Saturday, May 28, 2011

New Orleans


My Place in New Orleans. It was a 3 story apt. above Cigar’s pool Hall. Each floor was 1000sqft. I used to ride my bicycle around on the third floor. The only furnishing on that floor, were a winged club chair and an antique reading lamp that sat on a 10 by 20 oriental rug. All of which I had inherited from the previous tenants Jim and I think her name was Gwendolyn. Jim was a junkie, and Gwendolyn did paintings and sold them in Pirates Alley. What did this 3000sqft wonderful hovel set me back? Only three hundred smackers a month. In the attic were probably 40 to 60 ancient phone jacks in the wall. The old kind with the huge three or four pronged plugs. The 1940's idea of portable. Phones used to be so heavy and strong that you could literally beat someone to death wit the receiver. I’m guessing the place was a book joint at one time. Turns out Lee Harvey Oswald lived there with his mom 30 years before me. It’s odd to share a bathtub with an assassin. Even with thirty years between your immersions. Did he lay in this tub reading books for hours to escape like me, from the New Orleans heat? Or did he lay in the tub dreaming of time when everyone would know his name? It's a little extra odd that, he had a room in a boarding house in Oak Cliff, not far from my childhood home and indeed shot and killed Officer Tippett on my street, East 10th.


My Brother Don and I on the lawn of our apartment on E.10th Street. This was taken a year before or the year of the shooting. My brother had his trusty horse with him in this photo.



Oswald was caught and beaten in the Texas theater. The first Movie theater I ever attended. For years the theater kept the chair he was sitting in when apprehended upholstered in black felt. Always back there in the dark reminding you that this is the seat were one of the major hands of death had sat.


Above is Steve Valenti's Paddock Lounge. It was located at 309 Bouron Street, it was catty cornered from the famous Absinthe House. I did caricatures and during Mardi Gras, face painting on the sidewalk in front of the Paddock from my late teens and into my early twenties.
I was in one of the few god spots. Meaning it was not a permitted or licensed spot. I was protected from the N.O police dept. by the owner of the Paddock Lounge via the long term relationship that she and her husband had with the New Orleans chief of police. She had inherited the bar from her husband Steve Valenti, that rumor has it opened the place on a bet with his race track buddies that he wouldn't be able to make a go of it. So at 29 in 1925 he opened the Paddock Lounge, and it ran as one of the go to jazz haunts until the 80's. I meet a lot amazing talents standing in front of my easel under the club's flickering neon light. I talked with Phil Harris while he had a smoke between sets of James Davis' band. One night a guy came out of the paddock for some air, wearing a big fedora hat and long silk scarf. A little guy with curly hair. We talked about the the heat, and what a cool night it had become. Then I asked if he was often mistaken for Bob Dylan, he said yes and introduced himself. "Robert Zimmerman"' he said, "Pleased to meet you."
It was months later that I learned that was BD's real name. Still not sure if it was him. I also met famous Painter and Cartoonist Lynne Naylor standing in front of the paddock. It was years later, after working together for a while, we realized we had met way back when in New Orleans. Lynne may have been the first person to make me truly aware of animation as a possible career.Being the first person in the business I ever spoke with. She was pals with the wife of the Paddock band's sax player Charlie May.Who's wife was a colorist at Hanna Barbara Studios. File under small world.

Most of the artists on the streets of New Orleans are in what is known as permitted spots. There are A permits and B permits. You have to purchase a permit, and all the good A permit spots like the Jackson Square permits only become available if one of the artists passes on, or in drunken over sleeping stupor they let their permit lapse.
I was an extremely lucky boy to have inherited that spot from Bob Miller. He no doubt could have charged a huge fee for the spot. I was told that many an artist wondered what I had done to earn such a coveted location. The answer was three fold, one was that Bob Miller took petty on a young artist that he thought could use some grounding, and two, the fact that Bob Camp and I went out on several drinking binges with him. Three, that on one of those binges, while pushing two drunken Bobs that were sitting on top of Bob Miller's art cart. I managed to run over myself with said same cart. I remember a moment where I was laying there with the filth Bourbon Street soaking into the back of my white terry cloth polo shirt, looking up and seeing Bob Miller looking back down into the eyes of the guy that was supposed to driving this two hundred pound, (not counting the two men sitting on top of it) cart full of his art supplies, lights and easel, and I think it was at that moment that he decided, "This poor bastard needs some help." It was either that night or the next that he asked if I'd like to take his spot in front of Steve Valenti's. I had spent the last few weeks or months, it's kind of a blur, sitting with my B. permit, eking out a living in what is known as Pirates Alley. Or some nights setting up with Bob Camp across the street from Cafe Du Monde in the doorway of a closed chachka shop. We would catch a few people that in the cool of the evening, and after a few daiquiris would spring for a caricature of themselves doing whatever they loved to do or wished they loved to do. We'd work there til one or two in the morning. Then after some sleep we'd trudge back out to catch the day crowd in Pirates Alley.


Above judging by his attire this must have been in the dead of winter.


A thin strip of alley that ran from Jackson Square to Royal St. Other than the beautiful old cathedral than ran along one side of the alley, and the flagstone that gave it's old world charm, the most prominent feature of Pirates Alley in the morning, as you set up your easel, sign and chairs, was the overwhelming stench of piss from the previous nights revellers, who's bladders wouldn't carry them home or the next bar stool with out the sweet relief of pissing in public. As the sun beat down on the flagstone and humidity level rose so did the smell of urine, which had combined itself with not only last nights dose, but with all the urine that had been sprayed in the shadows all the years previous, making itself into a supper vapor. Guaranteed to make all but the most insensitive customer, decide that they should keep walking through to Jackson Square and pay a higher price caricature, but in much more pleasant surroundings. Standing in front of my easel, I'd silently pray for a morning rain to at least beat back the smell to a tolerable level.




So it was with great joy and anticipation that accepted Bob Miller's offer to take over his spot on Bourbon Street.
I might have still been working there today had there not been an incident, that made the police chief retire. With his retirement and placing of a new chief that had no relationship with Mrs. Valenti in charge of the goings on in the French Quarter. It wasn't long before the police that earlier had been dissuade from rousting me off my spot by Mrs.Valenti (all four foot eleven waddling inches of her) and her threats of them having to walk a beat in the projects, if she had to call Jimmy, now with jimmy safely out of the picture, the police started arresting me for plying my trade.





Collapsed in the infamous 126 Exchange Alley, after a long night of Caricaturing on Bourbon St.and probably a visit to Molly’s Irish pub on the way home. For awhile i had the only caricature stand on Bourbon Street. The light from the window was a reflection of the neon light of the Oyster House next door. It always looked like the light of dawn outside my window.
That’s a safe at the foot of my bed, it came with the place. It was good for keeping my wads of ones and fives.

11 comments:

Damiano D said...

Haha! Wow, thanks for sharing that story! Along with cartoon theory, I love hearing about the life and times of my favourite cartoonists. This was pretty vivid too, I bet a lot of good times and bad were had, eh!

Steven M. said...

What a story! Incredible!

Vincent Waller said...

Thanks. There were lots and lot of stories, good and bad. I'm leaning toward writing and illustrating them.

WIL BRANCA said...

GREAT post! More!

Roberto Severino said...

Whoa! You should publish these kinds of stories and drawings into a book or something. You're great at storytelling.

David said...

This is a really, really great post. My girlfriend and I really love NOLA. My girlfriend is about to move to Oak Cliff, and we just went to a burlesque show at the Texas theater. Small world! Love your work Vince.

David said...

This is a really, really great post. My girlfriend and I really love NOLA. My girlfriend is about to move to Oak Cliff, and we just went to a burlesque show at the Texas theater. Small world! Love your work Vince.

smartz said...

I love this post. You have a real knack for making the street come alive. I've never been to NOLA, but watch Treme religiously. Thanks for the story.

stuartbramhall said...

Did you ever wonder why the Dallas police changed their original story about where Officer Tippett was shot? I still have the Nov 23, 1963 Milwaukee Journal - in which the Dallas police report that Oswald killed Tippett while the latter was trying to apprehend him in the Texas theater. They later changed this to the same version the FBI was issuing: that Oswald shot Tippett in his patrol car while walking from his boarding house to the theater. Strange detail for the Dallas police to get wrong the first time around. The 26 volumes of Warren Commission testimony are full of subtle discrepancies like this. Which I write about in my recent memoir THE MOST REVOLUTIONARY ACT: MEMOIR OF AN AMERICAN REFUGEE (www.stuartbramhall.com). I currently live in exile in New Zealand.

Vincent Waller said...

I had no idea that there was a discrepancy between the accounts of how Tippett died.

Kenny P. said...

Thanks Vince! I vote for the book, too.