Some days I don't know.
I just don't know.
(In other news, Mardi Gras rocked. Home tomorrow, pictures when my body has recovered.)
Some days I don't know.
I just don't know.
(In other news, Mardi Gras rocked. Home tomorrow, pictures when my body has recovered.)
"Screw this! They're lying! The President's lying! The rich fat cats that are drowning you will do it again and again and again…and when you complain, they blame Blacks and Jews and immigrants. Then they push your kids under. I say, kick ‘em in the ass and take your rightful share!"
--Huey Long, 1927.
Gina and I are both working late on our laptops at the kitchen table, when somebody in the apartment upstairs turns on the shower. Upstairs is where we think the wifi network named "Rachel-Julie" originates. We've never met either Rachel or Julie.
Ray: Sounds like Rachel or Julie is taking a shower.
Gina: Is that distracting?
Ray: (looking up wistfully) Yeah, a little.
Gina: Maybe they're both taking a shower.
Ray: Oooooo, I feel funny....
Mid-70's. We went to the Fat City parades in Metairie on Mardi Gras day, since my mom thought it would be more kid friendly than downtown.
I don't remember anything about the parades except that I caught a lot of Jefferson Parish Sheriff doubloons and a lot of cheap-ass truck float throws. Which is fine when you're a kid. You don't care about pretty beads when you're a kid. When you catch long beads you give them to your mom because she likes them so much.
My dad always loved the truck parades. I think it was because he liked the idea of normal working class grunts being able to ride on a float without having to be somebody important like in the regular krewes. Plus he could give a shit about the bands.
What I remember most is being stuck in traffic in Metairie that afternoon trying to get home. Seeing a big banner that said "Fat City Welcomes Professor Longhair". Later in life I'd claim that I saw Professor Longhair play, but really, I don't remember him playing and when I was a kid I wasn't even really sure who he was. Even though I could whistle "Big Chief", I had no idea who played it, I just knew that it was on the radio all the damn time during Carnival and it always felt really good to hear it.
While we were stuck in traffic, an ambulance behind us suddenly turned on its flashers and sirens, and all the cars scattered to the sides to make room for it. And when they drove past we could see the ambulance drivers cracking up laughing. They didn't have an emergency to get to. They were just tired of sitting in traffic.
(Turn on your speakers.)
2002, I think. The kids' first Mardi Gras. This was actually Lundi Gras, and we took the day off from parades to do some siteseeing, ride the streetcar, take the kids to the Quarter.
No, really. I mean, not Bourbon Street or anything, but we showed them the cathedral and Jackson Square and the French Market. We snuck in the back door of Felix's and bribed one of the busboys to just seat us at a table in the back because we didn't want to bring the kids around to the Bourbon Street side of the place where the line was. (Six months later I was back in town for my high school reunion and happened to be walking by and the same busboy was outside having a smoke break, and he remembered me.)
This picture wasn't the kids' first time getting beignets at Cafe du Monde, but it was the first one they were old enough to remember. And it was the first time they did it wearing their haul of long beads from the previous night's parade.
1993, our first Mardi Gras since our move back to Texas had put New Orleans within driving distance again.
The Mystick Krewe of Comus no longer rolled on Mardi Gras night. The oldest krewe in existence had decided just the previous year that they would no longer hold a parade, rather than give in to the city council's demand that they make their membership rolls public to prove that they complied with anti-discrimination laws and thus qualified for a parade permit.
From my point of view, it seemed like the rich white kids were taking their toys and going home, rather than sharing the playground with the rich black kids like other krewes had done.
So rather than ending on the mystical, sparkling, glorious note that the Comus parade usually provided, the celebrations on the last day of the Carnival season just slowly and drunkenly ground to a halt.
We walked out of the Quarter onto Canal Street that night, and there were just cars. It was depressing, so we grabbed a taxi to head Uptown, maybe get some food and then turn in early for a change.
I tried making conversation with the cab driver. "It's too bad there isn't any Comus parade any more. It feels weird not having a parade tonight to close things out."
And the cabbie, misunderstanding my meaning, responded, "Yeah, those goddamn niggers on the city council fucked up everything for everybody."
And I lost it.
Those of you who remember my drinking days have probably seen me in drunken rant mode. It was like that, only I'd been drinking since before Zulu that morning, I had spent the entire weekend trying to convince Gina that not everything that she saw in New Orleans that looked like racism really was racism, and this dumb cracker-ass cabbie had fucked up all my hard work, and I was pissed.
He got a nonstop earful, a stream-of-consciousness expletive-laced drunken rant all the way from Canal Street to Audubon Park, weaving in Malcolm X and the Klan and Stephen Biko and George Bush and Hitler and probably fucking James Brown and Elvis and the Last Poets, and by the time he finished running red lights to get to our destination and get rid of us I think I had ended up somewhere around the potato famine and Bloody Sunday and wasn't-it-a-fucking-shame-what-the-IRA-did-to-Michael-Collins, and I was still ranting when I paid him and didn't tip him and slammed the door and he called me a fucking asshole and peeled off down St. Charles, probably so he could fuck off back to Harvey and beat his wife and kids.
I vaguely remember asking Gina, "Too much?"
And she said, "No, you did good. He was a jerk."
The DYK party at the Saturn Bar was a smashing success. Well over a hundred people were there, we sold a bunch of books, raised several hundred dollars for Rebuilding Together just from bar donations, and everybody had a great time. All of the people associated with this project are brilliant and charming and sincere and I feel lucky to be a part of it.
I've got a few pictures over in my Flickr page if you're curious about what these folks look like.
On the way out, I talked to the new owner of the Saturn Bar, the nephew of original owner O'Neil Broyard. He says he won't be open in time for Mardi Gras, unfortunately, due to delays in getting licenses, but definitely will up and running by Jazz Fest. And if the bar takes off and does well, he's thinking of giving up his booming flooring business. Says it's going to be an adventure, for sure.
Lots of people are rethinking what they want to do with their lives since Katrina. And he's right, it's going to be a hell of an adventure for all of us.
My copy of Do You Know What It Means arrived the other day, and I devoured it almost immediately. It's really an elegant little thing, beautifully designed, and the stories are fantastic.
I've already had to do a private reading for family and friends (they humor me so), and had to autograph a copy for Jen the lovely apartment manager when we live now.
This past Sunday the Times-Picayune ran a review of the book that ran over half a news page, with pictures and quotes and banner headlines and everything. You can read it online. It's all pretty much glowing praise, closing with:
"Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" not only captures the valued and unique facets of our culture; it provides a kind of emotional prism, ways of looking at this time of love and rage, fear and anger, despair and fierce -- and I mean fierce -- hope. So, as C.W. Cannon writes in his "New Orleans Manifesto," "See you on the streets."
They mentioned my story. They even mentioned my recipe.
That review right there is all I really need. If the locals get it, if they read it and give it their stamp of approval, then that means we did something good. Everything else is just gravy.
This Thursday, February 16, from 6-9PM, we'll be having a launch party at the reborn Saturn Bar, 3067 St. Claude Avenue in the Ninth Ward. There'll be readings and cooking from the recipe chapter. Admission is free. Gambit Weekly plugged it as one of their "Best Bets" in their events listings (with another glowing mini-review). So if you're in town, come on out and say hi.
We'll also be doing a book signing during the AWP Conference in Austin, March 8-11. Not sure the exact time, but when I find out details I'll let you know.
Finally, there is a reading at the Baton Rouge Barnes & Noble on Sunday, April 2. I'm hoping to be able to make that one as well, but certainly most of the other Louisiana-based authors will be there.
So much time, so little to do...
I don't care how many college student hotties live here...electric stoves suck ass.
"It's a rather lurid cover, I mean...it's, it's like naked women, and he's tied down to this table, and he's got these whips and they're all...semi-nude. Knockin' on 'im and it's like much worse..."
"What's the point?"
"Well the point is it's much worse than 'Smell the Glove'...he releases that he's number three"
"Because he's the victim. Their objections were that she was the victim. You see?"
"That's alright, if the singer's the victim, it's different. It's not sexist."
"He did a twist on it. A twist and it s-"
"He did, he did. He turned it around."
"We shoulda thought of that...."
"We were so close...."
"I mean if we had all you guys tied up, that probably woulda been fine."
"It's such a fine line between stupid and...and clever."
A couple of years ago on orkut, there was a big argument raging about body sushi...whether or not it was inherently sexist and degrading. Naturally, I was arguing strongly on the side of "sexy, if done with consent and respect". The anti-sex, anti-porn brigade was taking up the other side.
As is normally the case with these kinds of discussions, eventually I got bored with arguing and started making fun of the argument. This time in the form of pictures, which my wife took, and which I posted to the "Hot or Not" forum with a link back from the sushi discussion.
The effect was stunning. All discussion in the sushi forum instantly stopped dead. While in the Hot or Not forum, the responses ranged from "Oh my fucking god", to "Gross!", to "Gluuuuuh", to "You're supposed to eat that off a beautiful Asian model, not some guy's hairy back".
Which was kind of ironic, when you think about it. When a women does this, the discussion is about whether she is being objectified as a woman, being disrespected as a human being. When a man does it, the comments are only about whether or not he's sexy, or fat, or hairy, or gross...thus completely objectifying and disrespecting the man without regard for his feelings or his intent.
Anyway, these aren't current. These days I'm about 25 pounds lighter with about 15 hours worth of additional ink.
And yeah, we ate the sushi. The wife figured she'd licked worse things than my back, and the boy is such a sushi-hound he'd eat sushi if he found it lying in the middle of the road on the way to school.
Happy Half-Nekkid Thursday.
When I was in 4th grade, I fell in love with this girl named Janet Brown. She pretty much hated me (at least that's what she told me), and I was painfully shy so mostly I pined for her from afar.
In 5th and 6th grade we had to ride the bus to school (desegregation busing, I think) and every afternoon when my bus dropped me off I would run home and jump on my bike and race over to her neighborhood hoping that I could just sort of casually happen to be riding by while she was walking home from her stop. But I only ever made it over there in time once or twice.
We ended up going to different high schools, me to the Franklin magnet school on the East Bank, her to O. Perry Walker on the West Bank, so I didn't really see much of her after that.
Senior year of high school, I went with some friends to watch Bacchus near Lee Circle. For some reason that area was always a parade-watching hangout for West Bank teenagers, mostly I think because it was right next to the Camp Street off-ramp from the bridge. I've done a lot of parade watching there, a lot of underage drinking, and a lot of standing in line for the men's room at that bar on the corner of St. Charles (which I think isn't there any more).
Anyway, Lee Circle is always a zoo, packed twenty-people deep, so imagine my surprise when I turn around, and there right smack behind me, up on her boyfriend's shoulders, is Janet. As beautiful as ever. And she saw me, and she waved and said "Hi, Raymond!" and gave me the sweetest, loveliest, most sincere smile ever.
I think a little later, we both caught the same strand of beads, and I let go of my end and let her have them, and she smiled at me again.
And that was it. I never saw her again. I went to college, and eventually just moved away, and I don't know where she ended up. But that was enough. Nine years of being completely smitten, and she finally smiled at me, at Mardi Gras.
Before Sunday, the last time my name showed up in the Times-Picayune was in 1982 when they listed all the local National Merit Scholarship winners.
But there it is again this past Sunday.
The moving and packing and moving some more, it's endless. My delicate wussy desk-job hands are raw and chapped and scarred, my legs are noodles, my back and shoulders are tired (but aren't feeling permanently damaged).
And my brain today is only capable of a blog meme. What the hell, I was tagged.
Four jobs I've had
1. Software engineer (at eight different companies...yeah, by now I'm kind of over it.)
2. Bartender (student pub, meaning no cocktails and no fucking tips.)
3. Oven geek at a pizza chain.
4. Mardi Gras float grunt.
Four movies I can watch over and over
1. The Godfather (I & II, not III). "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
2. American Beauty. "Lose it? I didn't lose it. It's not like, "Whoops! Where'd my job go?" I QUIT. Someone pass me the asparagus. "
3. Casablanca. "Well there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade. "
4. Bladerunner. "I've done...questionable things."
Four places I have lived
2. San Francisco
4. New Orleans
Four TV shows I love
1. Daily Show
2. Colbert Report
3. Any show that has a weather forecast
4. The Sopranos
Four places I've vacationed
1. New York
Four of my favorite dishes
2. All you can eat steamed lobster with all you can eat melted butter.
3. Raw oysters
4. Crawfish etouffee
Four places I would rather be right now
1. In New Orleans volunteering for some non-profit that rebuilds homes. Or restaurants.
2. Riding the Haunted Mansion at Disney World
4. On the beach on a tiny Caribbean island off the regular tourist maps where all the locals speak either French or some kind of patois but know at least enough English that we can have long talks about nothing in particular while I make lazy doodles in my brain about that novel I want to write someday. I'm thinking Bequia. Who's with me?
And no, I'm not gonna tag anybody. I'm not in the mood to find out which people don't actually pay attention to me.
Most of my parade watching as a kid was at the Algiers parades. Alla, Choctaw, and Cleopatra were the real high points of the season for me. When you're little, they're great because you don't need a ladder, the crowds aren't as big as the Uptown parades so you can run loose, scoot around between people and stay low to the ground to get doubloons.
I remember one year when I was probably 10 years old, my grandparents came down from Boston for their first Mardi Gras. We explained to them about how you don't ever reach down to pick up a throw off the ground, you have to step on it first to mark it as yours. Still, the first time we got showered in doubloons I think they were a little surprised the way all the people automatically flocked like crazed seagulls around the sound of coins tinkling on the cement.
My grandfather Tony (actually my grandmother's second husband) was a sweet old Italian guy raised in the North End of Boston. And I remember one time a float rider tossed a huge handful of doubloons right in front of us. The crowd scrambled, stepping on anything shiny, anything that moved, the kids all crawling around reaching the stuff that the grownups couldn't see. And when it had calmed down a little, I heard Tony saying, "Raymond! Raymond! Come here a sec!"
I got close and he looked around to make sure nobody was listening, and he leaned over to me and whispered, "I think...I got one. Let me lift my shoe and you get it out before anybody sees." So he lifted his shoe, and I fetched him out a gold Choctaw doubloon.
I remember him turning it over and over in his hand with a big goofy grin on his face, saying, "For crying out loud. Will you look at that? For crying out loud...."
Update: Chuck has some good rebuttal here. (Thanks Polimom.) I might think about taking this post down if anything else develops (or if I can get onto Tom Fitzmorris's forums, which seem to be broken right now). Like I've said previously, before Katrina I always had a soft spot for Emeril, except for his Food TV persona, and lord knows there are enough real enemies of New Orleans right now that we don't need to invent new ones.
Here's what Emeril has to say about the rebuilding in New Orleans:
"The mayor's a clunk. The governor is also a clunk. They don't know their (nether sections) from a hole in the ground. All my three restaurants got hit. I've reopened Emeril's, but only a few locals come. There's no tourists. No visitors. No spenders. No money. No future. No people. It's lost. It'll never come back."
And here's what Chris Rose has to say about Emeril:
Emeril has recently reopened two, Emeril's and Nola. One other, Delmonico, he has not. At Thanksgiving, it seemed as though just about everyone from Canal Street to the Jefferson Parish line had managed to reopen their restaurants, but the guy with the deepest pockets and most resources and the highest profile couldn't.
And why are all those other restaurants, almost without exception, packed every night?
One reason is because their owners didn't piss off the whole town by taking a pass on the crisis and laying off everyone and ghosting when times got tough around here.
We're standing by those who stood by us, and the rest can just sit outside like an old refrigerator...
We moved out of the house today. We decided that moving out to fix it up and sell it empty was the way to go, so we've got the whole family and the pets crammed into a very nice 2-bedroom apartment over by Central Market.
I'll never sleep in the old house again. And I'm really going to miss it.
When we moved here, Cassidy had just finished kindergarten, and Liam was only three. I was still giddy from the tech bubble IPO rollercoaster. We could walk to the Crown and Anchor. Ten minutes to downtown by bus. Surrounded by Democrat neighbors.
I suppose I should be really sad right now, but I've been too busy today and I'm too exhausted right now. Tomorrow when I go to transfer the kids height measurements marks from the corner wall to a little roll of paper tape, it'll hit me.
This morning when I went out to take the picture of the house, the first thing I saw was a cardinal. Actually, a pair of cardinals; a male and a female. I've written before about my grandmother and cardinals, and about how cardinals have a way of always showing up right around important inflection points in my life.
I'm going to take this as a good sign. As sad as it is leaving behind all these memories (and leaving behind that badass kitchen), it's going to be better wherever we end up. 2006 seems like it's going to be a year of adventures.
And we're already packed.
My kids' first Mardi Gras was in 2002, and they thought it was better than Disney World.
I remember late on Bacchus night, standing on the back of a kid ladder while Cassidy, who was almost 8, sat in the box on top. It was getting cold and her hands were starting to sting, but she didn't want to get down. In the Uptown neighborhoods, the streets are lined with kid ladders, and the float riders make it a point to throw lots of stuff to all the little ones.
The problem is that in recent years, the fashion in beads has tended towards longer and longer strands, with bigger and bigger beads, so they're way heavier than the ones we caught when I was a kid. And the ladders are usually fairly far back from the floats for crowd safety reasons, so the riders really have to fling these things hard.
So we're up on the ladder, it's cold, it's way past bedtime, it's our third parade of the day, and every time a float goes by, Cassidy puts up her hands and yells, "Heeeeeeeeey!" and the beads come flying in like some ancient bola, and I have to stay on the back of the ladder to keep it stable but lean out in front of her to try to get a hand on the incoming weaponry before she loses a tooth. I was pretty good at catching the beads and putting them into her hand all in one motion so that she thought she caught them herself, but every once in a while one would whip past and sting her cold hands or wrap around and whack her on the ear.
And she'd cry, and I'd say, "OK, Cass, it's late, why don't we go in, and we'll see more parades tomorrow", and she'd wipe away her tears and fake a smile and plead, "Just one more float". And I'd pretend to grudgingly relent, but inside I was thinking, "Yeah! That's my girl!"
So we stayed. Until the very last float.
And we caught a ton of stuff.
[I'm hoping to post a few more of these random Mardi Gras memories over the next few weeks. Part of me is very excited about the upcoming season, and part of me is filled with dread over how it might turn out. I guess I feel like getting some of these memories out beforehand helps me innoculate myself a little against the sadness that is sure to show through the cracks of the festivities this year.]
Gov. Kathleen Blanco warned this week that the state would not support future offshore lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico unless Louisiana gets a share of the federal royalties generated by oil production there.