MARDI GRAS 2015: Sudden Friends & Second Acts


Decorated Step Ladder Children's Chairs Awaiting the Parades

Decorated Step Ladder Children’s Chairs Awaiting the Parades

I awoke around 4 a.m. the morning after Morpheus with a throbbing headache and downed some aspirin and a quart of coconut water. A few hours later I stirred again feeling exponentially better, but still far from well. It was my first serious over-indulgence since last Mardi Gras, and though a pretty good stretch I still cursed at myself. It was Valentine’s Day and I was in New Orleans. I didn’t have time to nurse a hangover.

At the nearby Ruby Slipper we were warned of an hour wait at it neared 11:00. As noon approached, the hostess informed me there were still 22 parties ahead of us, so we wandered a few blocks to Canal for an overpriced but tasty and desperately needed lunch at Palace Café, a Brennan family restaurant.

Our Valentine's Day Catches

Our Valentine’s Day Catches

Aimee was also feeling a bit drained after a full Friday, so with little vigor we perused the shops on Royal and Decatur before catching a bit of Iris (an all female krewe that handed me one of the best medallions of the season) and Tucks (an irreverent krewe throwing toilet paper, giant ‘Blow Me’ whistles, sunglasses with flaps, beer barrel beer koozies, and other silly novelties bearing their name). It was a lovely afternoon and I enjoyed reversing roles to spectator, but by late afternoon we retired to the hotel to nap and read in the tropical courtyard, venturing out only for a quiet Valentine’s dinner at Cochon Butcher and a handful of Endymion floats—the first Super Krewe of the weekend—before calling it an early night


Sunday morning I awoke reenergized, so we finally made our way Uptown to Slim Goodies. As I eagerly awaited my Creole Slammer (hash browns and eggs smothered in etouffee) and Aimee her pancakes (one pumpkin, one banana), I asked if Gideon was working. Soon a jolly, portly yet quietly dignified man appeared to exuberantly greet me.

Creole Slammer: Diner Bliss

Creole Slammer:
Diner Bliss

A walking library who has read seemingly everything in print, Gideon is another book club friend, and his story is a fascinating one I would love to tell in detail someday. Basically, though, [Read more…]

Mardi Gras 2015: Day of Nightmares, God of Dreams–Part 2


Perhaps the biggest concern of first-time Mardi Gras riders is “How much stuff should I buy?” There is no set answer, however, because it depends on your personality. Heavy throwers—like Marco beside me with a stash bigger than one of the elephants he trains—constantly fire beads and novelties like a machine gun, often tossing the unopened cellophane packages of a dozen strands that fill 20-25lb vinyl bags, and occasionally throwing the whole dang bag. Conversely, light throwers take plenty of time to sip their drinks and soak it in, tantalizingly dangling favors before the crowd until spotting someone in a sufficient frenzy to warrant the reward. Then there are folks in the middle like me. One of the first bits of advice I’d gotten before my first ride was “See who you throw to,” and that seemed to fit my style.

At least theoretically

Between the haste of our drivers after being stranded behind Krewe d’Etat, the overwhelming newness of it all, and a few too many Jello shots, I’d done my best to spot my targets but that first ride had been a blur. This year, however, as we rounded the corner onto Magazine Street I immediately felt like more relaxed and in control, like a second year NFL quarterback admitting the game has slowed down.


View Of the Crowd As We Turned Onto Magazine

View Of the Crowd As We Turned Onto Magazine

As we crept down Magazine it was immediately apparent that this crowd was special. After last year’s delay we’d lost many spectators—especially downtown—but this year the crowd remained thick and enthusiastic throughout. Perhaps it was because our delay hadn’t been as long, or our Freaky Friday theme kept them enthralled. It certainly wasn’t [Read more…]

Mardi Gras 2015: Day of Nightmares, God of Dreams, Part 1


2015-02-13 17.19.23Arriving back in New Orleans for the first time since summer, I did what most returning pilgrims do: went to eat. Although my heart was set on Slim Goodies—my favorite breakfast dive—prudence advised otherwise. It was already late morning and I had to load the beads I’d brought from home, stop by the store, and check into the hotel, all before Morpheus Bash at 2:00. Besides, NOPD shuts streets down early on parade days and I didn’t want to get caught Uptown; thus I exited onto Poydras and headed to my oldest NOLA culinary love, Mother’s. (Yes, critics, it’s overpriced with declining portions, but I stand by her quality!)

2015-02-13 16.52.45Aimee was accompanying me for her second Mardi Gras (though sadly her nephew and his girlfriend couldn’t make it after their infectious exuberance in 2014) so I dropped her off to stand in line and found parking nearby. Digging in my pockets I realized I didn’t have change but fortunately had parked in front of Barcadia so ducked inside to use their change machine. Returning with $2, I pumped it all into the meter advertising $1.50 an hour and watched it register 56 minutes. Grinning, I shook my head. Welcome back to New Orleans, where even the parking meters are on the take!


2015-02-13 12.34.16Although I recently wrote that I didn’t miss New Orleans food, I only meant as a full-time dietary staple. I fully intended to put the Fat in my Tuesday while in town and give myself a reason to [Read more…]

Mardi Gras 2015: Prelude to a Party


Leaving Last July With U-Haul in Tow

Leaving Last July With U-Haul in Tow

As New Orleans receded in my rearview mirror last July I felt certain I’d soon return. I longed for a second peek at a NOLA Halloween and the enchantment of a third straight Crescent City Christmas. Yet the next six months would be dominated by a tougher-than-expected return to the working world. I was passed over for the University job that had fit prominently into my reasoning for returning; I had a home health job lined up as backup but it was late August before I could prod them into processing my paperwork and then, after initially loading me up with new patient evaluations, they handed my caseload to an Occupational Therapist Assistant who would work for half the salary; I signed on with another company with two therapists out on maternity leave, but it turned out to be a small operation with only part-time employees so referrals were infrequent; I signed on with a third agency that promised 15-20 visits a week—a good two or three days—but their referrals flat-lined my first week as though I were some sort of cursed talisman.

Throughout autumn I scrambled for work, feeling the pressure of my extended absence. When the holidays finally rolled around I was suddenly swamped as everyone everywhere took vacation but I knew it wouldn’t last. Still, I busted my hump, often working Saturday and Sunday, afraid to turn anything away.

"Eric's Angels," My Old Therapy Team: Kim, Who Would Now Be My Boss, On Far Right

“Eric’s Angels,” My Old Therapy Team:
Kim, Who Would Now Be My Boss, On Far Right

During this temporary glut, however, I agreed to work for the Physical Therapist who had worked for me before I moved to New Orleans. She had slid into my supervisor’s position when I departed and since relocated—along with much of the building’s staff that I knew and loved—to a new memory care facility on the west side of town. I wasn’t exactly psyched to return to the stress and demand of memory/Alzheimer’s care and I dreaded the 30 mile/45 minute drive but it was steady work with folks who were thrilled to have me back (and sometimes it’s nice to feel needed!) Besides, it would be satisfying to reverse roles and simply see patients while Kim ran around in constant crisis management mode!!!

This new position was part-time but it kept me busy with the possibility of going full-time this summer when the company expands closer to home. Thus, after months of scrambling I entered 2015 with a bit of stability that allowed me to refocus.


It seems underemployment would allow time to write and travel, yet I was always hustling—searching and waiting like a physician perpetually on call, afraid to step out the door lest the phone finally ring. People often ask why I took a year off to write, and this is exactly why. Energy and focus are finite resources and some things they will forever remain on the back-burner unless you prioritize them. During my creative drought of the latter half of 2014 I did manage to work a little on a collection of short stories I’ve been conceptualizing for years, but for the most part was mired in creative limbo.


Santa Prepares to Ride

Our Awesome Morpheus Throws!

The approach of Christmas, however, lifted my malaise and left me yearning for some NOLA magic. Although I was now too swamped to visit, I finally dusted off the blog to reflect upon the things I missed and, for the sake of balance and self-reflection, the challenges and obstacles I didn’t. The latter, however, had softened with distance while the former weighed on my heart. Mardi Gras was approaching and I had no intention of missing it.

Marching With Chewbacchus

Marching With Chewbacchus

Perhaps the most fun I had during my entire adventure was marching with Chewbacchus, so watching my friends post pictures of their preparations online left me wistful. I’d clung to a faint hope of attending and then returning the next weekend for Morpheus, but family issues rendered that impracticality an impossibility. The Krewe of Morpheus, however, had set their deadline for dues at the end of October so I had already paid—underemployment and fiscal prudence be damned—so in January I booked my room at the Hampton Inn Convention Center and ordered my throws from Plush Appeal. It seemed a lavish indulgence, but I had no regrets. It was almost Mardi Gras and I was going to once again help host the party!


2015-02-13 16.52.45As January zipped past, so did emails between riders on my float; apparently I wasn’t the only one chomping at the bit. Crazy Don from Boston—who’d again ride beside me—ramped up the countdown he’d begun immediately after last year’s ride while puffing up his deflated Patriots as I antagonized him on Facebook. Doug from D.C. maintained his unfailing cheerfulness despite learning the power of an omitted accent mark, having caused a stir by describing our new nightcaps as lame instead of lame¢. (Yeah, I had to look it up.) The Karolina krewe reached out to see if I’d be back and blogging. It was clear no one’s mind was on work!

Although there are parades throughout Mardi Gras season, things truly kick off with Nyx the Wednesday evening before Ash Wednesday, with multiple parades following daily through Fat Tuesday. Last year Nyx had been my biggest booty bonanza of the season (maybe because I had two friends riding but more likely because I was dressed like a pirate!), and as I watched my K.R.A.P. friends post online about gathering again I sighed and finished packing, knowing I’d be on the road by the following afternoon.

My 2014 Nyx Booty

My 2014 Nyx Booty

At work the next morning I passed out beads to residents and staff (with other krewe’s logos since you can’t recycle another krewe’s beads), fleeing the fully-beaded Assisted Living in the early afternoon to plunge down the long, droning expanse of I-10 West. I’d booked a cheap room for the  night in a Biloxi casino, so as midnight approached I settled into bed with visions of sugar plums…err flying decorated shoes…dancing in my head, for Muses was finishing its march down Tchoupitoulas less than 90 miles away. Just one more sleep until Carnival!

The next morning as the city skyline appeared in the distance my heart leapt. My first attempt to settle New Orleans may have failed, but the city had captured a piece of my heart when I first arrived in 1998 and after living there for a year and a half I felt—in the tiniest way—a part of it; perhaps just a pebble on the shores of a mighty river, but it was my pebble now.




Volunteering at Jazz Fest: The Whackiness & Rewards Of Assisting Behind the Scenes


Taking A Break From My Labors

Taking A Break From My Labors

I’ve attended Jazz Fest for many years now, but for 2014 I had a chance to peek behind he scenes and earn free admission in the process. Although the daily price continues to climb–$70 at the gate as opposed to $20 when I first came in 1998—it’s still a bargain when you consider that not only do you get to see headliners like Bruce Springsteen who charge over $100 these days for nosebleed seats, but you get a full day’s worth of music on eleven stages beforehand as opposed to some lame opening act you didn’t even choose. Still, I’ve been pinching pennies the past year so when a friend suggested I volunteer in exchange for free admission I jumped at the chance.


The orientation material I received a week before Jazz Fest sounded very strict: you must arrive fifteen minutes before your shift or you won’t be admitted, you must return your signed slip and volunteer pin to the trailer immediately upon the end of your shift, no loitering at your station afterwards and drinking the water provided for staff and volunteers, your bag will be thoroughly searched, etc. Uncertain if they were serious, I worried about being late—a bad habit of mine—as well as completing four five-hour shifts on both Saturdays and Sundays; I didn’t want to wear myself out working in the sun before my day began. I should have known, though… [Read more…]

New Orleans Attractions: The National World War II Museum


WWII Me at Ticket CounterAs a history buff that has read a good deal about World War II including several books by local legend Stephen Ambrose (you’ve probably heard of Band of Brothers), I have been anticipating a trip to The National World War II Museum since moving to New Orleans. July 4th weekend had me feeling patriotic so the following Monday a friend and I wandered over to the Central Business District (or ‘American Sector’ as it was known when Canal was a sharp diving line between Creoles and Americans) to visit what was recently recognized as the top New Orleans Tourist Attraction.

WWII Aimee TankTrip Advisor ranks The National World War II Museum as the #1 New Orleans Tourist Attraction and the #7 museum in the U.S. I’d have a tough time taking exception. The compound stretches over several building between Magazine and St. Charles just before the overpass at Calliope and plans are underway for it to continue to grow. Be sure to allow yourself a day if not two. I could easily spend a week in there and considering the American Sector Restaurant is run by legendary chef John Besh and boasts ‘The Best Happy Hour In New Orleans’ I would be well and affordably fed. I would also be well entertained—The Stage Door Canteen is a dinner theater that features thematic performances and every Sunday the museum hosts swing dances with free lesson.

WWII Museum SurrenderAdmission is [Read more…]

My Year Of St. Patty’s Day, Part 2: Irish Channel Redo & Irish House Bubble & Squeak Stew


Lock & Reload: By Mid Afternoon I Was Ready to Rejoin the St. Patty's Party

Lock & Reload:
By Mid Afternoon I Was Ready to Rejoin the St. Patty’s Party

My Mardi Gras ailment had run smack into allergy season which, driving back and forth between Jacksonville and New Orleans, was compounded by completely different pollen potions. On February 9th the health insurance from my old job had terminated. On February 10th I had awoken sick, struggling on and off ever since. My religious notions are based more on irony and coincidence than faith. Some greater consciousness with a sadistic sense of humor seems to be pulling the strings, for such ironic juxtaposition occurs much too frequently in my life to dismiss as random chance.

On Thursday I had finally visited a Walgreens clinic to throw cash at a Nurse Practitioner for an Rx of ‘cheap’ antibiotics. I hadn’t been deathly ill since just after Mardi Gras but couldn’t shake ebbing and flowing congestion as well as bouts of achy exhaustion once or twice a week. I only mention this because March 17th was not only  St. Patrick’s Day–the climax of four days of celebration–but also ‘Super Sunday’ for Mardi Gras Indians–the one day when they all converge in daylight to show off their costumes and march together. My antibiotics apparently hadn’t worked their magic yet, however, and I woke up once again feeling spent. Instead of chasing Indians and leprechauns, [Read more…]

My Day of Mardi Gras, Part 4: Finale on Frenchman (Luck of the Indians)


Me? A Music Nerd?!

Me? A Music Nerd?!

I have always loved music, with my passion blooming into obsession in adolescence as my shyness and insecurity discovered a constant, non-judgmental companion.  In my early twenties I discovered jazz, and I was just beginning to explore New Orleans brass rhythms when I first visited the city in 1998.  Being the music nerd that I am, I rushed to Bourbon Street ready to embrace jazz history and modern innovation.  Instead I found seedy strip clubs, cheesy daiquiri bars, corny t-shirt shops, and sleazy dive bars full of bands playing the same stringy-haired southern rock you could find in any bar south of Philly.  (I swear these same damn bands were playing Duval Street on my first trip to Key West where I expected to find steel drums and the next young Buffett!  Doh!)

One of my reasons for writing this blog is that, while I’ve come to love New Orleans, it’s not an easy city to get to know.  Jazzfest was the perfect gateway because it encapsulates all that is great about the food, music, and culture in a confined, accessible area, but beyond this fleeting utopia it took effort, research, and years of visiting to begin to crack the code of a city that can be as intimidating as it is welcoming.  Thus, I aspire to provide a point of entry for uninitiated but curious readers who would otherwise step onto Bourbon, say “This is it?” and head home wondering what all the fuss is about.  So, if you are such a reader, take note: Frenchman Street is [Read more…]

My Day of Mardi Gras, Part 3: Drawn & French Quartered


Crossing Canal

Crossing Canal

As I reached Canal Street, newly baptized in hot chocolate and ready to cross into the Quarter, I found myself trapped.  The truck parade was still limping along (it had started around noon and it was now past 4pm!) down roads lined with metal barricades.  Emerging from St. Charles, the parade turned up Canal, rolling out of sight and creating a blockade that could take miles to circumnavigate. My feet were already throbbing and my cold certainly wasn’t improving. I’d spent over two hours and countless miles to get this far, so law and order would have to accommodate me at this point rather than vice versa.

Police presence, however, was strong this close to parade ground zero, for there is always a crush of tourists and over-enthusiastic locals on Canal Street radiating up and down the blocks adjacent to Bourbon.  I headed north until I saw that people were beginning to leap barriers and rush up to floats with outstretched arms.  Reaching a point where the breach was large enough to provide cover, I leaned over the iron railing and sat my hobo pack on a discarded, crushed box.  Rain was still misting down and the streets–notorious for potholes in this town–were covered with puddles of rain, run-off, and other substances you’d rather not identify, [Read more…]

My Day of Mardi Gras, Part 2: From Families to Freaks on St. Charles


The Pirate Hobo Sets Off On His Mardi Gras Mission

The Pirate Hobo Sets Off On His Mardi Gras Mission

It had rained during our lunch respite, but the crowds remained strong and steady if not overwhelming as I left Superior Seafood and began to wander down St. Charles Avenue.  The truck parade was chugging along–a good two hours strong–and would still be in its final stages a couple of hours later as I reached Canal Street, blocking my entrance into the French Quarter.  It was a little melancholy leaving my friends again and setting off alone into one of the greatest communal celebrations in our nation.  I’d always attended Mardi Gras with friends, the last time with some of my dearest on this planet, but this time I was on a mission as opposed to just hanging out.  Despite slinging a hobo pack over my pirate-clad shoulder, I was serious about documenting as much as I could before midnight struck. [Read more…]