Saturday, August 23, 2008

New Orleans: The Secret Life of Crayons

Down and Out in The Big Easy
The Secret Life of Crayons

Rejection and despair. That’s the sound that is made when a crayon hits the floor; and, Green was face down in a pool of dust. Again. And, that was the sound that had just interrupted a story that I was trying to compose.
But, I digress, (as an aspiring writer, I’ve always wanted to watch myself, coolly detached, type ‘but, I digress’ into a story, along with other phrases like ‘It gave me great pause’ and words like ‘trepidation’ and ‘indigent’) and since you asked, here’s the story:
I had put aside my borrowed copy of George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. In the book, he talks about his misadventures being indigent in these places in the nineteen twenties or very early thirties. I had decided to do a piece on the people who fall through the cracks here in New Orleans. I have a current passing, and sometimes personal, relationship with about a dozen local ‘unfortunates’ and recently it has given me great pause, I think because, on some subliminal level, I can relate to them and their missed fortunes.
I was also marveling at how much so little has changed for the poor over centuries of progress for mankind; as if the impoverished, being one of the lost tribes of Israel, passed their misery from generation to generation.
I was listening to Mozart’s Requiem in D minor and reflecting on how, with one twist of fate, we are all a step away from living on the street or relying on ‘the kindness of strangers’. I’m convinced that, without my consent, an event or, series of events, could have me (like others that I know) eating from trashcans, sleeping in doorways and carrying my life in a black plastic garbage bag. Possibly, my ‘twilight years’ would be spent lying in a mental ward getting my Pampers changed, as I bark like a duck. One degree of separation, that’s how I was seeing it.
I considered getting a cell phone, surely that would save me from a future of cheap wine, generic cigarettes and asking that cute couple from Des Moines to give me money for standing still, on a milk carton, painted silver. In New Orleans being a living statue on a street corner is a vocation; one step above begging, they do not have cell phones. People hurrying from paying jobs to warm hearths have cell phones. The upwardly mobile, drinking snappy cocktails at swank joints, have cell phones. I do not have a cell phone.
After a recent conversation with my older sister on whether poverty was hereditary or contagious, I came to the conclusion, that in my case at least, it is both. I know no one who is not living from paycheck to paycheck, when they’re that lucky, including every member of my family. You can probably guess what I have to say to that smart-ass that coined the phrase that “money can’t buy happiness”!
In addition, I’m not aware that I’ll have an alternative financial plan, should some mishap occur in my life. I don’t even have a primary financial plan. As I see it, I’m living in a world where college buildings will get millions, and the benefactor’s names will be emblazoned on them, possibly along with their cell phone numbers. Meanwhile, the majority of the population; the impoverished, the insufficient, and the undereducated (the un-cell phoned) will get minimum wage, (at best) and no benefits, ignored by the very people that have it in their power to help them. Maybe the folks with cell phones are hooked up to a higher power, or something. Maybe folks with cell phones never slip through the cracks. My head was hurting; I was obviously putting a strain on my brain.
Then, between Introit and the Kyrie Eleison, as if by design, a crayon, known only as Green, bit the dust.
I kept the basic box of eight crayons by my desk in the hopes that remembering all of their names would be proof enough that dementia wasn’t setting in. What do I know? Twice before, I’ve found Green out of the box and thought ‘that’s it, I’ve got Alzheimer’s’. This time though, I caught them red handed! Who? The other crayons, of course. What were they doing? Practicing color discrimination! Why were they doing that? I don’t know, maybe it’s just what they do where they come from, kinda like us. Where do they come from? That parallel universe that I’m always talking about
From now on, my theory that there is a parallel universe that is invading us with bad tippers, digital watches, haters and cheaters will include crayons with their own agendas. How else would you explain a CEO who builds a house for a hundred million dollars while John Q. Shareholder takes it in the shorts, if certainly not for a parallel universe and its invasion? These types certainly can’t come from this planet. Period. No member of Homo Sapiens could think or act like that. It belies the term. For the unenlightened, ‘Homo Sapiens’ literally means ‘wise man’. I certainly don’t feel very wise, but, I also didn’t consider myself the type of ‘homo’ that would strap on a body bomb and visit a shopping mall for a little ‘catch back’. That, my friend, takes an alien.
I wondered if there was a correlation between the secret life of crayons and man’s inhumanity to man. To this end, I decided to take my color discrimination theory a step further and perhaps learn something that would be of use in my future, and possibly the future of the world.
I went to Walgreen’s and parted with my ‘hard earned’ for a box of sixty -four Crayolas™. There are other, less expensive, brands and bigger boxes, but, sixty four is the largest quantity you can buy in the French Quarter and Crayolas ™ come with a handy sharpener and are made in the good old U. S. of A. (non toxic, of course). I was hoping to surprise the invaders and learn something about their culture, and perhaps save our planet.
Walking home with my purchase was a joy. It was a clear, warm afternoon in the French Quarter and the smells of Tea Olive and honeysuckle were in the air, and the air was full of expectation. The slight breeze whispered of great potentials and happy endings. I was content to meander in a southern miasma of partial amnesia, if you catch my drift.
‘Drifting’ my way through the narrow streets, past centuries old cottages and ornately ironed balconies brimming with ferns and flowers, I wondered how much had changed over the years in crayon land. Was the color ‘Flesh’ expanded to include ‘Asian’, ‘Hispanic’, and a myriad of ‘African American’ colors? Or was it now called ‘Band-Aid’ or ‘Caucasian’? Were the Greens grouped with Blues because envy was safe with melancholy? Were the Yellows now cowering in their own section, and was ‘Aqua Marine’ now in a ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t tell’ area? Were the crayons of my youth ‘toxic’ (we used to eat them, you know)? The possibilities were endless.
The box sat on my desk unopened for days. I pictured an uneasy truce between the colors being so closely confined and sealed to boot. I wondered what terrors the opening of the box would unleash. Would they behave? I recalled finding a Yellow Penway ™ Crayon in the street a few days earlier; it was broken in three places, obviously the victim of turf wars.
I read the box. Did you know that in Easton, Pa. there is a factory that makes Crayolas? And, that you can call them toll free at 1-800-crayola for a seventy five-cent coupon off your next purchase, you can tour the factory if you ever get up that way, and that, no, they are NOT made by Oompa Loompas. I called them, and they told me that stuff. They have a website, and, of course, it’s I also called their marketing firm (not toll free) and I’m awaiting a call back or press package or something.
See, isn’t that better than dwelling on the fact that a third of the adult population of New Orleans can’t read above fifth grade level? How smart does that make you?
I finally decided to open the box. I mean, hell that’s more important than the fact that less than half the registered voters actually vote here (and only a fraction of those eligible even register).
First I stood the box on its head for a couple of hours to disorient them. I don’t want any oriented crayons, not on my watch.
And then for the moment of truth.
I opened the box slowly, carefully, with extreme trepidation, forgetting to breathe.
“Holy Cannoli” I exhaled, “they’re in four smaller boxes and there’s no rhyme or reason to their distribution!” I said to no one in particular. The cat eyed me suspiciously from her perch atop the computer printer. I cleared some space on the desk, dumped the crayons out and tried to make some order, or at least get some sense. I started by looking for ‘patterns’ and some emerged.
The Greens were outnumbered, the Red family that drifted into the Oranges held the power, Yellows are almost extinct having inter bred with every other color. Purples were uppity; Silver was being treated like a red headed stepchild, while Black and White simply did not give a shit.
The colors will boggle your mind. There’s Orange, Red Orange and Yellow Orange. There’s Macaroni and Cheese, Purple Mountain’s Majesty, Timberwolf, Asparagus (looking a little overcooked if you ask me), Tumbleweed and Granny Smith Apple! I kid you not. There’s even a color called Bittersweet; I had wondered about that.
But, it was the family of the Blues that blew my mind: Cadet, Turquoise, Pacific, Sky and Robin’s Egg Blue. Cornflower, Cerulean (?), Periwinkle, Blue Green (not to be confused with Green Blue), and of course Blue. I wondered how many shades of the blues there were, and, would B. B. King be able to sing about them all?
Putting them back (in order, of course) I didn’t see Aqua Marine and there were no flesh tones of any ethnic group in evidence. My neighbor assures me that there’s a box of ninety-six out there and has intimated that the next time she leaves the French Quarter she’ll look for it for me. As a hard core Quarterite, I live with the shopping policy that: “If it’s not found in the French Quarter, I don’t really need it”
There, that’s easier than trying to figure out why it seems that The American Dream is being filmed in Myopic-Vision and is being directed by Frederico Fellini, from beyond the grave; hang on……, I thought I just heard Raw Umber telling Olive Green to “Stop whining and get a !@@##$$%%*8* Job!!”
It’s time to reseal that box, there is such a thing as too much information. And besides, who’d believe me?

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