Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Old Friends, Circuit Court, and a Trash Triumph in the Quarter



I'm in the middle of a "work-cation" - having my classes covered while I use the time to work on a book that is overdue (sorry, Bror, it is not a translation from Swedish). But I did actually take part of the day off (for real) to spend some time with friends visiting New Orleans.

They are actually here on business.

My buddy Kirk is a civil rights attorney from North Carolina. His Texas client's case in on appeal, and the district court had ruled against him on a summary judgment. So, they appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court Federal Court of Appeals which sits in New Orleans, and Kirk had a few minutes to make arguments before a three judge panel. Another old friend of mine, Fred from Virginia (who was accompanied by his wife Adrienne), who just finished law school and is working on the Virginia Bar, was on hand to assist with the case, as was a new friend, Jeff, from Texas - a concert violist turned lawyer who is licensed to practice in both the U.S. and Scotland.

All interesting folks!

Anyway, I arrived this morning at the Federal Courthouse on Camp Street (having shrewdly left my Swiss Army knife at home, taking the risk that I would need a toothpick or corkscrew and be forced to do without). I met up with my attorney friends in a tiny little lobby adjacent to the courtroom.

On a desk was a computer. And the only thing on the computer's monitor was a huge number 1. Kirk's case was number 3. So, we waited. There is just something humorous about having a Dell computer with way more computing power than NASA had for the Apollo missions - sitting on the desk with the only job of flashing a single-digit number on the screen. Government at work.

At the appointed time, when the number three appeared, we headed across the hall to the courtroom itself. My friends took their place inside the "chancel" while I sat in one of the "pews" outside the gate (a strange role reversal indeed).

The arguments were interesting. One of the judges was an absolute riot. In fact, he said something so politically incorrect that I was actually shocked. And aside from the jolts of static electricity I always have when I open my car door, I don't get shocked. But I was this morning.

The hearing was over in about 40 minutes. Now they will deliberate for a few weeks before rendering a decision.

We met back at my friends' hotel - the Royal Sonesta on Bourbon Street (very nice!), we decided to hit the restaurant on the corner (which is actually part of the hotel itself), Desire, a beautiful old fashioned pub with the typical New Orleans fare - po boys, turtle soup, shrimp, crawfish etouffee, etc.

We headed back to the hotel for my friends to check out. All of a sudden, we heard brass music. This is hardly unusual in New Orleans - but the hotel lobby cleared out.

This was no ordinary parade! It was led by Sidney Torres (the owner of the local trash pickup company), along with the Rebirth Brass Band, and a small army of people with brooms and heavy street cleaning equipment. They were cheered like a conquering army. Mr. Torres was grinning ear to ear, and strutting along Bourbon Street.

For the past few days, the French Quarter had become a battleground between the lunatic mayor of New Orleans, C. Ray Nagin, and the exasperated and yet quixotic City Council - with the weapon of choice being garbage. With the threat of a return to the bad old days of a putrid French Quarter - just in time for Mardi Gras - Ray Nagin decided to play games with the city's budget in petty retaliation over one of his lackeys (who oversees waste collection) being raked over the coals by a reform-minded Council.

Needless to say, Quarter residents and businesses were furious. This stinky dust-up has been at the heart of all the trash-talk in the town for the past several days.

SDT Waste and Debris owner Sidney Torres (who enjoys true rock star status in New Orleans), stepped up to the plate, and offered to buy the quarter more time while the two sides sought compromise. Eventually, time ran out, and garbage began to pile up in the Quarter again like old times. The outcry was huge, and a settlement was reached - after a dramatic showdown at City Council.

And Torres wasted no time when the compromise was announced. Hence the parade.

I waved at Sidney across the street. He beamed. We traded thumbs-up gestures. The spontaneous crowds on the sidewalk were cheering the band, the street sweepers, and the heavy equipment. People were actually patting the people with the brooms on the back and thanking them while they swept debris as the brass band strutted alongside down Bourbon Street.

"Only in New Orleans," said the smiling doorman, nodding approval in his cape and 19th century hat.

The street spraying machines blasted the road with high-pressure suds and lemon-scented detergent. Torres was directing the machinery personally, pointing and gesturing as he continued greeting people and strutting to the music. The street was immaculate. After the sprayer went by, it literally smelled like lemons.

If you've been to Bourbon Street in years past (and were sober enough to remember), your head has just exploded. I said, "It smelled like lemons." Yes. That's what I said.

Sidney Torres crossed over to our side of the street. I shook his hand and said: "Thank you!" He smiled, and said, "Hey, thanks for noticing." I asked: "Could you run for mayor?" He laughed and nodded good naturedly - but he didn't say "no."

There is hope for New Orleans.

8 comments:

Bror Erickson said...

Why would I need a book translated from Swedish? But seriously, the rest of the English speaking world might find it helpful.

Mason said...

Was Ignatius J. Reilly lurking in the area?

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Bror:

I iknow *you* wouldn't need it. But I also know you want me to get the Giertz book done. I wish I could too.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Mason:

Indeed, he was. He is immortalized on Canal Street (see here) a half-block from Rue Bourbon under the iconic clock of the former D.H. Holmes Department Store.

I did show the statue of the great hotdog vendor himself to my friends, who have not yet read of his great deeds in Confederacy of Dunces.

Mason said...

Fr. Hollywood,
I make it a point to read Confederacy of Dunces once a year. It is hilarious. Strangely, I also identify with Ignatius' displacement. I suppose this isn't strange for a Stone Age Man in the ministerium of the LCMS...
I need to visit New Orleans. I have only driven through the city so my guides to this point have been Percy and Toole.
+Mason

Bror Erickson said...

Well I am looking forward to whatever you do get out. Always have enjoyed your prose.
Are you still working on the Giertz Bio? Would you be offended if someone else picked it up?
Last night I finished with the "Knights of Rhodes." It may still need a little tweaking but it is in readable English.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Bror:

Actually, I'm a lot farther along on the Giertz bio than I thought I was. In fact, after I get this current project done (and I made a great push this week), I'm going to get back on it - and Miss Grace has volunteered to help me with the Giertz project - which is the only Swedish on my plate (unless we can find an Ikea for meatballs) right now.

I also have a nice MP3 player to copy all my Swedish CDs so I can get back into the swing of things. There are a lot of great linguistic resources out there now.

BTW, I gave a copy of To Live With Christ to a friend as a present - nice work!

Bror Erickson said...

That is good to know Larry,
I don't know, I have two sets of his sermons which would also be worth a translate, and a hell of a lot easier than tracking down medieval French, Castilian, and Italian Nautical, and architectural terms. Might help me with my own preaching.