My capsule history of O.C. Haley Blvd.

As a New Orleans anarchist, I'm involved in helping organize the 4th annual North American Anarchist Studies Network conference.

Some of my best friends are academics, and I love learning from them, but I don't generally find the scholarly facets of anarchism compelling. Many of the subjects of the conference's workshops and presentations strike me as abstruse. I do like to make myself useful, though, so I'm happy to e.g. help set up chairs or write a capsule history of the neighborhood where the conference will be taking place.

I am fiercely defensive of where I live; my specific corner of the Upper Ninth Ward is being roiled by powerful & moneyed outside forces hostile to the community as it's been-- "New Urbanists" want to make my working-class neighborhood into a playground for young white affluence from elsewhere. If a conference like NAASN were to be held in MY neighborhood, I would at the very least want the attendees to be aware of what larger dynamics they were stepping into.

Since this conference is taking place in Central City, I researched & wrote up a li'l history of the O.C. Haley corridor.

The research was endlessly interesting, and of course that same street a few miles away was where in July 1900 a brave and heroic man named Robert Charles, accosted by racist New Orleans police (plus ça change), took a stand... but more at length about that some other time.

Among the things I learned about O.C. Haley Blvd was its importance to the early New Orleans Orthodox Jewish community. I love New Orleans' long and complex Jewish history-- f'rinstance didja know we hosted the first U.S. Jewish congregation outside the original thirteen colonies? Or that we had a Jewish mayor from 1904-1920? Or that one of the first female doctor in Louisiana (and one of the first in the South) was Dr. Elizabeth Cohen, a Jewish woman who began her practice in 1857?

...Bonus fact: Cohen came from Pennsylvania, but Dr. Ella N. Prescott, who ~50 years later became the first black female doctor to practice in Louisiana, was born here.

New Orleans has long been a home for outsiders and searchers, as well as in certain limited ways a shelter from popular prejudice, so it's not surprising that history's most famous tribe of exiled wanderers have been integral to it for centuries, notwithstanding the sniffy (and inaccurate) dismissal from the Gale Catalog's Encyclopedia Judaica-- "Originally, because of its unhealthy climate and poor economy, New Orleans received little of the Eastern European Jewish immigration to America..."

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A Defense of the Robot Parade

Here in New Orleans, we are blessed with an overabundance of things to do on a given day. Last Sunday, my partner & I went to a Robot Parade on Piety St. in the Bywater, which I greatly enjoyed. Not everyone liked it as much as I did. NOLA Media Group's art critic, Doug MacCash, wrote:

In the hollow aftermath on Piety Street, I felt sorry for the Robot Parade organizers. I felt sorry for the members of the crowd, who certainly had better things to do. And I was embarrassed for having enthusiastically recommended the event, which had been in the planning stages for months.

I'm not chiding Doug MacCash for his response. Opinions are an art critic's stock in trade, and anyway I don't begrudge anyone who answers to the psychotic commentariat of NOLA.com. I would however like to contest his & others' characterization of the parade as a dud and a disappointment.

I attended on a whim-- I worked Sunday, but had a little time right around when the Robot Parade was set to kick off. Because these were robots (and because the Bywater is increasingly full of people for whom "New Orleans time" has as much meaning as "New Orleans food" or "New Orleans culture") I felt this parade might begin punctually, and I hustled my long-suffering partner out the door.

"A big-time serenade / it must be a street parade""Come on!" I said. "I don't want to have to jog all over the Bywater looking for robots. It's twenty after; they could be anywhere by now!"

As it turned out, we weren't late. The issue of where exactly the robots were remained largely unresolved, but a large, good-natured crowd filled Piety St. by the Ironworks, including more children than I usually see at events downtown.

Since there were no robots to gawk at, I was able to talk to neighbors and friends, many accompanied by their partners & kids. It was still warm enough to enjoy Piety St. Snoballs, and Pizza Delicious was doing gangbusters business across the street.

Expectations & turnout were high. This was partly due to the organizers' track record of amazing mechanical creations, but mostly I think owing to the vivid evocative power of the phrase "robot parade."

The various possible Robot Parades I'd anticipated ran a gamut: perhaps there would be towering metallic floats bedecked with strobe lights, belching steam--a Truckasaurus Rex built of shopping carts and bicycle parts. Or perhaps the robots would all be very small, like radio-controlled toy cars, creating a 'Tit-Rex dynamic in which a thick & passive crowd huddles around a tiny, close-to-the-ground trickle of movement, light & creativity.

When the robots finally emerged, many in the crowd seemed underwhelmed both by their numbers and by the robots themselves. I too had expected more robots, but I found the two who paraded unexpectedly sympathetic.

One of the robots was a balky quad-copter; its operator nudged it along with his foot like an impatient dog owner. The other robot rolled on treads, with only a foot or two of wiring separating the creation from its Pygmalion. Neither it nor the recalcitrant whirligig looked capable of shooting hellfire missiles or putting assembly-line workers out of business.

The Robot Parade had planned an ambitious route, from Piety St. to Franklin Ave., thence up to St. Claude "and maybe as far as Cafe Envie" in the Quarter, but instead they barely managed 30 yards. Anyone who's ever compiled a huge day-off to-do list and then spent the day cooking breakfast or making love should find this as relatable as I did. Plans change.
Coulda been worse
It's important art challenges our most comfortable and long-held notions. One's sense of what constitutes a parade was challenged. Ought we blame the robots, or ought we instead examine our own desires, our own untouchable imagined Robot Parades that we came hoping to see obligingly enacted for us?

My go-to in such cases is Proust: all fulfillment of expectation is disappointment. I brought my own expectations to the #robotparade, as did MacCash and others, but no real and specific #robotparade could ever match the multifarious & ideal #robotparades of our imaginations. Whether what we anticipate is a robot parade, a love affair, or the church in Balbec, from the seed of our desire grows the greenery of achievement whose flower is discontent.

But would you have rather seen the young gods of the Bywater unveil a gleaming, soulless mechanical army, marching in lockstep? Would that have been preferable? Did you really hope for gargantuan, precision-engineered metal monsters frightening the children, blaring noise, commanding attention? Is that what you wanted, to leave the parade convinced of robot superiority, demoralized by your own organic inadequacy, ready to replace the mules of Krewe Du Vieux with Go-Bots? Would THAT have constituted a more worthwhile afternoon?

The parading robots were reassuringly harmless. These were not the chrome golems of the Terminator films, not the heinous protean leviathans of "Transformers." No, these were New Orleans robots, and you know what? They were doing their best. They were getting along as best they could.

There are no doubt other cities where one is surrounded by functional, competent, efficient robots. Boston, perhaps, or Tokyo. Here in New Orleans, our robots are janky. On a given day, only a couple will show up; the rest were probably somewhere getting high. I have compassion for our city's robots. Feeling generosity-- towards these mechanical creatures, towards whatever organizational or technical problems-- costs me nothing, and is also one of the only important things we humans can still do better than machines.

"Hurray!"An afternoon spent standing outside in comfortable weather chatting with neighbors & meeting friends' families is neither a waste of time nor a disappointment. MacCash needn't feel sorry for me, nor for anyone else who attended. Nobody paid for tickets. The event wasn't a failure; it was funny, unexpected, and sociable.

A failed event looks and feels much different-- for instance the astroturfed gentrifier-oriented debacle that was St. Claude Main Street's recent invasive, neighbor-alienating "Night Market."

The robot parade may have tweaked our expectations, but it also gathered a lot of humans who live in this part of town (and welcome visitors from elsewhere) together near some interesting art, and there was good food and drink. People looked to be enjoying themselves; even a career curmudgeon like Library Chronicles' jeffrey couldn't deny how pleasant it all was. A little music wouldn't have gone amiss, but then again the ambient sounds of kids and people talking in the open air was nice in its own right.

On our way home, a couple blocks from the parade, my partner and I saw someone who'd painted his face like the Tin Man from Wizard of Oz. He might have been affiliated with the robot parade, or seen it as an opportunity to practice his face-painting, or really, it could have just been coincidence.

He had a drink in one hand and was dancing, sort of-- moving like one of the spray-painted buskers in Jackson Square. He was surrounded by laughing people; he was laughing himself. While I'm not here to tell anyone how they ought to feel about anything, I will say that those who didn't get what they wanted from the robot parade might do well to learn from this gentleman's example. Perhaps he too came out hoping for a grand spectacle he could passively watch or consume, but he was just as ready to step up and be the spectacle himself.

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ANTIGRAVITY: Everyone Hates the Oogles

This article was published in the September 2012 issue of Antigravity Magazine. Incomparable illustrations by the incomparable Ben Passmore!!!


Everyone Hates the Oogles
Exploring the animosity towards New Orleans' panhandling punks

I was at a party a few weeks ago where people were discussing "oogles," the young crusty punks who invade each autumn and often panhandle in our city's poorer neighborhoods.

The response from everyone at the party was massively negative, without exception. Oogles were useless. They were ignorant, they were violent, they were bigoted, they were thieves, they were junkies; the very sight of them on the neutral ground was enraging and offensive. Everyone hated these kids. They were, it seemed, the only group in New Orleans more reviled than NOPD.

Criticisms of the oogles focused on their lack of respect for others. An employee at a community resource center confided in me, "There are two groups who really abuse the space, who leave garbage lying around and who steal from us. The totally underparented younger kids-- some eleven or twelve-year-olds who honestly don't know better-- and the fucking crusties."

I struggle with my own dislike for oogles. When I see young, able-bodied punks panhandling it pisses me off, but it's not because I abhor panhandling or begging. Like most great old cities, New Orleans has professional beggars. Begging is an ancient, time-honored tradition, a legitimate trade and an economic niche. Life can be tough. People without family or friends to support them turn to the larger community, and I don't think that's wrong. Even I can spare a buck or two; there's enough to go around.

I also don't think hating people is generally healthy or useful. I try to restrict my hatred to malefactors who have money and power, and few panhandling crusties have any power beyond existential privilege-- most are white, many are male. Beyond that, they've got no clout.

Obviously, people who hate all poor people also hate these kids. Councilwoman Stacy Head attacked them in a 2010 City Council hearing for being a threat to French Quarter tourism, characterizing them as "the gutter punks…the Vassar graduates with dogs and a trust fund... the Phish fans." I don't want to be on the same side as Stacy Head, and yet in a city where ten-year-olds tap-dance for dimes, watching sullen, sallow scumbags on hobo vacation suck up money and resources that could go to our community's own poor folks is infuriating.

Outsiders who waltz through town, soliciting money from New Orleanians who've weathered flood, economic devastation, and institutionalized racism from government, banks, police, insurance companies... could there be a more powerful symbol of disrespect? Coca-Cola spray-painting advertisements in the French Quarter and Mountain Dew bedecking the Lower Ninth Katrina Memorial with "DEWEEZY" stickers both come to mind... but those big faceless corporations are boring and futile to hate, whereas the white kids panhandling in the Eighth Ward are right there in my face, on the un-air-condtioned side of my car window.

In a superb recent article in the New Orleans Tribune on the racial realities of gentrification, Lovell Beaulieu wrote, "there has been a proliferation in the numbers of Whites who are spotted at major intersections... begging motorists for money. ...Observers say police are reluctant to confront the beggars because of the paper work and hassle of dealing with the dogs."

As a casual observer of NOPD, I don't find this to be the case. NOPD does whatever it likes to oogles, dogs or no. In January the NOPD major offense log noted Unit 502A, "responding to a complaint about gutter punks" along St. Roch dealt with the hassle of a dog by shooting it.

Panhandling in New Orleans is tricky. Each police district has its own arbitrary and arbitrarily enforced rules about how many feet you must stay from a curb or stop light, what you can do and what your sign can say. No matter how nice you are or how scrupulously you observe the district's policies, if someone calls 911 you're likely to get arrested or at least hit with a hefty fine for "aggressive panhandling." Oogles don't know these rules, because they aren't hooked into how New Orleans works. They don't know a lot of things. As we learned tragically a couple years back, some don't know not to build a fire inside a wooden building.

Not discounting in any way the horror of those deaths, the squat fire in St. Roch did create a larger negative perception of squatters, which is a common complaint about oogles: they make things harder for everyone else. As downtown gentrifies, transient crusty kids will often be among a neighborhood's earliest white residents, and the interactions they have with locals can shape attitudes towards the supposedly more community-minded whites who come after. A recurrent theme in my interviews and conversations was anxiety about being mistaken for or blamed for the misdeeds of bad crusty kids.

"A lot of the punks who complain loudest are, I think to a lot of New Orleanians, indistinguishable from traveler kids," a friend told me. "All these little and supposedly important differences of subculture aren't visible to anyone who isn't immersed in it."

Amber, a panhandler often found on Esplanade, complained of the same thing. "I don't have the attitude or the look, but people assume I'm with them, or one of them," she said. It was true: approaching Amber from a distance, I had judged her as likely a crusty kid, I suppose because she was young, caucasian and panhandling. Yet she had no patches; her clothes and hair weren't eccentric or subcultural.

The apotheosis of this mistaken identity problem is my friend Neight Train, a longtime freight hopper, bike builder and community volunteer. I wanted to talk to him, because although he's lived in New Orleans for years, owns a home here and is basically a good person, he's constantly mistaken for an oogle. He, like Jesus, suffers for the sins of others. When he goes to take a crap, the barista accuses him of using the bathroom to shoot dope. When he walks his (visibly very healthy) dog through the French Quarter, strangers berate him for animal neglect. When there's trouble at a bar, coked-up bouncers and NOPD zero in on him. When actual oogles steal from a house near a train yard, cops scour the woods, find Neight and his partner camping, and clap them in cuffs.

Neight bears the heavy cross of anti-crusty bigotry. "I get the stigma," he said. "They make me look bad. They make it harder for punk rockers to find jobs, to be part of the community, because you're mistaken for something you're not."

Why are oogles so aggravating?

"I think a lot of it is an age thing. The kids who are eighteen, twenty-one, twenty-two don't really know what's going on. They rob and steal, including from other punks. You let 'em sleep on your couch and they steal your money. Most of them grow out of it and get more respect for people. They grow up or die, unfortunately. Or a lot get hooked on drugs. Then you go to jail over and over; that becomes your life."

Oogles' youth surfaced again and again. "They're kids," said Amber, whom I spoke to on Esplanade. "They're kids who have nothing, and so they see no reason to show respect for anything. I really try not to judge whole categories of people, and I realize they're my peers, but I've been working on fixing up a blighted house, trying to stay on good terms with the neighbors, and I let one of these punk kids stay there. Now there are others just continually showing up, not asking if it's okay, messing up the bathroom horribly... copping [heroin] and bringing it into the house."

Last fall, a homeless friend told me that the manager of the St Claude & Franklin Avenue McDonald's had begun banning crusty kids from the store, banning anyone he even thought looked like a crusty kid. Note that I'm only hearing of this second-hand; management did not return my calls for comment. My friend, who's in his late forties and has a fairly typical homeless appearance, said he was still allowed to sit in a McDonald's booth with his single small coffee or bargain-menu apple pie for as many hours as he liked, but no young punks could even set foot inside the restaurant. My friend reckoned this a sign of growing grassroots anti-crusty antagonism.

"There are positive kids," Amber said, "but every year it seems like more and more of them are hateful and disrespectful, just super fucked-up all the time." Like tourists, oogles can be drunk and belligerent. A friend who is himself sometimes homeless took offense to being panhandled on Decatur, told off the kids spare-changing him, and was badly beaten up for it. Drunk oogles disrupt events held in parks or other public places-- I've witnessed them aggressively and at times violently interrupting poetry readings, music performances, and community meetings.

On the flip side, Sarah and Alexis, a local couple who panhandle to supplement their income, surprised me with the warmth and generosity with which they spoke of punk panhandlers. The kids who staked out the corner across Claiborne from Sarah and Alexis many afternoons were "nice kids," they said, friendly kids who shared cigarettes and were respectful about who worked which corner. "We don't really mix with them, but they don't cause us any problems."

"It doesn't do good to judge a group of people until you know the individuals," Sarah said, somewhat chastisingly. "Anyway they're only asking. Some of them may be in a situation where they just have to have money." I took this to be a reference to drug addiction. "If they weren't asking, they might be stealing instead."

I was recently spare-changed by a group of kids sitting outside Hank's on St. Claude. One of them ("Johnny B") I knew from his previous swings through town. He seemed a little abashed that someone he knew had caught him panhandling. "I'm honestly just doing this to survive 'til I catch [a ride] out," he said. "I can't find work here. I'm going back to New York to deliver pizzas again, and I'm too old and ugly to fuckin' hitchhike. These assholes wanted to see New Orleans, but there's just no money here right now."

"It's fucking hot," one of his cohort observed.

"It's hot and there's a fucking hurricane coming," another said. "It's bullshit."

Although the question made me feel like a dorky Dick Clark interviewing a decades-younger band, I asked the group how they would respond to being called oogles. The collective response amounted to a shrug.

"I'd be like, okay, then give me a dollar. Treat me like that and I'll act like it."

Why do you think people have so much hatred towards panhandling punks?

"Why spend so much time thinking about other people? I guess their lives are boring," Johnny said. "They know it's bullshit. They know we know."

"Look at this," said one of Johnny's associates, stretching his lips to one side to display a very daunting dental problem. "This shit kills, all day all night. For anyone where seeing my ass out here is such a bad part of your day, feel lucky."

His maxillofacial situation was inarguably horrendous, but it reminded me of a street musician I know who got "doored" while bicycling and lost a comparable number of teeth as a result. No longer able to play trumpet, she adapted by learning to play the drum.

Many longtime street performers are harshly critical of panhandling punx. "They drive me up the wall," said one I spoke to. "You're in New Orleans: perform! If you can't sing or play an instrument, stand on a milkcrate in an outfit. You don't just panhandle! Find something you're good at, or try one thing until you get good at it. Do something!"

While I was in sympathy with these sentiments, almost everyone I know makes a living catering to tourists. Don't the oogles deserve some credit for refusing to prostitute themselves, for refusing to be entertaining or charming? I can respect a refusal to "earn" money; I respect refusal in general. Philosophically speaking, responding to 21st century America by getting drunk and riding trains and not giving a fuck seems like a perfectly valid enactment of alienation.

In that way, the oogles seemed almost heroic.

I asked a traveler kid whom I know and like to generalize for me the crusty attitude towards New Orleans. He paused, as if unhappy with what he was about to say. "New Orleans is easy pickings," he said finally. "Some of these kids don't have any morals. I mean, there's definitely tourists you could be panhandling here, but a lot of these kids aren't panhandling where the rich people go."

I suggested they panhandled in the poor neighborhoods because police won't bother them as much. "It's not just that," he said with a sigh. "They're in the impoverished neighborhoods because they know, in New Orleans, people help each other out. They know people here are generous, that even the poor people will give you something if you ask for it. So they come down for the season, take all the money, and then leave and spend it somewhere else. They're parasites. They know what they're doing."

Hearing those words, and later typing those words, made my blood boil all over again.

I couldn't help myself. I was back to hating the oogles.

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The Murder of the Times-Picayune

I recently finished and posted the final piece of The Murder of the Times-Picayune, a gigantic series on the destruction of my community's daily newspaper.

It's easily the most ambitious piece of nonfiction writing I've ever undertaken; I'm proud of it and very gratified by the response it's received. While it certainly hasn't gone "viral" the way my satirical Summer 2012 Free Skool Schedule did a few months ago, it got a few thousand readers, far beyond what I expected from the narrow overlap of those interested in 1.) the Times Picayune 2.) anti-capitalist analysis 3.) works of text over 10,000 words.

Please note that most of what's on Nola Anarcha isn't by yours truly-- I'm just an occasional contributor.

There may be a (significantly shortened & modified) print version of the Times-Picayune series at some point in the future. Hell, it may even appear in a dead-tree print periodical! In the meantime, here's a useful index to the series from a Birmingham blogger named Wade Kwon.

Alabama got fucked over worse than we did, but of course they're more Southern. If you've got money, you can do anything you like down here in the South; we're your laboratory. We're your blank slate! In New Orleans, a whole host of post-flood profiteers are still jockeying to position themselves as spokespeople for the city, seeking to authoritatively explain it to outside media and taking credit wherever possible for actual grassroots community work that was years in the making. These parasites consider themselves essential; they are "saving" and "modernizing" and "revitalizing" us, only incidentally getting rich in the process-- only incidentally absorbing buckets of money that could go to local or grassroots efforts.

One of the more egregious examples of this phenomenon is an unholy amalgam of non-profit/for-profit fuckheads that variously call themselves "neighborland" and "st claude main street." Appallingly, this fresh-faced clique of upscale out-of-towners have chosen to attach themselves to the specific neighborhood where my partner and I live. In parts three & six of "The Murder of the Times-Picayune" I swat at them in passing, but I urge anyone who shares my bloodlust towards these kind of globetrotting venture-capitalist snakeoil-peddling carpetbaggers to get a rich red mouthful at "Neighborland is not a neighbor," Christine P Horn's comprehensive takedown of their whole terrible enterprise.

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Lost Dog: The search for a forgotten New Orleans superhero

July's Antigravity Magazine ran my essay/interview piece about Greg Klein's King of New Orleans, a new biography of Junkyard Dog. Junkyard Dog was a trailblazing African-American wrestler who captivated South Louisiana in the early 1980s, so Klein's book combined three things I'm passionate about: New Orleans, historical race/class complexities and pro wrestling. I was also stoked that the incomparable Ben Passmore was willing to contribute artwork... knowing my writing will be paired with the immense power and dynamism of Ben's illustrations makes me bring my a-game to avoid getting blown off the page entirely.

You can read a slightly different version of this piece in PDF format at Antigravity's website, but here it is in full.


Junkyard Dog by Ben PassmoreOn a recent Friday night in the Harahan Community Center, the master of ceremonies had the capacity crowd's attention. "This here," he promised, "this tonight is gonna be some old-school professional wrestling." All of us cheered. "Some of you may remember-- folks my age, a little younger-- the kind of old-school wrestling New Orleans was famous for. I'm talking about a certain Bill Watts. I'm talking about the Junkyard Dog."

Some jumped to their feet, howling in approval. "Junkyard Dog!" they shouted. Most just clapped politely. When I spoke to people outside during the show's intermission, no-one younger than forty had much to say about Junkyard Dog. Of the younger attendees, a few knew he was from here, but to the majority he was just another name, a minor figure from the distant days of Hulk Hogan.

Thirty years ago, Junkyard Dog was a New Orleans demigod. In the 1981-82 academic year, the New Orleans school system asked students which local sports star they'd most like to meet. It was the heyday of Archie Manning's reign as the Saints' quarterback. Basketball legend "Pistol" Pete Maravich had just retired from a hall-of-fame career centered on a still-unbroken division scoring record at LSU and five years leading the New Orleans Jazz. Both these giants received many votes, but New Orleans' schoolkids overwhelmingly wanted to meet the Junkyard Dog.

Junkyard Dog by Ben PassmoreThe Junkyard Dog was an unstoppable, title-holding winner in a "sport" where a black man wearing the championship belt had been unheard of. He's New Orleans' greatest wrestling star, beyond any question. During his five-year run as Mid-South Wrestling's top performer he captured the imagination and enthusiasm of South Louisiana to a degree professional wrestling never had before and never has since. Everywhere he went, not only regionally but nationwide, he out-earned everyone. The Downtown Municipal Auditorium, where thousands regularly gathered to see him handily dispatch his rivals, was nicknamed "The Dog's Yard." There and in the Superdome, where he drew crowds of over 20,000, his fans chanted "Who dat say dey gonna beat dat Dog?" years before the Who Dat chant caught on at Saints games.

Today, Junkyard Dog is largely forgotten. In a new book, The King of New Orleans: How the Junkyard Dog Became Professional Wrestling's First Black Superhero, writer Greg Klein seeks to rekindle appreciation for this unlikely trailblazer by telling the true story behind Junkyard Dog's awesome achievements and eventual tragic end. It's story of Sylvester Ritter, a small-town boy who grew up to be a taboo-busting, body-slamming folk hero, an unparalleled and unprecedented figure thrilling record-breaking audiences across the South.

Klein's book follows Ritter from his early days in North Carolina, where his athletic ability and charm distinguished him from early childhood. Ritter was a winner, but his teenage success on the football field earned him heat with white locals who didn't like to see a person of color on the high-school team. His coach stuck by him, however, because Ritter's talents made keeping him on the field worth the risks. A similar story would unfold on a much larger stage here in New Orleans: Bill Watts, the white promoter who held a monopoly on pro wrestling across Louisiana and much of the South, was more interested in the money Ritter could make him than in what his racist colleagues might think of it.

Bill Watts wasn't a civil-rights advocate as such, but he was an entrepreneur who figured out he could sell tickets to people of color if he made a black man his top wrestler. To most in the secretive fraternity of promoters who booked pro wrestling matches and arranged their outcomes, a black wrestling star was unthinkable. People of color were employed only sparingly, as exotic special attractions, as savages, madmen or clowns. An African-American couldn't be the tentpole hero of an entire wrestling territory.

King of New Orleans by Greg KleinThe Junkyard Dog proved them wrong. His charisma-- the mystical "it factor" only a few possess-- earned him a following that grew each month. His matches were short, because he wasn't a technically skilled wrestler, and he won them all. "[T]he real secret," Watts says, "was not letting a white man save [him]. I put JYD in situations that were fucking impossible and he always saved himself. And guess what? ...Everyone loved him for it. He was a black man who was his own man."

Throughout his career, the Junkyard Dog navigated a tricky racial terrain. His African-American fanbase made him a star, but once he got big enough his audience and supporters diversified. When Ritter teamed with white wrestler Dick Murdoch, known as "Captain Redneck," the combination was billed by promoters as a step forward for regional race relations. It may have been, if ticket sales are any indication. Both men were already popular, Ritter predominantly with African-Americans and Murdoch with working-class whites, but their run as a tag team elevated them further and helped to broaden Junkyard Dog's appeal. Watching tapes of Ritter's matches from that era, Klein writes of being struck by the unusual sight of older white ladies and young black men sitting next to one another and cheering in unison, a rare demographic combination in any other venue.

Ritter's Junkyard Dog persona was populist and relatable. He had cuddly good looks and a big, bearish body. In the civil rights era, his was a relatively unthreatening version of black masculinity-- this is, after all, a man who wore a dog collar and chain to the ring. Often these dynamics of race and identity played out in complex ways, as in Junkyard Dog's feud with Butch Reed, a younger black wrestler whom he'd publically mentored. Reed horrified fans by turning against Junkyard Dog, denouncing him to the crowd as a sellout, invoking the painful and fraught concept of the "house slave." Their feud, escalating in the lead-up to a Superdome match, served as proxy for multiple overlapping racial and generational points of tension. The story on one level was simple-- ingratitude, betrayal-- and yet could be taken in wildly different ways given the times and the different contexts fans brought to it. Who wouldn't buy a ticket to see such haunting, intractable issues exorcised in the catharsis of combat?

Sylvester Ritter died tragically early after a career that brought him national fame under the Junkyard Dog name, first in the South and later with Vince McMahon's WWF. Junkyard Dog was in the first three Wrestlemanias; he had action figures made of him and was one of the stars of a pro wrestling cartoon show. His premature downfall was like that of too many pro wrestlers: nagging injuries, substance abuse, and a home life disrupted by countless hours traveling from gig to gig. He died in a car crash in 1998, driving back home after an unsuccessful effort to attend his daughter's high school graduation.

The King of New Orleans not only tells Ritter's story but ties it into the larger stories of the time, exploring the racial history of New Orleans and touching on subjects as disparate as the White League monument and the 1985 oil bust. We even catch a humorous indirect glimpse of then-Governor Edwin Edwards. It cost promoter Bill Watts $300,000 a year in payoffs to maintain his corner on the Louisiana wrestling market, and a good portion of the endless licensing fees, state-arranged patronage paychecks and sundry surcharges went directly into the Edwards re-election campaign.

Junkyard Dog by Ben PassmoreIt's hard to overstate the passion Junkyard Dog inspired. In perhaps his most famous feud, he battled the Freebirds, a villainous trio of Skynyrd-inspired outlaws. They couldn't beat Junkyard Dog in the ring, so their head honcho used a special hair cream to "blind" him. Ritter went on television and tearfully informed his fans that due to losing his sight, he'd no longer be able to wrestle. He'd have to find some other way to make a living as a blind man, and worst of all, he'd never again be able to see the face of his newborn daughter.

This wasn't true, of course; his supposed blindness was just an angle to set The Junkyard Dog up for another miraculous comeback, but after that television interview envelopes of money addressed to Junkyard Dog began trickling into Bill Watts' offices. At first it was just a few, but more and more arrived each day. Some held only a couple crumpled dollar bills, some contained twenty dollars or more, all spontaneously sent by sympathetic fans who wanted to help out a hero fallen on hard times.

Indirectly, Junkyard Dog also helped build more black champions; other promoters began elevating people of color, trying to imitate the success Watts and Ritter experienced. Long after Junkyard Dog had faded from the spotlight, Bill Watts was still trying to recapture the magic. During his brief 1992 tenure as a booker for Ted Turner's WCW, Watts put that company's historic World Heavyweight Championship belt on a black man for the first time, breaking another color barrier in an attempt to recreate the triumph of the Junkyard Dog.

I spoke with Klein about his book, how Ritter made history and vanished from it, and a possible Junkyard Dog memorial downtown.


Jules:  I love how you open The King of New Orleans by taking it to the streets, walking through downtown New Orleans and striking up conversations about Junkyard Dog. The enthusiasm from those who've seen his matches or met him back in the day makes it clear how much he meant to people.
Greg Klein:
  I was also pleased when I hit the streets to ask about JYD. Social media had failed me completely it terms of tracking down fans. I never did hear from JYD fans online. Walking the streets, I didn't know what I would find, who I would find. I was afraid I would discover that no one remembered JYD. Instead I spent all morning talking to his fans. That was gratifying.

What was your biggest challenge in writing this book and getting it into print?
Wrestling history is still sort of hit or miss. You have a great deal of information that isn't online, that is lost to time. Even talking to the wrestlers themselves, you have to wade through a lot of BS. They all were the best, they all drew the most fans, etc. Ultimately I had to weave it all together, what I knew from being a fan, what I read from second-hand sources. I had to tell a story.

We lived in New Orleans at the time, but locally no one was interested in publishing this. It frustrated me because I knew it was such lost New Orleans history. Here you had a guy in Sylvester Ritter who was once a bigger fan favorite in the city than Archie Manning, for goodness sakes -- and now he was completely gone from the city's history or consciousness. I knew the story needed to be told.

Was Junkyard Dog simply in the right place at the right time, or would he have succeeded comparably in a different environment?
I think both are true. He had an amazing charisma. I'm not sure it's something you can fake. Maybe you can in the short term, like a con artist (and lord knows wrestling has its share of them) but long term, you can't fake it: he was a guy who cared about people. He had his demons, but he also had a very genuine, caring side to him. I think he would have been a big star in another time or another profession.

On the other hand, at that point in time, he was clearly the right man for the job. I laugh at how many times Bill Watts tried to recreate the Junkyard Dog, how many times he just pulled some random black guy out of another territory or out of training school, and how delusional he was to think it would work as well. It never worked again for him.

How much credit should we give Bill Watts for Junkyard Dog's success?
He clearly gets some. He was a bit of a rebel as a promoter. When he took over Louisiana and Mississippi with Mid-South Wrestling from the old Tri-State promotion in the '70s everyone expected him to fail. New Orleans was a dead town to wrestling before that -- and it has been ever since too; that's one of the more amazing aspects of this story.

Watts understood Ritter had the potential to draw black fans, and he and his bookers took the opportunity to do so when most other promoters wouldn't have. He saw something in Ritter that maybe another promoter had missed. On the other hand, Ritter was already climbing into main events. Maybe his rise wouldn't have been as historic, but he would have ended up a star somehow.

It's funny. I'm not a libertarian. I love New Orleans, my wife's a NOLA girl to the core, but we hated the state of Louisiana politics while we were there -- the whole rise of the tea baggers. You'd never catch me at a Ron Paul rally. But if you look at Mid-South and Bill Watts and the decision they made in 1979 to push a black man as their top star in the Deep South, you'd have to say it was a textbook example of the "free market deciding" philosophy actually working. They made this decision in 1979 in the midst of the backlash to the Civil Rights Era.

The story I tell about Ritter and his teammates in North Carolina integrating Bowman High School is very similar. The coach I interviewed, Ed Emory, he still has his Ross Perot button hanging in his living room. He didn't do what he did because he thought any great altruistic thoughts; he wanted to win football games. He was willing to stare down the KKK to win games. Likewise, Bill Watts was willing to punch out a good-old-boy racist to sell tickets to the Superdome.

Junkyard Dog was a black man working in an environment rife with racism. There's been significant improvement--  since as you say, green is the most important color to most promoters-- but even today, in many cases minority wrestlers, including women, are asked to portray stereotypically demeaning characters. Are these backwards aspects of the sport a mirror for our prejudices, or is pro wrestling simply behind the times?
I have to admit, I don't watch the product today, so I can't comment on today's characters. However, if you take a character like The Rock, for the most part his success had nothing to do with his race; his character got over on talent. I think that's the progress part. I don't think it is the institution of wrestling. I think there have always been bad promoters or bad group mentalities in wrestling. Sometimes it's the lowest common denominator that wins out.

Let's be honest, it still exists in society too. I think a percentage of the country went crazy when President Obama was elected. You don't have to look too far for racist comments about him or the first lady. What is the whole "birther" thing if not racism?

What do you think accounts for the Junkyard Dog's low profile here in 2012 New Orleans? Is the root a ruling-class distaste for professional wrestling, or is it that his fans were mostly (though by no means entirely) African-American? Put bluntly, is his star having faded a symptom of classism, racism, or some other combination of factors?
All of the above, probably. It's wrestling, a form of entertainment that is disdained by the traditional media. It is also a form of entertainment that has never had much in terms of history, in terms of celebrating its own history. The WWE owns the likeness rights, so you can't just go market the Junkyard Dog. They don't do much with their rights either, so nothing is out there. Add in the race part, add in the 30 plus years, add in the uniqueness of New Orleans culture that people often don't get... mix it all together. It's like a gumbo. Not everyone likes it. Not everyone gets it.

There should be a statue of the Junkyard Dog in Louis Armstrong Park. I hope there will be someday. By my unofficial records, Mid South and JYD drew more than a million people to the Downtown Municipal Auditorium-- the Dog's Yard-- over a five-year span. A million fans! And it was right there in the Treme, right where the park is going to honor all the other legends of the city.

I'm still pretty new to this idea of fundraising or any kind of politicing of city officials. I just started my first crowdfunding account. But I want to get that statue built.

I'd sign the petition. Thanks so much for writing this book, and for your efforts to revive awareness of Ritter's accomplishments.
Thanks for covering it, and thanks for being a fan. I miss New Orleans, and I know my wife misses it too. We're honored to tell this story and reconnect with such a special place. To help honor Sylvester Ritter's memory, I set up an indiegogo crowdfunding account to raise money for a church in Hickory, NC, the GS Glory Church, being built by some friends of Ritter. People can donate at indiegogo.com/junkyarddog.

They have been building a new building and I promised them I would help. We're trying to raise $1,000 by the fall to donate in Sylvester Ritter's name. We just launched the account, but it's been slow going so far. I am hoping some fans will give a few dollars to memorialize the Junkyard Dog. Your readers can also follow me on Twitter at @JYDbook. Hopefully I will have some good news updates along the way.

-----------------
Greg Klein's
The King of New Orleans: How the Junkyard Dog Became Professional Wrestling's First Black Superhero is published by ECW Press. It's available online and in local bookstores.

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Besides Growing Roses

Since I last posted here, I finished writing a novel. It's called Fuckboys, and I'm very happy with how it's shaping up. What I've written so far is only a first draft, so it'll still be a minute before the book's ready for an audience, but keep your eyes peeled. I give you this assurance: whatever the book's shortcomings, being boring is not one of them.

While Fuckboys is a small novel, in size and scope, the overall quality of its writing gives me some hope for my future.

Though recent birthdays may indicate otherwise, I am still in many respects a young writer. For most of my life I was barely writing; I was just living the shit out of the day-to-day. When I write now, I constantly bump up against the limits of my own skill. Often I know precisely the effect I want to achieve but find myself fumbling, unable to land the rapier-strike. I have to settle for making repeated crude charges in the direction of the effect, hoping that somewhere in the bull-rushes I can at least wing my target. After I've trampled the snow down sufficiently it becomes difficult to see where I was going in the first place, at which point I pause, stare angrily at the window and wish for a cigarette.

I'm always trying to improve my writing. My literary daydreams once centered on being published and accepting prizes. I'd daydream about how great my published books would look and the anguish they would cause my detractors. I've slightly matured: my daydreams these days are of writing something wonderful. I still aspire to have my books published, but the quality of my work honestly matters more to me than anything else. I want to write the best novels I possibly can, and determination to improve my craft is a huge piece of what drives me to write.

The feedback I get from those around me, especially other writers, is part of how I improve my work. I enjoy reading and responding to the early drafts of what my colleagues produce (especially when it's good), and I likewise get a lot out of their responses to my own writing.

This wasn't always the case. I used to clutch my work to me, in part because I was afraid of criticism, in part because my work wasn't as good as I wanted it to be, and in part out of a misguided sense that other writers were my foes on a battlefield.

When you're immersed in a milieu, its terminology and outlook inevitably shape your own; its customs and culture become the lens through which you understand the world. Although I've never been accused of entrepreneurial ambition or even a work ethic, I spent years making a living in relatively cutthroat fields, mostly because the people in those fields were better company than the oatmeal-dull drones infesting so much of what's called "work."

Hip-hop was on fire in early 2000s Atlanta. Living there, I felt myself at the center of the universe, a universe expanding at the speed of light. All the songs on the radio were about Atlanta, all the artists on the radio were from Atlanta, all the money and excitement were in Atlanta.

Just as the stupendous, terrifying highways criss-crossed the metastasizing metro, everything I did in Atlanta was culturally interconnected-- in the same strip clubs where pro boxers came to celebrate or unwind, aspiring rappers tried to convince the DJ to play their demos.

My fiction writing, a personal and for decades very private part of my life, wasn't something I thought about in grand philosophical terms. My nebulous, largely unformed attitudes towards my writing were, over the course of years spent in the promotional aspects of sex work, boxing and hip-hop, gradually supplanted by the glittering conceptual frameworks of early-twenty-first-century Atlanta hustle.

These frameworks were mostly negative: extravagant, hypermaterialistic notions of what should or could constitute "success," an allergy to any appearance of weakness, and most perniciously a paranoid, individualistic mindset in which all criticism is hate and all who challenge your choices are haters.

Getting rich began to seem like an attractive goal, or at least a way to pass the time. Increasingly, my entire value system reflected an outlook of aggressive individual striving for dominance. I recall back then matter-of-factly warning a friend whom I'd just begun dating that my response to sexual infidelity would be murder. I meant it, too; I've always been a man of my word. This absolute insanity-- threatening one's lover, the person with whom one should be tenderest-- didn't at the time seem unreasonable or problematic. Every relationship has its ground rules, right? As long as both parties know what they're getting into...

It's not comfortable for me to dwell on the person I was. I own that shit-- I certainly don't blame it, Congress-like, on the music-- but I do lay it at the feet of capitalism and patriarchy, the ways patriarchy and its brutal mores of control and mistrust will infect even supposedly "alternative" lives. I wasn't really political back then; I didn't have any understanding or analyses of these systems.

To an extent I wasn't aware of until years later, it was in Atlanta that I began to consider other writers my rivals, adversaries in a dog-eat-dog marketplace. Too many MCs, not enough mics. Too many writers, not enough book deals. I never kidded myself that the publishing world was a meritocracy-- unpublished novelists are quite clear on that-- but it was a competition, with only room for a few to succeed.

That same partner I so charmingly threatened to murder laughed about the "hip-hop mentality" I had towards my work; it took me a while to understand just how grotesque and how limiting that mentality was.

In New Orleans I began to change, I hope for the better. This city was such a profound break with every other experience I'd ever had, a sea change from my own past and therefore my past identity. Coming here was a revelatory experience, and it's no coincidence I tend to think and speak of it in religious terms.

Most writers I met before coming to New Orleans were unendurable assholes. The few I liked and respected died. Having friends who are also writers-- being part, dare I say, of a community of writers, however informal-- has been an entirely new experience.

One of the first friends I made in New Orleans was another novelist, a confident and accomplished young writer named Nick Fox. Over the course of us getting to know one another, he expressed a generous willingness to look at, and if I'd like, give his feedback on my writing.

Why not? I thought he might have some useful insights. He was in talks with an agent; maybe he'd pass my work along. I gave him a few chapters of Drought, the novel I'd worked on for years and finished just before moving to New Orleans.

He returned the pages two weeks later, absolutely dripping with red ink. I regarded my defaced manuscript with consternation. Clearly, he was threatened by my strength. This response was just boy stuff-- a dog pissing on a lamppost. All those suggested edits were just Nick marking his territory. I thanked him for his time, of course, and then in private glanced through his suggested changes, mostly to reassure myself he was off-base. All the suggestions were stupid and arbitrary; he didn't "get" the book at all.

One or two, it could be admitted, had some merit. He'd found a couple chinks in my armor: lazy word choices, typos, minor narrative inconsistencies. Nobody's perfect. Some of his criticisms-- a few-- were valid. Good! I'd get some use out of this after all.

The truth dawned slowly but inexorably. I can, I like to think, recognize good writng. As I continued looking at Nick's edits, the same way one sees a 3-dimensional image emerging from a haze of stipples I saw a superior, more mature work emerging from the red ink. I saw that his edits were all correct. I saw that he had done me a tremendous favor and that my book would be immeasurably improved by his suggestions.

Novel-writing is in most ways an inherently lonely endeavor. To achieve the deep focus I need for composition, I must have an environment free of other people, free even of other people's influences. Getting the words on paper remains a solo undertaking, but the larger project of writing, of becoming a better writer, is one that not only benefits from but I think relies on collaboration: mutual critique and feedback.

People with different formal educations from mine probably learned this early on; it took me a long time.

Even if one could write and publish a perfect book with no editing, no input from others, what would be the point? What would have been achieved? Think of those survivalist families-- husband, wife and a few kids-- stockpiling supplies for the apocalypse. What will they have won by surviving, alone, a nuclear holocaust? What sort of an existence would that be, to spend the rest of your "natural" life huddled in a basement? Is that a survival worth striving for?

The loop of feedback and critique is a valuable way to improve craft, but it's not just about what I as a writer need or want from others. It's about how I want to be relative to others: not alone, in "success" or "failure," not some alienated island unto myself, but someone engaged and alive, part of community, reinforced by and reinforcing those around me in our shared struggles.

In this collaborative building and its give and take, we come together and communicate with one another. Writing is at base a form of communication; should the process itself not be communicative?

As I prepare to rewrite Fuckboys, I am aided by my friends' notes, criticisms and responses to its early version. The result of all that feedback will be a better book; the result of this process is unquestionably a better writer.

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A Successful Sulk

This week I sulked. I have a generally happy life, but October/November were challenging.

The New Orleans Bookfair, which I'm supposedly involved in organizing, went swimmingly, but a few other things didn't. What's germane to this blog is that I lost my beautiful, beloved writing space when the old warehouse at 511 Marigny, also known as the ARK, shut down for good. This was a blow. I depend on my writing space even during the hours I'm not in it. I need to know it's there, the place where nothing matters except my prose, a private room behind a locked door. It's the bedrock on which I build peace of mind.

A view from the window of what was my writing space.

I have a busy domestic life. If needing a writing space that isn't my bedroom makes me a prima donna, well, I've been called worse.

I know a novelist who writes every morning at a cafe, but I cannot enter the deep-focus state I need for writing in a coffee shop. The soundtrack alone would drive me bonkers. Libraries here are often noisy, and more importantly, every time you go for a piss you must pack all your belongings with you or lose them to theft, something true of most coffee shops as well.

The coffee shops where I wouldn't have to worry about securing my (ancient clunky donated) laptop are those run by, staffed by and frequented by friends whose conviviality would make writing impossible. I don't wish to perform my writing in front of anyone. To get the best from myself, I need to enter into almost trance-like concentration, an unusually un-self-aware condition. Even the possibility of interruption can be distracting.

Once 511 Marigny was condemned, doomed to become condos, I began finding it difficult to write there. My grief distracted me. Some artists had lived in the building 16 years; I'd only been haunting its hallways for 4, but I mourned it intensely. I loved my writing space, a beautiful room with 20-foot ceilings, a broad, long room whose 8-foot-tall windows gave me a view of the downtown skyline. $100 a month I paid for that shit... ah, well.

With only a week left in the old space, I landed another in a punk warehouse right off Frenchmen St. I'd have to build the walls, but I'm butch like that, and I have friends who do such things for a living. The day before-- really, just the very day before I was planning to move in, the new warehouse got 30 days notice that the owner was booting everyone out. It's to be condos as well.

The fallback that fell through

Downtown New Orleans is fucked, but that's a different and larger subject. I had no more writing space, and I was too worn out to keep looking. Time was up at 511 Marigny. I gave away most of my office furnishings and moved the rest into the small house I share with 4 other people. I knew something would come along eventually, but I needed to focus on doing some work-work, for money, and to be honest my spirit was a little broken.

The weeks rolled on. I became sullen. This week, I barely left my house at all. I didn't answer my phone except as it related to paying projects. I constructed the toweringly time-wasting vampirefish.info and spent hours poring through the Classified Ad archives of a small-town Rust Belt newspaper, because I felt like it. I've been vaguely intending to build a Danny W. Shultz archive for years; it took this mild depressive phase to make it happen. I was sulking, and I was determined I would sulk until someone called me up with some good news. Good news! Good News! Not a request for a favor, not a question for me to answer, not to see if I wanted to do some work for free, not even to extend a social invitation-- GOOD NEWS.

Yesterday it happened. I got a call that a dear friend had found me a tiny office space in an old funeral home, "down the hall from where the gay Alcoholics Anonymous meets." It's perfect... I'm somewhat gay, an alcoholic and fairly anonymous; there's no-one I'd rather be neighbors with. It's ready for me to move in Saturday.

Five minutes before I left to go see the new space, I got an e-mail offering me a part-time contract for some book editing. I rely on exactly these kinds of small gigs to pay my way through the world, so this is a windfall. Four months of part-time work is enough to support me for half a year.

So yes, I know it's childish to sulk, and self-pity is contemptible; I know waiting for things to land in one's lap is immature, and constitutes "magical thinking" rather than the stolid rationality we're told is the way forward, but fucking whatever. I'm a grown-up, not a naif, and it's clear to me life has almost no rhyme or reason, almost no cause-and-effect. Terrible things happen to lovely people, blessings fall out of the blue, existence is absurd. I sulked, retreated into a snit, and was rewarded with good news-- not because I deserved it, but because life is a colossal joke and I'm unusually lucky. That's the state of things.

I have a writing space again!

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Architectural Blueprints of Dance

I've been putting off a blog entry for a minute, waiting for a couple things to come down the pike. I recently was offered two writing opportunities, one I took with a little hesitation and one which I took with enthusiasm.

I hesitated over that first opportunity because it was a gig writing about New Orleans music. I love music, and New Orleans music especially, but I've always been happy loving it as a fan and an audience member, someone under no obligation to analyze the music, attempt to describe it, or work out just what it is I love about it. It struck me writing about music might change that relationship, imperiling the purity of my enjoyment, and the possibility made me nervous.

But I met with the people behind the project, and it was clear we had things in common. The folks running the Juju Association are also fans of the music, first and foremost, and their affection for it shows in their attitudes and their aspirations. Seeing the work they were doing, I put aside my fears. I realized I was basically being a big superstitious baby.

When something makes me happy, I enjoy sharing that happiness. It's not a zero-sum system. Having written a profile of Nasimiyu for the Juju Association's new website certainly hasn't dimmed my ardor for her work: I spent almost an hour yesterday listening to "When Autumn Came" off Nasimiyu's debut EP two dozen or so times in a row.

...which might seem weird, but "endlessly on repeat" is often the way I listen to music I like. Ask anyone who's lived with me.

I also wrote a piece about the Sweet Street Symphony, and a basic promotional bio of Nasimiyu for the site's artists section. There will be more of my work on the Juju Association site going forward; I feel like it's a solid and promising partnership.

<a href="http://nasimiyu.bandcamp.com/track/when-autumn-came" mce_href="http://nasimiyu.bandcamp.com/track/when-autumn-came">When Autumn Came by Nasimiyu</a>

The other writing opportunity didn't turn out so well. I knocked myself out, produced some amazing work, and for what? Is it anywhere that anyone else can see or read it? No. All I've gotten are broken promises.

I'm only on earth for so long. I don't like when I write something tremendous for someone and it turns out I've wasted my time. Everyone has excuses-- there are always excuses-- and everybody falls down. I'm not a dick about things; amongst other reasons, I can't afford to be. I give chances, and sometimes I need chances myself. But when I really feel burned, and I've set my face against you, you're out in the cold in a serious, unto-the-seventh-generation way.

I was really excited about seeing what I wrote for this other venture in print, but at this point I have to quit hoping. I have to assume it's not happening. C'est la fuck.

There are a couple big-- big, book-length big-- projects in the works, and I'm gonna be at a couple events in the lead-up to The 10th Annual New Orleans Bookfair on November 5, but all them will get their own entries.

It's fall, alright. "I feel a cool breeze rise off the Mississippi/
and hear it rustle the glistening leaves..."

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Back-Cover Bio of the Month

I love good books, especially with attractive covers. If, while trapped in some blighted area without indie bookstores, I go to Barnes & Noble, and they have a bunch of in-house editions of public-domain out-of-copyright classics, marked down to $2 per, I leave with a bunch of new books.

These Barnes & Noble Editions are often editorially chintzy affairs, unannotated and with slapdash intros that give away the whole plot in the first paragraph, but the texts speak for themselves, and a copy of Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence with an Octave Morillot cover will get my two bucks.

I consider Maugham not only a great writer, but a great writer who stands in for other less famous writers who shared in some part Maugham's style, priorities and sensibilities. Thus, though he is flawed, he is unmissable, and even something like iconic. There is a lot I could say about his oeuvre, and how he brought Proustian depth of feeling into an English vernacular, but why bother? According to this Barnes & Noble edition's bewilderingly crass back-cover capsule bio:

A closeted homosexual moving in bohemian circles in London and Paris, Maugham took his revenge on his past suffering and present insecurities through fiction.

 
Ladies & gentlemen, the ostensible literary psychology of the complex and nuanced prose craftsman W. Somerset Maugham, helpfully summarized by an anonymous back-cover blurber. Lord have mercy!

I don't care if a novel's by Gypsy Rose Lee, Alan Hollinghurst, James Baldwin, or Karrine "SuperHead" Steffans (all writers whose work I enjoy btw), an author's sex life has no place in a back-cover biographical blurb. It's idiotic and ignorant to reduce anyone's life and works to her sex life, but it's particularly galling-- and condescending and inappropriate-- when the author in question happens to be queer. Haven't we come a bit farther than that?

So, until I find an edition of a Kingsley Amis book whose back cover says "A militant misogynist and serial heterosexual adulterer, Amis took revenge for his own male insecurities through fiction," the above grossly dismissive summation of Maugham will have to serve as your Back-Cover Bio of the Month.

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002 — Underfoot

Each new version of Flash I pirate takes me longer to master; this must be what old age feels like. After sloshing my Ensure into the laptop, nonservi.am/002, “Underfoot,” now exists online, as you can see above, with Erin Wilson art making it oh so easy on the eyes!

I have been handing out the print copies piecemeal the last six weeks or so, but will shortly be distributing the final full numbered run of 200 to a list of locations TBD… Faubourg Art & Books at Chartres & Frenchmen, the Iron Rail on Barracks near Decatur… Watch this space!

For those who complain about nonservi.am‘s superior print version (on gorgeous, pale-rose specialty cardstock from Marco’s Paper) being available only in a single half-mile diameter piece of downtown New Orleans, please be reminded that I also carry copies on my person and give them away wherever I go… and I travel widely across the 3rd through 9th wards of New Orleans, as well as the upriver portion of St. Bernard Parish… so who are YOU calling parochial?

PLUS! I’m proud to announce copies are available (while they last) at the legendary Page & Palette of Fairhope, AL. One love Gulf Coast!

To enhance your screen-staring experience & further distract you from the second issue’s tedious prose, please enjoy this accompanying live performance of the Sunnyboys’ 1982 Aussie chart-topper “You Need a Friend.”

Take care & spike your hair…

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