The ruins of the future

January 29, 1996|By Andrei Codrescu

NEW ORLEANS -- The imaginary line between past, present and future has been under assault in America for a long time, but in New Orleans it has been breached beyond repair. A monument to this idea stands now at the heart of New Orleans, right by the Mississippi River, the Convention Center and the Aquarium, all prime tourist real estate.

It's the two-thirds-finished Harrah's Casino. This architectural, civic, social and political nightmare is snarling traffic, making politicians foam at the mouth, and it gives the moralists among us a reason to shake our heads.

Like many communities around the country now, the city of New Orleans believed that gambling was the solution to our economic woes and that big-time gamblers like Harrah's actually have a heart.

We found out how wrong that was after Harrah's stopped all work on the day before Thanksgiving and fled in the night, declaring bankruptcy for the spinoff front they'd created for this enterprise.

The city was out millions of dollars it foolishly counted in this year's budget, and hundreds of businessmen Harrah's owed money to were ripped off. And the Thanksgiving present to thousands of construction workers was a spot in the unemployment line.

The massive, windowless hulk of the future sucker emporium is genuinely ugly. If it had been finished it would have ranked among the kitschiest in the U.S., and that's a lot in a country which likes its history a la Disney.

Proposals for uses of the building have been plentiful: Turn it into a insectorium-cum-prison for the politicians who delivered us to the fleece biz. That way the bugs can torture them into eternity. Or, make it into a museum of greed and bad taste and display examples of this throughout civic history (of course, the place may not be big enough for that).

I have another idea: leave the building exactly as it is. These are the ruins of the future. Only in America would the future move so fast it would be in ruins before it even happened. They don't have monuments like that anywhere else in the world. Only here can the future be passe in the blink of an eye.

Andrei Codrescu edits Exquisite Corpse: a journal of letters & life in Louisiana.

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