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Showing posts from August, 2009

How You KNOW If Someone Grew Up In New Orleans

Here's my test for validating true New Orleanians:

Camelia Grill ... This was the mecca for late night dining when I was in high school. Behind the counter were Harry Sr., Marvin, Harry Jr. and Chef. The grill was known for making the ABSOLUTE best hamburgers in the world (and they are still open on Carollton Avenue.) Also .... Freezes, pecan pie and they used to have a "cannibal plate" with all raw meat.

The Zoo ... Okay, now they have the NEW Audubon Park Zoo that is spectacular but they will never have another Monkey Hill where kids could run up and down the tallest hill in New Orleans (about the height of a one story building) ... or Itema the elephant (a sickly old pachederm named after the newspaper) ... or Shoot the Bear game ... or "Wake up the birds!" when you were in high school and drove through the Park late at night screaming "Cawwwwwww"!

Mr. Bingle ... every year the giant Mr. Bingle (a snow-boy with an ice cream coned head) covered the g…

Uncle Smitty and Mardi Gras

Uncle Smitty was the coolest man I ever knew.

In an earlier blog I mentioned that he owned Smith's Records on St. Charles Avenue. It was down the street from my grandmother's apartment, so when I took the streetcar to see her, I always dropped in to Uncle Smitty's store to listen to the records.

He also had a recording studio ... Instant Records (later called Minute Records). He recorded all the greats in New Orleans: Irma Thomas, Benny Spellman, Ernie (Mother-In-Law)K. Doe, Robert (Barefootin)Parker, The Nevilles ... even the early Kings (Benny and B.B). I got to meet many of them and even was backstage later in high school at a concert that Uncle Smitty produced for Janis Joplin.

Pretty cool, huh?

As cool as Uncle Smitty was in the record industry, he was as dorky as my dad was at home. His daughter Leslie and I used to have to get dressed up in these awful Mardi Gras costumes for the parades. One year we were bunnies ... I was blue and she was pink. Another year it was som…

Wayne

My brother Wayne was born 4 years after me.

He was the cute one ... blonde hair, big grin, always dancing and singing ... yes, he had the cheeks that all the moms wanted to pinch. Not that mine weren't pinch-able ... they were just so fat that you had to use two hands. Wayne was a crowd pleaser and a natural entertainer. My mom loved to get him cranked up in front of company and he loved to perform.

He was so much better with my parents than I was. I would disappear when other adults came over ... just when Wayne would start his third set. Funny ... now that I think of how much my personality has changed since that time. I really wasn't outgoing at all when I was younger. In fact my best friend in New Orleans (ironically his name is Wayne too) didn't even remember me in Elementary School and I sat next to him for six years.

High School was really the turning point for me. I got skinny, girls finally talked to me and I was finally not picked last for PE touch football games…

Hebrew School

There used to be a synagogue on St. Charles Avenue ... Beth Israel, where I went to Hebrew School in my formative years before my Bar Mitzvah. It was orthodox (the most religious) and so were we ... well my dad and my brother and I ... my mom's family was a mixture of Catholic and crazy. So she didn't participate.

The Hebrew School bus would pick me up three times a week after school. I was the only passenger from my school and I asked the bus driver, Higgins, to pick me up a few blocks away. I didn't really talk about my religion to the rest of the students ... ever since one of the guys in my gym class rubbed his hands on my head and told about a conversation with his parents: "They said, Jews were born with horns and if you ever saw one ,,, feel his head to see if he has nubs where they sanded them down."

Hebrew School was run by the rabbi. He wasn't child friendly ... of course if I were teaching us, I guess I wouldn't have been too child friendly ei…

Growing Up (Quickly) in New Orleans

New Orleans is an interesting place to spend one's childhood ... especially during the 50's and the 60's. The neighborhoods were melting pots of color, dialects and humidity. The drinking age was 18 ... which translated to "if you can reach the bar you'll get served a drink". In our neighborhood that meant the Raven (I'll save Raven stories for another time).

We lived in a lot of neighborhoods. In the early years, we lived in the Uptown area (General Pershing St., Octavia St., Belfast St., Jena St. ... for those who know the area). Dad worked for a furniture store in the French Quarter (Holtzman's ... not around anymore) as a salesman and bill collector. In those days, he used to go door to door to collect from customers. I remember as a little boy tagging along when he'd ring doorbells. We didn't have much more money than the customers that were late with their bills. In fact, I think there were a few times that bill collectors came to our doo…

Sam

So here I am .... all of about 6 months old and somehow, one night, under the care of my dad. Not sure where Esther was ... but Sam was holding down the fort.

Those were the days that formula was put into the glass baby bottle and boiled on the stove to the right temperature before feeding. Anyone remember that? My first daughter was fed that way 30 years ago ... so most should remember.

The night that my dad did this (for the first time apparently). He brought the pan, boiling water and the bottle over to my crib. Now mind you ... my dad would never get a prize for innovation, catlike moves or even common sense ... so you can just imagine what happened next.

Boiling water all over my chest and arms ... a trip to the emergency room and thank God ...

... no more nights where Dad was in charge.

Esther

In biblical times, Esther was a queen. In modern times, Esther was a princess .... which in my household meant that Esther wielded a hell of a lot more power.
That was my mom.
Striking fear in the hearts of our friends and family, Esther .... all 4'10" of her ... was known throughout the city for her "antics". She once threw a plate of food at my dad's head in the middle of Ruth's Steak House (that was before Ruth took over Chris). I think she was upset about something he said. She was thrown out of no fewer that 5 hotels in my lifetime. Even rock stars catch a better break. An entire busload of passengers once applauded when she reached her destination.
Esther married my dad to escape her tyrannical father. According to her, they had very little in common and she didn't really like him but he had a job. At the time, Esther was finishing Newcombe College and was only 19 years old.
She held the highest GPA and was three years ahead of her classmates.
Unfo…

Bubbie and GM

I have great memories of my grandmothers.

Bubbie was my dad's mother. She was built like a bowling ball ... a real soft one. Never bothered to learn English but we always seemed to understand each other. Maybe I just thought we understood each other because she was always kissing my head and feeding me latkes. And smiling ... always smiling. Her early years in Poland and fleeing Nazi oppression showed on her face .... so beautiful but deeply lined ... and her gait. She walked like a duck, on stumpy legs wrapped in thick support hose. Limping and waddling through her kitchen, Bubbie always smiled, never complained (if she did, it was in yiddush and I never knew it). What a sweetheart.

My mom's mother was French Catholic. I called her GM (grandmother). What a character. She had a heavy New Orleans accent. On hot days she'd dress to the nines but would complain that the weather was "fee-yus" (fierce) and she would ask me (when I was all of 12) if I would grab her a &q…

Birth Story

I mentioned in my first post that I was born in New Orleans at the Hotel Dieu. Yes, it was a hospital ... at least that what I was told. It was a Catholic hospital and for a little Jewish baby it was a slight disadvantage.

Interesting fact one:
The doctor who delivered me was actually a famous jazz musician named Dr. Edmund Souchan.

Interesting fact two:
I was born on Mardi Gras Day ... March 1st.

Interesting fact three:
Dr. Souchan's daughter was Queen of Rex (the Krewe which parades on Mardi Gras day and to be chosen Queen is one of the highest honors in New Orleans) that morning.

Interesting fact four:
He missed the parade because I was being delivered.

Painful fact one (and this is why I was disadvantaged):
The nuns at the hospital (and the doctor) failed to "tag" me as a Jewish baby who would be circumsized on the seventh day. Who knows ... maybe Souchan was mad at me because he missed the parade.

Painful fact two:
They circumsized me right after birth.

VERY painful fact three:
M…

Speaking of Cribs

I used the thing that a crib with a top was for my own safety.

But then I thought ... you know, in pictures I looked like I must have weighed 150 pounds when I was a few months old. I really wasn't going anywhere. Plus ... I used to have a bar attached to my baby shoes. My mom told me that I was born with flat feet so she assumed that preventing me from walking would help.

I tried the same thing with my son. He was 17 at the time.

My First Time

This is my first time at this .... so be gentle with me.

Yes I'm a virgin at blogging. Blogging .... every time I think of that word I want to take a blood test to make sure that my arteries are in working order.

Oh well ... Let's start from the beginning. "I was born very young" was stolen from a great comedian years ago. I think the rest of the routine includes ... " I was born in a hospital so I could be close to my mother". Actually, I was born in New Orleans in the Hotel Dieu. That was a hospital, by the way. It was one of the things that my parents assured me of when I was old enough to ask the question "where did I come from?"
Funny thing about my parents, though, I never felt too connected to them. Although they were both short (mom was 4'11" and Dad was 5'7") and at the time I was 2'3", there were things that made me think that we had less in common.

And little things made me think that perhaps they were not really…