Category Archives: Diary

Melancholia

I woke up feeling sad this morning. We’ve had a cold snap and along with a 40 degree temperature drop-off in a 24 hour period, it’s been gloomy and rainy. It was pitch black when I first stirred and the space heater was purring in the bedroom. I didn’t feel like getting out of bed but I did albeit slowly and hesitantly.

The word depressed is over used in the 21st Century. I’m not depressed: I’m melancholy, which is a word that needs reviving. It’s on my list, just like a kiss is on Daryl Hall’s list. I have not, however, seen the Lars von Trier film of that name. Not sure that I want to trier out at this point in time…

In addition to nothing but gray skies (to paraphrase Irving Berlin) another reason for my melancholia is the departure from the arena of John Conyers and Al Franken. I understand that the venerable Civil Rights icon had to go but I’m still sad about it. Social media is full of people who know nothing about Conyers and his lifetime of achievement in and out of Congress. In fact, one person I follow on twitter blasted Conyers and in her next missive celebrated Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks was a member of John Conyers’ staff from 1964 to 1988. Conyers, like most of us, is complicated and his life should be placed in context. Some nuance is required.

I’m also sad that Al Franken has announced his plans to resign his Senate seat “in the coming weeks.” He’s made me laugh for many years and has been a good and thoughtful Senator. Once some thirty of his Democratic colleagues called for his resignation, it was time for him to go. But I’m still sad about it because his offenses are loutish at worst, and not comparable to the Weinsteins, Trumps, and Moores of the world. A slap on the butt is not the same thing as dating underage girls. Some nuance is required.

We need to devise a spectrum of misbehavior when dealing with our allies in particular. There are obviously things that require banishment and others admonishment. I’m not sure how to come up with such a spectrum but we need to differentiate the clumsy pass from sexual assault and worse. The latter term is maddeningly vague: simple assault is any unwanted touching by another person. It’s being used as an all-encompassing term when some specificity and nuance is required.

I hope that Senate Democrats are acting strategically, not tactically. But they have a long track record of focusing on short-term goals instead of the big picture. Like Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, I’m concerned about the effects of unilateral disarmament:

Who knows why the GOP has lost its last ethical moorings? But this is a perfectly transactional moment in governance, and what we get in exchange for being good and moral right now is nothing. I’m not saying we should hit pause on #MeToo, or direct any less fury at sexual predators in their every manifestation. But we should understand that while we know that our good faith and reasonableness are virtues, we currently live in a world where it’s also a handicap.

Unilateral disarmament is tantamount to arming the other side. That may be a trade worth making in some cases. But it’s worth at least acknowledging that this is the current calculus. It’s no longer that when they go low, we get to go high. They are  permanently living underground. How long can we afford to keep living in the clouds?

I’ve been reluctant to weigh in on this topic because I’m a middle-aged white dude whose ethnic culture is a touchy-feely one. Once again, I believe some nuance is required whereas the public discussion has been all black and white without much attention to the gray areas. We have to figure it out before it comes back to bite us in the ass. If we’re going to discard valued allies there had better be a damn good reason for it, especially when Donald Trump remains in office.

All of this is reason for melancholia. And the sun is still obscured by clouds. The last word goes to  a sad song from The Band songbook complete with the appropriate line “and the sun don’t shine any more…”

 

Weird Thanks From New Orleans

Athenae offered up wholesome thanks to everyone who supported the First Draft fundraiser. I’m offering up weird thanks: a few pictures from Saturday’s massive Krewe du Vieux party/fundraiser, the Brew Doo or is that Dieux? Beats the hell outta me, y’all.

The Krewe of Spank has our own deeply twisted fundraising game: the Dirty Weiner Drop. Players climb a ladder and attempt to drop a dirty weiner on the target. In past years, Bobby Jindal and David Vitter have been among our targets. We like to keep it local, y’all. That’s why this year’s target was celebrity perv, Chef John Besh:

We have “crappy prizes” for the weiner winners. This year’s prizes were actually pretty good. But nobody wanted to take this Devil Doll donated by my little buddy Ryan:

Our den neighbors, the Krewe of Drips and Discharges, won the night with their Voodoo Trump Dick Doll. Dr. A bought one but I’m too lazy to photograph it so I stole this picture from my friend Brother Bob Bolin:

Btw, Brother Bob is no relation to former Giants pitcher, Bob Bolin; not that anyone but Doc or I give a shit about such things.

Thanks again for your support and for pitching in and making our fundraiser a success. The last word goes to (who else?) Sly & the Family Stone:

Saturday Odds & Sods: Come Rain Or Come Shine

Amerind Landscape by Roy Lichtenstein.

I started this zany, madcap weekly feature in the spring of 2015. I have a lot of fun putting it together and riffing on the segments every week. It’s become a cult favorite among our readers. If you enjoy Saturday Odds & Sods, please donate to First Draft to help keep the doors to this virtual gin joint open. If you don’t like gin, pick your poison as long as it’s not vodka…

That concludes this brief commercial announcement. It’s time to return to our regularly scheduled programming.

It’s full-tilt fall in New Orleans after summer lingered far too long for my taste. We’ve had highs in the low to mid 70s for most of the last week. That means that many New Orleanians are OB’d: Over-bundled. People are so desperate to wear last year’s Christmas sweater that they’re overdressing for these mild days. So it goes.

The big news hyper-locally is that pesky, annoying twerp Seth Bloom has finally conceded in the District B city council race. The satirist in me will miss mocking him, but the citizen in me is relieved that his steady, experienced opponent, Jay Banks will represent me on the council. I will miss having Seth to kick around so I might as well re-post this:

Arrividerci, Sethy. You can go back to annoying people in your daily life. Don’t let the door hit you on the ass as you exit the local political stage. If you re-enter the arena, the feud will resume. Who among us doesn’t like a feud fight?

A brief return to the weather. It was the driest November in recorded history in New Orleans. How’s that for a lead-in to the theme song? Come Rain or Come Shine is the third Arlen-Mercer song I’ve used as the Odds & Sods theme song. I guess I like Harold and Johnny: the nice Jewish boy from Buffalo and the Southern scamp from Savannah. The song was written for the movie musical St. Louis Woman and first published in 1946.

We have three versions for your enjoyment. First, a swinging version arranged by Billy May for Ella Fitzgerald’s Harold Arlen Songbook, which is a seriously underrated entry in the songbook series. Next up, Lady Day with a mid-tempo version from her Music For Torching album. Finally, a 21st Century version from Eric Clapton and BB King.

Now that we’ve risen and shined or something like that, let’s jump to the break.

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Who’s Going To (Fund) Drive You Home Tonight?

In  September of 2009, I got an email from Athenae asking if I’d like to write for First Draft. I figured Scout recommended me so I agreed with alacrity. For better or worse, I’m still here but, more importantly, so are our core readers. Y’all must not have anything better to do with your free time.

On a more serious note, I’ve loved my time at First Draft and they’ll have to drag me kicking and screaming out of here. In short, I’m here to stay. I think we have a terrific combination of writers right now. We don’t always agree but we respect one another’s writing and the intelligence of our audience. I may pun relentlessly but I never talk down to our readers.

Not long ago, a friend of mine dubbed me the king of regular features. He’s right and I know that most of you like them too. (I say most because there’s bound to be a heretic in the crowd.) So, if you like Album Cover Art Wednesday, Pulp Fiction Thursday, Friday Catblogging, Saturday Odds & Sods, and/or the Sunday Morning Video, please click here to learn more about donating.  I don’t want to have to go into traffic to raise money but I’ll do it if I have to. First Draft means that much to me.

Ever since I saw Athenae’s fundraising drive post atop the blog, I’ve had the Cars classic Drive in my head:

Since this post is all about the fundraising drive, let’s pass the First Draft collection plate and give you another chance to DONATE.

The Ugliest American

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Donald Trump is the worst person ever to live in the White House. He proved it again on Monday with the whole Navajo code talkers-Pocahontas mishigas. It’s not the worst thing he’s said since becoming president* but it’s the perfect distillation of who he is. It’s the context that makes this uniquely awful.

Asterisk-free presidents love ceremonial occasions where they act as head of state. It’s a chance for them to soar above controversy and conflict. The act of appearing non-political benefits them politically. If we had the British system of government, I would never have wanted Ronald Reagan as prime minister but he would have made a helluva constitutional monarch. Nobody did ceremonial occasions as well as the man who played the Gipper. It was one reason for the personal popularity that saw him through the ups and downs of his presidency.

Barack Obama was the second best American head of state of my lifetime. He loved mingling with non-politicians from celebrities to the hoi polloi. Some of the most memorable moments at the Obama White House involved the president interacting with children. Kids love the man, which should have led to his political opponents saying: I don’t like his policies but he’s a helluva nice guy. He was the first president of color so that didn’t happen. Instead, they posted pictures of him as a witch doctor on social media. We all know who those creeps voted for.

The White House ceremony honoring the Navajo code talkers was the perfect chance to act presidential. One might even call it a no-brainer; unfortunately, this president* is a no-brainer himself so he blew it by attacking a political opponent. If he had honored the code talkers for their grit, wit, and valor, the ceremony would have been about them. Instead, he made it about him by saying this:

“I just want to thank you because you’re very, very special people,” Trump said to the group. “You were here long before any of us were here — although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas. But you know what? I like you. Because you are special.”

The tone is, of course, patronizing. He addressed these elderly veterans as if they were simple-minded fools. I guess the Insult Comedian was projecting again.

Context is everything. This was not an occasion to bring one’s political vendettas to the table, er, podium. Calling Senator/Professor Warren Pocahontas is, in this context, a racist slur as well as typically mean-spirited. Trump’s apologists denied it was a racist insult but the best response came in this  statement from John Norwood of the Alliance of Colonial Era Tribes:

There are some who ignored the response from Indian Country and defended Mr. Trump, both then and now, with the excuse that the name “Pocahontas” is not a racial slur. When honorably referencing the actual historic figure, this indeed is true. However, the name becomes a derogatory racial reference when used as an insult. American Indian names, whether they be historic or contemporary, are not meant to be used as insults.  To do so is to reduce them to racial slurs.

There are many in Indian Country who have given various perspectives on Senator Warren’s claim of an American Indian ancestor. There are many non-tribal Americans who make similar claims of indigenous ancestry. Sometimes it is a matter of documented genealogical fact and sometimes it’s merely a matter of family lore. Such private claims, when not used to claim the legal protections or benefits of the citizens of American Indian Nations, cause little or no harm to tribal people. However, degrading an American Indian name or historic tribal reference by using it as an insult is making a racial slur, whether knowingly or unknowingly. The right to determine if it is a slur belongs to those who have been insulted, not the one who made the insult.

I suspect that Pocahontas is the only name of a Native American female that Trump knows. It has lodged in that pea-brain of his as the perfect way to insult Professor/Senator Warren. It is more revealing of Trump’s nature than anything else: he’s a bully and a coward but we already knew that. As his own secretary of state said, “He’s a fucking moron.”

I was also struck by the staging of the event. The podium was placed in front of a portrait of General/President Andrew Jackson who is well-known for his extreme animus against Native peoples. It’s as if the Tuskegee airmen were honored in front of a portrait of John C. Calhoun. This may well be one of the few Trump flaps that was premeditated as a way to pander to the worst of the MAGA maggots out there. The soundbite sounded written, which means it could be the handiwork of Stephen Miller.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ response to this mess was to defend her president* and lie like a poorly woven rug. She may have gone to the loom once too often as it were. This tweet from a certain internet smart ass sums it up rather well:

The White House is the people’s house. That’s why we call sitting presidents the Current Occupant. It’s not just a place for those who voted for the Current Occupant, it’s a place where *all* Americans should feel welcome regardless of their politics. Hospitality is almost sacred in the Greek community so I was raised to treat my guests like they’re honorees at a ceremonial occasion. I’ve wanted to throw people out of my house but have never done so. I do, however, want to throw Trump and his tacky crew out of the people’s house.

I originally planned to call this post That’s Why I Call Him The Insult Comedian hence the meme. I woke up this morning thinking of the book The Ugly American hence the final title. Being an Ugly American should be a “bad thing” as the Insult Comedian would surely interject at this point. It was fashionable during the first Bush-Cheney term but began to slowly fade after Rummy was shitcanned. Ugliness is back in vogue and it’s being whipped up in what Mencken called the “sahara of the bozart” and elsewhere in the boondocks by the Ugliest American of all. The barbarians are not at the gate, they’re in the White House.

Saturday Odds & Sods: Let The Night Fall

Early Sunday Morning by Edward Hopper.

It’s hard to write a full-blown Odds & Sods post during a holiday week so I’m not going to try. I did, however, write about the late New Orleans election and overshare about my past this week so there’s that.

It’s been chilly in these parts lately. I even broke down and turned on the central heat. For some reason, the vents weren’t as dusty as in past years, which means the air inside the house wasn’t as smoky as usual. In the past, I was worried that the original Smokey Bear would show up and harsh my buzz.

I got a free ticket for last Sunday’s Saints home game. One of Dr. A’s favorite colleagues has had end zone seats since Bum Phillips was head coach. The seats are in the first row and the view is spectacular when they’re coming at you. It was a crazy game with an insane comeback leading to victory in OT. I’m taking credit for the win: the Saints are 4-0 when I sit in Section 101. We also got to see this up close and personal:

I associate the music of the Band with Thanksgiving so this week’s theme song comes from Islands, the final studio album recorded by the Robertson-Helm-Danko-Manuel-Hudson lineup. Let The Night Fall is a sleeper in the Band’s catalog with a beautiful lead vocal by Richard Manuel and stirring harmonies by the rest of the group.

I’m aware that the featured image is a morning scene and doesn’t match the theme song. Since when was I a matchy-matchy guy? I did, however, like the original version of The Match Game. Alec Baldwin is no Gene Rayburn, natch.

I have a few more things to share. The first involves the death of Charlie Manson.

Tweet Of The Week: George Herriman biographer and parade route book signer Michael Tisserand won NOLA twitter the other day:

Tabloid Headlines Of The Week: The two daily tabloids in New York City usually have wildly different viewpoints. The Daily News leans left and the Post is owned by Rupert Murdoch. Say no more. This week the two papers came together in an expression of disgust after the Insult Comedian re-endorsed Judge Pervert:

Saturday GIF Horse: Who among us will ever forget the WKRP turkey drop?

Now that we’ve seen Mr. Carlson melt down, it’s time to finish up with some holiday music, Adrastos style.

Saturday Classic: Stage Fright was regarded as a disappointment upon its 1970 release. Those people must have smoked some really strong weed because it’s a wicked awesome album featuring some of the Band’s finest songs.

That’s all for this week. I thought I should recycle last week’s bat meme, which is one of my all-time faves. Tony, Phil, and Mike say toodle-pip:

Now Be Thankful

Adrastos’ late mother in her Chicago heyday.

The holidays are hard for me. I like Thanksgiving’s gluttonous aspects but it’s still hard for me. It’s when I think of my mother who died 16 yeas ago. My mother was the sort of person who took in strays for the holidays. We’d have up to 20 people around the table; some of whom were friends of friends of friends. Mom believed that everyone should have a home cooked meal on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Many of our guests for Christmas dinner were, in fact, Jewish. No Chinese food for her Jewish friends.

Mom spent the day before Thanksgiving and the day of cooking away. She was a perfectionist when it came to entertaining: no holiday buffets for her. We had to gather around the table and it had to have a starched white table-cloth. There were no paper plates or people eating whilst milling about: fine china, silver, and crystal were mandatory for the holidays. She was informal the rest of the year but holidays were state occasions when, as my father was wont to say, we put on the dog.

When I got old enough, one of my jobs was to set the table. I made sure that Mom had final approval: she wanted everything just so. I recall feeling triumphant one Thanksgiving: I’d set the table perfectly on the first try. There were usually changes but not that year. I was inordinately proud of myself but she admonished me not to get too cocky. It was the Midwestern Norwegian Lutheran in her coming out. She left the bragging to my dad. It’s what Greeks do, y’all. Not me, of course, other Greeks…

I also helped make a fresh cranberry/orange sauce from the recipe on the back of the Ocean Spray bag. We had a venerable hand-cranked grinder that had to be attached to the kitchen table. We spread newspaper around it because it was messy. There was a bucket at my feet to catch the bitter red cranberry drippings. Mom was not sentimental about her kitchen gadgets: she bought a food processor the first time she saw one. I was away from home and past the cranberry grinding, table setting phase of my life by then.

My favorite part of the traditional turkey dinner was the stuffing. I looked forward to it every year. It was loaded with herbs as well as pine nuts and chestnuts. We didn’t exactly roast them on an open fire but I helped shell the bastards. They were uncooperative, downright surly, actually. When I was really young, I was convinced they were alive but my no-nonsense mother disabused me of that notion. She informed me that I’d seen the Wizard of Oz one too many times. As usual, she was right.

Unfortunately, there was often conflict at the dinner table during the holidays. I’m the youngest of three by thirteen years. My sisters were off living life and I was raised more like an only child. I admit to liking it that way. My oldest sister thrives on drama and conflict. There was always one big row per holiday, which drove my poor mother crazy. She was always the woman in the middle. When she died, so did our nuclear family for reasons too complex to go into. The good news is that holidays are more tranquil but I miss the glue of my family.

Thanksgivings in Louisiana had a familiar feel when I moved here. It’s all about the food, y’all.  I married into an old Louisiana family and learned some new traditions. What’s not to love about oyster dressing? I still missed my mom’s stuffing. It was a part of me.

My first wife was a petite, feisty, beautiful, and brilliant spitfire. She took the idea of being a redhead seriously: she had a temper to match my own. Her mother took me in as one of her own but made it clear that when we moved to Baton Rouge, we’d have to tie the knot. Unfortunately, my wife’s family tree was a witches brew of genetic maladies and she died of cancer during what should have been her final year at LSU Law School.

She passed away a week before Thanksgiving so the holidays were rough sledding for me until I met and fell in love with the tall, feisty, beautiful, and brilliant woman known to you as Dr. A. The good news is that Dr. A and my mother-in-law instantly hit it off and she was admitted to the Louisiana family post-haste. It was Dr. A who started calling our Louisiana family the outlaws and the nickname stuck.

We spent many holidays with the outlaws in Red Stick over the years and are about to do so again. My mother-in-law has left the comfortable house that she shared with her late second husband Eddie to whom I pay tribute every Memorial Day. She’s 96 now and lives at St. James Place, which is a somewhat posh retirement community. We’ll be eating in the dining room but it’s still pretty darn homey: we’ve gotten to know many of the residents over the last decade. I am lucky that Dr. A and mother-in-law #1  get on so well. She is also a howling liberal (to use her own phrase) so there will be no Trump-driven conflict.

In recent years, we’ve expanded our Thanksgiving plans exponentially to what amounts to a triple-header. We have lunch in Red Stick, then it’s back to New Orleans for dinner with our friends Jennifer and Will and finally, unless we’re too wiped out, a nightcap with our de facto family: Cait, Dave, and the child army. It’s a sticky end to a long day and now I’m committed. I hope Dr. A won’t be too vexed with me but I fear the wrath of Cait as well as retribution from the child army of darkness.

I sat down to write a brief, nostalgic food-centric post and ended up explaining my tangled family tree. So it goes. I never hide the fact that I was a widower at a young age but I only tell people when asked how I came to the Gret Stet of Louisiana from California. It’s a long and painful story but I’m fortunate to have married well twice.

Family by choice are the best family of all but I still miss my mother. She could dance on my last nerve, but I miss our long conversations and teasing her about her crazy dog Brutus.

Mothers are powerful. They have the ability to make you revert to childhood. I know that many of your mothers get on your nerves. It’s what they do. Shrug it off and remember that they won’t always be with you. Around the holidays is when I miss my mom and Dr. A misses her charming, beautiful, and eccentric mother. Mother-in-law #2, however, was not a good cook and expected us to consume the radishes she’d lovingly cut. I hate radishes but her company was the best.

Happy Thanksgiving.

The last word goes to Fairport Convention with the gorgeous Richard Thompson song that gave this post its title:

Here’s another one from the songwriter. It’s a day for gluttony, after all:

Pulp Fiction Thursday will return next week.

New Orleans Politics: The Bonfire Of The Vanities

New Orleans made a helluva lot of history during the 2017 election cycle. Most notably, we elected our first woman mayor, LaToya Cantrell who won in a landslide over her hapless opponent, Desiree Charbonnet. We also elected our first Hispanic councilmember in the primary, Helena Moreno, and our first Asian councilmember, Cyndi Nguyen on Saturday. I’ll talk about the council races and explain the post title in a bit. All good things come to those who wait or some such shit. Despite stealing Tom Wolfe’s book title, I have no plan to wear a white suit any time soon. It’s fall, y’all.

Cantrell is not well known outside Orleans Parish, so this oopsie was posted by the AP  after the race was called:

That is, of course, a picture of her vanquished foe, Desiree Charbonnet. Oopsie redux.

I got a few things right about the election. I predicted a Cantrell landslide, which hardly makes me the second coming of Karnak:

Did anyone know that Karnak was into Jeopardy? I wonder what the answer was and how he predicted my bloggerhood. We’ll never know. Inserted because I miss Johnny.

Back to shit I got right and wrong. I was wrong about Charbonnet not getting white conservative votes but right about how unimportant that would be. The Steve Scalise flyer hurt her in most of this deep blue city. Repeat after me: there are very few white conservative voters left in Orleans Parish. I was also right about the 2 council races on the ballot but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Other people have done some excellent analyses of the mayoral election so I don’t have to. I’d rather tell a few jokes:

Clancy DuBos on Da Winnas and Loozas.

Lamar White Jr. on the new paradigm in New Orleans politics.

Jeff Adelson on the Cantrell coalition and how it was built.

Back to me. Team Charbonnet ran a traditional top-down consultant driven campaign. They spent more money than Team Cantrell but not wisely: over $450K on consultants. Cantrell assembled the Obama coalition locally and ran a bottom-up campaign. In short, Cantrell out organized her well-heeled opponent. Perhaps the MSM will stop obsessing about fundraising in the future and take this song off their karaoke menus:

I was more engaged in the council races during the run-off. There was a major upset by the aforementioned Cyndi Nguyen in district E. The incumbent Jame Gray is, to be blunt, a crook. He was Dollar Bill Jefferson’s law partner back in the day and is one of the few Dollar Bill associates still active in politics.  Here’s why I call him a crook: Gray’s law license was suspended by the Louisiana Bar Association for misusing client funds and he’s currently under investigation for the same offense. That’s something the Saul Goodmans of the world do. I’m not shy about calling a shyster a shyster.

Nguyen is a community activist who ran a bottom-up campaign and defeated an African-American incumbent in a district that’s over 80% black. Gray didn’t deliver for the poorest district in the city and he’s out. It’s a Nguyen-Win situation, which is why she defeated her Pho with 59% of the vote. I promise to stop making puns on Vietnamese food but some Pho would be swell right now.  It’s a cold Monday in New Orleans, y’all. And, yes, I know it’s pronounced fuh. Just tryin’ to make trouble fuh ya after Cindi’s win. Somebody make me stop.

The race in which I was most engaged was district B where I live, natch. It was won by my candidate, Jay Banks, by a mere 133 votes. Banks will be the first Zulu King to serve on the council since the late Roy Glapion who was honored posthumously by the krewe. This is a Zulu heavy district y’all: our former councilman Jim Singleton was the Captain for many years. Enough Mardi Gras nostalgia.

I mentioned Jay Banks first so you wouldn’t think I was *just* opposed to his obnoxious opponent, Seth Bloom. I’ve written about Bloom here, there,and everywhere. Here’s how I described my run-in with Bloom on social media:

I had several run-ins with Bloom and his annoying supporters on twitter as well. It’s all over but the whining. Bloom has demanded a recount, which will take place tomorrow. It’s unlikely to succeed. A challenge against Kristin Palmer in district C went nowhere and she won by 22 fewer votes than Banks. I think those two should form the “landslide” caucus when they join the council.

I’m on the verge of letting the cat out of the bag and/or spilling the beans about the post title. Seth Bloom was the yard sign king in this election cycle. They were everywhere, especially the big ones with a vanity head shot of the candidate. My friend Ryne Hancock even asked Bloom to explain all the signs on abandoned buildings in Central City:

Central City is an overwhelmingly black neighborhood and Bloom was a terrible cross-over candidate. He got 9% of black votes whereas Jay Banks got 27% of white voters including this somewhat swarthy Greek-American.

It’s time for the big post title reveal:

FYI: Bonfires are a holiday tradition in the Gret Stet of Louisiana so all I was doing was urging the Bloomites  (Bloomers?) to get in the seasonal spirit.

I asked for help on the tweeter tube:

I got several submissions via direct message. The best one came from someone who wanted their name kept out of it:

I particularly like the eyebrows. I’m not sure if the submitter was the defacer but I sure hope so. The good news is that Seth Bloom will not be de face of my city council district.

A final campaign note. Last week’s malaka, Rob Maness aka Col. Mayonnaise, lost his legislative race. I was wrong about that one. It’s a pity. I thought it would be entertaining to have him throwing bombs in the lege. The guy who beat him is a bog standard conservative Republican so he’ll vote the Mayonnaise line but it won’t be half as fun.

The last word goes to Col. Mayonnaise. I wonder if he said it to his opponent?

Bulbs

Kick and I read books about gardening. We lived in a condo the first three and a half years of her life, but we read books about planting seeds, about training vines to twist and grow upwards, about roots reaching deep for water and branches arching overhead. When we moved to a house last August, I ordered bulbs from a catalog.

Blue hyacinths, because my grandmother loved them. Purple tulips for my mother. Crocuses, so we would know when winter was over by their green shoots pushing upward. Kick and I talked about them over breakfast, how we’d pick the flowers and put them in vases all over the house so it would smell like springtime.

When the package came in the mail, I looked at the label and discovered that what was delivered wasn’t what I’d ordered.

No blue hyacinths. No purple tulips. No crocuses.

Instead I had been sent a box of red, white and blue flowers called a “patriotic garden.” All sales are final, said the customer service rep. It was only $12, and the nights were getting colder.

I could send them back, but then I might not have anything to put in the ground.

The brilliant Brit Bennett wrote this recently, about the world we live in now: 

Last November on election night, I boarded a cross-country plane from my hometown, Los Angeles, to Boston. Up in the air, I disappeared inside two novels on my iPad, happy to be free of all distractions. That is my favorite thing about air travel: For a few hours, at least, you can exist outside of time.

When I landed, I turned on my phone and discovered that while I was floating through the sky, the country had entered a new reality. I rode to my hotel, stepped into my room, and called my mother. It was late in Massachusetts, maybe one in the morning. I felt childish for making the call, as if my mother could fix anything. But I was lonely and distraught, and besides, hadn’t she lived through worse times than this new presidency could possibly bring?

“I thought it would be better for you,” she said softly. I felt foolish for having thought the same. The street outside was dark and quiet. I stared out the window, realizing I had no idea where I was.

The house we moved into in August was built in 1934, renovated extensively last year — a new second floor, a total gut job on the inside. In the front and back yards, the flower beds are filled with stones and chunks of brick, pockets of sand and blobs of discarded cement. The builders took out the fireplace and left large limestone slabs where I imagined tomato plants and herb plots. We moved in too late for a summer garden or an early harvest, so bulbs would have to do.

The spade clinked against the rocks as I dug.

The frost was thick that morning and it had dissolved into a miserable cold rain. It was my only free day for the next five weeks, with daylight precious, so now or never. When the rain abated for half an hour, I dashed outside.

I put my hands into the soil. I pushed the bulbs down.

I am not good at hope, nor built for optimism, and the last year has not helped. The last two, really; a minor downward spiral started in 2015 with a friend breakup that was entirely my fault and continued with the unavoidable separations from a job I once loved and an organization to which I’d devoted more than 15 years of my life. One person I loved was dying, and a hero was dead. By the time Trump’s election came around I was deeply numb.

People keep asking me about things for next year, or even the year after, and I could not think: How to look that far ahead, when every day things seem to be getting worse? What fresh hell, we joke, but every single one of us knows that each fresh hell is one of our lives. Health care, media, war, violence, and overlaying it all the sense that none of our problems are solvable anymore.

I roll my eyes at my own despair: I am going to be fine. I am white, a citizen, living in a city, with a job and a spouse and a healthy child. The roof over my head is brand new and in no danger of caving in, whatever may be buried in the ground beneath my feet.

Still, planting seems like a reckless act. Waving a flag to the world: Look at this hole in the ground, look who thinks we’ll all be here in April.

I covered the bulbs with the soil, with the brick, with the rocks and sand, and patted down the earth. Not hyacinths, but red and white and purple-blue tulips. That’s what the package promised, anyway. I once ordered some flowers for my mother for her birthday, or maybe it was Mother’s Day. Purple ranunculus, beautiful in the photograph, but when the flowers came up they were reedy, orange and red, not what she expected at all.

Who knows what will come up in the spring?

A.

Saturday Odds & Sods: Land Of Confusion

From The Dictatorship Of Porfirio Diaz To The Revolution- The People In Arms by David Alfaro Siqueiros, 1957-1965.

It’s election day in New Orleans. We’re about to make history and elect our first woman mayor. I wish I were more excited about it but as I said Thursday, the campaign has been anything but elevating. I’m more engaged in my District City Council race, which pits Mr. Nice Guy (Jay Banks) against an entitled jerk. The race has gotten heated in the last week as the jerk (Seth Bloom, not Steve Martin) has gotten nervous that he’s going to lose. I sure hope he does. I’ve been feuding with him and his supporters online since they think it’s a good idea to fight with voters. Where they got that idea, I’ll never know. Schmucks.

In addition to being King Zulu 2016, another thing Jay Banks has going for him is the crucial child army endorsement:

Lagniappe, the Benevolent Dictator, the Gladowling.

With that much cuteness on his side how can he lose? They’re also his neighbors so Jay can harness the powers of the army of darkness at will. Btw, their mother nicknamed them that, not me. It fits: I’ve seen all of them in meltdown mode. If you live in District B, get out and vote for Jay Banks or they’re coming after you. It won’t be deadly, just loud and sticky.

A quick note on the featured image. It’s a section of a Siqueiros mural depicting the Mexican Revolution. In it, we see the dictator Porfirio Diaz who ruled the country for over 30 years. One of my guilty movie pleasures is the 1939 Warner Brothers “bio-pic” Juarez in which nice Jewish boys Paul Muni and John Garfield play Juarez and Diaz respectively. Oy, just oy. It’s a hoot but terrible history as you can see from the trailer:

This week’s theme song is a genuine rock classic. The video for Land Of Confusion is a mini-movie and one of the best of its kind. The use of the Spitting Image puppets is genius. The live version comes from a 2007 reunion tour which shows that Phil Collins has turned into his Spitting Image puppet.

Now that I’ve confused everyone, let’s jump to the break.

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Saturday Odds & Sods: Don’t Get Around Much Anymore

Orestes by Willem de Kooning.

It’s been a weird week in New Orleans. I know, this is a weird place so why is that surprising? It’s not but I had a deeply strange encounter with a City Council candidate who I do not plan to vote for. Here’s how I described it at Zuckerville:

Seth Bloom is the candidate I mentioned last week in this space.  One of his opponents said this about him:

Having the temperament to work with the rest of the councilmembers is of the utmost importance – nothing passes the City Council without a minimum of four votes. Seth Bloom has habitually displayed a lack of self-restraint, professionalism, respect, and sincerity as he has campaigned for another public office. I am convinced that Seth Bloom is volatile, hostile, and vindictive – the residents of District B deserve better. The City of New Orleans deserves better.

BURN.

The good news is that his run-off opponent, Jay Banks, is qualified, famous for being nice, and was King Zulu in 2016. How you like dem coconuts, Bloomy?

Speaking of the 2017 New Orleans run-off election, my latest column on the increasingly bat shit crazy mayor’s race is up at the Bayou Brief: An Uncanny Mess.

I’ve been feeling a bit anti-social of late. That’s one reason I selected Don’t Get Around Much Anymore as this week’s theme song, but mostly because it’s a fucking great song. It was written in 1940 as an instrumental by Duke Ellington. The original title was Never No Lament:

Bob Russell’s lyrics were added two years later. I’m glad they changed the title: Never No Lament doesn’t sound like a hit to me.

We have three versions for your listening pleasure. First, the Ink Spots’ mega-hit version.  Second, the Duke and Louis Armstrong from what many call their genius sessions. Immodest but true. Finally, my favorite version. It was arranged by Billy May for the great Nat King Cole.

There’s nothing quite as good as jazz Nat even though lush string pop Nate is pretty swell as well. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s jump to the break.

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Putting The Dope In Papadopoulos

The first time I wrote about my disgraced countryman, I gave y’all a pronounciation tutorial: DOUGH, NOT DOP. A reader comment improved this lesson in linguistics. Repeat after me: DOPE, NOT DOP. That’s right, Georgie puts the dope in Papadopoulos.

In case you’re wondering about the featured image, allow me to indulge in some self-quotation from the same post:

… the most popular mass market cookies in Greece during the dictatorship were made by the Papadopoulous bakery. Greeks who disliked the junta were prone to say in a loud voice “I don’t like Papadopoulous” before lowering their voice and whispering “biscota” aka biscuits aka cookies.

They’re still around and even sold on Amazon. I wonder if one can buy a used Greek dictator named George Papadopoulos there? Probably not, as far as I know Jeff Bezos isn’t a resurrection man who traffics in corpses. He’s no Boris Karloff, y’all:

Now that I’ve made an old horror movie reference, let’s return to the horrors of George Papadopoulos: Incompetent Con Man.

There’s a fabulous piece at TPM by Tierney Sneed about Georgie’s whereabouts during the 2016 campaign and the early days of the misadministration. Georgie flitted hither and yon. He was here, there, and everywhere but on the campaign trail. It’s unclear what he accomplished but he was a busy boy.

Georgie spent a good deal of time schmoozing Greek politicians and Greek-Americans. He told them what they wanted to hear: that he had Trump’s ear and that Cyrpus and other issues of Hellenic import were, uh, important to the Insult Comedian. In short, Georgie is a flim flam man whose main interest is power, not money. Now he has neither.

The Papadopoulos biscuit people bake a wide range of products. I think Georgie might be in need of these as he contemplates testifying and being cross-examined by defense lawyers:

Just remember, Georgie, if you lie on the witness stand, no cookie for you.

Saturday Odds & Sods: Positively 4th Street

Night View of the Brooklyn Bridge by Joseph Stella.

I learned how important my home internet connection is to me this week. It was not a shocker even if Halloween fell on Tuesday. We had a record number of trick or treaters including the cutest cop I’ve ever seen. She let Dr. A photograph him without breaking out the cuffs:

What an arresting image.

This will be a somewhat abbreviated Saturday post since I didn’t throw it together until Friday morning. It’s usually an involved, gradual, and carefully assembled process even if it appears slapdash to the casual observer. It’s slapstick, not slapdash.

I spent part of my week writing a Bayou Brief column on the increasingly bat shit crazy New Orleans mayoral contest. I didn’t submit it until Thursday because I had to hyperlink the living shit out of it. I’ll link to it here when it goes live. Speaking of the run-off election, there was an astonishing takedown in the District B city council run-off. The third place finisher, Timothy David Ray, was so pissed off at the leader, Seth Bloom, that he not only endorsed the other candidate, Jay Banks, he scorched Bloom. Burn, Bloomy, burn.

Speaking of epic takedowns,  this week’s theme song was written and recorded by Bob Dylan in 1965. I was worried that he’d sing it in Stockholm in lieu of a speech. Fortunately, he did not attend the Nobel Prize ceremony. I’m posting Positively 4th Street as a pretext to play more Byrds. Listening incessantly to Tom Petty eventually leads to the Byrds and Roger McGuinn.

A quick note about the featured image. It comes from Joseph Stella’s impressionist phase. He returned to the Brooklyn Bridge as a subject many times over the years. I  hate bridges, which is ironic given that I grew up in an area full of them and now live in New Orleans. I white knuckle every time I cross a bridge. On one visit to New York City, the friend with whom I was staying asked if I wanted to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I gave him a withering look and the moment passed.

I’m skipping the break this week. I do not feel like jumping, especially after contemplating bridges.

We begin our second act with one of my favorite stolen features.

Separated At Birth: Sarah Huckabee Sanders is the worst White House press secretary since the days of Ron Ziegler. She makes Ziegler look honest and in the loop and makes Ari Fleischer look charming. Ugh.

The picture below crossed my Facebook timeline. It compares and contrasts Huck’s horrible spawn with Jackie Coogan as Uncle Fester on teevee’s Addams Family.

I think Jackie was cuter but the raised eyebrow and facial expression are eerily similar.

Saturday GIF Horse: While we’re on the topic of Uncle Fester, here’s his most famous stunt:

Tabloid Front Page Of The Week: I’ve never been a Smashing Pumpkins fan but I am a fan of the New York Daily News and its smashing front pages. This Halloween edition is a classic:

I wonder if Billy Corgan and his buddy Alex Jones have discussed this front page…

Tweet Of The Week: I retweeted this image of Sebastian Gorka, David Clarke, and Sean Hannity with a clever caption but the picture didn’t show on my tweet. Time for a re-take.

THE THREE HORSE’S ASSES OF THE APOCALYPSE.

Sorry for shouting but sometimes you gotta be loud to get your point across. It’s the only thing Fox News Meathead Sean Hannity and I agree on.

I mentioned I’d been in a Byrds phase, here’s the evidence.

Saturday Classic: Younger Than Yesterday is among the Byrds finest albums. It has one of David Crosby’s best song, Everybody’s Been Burned, and his absolute worst, Mind Gardens.  I used the former as a Saturday post theme song last year, as to the latter UGH.

Crosby was fired for being a raging, gaping asshole when the band commenced recording their next album. It obviously worked out for him as he became the C in CSN.

That’s it for now. My regular features will be back in full force next week. One reason that I was frustrated by the modem death is that Dr. A and I had watched the first 6 episodes of Stranger Things 2 and then it was nerdus interruptus. We finished it Thursday night. It’s swell. That’s why I’m giving the boys from Hawkins the last bat word.

My Hill

The plane touched down at O’Hare early Sunday morning, jolting me awake. I looked around to see other passengers in varying states of awareness.

I flipped my phone off airplane mode and noticed I had no messages.

I checked my email quickly. Same thing.

Everything was quiet.

What a difference two years makes.

The last time I touched down on the first leg of a trip back from a college media convention in this metropolis, my life had gone from bad to worse. I had just traded some labor for airfare and a room so I could head to Austin, Texas in hopes of finding salvation for the newspaper I advised. We had been told a week earlier that we were too far in debt for our student government to tolerate, never mind they had no say over our finances or budget. As a result of the SGA’s prodding, an administrator told us that if we didn’t have $5,000 paid off of that debt in less than four months, we might be forced to close.

I found myself at this convention, begging funds from former students and offering services to fellow advisers for donations to the cause.

In one such circumstance, I had been given a tin can with a slot on the top with a simple message: Go beg for life.

So I did. And at that point, I thought it could never get worse.

When I flipped that phone on two years ago, alone and cold on a red-eye flight into the Windy City, the text messages came pouring in like a dam had broken free.

“Check your email.”

“Check in when you get this.”

“OH MY GOD! DID YOU SEE YOUR EMAIL?”

“Can they DO THIS?”

“Where ARE you? Call when you get this…”

On and on it went. I had no idea what was going on, but I checked my email. There it was in black and white: The student government was putting forth a resolution asking me to resign and if I failed to do so, a request that the chancellor fire me.

I called a couple of the kids and talked them off of their various ledges.

It’ll be fine, I told them. Everything is just fine.

Did I believe that? Not for a fucking second, but what could I do? I’m on a plane in Chicago on a Sunday, taxiing to the gate for a two-hour layover before heading to Milwaukee. It really did seem like the beginning of the end for me.

I detailed most of the tumult that followed in this post, aptly titled, “Heroes Often Fail.”

What followed that post was a set of truly dark days, the kind that lead you to question what exactly it is that you’re doing here or why you’re bothering at all.

The one thing that kept me going was what A and I used to say to each other quite often when sussing out some level of student-media bullshit:

“Is this the hill you are willing to die on?”

The odd thing was that we often used that phrase as a deterrent to action. It was a way of saying, “Look, we got bigger fish to fry here, so don’t go all great guns after this stupid thing.”

The answer was always, “No, it’s not. Now, where are we on this other thing…”

As I watched my own staff have to write what should have been my career’s obituary, I could hear her asking me that question. Not “Is this the hill you WANT to die on?” but rather “Is this the hill you’re WILLING to die on?” The distinction being simple but profound: I wanted to live but I would give everything I had if it meant we could win this one and keep this paper alive.

So I stuck with it. I hung in there. I pushed back.

We got through a meeting with what seemed like every administrator in the entire university and we gained ground.

A day later, I got a call from my contact in the area of fundraising. I figured she wanted to see what our next move would be to raise money to help defray the debt. It turned out, an anonymous donor had turned up with a matching-funds challenge grant.

If we were successful in pulling in the entire match, the debt would be gone and we’d have cash to spare.

It was the first miracle in a string of miracle, each one slightly more outlandish than the previous one. We chipped away at the debt a buck at a time, with me pulling in every favor I ever earned, calling in every marker I ever collected and begging every alumnus I ever met.

We rebuilt the staff, refocused our efforts and restructured our funding, in large part thanks to a chancellor who understood that you don’t kill off something valuable just because some little dipshits have a need to feel important.

Two years later, I could afford to take eight kids with me for the trip of a lifetime: A media convention where they earned national awards and learned from incredible pros and advisers. A trip they will never forget as long as they live.

The reason?

One alumnus made a donation to our cause, but asked that if we had money left over after the debt was repaid that we use “his” portion of it to give the students an educational opportunity that linked travel and passion. If the looks on their faces throughout the convention were any indication, we did exactly that.

We have money in the bank and fund-raised cash to boot, all as we expand the paper and improve education. The kids this year, even the most senior among them, only vaguely recall what happened back then. It’s like a bad memory mixed with a foggy dream.

Still, those who went through it remember. I posted a photo of myself to Facebook from the convention and one of those kids who went through hell with me responded:

“No tin can for donations this time?”

No, but I still have that can. It sits on a shelf in my office and I look at it every day.

It’s a reminder of what can happen when you finally find your hill.

First Draft Potpourri: Dead Modem Blues Edition

I’m back online with an itchy trigger finger. There’s been so much news while I sat modem Shiva that I don’t know where to begin. That was a fib, I’d like to start with a few thoughts on the malakatude of my countryman, George Papadopoulous. We’ll break things down in segments Odds & Sods style but first a musical interlude:

Greek-American Hustler: There’s been some dispute as to the importance of George Papadopoulous. He’s been called the “coffee boy” by one Trump adviser and their opponents have tried to inflate his importance. The truth is, as is often the case, somewhere in between. Papadopoulous is a classic American figure: a young man on the make.

Team Trump is full of equally unqualified people who have been given important government jobs. As illustrated in this tweet/article by the WaPo’s Dana Milbank:

Recently defenestrated USDA appointee Sam Clovis is an Iowa talk show host who was appointed to a job usually filled by a scientist. His withdrawal came on the heels of the news that he testified before the Mueller probe grand jury. The ranking Democrat on theSenate AG committee, Debbie Stabenow of the mitten shaped state of Michigan planned to ask him about it. Oops.

Back to Papadopoulous. He clung to Team Trump like a barnacle on a shipwreck, which is an apt analogy for both. He did not get a job, but was a frequent visitor to the White House and was put in charge of schmoozing Greek dignitaries at the most attended inauguration in world history. #sarcasm. Here’s a tweet showing a picture of Georgie with the President of the Hellenic Republic:

It’s a photo-op, dude. Do you really believe the Insult Comedian thinks Greece is an important country?

It seems apparent that Georgie was making himself useful to the Trumpers whilst hatching hare brained schemes to write a book, run for Congress, or become the Patriarch of Constantinople. I made that last bit up: Georgie doesn’t have a beard so he’s SOL on that score. His plans to become Trump’s link to the Russians is also SOL. But George’s loss is Team Mueller’s gain.

I’m one of the few people who remembers that dirty money from the Greek Junta played a minor role in Watergate. George Papadopoulous was also the name of the Colonel who became dictator/President in that benighted era of Greek politics. Actually, they’re all benighted but the Junta was worse than average.

The name George Papadopoulous brings two stories to mind. First, the most popular mass market cookies in Greece during the dictatorship were made by the Papadopoulous bakery. Greeks who disliked the junta were prone to say in a loud voice “I don’t like Papadopoulous” before lowering their voice and whispering “biscota” aka biscuits aka cookies.

The second story involves how the name Papadopoulous is mispronounced in the media. My Greek relations (among whom are some Pappas’, which is a frequent shortening of that name) pronounce it Papa-dough-poulous not Papa-dop-poulous. Dough, not dop. That reminds me of the time I met the outstanding Democratic Senator from Maryland, Paul Sarbanes. I shook his hand and said, “Nice to meet you Senator Sar-ban-as.” He smiled and said, “You must be Greek.” That led to a pleasant chat that included this name-based exchange:

Adrastos: “Does it bug you that nobody pronounces your name correctly? It sounds like sardines or something.”

The Senator: “It did at the beginning of my career and I tried correcting people. I soon learned that correcting voters was a sure way to lose an election, so I gave up. I’m still glad when someone gets it right.”

Adrastos: “And they’re always Greek.”

The Senator: “They’re always Greek.”

Btw, as a Congressman, Paul Sarbanes was a member of the House Judiciary Committee and voted to impeach Tricky Dick. It’s a lesson lost on the coffee boy. I wonder if it was Greek or Turkish coffee? Oh well, that’s a distinction without a difference except in Greece. Don’t use the T word there, y’all.

Repeat after me: dough, not dop.

Your President* Tweets: The Insult Comedian never uttered a peep about the Las Vegas shooter on his favorite medium. Instead of calling Bill DeBlasio or Andrew Cuomo, Trump sent out a series of inflammatory tweets followed by inflammatory comments on the electric teevee machine. I’ll keep it brief and post only one tweet. That’s more restraint than Trump will ever show:

If I were in the unenviable position of representing this defendant, I’d use Trump’s rhetoric in his defense. This intemperance reminded me of Tricky Dick whose pronouncement on a notorious case led to this legendary court room moment.

Nixon was more popular in his Southern California home region than Trump is in his hometown, so this came close to causing a mistrial. Plus, Tricky knew he fucked up: Trump shows no signs of getting it. So much for being tough on terrorism. Also, the much-ballyhooed travel ban doesn’t cover Uzbekis. Oops.

Sign of the Times: There was a second line in honor of the late Fats Domino Wednesday; ending at his former house on Caffin Avenue in the Lower 9th Ward. I didn’t make it, but my social media feeds were full of pictures including this one:

Photograph by Dakinikat.

Holy errant apostrophe, Batman.

Confessions Of The Fuck The Dodgers Guy: I had a lot of fun on social media during the World Series. I was rooting for the eventual champion Houston Astros for a variety of reasons: Hurricane Harvey and the presence of former LSU All-American Alex Bregman. Geaux Tigers.

I was, however, mostly rooting against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers and my San Francisco Giants are ancient rivals dating back to their days in New York. I’m a confirmed life-long Dodger hater, which is not that unusual for a Giants fan. I’m old enough to have experienced the blood feud of the mid-1960’s when the Mays-McCovey-Marichal-Perry Giants faced off against the Koufax-Drysdale-Wills Dodgers.

It’s strictly “sports hate” but I may have been guilty of a bit of overkill on the Tweeter Tube and Facebook. I earned a new nickname to go along with Shecky: The Fuck the Dodgers Guy. I can live with that.

Here are a few representative tweets in reverse order. My personal favorite skips the FTD shtick and mocks Larry King whose Dodger fandom dates from their days in Brooklyn.

That’s not a picture of the Dodger third sacker, it’s just  a dude who looks like him.

I hope I don’t experience Fuck the Dodgers Guy withdrawals but ya never know.

That’s it for this dead modem memorial edition of First Draft potpourri. Long live the new modem.

 

 

Missing In Inaction

When it comes to writing, I’m a creature of habit, so writing a post on my iPhone is a first for me. I prefer sitting in my study at my desktop when composing. I wish I could write on a laptop at a cafe but I cannot. So it goes.

Our modem died on Sunday. Even worse we were six episodes in to Stranger Things 2. The nerd squad’s exploits will have to await the arrival of the new modem. So it goes.

Being unable to write on Indictment Monday came close to killing me. One of my countrymen is the first known witness for the prosecution? My late father would have denied his Greekness and claimed he was adopted. I considered it but then I saw a picture of Papadopoulos and knew he was one of us. Oh well, what can ya do? Not a damn thing.

It looks as if some of my regular features will go by the wayside this week. But I have a lot to say about the Mueller probe and plan to do so when I’m not typing with one finger on this tiny keyboard. There should be some sort of Saturday Odds & Sods since I hate to be irregular with my weekend regulars.

One more thing: Fuck the Dodgers. Ah, that felt good.

 

Saturday Odds & Sods: Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

Swing Landscape by Stuart Davis.

We finally had a chilly day this week. New Orleanians tend to overdress when it cools off so there were many coats, sweaters, and scarves about town. This cold-ish snap is another example of how extreme the weather has been this year: the first cold weather doesn’t usually arrive until around Thanksgiving. I am opposed to turning on the central heat until November but dragged out the space heaters. It warmed up yesterday, but it’s going to be cold today. We’re back on the autumnal weather yo-yo. So it goes.

The big local story is the precipitous fall of celebrity chef John Besh. Picayune restaurant critic Brett Anderson spent 8 months investigating charges of sexual harassment in Besh’s empire. The story landed last weekend and Besh has resigned from his company and lost two casino based locations. I’d heard that he was a hound and a creep but hadn’t heard how systematic the problem was. The timing couldn’t have been worse for Besh since it followed the Weinstein revelations.  I am trying out a new word to describe the outing of sexual harassers: Beshed. It probably won’t catch on but if it does, you heard it here first.

Another big local news story popped up as I was Oddsing and Sodsing. It’s a flap involving  mayoral frontrunner LaToya Cantrell, her use of city credit cards, and the heavy-handed intervention of District Attorney Leon Cannizzarro who is supporting her opponent. So much for that campaign being dull. It’s New Orleans politics in all its seedy glory but I’m going to save it for the Bayou Brief. I’ll let y’all know when my column drops. I’m uncertain if it will be Ionic, Doric, or Corinthian. Corinthian leather?

Now that I’ve incited the wrath of Khan, let’s move on to this week’s theme song. It was composed by Charles Mingus in honor of his friend the great jazz sax player, Lester (Prez) Young.

Here are three versions for your enjoyment. First, Charlie’s original instrumental followed by Joni Mitchell who added lyrics for her Mingus album in 1979. Finally, a guitar driven version by Jeff Beck from his Wired album:

Now that we’ve tipped our pork pie hat to the great Lester Young, it’s time to say goodbye and jump to the break or something like that. Sometimes I even confuse myself.

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Saturday Odds & Sods: Lover Of The Bayou

Photograph by CC Lockwood.

Fall has fallen. We finally had a week of temptingly temperate temperatures. Unfortunately, it’s oak pollen season, which means I’ve been wheezier than Weezer or Isabel Sanford who played Louise (Weezy) Jefferson on the electronic teevee machine back in the day. Where have you gone George Jefferson? Achoo.

It’s the week after the primary election and the Mayoral  run-off campaign is mostly bubbling under the surface. There was some horrible news involving third-place finisher Michael Bagneris. His daughter, Mia, was hit by a drunk driver while exiting her car after attending her father’s election eve soiree. Since New Orleans is the world’s largest small town, we have several friends in common. Her injuries were severe but it appears that she’ll make it. It’s going to be a long recovery. Best wishes to the Bagneris family. Drunk drivers are the worst.

This week’s theme song was written by Roger McGuinn and Jacques Levy. It has an interesting history. I’ll let the Wikpedia entry for the Byrds album (Untitled) fill you in:

For most of 1969, The Byrds’ leader and guitarist, Roger McGuinn, had been developing a country rock stage production of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt with former psychologist and Broadway impresario Jacques Levy.[16] The musical was to be titled Gene Tryp, an anagram of the title of Ibsen’s play, and would loosely follow the storyline of Peer Gynt with some modifications to transpose the action from Norway to south-west America during the mid-19th century.[5] The musical was intended as a prelude to even loftier plans of McGuinn’s to produce a science-fiction film, tentatively titled Ecology 70 and starring former Byrd Gram Parsons (no relation to Gene) and ex-member of The Mamas & the PapasMichelle Phillips, as a pair of intergalactic flower children.[12] Ultimately, Gene Tryp was abandoned and a handful of the songs that McGuinn and Levy had written for the project would instead see release on (Untitled) and its follow-up, Byrdmaniax.[4]

I told you it was a long story. We have two versions for your enjoyment, the original live Byrds version and a cover by Mudcrutch, which was Tom Petty’s original band brought back to life in 2008. Holy reanimation, Batman.

That concludes our trip to the bayou or does it? You’ll find out after we jump to the break.

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A Slice of Time

IMG_4941

 

It was a fortuitous tweak of timing that landed us at Francisco’s restaurant Saturday night: A baseball card show that had me in Milwaukee. A phone call my mom got from an old friend. Another restaurant with a wait time that we all knew my father wouldn’t tolerate.

The place had changed names over the years, but for us it would always be Francisco’s.

And this might have been the last night we ever got to see it.

Mom and Dad used to go there when they were first dating in the 1960s. It was about the width of a hospital hallway in those days. Booths lined one wall and tables seemed to randomly spring up wherever space would allow. The kitchen in the back could be seen from the street, with swinging old-west barroom doors separating the patrons from the prep staff.

As we pulled up last week, Dad pointed to a spot on the corner of Oklahoma and KK, noting, “When your mother and I would come here way back, this was always our parking spot.”

We pulled around the corner this time and parked a bit down the street. The dull awning and spackled-over brick just a few yards from where the car came to rest.

The large wooden door led into a vestibule I’d entered hundreds of times before: A group photo of some long-gone collection of black and white figures at some event I never knew, a few fliers for events or services, a small note tacked here or there. Random elements I took more seriously this time.

The second door led to the main room. To the left was the “original” part of the restaurant while the right contained a larger bar and seating area. Somewhere during my lifetime, they bought out whatever business was on the corner and opened up this newer, bigger part of the restaurant. A neon sign proclaiming pizza, pasta and drinks faced outward from the picture window onto the street where people waited for the 51 and 15 buses.

I’d been coming here since before I could remember. Friday nights were the day my folks decided they deserved a break, so they would eat out. Francisco’s and its pizza was a staple of our restaurant rotation. It was a dimly lit restaurant that had the charm of a single waitress who knew your name and jukebox that always seemed to call to me but was never played. It was the first time I’d ever heard of  “Pink Floyd” because the label on the box told me they had a song called “Run Like Hell.” At age 6, hell was pretty serious stuff.

Today, that whole side of the restaurant was dark. No one would be serving food there. The sign that usually told people to wait for the hostess to seat them noted simply: “Limited menu. Pizza, Italian Sausage Sandwiches.”

The bar was where the “action” was, to use the term loosely. About six people were in there and we knew four of them. I was the youngest person in there by at least 15 years.

We weren’t there so much for the food or the company as we were to remember something special.

Francisco’s had closed in February when the owner, Franny, had a massive stroke. Nobody knew if he was going to make it or what would happen to the restaurant. His wife and longtime waitress, Kathy, stayed by his side and kept him going through it all. He recovered well enough to use a wheel chair and maybe be around some friends, so tonight she opened up the restaurant for a “look-see” at what was possible.

“She always loved you to death,” Dad always told me. “Even when you made a mess with all your crackers and you were loud, she loved you.”

I remembered her as being somewhat of a mother figure and somewhat of “Flo” from the old TV show “Alice.” In my mind, she was always about 35, dressed comfortably and doting on us, me in particular.

Tonight, she was noticeably older to me. Haggard. Rushed. Distracted. It took her three trips around the bar to get us a drink order, even as the only other people in the place had been well served and two guys at the end were watching “Jeopardy!” on an old tube TV.

I leaned on the old brass bar rail, which had been unpolished for quite some time. A slight scent of must and stale air lingered, reminding me the place had been closed for more than half a year.

Finally, she came back for a food order. Dad took charge:

“Large pizza. Cheese, Sausage, Mushrooms, Onions.”

For as long as I could remember, that was our pizza order.

Cheese, Sausage, Mushrooms, Onions.

On an extremely rare occasion, we deviated from that. Once in Mexico we had pizza with pineapple before that really became a thing. When I was old enough to get a vote on food, I occasionally bargained to get black olives tossed into the mix.

Aside from that, it was always Cheese, Sausage, Mushrooms, Onions.

Kathy wrote it down and strode slowly toward the kitchen as she sidestepped something we couldn’t make out in the left corner of the bar.

It was Franny, sitting quietly in his wheelchair, watching “Jeopardy!” with the two guys we didn’t know.

Eventually, he rolled toward us, using a single foot to power his glide in our direction. He didn’t seem to recognize us, even though my father would make regular walks from our house to his bar for a beer on a weeknight when they were often the only two guys in the whole place. He mumbled politely to people who were praising him for how good he looked and expressing thanks that the place had opened on this one day. Nobody was sure if this was the start of something more regular or a last hurrah for the place. Even with no real parking to speak of, the building was at a prime location. It would likely draw interested suitors if they couldn’t keep it going. Still, the restaurant had been life: He owned and operated it, Kathy waitressed for it.

What else was there?

A few people wandered in and out. One was a representative of the arch bishop, who had been invited via the same basic phone call my mother got: Franny is opening up on Saturday. You should come down. The source of the call was Kathy’s brother, Bob, who had become close friends with my mom through her work at church.

A few mixed drinks dotted the bar as the smell of food began to fill the room. “Jeopardy!” had given way to “Wheel of Fortune” as we chatted with some folks, occasionally glancing at the TV to see if we could solve the puzzle. Franny had wheeled away and disappeared once again.

Kathy arrived with the pizza and placed it in front of us at the bar.

Cheese, Sausage, Mushrooms, Onions.

A fresh beer for dad. A Diet Coke refill for me.

The steaming thin-crust delicacy disappeared one square at a time. The outer edges were cracker-like in their wonderful crunch, the inner pieces were softer and contained heavier toppings.

Usually when we got one of these, we had about three or four pieces left. Today, even though we were really full, we kept eating. Maybe we wouldn’t get this again and besides, it never tasted quite this good.

Kathy swung by, handing out pizzas to the two people at the bar who had been waiting. One of them disappeared with the bagged pie while the other decided, after some deliberation, to order another drink and eat it there. We chatted with this lady, a local lawyer who helped my dad settle my grandmother’s estate, about various things she was doing now in retirement. Poetry, some work, being a Grammy (not a grandma, mind you. She told us she’s not old enough to be a grandmother. My mother, a “nana” by her own choosing of nomenclature, nodded in agreement.).

The woman also reminded me I was the person who told her Trump would never win.

I grimaced and turned back to my last two bites.

Kathy came by to pick up the battered metal pizza tray.

“This was delicious,” I told her. “Thank you so much for this.”

She looked at me and said without a smile, “Some things in life don’t change.”

Quote Of The Day: Movie Monsters Edition

I’m not talking about scary clowns, vampires, or reanimated monsters, I’m talking about monsters who make the movies.  One of the best things I’ve read about the Harvey Weinstein scandal, or as I call it Shitstorm Harvey, was written by Lindy West for the failing NYT:

It is unclear what possessed Woody Allen, of all people, to comment on the accusations of sexual predation against Harvey Weinstein, when he could have just not said anything, not expressed sympathy for an alleged serial rapist, not accused long-silenced women who said they were sexually assaulted of contributing to “a witch hunt atmosphere” and not felt compelled to issue a pouty follow-up statement in which he didn’t apologize but, in fact, reiterated how “sad” he feels for Weinstein because Weinstein is “sick.”

I’m kidding! It’s totally clear why Allen would issue such a statement — why he wouldn’t hesitate to include the astonishing confession that “no one ever came to me or told me horror stories with any real seriousness,” implying that people did tell him about Weinstein but he, with that odd omniscience native to the very rich, deemed them insufficiently serious. It’s also totally clear why Allen felt untouchable enough to add that even if he had believed the “horror stories,” he wouldn’t have been interested, let alone concerned, because he is a serious man busy making serious man-art. He said people wouldn’t bother coming to him anyway, because, as he described it: “You’re not interested in it. You are interested in making your movie.” (That last bit is fair, actually. If I’d been sexually assaulted by Harvey Weinstein, literally my last instinct would be to go to Woody Allen for help.)

It’s clear because the cultural malfunction that allows Allen to feel comfortable issuing that statement is the same malfunction that gave us Allen and Weinstein in the first place: the smothering, delusional, galactic entitlement of powerful men.

We already knew that monsters can make great films. Roman Polanski has. Woody Allen has. Harvey Weinstein has. I can still watch Woody Allen’s old movies with *some* enjoyment but I’ll never like them quite as much as I once did. For 25 years, Allen was my favorite film director even though hints of his perviness showed up in movies such as Manhattan. I think he’s made one good film in the 21st Century. At this point it doesn’t matter, his name has quite deservedly been dragged through the mud and I’m inclined to think that a guilty conscience has something to do with his artistic decline. I would hope that a man with his talent would have a conscience but it’s hard to tell as he natters on about witch hunts. STFU, Woody.

As to Harvey Weinstein, he’s a disgusting pig who was widely known as an asshole’s asshole before the shit hit the fan. It’s quite fitting that Ronan Farrow wrote one of the Shitstorm Harvey  exposes. He’s allegedly Woody Allen’s bio-son but, damn, he looks like Mia Farrow’s ex-husband Frank Sinatra. I’d rather have Frank in my gene pool than Woody any day.

The #metoo discussion that has popped up online in the wake of  Shitstorm Harvey has been moving and seems to be leading to a more open discussion of sexual harassment and assault. It seems that most women of my acquaintance have, at the very least, been subjected to unwanted groping.  It’s a sad commentary on the world and it’s been going on long before any of us were around. I hope that the open dialogue sparked by this will lead to improved behavior on the part of many men. I have no illusions that all men will pay attention but if there are fewer Woodys and Harveys out there, the world will be a better place.

My parents were conservative in many ways but my brilliant and accomplished mother was an instinctive feminist.  As a successful professional woman, she taught me by example that women could do anything and should be treated with respect. My father was sexist in some ways BUT he taught me to keep my hands to myself and treat women with respect and old-fashioned courtesy or as he liked to say, “be a gentleman, not a bum.” Bums groped, gentlemen did not.

The Jayhawks get the last word with a song that bids adieu to monsters of all types: