Gratitude dude

As immaculate as my agnosticism is, I still find myself on occasion resorting to mystic rites, to implorations, prostrations, everything short of animal sacrifice in order to wheedle the deities.  So it was two rainy seasons ago after many rainy seasons of no rain.

I built a shrine to the Rain Goddess, And the rains came.

So they have in March.  Fabulous rains.


Your Friday Afternoon Nun Report

If your religion is college basketball and even if isn’t, you must have heard of Sister Jean,  the ninety-eight year old BVM nun who is the chaplain for Loyola Marymount of Chicago, the Ramblers who have won their first three games of the BIG DANCE by a total of four points.  Next in line in Kansas State, the school my brother and two sisters attended.  Sister Jean, I am here to tell you, we have nuns in our family too so this might get to be a scrappy affair, but then, most theological disputes are.

Sister Jean has come along at the exact right time, just like her namesake, Jeanne d’Arc.  The state of the game has been rocked by scandals, payoffs, bribes, illicit inducements.  What could be more reassuring than this nun in a wheelchair clutching her brackets.?

Four points, three games.  Let’s give it to her, she could be the reason.  One of her sister Sisters, beholding the media circus, pointed out to a reporter that the nuns in her community bust their asses—she didn’t use that term, but it’s what she meant—working with the underprivileged, implying that they might warrant as much attention.  It was a very nunlike thing to say, and the truth.

In New Orleans, Francine’s three housemates, Sisters Cathleen, Binh, and Susan work these respective jobs: provides legal assistance to convicts to keep them off death row, manage a health clinic for the poor, and run a shelter for women. They bust their asses, though they would not approve my language.

Back to the Madness.  As I said, Loyola against Kansas State.  KSU beat Kentucky.  About the same number of experts picked that as, pre-Copernicus, picked the earth was round.  But KSU won, despite some irregularity in whistle blowing, as some whistle blowers suggest.  Was Kentucky supposed to win the game?  In basketball as in every other facet of American culture there are the conspiracy addicts who say Follow the Money, and dang if they aren’t mostly right.  However this: you still have to put the ball in the hoop.  Three KSU players foul out.  They have five left.  Those five won the game.

I bet Francine was  praying.

Come back next Friday for more nun news.





Through a thrall of morning showers a baby snail clings to the pickup tire.

There was a time, a long time, when murdering snails took up a considerable portion of my gardening life. Any which way. Under sole. Flung against the sidewalk. Pinched into gooey mucilage. Thousands of them, copulating in the foam. Disgusting, even by my standards. The murder I mean, not the copulation. None too soon I stopped planting things they feasted on, and lo, detente.

Now the mystery is, where have they gone? They are so infrequently seen, not only in my garden but in every other I tend, that I think about gently transferring the infant from tire rubber to the twilight under the lavender.

Come back.  All is forgiven.


Unpredictably, I enjoy being predictable. And I enjoy the predictable. What is this juvenile mania for disruption in our culture? You reap what you sow, how’s that for predictable.

I watched the painter at the house next to the garden where I worked yesterday climb his long aluminum extension ladder up the side of the house. The pitch of the ladder was perhaps seven degrees from perpendicular.  Below was a brick sidewalk bordered by a low brick wall. The ladder made shinnying sounds as he stepped higher, all the way to the top. The measured way his foot absorbed each rung bespoke his steady awareness.

Later we would talk about how you needed all that focus when you’re up that high. He said the day before someone kept talking to him and he finally said, “Stop it.”

A dozen times or more I’ve nearly fallen from a high ladder. I had lost attention, or else chosen to do something that, if I had fallen, would have been tagged as asinine, but since I didn’t break my neck, might merely be called feckless. Not establishing a solid base. Reaching too far to get that last fruit. A couple of times I did fall but I’m good at falling. Once I landed in a hedge and the hedge got the worse of the encounter.

In our twenties my friend Randy and I showed up at an apple farm in Vermont, looking for a job picking. One the four sons of the owner escorted us to one of the tall wooden ladders near the barn. This was our employment exam. Show him we could manage the ladder. I lifted it without much trouble. Maneuvering it was more difficult. The son without further ado showed us how to position our hands on separate rungs instead of on the rails. Having understood and made this adjustment, we were hired on the spot for the fall. The autumn, I should say. And it was as a fine an autumn as there ever was.

It’s virtually impossible to fall out of a well-pruned apple tree.

The predictable is alas, a trap to fall into. The trap being, there is no such a thing as the reliable past. One of the rungs has rotted, say. Plus, we want a little excitement, do we not? Take a few risks. Stand with one foot on the rung and reach. The plum to die for.


Excerpts from a journal, date uncertain, (c. 1992)

Friday. September 22. toured the city of Odessa. Had lunch at a Tex Mex restaurant.

On the way to Elsass the interpreter and I had a long conversation. She said the Chernobyl catastrophe had a great effect on this area. She said her mother, who is retired, gets approximately 85.00 a month is U.S. Dollars. As we were touring the village of Elsass I commented on the number of homes that seemed abandoned.

The paint looks like it’s watered down. One gallon of paint costs 5 dollars. They have very little money. They all have gardens. They mostly grow potatoes, cabbage and tomatoes. Some have apple trees.

We went out to see Rosa who is about 90 years old. She really did not want to talk to us. They say she remembers prewar days but is afraid to say anything. Did not learn anything from her.

In 1947 some tried to restore the Catholic church. They found a vault in the floor and when they opened it they found skeletons of women and children. There were many rats in the vault. Can you imagine?

In church I noticed all the ladies wore scarves (most of the people looked old). The church is big. They have heavy plastic hanging from the ceiling to the floor to separate the part that was renovated from that which is not.

We have seen few women wearing jeans or slacks. Miniskirts are in. Women were wearing high heals. The are just as foolish was we were many years ago.

We saw brush fires flying into Kiev. Also in the Odessa district. The interpreter told me they feel strongly there is much radiation on the leaves when they fall they want to burn them. Now I do not know if that makes senses as the smoke goes back in the air.

I took a stroll down to the Black Sea and said the rosary.

Nobody had the nerve to explain the mistake to the “Father of the Peoples” so the hotel was built using both designs.

Sean took the rest of us to the Army Museum. At the Army Museum they had the remains of the U2 spy aircraft that was piloted by Gary Powers. It was just a pile of metal.


“They say we’re eighty, ninety percent back. We ain’t ninety percent back. We lost two whole generations. They ain’t coming back,” the barber said.

A barbershop isn’t something you stumble on in New Orleans, and stumbling around mapless is my way of being a tourist. I kept thinking I’d come across a neighborhood main street (Bourbon Street does not count) but no luck, and as the shadows of the afternoon lengthened I forgot about a haircut. Then, turning a corner in the Tremé district, I saw the familiar red and white swirl.

The shop was tiny. I opened the door and asked if I could get a haircut. The bartender, black, thirty-ish, said officially he was closed since it was Monday but he could give me a haircut. A pit bull got up from its recumbent position as I entered but without any evident hostile intent.

Like everyone in New Orleans the barber had his Katrina stories. Evacuated to Houston where he spent only two hours before he left for Dallas. Lived there until three years ago he came back. “I want to be the one who makes the decisions in my life, not some storm,” he said. He swung the chair thirty degrees and I was facing a photograph of a row of four houses, the third one twisted off its foundation, looking like some buildings in San Francisco after the earthquake. “That was down the street,” the barber said. “There’s a hole there now.”

“How old’s your dog?” I asked.

“Fourteen,” he said.

Wise old dog to find me unthreatening. Keep the thoughts positive, I thought.

soulful, still here

“Two whole generations.” I didn’t quite know what he meant but then I did. I felt it through the missing trees, the ones that blew over, the ones that died. Whole stretches of ranch style houses replacing historic neighborhoods that, were it not for palms, more resemble Hays, Kansas than the mossy quarters of the imagination inhabited by Stanley and Stella. And those palms; fate adding insult to injury, a freeze this winter (the high teens) blasted almost all of the palms and cycads in town, killing some, damaging all. Cruel fate.

I went to church with Francine on Sunday, to a white brick building built post Katrina. Soul-free in every way. The previous day we visited one of the cemeteries. A worker was whitewashing a crypt. The roadway down the rows of crypts was better than those outside the grounds. This was St. Louis Cemetery #3. Cemeteries #1 and 2 you have to pay to enter. Or die, presumably. If they can still fit you in. They sift down the old bodies, stack the new ones on top. So Francine said.

Only one day did I drink alcohol, which is what I think many people go to the Big Easy for, to loosen inhibitions. As far as I know, no inhibitions of mine were loosened, although my stumbling might have been augmented. What I got out of my walk on the wild side was this exchange: “How you gonna go on that cruise?” the blond bartender asked the herculean black guy playing a video game. He pointed to a guy across the bar, “They got the fairy over there.”

I got on the wrong streetcar to get back to Francine’s and got stranded, a little drunk, at the end of the line at the Greyhound Station. A desolate hub with the fumes, the sidewalk sleepers, the hard benches. No streetcars named desire came by.

selfie after a visit to the Voodoo Hut


“There’s a pigeon in here,” Andrew says, pointing it out on the metal beams of the clubhouse at Joe DiMaggio playground. Now and then it does a loop side to side, and each time Michelle ducks and clutches James who sits next to her, though Pigeon doesn’t get closer than fifteen feet. “I have a fear of birds,” she says. We open the side door, hoping the pigeon might ride a ribbon of air out that door or the other. Pigeons can give a good fish eye but are not otherwise known for smarts. Pigeon was still in the clubhouse when we left and the doors were locked.

3 pm Sunday, Pigeon is still in the rafters, looking seriously penitential. Michelle announces, “I have the solution,” and extracts doggie cookies, low-fat pellets. She puts them in a row leading to the open door, like Hansel and Gretel, she says. Too many, I tell her. We could be here all day watching Pigeon chow down. We proceed with the talking part of the class and just when we forget, Pigeon swoops down on doggie cookie and pecks away. Too hard. Tries another. Ditto. At the third, on the threshold, Robert rushes Pigeon Out the Door. Freedom. Pigeon Flies off to Dentist. They hard, those biscuits.

Michelle is now known internationally as The Pigeon Whisperer, as well as being free in the deep end of the pool. Standing O!