Archive for August, 2010

August 27, 2010

BEFORE THE FLOOD

 

photo by Ted Soqui

 

Weird prophecies of the ‘mother of all storms’ and how New Orleans was gutted way before any home-wrecker named Katrina

(excerpted from Sex & Travel & Vestiges of Metallic Fragments: The Cole Coonce Reader, Vol. 1)

On a muggy Thursday night in August, I waited for Meisner at a hotel bar in New Orleans, absently watching a teevee screen mounted above the bar. Some squall known as Katrina was still a swirling micron of abstraction there, not yet powerful, a burbling blobular protoplasm on The Weather Channel. I finished my drink, we walked up Poydras to St. Charles Avenue and jumped on a trolley headed uptown, to a restaurant called Jacques Imo’s. The sticky heat wafted into the cable car and attached itself to our clothes. The air tasted of molasses.

Out in Carollton, a weird little slice of Americana where St. Charles ends, we got to Jacques Imo’s around 8-ish, went into the bar and asked how long the wait for dinner would be. “About three hours.” What time do you close? “10 o’clock.” Meisner ran the numbers, scrunched his brow and shook his head. “It’s New Orleans math, dude. Just go with it.” I ordered mint juleps.

By the time we were done with dinner, a passing thunderstorm had dampened the streets and the air was dense as a bag of feathers, and the trolleys had stopped running. A middle-aged white dude picked us up in a beater Ford taxi, we got in and he gunned it. The driver was a laconic man in flannel, asking only our destination. He drove with one hand, which moved with precise economy, like moving the steering wheel any more than necessary would cut into his already-slim profit margin. Most of the motion in the vehicle came from our driver habitually working a toothpick between his lips. In the dank hush of being and nothingness, the smear of headlights passed us sporadically and weather reports droned on the radio.

We passed through a blurry panorama of squalor and crime. It was all fairly depressing, actually. To mitigate the malaise I started up a conversation with the Toothpick. We passed a sign that read: “Garden District.”

“Isn’t this the Garden District?”

“No, this isn’t the ‘Garden District,’” the Toothpick said, forming air quotes with his free hand. “The Chamber wants you to believe it’s the ‘Garden District’ because you are tourists.”

So where is the real Garden District?” I refrained from using air quotes.

“Closer to Magazine Street. But I won’t even drive my cab down there, because of all the … criminal elements.”

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