Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Nana

This is a piece I wrote up a few years ago when I went on a training session to the Corps of Engineers research facility in Duck, located in the Outer Banks of NC.


I am sitting in my hotel room on Corolla, the next town over from Duck, and I just came from the beach. It was an emotional visit that hit me in ways I did not expect.

My fondest memories from my childhood were from the beaches of South Carolina. There were nights when we would wade into the tidal creek on the back side of Fripp Island, swimming through iridescent waves, as the natural phosphorescence from the creek would light up our bodies with sparks, bright enough to play tag while submerged. Amazing setting, delightful fun.

I am a habitually early riser, and never was that more the case than when we were at the beach. I would go and help the turtle lady re-introduced recently hatched loggerhead turtles into the surf zone, shooing away the seagulls, giving them the maximum chance at making it.

But mostly I went shelling. I collected shells from before dawn until I couldn't see any more. Some were rarer than others; at times we would find sand dollars, cockle shells, periwinkles, lady slippers, moon snails, pen shells, fan shells, oysters, the periodic scallop and clam, and the occasional whelk. On a very rare occasion, I found sharks teeth or vertebrae, fragments of scotch bonnets, and once in a blue moon, a starfish. I have since learned the scientific names of most of the shells we found, but they fail to light the imaginative fire that the local nomenclature provided. We talked about habitat, we talked about specific density of shells, we explored nature and science through a fury of collecting.

And the competitive urge is strong in this one, Obi Wan. It was a race, and I was bound and determined to win - the best shell, the most complete, the biggest, the smallest, the most fragile; whatever superlative there was, I was going to find it. And, for the most part, I did. I trained my eyes to see sharks' teeth, and was often the only one to find one. I would read every poster and book, seeing what was rare and what could be found, and set my sights on whatever was most infrequently found in the area. I always found cool loot, most of which was left behind when we went back to Greenville, leaving me with one or two shells I was allowed to take with me, and a flotilla of memories of collected wonder.

My Nana - my mother's mom - was there for every dogged step of the way. I would race ahead, afraid that the 'virgin territory' would be picked over if I didn't get there first. And she would walk more leisurely, picking up and holding the 'treasures' of all of the kids that went with her. She must have logged decades of time on the beach, walking with all of the grandkids, each arguing over who had found the coolest stuff. And she lugged tons of 'treasure' back to the house, making each of us feel as though our treasure, and by extension we, were special beyond measure. And it did not matter at all whether it was a ladyslipper identical to the four hundred thousand that we had picked up previously, she made the finding of 'this one' special.

Love. I think I learned to love at the beach. I just didn't know it.

One of the last times that I went out seashelling with Nana, I was on a quest for sharks' teeth. And I was going to find them, come sheol or high tide. My teenage body sprinted from one patch of shells to the next, using pattern recognition skills developed over years to identify any anomalous items quickly, before moving to the next.

And from somewhere behind me, Nana yelled "Ha, ha! Looky here at what I found!!!"

I did come by my competitive urges naturally, and she had won.

No contest.

I turned back to ground I had passed by, and with a sinking feeling looked back at what she had picked up. It was a devils' pocketbook. The Holy Grail of shelling. Technically simply an egg sac from a skate (a critter related to the sting ray), the black, leathery pouch the shape of a naugahyde devil was more rare than anything else we hunted. Every array of collected shells on coffee tables or behind glass in houses in SC had one insinuated in there, carelessly included as though the family could have kept more, if they had made the effort. But those of us who looked for them knew better. You simply didn't see them; finding one was the shelling equivalent of acing the hole in golf. You will play the rest of the holes, but none of the rest will be the one you talk about at the end of the day.

My Nana died of pancreatic cancer before I went to graduate school. And I don't think it was a conscious thing at all, but I have not been back to the beach on the Atlantic since then. I have been down to the Gulf (a poor excuse for a beach, if you ask me) and I went to Hawaii and Yucatan. But when I walked out onto that beach this afternoon, I felt the love that I had been missing since 1993. I felt a part of my soul get fed in a way that I did not expect. Just walking over the dune and smelling the salty air perked up my senses, and I walked straight into the chilly surf.

And I started shelling, thinking fondly of my Nana, and the wonderful way that she had with kids, letting them learn to love and love to learn. Bringing unbridled enthusiasm with every discovery.

And as I looked down the beach, I realized that there were hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of devils' pocketbooks. Littering the sand. Interspersed with the shells I loved - the cockles, the lady slippers, the pen shells, the fingernails. Devils' pocketbooks everywhere.

I am still overwhelmed with emotion. I competed to find the finest shells throughout my childhood, and never realized that I had already won the lottery. I was loved by the greatest woman who ever walked the planet.

I won. Hands down.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Fishing in the Agarope

No TV.  No radio.  No internet.  No telephone. No electronic babysitters.  So what does a 9-year-old boy do in the middle of Nowhere, Para, Brasil?

He learns to fish.

During the two years we were at Olaria, Dad chartered a boat a couple of times to go fishing.  We went back in some odd distributaries and even hooked a few plate-sized piranha.  But we also found that it was a lot harder to eat such a bony fish than we would like.  So we didn't do that too often. 

And there was one time that Dad caught a monster catfish.  After having the machinist make a huge hook, and loading it with a slab of bacon (it did not come pre-sliced...) he tied the line off to the dock.  A couple of weeks later, there was a 150-pound catfish on the line.

(That evening, sitting on the dock, Dad wove a nice tail he 'heard' from the workers that night about a full moon and the catfish feeding on the top of the water.... just before pushing me in.  Other than that moment, I have never in my life walked on water - before or since.  You can relate this little vignette to the reporters when they ask when it was that I started to turn bad)

But those trips were not the norm.  Mostly, the vignette included a boy with a closed face reel, hunting for crickets in the high grass, running to the dock to cast the hapless insect into the river, trying to catch silver-dollar fish.  For the most part, I was trying - unsuccessfully - to catch the small, flashy fish with a tiny hook.  For a hyperkinetic kid, the lessons necessary to successfully learn the art of fishing - especially the sitting still part - were far beyond my abilities. 

But after the schooling, the swimming, the canoeing and hunting were done for the day, I would often try my hand at fishing.  The end result was more reminiscent of a cane-pole-jerk-the-fish-out-of-the-water-and-onto-the-bank effort than the more traditional scene of fighting the fish to the dock, and carefully placing it on the stringer.  And I was never able to pull together enough of a 'mess' of fish to feed our family of four.  But Mom would pan fry the results of my efforts whenever they were successful enough to warrant it.  (The rules were clear, though - the 9-year old was still responsible for cleaning the fish). 

The most-productive fishing effort, however, was done one day with the neighbor.  Francisco had a long woven-reed fence, and during high tide one day, he asked for my help to stretch it across the agarope - a little tributary that ran through our property.  We then waited until low tide, and waded in to collect the fish that were left behind the makeshift seine net.  Flopping in the muddy crick were about twenty pounds of shrimp, a half a dozen flounders, and all sorts of small catfish (the fins were razor-sharp in both directions, so you had to be careful how you handled them) - enough for three families to eat for a week.

And for a family living at the margin of poverty, that was a gift.

Oddly enough, fishing for food was very much a famine-time effort.  For all of the teeming life that lived in the freshwater of the river - we saw porpoises, manatees, sawfish, and limitless other species - they were not available to the working man as a source of protein. 

Fish, it turns out, was poor-man's food.

One time, the captain of the boat that came to carry lumber to the US brought us a huge red snapper as a gift.  Dad and Mom both drooled, and immediately invited the company bookkeeper (who was native to the area) to share it with us at dinner that week.  Tilon looked up sharply at Dad, and then realized that the poor gringo was just clueless.

"Senior Macque, let me explain.  I know you didn't mean any insult, because you just don't know the customs here in Brasil.  But you can't - EVER - invite someone to your house to eat fish.  If you can't afford to put meat on the table, you just don't invite them." Tilon eventually accepted the invitation, and was delighted with the meal, even saying afterwards, "Senior Macque, any time you have that red fish, don't worry about customs.  you can invite me any time."

So when I helped Francisco gather the fish, he was perplexed that I would be willing to take a couple of the flounders as payment for my 'help'. 

But who can figure out gringos, anyway?

None of my practice on the Rio Jabiru helped me become a fisherman as an adult.  I enjoy the occasional fishing excursion, but it is more like the specialty trip - for recreations - than a regular source of protein. 

But I still remember the delight in the catch from all those years ago.   And the joy in taking home my share, to be prepared for dinner.
 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Painting Walls

Kathe and I are painting our walls today. 

When we moved into our newly renovated house back in 04, we chose bright, Mexican colors for interior colors.  Hacienda yellow.  Mamey red.  Maya blue.  Intense colors with deep saturation, and it made us very happy.  The was something about it that made it feel a little like we were getting to travel to our favorite places every time we came into our home.

Now, fast forward 10+ years, and the paint is worn, and we are at a different place in our lives.  The paint has peeled underneath the windowsash.  The blue has chipped and potlidded, and every corner has scuff marks from banged furniture.  The cabinets with their deep cherrywood tone now just seem to darken a cluttered house more, and the sense of 'coming home to Mexico' has lost some of its allure.

So we are painting.

I have not done an enormous amount of painting, so I am learning.  I knew from selling paint that the deep, rich colors require a generous application of Kilz, or at least coat after coat of the new paint.  Now I am getting the full effect of that. 

But as the beige goes up (I have it on good authority that it is actually 'vanilla', as if that works to drive the blandness away) the bright colors disappear... and then reappear, bleeding through the new paint.  What was vanilla five minutes ago, now has an odd blue tint.

So I wait a few hours, and do it again.  Still the blue comes through.  A few hours more, and do it again.

Eventually, the vanilla wins.  The blue no longer bleeds through.  Each successive coat got easier to spread, and made more of the remaining blue disappear.  Until finally, the happy cream color has succeeded.

I feel like that while I am trying to beat down bad habits, or when I am trying to establish new ones.  I work my butt off, trying to make sure that the push ups get done, or the 'leaving the boots in the living room' does not, or that the banjo gets played for at least a half hour.  At first, particularly, the old ways shine through.  No matter how bright and shiny that new habit looks, the old blue bleeds through.

I don't like push ups.  I'll catch up with an additional 150 tomorrow night.

I am so frustrated by the banjo right now.  I'll just play tomorrow.

I'm just going to kick off those boots... and I'll carry them to the back later.

But there is also a satisfaction to covering that old habit with a new practice.  And each time, it gets easier; the paint goes further, and it is less difficult to get 150 pushups.  Each coat goes further and making the habit stick happens with a little less difficulty. 

Well, except for the boots, of course.  Those just work better on the living room floor. At least for today.

 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Riding the Bus

The year is 1976.  I have kinda gotten settled into my new school.  It is still a little scary, but my Aunt Beth teaches in the next room over.  That provides some comfort, although I was adamant that I did NOT want her as my teacher.  Even then, I understood the problems of nepotism.

And today, I am going to ride the bus home.

A teacher shepherds me onto the right bus, and I find a seat.  IT is kinda scary, and the bus smells funny - an odd mix of masking tape and motor oil - , but I’m all right.  The biggest thing is that I don’t know the rules.

So far in my life, the easiest thing to do is to trust authority.  Mom is right.  Dad is right.  Mrs. Sheffield is right.  They won’t let anything happen that goes wrong.  And if they do, they are grown-ups.  They can fix it.

So I trust Mike to know what to do.  I know the area we are going, and we drive pretty close to my house.  I get a little worried when we go on down E. North Street beyond where the turn off to my house is.  But Mike must know what he is doing.  Kids are stopping and getting off at street corners.  Maybe he’s just coming back for mine.

Ten minutes later and I no longer know where I am.  We have now gone out of my realm of knowledge of the city of Greenville.  We are out in suburbia, and Mike has just dropped off his last kid.  Or so he thinks.

His girlfriend walks back to the back of the bus, and finds me, timid and lost. 

“Oh, shit.  Who are you?”

"I’m Crorey"

"Where was your stop?"

"I don’t know.  I’ve never ridden the bus before."  Tears threaten.

"Where is your house?"

"107 Lockwood Avenue."

"Where is that from here?"

“I don’t know.”  At this point, I probably start crying. 

“Don’t worry, buddy.  We’ll find your house.”

No map, no GPS, just a terrified little kid in the backseat.

And so they start retracing their steps.  Eventually, I recognize a landmark and guide them in.  The girlfriend keeps saying, “Are you sure?”  But once I see my landmarks, I am golden.  And I navigate them successfully to my house, where my mom is out of her mind with worry.  I am three hours late.

 Sometimes, as an adult, I remember this little scene and worry.  I have a lot of people in my life that are responsible for keeping things moving, keeping projects going, and making sure stuff gets where it is supposed to.  I assume, like the kid in the bus, that the adults know what is going on. Supervisors. Politicians. Administrators. Program managers. Directors.  And I assume that these adults will take me - and us - where we need to go. 

And when they do, the levees get built.  The marsh gets restored.  The houses get raised, and the buildings relocated. 

But then I hear someone in authority ask me the burrocratic equivalent of "Where was your stop?" And I can feel, again, the terror of that little boy on the bus.  And I start looking for any landmark I recognize.   

 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

New Orleans Recommendations, Part 2 (the cool person's version)

I asked a friend of mine, Danielle Tommaso, for her recommendation list for New Orleans activities.  She is WAY cooler than I am, and I wanted to see where she sent people.

After I got her list, I was amazed at how little overlap there was between hers and mine.  There is just so much to do in New Orleans.  I now have some new things to check off my list.

I asked her for permission to post it here.  Truth is, every time I was asked for my recommendations, it took me too long to find the original.  So by posting it here, I can make referencing it quicker.  Now I can do the same with hers.

Here is her response to my request for her to serve as 'guest blogger'

"I'm flattered you want to post my restaurant recommendation list on your blog! Please add Dick and Jenny's (Uptown), Frankie and Johnny's, and Eat (FQ) to my list before doing so. :) I inadvertently left those great restaurants off. I know there are a million more out there; expect an updated list soon, my friend."

"I checked the Eater NOLA blog this weekend - SO many new restaurants!!"

So enjoy her list.  And give me feed-back (heh, heh) on what you like - and what you don't.

GOOD TO KNOW
  • Cash is king at a lot of smaller restaurants and bars.
  • Go cups and public drinking are legal- just no glass cups. Try to dispose of your go cups in a public can (not private garbage cans). One of the best things to do in the city is to watch the sun set on the levee while enjoying a bottle of wine. which you can do without fear of getting a ticket.
  • Use common sense at night. It's still a rough city. If you're yelling, "I'm so drunk I'm afraid I'm going to lose this wallet full of thousand dollar bills!!!" you're going to get followed and mugged. With warmer weather comes crime, so watch your back.
  • On that note, the cops are generally useless. Don't get in trouble.
  • If you're part of a big group you may want to call restaurants for reservations.
  • Everyone gets going at night at around 10:00 pm. Shows usually start between 10:00 pm and 11:00 pm. Don't be surprised if you go into a bar at 9:00 pm and it's dead.
  • If you need a cab, United Cabs is the most reliable: 504-522-9771. If they don't answer that number, call 504-524-9606 and tell them Ms. Mae gave you the number.
  • If you find a cab driver you like, get his/her number! Most have business cards. They love playing the role of private driver for good tips.
 EXTRACURRICULARS
(My top picks are *'ed.)

NEIGHBORHOODS
Geography, flood protection, and Katrina have had a big hand in how the city looks and who lives where. In short, the original city was built on high ground near the river. The city spread out following this high ground. The Quarter, the Marigny, the Bywater, Uptown, Espalande Avenue. The lower-elevation parts that used to be swamp were drained and developed in the 20th century. Lakeview, Gentilly, Mid-City. Generally, the old, higher parts of the city were spared from Katrina's flooding. No flooding + cute historic housing stock = higher home prices = eventual gentrification a la Park Slope and Williamsburg. If you've read this far and are still interested in this sort of thing see this article on gentrification.

Uptown & the Garden District

I could go on about Uptown for days and days but I'll spare you. It's my neighborhood and so I'm partial. It's a HUGE part of the city, so I'll keep it to areas you'll probably want to check out.

Main Drags
  • St. Charles (mostly between Henry Clay Avenue and Louisiana Avenue)
  • Magazine Street (@ Jefferson Avenue, @ Napoleon Avenue, @ Louisiana Avenue, and @ Jackson Avenue)
  • Freret Street between Jefferson Avenue and Napoleon Avenue
  • Oak Street between Carrollton Avenue and Eagle Street
  • Maple Street between Carrollton Avenue and Cherokee Street
  • Prytania between Jefferson Avenue and Napoleon Avenue
Restaurants
Freret Street
  • **Gautreau's (excellent upscale local food riverside of Freret)
  • *High Hat Café (Southern favorites)
  • *Company Burger (weird name, but the Company Burger with bacon and egg is the only burger I'll eat)
Oak Street
  • **Jacques-Imo's - Excellent food. One of the best meals you'll have in the city.
  • *Cowbell (brunch - dinner)
  • *Oak Street Café (local place, great breakfast, piano player on the weekend)
Prytania:
  • **Commander's Palace (enjoy a fancy lunch with 25 cent martinis. A true NOLA experience!!)
  • *Upperline (upscale local food)
  • *St. James Cheese Company (cheese plates and sandwiches, you can waste hours there)
  • *Creole Creamery (ice cream)
Magazine @ Napoleon
  • *Casamento's (old school white-tiled oyster joint)
  • *Surrey's (brunch + lunch)
Magazine @ Jefferson
  • *Frankie & Johnny's (should have crawfish this time of year)
  • Domilise's Poboys
  • Guy's Poboys
Magazine @ Louisiana
  • **Café Atchafalaya (old converted shotgun w/great local food. Bloody mary bar during Sunday brunch)
  • Dick and Jennie's
  • *Slim Goodie's (breakfast + lunch, usually a line)
  • *Bouligny Tavern (great cozy place with a nice wine list and small plates)
Magazine @ Jackson
  • *Juan's Flying Burrito (causal and punk-y, local Mexican)
  • *District Doughnuts and Sliders (just like it says)
  • *Stein's Deli (great sandwiches)
Bars
St. Charles
  • **The Columns Hotel and ...
  • **The Delachaise. We usually start out at the Columns for a happy hour on the expansive porch, then cross the street to the Delachaise for small plates and wine. You can't go wrong with this combo on a nice night.
Freret Street
  • *Cure (cocktails and wine)
  • *Other Bar
Oak Street
  • *Maple Leaf
  • *Snake & Jake's (divey-ish dive around)
  • Oak Wine Bar (fancy wine bar, loud when crowded)
  • Maple Street: mostly college-ish bars here

Prytania: *King Pin (my neighborhood bar, nice dive)

Magazine @ Napoleon:
  • *Bon Temps
  • *Ms. Mae's ($2 well drinks)
  • *Brother's Three (weird little dive)
Magazine @ Jefferson: *St. Joe's (great back patio)

Magazine @ Louisiana: too many to name
  • *Bulldog (great patio and beer selection)
  • *Balcony Bar (hang out on the balcony)
Music: Bon Temps has music most nights. Places on Freret have music on the weekends.
Things to see
  • *Audubon Park - Spanish moss hanging on giant live oaks
  • Ride the streetcar
  • *Shop Magazine Street
  • *Trek to the levee and relax (The Fly is a very nice park on the levee)
French Quarter

Beautiful old buildings and lots of tourists. Something to see on every street. Artists and writers still live here, so it's not a total living museum. Here's a local's take.

Main drags
  • The Lower Quarter (downriver of Toulouse Street between Royal Street and Decatur Street) is where you can find your local stuff.
  • At night, people tend to congregate on Royal Street (lots of art galleries and local bars); Decatur Street around Ursulines Avenue (mostly tourists); and Bourbon at St. Ann (plethora of gay bars).
  • Don't walk lakeside of Bourbon Street at night - it gets sketchy.
  • Bourbon Street is a mess. It's like Times Square. I avoid.
Restaurants
  • **Bayona (Susan Spicer's excellent restaurant)
  • Eat
  • *Galatoire's (Friday lunch is a NOLA tradition)
  • *Sylvain (small place, small plates)
  • *Napoleon House (for the courtyard- get a Pimm's Cup if it's warm out)
  • *Old Coffee Pot (brunch - dinner, great gumbo et al.)
  • Gumbo Pot (brunch - dinner, gumbo et al.)
  • *Clover Grill (24/7 diner, hysterical staff, awesome if you need a burger at 4am)
Bars
  • Lower Quarter: *Molly's, Pravda, and the like on Decatur
  • *Lafitte's (good early before the college crowd comes)
  • *Carousel Bar inside the Hotel Monteleone (has a carousel that revolves around the bar)
  • Erin Rose (Irish pub with good food)
Music
  • Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse has (free, I think) jazz and burlesque Friday's at midnight
  • Preservation Hall for your trad jazz needs
  • One Eyed Jack's for your hip music
  • FYI, most venues in the Quarter charge a cover
Things to see

  • *Sit on the levee and watch the river go by
  • *Jackson Square (see art on the fence! My friend Jenelle is usually on the Decatur Street side. She sells skeleton paintings on black canvas)
  • Junk shops on lower Decatur
  • French Market for your cheap touristy tchotchkes if you must
Fun tip: "Everyone" says to get beignets (ben-YAYS) and café au lait at Café du Monde on Decatur because everyone at some point does so, local and tourist alike. Wedding second lines stop there. It's the last thing I did before I went to the hospital to meet my godchild. There's usually a very long line. It's open 24/7, so you can go late night/early morning if you don't want to wait and want to have a leisurely experience. Cash only!

Central Business District (CBD)

Mostly office buildings that clear out after lunch. Nothing to really see, but a lot to eat!

Restaurants
  • **Cochon (excellent local meats and seafood)
  • *John Besh's *Domenica, *Luke, and *August (from most causal to most fancy). Smart local food.
  • *NOLA (the best of Emeril's restaurants in town)
  • *Butcher (Cochon's more casual sister restaurant)
  • *Herbsaint (one of Susan Spicer's restaurants, upscale local food)
  • La Boca (great steaks)
  • Root (known for their cigar box scallops)
The Marigny

The Marigny is what the Bywater was 30 years ago. The hipsters raised families here and now it's full of "artsy" people. Beautiful architecture, safe if you're smart.

Main drags
  • Frenchmen Street from Decatur to St. Claude ("the locals' Bourbon Street," though it's gotten pretty touristy the past few years)
  • Franklin Street @ Royal Street (mostly locals)
Restaurants
  • *Cake Café (brunch + lunch)
  • *Feelings Café (great old mansion, good for dinner, local food)
  • Pho at the Lost Love Lounge (get the tamarind tofu)
Bars

Frenchmen:
  • *The Spotted Cat (quintessential NOLA)
  • *dba (great beer selection, music every night)
  • *Three Muses (great food and trad jazz)
Franklin:
  • *Mimi's (go upstairs- no pool-playing bros there)
  • *Lost Love Lounge (great pho in the back)
Other:
  • *R Bar
  • *Marie's
Music

Frenchmen, Frenchmen, Frenchmen. There's music everywhere on Frenchmen Street every night starting at around 6. Just go and walk around. Walk into places that sounds good, leave when the music stops.

Things to see
  • *Frenchmen Street
  • *Frenchmen Street art market at night
  •  Washington Square Park next to Frenchmen for people watching
The Bywater

"Williamsburg South," or whatever they're calling it these days. A landlady once told a friend she couldn't rent her apartment to her because "you don't have a big dog and a big man." Now it's full of baby strollers and "food apothecaries". But I digress. The Bywater is a mix of mustached hipsters and old school NOLA families. The architecture is beautiful. It's safe to walk and bike around at night so long as you're not drunk and loud and dumb.
Main drags
  • St. Claude Avenue from Elysian Fields to Press Street
  • Burgundy (bur-GUN-dee) Street between Piety Street and Montegut (MONT-ee-gew) Street
  • Don't go lakeside of St. Claude at night
Restaurants
  • *Bacchanal
  • *Maurepas Foods (lunch + dinner, great farm-to-table)
  • *Suis Generis
  • *Satsuma Café (brunch + lunch)
  • *The Joint (lunch + dinner, BBQ)
  • *Elizabeth's (brunch + lunch, make a reservation)
  • Jack Dempsey's (dinner, cheap fried local seafood, big plates)
  • Pizza Delicious (NY style pizza - it got me through some food-related homesickness)
Bars

St. Claude Avenue for the hip people and music, everything else inside the neighborhood for drinking and relaxing. Other than Bacchanal and the Country Club I'd classify them all as dives.
 St. Claude between Elysian Fields and St. Roch Avenue:

  • *All Ways Lounge
  • *Hi-Ho Lounge
  • *Saturn Bar
  • *Siberia (great pirogues in the back)
  • Kajun's
Neighborhood
  • **Bacchanal (GREAT wine and food, just get there in the afternoon or before 5 because it gets crowded)
  • *Country Club (go for the heated pool- discounted after 5, I think)
  • *Markey's
  • *BJ's
  • J&J's
  • Vaughn's
Music: Bacchanal hosts jazz most nights. Most of the bars on St. Claude have music every night, most without a cover.

Things to see

  • *Thrift stores and shopping on Burgundy Street
  • *Country Club swimming
  • the new River Park (enter at Piety Street- can't miss the big ugly arch, the landscaping is kinda weird but there are great views)
  • *Dr. Bob's studio on Chartres Street (quirky local artist)
  • *Red House Treehouse, 2822 St. Claude Avenue @ Press Street (day or night. help yourself to the backyard and climb the insane treehouse, be nice to the squatters who live there and they'll probably invite you to a party)
Bayou St. John/City Park

I love the bayou. It's beautiful, and the people in the old houses on it are lucky to live there. Definitely worth a trip trip up Esplanade Avenue if you have the time. Bring a blanket and some drinks, and you can spend all day there.

Main Drags
  • Esplanade Avenue - great old houses and live oaks
  • Walk or bike up and down Moss Street (either side of the bayou) between Esplanade and Lafitte Street
Restaurants

  • *Liuzza's (local food)
  • *Parkway (great poboys)
  • *Toups Meatery (excellent charcuterie)
  • *Lola's (Spanish)
  • Morning Call in City Park (beignets 24/7)
Bars
  • *Pal's (local joint)
  • Bayou Beer Garden if it's nice out
Things to see
  • Bayou St. John
  • *City Park - the Museum of Art and a nice sculpture garden are located inside the park



Lower 9

Go here to see what happens when flood protection systems don't work. Maybe 10% of people are back. Lots of slabs, and then the Brad Pitt Houses. Go over the St. Claude Bridge and notice how high the water is in the Industrial Canal vs. how high the land is. And then imagine a storm surge. That's what happened. The Brad Pitt houses are clustered around Tennessee Street and N. Prieur Street. Travel a bit towards the lake and see how nothing's come back. Just remember that people live there, so be respectful if you take pictures.

There's a great viewing platform on Bayou Bienvenue at Caffin Avenue and Florida Avenue on the other side of the levee.

New Orleans Activities

Preface
From time to time, a friend will ask me for some recommendations for things to do/places to eat in New Orleans.  A few years ago, I wrote up a llllllllong email response to one such request, for a person who was coming into town for a few days.

Now, every time I get a similar request, I update the email (That place is now closed; This place is now on my list) and pass it along.

Last year, a much cooler, younger, hipper (not hipster - there is a difference) friend of mine gave me her list.  I immediately scanned it, looking for areas of overlap.  And there was VERY little.  Truth is, for such a small city, New Orleans really packs a lot of different activities in.  Regardless of what you like, you will have a hard time exhausting the options. 

I am posting below the most recent version.  As soon as I get permission from its author, I will post Danielle's list. 

Crorey's Recommendations for New Orleans:

I'll address the music first off. The French Quarter is bounded by the river on one side, Canal Street on another, Rampart paralelling the river, and Esplanade paralelling Canal. Across Esplanade from the quarter is a neighborhood called the Marigny - and this is the home of some of the city's best music. Any night of the week, you can go into one of a dozen places and listen to great music on Frenchman Street. It is an easy walk, and safe (an important distinction in a city with a serious violent crime rate) and well protected. You still have to watch out, but that is the case in any large city.

The other places to hear music will require a cab ride. The moment you get here, grab a copy of the Gambit - a local newspaper available for free almost everywhere - and go through the music scene section. You can also check it out online at http://www.bestofneworleans.com/. Find an out-of-town act that you want to hear.  And find something local you have never heard of.  Both will be incredible.

There is also music in the Quarter, and it will be good. But the homespun local talent will be playing on Frenchman street - check out the infamous Snug Harbor, but also check out the Apple Barrel, the Spotted Cat, or d.b.a. Or just walk down the street until you hear something you like, and step in for a drink and some groove. Or you can do the same in one of the dozens of local clubs around the city. The Howling Wolf, the Carrolton Station, Maple Leaf, the names are endless, and there is almost always great music being played.

Drinks? We are a drinking town. One place is the Columns, right on St. Charles. Beautiful setting, and sitting on the porch is nice. Dos Jefes is a cigar bar with a great selection of cigars and alcohol - they also have decent music every night. Cooter Brown's has the best selection of bottled and draught beers in the city; they also have a good selection of sandwiches you can order, and then carry across the street to sit on the levee and eat, and drink (levee is currenly being lifted, so that is out). And there is a nice drive-thru daquiri stand on the opposite outside corner at Riverbend (you can see Camelia Grill from there). If you go somewhere fancy, order a sazerac - the original cocktail (probably apocryphal) and originated in NO.

Food. Bad restaurants don't last long in this city - there are simply too many good ones around to waste time or money on bad food. But for food in the quarter, there is a requisite visit to Cafe du Monde - in front of Jackson Square. Great late night sugary caffeine hit, and cheap. Great people watching, too. Just don't wear black - the confecioners sugar is going to get all over you. Breakfasts in New Orleans have been a little harder to come by - NO is a night town, with fewer options for morning people. But my wife and I love the Croissant d'Or on Ursulines.Great pastries, great desserts, good quiches, good coffee. Only thing we have found that I don't love is the sausage croissant (link sausage that just didn't sit right).

Other breakfast locations are the Clover Grill - owned and run by flaming queens - and used to have great omelettes and waffles. Not quite the same post-Katrina, but fun. Horns - in the Marigny - is a fun breakfast place, and their guatemalan breakfast is to die for. 
 

And then there is the Camelia Grill. It is an institution in the city, and even has a song written about it (probably apocraphal, but Cheeseburger in Paradise, anyone?) Their omelettes are a fluffy dream.But anything you order is likely to be worthy of writing home about. Mom once ordered a piece of apple pie a la mode, and did not watch as they placed it on the griddle.... with a whole stick of butter. 


Two different references to the streetcar. It is a beautiful way to see uptown and the Garden District - lots of beautiful homes and amazing architecture. This was the American part of the city when the city was divided into Fr and Am sides. To get there - walk down to Canal Street, and grab the green trolleys. Best $1.50 you'll spend. (This summer, there is a lot of construction, that disrupts the line.  But with a couple of exchanges and a little patience, you get there anyway.) When you get to the end of Saint Charles (riverbend area) that is where the Camelia Grill is. About half way back (another 1.50) is Superior Grill (not Superior Seafood, which will be discussed in a moment). The Grill is a nice meat market Tex-Mex; no real reason to stop, except to go for breakfast at Couli's (a block off of St Charles) - the restaurant that replaced the Bluebird as Kathe and my favorite breakfast in town. The streetcar is pretty reliable, and kept clean for the tourists - the buses less so - except the streetcar transfer buses.

Superior Seafood at the Napoleon stop on the streetcar line was a nice surprise. They have really good seafood, affordable steaks that are pretty tasty, and the service is nice. It is also a great place to watch people as they go by at a busy intersection. The happy hour deal on wine is really good - a bottle of french wine for 9 dollars? Thank you.

Streetcar to Washington gets you within a block and a half of Commander's Palace. Jazz brunch there is good for a Sunday, if you want.Food is great; ambience is awesome, and the cache is hard to beat. Expensive, but you owe yourselves a treat there. And if you catch the time right, a walk through the Lafayette Cemetery across the street is a treat.  It is a beautiful example of a traditional New Orleans Cemetery - above-ground crypts are the norm in NO because of the water table....

In case you were wondering, I think a lot about the breakfasts.I am a morning person, and have even considered starting a blog entitled "Morning Person in a Night City". There are others that are famous (and expensive), like Breakfast at Brennan's, that I have not yet experienced. That hits most of the easily accessible locations, but just about anywhere will have good food. I would probably choose the Trolley Stop (unsurprisingly, on the streetcar line - they have very good pancakes) over a Brennan's b-fast. But then, I haven't done the B@B. Other good breakfast spots are starting to crop up - Mid-City's Ruby Slipper or Wakin'Bacon, Panola Street cafe uptown....

Lunch and dinner are different.I'll just divide them up into expensive suggestions and cheap. Most of the cheap will require a little more exploration of the city, but are generally worth it. The best places are the least likely to be visited by tourists. I went to Mother's once, and had a good meal. It is a tourist spot, within (long) walking distance of the Quarter, and is known for their debris po-boy - a lovely mixture of roast beef and juices that makes a mess no matter how you eat it. I got an oyster po-boy instead, and enjoyed it. But it is no better or worse than the debris po-boy at Parasol's, located in the Irish Channel. And not as good as the roast beef po-boy at R&O's in Bucktown.

Cheap eats
Domilise's sandwich shop and bar (oyster po-boy is to die for, as is the shrimp), Parasol's (roast beef po-boy is elbow-lickin goodness).Central Grocery (on Decatur) has the best (and first) muffaletta's around.Grumpy service (my wife would be horrified that I was recommending it, because of the terrible attitudes), nowhere to sit and enjoy the meal, and yet.... there is nowhere that does it better. Order one and split it - they are huge sandwiches. Mona's in the Marigny - good, plain middle-eastern food.On Magazine is a bar called Le Bon Temps, and they serve free food just about every night. Buy a beer, get a bowl of gumbo. Another beer, another gumbo....

Liuzza's by the Track - great po-boys - near Esplanade, but not walking distance. Bywater is the other side of the Marigny - more than a hike, but not a far taxi ride. A place called Elizabeth's there has a great breakfast. The Joint is a good BBQ place (NOLA is not much of a barbeque town, but this is good stuff). And Vaughan's is another good place for beer, free food (buy a beer, get some red beans...) and fantastic music. It is Kermit Ruffin's place. Fun. Haven't tried Jack Dempsey's, but it is next on my list.

It is a problem is that there are no dearth of great neighborhood restaurants outside of the quarter. Proximity to the quarter makes them conform to a different standard, get different clientele, and increase prices (see comments on Mother's). I found a run-down building a block from where I work with bad lighting and grimy surfaces, and Singleton's has some of the best roast beef po-boys I have ever had. Another incredible po-boy shop is Parenton's, just off of Jefferson Highway - a hole in the wall with some of the best food ever (and the boudin balls are to die for...) And you can find that kind of place anywhere except two places - the French Quarter and Uptown (grump). Real estate prices have simply moved them out or forced them to be more shishi. (Double grump). 

Middle of the road -
Port of Call, on Esplanade Avenue at the edge of the Quarter, and the sister restaurant Snug Harbor - have the best burgers this side of the Beacon.Medium prices, and there is often a wait. Snug Harbor is also one of the best jazz clubs in the area, and always has known performers. Higher cover, too.

Lola's - Spanish food; fabulous paella. Was BYOB; I think they serve wine now. Was cash; I think they accept cards now. Both were OK - there is a grocery store across the street that sold decent wine and would give cash back. But if you have a garlic fetish, Lola's will satisfy your craving. Escargot is amazing, garlic shrimp appetizers equally so.

Expensive
My restaurant when my wife and I are celebrating anything is Cafe Degas. It is a small French bistro with patio dining and great feel. Down Esplanade towards City Park (and the New Orleans Museum of Art), it has a limited menu, but almost everything on it is really good. Prices are about 18-25 for an entree, but there is a downloadable coupon that will get you a free ap or entree up to $15.

Galatoire's is famous for its waitstaff. There are no reservations, so it requires you to wait in line.I went for lunch (there is no lunch menu) and it was VERY expensive. But wow. The food was worth it.

Upperline. Hole in the wall, Uptown, two blocks off St. Charles. Really good food, and we got very good service. We make that an annual stop for the Revillon dinners during the Christmas season.

Gautreau's. Pricey, but with fantastic food.It also has no sign that it is a restaurant from the outside. So you just have to look for the house with the chair on the front porch. (Really?)

Brigsten's (Uptown, about three blocks from the Camelia Grill) fun small house - good architecture, good food, a little expensive, but worth the trip.Same with Matt and Naddie's, located across the street from the levee, three blocks further down.

Clancy's (click here) is also a step higher on the foodie's list.Uptown, housed in an old house, it has a nice, elegant flair. One of Kathe’s perennial favorites.

Dick and Jenny's - on Tchoupitoulas.Kathe and I are trying to go there - I have been after her for two years, and we have stopped three times, all without ever making it to a table. Everyone agrees that it is worth it, and a co-worker went to be seated and saw Ella Brennan (the matriarch of the B fam) sitting at the bar waiting on a table.Waiting patiently - the food is apparently that good. And they are a block from Tipitina's - a local music scene that gets really good local and regional acts. Get there (D&Js) early for dinner, though, because the wait quickly becomes unconscionable. Update: they now take reservations....)

Cochon - on Tchoup (pronounced CHOP-ih-too-lus) has very good food.I have had a couple of their entrees when they have served at the Farmer's Market. (They also have a sandwich shop next door - Cochon Butcher - that serves amazing food)

Coquette (click here) is where Kathe and I celebrated our anniversary a few years ago.Specialty cocktails, good service, great food.

Crepe Nanou (click here) is one of the most perfectly French bistros I have been to in town.It probably falls somewhere between Cochon and Clancy's.

Bistro Daisy is a fun place in a single shotgun on Magazine Street Uptown.A little pricey, and good food. Not a showstopper on either front, but a nice place to go for some good local feel.

Marigny Brasserie - located on Frenchman Street.Great food, great setting, and very close to the live music scene.

There are a host of new restaurants by top chefs - Susan Spicer and John Besh (including Luke, which is good) are among the best known of the new crop, but there are also old favorites like Brennan family restaurants (Mr. B's, Brennan's, Commander's, Palace Cafe, etc) and Emeril restaurants, and Prudhomme's restaurants. If your intent is to talk about the better known restaurants when you get home, they are the way to go. Besh is probably better at it than the others, and I like Spicer. But the others are commodities, and are based on a combination of reputation and decent food. I don't mind paying for the food, but I would rather help someone out with the 'building the reputation' bit. Still, Commander's is nice.... and a friend of mine came on the recommendation of this email and said the Jazz brunch at Commander's was the best stop of the whole trip.

And, of course, most of the hotels have really good restaurants in them. Pick a name - Mariott, Hilton, whatever - and check out the attached restaurant. Kathe and I have recently had some good meals at either of the Domenica's restaurants....

Other stuff
Now on to other activities. I have minimum ideas about the swamp tours - I have arranged them as part of my job, and have been into the swamp doing archaeology more times than I care to remember. So I infrequently make use of the busman's holiday express. It is fun, though, and the concierge at any hotel could hook you up. A friend recommended one specifically out of Houma - about a 75 minute drive away.  Said it is awesome. Annie Miller (website here) or Zam's (website here)
The first Saturday evening of every month are gallery opening nights. People get somewhat dressed up and walk along Magazine street at Julia Street, drinking free wine and eating canapes and making snarky comments about art and each other while the artists listen in. So much fun - Kathe and I go whenever we can. Julia Street is in the Warehouse district, across Canal from the Quarter. There are also plenty of good restaurants in that area; picking one would be tough to go wrong.

The Zoo is fun. It has been completely redone - I am not much of a fan of caged animals, but they did a good job with this one. Across Magazine from the Zoo is a Golf House that serves lunch on the veranda with one of the prettiest views in the city (My advisor held my exit interview there, so I won't be going back... but it is still true.) There is a ferry that shuttles people back and forth from the zoo to the aquarium. I do not know the aquarium at all, but I hear it is fun, as well. But that ride could get you to the zoo and back. And there is really good birdwatching at Audubon Park; just walk around the track from the golf house. (Humidity during late August is still VERY high, though).

The Misery tour is not as miserable as it once was - I am not sure that you would get as much out of it. When I first came back to New Orleans, driving through the Ninth Ward was an amazing thing; ditto the Lakeview area. You would see the devastation, and know what people had suffered. Now that the houses have been taken away, the cars moved, the marks on the sides of the remaining houses faded, the impact is much less.

The New Orleans Museum of Art is worth the trip; if you take a side trip to get some Popeye's chicken (on Canal and Royal, I think), City Park is a great place for a picnic. Kathe and I used to do that pretty frequently. Finish up the food, move into the museum to cool off. They have an exhibit that is entirely made up of Kathe's museum treasures right now, and it will be the main attraction until mid Oct.WELL worth the visit.

If you were to rent a car for a day trip, going out of the city along river road is a fabulous way to see the area around the city.Oak Alley is one of the prettiest plantations you will ever see; it is simply a nice trip.Another Popeye's picnic possibility.

I have not been, but I am told that Harrah's is a top flight casino - John Besh's flagship restaurant is there, too.There are other casinos in the area, and you can get a steamboat ride on some of them.

Walking the Quarter is about the best entertainment you could ask for - Kathe and I do it about once a month, just to get us out of the uptown rut. There are great antique shops (but better deals out on Magazine street uptown) and fun stuff to see. The French Market is a nice place (albeit the tourist crap, tshirt, and stuffed alligator quotient [tctsaq] is high), and the Mint is a surprise - it is a decent museum on the Esplanade side.

Other museums include the Confederate museum - it is nice but small - and the WWII museum (formerly the DDay museum). I did some archaeology there for an expansion of that museum - about the coolest arch I have ever done!). The lunch there is rumored to be quite good - it is another of the Besh products, and one day a week the lunch is accompanied by an Andrews Sisters-style group.

OK, my fingers are tired. But this has been a good exercise in remembering why I love New Orleans. There are still things that I would recommend (Bucktown's fried and boiled seafood is fabulous, but not easy to get to without a car; same story with the music that is played at Rock-And-Bowl) but this provides the basics for a week. If you want more, or different, let me know.I'll find out, remember, or look it up.

Pick a few that sound good to you, and if you want, I can help tone down the list a little. Truth is, there is simply too much to recommend to risk leaving anything out. I think you need to stay for two weeks.
 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Birthday Celebration

Every year, for my birthday, I would ask for german chocolate cake.  It sounded exotic, and I liked chocolate.  It was not that I was a fan of coconut, or that the combination was the perfect melange of flavors.  I always liked it far better in concept than execution.  Nevertheless, every year, Mom would ask what kind of cake I wanted for my birthday, and I would answer: German Chocolate!

Fun fact for the day: German Chocolate cake was originally German's Chocolate cake.  It owes its name to an American chocolate maker named Sam German, who developed a formulation of dark baking chocolate that came to be used in the cake recipe.
 
German worked for Baker's Chocolate Company, and developed the dark baking chocolate used in the recipe in the mid-1800s.  (Aside: my sister lives in the old Baker's Chocolate Company manufacturing plant - recently renovated into apartments.) When the Dallas Morning Star published the recipe in the 1950s (submitted by Mrs. George Clay), Baker's shared the recipe across the country.  The sales of Baker's chocolate went through the roof. 

Eventually, the  __'s was removed from German's Chocolate cake.  And the folk etymology of German Chocolate was born.

Today, my co-workers sang "Happy Birthday" to me.  Nicole made me a German's Chocolate cake, and everybody was delighted to get a treat.  It just happens that there is a long break between the most recent birthday (mid-June) and the next one on our list (early September). So we celebrated my birthday.  I smiled real big.  It was not difficult to act pleased that my birthday was being celebrated.

Only thing was, my birthday is five months away.  Or seven months ago, depending on your approach.  That's the issue about being born on the 28th of December: people struggle to celebrate your day for a variety of reasons:
  1. They are tired of having parties
  2. They are tired of giving gifts
  3. They are broke.
  4. They have eaten stuff that is bad for them for a month.  Or more.
  5. They are not in the office (or school - this has been going on for a long time), since they left before Christmas, and are not coming back until after the new year.
So last week, when Nicole asked whether there was anybody - ANYBODY - who had a birthday to be celebrated, I spoke up...

"You can celebrate mine."

She looked up, and asked "When is your birthday?!"  I explained that it was during the holiday break.  "And I didn't make you cake?" 

Um.  No.

"OK, then.  We are on for next week! What kind of cake do you want?"

"German Chocolate!"

She complained loudly about the fact that German Chocolate cake is too easy.  Nicole is an artist.  Her cakes are works of art, and require complicated techniques and fresh ingredients.  Something that can be made by a kitchen-savvy eight-year-old is well below her level of expertise. 

But she made it all from scratch, and the result was spectacular.  Light, fluffy cake, layered with coconut-and-pecan flavored icing.  A lovely cake, one that reminded me of my birthday cake from childhood. 

Being celebrated is a nice thing.  And for a chaos muppet like me, it is especially sweet when it is unexpected.
 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Flop Sweat

I lied to you.

In a post back in January, I promised I would host a sazerac party on June 8.  And I would play the banjo.  Shaking hands and all, my stated goal was to play in front of (and, hopefully, with) people by early June.

I did not.  Not only did I not play, I ducked the countless queries of friends, asking if it was going to happen.  I hoped y'all wouldn't notice, and that it would fly under the radar.  But....

But I did keep practicing.  Maybe not as intently as I would have for a proper recital.  But I love playing, even when I do it badly.  Which, as it happens, is quite a lot of the time.  I work on scales some, because the books say that it helps.  I play the notes of some songs I like, way under tempo, just like the books say to do.  I play the few tunes that I know well enough to play (almost) at tempo.  And then I just play around with the instrument.  My practice sessions are never long; there are always other things going on in the house that take my attention.

But I practice.

And this week, I played out in semi-public for the first time.

Every couple of weeks, I hold a non-denominational (I first wrote 'demoninational, but that seemed to communicate a very different kind of meeting) service over at the retirement home across from my work.  We have some songs, for which I download muzack on my ipod, we have a scripture and a homily.  Simple service.  I have told them for months that I would - someday - play some hymns on my ol' banjo.

This week, for the first time, I did.

Six seniors showed up and I pulled out my banjo and started playing.  A couple of months ago, I found a "three chord hymnbook", and started working through the ones I know from my childhood.  There are a surprising number of hymns that fit the category.

And most of them are pretty bloody:

There's Power in the Blood
Are you Washed in the Blood
Alas and did my Savior Bleed
Nothing but the Blood...

After an opening prayer, and the brief tuning session, I started out.  I had printed out the words so they could sing along.  And dove in. 

Here are the things I discovered.
ToC seems to reflect heavy reliance on the Broadman Hymnal
  1. When you only play three chords, you limit the range you sing.  When every song is in the key of G (C and D7 being your other chords), the song will be pitched too high to sing.  Or too low.   Necktie tenor, or gravel bass, there is no middle ground.
  2. The volume you use singing to yourself on the couch in your living room does not cut it in the chapel.
  3. After an hour of trying to project your voice in the gravel bass register, there is no voice remaining. 
  4. Nervousness as an adult no longer only expresses itself in shaking hands (as it did when I was kid at the piano).  Flop sweat, apparently, is a real thing.  The room was perfectly air conditioned, and I was drenched through.  By the second song.
  5. Missed transitions are not the end of the world.  If you just sing a little louder (in full voice gravelly bass, see #2) and wait for it to come back around on the banjo, it eventually will.
  6. Playing with people that love you means they enjoy the music, and forgive the errors.
  7. Playing for people who are retired means that if you are really bad, they can always turn down a hearing aid. Or two.
  8. Old tunes that I recognize are likely to be Baptist tunes.  Which, it turns out, are not necessarily recognized by everybody. (This is important when you are trying to get people to sing, ESPECIALLY small groups)
  9. I gotta do this more, and,
  10. I am terrified to do this more.
It was fun.  It was hard.  That kind of nervousness is exhausting. 

I sat down with the banjo the next day, knowing what I needed to work on.  Where my weaknesses were.  I know myself well enough to know that I should not try to get them all covered at once. But I played with a different focus.  How do I make transitions?  What do I need to do to capo up to a key I can sing to?

Something changed, though.  I struggled with every part of my practice.  Things that were easy yesterday are too important to enjoy/take lightly today.  Because I am a performer.  Looking forward to the next adrenaline rush, the next mistake, the next flop sweat.

The next chance to make music for others.   




 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Crying over Paper Edges

After two years in Brasil, I came back to the US and was enrolled in Mitchell Road Christian Academy.  The transition was pretty tough. 

It was January, so I was joining a class in the middle of a school year.  I knew nobody.  The rules were unfamiliar (stand up when an adult enters the room, ask permission to go to the bathroom, etc.)  It had been two years of being the only student in a correspondence course  And now I was interacting with students in a classroom setting.

Yeah.  That's right.  When I left in the middle of second grade, kids would bring in stuff for show-and-tell.  In fourth grade, not so much.  As the new kid, I already was a little out of the social center.  With two years missing from my social development, I was immediately pegged as the weird one.  The weird one who brought in cool stuff for show-and-tell, but strange nonetheless.

There were many differences that I was facing.  My class in Brasil included a banana supershake break, a feature that was strangely absent in regular 4th grade.  As the only student in class, I was able to fit in all of the day's lessons in 2-3 hours.  That was not the way that MRCA worked.  PE in Brasil was done outside of class, with bb gun in hand, or swimming in the river, or canoeing down the agarope.  
If it happened today, my parents would be arrested.
My poor teacher - Mrs O'Connell - had her hands full - even more so than she realized.  One day, she took a show-and-tell item away from me, and sent me to the principal's office.  Apparently 4th-grade teachers get a little nervous when you bring a huge Buck knife to class - even in 1980. I cried the whole way to the principal's office.  And I cried again, at the end of the day, when I picked it back up.  And then for good measure, I cried again, when I showed Mom.

On the playground, I understood none of the social rules.  Flying solo in the classroom didn't prepare me for changes in social cues and interactions there.  More tears, nearly every day (which did nothing to help my social standing.)  And kids are always kind to the new, strange, weepy boy, right?

Right.

Mrs O'Connell's class also had a rule that all assignments had to be turned in on paper with no torn edges.  No ripping the page out of the spiral-bound notebook and handing it in.  If it was torn out, you had to cut the edges.

Her handing my homework assignment back and telling me to cut the edges off, that was just another straw on an already overloaded camel.  I broke down in sobs.  Again.  Mrs. O'Connell reached for the box of kleenex.  Again.

Unsurprisingly, for that six weeks my report card had decent grades, except...

Friday, July 10, 2015

Call me Ishmael

Call me Ishmael.
 
A friend loaned me a record once.  Yes, that old-timey grooved vinyl frisbee that made scratchy, skippy music.  The album title is not important, but what I did with it next was. 

I put it in the hatch of my Toyota Corolla.  In South Carolina.  In July. 

Four hours later, the record was destroyed.  Warped beyond any ability to even pretend that I hadn't destroyed it.  The next week, Jack asked me if I had liked the album, and I had to admit that I had never even listened to it.  And I showed him the results.

What was it that I was supposed to do?  Shrug my shoulders, and say, 'It wasn't really my fault'? Give it back to him?  Offer him a protection plan to avoid future meltings?

Of course not.  The right thing to do would be to buy a new album to replace the one I destroyed. 


Remembering this episode yesterday, I realized that I have come up with the perfect, just, and equitable solution to the problem of the OPM data breach.