City of the Future

I got a phone call once in the lat 80’s, or maybe it was in the early 90’s. Dan was on the line. “K,” he said, quietly, “can you come up this weekend and help me get my sister?”

They were my childhood friends. When we were children we sledded together in the winter times and giggled together at the ‘kids’ table at Christmas dinner. Barefooted, our sun-browned legs grasped desperately her dappled pony as we trotted around the yard in the summer times. Jo’s breck-girl blond hair swung back and fourth rhythmically in front of me. That summer I remember so well, when I was 10 and she was 13.

We found her at someones apartment somewhere between Belltown and South Lake Union. A shamble of a building with garbage strewn around the outside. Inside, the wretched comfort of dirty mattress on the floor, an acrid smell of urine, and Jo. She crossed her arms when we came in to try and hide the track marks. Sunken eyes and see-through skin; she looked more like 50, not 21. When she shook her head in refusal to go with us her stringy, greasy blond hair barely moved.

I have often wondered when the phone would ring again and I would hear Dan say, “They found my sister.” And I wondered if it would be in in the gutter, in the woods, floating in a river…

I walked around South Lake Union this last weekend, past wine bars, restaurants and up-scale boutiques. But I know a different America. I know the apartments strewn with heroin needles; the trailer parks with dirty, barking dogs. I’ve been to the 9th Ward in New Orleans before the storm, I’ve been to LA before the riots.  I thought about a story that JJ had told me he had planned to write about the City of the Future and how little he knows about our recent past. I’ve wondered if that dingy apartment building still stood. Or had it been raised to make way for the shiny new high rises with glass fronts that all reflect each other?

Matt tells me that when I come back from India I will understand how very culturally destitute we are in this country. We have no history. We eat fake food. We hide our poverty and our friends die in impoverished excess as we refuse to notice. We only see our poverty now in news snippets, framed by cola commercials on big screen TV’s. City of the Future indeed.

9th ward, New Orleans, Chandler, August 95

ninth ward, New Orleans 
with her hollow eyed men 
mumbling on midday benches, clinging to warm budweiser
her sunken sidewalks
and broken ice-cream trucks
her rusting bicycles that gallop reckless past bars on windows, dingy neon, and empty clothes lines
children barefoot  
women pregnant
you are alive

ninth ward, New Orleans
with her tattooed boys 
banging out chaos on drunken gas tanks 
and electric scrap metal lies empty in vacant lots
where all music is experimental
all experiments have no control
and no one wanders why nothing is rendered on canvases made of 
topless girls
that spin madness into beauty
you are alive

ninth ward, New Orleans
with her shotgun doorways 
that open into tiny bars
filled with sweat and Miller High Life
Styrofoam plates of silver dollar sausage, red beans and plastic forks
barstools dismembered
concave linoleum
and living legends that blow tributes to departed trumpets
until hollow eyed men reverberate anew 
you are alive

ninth ward, New Orleans
with her thick air, and parched water 
her passionate pavement blisters the soul-less
and shoeless black boys ask questions to total strangers
where everybody has a hustle 
every hustle has an audience
and no one really says “Good Morning America, How are you?”
where all movement is slow
her exhausted streetcars still stammer out forgotten desire
for: ninth ward, New Orleans
you are alive.
your sunken sidewalks bloom with prolific purple – invasive beauty buds through your angry concrete – cracking foundations.
your topless girls pierce the body of  night  with jumbled tattoos – radiant in the mercury vapor twilight 
your shoeless black boys tap dance beyond the double-barreled despondent
your affluent trumpets hail Gabrielle to come down from his shotgun shack and breath new life into a bored bacchanal.
Desire Street is found, and You Ninth ward, are alive


Louisiana Red Beans and Rice

  • 1 pound dry kidney beans
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
  • 1 pound andouille sausage, sliced
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups long grain white rice

Rinse beans, and then soak in a large pot of water overnight.
In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Cook onion, bell pepper, garlic, and celery in olive oil for 3 to 4 minutes.
Rinse beans, and transfer to a large pot with 6 cups water. Stir cooked vegetables into beans. Season with bay leaves, cayenne pepper, thyme, sage, parsley, and Cajun seasoning. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 2 1/2 hours.
Stir sausage into beans, and continue to simmer for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the rice. In a saucepan, bring water and rice to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Serve beans over steamed white rice.


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