Tube Steak’s mystery vacation

(The following is a true story. The names have not been changed to protect the innocent because who is innocent and who is not is unknowable.)

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AT A CONSIDERABLE distance in the past, I lived alone in a slave quarter apartment on Dauphine Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Alone as far as human companionship is concerned, which is not to say I lacked human companionship on occasion, especially of the female variety because this being decades ago I was young and quite the manly looker.

I still hold my own in the geriatric category.

I lived with a fellow whom I kept in a cage. He was a small parrot, and his name was Tube Steak. I don’t recall his specific species in the avian world, but he was smaller than your usual parrot, but about twice the size of a parakeet.

One morning, on leaving for work, I left the kitchen window open. It must have been a pretty day, and there were banana trees in the small patio that grew up to my second-floor apartment, which consisted solely of one largish room, a small bathroom and a tiny kitchen. A bachelor pad. I was between wives.

There was a small balcony that overlooked the lush patio, and I occasionally purchased a burlap bag of oysters, invited friends over, and I’d shuck the mollusks, which we enjoyed with cold Dixie beer.

Tube Steak exhibited no interest in raw oysters or Dixie beer.

But, as I said above, one morning I went to work, leaving the kitchen window open, not thinking of the cat that I knew lived in the patio below. Neither did I think of his being a second-story man which, of course, all cats are.

When I returned in the afternoon, the cage sat on its side on the floor, the sliding bottom was open, and Tube Steak was gone. I reached the logical conclusion that the cat had entered via the kitchen window and made off with my bird.

Sadly, I retrieved the cage and stashed it in the closet.

About two weeks later, I was sprawled on the bed for a nap with the French doors opened onto the balcony. It was not an oyster-and-Dixie day. I was alone.

And then I wasn’t. Tube Steak walked through the door from the balcony. He did not fly in. He strutted in, right there on the floor. He seemed no worse for wear. He appeared unconcerned, offering nary an explanation.

I pulled the cage from the closet. Tube Steak hopped in, and life returned to normal with one exception. On leaving for work, I shut the kitchen window from that day forward.

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(Note: What brought this to mind was another bird yarn that I read yesterday, The Myna Bird by Ray Clifton, an Alabaman who wanders in the woods and writes good stories to boot.)

Monotony of Mexican meals

THERE ARE LOTS of positive aspects to Mexican life. Food ain’t one of them.

Basically, here’s what we eat. Rice, chilies, cheese, beans and stuff made from corn. Pork chops are like old, thin, shoe soles. Beef is gristly. We do fairly well with chicken, especially roasted chicken.

We cannot make a decent salad, and when we make one we offer no dressing. We’re expected to squeeze lime juice on top, period. The Mexican table, at home or in restaurants, will have salt. It will not have pepper.

Here’s a partial list of what I miss from above the Rio Bravo:

  1. Grits. A great way to start any day is a mound of grits next to runny eggs, white-bread toast, butter and jelly. You’d think that, due to Mexico’s love of corn, we’d have grits, but we have nary a grit.
  2. Muffuletta sandwich. This is primarily a New Orleans thing. A good muffuletta is a religious experience. There is an Italian whiff about it. Get it to go, and walk down Decatur Street to Jackson Square. Sit on a bench.
  3. Sausage like andouille, Italian and, especially, boudin. I do love boudin. Andouille and boudin are Cajun items. I lived in Louisiana for 18 years. Sausage in Mexico is usually greasy chorizo. It can be tasty. It can also spawn a heart attack.
  4. Boiled crawfish. What I would not pay for a plate of spicy boiled crawfish and a couple of cold Dixie beers. If you say crayfish, please step away.
  5. Po-boys. Best ordered in New Orleans. My favorite is Italian sausage, but since there is no Italian sausage here … I also used to eat fried-potato po-boys. Greasy French fries inside sliced French bread. Carb attack! But tasty!*
  6. Boiled peanuts. Leaving Louisiana now and moving east. It’s a seasonal thing you’ll find in Georgia. Probably Alabama and Mississippi too. I could eat these things till I’m sick to my stomach.
  7. Raw oysters. You can find raw oysters here sometimes, but not the big, plump ones. I wouldn’t eat them anyway. Not now, not anywhere. I don’t want to commit suicide. I ate my first raw oyster one afternoon in the bar of Schwegmann’s supermarket on Airline Highway in Metairie, Louisiana. I had quite a few beers in me or I wouldn’t have braved it.
  8. Vietnamese pho. When the war ended, lots of refugees settled on the Texas Gulf coast. Houston is full of funky Vietnamese restaurants, and I used to eat in one almost daily. My favorite dish is something called pho. You’ll find no pho anywhere near me now, sadly.
  9. Paella. This is a Spanish dish, not Mexican. Finding paella in Mexico is not difficult. Finding good paella is almost impossible. The only passable paella I’ve encountered was here in Ajijic. I used to frequent a wonderful Spanish eatery in Houston that served a killer paella. You had to phone in advance.
  10. Fried catfish. Another Southern specialty you won’t find south of the Rio Bravo. I do so miss it. My child bride loves fried catfish after that evening we ate in a restaurant near the Howard Johnson’s motel on an interstate in central Alabama about 12 years back.

Alas, I am condemned to live out my life with tacos, tortillas, skinny beef and pork, rice, beans (never beans & rice like you get in New Orleans), and stuff swimming in melted, white cheese.

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* I weighed 50 pounds more when I lived in New Orleans.

The City of Angels adventure

(Note: It’s advisable to read the previous post, The New York City Adventure, before reading this one.)

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GETTING OFF the Greyhound bus from New York City, there I was in Nashville, Hillbilly Heaven, and where my parents had relocated three years earlier.

My father picked me up at the bus station, drove me back to their apartment, phoned my mother where she was working, and said: Brace yourself.

Those very words.

I soon had a job at a small firm that refurbished mattresses. I and another guy would drive a truck to homes and pick up tatty mattresses that would be cleaned and returned to the owners. I worked there just long enough to save money for another Greyhound ticket, back to California.

My parents were still bracing themselves when I headed west again.

The ride from Nashville was not quite so long as the earlier trip from Los Angeles to New York, but it was a long haul nonetheless. Only a few months had passed.

I got off the bus in downtown Los Angeles, and a friend from the Air Force met me. I quickly found a studio apartment in Santa Monica and a job parking cars in a Beverly Hills lot. Things went downhill fast, economically and emotionally.

Just a few weeks later, I was broke. And living in Los Angeles without a car ain’t no cakewalk. I phoned my parents and asked for bus fare. Soon I was back on a Greyhound heading east to Nashville.

Shortly after my return, I enrolled at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, but that did not last long. Nothing lasted long for me in those times.

My parents were in Nashville because my father was working on The Tennessean newspaper. Within a year after my second return, my parents moved to New Orleans. I jumped into the Rambler’s back seat, going along for the ride.

New Orleans. Now that was a place where I felt at home.

For 18 years.

Two wives, one divorce, two (almost three) degrees, the newspaper business, bars, motorcycles, airplanes, raw oysters, Dixie Beer, crawfish and ketchup, hangovers, Mardi Gras … and even more Dixie Beer. It was a city that suited me.