If you think back far enough into your past, back to when you were in nursery school or kindergarten you will find...her. That one girl on the playground who had to control everything, who had to know everything, had to have everything. She was the solid girl who knew how to carry her weight for maximum advantage. She could throw a tantrum or another child at a moment's notice. And when she was caught she could always explain her way out of any misdeed and wasn't above tears or blackmail.
This was and is Amanda Napolitano.
Amanda was born in Ochsner Hospital on March 3rd, 1987--Mardi Gras. For the rest of her life Amanda would hear about how she kept her mother from being the Queen of the Krewe of Silenius. Born to Thad Gertner and Sydney-Anne Harris-Gertner of Uptown and Metairie Ridge. Both families had moved to Metairie from New Orleans right after World War II: the Gertner's from the Vieux Carre, the Harris' from Carrollton. Sydney-Anne & Thad were the first in either family to move back into the city to become part of the trendy Uptown landed gentry in the early 1980's. They met at Tulane, a typical New Orleans story. They knew all the same people, had all the same experiences, but never met until college. After a long and drunken night at the World's Fair, Thad proposed to Sydney-Anne after a performance of "Pinocchio Commedia" in the Italian Village in 1984. By the time Amanda came along they were getting involved in the social world of Carnival krewes and Uptown connections. To bastardize Karl Marx, 'societal attention is the opiate of the rich.'
Amanda was treated as a princess from the start. Sydney-Anne had a crib made that resembled a Carnival crown with colorful glass jewels at the tips, her consolation prize for giving up her reign. The child insisted on wearing a tiara every day until the middle of second grade when her father convinced her that jeweled barrettes & scrunchies were 'everyday crowns'. That was the dichotomy in her parents: her mother believed in living life as a fantasy while her father was pragmatic about life's consequences. Both viewpoints would serve her well later on in life. When she was 5, she was enrolled in the Newman School. The summer before she was to start 1st grade, her parents took her to see a production in the Keller Center called "Treehouse Players' Rapunzel". In the show, an actress named Melissa Marshall played Rapunzel. Amanda had fallen in love with her voice, but what stuck with her most was the ending. Instead of blindly marrying the Prince, she chose instead to get to know him first. This would make a major impact on her, so much so that she demanded her parents bring her to every performance thereafter, including buying all the merchandise they had to offer. When the show closed & moved to another theatre, she went to those shows too. This would become a major part of her school life. Those kids who had seen the show & loved it would become her best buds. Those who did not like the show or had not seen it would fall by the wayside in her life; they obviously had no taste or culture.
She maintained throughout her matriculation at Newman that she was special; she was meant for greater things. Her mother & father never questioned this belief. They felt that if she truly believed this than it would become true. Sydney-Anne & Thad did their best to maintain that belief for the next 13 years as their only daughter excelled in academics, swimming, theatre, and as a Queen of The Krewe of L'il Rascals. They held onto that belief through Amanda's graduation Summa Cum Laude. They celebrated her graduation secure in the knowledge that their daughter would become a major player in New Orleans. They held onto that belief all the way up until an 18-wheeler slammed head-on into their BMW on the I-10 coming back from Biloxi on a sweltering July evening in 2005.
The week before the accident, Amanda had just purchased her condo off Magazine Street near Napoleon Avenue and was looking forward to her new job as an intern with a major law firm in the Central Business District. The call came in around 5:30am on a Sunday. The junior trooper who had been given the assignment of contacting the next-of-kin was none to good at executing his task. The first 10 minutes was mostly stammering & silence. In all fairness, he wasn't helped at all by the state of Amanda's recovery from an epic night of inebriation in the French Quarter. However, it soon became clear to Amanda that she was now an orphan at 20 years old. To the young trooper's credit, when he was able to make her understand that her parents were dead, he became the soul of compassion and sympathy. Before she put the receiver back into its cradle, she demanded his full name. "Officer David Kramer, ma'am...and I'm so, so sorry for your loss."
For the next 30 days, she would become a cipher as she closed out her childhood home, sold off her parent's possessions, & set about the grim work of consolidating her parents' lives into the narrow confines of assets and balances. She discovered that her parents had been floundering financially for years. Only later would she realize that much of their money had gone for tuition, krewe dues, and that damned BMW. She also discovered that her mother had a gambling addiction and her own chair at Harrah's. Amanda imagined it bejeweled.
With the advent of Katrina, Amanda was convinced by her neighbors to flee her condo and escape the city. She chose to go to Baton Rouge. Like so many others who escaped there, she was lucky to find a place to stay; a dreadful apartment complex called Place du Plantier. Her 6 months in exile there passed in agony & abhorrent boredom. On the every odd occasion she was able to make her way back in to check on her condo. But for the better part of the time, she could be found curled up in her bed in Baton Rouge, trying desperately to escape the reality of her life. She was now truly and permanently alone...and it scared her more than anything else in her world.
But Sydney-Anne & Thad had instilled in their daughter a hidden strength. The strength that comes from the undisputed certainty that their darling daughter was destined for greater things. While other parents desperately tried to make such a fate happen for their children, Amanda merely assumed her parent's unfaltering beliefs without question. For you see gentle reader, our Miss Napolitano was supremely well-equipped to deal with her situation. When Orleans Parish was finally reopened 5 weeks after the levee breaches that had felled the city Amanda was among the first to return in force. She inhabited her condo house for weeks without any other neighbors and kept the entire building safe from looters & vagrants, and took over the three block expanse of Magazine Street making certain everyone who came back was seen to and recognized.
And now there's her best friend Rony Parmentiere. It was he who both reminded her & inspired her to make the most of her life and give up the fantasies of her upbringing. His life has been entirely different from hers, yet he continues to perservere. Someday, she'll tell him how much he's inspired her to live up to the path her folks had laid out for her. But, for now its more important for them to be part of one another's lives. They're really all they have.
Waiting for the streetcar on St. Charles Avenue, Amanda takes a string of mental notes on everyone around her:
'Black woman, 35ish...L'Oreal True Red lipstick, generic silver eyeshadow, no base, blonde weave on black hair--Lady Gaga's maid...short Hispanic man, mid-40s, Rubenstein's tailored suit, Payless shoes, receding hairline, mustache & hair dyed...Napoleon complex, native...blonde kid, Jesuit uniform, stoned out of his mind...my--'our' new pot connection!'
With a dexterity learned at Newman, she sends a coded text to Rony as she slides up to this young Jesuit boy. His inexperienced eyes go immediately to her ample cleavage shown to their best advantage in the neckline of a Donatella Versace blouse expressly designed for such things. In the young man's almost unconscious attempts to impress her, he offers her ingress before him. Amanda takes excellent notice of his premeditated gallantry, and rewards him with a wink & an almost lewd arrangement of her unfettered breasts beneath her top. His utter shock & awe at the sight presented to him makes Amanda giggle. Once on board the streetcar, she pats the wooden seat next to her and brings the young man to her side. Amid a puddle of internal giggles and nervous pubescent energy, she leans in closely to his ear and whispers,
"So...have any more of that wonderful weed you've been smoking?"
Six stops later, she's well-fortified with gifts to be shared with Rony and the undying affections of a junior Jesuit boy named Phil. She heads to her job in the Riverwalk Mall with renewed energy. And above her, beyond her considerable powers of perception, Sydney-Anne & Thad look upon their only child & smile.