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Starting New

My World Upside Down

jason raish illustration

This is my debut as a monthly columnist for New Orleans Magazine.

I will pause a moment to allow the applause and general commotion to subside.

(Pause)

Thank you. Thank you very much.

My background, of course, is newspapering. I spent a year-and-a-half at the Washington Post, then 25 years at The Times-Picayune and then a couple years at Gambit Weekly.

If you take my resume up to this point and turn it upside down, it’s a mighty impressive document. Particularly if you add to it my most recent full time employment: as a server in a French Quarter restaurant.

Mine is nothing short of a good old-fashioned American up-from-the-bootstraps story of hard work, perseverance and success. Just in reverse.

The restaurant thing was an unfortunate but economically imperative decision. But truthfully it provided a yearlong hiatus from journalism, which has left me feeling literarily rejuvenated and refreshed.

Can you tell?

Waiting tables also provided me the opportunity to witness a more sweeping and complex view of the human condition than I’d gained from a lifetime of sitting and staring at computer screens waiting for great words to happen.

I will be publishing my observations and experiences from waiting tables in a future issue of this magazine; so stay tuned.
Since I’ve been told on several occasions that I remind people of Anthony Bourdain, perhaps my stories from the “front-of-the-house” in the restaurant business will make me as rich and famous as his books from the “back-of-the-house” made him. (Those are non-too-subtle and probably self-explanatory terms from the industry – the former means the dining room and the latter means the kitchen.)

It has never occurred to me to ask people if I remind them of the famously abrasive celebrity foodie because of a physical resemblance (slight, I suppose), because of my writing style (again, maybe a little) or because of my personality (no! no! no!).
I’m a nice person.

In person, at least.

Anyway, I’m very excited to be back in the local journalism business and grateful to this magazine for the opportunity. But as I sit and compose this, my first column, I’m struck by an unshakable anxiety that’s perhaps endemic but not limited to the monthly magazine business.

Let me explain: At The Times-Picayune, my job was to tell yesterday’s news today. At Gambit, I wrote about last week’s news this week. And during a brief stint on local television news, I delivered this morning’s news tonight.

Just writing that paragraph made me dizzy. But it also made me sort of understand, for the first time, the title of the HBO program “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”

Sort of. And now?

And now I have a month between columns. For someone who has spent a career composing literature in a hurry, this new idea is … unsettling.

What if someone dies? What is there’s a fire? What happens if a business closes or an event is cancelled or a politician I write about goes to jail?

Some of my friends tell me that I worry too much.

I don’t see where they get that.

I bet they wouldn’t say that to Anthony Bourdain.

But I like new challenges.

And I take comfort that my subject matter for this column is New Orleans, whose over-arching existential circumstance is that the more things here change, the more they remain exactly the same.

And if I ever want to write about something that I know won’t ever change, a phenomenon of enduring and everlasting provenance, I can always write about the monolithic construction and massive road closures on the major thoroughfares of Uptown, downtown and the French Quarter – which are permanent, intractable, irreversible and will continue for the rest of our natural lives and those of our children’s children.

There is one thing that will never change.

Ever.

So I’ll leave you with that until we catch up again next month right here in this very same space in this very same magazine.

That is, if we’re all still here.

But try not to worry about that, though.

Leave that to me.

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