Tag Archives: Louisiana

Lundi Gras

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It was Lundi Gras, the day before Mardi Gras, and the entire city was in party mode. It was the perfect time for kissing a stranger in the French Quarter and bringing a stranger home to share my bed.

I was a student at a university in New Orleans, adrift in-between boyfriends. I’d recently freed myself from my controlling high school sweetheart who’d thwarted my plan to slowly drift apart when I went off to college by following me there. I was looking for love but settling for sex in those party days of my early 20s.

I’d gotten a temporary job for the Mardi Gras season through a friend of a friend. The t-shirt shop where I worked was tucked into a quiet corner of the Quarter and was only open during daylight hours. After closing up shop, the woman I was working with and I met our mutual friend and took our party to the streets.

Our first stop was the convenience store where cans of cheap beer floated in a tall cooler filled with slushy ice. The beer was nasty, but the price was right for working-class collage students at only a dollar for not just one but two cans. I downed one of my beers quickly, while it was still icy cold. I enjoyed the way the alchohol went straight to my head.

Where all did we walk that night? I have a hazy memory of the fountain at the Riverwalk and crowds of people packed in to listen to Dr. John play. It was too much for us, or maybe we didn’t see anyone we knew, but for whatever reason, we wandered back to the Quarter.

I think I met the DJ on Jackson Square. We met in some quiet place, because I was able to hear him when he spoke. He was a DJ at a local radio station. Although his radio name was the same as a classic rock legend, the DJ worked at a country music station. At some point during our conversation, he leaned over and kissed me. It was a rather chaste kiss, but it made my head spin as much as the beer had. He liked me! He was an older man (maybe even 30!), an adult with a real job, and he liked me! Usually my friends got all the guys, but this grown-ass man liked me.

My friends quickly got bored and urged me to come on! There was to be more from this night than me getting kissed. There was bound to be more exitement around the next corner.

I said good-bye to this exciting man who I expected to change my life.

Call me at the radio station, he said to me and told me the hours he worked. I was too naive to know that a man who really liked me would scribble his home phone number on a scrap of paper and press it into my hand.

We hadn’t gone far before we ran into the two boys* from Chicago in town from Mardi Gras. My friend had met them somewhere (a bar probably) a night or two before and befriended them. They were maybe even crashing on my friend’s floor. My memory is fuzzy after all these years. They were dressed like they’d come from the video for a song by the Black Crows–all patched pants and nouveau hippie.

The one guy had dark hair. He was nice enough, but I don’t remember his name or much about him. His friend, however, was lovely. His name was Michael and he looked like a nouveau hippie angel. His blondish hair was longish and curly, but he looked more like a cherub than a Greek god. He was good-looking, but attainable.

The five of us hung out the rest of the night, walking the streets of the Quarter. At some point I’d drunk my second 50 cent beer, but I don’t think I’d had any more alcohol than that. I was tipsy but not sloppy, and I was having a great time.

The more I hung out Michael, the more I liked him, and the more I liked him, the more I wanted him in a carnal way. Emboldened by the alcohol and the earlier kiss from a stranger (which proved I was desirable), I decided I was going to ask this young man to come home (and by home, I mean dorm) with me.

I waited until we were stopped on the sidewalk so my friends could talk to someone they knew and I didn’t. Michael’s friend had wandered out of earshot, and the two of us were standing there a little awkwardly, two wallflowers at the world’s biggest party.

I turned to him and smiled. Would you think I was a terrible person if I asked you to come home with me?

He grinned at me, said, I wouldn’t think that at all, and hugged me.

Michael and I spent the rest of the evening out grinning at each other. We knew what was going to happen next, even if our friends were still clueless.

I don’t remember how we got back to my dorm, but I remember us going to my room where my roommate thankfully was not. We had friendy sex, them grabbed a few hours of sleep next to each other in my single bed. In the morning, I walked him downstairs and watched him leave through the big glass doors at the front of the building.

I never saw or heard from Michael again, but I’ll never forget the Lundi Gras when I was kissed by a stranger and slept with an angel.

* by “boys” I mean two young men old enough to consent

Photo courtesy of The Library of Congress

Half-Wild Beach Cows

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When I was in middle school, my parents went on a camping kick.

I suspect it was my dad who decided the family should go camping. Why would my mom want to camp? It only made extra work for her: making sure everyone in the family had packed everything s/he needed for the weekend; packing every ingredient for every meal, as well as appropriate pots, pans, and utensils; listening to the children complain; gathering and packing necessary bedding and towels; washing sand out of everything when we returned from the beach.

It was to the beach we went on our first few camping trips. This beach was not a white-sand beach in Black White MosquitoFlorida or the ruggedly beautiful coast of Oregon. No, the beach we frequented was the nasty oil-slicked beach of the Louisiana Gulf Coast where the water was brown, trash washed up on the sand, and the mosquitoes were huge. This beach was ugly, but it wasn’t very far from home, and camping there was free.

Our first camping shelter was an old-school canvas tent. I suspect my dad got it, like so many items from my childhood (scratchy wool blankets, BAND-AID® brand adhesive bandages in bulk, Mercurochrome) from a discard pile of mythic proportion from his days in the National Guard.

After a few trips to the beach, my dad liked camping so much, he decided to buy a tiny camper to pull behind the family truck. He bought the camper from an old couple, and it was only after he got it home that he discovered the pressboard it was made from was mostly rotten. My father dismantled the camper down to the frame, then replaced every bit of wood and every scrap of insulation before putting it all back together again.

As far as I was concerned, he could have saved his energy. I had no desire to camp. There were no showers at the beach, no hairdryers, no flush toilets. To young teenage me, the beach was barbaric.

I can’t remember how many times my family went camping at the beach in our refurbished camper. I only remember the night of the half-wild beach cows.

A friend of the family had come with us. She was in her 60s, flamboyant, liked board games, and was patient with my sibling and me. I have not idea why she wanted to spend her weekend at the beach.

The family friend was supposed to sleep in the screen ten, but my dad built the campfire too close to it and melted the screen. No way could she sleep in a tent with a huge hole in it; the mosquitoes would have carried her away. Instead, she had to sleep in the camper with us.

It was already tight quarters in the camper at night. The kitchen table folded down into a double bed; that’s where my parents slept. My younger sibling slept in a bunk that folded down from above the table. (My mother was afraid my sibling–a tween at the time–would  roll out of bed and meet death on the camper’s floor, so she crocheted a huge net to stretch across the bunk.) I usually slept on the cushioned bench across the front of the trailer, but on this night I was relegated to a pile of blankets on the floor so our elderly guest could have what barely passed for a twin bed. If I was uncomfortable–and I was–I wonder how our rather large friend managed to stay on her narrow bed.

animal, black and white, cattleNo one was sleeping well when the commotion started outside, but we were soon wide awake. We heard animal noises and hooves hitting the ground, and it was all very close. It was so close, we began to hear and feel thumping on our camper. The camper swayed and rocked as one or more big somethings bumped it.  In the distance we heard humans yelling. What could possibly be going on out there?

My dad must have grabbed a flashlight and shined it out the window in order to report: cows. They were half-wild beach cows, let loose to graze, I suppose, although there wasn’t much in the way of tasty grass where we were parked. It must have been open range out there, and the cows were allowed to move about freely on the beach.  We had come into their territory, and they seemed none too happy about it.

I don’t remember how long the attack lasted, but we couldn’t get back to sleep after the cows moved on. I don’t think any of us got much sleep that night.

In the early daylight of the next morning, when we emerged from our little trailer, we saw the aftermath of the visit from the cows. Tents and temporary clotheslines had been knocked down. People must have spent a long night in cars to escape mosquitoes and marauding bovines. What else can you do when half-wild animals knock your tent on top of you while you’re sleeping in it? My family had been lucky to have a sturdy camper to keep us safe.

 

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-white-mosquito-86722/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-black-and-white-cattle-close-up-551618/.

AZ International Marketplace

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I recently shopped at the AZ International Marketplace on the second day of its grand opening weekend.

First, the particulars.

According to the AZ International Marketplace Facebook page, the store is comprised of

100,000 Square Feet of Groceries and General Merchandise from all over the world…Hundreds of thousand of products can be found in this marketplace.

It’s located at 1920 W Broadway Road in Mesa, Arizona, and is open 9am to 9pm every day.

I went with a friend and we walked down every aisle in the store.

Most of the packaged food seems to be Asian. A lot of the Asian food is highly processed, snacky food.IMG_6021 We saw a lot of crackers, chips, cookies, and candy. In addition to the junk food, we also saw a lot of dry noodles and rice, as well as spices and sauces and oils.

In the middle of the marketplace is a large meat department. If there is a part of a cow or pig you’ve always wanted to cook and eat, you can probably find it in that meat department. My friend is a vegetarian, and I don’t buy and cook raw meat, so we didn’t stay in the meat department long or even look at all the items available. However, I did see cow lips for sale for the first time in my life. There were only a few cow lips left, so maybe they are popular in some dish I don’t know. Next time I have access to pay TV, I hope to see an episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern in which cooking with cow lips is explored.

Just past the large meat department is a large produce department. In addition to many fruits and vegetables I am accustomed to seeing in supermarkets (red peppers, yellow peppers, green peppers, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes), I also saw huge jackfruits, tiny bananas, IMG_6039and bundles of cinnamon sticks which looked like doll-sized bundles of firewood and smelled delicious.

A small part of the store (a back corner really) was dedicated to prepackaged food from Africa. (Reminded me of the time I rode the It’s a Small World ride at Disney World and the entire continent of Africa was represented by three brown children and a pink elephant.) In addition to several brands and varieties of red palm oil, we also saw Mama’s Choice plantain fufu mix, bagsIMG_6016 of cassava starch, and Tropiway brand fufu flour in both cocoyam and plantain flavors.

 

 

 

 

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The marketplace also boasts a rather large section of food from East India. Unfortunately, by the time we made it to those aisles, I was in overload and didn’t get any photos of interesting East Indian packaging. We saw huge bags of spices, prepared vegetarian entrées at the good price of $1.69 per serving (I resisted loading my cart with them), cans of gulab jamun (delicious dough balls soaked in sweet syrup), and jars of ghee. I was most interested in the ghee, which looked a lot like the ghee I recently made: solid and pale yellow as opposed to the translucent liquid I was expecting. Maybe my ghee wasn’t a disaster after all.

We were looking at different bouillon powders when my friend picked up a package and declared it penis in a can.IMG_6027

Ok, obviously, that’s a mushroom. The can is even labeled granulated mushroom bouillon. But I’ll be damned if that doesn’t look like a walking penis. Do people in other countries not see that and think PENIS? Maybe Americans (or maybe it’s just me and my friend) have very immature senses of humor.

IMG_6026One of my favorite packages showed these kids carrying a giant peach. I don’t know what kids in rompers or a giant peach have to do with the dried noodles in the package, but I like the illustration a lot.

One of the most impressive parts of the store (at least to me) was the cooler containing tofu. I didn’t count the varieties, and I (stupidly) didn’t take a photo, but there must have been 15 to 20 kinds of tofu in the cold case. Some of the tofu had been pre-fried, and there were an assortment of brands. It’s the most tofu I’ve seen in the same place at the same time.

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I apologize for this washed out photo. I have problems dealing with my flash. I hate taking photos in artificial light.

Maybe because I’m an anthropologist at heart, I’m fascinated by products that seem completely normal in one culture, while closely resembling torture devices in another. Case in point: the ear pick. American culture says it’s dangerous to stick cotton swabs in the ears. Another culture says it’s ok to shove wooden sticks with scoops on the end into the ears.

In addition to aisle upon aisle of “international” food, at least one-third of the store was dedicated to American (as in U.S.A.) or at least North American food. We saw Eggo waffles and Aunt Jemima. We saw Oreo cookies and canned vegetables. I was surprised the store carries food available at any supermarket in the valley, but I guess they want the place to be a one stop shop.

I was most surprised to see that food from Louisiana is apparently exotic enough to have its own sections. Louisiana food perhaps seems less exotic to me because I grew up in Louisiana. But I was not expecting to see an IMG_6024endcap dedicated to Cafe du Monde coffee and chicory. I was also not expecting to see three sizes (including gallon jugs) of Louisiana brand crawfish, shrimp, and crab boil. Where’s the Zatarain’s? my friend asked. IMG_6035Unfortunately, it looked like Louisiana brand had a monopoly on the Louisiana products. There were all sorts of Louisiana brand products available for purchase.

To round out the food selection, the marketplace sells a variety of housewares (throw blankets, bowls, cooking utensils), cleaning supplies, and electrical appliances (rice cookers, teapots). Shoppers can also buy incense, joss paper (also known as ghost or spirit money), and other paper items to burn as offerings to ancestors.

While I did find some bargains at the AZ International Marketplace (on Huy Fong sriracha Sauce, children’s toothbrushes to fit in my little mouth, and sport sunscreen that’s not supposed to run into my eyes), I certainly did not find everything in the store to be inexpensive. Since I hadn’t been shopping at other international markets, I don’t know how the prices at the AZ International Marketplace compare to similar markets in the valley, or if any of the other international markets in the valley can be considered similar to this one. If I lived in the area, I would probably go back and compare prices on items I’ve been buying at other stores, and I would probably take advantage of the good deals in the produce section. I would also probably do some experimenting with all those varieties of tofu. I would not use this store as a one-stop shop or my go-to market. But walking around it did make for a fun afternoon.

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I took all of the photos in this post.

Hard Times on the Highway

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I was back to selling jewelry on the side of the highway at a small arts and crafts market near a large natural tourist attraction. I’d missed the summer crowd, and this bunch of mostly old, mostly stuffy visitors was not my target audience. Most of these folks had no personality; the ones who did have a personality, well, their personality type was “asshole”.

One morning a man strolled up to my table. I saw him looking at the rocks, so I said to him (as I say to almost everyone who looks at my rocks), Let me know if you have any questions about my shiny rocks. Usually people chuckle or say thank you, but this guy said (in a snotty tone of voice), I have a rock business myself. I don’t know if he meant, Don’t try to hustle me because I know about rocks and their prices or if he was trying to tell me he wasn’t going to buy rocks because he already had a bunch, but he came across as a real jerk.

I just said (coldly), That’s nice. 

Then he picked up a piece of skeletal quartz and demanded, Where did you get this? 

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This is the piece of skeletal quartz the jerk man picked up. It may be difficult to see in this photos, but there are three clear quartz points that formed around a chunk of quartz.

I said sweetly, From my rock guy, even though I knew he wanted to know where on the earth the rock was originally found.

No. he said. Where did it come from?

I don’t know, I said (because I didn’t, although since then I’ve been told it came from Colorado).

By that point I was 97% sure the man was not going to buy anything from me, and I was 100% sure I didn’t want him to have that beautiful piece of quartz. If he had asked the price, I would have said $50, even though I usually ask $20 for it. I didn’t want him to have it , but I’d want $50 more than I’d want to keep the stone from him.

On another morning, two women and a man stopped at my table. The man was admiring the winter hats I’d made. He asked one of the women if she wanted one.

When have you ever known me to wear a hat? she snapped at him.

She stalked off, but the man and the other woman stayed at my table. The man asked the price of the hats, and I told him they were only $10.

Where are y’all from? I asked them. Due to his accent and the first woman’s attitude, I wasn’t surprised when he said Chicago.

I commented on how cold it gets in Chicago and said the lady must be really tough if she never wears a hat during a Chicago winter.

She’s tough as nails, the man said.

He asked me if men wear my hats. I said yes and told him about the man who’d bought one the day before.

He liked the hat my styrofoam model was wearing, so I told him he was welcome to try it on.

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The man from Chicago liked the hat the model is wearing.

He pulled it on while I got the mirror.

I told him the hat looked really good on him. I wasn’t only trying to make a sale; the hat did look really good on him. He said he wanted it so he could keep his ears warm while walking his dog this winter.

With the hat on his head, he called to the woman who’d walked away and was now three tables down the line of vendors, How do I look?

She replied immediately, after barely looking at him, Stupid!

Wow! I said. Is that your wife?

Yes, he said. We’ve been married 30 years.

Wow! I said again. “Y’all must really love each other.

He called out to his wife again. Should I get this hat?

She looked totally disgusted and said, You’re the one who’d have to wear it.

He didn’t buy the hat.

I thanked him for his admiration of my work, and he said, We haven’t left yet. He said if his wife bought something, he’s be back, tit for tat, but I didn’t see him again.

A few days later, a young man and woman stopped at my table. The woman was wearing a pink hoodie with “Vinton, Louisiana” printed on the chest. Since I have family in that area, I asked her if she was from Vinton, Louisiana. She said no, she wasn’t from there. But there’s a pit there, she said. She turned around and there was a rooster screen printed on the back of the hoodie.

Cockfighting, you mean? I asked her.

Yeh, she said. My dad made his way down there…

Whenever they asked me the price of something, I added a few dollars–let’s call it a cruelty to animals tax–but they didn’t buy anything. It wasn’t until after they walked away that I realized I should have said, That’s barbaric, as soon as she confirmed we were talking about cock fighting.

The most annoying jerk was a young guy. He was clean-cut and looked totally straight, but the young woman he was with had long dreadlocks. It was the end of the day, and I had all of my rocks and most of my jewelry packed up.

They expressed interest in my highest priced necklaces.

Pendants of wire wrapped stones by James Smith. Hemp work by me.

These are the necklaces the couple was interested in.

I told them the pendants on the necklaces were made by a young local artist who charges $45 for them; I offered to let them have an entire necklace for $40.

The young guy said, They don’t charge that much at the expensive stores in town.

I replied (in a calm, neutral tone of voice), I don’t know where you’ve been shopping, but I know this guy charges $45 for his pendants.

The woman liked the lepidolite necklace, so I gave her the spiel.

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This is the lepidolite necklace the woman liked. In real life, the stone is a deeper purple. Please forgive my overexposed photo.

That’s lepidolite. It’s a local stone, mined in this county. It contains lithium, so it’s good for lifting depression and stabilizing mood, and it helps with insomnia.

The young man kind of snorted and said, I’ve never heard of it before, as if I were lying to them about a stone so they would buy it.

Sure, there are people who would lie about a stone to get someone to buy it, and the guy had no way of knowing that I’m not one of those unscrupulous people. But this guy was acting as if because he’d never heard of lepidolite, it couldn’t possibly exist. I hear about new rocks all the time. I never think a stone can’t be real just because I’ve never heard of it.

The couple wandered off, and I continued packing.

Soon they were back, and the woman was looking at the necklace with the ledpidolite pendant again. I hadn’t made much money that day, and one more sale before I left would have been nice, so I told her she could have it for $30. The man was standing next to her, and he asked, Would you take $20?

I flatly replied, No.

It was cold and windy, and the man left to get his coat.

I told the woman, For $30, you’re getting all my work for free and $15 off the pendant.

The woman also looked at a short necklace with a pendant made with a local amazonite. I’d done the pendant’s simple wrap and was asking only $15 for the necklace. I told her the price and said the rock had been found locally.

The man walked back up to the table, and the woman showed him the necklace with the amazonite pendant.

That looks like just a rock, he said,

That’s because it is a rock, you idiot, is what I wanted to say, but instead I said, It’s a natural stone. It hasn’t been polished.

The man told the woman she should only get it if it were the best necklace she’d ever seen and she was totally excited about it. She put down the necklace, and they were off again.

I finished packing quickly, hoping they’d come back wanting the $15 necklace so I could tell them they were too late and had missed their chance. If they’d wanted the lepidolite necklace for $30? Well, I guess I would have unpacked that one.

(I took all the photos in this post)

To read more about customers, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/02/05/we-feel-for-your-situation/, here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/02/10/red-letter-day-2/, here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/09/26/turtle-ass/, here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/03/17/how-much-are-these/, here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/12/09/selling-hemp-again/ or here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/12/14/mean-daddy/