Sunday, August 14, 2011

Thanksgiving in New Orleans

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
A Thanksgiving Carol
Pecuniary Comforts

Robert Duprey didn’t pay his rent that month; instead he separated himself from his family in Tacoma, Washington in July of 1995 and took a Greyhound Bus to Livingston, Montana. He spent his forty second birthday there and left in the beginning of September, taking another Greyhound to Baton Rouge and then another to New Orleans relying on the kindness of strangers along the way. Bob is a brave man; you see, he’s all alone in the world in his motorized wheelchair living with Cerebral Palsy; stubbornly independent. He’s more of and a better man than I am.
Sixteen years later Bob has a neatly kept efficiency apartment, a part time helper that aids him in going to the toilet in the morning, a stipend from Social Security and his motorized wheelchair. In the mornings Bob makes his way to the French Quarter sometimes stopping off for an inexpensive breakfast at a convenience store along his route. He ‘drives’ the mile up Saint Charles Avenue against all odds and traffic and makes his rounds visiting folks that he knows and that care about him; an ice tea at CafĂ© Maspero; a visit to the Louisiana Music Factory (Bob LOVES music!); Beckam’s Bookstore and also to our shop. Those are only the places that I know about; there’s probably more. I know that he goes to Rouse’s for the daily lunch specials, I know that he goes to Walgreens and he’s not averse to going anywhere else that his chair can get in and out of easily.
A lot of times people look the other way when they see Bob; there are things that are basic to you and I that are beyond Bob’s ability and capabilities, one of them is grooming. Someone has to wash Bob, and it isn’t done often; someone has to lift him onto the toilet and that only happens five times a week; someone gives Bob his infrequent shaves and haircuts; someone else has to make phone calls for him, trim his nails, make appointments, get him a cushion, a blanket, listen to him when he speaks about his needs and wants.
A lot of young adults make fun of Robert Duprey; they call him “Push Me Bob” a name left over from the time that he had a chair with a faulty battery and once again had him relying on the kindness of strangers to get him back home. They seem to enjoy mocking the way he speaks and doesn’t have the same motor skills that we take for granted. Some of them are disgusted by Bob’s appearance and everything he stands for.
Sometimes the tap dancing kids on Decatur Street will snatch the cap from his head and tease him like an animal, tossing it to eachother in a mean game for their amusement before throwing it to the ground and scampering out of reach; getting their jollies from taunting someone who cannot stand up for himself… the fact is, Bob cannot stand up at all. I’ve seen them bring him almost to tears before an adult steps in and stops the humiliation.
Bob doesn’t want pity; in his words “sometimes you just need a little help from somebody”. He never asks for money; he takes care of himself, as well as he can. He could use a lot of help but rarely asks for it, usually only in an emergency, and, in case you’re wondering, he doesn’t want to be in a care facility, he enjoys his freedom, such as it is. He’d like to get the PBS station on his TV though.
Bob reads the daily newspaper through that little window in the vending machine, he’d like to have a computer so he could keep up to date on things, maybe record some of his adventurers, follow what’s going on in the world and someday be able to vote; imagine that, in a city where less than half of eligible voters turned out for the last presidential election …..
When Bob was young, his father moved the family 3,000 miles for a better school for him; imagine that, in a city where teachers cannot get a conference with a parent about their failing child short of a court order…..
His helper is trying to get him a recliner to alleviate the swelling in Bob’s legs, maybe stretch him out, because he lives in his chair, he eats in his chair, he sleeps in his chair and, I’m sure, Bob dreams in his chair.
Pause for a moment and ask yourself what Bob’s dreams are made of.
For that matter, what are any of our dreams made of and why should Bob’s be different? Why should any of the dreams of the flotsam and jetsam of the human condition be any different from anyone else’s? Around us we see collateral damage caused by the vagaries of fortune; damaged minds in otherwise good bodies and conversely, able minds trapped in faulty bodies possibly dreaming of dancing, flying or making love.
There are little things that we may take for granted that are not granted to those flawed by misfortune: and I’m not talking about the Bush tax cuts here. I submit to you items that I enjoy and do not take enough time to be thankful for: close family and friends; gainful employment; the ability to have and care for pets; physical and mental aptitude for performing specific tasks and the capability of being responsible enough to take charge in the case of an emergency. I also have the freedom to explore new worlds: I can submit the written word to you; I can decide that it’s time for me to take up artful projects like painting or playing a musical instrument; I can decide what, where and when I want to eat. Sure, you say, I can do that too.
Bob can’t. Bob doesn’t go to movies; Bob has never been to Jazz Fest; He doesn’t have a kitty, a car or a girlfriend; He hasn’t and never will play sports, cook his own food, tie his own shoes, pop a pimple or whistle. Bob has a motorized wheelchair and he’s thankful for that.
One thing that you can be pretty well sure of as you sit around your dinner table this Thanksgiving, tucking in to the turkey and stuffing, gravy and mashed potatoes, candied yams and pecan pie: the closest that Bob will come to that might be a turkey wrap from the store. What does it take for someone to quit bitching and be thankful for what they have? Bob says: “if I can do it, then they can do it”. Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Aussies in New Orleans OMG

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
No Worries, Mate
Misstra Know-It-All
Since my last article on bicycles (you did read it, didn’t you?) I’ve become a bit of a Go-To Guy when it comes to passing along information on little or notatall considered subjects. Now, sometimes you’ll hear a very authoritative voice coming from god knows where informing you of: “BREAKING NEWS!!... Sources… whom asked to remain anonymous… tell me that apparently an independent study is rumored to confirm the possibility of the truth behind blah blah and blah”.
Let me say this about that; certainly, there are questions that everybody should be asking themselves, especially about blah, blah and blah; but ask yourself this: has anyone thought to ask ‘who are these Australians, where do they come from and what do they want”? No? I didn’t think so. That’s why you have me.
Australians are people that live in a land far far away; a place called, oddly enough, Australia. Most of Australia is inhabited by non-human things that would like to kill you and primarily they live in places that humans do not, which is most of the country. Australia has a buncha buncha deadly animals, insects, plants, spiders and snakes that are only found in that country; and in a greater variety than say… the entire North American hemisphere. This is why Australians mostly live urbanely (or in populated areas). There are only two human beings for every square kilometer in Australia but because most of the country is uninhabitable, by living in what’s left after that’s taken out of the equation, Australia is one of the world’s most densely populated countries. The 50th to be exact. Australia is three quarters the size of the USA with a little over six and a half percent of our population. When you fly from Australia to the good old U. S. of A. you’ll arrive before you’ve departed; when you fly from here to there you lose a whole day from your life: gone forever. Does that make any sense? No? Well, neither does most of that country.
For instance; their indigenous peoples, called Aborigines, have been carbon dated to 60,000 years ago and nobody can explain where the heck they came from because Australia has been an island for a lot longer than that. Incidentally, Australia has no apes for the Abo’s to evolve from; ergo, God created man in his image in what would become the land Terra Australis (a name that means “someplace down under”). Either that or they sailed there before boats and Vegemite were invented. No one talks about Aborigines much; I think that it’s because they’re embarrassed by that whole ‘in his image’ thing or else they’re real sorry that white folks used to treat ‘em like they was, shall we say, less than human.
Anyway, in the 1600s the Dutch came, called the place New Holland and then quickly left, wanting nothing to do with it; in 1770 Sir Jos Banks discovered it as New South Wales, recommended that the Brits should colonize the place and then he came to New Orleans and opened a clothing store, supplying our colonists with much needed seer sucker suits. The Brits promptly emptied their gaols (that’s what they called their slammers) and sent about a thousand petty crooks to the Great Down Under in 1788, many of whom died because they could steal but they could not forage very well. Yes, and Australia missed being a French colony by this * much.
Onward: what do they want? Simple: they want to have fun; and if you’re an Aussie in America you’re having nothing but fun. That and they want us to love Vegemite as much as they hate peanut butter. Why do we see numbers of Aussies in New Orleans? Simple: they love to drink and they’re good at it. That plus they’re just all around the most upbeat, polite, and friendly of folks that you’ll ever meet unless you try to give them a peanut butter sandwich. Mention Vegemite… and watch them light up. Aussies avoid conflict and arguments I think because they know that they are always right and they know that they can kick our asses; that attitude comes with the belief that eating Vegemite makes you tough, smart, easy going, good looking and healthy.
We’re also seeing more and more visitors from Down Under because it’s affordable for them now and they’re happy to be somewhere where there’s not a crocodile stalking them or a giant spider or small snake ready to kill them with deadly venom just for the fun of it. Plus we have plenty of beer.
I’m reading In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson which is instrumental in my knowledge of Australia, supplemented by addendums from the Aussies that I work with. e.g. Bill Bryson tells me that the city of Adelaide is called the ‘City of Churches’ and why. Kristin (whom I work with), on the other hand, explains to me why the city of Adelaide is called the ‘City of Corpses’ and why. A nice balance if you ask me.
When visitors from Australia visit my shop I tell them that I’m reading Bill Bryson’s book they invariably look at me and nod politely as if I had just told them that I was reading the back of a cereal box. When I ask them where in Australia they’re from… their ears perk up They mention that they’re from Australia as if they were saying that they live in Gentilly… not like they happen to come from the sixth largest country in the whole frigging world. Then I mention Vegemite and tell them that I love the stuff. Bingo!, we’re now BFF.
I tell Yanks, that inquire, that Vegemite is an acquired taste; most Americans can’t even get past the smell. I’ve been told that it smells like gorilla butt breath and tastes like decomposing gym shorts. Sometimes I wonder where some people spend their time.
In closing, know that Aussies use slang words like Bluger, fair dinkum, squzz, bluey, figjam, pash, bogan and coo-ee. And here’s a word of advi: if you’re sinking piss with some Sheila and get off your face or rotten and decide to sound like a broken record with the “G’day Mate; toss a shrimp on the Barbie!” routine she might go Aussie on you, do a frog in the sock or get mad as a cut snake and knock you arse over tits. If you don’t believe me, give it a burl, ya nong.