Support The Lower 9th Ward!

Trip Start Jun 19, 2010
Trip End Sep 01, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Louisiana
Monday, August 23, 2010

           DAY SIXTY-THREE: Kuntz is in the room when I wake, but I'm neither homicidal anymore, nor do I harbor any ill will for him, and he wakes sweetly this time.  It seems that Mika has gone shopping for us and the kitchen is alive with eggs, ham – right off the bone – cheese, cantaloupe, garden greens, and freshly-baked biscuits.  What a host this guy is, I mean, holy Toledo!  We spend the morning, do The Three of us, discussing the probability of turning the bus into a mobile café in San Francisco, and the dream is alive!  What a hell of a breakfast.

            Mika is still good to us, and when our quest for an outdoor pool is rejected by closure, Pearl is redirected on the host’s orders to a frozen daiquiri stand.  We order a gallon of the mojito flavor with two extra shots to go, and redirect to a park on the bank of the Mississippi.  With nary three sips of daiquiri in me, I run out onto the grass and slip from the soccer onto my face for all the sun worshipping women to witness and enjoy.  Woo!  Quickly the Frisbee and the soccer ball engage into a mutual battle against the sun as sweat cascades into the earth, and The Pioneer of The Game, who we call The Beard unearths an age-old romance by intercepting the flight of the soccer ball with a throw of a Frisbee.  At this point the heavens open and reveal to us the story of Boot Ball, wherein a lonely and flaccid Frisbee sought out a mate and in it, of all unlikely places, found a warped and deflated soccer ball whose cheeks had lost their luster.  As in all faerie tales, the moment of first sight melted the mountains for these two, where all the daisies and hummingbirds seemed to be magnified and heightened six fold, the rained seemed destined only leave dew on the eyelashes of butterflies, and the water itself seemed to taste like honey’s breath, were honey able to respire, as glimmering and full of life as were these two, until the world caught up to them and stomped down with a big gray boot.  "You can’t bait a ball," they said to the Frisbee.

            “How dare you desire a disc,” they said to the soccer ball.  And as the uproar ensued, the couple resistant for all that they could muster as plastics, until the boot swung again and kicked they clear out of town.  Dusting them off, still possessing their dignity and their love, they marched into town all declarative and proud, but this town responded the same way, as did the couple, until the boot swung once again, hurtling them to yet another town, this cycle repeating throughout time until couple had enough of it.

            “The keep flinging us at will,” said the Frisbee.

            “I’m tired of getting kicked around all the time,” said the soccer ball.  And it was then that they decided their place to be up in the sky, where no one else could judge them; truth be told, no one did.  It is in consideration of this battle that we play the game called Boot Ball, helping these two disjointed souls conjoin in the skies as best they can. 

            It’s so fucking hot, though, so I say, like, “hey, we’re going swimming,” and in my underwear I dive into the Mississippi River.  It’s all murky and brown, rather nasty and warm, but it’s cooler than not, and I practice swimming against the current for a time.  People are watching me from the bank but who cares; I find out later that the current is supposedly deadly, and, coupled with the nature of the surrounding businesses, the water is further meant to be quite the opposite of salubrious.  We’ll see how this works out.

            From here we pick up some friends of Mika’s, all girls recently arrived in town, two of them local, one not, and they bring some beer aboard for a bit of a chat.  We drive straight into the heart of the 9th Ward, that area so completely washed away by Madame Katrina, so completely devastated as a community already suffering great poverty.  Where we pull up, it’s the area that Brad Pitt helped in part to rebuild with supposedly sustainable architecture, all metallic roofs and homes on stilts.  It’s a cool thing, what he’s done, but it’s tragic to imagine that all of this land was completely devastated to where they could build all of these amazing homes, and seeing all the smiling little boys and girls playing outside, child-like in spite of all the horrors they’d seen, it’s either beautiful or again so incredible saddening.  There’s a family sitting outside drinking beer, watching their kids play around, and when we’re chatting with one of them, who zooms past us on his motorized Razor with a friendly curiosity, we’re very quickly acclimated and a welcome addition to the neighborhood.  His Razor’s broken so The Beard sits down with him to fix it, speaking fatherly, though not in a belittling way, essentially helping to teach the boy to fix it himself when it breaks again in the future.  As always, it’s consistent with The Beard’s sort of life mantra, that toward which he strives, in being as sincere as possible while being singularly pursuant of truth or whatever it is you’re looking for.  Soon all the kids are swarming around us, including one brave and characterful little fellow named Jordan, who can’t be over three yet has a good-humored sense of the world written all over his face.  Soon we go and meet their parents and relatives, who again are drinking beers on their stoop, and they’re all boisterous and more than warm, treating us like old friends, then shouting, “hey, boy, show your poppa the peace sign, flash it for me.  Ohh, player, look at that kid, you watch your daughter, baby, woo!”  They’re all dancing around, cracking up with an easiness that’s very enviable, but you can see the sadness in some of their eyes, including an uncle whose teeth are missing, who is stinking drunk, who has a gaping hole of a track mark in his arm, who tells me of how he lost everything in Katrina and started drinking again, hasn’t quit it since then, lost his wife for it, can’t see straight, still can’t forget all the dead bodies, the sight of his house landing a mile away from its original location, and holy fuck it’s all too emotional to handle for a upper-middle class brat like myself.  How can you not be thankful for what you have and who you are when you spend time with people like this?

            Cornbread and Hum-Yai have taken to converse with an old man on a stoop named Smitty, and though he’s old, or because of it, he’s wise and understanding and contemplative while being light and warm, and they talk about philosophy and pacifism and all the monstrosities that occurred to the area and beyond.  He tells them of how he, too, used to listen to Alan Watts back in the 1970s, and if his kindness weren’t enough in welcoming us to the neighborhood, he goes so far as to invite us to the Lower 9th Ward Community Center for freshly cooked crab dinner.

            So once the girls and all are done playing with the kids, messing around, in part giving life to the streets again, we pack up into the bus, give hugs all around, and drop the girls back off at their car.  The Beard is fixing my harmonica for me, and then we all head into the community center, which is mostly abandoned for the preseason-opening Saints-Texans (their first game at home after winning the Super Bowl, which has the entire city aflutter with excitement!), but we say hello to the remaining few sitting on the steps, tearing through that fresh, fresh crab steamed in a big tin tub full of Cajun spice.  We’re ushered to take some, take as much as we want without the slightest demand, and are introduced to Mack, the founder of the entire center.  Now, to describe quickly Mack or the work he’s doing is impossible, and I’ll save it for another time, but it’s safe to say that the evening, which is spent sitting in a circle learning first hand of most of the turmoil that the community still goes through, of all the work they’re doing to set it right, of all the sacrifice that Mack has done, with the help of Smitty and others, to make themselves better than before the Hurricane, is absolutely inspiring.  The man is driving himself toward bankruptcy to give the people something uniting and beautiful, and he’s doing it without demand or thanks.  Some might have taken him as cocky for all of it as he’s bragging left and right about what they’ve made, but I see it as being prideful for having accomplished something great.  And as Ayn Rand said of love and life, it’s impossible to be truly joyful when it’s completely selfless.  Were he not so completely behind providing services for the community, having open mic nights and bingo nights, providing them with appliances or shelter when they’ve none, then he wouldn’t be so smiling and tireless in his work.  He talks of his losses, of his classic car collection, his life’s work of passion, as being that previous, meaningless life, and sees Katrina as a blessing that put his life into perspective, putting all of his priorities in place, and he begs us to approach a life with true meaning, never settling for acquisition in an attempt to fill in the gaps where love would otherwise live.  He shows us their library, their computer lab, their map of all the displaced, lost, and dead community members throughout the country, everything, and we show him ol’ Pearl and he’s overwhelmed by it all.  He traces the map with his finger, holding his head, saying, you guys have it together, man, and waxes poetically of what his life would be like living under the moon in the mountains somewhere in Minnesota, and we all share in a moment of mutual respect (though how can the bus thing even compare?). What's the most amazing thing, is, he keeps thanking us for contributing to the cause, for helping the Lower 9th Ward.  What did we do, besides eat up all their crab without paying a dime?  I can't understand amazing people sometimes.  What a night it is, ladies and gentleman, and indeed what a gentleman he is.  I will provide a link soon to his community center – they’re in great need of more help – and I can’t imagine a more worthwhile place to donate money or time or support.  Man, what an amazing thing they’re doing there. 


            It’s a few hours, but once we’re gone, we head back to Mika’s house to settle in rather late, and decide around 11:30 that we really should eat dinner, so we pile into Mika’s truck and stop at a nearby diner for more poboys and some seafood gumbo.  I certainly hope that the waters are safe, man, again, for all of the seafood we’ve eaten.  Here the pitchers of beer are $5.50 and the waitresses are sassy, and if it’s rather brief, it’s nevertheless a nice dinner and a decent cap to a mindblowing, completely enlightening evening. 
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