Category Archives: Life in Louisiana

Photography…Or Not

Jazzfest 2013

This fabulous photo was taken by my friend Ted Carter at Jazzfest 2013, and does everything a picture should do. It captures the spirit of the moment.  It says more about Jazzfest and New Orleans than a thousand words could ever do.  Literally.

Back when I was into photography, my sister gave me a book from National Geographic about nature photography, which had a cliché sort of quote in it.  The saying is that the secret to taking good pictures is “F-8 and be there”.  For those of you who were born later than, say, 1992, “F” refers to F-stop.  That’s a complicated formula best described as “focal length”  But never mind.  Just buy the best digital camera you can get and go for it.  Just take my word for it that F-8 is in the middle of the range, and it’s kind of a photography joke.

Recently, blog friend Vanessa Chapman did  a post about how photographers are so mysteriously disdained.  They get compliments such as “Wow!  You must have a really good camera!”  Argghh.

Between F-8 and be there, be there is the most important half.  But being there is not enough.  You have to SEE it.  You can look at something without seeing it.  You have to see its possibilities.  A great photo captures one moment in time that will never happen again in exactly that same way.  You can take a picture of an immovable object like a statue, but even that will never be the same.  Because it will be a different moment, in different light.  Light is the essence.  When you take a picture, you aren’t capturing the subject, you are capturing light.

Instead of a statue, when you take a picture of a moving person or animal, now you are truly talking about something that will never happen again.  You could do the same dance and smile the same way, but your hip will never be in that exact same position, the scarf won’t twirl the same way.  Ted captured a moment in time that will never be repeated, and told us everything we need to know about Jazzfest and New Orleans.

Green Trash…and Management School

I have previously posted about trash, when the City passed an ordinance that you had to bring your rolling trash containers from the street back to wherever you keep them. within 24 hours of trash pickup.  And you can’t take them to the street until the evening before pickup day.

Fortunately for me, that regulation only applies within the city limits, and I live a happy half-mile outside those limits, in the County.  I tend to think that we are a lot more laissez-faire in the County.  Plus, I live in the kind of neighborhood where no one gives a rat’s ass about where your trash container is.  If you want the front of your house to be advertised by trash, so be it.

So at work, I wanted something to be shredded.  My operation was recently audited by the City, so I’m very sensitized to the need for paper trails.  I wanted shredding, because they will give you an official “Certificate of Destruction”.  I don’t care whether they actually shred it or not.  I still have proof that I did my part.  (Read:  paper trail.)

I’ve used shredding companies before in a different city, and we took all the material to them.  Since that time, mobile shredding companies have appeared.  I see their trucks on the street all the time.  Not terribly surprising when you live in a city full of lawyers.

So I assigned my assistant manager the task of researching mobile shredding companies.  She LOVES this kind of detail.  It was like, Woohoo!  You actually WANT me to Google?  Is this a great job, or what?

There are levels of delegation.  For instance, we needed some landscaping work done at one point, and I said, find a company and just hire them.  Do what you think is best.  In this case I said, find a company you like, pick one, but discuss it with me first.  Primarily because I didn’t know anything about mobile shredding companies and wanted to be educated.  But secondly, there are some times when you have to keep a closer eye on relatively new managers.

She–like my last assistant manager–is so focused on saving money (not that that’s a bad thing)–that she will pinch a penny in the beginning, get shoddy work in return, and then have to spend even more money on someone new to correct it.

But she picked a company and made a recommendation to me.  This is a huge improvement!  I have finally taught her–don’t give me three choices and expect me to make every decision.  I can’t do it, don’t have time for it, etc. The “manager” part of your title means you have to make some decisions, and you have to quit being scared about it.

We went with the company she picked.  The cost was $45 if you take the stuff to them, $55 if they send the mobile truck.  A quick calculation told me that my time and her time was worth more than $10.  I said, send the truck.  And they came the same day!  I made her go with the driver to see the operation.  (Okay, I do care a little about whether they actually shred it or not.)

She was so excited that she took pictures of it on her iPhone.  They have this huge truck that is kind of like a regular trash truck, which lifts the container and dumps it into a bin.  But there is a shredder inside, so you can actually hear it working.

So this was the best of all possible worlds. The job got done.  I got my Certificate of Destruction.   She learned something, and had a lot of fun doing it.  Is this a great job or what?

Enough Already!

You can sense a sort of fatigue beginning to set in with respect to the oil spill in the Gulf.  Like the war in Afghanistan, we’re tired of hearing about it, even though we may feel vaguely ashamed for feeling that way.  As a nation, we have many admirable qualities, but a long attention span is not one of them.  We’d like our wars and natural disasters to be resolved in the time it takes to Twitter about them. 

The Gulf oil spill has actually had a longer shelf-life than I would have expected.  I think that’s because it’s closer to home than Afghanistan.  Let’s face it…unless you have a friend or family member in the military, either serving in the war or with the potential to have to do so, Afghanistan is out-of-sight, out-of-mind.  When the…I refuse to call it a war…invasion of Iraq was at its height, I remember one day I was standing in the grocery store and it just hit me how we were all going about our business as usual.  There is no rationing, no “war effort”.  World War II, this ain’t. 

The Gulf oil spill, however, is like a sound wave.  Very loud at the source, and gradually lessening in volume as it spreads.  For the people who live on the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, or  Florida, it’s still screaming like an air raid siren.  But it’s still resonating in the rest of the country.  I’d be interested to know the percentage of the U.S. population that has visited Florida at least once in their lives.  The damage to the seafood industry is a huge factor, but not as much as damage to the beaches.  I can guarantee you that most people in Nebraska don’t ask themselves where that shrimp came from.  As they say, perception is everything. 

But disaster fatigue is not really what this post is about.  I’ve got some of it.  I’m like Tony Hayward…I’d like my life back.  Which brings me to my first Enough Already! comment, which are in no particular order of importance.  Enough about that statement from Hayward.  Of course he’d like his life back, and so would you.  That doesn’t make him Satan.  On the news last night, they showed a party in Louisiana, on Grand Isle I think, where people were laughing and drinking and dancing to Cajun music, in other words, partying as only people from Louisiana can do.  They interviewed one woman who said, “Sure, we’re in a mess, but sometimes…you just gotta have a break”.    On that note, enough about Hayward attending and possibly participating in a regatta this weekend.  Would we have more respect for him if he just went ahead and committed public harakiri? 

Enough already! about the Swedish chairman of the board of BP saying they care about the “small people”.  When I heard him say it, I groaned out loud, because I knew what was coming.  The endless outrage, the snarky cartoons.  Hello, he’s Swedish.  It isn’t a big stretch to imagine that what he meant was “the average person”.  Even if you can speak another language well, idioms and slang are hard to master. 

Finally, a big, giant, capitalized Enough Already! with comparisons to Hurricane Katrina.  Katrina was a natural disaster; the Gulf oil spill is a manmade one.  The only possible response to Katrina was government intervention.  After all, you can’t ask God for $2o million in escrow. 

Having said that, the President is failing no less than the last one did.  The failures occurred both before and after the disaster.  FEMA in the last case, the MMS in this one.  And not throwing everything you have at it, in both.  The mistake in this case is compounded by allowing BP to manage the response.  They should have been confined to paying for it.  From what I read, “Unified Command” is anything but.  Last week, Paul Flemming, my favorite Florida political writer, wrote “Give us Craig Fugate”.  Fugate is the current head of FEMA and the former director of Emergency Management for the state of Florida, who has a proven record. 

As for the President’s response, as usual, Frank Rich of the New York Times illuminates the broader picture in today’s op-ed.   The President’s response must be bolder, since as Rich says, the Tea Party is at the barricades.  On the other hand, Joe Barton made it clear that if they were in charge, the less-government crowd would hand over everything to the likes of BP.  The best quote:  after Barton’s apology to BP, “the G.O.P. establishment had to shut him down because he was revealing the party’s true loyalties, not because it disagreed with him”.

I’m hoping that Barton’s apology dealt a fatal blow to the no-government crowd, but it won’t work unless government actually Does Something.  Enough waiting, already!

Florida Politics Again

I confess that I often can’t get worked up much about Florida politics, since when you’ve lived in Louisiana, all else pales.  There is no better way to become jaded than to live in Louisiana.  Things that people in other states  get upset about, I just want to say…you think that’s bad?  Corruption?  You don’t even know the half of it.  It’s an accepted way of life, a normal way of doing business.  People are surprised that you’re surprised. 

If you transplant someone from Louisiana to say, Iowa, they are like, What?  There are people in politics who are actually honest and sincere?  Wait…I actually think I did that (moved from Louisiana to Iowa, that is).

But now I live in Florida, although I can’t claim to be a Floridian.  Apparently that’s reserved for people who were born here and lived here all their lives, even though they are all plotting to move to Montana.  (Hint:  when you get to Montana, prepare to be an outsider.  You will never be a Montanan, or whatever they call themselves.)

But the weekend would not be complete without a political post from Fakename.  So, it’s Saturday, and Fakename’s favorite Florida political writer, Paul Flemming, wrote his usual article on Friday.   The headline was “Challenges Make Great Political Theater”.  Minutes after the health care reform bill passed, Florida’s Attorney General filed suit against the Federal government (on “Tenther” grounds).  To be fair…he and the Attorneys General of several other states. 

It so happens that Florida’s Attorney General is running for governor.  I’m sure that has nothing to do with it.  I’m sure there also no problem with the fact that he hired the law firm he used to work for as the outside attorneys in the suit.  With no bid.  And that he filed in Pensacola rather than two blocks from his office in Tallahassee.  His spokesperson says Pensacola is in a position to act more quickly, which may be true.  It also may be true that it’s more convenient to his old law partners. 

This will go nowhere. It’s the very definition of grandstanding.  I’ll go further:  it’s a cynical sucking-up to the lowest common denominator of the populace.  People who have no actual idea of what the health care reform bill means for them, how much it will help them.  Who actually buy the “government takeover” rhetoric.  I guess in every war, there have to be foot soldiers.  And Republicans are rallying the foot soldiers. 

And they scare me.  I haven’t been this scared since Vietnam.  At the moment, I think there are more of “us” than there are of “them”.  I think the biggest mistake Republicans made is in convincing themselves that Americans don’t want health care reform.  Yes, they (we) do.

Jazzfest: Bah Humbug

Yesterday I was commiserating with an old friend on Facebook about the fact that he’s missing Mardi Gras.  Even though he lives in New Orleans, he’s away from the city on business elsewhere in Louisiana.  Very near to New Orleans in fact, but he’s working like 15-hour days, so he might as well be on the moon.  This falls into the category of “so near, but yet so far”.

I’d like to remind this friend that back when I used to live in New Orleans, if not for him I would never have had the pleasure of visiting Houma, Louisiana, the self-described Cajun Capital of the World.  My favorite thing about Houma, however, is that it’s the home of the Shrimp and Petroleum Festival.  In Louisiana, where every fruit and vegetable, every variety of seafood, every nationality and country, and every holiday no matter how obscure is cause for a festival and a parade, the Shrimp and Petroleum Festival stands out as a shining example of festival-ness. 

Talk of Mardi Gras led to mention of Jazzfest, which leads me to a story.  Of course.  Now you may think that as much as I’m fond of telling stories from the past, it means that nothing exciting ever happens to me any more.  And you would be right.  And I’d like to keep it that way.  I want to have nothing more to do with adrenalin-producing scenarios and near-death experiences.  Almost colliding with a deer last December is as close as I want to get to excitement. 

But back to my one and only experience with Jazzfest.  Jazzfest is held at the Fairgrounds, which is a racetrack.  Fakesister and I went there once for a horse race, the only one either of us had ever seen live.  Although we were novices, we developed a foolproof scientific method for predicting winners and betting accordingly.  Our method involved picking the horse with the coolest name, or in some cases, the one with the fluffiest tail. 

As a racetrack, the Fairgrounds is fine.  As the setting for a world-reknowned festival, which draws gazillions of people, it’s…cramped.  I had invited a girlfriend from Memphis to come down for it, and she brought a friend of hers.  We all went in the friend’s friend’s car.  (Remember that detail.)  Once there, we promptly became separated, and had not had the sense to arrange a meeting place should that occur. 

The first bad thing that happened to me was that I decided to make my way to the main stage, where Jimmy Buffett was playing.  I was what seemed like a mile away when I realized there was no way I was ever getting close enough for it to matter, so I decided to turn around and go back.  Except I couldn’t.  I could not turn around.  The pressure of the crowd was too much.  We were all shoulder to shoulder and it was like this relentless march forward from which there was no escape.  The person to my right could see that I was panicking, and said to me quietly, just go with the flow–you have no choice.  You can’t get out now, but you will be able to later.  I then concentrated on not falling down, because if I had, I would have been trampled.  Not on purpose, but because the crowd would have no choice.  At last, the people behind me made the same decision I had…that they would never get close enough, and the people at the rear edge of the crowd who could still move started to break away.  I had never experienced claustrophobia before, but this experience is virtually indescribable.  It was like being a member of the Borg.  (“Resistance is futile.”)

When I broke away myself, I wandered to the far edges of the grounds, and promptly collapsed.  I don’t mean from relief.  I mean…collapsed onto the grass.  Where I lay, in and out of consciousness, for an unknown period of time.  I wanted to ask someone for help, but I couldn’t speak.  I got angry.  Why doesn’t anyone see I’m in trouble here and offer to help.  The answer to that is obvious.  They just thought I was drunk.  I finally became coherent enough to realize that what I needed was water, and that if I did not somehow find a way to get it, I would die.  About a million miles from my spot (e.g., 50 feet), I saw a water faucet.  I literally crawled there and put my head under it and drank a ton of it, which I promptly threw up.  But I eventually felt better.  Did I mention that it was blazingly hot? 

Realizing there was no way I would ever find my friend and her friend, I took a cab home.  (I was grateful that I still had money;  if someone, mistaking me for drunk, had tried to take it from me, I would have been powerless to stop them.)

The next day I learned that my friend(s) had left hours before, knowing they were stranding me.   If nothing else, I would eventually have found my way back to the car.  Ask me if I ever spoke to either of them again? 

Some things leave such an impression on you that you can never overcome it.  It’s like getting sick after eating a boiled egg.  It doesn’t matter whether or not the egg had anything to do with it; it’s that you can never dissociate “sick” and “boiled egg”.  So I will never go back to Jazzfest.  I hate it, and the horse (so to speak) that it rode in on.

Dot’s Peppermint Lounge

One of my friends recently posted a couple of pictures of me from my New Orleans days on Facebook. 

Here I am, sitting on the steps of my “double” (“duplex” is not in the New Orleans dictionary) with my dog Troy Russell. 

Here I am again, on the same day, with Troy Russell and my beloved Saturn SC2, with the sunroof, the leather seats, and the killer stereo.  The same SC2 which drowned in the May 9th, 1995 flood, which happened on May 8th.  Go figure. 

My house was at 941 Touro Street, on the corner of Touro and N. Rampart, which we called “Little Rampart”, as opposed to “Big Rampart”.  It was the first house I ever owned (my present house is only the second one).

Across the street on the opposite corner was a bar called Dot’s Peppermint Lounge.  They would keep their front door open, and in the lazy, hazy days of spring, the sounds of Motown would drift out.  There was nothing to compare to it.  It was like living a dream.  I am living right here in the essence of New Orleans, I said to myself. 

Then, the bar either changed owners or management, or both (although they continued to use the name Dot’s Peppermint Lounge), and the music completely changed.  I’m not sure what genre you would call it, but it was loud and abrasive.  And they continued to leave the door open, especially during the not-so lazy, hazy days of summer, because their air-conditioning did not work well. 

I didn’t want to interfere with their patrons having a good time, or with their right to be there.  So I would call them and say, “Please close your door.  I’m trying to sleep.”  The first time I did it, the bartender who answered the phone said “F*** You!”  And hung up.  So I called the police, who came and…made them close the door.  Even in NOLA, there is a noise law, which takes effect at 10:00 P.M. 

I can’t tell you how many times this scenario was repeated.  I literally had both Dot’s and the 7th Precinct on speed-dial.  We all got to be on a first-name basis.  I’m sure that every time the phone rang at the Precinct at 10:00 P.M., someone said, “Oh…that must be Fakename.”  Eventually even the people at Dot’s got the picture.  So I would call, and they would say, “Oh Shit!  It’s HER again!  Close the door!  Quick!”

Then came the final straw.  Fakename returned home one evening at 10-ish after having drinks at the House of Blues with some co-workers after work.  (You may be tempted, as they say about accidents, to suspect that alcohol was a factor in Fakename’s subsequent behavior.)  Just in time to see two women park on the street right in front of her house. 

Apparently something big was happening at Dot’s that night.  Maybe they had live music, or maybe they were having an orgy…who cares.  So Fakename initially was like, okay, I’ll park somewhere else.  So I made the block, and there were no spaces.  As I pulled back up to the corner where Dot’s was, the two women were just walking into the bar.  And let me mention, these women were hulks.  They were wearing uniforms with blue shirts and black pants, and those elastic waistband things you wear when you make a living unloading trucks. 

I stopped the SC2 in the middle of the street, rolled down my window, and politely said, “Excuse me, but could you move your car?  You’re parked right in front of my house.”  Predictably, the largest hulk said,  “F*** You!”

I tried again (actually, this is how you know alcohol was involved, that I was trying to reason with these people).  I said, “Well, here’s the deal.  You are only visiting the bar and could afford to park further away for a short period of time, whereas…I live here.”  This sounded eminently logical to me.  Hulk Woman said, “F*** You!”

Apparently two F*** Yous in the span of 5 minutes exceed Fakename’s limit.  I got out of the car, leaving the driver’s side door open and marched up to the door of the bar.  Let me add that I was blocking traffic, since my car was in the middle of Little Rampart Street, which is one-way and just about wide enough for a horse and buggy.  About the time I reached the door, the two guys in the car behind me (that I was blocking) got out of their car and followed me.  Cool…Rumble on Rampart lol. 

In the cold light of day, Fakename asks:  What the hell was I thinking?  All approximately 125 pounds of me (at the time) against two giant women?  How, you may wonder, did this get defused?  What happened was that the bouncer said to the two women, Move your car.  They were spitting mad.  “This is a public street!  She doesn’t own it!  We can park anywhere we want!”

The bouncer replied, “True.  However, if you don’t move your car, I’m not letting you in the bar.”  They did.  Ah–the power of networking.  The Dot’s people knew that I was That Woman. If any harm had come to me, Dot’s would have been closed down faster than you can say “Noise Law”.  Not that any of that was foremost in my mind at the time.

I was the very definition of “out of control”.  I was literally thinking, you may kill me, but I’m going to do some damage on my way out.  In other words, “F*** You!”  And the POS Cadillac you rode in on and parked in front of my house. 

Fakename is happy to report that she has calmed way down since those days, which has no doubt contributed largely to her continuing survival 🙂

Back To The Future, Carwise

I’ve now owned my Toyota Yaris for almost 48 hours, and every time I look at it, I think it looks like a toy car.  It doesn’t feel that way from the inside, but from the outside you think all it needs is a little toy house to park in front of, and a little toy dog and a little toy child to sit in the vestigial back seat. 

But I am no stranger to small cars.  The Camaro is, that is WAS (oh, how I hate talking about it in the past tense) the largest vehicle I have ever owned, I think.  It was at least the longest.  But it took me until today to remember that I previously owned a Toyota.  Not for long. 

It was a Corolla FX, which looked just like this, except it was red: 

I used that car to move from Memphis to New Orleans in the summer of 1992, and in the spring of 1993 it met a spectacular end.  I was trying to cross Elysian Fields from Burgundy Street when out of nowhere I was hit by a speeding Buick Park Avenue, circa 1967 (translation:  tank).  I saw him coming at the last minute and swerved just enough that he hit the left front hood of the car instead of hitting me squarely in the driver’s side door. 

It nevetheless spun the car around 180 degrees and propelled it headfirst into a tree, across three lanes of roadway.  The front of the car accordioned, and was spilling every fluid contained under the hood.  I was stunned, and I don’t mean that in the emotional sense.  I was not wearing my seatbelt, so as I recall, the first thing that happened was that my head hit the roof.  Then I was thrown forward and my head hit the steering wheel.  I remember sort of coming to my senses, after what I think was only seconds, and staring out the windshield at maybe 50 people gathered in front of my car.  Then I got out of the car, and they erupted into applause.  They rushed to tell me to take care, not to move quickly, that they had called an ambulance for me.  But really, I was fine.  I had a bump on my forehead, that was it. 

The ambulance arrived, and I declined care.  Meanwhile, the tank driver was moaning.  Oh, he said, my back hurts.  So get this:  the ambulance the bystanders called for me took away the driver of the car that hit me.  Literally within hours, my insurance company got a call from his lawyer.  I’m happy to report that went nowhere.  In Louisiana, though, you would never want to pass up the opportunity to sue your victim.  It might work.

Don’t Mess with the Feebs

So one day I was peacefully sitting in my office, when the FBI walked in.  My first reaction was, Holy Shit!  What have I done now?  This isn’t about that parking ticket I refuse to pay, is it?  You know, the one I got parked in front of my own house, but supposedly less than 8 feet from the corner?  Like who knew that was a rule, anyway?  And how do you know it was less than 8 feet?  Are the parking enforcement people carrying tape measures around with them now?

But fortunately, they weren’t there for me.  They had come to let me know that on Saturday they would be setting up a sniper team in the garage just outside my office door.  Just outside the garage was a statue called the  Liberty Monument, which is a bit like Orwell’s 1984 Ministry of Truth, which was responsible for propaganda.  The Liberty Monument commemorates the massacre of black citizens by white police.  Every year, the Klan holds a ceremony at the Libery Monument, and on this particular occasion, David Duke was scheduled to speak.  The FBI was there to protect him from assassination and to protect everyone in general from any violent acts.  Plus, I think they were kind of hoping they would catch David doing something arrestable, like inciting to riot.  So I said what anyone would in my situation:  Can I watch?  Sure, they said, Come on down! 

I arrived maybe an hour before his speech.  In addition to the snipers in place in the parking garage, there were others on the roof of the aquarium across the street.    Once the crowd started to gather, they had undercover agents mingling with them.  It was a pretty disappointing turnout, I doubt there were even as many as 50 people there, and most of them were from the Alabama Klan.  The snipers’ boss was there with binoculars and he was pointing out to me several attendees from Alabama which he knew by name.  Now that is kind of scary. 

The speech contained the usual drivel, but it was very short, and Duke hightailed it out of there as fast as he could go when it was over.  He seemed nervous, maybe it was all those rifles pointing in his general direction?  In any case it was all very anti-climactic.  I was kinda hoping for one of those scenarios like in the movies, where someone shouts “Gun!” and then everybody bites the dust, but alas, it was not to be. 

Another Edition of FN’s Animal Planet

In keeping with the Lousiana theme of this weekend’s posts, today we will take a look at the Nutria.  Nutria are rodents, whose Latin name is a combination of “mouse” and “beaver”.  They look like a beaver with a rat’s tail.  I used to see them swimming all the time in Lake Ponchartrain.  And they aren’t small.  They average 12 pounds, but can grow to weigh 20 pounds.  Below is a little family of them. 

Nutria family

Cute, huh?  Well, Nutria are the kudzu of the animal world.  They were imported to Avery Island, Lousiana by someone in the McIlhenny family (makers of Tabasco Sauce) with the idea of farming them for fur.  The only problem is, it takes more labor to harvest the fur than the fur is worth.  The outer coat consists of long “guard hairs”.  While the undercoat is soft, it’s hard to separate the two coats.

“Their only two purposes in life appear to be to eat and to reproduce, and they perform both these functions exceptionally well.  They use over 50% of their metabolism for reproduction, and are born pregnant.”  Okay, I’m lying.  That’s a description of Tribbles.  But Nutria and Tribbles are definitely related. 

It didn’t take long for Nutria to escape Avery Island and populate the coast of Louisiana.  How did that happen?  Well duh, they swim.  From a few initial pairs, it’s estimated that Lousiana now has 20 to 30 million of them.  (From the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.)  And they have destroyed thousands of acres of wetlands, because they eat the plants.

In Metairie, in Jefferson Parish, they were causing another problem.  They burrowed into the banks of a large drainage canal and were causing the banks to collapse.   So the powers-that-be in Parish government started  to try to come up with creative ways to handle the problem.    In neighboring Orleans Parish, where I lived at the time, they held a contest which various famous chefs participated in (such as Paul Prudhomme), to come up with new and tasty ways to use Nutria as food.  Oh yuck!  Who wants to eat a rat?  While I was gagging on this idea one day at work, one of my employees informed me that she and her family used to eat them all the time when she was a child.  They were surviving on what her father could fish for, or hunt or trap.  I gather Nutria wasn’t their favorite choice, but she said it was kind of okay if you put it in something like a stew, and beggars can’t be choosers.

Another idea Jefferson Parish had was to trap them and transport them elsewhere in these special trucks that were padded on the inside.  That turned out to be too expensive, and in any case there was the problem of, Where do you take them?  (Sort of the same problem the Enterprise had with the Tribbles.)

Then they came up with the idea of floating poisoned carrots and lettuce on these little rafts.  That idea got nixed, because people protested that a child might accidentally get hold of the poisoned food. 

Finally they settled on the old-fashioned way.  The sheriff’s department started shooting them.  Around dusk, a whole posse of sheriff’s deputies would gather on the banks of the canal and wait for the nutria to come out of their burrows.  This solution had the added benefit of giving the sheriff’s deputies shooting practice.

I don’t know if they’re still doing it today or not.  I leave you with another picture of one of the little fellows (the Nutria, not the sheriff’s deputies).  You’re probably asking youself, what are those orange things in it’s mouth?  That’s his front teeth!

Nutria teeth

About Lake Ponchartrain…

Earlier today, while writing about James Lee Burke, a memory of my dog Troy Russell was triggered by mentioning Lake Ponchartrain.  What James Lee Burke, my dog, and Lake Ponchartrain have in common is pretty much zero, except for some sort of connection made by the random firing of neurons in my brain.  It would be good to understand how that works, except for the fact that it would be scientific, and I’m allergic to scientific. 

Troy Russell was a Chow mix I adopted off the streets of New Orleans in 1993 when he was a year to a year and a half old.   Unfortunately I have no electronic pictures of him.  He was red, with a big fluffy flag of a tail, and weighed about 55 pounds.  We lived just outside the French Quarter in Faubourg Marigny, and had no yard.  We had a courtyard, postage-stamp size, but I couldn’t even let him out in that because he had this tendency to crawl under the house and never come out.  Hiding was his specialty. 

So on occasion, I would take him for excursions to West End on Lake Ponchartrain.  There was a park there on the lakeshore, where there was a seawall consisting of steps from ground level down into the lake for some distance.  TR was not a big fan of water.  The ocean scared him senseless.  But he loved, for some reason, to wade along the steps of the seawall, as long as only his feet got wet.  The problem is that the steps were slick with algae and he would sometimes fall in.  Eek! he would say.  Or at least, the dog version of eek. 

Once we were there and I let him off the leash (forbidden, but in his case, I knew he would stick close by).  I was, of course, reading, and I lost track of him.  I looked up to see that he had managed to worm himself through a hole in a fence surrounding what looked to be a power substation of some kind.  And couldn’t figure out how to get himself out.  TR was beautiful and sweet, but no one would ever accuse him of being the brightest bulb in the chandelier.  Actually, no one would ever accuse any Chow of that. 

Once while we were there, I saw a waterspout out on the lake for the first and only time in my life.  It was one of those moments when you wish someone else was there to see it with you, especially since Troy Russell wasn’t interested. 

One year, my friend Bernard and I took a break in between Mardi Gras parades and went to West End with a pound or so of boiled crawfish.  Bernard taught me to eat the crawfish, then throw the shells up in the air.  Seagulls would swoop down and catch the shells in mid-air.  I thought that maybe was kind of cruel, since how disappointed must the seagulls be to find they were eating only empty shells? 

Another memorable Lake Ponchartrain experience involves crossing the Causeway.  This 24-mile long bridge looks about as stable as something your five-year old might build out of toothpicks.  Every so often, there are variable message boards telling you the windspeed, since at times it has to be closed for high winds when your car can be blown off the roadway.  Very comforting.  What happens if you’re already on the bridge when they close it down?  According to their website, 42,000 vehicles cross the bridge every day. Trust me:  this is Louisiana.  One day the bridge will fail, and 12,000 vehicles or so will plunge into the lake.  Bring your lifejacket if you plan to cross. 

My other memory of Lake Ponchartrain is going to eat at Brunings, a legendary seafood restaurant restuarant that opened in 1859.  I have two memorable moments from Brunings.  Once while sitting at the bar, with friends, waiting for a table, I struck up a conversation with a fisherman sitting next to me as we were each eating a dozen raw oysters.  (Sometimes, I don’t want to be bothered.  Then sometimes, I’ll start a conversation about something with a total stranger.)  I said, “Good oysters, huh?”  His reply:  “Not salty enough.”  Fishermen are men of few words. 

My first time at Brunings, I was looking out the huge windows and there were all these fish jumping in the lake.  They were amazing.  They jump really high.  I asked the waitress what they were.  She gave me this look like, what spaceship did you arrive on?  They were mullet.  Now I know where the lyrics come from (Fish are jumpin’, and the cotton is high).

I only learned today that the West End, including Brunings,was completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.  From Wiki:,_New_Orleans  Not nearly the worst that happened.  That occurred in the Lower 9th Ward.  I lived in the Upper Ninth when I was there.  Between me and the Lower Ninth was the Bywater, but it still means that the majority of people who drowned were my neighbors.

But I’ll end this as I started, remembering Troy Russell, the New Orleans dog.  I had to put Troy Russell to sleep in 2005 when he was at or near 13 years old, because he could no longer walk properly.  He had outlived both of his best friends, my friend Lebron’s lab mixes Timmy and Douglas.  No one ever expected that, since TR had had such a hard beginning and Timmy and Douglas had been pampered since puppyhood.  I can only just now, after four years, start picturing Troy Russell in his prime when he was having fun and I was having fun with him, instead of picturing him in his decline.  Old dogs never really die.  They pop up in your memory at odd moments, like when you’re thinking about Lake Ponchartrain.