Click to enlargeManaging Ignatius

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Clearly an area like the French Quarter is not the proper environment for a clean-living, chaste, prudent, and impressionable young Working Boy. Did Edison, Ford, and Rockefeller have to struggle against such odds?-Ignatius J. Reilly, Confederacy of Dunces. In the 1960s John Kennedy Toole wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Confederacy of Dunces, which details the uproarious misadventures of Ignatius J. Reilly, an overweight genius misfit. Though he has visions of grandeur, Ignatius winds up selling wienies for Paradise Vendors, Inc. (the fictional equivalent of Lucky Dogs) in New Orleans' famed French Quarter. Lest you think that the outlandish world of Ignatius was only a figment of Toole's vivid imagination, in Managing Ignatius Jerry E. Strahan relates his amusing--and bemusing--experiences working for more than two decades with the audacious characters who comprise the actual stable of Lucky Dog vendors. In his inimitable voice Strahan weaves delectable vignettes of the Vieux Carr demimonde--in whose midst he makes a living--a group blending panhandlers, prostitutes, pimps, con artists, schizophrenics, drifters, jazz musicians, strippers, bikers, transvestites, and the like. Over the years they've all worked for Lucky Dogs, truly an equal opportunity employer. The crew, always changing yet somehow always the same, includes ex-carnies, phony clergymen, seamen between ships, Vietnam vets, the love-scorned, the sex-crazed, and wayfarers simply looking for an alternate lifestyle. They often drink too much, party too long, and work too little. In managing these eccentrics, Strahan serves variously as peacemaker, negotiator, marriage counselor, detective, father figure, and banker. Sometimes all in the same day. One vendor fled town after witnessing a mafia murder. Another left when his fiance jilted him for a lady of the evening. Yet another married a customer at his cart with a beat cop giving the "Bourbon Street Bride" away. One night manager, only a little less reliable than his predecessors, went on a six-month lunch break. Another tried to turn the company's warehouse into a safe haven for hookers while a third exhibited a greater interest in voodoo than in hot dogs. Strahan tells all their stories with a gently ironic realism, revealing his peculiar managerial challenges with keen appreciation for the human condition. Like Ignatius, he understands how fickle Fortuna can be. When Smitty, one of Lucky Dogs more colorful vendors, muses "It's never dull, never dull," he's referring to the streets of the Quarter where he and his colleagues regularly hawk their product. But his observation applies equally to life within Lucky Dogs, Inc. Conditioned to meet--even welcome--the unexpected, Strahan has successfully transformed himself into a straight man for all the absurdity around him. His characters are the real-life Ignatiuses who, for the most part, are decent, loyal, and--at least eighty percent of the time--honest individuals. For a variety of reasons, the vendors have abandoned mainstream society and sought solace working the streets. Nightly, one can still hear them in the French Quarter calling out to passersby, "Don't be a meanie, buy a wienie." In A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole created fabulous fiction. Jerry Strahan, in Managing Ignatius, offers a rollicking factual account of Lucky Dogs, its characters, and life in the Quarter.

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