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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Leonard Earl Johnson (photo credit Frank Parsley) covered Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005), and the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for ConsumerAffairs.com. He is a contributor to Gambit Weekly, New Orleans Magazine, SCAT, Baton Rouge Advocate, Advocate Magazine, The Times-Picayune, Country Roads Magazine, Palm Springs Newswire and the anthology collections: FRENCH QUARTER FICTION (Light of New Orleans Publishing), LOUISIANA IN WORDS (Pelican Publishing), LIFE IN THE WAKE (NOLAfuges.com), and more. Johnson is a former Merchant Seaman, and columnist at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans; and African-American Village. Attended Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship at Piney Point, Maryland. Winner of the Press Club of New Orleans Award for Excellence, 1991, and given the Key to The City and a Certificate of Appreciation from the New Orleans City Council for a Gambit Weekly story on murder in the French Quarter.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

✍The First Christmas After Katrina / December 2020



Column Final Draft
December 2020 ~
Archives: www.LEJ.org

 πŸ’”LEJ's Louisiana, 
Yours Truly in a Swamp
a monthly e-column 

by

Leonard Earl Johnson

of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana

*

     LEJ.org    2005          /           Frank Parsley

πŸ’”The First Christmas After Hurricane Katrina
by Leonard Earl Johnson
www.LEJ.org

Β© 2020, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved.
Originally published in 2005 in a slightly different version

The year was 2005, the month was December.  The bar was on Saint Charles Avenue, in Uptown New Orleans.  It had recently reopened after The Storm, and had tried since Thanksgiving to coax Yuletide spirit from the flood-weary City.  Their effort had been great, but their task had been greater 

The water was finally gone, but so were most of the customers. In time the bar would fill again with song. But not this shirtsleeve warm night, December 17 ~ nearly four months after August 29.


The street cars were silent.

Now and then a lone vehicle scurried down a darkened street towards some destination not obvious to onlookers ~ had there been onlookers. 

Military convoys made up the only traffic moving on this or any other street. Everywhere in Town, neither stop lights nor street lights blinked a bright red and green.
NOLa After Katrina   /   Coleen Perilloux Landry

Along most streets houses lay splayed open like huge fish with their innards spilled out for the world to see.  Occasionally a cascade of generator powered Christmas lights poured over some brave heart's intact gallery rail. They cast faint light on refrigerators sitting along the curb wrapped in industrial strength tape and the sickeningly sweet smell of a Mafia funeral.

Inside the bar, blue snowflakes hung from rafters, along with toy gray helicopters lifting little plastic refugees from little blue-tarped roofs.  The bartender sported a red baseball cap with cotton pasted around the rim of the bill.  A tiny silver bell dangled from the front.

great effort, indeed! But the bell rang hollow and the bartender looked weary, like some Papa Noel rescuing the hopeless with promises of gifts not always delivered.

had come to this bar to meet an old friend.  He had just arrived in Town aboard Amtrak's City of New Orleans from Chicago, that broad-shouldered behemoth at the other end of the railroad line.  He had ridden on this train to show support for Arlo Guthrie's Friends Benefit Tour for Louisiana MusiciansThe train, an Amtrak special, stopped for fundraiser concerts ~ "Out on the southbound odyssey train pulls out of Kankakee / and it rolls past houses, farms, and fields..." all the way to New Orleans. 

This night my friend and I are making our donations at the tour's last concert, at Tipitina's on the corner of Tchoupitoulas Street and Napoleon Avenue.

*
opened the French Doors and spotted my friend at the far end of the bar. He was clearly overdressed and clearly over served.

He wore a camel hair topcoat, a gray wool suit, with a white cotton shirt and a red silk tie.  A fast-pace Chicago uniform in our flood slowed New Orleans parade ~ a parade joyous but none too swift in the best of times. These were not the best of times.

mural behind the bar twinkled with tiny blue lights sprinkled over a snowy hillock of white deer nibbling mistletoe berries dotted among the evergreen trees.  The mistletoe berries were represented by tiny red lights.

"Mistletoe is poison," my friend is telling the bartender, in his booming Chicago voice, "and its berries should be white!"

beer representative from Saint Louis, Missouri is also behind the bar.  He is wearing a sport coat that looks to be made from Anheuser-Busch labels.  He is passing out samples of Red Wolf Beer.  My friend took one and lifted it in my direction.  I moved down the bar and accepted the brew.

"Must be a Santa after all," my friend boomed to the largely empty room.

From a green felt-covered table, an elderly couple often seen here before The Storm, looked up and smiled.  No one was dealing. Their cards were laying face up. We tipped our beer towards them. They were wearing evening clothes and his gold studs were set with diamonds that flashed back at the mural. She was ash blonde, well-painted, and wearing a red sequined gown.  She unzipped the gentleman's tuxedo.

My friend and I both said in stage whisper that she was an expensive date.

The man laughed and asked, "How better to spend my FEMA money?"   She laughed and slapped him playfully.

"Where is the vice-squad?" my friend asked in a real whisper. 


The bartender sat down two more Red Wolfs and said, "In diapers with Senator Vitter, at the Canal Street Brothel?"  We all laughed, enjoying the sexual peccadilloes of our betters. 


My friend was in his cups, and hanging his observations with the heavy tinsel of Chicago bluntness. "Christmas in New Orleans is not like going over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house, is it?"

"It's a good system," I said.  "We are 'The City That Works!' "

He snorted at the irony of laying Chicago's famous motto up against New Orleans' famous work ethic.

"Cops protecting brothel patrons," I said, "and people in evening clothes entertaining themselves for free."

We both looked back at the couple and laughed.  My friend muttered, "Maybe not free, but a lot less than the cops charge." 

The beer rep handed us two more Red Wolfs.  He wanted to finish and leave.  My friend asked him, "Shouldn't you call this stuff  Red Riding Hood?"  None of us were sure what he meant by this but we all laughed the laugh required of our station.

The beer distributor gave us two full six packs of Red Wolf and smiled.  "Please, I gotta catch a plane back to Saint Louis."

The bartender said, "Allow me to put that on ice for you."

got up to go to the restroom as my Chicago friend yanked a hanging blue snowflake from its tether. He bellowed at the bartender, "What fathead told you to hang blue snowflakes in this swamp-flooded city?"  The bartender is startled and blurts back, "The fatheads in Chicago who own this bar!"  Of course he did not know he was talking to fathead number one.

The Saint Louis beerman smiled weakly and moved towards the French doors.  Through the glass we saw a waiting limousine with rental license plates.  The man in the tuxedo fell from his chair.  The woman in red helped him to his feet and they stumbled outside balancing themselves by holding on to articles of each other's clothing.  They lunged into the limo and motioned for the beerman to join them.  He shrugged and climbed in.

Coming out of the restroom I dropped a quarter into a slot machine.  The last of my FEMA money whirled away.  I did not care.  It was Christmas and my friend was in Town to wine and dine us for three fat days.  We have known each other since the Fabled Sixties, since our college daze in Carbondale, Illinois, where the train had stopped to play a concert.  He liked having, as he put it, "A writer bum for a friend."  We liked having a rich one.

In a wastebasket beside the slot machines, I spotted seven paper teddy bear tree ornaments.  Each had the name of someone lost in Hurricane Katrina written across its belly.  I picked up one and read the name, "Senegal Breaux."  I gathered them all and put them in my shirt pocket. 

Back at the bar I sipped my beer in silence. The bartender smarting from my friend's harsh words, punched up Linda Ronstadt singing Blue Bayou, on the jukebox.  He pushed a remote-control button next to the cash register and a lone gray helicopter opened its bomb bay doors and let red and green glitter drift down into our beers.

We stood to leave and my friend told the bartender to keep the remaining Red Wolfs, and gave him a two-hundred dollar tip and his business card.  "Tell those fatheads in Chicago to jump in Lake Michigan.  New Orleans is in a swamp, not a snowy wonderland!"

Outside, my friend stared at the empty curb.  "Where the Hell's my driver?"  

say, "Forget it, let's walk."

He slipped out of his topcoat and handed it to a bewildered Mexican in dirty blue jeans and a t-shirt that read: "FEMA, Find Every Mexican Available". 


We walked along past mounds of rubble towards Tip's. My friend accepted a paper teddy bear and held it up to ambient Christmas light.

"Ah, Christ, what am I supposed to do about this?"  Then he handed it to a pair of passing National Guardsmen. 

"Let's distribute them like handbills," he said.

It seemed all those who were back in Town were also headed to Tipitina's that night.  


We started singing, "We three kings from Orient are..."  When someone asked, "Where is your other king?" we handed them the teddy bear named Senegal Breaux, and kept on our way. "Bearing gifts we traveled so far..."

LEJ.org  
✍️

 Copyright, 2020, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

Your comments and corrections are welcome:


~   ~   ~
 LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp

is a monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.org

and historically at

Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans,

publication of the


It is written by Leonard Earl Johnson

 of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana


Archives: www.LEJ.org

* * * * * * * * * * * 
Β© 2020 Leonard Earl Johnson, 

All Rights Reserved 

* *
βš“
~   ~   ~
Lagniappe du jour

by
Sam Rey😭

*

Sunday, November 01, 2020

βš“Trains Make Good Walls, Dream #2 / November 2020

 



πŸ’”LEJ's Louisiana, 
Yours Truly in a Swamp
a monthly e-column 

by

Leonard Earl Johnson

of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana

Column Final Draft

November 2020 ~


~ * ~
πŸ ‡

Trains Make Good Walls 

 Dream #2  ~

BY  Leonard Earl Johnson
Β© 2020, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

 πŸ”»  ⏬  πŸ”»

πŸ ‡
🍞 πŸ₯–
🍷

*
 * *
 *
             LEJ.org
In my seat, dozing the last hours before reaching Lafayette.  I dreamed of photographers raising their cameras. 

Art directors composed men shouldering oversized silver and gold 
Gandy Dancers
sledgehammers.  Arranging them before the lens
 as 'Gandy Dancers' ~ those gangs of mostly black men who, with muscle alone, wiggled and danced heavy iron rails into an alignment joining the nation by its proud new railroad line ~ an umbilical cord linking West Coast gold to East Coast greed. 

"Why not!" The Donald tweeted.  "Why not a wall of railroads stretching from California to Florida.  Multiple lines strung with multiple trains running thick as jungle bamboo or Vietnam lies?"  

Recalling the war, the President offered to show his bone spur to reporters.  They turned away. 

"See, folks, fake news!" he twitted. "If Elizabeth Warren showed her tomahawk, press rats would be on it like editors on cheese.

"But my war wound?  Nothing!" 

The Wall of Trains would follow the route of America's first coast-to-coaster; the first train in the World to carry a personified name, the Sunset Limited, Amtrak's ole #1, with a cross-country route following the Old Spanish Trail.  

The Donald swooned and twittered: "Move over, Mexico.  Pay up and say, 'Hello California, here we come...'

Image result for Sunset Limited amtrak images
"Let's see them beaners get across that!He twittered, as Ivanka brushed his hair and stroked his wallet.  

Son-in-law, Jared Kushner unspooled 
communication lines to the Kremlin while shielded behind the back of his genetically pure, highly self-esteemed, and supremely self-proclaimed uber-patriotic "Klan of The Donald," as L. A. Norma calls them.

"A supremely legal back channel communication cable,"  explained Stephen Miller, head gargoyle to The President.  William Barr, U.S. Attorney General and Trump Family consigliere, nodded his agreement. 


Behind them a righteous chorus of Evangelical Preachers sang, Heaven's Just a Sin Away!

The Family tableau rode in a manner befitting American nostalgia.  They moved effortlessly along gold plated escalators, and moving-sidewalks.  Now running from the White House up The Mall to the big domed Capitol on the hill.

"Streets paved with gold," Barr called out to Miller, 
who responded, "Immigrants were told."

Out in front of them all, bent-backed and whisking away obstacles in their path, were Republican Party regulars led by grim-faced Moscow Mitch McConnell ~ one and all facilitators of America's great new sin.  

Toe-and-heel men followed, and then spokes-critter lawyers for powerful U. S. Chambers of yes-men.  They cleared a way growing darker with each step of their boot and sweep of their broom. 

"For the goal of smaller decentralized government," Moscow Mitch laughed uproariously, slapping the Attorney General across his ample back. The Attorney General shook his wattle and jowls while hooting puffs of laughter, like an old steam engine.  


The two chortled, "After us who cares what floods," then they swept, giggled and farted off down the gold-plated road.

Kushner's 'backchannel cable' spooled on, then off again ~ fully out of any one's oversight.

A mustachioed face briefly claiming 
National Security portfolio to the President of the United States, opened an electric notebook.  A Google map glowed into focus.  It showed Roseate Spoonbill migration routes.

Roseate Spoonbill

"With no fear of blow back," he said.  His mustache twitched as it talked.  

"We can lace migratory feeding sites with chemical-castration drugs that will threaten a perfect final solution to their endangered numbers!"

"What this will do," he told the President, leaning in very close to his ear, "is convince the last doubters that America means business.  

"Mad business, of course, but business!"

"A plausible crazy threat wins the game!" The Donald twittered, "Ask my bankers."  

Ivanka brushed and spoke not.  The Son-in-law spooled and spoke not.  The escalator escalated speaking tons.  

We awoke with the real Conductor calling, 
"Lafayette next stop."

 
 

L. A. Norma stretched her arms overhead, and stepped off the train and to the side ~ away from the traffic pouring out behind her.  

Lafayette is the train's only smoke-stop between New Orleans and Houston.  
Sunset Limited, Amtrak #1 
New Orleans to Los Angeles
 
Smoke Stop, Lafayette Louisiana

She lit a Camel Cigarette, and continued her conversation about walls, with a young couple bound for Tucson, Arizona.  

"Take Hadrian's, China's, Berlin's.  Walls have not long kept anything out.  Not ideas, not people, not things!"

The young man from Tucson nodded, "Just a political football." 


"Sometimes with headline interference," Norma said.  


His Wife added, "A distraction, the shell hiding the pea."   She flicked cigarette ashes to the grass, and smiled.  In its moment, that falling cigarette ash burned brightly ~ though it be in descent ~ then went dark landing atop a purple clover. 

The engineer blew his whistle calling smokers back aboard their smoke-free train ride to the Golden West.  

"Manifest Destiny all over again," Norma said, from inside her toxic plume of Camel Cigarette smoke.  
A mushrooming cloud of fumes embraced all the World.  We parted from our new friends shouting"Red-herrings," and waving our arms.  

Automobiles waiting at the crossing gates revved their engines to show their toxic commitment.  

The train snaked off down the tracks.  Its last car rocked and wobbled back at us.  The automobiles drove away ~ each trailing a lingering chemical bouquet.

Five elderly white women standing on the platform scowled in our direction.  They each wore a big red church-lady hat, red sweaters, red dresses, and red gloves.  They each lifted red-hemmed skirts showing red soled shoes, and choo-choo-ed into the depot, with its comfortingly stable toilets.

Trains and politics are not stable, one of the red women said.

"And there are not good people on both ends of a lynch mob's rope,"
 L. A. Norma added.
LEJ.org  
✍️

 Copyright, 2020, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved



~   ~   ~
 LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp

is a monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.org

and historically at

Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans,

publication of the


It is written by Leonard Earl Johnson

 of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana


Archives: www.LEJ.org

* * * * * * * * * * * 
Β© 2020 Leonard Earl Johnson, 

All Rights Reserved 

* *
βš“
~   ~   ~

Lagniappe du jour

Gandy Dancers / You Tube


πŸ’œ πŸ’š πŸ’›


Heaven's Just A Sin Away

by The Kindalls / You Tube
(suggested Republican Party Song)

πŸ’œ πŸ’š πŸ’›


This Land is Your Land 

(Suggested Democratic Party Song)

πŸ’œ πŸ’š πŸ’› 

~   ~   ~

Β© 2020, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.

πŸ’œ πŸ’š πŸ’› 


* * * * * * * * * * * 

and such falderal ...


If you want on the list that may get e-mailed a monthly column notice
*   *   *
If you wish to read any past column they are archived at www.LEJ.org 
New columns are posted on the first of each month and polished for the next few years, or until Death,

whichever occurs first.

~*~    ~*~    ~*~

LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp
is a monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.org
Archives: www.LEJ.org
Β© 2020, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
*

βš“ βš“
πŸ•±
βš“