Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Mt. Evans

Mt. Evans
August 2015

Mt. Evans is unique in many aspects, mostly because one can drive on a paved road to a 14,150' elevation visitor's center.  This leads to a well-maintained and relatively short walkway to the 14,264' summit.   We chose a more challenging route.

Mt. Evans is also the rockiest of the Rockies with which I've gotten up close and personal.  The top 1,000' consists of a pile of unimaginably large boulders.  Near the summit one could behold a boulder the size and shape of a small office building cantilevered into space.  We wondered with amazement at the geological magic that made this possible.  At lower elevations we passed rocks resembling windswept sculptures, almost as if they were cast out of bronze.  One boulder formed a perfectly shaped rock bridge about ten feet long and two feet wide.   Slipping off the uphill side would take you down a few feet into a darkened cavern. A misstep towards the downhill slope would have required a helicopter rescue or recovery.

We chose Mt. Evans thinking it would be the 'easiest' of those not yet hiked by our group of four.  The website describes a route with a relatively modest 2,000' ascent, a 5.5 mile roundtrip, and an exposure (to danger) rating of 2 (on a scale of 4).  The trailhead was nearly 500' above the tree line eliminating the often, soggy slog through the tundra.  A cakewalk, I unwisely thought, although wisely concealing any hint of hubris.  Mt. Elbert, in contrast, features a 4,100' ascent and an 8.5-mile roundtrip from trailhead to summit.  But we were younger then.

We left our motel in Georgetown at 5:15 am and drove the 30 miles to the trailhead, arriving in time to see the city lights of Denver give way to the rising sun.  The headlights provided a narrow view of the road, cloaking the surrounding terrors of hairpin turns on shelf roads giving way to steep drops.  Like other roads to 14er trailheads, there were no guardrails.  On the return trip I tried to comfort myself by silently calculating how many times our Ford Explorer would roll before hitting a boulder or reaching the bottom.

Three veterans and one rookie formed this year's climbing team.  With seven 14ers under my belt, most of the anxiety associated with the unknown had dissipated.  My worries were confined to the questions of training, body parts, and weather.  Had I prepared sufficiently?  Will the weather hold?"

We followed the forecasts and radar closely, which indicated there would a window from sunrise to 1 pm before the rains began, providing sufficient time for the round trip, absent any misfortune.  The sky was regrettably red, as we were all familiar with the sailors' ditty, "red sky in the morning, sailors take warning." Rain squalls showered Denver and the plains to the east, and dark clouds dominated the western horizon.  It was windy and cold, 30 mph winds and temps in the high 30's.  We assembled our gear and departed.

The views were possibly the most majestic of those I've experienced.  We hiked through a pea soup mindful of the movie The Hound of the Baskervilles, but the misting clouds opened periodically yielding sightings of the nearby craggy peaks and verdant valleys below. 

Early in the climb we began to express doubts about the '2' rating assigned to Mt. Evans on the website.  We encountered a succession of rock walls requiring us to secure our hiking poles to our packs and climb hand over hand.  Shannon, a fit veteran of nine 14ers and the strongest in the team, proclaimed, "This is real mountaineering.  I love it."

During the periodic breaks in the clouds, we would garner a glimpse of Mt. Spalding, elevation 13,842', over which we would pass en route to Mt. Evans.  Somewhere around 13,000' the trail disappeared, and we subsequently relied exclusively on cairns.  They varied from a few fist-sized rocks to those resembling a mini-temple.  They were not always easy to spot, so we spread out and called to one another when we identified the path.

We crossed several false summits before finally reaching the top of Mt. Spalding.  It was unusual to actually ascend the summit of Spalding, rather than passing by a shoulder.  The reason quickly became apparent, as there were no shoulders.  We then hiked down about 1,000' to the saddle between the two peaks, and made a mental adjustment to the website notation of a 2,000' ascent.  It started to mist, and I put on my rain pants.   The wind was ferocious with periodic gusts that would push you off your feet.  Everyone's hands and feet were cold, in spite of the high level of exertion.  I was fortunate to be wearing heavy-duty ski gloves and three layers of clothing.  I never once broke into a sweat.

We encountered a young man returning to the trailhead after his trip to the summit.  He had to have started several hours before daylight.  We learned he was a firefighter at Ft. Sill, OK, and he looked the part.  We were two hours into the hike and figured we had to be covering ground at 1 mph putting us close to the end.  "You're about half way,' he said, and our hearts sank.

So we marched on.  Shannon was hiking in the lead a few paces ahead of me when we reached the first of several false summits.  I heard her exclaim, "Holy crap!"  When I joined her, we beheld an intimidating view of a boulder field knifing skyward into the clouds.  A large cairn was visible leading directly towards the edge of the knife.  I entertained thoughts of retreat, as this route appeared to be beyond my abilities, and I was worried about the increasing likelihood of an unwelcomed rainstorm.  We were comforted somewhat as we climbed down to the cairn, and viewed a second marking revealing a less dangerous passageway along the steep shoulder of the boulder field.  Fortunately, we had crossed to the lee side of the mountain providing relief from the constant assault of the wind.

On the few occasions when the clouds would break, we garnered a view of Mt. Bierstadt to the west and a large mountain lake several thousand feet below.  Because of our relatively slow pace, we were now being passed by a handful of younger climbers.  They greeted us warmly before speeding ahead.

It took a little over 4 hours to reach the summit.  Oddly, we descended several hundred feet into the Mt. Evan's parking lot, and walked a few hundred yards to a well-maintained path leading to the final 100' ascent to the summit.  The enjoyment of the view and feeling of accomplishment was in no way diminished by sharing the moment with motorists.  While taking pictures of the panorama we conspicuously avoided the incongruous green pump truck parked near the highest public toilets in North America.

We visited with a park ranger, who told us that sleet and snow were fast approaching.  He recommended that we hitch a ride down.  Needing little encouragement, we did. 

Trip captain Fred, now a veteran of 18 such climbs, is six weeks shy of his 75th birthday.  His wife, Linda, 72, successfully completed her first 14er.  Shannon and I were the relative youngsters.  Fred later summarized, "I thought I selected a relatively less difficult 14er, Mt. Evans, for Linda's first.  Wrong!  The weather was cold, extremely windy, and foggy.  The trail was rated a class 2, but it was really a significantly more difficult 3 as the last half-mile crossed a steep boulder field.  We were often on all fours getting up and around the big rocks.  Fortunately, she handled it well."

The ride down the mountain was predictably horrifying, and again Shannon said it best, "I feel very good about myself after doing this."  All agreed, and amazingly, we started planning our 2016 climb.  Lord willing.

p.s.  The hike was undertaken on August 27.   Aspen leaves and ferns were already losing their color.  Surprisingly, wildflowers were still in bloom at the higher elevations.  The picture below of a living bouquet was taken in a cranny of granite at 14,050'.


I recently read a letter from a friend about the daughter of an acquaintance whose book has now sold 2 million copies.  NNAOPP is only 1.9985 million shy of her staggering achievement, and if the current pace of sales continues, I should reach that level well before the next ice age.

That's it for now.


Charles A. Wells, Jr.
3317 W. 68th Street
Shawnee Mission, KS 66208
816 289-1924
Author of: Nude Nuns and Other Peculiar People
Now available at and
Available at:
  Rainy Day Books, 2706 W. 53rd Street, Fairway, KS
  Sanibel Island Bookshop, 1571 Periwinkle, Sanibel, FL
  Twisted Sisters Eclectic Gifts and Floral, Albany, MO

  Bruce Smith Drug Store, Prairie Village, KS 

Monday, June 8, 2015

June 2015 Update

June 2015


Recently my inexorable journey to geezerhood took on an unexpected and unwelcomed hastening.  After enjoying a wine tasting dinner with friends at the Capital Grille, we were standing on a curb awaiting our ride.  Two attractive youngish ladies were also waiting, so we chatted. Then a giant of a man approached, presumably the husband or boyfriend of one of the women and said rudely, "Say goodbye to the old-timer. Let's get out of here."  Ouch!  If his intent was to wound, it worked.  When I think of old-timers I'm thinking Marjorie Main, not me.

My 73-year-old barber is a chatty fellow and is appropriately named Windy.  He is also a gifted musician and performer, and he has encouraged me in my banjo pursuits.  I sought his counsel on how to counter my stage fright problems, and he shared this comforting story:  "I was 15 when I first performed in front of a fairly large audience.  I was playing lead guitar on a slow blues tune, and you can't hide from your mistakes on a slow blues tune. I got off a beat and panicked and couldn't get back in sync with the rest of the band.  I stopped, started over, but it was too late.  When it was time to exit I noticed a pretty woman in her 20's waiting to come onstage to perform.  She smiled sympathetically at me, and I thought, 'maybe it wasn't as bad as I thought.'  But she put her arm around me and said, 'I really felt for you out there.'  I was crushed by her kindness."

Pretend farming

It was a warm, windy spring morning, and I headed out to the land we own near Eudora, KS for a day of pretend farming.  I hooked up a 6' brush cutter to my John Deere 5075E and began mowing on a patch of high ground that happens to be the second highest elevation in Douglas County.  The added height of the tractor enhanced the already pleasing views of the Kansas River valley to the north, Blue Mound to the west, and the greening, rolling farms and fields to the south.  As an added treat I watched a thunderstorm form in the southwest and felt the fringe of the nearby squall.  Majestic cumulonimbus clouds were unleashing gray sheets of rain on my neighbors' fields.  It was clear that the contained storm was going to pass by to the south and west leaving me sitting in the sun.  It was morel season, and a quick downpour would most likely have brought out a burst of the flavorful fungi.  Still the sweet smell of the spring rain wafted my way.  We are fortunate to live in such a beautiful part of the world.

One of my favorite pretend farming pastimes is problem solving.  Virtually all the problems I solve are those I create, so I shouldn't be running out of challenges anytime soon.  On one occasion I backed my mower into a concealed stump bending the heavy-duty steel housing inward thus impeding the 1/4" thick swinging blade revolving at 540 rpm.  The clanging of metal on metal made it clear that I had done some serious damage. After uttering a few bad words and thinking to myself, 'I wish I hadn't a done that', I shut everything down and proceeded to address the problem.  After a bit of pondering, I returned to the barn, drilled a 1/2" hole in the dented area, and inserted an eye bolt.  Then I positioned the mower, still attached to the tractor, at an appropriate angle near a large tree.  I hooked a come-along to the eye bolt at one end and to a heavy chain wrapped around the tree.  For added leverage I placed a 3' iron pipe over the handle of the come-along and started ratcheting.  As everything tightened up I prayed to the farm gods that nothing snapped, and amazingly, little by little the metal housing returned to its former shape. 

I quickly forgot that it was my own boneheaded action that caused the incident and instead reveled in the solution and moved on to more pretending.

More recently, my farm day involved a trip into Lawrence to pick up a few necessities.  I was dressed in my customary attire, blue jeans, long-sleeved work shirt, and a day-glo ball cap.  I was also sporting my tick avoidance gear featuring jeans tucked into my socks then sealed with duct tape.  This achieves the desired intent of keeping ticks off of my person, and, as a bonus, presents a natty look.

Immediately upon entering the super Wal-Mart in Lawrence I encountered a well-dressed, pretty woman pushing a shopping cart.  We exchanged smiles, and I watched her gaze move from my face down to my socks.  Then she motioned her head to guide her companion's eyes to my obvious fashion faux pas.  They both hustled on making little effort to hide their snickers.  This pleased me greatly, as I like to spread a little mirth each day.  I'm not aware of anyone taking my picture to add to those one sees in emails of oddly attired Wal-Martians, but be on the lookout.

Landing on Lily Pads

Judy and I had dinner recently with Bob and Susan, friends who have spent the last decade of winters in San Miguel de Allende, a mountainous region located 170 miles north of Mexico City.  We are told it is a charming 17th century town noted for its Spanish colonial architecture and cobblestone lanes.  It is home to many artists and wealthy expats.  Bob told us several intriguing stories about their friends, Howard and Bill, that formerly lived in Kansas City, but now reside full time in San Miguel. 

While in KC they were major benefactors of the mid 1970's renovation of the Folly Theatre.  Sally Rand, once famous for feathered fans covering her naked body, appeared at a fundraising event.  Afterwards, Howard went into Sally's dressing room and observed she was crying. When asked why she sobbed, "Kansas City is my home town, and I've got to fly back to LA tomorrow." 

He offered, "Why not change your flight and be our guest."  And she did, and she stayed for five years.

Her new hosts owned a large and beautiful home in the Hyde Park neighborhood.  It was staffed with a cook, cook's helper, maid, laundress, and gardener.  When the host returned after an out-of-town trip he was approached by his cook, "Mr. Howard, we have a problem."  And she proceeded to explain. "Every morning at precisely the same time, Miss Sally comes down the stairs for her tea and breakfast.  But she is stark naked.  The gardener just happens to be looking in the windows every morning at the appointed hour and then joins us for coffee.  It's a bit unsettling."

Howard said he would speak to her, and he did.  The next morning 70+ year old Sally came down in a sheer negligee.

I told my friend, Bob, "I'd love to meet these guys and put some of their stories on paper.  They would be a veritable treasure trove of material. 

At 8:30 am the next morning, Bob called and said, "It's all set.  They will be glad to host us at their home and spend a few days telling stories.  I will accompany you and show you around town, maybe we can spend some time in Mexico City also."  We settled on a date that coincides with the Festival of the Dead.  Hopefully more stories will follow from Mexico.

I later told this account to a friend, and he said, "You land on more lily pads than anyone I know."  And I'm hopeful it lasts.

Sales of NNAOPP have now crept up to 1,408 copies.  Thanks to all.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Appearance on the Randy Miller Radio Show 4/27/15

Hi All,

Yesterday I was honored to make my radio debut on the Randy Miller Radio Show.  It’s a comedy podcast that airs daily on  Randy has been a successful radio personality in the KC area since the 1980’s.  He’s made a name for himself for being LOL funny.  My appearance came about through the kindness of Michael Seward whose parents Barry and Patty are long time friends.  Michael produces and co-hosts the show with Randy.  He introduced my book and a few of my recent updates to Randy who then said, “This is some funny stuff.  We need to get this guy on the show,”  and they did.

I was above average nervous, but Randy and Michael were gracious hosts and made me as comfortable as one might be under the circumstances.  Both had kind words to say about NNAOPP and added an abundance of plugs.  They also served a nice red wine for the occasion.

Below I’ve pasted the posting Michael made to my Facebook page about the show.  It lasts about 50 minutes.  In case you want to hop around, I’m introduced at the 10:15 minute mark, and I play a banjo solo at the 41 minute mark.  I hope you enjoy the show at

I’d also encourage you to tune into Randy and Michael’s show on a regular basis.  I think you’ll find their humor brightening your day.

All the best.

p.s.  For those who remember the story last month about Steve Martin and his song “The Great Remember (For Nancy) and who might have an interest in listening to it played by its author, here’s the link:

Michael Seward shared a photo to your timeline.
11 hrs · 
Fun show today with special guest Charles Wells!
Nude Nuns and Other Peculiar People (NNAOPP)
Charles "Chuck" Wells, Jr., Harvard graduate and author of NNAOPP, tells some of his peculiar encounters. 


Randy Miller, me, Michael Seward

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Banjo Stuff

Banjo Stuff
April 2015

I started playing the banjo a little over four years ago.  I purchased an intro book to 5-string bluegrass (aka three finger or Scruggs style) banjo and diligently worked my way through the basics of learning how to read tablature (aka musical nomenclature for dummies on stringed instruments), forward rolls, backward rolls, and simple chords.  These modest tools eventually built my skill level to a point where I could produce sounds remotely resembling music.

Three months after first picking up the instrument I attended the Suwannee Banjo Camp.  The experience was helpful, inspiring, and intimidating.  I owned the distinction of being the worst player among the 120 participants, but one has to start somewhere, and I could begin to envision what might be possible.

At that time I was introduced to nuances in the banjo world that were previously unknown to me, most notably the existence of a style called 'old time' or 'clawhammer' banjo. The first time I heard the 'old time' style played, I loved the sound and the foot-stomping beat, but I was put off, because it appeared too difficult.

Bluegrass style is probably more familiar to non-enthusiasts and was made popular in the 1970's by the likes of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs with familiar tunes like Foggy Mountain Breakdown, The Theme from Deliverance, and The Ballad of Jed Clampett.  Bluegrass style is typically played loudly and boldly with picks on the thumb, index, and middle fingers. 

One year later I again attended the camp and decided I wanted to learn 'old style'.  But it meant starting over, not unlike switching to oboe.  With clawhammer, one strikes the strings with the thumb and fingernail of one finger, middle in my case.  The four fingers of the right hand are held in a claw-like fashion, thus the name, and to the casual observer not much is happening, but, in fact, all is quite busy featuring fun-sounding embellishments like double drop thumbing.

I didn't give up on bluegrass style, but I spent the next year focused on the basic elements of clawhammer.  I bought the beginner books and worked through the drills that basically add tools from which one can eventually construct a song.

Last weekend I attended by fourth camp in lovely Live Oak, FL, and have had another revelation.  I've advanced somewhat from novice to the intermediate level, and I have been introduced to new nuances that have greatly piqued my interest. One session in particular, Round Peak style clawhammer, really called out to me.  The origins are distinctly Scotch Irish, but the toe-tap-defying tunes and the picking style took on an American flavor from denizens of the Appalachian hollows of northwest NC and SE Virginia in the late 1900's. 

These distinctions are meaningful to no more than a few hundred people on the planet earth, but I've now discovered, I am one of them.  I was contemplating taking up poisonous snake collecting, but I think this will be a better fit for me.

Mark Johnson

For those who enjoy acoustic music, the faculty concerts at the Suwannee Banjo Camp are an absolute delight.  My two favorite performers are Adam Hurt and Mark Johnson.  They are virtually unknown to the broader world, but they are remarkable musicians, capable teachers, and nice people willing to share some of their knowledge with those less gifted.

I had a class with Mark on Saturday morning that was enjoyable, and as I was packing up my banjo case, he said, "Come to my afternoon class, I think you'll enjoy it."  I told him it was listed as 'advance', and beyond my ability, but he said, "Come anyway."  He's a big, handsome man with a commanding presence, and I told him I would.

Typically 6-7 students show up for each session, but it turned out I was the only guy to show up for 'clawhammer: advanced techniques,' resulting in a one-on-one lesson.  I knew of Mark from an earlier camp, at which time I purchased two of his CD's.  I listen to his tunes often on iTunes, usually while mowing the grass or farming.  I know you've never heard of the guy, but in the micro world of banjo pluckers, he's a big honking deal.  He produces unique tones on his specially crafted Deering instrument in a style he created called clawgrass, eponymously blending elements of bluegrass and clawhammer.  And he has a very pleasing voice.

We chatted a bit.  I'm moderately inquisitive so I asked him about his background, how long he's been playing, what it's like to be an accomplished, but unheralded musician.  And he told me a little of his story.  He's been playing since 13, he's now 59, and he plays and writes music, because that's who and what he is.  In 2012 he won the third  'Steve Martin Banjo Player of the Year Award' that yielded a $50,000 prize and an appearance on the David Letterman Show.  His music is played regularly on the Sirius bluegrass radio channel, and he starts a 6-week performance tour in Europe next month.  But he also has a day job as the director of the emergency agency of a coastal county in northern Florida.

Then he said something that's both odd and rare for one who has earned a semblance of modest fame, "Enough about me, tell me a little about yourself and your banjo journey."

He listened politely to a brief recitation of my humdrum existence, and he said, "Play some of your best stuff for me.  Maybe I can offer a few helpful hints."

I tuned to double C and started with, "The Great Remember (For Nancy)" my absolute favorite clawhammer tune that happens to have been written by Steve Martin.  He listened patiently and quietly as I played.  About half way through he started playing harmony and counter-melodies, gently overlaying my many deficiencies, blending some pleasing sounds heard only by the two of us.  When we finished, he said, "Can I tell you a story about that song?"  And I said, "I'm all ears."

"For several years, I have been giving lessons to Steve Martin.  He once invited me to his home in NYC for dinner and a jam session.  I brought a gift of special Florida orange marmalade as a hostess gift for his lovely wife and arrived at the appointed hour at his upper Westside apartment.  I told the doorman that I was a guest of Mr. Martin.  He motioned to some security type folks near a bank of elevators.  They made a call and then gave the sign to allow me to proceed.  He told me to go to the 11th floor, and I asked 'What apartment number?' and he shook his head in disbelief to ensure I knew I was a rube.  He said, 'Just go to the 11th floor, you'll figure it out.'"

"The elevator opened into one of the most elegant dwellings I'd seen featuring panoramic views of the New York City skyline rising above Central Park.  Steve and his wife could not have been more gracious hosts.  Shortly after I arrived, his aging dog Wally ambled in, and he introduced me to the dog.  Then he got down flat on the floor to chat with Wally.  He's a playful and nice man, it's not just an act."

"We had an exquisite dinner, and afterwards played banjo for four hours.  When it was time to leave he volunteered to walk me to my hotel, and he did.  I was scheduled to return the next evening to perform for some of his friends at a dinner party they were hosting.  He stopped and put his face about a foot from mine, eyeballed me, and said, 'There will be celebrities present tomorrow evening.  Will that be a problem?'  I assured him it would not.  People are people, no big deal."

"When I arrived the next evening I learned the celebrities included: Meryl Streep, Paul Simon, Lorne Michaels, Kevin Kline, and many others.  My partner (Emory Lester, who plays guitar and fiddle) had arrived from Toronto for the event, and we played a one-hour set.  Afterwards, a stunningly beautiful blond woman came up to me and said, 'That was truly wonderful.  I had no idea a banjo could produce such delightful music.  I'd like to introduce you to my husband and some of our friends.'  Nancy took me over to meet her husband Martin Short.  They were generous with kind words, and said they'd hope to have me come perform at some events they host at their home in Canada."

"Six months passed, and I never heard a word from them.  No big deal, I figured, stuff happens.  Later during a session with Steve he introduced me to one of his new songs, 'The Great Remember (For Nancy)', and he told me that it was written in memory of his friend, Nancy Short, who passed away several months after the dinner party."

Friday, February 20, 2015

Mardi Gras 2015


Mardi Gras
February 2015

After a year's absence, I was fortunate to return to NOLA for Mardi Gras 2015.  I arrived Thursday as my host insisted I should attend his Friday luncheon.  Another guest and I arrived at the same time and shared a cab to the French Quarter apartment that would be home for the next six days.  Walking up to the second floor apartment, we encountered our adjacent-balcony neighbors taking their bulldog out for a stroll.  She made my day by asking, "Hey, aren't you the guy that wrote the book about our Mardi Gras? I loved it."  I thanked her.  Good start, I thought to myself.

Shortly after our arrival we headed for dinner at NOLA's.  Once there our host played a voicemail he received earlier from our transgender acquaintance.  Her pleadings came in a voice blending the worst of Queen Elizabeth and Barry White:

"Darling! I hope this finds you well.  I've prepared my costumes for Mardi Gras, and I think you'll find them stunning as usual, but sadly I don't have a place to stay.  Any chance you'd have room for me at your place.  I'm so sad to think I'll have to stay in San Francisco while everyone is having so much fun."

She is a world class mooch, and her call was not returned.  It did prompt us to once again ponder her gender. A female friend, new to the topic, weighed in and asked, "Does she have an Adam's apple?"  "Yes, but it's usually covered by bejeweled, velvet dog collars." "Then she's a man."  Then she listened to the voice on the message and said, "That's definitely a woman's voice." No one has ever been bodacious enough to pull a Crocodile Dundee crotch grab on the personage in question, so the matter remains in doubt.

After a delightful dinner of honey-roasted duck, several in our group ventured to the Muses Parade on Canal Street.  We rarely attend parades, but the Muses event is special.  It consists of 1,000 well-dressed women riding on floats, and each decorates 30 shoes that they dispense to friends in the crowd.  Occasionally a miscreant will step between the Muse member and her intended recipient to run off with the treasure.  Membership is highly coveted and limited to the extent no names are being added to the waiting list.   The shoes that I saw are veritable works of art.  On the previous night a group called Nyx does a similar parade only they dispense outrageously decorated purses.  New Orleans is an extraordinarily friendly place for women enjoying the company of other women with a penchant for fun.

The Friday before Mardi Gras is a big honking deal.  We arrived at the Rib Room around 11:30 am for cocktails.  We were surrounded by men wearing expensive suits, monogrammed cuffs and links, and crisply folded, colorful handkerchiefs for accents.  The women are equally and elegantly attired often wearing Kentucky Derby hats, and their numbers matched that of the gentlemen.  Those present exhibited healthy doses of southern graciousness and hints of aristocratic privilege.  Table arrangements are made years in advance.

Our host knows many of the fellow diners from his membership in the Krewe of Cork and from having lived and worked part time in the French Quarter for 22 years.

We chatted amiably with those situated around the bar when two attractive ladies approached.  Our host made introductions, or re-introductions in one case.  She said, "Do you remember me?" and I replied that I most certainly did.  Several years earlier I had arrived late from the airport for dinner at Arnaud's.  Later, as we were leaving we encountered her on the street.  I was pulling my wheeled luggage, and she said, "What's the bag for gramps?  Your oxygen?"  We laughed.

The dining areas opened precisely at noon and we were seated at a table in a loge-like balcony affording us a view of the diners seated below and the crowds passing in the street.  Our table for eight was adorned with ten bottles of exquisite wines, i.e. Cade, Duckhorn, Cinq Cepages, Chassagne Montrecet, and Jordan, to name a few.

Our group consisted of three engineers, specializing in subterranean structures, and one construction executive.  Early on the conversation was semi-business related and we got a mini-education on foundations in NOLA.   The structural engineers explained how the brick corbelling beneath the centuries old buildings in the French Quarter will disintegrate once exposed to the elements making it difficult to build adjacent structures.  "The only reason many of these buildings are still standing is habit." 

After the ten bottles of wine were consumed, conversational topics turned to earthier topics.  One of our companions is a senior executive of a construction company.  She is also a very attractive lady.  I complimented her on her success in what I perceived to be an industry not renowned for friendliness to women.  She noted women are making strides in construction.  Then she shared this observation about working in a male dominated environment:

"No offense, but men are basically very simple creatures.  They only care about women's body parts, games involving a ball, food, and drink.  That's it.  Women are infinitely more complex.  We view layers in all things."

The seven men listening nodded in agreement as if to say in unison, "No offense taken. That pretty well nails it."  Then I inquired at what age she made this discovery.

"I didn't figure this out until around 30.  Then everything became less troublesome. When I was 16 I thought boys should think like I did."

Patrick's Bar Vin

We were feeling good after our lengthy luncheon, and we walked the several blocks from the Rib Room to Patrick's Bar Vin, accompanied by Patrick, one of our luncheon companions and owner of the eponymous establishment.

Patrick's place was the busiest I had every seen it.  He later told me that the Friday before MG and the Friday before Christmas are his two busiest days of the year.  He caters to more of a local crowd and those are the days the locals celebrate.  Even schools are closed from the Wednesday before MG to the Wednesday after.  The bar is relatively small, laid out like a sitting room with three groupings of furniture each serving as a conversation pit.  The furnishings are nice, with leather couches and armchairs, oriental rugs, handsome wood paneling, and an attentive staff. 

I espied an empty spot on one of the couches in the midst of a group of people and asked if I could join them.  They graciously made introductions.  All were members of the Krewe of Cork and regularly patronize Patrick's, as he is both the founder of the Krewe and its permanent King. 

I stayed seated after the bacchants left.  These fine folks were then followed by a succession of new and interesting visitors.   I can only presume I was approached because I appear to be a harmless old coot, and I am content to listen to whatever stories people want to tell me with minimal interruptions.

The Lesbian

At first she was sitting on the couch across the coffee table from me talking to others.  She was about 40, tall, bookish, and pretty with long dark hair and glasses.  After her companions left she came over and sat next to me.  Sniper, one of our group, was also sitting nearby.  After introductions she told us that she had just moved to NOLA from LA.  She was married to a man for ten years, but she moved to NOLA to be with a woman with whom she fell in love, but the woman dumped her after two months.  She proceeded to tell us how difficult it is to be a single lesbian in NOLA vs. LA.  Apparently, lesbians are more readily identifiable in LA than in the Deep South.  She said if she gets desperate she could always go back to men.  I told her I didn't think she looked like a lesbian given the lack of a girls' fast pitch softball haircut.  She laughed and explained the distinction between dykes and lesbians.  I'm not sure if I'll ever get a chance to deploy this new knowledge, but one never knows.

The Rich Man's Wife?

I sat alone for a while observing the crowd, content to stay put.  The bar manager, a beautiful Vietnamese woman, periodically checked on me and told me a little about her background.   She was born in the U.S. shortly after her parents arrived as refugees.  But before her story could unfold, she was quickly beckoned away by other customers. 

I noticed a youngish couple sitting across from me.  The man was about 45 and the woman 35.  They were handsomely dressed and appeared to be deeply engrossed in their conversation and were holding hands in a loving way. He looked like a conventional NOLA aristocrat, and she looked like an exotic creature one might find in the New Orleans zoo.  Then he left.  After a bit of time she moved to the chair next to my corner of the couch and introduced herself.   She cut a striking figure wearing blood red lipstick, an extremely short skirt, white stockings, and expensive jewelry.  She sat at the only possible angle one could sit while still maintaining a modicum of modesty. 

She said, "So what's your story?"  I told her I had totally mastered the art of being an invisible nobody, and that I spent my free time sitting in wine bars listening to other people's stories.  She then told me that she was of Puerto Rican descent, grew up in Brooklyn, got a degree from Columbia University, almost went to Columbia law school, but instead became a grade school teacher, married a rich NOLA attorney, and now runs a restaurant in the French Quarter. 

Then she looked around the room conspiratorially as though someone might surreptitiously listen in on our conversation.  She leaned forward and whispered, "But you know what I really want to do?"  "No." I replied.  "I want to be a writer.  I have stories I must tell."

I informed her of my hugely unsuccessful efforts as a scrivener, and she asked if I would read some of her work.  I told her I'd be pleased to do that and shared the title of my book that has my contact information. Patrick would periodically glance our direction with a mischievous grin.  I later asked him if he set that up.  He smiled and denied any culpability.

Our evening routines are pretty simple.  We stroll four blocks to Patrick's for cocktails at 6, dinner at 7 at varying restaurants.  On Saturday it was Arnaud's, possibly my favorite.  We were greeted by the owner and received inter-planetary air kisses.  Once again I feasted on the petit filet Lafitte, a dish featuring fried oysters and a slightly peppered and tender filet.  As the maitre d' accurately boasted, "We serve nothing that cannot be cut with a butter knife."  By 10:30 we'd done all the damage we could do at the dining table, and it was time to leave. 

We had been invited to a party on a balcony overlooking Bourbon Street by one of Patrick's best customers, a wealthy industrialist.  We accepted, but Patrick declined and returned to his bar.

Getting to the party, lamentably, required walking two blocks on Bourbon Street on a Saturday night.  The masses of partygoers one finds on Bourbon Street would not be confused with visiting yachtsmen.  The crowd was massive, unruly, and often downright frightening.  The entire scene provided a full frontal assault on all of the senses.

None in our group of five could be mistaken for youthful.  One has an injured back and knee, and he walks slowly and awkwardly.  It was a huge mistake for us to have entered that dangerous milieu, but we did safely make it to the balcony.  Verily one could observe no shortage of licentiousness from the safety of our new perch, but I was too stressed from the two-block walk to enjoy the moment.

Our host and I left early with our injured comrade.  We navigated one half a block on Bourbon before we could cross to the friendlier confines of Royal, but it was slow going.  Our friend was in obvious pain as we inched our way back to the apartment.  When we were within one block of our destination, we stopped so he could rest against a lamppost.

She may have been a sincerely concerned Good Samaritan, as she appeared out of nowhere and inquired,  "Do you guys need some help?"  We explained the situation and thanked her for her concern.  She asked where we were from, and when we said "Kansas, " she became animated and said, "No way! No one is from Kansas. What is that all about?"  We accepted her joshing with good humor and explained it was an acquired taste.

She was not a pretty woman, more like the female equivalent of Larry the Cable Guy. She wore a camouflage ball cap and an unflattering form fitting tee shirt.  She had long stringy hair, was 40ish, and told us the following, implausible story:

She's a college professor in Fairbanks, Alaska, couldn't see Russia from her house, couldn't understand why anyone would want to live anywhere other than Alaska. She was surprisingly articulate, given her unkempt appearance.  Then in the midst of regaling us with her academic achievements and the joys of Alaska she changed directions, "Omigod, I had sex with one of my 21-year-old students last night.  I'm fearful he might say something to someone that could jeopardize my job."

I opined, "So the kid now owns you?"

She became irritated and replied, "No! If he ever said anything they'd find his dead body in the river."

"Well, it's sure been nice chatting with you."

By now my two chums had started walking the final block, and I was left alone with the professor.  She calmed down and inquired, "Are you boys staying anywhere around here?  I could help him with his back if you'd like."

I thanked her for her concern and trotted along.

I don't live a particularly cloistered life, but I rarely encounter anything as consistently bizarre as I do during the evenings in the FQ during Mardi Gras.  In the day I am invisible, but in the evening, and in the company of my host, and while dressed nicely, we can almost count on meeting strange people.  I truly hope this continues.

This year my favorite street performer was Transformer Man.  He fashioned a little yellow car body that he wears like a tortoise shell backpack.  He has wheels attached to each of his ankles, and he holds a battery-powered front wheel/axle unit that propels the little device.  He gets down on his hands and knees, rides around giving the appearance of a normal little car, then he stands up, flips the yellow car body back from his head and shoulders, holds up the front axle/power unit in his right arm, and poses like a super hero.  I heard one little boy shriek with joy when he saw the little car transform into a man.  It was pretty darn cool, but an extremely difficult way to earn a living, as his act requires getting up and down from the pavement several hundred times each shift.

He performed just down from our balcony so I watched him try to draw a crowd.  During one of his breaks I took him a bottle of water, and we chatted.  He was a little guy with quarter-sized holes in his ears filled with hollow green rings, Ubangi like.  I told him I liked his act, gave him a few bucks and commented he must be in great shape.  He said his costume, including the battery packs, weigh 90 lbs, barely less than his 135 lbs. frame.

We noted a paucity of painted, topless women this year.  The weather was really nice on Saturday and Sunday and the crowds were large, so we couldn't account for the decline.  The entrance to our apartment is on Rue St. Peter, just off of Royal.  Our immediate neighbors down St. Peter towards Bourbon are Pat O'Brien's and Preservation Hall.  Both of these venues draw huge crowds from the eddies of humanity swirling around the intersection at Bourbon Street.  A local artist paints women's torsos in the narrow alley across the street from Pat O'Brien's.  It's a perfect location as the bar emits an endless stream of impaired young women holding plastic hurricane glasses filled with some sugary concoction.  But he wasn't doing any business this year.  Being an inquisitive fellow, I decided I needed to learn more.

He's a rugged looking man, about 50, who wears a black leather outfit with a doo rag.  I asked him why things are so slow this year, and he said, "If anyone ever tells you to paint within the lines, do it.  I've spent my entire life painting outside the lines, and this is where you end up."  From all appearances, the street life is mighty harsh.

The musicianship heard on the streets this year was the best ever.  Within earshot of our balcony one could hear the strains of a gifted clarinetist, opera singer, violinist, and my favorite, a ragtime group featuring two open-backed banjos.  They drew large, appreciative crowds and their tip jars seemed to be filled to the brim.

I can't sign off without addressing the question that many readers may have pondered.  "Would meaningful numbers of women expose their breasts for beads on a Mardi Gras day with temps in the low 40's and winds of 15-25 mph whistling down the canyon-like streets of the French Quarter?"  And the answer is, "You betcha."

The most memorable flash occurred when a young woman was cogitating the trade of beads for boobs.  She looked at her husband/boyfriend for either a way out or encouragement, and he said, "Go ahead.  I'm going to be an old guy some day."  So she flashed, much to our delight, as her remarkable breasts resembled WWI artillery shells.  The most pleasing viewing came from a very unlikely candidate.  She was gorgeous and dressed modestly, sashaying as if on a mission to a meeting with the State Department.  She said,  "I don't want your beads, but I'm pleased to show you these," and she did.

On a More Wholesome Note

Once again Finn and Charlie's Mom and Dad were willing to share their delightful 4-year-old twins with us for a week in Florida.  The time flew by as we quickly got into our routines consisting of breakfast, playground, pool, beach, donut dining, bath, reading, and bedtime.  The capstone of each evening involved traveling to nearby Jerry's Grocery Store where the boys would push their own cart to the donut display and make their selection of the day.  It was all great fun.

Nightly, I would tuck the boys into bed and give them good night kisses.  Charlie would grab my face with both hands, turn my head directly facing his, pull me within an inch of his nose, and ask, "Papa, if I get scared can I come in and sleep with you?"  I assured him that would be just fine.  And every night around 3 or 4 am, we could count on his trundling in.

Like clockwork, I awakened to hear the patter of Charlie's little footsteps coming down the hallway to our room.  He put his face an inch away from mine and said, "Papa, I want to kiss you."   My heart soared with delight, and I said, "Charlie, that is so sweet.  Be my guest."

He didn't kiss me, but again said, "Papa, I want to kiss you." But he didn't kiss me, so I kissed him on his forehead.

"No, Papa, I want a tissue."


I did receive an encouraging call this past week from the son of a friend.  He called to ask if I would appear on a radio show for which he serves as an executive producer.  He left a copy of NNAOPP for the show's host to read, and he did.  He said,  "This is some funny stuff.  Let's get this guy on the show."  I'll keep you posted on the date and time, most likely when we return to the northlands.

All the best.

Charles A. Wells, Jr.
3317 W. 68th Street
Shawnee Mission, KS 66208
816 289-1924
Author of: Nude Nuns and Other Peculiar People
Now available at and
Available at:
  Rainy Day Books, 2706 W. 53rd Street, Fairway, KS
  Sanibel Island Bookshop, 1571 Periwinkle, Sanibel, FL
  Twisted Sisters Eclectic Gifts and Floral, Albany, MO
  Bruce Smith Drug Store, Prairie Village, KS