One in Three

January 16th, 2007 by Larry Smith  

What a weird time to be launching a webcomic set in New Orleans, a city of so many mixed emotions. The Saints are this year’s sports miracles, the only team I can stomach beating my beloved Eagles. A few steps outside of the Superdome, you’ll find a tormented, restless place. You want to see the hope, but people–even the ones living in unscathed homes and getting by just fine–are not so hopeful.

Josh and I talked to people in various stages of restlessness and torment during our three-day tour of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and the conversations stuck to our bones. One of the conversations that I keep thinking about was with a friend (as opposed to someone we were interviewing for the webcomic), Cynthia Joyce, a writer who moved to New Orleans five years ago after being “spit out of New York.” Cynthia talked about the violence that’s been on everyone’s mind lately, but said feelings of hopelessness have been in the air for a long time. They’re in the air when she talks with some of the kids she tutors at YEP, a nonprofit that works with teenagers who’ve recently gotten out of prison. It’s in the air when her writerly/artistic crowd gets together for beers. For months after people started trickling back, she said, the first question folks would ask was: “So, you think you’re gonna stay?” She looked down at her cell phone and ticked off half her friends who were gone.

One in three people living in New Orleans now are considering leaving the city. That’s rough, and no way to rebuild a place. Interesting thing was, when we talked to some of the kids at YEP, they all said in no uncertain terms that they definitely were glad to be back. When I asked a young man named Chris if he wanted to stay in the city, he looked at me like I was nuts and said: “Yeah man, it’s my home–why would I want to leave.” Then he asked me if I knew Jay-Z (since I live in Brooklyn and all).

Here’s a sad and beautiful op-ed about the unfortunate flavor of the city right now. It’s by Billy Sothern, a lawyer who does great work for people who have very hard lives, and friend of Helen Hill, a young filmmaker who was murdered in her home last week.

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