Sunday, August 24, 2008

Literary New Orleans

Po-boy Views
By Phil LaMancusa
Raspberry, strawberry, Cadillac car….(we’re not as dumb as you think we do)
Tennessee Williams Literary Conference
The P.H.D.'s daughter got her wooden leg stolen by a bible salesman that she had tried to seduce.
Here I am again, friends and neighbors; flying in under the radar with a report on the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival slash Writers Conference slash Platform for anyone dumb enough to think they can yell 'Stella!?!?!' as good as Brando (in my opinion if Baldwin couldn't………..) March 20-25, 2002.
Last year, as a literary hopeful, my ‘Main Frame’ and I had scored press passes (hint, hint) and were determined to “be there” rather than “be el-seven”, if you catch my drift. I was curious as to what type of birds these would be; and, aside from bad hair, the absence of clothing style (for the most part, Honey, I don't mean you!) and an epidemic of comfortable footwear, they were much the same as you and I, that is, weird.
I didn't feel like much of a writer, while I was there…at all. I’m confused by the difference between illusion and allusion. I don't know the difference between ambivalence and ambiguity and, I guess like my Mama said when I asked her if I had halitosis (at age nine I had read an advertisement but wasn't sure what it was), as far as 'catharsis' and 'pathos' goes: "if you don't know what it is, you aint got it". I was wondering if what I had was what it takes to have been there at all.
I went to a whole bunch of panel discussions, in fact so many, that it was hard to tell where one let off and another began. A couple of them were yawners, but most were lively, and, mostly, I just tried to keep up with the discussions on things like: 'voices', 'revealing' characters, their development and their flaws, 'juice', 'languaging', (that one's not even in my BIG dictionary) 'perception', finding a gay friendly publisher, and what Willie Morris said to who (or whom) on the telephone late one night.
I also, to my dismay, found out that practically nobody makes a living from writing, it takes up all your time (one guy said it took him four years to write eighty two pages) and that if I keep using parenthesizes, I'll never amount to much at all.
I don't think I'll amount to much as a writer anyway because, I don't keep notes on cocktail napkins, my childhood illnesses weren't severe enough, and although my mother kicked my ass on a regular basis, I wouldn't consider her 'overbearing'. I can't even begin to guess where 'third person past tense' is, let alone write from that perspective. I'm also not at any kind of 'psychic intersection'; if anything, I'm just this guy, you know?
So what makes me think I can be a writer? The panels. I can do those panels. I mean, I didn't know most of those guys, so how do I know they wrote seven books? Because the moderator said so? Hmmmm. If I had one book that I could hold up and call my latest, and then, talk about my last book, or better yet, my first book….
Also, I can answer questions, I've got a 'whole lot of opinion' on a myriad of subjects and I can cut up and b.s. my way through just about any topic, with the best of them. Or so I'd like to think.
I attended panels on Southern Culture, Good and Evil, Wit and Wisdom, Hot Properties, Alternative Writing, The Muse stops Here, and others; and I kept saying to myself "I could have said that!" Once when a question was asked during the 'Bad Girls" panel, I almost raised my hand and yelled "pick ME!"
I can see myself sitting with 'quiet authenticity' after being introduced as a writer of 'complex fiction' with a 'clear sense of the absurd' saying: " that's a very good question, Rex; but as we all know, ' you don't have stories unless bad things happen' or as Flannery O'Conner put it: " The average reader is pleased to observe the stealing of a wooden leg".
Thank you, I'll be signing books in the lobby, and I don't care whose (or is that whoms?) they are.

Love In New Orleans

Po-Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
The Lady In the Glass Bathing Suit
My Funny Valentine

A local fried chicken restaurant (if you can call them restaurants) will be starting a gospel brunch soon. They’re gonna call it “A Wing And A Prayer”. This about sums up my love life.
Now Kids, I’m no expert on the subject, and will never claim to be (at least not in public); but, Uncle Phil has been around the block enough times that he’s worn a rut in it as wide as Bayou Saint John, so if I can’t talk about love, who can? In this rant we’re gonna explore some facts and fallacies about the ‘Big “L” Word” as reported by an independent study: mine.
First some fallacies:
1. Love makes the world go ‘round: what cabbage truck did you just fall off? Money makes the world go around and don’t you ever forget it.

2. You can tell it’s Love at first sight. NOT! You can tell it’s lust, power, domination, conquest or the need of possession at first sight: either that or you’re wearing your beer glasses and would screw a snake if someone would hold its head down.

3. Love means never having to say you’re sorry: Baloney! If you’re gonna hang on to love (assuming you ever find it) be prepared to admit that you’re wrong on a number of occasions, and on more complex subjects than the position of the toilet seat.

4. Love changes you: not for long, if ever. You’ll find yourself (or them) slipping back into the persona behind the façade that won favor; and, you may not be able to keep lipstick on that pig, if you get my drift.

5. You can change the person that you love: don’t count on it; and, those quirky little things that are funny now, sooner or later become a major pain in the butt. i.e. underwear on the doorknob. And while we’re at it: that new friend of yours (or possibly yourself) that’s rude to strangers, hasn’t a clue how to tip in restaurants, has an addiction or aggression challenge, likes to tell racist or sexist jokes, admires themselves in passing mirrors, is critical, abusive, unbending and just knows that it’s all about them………drop ‘em, it ain’t worth your time and make up.

6. Love brings out the best in a person: sure, like jealousy, mistrust, envy, possessiveness, insecurity and in some cases hives
and rashes.

7. It’s the ‘challenge of the unknown’ that’s so stimulating about love: No, here you’re confusing love with rock climbing, spelunking and drawing to an inside straight.

8. Love is its own reward: right. And the meek will inherit the Earth, I’ve got the winning lottery ticket and your landlord is
gonna give you free rent.

9. You always hurt the one you love: hmmmmm, you might want to make that: ‘you always let the one you love hurt you’

10. Love sneaks up on you: No, generally it sounds like the entire cast of The Lion King being thrown in to a deep fryer.

Now, for some facts.
1. Love takes work to make it stay: It does, and more than a few of us are willing to walk away rather than stay for the hard part. Then again, sometimes when your partner wants to ‘compromise’ it’s merely another way of saying “do it my way”.

2. Love can break your heart: This generally happens when someone has convinced you that you really are someone special, and then concludes with “April Fool!” Been there. Got the tee shirt; and any conversation that begins with “I think I need more space” usually ends with your relationship in the toilet.

3. Love is a many splendored thing: yeah, the walks in the park, the dinners, the smiles and the good times usually stay long after love has walked away. Enjoy them.

4. Love is like an oil painting: and you’d be advised to be careful with those brush strokes; there is no ‘do over’ accompanied by your lover’s amnesia. Think about it.

5. Love is like a song: As in Love is like an itching in my heart, I’ve got you under my skin, I only have eyes for you, you make me feel so young, knock me off my feet, since I fell for you, dazed and confused, (take another) piece of my heart, you’re driving me crazy. Are we talking about love here or dementia following a train wreck?

6. Love does NOT want to meet your ex: period.

7. You only have one ‘true’ love: but how do you know that you’ve met them yet?

8. There’s someone for everyone: and here’s where your friends come in, you know, those people who know all the worst stuff about you but like you anyway? Listen, they’ll go through Hell for you; BUT, if they don’t approve of your love……that’s a ‘heads up’! If you can’t trust your friends to know who’s best for you (or at least good for you), whom can you trust? And: if you haven’t learned this yet……. You will.

9. There are many kinds of love: but it all boils down to two things; (1) you’re thinking about something more important than yourself and (2) it gives you pleasure to do so. If you ain’t got that, you better ask somebody.

10. It’s worth it: Yep, as corny as it sounds, with its incredible highs and devastating lows, it’s all worth it. Besides, the alternative is to live a superficial life. Love IS the original ‘Living On The Edge’ roller coaster-drive it like you stole it-hell bent for leather-mind bending-flummoxing conundrum of your life. If you’re fortunate enough to have love in your life cherish it, guard it and protect it; because, one false move, Buddy, and it’s history.

11. And, The Lady In The Glass Bathing suit? Seymour Heer writes, “She’s worth wading for”.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

New Orleans Sunday Paper

Po-boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Sunday Goblins
Question: Name the one thing on Sunday morning that is common to most all New Orleanians, and possibly everyone else in the universe? We’re talkin’ everybody that’s anybody, that is with the exception of brunch cooks, ne’er do wells, runaway princesses, pirates, the mentally challenged and those of us that are ‘Proud To Crawl Home (after Saturday night)’.
Answer: Church? We would hope so. Coffee? Could be. Grits and grillads? Maybe so. Cleaning our powerful handguns? Wondering who that is sleeping next to you? How about: r e a d i n g t h e S u n d a y p a p e r ? Bingo!!!
The Sunday Paper!
I LOVE the Sunday Paper, in fact that’s what my costume is this Halloween, I call it ‘all the news that’s fit to stink’.
To honor of that rag that we affectionately call our TP (pun intended), and, as close to my dead line as possible, I’m going to pick up Sunday’s paper and point out how a ne’er do well (mentally challenged) brunch cook pirate (and his runaway princess) after crawling home (proudly) go through the locally published information at hand. I give you: ‘THE TIMES PICAYUNE’!!!
The first thing you need to do is to heft the paper, get a feel for the weight of the thing, consider the sheer amount of words that you are about consume, retain, dismiss and forevermore live with the possibility of regurgitating at the most inappropriate times ( oooh Baby, oooohhhh Baby……did you read how fares are dropping to the west coast? OUCH!! What was that for?)
Now it’s time to cull the stack. All that stuff that you know you’ll probably never read, unless you’re being held hostage at your in-laws annual brunch ‘get together’ without a decent cocktail in sight; get rid of it. Out goes the ads for Rite Aid, Lasik surgery, The Celebration Station, the K-Mart two day only white sale, Eckerd, AT&T wireless, Office Depot, Sears, Lowe’s, Circuit City,, and the ads for Pope Paul the second coins, Dachshunds painted on plates and Classic Comfort bras (“so comfortable you’ll forget you’ve got it on”….WHAT?) Personally, I do keep the Walgreens’ section, as Walgreens is the only store that I would actually come across in my wanderings. I suffer from the ‘if it’s not in the Quarter do I really need it’ syndrome.
Next, my favorite to get rid of (though possibly not yours): Sports. As far as I’m concerned, any part of the paper that bandies about words like ‘dominating’, ‘trouncing’, ‘dousing with a powerful surge’, ‘pounding’, ‘shutting down’ and ‘annihilation’ along with ads for muscle cars, penile enlargement, and the Hustler Honey Amateur Contest better be in color and show blood or frontal nudity. And while we’re at it, why is baseball, basketball and football season happening simultaneously?
Next to get the axe is the Parade section with the cover boasting The 2003 Cars & Trucks, the inside answers the burning question of whether Roy Rogers Jr. had to sell his daddy’s saddle to pay the IRS, I’m presently not in the market for a minature ceramic St Nicholas, Laugh Parade doesn’t give me a chuckle and the last time I bought five books for ninety nine cents I received junk mail until I had to relocate. It is interesting to note that gas guzzlers in this time of the oil wars, come with twenty inch aluminum wheels, leather bucket seats, navigation systems and optional DVD entertainment systems; all for about twice or three times my yearly salary!
Real Estate? “This exquisite Country French home showcases wood flrs. Gourmet kit. 4 bdrm 3 ba 1+ acre, Spacious living & magnificent views for the price of a small South American country.”
Jobs? Classified? ‘Split shift, exp necc. Drug test, 6days/week, now hiring, apply in person, EEO/AAP, M/F, call Lisa or Amy: M-F 8am-4pm, 401K and hospitalization’. Do I want to be a Buggy Driver, Associate Professor of General Surgery, Legal Secretary/ Exp Line Cook that much? Nah, and most of us already have jobs we don’t want.
TV Focus? I don’t have cable, I’m a PBS junkie, end of story.
Comics? I read ‘em all. Especially Peanuts, Garfield and Doonesbury. After that Zits, Mother Goose and Grimm, B.C. and Rose is Rose. Generally I find it hard to be amused, but it’s better than the News. Why is the Piranha Club banished to the week day Classified section?? Now that I can relate to!
The Money section? If money were dynamite I wouldn’t be able to blow my nose.
The main News section? Reading it is rarely rewarding and generally reminds me of an Adlai Stevenson quote: “There is nothing more horrifying than stupidity in action”. In a nutshell Edwards is still out, the War’s still on, Louisiana ranks worst on everything, and we’ll never be prepared for ‘The Big One’.
That leaves the Travel, Living and Dead (Metro) sections.
The Travel section had an article on the Natchez Trace that I’d love to hike. It also had cut rate ads for going anywhere and the book section which had the first three best sellers touting “After her husband leaves her for a younger woman, a fourteen year old looks down from heaven when the young caretaker of an estate finds a newborn girl in a box. A 45 year-old woman finds romance in a small town on the North Carolina coast as she describes what happens in the aftermath of her kidnapping and murder, his employer, an 80 year-old matriarch, helps him keep the baby”, (but not in that order).
The ‘Dead’ section, or Metro as it’s called, will, more often than not, give you a cheery front page on Sunday. Monday thru will give you mostly the details on how New Orleaneans are brutalizing each other or the real horrors of living here. Yes from a man shot twenty five times and living to a seven year old being murdered in the street by his mother’s boyfriend.
However on Sunday, it’s mostly cheery stuff on the cover. Once inside we have pregnant woman steals man’s truck (at gunpoint), N.O. man arrested in shooting of woman (get this, he shot her because she was smoking while pregnant), 3 men wanted on burglary warrants, asbestos in the air, roll over car crashes and the like; also we have the death notices.
Frankly, I read the death notices because I’m sure that one day I’ll see my picture in there. I simply do not trust myself to tell me when I die, and as for my friends, hah, they keep me in the dark about everything!
I do know from reading the obituaries that a large percentage of eighty to ninety year old corpses once were homemakers or retired merchant seamen. Fifty to sixty year olds die usually of heart attacks or cancer, the men were all veterans and the women had promising careers. The Forty year olds usually succumb to lung cancer or heart ‘failure’ or the mysterious undetermined causes. In their twenties and thirties, violence usually accounts for mostly sudden demises especially if their nick names are ‘Boom Boom’, ‘Big Man’, ‘Slick’ or ‘Fast Betty’. If politics continue their merry way, I predict young folks in uniform appearing. Children are the saddest to read about and we won’t go into that one here.
Lastly the Living section: entertainment, horror-scopes and puzzles. After the Comics, it’s my favorite. Dave Barry is here, my personal hero as well as advice from Carolyn, Abby and Miss Manners. A calendar of events and photos from the past live in this section.
In all, the newspaper is a nice place to visit with its horrors and heroes, and if I had more room I’d wax eternal. Look for me on Halloween and if you don’t give me candy, I’ll probably tell you to “read my hips!”

New Orleans: The Secret Life of Crayons

Down and Out in The Big Easy
The Secret Life of Crayons

Rejection and despair. That’s the sound that is made when a crayon hits the floor; and, Green was face down in a pool of dust. Again. And, that was the sound that had just interrupted a story that I was trying to compose.
But, I digress, (as an aspiring writer, I’ve always wanted to watch myself, coolly detached, type ‘but, I digress’ into a story, along with other phrases like ‘It gave me great pause’ and words like ‘trepidation’ and ‘indigent’) and since you asked, here’s the story:
I had put aside my borrowed copy of George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. In the book, he talks about his misadventures being indigent in these places in the nineteen twenties or very early thirties. I had decided to do a piece on the people who fall through the cracks here in New Orleans. I have a current passing, and sometimes personal, relationship with about a dozen local ‘unfortunates’ and recently it has given me great pause, I think because, on some subliminal level, I can relate to them and their missed fortunes.
I was also marveling at how much so little has changed for the poor over centuries of progress for mankind; as if the impoverished, being one of the lost tribes of Israel, passed their misery from generation to generation.
I was listening to Mozart’s Requiem in D minor and reflecting on how, with one twist of fate, we are all a step away from living on the street or relying on ‘the kindness of strangers’. I’m convinced that, without my consent, an event or, series of events, could have me (like others that I know) eating from trashcans, sleeping in doorways and carrying my life in a black plastic garbage bag. Possibly, my ‘twilight years’ would be spent lying in a mental ward getting my Pampers changed, as I bark like a duck. One degree of separation, that’s how I was seeing it.
I considered getting a cell phone, surely that would save me from a future of cheap wine, generic cigarettes and asking that cute couple from Des Moines to give me money for standing still, on a milk carton, painted silver. In New Orleans being a living statue on a street corner is a vocation; one step above begging, they do not have cell phones. People hurrying from paying jobs to warm hearths have cell phones. The upwardly mobile, drinking snappy cocktails at swank joints, have cell phones. I do not have a cell phone.
After a recent conversation with my older sister on whether poverty was hereditary or contagious, I came to the conclusion, that in my case at least, it is both. I know no one who is not living from paycheck to paycheck, when they’re that lucky, including every member of my family. You can probably guess what I have to say to that smart-ass that coined the phrase that “money can’t buy happiness”!
In addition, I’m not aware that I’ll have an alternative financial plan, should some mishap occur in my life. I don’t even have a primary financial plan. As I see it, I’m living in a world where college buildings will get millions, and the benefactor’s names will be emblazoned on them, possibly along with their cell phone numbers. Meanwhile, the majority of the population; the impoverished, the insufficient, and the undereducated (the un-cell phoned) will get minimum wage, (at best) and no benefits, ignored by the very people that have it in their power to help them. Maybe the folks with cell phones are hooked up to a higher power, or something. Maybe folks with cell phones never slip through the cracks. My head was hurting; I was obviously putting a strain on my brain.
Then, between Introit and the Kyrie Eleison, as if by design, a crayon, known only as Green, bit the dust.
I kept the basic box of eight crayons by my desk in the hopes that remembering all of their names would be proof enough that dementia wasn’t setting in. What do I know? Twice before, I’ve found Green out of the box and thought ‘that’s it, I’ve got Alzheimer’s’. This time though, I caught them red handed! Who? The other crayons, of course. What were they doing? Practicing color discrimination! Why were they doing that? I don’t know, maybe it’s just what they do where they come from, kinda like us. Where do they come from? That parallel universe that I’m always talking about
From now on, my theory that there is a parallel universe that is invading us with bad tippers, digital watches, haters and cheaters will include crayons with their own agendas. How else would you explain a CEO who builds a house for a hundred million dollars while John Q. Shareholder takes it in the shorts, if certainly not for a parallel universe and its invasion? These types certainly can’t come from this planet. Period. No member of Homo Sapiens could think or act like that. It belies the term. For the unenlightened, ‘Homo Sapiens’ literally means ‘wise man’. I certainly don’t feel very wise, but, I also didn’t consider myself the type of ‘homo’ that would strap on a body bomb and visit a shopping mall for a little ‘catch back’. That, my friend, takes an alien.
I wondered if there was a correlation between the secret life of crayons and man’s inhumanity to man. To this end, I decided to take my color discrimination theory a step further and perhaps learn something that would be of use in my future, and possibly the future of the world.
I went to Walgreen’s and parted with my ‘hard earned’ for a box of sixty -four Crayolas™. There are other, less expensive, brands and bigger boxes, but, sixty four is the largest quantity you can buy in the French Quarter and Crayolas ™ come with a handy sharpener and are made in the good old U. S. of A. (non toxic, of course). I was hoping to surprise the invaders and learn something about their culture, and perhaps save our planet.
Walking home with my purchase was a joy. It was a clear, warm afternoon in the French Quarter and the smells of Tea Olive and honeysuckle were in the air, and the air was full of expectation. The slight breeze whispered of great potentials and happy endings. I was content to meander in a southern miasma of partial amnesia, if you catch my drift.
‘Drifting’ my way through the narrow streets, past centuries old cottages and ornately ironed balconies brimming with ferns and flowers, I wondered how much had changed over the years in crayon land. Was the color ‘Flesh’ expanded to include ‘Asian’, ‘Hispanic’, and a myriad of ‘African American’ colors? Or was it now called ‘Band-Aid’ or ‘Caucasian’? Were the Greens grouped with Blues because envy was safe with melancholy? Were the Yellows now cowering in their own section, and was ‘Aqua Marine’ now in a ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t tell’ area? Were the crayons of my youth ‘toxic’ (we used to eat them, you know)? The possibilities were endless.
The box sat on my desk unopened for days. I pictured an uneasy truce between the colors being so closely confined and sealed to boot. I wondered what terrors the opening of the box would unleash. Would they behave? I recalled finding a Yellow Penway ™ Crayon in the street a few days earlier; it was broken in three places, obviously the victim of turf wars.
I read the box. Did you know that in Easton, Pa. there is a factory that makes Crayolas? And, that you can call them toll free at 1-800-crayola for a seventy five-cent coupon off your next purchase, you can tour the factory if you ever get up that way, and that, no, they are NOT made by Oompa Loompas. I called them, and they told me that stuff. They have a website, and, of course, it’s I also called their marketing firm (not toll free) and I’m awaiting a call back or press package or something.
See, isn’t that better than dwelling on the fact that a third of the adult population of New Orleans can’t read above fifth grade level? How smart does that make you?
I finally decided to open the box. I mean, hell that’s more important than the fact that less than half the registered voters actually vote here (and only a fraction of those eligible even register).
First I stood the box on its head for a couple of hours to disorient them. I don’t want any oriented crayons, not on my watch.
And then for the moment of truth.
I opened the box slowly, carefully, with extreme trepidation, forgetting to breathe.
“Holy Cannoli” I exhaled, “they’re in four smaller boxes and there’s no rhyme or reason to their distribution!” I said to no one in particular. The cat eyed me suspiciously from her perch atop the computer printer. I cleared some space on the desk, dumped the crayons out and tried to make some order, or at least get some sense. I started by looking for ‘patterns’ and some emerged.
The Greens were outnumbered, the Red family that drifted into the Oranges held the power, Yellows are almost extinct having inter bred with every other color. Purples were uppity; Silver was being treated like a red headed stepchild, while Black and White simply did not give a shit.
The colors will boggle your mind. There’s Orange, Red Orange and Yellow Orange. There’s Macaroni and Cheese, Purple Mountain’s Majesty, Timberwolf, Asparagus (looking a little overcooked if you ask me), Tumbleweed and Granny Smith Apple! I kid you not. There’s even a color called Bittersweet; I had wondered about that.
But, it was the family of the Blues that blew my mind: Cadet, Turquoise, Pacific, Sky and Robin’s Egg Blue. Cornflower, Cerulean (?), Periwinkle, Blue Green (not to be confused with Green Blue), and of course Blue. I wondered how many shades of the blues there were, and, would B. B. King be able to sing about them all?
Putting them back (in order, of course) I didn’t see Aqua Marine and there were no flesh tones of any ethnic group in evidence. My neighbor assures me that there’s a box of ninety-six out there and has intimated that the next time she leaves the French Quarter she’ll look for it for me. As a hard core Quarterite, I live with the shopping policy that: “If it’s not found in the French Quarter, I don’t really need it”
There, that’s easier than trying to figure out why it seems that The American Dream is being filmed in Myopic-Vision and is being directed by Frederico Fellini, from beyond the grave; hang on……, I thought I just heard Raw Umber telling Olive Green to “Stop whining and get a !@@##$$%%*8* Job!!”
It’s time to reseal that box, there is such a thing as too much information. And besides, who’d believe me?

Friday, August 22, 2008

New Orleans Beer Drinkers Blues

Po-boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Beer Drinker’s Blues
Yuppie Scum Are Out To Poison Me
I stopped off at The Royal St. grocery store with bated breath. ‘The whisper on the street’ had it that Schlitz beer had been sighted (“The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous”). I planned on having one of my favorite lunches: a ‘Tall Boy’ and a frozen burrito, yum yum!
Oh, sad day. Oh, bitter disappointment. Oh, sad singin’ and slow walkin’. Oh, wailin’ in the wikki-yup.
Yes, Schlitz beer had been in, but it had been a one shot thing. Now what they had was an esoteric, eccentric line of far fetched, far flung ‘designer beers’ with the gamut of multicolored Abita’s as vanguard and foreign ‘non alcoholic’ beers bringing up the rear. By ‘non alcoholic beer’ I mean: any beer that no self styled alcoholic would drink! Can you imagine any of your friends saying: “Boy, I went on a bender, and did those Coronas f--- me up! Missed two days of work after hitting the Dos Equis, musta been the limes!”
Nonononono! MY friends would be more apt to say: “Leon, found Schaefer at the ‘Pac ‘n Sac, Pic ‘n Pay, Put It In A Bag ‘n Git Outa Here’ store and bought ten cases! Four of us watched the Twilight Zone marathon, thirty pounds of boiled crawfish and didn’t even know what city we was in!”
Let’s get it straight from the gate; I’m an American. My beer is American, I smoke Lucky Strikes (non-filter), I chew Dentyne gum, I drink coffee with all the caffeine I can get AND half and half AND PLENTY OF SUGAR. I wash with Palmolive soap, I use Colgate toothpaste and when I want a mint, I go for LifeSaver’s, End of story.
Thirty years ago I worked for a man that was to become my mentor. It was at a country club in Denver and he had a keg of beer on tap in the walk-in refrigerator for the cooks. The beer was (and still is, when you can find it) Pabst Blue Ribbon. He said that it was the first beer that he had thrown up on and that was good enough for me. Since then, PBR has been, and remains, my beer of choice. Why? I like it. And, you know what? I have a slogan for that brewery: “Pabst Blue Ribbon--- It works!!”
Also, PBR comes in a nifty red, white and blue can. What can be more American than that? But, what is a red blooded American supposed to do in a world of beers that include weird ingredients (like berries fergodsakes) as incentives for doing what all beer drinkers are about (getting drunk)? Naturally, in direct opposition to this, I look for and buy when I can, American traditional, brewskis.
Anyone who is well over the drinking age (such as moi) can remember when the beer you drank was the beer that was brewed close to where you lived, made with the local waters. It wasn’t until the giant breweries started mass marketing that you started to get swill that came from afar.
Beers like Rhinegold and Ballentine and Oarlocker in the north. Black Label and Schlitz and Miller High Life in the mid west. Hamms on the left coast, and others. We knew where we were by the beers that were favored.
I come from a very disciplined family, if any of us kids acted up at the table, our mother would reach across the table with her soupspoon and whomp us, admonishing: “just drink your beer and shut up!”
I also come from a family of religious drinkers; not only do we drink religiously, but my mother told us that when God created beer, she put it in packs of six so that we would be aware that that was a portion. You can’t go wrong with a parent like that; although go wrong I did, it wasn’t her fault
Be that as it may, Falstaff, Regal and Jax beers are a thing of the past here, even Dixie is no longer brewed here (Blackened Voodoo beer? Gimme a break!). Rolling Rock, to my taste, is the closest thing to a traditional American beer that you can get and still be in a class joint.
I have a personal boycott going with the Bud and Bud products since the seventies when I found out that they were major funders of marijuana busters in Humbolt County, so they’re out. Miller will never taste the same unless it’s in that clear bottle. ‘Lite’ beer I dislike on princable, just as I disdain ‘sugar free’ anything. Red-Dog is for curb sitters and breakfast brown baggers. Busch and Miliwaukee Best are for ‘old man crotch scratchers’ (and is a Bud product). Foreign beers I’ll drink in foreign places, thank you. And the day that I willingly pay more money for a non-alcoholic beer than regular ones, just shoot me.
Tell me why I should want to drink beer any color, going in, than I want it coming out. Tell me why I should want a Thirty two-ounce can of beer???.
Have you even noticed that finding beer in twelve ounce cans has become a rarity? If you have, then you didn’t tell me. What’s gone wrong in this world? Barqs is even claiming to be a ‘root beer’! What’s up with that?
I was passing that newsstand on Decatur St. and saw the sign in the window proclaiming the availability of a gazillion beers. Do they have PBR? Nooooooo. Why bother?
And now, ‘the whisper on the street’ is that Coors is going to start brewing here. Hello! What, I ask you, am I to do?
In heaven there’s a barmaid that serves icy mugs of American beers for a buck. It won’t get much better that that.

New Orleans Restaurant Rumors

Po-boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Restaurant Confidential
That Man’s Nuts! Grab ‘em!
Okay, by now we all have graduated from Gossip Central and are ready for courses in Rumor Control. Soon you’ll be able (with my help, of course) to move on to Hearsay University with, shall we say, impunity; to go forth, unchallenged among the unsuspecting, with insider traded information about local eateries.
I’m not talking about the basic skinny on restaurants like underpaid kitchen staff, lack of health benefits, tough working conditions, chefs that can go from zero to ballistic in four seconds, bounced paychecks, alcohol and substance challenges (not abuse, only the challenge of keeping supplied), and wait staff that are required to come to work ready to kiss everyone’s ass from the dishwashers to the Chefs before they even get to the customers.
I’m talking about, for example, this conversation that I had recently with a cab driver friend that is Professor Emeritus of Hearsay U.
Moi: “So they shut down that brothel on Canal St. and the Madame is gonna name names, one of whom, rumor has it, is a local Chef. I wonder who he’ll turn out to be?”
Prof: “What do you mean HE? It could be --------------! You know She’s a nymphomaniac, don’t you? It could just as well be her!” (You know who that is don’t you? Not to worry, the answer to these and other gems will be given towards the end of this sermon. I promise)
Okay, now that you’ve cheated and found out who the nympho chef is, let’s get on to some more juicy stuff. Test your knowledge and ability to pick up the ‘whisper on the street’ by answering these:
1. Name three French Quarter restaurants that have just or are about to lose their leases and close.
2. Name the restaurant that, when the waiter thinks that the customer is a bit drunk, will add drinks and food to their bill (to be shared by the waitstaff).
3. Name that place that as a prerequisite to being assigned to lucrative table sections, sex with the owner (or his son) is required.
4. When installing the new computer system, at this high profile joint, it was necessary to teach the staff to read and write as some had been actually drawing pictures previously. Where is it?
5. Where do residents go to peer into windows, after closing, to watch the rodents frolic on food counters?
6. Name the restaurant that the management takes a percentage of waiter’s credit card tips (off the top) and if you complain….you get fired.
7. Where do they lace fried chicken with lye as a rat poison?
8. Where is it a common kitchen occurrence to see the ceiling drip into the salad dressings? The soup?
Now, you see, if you ask a waiter those questions they’ll probably look at you like you’re stupid and rattle off at least three answers, for each question, right off the top of their pointy heads. Ready for more?
9. Where are insects such a common factor that if you watch the kitchen as they send out your lunch, you won’t be surprised to see the waitress flick a roach from the cutting board?
10. Smoking while cooking? Sweating into your food? Spitting into the trashcans? Excessive drinking on the job? Paying off the health department? Not having current licensing to operate? Too easy!
11. Discrimination by gender, ethnicity, age, or the size of your-------? Where have you been?
12. Sexual (and other) conduct that can be viewed as ‘misconduct’? That subject goes so deep that you’d have to have a seminar to explain to the uninitiated the complexities of social and sexual politics that occur behind swinging doors. Neither pros nor cons come into play here (we’ll save that for the seminar), it’s there. Has been. Will be.
13. Is it rumor or truth that the Chef of this restaurant is part owner of that building (on Chartres and Toulouse) that is suffering demolition by neglect? The (possible) answer is at the end of the article.
14. What white tablecloth restaurant’s customers had the occasion to be served by the bartender working in her bra and undies for about an hour a coupla weeks ago and why?
15. Name the latest DWIs, adulterers, breakups? Who am I not talking about?
Restaurants are virtual Galapagos Islands of human behavior and to categorize and extrapolate and rationalize, let alone try to explain that aberrant behavior would take a combination of Messieurs Freud, Darwin and Rodgers (Roy, Fred, Buck and Will). The question remaining is how come that in the year 2002 no one has thought to change that mentality? Answer: It has been tried over the last hundred years to bring sanity to that chaotic world, but thus far, has met with little success. Why? Simple. The restaurant business attracts weirdoes, misfits, transients, runaways, renegades, idiot savants, non-conformers and those of us that are just plain perfect. We know that it’s not Kansas, Toto; but, to a lot of us, it is home.
Well, so what’s one of the main things that keeps restaurant staffs going besides the chance of the elusive hundred-dollar tip, drinks before, during and after work or being gluttons for punishment? Living on the edge, you know, where things happen! Where else can you hear things like: “She got him in the liquor room while he was on the ladder taking inventory and you know how small that room is; took down his pants and did him right there! Said that it was part of his job!” or “Yeah, they (the owners) did a drug test on the staff and they all failed!” or “He came in to work and they had changed the locks, he’d been stealing, from his own restaurant for almost a year!!” or “I swear, I saw it with my own eyes(!), they took the ladle out of the turtle soup, beat the rat to death, you know, blood (?), and then put the ladle back in the soup!” (Guess where this occurred?).
In any case, here’s the answers to the questions (and in some cases, names of places I’ve added to throw you off the track just to keep things interesting): Antoine’s, Arnaud’s, Bayona, Brigtsen’s, Brousard’s, Café Marigny, Central Lock up, Cobalt, Commanders, Court of Two Sisters, Déjà vu, Elizabeth’s, Embers, Emeril’s, Felix’s, Frank’s, Gabrielle’s, Galatoire’s, Giovanni’s, Grill Room, Indigo, Jaeger’s, K-Paul’s, La Crepe Nanou, Le Rouge, Mr. B’s, Morton’s, Muriel’s, Napoleon House, Oliver’s, Outback, Pat O’s, Pelican, Peristyle, Quarter Scene, Redfish, Remoulade, Santa Fe, Vaqueros, Victor’s, Wolfe’s, Zoe or none of the above?
Oh, and our lascivious, lewd, lustful, libidinous, lecherous, licentious Lady? Ooops! Out of space.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Music in New Orleans

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Fair Game
The Way That Jazz Goes Down
I’ve come to believe that memory inhibits creativity and spontaneity. I kind of know this from experience; at least I think that I do.
For example, decades ago, a younger me, down on my luck, took a temp job as a dishwasher. I was sent to a club to bust suds.
There I was, up to my elbows in plate scraps, bemoaning my fate, when through the kitchen wall (adjacent to the audience) came the sounds of a gifted jazz artist and… viola, I had an epiphany. I was there, yes I was, (or at that time I was here, the lines kind of get fuzzy). And I was actually being paid to listen to one of the all time great performers of my time!
I remember this, and I remember Ahmad Jamal coming into the kitchen to scam a bite and me feeling special and a part of it all. I remember it like it was yesterday.
From that moment forward, I became a musiholic. I ate, slept, woke, dreamt, and lived music. No artist was too obscure, no venue was out of bounds, no form was ignored, no rolling stone was unturned, and I even put a full Nelson on Willie.
I started to, and still do, listen to Dylan and Dvorjak, The Beatles and Beethoven, Tom Waits, Aretha Franklin, Doctor John, Otis Redding, Neil Young, B.B. King, The Spinners, Smokey Robinson, Clyde McFadder, Eric Satie, Bessie Smith, Peggy Lee, Marvin Gaye, Nat Cole, Elvis, The Dixie Cups, The Grateful Dead, The Doors, Vladimir Horowitz, Mendelssohn, Santana, Brubeck and a thousand other artists that you can but hope in your dreams to appreciate.
Listen up! I was actually paid to tend bar and see Miles Davis perform, not once but a half a dozen times (at least)! Top that!
But, I also recall Jazz Fest being twelve dollars, phone calls being a nickel, bus rides being a quarter and my pay being not much more than it is today.
Where does that leave me? I’ll tell you. In a quandary and quagmire. Am I still gonna try my damnedest to get as much time off from work to blow my hard earned to be out there at the Fair Grounds to cram more music into my already overloaded skull? You bet your sweet ass I am!
Do I understand why thirty five years of profit can’t be accounted for so that prices go up, tickets become more inconvenient to procure and Mother Nature more unpredictable, for the privilege of seeing performances by legends of the music world and be actually there when they do their thing? Yep.
Every year I make whatever sacrifice it takes to be there or be square. Sure, there are forces at work beyond my control or understanding that put on the greatest show on earth; but I’ve got to be there! My life, my soul and my heart beats to the sounds of Johnny Vadokovitz (SP) on drums at the Jazz tent. The Dixie Cups and The Dixie Chicks melt my shorts and to be in the Gospel Tent is truly a religious experience. And I’ve got to be in the audience! This year, as in all previous, The New Orleans Jazz And Heritage Festival will not be televised …Jazz Fest is LIVE!
My policy is to get tickets and worm my way into as many and any hours that I can squeeze in, I pour over programs and maps, make the necessary strategic plans to see my favored performers and then upon arrival scap it all and go where the sounds take me. And I travel light, fast and able. There’s gut in my strut, glide in my stride and no shame in my game.
Okay, I hate the car lot in the space where a stage should be, I don’t understand why the beer doesn’t give me a buzz or how come this year they’re going to build bleachers for high rollers to get a better view than us shmucks on ground level. I don’t know why thirty something’s carry poles with flags and travel in packs. I wonder why folks buy tickets and then claim real estate with blankets, folding chairs and tarps and treat you like a trespasser and interloper should you tread on their sacred ground. I also can’t fathom why people carry so much gear with them, like chairs and backpacks and jungle fashion. And you know what? I don’t care.
In my own warped mind, I don’t think that they really get it. This is not Survivor Twelve, it’s the friggin’ Jazz Fest!
Dig this; a few years ago my step was losing its pep, my ocean was losing its motion…my get up and go was getting’ up and goin’. So I spy this rain tent, you know, one of those misting places that you stumble upon and can never find again?
So I go in out of the din and the glare and all of a sudden it gets quiet; I mean real quiet. The fine mist of cool jetted water is not quite wetting me as much as it is centering me. I can hardly make out the shapes of people around me but I’m sensing that there are them and we’re headed in the direction of this light at the end of the tunnel, if you will.
Nobody’s in a hurry, so naturally I’m not either (you know, go with the flow..?)
So, I’m cruisin’ thinking everything’s cool and this light is getting brighter, all of a sudden I can see the forms in front of me and we’re headed for this opening and we get closer and closer and it starts to open up……SHAZAM!!
The sounds of people having a great time, music all around us, the sun is shining and I smell food cooking. My body temperature welcomes the Sun’s rays and I believe, yes I do, that I have just gone to heaven!
Every year I start my Festin’ with a dozen raw oysters and the hoisting of a beer to my loved ones who’ve passed on or merely passed on by and hope that their heaven is at least as good a time as mine will be; and like I said: be there or be square. See you at the Fair.

Ya Ka Mein in New Orleans

Po-boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Live Nude Girls!
Further Signs of Life in the Gumbo Republic
Notes on possible topics for this month:
1.Tenants rights in New Orleans: Forget it, there are none.
2. Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters: Patronizing the local economy
3. Lucky Dogs and Englishmen: Wagon the Dog
4. The four families that own the French Quarter: Better not.
5. Concierges and kickbacks: Whoops, did I say that?
6. Controversial stoop sitting: The last Black family in the Quarter.
7. Holding up the cab drivers: Who owns all the Taxi licenses?
8. Big Business Behemoths: The death of the small shops.
9. Trading paradise for a prophylactic: Trashing our treasures.
10. Would you buy a used car from this man? Big Brother is Alive and Well:
Forget it! Let’s discuss something serious, this is, after all, the Restaurant Guide. Let’s talk about Ya-Ka Mein.
Ya-ka Mein is not a restaurant, at least, not that I’m aware of. Ya-ka Mein is a something to eat that very well may be of local origin. I’ve never seen it anywhere else, so, who knows?
It’s not a snobs dish, it’s not for the ‘Upper Crust’ or the Hoy Polloy. It’s a working person’s affair, a culinary adventurer’s adventure, a true foodie’s food. Tom Fitzmorris disses it. Sara Roahen adores it. Mathew at the N.O. J&H Foundation calls it a ‘heritage thing’. Dudley at Zatarain’s described working on the river at Elysian Fields and ‘going in to the neighborhood’ for it at lunchtime. Brett Anderson was unavailable for comment at this time. Linda Green demonstrated it at Jazz Fest last year, bless her heart. Ya-ka Mein.
There are probably hundreds of places in New Orleans to get Ya-ka Mein, (spelled Yet-ka mein, Jakemein, Yakamay, Yatka-mein, Yet Gaw Mein, yakameat, Ya-ka Mein, Yakama or ‘Old Sober’) and, I haven’t been to them all…yet.
Legend has it that a hundred years ago New Orleans had a viable Chinatown around South Rampart St. near Tulane Ave. It butted up against a thriving African American living, shopping and entertainment district. Allegedly this is where a street kid, later known as Sachmo, cut his chops running errands for prostitutes, crossing the borders of these ‘hoods for little packages of…………. could it have been………….opium?
I like to think not. I like to think, though I’ve been wrong before, that he was getting take out, possibly Yakamay. {and to think, that nowadays, all that the musically gifted children have to look forward to is NOCCA— how the mighty have fallen} J
With the disolution of our neighborhoods (we also had Jewish, Irish, German, Italian and Greek ones that likewise evaporated) the dish was dispursed like the lost tribes, and only kept alive by the poor, the hung over, the corner markets run by Asians serving Blacks.
When I have guests in from out of town, you know, my peeps, I take them on eating tours (what else?) of our city. No, not to places that the average bo-hunk gets ripped at. I take them on street level tours. Items like Muffalettas at Louigi’s, meatloaf at the Café Reconcile, pickled pig lip ogling at Robert’s ($12.71 a gallon!), alligator sandwiches at Royal Street Gro, gumbo at the corner of Broad and Banks, Lucky Dogs, and Busch in a brown bag with a pack of Zapp’s. They’re all here for the taking, but not the breaking (of your pocketbook).
Ya-ka Mein is different. I kinda keep it to myself. Why? Because if word gets out, those hot shot Chefs with their high falutin’ ways are gonna ruin a good thing. I just know it. And to my way of thinking, we have enough variations as it is. Do I want to see “Duck confit and lobster Ya-Ka Mein with poached quail egg, foix gras and beluga caviar pasta….$24.95 I certainly do not!
But wait! What’s that you say? What is Ya-ka Mein? Listen Woddie, if you don’t know, you better ass somebody!
Oh, you’re assin’ me. Okay, here goes: Ya-ka Mein, whatever way you spell it is a noodle soup of oriental extraction containing a variety of dead animals (pork, chicken, beef , shrimp, etc.) seasoned according to the deviation tendencies of the perpetrator behind the stove, and invariably compoundly fractured (garnished) with a whole hard boiled egg. Y’erd me?
Sometimes it’s reeeeal garlicy, sometimes it’s reeeeal vegetably, the noodle may vary, the animals may change with the season. The prices are generally between three and four bucks for a one quart cup. Most times you get it at a place that caters to low income folks. You may come across it in a joint with a few, or many, tables; invariably you will be served a very hot broth with noodles, a hard cooked egg, spring onions and packets of soy sauce. Variations beyond these point are infinite.
Where do you get it? Usually the sign outside will say something like ‘Plate Lunches-Po Boys-Chinese Food-Fried Seafood Platters’ etc. That’s the call to go ‘check out’ a new source. Don’t worry, it’s cool, you’re on a mission from….. me.
As I sit here, I’m having a quart from Manchu.
Not a place for the faint of heart, Manchu is located at the corner of Claiborne and Esplanade, their Yakamein is first rate, with a great kick of cayenne. While there, check out the wine selection to see what the other half drinks.
If you’re a stranger to danger, hop on up to Broadview, a smooth Yakama is made with asian pork and is redolent with green onions. While there check out other menu items: gumbo, boiled crabs, crawfish, shrimp, turkey necks, corn,and pigs feet (eat in or take out).
Uptown try Mama’s Famous Foods, truly a garlic lovers version
John’s Grocery on Touro and N. Rampart has it in two sizes as does Danny’s on Valence at Magazine (although theirs is alittle salty for my taste).
D&D between Desire and Piety & St. Claude has a kick of black pepper. Monica’s on Milan is sold by a man named ‘Pops’, who keeps a bottle of Sriracha handy.
Chinatown on Canal and Kimmy’s in the CBD both have plethoras of fresh veggies but no egg (go figure) I just saw that the the Moon Wok in the Quarter has it, expensive ($5.95) but I gotta try it. Someone recently mentioned that there was one place in Chicago…………that one may take me awhile to check out.
What I’m saying is that Ya-ka Mein is like a cullinary mugging, waiting around the corner, not frequent in better parts of town, almost brutal in its honesty and straightforwardness. You may get it at a secondline from the back of a pick up, or whipped up at a poker game by a recent Angola graduate, it’s a little thing, a small pleasure.
But, hey, when this Clark Kent gets home (provided there’s no eviction notice on the door) after working (provided the friggin’ Daily Planet doesn’t lay anyone else off) plus fighting for truth and justice (compared to what?) and looks in the mirror (as long as I remembered to pay my light bill) a lot of times all I see on my chest is a capital A (for Adequate-man) or an E (for Every-man); I long for a little thing, a small pleasure. Yat-ka Mein is that.
The Prophet once wrote: “Now go.”

Demolition by Neglect in New Orleans

Whatever Happened To Baby Shame?
Debbie Lindsey and Phil LaMancusa
It started as a lark; it turned into a can of worms. French Quarter waiters, lounging in front of their job site discussing the demolition by neglect of the building across the street. A once beautiful four-story brick building, windows broken, missing and even a gaping hole where a window once was. Space where balconies had fallen and the precarious evidence of one about to follow its predecessors. Pigeons arrived and departed with the frequency of planes at a busy airport; we likened the decay to Bette Davis in her last major film role.
“How could somebody let this happen?”
“Who owns that thing?”
“Can’t somebody, shouldn’t somebody, do something about it?”
“You know, there should be a way for a person to sue a property owner for possession of their building when they let it fall into such disrepair; I mean, I have a hammer, I’ve got nails, I could do something!”
“Yeah, (almost sarcastically) we could put on a high school pageant and save the building like Judy Garland and whatsisname.”
“Mickey Rooney” I replied, “No really, I don’t see why I shouldn’t be allowed ownership; they take away kids and animals if you don’t treat ‘em right, why not a building?”
“This is a ‘National Historic Monument’ of a French Quarter, isn’t it?” Debbie returned, “but I bet you a nickel you can’t.”
We’re fortunate to live in a city that is large enough to house a well staffed city government while at the same time small enough to be personal about it. It is no chore getting an answer, or answers, concerning matters that we deem important about our living conditions. Unfortuately, we are large enough to have those matters, and their solutions, come under a heading of “not our department”. Case in point: demolition by neglect in the French Quarter.
The French Quarter was deemed a National Historic Monument in 1966, and that makes us special. In a decision of The Historic American Building Survey by the Department of the Interior, Office of National Parks, Buildings and Reservations we were classified as a site that possesses ‘National Interest Concerning the History of the United States of America’. You can’t get more specific than that.
So what did we do? We held my telephone hostage for an hour or so one afternoon and tackled the job of inquiry. In the process, we received a vicarious tour of City Hall’s various agencies that protect The Big Easy from itself.
We first talked to Joyce at the main number who referred me to Environmental Affairs (EA). Cheryl, at EA had us call NORA (the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority and Ingrid (at NORA) directed us to contact Code enforcement, where we asked Ms. Turner about blighted property as defined by her department. “Unfit for human habitation” was her very succinct definition (Ingrid had told us earlier that ‘blighted’ was “not fixin’ on a property that they can”) and forwarded our call to Rene Sterncamp, her supervisor. Mr. Sterncamp, after hearing our story, told us that the matter was out of their jurisdiction because there is a business in operation on the property.
Subsequent inquiries included the City Attorney, City Planning, The Office of Blighted Housing Purchases, Environmental Affairs, Boards and Commissions, Safety and Permits, Councilman Jackie Clark’s office, Environmental Health Code Enforcement and The Historic District Landmarks Commission (whose jurisdiction, we were told, covers everything but The French Quarter!)
Two other names kept popping up: The Williams Research Center (WRC) at 410 Chartres St. and The Vieux Carre Commission (VCC) at 334 Royal St.
We visited the WRC and were shown the records of the property dating back to its builders Claude Gurlie and Joseph Guillot who helped shape New Orleans as architects, builders and developers. They were in business from 1795-1835 and left their mark, with their distinctive style, through the transition of Louisiana from colony to statehood. Some of their buildings of note are at 722 Toulouse St., the Tricou House at 711 Bourbon St., the Cottin House at 534 Royal St., the Vignie House at the corner of Royal and Orleans, Our Lady of Guadalupe church at 411 N. Rampart St., 613 Royal (home of the Court of Two Sisters) and the Gally House at 536-542 Chartres (known today as 540 Chartres). They also designed and built a convent for the Ursulines that was later demolished to make way for the industrial canal. The WRC also suggested that further information be obtained at the Office of property Management at City Hall.
Our visits to the VCC yielded further insights. Our meetings, although informal, with Marc Cooper and Hector Perera were instructive and educational.
Mr. Herrera, Chief Inspector and seventeen year employee, told us that, indeed, anyone could file a complaint against an owner of property in the French Quarter when it appeared to that person that negligence of that property was cause for concern. But, he added, Due Process often could not be completed to affect change. He cited examples at 601 Chartres, 528 N. Rampart and 540 Chartres (the Gally House). Here’s how it works, we register a complaint, the VCC sends out an inspector to verify and if just cause is found, a letter to the landlord, explaining the complaint and asking for compliance to remedies and communication, within fourteen days, to the VCC. If the citation is ignored, which he said in some cases it is, then the matter can be turned over to a court for legal action. This is where Due Process bogs down. To get a landlord to court a subpoena must be served and if that subpoena is not served then the landlord doesn’t go to court.
Mr. Herera explained that the people serving subpoenas, in most cases, had a hand full of them and if, for example, the landlord was ‘out of the office’, the paper was deemed a bad serve. You see, he said, the paper had to be served to the landlord or to the landlord’s home address. In a lot of cases it was either nearly impossible to find the landlord’s address, or the landlord couldn’t be served, for example, by Orleans Parish if they lived in another parish. Unless, he added, you could get ‘a favor’ by the authorities in that parish to deliver the subpoena.
Mr. Cooper (Director and sixth generation native) confirmed that a significant number of buildings were seriously neglected and that bringing a landlord to court was a challenge, but the VCC has only so much authority.
He allowed us to see the file on 540 Chartres and explained with the help of a map the significance of that particular building. We saw that a complaint had been filed on February 19th and it had been addressed to K&L Investments c/o NOLA Restaurant. We also saw at least twenty work permits that were for work that the tenant had taken responsibility for completing, mostly for safety and cosmetic issues. Mr. Cooper went on to say that the binding test of neglect was based basically on if, in fact, unwanted water was being allowed to enter the property. Water, he said was the root of all damage; with water came rot, insects, deterioration. I explained that it was common to see water dripping through the ceiling of the first floor business when it rained and he answered…”I know”. We found the people at the VCC not only helpful, but serious, passionate and dedicated to the work that they are trying to do, we also found that, if you scratched their surface, you could see a lot of frustration too.
While the files were informative they do not appear to reflect the extent of complaints and concern leveled at the VCC. For example: “I have heard you are investigating blighted housing in the French Quarter, especially the building at 540 Chartres. I have lived next door to this building at 534 Chartres since 1995. The building was in terrible shape then with broken windows and frames, collapsed stairs in the rear slave quarters. Since 1995 the condition of the building has rapidly deteriorated. I am acquainted with Marc Cooper and brought this matter to his attention several times. Not only is this a historic disgrace, I believe it is a health hazard and a public danger. I hope you will prevail in your investigation and attempt to remedy this long neglected situation. Sincerely, Robert Vehon.
At City Hall, where the records of all properties in Orleans is available to the public free of charge, it only took minutes to find the names on the document of conveyance -- the names of the landlords.
Architecture drew me to New Orleans. It wasn’t the food, it wasn’t the partying, it wasn’t the fun. Old buildings, any kind of old buildings are my passion. They can range from the mansions of St. Charles to humble shotgun houses; the stately structures of commerce or the funky corner groceries with their Bargs root beer signs. For someone in love with history as it appears in wood, brick and stucco I was weak-in-the-knees for the French Quarter. So, with one more nod to the overwhelming array of architecture throughout the city I will contain my homage to the Vieux Carrie and the one building that for me exemplifies all that once flourished and is now decaying.
There are roughly 2,000 buildings within the Quarter with the majority being of architectural and historic significance, with some more outstanding than others. At various times in history, this neighborhood and her buildings have come under threat of demolition. The building of our focus, our ‘poster child’ if you will, is among these 2,000 buildings; and, it has been for too long in grave danger. During our research into this building’s decline we have found reports of correspondence with the responsible (or irresponsible) party involved (or uninvolved) yet still the place remains in disrepair and decline.
The bottom line is: I have watched for too long this building falling to ruin, with second, third and fourth floors serving as a pidgeon coop. And the current owners, since 1994, seem to my eye, slow to act. Three months ago the second floor balcony fell off (fortunately in the rear of building and not onto a busy sidewalk). Perhaps this didn’t shock the owners into repairs since a similar situation had already occurred when the third floor balcony collapsed two years earlier.
In addition to housing pigeons, rain, rot and termites, this old home is used for ground level leasing. In direct contrast to the vagrancy of disrepair suffered elsewhere throughout this property there is a vibrant neighborhood bar on the first floor. It seems to be the only source of life in this neglected building. There is a common misconception that a building is owned by the business (restaurant, bookstore, bar, etc.) operating within. Public perception has often placed blame, incorrectly, upon tenants rather than the behind-the-scene owner. Ironically the tenants often care more and spend more on maintenance and repair than those bearing the holding title. Judging from the records, this appears to be the case with 540 Chartres. I get the feeling this blighted corner would be truly worse for wear without the occupation of the ground floor tenants. Empty buildings just seem to give up on themselves.

If this were the New Orleans Museum of Art and someone were to rip apart a canvas or smash a Rodin, immediate action would be taken. Why is there no yellow crime scene tape around this building?
This is not a who-done-it or guess-where. This is simply a matter of public record and anyone walking past the building can see for themselves history and art still in residence at 540 Chartres despite deterioration. And we will save you a trip to room W506 of the Office of Real Estate and Records on the fifth floor of City Hall. In April 1994, 536-42 Chartres (540 Chartres) known as the Gally House, built by renowned French architects Gurley and Guillot and zoned blue for major historical and architectural significance was purchased by K&L Investments L. L. D... represented by Hicham Khodr and Emeril J. Lagasse. Bam!
We called K&L Investments for a statement and we received one within twenty four hours. It was from Emeril Lagasse. The statement reads, and I quote, “When Hicham and I bought the building, we saw that it was in disrepair and had good intentions to renovate it. Then we began to look at the economics of it, and unfortunately it didn’t make sense at the time. I then had to prioritize my holdings and began renovating other properties throughout the city including Emiril’s Delmonico, Emeril’s Restaurant, NOLA Restaurant and our new corporate headquarters, Emeril’s Homebase, located at 829 St. Charles near Lee Circle” End of quote.
K&L Investments bought 540 Chartres St. in 1994 for $665,000.00. Would this be a low priority investment to you? Onward.
We were informed that Hicham Khodr phoned VCC about violations and said that he would begin making improvements. Mr. Cooper informed us, at least twice in our meeting with him on September 3rd, that his response was, and I quote again, “actions speak louder than words”.
In our estimation, seven years is quite a bit of time to recognize a problem and a need -- a four-story need. With this said, we hope, and will applaud Khodr and Lagasse if they begin to take as much pride in this historic building as with the high profile buildings that house Lagasse’s restaurants.
At the Time of this writing no permits for work on 540 Chartres St. have been applied for or issued.

Aliens in New Orleans

Po-Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Ouch, That Hurts
Ground Control to Major Tom
“There are five nameless people that own the entire planet and move everyone around to suit themselves and their purposes”. This statement from a female life form (not unpleasant to look at) that had placed two imitation precious metal discs on a rim surface to indicate her challenge to a contest involving fifteen striped and solid colored spheres being hit with a non colored sphere by way of a long slender rod of wood. The intent of which is to propel those spheres, intentionally, into any of six cavities evenly spaced in a three foot by six feet flat green felt covered horizontal playing surface. I reminded myself that this was just another game of pool.
A hot August evening, a quiet, non-competitive game (against myself), my local pub (Molly’s on Toulouse) and sleeping late the next day had had me lulled into a sense of psychic rest and relaxation. Obviously, this was not meant to be.
In our native vernacular, I responded “So, where y’all from?” She replied that she was from a “planet so far away that I could string toilet paper from my front yard to Uranus (was there a pun intended?), multiply that length by a qua-zillion and not even come close to imagining the distance.” Or, “so fucking far away, it would make your head spin.”
Good answer, I thought, scratched the eight and invited her to rack ‘em.
“So what”, I said, “you’re here to take the planet away from us, free us from destruction, save us from ourselves…what?”
“Nah” she said, “we gave up on y’all, you’d be more of a pain in the ass than we’d care to deal with. I’m just the mop up team; we’re outa here. “Plus,” she added, “most of you’re ugly as hammered shit, and just about as dumb.”
I invited her home. She racked. I broke. Sank nothing. She ran the table, sank the eight in a three bank shot and said: ”sure”: and we were off.
I have a nice house, a clean house, a big house, and a safe house and here I am discussing my world with a brunette who appears to have the intelligence of a spanner wrench. Or not. In either case why would I invite a nut case or an alien into my home? Perhaps the moon was full. Perhaps the planets were mis-alligned. Maybe I thought that I’d get lucky. That’s probably the answer; and while I’ve been laid by a lot of loonies, getting in the sack with an alien would be a new one. Yep, that’s what it was.
Out on the street, I asked about that three-rail bank that she did on the eight ball. She looked at me sweetly and said: “It ain’t rocket surgery, Cap”. Then she touched me behind my ear and something she did shut down my horny honey hornet system. It was like a cold shower, but more effective. I decided that I’d best be polite, that system is usually on red alert twenty four seven, ask anyone that thinks that they know me.
Seated on my porch with the air as still as a tomb and the clouds playing hide and seek with another electrical storm, I asked her what she had found out about us as a race.
“First and foremost: your collective will to exert superiority over each other. Those who find themselves on the lower stratum react with hatred, jealousy and violence while those above keep an illusionary and precarious control by placing value systems and unreachable futile goals that they paint as the pot of gold at the end of the ass kicking.
Those in power wage wars based on greed and oppression using mortality, valor and the joke of an afterlife to brainwash the ignorant into fighting for them.
The very thing that you call ‘sport’ consists, in general, either in abnormal body exertion or the ability to hit, kick, throw, capture or club little balls and then run like hell!
You take finely shredded plants, wrap them in thin paper, put them in your mouth, set fire to them, and then inhale a smoke that you know will shorten your pointless lives.
You drink fermented beverages, aware of their destructive addictive-ness and call it ‘fun’; you injure each other physically, mentally, and emotionally in your homes, your streets and in neighboring countries. Are you catching this or should I go slower for your pitiful ineptness to grasp complex concepts?”
I opened my mouth to answer but she didn’t miss a beat
“You empty your ghettos to provide fodder for rich men’s wars, the last ‘Prince of Peace’ you had got nailed to a tree over two thousand years ago and no one has since been able to muster up enough people to say ‘STOP!’ Got it so far Dummy or do I have to draw a diagram?”
“Uh” I said but as you might suspect, she was on a roll.
“You climbed down from the trees ‘Psycho Monkey’ and took over the planet; since then you have done your best to lay it to waste. You pollute your bodies, your air, and your land, which incidentally doesn’t belong to you but to your future. Are you gonna say to your grandchildren: “Whoops, sorry kids; I forgot to take care of the planet that I’m leaving you?” You have got to have the intelligence of a tree stump to think that we want any part of this. Shit, we’d have to knock all Y’all off and start from scratch and basically, Buddy, that’s not our M. O.”
I asked her where she learned to talk like that. She once again turned on the charm and said: “tapes”.
She unfolded her tightly knit form from my Barco-lounger and said: “Well, hasta la vista, baby” and I begged her to stay, give us another chance; tell us anything that would help us.
She again gave me that certain smile and said “ believe seven impossible things before breakfast”.

Tenants Rights in New Orleans

Tenants Rights
Phil LaMancusa
True story, A neighbor of mine is lamenting a leaking roof, I call City Hall to inquiry about her rights as a tenant. The woman on the other end says, “I didn’t know they had any”.
Well she was wrong of course. Although tenants rights haven’t changed much in Louisiana since the early eighteen hundreds (that’s right!) you do have one overwhelmingly simple and basic right. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to suck it up. And if you’re reading the right to ‘shut up and pay your rent’ here, you’re reading right.
Here’s how it works. You find a place that you can afford and maybe it even suits your needs. The landlord hands you a years lease and you sign it, most of the time not bothering to read it. Face it, most people are on the verge of desperation when they finally get to that point. You spend a year making it as livable as you can and what happens? Your lease is up and there is no new lease, you now join the ranks of the month to month renters, which means you have only the above right.
In the first year, if you’ve registered (and only if you’ve registered) your lease at City Hall, you are pretty much guaranteed a place to live with repairs and maintenance supplied by the landlord at a specific price: your rent. After that all bets are off. This is the state that most of us are in. It only takes five to ten days to get you out after that. You’re now at the mercy of the landlord. The kindness of strangers, so to speak.
During World War Two, renters in the USA were given a right called rent control, which assured them of a definite place to live at a specific price for as long as they could afford to live there. Any rent increases were carefully monitored and minimized. After the war only ten states kept it. Louisiana did not keep it.
Do you want rent control? It’s not easy to get. In 1987 the folks in Milwaukee voted for and passed a referendum in favor of rent control. The state legislature annulled it.
Then again it is easy to get rent control. All a city has to do is have its mayor put it into effect. Simple, huh? Don’t hold your breath.
In response to the Civil Rights movement of the sixties, The Federal Government funded a legal service to craft a model renter-landlord code. It was drafted in 1972 and approved by the American Bar Association in 1974. Today most states use the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act (URLTA) as a guideline when writing their own laws regarding landlords and tenants. Louisiana has not.

However, the URLTA does not cover security of tenure, control over rent increases, reduced rent for reduced services, freedom of speech in relationship with the landlord, condominium conversion protection for tenants, appointment of a receiver to manage the building if the landlord fails to or the payment of interest and separate handling of security deposits. All things that we already don’t have.
It does limit the landlord’s free access, hold a standard of a warranty of habitability, and protects against landlord’s retaliation.
Do you think that your landlord’s got you by the cajones? I’m sure as heck that he does.
Here’s what the New Orleans Legal Assistance office recommends: read your lease carefully to learn what the landlord is responsible for and what your responsibilities are. Look carefully around your new place and make sure everything works and is in good order. Have someone as a witness and take photos. Get everything in writing and get and keep all receipts.
The law does state that if you do not get your deposit back in thirty days from moving you have to be told why not, and if you’re not to get all of it back, why that also. However, it’s still you word against the landlord’s, and guess who gets the benefit if the doubt? Right.
You have the right to make necessary repairs that the landlord won’t (given sufficient notice) and take it off your rent and the landlord has the right to evict you with no reason. Simple.
Remember, it’s the landlords that write leases and your rights depend on what the lease says. In the past it has been the landlords who wrote the laws governing renters and property, and those laws are still in effect, by the landlord-for the landlord. It’s landlords that can afford to attend political fundraisers to keep those laws in place.
And without someone with a little more authority than me, choosing to change things the renter will always take it in the shorts. And no, Virginia, not all landlords are mean, evil, money grubbing monsters that take their families to Europe, on your dime, as your bathroom ceiling caves in, but there’s nothing stopping them from becoming exactly that.

The Passing of Big Red

Po boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
“Shut Up And Drink Your Beer”
The Passing Of Big Red
Big Red is dead, and wherever she went, I’m sure she’s not happy about it. In fact, I believe that she’s pretty pissed off. She’s gonna miss Jazz Fest.
I got the call that she was circling the drain a couple of weeks earlier and had composed my excuses to miss the wake and burial when the email came about the demise (computers are great, aren’t they?). Reluctantly, I resigned myself to the fact that one did not miss Big Red’s funeral, especially if one were one of Big Red’s sons.
Of course, if you had known Red, you knew that extended periods of mourning were not to be expected or permitted in our family. The next tragedy, at least in our family, doesn’t get put on hold while you take time to get over the last one, if you get my drift. Big Red had seen four siblings, three husbands, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin go before her and never missed a beat raising the five children she bore and dominated. In fact, if anyone could be counted on to not cry in her beer over ill winds (for long), it was her.
So, this year, as usual, I’m going to Jazz Fest. But with different eyes, with different ears and with a new sense of smell. You see, when someone or something that you take as constant and indestructible, an undeniable presence if you will, is somehow permanently, and here I repeat, permanently removed from your life, you must face your own death. Spooky, huh?
Now, you know me, it takes a lot of whiskey for me to get maudlin. If Red’s passing has taught me anything, it’s taught me the importance of savoring the moments. Here’s what I mean.
I go into my stash to see how many Fest days I can afford (I believe in conspicuous consumption) and wrangle my way out work (trading shifts, bribing coworkers coverage, whining to the boss, whatever it takes) for those days. And then, having begun what has now become my spring religious experience, I go through the Jazz Festival rituals.
Standing in line for tickets at the Municipal Auditorium may not be everyone’s cup of gin, but I, on the other hand dig it. I see folks from last year and the year before, eavesdrop on conversations of ‘he said, she said’, watch women with long legs on shiny bikes glide up. The day is naturally clear, as blue a sky as we ever get here (with the natural ‘scattered shower’ prediction), robins egg blue to be precise. It’s a bit breezy, but we knew it would be. I’ve already asked about to see if anyone I know wants me to score for them, it’s cash only, and nothing feels better or more vulnerable than having a few hundred bucks in your pocket. The ticket sellers are distant and aloof, but who gives a rats whisker, this is when it becomes MY Jazz Festival, when I get MY tickets, in MY hand. It’s the beginning of it’s all about ME. If there is anything I hold dear of in my life, it’s my Fest tickets. I watch over them like a mother hen from the time I ritually purchase them to when I hand them over at the gate for the ritual tearing.
Next, the ritual of the packing for the day. Nothing too large, bottled water is allowed and any other food or beverages will have to be consumed before entering the gates or snuck in. You know about ‘The Search’, don’t you? Should I eat before going? Big question. Should I wear baggy pants with shorts underneath? Sweatshirt or light sweater? Sunblock. Hat. Dark glasses. Sittin’ towel. The right footwear. Don’t get overburdened but by all means cover the butt. There’s only one in and one out per day.
The morning of, I’m like a kid going off to camp. Where’s my hat? In what pocket are my tickets, my money, my bus fare, my friggin Chap Stick?
I’m also, if you’ve been reading past Fest issues, a Jazz Fest maverick in the true sense of the word. I don’t herd, I don’t camp and if I see anyone I know with one of those long poles that have flags or fishes or cows horns on top of them……….(what is it with that anyway?)…….I head in the other direction. I kinda don’t get the wearing of matching clothes, ‘I’ll meet you at the water fountain at such a time’, ‘ we have our spot picked out’ attitude. I guess I’m missing some kind of bonding thing, but not much. The way that I get Fested is by roaming the grounds, wind in my receded hairline, sun in my face, gumbo on my shirt, mud on my tennies.
I’ve already had coffee for an hour before the bus ride; I know what stop to get on and where to get off. I’ve gone to the bathroom. I’m a veteran of thirty years. This year Big Red’s gonna miss it.
Like I said, I come prepared. I come prepared for an exhausting day of avoiding crowds, sunstroke, food lines and pit stop delays. I come prepared to see my music idols and icons, some of whom now resemble Jabba the Hut. I come prepared to be restless and to roam free, as free as the grass grows.
I’m mentally composing this riding in my brother’s car as we follow the hearse. Big Red was buried with a six pack at her feet (in the coffin), Lotto tickets, TV guide, rosary and a ziplock of sand from her favorite beach. The procession passes her favorite bars, Bingo parlors, past domiciles, and then a slow pass in front of the Track.
Big Red was also buried wearing bright red lipstick. She claimed that you never know when you might meet a millionaire at the mailbox, I’ll always remember her words of encouragement after reading (against her will) one of my (as I considered it to be) more witty columns: “The only thing funny about you is your face”. Say goodnight Gracie.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Not a begonia in New Orleans

Po-boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Not a begonia
The column that ‘twern’t
I had decided that it was high time that someone did an article about the abundance of bellies in New Orleans. From the petite and pretty pooches of the barely post pubescent to Ponderosa paunches approaching personal postal zones, like the cone heads in Harry Nilsson’s ‘The Point’, “everybody’s got one” here. Including me. Then I thought: how does a future friendless sound after I’ve made light of that subject?
Then I thought that a complete page devoted to George Carlin would be the ticket; you know, the guy that thought that six six seven was the neighbor of the beast and reportedly was disappointed that when he put a dollar in the change machine… nothing changed. Too deadpan?
What about a trip up Saint Louis Street, from the cradle of the Mississippi to the grave of Saint Louis cemetery? We could go up past Johnny’s Po boys to the Napoleon House, the old Royal Orleans Hotel, Antoine’s, Herman Grima and crack alley etc. Maybe a little too real.
Then I remembered a trip to Walgreens where a young black kid swiped a bag of potato chips, compounded by a trip to Whole Foods where thirty something white guys snitched chocolates from the bulk section while their girlfriends looked on smiling. Kids these days.
What about the carpenter/musician that had three fingers cut off in a construction accident? Bad visual.
Well, what shall I write about? My twelve favorite places to kiss in New Orleans? I can only think of three… the mouth, the ear… make that four.
The weather here could inspire tomes. We don’t have room for that subject, stick around fifteen minutes, it’ll change.
How about my upcoming trip to Paris as I teach myself to speak Italian? How weird is that? “dove posso trovare” and fill in the blanks? Present, past present, future subjunctive imperative? Want to watch some paint dry? What the Dickens is a ‘past present’? Lingerie?
Murder, mayhem, crime, corruption and the jerking off of the hopes and wishes of New Orleans optimists? Old news and we’re down to losing only a quarter of our population as rents rise and locals in need of pharmaceuticals go haywire watching dreams dashed.
Good news! You can recycle cans and paper at the Green Project, give them some kind of donation (cash) to help on the cost, they’re still fighting the good fight. AND, I’m a grandpa! A baby girl, eight pounds eleven ounces, twenty-one inches long. I told my daughter that she did not have a baby…she gave birth to an anaconda! Woof!
Alright, I’ll tell you a story. I was a kid that ran away from home a lot, so it stands to reason that as an adult not much changed. You know, they say that in any situation there’s love, then work and then love comes back, Well, I’m not the person that ever stuck around for the work part. When things get tough… this tough guy gets going.
Anyway, to make a long story longer, one time I decided to get a mule and wagon and start traveling (at five miles an hour) for the rest of my life. No kidding, I’ve got pictures to prove it. It’s really not such a long story. We had a wheel break in Homer, La. back then it was the home of the KKK. They didn’t like the idea of some longhaired guy, even if he was with woman and child, passing through their turf and in a very short space of time, the mule was poisoned and the wagon was burned. That’s not such a good story. Let’s try again.
A limerick? An excuse, an alibi, an amusing anecdote? Sorry, nothing comes to mind. Does the word ‘embarrassed’ really come from being bare assed? Do catfish have kitten fish? How much sawdust does a chicken have to eat to lay a two by four twelve inches long? Can you picture those motorcycle dudes on tractors instead? Talk about penis envy.
Still here? When was the last time you saw a quarter with red fingernail polish on it? How old am I?
I’m old enough to remember penny candy, rotary phones and correspondence in long hand. I remember Grand Funk Railroad on vinyl. I remember when Keith Richards didn’t look like Frankenstein and Etta James didn’t resemble Jabba the hutt. Hell, I’ve forgotten how much I remember!!!
Okay. Now it’s your turn, what do you want to talk about? The war? Crime, poverty, education, where to have dinner or how to stop drinking? Politics? A statue of a baby with a clock in it’s stomach? Bob Dylan’s unlisted phone number?
Enough about you, let’s talk about me. Me? I have Opus envy. I want to be that pintsize penguin. Oh, I know, I could have Martha Stewart envy or Kermit Ruffins, Doctor John, Bill Gates or even Jenna Bush envy. Noooooo, I wanna be Opus and hang out with Bill D. Kat and that whole gang. Do you think it strange to want to be a cartoon character? C’mon; Wonder woman, Garfield Batman, Snoopy, Sylvester, Mickey…they all have charm. Get Fuzzy, Pearls Before Swine and Doonsesbury are all cool; but Opus…he’s da bomb! Who do you want to be? Brad Pitt or Jennifer Anniston?
Chatter, chatter, cosmic debris. I read about California wildfires, Democratic leaders, car bombings and civil unions gaining ground. I must be on overload; now it’s American Indians selling drugs, anti Cuban exiles getting released on bail, an ex judge is guilty of bribery and a woman in New York that had her gall bladder removed through her vagina!
I sometimes think that the world cannot get any more strange and then it does. I kinda wish that the government would re-institute the draft just to see what would happen.
Rounding third and heading for home. By this time next month, I’d had gone in for a procedure involving my colon that they tell me is common for guys my age. Tune in and I’ll tell you how much a pain in the ass doctors can be. Good night Irene, I’ll see you in my dreams.

'K' First Year in New Orleans

Po-boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
The Long Black Line
A Very Merry Un- Birthday
In essence this article is a time capsule. What happens is this: at the time of this writing, it is July 27th, the August issue of Where Y’at comes out next Tuesday (Aug. 1), and I’m writing about the events of last year’s tragedy and travesties. Some time in the future, I’m going to reread what I’m writing now and wonder what the hell I was thinking. Welcome to my world. There’s one issue out, this rant is due to hit the stands and I’m on a deadline for another a month from now. Do I ever sound confused to you? You should see it from the inside.
So, I’m sending you a one-year anniversary card, in advance, hoping it will get to you, on the occasion of that that will not be named. This is not a Happy Birthday card. At this point, I am hard pressed to find a happy person that lived through IT and lives here now. I’m not sure how the displaced feel.
Today’s headline, page one, reports: “Mayor finally breaks post-election silence”. (Your mayor was re-elected in May). In the third paragraph of the article it says: “…with the most devastated areas showing few sign of life and even the most resilient neighborhoods still dogged by crime, debris and shuttered stores, Nagin said that the city is becoming safer, cleaner and economically healthier by the day”. You be the judge.
As of today, as I see it, our previous post K woes and concerns have not been assuaged . As of today the police are still supplemented by the Guard and State Police. Guns and drugs remain in the news.
On the economic front: In the French Quarter, walking from coffee to work (five blocks) I pass no fewer than sixteen businesses abandoned, shuttered, empty and failed. I’ve seen new businesses open and fail and leave. Many shops cannot open seven days a week, as previously the norm, because of the lack of customers and staff.
Staffing is a challenge. Why? Two reasons: two thirds of the city is still decimated and rents go unregulated. This month I was given the option of moving or paying double my rent, this was a less than three-week notice. I am not an isolated occurrence.
Does the administration have the authority to institute rent control and tenant’s rights measures. You bet your sweet ass it does. Did it? Ask the people that have been evicted for the landlord’s shot at more lucrative prospects.
We’re asking people to come back to $10.00 an hour jobs and telling them that the only housing available is beyond their financial reach.
How’s our school system coming along? Last week it announced that the rigorous teacher qualification process took too much time so they’re going for short cuts. Has anyone thought of suing the school system for failing to do it’s job for the last thirty years? Probably not smart enough.
We stayed for six days after the storm because we had parked at the Krauss lot (fifth level) that took too much water to drive through and because we weren’t going without our critters. Our generation has a deep-seated distrust of organized government so, we did not want to be rescued and sent to some refuge “of last resort”. Does anyone remember the phrase (in another language) from another refuge of last resort: “Work Will Set You Free”?
We live in the Quarter. Half of a big tree came down on our own refuge. We lost gutters, siding, chimneys and roof tiles. We were the lucky ones. We went through six days of flooding, fires, looting, death and warm beer. We went to sleep by gunshot sounds; explosions awakened us. We sewed money into our clothes. We commandeered a car. We were scared shitless.
Through the processes of car returns and rental car juggling, a week after our evacuation we were rolling into San Francisco. There before us was the skyline of the true Oz. We had talked on the way of relocation to this great city.
We’re driving in, the radio is playing a benefit for New Orleans musicians.
They play “Do You Know What IT Means To Miss New Orleans?” And we lose it.
Don’t get me wrong, we had a great time out west. We were treated like royalty. We drove to Monterey to do Laundry, we visited Santa Cruz to shop for groceries, and we had lunch in Mill Valley just up the road from Sausalito on the bay. We had lovely two-bedroom kitchenette motel digs on the Pacific Ocean. We watched the updates from New Orleans like news junkies and believe me, a transistor radio in the dark on Dauphine St. paled by comparison to our West Coast telly. I had cold beer.
We came back as soon as we heard that the city was reopened. We came back to streets of refrigerators, coffin flies, decomposed matter and water that smelled like bleach.
We got jobs; we opened a small, but perfect, cookbook shop. We have the Katrina cough or whatever you want to call it. We find it hard to keep up our spirits. At times I feel as though I’m being punished for coming back to the city that I love.
Debbie said that not coming back would have been like “leaving your dying mother”. I claimed that not coming back was more like deserting your home team just because they had gotten their butts kicked. We’re not as upbeat now.
I think that the one-year mark will signal the return to something better than what we were OR the anniversary of our discontent.
I don’t know. You’re the one that’s going to be reading this (hopefully) on the milestone occasion. From where I sit today, it don’t look too promising. Please, please tell me that I was wrong.
Oh, P.S. Another headline today “Corps: We can’t be held liable.” Figure that one out. See you in September.

Birth Defect in New Orleans

Po-boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
I Can’t Get No
The Lazarus Factor
There’s a notice that is placed in many establishments that I frequent. Essentially what it says to me is that, with the amount of alcohol that flows in my bloodstream and that has run rampant in my family for generations, I am a birth defect.
I, like many Americans my age, come from a heritage where drinking was an expected daily activity that pregnancy did not interrupt…or even slow down. As we all know, the ritual of imbibing and carousing, as an intramural sport, leads to altered states of mind. In my case, those altered states span generations. Perhaps that is what makes and keeps my thinking processes askew of what is considered ‘normal’ by persons (un-named) who claim normalcy as a personal character trait. Maybe I need a support group. ‘Hello, my name is Phil and I am a birth defect’….. “Hello Phil!”
So, my trains of thought, on no particular schedule or premeditated route, run amok occasionally, if not more often. I’m often caught boarding the segue bus, as well.
. What would you say if you found out that I was paying good money to see a doctor with symptoms of chills, fever, loss of appetite, lethargy, disorientation, sinus flows that rival Niagara and stuff coming up from lungs that is the consistency of crème brulee. Compounded by fits of coughing that lead to gagging and gasping for breath? You probably would say that I needed to find a healthier doctor, or, being I was the patient, that this would be a case of money well spent, eh?
What if the doctor said, “It sounds as if you have an irritation”? Would it be askew to think ‘Yes, in fact I DO have an irritation, in fact, I’m getting more irritated by the minute and I think that you have just made me even MORE irritated, Far be it from me to need a better diagnosis than"irritation".
I just talked to one friend that told me that he was in a bar, really recently, and the bar was held up by goons with shotguns. Another man that I had worked with showed up with a beating that he took on his doorstep for his money, identification, cell phone and keys. His face resembled raw meat.
A man that I know told me of his car being totaled by a hit and runner. He told me that as the police arrived, the scores of witnesses to the event all got up and went inside their houses.
Talk about irritations!
My landlady called me up to tell me that my rent was being doubled at the end of the month, and I’m looking for something upbeat to write about. That would be nice except right now I'm packing up and looking for another place to live and trying to keep my cool. I’m trying not to be irritated anymore.
I want visions of sugarplums to dance in my head, and raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens; not towels packed in boxes and sofas in storage.
Okay, I’ll tell you a funny story.
Since I’ve moved back, as if THAT is not funny enough, I’ve been more fascinated by the obituary section of the newspaper. For anyone who relates to this: do you notice that, post K, our obits suck? Where are the explanations of their Big Ds? Where are the nicknames? Where are the “undetermined causes”? I don’t want to know about the ‘passing on into the arms of sweet baby Jesus quietly in the night’. I want mayhem, murder, cancers, carbuncles, train wrecks and mysterious chasms that open and swallow. I want to feel lucky.
I tell people that I’m looking for my name there, and that it would be just like my friends to let me die and not tell me, just for the sicko fun of seeing me show up for work when I could’ve taken the day off. What I’m really looking for is some clue to the purpose of dying. I think that if I search these people’s faces and read their eulogies that I might glean an insight into Big Chill Rationale.
I’ve always considered myself immortal. I’ve always considered death not only an inconvenience, but an insult as well. Doesn’t anyone know how much I have to live for? Or, how much that I have yet to do, to see, to read? Is there a certain age where passion ebbs and the spirit calls it quits? Will my body give out before I do? What happened to those faces on the obituary pages?
I read one once when the cause of death was listed as ‘complications due to Alzheimer’s. Here I thought stuff got simpler with Alzheimer’s -- I guess not.
It took me a long time to wrap my head around “renal failure”. I couldn’t figure my renal from a hole in the ground, let alone how it could fail. I still don’t want to wrap my head around it.
I can see it now: "Phil LaMancusa, died from complications of an irritation"
FYI, I go so far as to collect, clip and post some death notices: a musician here, a chef there. Childhood sweethearts (in their eighties) passing after the hurricane evacuation, an obscure character actor that I remember from my childhood. As I sadly pack to leave my beloved digs I take them down and pack them carefully: doctor, lawyer, Indian Chief.
I just realized that this is not a funny story. Bear with me, maybe I’ll be able to pull it off in the next two hundred words.
So here I am dismantling my life and home. I left posted on the wall two of my small signs; one says “Don’t Look Back”, the other says, “You Are NOT Dreaming”. They have new significance now. I think that I will leave the one that l have over the inside of the front door that says “Entrance To The Asylum”; I put it there to remind myself how nuts the world is and how safe I was once I got home.
I tried to crack a funny with my dog the other day. The vet has given her two more years to live. I opined: “hell Girl, that’s fourteen of your years!” She was not impressed. I said: “what do you expect from a ‘Post K’ birth defect?” She asked me if ‘Post K’ was a breakfast cereal.