Thursday, October 27, 2005

What I really really want...

With all these random emails and blogs zooming about along the theme of "Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?", I find myself bristling at the assorted "memories' being tossed around. Sadly, New Orleans exists in too many outlanders' minds as the sum of all the touristy things they have done over the years, all the pictures from their cemetery tours, the drag queens they hugged at Mardi Gras, the Hurricane glass in their curio cabinet, the over-priced dinner they had at K-Paul's where they sat at crowded tables with people they didn't know and didn't so much care for the look of...

I say sadly because that is not my New Orleans, not my real New Orleans that affords a young prince the chance and opportunity to live like a queen...the city that embraces and employs the inked ones and the hopeful musicians and the children of the street and disowned, disenfranchised queers and hip girls and the liquid writers and the night stalkers and the Yankees who get it and the foreigners who found that one scrap of America that remotely resembles home in the weirdest, most unexpected ways. This is the city that is so easy for the middle American tourist to ignore, the conventioneer from Fort Wayne or Peoria or Buffalo to effortlessly not see and the business traveler to blot out with one too many high balls. It is more than simply unfortunate that most Americans will remember New Orleans for the lurid spectacle of Bourbon Street, partly because for a time to come, that will be the first and only thing to come back full force in the Big Easy. My city is so much more...and even though my city is so clearly wounded and in immeasurable pain, there are glimpses and shimmers of life and hope and joy and love...and I really long to be a part of it all, as I alway knew I would and understood on a level that never made sense or found its way to words until now.

What I really want is to walk into Matassa's and order a roast beef po-boy from Miss Janie and have her remember that I like everything on it except for tomatoes and with yellow mustard and not Creole...and for that to be the best meal I will eat in a string of days beyond memory...because Miss Janie made it for me herself and called me "Sunshine" on my way out the door...just like she has for ten years...

I want to get on my bike and ride through the Marigny and Bywater and see places that I lived for a time and for reasons that I can't quite remember anymore and still have that be ok...and to see people I know or recognize but don't necessarily love, and to smile and say an earnest hello to them--and get one in return--and have that just be...because it is the way we treat each other despite not knowing each other's last names...with no thought as to personal gain from the knowing and helloing...

I want to return to my work (alas, there my work is not there to return to). I want to see that unmitigated look on the faces of a roomful of Kindergartners as I introduce them to the first boa constrictor they have ever seen outside of a book or Animal Planet...and leave them fascinated and curious and not in the slightest disgusted...and to find that same look on the once-reptile-hating teacher's face...and to be that impassioned ambassador for the animals that rest on the very narrow brink and whose futures depend on more than spurious legislation and gladhanding, even if only one person in a thousand truly hears anything I have to say...(I had not thought until just now about the gravity that this expression could carry, but "My work here is done...")

I want to open my small, yet tasteful, home to my many friends...but especially to that small conclave of dear souls who are at home in my home...whom I have seen at their best and worst and still remain friends with...who laugh at my foibles and groan at my jokes...who let me into their lives and share the all of themselves...to drink with and cook for and listen to and fuss at and generally love beyond all reason because that's what we do when we are together...to talk about books without fear of derision...to sing along with songs that never sounded good coming out of us...to talk too late into the night and early morning about the very nature of things and the very real end of days and the unfathomably absurd hope that still burns within all of us because we are not only the kind of people who have found a home in New Orleans despite all odds, but we ARE those people...or are the ones who don't think they could live there but understand (and I mean really get it) why we live there and why we will go back and make this happen all over again...

What do I have to do to fill this wish list? What will it cost me or any of us? What will it cost us if we don't? Sometimes, these are unponderables...unanswerables...Where do any of us start? More than once in the last seven weeks, my mind has returned to the memories of all those incredible New Orleans folks who are cemented in my personal New Orleans history--all of whom had the good sense to die in a timely fashion prior to the great catastrophe of '05. Mary Mitchell's heart would be breaking over the appalling death of civility and grace...Kelly would go to that dark, brooding place from which he was so difficult to retrieve when this world changed too suddenly, too horribly...and Peter, dear sweet Peter would find nothing to ever laugh about again, for the city that was the love of his life had crossed over to some strange place beyond reach or reckoning...I count them among the lucky ones...

I have my New Orleans here in my heart, in those many hundreds of pictures I tore out of the frames on the very last day before we fled the city during the "civil unrest", in the endless unspoken and unspeakable looks on our fellow evacuees' faces... there is something in the way we carry ourselves in each others' company that is dissimilar to what we show the rest of the world...there is no pretending, no best foot or best face put forward to show how outstandingly well we are doing...we are at ease to say the most inappropriate, untoward things without reprisal or worse, pity...the shoulders droop slightly, the eyes tend to glass over a bit and gallows humor takes on a much richer hue than we knew possible...and we find that life does indeed go on...in ways and at a pace that means everything and nothing at once...but it does go on, and we are here to tell about it...

What I really really want is to go home...and that just isn't possible anytime soon...

2 comment(s):

handsup68

Well written. Once New Orleans gets back on its feet again, I'll want to see just what you're talking about. I'm one of the Mardi Gras tourists that only has scattered memories in between live and dead brain cells from the festivities of Bourbon Street.

Best wishes,

Jeff J

DedMA

Having taught in the NOLA public schools, I recognize much of what you wrote about making students and teachers understand the importance of nature. However, having lived there too briefly, you captured what it means. Thanks for capturing in words what my heart has been feeling.

Hug,

amitchells

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