Friday, April 30, 2010

Home Sweet Home

What do you wanna do today? What do you mean what do I wanna do? Let’s do something fun. I’m gonna sit here and do what I do every day. Lenny grumpily replied. With a lightening fast snap of his tongue, he snatched a fly out of mid air.

Lenny, Willie and Marvin spend day after day lazing around under the cool shade provided by thick trees that canopy their beautiful forest; this is their home. Nothing out of the ordinary, they are, after all, frogs. Not exactly a fast paced life, but a stress free life to be sure.

Marvin rarely speaks. He simply stares at the water, occasionally he’ll take a refreshing dip from his lily pad but he mostly just sleeps the day away. Lenny is the ring leader. A title with duty that he’d accidentally earned as a young frog. Lenny is the only one of the three who has actually been out of the forest! Not only had he been out of the forest, he lived in the big city for a while!

Lenny was captured a long time back by a curious little boy. He lived for almost a year as the boy’s pet before being released back to the forest. He entertained the others with magnificent tales of his adventures in the city. He’d been to baseball games, picnics, he was even once taken on a family vacation to the beach!

Lenny doesn’t talk about the old days much anymore. Long ago he grew weary of telling story after story, time and time again. He’s perfectly content with sitting around watching the lazy days pass; watching the world drift by from the comfort of his lily pad.

Willie, on the other hand, holds adventure in his heart. He‘s a dreamer. Willie longed for experiences that would expand his mind. What he would give to have an opportunity such as Lenny. Why couldn’t the three of them just go on a hike once in a while? Willie often wondered. On occasion, Willie hopped away to explore, sometimes returning late at night to Lenny’s scolding.

You’re gonna get hurt or snatched away one day if you’re not careful, Lenny warned. Or even worse, you’ll get hit by a car if you go near the highway! Lenny also had a darker experience in his younger adventures.

After returning to the forest, he found it nearly impossible to sit still. His time away from the forest made him feel as though he were bullet-proof. One day, while he was on one of his day trips, Lenny hopped across an animal trap. Before he knew what hit him the trap jaw swiftly closed around one of his hind legs, neatly severing half of it.

This marked the beginning of Lenny’s careful and, somewhat, sour attitude toward action and adventure in life. Plus, he looked different from the others now and it was difficult for him get around. Lenny was perfectly content with perching on his pad, nothing more, nothing less.

Willie always viewed Lenny’s worrying and warnings as being a party pooper. I don’t wanna sit around all day today; that’s all we ever do! Willie complained. Marvin…you wanna go with me for a hop? Willie begged. Marvin had been napping. He looked blankly to Lenny then back to Willie. He snatched a fly from a piece of nearby driftwood and fell soundly back to sleep. Willie sighed.

Why can’t you just sit still for a minute and relax? Lenny snapped. With age, Lenny had grown quite modest; he no longer felt the need to brag about his life experiences. He was most definitely done with adventure. What’s wrong with slow and boring? He reasoned.

Willie hopped from his lily pad to a nearby strip of land. I’m gonna go explore; you two can sit here all day if you want, Willie exclaimed as he hopped along the edge of the stream to his next conquest.

Later in the day Willie stumbled across a group of children who were on a guided hike through the forest. Willie hopped closer for a better look; this might be his big chance! Maybe he would finally have an exciting journey like that of Lenny.

He landed next to one of the children and let out a load croak. Cool!! One of the kids shouted. All of the other children quickly gathered around Willie; they took turns holding him until one of the scout leaders approached.

The scout leader bent down and scooped Willie into a small box filled with grass. We’ll take him back to the camp with us so you can study this little guy a bit more, the man said.

Lenny stared at the stream while Marvin spent the afternoon napping. He wondered why Willie hadn’t returned home; after all, it was late in the day. Lenny’s attention diverted as he heard quite a commotion high above his head. It was a little bird, briskly flapping around in his nest.

Be still up there! Lenny yelled. Your parents will be back soon, he assured. The bird grew restless in the confines of his tiny nest. He was approaching the age where he would soon learn to fly but the nest became most uncomfortable with each passing day. You’re going to fall if you don’t sit still, Lenny warned.

Suddenly, the little bird tumbled over the side. He flapped wildly all the way to the ground in order to cushion his fall. He finally landed on the opposite side of the stream…stranded! See, I told you! Lenny scolded.

Now you’re in a most difficult situation little bird. The Bobcats will find you for sure when the sun goes down, Lenny warned. The bird frantically flapped on the ground, he tried desperately to lift himself in flight. Be still! Lenny yelled. You’re going to draw attention to yourself!
All of the commotion rousted Marvin from his nap. Marvin spotted the bird perched on a small rock on the ground. He stared at Lenny for a moment then yawned and went back to sleep.

Back at the camp, Willie enjoyed an action packed afternoon. The kids took turns passing him around. Willie jumped and jumped, trying his best to entertain. He hammed it up with the children, enjoying the spotlight. Once in a while he would stop for a moment and let out a loud croak, causing the children to burst into laughter.

The camp leader finally announced to the scouts that the little frog needed to return home. The children groaned. The leader explained that they were only here to explore and learn, not to disrupt the natural cycle of life that made the forest unique and beautiful. He explained why Willie must return to the stream to be with his friends.

They scooped Willie up to the box and walked down to the stream and released him back to the forest.

Farther downstream, Lenny racked his brain trying to figure out a way to save the little bird from this most dangerous situation. He knew that unless the bird could fly, just enough, he’d never make it to the safety of his nest, or at least to a branch high enough for refuge from the Bobcats.

Try to jump little bird, Lenny ordered. It’s the only way you’ll be able to get off the ground. The bird tried and tried, each time crashing to the ground. Flap harder! Lenny urged. The bird tried again; he floated a foot from the ground for a few seconds before crashing once again. Lenny sighed. This is not going well, he mumbled.

If only there were a way to get this little guy farther from the ground, he might just be able to get high enough to flap his way to a safer place.

Upstream, Willie slowly hopped his way toward home. He stopped from time to time to snatch an occasional fly and to rest from his antics with the children. Lenny never has any fun like this, he grumbled to himself. I’ll bet those two are sitting there like bumps on a log…boring! Willie thought.

Out of nowhere, a Bobcat raced swiftly past Willie, nearly knocking him into the stream. Wonder where he’s going in such a hurry? Willy mumbled, before moving on.

Back at home, Lenny had a brainstorm. It was a long shot, but it just might work. He called for the stranded little bird to come closer to the edge of the stream. The bird hopped closer, hoping that Lenny had a solution. As the Bobcat inched closer, Lenny told the bird of his plan. When I say go, hop onto my back. I’m gonna jump as high as I can to get you farther off the ground. Flap as hard as you can and try to make it to one of those branches up there.

The bird readied himself; he knew that this would be his only shot at safety from the hungry cat. Lenny counted down. Get ready! He yelled. Get set! The bird readied himself to jump onto Lenny’s back.

Suddenly, a rustling sound came from a nearby bush. It was a Bobcat! The Bobcat spotted the stranded little bird and slowly crept toward the edge of the stream. His tail lowered, hovering an inch from the ground. A classic cat prowl, ready to pounce.

GO! Lenny yelled. The little bird jumped from the edge, landing squarely onto Lenny’s broad back. Lenny, even though he was missing half of his hind leg, used all the strength that he had to leap as high as he possibly could.

The bird flapped and flapped in circles. He hovered for a few seconds before crashing directly onto Marvin’s back. Marvin, startled from a deep sleep, leaped straight into the air, higher than Lenny had ever seen ANY frog leap in his entire life.

The bird flapped his wings feverishly, rising higher and higher above the stream. He soared awkwardly until he crash landed. This time, onto a small branch, far enough from the Bobcat‘s reach.

Lenny sighed with relief; the stranded bird was finally safe.

The Bobcat circled the tree for a few minutes, trying to figure out how to get at the bird. The cat soon realized that It would be impossible. The bird was perched too far out on a flimsy limb. Finally, the Bobcat moved on to search for his next meal.

Marvin climbed back to his pad, still rattled from this rude awakening. He looked up and down, to the left, then the right, trying to figure out what had just happened. Lenny sat, motionless, on his pad. He felt completely drained from the excitement that had long been absent from his quiet, boring little world. He smiled up at the bird. Now, you sit still! He yelled. I don’t think I have enough energy to do that again, and I’m most certain that Marvin doesn’t.

A few minutes later Willie hopped into the stream and climbed up to his lily pad. Marvin and Lenny stared at the stream. Willie broke the silence. So, what did you two do today? He quizzed.

Lenny thought of his days filled with big adventures but, for all of his earned bragging rights, he no longer felt the need to impress. He also gained comfort with what some would call a disability. Lenny proved today that, even though he was missing part of his leg, he still helped to save a little bird in need…simply by trying.

He was happy that Willie liked to learn about the world around him, for he finally realized that Willie came home each and every day with something new to share. Lenny also figured it was about time for him to share more of his experiences and knowledge more often than he did.

Well?? Willie pressed. Anything going on around here today? Nope…just another day in the stream, Lenny casually replied. He figured there’d be plenty of time to share the excitement with Willie soon enough; right now he wanted to hear about Willie’s latest big adventure.

The little bird happily chirped above the stream. Marvin stared at the branch and then looked at Willie and Lenny.

Lenny and Willie waited anxiously to see what in the world Marvin might say. After all, he hardly spoke at all! Was he about to share some important advice? Perhaps he would talk about some of his past experiences that no one knew about. Finally, Marvin spoke…

I’m tired, he said with a yawn. He snatched a fly from the air and resumed his nap.

copyright Pontchartrain Press

Thursday, April 29, 2010

NOT A Children's Story...But An Interesting Night From 2003

It’s particularly refreshing that all reminiscences aren’t necessarily deep. Some are downright funny and juvenile as a matter of fact. Such is the following little tale of a night gone terribly awry.

I was in a conversation recently about a pre-storm event that involved a friend of mine, an ex-boss and three NOPD officers. I happen to know that these officers are no longer protecting and serving our fine city; I will reserve speculation for those who may be so inclined. I shall not pass judgment as I happen to know many fine men and women who wear the crescent badge in this city.

While the story from the young woman with whom I was chatting turned out much darker, my story was much lighter in tone…thankfully.

It was January 31, 2003...perhaps February 1st since drinking was involved and I’m most certain we were out late. At least I’m in the ballpark with the timeline, which is impressive since I’m also thinking that a large expense account and some shots were involved that evening.

A large convention was in town for my industry and I, along with numerous colleagues, were in attendance. To say that we attended is another way of saying that we spent a lot of time in the French Quarter bitching about work and drinking.

My group happened upon a former boss. He had been an executive VP in our company and reviled by most of those in his stead; past and present…including us.

One of my co-workers, we’ll call him Marc. Mainly because his name is indeed Marc. Young Marc and I engaged our former cage master…uh, boss, in industry conversation. It was a decent exchange of pleasantries and professional courtesy which amazed me since I knew how badly these two despised one another.

Finally, feeling that Marc was able to continue this pattern of peaceful decorum with, we’ll call our ex-boss Brian because his name is indeed Brian, I decided to move about the room and chat with other groups.

Mistake number one on this particular evening.

After about 20-minutes had passed, I looked over to Marc and Brian and noticed that the body language was decidedly tense. Okay, by tense I mean that Brian’s forehead looked like a topographical road map. You could see every vein in his face. I excused myself from conversation to investigate. It took all of about 5-seconds to confirm my suspicions as I rejoined the duo.

Five rapid fire, nonchalant, abases spewed forth alerting me that this was going nowhere good…quickly. Then, the ultimate “dis”. Brian pushed his index finger to Marc’s nose to punctuate a point. Note: Nothing good can EVER come from placing your finger to someone’s nose.

Then, our warm and fuzzy ex-boss put his hands around Marc’s neck and began to choke him. In retrospect, it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. It was a most bizarre chokehold…almost like something out of a zombie movie, stilted and stiff.

Marc politely warned Brian. No need to document the verbiage, as it was not, in fact, polite at all now that I think about it. When the warning went unheeded Marc punctuated it with a lightening fast punch to the face.

Trust me, you haven’t lived life to its fullest until you see a 25 year old knock the shit out of a 49 year old who, by most accounts, truly deserved it. We all wanted to punch this guy at some point or another and Marc decided to singularly act on the desires of the collective, thus becoming our hero.

The bouncers sprang to action and immediately tossed the nonsense to Bourbon street where three police officers intervened. To borrow a term from a friend, many Bourbon street doormen are part carnival barker, part pimp, all asshole.

Since Marc was quite vocal, as opposed to Brian, and the large red spot on Brian’s face clearly illustrated that he was indeed assaulted, the cops restrained my friend.

At this point I remember wishing for a rescue helicopter to land immediately and whisk us away. As it were, a stark realization set in that I’m Marc’s boss. As Operations Manager, I visualized the terrible scene of me standing in front of the owner explaining this situation by saying “What ha-happened was”. Thus, I immediately called for our Chief Operating Officer, who was enjoying the “tray man” (Sonny) work his magic at Pat O’s. I asked for him to come and inject his indelible diplomacy to an explosive situation. He was on the scene in 2 minutes. There’s a reason he rose to the level of COO I suppose. Oh, he also had some crazy ass snappy suits and ties. Another requirement of a COO I suppose.

He was able to talk the cops into letting Marc go free on the condition that he get out of the Quarter immediately. The officers didn’t put it quite that nicely, but we heard the message loud and clear. Fair enough and better than a 25 year old who looked like a Backstreet Boy spending a night in OPP. He would have been an appetizing delicacy in OPP to be sure.

We informed young Marc of his good fortune and he was so elated that he availed himself of another opportunity to punch our asshole ex-boss in the face again. I reiterate, it was deserved and amusing to watch but an unfortunate turn of events for Marc.

The old lamp posts on Bourbon are quite lovely, unless your head happens to make contact with blunt force at the hands of three cops shoving you to the sludge filled sidewalks.

It was abundantly clear that Marc’s plush hotel room would be traded for a bologna sandwich and a community bench at OPP. A decidedly far cry from his room at the Ritz.

Being the good friends that we were we did what anyone would do under such duress. We decided to go grab a drink. C’mon! It’s OPP, we knew he wouldn’t be processed till the following morning…don’t judge us!

Marc’s last battle cry on his way to the patrol car was for us to tell no one…to keep this incident completely quiet. We gave him our assurances.

The following morning we were all set to meet with the owner of our company. We awoke to the reality that Marc was in jail, we all nursed a massive hangover and the space shuttle had exploded over Texas. A lovely Sunday morning indeed.

I received a call from, what is now my ex, asking how the evening had gone…it was an exchange of pleasantries and I assured that all was well; holding true to my promise to Marc. A few minutes later my cell rang again…it was my lady calling back.

There are certain moments in life where time seems to stand still, this was one of them. The first words from the other end of the phone were: “When were you going to tell me that Marc is in jail?” My reply? “Um, I wasn’t. We all promised him, I assured. Then I quizzed, how did YOU know?

When going to jail you are entitled to a phone call, however, speed dial has virtually erased the necessity to remember phone numbers any longer. The only phone number Marc could remember, for some bizarre reason, was my land line! Now that I think about it, I'm wondering WHY I had a land line...but I digress.

And so, the land line rang as Marc finally got his turn at the pay phone in OPP as fifty very unfriendly inmates taunted the boy who looked as though he should be with NSYNC rather than in OPP. Maybe that was their way of flirting.

This is the actual automated call that came through from a very sober and reality stricken Marc: “You have a collect call from an inmate at Orleans Parish Prison from Marc, Marc, Marc!!!” And said cover was forever broken. What I would GIVE to have an audio recording of that phone call!

After about 18 hours had passed a colleague of ours collected bail money and took a cab to OPP to retrieve our co-worker. We, in the meantime, read the Sunday paper and had lunch & Bloody Mary’s. Don’t judge us…we were stressed.

Marc came out about $600 lighter. Funny how cash disappears while in custody huh? He also adorned two very nasty cuts around his wrists in the shape of handcuffs from which he’d been dragged once he was out of public view. The scars, most likely, remain to this very day.
Don’t get me wrong, my co-worker DID break the law, but he availed himself of an opportunity to teach a loud mouthed, egotistical, ex-boss a lesson. I’m sure, in retrospect, Marc probably figures it was a small price to pay.

One thing’s for sure…it was one HELL of a night in the French Quarter.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Bottom of the ninth, the score 3 to 2, runners on first and second. Chris, with a 2 and 2 count, this team needs to work some magic here. Yeah Jim, it’s a great but extremely stressful position to be in if you’re in a spot like Andre’ is right now on that plate. These guys train and prepare for a moment like this one all their lives but it’s not exactly where one chooses to be for sure. We’re seconds away from an outcome and one of these two clubs are gonna be champions. Medina could seal it up and make history, giving this team its first world series win in 60 years.

It’s a tied world series and Andre’ Medina finds himself in a spot like none he could have ever imagined as a child. Playing baseball in the backyard with his friends was just for fun back then, it was also a tool which helped him gain acceptance in a strange new world.

Andre’ had a natural talent in baseball; he’d worked hard all of his life honing his skills. Finally, he made a living with it. Yes indeed, a professional baseball player. His team, until this year, had one of the worst records in the league. A record that was earned long before he was born. The losing streak seemed almost like a curse, if you believe in superstitions that is.

Year after year the city endured such heartbreaking losses. Five years ago they almost made it to the championship, but a stroke of bad luck for an outfielder brought, yet another, dismal end to the season. That was before Andre’ was traded to the team. Even better, a team for which he’d always dreamed of joining. His adopted hometown!

When he learned of the trade his fellow teammates joked about it. Some offered their condolences, others hesitantly wished him well. Andre’ always smiled and told them not to worry, he was as happy as could be.

And now all eyes are on Andre’ on this October evening. Not only in the stadium…across the planet! Andre’ is a long way from that backyard on a lazy summer afternoon, this is the big league and a defining moment in his career, if not his life.

In an instant the TV cameras rapidly swung, turning their focus to an unscheduled player who made his series debut on the diamond. We seem to have an unexpected member on the team Jim! The commentators in the broadcast booth laughed loudly. Spectators in the stadium rose to their feet, wildly cheering.

Andre’s mouth dropped as he watched the rogue team mate scramble across the field. He slowly lowered his bat until it rested squarely on the tip of his shoe. He smiled to himself before looking to the sky, then back to the outfield . He laughed out loud.

The umpires, along with stadium officials, zigged and zagged across the field as the cameras documented every turn, every stumble and missed attempt to remove the player from the field. The antics of this rogue player had officially interrupted an historic world series.

The game was halted, giving Andre’ a moment of pause of his own. He used the break to reflect on how he came to be here, and how this particular team mate may have been destined to join him in the spotlight on this historic evening after all.

Andre’ grew up in a tiny village in Honduras. It was a troubling time for his country; a country which was divided by warlords. A group of organized gangs who preyed upon fears at a time when most Hondurans lived in poverty, making the gangland way of life seem that much more enticing. Loyalty to the homeland was a powerful tool that the warlords used to entice young, impressionable, minds. Andre’ fought temptations to join the fight with all of his might; many of his friends had no such willpower.

At the early age of 10 his parents, realizing that a better life awaited Andre’, finally made the toughest of all decisions. They must choose between he and his sister. A choice that would give one of the two an opportunity to make a good life, far from poverty and danger.

Andre’s parents gave him up for adoption to an American family. It was part of an outreach program which assisted those who wanted to help the children of this impoverished land. And so, just like that, Andre’ found himself in a strange new place far from his home. This was his new home.

Andre’ soon found that fitting in wouldn’t be easy. He looked different from the other children; he spoke differently, which made him stand out even more. He ate lunch alone everyday; no one in his class dared to befriend this strange new boy from, what they viewed as, a faraway land. It was almost as if he were from another planet.

Most afternoons found Andre’ swatting rocks with driftwood across a pond near his house. It was his solitary escape and it made him happy.

His home life was great; his adoptive parents loved him and showed their love and support in every way. He knew that he was fortunate to have such an opportunity, but he longed for friendship. He missed his friends back in Honduras.

The citizens here felt comfort and insulation in their tiny town. They felt well protected from the news and troubling events that they read about and watched on television. It all seemed so far away to them. It didn’t seem real if it didn’t happen within the boundaries of their city limits sign.

Andre’s classmates, and most certainly their parents, couldn’t imagine some of the things that he’d already witnessed through his 10-years in this big and, sometimes, scary world.

Wow! A voice rang from behind. Andre’ quickly spun around, spotting a boy from his class standing in the distance. He had been watching Andre’ swat, stone after stone, across the pond. The young boy walked closer.

That’s awesome! He exclaimed. Thanks, Andre’ said. I’ve seen you around school, my name’s Michael. I’m Andre’. You’re the guy from that island place right? Andre’ giggled. What? Michael wondered what could be so funny. It’s Honduras; it’s a country in Central America…not an island. I’m not real good with geography, only what I memorize for the tests, Michael explained. Well, it’s not as far off as you think, but I understand, Andre’ replied. I’m still learning the United States so don’t feel bad, Andre’ continued.

One of my buddies told me that your people eat folks who get lost in the jungle, Michael blurted to Andre’. Andre’ sat silently and stared at Michael for a moment. Andre’ wore a solemn stare on his face as he struck the bottom of his shoe repeatedly with the large piece of driftwood in his hand.

Michael broke the uncomfortable silence. Is that true?? Not anymore, Andre’ replied, with a straight face. Michael stared at Andre’, fear filled his face until Andre’ could no longer mask the laughter inside. Michael shoved Andre’s arm. That’s not funny! He exclaimed with a relieved smile.

We play baseball every Friday afternoon and Saturday morning if you wanna join us, Michael invited. I don’t think your friends want a man-eating islander on the team, Andre’ joked. I’ll talk with em’, c’mon, stop by this Friday, Michael urged.

After a few weeks of backyard baseball, Andre’ became part of the gang. It wasn’t easy at first, but Andre’ tried his best to educate his classmates about his homeland and culture. He also absorbed as much information as he could about theirs. His was a better gang than that which would have been available back in Honduras. He forged friendships while doing what he loved…passing a lazy afternoon away playing baseball and being a 10-year old boy.

One afternoon while the boys played, what seemed to be, a 30 inning game, a group of kids from the next block showed up. You call that baseball? One of the kids taunted as Michael swatted and missed a fastball. Michael tossed his bat to the ground after being struck out and replied. Yeah? You guys think you can do better? The two neighborhood teams talked trash until a challenge was issued. It was time to show the next block how baseball was played.

It was the ninth inning, the game had been close for the previous eight. The moment of truth. This game was either going extra innings or come to a joyous ending for one team, but a humiliating and painful end for the other. Bragging rights for the neighborhood block is EVERYTHING when you’re a 10-year old boy. This was the world series to these boys.

Andre’ headed to the plate. His defining moment with the gang, he thought. Suddenly, from nowhere, a black cat darted in front of him and scurried off to the nearby bushes. Andre’ gasped.

Superstitions ran deep in Andre’s culture. Until the time when he left Honduras for his new life he’d long heard tales of the unexplained, the curses and black magic. His grandmother was especially superstitious. A black cat!! Andre’ fretted, thinking back to the folklore that he’d heard from his elders.

Andre’ stepped up to the plate, he readied his bat for the pitch. The ball sped toward him at, what seemed to be, a thousand miles per hour. A loud crack pierced the late afternoon air on this tiny city block. A beautiful, dead on, hit! The ball sliced through the air to the outfield at lightening speed. His team mates roared with excitement.

The ball soared over the heads of the opposing team until it finally landed, firmly, in the mitt of an outfielder. A “noisy out” as it’s often called. The game was over, a humiliating defeat for Andre’ and his team mates. The prize of bragging rights went to the boys from the next block.

Andre’ was certain that it was the black cat! His team mates were sad, but they never blamed Andre’. It was a great hit, but a few feet short. The two teams shook hands, some grudgingly. Andre’ had learned two lessons this late summer afternoon. Good sportsmanship, and that black cats were indeed bad luck.

By the time Andre’ made it to high school, he’d caught a lot of attention with his incredible baseball skills. He was a shining star on the team and had been scouted heavily by college coaches until, finally, he was offered a baseball scholarship. He never dreamed that he could go to school for free, just by doing something that he loved to do. This truly was the land of opportunity, he thought.

Andre’ graduated college and, soon after, began playing for a minor league team in the city. He couldn’t believe that he was earning a paycheck for playing a game! It was a small paycheck, but it was money.

Andre’ was married now, with a child on the way. The land of opportunity, to him, truly was an American dream come true. Even though life was a struggle at times, it felt good to Andre’.

He often thought about his family in Honduras, but felt a sense of thankfulness. The incredibly difficult sacrifice that his mother had made was the most selfless act of human kind, he thought. A second chance.

Andre’ took an afternoon stroll through the neighborhood. He’d just returned from a 4-day road-trip with the team and felt quite happy to be home. He stopped occasionally to watch the neighborhood kids playing. He absorbed the sounds of a late summer afternoon as the sun lay low on the horizon.

In the distance, he spotted a little kitten limping along near the sidewalk. As Andre’ approached, he noticed that the cat’s tail was odd. It was about 3 inches long. Andre‘ stood over this pathetic looking little cat who let out a deep and haunting meow.

Wow! You’re loud. The kitten rubbed against Andre’s leg wildly, bucking his head against his ankle. Andre’ bent down and rubbed the kitten’s back until it fell to the ground, rolling on his back feverishly, as if to be begging to have its belly rubbed.

He noticed that the cat seemed to also be blind in his left eye. Andre’ laughed at the irony. A black cat! You’re an unlucky little one, he told the affectionate little kitty.

That cat has most certainly used up about seven of his nine lives, a voice echoed from the front porch with a deep laugh and thick southern drawl. An old man walked toward Andre’ as he knelt, still rubbing this noisy, ugly little cat.

Andre’ smiled at the old man. Yeah, I thought black cats brought other people bad luck, Andre’ said. Not this one, he’s been through a lot, that’s for sure, the man replied.

Is this your cat? Andre’ quizzed. Nah, we’ve just been takin’ care of him. He got hit by a car. We got him all fixed up and then on Halloween some kids hurt him pretty bad since he’s a black cat. We just been feedin’ him and now he won’t go away; no one seems to want him. The old man looked down to the cat at Andre’s feet. He ain’t pretty, but he seems to have taken a liking to you, the old man pointed.

Andre’ knelt back to the kitty and rubbed his scruffy head. The cat purred wildly. I’ll take him off your hands if ya’ don’t want him, Andre’ offered. He’s yours if ya’ want him, the man replied.

Andre’ scooped the ugly, crippled, half blind, bob-tailed little kitten in his arms and headed home. What is THAT? Andre’s wife asked as he walked up the driveway. It’s a cat. Yes dear, I can see that, why is it in your arms? She quizzed. He just seemed like he needed a friend, he’s had a bit of bad luck, Andre’ explained. Yeah, I can certainly see that, his wife laughed.

I thought you were superstitious; you realize this is a black cat Andre’? I know, but I figure this little guy’s had so much bad luck, maybe some good luck is ready to follow him around for a bit. You’re silly, come inside for dinner, Andre’s wife laughed as she went back inside.

Before Andre’ followed, he spotted his next door neighbor, an old Cajun man who kept to himself. He noticed that the old man was walking his way. A rare occasion indeed. What could this be? Andre’ wondered.

That’s one ugly cat, the old man laughed as he approached. Yeah, he’s nice though; he’s had a bit of bad luck I think. Yeah? Looks like little Menieu has had more than a bit of bad luck, the man teased as he playfully poked at the cat’s head.

Menieu? Who’s Menieu? Andre’ asked. Ah, Menieu is a great name for a cat my boy. Yeah? Andre’s eyes were wide, he eagerly held on to every word, hoping to learn the history of this “Menieu” that the old man spoke of. Could it be some ancient explorer? A notable leader; even better, a war hero!! Tell me more, Andre’ begged.

Andre’s wife cracked the door and called for him to come in for dinner. Just a minute, I’ll be right there, Andre’ assured.

Andre’ turned his focus back to the old man. Who is Menieu? He begged. The old man laughed as he walked back to his front porch. Andre’ stood still, watching as the man reached his porch. Andre’ turned for the door as the old man yelled out. Cat! What do you mean…cat? Andre’ asked. The old man laughed; Menieu is Cajun for cat.

Andre’ laughed and waved goodnight to the old man before heading inside to dinner. Inside, he placed the cat on the floor. Well, I suppose your name is Menieu. Menieu rubbed vigorously between Andre’s legs before falling squarely on top of his feet.

A seemingly unlucky little black kitten suddenly became a lucky little pet, thanks to a chance meeting with a superstitious minor league ball player who had decided that Menieu was due for some good luck. Andre’ knew what it felt like to look different. He knew what it was like to be an outcast in a strange new world. He also remembered that someone took him in when he needed it most. Perhaps Andre’ was looking for a little luck himself; maybe he was looking to simply return the love and acceptance that he was shown. Or, a little bit of both.

Andre’ was running late for the game. He had taken Menieu to the veterinarian and the appointment ran long. He tossed Menieu in the front seat and sped to the ballpark for the beginning of a three night home-stand against their team’s arch rival.

After screeching to a halt in the back parking lot, Andre’ raced into the locker room, Menieu firmly under his arm.

What is that? The manager demanded. It’s a cat, Andre’ replied. Yeah, I can see that…you’re late! Has the game started yet? Andre’ quizzed. The manager grumbled as he trailed away through the locker room. Get dressed out, he yelled back to Andre’ before slamming his office door.

Andre’ placed Menieu in his open locker and placed a small cup of water and a few morsels of food on a piece of paper. You wait here and stay outta trouble…I’ll be back soon, Andre’ instructed the kitten. Menieu looked at Andre and meowed. Wish me luck, Andre’ smiled at Menieu before running to the field.

The game was an absolute blowout. Andre’s team won by a landslide; Andre’ himself had four RBI’s. After the game Andre’ showered and got dressed to go home when two gentlemen walked into the locker room looking for him.

They were scouts from the majors. They were there to offer Andre’ the chance of a lifetime, the opportunity that he’d dreamed of since he was a kid.

Later that evening, Andre’ and his wife celebrated with a fancy dinner at a classy restaurant where they dined when they got engaged. They returned home to find Menieu sleeping upside down on the sofa. He's such a funny looking cat, Andre’s wife laughed. Andre’ leaned down, rubbing Menieu’s head. A good luck charm, he assured.

Early afternoon before heading to a game that Andre’ knew would be anything but easy, he packed his bag and sat at the foot of the bed in his hotel room. He always spent a few moments in silent meditation before hitting the field and today was no different…except for the fact that it was the final game of the world series.

Andre’ continued a tradition that he’d begun four years previous. Before grabbing his bag, he called for Menieu, who scrambled from the next room and pounced squarely in his bag. Andre’ drew the zipper halfway, leaving enough room for the curious little cat to poke its head through. Menieu surveyed the world through the opening as he’d done for years as Andre’ headed to the ballpark.

It had become such a well known tradition that there was always a cat bed waiting in the locker room whenever and wherever Andre’ played. Menieu was so accustomed to being in a locker room that it seemed like a second home to him. He curled up before every game in the tiny bed, always patiently waiting until Andre’ returned after the game.

Andre’ watched from the plate as the umps continued their clumsy attempts to remove the game crashing team member. He finally handed his bat to a nearby bat boy and walked to the outfield. It was time to finish this game, he thought. With a whistle he called out for his team mate. Menieu!! Come see!!

Menieu turned his attention to Andre’ and bounded across the field as fast as he could toward him; the umps raced closely behind.

Andre’ knelt down as Menieu stopped perfectly between his knees and plopped to the ground, rolling wildly on his back. Andre’ rubbed the kitty’s head and laughed before scooping him up to his chest. He handed Menieu to a game official and asked him to return the cat to the locker room.

You behave…and wish me luck, Andre’ told Menieu.

After the excitement of Menieu’s antics had settled, the game resumed. The pitch was fast and slightly to the right. Andre’ focused and swung. With a loud crack, the ball soared to the wall, where an outfielder eagerly positioned his mitt to catch, what he hoped, would be a noisy out. The ball grazed the player’s mitt just enough to prevent it from clearing the wall. It bounced to the ground where he quickly retrieved it and threw it as hard as he could toward the infield.

The runner charged toward home plate, hopefully drawing a victorious conclusion to this series for Andre’ and his team mates. The runner slid rapidly toward the plate like a runaway train, his shoes plowed the dirt deeply. The mitt touched the runner's foot with only an inch shy of reaching safety. The game was over. A noisy out.

Millions of eyes from around the world were locked on Andre‘. A heartbreaking loss for his team; the 60-year losing streak remained soundly in tact on this late October evening.

At a time when most would have hung their heads low, Andre’ couldn’t help but to be thankful for this moment. He thought of his family and friends in Honduras. He never saw them again, but he wondered about them quite often.

He was thankful for his adoptive American family and the friends that he’d made through the years. Especially those who shared many lazy summer afternoons swatting a baseball in the backyard. It was usually for fun, sometimes in competition, but always out of love for the game. Backyard baseball taught Andre’ many things about himself.

Andre’ took the second chance he’d been given and did something with it. Even though his team had just lost the world series, he was thankful for having made it to the biggest game in baseball.

Losing that game to the neighborhood kids years ago had taught him lessons, just as tonight’s loss did. It taught him, among many things, how to look at life and the curve balls that it sometimes tosses.

Sometimes you swing at the curve ball and get a hit, sometimes you miss. No matter what, you simply move forward, hold your head high and know that there will be another chance to step up to the plate.

Menieu taught Andre’ a lesson as well. Andre’ learned that being different from the others can be quite challenging, but it only takes one person to make the difference. One person is all it takes to break through an imaginary barrier. For Andre’ it was Michael. For Menieu, it was Andre’.

Even with the game loss, Andre’ was still convinced that little Menieu was indeed his good luck charm and, given the life from which the unlucky little cat was rescued, perhaps Menieu felt the same about Andre'.

copyright Pontchartrain Press 2010

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Miss Anna Mae

Miss Anna Mae

There is a house in New Orleans (No, this is not the beginning of a song). It’s the place just a few doors down from me. A very humble abode actually. An unassuming little double that would never catch your eye. It’s small, in need of a little paint and a new screen on the storm door. It is, however, where a lady named Anna Mae lives.

There are two very uncomfortable looking chairs that bookend each side of the porch. The chair to the left is of special significance…at least to me.

That chair is typically occupied each and every day by one Miss Anna Mae White. Usually only after about 2 or 3pm mind you because her daily commitment to The Price is Right and, of course, her stories is a priority. I believe the Young and the Restless is her favorite.

You wont catch her out there when it’s chilly; if it’s in the low to mid 60’s it’s too cold for Anna Mae. It is New Orleans after all, so that‘s chilly. Summertime in this city makes Hell look like Nome.

After her television commitments it was time to watch the real world. Not the TV show, real things that most ignore. People, cars, the occasional squirrel (she’s fascinated watching squirrels on the power lines), kids playing across the street, the garbage men collecting trash, sunset. Not always exciting, but real things happening around us every day.

Sometimes I honestly believe she’s watching the grass grow.
You can almost see the wheels turning in her head as she just sits there. I always wondered what the hell she was thinking about. After getting to know her, I suspect she thought a lot about life and the things she’s seen. And, knowing her, sometimes nothing at all.

Anna Mae is a 69 year old bright eyed lady going on 30. She is a vibrant, positive woman who never allows anything get to her, at least outwardly. Time and experience have conditioned her I suspect. She has a beautiful smile and an infectious laugh.

Some of the stories she’s shared with me would make many people jaded and bitter about life. Her past experiences, injustices included, truly made her stronger. And, I believe, more willing to find the good in all people and situations.

She always sees the positive, or simply ignores the negative; I’m not sure which one. She’s experienced things that most of us have only studied in history class. The pinnacle of inequality in the deep south wasn‘t history to her…it was current events in her day.

Miss Anna Mae grew up poor but she always recognized the richness of her childhood. She always appreciates those around her and never once takes anything for granted. She’s even polite to those who irritate her. I’m still trying to master that talent.

She speaks of good times as a child; her stories remind me of my mom, dad and grand parents’ stories. They never had to lock their doors, they ate together at the table, they spent time talking to one another. My God, what those times must have been like.

They were sometimes scared about events unfolding in an uncertain world around them but, somehow, the simplicity of their environment gave them courage and hope. I believe it strengthened their love for one another and those around them.

She holds a calm and unflustered way about her, unless you get her on the subject of snakes. They used to crawl in the house when she was younger. What puzzles me is that she’s so damn afraid of snakes yet, when she was a kid, she rode on the back of an alligator. WHAT??!! But, I digress.

Miss Anna Mae loves to dance. Although years of working on her feet in the French Quarter service industry has taken its toll. She loves music…all of it. From Johnny Cash to Amy Winehouse, Elvis to Rhianna. Pearl Jam to 3 Doors Down. And, of course, Fats Domino.

While Anna Mae grew up in rural Louisiana, most of her adult life was spent in New Orleans. She worked in the French Quarter back in a day that most people would not believe. The stories she could tell!

She was always fascinated with things she saw in the Quarter. As she one day announced, “I saw a Maaan dat looked like a woman, and he made a pretty woman. How you think dat is”? Her innocence, for her age, always amazed me. It was not naiveté, she’s simply fascinated by any and everything.

She represents a constant, unassuming, calm force in the middle of a chaotic world that surrounds her. All of us actually.

“I don’t pay no attention to foolishness, as long as they not botherin’ me, ain’t none of my business”. Just one of many life lessons and philosophies she shared with me during the course of one of our many, uh, sessions.

We held court in our regular spot at the corner of the bar in a Mid City Irish pub named Finn McCools. Anna Mae is a fixture there and, because I loved being around her, I suppose I was as well.

Joining us many times, was one of our partners in crime, Mr. Sidney. Mr. Sidney is a year away from retirement and has known Anna Mae for a long time. He is a kind and gentle man with whom Anna Mae and I spend a lot of time.

I often found myself wondering what the hell does an almost 70 year old black woman from the rural deep south find so appealing about hanging out with a skinny little white boy who hails from the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee? I’m sure she probably wondered the same about her appeal to me. Now I realize that we share a common thread…life. Human connection in its simplest form.

We didn’t over complicate things, as so many people do. You see, we talk about anything, or nothing, and we’re content with each other’s company. Conversations were never forced, they came naturally. Silence is never awkward, it’s comfortable. It’s one of the purest forms of friendship I’ve ever known.

One day me and “Pops”, as many call Mr. Sydney, noticed that when Anna Mae would go to the restroom she would cover her Crown and Sprite with a bar napkin. Upon her return from the long walk back from the facilities one day, I asked her: “With me on one side of you and Syd on the other, what the hell are you protecting your drink from?" She replied “Y’all might try to slip sumthin’ in my drank and take advantage of me”. And then she’d laugh. And so would we.

Most nights, we watch the young boys send over drink after drink. Some nights she couldn’t possibly drink them all, lest I would have to drive her home. She never wanted a ride by the way, she wanted to get her exercise. So the bar would hold drinks on account for her to use on her next visit.

She once asked me: “Why you think all these 20 sumthin’ year old baweys be flirtin’ with me when I‘m almost 70”? I just smiled to myself and replied: “Cause’ you’re hot Anna Mae, they may be tryin’ to get you drunk and take ya’ home”. She never missed a beat, “I ain’t lookin’ for no man tonight cause you walkin’ me home anyway, and I be too tired. They couldn‘t handle this anyway”. Yes indeed.

She rarely curses, but she does utter some random things from the top of her very curious mind. We sat quietly one evening, as many times we do, when out of the blue she asked “Do you think I’m pretty”? She is indeed a pretty old lady with not a wrinkle on her beautiful skin.

Another favorite question came as she interrupted my crossword concentration one day. Breaking the silence, she posed this lovely question:

“I wonder how two big ol’ fat peoples have sex? Big 300 sumthin' pound fat peoples! I mean, I know they have sex cause’ I know fat people have kids”. I never could quite answer that question. Not sure I could today, but she’s right…they DO have kids.

I cant join her every night but, when I do, when she’s ready for me to walk her home she’d exclaims the following exit mantra: “I’m gonna do what the duck did”. My reply, always, “what the duck did”? “The duck like to fuck“. I’m not entirely sure where she got that one from, and I don’t ask. I just play along.

She lives one and a half short blocks from the pub but, because of her legs, a 60 second walk takes about 5 minutes. Fine with me. That’s where we have most of our deepest chats.

Syd and I sometimes get to the pub earlier than her and we see her out the window walking down the street…about a half block away. One of us usually saves her chair by sitting in it. We look out the window and then to each other and shrug “well, we probably still have 5 more minutes before she reaches the door”.

Anna Mae was a tremendous help to me during a fairly long and hear wrenching illness suffered by my mother. She offered even more comforting words of advice to me upon my return to the city after mom passed.

The thing I liked most about her words of advice and comfort was that she didn’t coddle me. She explained, in a thoughtful manner, this is the way life is my baby. We’re supposed to outlive our parents. "You'll be fine, ya‘ heard me?" she assured.

It was quite comforting to spend time with her, learning. Her lessons now resonate in my head, helping me to cope and to rebuild other areas of my life as I correct things about myself, mend fences and strive to be a better person today than I was yesterday and a better person tomorrow than I am today.

I was back in New Orleans a few weeks upon wrapping things up In Tennessee after mom died when one day Anna Mae got on the subject of food that she was craving. Now, she’d been telling me forever how she wanted some turnip greens. Or as she said it “Toinip Greens”. I like greens too, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever craved them.

So, I promised that the following day I’d bring her a late lunch which would include greens, but that I’d have to do it after work. I brought BAKED chicken (healthier), mac and cheese (not so healthy, but a guilty pleasure),and turnip greens. Some folks call it soul food. Growing up in the south, I always called it dinner.

I found her on that porch watching the world go by, as usual, and delivered lunch. She thought I had forgotten about her. How could I ever forget about her?

We chatted for a minute and made our plans to solve the worlds problems at the corner of the bar later. She seemed to have a sense of urgency about meeting up that evening, she said she was bored that day for some reason. What a night we had!

We talked and talked and talked. She went on and on about the greens. I wondered, at this point, if the greens had a bizarre effect on her metabolism that made her talk more than usual. I loaded the jukebox with music that I knew she liked and she sang along to every word of every song. Johnny Cash was the last song of that very early evening when it was time for the 5 minute slow trek home. A great night indeed.

Prescience comes to mind right now. The old saying “if I knew then what I know now” applies at some point or another in most people’s lives. It applies to work, to relationships, to friendships and decisions. Sometimes I find myself thinking how I wish that night had never ended. But, it did.

Anna Mae passed away early the following morning, quickly and peacefully. I’m told it was a massive heart attack. A lady with no history of health problems whatsoever.

It was her time to go I suppose.

Her children outlived their parents. As Anna Mae put it, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Yes indeed. While I know that’s true, It makes it none to easy to grasp.

If ever there were a time in my life where my faith was tested to the brink, it was at that very moment. But now I realize that it has strengthened my hope and faith. People come in and out of our lives; it’s the way it is and the way it always will be for each of us. Someday I will be that person and so will you, forever gone from earth. But, eternally in the hearts of the people who colored our lives in their own unique way.

The impact that Anna Mae had on me and, I know, many others is part of her larger legacy. Hers, much like mom, was a presence that simply put you at ease. She made me laugh, she offered advice and she listened. Whether we talked non stop or sat quietly enjoying each other’s company, we had fun…she always had fun. She was a good friend.

Hers was a most humble life; an unassuming person who probably never realized the impact that her unassuming existence had on many.

When we’re gone, as each of us will inevitably be, what kind of impact will we make? What legacy will we leave? If the answer is negative, then it’s time to do some work. Don't I know it!

I left the city shortly after Anna Mae’s funeral to take care of personal business and to plant the seeds for a new beginning in Tennessee. I came back to New Orleans for a work project recently. I figured while I was here I’d take advantage of the environment to write about Anna Mae. I actually began writing about my experiences above some time before her death…only now did I feel the time was right to finish it.

After all, she’s probably looking over my shoulder, wondering how I figured out how to turn on this damn computer. She never did understand computers, and sometimes neither do I.

She never told me so, but I could tell from the looks she would sometimes give me that she probably thought I should put my phone down more often and watch the world once in a while. When I would catch one of those looks I felt gently scolded...and then I'd quickly extinguish all portable electronics and pay attention to life unfolding around me.

She had a simple, yet deft, understanding of people. I admired that…I still do.

Even though I’ve changed some things in my life lately, I found it fitting to sit in my usual spot at Finn McCools, next to Anna Mae’s seat, where her name is unassumingly memorialized on a brass plate just beneath the bar. Simply etched:

“Forever Anna Mae”.

I’m looking over my shoulder through the small window that affords a view straight down the street to her house. I can almost see her shuffling from side to side on her tired legs walking toward the bar, as I saw many times before.

I’m sure she’s got brand new legs where she is now and she’s singing and dancing like she so loved to do. And so…I’m smiling right now…

But, I do miss my friend.

copyright Pontchartrain Press 2010


Every season has its purpose.

Summertime is a productive time. Long, lazy and warm days provide an environment for growth and maturity. Gardens are in full bloom, extra hours of sunshine provide an abundance of time for fortification and sustaining reproduction. Garden plants hang heavy with food that will be harvested and saved for months to come.

As the trees explode with brilliant colors, the beauty of fall is indescribable. Fall is a busy season, a season for reaping the fruits of hard labor at the end of the long growing season. The waning days of fall also signals the promise of a winter that’s surely to come.

Everyone prepares with purposeful intention. All with one hope in mind, that winter won’t be a long drawn out affair. Even the trees, while keeping vigilant watch over all who dwell beneath, make preparations of their own. The leaves fall wistfully to the ground, serving an ultimate purpose. Insulation is needed to keep their roots warm from the harsh weather. The leaves give back to the earth by providing nourishment and enrichment for the next growing season. They also provide supplies needed to shelter animals, big and small, for the season to come.

For all of its bitterness, winter holds a beauty that is not always readily appreciated. One must look closely in order to appreciate this, often, misunderstood period of rest. The land takes needed time, rejuvenating for the upcoming season of rebirth.

Finally, the magical moment arrives. It’s as though nature has sounded an alarm clock. Humans and animals alike slowly emerge, surveying the newness of the world around them. Even the plants leisurely poke their heads upward from beneath the ground, as if to be saying hello. Spring has arrived.

It’s a glorious spring day in the forest. The leaves are bright green, lush growth blankets the forest floor. The air is filled with energy and excitement as preparations are made for the gigantic spring gala that will, in a few short days, bring the forest to life, heralding a new beginning for all.

The citizens scramble as decorations and stages are set up for the most anticipated party of the year. A time for reunions after a long season of isolation and reflection. A time where old friends catch up and new friends are made.

Did you get your invitation to the gala yet? The curious chipmunk asked. Stella held her head high, trying as best she could to hide her feelings. She worried that she was waiting for an invitation that would never arrive. Not yet, she replied. The mail is probably just slow; after all, lots of invitations have been sent. It should arrive soon, she announced with a hopeful smile.

The gala is in two days, the chipmunk reminded. I know, I know, it’ll come, Stella dismissed. The chipmunk smiled a comforting smile, he felt bad for Stella. The chipmunk suspected that Stella was indeed waiting for an invitation that would never arrive. After all, the other animals had received their invites days ago.

Stella is a plump little skunk. Year after year she tries her best to convince herself that the invitation must have been lost in the mail. She refused to accept the fact that humans and animals alike fear her kind; specifically the unique talent that the skunk possesses.

Other than the occasional foolish dog or a young animal, who has yet to be acquainted with the smelly consequences of being pushy with a skunk, they are one of the most feared species in the forest. Tangling with a skunk assured that whomever was on the receiving end would receive a lesson that would not soon be forgotten, in more ways than one.

Stella heard the call of the blue jay. The mailman is coming!! She perked up, she just knew that the invitation would come in today’s mail. Stella bounded from her burrow to meet the blue jay, hoping to be the proud recipient of a gala invitation in seconds. She arrived at the small clearing outside of her home only to see the blue jay soar past, never stopping.

There must be a mistake! Stella thought. Come back, you have my mail! Stella yelled to the blue jay. The bird never looked back, he continued his flight without pause. No mail for Stella today.

Stella frequently ate when she was sad or nervous…she ate a lot. She hated that she couldn’t control herself better and always felt even worse after the food binge concluded.

Her heart sank as she officially began to realize that another year would come and go, leaving her empty handed, while all of the other forest citizens celebrated spring again without her.

Stella waddled to the edge of the forest to a nearby farmhouse. She perched on her hind legs and grabbed the rim of an overflowing trash can, tipping it to the ground.

As she feasted on a massive pile of scraps she was completely unaware of the farmer taking aim with a shotgun from the front porch. An ear deafening crash sprayed the nearby trash can with buck shot. Stella leaped from the ground, her heart raced as she scurried away for her life.

Fast on her heels, a hound dog barked furiously and chased Stella deep into the forest. Oh no! She fretted as the dog kept pace behind her across the forest floor. Stella knew that no one wanted to be around her because of the stereotype that hovered like a black, smelly, cloud over her head. She never liked to use her secret weapon. As a matter of fact, Stella went far out of her way trying not to use it.

The dog closed in fast, Stella knew that she must do something. She stopped in her tracks, raising her tail toward the dog. In an instant, the crisp, fresh spring air filled with a terribly breath taking odor. The dog shook his head vigorously and rolled wildly on his back, trying to wipe the nauseating mist from his fur. He gasped and howled in anguish.

I’m so sorry, I didn’t want to do that! Stella pleaded with the dog, hoping that he‘d believe her. The dog grunted, barely able to speak. Go away you stinky beast!

Stella waddled away, feeling badly that she had to spray the dog. She felt even worse about herself now and she worried more than ever that she’d never make new friends. She hated being a skunk and that everyone was afraid of her. All she wanted was a friend; she wanted to be like the others. She longed to jump and play and hang out with the other animals in the forest. She simply wanted to fit in. How was she ever to make friends if everyone was scared of her?? She wondered.

Stella’s thoughts were rudely interrupted by snickering from two squirrels who precariously hovered high above from the limb of a giant oak tree. Hey Stella, did you get your invite to the gala yet? One of the squirrels teased. No, it’ll probably come tomorrow, Stella softly replied. She became increasingly unable to mask her feelings. She felt like an outcast more than ever now.

The squirrels laughed. Yeah, maybe it’ll show up on the day of the party, the squirrels teased. Oh wait, that’s tomorrow. Stella ran away crying. She felt absolutely humiliated.

She ran as far as she could into the forest, sobbing all the way. Her eyes were so filled with tears that she could barely see anything in her path. She tripped over a lump and tumbled and rolled a few feet before landing squarely on her behind.

Stella got up and shook her head. After drying her eyes, she searched the path, trying to figure out what could have possibly caused her to take such a nasty spill. Looking back from where she came, she spotted two turtles, slowly inching their way toward her.

Oh my! Are you okay young lady? One of the turtles anxiously inquired. Stella walked over to the turtles, figuring that she could save them some time since they moved so slowly. I think so, she replied. I’m sorry for not watching my step, she apologized. Not to worry, we can’t exactly move out of the way quickly, the turtles joked.

Stella suddenly realized that the turtles weren’t afraid of her. How could this be? She wondered. I’m Stella. My name is Cecil, and this is my wife Ethel, the turtle introduced he and his wife.

Umm, you’re not afraid of me?? Stella’s eyes widened with relieved happiness. Heavens no, why would we be? Because no one else seems to want me around, I figured turtles would be no different. My dear, that’s because everyone else in the forest is always in such a hurry. We know that you’re harmless. You use your special talent to defend yourself and I don’t think that two old, slow turtles are gonna be scaring you anytime soon, Cecil laughed.

Stella smiled. Finally, she had made new friends! It’s nice not to be misunderstood, Stella said.

Sweetie, the other animals move through their lives so quickly, day after day, that they don’t take time to listen or understand the world around them. We don’t blame them, it seems to be the way of the world these days. I do wish that they would slow down, Ethel said. As for me and Ethel, I suppose we have no choice, Cecil interrupted with a laugh. We see and hear a lot, so we understand my dear, Ethel comforted.

Where are you headed? Stella quizzed. We’re heading to the gala, if we can make it in time. Moving slowly has its benefits, but it has its drawbacks as well, Cecil replied. We miss it almost every year; we usually show up just as they’re taking all the decorations down, Ethel laughed.

At least you get invited, Stella hung her head low. Well, this year we’re trying desperately to arrive on time, Cecil explained. Why? There’s a small pack of wolves who plan to crash the gala, Ethel announced. Oh my! The wolves will ruin the party, they’ll eat everything in sight, Stella gasped. Not to mention, they’re not the most courteous of animals, they’ll trash the place, Cecil added.

How do you know? Are you sure the wolves are gonna crash the party? Stella asked. We’re quite sure my dear; we’re turtles, we sit around all day so we hear a lot and we heard their plans a week ago, Ethel assured.

Stella grew anxious. Oh dear! I’ve got to warn the others. No offense, but you two will never make it in time. Stella knew she had to do something. The turtles would never make it in time and she wasn’t able to carry the turtles with her. She sighed, suddenly realizing that if she showed up, everyone would run. She’d surely be thrown out of the party by the security guards.

I’ve got to figure out how to warn the others so the gala isn’t ruined, Stella exclaimed.

All that night Stella racked her brain, she desperately tried to figure out how she could possibly get into the gala and warn everyone before they ran and hid from her.

Finally, gala day arrived. The decorations hung beautifully from the low branches of the trees which surrounded the large clearing. An enormous spread of food filled the banquet tables as the guests began to arrive for the annual rite of spring. The biggest party of the year was underway and Stella could not figure out how to keep the wolves from ruining it for the others.

She sat in hiding, at the edge of the clearing behind some vines. She panicked as she saw three wolves creeping along the path toward the gala. Stella’s eyes brightened, she suddenly had an idea. She raced as quickly as she could toward the clearing.

She sped past security, leaping toward the main stage. Once she had been spotted, the guests scrambled in every direction as Stella parted the crowd right down the center. The wolves are coming to crash the party! She yelled frantically. Stella turned and spotted the pack as they entered the clearing. They made a beeline toward the banquet tables, licking their lips as they prepared to ravage the food that was laid out for the forest guests.

Stella ran toward the wolves as hard as she could. She finally intercepted the path of the hungry, uncivilized party crashers and stopped directly in front of them. The wolves looked at her with horror, knowing what was about to happen. Stella hiked her tail high. In an instant a wall of rotten spray filled the air. One by one, the wolves crashed head on through the invisible barrier. They yelped and howled in agony, their eyes filled with tears at the horrific odor. They turned immediately and ran for the forest, their tails crouched between their legs. They screamed and cried all the way.

Several of the animals watched from nearby refuge. They reveled in amazement at Stella’s heroic actions. The gala was saved. Joy soon turned to shame as the guests began to feel embarrassed by their actions; they felt ashamed that they’d purposely turned their backs on poor Stella year after year. They realized that they had misjudged this plump little creature.

Stella was soon surrounded by the other animals as the gala host led a cheer for their unlikely hero.

She reveled in the moment, for she had never felt so happy and accepted in all of her life. Her moment of acceptance was soon replaced with concern. She gasped. Oh my! What’s wrong Stella? Two curious groundhogs asked. Cecil and Ethel! She replied. Who are Cecil and Ethel? They’re turtles, Stella answered. They were on their way to warn you all. They’ve never made it to the gala on time, Stella fretted.

They will this year! Not to worry my dear, we’ll go get them, one of the groundhogs assured.

Stella basked in her shining moment. She ate and socialized; absorbing her time of long awaited acceptance. She barely took time to chew as she chatted non stop with her newfound forest friends.

The animals hovered around their heroic guest of honor as Stella looked toward the edge of the forest where she spotted the two groundhogs nudging Cecil and Ethel along the path. Their heads securely tucked inside their shells, they rolled toward the clearing like bowling balls. The turtles shrieked with excitement as though they were on a rollercoaster ride. Weeeeee!!!! Stella laughed.

Cecil and Ethel landed directly in front of Stella, poking their heads from their shells. That was fun, let’s do it again! Cecil exclaimed.

You two finally made it! Stella jumped for joy. Yeah, now we’ve got to figure out how to get back home, Cecil replied. By the time we get back it’ll be time for next year’s gala, Ethel laughed.

Stella jumped and played all afternoon. Her new friends finally had a better understanding of her; they soon realized that Stella wasn’t bad at all; in fact they found that she was no different from them. She had hopes, fears and feelings, just like them.

Just as every season serves a purpose, everyone serves their own purpose on this big, beautiful planet. On this particular lovely spring afternoon the forest denizens learned a lesson from Stella the skunk.

In their rush to judgment, they learned that their fears had been based on what they’d heard. They assumed something without ever once taking time to find the facts first hand.

They learned that being a little different is nothing to fear…unless you happen to be three party crashing wolves.

copyright Pontchartrain Press 2010

Friday, April 23, 2010

Miriam's Birthday

…Happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Miriam, happy birthday to you!! Blow out the candles Miriam!!

Miriam lives with her mother, papa and an older brother outside a tiny village on the Serengeti. They live in relatively safe haven, given the natural dangers that lurk throughout this grassland. They share land with a nearby group of researchers who observe and track exotic animals which dot this, sometimes, unforgiving terrain.

Miriam is 2-years old today and her family has thrown her a birthday party.

Yeah Miriam, blow out the candles, her older brother Galeel snickered. Miriam jumped as high as she could. She huffed and puffed and grunted with each leap. No matter how hard she tried she just couldn’t reach the top of the cake. Trying to mask her frustration and embarrassment, she kept trying, fearing even more teasing from Galeel.

Miriam is, as one might say, a vertically challenged young lady. Most would call her short. Typically, not the worst dilemma that a young lady could face but, when you’re a giraffe, it’s a major shortcoming…so to speak.

Galeel roared with laughter as he stepped up to the cake and effortlessly blew out Miriam’s candles. Galeel!! Mother scolded. That’s enough young man! Papa reprimanded.

No one in the herd quite knew how or why poor Miriam was underdeveloped. Even though her papa loved her dearly, he sometimes felt a hint of embarrassment. Anytime his buddies brought it up, he quickly changed the subject. If her mother felt the same, she never let on.

Galeel, on the other hand, made no such attempt to hide his feelings on the subject. After all, he is a typical older brother. Being as such, his favorite pastime was making sport of his younger sister.

Miriam kicked Galeel in the shin and ran away crying. She felt terribly embarrassed and wanted to hide away forever. She often felt like running away but she knew how dangerous the grassland was, especially so for a runt like her.

Galeel! Go apologize to your sister right this minute, mother demanded. Why? She IS short, Galeel insisted, trying to justify his teasing. She won’t be short forever and, even so, it’s no excuse for bad behavior, mother explained. Papa interjected. And, because your mother said so young man…don’t back-talk.

Galeel walked to a nearby stream where he found his sister, sobbing. I’m sorry Miriam, I was just playing. Everyone teases me, Miriam sobbed. I’m short!! What if I never grow any taller? Miriam’s voice trembled. Look at the bright side, Galeel began. Maybe you could join the circus. Miriam sobbed even louder.

Galeel!! Papa yelled from a distance, do as your mother said, he scolded. Will you pipe down Miriam? I’m only joking. Galeel loudly whispered anything to make his sister stop crying. He knew that if she didn’t, he’d be in big trouble.

Just leave me alone Galeel! Miriam snapped. I wanna be alone for a while and you really hurt my feelings. Okay look, I’m sorry Miriam. Galeel tried his best to smooth things over, for he knew what trouble awaited from mother and papa if Miriam didn’t stop crying. Go away! She demanded.

Later, the herd feasted on leaves and tree branches near the stream. The sounds of crunching limbs and leaves echoed through the glen, only interrupted by conversation about the day‘s events. Some talked about the news, others just gossiped.

Miriam snacked on the small growth near the bottom of a tree. Her mother snapped branches from above and tossed them down to Miriam, making sure that she’d have plenty to eat. Nearby, a few of Miriam’s school-mates quietly teased and snickered.

How was she ever to fit in? she wondered. Her school-mates were twice her size! She hung her head low. Are you done eating Miriam? Mother asked. Yes mother…I’m not too hungry tonight. Don’t pay attention to the others Miriam, her mother comforted. One day you’ll grow up to be big and tall and then you’ll show them; you‘re a beautiful young lady my dear. What if I don’t mother? It doesn’t matter, her mother assured. But I’m a giraffe, I‘m supposed to be tall! Miriam implored.

Sweetheart, even if you don’t grow tall like the others, that doesn’t make you weak or a lesser giraffe, her mother explained. It’s easy to lay back and give up because of what you find to be a weakness; recognizing strengths among weaknesses makes one stronger. Worrying won’t make you grow tall dear, it will only bury the strengths that are just waiting to come out. Use your mind; your mind can be taller than any giraffe in the world.

Miriam listened intently to her mother. Miriam, your mind can hold you back if you let it, it can make you shorter as a matter of fact. It seems so hopeless, Miriam sighed. Only if you allow it to do so sweetheart.

Later that evening the herd settled in for sleep near the barn. Two of the Serengeti researchers made their rounds, surveying the group. She’s not grown at all in the past three weeks, one of the researchers observed. Yeah, I saw her chart. I’ve never seen this before, his colleague added. Just keep an eye on her.

Miriam leaned her head against a tree, a tear trickled down her face.
How come THEY don’t get in trouble for calling you short, Galeel whispered. Shut up and go to sleep Galeel! Miriam snapped.

Late that night, long after the herd had gone to sleep, Miriam decided that she’d endured enough ridicule. She resolved that she’d never grow taller and had finally grown utterly weary of the embarrassment that she’d brought to her family.

She crept past the sleeping herd, cautiously crossing the tiny stream until she reached the other side. Miriam looked back to the herd. The midnight moon hung brightly above as she slowly turned away, her head hung low.

The Serengeti grew opaquely dark as the bright midnight moon disappeared into the depths of night. Strange noises rang from every direction near and far. Miriam was frightened and she was miles from home.

She’d always heard of the dangers that lurked beyond the stream. Miriam began to second guess her decision. She hid in a nearby cluster of trees, barely able to hold her eyes open from the journey. She leaned against a tree and finally fell asleep.

Oh my! A voice pierced the tranquility of a beautiful grassland sunrise. Miriam snapped to attention. The voice was that of one of Africa’s most despised hunters. A jackal! Typically, the Jackal hunts in packs, making smaller prey its primary menu choice. A most formidable predator to the runts of the grasslands; an unfortunate situation for Miriam. This must be my lucky day! The jackal gleamed.

Where’s your herd little one? The Jackal asked. I don’t know…I ran away from home, Miriam nervously replied. Ran away? Are you completely mad? Do you have any idea what any number of beasts could do to you out here…myself included?? The Jackal slowly inched closer to Miriam with each passing word, licking his lips, saliva dripped from his fangs. I could snap your tiny little legs right now and feast on you for hours little one.

Miriam trembled, looking down at the beast; her face stricken with fear. She was paralyzed. She knew that she couldn’t outrun this wild dog and she was miles from home anyway. Knowing that she had no place to run, she began to cry, she pleaded with the Jackal. Please, please, please? Please don’t hurt me!! She begged.

Oh dear. The Jackal wryly dismissed. Just what I need this morning, a sobbing dwarf giraffe. Not to worry my little morsel. Fortunately for you I’m in a good mood…and I’m full. Plus, you have bigger worries, the Jackal continued. Miriam dried her eyes. What worries?? I know where your herd dwells my sweet, as does a pride of lions. They plan to invade soon.

What?? How do you know? Miriam implored. My pack trails them; we get the sloppy leftovers that they leave behind, the Jackal assured. I must warn them! Miriam exclaimed. But I don’t know where I am, much less how to get back. Miriam’s heart sank.

Well, looking at the size of you, it’s most certainly unwise to set out again on your own young lady, the Jackal warned. I must tell the herd Jackal; can you help me? Little miss, I’m not a tour guide and, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m a scavenger. The researchers near the village would trap me for sure.

Miriam’s eyes welled with tears. Please help me Jackal…please? She begged.

The Jackal sulked for a moment, grumbling to himself, his words barely audible. Miriam gazed at him with wide, pleading, eyes. Oh…alright, but just this once, he grudgingly agreed. Great! Miriam jumped up and down, screaming with joy. Will you pipe down young lady? I suspect the last thing you want to do is draw attention to yourself out here, the jackal reprimanded. Oh, yeah, sorry jackal. Dear me, what am I doing? The Jackal sighed.

My name’s Miriam, what’s your’s? Jeremy. Jeremy the Jackal?? Miriam giggled. Young lady, are you sure you’re in any position to be poking fun? I’m sorry Jeremy; it‘s a delightful name, thank you for your help.

Miriam and Jeremy set out toward the stream where she and the herd lived. So, how can the pride invade our sanctuary? The caretakers and researchers are there. They’ve been watching your herd; this pride is a crafty, nasty group. You’re caretakers always leave on Saturday for three hours; the pride knows it, Jeremy explained. Oh dear, Miriam panicked. Please, let’s hurry Jeremy…today is Saturday!!

Suddenly, a scream rang from the distance. Heeeelp! Jeremy and Miriam moved closer, trying to locate the source of the distress call that had interrupted their conversation. There, near a clearing, was a zebra. The zebra looked peculiar to them both.

Dear me! Jeremy exclaimed. Miriam stared in amazement. Directly ahead they spotted a zebra with only TWO black stripes. His hind leg was ensnared in a poacher’s trap. Please help me! The zebra begged. Oh my, the lions will make quick business out of this poor lad, Jeremy assured. What do you mean?? Miriam shouted. I mean that with all of this screaming, they’ll surely hear him and it wont take long for one of the scouts to find him. We must move on, Jeremy warned.

Nooo! We have to help him Jeremy! Young miss, he’s a goner, better him than you Miriam. I’m not leaving him, Miriam insisted. Well then, you stay behind and you’ll both become a double treat for the pride…then I’ll be here to clean up the leftovers. Jeremy walked away. He grumbled and mumbled with frustration as he moved further away. Looking back, he noticed Miriam trying desperately to bite the wire that had caught the zebra’s hind leg.

Why? Why? Why me? Jeremy sighed before returning to the trap. Young miss, you’ll never be able to break that wire…you’re teeth aren’t nearly sharp enough, Jeremy assured. Yours are, Miriam shot Jeremy a hopeful look. Jeremy grudgingly stared at Miriam, then to the wire around the zebra’s leg. In a split second, he pounced to the trap. Get out of the way dear, he demanded.

Jeremy sank his teeth into the wire, gnashing furiously. Careful, careful!!! The zebra panicked. Oh, be quiet, Jeremy scolded. Suddenly, the wire snapped and the zebra was free.

The zebra leaped to his feet and galloped in circles, screaming wildly. I’m free! I’m free! Thank you so much jackal! The name’s Jeremy…and you’re welcome zebra. Now, off you go…go on now, Jeremy commanded.

The odd looking zebra stopped the celebration dance dead in his tracks. His face turned sad as he lowered his head. I don’t know where to go, he sighed. What do you mean? Jeremy quizzed. I’m lost, I ran away from home. Jeremy looked to the heavens. TWO in one day, how did I ever become so lucky?

Miriam interrupted. Why did you run away? Look at me, I’m a zebra…with only two stripes. Everyone made fun of me so I ran away; I couldn’t take it anymore.

I’m Miriam, what’s your name zebra? It’s Nathan. Well Nathan, pleased to meet you; this is Jeremy. Nice to meet you both. Jeremy grumbled. Miriam snickered, nudging her head toward Jeremy; he’s a lot nicer than he seems Nathan. Can we go now? Jeremy impatiently begged. The pride won’t be far behind.

Pride? What pride? Nathan frantically asked. There’s a pride of lions planning to invade my village near the stream, Miriam replied. Come with us Nathan; the caretakers will protect you and they can probably help you get back to your herd.

The caretakers won’t be able to do a thing if we keep wasting time standing out here, Jeremy interrupted. Jeremy is correct, we need to get moving, Miriam concurred.

Jeremy, Miriam and Nathan began their trek toward the village; Jeremy led the way as Miriam and Nathan trailed shortly behind. I ran away too, Miriam began. How come? Look at me, I’m a giraffe…a short giraffe. Well, how do you think I feel looking like an incomplete zebra? TWO stripes!! They all make fun of me! Nathan lamented.

What do your parents say about it…about you looking different that is, Miriam pried. They tell me that it doesn’t matter, that I have so many other qualities and that I should focus on them and pay no attention to the teasing. How about your parents? Pretty much the same, Miriam sighed.

A few moments passed when Nathan broke the silence. What qualities? Miriam looked puzzled. What qualities do you possess? Nathan clarified. My parents tell me that I’m smart. I mean, I make good grades in school but I HATE school because I get teased all the time, Miriam replied.

How bout’ you? What qualities do your parents point out? Miriam asked. I’m faster than any other zebra in our herd. I suppose I had to be fast; I get beat up a lot in school so I have to run from the bullies all the time, Nathan hung his head in shame.

Well Mr. Nathan, I think your two stripes are simply delightful…it gives you character, Miriam smiled. Nathan blushed.

Jeremy stopped and glared back with disgust. If you two are finished making me nauseous, we’re coming up on the village. The pride is nearby, there‘s no time to waste. How do you know Jeremy? Miriam quizzed. I see my pack in the distance, over there, near the stream.

Miriam had a brainstorm. Oh! I just remembered something. Miriam danced and jumped anxiously with joy and triumph. Will you stop that? Jeremy scolded. We don’t need to draw attention! Miriam collected herself. Oh, sorry, you’re right. She began to explain the reason for her joy. The caretakers ALWAYS leave the giraffe barn open during the day, even when they leave. All we have to do is warn the others and get them to the barn. Then we lock the door behind us…problem solved. Very well, Jeremy dismissed, let’s get going.

Jeremy lead the way as Miriam and Nathan galloped behind. They approached the herd when Miriam immediately spotted her family. Miriam’s mother and papa raced toward her. MIRIAM! Where have you been?? Her parents were relieved to see that Miriam was safe.

Mother, papa, I’m fine…I was tired of bringing you such embarrassment so I ran away. I know it was wrong; I’m sorry papa, I’m sorry mother.

Ahem! Jeremy grew impatient. Who is THIS? Papa asked. Oh, this is Jeremy, thanks to him I found my way home. And this is Nathan. Jeremy interrupted…Yes, yes, we’re all pleased to meet, perhaps we’ll have tea soon. Miriam, there is a rather urgent task at hand, Jeremy reminded.

Oh my, yes! Miriam refocused. Mother, papa, we have to warn the herd and get them to the barn. Why? What’s wrong dear? Miriam’s mother quizzed. Jeremy and Miriam explained the imminent danger that inched closer to the village and urged that it was time to get to the giraffe barn.

Word raced through the herd. Jeremy, Miriam and Nathan canvassed the pasture, warning all. A frantic stampede of giraffe bolted directly toward the barn.

The pride of lions slowly emerged from a distant bluff. They noticed the activity and began to charge rapidly toward the herd. They’re here! Jeremy yelled. The herd continued their mad stampede when suddenly, one after another, they came to a screeching halt.

Oh dear! Miriam shrieked. The top portion of the door was closed. Jeremy, there’s no way the giraffe can bend down far enough!! Nathan frantically yelped. The pride closed in, disaster loomed. Nathan knew that a diversion was needed, quickly. You two, figure something out, fast! Nathan yelled as he turned and ran directly toward the pride. Nathan!! NO! Miriam begged. Get that door open Miriam! Nathan yelled back.

Nathan zigged and zagged directly in front of the pride. The lions diverted their charge toward the herd, turning their attention to Nathan. Miriam looked back in horror. Jeremy, we’ve got to help him! She begged. Jeremy knew that Nathan was in big trouble. He looked up to Miriam and again back to Nathan. He sighed. You get this herd in the barn! Jeremy charged away toward the pride. He ran opposite from Nathan, drawing two of the pride away.

Miriam darted under the barn door. Her head barely cleared but, thanks to her height, or lack thereof, she made it to the other side. She looked up to the upper door latch; it was just out of reach! She jumped as high as she could, barely missing the latch with her nose. She jumped again, and again. Finally, with one frantic jump, her horn caught the trip latch. The door swung open and, in an instant, the herd raced inside to safety.

Close the door! The herd elder yelled. NO! Miriam screamed. She looked toward the stream, watching as Jeremy and Nathan scrambled among the pride, splitting them in half. Nathan…get to the barn!! Jeremy yelled.

Both Nathan and Jeremy raced as fast as they could toward the barn. Nathan, with his mighty speed, outpaced the pride but Jeremy wasn’t as fast. The pride closed in quickly on the jackal. Jeremy knew that he was in big trouble. Nathan glanced back, knowing that Jeremy wouldn’t last much longer. He slowed his pace and yelled to Jeremy. RUN TO ME JEREMY! JUMP ON MY BACK!

Jeremy bounded as hard as he could, the lead lion steadfast on his heels. Finally, he came within yards of Nathan and leaped as high and mighty as he could. If he missed, the game was over. He would surely die. He soared through the air as the terrified herd watched through the barn door. Miriam’s mother turned her head, she was too nerve racked to watch. Jeremy landed squarely on Nathan’s back.

Hold on! Nathan yelled. Nathan picked up his pace to lightning speed toward the barn. The pride closed in rapidly and unrelentingly. Get ready to lock the bottom door! Jeremy yelled ahead.

Nathan cleared the threshold, only seconds remained before the pride would surely make it to the door. In an instant, one of the herd nudged the door, Jeremy flew from Nathan’s back, grabbing the latch and using his weight to pull the lever. The lever squeaked and creaked, slowly falling downward. Finally, the door latched securely.

Outside, the pride of lions pounded the door. Gnashing, roaring and pawing wildly at the door. The front wall shook violently as they tried with all their might to break the stronghold.

The sound of gunfire suddenly rang loudly from outside. A bevy of jeeps raced wildly to the front of the barn, encircling the pride. The pride, being spooked and knowing that the caretakers would surely tranquilize them, ran in fear. Retreat. The herd had been saved.

Sunday afternoon was absolutely delightful in the Serengeti. The sun shone brightly at such an angle that one could almost see each and every blade of grass across the sprawling expanse.

In a nearby cluster of trees the herd had gathered for a celebration feast. A toast was given to three, unlikely, heroes. It was also a special occasion of another sort. Today was Jeremy the jackal’s birthday.

Miriam’s mother looked down and smiled at her precious little girl. I told you that dwelling on things can do nothing but hold one back. Your mind, not others or what they think, is the only barrier. You figured out how to break through the wall that held you back. You saved our herd, and your two friends. I’m proud of you Miriam. You figured out how to turn your size into a strength.

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Jeremy, happy birthday to you!! The herd sang loudly, as did Nathan. The cake was hoisted to a nearby branch.

Oh, stop it! Is this really necessary?? Jeremy grumpily dismissed. Will you smile for once? Nathan prodded the Jackal. Jeremy glared at Miriam and then to Nathan. He sat for a moment as the herd stared with anticipation deeply on their faces.

Miriam scooped Jeremy up with her head and raised him to the branch. Blow out your candles Jeremy!! Nathan shouted. The herd stood, anxiously silent, with all eyes focused on the grumpy little jackal perched atop Miriam’s head.

For goodness sakes, OK!! Jeremy flashed a colossal smile for a split second before blowing out the candles. The heard roared as Jeremy quickly replaced the smile with his typical scowl. Don’t tell my pack; we’re supposed to be mean and scary looking you know? Jeremy quipped.

The group feasted and danced the afternoon away, celebrating Jeremy’s birthday, and the deeds of three heroes. A smart little giraffe who was short enough to rise to heights of a different measure, a lightning fast two striped zebra who gained his strength and speed by running from ridicule. And, a very grumpy, but warm hearted, jackal.

Heroes because they broke through stereotypes, shortcomings and enormous odds to make impossible…possible

copyright Pontchartrain Press 2010

Author's note: This was written as a birthday present for someone who is very special to me. A person who believes in my work and who was a tremendous sounding board as I put finishing touches on my book and began writing a short children's series. She was a great editor. A friend indeed.

Some Things I Have Learned

While I suppose it’s a practical requirement to take inventory from time to time, I find that birthdates seem to be a good bookmark. Birthdates are also a good excuse to eat whatever the hell ya’ want…all day long; which is precisely what I plan to do.

Perhaps it’s time for some shorthand notes that I’ve carried around in my jeans to finally be transcribed tonight. Hence I can finally toss this ragged piece of notebook paper and wash these jeans. Of course, I will have to purge the washer of clothes from two of the other tenants in my building since they tend to wash clothes and assume that they’ll magically jump into the dryer and upstairs to their closet. Here we go:

Never listen to movie critics. I would have missed some classics if I had.

Overindulgence of any kind is never a good idea.

I really love fried chicken…for that matter, I love fried anything…especially if it’s enveloped in bacon.

There’s nothing wrong with asking for help.

Admit when you’re wrong.

No matter how long I live…farts will still be freakin’ hilarious to me.

I sometimes, foolishly, forget that I DO have one living family member. No matter what a piece of notarized paper says. And this person has unquestionably been an enormous source of advice, comfort and self realization of late. Thank you.

I had a whole bunch of fun drinking cheap ass tequila at 20 years old sitting in the middle of the lake with people I‘ve not seen since. It was a blast…no matter how bad my head hurt the next morning. Waking up at 7am with a trail of beer cans floating behind us seemed funny. How we never got busted by the coast guard still puzzles me.

Some people are simply not nice…that shouldn’t dictate your own mood, actions or mode of thinking.

Tucking things away does not fix a problem. If a tree falls in the forest it may not be heard if no one is there, but the fact remains that there is a mess to clean up and ignoring it adds no redeeming value to the work at hand. Put on some work gloves and get busy.

Real love isn’t necessarily hard to find. Sometimes it finds you when you least expect it. Keeping it is what takes work…and it’s never to be taken for granted.

Agreeing to disagree is an overused and unreservedly inaccurate statement. You simply agree or disagree. There’s nothing wrong with healthy debate. Sometimes only one side is correct. Sometimes ALL parties involved are wrong; sometimes they‘re all correct. Compromise comes to mind.

The first kiss between two people, no matter how old you are, still causes butterflies…it’s supposed to do just that.

I miss my family, but missing them to an unhealthy level won’t make a single one of them come back. So, I savor the good moments more often.

Publishing a book is harder than writing one…but it’s certainly worth it.

Good friends are indeed hard to find. They’re also easy to overlook if your head is clouded. Pay attention to them; they need YOU sometimes too.

I really have an unhealthy obsession with Cash Cab.

It’s a good idea to step back and let someone else give you a fresh, outside, perspective on your problems, shortcomings or situation. Critique is not always easy to hear, but necessary to grow.

I don’t care how bad your relationship is with a parent or sibling, don’t let them pass without making amends or speaking your mind. I’ve seen too many people live a life of regret because of it.

It’s time for some bad habits to go away.

Finn McCool’s deserves a public thank you from me for providing a creative and comfortable environment in which I spent half of 2009 writing. They were also more of a family than they might realize when I was dealing with things in Tennessee.

Having a hobby is a good thing

If I had a time machine, I wouldn’t do a damn thing with it other than visit the grassy knoll in November of 1963 to see exactly WHAT happened with JFK. That’s why taking a little inventory is a good idea from time to time…to avoid the necessity for a time machine. A flux capacitor (what a great movie) won’t help.

People watching is a fun and entertaining way to amuse yourself or forget about troubles for a while. It’s like watching live, unscripted, television without the 7-second delay. Plus, it’s free!

New Orleans has afforded me painful lessons, incredible friendships, inspiration, indescribable love, high and low times and valuable insights. But, I suspect there is a guy or girl sitting in Boise Idaho saying the same thing about their town. No offense to Boise, I‘m sure it‘s a fine place for some. The potatoes are most abundant there…but I’ll take crawfish with my potatoes these days thank you very much.

Slow and steady does indeed win the race.

City Park is a great place to spend a late afternoon, except for dodging giant, stinging, man eating caterpillars by the way.

Saying that you’re sorry is an important thing to do. Fully realizing what you’re sorry for is an absolute must in order for it to be real.

I think that many of my friends could be legitimate stand-up comedians. It’s nice to close the laptop, put away the cell phone and laugh rather than to miss the moment.

I need to get new tires…and an oil change. Crap!

Hope is a good and healthy thing.

Things can always be worse. Just this week two of my friends are incredibly lucky to be alive. They should both be dead, but apparently it wasn’t their time to go. And for, undoubtedly, selfish reasons I’m quite happy.

Fruit plate for breakfast and a spinach salad for lunch still paves the way for a guilty pleasure on birthday eve…cheeseburger and fries! Judge me if you will…I‘m having a sugar coma inducing bowl of cereal tomorrow morning too.

I’m looking at a gorgeous full moon right now sitting on my stoop. After years of having friends deployed in the military in far off lands, having bouts of homesickness and experiencing lost love here and there I still find myself wondering who else is looking at it while I am…and what they must be thinking.

It’s still good to buy something for yourself that you absolutely don’t need.

If you ever think that no one is listening to your little radio broadcast in the middle of the night, as a friend of mine once told me, open the mic and say “shit”. You’ll soon find out otherwise. Unfortunately, it will probably be the boss. (they NEVER sleep)

For some reason 11pm is the loneliest time of night. Not sure why but, to be sure, DVD’s help.

Cell phones can be a modern day ball and chain.

Sometimes life can suck, but if you stop and think about it, most of the time it doesn’t. Especially when you hit a royal flush on the max bet at a poker machine. Score!

Life and love really are just that simple, until you complicate it. (see the aforementioned tree falling)

copyright Pontchartrain Press 2010