Thursday, August 14, 2008

September in New Orleans

Po-Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
The Five Oh Four Blues
What It Means
And so it’s September here in the Big Uneasy; where in every eco/social strata, we’re raised on the milk of human indulgence, and it’s still pretty iffy going.
The sign in the elevator says, “In case of an emergency, there is a bar in this hotel!” On the street, a man painted silver, a clown in full make up, and Uncle Louie standing frozen in mid stride garner nary passing looks from locals. You can walk through Sean Kelly’s bar, where Chuck Berry is blaring and into the back to buy tacos and burritos. The note on the shop says “Gone For Gumbo---Back In Ten”. You’re sure as hell not in Kansas Toto!
As you can guess, I did something. I took three days off and went to Fairhope, Alabama and when I returned I fell back in love with this fading starlet that I call home. Naturally, the first thing to greet me back was the smell. The second thing that I noticed was the lack of trash (of the non-organic kind).
The French Quarter takes up a lot more space than it used to, what with all the emptiness that still surrounds it; I figure that, proportionately, we’re about six times bigger. Unfortunately we’re not any smarter; and, compared to other mini-tropolises; we’re still dumber than a box of rocks, crazier than a shithouse rat and more vicious than a junkyard dog. And that’s at face value. Underneath this harsh exterior, we know, beats a heart of pure…greed, corruption, incompetence and foolish optimism that things will change for the better. Consider the French Quarter being itself The Last Madame; it kind of gets you right in the gut, dunnit?
No, I’m not going to bad mouth my city; there are plenty of others to do that for me. Yes, tourism still has us by the cojones and we rely on the kindness of strangers. While we’re trying to stay out of the spotlight, we still are in the crosshairs of everybody’s profile, if you know what I mean.
Perhaps that’s why we’re so dysfunctional: no organized crime? Too many criminals to organize. Advice to the drowning sailor? Be glad that you’re not on fire.
Filling a need? Plugging a hole? “My Mama’s so glad that I’m not on the dole (when the whip comes down)”.
New Orleans, Proud to Call / Stagger / Swim Home Oy Vey.
Consider time itself as a concept, a concept and a weapon. A weapon and a tool. A tool to keep us hopeful while reinforcing our impotence. Examples?: The state of Oregon, realizing the dangers of second hand smoke, is banning smoking in the work place, beginning January 2009 (!). The state of Louisiana, realizing that as we are the last state where it’s legal to fight fowls with fowls, is banning that barbaric sport August 2008(!). And speaking of fouls…Jefferson parish realizing that the Hispanics have insulted their streets with their mobile eating trailers have given them a vacating deadline ……TEN DAYS! Adios! Think about it.
We’re going to do something about global warming… by 2040? We’ll get recycling… when? A change will come… in which election?
We’re told that in a population where the everymen (you, me, us) are under the thumb of the minority that hold the purse strings (the rule makers), very few vote (why bother?). Also very few march, complain or resist. Very few protest, and very few know the difference between being an outlaw and being a criminal. Most of the population goes from the cradle to the grave making no difference at all, and in passing that heritage on to their children, perpetuate the morass.
Robert Stone wrote a book. Prime Green: Remembering The Sixties. Not that I really do, although physically I was there and in my prime. Actually I was here and in my prime.
Anyway, he talks about how he and some of his friends expatriated to Paris for a time in 1964 and how “we would feast our eyes on the beauty of the place, sipping wine, tripping on fond absurdities, and generally rejoicing in the good fortune that had placed us so wonderfully at the center of our childhood dreams.” He goes on to say that “life can be subsumed in magic, although the supply is not inexhaustible."
Ruthie The Duck Girl escaped from the nursing home yesterday some time and wound up outside Café Maspero where we promptly welcomed her and her stuffed animals to the bar. I think the home doesn’t realize that Ruthie is only seventy-three because she looks ninety. She still acts sixteen, inviting each of us in turn: “Ya like to dance?--- Lets dance!--- Cha Cha Cha!” She called us all “sugarplums”. No one under the age of fifty knew who she is and was. Anyway, we subsumed her and she gave us her magic. At the same time we were frantically trying to reach her keepers. She told me I was cute.
Our kitchen manager, John Wayne sent her in from the stoop by the kitchen door, Lana got her a beer (“Ya got a Buhwhyzzuh, Hon? Real cold, Hon, I like ‘em REAL cold!”) A couple of cops dropped by and reminisced about her on her roller skates, wearing a wedding dress with ducks following her, dashing madly about the Quarter asking for cigarettes (“and one fuh layduh, Hon”).
Marshall the artist manned the phone and surreptitiously we started the process of getting her home.
By the time that the nurse showed up Ruthie had an audience of admirers as well as the complete confoundedness of the younger generation that hadn’t a clue about the fame of the legendary ‘Ruthie the Duck Lady nee Girl’ despite their superior technology.
At one time Ruthie sold postcards of herself (“one fuh a quawdah, tree fuh a dollah”). Pretty enterprising for a kid that dropped out of school after completing kindergarten, eh?
Anyway, about an hour and a half after Ruthie’s gracing ourselves, the six foot two nurse arrived and gathered our yawning charge with a “C’mon Ruthie, you’ve been out long enough”, group hug, fade to black. I love this town.
Your assignment this month is to Google Ruthie, read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair and subsume as much magic as you can. Say good night Ruthie.

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