John Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 10, 2009

John Howell Sr.

Warm Sunday afternoon brings out all kinds

Ooowee! What things we see on a beautiful February Sunday.

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The Pussyfooters held their Sunday morning practice on the basketball court across Laurel Street in Wisner Playground. Beautiful, young 30-somethings who strut their stuff in Mardi Gras parades and for assorted worthy causes. As Mardi Gras nears (this year it’s Feb. 24) they practice strutting each Sunday. That strutting it right takes much practice and is appreciated by those with a front porch view.

Wisner Playground itself has been mostly rehabilitated from its long stint as a post-Katrina FEMA trailer park. Grass has been rolled out, the softball diamond has been rebuilt. Still lacking are the backstops and dugouts, but the large expanse of grass within the fenced block attracts dog owners from all across the city.

In a city that really loves its dogs, this place has turned into Uptown dog mecca. If you sit watching on the front porch long enough you will eventually see at least one representative of every known canine breed and many mongrels. Dogs accustomed to the restraint of leash, house or pen are loosed to run, chase balls thrown by their owners and sniff each other while their owners socialize somewhat less obtrusively.

We have anticipated a pending clash between those who use the playground to loose their dogs and those who would play ball there. Xavier Prep’s softball team has resumed its practice on the field. Yet the dog owners themselves may be attempting to head off the collision that we once thought inevitable. They place plastic bags for poop scooping at the entrance gate.

Still lacking also are bleachers for the softball field. We await their return with some trepidation. Pre-Katrina they provided a meeting place for certain unsavory entrepreneurs of the drug trade. Whether new bleachers would again facilitate that corner of Wisner Playground serving as an outdoor market is somewhat put in doubt by a noticeable change in Sunday afternoon pickup basketball games that now follow the Pussyfooters’ strutting. Absent are the loud exclamations of “MF” that constantly punctuated play there pre-Katrina. The absence is accompanied by the thought that this neighborhood changed for the better in its recovery.

Present this beautiful Sunday afternoon are the Jefferson City Buzzards, also strutting their stuff, in their annual practice parade. They are an all-male neighborhood Mardi Gras marching club, the city’s oldest, whose stuff-strutting is never serious enough to warrant the practice that is instead an excuse to hold its own parade on a route that takes it from one neighborhood bar to the next in Uptown New Orleans. In drag.

The Jefferson City Buzzards dress in drag for their practice parade. With police car and motorcycle escort and followed by a float carrying musicians, Buzzards in wigs, short skirts and much breast enhancement of a non-surgical nature pulled up to Grit’s Bar on the other side of Wisner Playground for a brief stop. Very brief. They then turned down Annunciation Street to Napoleon for their next stop at Miss Mae’s at the corner of Magazine and Napoleon.

After the practice parade, a Buzzard turned up at our doorstep. His arrival followed a phone call from the Buzzard hall a few blocks away on Annunciation.

“John Howell?” he asked. “This is Jim Abbott.”

J. Monque’D, our often blustery, occasionally obsessive-compulsive, blues-singing, harmonica-blowing, mule-carriage-driving neighbor, who is also a Buzzard, had struck up a conversation with another Buzzard parade participant who turned out to be from Indianola and who said he was in the newspaper business. J. Monque’D (pronounce it Jay Monkee Dee) immediately made connection and once again orchestrated a collision of my Panola County newspaper world and my Uptown New Orleans world.

Jim Abbott recently sold his interest in Indianola’s Enterprise-Toscin where for 40 years he produced one of the state’s finest newspapers while through its pages raising substantially the quality of life of his county.

And on Sunday afternoon there he stood on our front steps in full Buzzard practice regalia — all curly-blond-wigged, much non-surgically enhanced , mini-skirted, fishnet-hosed, silver glitter-sneakered six feet, eight inches of him. He and J. Monque’D had walked from the Buzzard hall to our house. We enjoyed a brief visit. Too soon he returned to Buzzard hall to reunite with the friends he had come to town to visit and who had talked him into participating in their temporary insanity.

And the photos? The photos of Abbott in full practice gear that he worried would end up on the Mississippi Press Association’s Web site? That use of them is too anticipated.

Or is it? As long as Abbott woke up today and remembered that he is a practicing Buzzard and not a Pussyfooter what difference can it make?