Monthly Archives: January 2015

Broken Hearts and Happy Hearts

The following is an excerpt from my memoir, “The Kid Who Got Away.”

As we drove over the Causeway that night, we hit a rise. From that point, all of New Orleans was visible, laid out before us like the great big party that it is. The view was different this time, though. It was dark, black as the night we’d driven so far through. I was late. There was an 8:00 P.M. curfew preventing anyone from entering the city. The National Guard was manning all the checkpoints. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I began to weep for my broken city.

As I sped through the darkened streets of New Orleans with tears streaming down my face, all I could see was the tons of debris piled high along the sides of the road, the shattered remnants of natures wrath. Natural powers combined with the stupidity of man had wreaked havoc upon one of the great cities of the world. The difference was, it was MY city. MY beloved New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina was long gone, flown away on her murderous Wings of Death and Destruction.

What she left behind was unrecognizable.

You don’t live in New Orleans. You LOVE New Orleans. Watching the news reports as they showed video upon video of the levee breaches. Watching this was like standing alone, so very alone, watching a naked child torn apart by wolves…YOUR child. The screams, cries, death and destruction painted vividly upon your consciousness for eternity. As my friend Fred Goodrich (Freddie Blue) told an NPR personality, “There is no POST in our Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

As we approached the checkpoint, I was unable to breathe let alone talk. The soldier asked me a number of question about curfews and such. My responses were garbled, lost in my pain. He’d apparently had similar experiences. He let us through. I drove to our temporary crash paid at the home of my friend CJ.

It was then that the work began.


nolatravlinman

I am mad. Not as in angry. I am mad, daft, coo-coo, whacko. My curb does not go all the way to the curb. I am actually leaving New Orleans during Mardi Gras while most people are traveling to New Orleans.

Mardi Gras is that special time of year when locals pull out all the stops. In New Orleans, a place with very few “stops,” that’s saying a lot. Forget about getting anything serious done. It ain’t gonna happen. Two weeks before Ash Wednesday, people forget their woes and remember where they put that mask. As my dear friend and former neighbor Al “Carnival Time” Johnson says, “It’s Carnival Time and everybody’s havin’ fun!”

I wish I hadn’t forgotten my camera back in Ol’ MeHeeKo because the colors and the sights are breathtaking. Huge floats, glamorous Kings and Queens, colorful throws, tasty King Cakes and children (along with some adults) entreating, “Through me sumpin’, mistuh.” marching bands and throngs of people add up to one helluva site, day or night.

Many music clubs are open 24-7, pumping out some of the funkiest music one could ever hear, serving up the unique rhythms of New Orleans to one and all. Revelers dance their cares away in an array of costumes made in China, at home, or elaborate wardrobe studios. Bourbon and Frenchmen Streets come alive with the Second Line sound.

I’ll have a little time while I’m here to be a part of the party. I’ll enjoy every minute of it. It’s nice to feel at home in New Orleans. You haven’t lived fully unless you experienced at least one Mardi Gras.

Be excellent to each other and remember: Think twice before hitting “Send.”

Advertisements

Billie and the Bagels

The following is an excerpt from my memoir, “The Kid Who Got Away.”

“I will NEVER travel south of the Mason/Dixon line…ever.” That’s what my friend Beth once told me. Here I was moving a way on down to Dixie. New Orleans, Louisiana, to be exact.

I really didn’t know what to expect, being a New Yorker. I had performed as an actor and musician in every state in the country except for Alaska and Hawaii. These were all in larger venues like theaters, universities and movie sets. I had never done what I was about to do: play a private party in rural Alabama.

It didn’t help that, after my initial welcome by the great WWOZ Radio DJ Bill DeTurk, I came face-to-face with my new landlady Paula Rangell, greeting me with, “Oh! I thought you were white.” That following Mardi Gras I would discover just how deep-rooted her racism was when she asked me if I knew what the real meaning of “Pontiac” is. “Poor old nigger thinks it’s a Cadillac!” This was early on in our relationship and the jury was not yet in.

I did my first gig (on bass) with her very shortly after my arrival in New Orleans, though it was actually in Alabama on Halloween. After the long drive, we hit the driveway to the huge house we were contracted to play at. That driveway seemed to go on for miles.  My apprehension grew as we sped through the night. I grew up watching Dr. Martin Luther King and his posse on TV as they got their heads bashed in, were knocked over by fire hoses and bitten by dogs. This was Alabama! I could almost hear Billy Holiday singing “Strange Fruit” as the van’s headlights illuminated ghostly figures of black bodies glowing in the night, hanging from trees along the roadside. My anxiety grew.

We arrived safe and sound. We were never stopped by hooded horsemen intent on dragging me out of the van and into the woods. I did feel so all alone with the all-white band and audience. It didn’t help that, after setting up and playing the blues, Paula whipped out her famous “I’m gonna alienate the audience” routine. At one point she commented to the crowd, “Man! Ya’ll are just plain ugly.” She called them everything but the Child of God. I had never witnessed anyone brutalize an audience so intensely. I discovered later from guitarist Cranston Clements, a regular in her band, that this was not unusual. He shrugged and said, “That’s just Paula bein’ Paula.”

I would eventually realize that Alabama was not the same as the one MLK experienced in the 60s. I would also realize that Paula was just, well, “…bein’ Paula.” I vowed never to gig with her again. I never did.


nolatravelinman

She opened the door. She was young, tall, very attractive and dressed in a short, black negligee. I was dressed like a cross between a homeless loony and a kid off to school on a snowy school day. New York winters make you dress like that a lot. Especially when it’s 28 deg. out and the wind is kickin’ ass.

We stared at each other for a moment, shocked for different reasons. She had obviously been expecting someone else. I had been fumbling around trying to get into the wrong apartment. I had the wrong key AND the wrong key hole. I had never seen this woman before. I apologized, hurrying down the stairs and out of the door, continuing my search for the right building. I moved swiftly, hoping I wouldn’t be greeted by one of New York’s Finest by the time I got downstairs.  A fitting first night back in the Big Apple for me.

New York City has always held plenty of surprises for me. Mostly though, it offers comfort foods, the tasty if not totally unhealthy cuisine of my youth. This visit held out a tantalizing array of “New York-style” pizza, Thai food and bagels, bagels, bagels. Maybe it’s the water. I don’t know. There is  nothing that can compare with a breakfast composed of a bagel at Brooklyn Bagel, coffee and the New York Times. It puts me in a “New York State of Mind,” as Billy Joel says.

I try to spend my birthday each year with my family. This year featured presentations of cuteness the world has never seen. This by my two year-old granddaughter, Oona. I dote on her. This is my second chance. I am determined to get it right this time.

I have referred to many places around the world as “home.” When asked now “Where are you from?” I always answer, “New Orleans.” That being said, I’ll always be a kid from Brooklyn.

Be excellent to each other and remember: Think twice before hitting “Send.”