Sunday, January 8, 2012

Salim McGundy in New Orleans

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Banana Oil
Another Man Done Gone
Salim McGundy, aka ‘Shorty’, went out; not with a bang as he had imagined he would in his younger days but with a whimper and his last earthly thought was: “that’s it?” There was no pain except a slight feeling akin to when a younger brother punches you in the chest and then it was over. Somehow he knew that he had died. He looked down on his body which gave a spasm, a final sigh and was still. “That’s it?” he repeated to himself.
It happened in the middle of the night in his small section eight apartment in the Faubourg Marigny; he was standing in front of his refrigerator in his boxers, scratching his behind and reaching for a defrosted bean and cheese burrito and a Schlitz tall boy. They found him face down in a pool of melted ice cream with the tall boy in one hand and the other still digging in his butt. The only witnesses were Jukebox Jack who was at that time the WWOZ deejay spinning music on his early Tuesday morning show and the stuffed catfish on the dingy wall that he had named “Kitty”.
Shorty had liked his ‘getting up in the middle of the night for a beer snack’ routine; a brief wake up, and then back to nap on his single bed with the rumpled covers and infrequently washed bedclothes. Shorty didn’t clean that much: and the nicotine stained walls, bare light bulb illumination and castoff furnishings didn’t bother him much. Thrift store wardrobe, cheap beer and Drum cigarette tobacco were his M.O. and he was kinda proud of his image; he saw himself as a devil-may-care kinda guy. He loved his faded Cardinals baseball cap and high top Chuck Taylors and didn’t care who knew it. But, now he was dead, he told himself, so what the fuck.
By nature a curious person, Shorty’s spirit stuck around awhile to see just what was gonna happen next; it took him a minute wondering who that old man on the floor was before he realized that it was him. He watched the ice cream and ice cubes melting around the open refrigerator and cursed himself for not having opened, what would have been, his last beer.
He listened to the radio for a spell and heard the telephone messages coming in to his great amusement. “Shorty, it’s Frank. What the fuck is goin’ on? I get in today and the bar’s still a mess and you ain’t nowhere around! You better get your bony ass down here and clean up before Virginia gets here; you know how she is-- if you don’t show up pretty damn quick-- she’ll use your balls for bookends!”
“SHORTY! you pick up that phone RIGHT NOW!!; this is Gloria and you promised me that you’d help me turn these mattresses; Shorty? SHORTY!!! Oh what the fuck…….”
“Yo, Shorts; we goin uptown tonight or what? We can catch a ride with Jimmy and watch the pool tournament at Miss Mae’s; that blonde’s playin’, you know, the one who slides that cue stick right between’er tits? Gimme a call at the shop”.
“Uh, hello…. This message is for Shorty? Well, uh, I got your number from Frank down at the bar and he told me you might be looking to pick up some extra cash for workin’. Anyway, I got a shed that needs cleanin’ out and some stuff to take to the dump. Gimme a call at 555-8384 if you’re available this weekend.”
“ Well, I guess I’m NOT available, Sucker, and I ain’t gonna be available any time soon” Shorty said/thought from his perch on the ceiling fan. He kinda liked this weightlessness and freedom from feeling. He kinda felt….”aloof… whatever that means”. He thought that he knew what it meant and decided that IF he didn’t know what it meant then well he would just call whatever he wasn’t feeling…. “Aloof. Shit, I can call it whatever I want to; I’m dead ain’t I and the dead gets cut slack, right?
He drifted down to his chair and looked out the window. The view was to the back of the Laundromat but he didn’t care. He watched the dawns light filter in and then the noon light and night light and then he watched them again. And again. He looked up at the crack and water stained ceiling and the floor that he never had swept and thought: “what the fuck.”
He glanced around and saw his pain meds, Zippo lighter and tobacco on the counter along with the unopened mail; his disability check, some bills and junk mail addressed to ‘occupant’. He watched the light through the window passing through another day. “Shit”, he thought “this ain’t half bad; I ain’t cold, hot, hungry…nuthin’… that plate in my head and the ringing in my ears…poof! It’s kinda cool.”
He heard the banging on the door and eventually his landlady opening his door with a couple of cops; they held their noses and one cop (one that he had previous run-ins with) turned to the other and said: “Poor fuck; better call the meat wagon”, and they left. He watched his scumbag neighbor sneak in and steal his Skilsaw, boom box and guitar.
“Well, I guess that’s it for me.” Shorty mused, and wondered if this was being dead. Wasn’t he supposed to disappear or something? What about that ‘great hereafter’ he’d been hearing about?
He wandered down Frenchmen Street, pleased with his anonymity; and sat by the river and watched the ebb and flow of life the universe and everything. There he sits to this day; “Shit, If I’da known, I woulda been dead sooner”.
Shorty found peace at last.

New Orleans St. Patrick

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Faith and Begorrah
Pity The Poor Irish
Per custom, on the seventeenth of March, we will all celebrate being Irish in fact or fiction without having the least idea who these people are and what they stand for. We have profiled them as clannish caricatures; dull witted by drink and ready to quarrel mainly because they are immune to pain in that condition. They spend their hours in pubs achieving levels of romantic domestic misery unparalleled in other cultures. They’ll be the first to tell you that they’re trying to drown their self inflicted sorrows and that it takes hard work and dedication to do so.
That’s not them entirely. Poets, musicians, dancers, great lovers and redheads in general also come to mind. The reason why we all celebrate this Irish holiday is the fact that somewhere in all of our pasts lurks an Irish ancestor; the Irish are a democratic lot and fall in love at the drop of a shamrock. The world is full of Irish; enough to impact many societies. It is said that ‘when you’re in love the whole world is Irish’, or is that Italian? Jewish? Cajun? Delusional?
A person who says “kiss me: I’m Irish”, for some reason, expects to be kissed. That has never worked for me; although I also have a bit of the Irish blood in me, I’m not Irish enough. You can well imagine anyone’s response if I was to say “kiss me: I’m delusional” or “kiss me: I’m drunk, horny, far from home with clean underwear and walking a Labrador retriever”.
New Orleans will turn out for Saint Patrick’s Day with drinking green beer and eating corn beef and cabbage, two things that no one from the Emerald Isle ever does. We will also celebrate with parades. There aren’t enough Irishmen to form a proper parade of their own so the Italians graciously agree to team up with them. You’ll know the Irish from the Italians because the Italians will be wearing buttons that say “Kiss Me: I’m Italian”. Go figure.
Saint Patrick, not to be confused with Pat O’Brien, was credited with driving nonexistent snakes from Ireland. Pat O’Brien is credited for getting people to see those same nonexistent snakes. Patrick is also credited with converting the country from Pagan to Catholic, which some say was not a really great move. The same is said about Pat except conversely.
Weird thing is that we celebrate Patrick’s day on the anniversary of his death, not his birth. Funny thing is that the seventeenth of March coincides with the Druid celebration called Ostara, a spring festival celebrating the rebirth of nature; does that sound fishy to you?”
The Irish in their homeland have rain almost constantly which is why the place is so green. They also have great national calamities that send them scattering to other climes and, starting with little, they rise like cream to become pub owners, politicians, poets, policemen and house painters. They land in droves, work when they can, drink when it suits them, fight like banshees and breed like, well… Irishmen.
We celebrate a great many saint’s days here but none other, that I know of, with the exception of our Saints football team, is primarily celebrated in drinking establishments. And, we don’t have a big Irish population here; although we do have a plethora of Irish pubs: Fahy’s; Kerry; Ryan’s; Parasols; Molly’s; McNulty’s; Finn McCool’s; Chart Room and Irish House to name a few.
Not that we haven’t had a lot of Irish here. As part of New Orleans history (and here’s a fact), in the 1830s, rich New Orleanian businessmen used Irishmen (and Germans) to dig The New Basin Canal by hand; they died by the tens of thousands like dogs from Yellow Fever and were buried where they fell like so much landfill. They worked and died for a dollar a day and were used primarily because those same rich white folks valued their African slaves above that fate. (They tried that with the Italians also, but the Italians didn’t play that, moved instead across the river and grew crops, eventually monopolizing the city’s produce supply at the French Market.)
The Irish exemplify the stuff that life is made of from the sailor at sea braving gale winds to the priest in the ghetto helping the crippled newsboy get a decent break; the cop walking the beat, keeping the peace; the friendly bartender that listens a drunk’s woes; the old mother scrubbing floors to put her kid through college, the writer through a shot glass pouring out her heart to a public she may never see and that young man singing “Sunday, bloody Sunday”. Who’s to argue that the typical Irish wake includes dancing, drinking, fighting and groping? Being invited to an Irish wake is something to be approached with trepidation, humility and the knowledge that your stamina will be tested. Getting “in the bag”, so to speak, is no big deal; staying in the bag for extended periods of time is definitely Irish.
The fun of it is that nothing that I’ve just said would be offensive to an Irishman (or woman). The Irish are a fierce family of realists, who wear their hearts on their sleeves and search for some nebulous solace and comfort that continually eludes them; the luck of the Irish is nothing more than a consistent eleventh hour reprieve that follow them like a maudlin wraith and with which they cope, with the most powerful antidotes that there are to any maddening malaise: humor; imagination; empathy and love.
And when all else fails, they hoist a pint to better times and drink to the ones who’ve gone before us.