A few weeks ago, I was in New Olreans, reuniting with old friends. There’s nothing like extreme isolation and a collective language barrier to bring people together. We walked old streets, told stories of our new lives, and considered one friend who couldn’t make the trip. An idea hatched – we had to get Ed a souvenir. But what?
The city was filled with street artists. Despite my lack of visual sense, I could at least identify things that thrilled me. Oh, that tree is growing goats like fruit? How much do you want for it? Most ran from fantastic to psychedelic, and held an intense faux-French flavor.
In the midst of painters, palm readers and those creating caricatures of old married couples from Alabama, we found a young man in a tattered jacket, sitting on an old crate and working from a typewriter. For twelve dollars, he composed a piece of flash poetry for Ed. It was quite good, too – that night, my friends and I took turns reading the poem aloud, offering our own emphasis and voice to personal interpretations of the meaning. In retrospect, they were probably just pretty words strung together in sixty seconds like a gypsy necklace, but still: impressive.
Wandering alone, I found a photographer who specialized in period piece costumes and sepia. I offered it to the group, two-part humor and one-part nostalgia for similar photos my awesome family took when I was younger. My friends agreed, enthusiastically.
Reviewing the costumes, we quickly realized that a) we were not up to cross-dressing, b) rumrunners are for people sans imagination, and c) there were not enough Union army costumes to cover those in the group who lived in the north. Though there were four Confederate costumes, I was the only one who lived south of the Mason-Dixon.
The grey uniform and the Confederate flag are still loaded symbols. That’s understandable. However, my friends showed real hesitation at the prospect of joining a lost cause. We compromised by writing a new ending, complete with individual characters and personal motivations. After a few failed poses and an impatient photographer, we struck on our own interpretation of the divide between North and South.