON:
I can’t go on like this.
VLADIMIR:
That’s what you think.
ESTRAGON:
If we parted? That might be better for us.
VLADIMIR:
We’ll hang ourselves tomorrow. (Pause.) Unless Godot comes.

Her exchange with her seat neighbor:

“Motherfucker ain’t comin’.”
“Excuse me?”
“The man. He ain’t comin’.”

Godot in 2007 was a cathartic moment, and not just for Toni Burnette.

I wanted one of the signs advertising the 2007 performance of Waiting for Godot in New Orleans with the play’s simple stage directions so badly, but they had been placed by someone with a ladder and by the time I returned with a borrowed one strapped to the roof of my car, they were all gone. The existential nakedness of it, the sense of abandonment by God and man, the insistence of Vladimir and Estragon, of life resonated so deeply with anyone in New Orleans in 2007 even vaguely familiar with the text.

How then to explain all the others milling about on Robert E. Lee Boulevard in their hundreds, denied admission. Beckett is difficult, Einstein’s physics to Broadway’s Dick And Jane Sing and Dance. How many of the people milling about with us knew the text? How to explain the presence of the man sitting next to Toni, who clearly is hearing the words for the first time? ” Motherfucker ain’t comin’.” “Excuse me?” “The man. He ain’t comin’.”

Waiting. Everyone in New Orleans was waiting: for Road Home, for family in Dallas, for the contractor to come back, for cranes in the sky, for pigs with wings to shit hundred dollar bills over the bus stop where they waited if their bus was back and running. “The man. He ain’t comin.”

There were critical moments in the story of postdiluvian New Orleans the writers of Treme could not possibly avoid–that first second line under the Claiborne overpass, Carnival 2006, Dinerral and Helen and the march that followed–and others every viewer of Treme who knows the history devoutly wishes for but will never appear in an abbreviated fourth season: the Superbowl, the oil spill. The Classical Theater of Harlem’s production of Waiting for Godot, one weekend in the Ninth Ward, one weekend in Lakefront Gentilly, was almost certainly on a longer B-list of possibilities. Was it Wendell Pierce, who played Vladimir, who proposed it? One of the local writers who perhaps attended or at least knew of it and knew the text well enough to say: this must go in? Was it something they read on a blog? (Fat chance, but it’s nice to think so.) It doesn’t matter. It had to be in the story. It was a few minutes out of an hour that unlocked an opportunity to get deep inside the minds of the people of New Orleans in 2007 by way of Beckett. If even one viewer sees or reads the play because of it, their understanding of the situation of 2007 will be profoundly expanded.

Thank you Wendell or Tom or Lolis or David or Eric or whomever we have to thank for making sure this didn’t end up a stroked-out idea on a writing room white board, or a reel of film discarded into storage.

I’m Still Just Cleaning Up The Mess

October 15, 2012

Is 2007 all over, which includes not getting the Open Thread up for this episode last night. Blame Permanent Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the Saints bye-week leaving us all confusalated.