Friday, February 22, 2013

Apropos of Nothhng

These aren't NOLA or island-related thoughts. Just things that pop into my head from time to time. 

Am I nuts? 

If I suggested a movie plot about backwoods brothers – isolated, lonely, religious – who decide to make their way to the nearest town, grab some women and take them away to be their brides, you'd at least expect there would be a scene – possibly the whole last third of the movie – involving a standoff with agents from the FBI and ATF. It'd be one of those true crime, "ripped from the headlines" stories.

Instead, it's a famous musical. "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," possibly the stupidest musical of all time, in which the brothers are the heroes of the piece. It has to be the worst idea for a musical I've ever heard. A musical about kidnapping and conspiracy to commit rape? And it's a classic.

Speaking of musicals: There's an ad for a lite beer featuring manly men singing about their workout regimes and how hard they try to be manly, and how Miller 64 fits in with that. It's a rousing song, a "Student Prince" sort drinking-house singalong. You've probably heard it. "To Miller 64! To Miller 64!" In one regard, it's very effective. Every time that ad comes on, it makes me want to sing. It does not, however, make we want to drink their shitty beer.

Light beer? No thanks, I try not to drink cat urine. I'll take a nice micro-brewed dark beer, or when I can get it, Rogue Brewery's Dead Guy Ale.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Last Mardi Gras Thoughts

-- When we marched in Tuesday's Mardi Gras with the Krewe of Pirates, we were joined by members of the Whiskey Bay Rovers, a pirate and mariners folk group who provided music from time to time during the sojourn.

The Whiskey Bay Rovers were a couple of men short, but they had made up for it with wit and personality. I particularly liked their take on "Cape Cod Girls," with an unusual syncopated rhythm that made it a great marching song.

And meeting them provided an unexpected ego-boost.

We were at the fleet-master's house in the morning, waiting to get moving, when the Rovers showed up. And as they walked in the backyard, Duffy introduced us and one stopped with a look of pleased surprise, then shook my hand. "I love your book!" he said. "It's one of my favorite books! It changed my life."

He was talking about "Pirattitude!" which Cap'n Slappy and I wrote about 10 years ago, self-published as "Well Blow Me Down," then rewrote and rewrote until it got picked up by a publisher. (An author never really finishes his book, he just fiddles with it until he eventually decides to ship it off to a publisher.)

Imagine my reaction when he explained that the book had helped give him the courage to stand up to his boss and get fired from his job at a collection agency, then spurn their offer of severance pay in exchange for keeping his mouth shut about the thing that had prompted the standoff. Instead of taking the payment (hush money,) he preferred to keep his freedom and self-respect. He went on and became a teacher.

I'm pretty sure he already had the intestinal fortitude for that, but still, it felt really good to hear.

-- One of the pirate brethren Tuesday had the most beautiful pirate hat I've ever seen. Don't get me wrong, I love my tricorn, which I got 10 years ago from Captain Jack's Pirate Hats, made by the MacKay and topped by a long orange macaw feather given me by the bird's owner. It's a little old, a little battered, a little worn – just like me. But still proud. And Cap'n Slappy's cavalier hat from is a sight to behold.

Now THAT'S a pirate hat!
But this hat was gorgeous, a big leather tricorn in a deep, dark red, almost mahagony, with hand tooling, silver buttons, a ribboned medallion and several long plumes. The picture here shows it, but (like Mardi Gras itself) you have to see it up close to get the full effect. It glowed, burning with an inner fire. I've never seen anything quite like it. It was made by a local artisan and when I learned how much he paid for it, I was stunned. That was a really reasonable price for such a beautiful head piece. More than I've got to spend on a hat right now, but really reasonable.

Part way through our march, the hat's maker – who goes by the pirate name Jean Lafitte Papillion – joined our throng, a really nice guy who talked about how he'd seen some nice leather work and decided, "I could learn to do that." And boy, did he. He tells me he keeps making himself swords, and baldrics and things, then ends up selling them to admirers. So he finally set it up like a business, along with performing as a pirate in venues around southern Louisiana and Mississippi. You can see his site at His own hat was very nice, but the one on Capt. Sir Henry Martin was unreal.

-- I mentioned in Thursday's post that one of the pirates in the krewe was pregnant – seven months – and pushing her two-year-old daughter in a stroller. You'd think that'd be a good reason to skip Mardi Gras this year, but no, you can't skip Mardi Gras, even if you can't drink and you no longer live in New Orleans, or even in Louisiana. She and her husband had moved away, but came back because you just have to. And this year he was crowned pirate king by the krewe, so she was there for his big moment. As I watched her pushing the stroller down streets cobbled in plastic beads, all I could think was, "Now there's a good sport."

Thursday, February 14, 2013

More Mardi Gras: Wouldn't You Rather Be a Pirate?

Increasingly random recollections of Mardi Gras.

You KNOW he'd rather be a pirate!
– As I mentioned in the previous post, people put a lot of effort into their Mardi Gras costumes. There was a little bit of everything. But everyone I passed, no matter how fancy their duds, I thought the same thing, and a couple of times I said it aloud: "Admit it. You'd rather be a pirate."

This was especially true of the guy dressed as a daisy, or the cowboys.

Marching down Royal.
– Early in the going were were marching down Royal Street with our good ship, followed closely by your classic New Orleans jazz band playing a lively march. It was slow going and one of the band members asked me if we couldn't go faster, because this was a wedding party and the they had to get to their destination by a certain time. Certainly seemed like a bad idea – not the Mardi Gras wedding but the idea you'd schedule something that depended on your arrival at a specific time on this date. I explained I had absolutely no control over the Pirate Krewe, let alone the flow of traffic. So they stayed behind us. As it turned out, the wedding was directly across the street from the bar toward which we were heading, and the band was delivering the bride. So it's not like the wedding could start before they got there. We were witnesses to the whole ceremony, which took place on the porch. The "minister," who was dressed in something like a giant beach ball, was using a woefully underpowered microphone, so we didn't hear much even though we were less than 30 feet away. But judging from the reaction, "She said I do."

– A band of musicians was winding down the street, heading in the opposite direction we were traveling. They were all painted sort of green, like the patina on old copper, and barely legally dressed. The percussionist was wearing a vest and a small pouch on his genitals. As he passed I leaned over and said, "Arr matey! You've got yer eye patch in the wrong place."

Max takes a turn pulling the ship.
– A word about the ship. The Krewe of Pirates has built a small ship, maybe 10 or 12 feet long and four feet at the beam. They've actually built several, but they keep getting stolen, or at least they have disappeared with some regularity. (I smell frat boys!) It's built so that it can be taken apart and stored and put together again fairly easily. And it was light and maneuverable, easy to pull through the crowded streets, and we managed to never hit a car!

Fog or fire?
Tuesday morning it was out in front of the master of the fleet's house, loaded up. But they had one more thing to add. A couple of guys had a portable fog machine which they put in the bow. The idea was, it would look like the ship was coming through a bank of fog like when you first see the Black Pearl in "Pirates of the Caribbean. But when they installed it and turned it on, it looked less as if the ship were emerging from a fog bank and more as if the ship were on fire. So that idea got scrapped. I don't know if they were mollified when I pointed out that, no matter what the movies show, there is no fog in the Caribbean. The recipe for fog is warm moist air and cold dry air. The only fog I ever saw was on a particularly warm wet day when my car's air conditioning was running full tilt.

The Krewe of Pirates' ship is a wee small barky, but she's yarr. Pulling her through the crowded streets was easy enough. If people didn't move, you just kept going, shouting "Make a hole!" and "Pirate ship coming through!" If that didn't work, you shouted "No brakes! No steering!" It was true, and it  tended to work.

Beads and bubbles cascade down from a balcony.
But as the day went on, the streets got harder to traverse. Not because it was crowded. It was crowded all day! That was the fun of it. But as you may have heard, beads are the common currency of Mardi Gras. And it has nothing to do with tossing beads to girls who flash their boobs, although that still goes on too. But it's mostly just beads everywhere. Beads flying through the air. Beads cascading down from balconies and flying up to balconies from our cannon. And by late afternoon, the streets were coated in beads. It wasn't possible to take a step without crunching through beads. And since there had been a light sprinkle of rain, the roads were paved with wet beads. Treacherous underfoot, and doubly so when pulling a pirate ship.

– I made one huge tactical mistake Tuesday. I have two pair of pirate boots – I chose the sharp looking ones instead of the comfortable ones. Wrong wrong wrong. By the end of the day I was dragging, and my feet were throbbing. I mean absolutel agonoy. They have never hurt so much in my life, even when my foot got run over by a car. As we walked back towards the master of the fleet's house, I was falling behind and it really was painful. I also had to pee so bad I was almost cramping up. I knew I was in trouble when the pregnant pirate pushing her two-year-old in a stroller was pulling away from me. I made it, but just barely.

– Meanwhile, I had lost Tori and Max, or they had lost us. Tori's friend Marina, who she hadn't seen in about five years, was in town for Mardi Gras, so Tori and Max broke off late in the day to visit with her and the friend she was staying with. I was frantically sending her directions by text when she ran across Charles Duffy, the master of the fleet, who walked them back. (It was after all, his house.) Stopping at a couple of bars on the way, and constantly getting sidetracked by boobs. They got their eventually, and I was almost able to walk again.

Tori guides the ship while maintaining proper hydration.
What a day! Can't wait to do it again – in the right boots!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

No Other Word for Mardi Gras than – Wow!

There is simply no way to explain Mardi Gras. You've heard and said it before, "You can't explain it, you had to be there." This time that statement is absolutely true. Absolutely.

Mad Sally and Ol' Chumbucket had an awesome day!
Let me start by thanking the Krewe ofPirates 2013 for inviting Tori, me and Max to join them for the most amazing afternoon. I've met and I've marched with more than a few pirate crews and they all tend to be fun, open-minded, big-hearted and occasionally empty headed (in a really good way,) and the Krewe was no exception. Special thanks to Charles Duffy, master of the fleet (and Max's newest Drunken Bastard Uncle II. Captain Slappy is the original, one and only Drunken Bastard Uncle to our kids. And when he and Charles eventually meet they'll get along famously.) – anyway, special thanks for making the contact and making us feel not just welcomed, but wanted.

There's way too much to write in one sitting, and certainly way too much for anyone to read. So today is just a start.

It's not just a party – it's a state of mind
Mardi Gras is not a parade. It's not even really a party. It's a state of mind. There are official parades, of course, very famous ones, but most of the revelers scoffed at them. Those are run by chamber of commerce and visitor association types who put them on for the tourists, they said. The real Mardi Gras is the seething, celebrating mass of costumed humanity that takes over the streets and dances and struts and unabashedly enjoys itself.

Imagine a costume – any costume. Someone was wearing it on the streets of the French Quarter Tuesday. Teams in themed costumes. A guy dressed as both a samurai warrior AND the dragon he was battling. Lots of French aristos. A couple of guys dressed as good luck kitties. A guy wearing a large sheet of cardboard that said "Free mammograms" – and over the two holes cut out for his hands, "Place breasts here." I wonder how well that worked. Cowboys and flowers and "scientists" and plenty of scantily clad partyers of both sexes, playing both sexes.

There is no official route, though we did on several occasions find our way mingling with or cutting across more organized parades. And there isn't a line between paraders/partiers and the watchers. Everyone was just out there, and it was beautiful. Peaceful was NOT a word you'd use. Loud, raucous, wild, those all apply. Still, with tens of thousands of people, most of drunk or working on it, jamming the streets and flowing in different directions, there was no aggressiveness or ass-hole-ry, at least none I saw. When people bumped into you (and that was a given, happened hundreds of times) they'd quickly apologize (and I always answered, "Oh, my pleasure!")

One of the highlights, if not THE highlight, was breaking the window of a multi-million dollar home. Not that it was necessarily US who broke the window, I'm certainly not admitting that. But a window was definitely broken. Talking about it afterwards, several of the pirates said it was even better than a couple of years ago when they almost killed the little old lady.

Taking aim at a party. This is NOT where the window broke

The Krewe of Pirates is renowned for its bead cannons, two long pieces of PVC pipe mounted on wagons, with surgical tubing for a firing mechanism. They loft a load of beads high above the crowd and hundreds of feet down the street. When people gather on the balconies looking down on the streets, we would stop and fire, lobbing swag into their parties, sometimes with amazing accuracy. A guy on one balcony held out his hat, and our gunner shot a load of beads straight into it. While this was going on, people would happily clear a circle for it, watching and cheering. Everyone loved it.

So there were a half dozen people on a second story, wrought iron balcony of a very lovely, classic French Quarter house. They were egging the pirates on – I mean some group of pirates, I'm certainly not admitting it was us. A load of beads would be fired, and just miss, overshooting or undershooting or just off to the side. So finally the powder monkey put a bunch of beads into a small pouch and loaded that into the canon. The cannoneer took careful aim and let fire. If the guy on the balcony – he was waving and catcalling about how the gun couldn't hit anything – if he had just put his hand up and TRIED to catch the thing instead of ducking, he would have deflected it. Instead he just watched as the bag flew past him and smacked into the window, punching a hole into the glass and shattering the pane, followed by the full-throated cheering of the thousands of costumed revelers. Not that any of them could or would identify the shooters, as the pirate captain quickly shouted, "Haul anchor, haul anchor! Run away, run away!"

If I happen to see that gunner, I'll tell him, "Good shot!" Not that I have any idea who it was.

Tori, center, and Max join the cheers for a good shot!
The bead cannons figure into a key piece of Krewe of Pirates lore, the 2009 Mardi Gras when they routed the Christians. Every year an aggressive group of Bible thumpers goes down to the quarter to scold everyone for having fun, carrying huge signs explaining exactly why we are all going to hell, and offering friendly advice about what God thinks of our behavior. Spoiler alert – she's apparently displeased. Somebody once defined puritanism as "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere is having a good time."

In 2009 the Christians were gathered in front of St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square. The pirates were just coming out of Pirates Alley (that's an actual street, right next to the cathedral. Gotta love a town where Pirates Alley is an official street, not a tourist shop.) and decided to do something about it. There's video on the Krewe's website of what they call The Battle of Jackson Square.A broadside of beads, one of which hurtled through the air and landed perfectly around the cross, like a game of holy ringtoss. Then all the sinners flocked towards the thumpers, surrounding them with amiable but abandoned Mardi Gras mayhem until the Christians beat a hasty retreat. This year they were back, but they vamoosed before we could get there to give them more of the same. Pussy Christians.

Tori, Max and I can't say it enough. THANK YOU Krewe of Pirates! Thanks for inviting us, thanks for making us feel so welcome. The best day we've had in a long, long time.

More tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pirating Up

Too damn early in the morning. Pirating up for Mardi Gras.

Details – or blurred recollections – to follow.

UPDATE – I'm home, I'm in some pain and I'm told I'm slightly – justy slightly mind you – inebriated.

Apparently a grand time  wass had by all. I'll let you know tomorrow if I remember anything.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Super Week

What famous veteran (and by veteran I mean old) CBS sportscaster used the men's room at the Super Bowl Media Center Wednesday and left WITHOUT WASHING HIS HANDS?

Answer below.

The Super Bowl in New Orleans is over. The bars and the French Quarter are – well, they're not emptying, this is New Orleans – but the people from Baltimore and San Francisco and the sports writers are mostly gone. The airport Monday was jammed with people heading home, some still reveling in a great game, others bitterly disappointed in coming so close. This is NOT about the game. If you didn't watch it, its probably because you don't care.

The top story on the local news Sunday night, Monday morning, and still Monday night – and will be for weeks to come – was not about the Baltimore Ravens hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. It was about the blackout. Right after the 108-yard second half kickoff return by New Orleans native Jacoby Jones, the lights went out, and it took 34 minutes to get them back on. New Orleans was embarrassed, and the finger pointing and blame ducking will go on for weeks.

Back in October Tori saw ads on Craig's List looking for people to staff some of the Super Bowl events. With tickets running into the thousands of dollars, we figured this was the only way we were going to get close to the action, so we signed up. We ended up working only one day, Wednesday, helping with food service in the media center.

I've been in the news business for 40 years, and I finally made it to the Super Bowl Media Center! Making sure the coffee urns were filled and the steam table trays stayed fresh.

The Super Bowl Media Center - Made it at last.
But we had fun. The company we worked for sucked, and we decided we were done with them after one day. But we had a good time. Unlike everyone else working that day, we were there at least as much to enjoy the experience as to serve up trays of vegetarian chow mien, rice and some kind of meat (looked like ground beef to me) and broccoli. Tori especially had fun, chatting with everyone who came through. She made a lot of press people's day a little lighter, joking with them, chiding when they didn't take their vegetables and pointing out that the cake at the end of the buffet and warning, "The cake is a lie." Most people didn't get it, but those who did revealed themselves to be techies, and fans of the game Portal.

Tori and the Axe space man.
Late in the afternoon it had cleared out, when in walked two guys carrying a large white bundle. Turned out it was for an Axe promotion, touting their new hair products. The bundle was a space suit costume and the young guy who was supposed to wear it was having trouble pulling it on. Tori has a lot of experience as a backstage dresser, so she lent a hand. Got the guy's whole story as she helped him suit up. He's a young guy trying to make it in show business. He's been in a few movies and TV shows, has had some lines. He and his girlfriend were both in last year's comedy, "Campaign," and one of their twins was the baby that Will Ferrell punched! There's glory for you!

We were so interested in the young guy we didn't notice when the other half of the promotion came in. It was J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans, who on Saturday would be named NFL defensive player of the year. Seemed like a nice enough guy, but by the time I realized who he was he was heading for the door and I didn't get his picture. But I've got several Tori stuffing the kid into the astronaut costume. If you know us at all, you know that's what we thought was really cool.
Speaking of taking pictures, one we didn't take was of Beyonce. As we were being led down to the hall where we worked, we were told "Beyonce is here today. Do not approach her. Do not go near her. Avoid her. And above all DO NOT take her picture." Basically she would be affronted if we breathed her air. Those of you who watched Sunday know she was the Super Bowl halftime entertainment. She performed a very moving tribute to – herself. Worst Super Bowl halftime show ever, worse than the Michael Jackson lip sync fest. Give me old rockers who just like to get up and rock for 15 minutes - the Stones, Springsteen. What did Beyonce actually do besides wiggle? (OK, Sports Illustrated reminds me that Madonna did a Super Bowl. And there were a couple of weird Disney efforts. And Up with People – TWICE! So in all fairness, Beyonce's was not the worst halftime show. It wasn't good by any means, but it wasn't Up with Creepy People. In all fairness, not that fairness is usually a consideration. jb 01/05/20013)
We also spent some time talking to a radio/TV producer associated with the Patriots. He hates going to Super Bowl week, which he's been doing every year for years. Nothing happens. He'd rather be home with his kids – he showed us a picture, cute kids. "Everyone says, 'Oh, you're going to the Super Bowl. That's cool!' It's not cool! It's work!" he said. There's nothing going on, but everyone has to fill a whole week's worth of air time as if it's the most important news in the world. So he has to arrange interviews with anyone walking through the center, and his job is made exponentially more difficult by agents and PR reps who promise their client will be available at a certain time, then call to reschedule or cancel or say he's running late. "They are all – pardon my saying it – fucking assholes," the guy told us.

He did have one good story that week. He'd been to a party the night before where a band was playing. No one paid them much attention, but he realized, "Hey, that's Dan Ackroyd playing with the band!" Ackroyd was great, he said, and played for half an hour. No one seemed to notice until right at the end when the band said, "Thanks Dan Ackroyd" as he left, then suddenly everyone jammed over, but Ackroyd was gone.

We had arrived at the convention center at 8:45 a.m., which is when the staffing company, Global Staffing Solutions, told us to be there. We checked in, then waited. And waited and waited. There were scores of people there, all waiting to be given some work to do. It was almost 11 before we were assigned to the media center. When we came back at the end of the long day, the Global Staffing guy started chiding us about working our full shift. I still don't know whether he thought we had stayed down there too long or not long enough. We stayed while there was work to do, and we left when everyone else on the crew left. And the most important thing – no one ever told us when our shift ended, including the guy from the Global. No one ever said "Be back at 6," or "Have your manager sign off."

We also learned that we were only going to be paid for the hours we'd been assigned to the shift, not for the two and a half hours we'd been cooling our heels because they told us to get there early. That didn't sit well, you can imagine.

Then we asked about Thursday. They said someone would call us that evening. "We're calling everybody, every night," they lied.

We haven't heard from them since. Which is too bad, because we wanted to tell 'em there was no way we'd work for them again. Even though one of the assignments was for after the game, a private party for the Ravens. We didn't want to work until 4 in the morning, Monday being a school day for Max we thought we should be home. And who knew the Ravens would win? Besides the Ravens, I mean. It was probably a great party.

Would have been a great wrap up to a super week, but we were happier watching the game from home. If you didn't see it, it turned out to be a pretty good game.

As I've mentioned, it was a rough year. So this was actually fun for us. We're going to try to have some more fun soon.

Oh. The CBS sportscaster with bad hygiene? Pat O'Brien. Saw him myself. Walked in, took a leak, walked out without so much as a glance at the sink. After the game I thought I caught a glimpse of him on the field talking to a player. All I could think was, "Dude! Don't shake his hand!"

Friday, February 1, 2013

Classic street scene

Downtown New Orleans, near the convention center. It's Super Bowl week, and this is the center of the sports universe.

It's a Thursday night, not a weekend. About 6:30 p.m.

Walking down the street there's a guy holding a drink in his hand. Apparently not his first.

He has a bucket on his head, wearing it like a hat.

He shouts to anyone who will listen, "God I love this city!"