Sunday, July 29, 2007

Soft Asylum

The Subdudes' "One Word (Peace)" struggles to overcome the waspish whir of a gas-powered weed whacker and random hammering in the distance. If I close my eyes and relish the scent of cut grass I can transport myself into a universal summer morning almost anywhere in America: whining, tiny gas engines duel with rumbling clothes dryers for first chair in the orchestra of Saturday morning the way cicadas and frogs do at the end of twilight. Even here on the last thin line at the edge of America, where its already after the end of the world, the grass must fall and the laundry tumble until done.

My backyard is a narrow patio of a dozen by twenty paces, and from my chair with my back against the shed I can easily see through the reed privacy screen the backs of the neighbors shotgun houses. In a place where dry land is dear and few are rich, the houses sit cheek-by-jowl in the fashion established by the first straggly settlements along the batture. Even as the sounds of this morning mingle today's sounds and memories of summer Saturdays in other places, swapping places like the stereo channels on a Sixties' psychedelic song, the view tells me I am in New Orleans.

The highlight of this morning was watching the dumpster removal man navigate our narrow and heavily parked street to haul away a dumpster of debris, the remains of the neighbor's backyard shed. Mid-City is a neighborhood of low-dangling black cables strung in the random profusion of vines in a jungle. The street is narrow and full of cars; the homes dating from before all America had a car mostly lack driveways. But after two years of the constant gutting of homes the operator is an expert. My neighbor watches anxiously as the giant metal bin, as big as a railroad hopper car, slides just feet from his own small truck and onto the hauler's.

This ends a project not prompted by the storm, like so many I have watched progress from the first debris to the last scrapings of the gutter. It was a decision to tear down the old, termite-infested shed and redo the yard and sheds. As I stand on the porch watching, the downtown-side bathroom of my own converted double is gutted to the studs, plaster lath piled outside the window. This is not the gutting that continues today over scores upon scores of square miles all around me. This is basic, three-trips-a-week-to-Lowes home improvement. Here in the town some called Debrisville in the year after the Federal Flood, my neighbor and I are burrowing into normalcy by fixing up our houses not out of the necessity of flood water but from desire.

I quoted from an old Sun Ra piece lyric that's on the side of this page--Its after the end of the world/Don't you know that yet?--because it best describes the city I live in, one that is just starting down the road of recovery from the largest man-made disaster in history. Just across town to the south police stand around yellow tape where another young man has died. Walking distance to my north the levees along the draining canals begin, the levees that failed. To the east for miles and miles houses stand in rows, boarded with plywood or open to the weather, drying out now not from a flood almost two years past but from the summer rains and neglect.

Standing on a street where homes did not flood, where all of the rescue marks are painted over, its easy to forget and to slip into a reverie of normalcy as I listed to the sounds of chores all around me, to think that all across North America people are in their yards listening to or making these same sounds. At some point today, I will have to venture out. As likely as not, I will pass through neighborhoods were it still clearly after the end of the world. There are few places in this city where the reminders are just a stroll away.

And still we come home. The postal service tells us the population has reached 300,00 again, and when I visit Lowes to shop for fixtures it is as busy as it was a year ago when a few tens of thousands of people consumed ten percent of the constructions materials in North America. All across town, people are working on their homes with the same routine intensity as fishermen mending nets in the evening, as paleolithic hunters chipping new stones around a fire. We are making our way through life in the place fate put us.

Have you thought of what you will do if al-Qaida detonates a dirty bomb up the block, or if that big inevitable earthquake comes? Do you know where you would go, what you would bring? Have you thought of where you might live if tomorrow were after the end of your world, if your home and all its contents and the town it where in were irretrievably lost, if everyone you know were scattered to the winds? We all have. Its after the end of the world. Don't you know that yet?

And still we come back, and every day brings more. The levees stand, mute piles of dirt in the oppressive heat of July. The clouds that role in from the Gulf are not those of a hurricane, just another storm in the endless cycle of storms that fill corners of the city with water, water we pump out again. Someday the levees will be tested again, and they will or will not stand. Tomorrow you may board an airplane, and it may or may not fall screaming out of the sky. And still you file into your seats and open a book or fiddle with your I-Pod, just another day gambling with catastrophe at long odds.

You may think this is a crazy place to live, but we think it is the only place to live. We treasure our food and music and culture, but on any given Saturday we only want what you want: to sit in our backyards on a Saturday morning and listen to the dryer's basso while the neighbor cuts the grass, to be comfortably at home.


Comments:
Hey,sir, did you see?

Carrollton Playground is going to have tackle football this fall. Wasn't sure how else to contact you about this, besides the blog.

Clio III is all about it, but I hope he can still play flag for Lusher (I've been preaching Beach Boys "Be True to Your School" stuff.)

Is Wetbank Jr. interested? I remember your talking about his playing in the Great White North.

Peace,
C
 
Thanks, Mark. Again and again.
 
"Gambling with catastrophe at long odds"

Great phrase. Ain't it the truth, though! And not just in the Crescent City.
 
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"And when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcome, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive." -- Audie Lorde

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