Pirate Alley Fashion Shoot

In the French Quarter, in New Orleans, there is a little alley, only one block long, between the Saint Louis Cathedral and the Old Spanish Governors Mansion, the Cabildo. It runs from Chartres Street at Jackson Square to Royal Street. The alley is intersected by Cabildo Alley and it continues past the Spanish Dungeon and then The Faulkner House, where he wrote his first novel.

It’s called Pirate Alley, or Pirate’s alley – nobody really knows how it came on that name, despite many legends.

Even though now I realize it is a famous spot – I first stumbled on it by accident trying to fight my way through the French Quarter Mardi Gras crowds. It is always a quiet little lane surprisingly isolated from the hub and the bub of the tourist crowds bursting in Jackson Square or the never ending party jostling the other French Quarter Streets. Whenever I’m in the quarter, I try to walk the Pirate Alley.

The other day I was walking and riding the streetcars around the city taking some photographs. I was walking from Canal through the quarter to Frenchman Street and cut through the alley to Jackson Square. I found a photographer and his assistant setting up lights while a few feet down a model was arranging a pile of clothes. They were doing a fashion shoot.

I didn’t stop – I had miles to go before I sleep – but a while later, I looped back through Jackson Square and took a look to see if the fashion shoot was still on.

It was.

(click to enlarge)

Without the portable lights they had, Pirate Alley was a tough place for me to shoot the people doing the shoot. Though a beautiful spot it has bad, uneven light.

I popped my head in and snapped a couple shots. I didn’t take the time it takes to make a good shot – I was more than a little self-conscious – they kept looking at me – I guess my big camera makes me look like a professional photographer (lack of skill isn’t obvious from the outside). I don’t know what the rules of courtesy are when shooting someone shooting someone. Of course, there isn’t any more pubic spot than Pirate Alley – so if you choose that as your location, you get what you get.

Sunday Snippet, Corner Kick

I was playing half the games. I’d play the first half, and then I’d sit down so that Wilma could get her turn. Wilma was a big girl; sort of shapeless. Nobody else could ever remember her name. I don’t know if she was a little slow in the head, or maybe only really, really, shy. At our age there isn’t much difference between the two. I don’t know why she played soccer. Probably her parents made her – like most of us. During the games she never even kicked the ball. She would stand around looking miserable, usually with her arms crossed. I guess it should have made me mad that I had to sit on the bench while she stood out there, useless, but I didn’t care. That’s probably why the coach always made me sit instead of any of the other girls.

You see, this was a recreational league. The rules said that everybody got to play at least half of the game, no matter what. Our team really sucked. All the girls that were any good had left a year earlier – they had gone off to play in the select leagues. That is where the teams get to choose who they wanted and the girls’ parents paid thousands of dollars so they could practice every day and go to tournaments in Europe and stuff like that. That’s not what we did. We were the girls nobody wanted.

We played on terrible fields in some rundown city park in some scary neighborhood. The girls on the select teams got the good fields, the ones with lights and smooth, level, grass.

The weather was always awful. It would be cold and rainy at first, then in the summer it would be so hot you couldn’t even think straight. The ground would dry out and split open like a tomato in the sun. There would be these big cracks and if you stepped in one, even if you didn’t break your ankle, all these crickets would come swarming out. It was really gross.

One game, the first one of the spring season, was really cold. It had been raining for days, the field was a muddy mess and the temperature wasn’t much above freezing. There was this big brown puddle in one corner of the field and Brenda tried to kick the ball when she slipped and fell in. It was weird – she completely disappeared. Who knows how deep that puddle was but for a few seconds there was no Brenda, only that brown water. Suddenly she came out, shooting up and out like a rocket. Brenda was a tough girl, never took anything from anybody, but she came out of that cold water crying like a baby. Her mother wrapped her in a blanket and took her away sobbing. She went home.

Some of the girls teased her about it the next week, but I didn’t like the look of that cold brown water and I knew how she felt.

Our coach last year, coach Barracha, would make us roll around in the mud before the games. He said, “I don’t want you girls afraid to get your uniforms muddy.” He had named the team River Plate. The other girls couldn’t understand why we were named after a plate. It seemed like an odd name to me too, but Coach Barracha was from Uruguay and I found that was the name of a famous river, and soccer team, from down there, so I guess that was OK. Coach Barracha was way too serious for our team. We lost every game and only scored two goals all season. At first he would get madder and madder every week until he finally gave up. When the season ended he didn’t even come to the Pizza party.

I was happy because I figured with no coach, there would be no team and I wouldn’t have to play this year. But then all the parents got together and convinced Eleanor’s Dad, Mr. Wiggins, to be the coach. That was terrible. Mr. Wiggins, like Eleanor, to tell you the truth, is kind of crazy. He renamed the team The Blue Squealers, which has to be the most embarrassing thing in the world. After giving us that terrible name, he pretty much did nothing. I guess that was all right; we weren’t going to get any better no matter what he did, and I guess he figured he might as well cut his losses.

With all the good players going to the select teams you would think that the other teams in our recreational league would suck as much as we did but no such luck. You see there were all these poor kids, these Mexican girls, who couldn’t afford to join the select league but still they lived for soccer. Their teams had Spanish names with the word futbol in them. They would beat the crap out of us, week after week.

Actually, when I was setting on the bench in the second half of these games I like to watch some of these girls play, even when they were thrashing my team. A lot of them were just small and fast and relentless, swarming and pushing, but a few were real artists. They could run and move and make the ball spin this way and that without even looking at it. Their game was a thing of beauty and for a second you could forget that you were sitting on a splintering bench in a run-down park watching kids trying to give a damn about a game that meant nothing.

Believe it or not, that year we had a good player. Really, her name was Missy Higgins. She was tall and fast and she said she had been playing soccer since, “I was in diapers.” Missy had been on a select team but now was faced with the humiliation of playing with us.

The girls talked about her all the time when she wasn’t around. They all said that she had been kicked off her select team because she had been caught drinking with some college boys while they were out of town on a tournament. That seemed to make sense to me, but I listen to the parents talk when I sit on the bench and I heard her mother say she had to quit select soccer because was having knee problems after a growth spurt and needed to get stronger before she could try it again.

At first I thought this was an excuse, because her parents must have been ashamed because of the drinking, but I watched her play and even though she was really good, a ten times better player than anyone else on the team, she was obviously in pain. She would grimace and groan, though nobody other than me seemed to notice. One game, she tried to make a sharp cut right in front of me on the bench, to keep the ball from rolling out of bounds, and her knees gave out and she tumbled onto the ground. I heard her mutter, “I’m a cripple,” as she pulled herself back up.

You would think that our team would be good with a girl like that but it didn’t really make any difference. First of all, soccer isn’t that kind of a sport. One player can’t make up for a whole team of suck. None of us could ever really make the ball go where we wanted it to. When we kicked it the ball would go squirting off somewhere else, usually spinning like crazy. It was kind of fun, trying to guess where the thing was going to end up. So we couldn’t actually pass the ball to Missy, even though we wanted her to have it and we tried all the time.

It didn’t take the other teams long to figure it out too. The other coaches would put two girls on Missy all the time, usually one big girl pushing on her from behind and a little quick one darting around in front. It must have been really frustrating for Missy, especially since that meant somebody else didn’t have anyone defending them, but good luck with that. When Wilma was playing the other teams would ignore her completely.

Missy tried really hard on defense, too, but it didn’t do much good. If the other team had the ball they would always kick it wherever Missy wasn’t at.

Still, Missy would usually score one goal almost every game. I remember her getting the ball and kicking a spinning arching shot that bent around the other team and sneaked in a top corner of the goal. The goal keeper stood there with her mouth hanging open. It was a thing of beauty.

In the end, though, all Missy could do is get us so we would lose, say, seven to one,

The time I sat on the bench I’d watch the girls on the other team, I’d watch Missy, and I’d watch the parents – our parents and the ones on the other team. Every game they would come trooping out of their trucks lugging their folding chairs and line up along the field. The other teams’ parents would bring air horns or wooden clacker things to make noise to cheer on their girls. They would jump up and yell at the referees and cheer for their kids. Our parents looked like they were waiting to get dental work done. They would clap halfheartedly at the beginning of the game but once the inevitable slaughter began they would go calm.

Sometimes, I would spot a little metal flask moving between some of the parents. Coach Wiggins hardly ever said a thing, though he would at least stand and pace through the game. He looked lost. I think I saw Brenda’s dad pass him that little flask once or twice, but I’m not really sure about that.

Wilma’s stepmother brought her to the games. Since Wilma played while I sat, I could watch her. I thought that her stepmother would at least watch or cheer a little, but she never did. She was a lawyer and would talk on her bright red cellphone or text away on her little Blackberry during the whole game. Some times she would do both; wedge her phone against her shoulder under her ear while she texted away with both thumbs.

Finally, it was the last game of the season. It was against the other team from the suburbs. They were called the DeeFeeters and they sucked almost as much as we did, though you would never know it from how cool they thought they were and how loud their parents would yell. They even had a father that would bring this big apparatus that had a tripod and a pole that he would crank up into the sky with a video camera on top. He had to film every minute like it was the Super Bowl or something. I hated those people.

Like I said, though, that team sucked almost as much as we did and even though they had scored two quick goals, they must have got lazy and Missy scored a goal and then Brenda tried to kick a pass and it spun and wobbled and bounced into the goal. The game was almost over and I was sitting on the bench getting excited that if we were lucky we might get out of there with a tie. You can have ties in soccer and it would be cool to not lose for once.

Well, there were only a couple minutes left and Missy was trying really hard and the other team kicked it past the line so we had a corner kick. Missy always took the corner kicks; she was the only one that could kick the ball all the way to in front of the goal. Missy went out and set everything up, Coach Wiggins always let her; she knew lots more than he did about what to do and what was going on.

From the bench I watched her take Wilma by the arm and move her away from everybody else, far away from where the ball sat by the little flag in the corner. It sort of made me mad; it looked like Missy was moving Wilma away from the action so she couldn’t screw anything up more than it already was. This wasn’t fair, no matter how bad and weird Wilma was she still deserved to be in the middle of things. It was strange though, nobody else was paying attention, they were all moving around and pushing against each other but I saw Missy saying something to Wilma, whispering in her ear. She was shorter and had to stand on her tip toes to get her lips close to Wilma’s ear.

Then Missy took Wilma’s shoulders and moved her – sort of almost pointing her in a certain direction, and then pulled her crossed arms down and making her hold them down at her sides. Then Missy walked across to the corner and took her kick.

I had noticed all year that Missy was getting stronger and her knees were hurting her less as the weeks went by. She ran up and kicked the crap out of that ball.

The kick arced up like a rainbow, going higher and farther that anyone had guessed, flying completely over the bunch of girls shoving at each other in front of the goal. It came curving down and, like a sniper shot, hit Wilma square in the chest. It fell to the ground right in front of her and for a split second Wilma stood there petrified, staring at the ball, but then she seemed to shake for an instant and stepped forward and kicked the thing.

Of course, nobody was anywhere near her and the goalie was completely out of position so the ball bounced a couple time and ran up against the back of the net. Everyone looked stunned except Missy who was jumping up and down and screaming. I couldn’t believe it, she knew exactly what she was going to do and she did it… perfectly.

I turned on the bench to Wilma’s stepmother, who hadn’t seen a thing. She was looking away and was talking into her phone.

“Um, Mrs…. Um… Wilma’s Mom?” I didn’t know her last name. “Wilma just scored a goal.”

She said something sharp into the phone, snapped it closed and then frowned and turned to me, “Oh God! What has she done now?”

“Oh, no, ma’am. It was a good thing. She scored a goal. I’m afraid you missed it.”

She stood there with her mouth hanging open, holding her phone in one hand and her Blackberry in the other, turning and staring at all the girls jumping and hugging Wilma in a big clump. I don’t think she ever really figured out what happened.

It would be a better story, I guess; if we had gone ahead and won the game, that Wilma had kicked the winning goal in our only victory. I’m afraid, though, there was too much time left and the goal really pissed the other team off and they scored three goals in the last five minutes and we lost five to three. I don’t care though, that goal was a thing of beauty.

I will always remember watching that goal from the bench. I think I would rather watch something like that than actually score an ordinary goal myself. It’s good to know that every now and then there is a perfect thing in this world. Also, as long as I live, I’ll think about and wonder what Missy said to Wilma when she whispered to her, standing there holding her shoulders, right before she kicked the corner. I wish I knew; I wish I had heard it.

That was my last soccer game. After the season I thought about what would be the best time to hit them up and one afternoon, when they were in a good mood, I went to my parents and begged them not to make me play another season. They went along with it, but I had to promise to sign up for band next year.

I’m thinking, maybe the flute.

Mercedes Benz Superdome

Tulane was playing Memphis in its homecoming game at the newly-named Mercedes Benz Superdome (complete with the world’s largest hood ornament hanging from the roof) in downtown New Orleans. The university provided a shuttle bus but we decided to drive downtown, find a parking spot and then walk over to the pre-game tailgate party. I used my phone to carefully plot a route from campus to the most promising lots but New Orleans traffic is unforgiving and a mistake in lane placement forced me onto a ramp that wound around until it set us on Interstate 10 going towards Baton Rouge. Before I could get to an exit we were farther away than when we started and in a completely unknown neighborhood.

I have no idea where we went but we eventually ended up downtown winding around one-way streets with no turns allowed, still confused and lost. Finally, we spotted a lot and after a couple near-misses managed to park.

I would have bet we were a mile from the stadium, but it was only a couple of blocks.

Candy, Lee, and Drew walking to the Superdome for Tulane's homecoming game.

Lee at the game.

The Superdome is an amazing building – it is so unlike anything else it appears surreal when you first set eyes on it. There is no reference point so you can’t really understand its massive size… or even figure out how far away it is. It is such a familiar sight you instantly recognize the shape and color, but somehow it always looks like it is something on television and could not really exist in the real world.

They have spruced up the exterior and redone the inside and it is very nice. It almost looks modern. One thing that I did notice, however, is that a lot of the interior ceiling panels that were blown off when Katrina struck are still missing. I don’t know it they were too hard to fix, too expensive, or if they were left as a sort of memorial harmless hard-to-see damage.

You can’t sit inside the Superdome without thinking about Katrina. You look at the football field and imagine it crowded with terrified refugees. You look up and imagine the wind whipping and tearing holes in the roof; imagine not knowing if it is going to hold or not.

A fun innocent college homecoming football game is haunted by the ghosts of Katrina. It will probably always be that way.

Completed pass

Don't drop the cheerleader.

Eventually, the game was out of hand.

The sun was setting when we left the game. The skin of the building glows gorgeous in the crepuscular light.

What I learned this week, October 28, 2011

Five Mistakes You’re Making With Your Scrambled Eggs

1. “Don’t be wimpy with your eggs. Whisk well and be vigorous about it–you want to add air and volume for fluffy eggs. And whisk the eggs right before adding to pan; don’t whisk and let mixture sit (it deflates).” –Kay Chun, Deputy Food Editor

2. “Don’t add milk, cream, or water to the eggs. People think it will keep the eggs creamy while cooking, but in fact, the eggs and added liquid will separate during the cooking process creating wet, overcooked eggs. Stir in some creme fraiche after the eggs are off the heat if you want them creamy.” –Mary-Frances Heck, Associate Food Editor

3. “Don’t use high heat. It’s all about patience to achieve the soft curd. Whether you want small curd (stirring often) or large curd (stirring less), you need to scramble eggs over medium-low heat, pulling the pan off the heat if it gets too hot, until they set to desired doneness.” –Hunter Lewis, Food Editor

4. “Don’t overcook them! Take them off the heat a little while before you think they are done. The carryover heat will keep cooking them for a minute or so. Also: Use a cast-iron or a nonstick skillet. If you don’t, there will be a rotten clean-up job in your future.” –Janet McCracken, Deputy Food Editor

And last but not least, ditch that fork! Scramble your eggs with a heat-proof spatula, a flat-topped wooden spoon, or for the perfect curd, chopsticks.

7 Phrases NEVER to Use at Work (or Anywhere Else)

  1. When
  2. Someday
  3. Willpower
  4. Want/Wish/Hope
  5. Not Good Enough
  6. I Don’t Have The Time
  7. It’s Not The Right Time

6 Steps to Reduce Stress

  1. Exercise
  2. Meditation
  3. Take a Break
  4. Go Outside
  5. Take Deep Breaths
  6. Plan a Vacation

The song isn’t too bad, and the guy has a fantastic voice – but I have never seen dancing more out-of-step-and-time with the song in my life. Ahh, the Scopitone World.

Nobody does it better than Malcolm Gladwell.

I enjoyed this talk and Malcolm Gladwell is so entertaining and informative. Even in a case like this, when his conclusions are completely and absolutely wrong.

For example – the Norden Bombsight. He makes the point that it could not actually drop a bomb into a pickle barrel and that in actual use, it was not very accurate, had a lot of shortcomings, and was negatively affected by weather and wind.

So what.

It did not live up to its hype. Nothing does. It had a lot of unforeseen problems. Everything does.

The important thing is that during World War II the entire free world was in an existential struggle with the forces of fascism and a large contributor to victory was the destruction of German industry wrought by the American bombing forces… using the Norden Bombsight.

The fact is that the Norden bombsite succeeded in its purpose – helping to save the free world. Everything else is just noise – interesting noise… educational noise, even important noise – but noise nonetheless.

Then we come to the drones in Afghanistan. He claims that even with a 95% kill rate the drones make them hate us so much that IED device attacks on US soldiers go up. Exactly where is that connection? Again, we are in an existential struggle against an enemy as evil as we faced in WWII, if not as powerful.

The purpose of the drones is to prevent an organized attack like we saw on 911 – and so far, so good. Everything else is noise. You can criticize the drone attacks as immoral, illegal, or too expensive – but to say they aren’t successful… there’s scant evidence for that. Or at least Gladwell doesn’t present it.

When you listen to (or read) someone as entertaining as Malcolm Gladwell you have to be careful to watch the point of view he is working from. Look for the logical leaps that are glossed over by glibness – like a skilled three-card-monte player, he’ll get you looking one way and slide the card somewhere else.

Sure do like to listen to him, though.

Some guy would like to show you the pictures he took on his last dive trip to the Caymans… but he can’t find his camera.

About the size of my head

One of the highlights on the drive from Dallas to New Orleans is crossing the Mississippi river on the Horace Wilkinson Bridge going into Baton Rouge on Interstate Highway 10. It’s also a lowlight, because the traffic through Baton Rouge is usually awful and it is often stop and go all the way back over the bridge.

This trip is wasn’t so bad. Now that I think about it, the last two drives I made to New Orleans were over Mardi Gras… and there were a million other folks doing the same thing. Also, there is so much construction around Baton Rouge – after Katrina a lot of people fled the Big Easy a few miles north to the capital, which sits on ground a few feet higher… at least it’s above sea level. Interstate 10 and the feeder roads are being rebuilt and that makes for slow going.

Like I said, this trip wasn’t so bad – no stop and go, only a little slowing here and there. There were no full closures due to construction, but there was still a lot of work going on. Out of Baton Rouge and into the swamps was all narrow, crowded, and fast – speed and steel.

There is no choice. You are rapidly carried along by the inexorable stream of metal, rubber, gasoline, and flesh. Bumper to bumper, going seventy five miles an hour, with cars closed in on both sides, lanes narrowed by construction cones, equipment belching diesel fumes flying by only a few feet away… that is life in this best of all possible worlds. So I am being as careful as possible, concentrated, both hands on the wheel, staring straight ahead.

So I saw it. Had a really good look at it, for a slice of a split second.

It was about the size of my head.

When it appeared from under the giant eighteen wheel truck in front of me, I saw the round shape rolling and I hoped that it was a chunk of Styrofoam, but I knew it wasn’t. I knew it was concrete.

At seventy-five, more than a mile a minute, there isn’t much time when there is something in the road right in front of you like that. It is amazing how much goes through your mind in the tiny bit of time before the collision.

I knew I was looking at a hunk of debris abandoned by the workers alongside the highway and somehow flung out into the shooting line of speeding vehicles. I fought my first reflexive urge to swerve – I knew there were cars right alongside me in both lanes. Avoidance would be suicidal. At that speed a hit on a tire would probably flip the car – certain death again. My unconscious lizard brain quickly found whatever knowledge it had of the stuff under the car – drive train, fuel lines, and exhaust system and came up with the impression of hunks of strong steel about a third of the way in from the tires.

Of course, I can remember thinking this afterward – but didn’t know I was thinking it at the time. There was not enough time. It was pure survival reflex. A tiny adjustment of the steering wheel to put the chunk right there… and it was gone.

At first there was the sound. A tremendous thump as concrete met steel. The amount of power involved at those speeds is almost unimaginable. We all drive that fast all the time – I have to purposefully will the physics involved out of my head – otherwise I would freak out. Along with the sound there is a feeling of a punch as the car jumps… and that’s it, we’re past.

I glanced at the rearview and saw with horror as the concrete, now a spinning blur, jumped up about six feet into the air. The car behind me took a little swerve, as I did, and the missile missed its windshield and then disappeared. That was it… I have no idea what happened behind me. The past is over and done before you even know what hit you.

Then there was the smell. Awful. The sharp acid of vaporized iron and a burned odor of concrete pulverized into lonely molecules. It filled the car immediately and was as frightening as the sight of the projectile itself.

There wasn’t much I could do right away. As the odor dissipated I began to test what I could. I moved the wheel a bit back and forth and tapped the brakes gingerly. All seemed to be fine. I smelt for gas from a ruptured fuel line and looked for brake fluid on the road, but saw nothing.

At the next exit I pulled off and rolled into a little rough grassy lot. I crawled down and peered under the car. The plastic boot on the front had a nice new crack and, looking from the front, I saw a line of fresh scars running down the heavy steel support beam. It was scratched, but unbroken. I had hit the thing exactly right, it had rolled along the almost indestructible beam, avoiding any of the valuable or vulnerable organs across the belly of the car.

We climbed back in and finished the drive to New Orleans.

I don’t like to think about stuff like this too much. I mean, I know I should be thankful it wasn’t any worse than it was. But I can’t help but think about how lucky we were – what if the concrete was a little bigger, or had hit a tire, or smashed a steering strut. I really don’t like to think about that bouncing rolling ball of death that kept going down the crowded highway behind me.

But in the end, you have to do what you have to do. I do have to thank the lizard brain stem that can out-think a chunk of concrete the size of my head at seventy-five miles an hour.

Ignatius J. Reilly

 When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.

—-Jonathan Swift

Ignatius J. Reilly

Ignatius J. Reilly

“My life is a rather grim one. One day I shall perhaps describe it to you in great detail.”

—- John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

When Lee first decided to go to Tulane I became reinterested in everything New Orleans. I had always been interested… how can you not be? I had visited and worked there and in the surrounding swamps, and always thought of it as an amazingly unique city – the culture, location and architecture making it a special place – a city that will find a place in your heart if you have to courage to let it.

I have felt that way for decades, and still feel that way, stronger than ever – nothing has ever happened to change my mind.

So I started to read anything New Orleans that I could lay my hands on. There is a lot, by the way. One book I picked up right away – one that is often referred to as the quintessential New Orleans novel, is A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole.

The book has a sad and amazing publishing history. The author, a graduate of Tulane, wrote A Confederacy of Dunces after a stint in the army but could never convince a publisher of its merit. Partly due to his failure as a novelist he fought depression and paranoia and killed himself at the age of 31.

He would have been long forgotten except that his mother found a smeared carbon of the manuscript and started fighting to get publishers to look at it. She kept pestering author Walker Percy (who wrote The Moviegoer, another classic novel of New Orleans – I read it right before A Confederacy of Dunces) – then an instructor at Loyola University – until he read it, mostly to get her to leave him alone. He wrote:

“…the lady was persistent, and it somehow came to pass that she stood in my office handing me the hefty manuscript. There was no getting out of it; only one hope remained—that I could read a few pages and that they would be bad enough for me, in good conscience, to read no farther. Usually I can do just that. Indeed the first paragraph often suffices. My only fear was that this one might not be bad enough, or might be just good enough, so that I would have to keep reading.

In this case I read on. And on. First with the sinking feeling that it was not bad enough to quit, then with a prickle of interest, then a growing excitement, and finally an incredulity: surely it was not possible that it was so good.”

The novel was published by LSU press eleven years after the author’s suicide and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981.

The book is a touching picaresque comedy – memorable for its outrageous and colorful characters. Of course, the city of New Orleans is a main character – possibly the most outrageous and colorful. The protagonist is Ignatius J. Reilly, a large lumpin monstrosity that is convinced, probably accurately, that he does not belong in the twentieth century. He stumbles through his beloved city (he has only left New Orleans once – on an abortive bus trip to Baton Rouge, which he remembers with horror) like a bull through a china shop, leaving a wake of confusion and consternation – somehow coming out alive and intact – though barely.

Ignatius J. Reilly is not easy to like. He is pompous, self-important, lazy, slovenly… pretty much an all-around loser. You can’t help but love him, though. He is all of us, really. We simply don’t have the courage to admit it.

At any rate, I read that there was a statue of Ignatius J. Reilly on Canal Street in New Orleans. In the opening scene of the novel he is standing on Canal underneath the clock outside the D.H. Holmes department store holding a sack and waiting for his mother. The store is long gone, but the building is occupied by the New Orleans Chateau Bourbon Hotel. They found and replaced the clock and put up a life-sized bronze statue under it.

I had to find the statue. It wasn’t hard. The Saint Charles streetcar let me off across Canal and there he was, stupid floppy hat and all. Thousands of people walk by every day on their way to work or around the corner to the attractions of Bourbon Street… not many notice him.

So I salute you Ignatius J. Reilly, forever wearing a bad hat, and worse fashion, standing there with your shopping bag, waiting for your mother to come out of an extinct department store. She will never show, but still, you look like you know things the rest of us will never dream about.

Under the Clock

Under the Clock

“I am at this moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.”

—- John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

I’m Walking Here

More photographs from the Nasher.

Children and Calder (Trois Bollards)

A pair of Giacometti, in front of a window.



Another new Video from Lana Del Rey


Sunday Snippet – Abandoned Hamburger

To catch the train home from work, Wilbur Jamison had to walk through an underpass beneath a busy thoroughfare to reach the platform. A train pulled in as he started down the stairs into the urine scented concrete tunnel – he knew he would just miss this one and have to wait for the next. A handful of young men vaulted the fence – baggy pants and all – and dashed through the honking cars to make the train. Wilbur wouldn’t… couldn’t vault and dash – he would have to wait.

There were two metal seats at the place where the train doors would open in a half hour. Wilbur plopped down on one to catch his breath after struggling up the steep concrete stairs from the underpass tunnel.

The other seat had a hamburger on it. Wilbur looked around to see if it belonged to anybody – there was no one on his side of the platform (the train had left only seconds before, after all). He was alone except for some man in a P-Diddy T-shirt and the most ridiculous pair of embroidered and bejeweled denim shorts he had ever seen. The man was screaming into a cell phone on the other side – across the tracks – waiting for a northbound.

The hamburger on the seat next to Wilbur sat in the exact center of a round foam plate. It had one generous, neat, semi-circular bite taken out of it. Wilbur figured it had been abandoned when a train pulled up – eating is not allowed on public transport. It appeared to be a plain hamburger. Nothing, no lettuce, tomato, pickles – not even a stain of ketchup or mustard – was visible in the exposed edge of the missing crescent. Wilbur thought that there could, however, be a thin careful application of unknown condiments in the center, hidden by the bun.

Wilbur considered getting up and throwing the food into the trash container a few feet farther down the platform. He thought of himself as being socially reliable and liked to think about doing small acts of responsibility and kindness unacknowledged by the rest of the world.

He thought about this, but before he could gather the momentum to get up and move another commuter, a large man accompanied by a young girl, pushed the plate and the hamburger off the metal seat, swatted the air a few times and then sat down with a grunt. Wilbur was surprised; he had not seen the man and girl walk up.

Wilbur frowned. The man had not properly disposed of the hamburger and plate – it was now wedged under the frame of the large advertising sign behind the little seat. He didn’t like this lack of concern on the part of his fellow commuter, but he didn’t say anything. He pulled a dog-eared paperback out of a jacket pocket and began to read until his train came and he boarded.

Two train stops down the line, a woman climbed on board and sat down on the bench next to Wilbur. She was wearing thin, ill-fitting black slacks and some sort of ratty brown striped Rayon uniform/smock. She had a black plastic visor with the white initials “WH” painted on it. Her large yellow plastic badge said “WAFFLE HOUSE – MARLENE.”

She had been smoking on the platform when Wilbur had spotted her out of the train window. She had leaned over and snuffed the cigarette out on a light pole and now that she was seated on the train had pulled out a weathered pack of Camels from somewhere and was carefully replacing the half cigarette back in the pack.

She had to concentrate to get the Camel into the package while the train was accelerating away from the platform and starting to sway. She scrunched up her face paying attention to her task and that brought out a tight maze of small wrinkles framed by her thin short blonde hair and the black plastic eyeshade. Wilbur felt he could read this labyrinth – thought he could see the echoes of decade after decade of struggle – of desire and disappointment – of unwilling denial that mirrored his own.

Wilbur had never spoken to a stranger on the train before, but after five minutes the pressure became too great. He became deathly afraid that she would get off at the next stop and he would never see her again.

“Uhh, Hi Marlene… I’m Wilbur,” was the best he could muster.

“Oh, How did you know my name? Do I know you?” She looked confused.

“No,” he said, gesturing to her badge.

“Of course,” she said with a little chuckle, “I forgot. Pleased to meet you.”

So they chatted until Wilbur’s stop. She was getting off the night shift, he was starting the day. They shook hands as Wilbur stood to leave.

It wasn’t hard for Wilbur to find the Waffle House close to Marlene’s train stop. It was even easier to learn her schedule and to time his commute so he was on the train waiting for her. He started getting to the station extra early, letting a train or even two go past, waiting for the proper time. He would make sure the seat next to him was open, no matter how crowded the car was.

Marlene began looking forward to seeing Wilbur waiting on the car. Every now and then she would be late getting out of work or the schedules would slide and Wilbur would catch the wrong train and they would miss each other. Wilbur would go through the day in a dark funk and Marlene would have a hard time sleeping that day, though she had worked third shift for most of her life, whenever that happened.

They traded favorite paperbacks, Marlene started bringing Wilbur lunches from the Waffle House, and finally Wilbur summoned enough courage to ask her out to a movie. He had a car, a nice one, really, though it had a lot of miles on it. He only took the train to work to save on parking.

Marlene slept while Wilbur worked so their schedules worked out pretty well together. They would go to a couple of movies on the weekends and try for a nice dinner on Wednesdays.

Wilbur decided to ask Marlene to his house for dinner after a movie one weekend. His only son lived in Japan and had stopped even writing to him years before and nobody other than himself had set foot in his house in the decade since his wife had passed away. He asked a neighbor for a recommendation and hired a woman to come in to clean the place. He kept a simple, neat house, that fit in with all the others in the suburb, but not one that was spotless. He had never learned how to do that.

He drove to Marlene’s second floor studio apartment to pick her up. She appeared at the door carrying a small overnight bag. Wilbur was so nervous and excited during the movie that he never could remember what they saw.

Later that night, not long after he had brought her to his house, Marlene silently removed her clothes.

“Well, here it is,” she said with a combination of regret, excitement, and acceptance.

Wilbur gasped. She looked as if a bite had been taken off the top part of her body – a pink arc from one shoulder across the tops of her breasts on up to the other shoulder. Another arc cut across her legs – from one hip down to mid-thigh and then curving back up to the other hip. Everything else between these two arcs, her entire torso, was completely covered in complex colorful, dense, intertwined tattoos.

“Oh my God!” It escaped his lips before he could get control of his amazement.

“I’m sorry – I should have said something… I should have.”

“No, no, Don’t apologize. I think they… it’s… you’re the most beautiful thing I’ve seen… in a long, long time.”

“I’m sure you’re wondering where, why… well… it was like….”

“No! Stop! Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. I don’t ever want to know. Don’t ever tell me.”

Marlene shrugged. She seemed more than a little relieved.

“Fine with me,” she said.

Eventually, Marlene quit her job at the Waffle House and gave up her apartment, moving in with Wilbur. The neighbors barely noticed. It took her a while to get used to a usual schedule, sleeping at night, after having worked third shift for so long, but she was glad to work at it.

Wilbur had saved up a lot of vacation over the years and they began to travel. They started out with weekend driving trips close to home and gradually worked up to international voyages. They particularly liked traveling by cruise ship – Marlene enjoyed the shore excursions and Wilbur preferred the luxury on the boat.

Wilbur liked to lie next to Marlene and trace the intertwined designs across her skin, to try and separate each one out. He would make up little silly stories about each one and Marlene would laugh at his imagination. A few times she wanted to tell him the real story about her tattoos but Wilbur would not let her say anything. They were a mystery and he wanted to keep it that way. They were his mysteries and he liked the thought of having something so wonderful and strange belonging to him alone.

Marlene was almost as alone as Wilbur, but not quite. She had a beloved old aunt that lived in Toledo, Ohio. Marlene received word that her aunt had fallen sick and she went up there to tend to her. She was gone for two months and Wilbur missed her terribly, but they talked on the phone every night, and that made it better.

Finally, Marlene’s aunt regained her strength and she flew back home. Wilbur met her at the airport and they drove home. Wilbur carried her luggage into the house.

“I’ve got something to show you,” Wilbur said.

“Oh, you didn’t have to.”

“I’ll give you the present I bought for you later, but this is different, it’s something I did while you were gone.”

“Something you did?” Marlene was confused, and a little nervous.

Wilbur turned his back on Marlene and pulled his shirt off over his head. There, angling across his back, was a large, complex red dragon. Marlene knew ink like that could not be done in one visit, knew that Wilbur must have been waiting for her to be gone for an extensive time to get this dragon done. She also knew how much it must have hurt.

It was an expert job; the colors were bright and the detailing crisp. The dragon was a Japanese design, she had seen it before. The dragon was long and scaled, with several pairs of legs, and it was curved around, almost tying itself in knots. It seemed to pulse and seethe across Wilbur’s back. She moved in to look closer and snapped on a bright lamp to see better. The dragon was holding something – something clamped firmly in its foremost claws.

“The dragon is holding something,” she said.

“It sure is.”

She looked even closer. “Is that a hamburger? A hamburger with a bite out of it?”

“It sure is,” Wilbur said.


I recently discovered this band, Balmorhea… Their music is fantastic, it reminds me of Lucovico Einaudi – and they are named after one of my favorite places in West Texas.

When we first visited Balmorhea, it was like the start of this video – we were crossing the blasted desert looking at the red tornados of dust devils. Suddenly, there was a dive shop, and then the incredible pool of San Solomon Springs.

I wrote in July of 2000:

We drove the Interstate to Pecos and then turned south towards the distant blue wiggly line of the Davis Mountains. Watching the mountains grow, we drove through the most isolated and blasted looking territory yet. Nick and Lee were delighted by the enormous dust devils that the sun spawned across the desiccated fields. Looking like brick-red tornadoes these wandered across the flatlands. We drove through one and it was powerful enough to worry me about the trailer pulling behind, but it only gave the van a good shove and didn’t cause any real problems.

It was an easy drive and by mid-afternoon we arrived at Balmorhea. The park there is an oasis in the desert edged up against the foothills of the Davis Mountains. The rain that falls in the highlands percolates down and emerges from an artesian spring, cold and clear. Back in the thirties, the government took the wild spring and built a gigantic Y-shaped concrete swimming pool. The parks boasts the swimming pool, a nice little hotel, a recently constructed desert wetlands – the San Solomon springs Cienega (labor supplied by the Texas Department of Corrections) that provides habitat for two endangered species of tiny fish( the Comanche Springs Pupfish and the Pecos Gambusa), and a loop of nice little campsites each with its own quaint little fake-adobe shelter.

A quick sketch I made of the Balmorhea campsite.

Nick at Balmorhea, in July of 2000

Nick jumps off at Balmorhea, eleven years ago.

I had one of the most frightening experiences of my life the next day at that pool in Balmorhea.

From my journal, July 3, 2000:

We came back down to Balmorhea in the late afternoon and decided to go swimming. We talked to Lee about his fear of the fish in the pool and, as I suspected, it was mostly that he was tired and hungry yesterday. Some rest and some food and he was ready to hit the water.

He didn’t really do any swimming. What he preferred to do was to put on his goggles and stretch across his inflatable inner tube and let me swim and pull the tube around the big pool. He’d take a deep breath and stick his head into the water and look at the bottom. The pool is very large and there was a lot to look at. He would have requests like, “Swim me over to that end,” or “let’s go out to the deep part,” and I’d oblige. He’d plunge his face and come up with a report of what he saw: a school of fish, or some rocks, or a turtle, or a place where some kids had inscribed their names into the algae growing on the bottom.

After the crowded holiday that day before, only a handful of swimmers and some scuba divers were there. As I pulled Lee around Nick dove off the high board and swam until it was his turn. Lee wrapped in a towel and walked back to the campsite. Nicholas put on his goggles and I started swimming him around on his tube. We went into the deep end to try and spot the place where the copious flow of water erupted in a bed of white bubbling sand.

We came up against the stairs on the far side. I was getting tired and cold, the spring water is very chilly, it was late, I’d been swimming a long time and it was taking its toll. I asked Nick if we should walk back, around the pool or swim across. We did have his inner tube – I felt confident we could make it across one more time. We decided to swim. It was a mistake.

Nick looped his goggles around one shoulder and took hold of one side of the tube while I grabbed the other and we started to swim. Not too far from the side, but at the deepest part, maybe thirty feet deep, Nick called out, “Oh, oh, there go my goggles.” In retrospect I should have let them sink; but I took a big gulp of air and took off underwater, diving as deep and as quickly as I could. Maybe twenty feet down I saw a sinking orange blur, frog-kicked over to the goggles and grabbed them. Then I swam back up to the surface.

When you start reaching well into your forties, like I am, there is a fundamental change in the relationship between you and your body. What has been a good friend over the years, a partner, something you are… well, attached to – suddenly turns traitor. Abilities you have taken for granted for decades disappear. No one tells you about this. As a youth I could swim underwater with the ease and comfort of walking across a field. I took this for granted, the ability to hold my breath, come up for air and refresh myself. I discovered tired, and cold, and old, and fat… this is no longer true.

When I came up and handed Nicholas his goggles and put one hand on the inner tube and started kicking and swimming I realized that I was not going to be able to catch my breath. It came on with awful speed. No matter how hard I tried, my breathing became more and more labored, shallower, moving my arms and legs in the cold spring water was becoming extremely difficult.

It was horrifying.

With amazing clarity of thought, I knew I was not going to drown. I did have that inner tube for a float, even though I was rapidly becoming so weak I could barely hold on to it. There were some scuba divers in the pool that had finished diving and were sitting on the steps talking over the day’s sights and I knew I could call to them and they would haul me out of the pool. I came within a hair’s breadth of doing that.

The main fear I had was I thought I might be having a heart attack. I had never felt like this before. There was no pain, but I simply could not breathe, I could not get enough oxygen into my body to keep my arms and legs moving.

I don’t know what Nicholas thought, holding on to the other side of the inner tube, my son’s face only a few inches from mine. I must have scared him a little because I know I was flopping more than I should, trying to hook my arm into the tube and was unable to get it done. I didn’t want to frighten him unnecessarily so I kept my rising fears to myself.

Slowly, we continued to move across the wide pool, and finally I was able to reach down with a toe and touch the bottom. That didn’t help as much as you’d think because I was too weak to stand in the water and the energy used to hop and get my face above water made my breathing more impossible. Finally, the floor became shallower and shallower and before I knew it I was on the steps.

I released the tube and the brisk wind blew it away. “Could somebody get that please,” I asked, and a scuba diver caught it with a couple strong sure strokes and brought it back to me.

I didn’t have to sit beside the pool for very long before I felt fine. The fear and panic quickly drained away and left me with a slight elation even though I was still a little tired. I told Nicholas to take his towel and walk back to the popup at the campsite, I’d catch up in a minute.

Looking back on it now, I realize what I was feeling, in addition to simple exhaustion, was hypothermia. The spring water was cold and I had been in it for hours. There had been no pain, but I had felt a thin sliver away from death.

Walking slowly back to the camp, enjoying the last purple glow of the set sun, following the channels that the water followed as it coursed out of the pool, roaring down the irrigation ditches on out of the park, I felt fine. But the memory of those minutes of fear, the feeling of helplessness and drowning, are still with me. I had never felt like that before and I don’t look forward to feeling like that again.