So here we are: August 2010. New Orleans is on America's dance card again. Collectively now, everybody: "Hoo boy!" Or make that "Ay-eee!" for those not-from-here media folk who will be parachuting in this month and would no doubt appreciate a little, y'know, indigenous cultcha, to send to their editors and producers back home, wherever that may be.
Or is it "indigent culture" they're looking for? Well, we got dat, too, cher! And gumbo parties every Sunday afternoon.
Yep, here we are: August 2010.
I've had ambivalence about this moment for, well, let's see — oh, I'd say for just about four years. Yeah, four years. Precisely that, in fact.
August 2006, the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, brought the expected and predictable legions of journalists, documentarians, authors, prognosticators, denouncers and defenders to town. And Anderson Cooper. And they swarmed over every pile of sidewalk debris in the city — and up and down the River Roads, to where the sidewalk ends — reading "the meaning of it all" like it was tea leaves. Or, this being New Orleans, more likely coffee grinds. Then they all left — for Galveston or Haiti or someplace in California that was burning — and all they left us were the coffee grinds.
And Anderson Cooper, bless the sweet little premature gray on that boy's head. You gotta love tenacity, and you gotta be tenacious about love. And Anderson Cooper found both right here in New Orleans, like so many before him and so many yet to come — but he showed up just when we needed a guy like that: a microphone, light stands, a makeup kit — and a prime time TV show.
Now, don't get me wrong. That first anniversary had its high notes, to be sure. Thousands of stories portraying a region and a populace of astounding resilience and pride. And a whole bunch of fleur de lis tattoos.
And it had its low notes. I'm thinking along the lines of Ray Nagin's proposed comedy festival and masquerade ball to commemorate the anniversary of the obliteration of a great American city.
You miss him.
Then there were the second, third and fourth anniversaries — seems like only yesterday. Each one laying claim to increasingly diminished import, interest and resonance as defined by the national news cycle. Not even Anderson could help us with that. The number 4 — it just ain't sexy.
Ah, but here we are at Number 5. We, as a people — and more importantly: as consumers of news, information and nostalgia — like the number 5. It abides by our numerical comfort zone. It marks the descent into legacy. It marks the start of a history. It's a time to look back. And I'll tell ya this: Back in February/March — at four-and-a-half — I would've gladly taken America on a stroll down memory lane, told everybody what's been happening here, the staggering triumph of the human spirit, the inexorable march of recovery. As the character Davis utters in his first spoken words on the HBO series Treme: "It sounds like Rebirth."
Indeed. All of it culminating this past winter, exploding, like, well — God help me; look what they've done to our metaphors! — all of it exploding like a gusher of crude.
A new mayor. A new police chief, a chip on our shoulder, a swagger in our walk, a Vince Lombardi Trophy on our shelf and a collective sense that we've got it going on around here.
A collective sense — and this is just so damned annoying to some folks — that after the Bless You Boys' love dust settled on everything and everyone around the region like so much confetti, we see that — for all its superficiality, dogged immaturity, Gatorade douches and Terrell Owens — we see that pro sports is still one thing that can, however fleetingly, bridge the divides, be they racial, economic, gender, gender preference, or most any other kind of wall we have learned how to build between ourselves.
So. I don't know about you, but that's kinda how I felt in February/March 2010, at four-and-a-half. So close to 5.
So close. And then ...
Then it all exploded. Like, well — like a gusher of crude. (It needs a name, like hurricanes have. I dunno. Tony?)
So, yeah: There had been a time, such a short moment ago, when I would've marched Anderson, Rachel, Rush, Bono and the rest of 'em down every Main Street in south Louisiana and told 'em: Look at what we are, look at what we did as a people. Ain't we something special?
Damn right, we are.
And then; and now ... I dunno. For me, personally, not so much. I think I need some time to get my mojo back. I guess I just don't really feel like answering a whole bunch of questions about it right now.
Am I alone on this one, when I say I just don't feel like being examined right now?
This fifth anniversary thing, they're all gonna come back to town and ask us a lot of questions and stare at us like half-exposed treasures at an archaeological dig. And they'll take it all in, mull it all over, consume it, digest it, report it to the world. And then go back home. Never to return. Until the 10th anniversary.
There's just something about this whole process that makes me feel like we're getting emotionally pantsed; that the whole dang town — knickers, moles, stretch marks and tramp stamps — are hanging out for the world to see. Again.
So we will tell 'em: Folks, this is what it looks like five years later.
Five years stronger? Five years more better? That's for y'all to decide.
For us, it's five years later and covered in oil.
But how 'bout dem Saints, man? How 'bout dem Saints!