Monthly Archives: August 2012
I wrote this story after Coco died, and handed out copies of it at his Second Line. My friends Monica and Marco did the graphics and it prints out really nice in color. Email me if you would like me to send you a copy of the pdf. (By the way, Coco always wanted everyone to know that no chickens were ever harmed while filming the infamous Treme chicken sacrificing episode. He used to say that he would pet the chicken, “and make it purr.”)
I also read the story at the Gold Mine in the French Quarter.
“Coco Robicheaux and Solomon the Rooster”
by Sara Jacobelli © copyright 2011, 2012
The last time I spoke to Coco? At the Apple Barrel, of course, sitting at the bar on a quiet, uneventful day. “What about the rooster?” he asked, after I said we were moving back to the city, finally, after six years. “Where are you going to put the rooster?” Coco always asked about Solomon the Rooster. (Maybe he felt guilty about that chicken sacrificing scene at WWOZ in the HBO series Treme). I told him that Solomon died of natural causes, and after we buried him in the back yard we brought his grief-stricken bride Jezebel back to the farm where we got her.
Solomon the rooster? Jezebel? Well, after Katrina, Liz and Doug from the Apple Barrel adopted a gorgeous rooster they found wandering near their Bywater home. He promptly moved in and became part of the family. They named him Solomon. But the neighborhood is home to a lot of bartenders, waiters and United cab drivers, who didn’t exactly appreciate Solomon crowing his fool head off at 5:00 am. The SPCA tried, unsuccessfully, to nab him using cat traps.
So Liz called me one day. Since we had relocated to Vacherie six months after the storm, we were the only people she could think of who could take him. Liz asked, “Do you want a rooster?” I was floored. How often does someone ask if you want a rooster? “Well, uh, sure. How does he get along with your cats?” Liz assured me the cats had developed a “healthy respect” for Solomon, no doubt due to those lethal looking spurs.
We lived in the “Back of the back” of Vacherie, on a canal leading to the lake. So our sojourn to a Cajun fishing village on Lac Des Allemands now included a Katrina rooster. He had a string around one leg, so we suspect he had a history as a fighting cock. Mark cut the string off, and we let him have the run of the neighborhood. In this swamp land of fishermen, no one minded his greet-the-day crowing, although they grumbled about the chicken poop. Our cats, especially Boris, got along fine with Solomon. We’d often find Boris and Solomon hanging out together in the garage.
Mark insisted Solomon needed a bride after he spotted him chasing girl ducks and attempting to fool around with the broom in the back of the pick up truck. We visited a local farmer who said “Sure, you can have a hen.” Being a city girl I asked, “Does it matter what kind of chicken she is? I mean, can they, get together, if they’re uh, different chicken brands?” The farmer assured me the chickens would figure it out, and gave us a plain little black and white checkered hen. She was so tiny, we called her a child bride. Her lips were black, so the local kids called her the “Goth chicken.”
Mark came up with the name Jezebel one night, after waking from a dream. Solomon and Jezebel soon became inseparable. They loved scrounging for worms after it rained and sucking the juice out of grapes. Solomon, ever the gentleman, always let Jezebel eat first. I worried that alligators would eat them.
We would bring pictures of Solomon and Jezebel to the Barrel. Doug would beam with pride. “My boy Solomon” he’d say, petting Keely the dog. “Sol is very, very smart” Doug would assure us. “He outsmarted the SPCA,” Liz would chime in. “Doug would talk chicken talk to him,” Liz explained. At this point, everyone in the bar would start clucking.
I’m not sure how smart Solomon was, but he was definitely a survivor, having survived ninth ward cockfights and Katrina.
We had the chickens for a couple of years. All of our friends’ kids loved to feed and chase them. Just watching those two free range chickens come running for their chicken scratch was funny. Solomon died one day, apparently of natural causes. Jezebel was so lonely, she tried to crow in the mornings. We brought her back to the farm, and she was soon lost in a sea of other chickens. We visit her sometimes, but we’re never quite sure which one she is.
Solomon, on the other hand, cut a striking figure of red, green and gold. Photos don’t do him justice, perhaps a brilliant portrait artist could have captured those colors. The green was absolutely iridescent. He greeted each sunrise with a glorious crow.
So in Coco’s mind, and the rest of the Barrel, we became the “people with the rooster.” Solomon and Jezebel, the lighter side of Katrina. A relief from talk of loss and pain, shattered lives and heartbreak. The tale of a handsome, macho rooster strutting his stuff and his worshipful young bride.
Coco was an ordained minister and our spiritual icon. He performed weddings for friends, played music when they died. His smile, mischievous spirit, and wise words are woven into the fabric of our lives. When Coco missed my “almost graduation” party at Vaughan’s due to a bout with the flu, he told me, “But I was there in spirit, babe.”
The loss of Coco Robicheaux is a collective loss to New Orleans. That is how we live here. We share our triumphs and our sorrows, our loves and our losses. We cherish our musicians and our writers and our artists. And our chickens.
Photo Credits: “Solomon the Rooster” and “Coco Robicheaux and John Williams” by the author
“If a boy can’t have a good teacher, give him a psychological cripple or an exotic failure to cope with; don’t just give him a bad, dull teacher.” Schoolmaster Dunstan Ramsey in Fifth Business by Robertson Davies
(Of course, this applies to girls as well. SJ)
East Side Stories
(Tales of growing up on the East Side of Bridgeport, CT)
For Cheryl Burdge and Greg Klembara and Neil Armstrong
By Sara Jacobelli
© copyright 2012
City, country or suburb, public school or private, things are always different for kids when a substitute takes over the class. Kind of like a holiday. When we had Beardsley Elementary School’s infamous and unusual sub, Miss Cournious, the day was downright unpredictable. Even the air felt different. It was almost dangerous. Here we were, a bunch of kids, let loose with a full-blown maniac in charge. My friend Ellen, one grade younger, thought Miss Cournious was a little scary, but I knew better. Miss Cournious was a rebel. An out an out monkeywrencher. The adults around us never seemed to have a clue; they paid no attention to Miss Cournious. To them she was just another spinster substitute. I always thought Miss Cournious was like a color that grownups couldn’t see.
She was old, very old. She was skinny, and always wore a long, faded, wrinkled violet dress. I never saw her wear anything else. Year after year she looked exactly the same, never getting any older, never changing her dress. She wore scuffed white girl’s sneakers because she didn’t drive, she walked to school like us kids. My brother Nicky, six years older than me, also had Miss Cournious as a sub all through Beardsley School. To an East Side kid, she was as perennial as the Fourth of July Wing Ding parade, autumn leaves, Halloween, the Wizard of Oz, the World Series, the Thanksgiving Harding-Central Game, snowball fights, Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter Sunday Mass, and summer vacation.
Miss Cournious never followed the lesson plans left by the regular teachers. She didn’t even bother to look at them. This frustrated the teachers, but always delighted the kids. The only “work” she ever had us do, if you could call it that, was her “Scrambles.” She’d write a few words on the blackboard, scrambled up, like “hoolsc” means “school.” And you had to unscramble them. That was it. Plus the words were always ridiculously easy. I had her several times a year, from kindergarten through sixth grade, and that was the only attempt she ever made at school work. No arithmetic, no history, no geography, no English composition, no homework. Even if our teacher was gone for the whole week. I swear she even scrambled the same words every year.
Mostly she told stories. By the time we entered third grade, we were old hands at dealing with Miss Cournious. We knew her routines, her likes and dislikes. New kids would be confused. We knew and loved her stories by heart. “Tell about the hotel you’ll gonna build onna moon”, class clown Greg Klembara would egg her on. This was a few years before the astronauts actually landed on the moon. One of Miss Cournious’ big obsessions was that, in the future, you could take an elevator to the moon. And she intended to be the first person to build a hotel there. We, as her favorite students, were of course guaranteed First Class reservations.
She didn’t like it when we shook our heads yes and no, she’d yell at us and call us monkeys. She hated that children’s song, “This Old Man” and whenever we sang, “This old man goes rolling home” she’d scream, “He sounds like he’s drunk, sounds like he’s a drunk old bum rolling home like that, he must have been in the bar all night.” She assured us some day in the not-too-distant future, we would be able to walk down the street and think ”ice cream cone” and one would appear, just like that. David Beatty would frantically wave his arm in the air, asking in his loud voice, “uh, Miss Cournious, uh, any flavor?”
She wouldn’t let us walk in the front of the room by the teacher’s desk. She called that the “Holy Ground.” For days following the regular teacher’s reappearance, we were a strange tribe indeed, ritually relishing our freedom to stomp all over the Sacred Holy Ground, giggling.
I watched the historic moon landing in July 1969 on the tiny black and white portable TV in our cluttered kitchen. Me and my goofy friend Cheryl Burdge, who always made me laugh. We drank home made milkshakes and watched the astronauts land on the moon. It was the summer between Beardsley Elementary and East Side Middle School. After history was made, we hung out on the back porch of my three decker apartment building, Cheryl chattered on about middle school and Harding High, make up, cute guys. She tried teaching me cheerleading moves. I was hopeless, a determined tomboy, not the least bit interested in either make up or cheerleading. None of which deterred Cheryl from frenzied attempts to make me act like a girl.
Barelegged and barefoot, we scratched mosquito bites. Tried to sing, “Hey Jude” but couldn’t remember all of the words. Laughed about good times at Beardsley School, worried about tough times ahead at East Side Middle. For some reason, this summer didn’t appear to spread out as long as previous summers. It didn’t seem as dreamy or as endless. Life was speeding up. I thought about those depressing factories near Beardsley School. I already knew I didn’t want to end up working in them. How would I ever get out of Bridgeport? I looked up at the moon and thought about Miss Cournious. And that damned hotel of hers.
Photo Credits: “Beardsley School” by Sara Jacobelli
The “Moon” photo is copyright free.
Update: “Elevator to the Moon”
Musician Greg Klembara:
 Davies, Robertson. Fifth Business. Viking Press: Ontario and New York, 1970. 129.
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Photo Credit: “Chloe Catches a Mouse” by Sara Jacobelli