What I, Jim Hlavac, actually did since July 2012 in Tucson & Phoenix:
- Painted 200 paintings – including 40 complex mazes
- Composed 2500+ pieces of classical music (mostly piano works, but 200 string quartets, too)
- Posted 160 videos of my music to Youtube
- Published 14 books to Amazon Kindle
- Played piano at multiple places 2 to 4 days a week, including AZ Cancer Clinic in Tucson and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix – where I became the official “Lobby Pianist” (they gave me a piano just 3 weeks ago)
- Became Sunday services piano player at Huger Mercy Assisted Living
- Posted 200 articles to my blog “The Daily Mush”
- Translated some thirty 100 year old family letters from Czech to English
- Wrote most of a book in Spanish on how to think about learning English
- Outlined 4 operas, including libretto ideas, themes, and theatrical order of the scenes
- Continued to do the yearly updates for the website of the Tunica Nation’s Pow Wow in Louisiana as I have for years
- Held 2 public solo art exhibits, had pieces in four others, and donated a 4×4 foot complex ‘word painting’ of 5,000 years of LGBT history to the Phoenix Pride Center
- Published several articles on several national websites about Gay Guys
- Was defended nationally for being rational on gay men by a noted anti-gay pundit
- Began work on a book – “Catalyst” – of my 25 glorious years in Louisiana (1985-2011)
- Started a family history called “Growing up Czech”
- Worked on some 20 other books that are in the works
- Drew a 150 page line drawing picture book with commentary of places I’ve been
- Reconnected long lost cousins in Australia, through my blog, with the family in America and the Czech Republic and Skyped weekly with them for 8 months
- Read some 500 books on a wide range of subjects (all my life, 100+ books a year)
- Left 1000s of comments across a wide range of websites and had 1000s of charming and erudite conversations on facebook
- Drew some 3 dozen Christmas cards for family and friends as I’ve done for 40 years
- Made friends with 2 dozen people of every sort (who all came to help when I broke my wrist)
- Went to my niece’s wedding in Pennsylvania in June 2013 – became a Great-Uncle in December 2016
- Between Tucson & Phoenix I was for 3 months in Scranton PA for a family visit – and sold 150 lots on Ebay – and played piano every week at the Century Women’s Club (3 gorgeous pianos)
- And I’m planning a fantabulous 60th birthday since I survived 40 years of AIDS.
I really do not like being told I am delusional about my vast and constant creative intellectual output.
March 13th, 2018
Eddy Broadway, CEO
Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care
4350 E. Cotton Center Blvd., Bldg. D
Phoenix, AZ 85040
My Dear Mr. Broadway – Eddy – we’re going to be friends. For I am like you. My name is Jim. Or as most friends and family, my own dad, call me: “hlavac.” Oh, feel free to call me “hlavac.” You all told me I was “delusional” and “paranoid” about my saying – “Be careful with the hlast name.” You try sir – pronounce it – try. Then we sir – my equal – will discuss the Riot Act. Or, as we call it in my family – a Hlavacattack! Not one of you people yet in this state can pronounce my last name – and yet you audaciously label me officially “paranoid” and “delusional” in my medical record for pointing out it’s a tad odd. All of you are that miserable from the moment of my own name. How dare you? “hloupy hlodavac” – stupid rats. “HL” is easy. If you know how. I do. And you all told me I was wrong about my own name. Just utterly stunning. Now, I suggest you listen, sir.
Let me tell you about 25 years in Louisiana before I retired to Arizona. Let me tell you about my connection to Arizona since 2002. Let me tell you about 25 years before Louisiana in New York City. Let me say what I did here in Phoenix and Tucson since 2012. You will hear about it eventually, trust me. This situation is bizarre. Come listen to me – you all have lied about me. Come hlearn of Hlavac.
I am a man like you – a man of vim and vigor and verve and quite some determination to get what I want. You are the CEO of AZ’s largest insurance company. And I was the CEO of Cajun Commodities Corporation – my company through which I brought Cajun and Creole food to this nation. My 25 years in Louisiana is stunning and provable. That lasted from 1985 to 2011. In 2012 I decided to retire to Arizona, with which I had long contact. In which I continued for the past 6 years to this very day to do more good and wonder. And you people tell me no! Do you wish to hear reality or imagine falsehoods as you do? All I did was ask for the name and number of a gay male counselor to speak to about the wonder that I survived 40 years of AIDS. That’s it. That’s my issue. I am a gay man with AIDS since the beginning in Greenwich Village, New York City when it was “it.” I wish to speak to a gay man with some knowledge of emotional issues – some ability to ferret out my emotions about being alive today. That’s it – that’s my issue. There are no other issues in my life. All else is a wonder beyond your belief.
You have every right to abuse Gay Guys – but have the decency to tell me point blank – like any miserable baker whining to the Supreme Court. But don’t then tell me I am insane and delusional. You all have insulted and demeaned me – this will not stand. Not the gay bit – call me queer all day long. It’s the intellect. My intellect is beyond your comprehension. Come, learn about it.
You have denounced my intellect – are you insane? For what you people in this now vast archipelago of agencies, companies, people, bureaucrats, state, city and county departments and bureaus, some 40 case managers, people claiming they will “assess” me – and more – have visited upon me is not sustainable. Call me “queer” and dismiss me all day long – but do not fuck with my intellect. Dismiss me for your “god” but you cannot dismiss my brain. All of you have lied about me; 100 people now involved, even more. Every time I dig deeper into the system I hear about and read more absurdity by people I never met. None of you know me. I never met half of any of you. The other half but maybe once for a few minutes to sign more forms; only 3 or 4 for an hour once – and never met again. And you all lied about me. Half the people droning on about me with surety in my records never met me. I was not even in the city in which they fabricated their fantasy about me. I was 2,000 miles away playing piano at Scranton’s 100 year old Century Women’s Club when 140 pages of utter fantasy about me was entered into my medical records here in Arizona proclaiming how I am unable to function in life. I can prove me – how do you intend to sustain 140 pages of fantasy? You all continue to lie and fabricate falsehoods about me. I have never encountered such crap in all my life. Are you all insane? I can prove me – you all have no hope of proving the nonsense you believe and entered into my records. There’s more than a dozen agencies – most I never met – who drone on about me. This is nuts. Who is Bayless? Who is REN? Why are they calling me to tell me falsehoods about my life? Who are they? How did they get my name? Egad! How could you be all so obnoxious to my reality? Tell me! How? You all lied. You people are having meetings about “me” to discuss your fantasy. This is absurd!
Sir, I have right now in my hands 350 pages of utter lies and falsehoods written about “me” by strangers in just three agencies in Arizona. I am a man who lived with grace and charm and importance in Louisiana for 25 years. I retired to Arizona to continue my amazing life – and utter strangers simply fabricated a false me. You have stolen my Good Name and Identity – and made a mental basket case – this is ludicrous. I have never seen anything like it. There’s got to be more – there’s another dozen agencies involved, most of which I never met. You all lied and fabricated about a wondrous man – for your sick purpose. I am appalled at this crap. I will not relent – this will be resolved in my favor – you have no hope – you all lied and fabricated nonsense about someone you never met. Egad sir – get real. You are the CEO of a major important company – and you all lied about me. This is monstrous. But it will be solved in my favor. Dare me, go ahead. I asked for one thing – a gay male counselor to speak to about the fact I survived 40 years of AIDS. And everyone of you people told me “no, that’s not important.” Disgusting. Every time I stated my issue – burying 100 friends and living with the disease itself – you all told me “no, that’s not your issue.” Egad – are you all this dense?
Now whenever I speak to any arrogant moron in this system – they stare in their computer – and spout anew the falsehoods. The latest was Joseph Wantland of your company. Remove this moron from my life – or I will get an injunction against him. He is rude, insulting, obnoxious, arrogant and idiotic. He will be gone from my life by your request – or a judge’s order. What an insolent young fellow. The little bastard calls me 4 times in 9 days to ask absurd questions about problems in my life. I asked for a gay male counselor about surviving AIDS – and he tells that’s not important! Just dismisses my every want, need and concern. Then continues with his blather about drugs, police, law, problems, violence, inability to function, problems with hygiene and worse. Why are you people asking me about this? This is insanity. Stop it. And just give me the name and number of a gay male counselor covered by my insurance I can call up and talk to about surviving AIDS while having a life of wonder. Why is this so hard for you all to grasp? You people don’t even think I can call anyone to make an appointment. Egad. Then he mails me a list of some 25 languages I can seek help in. But a simple male counselor who speaks English is beyond his grasp. This moron tells me he’s going to send me to yet another agency to get “assessed”! You send me incompetent morons who tell me I am delusional about my life!
But you sir – if you all really have the standard religious heterosexual disdain and disregard for gay men – at least have the common decency to tell me “you’re just queer shit, we don’t care” and then get the fuck out of my life. I have no love or respect for heteroos – but I will not be abused by you morons. All of you lied – people I never met in a city I wasn’t in – lied – it’s disgusting. I am not done.
Rest assured – I am not in the least, sir, worried about proving me.
But you all should be damn worried about proving your nonsense.
You will find in me one of the most amazing, reasonable, rational, creative and accomplished and acclaimed men you ever met. And you morons declared me a deranged simpleton. It’s stunning. You are telling this to my face. I sit here in stunned wonder how you all can be so miserably delusional.
On the very days I did wonder on the national stage about gay men – you people declared me legally insane. This is an outrage. I can prove me – you can’t prove your version. Go ahead, try.
Do you want to dare me in a court with a judge? Or at peace in my house?
Send someone or a team – bring a herd of ASU professors too – I am a Polymath. Send someone with competence and authority – so you can be assured I am right about me. And you are all wrong, grossly so. But no more dingbats like Vivien Spencer. Nor anyone from your absurd “grievance department.” I suggest someone from your legal department. For they will hear about it soon enough. This assault by this system on my being will not go unanswered. You met a pissed off sissy. I asked for one thing repeatedly for 6 years – the name and number of a male counselor to speak to about surviving AIDS. You evil people in every corner of this state instead lied about me. I have tried to reason with any of you – and I meet a truculent obnoxious arrogance I will not tolerate. Oh no sir – my life has been too good and wondrous – and provable – to listen to these fables and falsehoods from people I never met. Strangers are calling me on the phone to tell me lies and falsehoods that they find in the computers of this state. They come to my door! Police at my door! What on earth! This is evil. Where could they get this nonsense but fetid minds? Dare me to prove it – come – I ask again. I tell you: this is absurd.
Sir, I am not the least worried about taking this system and the state itself to a court to resolve this in my favor as must be done. I don’t even need a lawyer! My life has been too good to listen to these falsehoods and fables, and assaults upon my being. I have suggested repeatedly – come, learn, listen. And you people tell me I am incompetent. You speak to me like I am imbecile and tell me to my face “you’re severely mentally ill”! This is infuriating and so false as is going to spin your head.
Your woman Vivien Spencer in my very home – as I tried to show her my reality versus your falsehoods – dismissed my music, my art and my writing, as a delusion. In my very house she dismissed my family, my heritage, my life, my existence and my religion. And my issue! Surviving AIDS. And then in one of the most monstrous statements ever uttered to me – told me she was going to ask strangers I never met – all about “me.” Stunning. Sickening. I tried to present to this woman my life – and she told me no – it’s not real – in my own home. Fucking amazing. Curse words are required. My life is provable. She told me no! She would go ask people I never met all about me. Egad. Sir! How does one react to such lunacy? This is “1984” and Orwell, this is “The Trial” and Kafka. This is going to go away in my favor. Trust me. I will never relent. Never.
Sir – you don’t have a choice. My life has been too wonderful, too orderly, too creative, too good – for you to question. And yet you morons keep questioning me and telling me I am delusional about an easily proven reality. Are you all this arrogantly insane? I state my life – and you tell me no! Are you nuts? I have proof and you tell me “no, you’re delusional”! Some moron looked me in the eye and said to me “You are so severely mentally ill you would not understand”! Are you sick? Demented? Evil? What is your purpose? This can’t stand. This must be resolved. I suggest strongly you appoint someone with authority to resolve it – or I will get a court to order you to do so. This fraud upon my being infuriates me with good reason. Sir, I led an easily provable life of good and wonder and accomplishment and acclaim to this very day – and you evil people in this system I never met – tell me no! You tell me my reality is not real – and your fantasy is correct. Where do you want to hear the final outcome of this travesty? In a court or at my house? Tell me sir. I am ready, willing and able on any playing field to destroy you. You have no hope. My life is too normal and good, grand and great. And you all lied. Never have I have seen such fantasy you all wrote about me. Come – learn – listen! Egad.
Well, my 60th birthday is 2 months from today. I would rather you all make just restitution which I will seek in a court – in peace before that point. I would rather go to the family and friends I know all my life in the city I’m from – which you all declare is not true! Than take you morons to court. You people tell me I have no contact with my family – and my young cousin and her new husband are coming to Phoenix to celebrate my birthday – all the way from Vlkoš u Kyjov, Moravia, Czech Republic. I shall speak with them in Czech – their English is not that good. And you people tell me I am delusional about my family and my heritage. You claim I am delusional about an easily provable reality. Would you like to meet Nikol? You people write in your records such falsehoods about me and my family that you have no hope to survive inquiry. Why did you people conjure up this evil nonsense?
Is there no more decency in this? You all have abused me beyond my patience. I am a very determined fellow as you are about to find out. Come – in peace – and let us resolve this – or meet in a court and I shall have it resolved. You have no legs to stand on. You – all – everyone – across the system – lied, fabricated, committed fraud, engaged in malpractice and malfeasance. I can show you page by page, line by line how it’s false! How can any of you try to sustain your written statements – when I never met any of these people? It’s a fantasy! You miserable people dismiss my life and existence, my music, my art, my writing. my family, my religion and my heritage! You miserable people tell me I am wrong about my life – and I never met any of you! Have fun in a court proving your crap.
Well, sir – let us compare notes. I would rather spend just one mere day informing anyone with authority to resolve this in peace – than hauling you all to court where you have no hope of proving fantasy! Egad – this is simple. There’s what I did and do day in and day out all my life to this very moment – and there’s this fantasy of 20 mental disorders and problems in life and worse you all imagine. Well, your choice sir. You are CEO of the biggest insurance company in the state. I am sure your pleasant people in your legal department who could come and spend 8 hours with me – all day – so I can show point by point – how I am right about my life – and you all are wrong. And they can report back to you – and you can exercise I’m sure your considerable authority to make all these agencies do as I wish. Gather two of any kind from every agency in this state with my name in their system – like Noah – come to the flood of Hlavac. You people have no earthly clue as to the depth and width of wonder I am. And you miserable people imagine me a mental basket case. This is untenable.
But trust me – this will be resolved in my favor. You have no hope. You all lied and fabricated. Mr. David Panzarella of Lerner & Rowe is somewhat aware of all this – and is willing to sit in with us – to protect my rights – as you all learn about Jim Hlavac – one of the most amazing men you ever met. Me – or your version – that’s the comparison. Come listen in peace at my house – it’s best. Far better than in a court with a judge were you will be eviscerated. Speak to Mr. Panzarella today – so we can get this resolved. He’s not my lawyer, but has an interest. But I do not want any more phone calls from morons telling me I’m “insane.” I do not want to hear another peep about “drug rehab” when I never did drugs.
And give me now – in the meanwhile – a simple thing – the name and number of a gay male counselor covered by my insurance so I can talk to him about the fact that I lived through 40 years of AIDS. Is there a shred of rational decency left in you? Or will I have to make a judge order you to do so?
For a good start – go to my youtube channel and listen to my music that I create which you people tell me doesn’t exist. Your people told me my 16 books on Amazon are a fantasy. Are you this obnoxiously insane about what a click or two on the Internet can prove? Egad. Pfft – what can I say sir? Let us parlay in peace – and not in a court. Thanks. cc. David Panzarella, Lerner & Rowe. If you think you are a determined fellow – you have never met the likes of me. Come, learn, listen. Hurry.
Yours – cheers – your favorite Hlavac …. google me until your eyes pop out! Egad. Get Real!
btw – my hlast name is pronounced LA-VICK – you people in this system wrote in your records that I am “delusional” and “paranoid” about my unusual last name – that none of you can pronounce. Disgusting. Well, it’s your choice sir – come and learn in peace – or be ripped apart in a court. Cheers.
Early 1995 – late 1996: Louisiana Business Ventures
A few weeks after my arrival back in Baton Rouge I got an apartment at 930 N 7th Street. A sweet one bedroom, with a pool below that I would spend many hours in. I would come home late at night from George’s Place and don my purple speedoes and sashay out to the pool and lie on an inflatable raft and just drift around looking up at the stars. I found out that Joe, the manager of the place who lived on site had the hots for me. Oh, was he pissed when I turned him down, but well, I wasn’t into trading an apartment for sex, that’s for sure. I was not going to be some conquest for some guy. Now Dudley, he was a hottie, and we dated for a bit. It was a pretty much gay complex, perhaps 20, 30 apartments. From my bedroom window the state capitol building was very visible.
I did not look for a job – I created an entity called “Louisiana Business Ventures.” My mission was to be an ad agency of sorts. A promotion company perhaps, as I thought about it. I got on the internet for the first time through Premier – using Netscape as my browser. It was so primitive. Priemer was in the same building Earl Heard had once had. I did some promotion work for them, trading for internet service. I had cards printed and got a phone and well, got to work. But also got to fun.
I wound up as captain of the “boat float” for the Mirror Lounge in the Spanish Town Mardi Gras parade. I got face paint and did myself up in the checkerboard of LSU colors. Kathleen Brackmann lent me a cape and a hat and I was swashbuckler. For four hours I tossed beads at the crowds. I didn’t have to buy any beads – or “Throws” as they are called. I had several boxes of them I had accumulated over the years at a 100 parades. I was ready to toss them all away. On a gloriously sunny and warm Saturday, the Saturday before Mardi Gras itself, I got to the float – which was indeed a boat, pulled by a pickup truck – and got ready to rumble. It was simply thrilling.
My friend from NYC, Jerry Garugiolo came to visit. It was Mardi Gras time. He wanted to see it. He took 100s of pictures, I have them still, in an old laptop. We went down to New Orleans – where Jerry became an idiot. Well, he sort of always was. He questioned the docent at St. Louis Cathedral why it was placed wrong. I said “What?”
“It’s supposed to face east,” he said insistently.
I said “Jerry – the city doesn’t face east – it faces south. There’s river, and swamps – they did the best they could.”
Jerry was not mollified and almost badgered the poor guy giving the tour of the church. I had to explain to the young fellow “He’s a New Yorker, they are not happy to please.”
The guy rolled his eyes with a “Ah ha, those folks.”
After a day and night of partying I was ready to go back to Baton Rouge and Jerry said “NO!”
I said “YES! I cannot have more drinks – we have to drive 80 miles back home!”
Jerry insisted on staying and went off by himself. I left him there. I was pissed. I told him “You’ll figure it out.”
He did. He told me when he got back to my house on North 9th Street the next morning “You abandoned me in New Orleans!”
I said “Jerry – you had cash and credit cards and you were in a city that never shuts down, I’m sure you did fine.”
He did. Someone he met from Hammond gave him a ride back to that city and I got a call the next morning and told him “Wait at the truck stop at the interstate – I’ll be over there to pick you up.” Of course I went to pick him up.
“I was all alone!” he almost cried.
I said “Jerry, you’re a big boy from New York City in New Orleans – you could handle yourself, I hope you had fun.”
He smiled “I certainly did.”
Years later he said that he got AIDS there. Well, maybe he did. But that was not my problem. Gay men got AIDS and I could not be responsible.
My sister and her kids came to visit that year. The kids were 8 and 10 or so. They had driven across the country from Pennsylvania where they lived in their little Dodge Neon. We went to Evergreen Plantation up in St. Francisville. We went to the top of the state capitol and I showed them around the city. Walking along the level Mike, her son, saw an ant pile. I told the kid: “Do not play with that.” So what did he do? He stuck his hand in it. Well, the Fire Ants went to town on the boy’s hand I had to rescue him from it. He cried of course, because fire ants have a nasty bite. They do not have such vicious ants in Pennsylvania. I joke about it with him to this day. I took them to New Orleans. We walked down Bourbon Street and I said “You must hold our hands through this, this is not a safe place.” They weren’t so happy about it, but as soon as my sister saw the reality of the street she said “Let’s do what Uncle Jimmy says,” and so we kept them safe. Bourbon Street is not kid friendly at all. Then we ate at Mickey Mo’s – my friend Joe’s sandwich shop. He had given the kids some sweets and the kids were wired. My sister’s ‘time of the month’ was her upon her so she was cranky. The kids were bouncing around the car as we left New Orleans. Leaving Metairie and getting up on the I-10 I said to them “whoever can keep quiet until the next exit I will give a dollar to.” The kids shushed. I knew the next exit was about 30 miles, so I had the upper hand. When the exit for LaPlace finally came up Mike said to me “Hey, you tricked us.” I smiled. “I certainly did kid. But I gave them each their dollar. My sister was finally able to take a break.
We went to the wild animal park out in Folsom, on the north shore and then headed down to New Orleans. We went to the aquarium. We didn’t have to pay because it was late in the day.
I took them out to Henderson so we could take a swamp tour. Weirdly, it was my first time out there. The guy say “Ah, so these are your kids.” Mike said “He’s my uncle,” and I think it was the first time his voice cracked. No more a squeaky kid, it was a low baritone. My sister was quite surprised.
My sister wanted to see this and that and I said “we can’t, pick on thing or another in this or that direction.” I showed her the map and said “This way or that way, this day, that’s the choice.” I told her “There’s only one road and once you’re on it, that’s it.”
“But what about the little roads in between?” she asked.
“There are no little roads.”
She could not grasp this. Pennsylvania has so many shortcuts and little roads that it’s quite easy to go here and there through the back way. I told her “There is no such thing here.” She did not grasp this until we took I-55 from Hammond down to New Orleans. It stunned her that bridge could be 25 miles long. But then she got it.
Mickey Mo’s in New Orleans was Joe Fazio’s sandwich shop. I had known Joe for about 10 years now. I had met him where he was working at a restaurant on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter called “Mike Anderson’s Seafood Restaurant.” Anderson was some retired football player, nice fellow, I met him a few times. He was big, as you would expect a football player to be. The place was well established and both John Wayne Pastor and Joe worked there in the kitchen. But now, 10 years later Joe was working as a waiter at “Maximo’s Italian Restaurant” on Decatur Street. He had this dream of opening his own place. Somehow he got the money and opened a place out on Dauphine Street in the Bywater.
He asked me to design his logo, menu, ads and more. He didn’t really have a lot of money so he paid me in sandwiches. It was a busy place actually, because at the time there were not a lot of restaurants in the Bywater. It was more just sandwiches and jambalaya. It was not fancy, but just a neighborhood place. His favorite color was green so I worked up a logo and ads and menu all with this green theme. He loved it. His problem though, was his health. His son worked there too, a nice young fellow. The place lasted about 3 years, which is not a bad run for a restaurant run by a decaying man. Joe’s kidneys were shot. Too much drugs and booze – “The Monkey On My Back” as he called it. He had some weird relationship with some heroin addicted girlfriend. I advised him to get away from her. “You keep hanging around with her you’re going to relapse and die.”
Well, after several years of dialysis and medical problems Joe did die. His son called me with the sad news. He knew Joe and I had a long friendship and just wanted me to know.
I got involved with the Louisiana Advertising Federation. They had monthly luncheons in Baton Rouge and a few events in New Orleans. It was mostly those two cities that had ad agencies, but there were a few scattered around the state too. It was networking and schmoozing and I went every month and met all sorts of people and got a lot of freelance work. I wrote ad copy for tire stores, restaurants, small businesses. Getting the work was fairly easy, getting paid was difficult. These people just didn’t want to pay me. I was forever having to go press the issue. “Where’s my check!” I had to demand more than once. They thought they could string along the freelancer and tell me the old “the check is in the mail.” I began to joke with them “The Male Czech is here, for his money.” I got it, but really now, could it be so hard to pay a guy his $100 or so? Apparently it was.
Keeting McGee was an advertising agency up on Prytania Street in a big old house converted to offices. They were looking for someone to write ad copy for the Batesville Casket Company. No one at the agency wanted to touch it. Whether because of superstition or just the sheer difficulty of writing anything compelling about caskets. It is a difficult prospect when you think about it. I said I would take the job. My mission was to write several pithy paragraphs for a half dozen spots they were planning on buying in newspapers around the region. They had to be simple and compelling, but concerning and caring. After all, this was for the dearly departed. It couldn’t be frivolous or humorous, that’s for sure.
I wrote up about 4 dozen paragraphs they could chose from. The ad agency was very pleased with them. But getting paid was tough. They just didn’t want to write a check. I had to go there personally and push hard to get paid. I did not like that.
I did a few other projects for them. They sort of offered me a job but I didn’t want to work there, I just wanted to do some freelance projects. I worked with them for about a year and a half.
I did some freelance work for some other New Orleans ad agencies. I don’t remember their names. Some where big, some where tiny. It was all writing. I wrote slogans, and spiffy paragraphs and created brochures. What seemed to be happening is that their regular employees dealt with the simple stuff, and I got the weird jobs. The odd jobs, those clients who were persnickety, ornery, difficult. I got the assholes – they kept the happy folks. No big deal, I did what I was paid to do. It was not steady by any means. It was on a strictly “We’ll call you if we need you” basis. Apparently they needed me two or three times a month or less – that was OK. $50 here a $100 there – pretty soon I was earning real money.
What I discovered was that many of these ad agencies were great with art – really good. But they were lousy with words. Perhaps it’s the education system in Louisiana. I never saw so much misspelling, wrong words to use, lack of pizzazz and imagination. They were pedestrian, I was poetic. I got lots of little jobs. $10, $20, $50 bucks I would charge to write a few words. Everyone was always very happy with it.
I did work for all sorts of Baton Rouge ad agencies too. None of this was steady. Just freelance for the difficult jobs. Sure, anyone can throw together a few words, but most of their people couldn’t put together a poetic, compelling, easy to comprehend paragraph if they tried. It was stunning actually. At art they were good, but not with words. So I wrote words – and they did the artwork to make an ad that could be put in the paper or magazine.
Kathleen and Allan took me to meet the coroner of Baton Rouge. Some guy who had been in the position for 2 or 3 decades. I suppose I could look up his name, I could be bothered. He had a huge house with an astonishing central room that had a 30 foot high ceiling. This room was maybe 40 feet by 40 feet – around which, up above, were two balconies, the 2nd and 3rd floors – that wrapped around the entire place. The house was filled with musical instruments. I got to try most of them – some I had no idea. I never played a clarinet. I tried. He was so impressed with me that he wanted me to work in the coroner’s office. I said “Oh no, I am a medical wuss, I’m not getting near that.”
One month there was a “Louisiana Food Tasting Show” at the convention center in Baton Rouge. I went, of course, and met many people I had known from the 1980s and early 1990s. It was like a homecoming. It was the very sort of show I tried to create in New York, the show that never came to be. What was funny though was that the people who knew me in Baton Rouge were stunned at who I knew. “How could you know these people?” I was asked.
“Eh, I’ve been out to nowhere all over the state.”
I got a few jobs from it, creating brochures mostly. I would write up a standard 3 fold brochure front and back, leaving enough space for a logo and a few pictures. I would charge $100 to create such a brochure.
St. Martinville is the parish seat – or capital – of St Martin Parish. It’s a sleepy place between Baton Rouge and Lafayette. I had met some folks in Lafayette’s luncheon for adverting professionals and they clearly wanted help. So I went to their confab that they held at some restaurant in the small city. Seems they were finally waking up to the possibilities of promoting themselves. Every Thursday for months and months I would go over there to their regular meetings as they figured out what their resources and strong points were. I got free lunch, always a good thing, and a few jobs creating logos and menus and brochures.
More importantly I showed them how to work together. I told them “You are not in competition with each other. No one coming here is going to go to one or the other. They have no idea what is here and they want to see it all. Synergy is the operative word. Don’t try to promote yourselves individually – you all can’t afford it. Pool your money, and mention as many places together as you can in one ad, not 100 different ads. Save your money.”
They followed my advice I guess.
One pleasantly steamy early evening as the sun was setting behind me I was heading home from meetings in St. Martinville, home of the Evangeline Oak, the tree under which the dear lady was said to have sat and pondered her fate. There are many tales about her. There’s even a parish named after her. I was working with the tourist commission, the chamber of commerce, some small businesses that wanted to attract the tourist trade. I was meeting all sorts of people. There were meetings in Lafayette too, at the Hilton on Pinhook Road. For months every Thursdays I was in Lafayette and St. Martinville. I still had my Cougar with Florida license plates. I wasn’t done with Florida yet. I was even getting ready to take a booth at the International Food Show in Miami.
The interstate was busy, it was about 7 in the evening, my day was finally over, I was going home to Baton Rouge, an hour trip across the Atchafalaya. A cop pulled me over! Well, two of them. Then a second squad car showed up. They had me get out of the car and I reflexively hit the door lock button. I said “Yes officers, what’s the problem?”
They gave me a grilling that was incredible. I figured out quickly what they wanted – they wanted to seize my car. They asked to search it, I said “no.” One cop was looking in side and exclaimed like a little boy: “I see a marijuana seed in the ashtray!”
I laughed. “The ashtray is closed, I don’t smoke.”
Then I told them what they were trying to do and that it was not going to happen. “You fellows want to plant a joint in my car so you can say it’s in the drug trade and seize my nice new Cougar, because you think everyone from Florida is a drug dealer.” They looked at me in shock. I continued, “Out in Jefferson Davis Parish, Sheriff Ellis Cormier was doing that with his deputies. The entire force was arrested, is that where we’re going with this, hmm?” Oh, I was pointed.
Then I explained that my job was to promote Louisiana in Florida. That I had spent the day in meetings with the powers that be in Lafayette and St. Martinville. I pointedly said “I know …” and you know, I forgot his name. Doug I think. He was the District Attorney for the parish. I had met him several times at these meetings on Thursdays, he knew who I was.
When a fellow ostensibly from Florida starts to mention local DA’s it’s a clue to the cops to perhaps rethink their actions. They did. They gave up their quest. But one officer insisted on giving me a ticket anyway. He wrote one for “improper lane usage.” You can’t get that ticket without a DUI ticket! I was incredulous. But I graciously took the ticket and we all headed off into the night. We must have been there for 45 minutes.
The next Thursday I took the ticket to Doug the DA and said “what is this?”
“Sorry,” he said, ripping it up, “That won’t happen again, Jim. See you later at the luncheon?”
“Yeah, thanks, see you later.”
And it never did happen again.
One day, as I was explaining my life and plans, Kathleen Brackmann to my surprise offered me a $5,000 investment in my advertising venture, so I took it. I hadn’t asked her. She offered. I was hesitant because we were friends. Borrowing money from friends is never a good idea, as anyone could – or should – tell you. But she offered. She graciously forgave the debt.
Allan, her boyfriend at the time, brought me little jobs. One was Cajun Cylinder in Scott, just to the west of Lafayette. It was owned by a Vietnamese fellow – Mr. Nguyen. I created a very detailed catalog for him and he was very happy and paid me $500. So happy he got me in touch with other Vietnamese businessmen in the area. All of a sudden I was making brochures and menus for restaurants, and nail parlors and other automotive service companies all owned by Vietnamese. I would zoom over to Lafayette to bring them the product or find out what else they wanted.
The Brackmanns, Bill and Kathleen, had now been divorced for a few years. Bill kvetched “My wife married Jesus, and I was the third man in the relationship.” He got himself a house a few miles down Pete’s Highway – Highway 16.
Meanwhile, in Marksville plans for the Tunica Casino were taking place. The tribe – or “nation” as I like to call them – had gotten a compact with the state under the Indian Gaming Revenue Act – a law of the Reagan era. Now they were considering what to do and how. They needed major investment, ideas, plans – even a realization of their dreams. John Barbry asked me to come up and meet with them all. I went. I met with the late Earl Barbry, John’s uncle and Tribal Chief. Over the next year or so I wrote them up 100s of ideas and plans and possibilities.
They started a Pow Wow. I created the website for it. It’s now in their 22nd year and I still maintain their website.
I went with John to their ad agency in Dallas. In this weird room of bench seating, like a big rec-room I spit out ideas by the 100s. John looked at me and said “You love this, don’t you?”
“Oh you bet I do.”
The folks at the agency taking in these ideas looked at me in marvel.
From this the concept of the promoting the casino and tribe and reservation all came to be.
I took a booth at the International Food Show in Miami. My goal was to bring as many Louisiana food products down to it as I could. It was slated for early 1997 and I got ready. I went to Tony Chacherie’s and Misse’s, Ball’s and Moutons and many other companies that I had know for a decade now and told them what I would do. I got samples and their literature – some of which had to be update. I was back in the Cajun food promotion business again. I stockpiled all this in my apartment in Baton Rouge getting ready for the big show. Then I loaded my car, took hours to haul it all from my overstuffed apartment down to the car. The folks at the apartment complex were like “wow!” as they watched me. Then I drove to Miami and Doug Mollo and Andrew Herbert worked the show with me. They didn’t understand the food at all. I said “Guys, just stand there and hand out literature while I work the details.”
At George’s Place I met Robert Gremillion. A shy quiet man, almost afraid of his own shadow, and a mortgage banker – which are never the most exciting people. He invited me to join a Gay Guys Group called “First Thursday.” I went with him – and lo and behold I became a member. I still sort of am a member. I know them all – they are my friends.
At “First Thursday” I met the owner of Third Coast Digital, a fine fellow named Ted Baldwin. He’s a very intelligent fellow and we hit it off. He hired me as his salesman. My knowledge of places and people around Baton Rouge I think stunned him. Perhaps he has a different take. We are still friends to this day. It’s one of the few real jobs I ever had in the state. Perhaps 8 months I worked for him. He had the annoying habit of ripping apart the computer to rebuild it. I’d come to work and find it in pieces. Oh the data stayed the same, but the computer was different.
He and his production assistant Eric Wickwire spent more time playing pinochle than working, but it was fun too. So what I did was create a brochure – and had Ted shoot a video touting his services. Then I took that to 100s of companies around the Baton Rouge area.
Ted’s problem was that he thought everyone would steal his ideas. I said “no one can do that, don’t worry.” But he wasn’t so sure.
In any event, I took his services to 100s of companies – he was, I think, rather amazed at the numbers of companies I reached. I think I got it to about 1,500 contacts before I called it quits. I was just not employee material. He’s a great guy though, and like I say – we’re still friends.
Through first Thursday I met Kerry Saurage and his brother who’s name I don’t recall. They were gay – but their family had created the Community Coffee Company. They were handed millions of dollars and told to get out of the way. They took the money and ran.
The Baton Rouge Business Referral Group held weekly luncheons for some 2 dozen people at a Chinese restaurant on Airline Highway. The restaurant was famous in the city and had been there for years.
I traded brochure and advertising work with a dentist. I needed some work done, and so I met this woman dentist. I’m not sure I remember her name, but her office was just off Bluebonnet Drive. Toatal? Toate? I’m not sure – something like that. Just a regular licensed professional dentist.
Ralph & Kacoos on Airline Highway was a famous place, it had been there for years. They were a couple madly in love, that was obvious. They wanted to expand, open up new locations, perhaps package their foods for sale. So I wrote them a business plan. I only went there because me and few friends went to dinner. One of my friends joked to Ralph “You should talk to this guy, he’s got ideas.”
Ralph was willing to listen. We made an appointment and the next day I went back and got to business.
Fleur de Lys pizza restaurant was famous for years in Baton Rouge – might have been the first pizza parlor in the city. Certainly it was the longest lasting. Certainly it was the funkiest. It’s on Government Street where Jefferson Highway starts. It’s always been there, for decades. I was there with friends for lunch one day and I joked with the manager “You need to upgrade your menu and stuff.”
He said “Yeah, we do – what can you do?”
The next day I was back with a slew of ideas and he took them in. To what extent he implemented them I do not know, but they did get more modern, fancier, more up to date.
There was a record store just down the street from them, on Jefferson Highway, and a fancy Italian restaurants across the street. For both of the them I created ads, brochures, logos – what they needed to join the modern world.
La Fonda was perhaps the first – and certainly the oldest – Mexican restaurant in Baton Rouge. It’s on Airline Highway in pretty much an industrial district. Frankly, their food isn’t very good. It’s old style Mexican – and more American than Mexican. Still, it’s a beloved old time place in the city. They were stilted and stifled. I gussied up their menu – which was so boring as to bring tears. I designed it to be exciting.
Seeing this industrial area around La Fonda I started to go door to door to see what was there. I happened upon a machine tool company. Drills, bits, cutters, saws and the like. They wanted a catalog and brochure. I created that for them. They were very happy. They wanted to just give me things and I said “Nah, I’d rather cash.” They forked over $200. I was happy.
Through the Baton Rouge Referral Group I met a man named John. I could not tell you his last name, I simply do not remember. He had some clothes cleaning business and wanted to expand. “Can I open up some new locations in Slidell and Hammond?” he asked me.
I said “Let me go find out.”
So I went through the two cities and said “Hammond will work, Slidell will not.”
While working in Hammond I found “Billy’s Bar.” It was a gay bar! I just went in for a beer after slogging through work all day. I didn’t know it was gay. That this place even existed stunned me. It was actually two bars – two completely different halves. One side was gay, the other side straight. Walking through the front door you turned left to gay, right to straight. I walked in, it’s near the freeway exit for Hammond. I saw the rainbow flag and went in that side. Talking to the bartender there about this odd place he said “Hold on,” and went and got the manager, who was working on the other side. This man said “we could use some advertising, we just don’t know where.”
I told him about Ambush in New Orleans, the gay monthly there and I designed an ad for them right there on a cocktail napkin. A month later I saw that ad in Ambush.
The Accidental Tax Dodge
In 1987 at tax time I went to a tax accountant to make sure I did everything right. It was the first company I ever owned, and I am a honest man. So, I figured I would have to pay taxes on my corporate income. After all, I had this company that was making money and I knew I would have to file taxes on it, right? So I went to an accountant in Manhattan and brought my paperwork and asked “OK, how much do I have to pay?”
He looked at it and asked me questions and I answered truthfully as I always did with legal and tax matters and he said “You don’t owe New York State a dime.”
“I don’t? Why not?”
He told me “You didn’t earn any money in New York.”
“Yeah, but my company is a New York company.”
“Doesn’t matter,” he told me, “New York doesn’t tax income made in Louisiana.”
“You’re kidding,” I said with surprise.
“Nope. All your corporate income was earned in Louisiana, you probably owe them taxes, go ask them, I can’t advise you about that, I have no clue as to their tax code.”
I pressed him “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, from what I can see, all you have to do is file paperwork and show that you made no money in this state, and you can do that, and pay just a $25 filing fee, and that’s it.”
“That is weird,” I said.
“Yeah, but true. If you had made money in New Jersey, Pennsylvania or Connecticut you’d have to pay, but you didn’t, so nope, you do not owe a dime. New York will not tax income earned in Louisiana.”
I was incredulous.
Next time I was down in Lake Charles I went to an accountant with the exact same paperwork and he looked it all over and asked me questions, and then told me “You do not owe Louisiana any taxes.”
“Why not? I earned money here.”
“You are a New York corporation – Louisiana does not tax money earned by such a thing.”
“You’re kidding,” I said with as much surprise as I told the New York accountant.
I seriously did not want trouble with tax authorities so I pressed him. “Surely I must owe something?”
“No, Louisiana doesn’t care what a New York corporation makes – go pay New York what they want.”
I told him what the New York accountant had said and he told me “Well, if that’s what he says, that’s that. I do not know New York tax codes.”
I was flummoxed, but pleased, because I had stumbled upon this weird situation where I made money in one state with a corporation from another state. The word “reciprocity” showed up. New York and Louisiana simply had no reciprocity for taxes, laws, filing papers, nothing. Sure, I had to file a tax form with NY showing I made no money there, and pay the small filing fee. But I didn’t even have to file paperwork with Louisiana, they simply didn’t want to know about it.
I really quizzed both accountants. I wanted to be absolutely sure. After all, I was not into having legal and tax troubles in two states.
I filed the right forms as drawn up by the NY accountant who affixed his name as the man who prepared the papers, and in Louisiana I didn’t have to do anything. It was so strange. I had stumbled on the accidental tax dodge!
I was willing to pay both states whatever taxes they wished. I had didn’t want to cheat anyone. But apparently the two states did not like each and didn’t care what happened in the other. Well, didn’t this make me happy!
Of course, I had to pay income taxes on my Esteban income, but that’s just regular taxes on a job, which I had been paying since I had worked at a supermarket called King Kullen as a teenager on Long Island. New York City also has an income tax, so for my printing income I paid taxes. For my company I did not. I paid both accountants their small fee, I think it was $50 or $100 or so, not much. I don’t even remember the names of the guys. Neither one pointed out this bizarre absurdity, for they couldn’t quite grasp what I was doing. I think the Louisiana guy was more surprised than the New York fellow, but they both told me “You do not owe our state a dime.”
So my sole proprietorship company made money and owed no taxes to the two states I worked in. The New York fellow told me “Now, if you make money in California or Virginia …” and a few other states with which New York had reciprocity agreements, you’ll have to pay taxes on that. But Louisiana? New York doesn’t even know it exists.” He joked about it, too. Something like “I have never met anyone who did anything in Louisiana.”
The oddest thing was though, in 1997 several of my shareholders for the long defunct corporation got letters from New York state demanding $10,000 in fines and fees. My aunt and uncle who had owned shares and my father and mother and grandmother all got this demand letter. I didn’t get one! They all came to me with great worry! Understandably so, after all, all they did was buy a few shares in my company to help me in the beginning. It was 10 years after they had bought their shares and they were thrilled to help me, and they were never upset that I couldn’t make the money or create some big company. They looked at it as a lark, a fun thing to help a family member to get started in life.
The issue seemed to be that New York claimed I did not pay some $25 fee in 1990 or something. It was absurd. I had paid all the right fees, I was diligent, I used a tax accountant, after all. But, as usual, something screwed up with the spelling of my name and perhaps the “Hlavac” became “Halvac” or Hilvaz.” Who knew? The stories of the mangling of my last name could be a book in itself.
I sprung to action! For this had to be solved. I certainly didn’t want my relatives to be hit with a $10,000 tax bill! I told the relatives don’t worry. I did not contact the tax authorities, oh no. Dealing with bureaucrats just gets you into a mucky morass of obstinate insistence that they are right and you are wrong. They just want money. So, I wrote Governor Mario Cuomo a handwritten letter and I got poetic. I explained the situation and compared it to “Les Miserables,” the famous Victor Hugo book about the police inspector who tracks the bread thief for years until he got his man. About a month later I got a letter back from the Office of the Governor. Some flunky had been given the task of resolving the matter. It said something like “We apologize, and we rescind the demand, you do not owe us a dime. Sorry for the inconvenience.” It was a pleasant letter. I wrote back to this contact in Cuomo’s office and said “Could you kindly send a letter to each of the shareholders who got the demand that this was resolved? They are my aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, grandmother – I would like you to tell them don’t ever worry again about this. Having it come from you officially would be far better for peace in my family. Thanks.” And she did. All the relatives who had gotten this demand letter were sent a “we’re so sorry,” letter. My family were of course very happy to have this lifted from their minds.
Still, I simply fell into the accidental tax dodge – not with any intent. I was in love with Louisiana, I was not seeking a tax dodge. I could not help it if the two states didn’t cooperate. But it was nice that for the entire time Cajun Commodities Corporation operated it did not have to pay taxes to either New York or Louisiana. Sweet, yes? Oh yes it was, it was indeed.
I am sure today such a thing does not happen, though I do not aim to find out.
Pat and the Wildcatter
1986 was the only time I ever ate at Wendy’s fast food burgers. I was a young man in Houston working for a rich old oil woman divorcee – and she loved the stuff and so she’d send me to get lunch and it was always Wendy’s.
It came about because when I started to sort of live part time in Houston with Peter in that year I found a part time job at a place called Armstrong Office Supplies. It was on the Katy Freeway, or I-10 as it’s known formally. It was close enough to the house to walk to, well, at least until I bought the Pinto, then I drove what must have been barely a mile. For a brief while I was probably the only person in Houston who ‘commuted’ to work by walking. I bought the Pinto about a month into the job. I was the copy boy. I made copies for people on a Xerox 9500 machine. It was identical to the one at Esteban’s. People came in – and I made their copies and bound their books and cut their paper and did printing stuff as anyone needed. The place was owned by Margaret Armstrong – hence the name of the place. She was a frumpy lady of about 60 years of age and her husband was some rich oil industry attorney who bought the place so Margaret could have a hobby. She was forever surprised at how fast I worked, made her nervous almost. “Are you doing this right?” she’d wonder.
I’d reply “Aren’t all the customer’s happy?”
And they were happy, indeed, many told Margaret that I was simply a joy to work with. Quick, accurate and comedic – and the New York thing could not be avoided because I had this heavy NYC accent. Every customer had a New York story – which concerned Margaret, as if this interfered in the work. It didn’t affect a thing except make customers happy they could relive their NYC moments, whatever they were. Meanwhile, from time to time I would zoom back to Esteban’s to do some special project. So I had two printing jobs – one in Manhattan and one in Houston on a Freeway we could see out the front windows of the place. I lived at 724 International Boulevard – which was a 4 block long street through the apartment complex where Peter lived – and I was living at 69 First Avenue in Manhattan. The Houston complex was at the north end of what is called “The Memorial Neighborhood.” This area is rich! Memorial Drive is this winding road through million dollar homes on huge lots.
What people came to have printed was fascinating. A lot of it was oil industry related. People would come in with documents related to oil wells – the likes of which I had never seen. I had always been prone to read what I printed, and I read very fast. I would talk to people about what it was they were having copied. “Oh, it’s lease for an oil well in Louisiana,” they’d tell me.
And that’s when Pat Wales walked in one day frazzled beyond all belief. She was this 65 year old woman, about a foot shorter than me, and thin and red haired with that auburn color dye and always this puzzled look on her face.
Barry and Mary Williams also worked there and we became very good friends. He was tall and hippy looking, she was very short. I eventually wound up sort of living part time with them. I would stay at their house out at “Jersey and Farm Road 1960.” I didn’t quite understand the geography of Houston yet, but I could get to their house way out there somewhere. It took a half hour to get to their place. I also had met David Exline – who lived in “The Heights.” I met him at Dirty Sally’s a bar in the Montrose. He was from Crossville, Tennessee originally, and now worked as a garbage truck dispatcher. At the time the Heights was an iffy area that was being gentrified, now it’s tony beyond belief. But because Peter was ever closer to marriage and his girlfriend Wendy was more and more at the house it became awkward. They were glad to get their privacy when I flew back to NYC or went over to Louisiana. So to give them their total privacy I arranged to stay at David’s during the week, and out at Barry and Mary’s for the weekends. It was really Wendy who drove me and Peter apart – she did not like me. It was just best to get away from the tension.
So Pat walked in one day frazzled as usual and asked if I could come out to her car and help her carry in documents and I said ‘sure’ of course. She had about 2,000 pages that needed copying. It was simple enough – and yet – this poor woman was simply confused by it all. Her ex-husband was a wildcatter in Louisiana and struck the black goo and she owned a mere .09% of various wells which brought her some $45,000 a month in income. When I met her she was just another customer, and a difficult one at that. She was difficult for two reasons really. One was she could not grasp the printing needs she had – and difficult because she wanted to control what I was doing. I said “Lady, I know what to do, what do you need done?”
And that’s when she told me “I don’t understand any of this – it’s a mess – can you help?”
“Sure – what do you need?”
She asked me to come to her house and she would pay me the same hourly rate I got at Armstrong. She wanted help, she told me, in organizing this vast pile of information she had.
I agreed and went to her place. It was on East Friar Tuck Road right off Memorial Boulevard. (I did have to consult a map today to refresh my memory of where she lived. Found it immediately.) She gave me directions and I drove there and was stunned at how big it all seemed. So that first day she had stacks and stacks of papers on her kitchen table and started to explain it – but she really had no idea what it all was. Neither did I. But I started looking at it and figured out it was all paperwork relating to about 60 oil wells in Louisiana. But the ex-husband had jumbled it up purposefully to confuse the poor gal. They were only divorced about a year then. He was balking at doing his fair share of whatever divorce settlement he had with her. She was mad as hell, and called him every name in the book, and she was “Look at this mess he has given me!” and she was frazzled.
I said “Don’t worry, I’ll figure it out.”
I did. I went through the papers. I put Well One in one pile, Well Two in the next pile, Well Three in another and so on – and slowly – and it took about a week – I went through it all and put it into a coherent set of related documents. The wells actually had names like “Thibodaux 22R” Which is when I started to learn the oil industry and maps of Louisiana. This was all new to me. Range and Township numbers, platte maps, wards, leases to drill, easements and more all came clear to me. I had never encountered this and she taught me. She knew the industry. We’d go over maps and machinery lists and pipelines and all sorts of details that I never knew existed.
After I had sorted it all out she cursed him something fierce. Sure, he was cheating her out of money. So she asked me go to her ex-husband to serve him papers. I said “well, I guess I can.” She told me where his office was, which was near the Transco Tower off the 610 loop. Then she told me to say “I’m Pat’s house boy” to addle him and when I said “I can’t do that!”
She said: “I will pay you an extra $50 to do it.”
Well, for $50 – I was willing to be a boy toy! Yep – and it did rattle him. I got to his office and told him my purpose and he said “Who are you?”
“I’m Pat’s house boy,” with a ready smile and his eyes lit up in wonder. He was 65 too I guess – so I was half his age.
He said “house boy?” in a most amazing tone of surprise.
“Yeah, I take care of Pat – that’s my job.”
Oh I ladled it on thick. I left him every innuendo I could think of that I was her paramour. He was simply stunned – he sat back in his chair and looked at me with wild wide eyes. “House boy?”
“Yeah – I’m at Pat’s about every other day.”
“At her house?”
“Yeah – on Friar Tuck, yep.”
So he knew I knew where she lived.
But she’s important to this story because I learned more about the oil industry from her than I did from any other person in that region. I also learned about the Port of Houston and the ship channel there because her father had owned tugboats on it. This knowledge became useful in many ways over the next 25 years.
But, her house was so big! At first I was only in the kitchen. Over time she brought me here and there in the house and there were rooms – and more rooms – and more more more! Over the year I knew her – her house grew bigger and bigger – it was astonishing! She had a 30 room house! In the backyard was pool house with rooms!
Though, the funniest thing was she sort of asked me to hide my Little Red Pinto in the back when I came over – “the neighbors you know!” She preferred that I would drive her Mercedes to do errands. The Mercedes she flew to Stuttgart, Germany to buy direct from the manufacturer and then have it shipped to Houston. She had me go pick it up. I had to take 2 or 3 buses to get there and spent a half hour finding it. But there it was, all new and shiny at dockside. I zoomed back to her house. It was an amazing car. An 8 cylinder Mercedes has just a wee bit more power than a 4 cylinder Pinto, I assure you. She told me the reason she did it that way was because it was so much cheaper than to buy it at dealership in Houston. Stunning yes?
Anyway, the lady taught me so much it was like hanging out with a college professor, and over the years this information was very useful. I was ahead of the game.
A Merry Ville of Beau Regard
Beauregard Parish is immediately to the north of Calcasieu Parish. They share a border and an animosity. The rural north is not happy with the urban south. Beauregard is a dry parish. Not that dry, but you can only buy beer there. Wine and spirits were not to be found. I had never encountered a dry place. There’s plenty of them in Louisiana. Wards or parishes where only beer is available, and so oddly the Czech wards of Rapides Parish where not even beer can be bought. That a Czech community had no beer is simply one of the grand oddities of the world. Czechs invented the stuff! They are the world’s biggest per capita consumers of beer. Budweiser, the beer of choice in Louisiana, is from Ceske Budejovice – Budweis as the Germans butchered it and it became the known name worldwide for “beer.” Budweiser is the king of beers as they say, though the Czech version and the American one are very different. There’s a major international legal issue and settlement and tussle between the two. However dry these places pretended to be, they were plenty wet.
I went one day to Beauregard Parish just to see what was there. I wound up in Merryville. It’s a tiny town near the Sabine River at the far western edge of the Parish. It used to be a ferry crossing point, but the town was long mothballed. There was nothing there. Well, there was! There was a festival of some kind. I had no idea for what purpose. Perhaps it was just “Merryville Days” – who knew? I parked and waded into the throng. It was not big. If there were a 1,000 people there I would be surprised. Certainly less people than a New York block party. There were some food booths, and some games, and a carnival swirling ride – you know, the seat-buckets that swung out spinning in a spidery way? That. Only one ride. Maybe 20 booths. And all those local people who knew each other. I had no real intention of doing anything but explore the festival, have something to eat and enjoy myself. I was alone and I sort of had every intention of remaining so.
The locals had other ideas. I bought some boudin and hush puppies from a food booth. The man said “You are not from around here.”
I replied “No, I am from Lake Charles.”
He smiled ever so sweetly, and with no animosity but a curiosity, he stated: “No you’re not. Where are you really from?”
Well, so I was found out. I told the man “I am actually from New York City, but I maintain a home in Lake Charles.”
“Yeah, I live in Manhattan half the time and Lake Charles half the time. I go back and forth.”
He found this fascinating. He turned to the young girl – oh, 15, 16 or so, who was there helping him somehow, “Go get Mister Joe.” I don’t really remember the man’s name. But the guy interrogating me told the young lassie to go get some man. She went immediately without question.
The gal gone the man turned back to me. “You know, this town has been dying since the ferry shut down some 20 years ago, when the interstate was built. We got things to do here, but no one knows we are here. We’re also the only town in the U.S.A. (and he said You-Es-A) with the name Merryville. We’re a happy town, but we need business, we need tourists. We can’t even get people to come here from Lake Charles.”
This man was more or less telling me I was going to be promoting his town. He had introduced himself. Phil, Joe, Bob – I don’t remember. A nice fellow for sure, and earnest in his plea for help for his beloved town.
The young gal was back in 5 minutes with a man in tow.
The guy in the booth, with whom I had been chatting, said to the man “This guy is from New York, he can help us.”
“Really, New York? That’s great,” said this man.
I found out he was the mayor. The cook was his brother-in-law. The young gal was sent out to round up more people. “Go find so and so …” “and Mister Phil too!” And off she went and men came up to this confab and a conference was held.
“We need help in promoting Merryville as a sportsman’s paradise. Rich New Yorkers coming here will find a great place to have a good time.”
That’s not the exact quote of course, but that was the point of it. In this group of men, now half a dozen, they were all blunt in telling me I was the guy to go back to New York City and get folks there to visit Merryville.
They didn’t even have a hotel in town. These guys said we have “camps” and houses that they can use. “We’re ready for them, if they will come.”
“Camps”? What the hell were those? I had no idea. I found out it’s Louisiana-speak for “house in the woods.” They were not tents, they were houses, with bathrooms and kitchens and porches. It was something I came to learn about and go to many of. I’ve been to 100s of camps over the 25 years I was there. This was, though, the first time I encountered the word.
These folks were determined to be a destination spot, a tourist point in the USA. The gumption was astonishing. The lack of anything there, barely a restaurant, was amazing. I looked around and thought – what could be done with this? I didn’t know. I had never thought about such a thing.
They continued selling their town. “We got great food, and ladies to do the cleaning, and folks to dress the kills, and a taxidermist over in DeRidder …” and I was “taxidermist?”
“Yeah, you know, for the trophy plaque …”
“The plaque on the wall with the buck’s head and antlers,” one said so helpfully.
“Oh – I – well, I don’t know – I never thought about it.”
One quipped, “You are from New York.”
I shot back, “We do not have hunting in Manhattan.”
And so for an hour or so these half dozen men sold me the merits of their town and area and explained what was available. They were sure that they wanted high end hunters. “We’ll give them food, housing, care, the guns and guides and everything. It’s the best hunting and fishing around here.”
These men had no idea what I did – they just told me what they wanted me to do. In a way this was my first I inkling into the enormity of the venture. How does one promote a place like Merryville, Beauregard Parish, Louisiana – to rich New York City hunters? I had no idea. These men were imploring me to do something for them.
I went back to Lake Charles in a sort of daze. How could I possibly promote such a place in New York? That was not going to be easy. But this stumbling upon this place and these gentlemen put the seed of the idea in me.
The Grand Dichotomy
So one day I was walking down 5th Avenue in New York City to go to the bank at 21st Street, and past the famed Flatiron Building where my friend Phil owned a store, or down 6th Avenue to go to the bar, and to “my” diner (I ate there so much I was on a first name basis with everyone there!) at the corner of 2nd Avenue and East 4th Street around the corner from my apartment and the next day I would be driving down Prien Lake Road in Lake Charles or up some highway through the rice fields. Well, within a few days because it’s a two day drive between New York and Louisiana. What was this like? I hope to capture this feeling here – this enormous difference – this Grand Dichotomy it might be called. From the Empire State Building and World Trade Centers nearly always visible during my days and nights in Manhattan to being out at the edge of crawfish ponds is simply a vast difference. You certainly learn a lot about mosquitoes at the edges of those vast acres of ponds, while subways are more prevalent in Manhattan.
After all, I grew up in the one of the greatest Conurbations on Earth. New York City is what it is and it doesn’t need to be explained – and I was born in Brooklyn and grew up on Long Island. Now I was doing business in towns of 1,500 or 15,000 souls in Louisiana. I’d just walk into these businesses unannounced. I discovered nearly immediately that calling them to arrange a time and date was pointless. In New York you must make a call and set a meeting – in Louisiana you sort of just showed up whenever. So, I just drove up and introduced myself and my company and said “Hi, I’m Jim Hlavac from New York City and my company Cajun Commodities promotes Louisiana, – so, what do you do?” Both of us were shocked, I assure you. But – it had to be done.
Finding these places was a learning process. New York has a rational numbering system, even mathematical, in straight lines up and down major avenues, and the numbers don’t really go higher than 1000 Madison Avenue, or 2300 Broadway. Most were in the 1 to 600 range. Now I was trying to find something like “10,456 Theriot Landry Road” somewhere several miles outside of Kinder. My New York brain looked for a certain sort of building – and I found something so different to anything I had ever seen.
These people I met would give me a tour of their place and we would each explain what we were doing. I didn’t have a set fee for anything, nor did I go in with any sense of what they needed or wanted or what I would charge them. All I knew is that this was all at the beginning stages. Many of these companies were barely 4 or 5 years old. They were almost started as a hobby, but the collapse of the oil industry sort of put the impetus to finding new ventures. The food was something they knew.
This went on for five years. I was in one place than the other, back and forth 2 to 5 weeks in one – then 2 to 5 weeks in the other. I was driving back and forth and spreading the word about Cajun foods in cities and towns, chain restaurants and seafood bistros, diners and Denny’s. I must have stopped at 1,000 places in 5 years between NYC and Louisiana.
I was hanging out in NYC at a Greenwich Village gay bar in the AIDS Wars – and a Czech Family Guy too – all the while promoting Louisiana. The bar was the Ninth Circle – everyone knew my name. I had been going there since 1976. It was a famous gay bar on West 10th Street. I wrote a book about the “controversial” subject as it’s called – why it is a “controversy” is the point of that book. I knew famous people – Rock Hudson was a drinking buddy. I partied with the Village People. Mick Jagger once joined me for several hours of good conversation. I knew Deborah Harry – Blondie to most of you. I danced with John Travolta and smooched him on the cheek too! Several times. I had a fascinating conversation with the late great Robin Williams about the inanity of television – which I had stopped watching. I have watched TV in 45 years. Certainly I’ve never owned one or had one in my house – but – you really can’t avoid them. I’ve seen them on – look at them for a few minutes and conclude once again that it’s all just inane.
In the bar I would tell my friends what I was doing in Louisiana. I brought them all sorts of stuff to try. I would haul a cooler into the bar and hand out sausages and frozen crawfish etouffee as everyone marveled at the selections. I was peppered with questions about Louisiana and Cajun food. These men were gourmands, they wanted to learn about this. They brought it to their friends. More than a few said “Hey, I know a diner up on 43rd Street that would love this!” or “My buddy has a restaurant on East 86th Street, he needs to see this.” And I’d hand them another can of seasoning.
But what was also asked in the bar was “We thought you went home to die.” For these were the mordant years of Gay Life in Greenwich Village. Just blocks from the bar men lay dying in pain and agony from AIDS at St. Vincent’s Hospital’s 7th Floor Quarantine Rooms. All of us in that bar knew we might be struck down with it at anytime. If we got it we knew we would be dead. So in this frivolity was this mordant undertone, and overtone and inner tone and a tone of death, mayhem and destruction of young men that were our friends. And I was handing out Cajun Seasoning.
On July 4th 1986 I somehow helped organize a Gay Guys’ Protest March. It was started at Sheridan Square in the West Village – it could be referred to as “Homosexual Central” by most readers – and it got to Wall Street. I have written about it at my blog.
The next year, my first 4th of July I spent in Lake Charles, was 1987. I went to the lake front where I figured there would be fireworks. There were none. There were no people. I was kind of amazed, and rather miffed. Whoever heard of a 4th of July without fireworks? That was absurd. So, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Lake Charles American-Press. That’s the city’s newspaper. I wrote about no fireworks. I said something along the lines of “the big corporate citizens of this city can surely put up $10,000 or more to give a proper celebration of the nation’s birth.” They published it. They spelled my name: “Hlvac” – egad. It was just 3 short paragraphs, I have a copy of it I think.
Anyway, the next year, when I was not there for the 4th of July – Lake Charles had its largest firework display ever, to celebrate the nation’s birth. The plants must have seen it somehow and put up the money. I found out that the city never had fireworks on Independence Day, because they blew their budget for Contraband Days. Well, I solved that problem, and until this very day, the plants or whomever puts up the money for the annual fireworks for the nation’s birthday.
But when you think about it – how Fourth of July 1986 and Fourth of July 1987 could be so different – and the impact I had on both – is simply part of this amazing story.
Meanwhile, there was the Czech family thing – even cousins from Prague visiting us. I wrote in Czech to them about what I was doing in Louisiana. I was going to family gatherings like birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, weddings, funerals too, the gamut of life of any family. Only mine is all pretty much Czech and the language was still being used. We had cousins over there – as much as New Yorkers would have cousins in California – or Louisiana even.
One day in the spring or summer of 1987 I think it was. It was whenever Charlie and Susan were getting married – that day, their anniversary. Charlie is my cousin, the grandson of my grandmother’s brother. He was marrying Susan at her ancestral “Dutch Reform” church in Albany, NY. It’s the state capital, I had been there only a few times in my life. I do not like the city. I had visited another cousin, Ginger, at Waterbury Vermont, where she was going to college. I was now driving between the two down Interstate 87 – the New York State Thruway really. I was in a rental car, cruising along on a very empty freeway. A cop zoomed up to me and pulled me over. I was in my suit pants, but had to get dressed for the wedding, which was in about 3 hours from then. I would be on time.
The cop tells me “you were going awfully fast there, sir.”
As I handed him my Lake Charles drivers license and the rental car paperwork I said in my best southern drawl “I didn’t realize cars speed up going down hills, I’m just getting used to this. I have never been here before and for some reason my cousin is marrying someone in Albany where I have to get to by 3 o’clock. In fact – how do I even get to this place?” And I handed him the invitation. I knew Louisiana better than I ever knew Upstate New York.
The man just studied that license like an ancient artifact. Flipped it over several times and examined it with a forensic eye. Most amazing how intent he was at it. “You’re from Louisiana?”
“Yes sir. And I’m on my way to my cousin’s wedding, and I’m going to start getting dressed here, because I am losing time.” So I took off my regular shirt, and put on my dress shirt and tie, and changed my socks and shoes – all while he was back at this cruiser checking it all out.
He came back with an “well, I’ll be …” look on his face.
“You’re from Lake Charles, Louisiana?”
“Yes sir, and it’s flat – we don’t have hills – and I am sorry – I am just not used to driving on them, in fact, it’s my first time.”
“No sir, it’s very flat. And, how far from this wedding place am I? They’re expecting me.”
He told me how far, maybe 25, 30 miles, and he told me exactly how to get there – and he told me to go enjoy. He gave me what he called a “warning ticket” and said “be careful.” It was something like “if you’re pulled over within 30 days this ticket is activated. If you don’t get pulled over then in 30 days it disappears. Good enough, we bid farewell and I was on my way. The wedding was wonderful. I told the family all about the adventure, gave my greetings from Ginger, who was unable to attend, and had fun. A week later I was back in Lake Charles. Charlie and Susan, by the way, are still happily married with four grown children. They live in the Boston area, I have not seen them in a long while. When Charlie lived in Dallas in 1985 I had stayed with him for a few days there. We went to a Rangers game together. We were good friends, all our lives.
Driving south to Louisiana you have several alternatives. Since I was in Astoria the best way was the Triboro to the George Washington and out I-80 all the way to Scranton where you can pick up I-81 which goes to New Orleans. It changes numbers along the way. It becomes I-40 at Knoxville Tennessee and then you get onto I-59 at Chattanooga, which goes to New Orleans. It’s a straight shot really, and I did it in all sorts of weather. In like 1988 I raced a snow storm and won. The storm was well announced in the news, I said I have things to do there I am going now, I cannot get stuck in a blizzard in New York! Esteban’s and Larry were ready and I left. The flurries started. They got heavier and I got further south and west. The snow got heavier – but then lighter as I got more south. Then the flurries and squalls followed me. I would escape the snow for a bit, then it would catch up! We were racing! This storm and I were racing down Interstate 81 and I was determined to win. The road began to get coated with snow – so I sped up – and then back to dry pavement. Then the snow came on – and I kept going and thought ‘get out of my way!’ to anyone thinking they were going to block my progress. That race with the snow lasted until northern Alabama when finally I knew I had outran it.
In these early years, 1986 to 1988 my destination in New Orleans was Cadillac Street – that’s where John Wayne Pastor and Jerry Guidry and Kyle Meyers lived. It was a one story ranch house on a dead end. John Wayne – who always is called “John Wayne” – which is his real first and middle name, but is too something to avoid yes? – anyway, he was a cook at Tony Anderson’s Seafood House in the French Quarter. This guy was an ex-football player who started with one place and tried to expand it, and got to like 4 or 5 places before it fell apart. It last about 20 years, which is not a bad run for a restaurant, actually. I met all sorts of cooks, chefs, and restaurant owners in New Orleans through John Wayne. He’s from Crowley. I’ve been a part of the Pastor family ever since. I have stayed with his parents, his brothers, I know them all – there’s dozens! I’ve been to their family compound at the southern edge of Crowley, the great rice growing town in Acadiana.
Kyle was a cellist with the symphony. Through him I met a range of musicians and venues across the city. Once or twice a month I would be at some chamber concert in someone’s house with 20 to 40 people and excellent food and drink and listen to string quartets by Handel, Mozart, Beethoven and that kind of classical music I love so much, and Kyle would be the cellist.
Jerry, well, he’s another story. He never could pull it together. A fine fellow – a great friend – always there to help – this is a good man. But, he can’t pull his life together. Thankfully he has two sisters who take care of the details like a house and food. Jerry was once so desperate that he was trying to sell an old rattle couch for $10. It would be a great couch if it ever got the care it needed. It was antique, with wood carving at the edges, and these deep cushions that if only they were recovered in a fine fabric would make this a fine piece in any antique emporium. The guys were all joking about this situation and Jerry was trying to sell it and I finally said, “Jerry, here’s $20, I’ll buy the couch, I’ll pick it up eventually. But now it’s mine, so you can’t sit on it anymore.” Everyone laughed and kidded Jerry and well, I never got the couch, but helped out a friend. For all I know he sold it again a few other times.
But, after my two day drive, that’s where I went first. There was always someone up, or ready to get up. I had the key! They told me “when you get here, we’ll see you.” Once or twice they told me they would have dinner waiting at a certain hour and I said “I am driving across the continent! Do not expect me at any time!” There was always food in the fridge that I could eat when I got there.
In 1988 I think it was, I knew there was a big job waiting at Esteban’s. I got into the city at about 8 that evening. I thought why go out to Astoria when I could get to work on this job? I knew what it required and the process and the set up – so a few hours jump on it that night would be excellent. This job would consume my next 3 weeks at least. It was doing specifications for the “North River Sewer Control System” – some such title. The engineers were Hazen & Sawyer, a major firm that no one has heard of. They build sewerage treatment plants, there specialty was – well shit. The job was to print like 1,000 copies of 1,000 pages in multiple colors in multiple volumes that specified right down to the last bolt and nut how many of every thing they needed and where they went to build a sewerage treatment plant for Manhattan. This was not a high school project.
So there I was up on the 6th floor working and every few minutes taking a peek at my car downstairs in front of the building – and I saw two guys trying to jimmy into it! I was pissed! But on the 6th Floor – and one guy against two. Well, this was a problem. The car was loaded with my clothes, business papers, food stuffs – I wanted my stuff! So I had to chase someone away from tying to break in while I was not in a good position to do so. However, I knew something they did not. A ream of paper hurled at great speed to a hard surface will make the sound of a gun shooting. So, I threw open the sash, and in a flash, was hurling reams of paper onto West 19th Street right behind those two guys. I wasn’t going to hit my car! But those echoing reports of sharp snapping sounds as ream after ream slammed down addled the fellows who ran off going “aaah.” They had no idea what the hell was happening or where it came from! However, I was rattled, and I stopped the work of the night and drove to Astoria to empty the car.
One time in the summer of 1988 I guess it was, I was pulled over on I-80 in New Jersey about 25 miles short of the George Washington Bridge. It was about 2 AM. I was tired, yes, but I had to plug on, for I wasn’t going to rent a hotel room in New Jersey 35 miles from my house! I had coffee, I was good, I was puddling along at the speed limit in the right lane avoiding everyone passing me with ease. A little 4 cylinder Pinto just does not zoom, it piddles, puddles, plumps along like a fat puppy. There wasn’t a lot of traffic at that hour. It was a clear night, excellent visibility and I was on my way home from my other home in Louisiana. And a cop pulls me over.
“You were weaving,” he says.
“I am a bit tried, I’m just going home to Astoria, Queens.”
His eyes were “wow” as he said “But you have a Louisiana license plate!” He said it with wonder. His voice was in a “what the hell?” tone.
“Yes I do sir, I am from Lake Charles, Louisiana,” I said as I handed him my driver’s license, “and I live in Astoria Queens – and …”
He just was gaped mouth as I explained the situation. He stopped me. “Do you have any guns in the car?”
“Yes, do you have any rifles or pistols or ammunition in the car?”
He was quite serious.
“No, no guns at all.” Then I sort of laughed. “You think you got a gun totin’ redneck, don’t you? No, I’m a native New Yorker who owns a company promoting Louisiana in New York. Here, let me give you a business plan,” and I opened up my briefcase and gave him a copy of my finely printed business plan with a nice logo and color cover. “See, I’m just going home, and I’ve been driving since Johnson City, Tennessee where I had spent the night. It’s a two day drive from there to here. I have 35 miles to go, that’s it.” I smiled big! “You may search the car to see if I have any guns, if that would help.”
He looked at the business plan and flipped through it and wondered and said “Uh, no, I guess I don’t have to search the car.”
“Thanks, but, I have a can of Cajun seasoning if you want, it’s in the trunk.”
“Um, sure, I guess.”
So I got out of the car finally, walked to the truck, and took out a can of Louisiana Fish Fry Seasoning and gave it to the man. He looked at it and I told him how he should sprinkle it here and there on foods – but not too much. I told him “try just a little the first time, to see how hot you like it.”
He thanked me and then said “I want you to take a rest here, a nap even. Rest here for no less than one hour, two would be better. I know it’s late, but I want you to get home alive. I will radio the station to tell them not to bother you.”
“Um, sure, thanks, yeah, I will, that’s a good idea.”
He called into the station and told them the deal “Little Red Pinto from Louisiana, he’s taking a rest, I checked him out, he’s OK, leave him be, he’ll be there about 2 hours.”
It is not allowed to just park on I-80 in New Jersey for a nap, I assure you.
We parted pleasantly, he with the plan and can, and I took a nap. Two hours later much refreshed I continued homeward.
In 1988 a series of events that meshed together in fortuitous bounty for all involved came to be. First, my Pinto had died in New Haven, Connecticut. I was there pushing Cajun foods to the locals, and my friend Craig – so important to this story – was at Yale – and it was cold – and a cylinder just up and died that day. The car would not move. At a garage they said “It’s dead.” I said “Totally?” “Yes.” Dang, that meant I had no car! First I had to figure out a way to get back to NYC, but that was easy, the commuter rail was there. Then it was – what do I do with this car? The garage in which it sat up on the lift said “We’ll buy it from you, right now, $400, but you need to get us the legal title and …” and I cut them off. “Sold!” I smiled. “I have to go to Long Island to get the title.” “Good, let’s get this done.” So I left the car there and took the long series of trains back to my mom’s house in Baldwin where I was helping here move out of it so she could retire to Florida for she could no longer drive at all. She had this 1986 Oldsmobile Calais. She had bought it “new” (eh, 5 months old I think) and now she could not use it.
A few days later I was back in New Haven at the garage after a tortuous hours long journey on multiple rail systems and I handed over the paperwork on the Pinto and left it there and took my money and left. Then I finished moving my mother to Florida which process I need not go into here. Then my mom bought a brand new Oldsmobile for my sister and gave me the title to the Calais and my sister came and got here car and I got mine and we all were settled in this “we’ll be in Florida regularly to help mom and grandma” reality and got on with life. I drove that car with temporary Florida tags to Lake Charles, met all the guys who came out to admire the car and now I had a new fancy car to get around Louisiana in.
Then I was up in New Jersey – on the Garden State Turnpike – with my good friend Carl Bednarz long of Esteban’s – and we were going to his “camp” as I called it from Louisiana usage in Fort Republic – down near the Jersey Shore, or pine barrens – I don’t know. I knew Louisiana – not New Jersey. Carl was directing me, I was driving. The two lane highway was packed. It was high summer times of travel to resorts. The cop I saw coming at me from half a mile back. He had to weave in and out of traffic to catch me. I saw him in my rear view mirror. I said “Carl, that cop is going to pull us over.” Carl looked back and said “You think so?”
“Yes, he thinks he’s got some crazed Louisiana rednecks, and he aims to find out about us.”
Carl was incredulous.
“The car has Louisiana tags,” I said.
“Oh,” Carl said in understanding.
The cop finally caught up – it took him some doing. He risked lives, frankly, in zooming in and out of traffic to catch me. I watched him the whole way as he approached and then turned on his lights. I pulled over immediately of course. I had nothing to hide. He came up on the passengers side and said “Is this car legal?”
I told Carl “The papers are in the glove compartment, give them to the officer,” and I handed over my Lake Charles drivers license.
The officer took this all and with a smug smirk on this Sunday morning and said with condescension “If I call Louisiana all this will be in order and correct, you have insurance, registration .. blah blah” He was quite confrontational. Carl sat there wondering, for he could have no idea about any of it.
I looked that cop steely in the eye and said “You can’t call Louisiana now, it’s Sunday morning, the motor vehicle department is not open. They don’t give tickets on Sunday mornings – people are going to church. And I am heading to my friend’s summer home – and Carl here can explain that.”
Carl smiled weakly and said “I have a trailer in Fort Republic,” and the cop was “huh?”
Then the cop asked if we had any guns. I said “Officer you can search every inch of this vehicle and you will find no guns.”
“But if I call Louisiana they’ll tell me this car is legal?” he asked.
“No sir, you cannot call Louisiana now – they don’t work on Sunday mornings – we go to church.”
He was just dumb-fuddled. And gave up. And said “Have a nice day, be careful.”
Both Carl and I said “Thank you officer, you too.”
I got my paperwork and license back and we were on our way.
Carl asked me “Are like the cops really closed on Sundays?”
I shot him a look – “You bet – it’s church day – you can’t get a ticket going to or from church.”
We had a good laugh about this – and I spent two nights at this trailer in the woods of Fort Republic.
A week later I was going down some rural highway in Louisiana.
For five years – back and forth – every 2 to 5 weeks.
It was quite a life – I assure you
February 5th 2018
My Dear Ms. Williams,
Lucinda if I may …. ma’am – my dear lady – I have a reason to get back to Lake Charles – I talk about it all the time. I can go on and on.
I will be 60 years old on May 13th 2018. I shall hold a grand party in Manhattan New York City – because I am indeed from Long Island and New York. I was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Most of my family and dearest friends live there to this day. I was a printer in Manhattan for many years.
You shall present a concert on March 15th 2018 at the Beacon Theater in New York. When I was 16 years old I heard Queen there at that theater – just as “Bohemian Rhapsody” came out.
I am of Bohemian and Moravian heritage – that is – all four of my grandparents are from the Czech lands – and arrived here between 1898 and 1921. Bohemia and Moravia are the two halves of the Czech lands, where I still have cousins to this day, to whom I speak to in Czech. They do not speak English.
You are from Lake Charles, Louisiana. This is a city so dear to my heart as I shall endeavor to explain. You wrote a song called “Lake Charles” – and friends in NYC told me about it – and they said “This song is about you!” Because it is: they knew it, I know it – you are now learning how. On Friday May 10th 1985 I first set foot in Lake Charles. Monday May 13th was my 27th birthday that year, I spent it in New Orleans. A few months later in July I got my first drivers license in Lake Charles at the age of 27 – on Clarence Street. For years I lived at 615 Kirkman Street – next to the Church of the Good Shepherd. For a long while I lived at 609 Alamo Street. For a decade I bought my boudin at Abe’s on Kirkman at 7th Street. Your song – my dear lady – is about me – but you didn’t know that when you wrote it.
However, you did write that song about me. Except – well, I am not from Nacogdoches, Texas – I am from Brooklyn and Long Island, New York. I did not drive a Yellow El Camino – but a Red Ford Pinto. I did not listen to Howlin’ Wolf – but anything KLSU played. And a lot of classical music.
But other than that – every word of your song “Lake Charles” is about me. I could ‘go on and on’ about it. An angel lifted me by the wings and brought me there.
I used to drive to Lafayette and Baton Rouge – and Shreveport and Bogalusa, Kaplan, Abbeville, Alexandria and Slidell. Everywhere. I drove everywhere. Through 60 parishes I went, business by business, important person by anyone I met. 10,000s of people.
But my soul is in Lake Charles – no matter what they say –
I have a reason to get back there – I always said Louisiana was where I felt at home.
I liked to tell everyone I was from Lake Charles.
You see, after a lifetime of New York a friend there who had moved to Lake Charles – a good friend of mine induced me to go to Lake Charles for a 5 day birthday trip. His name is Craig Campbell. You can reach him at … and he will explain.
That first day there I met John Barbry – a native of the city as much as you – I am friends with him today – you can reach him at ….. Ask him about the conversation about “the Buck for a NYC subway ride.” But he can tell you about my time there.
I continued working at a printing company – A. Esteban, now at West 35th Street in Manhattan – but I used their offices as mine – for my company “Cajun Commodities Corporation” – you can ask Carl Bednarz at …. – he will explain that part.
And I was roommates with Larry Newman – in Astoria Queens – as I went back and forth between there and Lake Charles – and you can speak to him at ….. – and he will tell you stories of me.
These four men will vouch for what I claim.
I also give you some photos – one an article about my plans for Southwest Louisiana published in Lagniappe in Lake Charles in 1987. Another in BIC magazine in 1993 about economic development in Imperial Calcasieu. Still another in the New Orleans Times-Picayune about Crawfish in 1997.
Also there’s a picture of my red Pinto with Texas plates – on my mom’s driveway in Baldwin Long Island – the next trip I got the plates changed to Louisiana. Also a picture of my Czech cousins in Prague – you will see the Texas plate over their shoulder on the wall.
I also included the text as written so far – not done by any means, and mistakes of memory too as I pull this all together – of what I did in Lake Charles and Louisiana – as well as the cover of my book about my “hlife” there. It is titled “Catalyst!” – for I was indeed the catalyst of the nationwide Cajun and Creole food industry – and for Louisiana itself.
There’s also pictures of me as the creator of the first statewide Louisiana music directory.
Finally there’s a picture of me as a young man with products I helped create.
For as odd as it sounds – and I know it sounds nuts – I was the catalyst for modern Louisiana. I still maintain the Tunica Biloxi nation’s Pow Wow website, www.tunicapowwow.org
– you can go to “contacts” and find my name. I went down all the Louisiana highways – and across Lake Pontchartrain. I know roads that natives like you say “Egad, does this go anywhere?” and I get them through it and they say “How do you know?” I answer – “I know every road.” I did.
Which is why your song “Lake Charles” is about me.
I have a rather – um – outrageous request! I would like you to – there in NYC at the Beacon theater – in honor of my 60th birthday – to recast your song “Lake Charles” to reflect me – to be truly about me – which requires only changing the birthplace of the fellow, the car he drove and the music he listened to – to me. The rest is already me.
To show you more of my contribution to Louisiana – I refer you to “A Hidden Impact: The Czechs Slovaks of Louisiana from the 1720s to today” and “C-Note, 8 months in a New Orleans Dive Bar.” Two books available on Amazon.
So – for my 60th birthday there in the city of my birth, at a theater of my teens – I would like you to recast and record your song “Lake Charles” to reflect me – be truly about me – as it almost is to 90%.
Call my friends I give numbers for – my number is …. Research me in Louisiana – who knows what one might find. The 100 pages or so of my story I send you now is just the outline of what I am writing about my 25 years in Louisiana.
But I ask you – please – recast that song – that wondrous song about me – “Lake Charles” – to be more accurate – there in March 2018 in New York City – the city of my birth – for my birthday.
In one of your videos you speak about some lady who can’t listen to some song – and you say “but that’s the point” – it’s “Ugly Proof” – well, I got Pretty Proof – about me and Lake Charles.
Well, my dear lady, no matter what – your song “Lake Charles” – is about me. Thanks. Indeed – when my book about my times there in Louisiana is ready – if you would write the foreword, I would love that, I really would. Your song is that special to me.
I would love you – on that day – March 15th 2018 – a few weeks from now – to make that song “Lake Charles” truly about me – and play it and record it there at the Beacon Theater – and make this circle complete.
Thank you very much.
Btw – my name is pronounced “Lah-vick” – the H is silent in English.
Well, I can only ask – let me know. Thanks – with a great admiration for that song … “Lake Charles” … which is about me – The Czech New York Printer – who was the catalyst for Louisiana – operating out of Lake Charles and New York City.
In the Spring of 1988 I met Bob Odom. He was the Commissioner of Agriculture. He had been in the position for like 2 decades, maybe even reaching into three of them. He was a fixture in the firmament of government. I had heard of him, but had no dealings with him. I met him at a function at the Department of Agriculture’s headquarters on Florida Boulevard in Baton Rouge. Carl Turner with the Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board had induced me to go. There was a crowd of about 100 people in the lobby of the building. There was a buffet table laid out. There was an open bar. It was a feel good convention for political appointees. There were lots of Department of Agriculture employees and members of this and that commission. The Louisiana Logo Commission was there, those hapless people unable after years to come up with a statewide logo.
He mumbled some nonsense at the podium and nobody seemed to listen to him. I stood there wondering what was the point of this man. He spoke of corn yields, a pounds of cotton per acre, and a dash about pepper production. He was worthless. He got done speaking and the crowd had a collective quiet sigh and headed for the bar and the buffet.
Mr. Odom headed into the crowd.
I had stood next to Mr. Turner and he said to me, “You have to meet this fellow.”
Carl edged me closer to the star of the show and said “Mr. Odom, this is Mr. Hlavac, you two should talk.”
“What about?” Mr. Odom inquired.
“Cajun food,” Carl said.
Mr. Odom was haughty. “What do you know about Cajun food?” he asked with a slimy tone.
“I know there’s some 300 Cajun food companies, what do you do?” I was testy.
“My job is to promote Louisiana agricultural products,” he said in this tone of “who do you think I am?”
“I promote Cajun food,” I said, “with my company Cajun Commodities Corporation.”
“Where are you from?” he asked. My accent could not be hid. Nor did I hide it.
“New York City,” I replied. “And Lake Charles.”
“Yeah, I live in Lake Charles and New York City.”
Other people came to join our mild confrontation.
“Mr. Odom, Jim here is something else,” said someone with the rice farmers group.
He said “How so?”
“Listen to him about Cajun food,” said someone with the crawfisher men.
“Really?” The man was incredulous.
“Mr. Odom – you two need to talk,” said still a third fellow in the growing clutch.
Mr. Odom was used to being the center of attention. He was the Commissioner of Agriculture after all, lo those many years. He was used to being quoted and lauded. Now there were people telling him that I was someone to be reckoned with. He wasn’t buying it. There were maybe 6 or 8 of us in a group, a conversation, and they were all telling Mr. Odom “you have to have a meeting with this guy.”
Mr. Odom looked at me with disdain. “Well, who are you? What do you do?” He was not nice.
I said “Mr. Odom, my business is promoting Cajun food. I have gone to some 300 Cajun food companies to help them become professional and …”
He cut me short. “300 Cajun food producers?” He was shocked!
“Yeah, more or less, why?”
“Where did you find them?”
“I drove up and down highways in Acadiana, why?”
“You have a list?”
“Yeah, in detail.”
Carl Turner said “Mr. Odom – you have to meet with this guy and have a conversation.”
Every other person in that small clutch of 6 or 8 people said pretty much the same thing.
So he reluctantly agreed. He was a busy fellow, and he set the time and place. His office, a week from then. He had his henchman write it down. He was dismissive of everything the people said to him, and more dismissive of what I said.
A week later I was ushered into his office. It was big and fancy and dark wood with big windows. He sat imperially behind this huge desk and deigned to meet me. He was surely puzzled that he was told by so many to spend some moments with me. This man looked at me with squinting questioning eyes. “What can I help you with?” he said, lording his power over me.
Then I told him what I did. I had brought my book of contacts. I had a thick notebook with the business cards of 300 Cajun food companies. I let him look through it. “These are the people I spoke with,” I said.
He looked at it with stunned avarice. “Where do I get a copy of this?”
“You pay be $10,000,” I told him.
He asked me how I had gathered this information. I told him about my driving up and down every highway in Acadiana. He was amazed. Seems he had no idea this was going on. The poor fellow was pissed actually. He was not happy at all. He made it clear that somehow I was stepping on his bailiwick. I made it clear to him that I didn’t give a damn what he thought. I told him that he was a waste of time and effort. I told him “Sir, there is a Cajun market in this nation if it is done right.”
He told me he didn’t think any such thing was possible.
I was pissed. The man in charge of agricultural growth in the state – was clueless as to the potential of Cajun – and Creole – foods.
This man was clueless! And worse – jealous that I put together the list I showed him.
He badgered me again for the list. I told him again the price.
He all but told me I owed it to him. I made it clear it was my life’s work, my job, my joy, my existence.
Oh, it was tense. It did not end on a pleasant note. And I realized that a major player in the game was against me. I was miffed to say the least. For what I had done was far more than the Department of Agriculture had done – and it’s head was not for me.
I continued on my way. Mr. Odom and I had very few dealings after this, though I met him from time to time. I could not be avoided after all. I was shunted to some flunky in a cubicle. Still, my connection with the Department continued.
One day I chose to go down the length of Highway 14. It starts in Lake Charles and goes south and then east through the very southern reaches of the state all the way to New Iberia 75 miles away. It crosses Jefferson Davis Parish – before the most of it in Vermillion parish, spitting out at the other end in New Iberia. I got up in the morning, Danny and the guys went off to work, and I drove off. I had a list of around 10 companies with products on the shelves at Abe’s. I was going to visit them. None of them knew I was coming.
The first one was in Holmwood, more a settlement than a town, and maybe some 20 miles south of Lake Charles. Some guy was making a green hot sauce there. I found the place, which wasn’t easy, because it was a small shed behind the guy’s house. I expected a business, I found a hobby. He was – or had been – in the oil industry. He was unemployed now, hanging on, and trying something new. It was his mother’s recipe, or maybe several generations before her. I walked into the shed to find the man at work. I gave him my card and explained my purpose. His labels were typed, then copied, and taped on the bottles. The name, something like “Landry’s Green Picante Sauce”was in capital letters, the rest was lower case. There was an ink splotch of the silhouette of the state as his logo. He showed me his “plant” as he called it. It was barely 2,000 square feet, maybe. It was more shed than factory.
He had about 200 lbs of green peppers in a heap in the corner, and gallons of vinegar and bins and cans of various spices. He was smashing and mashing and adding and tasting when I walked in. He was a one man operation. “Sometimes the wife helps,” he said, “Mostly putting the labels on.” Only they weren’t ‘labels’ in any professional sense. I had my notebook with me, as I always did. I drew him up some logo ideas. Showed him how colors should be added. How he should get them printed professionally. I wrote up his ingredient list from most to least as they are done, which he didn’t seem to realize was normal. I wrote a blurb about the family recipe. We talked for a good 2 hours about his business, what he hoped to achieve and how that might happen. He didn’t want to go national. Regional was good enough for him. As I came to joke, many of these people wanted to earn just enough to buy a bass boat and a new pickup truck to pull it. Maybe two, three months later, my buddy at Abe’s showed me the guy’s new label. Oh, he followed my advice. He didn’t pay me cash, I didn’t ask. But I did walk away with a dozen bottles of the stuff. I met him once at a food show, 10 years later, in Lafayette – he had done well enough for himself.
Then I was off to Gueydan. Only, Hayes is in the way, and there’s a 90 degree dogleg in the highway, so you sort of have to stop there. I didn’t know about this place. I pulled into the town at this intersection and there straight in front of me I saw this huge 20 foot high crawfish statue on a poll on the front lawn of a business there. One of those combined businesses that are scattered across the state. It was a bar. It was a restaurant. It was a store! And it made its own sausages and boudin. I stopped there and went in. It was a very strange environment. In one big open space were all these purposes. The store part had shelves with products like any convenience store. Chips, snacks, soups, quick meals, cans of chili, and some of those hand labeled Cajun products. There was a cooler and meat case like at a deli for the perishables; they would make you a po’boy in a flash. You could take it to go or eat it right there, they had a few tables set up. There was a beer and soda cooler. Behind that, beyond a half wall, was a bar with liquor bottles and a mirror at the back and stools – a bar! There was a small stage too.
I spoke to the folks there for about one hour, they weren’t even the owners, not even a manager, but like, the guy in charge at the moment, and a few of the staff. I had a beer with them. They were happy just the way they were. They had no dreams, hopes or plans for expansion. They did, though, like my ideas for placing ads in Lagniappe in Lake Charles, and the Lafayette weeklies too. Bringing people to the bar and to the music interested them very much. Why they had never sought to advertise or get mentioned in the calendar lists in the two large cities east and west of them for upcoming events I do not know. But, they began to do so. They became this sort of ‘go to’ place for Zydeco and honky-tonk and clanky-clank Cajun music. It became artsy, in a way, though, not too much of course. They did not hang ferns, I assure you. I told Lagniappe to do an article on the place – and they did. Over the years I was probably there 15 times. Their grocery selections were bigger, and their Cajun products fancier, and their deli offerings more eclectic, but their music and bar stayed the same, but were filled now every night. They became this night club that was well known, and people were willing to drive the 45 minutes to get there. Tourists came by. It developed nicely, yet kept its character, which is what they wanted to do.
I got to Gueydan and met with some crawfish processors. They were selling sacks at Abe’s in Lake Charles – and they were selling peeled tails there too. You can buy crawfish in one of two ways. There’s live crawfish by the sack – and you boil them yourself. Or you can buy one or two pound packages of peeled crawfish. The sacks are easy. The sweet thing is if you chill the sacks of creepy crawling crawfish to about 50 degrees – they go to sleep. They squirm a bit, but, they’re asleep. So sacks of the things – each weighing 20 to 50 pounds – are kept in coolers. Easier to control them that way. They wake up as you take them home. These plants were at the edge of rice fields. Rice and crawfish grow together nicely. Only this was not really known until the late 1960s, early 1970s it took off. By the time I showed up nearly all rice fields were also given over to raising crawfish. For the previous oh, 250 years, it was wild crawfish that were caught and consumed. There was a season, and the mudbugs just were out there to be gathered. Someone figured out that if you pour a family or two of crawfish into a rice field – you will get a crawfish convention, and then you can harvest them.
There are thousands of acres of rice fields in Vermillion Parish – and the surrounding parishes. South Louisiana is prime rice growing land – or watery land. Lake Charles, in fact, is the nation’s largest rice exporting port. It’s a weed there. But it is intensive work, for each rice plug must be planted individually. It’s mechanized now of course, but it was done by hand, by slaves at first, and then after the fall of Saigon – by Vietnamese. South Louisiana resembles the Mekong River delta southeast of Saigon in Vietnam – that country of major contention in this world – it is flat, marshy, rice-driven, hot sticky humid and on and on. The deltas of the Mekong and Mississippi are amazingly alike. Those who got to escape settled in South Louisiana. The Catholic Church brought in the first, probably with no recognition of the similarities between the mouths of two great rivers – and the word spread, and there are now at least 200,000 people of Vietnamese heritage from Lake Charles to East New Orleans.
Vietnamese ladies moved into the crawfish peeling industry. Peeling crawfish is labor intensive. People for years tried to invent a machine to do it, but no one succeeded. The crawfish are boiled first – in huge vats. 1000 gallon vats! Then they are spilled out on to a yard wide stainless steel table, maybe 20, up to 50 feet long. Some plants that were bigger had 2 or 4 tables – 2 facing each other. There’s a trough at the back, with a drop to a garbage bin. There were bins behind them, ready to get the meat. The ladies stand there and start peeling. Crawfish are tiny lobsters – they are crustaceans. Though, while the meat of lobster claws is substantial, it is nothing from crawfish. It’s the tail meat that is the prize, and the head fat. You have to twist the body in half, then peel the tail shell off. It’s not easy at first, but quickly one becomes proficient. These ladies were speed demons. They all chatted amiably in Vietnamese as they worked, and the owners said “beats us, they do their jobs well.”
Several months later I was back there talking to a crawfish farmer. He had given up on rice, or really, made that his secondary crop. He was pumping out crawfish, for that’s where the money was. Rice is labor intensive, crawfish just wander around making babies. He had a 4 table peeling operation going on. He was experimenting with an etoufee recipe. I sent him to LSU and the agricultural extension service to work on his ideas. He took me out on a boat to collect the crawfish. It was a small Cajun skiff, a type of flat bottomed boat with a small motor that rode high in the water – for the water is not deep in a rice field. They set out traps, baited with chicken parts, that rot, and the crawfish love the detritus and crawl in, and can’t get out. You cruise through the ponds – acres of them – and pick up the traps and dump the crawfish into bins on the boat and go to the next trap. I spent maybe 2 hours out there. It’s backbreaking work. The traps are maybe 10 pounds of steel mesh, the crawfish another 20 or 30 pounds.
You still can’t buy frozen Crawfish Etoufee meals in a supermarket like you can almost any other cuisine. You can find Asian and Mexican and Italian and Polish and so on – but Cajun? Nope. There is something about crawfish that do not allow it. Sad to say.
To make etoufee you need peeled crawfish. The problem is peeling them – and then making the etoufee – and then! – making it a product that can be sold. There seems to be no way yet. Canning it was tried, and failed. Bottling it was tried, and failed. Freezing it in bags was tried, and failed. There is something about the roux and cream that breaks down in these processes. Plus, crawfish are delicate. They are not hardy like shrimp. Not at all. Shrimp you can freeze for months – and they are fine. Crawfish last about one month, then turn to mush. It is a fresh crop, and that’s the problem.
I got to Kaplan and met the mayor. It’s a “big” town for that area. Has a downtown even, even if just about 6 or 7 blocks long and a block wide. There’s maybe 30 businesses, 40 at tops. I parked and went for a stroll through it. I stopped in the office supply place – they always knew local businesses of course. Turned out to be the mayor. Didn’t know if he owned it or worked there – or was just there for something else. We all got to talking. There were several gentlemen there. They were as fascinated as I was about the fact that my grandmother Ludmila’s maiden name was Kaplan – and so was this town.
They didn’t have much going for them. But, they did have a few honky tonk saloons and quite a number of bands. They had rice and crawfish too. So I told them to get listed on the Lafayette music calendar listings and to work on the crawfish angle.
I went on to Abbeville where I met with more crawfish farmers, and a few sausage companies, and a hot sauce plant. This place was bustling. It was big compared to Kaplan, Gueydan and Hayes. Why, this was a city! I went to the chamber of commerce. They shared an office with the tourist commission. They had no idea what they were doing. They thought bringing people in from Kaplan and New Iberia, barely 20 miles away in each direction, was bringing people in. We had a meeting right then and there, about a dozen of us. I told them people from New York and Chicago and Atlanta would love to come here.
“Why?” they asked with amazement.
“Because it’s unique. You all need to band together and take out an ad in some fancy Atlanta travel journal. You have restaurants, historic homes, a historic district …”
“Historic district?” They were confused.
I said “The entire downtown core of this place is historic! Don’t you know that?”
They did not. To them it was home. It was the way things always were. But there, on street after street was this incredible architecture – sprinkled with restaurants, gardens, parks, boutiques, antique stores and more. It was this tourist midden. They had no idea. Within a year they had a thing going.
The day done, I got to New Iberia and had some dinner at some restaurant where I quickly gave them some suggestions for a better menu and then I headed up to Lafayette for the interstate and the drive home.