Sunday, March 13, 2016

dazeball 2016

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Baseball Preview
Diamond Jubilee
“Okay, we’re imagining the culmination of this year’s baseball season. Baseball: described by Brazilian friends as the “hit boll with stick--- run around in circle” game that is near and dear to the heart of any red blooded American who believes in apple pie, Mom, the NRA and people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps (even those with no boots).
            Picture, here we’re at the World Serious--game seven-- each team has won three; this one’s for the whole enchilada. The Chicano Red Sox are playing the New York Wankers for the title, ‘World-Chumpions’. It’s a cool, clear day in the Wankers’ stadium, the fans sit half-dozing in their seats, women in tight dresses and men with powerful thirsts and a taste for tubes of mystery meat wrapped in bread garnished with a spiced yellow substance which we thought was mustard, but wa snot (pun intended).
            The score tied at nothing to zero, bottom of the ninth and if this game goes into extra innings the crowd will surely riot. To pay good money for additional boredom is close enough to criminal to warrant major insurrection. The air smells of stale beer, cooked swine, suntan oil and pot. Runners at first and third; this year for the first time each team has brought picnic lunches and barbecue grills. The Wankers are holding their annual carwash in center field complete with babes in bikinis. The Sox not to be outdone are passing around shots of tequila and funny cigarettes.
            Up at bat is the Wankers’ Lefty Miller who is batting right handed since being hit by a fly ball in the sixth inning while waving at the crowd and still making a spectacular catch with his cap. He eyes the pitcher, warily sensing a real showdown. The pitcher Willie Mantle is sending a twitter from the mound while the catcher tries to text him to call for Willie to throw his famous twenty-second ‘Slinky’ slow ball which is usually swung at unsuccessfully three times before passing the plate, effectively banishing another batter to the dugout bullpen, sad walkin’ and slow singin’.
            Lefty steps up to the plate, swings a few times for practice, spits, grabs his crotch and hits his shoe with the bat before crossing himself and looking up to heaven for the Lord’s sanction. Willie grabs his crotch and spits, looking to the first baseman who spits and then grabs his crotch, the runner on first spits twice and grabs his crotch with both hands; soon both teams are spitting and grabbing crotches (theirs and those of their teammates); the umpires call a time out to gather and lecture both team’s crotches… er….coaches who are eating sunflower seeds and spitting the seeds out and scratching the backs of their necks. Soon the umpires are scratching their necks and chewing tobacco because they don’t have any sunflower seeds, but still feel the need to spit something to stay part of the game in solidarity.
            The play continues and the ball is thrown. Swung on and missed, strike one; a snore goes up from the crowd. The catcher returns the ball and Willie throws again. Close and inside  and Lefty puts one high on the outside over right field, the right fielder picks the ball on the bounce stops to take a selfie, throws to home and the runner is picked off at the plate after a twenty yard slide, the call is ‘out’ and the score remains tied, nada nada. After snuffing out the runner from third the catcher tweets his prowess to the multitude of his followers. Lefty holds on at first and instagrams his arrival with a pose with the first base coach who grabs his crotch, slaps him on the ass and high fives are passed around.
            The score is still zip to zilch at the top of the ninth with runners on first and second, two outs and up to the plate comes Pee Wee Romano, the Wankers’ short stop, who walks to the plate slips under the ump’s arm and steps on the catchers foot. He swings two bats and throws one over his shoulder, hisses under his breath and shoots a dirty look at the pitcher who is on his cell phone and with his back turned tosses the ball which Pee Wee bunts, slides to first, trips the first baseman and the bases are loaded. The crowd wakes up. And--as if you cannot guess what happens--now, Mighty Casey comes to bat. Wearing headphones.
            The time is now the place is here, folks; top of the ninth bases loaded and so is Casey. The pitcher throws one at his head and the call is ‘ball one’. Next pitch is a screaming fast ball that catches Casey unawares and: “Steeeerike One!!!” two pitches follow quickly, aimed at his knees and feet and the call stands at three balls and one strike. The women are throwing their panties into the infield and the men are calling their mistresses for an early lunch.
            Mighty Casey points his bat over center field to indicate where his next homer is going to land and Willie takes a wad of spit from under his cap and greases the ball, the coach rubs his stomach, picks his nose and pulls at his belt. The catcher is signaling in sign language and the pitch is thrown. Casey, Mighty Casey, Huge, mean, powerful, godlike Casey swings his mighty bat …………..and misses. Men cry, women faint, children pick pockets and snatch purses.
This is the moment of truth; bases are loaded, full count to the batter, the best batter the league has ever seen, the pitcher winds up; but, before the pitch is thrown the skies open up and it starts to pour rain and the game is called at nil to nothing. Time for another PBR and some beer nuts.” April fools!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Jazz Fest 2nd week 2016

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Positively Post Time
Fest Cups Overfloweth
            I make my home not two blocks from the gate and, for me and mine, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is the finest of festivities, on and off the track. On the way to and certainly après, literally hundreds of thousands of wide eyed innocents are subjected to more than the price of their ticket, as if the only reason that New Orleans is here is to exceed their expectations. From Broad St. to the Bayou, Grand Route to Gentilly and beyond, the occasion and the celebration radiates from the epicenter in joyous shockwaves to the far reaches of the galaxy. Photos taken from satellites circling the globe see the pulsating tempo of the beat coming from the heart of the Fair Grounds; before, during and after the gates have opened into the best show on Earth; terra firma is replete and complimented with melody adoring masses, devoted music disciples and wide eyed wandering wonderers (wondering wanderers?). And don’t try to tell me any different.
            Certainly, Liuzza’s At The Track on the lake side and The Seahorse on the river side of the Fair Grounds are epicenters in themselves and cast and crew of both places are in high spirits in anticipation of the mud, sweat and beers.
It’s as simple as going to the Fest and also the Fest coming to you. Outside of the gates there are spirits and libations to be had from spring water to sangria and Schlitz. There is sustenance from Krishna consciousness to vegan tamales, pork chop po boys, pecan pies, bread pudding and pralines ready to fill the stomach and the soul. Even food truck and truck bed treats can be found.
            To officiate my experience, I always look for the effervescent and adorable wrapped batik skirt purveyor, the woman with the artistic marionette painting pictures, garage bands and our kids in uniform selling slices of pizza from Nonna Mia. Brass bands occupy corners for dancers and PDA lovers who have yet to have enough of the day’s celebration, Jell-o shots, jugglers, gypsy girls and Ms. Kelly in her cowboy boots. WWOZ has been live broadcasting and folk are porch sitting with coolers and grills seeing plenty of action while listening. Kids, canines, carriages and canes, folks are on parade; outdoor barbecues and crawfish boils add smoke and olfactory sensations to the air and friends separated are reunited with hugs and ‘hawah-yas’, ‘where y’at’s’, ‘bring it in!’s and ‘how’re (or whe’re) ya been?’s.
            I pause in my benevolence and repeat the words of the great Otis B. Driftwood “Let joy be unconfined; let there be dancing in the streets, drinking in the saloons and necking in the parlor!” and so it is. The Fest has turned itself out as a carnival. There’s kayaking on the bayou, girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes and all of my favorite things.
            The age old story where adults with ordinances have prevailed to curtail the festivities with code enforcement and parking restrictions, licensing and the insensitivities to the freedoms that us veteran Festers abhor attempts to take its toll on the entrepreneurs that use this season to get a little ahead. Most all of the folks that I know have no problems with little non-commercial enterprises. What neighbors do object to is inconsiderate traffic, street and driveway encumbrances, which are plain rude; but, little Sally selling seashells or lemonade? C’mon man!  Or, why would you penalize a six piece violin concerto by eight year olds for not having a license when they’re trying to raise money for their musical education? So, what I do is carry a gang of money and distribute it to all that I come across. Take that.
            My friend Russell, who hasn’t attended the Festival for years, still opens his home and porch annually for friends and family; beverages flow and snacks are laid out; and every year, for sure,  a gang of us drop by after Festing or some unFesters will just drop by (with kids) to meet and mingle. His grand nephew from an early age marked the spot with his electric piano knocking out Professor Longhair’s ‘Tipatina’ to the world. We look forward to going to his house as much as anything else; it has become part of the whole experience of both weekends.
            We live and hang on the river side of the track in a neighborhood that boasts six restaurants, two coffee shops, two small supermarkets a wine shop and a kick ass ‘washateria’; all in a three block radius and, believe me, the whole neighborhood turns out for Jazz Fest! For us, it’s the finest time of year and without reservation, we proclaim that ‘Festers’ are the one segment of the visitor population that really “GET” New Orleans.
            Even waiting for our dysfunctional public transportation system—you would think that they would know about the crowds who need rides every year--- to kick in, is done with good cheer; as the block long lines shuffle patiently to fast packing buses, strangers become friends and the conversation orbits around the day’s entertainment: “who’d you see, what did you eat, what did you buy and when’s the next f**king
            Of course you know that all over the city during this time of year, there is music and happiness to be found at the five corners of New Orleans: upriver, downriver, lake side, river side and certainly in the middle. Follow your nose and open your mind; it will find you. Bless those hearts that can spend all two weeks, bless them that come in for a weekend (or two) and especially bless me to be able to be here all the time; before, during and after.


Food at the Fest 2016

Food of the Fest Feature
 Phil LaMancusa
            Culinary utopia; It begins with my first stop upon entering the gate. The day is beginning, awakening the Voudouin serpents Ayida-Wedo and Damballah; I am as exuberant as a puppy with a brand new boy. I head to the Lagniappe Stage where the Raw Oyster Bar is just opening for business. It’s an annual first stop, a personal ritual as well as a spirit blessing for the bounty of joy that I’m about to experience. J and M Seafood is the company the lays out the bivalves, and beer is the drink of choice, of course. I get a dozen icy cold oysters and the biggest brew available and-- with reverence-- pause, sending good vibes to all the people that I know (and those that I don’t) who cannot be here. And now, having paid my respects to life, the Universe and everything, my day of music, food and Fest gluttony begins.
            Out in the weather, (sun, rain, fog, heat, cold, whatever) I’m a man on the move; I rarely stop for more than a few minutes, usually the longest I pause in any one location is for food. I HAVE to have a Cochon de Lait po boy, have to, I’ve waited all year for it and I save the experience for the Fest. From Wanda Walker’s Love at First Bite stand; they must have a blueprint, because the consistency of this product is unwavering. Year after year. Kissingly sweet dressed cabbage, mustard and horseradish dance in your mouth as you bite through the French bread and you’ll find yourself smiling through the sauce and the slaw and the crumbs. Later on the beach (the track itself) you’ll pass where Wanda’s workers will be smoking a ton of pig. Yum.
            Years ago Allen Toussaint advised Brett Anderson what to eat at the Fest: “anything with crawfish”: call that preaching to the choir. Crawfish sausaged, sacked, boiled, mushroom stuffed and strudel-ed. Crawfish po-boy, remoulade-ed, enchilada-ed, bisqued and Monica-ed (sounds like a Toussaint song, eh?); I would feel sorry for the millions of wee critters who gave their lives, but, them tasting so damn good, kicks my compassion to the curb!
            And still, I’m a culinary snob; with over seventy venues to choose from, the list of food booths at the Fest that I pass up is considerably longer than the stands that I favor. I won’t get something that I cook at home and I won’t have anything that I have on a regular basis in my local eateries.  The Jama Jama and fried plantains from Bennichin is one exception, it’s a dish that I never tire of, Angelo Brocato’s spumoni is another; also the Trout Baquet from L’il Dizzy’s Café. I think that if I pass them by without stopping, I’ll be struck by lightning. I wish that Verde Mart would have a stand for their All That Jazz sandwich…. I’d road block for that.
            Alligator Sauce Piquant from Fireman Mikes is another ‘must have’, dark deep and religious in taste, just to be eating that ugly, ill tempered and slow cooked mother., sends tickles and giggles to your tummy;  You haven’t had the Pheasant, Quail and Andouille Gumbo from Prejean’s? Shut the front door! Get your assets over there and know what rapture tastes like: too thick to drink and too thin to plow, decadent, mouth filling and breath catching; it’ll make you want to nail your foot to the ground and walk in circles!
            Just to be clear-- all this time of eating-- I am still groovin’ to the music, diggin’ the crowds and struttin’ my stuff; as Girlfriend says: there’s no shame in my game! I’ll peer over people’s shoulders and ask them what they’re eating; I’ll stop and follow a scent of pit smoke that leads me to Down Home Creole Cooking for Barbecue Ribs and/ or Turkey Wings on my way to the Jazz Tent. Spoiler alert--- there are never enough napkins for the saucy, spicy and downright sexy repast that mandates a good sucking on dem bones.
            Drinking: after that first beer, I switch to the Rosemint Herbal Iced tea (Sunshine Concessions) or the Strawberry Lemonade (New Orleans La) and on my early afternoon break I’ll slip on over to the Café Du Monde stand for some Café au Lait and, of course, Beignets.  AND speaking of beignets…. If you don’t have a Praline Stuffed Beignet… (Loretta’s Pralines) I will tell your Mama! Biting through that hot beignet into the warm sensuous praline is akin to a French kiss in the back seat of a Chevy Impala, circa 1958.
            Now, before you call me food booth cowboy, I need to tell you that I attend four and sometimes five days of Fest; so, these food excursions and culinary diversions occur over time and not all in the same day. I’d love to have a Brass Pass, however, that lottery ticket has yet to be purchased (sigh). That said, somewhere in the day, I’ll get some Fresh Roasted Jumbo Peanuts (Jumbo Peanut Company) just to support those tireless groundnut gladiators who roam the grounds. Later in the early afternoon I’ll question my decision to put off the Soft Shell Crab Po Boy from Galley Seafood Restaurant; the longish line usually deters me, but, with a pacifier of Bacon Smoked Collard Greens from Vaucresson, I can be patient; I can wait to nibble on those crunchy little spider-like legs and then full speed ahead into the pickles and hot sauce heaven, followed by the ever popular Mango Freeze-- from our local listener supported music station WWOZ-- just as a palate cleanser before going back into the fray.
            Also, there are food demonstrations whipped up by our favorite and locally famous chefs and restaurants. A couple of years ago I sat at a Curried Cauliflower demo by Mondo Restaurant. They even gave the recipe and with a bit of mathematical manipulation (the recipe started with six heads of cauliflower), I gladly added it to my home cooking repertoire. The demonstrations are held at two stages both at the Grandstand, one indoors and one out. Also Zatarain’s does a big Louisiana Crawfish Boil at noon, both Fridays, prepare to be impressed.
            One final item: gratuities at the food stands are welcome, appropriate and appreciated; these folks are working ten to twelve hours a day, it’s their little boost of income.  And showing your respect for what they do by passing a buck across the counter will reserve you a special place in Jazz Fest heaven and, you know, we all want to be in that number.


Jazz Fest 2016 1st week

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Jazz Fest Firstin’
Onward Into the Fogger
            Let’s just say that in the over twenty-five years of me living in New Orleans (off and on) I have never missed the occasion--where time and tide would allow me--to attend The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, stretching back into the early seventies. Most of you haven’t. That should give me cred, right? I mean, some of you weren’t a gleam in your Mama’s eyes when I was groovin’ to Booker and/or Fess; I have traveled that track more times than Sea Biscuit; I have eaten my weight in gumbo, cochon de lait and crawfish; I have perfected my Electric Slide, disregarding those looks that say ‘I told you white boys can’t dance’ through countless years of Frankie Beverley and Maze. I have climbed that indomitable Grandstand stairway to heaven in search of the perfect bathroom facility; I’ve seen Bob Dylan booed and sang along with the Dixie Cups (“Goin’ to the… chapel and we’re… gonna get maaarried…”). I could comfortably rest on my Laurels (and my Hardy’s too). Instead, I chose to impart my (half) wit and wisdom to those who may benefit. Please… permit me to share the fruits of many years of experience; allow me to deliver unto you (drum roll) a Greenhorn Guide to the Goodness--for those who need it and those who need reminding--(and those who need nothing at all). Enjoy.
            First the weather forecast: sun, wind, showers, fog, heat, cold and overcast with patches of crowd. Mud, sweat and beers. Dust, grime, grease and good will abound. Rays of sunshine like the universe’s approval will rain upon you and should you get blinded by the light, get ye to a misting tent. Yea, though you walk through the valley of Port-o-lets and pot smoke, fear no evil; all blessings are present and accounted for. Be thou anointed, you are here and they are not, dress accordingly and pack as lightly and sensibly as possible.
What to bring: As far as I know and indeed, up until last year, it was permissible to bring in a bottled water as long as it was sealed and unopened. Figure on traveling as light as you can because anything you schlep in, you’ll be schlepping out; Dick always brings blankets, tarpaulins and something screwy on a tall stick so others can find him. Instead, take a small bag (which will be searched) with a wee towel to sit on, sunscreen, cheap sunglasses, camera and extra napkins to be on the safe side. If you have a small folding umbrella, dat be cool. To avoid the ATMs bring cash; unless you’re gonna make a major purchase leave the cards at home. Take a plastic bag for valuables and some Tupperware if you want to take some goodies home. Big Red would also bring makeup because “you never know if you’ll meet a millionaire in the midway”.
What to wear: do not go barefooting! Consider that a thousand racing animals with their entourages of insects that have been kept under control with military strength poisons resides in the ground that you’re trodding. Do have protective headgear, neck gear and foot gear that can stand the elements. A bandana for your neck, a wrap for your shoulders. I don’t advise going ‘commando’. Usually I have a smallish satchel and I wear shorts and an abbreviated tee under some overalls and a flashy short sleeved shirt and I dress and undress according to the prevailing weather; some folks wear rain boots and that seems to be tres Festy. Judy Day advises to “bra up, so you don’t be lugging them girls around for eight hours in the elements”. Wearing anything that you can’t let be ruined may be a mistake.
What to eat/drink: Short answer: everything! Personally I don’t treat the Fest as an alcohol ‘throw down’, so try the iced beverages for a change and leave the inebriation for later--I do have a beer on the way in to wake up but after that—remember it’s not a sprint to the finish. Allan Toussaint’s advice is to eat “anything with crawfish” and I’ll take that to the bank. Look for long lines and find out why; peep over shoulders and ask folks what they’re having, how the taste and portion is in comparison to the price. Really. Look for things that are of a Jazzy and Heritage-y nature; with over seventy food booths there’s lots to choose from. It is hard to recommend any one or more things because, actually, there is nothing at the Fest that I don’t want to eat. I very rarely have the same dish twice in one year, that way I can sample things that I haven’t tried in years past. Visit the food demonstrations and watch local chefs strut their stuff.  One thing I do do is to only bring only a certain amount of money (excluding traveling expenses), that way I am forced to really only purchase what I cannot live without. Oh—one thing though--if you pass up the praline stuffed beignet, I will be thoroughly sorry for you and your loss.
Attitude: Now, there are those out there that consider going to the Fest is like “Cutting a path through this wall of human flesh with a mountain goat under my arm, dragging my canoe behind me” and abstain from the experience; obviously, you’re not one of them. The best advice is just to relax, take it easy and have fun. As Girlfriend points out “you’re in the Holy Land”; consider the rest of the world an insane asylum and you’ve left that crazy life you live in there--out there; you’re home now, all is well.