Saturday, December 26, 2009

New Orleans Jazz ansd Heritage Festival

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
To Jazz Fest
Welcome, welcome, welcome laydeees and gent-a-men and chirrin of all ages to the Forty-first New’Awlins Jazzzzzzz and Heritage Festival. And as you enter the gates this year, the recorded voice will tell you of all the items you should not bring inside (guns, drugs, food, umbrellas, small farm animals, drinks of any kind and Vinny the Gimp ‘cause he can’t get along good wit nobody an’ don’t like crowds neither).
I took Vinny last year to his first Jazz Fest and he was a pain in the ass from minute one and I can’t fault him ‘cause he hadn’t been there before because it was his first time… but still. And yeah Vinny, I’m talkin’ about you heah and so what?
Vinny is my sister’s ex-boyfriend and we were close at one time so when he called me and said he had some days off and could he come stay by me I said sure. I live over by the track and when he came to visit I thought it would be perfect for him to go get a slice of life at the Fest. I didn’t know he was a gimp until he showed up at my door with a United Cab driver waiting for the fare from the Trailways bus station. I didn’t realize that he would show up broke, but I shoulda known. I didn’t know neither that he was gonna bring his dog (named “Whodat”), but I shoulda figured.
He came in on a Thursday and I had already made groceries, had some PBR on ice and some LPs we had in common (Traffic, AWB, Tower of Power, Isley Brothers, Earth Wind and Fire etc.). He wanted to go to Bourbon Street and “see skin”; I told him that when you got a parking space during the Fest, in my neighborhood, you stayed parked and I wasn’t gonna walk in or take the bus but that he was welcome to if he wanted. He asked if I had any porn; I told him that dinner was in twenty minutes. I was already hoping that I wouldn’t have to kill him before the weekend was over.
Crock pots are wonderful things for cooking beans of any kind, but Camellia brand Butter Beans slow cooked with alligator sausage are the best-est and after cracking a couple of cold ones we sat down and I ‘splained the layout of the Fest; when I told him the price of the ticket he about spewed his beer across the table. He kind of recovered when I told him that I had scored a couple of free passes
“First thing” I told him, “the weather: it’s gonna be hot, cold, windy, sunny and muddy from the rain, so dress accordingly; the beer’s gonna be expensive and if you want to see any of the world class acts you’ll have to secure a spot early on and expect it to get crowded.”
“Tell me why I want to subject myself and my dog to this abuse?” he countered, his mouth full of Leidenhiemer’s crusty French bread. “We hate whatever kind of weather that that is and we don’t like being crowded.”
“It’s about the music and the food and Whodat can’t come.”
Now, Whodat is a little guy, not much to look at, and one thing that I’ve learned not to do is to disrespect a man’s best friend. I did not know that even insinuating that these two chums were not accepted, nay welcome anywhere on the planet, as a couple, so to speak, would have about the same effect as me telling Jesus that he had to be separated from that Magdalene dame. I finally convinced him that the little tyke would get confused with all those people, some of which were capable of shouting “WHO DAT?!!” without reason or provocation. I got him sufficiently greased and to bed early, up early, caffeinated, ‘egg and gritted’, outfitted and observed in patient silence the tearful separation of man and beast. I was sure that the cur would reek havoc while we were gone but what can you do?
Oh, Vinny didn’t mind having a couple at Liuzza’s By the Track beforehand but that was the last I saw him anywhere near happy for the whole day. Over bloody Mary’s he filled me in on the gimp story of how he had been ‘talkin’ when he shoulda been listenin’ woe is me and can you believe I didn’t see that coming blah blah blah. I thought he looked good as a gimp; it reconciled his body with his personality. But I ain’t saying nothing about cripples in general, you know? Just that I came to realize that on Vinny… the gimp suited him.
I told him that if you can’t have fun at the Jazz Festival, you can’t have fun anywhere, got him in the gate and ditched him after letting him know where the spare key was.
I saw him a few times that day not having any fun and although I couldn’t grok that, I let it slide. There’s only one thing worse than someone who is trying too hard to have fun and that’s someone who is not letting themselves have any fun at all. Period.
Me? I always have fun at the Fest I’m in, I’m out, I’m movin’ and groovin’ and down like James Brown. It’s ALL fun! From the food booths to the long lines and the people and the freedom to get up and go or stay as I choose, it is the antithesis of restriction or Claustrophobia. I must be getting flashbacks of earlier times at music venues when I was young, dumb and full of whatever. The air is thick with the harmonic conversion of music to matter in the highest order. And hey, they even give you this paper free! Jazz, Gospel, Blues, R&B, Zyteco, Mardi Gras Indians, brass bands, crawfish, crab, oysters and alligator the Fest has it all and more, more, more!
Vinny? He spent the rest of the weekend sitting on my porch watching the Festers come and go and drinking my beer while Whodat dug up my flowers and soiled my lawn. He did me a favor by not doin’ me any favors, if you get my drift. Happy Jazz Fest Y’all!!!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Growing up in New Orleans

Po Boy Views
Almost Home
“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste and know what peace there may be in silence.”
If we’re lucky to live long enough we’ll get old. We’ll sit be the door of the nursing home, at 95, and wait for relatives to take us out for the day. They will, more often than not, disappoint us by not showing up. Or perhaps we’ll just put down our heads and go to sleep one day and not wake up. The rest of the time we will spend in feigned transparency, stealing kisses in our dreams and wishing that we could remember thus and such so that we could change the outcomes of memories, placing us more firmly in the spotlight; our lives written, produced, directed and starring (who else?) us. After all, we’ll have the right… right? Well, Thank Gawd we’re not there yet, right?
Right now we’re just trying to grow up, right? And that brings us to today’s topic: growing up right.
It’s occurred to me that being grown up goes far beyond just being an adult, it doesn’t come at a certain age and is on no timetable of it’s own. It also has no attraction for me. Being grown up has nothing to do with responsibility, respect, ideology or image; although those all do have significance in the aspect. And, having had no choice in the matter, I can assure you, being grown up sucks.
“As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly…”
Being grown up means that you are no longer allowed to be selfish. Not even in your actions, your dreams or your spare time. There’s no vacation from selfless-ness and you are never off duty, and indeed it is a duty, ask any mother, caregiver or bartender; it’s pretty much a yawner.
“If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”
It’s not that I hadn’t been warned in the past about the necessity of my being more grown up; it’s like being politically correct. It’s the sign of a fully formed person and a pain in the ass. It’s the only right way to live around other people and it’s kind of like being cool: you either are or… you’re not.
There is no faking it; any fabrication, however innocent, will come with complete and utter future distrust and suspicion. You’ll be labeled (and libeled) a loser a poser and a bore. Of course, being a ‘grown up’ usually doesn’t win any Miss Congeniality contests either. It wears on your sense of patience.
What you really want to do is to send the baby to the grandparents until it reaches drinking age. What you really want to do is give the dog something to constipate him so that you don’t have to go for a walk with the hangover that you invested good money in. What you really want to do is throw a fit, stamp your feet, set you hair on fire, curse and tell the person who’s telling you something that’s none of their business (or yours) to shut the !@#$%^&* up. But you don’t because it’s against your better nature. What you do is take a deep breath and you do what’s right. You suck it up (just like you’d like to tell that whiner in your life).
“Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.”
You’re asking a lot of yourself. You’re asking a lot from your gods. You’re asking for divine frigging intervention between your instincts and your ideals. You’re asking theurgy. The faith that you have in the people that you love gets tested on a regular basis, as does the love that you have for people that you have faith in. Too regular a basis for my taste. I’ve found that unconditional love works best, qualified by a deep seated knowledge that it’s for the best that you don’t hang around, talk to or move in with a lot of people that you love. Getting my heart broken puts me in such a disappointed mood… I want to physically kill something, and that’s a not very grown up attitude.
“take kindly to the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.”
It’s the difference between child-like and childish. One is cute and sexy and the other is “yeah, yeah, don’t let the door hit ya where the dog bit ya!”. Being cute and sexy doesn’t mean that you’ve got to be stupid or unconcerned. Thus speaks the Desiderata.
The Desiderata (desired things), of which you have suffered through a few quotation snippets thus far, was written just after Prohibition and right at the beginning of the Great Depression and that about says it all to me. Think about it. The work contains other sage advice such as:
“Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”
“Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.”
. “Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.”
“… in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.”
“With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”
And certainly my favorite: You are a child of the universe… you have a right to be here.”
These are not new thoughts, they’re the wisdom of the ages and they are the hardest to remember when things around you are falling apart, when you’ve taken shyte up to your chin or when someone reminds you that Frank Sinatra is dead. THEN it feels like a load of crap.
I don’t know about you, but me (?) I hate being broke, I hate being cold and I hate when things go wrong. I want happy endings; and, I’m going to have to read this again to see if I’ll ever grow up.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tennessee Williams in New Orleans

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Left Write Left
What Did Tennessee?
This is the writer’s column. Of sorts. Who am I to talk about writers, especially in times like these? I once shot an elephant in my pajamas.
But before that, this: I think that maybe the French Quarter is made up entirely of service industry personnel, musicians, writers/poets, artists, panhandlers, drunks, fortune tellers and wine reps. Also, real estate salespeople, street performers, shop workers, baristas, pick pockets, tap dancers, loose women and chumps playing video poker. Miscreants all. Who knows where mail carriers, roofers, landlords, bus drivers, politicians and/or garbage collectors live? The homeless live everywhere. I cover the French Quarter. I am The Po Boy Views. I are a writer.
In fact, as a writer, I would rather be read than paid; (we’ll pass quickly over that resemblance before my editor gives it the once over twice, if you get my drift.) and I’ll tell you what.
In New Orleans you can’t swing a cat without hitting a musician or a writer/poet and we all wants to fulfill our destinies of iconic fame and we wants the rest of youse to appreciate us for that endeavor, see?
To be a writer, or any of the above listed activations, you have to live within your medium. A writer must see things in literary terms, view things in words and improve their vocabulary to say as much as possible in as few words as can be used. To be succinct is paramount unless, like Faulkner, you get paid by the word.
Columnists like me have only a thousand words (give or take) until Beulah The Buzzer says that my time is up. Sometimes I make up words, sometimes I embellish and sometimes I plagiarize. That’s called being creative. That’s called reaching your audience.
To be any type of writer (no pun intended) is to be a storyteller. From the Pythagorean Theorem to the wooden leg being stolen from the girl by the jilting bible salesman, it’s tales, all tales, and some are taller than others. A good literary narrator, in a decent forum is in hog heaven, a nova in the magma of the universe. Can I get a witness?
Me, I can spin a good yarn and I have a propensity for imagining the absurd and considering it normal. I hear voices. I see ghosts. I cannot tell a joke to save my assets; however, when it comes to wry humor, one liners and snappy comebacks, I take a spanking from no-one. Also, I have a lousy memory and my thoughts have to be written down while they are fresh or they are lost to the ethers. To further sweeten the pot, I was raised opinionated if not outspoken and I admire wordsmiths and people that can talk intelligently without being long winded. In short ---I’m a natural--- with a little work, I may someday become better than good.
Say, call me crazy, but I think someone should have put a turnip in Allen Ginsberg’s mouth before he learned to howl.
And now consider this: just as a painter must know his brushes, a chef must know her knives, a dancer must know the steps and a weaver the thread; a writer must know words and how to use them. The best way to know words and how to use them is to read, parallel advice can be given to those other guys I just mentioned but we aint got room to elaborate.
Right now you might be saying “blah, blah, blah” and big woops and letting your mind wander and wonder and ‘why am I reading this and what’s the message here?’
I want to tell you something; there is something that I want you to know. I want you to know that sometimes I think that, in the scheme of things, maybe I am wasting my life and shouldn’t I be doing something of substance and import and am I being all that I can be and a lot of shyte like that and such and don’t we all think that from one time to another? And then I tell myself to shut the fuck up and examine how much I am doing! Then I think that there are not enough hours in the day and how I am growing in several mediums as an artist and as an artist will. The rest, as I practice patience, will have to wait until I gather the other necessary ingredients for fulfillment: looks and a whole lot of money. And that is what an artist must do from one time to another.
I believe in my heart that we all, every one of us, are artists. There is something in us all that we can do and do well and it’s up to each one of us to recognize what that art is and our responsibility to develop and elevate that art.
And, not only that. It is our duty as artists to reach an audience with our art and connect with positive results; form a symbiotic relationship, reciprocative and mutually flattering in nature. After all, what good is a song, a painting, a slice of pie, a car tune up, a perfect martini, a breast enhancement or a wittily turned phrase if there is nobody there to appreciate it?
As a writer, I write, I read, I blog and I go to conferences and literary festivals (like the Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival March 24-28) and I seek to elevate my writing as an art. I love considering myself, against all odds, a writer and an artist. A trait that an artist has that sets them apart is that they believe in themselves.
Another characteristic of an artist is the pursuit of perfection, by their own definition, and all artists seek it. In the making of our morning coffee, in our relationships, in a perfectly put together outfit, in the way that we communicate and in our mediums. Once, I saw a young girl named Lizard make the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The medium is the message.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Living alone in New Orleans

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Chicken Pox Pie
Before They Make Me Run

Don’t be surprised if your phone calls for my comments are not returned by my agent, lawyer or publicist. Don’t get alarmed if my people don’t get back to your people. Or if I don’t show up for that power lunch, photo op, rehearsal or arraignment. No longer will I be seen at testimonials, depositions or sub-committees. Fund raisers will have to go on without me. I weary of public life. I want to be alone.
So, you may ask, do I lead some kind of hotshot existence? Nope. Am I being stalked or pursued by paparazzi? Nah. Am I avoiding creditors, loan sharks or star struck groupies? Fat chance. What exactly do I have going on? Not much.
Let me ask you this; how much time do you, or any of us, actually spend alone? No television, no music, no conversation, reading material or outside stimulation? No smoke, beverage, dog on a chain, mall to go to or mail to go through? Not at your place of employment, the grocery store, gas station or in the line at the post office?
No, this is what probably happens: you wake up in the morning to the alarm (!) clock’s warning, get out of bread and think about caffeine, brush teeth, hair, shower, Shinola and shave. Get to work, go to lunch, yabba dabba dabba and get home and fed, get out and commiserate, blah, blah, blah. Watch a little tube action, talk on the phone, text someone, go on Facebook, plan an outing or a trip and have a little bit too much to drink, brush your teeth set the alarm, yawn, yawn, yawn and back to bed. Pick up the pace, it’s the days of wine and roses. Let’s see if we can do it again-- tomorrow --a bit faster… this time with feeling.
The weekends are no better: sleep late (maybe 9:00 AM?), go for a run or much needed work out, breakfast out for a change, then there’s laundry, groceries, straighten up the house, call your mother (tell her why you missed church), get together with a few friends, watch the game, yadda yadda, yadda, smart cocktails and some yuks, go to a show, hear some ‘live, local music (!)’, a few more drinks and stumble into bed…somewhere in there you might even have gotten laid, good luck.
You do not have time to get a cold, a toothache or menstrual cramps it’s enough to do squeezing time in to see a doctor, tax consultant or even get to the bank. It takes forever to pay your bills by regular post. Time, time time; where does it go? There are not enough hours in the day, right? You’re up a creek if something goes wrong with your ride, especially on the weekend. If your cat swallows something weird (and they do) on a Sunday, you are screwed. And, as you well know, you can’t get bleep done on a holiday.
Take a class? A hike? A break? A meeting? Remember to send a card? You’ve got to be kidding!
Throw a mate or a critter or a garden or kids or a vice into the mix and you can be stretched thinner than creek water. “Pay attention to me, take me out, let’s go do something, humor me, work with me…. enough about you, pay attention to me, me me”. Do you realize how much time you spend paying attention to a cigarette? Cleaning the litter box? Mowing that !@#$$%&* lawn or watering that ungrateful refuse to flower gardenia bush and ignoring yourself? Booze and pills and powders; you can choose your medicine.
There are variations to this theme, but, when was the last time all you needed was the air that you breathed? I know, I know… it’s called life and love and laughter and it’s all about taking it to the limit. Press the pedal to the metal, pay your dues, concern yourself, live up to responsibilities, pull your weight, tote that barge, lift that bale. Take care of business. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do and nobody does it better than you. We’re counting on you.
Listen, the success, meaning, quality, purpose, goal, value, significance and importance of your life is worthy of your utmost consideration; it is not everything. How you interact in your world as a positive force is the only hope that we have for our collective sanity; it has to come from a calm space; cognizant, aware, mindful, again, it is not everything. It is not the be all and end all of living.
It takes a bit of age and tooth, and a wee bit of wisdom, to reach the point where you can just sit down and breathe, quiet your rampaging mind and, as we used to say… be still. It takes and amount of maturity to know that you cannot go on at the pace of life without recharging your batteries. I need to take time off and do that. Why? Because I miss me. I’m wearing myself out and that’s no way to treat a friend; and, at one time I was a great friend of mine.
So what do I do? Sit in the dark, come down with the flu, put my nose in a corner or lock myself in the bathroom? Pack it in and get a pick up? Not logical, practical or feasible.
What I really need to do is, being that I’m on stage more than Frankie The Dog Faced Boy, is steal ‘time outs’ for myself. Short walks and long showers, space outs and cookies and milk, cat naps that begin with staring at the ceiling and wandering the aisles of book shops and thrift stores with no intent on purchase, driving (for lack of a better word) with no destination as meditation. Getting lost, not looking to be found and other simple pleasures selfishly consumed and digested. Mindless meanderings and temporary amnesia, that’s the ticket.
Let’s see; where am I, who am I, and, what am I doing? I think I’ll take a meander out of doors and get busy doing nothing. I think I’ll go try to find lots of things not to do. You know what they say, loose your mind and gain your senses. Amen to that..

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Technology in New Orleans

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Life For The Rest Of Us
Technology Gone Wild
I know that this is old news by now; but, the month before you are reading this, the business section of The New York Times told me about a wireless router+ home backup hard drive+ digital picture frame. It (D-link DIR-683) will broadcast your internet connection wirelessly and will, with it’s strong Wi-Fi signal, turn your entire house into a Wi-Fi hotspot and give you port forwarding, Application Rules. Individual website blocking, a sophisticated firewall, UpnP, Multicast Streams, Wake on LAN, users and groups, network access lists, scheduled lockouts, log security formats like WPA and WEP and much more including the ability to inspect your router’s settings and the display of dozens of internet informational widgets; weather, headlines, sports, stocks, Twitter posts and- delightfully- photos from your Flickr or Facebook accounts. Are you the brand of person who will now think: how did I ever get along without one?
If so, I say that someone needs to get a life. Someone needs to get back to Luckenbach, Texas.
Waylon Jennings once said “there’s only two things in life that make it worth livin’.”
So, in the spirit of old Waylon and Willie, I ask you: how many things in life does it take to make and keep you happy? What makes ‘life worth livin’?
Name two things.
That’s right, if you were stranded on a desert island, what two things would you absolutely need? If you said ‘a case of beer and that hot number up the street’ you’d be getting warm. If you said ‘my cat and a fuzzy blanket’ you’d be warmer. If you said ‘my Blackberry and my iPod’, or ‘my laptop and internet access’, my friend, you need to realize the difference between the first two and the last; and, how they are conflicting mind sets: the first two afford you the comfort of a tactile reciprocated relationship and the second two do not. Waylon says that his two are “guitars that tune good and firm feelin’ women”--- it’s hard to refute that.
I know what you geeks are thinking: There goes the geezer goon techno-loser self-righteous electronosaurus again. Yes, you’re right. However, to us that remember slow dancing to vinyl records, playing scrabble for laughs and making out in drive-in movies…techno-freaks with palm pilots look like kids in the corner playing with themselves. It’s easy for us to assume that you have nothing else going on in your otherwise non-eventful lives than the stimulus that you get from an inanimate object of communication that you hold in your hand. But it’s hard to talk to you with those plugs in your ears and your eyes on texting. I suspect what really worked for you when you were younger is that you made such a pain in the ass of yourself to your elders that they were glad when you put those things on your ears and shut the fuck up.
I know, I know: your Mama’s raggin’ on you to get the hell off the cell phone and drive your life with direction instead of distraction; in fact, take the Ipod off and live your life to distraction (actually your Mama wants you to do the dishes and clean up your room).
And so we progress… hand written letters give way to the typewriter and to the email and to the text message and to Facebook and Twitter? And now it’s lol, omg, bff and ;-). Books have given way to kindle and e-books and what do I know? I know how to make coffee in a percolator. I can change a ribbon in a manual typewriter. I can replace a needle on a turntable and I’m really close to the printed word on paper. All of those abilities have been made obsolete by newer and less personal gadgets, along with fools such as I. Bfd.
Okay, okay. I’ll roll over to the fact that, used in moderation, technology is a very useful and time saving addition to anybody’s lifestyle; but, when is enough enough? When can you be left alone without someone calling your cell or texting you whenever they pas gas or send you photos that you view on a two by three inch screen? When do you give up the blow by blows and get your news at eleven like a person?
Let me hip you to something that you may not be aware of. In City Park where there was a waste of space golf course, they have created a people pleasure area (read: no more golf course). In this area is a walking trail of about a mile, it is just as you enter the park so it’s not like you can miss it or anything. Take time away from what you consider your life and go there… bring somebody.
If you don’t have your ear in a plug or cell phone or if you’re not too busy texting, about a bit of the way down the path you may notice, a little ways in and to your left, there’s a big oak tree with several sets of wind chimes hanging.
Your instruction here is to go stand underneath that tree. What you will hear is several octaves of chimes set apart so that you are surrounded by a symphony of melodic occurrences that can only to be likened to being inside of an old fashioned music box. Needless to say; it is a very happy place and that’s what I’m talking about.
There was recently an article in The Week magazine entitled “Is technology making us stupid?” Of course I can’t find it right now, what with all this paper and junk around here but you get the gist. A little knowledge is a good thing but you can get lost into that knowledge deep enough to drown out the sounds of your life; except maybe that’s the point of it all.
To make a long story longer, let me say that I don’t personally covet or crave a lifestyle devoid of technology; I love the fact that we can “switch on summer from a slot machine”. I don’t want to live my life in a cave, under a rock or in a tree.
The questions that I have are: at what point does a convenience become an interference, at which juncture does a person’s stubbornness to change act as a limitation to progress and am I that insecure in my lifestyle that I need to criticize yours to make me feel validated? Or, are you yayhoos with your latest gizmos and gadgets really Willie Wonka wannabees?
Self righteousness is such an ugly thing.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Spring is coming to New Orleans

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
One Sweet Dream
Sweet Olive Cocktails
Okay, as promised, here’s one for the Gipper; a sweet soul serenade, a rub down with a velvet glove/put your head on my shoulder, love of New Orleans discourse.
As we all know, The Ides of March bode Spring; it’s in the air and in my heart and it’s as fine of a time as any to be of good cheer. Spring. Good day sunshine daydream, take a walk outside and ‘scuse me while I kiss the sky. Spring. Okay, this is me being…cheerful:
The season that we know as Spring brings a very special feeling and meaning to life for people everywhere; but, Spring as poignant as it can be elsewhere, is especially special to those of us in New Orleans who find that it is a space between breaths. The space between floor furnace and air conditioner, the space between the exhale and the inhale. This Spring it’ll be the space between the old political gang and the new one (yippee flippin’ do), the space between betweens.
In other places Spring is the end of frigid winter and the prelude to the heat of Summer. In romance languages the word for Spring is Primavera (first truth). In New Orleans it is more a condition of stasis: a moving forward and a moving back, a coming into existence and quickly returning, originating from a primal source of energy descended from a world-family of lovers kissing on the street corners of time itself. Spring is the time of year that makes itself known by picking up the tab and paying ransom to the Winter, releasing almost by detonation that which was held in check and imprisoned: our Turkish bath of the Summer to come. Spring exists as a supple season, bringing forward, as a source from a pool—motivation. A time of new growth and regeneration; part of an internal clockwork orange for which there are no synonyms. Hell, it’s Spring for Christ sakes, cheer up or I’ll knock you out!
You say you’re not satisfied? You want more for your money? I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do! This particular Spring I’m throwing in not one, not two, not three, but four, count ‘em four festivals! Yes, four festivals and twenty different flowering and scented plants! I’m adding Chic Spring wardrobes that flatter and stimulate, rosy forecasts for a calm hurricane season and I will personally, yes, I said personally, guarantee that this spring you will be in love, make butt loads of money and succeed, like never before, to win friends and influence people.
Sure, I’m sure that someone out there does not have a perfect life, but who does? Your bankroll is thin and silence is your only friend because all the rest turned out to be insurance salesmen? A bowl of oatmeal tried to stare you down… and won? And it’s twelve o’clock and you realize that you’re having… no fun? (If those words are familiar, you know what to do.) Spring is when you get back in touch with your inner sense of wonder and humor; so what if your toast is cold and your orange juice is hot and you burned your fingers on the coffee pot, there are songs for situations like that. Spring is the time for beginnings, it’s nature’s own clean slate; if you don’t like the news… make some of your own. Grab a cliché and run with it! Latch on to the affirmative! Blah, blah, blah.
So you didn’t get what you wanted for Christmas. So you suspect that Valentine’s Day is going to be the swan song for your romance. So PETA says that you’ve been brushing your teeth all these years with real kitten whiskers and FEMA says that you need to send them money and your income tax is due. This is no time to hang crepe. This is Spring, and Spring hopes eternal, there’s music in the cafes at night and revolution in the air. There’s the DOW hitting ten thousand and unemployment hitting ten percent. There’s the dichotomy of truth and beauty versus the suspicion that in reality life blows goat. This is me running out of cheerful.
No, no. I am not going to go to my negative-land, where our recovery strategy is as flat as my income. It’s time to start thinking about putting up the sweaters and getting out the bathing suits and shorts. It’s time to do those extra sit-ups and get that six-pack back (as if). Time to cut back on the trans fats and lay off the high fructose corn syrup. It’s time for Spring cleaning… body and soul.
Think spring chicken on a spring break with spring fever eating a spring roll with spring onions going to a concert featuring Bruce……….(groan). Yep, sorry, this is me again, groaning about Spring.
In Spring I’m groaning about being tired of winter vegetables like turnips, potatoes and rutabagas and wishing for Summer fruit to hit the stands. I adore crawfish season, King Cakes, the first of the creole tomatoes and fresh file powder from the File Man. I live for the day when they turn on the chiller in the pool at the Omni Hotel and the critters decide to shed their winter coats all over the house.
And remember, as I was just reminded, life on this planet is not a private party. It takes two to tango, three to get ready and four to go. Try a do-si-do and an allemande and get a shot of optimism or Rhythm and Blues with just a little Rock n Roll on the side. Cheer up, I know sometimes it doesn’t feel like it but, things could be worse (it could be raining).
And if nothing else, follow the Old Philosopher’s advice and “Lift your head up high and take a walk in the sun with dignity and stick-to-it-ness and ya show the world, ya show the world where to get off. You’ll never give up, you'll never give up, you'll never give up that… ship."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Sturm Und Drang
Dip Me In Honey
This restaurant month we’ll talk about tips and tipping.
Your first tip, as old schoolers advise is to: “believe half of what you see and none of what you hear”. For example: ‘THEY’ say that you can see our recovery… (whoever THEY are, don’t believe them!)
As if to further illustrate this point; consider the nebulous cow patties of hope that we have been served (up to our chins) since Katrina and how we still haven’t been able to break or brake the bureaucratic burlesque of… mendacity.
Logically, it remains for us to swallow the crap that we’ve been fed or spit it back. We’ve done neither. Many of us who stray from high ground still see that the extent of our City’s hanging out to dry, four years ago, is still alive and unwell. Blah, blah, blah.
Of course it could also be that unless some fat cat can make a deal, and a butt load of money at the expense of common man, nothing gets done around here traditionally. What’s the chances?
As far as tipping goes, in my estimation, you can never tip enough; that is, unless your service sucks. How can you tell when your service sucks? In case you’re a complete noodge, which is northern for moron, I’m here to tell you that it’s the same as being able to tell when you’re being fed recovery propaganda by the people in charge. Evidence shows that it’s inattentiveness, inexperience, lack of follow through or the attitude that you shouldn’t expect anything better because you’re nothing but a noodge yourself.
In all cases you need a quorum--more than one person on your side and at your service. In the more professional businesses there are usually three or more persons to see to your individual near perfect experiences. If that is not the case then---if you have to rely on one person to see to your welfare---they had better be damn good.
Ever try to get your one waiter’s attention while they’re shooting the breeze with another server or on their cell phone? Ever try to get your elected official’s attention when your wishes and expectations are being ignored? Here’s a tip--- it doesn’t happen unless they’re your Momma, and even then it’ll be iffy.
Which, come to think of it, poses the question of whether or not our elected officials should work for below minimum wage and rely on tips to make their rent and spending money. I’m for it. For that matter, we should know no more about the workings of our legislature than we do about the kitchens in restaurants. We should give our orders to those who serve us and judge the results as they are delivered up. And tip accordingly.
Ever try to get an answer about your room service from a noodge of a bell hop or ask who you have to blow to get the drinks delivered that you ordered several minutes ago (and can see sitting up at the bar) or why there’s blue cheese on your ice cream? It’s just like the government:
“Excuse me, but, where is my luggage?” “Patience Sir, we’ve convened a nonpartisan committee and we should be able to get back to you sometime in the Spring.”
or “I beg to differ with you, this is NOT a well done steak!”
“Sir, I asked the cook and was told that the DOW has just plunged and in this economy everyone should be eating meat medium rare to conserve energy”.
“May I have some ice in my ‘iced tea’?” “Sorry fella… global warming”.
“It’s about time that my trash got picked up!” “15% has been added for more than six trash bags”.
“The water is rising around my front door!!!”: “I’m NOT responsible!! It’s all a blur!!”
Here’s another tip: Don’t be lullabied into complacency following our last non-storm season. Remember, we’re still taking it in the shorts for being caught with our pants down, if you get my drift.
Back to tipping; what is the protocol? Well, if they don’t piss you off, I’d say start working around 20%, but it depends.
For me a cup of coffee usually is at least a buck, drinks in bars: about 40%, barber shops: even numbers (fins or sawbucks). Any special requests or services get extra bucks, period. I throw money at cab drivers, glad to be at my destination.
In Restaurants it’s pretty gray. Does a meal with a super expensive bottle of wine require major gratuities? Does dinner for less mean you should tip chintzy? Should ethnic joints get less than, say, celebrity spots? Does ambiance count when you sign that bottom line? No, no and no again. It’s the service that you’re tipping!
Servers get paid half of minimum wage, if that; and, at two bucks an hour they are the most short shifted of all of the service industry and they rely upon their personalities and expertise to make up for the deficiency in their wages. Do restaurants pay people who get tips less and do they justify your tipping as a way to NOT pay servers a decent wage? You bet your sweet ass! But that’s the way it is and you can only penalize your server by being cheap. UNLESS, as I said, they are not doing their jobs.
I have a theory that if a person does not truly like their job they will perform poorly; and if they do not like working with the public they will not like a job in the service industry and should be doing something else for their living. It should not be an end of the line occupation.
The most common complaint that I get these days (and who am I to complain to?) is that services around here (nowadays, across the board) suck and we’ve been sitting on our thumbs and taking a screwing because we expect less or would prefer to not pay that much attention to incompetence (and just suck it up), thereby pissing off our inner citizen and get a frigging ulcer because we’re just too polite or impotent to become outraged. This is a thread of thought that maybe you should pick up and run with.

Warehousing in New Orleans

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Human Waste
Butchers, Dragons, Gods, Skeletons
Today let’s talk about warehousing. Yes, ware-house-ing. And we’re gonna jump right in by starting with the definition of the word. Warehouse.
As a noun it, of course, means a physical structure; a large store or storage building. BUT as a verb transit it is first described as the storage of materials and then the dictionary goes on to further define the word as the action “to leave somebody in an institution that does not provide adequate care or treatment”.
We have become a country of warehouses; we warehouse shops and call them malls and outlets, we warehouse goods in facilities that we call depots (home, office, building) and we warehouse people in retirement, convalescent and correctional facilities.
Life, liberty, love, freedom and beauty are given up in a warehouse society.
Individualism is sacrificed for efficiency and the personality of the one is suppressed or eliminated for the good of the whole of the warehouse identity. Control, organization, and safety are paramount in maintaining the warehouse mentality. And so is censorship, totalitarianism and, for better or worse, the utopian ideal. Witness George Orwell’s book “1984”.
The easiest way to warehouse something is to dehumanize it. Visit a nursing or convalescent facility. The persons languishing in that natural erosion of age are of a singular bent: they are there to, and until they, die. And they’re treated accordingly. Essentially they have been written out of society and are cared for by an under-trained, disinterested and overworked staff; benign at best. I guess that after you’ve changed hundreds fecal soiled nappies from hundreds of aged and saggy butts it must seem like a circle of hell for any caring person, especially at minimum wage. Visits by families are infrequent and care approaches uncaring. I will say that maintaining 24/7 attention to a group of insipid geezers would sure work my nerves and patience. The food is not as bad as jail and almost as good as a hospital; which is to say that it is nothing that any normal healthy person would want to eat--warehouse food—with little taste, freshness and dubious nutritional content. In the ‘convalescent facility’ that we visited, over a six month period, there was nary any fresh vegetables or fruit served. They had a fully equipped kitchen but a staff of people that cared less about cooking then about thawing, heating and serving and forgetting that there were real people out there eating ugly, tasteless and nutrition-less matter (as for being food…food it was not… it was just some form of matter).
Animals are sent to shelters, uncared for children are sent to orphanages, old cars go to junk yards, poor people are rounded up into ‘Public Housing Projects’ and worse of all, the homeless are left to wander in the warehouse of society at large. The diets are pretty much the same at all places: just enough to keep the body together and nothing for the soul.
We were tooling through the lower nine and were in need of gasoline when I noticed the smallest of stations with a premium-brand petrol (with my old car I have to put in the quality stuff…or else). The place is on a tiny corner and I’ll give you a buck if you know of it. It is small enough to be called obscure and it’s just over the parish line.
Well, we pull in anyway and what do you think? Somebody comes out to pump our gas! Then another guy comes out and offers to check fluids (that’s called ‘checking under the hood’). We had stumbled upon one of the last Mom and Pop filling stations left in New Orleans! The business had been there long before the storm and they came back and salvaged their business after taking nine feet of water. Think of it, a business the size of a postage stamp and they came back!
And here’s the kicker: that big name gasoline company that they had on tap was pulling their gas out and having Mom and Pop find another gas to carry and dispense. Why? Pop explained that: “they told us that we didn’t fit their corporate image”.
What I predict next is for that big name company to open a station across the street (in their image) and put Mom and Pop out of business. What do I know; except that that seems to be the way of Corporate America? The big guys will probably put in a mega-station with twenty-four pumps and a Mini Mart, as opposed to Pop’s two pumps and a soda machine, then cut prices to fully demoralize that family operation before ruining them. Do you fill up at a gasoline warehouse? There goes Mom and Pop; don’t worry, they’ll probably find work at the Sprawl-Mart warehouse.
You see, for a sensitive person, warehousing is all about demoralization. I get the creeps going into a SuperStore; they’re so frigging big, I think that that’s to make you feel small and insignificant. Overwhelmed.
What’s the difference, besides size, between a Mom and Pop store and a Mega Super-duper Slay Mart Depot? First of all, bigger outfits get tax benefits that no smaller shop could ever hope for in the form of breaks, subsidies or just the funds to hire professional accountants to enable them to pay as little to the government as possible. They can buy in such bulk that it allows them to increase variety, undercut prices and eliminate competition and they can afford an advertising budget that makes a joke out of the little sign in the window saying “Special Today! Local Tomatoes!”
One last thing in the defense of the little guy. The small merchant, the corner store, your neighborhood grocery, shoe repair shop, mechanic, book shop, clothier, bakery or stationer, even your local family run pub or eatery: they depend on you for a living. Whatever profits they do make stays in your city if not in the neighborhood itself. The small merchant not only supports the local labor force but also local schools, churches and other local businesses. And best of all, the small business is your neighbor and also shudders to think of a world rife with the proliferation of warehouses.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Po Boy Views New Orleans

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
The Brighter Side?
Spring Hopes Eternal
Ever alert (and lord knows we can use more lerts) to improving my use of the English language, I came across the news that truth is an abstract noun. What is an abstract noun? An abstract noun is a concept, something intangible that exists only in our mind.
Truth as an abstract noun is also corralled with words like love, justice and beauty. I ask you, can it be more disturbing for any of us to find out that the nouns of the things we hold dear are just lower case concepts? I take it that you are not surprised and hopefully not amused that all things that we associate with passion are considered in the language that we use to be perceptions that exist only in our minds.
Could it be that passion is also an abstract noun? I would respectfully request that you be outraged. The information that I culled also informed me that fun, courage and jazz were in themselves abstract nouns as well. The last three I can see, but truth? Well, I guess so; for what is truth but an interpretation of our opinions based on perceived evidence? Or not.
In my New Orleans we regularly butcher our language as do most Americans, but we do not abstract love, passion, fun, beauty or Jazz.
Take my monthly ramblings for example….please. . I talk about love and I talk about beauty much too infrequently for my conscious mind; and, I talk about truth and the meaning of life.
What is life but a series of questions as to the meaning of our existence and the value of our actions except possibly the laying of our heads down on the bar and waiting for someone to shake us awake, take us home and tuck us in? How dare they tell me that truth like beauty is in the eye of the beholder! No wonder the world is in the condition that it is! Next they’ll tell me that life is an abstract noun. How about the truth on how all those abstract nouns, from my perspective, have roots in the action of nurturing? Does that make the word nurture into an abstract verb? All of us need nurturing and there is far too little of it going around, unfortunately and far too often we wouldn’t know how to accept a nurturing gesture if one hit us over the head. Is that what makes it abstract? Does the English language purposely want to undermine basic concepts of basic human needs? Am I being punked?
In my articles for Where Y’at magazine, I wade through the English language like Sherman through Georgia, taking no prisoners, accepting no parameters. Pretty much I know of two people that read my thousand word forays into the use and misuse of our noble tongue, but that’s neither here nor there. I use metaphors, I am an alliteration ass and at the slightest provocation I dangle my participle like Merv the Perv at a schoolyard fence.
As a writer I have to beware of dangling participles, as well as misplaced modifiers and ambiguous pronouns. Sentence fragments may……
It’s all Jabberwocky to me my friend. Any lack of parallel structure can and will result in a possible dangling of our fragments while we misplace our pronouns to the chagrin of our ambiguous participles resulting in the dastardly and devastating rambling run-on sentence quoting: “beware the Jabberwock my boy, the jaws that bite the teeth that catch; beware the Jubjub bird and shun the frumious Bandersnatch!”
Another mind boggler is the copulative verb. My definition of a copulative verb would be an idiomatic preposition at best; mostly I use copulative verbs as expletives or idiotic propositions in vague terminology to unsuspecting intellects. Jabberwocky.
You may ask yourself if abstractions began in our early evolution? Riddle me this: do we primarily as primates, after bonding together in tribes and families, turn inward with an ancient ape question like: “what’s in it for me?” Then do we wonder, like our tree relatives: “why does that one get the best fruit, why does he have a brighter butt than I do, or, do I really have to eat all the fleas that I pick off?” Talk about abstracts.
It follows then, if you’ve been following me at all, that a great defense of any of our behaviors can now be chalked up to abstract nouns, and not evidence, alibis or excuses. Ah, and now we get into the realm of existential existence. New Orleanian verses New Orwellian. God, crime, hate, sex, drugs and Rock n’ Roll: do you consider them Abstract? Are levees abstract? How about my monthly expenses, my bills, my groceries? How about the economy, politics or law? It seems like the School of Absurdism to me, to dismiss my relativity to my world and I’m having none of it. Abstraction is for artists and not for men.
I have friends that have left the insecurity and abstractness of fair urban areas to go live a closer to the land and spirit existence. They have less money and simpler needs. High points can be the setting of the sun, the ripeness of peaches or the putting up of firewood. Perhaps even the drawing of water for bath or laundry.
These are types of people that don’t accept the abstract in their lives. Dancing in the moonlight and the rain, sunrise tea ceremonies and making love in the garden are celebrations of life that do not seem abstract to them. Healing of natural maladies are done in accordance with natural remedies. I have one friend that gets up in the morning, takes a handful of the earth and rubs it on her cheeks lest she forget where she came from and where she is going.
All the rationale for the comforts of technology and convenience are lost on these, the truest of my friends. Our relationships are not clouded in what we have to offer eachother other than the sharing of our hearts and minds.
Truth, beauty, courage, fun and love. I put it to you, real or abstract?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

New Orleans New Year

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Ambient Shadow Dancing
Irresolution’s Child
Most of our lives will go wrong in quiet ways. Most of our wisdom, if we obtain any at all, will stem from crisis and disappointment that will not shatter the earth; and, for most of us, our dreams will quietly fade as we busy ourselves with the contentment of drifting along peaceably without making more waves than are necessary, letting spell-check pick up the slack instead of learning new things, going new places, making new lives. We’ll reach a point where reinventing ourselves is not worth the trouble it takes to change the evil we know for the evil that we might become. Or not. Of course, I’m not talking about you; I’m talking about most of us.
“My father always promised me that we would live in France, we’d go boating on the Seine and I would learn to dance” goes an old sweet, sad song of how we want so much for ourselves, and then, put our hopes aside as unattainable childish things that mature people know so much better about. Adult impotence.
But our dreams never do grow up… we do. And like Peter Pan coming back to find Wendy a shadow of her former shadow; our dreams sometimes wonder what made us forget them.
As a kid and growing up there were many things that struck my fancy as the persona that I wanted to become most; what I wanted to be when I grew up. Pool shark, test pilot, musician, artist, poet and lover. I wanted to be a baker, learn to tango, see the Sistine chapel, sail the seven seas. I wanted to change the world, save the whales, travel by houseboat, learn magic, cross the country in covered wagon. I wanted luck to be a lady, I wanted fortune to smile on me and I wanted and I wanted and I wanted. Most of all I wanted to be Peter Pan; most of all, I never wanted to grow up.
I bought my lottery tickets religiously, wished on stars, prayed to the Gods (and Devils) and believed in miracles. Some of that paid off, although not on the scale I wanted -- compared to the odds -- if you get my drift. It’s as if I was investing in my own Ponzi scheme…… missed by that much!
‘Shoulda Woulda Coulda and ain’t it a friggin’ shame.’ AND, there’s enough blame to go around for my fiascos: timing, economics, discipline and location, location, location. A minute sooner or later and I would have been a contender and if frogs had wings…
The trouble is that I’ve always been a dreamer, I’ve always lived in a world of fantasy where all things are plausible and possible. Alternative realities that are now the rage on computer--as if it were that easy—were my bedtime stories to myself as I lay in the bed of my own miserable upbringing.
Well, I’m passed that now. Do you know what happened to the man who got everything that he wanted? You’re right; he lived happily ever after. How am I going to do that? I’m going to stop pushing the river.
I’ve spent so much energy chasing my dreams that I’d probably be too tired should they come to fruition to do any more than take a nap. I’m going to slow down so that my destiny can catch up to me. No more worrying that I’d be at the train station when my ship came in. I surrender. I give up.
I think that I have fallen prey to those pharmaceutical commercials and that I suspect myself of having everything from COPD to Alzheimer’s to osteoporosis so much so that I’m getting psychic constipation and cosmic psoriasis and it ain’t helping my prostate or my fear that I might be urinating a little too frequently. I’m sure that stressing about my blood pressure is what elevates it and I’m becoming exhausted trying to relax my brain sphinctor. “Side effects may include nausea, drooling, vomiting, excess snot running down your face, bad manners, five O’clock shadow at three, blurred vision, night sweats and a slight limp brought on by an erection lasting more than four hours. Call your doctor!” I have met the enemy and it is me.
But I’m turning over a leaf. From now on, I’m going to eat more ice cream, and not the fancy schmancy kind. I’m gonna drink cheap whiskey (I already drink cheap beer), not exercise as much and to hell with my diet. I’m worn out worrying about my waistline, my hairline and my credit line. I’ll read pulp fiction instead of highbrow stuff, wear my socks a second day, cavort with miscreants and kiss the cat on the lips (if she’ll let me). I’m going to paint canvasses that I like, cook with excess garlic and butter my toast with abandon. I’m going to color outside of the lines, sing off key on purpose and become a shameless flirt.
Wait. I already do those things. Aha! But now I’m not going to stress about them and you can mail checks to me at this address and call the boss and tell him I won’t be in because I’m on the Trans-Siberian Railway, headed down the Amazon, climbing the Great Pyramid or playing roulette at Rick’s Café in Casablanca. I just bought my Powerball tickets and I’m sure to win this week, eh?
I do believe I should go and study pastry in Paris, visit my relatives in Sicily and go commiserate with the Dalai Llama about the future of spiritual man. I say that we charge on into the year twenty-ten singing (off key, of course)
“So, put me on a highway… and show me a sign; and take it… to the limit… one more time.
It’s either that or you’ll never hear from me again because Tinker Bell has just gotten in with some pixie dust and I’m off to Never Never Land and I ain’t talking about the ranch in California!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Love letter to New Orleans

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
River City Rhapsody
Where The Heart Is
We say that New Orleans is a city that you can leave, but one that will never leave you. We also say that, “you don’t have to be crazy to love New Orleans…but it sure helps!” We further say, quite succinctly: “Proud to call it home.” We are basically a simple collection of misfits… a confederacy of dunces in the true sense.
One of many superstitions here is that if you ever go barefoot in New Orleans, you will never be satisfied living anywhere else.
There are lots of justifications that we offer ourselves for our very New Orleans state of mind. In New Orleans when you say that you have a love/hate relationship with her, people that live here grok (understand completely by intuition). We go around referring to New Orleans as “She”; mother, daughter, lover, mistress, goddess, siren and whore. And you know, it’s about as easy to write a love letter to New Orleans as it would be to send a valentine to Miles Davis (go ahead, put that one together).
New Orleans is kinder to strangers than to it’s citizens and unless you are at least semi-self-reliant, hold a job, keep your mouth shut, your nose clean, and put up with having a lot less than is available elsewhere… it is easy to become disenchanted with living here; if you expect anyone or thing to upset the status quo you should put your head back in the sand and smile like an ostrich without a lick of sense. If you walk around with blinders, don’t take the news to heart, know that you cannot make a difference and ignore the iniquities… you will be as happy as a hog drinking cold beer in humid weather.
The reason why visitors like it here so much is that they don’t have to know or care what actually goes on here; it’s the same reason why we have so much fun as we vacation in Port au Prince, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City and Beirut. What you don’t see can’t hurt you.
I love New Orleans in spite of New Orleans. New Orleans is a faded blues singer who beats her children with a coat hanger, raises dogs for fighting, steals from the collection plate at church and gets her tickets fixed by a crooked lawyer. A fun loving and lovable hard living second-liner that flips her cigarette butts and chicken bones into the street, sells a little dope on the side and doesn’t mind taking a leak in a doorway should nature make that call.
The City Noir. Like taking a warm bubble bath with a Sazerac cocktail, a snake and a loaded pistol. When you live here, New Orleans dares you to love her; like blood begetting blood, dogs begetting dogs and vultures begetting vultures, New Orleans will boggle your mind with the promises of a better tomorrow only to inform you that tomorrow is already yesterday and we made no promises about yesterday, did we?
Oh, New Orleans, like any errant school child, will take an admonishment as well as the next guy and then, having taken our come-uppance, go out and spit on the sidewalk, kick the dog and strut passed the pool hall whistling “l’il ‘Liza Jane”.
It’s not easy to love someone or some place that has no sense, uses no logic and is as crooked as a sidewinder and twice as mean… but we do. We’re hopeless romantics—with kinships flourishing-- finding an emotionally crippled home amongst our dysfunctional comrades in arms and we love and love and love until our hearts break. There is no place like New Orleans and we are star struck, naïve and shamelessly in love in spite of her faults. Sure, people leave (but they come back). Like mistreated puppies, we keep coming back for more and, like a mistreated child who complains about their parents, our ass is up should anyone else voice complaint or criticism.
Crime, ignorance, poverty and illegitimacy rates may soar but don’t you disrespect us! I’ll talk about racial division and plantation mentality because I’ve earned the right to bitch; I live in it. My dues are paid daily and I willfully run the gamut of the possibility of mayhem and mischief, rapture and romance entering my life and circumstances. It’s my choice to weigh the quality against the despair and I’ll tell you what, by no means do I ever again want to know what it means to miss New Orleans. I’m addicted to her.
There is no doubt that the music and food are addicting and I must have my fix daily. No other city can claim the unconditional love of its own cooking the way we do. No other city has music oozing from the pores of the patchwork paved streets like we have. No architect in their wildest wet dream could ask for more examples of form, grace and beauty as we have in all our levels of splendor and decay. We all ‘make it’ here; because, it’s The Big Easy and “if you can’t make it in New Orleans… you can’t make it anywhere”. By no accident have we given great writers and artists as well as the slickest crooks and con artists inspiration. Hell, we inspire the entire state of Louisiana to levels of infamy unequaled in the other forty-nine!
But, New Orleans could care less if we love her, New Orleans is too busy loving herself. New Orleans is blanketed by the weather, punished by the sun and succored by the moon. Our passions are verified and sanctioned in our music; our rage is confirmed by our violence. Of the many acts of violence that are punished by the courts; rarely do you hear contrition. Our manners and lives are rough and tumble here and I think that that’s better than just marking time in life; hope springs eternal and dies on a fragrant honeysuckle vine here and I don’t intend to miss a minute of it. There is only one thing worse than living in New Orleans and that would be living anywhere else.
There. Did that sound like a love letter? It is.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Political New Orleans

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Common Sense
The Unsent Column
Dear New Orleans: The next Mayor, if they have any sense, will not welcome your input into legislation, policy or decisions. The next Mayor will also tell you the truth, whether you like it or not. These two basic tenets will lead to a smoother run government. We will not mention the current Mayor.
The next Mayor will, flat out, tell you that no, we do not want poor people in New Orleans, nor do we welcome their return from wherever they’ve been. It will be a crime to be poor punishable by education and employment. Charity or dependency will not be available to able bodied citizens. Homelessness and poverty will be met with training and education. Your participation in the betterment of yourself and your family will be mandatory and there will be no supplemental income available for anyone offering the same lame excuses that have worked the system in the past. We’re here for solutions.
The new mayor will not take any days off until these issues and the ones that follow are addressed and dealt with. Neither will the City Council who will meet constantly without public input. If you want to have your councilperson do something, you’ll need to tell them so yourself in your own forum; after all, you voted for them didn’t you? And if you didn’t, you’ll just have to suck it up and vote someone else in.
Councilpersons will meet with their constituents at neighborhood forums and then bring those opinions and options to the Council table. Your responsibility as a citizen stops and your councilperson (elected by you) takes over from there. New Orleans will be run for the common good whether you like it or not.
Which brings us the subject of voting. Anyone who misses three consecutive elections will have to re-register. Lack of interest will not give you a say in the new administration which will have it’s terms cut in half (Mayor especially) so that you will have to vote them in more often or vote them out while the wounds of their misdeeds are still fresh in your mind.
This city is not losing money; this city is hemorrhaging money. We are sending money out of town in outside contracts when the money should be spent here on our own companies to aid in our rebuilding and it’s a shame and the new mayor will stop it. We waste money paying ineffective and extraneous government committees and personnel instead of putting our money in jobs, small businesses and infrastructure.
Here’s some other things that need addressed: The dollar an hour raise that we voted in but the current mayor vetoed. The economy of the city being based on low wage tourism jobs. The labor force being down by over 100,000
Overall unemployment climbing to 8%, with 25% unemployment in young people and 15% in African Americans. Highest High School dropout rates. Highest teen pregnancies. High infant mortality. 71% illegitimacy rates among children being raised in poverty (right here in River City). I group these together because they seem to relate.
Solutions may come via focusing on paying attention to (and throwing employment at): the deplorable condition of our streets, public transit shortages. The need to establish recycling, real cooks in public facilities, more (and better qualified) teachers in our school system. Why should we have volunteer construction people from out of town helping to rebuild our houses, Americorps personnel coming for a tour of duty and Teach for America teachers in charge of our children’s education? Is it because we lack something in our own citizens? You bet your sweet ass. Maybe we should outsource our city government as well. Let’s get Chicago to take over; they do a heck of a job up there.
Onward. Did I mention quality of life and the environment? Did I mention schools and how parent s will be held responsible for their children’s grades, attitudes and actions? A child in trouble will be required to have their parents attend school with them, full time, until problems evaporate. Did I mention that a child’s parents needs to participate in their upbringing and behavior? Did I mention that a child’s parents need to participate in their own upbringing and behavior? Did I mention the child’s need to participate? Did I mention that you need to pay attention?
Other things that need addressed: Crime. Ah yes, crime. ‘Fighting crime’ is just an ambiguous statement as ‘petitioning the Lord with prayer’. Crime cannot be fought, crime can only be eliminated or left to flourish. Period.
Eliminating crime starts with employment, fair housing regulations, health facilities and education. Jails, courts and police forces are not effective
The ban of assault weapons in city limits. And blah blah blah…..
Housing. 63,557 vacant or abandoned homes
Rents up by 50% due to no rental guidelines
Blah blah blah…. And frigging blah
Consider that this is a rant has the future of falling on deaf ears and the city will go on and on in moral morass because anyone that unselfishly would like a change for the better around here has a the same chance of being heard as gas passed in a strong windstorm.
I’ll give you the definition of the word that typifies our situation and then bury this in the blog archive and not even submit it for publication. And then I’ll leave you alone. Apathy and impotence doesn’t deserve my rage. Here’s the word:
Morass: “1. an area of low-lying ground that is soft and wet to a great depth and therefore difficult to walk on.
2. A frustrating, confusing or unmanageable situation that makes any kind of progress extremely slow”. It’s hard not to notice, isn’t it?
But, hopefully now I can take a deep breath and write something upbeat for next month.

Early Bird in New Orleans: Thanksgiving

Po-boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Happy Bird-day
Twenty Minutes A Pound
When I first got back to New Orleans, years ago, I took a chef’s job on Bourbon Street. That first Thanksgiving, where we served over seven hundred meals, I worked seventy hours over the weekend. There were two of us in the kitchen. The General Manager instructed me the Wednesday previous to deep fry a turkey; I did not do it, I thought that he was joking. Deep fried turkey? C’mon. I was fresh in from the west coast and they don’t play that out there.
Since then I’ve understood fried turkey, turducken, turduckencorpheail and even a way to cook turkey impaled on a broomstick covered with a garbage can which is then surrounded by twenty five pounds of briquettes, lit with sixteen ounces of lighter fluid etc. etc. But, nothing spells Thanksgiving to me more than the smell of a stuffed turkey in my oven at three hundred fifty degrees (twenty minutes per pound), old fashioned I am. And I’ve got a thousand words to tell you how to do it… the old fashioned way.
First, try to get yourself invited to someone else’s house for Thanksgiving, and then you just need to cut this article and save it for when you need to cook yourself.
Here we go. Count the number of guests that you’re expecting and buy a turkey, figure on a pound to a pound and a half for each guest, and that’s because there is a lot of trim, bone and gristle goin’ on with old Tom. In the days leading up to the big day purchase, russet potatoes for mashing, yams for candying, turnips, parsnips, rutabagas, green beans, Brussel sprouts and cranberry sauce. Carrots for gingering, pearl onions for the peas and maybe some chestnuts for roasting on an open fire. You’ll also need onions and celery for the dressing, snacks for when everyone is waiting for you to complete the meal, beer, wine, butter and brown-n-serve rolls (are you sure you couldn’t get invited somewhere?). Decide on your dressing and pick up ingredients; bread or cornbread, oysters, sausage, pecans---oh my god! --- What’s for dessert?
Here’s where you decide to go potluck. Or should. It’s either that or take out a second mortgage. Have someone bring the salad (salad?) and others to bring veggies, dessert, booze or etc. Don’t leave it to them to decide or you’ll wind up with twelve pumpkin pies and no mashed potatoes. Make a list of what you want and have them choose one thing to do and do it. Now, the list of guests get bigger exponentially with the size of the turkey, and visa-versa, as six to eight guests becomes ten to twelve, the bird has to be eighteen to twenty pounds and that’s conservative. A twenty-four pound bird will take eight hours to cook (twenty minutes to the pound). You’ll need to start earlier in the week, say Tuesday and Wednesday nights (you still have a job, don’t you?).
Break up the bread or cornbread for the dressing or stuffing so it can get stale; remember dressing is cooked on the outside, stuffing on the inside. Cut up onions, celery and peeled potatoes (two pounds for every three guests) into small dice. Save the trimmings from the onions and celery. Separate, cover and refrigerate. The potatoes will need to have a covering of cold water.
If the turkey is frozen, thaw it. In the refrigerator. Take out the giblets and neck from the cavities, wash all in cold, salted water (bird as well), remove any pinfeathers and discard them. If you’re doing the bird on Wednesday, cover with a damp towel and refrigerate. If you’re starting on Thursday, you better figure on getting up on dawn’s crack.
Take the innerds, neck, tips of wings, veg trimmings, a couple of bay leaves and lots of water and put on the back burner, on a low flame to cook; this is for your gravy. If you serve turkey without gravy, your company will look at you like you are stupider than a cashew and then kill you.
Sauté lots of onions and celery with poultry seasonings---sage, thyme, savory, more sage, powdered bay leaves and more sage, Salt, pepper and maybe some garlic in loads of butter. Let this cool and then mix with your bread/corn bread stale stuff. Add eggs; one for every four portions. How much is four portions? Two BIG handfuls put together. Righty—o.
Now, stuff old Tom (or not) and for God’s sake close that gaping cavity. Dust him with seasoning salt or a mix of salt pepper and garlic powder. Maybe some paprika. Place in a roasting pan (you have one don’t you?) covered with aluminum foil---NOT a paper bag--- face up or face down…your choice, for how long? AND, add another hour if you stuff the bird. Take Tom’s aluminum blanket off for the last hour for that Simonize sheen. You do not need to baste; contrary to popular belief.
When turkey is cooked, take her out of the oven and parade her around to the oohs and ahhs of your companions and then repair to the privacy of the kitchen, have another glass of wine and hack that sucker to bits. Public ‘carving’ is at best a humiliating experience.
Lagniappe: perfect mashed potatoes. The reason that you cut them small and uniform is so they cook evenly and thoroughly, not done on the outside and hard inside or done on the inside and water logged and mushy on the outside. Test for doneness like a professional, take out a piece…and taste it.
Start mashing potatoes by themselves, then add lots of butter some salt and pepper and lastly some milk---smooth? Tasty? You betcha!
Strain your gravy broth and if you want to, cut up the gibs and neck meat and set back on the stove, medium heat. For every twelve ounces of broth (beer can size), mix two tablespoons (shot glass) of flour with a half a cup of milk. Mix until smooth and stir into the broth and continue stirring until it comes to a boil. Boil one minute. Correct the salt and pepper (what did they do wrong?). If it’s too thick, stir in some beer. Serve.
How do you know if you have a 350 degree oven? If you put a piece of white paper in it, it will turn yellowish in seven to ten minutes. If it takes 12-15 minutes it’s too cold, If it happens in 3-5 it’s HOT. If you open the oven after five minutes and the paper is on fire---you’re screwed.
Oh, you want to start the oven at 425, put your bird in and then turn it to 350. How do you tell when your oven is 425? Are you sure that you couldn’t get invited somewhere?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Buckshot Gumbo in New Orleans

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Buckshot Gumbo
Women's Work
What is wrong with the world today? Women. And what is wrong with women today? Men.
Men. Such is the root of all evil; not money -- remember? -- money is good, men are bad. Well, not inherently bad bad. Untrained bad you might say and you’d probably be correct; the best men around had to be trained in manners and behavior beeecaaaauuuusssse… men are, left to their own devices and instincts, dumb as toads in a box of rocks. There, I’ve said it and I know beecaaauuusssse… I are one. And let me tell you right off, a whole bunch of princesses had to kiss me before I turned into anything remotely prince-like and in the interim I’ve gotten bruised by many of the rocks in that box. I’m still not a finished product…yet. As if any one of us is.
Okay, we’re not going to turn this into a rant about man’s inhumanity towards women or about the fact that because of the way men treat women worldwide there happens to be millions of women and girls that are simply missing from the planet; you’re smart, you read.
This be about America and our society and how although there are a few women that know what a good man they’ve got, there are many more that don’t seem to know what a schmuck that they are stuck with. With their consent, they let themselves be saddled (literally) with a guy that has no fashion sense, cannot budget money or keep a job, doesn’t help around the house and fails to live up to commitments and promises. AND they don’t take the time to train them, not even for the sake of the next woman that will have to put up with the brute!
Shall we start with the All-American tradition of blaming the whole situation on the older generation? Let’s… it’s their fault! The whole quandary, the morass, the dilemma, conundrum, confusion and gaffe is all their fault!
Let me tell you a story. A long, long time ago there was a great evil in the world and the forces of good sent their brightest and their best young citizens out to fight this great evil. Many fought and many died and yet they persevered and they won, making the world safe for generations to come (me and you).
When they returned, triumphant, they were given a hero's reception and lived lives both fruitful and prosperous. They Fathered a large generation called Boomers and not only did they expect them to excel in life... they expected brightness. They expected frigging brilliance!
Objectively speaking, the next generation did not live up to those expectations. In fact, the next generation either rejected the call to brilliance or ignored it or simply did not comprehend that system of values. Orrrrrr…. they were smoking some funny stuff and protesting a war that they thought was stupid and could not be won. Needless to say, the Boomers had no way of knowing how to learn about manhood from their older generation whose formative years were spent killing the enemies of freedom. Are you with me so far?
Well, then we have the babies of Boomers who took over the country and what exactly is their legacy and their talents? Let’s see, their parents pretty much settled into a life of mediocrity compounded by a combative attitude that comes from not having a leg to stand on when debating anything requiring logic or common sense. The Boomer’s babies have guilt but no shame, pride without dignity, drive with no passion and are everything that their predecessors were not. Needless to say, they have not won any wars (or popularity contests) either. The only thing that they have going for them is greed and inconsideration at the cost of a planetary meltdown. These may very well be your parents. With that legacy, how the hell could they produce good boyfriends for you?
Okay, I made all of that up. That slug of a lump sleeping off last night’s drunk on the couch or out for a run while you try to find a babysitter (when he should be looking for work) is a figment of your imagination.
It’s true that most of the good men are taken (usually in marriage) by women smarter than you. You can change yours just by the fact that you fell in love with the Prince that you thought he could be. That’s better known as fat chance. The only thing that your man wants is to be taken care of and at the same time he wonders why you are not more like him; after all, he’ll say: “what’s wrong with me?”
What’s wrong with him is you. You make a big deal out of everything. You’re constantly ragging. You never want to have any fun or hang out with his friends and watch the game. All you do is shop for clothes and yak with your girlfriends or go places with those gay guys that you’re buddy-buddy with. Sheesh!
You want to drag him to chick flicks, you read books about stud vampires and you drink so damn slow your beer is warm before you finish it. You don’t want his pal to move in when his girlfriend kicks him out, you hog the bathroom and bitch at him if he forgets once in a while to put the seat down. He doesn’t want to take his boxers off the doorknob because he might want to wear them again and what’s the big deal about dishes in the sink, the ring around the tub or leaving his ball cap on when he eats in a restaurant. I mean, you weren’t complaining when you had him in the sack last night.
Sure, he likes to stop for a couple of drinks after work and yeah, so your birthday slipped his mind (just for a day or so) and why do you expect him to remember when the trash is supposed to go out? Housework? What housework, the place looks fine to him! And, no he does not hit on all of your girlfriends and whoever told you that he slept with your best friend is a liar!
Sheesh, you know what’s wrong with the world today? Women!

Friday, August 28, 2009

New Orleans Dieting

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
The Behinder I Get
Grease Is The Word
Okay, here I am off and running to and fro, hither and yon, plum and nelly (plum outa time and nelly outa breath) and I’m multi-tasking like a headless mo-fo chicken, like a witch out of work, like my pants are on fire and my ass is catchin’ ; I’ve got my life racing with the pedal to the metal and if I don’t eat soon I’m gonna faint pretty quick… I’m gonna faint pretty quick… I’m gonna faint pretty quick. I spot a Munchy-Lunchy-boxey -thingy at the store and for me it’s a hit and run situation... grab and go… git and split. I’m a twin pipe Papa and a bad go-getter and I stop long enough to peruse the contents before woofing it down on my way to passing Go…
…and I consume (in record time)…:
1 slice each Ham and processed (yeller) cheese on white bread with mayonnaise, a 12 oz cola, a 1 1/2 oz box of raisons, a brownie the size of a shoe sole and 4 oz of chocolate pudding. There is no nutritional information on the package. What the hell, if it’s good enough for kids to eat…
Can you imagine tooling down the road at ninety miles an hour and slamming your car into reverse? Can an injection of that much sugar and processed food send you into a physical tailspin? Can you really gain and lose five pounds in a half an hour while getting night sweats in the daytime plus dry mouth, blurred vision, a headache in your left eye and enough gas to power an eighteen wheeler cross country? You betcha.
I know that you’re thinking that a delicate flower such as I should not attempt to consume a meal that should come with warnings about the side effects and to leave such meals to those accustomed to such fare; namely, the spawn of Satan. The question arises, what are we feeding ourselves? What are we feeding our children? What are we feeding the spawn of Satan?
“My foot’s on the throttle and it’s made of lead,
I’m a fast ridin’ daddy with a real cool head’.
Buddy Holly’s on the box singin’ Peggy Sue,
My foot’s on the floor and it’s made of glue.
I swing a huey at sixty for the Waffle House I just passed,
my ride’s low and fast and it’s fully gassed.
There’s smoke from the brakes as I slam into the lot,
I want eggs over greasy and some java that’s hot.
I call to Steve the waiter “hey, gimme the works;
eatin’ like a bird is for sissies and jerks!”
… and he brings me (and I consume)…
The breakfast special: Waffle, eggs, hash browns, grits, toast and choice of meat, which I wash down with the ‘bottomless’ cup of coffee. Syrup and sugar, non-dairy creamer, Jams, jelly and whipped butter spread flying everywhere. Salt, pepper, ketchup and hot sauce for all my friends and a yard of paper napkins with the waitresses calling everyone ‘Honey’ or ‘Darlin’ and ‘did you want that pie ‘A La Mode’? What the hell, if it’s good enough for pot bellied truckers…
As you can guess, I rolled out of there like Humpy Dumpy and my speed limit was as diminished as my metabolism, my eyes were filled with that double vision and did I have sense enough not to stop for a giant malt at the soda fountain? No. Am I the spawn of Satan?
The diet gurus all tell us that a vegan diet with an eye toward nutrition is the way to a long and non-suffering life. Health officials tell us that 36% of American adults are considered obese and that the Mediterranean diet is the way to go for longevity free from diabetes, cancer and coronary artery disease. BUT, can you picture stopping off, starving, at a quick fix fast foodery for a “Hey Doris! Gimme some whole grains with veggies, legumes, extra virgin olive oil and goat cheese followed by some fresh fruit and yogurt; make it snappy because I gotta haul this here semi of sheetrock to Abilene!” Not in this lifetime.
What I definitely want is a juicy steak or burger or hot sausage sandwich. I want fried chicken. I want a baked potato with butter, sour cream, cheddar cheese and bacon bits. Everything that tastes good is bad for me. Mayonnaise, ranch dressing, butter and anything deep-fried…YUM!!! More cheese Mom!!!
I’d rather sit on a barstool, commiserating with my peers than exercise. Is that wrong? I want to stand on the corner at all hours of the night and eat Lucky Dogs. Tortilla chips with that melted cheese product and jalapenos. Chicken fried steak with biscuits and gravy. Big Muffalettas and fried oyster poor boys. Strawberry shortcake and a slab of that sweet potato pecan pie with ice cream and chocolate sauce. Would you say that I have an eating disorder?
I don’t. because if I gave in to my culinary fantasies, if I ask them to throw that roast beef and gravy poor boy into the deep fryer or if I let the words “Super Size” pass my lips I’d be rolling down the street saying “hey hey hey! “ like Fat Albert. I’m high enough on cholesterol and my blood doesn’t want the pressure of a stupid American diet of Fast food triple burgers and oil drum sized soft drinks, of candy bars and processed foods. But I love them.
And my body will not tolerate them anymore. For years, as a cook and a chef I would not have that stuff in my life or house and now I’ve reached the point where my guilty secret pleasures come back and bite me almost immediately. Instant junk food karma.
And like the fields of weed that I’ve smoked in the past; that stuff makes me slow and stupid. And at my age with all the stuff that I need to get done, I can no longer afford to be any more slow or stupid than I already am.
So to us that wear those extra pounds because of the weaknesses of our wills…I salute us. Yes. I know how hard it is to be strong in the face of a banana split. I’ve got your back. That’s me in the corner making S’mores.

Poor in New Orleans

Not sent Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Mean Green
That’s What I Want

I am blessed with having a really good life. However, there is one little detail that I would like to take care of… or, better yet… have taken care of for me; just a little something that would make this moon walk down life’s yellow brick road a bit more bearable. Make the view from my window a little rosier; allow the panorama from my porthole on the ship of my existence to open onto smoother sailing waters instead of, say, approaching ice floes.
What I’m missing is not the gut in my strut, the glide in my stride or the pep in my step. I do not have a hole in my soul or a crimp in my style and certainly, there’s no shame in my game.
I have the love of a good woman, the comfort of friends, the respectful distance of family and the welcome of several bartenders in local watering holes. I have no enemies not of my own making, a vehicle capable of seeing me through another evacuation and an adequate supply of toiletries including product for my hair. I am militant about having an inventory of toilet tissue, all my plumbing works and household chores are shared and completed in a timely and efficient manner. I drink spring water, eat mostly vegan foods, recycle my beer cans and the critters at home love and respect me; I have that. That’s not what’s missing.
I’m in good health and in reasonable control of my demons and body functions and I rarely embarrass people with my actions. Morality is not an issue and I practice kindness, consideration and forgiveness even though it weighs on my patience and nerves. That’s not what is missing from my life; like I said, I have a good life.
I’m educated, well read, artistically inclined and participate in my community to the point of working the voting polls while y’all slackers decide whether it’s convenient to cast ballot or go out for a cocktail. You might ask “what on earth more could you ask for?”
I’ll tell you: I want a bunch of money to spend! Cash, currency, funds, lucre, dough, capital, riches, wealth, I want it. I want more money than I know what to do with it, I want more than I can spend. I desire the root of all evil, that stuff that greases the wheels and cures all ills. Legal tender, coin, bucks, jing, dinero, moola. Gimme, gimme, gimme.
There are those that will tell you to “do what you love and the money will follow”. We know that that’s a load of crap. There are those that say that money will not buy happiness or love. You, above all people, know to park that one where the sun don’t shine. If money is such a bad thing, why aren’t rich people giving it away? Why do poor people want it? Why do I want it? I’ll tell you why.
Money is the great liberator, and like most of us I weary from just getting by, hanging in there and being saved by eleventh hour reprieves. If I can get beyond that ‘two steps forward--three steps back’ dance, why, that would be fine by me. Imagine not having to think about being able to pay a bill, make a payment or pay cash for something without breaking your bank and back. The way I see it, having gobs of money is a necessity and better for my mental health- I simply cannot afford to be broke any more and it’s making me crazy. As the old song goes “the best things in life are free, but you can give them to the birds and the bees… I need money… that’s what I want”.
Money is not inherently bad, after all, it makes the world go around (a mark, a yen, a buck or a pound) and the world is not a bad place except for the presence of people, but, that’s another tale for another time.
People with money are welcome anywhere, at least until their insipid, name dropping, arrogant, snooty, condescending and uppity personalities make you want to take them outside and fuck them up. I promise that I will exhibit none of those traits; all I want to do is give money away as fast as I can and have more coming in as fast as I do because with money you can do good things. Lots of good things and I promise that you will never know that I am a gazillionaire, you’ll just find that your tab is settled, that expense that was hanging over your head is gone and that silly item that you put on your wish list was just delivered to your door. In short, your check will be in the mail, for true.
Money talks, hell, money sings! And I love that song. I want my hills to be alive with the sound. I want it to fly through the air with the greatest of ease. I want it to rain dead Presidents; I want hay to be made when the sun shines.
Don’t you think that we all deserve more money? Of course you do! Well, it’s got to start somewhere and having worked for money for longer than I care to think about and having absolutely nothing to show for it, well, I propose that I be the first one of us to become filthy stinking rich! And when I find out how to do that, why of course I will let the secret out and soon we’ll all be rolling in dough and want for nothing!
No more picking up extra shifts because our rent is due or borrowing from mom because the cat swallowed tinsel from the Christmas tree and the vet’s gotta operate. Or missing the Stones concert, Superbowl game, Oscar ceremonies or the running of the bulls because our money is funny and we’re as broke as a piecrust. Bfstplk on being poor!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Hot Sauce thoughts in New Orleans

Po-boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
If You Can’t Stand The Heat
Scoville’s Horse
Okay, Tabasco sauce is hot, and when it comes to food, the word means hot. In fact since the first two ounce bottle was sold by Edmund McIlhenny in 1869, Tabasco brand pepper sauce has been the benchmark in hot sauces and is exported to over 110 countries. Talk about a success story. It is rated at about 3-5,000 SU (Scoville Units). Consider it a classic.
Recently though, hot sauces have taken a different turn with a ‘burn K-Doe burn’ emphasis, with criterias of higher Scovilles and catchier labels. The labels that have flooded the market are the likes of ‘Pleasure and Pain, Plastering Phiery Pneumatic Perambulators On Unsophisticated Pharynxes ’, ‘Ass On Fire In A Bucket Of Blazing Briquettes’ and ‘Bubba’s Butt Rectal Revenge/Satan Sphincter Shrinker Venom Masochistic Napalm’.
Scoville ratings have now gone out of the roof and into outer space. And next you’re gonna ask, “Phil, what the deuce is a Scoville?”
Ahem…in 1912 a man named Scoville heard his horse ask: “Wilburrrrr, how hot is hot?” And, viola, he set about investigating, formulating and recording the different heat levels of different peppers. Assembling a posse of gangsta tastas and using a normal bell pepper as a zero Scoville Unit (SU), he set about seeing exactly how much sugar water it would take to neutralize the heat of any given pepper. For example, he found that it would take 2,500-5,000 drops of sugar water to neutralize one ounce of a Jalapeño pepper’s heat, so he gave it a rating of 2,500-5,000 Scoville Units, based on the Scoville Organdeptic Test. What he was measuring was the levels of capsiacinoids, the element that we call heat. Incidentally, nowadays the test is done using a microscope. By the way, that little orange pepper called a Habanera that you see in stores and in hot sauces? It’s 200,000-300,000 SU. There are sauces available that go up to 1,000,000 SU if you’d care to blow your brains and your bottom out. Compare classic Tabasco sauce at 3-5,000 SU to pure capaicin at 16,000,000 SU.
Where are we going with this? Just a little background information while we whet your appetite for real hot sauces with simple names from the New Orleans area that are used in our homes and restaurants to flavor our local foods with a minimum of fooling around.
But first, did you know that until very recently, most New Orleans restaurants made their own hot pepper sauce? It was usually kept in a big glass bottle in the dining room and vinegar and peppers were added as necessary to keep it going. Many residents still make their own (myself included). I recently met a man that is keeping up and using his grandfather’s sauce. His grandfather died over thirty years ago!
I contacted some local companies and did taste tests and here’s what I found. Hot sauces are either water distilled or vinegar distilled, naturally the type of pepper used and it’s proportion to the liquid effects the strength of the brew. Vinegar is added to most pepper sauces for bite, sugar or fruits will be added to tone the mixture down. Water distilled sauces will be milder, with less bite and more emphasis on flavor. Aging is also a factor, and like fine wine, aging develops complexity of taste, a balance of acidity and the heat and smoothness of flavor profile. But you already knew that.
Okay, this is the part where I ‘Goggled’ local hot sauces and only one answered out of a half a dozen. If I had been writing this about Tabasco, I’m so damn sure that they would have jumped on this wagon and sent me samples, some Tabasco bling, banners and maybe even a brass band, that I could spit. But nooooo… I’ve got to write about the little guys.
Anyway, rule numero uno: read the ingredients and if there is something other than stuff found in nature and your kitchen, put that puppy back on the shelf! I’m thinking “peppers, vinegar, salt”. You with me?
Here’s some local names: Cajun Chef, Panola, Crystal, Louisiana, Chachere’s, Ashanti and Bayou Red.
Rule two: choose your camp. Are you gonna be a Louisiana fan, a world fan or are you, like some hard core Pepperheads, gonna swear allegiance to one brand and go so far as to even carry a bottle with you? Or do you give a rat’s whisker at all? Personally I love Sriracha and will use it on everything wherever I find it served, but I don’t tote it with me. It’s got a lot of stuff in it and is contradictory to any Pepperhead rules; but, like love, I am blind to it’s faults and prey to it’s flavors. Other sauces I can take or leave; however, some of the chipotle (smoked jalapeño) sauces are rather appealing.
Rule three: snub your nose at gimmicky pepper sauce. If you’re going to be a serious Pepperhead use them for flavor and heat, not just for heat and a cartoon of a woman dressed in low cut leather, sporting a whip and black thigh-high boots.
Number four: check out Latin American, Caribbean, Asian, Indonesian and American regional sauces. Go to tastings (Austin has a great one) and talk it up with fellow Pepperheads.
Five: as the man said, “If you don’t like the news, make some of your own!” The same goes for hot sauces. You can and should make your own hot sauce. There are books out there like ‘Hot Licks’ by Jennifer Trainer Thompson and more; check ‘em out! To further exploit quotations, as an ex-con acquaintance once said to me “read a book, get a clue.
And Six: Use your computer to Further educate yourself. When last I checked there were 1629 books answering the key words ‘recipe hot sauces’. Rounding third and heading for home, heeeeeere’s Seven: go down to the Decatur Street Newsstand, 1133 Decatur, and pick up a chili lover’s magazine, or two. Call Bruce, 566-3000, to see which ones are in.
Until next month, here's this: In India they grow a pepper, Bhut Joloka or Ghost Pepper, 1,001,304 SU. It is said to be the equivalent of a sensory mugging or as one quote assured "like swigging a cocktail of battery acid and glass shards." Woof! Let me in on your thoughts.

What's best in New Orleans

Best of Big Easy by Phil LaMancusa #1
Take our local free press (please)! ‘Ya gotta love ‘em’, as they say. No matter what your bent is, there’s a publication, free for the taking, to be had. That is unless you are a person of a sixth world ethnicity, political weirdly oriented, sexual persuasion/perversion performer, restricted diet militant, fugue music loving goon from Nowhere’s-ville. And would I be worth my brown-nosing salt if I didn’t mention Where Y’at? Not on your tintype. The only thing that we lack is an advice column and a horoscope section (okay, maybe a soduku or whatever that is) and we’d be up there with, oh, I don’t know, The New York Times!
Well seriously, now that I’ve got my tongue out of my cheek, don’t you ritualistically pick up Gambit, Ambush, The Levee, Spiritual Awakenings, Saint Charles, Off Beat and/or Where Y’at every frigging time that you see one laying around? Of course you do! “Why, Madge, you’re soaking in it now!”
I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but, this is not that big of a town. And, If I were a betting man, I’d give you eight to five that we’ve got more free rags than Timbuktu!
Best of Big Easy by Phil LaMancusa #2
Okay, you’ve got to hand it to us. As an American microcosm, The Big Easy has all the respect for it’s elected officials as a Mexican street urchin has for a piñata at Christmas time. In fact government bashing has been brought to a new level by much of my constituents and fellow residents. Especially us veterans of the “Thing”. Stand in any line, sit in any waiting room, ride any public conveyance and start a conversation with “how about that City Hall?”
No, it’s not our sports teams, our bi-polar weather systems, our food culture or even our fashion challenged news reporters; if you want to start a group discussion with strangers, just ask “anyone heard from the mayor?” or “what’s up with the city council, school board, water or traffic departments”.
There is no antidote for the poisons that we’ve been carrying in our hearts and our minds as to how every day one form of government or another has let us down with absolutely no shame whatsoever.
New New Orleanean’s have zero faith in our leaders and for good reason. Obviously, no one in our local so called organized government (don’t get us started on State or Federal) gives a flip about us. We might have to suck it up, but we sure as hell can and do complain bitterly. Good for us!
Best of #3
What I really love, for sure, is our levees. Unless you live on a major American waterway you probably believe that a levee is something in a blues song used as a form of the word leverage. Growing up in the north, I didn’t know what one was and never had the word in my vocabulary until I moved here and now the word ‘levee’ is much more than a physical barrier that keeps us all from breathing our oxygen mixed with two parts hydrogen.
NOW the word levee is no longer just this mound of dirt/flimsy jut of steel; it’s part of a sentence. A walk, a kiss or taking the dog for a run on; for starters. A sunrise, a sit-down or just simply ‘going up to…’. I don’t usually picnic, nap or try to hail a taxi from up there; but, muse, play or play music for that matter cogitates real fine.
Contrawise, a trip to the levee is always a good way to observe and meditate on the vagaries of human existence and life in general. To be aware that the river rises and falls with regularity influenced by it’s travels, travails and inflections as before time immemorial at hundreds of thousands of gallons per second, or the speed of thought.
#4 if you please:
How about this for a candidate on the subject of the Best of The Big Easy: Uncle Louie. I feel sorry for you folks that don’t live or work in the French Quarter. You’re missing one of God’s own displays of children that refuse to grow up. You’re missing the spectacle of Peter’s lost boys, of the coming to town by the gypsies, troubadours, fortune tellers, mimes, magicians, charlatans and tricksters that we as residents enjoy every day in some form/degree or another.
Of course, then again you don’t get to contend with the hustles, muggings, public displays of body fluids, drug deals and drunks in doorways like we do. Your chained bicycle is not up for grabs like ours are. I consider it a wash.
However, in the realm of the Master Thespian is the artist known as Uncle Louie. In the comings and goings of life; ‘he stands like a statue, becomes part of the machine’. Impeccably and completely in white (except for an American flag hat) he is frozen, mid stride, in too many locations to map unless you know his routine. His faithful cigar smoking pup (leashed of course) attends and he’s poetry in loco-non-motion. And “if you don’t know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout… you better ass somebody!”