In the living room of her father's house, Tammy Tommaseo rolls out a giant circle of lemon and teal nylon. It's the only thing that keeps her from slamming into the earth from 14,000 feet. "When I graduated high school, wanted to try crazy things, and skydiving was the first on the list," says Tammy. "I didn't make it to any of the others."
It's during this post-dive ritual, when she straightens the parachute and then rolls it away, that Tammy listens to fellow Ninth Ward native Guitar Lightnin' Lee and his Thunder Band. They play jangly rhythm and blues (or N.O.L.A. RHYTHUM and BOOZE as their latest CD title suggests). "It's relaxing to listen to Lee," says Tammy, who treks from Chalmette to the city whenever he plays.
It was after a Saturn Bar set that Tammy met the veteran bluesman, and they struck up a friendship. "We talked about music [Tammy's boyfriend plays sax in the T.B.C. Brass Band] and about how Lee used to be a boxer," says Tammy. "And on stage, Lee's theatrical. I love his showmanship."
In turn, Lee eats fried oysters at her place of work, Rocky & Carlo's (dad Thomas Tommaseo co-owns the beloved Italian restaurant with Tammy's cousin Tommy, and aunt Leonarda Gioe). Tammy helps out in the kitchen and serves customers behind the bar (barstool best sellers are the veal Parmesan with mac and cheese, and Bud Lights).
Even at 2 p.m. on a weekday, the restaurant is brimming with locals, every seat filled, servers buzzing up and down the bar. The pace is prepping Tammy for her future as an emergency room nurse (she graduates from LSU this December). "Being a waitress and bartender [showed me] that I can handle high stress," she says.
She'll get further proof in October, when she dives off West Virginia's New River Gorge Bridge - at 600 feet and only seconds to pull the rip cord. When she's back on solid ground, driving back to the Gulf coast, she'll be playing Lightnin' Lee's blues.
Rocky & Carlo's • 613 W St. Bernard Hwy. • 504.279.8323