In the past, sometimes people would give me the Leave New Orleans speech, but it was usually a career talk, and not everyone at the same time. Sometimes, it seemed the new Leave New Orleans speech might be the same old talk about maximizing my earning potential back with a vengeance. Other times, it seemed different. People could not detect the snail's progress we saw. Maybe they just did not believe what I hoped — that mess and crime could not go on forever because too many people were too sick of it. I hoped I was right.
—from Plenty Enough Suck to Go Around by Cheryl Wagner
Years before the flood, Brian used to live in the other half of our camelback in Mid-City. Now he's in Little Rock. He sent this drawing of me walking Clo in her red cape through the crudscape with a disaster worker looming ominously behind. It came with a note. The gist of it was this: Sorry I made you look so mannish, dude.
I don't have many photographs of us rebuilding our house. Even if I had more, Brian Madden's drawing would still be my favorite document of this time. Looking at Brian's drawing, I see not just the post-flood quagmire and the person I was for three years in it. Underneath the ink, where the picture peels back, I see the decade before.
Brian's drawing makes me think of Popeye's Chicken and cigarettes, a short film he did he did about his tween Arkansas cousin's love of Eminem, his dark depictions of convenience store exteriors across Arkansas, his song "I'm Totally Awesome When I'm on the Mike," and the creepy, pitch-perfect Alan Lomax southern field recordings voice he used to serenade me with. I used to step into my backyard garden and find Brian taking a break from painting — smoking and reading a paperback. A road trip we took to South Carolina in the late nineties is when I first met my friend Helen Hill and saw her charming, handmade film Mouseholes about where loved people go when they die. In Brian's drawing, all this is scribbled and pulsing behind the ink.
Brian's drawing also reminds me of the dark side of what I refer to in my book as my "Professional Enthusiast" or "That's a great idea! You should really do that!" life. The Character Previously Known as Jake and I have had a lot of big talks since the flood. The topic of whether we encourage each other in things we should not encourage each other in has come up more and more since the flood and what happened to Helen. I still haven't figured this out.
But I'm glad I met Helen that summer. I'm glad Brian was with me, and I'm glad I have so many other pictures burned under this one.