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

September 25, 2016

Pirate Country –my transplanted life in the north tropics

Where I live now, there are Walgreens and Walmarts, bells of tacos and kings of burgers, so it is no more and no less American on the West Bank of New Orleans than it is in Duluth or Houston. Yet there is a mysterious, mariner-gothic bent to New Orleans (see my previous post about the evocation of vampire Lestat on my morning defecation walks with dogs), and taking a momentarily ecocritical view of my life, I understand its mystery better: I am living in the northern tropics. Wouldn’t you know that’s pirate country?

Perhaps because of an early childhood visit to Disneyland, when I think of the landscape of a tropical town, I immediately think of pirates of the Caribbean.  The truth is that when pirates were more common in colonial America, they were not a strictly tropical phenomenon.  My old town, New York City, had pirates, too.  Down on Hanover Street in the financial district there is a plaque that marks the site of the house owned by the infamous pirate Redbeard, who seems to have lived in peace with legal traders of goods and whose characters were no more shocking or flamboyant than a Wolf of Wall Street or a Godon Gekko (named, I note for the first time, after a tropical lizard — interesting) who exclaims “greed is good.”  Couldn’t that selfish sentiment be turned into the refrain of a pirate shanty?  Let’s find out:

The Shanty of The Gordon Gekko, Galleon Sans Blason

Greed is good, my buccaneers! Greed is good!

Pillage is pretty like a pert blonde lass!

Rape is right as rum in a mug of wood!

Greed is good!  Spanish galleons — kiss my ass!


Yes, Wall Street‘s horrible motto works well in piratical rhyme and meter. The sentiment itself is piratical. So I have lived in pirate country before, but it has not felt so obvious as it does now, while Spanish moss, if not Spanish galleons, droops over me as I shuffle in sweltering weather between buildings to teach writing. In the mornings as I drive along the causeway across bayoux, I sometimes see mist lifting off of marsh water, a mist that would mask a small landing party of buccaneers rowing a pirogue.  The weather’s abundant sizzle itself suggests the lasciviousness of piratical life.  The fact that it is now fall, and most days in this season will still get up into the nineties until we get close to Halloween, well, all that sweltering heat makes me want to rip off my lacy shirt and stand on deck wearing nothing but my knickers and boots, a single earring, and a kerchief cap until we catch a stiff breeze and spot a slave ship headed for Jamaica and we board her to liberate the human cargo to ask if they would like to join our crew.  Actually, in New Orleans, we say “krewe.”


Pirate/war hero Jean Lafitte used to hang out where I hang out now in New Orleans. I am slightly covetous of his hat, but the scowl I can manage as necessary.

New Orleans has welcomed pirates of greater notoriety than Red Beard and more flamboyant than Gekko. Jean Lafitte (pictured here) fought with Andrew Jackson in the battle of New Orleans during the war of 1812, and the two of them may or may not have met in secret to discuss battle plans.

This partnership between piracy and politics seems to have continued in New Orleans.  Local senatorial candidate David Duke tried to take his white supremacist case yesterday afternoon to the people on Jackson Square, a place where Lafitte surely walked, but he was soundly rejected by the crowd. I note that pirates tended to have interracial crews  (not unlike Mardi Gras Krewes these days) and made no bones, no skull-and-cross-bones, about lovemaking between the races.  To Duke that is race-destructive miscegenation, not the satin-clad complexities of pirate romance. He prattled on about how black men were raping white women with false statistics he got out of his size-insecure nightmares, not FBI files. And yet, as he spoke, he stood on a spot where Lafitte surely stood, away from which he surely swaggered. Even without a Klan hood on, especially without a satin, embroidered weskit and without a plumed hat and scabbard, he looked and sounded pathetic in this town of transgressive swashbuckling.

I look through the heat of the day and contemplate how much more comfortable I would be with my laces unlaced, with my bodice ripped. I realize that this is pirate country even today.  The people on Jackson Square used vocabulary in revolt of Duke’s ideas that I won’t repeat here — suffice it to say it was salty and worthy of outlaw sailors. I say he had it coming. Don’t cross pirates unless you are willing to need an eye patch for the rest of your miserable land-lubbing life!

Atchafalaya & I-10

I commute along this path regularly.

Tomorrow, as I commute back and forth, I will see white cranes fly overhead, see lizards skitter down the bricks of my house, encounter perhaps another swarm of black dragonflies marauding like low-flying bombers. The northern tropics call for a cool drink, a change of clothes after a sweat-breaking day, and a willingness to fight the red coats or the white sheets like the old sea shanty legends tell.  I ride a car, not a ship deck, but I gaze across the water at a town lit yellow and know that this is the kind of town I already understand.

Don’t believe me?  My book The White Trash Pantheon is already in stock at Faulkner House Books on Pirate’s Alley. I have arrived, New Orleans.  En garde!

November 26, 2010

Talk to me, Harry Winston — My Golem-like, and Completely UnSouthern, Obsession with Certain Bling

My precious....

I know that in Vicksburg, Mississippi, a Lorelei-Lee-like obsession with ice, square-cut and pear-shaped, is not all that useful.  I mean, if a gal wants to bake biscuits, she might just get dough stuck between the platinum claws that hold the stone in place.  When I’m sweeping leaves off the table outside, nobody is going to care what’s glistening on my finger.

That said, when William gave his momma’s ring to that girl he’s been seeing, I got covetous.  Pray for me.

Understand, I have no desire to marry into that Windsor clan.  They keep marrying their cousins so often they are starting to get goofy-looking, and they are none too bright, for the most part.  I like a smart man who is burly enough to tackle the quarterback, and I’m married to one of those — no desire to change dance partners.

But just look at that thing, glowing, beckoning — I’m the Golem of that ring!  What’s a gal to do?

As a New Yorker, I admit, if I saw that skinny British bee-hatch walking into an uncrowded street, I would think about ways to yank it off her finger and run as fast as I can.  In this photo, the ring looks loose enough on her that if I were determined and completely willing to get kick-boxed in the process, I could probably, even at my age, manage to elbow her in the guts and whang it off of her.  Pray for me!  I’m a sinner.  I’m weakened by the blue glow of that exquisite sapphire.  I think about this ring, just billions of finger-widths away from me in the UK, way, way too much

My friend Maegan took pity on me yesterday — I guess it was her Thanksgiving good deed — and sent me a URL where I could get information about replicas of this thing.  A place called The Natural Sapphire company is offering similarly cut and diamond-encircled jewelry.  I looked, and I’m sorry — it is just not the same.  That blue, the color of the anorexic sorrows of Lady Diana, cut with the princely precision of her posing on a bench alone with the Taj Mahal in the background while her cheating man back home sleeps with that other woman she called “The Rottweiler” — the pain that the ring contained is not in the knock-offs.  The pain makes it luminous.  The blue of the sapphire howls, “Help me!  I’m beautiful and destined to die young!  I’m loveless, but I have this ring to mark me, like a multi-millionaire Cain, destined to roam East of the Eden where I wanted to remain.”

Okay — I’m reading a little too much Yeats lately, and the falcon cannot hear the falconer right about now.  Pray for me!  I’m obsessed — with rings, with royal pains, with Irish quatrains.

I should go finish cleaning the Thanksgiving messes in my house, but it just seems so much nicer to imagine my finger refracting blue light in the kitchen sink.

I have an absolutely gorgeous young friend named Lylah, who is Egyptian, and I took her about two years ago to Harry Winston‘s boutique on Fifth Avenue, the one where they display rocks that make Tiffany & Co. look like they are the Walmart jewelry counter.  They had necklaces with egg-sized emeralds, rubies the contours of a cat’s brain, and sapphires that would make a smuggler choke if he tried to swallow them to hide them at the border crossing.

I pointed to a very nice emerald necklace and earring set and asked Lylah, when she married an oil sheik, to send these to me.

These days, I cannot even imagine where I could wear such things.  In Mississippi, there is no cotillion where one could wear a stone worth more than the historic antebellum mansion in which it was hosted.  Anyway, I’m a Yankee, and we don’t get invited to such things, besiege them as we might.  Why hasn’t the native lack of pretensions — I mean, my new community is all about hound dogs, shot guns, grits, and carefully worded laments against mendacity — oh, and many people around here like to drink — why hasn’t the red-neckiness of this locality gotten my neck out of the mindset of the noose of a Harry Winston necklace?

The truth is that nobody gets big rocks like that without somebody suffering a great deal.  In Tolkein’s work, all of Middle Earth gets in a war over a frigging ring.

Pray for me!  Remind me of the atrocities committed to collect conflict diamonds, of the hegemony of the DeBeers family!  Pray for me!

Why isn’t it working?  I read in the red letters of my bible, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

I mean — those are the RED letters, people!  Why am I not putting my treasures in better places?

That ring I’m obsessing over sealed a curse over the life of the woman who wore it.  Am I not better off with my perfectly lovely wedding and engagement rings that are not ostentatious and do not invite the paparazzi to my window?  Am I not much better off now?  I might be less sparkly, but why can’t I take comfort in the Shaker hymn’s idea –’tis a gift to be simple, a gift to be free, a gift to live in a land where pick-up trucks have rattlesnake flags saying “Don’t Tread On Me?”

Seriously, pray for me.  Either send me a gift certificate for serious Harry Winston bling or pray for me to find a healthier obsession.  Amen.

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