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New York Magazine excerpt of The Lampshade

September 5, 2010

September 5, 2010

New York Magazine has a cover story excerpt of The Lampshade this week.  On sale Monday September 6, the issue dated September 13. These events seem as strange to me now as when they happened.

Katrina’s Fifth Anniversary

August 31, 2010

I might as well begin this blog on the 5th anniversary of hurricane Katrina,  the storm that on August 29,  2005 began the process that would almost kill New Orleans,  the fine city where I am right now.

The logic of this narrative starting point is impeccable since if it wasn’t for Katrina,  the lampshade would have likely never have  come to light and this book would have never have been written.  With that in mind that I chose to celebrate the storm anniversary (in New Orleans everything, no matter how hideous, is a celebration as long as you can drink yourself silly,  not that many people down here need any excuse at all) by driving down Highway 90 to Raceland, Louisiana where David Dominici,  the man who originally found the lampshade in storm-wrecked shotgun house,  is currently incarcerated as an inmate of the  Lafourche Parish correctional department’s Work Release program.

To really know about Dave Dominici,  to grok his strange proto-junkie patois,  to get a sense of his “yat” demeanor,  you will have to read the book, but suffice it to say that he is a convicted grave-robber with a tattoo of a $100 bill on his arm bearing the legend “By any means necessary.” Dave is what the state of Louisiana calls a “habitual felon.” And it is for this reason that despite his exemplary record during this most recent stint behind bars including taking second place in the C. Paul Phelps Correctional Facility “Toastmaster’s Club” contest for prison  debaters,  Dominici has not been granted “good time,” which would have gotten him out of prison by now. This said,  Dave looked pretty good compared to when I first met him,  when,  to hear him put it “I had nothing but holes in my arms.” Despite his arm-length record,  Dominici has never committed a violent crime and is totally believable when he tells you “I am not a bad person,  I am a good person.”

I feel a little indebted to Dominici. Probably no other thief trolling through the wreckage of the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States would have picked up a discarded lampshade and recognized it as something worth saving. No other “habitual felon” would have taken the lampshade home and attempted to sell it along with all his other stolen property at a tag sale in front of his house in the Bywater section of New Orleans,  and certainly no other petty crook would have told my old friend Skip Henderson that he should spend $35 for the lampshade because “Hitler made skin out of the Jews.” And of course,  no other New Orleans yat would have turned out to be right about the lampshade,  at least in the fact that it was indeed constructed from human skin.

So I was happy to drive 50 miles through the driving rain to visit Dave Dominici this past August 29,  2010, because if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have gotten the lampshade from Skip Henderson and worked on this book which has changed my outlook on much in life.  I was also happy Dominici had prevailed upon the Lafourche Parish deputies to let me in out of the rain.  Apparently I had failed to recognize that August 29 was the fifth Sunday of the month and according to Department rules,  there are no visiting hours on the fifth Sunday. An exception was made for me because,  as Dominici told the cops,  I was “from New York” which meant I had come a very long way to see him.  The deputies were kind of amazed anyone would come that far to see Dave Dominici but they did check my ID just to make sure the story wasn’t complete bullshit.

We chatted for about half an hour,  Dominici and I,  in the work release “classroom” where a sign saying “watch, think,  act” hung on the wall.  Dominici was pleased to hear that The Lampshade would be out in a couple of weeks.  He was also delighted to show me the most recent version of his book,  the excellently entitled Or Else is Here—A Drug Addict’s Insane Ideas To Keep From Being DopeSick! According to Dave, he had shown his handwritten manuscript to several of his fellow prisoners (“we get a lot of time to read,” Dave said) and they really liked it.

“They told me it was like the Dunces,” Dave said.  “You know the Dunces …  those Confederate Dunces.”

We chatted for a bit about Dave’s plans for when he got out,  how he had completely turned over a new leaf,  and then the Sergeant came in and said time was up. We shook hands,  me and Dave,  author to author,  swore to look each other up when the time came,  and I was back in the car,  heading north.