categories: Cocktail Hour
I am reading at Octavia Books in New Orleans at 6 on this coming Tuesday, and I’ll be very disappointed if my close personal friend Anderson Cooper doesn’t show up. Is it possible that he doesn’t know that he has a bit part in The Tarball Chronicles? Or maybe he does know, and thinks he may have been treated a tad too harshly. Some of you may remember my Anderson encounter from last summer’s blog. Here is how it came out in the book:
Kristian Sonnier joins me around drink two. An outgoing and generous man, Kristian is a regular here and is therefore a pal of French 75’s renowned bartender, Chris, a bald man with thick black-framed glasses who struts about the place in a white suit coat and black bow tie. Chris seems a little full of himself, but I like him because he feeds me my Daisies and then a delicious Cornish game hen and perfect little fries thatlook like their middles have been inflated with a tiny bicycle pump. I probably weigh about fifty pounds more than Kristian, but I notice that when we shift to beer I start slowing down and he begins to pick up the drinking pace. I have never been to this city before but maybe in New Orleans I’ve found my lost tribe of eaters and drinkers. We take our legal “walking beers” through the French Quarter and head down to the river.
As we stroll I tell Kristian my theories about the “oiled pelican,” the gap between the over-hyped and the real. The spill has spurred the creation of new myths and one of the most re-told is The Myth of The Oiled Pelican. Pelicans, particularly the oiled variety, have become the media darlings of the spill, and while gannets and laughing gulls and tricolored herons must bristle with resentment, pelecanus occidentalis has claimed center stage. In my head I have come to call whatever the biggest, latest accepted story is “the oiled pelican.” The oiled pelican is anything obvious or anyone who tries to treat anything, in our complex messy world, in a simple, obvious way. The general consensus, down here, is that the oil was over-reported at first but that now it’s being underreported. In other words the latest oiled pelican is that there are no oiled pelicans. It’s dumbfounding to watch the media nod and accept this idea when in fact little has changed. On the same day you are staring down at oil on the beaches you can read that there is no oil on the beach. The truth is that the disaster has now exceeded the national attention span and the news people are simply sick of it and ready to move on. Look, there’s lots of oil! Oh, now there’s not so much oil! Once the obvious symbols go away–Look, there aren’t so many oiled pelicans anymore–the media can too. Okay, back to business everyone. Time to swing the spotlight elsewhere. What have those kooky Tea Partiers been up anyway?
When I have finished spewing at poor Kristian, he has a funny idea. Before I know it we are off on a celebrity hunt and, soon enough, we find the celebrity in his natural habitat, under the spotlight by the water. There he is espousing about the spill, which the locals find comical since the oil is nowhere near their city. But the locals also love this man, and the attention he shines on their metropolis, and that love is apparent as we close in on the CNN truck. Near the truck a small crowd has gathered to watch the white-haired man in a black T-shirt two sizes too small as he delivers his newscast.
Another contact of mine in New Orleans calls Anderson Cooper “the biggest shit stain on the water.” I can see it, can see how he might fail the “no more bullshit” test, can see the whole phony baloney, superstar, simplistic-take-on-complicated-issues thing.
But Kristian is more philosophical: “Of course it’s kind of funny that he’s broadcasting from the river, two hundred miles from the real action. But he gives voice to the people’s anger. He has Billy Nungesser on quite a lot for instance.”
When he finishes broadcasting, Cooper comes over to where our small crowd stands and shakes hands with the men and hugs the ladies. If there is an edge of Beatlemania to the whole thing, I give the man credit for doing his best to conduct himself with dignity, signing autographs and getting his picture taken and smiling. The only truly embarrassing moment is when some college kids start to slather over the poor man. One particularly enthusiastic (drunken) boy goes on and on about how much he loves “Anderson,” as he calls him over and over to his face, and how he wants to be him when/if he grows up. After he gets his picture taken with his hero, the boy skips off down toward the river, lifted on the wings of celebrity.
That’s when I see my own chance.
“I can’t profess my love for you,” I say. “But how about a picture?”
At which point, just like the college boy, I throw my arm around Anderson.
And so my first night in the city of New Orleans ends with my embracing the king of the oiled pelicans.