Memories of Kenner

This is not Kenner, but take away the plants, and you have a good idea.

—–

I’m in the middle of a memoir written by a woman who was raised by a couple of crazy parents in Long Island, New York. She’s now in her late 30s, an actress and writer living in New York City.

Her father was a packrat, a hoarder of gargantuan proportions, and her mother was someone who put up with that while also contributing to the mountain of mess.

I’m only in the middle of the book, so I don’t know how it all turns out. I did flip to the end to read “About the Author,” which is how I know what she’s doing these days.

She spent her childhood in two homes. The first burned down. The family moved to a second, and swiftly turned it into a garbage dump like the first, complete with rats and rotting pipes and nowhere to comfortably sit due to mounds of trash.

The book is titled Coming Clean. Get it?

The book brought back memories of my first wife and her family. They were not packrats, but I do recall an engine block in the middle of the living room at one point. The house was a shack in the woods in Kenner, Louisiana, which is a western suburb of New Orleans.

The issue was not hoarding. It was alcoholism, specifically that of my first father-in-law, a freelance carpenter who was the nicest guy in the world when he was sober.

When he wasn’t sober, it was another matter, along the lines of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Hyde only appeared to his wife and kids. Even when drunk, other people still saw Jekyll, a friendly fellow.

But he terrorized his immediate family for years.

His name was Durward and, if memory serves, he built the shack in which they lived. It sat on brick pilings and was in dreadful condition. There were gobs of grease on the kitchen ceiling, and while sitting on the throne in the bathroom, you could look straight down through a hole in the rotting floor to the dirt below the house.

It made for an unsettling squat.

Late in life, Durward — everyone called him Buddy — went on the wagon, spending his later years sober. He was an excellent artist to boot. While I was a member of the clan, Buddy drove an old car, something like a 1948 DeSoto, with a shot undercarriage and sagging upholstery. It provided a rollicking ride.

In spite of the troubles, my first wife was very close to her family, and most every Sunday for the five-plus years we were married we drove to Kenner to sit at the kitchen table for hours with coffee, shooting the fat. No, make that the breeze because the fat hung on the ceiling.

I grew very weary of the endless Sundays there. I wonder if we might still be together except for that. Probably not.

—–

Unfortunate choices

While my first father-in-law was problematical in one way, the second was a problem in another. He was schizophrenic, often housed in mental facilities. This, of course, had its effect on my second wife, which had an effect on our marriage. How not?

I married both women knowing of their past. Would a normal person have done that? Maybe there’s something wrong with me.

I wrote recently of my third wife’s family. Here too are problems but not the sort that will break us up.

I pray not. I’m too old to start over.

My long trip too

A far cry from a Boeing 777.

My wacky friend Steve Cotton lives by choice on a Mexican beach in the sweltering heat which, in itself, illustrates his wackiness. He’s a talented writer, so check out his blog.

Recently, he flew around the world, which is an interesting thing on the face of it, but he did it oddly. Except for two plane changes in which he did not leave the airports in Tokyo and Dubai, the trip consisted entirely of sitting on the plane. That’s it, two days in the air.

Sitting. Go figure.

His long trip reminded me of something similar I did in 1964. I too sat in a steel tube, but it traveled from Los Angeles to New York City. Instead of Steve’s two days, my trip lasted four. Steve’s trip seems to have had no purpose aside from flying around the world.

My trip’s purpose was to see an 18-year-old Jewish Princess hottie in New York City. Her name was Janie Friedman, and we’d been an item in high school. I was in looove.

Unlike Steve’s cushy, Business Class accommodations, I had a standard seat on a Greyhound bus. There was no stewardess, and there were no onboard meals with cloth napkins and a fresh tulip.

We stopped at diners to eat and stretch our legs.

Unlike Steve’s extensive planning (one supposes), I did no planning whatsoever. I did not even think to take a toothbrush onboard. It was stashed in my luggage below. I spent those four days unbathed in the same duds, same underwear, same everything.

Looove inspires madness.

But it was an interesting ride from the southwestern corner of America to the northeastern. We went through deserts and plains and farmlands. Some cities too though I don’t recall which ones. In the middle of the night near Pittsburgh, the bus broke down, and we sat a spell in the dark till a replacement arrived.

It was my first and lengthiest visit to New York City. I stayed four nights in a cheap hotel near the Manhattan bus station.

In the mid-1970s, I returned briefly to New York City en route to Europe, and I’ve never returned.

The reunion with Janie was a disappointment. She had moved beyond me, and I realized we were not to be. I hopped another Greyhound down to Nashville where my parents were living, and life continued thereafter from one misstep to the next.

—–

(Note: I addressed this trip from another angle over three years ago in a post titled The New York City Adventure.)

The Highway Patrol

Since I’ve thrown up my hands about my former nation, which has resulted in my reading the news far less, it’s opened up time for other online activities. One of my new favorites is watching the Highway Patrol television series on YouTube. The series ran from 1955 to 1959 and starred Broderick Crawford who was a drunk.

In real life, not in the TV show.

In that time span, I was age 11 to 15. However, I do not recall watching the show regularly even though it was highly popular at the time. Now it’s really fun to watch due to the classic cars — almost like a visit to Havana — and illogical scripts.

Highway Patrol was filmed in the Los Angeles area, and only four years after the series ended, I was sitting on the seat of an old Indian trike in Venice, California, with my two best buds. I posted this photo before, but it’s been years, so do forgive.

The fellow in black is Adrian Landres, a Jewish guy and native Los Angeleno who was my Air Force roommate. He was given a psychiatric discharge some months after this photo was taken, and he died about 15 years ago in his early 60s, still in California.

The fop behind us is Gilbert, also Jewish, born in France, emigrated to the United State alone at 14 and now living in New Orleans where I introduced him to his wife many years back.

He owns a chemical supply company.


While searching for the top photo, I happened upon another, which was taken in north Florida around 1961. I was madly in love with this girl, Janie Friedman, and about two years later asked her to marry me. She said no.* As her name suggests, she is also Jewish. A high percentage of Jews have passed through my life.

Excuse me now. I’m going to watch another episode of Highway Patrol.


* Janie, a spoiled only child, was incredibly smart and incredibly hot. That first trait likely explains why she didn’t marry me. The second likely explains why I wanted to marry her.

Passage of time

The House of Horrors. Well, not really. There were good times … I think.

Saturday dawned in a lovely mood which inspired me to get off my lazy keister and do yard chores I’d been noticing and ignoring for weeks. While out there, I began to think about how long I’ve lived here at the Hacienda, 18 years. This is not how my vagabond life played out in the past. I rarely lived anywhere for long.

My previous record was in my youth when I lived in the house just below from ages 9 to 17 when I graduated from high school and headed off to Vanderbilt University where I lasted just a few short weeks before dropping out and enlisting in the Air Force.

The Jacksonville suburb of Arlington.

My parents were the first buyers of this house, into which we moved in 1953. The window on the right was the living room. The one in the middle was my bedroom, and the one on the left was my parents’. My sister’s bedroom was on the other side of the house.

This photo was shot about 10 years ago, I think, by my daughter who was passing through Jacksonville, Florida, which is where this is. What strikes me most about this photo is the front yard. My father worked at night and enjoyed gardening in the daytime. We had a lovely yard, and now there is nothing.

Those huge trees were not there in the 1950s. Neither was the sidewalk.

In 1953, this area was a brand-new subdivision of the postwar, growing middle class — Levittown in the Florida sunshine. Now it appears to be a working-class neighborhood. The owner (or renter?) probably drives a delivery truck, or he works at Auto Zone.

I lived there with my parents and sister almost a decade, and it was my longest home stay before constructing the Hacienda 40 years later. Taking third place in the longevity list would be the house at the top where I lived nine years with my second ex-wife before she tossed me unceremoniously onto the cold, dank pavement.

She lives there to this day, thanks to me. She’s done a lot with the place. When we bought it, the kitchen cabinets were the original knotty pine from 1955, which is when the house was constructed. I really liked that knotty pine, but she had it all torn out after I departed, and now it’s modern. I’ve seen photos. She also constructed an enclosed “sun room” out back. If I’m ever in Houston again, I’m gonna request a tour.

But I doubt I’ll ever be in Houston again.

As Thomas Wolfe said, well, you know …*


* Likely the first literary reference that’s ever appeared in The Unseen Moon. Tip of the sombrero to Steve Cotton, a maestro at it.


Update: Here’s a more recent photo that I grabbed off Google Street View.

And in 2020.