Po-Boy Views: Objective Reality or Negative Capability

October 15, 2021
By: Phil LaMancusa

Sitting outside Old Road Coffee Shop on a not too frequent visit, waiting for Deb, smiling as a woman at the next table snaps a photograph of my car with the mannequin in the back seat. I've already avoided a morning drunk that just wants to "ask me a question." Deb arrives and who should emerge from another car to get a cup but the former mayor; conversation ensues. Wellman the artist arrives, down on his luck as usual (pieces in the Smithsonian and the Ogden); I slip him a fin and he asks for a ride, but we're going the opposite way. Meg the barista comes out to grab a smoke and we ask after her pup and remark how much better her eye looks after that bee sting.

All morning, I'd been contemplating life, the universe, and everything, including the camera traffic ticket I received in the mail (that'll cost a day's wages); everything recently encourages a WTF conundrum in my psyche, and I wonder if, in fact, I AM living in the end of days. Life is orphic, mysterious, entrancing, and beyond my understanding. It seemed simpler when I was younger and the older generation was making all the mistakes; we swore we would never make them, and, in fact, we believed that we could correct them: war, hunger, inequality, prejudice, and a disregard for the future of the planet. And then a cup of coffee rings the "get a clue" phone: I still don't know what's going on and there is nothing that I can do to change the mindset of the idiots that are continually f**king EVERYTHING up. Meet the enemy: they are us; no longer the warrior, the most I can hope for is Negative Capability.

As I see it (although the poet Keats said it better), Negative Capability is nothing more than admitting that it's okay with not knowing or understanding what is going on but having the ability to function within those parameters nonetheless—welcome to life in New Orleans.

Anyone living here will rightfully tell you that it takes a level of genius to actually enjoy New Orleans on a deeper than superficial level; to be able to dive deep and not worry about coming up for air, experiencing her like a lover that you want to wake up with and not just a tramp that you picked up in a bar on a weekend pass. More than merely falling in love, being willing to call yourself a New Orleanian is more like having egg on your face and not minding who sees it, wanting a third helping of Thanksgiving dinner, smiling as you take a pie in the kisser, and/or taking a warm bubble bath with a martini, a snake, and the radio perched on the side of the tub as your new BFF appears and wants to join you.

Demographics are a gray and mysterious concept here. We call it the "Checkerboard System:" white folks living next door to black folks next to brown folk, Asian folk, and white folks; we do know that the "haves" live in a different area than the "have-nots" and, across the board, everyone pays too much rent. Some of us believe that there's "different strokes for different folks" and others opine that "there's different ways on different days" and it's pretty much all right with all of us; savoir faire is everywhere.

But New Orleans is not the world, and just as I'm getting complacent in my New Orleans state of mind, some yahoo decides to remind me of the fires, floods, tornados, hurricanes, and earthquakes wrecking the earth; the riots around the globe that are proof of universal indignities that occur regularly; the wars that annihilate populations; the religious persecution, misogyny, intolerance, sickness, pollution, and famine that are commonplace in the world we live in. If I hear another: "a gunman opened fire on a crowd in Downtown killing…" It's gonna drive me bats.

The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse have come down with a case of Seven Deadly Sins and are taking them on a world tour, as a group, calling themselves The Objective Realities, spreading greed and power to the ruthless; the world is the audience and tickets are free. It's a given that the weather is predicted to rain on your parade.

Around my neighborhood, there're guys of all stripes that gather in parks, neutral grounds, and sidewalks in the afternoon and evenings for libations and commiseration. There may be dominoes to be played, some horseshoes to be pitched, a game of Cornhole, and some beverages in brown bags. Old R&B music is their soundtrack and they have a time every day, I'm sure, not listening to the cacophonies of worldwide gloom and doom—maybe I should be more like them—but, as everyone knows, there's no such thing as objective reality because all reality is subjective. Theirs is a subjective reality that I admire.

I love New Orleans mostly because I can handle her dysfunction; I rejoice in her music; I'm sated by her cooking and I take comfort in the celebration of life that is a constant. We may be a lot of things here; and one morning at a coffee shop with my old lady, running into a photographer, a drunk, an ex-mayor, and an artist gives me reason to feel a level of optimistic clarity. Back at it, biaches; we can still change the world!

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