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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 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, December 01, 2017

La Porte, TX to the Promised Land / December 2017

Yours Truly in a Swamp,
Monthly e-column by
Leonard Earl Johnson, 
of Lafayette and New Orleans

"Here We Ho Ho Ho Again," 
~   Papa Noel  L. E. J.

Papa Noel, Tropical dress     /     Photo credit: Mark Konikoff
Papa Noel, Great Northern dress                       Photo credit: Dave Therrien

~ ~ ~
Dedicated to those distant days
when men were drunk and Life was mysterious.
~ ~ ~ 
Yours Truly in a Swamp
December 2017

 *  *

From La Porte, Texas to the Promised Land

by Leonard Earl Johnson
Copyright2017, Leonard Earl Johnson
All Rights Reserved

Any Port in a Storm 

The year of the last Cuban Boatlift1980I was sailing aboard the M. V. Sealand, a U. S. flagged container ship, burning diesel, and running transatlantic stops between Houston, Texas and Rotterdam, Holland. I served as the officer's Bedroom Steward (B. R.) ~ a kind of seagoing maid. Not a glamorous rank, to be sure, but a joyful one owing to the large amount of shore leave it afforded.

A good B. R. arranges to be on such terms with their officers that all but the Captain will lock their doors in port.  Ostensibly keeping out thieves, and effectively
 giving the B. R. the day ashore. This is a traditional gratuity on a good ship, a tip for a good B. R. ~ I was a good B. R.

During that year, the Sealand quit the wharves along Houston's downtown Ship Channel and began calling at a newly constructed container terminal at Morgan's Point, near the little town of La Porte, Texas, a spot so far out-in-the-boonies it was barely in from the Gulf of Mexico.  The Port Authority's decision to move the Houston container terminal to Morgan's Point was ~ and is ~ a great thorny urchin in the belly of thirsty sailors from every corner of the Earth. 

Now, mind you, near this new terminal existed a dirt-floored, tin-roofed watering hole known as The Little Goat Ranch. It sat promisingly in the turn at Barbours Cut, on a jutting beachhead walking distance from our new berth. Its services were mercifully available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. A hand-painted sign with white scrawling letters and random splats and dribbles proclaimed it from a mirror behind the bar, "We No Closed Never." Nice, but hardly Houston.

The town of La Porte was, also, a meager destination, two-three miles straight inland.  For me it was nice.  I took a bicycle with me in those days and it was a pleasant two or three miles over new black asphalt roads separating pastures with long-horned cattle and Spanish Moss laden live oak trees.

The town itself offered the weary sailor little. There was the Space Shot Motel and Bar, for those who got lucky. A Spanish movie house, Rosetta's Cuban Cafe; and the piece de resistance, The Gulf Coast Railroad Emporium, with a back-lighted oval sign proclaiming: "Lionel Trains for All The Ages -- Toot! Toot!"

The sights and lights of La Porte and The Little Goat Ranch were certainly appreciated, but they were thin dumplings compared to our plump memories of Houston's Ship Channel.  "You could fall in, it was so polluted, and get yourself an automatic medical furlough with pay!"  We told our disinterested Goat-raunch barmaid.  "Every night, over the hill were fine Greek and Lebanese restaurants with amazing Belly Dancers!"

Our Savior is Found 

In the Gulf Coast Railroad Emporium one memorable Fall day, I made the acquaintance of Cowboy Castro, a fine looking blue-eyed, brown-skinned local, with a not-so-fine looking purple "pick'em up truck." Crowning the left front fender, amid a lifetime's collection of dents and scratches stood a two foot tall plastic statue of Jesus holding a bleeding red heart in one hand and a chromium pigtail radio antenna in the other.  Cowboy Castro was in the Emporium purchasing tiny red lights for this rolling icon.

"To light the world through the eyes of Jesus!" he said with a brilliant smile. I hired him on the spot to drive me and my bicycle back to the ship, and we followed the red-eyed beacon of Jesus down the new blacktop road to the Sea.

We did not get all the way to the ship. We stopped for "refreshing beer beverages," on Cowboy's suggestion, at The Little Goat Ranch.

Later that evening, still at The Goat Ranch, the ship's Mate, Bos'n, Chief Cook, and I secured Cowboy' commitment to meet us each returned voyage, and drive one or all into Houston. 
la Ship                                                          la Port

Cowboy was to wait as long as it took, then round us up gurgling in the morning light, and return us dockside and, need be, help us stumble up the accommodation ladder.

* * *

Shore Leave and Liberty

In those days, Houston was a shining alabaster city undulating on a pool of booming oil prices.  An anything-goes Babylon of the U. S. Third Coast.  Cowboy Castro's purple "pick'em up" was our winged angel carrying us Home.

Despite loudly professed religiosity, and being on "extended break" from Texas A. and M., Cowboy performed these duties well. Even, in time, joining our romps in port out of La Porte.

Our favorite Houston destination was a long gray building along Westheimer Drive, named The Green Door. Neon tubing twisted atop its flat roof showed chicken heads kissing among flashing red hearts and green dollar bills.

Along a low-slung front porch a row of green wooden doors awaited each yearning visitor. Beside each door hung a lantern similar to those used by old-time railroaders. If the lamp was lit green you could enter for a price, and talk privately with a scantily clad man or woman behind a plate glass window. By the power vested in money pushed through a slot in the glass, you could persuade your selection to display their charms. 

Praise the Lord, it was living porn! Shocking, I suppose, but with the possible exception of Cowboy, we were depraved salts and not missionaries.

Truthfully, Cowboy loved The Green Door as much as we did and always arrived screaming Biblical quotes like, "Better to spill your seed in the belly of the whore than upon barren rock!" He would then enter a door labeled "Girl" and, as he put it, "Wax philosophic with the Jezebel inside."

One Sacrament Too Many

On a warm December night, back at the ship to meet an early sailing, Cowboy helped us up the ladder and joined me in my fo'c's'le for a parting drink.

Photo credit: T.  P.  el  Greece
After several, we slipped to the deck and passed out. As the sun rose over the fog bank we awakened rocking against the bulkhead beside my bunk. The Sealand was slipping out to Sea. 

"I've been shanghaied," Cowboy hollered. He cursed in Spanish and threw Lone Star Beer cans first at the Gulf of Mexico on the other side of the porthole, and then at me.

I yelled back, "You Bible thumping Aggie, you think I want a stowaway in my cabin, for Christ's sake!" 

The word "stowaway" brought us both up short and sober. He ceased his fretting and we made an agreement to make the best of our situation till reaching Miami, Florida in two days. Miami was our last stop before heading out across the North Atlantic bound for Rotterdam.  Cowboy could walk off the ship in Miami, we figured, and catch a plane back to Houston with no one the wiser. 

We settled in and became comfortable traveling companions. He stayed calmly in my cabin drinking beer, watching television, and feasting on food I spirited from the galley.  That night, we talked of how lonely Christmas was at Sea, and I told him how Norwegian sailors lashed evergreen trees to their ship's foremast at Christmas time. He told of his family's immigration from Cuba, "Before Fidel," and wondered if he might see the "Crimson Devil's Isle."

"Perhaps when we sail through the Straits of Florida?" he asked. 

I reckoned not.
~ ~
Passing south of New Orleans, which sits in a hole below Sea level, we picked up Baton Rouge television and saw tv-news films of the huge Mariel Boat Lift washing onto the beaches of south Florida.

Cowboy laughed at Florida's "gringo governor" greeting Cuban boat people while literally mopping his brow. Then Cowboy's eyes lit up like the red-eyed Jesus on his purple truck. "Carumba!" he exclaimed. "If I can pass myself off as a boat-person, I could slap-slogan those stupid Florida gringos all the way to easy street.

I was shocked and said so, "How could you, after fleeing Castro?"

"Fleeing Castro?" He peered back with a prove-it expression that asked, Are you crazy? "That Castro was still in the hills when we left Cuba. This Castro," he said, pointing his thumbs at his chest, "was fleeing the poorhouse, and still is!"

As Cowboy was saying this I felt the ship slow and go dead in the water. I left him plotting his economic salvation and went topside.

Le Barco                                                     le Mar
The Mate and Bos'n were walking back from a Jacob's ladder slung over the starboard gunnel. Six sunburned Cubans walked behind them. Off our stern, an unpainted rowboat with an upended oar sluiced in our wake. From the oar flapped a white cloth painted with black letters spelling, "S O S."

I followed behind them and waited outside the Captain's door till they came back out. "Excuse me," I said to the Mate, "could one of you come with me?" Both declined.

"Not with the fight I'm fixing to have with that drunken Chief Steward over six supernumerary," said the Bos'n. He turned off towards the crew's quarters. The six Cubans trotted close on his heels.

The Mate shrugged, "Sorry, Leonard, I'm facing a long ton of Federal paper shuffling."

"You best come," I said, rubbing me beard and cherishing the powers of pirates and rogues. "We're in close waters, Mate, rough enough to beach us."

My actual power was that any ship's irregularity meant Federal paperwork for the Mate, and the Mate hated Federal paperwork. He came along.

At my fo'c's'le I turned the latch, opened the door and stood back.

"Hi, Mate," Cowboy grinned, lifting his beer can.

"Jesus, Moses, and Mohammed!" said the Mate, slamming the door.  He looked over at me and several words formed on his lips before, "Holy Mother of Lenin!" escaped.

Cowboy's Second Coming

In Miami, officers of the United States Coast Guard collected our Cubans. Now numbering seven with the addition of our handsome, blue-eyed, un-sunburned Cowboy Castro.  Who was ~ after all ~ just a Cuban, who came too early.

We sailed next morning for Europe, without Cowboy.

On our return voyage we lashed a Norwegian Christmas Tree to our foremast and strung it with yellow lights we got from the Bos'n's locker.  As we hov'round Barbours Cut and slipped in against the wharf all eyes searched, but there was no Cowboy Castro waiting.

We found his beat up purple truck, used a key plucked from under the floor mat and drove ourselves into Houston for Christmas Day. Then, two days after Christmas, as we tumbled down the ladder headed for The Goat Ranch, Cowboy drove up in a brand new blue pick'em up truck.

Cowboy explained on the drive to Houston, "They couldn't find me a purple one." He laughed, slurped from his beer can, and handed a fresh one to the Mate. He told us he was going back to school, but not to Texas A. and M.

"You know why piss is yellow, and come is white?" he asked.  "So Aggies will know if they are coming or going!" He slapped his leg and laughed again.

He told how the Miami V. F. W. had bought him the truck and the gringo governor of Florida had gotten him an appointment to the National Maritime Academy at Kings Point. He grinned and said, "I start next Fall. After that I'll be sailing with you legal like, Mate!"

The Mate popped open his beer, rolled down his window, and screamed a wild Texas "Wah-hoo!" at three steers nosing a discarded Christmas Tree. "God bless us all," he said, pulling his head back in the cab. "Welcome to The Promised Land!"

Copyright2017, Leonard Earl Johnson
All Rights Reserved
* *
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.

Lagniappe du Jour:

"Christmas Goes to Sea"

songs by Lee Murdock

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LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp
is a monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.org
~ Hosted on GOOGLE Blogger ~
and periodically 
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
© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.
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Wednesday, November 01, 2017

JFK Nov. 22 + Nagin Footnote* / November 2017

LEJ's Louisiana / Yours Truly in a Swamp
Leonard Earl Johnson
November 2017
© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

* *

LEJ.org                                                               photo credit: Melissa Dronet
JFK memento, circa 1963                                             photo credit:  LEJ.org 

J. F. K., 
22 November 1963
~ More Ray Nagin Footnote* ~ 
by Leonard Earl Johnson

* * *

When it happened I was living in Springfield, Illinois.  Twenty years old, working for the Illinois Secretary of State!  A glamorous job, looking back on it, for a boy from the Village of Ullin, population 800, where Abraham Lincoln ~ the first Republican President ~ was worshiped.

I had been exiled to labour among Republican cronies of my Father, at the State Capitol in Springfield as punishment for failing grades at 

Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.
I spent too much time liberating the downtrodden classes ~ in coffee shop and barroom bloviation ~ to attend my own classes.  My Father saw it befitting my civil liberation work that I head North to Springfield, "Where the tax man's bagman takes all that Gott damn tax money!"  My Father clearly saw the World through Republican eyes.  

"So, it was time to put the Son on the state payroll?" L. A. Norma said.

Yes, it was.  For it is true, all over the World, citizens live better in the shadow of the crooked staff  (church and state, cher government) for that is where the taxman delivers his harvest. 

Anyone seeking work ~ from king to janitor ~ in any capital anywhere is after that tax money.  "In one form or the other," Norma's friend, Naami, says, "No matter what schmaltz they ladle over your rice back home."  Naami comes from New York City and is expected to know things.

~ ~ ~
In the square around Illinois' Victorian capitol stands a statue of Lincoln.  I went there 22 November 1963, when I heard the news.  The inscription on its base is from Lincoln's farewell address departing Springfield for Washington. 

Illinois Capitol, Springfield 
courtesy Illinois Secretary of State

 "I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return..."
Those were arduous times, and it was reasonable in those days on momentous moments to comment on Life's limited journey.  Plus rebellion was in the air.  Lincoln's train from Illinois to D. C. took two weeks, what with olden day technology, political stops, and evasive maneuvers to avoid would be assassins.  


Cabildo, Jackson Square, New Orleans     /     photo credit: Mark Tullos

Obfuscation / Disinformation
fogs our hopes of ever knowing fully what happened in Dallas,  22 November 1963.

I don't believe the party line on Kennedy's murder, but I haven't a clue other than I saw it, in me mind's eye, from a hundred different angles, and it did not happen as told. 

This I know first hand
One day in New Orleans, decades after the Kennedy assassination.  Down by The Riverside, at the Old U. S. Mint.  The Assassination Materials Disclosure Act of 1992 sent out from Washington, D. C., a traveling circus of disclosure-hearings around the country.  Prompted say the good government legislators by Oliver Stone's movie, JFK, the year before. 

At the Old U. S. Mint Hearing, I sat next to Harry Connick, Sr., Orleans Parish District Attorney.  Connick stood and took the witness chair to testify at this latest JFK full disclosure hearing.  He testified as to the wicked work of his predecessor, Jim Garrison, NOLa D. A., at the time of the murder, and later author of ON THE TRAIL OF THE ASSASSINS, part inspiration for Stone's movie.  (In the film, Jim Garrison plays his archvillain, Earl Warren ~ there will always be a New Orleans!)

Connick testified that Garrison burned the District Attorney's JFK investigation files ~ and he had not ought to ~ because they belonged to the holy people of New Orleans, if not the whole wide World.  The World Wide Web had not yet come to pass, L. A. Norma says, "Or Connick would have planted a righteous flag on its behalf, too!"

Turned out Garrison did not burn the files.  A local tv-reporter, later, captured Connick on camera rolling his eyes to heavenly guidance, and retelling this same well dressed 'disinformation,' about the evil Jim Garrison.

When, like chef Emeril Lagasse, "BAM," the reporter out pulled an affidavit from his coat pocket and read a retired office worker's testimony that Harry Connick had so ordered him to do the burning of the files. 

Praise the Lord, the worker did not follow those orders, and kept them files in his car's trunk all the following years. There will always be a New Orleans, oui?

The files are said to contain nothing of significance, though they led to the only charges in the murder of the President.  "There will always be a Washington, D. C., too!" Norma says, from within her bubble of Camel Cigarette smoke. 

 Connick did an heroic backstroke before the tv-reporter's lens ~ sending the bar where I was watching, on tv, into giddy and blustery blasts of laughter.  He ended with the fine belly-flop of: "So what if I did? We needed the space," as we barflies hooted and slapped the bar!

So much for guardian of the sanctified City's property, mon ami, Harry!?  The reporter was a man by the name of Richie, I believe.  I did not find it ~ pre web archives and I'm out in The Swamp ~ but I think it was on New Orleans' tv-channel 6, if you wish to look for yourself.  If you find a clip link it. 
Copyright, 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson
All Rights Reserved

*More Ray Nagin Footnote! 
Controversial mayor of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and after.  Noted for holding The City together politically by traveling the country speaking to the diaspora, and holding elections with voting booths outside New Orleans ~ his administration fought with the Bush Administration over information withheld (under claims of privacy) on the whereabouts of New Orleans citizens.  This, some say, was done to thwart Nagin's efforts at holding The City together as a mostly black and blue-voting block in an otherwise mostly white and red-voting state.  It was during this time, Nagin was widely quoted speaking positively of New Orleans being a "Chocolate City."  Hyper race-sensitive Louisianians (admit it, cher, there are some!) did not like seeing it that way.  (LEJ's YOURS TRULY IN A SWAMP, October 2017)

Two years after leaving office Nagin was indicted for early post-K. reconstruction graft; found guilty, and incarcerated for ten years (2023 release, he will be 66)

Among Nagin loyalists it is argued his offenses and gains were small (e.g., football trip to Chicago, his Son's business ~ Stone Age (marble/counter-tops) ~ enhanced by tax-lapping corporate scalawags.  Whereas, charges against the scalawags ~ reduced for testimony ~ were huge.  So goes the thinking.

Judge Ginger Berrigan reduced the sentence she handed down by one-half of Federal recommendations.  She stated as consideration Nagin's gains from his graft being small, and that he had shown himself to be a good family man, and upstanding citizen outside of these incidents. 

One day ~ during the Evacuation ~ I happened upon Nagin, Seletha, and their accompanying Muscle at a crossroads boudin place in Acadiana.  As I recall, President Obama was coming.  In any case, Nagin and the Muscle were hefting three long ice chests (like we take fishing in the Gulf) full of boudin. 

~ Ray and Seletha Nagin ~
In the checkout line, I said people were judging him too harshly.  "No one knew what to expect from The Storm," I said, "or how to react after."  The Mayor agreed.  His Wife, and the Muscle both nodded.  

Remember, Katrina was the World's first major 'non-global-warming' event.  Neither Nagin, you, nor I knew what to do. 

Carbon spewing interests had not yet switched arguments from, 'Global warming is not-happening' to 'Happening, but not our fault!'  Meaning they, too, with all their science, did not know what to do. 

New Orleans was left between a ghost town and a frontier town, afterwards. 
 The City was mostly empty.  Military convoys roamed the streets.  People dipped water from The River. Everything was broken, and nothing was open but a couple of French Quarter bars!  Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the U. S. House, was not alone in his view that New Orleans was too vulnerable and should not be rebuilt. 

A few very angry citizens were in Town ~ on the green strips along The River and the lip of Lake Pontchartrain.  

During this strange time, an angry crowd denied Nagin a place on the podium in front of a parade and rally criticizing FEMA and the murder rate.  Imagine, the Mayor of The City denied access to his own people by some of those people!

Later, the Mayor's sub-office of garbage pickup-and-scatter issued spanking new trash cans too large for the little walkways between French Quarter and other old houses.  Tempers ran high. 

As the bumper sticker suggested, we remained New Orleanians wherever we were.  Unlike Orleans area parishes, however, where we were, across the Atchafalaya Basineverything worked.  

"Except for you," Norma said.

* *
here to see or order: T-Shirts, Koozies, LEJ.org icebox magnets
Your Comments or Corrections are welcome
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.
 (free)  Subscribe@LEJ.org

LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp
is a monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.org
~ Hosted on GOOGLE Blogger ~
and periodically 
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
© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.
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