I was just thinking about how my Father loved New Orleans. The stories he would share about being stationed there during the army for training. What a place to do your hardcore survivor stunts. He spoke about being paired up with a wonderful fella who also had relatives in the Hoosier Appalachians. They dined with crocodiles. My Father was raised with all chefs, cooks and musicians from New Orleans and La. ad nauseum where the trinity means “bell peppers, onions and….”
How I remember him telling me that his army buddy and him to dropped from where Jimi Hendrix kissed the sky into the backwoods somewhere in La. They had to survive for two months on literally zero. You cannot imagine having a Dad who was an Army Sargent. He would say if you don’t clean up your room you gonna have to hunt down a gofer and eat it for dinner. In fact if you don’t catch one and skin it? No pancakes on Sunday. I fainted.
During the real survivor mode, not the TV series, I shudder with pride and amazement. They lived eating skunks, crocodiles, bobcats, snakes, bees, bark, berries, insects and managed to show up Daniel Boon and the Last of Mohawks. Two months!
After the ordeal of sleeping in the swamps? His army buddy said now your gonna meet my kin. Oh boy! I treasure my Fathers stories. I’m sure they could make a novella vignette of short films.
One story that stands out is not the boxing in the brigs but the dances. The beautiful ladies that got gussied up for meet and greets. My Father said you walked into the barn and it had a distinct smell of apricot pies, crystalline sugary glistening pale ecru cookies. Cherry gobsmacking candies and the haunting smell of twirling fish and duck swimming in a lusty gumbo. Strangely haunting there was no pickled okra? There was no paled lace cuffs handing you pecan pies? Where did the elusive smell of overstuffed orchid pods hail from? The sweet music of vanilla.
Like the ghost of bakery sweets there were no buttery sins. My Father asked Antoine what is this sweet heart beat that scents the skies and lacquers the barn walls? Antoine laid out the shake down. He said well Jimmy, women around these parts don’t have money for fine French perfume. They want to show there best Sunday go meetin smiles anyway so they douse their pretty fingers with vanilla baking extract and put it behind their ears and pulse regions. My Father smiled. He sure could bake up a storm.
I so loved that story and it has given me courage, humor and hope all of my life.
Working in N.Y. is not all that different from being stationed in the Bermuda triangle. Sometimes and I had my share of lemon pay cheques, which bounced like a spicy Baton Rouge- grilled cheese sandwich, with an ice tea made of crocodile tears, that’ll bounce as high as the World Trade Center sadly.
Once I had upwards of 7 pay checks that I could not cash. I was just about to eat some cat food but thank goodness not a bob cat and the only question would be could I afford Purina or Puppy chow. My credit cards were going into debt and I could no longer afford health insurance payments. I show up for work and she runs off with the dough. I smiled all day as I slung around the Pheonix oolong to Temi, Sikkim, Darjeeling tea leaves with the Buddha statues smiling and her cash register singing. I gave up my good job at the Metropolitan Museum for a Royal Scam. The good news is that I can sling tea leaves like Jessie James and Wyatt Herb too and this experience has given me strength of paying dues no business school could ever compare. Still a gal friday’s gotta eat. My pride and Japanese loyalty has either nearly gotten me killed but most of all awful hungry cooking school is next!
All the while I knew I would never get lunch nor have money for dinner. She would proclaim, my hard knock employer that times were hard and she could give my job easily to someone who would work 10x as hard and for 10x less! That there were starving people from countries that had to eat human beings like Chikatilla! How I feel for those emigrants like my Mother whom come to America to get abused by unscrupulous employers.
I remembered that if my Father could survive on eating skunks and bobcats for the free world? I too could devise a scheme to get these damn rubber checks cashed. When it was pay day all 20 employees would line up and growl at each other at the bank teller line. You felt as if you were a land lubber about to walk the plank. I had developed seriously anemia and thyroid disorders and bled profusely sometimes, but I said so what! It’s New York, New York and I love my family beloved and were gonna eat somehow. The best schools are here, I can starve in front of the great Rodin’s, Monets, Francis Bacons and try on diamond earrings at Bergdorfs and be fashionably skinny.
I said I know just what I am gonna do! I went next door to the Duane Reade next to the bank with employees lined up like the Depression era soup kitchen. I said this time it’s my turn! She had just so much she would keep in her account and it was like Claude Van Damn in the tattoo greasy inmate crib. We had to fight to the death to eat and it was horrific. She pitted each employee against the other until we felt like we were all crazed rocky racoons. This was how she kept control. Most of the time I just let other people cash there checks. I know how to survive. Not this time! So, I said maybe If I look enchanting and oh but there is some vanilla perfume! Vanilla extract. I said well it can’t hurt and I opened it up and poured it in my hair and I put on lipstick like cherry pies. I help my breath shaking and I waltzed passed the soup kitchen line aka bank teller line of tea prisoners heh heh.
I decided to pretend that I was going to get a loan. I walked to the back of the bank and opened up my compact and checked my cherry pie red lacquer lips. I winked at myself in the mirror and said here goes and whoah Nellie…. I sauntered past the bank manager with a trail of vanilla invisible cookies. He looks up and says who is that, that smells like cookies and pies! I laughed and said it was me but suddenly I was so shamed. I looked at my friends in line who had turned into beasts. I broke into tears and my mascara ran down the Veranzzano bridge like Kiss of the Spider woman. I broke down and told him this cannot go on. You have to do something about this. He looked at me smelling like cookies so confused.
He say’s ok, Ok, I will call her. Usually, you can see that some tellers of lesser character relish the propects of denying you your pay. How easy it is turn to turn people into animals and wolves. She used to call up and say who could get paid and who could not. This fine gentleman had character and chutzpah. He said I am going to pay all of the employees today and hold payment on her next deposits. My Mother used to manage Bank of America and so I said oh Mommy is giving me good luck and a crows feather in my cap of humility but also of nobility. That day we fought for our dinners and won! So, I say thank you to that New Orleans Vanilla perfume!
My Father played all manner of woodwinds and specialized in bebop arrangments of Parker but I loved the Italian Jazz. The muffelatas, the Louis Prima’s and the post man who turned Sax player Sam Butera. In the end it is the music within that we must dance to and hop scotch with to get us thru rings of fire sometimes in the Midnights of our lives of good and evil. How my Father loved all the film and culture of New Orleans.
I must thank Le Blog de SoVeNa for this wonderful collection of Clarence. My Dad was raised by women from New Orleans and root work from Hoodoo to Voodoo suffuses or permeated their lives. You did not have to be a witch or a Madame Laveau! It’s simply part of the everyday culture to believe that there simply is more to life than meets the eye. I feel that enigmatic whistling of triple worlds in Clarence’s work. The beauty of a land rich with so many Gods’ The land was settled by French Catholics to Creole Africans and Latino rhythms. My Father had a strange superstition about shopping in second hand or Antique stores. He felt that the pieces had soul which lived on beyond it’s owners. That art was impregnated with spirits. He would say for all you know I might buy a belt buckle with dragons on it from a second hand store and go home and my wife might fight me and all because of that damn belt buckle!
I’d say Daddy that’s ridiculous! He’d say well did I ever tell you about the time…. So many stories and so little time. I will say that my Father’s favorite past time was junking it up with yard sales and antiques and the radar set to ward off spiders and insects he bought from some own twilight zone science kit sure back fired. He was fast asleep with his third wife and they wake up and the bed was filled with spiders and bugs! I laughed until the crows flew back to Burma. I said, well Daddy sometimes you gotta eat humble pie and he smiled. Better unplug that radar set and dance wearing vanilla perfume.
I love these photos so much!