The Way I Feel About You

Well, my plans on how to stay calm during an LSU game most emphatically did not work yesterday.

I do, however, have a very clean apartment.

It was, on the whole, a most exciting game–if you’re an LSU fan, but it also had a lot of stressful moments, momentum swings, and tension. And yet, when the smoke cleared and the game clock ran down, LSU upset the second ranked team in the country and the national championship runners-up from last year decisively, 36-16. Hardly anyone gave LSU a chance, and even those who only made Georgia a seven-point favorite were doing so half-heartedly; as I watched the pre-game show it was so clear no one really thought LSU had a chance, or would even meet that seven-point margin; they were trying to hype up the ratings–if they said what they really believed, that Georgia was going to humiliate LSU–only die-hard fans would watch.

Which would have been a pity. LSU was dominant in retrospect–at the time it didn’t feel that way. We went up 3-0, stopped a fake field goal attempt on fourth down by the Bulldogs, and then drove down the field to go up 10-0. Two more field goals followed, along with some lights-out, tenacious defense, and the score at half-time was 16-0, LSU. Georgia had never trailed this season for more than fifteen seconds, and had not been held scoreless in a half in God knows how long. But it was really only a two-score game, and I was concerned about having to kick three field goals instead of touchdowns…then again, LSU had four scoring drives in the first half; it could have been 28-0. I worried those field goals might come back to haunt us in the second half. And I was wrong. LSU scored twenty more points in the second half to put the game away–although Georgia scored 16 points of their own–but the final score was 36-16, and the biggest win for LSU since the Alabama game in 2011; certainly one for the history books, and one that will go down in LSU lore as one of the great Death Valley wins.

Suddenly, after the Florida loss, with LSU looking slow and lackadaisical and almost mediocre, now LSU looks like a championship team who can compete with anyone. And while I don’t want to get my hopes up–Alabama looks completely unbeatable–how exciting would it be if we got to play Florida again for the SEC championship game? Florida has already lost to Kentucky; Georgia already has a conference loss with both Florida and Kentucky yet to play; all the contenders in the East have a loss already (Kentucky to Texas A&M; Georgia to LSU; Florida to Kentucky) so the stakes for the Florida-Georgia game are really, really high in two weeks.

Yes, it was a very exciting day around the Lost Apartment yesterday. GEAUX TIGERS!

I also watched another two episodes of The Haunting of Hill House, which is probably one of the best horror television shows I’ve seen in a while. I am quite frankly loving this television horror renaissance, which is producing such amazing programs. The Haunting of Hill House, of course, still can–and might–go off the rails, but so far it is terrifying, eerie, and mesmerizing; the call-backs to the original source material are enormously satisfying, and yet it could stand entirely on its own with a different title; it’s almost like a revisitation of the Lutz family twenty or so years after the original story of The Amityville Horror–how do you experience something supernatural and terrifying, particularly if you’re not really sure what it was you were experiencing, and deal with that trauma for the rest of your life? The Crain children, now adults, have dealt with this in varying ways, but they are definitely all suffering from PTSD and trauma. The first four episodes told the same story from different points of view of the adult Crains, their present reality juxtaposed with their memories of their stay at Hill House. All the characters are compelling, well-written and defined, and the acting is absolutely stellar. I said in a previous entry it’s reminiscent of the best of Stephen King’s It and Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts; I am also going to throw in the first season of the television adaptation of The Exorcist as well–an excellent show that only lasted two seasons but I wish it could have gone on for longer. This is some excellent story-telling, and it is astonishing how true to the mood of the novel this show is.

I won’t deny it–at first I thought, when I heard of this and how it was going to be done, I rolled my eyes. You can’t do this better than Shirley Jackson, I thought dismissively, remembering the horrible 1999 film version (the original film version, in black and white, directed by Robert Wise and starring Julie Harris–who should have at least gotten an Oscar nomination–was superb and terrifying). But I was absolutely, positively, completely wrong. The show is amazing and fantastic, and I can’t wait to watch more; I might even do so today before getting started on writing–since there’s no Saints game today, and of course being sick last week put me desperately behind.

I also read some more in Empire of Sin yesterday–Storyville is now up and operational. I’ve always avoided reading about Storyville, or even considering writing about it; for me, I was thinking it was almost cliche to do so. David Fulmer has already done a series set in that time–Chasing the Devil’s Tail, Jass, Rampart Street, Lost River–with his detective, Valentin St. Cyr; he also had a story in New Orleans Noir, and since he has done so well with the period and the area I didn’t really see any need to cover that same ground. But now….now I am thinking I could, and differently. “The Blues Before Dawn” might actually turn into a novel rather than a short story, and it’s a great title, if I do say so myself. But once I get this revision under control, I’ll have some more time to play around with the story and see where it goes.

I’m particularly interested in Tom Anderson, the unofficial mayor of Storyville.

I’m also thinking I should watch Pretty Baby again; it’s been decades.

And on that note, I think I am going to take my coffee into the living room, ensconce myself in my easy chair, and watch the next episode of The Haunting of Hill House preparatory to heading into the spice mines.

Have a lovely Sunday, everyone.

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People Everyday

Hulu is streaming a two-part true crime documentary about a string of unsolved murders of women in Jefferson Davis Parish, Murder in the Bayou. I have a copy of Ethan Brown’s book of the same title, released a few years ago, but haven’t read it yet (instead, it’s sits on a shelf in the mini-bookcase to the right of my desk, where I also keep other nonfiction–histories, true crime, cultural studies–about both New Orleans and Louisiana; books which I delve into periodically in order to come up with ideas for stories (novels and short stories and novellas, etc.), or background for the same. (One of the many reasons I laugh when people refer to me as ‘a New Orleans expert’ is because I am everything but an expert on the city; there are literally hundreds of volumes of reference books information about New Orleans I’ve not read and know nothing about)  Mr. Brown came to the Tennessee Williams Festival a few years ago, but I didn’t get to meet him or see any of his panels, but I did pick up his book that weekend.

So, you can imagine my surprise the other night when I opened the Hulu app on my television (ten years ago that sentence would have been as unintelligible to me as Latin) and I saw it listed as a show I might be interested in. “Huh,” I thought, clicking on it, “I wonder if this is the same story as the book I’ve not read?”

Sure enough, it was.

I finished watching the show yesterday afternoon, and then of course, got the book from the bookshelf and started reading it…and didn’t stop until I was finished. I hadn’t intended to do that; I actually started writing this post after I finished watching the documentary series and simply reached over to the bookcase and pulled it out–mainly to see if there were photographs in it–many true crime books do–and since it didn’t, I started reading…and then couldn’t stop. I’ll talk some more about both the documentary and the book in another entry; I want to think about it some more, and the issues that came to mind while watching/reading–but again, as I said earlier, it was yet another example of how little I know about not just New Orleans, but Louisiana in general. As I read more New Orleans history, and get to know my city better with each read, I find myself expanding my former-tunnel vision view focusing on New Orleans only to expand out into Louisiana as well. It’s a truly fascinating state, really–as someone said in the documentary, there are three Louisianas: New Orleans; north Louisiana; which is really part of the Protestant Bible Belt and could just as easily be part of Arkansas; and south Louisiana, which is overwhelmingly French and Catholic; heavily Cajun, in all honesty. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Atchafalaya basin, too; I sort of have an idea about writing about that area. Most of my Louisiana fiction has been confined to writing about New Orleans, or places on the I-10 corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and sometimes dabbling on the North Shore. I am sure every state has just as rich and diverse and colorful a history as Louisiana/New Orleans; but I also don’t live there, and Louisiana with its strange mix of Creoles, Cajuns, Spanish, and Americans, with the attendant cultures, brews up a strange and endlessly fascinating gumbo.

I realized also yesterday while going through my blog drafts that I have never published my blog entry about reading Gary Krist’s Empire of Sin, which was what sent me down the Louisiana/New Orleans history rabbit hole in the first place.

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“The crime,” as detectives would later tell the newspapers, was “one of the most gruesome in the annals of the New Orleans police.”

At five a.m. on the sultry morning of May 23, 1918, the bodies of Joseph and Catherine Maggio, Italian immigrants who ran a small grocery store in a remote section of the city, were found sprawled across the disordered bedroom of the living quarters behind their store. Both had been savagely attacked, apparently while they slept. Joseph Maggio lay face-up on the blood-sodden bed, his skull split by a deep, jagged gash several inches long; Catherine Maggio, her own skull nearly hewn in two, was stretched out on the floor beneath him. Each victim’s throat had been slashed with a sharp instrument.

A blood-smeared ax and shaving razor–obviously the murder weapons–had been found on the floor nearby.

The book opens with an examination of the strange case of New Orleans’ most famous serial killer: the Axeman. Julie Smith wrote an entire novel  based in the story called The Axeman’s Jazz; it might be the second or third Skip Langdon novel. Poppy Z. Brite wrote a short story with the same name, and of course, American Horror Story: Coven also included the Axeman in its litany of past New Orleans horrors–in the Ryan Murphy version, he stumbled into the Robicheaux School for Girls (read: witches) and they killed him; his ghost haunting the house ever since. The mystery of the Axeman’s identity, of course, has never been solved–as well as the why.

Empire of Sin, however, isn’t about the Axeman entirely; it’s really a history of the Storyville district (again, another notorious part of New Orleans history, probably best known for its appearance in the Louis Malle film Pretty Baby, which probably, with its creepy pedophilia, wouldn’t hold up too well today), and really focuses on the man known as the mayor of Storyville, Tom Anderson, who rose to great wealth, notoriety, and political power through his successful bordellos there–even going so far as to providing the district with its own police force. It’s a story of immorality, the struggle between reformers trying to turn New Orleans into a city free from sin (they won small victories but New Orleans remains New Orleans to this day) and Anderson’s struggle against those “virtuous reforms.” He eventually failed, and Storyville was shut down, but Krist tells a fascinating story, extrapolating his tale of Storyville’s struggle to stay open and functioning (the money being made there brought with it the ability to, of course, buy off the police and politicians), along with the stories of corruption, murder, prostitution, violence and racism extant in the city at the time. It’s also a story of how Storyville also, surprisingly enough, gave birth to jazz music, and provided a way for musicians of color to make a successful living playing music. Storyville was the incubator that provided sustenance to the musicians playing this new form of popular music, enabling them to make a living while developing a wholly American form of music.

Reading Empire of Sin is what sent me down the road to reading history, as I said before, and as I love history, it also made me aware of just how little about New Orleans I actually do know. Discovering little throwaway bits in the book–that there were male prostitutes who serviced men with “more exotic tastes”–reminded me of how frequently, and almost completely, queer history has been successfully erased, and that made me start thinking about, well, doing something more about it. Reading this book inspired two short stories I’ve not finished–“The Blues before Dawn” and “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman”–and also inspired a potential series set during the time. It’s also what gave me the idea for my collection of noir/crime/horror stories that I want to write, Monsters of New Orleans.

I cannot recommend Empire of Sin highly enough.