Saturday, April 3, 2010

Old bones over bars any day

It's official. I don't know how to be single yet. Last night one of my friends invited me out to a bar (by the way, I officially don't like bars) and I felt completely out of place.

Not in the way I felt out of place in high school - not like I was lower than everybody or less attractive or less witty. It's taken me up to this point in my life to get a truly sober perspective on people in a bar. None of us are all that superior, attractive, or witty. So I didn't feel out of place in a ugly-girl-in-a-room-of-prettier-girls kind of way. I felt more like a lamp in a swimming pool. I didn't work in there. You know, I stood there with a beer. Looked at the guitarists on stage who were good, but didn't play anything I could dance to, so I just tapped my foot. There were other drunk couples who danced awkwardly to music with no beat to it, which would have been amusing if seeing couples together didn't make me want to throw tiny cocktail umbrellas at them.

I felt much more comfortable at the cemetery I'd visited earlier that day. My friend Vicky (not the friend I went to the bar with) and I went to Holt Cemetery, which is a potter's field near City Park. It's where the jazz dude Buddy Bolden is buried in an unmarked grave, along with hundreds of other people whose families didn't have much money to bury them anywhere else.

To say that this place is not kept up well is a serious understatement. It's a mess. But that's what's so great about it. The grass isn't mowed on a regular basis, so it's too high. Some of the plots are covered in clover that's long enough to braid. The graves aren't in rows, they're just scattered everywhere, some right on top of each other. There will be a headstone and then less than a foot in front of it, a wooden cross with someone else's name scribbled in permanent marker.

The grave markers are wooden, cement, steel rods sticking out of the ground, and broken off pieces of plastic. The homemade ones have misspellings like "Bourn: 1923 Die: 1960." My favorite one had a misspelling and what seemed like an interesting story behind it. It said "Here lie my husbans" and then gave their names. Her husbands? She buried them together? One at a time, or both at once? There were "in loving memories" of mothers, fathers, grandmothers, children and teenagers, their faded names on cheap pieces of anything. My favorite name was a World War One vet named Obadiah Wise.

The two most unusual things about this graveyard was - no. I take that back. The two creepiest things about this graveyard were the things that Vicky and I found lying on the ground. Oh, and the big, crumbly brick construction that appears to be an incinerator towards the back of the graveyard. I wish I had pictures to go with this. We're not sure that's exactly what it was. Neither of us have seen a crematorium before but if we had to bet money we were guessing that's what it was. Judging from the potato chips bags, water bottles, and cob webs inside of it, we guessed that whatever it was, it hadn't been used in a long time.

I just googled Holt to see if there was anything that confirmed our theory and I didn't find anything that mentioned it, but I found a much better description of the place:
"As you enter this graveyard through a ramshackle iron fence, your sweeping view of the cemetery will likely give you the impression of a grim forgotten burial waste land. There is no formal landscaping here at this time; bare dirt, mud clumps, and choking yellow weeds carpet this environment. Well and poorly tended plots intermingle. A narrow ditch of green water stretches the length of the Holt. Sometimes a bone works its way out of the ground as graves are re-dug for a second, third, or more burial in the same site. "http://www.examiner.com/x-17348-New-Orleans-City-Guide-Examiner~y2009m7d23-Visit-and-help-New-Orleans-Holt-Cemetery

And yeah, we found bones. That was the creepy thing. Half of a pelvis, a rib, and what we guessed was a thin arm or leg bone. I wasn't disgusted by it or anything. I was sad that whoever that was had unceremoniously popped out of the ground like that. But at the same time, decomposing is a rather undignified business whether one is in or out of the ground.

The other thing we found was an old glass bottle, like the kind you find at an antique store that once held homemade medicine. Vicky picked it up and read the words on the side "Embalmer's Fluid."

At that point it was time to go.

There really was a sweetness to that place, though. The headstones were like handmade cards rather than store bought. There was a loved one's handwriting, trinkets left behind of the deceased, like stuffed animals and a crossing guard vest. There was a wild parrot that was flying around making all sorts of racket, and it made me remember the city's bizarre wild parrot population. It was morbidly magical, if that makes sense. Not without hope.

So I guess yesterday I felt more comfortable in dead ruins than among living, drinking people. Scene of me talking to some dude the next time I'm in a bar:
"What's your name?" he'll say.
"Genevieve."
"What do you do, Genevieve?"
"I tour graveyards looking for bones."
[grabbing his beer and moving on] "Later."
"What? You don't want my phone number? Hey! It's cool. Want to see an incinerator?"

Ps- Yep. It's an old crematory oven. Just saw a picture of it online.

8 comments:

melissa bastian. said...

Wow. This week is the first time I've ever heard of Holt Cemetery. And this blog post is the second time I've heard about it in the span of about four days. Funny when those things happen isn't it? I think it means that we're destined to go hang out there.

Genevieve said...

Totally. Bring a camera, trashy shoes and disposable gloves.

Christy said...

Gotta say, old cemeteries are WAAAY more interesting than bars. I'd rather hang out with you at a cemetery any day. But, having hung out with you at bars, I think you do just fine if it's the right music with the right people. If you "fit in" at every bar at any time, you wouldn't be you. I shudder to think of what that you would be like.

This is my favorite blog entry so far. That cemetery sounds cool. In high school a friend and I used to go walk around the one behind Bud's Broiler. I thought it was neat that so many of the grave lids had come off or were gone, and I had a secret desire to be buried in a grave like that. Better in one like that than the one with the big elk on a hill.

Genevieve said...

I know the one you're talking about, the one behind Bud's Broiler. That is a cool one! `

You're right, it depends on the bar, the company and the band. If Fred's band had played, I would have torn it up!

Tom said...

You....you linked from Examiner.com! This is the place that lists "writing" ads every single week of the year, the place which seems to be a burying ground for any writing harboring a serious desire to, well, to be a writer! It seems that there *might* be something to that site - both the literal burying ground and the electronic one. WTH, dude????

Wild parrots??? For real? This I did not know. I want to see a wild parrot! We have robins, blue jays, and cardinals. Pretty, but not quite the same.

I'm with Christy, old cemeteries are def better than bars. Here is how I would play that:

"So, what do you do?"
"I hang out in old cemeteries and look for bones and crematoriums."
*leans in slightly closer* "Really?"
"Yeah."
"I think that's the coolest thing I've heard in weeks. Tell me about that."

Word Verification: cerstsho - ancient term for a type of refuse collector, ie, garbage man.

Genevieve said...

Here is how I would respond:
"There's nothing to tell really. It's just a hobby. My real job is throwing tiny cocktail umbrellas at dancing couples in bars. Would you like to join me? Here, take a handful."

Tom said...

*grabs tiny umbrellas*
"Okay, who first? The blonde who is way too old to be wearing clothes that small, or the 50-year-old balding guy with the gold chain who has been hitting on anything under 30 and completely ignoring all the hot gals over 30?"

Genevieve said...

(loads granade launcher full of little umbrellas) "I say we hit both."