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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Leonard Earl Johnson 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, and Country Roads Magazine, 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.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Carnival Time Without Bo Dollis / February 2015



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

Thanks to incompatible Internet-ry you may have to copy and paste Subscribe@LEJ.org  into your own e-mail form.  Perhaps utilizing the nearly lost art of pen and paper for this tricky transfer.

It's Carnival Time Without Bo Dollis
February 2015

by Leonard Earl Johnson
* * *

Bo Dollis, Big Chief of Wild Magnolias
Died this year during Carnival Season, at 71, 
1944 ~ 2015
The Mexican Cafe, La
Carreta, on Jefferson Street, in Laughingyette has installed roll up front windows. 

Rather like spit-n-polish garage doors. "With big glass," Norma says. "Like Mitt Romney has for his fleet."

The men who would be President. They are like fleeting warm days in Winter. They blow comforting smoke then icy winds. Like Bobby Jindal's cold-hearted exploitation of wee-the-people of Louisiana.  

At the Krewe du Vieux parade -- or drunk somewhere in a bar --  I saw a paper mache Jindal with a maniacal grin on his face bending at the waist towards the front of the float and blowing a fart out his rear at the face of Louisiana.

But it is Carnival Time and we march on even with the prospect of schools and bridges closing.  And without the sight and sound of Bo Dollis. Louisiana, we will never be the same.

 * * *

The roller doors were thrown open framing the laughing celebrants like a Renoir boat-dock painting titled, Le Marais du Carnaval en Louisiane

We pulled up the extension handles on our bags, and rolled them off down the street two blocks to the Rosa Parks Transportation Centre and Amtrak station.The evening train to New Orleans is forty-minutes late (considered by train-riders to be within the legal definition of on-time).  

As soon as we boarded the voice from the dining-car steward called last seating over the pubic address system. We had packed a backup meal that would keep, and went straight through the other coaches to the dining-car. 

"You have a six-thirty reservation?"  the voice said to our face. 

did not, but was seated anyway, with two cheery young women in the third day of their journey from California.  They were bound for New Orleans to install the one -- an aspiring actress -- in a new career tramping the movie-making vineyards of Louisiana. The other was a painter inspired by Norman Rockwell, and only along for the ride. 

"I'm going back to California," she said. "I need clean, clear lines." 

Outside our window, Cypress trees kicked up their knees at live-oak trees dressed in Winter-green and Spanish moss. Saw-fan palmettos waved. Turtle families sat on logs ranked by their size.  Snakes and alligators parted the water and wagged their tails. The jungle fell on top of itself like an ocean wave and a straight line was no more visible than truth in Baton Rouge.

L. A. Norma, Robert Brunet, Leonard Earl Johnson
 Photo credit: Scott Nicely
 
We pulled in to Big Swamp City exactly on time. 

Next morning, we took breakfast at Croissant D'Or Patisserie, in the French Quarter. Where we met Scott Nicely and his partner Robert Brunet. They met each other on Mardi Gras seventeen years ago. Scott was in Town from Knoxville, Tennessee and Robert, a native of nearby Houma, Louisiana, was living in Big Swamp City, New Orleans!

"Hello, a new way of living," L. A. Norma says.

The couple moved to Atlanta, where Robert is an executive with Whole Foods. He is Associate Coordinator of Prepared Foods for the South Region. 

"A very long winded way of saying I am in charge of all the Delis in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and The Carolina's.

"My Son," Robert tells us, "and I found each other five years ago on Facebook. He was born when in school. His Mother and I were in school, just kids. Luckily we were adult enough to see that, and he was adopted out, successfully. 

"He and I both share a love of books and writing. Just last year he and his Wife had a child -- my Granddaughter -- and she is the reason we are in Town this weekend.

"We spent Saturday night cooking Gumbo and BBQ Shrimp with a wonderful king cake for dessert and of course, the next morning we spent eating brunch at Mr. B's.  

"Actually they ate while I danced around the restaurant with little Edith Frances."

* * *

In Louisiana "Indians" means New Orleans Indians - - social clubs with names like Wild Magnolia, and made up of black men who out-costume everyone parading from Saint Joseph's Day up to, and including Carnival Day. 

Each Indian builds an annual New Suit of beaded and be-feathered glory, an homage to Freedom! To the chilling and thrilling idea of the escaped black slave. In a white man's world aided by Native American Indians.  

Let us take a moment to ponder the passing last month, at 71, of Bo Dollis, Big Chief of the Wild Magnolias.

You Tube: Iko Iko, by the Dixie Cups

© 2015, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved.
Your comments are welcome, post them in the Blog Comments.


FYI
New Yahoo's mail system is too cumbersome to continue using for our mailings, 
and we are not able to pay for the  paymail system. 

You may not receive a monthly notice for YOURS TRULY IN A SWAMP, 

until / unless I figure out how to set up a new freemail system. 
(Don't hold your breath.  I am a storyteller, not a computer-pinball gamer). Contact me if you want on the list.

If you wish to read each month's story please go any time to www.LEJ.org 
(They are posted newly on the first of each month) 
Hope you do, I love talking with you,
Leonard Earl Johnson,
Columnist to the elderly and early weary. 

* *

© 2015, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved.
Comments are welcome, post them in the Blog Comments.
Second MARDI GRAS, NEW ORLEANS, Post Katrina
photo credit: Janice Turk

U-tube: Krewe du Vieux 
2014 parade

Krewe du Vieus parade, 2015
 * * *


Thursday, January 01, 2015

How You Like It So Far? / January 2015 Bonne Annee! Happy New Year!



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

Thanks to incompatible hi-tech magic you may have to copy and paste 
Subscribe@LEJ.org  into your own e-mail form.  Perhaps utilizing the nearly lost art of pen and paper for the tricky transfer.

How You Like It So Far?
January 2015!
Bonne Annee!  Happy New Year!

by Leonard Earl Johnson
* * *
Photo credit: Frank Parsley

*

"How Many Trains

do I have to catch, before I'm Home and Free?"

"Sounds like a Fabled Sixties' Bob Dylan song, don't it?" 

L. A. Norma said, as she passed her singing phone with its music-toons, and Amtrak e-ticket apps before the eyes of the gatekeeper at New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal, the beginning and end of the line for Amtrak's

New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal,
 Katrina-era Orleans Parish Prison, and  
art gallery housing a spectacular civic mural 
once proud Sunset Limited ~ and other long suffering long distance trains.

At a sidewalk table outside Cake Cafe and Bakery, on Chartres, in Faubourg Marigny, two gleaming young Swedes waved blue eyes and blond hair ~ their Nordic flag ~ for all to see.  They talked about taking a train to "Laughingyette, for the music!"

"In America you're lucky if there are two trains a day," one young blond face said. Trains in Europe run far more often and far "more better." We all laughed. Then I told them there were but three trains a week going West. 

"Well, three in each direction," I said. "Six a week!" 


I shrugged at America's slow descent into third-world loading platforms. They laughed, but later in the week joined us at the U. P. Terminal with their Amtrak e-lectronic tickets glowing in the boarding agent's face. The agent lifted my old fashioned paper ticket. The Swedes were "Comin'cross the Basin" to hear the Pine Leaf Boys, and staying at the youth hostel above the Blue Moon Saloon. 


Pine Leaf Boys, Blue Moon Saloon

C'est bon! 
Recommended for anyone who wants to stay up till the last musician howls ~ 2am in Lafayette, Louisiana ~ and greet the new day hanging over from the last.

We had a jolly gig Christmas Eve meeting the Sunset Limited ~ Westbound, besuited in red and tossing beads as Papa Noel. 

At the train station we saw again a waiter we had ridden over with earlier in the week. He works at Peche, award winning Chef Donald Link's New Orleans success after failure at his back-home in Lafayette effort at a Cajun-located Cochon Restaurant ~ his
Big Swamp City popular urban Cajun-style cafe. 

"Who in Acadiana wanted to pay fifty bucks for half a boudin cut at angle standing on end?" L. A. Norma asks. "When you can get a whole one at most markets for a couple dollars!?" 

Not many did. 

The Peche waiter was meeting his girlfriend. We gave him a strand of red-and-white beads to give her. He told us he had liked both French Press and Pamplona. Later, Jerry Young, impresario of Pamplona Tapas Bar, told us two of his waitstaff had recently moved to NOLa and gone to work at Peche. As Norma says, "Ain't it a small Swamp?"


Pullman Car Saint Louis, photo courtesy of Amtrak,
Circa yesteryear

The platform was crowded and a lady using a walker mistook me in my red suit for a redcap, and asked me to carry her bags.

"I can not madam, I am Papa Noel!" I fetched her a conductor. Another Samaritan took her bags.

.
Papa Noel ~ LEJ, besuited and besotted
Photo credit: Dave Therrien 

I gave her some red and white beads. The Conductor got a brass key chain fob in the form of a Jazz Fest ticket.

The Samarian got an I.Q. T-Shirt.

A few books went to others.

When I got to the bottom of me red bag I found (one gold, one green) stripper's jocks (Papa Noel plays NOLa, too). I gave the gold one to a grinning man bound for Los Angeles. The Train-Assistant (stewards of the rails) took the other. Then looked like she thought better of it, "This thing been worn?!"

After the train pulled out, Pamplona Tapas Bar was our next stop for wine and cellphone
-selfies with dining celebrants. And dinner on the house, for us, and for today's aforementioned hangover. Does it ever get better?

For a fitting Christmas stowaway story about the 1980 last Cuban Boat Lift read Yours Truly in a Swamp at December 2014 


HO, Ho, ho! my head! 


Leonard Earl Johnson, columnist to the elderly and early weary wishes you
Bonne Annee! Happy New Year!
----------------

Copyright, 2015, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

FYI
New Yahoo's mail system is too cumbersome to continue using for our mailings, 
and we are not able to pay for the  paymail system. 

You may not receive a monthly notice for YOURS TRULY IN A SWAMP, 

until / unless I figure out how to set up a new freemail system. 
(Don't hold your breath.  I am a storyteller, not a computer-pinball gamer). Contact me if you want on the list.

If you wish to read each month's story please go any time to www.LEJ.org 

(They are posted newly on the first of each month) 
Hope you do, I love talking with you,
Leonard Earl Johnson,
Columnist to the elderly and early weary. 

* * *
______
© 2015, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved.
Your comments are welcome, post them in the Blog.

Friday, November 28, 2014

La Porte to Promised Land / December 2014



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

Through the hi-tech magic of incompatible Internet-ery you may have to copy and paste 
Subscribe@LEJ.org  into your e-mail form. 
(Perhaps utilizing the nearly lost art of pen and paper for this tricky transfer.)


by Leonard Earl Johnson

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

Papa Noel ~ L. E. J.                                               Photo credit: Dave Therrien

Yours Truly in a Swamp
December 2014

 *  *


From La Porte, Texas to the Promised Land


by Leonard Earl Johnson
www.LEJ.org

(Dedicated to the four DuPont employees killed in a November gas leak at La Porte)


Any port in a storm 
The year of the last Cuban Boat-lift1980I was sailing aboard the M. V. Sealand, a U. S. flagged container ship running transatlantic stops between Houston, Texas and Rotterdam. I served as the officer's Bedroom Steward (B. R.) -- a kind of seagoing maid. Not a glamorous rank 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 his officers that all but the Captain will lock their doors in port to keep out thieves ostensibly, and effectively
 ending the good B. R.'s duties after breakfast. This is a kind of gratuity, a tip to the 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. This was a spot so far out-in-the-boonies it was barely in from the Gulf of Mexico.

The Port Authority of Houston's decision to move their 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 from the mirror behind the bar, "We No Closed Never." Nice, but hardly Houston.

The town of La Porte was a meager destination if ever there was one. It lay two-miles straight inland. I took a bicycle with me in those days and it was a pleasant two mile ride over new black asphalt roads separating cow pastures populated with  long-horned cattle and Spanish Moss laden live oaks.

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 Fajita Cafe, and the Gulf Coast Railroad Emporium, with its back-lighted oval sign proclaiming, "Lionel Trains for All The Ages -- Toot! Toot!"

The sights of La Porte and The Little Goat Ranch were certainly appreciated, but they were dim lights next to our memories of Houston. 

Our savior was found 
In the Gulf Coast Railroad Emporium, one memorable Fall day when 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 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 his 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.

We followed the red-eyed beacon of Jesus down the new blacktop road. But 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's commitment to meeting our returning ship each voyage, and driving 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 for all!
In those days Houston was a shining alabaster city undulating on a succulent pool of booming oil prices. An anything-goes Babylon of the U. S. Gulf 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 his 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 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 doors awaited the wanting 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 guess, 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.


la photo credit: T. P. el Greece
After several we passed out. As the sun rose over the fog bank we awakened on the deck 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 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.

At night we talked of how lonely Christmas was at Sea, and 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 news films of the huge Mariel Boat Lift washing onto the beaches of south Florida.

Cowboy laughed at how Florida's "gringo governor" greeted 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 at me 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 poverty, 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 Ship, the Sea)
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 Steward over six extra beds," 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 rough waters, Mate, rough enough to beach us."

My actual power was that any ship's irregularity meant Federal paper work for the Mate, and the Mate hated Federal paper work. 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 Mohammad!" exclaimed the Mate, slamming the door tight. He looked at me and several words formed on his lips before, "Holy Mother of Lenin!" came out.

* * *

Cowboy's second coming

In Miami, officers of the United States Coastguard collected our Cubans. With the addition of our handsome, blue-eyed, un-sunburned Cowboy Castro they now numbered seven.

On our return voyage we lashed a Norwegian Christmas Tree to the foremast and strung it with yellow light bulbs furnished by the Bos'n. As we hove'round Barbours Cut and slipped up against the wharf all eyes searched the dock. But there was no Cowboy Castro waiting for us.

We found his beat up purple truck and used a key under the floor mat to drive 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?" he asked. "And come is white? 

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!"
----------------

Copyright, 2014, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

FYI
New Yahoo's mail system is too cumbersome to continue using for our mailings, 
and we are not able to pay for the  paymail system. 

You may not receive a monthly notice for YOURS TRULY IN A SWAMP, 

until / unless I figure out how to set up a new freemail system. 
(Don't hold your breath.  I am a storyteller, not a computer-pinball gamer). Contact me if you want on the list.

If you wish to read each month's story please go any time to www.LEJ.org 

(They are posted newly on the first of each month) 
Hope you do, I love talking with you,
Leonard Earl Johnson,
Columnist to the elderly and early weary. 

* * *
______
© 2014, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved.
Your comments are welcome, post them in the Blog.