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.



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.


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.

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