Stuff

MI-CJ839B_TINYF_9U_20150602184527New Orleans   In the red-hot real estate market in Hong Kong they are selling something called “mosquito” apartments that are less than 180 square feet.  There was a picture in the paper comparing the size, unfavorably, to that of a parking slot.  Real estate brokers were suggesting that you could use the window sill for “entertaining.”  For all I know they may now call jumpers, entertainers in Hong Kong.  In Mumbai, the redevelopment schemes when high-rise luxury buildings replace squatters’ housing in registered and unregistered slums put families in 300 meter spaces.

Many times these days I think about these situations with the contradictory notions of envy and horror as I try to figure out what to do with too much stuff.  I met a woman some months ago who had an occasional job in New York City helping families clear out stuff from the apartments of dearly departed parents.  I understand increasingly why such a job now exists, and why it might pay even pay very well.

Looking after my elderly mother, I’ve been forced to come to terms with the fact that she will never set foot in the second floor of her home again.  Is there any good plan for her library and lifetime of books as a PhD of English Literature?  Or my brother, another English PhD with an even wider range of tastes and interests, and his thousands of books that even after six months I’ve hardly dented in his old apartment.  The Friends of the University of New Orleans Library are already in a quandary about whether or not there is something different they need to do about the twenty-five boxes of books we donated to them for their spring sale.  When the librarian at Benjamin Franklin High School, attended by my brother, my daughter, and me, received the several boxes of classic volumes in French, Italian, and Latin that had been my brother’s, she wrote me quickly asking was I sure this was what I wanted to do because some of them were knocking on the door of rare.  My response was equally eager, “no, please take them, what else might you need?”

We cherish all of this stuff, rich with memory and weighted with time.  There’s a calculation of triage that I find myself making as I balance necessity, meaning something has to be done, with nostalgia, stewardship, and procrastination. Finally, a truck gets rented, the whole family gets impressed into duty, a storage locker is secured, and the triage goes to a higher level on all fronts with some things finally hitting the curb and others at least out of sight in a stalemate of sorts for another time.  We have to move forward.

My father passed away almost exactly seven years ago.  Where my brother lived is next door to where my son still lives.   Half of the house my son and I painted a couple of years ago, and I look forward to finally painting my brother’s side soon.  My father used to paint one side, and I would paint the other.  It’s hard to explain to my son or really anyone else how much painting these houses and rooms means to me.  Every brush stroke allows me to be reminded that his hands held a brush here, stroking this wood, striding this ladder every several years as we did this together.  Yelling from ladder to ladder whether we “were having fun yet.”  Sometime in the future my family will argue with me that a contractor should paint the walls inside my brother’s old apartment on his side of the shotgun double.   There’s no rational way to describe the fact that many years ago he had personally and painstakingly painted three coats of these colors carefully on these walls.  I look forward to rolling the paint and applying the trim on the same walls that he did, whether I can fully explain the experience or not.

The stuff eventually will get sorted, stored, salvaged, or trashed.   I dread the day though when I can’t imagine myself physically in the same space and doing the same tasks as my brother and father.  Someday, I hope my children have the same legacy experiences as they push a brush of brighter, fresh color to once again protect the planks providing the skin on the hundred year skeleton of these houses.  It’s a strange labor and a pure joy.

In the meantime, I hope I do a better job figuring out what to do with all of this stuff and the burdens of love and time we must all carry.

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Macklemore x Ryan Lewis “WINGS” Official Music Video

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Are the People Finally Taking Over Mardi Gras?

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A float from the Krewe du Vieux “Begs for Change” 2015

New Orleans         There’s just something about reading the rehashed stories every year on the front page of the local New Orleans papers about the surprise of some uptown swell at being named King of Rex and the shock of some debutante at being chosen as the Queen.  All of this balderdash we are supposed to stomach as we then read of grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters who were in the Rex Court, Queens and Kings in ought whatever over generations.  Their pictures are always the same.  The stereotypes are always constant.  In recent years, as a mild concession to the fact that New Orleans is a majority African-American city despite all of this elite pretense, there are also stories about the selection of the King of Zulu which actually involves well publicized campaigns and voting, as opposed to the secret society affairs of the old time krewes and courts.   The Indians are also having their time in the sun given all of the attention by those in the know and faux Mardi Gras fictions like HBO’s Treme. 

I’m for having fun, but the traditional part of Mardi Gras is so not for me and sits at the top of the list of the things that are not my favorite here.   Until my son and I started pulling a shift for the regulars at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse every Mardi Gras morning, my most common remark about the holiday was that it was great to have a day off.

Nonetheless, I have to admit that there are some changes afoot that might save Mardi Gras somewhat for the locals and leave the show and the rest of the malarkey for the tourists, who are much appreciated and desperately needed for our service-dominated economy.  One big change is that women have increasingly forced their way onto the scene and away from the society and debutante balls.  There are women’s krewes now in reaction to the all-male bastions of the old line Boston and Pickwick Club outfits and some like Muses are huge hits.  There are lots of women’s marching and dancing groups now, many with huge attitude and some that must give the grand dames along St. Charles Avenue some pause.

In the almost ten years since Katrina, there also seems to be a democratization of the festivities driven largely by young people who want to mask and parade often in their own neighborhoods like my own Bywater where so many of them have flocked since the storm.  There is spirit there and even a bit of anarchy, as we saw some years ago in Eris where an unplanned and permitted route ended up with some arrests and hubbub.   Krewe de Vieux before the official start of the carnival season snubs its nose at one and all with often ribald results.  Societe de Saint Anne in particular has become wildly popular and amasses in Bywater literally doors away from our old home and only blocks from where we live now and is all about anyone who wants to join in and walk the streets toward the French Quarter from Bywater through Marigny.

In these downriver neighborhoods the chances are also good that you will stumble into a random procession of twenty or fifty or a hundred people following a concoction of their own making or perhaps it will stumble into you as a huge great white whale float reminiscent of Moby Dick did on my block this season.  Now that people seem willing to seize the streets, they may have a chance over time of pushing the swells off the front line and back to the society pages and the dustbins of history where they belong.

Here’s hoping!

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Please enjoy, Billy Bragg’s “There is Power in a Union”

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