August 21, 2007

From MSY to PIT to LAG to MSY: Structures

With a great crash, the polar bear appeared in the water above our head. Like space travelers we watched through the glass as the murderous giant became a clumsy swimmer, shredding white fish in his jaws. Only a few feet from our pointing fingers, the polar bear’s menace disappeared in the cool blue of aquarium innovation.

I’ve been to the north, have seen its advancement, revisited my family and friends, and retraced old steps. From the Pittsburgh Zoo to the Museum of Modern Art, I sampled from the world-as-usual and felt the distance between there and here. And I returned, refreshed and embracing again my love and city, with the knowledge that the far off is even farther off now than it was when I first returned to New Orleans 9 months ago.

Some images, some text…

Andy Warhol Bridge in Pittsburgh

Andy Warhol got the hell out of Pittsburgh as soon as he fucking could,” my friend Jyp once said. Now Warhol brings thousands of tourists to the city each year, many passing over this bridge to visit the North Side shrine/museum to him. Silk-screen that irony, son.

On Sunday afternoon, I had the good fortune to take a trip to the zoo and a “Ducky Tour” with one Jack Boyles, his father, mother, and grandmother. It had been a long time since I'd visited the zoo, and there were some changes. The tunnel in the aquarium that gave us a view of the polar bear's underside was one, as was the merciful absence of Chuckles the dolphin, dead after years in six feet of water that depressed the hell out of a young me and several generations.

Chuckles: 1970-2002

This stoner/acting student played the part of Ducky Tour guide when he wasn’t slumped in a hungover snooze in the rear of the amphibious vehicle:

Ducky Tool

On Monday, Jack and his father joined his grandfather and I at PNC Park for what may be the last appearance of Barry Bonds in Pittsburgh, his first stop in the major leagues, some 100lbs and 760 homer runs before.

Boyles men at the game

When his name was announced, a majority of the crowd cheered, many of them on their feet. This surprised me, but applause is a complicated reaction, aimed this afternoon at a complicated specter. As I said to a guy in a bar a few weeks ago, there goes Bonds as America: severely bloated, his balls shrunken, his would-be government unable to respond to his lawlessness, selfish, driven by numbers, not victories. I suppose we get the champion we deserve.

Space available

Up in New York City, buildings erupt from the soil like hulking transformers, blocking out the sun in the strangest of places. I stayed four days in Greenpoint, BK, not far from McCarren Park. Behind what was once a dusty soccer field (now turned to Astroturf), the dynamos arise.

Brooklyn keeps on takin it

This condopolis was covered in wood paneling. Stay gully, Brooklyn.

Over in Manhattan, fashion is a killer:

Ron Mexico Jr.

And I was fortunate enough to hear the new Hoarsemen album before it goes in for the final mastering; to accept Steve Cannon’s invitation to a meeting with the Venezuelan cultural attaché at the Tribes Gallery; to visit the Slam Magazine offices and have lunch with Lang, Sam, Khalid, and Ben; to check in at MOMA for the Richard Serra retrospective;

Thinking hard, modernly

To receive the new American String Conspiracy CD from the chieftan Gary Keenan; to talk friendship in a rainy Bryant Park with RD Hanson; to kick the New Science with Jess Slote; to get on the list to hear Archie Shepp with Steve Dalachinksy.

Shepp came out perturbed, informing the waitstaff that “I can pay for my own meal. Next time, please just give me the real menu. Thank you.” His set was excellent, with a riotous slaughter of one standard and a would-be finale with a dark ballad. Yet the Iridium manager wanted one more, and she sidled up to the stage as the last song ended, one finger aloft.

“One more song?” Shepp deadpanned. Then he pulled his drummer out from behind the kit and ordered a demonstration of a “hambone,” the slave’s percussion routine of beating your body and chair while singing. This was followed by an awe-inspiring “Mama Rose,” a song Shepp wrote for his grandmother, born into slavery.

On Saturday night, my soul brother, Davidi Tirosh and I attended the Living Theater’s new incarnation of “The Brig,” their legendary piece on the American military, power, and the absurdity of order. Afterwards, we rode Davidi’s motorcycle on the BQE to Queens, almost as scary of a trip as “The Brig.”

Rivington Hotel

But before I met up with Davidi, I spent some time on Rivington Street in the LES, staring at the new hotel between Essex and Orchard. See, I remember when that thing went up, remember the first Eurotrash customers filtering in. I remember going in there when it was half-open, trying to track down an actress for a Brecht thing I did. And I remember saying to people, "You see that? That's gonna be the end to everything, right there." Maybe I was right. If I ever sound cynical about New Orleans high-rise dreams, I suppose that hotel started it all.

And then I missed my plane, blah blah, flew standby, blah blah, Memphis, yep, fuck, whatever. Traveling alone was a mistake, will not happen again.

There are good people up there where new structures rise without a thought and fine things are at your fingertips. Subways work, bars close, and streets are safe. But I know I’ve come to far into the heat now, and must work in it, work it out. New Orleans is home, and I was glad to get back.

In the taxi from Louis Armstrong International, I asked the cabbie, “What’s the latest?”

“Well, the only thing I can think of was Oliver Thomas resigning.”

“Are they gonna have a special election?”

“Yeah, in October. You’re welcome to put your name in.”