Opinion – 6/20/2006

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Panolian: OPINIONS – John Howell Sr

 From the 6/20/06 issue of The Panolian       

Hurricane prep includes tickets

We’ve got a major item of hurricane preparation completed at our New Orleans house: J. Monque’D (he pronounces it "Monkey Dee") has plane reservations for Italy departing July 6 and returning two months later. That’s where he was last summer when Katrina hit. He had been scheduled to return to New Orleans during the Labor Day weekend but instead extended his stay until January.

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It was probably a good thing for us. In 2004 when Hurricane Ivan had been forecast for New Orleans at a time when J. Monque’D was at home, he stayed close by so that he could evacuate with us to north Mississippi. He said he had been in the city during Hurricane Betsy in 1965 and didn’t want to stay for another.
We chose to ride Ivan out instead of taking a chance on being couped up in a car with him and the assorted animals for hours while we evacuated and then again for hours when we tried to return to the city.

In the past when I have been available to help him make his airline reservations, we’ve spent several hours at it but far less time than he would have liked. However, this time I was out of town, so my wife let him sit at the computer and tinker away. J. Monque’D’s problem is that he can’t resist the pop-up ads that promise ridiculously low fare to somewhere. He pursues every one of them and then gets frustrated when he can’t actually make the reservation.

He spent several days at the computer, my wife told me, totally focused there as he searched every nook and cranny of for a lower fare, searches punctuated by many exclamations of "WHAT IN THE WORLD!" as the computer occasionally paused to catch its breath.

Finally, he got it done.

While he’s in Italy, J. Monque’D takes leave of his day job, driving a mule-drawn tourist carriage in the Quarter. He and his white mule, Blanche Dubois, were the recent subjects of an excellent feature story in The Times Picayune. It was published the same day as Partying Bob, the neighbor two doors down in the other direction, had a party celebrating his new grandchild.

J. Monque’D might have exaggerated just a little bit in the story – the part about losing his roof in the hurricane. When we walked in to the party, we saw him standing there and complimented the story. His responded with less than his love-the-limelight usual. We wondered that he seemed downright subdued.

Later we learned that his landlords had been offended by the losing the roof part, and they had been sitting there as we heaped praise on the story.

Nevertheless, he’s a fine entertainer whose stage is usually wherever he finds it – Jazzfest or carriage driver’s seat, it makes no difference to him.

We have always wanted to take a carriage ride with him when our children and grandchildren are visiting. Schedules have not worked out so far.

The schedule did work out recently for a group of five people who selected J. Monque’D and Blanche from the waiting carriages. Once underway, J. Monque’D, beginning his usual banter, asked them where they were from. Three were local, but one said he was from Memphis.

When the round of introductions were complete, J. Monque’D zeroed in on the Memphian.

"Now, you say you’re from Memphis, but where are you really from?" he asked, having developed a fine ear for mendacity while honing the skill himself.

"I’m actually from a small town about 50 miles south of Memphis," the passenger replied.

"Fifty miles south? You wouldn’t be from Batesville by any chance, would you?"

J. Monque’D had smoked out the would-be Memphian, who turned out to be Steve Still, and told him about having played here at Springfest in 2002 and having neighbors from there and do you know John and Rosemary and so on, and right there on Royal Street behind Blanche Dubois they had one of those down-home, strictly southern, small-town do-you-know-who-you-know hootenannies that must have left other tourists and passersby envious, curious or spurious.

Steve has been on an extended visit with his son, Jonah, and his family, who live in New Orleans not far from Laurel Street. They had selected J. Monque’D’s carriage strictly by chance, but Steve told me later that it was a great tour of the Quarter.

Meanwhile, my wife phoned to tell me that the mayor has requested National Guard and State Police to help patrol the city after five teenagers were gunned down in a car there several nights ago. They will be used patrol vast areas of sparsely populated sections of the city which had been flooded by Katrina to keep watch for looters while freeing up police to go after the criminals who are returning from places like Houston in ever-increasing numbers. Whew.

However, on Laurel Street, our neighbors in the FEMA trailers are as quiet as mice; there is a guard shack right across the street from our house manned 24 hours a day to monitor goings and comings from the FEMA park, and Gracie the Katrina dog conducts attack practice every day that mail is pushed through the mail slot into our living room.

And as Pogo so wisely stated: "Life just gets curiouser and curiouser."

Especially on Laurel Street.


The Panolian co-owner and publisher John Howell writes about New Orleans, Panola, and the strange and mundane between there and here. Contact him at johnhowl@bellsouth.net


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