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Day 488: An Honest Go Of It

There must be a certain malaise in the air. Alexis and I recently succumbed to its psychic virulence, and have been pondering the meaning of life, living in New Orleans and, most importantly, whether what we do, as artist, scientist or blogger, means anything in the end. Does our work make the world a better place? We are left staring at our bowl of gumbo in which floats chunks of things we have done that diminish by the minute, writer’s block, the painfully slow recovery of New Orleans and the need to break out, all spiced with the singular flavor of impotence.

Existential crises aside, Lex and I have steady jobs. Many we know, who returned to New Orleans soon after the Federal Flood and were simply happy to be home, aren’t as lucky. This time last year, a divey haunt turned into a palacial recreation room, every fleur-de-lis and manhole cover became a symbol of pride, each string of beads a pearl necklace fit for a queen, even our local paper became a celebrated slab from God. Money was spent in the hope of a better tomorrow … after Carnival 2006, after St. Patrick’s Day, after Jazzfest, after the summer, after the Katrina anniversary, after each football game, after Christmas. New Orleans will start to look up after after after after …

Debris Outside The Gazebo Cafe

Days have turned into months and now a year, and these same people lament that they have lost so much money living here that they cannot leave. A close friend who works in the service industry says, “I would leave if I could, but I can’t so I stay. Besides, who else will have me? I don’t have the same connections, however dwindling, anywhere else.”

When a waiter, bartender, cleaning lady, shopkeeper or cab driver, how does one pay the ever-increasing rent, health insurance, cab fare and growing debt? It’s especially hard when you’ve lived in New Orleans for a good 20 or 30 years, or your whole life, and simply lack the physical, emotional, financial and psychological wherewithal to start over somewhere else. Then again, New Orleans is the land of misfit toys; it’s where many with large brains and brimming potential came to hide and sleep. Where else can they go?

This is what Lex and I try hard to combat as citizens of New Orleans. She and I adore the laissez-faire attitude, but also worship accomplishment. We help ourselves and the local population by being out and about in the parish’s music, food, people and air, writing and taking pictures of New Orleanians every day, every other week entertaining thoughts of where else in the world to live and trying to keep the aforementioned life quandary at bay. No, we are not Atlas and Bheema reincarnate to shoulder all of New Orleans’s, much less the world’s, burdens, nor do we pretend to be. As empathic beings, however, how can we not feel with the rest of our city and keep that enervation from permeating our own psyches? We can only do so much, and then some. As always, Craig Giesecke puts this best:

Ever since the population started returning and places started opening back up, just about everyone who’s been here and had an extra dollar to spend and brought friends/family to town has been working to spend it locally. That’s what it’s all about, right?

… The problem is we’ve passed the point of overload. There simply aren’t enough of us living here anymore to keep so many of the local icons up and running. The current population of Orleans Parish remains roughly half of what it was before the flood — and that means only so many people with only so much money buying only so many meals or making only so many other purchases in so many days. If we want a nice night out in the French Quarter and we go to Antoine’s — it means we’re not going to Galatoire’s. Or Tujague’s. Or Muriel’s. Next time we go out, we’ll hit one of the other places — but will all those other places still be around six months later when we can afford to go? Maybe. But the “maybe not” is now looming much larger than before.

New Orleans or not, 2006 going on 2007 or not, ultimately we are human beings on this planet. We put one foot in front of the other and do our best each day, even if the board game places us two steps back for each one forward and each of us is out $200 for simply being alive. As long as you keep doing, things will happen. “Everything comes to he who hustles while he waits.”

So, why am I still in New Orleans, with its sporadic mayor, police chief, progress and joie de vivre? For right now, it’s where I feel the most myself, the most American, the most meaningful. It’s where I see my aspects of this city, and ones I have yet to come across, to their rightful paths and let them fly from there. It’s where, to quote Mark, I have come home to try.

If we want a city that resembles the one of memory and desire, perhaps it is best if we are left to ourselves to build it. Give me enough people like Shearer, like the New Orleans bloggers listed at right and I believe we can do it: ourselves alone … Going it alone, with fair compensation from the government for the damage they caused, will be painful. Some will try and not make it, risk everything to return and rebuild or reopen, only to lose everything. If we must go it alone, this will certainly be a smaller city, and some will leave ruined and broken by the effort. Whether we are recalled as heroes or fools only history will tell, but I think I know the measure of those who have chosen to come home and try. There is no finer place to be an American today than in their company.

9 comments… add one
  • G Bitch December 29, 2006, 2:47 PM

    So that’s why I should stay, huh? Well said, girl. Munchies for late-night thought.

  • saintseester December 30, 2006, 9:06 AM

    People like you will keep the city alive and growing. Keep up the great writing.

  • Sophmom December 30, 2006, 6:45 PM

    Good post, Maitri. So was Mark’s. I don’t know what’s going to come of it in the long run, but what you guys are doing is very important, especially as we wind into the presidential election cycle. That said, this morning when I told Michael about the shooting outside of the Grits Bar, he said he wants to come home. He’s said that before but he didn’t mean it. He’s heading back to NOLA Monday. *sigh*

  • Adrastos December 31, 2006, 12:51 PM

    The blog is looking a little hinky, dawlin’ I believe that’s the techno-geek term.

  • Sophmom December 31, 2006, 3:20 PM

    I think the techno-geek term is “weird lines” but I can’t be sure. ;)

    Happy New Year, Maitri. I hope 2007 is the best year yet!

  • rickngentilly January 1, 2007, 2:02 AM

    as someone who has worked in the service industry since 1980 here is my personal take.

    i am a cook and my wife is a bartender.

    after the manmade flood i was able to come home a week before rita and start fixing up our house while living in the hotel of my employ.

    my wife came home thanksgiving and lived in the hotel of my employ while we were still fixing up our house.

    the electricity came back on in our neighborhood dec. 11 and that was the first night we were able to move back into our house.

    the service industry is a bitch and exploits a lot of folks because of the society of new orleans.

    it is not a whipping boy for for our ills.

    i know people who are way better off than me financally even though they got in the game later than me but they treated it like a trade.

    i spent my early years in the trade living like a drunkun sailor on the big money and cheap rents.

    as i got older i learned to settle down.

    it is a trade where i made enough money to buy a house and than have enough money in the bank to fix my house while i waited for state farm and with any luck the l.r.a .to make me whole.

    the service industry is not the exploter. in 26 years i have worked for two different guys who were my former dishwashers and i was glad in both cases that i had treated them with respect and mentored them.

    it is a trade that will give you back what you put in.

    my sadness is that there are not trade schools for this industry as well as the craftsmen trades to get more young folks to respect the entry level and to see the future of said trades.

    the only reason i can afford to fix up my 1932 arts and craft cottage in the old school plaster and tiles is because i made freinds with the guys who do it in the quarter at the joints i have worked.

    matri i enjoy your posts and i apolgize if i am off base here but the sevice indrustry is a great employer for fools like me who have no education past high school because they have to pay rent at 17.

    i think the trades are way underrated. i know guys that are making 25.00 an hour because they had someone who mentored them in a trade.

    a lot of our youth would benifit from this type of discipline.

  • rickngentilly January 1, 2007, 2:16 AM

    i am not making light.

    me and my wife were in the right place at the right time. we spent five years paying off student loans and getting our credit right before we got our mortgage.

    hell the bank gave us our mortgage with out flood insurance. we got it a year later because she is from the midwest and practical.

    my point is that we should give kids the option of a trade with a strong mentor so they dont have to piss away 12 years like i did.

  • EJ January 2, 2007, 12:48 AM

    yup, i think you hit the collective sentiment of the city right on the bullseye. at least it’s what i’m experiencing. thanks for writing this; it helps many of us just to know others are feeling the same.

  • Maitri January 4, 2007, 10:00 AM

    Rick, I have nothing aginst the service industry. Lots of my friends are talented waiters, bartenders, cooks and cabbies. I lament that they can no longer practise welll in this city what they are really good at while rents and insurance paymets go up.

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