Hard Living in the Big Easy

Hard Living in the Big Easy


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



I am trying desperately, amigos, to find some humor in our “Big Easy” romanticism of the past,

but there is little laughter left for those of us who rent in the future.  Most landlords

in the surviving neighborhoods have escalated rents to amounts that are beyond price gouging



Hard Living in the Big EasyBy Jose Torres Tama


The well-known moniker of New Orleans as the “Big Easy” was washed away with Katrina’s floodwaters. In its wake, we have been left with a crippled economy and the murky residue of rents that resemble prices in the “Big Apple.”  If you have not heard, one-bedroom apartments are renting from $1,100 to $1,300, and two-bedroom units are advertised from $2,000 to $2,400 of hard-earned greenbacks.  Often, I ask myself, “Self, who can afford these prices in an environment of financial uncertainty with limited options for employment?” Before Katrina, the Treme, Marigny, and Bywater, three historic neighborhoods that survived the flooding, were already experiencing outrageous rental surges, and the African American communities, the musicians, the artists, the creative lifeblood and soul of this city who live in these areas, were being threatened by the encroaching gentrification. The property piranhas were having a feeding frenzy, and in a three-year period from 2002 to 2005 pre-K, the costs of homes had reached an alarming peak.  In the Marigny neighborhood where I live, downriver and east of the Viuex Carre, a double shotgun Creole cottage that was worth $120 grand in 2001 was selling at the hefty speculated value of $240 to $280 thousand dollars. Fast-forward to the present and that same Creole cottage is selling for $350 thousand to half a million. Why?  Because having outlasted the levee breaches in high-ground neighborhoods has become justification for even more inflated prices in a housing market not far from where people drowned to death.  It’s all disturbingly macabre. Obviously, the real-estate agencies want us to forget that the city remains more vulnerable to Mother Nature’s hurricanes, with an unfinished protection system, but I wonder whether the Army Core of Engineers will surprise us again, unveiling a new state-of-the-art papier-mâché levee constructed with all the missing mail that the post office has not delivered since the storm.

I am trying desperately, amigos, to find some humor in our “Big Easy” romanticism of the past, but there is little laughter left for those of us who rent in the future.  Most landlords in the surviving neighborhoods have escalated rents to amounts that are beyond price gouging. With no end in sight and no rent control laws, there is a steady exodus of our artistic talent moving elsewhere.  I hear very little concern about it in the local and national press.  If Katrina did not displace you permanently, the perverse rents being demanded for the inhabitable apartments in the city will certainly flood your wallet, and leave its nasty watermark on your checking account.  If you are not in the construction industry, the service industry, or selling nails and sheetrock for a living, you are not in the few lucrative businesses that have outlived Miss bad thing’s fury.  If you are in the arts industry, like myself, you are treading on swampy ground as the burgeoning arts economy before Katrina has taken a dramatic hit.  Theater spaces are fewer and countless galleries have closed, while even the major museums are operating on limited hours. This summer our wounded village is living up to another one of its famous characterizations as a “city of ghosts.”  The previously thriving street performers’ scene of musicians, jugglers, and magicians, who gave visitors to New Orleans a visceral experience of live entertainment, is also a long lost memory.  In a recent walk through Jackson Square, the heart of the French Quarter, I saw one lonely tarot card reader at one end and two musicians blowing trombone and trumpet at the other corner, playing to invisible tourists. The grand public plaza, normally the epitome of a daily carnival atmosphere, was desolate. New Orleans of old as a creative cauldron of bohemian tolerances, street life, and ritualistic culture, which was known to rise up from the ground, is a sad postcard of itself.  I truly love this city, but in my twenty-two years of life here, I have never been at such a crossroads, singing the familiar rock-n-roll Clash anthem of “should I stay or should I go now?”  Even the local newspaper, The Times-Picayune, which has failed miserably in covering the rental crisis, has used this lyric as front-page headline to denote the mood of thousands caught in the same personal debate. The tragedy is that I may not have an economical choice to stay and forge a living when basic shelter is oppressively expensive.  New Orleans has been my poetic muse for half my life, but for numerous artists and working class residents, it is hard living in the “Big Easy” with post-Katrina rents as high as the lingering water lines.

posted 19 June 2006

New Orleans Free People of Color & Their Legacy: The Artwork of Jose Torres-Tama

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—


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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 13 January 2012




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Related files: In Exile  Above America  God Fear America  Stars Are Eyes    In Exile Close to the Equator  Hard Living in the Big Easy

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