Friday, June 8, 2018

A Eulogy For Anthony Bourdain

From the time I was 16, into my early 30s, I worked off and on in the restaurant industry. These jobs included an original drive-in joint in Virginia, a Bulgarian 3-star place that attracted political celebrities trying to escape Washington, and a few national casual dining chains.

I loved working in the dish pit. It was fun in college to put my headphones on, listen to Rancid, and skitter back and forth from washing dishes to seating guests.

During this time, I've seen the best, and worst of humanity. In case you're wondering, Waffle House is usually safe to eat at, and if the cook appears to be stoned, chances are good your $5 meal after last call is going to be outstanding.

The service industry isn't for the faint of heart. Like it or not, drug abuse, sexual harassment, and all sorts of awful things go on behind that $25 plate of blackened shrimp Landry's is selling you that was farmed in Indonesia - despite the "Gulf Seafood" tag.

If you can work in the industry and come out with minimal damage, you did great. Most people don't.

I've seen people working off the clock due to management pressure. I've seen chefs violently drunk and high on pills, racism, sexual assault. What Bourdain described in "Kitchen Confidential" was just the tip of the industry iceberg.

Anthony Bourdain was the guy on TV who reminded us that we are more alike than the clickbait media wants you to believe, and that food brings us together. He was the counter to our hyper-partisan political environment, hanging out with Ted Nugent, and President Obama.

Tony came to Louisiana multiple times, and he loved it here. For all of our faults, he loved our cooking and the one remaining Popeye's buffet in the country. He wasn't an elitist chef, he was one of us.

He struggled with addiction and depression, and it finally became too much for him. I'm not going to judge him for his decision to end his life. Until you walk a mile in his kitchen clogs, you have no idea what that business will do to you.

His punk rock sneer and working-class mentality will live on. Tony ignored class systems, he stuck up for the little guy.

I hope he found his peace, and I have nothing but the utmost empathy for his family. I'll miss him more than he could have ever imagined. With his death, a part of me has died as well.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Live Through This And You Won't Look Back

Nearly 7 years ago, I left Florida, the place of my dreams. I moved there because I was in love with sunrises over Sebastian Inlet, catching snook under the lights at nights, and the Orlando nightlife. I was very happy there, and I had no intention of ever leaving, but life decided otherwise.

In 2006, after a series of failed relationships, I met my ex-wife while working at Sprint in Orlando. It was a good job, not one that I was excited about, but it paid the bills. Very quickly, she moved in and promised me that she would be the best thing I would ever have. Within no time at all, thanks to her, I was in two car accidents in three days.

In a fog of pain pills, I agreed to marry her. I never planned on having kids, but she did, and made sure that she was pregnant before I slipped the ring on her finger, even though I didn't know.

It wasn't long before we hit financial issues. Once she realized that she couldn't stay unemployed, she took off and I didn't see my children for nearly a year after they were born. An old Navy girlfriend and I lived together for a couple more years in Florida, but I wasn't happy and decided to set off for greener pastures somewhere else. My job at Sprint had hit a dead end because I blew the whistle on fraud after 4 years of service.

A family member told me they could help me start a new life in San Francisco. I didn't want to leave my kids behind and Florida was where I was happy. Unfortunately, due to the poor job prospects and the threat of Florida's government to throw me in jail for being in arrears on child support, which I was paying, I hopped on a plane to California.

That quickly fell apart. Within two weeks, I was on a bus to Lafayette, Louisiana with just enough money to hit the dollar menu at the various McDonald's the Greyhound bus stopped at.

My luggage was stolen or lost in Houston. The only things I had left was a few t-shirts and some underwear when I was finally rescued by my mother in Lafayette. There was no money, no car, no job - but it was time to start all over again.

For the first few weeks, I had nothing. I picked pecans from the yard to buy some cheap beers from the store that was a mile away. I eventually landed a job back in the restaurant industry that I had hoped to never work in again. When I got my tax return the following spring, I was able to buy an old Honda and started looking for work elsewhere.

I finally found a niche job in the tech industry here and started rebuilding my credit. In 2014, I was in a horrific car accident where I was hit by a drunk driver, and the settlement allowed me to purchase a new vehicle and pay off some old debts. I then moved into an apartment, then purchased my own home. I've eaten some tremendous Cajun food and put on a few pounds, then trolled the ever-loving fuck out of our local bigots on our news channels.

Through all of this, I supported my kids. Not long after I moved here, I went on a blind date to a hockey game, and we've been together ever since. Her son is like my own. When we first got together, he associated my visits with a trip to the local crawfish joint, which is the cutest thing ever in my mind.

I purchased my home in the hopes that someday I would have custody of my children who were still in Florida. Their mother has an ongoing drug problem and had the kids removed from her custody multiple times before. Back in March, DCF finally stepped in again, and eventually released them into my custody on June 20th at the New Orleans airport.

My house is full now. We have three kids, two cats, and a dog who sleeps between us every night. We aren't rich financially, but we are comfortable in a house we own. We can afford the things we need and we have family that cares about us. I work for the local union and fight for worker's rights, writing some satire for The Red Shtick, along with running the website and the progressive Facebook pages I own. On days that I'm not at work, I whip up meals from my imagination and years of restaurant experience for my family - which gives me incredible joy.

All of those years ago, a friend introduced me to this song and said it would help me get through. He said that one day I would live through this, and I would look back one last time. How right he was.

Friday, April 14, 2017

My Five Favorite Cajun Dishes

I know that most of the stuff I have posted over the years has been political in nature. That's not what I originally started out to do, but here we are. Since I have been living in Louisiana for over six years now, I have eaten a ton of Cajun food, and gained about 35 pounds to show for it.

I certainly have my issues with Louisiana. Lousy infrastructure, anti-union politicians and assaults on reproductive rights. However, sometimes you just have to put the politics aside, and sit down for a meal with people you disagree with.

If you haven't been to Louisiana, or if you've just visited New Orleans, there is a lot you're missing in the culinary scene. The northern part of the state has some Cajun-influenced food, but it is more of a Southern food scene that is as much Cajun as Trump is a legitimate president. The southern part of state from Alexandria on down to the Gulf is a region divided by Cajun and Creole styles of food.

There is a difference between Cajun and Creole, even though there are similarities which aren't obvious to Louisiana food novices. New Orleans is predominately Creole, while Lafayette and areas west of the Mississippi are mostly Cajun. Creole is influenced by the Carribean, Africa, France, Spain, Italy and other places. Cajun is predominately...well...Cajun.

New Orleans has seen wave after wave of various influences on the culinary scene over the centuries. Cajun food in the Acadiana region has some Spanish and Native American additions, and it is also divided into "prairie Cajun" versus "swamp Cajun" subsets, as I like to refer to them as. An example of this is gumbo. In areas in the northern region of Acadiana, gumbo is primarly chicken and sausage based. As you go further towards Houma and the Gulf of Mexico, seafood-based gumbo is more common due to the proximity to the ocean.

It took me a little while to learn about these differences, and to choose which styles I liked the most. In case you're wondering, I settled on Creole, due to the fact they use more vegetables in their dishes, something Cajuns seem to be hesitant about.

With that explanation of local foods out of the way, here are my five favorite foods in Louisiana, specifically in Cajun country.

5. Gumbo: Gumbo is not an easy dish to make from scratch, and my years in the restaurant industry didn't prepare me for making the Louisiana version of roux. When I make it myself now, I make my own which requires constant stirring to keep it from burning. Many people here use roux out of a jar, or use vegetable oil and flour to make it, which isn't ideal to me. I use butter or bacon fat instead of oil, and my roux isn't the color of used motor oil either.

I prefer seafood gumbo, but you can make a good sausage and chicken gumbo with andouille sausage, and a rotissere chicken from a deli if you want to cut corners. The best gumbo has shrimp, crab and oysters - and I think mixing sausage with seafood overpowers the delicate taste of the ocean.

4. Boudin: There are many sources for boudin around Louisiana. My favorite comes from Charlie T's in Breaux Bridge, especially if they are served their smoked boudin. Some places load their boudin down with cayenne pepper and liver, which is just nasty in my opinion. On a cold winter morning, a link from your local gas station and a cup of coffee will make your day right.

3. Etouffee: Crawfish etouffee is a Louisana staple. It is a tomato-based sauce usually with crawfish or shrimp, and I prefer mine spicy. I make a roux, add a can of Rotel, as well as some ghost pepper, and a little bit of fish sauce. That's my little Asian flair to the dish, and most people here love that version of it. I also add my favorite Cajun seasoning, Beazell's, which is lower in sodium and has spices other local seasonings do not.

2. Fried pork chops: Pork chops are good, but have you ever eaten one fried and put on a sandwich? I don't eat this very often because of all the fat and cholesterol, but it is magically delicious. Take a pork chop, bread it and fry it, then remove the bone and put it on a sandwich bun with pickles, mustard and tomato slices. Eat one of these at breakfast and you won't be hungry until dinner.

1. Oyster Bar Trash: This is a dish I encountered when I worked at Landry's. It's shrimp and lump crab meat blackened on a grill, then served over rice with lemon butter. I like to add mushrooms, and you can also add scallops if you're feeling fancy.

These are just five of my favorite things to eat down here. There's is also fried alligator and crawfish boils, but you'll just have to come down here to try them for yourself. Bon appetit!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Racism Isn't Just A Southern Thing

The common stereotype of the South involves racism, the KKK, and segregation. It is a well-deserved piece of our history, and racism still exists across the South, including here in Louisiana. In the rural areas surrounding Lafayette, blacks and whites still go to separate churches, and willingly segregate themselves in various social settings.

In a national restaurant chain I once worked for, managers often sent black customers to the back of the restaurant, and were flabbergasted when I pointed that out. They would sometimes assign black servers to those sections, along with white servers they thought they could punish by making them wait on black guests.

That kind of prejudice is common across the South, but it isn't confined solely to the humid Bible Belt. I know that blue state liberals love to pretend the presumed progressive strongholds they live in are above that sort of thing, even though other forms of discrimination exist right in their backyards.

Portland has gentrification that is driving remaining black residents out, to be replaced by hipsters. San Francisco is pricing poor people, especially minorities, out of the area in favor of tech workers which tend to be white. New York has policing that unfairly targets minorities to meet police quotas, and Boston is known for its racism.

Obviously, I am not trying to apologize for racism in the South. My family's history on my mother's side includes people who fought for the Confederacy, slave owners, and even slave traders. The Montgomery family fled to Texas with their slaves when Union forces closed in, and the men enlisted in the Texas divisions to fight for their "states' rights" to own slaves.

Racism in many fashions continues to manifest itself across our country. We saw it with the hatred towards President Obama, and with the election of Donald Trump by voters in places like Ohio and Wisconsin.

Yes, the South is the easy target for accusations of racism, and it is well deserved. But let's not pretend it is a problem solely confined to the South.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Virginian Ends Up In Louisiana

My adult life has been a long, strange trip. I was born in Virginia into a very conservative Catholic family, and ended up in Louisiana where I've been since 2010. Most of my new writing is now on Modern Liberals, but I wanted to put this here on the original blog where all of this began. This is a brief overview of the past decade since I moved to Florida, and then to Louisiana from Florida. It has been an interesting few years, and I'm glad that so many people have supported my writing since I began ranting online to save money on therapy. After getting divorced and wavering on the edge of bankruptcy nearly a decade ago, I've spent that time trying to rebuild everything I lost because of my ex-wife. Right now, I am better off financially than I have ever been, and I'm on the verge of getting full custody of my nine year old twins after years of fighting for them. I thought Louisiana would be a short layover in life. I figured that I could go back to working in restaurants get caught up on my bills, and then I would move on to bigger and better things in another state that wasn't as backwards as Louisiana. Writing started as a way to get out to the world the corruption that went on during my years working at Sprint, and it snowballed from there into politics and taking down political candidates like David Vitter. Obviously, the best-laid plans of mice and men don't always go the way we think they would. It wasn't long after I moved here that I found an unexpected love, and I'm not just talking about hockey or beer. Now we are on the verge of buying a house, combining our families, and I'm considering running for office as a progressive in an area that elected a wanna-be "street cop" to Congress last year. I want to thank everyone who has supported me in a variety of ways ever since I ended up in the last place I expected to be. All of this wouldn't have happened without you. There is no plan to quit political commentary or close any of my Facebook pages. I planned to take a break after the November elections, but Russian interference changed all of that. Maybe one day we will have a government that truly represents us, but until that time comes, I will be in the trenches.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Problem Isn't The Media, It's The People Who Consume It

If you were to take Donald Trump at his word, the media is completely biased against him, and in the pocket of Hillary Clinton. Conservatives constantly complain that the media is biased against them, and Fox News claims to be "fair and balanced" which we know is a lie.

Then you have the far-right and far-left which are convinced that the media are controlled by the elite and "Zionists" - a thinly veiled reference to a range of anti-Semitic conspiracy ideas. These individuals range from Alex Jones' Infowars and Natural News on the right, and a range of wingnut sites like The Anti-Media on the left.

Unless a website is funded by private or public groups like NPR is, that site's existence depends on traffic and ad revenue. Because of that, both traditional and new media sources tend to produce articles based on what people will click on.

This is why the media runs stories on cute puppy videos lifted from Reddit, or the latest celebrity gossip - because that's what grabs people's attention and boosts their ratings. If ratings or web traffic are low, they can't make as much money.

Most of these media outlets depend on advertising to stay afloat, and in the age of Facebook, anyone can create a website and claim that they're a reputable news source or even a health professional. Many also state that they will tell you the stories and truth the mainstream media won't, but they're selling a snake oil sideshow carnival act for the people who are convinced the main circus act is a scam.
Upworthy or World Star Hip Hop-styled tabloid headlines overwhelm quality content from NPR or the New York Times, and most people tend to gravitate to them, let alone want to pay a subscription for material that other sites will just lift and recycle with sensationalized titles like "Fox News Is SUICIDAL After THIS Happened!"

As much as we may despise that practice of clickbait "journalism," in a time where anyone can pretend to be a media outlet, it's often easy money for individuals who can't or won't work a "real job." It's not hard to sit online scraping content from other places and passing it off as your own, and some individuals will stop at nothing to keep that revenue flow alive.

A common retort I hear from the left is that Fox News is the biggest cable news outlet, but younger people tend to get their information online, not from watching TV. We usually consume what appears on Twitter, Reddit or Facebook, and I can tell you that I really only watch MSNBC for Rachel Maddow.

If you truly want quality media, you have to put your click where your mouth is. Learn what is a reputable news source, what is an opinion site like we are, and who is just trying to profit from your time online. If you find that a site is unreliable or secretly promoting an anti-government agenda like Cop Block, remove them from your news feed and move on. Another example is Occupy Democrats which I have repeatedly spoken out against. Occupy Democrats posted an image that does little else other than slut-shame Melania Trump. 357,000 people have shared this image from their page, plus whatever other pages who have used it or made their own versions of it. That's a horrible example for liberals to make of themselves, and meanwhile, the owners of Occupy Democrats and their friends are laughing all the way to the bank. If you search, there is not one single donation made to any political campaign by either owner of the website, or the Occupy Democrats organization which advertises itself as a political cause. Yes, this is nothing more than a for-profit organization trying to make a fortune off politics.

Contribute money to your local NPR station or patronize local businesses that support them. Read websites that don't constantly fail Politifact scrutiny, and always, always be sure to fact check for yourself.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Farewell To The Louisiana IceGators: A Eulogy On Losing A Hockey Team

I moved to Louisiana in 2010. Prior to that, I had never been to a hockey game and shrugged off TV games as boring. I was a baseball fan first, and football fan second.

To me, hockey was a boring sport like soccer that I just could not find to be exciting in any way. Hockey in the South is a very niche market. It is something that you don't grow up with in a culture that worships football, and even baseball comes a distant second to football-obsessed Dixie.

The popular kids in school often were members of the football team. Hockey was barely spoken of, and understandably so. Ice is not easy to find, especially in the Deep South where you may encounter an occasional ice storm, but never a consistent playing surface. Saturdays in the fall were college football on TV, and Sundays would have the Cowboys or Washington on every screen in every home or bar you might visit. "Hockey? That's a Yankee sport!" people would mutter between sips of Budweiser.

Basketball was usually looked down on as a game for black people, because there were hardly any African-Americans where I grew up in staunchly white, Protestant Virginia.

Shortly after moving to Louisiana, I began dating again after a couple of failed relationships. On a first date with someone I had only talked to online, we decided to go to a hockey game at the Cajun Dome - because there was really nothing else going on that January night. I remember the date well, it was January 15th, 2011 and the IceGators were playing the Augusta RiverHawks if I recall correctly. The game was electric. Suddenly, hockey didn't seem so boring after all. Despite not knowing much about the rules of the game, we both fell in love with hockey that night.

5 years later, Shannon and I are still together - and both of us still love the sound of the horn when a goal is scored. Over the last 3 seasons, I did not miss a single home game. Sometimes I would arrive late from work, but never actually missed the whole contest in a streak that lasted close to 100 games.

While Shannon wasn't always able to go, she would be sure to urge me to go because the loudest section in the Cajun Dome needed my antics which included heckling the opposing team mercilessly. During that time, we spent thousands of dollars on concessions, raffles, merchandise and even paid $300 for the uniform of the only Orthodox Jew playing in the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL).

We loved and lost different players due to trades, injuries and retirement. Through it all, we were devoted fans of an anomaly, a professional hockey franchise in Louisiana of all places. In Louisiana, hockey isn't the most popular sport by any stretch of the imagination even though hockey once packed the approximately 10,000 seat Cajun Dome back in the 1990s.

Back then, hockey teams popped up all over the place, only to fold a few years later. Louisiana loves the Saints and LSU, and not much else when it comes to sports. When the IceGators resurfaced for the 2009-2010 season, their games were held in Blackham Coliseum, a ancient venue used primarily for rodeos and livestock shows. One of their first goalies went on to play for a number of other professional minor league teams before winning the Stanley Cup with the Chicago BlackHawks last year. His name is Scott Darling.

In 2010-2011, the IceGators started playing in the Cajun Dome. From the very beginning, they had to schedule their games around the venue's music and sports events which made for long absences during college basketball season. Sometimes you would have to go as long as 6 weeks without a hockey game as the hardwood floor for basketball replaced hockey's ice sheet. Yet, the team's management made it work despite brutal road trips that put tens of thousands of miles on a bus which liked to break down on the trips to Knoxville or Peoria.

Through good seasons and bad, a couple thousand people would turn out for IceGators hockey. Except in the worst weather, Saturdays would often find dozens of devoted fans gathered in the parking lot hours before the game to party. We would drink, grill and have a good old time hanging out. Sometimes fans of opposing teams would wander in and they would be greeted with some smack talk before being handed a plate of food and a beer. This was a gathering of people that transcended racial, political and cultural boundaries - and I loved every damn drunken moment of it.

When I walked out of the last home game when the IceGators lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Mississippi River Kings, I breathed in that cool, humid air that every hockey fan knows about. Somehow, I had the feeling that I would never see that again in the Cajun Dome.

The news came last Monday. Standing in a funeral home where I was saying goodbye to a friend, the news came that the IceGators were suspending operations for the 2016-2017 season due to renovations at the arena. Upon speaking with other people in the know, it turns out that IceGator hockey was likely done for good due to the local economy and mediocre attendance.

Our 9 year old kid doesn't know yet the IceGators aren't coming back next season. We don't have the heart to tell him just yet that he won't be able to pose for pictures with Gaston, the alligator mascot this fall. IceGator hockey was probably the only place in the world where you could catch a shrimp poboy shot out of a t-shirt gun, watch a game and a few fights, and party with some of the craziest fans you'll ever meet.

Whether or not the IceGators return for the 2017-2018 season, I will always be grateful to the owners, the staff, the players and the fans who helped me to experience a game I am now madly in love with.

Thank you for the pucks, the fights, and the thrills. Thank you for giving me something to look forward to on cold winter nights. Thank you for putting smiles on the faces of thousands of fans. And most importantly, thank you for the memories we will cherish for the rest of our lives.

P.S, Due to the overwhelming response to this article, I am hoping that the hockey gods will step in and save our team. Maybe a rain dance in my yard will do the trick.