Saturday, July 31, 2010

Meet My Little Friend Pontchartrain.

Lots of people thought it fitting that Pontchartrain Press takes its name as a tribute to the region, or the magnificent lake which lies therein and, to a degree, it does. But, quite simply, Pontchartrain is a cat.

She is the product of my very first children's short story, which may be found in the April 2010 archives of this site.

I know she has this nasty little smoking habit, as soooo many starlets do once they hit the big time, but so does the President. I'm putting her on the nicotine patch soon. Not to worry, she shall not end up like Ms. Lohan- I'm a responsible pet owner.

Now that you've met Pontch...toss her a little treat and rub her head for luck once in a while.

She's really quite pleased to meet you.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Not Tonight...I Have A Headache

What a great weekend I had visiting with friends- no work, abandoning healthy eating habits for New Orleans culinary fare. By the way, a friend of mine thinks he’s eating healthy by ordering cooked veggie plates. (Insert hysterical laughter here) I haven’t the heart to tell him that it’s simmered in a stick of butter and a half pound of bacon grease…there‘s a REASON those greens taste so good my friend.

I can’t comprehend my buddy’s guilt laden mindset where food is concerned. My point being that if you’re not eating the guilty pleasures in life everyday, you’ll be okay. As for me, when I dive off the food wagon I do it right. As a matter of fact, I’m hoping for a New Orleans chef to blaze a trail and devise a way to make my favorite dishes portable- Crawfish Monica, with a side of Boudin and fried shrimp…all on a giant stick. Even better? The STICK is edible! Made out of aged, twisted beef jerky and served by bikini clad women! The Man Vs. Food guy couldn't handle this dish. This has Nobel Prize written ALL over it.

A great weekend indeed…

For someone with no intimate history, one might discount the pain which had found me in the wee hours of Monday morning as a penance for a weekend of fast-living. Others might find it downright terrifying, as did I many years ago…not this time, this was a familiar road.

This night found me sitting on the floor, against the wall, waiting for a handful of aspirin to take hold, slowly coming to grips with a demon which, fortunately for me, only comes calling (on average) about every 6 or 7 years. A Cluster Headache. The opening salvo to a few weeks of impending dread and a carefully altered lifestyle.

I'll get to some nonsense in a sec, but first: From those who clinically document it in reference material:

It‘s nicknamed "the suicide headache," a neurological disease which involves, as its most prominent feature, an immense degree of pain. "Cluster" refers to the tendency of these headaches to occur periodically, with active periods interrupted by spontaneous remissions. The onset usually occurs with about 5-minutes lead time with the headache lasting from 15-minutes to 3 or more hours with a debilitating effect. The cause of the disease is currently unknown (although I suspect that my editor, Mike, has much to do with it.) Cluster Headaches affect approximately 0.1% of the population, and men are more commonly affected than women- although women who suffer describe the pain as more intense than that of natural childbirth.

I’ve never given birth, but I’ll take the ladies for their word on this. I've broken several bones throughout my body and can assure you that a broken bone, no matter WHICH bone it is, feels better by comparison. I compare it to what I imagine a hot ice pick being jammed into the side of your skull would feel like. That’s never happened to me either but, should I ever find myself keeping company with a psychopathic killer, I will request that he use this method in killing me so that I might finally be able to confirm my analogy.

As a close second on the pain comparison scale, it also shoots pain through your head much like when your significant other asks: “Would you like to go to Brian and Jennifer’s house warming party?”

People actually commit suicide while suffering from these things- not from Brian and Jennifer‘s house warming party, not that I that I know of. I say that there are a hundred better reasons to kill yourself other than a headache (Now you have a rudimentary understanding as to why they wouldn’t allow me to volunteer for the crisis hotline a few months ago.)

No worries for me in the suicide department, I would miss baseball, Saints and Titans football too much…the only thing which makes me want to jump off a building is the sound of my editor’s voice, America’s Got Talent and my friend Todd‘s wife. (In no particular order.)

I’m not sharing this little slice of my world for pity, I’m doing so in order to raise slight awareness, as there are numerous neurological professionals who are trying to unlock the mystery behind this ailment for those who lead a non-stop debilitating life because of it. Incidentally, a gentleman by the name of Dr. David Kudrow, Lisa Kudrow’s (of Friends fame) brother, is considered a leading authority.

Currently, there is no known cure or effective treatment.

I knew a guy who suffered chronically, almost every single day! I can’t imagine…but I can certainly understand how the pain might make someone suicidal. For me, many years pass in between “episodes,” and for that, I am thankful.

When I told a friend of mine that I was going to write something lighthearted about the past two weeks of pain she couldn’t imagine any such angle. I told her that last night I turned down 2 free shots of whiskey…she laughed hysterically…my work here is finished, and I take a bow.

Drinking is unwise during a cluster period, unless you’d like to end up in the fetal position of a random corner wishing for the comfort of sweet death…such as a typical evening for my friend Todd at his house.

The first time I had a bout with the evil Cluster was about 18-years ago on vacation with a buddy of mine. Since I had absolutely no history of headaches the doctor hooked me up to every machine imaginable and ordered a CAT scan. 18-years ago they were difficult to diagnose, unlike today. Finally, a good ol’ general practice doc diagnosed what he’d only read about in a text book.

Stress typically exacerbates the pain- fortunately, my headache bout occurred during a stress-free two weeks.

After writhing in pain until 4am, finally get to sleep for three hours before beginning my day.

Receive a call from my editor, who tells me that no one is able to work today and he needs help. I’m not sure how five people suddenly call out of work; perhaps they were killed in a freak hot air balloon accident while sipping champagne and eating cheese high above the city. I wrap my head in ice packs and begin writing assignments while scanning the news channels for news of any freak hot air balloon catastrophes.

After writhing in pain until 5am, finally get to sleep for two hours before beginning my day.

Receive a call from my storage facility out of state informing me that they are significantly raising the rates. Make a decision to take a road trip in order to vacate the facility. A simple enough task, since there are only 850-thousand items in my storage rooms.

After writhing in pain ALL night and much of the morning- with about 30-minutes of sleep- begin my day.

Prep for the road trip, eat lunch, writhe in pain for about 2-hours, take a nap. Wake up at 2pm, go to the corner pub to watch a little ESPN news to divert attention from the pain- until the guy who has clearly been drinking non-stop (since last Wednesday) decides to engage me in a political conversation. I concoct the best “go away” story I can fathom in order to firmly draw the curtain of silence. I announced that I am feeling a bit pensive after returning from a special assignment overseas covering a story about a rare, highly contagious, virus which had eradicated an entire village due to massive bleeding from their eyeballs and anus. Believe me when I tell you that drunk people are incredibly stupid. He finally slides from his stool and plays Pearl Jam on the jukebox...

Writhe in pain for a few hours before drifting in and out of sleep.

A pain-free morning!

Begin the 8-hour road trip, which was punctuated by numerous car problems and Interstate mishaps. Still no headache!

Take care of storage facility issue, paying a $600 fee to close out my contract and set up moving process (for the low cost of $2000.) Do a shot of whiskey- writhe in pain for about 3-hours.

With the business at hand behind me, decide to enjoy a day and evening with long lost friends, including a longtime female friend who tells me that she and two other lady friends plan to skinny-dip in the swimming pool later. Suddenly my head feels much better, until the group decides that we should go to a karaoke bar.

As I sat at the table listening to three women butcher “Sweet Caroline” all I can remember thinking is that if I had a time machine I would go back to the day that Neil Diamond wrote that song and beg him to not write a second verse so that the song would end faster. Knowing that wasn’t possible, I then prayed for a runaway freight train to hit the building.

11:00pm- Cursing the day I was born as I writhed in pain to the sounds of swimming pool splashing and giggling taking place outside the window.

A stress-free first week indeed.

My second week was somewhat less stressful, with the exception of having to actually go INTO the office and visit with the powers that be, et al. I liken this to being punched by a 5-time heavyweight champion boxer directly in the ass…I’m not talking about the cheeks either.

Speaking of which, fortunately, there IS a drug which greatly offsets the pain of a Cluster headache. Unfortunately, it is only available in suppository form. This is, yet, another glaring example of why I could never be gay.

By the end of week number two, the movers had delivered and unloaded the contents of my storage containers. As I emerged from a 13-hour nap, after writhing in pain for 6-hours, I received a call from one of the movers informing me that my ex was there and wondered if she could have two champagne flutes that were amongst the storage belongings. As I lay there, with my head against a block of ice, shoving suppositories in my ass, I literally threatened to kill him if he called back.

After the pain subsided, I decided that some food might do me some good, since I hadn’t eaten in about 24-hours.

There are certain foods which one must avoid when suffering during a Cluster headache period so as not to trigger an attack. The good news is that it’s not an overly restrictive list. A partially inclusive list of no-no’s include:

All fast food, all home cooked food, people who have come into contact with food, pizza, chocolate, bread, salt, pepper, garlic, vegetables, meat, vitamin supplements, drinking from cups, touching champagne flutes, cheese (and all dairy products), eggs, seafood, Mexican food, Chinese food, Japanese food, pasta, chips, nuts, deli products, tofu, fruit, casually glancing at restaurant menus, ice and water. Fortunately Gummie Lifesavers, crack cocaine and coffee are permitted.

I suppose the dietary list doesn’t matter much anyway, since the appetite tends to ebb during the headache period. I’ve lost 5-pounds- bringing me down to 150- which means I now qualify for American Idol tryouts. Always looking for the positive, yes indeed.

You’re not supposed to smoke during a Cluster episodic period, so I just ate cigarettes, since they’re not listed on the restrictive food list.

After more than two weeks of these headaches the pain has slowly, but surely, begun to subside and I’m feeling much more like myself.

I am a firm believer in lightening situations by poking a little fun, but the truth of the matter is that I wouldn’t wish this pain on anyone. I also am thankful that it’s just Cluster headaches, as I am acutely aware that there are many more incurable, life-threatening illnesses.

I suppose that I primarily wanted to write something in order to communicate a word or two to a small circle of immensely dear friends in my life…

For those who find themselves in the company of someone who is in a full Cluster seizure, I feel overwhelmingly thankful and sympathetic at the same time. I’m told that it stirs emotions of fear and unparalleled helplessness for those who witness an attack. I can lay assurances that, even though there’s not much that a by-stander can do, simply being there is an enormous comfort which cannot be fully expressed in words. And to those people (you know who you are) I love you.

And now, feeling much better, I shall enjoy a shot of Irish whiskey…in a chilled champagne flute.

copyright Pontchartrain Press 2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010

On The Road Again

I miss the old days of having a mailbox in the front yard…actually I suppose I miss having a front yard more than anything. Okay, I tried for a split second to begin with a poignant, sentimental passage but the truth is that I actually hated having a yard because I had to mow it to make the neighborhood association shut up and the mailbox served no purpose other than to remind me that I will NEVER pay all of my bills in this lifetime.

I miss the mailbox in my neighbor’s yard across the street more. She’d come out every morning wearing something skimpy and low-cut…It was always a sign that a good day was about to unfold when she’d drop some of her mail on the ground.

I traded in my front yard for a busy street, bustling with cars and aimlessly wandering drunk people. I’m amazed that someone hasn’t tied a chain to my front stoop and literally stolen my house, which explains why I don’t trust having my mail sit in an unguarded box.

My post box is located in the city center about a mile from home, which presents unnecessary problems where parking is concerned. I think I’m going to throw the car in reverse and back into someone’s fender at 30mph the next time they can’t comprehend the “courtesy distance” when I'm trying to parallel park in the middle of a busy downtown thoroughfare.

I use my turn signal, I provide ample advance warning, I do everything short of having a Navy flag-man indicate that parallel parking is about to take place yet, every single time I visit the post box, someone edges close enough to me as though it were vehicle mating season.

Today I received a bill in my box which represented the equivalent of my house payment, only it was for a pair of storage units 500-miles away. The units serve as a repository for my departed mother’s belongings. After briefly considering actually LIVING in the storage unit, I reasoned that:

a) I’m not a Crystal Meth manufacturer

b) It’s best to move the belongings closer to my house so that I might take time sifting through a large collection of afghans, quilts, refrigerator magnets, horrible childhood photos of me and salt and pepper shakers from all fifty states.

In order to make arrangements to move the family belongings closer, a summertime road trip would be necessary. Windows down, a warm breeze whisking through the car on the open highway…and crappy commercial radio stations playing the same 15-songs. As long as I have beef jerky, an Ipod and a co-pilot I‘m happy.

Upon learning of my plan, a few friends volunteered to ride shotgun, however, when picking a “shotgun” companion, one must adopt a selection process which is highly scientific and non-biased, so as not to bruise any feelings.

The eligible candidate must satisfy certain standards so as to meet stringent requirements while ensuring a mutually beneficial open highway experience:

1. They must be female
2. Unafraid of riding with someone who absolutely can not drive
3. Hold the steering wheel while I eat a Mc Doo Doo Extra Value Meal
4. She also must not flinch at the prospect of flashing her boobs to truckers

Don’t judge me…there’s nothing to look at but pine trees on this drive…I verified it on Google Earth. There ARE some Poplar and Oak trees between Central Alabama and Tennessee and a place named “BIG Jim’s Boobie Bungalow” on the Alabama/Tennessee border.

I’m NOT kidding- the sign entices with THIS proclamation: “Discounts for CDL holders.” I was absolutely appalled, because I don’t hold a Commercial Driver‘s License. By the way, my co-pilot won the “Indecent Interstate Amateur” contest, which means that I have time to get my CDL so that we can get the free ultimate appetizer platter and “bottomless” Margarita when we go back in September for the finals. The Cheese StiXXX are awesome!

The 4-day road trip began with me waking up on a friend’s couch, searching for my pants, socks, shoes and dignity. I then raced home to pack a handful of t-shirts & boxer shorts for the trip. Because punctuality is something in which I take pride, I called ahead to inform my co-pilot that I would be late. (Note: Making the courtesy call exonerates one from any preconceived expectations that you will actually be on time.) Employers haven‘t widely embraced this practice but several industry unions are working diligently to remedy the miscommunication.

After safely securing our $300 bag of junk food, it was finally time to hit the road. Getting out of the city was easy enough, with the exception of a stalled train, a multi-vehicle pile-up on the freeway entrance ramp- which seemed to involve every single automobile in the city of New Orleans- and a construction crew performing minor road maintenance. I believe they were demolishing a 16-mile bridge. They must have overstaffed on this particular day, as there were about 10 construction guys standing around smoking cigarettes.

About 2-hours outside of the city we stumbled across, what appeared to be, a biohazard zone. A stretch of highway completely devoid of life- no exits, no houses, no cows- this signals a shady government operation since the cows are always the first to disappear. Not an ideal situation when you’re running extremely low on fuel. I was also out of cigs but, most importantly, we were out of beer. I’m KIDDING! I don’t drink while driving…I do it before I drive. KIDDING again. I’m a huge supporter of highway safety causes, as evidenced by my large monetary (court ordered) donations.

Knowing that my friend smoked menthols, and I don’t, I found myself in a most troubling dilemma- until she announced that she had Camel “Crush.” I suggested that she wear loose jeans for a while. She clarified. Camel has concocted a cigarette that can be all things to all people. If you want it to be menthol, simply crush the filter and it releases menthol; otherwise it’s a regular cig. A bi-sexual cigarette if you will. Brilliant! The folks at Camel have effectively devised a way to expand their market share in globally spreading tobacco related illnesses.

In the middle of my fascinating lesson in “Big Tobacco” genocide, a loud noise rocked the car… It seems that we ran over a piece of tire tread that had flown from a semi truck in front of us. I pulled to the side and made a visual inspection, pretending to know what I was doing and, since it was my lucky day, the debris had only severely dislodged the left side of my bumper.

After stabilizing the bumper, we made our way to the next exit so that a professional could make a more secure repair. The repairs were made for the low price of $150.00 and we were back on the road…for about an hour. At which point we blew out a tire.

Fortunately it occurred near an exit ramp in a tiny Alabama town with one auto repair station. (Translation: auto repairs would cost more than investing in gold on the open market.) We limped along the exit ramp to the tiny service station where a very nice gentleman by the name of J.T. was happy to assist. I don’t know what J.T. stands for, but I recommended that he tell people that it stands for “Just Tires.“ I’m a clever marketer that way.

J.T. spent about 15-minutes under the car when he motioned for me through the smudged garage window. Being on the receiving end of the mechanic “motion gesture” is never good. Is it just me or does anyone else experience the spine chilling “stomach-drop” when going for a basic oil change and the mechanic comes back to the waiting area to speak with you? I always feel as though they’re about to deliver devastating news:

“We changed your oil but, in doing so, we found a defective hydraulic solenoid sensor which has damaged the drive shaft and caused damage to the transmission, the alternator, the carburetor, the steering column, the ozone and the engine block - and you only have three months to live…we have a priest on duty if you need to talk with someone.

J.T. informed me that he replaced the tire, however, the debris that I hit had severed an emissions filter. Because I didn’t want to violate the Kyoto Treaty or anger Al Gore, I asked J.T. to elaborate…in user-friendly terminology. I wanted to know the worst case scenario if I simply waited to make the repair at a later date.

J.T. helpfully explained that, in all likelihood, Al Gore would hunt me down and bore me to death. Most urgently, he felt that the axle rod would fly off, killing a family of four in the vehicle behind me and then my car would spontaneously explode in a deadly ball of fire. Because I was trying to spend as much money as possible on this road-trip, I authorized the repairs.

The repairs were made and my co-pilot flashed J.T. before he bummed a Camel Crush. Down the road again we go…

We made it to town just in time for me to visit with the storage people and to arrange for a moving company to transport my belongings the following week. Mission accomplished! This left a full day to unwind and visit with old friends, only now I was broke.

Unfortunately, all of my friends were either out of town or working so we were on our own. Since my co-pilot had never visited my hometown, I gave her the full city experience. My hometown is a vibrant city, rich with music, art, culture and historic neighborhoods. So we hit three bars and a dive Mexican restaurant while I told her all about the interesting things that we could be doing right now around town. She seemed happy so I think that makes me a pretty decent tour guide...and the Fajita Nachos are a tourist attraction on their own. Mmmm!

We woke up the next day to begin our return back to the deep south, hoping for a smoother road experience.

By the way, there’s a place in South Central Alabama named “Jake’s gun, pawn, fireworks and bait shop.” With a name like that, I felt it incumbent upon me to make a personal gene pool inspection. Upon entering Jake’s, I noticed enough weaponry to storm a small country and several gentlemen who looked like they were ready to hunt down and kill (keel) some terrorists (tearists.) My co-pilot nervously recommended that this was an important sign that I absolutely not talk to anyone in the establishment. She actually begged.

I must say, Jake has an impressive store, right down to the restrooms. Normally, I hate hand dryers…unless it’s the “XCellerator.” This thing is like a reject device from NASA. Not quite powerful enough to lift the space shuttle, but able to dry your hands in 3.7 seconds- and possibly remove tattoos.

I browsed for a few moments before settling on a purchase. I bought a bundle of sparklers, two minnows and, because it was a gun shop, a Three Musketeers Bar.

On the road again…

We wheeled back into to town physically exhausted and mentally drained to the point that we decided it best to simply call it an early night and only have 3 beers and a shot.

All in all it was a great trip, punctuated by a brilliant co-pilot selection. I found myself replaying lighthearted moments like when J.T. pretty much legally robbed us, the sheer joy on the faces of so many truck drivers as they passed us on the passenger side, the drool trickling down my co-pilot‘s face as she slept through the entire state of Mississippi…the list goes on.

As we sat in the courtyard at my friend’s house, lighting sparklers, I felt the moment was right to release my two new minnow friends into the safe haven of the landscaping pond.

As evidenced by the look of horror on my friend's face, apparently minnows don’t adapt to salt all. Thus fulfilling my goal of learning something new every day.

Nonetheless, I shall savor the rewarding experience from this road trip for the rest of my…day.

**Disclaimer: No animals were harmed in the making of this story. (Minnows are fish, not animals)

copyright Pontchartrain Press 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Caution Bloweth In The Wind

I know a girl who recently took up parachuting…for fun! As a matter of fact, over the years, I’ve known several people who parachute and many of them have spewed their “sales pitch” as to why I should experience the raw exhilaration that comes with, potentially, splattering to the ground like a raw egg.

Because my boss hates me, I once did an interview piece with a professional skydiver for a news story about senior citizen skydivers. My pressing question wasn’t about the act of jumping or the funniest memory he held from years of being in the skydiving biz. I wanted to know:

“Who packs the chutes?”

He proclaimed that “HE did.” I asked the obvious follow-up question: “How do you know if the chute is packed correctly?” He cleverly replied “after the jumper lands.” Hahahahaha! And now I have a better understanding as to why my parents, all of my school teachers, my boss, my editor and my ex girlfriend seem less than amused with MY smartass answers.

I’ve yet to join the ranks of those who toss piles of discretionary income aside in order to fall out of a plane, and I‘m fine with that. I do it every day, thank you very much…it’s called getting out of bed. Living on the edge indeed.

When my friends attempt to indoctrinate me, I issue a blanket excuse:

If I’m gonna die from a heart attack, I’d rather it be while having sex with a 22-year old girl (perhaps two at the same time) after eating a bag of pork rinds, a large pizza, 5 shots of Irish whiskey and a pack of cigs. My list is in no particular order…with the exception of the being dead part. Now that I think about it, this is precisely how I spent last Thursday evening…with the exception of the being dead part. And, because healthy decisions are a priority in my life, I purchase ULTRA light cigs.

If we can figure out how to execute my heart-stopping bucket list, AS I’m parachuting, I’ll consider giving it a whirl. Until then I shall keep my feet firmly planted on terra firma…where it’s safe. Or is it??

One need not be a daredevil, attempting to jump the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle, climbing Mount Everest or swimming the English Channel in order to throw caution to the wind. Living on the edge takes on many forms which varies from person to person. For some, it’s day-trading stocks, others roll down the fast lane by taking a detour from their diet, eating that piece of sinful cheesecake.
A few people take detours while on a road trip with co-workers- with one passenger entering a wet t-shirt contest at a biker bar in Dothan, Alabama- where the healthiest thing in the joint is fried cheese and the upper torsos of the contestants. Especially a young woman by the name of Heather from the H.R. department on the second floor…hypothetically speaking, of course.

Dating women from the West Bank can prove to be an exercise in dangerous activity for, uh…some guy I know.

I have a writer friend, Todd, who will assure you that his riskiest move was getting married. I know his wife and, other than the fact that she hates me and will probably end up murdering both me and Todd one day, she seems like a delightful young woman. She makes great lasagna too. I figure that’s how Todd and I will unknowingly meet our demise.

It seems to me that everyday life presents a certain level of danger…parachute or not. A former colleague of mine, who worked for a major record company, often stepped out on the ledge (and his wife) by way of a voracious appetite for the escort ladies.

He represented a huge pop star (her name rhymes with Britney…I mean Whitney.) Because of her wild success, he had more money than he knew what to do with (which now belongs to his EX wife.)

He always thought that we were oblivious to the fact that he attended industry functions with a “working girl.” Obviously, he was oblivious to the fact that his wife wasn’t stupid. I suspect he has his hands full these days since his artist Britney, I mean, Whitney, can‘t seem to get her act together.

He held doors open and pulled out chairs for his escorts, which makes him a true gentleman. I’m convinced that he probably received some sort of discount for being chivalrous though.

The Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, handled the world’s deadliest snakes, put his child’s head inside a crocodile’s mouth, put his OWN head inside a crocodile’s mouth, took naps inside a crocodile’s mouth, and he’s killed by a stingray. SERIOUSLY?? A stingray??? Stingray’s don’t even have TEETH! WHEN will these savage stingray murders end??

Did you know that fishermen and fishing related workers rank as having the most dangerous occupation in the workforce? If they’re fishing with my buddies they would be safer, as my friends usually pass out drunk before making it to the car for the trip to the lake. Good news for fellow motorists, boaters and the fish I suppose.

By the way, did anyone else believe that an umbrella could break the fall from a second story house? Anyone? I blame no one but myself…for not making Dwayne, the sissy kid next door, try it first.

I have a co-worker who used to be afraid of flying, until he became suicidal. I’m kidding…he’s actually still afraid to fly. He hasn’t been to work in four days, now that I think about it.

New Orleans is an ongoing episode of “Truth or Dare.” It’s a town steeped in rich, flamboyant history. Other than the “to-go” cup and people who carry on wildly animated conversation with themselves in the park, it’s my favorite thing about the city.

Among many famed traditions borne of the Crescent City is the impossibility to make a left turn, strange odors which emanate from Bourbon Street after it rains, automobiles which apparently are not equipped with turn signals and an inordinate volume of 24-hour fried chicken establishments.

New Orleans also nurtures an environment ripe with eclectic expression, which is brilliantly illustrated by its citizenry and a vast artistic community.

A stage performer who I know called in a panic recently, explaining that two of his friends had been hired to bring their “act” to a new venue. Their “act” involves ropes…specifically, tying people up with ropes on the stage. After realizing that my friend wasn’t joking, I inquired what could possibly have worked him into such a frenzy…other than the fact that he cavorts with people who, apparently, are kinky rodeo performers.

It seems that these two dark horses had to leave town for an urgent business matter- I was unable to verify that it had anything to do with joining a posse or an emergency cattle herding operation. The task at (bound hand) was for my friend to come up with a replacement show so that the rope-meisters wouldn’t lose money for the gig.

I wondered what valuable input he suspected that I could remotely bring to the table, since I only know how to tie my shoes. He figured that I might be able to write some sort of storyline that he and his troupe could incorporate into their OWN version of a rope performance. After confirming that none of them knew anything about tying ropes, presumably an important skill in the bondage world, I helpfully recommended that he might ask a floor clerk at the Home Depot.

Sensing that my friend was seriously panicked, I offered to take one for the team in order to uphold the age-old adage: “The show must go on.” So, I volunteered to let them hang me to death on stage…my “Swan song” if you will. It would be fortuitous timing for me so that I wouldn’t have to pay this month’s rent.

Now you know why people rarely come to me for assistance.

First dates qualify as living on the edge, especially if you go on one with a girl I know. She’s not happy with traditional dates, as evidenced by her bookshelf. She is in possession of a book titled “Creative First Dates.” (Subtitle: Creative maneuver to scam $22.95 from people who simply can’t be satisfied with dinner at Applebee‘s, a movie, drinks and casual sex.)

Because she is a treasure-trove of random information, I listened to her story in the manner of which I listen to most of her stories…feeling confident that I have angered God in some way.

She announced to me that, on their first date, she and a gentleman hopped around to multiple car dealerships and test-drove cars. They posed as a newly married couple and surreptitiously basked in the comic relief. This has “Natural Born Killers” written all over it.

I once had sex in the trunk of a car in the middle of a dry river-bed during a violent thunderstorm, which I thought was fairly creative. Unfortunately, the trunk accidentally locked. Imagine the shock for the police officer who rescued us.

It was not a proud moment for my parents, but I felt pretty good about it. I must admit that it was a valuable learning experience, as I learned that having sex with a family member of a sitting Governor will make legal situations go away. I suppose Governor's are quiet like that.

Driving presents a level of adventure, especially when you’re doing so in New Orleans, where traffic laws and sobriety cease to exist. “Yield” means: “I am not afraid to kill you with this stolen car!”

I’m extremely proud when people boldly face their fears. My next door neighbor is absolutely terrified of dogs. So that she might conquer her fear, she decided it to be a good idea to adopt a dog. I was quite pleased by her stepping closer to the ledge, until I met her dog.

She adopted a yappy dog which looks like one of those little stuffed play-toys that you win from the “claw” machine in front of a supermarket or a Chuck E. Cheese- where all of the pedophiles loiter. I’m not sure about her recovery progress but I’ll give her credit for dipping her (pinkie) toe into the river of phobia.

In case you didn’t know, most people rank public speaking as their biggest fear in life…it’s ranked higher than DEATH on the fear-factor scale. They say you’re supposed to imagine everyone in the audience naked while at the podium. I gave it a try, imagining this very attractive young woman on the second row fully disrobed.

All I can say is that I’m eternally thankful that I was shielded by a podium. Frantic to find a mental "cold shower," I turned my attention to the 70-year old lady on the first row. That did the trick.

Speaking of public communication and nudity…gentlemen, if you’re afraid of singing on stage, get over it. You will be amazed by the doors of opportunity which boldly swing open after singing Joe Cocker’s “You can leave your hat on.” You won’t find this advice on E-Harmony.

I shall pause here and accept your sincere gratitude in advance.

I say the best policy in life is...

Well, I can't really remember, but I'm sure that my advice wasn't going to be dripping with any level of profundity and probably involves something that'll get you into trouble.

I AM, however, a big fan of taking necessary risks and living life to the fullest.  Go ahead and jump. Just remember, they don't call it "risk" for nothing.  The parachute packer guy could be having an "off" day...

See ya' on the ground!

copyright Pontchartrain Press 2010

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Peek Under The Cover

I happened across a real cool guy a few weeks ago. Our conversation rounded many bends, twists and turns, covering a variety of topics. All I know is that it was a much needed break from "Futball"- Hours of listening to my friends scream at the TV over the FIFA World Cup had taken its toll. By the way, I’m fairly close to beating someone senseless with a Vuvuzela (annoying horn.) I hear them in my sleep now!!

Back to the conversation. After about 40-minutes or so, I confirmed that this gentleman did not, in fact, own a Vuvuzela, but he’s a professional fiction writer. He spilled his frustration with colleagues who seem to be writing for the benefit of other writers- to see who can “out-word“ whom. If you’re unaware, it’s not uncommon for some writers to “camp out” under the covers of a Thesaurus as they write. My new friend’s point being that: a Thesaurus is a tool…not a crutch. I have a Thesaurus…somewhere.

I enjoy reading a book without the necessity of a master‘s degree in English Lit.

Gossamer: extremely light, delicate, or tenuous
Abactor: One who steals and drives away cattle or beasts by herds or droves
Quiddity: The essence of being
Jardinière: A large decorative stand or pot for plants or flowers
Sarcoline: Flesh colored
Malgrénous: In spite of one’s self
Fart: The act of expelling gas; juvenile slang

Each of these words were used in literary excerpts of which I skimmed over the past few weeks, including one of mine. With the exception of gossamer, none of the above are common words. I shall attempt to incorporate these words in the remaining passages of this story. You will notice them by way of a helpful strikethrough.

I enjoy reading stories which are written as such that I might better visualize the scene in my mind. However, descriptivism also gets out of hand.

“Her voluptuous breasts glowed with a gossamer of warm reds in the summer sunset as her breath caressed Pablo's neck like a Zephyrus breeze. Her hand slowly traced the chiseled outline of his rugged jaw.”

I‘m a fan of getting to the point sooner:

Jessica leaned over and kissed Max and reminded him of a daydream they shared long ago, hidden behind a cloud shelf which revealed a beautiful fall moon. She got down on her knees, like a hungry Aardvark, with his office desk shielding her from view. She unzipped his pants, as though she were a sex-starved penitentiary inmate, when a sarcoline snake burst through his zipper like a rabid wolverine- he was already fully erect- which enticed her more. At first she just lightly trailed her fingertips down the length of his engorged…

Those writers at Penthouse Forum are nothing short of brilliant story masters! Who else needs a cigarette?

You might not be aware, but Steinbeck’s novella, “Of Mice And Men,” is banned in many schools- yet the soft drink and snack machines remain soundly in tact. It’s troubling to me that censors and editors deny that contextual (not gratuitous) vulgarities are necessary to tell some stories. (Note to my editor: F*ck off Mike!) I never miss an opportunity to say hello to Mike…to see if he’s actually reading this.

I’ll betcha you’ll find a copy of Sports Illustrated on the school library periodical rack because, as we all know, news from the professional athletic world is always “G” rated.

How dare John Steinbeck expose boys and girls to a particularly racist era in our country so that they might have a better understanding that past is prologue. We wouldn’t want them to read a story which contains violence either, because children are NEVER exposed to violence. Of course, it would be bad to share a story with them about a mentally challenged man with only one friend who understood and cared for him in the only way that he knew how. That would send the wrong message of tolerance and understanding- against a backdrop of societal ignorance- which Steinbeck’s characters endured while pressed against a wall of intractable circumstances.

Perhaps they might, malgrénously, allow this book back on the reading list if editors changed George’s name to “Master Chief” so that kids might better relate as they sit in the bedroom playing “Halo 3”- which appeared in their Christmas stocking from “Santa Claus.” Maybe, in his final act of love, Master Chief, after defeating the omnipresent “Flood,” could push the cafeteria Coke machine over on top of Lennie in a 21st century “Halo 3” version of this classic.

Of Mice and Men is probably not appropriate for 4th graders, nor am I. It IS a story that everyone should read before exiting high school.

I subscribe to a way of life that, among many things, includes not judging a book by its cover. Of course I also subscribe to Playboy (for the articles) and to a life which includes Mexican food, gratuitous nudity, a happy hour which runs from 4p-close and a deep-seated love for breasts. Don’t judge me. I’m exactly like the holy rollers…only I live my life on the public side of the closed door rather than sneak around.

Reading Steinbeck at an early age didn’t detour my life, as though I were part of a herd being steered down the dusty road of ill repute by a literary abactor. A very attractive girl named Shelly effected that change when I was about 17. Her daring, push the envelope, caution to the wind personality. Her pouty lips and sublime curves, silhouetted through a cotton dress against the afternoon sun...

Who needs another cigarette?

Books and covers: An interesting study in a world where things aren’t always as they seem. Sometimes white is black, black is white and the seemingly nice old man that you see at the street corner every day with his little dog is actually an asshole who beats his wife. If you ever need proof about covers not being fully representative of the contents therein- Two words:

Jeffrey Dhamer

But, there are positive examples. On the way to work early one morning, I laid a motorcycle down on a slick city street in order to avoid hitting an obstacle in my path. I slid for about 25 feet before coming to an abrupt stop against the curb. With bloody, torn, jeans I looked back to a path of my belongings which were scattered along the roadway.

A young, slender, black woman frantically ran toward me in high heels. She collected my items from the street along the way and asked if I was okay before helping me from the sidewalk. I assured her that I was fine- just scraped up a bit- as she carefully handed my belongings over.

She was a very kind woman…only she wasn’t a woman at all. She was a transsexual. I’m sure that she likely endures levels of ridicule and judgment in her day to day life that would make the rest of us jaded and bitter. As far as I’m concerned, she’s a decent and caring individual and I’m most appreciative for her actions that morning. I peered directly through that book cover.

I saw a menu cover yesterday with, what looked to be, an entrée sent from heaven. My mouth watered as I anticipated the succulence of a dinner which would soon be transformed from menu cover to my plate; presented in all of its aromatic, culinary glory. Turns out that the book cover, in this instance, would have tasted better.

I’ve encountered those who I thought to be good who turned out to be bad, seemingly bad people who turned out to be misunderstood and good people who have simply made bad decisions.

Last weekend I joined a friend for a lazy afternoon on her patio and she shared a not so proud vignette from her past that shocked me more than when the city of New Orleans re-elected Mayor Ray Nagin.

In her younger days, she struggled to finance her education and dreams. She discovered that young college boys would be willing to purchase casual foreplay. Some might question the quiddity of her logic, the same way that some cast a judgmental eye upon a struggling, drug free, decent, single mother who strips to pay for college so that her children might have a better life.

I felt honored after hearing my friend’s confession- that she trusted me enough to share that which others might find appalling steeled the bond between us- and I admire her honesty. And then I asked her what I could get for 20-bucks.

I once sat next to a gentleman in a diner who I found to be a delightful character. I truly enjoyed talking with him and hope to do so again someday. Noticing a barcode badge dangling from the collar of his shirt, I asked about it. He explained to me that he was on work release and had 8 months to go in the city correctional system. After he left, I thought about how much I enjoyed chatting with this guy and wondered how he could possibly be a convicted criminal.

The diner clerk explained that this gentleman was one of the most powerful drug and prostitution suppliers on the block and that he was also one of the nicest people I would ever meet.

While I don’t condone his occupation, I suppose he’s simply supplying a demand. It occurs to me that, perhaps, our leaders and citizenry should focus more on ending the demand part of the equation if they really want to “fix” things. I’ve conducted zero qualitative research, but I feel certain that banning books in school won’t do the trick.

Obscure word update: TWO more to go

Meter maids are a complex book. They’re fiercely hated in New Orleans- not for freely spewing out parking tickets- our meter maids tend to be unnecessarily rude about it. I know all of them aren’t bad so, in the future, I will do my best to look past the book cover and notice more of their positive qualities.

I saw my first meter MAN not long ago and he was a real nice guy. He always wore a friendly smile and exercised every opportunity to assist a lost tourist. I haven’t seen him in about three months. I suspect that the meter MAIDS killed him and ate his soul. It seems that I’ve already fallen off the meter maid empathy wagon.

In life, sometimes you find a good read, sometimes you discover why it's in the bargain bin, but I’ve learned valuable lessons by looking past the cover of books and people alike.

As a fun way to amuse yourself this weekend, if you want to have your cover judged pretty fast, go to Walmart and ask where the Jardinière aisle is located and soak up the fun. Call me narrow-minded but, now that I think about it, I don’t want to be friends with anyone who refers to their plant stand as such.

As I take a useless bow for a much needed vacation, Mr. Steinbeck shall close. And I shall punctuate this pastoral environment of understanding and care that we've erected, in tandem, over the previous few moments...with a FART. I'm sure Johnny wouldn't be proud, but he'd take time to appreciate that I stayed in the doghouse with several teachers...but the one's who really counted believed in me.

In every bit of honest writing in the world there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them.

There is writing- promoting social change, writing- punishing injustice, writing- in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. Try to understand each other.

-John Steinbeck

copyright Pontchartrain Press 2010

Friday, July 2, 2010

Life Is A Stage...

I recently attended a show that a friend of mine created and, along with a fantastic cast, executed brilliantly. I don’t get out to see stage, movie or concert productions as much as I probably should and I attribute it to the fact that my editor sucks the very life from my soul. I’m also convinced that he kills kittens in front of children as a method of relaxation.

I got together with my director friend several days after the show and he suggested that I join the troupe for a production that he’s been developing. Because my friend is incredibly talented, I was flattered. Because I am not, I asked if he was on drugs.

He believed that my previous experience in working public relations campaigns for "political figures" (pronounced: "Crazy people") would serve well for his latest production concept. He, apparently, isn’t aware of my former politico colleagues’ fate. For the record, I never worked on Fred Thompson’s campaign for President, but my friend did. I'll never let her live that one down. I DID almost accidentally run over Senator Thompson with my car: I proudly note that experience on my resume’ as a conversation starter. Incidentally, it seems that "Law and Order” should get its own network since it’s aired 500 times per day.

I agreed to attend a production meeting with the troupe to test the waters- By the way, production meetings seem to be an excuse for actors to drink and smoke. I immediately liked these people. Had someone brought chicken wings I would have probably married them.

Another thing that made quite an impression where actor-types are concerned is their acute self awareness and concern for their fellow cast members. At the outset of the meeting the director asked if anyone had been feeling an inexplicable wave of malaise this week. The entire room sighed a breath of agreement. THIS week? Try EVERY week. However, I felt it best not to share my troubles this early in the game, being the new kid and all. Because I’m a meticulous planner, and often in denial, I’m usually able to extend the "Getting to know me" grace period before people discover that I spend a large portion of life “in over my head.”

As the director shared his opening remarks and delivered a general production rundown, everyone in the troupe attentively clung to each word. I was trying to remember whether or not I set the DVR to tape the Red Sox game AND Anthony Bourdain. I also discreetly invited the cute actress next to me for a beach getaway this weekend.

Suddenly, a terribly animated actor burst through the front door in a frenetic tear, explaining that traffic had caused his tardiness. Actors are even dramatic when explaining everyday urgencies and pitfalls which plague the rest of us. My tardiness explanations to the boss are nowhere nearly as talented and award winning as that of this gentleman:

My Boss: You’re late.

Me: You are correct.

My Boss: Why?

Me: Seinfeld was on Regis this morning.

My Boss: That’s why you’re late??

Me: Of course not, Kim Kardashian was also on. Plus I stopped for an Irish Coffee…THAT’S why I’m late

I thought the actor’s tardiness incident was part of the show rehearsal and that perhaps I was the only person in the room who wasn’t in on it. I immediately stood and clapped. Judging from the look on my director friend’s face I sensed that this project was probably going to fully test our friendship.

It’s funny to watch stage actors at a production meeting. Many of them seem so detached from the occasion yet, on cue, the director can point a finger, as though it were some sort of "magic" wand and one of them will instantly belt out a show-stopping tune from Miss Saigon while working their Sudoku puzzle. Impressive! Whenever someone calls on me in a meeting environment I stare at them as though I’m an illegal alien in an ESL class. (Note to illegal aliens, and everyone in my neighborhood: That’s English As Second Language Class).

Feeling completely inadequate, I excused myself and went to the restroom…hoping that there might be a fire escape access window. I stumbled across a full rehearsal for another production taking place in the main theatre. I silently observed for a few moments when a light and sound person asked if I was lost. It probably comes as no surprise that I’m often asked this question and struggle with the correct contextual answer each time. Opting for the safest bet, I used broken English and answered in my best Swedish accent, telling the gentleman that I was a visiting director. I grew up as an only child, therefore was tasked with amusing myself much of the time.

I don’t know if I did a good job with the accent- I used the Swedish chef from the Muppets as my point of study- I DO enjoy eating Korv Stroganoff though, so I feel strongly that this increased my accent believability quotient greatly.

The light and sound guy began to ask many questions, prompting me to look for a quick escape from this situation before my friend became suspicious and set out to find me. So I executed a clever, yet logical, tactic for one to be excused from most awkward situations: I yelled FIRE!

30-minutes later, after everyone returned from the sidewalk to the building, I found myself back in a, now, very uncomfortable production meeting. I stared at my feet amidst deafening silence as everyone looked at me.

The meeting clipped along nicely as we reached the suggestion portion of our get together. I finally felt like a part of the troupe and it was an energizing feeling. The director asked if anyone had ideas or suggestions that might enhance the stage production. Everyone silently scanned the room, anticipating useful direction which might make a great show even better. I slowly raised my hand until I was called upon. I proudly recommended a high-speed car chase. My idea was politely declined.

The director then asked if anyone had upcoming schedule conflicts which might prevent them from attending the next rehearsal. I advised that I would be unavailable next weekend for a quick beach visit. The actress next to me announced that she, too, would be unavailable next weekend as she briefly glanced to me. SCORE!!! And, to my cheesy, nightclub scavenging, sex maniac guy friends: THAT is how it‘s done! This whole Broadway thing rocks!! I’ll be available for a book signing soon.

My director friend shot another suspicious look at me as I stared at my fingernails, pretending not to notice.

Before the meeting adjourned, the wardrobe guy brought out the costumes which would be used for the production. At this moment it occurred to me that I hadn’t asked enough questions before falling into this show. Apparently, this piece takes place in the distant future, which I knew in advance. Judging by the costumes, however, it takes place in an era where citizens are allergic to wearing clothes.

I received my costume and hoped that my expression didn’t appear as that of a man who had just witnessed his entire family be butchered by a group of South American cannibals.

Resolving to take the costume concerns up with my friend in private, I folded my costume and placed it in my wallet.

The production meeting concluded with everyone exchanging pleasantries and then they gossiped about other actors. I, on the other hand, pulled my director friend aside and asked if he might modify my role, downgrading it to a cameo. He quickly pointed out that theater isn’t presented as though it were adapted from Cliff’s Notes in miniature fashion. All evidence to the contrary where the costume department was concerned. I offered to loan him money for costumes if budget was a concern.

Another fascinating tid-bit that I learned about actors…they’re versatile. (With the exception of Keanu Reeves). My friend assumed the role of slick prosecuting attorney. And so, it appears that I will be wearing a piece of leather dental floss for a costume.

I may bring it with me for my trip to the beach next weekend.

copyright Pontchartrain Press 2010