Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

“Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

-Albert Einstein


Friday, February 24, 2012

Humor as a Survival Technique

The great Louis Armstrong sang, “It’s a Wonderful World.” Satchmo was a positive guy and someone who really enjoyed life.  He spent a lot of time grinning, laughing, and wiping his face with his white handkerchief.

If you’ve read my latest book or my blogs, you know that I’ve always admired old Satch.  My brother and I had the chance to meet him after a concert when we were kids. In fact, a policeman captured us trying to sneak backstage, but Louie told him to let us go and called us over to talk. That was a thrill for two young trumpet players.

            The point of all this is that Louis Armstrong was a happy guy, who loved to laugh and joke around. I’ve never seen things as bad in our country and the world as they are right now. Things were tough at times for Satchmo too, but he still laughed.

There are times when finding something worthy of a chuckle is like trying to find a comedy club in Iran.  

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mistaken Identity on Bourbon Street

      I’m going to move on from the New Orleans stories, because they may be getting boring. But I want to mention a couple of short stories about another one of my friends. Only one of these events occurred at a Super Bowl.  I’ll call this guy “Hunter,” which is not his real name. Hunter tried out for the Raiders, but didn’t make the cut, although he did make the cut in college, gaining a Master Degree from Stanford. He was usually prominently involved in our “social” activities.

            Hunter was one of the original “Animals,” despite being a very smart guy. As an example of his cleverness, I remember an NFL game where Hunter had a game ticket pinned on his hat. This wasn’t at the Super Bowl. I think it was a game at Candlestick Park, but I may be wrong.

There was a major effort to cut down on ticket scalping and the police were determined to put an end to it. But Hunter was even more determined to make a quick buck by selling a game ticket for much more than the face amount. Wearing the ticket on his hat was the bait.

            A police officer in plain clothes came up to Hunter and asked him if he was selling the ticket on his hat. Hunter said, “Yes.”  The officer asked how much Hunter wanted. Hunter replied that he would sell it for the face amount of the ticket, which was legal. The cop quickly said, “I’ll buy it.”  Hunter hesitated and said, “Sorry, but I really can’t sell it.”  The officer asked, “Why not?” Hunter replied, “Well, it’s stuck to my hat and I would have to sell my hat.”

            The cop asked, “Okay. How much do you want for your hat?” Hunter replied, “I would consider selling the hat for $500.00.”  (I don’t remember the amount he actually quoted.)  To which the officer had no response and no reason to arrest Hunter. The hapless cop shuffled away in defeat. There’s no law against selling a hat.

My last blog mentioned our first night in New Orleans during a Super Bowl weekend and an incident at a popular club on Bourbon Street.  Picture the same atmosphere…crowded streets, noise; shoulder to shoulder people moving like river currents running both ways up and down the streets of the French Quarter.

            Several of us were walking down one of the crowded New Orlean streets. Hunter suddenly turned and walked rapidly across the street where a very pretty woman was walking alone. We watched as Hunter put his arm around her and proceeded to get into what appeared to be a very passionate embrace, kissing, fondling and all that stuff.  It was love at first sight.

            Just as suddenly as he left us, he spun around, left the girl standing in bewilderment, and walked very briskly back to us. We asked him what happened, but he wouldn’t talk to us. He wouldn’t even make eye contact. After almost a block of walking without saying a word, he suddenly lurched into an alley and threw up. We didn’t know what his problem was. Bad oysters maybe? He appeared fine before he walked across the street.

            Later he confessed. It was very difficult for him to talk about his experience and he needed some liquid backbone to get started.  It turns out that the “pretty lady” wasn’t a lady at all. She was a “he.” Hunter discovered this at some point in his groping frenzy. You can imagine his shock.

He probably set a world record for falling in and out of love; all within less than two minutes.  Actually more like five minutes, if you add throwing up.

I don’t think Hunter ever got over that hideous moment of discovery.  Fortunately we had a clinical psychologist with us and the Doc got a new patient.  

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Friday, February 10, 2012

New Orleans Super Bowl

New Orleans on a Super Bowl weekend is one gigantic party. Back when I was still a relatively young man, but before my brain was fully developed, I spent a wild weekend in New Orleans with a bunch of animals.  In fact, some of these guys were part of a larger group actually known by the name, “The Animals,” and they fit the description. 

This was probably in the ‘70s and I don’t even remember who played in the big game. The game was not the main feature on Super Bowl trips in those days. I’ve been to more than one Super Bowl, but this one was exceptional.

Our group was made up of a few of the “Animals”, along with a psychologist friend of mine, who we appointed as our group therapist, several current players for the 49ers, who weren’t contenders that year, and me. It was an eclectic group and certainly not of one mind, although I think we left our minds behind when we got on the plane.

I’m going to use nicknames to protect the guilty. “Willie” worked with the 49ers in some capacity and was a close friend of mine since childhood. He arranged for us to join a group of the players for Super Bowl trips, which made the trips even more interesting. There must have been a dozen or so of us the year we went to New Orleans.

Sleep wasn’t on the menu and the activities went full bore day and night. The first night after our arrival, “Doc,” my racquetball partner and a University Psychology Professor, and I were leaning against a building on Bourbon Street, along with “Chief,” another friend for many years. We were taking a break and observing the activities on the street. I think Doc and I were the mitigating force in many adventures that weekend. We tried to keep things somewhat sane, with very little success.

Chief is a large Cherokee Indian and a very funny guy. He was talking with Doc and me as we waited for two of our guys to come out of Pat O’Brien’s, a very popular club on Bourbon Street. We didn’t realize that this was the calm before the storm.

The two guys inside the club were Willie and “Atlas,” one of the “then” current 49er linemen. The guy is built like The Hulk and, since his season had just ended, he was in top “playing” shape.

We watched in amazement as the crowd in front of the club was suddenly forced back as the club began to empty of patrons. There seemed to be an ocean of people spilling out of the club, with a whirlpool of action in the middle of the crowd.

We recognized Willie and Atlas being forced to the street. Cops and several bouncers were beating both men mercilessly. Willie flipped over a barrier and hit the gutter hard, while one cop continued beating him with his night stick. We immediately rushed into the action to help our pals.

Here’s how Doc told the story after the event. This is based on his perspective as he bent over, pulling Willie out of the gutter to safety. Doc said, “I was trying to pull ‘Willie’ out of the gutter, when I saw that big club coming down on us. Suddenly, the club stopped in mid-air. A hand shot up and grabbed the cop's arm. Then the arm and the cop disappeared.”

I have to admit - that was my hand. Going after a cop is not smart; especially in the south where they shoot you. They had just killed a guy a block from where we were. But this cop was having too much fun bashing my friend with his club, so I “intervened.”

Atlas had even taken a beating, which is hard to believe, but the bouncers pulled his head back by his hair so their buddies could work on his face. I doubt if any of them could have taken Atlas one on one.

Willie suffered the most damage.  His nose was broken and flattened all over his bloody face and neither man knew where he was or what had happened. A bashing to the head by fists and clubs tends to do that to you.

To shorten the story, I somehow managed to avoid arrest, but the other two guys weren’t as lucky. A couple of us took a cab and followed the squad car to the police station where we bailed our two battered buddies out of jail at about 3 in the morning. The two guys filed suit and a year later their case against Pat O’Brien’s went to court. That is another interesting story in itself, but the end result was that they won the case.  

That was just the first night of our wild Super Bowl weekend. There was more to that particular night and even more to come in following days. However, in the interest of protecting impressionable children, folks on heart medication and nursing mothers, I’ll skip the rest for now.

My image of New Orleans and the jazz clubs had morphed into something a lot less musical than Dixieland jazz. I liked it better in the old days.  Swinging bands are more fun and much safer than swinging fists and clubs.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Jambalaya, Codfish Pie, Filly Gumbo… and Sugar Cane

* Some people stopped reading the previous blog after the photo of the combo.  Always be sure to click on read more to continue reading the full article.

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I have to admit that I planted a “teaser” in my last blog by mentioning a beautiful dancer I met on Bourbon Street in New Orleans.  That was to keep you reading. Actually there’s not much to that story, but I have to admit that I still remember “Sugar Cane.” With a name like that, you know she’s not a ballet dancer.

True - she wasn’t a ballet dancer by any stretch, but she was gorgeous and I was still a teenager. “Miss Cane” would spot me in the club and come over and dance just for me, although I think the audience was enjoying it too. If I was sitting at the bar, she would climb up on the bar and dance for me there. Although I was embarrassed, I enjoyed it and thought I was in love. I became a regular at the club despite my buddy Steve’s efforts to divert my attention to some good jambalaya in a Creole restaurant.

There was also a famous dancer named “Lilly Saint Claire (I think),” who blessed me with her attention and a signed photo of her that I didn’t want my parents to see. I’m not sure of the name, but she was known as “The Cat Lady.” All of that sounds exciting, but it didn’t amount to anything more than what I’ve described. Sad, but true.

I was a bashful kid when it came to women. That trait kept me out of trouble on many occasions in New Orleans. I would leave Sugar Cane to dance for someone else and I’d find some good old fashioned Dixieland Jazz to wash over me like a cold shower. That always brought me back to my first love - music.

The food was great in New Orleans.  I remember eating tons of fresh oysters in oyster bars all over the French Quarter and tasting some delicious Creole dishes in small restaurants off the main drag. Steve and I rented a place a short distance from the action and took a trolley car most places. Riding that trolley past those southern homes and the unique architecture with the French influence was exhilarating.

I could describe the trip Steve and I made across the country, finally arriving home, but frankly, with the exception of a few high points, it was not particularly exciting from what I remember. I do remember driving forever across Texas after three days without sleep. The manager of one of the casinos in Vegas picked us up in a very fancy car and was too tired to drive the whole way, so I drove. I fought falling asleep at the wheel and basically aimed the car between nods, while Steve and the manager slept.

My next trip to New Orleans was for a Super Bowl many years later and that was much different.

By the way, I wonder what pretty “Little Miss Sugar Cane” looks like now. That’s a scary thought!
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- The New Orleans series will be found in the archives under “When I Was a Kid”-