Sunday, January 24, 2016

Carnival Time in Our NOLA Neighborhood

The Mardi Gras spirit goes on for several weeks before the actual day, and people - friends, neighbors and strangers - regularly wish everyone they pass, "Happy Mardi Gras." The spirit is real in south Louisiana, and most houses are decorated; people here feel Mardi Gras; it is real, and at least as vivid as the holiday season between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The major parades - 33 of them in the New Orleans area - go on for more than two weeks. Our neighbor, however, adds to this pageantry by hosting two (minor, unofficial) walking groups that parade annually during this time. He states a simple formula for attracting these wildly-outfitted groups that march to music that they provide - beer, tables full of glasses of beer.

So, these wild-and-fun 50-80 people draped in gaudy and beautiful robes, hats and other outfits - shout and smile and converse with all who mingle with them (including Holly and me), drink beer for 15 or 20 minutes, and then proceed on their route that goes for two miles or more through Uptown New Orleans. One of these groups arrives at a reasonable hour, but the other usually arrives next door to us at 7:00 a.m., noisy and excited but always fun, and always cheerful and friendly.

Mardi Gras is much, much more than rabidly shouting tourists in the French Quarter; it is an annual groundswell of good-will and merry-making for people of all kinds and all ages - and all mixed together - almost universally friendly and safe and joyous ... and communal. Mardi Gras is part of who we are, from Mobile, Alabama (home of the first Mardi Gras parades), through all of southern Louisiana to the Texas border. Laissez les bon temps roulez!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Another Day

It was another day in Amurrica - a day dominated by reports of the Witless One From Wasilla screeching, blaming, lying and failing to complete a sentence.

After an hour of reading about this, I left home to walk to a doctor's appointment and found America, again. I spoke to a man sitting at a bus stop who was wearing a NY Yankees baseball cap, and we talked about the prospects for the upcoming season. He asked about the Cardinals when he saw my cap. It was a nice interaction, one I initiated because I wanted to be engaged in this place that I love, that is home, and be back in America again, at least for awhile.

It had rained sometime before I was awake, so the streets were partly wet, partly dry. It is winter, but in New Orleans that means that it is likely not to be too hot to wear jeans; it was about 65 and very pleasant.

I went on to see my doctor and had a good talk with her; as usual, she had worthwhile suggestions, including "accept yourself; you are okay and fairly normal. You are handling things/life much better than you once did." She listened well, and I felt more accepting of my situation by the time I left. I was intending to walk home, but drizzly rain began so I took the bus, which luckily arrived just as I got to the bus stop. 

When I got home, I took a nap, which felt good. The craziness is still going on in Amurrica - two nitwits gave speeches blaming Obama about nearly everything, and at Oral Roberts Looniversity, to bad. What a mess; what a country.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

A Tired, Valued Friend

Holly and I were walking to the library and encountered our friend, the first person we had met when we moved here - and a man who feels like an anchor to us in our neighborhood. Our friend (who I choose not to name) was a civil rights worker in the 1960's, after quitting school at 16. He worked throughout Mississippi and south Louisiana. In his 20's he completed high school and went to college up north. He became an architect and built multiple dwelling buildings in poor areas that surround the college where he taught, in a major northeastern city.

Our friend told us that his father had passed on almost two weeks ago. He seemed thoughtful and calm, and he told us he was relieved. His dad was 96 and had been bedridden in our friend's home for three years. Our friend's mother had also been bedridden in his home until her passing two years ago.

Our friend said he had confined himself to his home since his father's death, only coming out - like just now - to get food. He has been reclaiming his house, cleaning and putting back in order things that were put away when his parents moved in, one by one. He said he did not want any help, wanted only to clean baseboards and walls, replace items in their original position; and he wanted solitude.

It was a gift for Holly and me to see and spend a little time with our friend. It was gratifying to see him relieved, and to hear him say, "I accomplished what I set out to do. Dad did not get sick or have to go to the hospital for the three years I took care of him. He did not die in agony. He was peaceful and died in his sleep."

Now that is a blessing.

Chicken Dreaming Corn, a novel

I was reminded of this book by Roy Hoffman, which I consider to be The Great American Novel, when I read a tweet this morning by the NBC foreign correspondent , who mentioned a bakery founded in Brooklyn by a Syrian immigrant. Chicken Dreaming Corn is the story of a neighborhood in Mobile, Alabama, that featured a number of immigrants from several countries. I always feel glad when I remember this amazing book because the story is great while the feel is very, very personal. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Some Benefits From Being There

"Wake up. Wake up, Rick. Our neighbor has been in an accident and needs us." That was the beginning of this morning ... or, more accurately, that was the beginning of the part of the morning when I was willing to become awake. I had been awake shortly after dawn but settled back into sleep - and into one of my traveling or movement dreams, a pleasant one. When the wake-up call came, with soft pinches of toes and rubbing of feet, and a gentle but alarmed voice by my loving partner Holly, I rose readily although gingerly. It was 8:30 a.m., and I knew I had had enough sleep to be able to function as our neighbor needed me to do; but I was a bit stiff and not yet alert.

I got dressed, washed my face to get more awake, then went into the kitchen to heat some coffee to help more with waking up. Holly told me that our neighbor was not hurt, but that her car was damaged; and she needed us to pick her up. So, we drove to where we thought she was, called from the car when we did not find her, and then got to her location, where she was talking to a police officer.

The sky had been grey, and the temperature mild when we arrived. As time passed, while we waited for the AAA man to load her car onto the tow truck, the sky finished clearing, but it seemed a bit cooler. There was no more spattering of rain, so I had left my Cardinals baseball cap in the car.

I watched the tow truck operator, impressed at the skill he showed in his work: one wheel and tire were at a cock-eyed angle, and he had to remove them and guide the car up the ramp of the trunk without causing further damage to the suspension or other under-carriage parts of our friend's car. This took a number of different actions on his part, using a multiple-step process of leveraging the car and clearing space. He was patient and careful, and he did his work competently without rushing. As someone with few physical skills, I admire people who can actually do things, can take something that is not working, or not working optimally, and cause it to function well. This man could.

Holly and I were at the scene for a little over an hour, our friend and neighbor more than three, when we were able to leave and return home. We were both impressed at how calm and accepting our friend was, although we knew that this accident had caused - and would cause - substantial stress and inconvenience to her. For the second time today, I was impressed with the skills of another person.

The three of us talked through the detritus of having been through the accident scene: did she need food; verifying that we would be home all day should she need us, confirming that we would be available to take her to see her doctor should that need arise today or tomorrow. We all expressed gratitude for being one another's neighbor - and friend - there to help when one of us needed it.

Then Holly and I went upstairs to have some coffee and go on with our day. From my point of view the day had started off very well.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Living Through an Anxious Day

Yesterday, after an early surprise, I confronted the anxiety I felt and found a surprising response: "regardless of result, it will be all right." So, I ate regularly, read a lot, moved around a little, waited awhile, read some more, contemplated a nap ... did not take it, but read some more.

In earlier times I have had trouble handling anxiety - lots of trouble. I have spent much - way too much - of my life wondering worriedly "What if?" (This worry has not led to commensurate accomplishment.)

A valued result came yesterday from fearful but direct and honest action the day before. Some insight came to me as a result of committing to open communication yesterday. Some freedom resulted today from lessening of the power of yesterday's anxiety.

So, openness has been fruitful in results and in feeling at (relative) peace. I will endeavor to be more peaceful ... and therefore fruitful.

[I continue to be grateful for the words and wisdom of Alan Watts, Gail Wilson and Jason Weston.]

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Paying Attention to What We Need

I know that I ought to - no, must - eat at least every two hours. My body does not work like the bodies of most people, so I eat every two hours. That seems simple, and usually this does not cause any problem. Yesterday, though, I lost track of how long it had been since I ate, even though I had eaten a good meal and did not feel hungry.

So, as we were walking back from the library I became, without any warning, ill at ease, a little bit physically unstable and anxiously aware that I needed to eat, right away, in order not to fall over. We were half a block from our destination - La Boulangerie - a wonderful bakery in our neighborhood. We went in, and I hurriedly picked something, something sweet with quick-metabolizing sugar. I had time to pay and walk to the table. I thought I had time to do those actions and eat, and thus be okay, but I did not. I was able to eat but not able to stave off what had already begun. After eating and taking some glucose pills we walked home, and I drank a glass of water and went to bed. Three hours later, I woke up and felt fine but was, in fact, worn. After staying up till bedtime, I slept ten more hours.

This is just one of those things - really, it is not too bad, and not dangerous. But it is something that changes the days of people with Type II diabetes. Everyone gets hungry; but if I wait to eat until I notice I am hungry it is likely too late to avoid an incident like this, resulting in my body needing a lot of sleep in order to get back to what seems to be normal functioning. I say "seems to be normal functioning" because that is just a guess, because during the extra sleep time I am neither eating nor hydrating - another requirement that diabetics must do regularly, not only when they are thirsty, to avoid becoming disoriented.

Aging, of course, makes changes in our bodies and in what is normal for each of us. I have been fortunate in not having too many things go wrong. The onset of diabetes a few years ago gave me a glimpse of how bodily deterioration can go. Of course, it could be much (and may later be) worse, and for many people it is. I remember thinking - really believing - that if I were ever faced with a malady or affliction that required a major change in my habitual behaviors I would simply thumb my nose at that ... and say, "Do what you will" to the disease or debility. But, as I have with alcoholism lo these many years, I have found myself willingly adjusting to The New Me. I am not the "me" I used to be, nor am I the "me" I intended or hoped to be. But I am okay with the "me" I've become, the one who needs regularity, more sleep than before and is more a human being, less a human doing.

As to this latest change, it's just one of those things.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Morning at the hospital

Yesterday we went to the medical center for a diagnostic test. This is, of course, always a treat for anyone. As usual, we had been told to arrive 30 minutes early; I have never understood this instruction: Why should we be there a half hour before anything happens? But we were there, 35 minutes early, in fact. We went where we were supposed to go, per instructions; then we found we were in the wrong place. After awhile we were walked to the right place, where we sat in a tiny room with 8 other people who were also there half an hour early. The "security door" was opened by everyone who went in and out of the secure area, and it screeched every single time it was opened, approximately 3 times per minute. It provided no security for anyone but was very loud.

We waited 25 minutes past the appointed time, inhaling as many cough & cold germs as we were able in the tiny waiting-for-illness room. Then the one of us who was not having the test went back to the lobby and got coffee and began to read. In so doing I happened upon a melange of human beings who were also in the medical center for their own or a companion's test or treatment. To my delight, I found that a great variety of people came and went. There were people who appeared healthy and people who were hurting or distressed in some way. There were very old people, often assisted by someone else - sometimes even by someone else who appeared to be as old. There were young people. There were people of what we think/speak of as different races, and some of apparent different ethnicities. There were people who appeared impoverished, and people who were very well-dressed and apparently affluent.

There was also the very nice woman who made lattes and served coffee, who applied a senior citizen discount to my purchase without asking my age (she was correct). It struck me that she knew that I was distracted simply by being in a hospital - no one goes there for fun, or rather very few do. She did a thoughtful, unasked favor. And there was also a man, a customer like me, who made a kind comment - unasked and unexpected.

The time waiting was, then, not time wasted or disturbed/disheartening time. It was time shared with many other people, most of whom would not have ticked off "at the hospital" as a preferred manner of spending time, but who enriched my day. I hope some of them felt the same.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Getting my hair cut

I had intended to get a haircut before we drove to Nebraska in mid-December, but I didn't do it. Two months before, the guy who has cut my hair for a couple of years moved to a location that is inconvenient for me ... and takes me through a neighborhood where I do not feel comfortable. The previous place was 10 blocks from home, on Magazine Street; and I loved the walk. The new place is 2 miles from home, and I can drive, walk or take the bus. I had been there once but put off going.

As our driving trip approached I thought of the times I had gotten my hair cut while on the road. It had been an adventure - and fun - to stop wherever I happened to see a barbershop. So, I decided to get my hair cut on the trip; but we never passed an open shop.

As we approached Nebraska, Holly told me there was a hair-cutter in a town near her family's ranch, and I could go there; or I could go to the person who has cut her hair for years. Holly said she would call and see if that person was in town, or whether she and her husband had already gone to Arizona for the winter. It turned out they were already gone. One day when we were in the town near the ranch, I walked into the hair-cutting emporium that had a sign saying walk-ins were welcome. I was welcomed but told that she was fully booked for the day. We never made it back to that town, 10 miles away.

On the drive back to New Orleans, we did not see an open barbershop; so I was back to the issue of whether to go to the guy I like but who is no longer convenient or located in a place I am comfortable. The options apart from him are (1) much more expensive "salon" (and my hair does not justify more expense) or (2) the old-man barber shop that features the aura of every barber shop in the 1950's and earlier. I had been there twice before - over a period of three years - and do not like the feeling of being there. I thought about texting "my" guy and seeing if he had time for me today. He usually does. And then I thought again about going there ... and I decided to go to the old-man barbershop, which is 9 blocks from home.

When I arrived, there was one barber cutting one man's hair and two barbers waiting for customers. I got into the chair in front of the barber who was standing behind it. (The other was sitting in the customer section along the wall. With my great ability to figure out social situations, I gathered that there was a system or etiquette to this, and the guy behind the chair was next in line to receive a customer.) As soon as I sat down the barber (approximately 80 years old) asked the question that barbers and hair stylists always ask - and baffle - me: "How would you like your hair done?"

If I knew what was best for my hair, I would do it myself. I think those with the training and experience are far better suited than me to decide what should be done with my hair. That is never the answer, though, so I tried to tell him what I thought was best. He began to cut. Shortly, he brought a mirror to the side of my head and asked me whether I wanted more hair cut. I can hardly see without my glasses on, especially to the side of my head; and I didn't know whether I wanted more cut or not. So, I lied; I made up that I wanted more cut. He applauded me, thought that was best: "better to take off a little at a time, rather than cut too much," he said.

In ten minutes, the process was complete; I (over-)paid him and walked out. I over-paid him because I am terrible at dealing with the prices of haircuts: union barbers in New Orleans charge $17.00, but this shop gives a $2.00 discount for people 65 & older (of which I am one). Should I ask for $2.00 back from my 20-dollar bill, making it $15.00 plus a $3.00 tip; or is that Scrooge-like? I don't know. My regular (former?) guy offered no senior discount, so I always gave him $20.00, and I was happy with that. Should I, today, ask for a couple bucks back from this 80 year old barber because he was offering me (age 67) a discount? I don't know.

Now my hair is finally cut, and I feel guilty for abandoning my former guy, who I like. And I still have not figured out whether I over-paid the guy today.