March 23, 2008

Projects or Tanks: 5th Anniversary of the War

On Saturday morning, the Crescent City Classic blocked our route uptown, so we ended up cutting over to St. Bernard to get onto 610. New rubble stood in the place of the St. Bernard projects, which we'd passed only a week ago, and which were on the front page of the TP just a few days back. In the photo, the pitiful, racist, supposed mouthpiece of public housing residents (as selected by some liberal arts students) shouted at two national guardsmen while two hippies watched from a neutral ground. Now all that was left was brick and twisted wire.

Once on 610, we saw a train pass to our left. Its load: one tank after another, maybe 20 in all, squat and desert-tan and seemingly benign as toys, sliding through the morning with the city skyline as silent witness.

And as victim. For if personality games and falsehood can make up the dialogue on the war in the rest of the country--and only on anniversaries does your local news speak its name--here in New Orleans, we eat it daily. The precedence given to endless war over infrastructure and the basic functions of government is never more clear than on mornings like this Saturday. I am not bemoaning the loss of public housing in favor of war--I am pointing out that these are the disasterous choices we face, almost 7 years after 9/11, 5 years after the war began, over 2 years after Katrina.

I wanted to pull over and sit there a minute, but you know, we're paying $3.25 a gallon, and you can't really enjoy your pity at that rate, right? We were already running late, anyhow.

It is not healthy for us to see such things. Perhaps it is an honest existence in this country today, to face up to a demolished project and a line of tanks all in one ride to work. Perhaps I can feel the breath of the conflict and am somewhat buoyed on occasion, knowing that none of this is sublimated or theory--it is right here. But on others, like this one, I have to take many breaths, slow breaths, closing my eyes when possible. This is your youth, your nation, this is that time, these things are the same and powerful. And no one wants to talk about that.

My friend is in town from Japan. His English is not so good, and so I'm not sure what comes across in my explanations of the city, of my life, of where we live and what we do. This afternoon, we took him east, out Hayne Blvd., then to Chef Menteur, and then we made our way around the old Six Flags. I pulled over in front of a Toyota dealership and I don't think my friend knew why.

I wanted to see the crests of the coasters beyond the roofs of the giant SUV's, all them to be bought on credit and to drink spiraling gas costs, and to circle, perhaps in service, or perhaps aimlessly, this vivid, grotesque spot of America.

Five years after this war began, the edges have collapsed all around us and no one can say a nice thing about the future. Whatever reasons for starting this thing, they are feeding anyone today, and they will not tear down that Six Flags and build a school. We pay for this thing daily and we ask why the economy is in the shitter. We buy bigger cars and make songs about them. We leap over ourselves to avoid the guilt that comes with talking or watching it on cable. We let idiots pray for the return of slums.

Five years later, hasn't this war taken over everything? On 9/11, I stood on the corner of 5th Avenue and 48th Street in Manhattan as a black cloud spread across the lower tip of the island, and I knew something bad had come for us. If these days I drive past tanks and rubble and rusted out amusement parks, that's no surprise. It is a surprise that we only get around to these connections when the calendar hits a certain number, rather than in the endless hours within the constant, consumptive fever of the last five years.