Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Bayou Blogger Ties the Knot!




In case you're wondering why the blog's been silent the last few months . . . well, I got married on the 21st of December to the most wonderful woman on Earth. We're a blended family, so I'm adjusting to both married life and to becoming the father of a lovely and precocious 8-year-old.


Fear not, though, Bayous and Beyond will be back, better than ever, in 2008.


Hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas and has a safe and Happy New Year!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Sequestered Him

Liquid smoke lilts off reneging rafters:

licking notions for him to eat.

Cicada-clicking-booms are fists of silverbacks — like this they begat laughter:

economized sustenance. Bold — a gorilla fending his Virungas-status meat.

Brothers: double limbs and digits groan to sit in moisture-lush as well… the lilt’s refrain —

baffling — same poverty seems not to make him captured.

Swells frolicking (deep-down-deft), like wincing deftly: blows of acid polyps in the rain.

New rinks dated, stolid pry; the blacktop streets: the quips to keep him up for Rapture.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Posthumous Postremus


It took traveling thousands of years through time for Joachim Rison to decide that he was, at heart, a romantic.

He was doing research for his honors project. The topic was suicide notes. This wasn’t quite as morbid as it sounded. Joachim was primarily interested in the ideation behind the suicidal expression and the evolution of the form itself. He didn’t know who (or what) had crafted the first one. The earliest suicide note he’d found was a drawing on a cave wall in the south of France. This particular Paleolithic-era artist traced his own hands and then drew two smaller versions representing the mate and child he’d lost the previous spring. He did all of this a few days before throwing himself off a cliff to his death. When he was 16, Joachim first heard (and believed) Arthur Nathan’s theory that 400 years’ worth of crop circles (the ones that weren’t hoaxes) was really just one extraterrestrial’s rather maudlin version of “Goodbye, cruel world.” According to Prof. Nathan’s translation, it was an adolescent over-dramatizing a first break-up.

It was all open to interpretation, and some of them were on the abstract side. He’d watched Gaius Julius Caesar manipulate a group of his former peers into ending his life at the apex of his power and fame. The “note” was encoded in the great man’s will. Caesar made it clear that he knew his death was the only way to preserve his reputation. Points for creativity, as suicide-by-cop has nothing on suicide-by-senatorial cabal. Joachim recognized Credonic IX for the brutal tyrant he was, yet had also found himself fascinated by the ego of a man willing to turn a thriving planet and its three inhabited moons into his own funeral pyre. He still thought that message lacked the power and panache of Brazilian President Vargas’ Carta Testamento.

Of course, many of his opinions changed after he met Naomi and her sister, Sheila. He arrived on the corner of Baronne and Julia in New Orleans’ Central Business District. He was in his own body, though it took him a good minute or two to be sure of this. Time jumps were always disorienting. “Like every cell in your body is experiencing a head rush,” is how Trevor once described it.

Joachim had overshot his destination. The jump itself was a real close call (the look on the train conductor’s face. . .), but he’d thought that getting a definitive answer to the “did he or didn’t he” question with respect to Jozsef Attila was worth the risk.

The purpose of this trip was to gain insight into a famous suicide note from Earth’s 21st century. Its author was a renowned poet. She’d achieved fame posthumously. In fact, nothing she’d written had been published before her death. The suicide note was discovered in her attic, in a journal lying next to her body. Born in 1923, she kept a journal for the last 42 years of her life. The rest of the volumes had been found lining the otherwise empty bookshelves in her sitting room. The suicide missive, in the form of a poem, was on the last page of her last journal. (The second-to-last page was a scathing commentary on what the author saw as lingering “color” issues within New Orleans’ African-American community. She was light-skinned herself, but took those of every shade to task for perpetuating certain stereotypes.) Scholars described the untitled poem as a poignant expression of love in the midst of extreme loneliness. She was saying farewell to her family, friends long gone, and a city she believed would never be restored. She didn’t defend her choice to end her life, but simply tried to explain it. Joachim took her words to mean that she’d chosen to silence herself, instead of leaving the task to someone or something else. There was much debate over whether Leda Gardner would have been rescued had she not decided to slit her wrists. Joachim had no real opinion one way or the other. Trevor thought it mattered a great deal. If her situation was hopeless, whether she knew it or not, Trevor believed that it somehow “cheapened” her decision.

When her work began appearing in literary magazines, many in the press attempted to portray her (however subtly) as some sort of self-taught savant. Joachim thought this would have ticked her off. Leda Gardner was a Southern University (Baton Rouge) graduate with a master’s in education from Xavier, and damn proud of it.

Joachim knew that he was in the right place, wrong time the instant he looked at his chronometer, which read Sunday, January 7, 2007. It took him a little bit longer to realize that a fight had broken out 10 meters in front of him. He saw one man beat another senseless while two young women watched. One woman was crying. The other looked annoyed.

Light waves were being bent around him, he knew, but beyond that Joachim could not really have explained the physics behind the various distortion effects that (usually) prevented him from being noticed when he materialized. This had bothered him until the time he asked a late 20th century journalism student how her camcorder worked. She just shrugged her shoulders. To her, the how was secondary to the fact that the device functioned the way it should. Joachim felt the same way about the technology he relied on.

There were only four people (not counting himself) in the immediate vicinity. When he “popped” into view (it wasn’t audible, but he still liked to think of it that way), another distortion effect guaranteed that observers would see him in an outfit he’d pre-selected to blend in with his surroundings. Here it was black jeans and a grey long-sleeved shirt.

One man finally stopped beating up the other and ran off. The crying woman continued sobbing, but she made no move towards the figure now lying half in the street and half on the sidewalk. Joachim walked towards the trio.

“What do you want?” were Naomi’s first words to him.

“Nothing, I was just – ”

“Whatever.” She glanced at the other woman (who was still crying), shook her head, and then motioned to the barely conscious man lying at her feet. “Can you give me a hand?” She grabbed one of the man’s arms. Joachim grabbed the other and they propped him up against the wall behind them.

“Friend of yours?” he asked.

“Sheila’s boyfriend. Or ex-boyfriend. Depends on the time of day.”

“Sheila?” Joachim asked.

“My sister.” Naomi pointed at the other woman. “I’m Naomi.” She wiped her hand on her pant leg (she was also wearing black jeans) and extended it out to him.

“George Sanders.” Joachim said. It was a running gag between him and Trevor. They always chose a suicide from at least 50 years before the date to which they were traveling.

“Like the actor?”

“My dad loved Ivanhoe.” He said, wishing he’d gone with Charles R. Jackson. Joachim didn’t know if his father had even seen the movie. Lance Rison killed himself 7 months before the birth of his youngest son. He’d never felt comfortable broaching the subject of her late husband’s likes and dislikes with his mother. Actually, he’d never felt comfortable discussing much of anything with her.

“Right. This waste of space is Marlon.” She nudged the prostrate man with her toe, eliciting a moan. Naomi started rummaging through Marlon’s pockets, prompting another moan. Naomi gave an exasperated sigh. “Sheila, get over here!” She said. The other woman had been staring up at the sky. She turned around and walked over to them.

“Hello,” Sheila said to him. He held out his hand to her. Sheila kept her arms at her side. Naomi grabbed a small brown leather purse off of her sister’s shoulder.

“Sheila Gardner, this is George Sanders.” Naomi said. “Yeah, like the actor,” she added when Sheila furrowed her brow. Naomi began rummaging through the purse.

“Gardner?” Joachim said.

“Voila.” Naomi said, pulling out an open pack of cigarettes and a small, green lighter. She lit one, and quickly placed the lighter and cigarettes in her pocket before taking a drag. “What were you saying?”

“Gardner. I asked if your last name was Gardner.”

“Yep.”

“So you’re Leda Gardner’s niece.” Joachim said. Naomi Gardner was the editor of the vast majority of her great-aunt’s published works. There was plenty of disagreement in literary circles over whether she received too much or too little credit for the finished product.

“Jesus.” said Naomi. Joachim noticed that Sheila was now standing behind him. It was slightly disconcerting. “You’re not that guy from the Picayune, are you?”

“No.” Joachim said. Sheila moved beside him. She sighed, and laid her head on his shoulder.

“New Orleans Magazine?” Naomi asked.

“I’m not . . . I mean, I was just passing by, and—”

“You’re here about the poems, though, right?”

“Sort of, but—”

“I knew it!” Naomi grabbed her sister’s arm and pulled her away from Joachim. “Look, if she’d wanted that stuff published, she’d have done it herself. Carl never even knew about the journals! I’m not budging on this, and you can quote me.” That took Joachim by surprise.

“I’m not a reporter.”

“Whatever.” Naomi said. “Hold this.” She gave the purse to Joachim. Naomi knelt down and rummaged through Marlon’s pockets again. The man didn’t moan this time, but he let out a loud sigh and his head plopped from one shoulder to the other. She pulled out a cell phone. Joachim looked from her to her sister. Sheila was now walking on the edge of the curb as if on a tightrope. “No, this is Naomi. You’d better come and get your boy,” he heard her say. “Uh-huh. Anthony found him and beat his ass! Right. Hospital, homeless shelter, mortuary, I don’t care where you take him. He’s not my problem.” She flipped the phone closed and dropped it onto Marlon’s lap.

Sheila was twirling her hair around her finger. “Can we go now?” She said flatly. Naomi sighed.

“Come on.” Naomi grabbed her sister’s hand. The women started walking southwest on Baronne.

“It was a pleasure meeting you.” Sheila said.

“Hey!” Joachim called out. “What about Marlon?”

“What about him?” Naomi answered. “If his friends give a shit, they’ll come by to pick his fat ass up.” This was one of the periods in Earth’s history in which corpulence was not necessarily a mark of wealth. In this time it was often an invitation to ridicule. In the U.S. in particular, thinner was deemed better in this era. It was the same thing with hairlessness (natural, not the result of removal) in his time.

Joachim waited until Marlon’s friends pulled up. They shoved him out of the way, and scooped Marlon into a black SUV. Joachim hurried off after Naomi and Sheila. He’d seen a photograph of Naomi Gardner, who’d died only a few short years after her great-aunt. He remembered thinking she was pretty, but he now saw that the camera hadn’t done her justice. Her skin was a light caramel color. She wore her hair relaxed, with reddish-brown highlights. She had a snub nose and a generous mouth. The photo had captured all of that, but the living, breathing woman had a “vibrancy” to her, a sense of energy about to burst out at any moment. He thought how sad it was that in his timeline, this spirited young woman died in a one-car crash in near West End.

His arrival had already turned this into an alternate reality. The very instant he made the jump, Cent Chron assigned a catalogue number to this newly created branch of the time stream. (Joachim never liked to consider the possibility that what he thought of as the real timeline was, itself, catalogued as a time-splinter somewhere else). He’d overcome the fear of irreparably damaging the space-time continuum. There had even been a brief period where he made a point of killing at least one butterfly per trip. He still thought that was pretty funny, but Trevor warned him to knock it off before the faculty got wind of it. They frowned on that sort of thing. The guy who went out of his way to muck things up, alternate reality or not, was considered just as unsuited for time travel as the one too paralyzed by fear to even engage the locals in conversation.

Joachim knew that Leda Gardner had lived and died on Deslonde Street in the Lower 9th Ward and he figured that Naomi and Sheila weren’t going that far on foot. He followed them, taking a few surreptitious leaps (through space, not time) in order to catch up. The two women entered a bar on St. Charles Avenue. The sign said that it was open 24 hours. Joachim stood outside for a few minutes before entering.

Joachim started out trying to blend into the crowd. He sat in front of a bar-top trivia machine to the left of the entrance. He’d developed an addiction to them during a trip to late 1990s Manhattan. It was a real trick remembering what time period he was in. Certain mysteries considered unsolved in 2007 were solved by the middle of the century, only to be re-opened a few decades later. The other challenge was trying not to get his timelines mixed up. Both these things became more difficult the more he had to drink. After 6 vodka tonics, he tended to forget that jockey Ron Turcotte had not pulled Secretariat to a complete stop and climbed out of the saddle in the homestretch of the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Trevor, then majoring in sports and leisure activities, had won that bet. There were only a few ways that Big Red could have lost that afternoon. It turned out someone slipping his jockey a pre-race dose of benzodiazepine was one of them.

The first bartender who served him was a woman named Donna. She was a former accountant from California. Donna was very interested in ancient history, and Joachim thought that, for someone who’d never traveled to that era, she knew quite a bit about Rome during the Age of Augustus. Donna sat down next to him after her shift ended. She told him she just had to tell Naomi that someone had beaten all of her high scores. Joachim hadn’t been aware of the significance of the initials NJG. A question about Earth’s Second World War brought back a memory of a fascinating conversation he’d had with Hermann Göring in his Nuremberg jail cell. Joachim didn’t even notice Naomi until she punched him on the shoulder and sat down in the seat vacated by Donna. She helped herself to some of his cheese fries.

“Oops.” Naomi said, watching the screen. “That was a gimme, and you still blew it.”

“You should see me shoot pool.” Joachim said.

“If you’re not a reporter and you’re not working for my uncle, then why are you following us?” she asked. Joachim looked into a pair of luminous, hazel-colored eyes, and found himself struck by the strange urge to tell the truth. He didn’t, of course, but he still tried to tell his story as straight as he could without sounding like a madman.

“I’m a psychology student. I’m doing research for a paper on suicide notes.”

“And you wanted to find out more about the poor little old black woman who gave voice to a city’s heartache.” Naomi grabbed another cheese fry.

“Something like that.” Joachim said. He stared as she licked a bit of melted cheese from the corner of her mouth. “I only started following after I bumped into you guys on Baronne, and that was an accident.”

“Where do you go to school?” she asked.

“Boston.” Joachim said.

“I meant the name of the school.” Naomi signaled the bartender.

“Tufts.” Joachim thought that picking smaller and less well-known schools was a safer bet, particularly if they were located in or near Boston. In the early 21st century, that city had almost as many colleges and universities per square foot as it did residents.

“Oh, yeah? My ex-boyfriend went there. He sang in the Beelzebubs.” She said. Joachim chuckled, wondering how much of this he’d tell Trevor, who always said he went to SUNY-Binghamton, a school and city about which he proudly claimed to know absolutely nothing. When the bartender came over, Naomi ordered another round for both of them. “You’re buying.” She told Joachim.

“Where’s Sheila?” He asked.

“Donna’s keeping an eye on her.” Naomi took a quick glance over her right shoulder towards the pool room. She was drinking 7 and 7’s. Naomi warned him that while she usually wasn’t a mean drunk, she’d been under a lot of stress and was making no guarantees as far as her mood was concerned. She really did prove to be a trivia whiz, although she told Joachim that Sheila had a much better memory for useless information. Naomi also proved to be just as competitive as he was, even accusing him of cheating by raising his eyebrows “at the wrong time” and influencing her to change an answer. Joachim, then on his 10th vodka tonic, didn’t even try to explain that, technically speaking, the first atomic bomb in her planet’s history was dropped on a bio-dome in Atlantis.

Naomi was 23 years old. She told him that she’d dropped out of Tulane two courses short of graduating with a major in English and a concentration in creative writing. She’d gotten pregnant at the start of her senior year and, after a great deal of soul searching, decided to keep the child, only to miscarry in her second trimester. When Katrina hit, she got her sister out of the city as quickly as she could. She didn’t mention her great-aunt, and Joachim assumed it was because the memory was too painful, although Naomi did tell him about losing her parents in her early teens and becoming a virtual caretaker for her older sister. She was now working as an Administrative Assistant at a treatment center for homeless and indigent drug addicts and alcoholics. She said she found the job very rewarding but extremely frustrating.

Naomi provided Joachim with a greater understanding of the phrase “disarmingly honest”. She fooled you into thinking her life was an open book. She gave you so much information (whether you asked for it or not), that it took you a while to figure out that she kept her feelings and emotions to herself. Naomi inundated you with intimate details about her life, but she didn’t invite (or even understand) real intimacy. Joachim didn’t get the sense that she was trying to get him drunk. He just thought she found his drunkenness pleasantly distracting. Naomi divided the world into categories of distraction. Some were pleasant. Some were mildly interesting. Most of them just got on her nerves.

They talked a great deal about Sheila. Naomi said her sister suffered from a pervasive development disorder which mostly resembled a mild form of Asperger’s Syndrome. Sheila had a remarkable memory and a tremendous facility for languages and music. She simply spent most of her existence emotionally detached from the rest of humanity. This jibed with Joachim’s observation of her speech and mannerisms. He wondered whether anyone had ever misdiagnosed Naomi as alexithymic. Naomi was perfectly capable of interpreting nonverbal signals; she just chose to ignore them.

It took a little over an hour for the topic to turn to suicide.

“I’m obviously interested in it, but I’ve never thought about doing it.” Joachim said.

“Bullshit.” Naomi said. “You’re obviously more than just interested in it, which tells me you must have at least entertained the idea.” She blew cigarette smoke in his face.

“I’m serious. My dad killed himself, but –”

“Now I get it.” She said, not understanding. “Young George walked in on his dad swinging from the ceiling fan and decided to engage in the lifelong pursuit of understanding why.

“No. He died before I was born.” Joachim took a sip from his drink.

“Ah, so he’s trying to unravel the mystery that is the father he’s never known.” Naomi said with mock solemnity.

“Nope.” Suicide was rare in his era. By the time he went away to school, his older sisters had outgrown the need to invent fantastic stories to explain their father’s absence. When it was Joachim’s turn everyone knew that Lance Rison woke up one morning, ate breakfast, and, for no apparent reason, flew his cruiser into a mountain range. When he was 13, Joachim read his first suicide note. He was immediately intrigued. He could not conceive of what would drive a sentient being not only to end his own sentient awareness (and here, self-sacrifice for a greater good or euthanasia didn’t count), but also to feel compelled to try to explain something so fundamentally inexplicable to those he was leaving behind. How could you be so hopeless about your own condition, yet still cling to the hope that others would care about your motives or try to make sense of what you had to say? It still seemed like a paradox to him. “What about you?” He asked.

“What about me?” Naomi said. “Oh, killing myself? Tried it twice. Didn’t take.” Her laughter didn’t reach her eyes.

“And?”

“And, how’d I try? Or, and, do I still think about it?”

“Both.”

“Pills. Both times. Drunk for one, sober for the other.” She drummed her fingers on the top of the bar. “I got charcoaled the second time around. Not very pretty.”

“Interesting.” Joachim said.

“Not really. It was like the times I’ve convinced myself I was in love with a guy, when I was really in love with the idea of being in love with him.”

“So, you were –”

“Let me try to explain.” Naomi rested her hands on top of the bar, and laid her head on them. She looked up at him. “I was enthralled by the thought of ending my life, but I wasn’t really ready to have it end.”

“That’s actually interesting.” Joachim said.

“Thanks.” She smiled.

“What about now?”

“Do I still think about it? Shit, yeah. I mean, part of me has a hard time believing someone when they tell me the thought doesn’t ever cross their mind.” She paused. “Do you wanna hear something funny?”

“Sure.” Joachim said.

“The thing that really stops me from going through with it is that I won’t be around afterward to enjoy it.”

“Enjoy what?”

“All of it. My obit. My funeral. The laughter, the tears, the gossip. I won’t get to participate. That’s the irony. I’m pissed because I spend a lot of my time thinking that my death might be the only thing to make my life interesting again . . . and therefore worth living.” She downed the rest of her drink. “Well?”

“I’m speechless.”

“Did what I say make any sense?”

“Sort of.” Joachim hesitated.

“Spit it out.”

“I think . . . well, it’s like you still love yourself more than you hate your life.” He said. “That’s not really a recipe for a successful suicide.”

“Are you implying I’m self-absorbed?” Naomi batted her eyes at him.

“You’re definitely self-centered. Actually, it sounds like you would kill yourself, if only you weren’t so narcissistic.” He said. Naomi burst into peals of laughter, then buried her head in her hands as her sides shook. “Did you ever leave a note?”

“I was wondering when you’d ask that.” She said. “I wrote several of them the second time. One of them was a keeper, but, you know, suicide notes lose a little something when the writer doesn’t get the job done. If there’s ever a third time, I might just make it look it like an accident.”

“If you hung onto any, I’d like to read them.” Joachim said. “The notes, I mean.” Naomi smiled.

“Maybe after we get to know each other a little better.” She waved the bartender over. “Where’d you say you were staying again?”

“I didn’t. I’m going to try and find a hotel –”

“No, you’re not.” Naomi said, and that settled that. She ordered two shots of tequila, and told the bartender, Steve, to tell another woman, Lisa, to go grab Donna and Sheila from the pool room. It wasn’t until he stood up that Joachim realized just how drunk he really was. Fortunately, Naomi’s building was only a few blocks away. They talked until sunrise. He told her that he’d left his bags in a locker at the Greyhound Station, but that there was nothing he needed right away. Naomi kept giving him surprisingly strong rum and cokes. The last thing he remembered was staring up at the ceiling and hearing Sheila ask her sister how long “Mr. Sanders” was going to be staying with them.

Joachim awakened to the sound of Sheila vacuuming the living room. He opened his eyes the second time she ran the vacuum cleaner into his right foot. Sheila was wearing headphones, and seemed oblivious to his presence. He quickly moved out of the way and let her finish. When he sat back down, he saw that Naomi had left a note on the rattan coffee table.

George:


I had to go to work. (The nuthouse I was telling you about last night.) I didn’t want to wake you. You’re cute when you’re asleep, by the way. There’s food in the fridge if your stomach can handle it. I assume you’ll be able to find the Bus Station from here. Sheila knows the address. I’ll call this afternoon to see what’s up. I don’t have a spare key, but Sheila’s not going to go anywhere until I get back.

NJG

Joachim motioned to Sheila that he was going to the bathroom. She gave no overt indication that she understood or cared. He relieved himself, and spent some time trying to figure out what to do next. He was carrying $6,000 in late 20th century U.S. currency. He also knew that he could return to his own time and timeline whenever he chose. Still, he felt himself on the verge of panic. This happened when he found himself somewhere and some when he didn’t want to leave. He was intrigued. He was curious. He also thought he might be in love.

When Joachim walked back into the living room, Sheila told him that he was welcome to do what he wanted, but that she was going to be busy grading fugal chorales for her music theory class. Naomi had mentioned that her sister was a teaching assistant in UNO’s Department of Music. They sat on opposite ends of the futon for 25 minutes of what was, to him, very awkward silence. When the telephone rang, Sheila got up and went to the kitchen to answer it.

“Hello.” He heard her say. “I’m fine. I have a few papers left and some other projects I need to work on.” She paused, and Joachim turned around to look at her. Sheila was looking around the kitchen. “No. He’s not here now. I will tell him if I see him, though. Okay.” She hung up the phone and sat back down on the far end of the futon. “Can I get you anything?” She said.

“No.” Joachim glanced up at the clock. It was 1:30 p.m. “Um, did Naomi tell you when she was coming back?”

“Not this morning, but she just told me she’s very busy and that you shouldn’t expect her until at least 5:30.”

“That was her on the phone?”

“Yes.” Sheila paused. “She asked about you.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“She asked if you were there, and I told her no.”

“Why did you tell her that?”

“Because you weren’t there.” Sheila said. She raised her eyes from the papers in front of her. It was the first time she’d made eye contact with him.

“I wasn’t?” Joachim asked. He’d been known to accidentally set off his personal cloaking device, especially after a night of heavy drinking.

“No. You were in the living room. I was in the kitchen.” She said. She returned to grading her papers. “I told Naomi I’d give you the message.”

Joachim told Sheila that he was going to the Greyhound Station to get his things. He actually walked to Canal St. and bought himself several pieces of relatively cheap luggage. Afterward, he walked to a nearby shopping mall and raided Saks Fifth Avenue and Kenneth Cole for some actual articles of clothing. He also caught a movie about the life and times of Edie Sedgwick. Naomi was waiting for him when he got back.

“Lousy.” She said when he asked her how her day went. Naomi was sitting on the futon with her legs folded, lotus position. “I hate showing up hung over. There are never cups at the water cooler, and you can’t get any aspirin to save your life.” She pronounced it “cain’t”. It was odd because it was the only word in her vocabulary that revealed her as someone who’d been born and raised in the American South. “Mondays suck anyway. It’s like the guys can’t stand the fact that I can go out and party. Well, half of them already think I’m a bitch because I don’t let them delude themselves into thinking I’m interested in hooking up.” She frowned, and shrugged her shoulders. “I mean, seriously. You’re an unemployed, homeless, and socially maladjusted crackhead. What exactly are you bringing to the table? I could understand if I were some chick who knew you back before you ruined your life, but I’m just seeing the ‘after’ picture, and it’s not pretty.” She folded her arms. “Wait . . . Rewind that one. I had a trying day. I’m glad to be home. I still like my job.” She glanced at the front door. His luggage was standing to one side. “Hey, you got your stuff!” Naomi exclaimed.

“Yes. Yes, I did.”

“What’s that about?” She asked.

“What?”

“You have a smirk on your face. It was the same thing last night.” She glared at him. “I hate feeling like I’m missing the joke.”

“No jokes here.” Joachim said.

“I told people at work about you.” Naomi said softly. “I never do that. Well, almost never.”

“Good stuff or bad?”

“Good. Definitely good. I said I met someone, and that, his smirking aside, I liked most of what I’d seen so far. I didn’t mention that we got drunk together and that you spent the night.” She paused. “So, what now?”

“I have no idea.” Joachim said. That, at least, was the complete truth. He couldn’t leave yet. He knew he was falling for Naomi, but he told himself that he was staying to unravel the mystery surrounding this apparent battle over Leda Gardner’s literary works. He’d never read anything to that effect in the histories.

“When do you have to go back to Tufts?”

“Winter Study. I don’t have to go back to Boston until the last week in January.”

“What were you planning on doing? Housing-wise, I mean.”

“I’ve got an uncle in Covington.” He sat down on the futon.

“Covington? That’s way too far.” She stretched out and laid her head on his lap. “You haven’t asked yet, but you can stay here. This thing does fold out, you know. Hmm. You smell nice.” She grabbed one of his hands with both of hers. He asked her about her great-aunt and her uncle Carl. She told him they’d talk about it later.

Naomi cooked dinner that night. She said she enjoyed cooking, despite not being very good at it. Sheila neither agreed nor disagreed, but commented that all of her sister’s dishes ended up tasting pretty much the same. “They won’t kill you, though.” Sheila added evenly.

That night, Joachim did not sleep on the sleeper futon.

He asked Naomi if she was going back to Sparky’s Tavern. She told him that one of her cardinal rules was not to drink on consecutive days. There were exceptions, she said, but tonight wasn’t going to be one of them. Joachim had often been told that he sent mixed signals. His attitude towards sex was decidedly casual, but he wasn’t promiscuous. He didn’t run when the opportunity presented itself, but he also didn’t act as if it interested him all that much. Several women had taken his take-it-or-leave-it attitude personally. A few had gotten upset, while others had turned it (and him) into a challenge. Naomi was no-nonsense. When she led him into her bedroom, she took off her top, handed him a jar of sweet almond oil, and told him to give her a back rub. Joachim was grateful the ball wasn’t in his court. It was much, much later before they talked about her great-aunt.

Joachim spent the next several mornings and afternoons at an internet café in the French Quarter. Primitive as they were, he loved these early search engines. It made him feel like a real historian. He quickly pulled up Leda Gardner’s obituary. It avoided mention of suicide, but Joachim noted that she was survived only by her nephew, Mr. Carlton Gardner, Jr. and her two grand-nieces, Sheila and Naomi. From what Naomi had told him, Joachim was fairly certain that Leda Gardner had made no specific instructions regarding her written work. She’d never married, and her three siblings had predeceased her, all but one dying without issue. If no specific instructions existed, then rights to her unpublished works (all of them) passed to her heirs: ½ to Carl and ¼ each to Sheila and Naomi. Uncle Carl had apparently gotten his way in Joachim’s timeline. Not only had the writings of Leda Gardner ended up seeing print, but he’d even talked Naomi into pulling a Christopher Tolkien. Naomi said that Uncle Carl was thinking about the continuing cash flow that Leda’s work represented. He wanted to strike while the iron was hot. Naomi disagreed. Joachim asked her why, but she offered up nothing but vague misgivings. She did make it clear that the state of Louisiana (which could intervene) didn’t care much one way or the other.

Joachim inadvertently solved the mystery while searching Naomi’s bedroom for something to write on. He’d been warned not to mess with Sheila’s papers or files. Naomi said that while her sister had gotten better about expressing this verbally, she could still throw a terrific (and often violent) tantrum when she felt like her personal space had been invaded. (That was what kept Marlon coming back, apparently.) Joachim respected people’s privacy, mainly because of how much he valued his own. He and Trevor had been roommates during their first year at the Institute. Trevor had no respect for others’ privacy, although this was somewhat balanced by the fact that he was quite good at keeping secrets. Trevor wasn’t likely to tell anyone else what he found, but he’d definitely go through all of your stuff if you gave him the opportunity.

When Joachim grabbed a notebook from Naomi’s nightstand drawer, he had no intention of invading her privacy. He really was just looking for something to write on. His eyes scanned a page headed by the struck-through title The Wreckage of Her Future. That was the title poem of the largest collection of Leda Gardner’s poetry. Like many time travelers, Joachim did actually believe in coincidences. As Trevor put it, when you’ve seen how reminding Julian the Apostate to strap on a breastplate can change the entire course of Western Civilization, you should be forgiven a little bit of skepticism about the existence of some sort of grand plan. Still, this was pushing it. Joachim leafed through the rest of the notebook. Understanding came quickly. The next 5 hours were the longest of his life, as he waited for Naomi to come home from work.

“What is this, an ambush?” She said. They were in her bedroom, both standing in front of her dresser. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the side view of their torsos reflected in the mirror.

“No, but I can’t let you do this.”

“Do what? I’m not planning on doing anything.”

“That’s the point.”

“No, the point is that you went through my shit.”

“I’ve already told you, that was an accident.”

“You have a lot of those, don’t you?”

“That’s not . . . Look, who’s the writer in the family, you or your aunt?” He said. Naomi’s expression went from confused to afraid to angry and back in the space of a few seconds.

“Jesus!” She said, and threw herself on the bed.

“So, all of it’s yours?”

“Almost all of it. Aunt Leda couldn’t write her way out of a paper bag, but she was a damn good editor. I used to send her the stuff I was working on. She said it kept her going. She called me her lifeline to the outside world.” She said. “I stopped a few months after I miscarried. I never told her what was going on in my life. Then the storm hit. I never knew how much of it made it into her journals.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I felt so guilty. George, I forgot about her! Not completely, but, you know, I put her out of my mind. I assumed her neighbors would take care of her, or someone from Peter Claver’s. Somebody. Then, well, I thought it was neat when they turned the poem into her last words. And, well . . .” She stopped.

“What? Go on.”

“It felt good to see my words, mine, getting all that attention. I’d never had the guts to put myself out there that way. But then when they found the rest of it, and Carl started talking to publishers . . . ” Her voice trailed off.

“You felt trapped.”

“Yes. My aunt had nothing, George. She had no legacy to leave behind. I abandoned her. I don’t want to take this away from her, too, it’s just. . . I mean, there’s no way I can get back control of my poems without telling the whole truth. Otherwise, I’m just another beneficiary. I’m not ready to make a choice one way or the other. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid. It’s taken all of this to make me realize how much I wanted that. Still want that.” She sighed. “I don’t know. I’ll probably just let Carl go ahead. What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

Joachim didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t tell her that the “worst thing” was that seeing her work published under her aunt’s name would eat at her, a constant reminder of roads not taken. He couldn’t tell her that the sense of frustration would grow and grow until the night she drove her car into a viaduct wall in a deliberate act meant to look like an accident. Instead, he took her in his arms and held her tight, as they listened to the sound of Sheila playing her compositions on her keyboard.

The next few days passed quickly. By Friday night, Joachim felt trapped. He assumed he was already in hot water back at school, but if he stayed any longer the situation might become unsalvageable. Even if he told Naomi everything, what would be the point? He couldn’t take her with him. She might not prove physiologically capable of surviving the trip, and Cent Chron would have a fit either way. And staying here? Absolutely not. There were always stories told at the Institute, cautionary tales really, of students who’d gone “native” and decided to remain in some distant past. Joachim now suspected that these were mostly apocryphal warnings. He liked these jaunts as a change of pace, but he couldn’t see anyone deluding himself into thinking that sticking around permanently was a good idea. Joachim actually started filling out a job application at the Radio Shack on Gentilly Boulevard, but he knew it was hopeless. His ‘porter was already low on juice, so he was dependent upon public transportation. The bus and the streetcar were always arriving within minutes of each other, and neither got you to Broad St. in time to make your connection. Everyone seemed to know this, yet no one did anything about it. He spent three hours sitting on a bench just staring up at the sky. He’d seen Sheila rock herself back and forth when she got agitated. Joachim tried, but it only made him more anxious. He’d gotten off the bus when it neared Greenwood Cemetery. He walked among the monuments and sculptures and wondered if Trevor had managed to get a straight answer out of Thelma Ducoing Toole.

He told himself that Naomi would feel the same if she was in his shoes. She wouldn’t be willing to stay with a man 40,000 years in the past, never to return to her proper place and time, no matter how she thought she might feel about him. The novelty of stone tools would eventually wear off. She’d probably end up using a flint knife to butcher the guy while he slept. It would be the same thing here for him.

When Naomi fell asleep next to him that night, Joachim knew what he had to do.

He had no gift for poetry or prose, so he kept the note as simple as he could.

NG:


I’m sorry for so many things. I should have told you all of it, but I could never find the words. You can’t go where I’m going, and if I stayed, I might end up hating you as much as I love you now. Just know that somewhere, some when, I probably made a different choice, and things all worked out.


Love Always,


GS

Joachim told himself that it was all for the best. He kissed Naomi on the forehead. She murmured something unintelligible and he thought he saw the hint of a smile on her lips. He placed the note on her dresser. Joachim took a final look around the bedroom and dematerialized. There was no sound when he “popped” out of view, but he still liked to think of it that way.

Epilogue

In the splinter in time labeled SWY61727336159, George Sanders Gardner was born on October 8, 2007. He was a healthy, 7-pound baby boy with his mother’s hazel eyes and his father’s dimples. His mother, renowned poet and author, Naomi Jean Gardner, dedicated her second and most famous novel, Viaducts, “to both my Georges”. When he was 11 years old, young George first told the story of his father’s death to his 5th grade classmates. The tale changed over the years. Sometimes his father was a fighter pilot. At other times he was in the Peace Corps. Once, in his early 20s, he explained to a date how his dad, working as an offshore area production foreman saved ten members of his crew from certain death, though it cost him his own life. No matter the details, the way George S. Gardner told it, his father always died a hero.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Redolence



Failure has a smell.



Failure smells like generic disinfectant that doesn’t quite mask an underlying aroma of rotten food and stale beer.



It's the stink of dirty laundry, clothes piled in a bedroom corner, sunlight warming them through the blinds.



Failure is the smell of cheap liquor so strong that I flinch and recoil the instant I open the bottle.



It’s the odor permeating the dining room at a homeless shelter; the smell I’m almost sure isn’t coming from me.



Failure is the fragrant scent of Confederate Jasmine pointing out that I’m sitting in the moonlight alone.



It's the freshly shampooed hair of the girl in the seat ahead of me whispering how long it’s been since I was that young.

Failure is a wallet that smells like anything but new bills.


It’s that card you sent me years ago; the one from which I can no longer catch even the faintest hint of your perfume.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Wild About K-Ville

Well, I just caught 2 trailers of "K-Ville", the new cop-drama set in New Orleans coming this fall on Fox.

Here's a sneak peek.

K-Ville Sneak Preview

K-Ville Sneak Preview 2 (with Tawny Cypress)

Anthony Anderson stars as Marlin Boulet. I actually am familiar with Anthony Anderson, and I like his work (yes, even in "My Baby's Daddy") . I'm far more familiar with him in comedic roles, but I thought he did an excellent job both times I've seen him play police officers: "The Departed" and "Law and Order : SVU".

Cole Hauser stars as Trevor Cobb.

Maximiliano Hernández stars as Billy “K-9” Faust

Blake Shields stars as Jeff “Glue Boy” Gooden

Last, but certainly not least, the exquisite Tawny Cypress stars as Ginger “Love Tap” LeBeau. She's definitely stolen every scene in which I've seen her. No surprise there.

Actually, the previews look pretty good, and even if they didn't, I'd still plan on watching K-Ville. I sincerely hope that a "'Love Tap' LeBeau" spin-off is in the works.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Peacocks' Muster

(Another short-story.)

The monastery had a wonderful library. There were six ceiling fans, two couches, and more chairs than he cared to count. There was a cross, naturally. It bore three nails and a crown of thorns. A dove was perched atop the crown, which he thought was a nice touch.

He was sitting in a brown recliner, reading a biography of Sir Thomas More. He’d never been a big fan, although he preferred More to Becket (I like More more) if given a choice between English saints named Thomas killed by order of English kings named Henry. He was here for peace, quiet, and the most important coin flip of his life. It was certainly peaceful. Something about the surroundings, a wooded area in SE Louisiana made even the most ignorant loudmouth speak softer and listen harder. There were ponds and paths and peacocks, though they, like him, weren’t native to the area. The whole atmosphere simply screamed out “Abandon drama, ye who enter here.”

He’d gone on this type of retreat once before, as part of a group of married couples. He suspected it had done his own marriage more harm than good. He and his wife had nothing but time to discover just how little they actually had in common. He’d heard stories of people waking up next to strangers after a hard night of partying. That had to be far less terrifying than waking up next to a stranger and realizing you’d been married to them for over 10 years. He didn’t know when this occurred to her, but he’d realized it when they were touring the various buildings.

The church itself was cruciform. The mural above the exit had sparked a fight between him and Connie. The figures depicted to the right of Christ represented society’s best and brightest. Those on the left represented the poor and downtrodden. With the group on the left stood the only non-white person in the bunch. He was dark chocolate, shirtless, and barefoot. Connie tried pointing out that none of the other poor, huddled masses was wearing shoes, either, but he was already on a roll. This guy held a shovel in one hand and a sledgehammer slung over one shoulder. The look on his face spoke of recognition that the rest of his party: a cripple; a blind man; and a mother holding an infant in her arms weren’t going to be of much assistance. He told Connie that was a pretty clear message. “Come all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. . . . Most of you will rest right away, but some of you still have work to do.” He wondered if they’d still be married today had he kept that observation to himself. Consuela, I love you dearly, but you have no sense of humor.

He hadn’t been surprised when he learned Connie was having an affair. He was only disappointed that she’d picked a guy who wasn’t even worth resenting. It had touched briefly on his pride, but she’d seemed genuinely hurt by his muted reaction. If he could do it all over again, he’d probably fake a temper tantrum or threaten violence. It was sad when you had to calm your wife down after she revealed to you that she’d been cheating. He put the book back on the shelf, promising himself he’d read more More later. After breakfast (the food was every bit as wonderful as he remembered) he took a stroll to the gift shop. He bought two cards, or rather donated a “suggested” sum of money in exchange for specified items. He lit a six-day candle when he entered the chapel, knowing there was a 50/50 chance it would stay lit longer than he stayed alive.

The chapel seated 57, but was only seating one when he walked in. He chose a seat as far from Jerry as he could. He liked Jerry, in the sense that he didn’t wish him any specific ill-will, but the other man was under the mistaken impression that the two of them were friends. Jerry went on these retreats frequently. He knew this because Jerry never missed an opportunity to mention it. He was sure that if the Benedictine Order ever authorized the creation of a Monastic Reserve Corps, Jerry would be the first to sign up. He shut his eyes and started praying. He was thinking about Thomas More, naturally, but it was Saint Thomas Aquinas who sat down next to him.

“What’s going on?” He asked.

“I might ask you the same thing.” Saint Thomas said.

“I’m enjoying a time of peace, tranquility, and quiet reflection.” He told Saint Thomas, who simply shook his head. “What? I thought you’d be happy. I’m very close to joining the Church.”

“You’re just as close to committing a sin for which there can be no repentance.” Saint Thomas pointed out.

“Yes, if the coin toss goes that way. What could be clearer evidence of God’s will?”

“You don’t even accept Church doctrine!”

“I’m no more or less skeptical of Catholicism than I am of any other religious credo.” He continued before Saint Thomas could interrupt. Summa contra Gentiles, remember? It’s all interchangeable as long as I acknowledge I’m not God.”

“What I said was a bit more nuanced than that.” Saint Thomas said with a bit more than a hint of reproach.

“Close enough. And if it breaks that way, I won’t even be a Catholic at that point. I won’t have accepted the validity of the concept of a mortal sin, so how could it apply?”

“Flipping a coin, though?” Saint Thomas shook his head.

“Hey, Caesar rolled dice to decide the fate of the world.”

“That was a metaphor, and not even a fatalistic one.”

“Same basic idea. My life is a coin in the hands of a Power greater than myself.”

“That’s more of an ancient Greek attitude.” Saint Thomas said.

“Touché. Still, my mind’s made up.” He heard a sigh, but when he turned his head to look, Saint Thomas Aquinas was gone.

He filled out the two cards shortly after lunch. One was to his mother, with instructions for his funeral. The other was to pastor Father Michael McDermott. He’d never been formally introduced to the man, but he’d been attending Mass at St. Francis every Sunday morning for the last 7 months. He mentioned this in the card, and added his interest in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. He’d actually discussed this with one of the monks last night. He was embarrassed that he’d been referring to it as “conversion” for all these years. He’d gone to Mass that morning. The processional, complete with Jerusalem incense, was a beautiful thing. He was bothered by the thought that he might never have the opportunity to attend a Latin Mass. He flipped the coin in the library. It came up Tails.

“Huh.” He said. One of the other “retreaters” lifted his head at the sound. The man had been thumbing through the very biography he’d been reading earlier. One more More reader. He made eye contact with the man, and raised his hand in the same gesture of apology that tennis players use when they win a point via a net cord. He walked down the hall to his room and shut the door behind him. It was the same room he'd stayed in with Connie.

Life sure took some strange turns.

A Bad Case of Pellagra


(Something new. I do a lot of creative writing, and thought I'd share some of it here.)


I really hate it when people don’t take me seriously. To not be taken seriously by a born Floridian just added insult to injury. That was last night, and this particular Floridian was a police officer in Lake Worth, the city in which I’ve been living for the last 9 months. I have not been to the lake (Lake Worth, presumably) during this time period. The whole “lake” thing sounds like a tourist trap, and 3 years spent living in Orlando has made me wary of those.

My ex-wife was the one who called the cops. It was right after she hung up on me. She told them that something needed to be done before I harmed myself. Thanks to the Baker Act, she can’t just have me thrown in jail. She can, however, start the process by which a law enforcement officer can haul me off to a medical facility for psychiatric evaluation.

As usual, Amy’s gotten everything ass-backwards. She told them I was suicidal. I let slip that I was in the process of killing myself, but she really didn’t let me complete the thought. That’s the story of our relationship, when you get right down to it. She knew I was winning the argument, and calling “911” was her way of making sure she had the last word. I am planning on killing myself, but I’ve still got another 4-5 years before this course of action will be the cause of my death.

I’d decided, earlier this week, to contract pellagra. At first, I wanted to go with scurvy. I thought posterity would appreciate the irony of an otherwise-healthy adult male dying of a vitamin-C deficiency in the wealthiest county in the nation’s largest orange-producing state. Anyway, I was eating a bag of potato chips, when something I’ll call divine providence prompted me to read the nutrition facts on the back of the package. Those chips were loaded with vitamin C! I realized that it would be far too easy to eat the wrong thing and have to start all over. So, I settled on pellagra, a disease caused by a dietary lack of niacin. Pellagra isn’t as “sexy” as scurvy, I suppose, but I think it represents the more realistic choice. I’m nothing, if not a pragmatist.

I walked out of Publix yesterday afternoon with a shopping cart full of food . . . food lacking in vitamin B3, though I also need to steer clear of foods containing tryptophan. As I tried to explain to Amy, this is not a slap in the face to those who unwillingly or unwittingly suffer from vitamin-deficient illnesses. I’d obviously trade places with them if I could. I’m not starving myself to death. I’m not protesting anything. I’m not supporting any cause (at least, not that I know of). It’s not a case of a vegan diet gone wrong. It is what it is.

Pellagra’s primary symptoms are pretty easy to remember: diarrhea; dementia; dermatitis; and death. I figure that bad skin and irregular bowel movements are inevitable by-products of a fatally unhealthy diet. “The price of doing business” is how I described it to Amy. Death, of course, goes without saying. Dementia is the only one I’m worried about. I’m concerned that the onset of dementia (and I’m thinking years down the road, here) might cause me to reconsider. Just like that, I could flush all my hard work down the drain.
I admit, I really didn’t consider the reaction others might have to my decision. This has changed since my conversations with Amy. She started crying when I told her. When I asked her what was wrong, she shouted obscenities at me. (I mean really hurtful stuff.) And that was a good 10 minutes before she hung up the phone! What this tells me is that I should make a list of who does and does not need to know.

I told all of this to the police officers last night. One of them asked me if I’d been drinking. I told him yes, but that this was okay. In fact, alcoholics frequently suffer from pellagra. I even pointed to the case of vodka on top of the refrigerator (the highest off the floor you’ll ever be likely to see that particular brand, by the way). When he asked if I was taking any medication, I told him I’d certainly been prescribed plenty, but that “taking it” was no longer high on my list of priorities. His partner asked me, again, if I wanted to kill myself. I again answered yes.

They took my belt and my shoelaces, but the facility can’t hold me longer than 72 hours without giving me a psych exam. They tried making me take vitamins, but I hid them under my tongue. One of the nurses is now claiming that I’ve refused nourishment. I’ve told anyone who’ll listen (which is very few people, I might add) that this is not the case. I simply want a guarantee that nothing on the menu will offset my nascent niacin deficiency. It gets worse. Although I haven’t worked for the guy in months, Amy took it upon herself to call my old boss. Now, how could he see “something like this coming” when I only learned about pellagra a few days ago? I spoke to Amy this morning, and she still won’t stop crying. She said she couldn’t sit back and watch me “destroy myself” (her words). I said that I wasn’t asking her to put her life on hold. Apparently, this was the wrong thing to say, because she hung up on me again.

If that wasn’t enough, I looked at the menu, and tonight they’re serving us roast turkey and processed corn.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Venus Victorious! Five-Peat for Federer!



Wimbledon 2007 is in the books, and what a long, strange, trip it was. The retractable roof can't come too soon for this tennis fan. Second round matches shouldn't be played in the middle of the second week!

First off, congratulations to Venus Williams. In winning her 4th Wimbledon crown (6th slam overall), Ms. Williams put on a devastating display of power, touch, and skill. She dismantled Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, and Anna Ivanovic before soundly defeating a game but overmatched Marion Bartoli in the final. Mary Carillo summed up one of the reasons people have a problem with the Williams sisters. Namely, both seem capable of winning every match and tournament to which they set their minds and their considerable talents. Of course, the fact that they're confident and outspoken African-American women has nothing to do with it. Ahem.

Some other random thoughts on the women's draw:

Justine Henin: Wimbledon seems to bring out some strange weaknesses in her game and her psyche.

Maria Sharapova: I've now seen her get destroyed in three straight slams, managing to win a total of only 10 games.

Serena Williams: I felt bad for Serena losing to the one player (Henin) to whom she really didn't want to lose. Still, I like the fact that, win or lose, she speaks her mind. Some call it arrogance, I call it refreshing honesty.

Anna Ivanovic: This year's "It" girl actually has some game. Still, the only way she was going to beat Venus Williams in the semis was with a sledgehammer.

I did not want to see Roger Federer win. Pete Sampras was always my favorite player, and it's been real tough watching Fed march inexorably toward slam #15. Still, Rafael Nadal made him earn this one, and both players deserve props for showing why they're head and shoulders above everyone else in men's tennis.

Nadal had his chances. He lost both tiebreakers. He had double break points against Federer in the third and fifth games of the final set. At that point, I really thought he had the championship. Federer showed me a lot, though. No one had ever questioned his talent, but many sportswriters and fans (myself included) had wondered how he'd respond when truly tested. He responded with his 5th consecutive Wimbledon title. I thought I saw Bjorn Borg wince, but they may have just been a figment of my imagination.

Thoughts on the men's draw:

Novak Djokovic: Won a lot of fans with his hard-fought win against Marcos Baghdatis in the quarters. He then lost some fans when he retired in the third set (trailing 1-4) against Nadal. I'm actually predicting a Djokovic win at the U.S. Open.

Richard Gasquet: Has the best backhand in the business. He showed why some think he's every bit as talented as Federer. Coming back against Roddick in the quarters should be a sign of things to come. Allez, Richard!

Andy Roddick: Sigh. I felt bad for Roddick. I'd actually predicted a Gasquet win, but I didn't expect Andy to go out like that. He led 2 sets to 0 and was up a break in the third before it all fell apart for him. Gasquet didn't expose his weaknesses. He simply exploited the "gaps" in Roddick's game (backhand, deficiencies at net) that everyone already knew.

So, now it's on to the hardcourt season.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

He's Smarter Because Mom Loved Him Best (IQ, Birth Order, and Family Dynamics)



Eldest children learned late last week that they have (marginally) higher IQ's than their younger siblings. Yes, as if their egos needed any more stroking. The study, conducted among firstborn children in Norway determined that 2.3 IQ points differentiate the average Norwegian firstborn from the average Norwegian second-born.

The results of this study confirmed what I’d long suspected: First-borns are know-it-alls and the root of the problem is the way in which their parents treated them as children.

I'm an only child, so I've got no horse in this particular race. I've spent years listening to: eldest children complain about being put under too much pressure; middle children kvetch about feeling ignored; and youngest children whine about never being taken seriously. They do all this while telling "singletons" like me that we're selfish, self-centered, and spoiled. So, I'm unbiased in the sense that I think all three groups are full of it.

(For the record, having your parents' undivided attention is a double-edged sword. You do get a lot of encouragement. There's also not a whole lot you can get away with, and it's not like you can ever blame anything on anyone else. If something's broken, it's obvious that you did it. If something didn't get done, it's obvious you didn't do it.)

Anyway, the study itself seems to highlight some important things about family dynamics. In the case of eldest children, they may "benefit" from somewhat higher expectations placed upon them by their parents. They are often called upon to tutor their younger brothers and sisters.

Family dynamics are important. I once dated a woman who claimed (only slightly sarcastically) that her parents had managed to raise 3 only children.

Family "roles" are often self-fulfilling prophecies. People do, within certain limits, tend to live up or down to the expectations of others. If you're told often enough at an early enough age that you're the responsible one or the smart one, there's a good chance you're going to act the part to the best of your ability.

I was heartened by certain aspects of the study. As an only child, I can now blame my parents for deciding not to have any more kids. This has cost me 3 IQ points. More importantly, their selfishness denied me the opportunity to develop important skills in terms of mentoring and teaching. Alternatively, had I been a younger sibling, I might be more inclined to take risks. Finally, their selfish (or prudent, depending upon one’s point of view) decision not to provide me with siblings has also fostered the sort of spoiled, self-centeredness that would cause me to interpret the study in this manner. Who knew?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Increíble! El Pato bate el Tigre . . .




On Sunday, June 17, 2007, a duck beat a tiger in a fair fight.


Yes, Angel "El Pato" Cabrera held off Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk to win the 2007 U.S. Open in Oakmont, Pa. The 37-year-old Argentinean captured his first career major. Woods finished runner-up at a major for the second time in 2 months. He again played in the final pairing and again walked off the course empty-handed.


It was a helluva tournament. Phil Mickelson whined and went home early. Paul Casey shot one of the finest rounds in recent U.S. Open memory (a 66 on Friday), but could manage no better than a tie for 10th. Cabrera finished at 5 over par and was the only golfer to record 2 rounds under par. Angel took home the trophy but Oakmont itself came out on top.


I admit, part of me was hoping that someone was standing over a 3 foot putt to shoot a 62 to win on Sunday. That way, I could have seen Johnny Miller run onto the 18th green yelling "Noonan! Noonan!" before getting tackled by security. You see, Mr. Miller shot 63 on Sunday at Oakmont to win the 1973 U.S. Open and now, while commentating on the U.S. Open, can't seem to go 63 seconds without working it into a sentence.


Wait, where was I?


Oh yes, I wish people would take a deep breath and relax before claiming that Tiger Woods is somehow losing his edge.


Let's put this in perspective. In his last 10 majors (dating back to the 2005 Masters), Tiger's won 4 times and finished second (alone or tied) 3 times. He has 8 out of 10 finishes in the top 3 and 9 out of 10 finishes in the top 4.


He's played in the final group on Sunday in the last 4 majors (dating back to the 2006 Open Championship).


Since retooling his swing under coach Hank Haney, Woods is in the hunt each and every time he tees it up. When he's clicking on all cylinders, as he was at the 2005 Open Championship, 2006 Open Championship, and 2006 PGA Championship, he's still head and shoulders above the rest of the field. When he's not playing his best, he no longer shoots himself out of contention, something he did early in his career.


As for the "dubious" fact that he has yet to win a major when not leading after 3 rounds, come on. Most majors are won by the guy who's leading after 3 rounds. That's why the choke label gets applied when the 54-hole leader doesn't close the deal. That's also why final rounds like Nicklaus at Augusta in 1986 and Palmer at Oakmont in 1960 are so well-remembered. Most of the Golden Bear's majors were won when he held onto the lead he'd carved out during the tournament's first 3 rounds.


I'm going to make a bold prediction. Are you sitting down? Tiger Woods will one day win a major when trailing after 3 rounds. You're reading it right here first, folks.


So, congratulations to Angel Cabrera. The Duck came out victorious on a course playing as tough as any you'll ever see. Now it's on to the Open Championship at Carnoustie.


Quack.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Happy Father's Day

My attitude on this can best be summed up in the sentiments a friend of mine expressed to me in an e-mail this morning:

"You won't be getting a Father's Day card from anyone.....you hope."

Seriously, though, Happy Father's Day to all the proud papas and papas-to-be.

3-Day Conference re: Redefining and Empowering Black Males

I guess this is appropriate with Father's Day coming up. Thanks to blackprof.com for the information.

3-Day Conference in Brooklyn, NY: Black and Male in America

Friday June 15, 2007 through Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Sharland Norris Group is presenting this event (headliners include: Kevin Powell, Hill Harper, and Michael Eric Dyson), a free conference geared toward redefining and empowering black males.

Sequels R Us




The news that Sean Connery would not be appearing in "Indiana Jones 4" got me thinking.


I'm always wary when it comes to movie sequels. I'm not talking about stories that need to be told in multiple parts (so I'm not including "Godfather II" and the last two installments of the original "Star Wars" trilogy in this indictment). I'm referring specifically to unnecessary sequels, the kind of flicks that extend a story that was satisfactorily concluded in the previous installment (so I am talking about "Godfather III" and all three installments of the second "Star Wars" trilogy).

Of course, sucker that I am, I always make a point of seeing unnecessary sequels. I start off with a bad attitude. I nitpick, I groan, and I roll my eyes. I've finally had enough. I am not going to see "Indiana Jones 4" when it’s released in theaters. This will be the first Indy flick that I will not see during its opening week. Enough's enough.

Still, the whole thing got me thinking about my own "worst case scenario". That is, what other movie sequels might be on the horizon and what sequels might have been served up to us back in the day if wiser heads hadn’t prevailed.

1. Raging Bull 2

Plot:

I'm always up for a Scorcese/DeNiro/Pesci vehicle. We caught a glimpse of this at the end of the original. Now we get the entire story of Jake LaMotta's years on the lecture circuit and as a stage actor and stand-up comic. This time around, DeNiro doesn't have to go on any yo-yo diets and Scorcese's already got an Oscar.


Tagline: Although he can fight, he'd still rather recite.

Quote: "They still gotta give you a spot on Letterman. You know why? There's nobody left."


2. Top Gun 2

Plot:

Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer reprise their roles as Pete "Maverick" Mitchell and Ted "Iceman" Kazanski. The two are now instructors at the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School, teaching the next generation of elite fighter pilots. They're also still in the closet. Kelly McGillis returns as Charlotte "Charlie" Blackwood. Instead of trying to seduce Maverick, she helps him to recognize that he can stop living the lie. The movie closes with a scene of Maverick and Iceman reciting their vows at a civil ceremony in Amherst, Massachusetts. The credits roll to the strains of "You've Lost That Loving Feeling".

Tagline: Come as you are.

Quote: "You can still be my wingman any time."

3. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid II

Plot:

It's been a long time since Paul Newman and Robert Redford were paired together. This assumes, of course, that Butch and Sundance survived the shootout in Bolivia. You'll laugh as Sundance finally learns how to swim, and cry when Sundance buries his pal Butch to Kelly Clarkson's cover of "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head".


Tagline: Not that it matters, but none of this is true.

Quote: "Butch and me have been talking. Wherever the hell Tobago is that's where we're off to."

4. Footloose . . . And Fancy Free

Plot:

Kevin Bacon and Lori Singer are back as Ren McCormick and Ariel Moore McCormick. Ren is now a high school principal, and Ariel is an outspoken member of the City Council. Their eldest daughter, played by Lindsay Lohan, is bright, ambitious, and talented high school senior. Unfortunately, she's a born-again Christian and wants to include a reference to her faith in her valedictory address. Principal Ren and Councilman Ariel butt heads with their strong-willed daughter.

There's a hilarious cameo by Sarah Jessica Parker as their old friend from high school who went out to Hollywood and made it big.

John Lithgow returns as Rev. Shaw Moore. In one of the film's most powerful scenes, Rev. Moore confronts Ren as he is about to cut off the power to his daughter's microphone during her valedictory address. Ren realizes that he's become the type of inflexible and reactionary authority figure that he himself despised. His daughter concludes her speech and Ren is amazed as, instead of tossing their caps into the air, the graduates break into an impromptu prayer session and Bible study.

Tagline: One kid. One town. Multiple opportunities to freely practice one's religion.

Quote: Student 1: "People think she's a Bible-thumper."
Student 2: "Is she?"
Student 1: "I just think she prays a lot."

5. The Continental Breakfast Club

Plot:

They're back. John Bender (Judd Nelson), Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald), Andrew Clark (Emilio Estevez), Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy), and Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall)meet again. The quintet finds themselves in traffic school. Who's the instructor? You guessed it, Dick Vernon (Paul Gleason).

Tagline: Five people who actually know each other pretty well at this point, with a whole lot in common, like multiple traffic violations.

Quote: "You wanna know what I did to get in here? I didn't pay my #&^%$ speeding tickets!"

What Might Have Been

Casablanca 2 (Humphrey Bogart, Dooley Wilson,Ingrid Bergman, Claude Raines, and Paul Henreid)

Sam (Wilson) and Rick Blaine (Bogart) open another "cafe". The year is 1963 and the location is West Berlin. Of course, Rick ends up working behind the scenes to help escapees make it over. Ilsa Lund (Bergman) shows up, of course, with hubby Victor Lazlo (Henreid). Older and wiser, Rick figures out a way to do the right thing and get the girl. Captain (ret.) Louis Renault steals every scene his in. His banter with the East Berlin border guards will leave you in stitches.

Tagline: Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she had to walk into his . . . again.
Quote: "Play that song again, and I'll kill you."

Lost Weekends (Ray Milland, Jane Wyman, and Phillip Terry)

Don Birnam (Milland) relapses after 20 years of sobriety. Wife Helen (Wyman) and brother Wick (Terry) are in Al-anon this go round, so Don can't rely on his two favorite enablers. Instead, he checks into a rehab center. Don works on another novel while he's in treatment. Helen and Wick have a brief fling, but quickly realize that a romantic relationship between two co-dependents of their variety is doomed to failure. Don ends up being the addiction counselor that all the patients love to hate.

Tagline: All he wants is to stop taking shots.

Quote: "I'm gonna put this whole 28 days down, minute by minute . . ."

The Sound of Music, Part II (Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews)

It's June 1972 and President Richard M. Nixon has invited the von Trapp Family to perform at the White House. The musical Austrians set up in their plush accommodations at the Watergate Hotel, and quickly find themselves embroiled in a web of political intrigue. We learn what was really on those damn tapes as Maria von Trapp leads President Nixon in a drunken sing-along that leaves National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger shaking his head in disgust.

Tagline: He had music within his grasp.

Quote: "Ah John (Dean), you are funny. Expensive, but very funny."

It WAS a Wonderful Life (Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore)

Mary Bailey (Reed) wonders what her life would have been like if she'd never married husband George (Stewart). Let's see: she's married to millionaire Sam Wainwright and actually got out of Bedford Falls. When the police arrive, Mary tells them that George had been drinking heavily and took a nasty fall down the stairs. She claims that the gunshot wound in his back was self-inflicted.

Tagline: Revenge is a dish best served cold.

Quote: "You've been given a great gift, Mary, the chance to see what life would have been like without your deadbeat husband."

Honorable Mention:

Spartacus 2 (Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, and Tony Curtis)

Spartacus actually survived the crucifixion, and he's none too happy.

Tagline: Spartacus is coming to Rome . . . with a few days to kill.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Bizarro Ending: The Season 6 Finale of "Smallville"



“A Phantom went down to Kansas; he was looking for DNA to steal.
He was in a bind, ‘cause he was way behind, and needed a Clark Kent meal.”


Anyway, Season 6 of “Smallville” is in the books. I frequently criticize the show. I often ask myself why I still watch. Nonetheless, I went out of my way to catch the season finale.

It took him 6 years, but Clark Kent finally (well, sort of) told Lana Lang the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. He told her that he’s an alien, sent to Earth by his birth parents just before their home planet of Krypton exploded.

Of course, Clark, in a rare display of intelligence and sound judgment, left out the fact that his arrival also brought with it the kryptonite meteor shower that killed Lana’s parents. Honesty is the best policy . . . except when honesty means telling the woman you love that you were the unwitting cause not only of her parents’ death but also every kryptonite-related incident that’s caused her other significant trauma. Just an opinion, but I don't think there's any "right time" to reveal that sort of information.

For those of you keeping score this includes her being: stalked; kidnapped; frequently hospitalized; manipulated into marrying Lex Luthor; and being convinced that she’d suffered a miscarriage only to discover that she’d been tricked into thinking she was pregnant in the first place. So, no, we’re not talking about Clark’s telling her that he used his x-ray vision to sneak a peek at her in the girl’s locker room back when they were in high school. (Yes, Clark did that, too. Yikes.)

Lois Lane made further strides into becoming the intrepid reporter that many of us know and love. She took an active role in investigating and researching a story (and this one didn’t even involve a flying barn door). She also ended up getting in a little bit over her head, also arguably a Lois Lane trademark. Let me clarify that by “a little bit over her head”, I mean “brutally stabbed”. I guess that qualifies as two steps forward and one step back.

We finally learned what Chloe Sullivan’s kryptonite-induced power is. Her tears have the power to heal. Chloe found her cousin’s (Lois) body. She turned on the water works, a teardrop hit Lois, and both young women were enveloped in a bright light. The glow left Lois healed and Chloe seemingly comatose. It also left supporters of the Chlois theory wondering if this was foreshadowing, a “shout out”, or a deliberate act of cruelty on the part of the show’s creative team. I think it was a “shout out”, and nothing more.

About Chlois, it’s my opinion that it just ain’t gonna happen. The creative team has been pretty clear about it in interviews. They’ve said that the show’s iconic “Big Three” are Clark, Lex, and Lois. All three are misunderstood by those around them and unsure about their futures. They have also experienced interruptions in their education, and have had complex relationships with arguably tyrannical father figures. Writer Steven DeKnight stated that “Lois is from the myth of being very strong, classically pig-headed, and taking her father, Sam Lane, straight from the comic books. With Lex it was a little different because Lionel was created for the show. For Clark, problems with Jor-El . . .”

DeKnight went on to state that “Smallville’s” Lois Lane is “very much the classic, shoot from the hip, get-into-trouble Lois.” He said that the writers were deliberately setting up a contrast between her journalistic approach and that of Chloe.

Look, Chlois is an interesting notion, but I think it’s going to remain relegated to the ranks of fan fiction.

Lexana (the relationship between Lex Luthor and Lana Luthor [nee Lang]) had a pretty rough night. Methinks that ship has sailed (pun intended). Lana told Lex that she knew she was never pregnant. She told Lex that he was incapable of love, and that Clark meant more to her than Lex ever will. Finally, she revealed to Lex that she’d lied when she said she found bald men sexy. (Okay, I made that last one up.) Lex did not take this well, at all. He slapped Lana, who left the Luthor mansion only to (apparently) perish when her SUV explodes. And if you think Lana’s really dead, I’ve got some choice land on Krypton I’d just love to sell you.

Lex got pulled over by some state troopers and charged with the murder of Lana Luthor. Sigh. Billionaire evil geniuses aren't supposed to go out like this.

Oh, yeah, there was some non-soap opera stuff, as well. The last escapee from the Phantom Zone made an appearance. He’s a Kryptonian experiment gone wrong and needed a Kryptonian body to sustain him. (That means you, Clark) He had a brief fight with the Martian Manhunter (revealed as a former officer of Jor-El, the biological father that Clark often wishes wouldn't bother) and he literally punched right through the mean green martian machine.

It was revealed that Lionel Luthor has been functioning as an emissary for the late, great Jor-El (the biological father that Clark often wishes wouldn’t bother).

Anyway, the last Zoner ended up stealing Clark’s DNA. He was transformed into . . . Tom Welling dressed in black and with an evil grin on his face. Yawn. The Zoner fought Clark, revealed that green kryptonite actually makes him stronger, and knocked out Lionel Luthor. He also spouted one of the lamest tag lines ever after Clark asked him what he was. He responded “I’m you, only a little more bizarre.” Riiiight . . .


Finally, “Bizarro” demonstrated just how far behind the curve Clark truly is. Although he’d only had Clark’s DNA for a couple of minutes, Bizarro ended the episode and the season by flying away from the aptly named Reeves Dam. By all appearances and accounts, Clark Kent, who's always had his DNA, remains earth-bound.

I’m not so much looking forward to Season 7 as I am resigned to the fact that I’ll probably be a faithful viewer of this show right up until the bitter end. Yikes.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

When Ex-Presidents Attack




In case you missed it, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter blasted current President George W. Bush on Saturday, May 19, 2007.


During a telephone interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Mr. Carter said that the Bush administration "has been the worst in history" in terms of international relations. Lots of folks inside and outside the Beltway were surprised. They weren't surprised that he has this viewpoint (Mr. Carter has been consistently opposed to the war in Iraq and other elements of the current administration's foreign policy), but rather that he breached one of the unwritten rules of presidential etiquette by coming right out and saying it.


I know that great athletes have historically made some pretty disparaging remarks about succeeding generations. In 1959, Mr. Carter's fellow Georgian, baseball great Ty Cobb was asked how he would fare against the current crop of pitchers. Cobb had retired from the game in 1928 with a lifetime batting average of .366. He responded that he thought he'd hit only .300. When asked why, Cobb responded "You've got to remember, I'm 73." I got the sense while watching an interview with Wilt Chamberlain during the 1997 NBA All-Star Game that Wilt the Stilt still felt that he was capable of a 100 point night if someone could just find him a jersey and a pair of shorts.


Ex-presidents are apparently held to a higher standard.


I can see the reasons for this. These guys belong to an incredibly elite club. Only 43 men have held the office. Of those 43, only 4 remain among the living. We all know that these guys do not march in ideological lock-step. In addition, we're aware that there are all sorts of personal rivalries at work. The Carter-Mondale ticket was defeated by a ticket that included President George H.W. Bush. Bush 41 was defeated by Bill Clinton. Clinton's veep, Al Gore, was in turn defeated by Bush 43.


Although we usually have to read between the lines or learn the information third-hand, it's not as if former presidents have never sniped at current ones. Teddy Roosevelt was not shy about making derogatory remarks about Presidents Taft and Wilson. Of course, TR didn't use phrases like "worst in history" he just called Taft a "fathead". Then again, TR didn't try to "clarify" his remarks either. I wonder what TR would have called that sort of backpedaling.


Mr. Carter appeared Monday on "Today on NBC" to try to add some context to his comments. He denied that he was talking personally about President Bush. He further stated that his remarks were "careless or misinterpreted."


I was a little bit disappointed by this semi-retraction. I found his initial honesty refreshing, and not just because I think his statements were accurate. No, I like the notion of a former president adopting the role of the curmudgeonly retired superstar, not hesitating to say that the current crop of players couldn't carry his jockstrap in a suitcase. I think that a feud between Bush 41 and Bill Clinton would be a whole lot more interesting than Rosie O'Donnell vs. Donald Trump.