[Aya Salman / Unsplash]

Tales from a French Quarter New Orleanian

07:00 April 08, 2024
By: Debbie Lindsey

The Here and Now

"Do not go gentle into that good night." -Dylan Thomas

You might think that my thoughts and musings of mortality are due to my age. There is some truth to that, but, for the moment, let me tell you I have always found death to be unacceptable. Yes, that's right. It is not merely frightening, but, rather, something I have never felt acceptance towards. As a child, I would envision Heaven as this place with pretty clouds and tons of ice cream (food always got my attention). However, it was simply "not here." I had no interest in that "hereafter" place (even with the ice cream). I was quite happy with "here." Heaven appeared to be unfamiliar and, frankly, seemed boring—even sad. I just knew I would be up there missing my family, my dog, and everything.

As I grew older, I came to really question (rebel against) all the religious teachings and doctrines the Catholic Church gave me. Now, I am not picking on the Church in particular. I simply have issues with the whole Heaven and Hell thing. And, as said already, even when I gave credence to Heaven as a destination, I just wasn't on board. Oh, I have no interest in Hell either and fancy myself a decent enough person to be able to detour that place altogether, but the whole notion of "He's with his maker now / She's gone home / They are in a better place now" just bugs me. Why can't I just stay here?

There are times I envy most peoples' trust that there is something really cool waiting for them after their funeral. And while I cannot understand how they get comfort from this belief, I know that they do. I respect that. Am I an atheist? More than not, but I don't pretend to know what really is "out there." I suspect I will not know until my untimely demise. I generally say that I am most inclined to believe in ghosts and am very open to the whole reincarnation thing. And I also certainly feel that there is power around us—some good, some downright evil. Perhaps these conflicting forces of goodness and malevolence are actually Heaven and Hell, God and the Devil. And these elements are here on Earth, and, frankly, I don't need to die to visit more of either. So what is so compelling for me to want to go gently into the night?

"Why so friggin' maudlin? What's gotcha so obsessed with mortality?" you may ask. Well, first off, I set myself up for obsession with the ticking clock of time. I decided the age of 120 would be my goal long ago. That gave me tons of time to put my departure on the shelf. I guess I said it as a defiant joke initially, but, after a while, it kinda sunk in as fact. Longevity was/is my state-of-mind—a positive attitude to embrace. However, when I hit 60 a while back, I came to see my life and my lofty goal of 120 much like I do vacations.

Let's say my wonderful vacation is eight days long. Now on day four at the half-way mark, I know that the next four days are gonna be fabulous. Yet, there is a slight feeling of "darn, the vacation is half over, and I don't want it to end." Silly, yes, but once ya think it, it kinda stays with you. Well 60 was a fine age to turn, and I had already convinced myself that I had 60 more, but that Negative Nellie that resides inside me just had to start looking at the clock and the ticking got just a wee bit louder.

Okay, forget my biological inner clock. Forget my age, please. I know I am not alone in feeling like Death is lurking: cancer everywhere, freak accidents, and guns. I have been to too many funerals for young people murdered by guns. You know that saying "felt like someone walked over my grave?" Well, lately, it feels like there is a second line stomping across my grave. It's hard not to have someone's death hit home. "Too close to home," we often say.

I swear I am developing PTSD towards my phone. When it rings, I find I tense up with the anticipation of bad news—not always a life and death conversation—sometimes just one more bit of stress strewed over the phone lines. But I must remind myself, and others, that the bill collector or even a friend calling in need of some companionship, even if you are not feeling very social at that moment, is a blessing compared to, "Hello, this is the Jefferson Parish Coroner's Office." That Saturday call last summer was one of my saddest days ever, and goodness knows my friend who died that day would gladly accept the fears of life's transience just to be alive. And there you have it—life is nothing if not for the lessons learned.

I am not a very good student, and the aforementioned lesson will not be a perfect salve for my fears and disdain for the inevitable. Yet, allowing myself to be paralyzed with angst and wasting the years ahead is the ultimate vandalization of life. Time for me to slap some sense into myself; as Loretta says to Ronny (Moonstruck), "Snap out of it." So here's to everyone: Regardless of your beliefs, or lack of, in the hereafter, please cherish every day here. When the heebie-jeebies start to get to you, then get out of yourself and visit a friend or volunteer some help to those without the luxury to self-pity themselves like I know I do all too often. Find that little bit of Heaven on Earth. Live it up.

A Letter to Tennessee Williams

...and an invitation for my Muse to join me at the Tennessee Williams & New Orleans Literary Festival.

Dear Tennessee,

I hope you don't mind me addressing you by your first name. I feel like you are an old friend by now. I see you have a birthday coming up on March 26, and, of course, I am sending you "best wishes." However, a huge "thank you" is why I am writing to you. Your creative brilliance—now don't act all humble, you know damn well that you're considered one of the greatest playwrights in American history. It's true. Just check Wikipedia or ask any literature professor worth his salt. Anyway, your creativity inspired the Tennessee Williams & New Orleans Literary Festival. TWFest, along with Jazz Fest, are the two annual events that lift my spirits the most and remind me of why I live here; therefore, I am beholding to you for this festival.

The first TWFest I attended found me star-struck and looking like a kid in a candy shop. That was well over 20 years ago. Every year thereafter, I marked it on my calendar and begged bosses to give me time off to run with the big dogs. I was an aspiring writer—still am—and for five days, I got to rub elbows with literary giants and hundreds of other writers sporting their training wheels like myself. I think all us writers-in-waiting enjoyed removing our hands from the handle-bars and detaching the training wheels briefly during this event. It is said that you cannot be what you cannot see. We could see, hear, and learn from those whose perseverance and hard work placed them on the various TWFest stages and workshops. And this year, we will be attentive to new mentors.

In addition to those hoping to hone their skills as wordsmiths, there are beaucoup book lovers and theater fans. Tennessee, you cultivated many film and theater buffs. Your Suddenly, Last Summer still ranks among one of my favorites. Couch-potato classic movie enthusiasts and theater aficionados have all cut their teeth on your literary works of fiction. Your characters continue to come alive over and over again on community theater stages and in film adaptations. I suspect the lingerie departments see an uptick in slip sales wherever Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is performed.

This festival of yours has increased the number of books that have taken up residence on our bookshelves. Back when I first began attending the panel discussions consisting of various authors, the majority of which were Southern novelists, I was blown away by the wealth of contemporary Southern Gothic writers. Dorothy Allison, Kaye Gibbons, and Lewis "Buddy" Nordan were three of my favorites to hold court during panel discussions. Gibbons won me over with a reading from her novel Ellen Foster. The opening line was: "When I was little, I would think of ways to kill my daddy. I would figure it out this or that way and run it down through my head until it got easy." Now if that doesn't make your head pop up and your eyes open wide, what does?

I had to buy this book right away, especially after Gibbons further explained her young character, Ellen, and you realized and empathized with her need to envision such an act of self defense (the father dies of alcoholism). And the hits just kept on rolling. Each panelist had me in stitches. And there was Lewis Nordan, I just call him Buddy, having befriended him from afar and through his books. He became one of my absolute favorite modern Southern writers. I keep copies of his novel Wolf Whistle on hand to gift to folks (same goes for Ellen Foster).

Wolf Whistle is Southern Gothic to the hilt and employs magical realism along with very dark humor to glide you along a fictionalized tale inspired by the murder of Emmett Till. Horrifying and poignant. I was so moved by this novel and Buddy's other works that a pilgrimage of sorts was made by Husband and me on our road trip through Mississippi: Buddy, blues, and BBQ. We stopped just long enough for me to get out of our car and wiggle my bare toes in the St. Augustine grass of Itta Bena, his childhood home. Being a book author groupie came with a price—not until we were at our next Mississippi destination did I realize my Birkenstocks remained behind in the grass of Itta Bena.

From authors Jesmyn Ward and Rex Reed to John Waters, my days through the years at this fest have been filled with a variety of brilliance, wit, and eccentrics. My passion for good television was satisfied during a 2010 panel with the producers and writers of Treme, the HBO series that, in my opinion, showcased New Orleans with passion, honesty, heart, and lifted our local musicians up for the world to see. Even politics and the environment were given a spotlight. An excellent example was at a 2015 presentation featuring Jed Horne conversing with General Russell Honore. Honore spoke of environmental issues and said, "The next wars won't be fought over oil. They'll be over water." This has stayed with me. The oil and gas powers-that-be are responsible, just as our consumption is, thus leaving the climate debacle a clear and present danger. Proud to have him in our corner fighting the good environmental fight. Next thing ya know, I'll be on a trek and leaving my shoes in the general's hometown of Lakeland, La.

I just can't wait to see who inspires me this year at the TWFest. I expect once again to have the time of my life and will certainly be adding to my bookshelves. And, Tennessee, sir, I know I will see you—you will be there swapping tales with my muse.

Try a Little Dose of Community

In recent years, I have found that community, or just a random tourist or customer, can lift my spirits beyond words. Perhaps it was COVID and its potential to isolate that made me more aware of how a simple interaction with another can work magic. Isolation due to the lockdown and health risks because of the virus proved hard to overcome for many. But thanks to food drives that enlisted lots of volunteers, I stumbled upon an opportunity to participate in such work and be safely surrounded by so many wonderful folks. I was lucky to be able to avail myself of this community of volunteers and was rewarded with new friends and fun acquaintances. I was on the receiving end. I may have handed bags of food to people but being a part of this gathering of people was priceless.

I guess I have always been a people person, but, for some reason or many reasons, I now truly acknowledge the importance of communication and community. I occasionally struggle, like most everyone does, with stress and bouts of the blues, but now I have discovered that one thing that lifts the fog of minor depression, the blahs, or anxiety is to be around people. Just like volunteer work made me feel useful and social, so does my job. I absolutely love talking to customers, and I find that a simple observation can open up dialogue.

"Love that tattoo of the cat. Are you a cat lover too?" The next thing we are swapping cat tales and sharing phone photos of our feline critters, just as crazy cat ladies are inclined to do. You simply need to observe something about a person and, usually, a compliment or light hearted comment will create a conversation.

We had the good fortune to have lived in a neighborhood filled with locally owned grocery stores, washaterias, cafés, and bars that attracted very social and people-friendly neighbors. So I was a lonely soul when Husband and I first moved away to purchase our house. I was now merely down the road from folks who were quick to say hello and engage. But that apparently wasn't the norm in my new hood. I was told to keep my head down—criticized for being too friendly. It was suggested by one person to "just give it time but tone it down for now." I was devastated. I got that this was a slightly edgy area and that low key interaction was the standard mode of behavior, but, shit, all I wanted were neighbors—community. Well, that "keep a low personality profile" lasted about a minute. Husband and I persisted in greeting everyone without being intrusive. In the meantime, I decided to enlarge my new neighborhood to include my old one and all of Tremé. Now my stomping ground is about one a half miles long and one mile wide. I just took for my territory all the things I love that are within easy walking distance.

Determined to make neighbors (friendships might take longer) within my new blocks, I gave friendly, but not pushy, greetings to everyone: the homeless guy, the mailman, dog-walkers, the cleanup guy at the tech school across the street, the rough and tumble dudes around the block, and offered cold drinks to anyone cutting grass or delivering packages. I introduced myself to those who seemed receptive and memorized their names and their dogs' names. Next, I took on the Circle Grocery Store. Soon they were remembering me and greeting me like a real neighborhood person. These little things, I highly recommend. Feeling like you are a part of your community will enrich your life. Don't waste those sidewalks—walk 'em and absorb your surroundings.

And take that sense of community to the streets. Go beyond your neighborhood or workplace. I meet tourists all the time who delight in the friendliness of New Orleanians and tell me that their town isn't like that. Well, that's crazy. They are "their town," and if they respond to congeniality here, why not back home? I suggest they "pay it forward." Ya don't have to slow up a stranger walking the streets of, say, NYC; just give a nod, a smile, a "Hello," and move along so they feel no impending hustle. No strings attached.

Maybe I sound kinda kumbaya, corny, like a saccharine Hallmark greeting card. Well, so be it. I enjoy ranting and will go negative as quick as a wink. And I can piss, moan, and complain. Just ask Husband (he sees and hears the unfiltered me). But when I pass someone on the street and say, "Good Morning," and they return with the New Orleans classic, "All right," or "Hey, Baby," that brief exchange lifts my spirits beyond words.

And right now I am going to take my own advice and walk over to my neighborhood grocery store and be extra nice to the cashier, who often puts up with too much hassle and attitude. Say hi to Sam who works the lottery counter and buy both of us a lottery ticket (he bought me one out of the blue last time). Then I will walk my dog Scout and give a nod to Steve and his dog Honey. Yep, my seemingly unwelcoming new neighborhood has surprised me, and I will do my best to earn its respect.

Rehoming Missy

Home ownership is not for the faint of heart—I would know, my heart has "fainted" more times than I can count. Just looking at our FEMA flood insurance bill for the year had my heart sink, no, crash with a thud. And everyone knows about property tax and home insurance costs. Even if the house was gifted to you, (free, no house loan), you still have more monthly and annual fees than rent. Even sky-high rent can pale next to the cost of maintaining a house.

I actually stop strangers on the street and say, "Don't buy a house. It will break your heart." Sure there are exceptions: those with lots of money (to pour into a house) and those with lots of time. Time to pay it off and maybe make a profit. At our age, this ain't happening. Perhaps at any age, this ain't happening. Of course those having made a substantial down payment may see the benefits of equity (a whole world of finance I can barely grasp). However, in our case, we paid zero down thanks to the VA (Husband is a veteran) being foolish enough to trust us to be able to afford our dear Missy Money Pit. We had the choice of depleting all our savings to make a down payment and getting a somewhat cheaper monthly mortgage or go with the VA backed zero down. Think between a jagged rock and a hard place.

Also to qualify for a loan, we pretty much had to get a double (duplex) and become landlords. Our tenants are lovely (they kinda came with the house) and there was no way we could raise their rent enough to actually consider it "rental income." We are just grateful they haven't presented us with a laundry list of upgrades and that existing appliances are either owned by them or at least in working order. I hate being a landlord. I rented my entire life and want to be fair and honest and not a butt-head. I was blessed with some amazing landlords (thank you all) but certainly have been screwed royally by others. I was spoiled by my last renting experience and long to be that renter again. Actually, in a sense, Husband and I "rent" our house. We will never really own our house. She, Missy Money Pit, owns us.

People are always congratulating us on getting a house, being homeowners. They say, when I express regrets or second guess this venture, "But Debbie, it's all yours." Yeah, right. Tell that to the termites who ignore the exterminator's gallant attempts to control them, the deep freeze that dearly wants to burst my pipes and the wind that delights in threatening my new roof. And just like a landlord, our mortgage company expects a chunk of money every month. This money is due for the rest of our lives regardless of a hurricane, job loss, or some unexpected expense. Sure renting a house/apartment entails a ridiculous financial outlay each month, but you don't have to call the plumber or contract someone to fix the tumors appearing above your chimney mantels (because someone thought they could sheetrock over damp bricks). A fresh coat of paint presents quite nicely when a house is for sale, but buy it and see just how long that lipstick hides moisture-wicking.

It was this latest revelation of existing moisture damage that reminded me of, "Whoops, I forgot to follow through on major attic work." And with that heart-sinking reminder of the tremendous amount of work, money, and the army of contractors that Missy already experienced, we had forgotten the attic. Ironically, this gut-wrenching venture towards further depletion of savings introduced me to a contractor whose vast knowledge of our city's historic homes and his deep love and respect for such architecture made me feel my first stirrings of maternal instincts towards Missy.

I approached the stewardship (adoption, if you will) of this house with ambivalence, anxiety, and daily regret. I had little interest in inviting friends to see her and was overwhelmed by the enormous responsibilities and work that seemed without end. But then I met Mr. B, who will be our attic contractor. Husband and I talked with him over the phone for nearly 30 minutes and he spoke like a history professor about the historic value of our house and others like her, not in terms of real estate prices or monetary worth but rather the uniqueness of the architecture and building practices of yesteryears. He explained that she was built prior to electric tools and that it likely took as many as 40 workers to craft and build this house. This same passion for an old house like ours was expressed again when he spent an hour examining the moisture damage to our interior chimneys. Needless to say, he reminded me of my own passion for historic architecture, and, then and there, I began to approach Missy with more respect. Anyone who reads my columns knows my tendency to anthropomorphize critters and things. And if anything deserves this personification, it would be a house that has stood through two world wars, the Depression, hurricanes, and the insidious termites that cause slum-lord properties to pale by comparison.

So while I still regret that we have taken on such a financial burden and responsibility, I am realizing that my resentment should never be directed at this grand dame of a house. It's not her fault that her new people are in over their heads. She is, for better or for worse, stuck with us and, even if we can't afford a new paint job for her, we will fortify her structurally and keep her strong. But most importantly, I will give her the respect she deserves.

Lil Gray Girl

There are two sides to every story; two different perspectives. In the case of a homeless little cat, one can only hope the seemingly opposing viewpoints will converge and find that happy ending—a forever home.

Lil Gray Girl: For three years I have lived under the Green House. I was unceremoniously dumped there as a kitten. Therefore you can understand that my opinion of those tall creatures that seem to rule. "People," I believe they are called, haven't been high on my lists of those I trust. But the other cats living under the green house seemed to like the two people that fed us daily. I noticed my under-the-house mates were different from me in that each sported a clipped ear. The lady cats were quite pleased with their single clipped ear—said they no longer had to worry about the unwanted advances and inevitable pregnancies that resulted. The men-cats were not as thrilled but admitted to an appreciation of no longer being liable for unwanted kittens. They felt less macho but did enjoy ending the pressures of "dating" constantly—more time to nap.

Debbie and Philipe (The People): Our little family of TNRs, aka the Clowder, totaled nine to start. When we opened a shop adjacent to the green house, we discovered a feral colony (clowder) of cats—three male orange tabbies and six female torties (tortoiseshell). We discovered soon after having scooped up a tiny kitten tortie whose eyes were still blue and not yet weaned (immediately adopted her) that her family of tabbies and torties were also under the green house. SPCA came to their rescue with traps and gave them membership in the TNR (trap, neuter, release) program. When returned to our shop's side yard next to the green house, we promised forever food and water.

Lil Gray Girl: Okay, okay, you guys are saints. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Now let's move it along to me since you chose to write about me. You guys knew I wasn't "fixed," so to speak, since I was deposited there as a wee kitten. I know you hoped, foolishly, that since the clowder I was now living with were all non-breeders that I wouldn't get knocked-up. But as I grew, word got around the neighborhood that the bad-ass males, still sporting balls, could "date me". I was not impressed one bit by their advances or their clumsy "Wham! Bam! Thank you, ma'am" sex. Before I knew it, I had a baby bump. I was just a teenage kitty. Finally, the People noticed and help was on the way. An abortion (I was more than good with that), spaying, and finally the clipped ear, which is like a cool kitty tattoo or piercing—very "street" and yet shows responsibility. But the whole experience was terrifying and had me removed, albeit temporarily, from the only home I had known. However, I was returned to my clowder and catered meals by the People.

Debbie and Philipe (The People): We knew it had to be frightening. Poor Lil gave birth in the humane trap while on her way to the SPCA for her spaying. The kittens were placed in their kitten adoption program; however, giving birth in a cage during transport was traumatic. But within days, she was returned to her familiar territory. Unlike many cats, she is quite the introvert and never roamed away from the under-belly of the green house except for feeding time. Later when the house and surrounding properties became hostile to our clowder, all but Lil transitioned across the street to a friendlier feeding station and area to call home. Lil was too scared to cross the street.

Lil: Now don't go making me seem weak. I'm no scaredy cat. I take offense at that. I mean, like, why would anyone wanna cross that street with giant monsters called "cars" roaring up and down it? Things are quiet below the house and no "cars" can get under it. Can you blame me for wanting to find a home now under your stove, whatever the heck that is? When I do try to venture out, that damn metal contraption you put stinky clothes into starts to roar and spin. Then there are the cats and that nosey parker dog sniffing around me—I think they only want my food.

D&P: Lil, you do have a point—those cars are dangerous and that's another reason we decided to make you our house mate. And the metal box is loud but harmless, as are the other cats and that nosey parker dog. If you'd just come out, you'd find that Scout the dog loves cats and can't wait to be friends (and share your food). And the cats are fine. One is grumpy (hence his name: Zack the Bastard); Frankie and Lefty actually are family to the clowder, which kinda makes you their family too; and Opie is a swell guy, goofy and lovable (but not like that bad ass cat that got ya knocked up). So why don't you consider taking a tour of the house—tons of room to run, lots of furniture to destroy, and plenty of hiding places other than the stove if you need some time-out. Come on, give us a chance to love you.

Lil: Well, there is a little mouse that claims I am in "her" home under here. I kinda understand she might not like sharing her space with me. But tell me this: is the food any better out there? I was told indoor cats are privileged and spoiled—I might like that for a change. Life outside was really scary. And some love would be nice. Let me talk it over with the mouse and give her my notice. See you soon.

D&P: Thanks, Lil. We are all looking forward to you.


"How many roads must a man walk down?

Yes, how many times can a man turn his head

And pretend that he just doesn't see?

The answer my friend' is blowin' in the wind."

-Bob Dylan, 1962

Blowing in the Wind" was published in Sing Out in 1962 and was accompanied by Dylan's following comments: "But the only trouble is that no one picks up the answer when it comes down…and it flies away. I still say that some of the biggest criminals are those that turn their heads away when they see wrong."

Mr. Dylan knew there was an answer. Many of us have the answers plus some damn good solutions. Most mornings when Husband and I ride to work, we observe an abundance of civic faux pas. And we see clear, obvious, alternatives to poor city planning (or lack of), traffic issues, human discourtesy, and neglect. But we look at each other and say, "But no one ever asks us." Oh, we try to inject our concerns and our common sense answers by being involved—voting, meetings, volunteering, but too often it just all seems to blow away.

Recently I was in my favorite neighborhood coffee shop when customers walked in and glanced at an injured bird that had found its way into the café and proceeded to die. They couldn't be bothered to pick the poor thing up. I gathered it in a napkin, called time of death, and gave it the ole burial service within a trash bin outside with a few gentle words, which felt slightly more dignified than being left on the floor to be stepped on.

It was Memorial Day, but Death did not take a holiday. Walking home, I found a cat that was the victim of a car—in this case, I seriously doubt the car driver realized they had backed over her—a tragic accident. While waiting for a friend to come fetch the dying cat and me to ambulance us to the vet, a neighbor apparently saw me cradling the cat and offered no help. She merely asked later when I returned home from the euthanasia what happened. I am no saint, and I absolutely do not want to pick up the pieces of some poor animal's pain. I just get stuck in those moments. And as if the death of a helpless creature isn't enough to witness, I get to witness human indifference.

Okay, here I will pause to sing the praises of my dear friend who dropped everything to chauffeur me to the emergency vet clinic. I could never have handled this without her kindness. I do try and see the many acts of goodness that help counter the sheer volume of obtuse and careless behavior.

Today, I had planned to write once again about litter in the hopes of gathering a few more disciples to the Church of Pick Dat Trash Up or, even better, convert a few to changing their habit of dropping dat crap on the ground. Can I have an "amen" to ending the detritus of tampons, condoms, cigarette butts, syringes, and dirty diapers that accompany cans, broken glass, food wrappers, styrofoam food/drink containers, dental floss picks, gun casings—I guess if someone's shootin' a person, they're not gonna take time to tidy up, so nix this request and all things plastic. And may I "bitch out" my least favorite thing to handle when cleaning up litter—the slurry of spit. The worst because ,short of hosing it away, there is no way to pick it up.

So with plans to write a treatise about this reprehensible behavior, to convince folks that to litter is to disrespect, I took one more look in all directions and realized our streets and sidewalks speak for themselves. Seeing is believing—right? No. Because you must look with more than your eyes. You must look with concern and with awareness. Even if the trash in your neighborhood or your town's sidewalks and parks doesn't assault your sense of aesthetics, it should at least enrage you with the danger it poses.

Yes. Danger, danger! Litter begets even more litter and much of it contains food and sugary residue that attracts flies, ants, rodents. Chicken bones accent our sidewalks and streets and can cause serious issues for your dog. Discarded drugs, needles, and THC gummies might be deadly for your pet. Plastic shopping bags often become marine debris and the handles on them can easily strangle a bird. Plastic in general never fully breaks down into a benign substance—endocrine disrupting chemicals and plastic go hand-in-hand. Think of cancer.

Think of cause and effect. Folks often do not think beyond the moment. Releasing that helium balloon to the sky seems festive—not for the sea turtle entangled in it later. Lawn blowers make your yard and sidewalk tidy and clog storm drains and pollute the air. Think about where stuff goes once it is out of your range of vision. Think about who made that dress you are wearing or harvested the food you eat. When you buy that feel-good electric car, do you wonder where your old clunker ends up? Or what is involved in producing those electric car batteries? When you buy a pedigree dog, how many were bred for this transaction and how many needy shelter dogs are euthanized because a certain breed is trending in popularity and usurping rescue/adoptions?

Am I being preachy? Yes. Am I sincerely concerned? Indeed. Do I practice what I preach? Not always. Perhaps writing this is my come-to-Jesus-get-a-clue kick in the rear. And the good news is there are many folks like my friend who dropped everything to drive a dying cat to the vet clinic. There are those who give me hope. Thank you.

Horror Stories

Little Shop of Horrors has nothing on me. Wanna be scared? Just catch me in a swimsuit. I am that cautionary tale—that glimpse into the future. Want really scary? Me wandering around my house in that swimsuit flapping my sagging arms as I wave, shake, and brandish photos from my house inspection. My newly purchased house, Missy Money Pit, and I share the dubious honor of aging. Missy sags. I sag. She needed foundation work, and my foundation could use some bracing. Her piers are scabbed for reinforcement and my knees are supported with KT-Tape (looks more athletic than support hose). There is much to fear, and I feel certain that one day a year, Halloween simply can't encompass it all. But I shall share with you the many things that frighten me, make my skin crawl, and simply paralyze me with dread.

My body. I am convinced that the body snatchers have taken over me. I mean, come on. Why do I look like an ugly and phony version of myself? I was cute with great legs. When did this growth, this mask, this costume of an old lady take over?

My house. Sweet Jesus, it's bad enough that years of neglect by former slum lords have weakened this once proud and beautiful structure. But even the land it sits upon is cursed. Little tiny sinkholes in the backyard/courtyard. Is it the normal effects of our subsidence that has our city sinking at the same rate that our oceans are rising? Or, as one termite inspector remarked of a rotten half eaten (hungry termites) tree next door, "That just might be the Mother Ship of termites." Are they tunneling city-wide from here? Either way, anytime I pass a house that doesn't have the easy to notice termite baits or drill injections around it, I shudder because I know they will tunnel over to it. Termites will eat you out of house and home.

Ghosts are one thing, but attic moisture that seeps into your chimney and rears its ugly multiple little heads in the forms of tumors on your home's freshly painted interior walls next to that antique mantle is just terrifying. If only the things that go bump in the night were ghosts and not pipes rattling and floors creaking as the washing machine roars into an emergency landing during spin turbulence only inches away from the hot water heater.

But all my above concerns and fears pale next to the impending apocalypse. There is some cold, icy dark comfort in knowing that the world could come crashing, melting, sinking, flooding, exploding apart long before my roof (or hip) needs replacing. Even my doctor, who as a believer of science and facts, said any health or age related quirks that my body might spring on me, probably will not manifest itself before climate change gets us. Oh! he tempered this with a degree of humor and lots of proactive healthy recommendations for my physical well being. However, he said he wasn't so sure just how motivated he felt about making financial investments for his future.

Yes, our future on this Earth is tenuous at best. And if that doesn't scare the bejesus out of you, then you might wanna rethink your news source. I am a huge fan of Joe Biden, but I doubt he will take us to that mountain top. I fear he will not inspire us to do right by this planet because doing right will require more resolve and sacrifice than most of us possess. Will I support him when the presidential race truly begins and the candidates hit the ground running? You bet. But do I wish he could light a fire under our complacent asses? Damn straight. However, I doubt even the most charismatic, fact-based, powerhouse of a candidate could wipe the malaise of indifference from our citizenry. Yet, science-deniers, homophobes, and morally bankrupt folks will most likely jumpstart some angry adrenaline in those unwilling to accept the paramount challenges that we as a species are facing, not to mention our possible extinction, and misdirect that angry energy to attacks on library books. I need not mention it by name—just think 2016. "Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

There is much to fear, more than Stephen King could pen to paper or Jordan Peele could direct to film. Horror goes beyond my monster termites or wrinkled skin or the adult diapers that loom large in my future (okay, that's thirty years from now). Ya want scary? Look at the communities of homeless folks with no escape, the astronomical number of kids with no one to steer them clear of drugs and violence (these young people should have a future of hope and security to look forward to), politicians with no moral compass who play god with women's bodies and dictate their idea of sexual and gender orientation, and, above all, a planet that is understandably trying to shake us off like the blood-sucking ticks we as a species have become.

So for Halloween, I think I will lock our door, take my calcium, make sure our flood insurance is in order, and then watch the news as the latest terrors unfold. Nah, I will grab a bottle of wine, a bag of candy corn, and watch reruns of The Marvelo.

Mother Nature and Her Entourage

Let me tell ya 'bout the birds and the bees

And the flowers and the trees

And the moon up above

And a thing called love - Performed by Jewel Akens

Mr. Akens sang of romantic love. But as we also know, love of nature can be fulfilling, meaningful, and downright entertaining. My cat Lefty taught me the sheer joy of watching bees. She will sit for hours looking out our kitchen window at the bees feasting upon the wild flowers and vines along the fence. She is my lil' bee keeper.

I first became enchanted with bees when I started rescuing them from swimming pools. The first time I played lifeguard to a bee flailing on the pool's surface was by gently scooping it onto my palm and releasing it poolside. Blowing gently on it to dry it a bit was my CPR method. Then, as I swam my laps, I would check on it until it could fly off. I felt a kinship from then on with bees. There is something about saving a small life that is humbling. I now feel compelled to rescue bugs from near drowning at sea (yes, even a birdbath can seem like a treacherous ocean to a bee since they are unable to fly from water without something to climb upon—soleave some pebbles in that birdbath). And as a self-appointed paramedic, I even (when on bug duty) resist discriminating and save the occasional cockroach. I draw the line at termites—that's war.

This obsession with drowning bugs started during the Katrina aftermath/evacuation diaspora that we became a part of. After we escaped New Orleans, six days following Hurricane Katrina's hit, we road-tripped (fled) across-country and stayed in motels that could meet our criteria: pet-friendly (or easy to sneak pets into), within walking distance of pizza and beer, and a swimming pool. While we were so blessed not to have endured flood waters deeper than a few inches to a couple of feet, the horror stories soon made their way to us and then, once on the road, motel television showed us what we were spared. That, I assume, prompted my scooping of pool top bugs. The concrete rim of the pool looked like a miniature levee wall. I just couldn't watch anything drown.

Was it Katrina, swimming, or my cat Lefty that opened my eyes wide to bees and butterflies? Yes to all three. Plus, PBS's Nature: My Garden of a Thousand Bees by wildlife filmmaker Martin Dohrm) and Nova: Butterfly Blueprints began my long overdue education about insects and critters, large and small—as did experiences on my front porch. During the COVID lockdown, I never felt lonely. A crowd—a gathering of life— scuttered, flew, swooped, and lived their little lives within a few feet or less of me. Of course, after falling in love with lizards in my grass, mowing had to take on a more Zen-like approach—grass had to be swept first to warn lizards and bugs to scamper away before the death-machine (battery/electric of course) could mow or trim grass. Of course, this meant my dreams of a job as a groundskeeper couldn't happen.

Guilt is a powerful element to why we do things. And right this moment, I have a bit of guilt after fishing a bee just now from my bucket that catches condensation from my A/C window unit. I thought I was so smart to repurpose that water for plants and I even had something in it to act as a lifebuoy ring. Well, it didn't work. So check those buckets of rain water, put something stable and solid in it, and always verify it and empty it before it fills too high. Frogs and lizards will also thank you.

Such simple joy can be had watching nature. And you do not need to live in the country or hike the wilderness to find it. My friend Dee recently moved from a small (too small for even a flea to have leg-room) ground-floor apartment with no windows. Even the front door, the only door, opened into a viewless hallway. She has some health issues which prevented her from easily strolling to a park. Nature was not within her daily view. She now lives in an apartment building on the 6th floor with windows. Her view is spectacular. She is still sort of home-bound but spends hours marveling at the birds that fly outside her windows. She delights in watching sunrises and sunsets. All things most of us take for granted. Not Dee, she appreciates it.

My new home has no front yard and no trees, but the newly refurbished school across the street has been landscaped with grass and trees. These lovely trees are young and far from being big enough for nesting birds or to provide shade. But soon, very soon, they will enhance the quality of life here. And until then, I have a miniature wilderness of sparrows and big beautiful crows that I feed. I am trying to mimic the crows' cawing and so far, I know they're laughing at me ("Yo! did ya hear that lady trying to speak 'Crow'— hate to hear her attempts at Spanish. Can ya imagine her in a French restaurant trying to order wine? No aptitude for languages. But she sure is generous with the peanuts—"). Fortunately my planters provide a tiny habitat for lizards, bees, and butterflies. My point is that you can be entertained and delighted by nature as it showcases an endless array of performances; starring life as it swoops, dashes, and crawls outside your window. Just be sure to tune in.

Thank You for Letting Me Be Myself—Whatever the Heck That Is

Well, I ain't no Cormac McCarthy, but I am a writer.

And I even have an editor whose hair should be on fire for the above poor grammar. Fortunately she seems to understand my humor or just figures I am "grandfathered in" due to, "Well, Debbie's been here for so long, and we just can't think of a nice way to let her go." I will take it—whatever allows me to have a space in this magazine is fine with me. I am grateful. We both are grateful. Husband, then Boyfriend, and I started submitting columns to Where Y'at Magazine about 23 years ago. Perhaps desperate for writers back then, they accepted us and have been allowing us a column every issue since.

Several years back during Mardi Gras, Josh, the editor-in-chief and head dude, ran into us in the Quarters and introduced us to his friend as "my oldest writers," to which I gave him the "and what did you just say, young man" glance. Bless his heart, he stammered and rushed the words "I mean they have been writing for us longer than anyone else." We told his friend Josh was right twice. We are that old and we have been with Where Y'at since the early days.

Josh and his team of editors have allowed us so much freedom of expression. Our columns are on side-by-side pages. I say we are Lil and Dash gone terribly trashy. However, I like to think that Ms. Hellman and Mr. Hammett might have enjoyed our musings. Certainly our political persuasions would have found company with theirs, which brings me to a heartfelt thank-you-moment to Where Y'at. I have been allowed to write about issues concerning my endorsement of left-leaning politics and ideologies, not to mention my personal irreverent and controversial adventures such as my abortion.

Most importantly this magazine has given both of us the monthly 900-plus word space to write about most anything of our choosing. I have written about roaches, rats, and other mascots of New Orleans. My readers have endured sentimental journeys to my hometown, and joined in on family reunions and cremations. Readers have provided a shoulder to lean on and an ear to vent to in regards to the many tales of being indentured by and tethered to our pets. Unruly cats, mischievous dogs, and the ongoing plight of homeless critters are constantly written about. I have written about the Urine Wars that my beloved little monsters have waged against my floors and anything remotely resembling a rug. Husband AKA 'Then Boyfriend' AKA Phil has covered every topic from best bars to drink PBR in, to heartbreaking essays about our city. We both have pontificated about our environment, human rights, and animal rights. I have written endless columns promoting Jazz Fest. I have stood upon my soap box and preached the need to shop and support local businesses and shouted out their names and locations. And I shamelessly self-promoted our own former cookbook shop (over and over).

When not throwing endlessly odd topics, random thoughts, and make-believe characters into my (our) columns, we both anthropomorphize trees, cars (our 1997 Lincoln currently), and our mannequin (Ruby the Hauntingly Beautiful Mannequin). Yet, despite our whimsy, we are actually trusted with cover stories. Well, I co-wrote a couple with Phil; however, he tackles such assignments with ease. I, on the other hand, can barely get my mere half page monthly column written. Let's just say I would never qualify for a daily newspaper column, and there is no book deal in my future. Sitting still long enough to write one paragraph is a feat, an accomplishment, a poke-in-the-eye to my ADHD. During the last four paragraphs I made a phone call, sent three texts, washed dishes, fixed a pot of coffee, and ate lunch. But could I write an email or text equaling 1,000 words in one sitting. And I could stand on a stage and "Mrs. Maisel" it effortlessly. But give me a deadline and a commitment to write a column, and I am ready to get up and change the cat litter. So I pass the feature articles and cover stories to Phil.

Am I thrilled to have my monthly column? Heck yeah. Do I daydream of being discovered one day? When feeling delusional, heck yeah. My writing began when I was a kid. Then it kinda took a back seat to climbing into the backseat with my high school sweetie. Being a grownup later only gave way to more "sweeties" (whatever were their names?), partying, and far more consumption of libations than one should ever drink in an entire lifetime. However, I survived such foolishness, and later the urge to write came back, and I even learned how to type. My typing instructor, a friend, tricked me into learning on her keyboard which was attached to the feared and dreaded computer. I thank her for this.

I would submit essays to every highbrow literary magazine or periodical I could find. Alas, no takers. I persevered changing venues to local small presses which accepted me. And finally I ended up in Harper's—well kinda. I wrote for a very small obscure coffee shop type magazine and I would slip copies inside every issue of Harper's (and The New Yorker) at various news/magazine stands. So yeah, I was in Harper's. And then along came Where Y'at Magazine with a space for me (and Phil), our names on the masthead, a paycheck, and, my favorite, press passes to attend the Tennessee Williams Literary Conference. We got to run with the big dogs. Swear, I'd bathe and sleep with my plastic-coated press pass tethered to me by a lanyard. Screw Harper's, I'm a Where Y'at writer with a drawer full of press passes to prove it. Thank you Josh, fabulous staff, cohorts, and of course my readers. Bless y'all.

Seeming Obsolete

More and more, I see my life, even my recent past, as seemingly obsolete. Oh! I am fairly current and more than relevant today, yet much that is near and dear to me has become a thing of the past in the eyes of younger folks. And not just sentimental stuff but simple everyday, commonplace terms, phrases, and references that were second nature to me. I first noticed this a decade ago as my elevator humor caused a "duh" look among the other riders in the lift (there I go again—a term no one uses). Anyway, I thought myself clever with my, "Second floor: ladies' apparel," or "Fifth floor: household goods and appliances. Watch your step please." That's when I realized I had outgrown my hotel elevator audience—they were too young to have known that lady operators clad in snappy uniforms once controlled the elevator and its etiquette.

A few years back, in my book shop, I often had to take credit card info directly from a customer and when requesting the security code for the card, I would follow with, "And now we will share the secret hand-shake and your decoder ring will be mailed to you." Then one day my two twenty-something customers paused, a bit confused, until one said to the other, "Oh! I'll explain it to you later. I saw it in an old movie." Also, I was beginning to notice a curious look when I would count back a customer's change—they were now accustomed to a computerized register doing the math and flashing "change due." Both ways achieve the same results, but mine required being able to count—a little motor/brain skill no longer widely used. At this rate adding two and two will soon require a calculator.

Does anybody remember phone numbers anymore? You know—have them stored in your head—your memory. It began with speed dial on my landline, and that was a slippery slope. Now our devices store and remember these for us. Is this healthy for our brains? Perhaps we shouldn't overburden our gray matter with mundane stuff; yet, doesn't our memory need the exercise? Then again, don't we get enough of a work-out just trying to remember all those damn passwords and user names we are burdened with these days? To protect ourselves from identity theft, we're told not to use the same ones for everything—screw that. They want my weird-ass identity (and all my neuroses), they can have it, and I say best of luck.

Another rear-view moment recently was the discussion with a young tourist, of my childhood road trips from Mobile (hometown) to New Orleans. They asked how long a drive that was, and I replied, "Well, before the Interstate, it was a four to five hour drive." They just stared at me. I responded to that look, "Yes, I am that old." For that look of near pity, just give someone under fifty your AOL email address—@aol really freaks them out. God, I just wanna slap 'em with a flip phone. Okay, with a degree of regret, I must fess up: I no longer have a burner phone (you get more street cred asking the Boost Mobile sales assistant for a burner). Fun fact: Guinness World Records lists Debbie Lindsey as the "Last Person on the Planet to Get a Cell Phone."

When dinosaurs roamed, we had phones that remained attached to our houses. They did not fit in your pocket, or your ear, and they only accepted a human voice for communication. No typing notes, no viewing movies or TicToking, no breaking news. They still exist and are known as landlines, but their habitat is shrinking. You didn't talk on them during dinner or when you had company. Only doctors and drug dealers had mobile phones, and they were big and looked like a walkie-talkie, also referred to as "the brick." And it wasn't that long ago that cell phones were not allowed and/or frowned upon at work. Now, you damn well better have a cell on you at all times for work related interactions. Times change; rules change.

The Good Ole Days never really existed. Racism went virtually unchecked, and women were kept in check. There was no LGBTQ, just a lot of lives lived in secret with unnecessary, unwarranted shame. Therefore, I am relieved for much that is gone and grateful for so many of today's changes and advances. But much change is careless, profit driven, and cloaked in the disguise of progress. Replacing people (jobs) with self-serve check-outs, gutting the soul of a historic cottage, and placing digital tablets, cell phones, and e-books in the hands of children without at least showing them the beauty of a real book and the pleasures of a library. Change requires thought and care.

Admittedly I'm spoiled by the conveniences our current world provides. Do I find it easier to write this column from a device that allows me to edit, spell-check, research, attach, send, and make copies without carbon paper? Heck yeah. Do I find this piece of equipment to be a mine-field of rabbit holes and mindless distractions? Yes. Did I rail against digital cameras? Vehemently. Do I use my cell phone camera now? Constantly. I feel conflicted, like a sell-out. So I suggest to myself and others: compromise. Stay current, enjoy the perks, but take the time to dust off that vinyl, check-out that library book, get lost in the genius of classic films, and bake a batch of cookies from scratch.

The other day, I saw evidence of roaming dinosaurs. First, there was a young boy content with a real book. Then, a young woman was reading a newspaper. Later, a twenty-something sporting a Golden Girls T-shirt was loading film into her Minolta. Maybe we're not extinct, just endangered.

Conversations, Cuddles, and Claws

If you listen really closely and speak with intelligence, you will be able to converse with your felines and, of course, your yappy little dog.

Everyone knows that a dog hangs on your every word, and they are easy to understand. This certainly doesn't mean they will adhere to your advice and requests. Just try and tell a dog not to eat from the cat's litter box. Oh! they will give you the "yeah, yeah, yeah," but just turn your back, and those kittie crunchies are long gone.

Say something about it and suddenly your cats will chime in with solidarity for your shit-eating dog. "Well you really should clean our box more often and Scout was just being helpful."

And Scout will whisper, "Thanks guys, owe ya one." My little dog is Scout—you may already have met her and the feline gang on this page before.

All of them are an unmitigated assault upon anything involving fabric. No chair is safe. To them, it is a conveniently large emery board post. "If you didn't want us to trim our nails on it then why in the world did you buy it?" So I bought them scratching posts from Petco to which they flipped their tails up and sprayed them. Even Scout feels she must dig into the cushions before she can even think about curling up and taking her much deserved nap. And rugs are no longer decorative items in our house. The critters simply had to take turns creatively peeing upon said rugs as if they're Jackson Pollock protégés. They fancy a layered technique.

My cats appear to have literary inclinations. They certainly must have read Ernest J. Gaines' A Gathering of Old Me, the story of seventeen older Black men all taking responsibility for the shooting of a wicked racist to spare the identity of the actual shooter. So with dramatic flair my cats have decided that if one pees on the bed when we are asleep, be it Scout or one of them, they'll confuse us with each taking random turns "acting out" and wetting us. First off, we are not wicked and would never have punished a critter for a urinary accident, but the cats aren't buying it. Righteous solidarity or just an excuse to make us scream upon waking? Little monsters.

Not all fabric is brutalized—some are merely captured. Opie, my orange tabby with the grace of an oversized puppy, has never mastered the feline agility of most cats, but he is a hunter and gatherer. No hand towel is safe. I have asked him on several occasions, "Why dish/hand towels?"

To which he shrugs and says, "Because." He is a man of mystery. No matter where I place a small towel, he finds it and carries it between his teeth, growling all about the house. No shredding, no wetting, he just likes to show that terry cloth menace who's the boss.

We not only have our privileged spoiled indoor house cats and their side-kick Scout, we also have an array of community/feral cats to feed. Thank goodness there are neighbors who help us with this. All are picky, but our inside prima-donnas really work it. You'd think our pampered felines would appreciate the personalized, veterinarian-approved, expensive food but that's not enough. Presentation is everything. We turn the plate around, so they can approach food from all angles without moving. This lazy-susan/rotating method allows the cat to enjoy their dining experience while also working your last nerve.

And of course there's always "the Closer." Opie likes to say how prison time caused his food-insecurities. Opie was a tiny little kitten when rescued by our vet and most certainly never experienced any form of incarceration. He may have missed a few meals before rescue and quick adoption by us. He's just a lard-ass who can't abide by any food being unattended and uneaten. So if the other cats like to eat a bit here and there he can't stand it—he simply must clean up every bite.

Scout is also a food whore. As for the community cats, aka the TNRs (trap, neuter, spay, and released/returned for volunteers to feed and water), they are so grateful for food, but the ones we feed must have gotten the memo from our spoiled ingrates. I overheard them talking about how "the man is keepin' us down with this cheap ass dry kibble. We must demand wet food." I know damn well my little Frankie (rescued as a kitten from a feral clowder of felines—she was the runt and apparently overlooked by Momma Cat or simply got lost) has been inciting the food protest.

Actually, Frankie the Princess loves the cheap stanky Friskies but simply must mess with the TNRs. You see she never got the clipped ear that the SPCA gives to "fixed" cats. And she is jealous because it's considered kinda hip, kinda "street." Tipped ears are the feline equivalent of tattoos. I also suspect she told Lefty, who we later upgraded from Frankie's birth feline family of street cats to be our at-the-time shop cat and later to join our indoor herd about how to be arrogant. Back when Lefty was new to the indoors and to human affection (and lovin' both), she would allow me to trim her nails with no fuss. Well this abruptly changed after Frankie schooled her on how to make life difficult for us. Oh yes, these cats talk.

Finicky and difficult at times, they also surprise you with tenderness and an ability to know when you need the comfort only a beloved cat or dog can give. They give back and make certain that you never feel lonely. Why just this morning, I awoke to Lefty fast asleep on my head and the rest of the herd curled among us. And bless them, no wet bedding. That was reserved for the newly refinished wood floors.

No Regrets

What would you do differently if you could turn back the hands of time?

Often I regret not having pursued a path that would have allowed me to be a city planner or work in the environmental field. But to be honest I was never academically inclined. Sure I am smart, but college would have required a focus that my undisciplined ADHS-self wasn't about to tackle. And yet I chose a career that truly requires multi-tasking and focus—waitressing. Perhaps it was simply less intimidating. And truthfully I didn't choose it, it was the only job a high school drop-out with no clerical skills could get. That's not to disparage the job or those in food and beverage, but it was available to most anyone who applied. However, keeping that job was a sink or swim adventure.

Serving food, "waitressing" as I still love to call it, is hard, hard work and to be successful you must "own it." I floundered about for some years and went through more restaurants and bars than I care to admit until I took it seriously and, most importantly, embraced it as a profession—a career. I was never inclined towards fine dining—not my jam. But that was fine, my personality and eventual speed worked beautifully within casual dining cafés, bars, and diner style service. Another thing that helped my attitude immensely was when I decided that tips would be just a part of my recompense: compliments, positive feed-back from customers, appreciative audience response carried me through those shitty tip days. I decided I was running for Miss Congeniality or Best Entertainer. My self esteem needed (still does) that affirmation—validation. Make 'em laugh, make 'em laugh. I was on stage and loved it.

Just as important as making a living and finding a productive way to entertain folks, I found friendships. The wealth of friends that were garnered while toiling under the tray and camping it up have been worth every ache and pain my waitress back absorbed. These incredible friends have remained in my life long after leaving the workplace. There is a camaraderie that is unique to this business. Together you work hard, play hard, and even recover together.

Yes, as with many stressful jobs, imbibing can get the better of many. To be clear this is not to malign fellow food and beverage folks. Also, many workers have no time to blow off steam in a bar room as they may have families waiting at home to tend to, another job, or a college curriculum. I had none of these worthy distractions, so I know that rabbit-hole is there. My recommendation: navigate with eyes wide-open. Mine were often blind to the risks; however, I survived those party days—barely.

The resulting bad back and some hazy hung-over memories have not diminished the love, joy, and pride that membership in this rank and file of food and beverage has given me. And if it took my premature departure from high school to place a tray in my hand then so be it. No regrets!

Along the way to now, I have made poor choices and ignored good common sense advice. Some regrets are health related. I cannot caution young folks enough about the importance of sun protection. That lovely flawless skin will turn downright ugly with sun damage if you do not wear sunscreen and vow to never sunbathe. I tried every gimmick to get a tan. I basted in baby oil and laid on aluminum foil, like trout ready for the broiler. All this white girl got was a short-lived slight tan at best and generally painful peeling sunburns; years later, skin cancer. And what foolishness didn't result in cancer left me with wrinkles, damaged skin, and ugly brown spots that are not cute like freckles. And my eyes were assaulted by the sun (yeah, those sunglasses were never a part of my fashion ensemble). The whites of my eyes look jaundiced, like I was on an all-nighter drinking marathon. The good news is that so far no life threatening carcinomas and my vision is fine. In fact, my hindsight is 20/20 (does me little good now, but I can preach the merits of sunscreen and sassy sunglasses).

Every time we pay our monthly loan shark payment (line-of-credit bank loan), I curse my bank and our poor judgment. Was this the best way to fund our shop's relocation? No. Several smarter financial maneuvers and strategies for pay-back are obvious now. However, some debt was inevitable. So, do I/we regret going into debt to continue our beloved cookbook shop? No way. It was worth every penny. Husband and I were simply not ready to throw in the towel when forced to give up our profitable (finally after many lean years) Quarter location. We took the show on the road—down the road, to Broad Street in the 7th ward. The friendships made in those four years when added to the previous 16 years of customers who morphed into friends became our profit. And the relationships went beyond customers: purveyors, book scouts, mailmen, The UPS Guy, local/international media, and all the surrounding business owners and neighbors. My first neighbor/friend on Broad was David Montana, Big Chief of the Washita Nation. Then we joined a business organization for the area and garnered more new friends. Among the many: Sister Bonnie for which there are not enough praises, and Lisa Amoss, (if you read this, know how much we value you). Yes, friendships and community are gold to us. So no regrets for our business—it failed in the eyes of the bank, but it's still a sparkle in our eyes.

One man's regrets might be another's blessings. If you have more to rejoice than to regret then be grateful and above all—never take it for granted.

*If your after-work drinking has become a problem, google "Ben's Friends" or go to https://www.bensfriendshope.com/meetings.

Crossing That Line

"It's a thin line between love and hate." The Persuaders

There are lines that we draw in the sand, and here, in New Orleans, those lines wash over in a rain and disappear into a pothole.

It's a game of jump rope here, and when the jumping wears you down, you try hopscotch. Except this isn't child's play, this is survival—daily attempts to straddle firm ground and not fall, fall out of love with this most amazing place. One only needs to walk a mile in most any direction, on any street, and the incongruity, contradictions, the yin and yang of our town are present with each step.

Intoxicating jasmine fills the air and is a joy to observe while growing lush next to strewn bottles and cans' fermenting remnants of beer. A beautiful old house filled with love and a fresh coat of Caribbean hues sits next to a house left to termites and squatters, owned by some out-of-town entity (this historic wreck's best hope is to be flipped into an AirBnb). The juxtaposition of good and evil, filth and grandeur, function and dysfunction is a constant. The warm greetings from a passing stranger just as a car follows you with a miscreant eyeing your wallet, your very life—all this in a day's walk.

The thin line between "passin' a good time" and disrespect is evident in the trail of litter that flows behind our communities beloved and most worthy second lines, or the crowding of Esplanade Avenue on Sunday evenings with no purpose other than to drink and defy and prevent city buses, EMS vehicles, and cars from driving to their destinations is not merely illegal and dangerous, it is selfish and rude. Make no mistake, these take-overs of a block of an important thoroughfare are not second lines, parades, or righteous protests.

One evening, as our bus driver cautiously and respectfully maneuvered the bus, riders had to endure a crowd-turned-mob that proceeded to beat and bang upon the bus windows. I was one of those riders and for the first time, I truly regretted my commitment to live here.

We all have our breaking moments. For some it's the infrastructure, a dead body decomposing in a collapsed building with a tarp to shield it somewhat from the elements, a carjacking, break-in, a robbery, ever-soaring rents, insurance, or property tax. Need I go on? I suspect I am preaching to the choir. And even if you are a visitor to our town, you too have issues back home, I am certain. And to all the tourists I have the absolute pleasure of meeting, I thank you for being here. I see the immediate love and appreciation of New Orleans in their eyes and their enthusiasm to return and even to move here.

I have always promoted my city with gusto. When visitors fall in love with her and don't wanna leave I am quick to write them a list: WWOZ.org for a free and fabulous connection to our music (telling them if they can't make it to Jazz Fest, tune in and hear it live). I list books that will further the experience and knowledge of this town—Why New Orleans Matters by Tom Piazza and Nine Lives by Dan Baum are among the many. I also recommend HBO's Treme, created by David Simon and Eric Overmyer. I insist that they can take New Orleans home in their hearts.

And for those planning a return trip I have even given my phone number to them in case they need recommendations for lodging etc. I have extended my contact info to those who have decided to move here (I've made some excellent friends doing this). But more and more through the years and especially now, I pepper my cheerleader enthusiasm with cautious words.

I explain to folks seeking to make this their home that this ain't no Big Easy. That she is a hard place to live and those challenges seem to me to be escalating. Rents are sky high, and I recently learned (the hard way when home buying) that this is not always due to landlord greed but rather to soaring expenses attaching themselves to mortgages and maintenance. For example, starting January 1, 2023, residential property insurance premiums went up 63% when your Louisiana Citizens policy renews. Also Mr. Google reminded me that Louisiana is among the top three most expensive states for auto insurance. Now do your own research (better rates available perhaps if you are a senior or a veteran). But plan your move here with eyes wide open.

Just read the news regarding crime, be informed, and act accordingly to make your visit here fun and safe—not regretful. I have always believed that it is better to put the fear of god in visitors and have them leave here happy, healthy, and ready to return. The culture and pleasures this place has to offer are abundant and unique.

As a resident, I feel privileged to belong to the most unique place on the planet, but I am sad, even pissed, that the line between love and hate has become far too faded and that jumping over it has worn me out. Give up on her? I can't. New Orleans is more than a municipality—she has a heart and soul. She has been abused by corruption and greed but she is still a grand lady. Can we rescue her? All I know is we cannot turn our backs on her. New Orleans needs us now more than ever.

The Bits and Pieces of My Life

Words that make my blood run cold are "minimalists" and "downsizing," which, alone, is a simple noun followed by an ordinary verb that can cause me to grab my collection of sock monkeys and run for the cover of my Granny's afghan.

To be clear, there is a difference between form and function and a pile of detritus lying in state on the floor (e.g., two sets of 5 lbs. hand weights you vacuum around). And that desktop covered with jars of dried-up ink pens and months of junk mail does not count as a display of "collectables." Also, those yogurt containers that the recycling service no longer accepts should not share cabinet space with your antique Blue Willow china. Yes, I am guilty of allowing that beautiful ceramic bowl to become a crap catch-all for loose change, discarded dental floss picks (yeah, yuck), random nails, screws, and old batteries from remote controls. I'm not proud. But do not even judge me for saving every photo, birthday card, Jazz Fest ticket stubs—these are memories.

I collect many various collectibles from little tacky tourist snow globes to basketball-sized planet globes, vintage telephones, typewriters, and Electrolux vacuum cleaners circa 1960. I love glass of all sorts and colors, china, earthen-ware, cast iron, and I have a fondness for stainless steel Revere-ware. Oh! I nearly forgot my little plastic dinosaurs, farm animals, and horses. They roam free upon picture frames and window sills. And socks monkeys, as well, as I have already mentioned (only about thirty).

The first time I visited Husband's (aka then Boyfriend) apartment, I knew we were a match made in heaven. We shared the same aesthetic—albeit his with a bit more dust than mine. He is a collector, too. His assortment of ceramic Blessed Mothers tend to intimidate my sock monkeys (and myself as a recovering Catholic). His passion is books, and despite closing our cookbook shop and finding homes for every single book that didn't sell, our home library is pretty extensive. Tons of literature as well as his ever-growing wealth of culinary books combine with every book I have ever read and the many ones I have yet to read. I have always lamented my inability to read more quickly and more often; this makes my collection of books not too overwhelming. Yet, read or not, just being surrounded by these bound words make me feel comforted and smarter. Anyway, you can imagine that since we share similar aesthetics and interests our house and the walls surrounding us are full to the brim. And add to this: As a chef, he has our kitchen stocked at a restaurant level. Oh! Did I mention he collects framed old photographs of people? He can't abide seeing them forgotten and homeless. He rescues them from thrift stores where memories go to languish. Gotta love him for this.

So while we delight in being surrounded by art, the printed word, memorabilia, antiques, and wacky shit, this is the stuff of nightmares for "the minimalists" out there. Marie Kondo was born to rescue folks like us from ourselves, and our stuff. But I say, "Back off."

I can't think of anything more demoralizing than those white-on-white (sure there are touches of gray thrown in for kicks) homes with the oh-so-carefully curated and placed vase or single piece of art. That's great for a gallery, but, come on, this should be a home.

There is one situation when I secretly envy those insufferable minimalists—moving time. As if having to move isn't hard enough you have to then pack your life into boxes. And did I happen to mention that Husband and I have rather large lives? And much of it is breakable. I have written "fragile" so many times during this current move, this descent into hell with Marie Kondo's voice gently saying, "Declutter," or the not-so-soft voices of friends saying, "You better not even think of leaving all this shit for me to get rid off in the event of your untimely demise."

Yeah, sure, there are advantages to downsizing or "traveling light," as they say. But I never was a free spirit eager to travel the world and live nomadically. I root quite firmly wherever I live and then fall deeply attached to that place.

Yes, we are moving onto our new house (actually a very old house circa 1890), and surely I will dig in and plant myself there. This does not make me any less reticent, even hostile, about making my spirit move its lard ass once again.

Moving is the ending of a relationship—a relationship with a place that was home and with that habitat came neighbors, and the friendships and alliances that grew from living among them. There are trees outside your windows that you wake up to every morning, watching their leaves clock the seasons. There are homeless and opportunistic cats that adopt your porch and, over time, your heart. I will miss each and every person and thing that is part of the fabric of this small community and neighborhood so dearly.

Thus, I refuse to downsize memories that have attached themselves into the embedded dust and fingerprints of the years of my life. Oh! I'll dust and shine my treasures somewhat as I unpack and place them in their new home, but I will be careful not to rub too hard or I might remove the patina of life.

Did You Know?

Home ownership will fill you with a wealth of knowledge via bruised body parts, fume-filled lungs, paint spattered everything, and emotional breakdowns.

And now I am able to start most of my conversations with "Did you know?", For example, did you know that Windexing your indoor windows on a sunny day will result with a sunburn/chemical-burn? That ammonia doesn't play. And that sunshine comes right on through those lovely antique glass panes. I did know to wear a mask but should have armed myself with goggles. Yes those KN95 masks not only keep the Covid cooties at bay—they protect against (to some degree) paint fumes, mold, dust, and Windex. Old masks can be cut up to slide into and clean the vents of that nasty mold-infested piece-of-crap window A/C unit.

Did you know that after a new roof you do not get to afford that central air and heat you dreamed of installing? Did you know that after the foundation work is paid for, you have to eat peanut butter sandwiches for the rest of your life? Fortunately, I like peanut butter.

My methodology for interior house painting, generally receives a look of "what the f**k." When getting an estimate from some painters for our interior, we insisted on one coat per room and one gallon per room, to which they empathically said, "Two coats, two gallons." We thanked them for the estimate and walked them to the door. Also they required $300 per room, which was a fair price to charge, of course, but we figured we could save a grand and a half doing it ourselves and our way.

Did you know that a paint brush uses less paint than a roller? We did all the rooms with 3-4 inch-wide brushes and averaged one gallon per room. The trick is to use the primer/paint-all-in-one combo and cover the walls with excessive art to obscure imperfections. Vision-impaired house guests give us rave reviews on the paint job.

Another less-than-professional painting tip from me is to paint around furniture and pictures. This tactic came in handy a few years back when redecorating my apartment. It saved a lot of time and paint and gave new meaning to "coloring out-side the lines." Also, if you run low on pink paint, touch-ups with Pepto Bismal work. Did you know that if you forgot to buy that little itty bitty trimming brush, you can just dip your finger in the paint have at it?

Of course, we bought our first home just in time for an arctic blast. Ahead of that freeze front, all I could think of were pipes, frozen pipes, busted pipes, and an additional bank loan (to add to the others we will never live the centuries needed to pay off). This was our first rodeo with under-the-house pipe wrapping, and I am here to tell you that there is a secret world that lies beneath your floorboards and it is frightening. To think that just inches away, under those heart-of-pine freshly waxed floors is a Neil Gaiman/Stephen King collaboration of horror. This parallel universe is fraught with spiders waiting to greet you, broken glass, and all other forms of discarded debris, and a foundation comprised of rotted support beams and crumbling brick piers. A foundation contractor was booked the next day.

If I had been a brave (and foolish) kid I would have found it worthy of exploration, but if I ever see a child, man, or beast try to crawl under a house I will call 911. Well, except for this one time when I sent Husband under to wrap the pipes (we tried to find a plumber, but they were booked solid ahead of the freeze).

I have never been prouder of him as when he shimmied under the sewer line to dress our pipes in their little winter coats of Styrofoam tubing. I assisted by kneeling on the sidelines. With shoulders to head under the house and my ass catching the frigid rain dripping down my jeans (that reminded me to call roofers to install rain gutters), I provided flash light illumination and I screamed a lot. "Be careful, Darling" was often followed with "Don't you dare break that new sewer line." Love and monetary concerns certainly compete for my attention.

Duct tape is at the top of my list of modern marvels. Of course it is it essential for clothing repairs such as a busted seam. My glue gun reattaches buttons as well. Does this answer your question as to the level of my sewing skills? However, my beloved duct tape can repair pipes, cracked rain gutters, holes in the floor, and plaster cracks from foundation work, you name it. And you thought it was only good for hemming or reattaching that bumper from the fender bender accident at Lowes parking lot.

By the time my next column rolls along, I hope to have many more tidbits of advice to share with you, oh gentle reader. My mentor for such lifestyle/domestic knowledge was the columnist Heloise Bowles Cruse. She penned the column Hints from Heloise, along with many books, dealing with domestic dilemmas. So in the grand tradition set by my mentor, I will honor her and pay tribute (and a huge mortgage) to our new/quite old house AKA Missy Money Pit. Hints from Hell will appear on this page as time goes by, not only imparting great wisdom but also allowing you, my dear reader, to provide me with someone to share the depths of my angst as a homeowner.

One more (and very humbling) "Did You Know" before I sign off. On a given night, there are 500,000-600,000 people experiencing homelessness in the U.S., about 1/3 of whom are sleeping on the streets and 2/3 in shelters (Becker Friedman Institute 6/30/2022).

And they only wish they had a house to crawl under.

Forever Home, Forever Dreams, Forever Expenses

The American dream of home ownership can be perilous and an adventure to say the least.

There's a mysterious pop sound. Then, twenty minutes later, another. Then a flash/spark of light burst forth from the electric wall heater. Oh! and all the electric outlets on one side of the house don't work. They did; now they don't.

Welcome to Day Two of home ownership. And why am I only prescribed ten itty bitty strength valiums a year? Sure the electric stuff will be replaced, repaired, and made safe, but then there's the roof, foundation, sewer lines, not to mention the rain gutters. Ah! but it is all ours—not counting the bank and natural disaster's first dibs on it.

I will never be able to enjoy hurricane season again. Instead of panic-shopping for beer, wine, stockpiles of toilet paper, and pet food, I will be buying tarps, fire extinguishers (actually always had this item), and regretting not having storm windows. I can picture myself flung across the roof to protect the shingles. No more hurricane parties. I will just be staying alert all night reviewing my flood insurance policy by candle light—nix the candles, they're a hazard.

Winter freezes will be another thing, too. I never ever enjoyed approaching cold fronts, but now I will really hate them. As a tenant, we always did our utmost to protect the pipes, the outside washer, and water heater. Last big freeze, I went outside during the night with a blow dryer to warm exposed pipes and ran the dryer to warm the washer. But now all the cats, our dog, Philipe, and I will have to sleep under the house to warm and cuddle the pipes. And you think I am kidding.

I have never owned a house, never uttered the word escrow. Now terms like mortgage, title, lender, estimate, discloser, promissory, and security instrument are nails on the chalkboard to my ears. And the word "documents" fills my heart with dread and my brain with ADHA confusion and overload. Just writing about this has the chronic stress-triggered pinched nerve in my back vying for attention. I have writer's cramps from signing my name in full legal and legible form.

But not all this house hunting and house buying has been painful—much of it has been educational and eye opening. And while it has always filled me with terror to see termite damage on any building anywhere, I now go weak in the knees when I pass a sagging roof, cracked rain gutters pouring water over unprotected window sills, or vinyl siding camouflaging rotting exteriors with lead-based chipping paint. I even look under random houses and shudder at the foundations. But as I said the house hunting has been informative and I walk past buildings now with a curious and keen eye. I notice slate roofs, eaves (closed, boxed and open), gutters, different types of porches and stoops and does the rental side of the double include a handrail (required by insurance). I already had a bit of knowledge of the various styles of architecture found in New Orleans, but now I look to see what kind of attic ventilators adorn the roofs. And my observation does not stop with the houses themselves: Are the trees planted too close to sewer lines? Of course I look to see if the AC compressor is mounted on the roof or ground level. Oh the slippery slope of house gazing—speaking of which aren't those tile steps a liability when it rains?

Clearly I am not totally on board with this home ownership thing. Most folks congratulate us with enthusiasm and seem a bit saddened when I respond with my POW look. I feel trapped and frightened beyond belief. Husband sees a "Forever Home," and I see foreclosure documents. He wants me to take a leap of faith as I teeter at the edge of a cliff. But a leap was made and the hurdle is high and there are and will be plenty of scraped shins as we climb into home ownership.

Oh! Did I tell you? We are now landlords. As you may know most of our New Orleans houses are doubles (duplexes). Used to be this set-up would provide the homeowner with income via the tenants' rent—not so much the case anymore. If you want to not be a part of the problem that renters in this town now face, you can only raise the rent just enough to break-even with the ever rising expenses of ownership.

There is no denying the house has good bones despite a bit of osteoporosis. She is 130 years old but a tough old bird. Yes, she is a lady. I view most houses as of the female persuasion and skyscraper type architecture as male what with the obvious phallic look. She has retained so much of her original charm and despite my best efforts to wish away this purchase it seems this house wants us—like it was simply meant to be (or it's akin to a staph infection that won't go away). Regardless, she is ours now and like a feral cat, we simply must nurture her back to health. She will from now on be named Miss Money Pit. This name, this title, is given with a degree of affection and is most befitting. I will do my best to tend to her and respect the history and craftsmanship of this house. I will make it our home.

New Year, New Goals

The ancient Babylonians have been credited as the first folks to make New Year's resolutions. Of course every culture likes to lay claim as the first to do this and that. But let's just agree that making resolutions is not a new idea, and lord knows, it has been exhausted over and over every year.

We make grandiose plans for self improvement at the end of the calendar year and with great earnestness, implement them on the first day of January—unless of course, one is too hung over from the New Year's Eve party hours earlier. So we nurse our party wounds, watch some football, eat black-eyed peas and cabbage, and begin the next day with vim and vigor. This is a common game plan and a good one, except we often aim too high.

Often I have set rather lofty goals deemed important and then, if I can't reach them, I give up, feel the need to berate myself, and there I am with a new obstacle to overcome—low self-esteem.

Last month, I wrote of empathy and have been seasoning my resolution ideas with this ingredient. I am going to suggest that instead of the usual "self improvement" goals (i.e. weight loss, exercise, less drinking, more yoga, etc.) we focus on improving someone or something else's world. And, most importantly (in my humble assessment), start small—make what you pick to improve doable and even easy. Yes, easy.

There is no shame in striving for improvements that are attainable and easily accomplished. Remember, most New Year's Resolutions (NYR) fail because they do not fit into our everyday routine, budget, or interest. Find a project, person, or a bit of nature that you have the ability to help.

Are you computer/tech/web savvy? Then donate an hour a week to fund raising or campaigning. Help a struggling entrepreneur build his website. If you are a "people person," consider reaching out to that shut-in/house-bound neighbor, who might be terribly lonely and visit them or offer to run an errand for them, even dropping them a greeting card with a few kind words every day. I have a friend in a nursing home that I have totally allowed to drift to my mental back-burner. He doesn't live here but mail is still a treat to receive. Letters, a box of sweets, a phone call are all easy habits I plan to make a part of my routine. Procrastination is my problem. I think I will sit one day and address a month's worth of envelopes and have them stamped and ready to pop in the mail. It's so easy but developing a routine is what will make it happen.

We face many problems within our community and often these issues are above our pay grade, meaning we don't have the means as individuals to fix the city's infrastructure (streets, power-lines, sewers and water systems). Don't get me started on our town's politics, and lack of social and environmental policies and services. However we—you and I—have the ability to make a huge difference in quality of life just outside our front door. The removal of litter is within our means. Litter truly impacts the quality of our lives. It encourages all forms of neighborhood and community disrespect, even crime. A littered street shows a lack of oversight and sends a message that anything goes. A little trash becomes more trash and then vandalism and graffiti are given the green light to move in, and graffiti should not be confused with murals, as fabulous muralists have added much beauty and creativity to our New Orleans' cityscape.

If your resolution list includes litter abatement, pick an area that is small. Be consistent, and bite your tongue when overcome with the urge to curse someone out for not helping or for littering. You will never recruit neighbors to assist if you shame them. Encourage others by example and compliments. Sounds corny? Maybe. But alienating folks never wins. For example, instead of scolding a dog walker for not pooper-scooping, just offer them a bag with a simple comment such as, "Don't ya just hate it when you forget your bags? Here's one for you." Of course your inside voice may scream with abandon, "You lazy lard ass. Pick up your shit and stop embarrassing your poor dog." The same goes for litter. Be proactive and encourage folks to want to help by being a good neighbor. And, again, don't try to clean an entire block—start with the street/sidewalk in front of your home or place of business.

If you feel passionate about a cause, yet unable to write a check or grow your credit card debt, then give your time. Just a few hours a week at a food bank, nursing home, grass roots politics, and/or animal shelter. If you are a cat lover, then helping community cats (feral/homeless) by volunteering with a group or a neighbor can be very rewarding. Contact the SPCA, local veterinary hospitals, and animal welfare activists for information.

The bottom line is to find an attainable goal and make it about something other than you. Inadvertently, in doing so, you actually will be giving yourself a boost, karmic brownie points, and a better sense of worth. And that's a good thing because the better we are, the more we have to contribute to others.


She was walking in the street

Looked up and noticed

He was nameless he was homeless

She asked him his name and

Told him what hers was

—Alicia Keys

The absolute power of a song to reach that soft spot in your heart, to make you—make you—wake up and feel empathy for someone you might have walked past. Every day we unwittingly turn a blind eye to someone that needs to be seen, to be respected. Sure you might never have the resources to rescue that person from the streets, from life under the overpass, but a smile, a hello, can convey respect. And who knows, once you see that person as someone who is more than just a hot mess, once you realize that they have a story and that sometimes reasons beyond their control forced their plight, maybe you will then go a step further to assist them in some manner.

The first time I really listened to "The Underdog" by Ms. Keyes (and co-composers Ed Sheeran, Jonny Coffer, Johnny McDaid, Amy Wadge, Foy Vance), it felt visceral. The words, the music, even the video all hung in my head and played over and over as I walked past those lost souls with an elevated highway for a roof and filthy sidewalks and concrete neutral grounds to live upon. One day heading to work in the Quarter, I walked past a homeless lady who I had side-swiped with a degree of indifference for months—hell, perhaps even a year. But this time I stopped and said, "Good morning," and she looked up and smiled and returned the greeting with a heart-stopping smile. I was surprised by her beauty. Had I assumed she would be some drug/alcohol-addled mess? Was it easier to pass her up each day thinking she self-induced her situation? Perhaps I lumped her in with her milk crates, bags, and all the detritus of her sheltering-in-place. Whatever. The point is I dehumanized her. Unwittingly, yes, but nonetheless. Her articulate manner and loveliness surprised me. And shame on me for forgetting that any of us could be in her situation. We exchanged names and, for a brief moment each day, now we exchange pleasantries. Her name is Lois. Will I ever be in a position to really help her? I do not know. But I like to think it all begins with respect.

Empathy is the first step to respect. Once this emotion is tapped into and you have a moment to walk in their shoes, so to speak, you can better respect how life feels in those shoes.

It has long been understood that reading fiction helps to develop empathy, just as journalism, film, theater, and music have the power to enhance and nurture compassion and understanding. Take for example how a film or a theater production can illustrate a point, present an alternate viewpoint, or simply put you in the shoes of another. For a couple of hours, you can become one with a character (historical or fictitious) and be immersed in their world. And the power of good television can allow someone to see the humanity in someone that they might otherwise never know.

Let's consider All in the Family (Norman Lear's CBS comedy, 1971-1979), which gave people like my parents, from the comfort of their recliners, an opportunity to "invite" Black folks into their home. For many Americans living in White communities, this was a big deal. Whether by choice or happenstance, many towns are without diversity, especially back in the 70s in places like my hometown of Mobile. And the same goes for Black families that never knew an Archie Bunker and never got to even imagine that some redneck could actually have a heart. Yes, I am over-simplifying the complex issue of systemic racism and social segregation, but I stand by my belief that any inroad into another person's world creates empathy. How can you laugh with and love a character and not reconsider, in real life, preconceived notions about those people seemly different from yourself?

Music is visceral. The poignant and gut-kicking lyrics of Tre Burt's "By the Jasmine" exemplify the dangers of walking while Black. The song's hero, Dante, simply went for a walk one night, headphones on, and, "He let the soundtrack move him through the city…Karen Johnson was out jogging…she bought a house for next to nothing…across the street from where our hero lays his head..And on a poor lit street she saw Dante standing…to her he looked like a big black gun…reached for her phone dialed 911 and in a matter of minutes Dante was gone."

Maybe my white privilege will never place me first hand within such a tragedy that the Dantes of the world face daily, but I, we, must not only know of these societal atrocities but feel them and take them to heart.

Not all of life's lessons involve pain and death, but they do require attention. Understanding, sympathy, and empathy most certainly can grease the wheels and make everyday life smoother and kinder. Sometimes it isn't literature or music that summons a rapport with someone else—it can be as simple as remembering that first day at a job when you screwed up everything and were so grateful for an understanding and patient customer. Be that customer next time your server or cashier is only human and in error. And take a moment to look up and smile at a person you pass on the street. They might just need to feel respected, if only by a stranger. And if lucky, you both rise up.

One conversation, a simple moment

The things that change us if we notice

When we look up, sometimes

—Alicia Keyes.

Faded Memories

Sometimes the good ole days make it hard to reconcile the present.

My French Quarter is slowly disappearing. This, of course, is how long-time Quarterites must have felt back in 1989, when I first moved here. I accepted their observations and knew it to be true that much was gone. Memories remained but the actual businesses and dwellers they had known for so long were dying off or being priced out. All the love in the world for this historic and quirky neighborhood could not tether the soul and life of its inhabitants securely. However, not having had to say goodbye to what had been there before my U-Haul pulled into my new home was wickedly weird and wonderful. Bohemia still held a strong foothold in the Vieux Carré. And I suspect even the old-timers would have agreed then that it was still possible to live there on the cheap.

My first apartment reflected the "new" that was to come—gutted and remodeled, with a real-estate company as the face of ownership. Affordable, unlike gentrified apartments today (but kinda high for those days) and I was grateful; yet, I later realized this was a glimpse to the future of rentals. However, it was 1989 and for the next twenty plus years, the Quarter was affordable. In fact, the city was affordable. After four years, I found a truly inexpensive French Quarter apartment with solid landlords, nice folks—not a corporate manager. In 2008, my renter's good luck held as Husband and I segued out of the Quarters down the road to Bayou St. John.

I suspect we were a city undiscovered—a romantic and strange place to visit but not to actually move to. Oh sure, there were many, like myself, who knew "home" when we saw it. Those that fell in love with her moved here but somehow this town was still off the radar. Exactly why, I don't pretend to know. Much of my observations are felt rather than researched. The historians and urban planners can walk you through the economics and such, but I simply know that things began to change in earnest after Katrina.

The world watched as an American city drowned, as waters raged and slowly receded. This was before catastrophic unnatural disasters and failing infrastructures became a daily occurrence world-wide. We were the heartbreaker, the canary in the mine, and folks gave money and came to rescue us. Humanity stood up for humanity and many of those volunteers fell in love while here and pledged their hearts to New Orleans. Those newbies were invaluable to us here. But greed sniffed them out and often empowered slum lords to lure them into higher rents than we locals would ever have considered. And then the opportunistic carpet-bagger-developers joined in.

Tourism slowly grew as the city dried out and steadily increased. With it, came visitors who were willing to look beyond Bourbon Street and take in the music, food, and culture. We were the darling of the media—the Comeback Kids. And I personally feel indebted to the media for its continued focus on our struggle to rebuild and the loving attention it gave to our creative verve and uniqueness. Young (and older) entrepreneurs moved here and brought fresh energy into the city. They supported our culture, music, opened micro-breweries, bakeries, cafes, and brought an element of environmental activism into the mix. I applaud these urban pioneers and the tourist dollars spent with purpose and devotion. But fame has its price and we became too popular and rents began to edge up and up. Soon it became hard to differentiate between heart-felt immersion into our various neighborhoods and gentrification.

In thinking about my former life as a resident/Quarterite/Quarter-Rat of the French Quarter, I zoomed out over the entire city. Please allow me to refocus on the Quarter. Lately (for me), it resembles a faded photograph pulled from a dusty scrapbook. I took a long hiatus from my former haunts and upon return (I'm blessed with a lovely job in the Quarter), my daily walks from the bus stop to work are akin to a stroll through a cemetery. Businesses, apartments, and most of my old haunts have truly become haunts. The demise of a business or the condo-fication of former apartments hurts me to the bone. Passing a locals' watering-hole where the barstools were once occupied by now deceased friends is something I take personally. There is a malaise that has settled, like dust, over much of the Quarter. The Pandemic and economy take blame for much. But time, age, and death take its toll, and the replacement troops have not fully arrived.

Perhaps I have just been living outside the French Quarter so long that its lack of trees and grass, birds and squirrels, and brightly painted exteriors have dimmed my view of it. Yet, there is a disrepair and sadness to the sidewalks and streets. And too many buildings are occupied by foot massage businesses where once a uniquely New Orleans shop thrived. Look closely, and you can see that way too many restaurants are owned by the same corporations. The once illegal t-shirt shops that plagued the Quarter thirty years back are now gussied up as gift shops—but all the same company. Uniqueness has been on life-support for some time now.

The other morning as I walked to work, feeling out of place and regretting the passing of familiar days, someone I hadn't seen in years popped up on the sidewalk. We hugged, talked, and we were the same folks we had been. And after that much needed trip down memory lane I realized there was still a lane, a sidewalk, just waiting for me to create new memories. Funny how the Quarter looked a bit brighter after that, and a bit of color seemed to flush forth.

Trick or Treat

Before Halloween was marketed, beaten, and transformed into a holiday "season" and taken over by adults as a "party" it was fodder for kick-ass nightmares, tall tales, and paper bags filled with sweets.

Halloween was that one night of the year when the line between "this" world and the "other" was blurred. You felt you could slip between life and death and it was the fear of the Boogie Man, the Grim Reaper, ghosts, and goblins that made this one evening unique for us kids. We knew nothing of its history, we just knew that on October 31 as the sun went down, our adrenaline went up. When I was a kid, we never trick or treated during the daytime, and we certainly never attempted to change the date of this respected, revered, and feared holiday.

Of course, that plunge into fear was sweetened with more candy than the Easter Bunny could bestow. Belly aches and dental degradation always loomed large but was worth it. And the treats garnered on Halloween night always carried clout and could be traded at school the next day like baseball cards. I was that kid who put more stock in the treats than in tricks. The only memorable tricks I recall were rolling yards with toilet paper. And frankly, I can say for sure that I never participated in these shenanigans because that would have detracted from energy spent filling my bag to the brim with candy. But all us kids sure got a kick, if only vicariously, out of seeing the aftermath of what looked like a Roto-Rooter explosion. And, guilty or not, our parents gave us the stink eye for days after.

Costumes were first and foremost for most kids. I have already admitted my devotion to sugary confections, but costuming was right up there as a priority. I still remember which aisle of the TG & Y five and dime store that hosted ready-made costumes. My favorite was the skeleton with its one-piece black jumpsuit with the embossed shiny glittery bones and, of course, a plastic skull mask. There must have been troops of us dressed-alike skeletons prancing through my neighborhood. Again, all that free candy holds court over my memories. Sure dressing up was fun and a very important part of this celebration of the macabre. But tell me the truth. Snagging a full size Hershey bar—wasn't that the bottom line?

Momma had many stipulations about what kind of treats I could consume. She was a bit of a germaphobe; therefore, treats had to be in original wrappers—not homemade cookies, Rice Krispy bars, or candied apples. Apples (or any fresh fruit) were a perceived threat because, as we all knew, razor blades might be inserted and waiting to cut off my Chatty-Cathy tongue. Yet there was a disconnect to this safety precaution regarding fruit when encouraged to snack from the fruit bowl the rest of the time.

"No, you cannot have that candy or cookie. If you want something sweet grab a piece of fresh fruit."

"But what about the razor inside?"

"Oh don't be silly. You've been watching too many horror movies."

Parents were quick to rewrite the rules. But I was fine with abiding by the urban myth of danger to politely decline a healthy treat and go for the Three Musketeers bar.

Then, just like today, one of our parents was selected to escort a small mob of kids from the neighborhood to various houses so the other parents or older siblings could hand out the treats and make all the predictable oohing and aahing over our costumes. Then, unlike today, Halloween decorations were pretty simple and generally consisted of hand-carved pumpkins with candles inside. There were of course the ghosts made of old sheets and tethered to the porch or trees—trees that might soon be home to streamers of toilet paper. And despite never having been a "roller," my mom wasn't taking any chances—all toilet paper was removed from my reach starting on Halloween afternoon and until I returned home that evening. The tissue was doled out on an "as needed" only basis. A mom couldn't be too careful. These precautions didn't so much apply to the chaperoned young kiddies as to those deemed old enough to trick or treat without adult supervision.

There was that age when we could be allowed to roam the neighborhood without an adult. And while we might have thought ourselves all grown-up at ten we were actually more easily frightened by the boogie man. We would never admit it to each other but we all knew that the parental barrier against monsters worked and now, without adults, Halloween had that delicious edge of nervous fear. What we didn't know was that the things that went "bump" in the night were parents hovering nearby keeping a low profile eye on us, and that missing roll of Scott 1,000 sheet single-ply tissue.

Only now as an adult, can I appreciate how scary it must have been for my parents to grant me the freedom to venture out without their hand-holding and words of caution. Halloween was that cautionary tale of hidden perils and gave us kids our first taste of danger. It was a time, a coming-of-age moment when urban myths and superstitions were all we had to fear. It was a practice dry-run for the dangers that reality had to offer. I was a lucky kid and only had to face the fear of my first candy-induced cavity. Sadly, there's not enough Novocaine to blunt today's monsters.


The Thin Red Line

I was no longer Teflon Mary. I had crossed the line and was now Typhoid Mary.

There we were, cruising along, feeling like we'd traveled past the danger after so many close calls, accidents, and poor judgments. Finally, we felt safer, like we had distanced ourselves from the relentless attacks. We were on cruise control, when a precautionary glance into the rearview mirror let us know it wasn't over. There we were—jacked by the Covid Cootie Monster.

For well over two years, I (Husband included) have been brushing past potential danger, but with eyes wide open, face fully and tightly masked, and packin' a can of Lysol. I poured over enough data to qualify as an epidemiologist. My conversational vocabulary increased with words and terms I had never uttered before: viral load, immunocompromised, variant, monoclonal, incubation, and intubation. And oh the oxymorons: social distancing, flatten the curve, virtual hugs. And hats off to the WHO for juggling music and the health needs of the world.

I felt my sincere interest and concern over this contagion and my deep affection for masking would spare me. But my adherence to masking, which I believe was and still is the best defense, began to wane. And damn it, I actually look younger with a mask and saved a ton on sunscreen as half my face was covered. I had mastered great eye contact and learned to emote with my eyes and the raising of my brows. I thought maybe I had honed some skills worthy of auditions for local theater. Just give me a can of Lysol, and I could make an entrance in a cloud of disinfectant.

The vaccine—the holy grail—was created and manufactured in record time (in my humble opinion), and I was proud and delighted to take my four shots. I was going for a record for most nasal swab tests taken. The drive-up testing site run by the National Guard became a regular thing for hubby and I—they greeted us by name when we drove up. I could cram a Q-tip swab up my nose in my sleep if need be, and not flinch. I know, weird shit to be proud of.

"Why so many tests?" folks would ask. Well, Husband and I both discovered how fun it was to volunteer with food distributions. Sure it was helpful to folks in need but, if being honest, we got so much more from it. We made many friends, and it was a fabulous way to socialize (especially back during lock down) and be helpful; however, work required working in close proximity to others, so even with strict masking, it just seemed logical to test often. An outbreak could shut down a food site.

Okay, you get it—I enthusiastically, almost patriotically, embraced Covid protocol. And I will admit that when it got stupidly polarizingly politicized, I wore my mask and tested with a rebellious righteousness. But as we all know, masks only work when you wear 'em. Think condom: if not properly worn, then—well you know what can happen. And I let my guard down more often than I should have. Same went and still goes for so many, many very conscientious folks. Just take Jazz Fest, for example.

Jazz Festers are ultimately one of the best crowds to be in. Some years back, my friend Gallivan said of the out-of-town festers as they poured into NOLA: "The collective IQ of our city just went up." But despite the "cool" and the appreciation shown at this creative festival, not to mention the monies lavished upon us by locals and visitors alike, we were also showered with a whole bunch of airborne cooties. And lord knows I was in that number of unmasked festers. How I escaped that one was dumb luck.

And I tried my luck again and again, like being seated in the Saenger with 2,600 other Hamilton enthusiasts. Once more—luck. I had so many close calls with those who tested Covid-positive during the past two plus years—and again, I was always unscathed. I was about to turn myself in to Tulane for any studies they might be doing on Covid immunities.

Around this time, despite my uncanny good luck, I started masking more and more. The numbers were going up and up. It seemed like most folks I knew were getting it, and for some, a second time. Of course, these people were vaccinated and boosted but the vaccine doesn't give you superpowers. The vaccine is designed to keep you alive in the event you become infected. It is a miracle drug, in my opinion—one that saves lives and lessens pain and suffering. It never claimed to make you bullet proof or non-contagious. But every single day, I hear a well intentioned, seemingly smart person try and put my mind at ease when they walk into my place of employment without a mask (optional) with the, "Oh! I am double boosted." We, at work, have chosen to wear masks since day one and never for a moment lifted this voluntary protocol for ourselves. And thank god, because I can silently mouth behind the privacy of my KN95, "You dumb fucker."

Call me a hypocrite—I wouldn't blame you. I fuss at myself for letting my guard—and my mask—down. I believe this is how I got run over by the Cootie Monster, but the vaccines and the Paxlovid (a 5-day treatment) have saved my grateful ass. Today is July 22, 2022, and we are currently in a 6th surge—enhanced, I guess, by the new variants. When this goes to press, perhaps the situation will have improved. And by the time this column is being read by you in October, maybe you can let your guard down. But baby, I am gonna keep my eye on the rearview mirror.


Back To School Days Revisited

This is my "Thank You" to teachers, librarians, and all others involved in education from principals to cafeteria workers. I salute you.

"Back to school days" were never something I looked forward to. I have always been taken aback when a kid tells me they can't wait for school to start. I never fully connected with school. Sure, I made some good friends through the years and managed to learn a thing or two, but much of it was an exercise in procrastination.

Delaying my homework assignments was a thing. Starting the first grade a year late didn't garner me any cred among classmates who thought I had "failed" kindergarten. My birth date fell in an awkward place for enrollment, and I had a bit of a speech impediment that I outgrew quickly—my speech therapist said I was just in too big of a hurry to get my words out. Whatever. Insecurity and what was, and still to this day is, most likely ADHD were packed into my school box alongside pencils and plenty of erasers.

Having gone to Catholic school for eight years—I was set free of the nuns when I shifted to public high school—I never got to enjoy back-to-school shopping for my wardrobe. I was fitted for uniforms and ugly saddle shoes, and my creative spirit just hated this. Of course, as an adult, I now see much merit in uniforms, and those shoes look kinda cool nowadays. Aside from fashion, don't get me started on the rather repressed nuns with rulers, and the strong grip Sister Agnes had when yanking my hair to reign me in. Funny, I must have had the last of the old guard of nuns because years later, some of my heroes of social justice were Catholic nuns. In fact, a dear friend of mine is a nun.

It is a given that I was a little heathen; therefore, a teacher, especially a nun, had every reason to regard me as an adversary. But I was also scared of them and not very understanding of the penguin outfit they wore, and even more intimidated by the arithmetic applied to the blackboard with that nail scratching squeal from the chalk. Oh! very little about school appealed to me except for recess and those little cartons of chocolate milk.

High school was more exciting and allowed for a bit of fashion sense to develop, but I still hadn't mastered the art of learning. Certainly, there were teachers and curriculums that engaged me, but I still glazed over in pure terror during algebra. I passed only because my stare-straight-ahead-hostage-eye-contact with the math presented on the chalkboard was mistaken for effort and concentration, but it was nothing more than me holding my breath until the bell rang. English and art—I loved both, but I suspect I could have been more studious.

My senior year was spent skipping classes and escaping the campus like a soldier under fire. I was really good at this. When not belly crawling my way to freedom, I did attend all three lunch breaks—cafeteria food back then was home-made, and I really was dedicated to showing my respect to the kitchen staff by showing up for seconds and thirds. Needless to say, I did clearly see the handwriting on the wall and knew I would lack the credits to graduate with my Class of '72, so I took the initiative to drop out and spare everyone any further drama. Upon reflection, I have come to question the wisdom of that decision.

Despite my less than sensible exit from formal education, I have few regrets about the path my life took afterwards. I easily landed in the wonderful and wacky world of food and beverage. I was extremely lucky to be articulate, smart, and white.

Yes, being white opened doors for me that more deserving folks of color were not privy to. I am not particularly proud of my skin color, but it allowed me jobs and apartments that my Black friends struggled to get.

Aside from this guilt segue, I am reasonably happy with my career and experiences, but if I had it to do over again, I would like to have learned more. And I wish I had been guided or counseled in ways to deal with my deficiencies in focus and whatever the heck made not only math but most of school so frightening. We didn't have names for dyslexia, ADHD, and all those things. My mom called it my lack of "stick-to-it-iveness;" therefore, I always thought this was a flaw that I should control—that it was my fault. Mom wasn't being mean. I just must've seemed lazy. Now, I suspect that I simply didn't have the tools to work it out.

Teachers today have so many more "tools" to work with and to assist students. Of course, students need to do their part and many do. I am so impressed with Mayor Eric Adams of New York. He was diagnosed with a learning disability in college, and, today, he is introducing dyslexia screenings into his central policy. Sometimes, things do really change for the better.

In recent years, I've come to revere teachers. I also realize, a bit late, that I had some amazing teachers and wish I could have reached out to them to say thank you. The best I can do is thank those involved today in education for their service. For without good teachers, our chances for a smarter and more just world are slim. I enjoy telling teachers that one day, maybe not now, but there will be a time when that student they feel they can't reach, can't influence, will sing their praises—albeit later in life. To all who gave of themselves to teach me: Thanks, your efforts did pay off.


Dinosaurs Still Roam

More and more, I see my life, even my recent past, as seemingly obsolete. Oh! I am fairly current and more than relevant today, yet much that is near and dear to me has become a thing of the past in the eyes of younger folks. And not just sentimental stuff but simple everyday, commonplace terms, phrases, and references that were second nature to me. I first noticed this a decade ago as my elevator humor caused a "duh" look among the other riders in the lift (there I go again—a term no one uses). Anyway, I thought myself clever with my, "Second floor: ladies' apparel," or "Fifth floor: household goods and appliances. Watch your step please." That's when I realized I had outgrown my hotel elevator audience—they were too young to have known that lady operators clad in snappy uniforms once controlled the elevator and its etiquette.

A few years back, in my book shop, I often had to take credit card info directly from a customer and when requesting the security code for the card, I would follow with, "And now we will share the secret hand-shake and your decoder ring will be mailed to you." Then one day my two twenty-something customers paused, a bit confused, until one said to the other, "Oh! I'll explain it to you later. I saw it in an old movie." Also, I was beginning to notice a curious look when I would count back a customer's change—they were now accustomed to a computerized register doing the math and flashing "change due." Both ways achieve the same results, but mine required being able to count—a little motor/brain skill no longer widely used. At this rate adding two and two will soon require a calculator.

Does anybody remember phone numbers anymore? You know—have them stored in your head—your memory. It began with speed dial on my landline, and that was a slippery slope. Now our devices store and remember these for us. Is this healthy for our brains? Perhaps we shouldn't overburden our gray matter with mundane stuff; yet, doesn't our memory need the exercise? Then again, don't we get enough of a work-out just trying to remember all those damn passwords and user names we are burdened with these days? To protect ourselves from identity theft, we're told not to use the same ones for everything—screw that. They want my weird-ass identity (and all my neuroses), they can have it, and I say best of luck.

Another rear-view moment recently was the discussion with a young tourist, of my childhood road trips from Mobile (hometown) to New Orleans. They asked how long a drive that was, and I replied, "Well, before the Interstate, it was a four to five hour drive." They just stared at me. I responded to that look, "Yes, I am that old." For that look of near pity, just give someone under fifty your AOL email address—@aol really freaks them out. God, I just wanna slap 'em with a flip phone. Okay, with a degree of regret, I must fess up: I no longer have a burner phone (you get more street cred asking the Boost Mobile sales assistant for a burner). Fun fact: Guinness World Records lists Debbie Lindsey as the "Last Person on the Planet to Get a Cell Phone."

When dinosaurs roamed, we had phones that remained attached to our houses. They did not fit in your pocket, or your ear, and they only accepted a human voice for communication. No typing notes, no viewing movies or TicToking, no breaking news. They still exist and are known as landlines, but their habitat is shrinking. You didn't talk on them during dinner or when you had company. Only doctors and drug dealers had mobile phones, and they were big and looked like a walkie-talkie, also referred to as "the brick." And it wasn't that long ago that cell phones were not allowed and/or frowned upon at work. Now, you damn well better have a cell on you at all times for work related interactions. Times change; rules change.

The Good Ole Days never really existed. Racism went virtually unchecked, and women were kept in check. There was no LGBTQ, just a lot of lives lived in secret with unnecessary, unwarranted shame. Therefore, I am relieved for much that is gone and grateful for so many of today's changes and advances. But much change is careless, profit driven, and cloaked in the disguise of progress. Replacing people (jobs) with self-serve check-outs, gutting the soul of a historic cottage, and placing digital tablets, cell phones, and e-books in the hands of children without at least showing them the beauty of a real book and the pleasures of a library. Change requires thought and care.

Admittedly I'm spoiled by the conveniences our current world provides. Do I find it easier to write this column from a device that allows me to edit, spell-check, research, attach, send, and make copies without carbon paper? Heck yeah. Do I find this piece of equipment to be a mine-field of rabbit holes and mindless distractions? Yes. Did I rail against digital cameras? Vehemently. Do I use my cell phone camera now? Constantly. I feel conflicted, like a sell-out. So I suggest to myself and others: compromise. Stay current, enjoy the perks, but take the time to dust off that vinyl, check-out that library book, get lost in the genius of classic films, and bake a batch of cookies from scratch.

The other day, I saw evidence of roaming dinosaurs. First, there was a young boy content with a real book. Then, a young woman was reading a newspaper. Later, a twenty-something spoarting a Golden Girls T-shirt was loading film into her Minolta. Maybe we're not extinct, just endangered.


Evidence of Dinosaurs

This magazine has allowed me a space for over twenty years to rant, reminisce, rejoice, and review everything from Jazz Fest to my earlier life in Mobile and subsequent escape to my beloved New Orleans. I have climbed upon my soapbox and written about social and political issues and you, dear readers, have endured my opinions on all. I have been repetitive with my Katrina experiences, initiation into the Who Dat Nation, years as a waitress, my cats, my dogs, my family, and my friends. I wrote about a bag of flour, a cockroach, a cast iron skillet, a house, litter—just about everything I could think of. Oh! And the Covid Cootie Monster nudged my writer's block many times. Jobs, relationships, health issues, and my love of food have gifted me with many topics to exploit. Yet, every month my deadline looms over me like a loaded gun. I panic and can't think of a topic. And then along comes Tony, a neighbor, and once again I am brimming over with stuff to say-to write about. I want to use my column as a "thank you" card to all the Tonys in this neighborhood.

In a matter of one hour, Tony walked by my porch to chat, joke, and share political commiserations and kindly give me a Covid test-kit to assuage my concerns over my attendance at Jazz Fest (super-spreader event?). Then another visit over the fence with Mary, and, on her heels, came a lovely gal bringing me a gift her mom made for me—a cloth purse bursting with a sunflower print (solidarity for Ukraine). So despite the time-lag from today (May 9) to this July issue, I am able to send them a "thank you." For all my pontifications and bitching that this column has expressed through the years, I am also able to openly share my love for so many people, places, and things (thanks dear editors). Also my writer's constipation of what to expound upon this issue has been resolved. My neighbors once again have come to the rescue in allowing me to exploit them for my word count.

Many New Orleanians (and those visitors/readers from other hoods) have great neighborhoods, but, with due respect, I think my neighbors are the best. Okay, you may think yours are and then that just means there truly are more good people than not. It's a win/win situation. But allow me to shout out my peeps.

You know who you are—you're the neighbor that makes me feel like a million bucks by taking the time to say good morning, to remember my dog's name, forgive her barking, and shower compliments over my garden. You are the neighbor that drops a Gambit off on my porch every week for me. You are the neighbor that sewed face masks to protect Husband and me. You are the neighbor who rescued birds from a gutter and expected no thanks for such kindness.You are David and Mary who power washed our entire block's sidewalks with the help of Gene and Chris, and many others, kept our street clean during Jazz Fest. And hurricane season always requires much prep and clean-up and showcases the best in team efforts. I remember Tom, just off from work, still dressed in his "good" clothes, cleaning a neighbor's storm drain and gutter in anticipation of street flooding since they were out of town. Same thanks go to Rene, Karen, Chris, Lezley, Margaret, Christian, Michael, and the list goes on and on of those who pitch in when needed.

Manuel gets the humanitarian award for giving his front steps and porch over to the dining needs of two slightly homeless/mostly nomad cats. And, Manuel, thanks for sharing your trash bins with me when my grass clippings and yard trimmings overwhelm my garbage can. (Hey Mayor, how's 'bout a composting program?) My gardening passion also relies on Christian for allowing me to clutter his alley space with all my rakes and brooms—thanks for never once bitching about it. In addition, I rely on your humor which has always made me howl.

There is something special about this entire neighborhood. Maybe it's not unusual to have a familiarity and even friendship with those next door or across the street, but block after block, folks are so friendly, approachable. Perhaps it's due, in part, to New Orleans with her style of architecture that gives most a front porch or stoop to socialize from. Also more folks than not have dogs that are tethered to them for daily walks. We may not know all the bipeds' names, but we damn sure know each other's dog's name. Yo, Rocket, Roxie, Maple.

Husband and I live at the crossroads of Maurepas Street and North Lopez between Liuzza's by the Track and the Holy Land (Jazz Fest). And this corner house was a godsend during the Pandemic because most everyone passed us with walks to Canseco's Grocery and Terranova's (open as "essentials" during lock-down). Also folks could safely take to the streets with their kids and dogs for some social outings. Our porch allowed us a chance to meet all the folks in the neighborhood and friendships were formed or grew. I know this was a common occurrence everywhere back then, but I still stand by the uncommon friendliness of this little hamlet.

Before I ramble aimlessly anymore and wear out my welcome with you, my patient readers, please indulge me one final shout-out to my neighbors. Thank you John and Mabel for allowing us the privilege of renting half your wonderful house—you rock. And to each and every business and neighbor that makes this a special place-take a bow. You guys lift my spirits and make my life sweet.

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