But the joke has a grain of truth. The book, a compilation of excerpts from the hand-drawn, stapled zines generated throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s represents the surfacing of a group of transplanted New Orleanians who live and work under the radar of the Crescent City. This helps them take advantage of the permissive, inspiration-rich atmosphere to create underground art and go outside of mainstream channels to perform grassroots activism. When Katrina and her aftermath threatened to erase the New Orleans Ethan and his friends and colleagues loved, he knew it was time to document the world they'd created -- in alternative art spaces, community projects and underground galleries -- in the hopes it could live on and contribute to the rebuilding of the city that had allowed it to carve out its own space.
"I don't know how many people realize it, but New Orleans has always had a pretty strong D.I.Y. punk culture," says Clark over the phone from Asheville, N.C., where he's been living temporarily since September. "Young punk white kids will never represent the city of New Orleans, but we've lived here for a long time, and we have stories, and these stories should be represented."
Clark and the 19 other self-publishers whose tales of New Orleans life are excerpted in Stories Care Forgot comprise a thorough representation of what was a large and solid group of earnest young artists and activists. Among the contributors are names associated with the NOLA Bookfair, the annual D.I.Y. and small-press literary event; Plan B, the community bicycle-repair workshop in Faubourg Marigny; Food Not Bombs; The League of Pissed-Off Voters, a political information group intended to mobilize progressive-thinking locals to participate in the city's political process, and The Neighborhood Story Project, an ongoing effort that collects and publishes individual histories from local neighborhoods.
The stories in the book, which are faithfully represented exactly as they were first published in Xerox, cut-and-paste collage form, are divided into four sections: "Stories Care Forgot" (a miscellaneous section), "Neighborhoods," "Jobs" and "Stories Care Forgot 2," which contains some post-Katrina tales. Together, they reveal one of the many New Orleans-within-New-Orleans subcultures that debunks our overarching myth of being nothing but traditional jazz, plastic beads and gumbo, with stories that are at times funny, romantic, poignant, personal and troubled.
One writer contributed a comic strip celebrating the quotidian bizarreness of life in the city, footnoting a drawing of a stranger on the street who asked her to adjust his iguana's position on his back with "This really happened!" Another weaves a long, imagery-rich paean to the landscape of the Bywater wharfs, and another uses her experience as a stripper on Bourbon Street to investigate both the history of the sex industry in New Orleans and the issues of tourism, gender relations and commodification that are raised in that situation.
The life described in Stories Care Forgot is both funny and joyful, as in Clark's own description of the bike-delivery race he organized on the freshly paved Press Street (to which one delivery rider ordered food while he was on the clock so that he could participate) and racked with race and class-related complication, as one writer found when he and his (white) housemates attempted to intervene in the abusive family life of a teenaged (black) neighbor from the nearby St. Thomas housing project.
The strongest thread that runs through the book is an awareness of being interlopers, and a desire to understand and respect the city's culture. "Our attitude toward New Orleans has never been to try and take over," Clark says. "We want to live here and try not to damage the culture, and maybe we can't help but be gawkers and encourage gentrification, but we still want to try and have a positive effect on the community, which is a learning experience."
All in all, the voices culminate in a chorus that's a love song, an investigation and a tentative knock on the door to a city that, to non-natives, has always been compelling, accepting and frustratingly inscrutable. Stories Care Forgot tells the story of what it is to fall in love with a magical, complicated city and live in tenuous symbiosis with it, always conscious of your outsider status. On the one hand, these are the tales of expatriates, transplants creating their own world inside possibly the most opaque and nuanced culture in America; on the other, though, and maybe more genuinely, it's a reminder that the "real" New Orleans is made up of as many voices as there are people who choose to love and fight for it.