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Tales of New Orleans

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I'd reached the point in the evening when a gnat in my drink seemed more like a feature than a bug. I'd reached the point where that line seemed like comic genius, so I tweeted it. I'd reached the point where having a small dog walking up and down the bartop seemed perfectly normal. I'd reached peak New Orleans.

My wife and I journeyed to the Big Easy last week. She was attending a legal conference; I was along for the free hotel room and the chance to spend four days wandering around NOLA.

And so it was, very late one night, that I found myself sitting on a folding chair on the sidewalk outside Cajun Mike's Pub 'n Grub on Baronne Street talking to Johnny Poppa. Actually, I was mostly listening, as Johnny stroked his lapdog (a Yorkie named Chile Pepper who'd spent most of the night on the bartop) and told tales of his vast wealth. He was immaculately groomed, wearing hip clothes, all black, and Gucci slippers with no socks. He smoked a large cigar. I made him to be around 60.

Johnny said he'd been a musician but had fallen in love a few years back with a Rockefeller named Nancy and gotten married.

"I love her. And she's made me very rich," he said, showing me her picture. She was holding Chile Pepper. He also showed me phone pictures of his new Bentley, and his Cessna jet, and his beach house in South Carolina. As he ordered another round of drinks, he casually pointed to a couple of nearby buildings that he said he owned.

My BS detector was on high alert, but his tales of travel to Vegas and hanging with various musicians were incredibly detailed. Plus, there were a couple of locals sitting with us, and they were taking it all in as a matter of course. They seemed to know Johnny from way back. Still . . .

A little later, Johnny pointed to the Roosevelt Hotel across the street. "See that top floor, the 14th?" he said. "Nancy and I have made that our penthouse. We own the hotel."

At that moment, my journalism genes, however soggy, kicked in. As it happened, I was staying at the Roosevelt, on the 12th floor. I made a mental note to visit the 14th floor the next day — and to look up who owned the hotel. In the meantime, Johnny Poppa was buying, and I was happy to let him.

The next morning, I headed to a local coffee shop for sugar and caffeine and read about Donald Trump's latest Kabuki theater performance, a speech in which he called Obama the "founder of ISIS."

He forcefully reiterated the statement the next day, then said it was sarcasm the next day, then said it "wasn't that sarcastic" the next. Then he blamed the media for the whole fustercluck.

The pattern is so entrenched now, we should be able to predict it: Say something outrageous, double down, then say it was a joke, then blame the media. Repeat ad nauseum.

But nothing seems to deter Trump's legion of believers. The truest thing he's said this entire campaign is that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose a core voter. Sometimes faith will sustain belief in the face of all facts to the contrary.

And speaking of facts ... I went to the 14th floor of the Roosevelt Hotel that afternoon. No penthouse, just a floor full of hotel rooms. I looked up the owners of the hotel. There were no Rockefellers or Poppas on the board of First Class Hotels, the corporation that owns the hotel (and many others around the country).

So who is the mysterious Johnny Poppa? Is that even his name? I don't know. And good luck googling him.

I do know that if he's not working for Donald Trump, he should be. He's a master of sarcasm.


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