In this week’s Treme, many of our favorite characters break out of their stasis and finally find something to do. For Creighton and Davis, it’s finding new and exciting ways to rabble-rouse. For Antoine, it’s a road trip to Baton Rouge. For Sonny, it’s heroin. And for Albert, it’s that nice lady around the corner. All this, plus George Pelecanos’s favorite episode of Friends, in Treme episode four: “At the Foot of Canal Street.”
Antoine’s at one of the two ERs in the city, waiting and waiting for someone to see him about his busted lip. Soon he starts improvising a song about being in the waiting room, and then he’s that dude who’s singing in the waiting room. And because New Orleans is a city that Loves Music, everyone laughs and drums along instead of just sliding away from him, which is what you would do in the same situation, be honest.
Credits! Hey, George Pelecanos wrote this one. Let’s see where everyone’s favorite Washington crime novelist turned teleplay maestro takes our characters, one at a time.
Sonny Goes to Houston
A couple of Sonny’s buddies are talking him into a roadhouse gig in Houston, sitting in with a band and getting some exposure. “It’s gonna be a road trip — an American road trip. Not like Holland or Hamsterdam or wherever you’re from.” Good to know that some people in New Orleans have been watching The Wire — at the time, the episode in question was less than a year old. Sonny winds up going, and tells Annie not to cheat on him with any other piano players while he’s gone.
At the roadhouse, Sonny and his friends watch a peewee sized bouncer stand up to a couple of different huge dudes and live to tell the tale. Then Sonny talks his way onstage, where the band lets him accompany them on Fats Domino’s “Going to the Mardi Gras” on a shitty electric piano. But that’s all he gets — Houston is full of displaced Louisianans, and soon Joe Krown is on that piano while John Boutté, he of the Treme theme, wails on the mike. Sonny, invigorated by the song but dejected to know his night is through, takes a stranger up on an offer of a hit, since, after all, it’s bone-dry in New Orleans.
Later, a stoned Sonny tells the bouncer how great New Orleans is, and how sooner or later we all die and you have to leap at opportunities, etc. Soon the bouncer’s in the car with the Nola boys on the road back home.
Meanwhile, Annie’s played a couple of gigs with not-Steve Earle, who mentions a recording session he’s heard about that needs a fiddle. Annie gives a little backstory to not-Steve and his playing partner, not-Steve’s son Justin: She came to the city a year and a half ago with Sonny, whom she met backpacking in Europe. Before that, she trained several years in conservatory in New York.
A little later, saxman Joe Braun asks if she wants to sit in, and she demurs — “I really shouldn’t without Sonny.” “Baby,” Joe replies, correctly, “he couldn’t carry your bow.” So Annie plays. Sonny enters the bar in the middle of a killer solo. His eyes flicker over to the band’s piano player, and he smiles.
Albert Goes to Dinner
Albert only had homeowner’s insurance, not flood insurance, so his agent tells him he’s out of luck despite 34 years of payments. “How you get to sleep at night, man?” Albert asks, preparing to storm out. The agent, miserable, looks up at him. “I drink,” he replies.
Albert hears from his hauling buddy, Robinette, that lovebird Darius is a nice kid but a little bit lazy. At Indian practice, Darius shows up and enjoys the chants, drumming along on a beer bottle. Later that night his aunt Lulu shows up, worried about him, but she’s soon distracted by the majesty of Albert’s purple silk shirt. Soon Albert’s got a dinner invitation and Darius has a dawning realization about his aunt’s libido.
At dinner, Lulu makes sure Albert’s not a loser, and seems reassured when he takes a call from his daughter. Albert really loves Lulu’s bread pudding, if you know what we mean. Whoa! After we write that, Lulu and Albert have a hilarious exchange that goes right past innuendo to outuendo. “I got a crack in my wall upstairs need tending to,” Lulu smolders. “I could maybe take a look at that for you later,” Albert purrs. “Bowm chicka bowm-bowm,” we sing to the screen.
The next day Wild Man’s son Lorenzo comes to Albert to tell him his grandmother doesn’t want the Indians doing their Indian thing at the funeral. She didn’t approve, he says. “For her it was disreputable.” This is a thing? I thought that the Mardi Gras Indians were like royalty? Please explain, Dave Walker of the New Orleans Times-Picayune!
Davis Goes Into Politics, Maybe
Davis drives his shitty car to Sophia’s piano lesson, but hits something that makes him tilt on a 30-degree angle. A handmade sign tells him he’s busted his axle on a pothole called the “New Orleans Cave of Mystery.” Oh shit, I think Albert hit that just last night!
A passerby offers to have his nephew take Davis to his appointment on a motorcycle — “for a small trip charge of course.” Davis leaves his keyboard and his amp in the car; the guy agrees to watch his stuff.
Creighton’s getting pissed off watching W’s Jackson Square speech on YouTube when Davis knocks on the door. Davis complains about Entergy filling in wire-work potholes with gravel and asks Creighton for a ride back to his car. Once they get there, Davis can’t believe that his window’s broken and his shit is gone; in a rage, he knocks over the inflatable Santa in his would-be protector’s yard. Creighton watches his unhinged freak-out appreciatively, as one artist admires another.
Janette’s got her own Entergy problems; the gas at her restaurant keeps shutting off, ruining even her full nights. Out drinking with Davis, she watches him raise a sarcastic glass to Mayor Nagin, the City Council, the Army Corps, FEMA, and Entergy. (As a music nerd, though, he should be ashamed — Annie’s playing outside the bar with Steve Earle! But no one recognizes him, so maybe he’s supposed to be Walon.) After watching Davis flirt with Annie, Janette gets a little jealous — or maybe she just hits rock-bottom, realizing all she’s got in New Orleans is a dying restaurant and Davis Fucking McAlary. Once she’s gone, some of the other barflies give Davis the bright idea of running for City Council, and soon he’s drinking wine in his house, laying down a campaign rap FOR REAL advocating legalizing marijuana and using the funding to fix roads. He calls it Pot for Potholes.
Creighton, who’s been putting off his novel and sitting around the house in his bathrobe, finally gets it together enough to record his first YouTube rant. “I just want to say something to all y’all trying to figure out what to do about our city,” he declares. “Blow me.” He finishes, salutes, and signs off with a grin. It’s nice to see someone with a hobby! Needless to say, within days Creighton’s being recognized at the coffee shop — and getting his latte comped by a barista who admiringly quotes him back to himself: “Fuck you, you fuckin’ fucks!”
Delmond Goes to a Party
Delmond and his girl Jill walk through Brooklyn Heights talking about their three “exceptions” — the three celebrities that you are allowed to hit on, no matter what the status of your long-term relationship. His are Beyoncé, Gabrielle Union, and Janet Jackson, ha. She picks Bernie Williams. Then she picks Tarell Alvin McCraney, with whom she claims she went to drama school, and who (four years after this) will bust onto the theatrical scene with The Brother/Sister Plays. “He’s gay, but he counts,” and right now every playwright in America under the age of 40 is shouting at the screen, “Fucking Tarell Alvin McCraney, you get the Young Vic, the Public, and fucking Treme?” (He is hot, though.) Then she picks McCoy Tyner. “Aw, you just wasted your last pick on a 70-year-old jazzman,” Delmond chides her.
And then! They’re at a fancy New York party well-stocked with jazz legends and also Stanley Crouch and Nelson George. And then they meet McCoy Tyner! I would not have expected George Pelecanos’s favorite Friends episode to be “The One With Frank Jr.” — Pelecanos seems like he would enjoy the grittier eighth season. Anyway, this is pretty funny, especially when Delmond grumps, “You fuckin’ set me up,” and Jill replies, “There’s Janet Jackson!” Oh, the hopeful look on Delmond’s face.
Toni and Ladonna Go Back to Jail
Toni is at least a little down with OPP — her one friend in the Orleans Parish Police lets her know that the prisoner wearing David Brooks’s I.D. bracelet is actually a dude about to go to trial for murder named Kevon White, or maybe Hevon, or Heavon, or Keivan. (I didn’t quite get it, so I am just going to continue calling him Slim Charles.) Toni, Ladonna, and Ladonna’s mama go see Slim Charles in jail, where he’s dismissive when Toni asks why he’s wearing David’s bracelet. “Maybe we goin’ steady,” he says.
But Ladonna slams her hand down on the table and growls, “Look at us, goddammit.” Slim Charles sighs and explains that he and David were together on the overpass just after Katrina, with no water and no protection. Charles noticed David “was soft … he was shiverin’.” He was jonesing, in fact, for drugs, though neither Ladonna nor mama want to hear that. At a camp down the road Charles told David he would protect him if they traded bracelets. “I wasn’t about to wear no murder bracelet,” Charles points out. “I could wear one with some bullshit charges on it.” He turns to David’s mother. “Respectfully, ma’am?” he says. “I know how to jail. Your boy don’t.” And no, he won’t sign a statement — he’s got enough trouble already.
Antoine Goes to the Dentist
Finally out of the hospital, Antoine visits Ladonna at Gigi’s, where she serves him a hot meal and some R&B. And how hilarious is it that even in a series that is about New Orleans music, George Pelecanos cannot stop himself from having two characters engage in a thoroughly Pelecanosian discussion of who sang the 1970 Stax B-side on the jukebox? Antoine’s self-mythologizing; no one remembers Ollie and the Nightingales, he says, and soon no one will remember him either. Practical Ladonna sends him to Baton Rouge to see his boys … and for some cheap, possibly embouchure-saving dental care from her husband.
After a disappointingly non–Marathon Man session with his wife’s new dentist husband, Antoine gives his kids apparently inappropriate presents and takes them out to dinner. (I get why a Nerf bat is stupid for a kid who’s on a travel baseball team, but why is his older son so disappointed by a Deuce McAllister Saints jersey? (Oh, maybe it’s because Deuce was on IR for most of the ‘05 season with a torn ACL. Whoa, Treme! Very impressive. I will never question you again.) In the mall parking lot, his kids suggest chain restaurants, with one son shouting “T.G.I. Friday’s is the bomb!” (David Simon Thesis Statement?) They end up at the Olive Garden, where Antoine tells them they’ll always be in his heart.
He repeats the message the next day, as he boards the Swift Bus back to New Orleans. The old lady sitting next to him asks, “Is this a business or a pleasure trip for you?” which, come on, I would bet my last trombone that no one ever said that on the free post-Katrina bus from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. Anyway, he issues the real David Simon Thesis Statement: “Pleasure,” he says. “New Orleans: always for pleasure.”
Dave Walker doesn’t explain that Indians thing, but he does explain everything else, including the resonances of that final line, in his essential weekly post on Nola.com.
On the AV Club, Keith Phipps nails the sex appeal of Clarke Peters: He plays “the sort of characters women turn to when they’re done with boys and want to spend time with a man.”