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..

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….

“use your muse”
Salvaged wood piece made from two planks of antique siding with swamp cypress figure.


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


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

2013-02-22 15.27.03

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…


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…

Cyclist run over, killed by large truck in Marigny

I saw the aftermath of this horrible accident and was pretty damaged by it.

The response to it by some members of our community has been further damaging.

The witch hunt is on. People want the driver of the truck charged, not realizing or caring how little tangible good that will do. Not realizing how much very real damage it will inflict on someone who is undoubtedly already distraught beyond words. They want to make him an example so that others will view his situation and not make the same mistake he presumably did and cost more lives. This is after the police, who have a greater understanding of both the situation and the laws that apply to it have declined to charge him. And ultimately it is up to them to make and live with that very hard decision.

People need blame though. There always has to be fault. Someone has to always suffer. You can read through 375 comments in the story above and so many of them are about blame. The cyclist. The truck driver. Eventually of course, they start blaming each other, their philosophies and “people like” them. Many times they see themselves as perpetually victimized.

They blame “the city” whether that means politicians or planners or civic engineers, I don’t know. But before this accident people had as much of an opportunity to get involved as they are now, but didn’t. They are stirred to action by a tragedy and that’s understandable. But consider that just a few actions before this event could have helped also. Maybe some postings on a page or message board or even a conversation about the dangers of cycling on St. Claude, a state highway packed with commercial traffic from industries in St. Bernard and Plaquemines. It’s not safe. It won’t be made such. It’s a truck route. Believe it or not, we need trucks for our locally produced organic fruits and vegetables and all sorts of other items. We have to coexist with them. They can have state roads and we can stick to neighborhoods.

And “the city”? It’s ALL OF US. Citizens are part of the government. So really, if blame is to be assigned here, why did cycling activists fail to spur the types of change to prevent this types of accident? I don’t really blame activists. But see how easy it is to assign blame?

With no compassion, people callously photographed, posted and shared grotesque images of this man’s horribly disfigured corpse laying on the hot asphalt of Elysian Fields with the arrogant reasoning being “people need to see what can happen” as if the rest of us who may be sensitive to such images can’t possibly conjure the emotions without being subjected to such an assault. We are sensitive to those images because we CAN conjure them, quickly and intensely. Many of us have experienced them. Or they said “this is the only way things are going to change” as if the news accounts or descriptions of what happened wouldn’t suffice, as if there were no alternative to achieving this outcome without taking this very drastic step.

I can only assume that people were very emotional and acted in an emotional way by posting or sharing the pictures. That’s understandable. But it says a lot about the sensitivities someone lacks when they think, without consideration, that a visual battery like the images of that man’s very vulnerable vessel in the street are required to spur someone’s feelings. The damage done to everyone who viewed it is very tangible and palpable and the good they are hoping to get out of it is abstract and diffuse and can’t be proven. But the what I felt seeing it all again can be proven because I am here saying it. The sensibilities of myself and anyone who may have been damaged by the photos weren’t considered and this was stated bluntly. It was stated. Anyone who objected to them were bullied.

And Geric Geck? The victim? He had no say in it. Wasn’t given a chance. Decisions about how he would be portrayed in the very intimate moments after his death were made for him. For many people that is all they will ever know of him despite that he was an artist and a friend and an animal lover. I can say if something ever happens to me or someone I love, I would beg my fellow humans to give us our privacy.

It struck me more as gory, grotesque fetishism. There was an arrogance behind it that whoever posted it assumed they knew better what we needed to see than we did. It was unwelcome. Seeing the aftermath of the accident I can say I have never seen something so awful in my life. I had not even had a chance to just decompress or cherish the people in my life and begin to recover from it before the images began showing up in my Facebook feed. Stirring it up again.

To Sherry and Rex and Louis, the people I contacted on Facebook about taking them down, thank you for doing that. I wish more were capable of your understanding that even if it spurs folks to action, that’s not the only way to do so. It certainly was an easy way though.

I read accounts in the news of people taking photos of the dying Bourbon Street shooting victim a few weeks back, interfering with efforts to save her life. And a few years ago, there were photos of entertainer Messy Mya taken moments after he was shot posted on the Internet almost instantly. It’s never ok, for any reason.

Perhaps if in the moments after this accident someone could have simply thought to take their shirt off and enact one of our civilization’s oldest death rituals and cover this man and save him and his loved ones from the very public display of what really should have been intimate.

I ride a bike quite often in New Orleans. I ride for work, for play. I ride Uptown, West Bank, the Quarter, the Marigny, Bywater. Everywhere. I put it on a boat sometimes. I am also somewhat involved. Not as much as I should be. I could do more. We all could. I have been to marches like this and protests like this and this. I organize a conference for the future of New Orleans and have for several years. I’m involved somewhat. I should do more. That’s my failing. So, I should be exactly the type of person who should be spurred to movement by this cycling death.

Unfortunately, I will have to do so on my own because I have no wish or want to be involved with any cycling organization that feels it has to post pictures of mutilated people to promote its message. It is EXACTLY THE SAME tactic as abortion protesters who post mangled fetuses. The causes are different. But the tactic is identical.

So in people’s rush to force people to get involved through their posting of graphic imagery, perhaps they need to consider how many supporters they are losing by doing so. But maybe they will be too wrapped up in their outrage porn to realize it.

I also am forced to think about the first responders to this accident, what they saw, and what they must see every day in a routine manner. This was an isolated event that I happened to regrettably see. To them, it is an everyday part of their lives. And they aren’t allowed to process it properly because they have jobs to do. It’s their job to sort it out for the rest of us and not for themselves in their hearts and souls. But I am sure, the images and the sorrow and the experiences they go through doesn’t just vanish. They endure it. For something of a paycheck but also for duty and to try and help. And they are so often criticized and not enough thanked for it. Particularly police.

The bonafide good that someone can do is contribute to this man’s funeral fund…

Fund for Geric Geck’s final trip home

What would also do a some good is a little understanding that even tiny errors have huge consequences. But it was still an error. Whether it was an error of the cyclist or the trucker or, the most probable scenario, a little fault of both. It was an error. Similar to forgetting your keys at home or spilling coffee. One life is over. There is no need to ruin another one. Results can be achieved other ways. Human’s don’t always have to suffer.

The Universe is sometimes cruel and we have to have accept the the things we cannot change. In this incident, we cannot reverse this man’s very tragic, very sad death.

The courage to change the things we can is showing one of humanity’s essential virtues, compassion, to one of the people most affected by it, this working man from Violet.

2014-04-13 18.04.10

Rev. Varg Vargas - Can PARTY professionally.

Rev. Varg Vargas – Can PARTY professionally.

Hello The Lens!

I noticed you had a job opening posted on your Web site…

Part-time event and sales manager

I think I am uniquely qualified for this position. I don’t know if I have an actual resume listing my qualifications on hand but a quick look at my social network accounts should give you a pretty good idea of who I am and what I can do. Or just ask around the office. Someone there will know me and can vouch for me. If they don’t, let me know who didn’t.

I can tell you I did some writing a decade or so ago, some editing for a paper, some other stuff. I hung out with rich folks in La Jolla. I wrote some cover stories for the Gay and Lesbian Times in San Diego. I was the managing editor of Gator Tales, my high school newspaper. Whatever. You don’t need to know any of this stuff. Anyone can work at a paper. Look at

The reason why I think I am uniquely qualified for the position is I noticed a huge part of the job will be PARTYING. Having just PARTIED last night and the night (and the day) before and the night before that, I can assure you I have not gotten rusty in the field of PARTYING. I am in my PARTY prime.

But I don’t just PARTY for fun. At my current job as a Jackson Square artist I PARTY a lot. A lot of the charm it takes to convince a visitor to New Orleans to buy salvaged wood folk art is conjured by PARTYING. I also mingle with local luminaries from all areas of New Orleans culture.

I can honestly say I have been PARTYING now for 25 years and I am getting pretty good at it. For instance, I have only fallen down twice in all that time. Once was on Fat Tuesday in 2011 and to my credit, I staggered and stumbled for a good 30 feet before finally touching a knee to the ground.  Also, it was on uneven ground and I was the last person in my group not to have fallen down up until that point.

A photo of Varg PARTYING in 1992. Note: Cisco!

A photo of Varg PARTYING in 1992. Note: Cisco!

The other was at a Benihana. I don’t really want to talk about that.

I also do not puke. In all my years of PARTYING I could count all the times I have vomited from doing so on one hand and those were all in the first ten years. I can hold my liquor and go drink-for-drink with anyone for the first 6 – 8 drinks. That just shows how good I am at PARTYING though. I will not achieve sloppiness nor go on 12-hour binges and ruin my life. I budget my PARTYING well.

I noticed that I will have to not only attend these PARTIES but also throw…excuse me, produce, these PARTIES. You will be relieved to know I have been “producing” PARTIES for years. Both in a professional setting as a banquet manager for hotels and clubs all over the I-10 Gulf Coast Corridor and privately for friends and family.

During this experience I was adept at pacing the event and handling the any emergencies that may come up. Like when that toddler caught fire. My quick thinking led to it only having 2nd degree burns all over its body instead of 3rd.

You may have heard stories of the annual sacred festival of Varg Gras every Oct. 27 – Nov.2 or my annual Moonshine & Heartpine Bivavle Bash every New Year’s Day. Just ask around and you will hear tales told of these great PARTIES. Many “culture bearers” attend each. If a bomb were to explode in the middle of them, New Orleans culture would be crippled for years!

There is also the weekly event know as Wiggy Wednesday. Sure, it’s more of a private thing taking place in a bubble bath in my home but I have consistently indulged in it most Wednesdays for the last ten years. Check my twitter feed each Wednesday night for evidence of just how spirited an event Wiggy Wednesday is!

A vision for possible future The Lens events.

A vision for possible future The Lens events.

Anyway, so you know I can PARTY both professionally and leisurely. I have shown my qualifications. But, if you need to schedule a showcase of my abilities, I could meet you at Mollys some night.

I can also offer my services as an officiant for any blessings, eulogies, ceremonies, toasts or sermons you may need.

I can also decorate The Lens offices with New Orleans salvaged wood folk art for $10,000 a room.

I do however have some questions for you.

1.) The listing says I will be “ reporting to the development director.” Does he or she PARTY?  I can’t work with anyone who doesn’t. I will make exceptions for someone who used to PARTY but quit because they PARTIED too much. I won’t respect them deep down but I will work with them.

2.) I will have to produce an event called “Breakfast with the Newsmakers” 10 times a year. Are there currently Bloody Marys and Screwdrivers served at this event? Because I will be adding them if not. Also, just how early is this event? It’s not on a Thursday is it? I often get a slow start after a Wiggy Wednesday.

3.) These ”3 evening forums open to the public,” when you say “evening” do you mean like happy hour, after work, “evening” or like Snake and Jakes “evening”? Because the later it gets the more solicitations from donors I could get if you know what I’m sayin’!

4.) What sorts of things were you wanting to do with the “Lens Birthday Party”? Because I have some ideas. Working on Jackson Square,  I know lots of street performers. We could get Robotron. There is a gold guy who holds a football (don’t drink after him). There is a guy who holds a picture frame and looks through it. There is “Bird Lady.” Also, all these people PARTY. It could be like an average Saturday afternoon at Jackson Square but at The Lens birfday party! I could get Tropical Isle to serve Hand Grenades. Think about it.

5.) I have some concerns where it reads, “Other events as they present themselves.” Just what sort of events are these? I am sure we both know how lurid Louisiana politics can be and I want you to know I don’t do kinky shit. I’m not going to any David Vitter diaper party. I PARTY but if anything you guys have in mind involves more than beer, whiskey or wine then I am going to expect a platinum health care plan, a lawyer on retainer and some sort of expense account, not to mention access to any favorable judges or politicians. If I have to dress in drag, I will, but it’s $500 as soon as I slip on the pumps.

6.) It says, “Assure maintenance of sponsor records.” I really do not want to do this. Could you transfer these responsibilities to someone else?

7.) It says, “Attend weekly staff meetings.” How early are these? Are they on Thursdays? I got this thing called Wiggy Wednesday see…

8.) It says, “Prepare brief weekly status reports.” How brief can these be? Will, “We’re good” be sufficient? I have a hard time quantifying things that are abstract.

9.) According to the listing I must be able to, “Handle detailed, complex concepts.” My question to you is, can YOU?

10.) I will need to establish “strong and appropriate relationships” with donors. Is blackmail “strong and appropriate”?

11.) How important is “being a team player”? When I bring a six-pack to a friends house and only drink 4, I leave the remaining two. Does that count?

These are all the questions I have. I think I have clearly showed my qualifications for the job. When can I expect to start? Please act quickly. The Advocate has an offer on the table and I don’t want to leave them hanging. Me and “Georgie Boy” are bros. We PARTIED so hard at Kagan’s back in the day.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Rev. Varg Vargas

You will often see, in those vignettes of New Orleans that precede commercial breaks during prime time Saints football games, or the Super Bowl, or TV shows about New Orleans or perhaps even NBA All Star games, camera shots intended to capture, in a few moments, the vibrancy of the city. You’ll see a man playing a brass instrument with a tip jar. You’ll see the Cathedral and folks walking around Jackson Square. You’ll see crawfish or oysters or shrimp being eaten and Dixieland jazz playing in the background. It’s like “Hey! Here we are and this is what we do!”

What you often also see is transportation. Because often, cities are defined by their modes of public transport and these become icons of those cities. Trolleys in San Francisco, bridges in New York, in Los Angeles they have…well, forget Los Angeles.

In New Orleans, streetcars are often shown. But if you pay attention, you will notice the Algiers Ferry is shown quite often also. Usually flanked by GNO bridge with the river undulating in the background.

I don’t blame directors for framing the city up this way. It’s a great shot. Particularly so when one is actually out there on the river experiencing it. Lit up by the sun during the day or in the glow of the city at night, it’s a unique way to see the New Orleans holistically, yet from within.

With a quick shot of the ferry, a narrative can be told in one second. The premise is, “Look at New Orleans, this venerable city on America’s most vital waterway. Look at its robust culture and how it moves its citizens from one place to another across this great, historic river. Here is this vast expanse that previously would stop human migration right at its banks but here, now, daily, in the great city of New Orleans, the citizens can simply ride their bicycles onto a ship and cross the river whilst sipping cocktails from plastic cups. How glorious is humankind?!”

But of course, it is a lie. It’s just for TV. Like so much of New Orleans is becoming these days.

The reality is the ferry is a symbol not of the vibrancy of public transportation but of its abandonment.

Where we are now with it is Veolia Transportation, a private company in France who runs bus lines in the city for the Regional Transit Authority, has taken over the ferry operations. And in spite of the initial declarations of having a “goal of” a return to original hours, the current language is “would consider … based on.” So no timetable as to when and, based on how pitiful the City and State government’s dedication to the ferry has been, its easy to think probably never.

And these hours are crucial. The expectation is the ferry needs to be made viable financially in spite of the fact that the product being provided isn’t worth the price they are asking. Yet it must be paid for for it to eventually be. Huh?

For instance, a monthly pass is $65. The value for such a pass increases greatly as hours are increased and decreases as they are reduced. Am I expected to just pony up the money to city government and then hope the hours increase one day?

Also, as it relates to value, what will be the recourse when I purchase my monthly pass and the ferry breaks down, as it has many, many, many, many, many, many times? The value then goes down even more.

So if the ferry is trying to be sold as having to generate a profit to make up for the budget shortfall, ( + whatever Veolia is making) what sort of business model is it to provide a “product” that runs half as much as it ran before and often doesn’t run at all? Just how much faith in Veolia Transportation are the people of New Orleans supposed to have? I would sooner put $65 in a collection plate at the local church and hope I get to heaven before paying for the current level of service being offered.

And pardon me if I am distrustful. But after the fiasco that was the Crescent City Connection bridge tolls vote last year, I have a reason to be. The miseducation of many New Orleanians was that voting yes to the tolls would have funded and ensured the ferries operation long term. But that wasn’t the case in the first election as the ferries had been decoupled from the bridge tolls before the election. Word didn’t get out about that nearly as quickly as the notion that preserving the tolls would save the ferry and the extension actually passed (with the help of a little East Bank snobbery I think).

But the election was so close and so seemingly reeking of some sort of bambozzlefication not related to the original boondogglery of the miseducation of the voters, that a revote had to be cast and the tolls were eventually shot down for good.

I’ll also add that the habit of linking the ferries to the tolls was still not broken even in that second election as people were still saying we needed bridge tolls to run the ferries even in spite of the fact that no one had ever written anything guaranteeing such. It was all just more “hope for” and “goal is” and “dependent on.”

You can read any article on the ferries including this one from TODAY (Feb. 17, 2014) and look at the comments to see that the myth that the tolls would have funded the ferries persists still.

But hey, it’s not like there wasn’t bamboozlery of some sort happening even when the ferries were attached to the bridge.

So not only is the product we are receiving for our $65 not up to par, the “manufacturer” of the product so to speak can’t really be trusted.

So let’s just leave the whole ferry operating with a business model thing aside for right now. Because it almost seems designed to fail.

The new stance by any civic-minded person motivated by this ferry fiasco should be: The ferry needs to be a free, public service that needs to be restored to its original hours with the “goal of” 24 hour service like streetcars.

Each day, people of New Orleans have to endure the hassle and the appropriation of our streets for movie companies because they help the local economy and the money goes…somewhere.

Year after year we endure the closing of streets and the traffic nightmares brought on by events like the Sugar Bowl and the Super Bowl and the NBA All Star Game and political conventions and music festivals that disrupt our lives constantly and the money goes…somewhere.

We endure the increasing encroachment of a tourist-based economy driving out businesses and replacing them with T-shirt shops and huge double decker buses driving through our neighborhoods and see our true culture replaced with a “version” of our culture and the money goes … somewhere.

We are force fed projects like “Reinventing the Crescent” which promises it will “reconnect us to the river” and is hailed as an “essential public investment.” Yet, no where in the plan was it thought that perhaps being on a ship that crosses the river may be a unique way to truly reconnect to the river from both banks. And $300 million in public money (that could have funded the ferry for decades) for that project goes … somewhere (or maybe into the hands of Bywater / Marigny developers).

We have to listen to testimonies in the trials of our former Mayor (and many more before him) who funneled money into the pockets of themselves and cronies millions of dollars of public money that goes … well we know where it went.

No one should accept doing “more with less” in New Orleans right now. We have heard story after story of how vibrant our recovery has been and entrepreneur this and cultural economy that. Yet, something as vital as a historical method public transportation is being reduced?

Businesses in Algiers have suffered. Real estate in Algiers has suffered. Workers in Algiers have suffered.

The Algiers Ferry needs to be free and it needs to run all the time. Find a way. Ferries all over the world are paid for by governments. It is a public service.

That’s what Algiers needs for its low wage workers to get to and from their jobs in the CBD /French Quarter. That’s what the employers of these people need to see their employees make it to work each day regardless if they are working days, nights or graveyards. That’s what tourists need to have a pedestrian thoroughfare across the river and back and experience New Orleans as a whole. That’s what people in Algiers who want to leave their cars at home and bike or walk across the river need to experience East Bank food, music, parks, museums, nightlife, administration. It’s what New Orleans needs to continue to provide for its entire populace.

Ordinary people are becoming activists over this.

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