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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 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.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Trains Make Good Walls ~ A Dream / January 2019

LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp,

a monthly e-column by Leonard Earl Johnson, 

of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana

E-mail: Subscribe@LEJ.org
Archives: www.LEJ.org  
January 2019

Trains Make Good Walls
~  A Dream  ~
BY  Leonard Earl Johnson
 www.LEJ.org ✍️

© 2019, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

In my seat alone, dozing the last hour before reaching Lafayette, I dreamt of photographers raising their cameras. 

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

Illinois Central Depot, Ullin Illinois, circa 1850
Southbound to New Orleans
and The Sea
"Why not!" the Trumper tweeted.  

"Why not a wall of  
many railroads stretching from California to Florida.  Multiple lines strung with multiple trains running thick as jungle bamboo and Vietnam lies?"  

The President offered to show his bone spur to reporters.  They turned away. "See, fake news!" he twitted. "If Elizabeth Warren showed her tommyhawk, press rats would be on that like editors on cheese.

"But my war wound?  Nothing!" 

The Wall-trains would follow the route of America's first coast-to-coast train, ole Number One, the first train in the World to carry a personalized name, the Sunset Limited.  It's route following that of the colonial Old Spanish Trail.  "Move over, Mexico.  Hello, California, here we come!"

Image result for Sunset Limited amtrak images
"Lets see them beaners get across that!"  
Trumper twittered, as Ivanka brushed his hair.  And Son-In-Law, Jared Kushner unspooled 

'backchannel communication cable' behind his self-esteemed supremely patriotic Family.

Roseate Spoonbill        /        Lake Martin,  Louisiana

The little Family tableau rode in a manner befitting American nostalgia.  Rode along gold plated escalators, and moving-sidewalks, now 
running from the White House up The Mall to the big domed Capitol itself.

"Streets paved with gold," 
the immigrants were told. 

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

A mustachioed face 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. 

"With almost no difficulty with blow back," the mustache twitched as it talked.  

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

 Clock Tower bus-bays,
Rosa Parks Transportation Centre
Lafayette, Louisiana

"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, yes, but business!"

"A plausible crazy threat wins the game!" Trumper twittered, "Just ask my bankers."  
Ivanka brushed and spoke not.  The Son-in-law spooled and spoke not.  The escalator escalated.  

The dream clock struck Noon.  We awoke as the real Conductor called out, "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 only smoke-stop between New Orleans and Houston.  

She lit a Camel Cigarette, and continued her conversation about walls, with a young couple from 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."  

His Wife added, "A distraction."   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 atop a purple clover leaf. 

The engineer blew his whistle calling smokers back aboard their train ride out to the Golden West.  "Manifest Destiny all over again," Norma said, from inside her toxic plum of Camel Cigarette smoke.  

We all shouted, from inside our communal bloom of toxic fume, and waved our arms, "Red-herring Republicans!"  The train snaked off down the tracks.  The last car rocked and wobbled back at us.

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

Christmas Day 2018   /   Lafayette, Louisiana
Left to  right: Nashville, 
Tennessee Architect,
Papa Noel LEJ.org,
Poet and Professor,
Poet, Muse, and Mother.
© 2019, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.
* * * * * * * * * * * 
and such falderal ...

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

If you want on the list that may get e-mail columns
*   *   *
If you wish to read any past column they are archived at www.LEJ.org 
Columns are posted on the first of each month and polished for the next few years.
Krew of Rio, Lafayette

~*~    ~*~
Next Month's column will be about Carnival!
2019 has a very long Carnival Season.
 Beginning on Epiphany night, January 6
Ending on Ash Wednesday, March 6

Krewe du Vieux, New Orleans

~*~    ~*~    ~*~

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
The monthly column is written by Leonard Earl Johnson
of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana
Archives: www.LEJ.org
© 2019, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.
* * * * * * * * * * * *

Saturday, December 01, 2018

The First Christmas After Katrina / December 2018

Conni Castille's Grandson, Santa LEJ.org; and the Train from New Orleans
Christmas Eve                               Photo credit / Mark Konikoff

LEJ's Louisiana
Yours Truly in a Swamp
Monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.org
Leonard Earl Johnson,
of Lafayette and New Orleans
Archives: www.LEJ.org

~*~     ~*~     ~*~

     LEJ.org, 2005      /      Photo Credit: Frank Parsley

The First Christmas After Katrina
by Leonard Earl Johnson
December 2018

© 2018, 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, 2005.

The streetcars were all silent.
Everywhere in Town, neither stop lights nor street lights blinked a bright red and green.  Military convoys made up all the traffic moving on this or any other street.  Now and then a lone vehicle scurried down a darkened street towards some destination not obvious to onlookers ~ had there been onlookers.    
NOLa After Katrina   /   Coleen Perilloux Landry

Along most every street, 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.

A 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.

I had come to this bar to meet an old friend who had just arrived in Town, aboard an Amtrak special composite called the City of New Orleans, Extra. It came all the way from Chicago, that broad-shouldered behemoth at the other end of the railroad line. 

He rode this train to show support for Arlo Guthrie's Friends Benefit Tour for Louisiana Musicians

The train 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 (note: words and music by the late Steve Goodman, Chicago troubadour).

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.

~*~      ~*~     ~*~

I opened the French doors and spotted my friend at the far end of the bar.   He was clearly overdressed and over served, too.

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

A 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 was telling the bartender, in his booming Chicago voice, "and its berries should be white!"

A beer representative from Saint Louis, Missouri was also behind the bar.  He was wearing a sport coat that looked to be made from Anheuser-Busch labels.  He was 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, too, 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, "At the Canal Street Brothel, in diapers with Republican senator, Vitter the Titter." 

We all laughed, enjoying thinking of the sexual peccadilloes of our betters.  Peccadilloes not yet widely known, but destined to become an election issue a few years later.  

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 is not, but it's a good system," I said.  "We are 'The City That Works!' "

He snorted at my irony putting Chicago's famous motto up against New Orleans' easy-going work ethic.

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

We both looked 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."

I 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 was startled and blurted 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 Time, and my friend was in Town to wine and dine us for three fat days.  We had known each other since the Fabled Sixties, since college daze in Carbondale, Illinois, where the train had stopped to play a concert.  He liked having, as he puts 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 toy helicopter opened its bomb bay doors and let red and green glitter fall in 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 go 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?"  

I say, "Forget it, let's walk."

He slipped out of his topcoat and handed it to a bewildered man 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 in Town that night were also headed to Tipitina's.  

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..." ~ 

~*~     ~*~     ~*~
Your Comments and Corrections
are welcome: 


Contact me at Subscribe@LEJ.org  if you want on the list ~ that may get a monthly e-mail notice of each new column.  If you wish to read any month's column they are archived at www.LEJ.org. Each new column is posted on the first of each month and polished for the next few years. 
Hope you do, I love talking with you,
Leonard Earl Johnson,
Columnist to the elderly and early weary. 

~*~     ~*~     ~*~

Lagniappe du Jour: 

~ Santa LEJ.org meeting the train from New Orleans ~
Photo credit: Mark Konikoff
Arrow Hand Labor Next Right Turn Straight
~    ~    ~
Coming in Next Month's Column
January 2019's Splash from The Swamp
Copyright, Leonard Earl Johnson, 2018
All Rights Reserved