Archives for June 2013

French Quarter Living: Tow Truck Trials


Waldo-image_approvedSince moving into the French Quarter a week prior, my short and fitful spurts of sleep had been punctuated with restless dreams of my truck being towed. I was sure I’d sooner or later forget about Tuesday and Thursdays street cleaning, earning a hefty towing bill. Because of this paranoia I had circled my truck twice Thursday night and returned Friday morning to ensure I wasn’t in violation of street signs or painted boundaries; thus, as I stood Sunday night around midnight looking at another car parked where I’d left my truck, neither option made sense—towing my legally parked vehicle or stealing my old and battered truck.


I was certain of where I had parked but suspected police would question my memory, so I decided to canvas nearby streets on my bike. I raced home, sweating profusely and frantically muttering to myself, and quickly Googled the nearest police station (the other end of Royal) before taking off on two wheels. [Read more…]

Read Beans On Monday: Dirty Little Angels


Dirty Little Angels

by Chris Tusa

Dirty Little Angels is a stark portrait of the challenges of modern adolescence, particularly in a city like New Orleans where violence can be part of the social fabric and wrong turns seem to far outnumber the straight and narrow. In a bold choice by first novelist, Chris Tusa, the narrative is written from the first person perspective of 16-year-old Hailey, who is not only trapped in that limbo between child and adult we call adolescence, but in between middle-class and working poor as her family’s economic foundation rapidly slips away. Neither of her self-involved parents are currently employed. Her mother, a nurse, has succumbed to depression after a miscarriage and has little energy left to care for her two surviving children. Her father is out of work and too proud to take an interview at Wal-Mart lined up by a neighbor, but instead chooses to focus his energy on playing pool and courting a waitress at a nearby Mexican restaurant who moonlights as a stripper.

In the absence of parental guidance, Hailey turns to a best friend whose narcissism and loose morals erode her self-esteem and lead her to questionable choices, and her brother who tries to look out for her but ultimately puts both of them in physical and spiritual peril through his friendship with Moses, an ex-con who masquerades as a preacher but whose swift and violent brand of administering the Lord’s judgment leads to the novel’s jarring conclusion. Although Chase tries to play the tough big brother, it is Hailey who ultimately faces up to the violent and corrupt ‘minister,’ forcing her to face her own Dirty Little Angels.

This novel weighs in at only 147 pages, making Hailey’s journey down the road to perdition swift and jolting. The one detour on this rapid road revolves around brief friendship Hailey forms with the husband of her father’s lover who is in the hospital dying of cancer. The narrator originally tracks him down to expose his wife’s duplicity and pry her away from her father, but Hailey finds she cannot reveal the painful truth to this gentle soul facing death so bravely. This man’s calm, courage, and compassion briefly fills the gaping void in Hailey’s life, but she soon returns to find his bed empty. It is a touching interlude in an otherwise bleak tale.

With its gritty language and brash imagery, this novel is not for the faint of heart. Tusa likes to play with language and challenge his readers, but if you’re willing to go along for the rocky ride you’ll be moved by a compelling portrait of teenage depression (the narrator feels as through cockroaches are scurrying around her head) and of innocence lost. Does Hailey truly succumb to moral erosion due to a lack of a positive social framework or is she merely a survivor making difficult but brave choices to save herself and her family? Tusa raises such questions that are meant to be argued late into the night at local bars and coffee shops as readers process the shocking ending and its implications for the state of our modern world.





Creole Tomato and Cajun & Zydeco Festivals, Day 2: Making Friends & Losing Trucks


Me & Finn Dean Playing Dress Up at the Creole Tomato Festival

Me & Finn Dean Playing Dress Up at the Creole Tomato Festival

Despite my frequent misadventures, my time in New Orleans has been amazing—at times transcendent and at times trying but never boring and always providing opportunities to grow. Besides, embracing the unexpected and insane isn’t in the fine print when you move to New Orleans—it’s in bold print italics and double underlined! Thus, the bizarre housing hunt, sketchy characters, and failed expectations merely enhance the story and add a little humor. The one true challenge, however, has been attempting to start over socially. In the ten years I lived in Jacksonville I developed a rich and diverse collection of funny, intelligent, kind and supportive friends. Such connections can’t simply be replaced, yet the biggest challenge of living in north Florida was maintaining my connections with not only family but friends from high school, college, OT school, and camp I’d left behind in the mid-Atlantic triangle of West Virginia/Virginia/Maryland, not to mention a sister that lives in Massachusetts and a best friend in Wisconsin. So in moving to New Orleans, I’ve compounded this difficult distance once again.

I am outgoing and unafraid to strike up a conversation, so I have met literally thousands of people since moving to town. Still, I don’t ‘fall in’ with groups easily. I can hold a superficial conversation with nearly anyone, yet don’t instantly sync with whoever is in the vicinity like some people seem to. It takes me time to find well-rounded people I ‘click’ with, and thus the hardest part of this move has been [Read more…]

Read Beans On Monday: Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children


Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children

John Chase

New Orleans is a patchwork city woven together over centuries from former plantations and villages, resulting in a system of roads that were haphazardly designed and named over varying historical epochs. This can make for frustrated driving but great storytelling. In Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children, cartoonist John Chase reveals the city’s history through the odd, hilarious, and often sordid history of its streets. This book was first published in 1949 and is based upon lectures he began delivering while World War II still raged; thus, the language can be slightly dated, neighborhoods have sometimes grown and changed, and his racial bias (moreso regarding Native Americans) can at times make you cringe. Yet the very fact that this book remains a favorite history of the city and is in its eighth decade of print attests to the virtues that far outweigh its faults.

I re-read this book for this review and it definitely made more sense once I’d had time to navigate the city and become familiar with its layout. Still, there are plenty of humorous and colorful anticdotes to keep even the casual visitor entertained. Chase starts with the original city, the French Quarter, and follows the expansion outward, so the stories lose some of their charm as he moves to more modern sectors. There is much more history in the French Quarter and Garden District than across the river in Algiers or Westwego (the only town in the U.S. that is a complete sentence!)

The fact that a cartoonist and not historian guides this tour gives the book a jovial tone that has delighted readers for generations. For example, [Read more…]

Creole Tomato and Cajun & Zydeco Festivals, Day 1


The Old U.S. Mint At Decatur & Esplanade

The Old U.S. Mint At Decatur & Esplanade

When I awoke Saturday, commencing my second week as a French Quarter resident, my allergy symptoms still lingered but I was gradually coping. Nights were the worst, locked up in that space that seemed so rustically quaint a few weeks prior, and I slept little but still had regained some of my energy. Thus, I went for a short bike ride and cooked a big breakfast (now having the luxury of a kitchen) before heading out to the Creole Tomato Festival and the Cajun and Zydeco Festival, both of which were a stone’s throw from my apartment.


Lawn Stage

Lawn Stage

The Cajun and Zydeco Festival, sponsored by the Jazz & Heritage Foundation, is held at the Old U.S. Mint where Decatur Street meets Esplanade at the French Quarter/Marigny boundary two blocks from my new place. Around noon I wandered over to the front lawn of the Old Mint where the main stage was ringed by food booths and vendors. On the opposite side of this large, red brick builidng Esplanade was closed for a second stage. A third small stage was tucked away at the Creole Tomato Festival in the French Market bordering the Old Mint.

Esplanade Stage

Esplanade Stage

Although I’m a fan of most New Orleans music, I’m not deeply into Cajun or Zydeco so I enjoyed myself but was never enthralled. For those who don’t know the difference, [Read more…]

New Orleans Tourist to New Orleans Tenant: My First Week In The French Quarter


When I left off, it was Saturday evening, I had just moved into my apartment on Decatur Street, and I was heading out on a cocktail tour of the French Quarter with the extra ticket from a friend still not realizing that there were two Jakes in my building, one of whom was my new roommate.


antoines-new-orleans1jpg-f48f21a2213619d6_largeThe tour itself was informative and entertaining, though fortunately free as it didn’t warrant the sticker price. Our first stop was a small but apparently popular restaurant on Royal whose name escapes me. It was named after an old opera house around the corner though there was really no historic connection. The drink we were ‘introduced’ to here was a Moscow Mule, which my professor friend mentioned last article brings to every party she attends (and doesn’t charge $9 for what is effectively a fancy highball!) At the popular but pedestrian Court of Two Sisters, I skipped the overly sweet cocktail altogether.

Krewe of Rex Room

Krewe of Rex Room

We only visited three places, but at Antoine’s we embarked on a lengthy and detailed tour. Antoine’s is an upscale Creole restaurant that is not only the oldest continually run family restaurant in New Orleans but [Read more…]

Read Beans On Monday: Up From The Cradle of Jazz


Since thinking up this blog I’ve wanted to do weekly reviews of New Orleans books and/or authors; though commissions on books are miniscule, it’s a way to at least start earning a penny for my thoughts as well as to start branching into the literary community and make connections. The goal of doing weekly reviews is a lofty one, though. My professor friend Jen Wesely once complained her real year-long sabbatical flew by and my retired parents never have free time, and so I find My Year of Mardi Gras mysteriously flying by. Still, though I may fall short some weeks, making this a weekly ritual led naturally to the ‘Read Beans on Monday’ pun. It’s not perfect, but months of contemplation conjured nothing better (Read Bins On Monday was 2nd choice and that’s horrendous!)

Last week I blogged about stumbling into McKeown’s Books on Tchoupitoulas and the warm greeting I received. As planned, I returned Thursday  for the monthly book club where everyone simply shares the latest non-fiction they’ve finished. Everyone again was welcoming and extremely helpful, tossing out names of potential contacts when I revealed I was a writer looking to connect. After taking my turn sharing a critique of the book below, I felt it was time to finally get off my tush and start reviewing. So it begins . . . .


Up From the Cradle Of Jazz: New Orleans Music Since World War II

Jason Berry, Jonathan Foose, & Tad Jones

Up From the Cradle of Jazz is a thorough and intensive overview of New Orleans music, focusing most of its energy on [Read more…]

New Orleans Tourist to New Orleans Tenant: Moving Day Mishaps



Clearing Out

I skipped coffee and breakfast Saturday morning—my groceries were still packed up!—but didn’t want to show up before 10:00 since Debra bartended until 3a.m., so instead pulled out my acoustic guitar and sat on the porch serenading John Fohl’s dogs one last time (though they had eventually tired of howling at me). Monday night I had stopped by Dos Jefes Uptown Cigar Bar to watch John perform while I still lived nearby. He stopped by to chat before the set and caught me again a few days later as I was getting in my truck. When I asked him about that gig, he revealed he’s held it down since moving to town over a decade and a half ago. Impressive! Felling ballsy, I asked him about his solo career after parting ways with Dr. John—he’s busy gigging with other artists—and we fell into a conversation about the quirkiness and difficulty of musicians. A few years ago I had formed a ‘living room band’ with a close friend. I was fully aware of our limited talent and potential, so was shocked when egos tore us apart. Perplexed and depressed by the experience, I fell in with a small blues and R&B band where I could hide from sight and sound on rhythm guitar yet again egos and musician flakiness took their toll. I commented that if egos could be strong in such extremely amateur settings, I couldn’t imagine dealing with truly talented professionals. John just shook his head and laughed as if to say, “If you only knew…” He seems to be that rare person who is as nice as he is talented and I’m embarrassed that he’s heard me so many times on the porch fumbling on guitar; hopefully he was asleep as I serenaded his dogs one last time.


20130601_092524Even though Debra had said any time after 10:00 would work, I was determined to be right on time. Thus I was fully packed by a quarter after 9, having sheepishly asked a neighbor’s roofer to help me load my futon. Thinking yesterday was my last day, I had already completed my final errand by asking Nancy the meaning of a painting hanging above the toilet that had perplexed me for months every time I went to urinate: [Read more…]

New Orleans Tourist to New Orleans Tenant: My Last Day Uptown, Deja Vu Edition


The_ScreamFriday I was to move into my new place on Decatur Street sometime after 5:00, so around 4:00 I wandered back from my Snow Bliz and bookshop adventure, swinging by the library-in-a-mansion one last time, and started packing my truck. Yet if you’ve read any of this blog you know nothing regarding my housing search in New Orleans has gone as planned!


The_ScreamCommunicating via text is always cause for disaster. Debra, who I’m subletting from, has been crazy busy lately moving her daughter and grandson, picking up double shifts after a co-worker’s fiancé died suddenly, and catering an upcoming wedding. I had hoped to move in Friday morning, but when she said she would be tied up in Metairie until 5:00 I took that as a soft target—99% of the time if someone says they’re busy until X o’clock they are giving you an estimate; if you show up at that exact estimated moment they’ll inevitably be halfway across town and you’ll seem overeager at best or pushy and impatient at worst. Thus, I kept checking for my phone for a message she was home, trying to play it cool.  As 5:00 neared I was over halfway through packing my truck and broke down to text and see if Debra was home. I received a shocked reply saying that I was supposed to be there . . . now. I apologized and said I’d hurry up and finish packing, but she texted back and said [Read more…]

New Orleans Tourist to New Orleans Tenant: My Last Days Uptown


20130531_150105There is a relaxed, residential feel in Uptown New Orleans that I will miss. In fact, although eager to experience life in the bustling French Quarter, I’m a little worried at how my laid back constitution will handle twenty-four bustle of this compact yet ceaselessly cosmopolitan neighborhood. Thus, I spent my last days in Uptown wandering the streets lined with tropical cottages, revisiting favorite spots and trying a few that had so far eluded me.


20130530_141312For months I passed Il Posto, a small Italian café tucked curiously away in my Uptown residential neighborhood, but never tried it until about a month ago after it kept getting recommended. The first time I stopped in, I even walked out since they don’t have a full breakfast menu—only fruit cups and bagels with a combination of veggies, cream cheese, and lox. I returned another morning, however, with adjusted expectations and was surprised at [Read more…]