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The Not-So-Fictional New Orleans, Part Deux


Part Un

Hurricane Katrina changed New Orleans, forever maybe. I can’t fully grasp how much. I don’t think anyone can who wasn’t there. I’m not sure those of who haven’t lived and loved and lost in New Orleans understand what Katrina was. These four attempt to make some sense, each in their own way.

1 Dead in Attic – Chris Rose

I’m not going to lay down in words the lure of this place. Every great writer in the land, from Faulkner to Twain to Rice to Ford, has tried to do it and fallen short. It is impossible to capture the essence, tolerance, and spirit of south Louisiana in words and to try is to roll down a road of clichés, bouncing over beignets and beads and brass bands and it just is what it is.

It is home.

“I went from being a detached entertainment columnist to a soldier on the front line of a battle to save a city, a culture, a newspaper, my job, my home,” Chris Rose writes in the introduction to his collection of columns covering post-Katrina life week one to more than a year later. His account is sloppy, the type of sloppy any person with any sort of empathy would produce when watching his city destroyed by flood and the incompetence of government infrastructure. He’s sloppy and outraged and petty and loving and hopeful and depressed and pissed. But the reader understands, should understand, and forgives the sentimentality and sometimes bitter satire. Would you not be these things? Are we not these things? Rose wasn’t afraid to be pathetic. Which is also to say he was brave.

Special shoutout to my Column Writing professor Troy Johnson for assigning Rose in class. Troy was a column writer for several years at the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (not sure how many, don’t want to date him too much) and an Auburn beat writer back in the day. For some reason he seemed to view students as adults worthy of respect and equality. He promptly returned e-mail queries, left long personalized notes on papers that made the student believe he actually closely read their attempts with care and compassion, and cared about writing as an art form. A department head or tenured professor really should have taken him aside and asked how he was going to have enough time for colleague undercutting and ingratiation when he was so busy teaching. He is, sadly, not currently teaching, but if, in the future, you have an opportunity to take one of his classes, you should.

Abdulrahman Zeitoun

Zeitoun – Dave Eggers

The true story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun’s (“Zay-toon”) post-Katrina events reads like a thriller. Zeitoun was (and no doubt is) the hard-working owner of Zeitoun A. Painting Contractors. In part because he wanted to protect his house and the houses of various clients, and in part because he, the Syrian transplant, had some of the same stubbornness of New Orleans and its residents, Zeitoun stayed past the recommended, and later mandatory, evacuation of New Orleans. The story unfolds thus: Everything was fine until it wasn’t.

Much more complicated than that of course. It could’ve been much, much more complicated (and untold) if not for the work of Dave Eggers. Zeitoun is what it is because of Eggers’ tireless reporting. To write a reworking of a true event that flows this well, with this much detail, with this much inner monologue and character development, takes weeks and months, maybe years, of interviewing and reading and talking and reading and probing and interviewing. Zeitoun is first and foremost a great work of journalism. Eggers, whose A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was all about flash and style, and who has molded himself into America’s Most Important Socially Conscious Writer with Zeitoun and novels like What is the What, wrote an extraordinary story of America (the best, the worst, the in-between), a city’s greatest disaster, and one family’s tribulations in captivatingly-clean newspaper prose.

When the Levees Broke – Spike Lee

Despite what some people have said, President Bush did not want black people to die in New Orleans. However, he did hope they would not relocate to any areas of Texas that he likes to frequent.
Scott McClellan

Truism of history: When the crazy stuff starts hitting the spinning blades of doom the poor people get screwed. And so it was with New Orleans. Thousands of those unable or not willing to evacuate their homes — for most the only homes they’d ever known, the only homes they’d hoped to ever know — were living like subhumans inside the Super Dome, on the streets, and under overpasses. Old ladies were dying in wheelchairs, motherless babies were busting lungs, residents of the Ninth Ward, Treme, and other poor areas were left for days without food or shelter. Watching these scenes, now, then, anytime, makes one think: This happened in America? In 2005? The greatest country in the world, we say. Did we let this happen? Or were we unable to stop it from happening? Spike Lee builds a case for the former.

The HBO documentary is separated into four requiems. The first two largely focus on the storm itself, the third on the post-Katrina landscape, and the fourth on who’s to blame and what’s being done to insure a Katrina-like flooding never happens again. Many moments of grim twinging and pathos. Dozens of people are interviewed, including Kayne West, Michael Eric Dyson, and Wendell Pierce, who plays Antoine Batiste on Treme. Watch and draw your own conclusions. Be prepared to be angry sad.

Treme – David Simon & Eric Overmyer
Season One

Nothing much happens on Treme, which is the go-to critic slam of the show. It’s just like nothing happens you guys! OK, yes, nothing happens. Which is weird for a TV show. TV shows have plots. They have twists and turns and all sorts of gimmicks to keep us wide-eyed and chatty the next day. Treme doesn’t. Or not much anyway. The question is it enough. And the second question is how much is enough. And the third answer is it depends on the person. Welcome to HBO you guys!

At times it almost feels like Simon and co. are daring you not to watch. “In this episode Davis acts like a giant poophead to his friendly gay neighbors and the Indian chief guy sows feathers onto what’s implied to be a dancing suit before leering knowingly at the curly-haired woman from down the street while eating mashed potatoes. Oh yeah, and the cokehead from Amesterdam mocks the church kids from Wisconsin for not being from New Orleans. You can just like not watch if you don’t care about the real-life struggles of a musical cross-section of post-Katrina New Orleans. I mean, that’s like your choice not to be aware and able to talk about how tough it must’ve been then at your grad school outing to the local Biergarten.” (That’s probably not a real episode, but I think you’re picking up what I’m putting down.) David Simon created The Wire. David Simon could create a series about feral cats living on an Outer Banks island and people would watch. And by people I mean me. And by cats I mean rehabilitated former child prostitutes.

Treme isn’t for everyone. (Unless you’re a lady with a hankering for an Auburn Man. Oh. My. God. In that case, it’s definitely for you.) It’s not even for most people. It’s not even for many people. But it is for some people. And those some people like it. Those some people just renewed it for another season.

BONUS:

It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium – John Ed Bradley

I was only twenty-one years old, and yet I was afraid that nothing I did for the rest of my life would equal those days when I played for LSU. . . . But what if I never had it better than when I ran out under the goalposts on Saturday night, the crowd on its feet, my teammates all around?

It’s true that some men never recover from the loss of a game they played when they were boys. It’s also true that I was determined not to be one of them. . . . Standing there in Tiger Stadium, I squeezed my eyes closed and lowered my head. Then I wept.

John Ed Bradley played center for LSU in the late ’70s. It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium isn’t so much about his playing at LSU as it is about him learning to cope with not playing football at LSU. Bradley grew up in Opelousas, Louisiana. His dad was a high school football coach. Football was his life and dream. Then it was gone. Kapoof. The book is the now what.

You, whomever you are and wherever you’re sitting, like football, don’t you? I’m sure, I’m sure. So do I. Like Bradley, I’ve spent a goodly amount of time trying to hang some meaning on its broad back. Unlike Bradley, I’ve never played the game, certainly never played SEC football. He writes well, he played football. If you like those two things, I reckon you should read this book.

Keep Reading:

* Former Auburn Student Remembers Five Years of Auburn Football
* Pretty Auburn girl. In the Philippines. Saving Toomer’s.
* Rare candids of Pat Sullivan at the 1971 Heisman banquet
* My first meeting with Dean Foy
* Pompadours on the Plains: the 50s revival at Auburn
* Bear Bryant’s lost year at Auburn
* The Patchwork Pat Dye, Part I
* Science Fiction Made Easy

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