Monday, January 31, 2011

Best of ... 3 Top Rated

Part of the year end wrap up for this blog is the TOP THREE RATED blog postings.

Here's something that you don't see everday...

At least a few times a week you see something like this down here. In this Youtube video we see a wedding parade suddenly appear down Royal Street complete with a police escort and a band.  It's a great quality to this town, a chance of finding yourself caught up in the middle of a parade are about as likely as getting caught up in a rain storm.  For a fee, one can apply for a parade permit,  designated routes and times.  I'm sure it costs a few bucks, but it does come with a couple of cops stopping traffic for your party. I worked a couple of these parades as a Reveler and a Big Head. Fun job. 

Holiday Music

Saturday, January 29, 2011

What do I win?

I'll be coming my first year anniversary here in New Orleans.  What a long strange trip it's been.  I'm so glad I documented it to the best of my abilities. Perhaps someday my grand kids could be reading about my past year.  I only scratched the surface.  This city is nothing more than a sanctuary for good people who might have labeled freaks in middle America.  When I was only down here for one month, the BP oil spill took place.  It was if a black hole had opened up a few miles away.  These folks don't rattle easy, but are prone to expecting the worst case scenarios.

Scary times, New Orleans like a defiant pirate whore stuck out her tits and said "Bring it on M-Fer." The Crescent City would be proud to host the end times like another World's Fair.  New Orleans would provide the parades behind the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.  "Is that Brimstone?" No, it's cheap plastic beads and an odd beer bottle.  I figure that we all are just waiting to face judgment, so I might as well await it here in New Orleans running up as many charges as I can.

I'll be cutting corners this month, so look for "Best Of" bullshit.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What a day

On Sunday I had to meet with the publisher in the Quarter.  I've noticed since I moved down here almost everybody runs late. It's a given.  A tenish AM meeting evolved into eleven-something, ok quarter past twelve... One o'clock. I kicked around Royal Street checking out performers and galleries. Figuring I'd meet up with him at Jackson Square I took a nap in the grass soaking up 60 plus degree sunshine. A dozen or so joined me, homeless dudes, young lovers, and a hippy. In Jersey being late for a business meeting is a sin, down here it's a perk.

Walking back though the Square I found myself walking pace next to some long haired Jesus looking dude with a guitar. In NOLA this common. We acknowledge each other and a few steps later "Hey man, I hate to ask, but do you have an extra cigarette?" His lucky day. The day before I was walking down Decatur and spotted a just opened pack of Parliaments on top of a newspaper box. I'm from Jersey, I can't just leave them there. I pull the pack out of my briefcase and handed him 19 smokes. "DUDE! You are the Jesus Christ of cancer! Thank you." I'll add the title to my resume.

We got to bullshitting and stood on a corner talking about New Orleans. Turned out that he was a teacher by day who hung out street performing on the weekends for extra cash and for the experience. "Some nights I play out and only get paid in drinks." I met a very cool dude.  I now no longer describe myself as an out of work cab driver. I am now self described "Freelance artist." Turns out that Chris had not only heard of the Quarter Rat, but is a big fan of it. I am constantly meeting fans of the publication.

I really feel the energy of the Quarter, something supernatural here. Had this same scenario played out in Jersey...."Hey man, I hate to ask, but do you have an extra cigarette?" "GET A FUCKING JOB HIPPY!"

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Classic

I dunno why this tune was going through my head today. Enjoy.

Look for it soon

Here is the latest. Look for it in finer French Quarter establishments in time for Mardi Gras.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Originals


I went to church today

I had today off from work, so I wandered into the Quarter with sketch book in hand. Sorry to rub it into the rest of the country, but it was in the mid sixties and sunny. Tourists and Quarter Rats milled about, listened to music and lounged in the grass at Jackson Square. I'm getting familiar enough with the streets, coffee shops and cool niches that I almost feel like a local.

Most of my "architectural charactures" I draw from memory, composites of buildings that I visually inhaled on my excursions.  I thought that I would attempt the New Orleans crown jewel of St. Louis cathedral. I have been a bit intimidated to tackle a drawing of the most photographed structure in the Crescent City. For this piece of art I would have to sit in front of it for almost four hours, eyes darting back and forth between my paper and the church hundreds of times.

St Louis Cathedral is one of the oldest continuous operating cathedrals in the nation. The original one was destroyed by a hurricane in 1722, a fire destroyed the second one in 1788. The present one was finished in 1794 and has been the crown of the French Quarter easily viewed from the Mississippi. I'm sure many an early visitor passing on the river awed at it's spires. During hurricane Katrina the roof leaked severely damaging a million dollar pipe organ. Two large oak trees fell almost missing a statue of Jesus. The falling tree took off only Jesus' thumb, allowing him to only being able to hitch hike in one direction. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Don't just take my word for it


One of my friends from Jersey posted on my facebook "You should be working for the local Chamber of Commerce." 

Canal Street

 Here is one that I finished last night just for fun. It really doesn't do justice to Canal Street. Canal is a grand old thoroughfare that was at one time the main shopping district in New Orleans. It's probably the most beautiful and rich in character Avenue that I have ever seen.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hey Juan

This time last year I was banging my cab into the curbs up in Jersey, broke and miserable. The garden state had worn me out like an abusive spouse. I was determined to stop being a co dependent of the nation's most dysfunctional state. A fellow cab driver, Waffle had placed in my head the crazy notion of moving to New Orleans. Most of my coworkers didn't think I would ever move. That's the attitude in Jersey, no matter how miserable you are, there is no place else to live.

 I shared my ambitions with Juan, one of my favorite passengers. A young man who if he was any mellower people would check his pulse, an artist and musician. He had friends whose band had played down in New Orleans and told him how great it was. Juan has followed my exploits and struggles since I hopped the barbed wire fence surrounding Jersey and kept running. Between this blog and our facebook contact, he has egged me on and provided encouragement at just the right times.

I'm getting the impression that he's not too happy back in Jersey. The term Waffle kept using to lure me down to the Big Easy was "Come down to be with like minded individuals." Waffle didn't exaggerate. I found folks who were only concerned with creating art, food and music, and for the most part not interested with materialism. Don't get me wrong, it's not perfect. This city is filled with either hustlers or the hustled. The economy isn't much better than the northeast, but if you are going to be poor this is the place to do it. A wealthy man will say good morning to a homeless man with as much respect as if he was talking to a judge.

If you come down with a couple of hundred in your pocket and ambition, not only will you survive, I bet you will be a lot happier. When you come down, we'll visit Waffle at Ms May's and have a beer and laugh at New Jersey together.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Those Damn Beads

The first morning I woke up in my new home of New Orleans, I couldn't wait to go out and explore. As I wondered Magazine Street in the Irish Channel my toes kept kicking string after string of plastic beads. Some places they were so thick, they blocked storm drains. The disposable bobbles adorned fences, power lines, balconies and caused gutters to glitter. It was if plastic beads had been a form of precipitation that week.

I remembered the night before on my ride into the city seeing a large wholesale warehouse with a sign reading MARDI GRAS BEADS. Mardi Gras is not just essential to the spirit and reputation of New Orleans, it's a major part of the economy. Tourism pumps millions into pockets through the usual avenues of hotels, restaurants and drinking establishments, as well as specialty services. Rent a reveler for conventions, beads and throw distributors, float makers and overtime for police and public works employees.  Everyone benefits from out of town drunks tossing money around for experiences they will never remember.

Tossed from floats by the tons every year,  the simple inexpensive trinkets have become a symbal for NOLA. Most locals won't be caught dead wearing them, except for higher quality ones on Mardi Gras. You could hold up a string of rabbit turds to see tourists clammer over each other to catch them. Of course the rest of the country has heard about flashing for beads. That only occurs down on Bourbon Street. The main parade routes wind through the old neighborhoods lined with families who have their young children propped up on ladders to experience the joy of a float reveler tossing them a string of beads or a plastic cup with the Krewe's logo printed on it.

With a little on line research I found a dozen or so bead distributors through out the state, each with at least a dozen or so employees. One business data site estimated the largest distributors of having 1 to 2.5 million in sales annually from beads and associated products. Some will end up hanging from rear view mirrors as the only memory of a lost weekend in New Orleans, the rest draped over tree limbs until the next storm.

Mardi Gras beads - Mardi gras Imports has a HUGE selection of beads, trinkets, and supplies! We carry every fancy and unusual bead that you could ask for, naughty or nice!

Shameless Plug

For those of you following this blog, more specifically those of you in the New Orleans area I have been working for a friend doing house painting and remodeling. The employment came at a good time. To show my appreciation I am soliciting my readers in our area for business.

 If anyone needs some handyman work done around the house or might know someone who does, here is a web site you may want to visit. Don't just take my word for it, local references of satisfied customers are available upon request. (Come on, I can use the work!)

The Season Begins

I arrived here in New Orleans last March after carnival season. According to Waffle it was even wilder than usual last year due to the Saints winning the super bowl. Since my arrival I have been hearing about the season, traditions and obsession over Mardi Gras. It's tough for an outsider to wrap one's head around all of the trappings and customs involved. Parallels with other cities' festivals would not do Mardi Gras justice. New York's Thanksgiving Day parade and Times Square New Years eve combined Philadelphia's Mummers attended by the Jersey Shore's Fourth of July revelers would still not even come close to the scope of Mardi Gras.

Since 1837 a combining of various religions, politics, social cliques and cultures have evolved into one of the most recognized and unique festivals in the world. This city's identity and life force comes from the season. Without it, the city would be no more special than Memphis or Birmingham. A delicate balance of music, art, spirituality and decadence combine to unite a community that otherwise might implode with racial and economic tension. Carnival, not levees protect New Orleans.
One sign that the season is approaching is the emergence of "King Cakes." An old tradition that I researched on line and found way too much information on.  History of King Cakes  Popular with locals the baked delicacy is as much a part of the season as Pumpkin Pie is to Thanksgiving for the rest of the country. A long held tradition of each cake having a a small plastic baby baked inside, (porcelain dolls were used in ancient times.) Today the custom dictates that whoever gets the slice of cake containing the trinket is obligated to buy next year's King Cake. 

You could never have such a tradition back in New Jersey. With all of the lawyers in Jersey, it would only be a matter of time before massive lawsuits would be filed against bakeries for "Intentionally baking a choking hazard into pastries."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New Artleans

Back in New Jersey art is seen as an afterthought, in New Orleans it's the foundation. Architecture down here is every bit as important as the food and music. Every building regardless of age or neighborhood has something noteworthy to be found on it.  For the past few days we have been working in a modest yet elegant home over by the universities. Built in the 1950's, it has still retained the vintage cabinetry, a couple of glass exterior walls overlooking a pool and Japanese decor.

Had this home been in New Jersey, the classic retro kitchen would've have been gutted and remodeled years ago. The warm wooden cabinets with great style replaced by some pressed wood pre-fab plastic coated mass produced boxes from Home Depot. It's the mentality in Jersey, keep up with the Jones, new is better, the only thing to shown off is a price tag.  The tiniest pieces of hardware in this city worth studying.

Since I moved down here in March, I have been hearing about "The Art House." Best described as an 21st century bohemian artist's commune they are famous for their treehouse project and parties. I've worked with a few of it's residents doing background acting. If I were 20 years younger I might put in an application to live there. At my age, I like to be in bed by 9:00.

New Orleans has already made me a better artist.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sneek Peek

If you noticed that this blog hasn't had as many illustrations as usual, it's because I have been busy working on the Quarter Rat book. Look for it to come out late February 2011. My editor Ottis B. Easy will have it on the shelves and on in time for Mardi Gras.

Early on my friend Aaron told me that negative forces in the universe would be trying to trip me up and prevent me from reaching my goal. Turned out he was right. A few negative slams have hit me, but focusing on positive notions and not allowing evil to win has actually brought to a much better place.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Will the last person to leave NJ please turn off the lights...

If you have been following my blog about leaving NJ to move to New Orleans to escape the conditions there, you may see that I am not the only one.  Over priced and over rated New Jersey has lost a few residents according to the last census. I have a friend who just left the Garden State for greener pastures a few weeks ago. Unlike me, he moved North to New England. I won't divulge his name, but here are our E mails concerning his exodus.

12/28/10 Eric,
We are moving to Maine tomorrow. We were supposed to be leaving today but we got whacked by the massive snow storm. I am very happy (but nervous) to be leaving. It feels strange to be leaving. The only state I've lived.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

BEST OF LUCK!! I know how scary it is to leave familiar turf. Learning new roads and new customs. Exodus is never fun. I encourage you to start a blog or write about it. Observations on the new people and attitudes, new foods, differences in the two locales. 6 months from now you may look back and wonder why you didn't leave sooner. I am happy for you

Hey Eric,
Thanks. I was nervous. I'm not now... We arrived late yesterday afternoon and between the people in the restaurant at which we ate and the supermarket at which I shopped, I've not encountered more friendly and pleasant people. I didn't know how to react. I could only stare back at them with the grin of a idiot as I was wondering if I was about to be rolled or something... I couldn't figure out why complete strangers would just start talking with me saying nice, friendly and positive things. Odd. Yes, I wonder why I didn't leave twenty years ago. Thanks for the inspiration for leaving!

I know, isn't it scary to meet friendly people? It's like you expect them at any minute to start some sob story to try and get money out of you.  The Jersey thing will stick inside of you like a bad childhood, but eventually you may end up liking humanity. So glad you made it out. "It's a death trap, a suicide rap, we got to get out while we're young..."

It's definitely scary to meet people who are truly nice. I never know what to make of the situation. I'm hoping to lose that wariness in Maine. I'm tired of being suspicious of everyone I meet. The bad childhood thing is a good analogy. I'll get over it soon I'm sure. I'm glad I made it out too. And I never understood the lyrics to Born to Run until now.

I've been in contact with another acquaintance who is currently packing to get out of Jersey. I remember thinking most of my life that I couldn't or wouldn't leave the state of corruption. The greatest personal revelation I've ever had was "I don't have to stay here." That notion has applied to many circumstances and situations I've found myself in since.  If you are unhappy in your current state, whether it be geographical, emotional or relational you don't have to stay there.

Don't forget to turn off the lights.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Across The River From Algiers

Billy Joel wrote "Life is a series of hellos and good byes, I guess it's time for good bye again." 

Well I just moved from the west bank of the Mississippi back over to New Orleans.  Things are changing for the better. I will miss some of the kind folks over there. I didn't get to say good bye to a few, or tell them how special they are to me.

One gentleman I met was named Josh, a U.S. Coast Guardsman. I doubt that you could find anyone who could honestly speak a harsh word about this soul. Polite, positive and smart as a whip I always looked forward to seeing him. Most every time he walked away I would say to who ever was there "There goes a man I would not mind having my daughter bring some someday. I hope she will do as well as him when it comes to men." Any father of a girl knows what a compliment that is.  I have a greater appreciation for the United States Coast Guard, underfunded and under appreciated group of men and women who serve in times of war and peace.

 "A Steeler's Brain Eating Zombi"
Brian "Who-Dat" is one of the few native New Orleanians that I have gotten to know. The first few times Brian saw me, I was wearing my rattiest blue jeans and t-shirts covered with 5 coats of paint. Later Brian came up to me with an armful of clothes and said "Here brother, hope they fit. If you need any more let me know." A truly generous man who would literally give you the shirt off of his back and never remind you of it. A bar shirt from "The Alibi" is now one of my prized possessions because of the spirit that is was given. Perhaps he being a Katrina survivor who lost everything but what he could carry in his car is why he is so compassionate. I tear up when I think of his gifts.

It was also Brian who gave me my first appreciation of football. Brian has been a life long Who Dat, long before it was ever fashionable. He tells of being at a Saints game when he was a youth and seeing Saints fans wearing paper bags over their heads. It was as if the Super Bowl win last year was done exclusively for him. The entire city feels that personal about the team. They came close this year, but no cigar. Who Dats are still proud and joyous over their heroes' efforts. For the first time in my life, I actually gave a damn about who won a game. Brian, keep in touch so we can have a beer and watch a game together again someday. WHOO-DAAAT!

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year, New Start, New Job

When I first arrived in New Orleans, it almost felt familiar. Perhaps because I had been doing Google Earth Street views of almost the entire  city for months before moving down here, or perhaps it's some sort of new agey past life thing. 

Immediately I fell in love with the buildings and architecture. Structures hundreds of years old and almost unchanged over the centuries. You know that you're getting old when you're looking at the wrought iron work of a balcony and not the strippers hanging off of it.

Today was my second day at my new job. Yea, I landed some employment. I'm working as a helper for a painter contractor who has been doing a lot of work in the Quarter and Treme. After soaking in the these structure with awe for all of these months I was now no longer just studying them in drawings but now given an opportunity to apply a brush on one.

We worked on a condo in the French Quarter,  when I say "condo" don't picture what is called a condo up in Jersey. This condo was originally built as a slave's quarters about 250 years ago.  A narrow brick building that creaks with rich history and spirits.  Again I stress that I never was one to subscribe to any sort of paranormal beliefs, but in this town the side walks are crowded with ghosts of America's past. Slaves, pirates, artists, Indians and musician's spirits brush your elbows on apparently deserted streets.

Tourists come to the French Quarter by the millions every year to experience this magic. Ok, and also to experience lap dances and hang overs of Biblical proportions. Any renovations in the Quarter are strictly controlled by ordinances and zoning permits to retain the authenticity. You won't see vinyl siding or double insulated vinyl clad windows for low cost maintenance. All colors of paint, material, hardware and designs used in the Quarter are regulated by code.  This condo had a 12 foot high ceiling and the door to the bathroom was ten foot tall made by the talented hands of a craftsman many, many years ago.

During a smoke break I sat on a granite stoop leaning up against well weathered brick wall. I looked over a picturesque courtyard hidden away from the tourists and traffic picturing centuries of tragedies and comedies that must have unfolded. It was a privilege to add my stamp to the pages of New Orleans' dynamic history.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

This town....

I punked out and stayed home tonight. Back driving cab in Jersey we referred to this holiday as amateur hour. Starting late this afternoon fireworks and gun shots became just background noise. My whole time back in Jersey, I don't ever remember hearing a single gun shot. Down here on several occasions during the past few months I have been woken up with a distinct pop-pop-pop in the middle of the night. Room mates confirmed the next morning "Oh yea, bout 3:00 am three shots from over by the cemetery, what about it?"  Less than a mile from here are projects.

Deciding to stay home and feeling under the weather (I'm not sure, but I believe I have scurvy) I tried to turn in early. Being lulled to sleep by the gentle rhythm of 9mm ammo off in the distance and the sound of my labored breathing I was out like a light. At 11:50 or so I was awoken by what initially I thought to be the end times. I could have slept better on that small south Korean island that was in the news last month.  With disregard for personal safety I stepped outside for a smoke and to see if the Mythbusters were correct about a falling bullet being able to kill a person.

Fireworks are legal in neighboring Gretna, and evidently very popular. My room mate speculated the large display was from a casino over in Harvey. I pointed out that the entire visible skyline in about a 120 degree arch was non stop bursts of  color. To the left was the unnerving sound of gunfire, very different sound. The rhythm is different also, a string of firecrackers will be an almost on top of each other pop. These pops were a half second in apart, seven pops, a pause to switch clips, seven more, pause, seven more.  A mile or so away someone lit off a distress flare with a chute, the high winds carried the red glow sideways until it burned itself out.

There was a good half hour of a horizon wide firework display that would shame anything the Gruccis could put on up in New York. I believe more shots were fired in New Orleans tonight than during the entire first Gulf war.

Well the noise has subsided to just a dozen or so shots per minute now, quiet enough for me to get back to sleep and dream of oranges and lemons.