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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.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

RHINO, Right Here In New Orleans


* * *
Yours Truly in a Swamp
by
Leonard Earl Johnson

Sorry we missed you if you were not at the RHINO party in New Orleans.

You missed a great party. It was elegant, grand and packed. Hope your absence means you were well, busy and prosperous.

RHINO is the oldest living artist cooperative in Louisiana. I was asked to M. C. their anniversary party, on the third floor of Canal Place.

We took Greyhound down to New Orleans, crushing along Interstate-10, the World's fastest moving parking lot. One stop in Baton Rouge. Normal traffic. Normal Swamp. It all looked like the hurricanes of '05 never happened. Until a reddish black man with two gold earrings asked if I had worked at Charity Hospital before The Storm.

No, I told him, but I had been the concierge at the nearby New Orleans Centre, next to the Super Dome. I was the guy in the marble booth talking restaurants to tourists and telling folks about Macy's and where the bathrooms were.

"That's it!" he said. He smiled, showing matching gold teeth. Dropped the smile and said, "They never reopened that Macy's. Never did."

His home had been in New Orleans East, and he had been back, but not in six months. "It is hopeless," he said.

Now he lives in Ville Platte. He said the Smoked Meat Festival was everything we had heard. He smiled, rubbed his middle
and headed out the door for one of life's greatest Popeye's, on a corner one block from the bus station. We had a thirty-minute layover in Baton Rouge.

Cajun art and antique trader, Wade Lege', and I drank our way back across the Atchafalia Basin, along the new, less-traveled bottom road from the struggling City FEMA Forgot to burgeoning Lafayette, undulating on its bubble of oil and sugar cane. We stopped and dined on BBQ Shrimp, at Clementine's, in New Iberia, where Monsieur Lege's brother, Erin Lege', is Chef. Magnifique!

Earlier we toured the new room at the
Williams Research Center, in New Orleans, and took a nod from the receptionist for an article on its non-connection (maybe) to the House of the Rising Sun,
You Must Remember This

V
itrice McMurry, a talented RHINO jeweler, and her husband, master guitarist John Rankin, put us up out on sunny Bayou Saint John. Next day we stopped at the Pitot House, the first American mayor's house (circa post Louisiana Purchase) and spoke with Mercedes, who is the volunteer gardener you might see saving the mansion's "natural garden." She lives on rue Royal and was a major RHINO patron, in the days before everything changed. Living across the street from RHINO's old Royal Street shop, she even answered police calls to its false burglar alarms.

"If Washington won't help," Mercedes said, pointing to a flower that looked like a mix between a white Swamp Iris and Saint Anne's Lace, "we must rebuild the best New Orleans we can."


A fine weekend for all but those unable to climb aboard any road home. The French Quarter, and such high grounds, looked ever so like yesteryear, sans segregation's distant day. The Essence Music Festival had the streets blocked and musicians signing outside bars near the Louisiana Supreme Court's new/old building. The rest of Town looked like a body amputated of most of its extremities.

America's C. E. O., Goofus W. Bush, can not save a city, win a war or run the trains on time. But have you heard he bought
98,000 acres in Paraguay? In the charitable way he helped flee our country the family of the man he said did September Eleventh, he and Halliburton now prepare to flee. Why stay for the finger pointing?

Hope you are happy and fat as a guiltless Republican, LEJ

* * *

Want an ice-box magnet of my fat face, for your memory board or to ward off future storm vermin?


"Next time it'll keep them bugs out of your refrigerator, sugar!" ~ L. A. Norma


If you do
Send a self - addressed and stamped envelope, along with a five dollar bill.


Send to:
Leonard Earl Johnson
302 Jefferson, Box 202
Lafayette, LA 70501