In 1925, William Faulkner was a college dropout, an undistinguished and undecorated serviceman and a failed poet. So he did what adrift and drifting exiles of the creative class have done for centuries: He came to New Orleans.
The intent was to visit his writerly friend and mentor, Sherwood Anderson, before booking immediate passage to Europe, where he hoped to align his unfocused desires and unbridled ambitions into something manifest, tangible, literary, prosperous and fulfilling. But he fell victim to the muse that so many dreamers before and after him have succumbed: The longer you live in New Orleans, the more unfit you become to live anywhere else.
That’s the best line I ever wrote. It’s printed on the wall of an art museum. Hell, you can get it on a t-shirt or hand towel at Fleurty Girl.
And so he stayed longer than planned. He drank. He caroused. He indulged in the mysterious and nefarious encounters and engagements for which this city is legend. And he wrote some.
He wrote his first novel here, “Soldier’s Pay.” He contributed fictional musings to the legendary literary journal, “The Double Dealer.” And he wrote sixteen essay for the Times-Picayune, later published as a collection titled, “New Orleans Sketches.”
They were impressionistic stories from the streets, sidewalks, alleys, docks and taverns of the French Quarter. He wrote about what he saw, what he felt. He wrote this:
“Jackson Square was now a green and quiet lake in which abode lights round as jellyfish, feathering with silver mimosa and pomegranate and hibiscus beneath which lantana and cannas bled and bled. Pontalba and cathedral were cut from black paper and pasted flat on a green sky; above them taller palms were fixed in black and soundless explosions. The street was empty, but from Royal street there came the hum of a trolley that rose to a staggering clatter, passed on and away leaving an interval filled with the gracious sound of inflated rubber on asphalt, like a tearing of endless silk.”
OK, if you’re still awake after reading that, here’s my point. I’m no Faulkner, that’s understood. “Feathering with silver mimosa and pomegranate and hibiscus beneath which lantana and cannas bled and bled?” WTF? First off, does pomegranate even grow here? And what the hell is cannas? And what the hell is he saying?
Anyway, there is one characteristic – besides a profligate tenure at the Times-Picayune, a constitutional predilection for evening spirits and an inalienable vulnerability to bloviated prose – which I share with the Great Southern Bombast. It’s that I spend a great many hours of a great many days walking and working in the streets of the city, where I encounter an endless parade of drifters, grifters and midnight jokers, all of whom could be best described as (as my father was often fond of describing me): Inebriated with the exuberance of their own verbosity.
And I like to write about them.
So that’s what I’m going to do here. My stories will likely never amount to a collection of prose revered by scholars and literary lions, as Faulkner’s “New Orleans Sketches” is. It will likely more closely resemble one of those “heard on the street” features that used to run in metropolitan alternative weeklies when there was such a thing as metropolitan alternative weeklies.
Phrases overheard. Stories out of context. Snippets of unexamined lives. Impressions of street life. A search for the depths and breadths of the human condition.
How hard can that be, right?
Faulkner once described the moon over New Orleans as: “A silver sickle about to mow the rose of evening from the Western sky.”
You won’t get that from me. Nothing close.
But he also once described the city’s morning sun “through the window crashing in my head like last night’s piano.”
That, maybe I can reach for.