Saturday, February 14, 2009


Tammie over at Spirithelpers has been bestowing awards from her closets (an early spring cleaning, I expect: very early, as she lives at the doorstep of Glacier National Park: global warming notwithstanding, I've seen her snow pictures). Mine was more tag than award (hence tagwarded), for which I am grateful, since like her, I have an ambivalence to the epidemic of "gwards" warming the blogways these daze. But, as she no doubt intuitively knows, I seldom shirk an opportunity to self-proclaim, so with her permission to make up the rules and forward or not, I shall do just that. While writing this paragraph, for no apparent reason, the face of Anne Rice appeared, so I decided that the "7 odd things about myself" commission will be 7 famous people I have "sighted" over the course of my two score and fifteen (would that be an ide of years?) years. Mind, there were more than 7 who have rubbed shoulders with me, but these will do, in no particular order, and with no particular significance whatsoever, as I'll probably be leaving out my two dinners with Padgett Powell, anyway:

1. Anne Rice: since she popped up first, we'll start with her. Must have been late 1980s, in New Orleans, sitting in the audience of the Vieux Carre theater in the Quarter for the inaugural Tennessee Williams Literary Festival. Anne Rice was interviewed by a UNO prof, first name Kenneth, last name escapes me, began with an H (Holditch?): these were still the days of her long long hair, dressed in a power suit more fit for a Wall Street accountant, and some kind of goofy gauzy blouse beneath, but despite the fact that I had never fallen for any of her prose (and never have since), I was mesmerized by her conversation, largely as she spoke about her evolution as a writer, and how the circumstances and tragedies of her life came to inform her fiction. A brilliant woman: I remember, too, that she said that she usually has about six novels running somewhere in her head, so she was never at a loss for work to do.

This was in the daze before she had moved back to New Orleans, first to her house in the Garden District, and then later to the "manse" on Napoleon Avenue, what had once been the sprawling grounds of St. Elizabeth's Home for Girls. As expected, while there, she became local royalty to all her devotees and any other hangers-on that could squeeze in the front doors of the manse.

2. Valerie Martin: VM's not exactly a household name for many, but she's a bit of minor royalty at least for New Orleans, matriculating as she did at UNO, before moving on to her digs as a Mount Holyoke prof, with Italian fellowships to boot. She, too, was at a booksigning at the Tennessee Fest one year, signing my copy of her book A Recent Martyr. I asked her to sign it "Pascal," as that is my first name, though not a name I use to identify myself (except in these quarters, of course). Pascal also happened to be the name of the novel's primary male character. She opened my book to the title page, drew a line through her printed name and then signed her own, beneath which she wrote: "To Pascal, in hopes that you are nothing like the Pascal in this book." I later saw Valerie at a reading for her novel Mary Reilly, a retelling of the Jekyll/Hyde story, told from the perspective of the household maid. MR was made into a film by Stephen Frears, starring Julia Roberts and John Malkovich. VM was not happy with the choice of JR (I was no JR devotee either, having only come lately to the JR show, with her Brockovich, Ocean's, and Charlie Wilson turns), but it was her friend Chris Wiltz, also a New Orleans writer, who reminded Valerie that her job was "to shut up and take the money to the bank."

3. J. Edgar Hoover: I'm using JEH as a bit of a cipher. In 1970, I took a competitive state exam down at Central High School in Jackson, Mississippi for a William Randolph Hearst college scholarship. I was not feeling lucky the day of the test, as Jeanie Guyton, she of the long tennis legs and prodigious mind, was sitting across the room as well. But, as the gods would I have it, I was one of the two Mississippi recipients of the scholarships, which also entitled us to a trip to DC to hobnob about the place, meet many of the shakers and movers and, in JEH's case by that time, dodderers of Nixonian Washington. We were all put up by the Hearst Foundation at the Mayflower Hotel. My roommate, from Oregon, also showed up at Harvard the next year. Chief among my memories of that visit were a speech by Spiro Agnew (gag); one also by a crewcutted Walter Mondale; a visit to the Defense Department, where I heard questions by my co-conspirators of such sophistication that I could only hope to understand, much less ask (these were in the daze when my dreams were all left-brained; I'd not yet discovered that I was hopelessly, and now happily, right-brained); a visit to the White House, though no gladhanding with Milhous; visits to the offices of then Mississippi Senators Eastland and Stennis, my Captain Kangaroo-hippieish locks in stark contrast to the other Mississippi recipient from Drew, Mississippi (home of then Ole Miss football god Archie Manning); and, of course, the papal line through JEH's office, as we filed by and shook his hand (no doubt also being photographed by a camera in his tie).

4. Andie McDowell and daughter: This in Guero's, the south Austin TexMex hot spot. While sitting in the bar, waiting for a table, I looked up to see Ms M in a white dress, standing with a daughter who must have been about five or six at the time; this was about a dozen or so years ago. When called for my table, I walked by at gently touched her daughter on the crown of her head. I declined to do the same with her mother.

5. Ellis Marsalis: New Orleans patriarch of the multi-talented clan. This usually dapper gentleman sashayed by me one evening as I stood three-deep at the bar at Mandina's neighborhood restaurant on Canal Boulevard; he was dressed in jeans, a white t-shirt, and sandals, holding his take-out in a large paper bag above his head. For some reason, I knew that he'd been out of town for a while, so I wished him a "Welcome Home" as he passed by. Years later, I had an interesting conversation with Jason Marsalis at the Victory Grill in East Austin, where JM was headlining a concert for the (then) Clarksville Jazz and Heritage Festival (now Austin Jazz and Heritage...). I'd first seen JM on Maple Street in New Orleans, when he was a mere 8 and backing up his father Ellis at an outdoor neighborhood music fest. He was about 18 when I spoke with him in Austin; many of the Marsalis folk acclaim him the "real genius" of the bunch, which is damned high praise. What struck me, during our conversation, was just how much his body was moving the entire time, something I see in one of my students, who is also a drummer.

6. Harry Connick, Jr.: While we're on the subject of musicians, I was a big fan of HC in his quieter early days, before all the Sinatra-esque hype hit the gag level. HC is an awesome piano player: there's no way in hell he comes close to Old Blue Eyes in his 1950s days of apotheosis. But, before I get too far into yet another rant, let me just reiterate that I loved HC's first two albums, love his version of "If I Only Had a Brain" (see Paschal's Playlist), and can attest to his ability to eat up a keyboard with the ferocity of his genius. When I first moved to NOLA, I'd hear mention of him, still a high school student, student of Marsalis Senior, or apprentice of James Booker, etc., etc. I finally heard that he was going to be playing at a little bar in the Quarter, tiny hole in the wall: he was back from his days at Julliard. Quiet kid at the keyboard, I was standing at the bar: he was incredible. His daddy, Harry Senior, was standing behind me, talking to someone, filling him in on Junior's time in Manhattan. As an aside, HC, Senior morphed into one of the villains of my first novel Scarred Angels, as the San Antonio District Attorney who actively worked to cover up a child molestation scandal in the Archdiocese, a role HC, Senior actually played in New Orleans, when a scandal involving an Italian priest came out at the church that was just a block from my house on Belfast Street. HC, Senior was a parishioner at the church. He did not want to "embarrass Holy Mother Church" with the scandal, so he worked to block its coming to light. He did not deny his involvement in the matter, which makes his involvement all the more frightening.

7. Kim Basinger/Alec Baldwin: Martin's Wine Cellar and Deli, Saturday afternoon, uptown New Orleans: a favorite place for a quick bite, a great place to shop for wine. I'm sitting down at a table in the deli part, a blonde woman reading a book is sitting at the small table next to me. Looks a hell of a lot like Kim Basinger. Is it KB? Is it a lookalike? Unresolved. The next Saturday, I'm sitting at the very same table, who plops down but Alec Baldwin (no debating this one) and his "handler." AB has a hard time sitting in one place, keeps hopping up and down, leaving his handler to watch over his pastrami on rye. Seems KB was probably KB after all.

Rules of this tagward are simple: you wanna play, you play: you can follow along with the theme of "7 Famous People Who Almost Knew Me (Meaning You)" or go off on your own tangent. All participants (and all tangents) are welcome.



Blogger Tammie Lee said...

I am thrilled that you are making up your own rules, your wit at work, works for me.

An interesting way to write a biography or autobiography might be to do something like you have begun here. Chapters: famous people, like you have done, unusual wilderness experiences, magical happenings, stand out dinners,things one has accomplished or what ever subjects. Instead of a time line. Hum...

I am confused, Paschal with an 'H' or without?

Murat11, thank you for doing this. I enjoyed your piece, each and everyone.

2:35 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Tammie: I'm glad you enjoyed the tag-meme; I certainly enjoyed writing it. I like your chapter ideas: we'll let you periodically tag those of us down here in the temperate zones, from up on your Mount Olympus.

No confusion on the naming. Officially, I am Paschal, but I do like using the French spelling of Pascal. When I'm feeling my salsa roots, then it's Pascual. When I was drunk off my ass in Florence in 1978 and playing the best soccer of my life in front of the Duomo, it was Pasquale to my Florentine "teammates."

3:37 PM  
Blogger Tammie Lee said...

my my sir you do get around, a name for every mood. perhaps that is a good chapter theme; each flavor of "Patbooker" or "road".......

12:47 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

TL: As the Bard would have it, a road by any other name would still be a street...

Very bad, that one.

1:19 PM  
Blogger San said...

I lingered over this the other day, and pressed for time, ran off without commenting.

My buddy Moody did a similar catalog of his brushings with celebrity. Now it's on my to-blog list. I would love walking by Andie Macdowell and daughter. I might even pat Andie on the head.

And I'm impressed by your scholarship to rub elbows with the D.C. set. The closest I've ever come to that was waiting in a clump of people at the Santa Fe Plaza to see Hillary get out of a limo and run into a conference room. She did wave at us. Bill was the Prez and the Secret Service were rushing her along, as though we were a bunch of gang-bangers.

4:16 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

San: Your Hillary-limo reminded me of one of the folks that I thought about, but didn't make the cut: Van Morrison's pudgy hand sticking out of the top of his limo window, waving at us as he left the Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans, 1989, the first time I saw him in concert. Not to mention Richard Simmons, who rode with us in the Krewe of Thoth parade (his brother, a local bureaucrat, was King that year). While we threw our doubloons and beads and bouncy balls, RS threw his videotapes. He was a hoot.

10:45 PM  
Blogger San said...

Some people get all the luck. Riding with Richard Simmons in the Krewe. Way back in the 70s I got into General Hospital as a respite from academia. The show, not the medical institution. Simmons starred in that soap for a time, doncha know. Yup, he ran a fitness center.

I'm having my mother-out-law over for dinner tonight in honor of her birthday--two days ago she turned 83. Gotta go look at my lemon curd but will be back to read your latest Scribbling.

12:41 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Well, Ms San, it is hereby confirmed: we ARE cousins! What is that, like 0.5 degrees of separation, through the mighty mouse? Let's see if we can't nudge that 0.5 down to 0.25. I'm sure time will tell, cher.

1:07 PM  

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