Sunday, November 11, 2012

Managing Ignatius!

"Get yer Lucky Dog here!"
A few years ago, I ran across a wonderfully quirky autobiographical book set in New Orleans, written by a New Orleanian, about a side of New Orleans life that can only be experienced from the inside.  The book is called Managing Ignatius: The Lunacy of Lucky Dogs and Life in New Orleans by Jerry E. Strahan.

Strahan's reference to "Ignatius" is an oblique nod to a fictional character, the beloved antihero from John Kennedy Toole's Pulitzer-winning A Confederacy of Dunces, the megalomaniac Ignatius J. Reilly.  In Confederacy, Ignatius was unable to hold a job, always seeing himself as larger than life and better than everyone around him.  He was filled with drama (and insanity).  One of Ignatius's jobs was selling hot dogs out of a cart in the French Quarter - making reference to the iconic Lucky Dog carts and their colorful vendors.  His mother considered this the height of shame.

In real life, Jerry Strahan began working for Lucky Dogs after dropping out of Tulane's doctoral program in history.  It was a temporary job that he has now held for more than 25 years.  His book is blunt about the shortcomings of many of the vendors who have worked for him these many years, and yet Strahan's treatment is affectionate and non-judgmental.  One gets the impression that if his employees were "normal" he would not really enjoy his job.  He finds a way to make things work out as best he can.

The book is funny, touching, and impossible to put down.  It received 4.3 stars out of 5 in 23 customer reviews on Amazon.

Now here is the cool part: I met Jerry Strahan Friday night!

I was helping set up for the annual Junior Achievement City Stars Soiree, stirring a pot of crab soup and a pot of gumbo - praying fervently not to screw it up (I am no cook!).  I saw two men wheeling a Lucky Dog cart nearby - one dressed in the ubiquitous striped vendor "uniform," the other dressed casually.  The latter man looked familiar.  I suspected he might be Jerry Strahan, but could not be sure.  I walked up and asked him: "Do you know Jerry Strahan?"  He replied in a very low key manner, "I'm Jerry Strahan" and kept up with his work.  I smiled and pumped his hand, thanking him for his book Managing Ignatius.  Strahan was most gracious, taking it in stride, and allowed me take the above picture with him.

We had a wonderful, very brief chat in which we discussed the book - and then I let him get back to work.  Although my meeting with him was short, he struck me as a really good guy, genuine and compassionate, with a sense of humor and joie de vivre.  And that is exactly the impression I got of him when I read the book.

If you enjoy quirky reads, if you like laughing out loud, if you've read A Confederacy of Dunces, or if you have a place in your heart for the City of New Orleans, pick up a copy of Managing Ignatius.

And if you find yourself in the French Quarter (or anywhere else the hotdog-shaped carts may be found), order up "eight inches of fun on a bun."  You might run into Jerry Strahan working with one of the vendors.  And if you do, you will also want to shake his hand and thank him for writing the book.

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