Flood of e-mails, petitions get results
By Kate Moran
New Orleans Times-Picayune
They are two great American traditions, but commercialism and political dissent don't always mix.
So discovered Frank Evans, a local landscape architect and occasional prankster, when he erected a Christmas village at Lakeside Shopping Center that lampooned the blue roofs and rancid refrigerators more ubiquitous these days than wreaths and holiday lights.
Lakeside, skittish that the impish display would offend its customers, ordered Evans to disassemble his show piece -- until a public hungry for holiday levity intervened.
Shoppers, for the most part delighted by the "Here's looking at you" tribute, inundated the mall with e-mails, phone calls and even a petition protesting the corporate censorship. Pundits from Rush Limbaugh to the ladies of "The View" filled the daytime airwaves with Evans' plight.
Even the administration of Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, himself parodied in the display, offered to let Evans move the display to the lobby of the Gretna courthouse, the artist said.
The mall acceded to public pressure, allowing Evans to return after closing time on Friday to resurrect his diorama in time for the Saturday rush.
"It was quite an experience. I'm happy that people felt the way they did about it," Evans said. "I got so many calls. People left letters at the little trains out there for me. It makes you feel good when people appreciate your work and effort.
"If you don't laugh," he said, "you're never going to move on."
Tricia Thriffiley, Lakeside's marketing manager, told the Associated Press that the display will now include a bulletin board that will let patrons judge the hurricane humor for themselves.
Thriffiley said she personally received more than 500 e-mails about the display.
For Round 2 of his holiday display, which includes traditional elements like trains, churchgoers and fake snow in addition to storm debris, blue roofs and a car full of construction workers, Evans plans to add miniature travel trailers in the driveways of the pint-sized homes.
To appease mall management, he will erase the neon X's that covered the doorways, which he conceded might remind shoppers of the grim discoveries made by rescue workers searching for bodies after Hurricane Katrina.
"I didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings," Evans said.
Evans is no stranger to political satire. In holidays past, he has spoofed the jailing of former Gov. Edwin Edwards and the 2000 showdown between presidential candidates George Bush and Al Gore. The latter display included shark figurines shuffling in and out of the Supreme Court carrying briefcases.
The mall made him take down that one, too.
As the mall closed Friday night, patrons were elated to hear the display would return this morning.
"This is how we are living every day," Nicole Anderson of Metairie said of the blue roofs.
"It showed real ingenuity," agreed Mark Wisniewski, also of Metairie, noting that Evans had cut real blue tarpaulins to fit the miniature roofs of the display.
Debbie Burns, visiting the mall with her son, Dustin Newman, had mixed feelings. While she thought the display clever, she worried that it might strike people differently if they had experienced heavy damage to their homes.
"This is how it is," Burns said. "You think, hey, this is really New Orleans this year. But it could be depressing for people who have gone through so much loss. Really, it's twofold."