One of the things New Orleans is famous for is crazy people. A city needs two things to be a real city: street cars and a sprinkling of blown out minds mumbling to heaven or shouting imprecations at the traffic. New Orleans has its fair share of both.
While most of the shouting, mumbling, prophesying, imprecating, fulminating folk are harmless souls who have lost the struggle with the urban hive and take it out on the Cosmos, there are citizens just as crazy who stay engaged and crafty. They remain a danger. Social Ebola. The rhythm of language suggests I should now add, “and to themselves,” but unfortunately that would not be true enough. Shunned and avoided by most, secretly detested behind their backs by many others, admired by a few aspiring imprecators, they maintain their grip on key parts of the social toolkit, never recognizing that they are just as mad as the old guy on the corner drinking out of a paper bag, yelping galactic threats at the streetcars
Captain Ahab understood himself: “All my means are sane, my motive and my object mad.”
Do our urban Ahabs understand what they look like? What they are?
Okay. Zipping right along here, we come to this week’s Pequod, the wreck of Stuart H. Smith’s and Peterson M. Yokum’s white whale hunt, to wit: their lunatic suit against Bourbon Street bar Funky 544 and a few others for playing music they don’t like very much. Damages sought were up to $32,000,000.
Let me put that in context: thirty two million fucking dollars. Or maybe $20m, as I saw in one place. But what’s $12m one way or the other when we’re having fun, right?
They lost in court. They did not get the $32 or the $20 million. They didn’t get anything. After nine days of legal fencing, the jury of their peers told them to piss off.
But legal Pequods have more than one life. They pop up like Palooka dolls, and our local Hatters will probably be back for more. They can appeal. They can sue another bar. As long as their money holds out, they can harass and snipe and ankle-bite and generally be a pain in the kazoo. They don’t care that we think they are queasy, cheap people. To them, money makes them rich.
They have not lost entirely. There is a lot of collateral damage, wreckage and broken rigging they can take satisfaction in. Ahab was ready to take all the lives on the Pequod down to the cold bottom with him for a chance to land a harpoon in his white whale. Stuart H. Smith, Polly Elizabeth Anderson and Peterson M. Yokum seem as ready to take satisfaction in wreckage as winning, as did Ahab, as the whale crunched the rest of him, and the sea took the hapless crew. They cost their victims small fortunes in legal defense and wasted time.
Let’s widen the net a bit – not that you can catch white whales in a net, but I’m trying to be poetic here, so give me a little slack, okay?
In 2012, Peterson M. Yokum, presumed principal, though of course we suspect more of an impressionable rubber stamp for Smith’s Ahab, added VCPORA and “French Quarter Citizens for the Preservation of Residential Quality of Life” as co-plaintiffs.
I love that title: for the Preservation of Residential Quality of Life. Think of it next time you hear one of them mank on about preservation and their “Historic Gem.” They don’t use the full title any more, but it tells you what the FQ preservationists really want to preserve. History may have a cameo role, but would be better preserved if they knew more about it. They want to preserve the French Quarter’s new, unhistorical role as a retirement home for the corporate classes. What is now called the French Quarter or even the Vieux Carré has seen a lot of action in its time, since Pauger laid it out in 1721, but co-optation as headquarters of a grey power movement – probably a new role.
Vieux Carré means Old Square. Okay, “square” is passé – but so are these guys.
This may be the case in the tangle of Pequodian pursuits where the judge threw VCPORA/FQC out as having no standing. Doesn’t matter. If they are not in the crew, they are in the choir.
Raise a glass to the sinking of the Pequod. Pour out a libation to ask the gods to sink its next assault while making it look as mad and stupid as this one. The next Pequod will be constructed of appeals, new lawsuits, new depositions, interrogatories, discoveries, affidavits, inquiries. Jarndyce and Jarndyce. SmithStag seems to – allegedly! – pride itself on being the nuisance champion of the legal business, lashing out emails with questions and claims and requests which run the meter on the defendant’s legal bill.
The term often used is “frivolous” law suit. But that sounds light and airy, a bit funny. These lawsuits are mean, malicious and destructive. Bourbon Street has the money to survive. Habana Restaurants has the money to survive. But the system is inherently unjust, and I am sure that sustains our Ahabs when they sit down at night with a big glass of grog to savor their self-satisfaction and meditate upon their sense of entitlement, and feel satisfied at the depths of the boredom they inspire. How many hopeful enterprises, bars and bands, never even start because Smith and Michael Martin and Barry Cooper can bankrupt them with impunity using weaponized law?
Meg Lousteau, titled Executive Director, gunslinger for VCPORA, told Dave Woolworth when he was researching the Oxford Acoustics soundscape report for City Council, to just make the decibel limits low, so she could sue people whenever she wanted to. That’s the mentality. Game the law and bugger the city.
Stuart H. Smith, Esq. plead guilty to a criminal charge last week and is on a suspended sentence and two years probation for what I would call attempted intimidation of public officials and others in pursuit of their duties, reduced to “cyberstalking” on a plea bargain. Other people who have been on the wrong side of his abusive attacks would like to see him disbarred.
Can we do anything about his firm’s litigious abuse? It does a lot of malicious damage, too. Possibly not directly. The courts are not directed by public opinion. Lawyers Smith, Cooper and Martin and VCPORA/FQC, convinced of their own righteousness, clearly don’t care how awful we think they are.
Perhaps we could ask intelligent City Council members like James Gray, who has his own problems with the political use of legal action in connection with the Holy Cross development, or Nadine Ramsey to tell VCPORA/ FQC that if their convicted criminal of a legal adviser carries on with his campaign of litigious harassment, they can count on no support for their endless unpopular positions before council forever. Maybe Jared Brossett and Jason Williams would join, but I wonder if they see their political bread buttered on that side. Susan Guidry – can’t tell. She seems thoughtful, but her positions are not always easy to predict. And Stacy Head – don’t think so. A preservationist in wolf’s clothing, a declared hater of Bourbon Street.
We can request a legal change. Let’s ask City Council and Baton Rouge to consider statute to end this abuse of law and the courts for vigilante purposes. Start with all the Council members, and State Senator Edwin Murray and Representative Helena Moreno. Tell them a legal structure that allows Smith and his legal associates and the French Quarter protectionist clubs to be amateur secret police needs reconstructing.
I wonder if they even expect to win. Their cases against the T-shirt shops were poorly researched, constructed and argued, and they lost. Their soggy, self-serving arguments against Habana Restaurants, presented so far in a manner of maximum arrogance, least likely to win support, are getting an administrative raspberry from the Vieux Carre Commission, probably because the members are mostly professionals who do not need campaign contributions. Maybe they just want to employ the law as a stick for castigation of the sinners. That would be us, the sinners.
Remind the politicians of what Judge Politi said in The Good Wife: When the law is an ass, somebody has to kick it.
Meanwhile, I would recommend laughing at the failed persecutors. Criticism is limited. Even though the biggest chunk of their motivation seems to be straight self-interest, like residential property value appreciation and making sure that no one under 35 is allowed to walk unattended in residential areas, because as everyone knows, they get drunk and throw up in your window box, they exhibit cult characteristics. In their fantasies, criticism might confirm the virtue of their intentions.
But straight-up mockery, that’s worth it. Don’t fall for the “power” of money, or the law, or “preservation.” or respect for age, title, position, reputation or the normal requirements of social politeness. A person who signs on to this rubbish loses his or her claim to dignity. Just laugh at them. Not light, friendly laughter. Scorn and mockery, as mean as their attacks. Point and jeer, if you feel up to it. From the rank-and-file VCPORA dues-payer to probationer Smith, and although he seems to be a true New Orleans character with some saving eccentricities, you can include Yokum as well – while we are trying to get their stuff put down, just laugh at them.