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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 anthologies: 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 01, 2013

Alan Robinson Didn't He Ramble / February 2013

Yours Truly in a Swamp


Leonard Earl Johnson
February 2013

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LEJ's Yours Truly in a Swamp

Alan Robinson Didn't He Ramble
2013 February
by Leonard Earl Johnson

"That's leadership!L. A. Norma said, placing a smoking Camel Cigarette along the tip of a treasured pink conch shell she lugged back from the Bahamas.

"And more power to you, Mr. President," she added turning off the TV.

Norma was cheering President Obama's effort at 
doing something to stop the shootings of masses of Americans -- even unto the little children -- by disarming big-gun nuts exercising some woefully misjudged Constitutional right.

"Perhaps the little children could pool their milk money and buy a congressman?" our cabdriver said. He wore a bluish gray T-shirt that read, "My Parents Went To New Orleans And All I Got Is This Lousy I. Q."  He dropped us in front of an Uptown bar, and gave us a card with his number.

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We returned from the Bahamas aboard the M/V Carnival Conquest, our second cruise on this good ship. While we were at Sea, Obama grew a hard spine. And Louisiana suffered foot-high rainfalls and flooding. We learned all this from our shipboard-tv. The TV did not name the town flooded. We figured it was not New Orleans or they would have talked about Hurricane Katrina.

We later learned Eunice, a town 
in Acadia and St. Landry parishes (ancestral parishes of chef Paul Prudhomme) had been completely cut off from access by anything but boat.  Yet at our first dinner back home, the cook, bartender and waitress who fed us great sandwiches at a bar near Tulane's campus, shook their heads, and said, "No flooding here, we've heard about."  

Outside it was pouring, and while getting back in our cab, rain water came rushing down Freret Street swamping our shoes and thoughts.

"Should I go back in and tell them?" Norma asked, splashing along. "Thank Gott there is no global ...," she stumbled into a pothole, talking.

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"Gliding along we go,
loving it so, and so
We are by, 
by the beautiful Sea ..."

Hard to believe, in post whole-lot'a-years, but I sang that ditty to bemused sailors aboard the first of many ships I sailed from New Orleans to Odessa, U.S.S.R. And down near the Straits of Magellan, and up to the Saint Lawrence Seaway. And from Baltimore to the Bahamas and beyond. I was young. The world was my outbound vessel. New Orleans was my home port.

Home is the sailor, home from the Sea. Sailors come to live in neither worlds. Not fish at Sea, and not quite like other people on the beach.

I dropped anchor in New Orleans in the 1970s, when I rented a handsome apartment in Faubourg Marigny, restored by Gene Cizek -- a pioneer of Marigny's current gentrification. 

Cizek taught at Tulane and introduced me to the late Alan Robinson, then a rising Faubourg Marigny and Citywide star. This was long before Katrina -- that perfect metaphor for Life's journey of change. 

Pat Brady, author and former president of the Gulf South Booksellers Association, remembered Alan: "One year, we all took the train to Chicago for BookExpo, along with Alan's dear friend, Eleanor Meade of the New Orleans Museum of Art book store.

"We opened the walls between the cabins 
and had a party."

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"Alan was in the New Orleans Museum of 
Art's  Comptroller's Office," E. John 
Bullard, NOMA's Director Emeritus said.

"working as an Accountant with 

responsibility for the Museum Shop.  

left to pursue his literary interests full 

time, including his pioneering gay book 
store. Alan had a keen intelligence, great 
sense of humor and warm personality. He is 
greatly missed."

Last week we learned Alan Robinson's voyage ended in May, at a post-Katrina relative's home in Texas, accoding to Otis Fennel, current operator of FMB Art and Books. We did not talk with the relatives, who wish to forget New Orleans and Alan's time here. 

Life can be like that. 

It also can remember us for decades, years or not-at-all. We are briefly what we are in the hearts of those who knew us. And then? Today even the Pharoahs of Egypt are forgotten but for a few known by era alone, and for little else.

Susan Larson, The Times-Picayune's book editor, radio personality and New Orleans bonne vivante, reminisced, "Alan always saw the bigger picture -- he wanted our Booksellers Association to work, he knew we were stronger as a group, and he always stood up for what he believed in.

Alan and I, Mark Zumpe, Pat Brady, --  all went to the Human Rights Campaign dinner when Alan was honored for his work with the bookstore, and, I believe, the Gertrude Stein Society. He was so proud and it was such a lovely evening."  

Alan Robinson bought a house in Bywater and the FMB Art and Books Store. This was Faubourg Marigny's premier book shop, on Frenchmen Street, at Chartres. He took over the struggling 
operation from a defrocked priest, who left for reasons no longer remembered. 

He grew it to a City premier retailer of bookscurios, art and what-not on what was then Siberia (1970-80's Frenchmen Street) but is today one of the hottest hot-time streets in the country

Frenchmen Street was recently celebrated in song, on HBO's, Treme', a film-story which understands New Orleans filmnoir. With a storyline that understands Frenchmen Street -- where Alan Robinson once ran a book store.   

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"Alan died?" e-mailed Tony Fennelly, the Edgar-nominated mystery author of such titles as The Glory Hole Murders, and The Hippie in the Wall. "But he was only our age! What happened?"

I wrote back, "Time done dropped on top'a us like a Katrina metaphor."

Along with Uptown bookseller, Mark Zumpe, Robinson founded the New Orleans/Gulf South Booksellers Association.  Zumpe died before Katrina, and is memorialized in Washington Square Park, on Frenchmen Street, and with a scholarship in his name. 

Robinson is presumably interred in Texas. Rest in Peace, old friend. Didn't you ramble!

Copyright, 2013, Leonard Earl Johnson
All Rights Reserved   

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