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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, 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, February 12, 2016

DRAFT Ash Wed, 2016 The Day After Mardi Gras

"An American has never seen the United States until he has experienced Mardi Gras in New Orleans" ~ Mark Twain

Yours Truly in a Swamp,

a monthly e-column

Leonard Earl Johnson

A similar version appeared in Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans, April 2010


Archives: www.LEJ.org

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From Lent to Easter

by Leonard Earl Johnson

On Ash Wednesday all over Louisiana, Carnival lifted its joyous mantle leaving Lent's ashen smudge in its place. 

We got our ashes early and caught 
Amtrak train #1, Sunset Limited, West.

From Cathedrals and parish churches, to mission altars and heathen households, the Sacrament of Death is celebrated.

 At New Orleans Saint Louis Cathedral, business suits stood cheek-by-jowl with crimson capes and smeared-lipstick ladies. Most held palm fronds and awaited priests dressed in the violet Vestments of Sorrow. 

With thumbs dipped in their ashes from last year's palms these priests apply a smudged sign of the cross to the forehead of the believer.

 I never miss this ceremony ~ I have doubts about many theological things, but none whatsoever about this.  To ashes we shall return.

 We welcomed Lent at Saint Louis Cathedral and then rode the train over Huey P. Long's bridge, at Westwego, Louisiana ~ a town named for a verb!  (The original trainmen forded The Mississippi at this spot and called it, "west-we-go."  The rest is etymological history.)

Away from the sins of Big Swamp City we rode on our father's magic carpet made of steel.  Is their a more fitting Lentin metaphor? 

Lent is the longest holiday in all the Christian calendar.

Carnival's pleasurable length shortens by measure of the poorly constructed Gregorian Calendar.  Preventing one days loss of Lentin lashings.

L. A. Norma tells some altar boys discussing the weight of this year's Mardi Gras garbage, that our cabbie is picking us up to catch a train.  Just then he pulls up on the corner of Saint Peter and Chartres. He wears his signature t-shirt reading, "My Parents Went to New Orleans And All I Got Is This Lousy I.Q."

of Carnival's ever-changing length.
Next day is Ash Wednesday, the 
first day of Lent's forty never-changing days of suffering.

The Catholic Calendar, by which we measure all this, is not accurate, what with the date of Easter changing with the moon! A matter, you may recall, Galileo later tried, without success, to clarify for his Pope, successor to Peter's Throne. And keeper of Heavens's Keys and the temporal clock.

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Easter, the end of Lent, is also a ceremony about Spring. Borrowed from religions that came before Christianity. It maybe the oldest human celebration and it is calculated (or miscalculated) by Canon law, with instruments created with faith in suffering and suspicion of pleasure.

Suffering is not to be monkeyed with by theological calculations. Carnival's pleasures, however, are reducible by God (or His agents with their inaccurate stopwatches).

Lenten fasting repairs Winter's damage and Carnival's excess, and prepares us for Spring's rebirth. Like the jazz man says,

"Blow the roof off the sucker ..."

Awaiting Easter
It has been a long cold Lent, but with sunny mornings and a warm place in the kitchen to read Internet Newspapers and sip coffee. Spring is here this morning, and the live oaks outside our dormer windows are budding into a soft young green. 
Live oaks are ever green. They don't dump their old leaves till Spring's new buds arrive (as followers of JFK conspiracies know). Then they change from old dark green to young soft green almost overnight. Today soft-green rules the Great Mother Swamp, and old alligators lie on the banks in whatever sun we can find dreaming of Easter baskets, Spring and ashes.

(A version of this story first appeared in 2004)
Copyright, 2015, Leonard Earl Johnson

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

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

Your monthly e-mail notice may not come. New Yahoo's mail system is too cumbersome to continue using. Our mailings can not be done one-at-a-time. We have many thousands of e-readers. Too many, it seems, to keep getting free-mail from Yahoo, and we are not able to pay for the pay-mail system.  So there. 

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 - that may get e-mailed.

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 and polished for the next few weeks.) 
Hope you do, I love talking with you,
Leonard Earl Johnson,
Columnist to the elderly and early weary. 

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

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The Day After Mardi Gras

Monday, February 01, 2016

Too Early Ash Wednesday / February 2016

 LEJ's Louisiana,

Yours Truly in a Swamp
A monthly e-column 
by Leonard Earl Johnson

February 2016

Boeuf Gras, Rex Parade, New Orleans

LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp

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The Day After Mardi Gras

by Leonard Earl Johnson


Thanks to the vagaries of the Gregorian Calendar, The Day After Mardi Gras is on us sooner than most celebrants want.  

This being true for us, too, we plan to hold off on Ash Wednesday summations until next month, after Ash Wednesday's ashes have seeped through our forehead into our bloodstream. 

Today we are still in need of Parade Schedules and such, and suggest going to Early Mardi Gras with Glossary and parade information / 2016

L. A. Norma says, "We will let you know when it is over."  Till Then enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!  Your Lenten lashing awaits.

"An American has never seen the United States until he 

has experienced Mardi Gras in New Orleans" 
~ Mark Twain in a letter from New Orleans to his Sister, Pamela A. Moffett of Saint Louis

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

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

You may not receive a monthly notice for LEJ's Louisiana, 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 - that may get e-mailed.

If  you wish to read each month's story please go any time to www.LEJ.org  
(They are posted on the first of each month and polished for the next few weeks.) 

Hope you do, I love talking with you,
Leonard Earl Johnson,
Columnist to the elderly and early weary. 


© 2016, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Early Mardi Gras with Glossary / January 2016

 Mardi Gras, New Orleans, rues Royal and Kerlerec                                                 photo credit, Janis Turk

             Yours Truly in a Swamp,
A monthly e-column by Leonard Earl Johnson
at www.LEJ.org

LEJ / Parc Sans Souci, Lafayette
 photo credit, Frank Parsley

LEJ's Louisiana

January 2016

Janis Turk  and  Karissa Kary               photo credit, Janis Turk

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Short Carnival / Early Mardi Gras

a cultural exchange

by Leonard Earl Johnson


There will be many a Yankee trader awakening at home the week after Mardi Gras (very early this year on February 9) with moss-stuffed voodoo dolls sitting bewilderingly atop their desks.

They dance to our musicians, our chefs, and our artists. Then they dance back home with our tunes and slang ringing in their ears, and our peptic reflux dancing up in their tummies.
We show them our "dis and dats," and they fill our hotels.  Kind strangers come to Town to pay our bills and laugh at our jokes. "Ever hear the one about the tourist who ate their paper bag at Antoine's?"
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Due to straying fingers or internet demons the following half of January's column was lost. 
I am in Hell's own rewrite room working on a restoration. 

Sunday, Feb. 7

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

First Christmas After Katrina / December 2015

Yours Truly in a Swamp ~ LEJ's Louisiana

December 2015

In Remembrance of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita's Tenth Anniversary

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LEJ / 2005 photo credit: Frank Parsley

The First Christmas After Hurricane Katrina
by Leonard Earl Johnson

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 was newly reopened after The Storms and had tried since Thanksgiving to coax Yuletide spirit from the flood-weary City.  Their effort had been great, but the task had been greater.  The water was gone and in time it would fill with song.  But not this night, December 17 ~ nearly four months later.

Streetcars were still silent and military convoys were the only traffic moving on this or any other street in Town.  Everywhere, neither stop light nor street light blinked a bright red and green.

Along the 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 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 around the rim.  A silver bell dangled from its bill.

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

I had come to the 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 Musicians.

The train had stopped along the route to give fundraiser concerts all the way from Kankakee to New Orleans.  This night we are to make our donation at a concert to be held at Tipitina's on the corner of Tchoupitoulas Street and Napoleon Avenue.

When I opened the French doors to the bar I spotted my friend at the far end.  He was overdressed, and over-served.

He wore a camel hair topcoat, a wool suit, a cotton shirt and a silk tie.  A fast-pace Chicago uniform in our Storm slowed parade ~ a pace 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, "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 said loudly 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.  His cards were lying 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 a 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, "at the Canal Street Brothel with David Vitter?"  

We both laughed.  My friend was in his cups, hanging his observations with 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."

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 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 beer distributor 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 beer man 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 Hurricanes Katrina and Rita written across its belly.  I picked up one and read the name, "Senegal Breaux," underneath that, "August 29, 2005"  I gathered the teddy bears 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 Blue Bayou on the jukebox.  He pushed a remote-control button next to the cash register and one of the gray helicopters opened its bomb bay doors and let red and green glitter fall into our beers.

We stood to leave and my friend told the bartender to keep the remaining Red Wolfs and gave him a one-hundred dollar bill and his business card.  "Tell those fatheads in Chicago to go jump in Lake Michigan.  New Orleans is 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 Mexican in dirty blue jeans and a t-shirt that read: "FEMA, Find Every Mexican Available".

e 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.  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..."

Copyright, Leonard Earl Johnson, 2015
All Rights Reserved
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Go here For T-Shirts, Koozies, LEJ.org icebox magnets
and such falderal ...

Editor's note:
You may not receive a monthly e-mail notice for YOURS TRULY IN A SWAMP, LEJ's Louisiana 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 they are archived at www.LEJ.org. Each new column is posted on the first of each month and polished for the next few weeks. 
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.

* * *

Lagniappe du Jour: