Thursday, July 14, 2011

Daily Dose #47 (07/14/11)

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog cast for a message from the emergency blog-o-thon system, and your personal "Daily Dose" administrator, Crazy-as-a-shithouse rat Little Georgie, the pink bunny slipper wearing, rust coated Shaman in exile on Helen Street:

"Hey you! See that "share" button? The sign up for direct email delivery? The Google and Networked Blogs "Follow" option?

If you've been reading this blog regularly and haven't availed yourself to these tools, then you are a parasitic lamprey eel, and you should stop reading now. We don't want usurpers here in Peep-A-Roo land, only givers and receivers that understand the concept of that type of momentum, and the value in sustaining it.

Have I alienated 95% of the folks that read this? Probably. I don't give a tumbling fuck, frankly.

There's an implied trade off and pact between sharing the contents of "The Daily Dose" by not selling advertising, or monetizing the blog-o-thon in anyway....the content is free, and all I ask is that you help spread it around some to be able to receive it without the fear of being taken advantage of by me and Google Adsense.

I respect that implied pact, and backed it up with the only thing I have left of any true value to prove it: My Integrity. I made a public promise, and I keep my promises.

I'm looking for active participants in the Universal recycling system, not boat anchors. If you haven't grasped the concept of "tearing off a piece for yourself, and then passing it along" by now, you probably never will.

You're a hole that can't be filled. This blog ain't for you.

I'm seeking quality, not quantity. People are always impressed by a big number, but the numbers don't mean a thing to me. The "Dose" is an experiment, and experiments aren't shaded for a desired outcome. They are conceptualized, guided by an hypothesis, designed, and then executed.

I'm writing these blogs specifically for the people that are sharing them and realize the value of that kind of participation. The experiment was designed to specifically identify and then unify these types of people and personalities. Everybody does a little of the heavy lifting, making it light work.

At the end, the result will be a world wide closed circuit of group communication, and that will be extremely valuable to all who have participated in the process in the future.

So if you are reading these installments passively without any reciprocated effort? At least you now know who and what you are. Maybe you should recalibrate, or maybe you should just stop reading "The Dose" altogether. Your personal decision on this particular issue is beyond my control.

In actuality, I'm hoping that the initial metric reaction to this statement is that the number of page views goes radically down. Then at least I'll know that people are actually reading the thing and are paying attention.

If you read it, then you should re-post it, share it and give feedback like you're on auto-pilot. That's the ritual and the price of entry.

That's the deal. Anything less than that frames you as a thief and an energy usurper. Even though I look a bit like a young long haired, jowly Don Corleone in the above portrait (taken by my dear friend Laura Brazak, BTW), If you can't be bothered, it is a deal you absolutely must refuse.

God Bless You, and God Bless America".

And now, we return our regularly scheduled blog-o-thon broadcast already in progress:

A Katrina Story: Part 2

Even though Amy and I had both played at Pat O'Brien's duelling pianna and booze-o-rama emporium on Friday night and didn't get home until 4am, the television stayed on to track the storm. There would be no sleep.

Television meteorology in New Orleans had reached a high dramatic art during hurricane season. I had been bemusedly watching Bob Breck's wide eyed, gap toothed, adorned with a combination Beatle meets Roman Gladiator hair-doo Fred Sanfordesque "This-is-the-big-one-'Lisbeth" shtick since Hurricane Georges trained his ugly little disrupted eye towards the Crescent City back in 1998.

Evacuating the city was a pain in the ass, but ultimately it was sort of like an unpaid forced vacation. You drilled the plywood panels over the windows, gassed up the car, and took off for a three day holiday, usually at a point west of the city. Hurricanes, when the made landfall, usually took a northeast doglegged trajectory.

If you don't have the financial where with all to do that, you just got some batteries, water, filled your ice chests, and rode it out.

There hadn't really been a Hurricane of massive destructive consequence since "Billion Dollar Betsy" back in 1965. Camille was a bitch as well, I had been told. The populace, a culture already fiercely proud of their collective "Laissez Faire" attitude, approached an oncoming hurricane with a large amount of collective ennui. In the aftermath of any Hurricane, it always seemed like ultimately it was a decision to take a forced vacation to Texas, or stay put, protect your stuff from possible looters, and have a little home camping experience.

But on that Saturday morning, everything had changed. Satellite pictures don't lie. The sheer category 5 force and scale of Katrina at that point indicated that no matter where she hit land fall, it was going to be a storm of Betsy-like proportions regardless of what the talking heads on the local news were saying. If you didn't get out there was a high likelihood and probability that you may actually die.

At around 1pm, Mayor Ray Nagin was on the tube with Governor Blanco basically telling folks to start getting the fuck out of dodge, especially if you lived in Algiers or The Lower Nine; and if you didn't, make sure you had a hatchet to chop yourself a hole in your roof to prevent getting trapped like a rat and drowning in your own attic.

Although curiously not yet called a "Mandatory Evacuation", as far as I was concerned, this was the Big One, 'Lisbeth. I called Uncle Charlie, the piano lounge and entertainer plantation overseer at Pat O's, to see what the official corporate position was.

"Charlie, you're not seriously thinking of opening tonight, are you?"

"If you want a job on Sunday, your ass better be down here tonight"

Now in his defense, Pat O's doesn't close for nothing. That place is cranking out fruit juicy rum laden Hawaiian punch in Hurricane glasses for 364 day a year, and only shuts down for Christmas night. Again, there really hadn't been a big one since 1965, and everybody's job, including his own, was predicated on those cash registers ringing as much as possible; especially in the sleepy "no tourists and no college kids" end of summer days. Big weekend nights were crucial to operations.

But this stance felt a bit irresponsible towards human life. I wanted to preserve my job, and yet a painful seed of conflict got planted in my head. The I-10 westbound lanes were already reaching parking lot status by early Saturday afternoon, and me and my little family (Amy, and my two furry children Huckleberry and Doodle) weren't going to be allowed to evacuate until 5am on Sunday at the earliest.

Ultimately, there really wasn't an alternate decision to be made. We needed our jobs, so we rolled with it.

The French Quarter is high ground in New Orleans. If any area was going to survive a weather related catastrophe, the Quarters had the highest odds of doing so. Getting gas for the car was already problematic for folks in the 'burbs of Metairie, but not in the Quarters. That afternoon we headed to the gas station on Rampart Street and gassed up Amy's forest green Ford Focus Wagon, checked the oil, necessary fluids and tire pressure and headed to her Mid-City apartment. We grabbed her "hurricane preparation box": A purple plastic file box with important pictures and documents that looked like a little cosmetics suitcase.

The rest of the afternoon was spent getting essential items like musical instruments and computer gear stuffed into a little loft space that I had built in the spare bedroom of my Bourbon Street shotgun flat, and crammed all our clothes into an attic crawlspace that I also had built in advance preparation for such an occasion (and the future occasion of Amy eventually moving in permanently, frankly). Anything of any import had to be above any possible impending water line.

Amy made the four block walk to St. Peter's Street to work at 8pm, and I trudged down there at 9pm. We were working alternating one hour sets with separate partners, so our breaks during our respective seven hour shifts were spent alternately alone back at what we thought was going to be our future short term home on 922 Bourbon Street, finalizing the packing plan.

We were both in delusion hoping for that typical three day forced vacation scenario, and packed accordingly. Just enough essentials: important paperwork, clothes, food, water and doggie supplies to survive for three or four days and then return to our lives as we knew it.

Although there were a few customers to be serviced in the early sets of the evening, by midnight, Bourbon Street had transformed into a tumble weeded ghost town thoroughfare, and so had the duelling piano lounge at Pat O's. There was nobody but staff, and the sound of crickets chirping after every song played.

The gossip scuttlebutt around the wait staff and entertainers revolved around whether we were going to catch a break, have the plug pulled early, and gain a few extra hours to leave town. There were no customers, and there was no sense in staying open. We were all following the news on our breaks. We all knew that we were working under the umbrella of empending doom by that point.

No such break would materialize that night.

Damn the torpedoes, the joint's house lights weren't going to be turned on until 4am, on the dot. All us agitated chillun, from the green jacketed wait staff, the maroon jacketed floor managers, the velveteened bow tied bar tenders, to the entertainers were going to be taught a lesson on how things actually operate, and just what value the collective paranoia and unspoken opinion really was worth.

I walked in through the breezeway entrance on St. Peter's at 2:45am on Sunday morning, took the right hand turn into the lounge, and sat down next to Mr. Eddie Gabriel to watch Amy and her partner finish up for the night. I had one more show to go with my partner for the evening, the lovely and talented Mizz Vicki Amato. She was the lead pianist of all of the entertainers; A Pat O'Brien's Lifer that had been grinding out the hits of the day for over twenty five years, and whenever you worked with her, she never let you forget the fact that she had been grinding it for twenty five years.

She had earned her right to do that. She had the chops and the voluminous repertoire and was better at the gig than the rest of us newbies, but sometimes you ended up the night wishing she didn't exercise that right quite so liberally.

Some nights were musically brilliant, and some nights I felt like I had just spent the evening bouncing around in a clothes dryer. You never knew which way it was going to go when you pulled Mizz Vicki as a partner for the night.

Eddie wasn't going to bother getting up on stage, because there was no one in the house to throw any money on his tray. He was waiting for his wife to pick him up

Eddie was a lifer too, and his on-the-job experience had everybody beat. For 67 years he had been hopping up on stage between the the two copper sheathed pianos with a metal tray and thimbles on his fingers, banging out rhythm on the underside of the tray and catching tip money. Back in the day, they threw coins, which is probably why the pianos were coated in sheet metal.

Mr. Eddie wore wrap around dark shades,sported a dapper pencil thin mustache, and had a rug sitting atop his head that had seen too much Brylcreem and much better days, but on a good night he still knew how to make the cabbage flow directly into his tray for his eight little 15 minute sets, performed 5 nights a week for sixty seven straight years. He never missed a day of work, ever, in all that time. At the age of 95, he was still going strong, and was truly a New Orleans and French Quarter institution.

Whenever I would help him up onstage to negotiate the floor monitor and drink laden obstacle course of a stage, he'd permanently paste on his omnipresent fifteen minute shit eating grin and whisper in my ear "Muthafuckas gonna throw that money ta-night!" or "Muthafuckas ain't tippin worth shit!" depending on how the night was going. He was a true and authentic old school New Orleans character.

He was crusty and he was salty, but he was truly a beautiful ninth wonder of the world who lived in the lower ninth ward.

From our seats in the rear of the lounge I turned to Mr. Eddie.

"You gettin' outta Dodge tonight Mr. Eddie?"

"Hell yeah, I'm gettin' the fuck outta here. I done seen 'em all. Betsy, Camille. I ain't stickin' around for this one. Gettin' too old fer this shit, Boy."

This was serious. I put my hand on his thigh.

"Eddie, travelling is gonna be rough tomorrow. You promise me you're getting out, right?"

"Boy... doanchew worry 'bout me. You jes' take care of yer own ass"

"Good enough, Mr. Eddie. Just makin' sure"

"Screw you, Boy!" He laughed and slapped my leg, and I made my way to the stage for the final set to be played for no one but green jacketed employees.

On slow nights, sometimes management would be merciful and turn the house lights on somewhere between 3:30 am and 3:45 am, but not on that night. The point had to be made, and made it was.

Mizz Vicki and myself were the last pianna plunkers playing on the strip on the last night of a the pre-Katrina Bourbon Street world. I ended the set with Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927", to make a musical point of my own to the management and staff alike.

That was a trick I had learned from my ex, Kim, also former long time pianna plunkin' veteran of Pat O'Brien's. One night David Duke was in the audience and threw a fairly sizeable tip with a request for "Dixie" scribbled on a bar napkin.

She played John Lennon's "Imagine" while staring at Duke and his party of goons straight in the eye instead, God bless her.

I said my goodbyes to Joe, another Pat O's lifer and my favorite waiter, grabbed a bag of music, and headed out the door.

Uncle Charlie was standing by his big black SUV, parked out front, talking on his cell phone.

"You set?" he asked.

"Yeah... Amy and I will call you when we land."

"Where are you headed?"

"We're aiming to stay with Amy's friend Anne Marie's family in LaFayette, but I don't know if travelling west is even an option anymore. That's the plan anyway"

"Allright. Just make sure to call and let me know where y'at."

Charlie was a big man. He stood about six foot four, and he was imposing when he wanted to be. We shared an intense history that went way beyond my working tenure at Pat O'Brien's.

I looked him right in the eye.

Not a word about how we were really feeling was spoken in that moment, but there was a clarity of message delivered, and the lines in the sand were drawn right then.

We both knew what the outcome of our personal relationship would be if the shit truly hit the New Orleans metaphoric fan.

But in true New Orleans fashion, none of it would be verbalized, it would just be rolled out passive aggressively over the next few months.

I turned around and walked toward home, not knowing if it was going to be the last time I would do so, but feeling in my soul that the odds were in favor of the fact that it might be.

Sorry, Charlie. I know that life is cheap in New Orleans, but my life was worth more than putting it at risk all in the name of squeezing the last nickel out of the Quarter with fruity drinks in large glass containers embossed with the clever catch phrase of "Have Fun!", before it went possibly asunder.

And so was everybody else's.

I didn't know it yet, but my days of musical whoredom were officially at an end as I listened to the Palmetto bugs skittering across the side walk, breathing in the scents of the night: The perfume of night blooming jasmine laced with effluvium of stale beer, piss, vomit, and the lingering greasy stench of hamburgers coooked under hubcaps that flowed out of The Clover Grill, long since boarded up and braced at the ready for God's upcoming muscle flex.

It was going to be a long day.


"You may shoot for the stars and end up in a back alley behind Pluto, beaten and bloodied, but at least I dare to dream, and that’s better than being Earthbound, mired in the muck of mediocrity.

I judge my forward progress and success by the crushingly epic nature of my failures.

The more epic the crash, the more I’m convinced I must be doing something right"





Mark Gotham said...

You oughtta write book, George. Your blog is an enjoyable read.

plunk88 said...

Thank You Mark:

Many people have told me that, but honestly? Few are inspired enough by the writing expend the effort to send it around via social networks; the first step to writing a book is getting someone in the industry excited about you writing one.

No Eyes, No Action. 67,100 page views isn't exactly setting the woods on fire.

All I can do is write them, publish them on the old intrawebs, and then just let it go.

Within all these blogs, there already resides a book called "Lake Boy". They're are just all spread out randomly, but most of the pieces fit together as a short story folio.