As the midnight countdown became imminent--in a moment, somehow, that always seems stationed somewhere between the dismal past and the climatic present-- it occurred to me, as I glanced around the bar I found myself stationed in at that particular time, that here were assembled many of those lonesome figures who had haunted me since I moved back to New Orleans last July. One of the wonders of living in a city are those common people that linger along the periphery of your life--people who you see nearly everyday while going about your errands, while waiting for the bus on the same street corner day after day, those whose names you may never learn or even ever speak to, yet whose presence becomes an unwavering aspect of the urban landscape you inhabit. It seemed strange to me that there, in a gay bar on Dauphine Street, were gathered several of those individuals I do not know, but who have always struck upon my imagination. But it was altogether fitting, that there we were, the singular ones, sharing the moment when the year begins anew. It has been a difficult year for me--given to many solitary, dark, lonely, and heartbroken moments. However, in the end it has been a year of immense spiritual growth. Day by day I gather a better understanding of who I am, how I feel, how I relate to myself and my world. Being in the city helps me understand that everyone has times in there life where they must confront their fears, peer into the black wells of their souls to divine the meaning of love and understanding.
The company, both real friends and strangers, I was with gathered around for the awaited second. It came--a repeat of the ball dropping in Time Square that in reality had already occurred an hour before, followed by an immediate cut to a Ford truck commercial. A tiny girl, who had perhaps a little too much alcohol in her, danced around exposing her breasts to indifferent gay men. All in vain, I thought. A more farcical, impotent moment would be hard to come upon. This sad mixture of satire and dead seriousness became a dominant feature of the night that followed as my friends and I decide to move our revelries down to Rampart Street. The stroke of midnight, whether for the new year or any other time, is a signal that now comes the blackest, most potent hours of the night--where absolute horror is mingled with sleepy-eyed reveries and drunken joviality. It is the hours of wolves and witches.
Rampart Street, that borders the northern edge of the Quarter, has in my mind always been the desperate, desolate end of things. It is a place that has always fascinated me. The borders of places have always fascinated me. New Orleans is a city where oddity has long ceased to be a novelty. The city itself is fixed at the very end, and in some case, carries over--I mean, it has endured its own isolated apocalypse while most of America has moved forward, nearly oblivious, ultimately uncaring, and at worst chiding those who inhabit this city. It has survived only through the success of anarchism--as a theory in practice. Following the deadly blows of nature and the near total collapse of governmental infrastructure, the city survived because of the great love and desire that tragedy released. Nature, glorious and powerful, unleashed such love in this city, that through individuals working in cooperation alone a great humane revival occurred--thanks to people, and not the state. Once, as a teenager in this city, I by chance ambled onto lower Decatur street and a vast mysterious world opened up to me. Slowly I ventured further onto Frenchmen Street, and then beyond Elysian Fields into the Marigny, and the Bywater beyond the railroad tracks. Now these are all too common to me, but still excite some wonder. I think of a song I heard Jolie Holland perform about how they've cleaned up the quarter. These neighborhoods have gradually become more gentrified. All my old, old haunts on Decatur--the Whirling Dervish, Mythique, the Dragon's Den--have all changed hands and names, in some cases, several times over. Frenchmen has become less local. Apartments in the Bywater are no longer affordable. And St. Claude is some degree safer, and more white. The Treme to the north still has a bit of mystery gathered about it, but even that has changed. It used to seem like a terrible mistake to wander above North Rampart. That was before the city evicted, without much cause or reason, the people living in the housing developmental buildings. Now the streets seem safer--whether they are or aren't really isn't the issue--but there is some veneer of safety since this area has been purged. And new, luxury condos built on the corner of Esplanade.
But, still, Rampart, while I must admit it has very little cultural value, has retained some of its mythic quality for me--a street caught at the end of time in a great, Lynch movie that was never filmed. Years ago, in an abandoned house on Rampart, was the now, perhaps, infamous Dada Ball. I still think of that night when I go by the site--the dramas and stories that exploded within those wall on a chilly night in April, a dream world of rabbits, eggs, bloody crucifixions, naked bodies, covered in paints and cold meats, broken spirited butoh dances, prophesies, outrage, revolt, and desire. I have digressed far from my tale of New Years Eve night 2010. But, these descriptions are essential to this ghost world that is Rampart in the waning hours of night. For those who haven't chanced there, in a desperate moment. My friends and I went to Starlight on the Park, a gay bar across the street from Armstrong Park and Congo Square. I'd only been there several times. Back when I first lived in New Orleans a friend of mine would play piano there on occasion. It too is a last stop for aged and withered dinosaurs and performers. The air is full of ripened mystery and wisdom that drifts like a perfume around ancient queers and drag performers--of life devoid of essential facts, and formed of drunken artificialities and sorrows and lust, compassion and love. Last night, after a short conversation with a man I met only briefly, about one of my favorite italian horror movies--Suspiria--we were granted the pleasure of one of those late night cabarets. Past her prime, belting out a sad classic hit in a shimmering gown, groveling the money handed her, staring fixed--at what? What did those black staring slits conceal? Or, what specter did she see, coming through the door opening onto the street behind my back?