Joe-oh.

Disclaimer: The following piece is not religious satire.  If you are easily prompted to get haughty about such things, go read something else.  If you would like a peek at American culture and consumerism at its most absurd…read on, MacDuff.

My family and I are in the midst of selling our New Orleans home, as part of relocating back to our home state of Minnesota.  The process has been much slower than we would like, and I have shown a bit of my frustration in that regard on Facebook.  The other day, IMG_20180601_195403a friend of mine (an avowed agnostic) mentioned in response to a humorous post I had made that she knew some people would bury the statue of a saint in their backyard, in order to sell their house.

Knowing I was a person of faith, with a good sense of humor, she correctly presumed (I’m guessing) I would find the suggestion amusing.  She was not the first to offer up the suggestion, but knowing her beliefs, I was more amused than I was with previous nudges in the ritual direction.

I laughed, but it got me to thinking – a dangerous habit.

My first encounter with the ritual of burying of a St. Joseph statue came in the mid-70s.  I was in high school, and our next doors neighbors -good friends of my folks –  were selling their south Denver home.  Devout Roman Catholics, Madeline, the wife, was more vociferous in her faith than her husband, George, and one afternoon after work, my parents were out in our yard and they saw Madeline – a rather petite woman – digging a hole.  My father, from whom I inherited my immense curiosity, asked her what she was doing.  Madeline explained that their house wasn’t selling quickly enough, and, to my parent’s bemusement, explained the St. Joseph statue concept in great detail.

Within two days, they had an offer on the house, and accepted it – much to the smug stj9delight of Madeline, and a fair amount of chagrin for her husband George…the realtor.

My friend’s Facebook message the other day got me thinking, that, should I decide to bury a statue in my backyard, it would be as easy as hopping on Amazon to buy one and have it shipped right to my door. Just for kicks (as I needed a break from resume send-outs) I clicked on to Amazon.

Joe-oh.

It was indeed that easy – or should I say queasy.  True to form of modern society, not only stj1could I find a St. Joseph statue – ‘suitable for burying’ –  in any number of forms, in prices starting as low as $5.99, but I could also buy stj2complete St. Joseph House Selling Kits (statue, instructions prayer) in various forms.

In typical online shopping style, the product descriptions alone were of great interest – as far as the theology here, you’re on your own.  A sampling (verbatim; all misspellings, etc as I found them):

‘Countless millions have followed the age-old practice of burying a statue of St. Joseph with the hope of selling or buying real estate. Practitioners say that petitioning St. Joseph for help brings almost immediate results.’

‘You can bury the statue upside down, in the back yard, in the front yard, near stj3the “For Sale” sign, in a flower bed, or even to bury him exactly 12 inches deep.

Kit is 3.74″H x 0.98″W x 0.98″D, and includes 3.0″ RESIN St. Joseph figure, prayer to St. Joseph, and instructions.’

Grammar not their strong suit, but they have the specs aspect nailed. On the other hand, these folks cut right to the chase:

‘Bury it next to your for sale sign & say the included prayer. It’s a tough economy. Get every advantage available.’ 

Indubitably.

 ‘In more recent times it has become common practice to bury a St. Joseph statue to help sell your home. Pray to St. Joseph daily and witness the power of prayer! Results not guaranteed.’

Results not guaranteed, but the product itself?  Yeah, not so much on that front, either. Ah, ye shoppers of little faith.

This version seems to be the spiritual equivalent of a Yelp review:

‘It is important to proudly display your St. Joseph statue and share your story with others if your prayers are answered’  

Befitting the price range, there are many different forms available for St. Joseph statue buyers: wood, stj7plastic, resin, pewter.  And while you can certainly purchase the statue, why not just buy the full kit: statue, instruction manual, prayer card. Again, there are…options.

There are also multiple cultural kit options; instructions and prayers in different languages, and this cultural visual:

‘St. Joseph House Home Sellers Kit Deluxe Italian Picture, Selling Instructions BEST KIT ON THE MARKET IT WORKS ! Exclusive Copyrighted xxxx xxxxx xxxx

Can one copyright a prayer?

My St. Joseph Amazon adventure was an eye-opening reminder of how even the most basic of ideas takes on a whole different aura in our Internet age. Amazon being Amazon, most sellers also offered bulk-pricing options.stj6

Not a fan of Amazon?  No problem.  Modern-day accouterments to the ritual of selling your house via burying a statue are available all over the Internet, and can ebb-and-flow easily from the ridiculous to the sublime:

Various religious supply companies (though interestingly, a few specifically state they do not stock St. Joseph kits) and other retailers of note?

• TrueValue Hardware’s website offers a ‘St. Joseph Statue For Home Sale Practice’

• On the WalMart website, they have the green kit. (Biodegradable, in case you leave the statue when you move).  But wait, there’s more!  Thanks to WalMart’s helpful algorithms, you are also shown the ever-popular  ‘Customers also viewed these products’ feature:
stj5.jpg

’16 inch Buddah statue, Design Toscano Aloha Hawaii Tiki Moai Haku Hana Statue, a $149 Venus of Pietrasanta Statue (nude! at WalMart!)  and (my personal favorite product non-sequitor) Loonie Moonie Bare Buttocks Garden Gnome Statue: Medium’
(thank you Lord, that there is no ‘large’ version of Loonie)

Of course, you can also find a variety of new and used statues and kits on eBay.

Michaelangelo

My personal St. Joseph-statue-on-the-Internet favorite? The ‘plaster, paint-it-yourself St. Joseph’ available on Etsy.

Don’t laugh; it’s how Michelangelo got started.

And man, that dude had some really big holes to dig in his yard.

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Listing, while shopping

New Orleans offers ample opportunity for St. Patrick’s Day weekend revelry – no big surprise: any given Thursday here offers the same. But for those of us of the middle age persuasion who no longer fit the ‘party animal’ designation, there are other, quite viable (and cheaper) options via which to get our ‘party on’.

cartsLike grocery shopping.

The Saturday before St. Patricks Day, I was out and about, and I needed to hit the grocery store for a few items, so I swung into a Rouses Market I don’t normally frequent, simply because it was handy, and I was there. As usual, I entered through produce and had to go through the liquor/beer/wine department on my way to frozen foods. While I was making my innocent swing through libation land I was accosted by the sampling women.

‘Accosted’ might be a bit strong.

Attractive, personable, young  women with the sweet, cooing-souls of carnival barkers made up the sampling force, their small tables were strategically stationed along main aisles and offering-up regulation shot glass size samples (none of this thimble/communion wine sip-size) of Bushmill’s Irish whiskey, three types of Guinness beer and ale, and Bailey’s Irish Cream – all of which are on special this weekend, of course. So much for my five-minute quick in/quick out – it’s like getting off the interstate and taking a scenic drive.  But instead of a panoramic view from an overlook, I became engaged in a couple of amiable product-virtues conversations with the aforementioned sample ladies.

It seemed impolite simply to chug-and-run.

It isn’t just at the locally-based Rouses that I have encountered this holiday weekend phenomenon, as Winn-Dixie offers the same holiday-themed samplingsampling opportunities. The Fridays and Saturdays before Christmas are a bonanza of eggnog and flavored rum variations.

It occurred to me that I had written of such a similar experience as this one and indeed I had – in a Facebook post last summer:

“I just got done with the pre-July 4th family grocery shopping excursion and must say it was quite busy and…festive. Got most everything on the list and enjoyed most of the samples. The margarita mix was good as was the tequila. Tried five of the eight available wines; one of the reds was particularly boring. Of the two rums, the citrus was very tasty. Also tried both vodkas, which took a little longer as there was a chatty woman with a product survey, but she valued my feedback and asked for more detail. For the record, the cherry vodka was very good, the sweet tea vodka…not so much.

With any luck, Amy will discover she forgot to have me get something and I may have to go back to Winn-Dixie to get it.”  

So if you are ever in our town over a holiday – any holiday – party on. And don’t forget the milk and eggs. Or you’ll have to go back to get ’em. Maybe even in separate trips. To different stores.

It’s just something else to love about New Orleans: you can go grocery shopping and be half in-the-bag long before anybody gets a chance to ask, “Paper, or plastic”?

Disguised as good ideas

It is Halloween season, and as always, I hope to be invited to a costume party.  So far, my mailbox remains Charlie-Brown-on-Valentine’s-Day empty, but I am hopeful.

Being a positive-thinking, proactive kind of guy, some costume ideas are definitely in order so I am not caught totally off guard – though the thought that, should I ignore Halloween altogether, I will get an invite has crossed my mind.  Worst-case scenario here, maybe someone else can utilize some of my ideascostume_party_iii.

This being a political year like no other, I’ll stay away from any of that craziness.  That whole scene is scary enough without my participation. besides, who needs a brawl (or verbal, Facebookish harangue) while at a party?

If I do end up getting invited to a costume party, it would be in concert with my wife so it would seem prudent to consider a couples costume idea or two as part of my brainstorming.

She will probably cast a more dubious eye on that particular concept.

 

There are a world of possibilities that go far beyond renting Yogi and Cindy bear costumes (too old school)  Antony and Cleopatra (too pedestrian) or Grant Woods American Gothic (too dangerous, see: pitchfork) plus, I  am not shaving my head, so that’s another nada.  F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald have potential, but Scott was clean-shaven and I don’t think I want to go there, though I could see my wife Amy as Zelda.  Some of that would work in our native Midwest – not sure about our current, New Orleans locale; we’d need something more universal.

Maybe is we still lived in (their and our) native Minnesota, people would know who we were. New Orleans? Not so much.
250px-grant_devolson_wood_-_american_gothic
The pitchfork would be a party liability, safety wise, though it would be handy to hold multiple hors d’oeuvres

In the past, Amy shot down going as the best couples costume idea that I have ever seen.

Some years ago, I was at a costume party with some friends, and there was a young couple there that nobody could quite figure out at first. The young man was about six-one, dressed in a tight-fitting, dark brown body suit; the woman was a good foot shorter, very petite, and was wearing a snug white bodysuit stuffed with foam rubber. They each had a rectangular piece of cardboard with dots on them attached to their backs, and periodically they would have people stand back so they could run to the center of the room and embrace. They were, of course, a s’more.

Ehhh…no. So sayeth my wife.

Back on the literary front, I could try to talk her into going as the Venus de Milo and me as Ernest Hemingway, her biographer, billing ourselves as the “Original Farewell to Arms” – though the Venus get-up would probably impair her ability to easily partake in any culinary delights or libations, which would not go over very well.

Scrap Papa and muse concept

We will probably just have to go as separately costumed folk, sans connective theme. In fact, Amy might just prefer that.

There are options aplenty, of course.

If I could find a pair of grey long johns and some knee-high red wool hunting socks, I could glue dollar-store Barbie dolls all over me and go as a chick magnet – though with recent political events being what they are, I think I’ll file that one away for…never.

I do have an old, red, shortcut tuxedo jacket that passes as a matador’s uniform – though I would need some sequins or a Bedazzler. That could be fun as the evening progresses and people get a bit more…loosened up. I could walk by with a swoop of my cape and a pseudo-Latin dialect, telling pretentious-sounding people, “That is bull! Ole’!”

Probably not.

Contemplating costume ideas, I took a good look at myself in the mirror and that’s when it came to me: Sigmund Freud! Let the beard grow out a little bit, add some gray, get a big cigar, a pocket watch and a nice vest from Goodwill, then brush up on my best Viennese dialect. I can walk around introducing myself: “Hell-lo. I am Doctor Zigmund, Freud. I oonderstand you are having zum trouble vit your… zexxxxx?”

There is your primo costume, party-conversation starter double-play.

This seemed workable, so I dug up a picture of Freud and then went looking for one of myself to use in this blog post. Taking most of the family photos leaves me out of most of them, so my pickings on the ol’ hard drive were rather slim, and none too complimentary, save one.  And there was my costume idea, jumping off the screen and into my head:

Mardi Gras Sigmund Freud. freud-2

Vest, cigar, Viennese dialect – I could wear crinolines instead of pants; very southern, in a Freudian slip sort of way.

Or is that mixing too many costume metaphors?

This whole thing is still a work in progress, so I am very open to suggestions. Please act now; this operator is standing by.

Through different eyes

Another Mardi Gras is in the books.

Friday night before Fat Tuesday, the forty days of revelry preceding Lent are in high gear.  My wife and I hadn’t been to the Friday night parades in a few years, but we had a friend marching in one of them, so we decided it would be a good time to check things out.

IMG_20170224_200001.jpgWe got there about an hour before the first of three parades on the night, located a nice spot in an intersection by a school and set up our lawn chairs and cooler; we like hanging out in an area with families, away from the pockets of rowdy college kids and assorted partiers.  Contrary to much mythology, Mardi Gras is primarily for families. Yes, there are places for rowdy people to be rowdy, and there are a few krewes that roll each year with satirical themes and more adult oriented humor, but for the most part, it’s mostly PG rated stuff at worst.

Our friend Kristin was rolling in Krewe d’Etat, the second of the evening’s extravaganza, and we figured two parades would be plenty for us as we had been to two-of-the-three Thursday night parades.  Just as the evening festivities began, we noticed a multi-generational family sitting next to us.  The grandma and grandpa we had exchanged pleasantries with when we first set up, but a husband, wife and young son had just arrived at ground zero and were ready for action.

It was a toss-up as to whether the kid or the dad seemed more psyched.

We were about four blocks from the start of the parade and by the time the first units started coming into view, the excited little boy and his amped-up dad were inching their way up to the curb, where the dad said “Ready?” before crouching in a frog-squat so his son could climb up on his shoulders.

Then the fun began – theirs and ours.

For the next half-hour, the dad would step into the street, kid on his shoulders, waving for the attention of the float riders and their various throws, while his tentative son, wide-eyed, tried to catch whatever came their way; beads, stuffed animals, trinkets of all sorts.  After the first three-or-four floats, the kid was starting to get into it – waving his arms and yelling along with his dad.  Every time they would get a couple of armfuls of goodies, they would head back to mom, grandpa, and grandma, dump their treasures into a big back, then get back on the street for the next float.

Catch-and-repeat.

img_20170224_201428_burst002The dad, who I pegged as being in his early forties, was working hard at giving his son the true Mardi Gras experience. I guessed from the kid’s body language and facial expressions that this was his first Carnival, and dad was working it; the kid spent probably twenty-five of the first thirty minutes of the parade on dad’s shoulders, briefly dismounting to stand in the street, waving for stuff with other kids and giving dad a (brief) respite to roll his shoulders and neck.  But dad was a gamer; the kid was not on his feet for long.

This routine continued the full hour-plus of the Hermes parade – sans a few short breaks where the mom, whom I also thought to be in her early forties, would take the kid on her shoulders for a minute or two at a stretch.  She was smaller, and the kid was a load, but she, too was in it for keeps. The kid was amassing a fairly impressive haul of stuff – in large part because of the visibility provided by his perch and the fact that he religiously yelled “Thank you!” at anyone and everyone who threw him something.  Float riders I am sure could not hear him, but they can read lips and body language.

And smiles of awe.

The grandparents mostly stayed in their lawn chairs, with looks of wonderment nearly equal to that of the father and son, and a lot of bemusement.  There is a short gap – ten, fifteen minutes –  between parades, and this gave time for the dad and mom to take a breather, and for grandma and grandpa to ooh-and-ahh with grandparental amazement as their grandson observed for himself, then showed them, his accumulated treasures.  Then it was time for Krewe d’Etat, and the craziness (and piggybacking) started all over again.  Different parade, same routine; father and son crazily waving arms, running up to floats, collecting stuff. Dad and son bringing stuff back to mom to put in bag, grandma and grandpa beaming from the cheap seats.

About halfway through the second parade, there was a lull in the action, as a couple of non-goodie-throwing units were cruising by.  The mom of the family we had been having so much fun watching was standing next me, and we exchanged a bit of small talk which turned the father-son spectacle we had been experiencing all evening into something a bit more special.

Her son was four, and as suspected, was experiencing his first Mardi Gras – as was his father, who, while being born here, had been back sporadically to see family, but never during Mardi Gras.  The family currently lives in California, so the whole New Orleans Carnival experience was new to them all, and as she confided to me, “I still cannot tell which one of them is having more fun – neither can my in laws!” She glanced back their way, I waved at them, they chuckled and shook their heads, as their grandson was at the moment waving a prize throw he had nabbed in exultant celebration.  Dad turned our way img_20170224_195514to give his family a big ‘thumbs up’ but you could tell he was running out of gas – but there was still plenty of parading to be done.  The mom was alternately taking pictures and rubbing her (for now) childless neck. “I sure hope you guys can locate his-and-hers chiropractors’ tomorrow.”
“That’s probably not a bad idea” she laughed, rubbing and twisting her neck, “I’ll get some referrals from in-laws!”

Here came more floats. Action time.

Just to my right was another family – a younger couple than the first, with a small boy in a stroller. His vantage point down there was of little use, so his dad had picked him up and was holding him up high enough so he could see what was going on, but the young man, aware of the other kid on his dad’s shoulders, pointed, then taped his own dad on the head.  Dad got the message, and soon the two boys were side by side, perched atop their fathers, and now drawing even more attention from the bead and trinket-tossers on the floats.

Quite the attention-getting pair – or quartet, I suppose.

As with the first family, the newest young man had a look of bewildered glee, indicating that he, too, was experiencing his first Mardi Gras.  The younger man and smaller child (a bit over three, I learned from his mom) had a bit more energy than the first father-son combo, but all four guys were having a blast.  By this time, both moms were wildly recording the craziness with their phones – the younger mom breaking only to answer a quick call or send a text, before returning the camera focus to her husband and son.  Then I heard her mumble, “Incredible!”  I looked up to see that her son had been handed a foam rubber sword, and that the young man on the other dad’s shoulders was also handing her son something: a foam crown that he had been given.  Apparently, the older boy (and/or his dad) thought the younger boy needed to have the whole set.

Awesome.

The mom next to me was shaking her head, mumbling ‘Unbelievable” over and over as she took some video, then stopped to send it to someone. “Going through a lot of your plan data tonight?”  I said with a laugh, which she returned. “You got THAT right!  Between his aunt in Houston, and his grandma in north Louisiana…bye-bye data for this month!”
“His first Mardi Gras?”
“Yep.  His dad’s first one, too. He grew up in Chicago.  I’m from Louisiana, I’ve been to Mardi Gras before, but I didn’t grow up here in New Orleans. This is crazy!” Her phone beeped. “Oh-oh. I guess I am a little slow in feeding video to my sister!” With that, she returned to feeding a live stream to her sister in Houston.

There are worse ways to burn through a data plan.

The parade continued, each boy enthralled as each float rolled by, as every strand of beads was flung, as all the noise, the lights, the music, and the color flooded our little intersection of Napoleon Avenue and Chestnut Street.  With both father-son combos img_20170224_200232.jpgstanding in front of me, I continued to enjoy their interactions; the boys with their respective dads, the boys with each other. A few times I caught the dads looking at each other and shaking their heads in amazement, and though over the tumult I could only catch snippets of their conversation, I am decent at reading lips, eve in profile; “Wow” was their common refrain.

As D’Etat began winding down, so did both kids, and at least the older of the two dads – though in fairness, he had been at it longer – with an older, heavier kid.  The older of the two boys had by now become fairly adept at waving, getting float riders attentions, and catching stuff thrown his way.  He was also becoming increasingly generous with sharing his bounty with his younger friend, who, in his awe, could only look at the older boy in amazement as his father added repeated ‘thank yous’ to the older boy and HIS dad.  The surrounding crowd of mostly adults was now also into the piggy-backed-boys scene, and had taken to cheering every time a float rider made note of the two boys and tossed them both something.

By the time the parade ended, and people started gathering their third wind, my wife had returned, and we were packing up to go, as were both the families with whom we had been interacting.  The three-year-old was returned to his stroller, his eyes transfixed on a pretty elaborate set of beads he had obtained. His mom thanked us for giving them a grocery bag that we had handy, as they had not thought to bring anything of that sort, and had been stuffing stuff in the pouch beneath he stroller. As they said goodbye, the mom smiled at me, adding with a chuckle and a shake of her head, “I have no idea how much overage we’ll be paying on our data, but oh well…”

“Happy Mardi Gras” I laughed in response, waving goodbye.

The other family had come prepared, and they were efficiently exiting in typical New Orleans fashion, with folding chairs and cooler quickly and neatly stashed in a small wagon, goodies in bags stuffed and stacked appropriately.  Grandma and grandpa, it turns out, are seasoned pros at this, with lots of family in the area. But even they seemed to be seeing the whole carnival experience in a new light, via the first timers; their son and grandson.

The crowd began filing toward the street as the final parade was coming, so it was easy to make our way in the opposite direction, back towards our car. We emerged from the crowd walking next to the family from California, and I got a chance to talk to the dad.
“It was a lot of fun watching you and your son.  Your wife said this was your first Mardi Gras?”

“Yeah, I was born here, but we moved away because of my dad’s job. I get back a lot, just haven’t been here for Mardi Gras. We live in California, and now that he is old enough, we had the time and the chance, and I wanted to do this with him.”
“Very cool.”img_20170224_181504
We had reached the end of the block, and we were about to veer left, they were drifting to the right, and the father, who had a now nearly asleep four-year-old using his head for a pillow, grinned at me and said, “You know, I just wanted to give him the experience and have it with him. I’m just trying to be a good dad and give him great experiences, you know?”

“Well, it was very cool to watch.  Made it more fun for me. Enjoy the rest of your stay.”
“Thanks. We will.”

As they turned right at the corner, and we turned left, I could hear the man talking to his son, his voice trailing away; “Hear that buddy?  Other people had fun watching YOU have fun…”

My wife and I had seen our friend dancing in the parade and gotten some pictures; we had enjoyed a date night and got to see Mardi Gras through less-jaded eyes.  It was not a bad way to spend a Friday evening.  Good times all around.

Oh, did I mention that, of the two families in whose orbits we intersected, one was white, and one was black?  I don’t think I did and I guess it doesn’t really matter, but then again, considering the times in which we live, maybe it really does.

Because while I didn’t get many strands of beads that Mardi Gras night, but I did catch a little hope for the future.

Hanging with ghosts and great ideas

Photo1650It is a brisk March Wednesday night in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Once a smitten, first time tourist, I am now a resident of the city, though not a permanent denizen of the Quarter.

I have lived here going on five years now, and remain infatuated with the city, and this unique segment of  it.

Some good friends of ours have a condeaux (colloquial spelling, so sayeth the whimsical plaque hanging on the courtyard wall) that they use for weekend getaways. They play tourist in their own hometown, taking in the sights of the Quarter and the Marigny; live music on Frenchmen Street, plays at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre, various restaurants. Sometimes they just hang in the Quarter.

When they are not test driving retirement, they sometimes make it available to friends. This is my lucky night.

Right around the corner, and literally seventy feet as the crow flies, is the former home of Tennessee Williams. From the courtyard I am sitting in, I could easily toss a baseball onto Tennessee’s former roof. The proximity of his home to Peterson’s condeaux was a surprise to them, as I discovered it on my first visit to their getaway neighborhood, as I read the bronze historic marker affixed to the wall of the structure. That is my compulsion here in the Quarter, where it is nearly impossible to travel a full block without some sort of Photo1645wall-mounted commemorative alloy indicator of some sort.

This is no New England ‘George-Washington-slept-here-yeah-right’ tourist gimmick.

A casual stroll in any direction of the French Quarter is a history lesson to be absorbed: the tribulations of Spanish ownership and French possession, the days of Jean Lafitte, Marie Leveaux and other sundry rogues are all venerated in ample, forged bronze. Jazz greats and their many milestones as a genre was birthed and the purest of American art forms evolved are also celebrated. There are notable pirates, heroes and villains. Painters and writers. Scalawags and incognito ne’er-do-well share historical marker space with captains of industry and high society madams. Generals, governors, future presidents – an array of historical pomp and circumstance –all here for the fascinating, abbreviated reading. There are also trumpet players, trombonists, drummers, pianists and producers to be celebrated. All get their due, because they spent time here. They came here to pillage, conquer, control, carouse and create in. They came to write.

Tennessee Williams wrote here. So did William Faulkner. Tonight, I do too.

Photo1652I picked up a six pack of Abita Amber on my way down to the Quarter, where the courtyard, a small café table and comfortable chair await. The beer is satisfying, the night crisp enough to keep it adequately chilled, the atmosphere and inspiration keeps keyboard fingers warm and nimble even as the unseasonable temperature dips into the forties.

Upon my arrival, while truffle-pigging a rare, elusively available, Quarter parking spot, I encountered a couple of horse and mule drawn carriages on tour, and hoped that once ensconced in the courtyard and at my keyboard, the sounds of hooves on pavement and cobblestone would add to the mystique. Instead, the thick walls, and the condeaux location at the back of what was once a fine antebellum home (their condeaux – all 300 square feet of it – is the former slave quarters) leave me isolated from most of the traffic and neighborhood noise, save the occasional police siren and barking of a few large dogs.

I type, sip beer, revel in every moment.

The silence is crashed by surprising and lengthy horn blasts from the Steamboat Natchez, announcing her return from the evening dinner cruise up the Mississippi. The long, slow, steam whistle is comforting Greek chorus to the soft clicking of my laptop keys, and far surpasses hooves on asphalt for adding ambiance.

Photo1648As I type, I realize that while I may be emulating Williams, my medium would be foreign to him. I have no paper to align or platen to spin; finished work, removal of the page with a clicking flourish satisfaction is not part of the equation here. I think back a few years, to an Internet offer that came my way: a program that turns the sounds of your laptop into that of a typewriter – clicking keys, end-of-line bell, carriage return zipping – all customizable and authentic to the sounds of your favorite vintage make and model typewriter.

At the time, it seemed mildly amusing but frivolous – and also likely to become very annoying after five minutes of use. Were I to receive the same offer tonight…?

Not so much.

Another sip of beer and I set the bottle down on the table to my left. I am no gin drinker and good whiskey was not in tonight’s budget, so I am less Williams or Faulkner than I am Kerouac wannabe, settling for beer. And while the bottle of Louisiana brew beside me is flavorful and satisfying, it is an accouterment to the evening – not an office supply.

Photo1656The night continues, the chill settling in, the writer’s block plaguing me of late is going the way of the mercury and crumbling to dust like so many of the two-century-old red bricks that surround me – though far more quickly. The Quarter, at least my cozy locale, is quiet. The big dog down the street is no longer agitated – or at least in for the night. It has been a solid hour since any sirens, the steamboats are at rest wharf side.

Time passes by with ease, the ideas flow at the same pace. It remains quiet, save the tapping of words coming to life.

The sound of my fingers on laptop keys is different, new to me – a remake of a classic song you know, but don’t quite recognize.  Most often my writing is done in pseudo solitude with a soundtrack of city traffic, two ambling, and tag jingling dogs, video game playing teenagers, Sinatra or sixties via plugged-in ear buds. A life in motion, with soundtrack.

This is most definitely not that.

Photo1646The sounds of my keyboarding begin to amuse me: I am no Buddy Rich of the laptop. My irregular pounding lacks rhythm or anything resembling a tempo or musical beat. I doubt my seven-finger-and-both-thumbs modified hunt-and-peck method would even qualify as good scat.

I type to the beat of my own drummer until I sense a restful sleep coming on. I shut down my laptop, take a last look around, head inside, closing French doors and hurricane shutters behind me; the clicking of the various ancient hinges and latches momentarily sounds like ice cubes being dropped into a glass. I imagine the ghost of Tennessee Williams seeking to borrow a cup of gin as I lock the door, smiling, and settle in for the night

# # #

Thursday morning in a French Quarter courtyard. A little past five, and as refreshing and satisfying as last night’s beer was, the morning coffee (New Orleans, not Irish) freshly brewed, locally roasted, offers even more. The morning is crisp – I can see my breath, rising and evaporating along with the steam from the coffee. I pick up where I left off the night before, awaiting a crooked dawn, knowing that my cozy alcove will let in only a hint of the day’s sunshine. I type, sip, prepare to fully welcome the day at hand.

Photo1657The coffee is superb, as is the arrival of the morning sun, peeking as it does, over and around the surrounding roofs. In an hour I will need to finish the coffee, pack up laptop and leftover beer, and head for school – our last day before a long, Easter weekend. The kids were done yesterday, but teachers have a morning of training before parents begin arriving for early afternoon conferences. A light day, off to a relaxing start.

Photo1658As I sip my coffee and watch the first rays of sunlight waving hello I wonder just how strange this tableau would seem to Messrs. Williams and Faulkner; a laptop, hot coffee, a fiber bar for breakfast. No liquid morning ‘pick me up’ is needed. Not here, not now.

I finish most of the half pot of coffee I brewed, put the rest into a travel mug. I pack up, lock up, and head for the street to find my car and head to school. As I step out into the coming-to-life Quarter, I am passed by a middle-aged man riding a bike, steering his bike with one hand, holding an in-progress can of beer in the other. As he passes me, he waves with the hand holding the beer, then takes a swig from it.

As I watch him head down Burgundy Street, a perfectly logical New Orleans thought comes to mind: “He’s probably a writer”. Laughing at my own joke, I get in the car and drive off into the sunrise to go to work.

Photo1662

Sometimes we list while shopping

New Orleans offers ample opportunity for St. Patrick’s Day weekend revelry – no big surprise. But for those of us of the middle age persuasion who no longer fit the party animal designation, there are other, viable (and cheaper) options via which to get our ‘party on’.

cartsLike grocery store-hopping.

Today I was out and about, and I needed to swing into the grocery store for a few items, so I swung into a Rouses Market I don’t normally frequent, simply because it was handy. As usual, I entered through produce, and had to go through the liquor/beer/wine department on my way to frozen foods. While I was making my innocent swing through libation land I was accosted by the sampling ladies.

Attractive, personable women with the souls of carnival barkers small tables were strategically stationed along main aisles and offering up regulation shot glass size samples of Bushmill’s Irish whiskey, three types of Guinness beer and ale, and Bailey’s Irish Cream – all of which are on special this weekend, of course. This extended my five-minute quick in/quick out by a few minutes, as I was engaged in a couple of amiable product-virtues conversations with the aforementioned sample ladies.

Besides, it seems impolite simply to chug-and-run.

It isn’t just at Rouses that I have encountered this holiday weekend phenomenon, as Winn-Dixie offers the same holiday themed samplingsampling opportunities. The days before Christmas were a bonanza of egg nog and flavored rum variations.

It occurred to me that I had written of a similar experience last summer and I had, in a Facebook post:

“I just got done with the pre-July 4th family grocery shopping excursion and must say it was quite busy and…festive. Got most everything on the list and enjoyed most of the samples. The margarita mix was good as was the tequila. Tried five of the eight available wines; one of the reds was particularly boring. Of the two rums, the citrus was very tasty. Also tried both vodkas, which took a little longer as there was a chatty-lady survey involved, but she valued my feedback and asked for more detail. For the record, the cherry vodka was very good, the sweet tea vodka…not so much.

With any luck, Amy will discover she forgot to have me get something and I may have to go back to Winn-Dixie to get it….”

bagSo if you are ever in our town over a holiday – any holiday – party on. And don’t forget the milk and eggs. Or you’ll have to go back to get ’em. Maybe even in separate trips. To different stores.

It’s just something else to love about New Orleans: you can go grocery shopping and be half in-the-bag long before anybody gets a chance to ask, “Paper, or plastic”?

Hard to disguise

For like only, ummm….maybe the third time in my adult life, I am invited to a Halloween costume party. A real, honest-to-goodness, grown-up, sophisticated-folks costume party.

Ahh, what to wear, what to wear?

A colleague of mine, Ms. Smith*, is throwing this little soiree, and extended the invite to my wife and I verbally a few weeks ago just to make sure I didn’t schedule anything else on that Saturday night before Halloween, so it seems like kind of  big deal. Last week, in passing, Ms. Smith told me that the party would feature a pomegranate martini fountain. This week, I received the formal invite: printed, with their own envelopes. Very nice card stock, not a cheap, clandestine-school-copy-machine summons.

The pressure is on.

Not only is it one of the rare times I have actually been invited to a real, grown-up costume party, it’s a New Orleans costume party. That can be a pretty big deal here; between Mardi Gras, and the general theatrical nature of the town, people dress up in costume a lot. That might sound silly or odd to someone not from here, and I won’t even try to explain it. Suffice to say, Mardi Gras permeates life in New Orleans twenty-four-seven, three-sixty-five, and I would be willing to be there are more costume shops per capita than most anyplace else in America outside of Hollywood. Maybe even including Hollywood.

I need a good costume, so does my wife.

I don’t see us going the costume shop route, for budgetary reasons, but there should be enough creative gumbo in this household to conjure up some sort of outstanding masquerade mojo. Ms. Smith is a fellow English teacher, and knowing her, I’m pretty sure this bash will feature a pretty literate, fairly eclectic crowd, so even a little more obtuse costuming concoction will probably be well received.

That allows some creative…flexibility.

This also opens up a world of possibilities that go far beyond renting Yogi and Cindy bear costumes, Antony and Cleopatra (too pedestrian) or Grant Woods American Gothic – I am not shaving my head, so that’s out, too. F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald have potential, but Scott was clean-shaven and I don’t think I want to go there, though I could see my wife Amy as Zelda.

Amy also shot down going as the best couples costume idea that I have ever seen.

Some twenty-odd years ago, I was at a costume party with some friends, and there was a young couple there that nobody could quite figure out at first. The young man was about six-one, dressed in a tight fitting, dark brown body suit; the woman was a good foot shorter, very petite, and was wearing a snug white body suit stuffed with foam rubber. They each had a rectangular piece of cardboard with dots on them attached to their backs, and periodically they would have people stand back so they could run to the center of the room and embrace. They were, of course, a s’more.

My wife immediately said exnay on the white body suit thing.

Back on the literary front, I could try to talk her into going as the Venus de Milo and me as Ernest Hemingway, her biographer, billing ourselves as the “Original Farewell to Arms” – though the Venus get up would probably impair her ability to easily partake in the martini fountain, so maybe not. We may just have to go as separately costumed folk, sans connective theme. In fact, Amy might just prefer that.

There are other options, of course.

If I could find a pair of grey long johns and some knee-high red wool hunting socks, I could glue dollar-store Barbie dolls all over me and go as a chick magnet.

I have most of the components of a Charlie Chaplin costume my dad used back in the late 1950’s – most importantly, the vintage black derby. That also opens up the possibility of Stan Laurel, but then we’re back to the clean-shaven thing. I once played Groucho Marx and have the mannerisms and dialogue down, so that has potential; I could temporarily chuck my goatee and simply overdo the grease paint moustache.

I also have an old, red, shortcut tuxedo jacket that passes as a matador’s uniform – though I would need some sequins or a Bedazzler. That could be fun as the evening progresses and people get a bit more…loosened up. I could walk by with a swoop of my cape and tell pretentious-sounding people, “That is bull! Ole’!”

Yeah. Probably not.

Contemplating costume ideas, I took a good look at myself in the mirror and that’s when it came to me: Sigmund Freud! Let the beard grow out a little bit, add some gray, get a big cigar, a pocket watch and a nice vest from Goodwill, then brush up on my best Viennese dialect. I can walk around introducing myself: “Hell-lo. I am Doctor Zigmund Freud. I understand you are having zum trouble vith your zex?”

This seemed workable, so I dug up a picture of Freud and then went looking for one of myself to use in this blog post. Taking most of the family photos leaves me out of most of them, so my pickings on the ol’ hard drive were rather slim, and none too complimentary, save the Mardi Gras get up at right. And there it was:

‘Mardi Gras Sigmund Freud’.

Vest, cigar, Viennese dialect – I could wear crinolines instead of pants; very southern in a Freudian slip sort of way. Or is that mixing too many costume metaphors?

This whole thing is still a work in progress, so I am very open to suggestions. Please act now – this operator is standing by.

Not Isaactly what we had in mind

For the record: We are not on hurrication.

We moved to New Orleans in 2008, and two months later were faced with evacuation because of hurricane Gustav. A few of my new coworkers used the term ‘hurrication’ to describe the situation, and were immediately taken to task by others who found the term offensive, as to so many in the community it was a stressful, economic hardship – not a vacation in any sense of the word. The phrase got the same response in other social settings I found myself both during and after Gustav.  After having to spend four days in a motel in Decatur, Alabama, because we waited too long and couldn’t find anything closer than a nine-hour drive, I could certainly empathize with those who became indignant at the phrase ‘hurrication’ and made sure it isn’t part of my vocabulary.

After this past week, I not only empathize,  really get it.

Although this time around we are more seasoned veterans, and made reservations much closer to home early in the storm cycle, it is not a time of rest-and-relaxation. We are only a three-hour drive from home, in Alexandria, Louisiana, and are staying at a Super 8, but it is not a sojourn that we had budgeted for, and there is certainly stress in not knowing the status of house, other car, neighborhood.  This is not a lot of fun.

Last night I met up with some friends at a restaurant, fellow evacuees, and I was asked “How’s your hurrication?!” “Oooh…” I replied, explaining calmly why I didn’t like that phrase. My friend got it, said she had never thought of it that way, thanked me for the heads-up on using it.

Two adults, two teenage boys, two dogs in a motel for three days is not something you go prowling Expedia.com to set up for fun and giggles.

Just because we aren’t on vacation doesn’t mean that we won’t walk away without some interesting memories.

While checking into our motel early Tuesday afternoon, I struck up a conversation with a fellow New Orleanian, also an evacuee, who had returned here because of the inexpensive rooms how well the staff had treated he and his wife during Katrina in ’05 and their Gustav evacuation of ’08.

‘Andy’ is a few years older than me, and had walked in as I was checking in. He surmised it was my family waiting outside in the blue minivan.

“That your rat terrier getting a walk?” he asked with a smile, pointing toward the grassy are next to the parking lot.

“Yes sir, it is. That’s our Lucy.”

“We’ve had a rat terrier for years. Great dog. Have her with us this trip…sort of. Her ashes, anyway. in a box.”

A surprised ‘Oh’ was all I could muster in response.

“Yeah” Andy shook his head with a chuckle. “Last thing my wife grabbed before we left the house. She said ‘I gotta have my important papers, and I gotta to have my dog’. So here we are.”

“Well, there you go” I replied. “I get that. I can understand where she’s coming from.”

“The dog was with us here for Katrina and Gustav.” His voice trailed a bit, but he was still smiling. Andy shook my hand, and we wished each other good luck and a short stay.

I have encountered Andy a few times a day each day since, chatting for a bit yesterday in the breakfast room. Nice fellow. Sam and I also ran into Andy and his wife at the mall across the street, and yeah, the  first thing I did was look to see if she was carrying a box. She wasn’t. He introduced us, and she seems very nice.

Maybe I’ll bring Lucy by for a visit with them before we leave.

Wednesday  morning, my wife and I walked over to the gas station-convenience store next door to get a newspaper. As we walked up to the door, an old man said hello, and I returned his greeting. Amy went inside the store and I intended to after finishing the last of my motel coffee. The man asked where we were from, I gave him the brief synopsis, then asked if he lived here.

“Lived here most of my life” he nodded affirmingly. “Most of it. Except when I wasn’t. I haven’t always been here. People call me Jack, but I’m really D.B. Cooper. Do you know who I am?”

“The D.B.Cooper who hijacked a plane?”

“Yep. That’s me.”

“You’re too young to be THE D.B. Cooper” I chided with a smile and a sip of coffee.

“I thank you for that, young man.” he replied with a smile. I was only half-kidding, as I pegged him for being in his early sixties. “But I am indeed old enough to be B.D. Cooper! I’m seventy-seven. How old did you think I was?”

“I wouldn’t have guessed seventy-seven. I was thinking, early, mid sixties.”

“Well I do thank you for THAT, young man. So you know my story, huh?”

“Pretty well, I think…”

“You thought I was dead, didn’t you? Well I can prove I survived that jump out of the plane!” with that he pulled down his shirt to reveal a left shoulder with a clavicle that stuck up nearly an inch above the ball of his shoulder. “That’s the shoulder I dislocated when I jumped, or really, when I landed. Never did get it set back properly.”

“Wow. That looks painful.”

“It was for a while. You say you know my story. You weren’t a passenger on that airplane, we’re you?” He was curious, not suspicious.

“Nope. But I used to live in the hometown of Northwest Airlines, so it’s still a big deal there.”

“Ohhh….so tell me something then; why do you think they’re still looking for me? I didn’t hurt nobody, nobody got killed. Just stole some money. Hell, I didn’t even steal the plane…they still got it!”

“You really want my theory?” I asked, noticing that my wife was at the counter of the store, paper in hand, waiting for me with a quizzical look as she had not brought her wallet to breakfast.

“I’d like to hear why you think they’re still looking for me after all these years.”

“Well, some folks just like to solve mysteries. But in your case, it’s all about them making money.” D.B. was looking at me intently, squarely in the eye. “I think there are a lot of people who want to cash in. Solving the mystery means they get to write a book, make a movie, make all sorts of money for themselves off those.”

D.B. pulled back and looked at me with surprise. “I do like your theory. That makes a lot of sense. I’ll bet that’s why they’re still looking for me!” I took the last sip of my coffee and threw the cup into the trash. “Well, I’d better let you go – I think your wife is waiting. Good luck to you with this hurricane.” With that he shook my hand, he added a “God bless you, and take care” and started walking across the parking lot toward the highway in front of it.

I went inside, paid for the newspaper as my wife inquired, ‘what was that all about?’

“That was D.B. Cooper. He showed me his dislocated shoulder from the jump out of the plane. It never healed right.” She and the store manager she had been speaking with both looked at me with cocked eyebrows. “Really.” she said, as statement, not question. We exited the store and as we got in front of the motel, I saw D.B. standing at the light, waiting to cross the highway. “See ya, D.B.! Take it easy!” I yelled above the traffic noise. He turned, looked, apparently not seeing me, he crossed the street with a wave over his shoulder, (the un-dislocated one) as my wife just shook her head.

It hasn’t been a hurrication, but it sure has been a trip.

Flavor Blind

Nobody can dispute the fact that New Orleans is a colorful town. ‘Red drink’ is a prime example.

“Red drink.” Anywhere else I have lived this beverage would be known as ‘fruit punch’; here in New Orleans, it is simply ‘red drink.’ ‘Red drink’ refers to any non-carbonated, red-colored beverage; Hawaiian Punch, eighty-nine-cents-a-gallon generic stuff…you name it. Offered a cup of ‘red drink’ and you respond with ‘What flavor is it?’ will get you a quizzical look in return, along the response, ‘Its red drink!’

I have encountered this in situations both public and private; as a teacher, I have seen numerous classroom events garnished with countless jugs of the stuff by teachers, students and parents. What’s funny is that adults and children alike usually announce their party arrival with “I got the red drink!” with the eager aplomb of a college kid who pulls the gin for spiking the punch out from under his coat.

While it is usually some sort of fruit punch, ‘red drink’ I have been offered at various functions has been strawberry, cherry and some other blended concoctions – which I guess puts it back in the ‘fruit punch’ category. In New Orleans, It’s all  simply ‘red drink’.

Before moving here, I would have presumed ‘red drink’ to be Tabasco sauce.

To clarify, ‘red drink’ does not apply to red-colored Kool-Aid, even though Kool-Aid comes in many red-oriented flavors like cherry, strawberry, black cherry, fruit punch, etc. Kool-Aid is simply Kool-Aid and questioning what flavor it is usually gets you the response “Its Kool- Aid!” in a defiant tone of voice that suggests that you ask ridiculous questions. Woe be onto you if you are at a party and are offered a choice of Kool-Aid or red drink and inquire about flavors. Just don’t go there, here.

Oddly, as popular as ‘red drink’ appears to be here, Kool-Aid seems to have a bit more cachet. I am not sure why, though the fact that almost nobody here measures the sugar when they make it might have something to do with it. When mixing Kool-Aid, most of the locals add sugar ‘to taste’ – which to my taste usually renders the finished product closer to hummingbird feeder syrup than true Kool-Aid. (Once, two of my students argued over the sugar/water ratio for a pitcher of Kool-Aid, one disagreeing with the certainty of another by proclaiming “When it gets hard to stir, you put in too much sugar!” Ya think?)

New Orleans also has ‘red soda’ although that refers to red cream soda and not, as I initially assumed, strawberry pop. That, (silly me) is known as ‘strawberry soda.’ (And yes, I know I still use the Midwestern ‘pop’ over the southern ‘soda’ and I don’t spend enough time in rural Louisiana to use ‘Coke’ as the all-encompassing term for carbonated beverages. Oh well.)

This name-a-thing-by-it’s-color phenomenon here is not confined to beverages.

Searching in vain at a convenience store, a friend, also a transplant, asked the clerk where she could find ‘windshield washer fluid’ and was met with a questioning look and a puzzled “What are you looking for?” Searching her mind for more identifiable, universal slang, my friend responded “You know, windshield washer fluid. Bug juice. The stuff for your car that cleans the windshield.”

“Ohhhh…” replied the clerk, finally getting it, “You mean blue water!”

Silly me, I thought that was where the Tidy Bowl man hung out.

After my friend related this story to me, I told a coworker (a local) who said, with a shrug, “Yeah. Blue water. That’s what it is.” with a look that suggested I was again talking foolishness for even questioning the matter. I still thought this an odd-clerk-quirk until one day I stopped to buy a gallon of bug juice and a drink (not red). I plunked the gallon jug and fountain cup on the counter and the clerk said, “That it? Just the blue water and the Coke?”

Blue water it is, I guess. When living in Rome…

My fear with this one is I actually use the phrase when we go back to Minnesota and I need to buy a gallon of northern, winter-grade windshield washer fluid – the stuff with alcohol in it, which they don’t sell in the south, which I learned firsthand our first winter returning to the northland for Christmas, and our ‘blue water’ (because that’s ALL it is) froze, and we had to go to a local Honda dealership to get it thawed out and replaced with good, northern bug juice with some good old anti-freeze alcohol in it.

Okay, so ‘bug juice’ is not what you really need in Minnesota in the winter time, but you do need some windshield washer fluid that won’t freeze up like a New Orleans daiquiri.

Which reminds me, have I ever told you about the oddity that is the New Orleans drive-through daiquiri shops…?

Risk, Reward and Rational Explanations

I come from a long line of risk-takers. Though maybe ‘long’ is stretching it a bit.

I am a second-generation American; all four of my grandparents were immigrants who left behind native their lands to make a better life in America. My mother’s parents came here from different parts of Norway in the 1920’s, met and married while living in New York City before moving on to Minneapolis , where my grandfather’s cousin ran a hospital and offered my grandfather a job. Leaving behind whatever they had in Norway was bold enough; packing up and heading to the great prairie from New York City during the height of the Great Depression was something else entirely.

Risk takers, one-and-all.

My father’s parents were a Russian Jews who left just after the turn of the twentieth century and also landed in New York. While the information on my father’s side of genealogical ledger is spotty, history alone tells me that being a Jew in Russia in the decades leading up to the Bolshevik Revolution was not an easy lot. Getting out of said situation was no easy chore, either.

Though what they each left behind was deemed, for whatever reasons, to be inadequate, it still takes a lot of gumption to leave behind everything you know and love to move somewhere thousands of miles away to a strange land.

Risk and reward. Seems simple, but when the reward part is a whole lot of uncertainty…not so much?

So, given some historical context, my wife and I packing up two kids, a dog, and every other aspect of life and moving from small town life on the southwestern Minnesota prairie to New Orleans has a kind of ‘makes perfect sense’ feel to it.

Same holds true for our move to the small town (population about 13,000) of Marshall, Minnesota, six years prior to that. Add in the fact that our move from Minneapolis to Marshall was not only a culture shift, but also a major career move for my wife, and the risk taking aspect looms large to some. Just as both of us chucking the corporate life mid-career to move into the classroom as teachers, helping to rebuild one of the worst public education systems in America was something of a risk.

Sometimes I think that the nonchalant way in which we relate our tale is unnerving to a lot of people.

Old friends of mine are visiting from Minnesota, and at dinner the other night they were asking about our motivations in moving here, and as usual we dutifully recounted the story of wanting to do more with our lives, answering our perceived calling, the trials and tribulations of dealing with teaching kids in poverty, etcetera. This has become a commonplace conversation, as over the past four years we have had a steady stream of visitors from our ‘past lives’ who have found their way to New Orleans for a visit, or just stopped by on their way to somewhere else. (If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear for some people it’s a sort of cartoon mountain-top guru pilgrimage simply to ask us why we are here and how we could pack up and move to a strange place the way we did.)

Our answers frequently seem to leave people confused by its simplicity – like there has to be more to it. After some recent, close together visits from various folks, I am starting to understand that a little better, and I think I know the answer.

We come from a long line of risk takers.

Whenever we relate our story, we include the faith aspect; how we have followed what we felt G-d was calling us to do, and through prayer and reflection, we simply acted on that. Our various church families in Minneapolis, Marshall and now, New Orleans, all know the story, but even many of those that can easily see the faith aspect at work in our decision-making and execution can get hung up on the ‘how’ we could make these moves. What frequently unnerves people is the ‘well we just did it’ aspect of the entire escapade. Maybe it’s because we tell the story fairly frequently,

I come from a long line of risk-takers. So does my wife – her line being a generation longer than mine on one side, two generations longer on the other.

My wife’s great, and great-great-grandparents were Swedish immigrants. Whatever situations they, too, were leaving behind, the whole late 1800’s immigrant-to-America scenario is risk-taking personified.

For the record, though both sides of my wife’s family and my mother’s families all hail from Scandinavia, there is no record of any Laplander blood in any of the lines, so our people are not nomads by nature; a pretty sedentary lot, all in all. Based on the little info I have on my father’s side of the family, the same seems to hold true, though as Jews, the diaspora aspect would seem to put them in the ‘nomads by nature’ category.

If this seems like some sort of prelude to another move on our part, it isn’t. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I felt so…sedentary.

Still, there is more to this whole risk-taking thing than packing a steamer trunk and hitting the open sea. My whole existence is owed to some rather grand limb-stepping aside from that already mentioned. For example…

My dad marrying my mom. Dad was 17 years her senior. He was also divorced with a son and a step son – not conventional sell to a young bride’s family in the late 1950’s, but they made it work, and work pretty well. My mom’s father (Gramps) and my father were extremely close – so much so that many times someone meeting my family assumed that they were a father/son not father-in-law/son-in-law combo.

They made it work well for 28 years, until my father’s death from cancer. Unless people knew the backstory, most of those years were pretty typical work-and-raise-a-family years with little if any obvious risk-taking. Except…

When I was ten, my parents up and decided that we would move from Minneapolis to Denver. Just because. They had been to Denver on their honeymoon in 1958, and in the summer of ’69 we had driven out there on vacation, with Gramps in tow. We returned to Minneapolis, I went to the lake for a few weeks, and then they came there to pick me up and said, “We are moving to Colorado!”

“Umm… okay?”

They had no jobs waiting there, and in fact, were both willing to leave behind long-standing jobs, family and friends for nothing more than perceived opportunity in a new place with a (then) booming economy. It worked out well; my father ended up doing roughly the same thing he had been doing in Minneapolis, but for a lot more money. My mom found a better, more lucrative career than what she had in Minneapolis. Me? I spent the next eight years in Denver, graduating from South High School with a diploma, a solid knowledge on how to live life, and a wonderful cadre of friends – many of whom remain, to this day, an important part of my life.

Risk takers. Reward earners.

Following high school, I moved back to Minneapolis, spent a year living with Gramps and going to Brown Institute to become a radio announcer, which I accomplished, and then took a job at a little radio station in rural Missouri, heeding the advice my father gave me: “Take a job wherever it’s offered even if its someplace you never wanted to go. Experience something new.”

Small town radio was an interesting experience for this city kid – so much so that I repeated the adventure in Iowa, then moved on to stations in various points in Minnesota, before I got out of the radio biz and moved back to Minneapolis, where I moved into the hotel business, then into social service and adult training and development, which eventually led me to teaching in one of the worst school systems in America, which I love doing.

Risk/reward. Seems pretty simple.

My wife started her journey in a small town in northern Minnesota, moved to Minneapolis/St. Paul to attend college, became a social worker. Worked on an adolescent treatment unit, ran a teen center for high-risk youth, then moved into the corporate world and became a human resource executive. Along the way, she took the huge risk of marrying a divorced guy with a seven-year old daughter and a bunch of other baggage. (You want to talk ‘risk’? Ask her about ‘risk.) Corporate H.R. gave way to administering special education finances for a school district, and now she teaches special ed kids every day. She, too, loves her job.

So the whole pack-up-and-leave-your-homeland-go-west-go-further-west, go south-go-north-go back- further-south thing has, generationally, worked out pretty well.

Our ‘Family Kerouac’ routine is not without circumstantial provocation or family precedent; we are not quite that spontaneous. I believe there is a life cycle to almost every situation. One of my favorite bible passages is Ecclesiastes 3:1, ‘There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.’

So, with a little bit of context, our rather convoluted life story makes perfect, logical sense.

Why are we now living in New Orleans? Why did we chuck the corporate world and become teachers? Just how much of a stretch is it, really, from leaving behind Russian pogroms to distancing ourselves from corporate downsizings and other shenanigans? From leaving a culture where you have next to nothing because you are not the first-born, or because you are a female, to come to America and leaving a culture you know and are comfortable with to live in a place like New Orleans, where people speak a different language, live a different lifestyle?

You see, we come from a long line of risk takers…