Saturday, April 29, 2017

Restauran Tissue

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Bone Appetite
Full Belly Wisdom
            I’ve been eating and working in restaurants since the Last Supper. I’ve bussed tables on Noah’s Ark, made final cocktails on the Titanic, and was in the kitchen when Henry VIII knighted Sir Loin of Beef. Comparing dining establishment experience, one day I remarked to a younger colleague:  “I’ve got food stains on aprons older than you are!” And it’s true; I’ve been around the culinary block so many times that the James Beard Foundation had my kitchen clogs bronzed. In all my years of eating and working in restaurants I have never heard anyone say: “Hello, I’m here to work your last nerve” but sometimes they do.
 Here’s a scenario: You’re working the floor or possibly the sautĂ© station in the exhibition kitchen and in comes an ex (that no count that made a fool out of you) with their boisterous buddies, parents from Peoria or his/her new ‘friend’ and wants to sit in front of you/at your station. He keeps his hat on slouches at the table and signals the server with a snap of his fingers for beer. She sends back the well done burger because it’s cooked too much, spends the majority of time texting while he steps out for a cigarette just as the food is delivered (that he will send back because it’s cold). He switches from his phone to his IPod to watch a sports match while she reapplies makeup. The new paramour has brought twin fives that runs amok, imperiling life, limb and property playing tag. The group takes up the table for three hours, leaves a mess and an eight percent gratuity citing their ‘experience’ being sullied by the appearance of an insect. You’re not allowed to kill them.
The subject of restaurant behavior is timely-- being this is the restaurant issue-- so we’ll explore the nuances and social mores of eating in public places leaving employment war stories for another time. Having partaken in ‘away from home’ meals for millennium, I feel more than qualified to tug on your turban. Question one: do you often eat out with other people, alone or at all; AND, have you ever been on the service side of that ritual? Whatever side your bread is buttered, you can be sure that diners, cafes, coffee shops, bistros, affairs, food trucks, formal dining ‘establishments’ and joints all share a common denominator; wine and dine or grit and split-- it boils down to one thing-- appropriate manners are expected, if not required.
 Define appropriate manners? Simply: the logical modification of behavior that is extended by you as a courtesy to an individual or company that is supplying you with comestibles for your enjoyment, nourishment and hopefully, satisfaction.
Wherever you partake in food that is not you eating over your kitchen sink at home, from a to-go container, in your boxer shorts, drinking milk directly from the jug and wiping your mouth on the back of your arm, like it or not, you have an obligation to hold up your end of an unspoken bargain; that agreement is that both you and your host will act according to the environment and circumstances of the area given over to you for your ‘dining pleasure’. The faux pas’ range from asking for a knife to cut up fried chicken to wearing a baseball cap at the table in Ella Brennan’s place-- from the Colonel to Commander’s-- there’s a dance to be done and you’re either ballet or buffoon.
Figure it’s good training if you ever want to get ahead in the world, instead of left wondering why you weren’t told it was going to be like this when you grew up, if ever you do (grow up). Your choice is either to cultivate the ability to act ‘according to Hoyle’ in any given eating circumstance or progress no further than the way you acted in your High School cafeteria, and it will, like it or not, come to define you as an adult in the real world; from Chez Panisse or Piccadilly; The Waldorf or Waffle House. You will be judged. A chameleon-like ability to blend in to any given occasion is a mark of a superior mentality; here’s kind of a beginner’s primer.
First of all, if accustomed to eating out alone, you’re allowed to behave whatever way you like and reap the karma. However, if you are with others, it’s up to you not to be an embarrassment to mixed company. Napkins are universal, from Damask to cheap paper, learn how to use them; if you’re not paying the bill, you don’t get to order the wine; don’t make a pass at your server unless you’re a real catch (you’re probably not); do make your culinary restrictions known well before you enter the door; don’t expect any better treatment than anyone else unless you’re handing out C-notes; make sure that you’re not off-color, rude, sloppy, loud or ill mannered. Accept the traditions of the place that you’re at and don’t ask for anything that’s unreasonable like chopsticks at the Dairy Queen; vegan or gluten free options where there aren’t any (except possibly fried potato skins); a table for six for two people; a change in the music, room temperature, lighting or “can you just make me a soft boiled egg and some dry toast?” at Crescent City Steak House. Believe me; a person can go an entire meal without taking a smoke break or using an electronic device. Tip lavishly and don’t get loaded in public…ever. If you’re including children, call ahead to insure a kid friendly menu is available and note that it’s up to YOU to control their behavior, unless you’re going to Chuck E. Cheese. Whenever/wherever you eat out, remember: “act your age not your shoe size”, I will happily join you; and, I’m real good company.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Jazz Fest 2nd week 2917

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Pete and Repeat
            So, is this your first weekend of the second week or the second weekend after your first? Are you walking in with your nose in the air like a bird dog, sniffing the wafting aromas of the hunka hunka burning love portions number nine, ten and eleven: “I smell ribs…gotta go!” Or have you arrived with your nose to the ground like a hound dog on the trail of beer, barbeque, buddies and blues. Who’s on first?
 Your look is familiar; don’t I know you from anywhere? Haven’t I seen your face before? I’m familiar with that wry swan smile, those Army scout eyes, that sunburned shoulder (you forgot your PF30 again), that hungry desperate surreptitious tuck and roll glance; that furtive insecurity, exhibiting the inner knowledge of one who is aware that it’s almost over!
I know that look of longing love at the end of an affair when you want to devour everything about your lover, the sights, smells, sounds and spice; the gaseous miasma of flirting food just beyond your reach; human smells in the air, sweaty pits, sun tan oils, hair goop, after shave lotion and all of it. That’s true for me also, so, I’m feelin’ ya; I want to be a sponge soaking everything up about the 2017 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (Jazz Fest) as well, for I have loved her and she has loved me back.
            Leapin’ Lizards! It’s the second weekend and I’ve got to take it all in, all that I can absorb! My bucket list: have I had my cochon de lait po-boy; soft shell crab; pheasant, quail, andouille gumbo; praline stuffed beignet and trout Baquet? Check list: I’ve had my oysters; at least a half a gallon of strawberry tea; a huckabuck, cafĂ© au lait, messy BBQ, spring rolls and Jama Jama; seen and hugged a dozen people. But it’s not sufficient for this heart of mine, I want more! What haven’t I had, tried, tasted, begged, borrowed or browsed upon? What’s goin’ on? Who’s holding out?
            I liken it to an affaire de Coeur; even when strorm clouds roll in, you’re gonna give it your best shot. Word to your mother: “the worst day at Jazz Fest is better than the best day any other time of year!” The anticipation of its (Jazz Fest’s) arrival is like an incoming train bringing you your lost love; this year I even brought flowers for my first date, I mean, first day. I live close, so I hear them, see them, setting up the Fest and it’s music to my ears; the roustabouts and the tent slingers, beer trucks, sound checks, ice men, Indians and buses bringing bands.
            They open the gates and I’m standing there early, music fills the air, cooking fires are lit and the grand march and linger begins; seats are filled, lines are formed, blankets laid and golly, if someone hasn’t brought a beach ball to bat around! It’s a sensation candy store and the kids are in charge; there is no sorrow, no grief or pain: it’s Christmas and the medics have aspirins, Band Aids and armchairs!
            I thirst, that’s why I’m here; I’m a wanderer; a high relater radiator, sweet potato commentator, instigator investigator, nirvana spectator see ya later alligator man about this ad hoc al fresco percolator, drinking it all in! Elusive at best; appearing and disappearing, here and there and hear and left wondering if I was ever here at all. Who did you see? I don’t know, I saw them all, heard them all, ate and tasted it all and had a ball, seeing and sawing as much of all as y’all standing tall. Mama, I’m home!
            I wax prolific and expansive about my love of this venue, this time in my life and yours where and when we could come apart together in peace, music, food and the facilitation of our own standing sitting walking talking singing quietude of mutual atmospheric melodic meditation, protected witnesses all.
Sure, the weather has been hot cold dry wet dusty and muddy; there’s nothing unexpected in that, I’m down with that, ready Teddy. The mister has sprung a leak above my head in the Jazz Tent; so, why do you think I brought this here folding umbrella, just to keep the sun off me? Well, that too. I’ve also brought cash in small untraceable bills so that when I get to the front of the line and have exact money (plus tip); I can hit it with hot sauce and saunter smartly back into the stream of strangers somehow symbiotically connected to me.
There are those that think that the tariff it’s too steep; the crowds are at best congestive, the toilets are an olfactory mugging, the price of the food is up and the portions are too small. I’m not sure if we’re at the same festival. Like Arthur Dent, I’ve brought is my towel and openness to whatever will happen. I shy away from whatever doesn’t suit me at the moment, ready to split on or stick out the experience coming at me. Whatever, I’m here for the joy of it all, smiling because it’s happening again for the first time. I’m at the Jazz Fest again; let me wallow in the wonder, for this too shall pass leaving another notch on my memory wall.
It’s the second and final weekend this season and it will soon be over until, if the universe is willing, next year; there will be so much that will happen to each of us in the interval until next time, we’ll be older and perhaps wiser when we meet the Jazz Fest again. May we all take with us the serenity and tranquility that we’ve had with this uplifting and exciting time. After while, crocodile.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

New Orleans Jazz Fest 2017 #`1

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Jazz Fest Week One
Into the Belly of the Beast

Okay, Cats and Hats off we go like a herd of turtles to The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, hereafter referred to as simply ‘Jazz Fest’. I personally welcome you to the first weekend of Jazz Fest, our roads have been paved and sidewalks straightened like you’re off to see the wizard on the Yellow Brick Road; yes, you’re headed straight into the virtually fabled city of music, food and gaiety. We’ve sprayed the trees so that those nasty caterpillars that sting like acid don’t drop from the trees like armed commandos and whelp your delicate epidermis (also knocking off butterflies, bees, and the occasional humming bird). All quiet on the western front anticipating the arrival of the festivity famished friendly festival family of multiple thousands (and den some).
Understand that your safety is paramount to us and we want you to feel as safe as Tite Poulet in Madame John’s bathrobe; we’ve charged a sizeable ransom from your hard earned for tickets (certainly not couch cushion coin) in order to keep the riff raff away. We’ve also upped the price of alcohol to where if you’re gonna get in your cups, you’ll have just enough cheddar for the Uber chariot that you’re relying on to take you safely back to your AIRBNB where your bedmates (and buddies) await like bears in a den, insulated from the elements and weighted down with beers iced like sticks of firewood in their cooler uterus while their emptied brethren sit discarded like fallen soldiers having given their lives in the service of their inebriation Czar.
            Being Spring and all, I find myself congested with a case of similes, you might say that my analogies are acting up. Personally, after all of my jingles are jingled all the way (Christmas music) and my Hey pockeys are all pockeed away (Carnival music), the lull since Easter has expended my musical capital to the point of Rock an Droll; needing a shot of rhythm for the Jazz Fest fever blues. I’m as ready for my dose as a hippie on a high mountain seeking the guru sounds of musical nirvana awaiting my arrival. Mama, I’m home.
Be that as it may, might I point out for you newbies that at first it can be a little overwhelming, all the sounds and sights might sound like noise, the attendees might look like crowds; it can cloud your imagination, flummox your judgment, boggle your mind; you might get as nervous as a virgin at a prison rodeo. First, rein in your hearing ability to about sixty feet in front of you; that will have the other locomotion commotions sound less like cosmic debris, cacophonically speaking. Stop, breathe, find your inner Conan, you can do this; go with the flow, make believe that you (and everybody else) is high on something and that everything is a show put on for just you, because it is (and they probably are).
            Preparation is good, as good as a compass in a dust storm. The weather is gonna be sunny, overcast, dusty, rainy, muddy and above all erratic; try as you may, you will not be prepared for all of its idiosyncrasies.  Wear a hat, scarf, sunglasses, sandals, boots, overalls and shorts, long and short sleeve shirts; or screw it and just put on something comfortable and figure it will get ruined and you will get wind, dust and sun burned. You can’t bar the doors if the walls are gonna cave in. Take cash and maybe one credit card and leave all other paper and plastic at home; electronic devices and extraneous jewelry are like Jazz Fest masturbation, nobody needs to know where you are and those selfies just make you look like an escapee from a batty bin. Basically, if you’re playing with yourself, you’re not playing with us. You’re at the Jazz Fest to have a good time not to make a friggin documentary. Relax, it’s just music, food and fun; and if you don’t like the fun you’re having where you’re standing… go make some of your own six feet, ten feet or even a hundred feet away.
            Allen Toussaint recommends that you “eat everything” at the Jazz Fest; Debbie Lindsey reminds us to tip like someone’s watching you (they are), I do both. I trapes the Fest dervishly, both new words for my personal dictionary, kinda like tripping the lights fantastic only it’s something that I do out of doors and performed with alacrity and a certain amount of youthful subjective objectivity. In other words, I’m in love with the whole scene. I even dig waiting in lines.
            I look over people’s shoulder to see what they’re eating and not shy about asking them how they like it and where they purchased it. I’ve been attending for decades and I still cannot find my way from one end to the other without getting lost at least twice, and I love that too! I’ve purchased my tickets well in advance and never buy from someone out on the street after my friend got burned with bogus tickets from a seemingly honest pedestrian; literally scalped she was.
            Generally I can tell the newer members of the audience because they haven’t yet learned that rude and crude don’t work here, they don’t use the litter barrels much less the recycle bins, they act like the Fest is a meat market and also tap into their negative energies by mocking the afflicted: silly dancers, weird dressers, flag wavers and other people that happen to be ignoring how similar to a rube the mocker happens to be. Hopefully they’ll learn before the second day.

            Some don’ts: do not unfurl a towel, blanket, whatever and expect that it will hold your place in the middle of an audience; don’t unnecessarily save a seat in a tent for more than a portion of a performance and deprive another of a place to comfortably sit; don’t block aisles or other walkways; and don’t you ever pass up the festivities outside of the race track!