Saturday, July 31, 2010

Katrina fifth anniversary part 6

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Katrina Fifth Anniversary VI
No Rest For The Weary
Could I get away without finishing the epic adventure? Probably. But I wouldn’t have believed that the tale had ended so I’ll go on (and on and on) with the suspicion that someone in the future will want to know what happened after chapter five.
Okay, where were we? We made it up to Shreveport and our asylum where we had respite for two nights and a day. They, the folks that took us in, were a lovely couple in a large house in an upscale suburb and they opened themselves and their home to us as if we were better than kin. We were asked (and received) whatever we needed and we showered and shaved and shampooed like royalty. Kevin, it turned out was somewhat of an introvert; it took him a bit to come out, but with a couple of beers and non-threatening company, who wouldn’t. They even threw a cook-out for us and some other refugees that had landed in their neighborhood. They really went all out for us, no questions asked. Food, clothing and shelter.
We had Molly, the yellow Labrador, with us and Gallivan’s girlfriend was coming to pick her up. Little Trey, the bitty dog that was given to us by some evacuees in N.O. was taken to a refugee shelter where people and pets were treated with respect and he was almost immediately adopted by one of the workers. That left us with five of our own critters and Kevin.
We didn’t want to overstay our welcome and besides, Kevin’s sister in law, the one who had said we could keep the car, was threatening to call the authorities on us and have us arrested for car rustling, so we set up a time to be in Dallas to return the Toyota to her and took our leave of Shreveport (after finding that scamp Bob the cat wandering off in the neighborhood, obviously ready to relocate on his own) and headed to Texas.
We had agreed to rendezvous at the Dallas airport, where we had decided to rent another car for the trip to the west coast. Debbie was adamant that we have a car before returning the Toyota and I readily agreed that our baggage and pets should not and would not be left by the side of the road just because an ex alcoholic was reneging on a promise made in haste; that promise being that we could keep the car, her car (that we got out of New Orleans) as long as we needed it. In our heart of hearts we really couldn't blame her, but it was sort of a pain in the ass. We arrived on schedule and got a bigger and better car and waited and waited and waited for her to show up; we were wasting daylight at the edge of nowhere, and our nerves and patiences were fraying further than they already were.
Well, the sister in law finally shows up. It seems that she was so stressed about the ordeal that she had to go to a meeting before she could get her act together; by the time she showed up Debbie was fit to be tied and I believe that she wanted to rip this woman’s lungs from her body, and, to make things more complicated, she had brought Kevin’s spouse, Kathy, with her, who was there to plead with Kevin to stay in Dallas and not make the trip to California. All the time, it’s hotter than hell and no shade to speak of.
After a tearful reunion, Kevin decided to stay with Kathy and we hugged and left the lot of them and continued off on our own.
The drive to the coast was pretty much of a blur with us getting a motel room for the night wherever, and whenever we were to pooped to continue the driving. We would invariably order a pizza and get some beer and get the critters situated and zone out on television that we, again invariably, had tuned to the disaster reports from New Orleans; we had become media junkies and disaster ghouls. We would sleep and wake up to the awful motel coffee service, get a bite and head on out again, day after day, through Texas, Arizona and up into California. In the back of my head I was dreading the drive through Los Angeles, having had that experience before and not liking it one bit.
We drove up the coastal route, along the beach communities, keeping to our motel, pizza, beer, coffee breakfast, driving routine, never stopping for very long; burning gas and rubber and the demons from my brain.
While I was in New Orleans, I would wake up in the morning and have to wrap my head around the disaster and being there; on the road, I would wake up and it would take me a moment to realize that I was not still in New Orleans. Debbie kept me going and took real care of our charges: Ginger and Rosie the canines, and Phil, Pepper and Bob the felines. For the most part we talked little and I’m sure that I wasn’t good company. Like I explain to people: I really, really needed a long drive to clear my head and so I drove and drove, my copilot and our crew of critters reaching the southern outskirts of Los Angeles, where we rested overnight to get up the energy to go through that most horrid of stretches of highway, the L.A. freeway. I think that I had tried to warn Debbie of the rigors that we were about to face, as it turns out neither one of us were fully prepared for that ride.
If you’ve never driven through Los Angeles in the years around 2005, you have missed the most nerve wracking, patience and driving ability trying experiences of a lifetime and I wish you well. We started out at day break and drove six lanes to four and back top six as fast as we could, mostly to keep from being over run by the other cars, trucks and busses that were hell bent for leather to get wherever they were going ahead of the person behind them and in front of them; it took us until 9:30 in the morning to get through L.A. and in the middle of all that, Phil the cat decided to lean on the power window switch and almost jetison himself; and if that weren’t enough, he and Pepper decided to kill eachother, in the car, on the freeway at eighty miles per hour. I was practically in a froth by the time we reached sane driving conditions and this hero stuff was wearing a bit thin, I don’t know how I knew it or what those around me thought of my demeanor, but I was holding all of my emotions in check for the last week and they needed out. I had rationally explained to myself that I needed to be the strong one, in charge, when I felt the weakest of the lot of us; I wouldn’t have wanted to be in that car with me driving if I were anyone else but me, and maybe not even then.
We stopped, I think that it was in Capistrano, for the night and then up to San Francisco where we had a safety net in place; however, we never did need to strain any of the relationships that I had up there. The Red Cross was set up in town and they got us (with pets) accommodations at an art deco motel on the beach, gave us meals as well as food stamps and bus passes and people were right friendly. The Red Cross had expected tens of thousands of refugees and got less than nine hundred, so we had almost too much attention lavished upon us with Social Security, FEMA and disaster money and volunteers galore, plus we had a brand new luxury size Buick to tool around the area with.
There is one moment that I will never forget; as we were driving into town we had the radio tuned to the public station and they were broadcasting a benefit for New Orleans musicians. We were just getting in, with the San Francisco skyline above us and feeling pretty good about being at the end of our trip and the song that they happen to play at that moment was: “Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?” I think that we were crying so hard that I had to pull over because I could not see the road for the tears that we both were crying. We both literally had our long overdue breakdowns, in traffic, sobbing for our lost city. I guess that that kind of took the wind out of our sails and I believe that at that point we both knew without speaking that we could not but return home, no matter what San Francisco or any other place might show us in the form of hospitality. At that point we fully knew what it meant to be orphans of the storm.
So ends part six. That was our journey out of the hell and high water and it got to be only better and better from there until we returned back to New Orleans. Five weeks in California.

Oh, Kevin did make it to California, to his relatives, without Kathy.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

halloween in New Orleans 2010

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Lucky Stiff
All Hallows Eve
Are you awake? Well, c’mon take a trip with me down the lazy Mississippi, the river that’s too thick to drink and too thin to plow. Let’s take Old Man River on down to that easy, sleepy, ne’er do well crescent city…New Orleans. Nowhere, in this country, will you find a city that is more likely to take any excuse or occasion and transform it into a celebration; and that’s what this missive is about.
First off: Our forbearers, in their infinite and ultimately misguided wisdom, transmuted pagan ritual days into religious holidays on a particular purpose and, I think, with the likes of us in mind. They figured that if the kids were going to be jazzing and jamming with the changing of the seasons, (and other natural occurrences) that they could capitalize on it by relating it to the church and to their infinite and ultimately misguided religion. In the course of that, they hoped to somehow rein us in. It is not totally a coincidence that Mardi Gras corresponds with spring plantings as well as Halloween the conclusion of harvest; the church will have us believe a connection to Easter and All Saints day; WELL, fat (Tuesday) chance, we know better. Consequently we celebrate these holidays with abandon. Both Carnival and Halloween call for costuming, consuming and canoodling; how pagan is that? “We need to fete the dearly departed saints and sinners…"THIS BUD'S FOR YOU!! Or…. It’s getting’ time to knock it off for forty days until good old whatshisname rises... "BREAK OUT THE BOOZE!!!" So it goes, and…
That being said, consider that there’s a certain fascination and fixation with death that is pervasive here. Our thing with death is also something that goes un-witnessed in other parts of this country; certainly not to the lengths that we go to in our near obsession. In fact, in New Orleans death is celebrated, revered and as we all know, easy to come by; it’s not uncommon for a spat to escalate into a homicide here, is it? We’ll cry on the way to the graveyard and we’ll dance on our way back; the brass band leads the way and we form a second line behind it. Visitors love to gawk at our cemeteries, we love to light candles on people and we read the obituaries religiously (pun intended). We pay little attention to dying; it’s death itself that intrigues us most. AND…
Compounding that, New Orleans is as welcoming and as friendly a city as you’ll find anywhere, consequently, it’s easy to make comrades here. Something as trivial as a gap in a generation or the diversity of a background never stands in the way of close bonds that allow the symbiosis of personal philosophies to come together like ticks on a hound.
And, until somebody pisses somebody else off, you’re pretty much good to go in the pals, peeps and buds department in any area of this city. However; leave it to me not to point out that there’s always an occasion that the best of us will cop an attitude over nothing and alienate a playmate, but what can you do? That’s the exception to the rule; c’est la vie, laissez faire and laissez le bon temps roulez. To make friends is to lose them, albeit briefly. C’est le guerre.
So what do we get when we mix up that metaphoric gumbo? Bone Shakers on Mardi Gras, black folks dressed as Indians singing “jockimo findo hondo in de mawnin”, vampires, devils, ghouls and demons dressed on Halloween, men dressed as sexy women and women dressed even sexier. We also get twenty-four hour drinking in the streets, red dress runs, swashbucklers, strip clubs, our own running of the bulls (where you get chased by a babe on roller skates with a bat) and the parading of hearses backed by blaring brass bands; all in the thinly disguised demeanor of danger, debauchery and death. Boy, aint we sumthin’?
Our fascination with death comes in different forms: the death of a celebrity (i.e. Lena Horne), the death of an eccentric (i.e. Ruthie the Duck Girl), or of a celebrity and eccentric (i.e. Ernie K. Doe). You’ll read in the news a freak accident and be mesmerized, you’ll see on the telly a disaster that took innocents and your eyes will widen. You’ll hear of animals thoughtlessly killed and become tearily outraged. A death in the family, of a friend and add to that the deaths of strangers, soldiers or someone that you just see in the newspaper and you pretty much have it. A real Spoon River Anthology.
I believe that this addiction to death has to do with the realization that our own time is divided between the days that we’ve had and the days that we have left: our personal mortality. It’s something that we can do nothing about, weaving a spell of finality toward a mirror at the end of the road. If you live long enough, you get old; if you stay old long enough… you die. AND as your days pass you will see people that you know, people that are your friends and people that you are related to… pass The O-bits will call the process “entering into eternal peace or rest, called home, transitioned or departed this life”. Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein quips succinctly: “What difference does it make? Dead. Is. Dead!!”
The difference is that perhaps at some point you’ll realize that you are not dead…yet, and death will become a personal issue; and so will your life. Death will become something that you will not be able to escape or avoid. Life will be something that you think about and cherish. At some point when you hear someone say that they are blessed by being alive another day, your heart will answer ”I know that’s right!”.
And perhaps you will start living like you mean it, like you want to make it last or make it matter. Not that it will make much of a difference.
But, in conclusion, when you costume up this, or any other, season, remember that life is short, fun is the best way of having a good time, loving is as natural as breathing and courtesy is contagious.
And when I die you better second line!

Friday, July 9, 2010

See you in September

I was going to publish Katrina Fifth Anniversary part 2 but hey, isn't there enough bad stuff out there? So I wrote something a little lighter than storms and seas and sludge and fumes. Bless me, Father for I have sinned.

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
From The Heart
Game over
Okay, enough of this gloom and doom; enough, enough, I say! If you don’t have anything light and airy to say… put it on a blog (I did) and away from the public domain and sensitive eyes.
I know, let’s give presents! What better time of year to give gifts than this; a time of year that nobody gives gifts, unless it’s your birthday? What better time of year to celebrate than the time of year when we still haven’t been flooded or crudded off the planet? Let’s celebrate that we still are living in New Orleans, unless of course, we are not.
Five years ago I wrote the September article that got flooded out of print, and, oh boy, aren’t you glad that that hasn’t happened this year?
So now, I humbly suggest that we all turn to our partners and give gifts that coincide with our anniversaries together. One, two, three, four and more; c’mon work with me here, chose your side of the relationship, back off ten paces and give from the heart. This ought to be fun, right? Here are some suggestions.
After Six months: Surprise them with a roll of duct tape and a bottle of Nyquil; and a card that says “use your imagination, Dear”.
First year: a slab of ribs is an excellent gift because if they don’t know what to do with them then, there is no use going any further in the relationship, is there?
Second year: give your Honey a pet. You should always wait until the second year to adopt a critter. Why? Because the first year should be about you and yourselves. This applies only to the couple who didn’t already have pets upon the initial canoodling and/or cohabbing; in that case then, just bring something alive home and work it out, or you are ready and able to skip the second year gifts and go directly to:
Third year: In the third year (and NOT before) it should be time to talk about the ‘C’ word (no, not that ‘C’ word). The “C” word that I’m talking about here is CHILDREN!
Yeah, you’ve been shakin’ the covers long enough to now discuss the possibility of increasing your personal population; and believe you me, I wouldn’t blame you for deciding not to have any part of procreation. I have a theory that all young things (birds, cats, puppies, chirren) are cute for the sole reason that if they weren’t just darling, there would be more drownings around here than on the Titanic; whatever YOUR perspective, it’s time for the talk.
Fifth year: yes, after you make it the first three years you can skip to the big numbers (five, ten, eleven, fifteen etc.). After all, if you make it past the ribs, the cat and the kid talk… Plus, the fourth year isn’t all that anyway, is it? On the fourth it’s a quiet dinner, asleep by nine, you know who you are.
So, on the fifth year give something big, like say, a hundred square feet of sod, full camping gear and a reservation for a week in Okefenokee or a country turkey roaster (a broomstick, a steel garbage can, fifty pounds of charcoal and a quart of gasoline). Onward.
Year Seven: the seventh year is a tricky one and you’re apt to opt for separate vacations and that would not be a bad thing; after all, how can you miss them if they won’t go away? But better yet, a vacation to a place that neither one wants to go is just the ticket to test your already testy relationship. I recommend shared accommodations at a fat farm, a visit to an insect infested ashram (with no electricity) or two weeks at Betty Ford’s.
Tenth Year: are you still here? Well shucks, here’s a couple of suggestions just to keep things lively; renovate your house orrrrr… go into business together! See, thus far y’all get to go your separate ways for a portion of each day: your jobs, shopping, sporting events and/or quilting bees. Now’s the time to take the plunge and either be at each other’s sides and throats for a really large percentage of each and every day, or put up with contractors, electricians and third world laborers, twenty-four seven, just for kicks and grins. Take my word for it, trips to Home Depot three or four times a week and wondering how you’re going to pay for it all or spending endless hours talking shop and wondering how you’re going to pay for everything are exactly the situations that will make or break a couple’s mettle and cohesiveness. Tenth year… push the envelope; after ten it’s all clear sailing or downhill, one or the other.
Fifteen years: how old are you now and would anybody else want you? Well, if you are still with the same person for fifteen years then now it’s time to do big things for eachother. I call this ‘the year of daring’. After fifteen years, give eachother the gifts of new and challenging things to do, like a Bucket List but younger. Listen, if you’ve made it with another human being for this long, you already know everything about them that they are going to share with another human being; you know the dirty laundry, you’ve accepted the baggage and you are aware of the skeletons in the closets; now’s the time for mid-life crisis gifts: dueling pistols, an electric guitar, tango lessons, a course in Swahili or a cooking class on how to cook ribs. See, at this point it is love or ignorance; and either way, you’ve proven to all your friends, and anyone else that cares to view you, that it is possible to maintain a friendship for a long period of time or that the both of you are full blown bat shit crazy and have found solace in each other’s company mostly because no one else could possibly put up with either one of you.
Better yet, now is the time, yes, right now is the time to turn to that person that you are betting your life and future on and tell them how worthwhile they have made your very valuable time. It’s either that or what?
See you in October….. I hope.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Oil Spill in the Gulf part 3

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Not My Problem
Let Them Drink Oil
Okay, here we are on day seventy-five of the awful, awful miscarriage of oil in the Gulf and now the estimates are up to 80,000 barrels a day.
Remember last oil blog’s arithmetic lesson? Well, here’s another lesson: in today’s newspaper it was revealed that thus far BP has set 238,000 barrels of oil on fire. The quote was “Controlled burns have collectively removed…”. That is to say, if you took that quart of oil that you put in your car’s engine poured it in your filled bathtub and set it on fire, here comes the math part (ready?), you would need to do that 533,120 times a day to keep up with them. You can trust me on this, or you can divide the number of barrels thus burned (238,000) by the number of days (75), multiply by the number of gallons per barrel (42) and then multiply by the number of quarts there are in a gallon (4). Viola! Or Voila! Or whatever; that’s a lot of friggin’ oil. Wouldn’t you say?
Environmentalists worry about the hazards the plumes of noxious smoke may have on wildlife. What are the chances? “The fires burn 2 to 3 millimeters of oil every sixty seconds, rising as high as 100 feet and generating massive plumes of smoke”. Environmental groups are suing BP because they have found that the fires are burning sea turtles alive in the process.
So, now we have the spill, the chemical dispersants AND the fires; I’m telling you out there that we sure are having a time way down yonder in New Orleans. Oil is already in the mouth of the Mississippi River, 100 miles away. They’re predicting oil on Miami’s beaches and into the Florida Keyes by mid August and who knows how many storms we’ll have by then. The spill is now the size of the state of New Jersey. Break out the flags and sparklers, it’s July 4th weekend and business in the French Quarter could be worse, but I cannot imagine how. At least we’re eating regularly, but not the local seafood..
So, who’s fault is this anyway? This whole disastrous tragedy? Hmmm. Let’s start by taking into consideration that our dependency on oil and petroleum based products is the culprit. Let’s see. Plastic containers, Styrofoam containers and ‘peanuts’ for packing, my after shave lotion bottle, disposable razors, sanitizer bottles, plastic cups, ball point pens, cheap flashlights, colored markers, the keyboard that I’m typing on, the computer parts as well as printer (and ink cartridges), packing tape, spice jars, soda bottles and mailing envelopes and I haven’t even gotten to my car’s usage and consumption yet. My credit cards and identification are made of plastic, foods that I buy are packed in plastic and I’m sent from the store with my purchases in plastic bags. In New Orleans, where it’s illegal to carry alcoholic beverages in the streets in glass or metal cans, we have plastic ‘go cups’, drink containers shaped like glasses and even plastic beer bottles. AND WE HAVE NO RECYCLING!!!!!
We had an old air conditioner at home that just was not doing it’s job efficiently; when we called around to have it serviced, we were told that it was cheaper to buy a new one and that, anyway, no one worked on residential units any longer. I’m talking about a big steel, electricity-eating thing that was an example of machinery the likes that you will not see again. Our option was to swelter or purchase new. We purchased and indeed the new unit was not expensive (relatively speaking) and when it came time to install the option was to send the old unit to the landfill. The new unit is made of… guess. The unit was not manufactured in this country.
BP is not the bad guy… or are they? Political conservatives would have us believe that if the political liberals had not objected to drilling on land or in shallow water (it obscures the views) that BP would not have been FORCED to drill in deep water. As a student of capitalism I would say that profit oriented businesses (such as BP) would drill on the moon if they thought that they could make a buck and that brings up the theory that BP WANTS to keep the well flowing so that they would have the first crack at harvesting the well’s output with their ‘relief drillings’. What, after all, would happen if the well was closed for well and good? Perhaps a moratorium on the drilling site? How do we know? We don’t know NOTHING (double negative intended) and nothing is clear except that the oil keeps coming out of the well.
Is BP the only miscreant? The only scoundrel? The only reprobate? The only villain? The only criminal? Not on your tintype.
Shell Oil in Nigeria has the populace wading in oil spills, their environment in ruins, their economy nonexistent, their natural resources gone. No fishing and very little agriculture as the result of oil spills the size of the Gulf that are a regular occurrence on their land. Protesters have been beaten and murdered.
Does a poor citizen give a flip about the white man’s oil spill except where it impacts their employment or food sources? As a rural disenfranchised American in northern Mississippi, do I care about a sea turtle or my food stamps? If I get my seafood from the Missouri River do I really care about gulf shrimp?
Do investors put their money behind those that would do good or behind those that will give them the highest return on their investment no matter what their products produce or the effect that that company, in producing that product, has on the environment that we all collectively live in? Would a sane and rational person take a job with a company based on its integrity or it’s pay scale? Therein lies the rub.
Does a working stiff think about making plowshares from oil shares? Do the oil company executives give a flip if a well blows up, workers die and the environment is fouled past their lifetimes as long as it does not affect their bottom line and income? Do you want to bet that behind every great fortune that there is not a great crime perpetrated by great criminals, and in the case of a great oil spill; as Dr. John so rightly pointed out, are not the criminals then put in charge of the crime scene?
Make no mistake that poor people are impacted; they work the rigs, they fish the gulf, they work for the oil company that allows the spill to continue BUT they are also the one who get to clean up the gobs of crude oil that washes up on our shores and can turn a living doing that, wearing plastic suits. Or use their fishing boat to skim oil from their once fished waters using expensive fuel. Or wait in line for handouts from relief groups, in their cars, burning gasoline. As Pogo so succinctly put it in 1974 “we have met the enemy and he is us”.