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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 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.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Gather Ye Rosebuds / August 2013



Yours Truly in a Swamp

August 2013


Leonard Earl Johnson
of New Orleans and Lafayette

* *




Gather Ye Rosebuds
by
Leonard Earl Johnson




Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
-- Robert Herrick (1591 - 1674)

August 2013, I turned Seventy and became one with the spirits of old men seen on the holidays of my youth riding bicycles festooned with feathers, flags and streamers. 

On July 4th this year, L. A. Norma gave us a large American flag. With Mardi Gras beads laced round the handlebars we fastened it to Featherbike.  It fluttered briefly, then fell off. This moment ushered in our full-blown geezerdom.



Featherbike
Photocredit: Melanie Plesh
"One thing is sure," Norma said, "You missed your chance to die young and get a big obit." 

"A long life gives a special reward," I said, "knowing how our dreams turn out while still dreaming them."


Chuck Johnson went to Ullin, Illinois (my hometown), and photographed things like Porky's, my Father's long abandoned nightclub; the Village population sign (800); and the flashing yellow cautionary light at the Village crossroads. I read at its dedication before Chuck was born, fifty-something years ago. This is where first I saw those old men on colorful bicycles. We pitied them their lack of gas guzzling with-it-ness. Now here we be. 


"If Life ain't the big trip!" Norma said, guzzling from a silver flask between puffs of smoke, "what would be?"   


L. E. J. at Seventy
photocredit: Frank Parsley

Chuck stood in front of each icon, camera poised, thinking of me. Then he put those thoughts inside a Birthday card.  At Seventy, there have been no more loving moments than this one. Thank you.


* * *


Also celebrated in August, 
Katrina Day, the day that changed 
everything. In conversation with a younger writer who rented Squalor Heightsmy former Faubourg Marigny garret where I watched ships smoking round Algiers Point -- a sight from which much yarn was spun -- asked, "How could you stay," he asked, "in Lafayette? Leave New Orleans..."

"Well, I didn't leave it all together. Besides, I had been a Seafarer often 
away for months on end." 



"Be a New Orleanian where ever you are,"

reads a sticker we still see eight years after Katrina. We see it stuck on mirrors, bicycle fenders, and bar-tops. In cities and towns near and far.

We took an apartment in Lafayette, around the corner from the Rosa Parks Transportation Centre. Every month or two, we ride Amtrak's aptly named Sunset Limited to and from Big Swamp City.



* * *

In New Orleans,

this year on Bastille Day, I successfully defended my Second Place Sash in the Hemingway Look-Alike Contest.

We listened to songs sung, music played, stories crafted, and jokes well told sitting atop a bar stool at Muses on Frenchmen Street looking, we thought, like Hemingway in A Movable Feast. All writers want to look like Hemingway as he saw Himself. But writers all lie, so don't bother asking one how they feel about this. Third Place was won by a woman sporting a fake mustache. See!


Each contender to the Sash was asked to say something describing our relation to Hemingway. I offered that when Hemmingway was my age he had been dead for ten years. 


Privately we explained to the new resident of Squalor Heights, mid the cheering for Hemingway look-and-not looking alikes, how we had just turned 62 the week before Katrina. The event was celebrated at a ten-cent martini lunch at Ralph Brennan's Bacco. Present then and now was our new Squalor Heights tenant and scribe. 

In eight years, we said then, we will be Seventy, old anyway you count it.


That day has arrived. And we could not be happier for it. Norma and I stepped off the train in Lafayette, and climbed aboard a pedicab arranged by cellphone to carry us up Boulevard Jefferson to Pamplona Tapas Bar, in time for happy-hours of white wine and hot-buttered snails!

Papa never had it any better, oui?
____________
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