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.”