[Jenny Hayut / Unsplash]

New Orleans Stories

09:00 August 30, 2022
By: Phil LaMancusa

Ball of Confusion or Kiss My Assets

"I wanna learn patience, and I wanna learn it right now." That's right, that's my friggin' mantra: "Patience: right now."

I mean, how many things in my/your/our everyday life conspire—yes conspire—to keep us from obtaining spiritual growth, peace, harmony, and all the other crap that it will take for us to be able to settle damn down and be simply "happy." It's like a conspiracy: from your phone alarm thinking that it's tomorrow (or yesterday), to spell-check thinking you said f**k instead of flock, or your phone fielding a call from someone who wants to give your car "one more chance to renew its service warranty," or the password that you've been using for six years being deemed invalid, so you need a new one with twelve or more letters including, but not limited to: "one upper case, one lower case, one numerical symbol, one weird at the top of the keyboard symbol, one of your pet's names, the numerical equivalent of the last blood pressure that you had taken, and your mother's maiden name" (now, "prove that you're not a robot by picking out the telephone poles in this photo").

You misplace your car keys, your Amazon package is porch lifted, you get a notice for jury duty, your favorite place to get coffee is closed (suddenly) on Mondays, and your new route to work includes three School Zones and two construction detours. Is the universe really trying to piss you off? Yes, it is.

Listen, the entire universe is locked in a battle of good against evil; it's beside the point that evil is kicking our asses. We, as heroes, are being distracted from joining the struggle by forces that continue to distract us from participating in the conflict. Your landlord is selling the house that you've been renting, the air conditioning in the car just quit, your co-worker just came down with COVID, and/or your actions at work have now been considered "micro-aggressive" because you called someone an "a-hole" (because they are), and you've been sent by HR to a "sensitivity training" seminar.

In the normal, dysfunctional world, the way things work is that the boss gives the man a bad time, the man comes home and gives the wife grief, she then takes it out on the kid, the kid kicks the dog, and the dog bites a neighbor (me). The universe works the same way, but you're above that—you've found a 'happy place" that helps you to reconnect with your center—your spirit, your calm, your patience.

There's conflict in the world: there's war, real people are dying and displaced, and there's hunger, disease, disruption, and despair. People are hurting, evil rides rampant, children are being gunned down, the government doesn't care to, or is just too impotent to act. Hunger, injustice, civil liberties, and so-called rights are being trampled on, and unnatural disasters that are mowing down people's lives and property have become commonplace—global frickin' warming. Name it, we got it.

We've had a choice, and we've taken it. We can take mud up to our chins and, then, either swallow it or spit it out, and we've chosen to spit it out. We speak out, we vote, we act out, and we're vocal in our views. We have values. Evil does not care. Peace, love, and understanding are fodder to be mowed down like the idealists before us, to be worn down, to be tested and bested. What do we do? We recharge and move the needle forward.

Everyone who believes in freedom and justice needs to recharge. My advice is to find your happy place and visit as often as possible. Early on, my happy place was wearing myself out with drugs, alcohol, and rocking 'n' rolling until I couldn't see straight. But one quiet night, in a strange place, I looked up and saw a sky full of stars and found a real "happy place." Now, when I feel disconnected from my patience and peace, I go to one of my happy places. I realize that I will never solve the world's challenges and can only do my small part by being a good person, an example, and a revolution/evolution of one.

A happy place is not a place of distraction; it is a place where you find peace and strength within yourself returning to its normal high functioning level. Here are a few examples:

Take a long walk or hike, by yourself; speak to no one. Read a book about some protagonist's adventures—one who uses wit to overcome malice. Go sit under a tree. Go for a swim. Make a pot of spaghetti sauce (enough for twelve). Go to a big store and peruse the aisles and wonder at the things people buy. Put on some quiet music and listen or sit still, let the crazy horses' band of thoughts gallop wildly until they're exhausted. Get down on your hands and knees and visit the small flowers that grow unnoticed. Watch bees and butterflies. Commune with your cat. Roam a museum and don't analyze the works found there—just enjoy looking. Go to a coffee house where you know nobody and have a tasty pastry. Take a nap. Recharge.

Sound simple? It's not. Most times we're being knocked about like a pinball in an arcade game, and it almost becomes reflex to keep thinking on our feet, nose to the grindstone, shoulder to the wheel, tacking into the wind, racing with the rats, and runnin' with the devil. Go easy on yourself and everything will get done eventually. Concentrate your energy on the challenge of the moment. Namaste and all that nonsense, and, as Mister Natural says, "keep your sunny side up."

Randall or Paradise Lost

Randy has gone into "assisted living," which to me, means into a purgatory between independence and invalidation. He's at one of the better facilities, one with a high falutin religious moniker and we can go visit. He doesn't get around much anymore so we will have to go to him. The word is that he's "adjusting quite nicely." That's not the Randy that I met nearly twenty-five years ago. As Kurt Vonnegut said, "and so it goes," but not quite.

Randall Garland was a gin and tonic drinker, he was an artist/painter, had served in the Army overseas, raised a family, was on good terms with his former wife, and was loved by his daughters and grandkids. His apartment is now empty. No longer will I walk by and hear the strains of classical music from his record player, and I'm sure that his season tickets to the opera are no longer valid. He will no longer hold court on his porch during Jazz Fest and tell interesting and funny stories about the life he had led, was leading, and was also looking forward to pursuing.

I met Randy at a time when we all were younger, when literary salons and raconteurs in the French Quarter were de rigueur, when drinking in bars was an adult occupation and conversation about life, the universe and everything was an art to be polished and pursued, and when patrons would rather commiserate than watch mind-numbing HD screens. Randall was a master. At one time Randall had lived above the Napoleon House and painted; he had a bevy of women and men that adored him. He could be relied on to know local geographical history, current events, and topics of art and literature. He wrote and published a book. He was a member of the city museum and voted religiously.

He was raised in the Ninth Ward, had a career, owned property, and could be relied on to have a shine on his shoes and a smile on his face. He was kind, and it's not like he's passed away—only passed on to a place that will assist him in his everyday life and make sure that he's comfortable and taken care of, which is something that he did quite well into his eighth decade on his own terms and in his own time. Randy never was, as Shakespeare said, "a walking shadow, a poor player who strutted and fretted his hour on the stage." To those of us who have known Randall Garland, he is a god.

His fishing camp on the Gulf Coast, where he had sleepovers and fish fries for "the gang," who was blown away by Katrina. He took an apartment further down the road and drove there weekly. I wonder what they did with his car… Obviously, he no longer drives. I wonder if the new place knows how much he likes his gumbo and fried shrimp po-boys. I wonder if there's someone there to listen to his conversation, if he's still on his computer, and if he's sleeping well. I wonder what he's thinking.

And now I wonder if you too have a Randall in a "facility," if you too will go visiting, if you too know that someday you, too, will be in Randall's shoes, in Randall's place, "assisted" in your living.

I think these places where people are housed seem like book depositories where tomes are sent, having been handicapped by age or infirmary, each with stories that have been written but never published. Some are in libraries; some are in warehouses depending on their value to others. They are cared for in their fashion until some future expiration date finally closes them, and their stories are lost or only remembered by someone who once was a part.

Denmark instituted a Human Library Organization, which is now available in eighty countries. The idea is to check out a person and learn about them and from them. It helps you and it helps them; it's like reading a book-a book about them. What an idea, huh? Its mission is to build spaces in the community for personal dialogue about issues that are often difficult, challenging or stigmatizing. They publish people like open books on a given subject and "readers" ask questions and get answers from "their book." It's win-win.

Facilities for the elderly and less-than-mobile would be the perfect place to gain some insight to our outlooks, wouldn't you say? These places are occupied by folks that have lived through good and bad times: teachers, poets, parents, and the ordinary and the extraordinary people that have gone through hell, high water, and high and low times. These are books that need to be read and understood-how to get along with a partner/mate, how to keep from lighting my hair on fire every time that I feel stressed, how the hell do you make tough choices, and why does the meringue on my lemon pie not stand up?

There are people in those places that are worth listening to, and they also need perspective. As I get older, and the lemons that I'm used to throwing back at life no longer can be ignored. I want to reiterate to someone how I believe that my life was worth living still and how I have loved, lost, fought and overcome challenges that have made me a worthwhile person.

At that stage of his life, I want Randall to have dialogue with someone who wants to know about the time he was fishing in Claremont Harbor and had to warn a swimmer that there was a six foot alligator heading their way and that maybe they should think about heading back to shore; about how to hold a lantern above your head at night when you wade in the gulf in search of flounder and how high you need to roll your pants legs up.

Consider Randall Garland worth considering.

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