Sunday, October 09, 2005

“Gut It Down to the Studs …"

The following comes from a recent posting on, a site devoted to New Orleans music and musicians. The forum was titled “A.K. After Katrina: What Happens Now,” the posting subject was “Non-Ethnic Cleansing” and the writer identified himself (we assume he’s a he) as “NOLA Burbanite.” It’s rude and raw and at points reads uncomfortably like a Travis Bickle soliloquy from Taxi Driver, yet we found it darkly compelling, a healthy corrective to all the sentimental and intellectually dishonest glop we’ve read of late about the future of New Orleans. (We also found on this forum a posting from someone seeking the post-Katrina whereabouts---and we’re not making this up---of musician Barry Cowsill, last seen in New Orleans and once of the proto-Partridge Family pre-teen idols The Cowsills [“The Rain, the Park and Other Things”], who is described as having “scars on his forehead that are in the shape of a halo so he wears a bandana or a hat all the time …”) Anyway, we're going to quote at length from NOLA Burbanite, without permission and with a few copy editing fixes, and hope he doesn’t mind. He's a suburban Céline ...

... I do believe that in the long run Katrina could be the best thing to ever happen to this city. The great cleansing of 2005. A cleansing of the filth, crime, grime, corruption and all the dirty little things that hid behind a mask of culture and good times. This has little to do with race, it has to do with a culture of ignorance and irresponsibility in a city that often puts good times, food and entertainment above things like education, economic progress and prosperity.

New Orleans is like a partying teenager that has just been smacked in the face with hefty dose of reality. Now, it’s time to grow up.

Katrina has changed our demographics forever and I have to say, I’m pretty excited about it. There are a lot of good-hearted poor black people that were devastated by Katrina. But along with them were legions of thugs, degenerates and young men who just didn’t understand that there was more to life than hip-hop, gold teeth and guns. They wreaked havoc not just upon themselves but upon our entire city--- in our school system, in our youth, in our infrastructure, on our self-esteem and on our national reputation.

The thug youth also put a lot of hurt on their entire communities---mothers, fathers, sons and daughters’ lives that were wrecked in one way or another by the daily violence that occurred in their neighborhoods. A lot of these people lived off the welfare state. There were few jobs to go around, few incentives or desire to try to get ahead and little more to do than to try to avoid the bullets, wait on the welfare check and food stamps and visit the free clinic. I pity them and I hope they are able to rebuild their lives---just so long as it’s somewhere else. This city has been on a decline for decades---a downward spiral that just goes deeper into a pit of poverty and hopelessness. This problem hasn’t been solved but it has been, at the very least, temporarily diverted to other cities like Houston and Baton Rouge.

I think we may look back and find there was no other way to fix it than to start by cleaning house and starting from scratch.

Then there are the thousands of transplants that come down here in all shapes and sizes--- from the gutter punks that ride in on freight trains and the musicians that come here but never make it to the young naïve professionals that actually think New Orleans is a good place to start a career. Most of these are great people but they offer nothing positive to the city other than to piss around for a couple years, engage in long-term cultural prostitution and take up space and resources. To them, I say it was nice knowing you but don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.
I hope to see a city rebuilt not just on tourism, music and entertainment but on industry, commerce and “real” business. The whole entertainment industry makes for nice Lagniappe but basing the entire economy on it creates a facade of economic prosperity. It creates no real jobs – just a city of bartenders, waiters and bellhops. It doesn’t produce anything, it creates no tangible assets and it builds a marginally paid population that has little money to reinvest in the future of the community.

There’s a reason corporations don’t want to come here and it’s not just because of the poverty, crime rates and uneducated population--- it’s because many New Orleanians place such a low priority on progress. The city is just too immature.

It doesn’t matter how many how many corporations set up shop, how many resorts are built or how many musicians leave--- New Orleans’ unique culture will never die. Many people who lived in the city, mainly transplants and/or music fanatics, just don’t understand NOLA. They think it’s some sort of fucking cultural museum and they’re worried that economic and societal progress is going to get in the way of their favorite exhibit. To them I say fuck your museum---this is a place where people live. A real place with real people and families that have real concerns beyond the goddamn Neville Brothers or your favorite restaurant.

Most locals, who by the way live in the suburbs, don’t give a rat’s ass about music clubs and they’re not worried about culture getting washed away because they know it's here to stay. They know that what makes this place special isn’t some fucking club you visit, some old restaurant you eat at or something you read about in a magazine. New Orleans is found in the heart, mind and belly of locals, not in some rotting building in the Marigny or a fucking song you heard on WWOZ. New Orleans, more than anything, is passed down from generation to generation.

You’ll find all the culture of the city in places like Metairie, Mandeville, Kenner and Gretna, just without the fucking show set up for tourists. People move to the suburbs for a reason--- they’re trying to move forward, something that’s difficult to do in the city. They try to educate themselves, get real jobs and send their children to decent schools. They’re tired of getting their cars stolen, tired of the gunshots, tired of pissing away their lives in lounges. Suburbanites are red-blooded New Orleanians. The only thing that makes them different is that they have matured.

Now that the city is temporarily dead, it’s ironic that the only culture or signs of life are in the suburbs. Most people from the city are still living in far off places as evacuees while most suburbanites are back at home slowly getting back to life. Schools are opening up, the fish is starting to fry, the music is starting to play and the engine of progress is cranking up again. New Orleans, on the other hand, is black. A stagnant cesspool that will take months, more likely years, to get back to get back up. Not on its feet but on its knees. Even when Nagin opens the city, it’s not going to be well for quite a while---most of it is still in darkness, businesses are closed and the infrastructure is in shambles. People will go home and have nothing to do other than to stare at the mold on their walls.

City dwellers who return will have to step off their snooty little horses and welcome themselves to the metro area. Properties in the surrounding suburbs have been getting snatched up faster than thugs were stealing shoes on Canal Street after Katrina struck. There’s barely an apartment to be found. Many people from the city have lost their homes entirely and those who are in need of major repairs may have to wait months, possibly years, to get a contractor and make the repairs. In the meantime, they’re living in Baton Rouge, Austin, Jackson, Atlanta and everywhere else far from the place they love. They can’t return to the city because they have nowhere to live. It is the suburbanites who will rebuild the city---they are the backbone of the metro area and I think the city will see that now more than ever.

My father, like many others, grew up in the city but refused to raise his children in the cesspool that New Orleans had become. I have been back in the city many times since Katrina. First I was struck and hurt by what had happened. My grandmother’s house in Lakeview, our family parade corner on St. Charles, the school I attended on Carrollton--- all were vacant and had been set back into the dark ages. Now, when I look at the devastated neighborhoods, I see it as a sign of progress, a cleansing of the sickness and filth that had plagued New Orleans for so long.

I’m here, I’m excited and I want to rebuild. I want to gut this motherfucker down to the studs and start from scratch. To rebuild the city my father used to tell me about, the city that I always thought could be. I want to rebuild a New Orleans where I would actually live and raise my children, a place that I would actually be proud to call home. I want economic progress. I want responsibility. I want everything great that New Orleans is, only I want it to grow up. We don’t need a fucking second line right now, we need to get to work.

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