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.