Archive for the Meanderings Category

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.

A lot of people, myself included, have a specific image of what they expect from King Bacchus in the Bacchus parade during Mardi Gras.

First, he has to be kingly. He has to be up on that float, behaving royally. Not with sunglasses on like Val Kilmer.

If Bacchus is an actor, he should approach it like a role. He is a king. He should behave like one. He can sit on his throne or stand or do whatever, but it should, if nothing else, be played royally and with imminence.

Hulk Hogan I thought was a poor choice initially. But when I gazed my judgmental eyes upon him actually in the parade, giant, chin up, regal, tossing beads and doubloons from the float like offerings to his court, it elevated him in my eyes. A good king. Perhaps it was the years of posing and posturing in front of throngs of live fans that made him a natural fit. But he played the role well.

Will Farrell was entertaining enough. Drew Brees was Drew Brees. G.W. Bailey, eh. These were decent Kings.

But let us not forget what Bacchus is in his essence. He is the god of wine and ecstasy. Andy Garcia played this role too well. When his float rolled by I didn’t even see him up there and the never-confirmed rumor was he had passed out. Raucous but not so kingly.

One man played it best: James Gandolfini.

In 2007, from my perspective on Canal Street I saw him go by. He was perched atop that float, a jovial gregariousness spewing forth from him and necklaces and coins coming with it. Large bundles of beads he haphazardly threw without designated targets, like an erupting volcano of trinkets. Not able to sit still, he rocked back and forth in his throne and dug into piles of plastic and flung them far. He had a large crowd of riders around him and the energy was frenetic, they were loving it.  I saw him grab a handler and excitedly shake him. The guy loved it. It seemed like such a thrill.

And then there was Gandolfini’s face. He had this great big smile, large, ear-to-ear across that huge head of his. His cheeks were rosy red, flushed all the way up to his balding hairline. And his excitement and energy were unconstrained. He wasn’t some elevated, dignified king. He was a jolly, jubilant monarch of the people. Most importantly, he certainly appeared true to the essence of the great Dionysus by appearing to be quite spirited.

It was only for a few seconds but, he was a sight to see. It was glorious. He was the best Bacchus.

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In the clip below he says “You got the right guy for Bachus” and he was right.

Actor and former Bacchus James Gandolfini dead at 51

 

 

 

 

 

My night could have gone either way before stepping into Marigny Brassierre on Oct. 31, 2012. After stepping out, there was no saving it. I couldn’t wash the feel of it from my being.

We are all aware of the increasing commodification of Frenchmen Street and the Marigny neighborhood. I loathe what it is becoming. I loathe the cheap plastic “sexy” costumes on Halloween night. I loathe the obnoxious rolling Red Bull boom box that parks in the street and blasts non-local dance music by Black Eyed Peas and Adele onto the sacred street of Frenchmen. I wish the techno robot didn’t have to compete with this crap. I wish kids could still get nitrous baloons for a few bucks a pop. I wish it was still more of a bar-to-bar night through Frenchmen and Lower Decatur but, as Robert Frost said, “Nothing gold can stay.”

Marigny Brassierre in particular seemed to be the epicenter of the ecotone this night. With seiging tourism onslaught in full force, they were going all in. But it was taking its toll. The staff was a surly bunch. Seemingly fed up with the bullshit. Bar service could not have been any worse. Bartender was ill-tempered and virtually encouraging dust-ups with customers by being antagonistic. She was clearly over her head on a busy night and lacked perhaps the most critical ingedient any bartender needs, grace under pressure. She could not keep track of who was at the bar first and just went up to groups of people waiting for drinks and asked, “Who was here first?” This encourages people to jump in line and cause arguments / worse among patrons. She also did not wait for customers ordering several drinks at once (making her job easier by grouping transactions and shortening lines) and just walked away after one drink was ordered without acknowledging receipt of order. When taking an order you wait for the person to finish and in some way, either by repeating it back to them or saying “got it” or whatever, you acknowledge that you received it. It’s not an entitlement, it’s just the simplest way to transact.

I was keenly aware of this because I got all caught up in it. She asked me what I wanted and walked away after “Abita Amber” and never heard the two cocktails I also mentioned. Then, another bartender came up after, asked “who was here first,” took my order, listened to the entire order, indicated that she had received the entire order and began making the drinks. By then the first bartender returned with the Amber and seeing that I ordered from another bartender literally yelled, “I ALREADY MADE YOUR DRINK! DON’T ORDER MORE THAN ONCE!” When I told her that there was more to the order than what she bothered to listen to she yelled, “HERE’S YOUR ORDER!” and pointed at the one drink she had placed on the bar. Then she screamed, “DOUCHEBAG!” right at me in front of my wife and her friend and the entire bar full of patrons. I seethed and, sensing the developing hostilities, the other bartender stepped in to finish the transaction and called me “baby” as a sort of peace offering. I gathered that there may have been some dissention in the ranks but that’s only speculation.

And hey, there WERE a lot of douchebags out on this night. It’s creeping from Bourbon Street onto Frenchmen. We all know this and no one knows what to do. Most likely nothing can be done. I am sure this bartender perhaps encountered a few of them this night. I wasn’t one of them. She created the entire situation. She was fulfilling the generalization that the entire bar were douchebags and needed to be treated as such. It was one of those long middle-of-the-week Halloweens so there is a good chance she had been dealing with it for a while. I understand but it’s a hardship of the job and a short part of the narrative in a longer arc. Shit happens. It’s part of the job.

Having tended drinks to scores of obnoxious drunks myself over the years I understand each new face is something different than the last. More than anything else, each one has to be gauged and not painted with a broad brush. Some may be suffering same as you. I have yelled at my fair share as well. I never incited it. Being a bartender requires this sort of sense.

So, I may hazard to guess that much of the douchebaggery coming across the bar toward the bartenders may have been a result of a symbiosis with the entire staff of Marigny Brassiere. They may have been responsible for it themselves. I noticed that the service area of the bar was very crowded but the area around where people would mingle was very empty. So after they got their drinks, people were getting the hell out of there even though the streets were packed and a madhouse. They weren’t enjoying the “fun casual atmosphere” described on the Web site. I am sure people would have loved to have had a seat at a window in a spot with a bathroom close by but they were leaving because the energy was so bad I presume. In the short time I was there, twice I experienced the staff rudely yelling at patrons.

And about the bathrooms, I’m not sure of the legality of this but I do know it damages the reputation of your restaurant to transform it into a “pay-to-pee” spot. If a hundred people paid $5 to pee that night that’s $500 bucks and that helps with the rent right? And what’s a little negativity among the patrons for that kind of cash? I am sure that girl the manager screamed at for trying to sneak through copped a squat somewhere in the neighborhood because she looked about to burst as she was being loudly shamed for trying to get by. That’s for some Marigny renter or homeowner to deal with right?

Marigny Brassiere, if you are going to play ball with the encroachment of tourism on Frenchmen street, please verse your employees in how to be kind to the very beast that’s paying the rent. Or, just close the doors on busy nights like Halloween. I noticed a few spots that opted-out. Staying open in misery, allowing a grossly out-of-control, chip-shouldered bartender to damage your reputation, and transforming your brassiere into a beer garden and pay-to-piss business doesn’t seem like a recipe for long term success for your business and increases the burden your neighbors are experiencing as their blocks increasing become entertainment zones.

Felt compelled to put this up in response to Smacketology: A tournament to determine The Wire’s greatest character. Mostly because they didn’t include loyal muscle Slim Charles and ranked Bubbles to low. It could be argued that the entire series was Bubbles’ story. So a 7th seed seems criminal.

Anyway. Never cared for McNulty so he’s not listed. Hey, it’s my list.

1. Omar Little
2. Bubbles Cousins
3. Bunk Moreland
4. Stringer Bell
5. Clay Davis
6. Bunny Colvin
7. Prop Joe
8. Wallace
9. Slim Charles
10. Cutty Wise
11. Bodie Broadus
12. Snoop Pearson
13. Chris Partlow
14. Dukie Weems
15. Michael Lee
16. Lester Freamon
17. Prez
18. Kima Greggs
19. Wee Bay Brice
20. Brother Mouzon
21. William Rawls
22. Jay Landsman
23. Marlo Stansfield
24. Frank Sobotka
25. D’angelo Barksdale
26. Avon Barksdale
27. Cedric Daniels
28. Maurice Levy
29. Kenard
30. Herc
31. Butchie
32. Carver

When I was younger and much more miscreant in my behavior, I used to be able to identify a Crown Victoria by the shape of their headlights in my rear view mirror. I could even discern the year and model of the car by where the parking lights were located. The earlier models had one contiunous orange light under a double headlight. Later models moved the parking lights over next to the one dual-use headlight in a more oval shape.

Like Superpowers dismantling nuclear arsenals, I really don’t have much of a use for identifying the make and model of the car behind me at night anymore.

But those Crown Vics are distinctive cars. And the older, more responsible me has become pretty adept at identifying the rev and hum of the engine when one is speeding down the street in front of my house.

For a second I had a momentary flashback to mucky floodlines while lamenting that all the wild duck gumbo was ladled out cup-by-cup and gone on New Year’s Day…

Looks like…

Every year it’s a crap shoot when I go to City Hall to renew my Jackson Square license. Will it be chaos or smooth? It’s been about 50/50 the last few years. This year went pretty smooth. I only had two notable observations.

1.) A foreign man applying for a business license was surrounded by a few city workers who tried to explain to him some process that even in English sounded a bit complicated. After ascertaining that he understood what was going on, the man then tried to explain to them how the entire process was “Kafkaesque” telling them who Kafka was, where he was from, so on…

2.) The entire Department of Revenue smelled like Hot Wing farts.

I have probably made the New Orleans to Pensacola / Pensacola to New Orleans drive down 1-10 a hundred times in my life. I know it takes 3 hours almost exactly. I have seen the “Rocketships of Mobile” sprout from their skyline. I have seen the old Twin Spans go down and the new ones come up. I always comment how Brett Favre grew up in Kiln. I evacuated from Katrina down that way and crept on back a few weeks later. I have mistakenly drifted down I-59, stoned and confused. I have stopped in Biloxi for some slots. I have said “fuck it” and taken HWY 90 the whole way (it takes three times as long but is worth it).

One of the sites along the way is always the Billboards around Biloxi advertising which artist is doing the Casino circuit. There are frequent appearances by Pat Benatar and Sinbad and something called Creedence Clearwater Revisited.

The acts have stepped up a notch in recent years with the addition of the Hard Rock Casino. I think it may have reached its peak on Dec. 3 because Judas Priest is coming.

To many people, Priest may seem like just another metal band from the ’80s but to metal fans they are really in rare air. They weren’t a hair, band they were METAL. Like Dio. Like Dokken. Like Sabbath.

And the Biloxi show? It’s sold out. But that’s okay, because the real fun will be out in the parking lot. Because not only is Priest held in such high regard among Metal fans. They are also responsible for the best underground VHS tape EVER, EVER, EVER. Simply titled, “Heavy Metal Parking Lot.”

Sproadic clips can be found on YouTube. Among the highlights, “Zebra Man” Who extols the virtues of Metal and disses punbk and Madonna whom he refers to as a “dick.” This remains the only time I have ever heard a woman referred to as a “dick.”

See if you can figure out the funniest part about this clip featuring David who, before he departs for a career in the armed forces is “ready to rock.”

Finally, this woman comes about as close as possible to the living embodiment of my inner voice as I’ve seen. Except that part about fucking Rob Halford of course…

Also, be sure to catch “Graham-like-gram-of-dope-and-shit.”

I have been meaning to post these photos of the taxidermy animals at Casey Jones Supermarket in Gretna for a long time.

Casey Jones is a family-owned store that is a warm departure from Wal-Mart or even Rouses. One time, I asked the teen kid for a bottle of whiskey and he hollered at the elderly lady behind him, “Grandma! Need a bottle of Jim Beam!”

We see the same people in there for years at a a time. The sound of thunder and lightning plays before the vegetables get sprayed. And yes, there are taxidermy animals inside…

I love this last one because the way he is emerging from behind the Styrofoam recalls the first image of the monster in 1954′s “Gojira”

Saw this site, Dear Photograph, the other day and was going to submit but the TOS and privacy policy was so worded that I figured I should just do it here and not see my pics in a book with no royalties one day. Or, it could be in a book WITH royalties and I just screwed myself out of them. Either way…

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I’m fascinated with places and objects and their memories of what has happened around them. It must be from hanging around New Orleans and Jackson Square in particular. Not talking about ghosts or spirits or anything like that because skeptical disposition prevents belief in that but, the little atoms and molecules that were altered by events like Ceaser’s dying breath.

The photos when shown like that allow the reader to get a clearer view of the past. Usually you look at a photo as a memory of a place that you can take with you. Seeing the photo in it’s original context does something extra. It adds some sort of nostalgic, but haunting, element.

And you know what the Tanyas said, you pass through places and places pass through you…