Saturday, July 23, 2011

Social Aid and Pleasure in New Orleans

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Social Aid and Pleasure
Of Yats and Who Dats and Dem
When I’m asked if I’m from New Orleans I sometimes reply “no, but I got here as quick as I could”. If I’m asked if I’ve lived here all my life, I generally answer “not yet”.
That’s the way it is with people who ‘get’ New Orleans; we are here, we know that we’re here and we wouldn’t be anywhere else; believe me, we know that we’re supposed to be here. So here we are. And we don’t listen to anyone else’s take on the subject; I mean, if we were supposed to be somewhere else, why would we be here? Why would we be back?
We’re here from the Esplanade Ridge to Saint Roch; from Faubourg Marigny to Central City; from the Garden District to the French Quarter; from the Ninth Ward to Lakeview; from Holy Cross to Broadmoor, Fountainbleau, Gert Town, Buck Town, Back of Town, Bywater, Black Pearl, Saint Bernard and Bayou Saint John. We wander in and out of the fabric of the city; Oak Street, Carrollton, Tchoupitoulas, Desire and Ponchartrain Park.
We gather at coffee shops, second lines, barber shops, bars, festivals, churches and the steps leading to our front doors; we love our sports teams, Mamas, food, music, pets and children (in that order). We either are or know musicians, tipplers, chefs, artists, writers, hustlers and people in various bizarre states of economic flux. We say hello to eachother on sidewalks. We are a tribe. We’re here for better or for worse.
We don’t participate in anything that we are confused about or not good at; hence our low voter turnouts and high Saints game followings. We are the murder (per capita) capitol of the country; lead in teen unwed pregnancies; incarcerations and graduate a mere 53.7% of our children. We are described as a third world country not an American city; rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, doctor, lawyer, Indian chief; we’re a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction, taking every wrong direction on our lonely way back home. We’re sassy, flirtatious, opinionated and, most of the time, witty (the rest of the time we’re half witty).
We litter where we stand, we park where we want to, dress as we like, stay out as late as we like, say whatever we like to whomever we like. We cannot for the life of ourselves manage to drive down a street with any degree of safety, simultaneously making a phone call, turning the music up, checking out a hottie by the side of the road AND work a turn signal, but that doesn’t stop us from going for a best three out of five. We live our lives on auto pilot like some confederacy of petulant adolescents; or, as one pundit described our particular way of doing things: “it’s not the heat, it’s the stupidity”.
Would I call us stupid? No. Would I call us a lot of other things (contradictory, illogical, unmotivated, inconsiderate, and insensitive)? Ignorant? Hmmmmm. Defensive? Me?
Would I say that we are the greatest city in the world? I dunno, I haven’t been to all the great cities…yet; but, you have to admit, we’re up there. However, we’re like spoiled children with a rare book that we neglect, mistreat, disregard the value of (and at times wipe our asses with the pages) that cannot be reasoned with.
Who knows why? It’s easy to say “This is the twenty-first century, can’t we act a little more advanced than we have been?” Can we really expect more of ourselves? Can we not? Can we not expect the parents of yesterday to have raised the children of today to be somewhat more evolved? Of course the answer is here, and the answer is no. We, by and large (imprecisely generally speaking), cannot.
Of course, as evidence shows, we are not so much worse than other places; but consider this: we are not better than other places, and we could be. We have a rich fertile environment here that could be the poster child of the progress that the twenty-first century can hold; and what do we show the rest of the world? A bucket of sludge.
And sure, there are bright, advanced and enlightened elements here; but they’re just drops in the bucket. The forces for good are trumped by the forces of inertia, ennui and complacency. The ways that we fall short and the ways that we can improve as a city are easy, easy to see; only, evidently, no one is looking. It’s more like we’re wedged in Forest Gump stupid gear where we think that New Orleans is a box of candy and we never know what we’ll get at any one pick; Politics, police, health, education, ethics, crime, economy, jobs, etc. None are as appetizing as they appear; and any discussions about the value of life, economic opportunities, liberty, personal safety and the pursuit of happiness are rife with definitive qualifiers. We’re stuck in Gumpville when we should be in Will Shortz land or even the realm of Alfred Mosher Butts.
You see, Alfred Mosher Butts invented a board game where the participants are given letters and make words out of them (Scrabble), Will Shortz takes those words and makes crossword puzzles out of them for the New York Times newspaper. How much easier to solve and excel in city infrastructure challenges than to have clues to those challenge’s solutions and to just plug the answer in to where they fit with all the other answers, figure everything out, complete the puzzle, and BAM! Triple Word Score!
The trouble is that to anyone who plays those word games and puzzles, it is that easy! And it drives us nucking futz that them candy pickers cannot see it for the glitter of the wrappers and the coating of the sugar; on the pieces of candy that they juggle and then work with sound and fury to keep all their balls in the air and accomplish nothing at all. It is that easy to find that all of the answers that we need to all of our challenges can be worked on together so that they fit with other answers to correct this dysfunctional dilemma that we are in. Does that make any sense to you? It does to me.
To have a superior city everyone needs to participate in making it happen and if you cannot participate then possibly you’re not part of the solution…

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