If you look out over the Mississippi when you stand near the ferry gate, you can almost pretend that the shit and filth swilling underneath the dock was a simple man-made climate disaster, and not the will of God to create a plague that wipes the glowing neon smirk off this town’s face.
It was all for the experience, so you believe, and you spend most of your days off from the café pacing around the same two neighborhoods you’ve imagined were safe in such a town. There’s some pride to be held in telling people that you paid $100 a month for a prestigious gym. Tennessee Williams worked out here, they say. I believe this sauna room is a bathhouse. Am I paranoid or am I the hottest young piece of ass there is? These looks confuse me.
Hipness pervades, pierces the neck of every town and infects viral, coffee shop next to bakery next to amateur theater. This neighborhood was wiped clean after Katrina, some of these buildings never recovered. Anything south of Rampart became cracked pallets. Opportunity presents itself even in disaster. This is the hot vacation spot, danger is never applicable to the careful investor. Buy up all the dead property and HGTV it into beauty, revitalize the neighborhood, pretend to retain a culture that was happy bathing in it’s own filth.
This is my absolution, from the stain I willed onto myself after toiling away in the beignet. Days I near cried but couldn’t find the tears walking alone from work down the same street every day. Feeling the ripping in my body and my neck veins tighten. I’m always clenched in this town. I walk out alone at night with a subconscious death wish like everybody else.
Moving here should’ve been an indicator of the coming trial. Craigslist has always been reliable for me, so i’ll move into this hippie-house in a sprouting gentrified area. Funny how the only person that saw how I was living was an acquaintance from the past town. I was delusional enough to think that I could fuck her, with all this new weight on me, her borrowing her parent’s car for a few hours. I mired in lay-less agony for a continued period, no prospects on my horizon except for a girl I worked with, afro-haired mulatto Rouge princess. Hostess at the cafe, graphic design student full time.
I often wondered if she was being taught by the 35 year-old woman I met on a sporadic performance vacation. A gaunt woman with a stretched smile, polka dot dress. Traced the lining of my hands and humoring the idea of a date to Applebees. “There aren’t even any in the city!” She laughed instead of saying no. The no came months later, while I was lying in my bed in that cold rotting Bayou mansion, in an essay-form e-mail detailing her happy relationship and happy life. I wish I kept the e-mail now for evidence, I couldn’t generate devastating friendzone literature like that if I tried.
Cooming every day, this is the language. I wasn’t good for much anything else. My writing had stalled for the last year, and I wasn’t exactly having these vast experiences I was hoping for. Instead, I realized that I was living the same routine as a retired 60 year-old REAL boomer hippie. Day in, day out. He never had a real job his whole life — he mostly worked Renaissance Faires and played shitty Bayou music on a grand piano in the French Quarter. He spent all day, every day, huffing pot and listening to Communist radio in his room. His house was cold, his sound insufferable.
He was a victim of constant socialization. I wasn’t allowed to be the depressive hermit I was — he’d make me come out of my room to interact with the revolving door of hippies that come in and out of his house, crashing on the futon in his living room. This was especially bad around Mardi Gras. I was of course relegated to the small hitch trailer in the backyard, where I saved a special bag of Hot Cheetoh’s for the rain nights to come, my bomber jacket completely ruined watching a parade on Canal St.
This holiday, in reality, is only about three days in Real People Time. However, in New Orleans time, three days is actually month. Maybe even a year. Like Christmas, the beads go up about three months early, people start to pour in from all over the world, and there’s this excitement permeating in the still-believed facade layer of this town that all things are good and beautiful. The layer that’s all purples and greens and naked tits. The layer that covers up the ever present rampant crime and corruption of the government, the late-night screaming ambulances up and down Elysian Fields, the ATV’s and dirt bikes raced by gang members on residential streets, the deli grocery store drug fronts. Who cares, i’m on vacation! I can walk around outside with a Margarita and make friends with an old black guy! What a magical city.
Fat Tuesday came and went. Some gender-androgynous longhair brought himherther’s spouse’s cremated ashes in a shoebox. We marched down a poorly planned route among the streets. Everybody was outside. Naked, dancing, on drugs. Rolling around giant homemade floats, costumed up, shopping carts with beer kegs and bluetooth speakers — this is what the apocalypse was going to look like. I’m drunk on absinthe from the old man’s flask, high from pot infused Fruity Pebble sheetcake, flying a knit flag in front of the procession dressed like a steampunk reject. God would’ve been only so kind to kill me then with stray Uzi fire. I wasn’t to be given up on so soon, unfortunately.
Procession procession, down the aged canals of disgust. The highlight being a highway underpass, where we marched through known gang territory. Black families lined up their cars next to big beat amplifiers and frier booths to watch the independent parades. We were a group of old white hippies, a three-piece jazz band, and a cajun folk duo dressed in elven garb. It was a bad cartoon come alive, we marched behind deadlock traffic.
Finally, we ended at the Mississippi. Trite references to Confederacy of Dunces, ashes tossed into the water. The gay old man on ecstasy dressed as Beetlejuice had to writhe with orgasm in the corner because he was creaming too loud during the eulogy. We popped cheap fireworks into the already infested waters. A grown man wearing a Pikachu hat shed a tear under his sunglasses as we funeral-danced back home, thank God. A successful holiday, only five people were shot with AK-47’s.
I moved to this town during the January freeze of the Tricentennial Celebration. I had this unshowered pallor on my face the first week or so, pacing in the streets looking for a job and trying to open a bank account. In these wanders I found a mall across the street from the Harrah’s Casino — empty like all of the others. Behind the entrance was a large display of the city’s sordid history. Year after year, every step forward bookended with a cataclysm. The gay revolution, a town fire. Legal alcoholism, a great flood. The Devil runs this city. Gang violence, drug trouble, corrupted authorities, his joyful investment. God’s attempt at erasures, clean slates, were sheer measures of mercy. But what good is the Word when it’s preached to the bog bullfrogs? Whose tune is so intoxicating.