Monday, December 12, 2005

Don't make no sense

New Orleans doesn't make any sense. Not to the rest of the country it appears, anyway. That's why I have to hear from a friend of mine who headed for higher ground in Austin that "no city in America is owed an existence." That's why also a writer who has been bidding us ta-ta and singing the dirge of our untimely demise for so long has now decided to kick us off himself. New Orleans doesn't make sense to America, it seems, because we make no economic sense. Where's the payoff, the dividend from keeping us around? America, once guilty of knowing the price of everything, the value of nothing, is now looking to Walmart for an even lower price.

But New Orleans hasn't made financial sense in many a long year. It was something I registered at the first New Orleans party I ever attended. After four hours of conversation and drinks, I left the party realizing that no one--no one--had asked me what I did for a living. And I didn't know what anyone else did in their hours bought and sold, either--well, one, but that's because the party was a send-off for him on his way to study Chinese medicine. I did know what kinds of music people listened to, who they had seen at Jazz Fest ten years ago, a couple of stories of the horrors awaiting all owners of old houses. But the topic of how we managed to make a living just never seemed to surface. And it has been that way consistently in every gathering here I've attended. Only somone fresh off the plane from Chicago or LA extends a hand, gets the name, and asks, "So what is it you do?" It seems that in New Orleans we go by the assumption that what we "do" isn't really who we are. We generally aren't making money (certainly not much money) doing what we want. We have the jobs of teenagers and roustabouts, we're service industry workers and freelancers of different stripes, but generally that's the least interesting part of the story. No one comes to New Orleans to make money. There was a time,perhaps,when people came here to save money, but those days have been fading ever since the French Quarter went condo. So, when someone from San Francisco provides a friendly opening for conversation, it doesn't make sense to them when a New Orleanian answers, "You know, this and that."

And we fail to make economic sense in a specific and time-worn way. When it comes down to it, we're a goddammed cinematic archetype. We're the hooker with the heart of gold. We're the Magdalen of cities. We take you in when you need to wrestle free of a life that makes sense too completely. We're good for a tumble, let you listen to the music that no one likes where you live. We're a good kid, really, but you always feel a little sheepish as you leave, after, as even George Bush admits, you've enjoyed yourself "a little too much". And God help us if we "get in trouble"; we should've known,after all. We've practically been asking for it. But we heard him, if no one else did, when he whispered, "You'll see, baby. Next time I'm in town, you'll see. I'll set you up right. Get you a little apartment. I'm not gonna forget about you, baby." And even this simple financial transaction is too complicated for us; we get involved, believe that maybe he really means it this time. So, maybe it's a bit much now to expect him to come riding down Elysian Fields to the sounds of Verdi, standing up through the sunroof of his limo, bearing roses. It's okay, baby. We don't need the flowers and the opera. We know you've got big business on your mind. Just leave the money on the dresser when you go.


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