Monday, October 03, 2005

Ruminations on Candlelight Urination

Friday was my second return to New Orleans. I left early and barrelled down Highway 61, trying to get in ahead of the 200,000 returning residents who were now legally allowed in. (Our zipcode is conspicuously absent from the list of early returns; apparently it extends into some of the worst flood zones in the city.) As I neared Causeway, traffic bottleknecked predictably; I took a deep zenBreath(tm) and steeled myself for the hours of waiting that never came. Traffic picked up almost immediately, and I soon found myself on the nearly deserted streets of Uptown once again.

The National Guard presence is lighter now. No large encampment at Audubon Park that I could see, fewer Humvees in my rearview this time. I also took a slightly different route and saw more downed trees, more wind damage Uptown than I remembered. The new views of the destruction combined with the empty streets doused the bouyant spirits my last trip in had raised. But then I stopped by Slim Goodies for a quick chat with Kappa, and all was right again. She was deep in the weeds and having a ball, it seemed. Alone behind the counter, she plated the pancakes a customer volunteering as short-order cook was pouring and flipping.

Finally, I made it down to the Texaco building, where I brought the office back online--alas, no bourbocam yet, but the office cams were soon sending out photos of what's left of New Orleans. The building was closed again at 2 p.m, so I headed back to our Marigny house. The Marigny is funkier than ever, at least in the old sense of the term. So was our house. I checked on Mimi's (the bar) and Mimi's (the house). Went to Bourbon street to confirm that Cat's was indeed still shuttered and plywooded. There was a Jersey Swat Team contingent strolling about and what appeared to be a few tourists drinking Handgrenades (were they relief workers who extended their stay? news crews out on the town? Who were these people, this beadless skeleton crew of the usual suspects?). Mounds of trash with a pungence indescribable but only quantitatively worse than the normal French Quarter stench.

From the Quarter, it was back uptown to check on a friend's grandmother's house at Audubon park. Again, I was caught off guard by the extent of destruction. The neighbors who were there appeared to be gutting the groundlevel basements of their raised houses. Limp sheetrock, mottled couches, drowned stereos and entire entertainment centers, small hills of trash lined the street. My friend's grandmother's place showed no external damage, and the water line appeared to be below the threshold everywhere on her place.

Having given him a phone report, I turned toward the Maple Leaf and the first music show of post-Katrina New Orleans. Walter "Wolfman" Washington was playing, with Kevin O'Day on drums. I could think of nowhere else I would rather have been and only wished that Sarah, who introduced me to New Orleans music, could have been there. The gig was set for 5:00, to skirt the curfew, but true to New Orleans form, it was closer to 7:00 when the beer was finally chilled and the band warmed up. The crowd was small but enthusiastic, a cross section of the usual Maple Leaf characters--a few student types, dancing the gangly-armed hippie dance, some middle-agers with wedding-party swing moves, one or two old timers beaming at the scene. When I heard the trombone, I knew I was home, and when Walter broke out "Oop poo pah doo," I settled into my bliss. And yes, I peed by candlelight, the generator power reserved for beer coolers and amplifiers. The MSNBC crew insured that the place was brighter than it has been for any Rebirth show I've seen there, but the men's room was lit by a single votive, perched ritually atop the urinal. Even the Bud Light tasted rare and remarkable for this night. When I finally had an Abita in my hand, and the band was rolling through an extended version of Kansas Joe McCoy's "When the Levee Breaks," I knew that the spirit of New Orleans was still haunting that empty cityscape, just waiting for enough of us to gather around and call it back to life.


Blogger Michael said...

Spammers are jerks. That being said, this is probably one of the best blogs I've read in awhile, with its scant two entries.

You know, just when I'm starting to think I'm a pretty good blogger, you come along and shatter my ego.

Thanks for taking me down a notch. :-/

2:54 PM  
Blogger chip said...

I was part of the NBC News crew and producers who attended that night and I will never forget it.
That place, that night was a very emotional time and a happy re-birth of a great club and an awesome city. The Abita was cold and that place jammed. We don't all get to go back for the anniversaries but it's one of those places you talk about year after year. I met my future wife covering Katrina and we plan on going back there to get married.

4:02 PM  

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