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Defender Picks


The Thousandth Follower

An Interview with Randy Fertel

NoDef's Twitter account hit the millenium mark Sunday. Since we give ourselves pats on the back most everyday, we decided to find out just who was watching what we said in 140 characters or less.


Turns out, the 1,000th follower was foundation president and memoir writer, Randy Fertel. The son of Ruth Fertel, who founded Ruth's Chris Steak House, and Rodney Fertel, a true local character who once ran for mayor on the platform of getting a gorilla in the Audobon Zoo. In the fall, Randy will release a memoir, The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steaks, about his parents. To find out what made his social media engine tick, we sent him a few questions. Luckily, he threw in a few stories as lagniappe.


NoDef How long have you been reading NOLA Defender, and how did you find  the site?


Randy Fertel I found your site when Twitter recommended you as a likely cohort.   And I'm afraid you won't like this answer but I sponsor a truth-teller prize, so here goes:  I've been reading NOLADef since about 15 minutes ago when I prepped for this questionnaire.


NoDef Rack your brain. Can you think of anything you actually like about NOLA  Defender?


RF What I liked best in what I saw was the calendar which looks like a cherry-picked Offbeat listings and seeing some of my buddies and acquaintances in your e-pages like Cedric Martin and Edwin Edwards. My favorite EWE story was one told about a dinner at Ruth's Chris Steak  House on Broad years ago. My mom, of course, was the Ruth that started RCSH, partly so she, a divorced single mom, could make college money for my brother and me.


We had a waitress, Shirley Barlett, famous for her endless stream of jokes.


“One customer,” she quipped, “liked Pierre martinis so dry all he  did was pee air.”  


Once, when Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards came in with his entourage, Shirley eventually acceded to his appeal for a joke.  Diabetic and rail-thin, not exactly EWE taste in demoiselles, Shirley came over with a doggie bag and asked him to place his hand inside.  With the bag on the governor’s hand, Shirley just stood there.


Finally, Edwards succumbed:  “Well, what do you want me to do now?”


“See,” she smirked, “It’s just like I told them in the kitchen:  once I got you in the sack you wouldn¹t know what to do.”  The Edwards  entourage snuck quick peaks at the governor.  He took it as homage which allowed  them to collapse in guffaws.


My favorite Cedric Martin story was less verbal and more liquid:  a  bottle of 1952 First Growth Bordeaux he once opened at his birthday party.  Glad to hear he’s reopening Baronne St.


NoDef How did you find NOLA Defender on Twitter?


RF Right there in the right column beckoning me.


NoDef How long have you been using Twitter? Why do you use it?


RF Infrequently for maybe a year but more lately as I try to bring  attention to my forthcoming memoir, The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak:  A  New Orleans Family Memoir. (It comes out in October).


NoDef What role does social media have in New Orleans? Are we a 140 character town?


RF Is there a town social media has not inundated?  (Sorry about that  choice of verb).  But a 140-character town?  Surely not.  Not only does truth reside in that next wine bottle or third martini but so too does  loquacity. This is a talking town: all those hours around the dinner table catching  up on yer mom an' 'em, or imagining the next meal these reflections do  not fit in 140 characters.


NoDef What's the most random tweet or link you've ever encountered on Twitter?


RF NOLA Defender.


NoDef Now that you have this platform, tell us about yourself and your organization. How are you helping New Orleans?


RF I taught English for many years at Tulane before moving on to the  New School for Social Research, but now most of my efforts stem from running the Fertel Foundation and the Ruth U. Fertel Foundation.  The latter, named for my mother of course, is devoted strictly to education in the New Orleans area and I think we are making a difference.  We sponsor several scholarships for high school students to attend the Kenyon Review Summer Workshop  for Young Writers. KR is the premier literary journal and the summer  workshop jumpstarts kids' college quest. 


I am also proud to have helped  initiate the Edible Schoolyard project at the Samuel J. Green school and Artist Corps which hires musicians as teaching fellows for elementary schools in an effort to renew the music/band programs which are being lost.


So much of recent jazz history has come out of school bands but we are going to lose a generation of players if we don't address it.  The Fertel Foundation also sponsors the Ridenhour Prizes for Courageous Truth-telling which I guess honors New Orleans indirectly by keeping alive the memory of the late Ron Ridenhour who wrote for Gambit and City Business and won a George Polk award for  investigative reporting.  Teaming up with the Nation Institute in NY, we honor Ron's legacy (which includes blowing the whistle on My Lai during the  Vietnam War) at the National Press Club every spring by handing out four prizes for courageous truth-telling. See


I hope my memoir will serve the city, too, by focusing on our rich history and culture and of course our infinite supply of over-the- top "characters," like my dad the Gorilla Man and my iconic mom, whom I  call The Empress of Steak.


NoDef Your father once campaigned for Mayor of N.O. in a gorilla suit. What's the 5,000 lb. gorilla in New Orleans these days?


RF Health care.  We should be pursuing not big box hospitals but rather  Dr. Karen DeSalvo's model of delivering medical services to the  community. The Tulane Community Medical centers there will be one in the old  Ruth's Chris at Orleans and Broad are delivering the best care New Orleanians have ever seen and at a much more effective cost.


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