From NYC: A year ago, Esquizito, my musician"guest" from New Orleans, spent his Thanksgiving with me here in Brooklyn. Having fled NOLA right before the storm hit, he'd been with us since September 11, 2005. We celebrated Thanksgiving that year at the home of our friend, Susan Loeb. This year, we also celebrated at Susan's house, but without Esquizito. He returned to NOLA almost a year ago, about a week after Thanksgiving 2005.
Last year, we were grateful that Esquizito and his home had escaped unharmed, and there were angry discussions at Thanksgiving dinner about the government failing, on all levels, to help the people of New Orleans. We were sad, too, that Esquizito's dog Dorian had been diagnosed with cancer and that, probably in pain, the dog had scuffled with my cat, sending the cat to the "hospital" for a few days over the Thanksgiving holiday. (Before Esquizito left for New Orleans, he had to put his beloved Dorian to sleep; my cat survived.)
This year we missed Esquizito at Thanksgiving here, but were happy that he was "back where he belongs." There were three young men from Holland at this year's feast, and they asked lots of questions about Katrina and the aftermath - some of their questions we just couldn't answer. Remember, these guys are from an entire country that's below sea level - and they had a hard time with the concept that the mighty US couldn't protect just one city from floods.
Just a few days before this year's holiday, I was visited by a French film crew, here in the US to do a film about Katrina and about the Move On attempt to find housing for folks from New Orleans through the website hurricanehousing.org (which, as most of you know, is where Eric and I connected; we're one of the "stories" featured in MoveOn's book, It Takes a Nation.). They'd actually just come to NYC from NOLA, where, among other things, they'd followed Esquizito around for a few days.
Speaking on camera, I got angrier and angrier as I talked about Katrina, NOLA and what it had done to people's lives, people like Esquizito. I realized that I was still furious about what had happened. The mid-term election has certainly brought some promise, but, more than a year after Katrina, I'm frankly losing hope that any of these electeds and newly electeds can actually do anything meaningful. In fact, one often gets the feeling that some government officials wouldn't be terribly unhappy if another great tragedy/flood befell NOLA so that they could then say, "Well, now we REALLY can't do anything."
I'm grateful that, a Thanksgiving, a year and an election after Katrina, the winds of change appear to be blowing, but will they blow too late?
From NOLA: A Mid-City Thanksgiving, A Mid-Life Crisis, Opening Day. Vol. I
I spent my Thanksgiving in characteristic New Orleanian fashion. I enjoyed the morning doing yard work/house work "without no pants on," then rode my bike through a couple of downtown neighborhoods en route to the Louisiana Fairgrounds (da'track) for Opening Day of racing season. And yes, I did put on some pants. While this should come as no surprise, I will tell you that opening day at da'track is primarily a high social event for many of us. I don't gamble - at least not in this regard. It's another opportunity to hang some nice vines on your self, get pretty, and enjoy the many different bonds that we make here that fall within the category of "Friendship."
We had a beautiful day to give thanks and praise. Needless to say, Opening Day wasn't here las'year. For many of us, including yours truly, this was the first T-day in our homes since The Storm. Of course there are those of us New Orleanians who have yet to gain this particular blessing.
I hitch up my faithful stead to a NO PARKING sign on Onzaga Street just off of Gentily Road. (My mother was born in a house on Onzaga just off of St. Bernard Avenue.) The Seahorse Salon is quite inviting with the mid-day sun streaming in through its portals and, after such a pleasant bike ride, I am so ready for refreshment. Right on time, as I wait for my turn, at the bar, I notice a Cat I know from my hood - which I affectionately call Almost Bywater. Both of us being in this same eager circumstance of soon to be refreshed, we immediately connect.
I can't recall this brother's name but I know him from in and around The Apple Barrel - a downtown dive on Frenchmen Street where I held a regular Saturday night gig before The Storm. Waiting for a drink is a wonderful time to "make social" and we chat - he actually walked off of the fairgrounds because the concession lines were woefully long apparently due to understaffing on the part of the track's newest owners, Churchill Downs. I suppose I should give Churchill Downs the benefit of the doubt since the understaffing very well could be attributed to under population.
My bar brother and I share our recognition of what a glorious day it actually is and I am happy to see that he is back on his feet since I was aware that he previously had been experiencing some problems with his hips. There are many people like him, and me, in New Orleans... individuals who are fully aware that NOLA is where we belong. What a wonderful world when you know that you live in a place where you belong.
Armed with a Stoli Orange & Cran, I proceed to "the box" where I slide a dollar bill in before noticing that there are 12 Credits awaiting me. With now 16 Credits, I smile at the simple abundance that my way of life offers. I select my standard jukebox fare... James Brown, Professor Longhair, Fats Domino, Louis Armstrong, and take one credit from that which was waiting for me for Sam Cooke, "A Change Is Gonna Come" - which, I will add was produced by New Orleans music legend Harold Batiste and includes bassist, Chuck Badie on its distinctive string orchestral intro. I'm thankful to report that both gentlemen are currently living in downtown Orleans Parish - as of a week ago Chuck is still in waiting mode to take habitation in his new home in the New Orleans Musician's Village. (Entergy isn't very forthcoming with his gas meter though his house was ready three months ago.) Chuck spent most of his summer daze putting in the "sweat equity" that such a program requires. He worked on his own house; he worked on others'. Chuck is 82 years old. He is a strong, faithful man who "came up hard" and forged ahead as part of one of the greatest periods of New Orleans music - the 1950's-1960's. I see Chuck on Sundays, at St. Augustine Church where I serve as musician/cantor. Chuck is a 30+ year resident of the 9th Ward; he comes to do some serious prayin' ever since his return to New Orleans over a year ago. Back to da'track.
I knew instinctively that I wouldn't hear my Thanksgiving Edition of jukebox programming - but nevertheless my gut told me that there would be someone who would appreciate my final selection falling on their ears. Still I wait. Whenever I have to wait, I try to find some aesthetic motivator to stimulate my mind. The noonday sun on the corner outside the bar looks just fine and within minutes I am greeting warmly from behind by another brother from downtown Orleans Parish, Kevin - who I know from my daze, and nights, singing my little heart out on Royal Street in the Quarter. Maybe you heard me there, maybe you photographed me, and maybe you tipped me.
It's wonderful to see Kevin... hadn't for a while. I know his brother Mike from the music scene, and my daze at WWOZ 90.7 FM. Kevin has always appreciated that I sing "all those show tunes" i.e. "Love Is Here To Stay," "Without A Song," "These Foolish Things" -- songs his mother first hipped him to by actually taking him to bus & truck tours that came thru the city. Mike and Kevin's father dehydrated to death at the VA Hospital in the aftermath of The Storm.
My mantra in life: I get what I need. I'm pleased that we are now two entering the fairgrounds and he tells me that the horses were a significant part of his old man's way of life. Kevin reminds me that horseracing is the "sport of kings" that "draws a lot of paupers too." Indeed, the attendance is quite a gathering. Folks like me, stylishly dressed in vintage attire, some betting - most not. Then, of course, there are those who invest significantly in this game. Seems like humans have this thing - we like to tempt and/or play with our fate, or what we perceive as our fate. We always hope for the desired effect and we are willing to... shall I say - sacrifice some of our sustenance with the thought that luck will come our way. New Orleanians are a superstitious bunch. I claim it, but I refuse to "suffer" as Brother Wonder put into some funk many years ago.
"When you believe in things that you don't understand, and you suffer - superstition's in your way." I'm sick and tired of the suffering that humans inflict on each other, the Earth, and its many wondrous creatures.
I am becoming my father's age (he was 39 years old when I was born.). I am thankful to have become my father's age... many, many of my peers did not get anywhere near it. Whenever I find the right moment to do so, I ask a question to anyone who is currently near the age that my father would be, were he still alive. I've asked Harold Batiste and Chuck Badie. I've asked civil rights lawyer, Lolis Ellie; I've asked Father Jerome Ledoux: When you were my age, (43 years) did you think that we'd be further along by now?
I will give you an overview of these wise men's answers in the next volume. But it's a question for all of us to think over, but don't wait too long for enlightenment. The next two years will be monumentally critical for this country, America. I was born seven weeks before John F. Kennedy was assassinated. As I enter my Mid-life Crisis/Enlightenment I realize how critical my generation is. We are in a crisis of leadership that we must find the courage to get out of. I don't want to grow any older if it means witnessing the growth of less freedom, not more. I don't want our children to ask me one day, did you think we'd be further along by now? New Orleanians know a thing or two about freedom. I am ready to bring to the feast every little thing I know about beautiful freedom, about peace, love. I prefer to play with my fate not with money, but with these being the stakes.
Peace & Pops,
Eric Paul Perez -- "Esquizito" -- is a vocalist guitarist who performs jazz and blues in an uncommon league. He is planted in the firm tradition of three generations of jazz music and seeks to find a sound never heard before. Esquizito makes his home in New Orleans and comes from a long line of Creoles that include cornetist Manuel Perez, and saxophonist Harold Dejan. His vocal style contains all the subtlety, nuance and feeling of the "classic era" of American song, yet does not stagnate in a sentimentality of days gone by. After studying arranging and composition at Berklee College of Music in Boston, he temporarily relocated to NYC, where he performed extensively as a solo artist, before returning to his ancestral home of New Orleans. He's performed with a wide variety of other artists, including Ellis Marsalis, Jason Marsalis, Betty Shirley, Katrina Geenen, the Lavender Light Gospel Choir, and M*Thang. Find out more and listen to some of his tunes online: www.esquizito.com