Monday, October 24, 2011

Ladies & Gentlemen (but, mostly ladies,) Auguste Manoir.

When people think of a proper Creole gentleman in modern parlance, they usually conjure the indelible image of Auguste Manoir.  A true Orleanian gentleman, Auguste's first memory was being fussed & preened over by an ongoing litany of women who instantly fell in love with his honey brown curls, his eternally clear cafe au lait skin with eyes to match, and his unmistakably masculine build.  Even as a toddler, it was obvious to everyone who saw him that this child was destined to be a most attractive prospect.  Preternaturally free of the oft-seen chubby phase of infanthood, young Augie quickly shed any vestiges of weight by his first birthday, revealing a slim yet powerful musculature that both worried & fascinated any female that encountered his presence.  He inherited his coloring & impossibly long eyelashes from his mother Angelle Hypolyte, a gorgeous Creole lady whose family had been great movers & shakers in the Original Illinois Club.  His physicality was a gift from his father Agneto Manoir, a Swedish national born of an absent French father & a silly high society girl from a cloistered family from Göteborg.  Agneto would eventully become a French citizen, mainly because it would assure him a place in the French diplomatic corps.  By his 25th birthday, he would become a willing citizen of Nouvelle Orleans.

Born in Ochsner Hospital on July 4th, 1976, Auguste was the first baby in the US born on the Bicentennial.  Unfortunately, his birth also took the life of his mother, whose congenitally weak constitution barely brought him to term.  Left alone with his only son, Agneto took advantage of his excellent standing in the French diplomatic corps & arranged for his permanent assignment in Orleans Parish.  His wife Angelle's dying wish was for her child to be raised in her hometown, even though her family had disowned her for marrying a white foreigner.  She also decreed that if the child were to be male, she wanted him named after her paternal grandfather Auguste Hipolyte.  To her, he was the only man besides her husband who had ever treated her with any respect.

Over the next 18 years, Agneto & Auguste would occupy houses in every area of the parish: Uptown, Mid-City, Carrollton, the Faubourgs St. John, Ste. Marie, & Marigny, the Bywater, Central City, Treme, & the French Quarter.  Though to many around them the endless transistions represented the father & sons' descent into poverty, in was actually Agneto's consistent wish that his young son be fully & completely immersed in every aspect of his mother's city, good & bad.  So deep was his love for Angelle & this remarkable city that gave him both of the loves of his life, he often turned a blind eye to the realities of his situations.  So skilled was he at the art of diplomacy & negotiation that he more often than not turned potential enemies into lifelong friends within a matter of minutes.  These impressive skills were not lost on Auguste, who was usually present at virtually every event in his father's life.  By the time he was 16, Auguste had learned how to use his considerable gifts to diffuse any situation, and often did so without the knowledge of Agneto.  In his dotage, the old man had grown less flexible & more prone to opinionated outbursts that defeated all the work he had done over the decades.  Still, Auguste loved & respected his father and wanted only to maintain his power over any situation.  Just as he had learned from an early age of his power over women, so too had he learned that his father was a great man & demanded not only his respect but his support.

Auguste was a very, very rare young man.

Unfortunately, the one time Auguste was not around was the final event in his father's life.

Graduating from Jesuit in 1994, Auguste had begged his father for a night on his own; a night in which he could prove his own worth with a beautiful young lady named Jessica who was a senior at Dominican.  The old man aquiesced & allowed his son to go out on his own, confident in Auguste's ability to be responsible for his actions.  As they left for their date in a strech limosine, Agneto felt that indescribable feeling of pride, sorrow, & hope that most parents know so well.  Pulling away down rue Dauphine towards God knows where, a single tear traced its way down the man's furrowed face; partly due to the feelings of pride, partly due to the absence of Angelle.

Giving in to the sorrows of the past & the present, Agneto chose that warm May night to venture out of rue Dauphine & over to Matassa's to secure a bottle of gewurztraminer, or liebframilsch, or whatever white wine was available behind the counter.  No sooner had he purchased a relatively cheap bottle of chardonnay & stepped outside than the jarring sound of gunfire half a block down rang out.  Without warning, a stray bullet pierced Agneto's head.

He felt nothing but a quick sting on his forehead.  The chardonnay shattered as his lifeless body dropped to the banquette, the straw-colored alcohol miraculously missing every inch of his corpse as it made its way into the gutter accompanied by a twin stream of A positive which did not touch until they reached the grate.

Instilled with the gifted absence of regret by both his parents, young Auguste found himself the recipient of a considerable fortune (wisely meted out over a period of 25 years by both his mother's & father's estates), and the priceless gifts of physical beauty, masculine attractiveness, monetary security, financial accumen, & the talent for talking anyone into anything he wished AND making certain that all involved in whatever deal he engineered would benefit.  Truly a uniquely Orleanian man with everyone's best interests at heart.  When things would get bad (as so often happens in New Orleans,) he would recall his mother's familiar saying, which became his father's & his mantra over the years:  "Treat everyone as you wish to be treated.  You may have to work harder to achieve that goal, but its always worth it to make it happen."  Over the next 11 years, Auguste would have a blessed life by the standards of most people.  Getting in on the ground floor of the telecommunications industry because a trusted friend from his Jesuit days needed a helping hand, young Manoir soon found himself a multi-millionaire thanks to American Telephone & Telegraph.  When that friend left the industry in July of 2001, he too left the industry by selling off his considerable shares out of loyalty.  When the tragedy of Sept. 11th of that year occured, he innocently discovered that not only had he gotten out at the exact right time, but that his other investments in security equipment had suddenly quadrupled in value.  Such happy accidents of loyalty & fealty would serve him in incredibly good stead over the years.  But it was his devotion to his friends & colleagues that truly structured his security.

Auguste had a way about him that attracted the best of every caste of society.  But deep inside him he was desperate to find the kind of woman his mother had been.  A litany of what everyone called 'black' women had been his attraction, his devotion.  The one thing he could never understand was this imperturbable predillection for calling these dark-skinned beauties he longed for by the erroneous moniker of 'black.'  In artistic terms, the color white is considered the total absence of color.  By the same token, the color black is considered the total presence of all colors.  By that logical reasoning it should be right that the darker the skin the greater the value.  But in the realities of human life, the color black had no such grand representations.  In the upside-down world in which he lived, the whites had all the power & respect, the blacks had virtually nothing.  It wasn't until his 24th birthday and a weeks-long dissertation by a college friend that he realized that his own sainted mother Angelle was what was dismissively called 'passing' that he realised that his own unique physicality & coloring was the result of an interracial marriage.

It was a revelation that would mystify both himself for not realizing it & everyone around him for their own limited views of the world as either priveged whites, empowered blacks, or clueless foreigners of every caste.

Now, at the age of 36, Auguste is at a most unsusal place.  With a chorus line of plainly lovely young ladies decorating his unfulfilled past, and his forward momentum seemingly stalled by the lack of a substantial soulmate, he has turned to the only friend that has never asked for a single favor, never needed his connections, or held him in contempt for his ridiculous wealth.  Jerry Laufrey.

Jerry is one of those men who somehow never recognize their own worth all the while putting the best parts of themselves out there for the common good.  He was what Agnesto would call a 'pure spirit:'  giving to the point of self-depreciation, then reprimanding themselves for not being enough to get past being used & thrown away.  Fortunately for Jerry, both Agnesto & Angelle had it in their makeup to recognize people like him & pass onto their only son the power to protect such folks as much as was possible.  They had met when Jerry was a lowly waiter at Krystal Seafood Restaurant on the third floor of the repurposed Jax Brewery building & Auguste was an investor in the business.  He earned his respect when Auguste inadvertently sent a party of 24 Sicilians to the place on a Monday night where Jerry was the only waiter on-staff.  After two hours of diligently serving his friends despite the language barrier, by himself, Auguste decided that this was someone he needed to know.  What he found was one of the most generous, diplomatic yet honest, & loving people he had ever known.  After nearly 20 years of being friends & Jerry constantly & consistently giving to him all the while refusing any help or recompense, Auguste had finally figured out what the true meaning of friendship really meant: someone who wanted more for you than for themselves.

And he also figured out that not only was his dear friend capable of giving him his life's desire. he was capable of making his dearest friend's dreams come true without him knowing anything about it.


A most convivial group assembles at The Bombay Club, underscored by the felicitous fingers of Matt Lemler on piano. At a table in the way back, Auguste Manoir enjoys the company of his dear friend Jerry Laufrey, left to his own devices for the night as his husband Patrick attends a meeting. Secretly happy to show off for Jerry, Auguste plies an endless supply of sazaracs from his unlimited account at the bar, each one its own recipe. After the 3rd or 4th, Jerry asks bluntly through a knowing smile 'to what do I owe this largesse, Augie?' Manoir's agile Creole eyes sparkle as he replies, 'I want you to help me find a woman to marry me, Jerry. A real, proper Creole beauty'...This Is My New Orleans.

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