Cities in Dust
If you’re like me, you were raised on a steady diet of dystopian future-fantasy: Blade Runner, Escape from New York, The Road Warrior… Punk rock survivalists living like rats in the ruins of a once-civil society. It went well with the „Everything I Needed to Know I Learned From Jello Biafra“ conceit, and offered a good DIY approach to fashion besides. In the continuum of apocalyptic zeitgeist, this one fits comfortably between The Omega Man as R[DIE VERWENDUNG DES URSPRUENGLICHEN NAMENS DES UNTERNEHMENS WURDE UNS UNTERSAGT] 70s Individualist, and the Uber-Goth Consumerism fed by The Matrix. My favorite dark futures were rarely sentimental enough for a moral. At best, the fucked-up state of affairs was broadly explained as some lapse in judgement by the powers-that-be. Some forgotten sin paid forwards. Since anyone with half a brain knows that a lot of wrongs are left unaccounted for, well, we wait…
So how is this resignation to world destruction holding up? The devastation of oil wars is still ’somewhere else‘, the nukes have been put into high-tech mothballs for future endgame crises, and it seems like no matter how stupid our leaders are, we still aren’t in the wastelands of our spectacularly dark daydreams with nothing but our leather jacket and shotgun to keep us warm. Instead life grinds on, the bills keep coming, and our dystopia comes to us in slow motion, and in unexpected guises.
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting New Orleans, Louisiana for the second time. You may know NO for its Mardi Gras spectacle of beads and breasts, but I think that the city is better characterized by the amount of tolerance that it shows for fuck-ups no matter what time of year it is. As a cabbie there once told me, „If you can’t make it here, you can’t make it anywhere.“ It’s Easy. If you’re looking for that beads-n-breasts tourists‘ New Orleans, it’s particularly easy. As advertised, Bourbon street is awash in hangover-inducing Hurricanes, purple and gold beads, and what must be hundreds of strippers named Jezebel. It’s all there for the taking, and it’s cheap cheap cheap. The only thing that New Orleans asks of tourists is to Be Nice, and to never, under any circumstance, disagree with a police officer.
In fact, these are pretty much the rules that apply to the locals, too, but they get their own set of venues. The venues for locals are no less conducive to self-immolation, but at a slower burn than the magnesium-fueled tourist trip. Instead of trying to destroy the frontal lobe in a single, heart-jarring bout of round-the-clock consumption, one can take the forgiving nature of the city as an invitation to more gradual lobotomization. But simple alcoholism is only the least of the opportunities here, certainly the least creative. The city is not only forgiving to being a fuck-up, it’s equally forgiving to being a cast-out, or even a tripped-up or a wandered-off. Whether you need the slack for a lifelong adventure in tattooing or to recollect yourself after your portfolio collapses, NO will provide.
I was surprised by the number of NYC refugees that I found here, and I found plenty of common ground with them on our reasons for leaving. New York City is a city on the rise. Contrary to cinematic predictions of complete societal breakdown, neither NASDAQ crash nor nine-eleven attacks have stopped the relentless advance of bistros, university dormitories, and high-rent condos into what was once a stronghold of bohemianism. This is not a new story here: the gentrification has been going on for decades now. Gradually the city has become much less tolerant of its freaks, failures, and other human misfires. Mutation has given way to specialization. The apocalypse is merely cultural.
In the meantime, the failure of New Orleans is very physical. Strike one: New Orleans is built on a swamp. Building foundations tilt, sink, and sometimes crack right apart. Strike two, it is, at least by American standards, very old. And wooden buildings don’t age very gracefully in the swelter of the tropical South. Third strike, the place is actually below sea level. Being below sea level is less a matter of decay than good-old-fashioned instant eradication: only a gently sloped levee protects the city from gulf-spawned hurricanes. No city has seemed this doomed since the first incarnation of St. Petersburg. A direct hit by one of the whimsically named tropical storms that frequent the area would put the entire city under ten feet of water before you could say jambalaya. But even without the potential for instant submersion, New Orleans is in a constant struggle with the forces of nature. A local described it to me in terms of the local flora. Spanish Moss droops in fluffy wads from a lot of the trees here, blocking their sunlight but rarely killing the tree outright. If you think of those creeping vines as the forces of rot and decay, this NYC ex-pat tells me, then New Orleans is that shrouded tree.
Back home, in a suburb outside of NYC, the trees seem to be losing. While I was gone, a high, thick limb from a pine tree has snapped off under local forces of nature and impaled itself directly through the frozen pond in the back yard. In the midst of a snow-covered panorama it’s more of a curiosity than wreckage, I admit, but it still scratches that itch just a little. Imagine the fate of an unlucky frog hibernating placidly in the muck down there. Cataclysmic retribution, for some murky sin.
Found this week:
Wer Wissenschaft und Kunst besitzt,
hat auch Religion,
Wer jene beiden nicht besitzt,
der habe Religion!
– Joan Riviere
Faust: Wohin der Weg?
Mephistopheles: Kein Weg! Ins Unbetretene.
Favorite link this week: www.thepartyparty.com