On Being Flapped by the Skirt of Katrina, and Watching Her Piss all Over My Favorite City
As some or maybe none of you know, I reside in Baton Rouge, LA, the next big stop north on i-10 of what used to be New Orleans, a city so unique it could embrace and snake its tendrils around whatever cliche was foisted upon it. It was dirty, smelly, flirtatious, salacious, pretentious, wily, tourist-lousy and drowsy. The laziest goddamn metropolis ever. New Orleans was my refuge from the rest of America, growing up 45 minutes to the south of it. Just close enough that we could convince our parents to let us drive up there for concerts, or more usually, close enough to get there and back without any evidence short of the odometer. The floor of Tipitina's where I got kicked in the head at a Cramps show in 88, where I just a few months ago saw the Drive By Truckers open my Thrid Southern Eye and just missed them last week due to stomach flu on my part is now most likely the actual cesspool like we proclaimed it to be back then.
The previously already horrorshow housing projects poking up through the flood water now boggle my mind at the paltry human condition, and what has become of us. The spawl of suburbs now a little dull archipeligo of pyramidal islands in the murk. The white people are being shown on the news bravely scavenging for food, the black people are being shown looting the Time Saver and stealing tennis shoes, the mayor is blaming the Army for the broken levees and the Superdome is a giant can of despair, and the remains in there are being bussed off to Houston to the soon-to-be-failing bathrooms of the Astrodome. Its like seeing war footage, and then realizing that you and an old girlfriend once had a big melodramatic fight over nothing on that very corner that is now underwater, and people are clawing through the roof after water started to seep into the attic where they were hiding from Nature's horrible indifference to they can hopefully signal a motherfucking helicopter.
The waves of misery ripples out from that epicenter. Baton Rouge is swelling with people who, after leaving all their shit to be be drenched, are here in a daze looking for apartments, since they can't go home. I can't wrap my brain around it. My honky middle class guilt won't allow it. My focus is put on my feeling assured that my family and house are OK, and they all are, and being reluctantly indignant that I don't have power in the sweltering Louisiana August.
How to write this thing I am compelled to write? Who wants to read the tale of a guy who watched uncomfortably as the people over the next hill perished? What kind of half rate survivor's tale is that? Is this "processing?" Is this really the human condition? Since we on the whole, do not suffer the effects of mind-blowing tragedy directly, do we try to pathetically meet doom half way, hoping to get a little taste of it on our tongues?
I can't say. It's too sickening, all that water. Its too tempting to cast the breached levees in the role of my own shell, keeping the harsh horrible world at arms length as long as possible before it cascades in. You wrap yourself in a blanket embroidered with the phrase "That which does not kill you only serves to make you stronger," forgetting that "That" is sometimes capable of actually killing you.
I'll venture to guess that our readership is generally not the praying kind, but with whetever bullshit tether you have to the eternal, tug on it a little in hope for and memory of New Orleans. It might have been a drain at the bottom of the uptight US, but the good stuff settles to the bottom. Hope that once the flood waters pass that the city once again can rise at 10:30 in morning with dragon breath and a hangover and not really give a shit about anything until it gets some coffee in its system. Or in the worst case, if they never do pass, let that putrid flower be a real-live Atlantis of which you regale some tale of a decadent night, make one up if you have to, to remind our predecesors of a time when things were still human and gritty and glorious.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com