Thursday, August 14, 2008

Getting Away From New Orleans

Po-boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Family Reunion
No Blood, No Foul
And so it was that my daughter delivered unto me a grand child. Naturally a girl of amazing beauty, grace and intelligence; at least as much as we can tell at four weeks of age, of this we have faith.
I did not go north for the birth; however, I did make it up to The Big Apple for that strangest of rituals: the baptism. Well, I think that it’s strange, oh me of little face, while others believe that Christening puts you on the inside track to the Pearly Gates. Go figger.
I flew in under the radar, as usual, on a Friday morning. I scooted out early evening on Monday. There was a lot of beer under the bridges in between. I was the shining example to New !@#$#%$^%&^ York of what a true New !@#$%$%^% Orleanian is. Complete with seersucker suit, bow tie (hand tied, of course) and snappy ‘penurious brim’ from Meyer (The Hatter).
As you know, I spent formative years in public housing on the government dole in lower Manhattan, one of five children of a first generation American woman through her course of three marriages (read: projects, welfare, broken home). Alas, never achieving the reflexes necessary to thrive in such an urban environment (read: skinny, shy, sensitive) I fled early on for warmer climes (read: I got the Qwert out as fast as I could). The rest of the family remains, sophisticated urbanites all (read: somebody might read this).
Although the rumors of the gentrification of my old hood are abundant, I found the same milieu in the still squalid zip code of my youth (read: the only slum left in New York!).
I took the shuttle in from the airport and on arriving at Penn. Station immediately sought out a Sabrett’s hot dog and a Nedick’s orange drink. I was able to navigate to my kid sister’s house in a place called Flushing to begin my sojourn, fluctuating my time between there and a place called New Rochelle for ceremonies and festivities. No one seems to know why it’s called Flushing and oddly enough there is no Old Rochelle that I’ve heard of. That doesn’t surprise me since the nurse at my last doctor’s visit couldn’t tell me what ’X ray’ was short for and/or if there was a W, Y or Z ray. There are things that are beyond the ken of mere mortals.
I spent some time getting reacquainted with my baby sister (now in her fifties) and her children, real and imagined. We spoke on diverse subjects; from the death of our mother (“I told the doctor to give her something for the pain”) to gay marriages (“who gives a fuck!”). We dished family member’s vices and virtues with gusto, relish and warmed over pizza.
My sister owns a house that is a block away from the cemetery where Louis Armstrong is buried. It seems that old ‘Satchel Mouf’ did not want his bones reposing in his birth city. A city that wouldn’t let him stay in a ‘whites only’ hotel or play with white musicians. Imagine that. I said hello for you, to Louie that is. He didn’t say anything back. I didn’t expect him to.
On Saturday, at my daughter’s, we prepared food for the apres ritual fete. Mother, daughter, grand daughter and doting husband dicing, slicing, marinating. Of course the baby was the center of attention, perfect as she is in every way.
At one point my ex had me hold the little darlin’ and made me repeat out loud those damning words “Grandfather…Grandfather…Grandfather”. What’s up with that? I don’t want to know.
Ah, New York. Where the women are strong, the men have all their own teeth and the children are above average in intelligence. Except in my old neighborhood.
Did I tell you that my brother drives a subway train? Here’s a story for you. My brother’s train was going under the Twin Towers on 9/11 and his supervisor radioed him to bypass the station. My brother not knowing what was going on happily complied and went speeding under the disaster. The next train, however, who’s driver had had contact with the outside world, did not. Going on the intercom and telling the passengers to stay aboard, he picked up the people on the station and made it out before the collapse.
Okay, that’s enough chatter for one column.
But, then, what is my choice but idle chatter? Shall I write about New Orleans yet again? Do you think that this is still The Big Easy? If you live here you know that, like a bad marriage (not my term), we endure day after day of putting on our game face while the walls of our hearts melt, and we chew our Cheerios with mendacious smiles and unquiet minds.
Here’s one for you. I watched a documentary on Public Television about how the military can erect and have fully functional in thirty six hours a hospital complete with operating rooms, convalescing wards and X ray facilities! Ask yourself…what’s up with New Orleans? Where’s our hospitals?
Naw, I’ll leave all that stuff to Chris Rose, his new book will be out any day now.
Of course you know that our columns are written with a six-week lead-time to publication; and, coming up on the two year anniversary of the ‘Thing’, here’s hoping. Here’s hoping that we make it through another storm season, that more of our neighbors are back, that we’re getting the help we need and that Paris Hilton is not too scarred from her time in the slammer.
Here’s hoping that we’re still in love, our powder’s dry, our streets are as safe as they are clean and we can rest easy.
New Orleans is an addiction. I hope I can always get my fix. My fix of gumbo. My fix of that first cold beer after a stroll through hot humid air. My fix of our oneness with each other.
And remember: it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

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