Lee Matalone: Creative Non-Fiction: Dec 2021

Southern legitimacy statement: I’ve spent nearly my whole life in the South, though I’ve never really thought of myself as a Southerner. I studied at Thomas Jefferson’s University. Completed my graduate studies in the shadow of the chemical plants of Southwestern Louisiana. Taught at a university with a tiger mascot in a place without tigers. What makes you from a place? I like my crawfish spicy and citrusy and salty Smithfield ham. I like magnolia trees and azaleas. Maybe I am a Southern girl after all.

Craft Talk

When you are young you are inspired by everything, a single man at a dive bar on St. Claude that served pierogies and hosted amateur drag nights, a man who gave you a book of stories he wrote, signed it right there for you in the dark, he was a doctor, on call, you remember, and you knew little about adult-drinking— when you first got to the city at twenty-two you’d ordered an old fashioned at the same bar, and the tone of the man’s voice serving drinks made you feel stupid for ordering anything with bitters, something you know now is not something you readily find at a place like that— he was not in scrubs, it was not that egregious, or even if he was in scrubs you are taking him out of scrubs now because it is too on the nose for story, even if it did happen in real life, and you knew that a doctor is not supposed to be drinking while on call but this was New Orleans and even doctors drank, you just came to expect that everyone was a little buzzed, though you’ve never been a big drinker, you’ve had a friend say, an alcoholic who is in AA and taking care of his problem, who is doing very well, who you met in New Orleans when he was not doing well, in that sense, that New Orleans is a place that will bring out your vices, or maybe it was someone else who said that, but you’ve never had any vices like that, your vice is not place dependent, bad men live everywhere (unfortunately), though if you encounter one with a drinking problem chances are you’ll find him down here (and you did, at one time), so this doctor, you say single and not lonely because you have learned to avoid most cliches, though the title of his book even had the word jukebox in it, and he really was some cliche of New Orleans now that you think of it, the way he started chatting you up without apprehension, one beer, two beers, and you can’t recall what you talked about but you’re sure you talked about writing, because everyone’s an artist in some way down here and every writer talks about writing, and he really was a living, drinking cliche of The Big Easy, a term that’s always felt off because this city is hard for many, many people, the lack of opportunity not easy, the violence not easy, he was the type of guy you would be inspired to write about, that was destined to be in someone’s story, but he’s never appeared in your story because you’ve never needed him, never needed him to elucidate something about humankind, but now you need him (sometimes cliches are useful, sometimes they are cliches because the cliche is the realest thing) because he is a representation of a city you feel understood by, which you’ve never been able to put into words exactly why, and that is what symbols, stories are for, helping you make sense of things you don’t understand, because he is a representation of the foibles of men, of the dangers of trusting in the signifiers (green scrubs=safety, protection; I’ll be here, always = action, follow through), and now you are putting him into words because you need him, you need each other.