Friday, December 28, 2007

Our Christmas Eve Dinner

It’s our tradition – dinner between Christmas Eve church services.

What started out as a practical solution has become a feast, its own menu of legendary proportion.

Laurie and I met in October of 1991, when I joined the choir at Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church in New Orleans. She is a sensational singer, a gloriously pure soprano with a killer range, exquisite subtlety and breathtaking sensitivity. I adore listening to Laurie sing – and I get to call her my dear friend.

Our church has two Christmas Eve services, one at 5:30pm that tends to draw families and one at 11pm, quieter and more contemplative, pulling in couples young and old, divorcees and widowers, and especially those for whom the late, candlelight service is more meaningful. It makes for a long night of singing, but it is one of our favorites musically and gastronomically.

Laurie is a sensational cook – that first year, she whipped up a marvelous risotto for four of us. Over the years, we’ve had this and that, but this year was our 12th in a row with principally the same menu. Straying from it now seems like sacrilege.

First Course:
Carrot Zucchini Bisque – it may sound odd at first but oh, is it good! I found this recipe in another form in a cookbook my sister gave me when I was moving out on my own. She thought it was a book of Quick & Easy cooking, when in actuality it was a Lite Cooking guide. This Bisque recipe called for skim milk…I swapped that out for an equal amount of heavy whipping cream. Oooooh. Since it’s not nice to tease, here’s the version I use now:

1 Cup Water
6 large Carrots, peeled and diced
2 or 3 medium Zucchini, peeled and diced
2 cups Heavy Whipping Cream
2 tablespoons Flour
¼ teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
¼ teaspoon Cinnamon
3 chicken bouillon cubes or packets

In a medium saucepan, add water and place over high heat. Add carrots, cover saucepan and cook for 10 minutes. Add zucchini, cook for 5 minutes more. Remove saucepan from heat and drain liquid. (Save the liquid to use as a base for stock later, if you’d like.)

Puree vegetables in the same pot with an immersion blender (or hand mixer or whatever works for you. I’ve never owned a food processor.) Add the heavy cream and place over medium heat, uncovered. While stirring constantly with a wire whisk, sprinkle in the flour, black pepper and cinnamon.

Add the bouillon (I swear by the Better Than Bouillon brand – and they make a super Vegetable bouillon in case you need to make this for vegetarians) and continue to stir until it dissolves. Heat for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently so soup does not stick or burn. Serve in shallow flat bowls, garnished with a parsley sprig. 4 servings.

Second Course:
Field Greens with mini Goat Cheese cheesecakes. Oh. My. Gosh. Laurie bakes these tiny Goat Cheese and Chive cakes earlier in the day – they’re still warm on the salad plate. Yum!

Third Course:
Spaghetti Bolognese – Laurie’s mother’s recipe for the sauce, adapted to our taste with some of the incredible hot sausages we get here in Louisiana. Lots of freshly grated Parmesan and warm bread (we let Whole Foods take care of that).

Dessert:
Peppermint Ice Cream with Dove Dark Chocolate sauce. Peppermint Bark (Williams-Sonoma). Lindor Truffles. Some years we never even make it to dessert after all the previous courses.

Oh, and don’t forget – Prosecco, flowing throughout the courses. And, to get us into the proper mood for the second service, selections from the South Park Christmas CD – we can do most of the parts to the Dreidl Song, with counterpoint.

Then, we waddle our behinds back to church for the late Christmas service.

I have family around the world. I have family here in New Orleans.

And now we have our family traditions. Hope you had a great Christmas – ours was one of the best in years.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Christmas Memory, 1975

One week before Thanksgiving in November 1975, Northern New York was hit by a freak ice storm. The little hamlets of St. Lawrence County were well prepared to deal with these conditions, but this came up so quickly, there was almost no way to get the sand and salt out in time.

Temperatures plummeted, rain turned to sleet turned to freezing rain, and roads became treacherous. Luckily, all the kids were already in school, and even more fortunately, the weather changed just as quickly – warming up enough to melt the ice in time for the buses to hit the roads and return the students home.

As I did every day, I got on Bus #16 and took up my usually seat, with best buddies of mine, Barry and Greg. Then it happened: my space was invaded by not one, but two of my cousins, Squirrelly (Shirley) and Blabra (Barbara). OK, what in blue blazes were they doing on MY bus route? – they lived in the next town over, another tiny burg which funnels all its kids to the same school as our town (we’re talking small here – one K-12 school for 3 towns, and still only 720 kids total!)

It got even stranger…they got off the bus at our house. And walked in with me. And sat down at the kitchen table.

In my house.

And they didn’t know why. Nor did I.

Too weird. And soooo out of the usual patterns of my well-organized 2nd Grader’s life.


Well, in a magnanimous gesture, I hauled out some of last year’s toys for us to “share” while waiting for an adult to arrive on the scene to make some sense of all this disorderliness. I mean, there had to be some logical explanation, right?

Right.

Sadly there was. The Ice Storm.

Not long after, Mom walked in the door – with ANOTHER cousin! Squirrelly and Blabra’s little brother (or little Bother, as I liked to call him), Wesley.

OK, enough already. Would someone like to explain this to me?

And she did. Mom took me upstairs to my room, sat me down on my bed and sank down wearily next to me. Most of what I remember that followed was her asking me to be patient and understanding, that we all were going to make some adjustments and then a lot of other things that didn’t quite register…but what I did understand was this: Shirley and Barbara and Wesley would be staying with us for a while because their parents, John and Paula had been in a terrible car accident in the ice storm...John had been killed and Paula had been badly injured and the doctors wouldn’t say one way or the other if they thought she’d make it.

And now Mom had to go break this news to the kids.

I was grateful that I didn’t have to be in the room when Mom took all three of them to her lap in the big rocking chair – I peaked around the banister, just to know where not to be. It was the quietest I’d ever heard our house – usually full of the five of us kids, terrorizing each other, practicing the clarinet/piano/flute/drums/trumpet, playing records, yelling from one end to the other.

Utter quiet.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Mom and Paula were about the same age and had been pregnant with me and Shirley around the same time – there was no question where the kids would go when the call came to the school that morning. Paula’s parents were too old to take that many young kids and John’s parents were too far away.

Paula was one of 8 kids, and her siblings rallied to help: it was a whirlwind of visiting relations and food and preparations for the funeral. I was given the choice of whether or not to attend the service for John’s funeral – I declined, and went to spend the day with my favorite neighbor, Marian. (She and her husband Kermit had 5 daughters and so I was her special little boy – and I LOVED it!!)

The flurry of activity continued through Thanksgiving (we served about 35 for a sit-down dinner) and then suddenly quieted down again as we headed back to school. I was now sharing my room with Wesley, and Dad was quickly finishing up the back room for Barbara and Shirley. It was now apparent that Paula was going to live, but it would mean many months of recovery in the hospital, with several surgeries to rebuild her pelvis, hip and right leg.

Now, we were a farming family. We had the space for 3 extra kids, both in the house and out in the 90 acres we all knew intimately. I never would have thought of us as poor, as we always had food to eat, a roof over our heads, beds to sleep in – all the amenities. I did not know at the time how little there was to spare, or how we would have been categorized as poor compared to many other families throughout the US.

But. Add three more kids to the mix, and it was tough. At the time, I certainly didn’t understand quite why or how it was tough. None of us ever went hungry and I don’t really comprehend how Mom and Dad did it, but I could sense their tension as Christmas raced toward us.

We went through all the usual movements – put the tree up and got it decorated, assembled the cardboard fireplace (uh-huh, you know that one I’m talking about), and for us kids, started behaving like Big Brother was just around every corner. The strain for my parents took its toll on me and my siblings, but they were so careful not to speak too harshly Wesley, Barbara or Shirley. The sisters would spend hours off on their own, talking themselves nearly into hysterics, recreating the accident despite not actually being there. It was a long, strange time.

And then. Oh, then. One evening, less than a week before Christmas, there came a loud knock on the door. Mom still hadn’t returned from her bus route and Dad was in the barn, getting ready for milking. My sister Jo Ann went to the door and peaked out – two of our favorite teachers were standing there, arms laden with, well, stuff.

Jo Ann flung the door open and almost instantly burst into tears. We all came running to see what the commotion was – these beautiful women had spread the word through the school that they were planning on doing something for our extended family for Christmas and to say the least, it snowballed. There was a massive laundry basket (how big? Later, when it was empty, we fit a 1st grader and 2 2nd graders in it!), filled to overflowing with small gifts for everyone, but more importantly, oranges and grapefruits and all kinds of food supplies and fun things and it was so unexpected and so marvelous and so kind. And there were bags and boxes and boxes and bags of more stuff and goodies and food and decorations and stuff and so much that it was almost incomprehensible.

My brother Brad raced down to the barn to get Dad – of course, the teachers tried to duck out before he got to the house, but my sisters wouldn’t let them out the door. Both my sisters were talking to the teachers at a mile a minute, how cool this was, who’s idea had it been, how long had it taken to pull it all together – with my sisters, the devil’s in the details.

Dad arrived – flustered that he’d been pulled away from his work and sputtering that Brad hadn’t told him what the crisis was. He walked into the kitchen to see this mound of generosity – and all the steam went out of him. Not often a physically affectionate man, he flew across the room, grabbed the teachers into a bone crushing hug, held them at arms length, muttered some thanks, and then dashed back out the door, still muttering something about needing to get back to the barn and ordering my brothers to stay in the house to guard all the stuff so the “kids don’t wreck it before your mother gets home.”

Mom. I wish our teachers had been able to stay - they had families of their own to get home to - because Mom’s reaction was what you’d expect, to the third or fourth power. Tears, squeals, disbelief, blustering, hugging, shaking her head, speechlessness. And then she settled into a good solid cry, just to get it all out. I think that was the night that I first understood the difference between good cries and ugly cries. And, then Mom realized that not one of us kids (and oh, had this been tough) had touched a single thing in any one of the boxes or bags or the laundry basket – and the crying started all over again.

Over the Christmas break, Mom had all of us sit down and make some really cool thank you cards – we drew pictures of all the different stuff and things and goodies and wrote corny things and signed it “Love, …” and it was all so wonderful.

Christmas Day was another kind of dog and pony show, with all of our clan and all of Paula and John’s kin from both sides going so far out of their way to make it not just a happy day, but a Good Day. A really Good Day for everyone.

It was April of the following year that Paula was finally released from the hospital and returned home – the kids left our home a few days later. The transition back into our routine was much quicker than we expected, but it was time for spring plantings and there was so much to do.

Shirley and I have been very close since then, and whenever we speak of this time, it is with great warmth and affection – and Shirley cannot speak of my mother without getting misty eyed. Every four or five years, when Mom and Shirley actually meet up again face to face – the tears flow and the stories come out again and all the same love is there.

It was a terrible time in which some really extraordinary people made the best of the situation, shared a lot of themselves and loved unconditionally. When I falter and lose some of the beauty of Christmas, I revisit this time and place and it all comes back to me again.

Merry Christmas – and Peace to Y’all.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

December in New Orleans...

Looks like this...



And this...




And this too...




It was 47 degrees last week, and 83 this week.

Caroling in T-shirts & shorts.

Running the A/C while you trim the tree.

And Flowers that bloom all damn year.

Oh, and no hurricanes came our way.

Thanks for all the good thoughts this year.


Peace.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Fear No Book

OK, so that's not really the correct admonition here, because as we all know there are a lot of really bad books out there. It seems publishers will publish, well, anything.

Here it is: with all the controversy surrounding the release of the movie The Golden Compass this weekend - the claims that it is atheist or anti-Catholic Church - I knew I had to post. (And the guilt from not jumping on Allison's Reading Bandwagon at Soccer Mom was crushing me.)


The Golden Compass, the first part of the Philip Pullman trilogy His Dark Materials, is a stunningly beautiful book. Marketed originally as Young Adult fiction, this was never intended for an audience of 7 or 8 year olds. The themes are increasingly mature through the progression of the books - and yes, it's a thrilling fantasy whose central character is a 10 year old girl - but every not-yet-adult whom I've talked to who'd read the book(s) was thrilled by the story. AND they knew it was FICTION!! And none of them suddenly "became atheists".

Errrgghhh.


How many of these "protests" do we have to suffer, theses dire warnings to The Unwashed Masses about movies or books that are destroying The Fabric Of Society? Did the Catholic Church really fall after the release of The Da Vinci Code? (I will say, the book and movie both worked wonders on curing my insomnia.)

Were millions of little boys shaped into chauvinist pigs after bedtime readings of The Giving Tree? (Remember that one? The Great State of California banned this sweet, touching Shel Silverstein book as sexist and demeaning to women - the Tree is feminine and Gives and Gives and Gives and the Boy Takes and Takes and Takes and NEVER Gives. I still don't know any Little Misogynists who can trace their origins to this book.) Double Errrrggggghhhh...

BUT, the creepy book Love You Forever is OK? I know I will likely catch Hell from some/many moms on that one, but She climbs in her adult son's bedroom window to rock him in his sleep. Does no one else have a problem with this??

OK, refocus: The Golden Compass.

People, lighten up. It's a book. It's a movie. Kids of this millennium actually get the difference between what they read or see on the screen and Real Life - at least the ones I know do - especially the ones whose parents actually converse with their kids about said difference. Despite the authors "intent".

What is odd about these books is that despite Pullman's publicly declaimed atheism and his "greatest difficulty in understanding what is meant by the words 'spiritual' or 'spirituality'", you come away with this wonderful, heartbreaking sense of deep spirituality - that there is good and there is grace and there is love and beauty and trust and honor and life and joy.

I had the great fortune of reading and falling in love with The Golden Compass when I was managing a wonderful children's book store on Magazine Street in Uptown New Orleans. Later, a galley proof of the second book, The Subtle Knife arrived - and I got to review it for several national trade publications before it was released. (Random House actually blurbed my review when the book went to paperback!!) All three books are beautiful - and thought-provoking - and heartbreaking - and sad and lovely and earnest and joyful and brave -

And should not be feared.

If I see one more comment or email from someone who's only skimmed a synopsis of the movie, I think I'll scream.

Jump in - Read. Enjoy.

Read in Joy.

I bet you get hooked on them too.

(And then let me know what you think of the movie!! Can't wait to see it - I bet I won't skip church on Sunday after seeing it, despite all its subversiveness...)

Palace Pride


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

For Dreams of Flying


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

We Are Not Katrina, part I

It's still on the news here every single day.

Correction.

It is the news here.

I counted yesterday, and during the local evening broadcast, the name Katrina was uttered 27 times in half an hour.

Head to Phoenix or Portland or Poughkeepsie or Portsmouth or Provincetown or Palm Beach or Pittsburgh or PEI and it'll be days, weeks before there's a singe reference.

I look out my office window on the 23rd floor and cannot count all the roofs still swaddled in their blue tarp bandages.

It's not the roofs' faults. They'd really rather not be blue.

I can go entire days without thinking about The Disaster of Republican Proportion. That is, if I don't turn on the radio, watch TV, read my own blog, write my own blog, talk to anyone whom I haven't seen since The Event, read a newspaper, surf the internet, or just look around me. Or get out of bed.

I can do it.

And. Oh. It. Feels. Great.

But.

There is still so much to do. So many stories to tell. So many things to fix and wrongs to right. I actually feel guilty - well, I feel guilty for not having suffered as much as my friends anyway - but I especially feel guilty when I have a whole day in which I didn't get disgusted by the politicians lining their pockets with recovery dollars...

...in which I didn't mourn the loss of another friend who's taking flight from this city...

...in which I didn't yell at the TV as the oh-so-sincere-yet-overly-rehearsed-reporter yet again refers to something as the First/Biggest/100th/Worst/Most Expensive since You-Know-What.

It's not that I shrink from the word Katrina or that hearing it gives me ulcers.

We've just said it too much. And it's fighting to take over our collective identity.

I don't think so.

And if there's one thing that the people of New Orleans and the whole Gulf South are not, it's this:

We are not Katrina.

Sometimes, we cannot look directly at it all. Some days, we cannot look away.

Yes, we will tell the stories and live with the aftermath for the rest of our lives. We will have strong emotions tied to this part of our lives and stuggle to make sense of our random, passionate reactions to stupid, insensitive questions.

But here's the rub. Get to know us again.

I dare you.

Find out what the Real Deal in New Olreans really is.

I double dog dare you.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Paper Trail

I wrote this more than a year ago for a first anniversary. So much has happened since then, and we aren't the same people. There are things here I will never express again. I found this last week in my files and thought it needed to travel.)


Isn’t it funny? The two of us, men of the new millennium, so dependent on our technological crutches, the cell phones, the computers, ATMs everywhere…so quick to dash off an email or a text message…

But that’s all on the outside, isn’t it? It’s not so hard to look closer and see what paper dinosaurs we truly are…and it’s been that way from the start. You tried to send me a text (which I was ill-equipped to receive at the time, oh, the horror!) so we had to resort to scribbling out pieces of our lives on white squares of paper…how last century is that?

Paper, it seems, has made itself a central feature of our life together. It was there in the menus and wine list at that lovely dinner; it was the concert tickets—and in an exuberant seizure of creativity, it became your home-made birthday card last year.

Next, paper came to me as twelve little penguins…then like notes in class, a card here and there expressing some simply beautiful thoughts…and yet again, as plane tickets and breathtaking photos, proof of the best vacation ever…so much paper.

Too soon, we were drowning in paperwork—FEMA applications and change of address forms, shopping lists and envelopes stuffed with receipts from a faraway land that wasn’t home, the pages of books we read to distract ourselves from our days and newspapers we used to kindle the fires that warmed our nights.

Paper can be so beautiful, the shape of a lovingly wrapped Christmas gift…so hopeful, as a fistful of lottery tickets…so contradictory, both the bills we receive and the checks we pay with…so familiar in daily choices of paper and plastic, cash or credit…and so utterly indispensable if you intend to blow your nose, clean a kitchen or powder your behind.

It’s there when you need to play, the airplane waiting to be folded…the joint waiting to be rolled…paper-dolls hiding, just a few cuts away…crossword puzzles and putt-putt scorecards and pretty flowers bursting forth from simple colored squares to decorate a gift for your love...and the one and only thing that ever beats Rock…

It’s both the Kite and the Tail…neither one’s all that good at flying without the other…they just keep going in circles before crashing to the ground…

Paper cuts, too…unexpected test results that change your life…subpoenas and last wills…but more, it binds this life together in the oddest ways…it’s the family trees and the flypaper…seed packets and history books…diplomas and death certificates…traffic tickets and ticker tape parades…it wraps the fish and lines the bird cage.

Paper is maps and calendars and blueprints and music scores and constitutions and price tags and licenses and insulation for freezing feet and the far-off smell of our youth, trapped in a freshly printed mimeograph or an ice cream sandwich wrapper.

And of course, it’s always there when you need to create. White…a blank page or canvas…his favorite…so many possibilities.

I guess it’s no wonder, really, that the traditional gift for the first anniversary is Paper. If you can survive of year of your own and each other’s paper, you can probably handle a whole lot more after that. Seems like good enough reason as any…

I can’t seem to get out of the habit myself, now that I’ve given you the photo book and the quote book and what seems like hundreds of cards and notes and such.


There is something, however, that I need you to know:

During various states of insobriety, I’ve asked you something that I won’t ever ask you again. I love you, and it doesn’t matter what pieces of paper come and go through our lives—paper doesn’t change anything or anyone. And I certainly don’t need that piece of paper (or anything else, for that matter) to let me know how much you love me or what we mean to each other.

For somebody who likes to say how simple something is, I’ve made it a hell of a lot more complicated for far too long.

No more.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Monday Mimosa

OK, so it's not a cocktail with champagne and orange juice.



It is, however, one of my favorite blooming plants in the South, the Mimosa Tree.

Come to think of it, a Mimosa sounds really good right now.
Probably not the best idea while at work...

Friday, October 12, 2007

I Live for These Moments

It's Friday - there's no reason I should be this alert, this early in the day, but it's ten past 5 in the morning and I am out watering the jungle that is my front porch.

It's cool. And dry. The first true, nearly-autumnal morning. You can smell in on the air.

And as I step forward to water the primroses in my windowbox, I look up.

Oh.

The sky hasn't been this clear since April. Sparkling out against the endless dark is Venus, the brilliant point of a triangle with Saturn and Regulus (I had to look those two up).

And then I remember it. The words haven't come this easily in numberless months, with so many other things muddying my mind. And for that brief shimmering moment, there is nothing else in the world.

No War. No AIDS. No politics. No agendas. No blue roofs. No lost friends.

Just a moment.

I remember these words:

She walks in beauty, like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

And all that's best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes:

Thus mellow'd to that tender light

Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

Opening Lines to She Walks in Beauty
by George Gordon, Lord Byron

Monday, September 24, 2007

What Are You Looking At?

My friends.

I want to know how they manage to do everything they do.

I can barely keep it together enough to post a couple times a week (if I'm lucky), and yet they juggle family, work and 2 two freakin' blogs.

And still, the let me play with them. In case you haven't figured it out, I am referring to those incredibly cute and talented folk, Jenn in Holland and the frustrated woman in a gay man's body - I mean, Soccer Mom in Denial. (Oops.)

And their relatively new venture, Looking Into. If you haven't Looked Into it yet, I am shocked. The people are fabulous artists, doing their parts for making the world a little more beautiful, one photograph at a time. And the fact that let me hang with them is just so damn cool.

Curious, now? You should be.

Today they are posting one of my favorite pics from my neighborhood in NOLA - thank you, my friends.

And to all my new friends, check out all the breathtaking photos they've put up - and spend some time Looking Into.

And really, really Look. Take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy the moment.

You'll be glad you did.

Dear Applicant

(Even though I posted this a little over 2 months ago, I couldn't resist re-posting in order to play today in the Monday Mission, hosted today Painted Maypole! Hope you enjoy - your Ambassador.)

Dear Applicant,
Thank you for submitting your resume and cover letter for consideration for the Administrative Assistant position recently posted on Monster.com. We are currently in the early stages of our hiring process, and while we found your resume properly titled and your cover letter virtually free of misspellings, at this time I regret to inform you that we will not be inviting you to interview with us.

Disappointing as this may be to you, I feel confident that your extraordinary skills and assets will not long go untapped. Especially of interest to us was your ability to communicate telepathically with animals - namely the leopards at the Zoo. While this is a skill few job candidates possess, it would tragically be wasted in our small, feline-less office.

Likewise, count yourself among the standouts for your bold choices for font, format and background. There remains some debate in our office as to what body part was featured in the lower right corner of your background mosaic. You did not list photography among your plethora of skills or hobbies - would it be too much to ask you to clear up this mystery for us?

I would be remiss if I did not applaud your cover letter, not only for its length and audacity, but for the most compellingly inappropriate use of the word "diacritical" we've seen in years. It is the rare occasion these days to see one unintentionally blur the line between self-promotion and sad farce so deftly. Huzzah!

I feel it is my duty to recommend to you to place somewhat tighter privacy restrictions on your MySpace page. While photos chronicling the antics of you and your associates make for entertaining divertissments, perhaps a firmer hand in editing would serve you well in the future.
Also, consider casting a keener eye toward your page's overall content and tenor, lest a potential employer glean information which could ever prevent you from becoming that ignominious office drone with whom we all thrill to work.

A note of caution: it is decidedly poor form to post to your blog about applying to a "bogus" company for some "f***ing wack" job. Some grown-ups know how to turn on their computers and track your sorry ass down.

Respectfully yours,
The Ambassador

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Old Friends (Aquarium Style)

I miss working at the Aquarium.

Correction.

I miss the work I got to do at the Aquarium and
the animals I worked with.
(The people? Not so much...)

So, here are a few of my favorites:


Yellow Sea Urchin


Golden Dart Frog



Sea Anemone


Leafy Sea Dragon

(Yes, these are all my own photos! Canon PowerShot)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Goin' Out Walkin'...

We all do what we can.

Every morning that I can still get up and go to work is a great day.
Sunday, I will get out of bed, get dressed and then join several thousand of my nearest and dearest friends (sadly, SMID won't be there) for the 2007 NO/AIDS WALK.

This event, held yearly since 1990 with the exception of 2005 (for some strange reason), raises money for HIV/AIDS organizations, services and education in Louisiana. So, if you are in New Orleans Sunday morning and are looking for something to do - come join us. You don't even need to register or raise money - just Walk with us. Strength in numbers sort of stuff. Increased visibility is just that.

And despite what this and other previous administrations would like to think, the AIDS epidemic is not over, nor is going away any time soon.

Lucky for us, there's a "cold" front expected to move through this weekend after the remnants of Hurricane Humberto blow through. It'll be almost 90 degrees, but it'll be much less humid. Still reprehensible by the standards of my Yankee past, but less humid.

Our merry little band has already raised over $1600 as a team and the last minute arm twisting is about to start. If you can and are so inclined, you can sponsor us/me at my personal page for the Walk. If you'd like to join us for a 5K stroll, leave a note in my comments.

Any good thoughts and energy you can send out are greatly appreciated too. I am one of the fortunate ones - 16 years+ after diagnosis, I am still going strong.

And so I Walk.

Last year's WALK Team - Motley looking bunch, eh?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Monday Morning Glory


Color...


...and Light...


...and Harmony.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Few Hours, A Couple Years Ago

August 29, 2005. We were awake early, watching the news.

Until the power went out. That was 6:32AM.

We would live our lives from sunrise to sunset for the next 8 days.


Monday was spent restlessly trying to nap or
read or in attempts at banal conversation.

The winds blew ceaselessly
- imagine the wax-paper-on-a-comb noise,
extrapolated to door-size shutters.

We dubbed the cacaphony "Satan's Harmonica."

After the worst of the storm had passed us,
we ventured outside to survey the devastation.

What we saw was bad - tree carnage,
mostly,and bits of the copper roof of
the Old US Mint strewn over ten blocks.

All the beautiful Magnolias in the St. Louis Cathedral
garden had succumbed to the force of the wind
- but in the midst of the wreckage,
the Mardi Gras Jesus still stood, unharmed.

(Forgive the sacrilege, please. The statue is of Jesus
with his arms raised up in the classic
"Throw Me Somthin', Mister!" pose.)

This was still hours before the levees gave way.

We had only sporadic radio reception,
but were inundated with rumors of the ugliest stripe.


We did not yet know the worst of it all.

And it was three days later before we finally left New Orleans.

Monday, August 27, 2007

My Lessons in Gratitude

I want to say thanks.

It’ll never be enough, but I need to say it anyway.

Thank you to every single person in my life who reached out in the hours and days and months (and now years) since Katrina. Thank you,too, to all those folks who’s names I don’t, and will never, know.

Thank you to the lovely Red Cross mental health professional (with the Dickensian name of Mary Cope) who made a point to come and speak discreetly to our small band of evacuees - to ensure that we had access to specific services for our needs and to let us know that we were among family (wink).

Thank you to Jessica, the ever-vigilant front desk manager at the Residence Inn in Nashville - our home away from home for nearly 4 months. After the first week, Jessica would call up to our room to let us know when the important pieces of mail had arrived - and became our den mother, making sure we were eating enough and sleeping through the night. I still think she knew we often lied on both accounts. (To make her Sunday morning shifts a little more bearable, we’d slip down to the office with a homemade Irish Coffee for her...)

To Bobbi, my dear friend of 20 years now, I can never express my thanks and appreciation for taking over as my press agent in the days immediately following the storm. Until we reached Nashville, we had limited communication with the outside world - landlines (including pay phones!) in the French Quarter are insulated underground and continued to work, even after the levees gave way. I would call Mom and Bobbi, and between the two, they’d piece together what they perceived was the real story. Bobbi then took the initiative to email to all my friends and family what she thought was appropriate to share. (I’d sent a mass email the eve of the storm to nearly all my address book...I got so many comments later that it was Bobbi’s emails that helped them get through those first 10 days.) Thank you.

Allison. I know she’ll probably say this is not deserving of thanks, but she’s wrong and too modest. Very early on, it was my conversations with her that actually helped me begin the grieving process sooner and faster than I otherwise might have. She asked me the tough questions that only a close friend has right to...and allowed me think about them and answer in my own time. With her help, I began to face the reality of my immediate future and make plans for life if, in fact, I could not return to New Orleans. And. Oh, this is a big And. Allison kept after me in her not-entirely-subtle way to rejoin the blogdom...challenging me to tell the untold stories, in a from-the-trenches point of view. How do I ever begin to thank you? I love you.

Mom. Without ever meeting Mark or John, Mom offered to fly us all out to Washington (state), to give us a safe place and a quiet space in which to pull it all back together. Even though we didn’t/couldn’t take her up on the offer, it was beautiful in its timing and simplicity. Thank you. (Mom never asked the hard questions, but confessed to Bobbi that she was worried that I’d seen things that had changed me for good. I hadand they did...but I love that she could express that care and concern.)

I am so grateful for the amazing friend I made during my exile to Nashville - Shellie. Through a series of unlikely (but incredibly fortuitous) events, I landed a sweet job working for Shellie at the Nashville Zoo - doing almost exactly the same kind of job I'd had in New Orleans. Not only do Shellie and I share very similar work ethics and notions of what quality education is - but we got each other. I had not made a new great friend like that in some time - and as a boss, she let me use my time there to grow and recharge and use all my gifts - and in turn, I helped the Zoo sparkle. Thank you, my new friend!


Mark. I don’t write much about Mark here, but I must thank him. The phrase he uttered to me, the words he knew would help me through time and time again...from the moment we realized the city was filling with water, to the now-or-never trip over the Mississippi River out of the city with John and me riding in the bed of Mark's truck to guard our worldly possessions (yes, that's me wielding the Henkels), to our long cold nights in Nashville, so very far from home. We'll get through this together. We did and we have. And now this life is in a new chapter. We didn't get through the way we thought we would, but we got through anyhow. So, thank you...

I was about to write that I could go on thanking people forever - the choir director at the small Methodist Church who let me sit in on rehearsals for a month or so despite not having the time to actually sing with them on Sundays...Andrew & Elwyn, my boys in Britain, who kept my spirits up and offered me refuge on their distant shore...Tamara, my first fiancee (we were Ambrose and Ermengard in Hello, Dolly! oh, so many moons ago) who shared my gut-wrenching emails with friends and coworker who in turn reached out to a stranger...Amy, who did her damnedest to keep all of us now-former Audubon staff in touch...Dean in Houston who listened, really listened, and helped me fathom it all...

But no. I cannot write it all down yet. Someday.

For now, I can only hope that these wonderful people know how much it all means to me - that I do thank them - and that not a day goes by that I don't try to repay all that kindness in the way I live my life.

There's really nothing left to say.

Except.

Thank you.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

K+2

The anniversary retrospectives have begun again, essentially unavoidable this week. I gotta tell you, it’s exhausting.

I was scanning Saturday’s New Orleans Times-Picayune, when I spotted the shorthand expression that is my post title today. And you know what? It really disturbs me...

K+2.

Two years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall and the levees broke, flooding 80% of New Orleans. Two years since so much of the Gulf South was devastated.

It is impossible to express some things in any terms other than “post-Katrina” - population centers, insurance rates, property values, etc.

But everything? I think what disturbs me most is this dangerous new identity. In years past, we hated how New Orleans was known to too many folks only for Bourbon Street, Girls Gone Wild and Mardi Gras. Anyone who’s ever visited this city for more than a day understands implicitly that it’s so much more than that.

And now? New Orleans has been shoehorned into this newer identity of ultimate victimhood. “How does it make you feel that the government is dragging its feet with recovery funding?” Umm, how do you think we feel? “Do you think the high murder rate will adversely affect the flow of tourists to New Orleans?” Do you really need me to answer that?

Oh...and please don’t ask if things are getting back to normal, because they never were to begin with.

Yes, as a city in recovery (sounds a bit like AA, eh?), we are not where we expected to be two years after this disaster of Republican proportions. Entire neighborhoods still lie in ruins. Our mental health services are non-existent. The levees still aren’t strong enough to hold back a surge of similar power. And, yes...the people here are getting more brittle and less likely to keep up the brave face.

But.

There’s so much good happening here that will continue to go unreported by the media giants. So, I guess you’ll have to look for it here.

Not only has our church rebuilt its roof and sanctuary, we are less than six months away from opening a free medical clinic in a neighborhood where such services don’t exist.

How does a creative city respond to trauma of this nature? With laughter and tears and great parties. Jazz Fest saw record number in attendance and the local theatre community is burgeoning with new shows - not all of which are acts of catharsis. (To misquote Stephen King, gallows humor is only funny when its your neck.) The Louisiana Philharmonic and New Orleans Opera Company are playing to standing room only crowds.

Oh, and the predicted conflict and strife that city leaders anticipated in “accommodating” the influx of Latin American workers (and their families - many of whom are choosing to stay here and settle down) never materialized.

It’s not perfect. It never was before. Stop comparing years and dates and what’s back and what isn’t. We’re here and we’re working as much and as hard as we can, and some days, it really really hurts. I mean bad.

But. That’s only some days. Most days, just like anywhere else in the rest of the world, we wake up, we work, we love, we eat, we fight, we talk, we worry, we build, we wonder, we teach, we grow, we die, we hope, we leave, we blog, we pray, we put our heads back down on our pillows and drift off to sleep...only to wake up and do it all over again.

Just like everyone else.

Everyone else who isn’t measuring everything in terms of when their world came to an end.

And yet, somehow the world kept turning. And it's still turning. And so tomorrow, we will wake up and start all over again.

Again.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Picture's Worth...

I love my immensely creative friends. Not only are they clever and witty, cute and fun--they're also REALLY good photographers. And now they have a new place to play, er, show their stuff.

Soccer Mom in Denial and Jenn in Holland are way cool. And I'm not just saying that because they're letting me place with them tomorrow. I wanna be like them when I grow up...just without the kids.

No offense to all the moms and dads out there. Or any of the kids. (Declan, why are you reading over mommy's shoulder?!?)

That said, please go check out my fabulous friends at Looking Into. I think you'll dig it.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Things You Don't Hear

Sure, FEMA puts victims of Katrina and Rita into trailers that are patently unsafe (high levels of formaldehyde, etc). Glamorous stuff like that always makes the evening news.

The LRA announces that it'll run out of money long before all the 136,000 applicants receive a penny. (Estimates say that somewhere around recipient 84,000 the well will run dry.) You can bet the natives are blogging about that - as well they should.

Blighted, neglected homes are collapsing under their own weight and sadness. Could you stage a better photo op?

It's all so much more than that.

I'll be willing to bet real money than no one's told you about the more than 10,000 college students (and that's just the ones that registered with agencies) who gave up their 2007 Spring Breaks to come to the Gulf South and help with home-gutting and rebuilding.

That doesn't include the hundreds and hundreds of other college students who came here under the aegis of their churches, sleeping on Youth Room floors and physically changing the landscape so much for the better.

How come Anderson Cooper isn't all over that story? Young people, out in the world...doing good for no other reward than the joy of helping their fellow human.

Oh, kids these days...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

For the Love of Crying

Saturday, we attended the funeral for Gordon Maginnis, New Orleans icon and bon vivant. The pre-service reception at St. Anna's Episcopal Church (yes, you read that correctly - pre - ) was exactly as he had wished...free-flowing mimosas and yummy nosh (just enough to hold everyone over until after the interment).

Gordon was 78 and suffering a host of illnesses, including congestive heart failure. Ever the champion of Quality of Life, he chose not to torture his body with drugs and tube and needles and such only to gain a few more weeks in misery. Gordon returned to his elegant home, gradually withdrew from most of his social circles and last Monday night, went quietly in his sleep.

The funeral service was spot-on. Personal and witty, dignified and illuminating, it was everything we each needed to hear about Gordon's life and his hereafter. I was fine through the most of the service until just before communion when the soloist sang "It is Well with My Soul."

I lost it.

The force of so many associations to that song, the years of singing it at funerals, the trove of so very many memories of Gordon. The soloist was...extraordinary. I wept, unashamed, for Gordon...for myself...for all we've lost. And it felt really good, honest and true to cry like that.

We spent some quality time in the hours after the funeral, telling all the tales we could bear to tell. I first met Gordon at Good Friends Piano Bar - during my first years attending their Sunday Sing-a-long. I'd been belting out Gershwin, Berlin and Porter tunes - including some of the more obscure lyrics cut during out-of-town tryouts and mostly relegated to liner notes.

Gordon sidled up to me, his Grey Goose in hand, and asked, "Tell me. How does a young man like you come to know all these old songs?" Thinking I was much cleverer than my 25 years, I quipped, "Must have been raised right!"

Mustering a withering glance, Gordon turned to me and drolled, "My dear, no one who knows those songs would ever claim they were raised right."

Most of the stories we passed around were not bawdy, but certainly racier than mine. A favorite tale centered around Gordon's vague animosity toward the young Tennessee Williams - and of the night they both wore their identical floor length fur coats (in New Orleans of all places!) to the same party. In the tradition of literary farce, each went home with the wrong coat - speculation still abounds that Gordon pulled the switch intentionally to piss off Williams, not realizing until ages later that there were personal letters and notes and outlines in the breast pocket. It's been suggested that the papers are still in Gordon's home

___________________________________________________

Sunday, we rededicated the newly restored sanctuary at Rayne Methodist Church. Such a long time coming, and still the A/C did not function to the necessary levels. Our early service (8:45AM) was sparsely attended (just under 100), but the 11 o'clock service was Standing Room Only...and very warm. The music was glorious - we performed 2 of our favorites, Randall Thompson's Alleluia and Johannes Brahms' How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place. Mmmm...

For an emotionally charged day, I did quite well...until second service. The choir processed during the singing of the opening verses of Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee and all was well with the world...except I hadn't counted on some old friends to drive all the way in from Hell, sorry, Tyler, TX. Bob and Linda have a long history with our church - she was our secretary for years, and Bob was interim Associate Pastor basically whenever we needed him to fill the gaps.

I can't begin to comprehend their life in Tyler - Bob and Linda are two of the most liberal, forward thinking people I know (and I know SMID!!) and apparently, they are 2 of only 5 Democrats in town. Bob has long been working within the Methodist Church, furthering the recognition and celebration of same sex unions. And they both sang with the choir...and were universally adored by everyone. The sort of kind people I want to be when I grow up.

It hadn't occured to me just how much I missed them.

I refocused on the service and made the choice not to look back at them until it was all over. After the benediction, I beat a hasty retreat up to the choir room and then bounded back down the stairs three at a time.

Gone.

Oh.

I searched every inch of the building I could think to look and had resigned myself to having missed a moment to catch up with them. Then...the door to the pre-school wing opened and they walked back through - determined to see as much of the remodel as their time would allow. I exchanged quick hugs and greetings with Linda while I waited until Bob finished his conversation and he turned around to speak to me...I don't remember everything we said, but we hugged and cried and laughed and cried and didn't really know the reason why we were crying and didn't care all the same. Happy and sad and joyful and tearful all at once.

I cry for friends who are gone. I cry for the friends who have come back.

I've never been stingy with my feelings, good or bad. What a way to honor those we love but to cry with them and for them.

And now I've got myself all misty eyed again.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dear Applicant,

Thank you for submitting your resume and cover letter for consideration for the Administrative Assistant position recently posted on Monster.com. We are currently in the early stages of our hiring process, and while we found your resume properly titled and your cover letter virtually free of misspellings, at this time I regret to inform you that we will not be inviting you to interview with us.

Disappointing as this may be to you, I feel confident that your extraordinary skills and assets will not long go untapped. Especially of interest to us was your ability to communicate telepathically with animals - namely the leopards at the Zoo. While this is a skill few job candidates possess, it would tragically be wasted in our small, feline-less office.

Likewise, count yourself among the standouts for your bold choices for font, format and background. There remains some debate in our office as to what body part was featured in the lower right corner of your background mosaic. You did not list photography among your plethora of skills or hobbies - would it be too much to ask you to clear up this mystery for us?

I would be remiss if I did not applaud your cover letter, not only for its length and audacity, but for the most compellingly inappropriate use of the word "diacritical" we've seen in years. It is the rare occasion these days to see one unintentionally blur the line between self-promotion and sad farce so deftly. Huzzah!

I feel it is my duty to recommend to you to place somewhat tighter privacy restrictions on your MySpace page. While photos chronicling the antics of you and your associates make for entertaining divertissments, perhaps a firmer hand in editing would serve you well in the future. Also, consider casting a keener eye toward your page's overall content and tenor, lest a potential employer glean information which could ever prevent you from becoming that ignominious office drone with whom we all thrill to work.

A note of caution: it is decidedly poor form to post to your blog about applying to a "bogus" company for some "f***ing wack" job. Some grown-ups know how to turn on their computers and track your sorry ass down.

Respectfully yours,

The Ambassador

So Much To Tell

Like all of you, there are a million posts running around inside my head, all struggling to get out at the same time. Recently, there just hasn't been the time to sit and sift through it all to post regularly - and thank you all for the prods to make the most of my new home internet connection, but the truth is this (to quote the pre-Simpsons Matt Groenig):

Work is Hell.

How and why are not the topics of discussion today. Let's just say I've let my work suck the blessed life right out of me. By the time I get home at night, the inclination to do anything other than read all y'all's posts does not exist.

Now for some Good News: the other thing taking up so much of my time is church. We are preparing a butt-load of really sensational music for this Sunday's services - no sleeping in for your Ambassador this weekend, as I will have to be at church, warmed up to sing by 8 - freakin' - AM.

Ya see, after 99 weeks, Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church (on the lovely, historic St. Charles Avenue) is coming home. We will be physically processing out of our large Fellowship Hall where we've been worshiping for all this post-K time...and entering our newly restored sanctuary. For those of you unfamiliar with this tale, Katrina's wind blew our gorgeous steeple off and through our sanctuary roof. Many pews were destroyed, the floors and altar badly damaged and the stunning and priceless Aeolian-Skinner Organ suffered substantial wounds.

The miracle in that day was that despite the destruction within and without the church, the 8 three-story, late 1800's stained glass windows were utterly untouched. They don't even make the glass the same way anymore to replace them.

So, this Sunday, we will re-enter our sanctuary as a family. Not the kind of family that we were before the storm, but a tighter, more involved family. You cannot come through tragedy such as this unchanged. And none of us are fooling ourselves that the work is done and we'll all go back to the way things were before Hurricane Katrina. Understand this: there is no going back. Only forward. (Or, perhaps, in the hardest cases to bear, away.)

Yes, the work is not done, but it is clearly time to go home...The organ has not been fully restored, nor the choir loft that is cradled by those gorgeous pipes. Key to our re-entry is the successful installation and testing of the air conditioning system. It works!! Tested in the midst of the hideous heat and humidity that plagues us in summer here, it works!

So, if you happen to be in New Orleans this weekend, please feel free to drop on by - we have 2 services, 8:45 and 11:00AM, both with full choir and such. All are welcome!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Pink Snow & Giant Chrysanthemums

I spent some quality time walking in the rain on the 4th. It was lovely.

The skies clouded over late that morning, and it rained steadily for almost six hours - sometimes torrentially, but mostly in a quiet, regular drizzle. It soaked the ground, cleared some amount of the dust and pollen out of the air and did a great job of keeping the day much cooler than recent July 4ths.

The walking-in-the-rain came as a result of needing to do way too many loads of laundry. Still, the walks were lovely.

One of my favorite parts of summer rainstorms in New Orleans comes during the just-after time...pink snow on the streets and sidewalks and cars and rooftops. Pale pinks and fuschias and pinks so deep they're really purple. It's the gentle pink snow of the seemingly ever-blooming Crape Myrtles. (Of course, for car owners, the tiny colorful blooms from these prolific flowering trees can be more than just ornamental - they can be downright detrimental to a paint job if left on a car in the ensuing, post-shower bright sun.)

Lucky for us, the sun was denied the chance to come out for the rest of the day. The clouds parted just after the sun finished setting, making for a comfortable evening for fireworks.

About three-quarters of the way through the display up on the Mississippi River, the barges each shot up aerial shells that exploded white-gold, far bigger than any of the previous ones - with comet trails reaching almost back to the water. I've always been most fond of those shells. Tonight, for the first time in many years, the image of those explosions took me way back...

Mommy, that one looks like a giant Chrysanthemum!

That's right! But, sweetie...how do you know that word?

Oh, I think it's in one of Daddy's books in the kitchen. It's that flower with lots and lots of white petals called a Chrysanthemum, right?

Yes, that's right...(Mom shook her head, a bit stupefied.)

I was only 4 1/2 years old at the time. I could always be found with my nose in a book, even if I couldn't read it.

It didn't occur to me until many years later that everyone didn't read all the time, just for the hell of it. I consider myself fortunate to come from a family of readers - as the youngest of 5 kids, I saw my siblings reading all the time for school. Dad devoured Zane Grey novels while Mom's penchant was for biographies. National Geographic played a huge part in my upbringing, not in just the subscriptions of their signature periodical and World, we owned seemingly every hardback NG book known to humankind in the later 70's. Chrysanthemums...

While I still love to read very much, there never seems to be enough time. Any suggestions for some good summer reading - after I consume the last Harry Potter book next weekend? What are y'all reading?

Friday, July 13, 2007

About as Random as It Gets...

OK, despite now having internet service at home (finally), life seems to have had other designs on my time than blogging, reading all y'all's (that is the correct plural form, after all) blogs and commenting thusly. So, to get back in the game (and in the habit), I've decided to play along with the blessedly non-tag form of "8 Random Facts About You". Those of you who really know me will understand I am one of my favorite subjects anyway!!

So, via just about everyone that I read these days - Random Stuff about your Ambassador.

The Rules:

Players start with 8 random facts about themselves.

Those who are tagged should post these rules and their 8 random facts.

Players should tag eight other people and notify them that they have been tagged. (I will not tag you for this - if you read this and want to play along, go for it - just let me know so I can post a link to your fabulocity!)


1. I am a Master Procrastinator. I have this absurd internal clock/calendar that allows me to sense the last possible moment to start a project, return a call/email, pay a bill, etc. That's not to say that I am always behind on things - quite to the contrary. The OCD Yankee in me (the last vestiges of the Northerner left in me after 16 years below sea level in the Crescent City) refuses to be late for meetings, hates the idea of having to pay any kind of late fee, and cringes at the thought of my own lapsing social graces. This is all a matter of timing.

2. Dovetailing on #1, I am oddly intolerant of other people's shortcomings. For example: I think less of someone if they are chronically late, etc. This is a part of what also makes me hideously capably of fostering and maintain a long-term grudge. Talk about wasted energy...

3. My worst first date ended with me having to rush to a CVS for Benadryl. Not only was the guy a total ass, but I had an allergic reaction to something in my food - blotches, labored breathing, puffiness. It was actually a great way out of a really painful dinner. Turns out there is something in Capers - either the seed or the pickling process - that more than just doesn't agree with me. Damn that Salad Nicoise!!

4. I withdrew from college halfway through my sophmore year, and never went back. Not because I wasn't good at it - I left with a 3.5 GPA. I just hated it. Music School was entirely subjective, and I was vehemently unwilling to play the game the professors were expecting me to in order to get a degree I no longer wanted. Faced with a room full of squeaky clarinets, I wanted to chew my arm off. I was shocked a couple years ago when a guy I'd dated for almost a month declared that it was over because he was unable to reconcile the fact that I had not gotten my degree and had no interest in going back to finish. (He's a Biology professor at Tulane University and hated the fact that a college dropout could beat him at Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, etc.).

5. My freakish memory has allowed me to retain the music and lyrics to close to 2000 songs of every variety (showtunes, opera aria, art songs, international folk songs, jingles, pop tunes, big band standards...it's all filed away up there). Add to this the lines (not just mine, but most of the cast) for nearly every stage show I've done in my adult life. This ability also gave me a great foot in the door for traveling teaching grade school - after having the the students introduced themselves, I could often remember all of them for the rest of the class period. (Now, I just want the voices to stop!)

6. I hesitate to put this in print as I may be inviting disaster, but I've never lost my wallet or keys...ever. It's part of the little daily rituals I go through to make sure I always know where they are. I've also never been pick-pocketed, but a very beautiful gift that SMID gave me was stolen when the guy (Jim) I was kindly renting a room out to got crapface drunk one night, brought home a hustler who stole Jim's laptop (the one he was working on his doctoral thesis on, but had not backed up), his passport (Canadian, ya know), and my wonderful ring that SMID brought all the way back from South Africa for me...oh, and then the guy rode off on Jim's bike...It breaks my heart that this ring is gone from me...

7. I am one of the most emotional people I know. I have been known to cry at the Hallmark commercials (you know, the one where the little boy thinks his big brother won't make it home in time from college for Christmas Eve?), laugh to be heard over an entire audience in a crowded theatre, quick to anger and just as quick to get over it. I can sing at a piano bar, so absorbed in the music and the moment that I don't realize there are tears streaming down my face. I have music and movies that I use when I need to get that kind of emotional release - things that I know will vicerally move me - happy, sad, angry, elated, scared. Exhausting, yes...but so alive!

8. I watch much more TV than anyone in my life knows. I've wasted more hours than I care to admit on the tube. It's not like I have to be home at a specific time to watch this week's episode of WhatEverCrap...I come home, I turn it on...and veg.

And now you know...

So, if you'd like to play, go for it and have fun. Hope you enjoyed reading!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

It was how Hot?


(OK, so it wasn't really hot enough to melt the laminate off a Stop Sign...but it sure feels that way. A monster moving truck parked next to the sign, and the constant blast from its exhaust pipe reaked this havoc.)

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Glad to be wrong

I was off by two entire weeks. I am not sure this is something to celebrate, but I will happily admit to being wrong.

I wrote two weeks ago about New Orleans' soaring crime rate and its place as the current murder capital of the US...and about our personal losses this year. At the time, I inferred from the trend that we would tally our 100th murder of 2007 by that weekend.

I was wrong. That happened yesterday.

Yeesh.

Note: Yes, it's been a tough year (actually going on two now). But. We are not walking around, heads down, on the verge of tears everyday. Just like anywhere else in the world, we have good and bad days. We live, we love, we fight, we die. The daily images (blue roofs, delapidated buildings, water lines, empty neighborhoods, etc.) are challenging reminders of what we've been through and continue to go through and what we will face for an immeasurable time to come.

Here's what I want from you, the reader, this week: Ask the questions you think you shouldn't ask. Ask the questions polite society tells you not to ask. Set your tact and civility aside for a while and either leave your questions in the comments or email me if you prefer anonymity.

Curiosity reigns. If you've ever wanted to know anything about New Orleans as it was during the time of Katrina and in the nearly two years since, it's all fair game.

It's time for me to exorcise some demons, and y'all can help.

Peace. Your Ambassador.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

And The Winner is...

Fifteen years ago, shortly after arriving in New Orleans, I submitted a couple short monologues to a local professional theatre company, in hopes of getting into their Southern New Plays Festival.

This was at a time in my life (I was only 23) when I didn't think that I couldn't win, that my work wasn't good enough, that I wasn't part of the "in" crowd of New Orleans writers. Turned out it didn't matter, because they picked one of my pieces. It was produced as part of an evening of monologues and short plays - repeated over several weekends.

Soccer Mom came to one of my nights - I have the most wonderful picture taken by the future Mr. Soccer Mom, of SM and me - beaming after the performance. It's one of my favorite photos, and one of the first I stripped from its elegant gilt frame the morning of my belated evacuation from New Orleans.

That night seems so long ago.

I had more hair on my head than on my chest.

Soccer Mom wasn't Soccer Mom yet, and the world knew nothing of Blogging. (Is that really possible??)

Now, don't get me wrong. Soccer Mom was already saving the world, one kid at a time. I had notebooks full of short notes and long essays that have started to find their ways into my posts in the last few months.

I guess we were laying the groundwork for what we'd become.

Has it all turned out the way we imagined back then?

Erm, not really.

Is it better than we knew it might be?

Hell, yes!

Today, I will be heading out the door to church, but on my way, I will be stopping by Le Chat Noir, a sensational Cabaret Theatre that has done a remarkable job of carving out a lovely corner of creativity in the city's theatre scene. There, I will be dropping off my submission for their Fall New Plays Festival Competition. They will be picking only 3 of the first 20 one act play scripts they receive.

I've written something of which I am very proud. Neither Soccer Mom nor I are characters in the story, but part of what I know from her (and the other strong women in my life) has found its way into this piece. Hopefully, I captured how much I adore and respect them all - and I really hope I've allowed these women to come across as real, vibrant beings of passion and joy and pain and daring and love.

It would be almost more than I could stand if they pick my play.

Truth is, seeing this play up on the stage would be exhilirating.

But, if you ask me, I've already won.

I have Soccer Mom in my life.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Dawn of a New Day (In More Ways than One)

OK. Two months shy of two years since Katrina, and I finally have internet service at home. Someday, I'll have enough distance to find the humor in the long road to here...but for now, I am just happy to have service.

Of course, it did come at a price. Rather than getting to sleep in at all on a Saturday morning (and my apologies to all the parents who don't ever get that luxury), I had no choice but to accept their earliest appointment - 8AM today.

No complaints. I have wicked (for you Allison) high speed connection and the privacy of my home. Ahhh....

Let the blog-barrage commence!!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Something Bugging You?


Friday, June 22, 2007

It's been a tough year, even by New Orleans standards.

One of the things that I've always admired (and I must admit it's part of the city's appeal to me) about New Orleans is how it deals with tragedy. Some folks found their way to Louisiana through hardships in their homelands, others suffered upon arrival. So many different groups, with just about as many different kinds of suffering. Yellow Fever. Hurricanes. AIDS.

So much of what makes this region what it is today comes indirectly from the struggles it has endured. That will be what makes us stronger as we move through this ongoing recovery.

However.

It's been a really tough year.

New Orleans is still way below it's pre-Katrina population of 450, 000+. Recent estimates put us at less than half that, depending on which survey and what agency is in whose pocket to set the numbers high or low. That makes us now officially a small city. Smaller than Plano, TX. Tinier than Anchorage, AK. Embarrassingly diminutive next to the likes of Jersey City, Lexington, and Buffalo.

(Not that we're obsessed with size.)

However, if you haven't caught any of our news recently, it seems that people are just dying to get into New Orleans. Or maybe that's not quite right. Dying to stay, perhaps?

This past weekend brought our fair city its 90th and 91st murders. A handful of arrests have been made. No convictions this year. This is not the post to dwell on why. I don't have that kind of time just now. Most of those are gang/drug related retaliation killings. I once thought that you could fairly easily avoid the parts of the city where all this is happening.

I was wrong.

And now it's personal.

Last week, Robin was found beaten to death in his Marigny home. The Faubourg Marigny is the wonderful sprawling neighborhood adjacent to the French Quarter, and my home for many years now. Robin's house is a mere 7 blocks from my apartment.

It's all too close now.

There haven't been any arrests in his murder, although the authorities have questioned a "person of interest". Robin's car was taken at the time and found burned out some blocks away, either in an attempt to make it look like a robbery or some such act gone bad. Truth is we just don't know the truth and might never know.

But like I said, it's personal now. Robin rode the school bus with my friends Mark and Chrissie. He managed a bar that I frequented throughout my most formative years in the city. He was a champion of many causes, using his more recent success at the salon he owned with his sister to raise money for AIDS and breast cancer research. And as recently as October 2006, Robin had been interviewed by WDSU NewsChannel 6 regarding crime in New Orleans:

"Drive-by muggings -- I mean, there's guys riding around in vehicles just mugging people, jumping in their vehicles, going around the corner, mugging somebody else," Malta said. "I'd like to see the mayor actually walk Marigny Street, from Charters to Rampart Street, by himself at 3 o'clock in the morning. I guarantee you he'd get mugged."

No irony there, eh?

In 1997, Robin reigned as Southern Decadence Grand Marshall, and single-handedly scared the crap out of a whole hell of a lot of military guys when the parade he was leading intersected with the Labor Day Parade in the Quarter. In full "I Dream of Jeanie" costume, he mounted the running board of the nearest Humvee as it slowly cruised down the street. Holding onto the driver's side mirror and waving his free arm wildly, singing at the top of his lungs as the parade crawled along Decatur Street - I can still hear him belting out the theme song now.

It's up to us to remember in our own ways each person who's gone now. But it's more than murders. It's all kinds of death now.

It appeared to start with older friends - struggling with myriad afflictions, and exacerbated by the effort of recovery - started to succumb more rapidly. A shocker for me was Sandra. Sandra (whom I always pictured as 40ish) passed away at the tender age of 67 after struggling through the horror of Alzheimer's. I first met Sandra in 1991, weeks after I arrived in NOLA at a P-FLAG meeting - she was president of this chapter for 15 years and spearheaded the national meeting here in 1993. I had not seen her since the storm.

I sang with our church choir at a truly moving memorial service last week for a former choir member at my church. Chris was described during the service as a magnificently kind and elegant woman - and she was. But, oh...she could be salty when she wanted to be. It was her kindness and elegance that made her saltiness shocking and yet acceptable.

Arly, the owner of a local pub and grub, suffered a devastating 45 minute seizure that left her in a vegetative state for 2 weeks before she mercifully slipped away one day. My dear friend Venette's wife Cate worked for Arly for years - and I had the great honor of attending the wedding rehearsal dinner Arly and her partner Louis through for Cate and Venette. Lord, did they throw down some food that night!

An officer in a nearby parish died in an on-duty accident 10 days ago. During the car procession to his funeral, a violent summer storm blew up - winds so fierce they knocked a huge tree over onto the car of two officers on their way to the service...killing one officer and critically injuring the other.

A New Orleans officer took his own life just days before standing trial for brutally beating an unarmed 65 year old retired teacher in the early repopulation after Katrina.

So much death following so many months of struggle to bring this city back to life...

Before the week is over, New Orleans will have its 100th murder. Like other bloodier milestones, this is not one to celebrate.

Somehow, we...We will come through. We will grieve. We will deal with tragedy. We may employ some clearly inappropriate humor and drink a bit too much to do it, but we'll deal.

We - together - will get through this.

There are only two things certain right now in New Orleans. The first is daunting, but the second is much more powerful.
  1. More death will come to our city.

  2. We will rise.

(For those of you wondering where I've been and why I haven't been posting to the blog, it's been a really tough couple of weeks. And this post was trying to get out.)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Pity/Envy

I get those looks all the time.

What is a guy his age doing, riding a bike to work?

Truth is, I've only ever owned one car in my life...and I sold that 15 years ago this month. Since then, I have owned six bikes of varying quality and expense.

And I get those looks.

Poor thing, he can't afford a car.

Actually, I can.

I just choose not to, and because I choose not to, I can afford to do a lot of other things. Like live in the neighborhood of my choice, near the Mississippi River...where it hasn't flooded in a long time. Travel. Regularly eat out at some really sensational restaurants. Maneuver through rush hour traffic nimbly. And when I really need a vehicle, I have many friends who will loan me theirs, all for the price of a home cooked meal.

Oh, and I can afford to rent a car for the weekend. If I so choose.

I choose to bike to work everyday. Yes, it's hot in the summer...and brutally humid. But, I leave for work a little earlier, keep a change of shirts at the office, splash my face (and head - shaving the dome is a blessing sometimes) with some cold water. And if it's raining, I have friends I can call on to hitch a lift with. Or - get this - I can take a taxi. Radical, eh?

I don't have a car note. Or insurance premiums to pay. That's how I can live in the apartment I love, in a part of town that I cherish, near neighbors I really care about.

Looks of pity. Hmm. All over a choice?

Now, it's other looks. These make me a bit more uncomfortable.

It's envy. I'm not spending $3+ a gallon on gas. As I pull up to the office building, deftly hopping off my cost-effective conveyance, I get that look. I don't spend an hour or two a day in road-rage inducing gridlock. At the end of the day, it'll take me 7 (yes, that's seven) minutes to get home...and that's only if I am puttering along.

Envy's a dirty look, no matter who it's coming from.

All this because I ride a bike to work?


Today's post is brought to you in honor of Dump the Pump Day. It didn't get a ton of publicity in New Orleans, partly due to the fact that our public transit system belongs in the Great Oxymoron File with jumbo shrimp, legal brief and Justice Rehnquist - but today is Dump the Pump Day "dedicated to raising awareness that public transportation helps improve the environment and conserve fuel. It also offers the opportunity for people to beat the high price of gasoline and support public transportation as an important travel option that helps reduce our dependence on foreign oil." American Public Transportation Association Website.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Today's Other Holiday

On this day in 1976, my 2nd grade teacher announced to the class that we'd be learning about a very special holiday that day. I thought, "Wow, she must be really smart! How in the world could she know that today is my parents' anniversary?!?!?"

Oh. Flag Day.

I was modestly disappointed, but it did give me a cool way of remembering both holidays.

When my parents divorced in 1980, I started marking the day differently..."If they'd stayed married, this would be their Nth Anniversay. The weirdest one for me was when we hit 23 years since the divorce - just as long as they'd been married

Both of my folks have remarried, Dad for 24 years and Mom for 1 year next month - what can I say, she's a particular kind of gal. I really like both of my step-parents, and there was a time in my college years that I got along better with my step-mom, Myra, than either Mom or Dad. Funny, that.

Today is Flag Day. And if my parents marriage had stood the test of time, this would have been their 50th Anniversary.

You know what? It's ok that it didn't. Life moved on, love came again to both of them in time, and it was by far the right decision for them and for the family.

Happy _____ Day, Everyone.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sometimes...

You just have to throw a little beauty out there.

I was so lucky to have a brilliant sunny day to run around my neighborhood last weekend, taking pictures randomly here and there...this is the result.


I don't have a space that is large/sunny enough for waterlillies, so I headed over to a local nursery and was stunned by their new collection. I especially like the one above, because it isn't perfect - notice the browning petals.

Have you ever seen this many gradations of yellow in one blossom?

Now, when I shot this last one, I was just kind of hoping something interesting might come of it.

I wasn't disappointed.


This is the interior of an Angel's Trumpet bloom. I wish the resolution translated better to the blog, becuase the original is unbelievable.

I love the fact that stunning flowers like this grow in the hot-house climate that is Louisiana - there is a certain defiant thriving-through-neglect aspect to their existence that appeals to the survivor in me. The fact that so much of nature is burgeoning down here - despite everything - gives me hope.

Ah, the Power of Beauty.

Enjoy.

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