Everything is on the table

Our kitchen table is an heirloom in training.

Sitting alone at this table with open notebook, a pen, and a fresh cup of coffee in the early morning light of day I can, with an angular glance, see the extensive preparation and practice for remembrance that it has already put in. At a mere sixteen-years, the table is hardly an antique – yet its smooth, blonde-maple surface is already pockmarked with the memorable nicks and ruts left by stray utensils and homework-prodding pencils – stray treatises to family,  assorted Christmas cards and letters.

All embossed in memory and maple.

My wife and I assembled the table the first night we lived in a rural, southwestern Minnesota Victorian we had just moved into from big-city Minneapolis; a new board-with-legs for our small-town fresh-start. The nondescript table fit perfectly in our new, multi-windowed, breakfast alcove; perfectly seating the four members of our family.  While we read the instructions, inserting the right bolt into the right hole, our boys, then seven and three, were tucked soundly into sleeping bags in the bare living room, as our furniture still in transit. We labored to assemble the table, determined to have a place at which to properly commemorate our first meal together in our new home and community.

The last screw was secured in the final chair leg just after two a.m.

Today, a decade-and-a-half later, when the southern sunlight of our now-home in New Orleans smothers it, you will see the signs of the life the table has nobly earned in service to our family. Worn spots mark each place setting. Plates and bowls of china, paper, and plastic have been repeatedly set down, slid around, eaten upon, picked up again – sometimes dropped. A knot on one end of the table has dried out, a small crack has now settled into a browned notch out of the edge. If you put your face close to the table’s edge and look at its surface, you can trace the hard-scrabble pencil indentations of the two boys who completed their homework each night 100_49891while mom or dad prepared dinner.

Look more closely and you can find a worn two-digit, kindergarten math problem overlaid with something more algebraic, far more recent.  The ancient nine-plus-three-equals-eight-no-twelve is still bold from the pressing of a hot dog-diameter pencil; the more recent equation made by a more elegant and confident ink pen.

The table has made its way south with us.

A million small lines zigzag the surface;  swooping in graceful curves atop the now-worn maple, resembling a vacant skating rink in January. Every member of our family has triple-axeled this table countless times to the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ of each of the others. It is a spot of triumph, of place of individual and group confession, reflection, renewal. It has hosted countless meals, endless discussions, prompted numerous revelations; it has echoed the laughter of day-to-day  100_4986life, heard the solemnity of nightly prayers of thanksgiving and praise, sorrow and intercession. It has been spilled on, bumped into, lived on, all the while quietly, steadily. Always smoothly supportive.

It has served us well.

Some ten years ago, we uprooted our brood again – this time to New Orleans. The table that once bore mostly pedestrian, traditional Midwestern fare has become attuned to hosting more exotic and at times experimental and quirky meals of gumbo, jambalaya, and crawfish.  I am certain the resulting changes in dietary spills and slops has only served to enhance the preservation and aging process of the maple; it is a seasoned patina – the spice of memories – adding character to the worn, blonde, wood

The table is loyal; it has been almost exclusively devoted to our immediate family; guests have usually necessitated a shift to the more expansive, less lived-on, dining room table.  It, too, has stories to tell, but nothing approaching the quantity of those with that our kitchen table could regale us. And now, our time here is coming to a close; both boys have graduated high school, one has completed college as well,  while the younger begins his collegiate experience. We are headed off on new adventures, different adventures.

Our inexpensive-when-purchased, still not priceless, D.I.Y. table will accompany us.100_4979_00

Boys who once needed help to scootch up their chairs now find little elbow room to spare when we are all together. The table’s chairs creak a bit beneath their more considerable heft. Still, neither of them has asked if we will ever get a new kitchen table, or why we just  can’t eat in the dining room. The table has adapted nicely over the last few years from a haven of group work, to more solo time with family members; a boy with a bowl of cereal and spread out newspapers or school project is now more common than then the full-fledged mealtime family foursomes of the past.

The table also spends more time sheltering two aging dogs seeking the relaxing companionship of their boy’s stocking feet –  adept as each has become at absent-minded, foot petting.  Both dogs are equally content to lay there, just soaking in affection, less time frenetically awaiting dropped crumbs from younger, less observant boys,  who used to provide ample treat-pouncing opportunities.

Mealtimes are cozier than they used to be, though this is just a phase of sorts. Our sons have more hectic schedules, and sporadic all-of-us-home home evenings often find us in the living room, munching pizza and binge-watching Netflix – another family ritual once confined to Friday nights, now preciously savored whenever we can scrounge one up. One son still lives at home; mealtimes for three of us frees up some of that vaunted, and coveted, elbow room, though probably to some occasional chagrin on our part.

Soon, the table’s adaptability will again be tested,  as the term ‘table for two’ will be de rigueur.

Someday the table may serve in an entirely different capacity – maybe a first-apartment-hand-me-down for one of the boys, or maybe someday many years down the road and to the 100_4977puzzlement of a spouse, a much-wanted keepsake for one of them.

Not that they are likely to ask about its eventual fate now, but if they do I can just tell them, to their confusion and my satisfaction, that this little kitchen table is, indeed, our heirloom in training.

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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.

Kids these days

You just never know how my students are going to react.

The new semester began this past week, and I have two completely new sets of senior English students to deal with and hybrid speech class of holdovers and newcomers. I like the freshness of two new classes – especially since this is the final semester for my seniors. It should be interesting.

Sure is starting out that way.

Two week one incidents at relatively opposite ends of the spectrum stand out to me in large part because I believe they both stem (at least in part) from a picture of my grandson.

Lucker_Opening_Day_Pp SLIDE 1On the first day of any new class I show a PowerPoint presentation that outlines my classroom policies and procedures; it also has some personal info about me, contact information and a few stray tidbits of stray oddities or bits of humor, just to keep my students attention.

This year’s version features a couple of pictures of my grandson Felix, who turned two in November. The first shot is on the first slide: a close up of Felix waving WITH HIS LEFT HAND and the title WELCOME TO MR.LUCKER’S CLASS!

Felix makes it all seem quite inviting.

There are a couple of other Felix shots scattered through the twenty-one slide blockbuster, including a simply gratuitous slide labeled ‘OOOH – ANOTHER PICTURE OF MY GRANDSON!’ Not that I am showing any grandfatherly overkill here, but I also used the ‘welcoming wave’ shot as the desktop wallpaper on my laptop; OOH ANOTHER PICTUREwhenever I am hooked up to my Promethean board (all the time during the school day) and I have nothing else feeding, there is Felix waving at everyone.

The reaction to the PowerPoint was predictable: ‘awws’ and ‘ohhhh, what a cute baby’ predominate, along with the also predictable, “Mr. Lucker, that your baby?” Which then prompts the brief, personal background segment of our introduction, teacher-to-new class.

One young woman was not so charitably inclined toward my little presentation.

Upon running through my list of family notables, I simply note that I have three kids, “ages twenty-nine, eighteen and almost fifteen” which prompted a rather forceful “Why there so much time between them?” from the girl. A bit taken aback, I replied that my daughter is from my first marriage, the boy from my second.

“You should have stopped.” Her tone showed annoyance.

“Ummm…”

“You shouldn’t have done that. You should have stopped after the first one.”

“Okay…” Even some of the other kids were looking at her in bewilderment. I had obviously struck some visceral chord in the young woman, but I just kept on with the presentation, answering the mostly innocuous questions the kids had about me, asking some of my own about them.

The girl remained silent the rest of the class.

As for the other females, a number of them were quite animated upon leaving at the end of the period; two informed me point-blank (and with some pride) that they had babies, another mentioned her baby sister, a couple of more added random comments about liking babies, and wanting one of their own…someday.

That was all on Monday.

On hall duty outside of my classroom on Thursday, one of my new students approached me, smiled and directly but politely asked, “Mr. Lucker, do you have one of those little refrigerators, like a dorm-room size one?”

“No I’m sorry, I don’t.”Some more things about me

“Oh. Do you know of any teachers up here on this floor that do?”

“I’m not sure, but I’ll ask around. You need it to keep your breast milk in?” (I knew she had been using restroom breaks to pump.)

“Yeah, it only keeps for an hour or so at room temperature, so I am looking for a place to keep it til I go home.”

“Let me ask around a bit. I’ll see what I can find out.”

“Thanks, Mr. Lucker.”

We put this one directly into the ever-bulging ‘conversations-I-never-dreamed-I’d-have-until-I-have-them’ file.

DesktopwithFelixpicShe has refrigerator options in another building across our rather expansive campus, but we are working on getting something squared away in our building to save some time and minimize being out of class. She is genial and greets me warmly every day, a do a number of the other young women in the class. The other group of seniors I have is pretty much the same, though without the extremes in reaction – though one young woman in that class told me she had a baby, and another has mentioned her baby in conversation about other, un-child related topics.

I attribute my new semester’s surprisingly open and free-flowing dialogue with my female students to those pictures of Felix, and I figure I have maybe another year or two of classroom mileage out of his cherubic countenance and bonding with my teen moms and assorted others.

A picture is worth a thousand words – or, sometimes, just a few well placed, well-chosen ones.

Firsts and Foremosts

Quite an eventful week around the ol’ Lucker Hacienda.

The excitement began last Saturday evening with the arrival in New Orleans of grandson Felix, all the way from Minnesota – with his mom and dad in tow, of course. Saturday also happened to be the lad’s first birthday, though his arrival was more a gift for us as we hadn’t seen him (save our periodic Skype sessions) since last Christmas.

Suffice to say, he has grown up quite a bit.

Now an active, verbal-and-at-times-forcefully-so toddler, Master Felix has an engaging smile and personality – and energy to burn. After a two-day car jaunt, Felix was in pretty good spirits, but was a little apprehensive about these grandpa/grandma folks. But after a good night’s rest and a little more familiarity, he readily came to his grandpa – for short stints. By Sunday evening he was eagerly hanging with grandpa and/or grandma. Uncles Will and Sam, too.

On Monday, mom and dad headed out to do some sightseeing in the French Quarter, leaving Felix in our care. Utilizing a nifty all-terrain stroller borrowed from friends, we (Felix, me, Grandma Amy, Uncle Sam) took a two-mile walk, picking up Sadie from the groomers before heading back home.

This greatly pleased Felix, as he and Sadie had become best buds almost immediately upon his arrival. Seeing roughly eye-to-eye, Felix and Sadie made an immediate connection and decided that each was pretty cool. Sadie (a.k.a ‘The Big Floppy Dog’) is a very easy going, 61 pound-canine who loves attention. When that attentiveness comes from a one year old who likes to hug, tug and pat on her back with both hands – all the better, apparently.  Aside from the fact that Sadie is a licker who loves to go for the human face at every opportunity and that Felix attempts to reciprocate, the bonding of boy and dog has been a real joy. My favorite sight is when Sadie is

“Belly up to the Sadie bar, boys”.

just standing there, and Felix walks up and puts both his hands on Sadie’s back and they both just stand there. I call it Felix’s belly-up-to-the-(canine)-bar pose

The far less laid-back (energetic still at 10.5 years) Lucy the rat terrier has also been the beneficiary of Felix’s affections, but she doesn’t sit still long enough to partake much – though she does show her jealous side when Sadie is getting allllll the attention. No matter Lucy’s flightiness, the ‘Big Fwoppy Dog’ follows and flops with Felix on an ongoing basis.

It’s not just fun time for Felix here in New Orleans.

When announcing plans for their Thanksgiving/birthday jaunt to see us some months ago, I pseudo-sternly informed daughter Lindsay, “Now if you think you guys can just blow into town, leave Felix with us and go off gallivanting around New Orleans on your own…you’re absolutely correct”!

And they have done some of that from time to time (a shopping trip here, a lunch date there) but not without some slight separation anxiety which has been easily overcome by responding to mom-texts with a curt ‘O.K.’ or ‘We’re fine’.

Hey, this may be our first grandchild, but this aint our first rodeo, as they say.

A few weeks before Felix and family were set to arrive some friends of ours who have a ‘weekend getaway’ condo (‘Condeaux’ in the local vernacular) in the French Quarter graciously offered it to us for them to use for a night or two during their stay. The place is small but incredibly charming (think antiquated, 150-plus year old building with old brick and adobe, gaslights in a courtyard charm and then quadruple it) and apparently the old slave quarters of the original home, but is now a fine mix of old world magic and modern amenities.

I informed Lindsay of our friend’s gracious offer a week before their trip, and she was excited for the opportunity, duly noting that it would be their first full night away from Felix, and hoping/warning that we were/should be ready for whatever that might bring.

We got this.

Their stay was set for Tuesday night, and we would drop them off and get them settled so as not to have to worry about parking or other logistical issues. A nice deal for all concerned…but there was a twist to the plan.

On Sunday Brad accompanied me as I drove to pick up the borrowed stroller, and the conversation quickly took a uniquely curious turn, as Brad informed me he was going to propose to Lindsay, and asked for my quasi ‘approval’, which was immediately and gladly given. He then went on to tell me how this had been in the offing for a while, and that hearing Lindsay tell of the condo-in-the-Quarter opportunity just made the plans all come together.

Serendipitous, it was.

So the simple evening get away turned into something much more (successfully, I might add; she did say ‘yes’) for all concerned. A memorable and romantic evening in the Quarter for Lindsay and Brad, a fun and mostly uneventful night for Felix alone with grandpa and grandma. A visit to see the Christmas lights on nearby Harrison Avenue followed by a trip to Creole Creamery for some yummy small-batch ice cream: caramel apple pie for Felix and I and grandma’s red velvet cake that he also got to partake.

To our friends the Petersons, as they say in the theatre, “Thanks for the use of the hall”.

An interesting sidebar: when going to pick up Lindsay and Brad at the condeaux  I had to park around the corner. While walking to their door, I noticed one of New Orleans ubiquitous bronze plaque historical markers (the city is older than the country, remember) on a neighboring building. Stopping to read it as I usually do, I found that the home there was owned by Tennessee Williams. As Lindsay and Brad are both theatre buffs, and as Lindsay once played Stella in a production of Streetcar Named Desire, the discovery added a nice finishing touch to the whole affair.

More than serendipitous, I think.

This has been a week of a lot of firsts with Felix: first stroller walk, first Christmas lights, first ice cream, first overnight stay with grandpa and grandma. We have also had quiet just-Felix-and-grandpa time early morning; have a little breakfast, drink some coffee, cruise the Internet. Just us. Felix also got his first Tonka truck this week – the big dump truck. A little overkill, I’ll admit…but a boy’s first Tonka truck should be a good one. A big one. From grandpa and grandma.

And much to my great enjoyment we shared grandpa’s traditional Thanksgiving morning breakfast: coffee (milk for Felix) and a steaming bowl of freshly made sausage turkey stuffing (don’t worry – there is plenty left to cram in the bird). I’m sure there are more firsts to come as his week here winds down.

So now here we are about to celebrate Thanksgiving, and it’s Will’s seventeenth birthday, to boot. And Will provided us with a milestone of the non-Felix variety yesterday when he drove the family to Winn-Dixie for our pre-Thanksgiving shopping trip, his first trip as a permitted driver. Seventeen Thanksgivings ago we were hospital bound with the month-premature Willi Newman Lucker; now a goatee-clad driver of the family grocery-getter.

Plenty of thankfulness to go around.

For family. For Will, for Sam, for Felix, Lindsay and Brad. For my wife Amy. For friends and family. For mom, who celebrated ten years of being cancer-free this year. For difficult but gratifying employment. For good friends. I could go on.

In the Lucker household, the day has little to do with football or ‘black Friday’ sale plans. Except that maybe Felix and I can do some of our first football watching. After he gets a crack at his first turkey drumstick, after we find his first wishbone…

Thankfulness in abundance.

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.

“Yes, we have no bananas”. But we do have the trees.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HygopC4S5W0    I am always on the lookout for good deals, and while driving around New Orleans one early August Sunday, I spied a potted palm tree sitting on a curb with a sign that said ‘Free Banana Palm.’

Deals don’t get much better than that.

A palm tree to decorate for Christmas is something my wife had an expressed an interest in, but while they are in plentiful supply in these parts, they are rather pricey. (O.K: in the interest of full disclosure, since moving here, she has wanted an inflatable palm tree to put Christmas lights on. But for me, why go plastic when you get the real thing?) I had been periodically hunting for a palm, but the ones I had located for free on Craigslist were in the 15-20 foot tall range and were free “if you remove it”. As I am more lumberjack than catch-and-release arborist, this was an option I had passed on numerous times.

Free, in a large pot, was right up my alley. Well, somebody else’s street, actually.

As I couldn’t get the thing into my van solo, I returned home, put our trailer-hitch platform on the van, and recruited my sons, aged 13 and 16 to help capture the beast in the wild and return it home for transplanting in our front yard.

Let’s just say, at first glance the boys were…dubious. Said thirteen year old Sam, “And we want this thing because…?”

But after some rather, uhh, creative, sweat-inducing tree wrangling, we got the vaunted (and heavy) potted banana palm home. Actually, it turned out to be four banana palms; the big one in the center of the pot, and three smaller sprouts in varying stages of growth. This was an even better deal! Four for the price of free, save a little sweat equity. Added bonus: some other funky, sub-tropical flowers had also taken root in the pot. Sweet!

Once home, my wife shared the doubtful look her sons had donned just a few minutes before upon meeting the tree(s). Nonetheless, within a couple of days I had the big palm from the center of the pot transplanted on the boulevard in front of our house, and was then immediately confronted by family members all asking the same question: “Why’d you plant THAT one?”

Though the largest, most mature of the four, the one I chose to transplant looks a little worse for wear. As sixteen year old Will said, “Its dead. Or about dead.” I didn’t think it that critical, as there were some new, small green shoots poking out of it. I likened it to the Christmas tree Charlie Brown and Linus bring back to the Peanuts gang in ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ – it just needed a little T.L.C. ala Linus and his blanket.

Unconvinced looks were again shared by wife and progeny.

One key reason I planted that particular tree (besides its being the tallest) was that I thought it had the potential to rebound nicely out of the pot and actually in the ground. Plus, I planted it to fill up a hole where an old tree trunk had been decaying and sinking since Katrina took out the original tree itself. Knowing that even dead trees can have extensive root structures that can regenerate, I figured the banana palm would take root and (hopefully) thrive. Transplanting it was quick and simple, except… required being staked down just to keep it upright. I began to see that my family’s skepticism may have been justified.

Over the last month or so, we have watched that scrawny little banana palm do pretty much nothing but survive.

I trimmed off the dead and broken leaves, and the one primary leaf (yeah, singular leaf) that remained perked up a bit, but that was about it. The new little green sprouts stayed that way; new and little. But like with Charlie Brown and Linus, the little tree seemed to be growing on my own FamilyPeanuts. Jokes about its appearance were made on a fairly regular basis by sons and wife, though they were interspersed with grudging admiration for the banana palm’s tenacity. So I decided to just call it CBT (Charlie Brown tree).

Then, last week came hurricane Isaac, and a three-day evacuation for all six of us (including both dogs). Upon our return to our New Orleans neighborhood, we saw plenty of storm damage, including some very large trees that were ripped from the ground and thrown about just blocks from our house. This increased our anxiety about our home, as we had no idea what to expect. With trepidation and collective breath held, we turned onto our block…

…and there was our little banana palm, still standing, in front of our undamaged house.

Much to the amazement of Will, who’s incredulity only increased as we saw the toppled fifty-foot pine across the street that fell into our neighbors yard, “How could that stupid little thing stay standing through a hurricane?!”

How indeed, with no blue blanket wrapped around its base.

I quickly explained the whole small object/wind resistance thing using the mast of a ship analogy: with the sails down, there is little for the wind to catch, but with the sails unfurled, the wind has plenty to get hold of. (He is taking physics this semester, so he got it – at least on a scientific level.) But Will was even more shocked at the survival of CBT when he noticed the pounding our neighbor’s elephant ears plant and our whatever-it-is-I-got-from-Leslie-and-Ina’s-yard plants took.  Coleslaw on stems, basically, was what those plants were – just a few feet away . But our CBT was still hanging tough. Will just shook his head.

Now that we have been back a few days, have cleaned up the sticks and other stray debris, and since my school is still closed a few more days, I thought it would be a good time to finally swap out CBT for the more hearty of the other three still in the pot.

But CBT seems to have other ideas. The dang thing has taken root.

A tree that two weeks ago needed bracing appears to have hunkered down against Isaac and settled in for the long haul. It does not want to budge. This morning I removed the rope tethers, and it stayed standing upright. I grabbed hold of CBT and shook it; it barely wiggled. I shook it more vigorously; it stood there, defiantly.

Upon further inspection, I noticed that there is some fresh green down toward the bottom, some bark is growing back, and the leaf (yeah, still just one leaf) shredded by Isaac has started to regenerate nicely. I think CBT is gonna be A-O-K.

That still left me with another banana palm that was showing some signs of vigor now that his pot had more room, so I figured we can get him going in his own little plot of real estate and see what happens. As of today, our second little banana palm (as yet unnamed) has been transplanted a little further on down the boulevard from CBT. The new model stands at 45 inches tall as of today, but I’m willing to bet most anyone a burger at Bud’s Broiler that a month from now, on October sixth, that newly relocated banana palm will stand 55 inches tall, same height as me.

Provided we don’t get any more hurricanes.

By December, I am hoping that one of our two palm trees is hearty enough to help fulfill my goal of giving my wife a real, decorated New Orleans Christmas palm tree. So, with apologies to Joyce Kilmer:

I think my wife will have no qualm
stringing lights on her new banana palm

Below(L to R)  What my wife initially wanted to hang Christmas lights on, what we are trying to achieve, what we hope to avoid.

x

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.

Blind sided

The other night, son Will, the high-school-junior-to-be, was assisting me with a handyman project. We had to hang two new blinds in our living room windows, after removing the hardware for the old, broken ones. Those with engineering degrees need not apply.

We got this.

One of the blind brackets needed to go in the inside far right corner of the window box, which was problematic because it caused me to use my cordless drill with my left hand, and I am not left-handed, (though Will is. Next time, he gets up on the barstool!) Add in the fact that I had to get the elongated screwdriver drill bit up through a hole in the bottom of the bracket, and it was a hassle, and I was having little success.

So I did what I usually do in such situations, which is to devise a plan ‘B’ on the fly.

In this case, that meant a (seemingly) convoluted maneuver of using a regular screw driver and a dry wall screw to start an extra pilot hole to hold the bracket in place for a moment, then holding it in place with a regular screwdriver. Add in the fact that I was doing this while standing on a bar stool and not a step-ladder, using a sectional couch for occasional balancing purposes…

I glanced back and down at Will and saw his quizzical look as I asked him to hold the drill for a moment. Hence, as I turned back to futz with the new blind bracket,the following conversation.

“Yeah, this little set up probably has my junior high shop teacher rolling over in his grave.”

“You said that about him last fall when we were working on my I.R.P. project.“

“Well, he probably still is.”

“I hope he’s had a chance to stop spinning for a while, get a break.” replied number-one-son, quite dryly.

“Yeah, well, one can hope. Hand me the drill.”

Mr. Clark was my junior high shop teacher, circa 1975; a stereotypical former Marine with a barrel chest and buzz cut and an ‘inside voice’ that could overpower a running band saw. He usually carried a slim, steel ruler with which he was known to whack perceived miscreants on the rear end with – but never while a piece of equipment was running. Safety first, dontchaknow.

As you might presume, Mr. Clark was also a stickler for details and doing things the ‘right’ way. I am quite certain using a barstool instead of a step-ladder would not have been okey-dokey protocol with him. I figure I’ve spun Mr. Clark around enough the past couple of decades that he has permanently scared away all the local moles.

“So do you think he is still spinning, or spinning again?” asked Will, ever-so-chipper, as I exchanged the drill for the second bracket to position, scooting to my left, pivoting on the barstool, and balancing one foot on the back of the other sectional couch.

“I think I have given Mr. Clark enough opportunities that by now he has bored his way out of his grave and is probably encroaching on the neighboring plot. Buzz cut acts like a drill bit.”

“Think he’ll get much farther?” Will said dryly, his implication perfectly clear.

“I think if I tackle too many more projects like this he’ll move far enough that either G_d or the Devil figures he’s making a break for it,”

“Nice, dad. Really nice.” Will deadpanned with cocked eyebrow as he passed me the drill.

Okay, that may have been a little excessive, even by my standards. I suppose before I go making pronouncements such as this I should clarify one thing above all others.

Is Mr. Clark even dead?

‘Chicken is chicken. Parts is parts.’

A friend recently posted a note on Facebook concerning her young sons voracious appetites, bemoaning the fact that her first-grader could “apparently eat a whole rotisserie chicken by himself!’”

Ahh, rotisserie chicken.

At one time or another, we’ve all had the need for a quick meal. If you are really in a rush, you can go the convenient but less than healthy fast-food route, or you hit the grocery store deli area for something already prepared and ready for you to just grab and bring home. One of the more popular grocery store grab-and-go’s are those golden brown, rotating slowly on the spit chickens.

As they are known in our house, ‘Barbarian Chickens.’

When our now sixteen year old son Will was seven, we picked up a rotisserie chicken for dinner one night. While setting the table, washing hands, etcetera, we put it in the center of the table, and Will stared at it quizzically, sitting there in its black plastic container with the clear top. He knew what it was, but he was used to having his chicken served on a plate, cut up, so was a bit puzzled. His younger brother Sam was non-plussed awaiting whatever was put on his plate.

We opened the steaming carton, cut the chicken up and served it without incident that night; Will ate it without any vehemence whatsoever that night, nor any of the others that we opted for a deli bird.

One chicken night changed that.

Will and Sam had been at daycare, where they had seen a movie in which a character goes glutton and messily gorges himself on a large turkey leg. Having also previously seen a commercial for the Minnesota Renaissance Festival in which a corpulent king poses with a large drumstick, Will politely (and ironically) asked if, the next time we had rotisserie chicken, he could eat it ‘like a barbarian’ – ripping the drumsticks off with his bare hands before chowing down.

Seemed like a one-and-done deal to me,so, why not?

A few nights later, we brought home both the boys and a golden brown, hot and juicy chicken fresh off the grocery store Ferris wheel. There was a palpable excitement as we set the kitchen table, and once we sat down and said grace. Will asked if he could he could have at it, and we said yes.

We removed the clear lid of the chicken container, and Will dove in – grabbing the drumstick closest to him and yanking it. And then yanking it again. Fortunately, the bird was tender and easily separated from the bird’s thigh on that second yank. Will looked at it triumphantly for a moment, then dove in doing his best-as-could-be-expected-for-a-seven-year-old Henry VII impersonation, tearing (plucking?) meat from bone with a gleeful smile.

Thus was born, as it is known in this household to this day, ‘Barbarian Chicken.’

Fast-forward some seven, eight years and we were now living in New Orleans. To supplement my teaching income, I was working part-time as a cashier at an upscale neighborhood market that had a large deli department and a loyal following or their prepared foods – expecially rotisserie chickens. The store featured different seasoning combinations of the rotating fowl, and they were quite popular not just for dinner, but as the base for a good New Orleans staple – the stock for gumbo. It wasn;t uncommon for customers to buy five or six chickens at a time.

One night one of our regular customers came in and we were chatting as I scanned her three birds, making a comment that she usually only purchased two. The woman shook her head and told me that they were all destined for gumbo prep, as her kids ‘didn’t like the chicken anymore’ which she attributed to a ‘pickiness phase’ by her three kids, ages eight-to-eleven and lamenting the kids disinterest, as she and her husband both liked the chicken.

“My boys love it when I bring home Barbarian Chicken.” I remarked casually.

“What did you call it?” the woman replied with a laugh as I bagged her fresh asparagus and kale.

Explaining the story to her, she nodded and I could see the light-bulb clicking on. She paid for her groceries, then asked if she could leave her cart behind my register briefly. A few minutes later returning with three more chickens purchased at the deli.

“I’ll let you know how it goes” she said enthusiastically as she headed out the door.

A few nights later she there she was in my line with another load of groceries, sans chicken this time. She said she was glad I was working because she wanted to tell me when I told her  my story about ‘Barbarian Chicken’ she knew she could get her kids into the concept with exactly that sales pitch, and that it had worked like a charm. Her husband found the dinner-table Phillistine angle odd but effective, as their once bored-with-rotisserie chicken-boys chowed down with gusto on the re-branded ‘Barbarian Chicken.’

And they weren’t the only ones.

In my time at the store, I frequently recommended our rotating birds to many a stumped-on-what-to-fix-for-dinner mom, along with the Lucker-family label for the treat. It wasn’t long before store customers were coming up to my register with multiple roasted fowl and reminding me that it was “Barbarian chicken night at our house.”

I wonder if Bananas Foster got started this way?

I no longer work at the market, and the whole gluttonous role play thing is only a memory. Will is now sixteen, Sam thirteen, and on the rare occasions we have barbarian chicken, both boys handle it in a refined manner more reminiscent of Henry Gibson than Henry VII – though they still refer to it by its more romantic moniker.

That’s just how we roll. How the chickens roll.

Or at least, how they rotate.

Signs of the times

Oh, sign, sign everywhere a sign
Blocking up the scenery, breaking my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign
Five Man Electrical Band, 1965

Oh meme, meme, everywhere a meme
clogging up my Facebook, beating on my mind
animals, politics, cutesy kids clogging up the scene
everything’s a statement, everything’s a meme
Me, 2012

Memes. We all get them, many of us have made them. Facebook, emailed, texted them. Memes are everywhere; cute, political, sarcastic. Pictures with a message, many that ‘go viral’ in our Internet age and end up coming to you from half a dozen different folks in far-flung corners of the world. Or Detroit.

I am not putting any memes in this posting. In the spirit of D.I.Y. and not being an enabler, I am offering you the raw materials to make your own meme(s). The supplied pictures are all from my phone, having been snapped, filed away, and rediscovered as I was trying to download new pictures on my phone and was accosted by the ‘Memory Full – Delete Some Items’ warning from my dumbphone.

Dive in, have some fun. See what you can come up with.

One more thing: Realizing that just the pictures might not be enough for some of you, there are also some random comments included – meme prompts, off sorts. They are not etched in stone. As food packages frequently read, ‘SERVING SUGGESTION’

Speaking of food…

I encountered this ‘Express Lane’ signage array in a Missouri grocery store last winter. Really befuddling for those with grocery-cart-approximation issues or general math anxiety, sweaty palms territory for the OCD crowd.  The outright indecision (1 -15, ‘About 20′) is definitively Midwestern.

This store does give you multiple options for ticking off the people in line behind you. Always nice to have choices.

My wife (who found this one and sent it to me) knows that the whole canned food/can food issue continues to bedevil me; in the Midwest, where I grew up, it is ‘Canned Food’ – presumably because it is canned. Or jarred, which is still referred to as ‘canning.’  In New Orleans, it is ‘Can Food’ – because, so I have been told, ‘Because it is food in a can.’ Admittedly not as compelling as the ‘pop’ versus ‘soda’ vernacular debate, but curious nonetheless. At this particular New Orleans grocery, the indecision is palpable.

Or not.

This sign is really indicative of nothing; it’s just the street I live on and I enjoy being able to tell people that (or in this case, write it) using a French dialect: “I leeeve on LOUeee zeee four-teeeze Street!”

I found this one last spring in a Mississippi gift shop. Nice reminder, as long as your kids aren’t yet old enough to read. I would take this particular warning to heart; the proprietor of the shop had a certain, ominous Deliverance quality to her.

And they serve the espresso there in Mason Jars…straight up. Buyer (or parent-shopper) beware.

This New Orleans billboard conjures up all sorts of interesting interpretations: costumed ushers, Kool-Aid and graham cracker communion, aw-shucks-and-brimstone sermons…

“I luv YEW….yew love MEEEE…” with Barney the Choir Director.

This is just a cool sign you will see all over New Orleans – phrase copyrighted by the artist, Dr. Bob. They are ubiquitous in public locales and in very high demand. Just a very cool sentiment.

‘Be nice or leave.’ 

I saw this one a few years ago at a campground in southern Mississippi and it made me laugh simply because of the placement of two seemingly unrelated signs. Then again, in whatever context you might read them, its decent advice.  I mean, you get a couple of shots of schnapps into your typical gator, and..

As my old friend Mark Preston put it, ‘Hey – “Gators Gone Wild.”

Conversely if you have a few, and you see a cute gator…just don’t.

F.Y.I.  – Do not ask local game wardens for clarification on the topic, “But what if the gator comes right up here to your tent?”

Finally, this bumper sticker. And if you have read this blog more than once, now you truly do!