Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Playing with Time

One of the joys of toodling around the New Orleans blogosphere is making friends with kindred souls. Oh, there are many righteous bloggers in the city crying in the wilderness for blood-drenching social justice, and they have their place, but they can never take the place of the common men and women here who cope with the ins and outs of our days and nights and find themselves often sinking into the feather mattresses of New Orleans' peculiar joys.

I found an exchange this morning that brought me up short again about the language we speak in this place. It happened here. And it was my Internet friend Rick's response to the title of the post, "streetcar barn". He wrote in the comments section, "the phrase ... tickles my brain."

The oddness of the phrase had done nothing much to my brain, but Rick is a Canadian living in Japan, so the phrase - aside from the photo itself - conjured an image, or more, of something  alien, unknown, and decidedly odd.

It shone a bright light on an exchange I'd heard just last night. I was out with my friend Karen, when she ran into another friend of hers and asked him where he was working now.

He replied that he was working at the Chart House.

"It used to be the Stagedoor Restaurant, cater-corner from what used to be the old Wrinkle Room," he said.

She and I both knew instantly the location he was designating. It was the corner of Chartres and Toulouse Streets. I'm not sure when the Stagedoor closed, but the Wrinkle Room (not it's real name, by the way - even I can't remember that - it was a gay bar frequented by gentlemen of a certain age) has been gone for years. Yet, as the old song says, "the memory lingers on."

I wonder if this sense of time past is as present in other places as strongly as it is here. I can't imagine it being so. Of course, every place has its local historians, but is that history, whatever it might be, a living reality to its citizens? I don't believe it, not the way our past is always present in our here-and-now.

What an odd sense of time we possess, living as we do in the in-between.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Dangling Conversation

Overheard on the sidewalk outside a coffee cafe:
"I exist on Facebook!"

Doubt

Bad dreams have wakened me the last several mornings. Not nightmares like I've experienced before (real night terrors) but discomfiting allusions to the dangers of truth-speaking.

When I retired from the Civil Service system, the most exhilarating blast of wind to hit my face as I was walking out the back door for the last time accompanied the thought that I'd never have to curry favor again from someone who inspired nothing but contempt in me. One learns so soon in one's work life that the people in charge are not necessarily the people who should be in charge but are instead the people who most successfully flattered the ones in charge, in turn, of them. The yes-men, the backslappers, glad-handers, and sycophants. Their truth is personal advancement, not the fulfillment of a corporate mission.

During the course of thirty years, I'd learned the art of being politic, and I had started to rise like a lump to kneaded bread. I was going places - until that day when I had to submit to an ass reaming from a political appointee who I knew was soon to be ousted from her position because of her incompetence, and that I was being groomed for a new position that would place me above her and all the others of her same rank. What was the problem? I'd taken a vacation without clearing it with her, although she had no link in the chain of command over me. I saw clearly then that the world I had embraced to cultivate my puny retirement nest egg was a petty, shabby affair far beneath my better nature. Far beneath the better natures of all of us.

I may have made my escape with only the assurance of enough money each month to keep me scrambling to make ends meet for the rest of my life, but I'd escaped with a little integrity and a sense of pride. ("Who's the head bull-goose loony around here?")

Now, of course, I have to decide if I need to dosey-doe my way back into the old square dance if I'm to continue trying to do a little theatre work in New Orleans.

When I was director for To Do Productions I could always hide behind the fiction that I was just a hack who came along and was willing to take a dollar off each ticket sold to stage these plays. And I tried to suckle up to all the people other people said would matter. The problem was they didn't matter. They never saw the plays.

To be honest, I seldom saw theirs, but many of those I did see were poorly done, and it left a bitter aftertaste to offer praise when what was needed was life-experience, growth, and learning.

Of course, I might be wrong. I live in doubt regarding any talent I might have. That doubt is my one certainty. But I also believe that a similar uncertainty is a scarce commodity in many others I see spreading their wares.

Should I be amiable and lie? Or is blandishment no better than enabling?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

For Your Consideration


Then click here to sign the petition.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tradition

All my life I've had two older brothers. Although we live in different towns, seldom see each other, and hardly ever speak over the phone, I am never in doubt of the familial bond and a brotherly love we've had for our lifetimes. And every July 17th, I can count on receiving one piece of mail from my oldest brother, Jimmy.

This year, I opened an envelope and read the card. On the inside, Jimmy had written:


I came along when Jimmy was fifteen years old, and I seemed to awaken in him some nascent sense of fatherhood because I can always remember him doing things to me that a traditional father should be doing with his firstborn. (Being the third of three sons, my parents pretty much raised me like a free-range chicken. They knew how to do it by then - what to do and what not to do.) But for Jimmy, I was the great experiment. He would make me over in his own image.

My first memory of this was his coming home with a baseball uniform labeled Li'l Slugger. He dressed me in it and took me outside for some snapshots. I cried like the baby I was. I didn't want to play dress up in this loony outfit while holding onto a tiny bat and kneeling on one knee, looking like a New York Yankee.

Luckily for both of us, he soon met an attractive girl, graduated from high school, got married, joined the Army, and soon started his own family while stationed in France. Years later, he was able to recover that Li'l Slugger uniform and dress his second son in it for a second set of snapshots. This time, everything worked according to his plan.

Of course, the passing years have been kind to him as he has learned that all the best-planned blueprints end up revised and redesigned before completion of the structure, so he pretty much accepts me and everyone else he knows for what we are, even though he is a Southern Baptist and a deacon in his church. He tries not to judge and pretty much succeeds.

So every year I look forward to that birthday card of his I'm sure to get in the mail. I'm always impressed with the printed sentiment of the card, and when I read the personal note he always writes, I cry all over again like that baby I used to be. But for different reasons now.

Tradition. Something you can count on.

Friday, July 16, 2010

These Are Signs

My Google Reader has switched over from English to French.

It's storming wildly outside.

Bobby's awake already.

These are signs ...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Kewl!

What can I say?


I write like
James Joyce
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

(Via this site.)

Or maybe ...


I write like
William Gibson
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

But sometimes ...


I write like
Ursula K. Le Guin
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Then on certain days ...


I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Which is all pretty weird, cause the only one I've ever read is Joyce. And that was when he was still new and in.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News

Time was, I used to work at the Unemployment Office in New Orleans.

I don't believe I ever mentioned that here before, but, yeah, that's what I did for a living. I was good at it, too, one of the best. I had the kind of brain that could learn and retain the legal stuff, and I had empathy to spare to deal with the people I dealt with who were on hard times. For a little better than two generations, I was known on the street as "Unemployment Man". That's true, as ridiculous as it sounds, and as sentimental as this shows me to be, I was proud that there were people who held me in that regard.

People I knew used to ask me how I could do such a job, it had to be depressing, and I would always say that it wasn't. It really never was. As desperate as the plight might be for the person I was working with, I had resources available to me that I could use to help. And I used them.

I became a confessor to so many. I absorbed stories of injustice, personal failings, desperation, and fear, and I learned to spot a con when it was being worked on me. But the cons were rare, believe it or not. Most people bear wounds inflicted by life and are in need of some kind of care, and for thirty years of my life, I was able to offer some little bit of comfort.

I'll admit, I got cocky. I became self-reliant, a problem-solver, a go-to guy who could get things done.

What did the ancient Greeks say about people blessed with good fortune? "Watch out for that hole in the ground! Oops ..." Yeah, well, the Greeks had a word for it.

For the last five years, I've been coming to grips with something new in my life: helplessness. A realization that there are things I cannot do, problems so big I cannot fathom them, much less compose a solution to them. This knowledge depresses me, brings me way down.

I expect, with time, I'll adjust to it. I see it as part of the arc of life. But, until then, it's a bummer.

So for now, please excuse me if I step aside when you approach me with some grave concern; if I close my door when you ask for a donation to save the forests; if I turn off the television set when the images on the screen convey the oil soiling the Gulf of Mexico. I am simply overwhelmed. I am learning there are problems, wrongdoings - even acts that I can see as fundamentally evil - that I am not capable of changing or repairing. I cannot.

This deficiency in me still fills me with a certain shame. I haven't grown accustomed to it yet. Give me time, perhaps I'll adjust and find some means of accommodation.

Until then, please spare me some understanding when you see me run and hide.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Losing Bob

I lost Bob yesterday. Enough time has passed, and I've calmed down enough, to tell the story now of how I lost Bob yesterday.

It was an ordinary Saturday. No, not ordinary - beautiful, sunny and breezy. I woke up remembering I had to make my way up to Walgreen's on Decatur Street to pick up a prescription - my pressure pills, you know. It was imperative I do it, since I had ordered the refill way earlier in the week, and by Wednesday, the Walgreen's telephone robot had phoned to say, Fool, they're ready, get your butt over here before we throw 'em all back in the bin.

I mentioned this to Bob, and he said he'd walk with me because he wanted to stop in at the Whitney Bank branch on Chartres Street to draw some cash from the ATM. He has a Whitney debit card, and he hates having to pay the $2.50-processing fee he would have to pay at the head shop next door. (Whitney doesn't charge its own cardholders.)

Around noon, we set out, me ahead, Bobby bringing up the rear. He could keep an eye on me that way, he said, and not lose sight of me. In no time, he decided he'd like to buy a bunch of little American flags to plant in the garden in our front patio, tomorrow being the Fourth of July and all. I had no problem with that and waited for him outside each little shop he checked into. Sadly, no one seemed to be selling these items, even though they all had plenty in their display windows.

When we were about a block away from Jackson Square and nearer to my Walgreen's destination, he asked to stop in at the Cafe du Monde souvenir shop. I told him I'd wait there on the sidewalk for him.

Which I did. I waited.

I waited.

And waited.

After twenty minutes had gone by, I went into the shop to look for him.

He wasn't there. It was a small shop, too, not many places to hide, and I checked all the nooks and corners. No Bob. I asked the ladies working the checkout. They had no recollection of a little old man in black scrubs (don't ask) looking to buy little American flags, sorry.

Bob had vanished off the face of the earth, and I was the lunk who had lost him!

Unnerved, I wondered what to do. I called his cell phone, knowing that would be useless. Bobby never travels with his mobile. At least, he would one day (when he turned it back on) know that I was alone in the French Quarter surrounded by Essence Festival-goers, frantically searching for him.

Should I go or stay? I knew where he had planned to go, but how far away had he gotten, or how many more shops had he stopped in, looking for those damned flags?

I stood outside that shop for a good hour's duration before I made out his frail figure advancing towards me, carrying a Walgreen's bag.

When he'd finally gotten up to me, he asked, "Where'd you go?"

"You fuck, I didn't go anywhere. I've been standing outside of this shop ever since you went in."

"But they didn't have any flags for sale. I asked them, and they told me the ones in the window weren't for sale."

"Bobby, they didn't even remember you. I went in and asked them if they had talked to you. How could you just leave me standing here like this?"

"Well, I didn't see you when I came out."

"Where did you think I was?"

"I figured you went on up to Walgreen's."

"No, I didn't. I've been here in this spot, all this time, waiting for you to show back up again."

"Okay, well, I'm here. Nobody has little American flags for sale. Can you believe that? Tomorrow's the Fourth of July, and nobody's selling American flags. I got some Butterfingers at Walgreen's. I figured I'd find you there. Buttferfingers. Nobody sells Fifth Avenues any more."

"Miss Kim has Fifth Avenues at the grocery across the street from home. She's been stocking them ever since I told her you like them."

"I didn't know that."

"Yes, Bobby. We'll get you some when we get back home."

"Did you get your pills?"

"No, I've been here. I was afraid to leave."

"You wanna go get 'em?"

"No. I want to go home. Screw the pills, I want the stroke."

"You want a stroke? You want me to have to look after you?"

I thought that over. Brought him home. Went back and got the pills.

Today, we went out for a steak lunch. On the street, he said he wanted to walk through the Flea Market to see if anybody there was selling little American flags. Once there, he ordered me to walk up one aisle while he walked up the other. We met at the end. There were no flags for sale there either.

He told me I should "put it on the 'blogs'" for everyone to see.

"What kind of country doesn't sell American flags around the Fourth of July? It's a disgrace."

"It is that, Bobby."

"Tomorrow, I want you to take me to Walmart's. They'll have American flags."

"That's true, they will."

"And they'll be on sale. It'll be the Fifth."

Comedy Reigns

Seriously, is this for real? The Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame is honoring Lt. Gen.Russel Honore five years after his work in the state following Hurricane Katrina, and Warren Riley - what? - some weeks after he left the NOPD in disgrace (both himself and the Department! Of course, it turns out that the Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame is affiliated with Angola Penitentiary. Maybe you get points for every inmate whose ass you haul over there.
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