Note: This column contains language that may be offensive to some.
You know what? You can learn a lot from being an asshole.
I found out last week. When I was an asshole.
It was late Friday afternoon, around 5:30 on my block of North Robertson in Treme. As I came in my back door, the music started coming in my front door. And my windows. And my walls.
It wasn’t live music. It was recorded music. Coming from a private plot of vacant land at the corner of Robertson and St. Philip called Tuba Fats Square.
Recorded bounce music with lyrics that, well, lyrics I don’t usually invite into my house. Loud recorded bounce music. Extremely loud. So loud that I couldn’t listen to my own music in my own home. So loud that, when I went to take a shower, I could still hear it. Even though my bathroom is in the back of the house. Not kinda hear it, but fully hear it. You haven’t quite lived until you’re taking a shower while being able to hear, over the running water, a blow by blow account of an R-rated sex act, followed by, while toweling off, a discussion of the merits of filling a snitch’s mouth with seaweed.
And it wasn’t just loud, recorded bounce music. It was loud, recorded bounce music that went on for hours. I knew this because the music had blared into my house the previous night, too. Starting at 5 and ending at 10.
That first night I wasn’t an asshole. So, I learned nothing.
That first night, I sent an email to our neighborhood association (receiving a reply the next morning). And I called the police who, respectfully and honestly, said that they would respond when resources allowed. So, I sat, in my own house. For five hours. Unable to hear my own music.
But that second night, I was an asshole. Like the kid in my favorite children’s book, it had been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. And, so, when my visions of that day ending quietly were interrupted by the promise of five more hours of anything but quiet, I lost it. It happens. To all of us. Especially when you live in New Orleans.
Now, I want to be clear on one point: I wasn’t an asshole because I complained about excessively loud music. I have lived in Treme for three years. I have loved Treme for three years. I have loved the music of Treme for three years. I also love the fact that the owner of Tuba Fats, who lives in England, encourages the community to use his land to gather, picnic, celebrate or just hang out. And I know there are those who say anyone who complains about any music in any form is an asshole (and ought to move out of New Orleans). But I disagree (Well aware, of course, that there are those who say a newcomer like me has no right to any opinion. Of any kind.) If music is playing, for hours, so loudly that you cannot enjoy your own home, then that’s a problem.
A problem that merits a solution. A solution that works for the music. A solution that works for the residents.
But I digress. We were talking about me being an asshole, weren’t we?
Yes. Yes, we were.
I was an asshole that second night not because of how I complained, but because of the way I did. Sarcastically. Deliberately mentioning the most obscene lyrics in emails to our neighborhood list. Just to get a rise out of people who I knew would feel offended (and furious at some “newcomer” who dared to complain about the place he, too, now called home).
Which is where I started learning.
I learned that you can get quite a response when you’re an asshole. Where my previous night’s carefully worded inquiry had merited one response (the next day), my angry, emotional missives started getting replies almost immediately.
I also learned that the music was to honor a young man who had been murdered. A kid folks called “Buddha.” The music was also for Buddha’s mom. She had been in poor health for quite some time. When she heard that her son had been murdered outside a local bar, she took a turn for the worse.
And died hours later.
Like me, both called Treme home.
I also learned that, at least in some parts of New Orleans, people sit outside and play music as a ritual for the dead. From the day they die until the day they are laid to rest. I’ve lived in Treme for three years. I knew there was two weeks of music on our streets when Lionel Baptiste died (none of it this volume, by the way), but I had thought it was just because it was Unc.
There have been a lot of murders while I’ve been in Treme. In my city. In my neighborhood. There’s even been a murder at Tuba Fats Square. But this was the first time a days-long honoring of the dead had occurred on my street corner.
At least to my knowledge. At least when I’ve been around.
At least after I’ve had a bad day.
As I looked at the emails coming in fast and furious in response to my assholism, I decided to do something else. To not be an asshole.
I opened my door and walked down to my corner with my very own go-cup in hand. But the crowd wasn’t moving. Instead, people were sitting. Stunned. Numb. Staring straight ahead. And wearing t-shirts with their dead friend’s, with their brother’s, pictured pressed onto it.
The music was booming. But they didn’t hear it. Not the lyrics. Not the beats. It was just noise to them.
Noise in which they could hide from their pain. Noise in which they could get lost so as to forget something that would never make sense. Noise in which no one could hear them scream, “Enough.”
I stayed for about 15 minutes. While I was there, one of the guys reached over and turned the volume down just about two notches.
It was enough. Because, you know what? When you’re an asshole, you only learn what your anger will permit you to learn. But, when you turn your own anger down, you can learn even more.
This column is dedicated to Gerald Williams, who was murdered outside Iggy’s Bar in the Marigny. And his mother, Linda Williams, who died a few hours later. Of a shattered heart. May they both rest in peace.
Brett Will Taylor is a southern storyteller who writes Love NOLA weekly for NolaVie. Follow him at @bwtshaman or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org