“Louisiana in September was like an obscene phone call from nature. The air–moist, sultry, secretive, and far from fresh–felt as if it were being exhaled into one’s face. Sometimes it even sounded like heavy breathing. Honeysuckle, swamp flowers, magnolia, and the mystery smell of the river scented the atmosphere, amplifying the intrusion of organic sleaze. It was aphrodisiac and repressive, soft and violent at the same time. In New Orleans, in the French Quarter, miles from the barking lungs of alligators, the air maintained this quality of breath, although here it acquired a tinge of metallic halitosis, due to fumes expelled by tourist buses, trucks delivering Dixie beer, and, on Decatur Street, a mass-transit motor coach named Desire.”
― Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume
“In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet and say to us, Make us your slaves, but feed us.”
― Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Grand Inquisitor
For the last month or so my Wild Detectives Difficult Reads Book Club (DRBC) has been digging through Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. It was originally scheduled for the beginning of the year, with a weekly meeting at the book store – but was cancelled due to the quarantine. Finally, we started back up with Zoom meetings every Wednesday evening, instead of meeting in person. It actually works pretty well.
I made sure I could call into the Zoom meeting from my son’s apartment when I was on my New Orleans trip last week. He is working remotely and is something of a gamer – he had dedicated panel lights and an expensive headset with fancy microphone and the meeting worked really well from his place – I need to up my Zoom game from home now. In particular, everyone said my voice was very clear.
“You sound like a DJ, and you look like one too,” one woman said.
“Look like a DJ?” I replied, “Everyone has always said I have a face for radio.”
But before the meeting I had to get my weekly chunk of reading done (we are about a third of the way through). We had made it up to The Grand Inquisitor chapter (which sort of stands on its own) – the heart of the book and arguably is one of the most famous and influential works of literature ever written. It is also a dense and difficult read.
It was a beautiful day. I took my Kindle, walked down through the French Quarter and picked out a bench along the Mississippi to sit down and work my way through the (e-ink) pages.
The French Quarter is known for a lot of things – but it isn’t really known for a place to hang out and read Russian Literature (though a lot of literature has been written there). For me, however, it was perfect.
And I don’t care what you think… the bars are closed for Covid anyway.
“Now I know what a ghost is. Unfinished business, that’s what.”
― Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses
I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.
I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.
Here’s another one for today (#42). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.
Thanks for reading.
Over the last few summers I have gone to New Orleans for a Writing Marathon. Even though last year’s was a disaster – I always look forward to it a lot. Let’s see – I learned about the New Orleans Writing Marathon on November 11, 2012 when Candy ran into one of the participants at breakfast at St. Vincent’s Guest House.
Obviously, it was not going to be possible to pull this off live this year. So they did a virtual writing event instead. It was fun, not as fun as the real thing, but cool nonetheless. We did three writing sessions – one10 minutes, and two 20 or so. That gives me three entries. I did edit them a bit and change the point of view. It is what it is.
A Disease That Kills Off Ghosts
Sam couldn’t have imagined the French Quarter empty. Most of the Bourbon street bars never close – they are open all night, every night – or were. Because they never planned on closing they don’t even have doors. They had to nail plywood over the openings.
Molly’s on Decatur and a few other places barely closed during Katrina. And now they are empty. The streets are deserted. The pavement untrodden and the air unvibrated with music or shouting.
Sam found it to be beautiful in one sense. He lives in a high rise downtown and gets up before dawn to beat the awful summer humidity for his morning run. Sam now runs in the quarter, up Decatur and down Chartres, up Bourbon and down Royal. At dawn he has the beauty and the history all to himself.
But it isn’t right. It isn’t the same. Sam has seen some of the streets at odd times – times odder than He’d like to admit – times when there weren’t very many people out (and the people that were out you don’t want to meet). But nothing like this.
The ghosts can’t come out in times like this. A disease that kills off ghosts. Because how can you have ghosts without people to haunt? How can you have a specter without crowds to gasp.
It is a gap in time. A space without history. All spaces have ends, though. He can’t imagine the end – but it will come. The crowds, the drunks the music will reappear.
And so will the ghosts.
“In the end, love wins. It does win. We know it wins. When a person dies, love isn’t turned off like a faucet. It is an amazingly resilient part of us.”
― J.K. Rowling
“I delve into the mysterious and counterintuitive world of helmets and high-visibility gear later in the book. But it’s worth immediately noting this: while they’re not inherently bad, they’re less a safety device for cycling than a symptom of a road network where no cyclist can truly feel safe.”
― Peter Walker, How Cycling Can Save the World
“The beauty of Molly’s is that it is not, whether in the daytime or at night, the exclusive preserve of an age or income group. Unlike the sterile night scenes of pretentious San Francisco or New York, Molly’s (and most other New Orleans bars) welcomes all ages, all colors, and all sexual persuasions, provided they are willing to surrender to the atmosphere.”
― Andrei Codrescu, New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writings from the City
A conversation between my son, Lee, and the bartender at Molly’s, Decatur Street, New Orleans
“On the prow of the wagon, in an attempt to attract business among the Quarterites, Ignatius taped a sheet of Big Chief paper on which he had printed in crayon: TWELVE INCHES (12) OF PARADISE. So far no one had responded to its message.”
― John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces
I’m getting packed, getting ready to drive to New Orleans for a week of this year’s Writing Marathon.
I’m on a mexican radio
I wish I was in Tiajuana
Eating barbequed iguana
I’d take requests on the telephone
I’m on a wavelength far from home
I feel a hot wind on my shoulder
I dial it in from south of the border
I hear the talking of the dj
Can’t understand just what does he say?
—- Wall of Voodoo, Mexican Radio
I wrote about this on my Facebook page back in February – but I don’t think a lot of people followed the link.
At any rate, this story started back in 2012, on a trip to New Orleans. I ran into a group at the St. Vincent’s Guest House and soon was involved in a one-day writing marathon – walking around with a handful of folks, scribbling away.
I was inspired by the experience to the point I organized a Writing Marathon or two of my own, here in Dallas.
One day, the group I had gone with that day stopped for the fixed-price lunch at Antoine’s (highly recommended if you are in New Orleans in the summer). I remembered an incident that had happened in that very restaurant thirty five years earlier. I pulled out my pen and notebook wrote up my memories in the bar.
At the end of each day, there was the option for a few folks to stand up and read from what they had written earlier. I put my name on the list and read the story from Antoine’s. The readings were recorded.
Then, in February, a selection of the recordings were played on KSLU radio.
You can listen to the 2017 readings AT THIS LINK – If you want to skip ahead, my reading is at about the 14:10 point.
If that link doesn’t work – go here – http://www.kslu.org/awards_recognition/index.html and click on “2017 Writing Marathon.”
People have asked me about the siren at the end of my reading. That isn’t a sound effect – the fire engine actually went by on the street outside, siren blaring, as I finished.
Now I need to get going and register for the 2018 Retreat. So much fun.
“Likewise—now don’t laugh—cars and trucks should view the bike lanes as if they are sacrosanct. A driver would never think of riding up on a sidewalk. Most drivers, anyway. Hell, there are strollers and little old ladies up there! It would be unthinkable, except in action movies. A driver would get a serious fine or maybe even get locked up. Everyone around would wonder who that asshole was. Well, bike lanes should be treated the same way. You wouldn’t park your car or pull over for a stop on the sidewalk, would you? Well then, don’t park in the bike lanes either—that forces cyclists into traffic where poor little meat puppets don’t stand a chance.”
― David Byrne, Bicycle Diaries
“He was in Guanajuato, Mexico, he was a writer, and tonight was the Day of the Dead ceremony. He was in a little room on the second floor of a hotel, a room with wide windows and a balcony that overlooked the plaza where the children ran and yelled each morning. He heard them shouting now. And this was Mexico’s Death Day. There was a smell of death all through Mexico you never got away from, no matter how far you went. No matter what you said or did, not even if you laughed or drank, did you ever get away from death in Mexico. No car went fast enough. No drink was strong enough.”
—- Ray Bradbury, The Candy Skull