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Extra day in KC for a good reason

I returned to Russell yesterday a little after noon, one day later than originally  planned.

Thank you, Jason Malasovich.

I’ve known Jason for over 30 years, longer than almost anyone else who does not share my last name. In fact, only two of my current friends list on Facebook has known me longer, Rosemarie Renz (Huguet) and Lisa Syrdal (Clague), both of whom I attended kindergarten through fourth grade with at St. Robert Bellarmine Elementary school.

Jason and I were teammates as 10-year olds playing basketball for Carolyn Park, the playground adjacent to what was St. Robert Bellarmine, which was flooded by Hurricane Katrina and again by Hurricane Rita and was not rebuilt. The same complex was brand new when it was destroyed by Hurricane Betsy in 1965 but rebuilt in that case.

Carolyn Park did not have a gym, so we practiced at Arabi Park Middle School on the northwestern edge of St. Bernard Parish, less than half a mile from the city limits of New Orleans. The year we played together as 10-year olds, Arabi Park was in its last year as an all-girls school. Jason went to fifth grade at Chalmette Middle, which was all-boys. In the fall of 1987, Arabi Park and Chalmette Middle both admitted the opposite gender, and since Jason lived in Arabi, close to Judge Perez Drive, the main thoroughfare of St. Bernard, he changed schools.

I attended St. Robert’s in the fifth grade, but I had a terrible time, so my parents pulled me out. They sent me to a school which I don’t want to talk about for the first quarter of my sixth grade year, one where stupid stuff (I would like to use another word, but won’t) was allowed and not discouraged. Finally, they decided to send me to Arabi Park.

Jason and Rosemarie were the only people there I knew for the first month and a half. I wasn’t in any classes with them except physical education until mid-December, when I was transferred into all the same classes as them and began to know the people I would be in class with until my departure for Brother Martin at the end of my seventh grade year.

The Arabi Park group split into three groups: one which went to Chalmette High, notably Jason and Shawn O’Neil; one which went to Archbishop Hannan, a co-educational Catholic school further east of Chalmette High, the group Rosemarie was in; and a third which went to Andrew Jackson, at the time a magnet high school which did not play football, basketball, baseball and softball. The notable ones among this group were Stacie Dauterive (now Seube) and her younger sister, Andree, who was two years younger (although their younger brother, Rene, ended up at Holy Cross, largely because he was a very good baseball player). I was the outlier going to Brother Martin, and was one of the very few who was accepted from a public middle school.

Hannan flooded during Katrina and relocated to Madisonville on the west side of St. Tammany Parish, closer to Hammond than Slidell.

Jason and I played basketball again together when we were 12 and in the seventh grade. Jason was pretty good and made the parish all-star team, as did Shawn and Michael Marques, a classmate of mine at Brother Martin who started for two years for the Crusaders’ varsity. I wasn’t too good, but there was one game where I did score 10 points in the first half and 14 total despite battling a bad cold.

When he was at Chalmette High, Jason played for the Owls baseball team and started at second base for two years. One night I went to a Chalmette game but I was cheering for the Owls’ opponent, Shaw, since I knew a few people coaching at Shaw, a couple of whom, including longtime football coach Hank Tierney, were in attendance. I also knew Shaw’s baseball coach, Pat O’Shea, who sadly passed away from prostate cancer last month at 67.

The last time I saw Jason in Louisiana was in September 1995. He was in the Golden Band from Tigerland, and my dad and I went to the LSU-Auburn football game and noticed him as the band was preparing for its pregame show.

I lost touch with everyone from Arabi Park quickly after I went to Brother Martin. I attempted to reconnect with Stacie in the summer of 2005, but Katrina interrupted those plans.

Facebook finally brought me back into their orbit. Go back to almost the beginning of this blog and you can see what happened.

I hoped and prayed that Rosemarie and I would connect when I was in Baton Rouge earlier this year, but it didn’t happen. I was sad about that, but seeing Brenda, Dorinda, Dan, Lisette and the others from LSU more than made up for it. I still miss you, Rosie, and hope we’ll meet very soon.

Jason commented on a picture I posted on Facebook last week. It was me with my very short haircut, thanks to Ashley at Sport Clips, who will be my only stylist for the near future with the lovely Amber Desario out on maternity leave to take care of her new baby boy. He asked me how far I was from Kansas City, assuming I was back in Russell and not knowing I was a lot closer than he thought.

I told him Saturday morning I was in town and would be available Sunday and Monday (I didn’t want to tell him I had blocked out trivia time Saturday at Buffalo Wild Wings AND Minsky’s LOL). So we made plans to meet last Sunday in Lee’s Summit, an area of Kansas City I don’t usually venture to.

These days, I don’t go east of Interstate 435 often, if at all, save for going to Liberty. About the only times I venture east of 435 and south of the river are when I absolutely have to do something in Independence or Blue Springs, or else I’m blowing past those communities to go to Columbia, St. Louis and outside Missouri.

Jason asked me if we wanted to meet halfway, but I told him no, I was one person vs. seven for him, since he had his wife, Melissa, daughter Olivia and son Carson with him, in addition to three members of Melissa’s family with him. I wasn’t about to make them waste that gas. Since I had nothing to do Sunday, I figured I had all the time in the world to drive from Clay County to the southeast corner of the metro.

Their choice for a late lunch Sunday was Jack Stack barbecue in Lee’s Summit. I ate at the Overland Park location last month and was througoughly impressed. This time, I did not order nearly as much food as July. Burnt ends and potato salad. Delicious.

When we were eating, Jason told me he was taking his family to the Royals game vs. the Cubs the next night. I was planning on going back to Russell Monday, but I decided to go to the game, my first in four years.

I saw tickets were very expensive, and there wasn’t a ticket to be found in section 232, where they were sitting. At that point, I thought seriously about going home Monday and telling them I couldn’t make it, making up a white lie. Later, though, I was able to find a ticket in the same section as them, only one row lower. After purchasing the ticket–$98 plus fees and tax–I felt better and committed to Monday in Kansas City.

I splurged on reserved parking. Good thing I did. It was a much shorter walk in the heat from the car to the stadium, and it really came in handy after the game as you’ll see. I waited the 45 minutes in line for the gates to open, but met a very nice family of Cubs fans to talk to, so the time passed fast.

I originally bought a general parking pass, but I forwarded it to Jason and they used it. Saved them $15 (it cost $12 online).

Jason bought two giant hot dogs and asked me to split them with him. I resisted at first but then changed my mind. After all, he bought the dogs (I bought Melissa and the kids popcorn), so I said why not. The Chicago dog with tomatoes, sport peppers and relish was delicious. I wish Sonic still had them. The Kansas City dog had barbecue brisket and coleslaw, and it was also good. I didn’t even notice the slaw, and I don’t eat slaw.

It rained twice during the game, which the Cubs won 3-1 on the strength of a home run and RBI double by Javier Baez. The contest was delayed for 22 minutes in the top of the fourth; it rained harder in the ninth. However, since there was no lightning during the latter storm, umpire crew chief Joe West, the senior umpire in MLB, decided to let the game conclude, which it did with a 1-2-3 frame by Cubs closer Pedro Strop.

We had to wait out the rain about 15 minutes before we finally left. They drove home yesterday through Arkansas and north Louisiana, while I ventured west on Interstate 70.

What I wouldn’t give to see more of my old friends from Louisiana. Rosemarie and Stacie are near the very top of the list, as are Tiffany Peperone, Janine Koenig and Wendy Wall. Brenda was above all of them, but that was fulfilled in April. So was Dan.

I’m still a bit heartbroken over not seeing Liz and Lisa anymore in Kansas City, but that heartbreak was eclipsed by losing Dawn, who is loving it back in Florida. I don’t blame her. But life is empty without her and the others.

If Peggy and Caitlyn were to exit…oh boy.

FYI, the Cubs won 5-0 last night behind one-time Royals farmhand Mike Montgomery. The series finale is tonight, then the Cardinals come to Kansas City over the weekend.

I’m less than 90 minutes away from my next session with Crista, whose importance to my life outranks everyone I’ve mentioned, short of my own family and Dr. Custer.

Countdown to September

I didn’t quite keep my promise to LIsa in the early hours of this morning, but she understood, since she told me she was going to have to probably stick around until 2:30. I got back to the Courtyard Briarcliff at 1:25 and went right to bed. I set the computer up to have it ready this morning, but didn’t fool around.

I felt a little bit isolated at times last night at Buffalo Wild Wings, but I shouldn’t have. The bar area was swamped, and the management made the foolish decision to only staff it with three people. Lisa and Rio were both working doubles, and Liz hadn’t worked since Sunday because she was hurting with her back and dealing with the passing of Trey Cummings’ mother. Not a good situation. Morgan Gilliland, who switched off with Brittany Davidson, should have been in the bar too. I was too hard on Lisa, and I felt terrible about it. I tried to make it up to her by giving her a big tip and another six-pack of Abita beer. That put a smile on her face.

Speaking of smiling, Lisa is now trying the Sydnie Adler formula, and that’s trying to get me to smile whenever I look at her. I have to laugh at that. It’s probably best for me. I can’t go through life with a perpetual scowl on my face.

LSU ended up stopping Wisconsin’s final two drives and held on to win 28-24.  A lot of people were hard on the Bayoun Bengals, but come on, Wisconsin is not chopped liver. The Badgers are probably going to win the Big Ten West, and I would not be surprised if they run the table from here. They don’t play Michigan State or Ohio State, they play Nebraska at home, and their only really challenging road game is at Iowa in November. I predicted Wisconsin and Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game. If Wisconsin goes 11-2, that gets them an access bowl berth.

With Texas A&M dominating South Carolina behind Kenny Hill, that season ending game will be very difficult. LSU is going to have to navigate the brutal SEC West plus a trip to Florida, and the Bayou Bengals could finish anywhere from 11-1 to 7-5. I picked 10-2, but maybe that was a little optimistic.

No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Alabama both won neutral site games, but both had tougher than expected times against Big 12 Conference foes. The Seminoles tussled with Oklahoma State and got out of Arlington a 37-31 victor, and the Crimson Tide could not put away West Virginia until late and prevailed 33-23. Georgia was most impressive, crushing Clemson 45-21 in Athens.

 

My latest reconnection with Arabi Park Middle was with Kimberly Carmouche (Lee) last night. She was very happy to hear from me, and like Toni LaRocca, she didn’t know I had moved to Kansas following Katrina. I think Stacie was the only one who knew about my move since we were e-mailing each other just before Katrina. It feels good to know you aren’t forgotten after more than 25 years. Kim is now a successful realtor in Covington, the parish seat of St. Tammany Parish on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Covington High is noted for its traditonally strong football program, which was led for 30 years by the legendary Jack Salter, one of the nicest men I have met. Covington and Brother Martin used to scrimmage each other every August before the season started, and Salter and Brother Martin coach Bobby Conlin were very good friends.

It used to be the NFL started its season before Labor Day in order to get the season done before February 1. In 2001, the NFL permanently decided to move the season’s kickoff weekend until after Labor Day, ceding the Labor Day weekend spotlight to college. I remember only one season, 1997, starting on August 31.

Time to get ready to go. I need to see Liz.

Branded a cheater

In my last post, I described a week in my life at Arabi Park Middle which was dominated by two hurricanes, one (Florence) which affected New Orleans but only blew some leaves and limbs off trees, and another (Gilbert) which did not, but did a lot more damage and took a lot of lives.

The Friday night of hurricane week, as Gilbert was heading towards Mexico, Tom Browning pitched a perfect game for the Cincinnati Reds against the eventual World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers, for the moment pushing Orel Hershiser’s quest to break Don Drysdale’s record for consecutive scoreless innings to the back burner.

The next day, LSU went to Knoxville and blasted Tennessee 34-9, the first time the Bayou Bengals had ever won at Neyland Stadium. The Volunteers would lose their first six games of the 1988 season before winning their last five, which provided the momentum they needed to win a share of the Southeastern Conference title in 1989. LSU would go on to share the 1988 SEC title with Auburn, but the Bayou Bengals would not enjoy another winning season until 1995.

Later that Saturday, reigning national champion Miami rallied from a 16-point deficit to stun Michigan at the “Big House” in Ann Arbor, 31-30. The Hurricanes came within a failed two-point conversion at Notre Dame from repeating as champion. The Fighting Irish would go on to win it all, clubbing West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl to finish 12-0.

On Sunday, the Saints had a tougher than expected time in Detroit, but rallied for a 22-14 victory.

Unfortunately, I forgot to study for a Monday morning test during the weekend of sports.

I attempted to cram before going to school, but it was to no avail. When the tests were passed out, I totally panicked. I hated reading class, because I had no earthly idea how to comprehend short stories. I disliked literature in the seventh grade, and I continued to loathe it throughout high school and college.

The panic turned to stupidity.

I admit I cheated. I tried to slip a look at my textbook, but I got caught red-handed. I was deathly afraid of getting an F, but now I was certain I was going to fail. Ms. Jones took the test, then marched me down to the office, where I had to call my mother and deliver the bad news. My classmates regarded me as a black sheep for a few days, as well they should have.

My parents were very unhappy to say the least. They would not let me watch sports on TV during weeknights for a month, which meant I had to miss four Monday Night Football games, including one involving the Saints and Cowboys, I also did not get to watch the Major League Baseball League Championship Series, as well as much of the Summer Olympics, although in hindsight, not getting to watch the Olympics wasn’t so bad. The good news was in 1988 there were no weeknight college football games, no Sunday night NFL games until later in the season, or I really would have missed out. Also, the NBA would not begin until late October, and the NHL was no longer on TV since ESPN had lost the rights to SportsChannel America, which wasn’t available on any cable system in Louisiana.

It could have been much worse. I could have been held without sports on the weekends, too. I could have flunked the quarter, and Ms. Jones would have had every right to do so. In the end, I got a C for the quarter, my lowest grade at Arabi Park, save for a couple of Ds I received in conduct.

It was a hard lesson to learn. I would flunk more than my fair share of tests in high school and college, but I knew better than to cheat.

Hurricane-force memories

Tammy Gilbert brought back a hilarious memory from Arabi Park Middle tonight on Facebook. One which I had totally forgotten until she jogged my memory, and it came right back.

In September 1988, Hurricane Gilbert ravaged Jamaica with winds of 125 miles per hour, two and a half feet of rain, and a 19-foot storm surge. There were a lot of deaths, 45, but it could have been a heck of a lot worse.

When the storm emerged into the Caribbean Sea off the west coast of Jamaica, the storm underwent a rapid intensification, growing into a Category 5 monster with winds of 185 miles per hour. Gilbert also made history when its minimum central pressure dropped to 888 millibars, or 26.23 inches of mercury, shattering the record of 892 millibars (26.34 inches) which was set during the Labor Day hurricane of 1935. By comparison, Camille’s lowest pressure in 1969 was 900 millibars (26.58 inches), but the winds were more intense, 190 miles per hour, when it slammed into the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The Friday before Gilbert slammed into Jamaica, Hurricane Florence, a Category 1 storm with winds of 80 miles per hour, crossed the Mississippi River delta in lower Plaquemines Parish–not too far from where Camille crossed in 1969–but this time, the storm began to weaken as it neared the city of New Orleans. My house in Arabi lost power for an hour or so, but other than that, there were really no effects. There were a few leaves and twigs down from the tree in our backyard, but the sun came out that Saturday and I was watching college football as normal.

School was not called off for Florence, and I was in a panicky mode all day long at school. My classmates got a big kick out of it, and as I was leaving, I picked up my trumpet from the band room. I told Ms. Crow that I was worried about the storm, and she told me jokingly to go home and play Taps.

Gilbert was no joke. This storm was the 1988 version of Camille, and if a storm of that magnitude hit the United States, it would be beyond catastrophic. There was no doubt Gilbert

Wednesday, September 14, 1988, was all about Gilbert in the halls of Arabi Park Middle. I wasn’t interested in talking about the Saints, I wasn’t interested in the baseball pennant races, I wasn’t interested with LSU’s game that weekend at Tennessee. I was all worried about Gilbert, and I told anyone who would listen this storm was scary.

I found a way to get under the skin of our class valedictorian. I began calling Tammy “Hurricane” Gilbert, and every time, she told me to shut up. I would not let it go for quite some time; in fact, I think it wasn’t until January or February when it finally died down. Rosemarie, Tammy’s neighbor and best friend, was unhappy with me for one of the few times.

I thought with Gilbert coming into the Gulf of Mexico the St. Bernard Parish School Board would call off classes for Thursday and Friday, and we would get a four-day weekend.

Didn’t get a four-day weekend. Didn’t get a three-day weekend. Gilbert passed well south of Louisiana and Texas and came ashore in Mexico, where it killed 200.

I recall three hurricane vacations during my school years.

The first was in fourth grade at St. Robert Bellarmine, when we had the Friday before Labor Day due to the threat of Hurricane Elena, which at first was making a beeline towards New Orleans. That storm turned sharply east, and then back to the west before coming ashore in Pascagoula, Mississippi, east of where Camille and Katrina roared ashore.

The second was in August 1992. On the first day of my junior year at Brother Martin, Hurricane Andrew came ashore south of Miami with Category 5 winds of 165 miles per hour. The storm entered the Gulf of Mexico shortly after noon that day, and it appeared New Orleans was the bullseye. We had the next two days off, and it appeared we may not have a school to come back to, but that was the least of my worries. I was REALLY scared I was going to die.

Luckily, Andrew veered west and made landfall in Louisiana near Morgan City, at the mouth of the Atchafalya River.

In September 1998, i had a day off from LSU due to Hurricane Georges. The storm passed well east of Baton Rouge, but it was very windy that Monday at LSU football practice. I had to go out to practice to police the media as part of my duties with LSU’s sports information office.

In landlocked Kansas, there are snow days, but I’ve never seen school called off, at least in Russell, due to the threat of tornadoes. Now if the National Severe Storms Center issued a high risk severe outlook, I”m sure superintendents would seriously consider keeping students home in order to keep them off of buses and off the streets traveling to and from school.

Toni award

My time in Kansas City is running short, as is my free time for the summer. I’ll be covering volleyball in just under 52 hours, and by this time next week, the season will be in full swing.

Save for the problem with the two guys at Buffalo Wild Wings last night and my indecision Saturday, this has been a very good trip. I really had a blast getting doused with ice water by my friends at B-Dubs, and I’ve had a ton of fun going down memory lane with some of my chums from Arabi Park Middle School.

Two more reconnections this morning, bringing the total to seven.

One was with Toni LaRocca, one of only a few from Arabi Park I saw in person since exiting the school for the final time on June 2, 1989. I ran into Toni at Hooters in Metairie a few times during my internship with the New Orleans Zephyrs in 2000. She may have been the shortest girl in our class, but she had one of the biggest hearts, not to mention a smile which could melt away the tightest frown. I absolutely loved her in that Hooters uniform. And i love her still.

The other new Facebook friend is Tammy Gilbert, whom I’m proud to say is far, far smarter than I. She was shy, but very studious and very friendly when you got to know her. She also played the flute in the band, and she joined with Toni and Nicole Meyer–the tallest of our class–three great ones. Ms. Crow never had to worry about the flutes. Never.

Tammy lived next door to Rosemarie’s grandparents, so it was natural they were best friends. Two great ladies.

Now I’m starting to remember another band member who wasn’t in the honors classes, Vicki Tabora. Vicki lived across the street from Carolyn Park on the other side of St. Robert Bellarmine church, not too far from the Datuerive residence. Vicki was a gifted drummer, and she accepted the burden of playing one of the big bass drums. Try carrying that for 8-10 miles in a parade. Most boys would cry, but Vicki handled it like a champ.

Strange but true story. I was so clumsy in the sixth grade that I couldn’t play the clarinet and march, so Ms. Crow had me carry the Louisiana state flag at the front of the parade formation. However, I was good enough playing when sitting down to make the Louisiana Music Educators Association elementary honor band for the second consecutive year. Nicole, Rosemarie and Jason Malasovich also made it in 1988. Maybe it was a good thing I wasn’t playing the clarinet in parades in 1988, because the Arabi Park band won the band competition in the Shangri-La parade, and we got to march at the very beginning of that parade in 1989.

Now that I’ve friended Stacie, Rosemarie, Shandy, Shawn, Lara, Toni and Tammy, I’m starting to see more and more and more from St. Bernard pop up when I’m searching for friends. I have to admit it’s making me smile.

As nice as it is to sit around the computer, it’s no good here in the hotel. Time to get ready and get over to Buffalo Wild Wings. Brittany Davidson is working tonight. She reminds me a lot of Toni not in terms of being short, but in being a warm and caring person. Her finacee is one lucky guy.

Back to the middle

Now I’m on a middle school memories kick here. I’ve reconnected with one of the two young ladies I called a “stunner” from Arabi Park Middle, Lara Doyle (Meyers). She was as impressed with my memory recall as Stacie, Shandy, Shawn and Rosemarie have been.

In the summer of 1988, between my sixth and seventh grade years at Arabi Park, my parents, my brother and I went to Russell to visit my father’s parents. It was one of the last times we visited where my grandmother, Sophie, who was my dad’s stepmother–he never knew his birth mother–was lucid. She still had her 1970 Buick LeSabre, and we would ride around Russell in it, even though I wasn’t too keen on the fact it wasn’t as safe, or at least I didn’t consider it as safe, as my mother’s 1986 Oldsmobile EIghty-Eight which we drove up. We went to the Dairy Queen on US 40 in Russell every day. Sadly, that Dairy Queen closed in 1992, and it’s now a bad Mexican restaurant.

When I started the seventh grade at Arabi Park, I tried convincing my classmates, especially Shawn, that I was born in Kansas. Slight problem: Mrs. Gattuso and my mom were friends long before I was born, and she knew better. She made me confess I was born at Baptist Hospital on Napoleon Avenue, the same hospital where Peyton Manning was born seven months prior. Of course, while Olivia Manning gave birth in a palatial private room and got to stay for as long as she wanted, I went home the next day. Oh well.

I tried to rub Kansas in my classmates’ faces, especially with the annoying “Tweety Bird” shirt which featured a giant Jayhawk. Kansas won the 1988 NCAA men’s basketball national championship, and I would not let Shawn, Jared or anyone else forget it. They grew tired of it, as they should have. Good thing I didn’t wear the K-State shirt with the Tom Cat in front of Mrs. Gattuso, or she would have found a derisive name for that, too.

I told everyone who would listen I was going to KU or K-State for college. I had no interest at that time in LSU or any school in Louisiana. Nebraska was also on my radar, which was even more irritating to LSU fans, since the Cornhuskers defeated the Bayou Bengals three times in bowl games in the 1980s. And even Wichita State was having athletic success, going to the 1988 College World Series and winning it all in 1989, only eight days after I left Arabi Park for good.

Once I was admitted to Brother Martin for eighth grade in February 1989, I started wearing a crimson shirt with Martin’s mascot, Crusaders, on it. Another bad idea. I wore it on my last day ever at Arabi Park, and Mrs. Rando bragged on me. Stacie saw it and was not impressed. Shawn forgave me enough to come to my house the next night.

This was what I needed after what happened earlier. Very therapeutic.

More from the middle

Thanks to a Facebook conversation with four great people from my distant past, a flood of memories has been opened. Might as well get to them while they’re still fresh on the brain.

The drive from one end of Kansas City to the other gave me the chance to remember a heck of a lot from my days in New Orleans, and especially my friends from Arabi Park Middle.

Stacie Dauterive Seube and I had e-mailed each other twice before Katrina, and then we were in touch a couple of times after I moved to Kansas, but the last e-mail was in February 2006. Tonight, I recalled the last times I saw her in person.

One was November 1993 when the St. Bernard Parish chapter of the LSU Alumni Association held a meeting about its scholarships. Stacie’s dad, Rene, who owns Dauterive Heating and Plumbing, was also there, as he was active with the LSU Alumni Association. Two others from the Arabi Park days were there, Jason Malasovich and Christi Rehage. Christi’s brother, Steve, played football for LSU under Jerry Stovall and Bill Arnsparger in the 1980s, so it was not surprising at all Christi wanted to continue the family tradition.

I also saw Stacie on the LSU campus on our VERY FIRST DAY of college classes, August 29, 1994. Like me, Stacie didn’t stay at LSU; she eventually transferred to Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, 45 minutes east on Interstate 12. After the 1995 spring semester, I went home to the University of New Orleans, but I would return to LSU in January 1997.

Speaking of LSU, I saw Rosemarie Renz (Huguet) on campus one day in September 1997. It was in front of the LSU union when I had a break in Wednesday morning classes. At that time, I was back working in LSU’s sports information office, and I had just begun covering high school football for The Advocate, Baton Rouge’s daily paper.

Of course, having gone to five years of school with me before Arabi Park, Rosemarie’s memories  are far deeper than most. Last night, I recalled she came to my seventh birthday party in October 1983 at Showbiz Pizza in Chalmette. I returned the favor for Rosemarie at her grandparents’ house in May 1985. Of all the people in my classes at Arabi Park, Rosemarie was the by far the nicest. I think she got me because we had been together at St. Robert Bellarmine, and I don’t recall her teasing me like some of the others. Then again, I forgive everyone who ever teased me in middle school, because I don’t expect 12 or 13 year olds to understand Asperger’s, especially when it had not been diagnosed yet in the United States, as was the case in the late 1980s.

Actually, Rosemarie was not the only person from Arabi Park who attended school with me at St. Robert Bellarmine. I almost forgot about Aimee Roniger, who came to St. Robert’s in the fifth grade, the year Rosemarie left to to go to Arabi Park, the last year it was an all-girls school. Aimee stayed at St. Robert’s in the sixth grade before coming to Arabi Park in the seventh. She and another of the honors girls, Nicole Lowery, were best friends. Nicole, like Shandy, Vanessa Condra, Dayna Siebenkittel and Erin Billingsley, were not in honors until seventh grade, with Michelle Woodland transferring in to Arabi Park for seventh grade.

 

Showbiz was the rival to Chuck E. Cheese and was popular in the south in the 1980s. In fact, I went to another Showbiz location, this one in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans, for Shawn O’Neil’s birthday party in December 1988.

I’ll never forget Shawn’s party. His dad insisted on taking the ferry across the Mississippi River from Chalmette to Algiers, even though the new Crescent City Connection had opened and there were four lanes of traffic in both directions. I remember riding over with Shawn, Jason, Jared Couture, Jack Bastoe and Brandon Miller. The girls from our class were not invited.

Shawn also happened to be a damn fine basketball player. He lived across the street from Vista playground, so he and his brothers, Danny and Chad, went there often to hone their basketball and baseball skills. Shawn had a fine left-handed mid-range jumper, and he was hell on the boards. I remember going up against him three times during the 1988-89 Biddy Basketball season. His Vista teams went 3-0 against the Carolyn Park team Jason and I played on. Jason, Shawn and I had to play with the 11-year olds because we turned 12 after October 1. Jared’s birthday was before the limit, so he was with the 12-year olds. Another fine player in the 11-year old Biddy league that year was Michael Marques, who played for Versailles. He went on to become a two-year varsity starter at Brother Martin and was in my graduating class. Michael’s dad and my dad worked together at Air Products and Chemicals.

I didn’t see Shandy de St. Germain (Arguelles) after leaving Arabi Park, but tonight I remembered one of her best friends from middle school, Kim Carmouche. Kim and I were in the gifted and talented program at Arabi Park. We didn’t have the highest grade point averages, but we both tested so well that the school saw potential in us. We got to skip P.E. on Wednesdays.

The family of one of the boys who was in gifted and talented with us in the sixth grade, Lateef Khan, owned the Shell service station at the corner of Perrin and Judge Perez Drive. There was an Exxon across the street from the Shell, and on the other side of Judge Perez from the Exxon was the Little Fisherman, where my mom often picked up crawfish, corn and potatoes during the late winter and early spring for Friday meals.

During my final quarter, the boys and girls were separated for science class for four weeks so that sex education could be presented. The boys were taught by Susan Buras, while the girls went with Shelly Shumaker, who was the honors science teacher for seventh grade.

I’ll never forget my naivete. Shoulder pads for ladies’ blouses were big in the late 1980s, and I asked Ms. Buras if that’s where women kept their pads for their periods folded up. It cracked everyone up, especially Shawn, who always got a kick out of my antics. Looking back, I know much better, but I’m glad I could make the boys and Ms. Buras laugh, even if it was at me.

I’m also starting to fondly remember two girls who were a year ahead of us, Chastity Manzella and Jennifer Newell. Jennifer was the band’s drum major her eighth grade year. They were both very beautiful and very popular. Chastity flirted with me one day at an Arabi Park softball/baseball doubleheader at Trist Middle in Meraux; of course, I was too young and too uninformed to know what to do.

As much as I’m loving this, it’s obscenely late. I’ll be back later today.

Middling days

I had a lot of fun with that dream this morning about my lovely sixth grade English teacher. Phyllis Marsolan. I guess since it’s fresh on my mind, i’ll go back to those days at Arabi Park Middle, where I spent seven semesters of my school years, from October 1987 until June 1989.

I spent the first six years of my school days at St. Robert Bellarmine, the Catholic parish about a mile from my residence in Arabi, a suburb of New Orleans located in St. Bernard Parish (county), about 15 minutes east-southeast of New Orleans’ Central Business District. I had a lot of trouble at St. Robert’s in the fifth grade, and my parents were ready to pull me out and find another school.

First, though, there was the month detour to the child psychiatric ward at Tulane Medical Center. That’s painful memories I’ll save for another day.

The 1987-88 school year started while I was in the hospital. My parents initially sent me to some school for children with “special needs”. What it was was nothing more than a babysitting service for kids with real serious problems. I was not even 11 years old, by far the youngest kid there. Most were 15, 16.

After eight weeks, my parents finally wised up and sent me to Arabi Park Middle, the public school in the northwest corner of the community. I had trouble my first few weeks, but by the second week of December, I was switched into the honors classes, and it was there I would meet the people I would pretty much be in every class with until I left for Brother Martin.

The 1987-88 school year also marked the first time boys roamed the halls at Arabi Park. From 1969, when Arabi Park opened, through the spring of 1987, Arabi Park was the girls’ middle school for western St. Bernard Parish, while the boys went to Chalmette Middle, which was on St. Bernard Highway, across the road from the former Kaiser Aluminum plant, which shut down in January 1983.

I knew three people in the Arabi Park honors classes from earlier times.

One was Rosemarie Renz, who attended St. Robert’s with me from kindergarten through fourth grade. Rosemarie lived six blocks from my house at the corner of Perrin and Patricia streets with her grandparents. Another was Jason Malasovich, whom I played basketball with the previous winter. He lived closer to Judge Perez Drive off Center Street. Jason’s mom, Darlene, was the secretary at Arabi Park, and she had remarried. In fact, I ran into her on my last Fourth of July in Louisiana at the Walmart in Chalmette. The third was Jennifer Cancienne, whom I  think I went to a summer program with. She lived south of Judge Perez on Rowley.  I recall Jennifer was abducted from in front of her home when she was young. Very sad.

The only other person I recall who lived in Arabi who was in my classes at Arabi Park was none other than Stacie Dauterive (now Stacie Seube), who lived with her parents, sister Andree and brother Rene in a big house on Badger Drive, about 100 feet from St. Robert Bellarmine church. Before Hurricane Katrina, Stacie’s father was the owner of the best heating and plumbing service in St. Bernard Parish, and her mother was a longtime teacher in the St. Bernard school system, and it was apparent from the first time I met her in late 1987 that Stacie was destined to become a teacher, too. She has become a darn good one. I hope there are principal and superintendent positions in her future. Stacie now lives in the house with her husband Jeff Seube and their sons, one of whom sadly is autistic. My heart broke for her when I first heard.  I miss Stacie an awful lot, maybe more so than anyone else from Louisiana. I”m overjoyed we’ve at least kept in touch on Facebook.

(After attempting to find some of my old Arabi Park classmates on Facebook, I discovered one who also lived in Arabi, the smartest student by far in our classes, Tammy Gilbert. Tammy ran laps around the rest of us academically. She was also a gifted flutist. –DNS 8/24)

Mrs. Marsolan was not popular among many of her students, which conversely drew me to really like her. I felt like she was the underdog and someone needed to support her. Of course, I got called teacher’s pet among other things. It stung a little then, but now, I look back and laugh. She was the first person who saw my potential in my writing. I wish I knew where she was. I would love to thank her for touching my life.

My science teacher in the sixth grade, Robert Daussat, knew who I was, too, since his daughter, JoAnn, went to St. Robert’s while I was there. He was the only male teacher I had at Arabi Park, and one of my favorites, probably second behind Mrs. Marsolan.

It also happened the seventh grade social studies teacher at Arabi Park, Lillian Gattuso, was a very good friend of my mother. She happened to babysit me when I was in my early days. I angered Mrs. Gattuso more than once when I wore a Kansas Jayhawks t-shirt to school. She called the Jayhawk “Tweety Bird” and even once pretended to spit upon it. I wasn’t too popular with my classmates for openly supporting KU, but I wanted to rub it in after the Jayhawks won the 1988 NCAA men’s basketball national championship. Of course, I had to swallow my pride when KU was hit with major probation for infractions committed by Larry Brown and his coaching staff, a penalty which kept KU out of the 1989 tournament, the last time March Madness has not proceeded with the boys from Lawrence.

Mrs. Gattuso let me work on an independent research paper on Watergate late in my seventh grade year. I was fascinated by all that went on and I’ve been big on it ever since.

FYI, I also angered my classmates by wearing a Kansas State shirt, too. I wanted to wear it for a field trip to the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi in February 1989, but stupid me wore it the night before and got it dirty. My mother would not fire up the washing machine to wash only that shirt, so my dad and I went to the bathtub and washed it by hand. Luckily for me, it was dry the next morning and I wore it. It had the old Willie the Wildcat logo, because the Powercat was still under development by the new football coach, a guy named Bill Snyder.

Lucky for me, none of my Arabi Park classmates knew just how bad K-State was in football at the time. I never would have heard the end of it.

Stacie, Jason, Rosemarie, Jennifer and I were all in the band, where we were very fortunate to fall under the direction of a brilliant teacher named Janet Crow. The Arabi Park band consistently won awards at concert festivals and parades, and were named the winner of the Battle of the Bands at the 1988 Shangri-La parade, which I never will forget because it was 25 degrees that night and the wind made the chill factor closer to 10. I had thermal underwear underneath a heavy band uniform and I was still colder than heck. I played clarinet in fourth and fifth grade at St. Robert’s and continued it into sixth grade at Arabi Park, and Stacie and I both made the honor band, as did Jason on trumpet. Ms. Crow convinced me to switch to trumpet in the seventh grade because there was an abundance of clarinet players, but I was nowhere near as good as Jason, who stuck with it and was in the band both at Chalmette High and LSU. My band days were numbered, and finished off for good when Bob Conlin asked me to do his football statistics at Brother Martin.

Two flute players in the band still stand out to this day. One was a short girl, Toni LaRocca, who hit her growth spurt late and really blossomed. I saw her in 2000 working at Hooters in Metairie, a large suburb in Jefferson Parish west of the city, and she was gorgeous. The other flutist was Nicole Meyer, who hit her spurt early and was taller than anyone in the class, and that included the boys. Her uncle, Cliff Moon, happened to work with my dad at Air Products and Chemicals.

Stacie’s best friend, Allison Richardson, played saxophone in the band. Two girls who were not in the band, Lara Doyle and Juli Wahl, were downright stunners. There was a redhead, Vanessa Condra, who was very sweet. Vanessa moved into the honors classes in seventh grade, as did Shandy de St. Germain and Dayna Siebenkittel.

Christi Rehage was a huge football fan, and with good reason. Her older brother, Steve, played at LSU for Bill Arnsparger on two Sugar Bowl teams in the mid-1980s.

One huge regret was I wasn’t nicer and I didn’t get to spend more than one year with Michelle Woodland, who came to Arabi Park in the seventh grade from Houston. She really treated me well and took a liking to me, although I was sometimes stubborn.

Notice all the girls in the honors classes. As I recall, there may have been only 10 boys at most. The ones I remember beside Jason were Shawn O’Neil, who could match sports wits with me; Jared Couture, an outstanding athlete who would go on to start for Archbishop Hannan’s basketball team for three years; Jack Bastoe, who teamed with Allison to give the band to great saxophonists; and Brandon Miller.

Arabi Park helped me get into Brother Martin, too.

When I first got to Arabi Park, Anne Rando was a math teacher. The next year she was named assistant principal when Tommie Powell, a friend of my mother’s from their teaching days together before I was born, was named principal at Chalmette Middle. Mrs. Rando happened to be the sister-in-law of Greg Rando, who was the admissions director at Brother Martin at the time. Mrs. Rando suggested I go to Brother Martin’s open house in November 1988, and my parents and I came away mighty impressed. I already had experience with Brother Martin since that’s where honor band held its practices in 1987 and 1988, so I knew the lay of the land somewhat. Sure enough, in February 1989, I was accepted into Brother Martin for my eighth grade year, with a huge assist from Anne and Greg. Greg , who went to Brother Martin and graduated in 1977, is now principal at his alma mater.

I took tremendous ribbing for going to Brother Martin from a public school. I know I was the first person from Arabi Park to attend one of the prestigious all-male Catholic high schools, and I was one of the few from St. Bernard who did not attend Holy Cross, which at that time was in the lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans buttressed against the Mississippi River, only 10 minutes from my home and at most 20 from the vast majority of St. Bernard’s population.

If I’ve bored you, I apologize. It’s just when I get wistful, I sometimes tend to ramble on. But I hope you’ve really enjoyed the trip down memory lane. If you’ve got any memories you want to add, e-mail them to me at dnsteinle@earthlink.net, or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter (@davidsteinle).