Thursday, October 28, 2010


My street smells like peaches

in the middle of the night

when I’m drunk

Or perhaps that’s just what I imagine

so tired of the scents of

crowded bars and cigarettes

and stuffy cabs on

humid nights so withering

that I forget it’s autumn and not

the middle of summer

as I stumble over darkened

root-fingers that want me to stay

and sit among the leaves

and scampering anoles

and tell tall tales about the night

I was accosted by the peach trees

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Everything I never wanted to know about leprosy…

…I learned from James Carville. Yes, THAT James Carville. Seriously.

Last weekend I attended the 24th annual Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, an extravaganza of wordiness and worldliness, featuring writers, publishers, performers, and literary experts from around the country.

I didn’t get to take advantage of everything the fest had to offer, but I did get to enjoy some fantastic events and meet some fantastic people.

On Thursday night I competed in the festival’s poetry slam, held at One Eyed Jack’s and hosted by New Orleans’ own Chuck Perkins. It was my first time competing in a slam, though I’ve been doing readings for years. My friend Becky showed up to show some support, and while I didn’t win, I didn’t really expect to. There were tons of fabulous poets there, including the slam poets; Chuck Perkins; and my friend and festival organizer, poetry goddess Lane Lane Miller.

On Friday, as a favor to Laura, I helped out at the festival’s information booth, directing fest-goers to events, restrooms, restaurants, ticket sales, etc., and checking in authors, panelist, and board members. While I had put the previous night’s slam out of my mind already, I was thrilled to have a least a half dozen people recognize me throughout the day as one of the competitors and congratulate me on my performance. Even though I well aware that there were many poets there who were better than I was and never really intended to win, being recognized repeatedly for doing a good job made my day.

Like other festival volunteers, I received a panel pass for the remaining days of the festival, which I took full advantage of. Saturday I began the day with “Conversation with James Carville,” which led right into “Kept In, Kept Out: The Haunting Secrets of Carville, Louisiana,” a panel that featured James Carville, Jose Ramirez Jr. (author of Squint: My Journey with Leprosy), Neil White (In the Sanctuary of Outcasts: A Memoir), and Marcia G. Gaudet (author of Carville: Remembering Leprosy in America).

While most people are accustomed to hearing James Carville speak as a world-renowned political consultant, listening to him recount his days as a young boy growing up in rural Louisiana was a refreshing and fascinating change.

Carville (which was renamed to its current name in 1909…the postmaster’s name was Carville) was the home of the national Hansen’s Disease Center, which operated for more than 100 years as a “leprosarium” and for a short time as a federal prison. Hansen’s disease is more commonly known to most people as leprosy, though Hansen’s disease is the correct and acceptable name.

Aside from James Carville’s memories of growing up in Carville, for me the most interesting panel member was Jose Ramirez Jr., a native of Laredo, Texas, who in 1968 was diagnosed with Hansen’s disease and banished to the Hansen’s Disease Center. His story was gripping, and his struggle to recover and then to educate others on the truth about Hansen’s disease was inspirational.

At one point in the discussion, Ramirez challenged his audience to go out and educate ten people on what they had learned that day. Here’s what I learned.

The word “leper” is NEVER acceptable, as its connotations are far more negative than just a description for persons suffering from Hansen’s.

Hansen’s disease, while challenging to diagnose, as it requires a biopsy and a specific test, is easily curable. It’s a chronic bacterial disease and is treated with antibiotics. Persons diagnosed with it are most often treated as an outpatient and cured within 48 hours. Not treated. Cured.

Hansen’s disease is not as contagious as people have long believed. In fact, no more than 5 percent of the population is susceptible to the bacteria that cause the disease.

The Hansen’s Disease Center closed its doors in 1999, but this place is now the site of the National Hansen's Disease Museum.

I could probably go on about how fascinating this panel was, but the rest of the festival was equally as informative and entertaining. After the panel on Carville, Louisiana, I attended one called “The Civil Way in Fact and Fiction,” featuring Robert Hicks (author of A Separate Country, a novel about General John Bell Hood) and Molly Haskell (author of Frankly, My Dear: “Gone With the Wind” Revisited). Hicks spoke about General Hood as a man and as a general, his life, and his leadership. Haskell’s book focuses on the making of the film Gone With the Wind, which I’m thinking it might be time for me to finally read/see.

I left that panel to head immediately to “The Business Side of the Publishing Industry: The Agent, Editor, and Publisher Connection,” in which the panelists, all experts in their fields, walked attendees though the details of finishing a book, acquiring an agent, finding a publisher, and communication with publicity experts to market your book.

While it was very informative, from my perspective, I won’t go into all the details. Suffice it to say that I’m acquiring a good base of knowledge in case I ever get motivated enough to write a book.

The same can be said of the following morning’s panel, “Books Unbound: How Digital Delivery Is Changing How Stories Are Told, Sold, and Read.” Sounds fascinating, doesn’t it? Eh. Probably not from an average reader’s perspective. But as a writer these are considerations that will affect me one way or another in the future, unless I never aspire to write a novel or story or book of poetry and just continue posting silly blogs for the rest of my days.

I took a break from my fest-going to partake of some refreshing libations at New Orleans’ best bar, the Erin Rose. With good prices, a largely local clientele, and an awesome staff, this is my favorite place in the city. If you haven’t been there and you live here, well, shame on you. If you live elsewhere and haven’t been there, that’s just one more excuse to come visit me.

Also occurring simultaneously as the literary festival this weekend was the New Orleans Roadfood Festival on Royal Street, featuring some great food from not only around Louisiana but around the country. Hats off to the barbecue joint from Texas, Louie Meuller’s Texas Barbecue, who brought their whole smoker with them. Man, that was some damn good brisket.

I followed up my brisket-filled mouth-gasm with an event that closes out the Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival each year — the Stella and Stanley shouting contest, the preliminaries of which are held in Jackson Square from one of the balconies of the Cabildo. Stella, in all her Southern charm, stood perched on the balcony awaiting her callers. Next to her was Stanley, last year’s winner of the contest. Twenty-five contestants competed in the contest, which was open to both men and women. I was pleased to see my friend Brian in the contest…nice job, Brian! Of the contestants in the preliminaries, three were women, but only one shouted for Stanley (even though I thought he was pretty good looking). I found that…interesting.

I didn’t stay for the finals of the contest, as I had spent the weekend ignoring my own clients and work and needed to go home to catch up. In true New Orleans fashion, I met up with my dear friends Andie and Charlie on the way home and wound up drinking far too much wine to get any work done. But it was totally worth it.

Overall, I’m a bit ashamed that I didn’t attend more of the literary festival when I knew about it last year. I’ve gained a great deal more insight into the publishing world than I had before, listened to participants’ heartfelt stories, and met some amazing people.

And I now have many more authors to add to my own Amazon wishlist. I may never finish reading…

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

When the Saints Go Marching In…

Those who know me (and sometimes love me) know that I am a transplanted Yankee from a rural corner of Pennsylvania. Though I have always been and will always be a devoted Eagles fan first and foremost, I do love me some Saints. I have to, as New Orleans is my adopted home.

I was among the crowds on the streets of New Orleans when the Saints brought home the NFC Championship on January 24 by beating the Vikings with an overtime field goal, causing the city to erupt into a massive, spontaneous, citywide orgasm. The level of pure, unadulterated joy was something I’ve never seen before, anywhere.

In the two weeks between the NFC Championship game and the Super Bowl, New Orleans also went about its annual business of hosting the best party ever…Carnival, or Mardi Gras season. It’s one of the things the city does best, and one of my favorite times of year. While most people who have never visited New Orleans associate Mardi Gras with the drunken debauchery and crime displayed on shows like “Cops,” that’s not really what it’s about at all. Though trust me, the debauchery happens all year long on Bourbon Street, thanks to hoards of inebriated tourists. (And yes, I was once one of them.)

But Mardi Gras is so much more than that. Sure, it’s a party. Sure, there’s drinking, sometimes. But the popular myth that only by flashing their bodacious ta-tas to passing floats can women get beads is entirely untrue. That’s what Bourbon Street is for. All year long.

Along the major parade route, St. Charles Avenue, the streets are lined with families, friends, students, residents, tourists, etc. The kids are perched in ladders with attached seats that can be purchased at any local hardware store. The vibe is mostly friendly (except, in my experience, at Zulu’s parade, where I found the quest for the famous Zulu coconuts to be much more cutthroat).

Mardi Gras is much more civilized and much more family-oriented that some TV shows would have you believe. There are no barricades along the Uptown route. Children and adults are free to walk up to the floats to get beads, or stand back yelling, “Hey, throw me something, please!”

I find this year that yelling “WHO DAT?!” is also an effective way to get riders to throw you the loot.

The Super Bowl this year landed squarely in the midst of the city’s Mardi Gras celebrations. I watched the game from the best bar in New Orleans, the Erin Rose. The place was so packed that we watched the game from outside one of the two large windows at the front of the bar, where we had a great view of the big-screen TV on the wall.

No one in sports really expected the Saints to win this one. Sportscasters all over had pretty much handed an easy win to the Colts before the game ever started.

But the Who Dat Nation never lost faith. We yelled. We screamed. We hugged strangers in the street. We never gave up because the Saints never gave up.

The win was a beautiful thing for New Orleans. Once again, the streets overflowed with screaming fans, many shedding tears for something they’ve been waiting for their entire lives.

I’ve recently been called a traitor to my own team by jumping ship and sporting a black-and-gold Who Dat shirt. I’ve never in my life worn anything but my beloved Philly green, but I don’t think I’m a traitor. I don’t think I jumped ship either. Since Philly didn’t even make it that far, I don’t think they’d mind me supporting the city in which I live now…the city I love.

I donned the black-and-gold Who Dat shirt again for the Saints victory parade last night through New Orleans. While no official estimate of the crowds is available yet, once reporter guesstimated that there might possibly have been 800,000 people there, lined up to see their beloved Saints. Many people across the river on the West Bank waited hours to cross the river by ferry, and some never made it at all because of the crowds.

It wouldn’t surprise me at all if that 800,000 were accurate. I saw the crowds. I was crammed up against a barricade at Lee Circle for several hours before the parade even started and the crowds started gathering. It was an awe-inspiring experience, despite the cold and the wait.

What most people don’t realize, however, is that the crowd would have been just as large and just as enthusiastic had the Saints lost the Super Bowl. This is, after all, New Orleans in the middle of Carnival. This is a city with a soul like no other. New Orleans loves their Saints, and they love their parades.

I still believe that right now this city is the happiest place on Earth. Eat your heart out, Disney.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

In summation of the old year and anticipation of the new…

At last 2009 has departed, not with a bang but a whimper. It was a year of changes and adjustments for me, including getting used to this whole “working from home” concept when one is as catastrophically lazy as I am. It hasn’t always been easy, but it seems to be picking up. I’m adding clients and even, on occasion, getting paid by my clients, though at times reluctantly.

Overall, 2009 was better for me than 2008, which was a year of stress and loss and sorrow. That’s not to say that 2009 was fantastic, but it was certainly better. I’m planning for a stellar 2010.

In April of 2009 my brothers, sister-in-law, nephews, and niece came for their first visit to New Orleans. I spent my time playing tour guide and showing them around, learning unexpectedly that I adore the World War II Museum thanks to my older brother’s interest in it. All had a wonderful time, and my sis-in-law, Bean, has promised to send my brothers down again in April of this year for another visit, sans kids. Kiss my liver goodbye.

In 2009 I went home twice, the first time to attend my 20-year high school reunion and reconnect with people I haven’t seen since graduation. It feels like old times, only better, since we’re all grown up now.

I went home again for a few weeks in December for Christmas with the family, who I usually only see about twice a year. We drank, lost at Trivial Pursuit to my mother, picked on the kids, at a lot, and drank some more.

Throughout the year, I partook of festivals, live music, Mardi Gras both in New Orleans and out in Cajun country, parties, good times with friends…and all without a single evacuation.

Living here is like being on a permanent vacation from which I have to take a break every now and them to get some work done.

My resolutions for 2010 are simple: Exercise more, work more, play more, and, most importantly, write more. Write blogs. Write poetry. Write stories. Write anything. Enjoy life to its fullest, and then capture it on paper so that those who are not lucky enough to live here can still have a taste of life in the Big Easy.

So this might seem a half-assed blog, hastily written and posted in order to post something, but at least it’s written. Welcome to my world.

2010, here I come.