Treme: A Glossary

Treme is about to become your new favorite show.  You may not know this yet, but it’s true.  HBO has already ordered a second season before the first one has even wrapped.  The television-watching intelligentsia have been waiting for David Simon’s return to a regular series—not quite as rabidly as Salinger fans were waiting for him to die, but in a much more urgent, sugar-rush way.  This is still TV, after all.  Writing must still be an axe to the frozen soul.  Television can get by being a pair of safety scissors to the fleshy palm.  Not to say that Treme isn’t moving, that it doesn’t up the ante of the ensemble drama.  Not to say that Treme won’t be the pop culture representation of New Orleans that finds accuracy and meaning where dozens of other offerings have failed.  Not to insult you, gentle reader, or your savvy.  I’m just pointing out that Treme is going to be everyone else’s favorite show in two months, so it might as well be yours, too.  HBO will advertise it that way subtly.  The bloggers will try to outdo each other to announce new leit motifs and strata of meaning.  Your friends will start calling each other “brah” and listening to Rebirth Brass Band albums for awhile.  So to help you get out ahead of this juggernaut of Meaningful Television, I’ve compiled a glossary of terms that you will need to know.

But, first, a little slack has to be given.  The critics, the bloggers, your friends, hell, even David Simon himself aren’t to blame for finding New Orleans’ culture an untapped cache of indie cred.  This has been happening for decades, ever since the localized, mini-Depression caused by the oil bust and crack epidemic of the 80s cheapened the rents, cheapened the thrills, and finally wrecked most of the Old Money interests.  New Orleans has always been a throughway for vagabonds, misfits, soldiers of fortune, and troubadours, but for the past twenty-odd years it has needed to open up to these people in ways it had been uncomfortable doing since the era of mass immigration.  Transplants helped the city survive.  And as each wave of transplants succeeded, its members found themselves taking the same attitude the reluctant natives had met them with: I was here first, so don’t get too comfortable, shithead.  I’ve been adopted, but we have to draw the line somewhere or there just won’t be enough New Orleans to go around.  You will see this attitude portrayed in Treme.

Of course, no one ever draws the line, and the transplants have kept coming, have started subsequent generations, have redefined “native.”  The argument runs like a prayer-wheel: is the city being watered down?  Are subcultures becoming endangered?  Will the history succumb to the developers?  There’s a joke amongst the realists.  On Good Friday in 1788 a fire almost completely destroyed the city and new buildings had to be erected.  Some of the old locals looked around afterward and tutted, “It just ain’t like it used to be.”

At some point every American must care deeply for a place, a town, a city whether he was born there or not, whether he has even been there or not.  It just so happens that New Orleans—by destiny, by geographic genetics—is a magnet for the imagination.  That is what Treme is about, modernizing that imagination, revising the perceived history for the rest of the nation.  I’m confident that it will help transform a portion of greater America’s understanding of how much damage was done to the city and its inhabitants and of how unique its music and food cultures are.  Unfortunately, the show seems to be hellbent on doing this at a breakneck pace.  The 80 minute pilot is a crash course in lingo, location, and loyalty even without John Goodman popping up as a one-man mythbuster.  I’ve been living here for three years and try to keep tabs on all corners of the city and I barely could keep up.  But it felt good to keep up, to be able to analyze what was going on.  It’s human nature to enjoy knowledge shared by only a few.  So don’t feel bad for just signing up now.  Get this information in you so you can take your place in line and laugh when you look over your shoulder at all the late-comers.

A Treme Watcher’s Glossary of Terms

The Storm, The Flood, The Hurricane—all interchangeable with “Katrina”

OPP—not other people’s problems, but rather the Orleans Parish Prison, referred to recently by a local columnist as “the state’s largest psychiatric ward.”

Ward—an area of the city comprised of various neighborhoods that are similar to each other, more historically relevant than demographically accurate, though African-American citizens from the Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth wards can be found to possess a certain pride in their ward that supersedes a pride in the city

JP—short for Jefferson Parish, the adjoining parish to Orleans, but more commonly referring to a Jefferson Parish Sherriff Deputy; i.e., “I rolled through a stop sign and a JP stopped me.  He beat up my black friend but let me go after fondling my wife’s breasts.”  HAHA! Get it?  Local humor, folks.  Is it funny because it’s true? Tune into future episodes of Treme to find out.

Brah—an abbreviated version of “brother” that is common throughout the entire metro area; related to, but not quite in the same vein as, “Bro”

Frozen Chinese Crawfish—prepackaged crawfish that are considered inferior to local, fresh-caught crawfish due to all the fat breaking down during processing and shipping; nevertheless, almost any crawfish found in a dish in a reasonably priced restaurant will be of this variant

Not even Monday—Red beans and rice were traditionally served on Mondays because people had time on Sundays to soak the beans; one of countless examples of a practice that started out of necessity being upheld just for the sake of the tradition

Indian—in what I’m sure was the biggest “what the fuck just happened?” moment for most of the viewing audience, Detective Lester Freamon emerged from the darkness of the night smacking a tambourine and wearing Lady Gaga’s version of a Big Bird costume.  DO NOT BE FRIGHTENED.  This is the attire of a Mardi Gras Indian, a man who belongs to a neighborhood club of important, wise, or just well-connected men who handmake their own Indian costumes and display them on Mardi Gras day in semi-serious game of one-up-man-ship with similar tribes in nearby neighborhoods.  It’s a very complicated, unique practice that dates back at least a hundred years, and is extremely important to those who undertake it

Kermit Ruffins–is a real person.  I know, right?

Elvis Costello—not THE Elvis of course, but rather the John Cusack of indie rock, known for such hits as, well, I can’t think of the names but you’d know them if you heard them.  I have no idea why he was in the pilot.  He’s British for god’s sake.

Budweiser—the official beer of Treme, for some reason.  I have yet to see an entire bar full of locals swilling back Budweiser, or been to any festival, crawfish boil, party, or wedding in the area where the predominant choice of beer was an American-style lager, much less Budweiser.

Female breast to Male buttocks ratio—The traditional American television show that draws from the nudity well in an attempt to be more “gritty” or “realistic” follows the usual 8:1, which is the gold standard.  David Simon is what is known as a “groundbreaking genius,” so he prefers the less familiar 0:3 in his programs.

Treme Trench—a term I devised to describe the large dips that occur when a heavy crane used in the shooting of Treme collapses the delicate strata below a the pavement of a city street; some have been known to reach three feet deep and are now part of my daily commute

So there you have it, kids: a definitive guide to the things you might have missed on your first viewing of an episode of Treme.  Read more about it in the Greatsociety forums!

3 Comments on “Treme: A Glossary

  1. …because he was in New Orleans in October-November 2005 — the first major musician to record in the city since the storm, when he joined Allen Toussaint at Piety Studios to create the River in Reserve album.

    That part is accurate and had deep meaning in the musical community.

  2. Cass’s girlfriend again. Got some more to add:

    Hubig’s: Like McDonald’s pies only 46 times better. Wrapped in paper. Largely unavailable after the storm, and referred to by Simon himself as “a magical Hubig’s Pie.”
    East Bank/West Bank: Banks of the Mississippi River. New Orleans proper is on the East bank, but Wendell Pierce’s character is spending most of his time living with his baby momma on the West Bank. And he doesn’t have a car. Also the term “across the river,” which should now be clear.
    Second Line: Originally an impromptu parade, one that consists of revelers not officially part of the Krewe, following after the parade (the official parade being the “first line,” get it?).
    Sno-Balls: Made of shaved ice and liquid sugar, a popular line of defense against the truly obscene summer heat.