Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Visit with 1 Giant Leap, New Orleans, LA, USA: DAY 2

Wednesday, 19 January 2005 New Orleans, LA

After a quick cup of Joe and a hot shower, I met Ken and Jody downstairs at the Renaissance, still carrying those 25 pounds of cake, to make the journey over to the Trolley Stop Café. Our driver dropped us off at the hotel where Jamie and the crew were staying and we looked into the lobby to see if we saw anyone we might recognize. Not a soul… so we started down to the Trolley Stop, a fairly typical southern greasy spoon. Just as we arrived, the door of the restaurant opened and out strode Jamie Catto, looking just as one would imagine from the films, only with his head down, focused, heading to pick up a few items for Lola Mae. He looked up and I could see the glint of recognition in his eyes, and soon hugs were being shared around as we introduced ourselves to one another. Jamie suggested we join Jess, Indie and Lola Mae inside and that he would return in just a moment.

We went inside to find Jess, Indie, and Lola Mae at a long table. Once we had made our introductions and had been seated, Jamie came to join us. We had breakfast together and soon we were joined by Duncan, Josh and Ben. Greeting so many new friends at once tested my ability to recall names, and that was going to become an issue later in the day. For the moment, though, we began to eat and engage one another in conversation. I also finally was able to deliver the pound cakes to Jess, Indie and Jamie! Yes!!! Jody had brought along a bag of art supplies for Indie and handed that over as well, which proved to be an instant source of joy for Indie. She started drawing our portraits as we ate and talked. I have a thank you note from her for the cakes which I intend to frame at some point and hang upon one of the walls of my home.

I also pulled out the red ribbons that I had brought and started to distribute them when Indie asked me what they were. I told her that Jody had said that they look a lot like symbols for red fishes if you turn them sideways, but that they are the international symbol for the remembrance of friends who have died from AIDS. I then told her how I have at times seen how the ribbon looks like a symbol for infinity and that I imagine the bottom of the symbol having been cut out to indicate that we are striving to end the AIDS crisis before an infinity of us dies from the disease. Within minutes, everyone at the table was wearing a red ribbon. Ben took a ribbon and placed it on one of his cameras. It felt so cool to see my new friends shamelessly expressing their solidarity for the AIDS crisis.

We sat and got to know one another. I chatted with Jess and Jamie about how I had once met Joan Armatrading at a concert in Durham at the Carolina Theatre and that I had given her a pound cake too. We talked about how her shows are so personable and that she is so approachable on stage, but that in person she is very shy. Jamie said that she has been approached to participate in 2s2e and I was really happy to hear that. I hope that she will accept.

After we got to know each other better, Jamie asked me if I would like to accompany him, Duncan, Josh, and Ben on an excursion that day. I told Ken and Jody that I would call them when I got back into the hotel and we could meet up then. Jamie, Jess, Indie and Lola Mae and I went off to Walgreens to do some shopping, followed by a stop at a phone store to investigate the usefulness of a computer modem card that would allow wireless internet access for Duncan. Afterwards, we went back to Jamie’s room at the hotel, and I sat with Jess, Indie and Lola Mae and chilled while the guys had a brief meeting to decide what was next on the agenda. Jess and Indie decided it was time to sample some of the cakes, and to explore more fully what was in the bag of art supplies. Meanwhile, Indie made me a Mardi Gras mask from a kit that Jody had given her. We left it for the glue to dry and I never did get it from her. I want her to know that I intended to accept her gift, but that events just didn’t allow me to get it from her.

Before very long, a local guy showed up named Brian. It turned out that Brian was going to be our driver for the day and that we were heading out to Slidell, Louisiana, to record a session with Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, known affectionately to his family and friends as "Gate". We loaded up the equipment and headed out.

Along the way, we were told that Gate was fighting lung cancer, the same illness that killed my dad in 1994. Gate is sometimes able and sometimes not able to perform or interact, so that we would have to take it as it came to us. Through a couple of phone calls, we learned that he was very intent on participating in the interview, but that he was "laying down" as we say down South and would get up when we got there. Just as we cleared Lake Ponchartrain and arrived in Slidell, Jamie realized that he needed to eat again because he was getting lightheaded, so we found a restaurant that promised a quick turnaround on some cream of spinach soup and a couple of Louisiana crab-cakes with pasta on the side for each of us. We wolfed down the food and then started looking for Gate’s place.

As it turned out, we were probably directly across the street from his home when we were in the restaurant, or, "purt-near" there anyway. We found the house on the main road. It was built over the canal beside the road overlooking a bayou. We parked along the roadside and started in with our gear.

The first thing that I noticed was a mail-box that was labeled "The Man" with insignia of a guitar, then a Black Cadillac parked under a carport with "The Man" Decals in the landau windows and across the rear window. We wound our way up to the front entrance and huddled there while someone knocked on the door. In just a few seconds, a lady came to the door and walked out on to the porch where she announced very solemnly that Gate was resting and that she needed to look into each of our eyes before she would allow us into the house because they had seen some bad people pass through their house before and she wasn’t going to let that happen. She came to each of us and looked us squarely in the eye, me being the last one, and then said, "Alright, y’all can go in now. I trust you." She introduced herself as Barbara.

We got into the house, a humble place, maybe no more than one bedroom, a tiny den with a huge mechanical massage chair, and a living room/kitchen/dining room combination. The place was somewhat dark inside, with wooden paneled walls. There were many, many model ships lined along the entrance, and portraits of Gate along with his awards and his collectibles on display all through the house. In addition, there were tons and tons of political cartoons/satire which made me feel right at home. Gate or someone in his family definitely leans left of the slight majority who voted for Bush in our country.

Barbara proceeded to introduce us to a couple of friends of theirs. A tall, lanky man named John "Fish" Fisher whose wife was expecting a baby on June 4th was there, as was a man with a very handsome face, whose name I can’t recall at present. He was dressed as a modern day Texan might dress, in cowboy boots and jeans and a button down shirt. On his arm was a yellow plastic bracelet, just like the ones I had seen in the Airport Shuttle the night before. I asked John Fish about the bracelet and learned that Lance Armstrong has been selling these things for $1 each to raise money for cancer research and that they have become a kind of fashion statement in larger cities in the US. It suddenly made sense that the long-term cancer survivor, the male nurse, the nephrologist, and Gate’s friends had a link through a desire to cure cancer and it was signaled through the yellow bracelet.

Once we got settled in, Barbara began to entertain us. She was such a wonderful soul while we were there. She explained that Gate was resting and that we should make ourselves at home while he gathered his strength. About that time, she started telling us about the wife of Gate’s doctor-slash-trombone player who had been injured in an accident and who had come over to their house the night before. Somehow, she had labeled all of the cabinets in the kitchen with indelible ink, using a very surreal font of her own design….definitely a signature of her presence. I never did understand how the lady was able to label the entire kitchen before anyone could stop her, but she had managed. She couldn’t spell for shit, but she had a definite style of her own!

There was a feel to that home that was very familiar to me. Having watched my dad fight cancer and having watched my friends fight AIDS, I recognized the energy of this house. It was the hope that one gathers around when facing death, the company of old friends, the love of those that matter. And here we were like family in their home. I felt an overwhelming closeness to these people. They were love. As we waited for Gate to join us, more friends came along to join us. André Bouvier and his wife arrived as did Gate’s manager (sorry, I can’t remember his name), and Gate’s daughter and boyfriend. (It has been about a week since I met them all, and the names of most are slipping by now. So much has happened since.) Please forgive me for not remembering your names. I remember your souls and your smiling faces very well.

Barbara told us stories while we waited for Gate to gather his strength. She was cooking up some shrimp étoufée to feed an army and very politely asked us to stay for dinner. At one point, she took some scraps from the kitchen to feed the "gators" in the canal. As she opened the door, she said, "Some people stay here and say, ‘Aw, listen to the frogs!,’ but they AIN’T frogs!!!!!!!" She also told how once she had introduced former Texas Governor Ann Richards at an event and that they had an exchange. Governor Richards, one of my heroines, said to her "Girl, you must be from Texas! You got big hair!" Barbara said, "I try to keep it down, but the closer to the equator you live, the bigger your hair gets."

At one point in the afternoon, Jamie had to return to the city and had Brian drive him in. The rest of us stayed and "visited". Around about 4:30, I guess, Gate appeared in the door of the living room. He was a thin older black man, with skinny little legs sunk into a pair of huge Spongebob Squarepants bedroom slippers. He came out to the table and sat down and began to interact with us. Ben on first camera and Josh on second camera had already filmed some background material on the house, and Duncan began to explain the process of 1 Giant Leap to Gate so that he would know what everyone hoped to see happen. For a while, Duncan and Gate had a fairly general conversation in which Gate talked about the concerts he had given in the past and the CDs he had recorded and the songs that he had covered.

Suddenly, Barbara interrupted us briefly to tell us that there is a network of 6 million people who, from 5:30 PM until 6:00 PM local time, visualize sending white light to shower over or to pour from the hearts of the people fighting disease who need to be healed. This light can either be seen to bathe the person in white light from the outside in, or to emanate from the person’s heart and to flow out through their extremities and their hair and to flush the elements of disease from their bodies. She asked us all to take 30 minutes a day to visualize healing. Each of you can figure out when that time of day fits into your time zone and join us in healing visualizations.

For a while after that, there was a rather interesting kind of exchange where Duncan would play a track from the new album to see if Gate would bite on it and then Gate would say "Hey, put in ‘Unchained Melody’ over there on that box" or something similar and we would listen to his work for a few minutes. It felt a bit like, excuse the expression, a pissing contest, to see if one could out-do the other! I made the mistake of asking Gate it he was referring to the Righteous Brother’s song "Unchained Melody". He jumped on me…"That ain’t their song! They didn’t write it!"

For the longest time, there was a kind of dancing around the issue of "will he" or "won’t he" play along to a track for us when Duncan started pretty skillfully asking to see Gate’s guitars, violins and other instruments. Eventually, a very nice guitar (not a musician here, I can’t tell you why it was special, but count on it) ended up in Gate’s hands and Duncan got the right track going on the laptop at the same time and all of a sudden, Gate just started improvising along. The magic happened!!! It was short, sweet and perfect. One take and only about 2-3 minutes, and when he had done all he could, Gate kind of slumped forward and announced that he had done all he could.

Duncan then began to interview him with some pretty skillful questioning. At this point I began to really see the new themes from 2s2e emerge. I won’t spoil the dish by telling what it will taste like, but I know that Gate’s answers will really touch you. There was one that really hit home to me and it involved whether or not one should allow oneself to get angry. Gate said that yeah, you can get angry but you also have to know how to forgive. It was almost like watching the David Allen Grier blues character that always says "I wrote a song about it. It goes like this." The refrain of the song is "We can disagree, but please don’t hold a grudge."

After the interview, Duncan and Gate’s manager had a conversation in the other room while Ben, Josh and I started gathering the gear to leave. Brian had returned with the van by this time and we started to load it up. We were invited to share the home-cooked meal, but we had to be at a place called "The Chop House" that evening and had to decline. We said our good-byes and headed into New Orleans to meet up with Jamie, Jess, Ken and Jody. When we got back to the hotel, I found that Ken and Jody had spent the day with India Rose at the New Orleans Aquarium and that they were waiting with Jess and Jamie for us to join them and go to Tipitina’s at the corner of Napoléon and Tchoupitoulas.

We soon arrived at Tipitina’s and went into the Chop House where Adam Shipley was awaiting us with dinner. There was a pan of trout, some barbequed pork ribs, a big pan of pasta and cheese and other items that are escaping my memory now. I also can’t recall the name of the lady who cooked it for us, but we did meet her on my last evening in New Orleans. We ate and soon we were joined by Jhelisa, a beautiful lady from Mississippi who will likely participate on 2s2e.

At one point, Ben and I were seated next to each other at a bar, eating dinner. I was taking a bite of food and shoving in a few pills at a time for my evening dose. He asked me to explain what I was taking and what they were for. I showed the 3 antiviral pills that I take at night and then the remaining pills that I take to cancel out the side-effects of my antivirals. About that time, Adam walked up and asked me what I was doing there with a North Carolina accent. I decided to be truthful and told him that I was being interviewed for the film and that I have been living with HIV for 20 years and that I helped develop AZT.

Each time I dump that information on people, they have some rather predictable reactions. Adam tried to act nonplused, but I could tell that my response took him a bit aback at first. I was reminded of the scene in "Masks" in 1GL where the lady speaks of how when we remove our masks and show our true selves, it scares people. Adam was cool, though.

After dinner, we went from the Chop House to Tipitina’s club for an evening of dancing, but being a bit tired from my journey and day, I suggested that Ken, Jody and I return to our hotel after we had been at the club a few hours. Back at our hotel, we talked for a while, exchanging thoughts about our day. After an hour or so, I wandered back to my room to crash.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

"He looked up and I could see the glint of recognition in his eyes, and soon hugs were being shared around as we introduced ourselves to one another."

oh i remember that glint. haha. jamie seems to have the skill of finding people. or running into them when needed. ;) i'm sure he could pick anyone out of a crowd who he's supposed to meet.


1/30/2005 09:51:00 PM  

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