Monday, April 30, 2007

Friday, April 27, 2007

Happy Disjointed-Ruminations-About-Dirt Friday

I've spent a lot of time digging dirt recently. Digging dirt gives a fellow time to think, and this is what I've been thinking.

Digging in the front yard of our old house in this old city is a very different experience from digging back on the farm. This is not pure, clean soil. Each turn of the shovel reveals a dozen bits of urban detritus, nothing of dazzling historical significance, just random bric a brac from the last hundred years of human occupancy. Certainly the recent flood and construction have added their own thick top-layer of debris, but much of it is older—chunks of brick, an old can, rusted pipes that go to nowhere, a styrofoam cup, bits of seashell (from the old roadbed?), a pair of rubber gloves. The dirt itself is thick and almost black, a mix of silt carried from far corners of the country by the Mississippi, finally settling here as the river pushed it's way out into open waters, and rich organic funk from the back-of-town swamp that used to cover this ground.

I've seen New Orleans from the air countless times. But when we travelled to Miami a few weeks ago, we flew southeast, loosely tracing the course of the river down towards the Gulf. It was a clear afternoon, and as we climbed higher I could eventually see a tremendous swath of land: from the swamps west of Kenner to the swamps of New Orleans East, Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Borgne, the narrow settlements of St. Bernard, and the tapering wisps of wetlands that eventually blurred indeterminately into the ocean.

We're marked as green on the map, and the ground feels solid enough when I dig my shovel into it, but this is something close to an illusion. Our bent houses and cratered streets reveal the earth's slow undulations. My grandfather described seeing the foundations of a new building being laid. The out-of-town engineers, used to the slow and steady work of pile drivers in other upland locales, were dismayed by the pilings sinking unimpeded into our soft soil.

We've staked our claim on this spot, sunk our pilings, built our levees and drainage systems and our highways that can whisk us off to terra firma in less than an hour, brought in our stuff, our cans and bricks and pipes. But it's still a geological limbo—not water, but not exactly land either—certainly not the mainland. We are, at the best of times, only half here. That somehow seems appropriate.

Happy Disjointed-Ruminations-About-Dirt Friday.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Happy Disjointed-Ruminations-About-the-English-Language Thursday

I like the phrase:
"easy as kiss my hand"
I like it because it's such a weird thing to say, and yet—with its odd little bit of imagery (is there a back story?)—it manages to get the idea rather nicely.

And the other day a co-worker was having difficulty with some task. He declared that he was:
"catching the blues trying to…"
I like that one too. I think I'll add it to my cherished little gunnysack of prized linguistic trinkets.

What phrases are you liking these days?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

What I'm Drinking: Mint Juleps

The series staggers on…

I like Mint Juleps a lot—any drink that involves bourbon and leaves is okay by me*—but, because of the legwork involved, they haven't always maintained frequent rotation in our cocktail repertoire. Now, though, the stars have aligned, and all that's changed.

Certainly, the bourbon has never been a problem. We always have a bottle (or two) sitting on the shelf, more than happy to be consumed. And there's always a bottle of simple syrup in the 'fridge.

But crushed ice requires some effort. Don't get me wrong, I'll do what it takes. I'll crank the handle of any persnickety old machine you send my way. I'll wrap the ice in a towel and smack it with a mallet. But our lovely new refrigerator (replacing the equally new but sadly burgled one) miraculously dispenses the stuff with the mere push of a lever. Now, acquiring crushed ice requires no more effort than walking across the kitchen.

And fresh mint always required forethought, remembering to pick some up from the store. This fact above all others relegated the Mint Julep to the status of a special occasion drink. But now, swept in with the frenzied wave of gardening that has engulfed our home, a large and lovely mint plant resides outside our kitchen door. (In a pot. I'm not inclined to eat anything grown in this flood-soaked soil.) So I have as much mint as I need anytime I want.

Now the Mint Julep is in heavy rotation. And it's all quite simple:
  1. Finely tear a good clump of mint into the bottom of a rocks glass.
  2. Add a modest splash (1 TBS) of simple syrup.
  3. "Muddle" the mint and simple syrup. (Mash them together with the back side of a spoon.)
  4. Fill to the rim with crushed ice.
  5. Add a healthy pour of bourbon.
  6. Mix it all together.
  7. Garnish with a sprig of mint.
  8. Drink it in the thickening heat of late spring, pondering the strange majesty of life.

* I'm sure one could construct a counter-example that would prove me wrong, but let's not get sidetracked.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Odd Jobs

For no particular reason, I was trying to recall all the various forms of employment I've held over the years. This is what I've come up with:
  1. Farm hand (I don't know if this technically qualifies as a job since it was for my parents when I was growing up and I didn't actually get paid. But I did receive room and board, and you can't tell me it wasn't work.)
  2. Dish washer
  3. Lab assistant
  4. Sandwich "artist"
  5. Carpenter's assistant
  6. Pizza cook
  7. Docent (a.k.a. tour guide)
  8. Wine store clerk
  9. Temp (for a variety of NYC employers: currency trading, insurance, publishers, record companies, cosmetics, aging retail dinosaurs, etc.)
  10. Fair housing spy
  11. Waiter
  12. Bartender
  13. Web site designer
  14. University instructor
  15. Computer geek
It's a reasonably eclectic list (though I know some folks whose résumés would dwarf mine in both breadth and oddness). The early years were heavy on the food service; the later years tend towards the bits and bytes. "Fair housing spy" probably rates highest on weird-o-meter.

What's the weirdest job you ever worked?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Few Other Things

Today, after going to the playground, Louise declared, "Once I learn to do the monkey bars, there are only a few other things I need to learn." She then enumerated:
  • How to drive a car
  • What the inside of bark looks like
  • How to build a house
  • What space looks like
I never knew it was so simple.

Friday, April 20, 2007

New Orleans Journal

Have you all been reading the New Orleans Journal by Dan Baum on the New Yorker website? He reported on the city in the storm's aftermath and is back again living here for several months working on a book. The journal is a more or less daily record of his stay. It's excellent.

I've grown wary of outside reporters who, when they come to our city, often bring a suitcase full of clichés and pat oversimplifications. But Dan brings genuine interest and intense curiosity, and he's digging his way into all sorts of remote corners and finding all sorts of interesting people and odd tidbits. (Raccoon meat cooked in seafood boil? It's news to me.)

He gets it, the bad and the good—all the dysfunction and very real problems but also the unique draw of this place, the thousands of little moments and details that make so many of us so fanatically devoted to it. Seeing our city through his wide open eyes is a true pleasure.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Leshers Krofish Boel

Louise's reinterpretation of the Crawfish Boil sign: two big crawfish in chef hats and aprons cooking up a bunch of little crawfish. I love it.

Do you like having a good time while simultaneously supporting quality public education? Well then, Saturday should be a bang-up day for you because it's the Lusher Crawfish Boil (Fortier Campus, Nashville and Freret, 11am–5pm) with a cornucopia of music and activities for folks large and small, and all proceeds go to my darling little kindergartner's darling school.

Oh, and the Bruisers play at four o'clock.* (Well, they say four o'clock but last time they said ten and we went on at one, so let's just call it late afternoon.)

Hope to see you there. Giddyup.

* Two Bruiser's gigs in a week? What the hell is going on?
Peggy, Jason, Mary
Peggy, Jason, Mary

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The State of the Neighborhood

We stepped out of our house yesterday. Sarah turned to me, "Did something die?" It was our neighbor's refrigerator, finally—the better part of two years later—hauled out to the curb. Eesh.

But I'm not actually complaining. I'll gladly huff that 'fridge stank as we water our earnest little plants, because their hauling that thing out means they're actually doing something with that house which is better than the fate I had feared for it—a festering, moldy death.

There's a slow but steady influx of life back into the neighborhood. It's a patchwork. Our block is continuing its gradual ascent. The block over is once again packed with life. As I walk Penny by, kids once again ask me, "Does he bite?"—like before the storm. The block beyond that is quiet, one lone occupied house in a row of boarded up derelicts.

But in total, it gives me cause for quiet optimism. This is not a wealthy neighborhood, but people are finding ways home. And it's ongoing. Every week, new trash piles appear in front of newly gutted houses that I had long ago given up for lost, taking the first step in the long process of rebuilding.

It's going to take years, but if there's one thing this ordeal has taught us, it's patience.

A Hoot Was Had

Oh lord, we had fun.* Thanks to everyone who came. Giddyup.

* And, as a special treat, Cousin Peggy did make it back from Memphis and was A-1.

Monday, April 16, 2007

...Or Be Square

Tomorrow (Tuesday) night, for the first time since our lengthy and vaguely storm-related hiatus, the Bruiser Family Music Hour is returning to its musical home away from home, our cozy little living room of honky-tonking glee, the charming and ever-funky Circle Bar.*

It's a "Happy Hour" show which, by the Circle Bar's tardily skewed timetable, apparently works out to us starting at something like eight o'clock. Then stick around for the fine country stylings of Miss Kitty Lynn.

We plan to have a hoot and hope you'll join us. Giddyup.

* And, as a special treat, Cousin Peggy will be joining us on drums
(if she makes it back from Memphis in time).

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Genuine Knock Knock Jokes As Told By Genuine Children

"Knock knock."
"Who's there?"
"Orange who?"
"Knock knock."
"Who's there?"
"Orange who?"
"Knock knock."
"Who's there?"
"Banana who?"
Knock jokes are kind of weird; it takes kids a while to get a handle on them. Maybe we could work up a sort of Piagetian developmental humor model enumerating key milestones of comedic sophistication:
Stage One – Fart Sounds
Stage Two – Nonsensical Knock Knock Jokes
Stage Three – Sensical Knock Knock Jokes
Stage Four – Scathing Sarcasm
Or something like that—it's a work in progress.

* This is when I knew we were in trouble.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Home Again, Home Again...

...jiggety jog. It's nice going away. It's nice coming back.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

By the Rhythm I Have Been Gotten

In no particularly rigid order:
  • My joke was a little too real. Our room faced (obliquely, but still...) on to Ocean Drive, the main drag for all things South Beach. At night, it was a muy caliente blend of thumping bass from cruising cars, overlapping waves of manic disco, and one remarkably loud karaoke bar.
  • I, in my younger years, lived a largely land-locked life but later learned that I love the beach. (Louise has inherited this love.) Every moment I spent sprawled on the sand or drifting in the ocean, I felt something close to perfect contentment. Except I wish it had been seven degrees warmer.
  • People dress crazy in South Beach. Frequently crazy bad.
  • The Easter Bunny found us in Miami.
  • June, normally a very good traveller, had a five-alarm meltdown on the flight home that required us to physically restrain her and ended with her sprawled in the middle of the aisle sobbing while the other passengers stood around her, waiting to de-plane.
  • We made it home in time for our cousins' Easter crawfish boil. (The Easter Bunny found us there too. The Easter Bunny is either very generous or very confused.)
  • We turn around tomorrow and head out to yet another beach (this time much closer to home). I'd explain but it's kind of complicated and not really all that important and I'm amazingly tired. Good night.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

O Eh O Eh O Eh O Eh, O Eh Oo Aah O Eh Oo Aah

It's that time again. We're off for our annual trek to South Beach. The bags are packed (I'm travelling light—just rollerblades and a pair of hot pants), the Coppertone is slathered (I like to grease myself up before getting on the plane so I can really start rocking the tan the moment the wheels touch tarmac), and my taste buds are tingling with anticipation of the first café Cubano (no joke this time—it's just good).

I like Miami. The only problem I foresee is that at night, when you turn off all the lights, there's no place that you can hide. Oh no, the rhythm is gonna getcha. In bed, throw the covers on your head You pretend like you are dead, but I know it. The rhythm is gonna getcha… rhythm is gonna getcha… rhythm is gonna getcha… rhythm is gonna get you. The rhythm is gonna get you tonight. No way, you can fight it every day, but no matter what you say you know it.The rhythm is gonna getcha. No clue, of what's happening to you, and before this night is through, ooh baby, the rhythm is gonna getcha… rhythm is gonna getcha… rhythm is gonna getcha… rhythm is gonna get you. The rhythm is gonna get you tonight. O eh, o eh, o eh, o eh. O eh, oo aah, o eh, oo aah. O eh, o eh, o eh, o eh. O eh, oo aah, o eh, oo aah. O eh, o eh. Yah yeh goh. Yah yeh goh. Yah yeh goh

So that is a bit of an issue, but I think we'll still manage to have a nice time. Adios y vaya con dios, mis amigos.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Mock Me, Amadeus

There are at least several reason why I'm happy to be married to Sarah, but foremost among them is her brutal candor.

A while back I started to develop a new laugh—no mere snort or mild chortle but a shrill, Amadeus-style "ah ha ha". Had it gone unchecked, this nascent twitter would have blossomed into a full-blown, head-turning squeal, and I would have become "that guy with the laugh". People would talk behind my back: "Oh yeah, I know him. What's up with that?" They would stop inviting me to parties. I would probably lose my job, my home. I'd turn to the bottle and live out my days in some foul gutter, lamenting the cruel fate that befell me (girlishly giggling with bitter mirth).

But Sarah intervened and, with the harsh honesty of love, told it to me straight: "You cannot laugh like that." She was right.

It wasn't easy at first. There were missteps and relapses as I battled the affliction. But in time I made progress, and now, I think I can confidently say, I'm better.

Thank you, Sarah. I owe everything to you.

Bust a Move

I think I need a signature move. Pumping my hands in the air, palms up, while saying "Oh, yeah"? Mmm, it's been done. Maybe a hop, cross the feet, spin, split, snap, and point with both index fingers six-gun style? No, I can't do splits. Perhaps a wink, side-of-the-mouth grin, and a sideways swing of the fist in front of me—like the Lollipop Guild in the Wizard of Oz?

I'm at a loss...

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Wokka Wokka Wokka

Louise also seems to have a fondness for the autologocoinitry. Her recent coinisms include:
a nickname for June and reference to June's propensity for creating trouble or, as we sometimes say, "stirring the pot". Another is:
which is, as best as I can figure, pure fabrication but roughly translates to "what the...?!"

"Wokka! What does Stir-pot have all over her face?"

Monday, April 02, 2007

Garden of Delights

I believe I will me made whole when I once again fully embrace all the hobbies I practiced as a twelve-year-old. My latest rediscovery is gardening.

Childhood forays into the pastime included the construction of a "Japanese" garden in the middle of a pasture, replete with stone steps, a bamboo patch, and rock outcroppings. (The sheep eventually ate the bamboo.) But—due to the complex whirring and clicking of some inner-clockwork I don't entirely understand—gardening fell by the wayside and suffered a two-decade-plus period of neglect. (Drawing, cooking, and geekery all experienced similar dry spells.)

Now though—as part of our post-diluvian zeal for all things domestic—we have thrown ourselves headlong into the glorious world of flora. I spent the weekend trekking back and forth to nurseries, digging countless holes, mulching, watering, weeding, and pruning. (And I have the sore muscles and farmer's tan to prove it.) To the previously planted weeping willow, red-leaf plum, angel's trumpet, oleander, irises, and confederate jasmine we've added a bottle brush, two crepe myrtles, a bird of paradise, a variety of variegated grasses, and three types of bamboo. (I have something of a bamboo fetish.) And we're not done yet.*

I must say, I prefer it to the off-brown "flood and construction chic" we were previously sporting.

* One of the weirder aspects of this reconstruction has been the massive scale of everything we do. I thought this sort of wholesale blank-canvas domestic makeover was the exclusive domain of home-improvement TV shows and bored wives of the super-rich.