Category Archives: Uncategorized

Why I Like Science

When did “science” become a word with political connotations? I guess around the time of the Scopes Monkey Trial. But science ought to be considered an objective medium, not subjective content.

“Science” is a verb, not a noun. Science is a method, not product. Science is analogous to “language” — it is a set of logical rules that allow for communication.

Sorry anarchists, but you have to have rules, in order to interact. Yeah, I know, “rules” have a bad connotation. “Rules” suggest things that you are forbidden from doing because they are “against the rules.” But “rules” also establish a framework of how to interact. And rules are absolutely necessary. Rules tells us how to do things correctly. They are a meta- part of interaction. Would you like to play a game? Well you need to agree on the rules of the game. Or else there can be no game. There is no game without rules–the rules define what the game is, the allowable actions, what choices you can make to win the game against other people who are also playing by the rules. There can be no strategy without rules, or else the loudest most powerful person wins all of the time. The rules are the medium by which people interact to play a game.

Science is set of rules. You can’t make up a new set of science rules in order to “win” an argument. If “an object that is in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by another force” is a rule of science (physics), you can’t say that that applies in some circumstances but not others. That’s the rule. So if I throw a ball against a wall and it hits the wall and falls to the floor rather than continuing in a straight line, I have to explain how that happened according to the rule (gravity is an outside force pulling the ball toward the center of the earth).

Cheaters break the rules. They can’t win unless they (a) pretend to play by the rules but don’t; or (b) declare the rules invalid. People who are against science don’t fit (a) but can only rely on (b).

Here is a rule of thumb: if you meet somebody that says that “science” itself is fake or subjective–they are probably trying to win at some political argument at which they have no objective ability to win.

Let’s take two examples:

  1. Two men are on one side of the Grand Canyon. They are hungry and thirsty and need to get to the other side. One man says “We have to climb down the canyon to the valley and find a way back up the other side to the village that we can see on the other side.” The other says “I think we can jump across.” Science allows the two men to have an argument based on a common set of objective facts. Says the first man “I think if we jump, gravity will pull us toward the bottom of the canyon. We can only propel ourselves forward at 3 mph, but gravity will propel us at 32 feet per second toward the center of the earth…and the other side of the canyon is 1/4 mile away…if we run and jump our momentum will not be enough to carry us forward to the other side of the canyon before gravity pulls us down.” The men can have an argument based on specifics IF they agree on the science. The second man could say, for example, “If we hike up the canyon to that outcropping, we only have to jump three feet to the other side.” That’s a legit argument, based on the rules of science. If the second man, though, says “Nah I don’t believe in science, I think if we run and jump we will fly through space and not get pulled down by gravity” then the first man should say “This guy is a lunatic and I’m definitely not going to follow this other guy’s lead.”
  2. Two legislators are debating whether to adopt a law that says that $1M should be spent to plant corn in the frozen tundra of Alaska. The first person says “This makes no sense…the seeds will never grow in frozen snowy ground…it just can’t happen because of science.” Now the second legislator can either say “well I have a plan to warm the ground so that the seeds will grow” (science) or “that’s just your opinion, I think seeds will grow in tundra if we want them to” (rejection of science; no ability to debate because the legislators don’t agree on a common set of physical cause-and-reaction rules).

In the last two generations our legislators have devolved into kinds of people. One says “we should do X because it makes sense based on everything we know about how the world works” and the other group which is elected due to contributions from groups (religious; corporate) which exist due to the status quo, who cannot win an argument based on facts, who therefore have to cheat at the game by championing a public opinion campaign against science as a set of rules.

Objectively: “We know that evolution is real, everything we have learned through the scientific method proves it.

Subjectively: “I reject the whole idea of the scientific method. Why? Because…well because I can’t win if we use science. Therefore science itself is wrong…and everybody can believe what they want…and how come you’re talking about science? If you talk about science you must be a communist (1955 Joseph McCarthy) or a pedophile (2020 QAnon).”

You can disagree about the conclusions of the scientific method (the premises are wrong; you reached a wrong conclusion based  on the facts)–but to call science itself wrong or to suggest it is based on political opinions is a really good sign that the person with whom you are talking has an opinion that is not based in reality, just some emotional opinion.

I base my conclusions on science and really despise people who argue against me based on non-scientific feelings, whether they are on the right (“there’s no such thing as global warming because God made the earth”) or the left (“there’s not such thing as truth”; “If I say I can see auras around people then you can’t tell me I don’t even though I can’t explain why or how that could be true.”)

Science, essentially, allows a person who is intelligent to tell a person who is not intelligent that they are full of shit. That’s why I like science.

The Upside of COVID

Letisha is making acrylic paintings and inventing a better box for holding spaghetti. My neighbor was out with her 19 year old daughter fixing a bike that hasn’t been used in ten years. I made sauce for my mozzarella sticks by boiling a tomato and adding spices, and as Mr. Food used to say on CBS afternoon news in the 1990s, “Ooh it’s so good.” The Trump administration is passing $2 trillion legislation to put money into the hands of working class unemployed and it even might give them a few more dollars than they’d have earned cleaning toilets and scraping customer’s half-eaten food scraps into the garbage. It is a strange COVID world.

Social distancing sucks…at least as far as my vices are concerned. By bank account doesn’t mind that I’m not spending $35 a day at bars. That’s going to help me put a down payment on a house.

I have to say that I am pretty proud of my generation, which at this point is the dynamic segment of the body politic. If you told me six months ago that bars and restaurants would be closed and 17 million people would be unemployed overnight–a 3,500% week-over-week increase–I’d have predicted, if not riots in the streets, at least a movement on par with Occupy NYC. Instead, everyone from college students to the elderly have basically taken this all in stride. I think that shows a maturity among The People that one may not deduce existed based on the behavior of our electoral representatives.

I can tell you that as a single male who spends a lot of time in bars, shelter-in-place has been a drag on my social life. But I’ve been forced to spend time outside of bars before, because of being broke, and I knew I could deal with it. I’ve got a lot of hobbies. I thought that most other people would freak out though. I thought that crime would go through the roof and Facebook would be full of complaints. Instead, I see people posting “Eye Spy” comments–where people are posting the first picture in their phone’s photos that has the color yellow or blue. You know what that reminds me of? It reminds me of when the power would go off in New Baltimore as a kid and me, my sister, my parents and maybe my grandparents would sit around for hours playing Eye Spy or bunko or cards. And you know what? Its really refreshing!

A couple of years ago there was a blackout for a night and I was driving through Ravena. I saw kids out riding bikes and jumping in puddles for the first time in years. I think I wrote a cynical comment about it on Facebook at the time. Now COVID has been like a month-long black out and instead of bringing out the worst in people, at least everyone in my social group–which if you include Facebook friends is over a thousand people–it has brought out the best. Videos of Jesse making a marble roller coaster with his daughter. Julianna watching Charmed with her dog. Someone said that the animal shelters have sold record numbers of animals. Good for the animals. Good for those rational animals who act as masters: humans. Doesn’t this all show that we are all fundamentally…decent?

If we are fundamentally decent–as I really believe–the what about COVID makes it apparent where a month ago it was not?

Is it the fact that we are in a crisis? Let me say, emphatically: NO! Crisis-mongers sell crises. Often, they sell crises with the argument that it will make people come together and act as good citizens. Sometimes they are right, as in the case of a hurricane or earthquake when people band together out of empathy and volunteer or donate to victims. In other crises, like global warming or poverty or lack of health care, people don’t particularly respond because the problem is too big to figure out and nobody wants to try and help if other people don’t seem to be helping, too. And then you get your crisis-mongers who give us professionally-made crises that serve as opportunities for war or civil police action, pitting one group against another for the benefit of the political and economic actors who benefit electorally and economically from the likely response of the people to the crisis, because the people are scared. Those are the crises that seem to go on for ten or twenty years, paid for through general taxation, for the general enrichment of war mongers and industry. No–the decency of people is not the result of a crisis, as though we are usually indecent unless a crisis makes us rise to the occasion. Rather, the decency of people is becoming apparent because this particular crisis has damaged those processes and habits that usually and unnaturally cause us to act indecently.

What COVID and shelter-in-place has changed is the perspective of what we need to do, as individuals, to survive, economically in modern society.

Don’t you think it is pretty unnatural for two people to have children, and then to pay childcare providers to take care of those children until they go to school, and then send those children to school, and then for the two people to come home in order to spend a few hours with the children after nine or ten hours of commuting to work and working and commuting back, so that they spend a few stressed-out waking hours with their offspring 5-out-of-7 days a week? Until COVID that was what you had to do. Why? Because there was this idea that you had to be physically at work in order to do your job. The worker could not be trusted to work at home, because they would slack off and the employer wouldn’t be able to squeeze the maximum amount of labor out of the employee to maximize the employer’s investment. Now COVID has made remote work necessary, and it turns out its not the end of the world. Even at my job with the Legislature, there are rules for bills being physically printed and carried to different locations, and legislators being physically present to constitute a quorum. Staff had to be physically present to sign legislation as it was turned around from the Legislative Bill Drafting Commission from a word document into a Legislative Bill Draft. Staff would generally work 90 hour weeks in March in order to be physically present when the bills were “turned around for sign-off.” This was the most stressful part of the year, when people brought cots to work in order to sleep between meetings that were scheduled all night long. Now, by necessity, staff was sent home to telework. Systems were devised to sign off on legislation electronically. Instead of 100 hour weeks, many staff were able to do the same work in 40 or 50 hours–while being home with their families. Why would we ever return to the old system? It required tens of thousands of man-hours for the same result–why? In order to show that workers were busy? Why? Because if workers aren’t visibly working until the verge of exhaustion, they are lazy or exploiting the system? For modestly more than a subsistence wage?  Sheesh.  I am glad that COVID provided a justification for workers capable of remote work to do their jobs from home without the perception of being lazy or gaming the system. It turns out that work in an office is pretty unnatural and nobody wants to do it, and its better for us to do it as little as possible–and, it turns out, if we can work less, we’re going to spend time with our families and friends, which is a good thing for the individual and the kids and the friends and the families and everybody else in society.

And what of those workers who cannot remote-work because their job requires their physical presence? The fact that the federal government expanded unemployment insurance for those workers who are unemployed because their business closed is surprisingly, again, decent. The fact that the economy and therefore Trump and the Senate Republicans could not have survived the next election if 17 million people suddenly found themselves without income only diminishes the decency of the act by degrees. The increased unemployment subsidy and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for those who would not otherwise qualify for unemployment is probably the most decent thing that the federal government has enacted in three and a half years. The fact that the benefit is not merely adequate, but equal or exceeds the money that these workers would have made had their businesses not shuddered is actually extraordinary. That the Congress in a little over a week voted for a $2 trillion stimulus plan, with a Republican Senate and President, really defies belief. The fact that Republicans have claimed responsibility for such a New Deal-like response makes me think that it will be difficult in the future for them to argue for straight Trickle-Down stimulus in the future. The cat has been out of the bag for twenty years that trickle-down economics doesn’t work, but now its really going to be hard for politicians to argue that does, having taken such liberal action during COVID in order to protect the economy which Trump needs to survive electorally.

What of those front line workers in the healthcare industry? Who work at grocery stores and on mass transit? This crisis has surprised a lot of people by informing them that these workers, too, often work for a subsistence wage without health insurance. Oops. Turns out that that’s a problem. Here’s what I see happening in the next few months. Health care workers are going to have to make a decision, based on their treatment during this crisis and the likelihood of future pandemics, about whether they want to work in healthcare. It reminds me of the Black Plague. The Black Plague killed 50-75% of Europe in a year. Prior to the Black Plague, the Feudal System reigned in Europe–Lords/Landowners gave protection to serfs who scraped the earth for their bare survival and gave the great majority of their harvest to the Lords for profit. After the Black Plague, there were so few people to farm that Lords had to actually pay wages to workers to get them to farm. This was the first step in the transition of the European economy from serf-labor to wage labor. I think after the dust of COVID settles, healthcare workers will require higher wages and health insurance in order to work in the healthcare industry. I don’t think there will be strikes. I think there will just be a shortage of people working in the field, which will trigger higher wages and benefits from hospitals and insurance companies in order to lure them into service.

All of this begs the question, for me: are we done with 40 hour work weeks in offices for subsistence wages or a little better? Or have we subtly transitioned to an economy where there is a more relaxed relationship between government, employers and employees? Must work be stressful and irksome in order for employers not to feel taken advantage of? Must all workers commute to work, in the process incurring childcare costs and commuting costs, or can we just continue with this system where a remote worker works to the extent that there is work to do, and spends the rest of the time at home, doing whatever they want to do?

Rather than tie up this note with a thesis statement or something, I want to throw out an idea. Imagine that everyone who is working from home now just continued to work from home. How would that effect families? How would that effect family budgets? How would that effect people’s sense of well-being and health? How would that effect the environment? Take this for a thought experiment: Albany has a lot of state-owned office buildings. What if 60% of the workers in those offices worked from home? Would the parking and air quality improve in the city? Could the state vacate most of the floors in those office buildings and retrofit them for low-income housing? How would that effect rents in the city? How would that effect crime in the city? Would it bring money to the state through such rents? Would it enable the state to pay property tax on those buildings, which they are not doing now? If the state was paying property tax on 10 buildings in Albany, which it is not paying now, wouldn’t that decrease the property taxes of the other real property owners? Wouldn’t lower taxes make real estate more attractive, triggering the purchase of more buildings which are currently vacant, further decreasing property taxes? Would this create a greater tax base for Albany to pay for amenities like parks and festivals and a rejuvenated waterfront? Could Lark Street be the next Warren Street in Hudson? If so, wouldn’t that provide a market for all the craftspeople who live in Center Square? If Lark Street had a dozen new shops with interesting items for sale, and maybe functioned as a pedestrian street on Saturdays like Burlington, with a band, wouldn’t that draw lots of new people to the area? Wouldn’t that be a boon to the restaurant owners and the tipped workers in the area? If the answers to all these questions for Lark Street are “yes”, wouldn’t the answers be the same for a lot of small cities?




Joker Review (2 out of 4 stars)

(Image from

“Joker” invites comparison with “Taxi Driver.” Some people might even claim that Joker is Taxi Driver for millennials. If that is true, let’s think about what that means.

I was about 21 years old when I first rented Taxi Driver, on DVD, from the video store. I’d heard that the guy who shot Reagan had been affected by the movie, so I decided to watch it mostly from an historical perspective. I watched the movie, sat for about five minutes thinking, and then I watched it all over again. Then I watched the documentary. The next day I watched the film again.

Taxi Driver follows an insomniac cabbie named Travis Bickle, a loner, a Vietnam vet (in a scene where Robert DiNero does pushups in his kitchen, his back is covered in whip scars) as he forms a plan to Do Something, anything, to declare his existence.

Joker’s protagonist seems to have a similar motivation. He is a loser by any normal standard, and he can’t seem to make friends with anyone. But there is a difference. Travis Bickle is unhappy, but he does not appear to other characters in the film to be mentally ill. He holds a job, lands a date with a beautiful woman, his co-workers joke with him. Travis Bickle’s problem is that he unconsciously sabotages himself. He takes the beautiful woman to an x-rated movie theatre. He toughens himself by holding his wrist over a stove flame and does a regimen of pushups, then eats a meal made of bread, milk, honey about 10 tablespoons of sugar and whiskey in a bowl. He pushes his TV stand with his foot further, further, until the TV falls and breaks, and then he buries his face in his hands as if to say “Why did you do that!” The effect is that the viewer understands that, yes, the world in which Travis Bickle lives is filthy and he is surrounded by seedy characters, but this is to some extent the result of faults in Travis’ behaviors. Almost as though, at some level, Travis wants to live in his environment, because it allows him to reinforce his misanthropy and his feeling of martyrdom.

Joker’s protagonist never has a chance. He is portrayed as being mentally ill at the beginning of the film, having spent time in a mental hospital. His coworkers are mean to him, he is the victim of a beat down while dressed as a clown (his job), and then his boss doesn’t believe he was beat up, so he docks his pay. One of his coworkers gives him a gun (the film seems to suggest that the coworker wants to get Joker in trouble), which he then drops while performing at a children’s hospital. A woman on a bus yells at him for being nice to her kid. While riding the subway, three drunk rich kids start to beat him up. Even Batman’s dad, who is running for mayor, punches Joker in the face. Oh, and Joker lives with his mom and used to get beat up by her boyfriend as a kid. Okay, so the guy is mentally ill and very unlucky. I mean the guy gets beat up two days in a row by strangers.

I get it, this is a fictional Gotham City, it’s not supposed to be the real world. But that’s kind of the problem with this movie. It seems to take itself seriously; it seems to want to make a comment on mental illness and the subculture that doesn’t get laid and hates the trust fund people. But to get to the point that the viewer feels some kind of sympathy for the anti-hero, the film has to make the world in which the character lives so brutal that it stops being a real world. It’s like the film wants to have it both ways: it wants to say, “See, society drives people to be like the Joker,” and also, “This is not society as it really exists.” Some people who identify with the Joker may feel that the world is the way it is presented in the movie, but they are delusional. Everybody has a good day every now and then, and they can make something out of it, maybe. The Joker has never had a good day in his life. So he kills people. Is that some kind of moral?

Even if you have not seen Taxi Driver, you know the scene where DiNero stands in front of a mirror and practices tough talk. “You talkin’ to me? Well I don’t see anybody else here. Okay. Take THAT ya FUCK!” There is a very similar scene in Joker, where the character pretends to meet a girl on a dance floor and fantasizes about shooting a guy that’s with her, but he accidentally shoots a hole in his wall. There’s another scene where he walks into an automatic door. So the Joker is bumbling. Travis Bickle is methodical: he cuts a curtain rod and fashions a kind of holster so he can hide a gun in his sleeve and have it drop into his hand. He walks up behind a robber while shopping at a bodega, points the gun at his head, says, “Hey,” waits for the robber to turn around, then shoots him. When, in the end of the movie, Bickle goes on his killing spree, it is unexpected, but not surprising. When Joker goes on his killing spree, I think he was the only one in the theatre who didn’t see it coming.

So the biggest problem with the film is that it doesn’t seem to know whether the Joker is already a psychopath, or “society” makes him one. It seems to suggest that he is already looney when the film starts. So then, what is the point of the film?

Roger Ebert almost always gave at least a half of a star, unless the movie was so aggressively bad or morally bankrupt that he could find no cinematic value to it whatsoever. One film that he awarded zero stars was called “I Spit on Your Grave.” In this movie, a woman is terrorized and raped and tortured and left for dead over the course of an hour and a half, and then she gets her revenge by terrorizing and torturing the men who terrorized and raped and tortured her. “The whole point of this movie seems to be to show such awful things being done to one person that you don’t feel so bad when they do awful things to other people,” (I’m paraphrasing Ebert). But the problem is that the viewer doesn’t feel that any justice has been done, just that a woman had her life ruined and then was just as bad to the bad people as the bad people were to her. Is that entertainment?

What makes Joker watchable is Joachim Phoenix’s performance. He does a very good job of seeming mentally ill. And that’s what most of the movie is, watching Joachim Phoenix act mentally ill. But you could probably save $15 and talk to John outside Lionheart if you want to see someone act mentally ill. Or you can watch the President speak at one of his rallies.

Probably I am being too hard on this movie, but it almost literally begs to be contrasted with Taxi Driver. It has DiNero in it. The characters pretend to shoot themselves in the heard with a gun made out of their index and ring fingers, just like DiNero did in his closeup at the end of the climax of Taxi Driver. If a film is going to try so hard to draw a parallel between itself and a classic, then it raises the critical bar.

The cinematography of Taxi Driver moves the plot. In one scene, Travis Bickle looks at the bubbles in an Alka Selzer, and the camera zooms in and holds the shot for half a minute as the background noise of diner conversations fades out. This says “Travis Bickle is zoned out.” In another scene, Bickle stands talking into a payphone, and you hear him apologize and rationalize his having taken Betsy to an x-rated movie for a date. The camera pans away so Bickle’s voice is off screen, while the shot shows an empty hallway for 45 seconds. The message: Loneliness. The only scene that really stands out to me from Joker is one where he dances on some steps in the sunlight in his Joker outfit. The message: the Joker is insane. But I already knew that.

Taxi Driver’s characters are multi dimensional. You kind of don’t like Betsy, but you see why Travis would be attracted to her, and she gives him a chance. You don’t care for the pimp, Harvey Keitel, but he is funny and seems to want to protect the 13 year old prostitute that he whores out. Travis Bickle is actually likable, he seems to have a sense of morality. The result is a feeling of foreboding and loss as the film reaches its climax and you realize that all of these characters are going to die because of the choices that they made. Joker’s characters are as one dimensional as you can get. There are Drunk White Rich kids, who throw french fries at nice girls and punch clowns in the face, so they have to get shot. There is a Mean Fat Coworker who gets the Joker in trouble, so he has to get stabbed in the neck and eye and his head smashed against a wall a bunch of times. There is a nice midget who is always friendly, so he does not have to get killed. There is a Delusional Mother who let her boyfriend beat up the Joker when he was a child, so she has to get smothered. There is a talkshow host who made fun of the Joker for being a terrible comedian, so he has to get shot on live TV. There is a rich guy whose wife wears pearls, so he has to get shot and his wife has to get shot. The only character development in the movie is when the Joker draws a letter in his notebook.

John Wick was entertaining. John Wick kills sixteen thousand three hundred and forty-seven people, because they killed his dog. There is no universe in which any of that makes sense, so you just watch the film and admire it for the complexity of the choreographed fight scenes. Joker only kills six people in the movie, so there is significance to the murders. It’s like the movie wants you to think that murdering is okay as long as you’ve been treated badly enough by everybody and never had a good day in your life. I’m not sure that’s a great message to put out there, because when people are depressed and lonely, they forget about any good days that they’ve had, and they think they have never had a good day and everyone has treated them badly and they are miserable through no fault of their own. Does that mean that they should go murder people? Maybe they ought to just go on vacation, or to a bar, or get a hobby. Woodworking is nice. Or hiking.

35 days, 362 miles…

When we left Silkie’s Crows Nest marina, the guy who let us use the ramp said “You been here a week and you ain’t left Sharpsburgh yet. This three or four month trip of yours is gonna take you three or four years!” Well, now we are in Portsmouth, Ohio, 362 miles south of Sharpsburgh. That means we’re traveling an average of 10.34 miles a day. At that rate we will make it to New Orleans 158 days from now, around March 11th.

Sam and I would be quite broke and in need of chiropractic care well before that point. Probably some psychiatric care as well.

The problem isn’t that our boat is unsafe or that we didn’t plan well ahead of time for the expedition. I’ve been planning the trip for almost a year, building the boat for eight months and fundraising since May. But we barely finished putting the boat together when we got hit by the hurricane flooding in Sharpsburgh, our primary motor died after a week, and as a result we keep having to spend two days to a week on shore as we get motors fixed or make changes to the boat to make it lighter and more maneuverable.

Out of 35 days, we’ve been stuck on shore due to weather or motor problems 21 of those days. Our average when we’re actually moving is 25.85 miles per day, and we’ve had a few days in which we have travelled more than 40. This includes the time we’ve spent locking through more than half the locks on the Ohio, which can take some time out of our day and necessitate stopping as well as slowing down the river’s current.

At that rate we will make it to New Orleans in 55 days, or around December 5th, which is actually about five days before I had originally planned to arrive.

So, everything hinges on getting the motor fixed or getting a new motor that runs.

Even if the motor only works until we get to the Mississippi, I’d be happy to stay close to shore, row for steering, and float with the current for propulsion. But we cannot go through the remaining 9 locks on the Ohio without a motor, at least not with the boat in its current length.

If we cannot get our current motor working, or find a replacement, within a few days, we are going to basically cut the boat down to half it’s size, get rid of all equipment and tools except bare essentials, use the trolling motor for emergency power, and propel the boat, basically, by oar.

The upside to that plan is that we will save on gas and we will look like Arnold Schwarzenegger by the time we get to Louisiana.

This trip is turning into a rehash of my adventures on the Hudson, except the seven boats and five years from those expeditions are all crammed into one, this time.

By the way, this was supposed to be a book tour, so I’ll put a plug in here. My books are called “Coming of Age on the Hudson” and there are two volumes, but they are quick reads. There are pictures. Just make sure you buy the blue copy on Amazon, not the yellow one.


One Last Setback of 2017, Averted!

It wouldn’t have been right if there wasn’t an hours-long setback on the last day of 2017, a year that was pretty much one long string of disasters politically and culturally. But personally, this year I’ve learned to take action ahead of time in order to have the time and resources to meet such challenges.

Back in February I hit a piece of ice while moving my car on a street-sweeping day, and busted the exhaust system. The mechanic said it would cost $1,200 to fix. I said he should junk the car. He called me back fifteen minutes later and said “You know, I think I could Jerry-rig something up for $300.” So I had a car for a while longer.

I had a big grand boat book tour planned for the summer. It turned out that a lot of book stores won’t stock my book and NPR won’t have me on the radio, because I’m self-published. Even the BS Albany ALT Magazine wouldn’t respond to my emails. After two days on the boat, she started taking on water. The old me would have said “It’s NYC or bust!” and ended up sinking with $1,000 worth of equipment and books on board around Poughkeepsie. Instead I adapted and drove to bars and marinas for the tour, met an international group of people canoeing up the river, and now I’m working with them to schedule their adventure down the Hudson next year (and I still have my boat and motor because it didn’t sink).

At Thanksgiving, coming back from my sister’s house downstate, my engine started crapping out, like it wasn’t getting gas when I hit the pedal. The next day I was supposed to drive to Indian Lake to visit a friend for the night. Its an hour and a half drive without cell service at the end. The old me would have driven up and made due with whatever happened. But then I thought “If I get up there and my car breaks down I’m going to have to flag someone down and then get towed for fifty miles at least, and all this might cost me $1,000.” So instead I picked up a shift at El Loco and made money and avoided potentially losing $1,000. It’s little stuff like that that adds up.

Today I am having dinner with my family at Red’s in Coxsackie. I’m going to my parent’s house at four. I haven’t started my car since Tuesday and it’s been really cold. I figured I’d just make sure it would start at noon. Of course it didn’t. But it gave me time to check the fuel cap, try starting it in neutral, turning the wheel, brushing the terminals free of corrosion, and then finally calling my friend Alison for a jump, which worked, two hours later, but one hour before I had to leave.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Human felicity is produced not as much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.” I think we should keep that in mind as we enter 2018.

How Dare They Take A Knee During That Song That Plays Before Sports Games!

I’m a big fan of the Bill of Rights. In case you’ve been too busy screaming about immigrants and or looking at food pictures on Instagram, the Bill of Rights are the first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America. After the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, each of the original 13 colonies held a convention where delegates met to decide whether to abandon the former Articles of Confederation to form our current Union. Think of it as a reality show, where during the 1789 season, the question was out there hanging over the would-be nation: “Will the states adopt this Constitution?” The answer actually seemed to be “No,” until an agreement was reached that IF the colonies adopted the new Constitution, THEN the first order of businesses for the new government would be the passage of the amendments we now know as the Bill of Rights. Think of the original Constitution as the blueprint for how the new government would operate, while the Bill of Rights are what give our country its distinctive moral character, by allowing The People to assemble together, to bare arms, to receive due process when accused of a crime, and to speak freely.

Sometimes, somebody burns a draft card, or burns their bra, right in the middle of the street. Sometimes, somebody burns an American flag, or takes a knee during the Star Spangled Banner–on TV nonetheless (!)–and then certain other people go apoplectic. All of a sudden these people become political scientists arguing chicken versus egg scenarios:

“How can someone have the right to burn the flag or take a knee during the national anthem, which are like symbols of our country, when the whole reason they have a right to have free speech is because of the country? It ought to be considered treason and they should be shot!”

You end up listening to a diatribe that’s not very different than listening to someone who has been the same religion since they were infants talking about their religion and how it makes the most sense out of all of the religions and it makes more sense than agnosticism or atheism. It’s not so much a conversation as somebody yelling about something they are certain they are right about, and they go hysterical if you argue with them.

So now, in case you missed it, some NFL players are putting their knees on the ground during the National Anthem, as a protest about something, and the President of the United States, whose business and political career are based on getting people to talk about him constantly like a kind of bomb-throwing-Michigan-J-Frog, tweeted that the owners of NFL teams should fire anybody who takes a knee, and then a lot more players–whole teams, some coaches, some fans–put their knees down during the National Anthem, and now the people that hate anybody who protests anything are out again, arguing that the knee-takers owe a lot to the country for being the place where they were born and therefore shouldn’t disrespect the Star Spangled Banner.

I’m going to say something here, and a lot of people will get mad, but somebody ought to say it:

Who really cares about the Star Spangled Banner?

The song is more than 200 years old, but not old enough to be from the Revolution. It’s from the War of 1812, which few people know the details about. It was pretty much the worst war for the U.S. in our history. A lot of the same people that go crazy over flag burning or taking God out of the Pledge of Allegiance go around repeating this weird old lie that “We’ve been very lucky, the U.S. has never had a war fought on its soil.” Except that during the War of 1812 we lost almost every land battle, the President had to flee Washington D.C., and the British burned the Capitol and the White House. “Well, I meant besides that,” these people might say.

The Star Spangled Banner was written by attorney Francis Scott Key as the British bombarded Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor. The poem celebrates the fact that the flag was still flying over the fort after a night of bombardment, so Baltimore might yet avoid capture. It does not mention that nobody knew where President Madison was at the time, while the White House and Capitol were on fire. I suppose the song has always appealed to those True Patriots who try to put the best face on the conditions of the country at a given time. So then this poem goes on to be popular, and they put it to the tune of a British song (how ironic), and about 117 years later Congress made it the official song of American officialdom, replacing such classics as God Bless America and My Country Tis of Thee, the latter of which is also supposed to inspire patriotism in everybody’s hearts even though no one knows what the heck a -tis-of-thee is, or what it means for My Country.

Very few people know the words to these songs, or why or when then were written. No one listens to them in their cars; the songs don’t play in the grocery stores, or at local parades because we don’t really have those anymore. The only time anybody hears these songs is when they go to a sports game. After spending a hundred dollars on a ticket and the last three hours getting drunk and throwing bean bags into a corn hole, everybody gets silent for three minutes while the high school glee club or a celebrity that can hit three octaves comes out and everybody puts their hands over their hearts and gets a tear in their eye, and that’s America Being Patriotic, and the point is to get done with that solemn obligation as soon as possible to get back to drinking and media watching and forgetting about your hard job, etc.

Then somebody takes a knee and it just ruins the pageant of the whole thing. They take a knee and it’s like an audience member at a Broadway show shouting “Hey everybody, those are actors up there, not real people.”  It jerks the audience out from their immersion in the narrative.

And that is what really aggravates the people. That is what really makes a protester intolerable. I mean if you go to a Broadway show, and somebody jars you out of the narrative, you’d be annoyed, because you paid a lot of money to be there and have the experience of paying a lot of money to forget about your life for a couple of hours, and if you go to a sports game or watch it on TV, it’s like the same thing. People want to sit there and drink their beer and eat their frozen food and they don’t want to think about the beer coming from a huge international corporation that owns all the other beer companies that used to be locally owned and independent; they don’t want to think about the nacho cheese that isn’t a dairy product and comes from petroleum; they don’t want to think about the chicken wings coming from a huge corporate farm where the chickens never see sunlight before they die–they want to believe the commercials that show Joe the Farmer and the the Coors Lights being mined out of the ice already in cans in the Rockies. I get it. We pretend there are small farmers like the guy in the commercial, and we pretend there are medium-sized breweries the same as there was back in good ole 1950 like they show in the commercials, and we pretend we’re all united together like they show in the soft drink commercials, and the commercials leave out anything bad the way that Frank Key left the burning of Washington out of his Star Spangled Banner…and then some inconsiderate jerk takes a knee during the patriotic song that comes before the ceremony of the game like the bell ringing before Pavlov fed his dogs, and ruins the whole thing!

I once took a Philosophy of Law class and the professor said something that changed my view of government. She said that most people think of The Law as a list of things that you’re not allowed to do, but most of The Law facilitates human activity. It establishes the processes by which people get married, form businesses, or buy houses, get insured. The Law is a system of rules like those of a baseball game, which must be established before the players can start the game. The professor also pointed out that a function of the law is to take care of problems so that we don’t have to think about them all of the time. When you see a person on the street begging for money, you don’t have to feel personally responsible for them, because you know that some government agency somewhere exists to help them. If you swerve to avoid a pothole, you don’t have to think about when you and your neighbors can get some asphalt to fill the thing in, you know that some government agency somewhere has filling-potholes as one of their responsibilities. You don’t have to worry that somebody’s house will catch on fire and no one will come, because there are fire companies; that you won’t be able to get food, because there are grocery stores and a Department of Agriculture and a Department of Commerce, etc. Well, that’s all fine and good, but now we have a government that doesn’t seem able to deal with a growing number of problems. It’s not about the Democrats or the Republicans, but I suspect that more people are worried now than they were ten or fifteen years ago, because The President represents The Government to most people, and the current President doesn’t really seem genuine or like he particularly cares about the majority of citizens or that he grasps the gravity of a lot of the problems or that he is able to focus long enough to really study the causes of some of the country’s problems, let alone to form a plan that would reverse some of the negative trends that everybody sees but tries to forget about while watching football. It is a big problem because if you don’t trust that The Government can or will deal with society’s problems, then you have to start thinking about them yourself, and one of the main reasons any people have any government is to do their societal thinking for them.

So people are taking knees at football games, and now spectators have to think about how we have a lot of problems which The Government isn’t addressing. This seems like about the most American think I can imagine. And it seems necessary.

Necessary, because, really, most people do not engage in any meaningful way in politics, and that just doesn’t work in a democracy. Reading a political blog or liking a post or making a comment doesn’t really do anything. Giving money to this or that organization or political party or candidate, and voting, is only slightly more effective. Basically people like what they already like, give money to people or groups that already exist, and they are more or less equalled out by people who believe the opposite and like the opposite posts and give money to the opposite people and groups, and nothing ever happens. All these billions get soaked up in an argument machine and all this human energy gets used to argue, like 16 very big men playing tug of war. They could have built something with all their labor but instead one side just pulled the other toward them a few inches, one group of spectators cheered while the other booed, and it was a big waste of time.

So some guy who feels frustrated looking at this takes a knee during the Star Spangled Banner, and the President tweets that he ought to be fired because the knee-taking basically suggests that government isn’t doing a good job. And the government isn’t doing a good job, but Joe Spectator gets mad because he wants to pretend during the football game that the government is doing a good job, because the football game is fantasy, and the commercials that show small farmers and businesses are fantasy, and the food is fake and the house is made of modular parts and the car was designed to be obsolete before the loan payments are paid and the kids are withdrawing into their cell phones and none of this is like it was when Grandpa got back from the war, and it seems like it’s on the road to getting worse, and Joe Spectator does not want to think about this, but now he starts to think about it, and the house of cards starts to fall apart.

People would rather not think about how fake and crappy our culture is, and how it seems like we used to have moral integrity but we don’t anymore, and how the government seems like it used to be full of geniuses and now it’s just party hacks, etc ad nauseum. The knee-taking at the football game makes them think about that.

The easy solution: fire the player, or call him crazy or ungrateful. That way it’s HIS personal problem, and We Don’t Have To Think About It Anymore!



A New Yorker in New Orleans

*This  post is designed to be a one-stop site for information for people visiting New Orleans, Louisiana (“NOLA”).  There are  hyperlinks to the bars and other places visited, as well as pronunciation guides, cocktail descriptions, and general advice.*


Katie and I made a trip to New Orleans–my fifth and her second. I recommend New Orleans for anyone trying to escape the doldrums of winter in the Northeast, not only because New Orleans is warm, but because the city is alive with another culture with characteristics opposite to those which make Albany seem inanimate.

Albany and New Orleans are both river ports. New Orleans is approximately 31 miles upriver from the Gulf of Mexico, while Albany is 150. Neither New Orleans nor New York were originally British colonies–New York was taken from the Netherlands in 1688 and Louisiana purchased from France in 1803 (it became the 18th state in the union in 1812). As a result, both states have unique aspects to their common law and language which colored the local culture. New York obtained a leading position in the nation after 1825 by virtue of the Erie Canal, the only waterway to travel on an east-west axis through the Appalachian Mountains, which forced all goods from the Great Lakes through the port of New York City. Similarly, all goods traveling down the massive Mississippi Valley had to travel through New Orleans. Both became pots of immigration, graft, and licentiousness. But while New York as a state has been one of the most powerful political units over the nation’s history, Louisiana has been on the losing side of seemingly every cultural conflict from the Civil War through Prohibition to the rejection of federal funds in the 2009 stimulus package. You might say that political machines and corporations are the only effective actors in New York State, while in New Orleans the primacy of the individual still reigns, to the point where the state will resist the receipt of federal money if it would require some curtailment to the state’s citizen’s personal liberties. So you’ve got a very different culture between New York and New Orleans, which is the result not just of differences in climate, but of the idea of what constitutes The Good Life.


We set off for New Orleans from Albany International Airport at 7:14 a.m. When we planned our trip, Katie and I didn’t realize that we would be flying out of Albany on Superbowl Sunday. Perhaps because of that the lines were short and our tickets were fairly cheap. I tried to get a beer at the Saratoga Bistro but it was Sunday morning so we couldn’t buy one because the law says that we have to remember God on Sunday mornings in New York.

If the idea of me trying to get a beer at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning strikes you as odd, you are a victim of contemporary cultural brainwashing. From the history of the world until Prohibition there was no arbitrary noon rule when a person could have a drink without suffering social disapprobation. The rule treats alcohol as a vice per se, and this is a really modern idea. Originally a “cocktail” was medicine, which is why they originated in apothecary shops and used bitters composed of roots and herbs, sugar, fruit and water. John Adams drank a half-gallon of apple jack every morning and strolled through the woods for two hours. If you think about it, it isn’t the drink itself, but the binge behavior or the-attempt-to-get-drunk that is bad–and that behavior and attempt stems in large part from the substance’s restriction, just as the increased potency and decreased quality of cocktails resulted from liquor’s restriction during Prohibition (the only Amendment to the Constitution to have been repealed.)

There is always a layover from Albany to NOLA. Ours was in Charlotte, NC this time, though I’ve stayed over in Memphis, which is better for the restaurants.

The NOLA airport is easy to navigate. I’d recommend taking an Uber from the airport to your hotel. If you’re from Albany it will require you to download the app, but it’s the easiest thing in the world, trust me, and the vehicles are so much nicer than taxis. Our plane ticket came with 20% off Uber vouchers. If you prefer to pay more in order to ride in a crappier vehicle with a more annoying driver, a taxi will cost you about $35 to go from the airport to near the French Quarter, which is where you want to stay if you are going to NOLA for a cultural vacation. (While I prefer ride-sharing to taxis, I do not recommend AirBNB over a hotel for two reasons. First, the people that live and work in the French Quarter will dislike you if you stay in a French Quarter AirBNB because after Katrina a lot of out-of-towners bought the residential properties and they lease them via AirBNB to tourists, with the result that rents have increased beyond the means of the people who actually work in the area, so they have to commute now instead of living where they work. Secondly, if you get an AirBNB outside the French Quarter, as I did in 2012 in Treme, you are going to have to take an Uber or Taxi from the Quarter after dark, or you will be taking your life in your hands. In 2012 I stayed with my girlfriend in what seemed like the only nice gated house in the middle of Treme, which is like Arbor Hill in Albany both in its distance from the nightlife and the character of its residents and residences–broken down cars, stray cats, dilapidated buildings, menacing people seemingly without employment. If you’re going to have to pay an extra $20 or $40 a day for rides into the area you want to walk around, why not just pay for a hotel within safe walking distance? Then you’ll have a base to return to throughout the day.)

We were lucky enough to have a ride waiting for us at the airport. Our friends Dan and Amy live in Slidell, which is about a half-hour north of New Orleans, on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain, the huge lake to the north of New Orleans. We wanted to stay with Dan and Amy in order to catch up with our friends and to see and explore a new town.

Dan and Amy’s house in Slidell is up on stilts. During Katrina the water in the main part of Slidell was ten feet high, so it is prudent to elevate the buildings. There was clapboard around the stilts so that the ground level functioned like a breezy shaded house-size garage, which was a neat innovation. We dropped off our luggage and started on a perambulatory tour of Slidell, since it was 65 degrees.

Our first stop was Bruiser’s, “Home of the Barduca Dog,” a hot dog spot on Front Street and Fremaux, which is the northeast corner of Olde Towne Slidell. I ordered the Barcuda, which came with cheese, cole slaw, bacon and meat sauce, and surprised me by being 13 inches long. It was a quaint place with friendly locals run by a colorful former firefighter done up head-to-toe in Chicago Cubs apparel. The walls had funny advertisements such as a cartoon dog holding up a yellow tube of mustard with a caption that read “Practice Safe Lunch, Always Use Condiments.” If you happen to be at the bar when a train passes across the street, you get a $1 house shot.

Dan and Amy drove us a half an hour east to Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi. This was a beach town with a walkway that linked several three-story bars overlooking the gulf. As soon as we parked we heard a live band playing music from the space between two of the bars, in sand, on the other side of a fire pit with Adirondack chairs and two dogs laying, where a dozen people between 40 and 60 were dancing and laughing. We walked into the first level of Buoy’s Bar and ordered a Yuengling apiece for Dan and I and two Frozen Buoys for the ladies. You could taste the booze in the Frozen Buoys–they weren’t weak just because they were cold. We ambled upstairs to look  over the bay from the second deck, where there was an empty bar made from a wooden sailboat cut in half. Katie’s and my cold bones started to thaw as the reggae music echoed off the buildings and the sun began to dip toward the blue water.  We watched the beginning of the Superbowl at Tripletails on the third floor deck, before ambling at sundown to The Blind Tiger for some food, which is Dan’s favorite bar in the area. We had some delicious wings and nachos and stayed to watch Lady Gaga perform the halftime show. We were happy that Atlanta was winning, or rather that the Patriots were losing, and we listened to the third quarter on the radio as Amy drove us back to Slidell after dark. It was fun to listen to the announcers on the radio–even Katie enjoyed it and she is not a sports fan. It felt like we were listening to the radio back in 1960. We got home in time to see the depressing end to the game, which seemed almost a symbol of life in the U.S. right now, wherein the party with the most money, who is most obnoxious, came back to steal victory at the last moment from the workaday team.

One of my favorite things about visiting Dan is that he selects and sets aside several records for my enjoyment while visiting. Dan played a Sinatra album as he made Sazeracs for himself, Katie, Amy and I. [A Sazerac is considered to be the first cocktail. It consists of 1/4 oz. absinthe, one sugar cube, 1.5 oz. rye whiskey or cognac,  and three dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters.] Unfortunately, Amy had to work early in the morning and retired as Dan placed the next record, Billie Holiday, on the phonograph. Soon Katie was flagging too, and turned in, as Dan made us two Old Fashioneds–my favorite cocktail–and he told me that the first time he remembered having an Old Fashioned was the first time he drove me to New Orleans, in 2010, and I made them in our hotel room. [An Old Fashioned: muddle an orange slice and a cherry in an old fashioned glass, add a dash of bitters, a half-teaspoon of sugar, and a shot of bourbon, add ice and top with club soda.] Next Dan dropped the needle on Julie London–perfect late night music (listen to her sing “Cry me a River” at midnight with a glass of whiskey and tell me you don’t think modern American culture is one long declension from the jazz era).  Dan produced two Coors Originals–my favorite beer, and played Sinatra. Then we had another. On our third Sinatra album Dan moved to the kitchen and called,

“Would you like maybe a glass of water and another Coors Original?”

“I don’t feel like I necessarily need the glass of water,” I scoffed.

That was the last day I skipped the water while on vacation. The next morning I was hung over for the only time on the trip.


It was nice to sleep in on Monday morning until ten a.m. Katie gets up around six every day and although I work nights I get up at seven so I don’t feel slovenly. Plus the best time to get reading and writing done if you pay your bills with a regular job is before you go to work, not after. Anyway it was nice to get up and have a cup of coffee on Amy and Dan’s back porch, considering it was 60 degrees in Slidell while it was 30 in Albany. We were surprised that the foliage looked like upstate New York though we were near the Tropic of Cancer.  Dan awoke and said “I can’t keep up with Dallas like I used to,” and took a nap as Katie and I made breakfast using his food and kitchen. We had Wright’s Bacon (This is the only brand Dan buys, and points out that for an extra dollar and a half the bacon is about four times as delicious and thick) eggs with paprika (Katie’s favorite spice) and buttermilk.

After breakfast we drove to Dr. Wagner’s Honey Island Swamp Tours. We got a $3 discount because Katie and Dan both forgot their money and I only had $66, and they only accept cash, and the guy said we were close enough. In the shop where we bought our tickets was a very active turtle, a baby alligator and homemade swamp-themed coloring books. We got onto a flat-bottom boat that sat 24. Captain Charlie was struggling with a hangover from the night before, but was pleasant and knowledgeable. He grew up on the West Pearl River where the tours take place.

“In the movies they make it sound like if you fall into the water you have two seconds to live,” he laughed. “I guess they have to make it scary.” But he swam in the river and knew where the gators stayed. He explained that since it was February most of the alligators would be hibernating on the river bottom, because they require 70 degrees and direct sunlight on their skin in order for their stomachs to produce the chemical they need to digest their food. “If they don’t get sunlight they’ll get sick and even die.” Captain Charlie brought our boat up numerous tributaries so that we saw snakes in a tree, a hawk on a log, two baby gators, and a Great Blue Heron. Then we went up a tributary barely as wide as our boat, until we found ourselves in a forest of cyprus trees covered in white dangling Spanish Moss. It looked like a winter forest. Captain Charlie explained that cypress trees can live 1,500-2,500 years, “not as long as redwoods, but that’s still quite impressive if you think about it.” The trees around us were as old as Christ or Cleopatra? Yeah I’d say that is impressive. We stopped and Charlie whistled before throwing marshmallows off the boat, which raccoons came and ate.  He explained that we were in a “bayou,” which is a waterway, and in a “swamp,” which is a flooded forrest, as opposed to a “marsh,” which is a wetland that isn’t a flooded forrest. The most interesting part of the tour was when Charlie said, “Let me see if I can get the hogs,” made a noise, and six boars came out of the woods and swam up to our boat to eat marshmallows. One was a runt and the others kept squealing and running at it and stealing its food, but Charlie lured the others away with thrown marshmallows and then threw some directly to the runt, so he got to eat.

Back in Slidell we stopped into Bonnie C’s at 1768 Front Street for a sampler of onion rings, crawfish pies and crabby cakes. On the way we passed the police station and saw a young male running and smiling, who shouted to us, “I’m running and smiling ’cause I just got outa prison!” That night we went to The Brass Monkey for beers and shuffleboard before dinner, then to KY’s Olde Town Bicycle Shop, where I had a 1/2 catfish po’ boy and my first seafood gumbo of the trip. Later at night we listened to Sinatra albums but limited ourselves to one cocktail and two Coors Originals and made sure to drink a glass of water.


Dan had mailed me a signed copy of the book Lift Your Spirits, by Elizabeth Williams and his favorite bartender, Chris McMillian. If you enjoy craft cocktails, you really should watch this video, in which Chris McMillian plays the quintessential professional cocktail bartender, shows you how to really make a Mint Julep, and even recites a poem. More than a recipe collection, the book illuminates the cocktail culture which underpins the sociology of the nicer sections of New Orleans. Anyhow one of the cocktails listed in the book is the Corpse Reviver. “On those mornings when you wake up paying for the indulgences of the night before, a bit of reviving of the hungover corpse is in order. 1 1/2 oz brandy, 3/4 oz applejack, 3/4 oz sweet vermouth. Stir ingredients together in a cocktail shaker full of ice. Strain into tall glass.” It always sounded nasty to me but Dan insisted he made a great Corpse Revive # 2 (1 oz each: lemon juice, Countreau, gin and Lilet Blanc, plus 3 dashes of absinth liqueur.) In fact, he read from another cocktail book that this cocktail should be made at home, or at least at a real cocktail bar, because the measurements must be exact and an amateur will try to cut corners. Dan made us a round and we were clear to set out for the day, not even buzzed, but fortified.

The plan was for Dan to drive us to New Orleans, but a tornado struck the land exactly between Slidell and that city, so we decided to have lunch in Slidell in case the tornado was still going, because the worst scenario we could imagine was being hit by a tornado while crossing the bridge over Lake Ponchartrain. We went to Que Rico, a Cuban restaurant with brass music, red diner chairs and blue walls. Katie and Dan had tamale platters and I had ropa vieja, my first Cuban food. We also tried two orders of croquettes, which were like fried ham and chicken cheesey sticks. Before we left Slidell Dan took us to the Olde Town Soda Shop, an ice cream parlor with a 1950’s theme with white-aproned workers, chrome stools and table-top jukeboxes that took quarters. Katie even put 50 cents into the motorcycle video game. By mid-afternoon the sky had cleared and Dan drove us to New Orleans. He dropped us off at The French Market Inn on Decatur Street, just about in the middle of the French Quarter. After checking in we brought our luggage through a courtyard with a pool and tables and exposed brick, up to the fourth floor. Though our room had no windows, two walls were exposed brick and it had a skylight, so it was small but nice. We changed and went out to explore.

In the lobby the maitre d’ told us to leave the hotel, go left, take a left on Toulouse Street, and go to the Creole Cookery, which, he said, had a nice courtyard with music, a fountain, and a happy hour. We skipped the courtyard in order to sit at the bar because half the fun of trips to New Orleans is talking to the service staff. Katie ordered a ginger margarita and I ordered a French 75 (Named for the effective French artillery from the First World War: 1 part cognac, 1 part lemon juice, 1 part champagne [gin can be substituted for the cognac.] Serve up in a champagne flute after shaking with ice.) They had 50 cent raw oysters and $1 charred oysters–which we’d never heard of before. This was really a cool place. The bartender, a young guy my age named Wes, wore a white shirt and red tie. Two black guys in black shirts occupied stage left of the bar, which was one large shucking station. The oysters were in a big metal bin; one of the shuckers would take them out and use a knife to open them up. The other took a brush and dipped it in drawn butter, some other sauce, and grated cheese, before placing the half-shells on an open grill range. I’ve always struggled to swallow raw oysters, and Katie tried one and couldn’t stand the texture, but we figured when in Rome…so we ordered 6 of the charred. They were absolutely delicious, with the texture of clams casino…much easier for the novice or the squeamish. We had a conversation with the couple next to us, who were from Canada, just north of North Dakota. They’d flown to Houston for the Super Bowl and then driven to NOLA for their anniversary.

By then it was evening time, which is jazz time in New Orleans. [We didn’t even go to Bourbon Street on this vacation because it’s amateur hour up there–nothing but sugary drinks and debauchery, you can get that in the college ghetto of any city]. Instead we made our way to Frenchman Street, which is just outside the French Quarter, in the Marigny District. As soon as you turn the corner from Decatur or Esplanade Avenue onto Frenchman, you hear about four or five horn bands competing with one another. There is a row of maybe twenty bars on both sides of the street, none of which charge covers for their live music. We walked into Bamboula’s to hear a band made of a standup bass, guitar, clarinet and drums. They were playing Bill Bailey Will You Please Come Home. Since the selected martinis were $5, Katie ordered a Honeysuckle Lemon and I a Cucumber Lime. The lead singer announced that the band was called the Joe Goldberg Trio. They played The Hesitation Blues “with Cassidy Norton assisting on vocals.” During the break they announced, in vintage NOLA style, “Now folks this is our last song. Now Joe Goldberg is going to walk around with a bucket, and the best way to show your affection is when Joe comes around, you take out your wallet, you take $2 out of your wallet, put those $2 in your left pocket, and drop your wallet in our bucket.”

We had planned to have an actual dinner, but it was only about 6:30 p.m. and we strolled up Frenchman to The Spotted Cat, another of my favorite jazz spots. The Little Big Horns were playing Puttin’ On The Ritz as we walked in. The Spotted Cat feels like the old Lark Tavern in Albany when Tess Collins used to own the place–there are pictures, Mardis Gras masks, lots of different people from different backgrounds having fun together–kind of run down but charming because of its lack of pretension–low lighting.

Anyhow I saw on a sign that The Smoking Time Jazz Club was playing at 10 p.m. I love the band, and I’d wanted to interview the singer for some time, so Katie and I left to go back to the hotel and get ready for the evening. After we changed we killed some time by walking to the Napoleon House on Chartres and St. Louis Streets. If you’ve never been to NOLA you have to go to this bar and order a Pimm’s Cup [Basically, Pimm’s liquor, lemonade and a cucumber garnish]. I also tried a Sazerac with Absinth. They play classical music as the air blows in from the french doors and gaslights glow on the walls. I calculated that that day was my 11,905th day of being alive. We each had a Champagne Cocktail, which was kind of dry because of the bitters and brut, but nonetheless very easy to drink [1/3 oz cognac, 1 sugar cube, 3 dashes bitters, 3 oz champagne, topped with a lemon peel and cherry]. Then we made our way back to Frenchman to the Spotted Cat.

Katie chuckled when we were at LAX on Lark Steet in Albany two nights before our trip, reading my notes from the year before, when she read a passage that said “Listening to Smoking Time Jazz Club, my favorite contemporary band.” But they are my favorite contemporary band, and here is why.

I tried to hitch hike to New Orleans in 2007 and failed. In 2010 I visited Dan in Florida and he drove me to New Orleans for the first time. That night he and Amy and I went to the Spotted Cat and The Smoking Time Jazz Club was playing. I was 26 and never before in my life had I heard a live band playing my exact favorite kind of music. The closest I’d come had been when I went to the Jazz Band concerts in high school. I was–I can’t think of any other word but moved–by the idea that musicians playing music today, in the very present, were playing the Big Band music of Tommy Dorsey, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Billie Holiday, Chet Baker. Two years later in 2012 I went to New Orleans and happened to see The Smoking Time Jazz Club again, and they were again the band that played exactly the kind of music I wanted to hear, in a 10 or 12 piece orchestra, and the musicians were my age. For the first time I thought that it might be possible to meet people my age who wanted to make Big Band music, and when I got back to New York I started to focus on playing piano. Then I went to Dan’s bachelor party in New Orleans, but I was in grad school and therefore both broke and busy (I had to write a paper while my friends took a fanboat tour and then a ghost tour.) I finished a paper in the hotel room then walked vaguely toward Frenchman Street alone in the late afternoon. I went into Bamboulas and ordered a drink. Then I heard ten instruments strike up some energetic old brass song, and then Sarah Petersen start to sing vocals. Here I was having a cocktail–one of my favorite things–listening to jazz–one of my favorite things–on a beautiful afternoon–one of my favorite things–knowing that I’d hang out with seven of my best friends later–one of my favorite things–and each of those things was more intense than normal, plus all grouped together in a moment–and the band with the female singer crooning really struck me as the  trigger of my cascade of comforting conditions. I bought a CD and played it quite constantly when I returned to New York, and learned a lot about the throat-movements of singing by trying to mimic Sarah Peterson’s voice. Then last year Katie and I made a point of seeing The Smoking Time Jazz Club again, and I bought two more of their CDs, and that officially made them the band that I owned the most CDs of. But to me they are more than just great artists, they are symbols of the possible–of what you can discover if you travel, and therefore why you ought to travel, because you can be missing so much and not even know it if you don’t.

Anyhow, Katie and I got back to the bar and managed to get a seat at the corner next to the stage, though it was quite crowded. Young people swing-danced in front of the band as they played “Mother’s Son in Law.” A young guy in glasses came to the bar to get a drink, but a tiny old lady who looked like she just got off the boat from Estonia 20 minutes before tapped him on the shoulder, and he gave up his spot at the bar to dance with her. I told Katie I wanted to interview the singer, Sarah Peterson, and the other people in the band, but I was nervous.

“But you’re a writer,” Katie said, “you’ve got to just own it and just ask the singer if she’ll talk to you when she comes around.”

There was no cover to hear this 9-piece orchestra. Sarah Peterson announced after two songs,

“If you don’t have a drink it’s something you must do.” [Chuckles from the crowd, but she was serious.] “You must have at least a drink and tip your bartender.” This is a republican state and so there is no government-imposed cabaret fee like in Albany–no bar cover to offset the cost to such a fee–you pay the band directly through tips and the house directly through buying the commodity they sell–booze. The bar was cash-only by the way. As Sarah Peterson went around with her bucket I told Katie I was going to make a split decision and ask her if she’d answer some questions me as I put $5 in her bucket. Meanwhile the bartender came over and was very friendly, and I realized something about New Orleans: The hotel and bar and restaurant employees always make it feel like it’s a special occasion for tourists, because for me my experience is a special occasion; for Katie it is a special occasion; for almost everyone at the bar it is a special occasion. So it is not necessarily an act–it is a special occasion for the workers too, because in New Orleans every day is a special occasion, and that is just a wonderful way of living.

When Sarah got to us I told her I was a writer from New York writing a blog post about New Orleans, and asked if she would talk. She could barely hear me and suggested I talk to her when the band took its next break, outside. So we listened to a few more songs and when the band broke and most of the instrumentalists went outside for cigarettes, Sarah went out just for fresh air, and Katie and I joined her. I’d never performed a time-sensitive interview but I think I did a good job. Here’s what I learned. Sarah is from Boston. The other members of the band are co-workers rather than friends necessarily. They “share a similar lifestyle” but it’s not like they celebrate holidays together. Bars do not charge a fee for performances, but a band generally keeps a percentage of the sales at a guaranteed minimum. The members of the band have their own side projects and pursuits. Sarah had been living in NOLA for 15 years, having travelled to Brazil and loved the street culture. She went back to New York City and the street culture was dead. Basically the musicians in New Orleans love the openness and the opportunity to perform that the city provides. They rehearse while they play in public, or in the back yards of their houses and apartments. Soon the break was over and Sarah had to go back in to sing, though she encouraged me to speak to other members of the band at the next intermission.

Back inside over another drink I met two pilots for Google who were on their first trip to NOLA, who happened to be in the bar only because they heard the music playing from the street and came in. I noticed that even the bar’s bouncer had a trumpet, which he played self-consciously along with the band as they played inside.

After midnight as the bar started to thin out, Jenny the bartender talked to us. She owned a business in Texas and was opening a new Spotted Cat on St. Claude in an up-and-coming area of town. She was married. I thought it was interesting that a married woman who owns one business and is founding another also bartends. I suppose it’s not so different than me owning a cane business and writing but also serving food. The band wanted to pack it in but Jenny called out to them “You have to keep playing because we’re gonna lose everybody if you go!” She gave us some tips on where to go in Algiers Point the next day. After a few more songs the band was done and we figured it was about time to head back to the hotel, since it was around 3 a.m.


We woke up at exactly 10:45 in the morning, to what we came to call the Calliope Alarm Clock. The steamboat Natchez takes on passengers at the riverside across from our hotel in the morning and early afternoon, for tours downriver to the site of the Battle of New Orleans. (I took this tour in 2012 and it’s not really worth the money in my opinion. The tour guide sounded like it took every ounce of his energy to articulate words and the battlefield itself is essentially a big flat ground with a ditch and some old pieces of artillery.) Anyhow our hotel room had a skylight which seemed to catch the calliope music and cast it down into our brick room, where it reverberated. It would have been pleasant if it didn’t wake us up out of the darkness after having slept for 6 hours after a night of drinking.

We decided to have a good southern breakfast to repair our bodies or at least our minds. We took a left out of our hotel onto Decatur and walked two blocks down to Monty’s on the Square, which is right across the street from the Cafe Du Monde. The dining room is open on two sides to the street via three-quarter windows which let in the warm breeze and even a couple of birds. Across the street a five-piece band was playing to the people at Cafe Du Monde, and we could hear them fine–in fact Monty’s didn’t bother to play any music knowing people would rather hear the live stuff. The band consisted of four older black men and one young white kid. The biggest black man had a tuba that looked at least 80 years old, and he sat on two stacked crates. The other men had two trumpets and a trombone, and they sat on chairs. The young white kid played a banjo as he stood, and I had the impression that he might have been strolling by and started playing with the other men on a whim. Katie ordered a short stack of pancakes and bacon while I had a “Country Breakfast” consisting of fried chicken with sausage gravy and crumbled bacon on top, a buttery biscuit, two eggs and a bowl of grits. We had two mimosas of course.

Katie and I wanted to see a new section of New Orleans, which neither of us had seen before. Last year we took a trolly down St. Charles to the Garden District and had brunch at Slim Goodies, then walked around the little shops, past the Spanish mansions, and gave ourselves a tour of Lafayette Cemetery # 1 with tombs from the 1700s. This year we decided to take a ferry across the Mississippi River to Algiers Point, which is a residential area directly across from the French Quarter.

The ferry costs $2 per person and you must have exact cash change. You can sit in the open air on the bottom deck or enclosed area on the top deck. The trip across the river takes 8 minutes and the ferry departs about every half-hour. You board the ferry where Canal Street meets the riverwalk.

Algiers was much quieter than the French Quarter, which was refreshing because I was starting to get sick of the beggars asking me for money on every block by our hotel. We got off the ferry on a pleasant afternoon on top of the dike which keeps the Mississippi from flooding the town. Unsure where to go we took a left and walked along the dike to see the bend in the river. Very large ocean-going tankers and barges passed frequently, and it was interesting to watch them negotiate the turn in the river. It appeared quite dangerous as the massive leviathans basically had to fishtail around the bend. Katie and I remarked to one another that we were surprised that there was no municipal beach at the river. The tide only rises and falls about a foot and a half at that section of the Mississippi, which is kind of surprising considering the Hudson rises and falls up to six feet near Albany, and Albany is five times farther from the ocean than New Orleans is.

Anyhow we circumnavigated a neighborhood of apartment buildings and houses painted in pastels. The place was a ghost down and we wondered if we were missing something. We passed where we’d gotten off the ferry and kept walking this time generally upriver and inland. We stopped into the first bar we saw, The Crown and Anchor English Pub. This was the first English pub we’d seen since leaving Albany. Katie ordered a Ginger Pimm’s Cup and I had a Fuller’s Porter. To our left sat a young guy around my age who worked in a warehouse, who said he’d taken the day before off because he worked in the area where the tornado hit “and you don’t wanna be working in a warehouse in a tornado!” I asked him if tornados were a frequent occurrence and he said no, not at all. Further to our left was a white-haired couple who brought their small dog to the bar with them. To our right were three women, and the bartender, probably about 35 with brown hair and a beard, kept delivering terrible pickup lines to them and making them laugh. They all knew each other from the neighborhood and the bartender said that one of the women had been playing piano an hour before we came in, “and that’s great because she’s a professional piano player, so we got it for free where most bars have to pay her hundreds of dollars.” The bartender said the Crown and Anchor “is like a living room for the neighborhood. You can come in here any time of day and introduce yourself to anybody and they’ll talk to you.” To prove the point, the bartender shouted to Scot Mattox, a man sitting at a table with a laptop, who introduced himself to us as the owner of El Guapo Bitters, Tonics and Syrups. We looked around and all the bitters and syrups in the bar came from El Guapo. They don’t have a distributor in New York but the company will eat the shipping charges so bars can order from the company and it’s like getting it from a distributor, the owner said. Next we went to the Dry Dock Cafe, as recommended by Jenny the bartender from the bar the night before. The place looked like nothing much from outside–basically a one story building with clapboard siding. But inside there was a nice bar and casual dining area, and the food looked really good. We ordered two glasses of champagne and sat outside, watching the sun sink toward the horizon formed by the berm of the dike as the breeze blew gently, and birds chirped. It felt like 8 p.m. in June in Upstate New York but it was 5 p.m. in February in New Orleans. Katie went in to pay the tab and came out smiling because our two glasses of champagne came to a grand total of $6.

Back in the French Quarter it was early evening and we stopped at the Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street for a drink at their carousel bar, which takes 15 minutes to rotate. I had a Vieux Carre (pronounced “Voo Car-AY,” it means “the old square,” a reference to the French Quarter; I think of it as a French Quarter Manhattan: 4 dashes bitters, 2 tsp Bénédictine .75 oz sweet vermouth, .75 oz cognac, .75 oz rye whiskey) and Katie had a French 75, this time with gin instead of cognac. While the cocktails and ambiance were delightful, the bartenders seemed stuffy, even unfriendly, so we took off after one drink and made our way back to the Creole Cookery from the night before. We ordered charred oysters again, shrimp remoulade, “Crab Cake Maison,” and crab-stuffed mushrooms. It was “Wine Wednesday,” which meant bottles were half-off, so Katie and I shared a bottle of riesling. Tiffany the bartender and Artemis the oyster shucker gave us pronunciation tips for the streets. Here is a list:

Chartres Street = “Charter”

Conti Street = “Cont-eye”

Tonti Street = “Tont-ee”

Decatur Street = “De-cater”

Toulouse Street = “Te-loose”

Praline = “Praw-lean”

Pecan = “Peck-on”

After dinner we hurried over to Jackson Square in the middle of the Quarter to meet our guide for a vampire tour. It cost $22 per person and they only accept cash. Last year Katie and I took a ghost tour; in 2012 I took a different ghost tour; both times I was part of a group of at least 20 people. This time, being a slow season, Katie and I were the only people on the tour, so we got a pretty awesome personal experience. Our  guide was a woman in her late 30s who had studied anthropology at UCLA. The other tours were campy, and this one had its share of folklore, but our guide sprinkled in some interesting nuggets culled from her primary source research in the NOLA archives, which made it more interesting for skeptics like Katie and I. In New Orleans, anyway, you take such stories and enjoy them for what they are, relishing the mythos, which might as well be true, since you’re paying to pretend that they’re true, anyway. I won’t go into details out of respect for the business’s proprietary information, but one interesting thing we learned was that vampires are supposedly compulsive. If you’re afraid you might get attacked by one, carry a pocketful of rice with you, and then if you’re about to be attacked, throw the rice, and the vampire will be compelled to count the grains while you run away.

In the middle of the tours, which last about two hours, there is usually a break at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop on Bourbon and St. Philip Streets so the customers can get a Hurricane in a to-go cup and use the bathroom. (This high-octane fruity drink originated at Pat O’Brien’s, also on Bourbon, and packs a punch–but it’s sugar content is cloyingly sweet.) Since it was only Katie and I, our guide gave us a choice of going to Lafitte’s, continuing the tour without a break, or getting a drink with her at a goth bar she was fond of. Of course we chose the third option and went to a bar where we were the only patrons besides two old men and a dog who was peeing on a hydrant as we walked in, and then came in and jumped up and stood on the pool table, which no one seemed to mind. When the tour ended we tipped the woman $10, because she probably makes around minimum wage while the company nets the remainder, and as a former thespian, I know how hard it is to give a performance with vigor and animation to so small of an audience as Katie and I constituted.

After our tour, Katie and I decided we wanted to find a bar we had stumbled into the year before, after seeing jazz on Frenchman Street one evening. I thought it was on Bourbon Steet, so we walked up Dumaine Street away from the river. When we got to the corner of Chartres Street there was a bar, Harry’s Corner, which looked like a dive. Since we both had to pee and we didn’t have any drinks in our hands, we decided to go in and use the bathroom and get a to-go beer. As usual, as soon as we stood at the bar, two women to our left started talking to us, and the bartender made conversation as he placed our two Abita Ambers down. Katie and I then proceeded to ask the patrons and Paul, the bartender, if he could tell us the name of the bar we were looking for, based on the details we tried to recall from the year before. But I said I thought the bar was on Bourbon while Katie said she thought she remembered it being on Decatur; I said it was a tiny bar with a low ceiling and Katie said she thought it was in an open courtyard. We both recalled that smoking was allowed, and told the story of how, the year before, we had sat at the bar after seeing jazz on Frenchman, and talked to the bartender, around 2:00 in the morning. While we talked the room filled up with people, all carrying different instruments. Suddenly they all began to play Tommy Dorsey songs–at least 12 people–we were so packed in that Katie and I had to lean back so the trombonist’s slide didn’t hit us in the face–all of these musicians playing the music for nobody but the two of us. When they took a break I asked one of the guys what band they were, and he laughed, “None of us knew each other before we came in here. I just got in from Austin yesterday!” The experience became the most memorable of our trip from the year before, and we wanted to find the place. Paul and the two women asked for more details, which we provided, and suggested two bars on Decatur. Katie and I thanked them and told them that if either of the bars turned out to be the right one, we would come back and let them know.

We went to Decatur Street and when we entered the second bar that they suggested, Molly’s At The Market, we knew immediately we’d found the right place. It was kind of like walking into a dream, because we only remembered bits and pieces of the surroundings: the bar, a mirror, tacked up photo-booth pictures, a wooden bench. We went to the back bar and told the bartender, Keisha, about our experience the year before, and how we were super excited to be at the bar again. She kind of nodded and went back to her phone. We were happy to have found the place, but nothing seemed to be going on, so we left to go back to Harry’s Corner to tell the bartender that he’d given us the right directions.

Three blocks off of Decatur the streets were pretty empty after midnight on that Wednesday night. When we walked through the open threshold into Harry’s Corner the only patrons were an old man with a dog at one end of the bar, and all the way at the other, sitting on a stool with a fedora, was the female bartender from the goth bar our ghost tour guide had taken us to. We told Paul we found “our unicorn bar” we’d been looking for, and he poured us two celebratory beers. The goth bartender started talking to Katie, and she was so drunk her eyes were crossed, but she was really friendly. By this point we were pretty hungry and complaining that although NOLA has such a night life, we could never seem to find a place to get food after 2 a.m. Paul directed us up to the Clover Grill on Bourbon Street, three blocks away. This retro-style diner was a great find. It had red barstools, chrome, and a big open grille. Katie’s burger was delicious–flavored like a meatball with a toasted bun–and my chicken-fried steak sandwich was  mouth-watering. The man behind the counter told us that the diner is open all day, every day. “We only close when the National Guard tells us,” he bragged. Meanwhile Katie masticated and remarked to me again, “This is this best burger I’ve had in years. Years!!!”

So we decided to stop into Harry’s Corner on the way back to the hotel, to tell Paul he’d made another great recommendation. The female bartender from the goth bar was still there, and now another old man was at the other end of the bar, drinking a glass of wine. When we sat down Paul poured us shots and said they were on the house. Really they weren’t shots, but half-glasses of whiskey. Paul was certainly animated and friendly, but there was something about him that suggested unhappiness, too. Now and then he would make a cutting remark about women or accuse me of being a hipster. After awhile he reached under the bar and held up a telephone book and demanded to know if Katie and I knew what it was. Of course we did (Katie and I are in our 30s). Paul said that telephone books are stupid and shouldn’t exist anymore. He grabbed a bottle of 151 and announced, “Come on, we’re burning this shit!” So we went outside, Paul poured the 151 on the book, lit a napkin and dropped it. Katie and I, Paul and the goth bartender, and the old man with the glass of wine stood and watched the book burn in silence. A black sedan pulled up to the sidewalk and a husky black man around 30 years old got out. He stood in the street, looked at us, looked at the burning phone book, and stepped over it to get to a newspaper dispensing machine against the exterior wall of the building. He put three newspapers in, then looked at the phonebook again, with hardly any expression on his face. After a moment he asked, quietly, “Why you burnin’ the phonebook, ’cause it’s out of touch?” “Yeah,” Paul said. “Okay,” said the guy. “Wanted to make sure you’re not burning the newspapers.” He stepped over the now-flecking and flying ashes of paper and got back into his car. Back inside the bar I asked Paul if I could try a Rum Milk Punch, which was on the menu. It took him about fifteen minutes to make the drink because he kept forgetting what he was doing, and then he put the drink down in front of me, saying, “Here you go you old mother fucker.” Which was ironic, because Paul was twice my age. I asked him how much I owed him for the drink and he said, of course, that it was on the house. Katie was getting a little weary of the place, so we left some cash as a tip (seeing as how we’d gotten 6 free drinks that night) and headed back to our hotel. It was 3:45 a.m. and the streets were quite empty, even Decatur, which is usually crowded.


We groaned when we heard the off-key calliope begin its 15-minute medley at 10:45 a.m. We didn’t make it out of the hotel until afternoon, for breakfast. It was warm and sunny, so we wanted to find a place to eat with a gallery. (As we learned during our ghost tour the previous year, the difference between a “balcony” and a “gallery” is that a gallery is supported by poles or pillars, while a balcony hangs off the building supported by corbels.) Anyway we went to The French Market Restaurant on Decatur, so named because it is located across the street from the blocks-long, open-air French Market, a farmer’s/crafts/food/cocktail market along the Mississippi River. On other trips I’d gone to the French Market Restaurant, sat on the gallery, and had seafood boils at night, and I loved the ambiance and friendly service. On this early afternoon I think they were having an off-day. When Katie and I walked upstairs, three different employees walked past us and said “somebody will be right with you;” the bartender was criticizing a waitress for how the bar had been set up or taken down the night before; and consistently throughout the meal it took a long time to get service at every juncture. Katie’s crab cakes were bland, while my seafood gumbo was so salty that it was hard to eat. I actually scooped my gumbo onto her crab cakes to make the two meals palatable together. Again, every other time I’ve been to the restaurant the food was good and the service excellent, and you can’t beat the gallery overlooking the market and the masts of ships on the river, and the sound of jazz music reverberating up from across the street, but this time we were ready to leave and even had to go in and ask around for our check (something which as a waiter I was loathe to do and only did because our drinks were empty and our waitress hadn’t been around for 15 minutes [I even told Katie “Let’s give her five more minutes and then I’ll go in and ask around” and the time ran out]).

After “breakfast” we strolled through the French Market. This is the place to go for your chotchkies, souvenirs and gifts.  There are at least 30 tables where people sell jewelry, voodoo dolls, masks, sunglasses, inlaid wood boxes, cigarette cases, tile coasters with New Orleans themed imprints, shot glasses, etc. I bought five magnets and two shot glasses for under fifteen dollars.

On the way back we were crossing between two pavilions when we saw a disturbing sight. A man in his fifties was dressed head-to-toe as Uncle Sam. He stood in front of some kind of a homemade booth. Behind him were two life-size cut outs, one of Donald Trump and another of Hillary Clinton, egregiously transmogrified,  in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs, with the words “grab here” imprinted across her crotch. The guy was in a yelling match with a young woman around 25 years old. Another young guy was standing silently holding a sign that read “Donald Trump supports disenfranchisement of women.” A larger man and his girlfriend stood close by, looking like they were ready to intervene. Katie and I couldn’t decide if the young woman was the Trump supporter, or the man, because we couldn’t believe that the man could possibly be the Trump supporter since the scene was bleeding with parody and was so offensive that any Republican would be ashamed to be associated with it.

We went back to the hotel and got ready for dinner. At five we set out for the Creole Cookery for the third night in a row. We said hello to Kater the white man in his fifties who was the maitre d’. Tiffany was behind the bar again and Artemis was shucking the oysters. They were quite busy but we got a bar seat, and by now the employees came over and shook our hands and knew what we wanted to drink and order. Artemis had his hands full with a stack of order slips for oysters. The place is really the cat’s meow when it comes to atmosphere, good food and the friendliness of the staff.

For dinner though we wanted to try Cane and Table, on Decatur, which we’d passed the year before, and which had good reviews. So we walked back to Decatur, the busy section of town outside of Bourbon, and made our way east. As we passed a restaurant with an exterior bar, where three people could sit on the sidewalk on stools and have bar service from within, Katie said “That was the girl from earlier, the Trump supporter!” We decided to turn around and talk to her to find out what the story was. It turns out, as you might have guessed, that she was not the Trump supporter. The guy dressed as Uncle Sam was. This really blew our mind, that this guy spent his time building a booth and getting cut-outs and dressing as Uncle Sam for…what? For the purpose of annoying people and seeing if he could start an argument? Apparently the guy is there often, and he has cameras built into his booth, and a website where he tries to get “liberals” to sound stupid. If his goal is to annoy people I suppose he is very good at his job, because I am not a Democrat, I don’t like Hillary Clinton, I vote independent, and I consider myself a patriot and somewhat conservative, but  this moron was making a mockery of my values by dressing up as the symbol of my country and acting like an asshole. We told the girl we respected her for confronting the man, and she told us she had to go to court because the guy called the police on her. Apparently he thinks that any woman who states her opinion should be “locked up.”

Cane and Table has no sign and it’s easy to walk past. We had to circle back and use our GPS to find the right door. Inside is pretty dark but they have a very nice bar and dining area. We took a seat at the corner of the bar and took turns going to the lavatory. There is only one and it’s unisex. It is in a courtyard with hanging lights and candles and Spanish arches. There was the usual masonry covered in chipping plaster. The back of the bar was one big piece of furniture, like a giant armoire. We ordered two original Cane and Table cocktails. Katie had a Flor de Jamaica: hibiscus-infused Russian vodka, pomegranate, and a touch of sour, which was floral and spicy, or as the menu said, “perfect for a NOLA winter;” I had a Scotch and Coconut: scotch and I believe mescal and coconut water in an Old Fashioned glass. We tried two appetizers since we’d already had oysters and didn’t want to carry take-out containers with us. For $6 we had Bacalao Fritters: crusted red and poblano peppers  with a habanero vinegar, and Mofongo: mashed plantains, pork rib, avocado and a coconut cucumber pico. They were both delicious–the former a kind of pancake in an iron skillet like a hash, salty, the plantains functioning like a potato producing primarily volume, the cucumber and avocado refreshing.  I’d have liked to have had the latter on top of the former, or on a cracker, because it had the consistency of a pâté.

Cane and Table was on the same block as Molly’s, our unicorn bar from the year before, where we’d been enveloped in a jazz band, so we decided to stop in and survey the scene. We walked to the back bar and the six stools were full. I used the bathroom and left the business card for my book on the urinal, as I had been doing all around New Orleans as an advertising ploy.  Since we couldn’t get a seat in back we went up front and ordered a beer and took our pictures in the photo booth. As we were drinking, Kiesha from the back bar came up and surprised us. She said that we shouldn’t leave, because the people in the back were planning to play music soon. That was really cool because we didn’t think she cared at all about our story from the night before, but she did. We moseyed to the back and stood waiting for a bar seat. A hipster guy emerged from the bathroom with my business card and placed it in front of another guy with a beard. “Look at this,” he said. “What?? Like, Dallas Trombone…Coming…Coming on the Hudson?” He flipped the card over. “There’s nothing on the back.” Katie looked at me, concerned that this would be very deflating to my ego. But I told her that was exactly what I was hoping: that people would be interested in the card because it was so odd to find it as they were peeing, and that they would then talk about it with their friends. The hipster guy and his girl left, so me and Katie got a seat at the bar.

The musicians included a guy playing spoons, who was tattooed with dyed hair, stocky; a white girl with curly hair who played banjo and sang, her flower-studded black boots resting on an overturned skateboard as she sat on a wooden bench; a trumpeter a trombonist and two guitar players. For the second song the guitar player played a song called “In The Danger Zone.” He wore a green wool hat. No one in the band, it seemed, owned a razor. The trumpet player had a green cap, a sizable belly, a brown tee shirt, jeans and sandals, glasses and a goatee. The trombone player was a tall, skinny white kid with a clean face. The group played “Do The Popeye.” He wore a tee shirt and a plaid button-up. Meanwhile Kiesha pointed out that on Thursday nights the bar sold $1 Miller High Life bottles, so Katie and I ordered two of those as we listened to the band discuss the next song. Said the girl with the curly hair, whose boyfriend was eating red beans and rice, “What’s the first chord?”

“D-minor!” the trumpeter shouted.

“No, the bridge?”

“A, E-minor, D.”

No verbal response from the girl. They all began playing, perfectly.

Meanwhile Kiesha was on her phone like nothing out of the ordinary was going on, like the man who put the newspapers in the machine the night before as the telephone book burned on the sidewalk.

The next song was called “Dig-a-do” and was Katie’s favorite, kind of whimsical. I bought everyone a round a beer. Imagine buying everybody in a 6 person band a beer for $6? The different members started coming up to me and introducing themselves because Kiesha had told them I was a writer, and that Katie and I had come specifically to hear musicians like them singing. There is a lot of music in New Orleans but it seemed like a writer was a novelty. I met Jeff Kreis, from Sacramento, who played oboe. Another guy wanted to quit his day job as a disability worker and moved to NOLA to play the trumpet. I asked him how he got into the trumpet. He said “That’s a funny story. As a nine year old I thought it would be easy because there are only three buttons.” Kellen was the bass player. He was the first one to come from Sacramento and the others came later. He was dating the girl with the curls and they got engaged, but he broke it off, because one night two lesbians wanted to hook up with him and he figured he still had some exploring left to do. So now she dated the guy eating the red beans and rice, and they’re all friends. Kellen had lived in Chicago first, and “it seemed just like another city,” but he’d talked to some people from NOLA and it seemed great, so he moved. One of the guys was from Russia and another from Georgia, having dropped out of high school and worked at a shopping mall. He moved to NOLA because “my goal was to become a busker.” The gutter punk kid with the spoons had been a train hopper. I said I’d wanted to hitch-hike on trains in my twenties but I couldn’t quite figure out what to do. He said “If you want to know then you’re doing it wrong.” Scotty was the trombone player. He said “The best musicians in the US are from here.” Katie and I spent a couple of hours listening and talking to those guys, until they got tired of playing and left. It was well after midnight then, so we did the same. We found a pizza place that was still open, and though we felt like it was kind of a waste to get New York style pizza while we were in New Orleans, we did, and it was absolutely delicious. We needed a little taste of home after so much exotic cuisine over the last five days.


Friday was our last full day in NOLA, and our friends Dan and Amy were coming from Slidell. We woke up with the Calliope alarm clock but fell back asleep.  After noon I set out to procure us breakfast as Katie got ready. I noticed a big difference in the crowd on the street on this Friday before the first Mardi Gras parade. There were more people, and a lot more women who looked like they were wearing their club clothes having spent hours in front of a mirror, compared to most people I noticed in the French Quarter previously, who did not seem particularly to care about their appearance.

I failed at procuring breakfast, instead returning with two glasses of sangria. So we went to Franks on Decatur for a Muffuletta. A Muffuletta is a sandwich made with mortadella and other ham meat, on a toasted bun, with olive tapenade. They sell the sandwich by the quarter, the half, and the whole. A quarter is a hearty snack and half is like eating a sub. No one ever eats a whole Muffuletta unless you’re in an eating competition or you forgot your Ambien prescription and you need to sleep for several hours. So that was our breakfast, at 3:15 in the afternoon, having slept till 12:30.

We walked uptown, up Canal Street, to meet Dan and Amy, who would be getting out of work at Tulane University. It was nice to see our friends again–spending time with Dan and Amy bookended our vacation. Dan drove us up to midtown to a bar called Revel, where his favorite bartender, Chris McMillian, was working (this is the bartender with the youtube video making the Mint Julep). Our quartet got four seats at the corner of the bar. Dan commented that corner seats are the best, because people can face one another. We ordered ourselves cocktails from the leather-bound menu. Katie had a Shielavsit (Katie: “How do you pronounce it?” Chris: “She loves it.”) This was a really refreshing drink in a tall glass made of fresh crushed strawberries, lemon cane sugar, Aperol and Prosecco. It was sweet as it hit your mouth, but the Aperol washed the sweetness down and the Prosecco cleared the pallet, keeping the drink from becoming cloying and leaving you longing for another sip, this time to be swished around before swallowing. I had a Blood and Sand, a classic cocktail, one of very few to use scotch as a base. It’s made from equal parts scotch, cherry herring, sweet vermouth, and blood orange. It develops on the pallet in at least three distinct stages. Amy had a Whiskey Girl (I forgot to write down the ingredients) and Dan had a Ramos Gin Fizz. There was a limit of one Ramos Gin Fizz per round because it takes so long to prepare and shake. Chris pointed out that there is no one alive who tasted an original Ramos Gin Fizz–its recipe was a proprietary secret, and anyone who tasted an original made by Henry C. Ramos in New Orleans is long dead (the drink was invented in 1888). Chris also pointed out that the Ramos Gin Fizz is the only drink whose name is preceded by the name of the person who invented it. Katie pointed out that the bar (which was established and is run by Chris McMillian) was set up like a laboratory. He used many different instruments–different-shaped fruit peelers, a large wooden mallet, a muddler, various-sized jiggers–to build his cocktails from the empty glass up, while regaling the patrons with anecdotes. Interestingly, I noticed that Chris also had a large drawer the size of a dishwasher, which he would open in order to pull out pre-chilled liquors and liqueurs. Obviously, this sped the process of chilling the drinks, and kept them from getting watered down by deleting the need for so much ice to cool them. But most bars would be unable to resist the temptation to display all the liquors available as a grand display. The instruments, the chilled liquors and liqueurs, all gave the establishment the feel of an artisan’s shop, or a chemist’s or apothecary, the latter of which, of course, was where cocktails got their start.

Back down in the French Quarter, Katie and I took Amy and Dan to the Creole Cookery. Wes and Tiffany were behind the bar, and Artemis was shucking the oysters again. We said hello to Kater the maitre d’ as we walked in. By now the waiters were coming up to us and saying “Hey you’ve been here four times this week!” We had charred oysters and raw oysters. I still struggle to swallow the raw oysters even though I order a couple every time I have an opportunity, so that someday I can eat them like Chester A. Arthur and all the other swanky politicos. After a drink and the oysters which took off toward Jackson Square for dinner.

Katie and I were eager to take Amy and Dan to Muriel’s on the northeast corner of Jackson Square. This is a beautifully decorated bedroom in a large masonry building, which we’d eaten at last year. The host station is attended by a female host and a male guide in black. (It’s best to make your reservation a week or so ahead of time for a Friday or Saturday night.) If you follow a hall from the hostess’ station you go through a small central dining room to the bar in back. Here we had a cocktail as we waited for our table to be ready. I had a Negroni  (1/3 Gin, 1/3 Sweet Vermouth, 1/3 Campari–it can be served up or on the rocks) because Campari is an aperitif and after appetizers at Revel and oysters at the Creole Cookery, my appetite needed stimulation. Off the center dining room are two larger dining rooms in wings. The one that faces Chartres Street is red with images from Victorian periodicals glazed onto the walls. Last year we’d sat in that dining room and I was impressed when the maitre d’ asked me to remove my fedora. This year we sat in the dining room facing St. Ann, which was blue-grey and decorated with pieces of old architecture (doors, windows, corbels, pillars). For an appetizer we passed around savory gorgonzola cheesecake with prosciutto, honeyed pecans and slices of tart green apple. I tried turtle soup for the first time and it was tasty, the turtle has a consistency like clams. The waiter placed down the warmed bowls and ladled the soup into them in front of us, which, I thought, was a nice touch. For dinner Dan had the seared duck breast, Katie a massive stuffed double pork chop, and I forget what Amy or I had because I thought it would be rude to keep notes during dinner. We did split the bread pudding with candied pecans and rum sauce for dessert, and everything was delicious. Afterwards we took a walk up the stairs to the second floor Seance Lounge, which is worth checking out just to see the jewel-tone decor and plush furniture–about as rich fare for the eye as the cuisine was for the pallet at dinner.

It was about 10:00 when we left Muriel’s to walk to Frenchman Street to hear jazz. Bamboulas became our destination. We managed to get a corner section of the bar (there were no stools now) near the door, and ordered a round of gin and tonics at $7 apiece. Katie pointed out that the trumpet player and I were doppelgangers–he had a clean shaven face and a fedora and we wore almost the same outfit. The lead singer was a black guy in his thirties with a Louie Armstrong voice, who played trombone. After the first song, he and the trumpet player switched instruments. Even his trumpet sounded gravelly when he played. Katie pointed out that he had a unique way of playing the instrument, holding his fingers erect when not depressing a button, instead of resting them atop the buttons. It was like his fingers were jazz-dancing as he played. After a few songs the band announced their name, The Swamp Donkeys, and played Sunny Side of the Street, one of my favorite Tommy Dorsey songs.  (It reminded me: what ever happened to The Sunny Side of the Street Band in Albany? They were the only jazz band I ever saw busking on Lark Street–an activity which breathed some life into the gasping body that is Center Square these days). The band got a huge laugh from the crowd when the singer improvised a lyric. The line normally goes, “If I never had a cent/ I’d be as rich as Rockefeller/ Gold dust at my feet/ On the sunny sunny side of the street.” Instead he sang, “If I never had a cent/ I’d be as rich as Donald Trump/ Have a gold toilet seat/ Never pay my taxes on the sunny side of the street!”

Meanwhile the scene behind the bar was just as entertaining. The bartender was a skinny white kid who looked like his body had taken some abuse over the years. He had a stack of single dollar bills pinned to his shirt, and was stumbling around with glazed eyes. It was his birthday, and he explained that in New Orleans on your birthday, people pin singles to your shirt. Katie handed him a single and he said he couldn’t accept it unless she pinned it to his shirt. So he stood there with clenched teeth as Katie tried to pin the stack to his shirt without impaling his chest. Dan gave us a round of dollars so we could all get the experience. We had several more gin and tonics, which got stronger with each round. During intermission the place cleared out a lot, and I ordered another drink, and this is what I received: first, the bartender came over with the Tanqueray in his hand, looking around, trying to place it on the counter, but he kept missing the counter. Then he looked down and saw the two plastic cups with ice in them, and realized he was making a drink. So he poured about two ounces into a cup, then sprayed a tiny bit of tonic, leaving the cup only half full. He looked up and around, then down at the cup again. Forgetting he’d already poured the gin into the cup, he turned the bottle upside down and poured about another ounce in, but he kept having to shake the bottle because it was almost empty. Then, annoyed, he pulled the pourer off the bottle and threw the empty bottle to a bar-back, who handed him a fresh one. Dan and I looked at each other, smiling. The bartender took the top off the bottle, put the pourer on, looked around, looked down at the cup, looked at the bottle again, then shrugged, and poured another two ounces into the cup. Then he handed me what was essentially a cup of Tanqueray with a splash of tonic. Dan laughed hard and yelled into my ear, “Man, I was watching that guy…the LAST thing that drink needed was MORE gin!”

The band was finished so we decided to move on. When we passed Molly’s I ran in to check out the back bar. Kiesha was playing bar dice with a couple of customers. I scanned the place and asked her if she thought any band people might come and play, because Katie and I wanted to share the experience with Dan and Amy. She said she hadn’t seen anyone with instruments, but said if I wanted to give her my number she’d text me if they started to show up. I thought that was really considerate.

Instead we strolled up the Harry’s Corner, so we could share that experience with Dan and Amy. Paul was behind the bar, and when we walked in I shouted to him, “Heyo! Got any phone books lying around?” He smiled quizzically. I don’t think he even remembered burning the thing two nights before, though there was a char mark on the sidewalk. Paul remembered our names, however, and we introduced Dan and Amy. We got a spot at the corner of the bar, once again, and constituted one half of the patrons in the establishment. Amy had a glass of whiskey straight, while Katie and Dan and I had Strawberry Canebrakes from the Parish Brewing Company. Dan was excited to see a jukebox and played a lot of oldies songs on my behalf. I had about three beers and Katie two before Dan finished his bottle.  After an hour or so we made our way back to Decatur and stopped into Cafe du Monde for 4 a.m. beignets. We left around 4:30 and I wanted to keep drinking, suggesting that we walk up to Bourbon Street to see if anything was open, or try to find a liquor store to drink in the hotel courtyard, but the rest of my party was flagging, so we turned in for the night.


Though we awoke before the calliope alarm clock, a steam whistle blew and startled Dan and Amy as they got ready to depart. We bid adieu to our friends and began packing to return to New York, sad because our trip was over, but eagerly looking forward to getting back to our home. New Orleans is not a relaxing vacation, though it helps to clear your mind of troubles.

We put our luggage in storage because our flight was not until 5, but checkout was at 11. We made our way up to a pizza joint for breakfast, then walked over to Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29, a tiki bar on North St. Peter’s Street. Dan had recommended the place. He had a tiki app on his phone that allows you to “unlock” different cocktails based on the ingredients you have in your liquor cabinet and refrigerator. Anyhow the place was decorated in faux Polynesian style, as you might imagine, with ropes and palms and capstans and a wooden mugs shaped like the heads of Easter Island. The drinks are exotic, sweet. You can’t help but feel like you’re back in the 1950’s in the place. The bartender and some of the baby boomer patrons were excited because that night would be the Krewe du Vieux–the first parade of Mardi Gras, and the only one which passes through the French Quarter. It is the most individualistic and politically scathing parade of Mardi Gras, and there was a feeling that the parade was likely to be even more over the top than normal, given all the material ripe for satire in our current political institutions.

We left Latitude 29 and made our way to Royal Street, basically killing time, and walked through some of the really fantastic antique stores on there.

Back at the hotel we got our bags and took a taxi, based on the clerk’s advice, instead of an Uber, against our better judgement. The driver talked the entire time.

Now we were really ready to be done traveling. Unfortunately we got on the plane and were told to sit tight because they couldn’t get some fan to turn off. Then we had to get off the plane because they had to “restart the whole computer.” This took 40 minutes, and the delay meant that when we landed in Charlotte we missed our connecting flight. The airplane company put us up at at hotel, which we arrived at at 11:30 at night. Our next flight was to take off at 11 am the next morning and get into Albany at 1, but we were afraid that it would be cancelled, because a massive snowstorm was forecast to hit the northeast (the second in a week). Anyway we ordered food and watched the end of Saturday Night Live, the end of Godzilla (2014), CNN’s documentary on The Seventies about Watergate, and the first hour of Borat, which I’d never seen, but found hilarious. Then it was 4 a.m. and we figured we’d better try and get some sleep. It was actually quite nice just to lay in bed and watch T.V. for a change, because even at home we watch shows on Roku and we don’t get the commercials, which remind me of being a kid watching T.V. with my parents or grandparents.

Anyhow, we got our shuttle to the airport the next morning and, to my great surprise, took off, even though there had been two to three feet of snow around the Albany area and a snow emergency was declared. We had an uneventful flight until 20 minutes before we were to land, when the pilot came on and said that there was only 1/4 mile visibility and we would have to perform “a fully automatic landing,” which meant that everyone had to turn off all of their electronic devices, airplane mode was not good enough. All I could think of was “We cannot make a car that drives itself, but we somehow have made an airplane that can land itself in snow as the plane pitches up and down in turbulence?” And also that we were going through the exact plot of Die Hard 2 when Pilot Miles O’Brien tells air traffic control that they have to land the plane because they’re on fumes, but the terrorists adjust the computer’s attitude reader so they crash onto the runway in a huge fireball (even though they were running on fumes, somehow). I kept these thoughts to myself rather than share them with Katie. In any case we landed fine and got a ride from her sister, Megan, out to her mom’s house, where we left her car. It took us almost an hour to drive back in the snow storm, the roads were such a mess. And so we were back in New York.