Reminiscences from Friends
I met Jim in the early 80's when I was working for Darryl Berger on the development of the Jackson Brewery. Jim was an unsung pioneer in the development of Decatur Street. He opened lots of doors along the street in bringing neighbors together for the opening. I loved his stories about greeks pulling knives in the bars along Decatur in the old days. actually, I loved all Jim's stories--especially the one about waking up with his nose in the armpit of a french girl--but I won't go there. Jim was also one of the original vendors in the French Quarter Festival when there wasn't much money to be made. Years later, when it became successful, he wanted to come back and sell liquor instead of food and when I said no, he told me I was communist and accused me of standing in the way of the free enterprise system.
He didn't say this. He screamed it at me across Decatur Street one day but the incident never interfered with our friendship. He was always there when I needed anything and he always gave me so much encouragement and praise about the events I produce. I'll never forget my first washington Mardi Gras with Jim, Clancy, the Storyville Stompers and Ken Ferdinand (who was my husband for the weekend because the cheapie tickets Jim got were issued to Mr. and Mrs. Ferdinand). we covered most parties and crashed the ones where we weren't invited, but in our free time, Jim and I spent hours taking long walks around the Washington neighborhood where we stayed, just talking and philosophizing. In recent years, Jim always gave my fiancée, Alan, a hard time. Alan, the jew, he called him and then razzed him when he became a Catholic. Just last week he waved at us as we drove by Molly's -- like he wanted to say something--but we were in a hurry. and then I saw him in the doorway a few days later, but I didn't stop. I wish now I had. with Jim's passing, so has a legacy--a crusty old irishman with a zest for life and for sin and for politics. I'll cherish my memories and experiences with Jim and miss him dearly. I was proud to call him a friend.
What a loss for us all.
French Quarter Festivals, Inc.
I met Jim on my first visit to Molly's perhaps a dozen or more years ago. I was in the French Quarter with Fr. Mike Tueth, a Jesuit priest friend who was visiting from St. Louis, and one thing Mike wanted to do that day was buy an Irish Coffee cup as a souvenir for his sister. We made a stop or two, maybe three or four, but none of the places we went into had one, and no bartender could tell us where we could find one.
Then I thought of Molly's, which I thought was perhaps an Irish bar, and Mike and I headed for Decatur Street. We sat down and ordered a drink and posed our question to the bartender. He pointed to Jim as the man to ask. I introduced the two of us to him, probably with more emphasis on Mike's clerical state than Mike would have wanted, and told him why we were there.
Jim stopped whatever he was doing, and from somewhere under the bar or deep in a cupboard, he produced a cup. "Here," he said, putting it on the bar, "will this do?"
It would do perfectly well, Mike assured him. "How much?"
Jim just waved his hand, as I remember, looking a little embarrassed that Mike would even ask, and said something like, "Naw, nothing, it's yours."
That was a small gesture, to be sure, but it meant a lot to Mike and to me. I stopped in Molly's often after that, and that incident stuck with
me. There wasn't a time that I didn't think of Jim's kindness that day.
And because of it, I remember Jim Monahan first and foremost as a kind man. That's not a bad way to be remembered.
It's hard to believe Jim Monaghan is gone. One of the first people I met here more than a decade ago, Jim was a part of the warp and woof of this glorious city for more than 30 years and represented all that is great about New Orleans.
The first week I was town, my boss Larry Lorenz suggested I go to Molly's at the Market on Thursday night at 10 where Governor Edwin Edwards, then running against David Duke, would be the celebrity bartender. As was typical, Edwards charmed the pants off me (not literally in this case: my Insignificant Other was visiting), and thus began an acquaintanceship with the most fascinating pol in the state. That night we also met Jim, a fellow with a past--and a wonderful joie de vivre which only a cantankerous, story-telling Irishman in his own bar can carry off in these politically-correct times.
Due to intimate acquaintanceships with a couple of problem drinkers, I've vowed to forgo alcohol if I'm the designated driver, which is most of the time. But that never affects the fun at Molly's, which is always filled with colorful characters who like to hang with one of their own: Jim welcomed (almost) all. And when I became head of the Press Club and was honored with a turn behind the bar myself, Jim didn't mock me but very kindly covered for my limited bartending skills.
So it was only natural that when my friend Miss Modine, Liz Scott, wanted to get back into a social life, I insisted she join me at Molly's on Media Night. On the way home, she admitted I was right, she knew most of the patrons, and the publican had been so solicitous of us, even attending to our drink needs himself, obviously a reflection of his fascination with my clever repartee. However, the next night, when Liz received a dozen yellow roses and a dinner invitation from Jim, I caught on to the instant, seemingly unlikely attraction felt by the late-night reprobate-who had really lived a life-for the quietly witty mother of six, big home in the suburbs, married for nearly 30 years to her first real boyfriend, a dentist. And as we all know, Liz and Jim were together ever since.
They were kind enough to invite me to become a member of the Decatur Street Marchers in the annual St. Patrick's Day parades, a wonderful distraction around spring midterms. I tried to repay their generosity by arranging for various journalism organizations to schedule Thursday nights at Molly's in their New Orleans convention plans, and I've escorted dozens of visiting journos personally. I enjoyed pimping for Jim, who even agreed to serve as a member of the Press Club board himself (as long as the only events he had to attend were awards banquets when Liz was nominated). He was a true friend of the Press Club, often buying a whole table at Gridiron, paying for ads in our various publications.
As Press Club historian, I've written about the various official watering holes we rented or even owned in the past. Molly's was ours on a different basis: we came there because of Jim. Whether it was Schleifstein throwing away his kids' college tuition in the video poker machine night after night or New Orleans poet laureate Andrei Cordescu musing at the Window on Sunday, Walker and Christianberry in their kilts doing a riverdance on the sidewalk, Jim II & Jim III bantering about who is taller-the center of the action, the ringmaster of the parades,
the founder of the feast-with Liz running around writing it all down, trying to make order out of the happy chaos-was always Jim.
Thus, it is fitting Jim Monaghan will remain with us at Molly's literally, since he will remain with us in spirit forever.
Here's looking at you, Jim.
Sherry Lee Alexander
All great bars are places where people from all walks of life meet and mingle, where people in $2,000 suits can stand comfortably next to kids with green hair and nose rings.
Molly's is like that, and it couldn't be without someone like Jim, who tolerated all sorts, but didn't take B.S. from any of them.
You made your world a better place, Jim, and we'll miss you.
Jim had a remarkable knack for connecting with people. Certainly, he had no desire to be everybody's friend -- he separated the wheat from the chaff.
But once Jim deemed you wheat, you knew it, and somehow getting respect from this salty old guy was flattering.
I probably first met Jim somewhere soon after my 18th birthday. My older brother was seeing a girl whose mother was Jim's friend, and Jim managed to solder those tenuous links into a friendship with my brother. Later, when I was in journalism school at Loyola and then working in the field, Molly's became a place to chat with professors and colleagues -- and reconnect with Jim, with whom I never had a dull conversation. And when Jim hooked up with Liz Scott, he was hooking up with my mom's best friend, not to mention one of my college journalism professors.
It became a tradition among my several siblings to spend every Mardi Gras morning at Molly's sipping frozen Irish coffee's and shooting the breeze with Jim and Liz and whoever else was around. We also celebrated life's milestones there, with Jim sitting in, supplying great dialogue and, too often, buying the drinks.
When I think of New Orleans, I imagine Molly's at the epicenter, with Jim holding court. The night after he died, a group of us made a pilgrimage to his bar. The Friday night crowd buzzed like always. Aside from Jim's physical absence, nothing seemed different. In fact, looking around at the walls and faces, I saw that, in a very real sense, Jim was still there.
Jim Monaghan loved stories and a wager: as good as any newspaperman, columnist, or bookie. He figured that New Orleans would always provide a kaleidoscope of opportunities for both. Jim fed off the "connected-ness" of stories: who is doing the telling, who is doing the listening, and what's the topic? Like a big-story reporter, he knew the stories to invest his time in. Like an amateur sleuth, he searched around why the storyteller was doing the telling and the reaction of the
audience--that gave him other leads. Like a magazine editor at his window on Decatur, he arranged the stories and the storytellers. And as a bar-owner, he gathered the ears and greased the tongues.
The New Orleans chapters in Jim's own book would be a melange of colour with the characters from the French Market's end of Decatur, the pin-striped shady greys of political chicanery, and the stark contrast like type on a new page of the Casino's move as a full paid-up member of the Big Easy's Chamber of Commerce.
All those that knew Jim would look to these chapters, some with the joy of knowing Jim and being a part of this New Orleans common to both. Some will look as local historians, some as anthropologists and some with a litigator's eye, but mostly as lolly-gaggers and tourists fueled with the headiness and history of the Quarter. But all who look at these chapters will see that your adopted son, Jim Monaghan, asylum seeker from mundane America, did good...but not just for Jim, for New Orleans, the Quarter, Decatur Street, its traders, its workers, its residents and its visitors.
Jim's N'Awlins chapters will contain events we remember: he made us part of them; he made events happen. We shared experiences and made new friends and we returned to be with them again and again. Good business Jim and great sense of community. Our community was literally world-wide: we weren't tourists, we were part of New Orleans. And while these chapters of Jim's will probably only amount to maybe a paragraph in the post 70s chapter in the bigger history of Decatur Street, or just an honourable mention in the New Orleans Civic Council political history (depending on who is doing the writing), he was connected. He made an impression--and whether that's recorded in terms of column inches, photos on the wall of Molly's, or our own personal memories and experiences, I want to thank him for that--and for putting me in touch will all of you in New Orleans, because I was one of these stories and we both enjoyed the connection.
Jim, we'll miss you.
Mike Moloney, The World's Tallest Leprechaun,
for all at Circus Belfast, Northern Ireland
It was three days before Christmas on WWL-AM, the radio station long owned by the Catholic church, when I invited Jim Monaghan and political pollster Joe Walker for their annual radio visit. In years past I had been careful to invite Monghan--an avowed atheist--AFTER the 25th of December, but too much cocaine and too little sleep made me less careful. And so the topic was the best and worst stories of the Millennium. Walker leads off, offering McCarthyism as the worst. I say, "Very interesting, and how about your nomination, Jim?
A pause and then Jim says, "How about that Christ B.S.?"
It is impossible to describe the anger of the callers except to say crucifixion would have been considered too lenient for all three of us, and on this day, Walker was uncharacteristically totally innocent...
I like to think there is a Heaven this morning, if only to imagine what Monaghan would make of it. I have asked the four Bible-Study inmates at the next table, and they say while it might be rough going at first, as far as his getting in, in the end they would expect mercy. In Monaghan terms, it would appear his odds are about 7 to 1.
Monaghan was absolute in his unbelieving, so much so that when he was told they would stop his heart as part of the first surgery--the priest came in just before to offer the last rites--"No thanks, I made a better deal on the other side," was his response.
I had been working at WWL-TV a couple of years the day John (Fritz) Fritzinger came to work from Channel 8. It was his very first day, he was learning to operate the live truck. I say to him, "Go down the street and grab Monaghan, I need him live at five." Monaghan had been partaking of the pre-parade limo-riding where a bar stop is required every half hour and he was now sloshed. Still Fritz does as ordered. I am on live and ad lib to the just-delivered Monaghan, "So, Jim, tell us about the route for tonight's St. Patrick's parade."
A pause, that mischievous Monaghan grin, and then simply" "This is MY Street."
"I see, Jim, right, the parade kicks off here on Decatur and then heads into the Quarter?"
Now Fritz's eyes are bugging out, he sees his new job flashing before his eyes in flames. I give it one more try. "So, Jim, anything new about this year's parade? You have been doing this for a decade now."
But of course this to no use: "This is MY Street."
And for years it was, in part because of Media Night. They all came to rub elbows with Mr. Monaghan--senators, governors and mayors, network stars, pro athletes, and, yes, even a few fellow felons. It was a low point, sitting in Solitary in St. Bernard, when I learned that Monaghan had invented a substitute co-founder for Media Night. The oft-quoted Monaghan was asked how it all started and had to think fast, given my current address and criminal record, and so he came up with the name of the long-departed Picayune scribe Bumpy Doucette. And while Bumpy was Monaghan's pal, he did not create Media Night. Asked about this by a Window gang member over the phone, I said, "Now I know how Ashcroft felt, being beaten by a dead guy." But with Jim, business was business, and friendship was forever. I am happy to report we spoke the week before he died, and was a cantankerous as ever.
If Jim had an earth-bound rival to organized religion, it was the notion of political correctness. To that end he coined the term "Beigeoise" to describe the fair-skinned Blacks who for decades have looked down upon their darker brothers and have controlled City Hall.
Monaghan's only run for political office was as memorable as it was unsuccessful. It was at the council forum on Algiers Point where he shocked a bunch of blue-haired ladies with his economic platform: "What the French Quarter needs is more asses on chairs."
Jim was also campaigning for kinder parking enforcement. When Fritz and I came across a home video of Jim putting a drunk out of Molly's, and the drunk made the mistake of coming at Monaghan, he was decked by one of Jim's gorilla-like lefts. And so we made the video, Jim at the podium, "We need kinder enforcement," cut to the punch, boom, and then Jim "Asses on chairs." It was a big hit at Molly's.
Monaghan was cat lover. He had a zoo-sized cat he hid from the authorities and a bar cat named Fifi. The health Department ran circles around themselves trying to catch Fifi, as there were hundreds of tourists with photos of themselves and Fifi at the bar. When they got close, Monaghan threatened to use his clout at City Hall to have her declared a citizen, but she was stolen from the bar by a grunge kid instead.
Video poker was good to Monaghan. To celebrate, the ex-Grunt who had repaired airplanes in the military purchased a Piper Twin. I was chief pilot for the Mollybird, and the heavens were against us when we were trying to to fly into Jim's Ohio hometown. "What do you mean we can't land?"
"Force 5 thunderstorms, Jim. A DC 10 can't go there right now."
"Screw it, land in Columbus then."
A couple of weeks later, Monaghan shared a dream: "I was in the front, there was an old lady in the back, we were only ten feet up, and she wanted to land, and I kept trying to call you on the cell phone 'cause I didn't know how to land."
While Jim shared dreams with me, I was in his joint the day a blonde named Liz came in with her sister and saddled up to the bar. After an hour, I turned to Jim, who considered a lady who arrived with a toothbrush as a long-term commitment, and I saw that he was goner. Liz (AKA Modine of New Orleans Magazine) and Jim were happily married soon after, and she braved many a bumpy flight in the Mollybird.
Jim was many things: a hard-nosed businessman--who stole help from the competition--a Player in sports, politics and love. Some say he was a racist. I say no to that--look behind the bar: one week an Alsatian bartender and a Polish cook, the next month the bartender is a Black gay guy and the cook from Thailand. It got so we called the joint the League of Nations.
Plans are for a Jazz funeral. Good, Jim loved parades...
At the hospital, he was having a stroke. His face half frozen, Monaghan tells his son, "Now I know how Mohammed Ali feels," and dies with a joke. What more could he ask.
This is indeed a Monaghan kind of day--more asses than chairs, tons more asses than chairs. And just in case some of you do not take offense at that, let me point out that there were very seldom any single entendres in here when Monaghan was around...So there, the abuse clinic is still open.
Today I want to offer a brief tribute to the wit and wisdom of our recently departed friend, as much as is possible in his own words: Jim Monaghan could charm the chrome off a bumper at the same time he was finagling a golf ball through a garden hose. He could assess the comfort level of a person's shoes or the lightness of someone's loafers without look down, and in less time than it took for him to ask, "And just where are you from?"
Very few answers to that question did not elicit a confident smile and a familiar response from Monaghan. For Jim had either lived in the place mentioned, stayed there for a while, done business there. For Jim Monaghan, if not for Gertrude Stein, there was "there" everywhere. So he would reel off the name of a street or a person or a bar or a restaurant or a politician, and the connection would be made, and Jim would have another friend for life. Members of this legion, I daresay, will be dropping in to have a drink and a chat with Monaghan for many years to come.
Monaghan understood that making friends was the essential role of the keeper of a public house, of the publican. (Only recently did he realize the provocation value of being a RE-publican, but that's another story.)
And then there were those few people that Monaghan decided he did not want around. Brutal efficiency was the key then, as he would pronounce, "You're not smart enough to talk to me."
So for all those who were smart enough to talk to Monaghan, Monaghan has decreed that drinks are half-price. I can almost hear him saying, "HURT ME!"
In conclusion, I must fall back again on Monaghan's own words: "Monaghan, dear Monaghan, I hope it works out for you."
Eulogy for Jim Monaghan
(Delivered At Molly's On The Occasion Of His Funeral Dec. 18, 2001)
The poet John Donne wrote that "any man's death diminishes me." If so, then the death of Jim Monaghan must shrink me right down to the size of a molecule, as his life to an extent defined me. Several years ago I was accosted in a supermarket by an unknown man who seemed very excited and pleased to see me. "Hey", he said, "I know you!" I was puzzled. "You know me?" I asked. "Sure, I know you" he replied. "You're Monaghan's friend."
Perhaps no one can be larger than life, but Jim Monaghan certainly lived his life larger than most people live theirs. The mountain of his personality was such that a man could sit in the shadow of it on a hot day and be quite comfortable. I did that for many years and in so doing observed and met a marvelously rich variety of people drawn to the Monaghan orbit, several of whom became friends for life. I know many of you here have vivid recollections of your conversations with Jim, because he lived for the clash of opinions, verbal byplay, and the whole civil battleground of human interaction. No man was quicker with a pungent retort or a subtle needle to puncture pretensions. If your responses were persistently unsatisfactory, you might be the recipient of that classic Monaghan phrase "You're not smart enough to talk to me."
Above all he insisted on telling the truth as he saw it, and had no patience with anything else. Occasionally I would tell him he was living proof that truth is indeed stranger than fiction, thus risking another classic Monaghan response: "You've got farts in your head."
At the same time he was intensely loyal to his friends, and his acts of generosity were manifold. Andrei Codrescu used the phrase "gruffly generous" to describe him, and it would be hard to improve on that. His angers, though sometimes fierce, were always short-lived, while his affections were consistent and enduring.
So colorful was the roman candle of Jim's personality that its extinction puts me in mind of Jack Kerouac's description in his classic novel On The Road of those particular friends whose passion for life dominated the scene. They danced down the street, he said, and he "shambled after them as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody says Awww!"
Tonight we gather --- family, friends, employees, visitors --- to celebrate and commemorate in our individual ways the life, the very large life, of James Leonard Hugh Monaghan, 1938-2001. And Monaghan would hate it if I talked so long as to interfere with the buying of drinks, so I'll just close by saying as Winston Churchill (or someone) said of Rupert Brooke: "We shall not see his like again."
December 15, 2001
James Leonard Monaghan died last night. He died young, but he lived a long life. He packed over 100 years of laughter, playfulness, sarcasm, friendship, hospitality, marketing savvy, charm and curmudgeoness into 63 years.
I first met him at my job. I was eighteen years old when he and his wife at the time, Carol, entered the Maison de Ville Hotel to negotiate on a vacant restaurant across the street. As he and Carol were leaving his meeting with Wayne Karmgaard, (then owner of the hotel) he was approached by Wayne’s cocker spaniel.
“Who’s this?” he asked.
“That’s Wayne’s dog, Molly” I replied.
“What a great name for an Irish saloon” Jim mused.
Shortly after that, the deal between the Monaghans and Karmgaard was consummated and Jim opened the original Molly’s Irish Pub at 732 Toulouse St. I was disenchanted with bouncing paychecks and approached Jim about a job. Sam Miller, the head porter at The Maison de Ville, was working at night at Molly’s as the bartender and vouched for me.
Jim said that Duffy was a good name to have associated with an Irish Pub and hired me as the piano player. After a few nights, Sam told Jim that I was a good kid but I sucked as a piano player, (he was right). Jim then relegated me to Sam’s nights off when we had female bartenders on duty and my title was then changed to piano player/bouncer. I did that for a few months and came to the sudden realization that I made a better bar patron than I did a piano player, or a bouncer, for that matter.
Back then, hippies were everywhere in the Quarter. Proprietors of the tonier restaurants and hotels complained about “undesirables” on the streets. My dad, then General Manager of the Royal Sonesta, was one of them. Jim declared, for all who would listen to him, “If these kids are undesirables, I’m an undesirable too!” He knew then that these raggedy kids would grow up to be the people who would keep his cash registers ringing well into the future. He was right!
Over the years, I was a regular at Molly’s on Toulouse until I moved to Boston. I still kept in touch with Jim who visited me at The Boston Park Plaza, where I worked in the late 1970’s. When Jim and I last visited, we still laughed that he skipped on his bill.
In 1984 my company transferred me back to New Orleans as General Manager, ironically enough, of The Maison de Ville Hotel. By that time, Jim was now firmly ensconced on Decatur Street. Molly’s on Toulouse had become a pretty rough and tumble place and I quickly took up a bar stool at Molly’s at the Market.
Jim and I would get together a couple of afternoons each week to run our business related errands. Jim would have to go to City Wholesale Liquor on Earhart Blvd. and I had to go to the flower market on Julia St. Jim would joke that between City Wholesale and the flower market, we could get everything anybody would ever need; the freshest miniature roses on Julia to pickled pig snouts at City Wholesale. I would often mince up to Jim while he was waiting on line at City Wholesale and loudly lisp, “Hurry Jim! They just got a fresh batch of Dutch tulips at the flower market and they’ll all be gone if we don’t get our buns down there right away!”
I was with Jim when he started his one-man campaign against the dreaded meter maids. We went together to The Washington Mardi Gras Ball, marched in every ethnic parade imaginable and cooked up some of the craziest promotions that Decatur Street had ever seen.
My career took me away from New Orleans, but we always stayed in touch. In 1989 I moved back to Baton Rouge and eventually to New Orleans where I ran the Howard Johnson Plaza hotel on Causeway Blvd. in Metairie. Soon after I returned, my company went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy and I was “reorganized” out of a job. I asked Jim if I could pick up a couple of shifts while sending out resumes to keep myself from going stir crazy. Jim agreed, and we found ourselves entertaining each other until ill health caused him to have heart surgery.
Jim asked me to keep an eye on his businesses for a few months while he recuperated. Jim made remarkable progress and was soon back to his old self, but switched from Rum and Diet Coke to just plain Diet Coke, unbeknownst to locals and visitors from far and wide. I accused him of being the ugliest B-girl in the history of New Orleans.
We had so much fun working together that my minding his store for a couple of months became a couple of years. My wife accused me of having too much fun working for Jim and suggested that I was wasting away my prime earning years as a hotelier. She was right.
We moved to Florida in 1992 and I went back into hotel and golf resort management. But, Jim and I always stayed in touch by telephone, talking for a while, trading the most obnoxious puns until we both giggled so much that we couldn’t speak another word.
This past St. Patrick’s Day Weekend, I flew to Baton Rouge to attend a reunion of some of my old hotel colleagues. I couldn’t leave Louisiana without spending some quality time with The Big Kahuna of Decatur St.
I arrived on St. Patrick’s Day and saw Jim perched at his regal, yet quasi-illegal bar stool on the sidewalk in front of Molly’s. We spent quality time together that night and a few days more. I saw that Jim’s health was failing and he wasn’t the same 33-year old I met in the Lobby of The Maison de Ville in 1969.
The day before I left to return to Florida, I asked Jim to join me for lunch at Uglesich, a restaurant that Jim had introduced to me many years before. We had a fabulous lunch prepared by the restaurant’s owner (they don’t cook like that in Lehigh Acres!) and then took a cab to Monaghan’s Erin Rose, which I still knew as Nugent’s on Conti St. We had a couple of beers and Jim toured me through the place, pointing with pride the improvements made since I moved to Florida.
We later walked very slowly down Bourbon to Toulouse to where it all started; Molly’s Irish Pub on Toulouse St. We were astonished! Gone were the dust coated flags and black and white pictures of 1970’s French Quarter characters. Gone were the old oak tables with the working sewing machine foot pedal bases. Jim looked around the old building and had a twinkle in his eye. “A lot of money was made here,” he said.
I agreed and said, “Yeah but it looks like it’s run by Disney or Marriott,” I said.
“Needs more dirt. I can’t even smell the men’s room from the bar. What good’s that?” Jim smiled. We then traded stories about the characters that we knew from way back then…and started giggling.
We went across the street to The Maison de Ville and terrorized the General Manager. Jim actually owns the building that houses the Bistro at Maison de Ville. Jim asked him to produce a copy of his liquor license, which made the manager very nervous.
We slowly continued our journey down Toulouse, past the site of Monaghan’s Patio Royale, where he and Carol Monaghan first started. We then passed Jackson Square, turned onto Decatur and entered Tujaque’s, climbed the stairs and visited with proprietor Steven Latter in his office.
Jim was getting very weary and we shuffled down Decatur when an old Italian acquaintance of Jim’s met up with us in front of Progress Grocery. The two embraced and discussed old times. The old man told Jim, “Hell, you own most of Decatur Street now. Ain’t no more Dagos down here. We can’t afford the rent!”
“Shoulda known better!” was Jim’s retort.
Jim’s wife, Liz Scott, told me that this was the first time Jim had ventured so far away on foot in years. She was as delighted hearing of our journey as he delighted in describing it..
Jim died last night. He was fifteen years older to me, to the day. He and I share the same birthday of May 13th. If I live another 50 years, I don’t think I could pack in as much laughter, fun, good-natured teasing and just plain life, that Jim did in his sixty-three years.
Jim’s legacy will be the street. “Decatur Street, the great street” he would proclaim. He saw it decades before anybody did. He was born and brought up in Zanesville, Ohio but his home was Decatur Street. I was so glad to hear that Jim’s ashes will be placed in an urn and placed behind the bar at Molly’s. He’ll be a neighbor of Irving King, an itinerant Australian seaman whose ashes have been resting behind the bar at Molly’s for decades.
I hope Irving has a sense of humor…and a taste for rum and Diet Coke.
MARK C. DUFFY
111 Ortona St., Lehigh Acres, Fl. 33972 941-303-0778
Remembrances of John Fritzinger
By Mike Longman
WWL-TV was always a shooter's shop, that is to say the emphasis was on photographers whose news gathering efforts tended to include strong elements of art. When we hired John Fritzinger from WVUE, I was wary, for at the time, the place was not known for producing a great visual product. But the big bearded guy came in on his own time, introduced himself as Fritz and said he wanted to get this “live shot” stuff down before his first day on the clock. As it happened, It was St. Patrickís Day and after the shot was locked into the station's receiver, I said, "Yeah, Fritz, there is something you can do to help us. We are going on in two minutes and I need Jim Monaghan ‘live’ He should be in the clump of people down the block. Please go get him."
Two minutes later I was on the air. I saw this puzzled look in the new manís eye as he guided Monaghan to my side. The look was one of fear. I was already talking about the parade, so I introduced Monaghan and asked him to describe the planned parade route. Monaghan took a deep breath and then blurted out, "This is MY STREET." He had that mad twinkle in his eye, the look that Irishmen down the ages get from an excess of hard drink. “Well, Jim," I said, "The street is certainly yours on St. Patrickís Day, but how about the parade route, Jim?" All the padding and urging was for naught for there was only one message Mr. Monaghan wanted to deliver that day. "This is MY STREET." No sooner was the shot over than Fritz hustled up to my side. "Sorry, Longman. You said you had to have him. Do you think I lost my new job before I even started?"
Within weeks, Fritz proved himself every bit the artist of this top shop in town. As the new guy, he ended up on “Nightwatch," which meant he ended up with me. Because we were both single and raring to travel, we ended upon the longest hauls in most hurricanes. I can still remember Fritz and I screaming at Joe Duke when he sent us all the way to the Mexican border and then told us to remain in Texas, even though the storm killed a bunch of people only miles across the border.
As a team, Fritz and I were not always so prone to follow directions. It was during a time of tight budgets that a Delta Jet crashed at DFW airport in Dallas. The assignment desk said, "Head to the airport. See if you can get a flight, but check with us first. We may not send you." Well, we got tickets and then checked in a bunch of gear, and then called in, five minutes before take-off. "Come back," they said. "We are not sure anybody from New Orleans was on the plane.
"Well, we can come back," we said. "But they made us check the equipment, so it's going to Texas."
We left New Orleans at 3:30, hit the ground in Dallas at 4:45, and had our rental car on the infield of the airport by 5:50. I walked up to the camera position and was on with Bill Elder live at maybe five minutes after five. We did another shot at six and then were told to come back. Fritz and I had spent exactly one hour on the story and wanted more. We checked the manifest and found there were, in fact, Louisianans on the flight. We then learned the hospital would hold a news conference in the morning with six survivors. We knew that, of the dozen of so people in the hospital, two were from Lousiana. We said,
"What the hell, one-in-six odds." We decided to stay.
The next morning, having made this decision against orders, we were dismayed to find that there were so many cameras set up, there was no room for ours. This was not good. A CBS guy saw us and said, “I got you covered. Shoot cut-aways." Fritz found the only spot at the back of the room and started shooting. Into his frame came the survivors, including a woman in a wheelchair. Both of us were in the deepest sort of prayer. "Please make her from Louisiana. Please?" Not only was that true, but she was a mother, and her fellow passengers had passed her child to safely out of a gaping hold in the plane.
Working together in Oakdale, Fritz and I kept our ears to a portable scanner, and after weeks of covering the standoff, we heard an officer say, "They are putting thier weapons down."
Fritz walked to our camera and made believe he was fiddling with the lights, while I called the station. "It's over. We need to break in." Chris Slaughter said, "Hold on. The Saints are on. If you are going break into them, I gotta ask the old man.”
The “old man,” Mr. Early, said fine but, "only if Longman has pictures." Well, we were working off a pool camera inside, and when it might come up was anyone's guess, So Fritz and I gave it maybe two minutes and then busted into the Saints, I started talking, "The hostage crisis is over.” In my ear piece I heard, “Where are the pictures, Longman?” And once again the news gods took pity, and like that, we saw the hostages, being released from the prison.
When you work together with the same cameraman long enough, eventually you know what the other person is likely to do. This meant over time, when need be, one of us could handle both parts of the job. This came in especially handy in the case of Antoinette Frank.
On a Sunday morning, a tipster called me to say that a bunch of people had been killed in a restaurant in Little Vietnam, and the shooter was in custody. I said, “Thank you.” Then the tipster said, “Hold on, it's a woman, and she is a cop, and we got her upstairs right now.” At the time I was a weekend anchor, so I was stuck, but I called two cameramen, one to send to the news conference at police headquarters and Fritz to stake out downstairs. As we both guessed, the cops waited until they had cameras from every station inside before they tried to sneak the lady cop out the back door. Only Fritz was there to capture it all, including Antoinette Frank saying "But you said there would be no cameras."
It is the nature of the news business that you travel thousands of miles in an unending game of hurry-up-and-wait. Fritz and I spent a legislative session in Baton Rouge; a month on the road with David Duke; I flew us in a light plane to Waco; there was Oakdale and hurricanes too numerous to mention. As a rule, we tried to find a Ruth's Chris Steak House, along the route. Fritz like to bring packs of matches back and drop them on the assignment desk., "You guys found a Ruth's Chris there?" If it was within 50 miles we got there.
Fritz had survived being struck by lightening, being a LURP in Vietnam. He was the kind of photographer you would go into any situation with, knowing he would watch your back. Only once was I ever scared working with this big, Alf type. We were covering Hurricane Andrew. It was set to hit in the middle of the night and we needed pictures. We stayed in a big firehouse until the winds were really raging and then at my urging we went out driving. At one point it was so bad we could barely drive five miles an hour. A transformer blew up just a few hundred yards from out car. I told Fritz, "Man I am sorry I got us into this. Maybe this is too close." He said, "No, Longman. We are in this together, and were going to get the only damn pictures of this whole freaking hurricane."
Fritz's pictures were indeed the best. They were the staple shots on CBS, CNN and just about everyplace else, because we were the only ones crazy enough to be driving around in all that. When the sun finally came up, we went back to our news car, and found all four tires were flat, the victim of roofing nails that had been flying in every direction.
Fearless, resourceful, funny, warm, enthusiastic, John Fritzinger was among the very best.
Mike Longman, Butner N.C., October 8, 2002