Sunday, December 21, 2014

December 2014 musings

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
ZuZu’s Petals
Three-sixty-five Hero
            Whiskers the cat waits at Jefferson Feed out on the highway for a forever home. Whiskers isn’t young, her chances are slim. At her last home, where she didn’t ask for a baby to be born, a toddler who decided to pick her up be the tail got scratched, now there’s a sign on her cage that says “Sweet and gentle, best for a home without children” Today the store is dark and lonely, closed for a holiday.  Whiskers doesn’t know what she did wrong to deserve desertion by the couple that she loved and loved her in return. She cries.
            Marcie, a single mother of two, takes a taxi to work; buses are on holiday schedule and she would be either an hour early or an hour late for her shift. ‘Keep Christ in Christmas’ she reads on a passing billboard; “yeah right” she mutters to herself as they speed through cold and empty streets. She prays that she’ll make enough waiting on strangers to cover her expenses for the day. Her holiday won’t start until the afternoon, her kids will spend Christmas morning with the neighbors.
Malcolm (Mal), the taxi driver, is as quiet and introspective as Marcie on the way across town---Christmas quiet—reflecting on his life such as it is (a universal tendency during any holiday season). He should be home but he’d rather be out here; his Old Lady’s back is out again, his daughter’s run off with some no account and his boy is on his fourth tour—getting shot at--- in some Third World country. Mal didn’t figure that growing old would be like this and has the suspicion that this is as good as it’s going to get.
Winston is picking up an extra shift this week and that’s okay with him. Winston is ‘retired’, meaning that the world thinks that he’s too old to employ and he can only pick up work part-time: buffet tender, roast carver, food runner or--- in today’s case—omelet maker. So, Christmas for Winston will be spent standing in the dining room with a frying pan and a grin, he has no family to speak of, so it’s all the same to him.
Sophia was dropped off at the pound one Christmas day. She was pregnant, had heartworms and someone had felt it necessary to dock her tail. She went into kennel shock and if it hadn’t been for someone at the shelter recognizing that she was a sweet, special dog, she would have gotten a dose of gas for the Holidays.  Sophie doesn’t really remember that time; she’s got a good home now and to her a holiday is when everyone is at home and lovin’ on her and each other.  
Junior sits in Orleans Parish Prison this holiday season. Everything about it sucks: the food, the wardrobe and the company that he’s forced to keep.If he’s guilty of mayhem, mischief, murder, maliciousness, mistaken identity or merely WWB (walking while black), that will be up to the authorities to decide after their days off. Meanwhile he marks time; neither Junior or his family can make his bail, especially this time of year, and to them Santa is just some fat white dude who favors other people’s children. Oh well, maybe they’ll put some cranberry on his baloney sandwich and have some kind of Christian service on Christmas day. Thank you, Lord.
“Della and Jim live in a shabby flat and they are poor. But they love each other. He sells his watch to buy combs for her beautiful long hair, while she sells her tresses to buy him an elegant chain for his time piece. Gift of the Magi; yadda, yadda, yadda.
Somewhere in Norman Rockwell’s world a nuclear family (mother, father, 2.5 children) sits down to a wonderful holiday dinner. Their rescue puppy and adopted tortoiseshell feline lie snoozing by the fire. Or, Grandma’s clasping her hands with joy at the front door as that GM station wagon full of children and grandchildren pulls up for a ‘real’ holiday with the ‘folks’, complete with snow on the ground, stockings hung by the chimney with care  and presents under the tree. It’s possibly your life, but…
Somewhere at an urban mission the homeless shuffle in line for a hot meal before spending the night at some cardboard condominium under the overpass. There’s no fire and visions of being rousted by the local screws disturb their dreams.
There are a million stories of holiday miseries and miracles. Miracles being in short supply these days, we’ve got to accept that no matter what our tribulations are, there are those that are less fortunate, ofttimes much less fortunate. Be at peace knowing that we’re all doing the best we can from our beginnings to our ends with the tools that we have been provided and that a modicum of empathy for our fellow creatures can go a very long way.

This holiday season, think about taking a little time out to ring a bell to give an angel its wings. Happy Holidays.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Is that all there is?

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Kitty's Knickers
Someone Else's Problem
Lassitude: Noun:
 1. Weariness of body or mind from strain, oppressive climate, etc.: lack of energy.
2. A condition of indolent indifference.
Not me! Heck, it's carnival Time! I don't care who won the last election or if the voter turnout was less than 40% , y'all deserve whoever you didn't vote for! lol. All I care about is if the weather on Krewe du Vieux parade night will be warmer and drier than years past.
As you know, Valentine's Day comes right in the heat of Carnival and I'm just kinda over that by now, aren't you (?); you know, been there done that, got the tee shirt. We don't want to hear (again) how grand love is. This year it's all about the substantial stimulating of superficial senses or lack thereof. I don't want to think anymore. Party on!
Yep, I'm ready for some street walkin' and jive talkin' and if the governor refused money so that all of Louisianans could have health what. I've worked without health benefits for years; what did I do? I didn't get sick, and if I did and lost my job.... well. As that last president pointed out “that's why we have Emergency Rooms”. Listen, I have a friend and when he got mugged, he received the best care in the world. What's all this about 'preventative care'? Shoot, take care of it when it happens and stop being such babies!
So, I've got some costuming to get together big time and some parading to get my fill of, should I be worrying about equal pay for women or marriage equality for the LGBT community or that 1% of the population controls 43% of this country's wealth; pass me another funny colored drink.
What about my smoking? I've got a right to kill myself if I want to; sure I know it will eventually. And, so I flip my butts into the street, they're biodegradable ain't they? Besides, we have street sweepers out here from four in the morning until ten at night; give 'em something to do, I say.
Recycle? Too much trouble. Pick up my dog's sh*t? What do you take me for, a garbage man? I have enough to do getting a good seat in time for the game. And then there's mischief to be up to and that hottie that waits on tables (I think she digs me); I've got to look my best; text me and we'll hook up. Hey, did you see that that chick with the PETA petition? You want to talk pork chops, Honey? Haw, Haw, Haw! I'm not against animal rights or anything (they do have some, don't they?) heck, I've never met a fried chicken that I didn't like.
Now, what do you know? Education just took a badass cut from the people who give money to the oil industry; ah, what the hell, you don't need much learnin' if you're gonna push a broom, eh?
I've been told to watch my diet, get exercise, cut down on my drinking and pay attention to my blood pressure and cholesterol intake; but you know, later Gator, we're here to have a good time, you know? February in New Orleans is the best, not too hot and hopefully not too cold and it's five o'clock somewhere! Whoo hoo!
Personally, I've had enough about caring what other people do or don't do; if you want things to get better, if you want love, equality, understanding and/or justice to prevail.... go ahead, make it happen. The world is not changing for the better and you know it; I know it. Babies are born, loved ones die, people suffer, hearts are broken and mended. Or not. This season it's all about me and the King Cake baby! I’ve been hitting my head against, what is clearly, a stone wall defending right over might; and what has it gotten me? Lumps.
And while we're on the subject; I don't want to know about another of our people in uniform getting hurt in a war that's all about some fat cat's greed. Or another politician who's been caught with his pants down, his hand in the till or up somebody's skirt. I don't want to hear about another home invasion, police brutality, homelessness or your pothole riddled streets. Planned parenthood is on the ropes? Your fault, not mine. I'm taking this year off from caring. I've had enough, you need help? Try the Lone Ranger. I'm out on the town! Gone pecan!
If your car runs like an old tin can, your wife ran off with another man, you've sprained a muscle in you fishin' hand and your income tax is due; don't tell me, it's carnival time and I'm going to have a light heart and a cheerful countenance or know the reason why not. Come Lent I may repent but right now, I'm goin' for comfortably numb.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

New Year's 2015

Po Boy Views


Phil LaMancusa



The Idiot and The Odyssey

            Back in the day, January would annually be celebrated as the month that sanity finally returned to the grownups in my family and collaterally, to us children. In December each year we were surrounded by raving full blown bat guano crazy maniac adults that we happened to be subjected, related, and forced to live in close proximity to. Mercifully, this was when I was younger, but I feel that it became instrumental as a specific reason why I no longer live any closer than a thousand miles from my nearest relative. My life: my sanity.

Turmoil would start on my birthday, which is December 1st, and for a long time I suspected that I was the cause of the madness that invaded the household.  In retrospect, I realized that the beginning of December was the time that the last welfare check came in before the horrid days of Christmas were upon us and the mad scramble for family holiday cred had to begin not only in earnest but with a high degree of alacrity. Large family; small income; pride; prejudice; pretense; competition and excessive focus on the importance of material significance all rolled up into the red eyed, fang gleaming, fire breathing, brimstone belching, mucus dripping, blood thirsty, razor clawed monster of impending failure to keep up appearances for the holiday season turning everyone around me from mild mannered Doctor (I’ll have another piece of pie) Thanksgiving Jekyll into Mister (cajones-in-a-vice-grip) Holiday Hyde. 

I’ll admit I wasn’t the sharpest tack, but it didn’t take a rocket surgeon to know that the grownups were having meltdowns in December more so than other months--   when they were merely irrational, unpredictable, illogical, and a lesson to the kids that growing up was something that should be avoided at all costs.

Of course, when the New Year finally rolled in, the miasma of impending doom had passed—for them. The threats of no presents, no tree, no Santa and even no Christmas dinner had fallen by the wayside—for them; but, as kids, young and green, disappointment was our devil. Our fantasies had been bedfellows that we had nestled with each night; sugar plum fairies that had danced in our heads as the holiday season came and stood poised to drop an avalanche of cosmic detritus on our hopes and dreams.

After Christmas, the realization of the finality of the experience set in for the adults with them congratulating themselves for a job well done. Us kids, deflated over not getting our ponies, pool tables, Madame Alexander’s and Thompson submachine guns resigned ourselves that we had just not been deserving enough.

And, with Christmas past and New Year’s looming, the grownups gave a collective sigh and started gearing up for that fabulous party to come, as if making it through the year alive was reward enough to warrant a colossal shindig; each one telling the other that it ‘hadn’t been such a bad year’ and ‘this one’ll be better’ (besides, the next check was in the mail).

Fast forward to 2015. Here we go with another New Year. Our holiday angst is fading, our resolutions are being formed and there are no other big expenditures for a while (except for birthdays, anniversaries, groceries, school supplies, doctors, dentists, the usual bills,  getting things fixed and gettin’ ‘er done).

I’ve come to the realization that it’s never going to get any easier; this year again, there will be gains and losses; babies will be born; loved ones will die and the rent will be a little late sometimes. The one thing that is certain about life is its uncertainty.

I’ll try to avoid accidents, missteps and the reliably unplanned ‘less-than-comfortable’ conclusions resulting from my actions (if I’m not paying attention to good and positive results); but, you know, stuff happens. Lessons will be learned or repeated. But, winter will turn to spring and there will be rain. Our best laid plans won’t always work out and there’ll be sweet surprises that transpire, magically and exactly when we need them, like the sun rising in the east over the west bank of the river every day.

We can get all maudlin about how the world is goin’ to hell in a hand basket or we can enjoy the ride; we can lose our minds and misplace our senses of humor or we can be like my weird and wonderful role models that congratulated themselves on squeaking out of yet another year and toasting each other into another year. Another chance to do the best they could with what they had.

So, I’ll keep reminding myself that I’m too blessed to be stressed and fortunate to have made it through another year myself; still standing,  bent but not broken.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

Po Boy Views


Phil LaMancusa

Thanks A Lot


Happy Bird Day

            The consensus is that I eat one meal a day. That meal starts when I wake up and continues until I brush my teeth with bacon flavored toothpaste before retiring; I’m joking about the toothpaste (creative license and all that), but you get the picture. My mother swore that my first word was related to food and that word was “MORE!” My Daughter says that I’ve a hunger of the soul. I say….” if eating was a crime, I would have to plead insanity; I’m crazy about food! “

            Perhaps that’s what led me into the food service industry and also perhaps why it was so easy to leave my last job when they stipulated that I’d have to work on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Christmas you can have, but what sort of Philistine would make a body leave hearth and home to feed a bunch of unfamiliar people dinner on Thanksgiving? People should have homes of their own and ought be there! I could see if you’re homeless and I’m all for putting in some hours feeding those less fortunate; but, to consciously venture forth for Thanksgiving dinner instead of cooking and eating at home? That’s just so wrong on so many levels. Besides, if you don’t want to go the distance, you can always find a pot luck in your hood or local pub or fellow workers houses (you know, the time honored ‘orphan’s Thanksgiving’ meal?).

            I was Executive Chef of a large, urban hotel at one point in my career and not only had to work on holidays but also had to ride herd on an all you can eat fixed price Thanksgiving buffet for twelve to fifteen hundred people who ate like locusts, starving locusts. The buffet table was literally one hundred and twenty five feet long and food was put out along its entirety and replenished from eleven in the morning until nine in the evening. Talk about appetites. The people who come to Thanksgiving buffets are no less than professional eaters and I got to know and hate most of them.

Anyway, these are the people that go to special occasion buffets (Easter, Mother’s Day, Christmas) with one thought in mind: to get much more than their monies worth. They eat with abandon, going back to the trough for seconds, thirds and fourths; they are, generally, rude and demanding and, specifically, without a shred of couth. Ill tempered, ill mannered and lacking fashion sense; their ilk have followed me to other restaurants that I’ve been forced -under penalty of dismissal- to cook or serve on holidays that no American should venture forth from their domiciles to observe.

 I no longer work on Thanksgiving. I stay at home and cook for me and mine (all two of us).

And… guess what? We give the turkey the day off! It’s a tradition of ours not to eat turkey on Thanksgiving; it’s our way of not taking part in the wholesale slaughter of a species for economic masturbation. I’m not casting aspersions on the millions of households that gleefully take part in this mass carnage; I just wait until Old Tom is unsuspecting before my personal assassination occurs; it also helps that Girlfriend is vegetarian.

So I cook and cook and cook. Sweet potatoes with maple syrup, creamy mashed potatoes, sage dressing, mushroom gravy, roasted parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, baked acorn squash with sweet butter, baked apples with cinnamon, oven browned Brussels sprouts, gingered carrots and buttered green beans. Dinner rolls, sweet tea and a pie or cobbler for dessert. Girlfriend makes baked cheesy asparagus, ice cream, opens the cranberry sauce, sets the table, lights the candles and graces me with her presence (we compete for cleaning and putting up leftovers). We generally eat around two and again around six thirty (somewhere in between, there’s snacking, a nap or walk).

About the cranberry sauce. Be it known that I have made cranberry sauce from scratch, cranberry relish, cranberry chutney and cranberry compote; however, when it comes to our table nobody, but nobody, does it better than Ocean Spray. We buy a can of the whole berry and a can of jellied. Nothing compares to when you open the can carefully and slide that sucker out whole with those rings and everything; slice it and watch those ruby waves fall like silken dominos (you know what I mean!).

And leftovers, sweet wonderful leftovers; It be like: “well, for breakfast let’s have some dinner rolls and cranberry sauce with our coffee…. No, pie, pie, more pie!”

“Lessee, for lunch some dressing and sweet potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce… maybe some green beans for color”.

Dinner: “YUM! Mashed ‘taters and gravy with some parsnips and carrots; hey, any more of that asparagus casserole? Ahem! Where’s the cranberry sauce?”

Later: “Y’all want some ice cream and sweet tea?”

Quite naturally we know what this holiday is all about and we do pause and reflect, not only of our great good fortune that fate has let us live and prosper for another year, but also for dear friends and family that, for one reason or another, cannot be with us: mostly because we didn’t invite them. Or they’ve moved too far away, bought the farm, are in jail or got a better deal going elsewhere. Whatever; it’s fine with—and more food for—us; were the type of couple that would rather be in eachother’s company than anywhere else, just ask our therapist.

I’m happy to note that one positive thing that we learned in counseling is that we’re two very different people who just happen to enjoy eachother’s company more than anyone else’s. No slight intended.

Hope you have someone that you can say the same about on this Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, July 20, 2014


Po-Boy Views


Phil LaMancusa



Swingin’ On A Star


THIS: Anthropomorphic: “The attribution of a human form, human characteristics or human behavior to nonhuman things. PLUS:  Metaphor: figures of speech or symbolism that does not literally represent real things; implicit comparisons. EQUALS:  Anthropometaphoric.

We bipeds are forever Anthropometaphorisizing our and other’s attributudes; you know who you are, you old polecat. Hold your horses, you’re as crazy as a loon, blind as a bat, stubborn as a mule and as mean as a snake. Just for starters. Sly as a fox, slippery as an eel, brave as a lion and happy as a clam. Quick like a bunny, breeding like rabbits, pregnant as a goat, slow as a tortoise and still as happy as a pig in slop. Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if you ain’t been workin’ like a dog; you need to go take a cat nap. I smell a rat, be quiet as a mouse, we don’t want to come off cock sure, like some dumb ass. “she was the roughest toughest frail; but Minnie had a heart as big as a whale (hidee hidee hidee ho)”. Don’t try to pull the wool over my eyes. (We shan’t go into the different ways that we describe our sex lives------ we’ll just not go there.)

            We’re as strong as an ox/bull, as weak as kittens, can swim like fish and the world is our oyster. Our hackles are up. We’ve had our shoulder to the wheel, nose to the grindstone, panties in a wad and we’re up to our asses in alligators. We’ve gone bananas, laughing like hyenas, crying crocodile tears; busy as bees and mad as hornets. We’re either swimming against the tide or up a creek without a paddle, cornered like rats, got us up against the ropes and the shoe is on the other foot, (waiting for the other shoe to drop); it’s like banging your head against a wall; whadya want, blood? Don’t give me the third degree, don’t make a Federal Case out of it; get off my back!!! She eats like a bird.

            Make hay while the Sun shines; grab the brass ring, scream like banshees and fight like demons or the devil to keep your head above water; well, whadya want, an egg in yer beer? You’re drunk as a skunk, high as a kite, quit horsing around you clown; come down from that ivory tower or pick up your marbles and go home. Fish or cut bait, jump into the fire. “Like an eagle protects its nest, for you I’ll do my best; stand by you like a tree and dare anybody to try and move me.”

            Sweet as Tupelo honey, butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, swears like a sailor, drinks like a fish, squirrels away money, industrious as an ant, come up for air…. Take a hike!

            She’s the bee’s knees, flat as a board, legs from hell to breakfast; damn straight! Full as a tick, one olive short of a Greek Salad; dumb as a sack of hammers. Can I get fries with that shake? Cat got your tongue? Hen pecked, take a powder, pull a Houdini, don’t get caught with your pants down, like a bump on a log. Pigeon toed, bow legged,  salt of the earth, hot as a two dollar pistol or firecracker, mad as a Hatter, pure as the driven snow, honest as the day is long. “She walks, she talks; she crawls on her belly like a reptile” Hard as a rock.

            Nutty as a fruitcake, queer as a three dollar bill with a heart as black as the ace of spades, stupid as s**t, like a fly in a spider’s web, trophy wife, pond scum, a real honey or eye candy. Like a chicken with its head cut off. Cat on a hot tin roof.

We have the patience of a saint, we cocoon with our families or ‘nest’, we sequester ourselves like a gopher or badger, draw into ourselves like a turtle, or put our head in the sand like an ostrich.   I am a rock, I am an island”. Straight ahead and steady as Gibraltar.  Puts her on a pedestal, on her like a cheap suit, off like dirty underwear, mad as a wet hen. The balls of a brass monkey, cackling like geese, hen party. “SAY CHEESE!!!”

            We’re green with envy, yellow cowards (yellow bellied sap sucker; chicken); we see red when we’re overtly angry and purple when we suck that anger up. My mood is black or I can be feeling blue, I may be having a gray day and orange you glad to see me (kidding)? “You ain’t been blue ‘til you’ve had that mood indigo….”

            Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch. What’s your number sweet cucumber? “If you don’t want my peaches, don’t shake my tree” My boy Lollipop. Sweet as Cherry Pie. Give Mama some sugar; give Daddy some of that sweet Jelly Roll. Like a lamb to the slaughter.

            Healthy as a horse, crooked as a snake, forked tongue, Indian giver, beating around the bush, a**hole, doormat, wet blanket, all day sucker. It’s dog eat dog in that rat race, big fish eating little’ns. Top dog. Bottom feeder. Packed like sardines, honest as the day is long, cow eyes, cat eyes, bedroom eyes, like a deer in the headlights. Shrinking violet, poison ivy, pretty as a daisy, swat you like a fly. “I’ll hit you so hard, your head will ring like a ten penny nail hit with a greasy ball peen hammer!” Skinny as a rail, toothpick, string bean; thick as thieves, slow as molasses, dead as a doornail, done to a turn, it’s down to the wire: say goodnight, Gracie.

“Goodnight Gracie.”


Sunday, June 22, 2014

You Know You're From New Orleans...

The “WE” Word
Proud To Call It
You know you’re from New Orleans when a joke about lawyers will bore you to tears but mention ‘the one about the nun and the horny monkey’ and your attention becomes as focused as a sniper. Other indications abound.
New Orleans is neat because we can bike anywhere in the city and never consider that some bikes have gears.
We can discuss gumbo at length, have at least ten ‘favorite places’ to eat, know that going to Galatoire’s is not about the food and that a woman should never be expected to wear stockings unless she’s in a burlesque show. We know that the four seasons are food groups not weather patterns, that alligator is ‘the other white meat’ and that we can get locally baked po boy bread, but baguettes and ciabatta have to be imported from California. We regard ‘Slow Food’ as something we’ve been doing here since 1718. We start our red beans to soak on Sunday night, don’t consider it a special occasion when we eat beignets and haven’t had a Lucky Dog since playing tour guide to inebriated relatives years ago.
There’s no question in our minds that all politicians will tell you what you want to hear and then go where the money tells them. We know that when you call 911 they might not respond at all unless you say “Shots Fired!” and maybe not even then, with any sense of urgency. We know that when we call an ambulance it will be accompanied by a fire truck and a huge bill for the ride which is why when we’re hurt it’s cheaper to call a cab or have a friend drop you off at the emergency room.
None of us understand why Charity Hospital stayed closed, why the 610 overpass has not been torn down or why we aren’t allowed to drink in our cars anymore. We don’t want our IDs checked in bars; we’re all older than we look. We don’t give money to tap dancers, know where we got our shoes and suspect that those folks with signs that say “Homeless/AnythingHelps/GodBless” are making more money than us.
 We’re not surprised to see crops growing from potholes in our streets, waiters rubbing elbows with judges at art openings, men in red dresses, women dressed as pirates and/or just plain painted gold or silver. We would rather get our health care from our veterinarian because we trust them more than doctors. We shy away from adult beverages that come in colors not found in nature. We are nonplussed when greeted “good morning” but shy away when a stranger wants to shake our hand or “just ask you something”.    
We’ll pin money on a birthday shirt or blouse, support WWOZ rather than PBS, feed stray cats, brake for crossing chickens, consider going to Chalmette a road trip and  avoid Bourbon St.
We believe Paul Prudhomme and Susan Spicer are saints and we believe our Saints will pull it off this year. We wonder why some people think that football pools are illegal. We don’t consider ourselves part of American South, more like Caribbean North. We don’t drink Sweet Tea. We know what we mean when we say” Lagniappe”, “Red Gravy”, “Making Groceries” and “Ya Momma and Dem”. We dance every day, on any occasion, for any reason or none at all. We dress our sandwiches.
We don’t give direction by compass points, everything to us is either Uptown, Downtown, River Side or Lake Side. We use our favorite Bars as MapQuest.
Just as New Yorkers believe about their bagels and Californians believe about their morning coffee, no New Orleanian doubts that it is the water here that makes our food so tasty.  We believe that the words “Last Call” are an abomination before God and man. We wonder why visitors seem surprised that we have ghosts. We have no ‘Role Models’. We don’t know whether money can buy happiness because we’ve never had any (money) and we’re already happy. We think cold weather is just “Stupid”.
We all have our own ways of dealing with fleas, ticks, roaches and termites. We’re stung by mosquitoes, caterpillars, spiders and we have insects here that haven’t even been named. Our cats hunt Palmetto Bugs in our houses. We think Monk Parrots and cicadas make music not noise. We’re not surprised to discover raccoons, possums or rats at our compost. There are alligators and snakes loose in our parks. We run the gamut of birdlife here. We have only one degree of separation. We have opinions about everything but know better than to talk about sex, politics or religion in bars.
We love the Krewe Du Vieux, Muses and the Society of Saint Ann.  We know that a second line trumps traffic, there’s always some kind of festival going on and your bike is about to be stolen no matter what kind of lock you use. We wear socks in winter and when we have to go to work. We know when a friend is on a diet of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol that there’s a heartbreak going on. We ‘get’ Confederacy of Dunces. We all have worked in the service industry at some point, know musicians or are one (probably both) and find it funny that when the bridge toll was cut out, ferry prices cut in. We wonder why the streetcar tracks haven’t been finished in nine years and the Super Dome was up and running in six months.  
We believe that it’s a blessed day when we wake up in the morning, more so when we haven’t missed a meal and especially so when the conversation at mealtime is centered on our plans for the next meal. Our city flower is a balloon.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


Inchoate Aspirations
                  (Sorry Charlie) you can tune a piano, but you can’t tuna fish. Q: So, who wants to play a musical instrument anyhow? A: Just about all of us. 
          I myself am a veteran of musical instruments; mostly mismatches, miscarriages and mistakes. Fruitless fiascos culminating in comical conclusions of ineptitude realized. Disappointments and disillusionments at not being able to find the overt soundtrack of my life in real time. “Bummer, Dude”.
        I come from a family of singers, have a fair voice and an audiographic memory-- the ability to recall songs and lyrics. Quite naturally this was mistaken early on as potential propensity for instrumental virtuosity. Nothing could have been/ is further from the truth, proven time and again, to my everlasting shame and chagrin.
        I was put in the musical program in junior high school solely on my ability to tell one octave from another; and, after the shape of my jaw and overbite were assessed, I was handed a clarinet, told to practice and be ready to join the band.
           With each squeak and squawk I elicited from that tortured woodwind, I could hear John Philip Sousa groaning from his grave. Alas, I was a crippled clueless clarinetist (not to mention the uber-bane of my seventh grade music teacher) by age eleven. But wait, it goes downhill from there.
             With the advent of my ability to grow facial hair came the idea that a guitar would suit my temperament and affinities; for what better screams from the aura of a young adult strumming six strings than: ‘I am a thoroughly misunderstood and sensitive artist who needs to get laid more’ (?)   And following in the footsteps of musical tradition I ‘got me an old guitar from a pawn shop’ and set about articulating my angst.
             Well, to make a long story longer, I learned my A, B, Cs and even Ds, Es and Fs, and there I sat lost with my short attention span and the inability to sing as slow as my ability to change chords. I could demonstrate for you what exactly I mean by that, but I’m haunted as it is by the looks of pity I provoked back then.
              Enter now the world of a young man (me), who had been to foreign climes; physically, mentally and spiritually; who had traveled the atlas and the astral; had wandered, freak flag flying, to face angels and demons alike. Did I hear you say “flute”? You must be psychic! Yes, as Pan, Jean-Pierre Rampal and Herbie Mann before me, I took the flute, first bamboo and then silver and lo, did achieve notes and octaves. My fingers found expression and voice and I played by dawn’s breaking to moonlight’s beam. Unfortunately, I couldn’t play anything recognizable to the common ear; oh sure, it all sounded celestial, but what was that I was playing?  Stuff and nonsense… cosmically melodious…. but….forgettable.
        Congas –yes, congas- fun to play, but face it; nobody invites you over for a romantic evening saying: “oh, by the way, why don’t you bring your drums with you?”  I sold them back.
      In my middle years I settled upon tenor saxophone, which still sits in its case.  My goal was to be able to play backup for Aretha Franklin, Etta James and/or Otis Redding. I mean, I do have the music in me.
              I realize that the vast majority of readers here have seen saxophones, heard them and probably enjoyed them as well. Have you ever held a saxophone? They’re heavy, that’s why you have to have a string around your neck, to hold them up (and to be able to use both hands). The big and little knobs, levers and buttons to hold down and let go to make intelligible music are as confusing as the outside of a Death Star Space Cruiser, AND you can’t see them when you’re trying to play. The mouthpiece is weird and you have to keep the reed tight and moist, your fingers are all stretched out and your head swimming from oxygen deprivation. Either I’m too small or this thing is too big and as I said, it sits in its case. If anything I’ll take it out and practice on the street with a sign that says “Will STOP Playing For $$$”
         Fast forward a few years and see me answering the ad on Craigslist for a piano, yep, all eighty-eight keys of one. “A perfect Baldwin with seat and sheet music $350.00” I paid three big guys a hundred bucks to move it up (5 steps) onto the front porch and it just about crippled them; a piano (even a small one) weighs about as much as a ’56 Chevy Bel Air.
           After getting it tuned and buying every simple beginner and idiot’s music book, I discovered that learning to read music is akin to learning Coptic Russian while driving bumper cars. I made flash cards, labeled keys, studied DVDs and introduced my left hand to my right on several occasions…. to no avail.
            The half-fast person that can easily take up any musical instrument and bring forth manifestations of musical, harmonious and pleasing to the ear sounds is as common as the chimpanzee that can sit down at a typewriter and bang out: “in the beginning was the word and the word was ….”
             The sad truth is that I know why I fail miserably when it comes to learning to play; I grok that if I want to learn virtually anything, including musical instruments, I need fortitude, dedication, discipline, perseverance, and at some point, instruction; mind-sets that I have yet to muster/master and dimly perceive on my horizon.
 My lesson would be to remember these directions:
“How do I get to Carnegie Hall?”------------------


Katrina 9 years past

Air Supply


The Gathering Gloom

            On Tuesday, August 23, 2005, a tropical depression known as ‘Twelve’ is given category one hurricane status and named Katrina.   Monday, August 29, 2005, in the early morning hours (really Sunday night), Katrina (at Cat 4) made landfall. Some people got lost in the storm some made it out alright.

In New Orleans the mayor had ordered a mandatory evacuation the day BEFORE.  The traffic was stacked up for a dozen miles. We hunkered down in our second floor French Quarter apartment on Dauphine Street, veterans of many storms before.

Saturday September 3, 2005 small white 2005 Toyota Corolla with seven critters and three humans was seen speeding out of town as the first First Responders were entering their part of the Quarter This column is way too short to tell the entire tale so I’ll just sketch in some particulars.

The storm hit like a giant off-the-rails-run-away locomotive. A pained banshee of an uproar; screaming, tearing, growling, thrashing; the virtual embodiment of tortured spirit: howling with malice, pure evil and soul sucking.  Trees coming down on houses, tornados roaring up and down the streets; chimneys imploding; roofing, siding and gutters being ripped from buildings. On and on and on the punishment went until it didn’t. We hid in the hallway under mattresses.

As soon as the winds died down, I went looking for coffee and a newspaper; in the same moments, looters were taking out the shops at Canal Place: Gucci, Brooks Brothers, Pottery Barn. They were more successful than I. The French Quarter looked like Agrius and Oreius had had a drunken brawl and had wrecked everything in their path.

We didn’t know it then but, we were the lucky ones. The gulf coast took a wall of water thirty feet tall (with five foot crests). Water flooded 80% of New Orleans. We were stranded on an island called the French Quarter. Island: a piece of dry land surrounded by water.

It got real quiet. Most of our neighbors had left. We had access to a land line; all satellite communications were down. Tuesday I started a journal:

8/30/05: Light rain, kind of sweet—no breeze and gladly NO WIND. Talked to Gallivan about letting us ‘loot’ his apt for supplies He says reports are that the French Quarter is the only dry spot for miles—35,000 and counting at the Dome w/ no elect, no AC.

Walked down Dauphine to share some dog food, Told about Looting. Dress To Kill looted by staff’s relatives at D.O. that are staying for free, Robert’s, Radio Shack and emptied Walgreens on Decatur. Johnny White’s and Molly’s at the Market open for beers. Saw Chris Owens and husband on the street, waved high. Pretty complete silence.

8/31/05 Mint’s roof (all copper) litters the F.M. We’re boiling water to make it drinkable. All day seeing looters with bags. One policemen said that when they started looting Winn- Dixie and the cops arrived—citizens opened fire on the police. Trees, debris, tile, glass and bricks litter the street. No groceries to be found. We have a sign on the door “THINK TWICE!!!” big letters Paula ready to shoot to kill any intruders. Roving bands—armed--- on Iberville. 3 ft of water on Poydras. Electricity went out at 6:35 AM. Had beers @ Jennifer Flowers. Breach on 17th Street identified.

9/1/05 Walked the streets with the dogs (Molly, Ginger, Rosie), trying to train them to bark on command. no building unscathed. Back of the cathedral—huge trees felled and down except statue of Jesus. Magnolias down in Jackson Squarer. No police presence on the street. We still have gas and water and all the junk in the pantry. Woke up with the fear that someone might burn us down by lighting the collapsed tree on fire---cedar---make a lovely blaze. Cleaned the yard. They shut the water off about 9. Neighbors to the left scooted yesterday, now with no water the neighbors across leaving. We were given a transistor radio.

 Got a ride to Dauphine and Conti and walked to Canal in water and Rampart where it was up to my thighs. 6:30 PM got back from 2 beers at Molly’s- quick sandwich and coke for me and Deb and I took our last bath. Helicopters incessant, rumors of roving gangs, lake has risen to sea level.  Mass lootings and fires, words of rapes in7th ward.

9/2/05 4:36 AM what happened was that there was a giant noise and a light like sun. Fiery missiles shooting across an otherwise black night. Explosion after explosion the whistling of projectiles, the fear of being attacked. Safety becoming illusion. (we found out later that a propane storage unit couldn’t stand the heat.)

6:30 AM Being too nervous to sleep we determined that as hasty an exit as possible was now a necessity. We sewed money into our waistbands we gathered supplies and got ready to dash when opportunity came.

Mosquitoes starting to bite at 9:05, sitting in the yard at “Dogpatch, La.” four dogs around me. Time for coffee. Word on the radio is that thousands are still standing crushed while they wait for busses they got water to them and some MRIs but no Portolets, no pets allowed, animals running wild, children crying and people standing in their own urine. Got extra water from Mark who was leaving, freed a chained Pit Bull, missed Happy Hour at Molly’s. Gave away some socks. Police snipers on roofs.

9/3/05 8:00AM went over to Deb’s apt and saw Kevin, had a beer and listened to him tell about his wife, sister and ma got evacuated and had left him the keys to the car… “and they KNEW… I don’t drive!”

With famous last words, I turned to him and said quietly: “Kevin…I drive.”



Saturday, May 10, 2014

Rear Window

Po Boy Views


Phil LaMancusa

Rear Window


Invitation to the Blues

            Where I’m sometimes staying now is a typical New Orleans experience, whether you’re Streetcar Named Desire, Walk on the Wild Side or just another Po Boy View.

My shop is in one of twin buildings built in 1830 by two brothers from France to house their mercantile businesses and their families.  Their businesses were on the first floor; their living accommodations consumed the remaining property. The dining room and parlor would have been on the second floor; master’s and daughters bedrooms on the third and the boy’s bedroom (garconniere) up in the attic. Rounding out the classic layout is a breezeway entrance, probably used for wagons and supply deliveries, and quarters in the back for the servants; the third floor for them; the second floor for the kitchen and the ground floor a household shop for repairs, maintenance and inventory. A courtyard anchors the property; back to front.

 The horse trough and fountain still remain in the courtyard, filled in and used as planters. The kitchen and the dining room (on the second floor) are connected by what is known as a ‘whistling walk’--urban legend has it that whoever brings the food to table would have to whistle so that the family would know that none of their food was being eaten by the servant. The kitchen with the servant’s (slave) quarters above them were built away from the main house because of the ever present danger of fire…. the most favored servants were located in back so that they could be on call and wouldn’t have to travel far to get to work. The staircase to the upper floors of the main house is outside of the building at the entrance to the courtyard. This completes the archeological picture of the structure itself.

In olden days, on warm days, the ladies of the house would have tea in the parlor next to a table that had perfumes on it for them to inhale; the streets in those days were reclaimed wetland and full of traffic, manure, stray animals of every sort and the contents of chamber pots; very ripe, indeed. The men would work in commerce and the servants would be kept busy shopping, cleaning, cooking and mending wood, leather and mortar around the building. As a side note: the building that my shop is in (the one of which I can speak) is still owned by the descendants of that family.

Fast forward a hundred and eighty five years. Sometimes my shop goes into overload and I am obliged to spend the night there. Above me lives a mid-aged sweet and comely woman that is into photography and bondage; she doesn’t mind walking around with little or no clothes on with her balcony windows open. The men across the street love that about her. She owns at least one whip that I know of.

Above her is an apartment, of the same size, that has changed hands since the first tenant that I met poisoned the landlady’s pet canine. He told me once never to go up to his floor because he had a gun and would shoot anyone coming up there, without looking to identify them and only asking questions later. Since he was evicted the flat has turned over three times to young professionals—the last a restaurant manager—with able bodies, ones that have the energy to climb those forty-five steps up the perfectly round spiral staircase that like I said, stands outside at the entrance to the courtyard. The apartment is frightfully expensive and usually newcomers realize quickly that there are better digs at lower rents elsewhere in the city, or they have made a mistake coming to New Orleans. The ‘Big Easy’ is neither big nor easy.

In the slave quarters, three or four couples take turns using the ground floor apartment for weekend getaways, leaving it empty most times. I have no idea who these people are or where they come from; I only know that they show up for weekends when the city is busy with one of its many planned festivities. They bring in their groceries, leave their trash and take their dirty linen home with them. They contribute nothing to our infrastructure or our voting base; they’re just people who are, nothing more. I’m waiting for them to renege on the rent so that I can take it over and use it for office and Pied de Terre.

Above them lives a nice guy prep cook that doesn’t go out much but shops a lot. And, that’s not a bad thing, surely I can appreciate a love of shopping; a harmless vice that we two have in common. I accept packages for him, gladly, at the shop, and he has always been courteous, polite and agreeable. A solitary man he is, both likeable and easy to talk to. He keeps mostly to himself and shares the duty of making sure that the trash cans are put out and taken back in on pick up days. He willingly and without question shares this responsibility with me and the man who lives above him who’s only character flaw that I can see is that he takes in women as lovers to live with and in all the instances that I have known, abuses them physically until sooner or later they leave.

I can be sitting in the courtyard at any time after working hours and hear the silence shattered by raised voices from the third floor followed by the sounds of a woman crying or in pain. He’s been through four women at least since I’ve been here and it’s a shame because he is otherwise a good specimen of his gender. It’s like a spider with flies. He lures them in and soon after, sets about destroying them. I suppose that pointing out those analogies would not alter their temperaments or destinies; holding up a mirror to someone’s inequities has never been a popular parlor game.

I am no stranger to domestic violence; I was raised around it. I understand the concept of loving your mate but not liking them; still the sound of a woman in pain upsets me. But philosophically, a woman---young, intelligent and attractive--- should be able to grasp the theory of free will; she could leave. He departs for work earlier than she and one day she could get a grip, pack a grip and go away…far away. Eventually, like the others, she will; I just hope that it’s not on a stretcher.

Tennessee Williams would be no stranger to these passion plays. Me? I remain (hopefully) an impartial observer, not called upon to be participant nor prey to the dramas that surround me; the same situations that are continually enacted wherever mankind is a slave to their passions and not their productivity; their personality and not their individuality; their lower and not their higher instincts.  

These scenes are enacted around me on a universal scale; man’s inhumanity; windows breaking; children hungry; the good left to loneliness and the sly willfully taking that which is not freely given. Optimism with a bloody nose; bleeding but not bent.

It’s two in the morning; I sit with my goodnight beer in the courtyard and wonder at life being forever thus. There is a light rain falling as late night mists will. My neighbors are all at rest, I should be as well; but the solitude and silence stalks me as would a lioness lover. I ponder at how the rain and sleep falls upon us all without discrimination or regard; the loving and the loved; the lonely and the lone; the victims and the thieves that rob them of their rights.

How there is no end to this story. How there is no cure for the human condition.



Saturday, March 29, 2014

Writer's Picks Spring 2014

Writers Picks June 2014


Phil LaMancusa

Best local organization: New Orleans Catholic Churches

            Having spent my formative years learning the traditions and lore of the Catholic church up in Yankee country, I was pleasantly surprised at how that church has so adapted itself to the New Orleans mind set and lifestyle. What other religious group has  a saint whose invocation is “please help us immediately”? Or, a patron saint of nervous breakdowns? But, those things aside. what other church has combined (so well) religion, adult beverages and our New Orleans passion for food?

            During Carnival you can buy a drink on the steps of Catholic churches; during lent they hold Friday night fish fries and sell beer (as well as other liquids)and wine to wash down those hush puppies, fries, catfish and coleslaw.

            Nowhere else have I witnessed the Saint Josephs Altars or even known about them until I was transplanted here. I mean, who would have thought in the northern tundra to celebrate this saint’s day with an altar, lavish and loaded with food, food, food! And then on the day of…… feed any and everyone who comes by. They even have little goodie bags that the give out with cookies, a fava bean (for luck and money) and a slice of French bread that you throw out your window when a hurricane approaches to make the storm veer away from you. This happens at churches as well as people’s homes!

            Sure, all Catholic churches celebrate their masses with bread and wine; but in New Orleans, literally, our cups (and plates) runneth over.






The best fried shrimp po boy: The Orange Store

            I am not going out on a limb when I say this. Okay, here’s what you find at virtually all the places that you might purchase a fried shrimp po boy: you’ll get so-so French bread that’s generally hard to get your teeth through, them little baby shrimps- that everyone is using- that come in a frozen block and are thawed under running water and if you’re lucky, sparsely dressed with lettuce, some tomato and a quick swipe of mayonnaise. What’s more, there’s usually more French bread than any other component.

            At the Orange Store (sometimes called the Orange House)- a small convenience store run by what appears to be a tribe of Vietnamese workers- first of all, they use Banh Mi bread (about twelve inches in length) that they heat up in the oven! Then, there’s the shrimp which are fresh and big; I believe that they must have a fisherman connection of sorts because these shrimp are simply deliciously fresh; by the way, they put at least ten shrimp on the po boy. Okay, you have your oven warmed beautiful bread; you have your wonderfully battered fresh shrimp, then what? Well, they put mayonnaise on both sides of the bread and then they lay down a carpet of shredded lettuce, a layer of thinly sliced tomatoes and they’ll ask you (if you don’t tell them) if you want hot sauce. BAM!  

            Another plus is the bank of adult beverage coolers. The drawback is that it’s a takeaway joint, no eating in. And for reading this far, I give you the specifics: Rampart Food Store, 1700 N. Rampart St. 7:30 A.M-8:00 P.M. (Oh, also try their scrumptious chicken Ya Ka Mein $3.99 a quart)







Best local boozer’s book: ”French Quarter Drinking Companion”

            On the final Sunday of this year’s Tennessee Williams/ New Orleans Literary Festival, I saw in my program a panel entitled “Spirited Tipplers in New Orleans”; naturally for me, the sound of that subject resonates with my inner imbiber. How could I resist; me who has spent the better part of his misspent youth preparing for a misspent adulthood? It was as lively an audience and panel as I have ever been to.

            On the panel there were three: Allison Alsup, Elizabeth Pearce and Richard Read, at first glance, an unlikely looking alliance; until the meat of the matter was revealed. To wit: this trio went out to French Quarter bars and put together a guide book; now, why didn’t I think about doing that?

            In the French Quarter, (in approximately one square mile) they pointed out, there are over two hundred “watering holes” and that’s not counting delis, grocery or convenience stores; unfortunately the Terrific Trio only made it to half. That seems to be sufficient for most of us; I, on the other hand have been to too many of the ones in the book and I’m looking forward to (hopefully) their next book: Volume Two.

The format of the book is brilliant. They give you names, addresses, phone numbers, average price range and advise to as to what you’ll be wearing, hearing, swilling ; what kind of tattoos you’ll see, best features and who your drinking companions will be. And then, there’s an entertaining little story about each place. A must read, a book that’s useful, informative, intelligent and witty. I LOVE these guys!