Living large in New Orleans? Readers respond to "Partying at the End of the World," by Joshua Clark.

Published September 14, 2005 8:35PM (EDT)

[Read the story.]

As a New Orleans resident and current evacuee trying to piece my life back together, Joshua Clark's celebratory piece on the destruction of New Orleans irritates me to no end.

Clark writes, "This is dawn, New Orleans, post-Katrina. And I love it." An offensive observation, for sure, but no different than so many of the trite and stale observations that transplanted -- and usually young, white, privileged -- writers have been making for years about New Orleans. With regularity and predictability, these self-proclaimed artists exploitatively celebrate the poverty, violence, joblessness and other social issues through their "gritty" descriptions of slumming it, all the while never discussing the underlying causes of our city's problems. The callousness and insincerity of this genre have only further served the systemic racist and classist problems in New Orleans, so obvious now to America and the world.

So now, as my family and so many others try to figure out our lives, worried about our ability to ever get back to New Orleans, wondering what the city will be like after Bank of America, Halliburton and Wal-Mart rebuild it and, most important, dealing with the loss of our community, we get to hear about some privileged wannabe's drinking Pinot Grigio in the Quarter? There are dozens of local grass-roots organizations and thousands of individuals all over the Gulf Coast already working nonstop to rebuild New Orleans in a just and fair way; the attention should be on them.

Generally, Salon's coverage of the tragedy and scandal on the Gulf Coast has been excellent, sensitive and probing. Thank you for that. In the future, please consider ignoring the sophomoric, self-centered voices of those interested in Katrina because the tragic results have, as Clark puts it, "given me more material than I need" for another book.

-- Adam Wilson

As oddly life-affirming and neo-gonzo-journalistic cool as Clark's column on post-Katrina New Orleans was, I couldn't help but be greatly disturbed at two aspects of it:

1) The difference between those with money, food and supplies who stayed by choice to drink and vomit their way through the mayhem and those who were desperate, poor and stranded with the filth, the heat and the danger -- meaning those who are not smug-ish writer boys a little too taken with their own modern Robinson Crusoe-ness.

2) The picture of the guy, beer in hand, getting his hair cut by the smiling Latina woman. Oh, dear God -- I guess a lot of things survived Katrina besides the drinking: the dark-skinned servant class waiting on the middle-class white folks. I hope that picture was posted to be ironic. But I'm not that optimistic.

-- Leslie Streeter

Glad you enjoyed the show, Josh. But remember for the next storm: Katrina was a glancing blow, not a direct hit.

I fled to Hammond, La., with Melanie Plesh, a writer with a vision who teaches at Fredrick Douglass High, and her insane cat in a cage on my lap. We passed over roads that washed out to sea hours later. It took eight hours to make the usually one-hour trip. We arrived with the first rainsqualls and our first of many bottles of champagne with our grand host and savior, a former monk from the nearby abbey.

This went on for a week, till the realization that we were, indeed, displaced souls in need of greater direction than champagne and a fallen monk. I moved on, to Lafayette, La.

Life is always good in Lafayette. The city was untouched by the storm, and an exile community has taken shallow root -- both poorly in the Cajun Dome and elegantly at last weekend's Second-Saturday Art Walk, a monthly coordinated gallery opening. Salesmen from New Orleans' posh Arthur Roger Gallery and artists from RHINO (Right Here In New Orleans) Louisiana Arts and Crafts Gallery greeted each other with hugs, cheers and boudin. Don Marshall, director of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival Foundation, chatted with author Rick Bragg, and RHINO's anodized-aluminum sculptor, Cathy Cooper-Stratton. All in air-conditioned comfort and as mosquito-free as a swamp can be. Outside, the steel drummer from New Orleans' Spotted Cat sat curbside smoking cigarettes and lamenting that he, too, knew what it means to miss New Orleans.

Keep the faith, speed the day, and keep writing.

-- Leonard Earl Johnson

I was looking forward to reading something upbeat from someone in the mess. This is, however, an obnoxious and narrow-minded view on the state of New Orleans, and a pointless peek into the temporary life of the author. But then, what can one expect from a man who shares this exchange he had? "The second day after the storm, I asked a man carrying a small plastic shopping bag if he was carrying his lunch. 'Lunch? Shit,' he said. 'This's everything I got left in the world.'" Duh. Awesome party, dude.

-- Martina Steiner

When I first read this column, I was sure it was satire. Who would boast of their turquoise swimming pool -- filled with bottles of Pinot Grigio, no less -- in the face of evacuees who died because they couldn't find clean water to drink?

I imagine many of the survivors of Hurricane Katrina would have stayed in New Orleans if they, too, could have had Joshua Clark's frat-house lifestyle. Unfortunately, not everyone was as lucky as Clark and his drinking buddies.

But we should understand his choice, it seems: "This is home. Where else would I go? My family's cottage on Cape Cod would get boring fast." Poor Clark! The idea of being forced to live in the family's summer home!

Clark also seems to think his choice to stay is enviable: "Can you imagine what it's like to have no energy bills, no rent, no cellphone invoices ... and no taxes? We can. And we're doing it like kings."

Kings? No. More like self-indulgent boys playing at "Survivor," while tens of thousands of other residents experienced the real thing.

Stay strong, Joshua. The Pinot Grigio might run out and force you to drink Thunderbird. A nation holds its breath for you, hoping that the wine continues flowing.

-- Stephanie Lang

By Salon Staff

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