The other day, I had lunch with my buddy Ronnie Virgets. We went to Pandora's Sno Cones afterwards for some soft-serve chocolate-and-vanilla swirl ice cream. When a teenage boy working behind the counter recognized Ronnie, he insisted the treats were on him. Walking back to the car, we found instead an unoccupied stoop. We talked for about an hour before Ronnie nonchalantly said, "I used to live in that house across the street." "Isn't it a bit weird not to have mentioned that fact as soon as we sat down?" I asked. But no, Ronnie is a native New Orleanian. He has lived in so many different houses and neighborhoods that after a while, many of them simply become another landmark where say, in this instance, Ronnie got a parking ticket because Pope John Paul II had a private 6:30 a.m. parade down Carrollton Avenue before heading to St. Louis Cathedral. As Ronnie tells it, parking restrictions hadn't been posted until after dark the night before the caravan toured, causing a fury from a couple hundred people who had already turned in for the night. Multiple complaints to the administrator whose job it was to collect the fines decided to make them a deal and gave them half-off. Yet another bittersweet morsel of evidence of the head-scratchingly arbitrary nature of the New Orleans beaurocracy.
All of this I say only to introduce the recently released collection of Ronnie Virgets' vignettes, all but one published as columns in Gambit Weekly, one of Ronnie's many homes where he is well loved and admired. This second collection -- the first book is called Say, Cap! -- titled Lost Bread is named after the homemade dessert made from stale bread (pain perdu) Ronnie was raised on. In his Introduction, he says the idea of this bread is based on "the belief that what was lost can now be found." He goes on to relate this sentiment to post-Katrina New Orleans, but only briefly, for Ronnie is brief. But his brevity is full of beautiful and funny ramblings, tangents that we love to follow because they inevitably take us somewhere both inside and outside ourselves. There is only one Katrina piece in this collection. The rest is pure Virgets: grit, humor and charm, qualities found in New Orleans' drinking water, especially now.
Reoccuring Ronnie topics include horse racing, being up to no good, New Orleans history, and disturbing failures of the body. Most apparent in all of Ronnie's stories, however, is a nostalgia for childhood, for friends, for passing traditions, and an unrelenting search for quality. But if we have to acknowledge the inane, ignorant comments from out-of-town news reporters -- those who came down to our city while we were still scattered far and wide and waiting for the mayor to call out our Zip codes -- the reporters who yapped about New Orleans becoming an ancient ruin or relic, let me just say that Ronnie knows, and we all know, that there are such places as living relics, and we are fortunate enough to call one home. A living relic is a place that embraces its past, or a person who does not wish to mind-erase the unpleasant parts of life. In fact, we thrive on talk of our battle scars. Ronnie Virgets takes this living past and keeps it alive through his words, which are simultaneously sweet, sarcastic, critical and cantankerous. To listen and to look at him now though, all I can see is a vulnerable young man waiting to graduate from high school. Ronnie will be in discussion with Mardi Gras expert Arthur Hardy. A question-and-answer session and book signing will follow. -- Katie Walenter
7 p.m. Wednesday, May 31
East Bank Regional Library, 4747 W. Napoleon Ave., Metairie, 838-1100; www.jefferson.lib.la.us