queer place-making in new orleans; part 2

Click here for part 1

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“When so many are lonely as seem to be lonely, it would be inexcusably selfish to be lonely alone.”

-Tennessee Williams

Its 4 o’clock in the afternoon.  I’m sitting at my desk checking emails, browsing the latest election year vitriol, and wishing I hadn’t eaten so much Chinese food for lunch.  My phone vibrates and there is a text from Jeremy Novy:

“Painting a rainbow crosswalk tonight hopefully.  The sidewalk in the neutral grounds between the Phoenix and Mags.”

The article I wrote a few months back had begun taking on a small life of its own.  What began as a conversation on vigilante urbanism was quickly evolving from theory into practice.  My food coma starts to recede.

“I’ll see you there,” I text back.

It’s 9 PM and I’m shuffling across Elysian Fields Avenue with my camera, a vodka soda, and a Bud Lite for Jeremy.  On one corner of the avenue is The Phoenix – a leather bar and decades-long home to the city’s bear and fetish communities.  Across from it is Mag’s 940 – once a popular lesbian hangout named Charlene’s, its now home to an eclectic mix of queer and straight patrons.  His plan is to paint the walkway between the two bars along the neutral ground.

When I find Novy he’s parked in front of Mag’s; his backseat is full with six paint cans, six paint trays, and six paint rollers.

“It’s still a little early,” he says looking around, “I wonder if I should have waited ’til later.”

Folks are walking their dogs, the occasional police cruiser zips by, and line dancers mingle outside as Country Western night gets underway.  Undiscouraged, Jeremy ducks behind his car, fills a tray with red paint, and scurries toward the neutral ground.

Jeremy Novy Painting a rainbow walkway in New Orleans.

Each color takes only a few minutes to apply. He doesn’t draw much attention to himself and few seem to notice the 6-foot tall bearded man rolling rainbow paint onto the walkway.  In between streaks he returns to the sidewalk, throws the spent roller into a nearby trash bin, and takes a few sips of beer.

“I’m getting an adrenaline rush,” he tells me.

A cyclist approaches the half-finished walkway – we are torn between shouting “wet paint!” and trying to maintain a shred of discretion.  We relent, and he rides across the walkway leaving green tire tracks on the yellow stripe.

“It’ll add character,” we agree.

As Jeremy opens the last can of paint, The Electric Slide starts booming from inside Mag’s; a few hipster kids in cowboy hats and Wrangler’s bob their heads to the music.  He journeys back to the neutral ground and rolls out a ribbon of purple paint.

Jeremy Novy Painting a rainbow walkway in New Orleans.

In less than an hour the Pride colors are emblazoned across the neutral ground.  It looks good.  Jeremy and I snap a few photos, finish our drinks, and exchange congratulatory fist bumps.

When I get home I jot down some notes from the evening.  Trying to understand what my role was in this placemaking experiment, I figure it must lie somewhere between voyeur, co-conspirator, and over-zealous community member.  Ethical questions rattle around in my head as well.  Was there adequate input from the community to make this a legitimate exercise in placemaking?  How much consensus would have been enough?  I do not know.  I make another drink, polish it off quickly, and crawl into bed.

I fall asleep hoping that we made one corner of our home a bit better.  In a world that can get pretty ugly sometimes, its helpful to reflect on the meaning behind each color: life, healing, sunlight, nature, harmony, and spirit.

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Epilogue

Mr. Novy has been very busy lately, and there’s something else worth mentioning before I wrap this up.  If you’re ever feeling lonely, head over to the sidewalk in front of Big Daddy’s.  You will now find a wonderful and familiar face.

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