Always trust your barber.
Over the years, Canal Place barber-to-the-stars Carl Bauder has assembled a list of celebrity clients that runs from A to A: exonerated homicide-suspect Aaron Mintz to Times-Picayune editor Jim Amoss. For years, I watched Mintz, our next-door neighbor on Chartres Street, head off to Carl, newspaper tucked under his arm so that he could play the free-pull slot coupons in the paper at Harrah’s Casino after his haircut. Only your hair-dresser knows, I thought, and longed for some tidbit of gossip; but the discreet Mr. Bauder never reveals anything about his clients.
He is, however, a treasure trove of advice. And he gave us David Kruse, my can’t-do-without construction guy and sometime nanny to my canine Clio when we’re out of town. While getting my hair cut in 1997, I mentioned that I needed some work done on our house. “Got just the man for you,” Carl responded, as his scissors clicked across my scalp. “Nice guy. Did some work for me. You’ll like him. Here’s his card.”
Mr. Kruse practically moved in with us as he nipped and tucked our French Quarter abode into shape. By the time the first-year anniversary of his starting work came around, he was bringing my wife, Millie, coffee in bed when I was out of town. One day, while under the scissors, I mentioned to Carl that Mr. Kruse had renovated our entire house. “Really?” Carl replied in astonishment. “Didn’t realize he could do all that. He just changed out a ceiling fixture for me.”
When the Chartres Street house was done, Mr. Kruse moved up to Madewood. There was nothing he wouldn’t tackle. But eventually, he took a fall from way out in left field. There were two ways to get the rented air lift up to the main house from behind the Charlet House that sits across the patio behind Madewood. Mr. Kruse chose the wrong one. Figuring that the shortest route between the two points was a straight line, Mr. Kruse steered the lift along the closest side of the house at a nimble clip, like a tractor speeding up suddenly in a Mardi Gras parade.
Suddenly he felt the earth disappear under him, as the left front wheel sank into the septic tank that lay hidden beneath the smooth carpet of grass. Narrowly avoiding immersion by jumping off when the vehicle leaned and the earth opened, he swaggered up to the house and casually suggested that I come and see something out back. Not to worry, he assured me, as I surveyed the listing equipment: He’d pull it out with a borrowed farm tractor. It was in as far as it would go, he pointed out, so there was plenty of time to extricate it. The bad part was cleaning it before it went back to the rental company. That was his worst workday ever.
Since then, it has been smooth sailing . . . until he faced the installation last fall of the Chinese-made shower-steam-sauna unit that came without instructions. “Dude,” I heard as I answered my cell phone in New Orleans. “I’m in your shower right now. But don’t worry; I’m wearing my shorts. I think I figured out how the water knob works. If it was up to me, they coulda kept this thing over in China and saved me a lotta work.”
Installing the “TOTO” brand heated toilet seat was easier. “You’re not in Kansas anymore, dude,” read the note that Mr. Kruse left taped to the lid.
But Mr. Kruse is not all work and no play. On a recent Sunday, he and two of his sisters took their mother, a lovely woman, to breakfast at a fancy French Quarter restaurant after spending the night at the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel. Having closed down the Carousel Bar at the Monteleone Hotel in the early hours, Mr. Kruse, with a few hours of sleep, ordered drinks for everyone – from orange juice for mom to champagne and Seagram’s with Seven for his sisters and Bacardi and Coke for himself.
Things got tense when the bill arrived. It was one of those restaurants that eschews spare change and only lists full dollar amounts – without a dollar sign — after each menu item. Mr. Kruse thought that he was ordering item number 38 – not paying $38 for a breakfast platter. The other family members had followed suit. As Mr. Kruse weighed his options, one of the restaurant’s vendors passed their table, and a box of frozen soft-shell crabs fell off his cart. Opportunity thudded as the box hit the floor. With a quick sweep of his foot, Mr. Kruse spun the box of crabs under the table like a hockey puck on ice. “Honey,” he told the waitress as she approached. “I’ve got one of your boxes of crabs here under the table. You can have it back if you cut our bill in half.” That didn’t fly. But when the restaurant’s manager retrieved the box, Mr. Kruse settled for a pair of the soft shells prepared for the table at no cost.
I wonder what he can do for me next week at Lowe’s and Home Depot.