Wednesday, February 14, 2018


Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Carnival Care Chaos
That reminds me of the time my daughter Hypatia sent her son to stay with me during Carnival, his name is Boomer; she named him Boomer, short for Boomerang, because she swore that as he was being born that he actually tried to do a 180 to get back inside her womb. He was eleven when he showed up on my doorstep; well, show up isn’t the exact word for it, there were a series of communications, phone calls, emails and texts gone wild and wide, missed and otherwise, that I alone was guilty of overlooking and consequently ignoring. In short, I had taken myself ‘off grid’ for my sanity and well being. One afternoon I received a call from my neighbor “there’s a kid sitting on your porch and I don’t recognize him/her, you ‘specting somebody?” In New Orleans, ‘specting can be either suspecting or expecting (or a combination); so, I was a little apprehensive when I pulled into my parking space.
“Yo, G-Pops!” and I knew who that was. “Sup Boomer?”  A rangy kid who was generally up to no good, blue eyes looking over Ray Bans, a fauxhawk mullet hair cut, oversized plaid wool shirt over a Grateful Dead tee shirt, faded jeans and CT high tops. He was slouched in an un-natural position in a wicker chair, lap top computer in the crook of his leg; “do I hafta steal Wi-Fi, or you got a password or what?”
“Fine thanks, how’re you and what in Sam Hill are you doin’ here?”
“Well, oh grand patriarch of mine, it seems that I’ve been given a hiatus from boarding school, mother dear is off on a water aerobic yoga meditation macramé bikini retreat located inside an Indian casino and nobody home but the goldfish and the Ficus Benjamina tree; so, not wanting to pull a Macaulay Culkin, I caught the dog (Greyhound bus) and came on down, don’t you ever answer your phone, email, OR texts? I could eat a cow, let’s get some chow and chew the fat”.
I’m not sure if you remember when you were that age. Your hormones are starting to wake up, your voice is changing, your face is erupting (or threatening to), your feet are growing along with your nose; you’re too old for kid stuff and too young for adult past-times. For the entire stay I would be peppered with questions, opinions, wishes and rejections of anything thought to be below the dignity of this little ruffian idiot savant man-child.
Remember when your mind was full of whys and why nots?  When your life was full of new tastes and newer situations, there were no basis’ for preconceived notions of experiences and of not taking answers like “because I said so/ know so” because they were no answer at all? When you were more feral than house broken, more curious than educated and more insecure than proud of who you were and, where you were going was a dark place because you had no conception of what the road ahead could offer?
In the couple of short weeks to follow, I was to relive my own preteen coming of age with each “why can’t I, why should I, tell me why and how come you can and I can’t?” query that only the young can come up with and get away with. I got back in touch with the boy that I was entering a grown up world where adults had all the perks and I had none. Add to that that the kid was more electronically savvy than six of me and could out run, out eat, out talk and out sleep me on any given day and you have an odd couple worthy of Neil Simon.
When was the last time you gave over your world and spent every waking hour considering the needs of one other person? Try it and you will run the gamut of emotions from insult to impatience; petulance to selfishness of a high degree. Being on call or AWOL to/from the person that is in a position of being the most important biped in your life whether you want to be in that situation or not. You cannot any longer do anything without first considering how it will effect/affect that one other person. And I, so full of self esteem and being the spoiled brat that I am, took that on because simply there was no one else around to foist that responsibility on to.
Oh, I have friends in nursing homes that need visiting, neighbors that can always use a helping hand, volunteering, cleaning and straightening, and projects that I have left half finished or neglected up the wazoo; but, I can still even at my age, turn my back on f**k all, get a cold one at Liuzza’s By The Track and watch Jeopardy in the early evening and to hell with accountability. Not so when you have a full time whatsis that you’re learning to accept as a major part of your twenty-four hour day. It’s very trying to make that change; you have to reach down into your inner Zen, turn on your outer mild mannered countenance and in general just suck it all up for the common good. It was a lesson in both of us growing up. I felt great empathy for all motherhood.
We parted as friends, as buds, and we each wanted time to freeze and keep us together; but he had school and I had work and we swore that we would someday live together forever and there were a few tears on both sides as I saw him off (on a plane, dammit!).
So this Carnival season, which includes Valentine’s Day, remember that it is NOT all about you and there are people worthy of your devotion. It’s never too late to give someone else (and yourself) a happy childhood.


Day Care Lessons
            My name is Virgil Julius Shaw. I was raised in the 9th ward of New Orleans, Holy Cross neighborhood; I’m now eighty-four years old. Spending the rest of my life in a nursing facility (which is my current situation) gives me plenty of time to think; I don’t do my own laundry, cook meals or go out in public without a chaperone. A far cry from the life that I led and had; to all intents and purposes, I am now invalid (not an invalid: invalid: as in not valid anymore). I have a room eight feet by twenty feet that I share with another invalid; we rarely speak, he watches television with the sound off and listens to classical music on a portable radio. I sit and think while I wait for my next meal or for someone to wheel me out to sit in the sun. It sucks getting old.
You might say that I had a full life. The usual growing pains to reach adulthood: playground fist fights; teenage love crushes; hormone riots of confusion and a broken arm from a bike accident. After graduating school, I joined the military and participated in the perpetual war that our country is forever involved in; I learned how to use weapons and was lucky enough to muster out unscathed.
            Too young I married the wrong woman who came with a pretty face, angry pointless arguments, hot make up sex and an inability to find and keep gainful employment; I spent the majority of that union struggling to make ends meet and keep a roof over our heads. Nightclubs and carousing was part of our lifestyle, we lived in a cold water flat at the edge of the French Quarter and when I wasn’t working we were out spending anything that I made like we were swells. Eventually I got tired of coming home late and tired to dirty laundry and sinks full of dishes. There were endless employment interviews in ironed shirts and shined shoes; I took a succession of jobs that I hated until I found better ones, just to keep bread on the table. She left me for a fast talker, became a stripper on Bourbon Street and later married the drummer in the band.
            There were years of drifting; night hawking. Sad rooming houses, back alley brawls and crap games; three card Monty and cheap whiskey; getting busted so many times that I knew the desk Sergeant at the precinct by name. Fast women and slow horses, unreliable sources, being too smart for my own good; drinking bouts and tobacco lung wrenching coughs and moving back to New Orleans with my kid sister and her boyfriend until I could lick my wounds and get on my feet.    
I took a job in the library and found a career to last a lifetime, I fell in love with and married above my station, took a bunch of evening classes and bought a house on the G.I. bill; I managed to raise a family and took part in the well being of my brood. The normal everyday American Dreamer. My wife was a piano teacher and why she loved me I’ll never know.
We both retired about the same time, we traveled some; the kids were grown and had gone off to be whatever they became, I lost one to a drunk driver, the other two either don’t know where I am or could care less. My wife died ten years ago and my life went downhill from there.
I ‘downsized’ and moved to a retirement apartment complex. I took a spill down a flight of steps and the medical costs took a lot of money, they shipped me here to recover and after six months Medicare took over my living expenses. Then surprise, surprise; the nursing home took all of my assets and told me that they had to use them for my expenses, so now I have no apartment, car, any of my possessions or finances. I talked to the Patient Councilor here and he told me that he agreed that it was a f**king shame but that it was a legal technicality that they could exercise; so, tough patooties. He also warned that if I put up a fuss about it, they could send me to the loony facility up the road and claim that I needed medication for ‘nervousness’. All of us here just keep our opinions to ourselves like good inmates do; it’s best to avoid making waves.
That’s the extent of my life here, of all of the lives here: rich man; poor man; beggar man; thief; doctor; lawyer; Indian Chief. Butcher; baker; candlestick maker; paupers; pirates; poets and the many women here that sacrificed their lives for love and family. Did I tell you that there are separate wings of this institution for men and women? We only get to mingle during meal times, not that it matters to any of us anymore.
 Oh, they take care of us here, we’re able to draw thirty-eight dollars a month to do pretty much anything we want to with it. The staff performs their duties with an air of semi-professionalism; I can tell that they’re overworked, underpaid and not especially qualified. Some bring religion to us, some, I can tell, didn’t realize that, with all their schooling, they would be changing diapers and giving out medications to a group of ‘old and in the way’ elders that wake up, spend the day and go back to sleep feeling impotent and invalid. I’ve tried to point out that they too will be in here someday; they don’t seem to be impressed by that. Kids these days.
So here I am, we are, waiting to die because what we have is hardly worth being called living. I’m Virgil Julius Shaw and this is my thousand words about my life.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018


Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Space intruders
No(w) Girls Aloud
                        Let me preface this article by saying that, categorically, I am opposed to unwanted sexual advances anywhere; and, having dwelt on this mortal coil twice the average amount of time as our average reader, I can tell you that I’ve seen more than my share of it. That and intimidation, bullying, rejection-retaliation, coercion and/or oppression of many kinds. These, as you will have noted, have become, of late, touchy and timely subjects and whose focus has been brought to the forefront of our collective attention as more and more people (mostly men) are finding their asses in a sling as allegations of misconduct are voiced by people (women and men) that are ready to ‘suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (#MeToo!) rather than (not) take arms against this sea of troubles’. In the words of Rooster Sedaris: “Mother F*ckers be catchin’ sh*t for f*ckin’ with folks!”
No one should have to be exposed to unwanted advances, sexual coercion or intimidation because of their vulnerability in life’s great dog eat dog circus. It is right and correct to be able to defend one’s dignity and honor against any who would use position or circumstance to take advantage and wrong for anyone witnessing this type of behavior to stand by and allow it to happen.
Men have played power ‘grab ass’ and--for about as long as--women have used their sexuality to get ahead in life, liberty, pursuit of happiness and work place perks. And, if you have not seen this in your short and sweet existence, than you certainly are living in a different universe than I am. Men (and women) use their good looks, sexuality and charisma to get ahead in life; and, beauty usually trumps brains in most arenas; that’s just the way it is; if it aint right, ‘it be’s that way’.
            There used to be an image that was widely accepted of a caveman who sees a cavewoman, he’s attracted to her, so he hits her over the head with his club and drags her by the hair into his cave and that’s called primitive courtship from our primitive past. Women have been educated to reject this type of romance but some men are a little slower to catch on.
            Where do you draw the line? Should men ignore women’s sexuality--their style of dress and demeanor that awakens pheromones in all but the blind, deaf and dumb? Should women ignore other women? Should men ignore other men that they are sexually attracted to?  Will romance fizzle and die because now: “he kissed her without her permission” is a punishable offence?
When in your sweet young life have you ever ‘asked permission’ for that first kiss and when, when that kiss is coming from an unwanted source, is not a sound rejection more than appropriate (and heeded)? When to start; where to stop; how to know; can/should it be that complicated? Like it or not, it is; and it’s going to take a boatload of re-education to set things straight. To get the right answer, we first have to know the right question.
Boys and girls had traditionally been brought up differently; boys ‘scuffed up’ and girls ‘dressed up’. Boys had hardhat jobs, they wage war, play football and fix cars; girls became nurses, ballerinas, grammar school teachers and fashion models. Fathers and Mothers. To go against that grain was to have one’s sexual identity put into question. Not anymore. In just the last twenty years, the images of sexual identities have upended the prevailing dynamic; in sports, business, politics and education, aiming high at equality in all things. Breaking through the accepted glass ceiling of your sex’s role in the social order to a place without boundaries comes at a cost; it means literally that you’re going against the grain of society. We have seen in our society that change only comes with struggle, with disruption and eruption: “I am my own person, DON’T F**K WITH ME!!” 
            By my estimation, every woman has experienced inequality and abuse in some form or fashion; most men (whether they will admit it or not) have also. It’s been called part of the realities of life. Bullsh*t is what it is--it’s a cowardly pushing around of those not in a position to defend themselves; it’s generally (while not exclusively) a male thing. Women have to take responsibility for some of this also; women have bought into, accepted and allowed themselves to be seen as ‘the weaker sex’, malleable to men’s wills. Media has profited from this. The reality of the situation is that until another way of thinking and behaving is taught, this will go on. For every celebrity that has been brought before the public eye there are hundreds more that are guilty of abuse and are immune from being brought to task simply because there will be nothing gained at telling the foreman on the worksite that the guy with the jackhammer whistled at you in your tight pants or asked if fries came with that shake. Truth be told, that kind of innocent attention is almost likable if not tolerable. It’s the molesters that insult our senses of decency and decorum, not the jerks. “Construction sites are good for morale”: Blanche Devereaux.
            Fact is this, predators are made not born, persons with no direction or role models will form their own rules of conduct that don’t include remorse; that behavior will be only for their own benefit and pleasure. Predator role models breed predators.
            Until you stop the cycle it will continue. No safe society. No safe family. No safe children. No safe world. No safe anything.

A Conversation With Paul Dinet: The oldest oyster shucker in New Orleans.
Phil LaMancusa
Four or five times a week since 1984, eight hours a shift, Paul Lionell Dinet shucks oysters at Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster bar. Mr. Dinet had a birthday last November 12th; he is now eighty-four years young, “made eighty-four and workin’ here since eighty-four” he quips with a grin.
I spoke with him at the beginning of his shift; me with a pad and pen and him surrounded by oysters being shucked for service. Hundreds and hundreds of oysters; “you see” he explains, “when you have the lunch, you can’t be shucking for the whole dining room, you have to be able to get them oysters out fast to the table. We shuck them, fresh as close to opening as possible; people don’t wanna wait for them.” We then settled down across a dining room table from eachother, him with owl eye glasses and an elfin smile; me not knowing where to start. He gets up to get a glass of water, “just finished my breakfast” he says with a mild hicurp.
I had read in late November of 2017 where Ian McNulty did a wonderful and insightful story about “Mr. Paul” in The New Orleans Advocate; his life and times and where and how he came to be New Orleans oldest oyster shucker. Adding to that would only be redundant and not to mention plagiaristic; so, sorry readers, you’re gonna have to look that article up for yourself for some background on Mr. Paul, believe me, not only is that piece informative, but a damn good piece of reporting.
What Mr. Dinet and I talked about was more along the order of oyster shucking and how times have changed over the years since he began his employment.
We talked about oyster knives “we usta make our own knives, my Daddy made his own outa an old file and a broom handle,” I related about how I had purchased my first knife at the French Market for ‘four bits’ that sounded a lot like his daddy’s. He nodded sagely when I told him that when an oyster saw that knife it practically opened itself up for me. “Eight years old my Daddy showed me how to open oysters with a hammer”. Nowadays Mr. Paul uses the ‘stiletto’ while I am partial to the ‘bird’s beak’ style of oyster knife. We both agree that in opening an oyster, a person has to find what we call ‘the seat’ and once you’re in there, the oyster is yours; it’s a little spot right by the hinge and to be properly opened, you have to start at the right spot.  It’s a fact, we agreed, that the colder an oyster is, the easier it opens. “We keeps ‘em icey cold here”. 
When asked how a person becomes an oyster shucker, he told me: “well, anybody can be an oyster shucker, you just have to come in an get the job; I’ve trained many a shucker, some have it, some don’t. I like workin’ here, I get to meet a lot of different people. My father was Houma (Indian) and my mother came from Paris France, I speak good French”, and then he said something to me in French that I just did not understand. I had laid down my pen and pad after the first five minutes and we kinda just got to talking.
Felix’s has been at that location for over seventy years and we spoke about the changes that we had seen just over the last fifty years in the French Quarter in general and on Bourbon Street in particular (yes, I am that long in the tooth). How there “didn’t used to be so many young folks out there” and “the music was different, too”.
“ I like working days, though, I’m not a night person, I like to come in and get the job done and then go on home; I got a son an a grandson living with me. My house went under water from Katrina and we had to stay away until it got rebuilt; Road Home did the rebuilding and did a fine job.”
“No, I don’t eat oysters, well, maybe I’ll have one once in a while, doctor’s orders, I gotta cut back on salt, bad for my heart. I cook at home, beans and greens and stuff, nothing fancy.”
We spoke together about his work history and how he lost his fingers in a die press but kept on working until he retired; how he was stationed in Germany during the Korean War and how much of the countryside he saw; “it’s pretty pretty over there, I never did see any action though, just support work, y’see”.
Paul Lionell Dinet is not a boastful man, not a man to make a show; however when you get to know, even for a short spell, a person that has such a colorful life, however much low key it may be kept, it’s natural for me to want to know their secret of success. With all the uproar in the world, Mr. Dinet doesn’t follow much politics he says: “it’s all bull****”
Well, I want to know, “how did you manage to age to where you are and what advice would you give a young man coming up?”
“Just stay away from trouble” he says “that’s all you have to do, just stay away from trouble”. From his mouth to God’s ears.


Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
The Tour Guide
Herding Cats
            I’m into my third year as a tour guide, I lead New Orleans tours. I can’t sing, I aint pretty and my legs are thin; but folks laugh at my jokes and listen to my information, I know my stuff and have a great sense of humor. I have a license, carry a sign, wear an orange shirt; I work for a company named Destination Kitchen/MustDoNola, owned and operated By Julie Barreda-Cavigne, a chef and seasoning alchemist who is top drawer. Monthly I text Wanda my available working dates and at month’s end after emailing hours worked to Rachel, money magically appears in my mail box. Winner winner chicken dinner.  
There are half a dozen of us guides and we do everything including food, history, cocktail, walking, Garden district and custom tours from two to two hundred people. Tours can be tailored or we have a pre-structured jaunts about town that cannot be beat. Tours range from two hours and up. The culinary tour is three hours and a walk of about two miles around the French Quarter with stops for eating, hydrating and rest facility stops for folks that need to facilitate their bodily functions, this is my forte (the tour not the bodily functions).
It’s kind of like doing a stand up performance that includes wit, history, education, facts and idiosyncrasies. This being New Orleans 300th year in existence, guides have been quite active on the street. People are interested in learning more about our city and my tour-guiding has turned into active employment.
Each trip out I am given a number of people to lead, and I never know who my people are until I see them; they are of all ages from across the spectrum of the world’s societies--folks like you and me. I arrive fifteen minutes before the departure time and collect my flock. We meet at various places around the Quarter and I start by introducing myself as I size up my audience. I get all kinds; kids that give more attention to their electronic devices than to some old guy in an orange shirt; couples engaged in PDA (public displays of affection) ditto; students, older folks, women in tight clothing and men with powerful hangovers. There are also the eleven types of dietary restricted folks that we’re happy to accommodate: and just when you think that you’ve heard every aversion, someone will surprise you with yet another ‘sensitivity’ (Mercury?).
I warn them of treacherous walking conditions, explaining the alluvial soil that we’ll be traversing, ready to trip the unaware stroller. Watching someone trip and fall in the street is one of the scariest things that any tour guide can experience, losing people is another. Usually people are interesting and interested; the shy, the gregarious; BFFs, fast walkers, slow eaters, weak bladders or those most interested in another cocktail. We accommodate them all. I have a set schedule of places I need to be and when I need to be there, but by in large—hard as I might try--it rarely works out with precision. Occasionally there will be an overly impatient person, a couple who would rather talk to each other than listen to me, and/or the husband that can care less because it was his wife that made the reservation and he’s just along for the ride. There is also that person that wants to make sure that they get their monies worth, the one who wants to eat right away because they didn’t stop for breakfast; also guys who need to sneak a smoke or those lingering for selfies or photo ops. These are my children and I love each and every one of them. “Are we there yet?”
            Our purveyors, the food and drink outlets where we stop are gems of perfection and patience, we are blessed with being able to show off the best of our local foods and locations and my tourists always leave the tour knowing more about the city than can be gleaned from just a map.
I start by telling my group my name (and getting theirs) where I come from (and where they are visiting from) and explain my credentials and a word about our company and about Julie. I tell them that we will be on a three hour tour, but I have thirty hours of information and how I’ll be talking about food, culture, food, history, food, architecture, food, legends and facts (and food). And off we go.
You can be sure that no one on the excursion knows where we’re going; I take them up streets, down alleys, around in circles and back tracking. I could be kidnapping the whole bunch and they’d never blink an eye; once they start following you, they’ll go anywhere; I suspect that if we stopped for an espresso, I could walk them to Abita Springs, especially if there was beer on the other end.

On any given tour I walk about five miles to, from, and on. I could go on forever. After I’ve exhausted our time together, I still have only let them glimpse the tip of the iceberg that is New Orleans. Probably what will make me a great tour guide (instead of just a very good one) is my love of this place that I have chosen to make and call my home. The addiction that I have for all things New Orleans, all of the stuff that makes living here so much more preferable to other places, as well as all the things that I love not to love about her. The funniest thing that I love about New Orleans is how we all know what’s misfunctional about it, and with each election we pin our hopes on being able to change things; New Orleans laughs back at us, what fools we mortals be.  

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Unnecessary Rudeness

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
City News
Unnecessary Rudeness
            Headline: “Piglets That Are Saved from Burning Barn are Served as Sausages to Firefighters”. Think about it. You might say that that’s rude on so many levels; but, that’s who we are; we live in a very disparaging and insensitive world, it’s self preservation, self meditation and self medication.        
Should we be ashamed? Not at all; it’s part of our DNA, it’s in our blood. We make fun of the ridiculousness of life. By overtly and/or covertly disregarding the feelings, interests and well being of others-- concentrating our attention on our own well being-- we keep the: “I’m alright, so I don’t care; I don’t care, so I’m alright” machine well oiled. It’s so Jake Paul (and his 10.5 Million subscribers), it’s so… us. For example:
            Alrighty, you’ve read the article explaining that the Millennials vote could make political policy here? Yes/no? The Millennial population in New Orleans is approaching six figures and if they all voted for the same agendas, the city government would be run the way that suited them best, they could accomplish policy like legalizing marijuana or raising the minimum wage. Survey says; Millennials don’t vote. The same people, who do vote unfailingly, unfailingly vote for the same candidates; it’s like the winners of reader’s choice votes in publications that always go to the same faithful ‘favorites’. We need to raise the voter turnout to more than 40% to be able to move forward.
Onward.  It’s positively a rumor that a great American highfalutin grocery store with the bins for trash, recycle and compost throws everything in the same dumpster (except cardboard boxes) and continues to wear the green halo with their higher prices, non GMO stickers and a social scene reminiscent of that Safeway Grocery Store in the marina section of San Francisco.
            Stop me if you’ve heard this: You live in a nice neighborhood; you have great neighbors; your rent is reasonable; you have a decent landlord; the place isn’t in great shape; but all things considered, you count your living space a blessing. If something minor needs repaired, you fix it yourself and call upon the landlord as seldom as possible; you pay your rent on time and there’s been no significant raise for the number of years that you’ve lived there. In short you’re happy; been happy, want to stay happy. A property down the street goes on the market and is snatched up. The construction, destruction, demolition and rebuilding of the structure goes on for months complete with dumpsters, port-o-lets and worker’s double parked trucks. Granite counters are loaded in, lawn service, security systems, paint, pavement and minimalist foliage are appointed; there’s an apartment in the back that’s worked on and gussied up.
            Dust finally settles and an ‘Apartment For Rent’ sign goes up. The price-- on the sign-- is asking for three times the rent that you’re paying! It’s the ultimate ‘bend over and grab your ankles’ kick in the rear for you and your neighbors; you fanaticize that when your landlords see a sign like that they might wonder why they’re being so lenient on you. It’s evident that the new owners are either going to use the rent to pay off their note and contractors or they’re gonna flip the place. Kiss your mule goodbye; your hood has been infected with the germs of ‘repurposing’
Cold business: A streetcar stops at N. Carrolton and Orleans Ave, disgorging six passengers, four of whom spot their bus on the opposite corner; it happens that these four are of a certain age and cannot move as spritely as they once did. They wave, they yell, they cross against traffic and without any concern for personal safety. The light changes. The bus pulls off leaving them breathless and frustrated by life. Probably the bus driver didn’t see them and everyone else on the street did? Unlikely.
Questions:  Besides being razor close to no basis at all illegal; how about a street camera citation sent from the City of New Orleans from Tempe, AZ. whose penalty needs posted to Cincinnati, OH? This benefits our city… how? And, how does raising our sales tax help the working poor?
            Winner, winner, chicken dinner: A car pulls up in the parking lot. The motor continues to run. The car door opens and closes and no one gets out. The car pulls out. You look over and see that they merely wanted to deposit on the asphalt: a. the contents of their ashtray; b. drop off their fast food Styrofoam cups and containers; c. dispose of their kid’s dirty diaper or d. all three. Or, how about that mystery canine (hopefully) pooper that was not followed by a human scooper that leaves the droppings of the animal in path’s way? Where’s a Block Captain when you need one?

            What about the personal insults that we take every time we take our automobiles for a spin? Being cut off, boxed in, blown at, stink eyed and tail ridden. Try getting from here to there without talking to yourself. That oversized load in front of you that slides in and out of its lane and when you speed up, pass and get out of its way (because they might be inebriated), find out that they’re on their phone, yelling at the kids in the back seat and/or putting on eye shadow.
            And on and on and on; you’ve probably got hundreds like these and I’d like to hear about them; either for commiseration or just to let me know that I’m not nuckin’ futs.  Seems to me, empathy and compassion are rationed and rationalized; and the world, by and large, is ready to put egocentricity first at the expense of other’s feelings; we’re all ready to laugh at the pie in the face, the slip on the banana peel or eat sausages made from rescued piglets.
            Write me.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Restauran Tissue

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Restauran Tissue
Chez Wha?
            Welcome, my friends, to the show that never ends; 1500 restaurants and counting in New Orleans, and not counting filling stations, bars, convenience, Mom and Pop and grocery stores that sell food. Restaurants come and go here, sixty-two new ones in the last twelve months; and they go out of business just as fast. And as one goes down in flames, a new one rises from the ashes; the Phoenix Factor. A New Orleanian would have to dine out every night to support them, lucky for us that we have visitors; if the visitors stopped, the restaurant industry would be in the creek, not just up it.
There’s no end to the uninitiated that believe that they can buck the odds and open a successful restaurant that will stand the test of time; also there seems to be no end to the successful owners of places like the Petite Elite Sweet-treatery, Tiny Toney’s Taco Takeouteria or Nunzio’s Newfoundland Noshemporium to try their hand at opening locations two, three or four. Been there, done that. When a person(s) decides to try their hand at making a living feeding people they are in, basically, for a life without a life. Restaurant work doesn’t end at the closing of the day; it’s a twenty-four seven occupation on the scale of walking up to your neck into oncoming surf in Murphy’s ocean. Whatever can go wrong… will. I happen to love the business.
Many establishments host run-of-the mill self-aggrandizing owner/operators with authority issues and indecorous countenances who act like sandbox intimidators when things go awry and effectually unsettle everyone around them when things don’t go their way. They place ‘managers’ in charge and motivate them using a self perpetuating corporate inspiration/submission system, wondering why good people leave and rationalizing that ‘quitters’ cannot take the pressure (that they have created), this is the best way to success: spend your time perfecting surreptitiousness, stay alert to discrepancies in productivity and rationalize that if one site is working up to expectations, two or more would be better for you financially, if not spiritually. Make sure that your staff never work unprofitable schedules, avoid offering benefits and never shy away from terminating the weaker links. To some this is de rigueur.
            Sometimes a person will ask me if I ever miss the work of owning or Cheffing in a joint, Bistro, low brow or high end Gourmangerie, and I tell them yes; that’s because the work is the easy part, it’s all the rest of the stuff that goes along with being a conductor in this field of dysfunctional cacophonic Merry Melody orchestras that tests.
Basically--at the beginning-- passion is its own reward until the challenges start to fly at you like an octopus pitching bedlam fastball in an asylum world series.
            Numero uno, though, is that to be successful you have to be able to pay the bills, the twenty-seven different baseballs that you have to knock out of the park each month to stay in the game. This of course is relative to the dollars you take in and how creative you are at spending them; if you want a pretzel logic, Chutes and Ladders exercise, try conceiving how a sixteen dollar pizza cut twenty ways is divided financially for any culinary entrepreneur.   Slice one goes to the rent; slices two thru five pays the waiters, dishwashers, busboys, bartender; six thru eleven pay for the cost of the pie (averaged out over the whole menu); so now you have nine slices left. Telephone, electricity, gas, water, trash, insurance, linen, alarm system, computer, booze, office supplies, paper goods, taxes and workman’s compensation: munchers in a Pac-Man game eating into your cash flow--- and then the ice machine breaks; the drains back up; a rain storm floods your business closing you down for two weeks.
            The work is the easy part: you get up, suit up, show up and never give up; you become defined by your work and you try to balance empathy and discipline with your staff, knowing that you can never pay them a decent wage and realizing that few of them will ever reach their potential. You try to lead by example, admitting when you’re wrong and having that ‘Come to Jesus’ talk when you have to; you fight your demons on your own time and leave your other life (if you’re lucky enough to have one) at the door, you have a job to do. And you mistakenly expect everyone around you to live up to your standards.
            And then there’s the food and that’s what it’s really about; that’s why you’re here; working ‘the product’ so that your customers are whelmed, the critics approve of you and some crumbs hit the bottom line. And then the dishwasher shows up drunk on Saturday night and passes out in time for the seven-thirty rush; you find out that the cleaning crew is having surf and turf while working; the bartender is giving free drinks to his friends and big tippers. 
            The best thing about working in a restaurant is that you can take your craft with you anywhere in the world; the worst thing about running a restaurant is knowing that this is going to happen with your most talented staff and while the worst of your people will fade away (hopefully before damage occurs) what you’ll be left with will be mules that you can rely upon to do their job but not much more and all the hopes that you have for making a mark on the world will be forgotten as you row, row, row, that boat.
                        Having been around this block more times than I can count, I’ve seen it all from the inside; now, instead, I cook at home every night and leave you with the last line --which is also the first line-- welcome, my friend to the show that never ends.