Saturday, March 21, 2015

Graffiti, Big Charity & The Sleeping Man

I rolled out of bed fifteen kinds of disheveled and half-dressed. Slid on a trucker hat and punched through a tank top. I got about 1000 words down on the page (I never count, so I mostly know it was more than ten), and hit the road. The streets where pretty settled as I snapped pics of graffiti and the New Orleans Scooter Rally.

Scooter Ride down Carrolton Ave.

Cutting through the various 

One Way

streets, I saw Big Charity Hospital's weathered body hauntingly punctuating downtown. This is a place I've wanted to see ... needed to see. After watching the documentary Big Charity (director Alexander John Glustrom) as part of the Patois Film Festival, I really wanted to bare witness to the space that was destroyed not by Hurricane Katrina. Rather it was the victim of Disaster Capitalism. Which is a no bueno, so the film had hit me in all those places that make you outraged. As a non-New Orleanian though, I could only begin to imagine what the loss of one of America's most charitable hospitals was for this city. Especially for those who did not have the means to get health care anywhere else. 

Big Charity's entry is gated and barb wired.

When I was leaving, I ended up on the backside of the hospital. This is what I saw. 

I pulled the car over because I didn't know if he was dead or alive. The only part of him that was moving was his windbreaker. It was beautiful and heartbreaking. Kind of like watching the plastic bag scene in the film American Beauty. Only there were no screenwriters or actors or cameras writing this poetic moment for The Sleeping Man.

Part of any city life is a homeless population, and New Orleans has a sizable one. But this man (I assumed the male gender) was splayed along the sidewalk in a way I didn't often see. 

I wanted to approach him and see if he was okay. As okay as anyone is sleeping on a sidewalk in the 80 degree heat in a dark jacket. But there I was on the backside of the now defunct hospital of hope. There weren't a lot of people around. What if I startled him? The likelihood of him brandishing a weapon wasn't implausible. 

But I couldn't just drive on. It just felt wrong.

So I sat there. I sat and waited. Waited for some part of him to move that wasn't just his windbreaker. After awhile, a guy walking on the opposite side of the street, took a few glances at The Sleeping Man. Curious but not enough to even pause.

Then a curvy woman ambled along, saddling a duffle bag, and she crossed the street to avoid The Sleeping Man.  

But I waited.

Because if he didn't move, I'd have to call the police. Not because he was an eyesore. Because he was a human being lying in the middle of the sidewalk behind Big Charity and maybe he was hurt or stupid drunk or just lost inside. As someone who had been homeless, I got the lost part. Even if I never had to sleep on sidewalks in the middle of the morning.

Then --

His right leg slowly dragged to the side. His arms struggled to bend and extend. He was a 100 year old tree creaking right then. His body shifted in the slightest and had anyone been driving by, they wouldn't have noticed. 

After a moment, I drove away. Thinking about The Sleeping Man and his story and Big Charity whose motto was:

Where Miracles Happen And The Unusual Occurred

As I drove beneath the underpass, I saw shopping carts and overflowing garbage bags. I saw a lot of people down on their luck who had constructed makeshift housing beneath the hum of Interstate 10. Did they know The Sleeping Man?

When I finally stepped into my four temporary walls with a roof, I kept thinking how relieved I was that The Sleeping Man moved. How he hadn't just died there with everyone walking by. And maybe I would never know his story, but I saw him. 

I didn't just drive on. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Greatest Show On Earth

"OMG! The Acro-Cats are in town!" said my friend Margaret Saturday afternoon.
And with two exclamatory statements, began my ascent to the higher knowledge of the Greatest Show On Earth: The Amazing Acro-Cats also featuring The Rock-Cats. 

Not Actual Event Poster.
If you are still on the curious, this circus minus a big top, features abandoned felines who are click-trained and treat rewarded to perform a version of daredevil tricks. The feisty, female cat dominated troupe can jump through hoops, zig and zag through elevated agility drills and even push a child's toy car.
Example Only. Not Used In Actual Performance.
And if you land the equivalent to nose bleed seats (I was in pre-nose bleed), no worries. You can watch the show displayed on a 45 inch television via the Cat-Cam.

Yes, there is such a thing, and why not?

These cuties are famous after all. Featured in both The Guinness Book of World Records for longest cat jump and Ripley's Believe It Or Not for only cat band in the world.

Now, I should mention not every member in The Rock-Cats is, well, a cat. Chicken, Cluck Norris, has a heavy heated peck on cymbal and tambourine.

Cluck Norris, badass chicken percussionist.

This amazing, good-time event is the result of animal activist Samantha Martin. She founded Acro-Cats in 2005, and they hit the road to travel the U.S. from Chicago in an RV early 2009.

When the RV hit the skids, a Kickstarter enabled this traveling troupe to acquire a plush ride.

Purrr-rifcate Front

Sassy Bus Side

I know, right? Them wheels are s w e e t !

Now, it isn't all grilled chicken chunks and oven baked salmon for the cats plus other animal pals. This cause with paws pays it forward everywhere they go. Each performance contributes profits to local animal programs. Through the troupe's travel, Martin and gang have secured homes for over 140 cats.

Not too shabby. Meow if you love it!

Buffy, Oz, Winke and a host of other cats, mice, a groundhog and of course, Cluck Norris all perform around the star of the event, Tuna.

Photo Cred: @mags504 

Tuna is the founding member who will always give you more cowbell, ring the bell and high five, so long as you respect she is the grand gato of the show. And you can photo-op post show with the Tuna but are advised not to cuddle unless you wanna rumble. She's an independent woman and kinda a big deal. Not only is she the face of the show but Tuna is the star of the Student Emmy and Oscar Winning short film Zeke. Where she channeled her inner maleness in the role of Zeke. 

The Sunday crowd here in New Orleans was an almost sell-out. Kids and adults cheered on the acrobatics and circus fair tricks. We got the brief history of how each cat became part of the troupe. The stories are heartbreaking and heartwarming.

I  have never been a fan of the circus. Seeing animals made to perform for profit, it just felt wrong somehow. But this campy little troupe of underdogs (undercats if you fancy) that travels the U.S. and Canada promotes all the right kind of messages. So, I'm a fan for life as I'm sending a Tweet to Tuna right now.

Wanna catch a show or follow the cats on their Twitter accounts?


Tuna For President!