Saturday, August 20, 2016

Skool Daze

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
On Higher Learning
School Daze
            It’s the election cycle, football season, dirty laundry is waist high and it’s ladies night at your local pub; forget it (!)--- you’ve got homework assignments that are due…yesterday! You’re availing yourself to the auspiciousness of advanced education because of circumstances that may or may not be of your own volition and possibly far from your control. Peer pressure, parental pressure (your Daddy’s rich and your Ma’s good looking); you’ve taken out a lifetime of debt in student loans or you’ve decided that there’s more money being a hair dresser message therapist vet tech dental assistant than being a bus boy dishwasher floor sweeping baby sitter (au pair, my butt!). Or, the three to five bum rap for B&E afforded you some state sanctioned free ed--this is your life right now, so pull up your big boy pants and get on with it!
Otherwise, what’s your alternative?  You may decide that structured learning is not for you; you don’t fit into the curriculum; it’s a drag or you just aint gettin’ it.  Well, you could “pack it in, get a pick-up, take it down to L.A.”; consider that you’re not really gonna be comfortable In your skin until you’re at least thirty years old; give yourself a break and take one.  Pursue a dream, then climb a mountain, join a cult, fight a fire, volunteer for foreign service, apprentice, make mistakes; program your own syllabus and educate yourself.  And/or run away with the circus.   Do something that you haven’t done before, start at the bottom somewhere and check it out, see where it takes you. Hit your stride, live under the overpass; hold up a sign at the intersection. “You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack”, failing to live up to expectations, yours and others; perhaps, like a lot of us, ‘happy’ is what you want to be when you’re grown up.
First of all, you’re not going to school because you have talent, if you had talent you’d be out in the world workin’ on your next million. You may have ability, you might be tenacious, you may want better for yourself, you might have nothing better to do or you just don’t want to go out into the world and get a friggin’ job! In any case, you need to get to crackin’… that learnin’ ain’t gonna just rub off on you!
            Oh, so you thought that you had talent; everybody told you so, your parents, your lovers, your friends and your second grade teacher. Do you know what the odds are on you having talent? If you need to ask, then save yourself the heartache. At best, you have aptitude, drive, ambition and if you’re lucky, the capacity for passion. You may have intelligence, charisma, charm and good intentions; it takes that much to get a cup of coffee. For an amount of success; you’ll need more than that.
            Ah, with luck on your side, kismet, serendipity, good karma and love in your heart, you’ll go places. The streets and cities of the world are littered by the likes of those kind hearted souls that believe that the meek will inherit the earth. To make it around here all it takes is looks and a whole lot of money, right? Wrong, that only gives you comfort, not success, so you’ll ask yourself what success is?
            Success is the result of hard work whether you’re a banker, a butcher or a Buddhist monk; add to that, timing, wise (especially financial) decisions, connections and location location location.  And on the subject of luck, a very wise man I know told me “the harder I work, the luckier I get”.
            Focus; paying attention, toil and an amount of personal sacrifice; learning the tricks and tools of your trade, taking care of your health and body, being courteous, well groomed and mannered helps a lot. A barnacle attaches itself to something stable and its sustenance comes to it; a mushroom is kept in the dark and fed manure; a zinfandel vine fights for its nutrients and produces great wine; pick a role model.
            On the lighter side, one day you’ll look back on your educational experiences and exclaim that these were the happiest days of your life; so what if the older generation looks at you like you’re some kind of techno freak. You’ve got your SmartPhone, Ipad, and Wi-Fi; you’re on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and a whole lot more. Whatever you need from life… there’s an app for that, YouTube, Google, Tumblr and your very own blog.  You’ve got voicemail and instant messaging for Christ’s sake, what could go wrong? The world.
            Outside of your student cocoon there’s this thing called a world and what others consider real life; unless you stay in school (which I highly recommend) you will be part of a larger universe where a man named Murphy is in charge and whatever can go wrong… does. Plans change (and should), dreams may become just that (dreams), love comes from unlikely places (it does), then there’s magic as well as danger, mystery, adventure and humor (often simultaneously) everywhere (count on it). You turn a corner, take a chance, miss a step, consider an alternative, play a hunch, avoid a conflict, make a point… things happen. Education, on the other hand, can be insular.
            One of the things that I’ve seen in other countries is that being happy is more of a priority than having fame, fortune or notoriety;  coffee in the morning; off to work as a mechanic or mailperson; pick up the kids; dinner and a good book before bed. “What do you want from life?” Song and lyrics by The Tubes (check it out).


Real New Orleans Food

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Real New Orleans Food?
Here’s the questions:  What is real New Orleans food, is there a real New Orleans food and how would any one of us know it --- if it were a snake would we bite it back? 
The answers are afoot when I go to John and Mary’s on Orleans Avenue for a boiled turkey neck, McHardy’s on Broad Street for fried chicken, the Orange House for Ya Ka Mein and/or over in to the Seventh Ward to find an African-American grandma selling Huckabucks (ice cups) from her kitchen doorway for fifty cents. Real New Orleans food is going to Galatoire’s for Crabmeat Ravigote; Pascal Manale’s Barbecued Shrimp, eating Tujague’s Oysters en Brochette and a fabulous Ribeye at Crescent City Steak House.
Real New Orleans food is found at fancy places and filling stations. From the Calas at Elizabeth’s to the Creole Cream Cheese at the Crescent City Farmer’s Market; from Lafcadio Hearn to Sara Roahen. Above all, real New Orleans food is an attitude; Mirliton is New Orleans, Chayote is Mexican… although they’re the same vegetable. Real New Orleans food goes back nearly three centuries and is a gumbo of influences.
The Creoles subsisted on seafood from the Gulf, lake and river; the early Germans at Des Allemandes kept us alive with their farming and dairy products, they handed us our first charcuterie. The indigenous peoples taught us to make hominy, Tasso and the use of powdered sassafras leaves (file); the French brought their cooking methods and terminology; wheat came down the river to make our roux; the Africans came and farmed rice (“YaYa” in their language) and brought okra (quingombo) to our pots; the Spanish gave us the ham (jamon, jambon) for our Jambalaya and from a common ancestor in Peru came red, black, white and pinto beans. The Cajuns? Well, the Cajuns have kept us in touch with our rural and rustic roots.
            This new land of ours gave back to the world: chili peppers, tomatoes, corn, potatoes, chocolate, tobacco, squash and vanilla; we in New Orleans adopted celery, artichokes, thyme, coffee beans, sugar cane, bananas and bay leaves. We made them our own. We took in and we gave back; and, real New Orleans food is a product of Spanish, French and African cultures with influences of the Germans, Italians, indigenous peoples and settlers making do with what they could find, forage and figure out. Slaves bought their freedom by selling foodstuffs in the streets of the French Quarter; businessmen became rich importing ice to keep it fresh, housewives traded collards for courgettes over back fences and Caribbean cooks added a pinch of cayenne to our everyday dinners. Many cooks did not spoil the soup; they just turned it into gumbo.
Put aside for a second what our visitors dive into: red beans, gumbo, jambalaya, etouffee, remoulade, beignets, pralines, bread pudding, poboys--- those are native to us--- baked in, so to speak, second nature to us and only are window dressing to the real meat of what sustains us as a people. Try also to ignore, for now, the ‘newer’ ethnic oriented foods that, happily, has diversified our daily eating habits in the last, say, two decades (something that newly arrived folks may not realize), foodstuffs that were once novelties that are now mainstream: Vietnamese, Hispanic and Middle Eastern. It used to be that you couldn’t find sushi here with a Geiger counter; now, pretty young things are having it for breakfast at Whole Foods (another come lately business). These I consider no less than real New Orleans food, just newer New Orleans food; updated, expanded, and modified from the old to the new--- the eat goes on.
 I do question that ‘modern’ ethno fusion locality ingredient driven over-fussy and unnecessarily complicated works of art that pass for high end food nowadays; terrific to look at, hard to eat and harder to remember except that they contained weird animal parts and far too many garnishes. But that might just be me, I’m sure it has its place; after all, in 1722 after the ‘Petticoat Rebellion’ when Madame Langlois (Governor Bienville’s housekeeper) taught our founding mothers the recipe for pecan stuffed squirrel, I’m sure a few eyebrows raised as well..
New Orleans, known to visitors for our affinity for music, food and booze has become polarized four square by conflicting if not confusing messages that are sending visitors running to our culture pundits for explanations as to our definitions as New Orleanians as to what is really real New Orleans and what is not. Let me say this about that: Music and alcoholic drinks are a subjective experience and give rise to opinions that, like noses, vary from face to face, person to person; I cast no aspersions toward tastes in those areas; although I have my own opinions, I mostly keep them to myself.
When we talk New Orleans food, however, I’m ready to get ‘real’, I’m prepared to get up into some ‘grill’: New Orleans food is like a religion to us here and what we eat on any given day can be classified as such; all the food we eat here is good food (I should hope so) but it’s either New Orleans food or it’s not. It’s found in the components that we swear by: Camellia Beans, Crystal Hot Sauce, Pickled pork, smoked sausage, Mahatma Rice, CDM Coffee and Chicory and greens of every description. It’s found in the onions, celery, bell peppers and garlic that no home is ever without. It’s found in Steen’s Cane Syrup, Zatarain’s Fish Fry and our own special secret spice mixtures. Real New Orleans food has always been based on us being locavores and we were slow cookin’ (and slow dancin’) before ‘Slow Food’ became cool and a convenient catchword.
Our food rituals set us apart as well; red beans on Monday, King Cake at Carnival time, Reveillon dinners around Christmas, Gumbo Z’herbes on Holy Thursday, oysters in months with a ‘R’ in ‘em and that grilled pork chop sandwich from the back of a pickup truck at a second line winding through the Treme.
            Real New Orleans food is eaten all day and all night, washed down by cold beers and conversation. In the street or at the table, with smiles and camaraderie; the scent of smoke like perfume amongst the Jasmine, magnolias and sweet olive comin’ over the fence tells you that a neighbor will be over soon to invite you for an impromptu ‘cook out’ before a Saints game. Our gumbo is “too thick to drink, too thin to plow”; our boiled seafood brings burn to your lips and sweat to your brow; the tropical fruits from Mr. Okra’s truck perfectly ripe; that praline stuffed beignet from Loretta’s having your eyes roll back in your head.  There is nothing superficial or elusive in Real New Orleans food and it cannot be had anywhere but in New Orleans: have a Muffuletta in Des Moines? Not on a bet! Call it the heat; call it the humidity; call it the water. Call it my stubbornness; I’ll have Enchiladas, Pad Thai, Pho, Frankfurters, Falafel, Paella and Pizza in Pittsburg, Pensacola, Flushing and Fargo; I will eat Ban Mi in Boston, Green Eggs and Ham with a goat on a boat BUT… I will save my crawfish cravings for the Crescent City--- and only in season.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Pigskin perplexity

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Pigskin Perplexity
Who Dat What Dat?
            I was never an organized spectator sports enthusiast, nor was I ever a team oriented, rock ‘em sock ‘em active player of competitive sports; once when I was pressure/enlisted to join a team, I asked that my position be named ‘left out’. The idea of swatting a vaguely spheroid inanimate object with a bat, club, racquet or my tender hands, is as foreign to me as getting into a roped enclosure with someone bigger (and tougher) than I whose sole purpose in life is to beat me like a red headed stepchild and be rewarded by having their hand raised in victory to the sound of cheers from a bloodthirsty audience who’ve paid money to watch this occur. Ouch!
            As a caveat: I’m aware that it takes great skill, talent and training to run that ball against the likes of that herd of buffalo size men on an open field, or hit a ball coming at you at a hundred miles an hour and run in a circle hoping to eventually cross ‘home plate’. I know that I’d never be able to take a nine iron, or whatever, and slice that egg size ball into a hole three hundred yards away or face Serena across a net as she runs me like a bad comedian dodging tomatoes from a hostile crowd. I can swim, run and bike, but not in competition; for me the emphasis on sports is in the playing… play-ing… get it?
            Also, I don’t have a head for statistics, historic significances, odds in favor (or against), theories, rules of the games, point spreads, names, dates or places. Who did what when how and against what opponent does not adhere to any of my gray cells-- and while this is second nature to some folks-- it seems that my brainpan has sports Teflon surfaces. Even in the Olympics my attention is captured more by figure skating, gymnastics and high diving competitions than on football, golf or hockey. I guess I should turn in my ‘Man Card’.
            That being said; I am a rabid Saints fan; they’re my team, my boys, my dogs, my troops. Although, I’m not sure why they keep getting rid of some of the most beloved players and hiring strangers for us to get to know and love (or not), they’re still a team I’ll get up, dress up, show up and never give up on. Black and Gold symbolize my city and her recovery and ongoing challenges. I just hope that they don’t start drafting any hipsters with man buns.
            In the aftermath of Katrina, I was at a talk given by Alec Baldwin; at the time, the city was a mess of trash, homelessness, chaos, confusion and militant optimism about the balls that it was going to take to get us off our backs and on our feet. The talk was given in one of the dining rooms of Muriel’s Jackson Square and thus spoke Alec: “You know, New Orleans is like your home team; and just because your home team gets their asses kicked, you don’t switch teams! It’s your team, you belong to it and it belongs to you; and New Orleans is going to get through this because her people will not, cannot give up on her.” He said a lot of other things too, but those are the words that stuck with me. At one time, our football team was being called “The Aints” and fans were wearing bags on their heads because they were so terribly bad at the game and that’s when I fell in love with them. I watch them play good and bad and cheer them on (loudly); I learned what ‘fourth down and one hundred and ten to go’ means because that’s what our city came back from; it has been a real ‘Hail Mary’ of a recovery, hasn’t it? And we’re still in O.T.
            Liuzza’s By The Track on N. Lopez is my home team when I consider bacon, beer, barbecued shrimp poboys and game time banter. Liuzza’s stays open for Saints games whenever and wherever they may be; if they’re on Sunday (when the kitchen is closed), patrons bring pot luck and their staff works their day off out of solidarity with the neighborhood and “Our Boys”. That’s the New Orleans that I know.
            As I said, for the upcoming competitive sports season, I know doddley-squat about such things, and previous to my Saints fever and fervor, I would have suggested that we give each team their own ball and have them stop fighting over just the one, but times have changed. I still don’t know the difference between a punt and a bunt, a tight end and a wide receiver (sounds rather earthy to me) or why some grown people get paid gazillions of dollars to run, jump, kick, punch, swat, slam and run in circles wearing themselves out, getting hurt and trying to hurt opponents that are trying to hurt them and others get hurt for little or no money at all; as they say “it’s beyond my ken”. However, put me on a level playing field with you, me and a football pool and I’ll give you odds that I have just as much chance of winning as you do, with no previous experience necessary.
            So, go on with your bad self and root, cheer, whistle, yell, stomp your feet and yell your lungs sore. Of course the Referee is blind and probably biased against your team (he’s probably being paid off). They (the other team) STOLE that victory! Gosh darn it! We still have a chance at the playoffs, semi finals or wild card matches; our team rocks! We have a mascot, a great coach, hot dogs, beer and a pretty lady in a yellow sundress screaming: “Stomp the bastard! Kill him!” I rest my case.