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!





Hurricane Season 2014

Po Boy Views


Phil LaMancusa

Hurricane: Not Just A Drink


Wind Win

            Okay Sailor, you’ve made it through the Holidays; Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, King Cakes and Krewe du Vieux. Spring Break, Tennessee Williams, French Quarter Fest, Jazz Fest, May floods and every other occasion that this city can cram into your life; you know what I mean? So now, you think that you can just slide in to a long hot summer on the sweat from the small of your back? Not a chance, Sparky, don’t put them ballet/tap shoes away just yet; we’ve got another twirl around the dance floor for you. Welcome to “The New Orleans Hurricane Season”, in three part harmony; a block party extravaganza complete with food booths, brass bands, dancing girls and groping hand puppets!

            First up, decision time: will you remain or are you splitting and exactly what is your criteria for making that decision? Stick around for a three or less or have your tent packed for ‘first sign of trouble’ bolting? Remember, the Mayor has told you that there’s no cavalry or welcome wagons for anyone deciding to ride one out, no shelters, no free lunch. Period. Yes, there’s pick up points for the bus out; but, there will be a point when the busses will stop running, so you need to make the call. Preferably now.

            Alright, so you’ve got a jalopy that could take you out of Dodge; is it up to snuff? Had it tuned lately? How’s them tires? Got AAA? Is it in good enough shape to be in traffic from six to twenty four hours? Personally, I take mine to Will and Lenny’s before storm season to be as ready as I can be; I keep my tank full and have jumper cables, motor oil, steering fluid and basic tools in the trunk as a matter of course until October.

Also, do you have a ‘safe house’ destination to run to? The time to decide is before you leave; I recommend some friend that’s within a day’s drive and doesn’t mind your bad jokes and menagerie.

Should you decide to ‘hunker down’, as they say, do you have your supplies and creature comforts in stock for such an occasion?

Here’s a list: batteries and battery operated fans, flashlights and radios; one of the things that we do is to have about twenty of those solar lights in the garden and front yard and we let them charge in the daytime and then if the power fails we bring them indoors at night. Simple; not enough light to read with, but enough so that I won’t trip over the furniture, run into doors or inadvertently step on the cat.

            Also, you need food for you and your critters and possibly some way to cook, should your gas get shut off. Got a Weber or some such? Better get some charcoal, firewood or propane and matches, don’t forget matches! During the last one we rode out we were without power for over a week which means that the stuff in our fridge only lasted two days before it started to go south; which was why we had very little in the fridge and only a small amount in the freezer. Consider that and get you in some canned stuff that you can heat up.

Water, water and water. Fill up jugs, barrels, bottles and your tub when you suspect ill winds. Water to wash, drink, brush your teeth, give to the dog, make coffee with and trade for whiskey. Speaking of which, how’s your wine cellar?

            Do you have ice chests? You’ll probably be able to get ice up until the final moments and make sure that what you keep in them are cleanly packaged (you may have to drink that melted ice). Enjoy that cold beer while you can.

            Now, what about amusements other than debris cleanup and visiting the neighbors to trade water for the insect repellant that you forgot to stock up on. Do you have books to read? Don’t forget that should your stay become protracted, your electronic devices will eventually go down (say good night Kindle). How about board games, storytelling and marshmallow roasting? S’mores anyone? Hand puppets? Keep a journal. Break out your crayons, jacks, checkers, marbles and sidewalk chalk (hopscotch anyone?).

            Should you give consideration to boarding up your windows? I dunno, but you should have already thought about that, y’know?

            Say, this is starting to sound like the best decision would be to visit Granny for the summer, isn’t it? Well, playing the devil’s advocate for a second consider this: we stay for cat 3 or less; why? Because, with the necessary precautions we’re pretty sure that there will be no injuries (oh, don’t forget your First Aid kit); and then it’s just like camping, only at your own home. Besides, do you know how much it costs to evacuate? I do. The last time we evacationed (for what was not a strong blow) it was over a thousand dollars for the week. I don’t know about you, but, I could have spent that dough on something good!

            Plus, I kinda look forward to having the time off from work and a chance to get some stuff done around the house that I’ve been putting off. I charge up the electric drill and any batteries that I may have a need for and get ready for some major guy stuff. In fact, the staycation is all about guy stuff. But as they say: “’sup to you”. Besides, it’s an adventure, it’s getting to plan stuff AND it’s an excuse to do some major shopping! I figure I got a thousand bucks that I’m saving by staying, so, I can afford to buy some toys; and BONUS!, I’ll get to eat all the ice cream before it melts!


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Ode To A Lark

Ode To A Lark
Brute irredeemable facts of life
As fire darting steeds drawing Helios’ chariot shed light on each new day
The Lark ever watchful through the night sings of prior eve’s misdeeding
Selene will never disclose keeping bosom close the words that lovers say
But the hour of the wolf will hear the sounds of hearts that lie ableeding
With Dawn’s light we never know when love has gone away
Promises spoken in passion’s heat will all be for misleading
A child’s imagination unlikely follies when pursued bring down Kings and Gods
Wishful thinking playing ruler’s roles feigned innocence usher blind disaster
A man reflecting younger days in childish eyes knows not the ground he trods
A young girl in her fancied innocent legs flaunted brings trouble that much faster
And the one left behind crushed to dirt is granted no nods
Will be left naked clothed in grief as Daphne in alabaster.
Pity the fool leading chariot’s charge with the steeds of life’s unmending
Knowing not the havoc that once unleashed can have no happy parting
He struts and frets upon the stage and conceals life’s truth pretending
Masking facts of complicit acts that were his ‘pon falsehood‘s starting
The coin of realm a dearest one’s faithful love unending
Shattered by a wayward heart’s warm attention imparting
What standing man with blooded veins denies young and tempting charms
But what fool would risk the loss of home with station’s true love waiting
And will he who falls in love be not damned for the sake of tender arms
Mistaken in the belief that what he creates could else lead to bitter hating
To take the risk for tender lips that persuasive guile disarms
Believing not the future holds naught but love’s abating
And what becomes life left behind wrecked when falsehoods are invented
The building of trust and love’s security faith smashed to minute shards
The mirrors of fidelity yearly based herald bitter ends when not prevented
When morals exit insanity prevails ill comes when his values he discards
No good comes when the three become tormented
No good as sloe-eyed Shiva’s dealing crooked cards
Remorse’s not punishment enough for the philanderer who cuts so cruel
Expulsion from heaven and earth on the proof of her loyalty undeserving
She wanders the rooms where he held sway who now in hell does rule
The only crime she did commit was giving her heart’s trust never swerving
Expecting solace she finds her mind an empty pool
Busying her days and nights her sanity preserving
And what of the little beast who treated their world as children will with toys
The will o’ the wisp the lives destroyer wreaking havoc then disappearing
After stalking the game that was not fair with charms and lies and ploys
Leaving wreckage behind she goes back to a life of love that’s unendearing
Satisfied with taking men and leaving only boys
Because of an abrasive childhood’s rearing
In blackest night he sits alone with no way back to nurtured life once held
Except if he tell the truth and at the same time lie to her that he called friend
He can honestly say that to his shame cleaved like a mighty oak tree felled
But cannot look into those dear blue eyes and say it could not happen again
More than once with his lying eyes tears swelled
Wish Hypnos and Thanatos change now to then
And yet and yet in his heart of hearts he feels his facts of life need changing
Memories of the past loves gone astray that with common sense wouldn’t have
Then have turnabout become fair play with each season of lovers rearranging
Who is to say that this brief affair might have been thus denied or couldn’t have
Unplanned evolution indicative of a mind’s deranging
Never pausing to behave in ways he shouldn’t have
The tale begins with seduction and deceit, ruse and treachery most foul.
Likewise the tragedy that did unfold with characters cast him her and she
unraveling like tapestry as each treacherous infidelity covered by a cowl
Of tears shed separately and sadness spending its grief on bended knee
Each feeling sadness as they unwrap their towel
From baths of silent misery brought on by such as me

So let the lesson here be learned foolish swains and those who love them

That simple twists of fate and sharing your heart brings only your undoing

You already hold fragile in your hands love’s secret and the precious gem

And elsewhere seeking other loving eyes can only mean trouble brewing

What you seek is not found under Hussy’s hem
It’s better at home you should do your wooing






Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Jazz Fest 2014 2nd week

Po Boy Views


Phil LaMancusa

Kitty Literature



            Here we are again Cats and Hats: second week of Jazz Fest; are we rollin’ now or what? We’ve forged our paths between the remains of the mud and the dust; we’re able to find our way to favorite food stands, stages and toilets; we’re gonna visit craft booths this weekend for sure and bring cash so we don’t have to use those robber ATMs. Everything is Coolidge, eh Rita?

            Not quite, Sparky. This year I’ve noticed, in fact it came to my attention last week as well, that there are an inordinate amount of aliens attending the Fest this year and I ain’t talking undocumented Armenians here. I mean ETs (extraterrestrials, celestial beings, space peoples). Also, I’ve been told of the sightings of mythological folk, angels and demons that are in disguise and lurking. Don’t just take my word for it; ask   Ask for agents ‘Jay’ and ‘Kay’ and tell them agent ‘Pee’ sent you. Or…

            Here’s how to distinguish them from true Earth bipeds: first off they don’t read Where Y’at; in fact they only seem to read on them pad thingys. Yeah sure, it looks like they’re reading natural letters on their Nook Kimble or some other device, but what they’re really doing is signaling the Mothership to download the music that they’re making believe they’re listening to. It’s a big galactic bootlegging scheme; they’ll pay big out there for some Clapton, Springsteen, Santana or Chaka Kahn; yeah, huge sums of Altarian Dollars will change hands this weekend.

            Secondly: they don’t dance; or if they do it’s that Grateful Deadhead thing that looks like they’re massaging some invisible elephant. You know the one I mean, that white boy/girl sucking in their bottom lip, eyes closed, like they’re listening to space wave lengths (they are!!) dance.

They’re also the ones sitting down in the Gospel Tent or not movin’ and groovin’ to the Radiators, Amanda Shaw or Delbert McClinton. They be lying on their blankets, taking up zip codes, acting all cool like somebody glued their butts to the rug (or seats). They’re the ones that are not on their feet for Maze (featuring Frankie Beverly), not even trying to do The Electric Slide, that’s ‘them’.

            What else? See those ‘people’ in the tent with the new automobiles? Ever wonder what that’s all about? Planet Betelgeuse; they think our technology is hilarious. Take a gander at those ‘people’ standing at the ATM. Same thing. I watched a ‘man’ last week get cash, go back to the end of the ATM line, get cash again, go back to the end of the line, get cash again….you tell me.

Those ‘folks’ that seem enthralled at glassblowers, pirogue carvers and pig skin fryers? I’ll leave it to you to decide. Oh sure, they’ll be buying tee shirts, coozies and hats made in a third world country; and why not? They need souvenirs like any other tourist.

            Now that we’re started, you’ll be able to start picking them out of the crowd just like ‘we’ do. Those beings that don’t glance twice when Mardi Gras Indians come through. That queue at the stand that sells stuff that you can make at home (and do) for more money than you can feed a family of four on?

 ‘They’ LOVE oysters though, and you can see ‘em belly up to that bar, but they never tip!  BAM: ‘them’ again! They cannot drink any alcoholic beverages without giving themselves away by acting stupid; I mean really, who gets stupid drunk at the Fest? Yep. Aliens. Oh, did I mention to watch your back in the mister tent? Some of these folks come from some very swampy places and mist to them is a definite turn on (especially if they’ve had a beer). And Ladies, I don’t advise letting one of those swans get too familiar. Just saying.

Onward: ever consider that those guys with the tall poles with geegaws flying from the tops might just be carrying antennas? No? Boy, Earth people are so naive.

Shall we talk fashion? For real now: anyone with any more sense than a sack of hammers that has spent any time in an open space for half a day knows not to under or over dress. This is common sense. AHA! Common sense is not common to those from outer space; you see, we know that we dress in layers and only bring layers that we can stuff in our shoulder bag. If it gets chilly, out comes the sweater; if Old Sol is beating down, out comes the do rag and we never, ever wear foot gear that is fragile, delicate or open to injuries. SO, when you see some cute thing dressed in next to nothing walking around in the sun… 1.) You know they’re in for some third degree burns, 2.) They’re a shuffle short of a good card game or 3.) ALIENS!!!! The opposite is true of the overdressed: 1,) Heatstroke 2.) One olive short of a Greek salad. 3.) ALIENS!!!

Now the extraterrestrial are not dangerous; in fact, some of them can be really warm and cuddly, although they lack logic and common sense, they know how to flash their smile and wiggle their butts. On the other hand: Devils and Angels are another matter; mythological creatures are the worst.

If you run across a Blubad, Hexenbiest or Zaurbiest who’s had a couple of beers and you step upon their flimsily clad feet; they’ll be apt to tear off your arm and beat you with the bloody end or rip your lungs out. C’mon, we’ve all seen Grimm.

Angels and Devils will merely cast a spell and make you forget where Liuzza’s by the Track is and you’ll miss the best part. Be careful, my friends; it’s not all fun and games.





Mo Ya Ka Mein

Ya Ka Mein


Phil LaMancusa

            Ya Ka Mein. This meal is also known by any mispronunciation of the name and we can go into that if you want. Ya Ka Mein can be gussied or gutsy and all forms in between and it can be found everywhere from Canton, China to North Rampart, New Orleans. It can be served from the back of a pickup truck or a High brow place like Ralph’s on the Park. Once to eat it, you either ‘get it’ or you don’t. Ya Ka Mein is a study in esoteric and existential galactic food. It’s cookin’ and it’s cuisine. I get it.

There are others that ‘get it’ as well: Sara Roahen, author and food writer, has been commissioned by The Southern Foodways Alliance to document its history and development. Also counted amongst Ya Ka Mein’s disciples and missionaries is Linda Green (The YaKaMein Lady), Chip Flanagan, Maurice J. Haynes and myself.

The whisper on the street is that it was an Asian dish adapted to and by the African American soldiers coming back from Korea, World War II or some other such meetings of these two cultures. In reality that myth is discredited by a 1936 pamphlet put out by the “La Choy” company, which specialized in canned bean sprouts, mixed ‘Chinese’ vegetables, bottled  soy sauce etc. all for the American palate of the times. In this pamphlet the dish is called Yet-Ca-Mein and its recipe is mirror image of what is found in New Orleans today.

            Let me start by telling you just what the basic ingredients of Ya Ka Mein are. Basic stock (chicken, beef, pork, shrimp etc.) Pasta (vermicelli, fine noodles, ramen), Animal products (same as stock basics) and garnished with thinly sliced green onion and boiled egg. From there you can add vegetables, soy sauce, garlic, sesame or anything else that lifts your skirt.

            Where can you get the hoi polloi version of this marvel? Asian operated convenient stores in less affluent neighborhoods; although many of the old favorite places have been the victims of hurricanes and urban gentrification, there are still a handful of joints to be found. Look for a place that has on their outside signage (besides the usual Po Boys, Breakfast, Lunches) the words: Chinese Food. That’s an indication it may be had.

            I go to the ‘Orange House’, a smallish dive store a short walk from where I live; it’s run by a Vietnamese family and I was told that theirs was the best because they make their chicken stock from scratch. I was also told that the Chinese use spaghetti and the Vietnamese use noodles which they consider makes theirs a superior dish. Po Boy’s advice: you need to get some!


Jazz Fest 2014 !st week

PO Boy Views


Phil LaMancusa

Festivus for the Restivus


Don’t Panic

”Step right up folks and see Little Egypt do her famous dance of the pyramids: she walks, she talks, she crawls on her belly like a reptile!”

Here we go again campers: it’s Fest time; or as out of towners, first timers, intelligentsia and the politi/socially correctly will say: The 2014 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The forty-fifth Fest, in fact: music, foods, crafts, culcha.  The Sun, rain, mud, dust, crowds, kids, confusion, commotion, dancing, drinking, delightfully delicious, saucy, spicy, sexy world famous clap your hands, shake your booty, sit in rapt attention or snooze in the sun extravaganza outdoing all extravaganzas universally or worldwide

And usually, in times and issues past, I have delivered advice, recommendations, directions, instructions and gossip as to the how, what, where, why and when’s of this wonder of orchestrated magnificence. Generally, I wax both poetic and profane about how New Orleans welcomes nearly half a million visitors, locals and extraterrestrials to the greatest show on earth; how any musician that can draw a breath (sober or otherwise) gravitates to our little township to play on, play on, play on. 

            Yes, this time of year I sweat and slave over a hot keyboard to bring you not one, but two Where Y’at articles full of sound and fury signifying all things Fest. This year I have yet another focus and slant on what has become the best times of my year and life.

            The other night my bedside rereading was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and was reminded of the starship Heart of Gold with its Infinite Improbability Drive. If I wasn’t sure that everyone in the world has read this tale I would stop right here; and, if you haven’t read this wonderful work by Douglas Adams then you should stop right here, go get the book(s) and read them after sitting in silence for twenty minutes reflecting on where the hell you’ve been all of your life.

            Anyway, back to infinite improbabilities; the fact is, you are here, you are reading this and here is the Fest blazing with, teeming with, so very much alive with… life. Life without planetary distractions; I mean, here you are, on the ball or the bus; in your garage or the Gospel Tent; in cafĂ© or at concessions stand; you are 1 of 7,114,000,000 bipeds that inhabit this rotating sphere that is in orbit at a speed of 67,000 miles per hour around a fiery orb AND that fiery orb is coursing through the Milky Way at a speed of 486,000 miles per hour! I mean, what are the f**king chances that you are here? Participating in or missing the Fest!

            You’re not in a forest fire, flood or place of famine. You’re not one of the thousands without power, or war torn Pakistan, Libya or Syria; you’re not in the frozen North, Nairobi, Nottingham or Nicaragua. It’s too early for the heat or hurricanes; no hassles, headaches or hazards. “ain’t no lions or tigers, ain’t no mamba snake; just sweet watermelon and the buckwheat cake”. You ain’t dead!

            And if you’re Festing: Rejoice! You’ve made it to the promise land; you’re in an impressionistic retrospective time frame. Not Caracas, Kiev, Damascus or Bangkok where they’re setting sh*t on fire and shooting eachother because of political differences. Here there are no political differences; we’re all here for the music, food and fun! Period.

            And while we’re Festing, let’s consider, just for a moment, the odds of you getting time with or finding that special person to share this with. Or how about the odds of running into a friend you haven’t seen in a while or making a new one? Or consider how fortunate are you to be above the ground, not under it, and reflect on how many of the unattending you wish you could have here with you. I mean, those ARE considerations.

Considering that, here’s what I do at the Fest every year and what I’d like you to consider doing as well:

            My first stop at the Fest is at the oyster bar; I grab a dozen and the tallest beer that I can purchase and go to a relatively quiet spot and commune with all the people (living and dead) that cannot be Festing. You can do this at any food and/or drink booths that you choose as your personal emblematic setting.

            I fix my cocktail sauce, open my crackers and squeeze some lemon and a dash of hot sauce on each oyster. I hold my fork in one hand and have my beer in the other and I close my eyes. I say (to myself) a ‘Fest Prayer’; something like “ hey you guys, I really wish that you were standing right here beside me, enjoying this day as much as I would enjoy your company. Y’all are and have been so special in my life and I miss you dearly. Amen.”

            Then I spill a little beer on the ground for good luck; just a little, it’s a sin to waste beer and you could go to hell for doing so. Then I open my eyes, take a sip of beer and put that first oyster in my mouth and enjoy the spiritual rush of the beginning of another day in paradise.

            Okay, enough of that. Liuzza’s by the Track is the one place that you need to go before and after your Festing. There you’ll see and be seen, mingle and be mauled, commiserate and become connected to the other bipeds that are just as fortunate, unique and special as you are to have made it to another Fest. After all, we’re all on this space ship ride together, at least in this moment. Happy Fest!