The introduction to an unfinished short story…

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Callie played the Calliope atop of the steamboat Queenie seven days a week and she was the considered by all to be the finest woman in town. In every way, to everyone.

She was wealthy. Her family was old money and owned properties all over St. Anna Louise and there were statues to her great, great grandfather and great her Uncles. Her grandmother was an activist and her cousins were lawyers and doctors and politicians. She made plenty of her own money through various consulting gigs and smart real estate investing and some modeling and, being an only child, had a large sum coming her way after her folks passed. After she achieved a comfortable wealth, she built a modest house outside St. Anna Louise and took in pets no one wanted anymore. Then she hit it quite big in the lottery one week too.

She was fit. Born with a naturally comely and strong frame of bones, she went on to first become a black belt in karate, then a survivalist, then a yogi, then a marathon runner. It was rumored around St. Anna Louise that she spent two years in a remote mountain temple learning rare fighting techniques from monks of an unknown order.

She was smart. She was only 32 but had a law degree, a PhD in philosophy and was a Rhodes Scholar. She had three volumes of poetry published, two short stories accepted by the New Yorker and two patents. She had published papers in numerous journals on subjects of ethical law. She was an accomplished dancer, ballet, modern and interpretive. And of course, she was a concert pianist, her first and true love.

And, she was beautiful. 5’10″ with perfect pale skin, arching feet, calves with a golden ratio, sculpted thighs, a chiseled tummy, firm d cup breasts with nipples that pointed straight out through three layers of garment, straight thrown back shoulders, sky high cheekbones, ice blue eyes and curly red hair that fell in ringlets down to her ass.

She also volunteered one day a week at the SPCA.

No blog revival lasts. It’s always a moment’s inspiration. A failed reboot. An attempt at a reconciliation between someone and their muse to revive a relationship that perished for a proper reason. As all things do, right or wrong. Everything dies for the right reason.

So I’m not going to revive The Chicory blog, which I still and likely always will consider my greatest creation (mostly because, as selfish as it was, it was the most unselfish thing I ever did). It’s rather an expansion of an aspect of The Chicory I entirely overlooked while I was blogging after Katrina, blog as journal, the chronicling of my life at the time. This,this, this, this and this.

I do what’s in front of my face these days. In doing so, I lose a lot of what is behind me and find what’s ahead so uncertain that, when not terrified of it, I don’t think about it at all. And I am hoping that by journaling here, I can reconcile my future self (and the past self my present one will become) with these posts.

Of course as I look back there won’t be any moments of clarity but perhaps maybe just some intimacy with who I was. Probably some scorn of course. That’s what we do to ourselves (and our relationships) and it’s not dishonest. It’s necessary to dismantle the past sometimes. This will hopefully leave a foundation instead of ruins.

What’s most important is that few thoughts are constant. All things, thought especially, are abstract and weave in and out of their relevance and importance to the self. So I must, as I look back, realize that.

That’s the extent of the structure I am going to give myself. Often the reasons for the blogs don’t become the blogs themselves. See Library Chronicles which doesn’t really chronicle the library much.

I am going to open the browser and write. Because, like Dorothy Parker, “I hate writing. I love having written.” There will certainly be art, sermons, prose and poetry of course. Fuck, I don’t know. This may be the only new post. It may be like so many of the other blog revivals, or exercising, or eating write or spending more time with loved ones, the quiet desperation of Americans these days where we have so much motivation but so little energy and time. I hope not. But I am going to recognize that possibility right here and now, so it can become a “thing.”

Maybe I’ll start with something tonight.

This took 45 minutes. No wonder I stopped the first time.

It’s always nice to share, especially memories.

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Hello Entercom!

First off, THANK YOU for keeping the greatest genre of music ever, Classic Rock, alive in New Orleans. With all the great music our city has to offer, it’s easy to forget about good ole rock ‘n’ roll and the indescrible influence of bands like Led Zep, Def Lep, The Crüe, Skynard, Van Hagar and so much more. Classic Rock is healthy investment for your company because it never gets old and more and more Rock ‘n’ Roll keeps sliding into the “classic” realm.

Man, back when I was a kid, driving my Camaro Berlinetta around the straight, dark, Southern roads of West Pensacola, we called Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains “Alternative” rock but now those bands have joined The Stones and The Doors in the realm of “Classic Rock”! And I’m soooo stoked about it because it makes so much sense. I just can’t wait for more moder rock to be classic! Not much longer and we’ll be listening to The White Stripes, The Strokes and The Black Keys on Bayou!

Also, thank you for doing what you can to keep the disc jockeys local! I understand sometimes you got to put a show like Nick Carter’s on at night but it’s very refreshing to hear Harmon Dash and Kat talking about local stuff. It makes me feel like the old days when we could call in to a radio station and the actual DJ would pick up the phone with the current song playing in the background and say he would “do what he can” to get “Cum on Feel The Noize” on in the next hour. Then I’d listen for like 3 more hours hoping to hear it with my blank cassette ready to tape! Good times! So, keep the DJs local!

And thanks for playing the live version of “The Saints Are Coming” so often! Who Dat?!?

As part of the “workforce,” I listen to Bayou 95.7 while I am in my workshop making salvaged wood folk art most Wednesdays and Thursdays and can often be heard singing “Evvvvvvery roooooooose has it’s thooooorn…” by all my neighbors. Hey man, that’s a good song. Those lyrics are very philosophical. Think about it. It’s all like, Yin and Yang.

Anyway, I almost forgot the reason for my e-mail. I was wondering what was up with the banning of certain words in certain songs that appear on the station? First off, THANK YOU for protecting me against these words!

Ha, ha LOL. I’m being a smartass. I don’t care about that…shit! ;)

But, I do understand why “shit” is banned. It’s just part of the world we live in.

I’ve noticed the “bleeping” (not really a bleep I know) in ZZ Top’s “Legs” even though most people I mention this to don’t even realize “shit” is in there. And I get why “shit” is banned in both Pink Floyd’s “Money” and Alice in Chains’ “Man in the Box.” What I am wondering is, who decides what goes through and what doesn’t? Entercom or the FCC?

Reason I ask is I am perplexed as to why “shit” is banned from those three songs (compromising their integrity if you ask me) but “faggot” is allowed in Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing”?

Now, to me, I’d allow everything because I’m not a fan of censorship on any level but, since songs are currently censored on Entercom stations, I am wondering why something as inoffensive as a bodily process that occurs every day would be banned from the radio while a deliberate epithet toward gay men is allowed? It’s the decision making that seems a little offensive. We don’t want children hearing the word “shit” but it’s okay to call someone a faggot?

I know Mark Knopfler was writing in the context of appliance store workers when he penned the song. He clearly was showing how MTV was glamorizing and embellishing rock ‘n’ roll and this was alienating some fans who simply wanted to rock. Hell, who DOESN’T.

But, gay men love classic rock too! And it may be offensive to them to hear words like “shit” banned from the radio but to hear “faggot” just a few songs later.

Just wondering.

Can’t wait to hear which new genres will be christened with the classic rock label next.

Like Neil Young said, “Hey, hey, my, my, Rock ‘n’ Roll will never die!”

Thanks again for keeping it alive in New Orleans!

Sincerely,

Lance “Varg” Vargas

P.S. I am posting this e-mail and any response on my bloc thechicory.com

So here’s this: Southern US strawberry festival sparks a race row

Okay so, in 2009 when Bill Hemmerling died Clancy DuBose wrote…

In 2009, Bill was successfully represented at ART EXPO in New York, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and FI-ART in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. He has been honored by the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Northshore Regional Endowment for the Arts, and the African-American Heritage Museum in Aurora, Illinois, which praised “Brother Hemmerling for his tireless effort of presenting a body of work with honor and dignity.” In addition to creating the 2005 New Orleans Jazz Fest poster, Bill also was the poster artist for the 2008 and the 2009 Strawberry Festival in Ponchatoula.

So, at various points in the past, festivals, art organizations, publications, museums and expos have held the art of Bill Hemmerling up and said that it was worthy of acclaim and should be celebrated. White organizations, black organizations, organizations of mixed races, they all said it. Galleries were started. Articles were written. Exhibits were opened. Hemmerling, inexplicably, just got a pass on the questionable imagery he used in his art. He did the same stuff that is on the Festival poster. He was white. He was from Ponchatoula…and he just got a pass.

So when it is said that the organizers of the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival “should have known better” as I have read online, than to put a very similar painting by Kalle Siekkinen, who had been personally tutored by Hemmerling, I guess I have to ask. Should they have?

Maybe they looked at the acclaim heaped upon Hemmerling by ART EXPO in New York, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, FI-ART in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Northshore Regional Endowment for the Arts and the African-American Heritage Museum in Aurora, Illinois, and maybe they thought, “Well the images seem legit enough for them. They are renowned organizations. I guess we can put it on our Strawberry Festival poster.”

And the reaction on social media was, “No!!! Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival!!! You do not get a pass! You are dumb, country, white, racist people who offend and outrage us! We don’t exactly know if the people who organize the festival are but they MUST be! Only academics, curators, (big city) festival organizers and people who we generally consider (but don’t exactly know for sure) are NOT dumb, country, white, racist people can do it! We know they are doing it in a historical context and we know YOU ARE NOT!”

It would seem a more pointed and direct approach to address the concerns with the imagery with the organizations that legitimized it in the first place. The ones that essentially enabled the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival. I’m talking specifically about ART EXPO in New York, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, FI-ART in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Northshore Regional Endowment for the Arts and the African-American Heritage Museum in Aurora, Illinois. I fully encourage people to do this if they find the images offensive.

Not gonna happen though.

Online outrage goes after low hanging fruit and that fruit is the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival. Trying to explain how Hemmerling’s art was able to receive such attention in the first place is a harder nut to crack. Why did he get a pass? It probably has something to do with #standing. Ponchatoula Strawberry festival aint got none. ART EXPO in New York, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, FI-ART in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Northshore Regional Endowment for the Arts and the African-American Heritage Museum in Aurora, Illinois do.

Receiving far less publicity even though I think it addresses a more pressing and immediate social and racial concern is the artwork that was displayed in Oakwood Mall this week. This student’s artwork and the (much smaller) controversy surrounding it seems far less abstract and debatable than the Ponchatoula piece. Fear of police is a daily issue for us all. That there are police who do their best to serve and protect but are thought of as murderers is an issue. The huge rift of trust between this student and the police that have vowed to protect him perhaps represents the top social ill of our time. This student made a piece of political art and spoke his voice. This is important and it is critical to our freedom of expression.

But the story has seemed to have sputtered out while the festival poster has gone worldwide. Why? There are protests in Ferguson right now about police killings. Doesn’t this student’s art reflect how concerned he or she is about their future? Somewhere in the local area a student watched protests in Ferguson and was inspired to do something with his or her emotions on the matter and the story of it being pulled from an exhibit was just a blip on the media radar. Why was the Festival poster so sexy and this very relevant one not?

I guess because it’s an easier story to report: Small town white folks are ignorant and racist. Gets reported all the time in all sorts of ways.

Yet somehow RT EXPO in New York, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, FI-ART in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Northshore Regional Endowment for the Arts and the African-American Heritage Museum in Aurora, Illinois are not ignorant and racist despite doing the same shit.

Personally, I try not to communicate the African American experience in my art. I empathize with it but I don’t sympathize with it. I think I know it but I don’t actually know it. I have some depictions of African Americans themselves in my art. But, they aren’t meant to communicate anything about their experience in our Universe because I am not qualified to comment on it. It’s their story to tell. I wouldn’t have even tried it if I was Hemmerling. Maybe he felt stronger in his empathy than me. He went ahead and gave it a go and (for reasons I don’t agree with or even understand) was accepted for it. Looks like his pass has expired now. Or maybe his pass goes on and Kalle Siekkinen’s gets revoked.

On a side note, this week I have also heard some of the worst interpretations of art, on both sides of the debate, about this poster, about other works. Yes, art is subjective. Somehow, somewhere people became convinced that simply having an opinion or a feeling is enough. Validation of either was just not something they feel they need to present if asked. If someone sincerely wants to understand your emotions and opinions, “You just are never going to understand” or “It’s just how I feel” or “It’s just my opinion” is really upsetting. Someone is trying to relate to your opinions and feelings and it would help not to get defensive about it.

PATS program needs to stay separate for the kids it serves

When I was in second grade, a man pulled me out of class with a few other students put us in a room and gave us a test that involved some simple spatial, pattern recognition and logic questions. I remember the very day because the man was clearly geeky and made the comment as he was gathering up kids, “Ok we are really humping now!” This cracked us up because to second graders, humping was a funny, albeit naughty, word.

I don’t remember receiving the actual news but I must have done well on the test because I ended up gifted.

By third grade, I couldn’t do long division whatsoever, my lowercase b looked like a lowercase d and my lowercase e looked like one you would see in a mirror. I dressed myself shabbily and my teacher used to address this with me. I drew on my notebooks, didn’t pay attention, tried to find ways to juke the system on homework, did only ok in class but, gifted, they said.

I really liked show-and-tell. I would check out astronomy books from the library and tell kids about the Andromeda Galaxy.

In fourth grade, there were two classes in my elementary school. One was for the smart kids and one for the less smart ones and after a semester in the class for the smart kids, they moved me to the other class. Still though, gifted.

As a vital aside here, many thanks to my mom who never stopped trying and was very active in seeing me find my way throughout all this despite being separated, working as a waitress and going to community college, the same college I would eventually get an English degree from in 2003 coincidentally.

In the fifth grade, I began going once a week to PATS, the “Program For Academically Talented Students.” But in my case it was more like just the “Program For Talented Students” because I was struggling in school despite the very noble efforts of my teacher Mrs. Huntley who I also owe many thanks to still.

PATS offered two classes a day and the students enrolled in them a lot like college students do except there were no required classes. All were elective. We chose what interested us.

PATS was the best education I had in Escambia County save for a few very special public school teachers like Mrs. Huntley, Mrs. Gross, Mrs. Fowler and a few others along the way. I’m not saying all the others didn’t care because some did but were clearly overwhelmed. Then there were certainly others, guidance counselors at Escambia in particular who, though probably also overwhelmed, picked the students they felt were likely to succeed and just ditchdug the rest of us.

In changing PATS, Escambia County Superintendent Malcolm Thomas said, “In the future, the PATS Center won’t be about a single location. This day and age we expect a lot out of middle school students. They can’t afford to go somewhere for 20 percent of their instructional week.”

For me, frankly, it was the 80 percent of the time that I wasn’t at PATS that was often doing the damage. The one day a week I spent at PATS was a robust learning experience that served as a concentrate of thought that was as valuable to my young mind as the four other days put together. Mike Ensley in the article above, uses the phrase “safe learning environment” in his article and it’s very apt. One day I was learning about Phineas Gage at PATS, the next I was watching a kid put a Home Ec seam ripper in another’s side at Warrington Middle School.

The education was diverse. I acted in two plays while I was at PATS, one which myself and other students produced in its entirety, the concept, the stage design, the narrative, everything. There was a class called “Disunia” that simulated world trade and government. I can trace my understanding of neuroscience, perspective drawing, consumerism, video production, photography, back to classes at PATS. I first heard of people like Aristotle and Socrates there. I didn’t understand what they were saying really but I knew the Universe was saying, “Hey, pay attention to these guys.”

I first learned the word “verisimilitude” there.

“It’s a very smart word,” Mr. Drewitt said. “Say it if you ever meet the president. Say ‘Hello Mr. President! Verismilitude!’”

I even remember one of my teachers explaining to me how important Marvin Gaye was the day after the singer died.

There are fifth grade commentary essays of mine that were published in the school newspaper. Yes, the subject matter was on types of candy and HBO movies but, I was in fifth grade, that shit was worthy of discussion. It got my pen on the paper and gave me the notion that my voice can’t be heard if it isn’t out there. There was a reward given for writing, both from Mr. Drewitt and from seeing it in print, that “first byline” experience in fifth grade. It was inspiring and gave me the gift of endeavor. And look, here I am still doing it. And hey, I even had a career doing it once. And hey, I am about to self-publish a smutty short story here in a few weeks too.

Also, PATS put me with really cool kids. Not kids wearing Polo or Espirit but friends that I related to on my different levels. This was as valuable to me as the classes and the teachers. In school, you have more in common with the average kid because you haven’t had a lot of time or experience to differentiate yourself from them as much. These kids though, they were more engaged with the social cues I was tossing out to them and hoping they would be accept. Like the “humping” line. We picked up on that shit.

I was emotionally close with Wendy. Collaborated on art projects and portfolios with Fred and Joe. I had a spiritual bond with Mary Alex. I had long phone conversations at night with Anna. I greatly admired an upperclassman named Wesley who also had Mrs. Huntley and went to my Middle School and was charismatic, funny and smart. He protected me a little bit because we were sort of on similar courses. More on him later.

And since PATS was its own campus across town from where I lived, there was a very long bus ride (so long I pooped my pants once but we won’t get into that.) This was a unique experience where we had no choice but to just hang out and talk and imagine and interact with other kids like us. We picked kids up right in front of their homes so we saw different neighborhoods, incomes, houses. We shared stories, music, experiences. I first heard “Purple Rain” on a Walkman while on this bus and now I play it on every jukebox I can. Sometimes three times a week. Sometimes three times a NIGHT!

But PATS wasn’t funded through high school and after eighth grade it stopped. I think if it did continue in high school, when young minds particularly begin to grow and conceive who and what they will become, I may have drastically different life today.

It turns out, at Escambia High they put gifted kids in a class one day a week called “gifted studies.” And it wasn’t the same. I didn’t feel as immersed in the learning environment because just outside the door there were bullies, boobies, bong hits. You think a curious kid is going to concentrate on perspective drawing with that stuff just a hall pass away? I did used to kick ass at Trivial Pursuit though. Sure I cheated. Gary Francis lost because he didn’t. That’s how my critical thought resolved it anyway.

My academic problems with grades continued and I became an underachieving F student instead of an underachieving C student. I endured a psychological trauma. I started partying, wrecking cars, vandalizing, so on and so forth. I did some community college, got in trouble a few times, so on and so forth.

I of course have myself to blame for all that but I often wonder what the expectation was of me or any other kid in a school as big as Escambia High, a school a decade removed from notorious race riots, a school whose notable alumni is almost entirely composed of athletes. Don’t get me wrong, I will always love and and am extremely proud to have been friends with the Samoan Dynasty. They hold a very special place in my heart and I support their proud traditions. My heart swells when I see them on television.

I do wish Escambia could produce notable alumni in other fields also. The kids who come out of there who do well do so as very much of their own grit.

All of this may sound like I am unhappy with being a salvaged wood folk artist on Jackson Square in New Orleans. I’m not. This version of Lance Vargas has no complaints about his trade in life. I just wonder sometimes, as an exercise, if I could ever have had a career in astronomy or psychology or been a more successful journalist if my learning environment in high school were different. If PATS was extended instead of being dispersed like it is now.

I was chatting online with Fred this morning and he had this to say about PATS, “it was good to get away from the general population and solely be with people that wanted to learn and wanted to be there, made a huge difference.”

It’s notable to me he chose the words “general population.”

Oh, and Wesley? Here he is.

So in addition to a myriad of all sorts of other bad shit that was visited upon me on Sunday, Jan 25, a day in which the best parts were spent laying in bed in the morning and laying in bed at night, it appears that a bona fide art heist happened to me as well. Just like the Blue Dog that was stolen earlier this month.

Stolen from the back of my truck on Royal street in Bywater were several pieces of art.

Maybe I can get punk band / art vigilantes Stereo Fire Empire to help me recover them.

So, these were unique pieces, one-of-a-kinds. So keep an eye out and let me know if you see..

“nebula”
This assemblage piece of salvaged wood stars. Particularly valuable since it is a “study” for a series of astrophysics pieces I will be working on throughout this year….
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“use your muse”
Salvaged wood piece made from two planks of antique siding with swamp cypress figure.

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Also jacked but less original were three voodoo doll pineheads that resemble the three pictured below…

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And three ceiling fan blades with voodoo dolls painted on them that resemble this…

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Also missing are a bunch of my business cards, a solved Rubik’s Cube, some tools and the Amulet of Drunk Shorty and the Coin of Craig…

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Director Mike Nichols died yesterday.  I  arranged some of his Jax Beer commercials and put them here. Because, you know, there’s a New Orleans connection to damn near everyone…

Talking dog Louis is my favorite…

No Middle Name

“I was self important.

The one thing that sticks out when reading these pieces of poetry and prose is they are written by a young man who feels as though his view is unique and important. And, from what I recall of myself at the time, that’s precisely what I thought I was. It’s okay, it was my 20s.”

If you watch the Vibrio Vulnificus Football Club playlist straight through, it’s like a badly edited, esoteric documentary/mockumentary about flag football and drinking…

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