Archive for March, 2011

I am doing it. I was going to write out a whole post but now it all just seems to be coming out over here…

Law banning sales of prints at Jackson Square is in trouble

Twelve comments in and the word “thugs” has not been mentioned yet.

I actually am not super passionate about prints on the Square but I do get motivated by bullshit. The BS in there is where someone says prints will raise the quality of art out there. Brining prints to the Square won’t do anything even close. Firstly because prints are a piss poor thing to hang on a wall (sorry if anyone reading this owns one) and second because the artists who do fleur de lis and jazz men will simply stop hand painting these and have them printed out.

My original art will flourish in spite of them or I can order some screen prints up of my work from the shop down the street.

He was there again this morning so I thought maybe I should embrace the little guy. Here’s a thought, leave him up all the time in a little thumbnail image in the corner and not over a headline that contains the phrase, “Quadruple shooting.”

Like this…

Out on Jackson Square, every artist is a CFO for their little business. The demand is there, ready and willing. The artists’ responsibility is to provide it with the supply. For some artists, this is easy. The supply is fleur de lis or jazz players under lamp posts. You will see these two images repeated constantly not only in the Square but also throughout the French Quarter. These items sell no matter what. They are the underwear and athletic socks of art in New Orleans. Always a demand for them. So for certain artists, the challenge is not the subject matter but the quality, style and presentation of it. How are they going to produce a lamp post and jazz man that is different from the dozen or more others on the Square? Their worry is that some tourist will prefer the color choices or brush strokes of another artists’ jazz man over theirs. The law of averages dictates that there will be a split that isn’t always even.

For myself, for my friends in the Club du Decatur and for many of the more unique artists out there, the challenge is different. We must create art that contains subject matter that is both fulfilling of our larger unique style yet also generates income to pay the bills. To do this, many of us make what are called our “baby boos: (singular, “baby bu”). Boos are small, luggage-sized representations of larger pieces that we have for sale. Al large 2×3 painting draws the client in and the baby bu leaves with most of them. Occasionally, the larger pieces sell as well. This combination of boos and larger pieces represent the simple economics of many artists on the Square.

Recently, a friend of mine finally found her niche among the boos. She began selling a dozen or so boos a day and was having some sucess at managing the time she spent on them vs. their value to the clients. She was consistently selling them at a decent price and was considering raising the price to generate more revenue.

“What are you going to add to them?” I asked.

Reason I asked was because I have had a couple increases in price of my boos in recent years and each time, I gave the client a little something extra for their financial commitment. It seemed like good business. Even though many of the clients we sell to won’t see us again, some do. And what would I tell that client who bought a boo back in April and came back in October to buy three more for her friends only to discover the inflation? Well I say, “Now they have a clear coat applied to them and the edges are stained.”

This way they won’t feel like I did when I found out Discover had raised my interest rate 5 percent for no other reason than it being “a decision that was made company-wide.” I since switched companies.

So what does all this have to do with po boys? (Or as the vexatious Tom Fitzmorris calls them “real New Or-lee-ans poor boy sandwiches.”

Well, as we all know, a po boy can be found within a few blocks of anywhere here in New Orleans. Most commonly in the fried shrimp variety. Many corner stores have them and they are generally priced pretty damn low – the baby boos of New Orleans cuisine. It’s an exquisite part of living here. These po boys aren’t anything special unless you consider delicious special. What I mean is, they are awesome but common. There is a place up the road that sells 16-inches for like $5. That’s a true po boy.

So that’s the standard for me now. I hold every po boy up to the standard of quality and price that my local corner store has dictated. If more is expected to be paid, more should be delivered. The reason this has come up is because I was at a local restaurant on the Best side of the river recently and they were asking $10.50 for a standard shrimp and oyster po-boy. Okay, I understand, times are hard. But where is the clear coat and stained edges on this baby boo?

Now there are po boys in town that are well worth 10 bucks or more. Ye Olde College Inn has one. Liuzzas has one. Parkway Tavern has one. Napoleon House has one. But these sandwiches are special. They have earned their price. There should be no reason why a standard, dressed, fried shrimp po boy should cost over $10 while the corner stores are still doing them out for less.

Drizzle something on it if you want to charge that much.

What intern was left in charge overnight at Who made the decision to put a damn frog in a Hawaiian shirt wearing sunglasses on the front page of the paper Web site? Is the weather the main story in New Orleans this morning? Who drew that fucking thing? Was it the same person who posted it?

EDIT: Looks like I’m the foolish one for shitting all over our “unique culture.”

NOPD is reviewing arrests of 12 at Krewe of Eris parade Sunday night

Arrested at the Eris Parade

This isn’t going to be a popular opinion but, there aren’t any good guys in this. There are bad guys, more bad guys and bystanders. Some folks may be innocent, but they aren’t righteous.

Krewe of Eris
I am not quite sure where the outrage is. If the point of your Krewe is to create or celebrate chaos you must suspect there to be some response correct? So where is the outrage? Anarchists’ goal is chaos. There is no need to be all up-in-arms when you clash with the establishment. It’s the point isn’t it? So, I can’t support your outrage. There isn’t any logic to it. It seems disingenuous because covertly, it was what you wanted all along. If some bystanders get their asses kicked along the way, blame anarchy.

Whether or not every person in the crew intended it to be this way or not, the general lack of order and, yes, discord, created will always result in it. It is no feat of imagination to consider the outcome Sunday night was already written once the concept of the Krewe was conceived. When people start to really get seduced by anarchy, the tendency is to take it as far as it will go.

I understand your Krewe pined for a time when Mardi Gras was a “day of unrest when the social order was turned upside-down” but perhaps, after Katrina, it might be a time for people to be more organized so, as a group we can fix levees, educate children, so on and so forth. Levees and schools. Levees and schools. Levees and schools.

If you want to mock the social order, take your parade to Audubon Place and draw penises on their cars, because just like in any riot, the people who you are impacting the most are the ones right there in your own social strata. But hey, who can try to sort out anarchy right? What’s the point?

If you think the unruly actions were only by a few parade attendees who stood out from the pack and ruined it for the rest of you who worked hard on your floats and costumes, understand that “open to all” means Nazis, cannibalistic headhunters, the KKK, tea baggers, NAMBLA, whomever, can roll with your parade. Anarchy is truly exquisite. You organized a group based on chaos where the mere mention of rules and structure was probably taboo, so by marching with that ethos, again, it wasn’t some far reaching realm of thought to consider some would be assholes.

Krewe of Eris shouldn’t be pissed off about anything, you should be celebrating the chaos you created.

The rest of us should be the ones who are pissed. I am.

NOPD Fifth District
Were we talking about anarchy? This is the real anarchy. This is indeed the crew of discord. As in Katrina, NOPD seems to lose its mind in a crisis.

From the article by “anonymous” on Indymedia…

“Y’all fucked up,” ranted a fat officer, pacing up and down the back hall where we arrestees knelt. It was hour two of what would be over four hours kneeling cuffed side-by-side on the Fifth District’s linoleum before transfer to Sheriff’s custody. “Y’all done fucked up now. I hope I see the motherfucker who hit me. I’m gonna find him. I’m gonna see that motherfucker on the street, and I’m gonna whip the shit out of him. You DO know that. When I see that motherfucker I’m gonna fuck him up bad, and I hope he’s one of y’all’s motherfucking cousins. I should’a shot that motherucker! You heard me?”

Should have shot the motherfucker? Are kidding me? Are the people of New Orleans supposed to expect that, after Danziger, Henry Glover and everything that happened in Katrina the NOPD is still threatening to kill the people it’s supposed to be protecting? This is where we get to the real outrage. This is the stuff that really brings order to the chaos. Sorry Krewe of Eris, no anarchy today, New Orleans citizens can all agree we won’t stand for anymore goddamn violence perpetrated on us by pissed off cops.

What failures have to keep occurring for the Department to understand that threatening to shoot people (and sometimes doing so) is criminal whether it’s a cop doing it or not. How many times do the Feds have to step in?

Also, denying law-abiding citizens their first amendment rights by slapping cameras out of their hands indicts the police in my book. The camera is there to show the police were following procedure and remaining within the law in their arrests. It should provide the evidence needed to fortify their case. Slapping the camera out of someone’s makes it seems like there is something to hide.

While the city spends money on speed and red light cameras for neighborhoods, where are the cameras for squad cars?

What could there be to hide?

If medical care was denied to an arrestee as is stated in the Indymedia article, that is serious.

If officers were threatening to “trump up” charges on an arrestee, that is serious.

These are the tings NOPD has a reputation for and yet still, these are the things that are being done according to an eye witness account.

NOPD your job is not to threaten, beat, or shoot people. Your job is to help keep order. The people have so little faith in you to do so and you keep reminding us why. You think that if you have us by the balls our hearts and minds will follow but that is not how respect is doled out when we are the ones paying your salaries.

I won’t try to understand the pressures placed on an NOPD officer. They must be extraordinary. But the expectation is that if an officer is having difficulty with those pressures and that is endangering people’s lives they need to have the courage to ask for help or remove them self from service. Every officer has the power to control their own situation. The social problems in New Orleans are not driving them to violence, they are doing it them self by allowing those issues to effect their performance and staying on the force regardless.

The colloquial word is that it’s all the result of a few bad apples who are being sorted out. True or not, if some can handle the pressures and others can’t it goes to show that some are cut out for police work and others aren’t. I am sure a weak officer finds his way out of the force soon enough. Pissed off cops should too.

The people of New Orleans will not be beaten. We will not be shot. We will not be framed.

The NOPD Fifth District, like the Krewe of Eris tried to do, creates the real chaos and anarchy.

I woke up at around 4 a.m. this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep so I figured I’d head over to the Square and reserve myself a good spot.

I have often described this time as an ecotone, a layering between two different social and emotional environments. One is the still awake, still spirited visitors slowly cascading away. The other is the emerging, groggy working people who are beginning their day. These two layers converge in the French Quarter between the hours of 4 a.m. and 6 a.m.

The cascaders can often be classified into three categories: the zombies, the vampires and the werewolves. The zombies are overindulged, drooling, passed out, lifeless, brainless sacks staggering around the Square. The werewolves are the loud, obnoxious, angry men and women who fight each other a lot of times. The vampires are the quiet, barely noticed spirits in the shadows.

The emerging people are of course the humans. The zombies want to eat their brains. The werewolves want to tear them apart and the vampires want to suck their blood. We stick together pretty much.

This morning’s ecotone was particularly interesting because yesterday was of course Carnival Saturday. That and the bad wind and rain made everything an x-factor. The cascaders far outnumbered the emergers.

I was on the bridge when I saw the first instance worthy of remark. There on the GNO was a bridge cop questioning a man in his late 20s in a Santa Claus suit. There was no car (sleigh?) around. Just the cop with his lights on and a guy dressed as St. Nick leaning against the rail. Potential jumper? A guy trapped on the West Bank who tried to walk home? What of the suit? Don’t know.

I arrived at the Square and was chatting with friends and observed a couple taking turns fighting and hugging, fighting and hugging. Werewolves.

A few minutes later, four girls came up on us. Three were human, one was a tall zombie. Two of the girls were holding the zombie up with her arms around their shoulders and were basically dragging it along. It had a hood pulled up over its face and long braids coming out. I couldn’t see its face.

“Do you know where North Rampart is?” they asked.

“Well Rampart is like five blocks that way…” I said.

“Five blocks? Damn!” they said, distressed that they would have to tote the zombie that far.

“…but yall said North Rampart and that is five blocks up and perhaps seven or so down from that. Where on North Rampart are you guys going?”

They didn’t know the cross street. It could have been North Rampart and Congress for all they knew. This entire conversation took place with the zombie hunched on their shoulders like luggage. I thought for a moment perhaps I could help by giving them a ride over to North Rampart in my truck. Then I quickly thought against it.

They rounded the corner at St. Ann and Decatur and then a few minutes later, two of them came back around.

“Hey, what happened?” I asked.

“We left her with her friend. We don’t know her. We just saved her at the bar because she was tumbling around and some guys were pulling on her to come with them,” one of them said.

I looked down St. Ann and saw the zombie on one of the benches with her friend. I started setting back up and looked down their again and it was just the zombie. No friend. Then I checked Decatur and saw the friend several blocks down walking away. The zombie got ditched?

Robert and I walked down there and found the zombie hunched over on the bench and not answering any questions. With no friends, no ride and no conciousness, what was the zombie going to do? What if the guys who pulled her in the bar were still around? What if someone like them was? Vampires were everywhere. So, as I have done a few times now, I called EMS. I wasn’t entirely sure if it was the right call but the only other option would be to have just walked away. This girl was not answering any of our questions and was passed out on a bench in Jackson Square during Mardi Gras.

They asked me if she was breathing and I said, “I think so” and they asked me to be sure so I did. They asked me all sorts of questions about her and told me to stay with her until the ambulance got there.

It didn’t take long for them to get thereand when they got their gloves on and started asking her questions with some sort of authority (not like I was doing) she suddenly found her energy. I walked away for a second and when I walked back over, they had her in the ambulance.

There was also a group of men gathered in a prayer circle taking place a few yards away. Were they praying for the zombie? Actually no. Just praying in general.

Then, fuck, the zombie’s friend showed back up with the car. Turns out she wasn’t ditching her, she just didn’t want to drag her ass around anymore. The friend talked the EMS folks into lettinh her take the zombie and they walked off together. I apologized and said I didn’t know she was coming back.

So they have a great story to tell now. “Remember when you were so fucked up I left you on the bench and you got the ambulance called on you?”

I was done setting up so I headed home. I didn’t get far before I happened on an accident. Two young girls, bleary eyed and beaded were outside a smashed little sports car with it’s bumper in the middle of the road were involved with a middle-aged woman in a van who looked like she was heading in to work. I stopped and asked if everyone was okay and they were all on their phones and said they were alright so I kept going.

Getting off the bridge on my way back to Algiers, I saw a man in a pressed suit holding a leather-covered bible with his wife and her Sunday best standing on the corner looking immaculate among all the NOMTOC trash.

The Mardi Gras costume market mess: a post-mortem and editorial

The best way to achieve it is for the city to communicate clearly with artists and vendors — and to make sure city fees don’t outstrip people’s ability to pay.

From the last line of the story, the “communicating clearly” part. It doesn’t happen.

I was up at City Hall the other day and they had all sorts of tables set up on the first floor, checking cholesterol and blood pressure and such. Sneaky. I wonder how many blood pressure readings were high simply from being at City Hall?

Every January, the 200 or so Jackson Square artists are required to renew their licenses. Sometimes they go in groups, some go alone, some do it early, others procrastinate. What they all do is dread it. What seems to be the general mood when going to the Bureau of Revenue is trepidation. “Pack a lunch” my friend told me once. You can see the aversion and anticipation of confusion on folks’ faces when they start to picture themselves in there.

Visits to the Bureau of Revenue are like snowflakes, no two are the same. And like Forrest Gump’s chocolates, you have no idea what’s going to happen. No two clerks are the same.

They don’t accept cash there and they have started not accepting checks either (which I think is bloody awful). Not sure why they don’t take either. Some artists speculate that they don’t trust the employees with cash and they don’t trust the vendors with checks. I’m not sure why actually.

So if you are unsure what your total for fees and maybe fines is, you have no idea how much you are supposed to bring for the money order. One artist on the Square tells of how he had to buy a money order for .25 to get his license. So you are going to make at least two trips to City Hall.

I was found on Jackson Square for not having proof of permits the same day the costume bust happened and issued a summons. I didn’t mind. Some artists actually want them to check more often to make sure everyone who is on the fence has gone through the process. I actually thanked them. Issue I had was, when I went in to the office to show that I did indeed have the permits. I was told by the clerk, “Yeah, you need to have these permits on you.” I know this. I’m not up at City Hall just to show them off. I mean, there was a reason I was out of my pajamas on a Monday right? I have the power of deductive reasoning. My mind told me, “If you don’t want to be made to put on clothes on a future Monday, you better bring those permits from now on.

But the amount of confusion people face in City Hall is a real issue. Nobody on the Square, and I am assuming this is a representation of every business that visits Bureau of Revenue, has any faith that what they are being told at one point will be the same thing they are going to hear the next time. It’s a crap shoot in there.

I know the departments at City Hall endured eight long years of Ray Nagin and I don’t expect the new administration to simply turn everything around in one year. But to “communicate clearly with artists and vendors” will hopefully be one of Landrieu’s goals for Bureau of Revenue.

Dear Gambit,

Love you guys. Love the paper.

I see you put the Blue Dog on your cover this week. George Rodrigue is a great artist. Always has been. A little repetitive lately but, as an artist I can’t blame him. So few us us ever achieve significant compensation for what we bring to the world, who could complain when one of us does so in spades? Well, some people do but they are what’s known as “haters.”

Rodrigue has done it all. He has truly made his mark on New Orleans’ cultural gumbo culture. His prints now go for $1500 dollars and his little loup garou can be found everywhere. It’s in Metairie. It’s on Royal Street. It hangs with Drew Brees. It’s got its own restaurant. It’s in The Sheraton on Canal. I guess I don’t have to go in to too much detail about its exposure because it is so prevalent everywhere we go.

So, Do we need 40,000 more printed images of the Blue Dog on your cover?

I’m not coming from a negative place on this. I’m not pissed at Gambit or Rodrigue. I used to be responsible for coming up with cover images for a weekly that were both visually stimulating but also thematically tied into the editorial. So I know how hard it can be to come up with cover images week after week.

The growing issue with the Blue Dog being overexposed is that now any artist who develops a theme or motif in their work or tries to convey an image across several pieces of work is being told, “Oh, that’s your Blue Dog!” For instance, “Be Nice Or Leave” is Dr. Bob’s “blue dog.”

Rodrigue is the king. We all know that. The locals know it. The tourists know it. The natives know it. The transplants know it.

I know The Gambit has always been a friend to local artists. I speak from experience here. I’m not saying they haven’t.

I’m saying, next time you need a visually adept cover image, there are many great artists of all types in New Orleans that would love to contribute their wonderful work to your great paper.

Also, I am posting this letter on my blog.


Lance “Varg” Vargas

P.S. Some may see this letter as a veiled request for my own work to appear on your cover. Not so, if it aint on recycled materials, it aint me.