Life As A "Novelty"
Being a native son of New Orleans seems to have a new meaning these days. I mean, I've always been a novelty outside of the South, but things have changed. When I first moved to Baltimore five years ago, everyone reacted with surprise and glee when informed of my hometown... as though they never knew people actually lived in New Orleans. And this reception became commonplace over the past few years. Now, I get a similar, yet more subdued response. Which is fine. I've always enjoyed being thought of as a little different. However, the thing that gets me is the propensity for the same people to offer their opinions on the present situation... and specifically the future of the city.
First off, let me say that most people offer the proper amount of condolence and are willing to listen to my perspective on this tragedy. The ones that confuse me are those who unthinkingly proffer their view that the city should have never been built in the first place... or that, as our esteemed House Speaker Dennis Hastert noted, "It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed." The weird thing is, in a way, both are right. But only if you look at it from an outsider's point of view. People in Baltimore (and apparently, Illinois) are so far removed from the situation that it may as well be happening in Iraq... or Indonesia. They have no perspective, other than that presented to them by CNN or Fox News. And they definitely have NO insight into the hearts and minds of the people of New Orleans. We love our town, flaws and all. There is a soul there. A living, breathing presence that so many of our larger cities lack. It may be the heat and the humidity. Or the music, the food, the culture, the history. In fact, it's all that... not the corrupt politicians, the abject poverty, or even the seedy, breast-baring tourist industry upon which our fragile economy depended. These were unfortunate by-products of the laissez-faire culture that pervaded New Orleans for far too long, but hardly a reason to abandon an entire city to the elements. Few would think twice about rebuilding San Francisco or Los Angeles were they ravaged by earthquakes. Yet New Orleans is expendable. We exist only to entertain and amuse the civilized America. And once gone, it should be left in the past, like a college pot habit... fun to recall, and occasionally jones for, but we're better off without it in our newfound maturity.
In the end, I think most New Orleanians know the city will rebound. It will be changed... how could it not... but things will return that we all know and love, perhaps with more feeling than ever. Jazz Fest in the rain. Lunch at Mandina's or Liuzza's. Rebirth at the Maple Leaf. And yes, even Mardi Gras. Not the one seen with Snoop Dogg on "Girls Gone Wild", but the one on St. Charles and Napoleon, outside Fat Harry's, sharing a drink with strangers while looking for a friend whom you think is on one of those floats. I'll be there this coming February, even if the only parade is me and Uncle Speed in a wagon pulled behind A. Franz's car. Yes, we'll be drunk... but there are just sometimes in life when that's called for. I don't apologize for that, so maybe I should just be left in the past as well...