The Carpet Bagger's Journal — moving from NYC to Mississippi

June 7, 2017

Louisianans Might Be Crazy — But We’re Not Stupid

The state of Louisiana is famous for its eccentrics.  Yes, New York has a glorious history of schizophrenics muttering to themselves in the ATM vestibules and in subway cars, yes. San Francisco practices freak-flag forms of politically inflected mania, but Louisiana, particularly New Orleans, is proud of its deep heritage of lunatics on the loose.

Indeed, the South as a whole does not disown its lunatics but makes room for them at the Easter Brunch table.

“Miz Johnson has her ways,” parents explain to children about the neighbor who stands on her front porch screaming about alien abductions. Boo Radley doesn’t get chased out of town in To Kill  a Mockingbird. He becomes the subject of a small town’s most graphic and gothic legends while he keeps his own crazy counsel.

cray

Miz Johnson has her ways.

In New Orleans in particular, it becomes hard to distinguish the lunatic from the merely fabulous. The people who shout at invisible oppressors, the people who dress like Napoleon and claim his identity are all part of an ecosystem of local color. Far from fleeing the mad neighbor, the people of New Orleans embrace these people as a contribution to tourism. While many people might be diagnosable or diagnosed, the citizens of New Orleans are less interested in what is wrong with the crazy man on the street corner than they are in his ephemeral passage between the frontier of respectable reality and disreputable fantasy. New Orleans has made this transgression into an attraction.

In a red state such as Louisiana, and given all I have said above about local lunacy, it should surprise nobody that the state legislature is considering budget cuts to mental health programs that benefit most particularly the schizophrenic and bipolar. The hope of such programs is to medicate those who may be medicated out of, say, homicidal tendencies.  The state is also trying to limit its highest-in-the-country incarceration rates, so I am assuming that the wisdom of the legislature is not to criminalize the mentally incompetent but to allow them to offer more Jeremiads in Audubon Park to passers by, to take a permanent Mardi Gras vacation from the normative.  Outside the city, I suppose the hope must be that they will create new attractions in swamp country.  Nat Geo’s Swamp People can only attract so many tourists to visit the mosquitoes and alligators of the state’s wetlands, but what if a Fais-do-do — the traditional Cajun dance party popular in many parts of the state — could turn into a Fais-cray-cray? Would tourists from Michigan paddle out in a pirogue to take a look at that, buy local crawfish — for such a festival we could actually stoop perhaps to calling them CRAY fish like the Yankees call them — and support jam-jar bars in the bayou? So a few more people get shot in Baton Rouge by lunatics on the loose — will the police even notice? What could that do for the tourist industry around Louisiana State University campus?

Admittedly, it is cheaper for the state to pay for medication for the seriously mentally ill who have fallen into deep difficulty than to pay to incarcerate murderers or to investigate missing persons — unless you see this as a burgeoning cottage industry that no good capitalist would ever want to regulate with Lithium and the occasional straight jacket. After all, Laissez-faire economics, isn’t that a CAJUN term for making a buck every which way?

It is time for me to stop my “modest proposal” shtick and admit that I think cutting what meager help that exists for the mentally ill is a losing proposition.  It’s crazy. But the Louisiana State Legislature, bless its heart, seems to be willing to sing along with the Louisiana State University Tiger Marching Band’s peppy rendition of the Billy Joel tune:

You may be right. I may be crazy. But it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for.

I for one would be willing to pay a little more in taxes to make sure the dangerously mentally ill got the help they needed, to provide family counseling in under-served communities in the state, to help those of us who do not sublimate our depression and anxiety in writing or jazz to get a therapist.  But then again, like Billy Joel, a New Yorker, I come from a place where it is expected that the mentally ill have more than “their ways,” that they have a counselor as needed. New Yorkers — what did they do after 9/11?  They got everybody who wanted one a therapist for free.  They knew we had all been through a trauma.  What does New York do when it is upset? It talks to somebody about it, seeks help. Louisiana isn’t so sure it needs help. It is willing to live with the crazy within its borders.

storm shelter

The people of Louisiana have been collectively traumatized in recent years by needing to escape storms in shelters like this one.

One thing, however, that Louisianans know first-hand is the need to handle large community crises.  These normally come to the people of the state in the form of weather. Katrina traumatized all of the Gulf of Mexico.  Last year’s floods displaced many people in the center of the state, people who may not yet have moved back into their homes. The people of Louisiana are possibly crazy, but they’re not stupid. They are not willing to bet against the entirety of the scientific community regarding weather patterns they themselves have just barely survived and declare that climate change just can’t be real. Governor Edwards has repeatedly put out statements about the current Federal government’s proposed cuts to programs needed to mitigate climate change issues in the coast lands of the state. Mayor Landrieu of New Orleans has pledged to meet Paris Accord climate change standards whatever Washington may say. If scientists say we cannot afford to get more than two degrees Celsius hotter on planet Earth, people in Southern Louisiana in particular understand how hot it can get, and the whole community is willing to work to prevent additional disasters being visited upon the state.

In this, I believe I see the outline of a bipartisan state legislature budgetary agreement. Perhaps we could agree that for one year the State of Louisiana could send all its mental health funding to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to treat one person in particular suffering from delusions that are actually hurting the international tourist trade.  This individual believes that the former President was from Kenya, that crowd sizes are not what the rest of us see, that the FBI director told him he wasn’t under investigation and told him this multiple times, that “covfefe” is a word, that he has the best solutions, that he alone can fix the problems of this country, that factual news is fake news, that we aren’t noticing that he is planning  to cut his own taxes at the expense of poor children and the elderly in our state, and that we were glad when he showed up in the flood zone against the governor’s request so that rescuers could continue to get help to people literally stranded on rooftops so that a billionaire could bring us a few hundred dollars’ worth of children’s games.  Some lunatics are too dangerous even for Louisiana, and Louisianans are smart enough to realize that his plans need  to be stopped so that we can continue to live our eccentric lives down here.

September 27, 2016

Who Dat Dere Gonna Smash the Glass?

who-dat

This party was for both for the Clinton debate and the Saints game, no need to pick just one.

Last night, I had the delightful privilege of watching Hillary Clinton shoot a fish in a barrel, one that looked remarkably like a coked-out real estate developer and aging game show host named Donald Trump.  I was not alone for this festive occasion.  I was seated in a pizza parlor in the Gentilly district of New Orleans, surrounded by people who like me, have volunteered for the campaign to elect the first woman president.

We have been making phone calls around here to get out the Democratic vote, and we have found Louisianans surprisingly receptive to our phone calls, given the reputed redness of the state.  Most of them seem to have gotten a robo-call from white supremacist David Duke, who is running for senate and who endorses Donald Trump, before we with our real voices and our real diversity call to suggest they come out and volunteer for us.  It’s like Mr. Duke rolled out the red carpet for our second call’s arrival.  No pollster predicts that Louisiana will turn blue this election, but New Orleans, birthplace of Jazz, has always liked the blues.  It is a pocket of organized Democratic Party voters in a sea of otherwise-inclined conservatives.  Yet the choice could not be more stark this election, and David Duke has yet to win an office after he served a single term as a state representative.  His endorsement makes non-Klannish white Louisianans weigh their voting choices more carefully, and we are glad to give them something to think about.

On my way to this combined Saints Game Tailgate and Orgy of Joy Because a Raging Sexist Pig was About to Get Beat by a Girl, I convinced my Uber driver to register to vote, and because I told him the details of Clinton’s energy policy, a subject close to that man’s heart, he told me he would vote for my girl HRC.  He is a laid-off oil industry worker, and the details of Clinton’s plan seemed to spell greater prosperity and greater independence from foreign oil markets to him.  He had never voted, he said, but this election seemed really important.  I couldn’t agree more.

Watching Hillary with a room full of rowdy and racially diverse Democrats was a pleasure straight out of an episode of The West Wing, if Aaron Sorkin had let Spike Lee direct that episode.  The crowd hooted and hollered when Hillary laughed at the lies falling out of the sad old man’s mouth, and when he insulted her personally, we all gasped, and the ladies of color shouted in unison, “Oh, no he didn’t!”  But her simple remark, that while he was out on the road bloviating, she had not only prepared for the debate but had prepared to be president of the United States — well, that was worth the price of pizza alone.  His return to birtherism and stopping and frisking, perhaps that played well with the withering Fox News audience, but most of America seems to think that his version of Law and Order is not so much lawful as Orwellian-sounding.  We laughed as Hillary Clinton laughed, and we hoped that America saw as we saw her competency and his ridiculous ineptness and ill-informed and misinforming bombast.

The men who were with us checked in on the Saints’ game on their phones once in a while, but we were glued to the screen.  Neither male nor female was impressed with Donald Trump’s denial of his support for the Gulf War, nor were we convinced that it was Hillary Clinton who had a temperament problem — and what, he’s an incarnation of the Dalai Lama?  Please!  His entire career has been based on being rash and quick to anger. Nobody bought it.

Trump’s bringing Gennifer Flowers to the debate with him is proof he actually knows nothing about the thinking of women.  If he were running against Bill Clinton, this might have been some sort of an effective jab, but he’s running against Clinton’s wronged spouse, who neither orchestrated nor condoned that affair. What women saw in this was an incomprehension of our individual dignity, and he looked like he was just being absurdly bitchy.  Also, we might wonder what he would expect — that she would burst into tears? Nah.  Our girl Hillary is like all of us who have had to attend a cocktail party where some woman was there who had tried to take our man.  He might as well have handed her the election with that single mean-spirited gesture. The sight of an ex-mistress isn’t devastating to a grown-up woman; it makes us taste the copper of blood rage in our mouths. By bringing Flowers to the debate, he guaranteed she would be relentless in her criticism of him.

It was truly a pleasure to watch Ms. Clinton work last night.  I got a fan handed to me by a woman running for  judge.  I got a new lawn sign and a new sticker.   The Saints lost.  But who dat?  Who dat dere gonna smash the glass ceiling? Who dat dere gonna smash the patriarchy?  We dat.

March 26, 2011

Because of Geraldine

In times of mourning, prose seems flaccid.  I offer poetry instead.  This poem of mine originally appeared in Lummox Journal:

GERALDINE FERRARO HAS BLOOD CANCER

It would be impossible to overstate this imperfect woman's importance to women in the United States

While I blot my eyes, I tell her, “Geraldine Ferraro

Has blood cancer.”  She blinks twice, wets her lips,

And asks, “Who is Geraldine Ferraro?  Oh, yeah.”

For her, it’s a lesson memorized for a final exam

That has blood cancer.  She blinks twice, wets her lips.

I am odd, old, and now crying in front of her.  Whatever.

For her, it’s a lesson memorized for a final exam,

Not a rock star tragedy, not the last scene of the movie.

I am odd, old, and now crying in front of her.  Whatever.

She has no inkling, none, what it was like —

Not a rock star tragedy, not the last scene of the movie —

When they wouldn’t have made me boss, and she —

She has no inkling, none, what it was like

Before, when I waited tables in pinch-toe pumps, no degree,

When they wouldn’t have made me boss, and she —

She would have been a waitress, too, or a stenographer.

Before, when I waited tables in pinch-toe pumps, no degree,

Maybe I would have wondered, “Who is Susan B. Anthony?”

She would have been a waitress, too, or a stenographer,

Another sitcom mom, pearl necklace and a chrome blender.

Maybe I would have wondered, “Who is Susan B. Anthony?”

But I switched on the televised convention and got switched on,

Another sitcom mom, pearl necklace and a chrome blender

In the commercial before the crowd went wild weeping.

I switched on the televised convention and got switched on,

Living my whole life packaged in a low-ceiling flat

In the commercial before the crowd went wild weeping,

And I wept, too, gasping the fresh air, but not even liking her,

Living my whole life packaged in a low-ceiling flat,

since she was New York, mafia entourage, and some nerve,

And I wept, too, gasping the fresh air, but not even liking her,

Because the cage cupping my whole ambition swung open at last.

She was New York, mafia entourage, and some nerve —

My mother had scolded, “Cross your legs.  Sit like a lady,”

But the cage cupping my whole ambition swung open at last —

She had a narrow, nasal voice, said nothing I remembered.

My mother had scolded, “Cross your legs.  Sit like a lady.

Don’t let him know you are smarter than he is.  Quiet.”

She had a narrow, nasal voice, said nothing I remembered

Without wincing, but a black battalion of cameras shuttered,

“Don’t let him know you are smarter than he is.  Quiet,”

At the nominee, but she seemed as nonplussed as a future postage stamp,

Without wincing, but a black battalion of cameras shuttered,

And I was screaming, then howling into the sofa cushions in relief

At the nominee, but she seemed as nonplussed as a future postage stamp

By my reaction half the country away from her.  I was ransomed,

And I was screaming, then howling into the sofa cushions in relief.

At least somebody showed them I could do it; a girl could do it.

My reaction half the country away from her: I was ransomed;

I went back to school, moved into the city, told nobody why.

At least somebody showed them I could do it.  A girl could do it.

I got this job, got promoted.  I became boss, and then the news.

“…I went back to school, moved into the city, told nobody why,”

While I blot my eyes,  I tell her.  “Geraldine Ferraro…

I got this job, got promoted.  I became boss, and then the news.”

She asks, “Who is Geraldine Ferraro?  Oh, yeah.”

I met Geraldine Ferraro once at a rally in New York City.  She was surrounded by scary-looking advance men, as advance campaign staff invariably at the time was male.  She was running for governor.  Her advance staff looked scary precisely because they did not  appear to come from the typical advance staff stock — college-educated guys who majored in political science with aspirations of their own, not idealists — the guys who other guys would have called dickish.  Gerry Ferraro‘s advance men were head-crackers that looked like they were only graduates of what first-Irish-and-totally-mobbed-up governor of New York Al Smith called “The Institute of FFM — the Fulton Fish Market” (For those of you who don’t know New York crime blotter sheets from re-runs of Law and Order, the Fulton Fish Market, now closed, was THE mob spot since it opened.

She was not an idealist.  She was infinitely pragmatic.  But if it’s not a  mobbed-up woman who gets to be the first female president, I sincerely wonder who has the muscle to pull off the final boring through the glass ceiling.  Gerry Ferraro gave it a swift kick, and the fissures she left in it are still being chipped away at by women of my generation and younger.

Because of Geraldine, we have abandoned the idea that leadership requires the ability to pee standing up.

I owe her, knuckle-headed advance staff, nasal voice and all — I owe her so much.  If you’re a woman and you like your job, your rights, your possibilities, you owe her, too.

Rest in peace, mother Geraldine.  Rest in peace.

October 15, 2010

Yall Politics

Yall Politics.

Y’all Politics picked up my punditry — All y’all click on the link — see above!

October 14, 2010

Ole Missed Opportunities — why voters should re-elect Childers, then dump him in two years

 

this man's staff is incompetent, or he is

 

The voters of the first district of Mississippi should re-elect Travis W. Childers (D-MS) to Congress on November 2, and on November 3, the local Democratic Party should start looking for someone to back against him in a primary, since he is bad for the Party.  He had an opportunity to make fellow and sister Democrats running locally matter in this election, and he kept the opportunity all to himself — stupidly, since the resulting political commerce, with every Democrat within a hundred miles owing him a favor would have made him a State Party Chairman with presidential potential.

Out of a combined sentiment that this election matters and a possible nostalgia, Bill Clinton chose to stump for Childers today in Oxford at the Ole Miss Grove of football mania fame.  He gave a speech far more humble than he needed to as a former President, and his Good Ol’ Boy charm remained intact despite looking tired.  He spoke to the people at Ole Miss the way one speaks to a Rotary Club luncheon if one is running for City Council — unpretentiously, with clear facts and figures related to fiscal issues that should make any — fill in the blank here — Democrat a desirable candidate.  He spoke in football metaphors and down home vernacular, in that Clintonian way that he does so masterfully — where we see that Bubba, or “Brother Bill,” as State Attorney General Jim Hood called him at the rally, is a genius.

Before Bill Clinton got there, the mayor of Oxford, the State Attorney General, a minister, and a very good Gospel Choir, took up perhaps fifteen minutes of a two-hour tardiness not uncommon when ex-Presidents go on the campaign trail for candidates.  What was glaringly obvious was that there was a crowd, for once, of thousands gathered in Mississippi, and there was an empty space of one hour and forty-five minutes when politicians could have addressed them.

Why weren’t the candidates of the Democratic party invited to speak, even under a “time permitting” invitation?  The crowd was restless.  Delays in such situations are predictable.  So why were there no other speakers invited?

Only two answers are possible, both of them quite plausible:

1) His campaign staff was incompetent.  If I were the candidate, I certainly should choose to fire them.  They could have made him bigger locally than he currently is, and his campaign communications director is the rudest woman I have ever met in politics.  She should be fired before the sun goes down tonight.  Understand that campaign communications directors are supposed to smile and nod at everyone, even when they think they are crazy, and they are there to promote the campaign’s agenda to the electorate.  She was snotty to me in a surprising way when I asked her for the campaign manager’s name — some kind of rookie since Joel Coon abandoned him — and she did not offer her own.   I wish I could type it here.  I also wish that I could think of a more sophisticated  word than the one that comes to mind to describe her — I only think of something that one might have drunk on a now-defunct airline — TWA tea.  She’s a rude cup of that kind of tea, and she has no business working in politics in any quarter.

2) Travis W. Childers is only interested in the good of Travis W. Childers, not the good of his electorate, and not the good of his party.  I have read that he said he had an “obamatross” hanging around his neck.  I somehow doubt he said it — it’s a bit cleverer than I imagine him to be, quite frankly, so I don’t think he said that.  “Let them eat cake” is more probable, as he voted against the Health Care Bill, and he did so in order to be reelected here.  He is probably not on the best of terms with the rest of the Mississippi Democratic Party.  He is short-sighted, because he could have, by sharing the limelight just a little bit, made a good number of friends here today, even among his enemies in the Party and his frenemies in the Party. A man that short-sighted is probably myopic because of an enlarged ego.

In either case, Bill Clinton is right.  The Democrats need not to give up this seat in Congress.  However, I have to believe that there are nicer, smarter and more forward-thinking Democrats in the Oxford area, and I believe that one of them needs to run against him in a primary in 2012.

Ex-Presidents carry a cachet with them.  This election is a tough one for Democrats.  Hoarding the wealth is a recipe for defeat.  Bill Clinton is eloquent and makes me proud to be a Democrat in Mississippi.  Childers should be ashamed of the way he played politics today and owes his Party an apology.

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