Saturday, August 16, 2008

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.

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