Saturday, May 23, 2009

August in New Orleans

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
The End of Days
Twenty Questions
It gives one great pause when the term ‘muggy August’ is bandied about in this town; and although one can be mugged here at any time of year, one rightly can ponder whether August perhaps is a more auspicious month than others.
August is hot. How hot? Well, not only is it hotter than July… the heat here in August is enough to knock you down flatter than a snake’s ass in a well worn wagon rut. With the heat, folks become edgy and having time on your hands with no place to go and nothing to do is a sure workshop for the devil’s mischief. Besides, folks who suffer from the heat can and do become downright testy if they ain’t got no money for a cold drink.
Also, there is not much for you to do in New Orleans in the month of August; except maybe listen to your air conditioner in the throws of a coronary, watch the TV for an impending storm or be privy to the conversation of others while they tell you and the world how miserable the heat is making them.
Words like relentless do apply to our heat, unmerciful is how we describe our humidity. The same words are used to define our crime.
One of the things that we do here in New Orleans is shoot eachother. Don’t be taken aback; that’s not a brag…it’s a fact; and nobody considers taking our guns away from us, as logical as that may sound. Here we learn about shootings so often that we don’t even catch our breath any more when we hear or read about them. We’ve become desensitized, blasé, unmoved and impotent. Kids, as young as four, have shot and killed persons. Citizens in their twilight years are gunned down in home invasions for no apparent reason. Teenagers are shooting their peers with the abandon of the old Wild West. Carjackings, hold ups and rapes—if you have a weapon you are in charge.
This subject usually doesn’t crop up in conversations more than it’s necessary; but, if you live in our town long enough you will know of an acquaintance that has been physically accosted (mugged, maimed, murdered, molested), you will hear about someone near to you that has taken one for the team, you will come to know of the danger that you live with and the chances that you take to reap the rewards of being in the ‘City that care forgot’ or as it further known: the ‘City that forgot to care’.
Is there any hope for us? Is there any hope for anyone is the real question. Anywhere? We know that ours is the ‘most senselessly violent country in the civilized world’; but, what exactly does that mean…’senselessly violent’?
It means that there is no revolution, civil war, ethnic cleansing, religious zealotry or factional terrorism at work here. We kill each other for the pure meanness of it.
Okay, factually it is only a fraction of Americans that are criminals--albeit that with only 5% of the world’s people--we have 25% of the worlds prison populations. In terms of adults, we have one in every hundred behind bars (not to mention those on parole or on bail). So what is it? Ignorance, education, lead poisoning (not that kind!), or failure of parental guidance… and church …and state? Lack of positive role models? Poverty and social inequality? Racial division and plantation mentality? Alcohol and child abuse? Media sensationalism and entertainment that denigrates women and mocks authority? Drug and violence cultures being venerated? All of the above?
No, I don’t think so and yes, it’s probably true. However, you must remember that even with awful statistics and situations like those, we still do have 99% of adults that are not locked up; most of who have jobs, families and hopes and dreams for a secure and peaceful future… and…virtually at the mercy of those who would bully us on the rationale that what we have is theirs to take from us: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That one percent; and, locking them away does not made us any safer than the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder.
So what do we do this hot muggy August? The answer is “what the fuck do I know?”
You work hard and put your money in a 401 or the stock market and you plan on working for a company forever that gets it’s ass kicked by the recession and then your car is stolen, your daughter moves in with a drug addict and your house is broken into for what little cash that you have in your sock drawer. Your loved one gets real sick with no health coverage and the landlord decides that it’s time to raise your rent in the sketchy neighborhood that is a war zone at night and a pig sty in the day. You go to work for as little as the man can get away with paying you, walking past guys on the corner drinking tall boys at 8:30 in the morning and wonder about the American Dream. Laisser le Bon Temps Roulez and the second line on Sunday with a cold brew and a barbecued turkey neck celebrating the life of another death statistic. You know somebody that knows somebody that knew them and so it goes.
The heat comes down in waves and bounces off the pavement and insects buzz and the sweat rolls down between your shoulder blades to the middle of your back and you carry a towel to wipe your eyes that ache from the ruthless sun. Taking a long pull from your fast warming beer and doing a little dance step in the after dirge just for the pure ‘D’ hell of it and you don’t know if it’s blood, sweat or tears that is rolling down your cheeks.
That’s life here in August; muggy August; crying while we’re dancing and dancing while we weep. In a city that is as deep in our souls as our breath itself we maintain that love-hate relationship. Dance around the pitiless ground on which we live because if you stop dancing all you have left are your tears.

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