March 7, 2009
Chris and I have embraced our adopted home of Columbus. We have wonderful friends, are avid volunteers, and have immersed ourselves in all the wonderful cultural events that our new home city and state have to offer. Still, people often ask if we miss New Orleans. Some days, that answer is easier than on other days.
We feel that we have one foot in each place, our psyches split. The heart, like the mind, can truly suffer from schizophrenia.
We never tire of stories from New Orleans. There is a sort of pipeline of Web sites and friends to keep us in the loop.
Often, that news is sad, like the quiet closing of a door that will never again open. One of those doors was the report of the death of Antoinette K-Doe. That name will mean little for most in the Golden Triangle. But, for the many Big Easy ex-patriots, she was the last link to her amazing husband, Ernie K-Doe.
You may remember Ernie for his big hit, "Mother-In-Law." ("Worst person I know ... Satan should be her name ...") He was a singer, songwriter, character of legendary proportions. He titled himself "The Emperor of the Universe," and lived up to that designation with elaborate, shiny suits, 3-inch long nails and a hairstyle that looked as if it were part Louis XVI, part QVC wig. His label may have been self-bequeathed, but he was surely worthy of it.
Ernie died in 2001. But, he lived on ... in a way. A young fan (with the blessing of Antoinette), dressed a mannequin in Ernie''s satin tails and curly tresses and rented it out for a fee. A cassette player was embedded in the mannequin''s mid-section, loaded with his music; no matter that the music materializes from stomach rather than vocal chords or throat. So, in an only-in-New Orleans sort of way, Ernie K-Doe made personal appearances, even though he had moved on to the next world.
I spoke to Antoinette a few days after her husband''s death, struggling to say the right things. "He was an important part of our community ... loss to us all ... etc."
"Yes," she told me. "My husband traveled all over the world, and never got shot. He died naturally." Well, we''re all grateful for something.
Antoinette was a class act. And, while still running the Mother-In-Law Lounge after her husband''s death, she ensured that New Orleans retained a bit of the Emperor''s fabulousness.
The lounge -- painted on the outside with his portrait and huge stars, and on the inside with another giant portrait of Ernie (what else?) -- sat under the Claiborne overpass, in a very questionable part of town. The whole building was shrine-like, deifying one "... good at just standin'' on top of de world."
This seedy location did not prevent locals and fans of every sort from gathering there. Crowds spilled onto the sidewalks and streets, drinking beer and basking in the wonderful aura of Ernie K-Doe, "the greatest boy-child ever conceived at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana." Racial tension? Not there.
Although the lounge "rose from the dead" after its extensive Katrina damage, I doubt if it can survive without Antoinette. She had a beauty and personality that could not be captured in a mural or a mannequin. She was our "Empress," though she never claimed that title.
This amazing lady spearheaded a campaign for Ernie as mayor of New Orleans in 2006, even though he had been gone for five years. Could anyone else do that?
Antoinette K-Doe died on Mardi Gras day, 2009. Sort of apt, I think. Her death opened another small split in our bi-polar hearts, and closed one more connection to the city we still miss every day.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina. E-mail reaches her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.