tybs

Mr. Tybs you were always a real piece of shit cat.

You pissed on things. You raped Talula. You swiped at Doris. You puked a lot. You were annoying. You had bad teeth. You ignored the litter box. You never caught things. You didn’t play. Your purr was almost inaudible. You never loved us and I certainly never loved you.

I got you in early 1997 at a time when all my friends who lived at an old apartment building called the “Mad Mansion” in Pensacola were getting cats. We were practicing for parenthood I suppose and the wise choice was to get a cat first because a cat is easier than a dog and a dog was easier than a baby so, fine, a cat.

So you arrived around the same time as Ashley’s black and white and badass outside cat Gish and her spoiled and bratty inside cat Jelly and Elaine’s calico Simone and Josh’s jet black Louis. You and your “twin brother” Nick arrived at our apartment on Gregory St. in Pensacola. Carmel got Nick and I got you. The only difference between you and Nick was a small patch of handsome white fur under the neck that resembled a pendent. That sophisticated mark was on Nick of course. You were just an utterly cheerless charcoal gray. The color of an encroaching thundercloud or something burned down. The only other physical difference between you and Nick was a subtler one. He having a more chiseled face and yours more undefined.

There were other differences though.

“He got folded up in a recliner,” Josh told me about you after he already made the choice to give Nick to his then girlfriend Carmel, whom he doted on. It was suggested that some sort of neurological damage had been done to you during the undetermined amount of time your kitten self spent folded up in the recliner. You certainly always appeared a little slow.

When you and Nick were kittens we would have people over and they all loved Nick. He would jump up on the furniture and arch his back and play with toys and run around on the hardwood floors all crazy. My friends would laugh and smile and cuddle Nick. You would just sleep a lot and if you moved at all it was just to go from one room to another. Sometimes you watched. I got you toys but you wouldn’t play with them. I wanted a real cool, loving, playful, cute cat and you just weren’t any of those things.

You didn’t DO stuff. You never sat in a window sill. You never curled up on my lap. You never chased a crumpled up piece of paper. Nick did but you didn’t.

I gave you a noble name at first. Tybalt was the hot-headed Prince of Cats from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and the Reynard the Fox trickster tales before that. I was enthralled with John Leguizamo’s performance in the Baz Luhrman movie that was released around that time. I named you this in tribute to the performance and because at the time I had not yet learned humility and thought if you were going to be my cat, you were going to be the prince of cats.

You arrived at a time of transition for me. I was leaving the “little shit” stage I had been passionately entrenched in since 1985 and your acquisition was just the first in a series of decisions I made in which more responsibility and less recklessness would be required.

Josh, Carmel and I decided to move to New Orleans and Louis, Nick and you came along.

Gish caught a parasite and died shortly before. Everybody loved Gish. He liked to go for car rides. He ate hamburgers. He never lost a fight. The night he died, the comet Hale-Bop was in full view in the sunset horizon. I wanted a cat like Gish but I got you.

You spent your time at our house in New Orleans off General Pershing ignoring the litter box and pissing in my closet. I was embarking on a life of responsibility and had my first salaried position and was in over my head stressed out all the time. I was working 60+hour work weeks and you were urinating in my closet three times a day. You did it so much my roommates wrote magnet poetry about it on the fridge. We had a litter box. You could have used it but didn’t.

You would get out from time to time and I would responsibly try to find you but you would never let me catch you, instead sitting just out of my reach, not coming to me, then running off when I tried to grab you.

At my wit’s end with the job and desperately needing something completely new, I gave up on my plan to be a hospitality manager and moved out to California to get an education and be a writer. Josh and Carmel very nicely agreed to keep you until I could bring you out.

They had to leave in a year and you needed to be transferred over to my parents’ house. I remember the day we went to pick you up to take them there my dad was meeting us at Josh and Carmel’s to help catch you because you always ran away. When he arrived he was already there he said he had already caught you and that it was quite easy and you were a very nice cat. I wasn’t surprised when I saw the cat my dad caught was actually Nick.

It took three of us quite a bit to catch you. It wasn’t easy. On you or us.

You lived with my parents for another four years. My mother loved you. My father didn’t. I would rarely see you when I came to visit. You went out at night on the lagoon and slept under the bed during the day. You wisely never pissed in their house. You probably knew what would have happened to you if you did.

Perhaps those nights on the lagoon were your glory years. Perhaps it was then, among the beavers and the toads and ducks and the snakes and the alligators and great blue herons, that you were great. Because all the rest of the time you just weren’t much of anything. Just there enough to be there and require care.

I abandoned California and came back to New Orleans with Romy and our new cat, a female named Talula. My parents house had been wiped out by Hurricane Ivan and they dutifully took care of you during the evacuation, the relocation and the rebuilding of their home. But my father made it clear that with his new, spotless home being built and with my being back in New Orleans, you would be returning to my custodianship.

When Hurricane Dennis came, my parents evacuated to New Orleans and brought you with them. When they went back home after the storm they left you with us. You christened our house by climbing up on the back of our new fabric couch and pissing on it. Then as we tried various techniques to get the acrid smell of your piss out, you pissed on the cushions as well. We threw out the couch.

You began pissing on any garment left on the floor and seldom if ever using the litter box. We had to throw out the bath mats and many, many winter mornings our cold, wet feet touched the chilly tile floor. You peed on rugs so, fine, no rugs. I bought a plastic one thinking you only peed on fabric but you peed on it too. Sometimes we couln’t find where you peed, only knew it was somewhere.

The very few times you attempted to use the litter box, you mostly just sat in it and pissed or shit off the side onto the floor. You didn’t know how to use it.

I began to develop a deep aversion to the acrid pheremonal smell of your urine. I hated it like I hate the smell of radiator water. It is always associated with something bad.

Hurricane Katrina came and when we evacuated with you you seemed to understand that you were not to piss on the floors of any of the homes we were staying at and used the litter box instead. I think maybe this was a notion of respect or intelligence but then why was the home we lived in together not treated the same?

After we returned from evacuation, feral dogs began killing cats in the neighborhood. I was awakened one night to them chasing you around under the house. I called out for you and found you in a tree across the street. I had to get a ladder out and get you because you wouldn’t come down. I didn’t like you but didn’t want you to go out like that.

by this time, Josh’s jet black cat Louis wandered off, never to be seen or heard of again.

A urine soaked year or two later, we found Doris. She was a very cute, sweet, friendly, smart, loyal, affectionate dog whom you hated. You intimidated her as much as you could. You would trap her in bedrooms by swatting at her nose when she tried to push the door open. With your deep ashy coloring you hid yourself in shadows and, like a Moray eel emerged from hiding and swiped at her as she joyfully went by. You would stand in doorways daring her to pass and she wouldn’t. She could have killed you easily but you owned her.

You began raping Talula late at night. Even though I had your testicles removed in 1998 you still felt the need to impose your feline masculinity on Talula by simulating the terrible feline sex act on her. Always waiting until Romy and I were in bed, under the covers, before you began your approach to her with guttural, repetitive meows. Stalking her, oblivious to her cries, you would pounce on her, biting the back of her neck while she hissed, wrestling her. Night after night, year after year you did this. You would come in at night, eat your wet food, wait until we went to bed and rape Talula. We always knew it was about to begin because you would chant, “Wow-wowww…wow-wowww…wow-wowww.” Then, rape.

You didn’t like to be held. If we would pick you up and try to be affectionate with you, you would just stare off into space looking uncomfortable and seeming to wish it was all over. Then when we put you down you would make sure to physically shake it off.

On rare occasions, our affection would make you purr but it was always barely detectable. Almost not there at all.

As we learned to not put any fabric or garment on the floor, you took to just urinating in the kitchen by the garbage can. For years, any morning after a night you spent in the house would begin with a yellow puddle of your piss in the kitchen. Most of the time I was lucky enough to see it but sometimes I went to the sink to get water at night and would step right in a puddle of your piss and it would instantly soak into my white athletic sock.

On some occasions, a sport coat or casual jacket I placed on a hamper or couch would fall on to the floor and you would piss on it. It would dry and then, in my haste out the door the following day, I would grab the garment and head to work or to errands or to some social event. With luck I would begin to smell your piss in the car and have to turn around. A few times I was left without a jacket because the one I chose had the unmistakable odor of cat pee.

I began to say the phrase “cat pee” so much that I envisioned a hip hop artist whose name was “Cat P.” Yo! Yo! This is Cat P all up in your area!

I think around this time you ceased to be Tybalt and became Mr. Tybs. One was a regal name and the other sounded like an old son of a bitch.

About the only thing sweet you did was greet us when we came home. But this was usually in the evening and you may have just been doing it as a way of saying, “Hooray, the people that feed me are here to feed me.”

You were often insistent about your food. Following Romy around or meowing until you were fed. Bothering me while I attempted to work. You were always sure that if I got up from my chair it must be to feed you and you marched into the kitchen. Then you became confused when I went to the bathroom and then returned.

Like a dolt, you would constantly eat your food too fast and then throw up. You threw up other times too. Many times I would be eating dinner and hear the thumping sound of your stomach contracting and then the liquidy release.

During these years, Elaine called to tell me she had her calico cat Simone put to sleep.

I tried to respect you and treat you like the elder of our tribe that you were. Not chronologically the oldest, true, but if lifespans were factored in, you were the oldest. I tried to respect that in spite of all the piss you showered onto our floors.

I heard around this time your twin brother, the mercurial Nick jumped out of a parked car window and ran off into a neighborhood. Maybe he is living with some nice old lady, maybe he was eaten by something. He was never heard from again. So barring the unlikely survival of Ashley’s cat Jelly, who was a few years older than you, you became the sole survivor of the cats of the Mad Mansion. You wore them all down you old, dumb fucker.

The last straw was the night you pissed on the electric outlet in the dining room. I was in the kitchen and heard the unmistakable sound of something shorting out. I followed the sound to the electrical outlet and as I got close, I stepped in a puddle of your acrid piss and it soaked my athletic sock. With a flashlight I examined the outlet and saw your piss all over the baseboard and inside the socket. I wondered why you weren’t electrocuted. I wished secretly that you had.

I must contrast this incident with one that happened around the same time. I was sleeping on the couch and a burglar was attempting to break in the next room. As he tried to remove the glass from a window, Doris instantly sprang to action and began barking loudly at the window. This scared the man and he fell off the ladder he was on and staggered off. See, one pet protected the home while the other put it in jeopardy. One pet is loving and sweet and requires little care and the other pet was you.

So it came time to put you out permanently. The electrical outlet incident and the years of piss were too much. I needed a piss-free environment for my sanity. You had plenty of chances to straighten up. Earlier this year, when the weather began to warm, you became a permanent outside cat. We had a fence built to keep you safe. You could stay on the front porch.

Your age was beginning to show by this time. Your teeth were bad. You had lost weight. Your muscles seemed weak. But of course, instead of shitting in the yard or in the bushes, you liked to shit right on the walkway we used every day. It of course attracted flies and smelled terrible. You could have shit somewhere else but instead you shit right where we always walked.

So we moved you to the back and you shit and pissed all over the concrete back there and it attracted flies also.

You developed some sort of jaw ailment that made noise each time you chewed.

You grew batty. You meowed a lot. Your meow became this raspy, incessant repeating meow. “Rawr. Rawr. Rawr. Rawr. Rawr. Rawr. Rawr. Rawr. Rawr. Rawr.” You always needed to be fed. You would escape the yard and wander around the neighbor’s yards. You would find wherever we were in the house and sit under the floorboards where we were and… “Rawr. Rawr. Rawr. Rawr. Rawr. Rawr. Rawr. Rawr. Rawr. Rawr.”

Your hair began falling out.

People began to recoil at the sight of you.

Friends began telling me I needed to put you down and that you were obviously suffering. You were still eating so that was good. And how did they know if you were suffering?

And then last week you didn’t come to dinner and we assumed you went off to die. But the smell that showed up on Saturday night proved there was no wandering off at all. Romy found you and cried. I didn’t.

I had to crawl under the house and get you. I brought an old cotton sheet and just grabbed you hrough it and rolled you up in it like a joint.

We buried you in the backyard. Romy insisted on digging the hole. We planted a century plant on top of you. Lit a candle out by your grave and it stayed lit all night in spite of a cold, damp mist in the air.

You raped. You pissed. You shit. You puked. You harassed. You slept. You scratched. You didn’t love me and I didn’t love you back.

And you lived for 17 years.

Romy believes that pets are our charge and that above all we must always do what we can to care for them. I believe that they are there to bring us joy and love and comfort and they should never cease to do so. You were certainly the former and I think you knew it or were too dumb to know otherwise. You were not the latter for damn sure.

The most significant thing about you was you were indeed a living link to a person I no longer am. I was 23 when I got you and am 40 now. You represented a span of my life that perhaps rivals even my childhood in the amount of change and growth I went through. You were the first attempt at responsibility I really undertook all on my own and I saw it through despite just how ambivalent I was toward you. With a lot of help from friends and family we saw it through for you.

You little fuck.

This summer past… wait, is Summer over yet? Let me rephrase. This past August, I stopped working in yellow pine. Just plain yellow pine and plywood and all construction-grade wood that really is in abundance, I stopped salvaging it and stopped using it in my work. This is the stuff you get at Home Depot or any manufactured lumber store. It’s young wood, very easy to use, versatile. The plywood in particular was very useful because large shapes like these angels could all be cut out of one piece. Yellow pine can be used used for lucrative pieces of art that really stand out on a wall.

Yellow pine is a great return on investment also. A single 5′ 2×4 could yield a dozen or so pinehead sculptures and they sold on Jackson Square for $30. And these 2x4s are laying around everywhere. They stick out of dumpsters, sit on the side of the road, take up space in people’s sheds. Make a conscious effort to note every time you see a useless 2×4 and you’ll know what I mean. Yellow pine is great stuff for a salvaged wood artist. It’s the same stuff people build houses with except at some point its status has been transformed from “construction materials” to “salvaged wood” simply by it being left, abandoned or tossed out. So one can easily see how useful and abundant it is.

So, I’m not going to use it anymore.

There are a few reasons for this.

One is that I am trying to stand out a little further from the growing number of slavaged wood artists around New Orleans and the rest of the country. Let’s be honest, salvage works two ways. It saves the artists money on materials and gives the buyer a reason to buy since they become less of a mindless consumer and more of contributor to recycling. Win /win for both. So many artists are now doing it and that is a good thing for the world.

For particular artists however, it just washes out their particular appeal a little bit more. Comes with the territory. The Universe giveth and taketh away. Artists needs to do something to make themselves stand out other than the salvage, generally related to the content of the pieces. I certainly try to do that as much as possible and my being a bit of a twisted fuck has certainly helped. But I wanted to do something more.

So this is where the switch comes in. In less abundance around New Orleans is the very beautiful swamp wood cypress and its antique counterpart heart pine. These woods are special in a few ways.

Firstly because of their age. Growth rings within them almost always reveal a few centuries of growth. Customers who buy them often don’t realize they just bought the oldest thing they may ever own. Also, they are beautiful. Both cypress and heart pine have amazing textures and colors that transcend yellow pine. Third, they used to be houses. It’s not like these pieces of wood were just leftover from some job site. These were actually in New Orleans housing stock and usually functioned in a home for 100 years in addition to the two or three centuries they grew as a tree. The genesis of the piece really began before the Untied States was even a country. I love that and it’s easier to sell to people also.

Cypress and heart pine is indeed more difficult to find though. But I don’t mind that so much. It gives me a reason to hunt for it. I live in Algiers Point, one of New Orleans oldest ‘hoods. Renovations happen. A lot of the cypress I am using right now cam from my own renovation. But still, there is a certain thrill to the hunt. And clients like to think of me bumping around New Orleans in a truck collecting the stuff.

But, my oh my, is it fun to work with. Cypress cuts easy, smells great and leaves a fine, fine sawdust. Heartpine fights you the whole way, dulls your blades, has knots that seems impossible to saw through. It’s ornery but it is strong. I love it for that.

Clients like it also. I have displayed it on the Square for a few weeks now and they are responding to it. Paying full price and recognizing its beauty. Which is nice.

So from now on. Only antique woods, rarer woods and found objects. No more plywood or yellow pine. If you have a piece that contains this stuff, congratulations. You have a bit of a collectors item.

Some pieces using all cypress are below..

2013-10-12 13.12.21

2013-10-12 13.12.06

2013-10-12 11.19.48

2013-10-12 13.13.21

2013-10-04 10.23.23

Many times I have heard Saints season ticket holder Pants tell of the goings on in Section 617 in the Superdome. And he has written about it well enough over the years. But I just wanted to add a few observations about it from an outsider’s perspective. I mean, I felt like a freshman up there. It felt exotic. It was a micro environment. I loved it.

A few observations…null

I just call it Section 6000, Seat 6000 because that really drives home just how far up and back this place is. It’s like an outpost. The beer vendors are Himalayan sherpas in the off season. But I will add that it is not so far back that you couldn’t see Rob Ryan on the sideline. Pants did mention that Rob Ryan and the Great Wall of China are the only two human-made objects that can bee seen from space. And you can see Rob from space even when he is inside. Just think about that. That’s how much he sticks out. I have heard of, and even experienced one for myself, many Rob Ryan sightings all over New Orleans since his arrival. People think he’s a man about town but really, Sean Payton or Drew Brees or Pierre Thomas could scoot on past unnoticed but there is no mistaking Rob Ryan when you see him. No one says, “You know, I think I saw Rob Ryan today…” Never happens.

But I digress. Back to Section 6000, Seat 6000.

First, because it is so high up in the Dome, with your back literally against the wall, there is no fuller a view of the field. I know this sounds like poor folks making tricandilles out of pig parts but there is something truly unique about having a full scope of the field. Everyone always wants to be up close and there is certainly an enjoyment to be had by being by the action. Sounds are clearer for example. But, with an expansive view of the field one can not help but analyze the science of the game. You see who was open on what play. You see how offenses and defenses line up. You see plays unfold before they happen because you know where all 22 guys are at all times. On television, a player with the ball is running downfield and tacklers just sort of fly into the shot. But at the game, especially from Section 6000, Seat 6000 you can see whether a guy is going to break the play or not almost from the moment they get the ball. You can see the line move when a rusher takes the ball and you know if it is going to be a big gain or not.

Then there is the wall. The wall of the Dome is at your back. And nobody cares if you bang the shit out of it. Or at least no one cares if someone cares. This is really something special to a guy like me who loves the spirit of things, who gets caught up in the atoms all around us. I mean the Superdome itself is your noisemaker. This hallowed ground. This scene of so much history. This chamber of a million magic moments…and Katrina. There was a certain strange intimacy to it and I banged the fuck out of that wall before every defensive play and after every score just because I could. I bruised both thumbs (incidentally, the thumbs are the second celebration related injury I have sustained. I sprained or strained or did something to my rotator cuff high-fiving after the 2009 NFC Championship).

Nobody sits down. The people in Section 6000, Seat 6000 stand up the whole game. Because they can. No one can complain because they aren’t obstructing anyone. So why sit when you can stand right? It ups the intensity.

And there is a sense of certain lawlessness up there. Nobody got rowdy or anything but I had the feeling you could get away with a little bit more because any law would have to make a trip just to get up there to sort the thing out. If it wasn’t already sorted out by the time they arrived. I mean, I felt bad making the beer man climb up there. You could probably smoke cigarettes up there if you wanted.

Due to the architecture of the Dome, there are all sorts of little nooks where you can put your beer or cocktail or whatever. It’s very loungy.

And within the micro-environment there is this sub-culture. I know season-ticket holders develop relationships with other ticket-holder in the same section. But this being the Machu-Picchu of the Superdome, it felt a little more special. The group in front of us (who looked to be fellow card carrying members of the National Liquor Lobby) had special songs they sung after a particular player scored or had a big play. And they were singing the Sproles one quite a lot this night. I gathered that you could maybe substitute any song that had the word “roll” or “rolls” in it and substitute “Sproles.” For instance “Sprole With It,” “Sprollin On The River” or “Like a Sprolling Stone.” Though, I never actually confirmed this and was quite spirited. And the fella in this group who seemed to be the leader had one of the most fashionable DIY Saints outfits I have ever seen. He was also quite spirited in all usages of the word.

Many thanks to my host, the “Crunk Crown” sporting Ros for allowing me into this realm.

French Market Corp. hires Jon Smith as executive director after first pick declines job over salary dispute

The first four paragraphs of this story are reminiscent of some passive aggressive cocktail party conversation. It’s all like, “Well…she KNEW we weren’t trying to pay her that much and, we ARE just a “public benefits corporation” that “returns a portion of its revenues each year to the city” so, why was she asking for more?

We don’t know because she didn’t return calls for comment.

Anyway…

That’s not what this post is about. But I should at least give Jon Smith one bit of advice, be very fucking careful with those parking lot contracts!

What should be stated here of course, the obligatory “wants to transform the flea market into a place known more for art made in New Orleans and Louisiana than a dumping ground for cheap products largely made overseas.”

This is what everyone has seemed to want for the French Market for years and years, presumably back into the days when the thing began to change in the first place. I don’t know the history of it and how it happened but its return is an ideal that even an idealistic person may begin to think is increasingly more and more unlikely simply based on the fact that the French Market is actually fine the way it is. People shop there. They buy stuff. There are local artists. I remember there were local artists there in the ’90s. Not every vendor is all that great. Most aren’t. But it seems there is an effort to change people’s tastes simply by not offering them any choice and that won’t work.

Let’s say that everyone’s dream comes true and the tenure system is dissolved, people who have built their lives around it go away and the market becomes open and available for local artisans. I mean, no cheap Chinese crap, all local artists. Are there enough to fill it to the level of revenue it generates now? Will Bywater H-words and their sorta local crafts be enough to provide the revenue the vendors of cheap Chinese crap do? Will visitors be appreciative of this?

And let’s be honest. The tenure system and the expulsion of the current vendors is going to be next to impossible. They sued last time and I didn’t blame them. Sucks that it was set up like an oil field in the past with no real future plans in place but that’s how it went down. And when Jon Smith says, “People will either come along for the ride or phase themselves out and once their leases or contracts are up they are free to go if they don’t want to work within the grand vision of the market” Sounds like a big “fuck you” to them. Unless I am reading it wrong. Forecast: Shitstorm. And really, a shitstorm for something that really isn’t as horrible as it is made out to be. Efforts to improve it have worked to some extent.

And let’s talk about this dream, this return to the way the French Market used to be before 9/11, I mean Katrina.. I mean…wait, what happened to destroy it? I am assuming it went away because systems weren’t in place to protect it (like they are in Jackson Square I might add). But was it even sustainable economically anymore? So I don’t see how a return to it could really be supported economically. But, it is a good thing to say if you want a little love from the folks you have to live around so it was a smart thing for Jon Smith to say. And maybe he is going to give it a go, who knows? It sounds hard and the end result will have a dubious benefit. I wouldn’t be too heavy handed.

Sure a nice genuine Farmer’s Market will seem to fill the needs of French Quarter and Bywater and Marigny residents but really, how often are they truly looking for local art? Every weekend? A few times a week? As an artist, I can say I sell to quite a number of locals. They sustain me some months. But visitors are the meat and potatoes. So they need to be considered. And they do sometimes buy the cheap Chinese crap too.

Of course, full disclosure. I AM a local artisan. And I actually don’t mind cheap Chinese crap. I try not to buy it and do well at that. But above all, it makes me and my art look better. I am not losing money to cheap Chinese crap because those who buy it were never going to buy my art in the first place. I look at most of my customers as having been destined to buy my or a few select others’ art and pretty much nothing else. It’s a slim, slim margin I work but I net gains from it. And all the cheap crap in China simply provides the negative space that my recycled architectural salvage shines against.

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

 

 

 

 

 

I’m donating a piece of art to the medical fund for the great Big Red Cotton. For all she has done for us over the years. This is a great opportunity to get a soulful piece of art for a good cause. Details below:

100% of the final sale price will go to her fund.

The piece is large, approximately 4′x4′.
 
It is on 1/2″ plywood, painted and carved and mounted with found objects.
 
To get an idea of the scale, the eyes are made from gallon paint can lids.
 
The piece is titled “it’s alright to be afraid (sometimes)” and addresses the acceptability of anxiety and the true nature of bravery.
 
I thought it would be an excellent piece to donate due to the event and the ongoing issue of street violence within the culture of New Orleans.
 
I will deliver to local buyers.
 
National buyers will need to arrange shipping.

I get this a lot. It’s difficult to answer but, I’ll try and explain it here for the first time. Stream of consciousness style. I have fore a while just insisted that I’m not a “real reverend.” Meaning I just don’t think I am in a position to advise people on pious living. But then I thought…fuck pious living. Especially by someone else’s definition of it.

Be a good person. Don’t be perfect. Accept yourself and always try to improve. Be respectful of others so long as they are respectful of you. Turn the other cheek when you feel the urge but if you aren’t feeling it, don’t. Understand your unconscious and don’t always fight it but let your conscious win some battles also.

So now it occurs to me that, given the low standard of spiritual leadership in the world today, I might as well go ahead and assume the model for my friends and loved ones who, honestly, don’t need much anyway.

It’s like being a weatherman in San Diego.

That said, I’d like to just briefly explain how things are and perhaps always will be…or perhaps won’t.

……………….

Sermons…

Why use that word? Sermon? So closely connected with Christianity?

Because I tend to believe all the religions of the world are one. They all essentially bestow the same values. Some have been twisted to control others or profit financially but, within them all are certain basic human philosophies. So, like they borrow each other’s words, traditions and myths, so shall I. And sermon is a great Southern way to describe what we are doing. And they take place in front of St. Louis Cathedral often. So why not borrow that from Christianity? Let’s take it.

In fact, the basic framework of Christianity is mostly appropriated because it is so familiar to people. It certainly is repulsive to some and the systems of religion are certainly to blame for that. By using sermon to describe these simple missives, perhaps we can make the word a little more benign that the demonizing, pious works of the past. And having Christian structure is actually more comforting to some.

There is no higher power required to understand the 86 sermons I’ve written over the last few years. They are not inclusive or exclusive of Jesus, Buddha, snake gods, Zeus,Vishnu, R’hllor or any other deity. They are as they are. And they aren’t complicated either. I call it “bacon and eggs” spirituality. It’s just breakfast. A simple philosophy backed up by a gospel from science or literature or some spiritual text. It doesn’t require “faith” and it is all take it or leave it,with no threat of Hell or Heaven or anything else.

But that’s not to say I don’t reject those concepts. I just think of them more terrestrially. I think every one of us has a uniqueness to explore. “Heaven” so to speak is realizing that uniqueness and doing with it the most you can do to define your experience on Earth before it becomes a cinder or a lifeless rock (whichever of those two outcomes you happen to believe). Hell is not doing that. Evil is not doing that.

And all the sermons eventually contradict each other because there is simple no way to have any one construct of thought that exists through all instances of space-time. No one thing is ever the same for long. All actions will be swept away with time yet the entire Universe is changed forever after each one. If a particular sermon hits a particular person in a particular way on a particular day –  amazing. If it doesn’t, no big deal. Because there will be another one that might.

And the gospels we draw them from can be from anywhere. We’ve used a variety of them. My favorites are Emily Dickinson, William Blake, Carl Sagan, Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung. But we have looked for meaning in Charles Bukowski, Stephan J. Gould, Lyle Saxon, neuroscientist David Eagleman. Even Drew Brees was a gospel as he coped with losing to the 49ers in 2012. There is meaning in everything. It is all human experience.

So the sermons are composed from previously published texts and mean all sorts of things. None of them too deep. All very comprehendable by anyone. They simply provide an opportunity to stop and think about oneself. Usually for only a few moments but, it’s a stopping point at least. Sort of a brief reset. A few minutes to say, “Consider your existence. Maybe the thought will reappear and develop into something more hours, days, years later. Maybe it won’t. This reverend only intends to deliver it. His work is finished there. No change necessary.

And of course, I am not the only one who can pick gospels. Anyone can and several have.

And I try not to say “do this” or “dont do this” as much as possible. No absolutes. Absolutes bad.

The Reverend…

I will admit it would be a funny thing to do to sell folk art at first. But I quickly realized I had myself pinned into a crisis of legitimacy.

So after decades of thinking critically about my existence in my spare time, I figured I could do it on a more applied basis.

What’s most important to dismiss is that myself as the “reverend” does not and should not communicate that I am somehow more enlightened than anyone else. I’m not.

Most who know me know my struggles and shortcomings. Some probably more than I do. But, I am dedicated to thought, free and critical thought in myself and others. And I am willing to devote a little time on Sundays to just explore thought and share it with others, consider ways to think and things to consider. If one is doing this already, one extra instance shouldn’t matter. If someone feels they should do it more, here is an opportunity. It couldn’t hurt. Might help.

I don’t have it in my head that I am the only person who can show people the way as many of the more, ahem, successful reverends have done. I’m just like a grill cook at a diner. Providing the proteins and carbs of spiritual thought. No saffron or truffle oil, just salt, pepper and hot sauce.

And what I have discovered in the last few years is people like having a reverend. Especially one that doesn’t judge or threaten to send them to Hell or believe in “spooky” stuff. People love the ritual of religion but hate the piety and dogma. They want the frosting and not the cake. And while that euphemism often means doing something you don’t want to do to get what to something you do, it’s not necessary in this scenario. You can jump right into the frosting.

And a lot of times people want someone to say a few things. Toasts, house blessings, marriages, birthdays, people recognize the ritual and importance of these things and just want someone to think of something nice or poignant and a “bacon and eggs” minister can provide that.

I have been surprised at how much people really enjoy the ritual of our Sunday readings on Jackson Square. For a few weeks, I was doing the sermons privately with different people because it was harder and harder to get everyone gathered. But people said they hated it and insisted on one public reading with everyone gathered and they would put up with waiting on each other. I was surprised that the ritual was so valued.

There is also the delivering of resin spirit animals and lately, the more refined act of creating folk art weaponry for people who regularly attend sermons. These are just benefits for showing up. No real precedent for this stuff. Just part of the ritual.

Of course there is a bit of an issue relating to my being “ordained.” Yes, I did get a pretty much meaningless ordination from the the Universal Life Church, something that pretty much anyone can get and many have gone ahead and gotten. In my defense I did get the entire ordination package.

I knew there were some legitimacy issues that needed to be rectified regarding this. Not relating to the state (who will let me marry someone legally) but with everyone else. People who ask, “What kind of a reverend are you?”

So that’s where the sermons come in. It’s hard to argue with 86 sermons, written and delivered, sometimes with annotations as to who attended and what their reactions were. Anyone who does take umbrage with it will first need to explain how ANY minister or reverend has the standing in the Universe to do what they do. Because I’m at least doing as much as many of them. And for no money.

This last one is most important. I never, ever, ever-ever-ever-ever-ever hope to hold myself up as any sort of sterling example to be admired. No, no, no. I am in no way up to the task. No man or woman ever was. Not even the ones you think were. Just give up on the concept. I am an “irreverent reverend” and always intend to be. I like cussing, boobs and butts, drinking, carousing, honking my horn and all sorts of lowborn activity. . It’s the “revel” part of “Live, love, revel, rejoice.” All this allowed in the Spirit anyway

Oh right, the Spirit!

The “Spirit”

If I had to pin down any one philosophy it would be this simple one:

Know yourself.

Know the Universe.

Know yourself in the Universe.

That seems pretty simple and hard for anyone to really debate. It’s not exclusive of anything. It’s a search, a personal “Hero’s Journey.   There are simpler “ways of our way” of course. “Be skeptical,” “Think critically,” “Be here now,” “Rituals are important,” “Own thy struggles.” These are all just good advice. But mainly, most things are about your hero’s journey. And of course living, loving, reveling and rejoicing along the way.

But all this does leave some folks out; People who are suffering. People so far away from self actualization because they are at the base of Maslos hierarchy of needs. And I just don’t know that a “bacon and eggs” reverend can really take that on. It would fall under “Know the Universe” as in “Know the CRUEL Universe” and do what you are in the position to do to help. As the 5/12/2013 gospel by Albert Camus said, Perhaps we cannot prevent this world from being a world in which children are tortured. But we can reduce the number of tortured children. And if you don’t help us, who else in the world can help us do this?

The closest thing to a real religion would be the ethics-based Humanism.  There is a value placed on the self, on the dignity of the human. A bit different than Secular Humanism because I’m not quite so hung up on attacking other spiritualities so much. Only when they are used to oppress or demean others. But, I have a lot in common with humanism. And it has a lot in common with the more empowering and just plain decent aspects of the world’s religions.

……

So that’s what kind of reverend I am. A very simple soul. Not essentially ordained by anyone. No better than anyone. Not contrasting himself with others by greatness or wretchedness, without zealotry, allegiance, fanaticism, fealty,  ethnocentricity,  jingoism, narrowness or sanctity. A friend to most. Not a leader by example by any means. Just a few sentences to contemplate per week, weather permitting.

Am I a bit crazy or egotistical or living in some fantasy realm?

Yes!

But conformity stifles creativity

And thinking a lot of oneself is fine with me. So long as it doesn’t come with superiority. We are all magnificent or can be at least.

And sometimes the imagined world is better than the real one.

We should all be explorers of self, the stars and self in the stars.

I’m not trying to lead the way but hope to help.

A portrait of the Beowulf monster Grendel as he is written in the 1971 novel “Grendel.” Title of the piece is lifted from a line in the book. Composition is directly depicted from cover portrait on paperback version of the novel by Emil Antonucci.

On rough-hewn heart pine wall stud salvaged in New Orleans.

Original painting by Antonucci below…

'Betty and the black dog' by Varg Vargas on salvaged Indian wooden cabinet door, spray paint and found objects.

A few times a year, for no emotional reason, out of nowhere, I get depressed. My “medicine man” theory is that it is tied into my gut and there is certainly some science to back that up. My genetic bad stomach is often acting up around the same time the depression shows up and the chemical difference along with the symptoms of the tummy trouble generates the glum. Again, just my theory.

Winston Churchill called his bouts with depression, his “black dog” and though it wasn’t he who originated it (Wikipedia credits his childhood nanny), his use of it helped spread the metaphor. It seems to me the use of the black dog probably sprang from British folk lore in which black dogs were used to symbolize more than anything else, apparitions and death. Both metaphors are apt. The ghost symbol fits because the condition seems to be controlled by something else, something unseen and beyond control. The death symbol fits because life seems not worth living. More on the latter a few paragraphs down.

During my unfortunate descents into chemical depression, I am allowed by the Universe to walk around in the skin of a person who can’t just “snap out of” their mood by going on a roller coaster ride or for a long walk on the levee or buying a pair of boots.

It’s pretty terrifying.

The most disheartening aspect of the black dog is the immediate awareness of it upon waking. In the first few moments of the morning (or early afternoon), I know it’s there. It’s not a physical feeling like a headache or a sore throat. It’s not within my five senses. I feel it, but not on my skin. It’s a presence, like something pressing down on me. This is a pretty accurate image.

I call the first few minutes of any day my “coming to terms.” Overnight, I have departed this Universe and ventured out into the ethereal and, upon waking, returned again. In that first 15 minutes, the Universe is recreated again and I sort through what has been unsorted. Is it all the same? What’s different? Where will I go. What will I do? What has happened? For the depressed person, this space is occupied by the black dog convincing them that getting out of bed would be the worst thing they could possibly do. There is defeat from the onset.

So they eventually rise and the black dog follows. They walk around with what I call “the filter.” A mask over everything that makes it all shit. A very dangerous, utterly uncondensed philosophy that consumes everything. All colors are desaturated. All enthusiasm is unwarranted. It’s all a cliche. Everything is finite and meaningless. Songs ring flat. Supper can’t be indulged. Company is a hardship, awkward. Relationships strained. Most bitterly for me, I see the Earth is as it will inevitably will be, a lifeless ashen rock. Then, just behind the bright faces of my friends and family are the images of their fetid, rotting corpses. Children are not the hopeful energetic inspirations but rather wheelchair bound and broken.

And this is everywhere. The black dog is a loyal dog. It follows.

Gratefully, I am only visited by it perhaps twice a year, sometimes less and never for very long. Whatever brings it, takes it away and I have not been able to conjure up why it enters or leaves. Some suggest probiotics will balance out the production of serotonin in my lower GI tract. Imagine that. I swallow little sprites that I go into my gut and fix my soul. Our Universe is so folk. We think sometime sit isn’t but it is.

There are so many others for whom the black dog is a regular visitor.

Its wiser, more knowing companions know it well. And they endure it with a bedrock truth that its effect on them is just a spell. A “spell” that is something they are under the influence of but also a “spell” that is something that will go away with time. They will eventually “come around” but certainly can’t “snap out of it.” But after many years and many visitations, they never do really overcome it as much as they simply just endure. They often bravely forgo medication because it makes them robots, incapable of feeling anything at all.

But younger people, whose human spiritual development has been arrested because of this black dog, who perhaps don’t have the spiritual armor against it, who perhaps don’t have supporting figures in their lives, who are misunderstood, who are self medicated, seeking solace, who have been victimized, whose failure to thrive proceeds for decades, for these sons and daughters the black dog’s visitation is most delicate and critical. They forgo medicine for ego, convinced nothing is wrong.

I have so much empathy for them all. To help me cope with this, I made “betty and the black dog.” Beware the black dog brothers and sisters.

After five years of working alongside, being associated with and thankfully developing friendships with visual artists, and since I avoided art school where perhaps a lot of this comes from, I find myself a bit vexed by a certain impulse I’ve noticed in them from time to time: Many deeply want to commodify their work, desperately want to commodify their imagery. And I don’t mean make a lot of money creating work after work of art and developing a great body of work in collections everywhere. I mean the opposite. I mean transforming their imagery into aprons, coffee cups, calendars, greeting cards, puzzles…schlock basically.

This isn’t the growing development of an artist through years and years. It’s getting good enough to create a singular image that everyone wants and then just creating that image over and over again for as much money as possible.

I can certainly see why. It’s more money for less work, an enterprise I have jokingly said I have desired for many years. You create one image that gives people their emotional need (“This New Orleans scene makes me soooo happy! It reminds me of when I was there!”) with their practical need (“How am I going to keep this food from getting all over my clothes? I know!  An apron!”) and that is where art gets very lucrative. But it certainly isn’t the only way to do so. Look at Rodrigue, who has done well for himself while doing his best to control his imagery and, time-after-time, rejecting the commodification of his Blue Dog image. But then, the richest painter of all time did indeed do this and made a ton of money in the process. Though, he wasn’t spiritually rich.

I always wondered why Rodrigue never made a Blue Dog plush. Now I know. He “kept it real.”

What has happened time after time though, in conversation after conversation with artists, has been this alpha priority, over being compelled by the Muse, to commodify the art from the get-go. There is no bliss following. I have even spoken with a fellow salvaged-wood artist who was looking into making resin renderings of his wooden wall hanging sculptures. That’s fake, plastic salvaged wood made in China. Some artists want to find that image that sells and mass produce it either by making those awful “series” of prints or by putting it on as many Chinese-produced products as possible. Ties, mousepads, iPhone covers, if you can put R2-D2 on it, they would put their art on it. At that point, is it really art anymore? Or is it a product? And is the artist a producer?

For something to be mass-produced and to be successful, it needs to be a pretty tame image. It can’t really challenge you in any way. And it must be consistently appealing. So no one is really evoked. The person buying it is safe. The artist / producer is safe. Whoever the third party is, is safe.

And let’s not forget this third party. Or the fourth party. Or however many parties there are going to be between the artist and the buyer. By the time the art lands in the buyer’s hands there will be such a separation between the artist and buyer they will relate to each other about as much as they relate to the Chinese factory worker making the shit.

And I suppose that is ultimately what is bothersome to me about mass produced art and it’s commodification. It’s also why Jackson Square or any outdoor market is such a great place to buy and sell art. There is a direct connection between the artist and the Universe he or she is tasked with capturing . You meet the people and if you did your job right, you exchange an idea or two with them. It’s suspicious to me why this richness would want to be exchanged for some other kind.

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