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Costs and Benefits



Go ahead!" Roach urged devotedly. "Smoke 'em up! Just make sure you flick all the ashes into one of them ash trays."

The "ash trays" looked very much like CDM coffee cans, though it was hard to be completely certain in the Daylight Savings Time twilight being discolored by gas lamps and citronella candles.

"Why are we saving ashes? Is this some sort of plan by the Corps of Engineers to shore up the undersides of the levees?" the Professor asked innocently while fumbling with a corn-cob pipe and box of matches.

"Nah," Roach said, rolling himself up a stout boomalacha. "This gal asked me to pick up her old man at the funeral home, where he got himself cremated. But I got too wasted and I left this little box open and his results were scattered. So I gotta refill the box before tomorrow."

Apollonia was passing around food in those plastic boxes. All-you-can-eat Chinese cuisine. She looked good in silhouette.

"Mmm. I do OK in the buffet," declared Jimmy Chimichanga with a resounding lick of his fingers.

"Just finish your meal with an after-dinner smoke," reminded Roach. "And put your ashes in the trays."

"This is still pretty good stuff," I said, "though you must have to go to Metairie to get it. And before eight o'clock at night."

"Yeah. Didja ever think you'd be going to Metairie for your supper?" Apollonia pouted. "It's one of the hidden costs of this hurricane."

"Metairie," snickered Roach. "It's as exciting as Cincinnati in the rain."

"Looks like you doing alright," noted Jimmy, nodding at the spacious gallery all around us. "I mean, I musta missed the news about you two winning the lottery."

"We just sorta took over the place under the principle of Evident Domain," Roach explained. "I sorta got the idea watching our police force in action. It's all about the greater good."

"Well," quipped the Professor. "It is definitely an upgrade for you two, a deluxe version of a good thing, like Paulette Goddard was an upgraded version of Donna Reed."

"Yeah, well, I don't know them ladies, but it is a nice set-up, even without electricity," Roach conceded. "Of course, electricity might mean the real owners show up again."

"The price of progress," the Professor snorted contemptuously.

"Yeah, well, you gotta admit some things is better since the hurricane," said Jimmy. "Crime's way down. Cops been braggin' 'bout it, too."

A pair of headlights moved toward us. "Man, it could be the Canadian Rockies out there," I said. "The first time I saw headlights out there, I was delighted to see signs of life. Then I thought it over and I was terrified to see signs of life."

"It's my brother, Tom," said Apollonia, as the headlights pulled to the curb and parked.

"Apollonia and ... Tom," wondered the Professor. "Your family must have used up all their imagination on your name."

"Poppa got to name all of the boys," she said with a sigh.

Tom was a tall guy with pleated hair and a Hawaiian shirt who seemed to talk with a limp. He had an eagle tattooed on his arm, but it was so sad it looked like a parrot whose cage had been forgotten outside in the rain.

"Business looks ba... ba... bad," Tom stuttered between puffs of a Dominican cigar.

"And where exactly do you hang your business hat?" asked the Professor.

"Jew... jew... jewelry," answered Tom. "And do you think a lot of people will be ordering pendants this Christmas?"

Everyone on the porch seemed to agree this was unlikely. "Wha... wha... what makes it worse is all the stuff floating around in the hands of looters," Tom went on. "Amateurs are ruining the price structure."

"Politicians used to be looters in coats and ties," said Jimmy. "Now they don't even bother to dress. They all got on carpenter caps and aprons and stuff like they on some clean-up crew -- and the last hurricane was three months ago."

"What about our governor?" Roach asked. "It's like giving Archie Bunker's old lady a key to the city."

Talk shifted from politics to medicine. Apollonia talked of her aunt, a woman who demands to be taken to the hospital at least 20 days a month. Roach detailed the recipe of the prescription that he said helped him through the darkest days of post-Katrina.

"I call it my V-11 concoction. Vodka, Vicodin, Valium, and V8 juice. If I could just get someone like Rush Limbo to endorse it."

Apollonia went inside and came back out with a big bottle of Wild Irish Rose wine. "Drink up ... and smoke up," she reminded. Talk shifted to the lack of dogs, cats and other vermin since the storm.

"I sure miss that mustard-colored hound usta live the market," I said. "Though one Sunday he bit me on the buttocks."

"That old dog couldn't bite through a beignet," claimed Roach.

Jimmy told about a pal who lost a thumb to the bite of a pet rattlesnake named Neil Diamondback, and then followed tales of bites by squirrels, rats, crabs, sisters-in-law, etc. "The difference is," the Professor noted, "that when we bite back, the other animal is usually in a nice mint jelly and served with a fine pinot."

We sat and sipped and smoked in the citronella light, each of us straining to hear the sound of a barking dog. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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