The Chocolate War
I know, I know! I was just as flabber-GAS-ted, ap-PALLED, dumb-FOUND-ed, SPEEEEECH-less, THUNDAH-F***ING-struck..hold on, let me get the thesaurus here...
addled agape aghast agog astonished astounded awe-struck awed baffled befuddled bowled over confused dazed dazzled disconcerted dizzy dumbstruck flipped out floored flustered giddy lost misled muddled mystified perplexed punchy puzzled rattled reeling shocked shook up staggered startled struck speechless stumped stunned stupefied surprised taken aback thrown uncertain unglued...AS THE REST OF THE NATION!!
I was in Ohio last week attending a marketing seminar, dressed to the hilt in my "I fleur-de-lis New Orleans" t-shirt, "Rebuild New Orleans" cap, and my ripe-smelling, embossed "Relief, Rebuild, Renew" Mardi Gras-hued rubber bracelet that I have worn since early September after the BIG ONE. I was so defiantly proud of my city and I was ready to roll like a gaudy float where the delighted, the suspicious and the curious would circle around me and ask me a gazillion questions about New Orleans. I was ready to toss 'em the "Yes, we're fine but we're not really fine" answer, jump on my soapbox and bowl right over 'em with the whole lagniappe.
Mind you, the only question I've been accustomed to around New Orleans is, "So? How did you make out?" and I know they are not asking me about my frenching technique. We ask this question to one another in empathy because whatever the answer is, we know, we know. It doesn't matter if we lost much or hardly any, we're all drinking for the same reason - a sense of loss. We tend to huddle over our Bud Lights and bemoan our fate. We may be different but we're one, brutha! So we throw away our money on booze rather than sheetrock and identify with one another, we BOND!
F**k FEMA, gimme another Bud Light!
Now being in Ohio, it was a nice respite from the daily reminders of devastation back home -- the rolling hills, the snow-dusted barns and everyone there is gosh-darn NICE! But I was glad to be an outsider because there's no place....well, you get the drift.
So there I was in my hotel room, listening to bits and pieces of the news while I was getting dressed when Ray Nagin, MY mayor of MY city appeared on tv and said...
"It's time for us to rebuild a New Orleans, the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans. And I don't care what people are saying Uptown or wherever they are. This city will be chocolate at the end of the day. This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be. You can't have New Orleans no other way; it wouldn't be New Orleans." (For full transcript, click here!)
More stunned silence.
My jaw lit. ter. ral. ly dropped to the floor...no wait, I was on the fifth floor, it went through ALL FIVE floors and into the basement! I was absolutely astounded. APPALLED! Just reread the second paragraph...
It was then I really felt like an outsider looking in! The weight of my unhinged jaw buckled my knees and I HAD to sit down.
What. The. F**K?!
I felt betrayed. I voted for this man, supported this man and greatly admired this man immediately after the storm when he broke down and cried for help! This man wore New Orleans on his sleeve and I was proud of him! Forget that he is black and I'm white, we're BROTHERS, man, BROTHERS!!!
Well, all that went out the window, down several floors to the traffic below, and run over so many times that it was embedded in every tire in the city of Akron.
I was rendered immovable. The world ceased to exist around me and I don't think I even blinked! The timing just couldn't be better for this NOLA PR Puf'N'Strut. For a moment, I felt like a fool to be a New Orleans brand in the middle of Ohio and wished that I had a Saints paper bag somewhere in my luggage. But then this slow burning resolve just grew within me and I thought, "Oh hell, if I can survive Katrina, then all this is just the aftermath. Let it roll!"
So I donned my NOLA gear and headed out the door, ready to face the world...and the ridicule. Everywhere I went, there were questions of "What IS going on down there?", "What is up with THAT mayor?" and a couple of "Got chocolate?" Even an owner of a classy, upscale restaurant dressed in a tux leaned closely and said to me in a wide-eyed, conspiratorial whisper, "I saw CNN today...you must be dying!"
Oh, I was dying alright but I was bristling polite, trying to take it all in stride. Certainly, it was not the type of questions I was expecting when I arrived in Ohio and believe me, I was ready to knock a few heads but being from New Orleans, I didn't want a tv camera to appear out of nowhere and spotlight another lunatic from the Chocolate City to go Willy Wonka!
I suppose with a few eye rolls and a loud exasperate sigh, I could get my point across without mentioning a thing about chocolate but inquiring minds wanna know! SO here's my Cocoa Puffs:
Mr. Mayor, you said that you had a deep and meaningful conversation with two of the most powerful figures in the world: Martin Luther King and God (in that order according to you). While it may be surprising that as white chocolate (I AM a New Orleans resident....), I am very familiar with King's powerful and passionate "I have a dream" speech. Here was this man who spoke VOLUMES about Freedom that resonated with every man, woman and child! I mean, Marty can move MOUNTAINS with words, man! I, for one, would stand up and applaud his speech!!! Now that he has passed on to the heavenly plane, all he can say to you (and to us) from the other side is "I don't like that" and "I don't like that either"?
Shoot! And I thought my chances of singing would be much better than my earthly croaking once I reach the other side! Now I'm so depressed and disillusioned!
But then you conversed with God (albeit briefly). My heart lifted a beat! Pray tell! What words of infinite wisdom have God doth part with you!
And God spoketh: "I am mad at you and the citizens of New Orleans! America too! I am so fed up with all of you and your lame-brained shenanigans! Year after year, I've sent down hurricanes to pound into your thick numbskulls and I'm not getting through! Ivan and Hugo, Dennis and Andrew, Cindi, Katrina and Rita! Heaven, I even threw in Alpha through Zeta but y'all are still not getting the message!!! FOR THE LAST TIME, KNOCK IT OFF AND MAKE IT ALL CHOCOLATE! I WANT IT BY THE END OF THE DAY - NO OTHER WAY ABOUT IT, YA HEAR?!?!?"
Boy, I can hear the sound of bible pages across America flapping open for discussion on this entirely new revelation! Who woulda thunk that CHOCOLATE would be gospel! Pass the bon-bon, cher!
I was about to cross off James Van Praagh, Sylvia Browne, John Edward and Pat Robertson off my Divine Intervention list, you went back and apologized for all the "wrong" things you have said -- or actually what Marty and God have said. My faith has been shakened! Come on, Mr. Mayor, who's talking what? Did you really have a conversation with Them or not? Because if you're really serious, I'm going to haul all my Elmer's® Gold Bricks down to City Hall to pay for a spiritual reading with you! Or were you just, and I quote Couch Tommy, being glib?
Believe me, Mr. Mayor, I'm all for free speech, even if it was from the other side but right now we, the hurricane-ravaged, FEMA-weary citizens of New Orleans are in no mood for that kind of hooey! We've already been blown apart by the Bitch so we do NOT need to be blown even further apart by a Blowhard! The time is to UNITE not DIVIDE our quest for a better New Orleans! To do so, we must call out to every local, state and goverment level for assistance to better our communities, our schools, OUR LEVEES -HELLO?!, our lives and our city but it all begins here with the tip of our tongues, not slip of our tongues!
But since you've already let the cat out of the bag, I can't see why we can't don a "Willy Nagin And The Chocolate City" t-shirt and fend for our city ourselves.