Friday, March 17, 2017

Jazz Fest Gospel Tent 2017

Under the Gospel Tent
Phil LaMancusa
Probably the oldest and very first attraction at The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is the Gospel Tent.  At the first Jazz Fest in 1970 at Congo Square, where the tickets were $3.00, there were four stages and the Gospel Tent; many of the acts did not even have microphones. One of the first performers at that festival in the Gospel Tent was a woman named Mahalia Jackson, possibly the greatest gospel singer of all times and she was, as they said, “returning home to perform”. Forty-seven years later, as you know, the Fest has grown; but one rock that has remained steady is our Gospel Tent, the first you hear as you arrive at the Sauvage Street entrance and the last to sing you on your way when you leave.  This year, the sound of Irma Thomas’ gospel voice will be gracing us from her heart to ours; the tickets, as you guessed, are priced higher.
Anyone with the sense of a sea urchin knows that New Orleans is a spiritual city; scratch the surface of any folk here and they will assure you that they are “blessed to be alive” to which the proper response is: “I know that’s right!”  Why few white people here under the age of forty do not carry this message on their sleeve, lips and in their daily life is a mystery to me; I reckon that once you reach a certain age or if you were brought up singing the praises of the Lord (instead of petitioning the Lord with prayer), you naturally feel blessed every day, faithful and grateful. Consider the names of some of the groups: Shades of Praise, Abundant Praise, New Orleans Spiritalettes, Anointed Voices, The New Orleans Gospel Soul Children and/or The Mount Calvary Voices of Redemption.
Be that as it may, I and my peer group count our days on this mortal coil as gifts from a higher authority, and praise be to whichever power that that may be. It’s really really easy for me to worship the thousand faces of God/Goddess that have granted me my life because I believe in them all; I am a Christian, Jew, Agnostic, Hindu, Buddhist, Baptist, Bacchus, beer drinking believer in the benevolence and bedlam of being.  Every Jazz Festival at the Gospel Tent my belief in Lord Jesus is super jump started again, with a charge strong enough to carry me through the year, you might say… sanctified and electrified. Every year when I go to the Fest, I know where to find Jesus and how could I not pay a visit, in fact several visits each day that I attend?
The advantage of being an all believer (from Atheism to Zoroastrian) is that I can wander down any path and find my higher power ready to give my soul the strength that it needs to survive the weakness of my reserve, give me reserves to challenge my temptations, courage to fight my demons and put some gut in my strut; and when I walk into the Gospel tent my soul is filled with the power of the people, performances and pure joy in the Lord. The music, the singing the spirit is infectious and I find myself swaying, singing, clapping and snapping with the holy, yes holy, atmospheric pressure.
Fair to say at this point that by in large were talking about an African American spirituality experience, for while I understand that white folks can have gospel soul, they are (by in large) not as rhythmically inclined to belt out their raised voices in the adoration to one who can and truly does save. The music and songs are spiritual, Rock, Rhythm, blues, gospel and the primitive African call and response audience participation occurrence rolled in to one glorious exhausting heart expanding happening. Praise so palatable that you can taste it in the air, the hairs on your arms begin to rise and your eyes turn heavenward and you just want to turn around to those couple of guys discussing business and yell “shut the hell up--- I’m having an epiphany here!!”
I have been floored by four glorious goldenrod gowned fully grown women; I have witnessed Blind Boys and Zion Harmonizers and by far I am carried away when a choir of fifty or sixty voices, in agreement and five part harmony, lift up their right to be heard unto the Lord. The Saint Leo the Great Choir, The Gospel Inspirations of Boutte or The First Emanuel Church Mass Choir ---all rockin’ my soul in the bosom of Abraham. Can I get a witness?
The rejoicing, reveling, rocking revival goes on from eleven in the morning until close of business at seven in the evening
And then there’s a slight pause when the music slowly fades where Brother Love steps out with the microphone and challenges the audience that he has accepted as parishioners: “have you heard the word of God here today? (YES!) and do you feeeeeel the grace of the Lord (YES!) and do you believe that you have come to a HOLY place, a place of worship, THE HOUSE OF THE LORD?”  (YEEEESSSSS!) “then I want you to look around you and pick up all that trash that you brought in with you because this IS the house of the Lord and we do NOT leave trash on the floor; if you brought it in with you, then take it back out and dispose of it properly. “I WILL NOT HAVE TRASH IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD! Can I get an Amen?” “AMEN!”

New Orleans Greek Fest 2017

The New Orleans Greek Festival
Phil LaMancusa
            The New Orleans Greek Festival is held on the Memorial Day weekend May 26th -28th,  2017  and presented by the Holy Trinity Cathedral located at 1200 Robert E. Lee Blvd and that’s the first thing that you need to know. The second thing that you need to know is the word Efharisto (eff-kaar-EEs-toe!) and you need to be able to say it all in one breath; repeat after me Efharisto!!! The word is Greek and the meaning is “Thank You!” and you’ll want to say it often and with vigor as you attend New Orleans’ equivalent of a painting by Georges Seurat (e.g. ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte’). It’s a family thing, an eating, drinking, dancing, neo-impressionistic, milling about, lounging, laughing, smiling, music thing. In case you’re worried about vehicular congestion; there is free offsite parking about a half a mile down the road, with shuttle buses to and from the event or you can trust your parkma (Parkma: transportive verb: that chance that there will magically be a parking place waiting just for you where and when you need it) for a spot on the roadway to get in closer. The hours of operation are: Friday 5:00-11:00. Saturday 11:00-11:00, Sunday 11:00-9:00. Be there or be tetragono (square).
Greek, you say? All you of limited knowledge will be surprised to know of Greeks arriving here in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. In 1760s a wealthy Greek merchant married a local woman of mixed Acadian and Native American lineage; when their daughter married a Greek native in 1799 it became the first Big Fat Greek wedding in North America. The Greek Orthodox Church here is the oldest established in the North AND South America (1867). The areas that I work and live in (6th, 7th ward) was, until 1971, a predominantly Greek neighborhood and the original site of Holy Trinity Church was at 1222 N. Dorgenois St.   Also in this area were Syrians, Russians and Lebanese, their culture a distant memory to all but a few of my neighbors; it is fitting that we should have a festival commemorating that part of our background, culture and language.
For the kids there is an area called The Athenian Playground with a climbing wall, face painting, crafts and one of those bouncy tent things where you allow the little darlings to work off all of the extra steam that they seem to wake up with. Kids twelve years old and under have free admission (the rest of us kids pay $8.00). There are three day passes available and anyone arriving dressed in toga on Sunday gets in gratis.
There is live (Greek) music and dancing in the Hellenic tradition; you can come and show off your stuff, learn the steps or just watch and be amazed by what you see. You can rent canoes for bayou cruising, there are contests, raffles and even a ‘Toga Sunday’ pageant with prizes. There are tours given of the Cathedral that allow you view artifacts of the faith.
And food? Food is everywhere; indoors and out, as well as, wine, beer, ouzo, pomegranate iced tea and the ever popular Metaxas to fill your soul with Hellenic gladness. Greek yogurt and frothy iced Greek coffee at the Loukoumades CafĂ© will be served. Food demonstrations and classes, a full meal of Kieftethes (Greek meatballs), tiropita, spanakopita, pastitsio and Greek salad with dolma from inside the hall or from outside food stands:  Gyros served with tzatziki and grilled onions served on warm pita bread, or booths with calamari, lamb, feta fries, goat burgers, souvlaki and beverages. AND, not to worry, we know how kids are, and there will be some of the non ethnic foods available (hot dogs etc.). Besides vegetarian plates being available, this year, in the grocery section, a small walk-around container featuring four appetizers (Meze) are being offered in a limited number of servings; the first three hundred lucky customers will have the opportunity to purchase them and then the rest of us latecomers will be out of luck. Also in the grocery store will be cheeses and herbs, oils, olives, homemade dips, tee shirts, posters, prints and Hellenic imports.  I always make sure that I pick up their lemon-pepper seasoning blend for my kitchen at home. Also indoors a selection of twenty different pastries, cakes and cookies line tables that, as you pass the length of the gamut with your ‘ticket of transit’, picking one of these and two of these and your personalized selection grows with baklava, kourmabiedes, galaktobourikos and heck, I stop trying to find out all the names and just say yes to everything that looks good to me because I know they will be, and my friends and neighbors will reap the benefit of my eyes being bigger than my stomach.

Here’s another word for you: Philihellenism.  It means the lover of all things Greek; if you’ve been to the festival before, you can feel the meaning of that word in your heart, if this will be your first time to go to this celebration, be prepared to experience a kinder, gentler New Orleans experience and consider while you are there that there is actually a Greek island where the citizens literally forget to die and live on  to be centennials and older, healthily and actively. When I go to the Greek Festival, I myself wonder why anyone who could live the Hellenic lifestyle would ever want to take the chance that heaven would be a better place. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

on aging

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Rinse and Repeat
Aging (Dis) Gracefully
            Subjectively, no one grows old in increments; one day, all of a sudden, you see your reflection in a mirror (or in someone else’s eyes) and you ask yourself who that old person is, and it’s you. Of course you make light of it “shucks, if I knew I was gonna live this long, I woulda taken better care of myself (diet, finances, exercise, dentistry, dreams, aspirations, family commitments, love and/or life in general)!” That sarcasm doesn’t wash well as a rationale, and even you can see the flaws in it, so you lose yourself in memories and the memories of the different bodies that you’ve inhabited along the way. Ponder, if you will: time is a thief; it steals all of the selves that you ever were or wore.
            What is your earliest memory? Is it being tossed in the air (and caught) by some big person, being cuddled, being suckled; standing in your crib crying because your diaper is full, you’ve just woken up and you’re alone in a dark room? Perhaps your memories don’t go back that far.
            How about the feeling of being little around bigger people; learning, in a group of kids your own size to deal with the politics of school; falling in love with your first grade teacher; learning to tie your shoes, read  phonetically, sit patiently with hands folded or take a forced nap after ‘cookies and milk time’? Having your rage suppressed.
            What about being told to go to bed when you’re not tired; getting awakened before you’ve slept enough; told to clean your plate, drink your juice, get dressed, get dressed, you’re not wearing that (!) and button up your overcoat? What was your first nightmare?
            You grow into a preteen and your voice changes, your feet and nose get bigger, you’re judged by how well you play sports, pull off mischief without getting caught, defend yourself physically and verbally; you want to belong somewhere but you don’t seem to fit anywhere. You tell your mother that you didn’t ask to be born. Your face breaks out.
            High School happens and your hormones rage; everyone is against you; you learn to slow dance, French kiss, have a crush, go steady, and get your heart broken; rinse and repeat. You join a tribe, rebel, study, and can’t wait to get it all over with; nobody understands the ‘real’ you, you’re artistic, sensitive, all knowing. Finally you get a driver’s license, a Social Security card, a part time job, an acoustic guitar and a peer group. You sing out for social justice.
            You graduate into a radical departure; you leave home, join a band, cult, Army or fraternity/sorority. You’re drinking with the best of them, no longer a virgin, doing your own laundry and you can play your music as loud as you damn well please. You have roommates, you watch art movies, discuss philosophy, name your cat Rimbaud, roll your own (cigarettes). You protest inequality. At this point there is so much to do in life that you get very little done, it’s okay, you’re young, free and independent; you wire home for money. You visit the folks on holidays, surprise them with your new wardrobe, hairstyle and ability to talk adverse politics peppered with expletives. 
            At twenty-one you’re exhausted; you’ve taken lovers, gotten a tattoo, had a brush with the law, been fired for incompetence. At twenty-five: you’re golden, twenty-seven: you’ve been kicked to the curb, twenty-eight: you give up, thirty: you settle into a career. It’s time to get serious about relationships, money, security and the possibility of having a family of your own, a golden retriever named Marilyn, 401K and a car that is dependable. You buy insurance, use your degree to get ahead and embrace the responsibilities you once avoided.
            The years tick by in a flash; you take on more than three people should. You start a business, buy a house, raise kids or live alone in an apartment with a tank of tropical fish and the work that you’ve taken home from the office. You’ve been paying your dues and bills; you’ve fallen down and picked yourself back up, people count on you, you’ve found and lost Jesus on several occasions; you’re the life of the party, the master of the snappy comeback, always ready with a smoke or a joke. Shot at and missed, shit at and hit.
            Settling into what might pass for maturity you trudge along, taking happiness in your accomplishments, disregarding your shortcomings, everyone around you finally knows what can be expected of you. People around you get sick, get well, some of them die. Younger acquaintances get married; you go to weddings, funerals, baptisms, sometimes you just send a gift. You forget birthdays. You get regular checkups, quit smoking and cut back on the booze. You don’t understand the current musical trends or electronic gadgets; don’t know who these people are at the Academy Awards, all young people start to look alike and upstarts begin to call you “Sir (or Ma’am)”. You still pay attention, you’re interested in the news, you remember when you marched and protested; you believed that good would triumph over evil.

            And then one morning you see that that old person in the mirror is you and today you tarry a little longer and look deeply at that face. It’s a good face.  A roadmap of decades of a life; lines of laughter, sadness, worry and joy.  A scar here and there where a memory was born; an obstacle overcome; a time where you were laid low by an enemy, or worse, by a friend.  A scowl, surprise, suspicion, sorrow or a satisfaction, leaving telltale signs that are unseen from the inside but apparent when viewed in the looking glass (or someone else’s eyes). So much done; so much more to do. Rinse and repeat.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Saint Joseph's Day 2017

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
The Saint of Secrets
Throw me some Zeppole, Joe
            Sophia Petrillo told me: “Picture it (!), Sicily… hundreds of years ago… there’s a big drought and the people are starving, they’re starving! AND THIRSTY! The sailors are out in the boats trying to catch fish in a fierce storm--- they’re gettin’ NUTHIN’ (!)---somewhere in the distance… a dog barks. The people, the sailors (the dog) are praying, they’re praying and praying. To who? To Saint Joseph, patron saint of the every man, of secrets and of unwed mothers. Saint Joseph looks down and says ‘Oh my stars and garters, my poor, poor Sicilian children (he always liked us best), I need to help them!’
            “So, help them he does; it rains, a lot, they’re catching fish like crazy and all of a sudden, guess what (?), fava beans start to grow from out of nowhere! The people are so happy that they prepare a festa in Saint Joseph’s honor; they drink nero d’avola, they bake Cucidatti, they make Maccu di San Guiseppi. They dance around and sing and hug each other and that’s where my great great grandparents meet and if it wasn’t for Saint Joseph… I wouldn’t be here today to tell the story; now, shut up and eat your spaghetti!”
            Well, as any red blooded New Orleanian knows, we celebrate Saint Joseph’s Day on March 19th.  Catholics, Sicilians (same animal) and the churches they attend take a lot of time and build altars of food to commemorate the occasion of this auspicious celebration. On the altar are cheeses, cookies, wine, loaves and fishes and all manner of foodstuffs.   In fact, at St. Cletus Church (3600 Claire Ave in Gretna) they start working on their altar in January. The altars are in three tiers to signify the blessings of the ‘Holy Family’ and after St. Joseph’s day the altar is given to the less fortunate. The altar can be simple, like in a person’s home or bigger and more elaborate like Saint Mary’s (1116 Chartres St,) which is as big as a magnolia tree. The Church of Saint Joseph (1802 Tulane Ave.) is alleged to house the biggest altar of its kind in the country.
            On Saint Joseph’s feast day (which this year is on the 18th because the 19th falls on a Sunday) a feast of its own is laid out for all comers regardless of race, creed, color, ethnic, religious or any other orientation or persuasion. It’s during lent so there is no meat served but an epidemic of pasta reigns as well as salads, stuffed artichokes, cakes and lemonade. You’ll see your neighbors, make new friends and Saint Joseph will smile because you’ll be well rested, well loved and well fed, which is all the blessing that anyone can/should truly ask for.
            Also, when you go to church to participate in the awe of the altar, you will be given a little paper bag containing a Saint Joseph prayer card, two Sicilian cookies (one sesame, one fig) a blessed fava bean (to keep in your wallet for luck and money) and a slice of French bread. We all can logically find the significance of the objects, except, probably the new kids might wonder about the French bread. Quite simply, people here are instructed to keep that bread until a storm approaches, and when that happens they should throw that bread out of the back door/window to have the storm pass on by. If you believe it, it is true.
            Saint Joseph’s Day is also a Mardi Gras Indian celebratory occasion called Super Sunday. It is the last day that the Indians come out in this year’s ‘old suit’ before dismantling it to begin next year’s ‘new suit’. I asked Big Chief David Montana of the Washitaw Nation why the Indians celebrate Saint Joseph’s Day and he told me “because Saint Joseph was black!” That kind of stands to reason because back then the biblical people would have been North Africans and probably a lot darker in complexion than us lily white Anglo Saxon Christians have always portrayed them.
            Be that as it may; it is a fact that a wave of Sicilians descended on New Orleans in the late 1800s and that, in the white society of that time, were considered the “lowest of the low” and as such, along with African Americans, were not allowed to worship in the ‘higher class’ Catholic churches. It’s also a fact that African Americans ultimately built their own church where they welcomed their Sicilian neighbors; that church is Saint Augustine, it’s in the Treme district and still provides a considerable Saint Joseph’s celebration. 
Some speculate that the Mardi Gras Indians picked up their Sicilian neighbors’ religious tradition, and took advantage of the break in Lent to take their suits out for one last spin. All of that is speculation. What we know for certain is that even today, Saint Joseph’s is a holiday that transcends cultural lines. Mardi Gras Indian Super Sunday celebrations are one of the few times of the year when outsiders can see the Indians in their elaborate costumes and appreciate the work, time and talent that making them entails. Super Sundays are traditionally kicked off in A.L. Davis Park in Central City; however, other neighborhoods like the West Bank and at Bayou St. John also host their own celebrations. Processions are held and we hold dear the words of Otis P. Driftwood “let Joy be unconfined. Let there be dancing in the streets, drinking in the saloons and necking in the parlors.”
 So, mark your calendars for that weekend and you can make it a full, busy, wonderful time. March 17th is Saint Patrick’s day, the 18th will be Saint Joseph’s and then the 19th will be Super Sunday; look for a fish fry in your neighborhood to really glut out. Also look for the Irish Italian parade where the Irish will be giving out cabbages and potatoes and the Italians will be trading flowers for kisses. Buona fortuna.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Poverty in New Orleans

Poverty in New Orleans
Phil LaMancusa
            We gauge conditions of being financially uncomfortable by something called a poverty rate. The poverty rate is defined as the percentage of the population living below poverty level. Poverty level is defined as that level when a person or family’s income is so low that stress in being able to provide basic necessities (food, clothing, shelter) is felt; at times, acutely. As of 2015, 13.5 percent of Americans (43,100,000) live below poverty level—more children than women, more women than men. The statistics are staggering: blacks, 24.1 percent; Latinos, 24.1 percent; Asians, 11.9 percent; whites, 9.1 percent; and 33.6 percent of these numbers are children—living all around you. Academics Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer, authors of the book “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America” report that there are nearly 1.5 million American households with practically no cash income at all. New Orleans fits quite comfortably in these parameters.
I was raised in the projects in the 1940s and 50s by a single parent relying on public welfare, healthcare, and education; five kids, the whole nine yards. The projects’ tenants were the elite of the neighborhood: all around us families were poorer. And surrounding us all were people not so poor. The economic checkerboard of neighborhoods was a constant reminder of who the “haves” were and who the “have-nots” weren’t, and if we were the “have-nots,” our neighbors were the “have-nothings.” We’re talking the literal definition of the word ‘poverty’; and like it or not, every society maintains a percentage of their population in poverty. Somebody’s got to perform cheap menial labor.
            We were adequately schooled; any better education and we might have aspired to greater heights. Our heroes were sports and cinema stars, musicians, and criminals, who had made a name for themselves and whose lifestyles we could emulate but never attain. In our later teens, we were pushed from school to enter society. Our choices were: military (or prison) uniforms, or, to follow in our parents’ footsteps and enter the world of the “working stiffs,” whose sweat greases the wheels of this great society. These were our rites of passage into adulthood and the only options when and where I was growing up. Being poor meant staying poor and raising your children to perpetuate this system of poverty—the norm. The advantage my family had was that we were white.
            When I came back to New Orleans in the late 90s, I found that little had changed from the 60s and 70s; there were still, at the close of the 20th century, moral, physical, and economic depression in the city. The Big Easy. Even today, 15 minutes from the mayor’s office, citizens are living in abject poverty. Let’s define that condition as I see it.
We’ll disregard, for the moment, the homeless, those in shelters, squatters, and tenants in our “new” projects; although these segments do round out the picture. State subsidized nursing homes, where tenants receive $38 a month to live on while taking away all of their other monies, is another form of poverty, but not what I’m speaking of here. To define poverty, we’ll begin by pointing out what it is not. Being poor isn’t necessarily living in poverty. Having secure employment and worrying about your financial prospects, your kid’s school choices, your mortgage, credit card debt, the note on your car, seasonal clothing; or choosing a dentist, cleaning woman, or hairdresser are very real concerns. However, while those things might keep you broke, it is NOT poverty. Over 20 % of New Orleans families of four living on a cash income of $10,000 a year or less is poverty (Pew Research).
 Anxiety about whether you’ll be evicted for non-payment of rent because you chose to put food on the table; fear of having your utilities cut off; whether the person who brings home the household’s money can/will have and keep a job; struggling, hustling, and scraping just to get by IS poverty. Having to take advantage of every free service (social security insurance, food stamps, food banks, emergency rooms, supplemental housing assistance) and then some, you live in survival mode.
 To be clear, as a mother, not being able to afford the adequate healthcare for your children that you ‘have access to’, not being able to plan a healthy parenthood, or even worse, the fear of putting the father’s name on your baby’s birth certificate is real poverty, not only financially but emotionally and psychologically. As a father, even if you yourself  live in poverty, when your name appears on a birth certificate, you’re held liable for support or, as a consequence of non-payment, can have your driver’s license revoked, effectively compromising everyone’s earnings and takings; father loses mobility, mother and child lose public assistance. That’s the Catch 22 of living in an America where the ‘have nothings’ are treated as lepers and parasites.
 Having to take jobs at minimum wage (because you lack formal education or training) and then be able to live on that money and support a family ($15,080 yearly); not being able to pay for fundamental living necessities (gas, electricity, water, food) …THAT’S POVERTY. Being poor and living in areas where the lack of necessities is the norm—areas where crime is commonplace, addiction is not regarded as an oddity, the strong oppress the weak, contention is encouraged, and where there is no way out … that’s poverty. 25-30% of all New Orleanians live in poverty; 44% of children under five live in poverty. For a single parent not to live in poverty, he or she has to take in over $46,000 a year (an hourly wage of $22.00). These numbers are verifiable. 
            When I came back, I was informed that the majority of the students that were pushed through our educational system were graduating high school with a fifth grade reading skill level; they are today’s parents and the dishwashers, porters, trash collectors, maids, fast food workers, lawn tenders and minimum wage earners. Our city (and state) leads the country in teen (unwed) pregnancy, crime, obesity, African American incarceration/unemployment, and child hunger. Going to school is an economic family sacrifice at best and rent increases are routine and arbitrary. Poorer families are pushed out when “revitalizers” move into a poor neighborhood.
            Dwell on this: I get home from work at 6:30 p.m., turn on the lights, and go to bed by 11:00 p.m.; I’m up two hours in the morning before leaving for work … and my electric bill is around $100 a month. Add to that the water bill, car insurance and repair, laundry, cable, food, rent, clothing, phone, health and dental insurance, the occasional movie or night out … and if I had to do that on $290 a week before taxes, what would I do? Where would I make my cuts? Adopt out my children? Quit eating nourishing food, abandon coffee outings, shaving, bathing, turn in my cell phone, relinquish my pets, sell my soul, take a second job, rob a bank, take out a loan, get credit cards and max them, curl into a fetal position and beg God for mercy? Forget about holidays, vacations or birthdays; where would that money come from? I’ve been painted into a corner, trapped; me and the other poor schmucks that are your neighbors. And what can be done about it? Poverty sucks. And ironically, poverty fluctuates with the stock market. When the market went into recession in 2008, the poverty rate—over the entire country—rose and kept on rising until 2010 when it fell (slowly) back to 2007 levels.
            There is a bill in the state legislature to raise the minimum wage; opposition, naturally, is split along party lines. State government doesn’t support it because they would have to give their workers a raise and --- the last governor having screwed us, leaving a huge deficit--- it would ,mean that raising minimum wage would put Louisiana even more in the hole. So, once again, the little guy takes it in the shorts and is kicked to the curb and all the authors of the bill want is a mere $0.75-an-hour raise. It would raise the minimum wage to $320 a week before taxes and that’s still poverty in New Orleans.
            We can accept or reject poverty in America. We can give our extra money to build hospitals, feed the starving in other countries and we look at the pictures of abandoned and mistreated puppies and ignore our neighbor’s plight. Or, we can realize that greed is at the root of all of our problems and do something about eliminating that, beginning with ourselves and not accepting it in others, especially the people that we put into public office. We can take part in our own recovery and, to paraphrase the man, declare that: “War (and poverty) is over… if you want it.”


Friday, January 6, 2017

Guests 2017

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
February Festivous
Guest-with-us for the Rest-of-us
            Whoopee! It’s February! Valentine’s Day! Carnival! Crawfish! The arrival of the Spring guests that turn up from now all the way into Jazz Fest (oh Boy!)
            I’ve pondered points and concluded that guests generally don’t quite get or feel comfortable bunking in with friends that they see once or twice a year. Believe me, that goes triple for the folks that play ‘hostess with the mostest’ for them. So, in the spirit of blatant honesty; let me literate my situation for the edification of incoming company.
My house.  First: this is as clean and orderly as it gets; second: don’t ask me where anything is because, in the cleaning and organizing, that I’ve spent the last two weeks laboring over, I don’t know where anything is! Quite simply: whatever you’re looking for, it’s around here, go find it. The soap might be in the freezer; spare light bulbs possibly under the broom; coffee is on the mantle; put your luggage in the tub (kidding). Next: don’t open the hall closet; that’s where we keep the soiled laundry that I haven’t had time to do because I’ve been cleaning/organizing to make a good impression on you.  Caution: not all the chairs are safe to sit on; none of the clocks tell the correct time, some lamps have ceased to illuminate and the ‘Smart TV’ is as dumb as a box of rocks
 The way I clean and organize is to start moving things around and I have an aversion to throwing things away that may be important and/or significant; two weeks of that and you’re bound to find anything anywhere, it’s not a mess, it’s home and we welcome you; mi casa/su casa and all that.
            We live in a half double shotgun house, which means that we have five big rooms that are stretched out one after another in a straight line so that, if you were to fire a shot gun in the front door, you would hit whatever was at the back door; hence the name. The living room is in the front and the kitchen in the back separated by two bedrooms, (one where you’ll be staying) a bath and a dining room, small yards front and back.
Here is our schedule: we work seven days a week, most times until 6:30-7:00 at night; we come home, we have a little Happy Hour and then dinner, down time and bed by 11:00. Debbie is up around six to feed the herd (three cats and a dog and various outside strays), coffee, walk the dog and then to the Treme Center for swimming and exercise. Then to coffee at Whole Foods (bagel and cookies) and then back to work. Some nights we don’t get in until after eight; it comes with owning a business.
            We have lives much bigger that ourselves; the dining room also is used for painting pictures and a chair to read or listen to tapes to learn the foreign language du jour. The living room has a piano and other musical instruments, none of which we have mastered; there are unfinished projects throughout the house, countless books and novels, collections of coins, world globes, statues, photos and finger bowls. The kitchen is filled with spices for our signature blends and other handy non fresh ingredients that we supplement with fresh stuff from the green grocer; a full larder, for ease of cooking. Except for the occasional dairy product, we keep a vegan kitchen; if you want to cook otherwise you’re welcome to, just know that anything you don’t eat, may perish. We come home loaded down with all the detritus from the day and deposit said stuff on our way to the refrigerator, which means, all through the rooms. In the mean time, baths, shaving, cat litter cleaning, recycling, composting, bed making and visits to our neighbors, our veterinarians, food markets and shopkeepers keep us active and generally invisible.
            The first cat gets up at six and complains loudly that he’s not been fed for at least eight hours, at this point the dog needs let out. There’s time to sit a spell in the morning and when you use the bathroom for your morning toilet, expect all cats to visit; the youngest one loves to watch humans take baths (there is no shower), the little dog may want to sleep under your blankets (with you).
            We live in a neighborhood, which means we walk, we talk, greet and hail people that we see in the streets; introduce yourself, tell them who you are and behave like a guest and not a short term rental tenant. Smile. We don’t expect you to be bringing home any lovers, possibly some people that you may meet but not sheet shakers, okay? We rarely have parties at home; home is our sanctuary: that’s how we picture it. Don’t try to clean up after us, just take care of your own space odyssey and everything will be hunky-dory.
            You’re welcome to use the car responsibly, although we don’t have it insured for a second driver; the brakes are good and the tires are fair. It’s that ’94 Lincoln Towncar that’s parked crooked in the street. It has over 237,000 miles on it and is cranky and idiosyncratic at best. The windows, air-conditioning and sometimes the door handles or trunk switch sticks or doesn’t work at all. It has a radio tuned to 94.3 an oldies station… on second thought, maybe you should leave the driving to me.
            So, you get the picture; you’ll fit in just fine because you won’t expect anything to be normal around here; in fact, seeing as you’re our friend and all, it may remind you of home.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Resolutionary Thoughts for 2017

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Resolutionary Thoughts
Just You Wait
            Maniacal, perplexing,  mystifying, puzzling, mind numbing, confounding ass kicking to the curb under the bus, over the river and through the woods; 2016 is gone and if I ever see it again, I’m going to beat it like ‘never fail meringue’, whip it like party cream,  batter it like gulf shrimp and snatch it bald headed! What a miserable year it was and I, for one, am pleased as punch to see it go and hopefully to never to darken my door again.
            It seems as though every blessed year at this time, for as long as I can remember, I have said and heard “Oh, this last year was bad, but next year it’s bound to get better”. I deserve a dose of Whup-ass for being so optimistic. Yes, last year was uber-terrible, but the year before was less unpleasant--- which was damned awful--- the year before that ate the weenie and the one before that it was simply gruesome and on and on and on. Let me ask you this: when was the last year that life did not throw something at you that you would have gladly done without? I don’t mind things not being easy; but,” temples are graying and teeth are decaying and creditors weighing your purse” is not my idea of a working mantra.           
As the eternal optimist, bruised and bloodied that I am, I’m going to be the first (and possibly the only one) to assure you that next year will be better. Sure, last year some of your heroes died, prices went up and not your wages, you spent more at the veterinarian than on your own health care and a few of your friends spent time in chemo. There was that front-tooth cap that decided to break when the dentist was golfing, the unexpected car repair, your rent was jacked up and you had to vacate; your neighbors got evicted to make room for an AIRBNB location. Add to that: the recurring pain in your lower back that’s suddenly attacking you (again); learning that GMOs contributed to your allergies, realizing that termites are eating your floorboards and, oh yeah, your dog died. You’re living in the crime capital of the country. What else can happen, right? Just you wait.
I have this theory that if life doesn’t kill you outright (and there is always that possibility), it is going to wear you down and wear you down, hoping that you will cease to struggle against its insidious carnival tricks—the ones that get you the pie in the face--and just give up. However, you (and I) will keep coming back like gamblers at the track, waiters at the video poker machine, out of work laborers buying scratch-offs and/or lovers in failed relationships betting that things will work themselves out.
Do you want to know why I am not going down without a fight; why I’m going to live a long life and get the most out of it?
The night sky in a riot of colors as the sun sets; coffee in the morning with something freshly toasted; getting in that old car of mine and hearing it turn over from a growl to a purr; whipped cream on sweet potato pie; crows, monk parrots and squirrels; my hot pepper plant when I can pick another red one for spaghetti; waking up with Girlfriend next to me with the dog and the cats all snugged up together; going home after a long day and finding that my daughter has sent me ice cream for my birthday; the beauty and light that surrounds me if I only take a moment to recognize and appreciate it.
I don’t find my self-worth by comparison; judging whether others are less fortunate to elevate my self esteem is unworthy of me; and, I am worthy. Neither do I consider that when a person has more than I--be it fortune, talent or fame—that that should be a cause for envy or jealousy. Those things are simply things that are.
Now before you start to think that I’m some kind of blissed out monk, let me stress that I am anything but.  
I tend to judge people. By the way they speak, dress, how they treat cashiers, if they litter and if they return their damn shopping cart to that little shopping cart station in the parking lot. I disapprove of men who wear their trousers below their underwear, who spit in the street and/or make discourteous remarks to unaccompanied women. I cannot abide by people who take kindness for weakness.
I get angry at people who make general rudeness a lifestyle, mistreat children, animals and/or drive like they’re from a third world country. I am not understanding about people holding up signs at intersections when I know that everything they’re begging for is already being freely provided by a plethora of social service organizations; I see no reason why an able bodied person cannot/ does not find gainful employment. See? I’m a snob.  

But, I tell you, next year it will be better; I’ll be better; I’ll be more tolerant, understanding and patient. And when someone needs some good advice, a shoulder to cry on, a mature outlook, I’ll deliver unto them my new mantra that I recently received from Rooster Sedaris: short version: “Just you wait.” Long version:  “Bitch, I’m here to tell you that everything’s gonna be alright; we’ll get through this shit, Mother Fucker, just you wait!”