Friday, August 1, 2008

Dying in New Orleans

Po-Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
The Longer That You Live
Hello In There
She’ll be going on thirteen in cat years, he’ll be a little over seventy in human terms. She’s in a convalescent home on the West Bank and he’s at home; they both appear to be circling the drain, failing slowly but surely, the treachery of physical forms giving out while the spirit of life fights to remain among us.
For the people that love them, it is a heartbreaking death-watch. It is a wearing down of deep emotions, like being one breath away from bursting into the tears in the face of loss unremitting. The heart remains a weight to carry. The next phone-call may bring news of the end.
This is a Valentine card to them: Verita Thompson and Phil the cat. Hello in there…and goodbye.
I met them both, separately, about eight years ago. They were both strong and alive, full of piss and vinegar, élan, and elegance, vitality and vigor.
Phil was a new rescue from Fairhope, Alabama; brought to New Orleans for a new lease on life. Personable and loving, mischievous and bold, honorable and agile; he soon became the king of the courtyard and a bane to small birds and rodents. Hell, I don’t need to tell you how a big gray lug of a boy tabby can win you over while he establishes his own kingdom (over you, your belongings and surroundings), stealing your heart with love full and pure.
He came to a whistle and a call of his name. He was equally at home in the neighbor’s apartments and often came home late, smelling of tobacco and a good time. The girls called him ‘Phil-boy’. The guys just called him ‘Buddy’. He was part of the pack of critters that stayed through the storm and evacuated to San Francisco and back. He’s been around, now he’s going down.
Two years ago he was diagnosed with FIV and separated from the other cats. Medication was prescribed and Phil was supervised a little more closely.
But wait. Before you might have the nerve to think that Phil was quarantined, let me again tell you how we treat our heroes. Phil still has free range of his kingdom. It was Bob and Pepper that made the adjustments. Pepper, who has been an inside feline…remains that way. Bob, who was Phil’s sidekick was promoted to shop cat and relocated to Toulouse St.
Things remained pretty much status quo until the beginning of November when Phil went into renal failure, after a week’s hospitalization, he was sent home, a shadow of his former shadow. The classic “til one day the old doctor looked at me and said: I can’t do no more for him, Jim” was applied and accepted. So it goes. Phil is now lying in the sun and fading.
Here’s the next part: what do you call a woman who was Humphrey Bogart’s mistress, had two restaurants in Los Angeles (at least one given to her by Howard Hughes), has Henry Mancini’s piano in her living room, wears Chanel suits and has the ability to use language that can make a sailor blush? You know, a little sassy broad, lunching at Galatoire’s in the day and tossing them back on her rounds in the evening? Who is it that can bring a crowd to Claire’s On Conti by the rumor of an appearance? Who is it that said that if Lauren Bacall couldn’t run her out of Hollywood, Katrina couldn’t run her out of New Orleans?
Who is it that you missed by not paying attention to legends living amongst you? Uh, that would be Ms. Verita Thompson.
Verita stands about five foot nothing (in heels); however, when she holds court, she is the center of the universe and the word HUGE doesn’t adequately suffice in application. She has a book that she authored named ‘Bogie And Me’ out of print for twenty five years and still sought after. She ran a saloon across from Antoine’s for a time and flitted between Santa Monica and here for years until…..
Question: what happens if you live long enough? Answer: you get old. The ‘O’ word. The curse of a long life is that your gears start to wear, your bearings get bushed, your oil needs changed more regularly and, although your spirit is still willing, the flesh simply cannot keep up. A mild stroke and a hard fall was enough to put a seal on Verita’s future. What had been a brave ‘fuck you’ life is now the time that the kindness of strangers becomes the reality of her existence. Confined to a wheelchair, fed through a tube and diapered, medicated, not listened to or even noticed in a facility that they mistakenly call a ‘Convalescent Home’. There is no convalescing from this one, Honey.
Last night a waitress that I know told me that she cannot stand waiting on the elderly because they break her heart and bring her to tears with how fragile that they are. Hey, listen up, we are all headed down that same road; if we live long enough.
So, I put it to you: what are you doing with these days of your life? If Verita were your age, she’d be knocking back a tequila with the likes of Gable and Gabor. If it were Phil, he’d be having you for lunch on his personal killing floor.
Well, tough guy, you can spend time on your cell phone, irons in the fire and all them business deals; but, you cannot put real value into a life if you place your dreams on call waiting. February the sixteenth is Verita’s ninetieth birthday. I’ll be at Claire’s On Conti hoisting a few and celebrating what time that we, collectively, have left on this planet. I’ll also be wishing Phil god-speed in whatever reality he may be residing in.
Question: how am I feeling? I’m blessed to be alive and awfully glad to be here. The longer that I live, the more precious my life has become, as I remind myself, often, that there are no ‘do over’ days. Here’s lookin’ at you, Kid.

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