On the Wall Part I

I didn’t used to be a fan of graffiti. I thought it was dirty and broke the rules. The first memory I have of graffiti is looking at a picture of a waterfall and all of the rocks were covered with graffiti. I dismissed it and said that it was ugly, that the graffiti took away from the natural beauty. Then someone (who was doing it to get a rise out of me) said or, the graffiti makes the waterfall more beautiful. And though he was being an ass, it gave me pause; what I think is beautiful other people might find ugly or vice versa. What I think is dirty is art to someone else. I don’t think that I really began to appreciate graffiti until eight years later when I studied abroad in Argentina. Graffiti in Argentina (not always) makes a statement or is artistic. Not unintelligible scribbles, that mark territory or some such nonsense, like we often see (again…not always).

I started noticing the graffiti and other assorted acts of “vandalism” in New Orleans. Then I realized that I have a whole bunch of really great pictures of things written on various surfaces around New Orleans. So this is my tribute to the hilarious, sad, awe-inspiring and the huh? that is written, drawn, scrawled, painted, whatever around New Orleans.

I have so many pictures that I decided to break it down by section and/or topic. First I will start off with some hurricane and disaster related writings.

“Looters will be shot–Katrina Rule”

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I interviewed various people about the “Katrina experience” for a Master’s project. One guy who stayed for the storm and lived in the Bywater told me that he knew he had to leave the City, not because of the storm, or flooding- these didn’t damage his area much- but because his neighbors were starting to arm themselves and sit out on their front porches to protect their property.

Eight years after Katrina, the City’s scars are still visible.
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The ‘X’ represents all that was Katrina: death, damage, lasting effects and volunteers. The top signifies the date the house was searched; the left the group that searched it; the bottom the number of dead; the right the number of structural hazards. The arrow (not always used) signals that there was a gas leak around the corner.

One Lower 9th Ward man’s call for love.

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I don’t know how long this table has been out here and I don’t know if this spot was where this man’s house used to stand. But I do know that this is a sentiment that is felt through New Orleans still. We seem to be a city that is wrapped up in nice paper, a sweet little bow and sold to consumers, who never really see pain in the truth.

“Piss off Isaac”

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Succinct and to the point, this sign was posted after the last not worthy hurricane, Isaac. I was driving around (when I shouldn’t have been…) and found this little gem…along with this next one.

NOT A ZOMBIE ENTRANCE”

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Again, very clear statement: we don’t want you zombies.

From the ashes and oil we will rise

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I feel like this is pretty clear: New Orleans has survived Katrina and the BP Oil Spill but we rise above it.

“Rise & Preserve”

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It’s what we do.

The point? Graffiti is often times just another way to publicly chronicle events in our lives.

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Normal. Wait what?

You are standing in front of a 23 black, 1 white and 3 Hispanic students grades 4-6. You ask the question “how many of you know somebody who has died?” They all raise their hands. Now you ask “how many of you know someone who has been murdered” and 2 or 3 hands go down. Now you are standing in front of 24 students with their hands raised.

Scene Change

You are now standing with 4 black and 1 Hispanic students grade 12 in front of the Murder Board (2 different photos for each word). You are all looking at the over 1,200 names of people murdered in NOLA between 2007 and 2012. One student starts crying and says “3 of my ex-boyfriends are on here.”

Scene Change

You are standing in front of 13 black students and 1 white student grades 3-6. You are not in a normal school, you are in an alternative school. This school caters to the bottom 3% students in NOLA, students who have been kicked out of “normal” school for violence, drugs, truancy, etc. or are coming out of juvie. You are reading the book “Brothers in Hope” about the Lost Boys of Sudan. One boy raises his hand and says “I’m scared at night too. I sleep under my bed because I don’t want to hit by a stray bullet.”

Scene Change

You are having a conversation with 1 black student grade 12 about “Cooked” and he tells you “my 2 older brothers are in jail. Both finally understand that they did something bad and needed to be punished. Not ‘they’re just putting black males in jail’.”

Scene Change

You are having a conversation with 1 white student grade 9 about different last names among siblings. She says “I hate that all four of us have different last names. It makes my mom look bad and it makes me look bad. It’s embarrassing.”

Scene Change

You are chatting with 1 black student grade 10 about his childhood and he tells you that he started smoking pot in 3rd grade, dealing crack in 5th grade and by 6th grade he was addicted to pills, consistently car jacking people and sentenced to juvie for 3 years for possession of stolen property and 2 counts of attempted murder.

Scene Change

You are standing in front of 18 black students grade 7. You ask “what is one thing that New Orleans is known for?” A few students yell out “murder!”

The point? When did this become the norm?

Further reading:

Fed up, New Orleans looks to shake Murder City title

Metro Area Murder Map

French Quarter Fest

So far I feel like I have done a lot of yammering on about the injustices of New Orleans. You might be wondering at this point “Well then why do you still live there?” Because I love it. So much. I was talking to a friend today about hurricanes, which are a terrifying and very real threat (we are entering hurricane season soon). He asked why we put up with them, and I said because we, New Orleanians, take the bad with the good. And because when it’s good is ohhh sooo good!

I am referring to New Orleans’ insatiable desire and need for festivals. Everyone knows about Mardi Gras, well, they think they know about Mardi Gras. Anyway, New Orleans has many, many other festivals. One of the best is French Quarter Fest. French Quarter Fest is the largest FREE music festival in the South. This year FQF was April 11-14, four wonderful days of free local music, delicious food, and happy, happy people. I was only able to go for part of the day the 13th, but it was glorious.

Street people getting some jams in.

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“Sign for community spirit”

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You couldn’t walk half a block without seeing and hearing some local musicians.

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Everybody felt the music and couldn’t help but dance it out!

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We finally got to the other end of Decatur!

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The Crescent City Connection, Steamboat Natchez and the Mississippi River.

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The Glen David Andrews Band rocked it!

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The Absolute Vodka stage on the river in Woldenberg Park.

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“I will, I will melt your heart like butter.”

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The stage at night from the River Walk.

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The point? New Orleans might be a hot mess, but we know how to relax and have a good time. As they say “Laissez les bons temps rouler

The WWOZ

Ask almost anybody who knows me and they will tell you that I hate the radio. I hate the commercials, I hate the mainstream pop-crap music they play and I also, usually, hate the radio personalities. Living in New Orleans (and since my iPod jack broke) I have reverted to making mix cds…which I personally believe is a lost art that should be revived. I have my mixes of rap, rock, electro, hip-hop, dubstep and folk. I was happy.

But, I was only happy because I didn’t know what my life was missing! I was hanging out with some friends and one friend kept mentioning the “the wooz” I was so confused. He told wonderful tales about reggae, blues, Cajun, Spanish, and many, many more awesome types of music. He then told me to tune into 90.7. I thought psshht the radio, no thank you. BUT to my surprise and delight it was a locally run and funded radio station. No annoying commercials (only the occasional solicitation, which is understandable), no ass hole, over the top radio personalities, only normal people who love music, no pop crap bullshit, just good old-fashioned (and new) New Orleans (and other) music. ALSO great interviews with local artists, writers, school bands, etc. It is great. I seriously suggest that everyone check out and stream OZ.

Also, if you can’t travel to NOLA for any number of our amazing festivals, they do the occasional live stream!

The point? Local radio, the WWOZ, is amazing and makes commuting to work totally bearable.

Ambulances (weeohhhweeoohh)

Being from the sticks noise pollution isn’t something I grew up with. The closest thing was the sound of the coyotes in the winter and the loons in the summer. But now, I live about 6 blocks away from one of the busiest roads in NOLA; six glorious lanes of traffic. It doesn’t really bother me anymore, in fact quite the opposite; I’m totally weirded out when I go home and hear NOTHING. Anyway…this post isn’t really about traffic in general (that will come later), no this is about a specific sound that is all too common here.

Ambulances. (<–click me it’ll put you in the moment!)

I thought about this a few months ago while job hunting at Starbucks. I am sitting outside of the Starbucks on Magazine and Washington when an ambulance whizzes by. All the enraged drivers angrily pull off to the side, all the curious pedestrians stop and look and all the prying coffee shoppers take out their headphones and watch as it flies by. For thirty seconds this tiny two block radius in New Orleans is totally paralyzed to watch an ambulance go by. Then, as the siren fade all of our lives return to normal. Cars pull back into the road, pedestrians keep their path and the coffee shoppers plug themselves back into their cyber worlds. But I don’t. I think about the person in the ambulance, see this is just another day for us, inconvenienced, peeked interest, morbid curiosity, but for them, whoever they are, this is the worst day of their life. Or maybe their last. We don’t know. I don’t know.

The point? An inconvenience to you can be life altering to someone else.

The Ice Cube Epiphany

*Check out the links, most are songs*

For most people who know me, you know that I am in love with Ice Cube. Don’t ask me why, maybe it’s his pyroclastic flow, maybe it’s the fact that he looks like a teddy bear, or maybe it’s his prestige as an actor…who knows. Point is I love him, and his music.

I have gone through phases of listening to rap, I really like it, I hate it, I love the lyrical genius, I hate the constant derogatory undertones. Ultimately, I have landed on side of liking rap. From a cultural standpoint it is important, as my mom always says “rap is urban storytelling”. As silly as it sounds, it’s true. It is people passing their life stories onto the community by way of oral tradition. One of the reasons why I have an appreciation for rap is because I like listening to and decoding what artists are saying. (I’m not talking about bullshit pop-rap, I’m mainly talking about 80s-90s early 00s rap). Listening, not passively, but actively listening to rap is so interesting. And, it was, often times, ignorantly, hilarious to me. My middle-class, white, country life is so far removed from the stories told in these songs that I had a hard time believing them. I’d ironically sing along to Bitches Ain’t Shit, but I had no frame of reference, no sense of understanding that this is actually, more or less, what life is like for some people, a lot of people.

This brings me to a sad epiphany and back to my love of Ice Cube. I was jamming out hard one day to my “straight up g-thuggin'” cd, when Hood Mentality came on. I’d heard the song before, but I hadn’t ever really listened to it. And I had certainly never listened to it in the context of my work (long story short I work with at-risk youth of all ages). Not only does the song mix a dope beat (that’s right) with well thought out sarcasm, but it also seriously delves into realities of growing up in the hood.

1. “Fuck school, nigga, I’ma be a dope dealer”- I have had so many first hand experiences with youth and drugs. First, there is always that parent who is a crackhead. Their child stops going to school, stops bathing, they roam the streets. Then they get evicted because of unsafe living conditions, not to mention they haven’t had power or running water for a few months now. Second, there is always that parent who is a drug dealer. Crackheads come up to the house while the kids are there, get high, get belligerent, the feds bust down the door in the middle of the night and the kids get pawned off to some neighbor. Third, there are always those kids who are the drug dealers. Children are our future, and also future dealers, unless something stops them (death, jail, hope, positive role model). I have had multiple students talk to me about dealing drugs at a young age: elementary school. I have re-told some of the stories and people don’t believe me. Sometimes I don’t believe them either. Not only are children witnessing drug culture all around them, but the are engulfed in it and often times see no other way out. Hey, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Right?

2. “if I grow a little taller, everybody tell me I’m gon’ do it, I’m gon’ be a baller”- Far too often, boys especially, are told that sports is the ticket out of the hood. I’m not telling students not to reach for their goals, but they also need to realize that the chances of them being the next LeBron, Jordan, even Rush (I didn’t say it they did) or the next Sproles, Brees, or Graham is slim. This is not a logical or probable goal for most students. (Yes, there will always be that epic all American dream story and I’m sure some waspy white lady will be happy to play the role of “stable mother-figure”). This does not mean that students get a pass on academics or trade skills, because lets face it, unless you’re a Shaq or a Jordan, the chances of you going broke after making it big are seriously high. This a very real conversation I have had with multiple students.

3. ” ’cause you read your first book in the penitentiary”- This is the line that really brought it home for me. I have a student who did not know how to read until he was in juvie in 6th grade. Sixth grade and he didn’t know how to read. This line is what made me realize what I had been too ignorant to see before: this is life for hundreds of thousands of youth around the country.

The Point?
This life doesn’t seem like life in the all mighty America.