ELYSIAN FIELDS LOST
"That which a man hates, you can be sure he once loved."
~ Sigmund Freud
Only experience can reveal the true nature of a place and the true character of its people. Only faith in the experiences of others can bring the inexperienced to embrace the lessons imparted on them by the experienced. And only hope that their experiences will make a difference will bring the experienced among us to impart the lessons they have learned upon those of us who are inexperienced. This work is sort of a verbal scrapbook of some interesting people and events I encountered upon my return home to the city of New Orleans after growing up to become a well-traveled adult during the lengthy stint I served in the military throughout most of the 1980s. I remember how disappointed I was to discover how much the place had gone to hell after being gone for so long, and how much I wanted to warn others about it. It felt like my dearest, best old friend in the entire world had either died while I was gone, or betrayed me.
This introduction was originally a forty-page first chapter of the work wherein I was going to tell you things about the famously decadent city of New Orleans, Louisiana that one normally wouldn't hear about from officially sanctioned sources of information. In other words, I was going to use this first chapter to warn you about the place itself and to tell you to beware of the fiction of what is perceived to be the area's unique culture in America because it is really a powerful mixture of physical and spiritual aesthetics that combine into a strong gumbo which, once it has been sampled, is as dangerous and as addictive for some as crack cocaine. I wanted to expose the backwards mind set of the Big Easy's inhabitants and how it has served to trap the city in a perpetual state of physical, economic and moral decay. However, the purpose of this work is not to educate you concerning things that can be learned of from the plethora of other sources available to you. You do not need me to tell you all the details about how New Orleans got its miserable start when a French-Canadian explorer named Iberville proudly planted France's royal colors in a flea-, mosquito- and roach-infested patch of muddy swamp a hundred miles up from the mouth of the Mississippi River three hundred years ago. You can consult tourist publications and history books to learn all about Mardi Gras, and how present-day carnival parading didn't come about until some city forefathers tripped all over themselves foolishly around the start of the 1800s in their attempt to make an official state visit out of what was really only a social trip to the city by Czar Alexis Romanoff of Russia (who was in town looking to get a little something off of a certain local songstress named Lydia Thompson).
I was going to describe weird little quirks about the place, like how "Whe'ya at, babe?" is the most commonly used form of greeting in New Orleans, how nobody driving around on those streets seems to be familiar with the use of turn signals, how there's nowhere you can go to escape the humidity in the summer, and some other stuff which might as well be about Anywhere, U.S.A., for all anybody cares. I was going to fully set forth how the city's natives like to say that they do things "New Orleans Style" (everything from the way they cook to how they do the dishes afterwards), and how there's really no special New Orleans way of doing anything - it's just an excuse for them to keep doing things their beloved, backwards way. (Remember, "It's not the heat, it's the stupidity!")
Finally, I was going to share some of my insights on how New Orleans might have once had the potential for becoming a national model for the American melting-pot ideal, but eventually blew it. Being the product of more than four distinct cultures and seven independent nations, social and cultural amalgamation has probably never been truer in any other place in America. People of every ethnic origin, from Swahili to Hindustani, coexist there. But the indigenous population's thinking is too permeated with Catholic indoctrination, and the narrow view of the world that their religious upbringing confines them to pretty much cancels out the beneficial effects of the social progress made in the past. (In southeast Louisiana, all Protestant denominations are ex-Catholic, Episcopalians are just less Catholic, while Jews are anti-Catholic. When you mention the word Islam to the average New Orleanian, chances are he or she won't know how to associate it except for thinking of it in terms of being non-Catholic.)
So, I have decided to skip all those details because it is not the place itself that I am writing about, nor is it even necessarily the people whom I have chosen to profile for you (I changed a couple of their names so as to protect their identities). The city of New Orleans and its people, despite all the legends and tales that have been used by dreamers to paint a romantic and mysterious portrait of the place and its history, are a microcosm of everyday America and its people in general. The purpose of this work is to hopefully lend a more positive insight on what it means to be human and how we can and do have the strength to see our way through all the racism, sexism, homophobes, selfishness, corruption, addictions, birth defects, mental incapacity, love tragedies and all the other painful aspects of life that come along with being a human in this world.
While I severely criticize the place for being so stuck in the past and for being such a political and social embarrassment to all those of us who have a major part of our lives and histories invested in it, the over-all message of this work is intended to highlight that there is hope for all of us, even though it is so very difficult to get people to listen to other people for the betterment of our society, and to make them pay attention to the signs and signals that naturally appear all around us and warn us when we are heading down dangerous paths, either personally or collectively. Some may find the message contained in the following chapters surprising; others may find it disappointingly familiar. I'm afraid it's the applause of the latter that I'll get, if I get any at all. And that's too bad, because they're the ones who are the most concerned, yet the most helpless, like me, unable to make the blind see.
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