Chris Rose writes about Ashley Morris
Tribute to Ashley Morris the blogger next door
One day last year, while wandering around a blog called the Library Chronicles, I came across this phrase:
“Chris Rose is a douchebag.”
I was intrigued. I mean, how could I not be?
COURTESY OF ASHLEY MORRIS BLOGAshley Morris was a loud and large web voice to hundreds of New Orleanians via his blog.
So I began cruising the suggested Internet links at the Library Chronicles, which led to other blogs and they led to other blogs, and pretty soon I had left the Drudge Report and Perez Hilton behind forever, now drawn into the worlds of Humid City, Right Hand Thief, Prytania Waterline, Gentilly Girl, Ray in New Orleans, Adrastos, Cajun Boy in the City and many, many more, a massive community of underground writers, cranks and misanthropes who are keeping it real around here.
And that’s how I met — or I should more accurately say, encountered — Ashley Morris.
His eponymous blog was loud and large in the cacophony of New Orleans voices. Others clearly admired his barbs, his wit, his observations, and they let him know with postings on his blog. And his back story was larger than life as well.
The subtitle of his blog was a lyric from a Warren Zevon song: “Excitable boy, they all said.” Though he was a college professor in Chicago, he lived in New Orleans and commuted. That’s how much he loved this place. And he took to task anyone and anything he thought was not New Orleans true, New Orleans pure.
That included me from time to time. He used to skewer me. He called me a tool for former City Councilman Jay Batt and mocked my accent when I appeared on television. I used to read all these things, and all the snarky postings on his blog by others, and wonder: Who are these people?
They are members of the vibrant New Orleans blogosphere, virtual warriors who lock and load for hours over their computers at night, driving legions of opinions, complaints, vitriol and humor out onto the Information Superhighway, giving both locals and outsiders alternative, sometimes insightful and always uncensored accounts of life in the Big Uneasy.
Some blogs are funny. Some are wickedly funny. And some are just wicked.
The bloggers do their thing for the Web, I do my thing for the newspaper, and never did our paths cross — until about three weeks ago, when I got an e-mail from Morris.
He was taking to task the crews that are currently working Uptown, laying new gas lines. When they dig on the corners, they are breaking the classic tile letters that mark the streets of old New Orleans. He told me I should write about it.
To anyone, but particularly to Morris, this is more than a crime against aesthetics or history. It is a crime against New Orleans. And to prove his point, he sent me a photo of “our corner,” where indeed, the letters were gone, and only freshly poured white concrete remained.
What caught me was the phrase: “Our corner.”
I e-mailed him back. I asked him who he was and what he meant by “our corner.”
He identified himself. Turns out, he lived across the street from me. That pain in the ass Ashley Morris was my neighbor!
And it turns out I loved this guy; he gave my kids candy (and me a cigar) on Halloween, and he often invited me over to drink fresh Abita beer from the kegerator he kept plugged in on his porch.
I never accepted the invitation. I don’t know why, really, other than I am generally anti-social. And I had no idea who he was.
What I loved most about this neighbor of mine was that he, like me, still has not taken down his Christmas lights. Our street shines prettier than most. That’s such a New Orleans thing, the not taking down Christmas lights.
So Morris, now identified, invited me over for a beer and a smoke. “When I get back to town,” he wrote to me in an e-mail dated March 29. And this time, I accepted.
Thing is, Ashley never made it back to town. He died April 2 in a hotel room.
I don’t know the cause, but he was huge and he lived too large and laughed too loud and that kind of behavior can kill a man.
He left three very young children. And he was married to a Big Easy Rollergirl so, at his funeral last Friday, her teammates paraded on their skates. “It looked like a fleet of black angels,” his widow, Hana, told me.
The Hot 8 Brass Band played. There was a crowd. The nameless, faceless players on the New Orleans blogging underground. Amateur curmudgeons and armchair editorialists all. Minus one.
Ashley Morris. One of the voices in the wilderness, raging at the machine, tilting at windmills and fighting for everything New Orleans, his New Orleans, my New Orleans. Defending her until death.