Tuesday, October 09, 2012

An Open Letter to Mayor Landrieu

Dear Mayor Landrieu,
I voted for you. Twice. I felt then and feel now that you really want to work with the community. I felt then and feel now that having grown up here in New Orleans, you have a deep connection to the City, its people and its culture in all the various forms that culture presents. That said, I am greatly concerned, as are many others, that some of the cultural heritage unique to this City will soon be obliterated by bad laws, pressure from monied property owners (both natives and newcomers), and the pursuit of money for the City coffers which admittedly could use some shoring up.

Unfortunately it often looks as though that shoring up is being done on the backs of the regular working folks via traffic cam tickets that are a hardship on just about everyone trying to make it month to month, crazy new taxicab regulations that are a hardship on many career cab drivers, unwieldy and seemingly serendipitous permitting requirements on club owners who are the small business owner/job creators we hear about every day, more permits on the smallest of entrepreneurial business owners--the vendors at Second Lines, and on the culture bearers themselves—the musicians and artists who create the culture that draws visitors to our City every year from all over the world. Lately we've heard words like noise, crackdown, permit, and ordinance used to intimidate bands off of street corners, to cause clubs to stop live music for fear of total shut downs, and as you know, those words have been a sometimes unspoken threat to parades and Indians for a long time.

There have to be other, better ways to pay for the needs of this City, ways that don't threaten an entire cultural fabric with becoming an historic footnote or an artifact in a museum; ways that don't send our club owners into bankruptcy, our musicians into the unemployment lines or worse, into the clubs of Austin.

I know several men who grew up here who are about your age. They have entertained me with stories of their youth: jumping out of bed early to try to catch the Bone Men just as they start out, waiting on certain street corners to hear the approach of an Indian gang and being thrilled to catch a glimpse of the Spy Boy in his suit looking up and down the block. One friend has a story of being about 14, riding a Mardi Gras float as what he called a “float grunt.” He wrote the story down and it was published. They've told me lots of stories, some of which I am sure their parents still know nothing of today, but they all involved spontaneity, expectation of a remarkable experience, and above all, music. Whether they were walking down the street hearing it from a corner or a backyard or out the door of a club on their first forbidden walk down Bourbon Street, to a man their eyes still get wide in the telling of the story, the awe they felt seeing this or that now long dead musician is still in their voices, the joy of hearing that one long perfect note still resonates in their memories today. I am betting you have some memories like that. Perhaps you even have some still secret ones, the ones you'll wait to tell your kids until they have kids themselves.

That makes you and all the other people who grew up here in New Orleans unique. Your contemporaries in other cities in other states didn't have the wealth of culture, the almost embarrassingly rich culture, that you did. They most certainly didn't have the wide range of music right there, right there in the streets.

On the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau website it says: “It is said that in New Orleans, culture bubbles up from the streets. Nowhere is this more evident than in the music scene. You'll know it when you come across a street performance that rivals any ticketed show you've seen.” It goes on to say that “New Orleans is one big stage.”

I have been attending the discussion meetings that Kermit Ruffins has so kindly opened his doors for regarding clubs, permits, and all the other issues surrounding live music lately. The attendees are club owners, musicians, visual artists, and music lovers, all wanting to find a solution to the various issues involved. I very much want to thank Scott Hutcheson for joining us and speaking with us. I believe that since he is there on your behalf, that you believe the words on the NOCVB website. There is no doubt that it's a true statement: “...in New Orleans, culture bubbles up from the streets.” Someone at the last meeting made a comment that that culture has come from the most marginalized neighborhoods and population in the City by and large. What they didn't mention was the scope and importance of the street culture within those neighborhoods and the rest of the city.

As the discussion wandered off into ordinance technicalities, Big Chief Albert Doucette stood up and took the floor. He gave voice to the issues that most concern those of us in attendance. He said, “Things like Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs are grandfathered in. They are trying to kill the grandfather. If you allow them to kill the grandfather, the walls are going to disintegrate. They can't allow people who have a lot of money to come into our town and buy into OUR neighborhoods and tell us you can't have that live music in your club. We need to make an ordinance where if you move into a neighborhood, you better accept what's IN that neighborhood. This is our culture. This is our City. This is OUR City. We made New Orleans.”

Mr. Mayor, everyone applauded. The folks at this meeting were from various neighborhoods and various economic levels. Those applauding were business owners. They were musicians. They were creators of the culture we all want to protect. They were the locals who pay to see those cultural creators. They were, I believe, people who hold the same beliefs about this remarkable culture that you do. They also are fierce in their determination to let it grow, organically and naturally as it always has.

In 2009 the Louisiana Endowment for Humanities did a series of interviews with local musicians called, “As Told By Themselves.” I attended one that featured the Treme Brass Band. The LEH graciously put these online and I listened to it again earlier this week because there was one particular story that I remembered but couldn't put the musician's name to. As I listened waiting for that particular story, I heard Mr. Benny Jones, Jr. talking about seeing jazz funerals two or three times a week with parades of the Social Aid and Pleasure clubs on Sunday as a kid. That's about four street performances a week that he saw free from his doorstep. He, along with all the musicians, explained that just about everyone in their family played an instrument, and just about everyone in their friend's family did too. They all spoke of the mentoring, from one generation to the next, dropping names like Harold Dejean and Milton Batiste, Olympia Brass Band, Danny Barker. Each of them could recite a litany of “my uncle played trombone, my aunt played clarinet, my cousin played drums.” It was astonishing, and yes, as I said earlier, unique. I can think of no other city in which music is so totally embedded in the culture through family and community ties. They talked about hearing someone play in a backyard down the way, grabbing their instrument, even if it was only a bucket to bang on, and heading down there soon to be joined by others who heard the music and joined in. They talked about going down to the Quarter to play on street corners as kids learning their craft. They learned traditions from their elders and the great band teachers in the schools. If they saw someone walking down the street with a horn they'd ask if they were going to practice today, and join them. One said, “We created music right then and there, anywhere. There'd be a knock on the door and someone else would join in, then there'd be people in the streets dancing.”

Today, the way the ordinances are written, they could get a ticket for playing or rehearsing in their backyard, or on their stoop, or in their house, or on the street. Mr. Mayor, the way the ordinances are written right now you could get a ticket for playing a tambourine on your front porch, and while I don't know for certain, I am pretty sure there is a tambourine somewhere in your house. It seems to be standard equipment in New Orleans' households in every neighborhood.

Finally as I listened, I came across the story I had been looking for. It was told by Kenneth Terry, the trumpet player for Treme Brass Band. He remembered being about 7 years old, standing on his stoop when a parade or second line went by. There was a man playing trumpet with one hand, holding it up in the air like Gabriel himself. Kenneth was mesmerized and told his mom he wanted to do that. Soon she bought him a trumpet from Weirlein's. A few days later there was a knock on the door and when Kenneth opened it, he saw a man standing there. Kenneth said to him, “You're the guy who played with one hand!” The man said, “Yeah, Kenny, your mama said you want to play the trumpet.” That man was Milton Batiste and he took him to his house and taught him and helped him. Mentored him. A legend helping a 7 year old kid just because the young man showed interest. I am pretty sure that nothing like that happens in Dubuque. In that way the culture was handed down to the next generation intact with room for innovation, evolution and growth, but still uniquely New Orleans.

Every note played, every bead sewn, every dance step taken has been handed down by those who came before. It's a living, breathing thing, this culture we are lucky enough to experience, and if we legislate it too much or try to make it too orderly we will lose the spontaneity that lets it breathe. If that happens, if it is allowed to happen, this culture we love will die, but only after becoming a caricature of itself. That, sir, would be the world's loss not just ours.

Mr. Mayor, someday you'll tell your stories to your grandchildren, maybe even some of the secret ones. I hope that you will be able to tell them the story and then show them what you're talking about. You'll sit on a curb with them in the summer sun, laughing to yourself about the blue snoball juice dripping on their clothes as they dance to the rhythms of an Indian practice taking place inside the door. You'll take them into the Quarter where they'll see other kids their age hoping the bigger guys will let them play a few notes on their horn and maybe one of those grandchildren will ask you for a trumpet. You'll grab your tambourine and take them to dance in a second line letting them choose from the list of Sundays held by a magnet to your refrigerator door. You'll play the music you grew up with for them and look forward to the kind of music their generation will create and hear, still bubbling up out of the streets, just like the Visitor's website said back in your day.

You'll do all this with a huge smile on your face, with the quiet knowledge that you played a large part in allowing that culture to live on by nurturing it and not letting it become a parody of itself. Or you'll do it with great sadness, the sadness we feel when we look at an endangered species. Mr. Mayor, this cultural protection can be your most important legacy. Please, sir, take up the fight so that so that this culture, your City's culture, isn't as remote an idea to your grandchildren as a saber toothed tiger.

One of the attendees at the meeting last week said, “Frankly, the best friend you might have might be the Mayor to tell you the truth.” I am writing this letter in the hopes that that attendee was right.

Sam Jasper

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

NOLA 1 Big Stage: Truth and Other Lies

For a long time, my friend LD over at The Truth and Other Lies has been fighting the good fight on the permitting issue, beginning with the absurd exchange he had regarding creating art in his own home. (Seriously, the way the law is written currently you need a permit for that so put down your paint brush and step away from the glue gun. Holster that chisel, you sculptor! You over there, what do you think you're doing with that clay?) He has been through the various ordinances and he's doing a series on his blog about them.

Here at New Orleans Slate, I have several guest posters lined up and will post their perspectives as soon as they are submitted.

Also of immediate importance: THERE IS ANOTHER MEETING AT KERMIT'S SPEAKEASY TOMORROW, OCTOBER 3 AT NOON. We can't let the pressure drop down on this issue and we have to find a way to work together productively, so let's keep it up.

Until my first guest post is ready to publish, why don't you wander over across to LD's and read this latest post. He has a good chronological timeline on all this. (He also mentions the Eris Debacle which I wrote a lot about at the time. For the record, last I heard the Internal Report had still not been a. finished, b. made available, or c. done at all. I talked to someone recently who told me to request it again and I think I will.) His post is a good read so go visit!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

New Orleans is One Big Stage Redux

After Kermit Ruffins' meeting on Wednesday, someone who rarely writes took to the keyboard and sent me the piece below. It gave me an idea: Why don't I open up my blog for a week and have guest posters from the community give us their ideas on the subject of permits and City Hall. Not just a list of complaints but what they would like to see. I'm asking performers, lawyers, business owners, and yes, eventually, even City Hall to write a post which will be posted here on New Orleans Slate unedited.

If you have a suggestion for a guest poster, or want to be one yourself, email me at jasper.sam@gmail.com. I'd like to have a new post every day. I can't guarantee yours will be posted, but am hoping that there are so many ideas for positive change that all will make it up here. I will also be posting all the links from the articles written last week. Some of the reporters got some things wrong, but the articles need to be in one place for folks to see easily. I hope to have that list ready by Tuesday, but as anyone who knows me knows, it'll probably be Wednesday.

At any rate, I am soliciting guest posts. This one, by David Kern, came to me unsolicited and I want to thank him for sparking the idea of guest posters on this topic, and the passion he felt about this very important issue that overrode his abhorrence of keyboards to put this together.

On Wednesday, September 26, 2012, a meeting was called by Kermit Ruffins, the man who, in the calling of this meeting, has become the de facto face of new Orleans music.
“I got real pissed and I called a meeting,” said Ruffins. The source of his anger is the sudden arbitrary and aggressive crack-down on musicians and music venues by New Orleans City Hall and the Mayor's office. 
Answering the call, about 200 (although I've seen numbers ranging from 100 on up) musicians, club owners, lawyers, and music loving citizens converged on Kermit's Treme Speakeasy on Basin Street.
Before leaving the stage, Ruffins said he would like to hold meetings every Wednesday which would culminate in a march on City Hall on the 24th of October, an idea which was met with instant and unanimous support.
There are three things that can be done immediately to blunt City Hall's attack on our culture. 
The first is to completely dismantle the “six month clause” which Councilwoman Stacey Head has cleverly manipulated, making it incumbent upon the club owners to prove there has not ever been a six month lapse in entertainment at their respective establishments. (One club owner said, “If you buy a business it might take MORE than six months to renovate it, so we're behind the 8 ball from the beginning.”) It is unenforceable, unconstitutional, and must go away.

Second, we need to force a moratorium on the capricious enforcement of any ordinances pertaining to any kind of public performance or special event. 
And third, we need the city to respect the “grandfathering”of entertainment venues. 
This is a single cause with many voices, and it is imperative that those many voices be channeled into one clear and cohesive one. Musicians, by their nature are not herd animals, so how this might be done, or whom this voice might be, remains to be seen. But this movement, this cause must not be allowed to collapse upon itself due to petty political infighting. This is what City Hall would most like to see. A united front is an absolute must. 
The old saying “you can't fight city hall” is defeatist bullshit. United, we can fight city hall and we can prevail. City Hall is nothing more than a cabal of lawyers and their minions. Guess what? We have lawyers too. Granted, ours may end up working for free, but they are working on the side of the angels. 
And City Hall has ordinance, dating back to 1952. Well, we have culture and tradition, dating back to when that first luckless Frenchman stepped off the boat. And we have the power of Jazz, Blues, Rock-and-Roll and Gospel, all children born of this city, behind us. If we unite, we will prevail, and our song will not be silenced.


Tuesday, August 07, 2012

New Orleans is One Big Stage. . . .

Photo Courtesy of Geoffrey Douville

From the "Things to Do" section of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors' Bureau website:

It is said that in New Orleans, culture bubbles up from the streets. Nowhere is this more evident than in the music scene. You'll know it when you come across a street performance that rivals any ticketed show you've seen. Or when you find yourself inspired to sway, clap and move like never before.

The city is the birthplace of jazz and a mecca for gospel, R&B and ultimately, the rock and pop we love today. We aren't exaggerating when we say that a wholly original spirit of creativity and musical magic is alive on the streets and in the clubs of New Orleans. Experience unbelievable live musical performances in venues from swank lounges to tiny honky tonks to mega concerts in places like the New Orleans Arena.

New Orleans is one big stage. Come and play your part.

Did you see it? My favorite part? "On the streets and in the clubs of New Orleans."

And yet in the last few weeks there have been tidbits of scuttlebutt, rumors proven to be true, culminating in several articles about clubs and bars being told no more live music. Not just in one part of town, but all over town. Circle Bar Uptown: blammo. Siberia on St. Claude: blammo. A move to kill Frenchmen Street music: blammo. Nevermind the continuing harassment of brass bands on the street. You know. That "On the streets" part the CVB is touting. Wrong permit. No permit. Mayoralty permit. Nagin, no, Landrieu, no, "it's been this way for a long time just now being enforced". . . . .AAAARRRRRRGHHH.

Offbeat Magazine has done a couple of great articles about this as has The Gambit. In fact I think it was the Gambit that first told us about the Frenchmen Street issues.

I decided to look into all this for myself but lucky for me, Geoffrey Douville, a businessman, bar owner, musician and neighbor, already did the homework I was about to embark on. I am forever grateful. What follows is what he wrote today, (I've left the links as originally placed) and it's an important read:

EDIT: Prior to my using this Geoffrey added: "I would just add that it was pointed out to me that my zeroing in on the Real Estate biz was taken narrowly to mean the businesses that broker real estate deals, and that needs to be modified--I mean real estate in the broadest sense meaning all the itinerant businesses and interests relating to property in general, and that can be draftsmen, designers, Architects, preservationists--and thus many of the people involved in the drafting of the Master Plan." Below is his entire piece.

The long-term viability of music venues in New Orleans is in real danger. Something has to be done to reverse this increasing and unacceptable trend. In the last year no less than three music venues have had their entertainment shut down, two of these in the last three weeks alone. In the last year some interested parties attempted to re-open Donna's on Rampart St., long known as the Brass Band hub of the city, and were rejected in their attempts due to an arbitrary and capricious city standard that reverts zoning to some or other designation (almost always one that does not allow live entertainment) if a commercial property has been “vacated” for longer than 6 months. As an owner/partner of the Lost Love Lounge, and a musician myself, our application was rejected last year despite the fact that our location has been in operation as a business, continuously, since at least 1930, probably longer, when it was the V&G Tavern (Viola & George Heck, Dancing Saturdays! Television!! Drink Jax!). Additionally, other clubs that are unlicensed for music are being harassed continuously with threats of having their entertainment shut down. I can think of three well known venues off the top of my head. They are all vulnerable. Add to this the general hostility of some of the more aggressive, indeed out-of-control and drunk on power neighborhood organizations (not all of them, so we're clear) that seem to derive a kind of sadistic pleasure from succeeding in destroying that which others have built, and top it off with a Federal Grant that Bobby Jindal is using to fund a seemingly unending string of cheap stings (conducted when businesses are most vulnerable) on small businesses, and you've got a recipe for disaster. I say these things not from the perspective of a whining business owner crying foul over some minor tax increase or other (I'm no Republican), but as a musician in need of places to play. Because that's one of the basic requirements of maintaining our musical culture: places to play.

The issue faced by music clubs and/or entrepreneurs who would like to start one is that the issuance of live entertainment permits is currently governed by a set of rules that will, over time, lead to the existence of less and less permits. The deleterious effects are happening before our eyes. The rules as they stand are so hostile to music venues that regulations outlined in the new “Master Plan” could be legitimately interpreted to mean that all currently operating venues could have entertainment shut down right now, today. It seems designed, over time, to use attrition as a mechanism to drastically lessen (if not wipe out completely) music venues in New Orleans. This is not hyperbole—it's very real as we've all seen in the past weeks. This is of course good for no one save a few nasty people—people no one wants to hang out with anyway--who happen to have a lot of time on their hands to hang around with the people who cobbled our so-called “Master Plan” together, namely real estate interests. And I mean "real estate" interests in the broadest sense, inclusive of all the associated elements: brokerage, construction, Architecture, etc. Together they make up the Silence Crusaders of New Orleans, guided by self-congratulatory heroification whose justice emanates from a the single misguided (and unsupported by facts) belief that they are, mafia-style, protecting property values from the vagaries of the unstoppable incoming generation, tattoos and all.

I'll try to address each manner in which the city prevents, takes away or allows certain venues to skirt regulations of which I'm aware. As anyone can see, preventing, taking away and allowing under special circumstances are all negative to neutral—there is currently no venue for a progressive, forward-moving licensing process available at City Hall, much less a venue for conversation or debate about your rights in the matter. I suppose the city would counter by saying that any business can apply for an exception with your Councilperson or go before the City Planning Commission (ground zero for the Master Plan so what can one expect from that?) and apply for a zoning variance. But here again you run into the wall of conventional wisdom and/or zoning intractability whereupon you aren't engaged in a two-sided forum about real, legitimate legal issues—you're simply entering the rotunda with your hand out, hoping for a sympathetic ear. Believe me, there's none to be found--only in the rarest of rare cases. So those approaches do not rise to the level of an available process that the city is obligated to provide in service to your rights. In fact it's the opposite: it is a city-sponsored blockade of your right to legitimately contend for a legally available permit—one that your property rights may well grant to you. Legally, you must be extended the courtesy of being accepted or denied on real, legitimate grounds. And if you're not, within a narrow framework, the city must provide an explanation to you, not the other way around. The unavailability of such a process at this time therefore means the only legitimate process available is to file suit against the city challenging the appropriateness of your denial, or to beat the drum so loudly, from a very affectionate position, that it's politically expedient for the Council to grant the license as an “exception”—this is so rare as to render it not a real, viable option and further misses the point entirely.

Here are the common ways in which the City refuses to grant live entertainment permits:

1. The Live Entertainment License Moratorium

For years, beginning at some point in the 1990's that I can't verify (I challenge any intrepid soul out there who can comb through City Council dockets and make hide or hair of when this occurred to please give it a go), a new understanding of rules came to exist in the New Orleans Department of Safety and Permits: http://www.nola.gov/RESIDENTS/Safety-and-Permits/ no new music licenses were to be granted, period. There was to be, henceforth, a moratorium on their issuance. This gold standard, which I believe is nothing more than codified conventional wisdom, but under which the city is still erroneously operating, is still a driving force behind denial of permits. However, the rules governing moratoria are outlined in the New Orleans Code of Ordinances, Part 1, Charter, Article III, Section 3-126. http://library.municode.com/HTML/10040/level3/PAI_CH_ARTIIITHCO.html#PAI_CH_ARTIIITHCO_S3-126TEPR
Here is the authority granted: “The Council may by the affirmative vote of a majority of its membership impose a moratorium ordinance, interim zoning district, or other temporary prohibition on zoning, permitting, and other similar functions where necessary to protect the public health, safety, or welfare for a temporary period.” These are the limitations: “No moratorium ordinance, interim zoning district, or other temporary prohibition shall remain in effect for more than one year, provided that the Council may by ordinance authorize one extension for an additional period of one hundred eighty days.” It continues to further limit this authority: “Thereafter, no moratorium ordinance, interim zoning district, or similar prohibition of substantially the same legal effect on substantially the same geographic area may be imposed until at least one year after the expiration of the prior moratorium ordinance, interim zoning district, or other temporary prohibition.” In other words, the City Council may not impose an endless moratorium on new live entertainment permits or anything else for that matter. A moratorium is a temporary prohibition only. They would have to impose it every other year, or year and a half, leaving a required one-year window open whereupon this rationale could not be applied. But there's ample evidence to support that the endless live entertainment moratorium conventional wisdom is still the standard under which the city is operating. Read this article from Nola Defender in regard to Bacchanal's well-publicized struggles and you can plainly see this conventional wisdom is alive and well: http://noladefender.com/content/bacchanal-blues
It appears there is no such city-wide moratorium, despite whether or not those in power want to operate under the false presumption that there is. Challenge it. It's baloney.

2. The “the previous business or businesses that you didn't own in the same location must have had a robust and regular live entertainment history whereupon at no point now or in the distant past can there have been longer than a one-year absence of said entertainment operations. If this is not the case, your ability to showcase live entertainment at that location has expired.”

If you don't believe this bizarre one, here's the final ruling in a case involving Little People's Place in the 90's: “Based on the evidence submitted, we conclude that live entertainment was not a continuous aspect of the club's operation. The conduct of live entertainment at the property was sporadic or intermittent at best. Under these circumstances, we are led to conclude that the use of the property did not establish a nonconforming use for live entertainment.” This is the one, from what I can tell, that is most often used to deny permits. Here is a link to that case: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/la-court-of-appeal/1042270.html

Finally, “I pay a tax and they let me slide. I don't actually have an entertainment license.”

I've heard about this one. I know it's been asserted in at least one instance and that this line of thinking assisted a business in not receiving a violation during a raid, or that's what I was told. I've never been able to ascertain what “tax” it is that gets paid, much less how the fee is calculated. Maybe it's the amusement tax? More than likely this is just a rumor. In any case, it's out there as conventional wisdom that if you pay this so-called tax, and you get raided, that Safety and Permits will let you slide.

So the problem lies not with business owners who desperately want to operate legally under conditional-use live entertainment permits. Nor is the issue the obvious increasing demand for entertainment licenses that economic forces & population growth are making obvious. The problem is with the city in that it will not grant new permits to virtually anyone based on faulty reasoning and prejudicial application. This does nothing to curb the aforementioned demand for live entertainment in many geographic corners of the city, however, and creates an unnecessary black market where operators take the chance on getting busted because there are no other options available. That this is a current reality in New Orleans, of all places in the world, goes beyond the obvious mind-blowing stupidity that it represents and serves as a sad and dull reminder of all-too-familiar patterns of city and state-sponsored behavior that negatively impact economy, progressive development, and cultural continuity and maintenance. You know, the little things.

That being said, right now there are sadly only three available circumstances, that I can see, under which live entertainment is possible: 1. Stay open forever and keep your current live entertainment license until the business fails or you die—this is the only way to maintain a music license—if you die, the license is non-transferable and the business must apply for a new license in the name of whomever takes over, making the business again vulnerable to rejection. 2. Start a new business at a location that previously had definitive, provable live entertainment operations—not just music once a week for brunch, or on the weekends only, but a real, chock-full calendar of live entertainment all the time, AND those live entertainment events must not have ceased for a year or more at any point in the history of whomever operated it and however long it has been open--or you are ineligible, AND the new business must be licensed and operating and booking gigs absolutely, with no exceptions, inside of a 6-month window from the time the last operation shut its doors OR the new zoning variation kicks in, almost always with live entertainment excluded as a result of “Master Plan” zoning. 3. Finally, because of the onerousness of the aforementioned two circumstances, a club can choose to chance it and operate illegally, or somewhat illegally in a weird nook of City Hall winks and nods that, apparently if you pay the right amusement tax, can sometimes allow you to slide when busted, which was covered earlier.

Tragically, as we can see almost every month, our forebears—the keepers of the flame—are leaving us for the Great St. Louis Cathedral in the sky. If we don't, right now, maintain and/or allow businesses that incubate musical talent then half of our cultural economy is done in the next 20 years, guaranteed. The City of New Orleans will have created, all on it's own, a cultural version of our wetlands, vanishing before our eyes and transforming us into the baseline vision of the Master Plan: a giant pensioner's village, filled to the brim with Silence Crusaders who loudly proclaim their devotion to live music while actively seeking to shut it down, in their dotage, because they just can't sleep at night, or are too dumb to figure out that Metairie is available if you want that life (please go there and have it thank you, nothing against Metairie brah) AND you're still just close enough to drive in, hear the racket, and drive your ass home. Cashing in on the geriatric bandwagon has everything to do with the behind-the-scenes motives of the Silence Crusade, and our politicians are nothing if not lovers of some elderly cash. But the aged will not be with us forever, and though they may be ripe for the fleecing right now, those in real estate, who seemed to have penned our lovely “Master Plan” all by themselves, will eventually find out that the Baby-Boomer cash cow will likely yield far less returns than expected given our sad state of economic affairs. Maybe not this year, but in the twenty years coming certainly.

Remove the venues and the musicians will follow. Any numb nut half wit can figure that out. Austin, TX will be glad to have them, and we will be yet again engaging in a rare talent that New Orleans has honed to an almost perfect craft in the last 40 years: giving away the farm, encouraging the best of what we've got to get out, cherry-topped with a swift kick of “No thanks, asshole. Don't let the door hit you..” After all, what do pesky musicians do for the New New Orleans? How do they fit into the “Master Plan,” so exquisitely drafted by the real estate biz? Luckily, as Mr. Courreges asserted: http://uptownmessenger.com/2012/08/owen-courreges-the-latest-weapon-in-the-war-on-live-music/ property rights trump zoning, and every crisis has an attendant opportunity. It's time for small business owners to collectively challenge the constitutionality of the ordinances, zoning, bylaws and any other corner of officialdom that removes your rights by blocking the issuance of these permits. It is NOT your duty to explain to the city why you deserve something, like some bread beggar seeking permission to eat. It's the opposite. It is the duty of the city to provide a legal and legitimate reason why your rights are being denied, and that denial must happen very narrowly. Rights are rights, the top of the food chain, let's assert them forcefully.

And finally, get it together New Orleans politicians, you're embarrassing yourself and the rest of us yet again.

Thank you, Geoffrey. Exactly.

Then there's the article by Owen Courreges for Uptown Messenger. Mr. Courreges cites this:
Theatrical productions, athletic contests, exhibitions, pageants, concerts, recitals, circuses, karaoke, bands, combos, and other live musical performances, audience participation contests, floorshows, literature readings, dancing, fashion shows, comedy or magic acts, mime and the playing of recorded music (disc, records, tapes, etc.) by an employee, guest or other individual, one of whose functions is the playing of recorded music and who is in verbal communication with the clientele of the establishment.

Really? Literature readings are a zoning problem too? Thank goodness they don't stop at my house when a new bottle of rum has been opened and a couple friends might read their latest musings to each other. What if I read it over the phone? Oh wait, we have to all be in the same space, but renumeration isn't required. As for recorded music played by a guest, sometimes live music played by a guest, or some impromptu floor show or circus acts. . . well, it's been known to happen. I need a permit for that?

There is a Facebook page for support of live music HERE. Please head off and hit the like button on that.

As one commenter on Facebook said: "It's a good thing they built that airport years ago so musicians can fly out of this town and build a career." Now that's a terrifying prospect. Didn't we already see what that looked like after Katrina?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dead, for a ducat, Dead! Part 2-The Ducats

I changed my mind. Once my butt was firmly planted on a barstool, I ordered a Barbancourt neat instead of whiskey. I noticed that I was unaccountably angry, well, maybe not unaccountably. Account. Interesting word choice. The young woman who had held up the sign in the beginning of class was there too. We commiserated over our drinks for a while until she headed home, then I started dissecting my anger. I was trying to find the core and found that the core wasn't nice and tight like a pared down apple, it was more like a seed in the applesauce.

I felt a bit like an old timey scryer. Staring into the glass, the surface became an amber colored screen for a mental slideshow. Pictures of young men, black, white and latino, in orange jumpsuits. Sometimes their eyes showed trauma or surprise or fear, sometimes anger, sometimes nothing at all. Pictures of bright young faces in their eighth grade school photos, shiny and smiling, ready for a framed place on Grandma's mantel. Pictures of young men in white tshirts, their bodies in improbable positions, framed by yellow crime tape with a pool of something shiny and dark on the ground. Pictures of bereaved relatives on the news or at the funeral. Pictures of the Instructor, the other members of the class. The round, slightly ruddy face of the Police Chief, grainy video footage of a robbery from a convenience store, more of the same from a bar. Pictures of tables full of guns: pistols, revolvers, sub-machine guns, just like in the free encyclopedia but with somber police officers standing proudly behind the stacks. Gordon Liddy behind a table full of gold coins and bullion saying that this yellow metal will save me when times get tough as they inevitably will, never actually saying but clearly intimating that “they”, however you personally define “them”, will be coming for YOU and you better be ready. You'll surely need a gun or six to protect the gold ya know. Glenn Beck in a chalkboard frenzy screaming Van Jones, Van Jones, Van Jones-he's a liberal socialist with a socialist agenda bent on taking away your civil rights, and mark (socialist) my words, people, am I the only one that sees it? This guy is out (socialist) to change your way of life, not the America I know, and it's not cuz he's black (socialist) that I'm saying this, I'm just sayin' that he's a socialist and he wants to shit on the Constitution (cue tears) and stomp on the flag and you better get some guns to protect yourself before the socialist black guy tries to take your guns away—by the way do you need a Survival Kit for your bunker? Oh goodie. Now my slide show had a soundtrack. Sketchy white guys in tall foam rubber and mesh trucker hats outside a trailer next to a pickup truck complete with loaded up gun rack, a Confederate flag bumpersticker and a macho pose, speaking a readily identifiable proud-to-be-an-ignoramus dialect: Telling us about the Second Amendment, which may be the only one that they readily recognize, while stating with firm resolve that they are something that sounds like “Mur-i-kins.” Ten guys in camo on ATV's patrolling the border with scoped rifles and sidearms and handcuffs and not a badge among them ready to “catch” some goddamned pregnant wetback carrying an anchor baby intent on taking their jobs. I guess these testosterone and fear spiked guys all work as maids at the local Holiday Inn. A tastefully dressed and coiffed woman, wearing a crucifix pendant in 18K gold in the mega-church parking lot shows off the secret zip up compartment in her purse in which she carries her “made specially for women” Lady-whatever gun. A gorgeous tall thin babe in scanty clothes and a holster blasting away in hi def glory without ever ruining her makeup or moving beyond her mark by the wind machine so her hair streams in sexy fronds across her sweaty, determined but beautiful face as men 13-80 replay the scene in slo mo. Elderly men with angry faces, prone to saying “get off my lawn” and “turn that racket down” have guns in every room and one right there on the TV tray next to dinner. Men who grew up in a very different world, where people knew their place, and they by god aren't gonna stand by and watch it all go to. . . . .go to them, go to hell, go go go go. . . .I'm tellin' ya, it's going. The suburban soccer coach sobbing on the news saying, “I told Tommy never, ever to touch that gun. I kept it way up high in the closet. Who would have thought a six year old could get up there? My family and I feel terrible about this and we hope that Johnnie's family can find it in their heart to forgive us. It was an accident. A terrible accident.” The newscaster saying, “Six year old Tommy Smith is being questioned today in the death of his friend, five year old Johnny Martin. . .” Angry young men in Matrix trenchcoats with more guns and ammo than Rambo, purchased on Dad's credit card over the internet or by phone, shooting up the affluent high school or the University as helicopters fly overhead and the burghers are stunned speechless. News photographers reduced to tears at the sight of a young girl's head cradled in her father's arms, dead.

Hey, barkeep, mind getting me a beer in a really tall glass? And a semi-automatic pistol with a side of hollow points. Something's off with this rum.

So many scenes. So many motivations. So many accidents. So many deliberate acts. So many entertainments. So many. . . bullets, erupting, projecting, flying out of so many barrels of so many guns. BOOM. I'm so sorry. BOOM. I'm not sorry. BOOM. I didn't mean it. BOOM. “Honey, I love you so much. I regret that I couldn't take better care of you. Tell the children that I tried.” BOOM.

Okay, lemme stop ya right here. I am not saying that anyone but the person who pulled that trigger, except in the case of a kid getting hold of Daddy's Glock, is responsible. So don't start. I am saying that there is something that underlies the pulling of that trigger. And you know as well as I do, if you played back your own slideshow, that mine was just the tip of the proverbial iceburg.

What I realized was that I was angry about the wholesale marketing of fear and the gun being sold as the cure for that particular malady. It's also the cure for low self-esteem, free floating anxiety, the feeling of lack (aka greed), and anger stemming from someone disrespecting you. These diseases are contagious and the cure is lethal. I was angry that anyone would consider a possession, any possession, as inherently more valuable than a life, whether they were the individuals in possession of it or the individuals trying to appropriate it. I was angry that it was so easy to get hold of a gun, for anyone: kid on tiptoes on a kitchen chair in the closet, upstanding citizen at a sporting goods store, violent criminal choosing one from the unfolded blanket in the trunk of the local underground gun guy. Hell, I learned recently from an 11 year old that a gun can be rented for a specific time period at a specific price to be determined by the renter and that it had to be returned “without a body on it.” WTF? Why on earth should any 11 year old know this or even know that term? He might have seen it on TV. I really hope that's the case.

I was really furious at the folks like the Instructor, the gun manufacturers, the gun lobby, the scared-I'll-look-soft-on-crime legislators, the gun sellers-legal or illegal-who all make a ton of money feeding and growing that fear and churning out more guns, putting them into more hands in the doing. And not a one of them seem to feel any responsibility for the free fire zones we see in this country. Following the old adage, “find a hole and fill it,” they took it literally and are filling the hole by creating a different kind of hole. (The new and improved hole, thanks to our R&D wizards, is the BULLET hole. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, just take a look at our beautiful Rachel, isn't she beautiful, she's holding up our brand new Tektonik 1078, it's a beauty too. You can't have Rachel, chuckle chuckle, but for the low price of . . . )


Lucre. Spendolas. Bucks. Greenbacks. Cheddar. Dollars. Ducats.

Fear, guns and money are a bonanza. The manufacturers make them, lobby against restrictions, are (unlike car manufacturers who have been sued when their product killed too many folks) protected from liability, export them to regimes who then use them against us in battles all over the world. Lots and lots of money there. For them it's a win-win. The retailers mark them up and fill their cash registers. Ammunition manufacturers follow suit. Ammo retailers do the same. The NRA grows their war chest becoming more and more powerful with unprecedented amounts of cash. The guy down the block selling illegal guns makes a bunch, probably selling guns stolen from citizens, so one gun can be sold over and over from the time it comes out of the factory to the retailer to the citizen to the street gun seller to the out of the trunk purchaser.

From there, the money pot widens. Private security forces for gated communities paid high prices to keep the gun carrying bad guys away from the gun carrying good guys. Security systems with passcodes and lights and cameras, all money makers. Police, lawyers, judges, ambulances, news reporters, prisons, oh yeah, prisons and sheriffs and correction officers, whole towns whose economies are based on that lockup (Plantation System 2.0 or how to make money on the backs of people of color like we did in the old days); parole officers, drug testing labs, electronic bracelet developers, after market gun accessory companies making cases, high powered scopes, gun safes, gun locks; gun show producers collecting admission fees and booth fees, and the gun sellers who pay them; bulletproof glass makers, installers; doctors, nurses, hospitals, gurney makers, body bag makers. And let's not forget the morticians, the gravediggers and the florists.

I'm guessing someone will make an impassioned argument that they are the premiere job creators.

I am not being flip. Nor am I representing that all of these businesses or individuals are pro-gun, pro-violence or that they revel in the blood rivers in our streets. I am saying that that list, and I'm certain that I left a few groups out, are indeed part of the money honey pot one gun can create, nevermind millions of guns. That, my friends, seems crazy to me.

Years of talk radio, divisive fear mongering TV show hosts, slanted news coverage have all fueled the fear machine. Reliable gun stats are hard to come by. I've buried myself for days in pro-gun and anti-gun statistics. Sometimes the numbers are really close, just framed according to each side's particular bias. I'm going to settle on the number I saw most often: 14+ million guns sold in the U.S. in 2009. (Industry projections say that we have surpassed that number since the election of Obama, and that the numbers are trending higher in 2012.) The Instructor advised not buying a cheap gun, and told the class better to buy a more expensive gun that could be depended on. He used numbers like 300-500 dollars as sort of the low end. Certainly guns can be had even cheaper than that or much more expensive than that, but let's use the high number of the low end: $500, and multiply it by 14 million. Excluding accessories or ammunition, gun manufacturers made a minimum of $7 billion dollars in the United States alone in 2009. Plenty of ducats, eh?

Now, how about those nice folks I took the class with? They were nice people. I'd say if I'd asked each one, which I didn't, why they were considering gun ownership (if they didn't already own one—see previous post) or a conceal carry permit, they would all have said self protection or protection of property. Their property. Isn't that what produced a George Zimmerman? He appears to have been a basically decent guy, based on what people who know him are saying, but for whatever reason, that night he saw a young black man in his neighborhood, felt the need to protect that neighborhood, and called the cops. Even after the dispatcher told him not to follow the young man, Mr. Zimmerman did, no doubt in an effort to be a help to his neighbors and the police. At least that's the story. Had he done all that and not had a gun, he probably would not have approached Trayvon, or perhaps the whole thing would have ended with a couple of fists thrown. (Zimmerman claims Trayvon hit him. If I had a guy following me like that, who then approached me, I might hit him too.) But Zimmerman had a gun. On his person. My guess is his defense will be that he thought he'd just hold Trayvon (at gunpoint) for the cops. That gun made him a big man. Whether he was a racist in his daily interactions with people may or may not be an issue. What is an issue is that he absolutely profiled Trayvon (young, black, in a hoodie), had a gun on his person and pulled the trigger. On his person. A gun.

I can tell you that there were at least two people in the class I took that I'd really prefer not have guns on their persons. One was terrified and I think might hurt someone in a panic and the other had the “big man” syndrome going pretty strongly.

I don't think I'm entirely stupid (except in the fields of economic theory, surgical procedures, internal combustion engines, oh wait, this could be a pretty long list come to think of it). I don't sit here thinking for one minute that a gun free world is possible. In fact, I'd have to give a whole lot of thought to my philosophical stance regarding its desirability. I do admit to lusting after the low crime stats and gun limiting laws of other countries, and I really am baffled by the American love affair with guns even in the face of monstrous costs to life and the giant bogeyman--taxpayer dollars. I don't understand why, upon seeing kids killed or locked up for killing, we aren't screaming at the top of our lungs for solutions and regulations that might change that. Even the hardest hearted out there have to know that if they don't care about urban center violence (let 'em all kill each other), they probably do care if their brother blows his head off in a low moment because a gun was there instead of a baseball bat. (Some would be criminals have been rebuked with Louisville Sluggers, but I've never heard of suicide by baseball bat. However the stats I've been steeped in appear to show that possibly as many as 50% of the gun fatalities every year are suicides.)

The moaning over the crime rate. The lock 'em up mentality. The “I'll get a gun and they can't get me” thinking. All of this is strictly reactionary. The logical conclusion would be, upon seeing the carnage in this country that is directly tied to guns, to restrict and regulate them. For chrissake, DO something, cuz clearly what we are doing isn't working. Say that out loud in a bar or a town hall meeting and see how many catcalls you get. Immediate shouting will occur replete with the tired “guns don't kill people. . .” You can fill in the rest. Or “they can have my guns when they pry them from. . .” Or “you want to gut the Cons'tooshun, second amendment sez. . .” Or my personal favorite, “if they take our guns only the criminals will have guns.” Remarkably in countries with strict handgun laws that isn't what has happened. Nor has their government come to take them all away and put them in socialist re-programming camps. We have friends who live in Australia who are flabbergasted by our complete refusal to regulate handguns. When they ask us why, I really can't answer them with anything that approaches a rational statement. As for the criminals with arsenals:

Ya know, folks, a shitload of those criminals' guns came from YOUR house, YOUR car, YOUR closet, YOUR dresser drawer. Many were driven into your state after having been bought in a state with less stringent gun laws than your own, bought legally, transported illegally. Pay some fine upstanding citizen (on paper) to go to the local sporting goods store or the one in the more lenient state, have them get the background check, and they can walk out with several guns.

I called a local sporting goods store this morning. I told them I was considering purchasing a firearm and had some questions. I asked if there was a fee in addition to the purchase price of the gun for the background check. No. I asked how long it would take. The answer was that for most people it takes a minute or two, some others might take up to three days. (She said it as though she'd been coached to tell someone who sounded overly eager, ya know, like someone who might want a gun this afternoon to kill her wayward husband with after smelling the Chanel she doesn't own, when he comes in the door tonight, that it could take up to three days.) Either way, by Saturday I could have had one on each ankle, two in shoulder holsters, one in the back of my pants (just like in the movies, man!), another in my bag and one in my pocket. All with one free background check and enough cash to flash around. As long as I'm on my own property, in my house, my office (if I have a key, which is the key in that particular location, no pun intended) or my car, all that firepower would be legal. Again, yeah, I think that's nuts.

The American love affair with guns and money, along with the mass marketing of fear of the “other”, will be a roadblock to any slowdown in the blood letting. If we really want to change this situation, we're going to have to knuckle down and change some thinking, change our cultural view, and pass some laws that a lot of people won't like.

Some people and municipalities are already trying.

Next up: Dead, for a ducat, Dead! Part 3-Gun Laws and Culture

(It may be a week or so before Part 3 is done. I will be out of town next week so will be taking a break.)

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Dead, for a ducat, Dead! Part 1-The Class

A text message from a neighbor: “Did you see your mail today?” I hadn't. Intrigued I headed for the mailbox and saw what appeared to be junk mail. I turned it over, a large postcard type item, and saw that it was an announcement for a free one hour class to be held at a local coffee shop. The class topic was how to get a conceal carry permit, and it said the first ten people to show up would get a free encyclopedia of armaments: great full color pictures of pistols, revolvers and sub-machine guns. I was surprised that this particular coffee shop would have this class there. The place is routinely full of artist types, bicycles chained up on one side in the street, nice chats held out front. A regular gathering place for locals, its denizens would probably be labelled at first glance as having a bohemian liberal bias. Definitely not the kind of place I think of when I think of guns. At first I was just surprised and I tossed it into the trash. A few minutes later I was curious and retrieved it. I decided that I wanted to see which of my neighbors would attend, would want this kind of information, would think this was a good idea.

The night for the class came and I headed over. I passed some young people, one with a guitar, another with what looked like a portable chess set, as I made my way through the vegetation that constricts the sidewalk around the entrance. As I entered I was greeted by the barrista but it looked empty, so I walked into the next room. There was a fairly large table, a public pay by the minute computer or two, a couple loose chairs scattered around the walls. One young man with a blonde not quite mohawk and tattoos was completely focused on one of the computers. No time for distraction at these prices. At the head of the table and standing slightly to the side was a large man with a friendly smile and a former football player build. Wearing a casual shirt and camo cargo shorts, he looked to be in his late 40's or early 50's. He asked if I was there for the class. I said yes and he gave me the book and a CD of his local band, which he explained, he'd been told he couldn't sell on eBay because of an injunction filed by the Who Dat trademark owners. We talked about how silly that was and a black man, probably in his sixties who was already seated at the table with his book and CD, agreed. The large man straightened his glasses and said we'd give it a few minutes to see if more people would show up. His graying hair was well cut, his manners perfect, his personality outgoing. He was not the gung ho upcountry redneck I had expected and I was ashamed of myself for that assumption.

Just then a young woman walked in. I had already taken a seat at the foot of the large table and put a stenopad in front of me. I had also put my phone prominently on the table next to the pad. The young woman took a seat in a chair by the window behind me and said nothing. The young man at the computer finished what he was doing, looked at us and left. As we waited we chatted easily: he was a New Orleans native, grew up Uptown, went to Brother Martin. I asked how he made his living, he said he was a musician, a sometime real estate salesman (we bemoaned the economy), does some standby work for a local radio station if there's an emergency like a storm, and he said, he made his living doing this: Instructing and training people about guns, the laws involved in their ownership, and safety. I asked how he chose this neighborhood and he told me that he planned on doing this in other neighborhoods in weeks to come, and that this was just the first because the date worked.

As we chit chatted, others filtered in. First a 30-40 year old white man, dressed impeccably with a long white silk scarf, a Rolex, and beneath that, a collection of small beaded bracelets. He sat at the head of the table next to the Instructor. He was waiting for his partner he said. Next a woman in her 50's, fit, comfortably dressed, long neat gray hair, very interested and a bit nervous sat down to my right. These two were followed by a 50-ish professional man of mixed race, who said he was a professor at UNO; a 50-ish white guy with a graying well trimmed beard who sat in the back near the windows unobtrusively and looked like he was probably middle to upper middle class; a 60-ish white guy, probably blue collar with a Dogs and Generals tshirt; a late 30's white guy, upper middle class with what looked like a $200 haircut and pricy casual clothes who headed to a chair near the wall by the computer. Finally the owner of a local business and the owner of the coffee shop joined the group and we were a group of eleven excluding the Instructor.

Most of the people had come in looking around the room. They all looked vaguely uncomfortable, almost as though they wanted to be sure, extra sure, that no one thought they were gun nuts or militia types. It was interesting to watch them all size each other up, trying to divine the others' motives for being there. The Instructor retained his charming, chatty, smiling demeanor, welcoming each one as they came in and finally he introduced himself and explained what we were there to learn.

At that moment, the young woman who had come in early and had sat by the windows, unfurled a Day Glo orange posterboard. She looked solidly at all of us, held it up over her head to be sure we saw it. It read: “If you're afraid of your black neighbors, don't buy a gun. Move to Metairie.” The Instructor said he respected her point of view. A few respectful words were exchanged, with her explaining that she definitely saw all of this as a racial issue (she was white) and then she left. The Instructor didn't miss a beat, although some of the other attendees looked uncomfortable, the close-to-elderly black man was unfazed.

As he started the class I reached over to my phone, making sure that he saw me hit the audio record button. He had seen me scribbling on the stenopad, so it didn't seem to bother him. He started by asking if we already owned a gun. All but the last three to come in and myself said yes. The woman said her husband had a .45 but it was too big for her and she wanted advice on what gun to buy.

Over the next hour he explained various kinds of guns, recommending a .380 to the woman and quickly condemning the idea of a shotgun for home protection as being misguided. He explained that a revolver would pretty much never jam, bringing a self satisfied smile to the face of the man who said he owned a .38. He talked about gun safety, stressing training. He cited statistics of gun incidents in which a citizen had pulled a gun and no harm had come to either the “perpetrator or the carrier.” He talked a lot about defense of one's own life, quietly and expertly ramping up the level of fear without ever saying the hordes were at the gate. It was subtle and understated and smart. Someone asked where a gun could be kept without a conceal carry permit, where in a car can a gun be carried, what about open carry? The Instructor laughed his infectious hail-fellow-well-met laugh and said open carry was legal but you'd have to decide how often you wanted to be stopped by the police after someone called them saying they saw you walking down the street with a gun.

Then he suddenly stopped, took his watch off and seemed to fumble good naturedly with it, saying he was trying to find the stopwatch function. Then, almost as an aside he said, “They tell me that the response time in Orleans Parish to a 911 call is 9 minutes.” He then continued dispensing information and fielding questions. Does he recommend keeping it loaded? How about trigger locks? How about keeping the ammunition separate from the weapon? He confidently answered with only a tinge of machismo scented swagger. Steady and responsible, training training training. Firm confident voice. No Elmer Gantry of guns here. No histrionics, no NRA militantism. He was more like a master poker player, continuing to build the fear by increments, looking at his cards without making a move while the whole table waited to see if he was going to call, fold or go all in, forcing the players in the direction he wanted them to go with the psyche factor alone. It was impressive manipulation.

He talked about carrying a gun from state to state. He said that most states have a conceal carry law and will respect one from another state, but you'd have to check that out on your own. He did get the states that do not have conceal carry on their books wrong. (After looking it up, it would appear that the seven states he cited mostly have conceal carry and reciprocity, although some of the laws in some states are so byzantine that it would be hard to know precisely what is allowed and what isn't. From what I can tell, pretty much only Illinois doesn't have it, but that's a story for later.)

People started asking about the paperwork, how long will it take and what's needed. He started to explain, then BEEP BEEP BEEP. He picked up his watch and grinned. “That's nine minutes. A lot can happen in nine minutes, huh?,” he said with a laugh. There were audible gasps as the fear continued to climb. “Bring your divorce papers,” he laughed. “They'll want to see those along with all your other documents.” Now people were asking questions rapid fire. How much? Mail or go to the place? How long is it good for? Fingerprints?

Now came the pitch: He can help. He can help you choose and purchase a weapon. He'll come to your house and train you. He'll take you to the shooting range. One on one will cost $175, two people, for instance you (he looked at the woman) and your husband $150. He can help you with all the paperwork, he has copies of all the forms and affidavits. Of course you'll need to get them notarized, but how fortuitous, one of his relatives is a notary and will do it cheaply. The fingerprinting and background check will have be done, he can't do that but he will tell you where to go. He explained the fees and said he offers group classes, but it was clear that most of these folks would probably opt for the private ones. He can also offer home security advice.

Sadly, he saw no irony in the fact that the money for gun permits goes to the Department of Safety and Corrections.

People started asking where to buy a gun. There was some discussion about Brady Laws and gun purchasing, and an explanation once more about where you can keep a gun without a conceal carry permit. I asked about the complete lack of regulation at gun shows (he said, “They're supposed to do a background check on the spot.” “Yeah, but they don't for the most part,” I said. He nodded.) and in one to one sales. He conceded that both gun shows and one to one sales are virtually unregulated with little to no oversight and even less enforcement of laws that may be on the books.

The attendees talked to him and each other. Their tone was a little bit bravado, a whole lot fear. Mention was made of the middle school kids who had been shot a couple days before. Everyone measured their words. Careful. Careful. The quiet ones remained quiet. The white silk scarf looked for his partner, then at his Rolex, then at the door again, clearly perturbed. Dogs and Generals guy had that gleam that affirmation of one's already deeply held beliefs brings to the eyes, lighting up his slightly rough face. The Instructor exhorted, “Training, training training! We learned in Florida recently what a lack of training can do.” He followed that remark with a slight, tight chuckle. The Professor asked me if I was going to do it: get a conceal carry permit, or for that matter, a gun.

Everyone looked at me. “No, sir. Definitely not,” I said. The Instructor looked at me like a priest patiently forgiving a recalcitrant sinner. “I didn't think so,” he said quietly. I waited a second, steeling my courage, took a deep breath and said, “Many years ago I was raped. A gun at my temple, a pillow over my head. In my own bedroom on the fourth floor of an apartment building. My window was open and the fire escape was right there.” The group stared in disbelief, some squirming, the woman to my right horrified. I continued, “Short of having a gun strapped to my naked hip, I can't see how a gun would have helped me do anything but get killed. And even then his trigger finger would have been faster than any movement I could have made to retrieve the weapon.”

The whole place went silent and everyone stared uncomfortably. The Instructor, regaining his poise, said “I'm sorry that happened to you.” Then turning his face to the group he said, “But that's not how things usually happen, and don't you want to give yourself a chance?”

It was a bravura performance. When he closed out the class, the silent guy by the window applauded. The others looked confused, but a couple of them half heartedly clapped their hands a few times, then each looking at the other, they converged on him to ask a private question or two. The Instructor smiled patiently and took them one by one, a stack of business cards sat on the table in front of the empty space where the free gun encyclopedia copies had been, a couple of CD's left for the taking.

I headed out the door toward whiskey.

Dead, for a ducat, Dead! Part 2: What did I take from all this?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Swim, Baby, Swim

My 12 year old grandson lived in New Orleans for a while. He grew very fond of the Dry Dock restaurant on the Westbank. We'd bike to the Ferry building, get on the boat, go have a bite to eat, then ride back home. He is growing fast, is a smart kid (my personal bias aside) and rocks English vocabulary. He's coming for a visit this summer and when asked what he wanted to eat, one of his requests was a visit to the Dry Dock. I told him yeah, we'd better do that because next time he comes there might not be a Ferry anymore. He was silent for a minute then said, “What morons decided to implement THAT idea? Don't they know the Ferry is important?” After I finished laughing I asked if I could quote him, and so from the mouths of babes and all that. . . . .

We actually wound up talking about it for about half an hour. He's convinced the Bridge will collapse with all the extra cars. I told him not likely immediately but that one day it might need some extra bolstering. We talked about traffic jams and closed entrance/exit ramps. We talked about the impossibility of riding a bike over that bridge, forget about the extra riding distance to get to it. A 12 year old. He was appalled. What about people with no cars, he asked. Did I tell you he's just 12?

So some people want the toll booths gone and don't like paying the single greenback (or the .60 I think it is with a bridge pass) and if the toll goes, there go some entrances, some exits, probably maintenance, landscaping, policing and possibly lights on the Bridge. And probably adios to the Ferries. Probably gone unless privatized some way. (Hey wait a minute, doesn't the City of New Orleans need some bucks? Judging from the outrageous traffic/parking ticket extortion, I'm thinking it does. Can we work out something here?) And jobs: toll booth folks, maintenance folks, CCC police, Ferry employees, and lots more that I can't name. (CORRECTION: It's been brought to my attention by several people, including that guy that lives in my house, that it's .40 with a bridge pass. I should have known that since the pass still resides on our windshield.)

Jobs will also be an issue for the good Westbank dwellers who work on the Eastbank and rely on the Ferry to get them there. Income will be an issue for some Westbank landlords who will lose tenants who can no longer get to their jobs. (This I know first hand. I lived on the Westbank prior to the storm. The Ferry didn't start running again for a while and then not reliably. With both of us working in the Quarter and commuting by bicycle, it became untenable to continue living there so we moved. To the Eastbank.) Once those people start making their Westbank exodus the Eastbank rents, already ridiculous, will rise even higher. Or if they decide to stay on the Westbank and buy a car, there will be that many more cars to contend with on the Eastbank. Fun, any way you look at it.

As of now it's one dollar coming from Westbank to Eastbank by Bridge or by Ferry if you drive your car onto the boat. Pedestrians or bicyclists are free inbound and out. I've always thought everyone should pay, but then I also thought the Ferry should run longer hours as well. I'm evidently in the minority on both points.

Loss of the Ferry would increase (and this is just me making a guess) DUI's, and we'd probably see more traffic accidents, more injuries, more fatalities. I've seen folks stagger onto that Ferry who most assuredly shouldn't have been driving. They get off the Ferry and go home, all in one piece. I can count myself among that group on a couple of occasions.

One buck.

The Mississippi River is a fact of life here in New Orleans and it's gotta be crossed now and then. It's not going anywhere.

I have made the acquaintance of many a Ferry: New York, San Francisco, Seattle. All are used as a form of mass transit by commuters and visitors alike. I've also crossed bridges in those areas, because like the Mississippi, people have to cross the Hudson River, the East River, the San Francisco Bay and the various waterways in the Northwest, as none of those are going to disappear either.

The fact that anyone is complaining over one dollar is ludicrous in light of what other cities are charging for ferries or bridge crossings. Here are some samplings:

George Washington Bridge: Paid inbound not outbound $12 cash. Multi-pass cost $9.50 during peak hours, $7.50 off peak. Multi-axle vehicles $22-$78 bucks depending on what you're driving. (I didn't look but as I recall, the Lincoln Tunnel is the same rate. Either way people are getting from New Jersey to Manhattan in cars via one of these routes. I think the Brooklyn Bridge might be the same. I didn't check that or the Triboro or any of the other bridges in the area. I also found an article saying something about these rates being raised soon. I haven't checked that out yet.)

Ferries from New Jersey side of the Hudson to Midtown (there are several that I saw in my quick search: Hudson River, East River and Belford). I chose the Hoboken to Midtown for rates. First know that it is drop off only. No cars. Unless you want to pay to park which is another monthly fee not included in your crossing. So, no cars on the boats. However the fee structure is incredible. Pedestrians $9 (inbound to the City only), kids 6-12 $6, a 10 trip card will run you $76. Or you can buy monthly for $272. Want to take your bike? See above fees and add a $1.25 surcharge, or buy a $310 bike/ferry pass for the month. I believe there are senior and student rates, but I just grabbed up some numbers.

Here in New Orleans, Crescent City Connection or Ferry: ONE BUCK.

Let's go to the San Francisco now. The Bay is a longer commute. I did it for a short time many years ago. If you miss the Ferry from Sausalito to the City, you're gonna wait a long while for the next one. How much are those folks paying?

Golden Gate Bridge: Paid inbound only. $6 cash. Monthly pass $5. Multi-axle vehicles $18-42. I didn't check the Bay Bridge or the cost of BART from San Francisco to Berkeley or Oakland.

Sausalito Ferry paid inbound only $9.25 cash. Senior or child 6-18 $4.50. Multi-pass fare $4.85. No cars (so drop off/pickup or possibly parking fees. Not sure and can't remember since I didn't have a car and used mass transit exclusively then.) There are ferries that run from Larkspur, and there are special runs for Giants games (reservations recommended for the Giants game ferries. Yes. I'm serious.) Bikes are allowed based on the class of boat being used. Some of them can take 750 passengers/200 bikes, others can only take 15 bikes, still others can take 100 bikes. That said, it's first come first served, so if you happen to be bicycle number 201 on the big boat, you'll be waiting for the next Ferry.

Seattle area has at least 8 different Ferry routes connecting various islands to the city. At least that's what I counted but I'm betting island to island there are even more. I took one once a long time ago. It was a long ride, but people regularly use them to commute in that area. Since I have friends who live on Bainbridge Island and commute to Seattle daily, I decided to use that one for the rates. The crossing is about 9.7 miles and takes about half an hour. Looks like there might be a bridge there too but I didn't check that. Ferry rates from Bainbridge Island to Seattle paid inbound only are $7.70 cash, Senior $3.85, Children 6-18 $6.25. Remember, these are pedestrians. A 10 ride ticket is $62.10, monthly ticket $99.40, Bike surcharge $1.00. (It must be godawful to have to make change for these rates every day.) A two axle car is $13.25, with rates for multi-axle going higher still, as with the other examples, however, on this ferry there's a catch: Vehicles pay BOTH ways, so a round trip ticket with your car is $26.50. You can purchase tickets one way or round trip, along with various multi-pass options.

Let's review. Ferry in New Orleans Westbank to Eastbank, free for pedestrians, free for bikes, $1 for cars. Bridge, no pedestrians that I've ever seen, or bikes for that matter, and $1 one way for a two axle vehicle.

I will no doubt upset someone's apple cart, but I think the idea of eliminating the toll is completely nuts, nevermind short-sighted. I would propose that we raise them. On the CCC, on the Ferries, all of it. Treat these arteries like the commuter lifelines they are and let the commuters pay their way like in every other metropolis on the list of world class cities. (We do consider ourselves that don't we? I hear it a lot in any case.) Make the pedestrians and bicyclists pay to use the Ferry. Most of us wouldn't mind, and those who do can take a bus or drive if they really want to get pissy about it. Raise the tolls on the Bridge too.

We have to view those ferries as part of a mass transportation system. Greener for sure, vital for many, we have to keep them. More cars in town, higher rents on the Eastbank, loss of income on the Westbank, closure of entrance/exits—I'm just not seeing how any of those possible outcomes are good things.

I haven't finished reading the CCC report which can be found at Keepthetolls.org . I will attempt to do that as no doubt I am overlooking something. I just wanted to get it out there that our lousy one buck toll pales in comparison to other fees in other cities. Cities that understand that there are commuters and that bridges and traffic patterns can only stand so much. That anyone is complaining about that one dollar is baffling to me, when in my view the tolls should be increased.

I know I can't be the only one who thinks eliminating the tolls is ridiculous. I mean, my 12 year old grandson realized it immediately upon hearing it. How can grownups even be considering it, he wondered? From his point of view it's moronic, his word not mine, and I'm inclined to agree. Unless, of course, we all decide to start swimming across.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Stabat Mater Dolorosa on Mother's Day

A 17-year-old has been arrested in the shooting of a 13-year-old boy who was caught in crossfire Wednesday evening shortly after he stepped off a school bus. . .

17 years old. 13 years old. Babies.

8th grade girl's bullet ridden body. Girlfriend of the 8th grade boy shot the day before. Possibly for shooting hoops (not bullets) in the wrong neighborhood.

And a woman is summoned to the morgue. She stands behind a window. The shades are drawn and lifted. On a shiny metal slab is a body. The body of her son. Of her daughter. Her knees give out. She drops to the floor. She keens. She wails. She cries. She tried her best and yet, there is her child. In the morgue. Nothing but a statistic in the ongoing gun battle. When another boy died the day before, in New Orleans East, the gunman shot a dog. A pitbull named Spartacus. A great dog. Protected the family. Wonderful dog. A fund is quickly formed to pay for the surgery needed for the dog. The humans have to figure out the funeral and the grieving themselves. A senseless tragedy.

Across town another woman quakes in the sterile halls of a hospital. The child whose eyes she sheltered as the pediatrician administered the well baby shots now has needles attached to tubes in both arms. The doctor tells her that her son might not walk again as the bullet nicked the spinal cord. The doctor tells her that her daughter might not see as the bullet might have caused some irreversible nerve damage. She cries silently and only outside the room. Her knees can't buckle. She'll have to be strong to help her child through this. She'll have to figure out the hospital bills and the rehabilitation and the permanent changes to her house and life that this injury will cause. She'll have to figure it out herself. A senseless tragedy.

In another part of town, a woman watches as the son she held up by both hands as he learned to walk takes his last steps as a free person. He is held on both arms now, by uniformed officers and there are chains around the ankles she delighted in seeing wobble uncertainly 16 years earlier. She may never get a chance to speak to her child except through glass again. He's still so young but his life is over. She doesn't understand why he picked up a gun and pulled the trigger. She tried so hard to keep him from that. She will blame herself. She will cry into her pillow alone in the dark, wishing she could hear his step in her house once more. She'll get little if any support in her loss. She'll keen and she'll wail and she'll notice the averted eyes of her neighbors and hear them clucking behind their drawn shades. She'll obsess over what she did wrong, mentally analyzing every minute of those 17 years. She'll never figure it out herself. A senseless tragedy.

A week from now is Mother's Day. We send candy, flowers, fruit with chocolate covering. We send whatever we think Mom would like.

These mom's would like nothing more than to have their kids bitch about the curfew they imposed, or hear their kids complain about the spaghetti they're eating when they wanted something else. They won't get that. They will get silence. They'll be trying to decide where to put the memorial card. They'll be trying to figure out how to pay the mortgage or the rent after ante-ing up the cost of the funeral, or the hospital bill, or the payment to the lawyer or bondsman. They'll be staring into a closet filled with the clothes that their kids cared about. Wow. She loved that red skirt. Wow. He was so proud of that Saint's jersey. And she'll stand at the closet, and she'll stand at the door, and she'll jump at the sound of the phone. Then she'll turn around and realize that he or she isn't coming home. Then she'll stare into a casket, or a hospital bed, or a prison visitor booth looking at her child, the one she carried, the one she taught to walk, the one she taught the alphabet to, in that red skirt or that Saint's jersey, not looking like she remembered as he or she vaulted out the door laughing at her overprotectiveness.

These are kids. Our kids. Their kids. OUR kids.

The blood is running down the streets like water after a rainstorm. The cop shop says isn't it terrible. The DA files a case against the accused. We all jump with glee that the asshole that did the shooting is caught.

And the mothers keen. And the mothers will never recover. And the family is broken beyond repair. And the mothers keen.

Why are we not looking at the societal issues that cause a 17 year old kid to feel that shooting a gun is the only way to settle a debt, or a moment of disrespect, or to make them a man? Why are guns so easily bought? Are we entering an entirely Darwinian age? Those who are the strongest by virtue of the weapons they carry are the winners? Really? Why are we not furious at this situation?

Why are we not raging at the idiots who rail in newspaper comments' sections that we don't need more and better schools, or after school programs, or more teachers, or more mentors. What we need, they say, is more prisons, harsher prison sentences, more locks and keys. More cemeteries perhaps? Certainly more guns, in my purse, in my pocket, strapped to my ankle, hey, come to the coffee shop for a conceal carry class. It's free.


I frankly don't think the “Framers” had this in mind when they wrote the second amendment. Do ya really think they envisioned “that a Glock is due to all?” I think the NRA and their big bucks lobbying is part of the problem, not the solution. Call me a commie. Call me a socialist. Call me whatever you want. Are you really that cold that you can't imagine for one minute what being in the place of one of those mothers would feel like? Seriously? Without the guns the kids would have a fist fight, you know, like the old days, and the mom would pull out the iodine and the bandaids. Without the guns the mom would have to explain that sometimes leaving the fight is the better choice. Without the guns the mother would be able to make pancakes for their kid on Mother's Day while bitching that they should have made them for her.

Ah. I see. Y'all are reading this thinking to yourselves that these Mom's are all, oh, I dunno, crack whores, welfare queens, certainly baby mama's that didn't think ahead. Certainly some are, and you bet there's some really bad parenting going on, but you'd be overwhelmingly wrong on one count. Statistics show that most welfare moms are white. But hell, why should a fact interfere with your pre-conceived notion of the world? I mean, really? You have your ideas, and thems the facts regardless of proof to the opposite.

Nevermind your latent (or not so latent) racism. Yeah. I know. You're not a racist. You have a black friend. Maybe. Okay, not a friend exactly but a black person you work with. And that let's you skate. In your mind. How is it that you assume that the children mentioned above are black? Why not Hispanic or Asian? Oh yeah. Asians are good at math. Nevermind the Asian gangs. Or the Hispanic gangs. Or the WHITE gangs. Think Aryan Brotherhood. Or Neo Nazi's. What the hell is that about? We have a wife of a North Carolina (I think) senator talking about how some proposition before a vote that is mostly about gay marriage will somehow protect the “Caucasians”. No. I couldn't make that up. All of them have guns, possibly even that Senator's wife. (Hey, Second Amendment sez we can, you stupid liberal bitch. I can have a whole bushel of them, and I can't help it if those project people, or the barrio people, or the trailer park people, or the Chinese alley people have them too. I need MINE to protect myself from them, so stow it.)

You are also probably assuming, along with the fact that all these tragedies are only found within black communities, that the Moms we're talking about are single and unemployed. Nice indictment of an entire segment of our society—easy, bumper sticker thinking: Teen mother, on welfare, lives in project, no husband. While certainly that tidy little stereotype exists, it cannot be applied to everyone. We gotta stop that. Besides, it is really insulting to all those dads out there who are holding up their buckling wives.

In New Mexico the blood is running too. Only there the commenters say: “Yeah well the vatos are shooting each other. Probably illegals anyway.” Every major metropolitan area has the blood of children running in the streets, it's not just us. This is a nationwide problem that more prisons and more cemeteries won't fix.

It comes down to what kind of country do you want.

One where every one is armed and we assume the “other” is dangerous? Those kinds of assumptions get people killed. Ask Trayvon Martin's family.

Or how about one where everyone is scared to death of the police they should be able to turn to when there is a real danger? An over-amped paramilitary crew with itchy trigger fingers and only rare and lengthy (let's get past a couple of news cycles and it'll fade away) accountability?

Or one where we take an entire generation of kids and just consider them lost to the streets? Even that choice would require that some pre-emptive and positive action be taken for the tiny ones. Things like daycare options, education that's meaningful to them, and I dunno, FOOD. Wouldn't be a bad thing to add some healthcare options in there. Mental health care, the red headed step-child, as well.

It's easy to say the P word if it's prison. Not so easy if it's poverty.

By now, if you're still reading this, you are either arguing with me, agreeing (maybe only in part) with me, or tossing your sandwich at the monitor hollering “Apologist!” I never once said that the shooters should go unpunished, I only decried the loss of a young person's life to an irrevocably bad choice in pulling that trigger. What I am saying is that we, as a nation, as a city, as a neighborhood, need to figure out why so many make that choice. We need to decide if we're going to be a reactionary, Darwinian society where the bigger bullet wins, and the blood runs down the streets, and the children are carted away in hearses and ambulances and cop cars and prison vans, and we're okay with that. Or are we going to take a long hard look at this seemingly intractable problem of violence, and a really good look at ourselves in the mirror under the harshest light we can find. In doing that we'll have to face some hard truths: some of us run to the easy fear, the easy stereotype, the easy racism, the easy .38. Our shoulders have to start cramping up from all the fucking shrugging we do at some point. Our necks will seize up if we keep shaking our heads upon hearing the news. Our tears must give way to outrage. Once that happens we have to find a way to listen to each other and not shout each other down as we look for solutions. There are no quick fixes, but we can't just throw up our hands and throw these kids away.

These are kids. Our kids. Their kids. OUR kids.

And the sound you hear next Sunday emanating from houses all over this country won't be back up singers for your favorite band. They'll be mothers. Wailing. Keening. The Stabat Mater Dolorosa rising in sorrow. Inconsolable.

As we should be.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Slumber Parties, Death Songs and DNA

Some songs are in our DNA. I think.

I was at French Quarter Fest and over the speaker came a song I knew all the lyrics to: Who Shot the Lala by Oliver Morgan. I didn't identify the singer at the time just knew all of the lyrics. Like automatic pilot they came spilling out of me onto the grass. There were others of my vintage singing along as well. “I heard it was a .44.”

I was a lucky kid. On top of our fridge was a radio. AM radio. My mama had it on as we ate our cereal, fruit juice, milk and the One a Day vitamin that lay in our spoons as we headed off to school. I heard all the latest and greatest. Not sure to this day if Mama knew how much she was shaping me and my musical tastes. (It was thanks to that fridge radio that I first heard the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.) The poor lady had no sense of rhythm but seemed to like music, although fact is I don't know if she listens to music for fun now. I'll have to ask her. But back then she played the radio and had a few albums. Hell, she turned me onto Harry Belafonte without realizing it. Nevermind it was next to the Mills Brothers and Mario Lanza (Drink, drink drink!). That AM radio and the Ed Sullivan Show planted a lot of songs and artists in my head.

So somewhere in my psyche lay Oliver Morgan and Lawrence “Lala” Nelson and the .44. I heard it that day and I realized that I had no earthly clue who or what the “Lala” was. So I set about investigating (which got bonus points for justifying my procrastination on a bigger project). In the process I uncovered a possible murder mystery embroiled in the entire New Orleans dynastic music scene. It was a joy. Forget that everyone else I know seemed to already know the story. Lawrence “Lala” Nelson was the brother of “Papoose” Nelson, the guitar player for Fats Domino—and the pedigree and totally overlapping business that is New Orleans musical dynasties goes on and on. I now am the proud owner of an Orpheus oversized doubloon with Oliver Morgan on it, and the title of the song as well, along with a pristine .45 (no NOT a gun) record of the song. I can't wait to hear it on a turntable.

But how'd I get there? Why was I so curious about the Lala?

Well, I was listening to the songs on the radio over my pineapple/orange juice. We heard the Four Seasons, the Beach Boys, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, all the Motown stuff, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Otis Redding. That list is actually much longer. But a lot of the songs we heard were about death. Really romantic death—or so it seemed at that age.

Jan and Dean's Dead Man's Curve with the doomed race between a Corvette and a Jaguar. Last Kiss with Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers (about 1964, I was in fourth grade) about the car crash, him holding her tight and losing his love, his life, that night. Nevermind Tell Laura I Love Her. They were all sort of mysteries. (I mean they were young and they died! That in itself was the mystery since only old people died.) Romantic mysteries to be sure, but mysteries that didn't send me off to Google to find out who died/cause of death/was it a who or a what: indeed was it real. Most of those were mysterious only in their idiocy, as in “guess I'll enter a race to buy you a wedding ring.” Pfffft! Kids!

I heard Stagger Lee, the Lloyd Price version, back then. I knew completely that Lee shot Billy over a Stetson hat with a .44. The first version of House of the Rising Sun that I heard was the Animals: Eric Burdon plaintively wailing about his sins, not technically a death song. Although certainly at that age I could only imagine what those sins were, they were clearly romantic and probably deadly. (Most certainly deadly in the sinnin' way if I had asked the local priest.)

But at every slumber party, .45's like Last Kiss were played. There we were, with rollers in our hair, boobless chests heaving, tears welling up in our eyes, it was too, too too too romantic to stand. Oh, just so :::sob:::dreamy. He'll never love another, I'll never love another the way I loved him:::sigh::: . He musta been cute. (Well, ya know, Mary, when I bought that wallet at Woolworth's two weeks ago, there was a picture of FABIAN in it. Uh huh. Really! No I won't trade it for Bobby Darin.) :::sniffle/haughty stare:::

So why did Oliver Morgan's song hit me so hard, causing me to research it? No idea. Some songs break into our DNA, of that I'm pretty sure. As we're dying, it would be great if we could all tell the folks around us what song is in our internal jukebox at that moment. (I would prefer my last song related words be something like Voodoo Chile rather than Tell Laura I Love Her although I could add some laughter to occasion but shouting out "Little Deuce Coupe!" right before I breathe my last. Good lord, it could be that old novelty song They're Coming to Take Me Away, ha ha, where life is beautiful all the time and I'll be happy to see those nice young men in their clean white coats. . . holy shit, why do I know all of THOSE words?) 

So does this mean I need to investigate Betty and Jimmy? I can tell you that for SURE, Leader of the Pack by the Shangri La's (ignoring the obvious over-teased hair additions of the lead singer) could reduce a slumber party to tears over our Bugle snacks. Rollers--brush rollers only, usually pink or with pink pins; jammies--usually flannel and baggie; and hormones--raging and completely beyond our comprehension----this was the sexiest song ever written from a fourth/fifth grader's point of view. Forget that she said “what could she do” after Jimmy crashed, (maybe call 911 or was that extant then?). The feminist views that announced themselves in the late 60's and 70's weren't there yet. Her daddy was a bigoted classist prick and caused Jimmy to die and she had no option but to obey the bastard. Somehow that was understood, assimilated and taken for granted. Besides, this girl also had some seriously bad luck in the boyfriend department. Remember the schmuck who went away, then wrote her a Dear Betty letter in Walking in the Sand? Geez. This girl could pick 'em. Should I spend a day on Google checking to see if Jimmy ran into a tree or just skidded out? 

Not gonna happen. 

Besides, shortly after that we were listening to the Beatles, the Stones, the Yardbirds, the Box Tops, the Byrds. Eventually we got to Jim Morrison singing The End where it was pretty clear what was happening. (Or wait—did he want to fuck his mother or kill her, or fuck her then kill her? Maybe the reverse?) Sick bastard, but dreamy Brylcreem boys had been replaced by sullen long haired and/or leather clad sexpots. We did contemplate that scream a bit and discuss it some, mostly in terms of how much did it annoy and frighten our parents. I played it in a loop for three weeks prompting my poor mama to call a psychologist. 

The only song with a real mystery is Who Shot the Lala. It appears it was a hot shot. Heroin. Possibly delivered to Lala deliberately out of jealousy, not over a woman or a Stetson hat but over his musical prowess and burgeoning fame. Or maybe his wardrobe choices. A cold case. But as the glorious new acquaintance HotG sez: Oliver Morgan isn't exactly an investigative reporter. 

Nevertheless, that song piqued my curiosity. And that's always a good thing. And it had managed to stay intact with all the lyrics in my brain for decades. That really IS a good thing. I'm lucky. 

At least from my point of view. Wanna hear the .45 about the .44? Got a turntable? 

Look out! Look out! Look out! Look out!:::::screech. . .crash:::::