Archive for January, 2006

Hollywood South

The primary is scheduled for April 22. Orleans Parish will be voting for candidates for mayor. Let’s follow California’s lead and recruit a Hollywood star to run what could truly become Hollywood South. The top candidates? Of course.

Mayor:

Leonardo DiCaprio: Actor & Heart-throb. Pros: This guy has dealt with water before. Plus I hear that he digs the black chicks. That’s one way to repopulate the city. Cons: Is only 14 yrs old in Hollywood years. Campaign theme: I’m King of the World. Possible Campaign Moment: Heart of the Titanic beads could be a big hit at Mardi Gras.

Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal: A sheriff and his deputy? Works for me. Pros: All that Hollywood Oscar love can bring the cash-a-flowin. Cons: Horse poop in the streets. Campaign theme: To thy own self be true. Possible Campaign Moment: Riding “bareback” down Bourbon.

Ludacris: Actor & Rapper. Neal Boortz loves the guy. I love Neal Boortz. Enough said. Pros: Could revive the New Orleans Music Scene overnight. Cons: Weed everywhere- oh wait that’s a pro. Campaign theme: “Chicken -N- Beer”. Possible Campaign Moment: The block party to end all block parties in the Ninth Ward.

Sean Penn: He had his mug all over the TV during the aftermath…where is he now? Get your ass down here and suffer some with the rest of us. Pros: Liquor sales tax skyrockets. Cons: Bar fights…alot more bar fights. Campaign Theme: I overcame Madonna, I can overcome Katrina. Possible Campaign Moment: When the paparazzi walked into Mr. Penn’s fist.

Qualifying is March 1-3.

City of the Damned

I had this weird dream last night. Now, my dreams are usually not all steeped in mystery and symbolism. For instance, I’m not the kind of guy to have a dream where I’m staring at a Baby Ruth candy bar floating around in a mud puddle while Scott Bayo plays the bongos with a garden hose behind me – now that would be some good symbolism. My dreams are usually, well, strange, but also pretty obvious in their meaning and sometimes they are weird and seem to not have a meaning so much as express how I’m viewing some particular thing that’s on my mind. That’s what this last one was, I think. No point, no deep meaning or resolution to be found; just the most noticeable things (it takes a lot to get my attention) my mind can relate to me as a summary of what’s been on my mind: the recovery of New Orleans. Here we go.

It was basically ‘Night of the Living Dead’. It started out with me running, riding my bike, and driving from Lakeview to the river in the way that dreams can shred continuity and still your mind sort of ‘knows’ what’s going on. I had the sense; or maybe suspicion is a better word, the whole time that this was all a dream. But I’ve had that same sensation in the last few months when I wasn’t dreaming so knowing I’m in a dream isn’t as much of a given as it was six months ago. So I’m making my way to the river through all the damage (no need to exaggerate that for the sake of a dream) and there are people who are trying to get me – the living dead don’t ya know. There are others trying to get to the river as well who aren’t the living dead, but actually living. The military has promised to evacuate people, but they have to get to the river since its too dangerous for troops to enter the city and rescue people (in my dream I’d remembered hearing this from a time before the dream started, which is weird in of itself) So I get to the river and the levee is about 4 times wider than it actually is and there are armed guards everywhere and you have to go through this sort of checkpoint. They didn’t check ids or anything; they just kind of look you up and down and let you pass. As I’m walking along the fence toward the big-ass C-130 that’s going to fly us all out I run into some friends, but they’re on the outside of the fence whereas I am on the inside. They’re saying, ‘help us, we have to get out of here’. To which I respond ‘No problem. Relax. All you have to do is follow this fence until you get to the checkpoint and the guards will let you in.’ ‘No’ they insist, ‘they won’t. We’ve been here for days and they won’t let us in.’ Now I’m standing there at this fence trying to think so very hard (1 what is it about them that they can’t get in…..no answer to that seems possible since they’re almost exactly like me in every way. (2 what is it about me that they let me in…..no answer to that is possible either. So there’s this announcement from somewhere ordering everyone to board the plane and then sirens going off. So I just walk off toward the plane with my friends still standing there at the fence waiting for whatever kind of hell was coming for them as I board the plane. I get on this big-ass plane to find there were only about 10 people on it so the plane was mostly empty. As the plane takes off with the kind of special effects that would embarrass Pixar since my dreaming mind has horrible spatial skills, the steward stands up with a microphone and a slide show starts where he’s talking about us being chosen to purchase timeshares or something. As he’s talking I’m looking at all the people down on the levee. Some are walking like the living dead and some are running. The plane turns so I can’t see them anymore so I turn my attention back to the guy talking in front of the slide show and say ‘You’ve got to be fucking kidding me’.

Big Easy/Big Apple

Which is not to say that there aren’t several things New York can learn from us…

Iced coffee: Yo: if I see one more idiot New York waiter step up to the drink station, fill a glass with ice, and pour in still-piping-hot coffee…well, I dunno what I’ll do, but it won’t be pretty, and it might involve paprika. Hot coffee on ice isn’t just nasty, people; it’s a sacrilege on par with serving oysters en brochette to a rabbi during a Passover Seder, or bringing sushi into my dad’s living room. Iced coffee is made with a goddamn coffee toddy. Somebody please give Dean & Deluca $30 so they can save the city’s apparently clueless tastebuds.

Public restrooms: The sun is shining and the air is crisp as you step onto the sidewalk, ready for a full day of shopping. You grab a coffee from the place on the corner (hot, not iced, ’cause you know how that’ll go) and head to midtown. Then, after about 30 minutes in H&M, you start to feel it. Another 15 minutes, and you’re leaving clumps of potential goodies in the dressing room because your bladder has swollen to the size of an 18-month-old child. You ask the sales clerk if the store has a restroom. No. Instead of getting sassy and asking whether she and her fellow employees have to do their dirty work in shoe boxes in the basement, you rush down the street to Starbucks, only to learn that their restroom is for customers only, so you buy another coffee (bad idea, as you’ll later realize) and ask for the key, but you’re told that the toilet is out of order. Repeat this scenario at McDonald’s, Macy’s, and Toys R Us. Finally, after 20 blocks, you find a hotel, bluff your way into the lobby (“I lost my key”), dash up an escalator to the banquet rooms, and find an open restroom. Of course, by the time you schlep back to H&M, the process starts over again.

Neighborhood bars: As much as I hated Cheers (having featured not only the loathsome Ted Danson but my personal nemesis, Kirstie Alley), there was something comforting about the notion of a corner bar where you could go for a quick after-work cocktail or to meet friends at the start of a long evening out. Someplace kinda fun and cute, without the attitude of a club or the skeeze of a dive bar. New Orleans’ neighborhood bars excel at walking this fine line–and as an added benefit, they also have public restrooms (see above).

Charming homeless people: The Bead Lady, Ruthie the Duck Lady, the Disco Preacher, the Woolworth’s Preacher: say what you will about our homeless people, but at least they know how to market themselves to an often-indifferent public. We may avoid giving them handouts, we may try to look the other way, but who can truly ignore a guy in a rainbow-striped umbrella hat high-stepping to music only he can hear and singing gospel songs to a flowering pear tree?

Funny but scary

I went into Reginelli’s last night — the one on Magazine across from the A&P (by Nacho Mama’s and The Bulldog). I’d actually planned to hit the A&P for some kinda cheap eats, but just missed their 8pm closing.

I place my to-go order and step outside to make a cell phone call (Sprint sucks, man. Two disconnections in less than 40 seconds IN TOWN) and the door is held for me by a group of black-clad, overstuffed types I don’t pay much attention to. I assume they’re cops or Guardsmen or something, until I come back inside and get a closer look.

Picture this. There are six of them — five men and a (pretty embarrassed-looking) woman. All are wearing black polo-type shirts, black pants, black military boots. The men are bullet-headed and vary in age from about 25 to about 50ish, but all have the same ex-jock look. The look that says, “I was a real stud in high school, but I was too hot-headed to take orders in the military, so I got out, but I don’t have the education or patience to be a real cop but I still enjoy whipping ass and don’t look at me wrong or I’ll whip yours, you long-haired wimp. What’re you lookin’ at, you freakin’ hippie?”

They’re all wearing these oversized, police-type badges and (again, black) baseball caps that say “STEALTH SECURITY UNIT.” The polo shirts say “STEALTH SECURITY TEAM.” I don’t know if they had trouble getting together on the exact name or what. And, strapped to their right legs, each is toting this bigass Glock-type 9mm (or thereabouts) pistol.

I look at the Reginelli’s chick and she’s trying to stifle giggles, which sets me to doing the same thing. I’m not sure if we’re laughing more at how this this gaggle of rent-a-cops is dressed or the oxymoronism of having STEALTH stamped so loudly on their clothing. I guess it would be akin to James Bond’s Aston-Martin having a bumper sticker that said, “Ask me about my secret agent job” or having a tag that said SHKNNTSTRD or some shit.

Then I start wondering just what these guys are guarding and why they’re so heavily armed and just how and against who(m) they’re going to use it. This ain’t Brinks, this ain’t Wackenhut, the Garden District Security dudes, the Guard or the NOPD. I don’t like the idea of this kind of too-armed, too-advertised, too-blackclad unofficial “security” wandering around this town. Their very presence was confrontational, and we don’t need that right now.

The residents of this are glad to have the National Guard presence. We know all about the NOPD’s problems, but the individiual officers I’ve dealt with have usually been helpful, affable and fairly flexible. I’m just hoping we’re saved from the same kinds of private security contractors who’ve made so many friends lately in Iraq.

…particularly with Mardi Gras less than a month away.

Word on the Street

On Saturday, I got on the scooter and headed straight for trouble. I met with Jim Taylor, the president of the Mid-City neighborhood organization. I asked him about the strategy they are laying out for the viability plan. I really wanted to ask him about this area, the Iberville Corridor, Louisville, which has always been included in Mid-City but never really seemed to be represented in the organization. I just had to put it on the table. I knew what the answer would be. Taylor said he’d like to see the boundary stop at Broad for Mid-City proper. The two neighborhoods are starkly contrasted with the gentry up there near the park and the Iberville and Lafitte housing projects at the southern boundary. It was going to take a great effort to bring the two together for this viability thing and I just didn’t see an effort on the part of the organization to extend a hand. Well, Taylor confirmed that it ain’t happening. In fact, he said he’s going to try to pass a rezoning rule that would prohibit multi-family units beyond the double shotgun in the neighborhood. I asked him, what about the fact that we need to get folks into housing in the city while they are maybe working on their house in other parts of the city? People from Lakeview, Gentilly, the East. Taylor’s a smug dude, he just shrugged this off, that’s simply not his problem. There you have it. I said, so it’ll be like the suburbs out here. I was blunt, he didn’t argue. I have tried to discover the coolness of Mid-City this past year. I did the Tour-de-Pants pub pedal and attended their rally at the Rock-N-Bowl after the storm, I have tried to find some edgy coolness besides the annual bonfire. The best thing I found was Pal’s. Taylor also said they are conducting surveys in Mid-City on their own to determine the number of residents there but you won’t see them down there below Broad.

As you may recall, I have been volunteering with the city doing the rapid population estimate. (T-P Story) Well, this weekend the Office of Emergency Management completed another round of these surveys which they have been doing at regular intervals. It was a whole new ball game in there this time with all the students back in town. When we started we had maybe 8-10 teams out there visiting these randomly selected homes. Yesterday, there were about 40 teams! It was really unbelievable, it took us a couple hours just to get our assigned area because they had so many teams and they assign the people who were there on Saturday first so we had to hang. I usually get Gentilly, this time we ended up with Faubourg Louisville, this exact area, formerly part of Mid-City.

There’s also a third part of the story, a melodramatic scene, where I actually do get blindsided for crossing a line that I was unaware existed but I’m keeping that petit cauchemar to myself. Anyway, of all the places for me to end up today. But I do my duty. There’s some reason the spirit of the city put me here today, even if it’s none other than to force me to fight the blues.

The first ‘point’ we were assigned was on Tonti, the homeowners weren’t around but a really sweet woman next door came out sportin’ a pink playboy bunny t-shirt and her leopard print slippers. It ain’t the island, it ain’t all GAP. She was just wondering what we were doin. She expressed a real positive attitude about the people presence in her neighborhood and said, “now don’t take this wrong, but there’s even some white people up in here now.” We did not take this observation at all wrong. This neighborhood has languished a bit in it’s repopulation but there’s now a steady increase in the numbers of folks there and the clean-up of the debris is getting done on a regular basis. Entergy is around and told us that soon they should all be powered up with that newfangled electric power. There were a lot of orange vests out there, you wouldn’t have guessed it was a Sunday in New Orleans.

When we checked in at the OEM at the end of the day we met a guy from the REAL census bureau in Washington, D.C. We spoke to him for a bit and shared our excitement about how the fact of his presence there shows how important the project has become over the past few months. The OEM isn’t doing another round of surveys until after Mardi Gras if you are interested in assisting you can email Nathaniel at oem185@cityofno.com.

Big Apple/Big Easy

I kinda have this love-hate thing going on with New York. On the one hand, I’ve got a lot of friends in the city: some left over from my time at NYU, some acquired through my boyfriend, who grew up there. Then too, it’s an energetic place, which I like. There’s lots of stuff to do, see, and buy. And, well, of course, there are salt bagels….

On the other hand, the quality of life in New York is pretty harsh. Finding an apartment that’s both comfortable and affordable is essentially impossible–unless you’re the sort who enjoys sleeping upside-down in a closet. (When I lived in the city, I spent as much time away from my place as possible; hanging out there too much made me all emo/suicidal and crap.) The winters are miserable, and radiators were clearly invented by some asshole who’d never heard the words “sinus infection.”

That said, being back in the city for a week was kinda nifty. (Then again, these days, being anyplace where I can get fresh cheesecake at 3:00am is nifty.) This being my first visit to New York since “The Incident,” I saw the city in a different, less smoggy light, and frankly, I noticed several things New York does way better than New Orleans–things that we could, you know, basically steal and transplant here in the subtropics. I mean, just because we’re rebuilding doesn’t mean we have to reinvent the wheel….

Street food: When I was a poverty-level grad student (is there any other kind?), I lived on food from steet vendors. A quick stroll around Washington Square, and I could score a cup of crazy Mongolian soup, some cucumber salad, a man-sized gyro, soft-serv ice cream, and the requisite Diet Coke (which, of course, cancelled out all the calories I’d just consumed), and still have enough change to catch the F train back to my squalid apartment above a 24-bodega in nowheresville. In contrast, a quick stroll around Jackson Square will get me a Lucky Dog and…well, a Lucky Dog. And you know, some people, that’s all they need, but me, I’ve never been a hot dog kinda guy. I mean, I’m not asking for cafe brulot here, but New Orleans is a food town: is it completely irrational to expect some curbside jambalaya? Maybe a po-boy? Where are the ladies with the callas? And would it kill Angelo Brocato’s to sell some spumoni (once they’re up and running again)? Beer and hot dogs may cut it in the heartland, but here in the groin of America, we need more, more, more.

Customer service: I’m not saying that New Orleans can’t do customer service; in the right environment–say, at the Windsor Court or Belladona Day Spa–we can out-pamper the best of ‘em. But how many times have you been in line at the K&B (or RiteAid or CVS or whatever they’re calling themselves these days) and had to endure a five-minute conversation between the cashier and her friend Betty–who’s restocking the Good ‘n Plentys three aisles over–without even being acknowledged? Sure, the cashiers in New York chat amongst themselves, but they’ve evolved to the point that they can work a register while they’re flapping their gums.

Gymnatoriums: Getting a gym membership in New York is a lot like getting your driver’s license anywhere else, ’cause honey, you’re not gonna go very far without it. In fact, as far as basic life needs go, the gym contract outranks power, phone, cable, and internet, and is only marginally edged out by a rent-controlled lease…. In New Orleans, though, not so much. Except for patches of Uptown and Metairie, gyms are a novelty akin to oxygen bars and speed dating. Don’t get me wrong: I’m totally down with the easy-living, good-eating, go-cup-carrying lifestyle that we cultivate here, but honestly, who doesn’t look at mock-turtlenecked Junior Rodriguez on CNN and wince? They’re called treadmills, people, and they’re not just for gerbils anymore.

New New Orleans Theme Song

Spring must be right around the corner, for I just saw my very first, full-grown Granddaddy Roach of the season on the way into the ladies’ room in Houston. An ex-roach, I must say, expertly squished underfoot, NOLA-style, until you hear the pop. Don’t you worry none, they keep on coming back. And they’ll be here after we’re long gone.

I thought of our city, its sweaty streets and how it has always grown, performed and held sway out of the mainstream’s radar, “underground” as it were. The song Roaches by The Trancesetters (electro/trance/beat for you those not up on your club music) came to mind, especially its starting lyrics:

“Underground forever baby, we’re just like roaches. Never die, always live.”

And … breakbeat. Minutes and minutes of glorious, catchy beats and rhythms to dance to.

Someone encapsulated New Orleans in a song. Imagine that.

The Triumphant Return of Lucky Dogs

LuckyDogJPG.jpg

According to this week’s Gambit, Lucky Dog vendors will hit the streets of the French Quarter soon. This may seem petty and unworthy of a mention here, but Lucky Dogs are very much entwined in the 20th century history of the French Quarter. Consider this; the hero of Confederacy of Dunces was, for a brief stint, a Lucky Dog vendor. The hot dog shaped vending carts are considered to have historic status in the Quarter, and because of this the company owns an exclusive vending permit with the city. They are the only vendor allowed to sell food from carts in the French Quarter– the legality of this was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. For Lucky Dogs to not return to the city would be blasphemy. As a hot dog man, I knew their return was only a matter of time.

To this end, Lucky Dog GM Jerry Strahan published a book in 1998 called Managing Ignatius. Quickly summarized, it is his tales of working for Lucky Dogs starting in the early 1970′s, alongside an ever-changing staff of vagrants, crazies, and crooks. More importantly, the book is the final chapter in the city’s history as a seedy, flophouse ridden place of charm and wonder. It is the story of the Quarter’s transformation from a colorful bohemia into a sinner’s Disneyland. The pretext to this book is a book called The French Quarter, written by Gangs of New York author Herbert Asbury. It reads like a textbook history of the city’s criminal element, a jaw dropping and entertaining read, if not completely factual. I’d like to add both of these books to Laureen’s list.

Mardi Gras Indians

I learn something new about this city everyday now I am ready for the explanation. I recently found out that the Mardi Gras Indians are African American and for the most part not really American Indians at all. Right off the bat, I find this strange I mean, do African Americans not have enough culture of their own to draw from? Why not dress in African tribal costumes and celebrate the countries, tribes and traditions of their own past? I am freely willing to admit that I do not know much about the Mardi Gras Indians and am more than willing to learn so far that I am just going on what I have heard and picked up along the way from google.

It seems they are honoring their Indian brothers and sisters who aided in their escape from slavery. This sounds wonderful and great, one culture honoring and celebrating the culture of another in turn the both live longer. With time, this has evolved into its own little sub culture of African-Native-Americans.

Here is where I start to become naturally and uncontrollably upset, the names they give their tribes. Such as Seminole, Young Navaho and Wild Apache. I myself am part Sioux, Cherokee and Cherakawa. I am proud of my history and have a certain natural instinct toward its protection. This brings me to why my first reaction to learning about these “Indians” is to be a bit angry. I am not trying to say that we should not celebrate the Native-Americans what I am saying is that we should not claim to be Native-Americans if we are not actually Native-Americans. In addition, to give yourself the name of a tribe with which you do not actually have any connection, for some reason just makes me very upset. Why should they call themselves by tribe names they are not a part of?

This is just one of the many strange and interesting things that I have encountered since moving to New Orleans. As I said earlier, I am ready and willing to learn more on this subject so bring it on.

Don’t need tea leaves to read these signs

Dear Abby:

I know you’re, like, dead and all, but I’ve got this problem, and I don’t know who else to turn to, but I know for a fact that I don’t like the looks of that lady who replaced you, so there’s no way I’m writing to her. I mean, her photo’s airbrushed to within an inch of its life, and really, who can trust a marshmallow with eye sockets? Could you? I never trusted that Doris “Vaseline-on-the-lens-is-in-my-contract” Day, and I’m not about to change my personal policies now.

Anyway, like I said, I’ve got this problem. I’ve been seeing a guy recently–kinda nice, but he could stand to have his ears pinned back. And I think he might be married. But that’s not important. See, about five months ago, there was this thing that happened, and I was in trouble, and the guy rode in on this white horse–a week late, but what the hey?–and rolled up his sleeves and stood in this really flattering light, and with a touch of something bordering on honesty, he said he’d see me through this rough patch. To be honest, I’d known the guy by reputation for years and I’d never really cared for him, but he’s got money and stuff, and I needed money and stuff, so I fell for it.

From the start, our relationship has been rocky. I may not be from Venus, but he’s totally from Mars. We’ve been trying to stay civil, to make it work, but now I’m getting completely mixed signals. One day he tells me he wants to make plans for a future together, so I take him at his word–I map out where I think things should go, I put it all down in writing and hand it over. Then he has the nerve to tell somebody else that I never got back to him with a plan. Um, hello? I called him, I wrote to him, I left messages with his secretary. Does he want me to tattoo it on my forehead? ‘Cause I don’t think I’m willing to go that far….

Then the other day, I was at this thing, and I met this other guy who turned out to be a friend of the guy I’m seeing, and I started talking about our relationship and when I was done, the guy was all, like, “That’s funny. He’s never mentioned you to me.” You could have knocked me over with a swizzle stick. Unbelievable.

So, it’s beginning to feel like the old fear-of-committment routine to me, but what do you think? Should I stick it out until one night Miss Beatrice down the hall hears shouting at my place, and the police show up and break down the door and find me dead, lying in a pool of my own blood, having been shot in the back of the head and partially cannibalized? Or should just I forget the guy and move on?

Sincerely,
Found, Fucked, and Forgotten on the Flood Plain

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