Monday, January 26, 2009


So, i've been slacking here lately. I have been driving to Denver to rehearse 'And the Winner Is...' and working on learning lines, for one thing. But when it comes to the writing stuff, i have been delving pretty deeply into a sci-fi project i've been toying with for a long time.

The working title is 'Crescent City Blues,' and it's a story set in New Orleans in the near future. Katrina was just the tip of the iceberg; floods keep coming, rendering much of the ground level of the city nigh-uninhabitable. Once 75 percent of the population has fled, corporations seize on the bright idea of rebuilding the city, only doing it above the actual city. Upstairs. A new enclosed mall of a city, an Applebee's version of New Orleans, sterile and exclusive, looms above the streets.

Meanwhile, normal (read: poor) people eke out a living as best they can on the ground.

Here's a small taste:


In a mad swirl of club music, bodies cavorted in and around The Saloon. Dancers gyrated amid lunatic shafts of purple and green light, which spun like schizophrenic fingers poking through the open shutters into the night. The crowd overspilled the bar’s doorway and into the street, howling up into the night, daring ever more outrageous acts from the people on the balcony above. Screaming the universal language of the too-loud club, men and women yelled into one another’s ears, no doubt imparting tidbits of wisdom that would be remembered forever.

Some wore costumes -- superheroes, politicians and movie stars populated the street -- while others wore as little as possible, and continued the process of removing clothing in the oppressive heat. They clutched their drinks even as they casually parted ways with their shirts, and for some, their pants. Unconcerned, glistening with sweat, they bounced along with the thump of the music.

Just upriver, the towering concrete monolith of the Royal Sonesta Hotel and Casino loomed above the proceedings like a disapproving relative, or a shunned dance partner, its wall of desperate neon advertising winking down at the revelers. But no one noticed. Or cared.

That was Upstairs; this was Downstairs.

The Saloon was one of the last places on street level that still did any kind of steady business, although the place worked hard to maintain the feel of an underground club. Even so, such was the pull of the owners that you might occasionally even see a cop patrolling nearby, a rarity Downstairs these days; a near-impossibility after dark. The crowd was made up of the young and the hip, as well as those who wished they were, a free-for-all mélange of white, black, brown, straight, gay, trans and who-knows-what.

This was not where you would be likely to find middle-aged tourists from Indiana. They would be safely ensconced Upstairs, in places like the Royal Sonesta, behind layer upon layer of Plexiglas and locked doors. There, they could enjoy the air-conditioning and perhaps a late buffet at the casino, with a safe view of the city and the river -- and, oh, Harold, just look at the way the lights glimmer on the water! The bars, restaurants and theaters up there offered their own amusements -- albeit of a slightly more demure variety -- and you never had to leave the air-conditioned safety of your concrete cocoon.

Someone once described the so-called culture of Upstairs as being on board a miles-long cruise ship that never dropped anchor.

To Jess, a senior at Ohio State down for the week with her friends Sara and Taylor, Upstairs was about as much fun as going on spring break with your grandparents.

“Oh, yeah, great,” said Jess, earlier that evening when she was trying to talk the others into venturing Downstairs. “Sounds like a blast. We’ll just hang out in the casino and listen to the Frank Sinatra impersonator and hit the sack around, what, 9:30?”

“Jess, it’s not safe down there,” said Taylor. “You know that. You said so yourself.”

“I never said it wasn’t safe; I said you had to be smart if you went down,” Jess replied.

The three of them had come down from Columbus to volunteer for the convention, but Jess had arranged it so they would have a couple extra days to party before their work started in earnest.

“Look, some of the best music and culture in the country is coming out of Downstairs New Orleans right now,” she said. “Old New Orleans is where it’s at, and here we are, at the heart of it! But we’re not in the heart of it -- we’re sitting in a boring-ass hotel bar 300 feet above it!”

Other patrons at the aforementioned boring-ass bar looked up as Jess’ voice rose in volume as well as pitch. The bartender eyed the trio and thought about checking their IDs again.

“It’s like Austin was twenty years ago,” Jess continued, oblivious to the sudden iciness in the room. “And Seattle before that, and Athens before that. I’m telling you, if we spend our entire time here hiding Upstairs, we are going to regret it. What if you had the chance to see the next Sensus, or Flaggship or Stone Impeachment in some little club, before they got huge? What would you give to be able to tell a story like that?”

Jess was very persuasive. Before long the girls were exiting the last doorway onto the street.

It was only Wednesday night, but with the convention coming up, people were ready for a party, the oppressive August heat be damned. There was a strange alchemy that occurred in New Orleans in the summertime. You could spend the entire day doing your best to avoid the heat, flitting from home to store to movie theatre to restaurant, spending as little time as possible outside, all the while seeking the air-conditioning with the desperation of a fish flopping around on the bank of a stream. When the heat was unavoidable, you would feel dragged down, slowed to a crawl, almost ill with the oppressive weight of it, as if it were a slimy, sweaty, living thing that had attached itself to you.

It was The Beast. It felt as if a stealthy water buffalo had taken up residence on your back when you weren’t paying attention.

But when the liquor started flowing and the music started playing, there was a switch that got thrown, a changeover from oppressiveness to release. The Beast, this creature you lugged around with you all day suddenly turned all helpful and friendly-like. He guided you into the funniest, most interesting conversations, he rendered your lame words fascinating and hilarious, and he made you irresistible to the opposite sex. When the booze was flowing there was suddenly something slippery and wonderful and free about the heat. The Beast dug its claws into your ribs and spurred you on, and you happily complied. The heat and the booze combined into permission, translating sweat into drunkenness into freedom into lust.

Suddenly, it was safe to let the animal out.

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