Poppy’s Drag Brunch Heats Up

On Thursday August 9, I packed up my truck for my usual trip to Ohio. I started to pack it around 6:15 a.m. to try to beat the heat and the street parade of hustlers eyeing my stuff. Even with that, the sweat that ran down my back and arms from the humidity and baked in heat of the asphalt made it clear that there would be no relief. As for the guy who threw trash into my truck bed, I told him off and even though he ambled off the block with a finger raised over his head, I felt better.  As Walt Whitman said, agitation is the most important factor of all.

That heat, the fact that I work from a laptop at home, and have a sister who has a generous nature and a comfortable home on the shores of one of the Great Lakes, means the pull to leave for a while is too great for me to resist.

But even though I am gone-pecan until the true fall arrives sometime in Mid-November with its wonderful slate of outdoor events and the arrival of citrus season, it doesn’t mean that New Orleans is ever far from my mind. I’ll continue to post about events and issues and have momentary pangs of homesickness too.

This is one event that I am sorry to miss:

Book signing with author Poppy Tooker
August 31, 2019 | 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
The Shop at The Collection, 520 Royal Street
Admission to the event is free. The book retails for $29.99
and supports Crescent Care.
Join radio personality, author, and culinary activist Poppy Tooker as she and some special guests sign copies of her forthcoming book Drag Queen Brunch on Saturday, August 31, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at The Shop at The Collection, the museum shop of The Historic New Orleans Collection.
Drag Queen Brunch (Rainbow Road Press, 2019) features gorgeous colorful photography by Sam Hanna of dishes (both ladies and recipes) in some of New Orleans’s most iconic restaurants and courtyards. With every turn of the page, Drag Queen Brunch brings readers to the next stop of an unforgettable time with Tooker and a bevy of rollicking drag queens. 
The event is free, and coincides with Southern Decadence. The book will be available for $29.99. Refreshments from SoBou will be available for guests ages 21 and older. 
A portion of the proceeds from Drag Queen Brunch benefit Crescent Care, a healthcare initiative established by the NO/AIDS Task Force and the Lazarus House.
The Shop at The Collection — which has expanded to nearly 2,000 square feet — is located in THNOC’s new exhibition center at 520 Royal Street and is open Tuesday – Saturday, 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Customers may also shop online at www.hnoc.org/shop.

Poppy is my dear friend but even if that weren’t true, I’d surely tell you to go to her talks, buy her books, and generally listen in on whatever is in her ever-so practical, generous, slightly dangerous New Orleans mind.  She WILL make you feel better about the two-showers a day temps and help you once again love the diverse creativity of our place.

Her commitment to the LGBTQ community has been so steadfast for decades  you can be sure that her book and the brunches are both celebratory and deeply insightful to why the drag community deserves to be lionized as true artists. As for me, their work to bring glamour back to everyday life,  living ones personal life in line with the political, and their constant education on behalf of the LGBTQ community are some of why I’d say drag deserves the big table. I am sure Poppy will have more.

I’ll be writing at the site below while I am gone in case you are interested.

https://thestateofthebuckeye.wordpress.com/

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Long lost poet reaches out

One of the great everyday heroes of New Orleans is photojournalist Cheryl Gerber, who is constantly roaming the streets of New Orleans searching for stories to show the deep humanity of our place. Her book, “New Orleans, Life and Death in the Big Easy” is one of my favorites not only for its gorgeous photos, but for its awareness of the deep racial divide that can be seen by anyone looking. Those inequities don’t cancel out the joy, but it does underscore that our public life is rooted in the reality of the challenges we face here and the fragility of this part of the world,  circa 2019.

 

Similarly, Cheryl has brought to her neighbors’ attention an emerging story about a street person that she had noted in the past (and even had a pic of him) but hadn’t felt he wanted her to approach. Recently, something changed and he came to her, told her a great deal about himself and led her to believe that he might be okay with her being more involved. She stayed up all night, researching the info he shared and miraculously, made contact with friends of his. She found he was sorely missed and had been sought again and again, but as no information had reached them they had no idea what to do next. In their conversations, those friends told her of his talent, his story, and his effect on them. His best friend flew to New Orleans almost immediately to search for him, and on the second trip, they found each other and I defy anyone not to have tears rolling down their face at the telling of that moment which is found through the link below (under Story).

All because of the legendary New Orleans-style tough hide/soft heart and an endless curiosity about others in the public space that Cheryl puts into practice daily.

So the next step is for those of us who want to aid his friends help him get back on his feet in the city he loves so dearly, to follow the link to do so.

And maybe you will also be inspired by Cheryl to find a way to connect to one of your neighbors, maybe even one whom you don’t fully understand. Maybe even help them to find the happiness standing right in front of them on Esplanade Avenue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the city, he had many friends

From local activist/writer/publisher Rachel Breunlin today on FB:

A very old crow was on the edge of the neutral ground on Esplanade this morning. I stopped to check on him and he flew a little distance away. His murder of crows was stationed in the live oak trees around him. A neighbor said she had fed him this morning and that the year before she had buried a crow who died by her house and the others visited for days: “Aren’t crows the keepers of departed souls?” I went home and called Michel to see if we could take him to the animal rescue but when we returned, he had been hit by a car. We stood under the calls of the crows who flew around his body. In the city, he had many friends.

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That we notice, honor, and mourn all living things is one of the great characteristics of the New Orleans experience.

 

Rachel’s Neighborhood Story Project Website

IN THE SHADOW OF STATUES

My copy is preordered.

 

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/575468/in-the-shadow-of-statues-by-mitch-landrieu/9780525559443/

The Futilitarians- Review

The Futilitarians: Our Year of Thinking, Drinking, Grieving, and Reading by Anne Gisleson

In short: I think this ranks as one of the best memoirs to come out of the South in some time. I’ve been waiting for someone to use the Katrina timeline to truly tell of the pain and random brutality that is so normalized here that it is often clichéd in the retelling. Gisleson’s take on New Orleans life is important in that she is a native of the city and it has been my experience that that is a too-small group writing about New Orleans in recent years. Her tender and often witty memoir frames how the city shapes – and sometimes breaks – family and friends, leaving the survivors to live with the absurdity of existence where most of one’s day is wrapped up in the trivial even as the tragic stays near, ready to overwhelm one’s own thoughts and fears when the night falls. Or, when tragedy is made personal via the faces or actions of the other souls that populate the city, sitting on bar stools at breakfast time or dancing for tips on Bourbon Street.
As a writer, she knows she will write about her family tragedies and confesses that her father told her at his regular lunch spot at the Rib Room that he would stop talking to her if she did. Just like most Southern daughters would, she simply waited until he passed to do so. His story is a big part of this book, as his personality and aspirations defined the family life even though he kept his own set of secrets that were only been partially glimpsed then or understood by his children to this day.
The overt search for meaning in the post-Katrina era is captured by the group of friends who begin to meet as the Existential Crisis Reading Group. Gisleson offers entertaining descriptions of the attendees, and what they offer each other in terms of solace or clarity but the moments of her solitary musings about her family, her own history, and the city are what make this memoir. While discussing Borowski’s 1946 painful short stories “This Way For the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen” (inspired by his own concentration camp experience) she makes an excuse to take her son to bed so she could escape the room to instead lie in the dark with him sleeping next to her, looking and listening through the open transom, illustrating her momentary discomfort at sharing high emotion over what has been lost, what is still not absorbed and her own part in it all. Even though slightly removed, the presence of friends comforts and the house with its mark of previous generations who lived there before – some successfully- quiets her unease. That was a passage I returned to again and again, feeling she had captured one moment of the sweetly painful experience of life here in our land of misrule.
Her discomfort is partly because of her survivor’s guilt and from the realization that the family tragedies may have helped she and her remaining siblings make a more emphatic mark in the world. Suicide is a confounding subject for survivors, searching for meaning in the trivial things left, never knowing what had mattered, what had helped and what had hurt.

Not surprisingly, essayist Joan Didion, author of the brilliant book about her own family tragedies in “The Year of Magical Thinking” is mentioned; Gisleson considers Didion’s defense of writing painful truths about other people as “we tell ourselves stories in order to live” and originally dismisses it. Then, as she realizes her own urgent need to tell these stories she concludes that Didion may be right after all. And that addressing the murky emotions that people live with after horrible things happen is the furthest thing from futility and instead, is pretty close to transcendence which may lead, finally, to peace.

View all my reviews

“There is no anti-racist certification class”

On his blog, “Scott Woods Makes Lists,” poet Woods posted:

“The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes Black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you.

Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another, and so on. So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe.

It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.”

The People’s Grocer-Review

It is my opinion that New Orleanians are either fascinated by the Schwegmann Brothers Giant Super Markets saga, recounting their own connections to the stores at the drop of a hat or if they have no shopping history there, are completely bored by the attachment that others have to it.

My family is in the latter camp and so never has been heard wailing over its loss and never spent any time preserving any of Schwegmann’s famous printed shopping bags or any of the political buttons within my late grandmother’s massive collection of New Orleans menus, World’s Fair, Superdome souvenir items and Carnival clutter.

My own experience with the chain was also slight- In the 1980s, I did regularly go to the Schwegmann’s out on Airline, but more as a visitor to a strange land than as a shopper. I went with my pal Roger who sold fancy kitchenware to department stores and high-end shops, where I would help him set up displays and tag along as he talked to the buyers. Since he was constantly assessing retail and observing cultural connections in his beloved adopted city, Schwegmann’s appealed to him as something uniquely New Orleans and yet with industry-leading ideas like the bank and the pharmacy within its massive footprint. He loved the food counter and the bar. I learned to appreciate retail analysis in those days while at the Airline and the West Bank stores, listening to Roger explain why John was brilliant in his design and product choices. He would have loved meeting Mr. Schwegmann. He would have loved this book too.

Yet, the list of who will enjoy this book is not just those with a personal fascination for the deep local culture that begat this chain, or those with Roger’s and my obsession for retail histories. Really, anyone who wants to learn more about 19th century German immigration to the area, or the layout of corner stores before supermarkets, or of pricing strategies in the pharmaceutical or dairy industries, or of how early 20th century “fair trade” laws stymied discount pricing, or of the history of the Bywater area of New Orleans, or of the political arena of the latter part of 20th century Louisiana, or of later generations of family businesses who can quickly and shockingly kill the goose that lays the golden egg, will also find this book a keeper.

It is important to note that this is a biography of John Schwegmann and not only a history of the supermarkets that he founded and made into a chain of 18 beloved stores. Because of that, the family’s history is front and center especially in the beginning of the book and may delve more deeply than those without local connections care to know but I suggest readers stick with it even if the family history is not the reason for reading this book. That history offers important detail in the shaping of this supermarket innovator, likely responsible for making him into the type of businessman and later politician who relied on his own intuition, his deep allegiance to his city and a small group of loyalists for advice or support. It also shows how deeply the grocery business runs in the Schwegmann family, and yet how often family turmoil existed among struggling immigrant families even back in those days, too often remembered as perfectly halcyon. That honesty of the family interviewed and the author to note the Schwegmann family life squarely and honestly, is to all of their credit.
This bio also offers many anecdotes from those who were there to show how John was a force of mostly good in the high-stakes world of grocery and drug sales, fighting for principles that most corporate leaders would not spend time or money to fix, all shaped by the place and people of his city. His home life may be viewed at times as calculated in terms of his handling of wives and mistresses but author Capello rightly doesn’t linger too long on modern interpretations of John’s morals and reminds us that the businessman maintained warm relationships with the mothers of his children even after the marriages ended.

The book spends more time on Schwegmann’s world travels and later political life, which was not as impressive as his business career. That career in Baton Rouge was derailed by his opposition to Hale Boggs and almost everyone else, leading to his constant no votes and also not helped by some of his political stunts like having a goat milked while testifying against the milk commission. Those responsible for the building of the Superdome were also targets of his wrath, forecasting many other fights a generation later by communities around the U.S. questioning the logic of taxpayer-sponsored sports arenas.

The research behind the book is impressive, especially when so many other writers of New Orleans history use cliches and oft-told stories that may or may not be true rather than doing the work to find primary and accurate details. Capello’s background in writing technical papers lends itself to a detailed analysis of the retail industry and of the trends in pricing, product development and store design that Schwegmann pioneered. The timeline of the collapse of the chain is shared in unsentimental fashion and should allow New Orleanians to finally understand exactly how son John F. allowed the collapse to happen in such a short amount of time.
The author’s obvious unlimited approval of the free market system as defined by Schwegmann and others rings loud and clear throughout this book even if a few might quibble with some of the broader denunciations of the old public market system (which supported the port, small family businesses and farms by offering regulated food sales in every part of the city for 250 years) or, of his portrayal of John having an entirely altruistic nature in fighting for some of the price discounting that benefited his stores so clearly in a city that had no other supermarket chain to compete with his for decades.
I’d love to see Capello add to his research on this family and this sector with later papers on the superstore sector’s (meaning post Schwegmanns) complete lifespan in New Orleans and others across the U.S. with more attention paid to how the makers of things were ultimately priced out of their small production work because of this discount pricing strategy. It would also be interesting to see the author detail how the concept built and consolidated multi-generational family fortunes for discounters like this one and the Arkansas-based Waltons among others, and what those families have done with their newfound power. The destruction of Main Street might also be examined in terms of the formation of the superstore era, an era that now seems to be slowing with the latest retail category killer- the internet – and the Millennial generation’s expectations of impersonal speed and 24 hour convenience of online shopping over local retail culture and family shopping trips.
Still, there is no doubt those low prices and huge new stores meant that the mostly poor residents of this old city in those days felt attended to if they were lucky enough to have a Schwegmann (Brothers) Giant Super Market within distance of home. And with an air-conditioned bar with the cheapest liquor in town to drown their sorrows at for good measure.
I expect that this book will be used in university courses on retail and marketing, as well as in any history course devoted to the people who made New Orleans great. John Schwegmann’s story, as written in The People’s Grocer, certainly deserves that.

The People’s Grocer can be ordered here.