Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Benny and the Jets

I stopped by a local small grocery store to buy a few things to bring home for lunch today. Nestled on a corner in a historic residential neighborhood whose live oaks only add the setting’s ambiance, Langenstein’s grocery is in a much better position to deliver on another chain’s slogan of “where shopping is a pleasure.” Cutting across the grain in a business governed by economies of scale, it manages to hold its own against the gleaming WholeFoods Market only blocks away through a combination of nostalgia, tasty prepared foods, convenience, and incredibly good service. Founded in the twenties, it’s a true survivor.

They also like to play rock-n-roll hits from the 1970s and 1980s over the store’s sound system. This can sometimes lead to humorous juxtapositions. One time I came through the entrance and peered down a narrow aisle of pickles, olives, and maraschino cherries to see an ancient Uptown matron gently scooting her walker to “I’m Just a Love Machine” by The Miracles. Langenstein’s reaches an older demographic than the Whole Foods. Yoga pants are also a less common sight, though not entirely unknown. The music, annoying at times, ludicrous at others, has grown on me. I realize that it harkens to an age when grocery stores like Langenstein's were starting to yield to big chains. Step into the store and it could be 1980 - in more ways than one.

As I brought my basket of egg and shrimp salad and coleslaw to the check out counter, the speakers began pumping out Elton John’s “Bennyand the Jets” and it all came flooding back. I saw it as clearly in my mind as it was then, even thought it was probably thirty years ago. Ed Steck, counting the proceeds from our annual summer garage sale, singing along to the lyrics happily while he sipped on a can of beer. “Ben-neee, Ben-neee, Ben-nee-ee and the Jets…” It struck me then and still makes me think that this was the first time I had ever seen a real grown up man singing along to popular music. Not only did my father, who was roughly the same age not listen to rock, he rarely if ever listened to music. He definitely never sang along. In fact, the only time I have heard my father sing was equally as memorable – at his “uncle” Art’s funeral. (Art was maybe a cousin. Certainly not an uncle, but one of dad’s favorite relatives.) I think I might have been ten at the time. Ed and Carolyn Steck had come up differently than my parents, I suppose. They had definitely married later and I suspect that Ed had been to college.  These were some of the key differences, but there were probably lots of others that drove one man to sing along with the radio and another to listen to Wally Phillips.

The scene hit me doubly this afternoon because I realize that at forty-one I am now almost exactly the age that Ed Steck was when he died. He was diagnosed with lung cancer not long after that summer garage sale. It moved fast and I know for a fact that he was gone by the time I reached the seventh grade. I think we may have had one more garage sale afterward with Carolyn but I have no memory of it.

With the consent of the Almighty, my father will be seventy-nine this summer. He’s a great guy. But I’d bet against his ever singing along to Elton John.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Fightin' Side of Me

With my apologies for borrowing so wantonly from Merle Haggard, an occurrence during my daily morning walk with Greta set my morning ablaze with indignation. We've arrived at that time of year when families unceremoniously dump their tinder-dry Christmas Trees at the curb. The sight fills many people with regret, rooted mostly out of some lost childhood memory, but in New Orleans these trees end up fighting coastal erosion - at least in some small way. Besides, that's not the source of my indignation. There, heaped among the old wrapping paper and overstuffed trash bags of clutter begat of inane New Year's resolutions to "get organized" stood a tattered and abused American flag. 

it's old bones laid out to fold after getting it home and freeing it from the pole.

The shiny new black-and-gold "Who Dat?" pennant swaying gently from the house's flag escutcheon only reinforced the already sound impression that to the offender an American flag was no more than a seasonal decoration to be disposed of in the fashion of holiday gift wrap. It was disgusting and I need not go into the "men and women who died for this" routine. That should be obvious and cliché in any event. I offer no quarter here.

I am probably fighting against the tide in a country where Guy Fieri and Justin Bieber occupy a position of cultural importance to suggest one reconnect with any ritual of our forefathers. Still, I carried the flag for the remainder of our walk and brought it home for a respectful end. To the person who placed this flag at the curb with the morning trash, I know that I can safely address you like an idiot, so let me point you to something called "Google," an amazing invention that allows you to key in questions like "how do I properly dispose of an American Flag?" It will find useful sites like this one with the right answer.

The soiled and tattered condition of the flag was the former owner's first offense. For those who need an immediate answer or have not mastered hot links, the proper disposal method is a respectful burning. (Yes, Virginia, there were some jingoistic morons not long ago who proposed making this a crime.)You see, I respect, however I might disagree with, the right to burn a flag as a matter of free speech - but to dispose of it in a toweringly distasteful demonstration of one's ignorance? I think not.

a tip: if it is a nylon flag, make sure it is well-ventilated!
Thus, off it went. And, as an added bonus, it was nice to finally smoke out the Burger King on an early morning instead of the other way around.