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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Leonard Earl Johnson (photo credit Andrew Payne) covered Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005), and the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for Consumer Affairs.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 books 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.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Another Turn Round the Dancefloor / July 2016

LEJ's Louisiana
Yours Truly in a Swamp
Monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.org
 on paper at
~ Les Amis de Marigny ~ 
publication of New Orleans' famed 
 by
Leonard Earl Johnson,
of Lafayette and New Orleans
© 2016, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved
Archives: www.LEJ.org

July  2016


* *

If You Please, 

Maestro, Another 


Turn Round the Dancefloor

by Leonard Earl Johnson

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
~ Robert Herrick (1591 - 1674)

August I turn Seventy-three and became inescapably one with the Spirit of the old men in my boyhood village of Ullin, Illinois, as seen on holidays riding their bicycles festooned with feathers, flags and streamers. 
LEJ and Feather Bike / Frank Parsley

On July 4th last year, L. A. Norma gave me a large American flag. Using Mardi Gras beads we lashed Old Glory to the handlebars of my bicycle, Feather Bike. It fluttered briefly, then fell. Failure notwithstanding this event marked the moment I was ushered in to full-blown geezerdom.

Feather Bike                 /             Melanie Plesh
"One thing is sure,"
 Norma said, "You missed your chance to die young and get a long obit." 

A long obit is nice, but a long life gives the special reward of knowing how your dreams turn out while you are still dreaming them.

Chuck Johnson, my dream of a Son, recently went to Ullin, and photographed things like Porky's, my Father's long abandoned nightclub on the highway out of Town; the population sign (800); and the flashing yellow cautionary light in front of the Illinois Central Depot. I read at that light's dedication before Chuck was born, fifty-some years ago. This is where first I saw those old men on their colorful bicycles. My Brothers, Sister and I pitied them their lack of gas-guzzling with-it-ness. Now here I am one with them. 
Ullin, Illinois DepotWikipedia   /   Paul Echols 

"
If Life ain't a big trip," Norma asked, one day climbing aboard AmTrak's City of New Orleans bound for Chicago ~ while secretly tipping a silver flask to her lips between puffs of surreptitiously exhaled Camel Cigarette smoke, "what is?"  

Norma's cigarette smoke was like a movie Indian's smoke signals. Gallantly communicating over barren miles though pursued by the cavalry ~ or AmTrak personnel. She piped out puffs of words and letters from her hidden location. Loudspeakers placed along the platform informed us that smoking would result in being taken from the train and left somewhere along the tracks. "... This means cigarettes, pipes, cigars, Marijuana or crack cocaine ...," the voice droned. 


"Not the same train as my Father's," I said.  

"Of course not," Norma snorted, her cigarette smoke floated over the train and off on its own journey. "Your Old Man's train would've been covered with canvas and pulled by oxen."

* * *

Also celebrated in August, Katrina Day
Katrina Day August 29, 2005
the day in 2005 that changed everything. 

In conversation a younger writer who rented Squalor Heightsmy Faubourg Marigny garret (where I watched ships smoking round Algiers Point, a sight from which much yarn was spun) asked, "Leave New Orleans?"

"Well, I didn't leave all together. And besides 
I had been a Merchant Sailor ~ that was the thing that first brought me to New Orleans ~ and that meant being away a lot."

Pamplona      /       Andrew Payne
*
Norma and I stepped off the train in Lafayette, and climbed aboard a pedicab arranged by cellphone to carry us up Boulevard Jefferson to Pamplona Tapas Bar, in time for happy-hours of white sangria and hot-buttered snails!

Papa never had it any better, oui?
____________





Your comments and corrections are welcome: Comments
* *
Copyright, 2016, 
Leonard Earl Johnson
All Rights Reserved

Lagniappe du Jour:
Star Spangled Banner in French


Smith always used this introduction: "While the storm clouds gather far across the sea / 
Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free / 
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, / 
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer." 
(First written as 
"... grateful that we're far from there" 
rather than 
"... for a land so fair".)[4] 
Written in 1918 by Irving Berlin, 
he changed this line for the published sheet music,
 March 1939, reflecting the USA's pivot from
domestic issues to World-warrior.

* *
French National Anthem
Bastille Day, July 14, 1789, the beginning of the French Revolution,
which was inspired by the American Revolution,
which was financed by the French government and
Marquis de Lafayette
and opposed (in three wars if you count the American Civil War) by the English.  

Go here For T-Shirts, Koozies, LEJ.org icebox magnets
and such falderal ...

You may not receive a monthly e-mail notice for LEJ's Louisiana / Yours Truly in a Swamp unless I figure out how to set up a new freemail system. But you can always go to www.LEJ.org

(Don't hold your breath on my figuring out le Internet.  I am a storyteller, not a computer-pinball gamer). 

Contact me if you want on the list - that may get e-mailed. If you wish to read any month's column go to www.LEJ.org anytime. They are posted on the first of each month and polished for the next few weeks. 




For more L. E. J.'s Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp go to w w w . L E J . o r g

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Final DRAFT: Melanie Plesh and the Great Escape / August 2016

LEJ's Louisiana
Yours Truly in a Swamp

Monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.org
 on paper at
~ Les Amis de Marigny ~ 
publication of New Orleans' famed 
 by
Leonard Earl Johnson,
of Lafayette and New Orleans

Archives: www.LEJ.org

August 2016


* *

Melanie Plesh

and the Great Escape

by Leonard Earl Johnson
www.LEJ.org
*
© 2016, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

"Didn't She Ramble" ~ Kermit Ruffins 

Melanie Plesh, 
teacher, writer, traveler, photographer, seeker.
Lifelong resident of New Orleans. 
Died of cancer at sixty-three, 
May 18, 2016. 
Her passing cut a new wound, 
and opened the old one named Hurricane Katrina.
Melanie and I escaped together during The Storm's early first half. 

Janice Becker and Melanie Plesh / David Gabe Friend
~ Judy Collins and Leonard Cohen: Hey, That's no Way to Say Goodby ~

News of Melanie's death reached me on a day when 
Art Garfunkel was giving a $120-ticket fundraiser at the 
Acadiana Center for the Arts ~ eleven years after Katrina.

It was a traveling show billed by its promoters as Hurricane Katrina-inspired. 
Its purpose was to raise funds for art and craft supplies.
"Dream Boxes, 
for children displaced by disasters like Katrina and Rita."  

* * *
Melanie and I met a few years before Katrina, on Bourbon Street, at a 
Tennessee Williams Festival party. She taught English at New Orleans Frederick 
Douglas High School, she told us, and lived on the North Shore.

Some of her Douglas High students loved her for bringing Shakespeare 
where never before the boards had been so trod, she said.

  "Mostly they ignore me, but I'm doing good anyway." 


Katrina washed Frederick Douglass away.


Melanie was easy to like. A do-gooder, who actually did good.  

A lovely spirit who left a comfortable North Shore school, 
where students drove nice cars, and came to Douglas... 

"Where they steal them!" 

L. A. Norma said, making us all laugh, 
that day.

By the time Katrina hit, Melanie had moved to Marigny Street, 
near the Friendly Bar, in Faubourg Marigny.

* * *


When hurricane people say a storm, "takes landfall," they are talking about 

the middle of the storm ~ the eye.

Next comes the calm, then the second half of the storm, with winds coming from 
the opposite direction. 
Katrina's landfall was early Monday, August 29, 2005.

August 28 began as a Sunday calm, clear, and blue as the Lord ever gives. Though 

Katrina crept deceptively towards us like Carl Sandburg's little cat's paws, 
in a few hours She would be roaring down the street 
like pride on steroids.

Melanie's Son, Timothy Lachin, lived in Paris, where he taught English. 

He had been phoning  
across the Atlantic for days. 
"This is the big one, Ma," he would say, "you've gotta get out!"

But Melanie was one of those burned by the huge, slow evacuation of the year 

before, and vowed not to evacuate again.  

I, too, had foolishly decided to ride out this storm, because the year before  

I had been with other friends creeping along for twenty-four hours 
all the way up to Memphis before finding overpriced rooms. 

By the time the error of my judgement hit me, Melanie was the only person I knew 

still in Town with more than two wheels. She was thinking it over.

By then, City Mayors and Parish Presidents from every town and parish around 
were pushing each other off the tv-podium to tell their citizens that 
if they planned on staying they should get an indelible marker
 and write their Social Security number on their arm.

Merde!


Norma had gone to California earlier, and NOLa was nearly a ghost town. 
Everything was boarded up. Anyone still here was boarded up, too. 
Armstrong International Airport and the Union Passenger Terminal 
no longer picked up the phone,
and I was getting calls 
from all over promising shelter
 if I would just come join them. 
But I could not. I did not drive, and 
Feather Bike was no match for a storm like Katrina.

Feather Bike               /             Melanie Plesh

Melanie to the rescue. 

We loaded her little red truck with supplies for a day or two, 
and her two feral cats, caged.  
Once Melanie chased these two cats with rocks and taunts,
 and then came to love them. 
We would not leave without them.

Melanie alone could touch these wild beasts.

In an instant, 
as I held open a sturdy pillow case, 
Melanie dropped in the cat named Orange
who came ripping out the bottom 
and streaking across the kitchen linoleum like
Katrina's pilot fish.  

His partner, Red, stood frozen next to the stove,
then joined the screeching race.  
Melanie brought up the rear.

By the time we left Town, The Storm was licking the wheels of our little red raft,
and we skittered across the Rigolets
with the cats inside their cages fainting into 
the arms of catatonia.

The storm behind us was halfway up to its eye, 
and the bridges we were crossing 
were literally washing away behind us.  
Had we understood all this at the time, we likely would have fainted too.

We fled along the very path of The Storm, because 

a uniformed policeman told us we could only go East. 

"The West full?" Melanie asked the policeman, as 

rain sprayed him from every direction including up. 

"Just the road to it," he said. 

We landed on the North Shore, in Hammond, 

at the hearth of a kindly fallen monk. 

Weeks later we decamped to Lafayette, Louisiana. 
"Where the English isn't English and the French isn't French," detractors say. 
Somehow we communicated, lived well, and grew happy. 

"Not a bad outcome for a serendipitous old scribe like you,
" 
Norma says, when I tell this story

"Not to mention," M
elanie used to say, 
"all those train rides snaking in-and-out of Big Swamp City!"  

*
Before leaving the kindly fallen monk's hearth we agreed that
Melanie would be first to make her way back in to New Orleans,
where she would retrieve select items from what she might find of
Squalor Heights, my Faubourg Marigny garret apartment.

Melanie was a seeker ~ who would save my treasures 
a brave journeyman on her way through Life. 

For over twenty-years she co-directed the 
Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project, and 
in 1999, she traveled alone to Russia to visit the grave of Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

* * *


On my first trip back to New Orleans I found Melanie where we had arranged to meet,
 sitting, sipping beer in the window seat at Molly's on the Market, Decatur Street,  
Boots on the Ground  /  Coleen Perilloux Landry
one of two bars in the Quarter that did not close during The Storm.  

This day,
 The City is mostly empty of all but military 
and a few folks like us.

"The army gives them ice," Melanie said, 
pointing her thumb back at the bar. 

I joined her.

She had my copy of the anthology,
FRENCH QUARTER FICTION, signed by all contributing authors.
And a silver medal given to me when a boy by Pope Pius, XII.

Melanie Plesh, thank you for the ride out of Town.

May you find among the billowing clouds 
Shakespeare, Voltaire, Dante, Goethe, and Dostoyevsky.

Back home in New Orleans, 
your memory takes us once more round the floor.
Merci, mon amie!
*
Lagniappe du Jour

George Dureau triptych, over bar at Cafe Sbisa, NOLa
(Janice Becker is the model in black in the first panel)

All following photos are by Melanie Plesh and are of the last 

Ralph Brennan's Bacco 
Ten-Cent Martini Lunches before Katrina.







 
Ralph Brennan's Bacco
the Last Ten Cent Martini Lunches before Katrina

* *

Sonnet for LEJ's Gold Tooth
or
Enamel, You Were Valiant, But You Succumbed

by Melanie Plesh



LEJ with tooth / Frank Parsley
At birth a squawling, darling baby boy,
Content to gum the nipple, lived content,
And morning noon and night he sucked in joy,
While father sold hot meals that paid the rent.
Til finally, one otherwise dull day,
When all was still, his mother hit the roof!
And screamed ‘til Illinois itself did quake.
Instead of gums, on mom he used a tooth. 
You know the rest, how one tooth leads to teeth, 
How meats replace the nectar that we’ve known.
But ersatz nourishment leads but to grief.
The food we hunger for remained at home.
However, now you sparkle when you walk
And all your words are gilded when you talk.



Love, Melanie, aka Clothilde Goldfarb

17 October 2004
Faubourg Marigny, New Orleans

* *



* *
Copyright, 2016, 
Leonard Earl Johnson
All Rights Reserved


Your comments and corrections are welcome: Comments



Go here For T-Shirts, Koozies, LEJ.org icebox magnets
and such falderal ...


You may not receive a monthly e-mail notice for LEJ's Louisiana / Yours Truly in a Swamp unless I figure out how to set up a new freemail system. But you can always go to www.LEJ.org

(Don't hold your breath on my figuring out le Internet.  I am a storyteller, not a computer-pinball gamer). 

Contact me if you want on the list - that may get e-mailed. If you wish to read any month's column go to www.LEJ.org anytime. They are posted on the first of each month and polished for the next few weeks. 





For more L. E. J.'s Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp go to w w w . L E J . o r g