ELYSIAN FIELDS LOST
This is an ebook in which I profile a few of the more interesting people whom I grew to know, either personally or from afar, when I returned home to New Orleans, Louisiana after getting through more than half a decade of military service throughout most of the '80s. When I was a kid, New Orleans was a fun and interesting place to be. But after I grew up a little and got to see some of the world outside the city, I came to realize the disappointing truth about it. But though I do give the reader a first-hand, insider's look at some of the heavy frustration that comes with living in New Orleans and with its indigenous people here, those anecdotal bits of comedy and tragedy are merely incidental to the over-all thesis that there is hope that all of us can overcome life's tribulations with the help of those who have gone before us and with faith (if only we would actively seek and accept both). Accordingly, a main focus of this work is an exploration of positive insights about what it means to be human in a broader sense and setting, and how we can successfully see our way through all the racism, sexism, homophobia, selfishness, corruption, addictions, birth defects, mental incapacity, love tragedies and all the other painful aspects of life that come along with being stuck on this planet with each other, even if we're stuck in what is, in my opinion, one of the worst places on the planet (well, at least in America, anyway).
When I wrote this way, way back at the end of the 1980s, I reiterated in the sixth chapter all the predictions that I grew up hearing year in and year out that a big, "cat-5" (category 5) hurricane would some day hit the city and leave twenty feet of water standing in some parts of it. Those old predictions finally became a terrible reality in August of 2005! Needless to say, Katrina considerably changed things in New Orleans since I moved away in 1992. As of 2007, it would appear as if that storm changed things for the better, if anything. Because the storm appears to have disabled and shut down about three-quarters of the city's notoriously crime-infested housing projects, along with having flushed out so much of the city's riffraff and criminal elements (which got disbursed to other states far enough away so that the majority of them would appear to have decided not to come back!), it seemed for a while that New Orleans may very well have been returned to the way it was perhaps forty or fifty years ago, with a drastically reduced population and, as a result, a drastically reduced level of crime in the city. However, by 2008, it was clear that the criminal element had returned to the city full force.
The storm did not materially impact New Orleans' thriving tourism industry. In fact, Katrina's aftermath generated
new money-making opportunities for the city's people. Neither did the storm damage the city's most historically-significant
points of interest, though New Orleans East (not a big tourist destination at all) did take one hell of a bad beating
from which it may take many, many years indeed to recover. The storm has now revealed what parts of the city are
well protected against the potential damaging effects of flood and wind during a really, really bad hurricane assault.
As of 2007-2008, the City of New Orleans has a lot of rebuilding to do in mostly residential areas. But it is very
much alive and open for business. So, though many lives were lost and property damaged because of it, Hurricane
Katrina should go down in history as being what is known in literature as a "fortunate fall" for the
city's remaining inhabitants. However, the old things that I complain about in this work have not changed for the
better because of the storm.
Mammer Jammer, Big Red & Hard Hat.
In the first chapter, the issues surrounding homelessness are illustrated via three schizophrenic character profiles. The ugliness of some social attitudes and governmental trends which have played a major role in worsening the problems associated with homelessness are examined and commented on. Attempts to find good points about the situation are made, and a few words of encouragement are given at the chapter's end for those who may be finding themselves nearer to destitution.
The second chapter is largely the exposé of the cynical philosophies of a native New Orleanian man who rejected his life. Though he enjoyed advantages that most of us only dream of, he made life miserable for himself and others. And, though his tenaciousness in the face of the difficulties that he created for himself is lauded, the reader is guided towards the understanding that his was a life which never paid off because he chose not to experience life to its fullest. Among other points made in this chapter is a central one which warns the reader about what may become of those who refuse to accept themselves as they are, and what rewards there are for those of us who do. This may be an old theme, but one which is not repeated enough. (I think I've done a pretty good job presenting it from a fresh angle.)
The Thin White Duke.
The phenomenon of David Duke's political success is studied in the third chapter. How he was seen by legitimate sources after he had gained political office is explicated. Possible reasons for his success are brought forward, and the consequences of his policies are anticipated. Some of his personal history, as gleaned from regular public sources, is illustrated throughout the chapter. Logical arguments are made in order to point out possibilities as to how it is that somebody with David Duke's background is able to legitimately gain political power and prestige. Opinions are given on how this sort of situation may be avoided in the future.
Chapter four is composed of experiences which resulted from knowing and working with an African-American man who was also a native of New Orleans. Some of his racist tendencies are exposed, and opinions concerning these tendencies explain how such attitudes on the part of American minorities hypocritically betray the fight for American minority empowerment and equality. One of the primary messages behind this chapter's theme is that minority members can be just as racist as the groups who have historically been racist to them, and that that attitude is destructive and negative. It is also intended to discourage disinterested people who are already aware of the problem from ignoring it.
Daryl and His Mom.
In chapter five, two characters and their need for drinking their problems away get explored. Human pains in the face of deprivation and confusion are drawn out of the scenario, along with a few of my philosophies on just how it is that life in New Orleans may seem to serve to alleviate some of that pain for those who seek to escape there.
The Monster and the Boys.
Chapter six is the origin of the work's title. Within the contexts of a couple of scenarios of real tragedies
involving first, the circumstances surrounding a local parish priest's molestation of a few of his parishioners'
children, and, second, an equally appalling situation that I personally observed, I present a philosophical finale
exerting reasons for problems with ugly human behavior, observances of human strengths and shortcomings, and an
examination of the human infatuation with death, God and the concept of paradise. A brief summary of last encounters
with the main personages of the work is given, as is a final word about the truly sad nature of New Orleans, America
and the world in general - that there is no paradise for us on this earth, nor has there ever been one for us,
except the one that we could make for ourselves by putting our heads together and working on it.
Closing Remarks -Themes of the Work.
The stories I tell in this work all share a multiplicity of themes which, despite the work's occasional sarcastic
and humorous tones, lend an air of seriousness to it. One of the most fun things I did with this book (and, I hope,
one of the most obvious themes in it) was to utilize sparse, yet consistent references to French literature.
In keeping with New Orleans' French heritage and traditions, cited works of some of the most famous French literary
figures decorate the work from beginning to end.
An implicit theme flowing throughout the work is one centered around communication and misunderstanding. This is most salient in the first chapter where the first character profiled communicates unintelligibly and is ignored, where the second character is described as communicating unintelligibly and is misunderstood, and where the third communicates intelligibly, is understood, but the message is rejected.
The work is further steeped in a theme about multicultural integration in American society. The roles of African-Americans, American Jews, gays, and other minorities pepper the entire work.
A very important theme is one which is consistent with suggestions I present via the work's title which echoes the predominance of Christian religion throughout New Orleans' culture and traditions. As New Orleans was founded by and is mostly populated by Christians (specifically Catholics), and as the title of the work echoes the title of Milton's Paradise Lost, this work supports a shadow pattern rooted in Christian doctrine, to wit:
I have to make a point somewhere in here of letting people know that, although I am highly critical of some past abuses that I describe in the work which reportedly took place at the hands of Catholics, the Roman Catholic Church and its clergy in New Orleans, I have the highest respect and great love for the Catholic Church. In fact, the reader should note that I was a complete and total atheist when I started writing this book back in 1988, I became a born-again Christian (Lutheran - Missouri Synod) by the time I finished it around 1990, and I eventually became a confirmed member of the Roman Catholic Church quite a few years later!
The total length of the introduction and the six main chapters in my final draft is a little over 56,000 words.
Printed manuscripts come out to be 218 single-sided, 8.5" x 11" pages in length.
Some of the names and details of the people profiled have been changed to disguise their identities. I have confirmed that the characters I refer to as "Max" and "Daryl" are deceased. My father has also since passed away after a very long and painful fight with lung cancer - may they all rest in God's eternal love and peace. This work reflects only my opinions about the subject matter. No assertions of fact are made that are not provable or evidenced elsewhere via credible, public sources.