Go out for a beer with Angus Lind (he'll take a Coors Light) and the stories start flowing like brew from the tap: Pete Fountain. The Manning family. The crazy night Buddy D came over before the Krewe du Vieux parade and was getting dressed to take his ride as king when he found out Mike Ditka was taking over the Saints. Then there's Angus himself — Uptown-bred, racetrack-raised — who's just as much a character as any of the locals he ever wrote about in his 32 years as a Times-Picayune columnist.
Looking back on the days before he entered the newspaper trade, Lind says, "I've got a degree from Newman and another one from Tulane, and I'm runnin' a pool hall. My parents woulda been so proud."
Then he laughs. And orders another beer.
When he retired from the paper in May, Lind had entered the rarefied world of those locals who were on a first-name basis with New Orleans: Angela, Irma, Archie, Garland, Clancy ... Angus. Just Angus. It was the result of 5,800 columns (he counted 'em) and an insatiable curiosity about the people who make up the city. "What was it Yogi Berra said?" he asks. "You can observe a lot just by watching."
Those observations have been boiled down in Prime Angus, a collection of his best columns. To hear Lind tell it, he was ready for a bit of golf and travel, but people kept asking him, "When ya putting out a book, Angus?" So he began going through his scrapbooks and the banana boxes of old newspapers in his attic, as well as combing the paper's morgues for things he may have forgotten.
The result: 63 essays covering the New Orleans experience, from Archbishop Hannan's career as a paratrooper to Diamond Jim Moran's restaurant; from the peculiarities of the Y'at accent to the particulars of the city's real driving rules; from the magnificence of Mardi Gras to the maleficent month of August (an essay written in 1982, 23 years before Hurricane Katrina). Lind's chapter on now-defunct barrooms is a miniature marvel, a travelogue of long-gone hangouts with names like Acy's Hoedown, Curley's Neutral Corner, Whitey's Seafood & Billiard Center, the Rest-A-While and Quasimodo's (motto: "Does Quasimodo Ring a Bell?").
Lind got his start in newspapering when he applied for a sportswriting position in Meridian, Miss. "I covered Archie Manning and Pistol Pete Maravich. Plus I sent myself to the Kentucky Derby every year — why the hell not?" Later, he moved to the old New Orleans States-Item, where he showed a knack for the offbeat (staking out a neighborhood where a woman claimed to have seen a vampire, interviewing a would-be local Evel Knievel). "I hated the usual beats," he says. "Covering the Sewerage and Water Board? City Council? Boring." Shortly after the S-I merged with the T-P, he was made a columnist, a position he would hold through five mayors. But Lind rarely touched on politics in his column, either: "I just never cared for many politicians."
Among Lind's most memorable columns: a recounting of tongue-tied sportscaster Buddy Diliberto's "Dilibonics" ("station idefecation"), the history of horror-movie host Morgus the Magnificent and a quietly touching story about the day that Angus, then 16 and an only child, quarreled with his father before leaving for school. ("I had cooled down. I took the streetcar home and sat on our steps, as I did every day, waiting for him to pull into the driveway. Only this day my uncle walked up and put his hand on my shoulder.") His second-most troublesome column, he says, involved analyzing the contents of his wife's purse in the pages of The Times-Picayune. His most notorious column? "It'll have to be off the record, and you'll see why when I finish," he says. (Five minutes later, after alternately laughing myself sick and covering my face in horror, I agree with him.)
The changes in newspapering, Lind says, are "sad" — declining revenues in the age of the Internet, buyouts, an uncertain future for print. He's got nothing but praise for his former colleagues, but what he misses, he says, is the ribaldry and competition that used to rule in the newspaper game — crazy stories, outrageous headlines, newsroom characters. (In the introduction to Prime Angus, he writes, "We all seemed to have the attitude that in New Orleans, if you die of old age, it's your fault.")
"Everybody smoked, drank, cursed," he says of his reportorial compatriots. "We'd get in at 4:30 in the morning, by noon or 1 we'd be done, and then we'd go out with the whole day ahead of us — go drinking, hit the track, have fun."
As far as retirement goes: there's the golf and travel, as well as spending time with his two now-grown children and, one senses, a few days at the track. But first there's a full schedule of local booksignings — and, already, a few queries about a Volume 2. "I'm thinking about it," Lind says. "We'll see."
And with that, he finishes his third Coors Light. "You take care," he says, and he's out the door, the very picture of a man in happy retirement. But not quite yet.
ANGUS LIND SIGNS PRIME ANGUS
Fri., Oct. 30
Rock 'N' Bowl
3000 S. Carrollton Ave.
Sun., Nov. 1
3 p.m.-5 p.m.
Barnes & Noble
3721 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie