Monday, July 12, 2010

A man's life

Harvey Pekar is passed to the great beyond.  From the streets of Cleveland to Heaven's gate.

He wasn't a fascinating man but he was a man you could respect.  I always have.  A nice quote in his obituary in the Cleveland Plain Dealer is by R. Crumb (in the link above): Pekar's material was so mundane it verged on the exotic.

New Orleans is a city so colorful that to outsiders it can't be anything but exotic.  Spend a few years here and I'm sure the flourishes blend into the background: static, white noise, distractions that lead a wayward soul to the empty perdition of ennui.  It is a place of great beauty, of magic, of the exuberant excess that joy and sadness exude when pressed against the humdrum reality of getting by against all odds.  New Orleans, LA is no Cleveland, OH and vice versa.  It is the same way no two people are alike.  You make the most of the gifts you are given or you squander them.  New Orleanians, not a swimmer in the bunch, bathe in the luxuriant atmosphere their city unconsciously exhales.

"From the streets of Cleveland...."  This epigraph has always stuck with me.  From the streets of Cleveland came an American splendor.  That same splendor can come from the sidewalks of Ophelia Castle Haley Boulevard, nee Dryades Street.  It can come from Dorchester, Mass. the biggest and best of Boston's neighborhoods.  It can come from New London, Conn., a city in which you can't swing a broom without hitting an artist.  All it takes is the person with the eyes to see and the will to craft his or her surroundings into the material that paints a perfect poem of the universal human condition.

Harvey Pekar was such a person.  Every metropolis, every community, deserves such a bard who wields both pen and imagination with either broad strokes or spidery crow quill scratches.  New Orleans, the Sodom of the South, the Wet Grave, the City Care Forgot, the Big Easy, the Flood City, can nurture such a person if there is an audience to hear, respond, and add to the chorus the artist inspires.

It can take two to tango.  It can take one to sing.  It can take a million to make an event.  It only takes a few hundred thousand to make a city for the future that will last a millenium and more, inspiring generations, keeping the flame of love of place aglow in hearth and heart.

Don't believe me?  Well, while I don't approve of the language, I agree with this sentiment.  Ashley Morris seems to have been the kind of man who translated and focussed the communal viewpoint like a half full glass in the sun.  The world needs more people like this.  Where there is devotion to a place, there is a reason to live there.  There is American splendor.

I'm a new New Orleanian so I can't really claim any genuine post-Katrina outrage except from a distance of 2000 miles via television and newsprint.  I'm here now in the flesh and I'm here to stay, witness to the wreckage that is still unsettled and ready to put my shoulder to the wheel to push events forward toward a better tomorrow.  I can't claim to be a native or even to know what's going on most of the time.  It's too soon.  I am sinking my tap root though, ready to join a coalition of the willing.

As we like to say in Connecticut, Qui Transtulet Sustinet.  He who transplants, sustains.  I'm home.

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