Friday, June 09, 2006

New Poetry (?) Blog

It's not exactly poetry, but then again, it isn't exactly not either.
This is a new space, under construction but I'll likely be spending more time there: Come visit.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

How I started a revolution by knitting-Or Alienated a Lot of Awesome People by Trying

Tonight, a friend and housemate nearly reduced me to tears by saying, in so many words, that, lacking proof of productivity as a visual artist, I might not qualify to take up permanent residence in the 13-person warehouse collective I’ve been calling home for the last three months.

Exhausted from days of work, band practice and very little sleep, I slumped disconsolately over my jam jar of warm beer, almost too weary to defend myself. “Where to begin?” I thought. With a lecture on the more subtle art forms of tact and sensitivity? Or the news that in three weeks my mother will no longer be employed leaving the entire family (including two siblings with chronic debilitating illness) at the risk of being uninsured? Perhaps heart-rending weeping over how much I hate myself every day that I fail to write?

Fighting back tears, I motioned weakly to the slop-stained trash compactor adjacent the moldy sink. “It takes a real artist to hand scoop all the garbage out of there when the bag is torn and everyone else ignores it like it’s not their problem.”

It’s ironic that what finally compels me to sit down and write is my absolute disdain for artists right now. So much so that I think this blog might detour into a manifesto like series of essays on the topic. My detractor makes a lot of neat art. I guess. To her credit, she helped found and runs an art gallery/craft collective out here in the east bay that hosts lots of free shows and workshops. Troubling however is her conviction in having found the true “right way to live” and her often course myopia in defending these sketchy ideals. Oh, and one more little thing…she is also financially poised to not have to work. I bet that’s nice. In fact I know it is, I’ve been there myself. I got a lot of writing done.

I am currently in the middle of Ellie Wiesel’s newest novel, a meandering web of elegant racontuering, “The Time of the Uprooted.” It’s a fitting read for someone who still lives out of a backpack and finds herself from time to time (like last night) roomless and hunkered in her trusty sleeping bag on the living room sofa. On my way home from work this evening I came across a particularly moving passage in which a character is brought back from the brink of suicide by a visit from a friend. A powerful conversation with his rabbi ensues. Rebbe Zusya says:

Don’t you understand that each life is sacred and irreplaceable? That a single life, any life, yours as well as mine, is worth more than all that has been written about Life. (italics mine, but note the capital ‘L’).

I suppose I’ll open it up to my wise and beautiful readership because after a quarter of a century, years of education, and life far from, at and over the edge, I still don’t understand who merits the title of ’Artist.’ More urgently, when it comes to creating viable, idealistic spaces for alternative communal living, how critical is this nebulous honor? I means, from time to time, (to make like teenagers do) can’t I just fucking live?

If I have one wish for my socio-cultural-economic cohorts it would be for everyone to start taking very honest stock of how and why we create and what it means to create in the ways that we do. Whereas I might have once believed art to be a life-or-death necessity, the grand explicator of truths wholly pure and divine, I have come now to regard it mostly as play. Art is something we do to build community, to feel good about ourselves and validated among our peers, to engage in so we sublimate our violent tendencies and stay out of trouble. Art is something we do to create a richer, more nuanced, ultimately more interesting world. And these are good things. But art is not the only means to these ends. In fact, at times (like when it’s wielded as some socially Darwinian caste system club), I would argue it is absolutely counter-productive.

The fact of the matter is, I’ve been inspired by artists and I’ve also been bored out of my skull by artists. At the risk of re-inventing the wheel here, I have to sound the reminder that flinging paint on a canvas is a priori proof of neither intelligence nor depth of character. I barely lasted one semester in art school I found this anti-axiom so disheartening.

Of all the artists I know, those I really care about, certainly the only ones with whom I’d want to live, also happen to be fantastic people. I try to be a generous, responsible, fun and supportive housemate. I have even been known to book shows, play music, write poetry and sew quilts. I assumed most people would be judging me more on the former set but I guess to some people that’s not enough. Was it the eternally quotable Mark Twain who said something like “when I was younger I admired people who were clever, now that I’m older I admire people who are kind.”

Maybe this is a sign that I should move into a studio apartment, get a cat and a television and give up on this charade once and for all. Yep, tonight, thanks to my awesome artists’ collective I can finally say I’m going to bed inspired.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Person Formerly Known as "An Artist"

(I will start writing again out of boundless gratitude to Mark and Mark, my loyal-perhaps only-readers. I hope you’re both doing well).

Sometimes I feel like no one understands me and I haven’t got anyone in this world. And then I remember that I’ve got Richard. Richard and I talk on the phone long-distance about once a week. He is a good friend, warm and funny, a companion, a sympathetic ear, a supporter. After all, only a close, stand-up buddy would lend me $7,000 in a pinch like Richard did.

Well, he didn’t exactly lend it to me personally.

Actually, he works for National Education Lending Corps. He’s my debt manager. And a really nice guy. I rather like talking with him more than a lot of people I know and it’s come to the point where sometimes I call him just to chat. I’m always telling him I wish we were business partners on different terms and he always chuckles at that.

Just the other day I was standing in the stairwell at work punching his extension into the phone menu at their headquarters back in my former home of Chicago. “This is Richard,” I hear after a couple rings. “Richard hi it’s Abbyg.” I’m breathless with excitement.
“Abby, how’s it going, I was just going to call you!”
“Did my check come??”
“It just came today, a money order no less, I’m impressed.”
“Are you proud of me Richard?”
“Very proud indeed.”

What we’re talking about is the largest single monetary transaction I’ve made since an obscene wad of bills stuffed awkwardly into my shoe for a jaunt across the street between the bank and the travel agency when I was 17 and preparing to move to Israel. Last week, after months of arduous saving, I mailed off a check to national education for $1,000 (addressed to Richard’s attention) - a fraction of the debt I managed to incur from JUST ONE semester of graduate school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Phases are funny. When I moved to California a few months ago I figured I would spend all my days drinking coffee and writing rhapsodic poetry about the fog and the hills and the piss stained concrete. Or working on my masterful memoir-style contribution to the contemporary Jewish literary cannon. Or fleshing out that play of vignettes investigating the spiritual/material nature of Stuff.

But I suppose I had another kind of trajectory planned for myself.
I’m dry.
I’ve got nothing particularly interesting to write about. But I AM working like a fucking horse, 6-7 days a week right now, singularly obsessed with getting myself out of debt and putting aside money for my next series of escapades. I tend to seek out reading material that only reinforces whatever kind of tunnel-visioned mode I find myself in, so right now, for a “good” (i.e. Terrifying, depressing) read I recommend Anya Kamenetz’ book Generation Debt .

Debt is so real and so scary. Kids, don’t do it. Richard congratulates on my hard work, shares his own frustrated English Major dreams of at least becoming a financial educator because he sees all these kids sinking in deep for junk educations. He’s my friend and during our talks he confirms everything in Kamenetz’s book and more. I do not regret dropping out of graduate school for even one moment when I think about how debt-sick I would have been at the end.

Despite all my beautiful artist friends, my cynicism about art, creativity and class is plumbing new bored and sardonic depths these days. So until I’m ready to tug on that tenuous line, consider me “the person formerly known as an artist.” Right now I’m convinced that remaining free from children, debt and want for Stuff (you know, material things you’d end up giving away or throwing out if you had to move) is my ticket to liberty on a serious level. I’m taking a breather from my bohemian laziness to pull myself out of this mire.

Tell me the poetry will come back one day because without it, I am feeling kind of lonely. But when it does, I want to be ready to run off to Mexico, drink Chinaco on the beach and be nobody’s bitch but mine.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Conversation with a Young Art Historian

“If it’s money you’re after,” I chuckle uncomfortably, “I’m afraid to tell you I just lost my job today and I haven’t really got any!”

For a few days a mysterious Oberlin Ohio number had been appearing in my missed calls register. The voicemail yielded no clues and to be honest it was bugging me a little. Finally, curled up in bed reading yesterday evening I got my answer: A chipper young sophomore calling from the Oberlin fund. That’s right. My grace period of normal post-collegiate poverty has supposedly passed and I’m now on their roster of illustrious potential donor alumni.

“Sweetheart, you have the most difficult job, I’m sorry I’m so busted right now,” I told him genuinely apologetic, “If I had it, I’d give it to you because I loved Oberlin, the thing is, in a lot of ways I’m a typical Oberlin grad, I’m totally broke. I refuse to grow up.” I confessed, ruefully adding, “ if only you knew how many of my Oberlin friends are paying off their educations now working at coffee shops and video stores you would be shocked, kid. I am sorry we’re such a lot of losers!”

The kid laughed. “At least you’re nice about it.” He said.
“I wish there was something I could do for you that didn’t involve money,” I mused. “I had a number of friends who worked at the fund when I was an undergrad and I know how hard it is.”

“Well actually,” he began “It says here that you majored in art history and, well, I’m new to the department but I think it’s going to be my major so I was kind of curious what you’ve done with your degree and how you liked it and whatnot.”

A warm nostalgia spread over me and I started regaling him with questions. “Who are you taking classes with? Who is your advisor?” As it happened, the kid was becoming close with the professor who wrote me all my recommendations for jobs and graduate school and he worked as a docent in the museum just like I had. The young art historian and I began to talk some serious shop. I gave him gossip and tips and advice. He wanted more so I told him about the internships I’d taken and about beginning graduate school at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. Turns out the ophomore is from northern Indiana and has dreams of a similar academic migration.

As I counseled him, revisiting my undergraduate career as a promising scholar with a mixture of pride and aching sadness, I became aware of how authoritative, crazy and, well, old I sounded. I had been a wild asshole, an emotional wreck and a raging alcoholic, but I was also a very good art historian. For years it was something that came naturally, it was a gift and I was being groomed to go great places. I did go great places. I beat out over a hundred applicants for both my job at the Brooklyn Museum and my spot in the graduate program at SAIC. I was poised to be a rock star, all except for the fact that I pretty much woke up one day and decided that art didn’t mean anything to me anymore. When I went to galleries I shuddered. In museums I yawned. I had no other choice but to drop out of school. It’s around the time that I did that this blog began.

“So what are you doing now?” Sophomore asks me. Again the chuckle.

“Well, I moved out to California kind of on a whim, shacked up in a warehouse with a friend of mine, another Obie actually, and I was working for this famous author but that fell apart and to be honest, I’m not really sure what I’m doing besides reading 3 novels a week and being frustrated with myself for not writing more poetry.”

I think this scared the kid. I didn’t really mean for it to. “Don’t worry honey, “ I told him “You are in an amazing program at a great school. Work hard and be friendly and you will be able to do whatever you want when you leave. I promise. And when you go to grad school, because you will go to grad school-everybody has to these days-go all the way. Get your PHD because otherwise you’ll pay through your ass ok? Do your homework. Get lots of help from the adults. I wish I had done a better job at that.”

I concluded by telling him he could drop my name up at the art library when he applied for a job on the condition that he promised never to fuck up there because Paula, my boss there is one of the most amazing people in the world.

By this point we’d killed half an hour rapping. “It’s great actually,” he said “I get paid to do this.” Before I relinquished him he managed to nail me for $5 miserable dollars, telling me that an anonymous professor was giving that amount for every new first-time alumni donation.”

“Are you sure you’re not laughing at me?” I asked him desperately as I read him my bankcard number. “I swear I’m not” he assured me. “It’s awesome that you’re giving anything at all…do you want the money earmarked anywhere in particular? The art library? The art museum?”

“Scholarships.” I answered immediately “I’m 7 G’s in the hole off one lousy semester of grad school, sweetheart.” I heard him making the appropriate clicks on the monitor.

“One more thing, Abby,” The sophmore said, “Do you have a change of address? We want to send you a thank you card.”
“Dude, my five dollars hardly warrants a thank you card!”
“Well I was going to write it personally because it’s been so nice and helpful talking to you.”

I really liked this sweet boy. But again, deep shame and discomfort.

“Thing is, I’m only at this address for another two weeks and then, well, I don’t really have a place to live after that so I don’t know where I’ll be. I told you honey, I’m really pretty embarrassing.”

Instead I gave him my email address and told him to write to me if he had any more questions thinking that I could morph into a former version of myself and take him under my wing.

Monday, February 27, 2006

A Mildly Censored San Francisco Rhapsody

It’s pouring rain in San Francisco. It’s nighttime. I’m in a black Mercedes Benz that’s winding down the famous tortuous curves of Lombard street in Russian Hill. I’m sitting unnaturally straight in my heated leather passenger seat, terrified, thrilled. The driver is my literary hero, Kate Braverman. She’s my boss now and we’re coming home from the grocery store where she let me pick out anything I wanted and put it in the shopping cart.

“Normally I never drive in a monsoon like this.” She had yelled over the music.
This then, of all moments to take me down the most treacherous, scenic street in the whole city.

“Look at this,” Kate says as the car hinges itself over the horizon. In front of me, down below, glittering in the rain and fog is practically the entire mystical Valhalla of San Francisco. “I like to come here and say ‘I’m the girl in the postcard.’ You can be the girl in the postcard too.” She says yanking at the wheel with two hands like we’re aboard a schooner on choppy seas.

My eyes fill with tears.

It took me 8 months to figure out a way to get back here but I did it.

Sometimes when I fall asleep the last thought on my mind and the first one I have in the morning is simply “California.” Sometimes the last thing I whisper to Mark at night, and the first thing I say in the morning is just “California.” And we smile at each other and into the darkness of the room. The California darkness. Then I have trouble falling asleep because I’m excited about California. I bounce out of bed early in the morning for no other reason than that same electric thought: California.

This is not my life. And it is. I’m here. Buying peaches to seal the deal on February. Perhaps the only February of my life through which I’m not stalked by overpowering impulses to negate myself. I’m here. I’m sitting in the study of the woman who wrote a novel that turned me inside out and shook out the guts that clung to the lining of my being’s pockets. I’m drinking her beer and she’s asking me what I think about the passages her French translator has recommended for readings. I’m practically mute. I pick up a copy and follow along as she reads. Again, I’m almost crying.

Kate keeps saying I look so much better than when we first met almost exactly a year ago. “I mean what have you done? Did you gain some weight?” she asks. I navigate the shopping cart out into the drizzly night. “I had a rough spring last year, Kate.” I admit, knowing that’s all I have to say for her to understand what I mean. “And,” I add, working up a tearful grin, “I moved to California.”

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Discipline and Organize: A Hazy Outline for Becoming

Any proud slayer of gloating demons will be happy to know that today it is actually raining in sunny California. It’s coming in small drops, taping like transistor static on my skylight and the flat roof of our warehouse abode in West Oakland. Outside, water swells into the bike-menacing old train tracks that snake through the industrial corridor I now call home. Tufts of weeds poking though the buckled cement shuckle and stagger in the intermittent showers. The Semi-truck cabs that line our street stand mute in the grey weekend repose, beads of water dripping from their curly red coils onto oil-spotted patches of road. The yowling stray cats have too been quieted.

The house is cool and quiet and dark. It’s taken to pouring once an hour so I’ve pretty much resigned myself to never leaving the house, obtaining the cup of coffee I’ve been dreaming about seemingly since last night. I move through the spacious room I am subletting from my friend Nat, thankful for its special variation. I spend an hour on the little couch reading, and then migrate up the shallow staircase to “the office” where I contemplate the onerous chore of organizing my defunct email address book, or attempting to cull together the little mini videos I took in Mississippi and sending them to Hank for his screening.

Perhaps not since the 8th grade have I felt so inspired to organize my life. Like 8th grade, this desperate quest for self-improvement hinges obsessively on the acquisition of a common material object: a planner.

Most of you know this, but in case it’s not readily apparent, I failed out of school my entire life until I got to college. My memories of school are dominated by mornings spent in the principle’s office or a locked supply closet (yes, that is true, it was a private parochial school- they could do that there) and slews of failed organizational and behavior modification regimens (the gold stars, the daily reports, the threats, the entreatments). I was forever losing or forgetting my homework or plain refusing to do it. I engaged my haggard teachers in power struggles, which ultimately, we both lost. I suffered from a terrible lack of confidence but this might not have been outwardly apparent; rather, I came off as rather unlikable kid. Defiant, petulant, stubborn, lazy.

My parents begged me repeatedly to “get with the program” to learn how to “play the game” so I could be happier and live up to my vague, lofty potential. Despite harboring such deep, misplaced anger for my authorities, and myself part of me really longed to succeed. I didn’t really like failing. When I think back on the late-August ritual of school-supply shopping, it’s a freighted sort of ceremony in my memory. I selected my pencils, trapper keepers and packs of pristine ruled paper with hopeful solemnity. Every fall was a clean slate. A chance not to be a fuck up.

The planner is a kind of scholastic coming of age object. It enters the panoply of academic accoutrements roughly around middle school. The planner signifies that one is adult enough not just to organize and manage her responsibilities, but to recognize this process as some meta-scholarly project in and of itself, possessing its own merits as milestone of intellectual development. It was not that the planner would simply allow me to remember I had a vocabulary quiz on Tuesday; it was that the manager of an effective planner had a handle on the broader scope of her life. She was prepared. She impressed kids and adults alike. She had the tools and the ironclad will to see her ideas through from whims to realities. She didn’t just get by, she got things done.

The planner became a magical talisman or sorts. I always picked out nice ones, which my mother, ever hopeful, always agreed to buy. I would inhale the crisp, acrid scent of the rubber-binding, stroke the Velcro closures and as I penciled my name and contact information into the appropriate slots on the first page, I would think to myself “ This is the year I get organized. This is the year I do well.”

Of course it never worked.

In college I evened out somewhat. I found my voice and got better at playing the game. Suddenly, teachers didn’t hate me anymore. They were no longer my adversaries but fountains of knowledge I could badger giddily with questions in the hall, office-hour drop by’s. I became a good student but only by virtue of my enthusiasm, never by my habits. I still lost and misplaced things. Forgot things. Missed things. I never flaked out on the important stuff, yet I was never as prepared as I should have been.

School is done now (for the time being), so my anguished disorganization seeps out, oozing unfettered into all other aspects of my life. I think I already lost one of my w-9 forms so how am I going to do my taxes? I sent my transcript request to my college fully a week late (because I couldn’t find an envelope for three days and contemplated making one out of paper but then couldn’t find tape) and had to then concoct an apologetic lie for the scholarship committee; this blog still looks like garbage because I keep saying I’m going to hunker down and really learn some web design but never do it; Shayne and I are supposed to be starting a Clean cover band called “Tidy” but have yet to actually sit down and work on the songs. Our Hot Toddy cocktail recipe book is already meeting a similar purgatorial fate.

When it comes down to it I think there are two fundamental types of people in this world. People who can get things done and people who can’t get things done. It’s difficult to convey how desperately I long to change camps. I’m hoping that circumstances are conspiring to help me.

In a surreal turn of events Kate Braverman , an author
I’ve long admired has hired me as her personal assistant. She’s a brilliant artist and a volatile personality. Already she’s been hurling me scores of assignments a swirling maelstrom of PR phone calls, Internet research, and emotional support. I’m ecstatic. I am also scared. Here, a famous person, an intense personality, is placing faith in me as person capable of organizing and managing her affairs. At first I was terrified by her brusqueness, her barrage of demands, but then it mellowed into a strange kind of inspiring comfort. I need to become the kind of person who will not put things off or let them fall through the cracks. I need to become that person in order to help someone else. And in the process, hopefully, I will grow more adept at my managing my own life.

I walked around the mission all day Friday with my friend Karl drinking coffee and catching up on life, dragging him into every book and stationary store on Valencia Street. In my mind I had the image of the perfect organizer I need to pull this off. It would be kind of like a moleskin notebook, a substantial but portable size with a hard damage-resistant cover. In the back it would have an address section where I could keep and easily access the numbers Kate has me digging up and calling (The web master at the Bay Guardian to demand a link be created from her interview with William T. Vollman to her website, the events coordinator at a prominent Berkeley book store to set up a reading in May etc.) As an ideal sort of bonus it might have a little pocket where I could store clippings and scraps of dubious note. Finally, it would be beautiful and expensive (like $12) because whenever I saw it I wanted to feel good about it.

I grew increasingly frustrated leafing through a million notebooks that were not the one I wanted. I dismissed them for offenses like narrow pages, cheesy San Francisco themed cover art, lack of pleasing, swaddling, elastic binding loop. Eventually, I gave up on my dream of the Address book/notebook combo and settled on a delightful, marble-covered number that meets all the other qualifications. I have decided to designate 26 pages at the rear and make the appropriate markings in Sharpie Marker. My dream is to be able to close each day with a little ‘to-do’/’done’ list on a page of the notebook. I will keep running tabs on the tasks I’ve accomplished and those I’m still working on.

I have bought the notebook, but of course, have yet to do any of the other stuff. I went so far as to peel off the giant sticker on the back but in all honesty, Shayne actually did that because he likes peeling stickers off of things.

I need to break a quarter of a century of poor organizational habits. I am trying to become a different kind of person. The kind of person who actually gets things done. I welcome your encouragements and your suggestions.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Citizen Impotent: A Walk in the Park with New Orleans City Cops

Friday night was my last night in New Orleans. I’d been spending quite a bit of time with my childhood friend Jason who had mysteriously appeared in the city a few days ago on a spiritual sort of odyssey in a borrowed truck. J had generously offered to drive me to the airport early Saturday morning and we were both exhausted from Thursday night’s drunken escapades that had begun uptown at a sweltering, life-affirming performance by a 10 piece brass band, and ending (for me) in unconscionable stupidity and recklessness: stumbling around the Bywater at 4 am, oscillating with my computer in search of a wireless signal like a nut on a beach looking for gold before settling down in a pile of debris, weeping, writing an email to my estranged high school sweetheart. I haven’t yet figured out how to triage this disaster but it will have to wait. Jason and I had one last order of important business around midnight last night: A mission to the French Quarter for French Fry Po-boys.

The idea of a French fry po-boy will likely shock and disturb anyone but native New Orleanians and possibly Pittsburghers. It’s a rhapsodic treatise of starch: French bread stuffed with French fried potatoes and topped with a standard array of sandwich fixings. I’d had one on my last trip to New Orleans, but this time around I’d come close to missing out, subsisting largely on fried eggs, coffee and beer. We headed to our friend Shanna’s place of employment, the Quarter Master at the end of Bourbon Street. Our order took eternity to process which gave us ample time to discuss vegetarianism with a heavy set young cop waiting in line for his bar-b-qued catfish. “Y’all is ‘try-atarians’” he guffawed affectionately when we confessed that we eat meat from time to time but usually feel guilty about it.

It was midnight and we were exhausted; too tired to even drink beer and opting for ginger ale instead. We walked to the dog park on Dauphine and Governor Nichols and settled down on some brick rubble stumps to devour our food. To our dismay the guys had forgotten the cheese we’d requested (necessary from an architectural perspective as it sorts of binds the fried together in a gooey suspension). Luckily I had managed to hustle them for two sides of olive salad, which we dumped on in oily deluges all over the desiccated messes. As we ate and chatted a strange young man pulled up a rubble heap nearby. He was also eating a sandwich and I exchanged some friendly words with him, though his erratic behavior (making clicking noises, talking half to us and half to himself) was rather annoying. He seemed like a bit of a tweaker and soon took off down the block muttering.

Jason and I were nearly done with our greasy snack when a police squad car pulled up on the sleepy corner. Tow hefty cops emerged and quickly approached us.
“What are you doing here?” They demanded gruffly.
“Just eating a sandwich and drinking a soda.”
“Where you from?”
“Where you staying?”
‘The Bywater.”
“What street?”
“You working here?”
“No, just visiting a friend?”
“Where is your friend?”
“Dauphine, 3200 block.”
“We gonna find anything on you tonight?”

Their tone was absolutely terrifying. At this point Jason, ever calm and compliant, a seasoned punk with lots of cop experience in his repertoire, quietly raised his hands. One cop began roughly rummaging in his pockets. A cigarette lighter and a box of dental floss clattered to the concrete. I stood by nervously, grateful we’d been drinking soda; grateful they wouldn’t find anything on us. These were very mean cops with an agenda of terror and things were only about to get worse.

“What are you doing to them?” A voice called. Our friend the sandwich eating tweaker appeared in the park behind us. “They were just eating a sandwich.”
“This ain’t no place to eat.” A cop barked.
“Why is that?” they guy fired back.
“Cos people get robbed here that’s why.” Said the cop, his temper visibly flaring. Adding “Who are you?”
“I’m Arthur.”
“Get over here.” The cops demanded.
“Fine,” said the guy hopping off the brick wall, “but I felt a sure felt a lot safer before you guys showed up.”

Wrong thing to say to vicious, crooked cops. Wrong thing.

“You feel safer without us?” they snarled and within seconds they had the guy bent over the back of the cruiser and were snapping on the cuffs.

“Help me!” the tweaker screamed. He looked at me and Jason and screamed it again
Then he started hollering and struggling and the cops knocked him to the ground and he bit one of the cops on the hand. “Fucking shit.” The cop swore, reaching for his radio, blood pouring down his thumb. “Jesus fucking Christ help me somebody! The guy screamed, “I need to go to a mental institution.” The cop kneed him in the nuts but he kept squirming. Jason and I looked on terror stricken, unsure what to do. I climbed outside my body and saw myself utterly frozen, impotent. I knew that the guy was crazy, probably on crystal meth or something, but I also knew the way the cops were treating him was wrong. Finally, I knew that their wrath was boundless and they were only too eager to rain it on everyone. And they had guns. “Jason,” I whispered panicked, “what do we do? What do we do?”
“Abby, there’s nothing we can do.”

At this moment a bouggie kind of hippy guy striding ahead of a small retinue of well-dressed friends arrived on the seen.
“What’s going on here?” He asked breathily “I heard someone calling for help!”
“Who are you?” bellowed one of the cops
“I’m a person who heard someone calling for help.” The guy said.
“Come ‘ere!”
And they immediately handcuffed this guy too and shoved him into the cruiser. While that was going on the tweaker broke free from the bleeding cop and booked off down the street, hands still shackled behind him.

“Let’s go.” Jason whispered, tugging on my elbow. We began heading briskly towards the car in a state of utter shock. “What the fuck was that?” I gasped. My eyes were tearing and I could feel the French fry po-boy rising in my stomach. I had just witnessed a gruesome abuse of police power. “Sweetie,” Jason said, putting an arm around me as we hurried down Esplanade, “Those were very bad cops.” My stomach dipped again as two cruisers, rushed past us, sirens wailing. Inside the truck we tore up the dashboard looking for cigarettes but turning up only a butt that we smoked down beyond the filter.

J and I stayed up late replaying the scenario trying to make sense of it. Maybe they had gotten a call about a disturbance and were actually looking for the tweaker. Maybe they would have left us alone if he hadn’t shown up. Maybe they would have booked us on some bogus pretext and sent us to prison (that’s right, there’s no jail in New Orleans, only prison). I have witnessed strange and upsetting police action at protests but even that I felt could somehow be justified by desperation to control crowds. This was different. This was a totally unprovoked, Gestapo style display of intimidation. I felt like I had been tested and given no chance to do anything but fail. That impotence left me deeply disturbed.

On our way down to Quarter Master, Jason and I had agreed that New Orleans is one of the few cities in the world, probably the only one in the United States that can really be said to have soul. It’s really, really alive. More than New York, more than San Francisco, more that any other crazy place I’ve spent time, New Orleans is a whole other animal. And it’s alive because it’s just that: it’s crazy feral. It’s full of mysticism and darkness and voo doo and the celebration and the gaiety and the art and the carnival there is unparalleled in this country of ours, but that is all equal to the crime and savagery baseness that haunts its magical streets.

I love New Orleans but ultimately, with its swampy summers, and torrid sensuality, and bleakness and destruction and fevered heights and depths of desperation, it overwhelms me. I’ve remarked to people that living in New Orleans for one week right now, during post-Katrina mardi gras, is equivalent to 6 months of life pretty much anywhere else. New Orleans hardly feels like earth. Awed, elated, disturbed, I’m running to the west coast. Running, but unable to keep from peering back.