A Season on the Drink

Here’s an article I wrote which was published in the July issue of The Ryder magazine. You can also see the article as it was published with photos and layout and stuff. What follows is the slightly longer text I submitted, without editorial cuts, and with a few relevant links. Consider this a rough-draft preview from a forthcoming book, still several years down the road and more of a dream than a reality.
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A Night with Desmond

Saturday night I found myself with a bunch of Pagans and other folks at an uptown synagogue, preparing food for the homeless. We whipped up some large batches of red beans and rice, salad, and watermelon. Then we took the food to a large encampment of homeless people and served it. I slopped out 130 or so helpings of beans.

I was frankly amazed at how long the line was, how evident the need.

Though my connection was with Lamplight Circle, this regular Saturday night effort is organized by the Desmond Project. I understand it was started by a Catholic priest; it now runs out of the kitchen of a synagogue; throw some occasional Pagans into the mix and it starts to look like an interfaith project. Strangely enough I don’t think I’ve ever been in a synagogue before. But I digress.

The Desmond Project website appears to be misconfigured but there is a cached version. There’s also a Facebook page which appears to have gone somewhat dormant, and a Youtube channel with a couple videos posted a two years ago; I also found a sign-up form for volunteers but don’t know if it’s functional. The group, however, is definitely functional, and I’m sure there are other similar organizations out there.

If you’ve never done something like this, I highly recommend it. I read plenty about the plight of the homeless, here in New Orleans and elsewhere. It’s easy to become calloused or indifferent. It’s easy to turn people into abstractions. Seeing the faces of the men and women living on the street is profoundly humanizing.

Two Weird Dreams

Couple of weird dreams lately.

Two night ago, I dreamed we got an extra-thick Times-Picayune on our front porch. It was a Sunday. We don’t subscribe to the Sunday paper. I realized the reduced print schedule must have kicked in. I got out a knife and stabbed the paper just to see how thick it really was. I got out my phone and was about to take a photo and post it to Twitter. But suddenly a man in a suit got in my way, wrestled the phone from my grasp. It was the publisher (or was it the editor?) and he crawled out on the balcony with my phone, threatening to kill himself. Then I woke up.

Last night, I dreamed of a city called Lotus, an international science research city located somewhere in Asia. Under threat of thermonuclear war, Lotus launched some escape pods into the Pacific Ocean. The attack did not in fact materialize, but one scientist was lost at sea for a couple years. Then one day she felt like she was being watched. She turned around to see an automated probe rising out of the water. The probe was shaped like a giant version of her own head. Adding to the eeriness, the whole dream was illustrated in the style of EC Comics.

Sporting Chance

Probably the biggest surprise for me on this vacation was just how prosperous Bloomington seemed. (More on that later.) If I had any doubts on this front, they were laid to rest by my visit to The Rail.

Contemporary craft cocktails and tapas — in Bloomington? I was impressed. And I was even more impressed when it came out that our bartender, Colin Boilini, had won a contest with Tales of the Cocktail. They’ll be bringing him down here to New Orleans next week.

Naturally we commanded Mr. Boilini to prepare for us his award-winning cocktail — which he did.
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Fifty-Three Months

Dramatic Exit

Dear Persephone,

You are fifty-three months old today. Yesterday, technically, but cut me some slack.

After our long summer vacation, I finally understand what people mean when they talk about children being “spoiled rotten” by their grandparents.

Actually that’s not fair to your grandparents. They are indulgent (I’m looking at you, Susie) but I can’t really blame them for that. I’d indulge you too if I only saw you briefly from time to time. Besides which, you’ve been developing a few unpleasant habits which were already in evidence before our visit to the Midwest.

Unpleasant habits? Well, yes. Lately your stubborn streak has taken an extreme turn. You decide that you don’t want to do something, or that you want to do something you shouldn’t, and when we clash, it gets ugly.

Everyone says parenting has many challenges, and I guess this phase is one of them. I call it a phase, and I hope it is, but it’s probably also an extension of a basic personality trait which began a couple years ago and has continued on and off since then. So this is just the latest manifestation.

The challenge is finding a balance. On the one hand, having a strong will is a virtue we’d like to promulgate. On the other hand, when you make up your mind to do something in defiance of good common sense, or personal hygiene, or safety — well, then, we have a problem.

I’ve read some of parenting advice that stresses the need to be understanding and compassionate, which I agree is important, but so far I’ve seen very little that explains how to deal effectively with such problems. I suspect that’s because there are no easy answers.

Your current mean streak could be a factor of being off your routine over the summer break, and the further unsettling stresses of travel, to say nothing of indulgent grandparents. During the school year I tried to keep you on a pretty regular schedule, so you’re probably not getting as much sleep as you need, and you may be under the weather a bit too. We’ve both suffered from a lingering cough this summer.

Still most of the time you are delightful. Just this morning, you said to me, “You’re the bestest dad I ever had.” I pointed out I’m the only dad you ever had, but I still took it as a compliment.

The Heat Up North

When I arrived in Bloomington, people were already complaining about the heat. “You must have brought this heat up with you from New Orleans,” they joked.

I wondered what they were talking about, because as far as I could tell the weather was pretty nice. If anything I found it a little chilly, especially in the mornings. By midday it was pretty comfortable. The sun was pretty intense, and not much cloud cover. In fact I got a little sunburnt just about every day.

What I noticed most of all was that the air was so much drier than what I’m used to in New Orleans. I mentioned this to a friend who’d just arrived from Montana. (No, it wasn’t J, it was Ben Murphy — despite what you may think there are more than two people who live in the state of Montana.) He guffawed, because he found Indiana downright humid. So you see, it’s all truly relative.

But all this took place before the Great Midwestern Heat Wave of 2012 began. It started to ramp up on the day I visited my sister and her family. When I returned to Bloomington it was in full effect. Temperatures soared into the 100s. I checked the paper daily (more on daily papers later, meanwhile see Nola Anarcha’s must-read series) and noted that the high in New Orleans was a good ten degrees cooler.


And it was dry. So dry. It hadn’t rained in a month. My mom, who grew up on a farm and thus has some empathy for farmers, said the corn crop in Indiana was ruined. Today I read it’s the harshest drought in half a century.

That Friday afternoon, June 29, I rode my borrowed bike across town, maybe twenty minutes, just before 5PM, to meet a friend for cocktails. That was a mistake. I’m used to riding around New Orleans in some heat, but this was something else again. When I arrived at my destination it took a good thirty minutes for the sweat to stop pouring out of my body.

Easy to get dehydrated under those circumstances. I took a water bottle with me everywhere and drank a tremendous amount of water.

Given all the hype about climate change, it’s hard not to jump to conclusions. I know it’s a hasty generalization, but I can’t help wondering where we might be in a hundred years. Will New Orleans be under water, and the Midwest a desert? Fallacious logic, perhaps, but one can’t help speculating. Especially in light of those guys at Stanford who say we’ll have permanently hotter summers in a couple decades.

The following week was amazing, and not just because of the heat. I’ll fill in the details later. For now I just want to note that I was relieved to head back south to cooler climes. Never thought I’d say that. When we got back home, New Orleans had just received a good drenching, and the temperature was in the lower 70s. At 4PM in July? That’s just weird. Since then it’s rained almost every day and I’m seeing fairy rings everywhere.

As I write this now, it’s 85ºF in New Orleans with 48% humidity. Frankly that’s bone-dry for us. In Bloomington it’s 99ºF with 16% humidity.

And the drought goes on…


The first thing I did when I got to Bloomington was to ride the B-Line. Lucky me, I have generous friends who let me borrow a bicycle.


The B-Line is the local greenway, a recently constructed urban rail-trail, 3.1 miles in length, running alongside an active rail line for its final stretch. Does this sound familiar to New Orleanians? It should.

Of course I took some photos.

B-Line Bridge

I was frankly astonished at how nice the B-Line was. Lights, public art, landscaping, interpretive signage, bridges, the works. I saw lots of people enjoying it too.

People on the B-Line

My most astonishing moment on the B-Line came when I saw a groundskeeper zoom up in a little motorized vehicle, hop off, pick up two microscopic pieces of trash with a damn forceps, and then ride off.


Did I make a wrong turn and end up in Disneyland?

I found this salient quote on the website of the City of Bloomington:

“This is the most significant economic development project on the City’s agenda. It’s monumental in its scope and importance.”
– Mayor Mark Kruzan

Anyhow, I hope the citizens of Bloomington appreciate the B-Line. I know I did.

How We Celebrated the Summer Solstice

We went way up to the mountains of northern Alabama, to Monte Sano State Park.

Monte Sano

No elaborate rituals. No goat sacrifice. Just hanging out in the woods. Well, we did make those solstice stones earlier. But mostly we just hung out in the woods.

I don’t think we’ve ever done that, as a family. It was good.

We stayed at a cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. I’m fascinated by stuff built by the CCC and WPA, and I wonder why we don’t implement programs like that now, during this time of economic crisis. Anyhow, the cabin was small and charming. The stone floors are delightfully cool in the summertime.

Weenie Roast

We did our cooking over an open fire. Hot dogs and s’mores. Yum.

Early in the morning of the longest day, Persephone and I made a short hike to a nearby playground.

After horsing around for a while, I tried doing a chin-up. Maybe I should have limbered up first or something, because I pulled a muscle in my shoulder and neck. Ouch! I was practically immobilized for half the day.

Actually I was able to move around and even go an a slightly longer hike later in the day. We hiked out to a firetower only to find it was locked up. But at least we got to see some wild creatures along the way.

Black Snake

For me, anyhow, this was the best way to celebrate one of the most sacred days of the year.

So this is how our summer vacation began. After a couple nights Monte Sano, we made our way up to Indiana.