October 6, 2010
“Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story.”
Having read a good deal of Barth in the months previous, I won’t claim to understand precisely the man’s intention in the above quote, nor will I elaborate on context (in the interest of briefness). Instead, I implore the reader to allow its most proximal meaning – and perhaps most personal – to act as subtext to the text found, ironically, immediately below it.
I have recently returned, and even more recently recovered, from a trip to Louisiana; a trip aptly characterized as dichotomous, in its being both temporally ephemeral, yet enduring in a number of ways. Had you, Dear Reader, probed me on the morning after we drove in, on my way to teaching the first day of a new class (with a good three hours of sleep under my belt), I would have claimed – without employing hyperbole with any deliberation – that the most lasting and penetrating portion of the trip would be my bodily and cognitive weariness. As expected, the days since returning have rendered said weariness little more than a comedic afterthought. In its place, the intangible moments have taken the stage as the stars of the show, providing us with a much more enjoyable and share-worthy tale.
In having this time to reflect, discuss, peruse photos, and read a bit, I have come to appreciate my experience both individually and as part of a crack team, and it is this that I would like to textualize for you, Dear Reader.
Our trip seemed simple enough with regards to mission.
“There is symposium to be held in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, whose purpose is to explore the various aspects of the life and death of Senator and Governor Huey P. Long, an enduring character in that state’s politics. The symposium is to be held in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of that very death. We, inasmuch as we are personally connected thereto in various ways, will arrive at the symposium, hoping to aggregate interviews, photographs, testimonies, and other media to be used for the production of a documentary film.”
Allow me to provide some information clarifying the aforementioned “we,” as well as the connection to the event, also mentioned. Our crew was spearheaded by the ever-dynamic Yvonne Boudreaux, who we have to thank for the personal connection to the symposium; more on that later. Providing much of the equipment, esoteric expertise, and humor is the equally engaging Jonny Mars. Bringing up the rear, so to speak, our crew is rounded out by your Humble Author, whose provisions, while less pragmatic, hopefully proved useful to the most honorable mission. If nothing else, your HA takes comfort in the fact that it was he, not his more qualified compatriots, who guided the trusty vessel during the home stretch to Austin.
The connection our crew has is this: Miss Boudreaux’s great uncle, the distinguished Doctor Carl Weiss, Jr., is the surviving son of the alleged assassin of Senator Long. Furthermore, Miss Boudreaux is the acting producer of a documentary film entitled 61 Bullets, which has as its centricity the events of that fateful evening and the subsequent 75 years of familial coping therewith.
Your Humble Author found his way onto this ship by way of his relationship with Miss Boudreaux. To employ what he presumes is the freshest lingo of the day, he is at present ‘going steady’ with this lovely Louisiana woman. As to what might be the destination of this steadfast sojourn, your Humble Author must plead ignorance. However, the relationship status of these two (a fact verifiable by those with a Facebook account), meant for your HA that multiple hats were worn, changed with less than ideal notice, which added to the hectic excitement of the event. There was primarily the boyfriend hat, as well as the photographer hat.
Allow your HA to elaborate with a brief yet truthful vignette. During the presentation of Dr. Weiss, Jr., which will be discussed at further length shortly, your HA found himself assigned to capture ‘family reactions,’ family in this instance comprising the Weiss, Pavy, and Boudreaux constituents. It became very apparent earlier in the day that the volume of the shudder on the camera was sufficient to attract the attention of symposium goers, which speaks more to the noisiness of said shudder than to the engagement level of the attendees, which, incidentally was quite high, inasmuch as they could successfully fight off a nap, which became increasingly difficult after lunch.
At one point in his soul-stealing (see unverified, base attempt to understand the mysticism of the ‘American Indian,’ apologies be mine alone), your HA found himself face to face – albeit through the lens of a camera – with one of the Boudreaux brothers, who happens to double as the uncle of the very woman who maintains a healthy relationship with, you guessed it, your HA. Mind you, while the lens somewhat shields from the subject, in that the photographer’s naked eye generally closes, photographer still must not only view the subject, but in this case must do so with the added intensity of having maximally zoomed in on the subject’s face, magnifying whatever mood might be written thereon.
In the case of the aforementioned Boudreaux brother, your HA would have rather been wearing the photographer hat exclusively. Indeed, the gentleman’s face was written over with disgust and anger. Of course, upon meeting said gentleman (and after a costume change of the type we’ve discussed), all is duly sorted and nothing if not cordial.
I offer this only to demonstrate the precarious position of living a dualistic purpose: that of meeting for the first time the very family who make up the bulk of the subjects of photographic interest, which is definitely an alienating act for photographer and subject, at least in the aforementioned context.
Incidentally, the first noteworthy event of the trip (second if you count the drive-thru daiquiris in Lafayette, which I imagine most will and should (ask me)) found our team explicitly set its sights on becoming better acquainted with the family, or at least some core members thereof. It was on that night that your HA met both Yvonne’s mother, Elaine, and the elder of her two younger brothers, Michael, appropriately enough at the place of employment of the younger of the two, Paul, whom I had met briefly months before, on a short trip of his to Austin.
Dinner was lovely, and we were joined by an old friend of Yvonne’s, Mike Conner, with whom she had worked on various projects previous. The difficulty of being a vegan in Louisiana didn’t make itself apparent on this night, and in sooth, was a fairly low lighted theme throughout the journey, very likely because of the expected effect it would have, which was profound and constant. Beyond causing a few interesting questions and inquisitive stares, the vegan issue was little more than a minor annoyance, easily disarmed by a bit of humor at inevitability. A word of thanks and appreciation must go out to Miss Yvonne, who’s genuine goal of inclusion made this mountain into a molehill. Rest assured, Dear Reader, your Humble Author will get his. He altogether appreciates your concern on the matter.
The day following brought our team to Louisiana’s Old State Capitol Building, whose castle-like exterior was perhaps further ‘Disneyed’ somewhat by the vinyl sign which mentioned ‘The Ghost of the Castle,’ advertising the exhibit and a play which honors a ghost – that of ‘Sarah Morgan, an authentic Civil War-era figure, who loved the castle from the day it was built and wrote passionately about it.’
With all do respect to Miss Morgan, and/or the ghost thereof, one couldn’t help but anticipate (while climbing the steps of the ‘castle’) the swarms of engorged bees patrolling the space on and around the garbage bin, hoping with their lives that the next little brat, rendered uncontrollably shaky by his first – and presumably last – roller coaster, loosens the grip on his Coca-Cola flavored Icee just enough, unleashing a semi-melted flow of saccharine lifeblood, ensuring survival of the winged soldiers to the extent that said brat keep his distance and not warrant an attack, a circumstance that, in occurrence, surely ruins the days of all those involved, not to mention literally ending those of the successful kamikaze.
No such luck, of course, as we enter. The building’s interior is quite exquisite (see attached photograph); its grandiosity and class immediately dashing any hopes of locating a fabricated biergarten, which honestly might have proven welcome during breaks later that afternoon. Indeed, it seems the erection of the capital saw no expense spared, most notably in detail and color. Adorning the interior walls of the main tower are the Sam Houstons, Ann Richards, and Lyndon B. Johnsons of Louisiana’s storied history. Of utmost interest to us, of course, is the equally dynamic and controversial Huey P. Long.
Inside the chambers, we make our way to the press zone, designated most obviously by the row of fancy cameras and the less-than fancy folks in charge thereof. A phone call the night before had informed Miss Yvonne that, amongst the distinguished press to be present was Louisiana Public Broadcasting as well as C-Span. Knowing my audience as I do (what a luxury!) I imagine my description of the symposium itself might be somewhat repetitive, given its having been shown on the latter of the two channels.
We are treated to some opening remarks by Jay Dardenne, Louisiana’s acting Secretary of State, a man whose interest in the issues at hand seemed to reciprocate the respect given him by the people present, which was quite frank and obvious indeed. It was at this point, no more than five minutes into the thing that I, your Humble Author, realize that I would love to own a better zoom lens. I understand then and there that, in order to get the reflection-in-a-falling-tear-shot that has heretofore eluded me, I’ll need to beef up my arsenal. Inasmuch as this was not then and there possible, I was forced to resort to more clandestine and guerrilla tactics, which proved somewhat helpful.
The first panel was full of, well, eggheads. By the way, it takes one to know one. Relax. All well intentioned, well read, and well spoken, the eggheads spoke, for the most part, of the dichotomy that was Huey P. Long. In essence, a man who was hated for his iron-fistedness yet adored for his ability to ‘by God get things done.’ He is remembered as a bold and boisterous man whose advocacy for the people was perhaps only rivaled by his weariness thereof. He was able to lift people out of poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment, but only at the expense of countless others, not exclusively Dr. Carl Weiss and family. The shooting was discussed herein, although it took a backseat to the more general portraiture in which each of the nerd-alerts took part.
Immediately following these gents was the Long panel, which included blood descendents as well as friends of the family. The Long panel sounded more like a high school statistics class or possibly a State Board of Education meeting, in which numbers fill the air, less because they are spoken into it than because they really hold no weight, have no anchor to the real world. Of course, however, lasers, fire, and statistics endlessly wow us, and a great many of the attendees seemed captivated indeed.
As Tantalus with the low hanging fruit, we are able to see what nutrition we’re being offered. In the case of the Long panel statistics, we hear “unemployment, education, literacy, equality, populism, wealth sharing,” all delicious flavors we are unable to access. Information which might help us to verify or truly understand how exactly these fruits relate to reality, unfortunately, recedes from us, as did the waters at the waist of Tantalus. Thus we exist in a state of misinformation, unable to contextualize the meaning of the messages delivered by the Longs and company. I would be a fool, however, to think that there were not dozens of people in the audience who would praise the doings of Huey simply because of a desire for hunger quenching fruit.
Your Humble Author, of course, finds this to be terribly unsatisfying, and questions the merits and intentions of those that would thusly offer the fruit of knowledge. Also unsatisfying, but reasonable and expected, was the ability of the members of the Long panel to avoid the issue of the shooting, specifically the doubt cast on the account accepted by history. Referring to that account, Donald Pavy, member of the Weiss camp, once remarked, “The winners write history.”
The Long family panel was succeeded by lunch, paid for by a portion of the 50-dollar ticket price. In case you were wondering, yes, we did have to pay even as media and even with familial relations. The fact is that, of the three or four hundred in attendance, likely a quarter could claim some type of family ties. Yvonne did her duty both as producer and girlfriend, finding us some of the few vegetarian options, one of which your Humble Author subsequently altered to fit his diet. Lunch was over before it really started, which was fine, because it was lackluster to say the very least. Most of the hour was spent transferring, or attempting to transfer, footage from the video camera to the hard drives, which, as you might have guessed, weren’t working.
Herein stepped our first hero, a man aforementioned at the dinner scene: Michael Boudreaux, brother of our beloved producer Miss Yvonne. Being a Baton Rouge resident, he was able to pull himself away from his weekend duties to purchase and deliver a replacement hard drive. As you might have guessed, it didn’t work either.
Herein stepped our second hero, a woman aforementioned at the dinner scene: Miss Elaine, mother of our beloved producer Miss Yvonne. Being a Baton Rouge resident, she was able to pull herself away from her weekend duties to purchase and deliver a replacement hard drive. This time, you guessed incorrectly. It worked just fine. Our thanks to both of them, from photographer and boyfriend the like.
Immediately succeeding lunch came perhaps the most touching and emotionally charged presentation, that of Dr. Carl Weiss, Jr. We were asked to contemplate prior to the first verbal word of the talk, as above the stage, projected on a large rectangular media screen, were two grainy, black and white photographs. Both were of the father of Dr. Carl Weiss, Jr., Dr. Carl Weiss, the alleged assassin of Huey P. Long, and the other half of the pair of men that lost their lives that evening, some 75 years prior.
The photograph on the left shows a well-kempt, well-dressed young man at three-quarters profile, with a set of doctorly circular lenses adorning a cleanly shaven face, falling in front of a pair of obscure eyes, full of knowing. To the audience’s right is seen an image whose calamity and volume equals the tranquility of that on the left. It is of the recently deceased Weiss, fallen with arms somewhat outstretched, hands at shoulder height, white shirt unbuttoned, each side thereof resting on the cold stone floor of the State Capitol hallway. Due to the quality of the photograph after what have likely been multiple reproductions, it is difficult to differentiate between shadow and blood, though one knows without question that there is no shortage of either.
Our speaker, the son of the pictured, was seated on the stage, directly below these projections, awaiting his introduction by the aforementioned Secretary of State. His mood was stoic, ready, determined. After his introduction, he takes the stage to speak about his father, the accusation thereof, and of the effect on the family thereof. It is the first time in 75 years of living somewhat in the shadow of the accusation of his father – in spite of having established himself on the other side of the country – that he has spoken to a public audience about the issues above. One can only imagine the weight of this responsibility, a weight that likely has become increasingly burdensom in each of the three score plus years since Weiss discovered the truth of his father’s unnaturally violent end.
In the face of this, however, Dr. Weiss took the stage with grace and seeming comfort (although it is his aunt, Ida Pavy, who later explains that he was nervous beyond reason, as was she, herself, at the onset). He began by describing simply what are the circumstances behind his appearance at the symposium, namely, that though he was merely three months of age at the time, the death of his father has been an unavoidable presence throughout his adult life. We learned a bit more about Carl, Sr., both as an astute professional and a caring family man. We didn’t, however, learn much about his political identity, essentially because he didn’t identify with politics. He was, as Carl Jr. and others would remark throughout the weekend, apolitical.
We heard a number of compelling pieces of evidence offered by Carl, Jr., which seem to exonerate the young doctor, at least in the eyes of his son and family. Your Humble Author was terribly happy with the breadth of the honorable doctor’s evidence. Indeed, he spoke in defense with regard to forensics, motive, possibility, and consistency of testimony. His talk, both compelling and enjoyable, was met with a standing ovation at its completion, leading the Junior Weiss to retort thusly: “I take it from your standing ovation that you agree that my father is innocent.”
It was perhaps the most poignant portion of the symposium for me, a fact that without a doubt true for other symposium-goers. It was at this moment, after having been led by the talk, that I realized that the Barth quote that met us at the departure of this textual journey was absolutely true, and that our being at this symposium was not a group of speakers and an audience, talking about one or two men of interest. Rather, it was the crossing of hundreds of paths, narratives, enthralling, film-worthy narratives that happen to coincide for a number of hours. It became increasingly clear why Yvonne had chosen Carl as the key figure in a documentary. It also became similarly clear how one could have just as easily chosen anyone else and created a narrative in which this person is of utmost intrigue and importance; a hero, for lack of a better word.
There was a sense of pride that I think we, the seated, felt for and with Carl, Jr., at the time his speech ended. If I was able to see anything worth capturing through my camera lens, it was the change in Carl before and after his talk – but more specifically, those around Carl. Before lunch, Yvonne had asked me to capture shots of attendees as they left the chamber house, with a focus on the Weiss’, the Boudreaux’s, and the Pavy’s. I recognized Carl and was able to follow him through the slow sandwich line to pick up a boxed lunch. While doing so, he blends in, just another old man in a suit, possibly a historian, possibly a family member. It doesn’t really matter. He doesn’t really matter.
Of course, he is the hero in his life story. Because our crew knows a little about that life story, I know better than the others. We have made him a person of interest, and soon everybody will know, too. He proceeds through the line, settles on a turkey sandwich, and makes his way into the dining hall. There are no words. There are no handshakes. There is no interest in him, in the same way my camera treats the rest of the diners with absolute ignorance.
In contrast, upon completing his speech and receiving his ovation, Dr. Weiss, Jr. was literally swarmed by those with whom he had jockeyed for position and bumped shoulders no more than an hour previous. Young and old approach him, arms outstretched, for hugs and handshakes alike, all hoping to express their gratitude, possibly for having done something many of us would not have the courage to do. For, you remember, Dear Reader, it took this man 75 years to do just that, and he was evidently nervous as all get-out.
Following Dr. Weiss’ talk, we are witness to a panel of experts in various fields. There is a playwright and historian who starts, interestingly enough, with a performance piece of sorts, in which he attempts to orate in the dynamic style of Huey Long. Zinman’s the name, and he follows this with a narration of the night of the assassination, having conveniently filled with assumptions the holes that feed the debate of guilt on the part of Dr. Carl Weiss, Sr. His narrative is both compelling related to evidence as well as delivery, which deftly sets the scene. Your Humble Author is impressed with Zinman, which has nothing to do with his confusing your HA with a CNN photographer, which was flattering, indeed.
Zinman is followed by Donald Pavy, whose allegiance to the Weiss family, and more importantly their story, is clearly stated in a 13-point manifesto which details his reasons for disbelieving the accepted story, the story which pins the guilt squarely on Dr. Weiss, Sr. His delivery is curt, disconnected, and choppy, although one can see without much imagination that he, in contrast to Carl, has offered this information countless times, and his mood is that of one fed up with having to repeat the same information which repeatedly falls on deaf ears.
Captain Don Moreau, who claimed to have taken the unbiased position of a police officer aiming to evaluate the case by evidence only, succeeds Donald Pavy. While this is Moreau’s stated purpose, he seems to interject hearsay, suggestion, inference, and guesses. He does this craftily, though likely not with malice in mind, by hinting at possible explanations for the holes in the stories. His explanation is similar to Zinman, but quite a bit less self-aware.
Next up is Tom Angers, altogether forgettable, although clearly on the side of the Weiss contention. Last on our panel is one of the aforementioned eggheads, who has made a repeat appearance. He is taking the place of one Dr. James Starrs, who has made a name for himself having exhumed the bodies of several celebrities, including Jesse James. He becomes an agent in the Long case for the following reason: one of the evidential incongruencies is the caliber of the bullet that struck Huey Long and the gun carried by Dr. Carl Weiss.
According to the Weiss’, the bullet that eventually killed Huey Long – albeit aided by the miscues of those who attempted to revive him, another point of debate – is still with the corpse. If indeed it is, Dr. Starrs would like to know. He has expressed a desire to exhume the Long body, verify that there is a bullet in the casket, and thereby exonerate Weiss, both Carl and name. However, Starrs is not in attendance, a fact which to this day has no explanation. In his stead is a fairly bland, tautologue of a man who spoke about Huey as a dichotomy during the first session. To his credit, this man is terribly intelligent and extremely dedicated. His delivery, however, is unrefined and virtually endless. Compared to the others on this panel, he seems quite a bit too objective to fit the group. More passionate recklessness, egghead, if you please.
After these talks, the symposium had all but ended, and all that was left was a short reception at the Old Governor’s Mansion located just a few blocks away. We arrive after having captured some footage of the Huey Long museum rooms at the Capitol building, an interesting exhibit, indeed, complete with a copy of Long’s book which would be released posthumously, My First Days in the White House. Ambitious, indeed.
We arrive at the Mansion, hoping to get some interviews with a couple of key players, namely Russell Moseley Long, the descendent of Huey who spoke previous during the Long family panel. He seems like the youngest and most vibrant of the panel members, and his reaction to Dr. Weiss’ talk seems to point towards his agreeing to disagree about the happenings that has defined for ¾ of a century the identity of two families.
Before this could happen, however, we found ourselves being serenaded by a lovely volunteer docent who works with The Foundation for Historical Louisiana. She was singing the Long theme song of sorts, “Every Man A King,” painting a quite lovely portrait of populism in his Louisiana. She added vignettes to the serenade, including information about Huey and his meeting his wife. Her growing warmth to the idea of performing for the camera melted her shyness, and soon we were attempting to shake her as one might an attacking dog on one’s heels during a neighborhood bike ride.
As we attempt to make our escape, we look for our targets. We find Mr. Long Moseley, although it seems he is already the target of attention for some fellow party-goers. Considering these folks likely are personal acquaintances and that we, what with our cameras and (by now) clear affiliation with the Weiss side of things, it is very difficult to get in and request a moment of his time for an interview. Finally, Mr. Mars does just that, and Long Moseley agrees. However, it’s no more than a few moments before he is missing, and we’re unable to follow through. In the meantime, we find our beloved egghead, the one who has already graced us with his presence twice in the day.
Get this: he is interested in talking. He’ll even do it in front of a camera. So he does. In the meantime, your Humble Author has wandered off, looking for Moseley. By the time he returns to the supposed rendezvous spot, his wingers are missing, presumably locked away in a relatively quiet room so as maximize sound quality. He accepts his fate as a temporary wanderer, and promptly helps himself to some processed grain in two forms: first, from a bruschetta mountain of sorts, and second, from a pitcher of beer. He then relaxes and marvels at the brazen carelessness, or perhaps the drunken brazenness, of two fellow guests, slamming a bottle of wine and joking about how far they’ve to drive back home within the hour. Giggle, giggle.
About the time he convinces himself not to utter ‘derogatories’ about the people of Louisiana – for he knows that his home state of Texas has a formidable cast of characters in its own right (some might even claim to be family of his, incidentally) – he is rejoined by his faithful crew, who has finished with our favorite egghead, this time joined by his wife. As expected, his talk is reported to have been of little controversy or passion. What it lacks in these two, it makes up for in accuracy and objectivity. If there’s one thing I learned from this symposium, it’s that we can’t all be the Huey Long of the bunch. Would we even all want to?
On a quick trip to back to the Mt. Bruschetta, your Humble Author is greeted somewhat out of the blue by a gentleman who made an interesting comment about his familial connection to the case. Evidently, his father was to be Carl Weiss’ anesthesiologist on the day following the assassination, and had received the call verifying the place of the surgery. This, of course, is a small hint of evidence that seems to suggest that Dr. Weiss was not planning on murdering the Senator of the state that evening. Otherwise, one can’t help but surmise, he couldn’t have cared less as to the location of the surgery.
This gentleman, called Perry Snyder, seems terribly interested in sharing any information he might be able. I dutifully take down his number, and reply that I’ll toss his information to my crew that we may judge the necessity of another interview. We had long since arrival decided that we should get as much as possible on these, the few days we might have an audience primed for speaking about our subject. Inasmuch as we were still ‘in the zone,’ and ‘in the zone,’ for that matter, we grabbed Mr. Snyder and proceeded with an interview.
Your Humble Author found his way into the aforementioned secret, relatively noiseless room, and the happenings therein proved to be quite profound, indeed. Mr. Snyder, in addition to his professed personal connection to the case, had done quite a bit of research into it, and thus was able to add to this portion of the story as well. Towards the end of our talk – mind you we’re not aware it’s near the end during the moment – our tape begins to run out. Of course, we’re filming neither on tape nor on film. Rather, we’re capturing digital information, which explains the hard drive issues of earlier.
As we’re realizing this, Yvonne makes producer’s decision (entitlement be hers) and asks Mr. Snyder to share his thoughts about Carl’s talk earlier in the day. Mr. Snyder is clearly moved, and as the drive’s space runs down, as do the tears down the cheeks of the speaker. He explains that he was profoundly touched by the gravity of taking on the task of defending one’s dead father, some 75 years after his death, after some 75 years of damaged reputation, of living to some extent haunted by the name of the much maligned assassin of Huey P. Long. He believed that Carl spoke with eloquence, passion, and pride. It was this that caused Snyder’s waterworks to begin to overreact. Speaking of overreacting, he quickly asked that we cut this portion of the tape off, surely knowing that we can’t literally ‘cut’ digital footage. We’ll let him slide.
His testimony was sincere and quite beautiful, in fact. One doesn’t doubt that his reaction was shared by countless others in the audience that day as Dr. Carl Weiss spoke in defense of his father, but of himself as well, it seemed.
After we spoke with Mr. Snyder, we made our way out of the Old Governor’s Mansion, and put the mission on the backburner until the morning. Rest assured, Dear Reader, a break was in order. We found solace, eventually, in an outdoor patio of a restaurant smack-dab in the middle of town in the vicinity of the locations of our previous events. We meet with (the newly illustrious) Carl Weiss, his two wonderful daughters, Christina and Gretchen, along with Yvonne’s mother, Elaine (aforementioned superhero of harddrives) and brother, Paul (aforementioned brother working at the restaurant). It’s a nice dinner, and I’m thrilled, just thrilled, to dive into my “so-and-so pasta salad with all the good stuff taken off.” You see, I chose to have the chicken, bacon, cheese, and Parmesan held. It was just fine, thank you.
The next morning saw us heading back downtown from the hotel, which wasn’t all that difficult, especially given the navigation skills of Miss Yvonne, which without fail included the life-sustaining trips to Community Coffee. We arrived at the grounds of the new state capitol building, built by Huey Long, which are absolutely beautiful grounds, complete with a massive statue of Long adorning it’s main mall. This colossal structure, incidentally, is the single physical barrier keeping the aforementioned Dr. Starrs from simply garden-trowing his way to the casket which holds not only Huey P. Long, but, quite possibly, a key piece to this puzzle; a puzzle which, having been 75 years unsolved, remains so long after millions of others have reached completion. Perhaps there are parties who would rather not see the finished image for fear that it would tarnish their having tarnished for, lo, these three score and fifteen.
Regardless of your thoughts of the Long dynasty, or Huey personally for that matter, he is marked by a fabulous effigy, whose grandeur may only be overshadowed (literally, at times, depending on the angular relationship with the sun) by the state capitol building which he, himself, commissioned, and if testimony of docents and chatty citizens is to be trusted, built in what might be record time – if’n, of course, records are kept for such silly things. We need not egg on the human in such matters (keeping and attempting to beat records, that is) for fear of increasing the dangers of an already relatively precarious undertaking (building large edifices, that is). I hope you’ll enjoy the photos of the capitol grounds, beautifully flanked on the day in question by the bluest of skies (a detail I think just beyond the control of Long and his, of course).
The beauty followed us as we entered the great building – which, for the record (ha, ha), is the nation’s tallest state capitol at 450 feet. While your Humble Author marveled at the State House and Senate Chambers (the latter of which has a visible shard of shrapnel let loose by a late 1960s bomb stuck in its roof that is conveniently spotlighted by the crew of the place), his crewmates mingled outside shooting footage of the aforementioned statue. Your HA wandered to and fro, marveling for a number of minutes at the age of a set of computers directly outside the doors of the House Chamber. He also was interested to see the futile efforts of a number of parents, both mothers and fathers, single and in teams, to 1) calm their young children down, and 2) prove to their children that any of this should make any difference in anything, now or ever.
Shortly, we’re reunited as a crew, in the very hallway that is perhaps the least biased – yet most guarded – witness we’d yet encountered in our little sojourn from the Lone Star State. Pointed out to us is the confirmed bullet hole in the side of a pillar, as is the second scar to the interior of the building, whose origins are quite less clear. We speak with more authority about the happenings than is probably warranted, and your Humble Author would be a liar if he hadn’t, by this point in the trip, developed a sense of pride at having been connected to such a captivating story. It is up to you, Dear Reader, to determine if your HA’s feelings are immature. It is also up to you, excepting in the case of a supportive point of view, to keep that determination a secret.
After shooting a number of things, excluding Senators, Governors, Doctors, pillars, amongst countless others, we make our exit, being sure not to forget thanking on the way out those who helped us as we came in.
To Ida Pavy’s house we go; Ida, of course, being the previously referenced aunt to Dr. Carl Weiss, Jr. and a resident of Opelousas, Louisiana. We arrive and are greeted warmly by an unbelievably hospitable threesome: Ida Pavy, Albert Pavy, and our beloved Dr. Weiss at their side. It’s no more than a moment before your Humble Author has taken up the offer for a tall bourbon and water, the offer having been made by Albert Pavy, known ‘colorfully’ as Pop Rouge, upon entry. Whiskey in hand, cool and refreshing, your HA is given the grand tour by Pop Rouge, whose knowledge of his domain as well as his desire to disseminate it seems to surpass even the professionals at the capitol building. As a side note, amongst his stories was that of Tantalus, who found his way into this paper, just a number of pages ago. If you have made it this far and don’t remember Tantalus, you should go back and start over. You’ve missed something.
Our mission here in Opelousas is twofold, and is the culmination of the theme of the weekend, which has been living a dichotomous existence; metaphorically, the portions of this dichotomy represented by different hats that have been worn by your Humble Author, and presumably countless others in attendance for a whole myriad of reasons. In this collection of moments at the Pavy residence, the hats begin to fuse together, to become one, until soon enough, your Humble Author is unable to tell them apart. Sounds, terrifying, I know, but there is a great deal of beauty in it. Allow me to explain.
To the extent that I, over the course of these hours and these whiskies, begin to understand and furthermore embrace my position as a personally connected but simultaneously artistically interested person, I also begin to appreciate the profundity of the work that Miss Boudreaux has put into this project. For, you see, Dear Reader, it is more than a project. To name it thusly is unjustifiably reductionist, and denies the personality that the multiple narratives have for Yvonne. Only now do I begin to realize that the complexity found in relationships between humans is to be expected and should be appreciated, especially when one considers the complexity of each individual when evaluated in a vacuum.
I begin to internalize the idea that, aside from all the wikipedia entries, cocktail receptions, and history book debates, there is value to this whole thing, at least in my universe, because of the value that it holds in Yvonne’s life. My interest inevitably becomes more than simply an intrigued person in isolation, or on the other hand, a boyfriend in isolation who is acting as support for his lady, and becomes an aggregate of the two. This fusion turns out to be much more powerful, as you might have guessed, than either of the two elements in isolation.
We get back into the car after I come to feel this, only partially understood, and even less able to be verbalized, and head back for home. It’s only too soon – around 9 pm – that we encounter, literally, standstill traffic on the Louisiana side of Houston. We’re detoured off I-10, presumably to avoid the chemical spill that awaits us just a mile or so ahead, and don’t see the interstate until about 11 pm. In the two hours, we’ve been blazing at about one-sixth stagecoach speed, and it’s not beyond our technological and mathematical scope to know that it’ll be near three in the morning by the time we roll into town. We were happy to beat traffic, you must know.
After having a near facilities failure at a gas station a couple of hours out, we enter Austin city limits as expected, around three, drop off our faithful professional Jonny, and each head for the sack. I imagine none of the three of us was asleep in our beds a moment before 3:30 in the AM, which, as you might expect, made Monday morning come more than too soon. Of course, in the same way that he was in such mornings uplifted by the hugs and smiles of elementary school students years back, your Humble Author was, on this day uplifted by the devotion and passion of his current batch of learners, the adults. Through it they got together, and the world was as it should be.
In the weeks that have followed – for you see, I sit finishing this (insert your word here), the date on my computer tells me that it’s October 11 – I have come to see the value added to the entire experience by the appreciation of my crewmates, specifically the most proximally connected (YB). In isolation, as a nerd, I would have found the event mildly amusing, Dr. Weiss’ speech mildly moving, and the statue at the capitol mildly awesome. However, having seen, if only for a number of select moments, through the eyes of a family member related to the story, the history, I realize that we are the ones with the power to create beautiful stories, really to determine reality.
Theorized by Berkeley, it sounded like this, “Omne esse est percipi.” Not bad, but let us, Dear Readers, finish as we started, with the rarely-matched John Barth, for his words indeed fit my departing sentiments.
“Nothing is intrinsically valuable; the value of everything is attributed to it,
assigned to it from outside the thing itself, by people.”