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Pulling Rank 

There is, of course, our passion for ranking things, an obsession which is burlesqued every time the eighth-ranked middleweight in the world wrecks the third-ranked middleweight in the world in two-and-a-half rounds. You'd expect the guy who ranked them would try to lay low for a week or two.

But our passion for ranking seems impervious to failure and -- unashamed -- always bounces back up to seek our attention.

And at the top of all rankings (and yes, we must go there) is Numero Uno, the Biggest Enchilada in the Microwave, Simply the Best. We have always demanded to know who was the Baddest: Superman or Captain Marvel?

It matters not that there is a lack of proportionality here, nor that the Best Of anything can be obliterated by one's perspective. Note how the mighty sun itself can be blocked out by a thumb-tip placed between it and the viewer's eye.

Nevertheless, even publications as reputable as this one persist in these Best Of lists. Sometimes these rankings become somewhat predictable (e.g. Nash Roberts, Becky Allen, et al) and so new categories have to be dreamed up. They are almost always a good idea stretched to flabbiness: Best Baba Ghanoush Prepared by a Protestant on Wednesdays ... .

Now you have before you yet more material which will set down some Best Of awards. I have no defense to offer except mendacity, but notice how I best like categories when they double back and bite themselves on the buttocks. Like not simply "What's the Best Soft Drink?", but "What's the Best Soft Drink for Those Who Hardly Drink Them?" (Naturally, the best answer is ginger ale, which was invented so that people who didn't like soft drinks would have one to call their own.)

So without further delay, the best of my Best Of categories, centered around this fine and unequaled town:

Best Urban Legend -- Anything connected with the House of Good Shepherd, a home for wayward girls which stood surrounded by a high wall at Broad and Bienville. There were lurid stories of delivery boys being attacked and luncheon weiners being sliced onion-sized by the nuns. The place had all the ingredients New Orleanians love in their gossip: sex, jail and Roman Catholicism.

Best Pre-Meal Surprise -- In-season slices of Louisiana Creole tomatoes, thick and on one side darkened by pepper.

Best Free Summer Show, Day In, Day Out -- On the sea-wall, watching the sailboats' ancient drift across the late afternoon's sun-spill.

Best Location Spotted in a Bad Movie Filmed in Town -- Tough competition here, but the winner is from Oliver Stone's JFK. Jim/Kevin Garrison/Costner gets the Cronkite confirmation of Kennedy's death from the TV set at the Napoleon House, which is as good a place as any to become part of a national trauma.

Best Abandoned Building, Commercial -- The old Falstaff Brewery on Gravier, which still has echoes of the booming noises that attend the making and drinking of beer.

Best Way to Be Awakened in New Orleans -- By the drop of paper-shell pecans on the side porch, dropping on the wood like hot shrapnel.

Best-Named Hauler of Human Waste -- At the turn of the last century, sewage was left out in cesspool vaults, to be emptied by a private company and hauled to the riverfront. (A separate company hauled dead animals.) There it was picked up by a tugboat and taken downstream. However the tug -- named Flora or "goddess of flowers" -- usually decided to save time and fuel and dumped its cargo in midstream.

Best Commercial Neon, Product Sold Locally -- Baumer Foods, maker of those Crystal products.

Best Commerical Neon, Product No Longer Local -- Blue Plate mayo on Earhart and Jeff Davis.

Best Parental Supervision -- An old-fashioned Sicilian gentelman who insisted on a curfew for all his daughters, even the divorced one who'd moved back. ("Under my roof, under my rules"). On her first date, the car's headlights revealed the old man waiting up standing in the bay window. Later, his wife remonstrated with him, saying "Our daughter's a woman now." So on her next date, as her date's car pulls in the driveway, there, taped to the bay window, is an 11-by-16 photograph of Papa.

Best Use of a Fire Hydrant by a Being Not a Dog -- They're bleeding the fire hydrants along Loyola Avenue and a young swain with a Cadillac as old as he decides to wash it right there, despite sidewalk warnings from pals that it's gonna bust his windows out. He strips down to an Esplanade shirt, does one side, drives down to U-turn and gets the other side done. Pals cheer.

Best Place to Be Stuck in Summer Rain -- Sure, the city likes flash and is justly known for that, but there are other things too that say "New Orleans" to the native and one of them is standing on a second-story porch on Esplanade Avenue, in the parish of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, and looking down on the glistening black streets and the dripping leaves minutes after a strident early-summer rain.

Best Evocation of a Saint -- The aunt of a friend was suffering through a cold snap with a broken heater and waiting for a donated heater and praying intently for St. Anthony for relief. One night she marched into the kitchen with a statue of St. Anthony, opened the freezer door, shoved the statue inside and shouted, "Now, see how you like it!"

Best Article on Those "Best Of" Lists -- Sad to say, you've got it in your hand, baby.

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