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There’ll be frost on the merlitons tonight October 19, 2011

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Cold front is a relative term down here in the northernmost outpost of the Caribbean, mostly a matter of lashing down my bachelor-sized, old-fashioned plastic garbage can, the smallest I could find, as I do not have one of the heavy wheeled carts the city distributed a few years back. The wind blows fierce, a rain squall or two waters the dahlias, and you think perhaps a long sleeved shirt after dark.

Last night was the first truly cool night of the Fall, a real screecher with the wind singing in the wires and various plastic things dancing down the street. It is great sport to sit on my stoop (my resin chair laying beneath my bungee-secured garbage can), sipping some of the day’s leftover coffee and watch the neighbors chasing things down the street.

I favor hats and it’s a good thing I took up wearing a wool Basque beret some years ago, starting with the one I inherited from my father, as many of my other hats have unfortunate aerodynamic qualities in a forty-knot gust. If you have ever pursued a straw fedora that has got itself onto a wind-blown brim roll you know exactly what I mean. A beret is the perfect thing to keep a mostly rocky-top head warm when the temperature dips into the fifties.

It’s too soon to think about claiming the turkey smoker from the house on Toulouse, sas no one else in the family cares for them that way so I might as well take it, but it is time to begin to cull t-shirts from the shelf in the closet leaving a smaller Fall selection, and haul out the plastic bag the comforter came in that stores my small store of winter clothes.

It is time to try to find a butcher with a real chilli plate, as those I knew 20 years ago are long gone. My sister the foodie has well supplied me with chillies and found me a single-pound bag of masa (which since our influx of Hispanic neighbors now seems mostly to come in five pound sacks), and think of making up a big iron skillet batch of real Texas chilli–meat, massa and spices,–fixins as you please on the side. I have to remember the actual brand name of the beans I favor to add as you like, the brand that used to say “Man Pleasin” on the can but that slogan has gone the way of Aunt Jemima’s extended family).

I was once inured to the cold when I was well into my decade at the other end of the Mississippi, thinking nothing of quickly hauling the garbage can out while barefoot on nights when the concrete burned my feet like a bed of coals, but lately I’ve reconditioned myself to this climate, complained the least of anyone I know about our just past scorcher of a summer. I have finally remembered to walk slow in the shade, with every appearance of a man out for leisurely coffee and the paper and not five minutes lake for work, not to frog march myself across the parking lot in a race to the air conditioning the way most modern southerners do.

Still, I welcome the sound of the geese that a month and ten years ago filled the sky from horizon to horizon over my son’s pee-wee football Saturday in Minnesota as if they were the entire U.S. Army Air Corp off to bomb the beaches of Normandy. I wipe the drenching dew off the backyard chair and linger with a cigarette and coffee even as my toes curl up in my flip flops (note to self: get new slippers). Our seasons in New Orleans tend more to the ecclesiastical and the festival. Only a few misplaced maples and the cypress show any color, and the old North Dakota saying that sticks in my head–“there’ll be frost on the pumpkins tonight”–seems Odd when the truck gardener parked on Orleans still has a bed full of watermelons.

We will have days of watermelons yet before that the damned damp of sauna August days turns to the bitter chill of winter near the coast, the watery onslaught only a good wool pea coat can keep out, but for now its a pleasant relief, a reminder that the last festivals are behind us and the traditional Yankee holidays are coming up. They are already trialing new Christmas lights in City Park and just the other night I saw two men wrestling a pair of faux firs flocked pink as flamingos from a truck to the year-round, tourist Christmas store on Decatur. It is time to start to think of oyster dressing and mirliton stuffing, to dress the bed with at least a thin blanket against the inevitable chinks in houses built for heat not cold, to check and see if there is nutmeg and allspice in the cabinet before the holiday bakers clear the shelves, or how else am I to make hot buttered rum?

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