28 April 2009

Yesterday on Royal Street

I believe the beautiful and the repugnant are on display every hour of every day, everywhere. It's all in the eye of the beholder -- and which direction s/he is facing. Between my natural proclivity for melancholy and hyper-sensitive nature, it's all I can do some days to find the silver lining that adorns every dark cloud. Once I find it, the world is a wonderful place and I am, once again, God's Favorite Daughter.

Sometimes, through no conscious effort, I find myself in paradise. I am suffused with an awareness of the miracle of life, the richness and wonder of human endeavor... I feel lucky and strong and hopeful. Smile and song enliven my lips. My posture is perfect. I feel blessed.

Earth Day 2009 was almost such an experience. The weather was gorgeous in New Orleans. I put on a favorite dress, grabbed some reading material and bicycled up to catch the streetcar, on my way to the French Quarter to work for/with the Crazy Lady I love. En route, I read the most recent issue of Oxford American and discovered Arthur Rickydoc Flowers' powerful article, "Race Man". Such great writing! In a magical fantasy world, my mind would have melded with my closest friends' in the moment, to allow them the enoyable privilege of consuming this work. And I would have been embracing the friend who gave me the magazine. And I would have been pregnant with Flowers' child.

Strolling along Dauphine, I thought, I love New Orleans best when I'm out of my apartment. The smells and sounds and sights of this city give me everything. The complaints and worries and stressors that tie me in knots at home disappear when I'm on the streets of New Orleans.

Things were lively at the Crazy Lady's flat: her toy chihuahuas had puppies on Easter and on Earth Day the puppies were up and about. A boy and girl, they were too cute for words as they waddled and rolled around the floor. Almost made me wish I had a dog.

On the return trip, I would have to say I sashayed down Dauphine. I thought, Yeah, that's where that song comes from. Sashaying is the natural gait on Daupine when the weather is beautiful. Approaching Canal, I noticed a trio of men two blocks ahead. Two of them were smoking cigarettes. The third was watching me. Although he was staring unabashedly, I was flattered rather than annoyed. As I drew nearer, I thought, This old dress still works and That guy looks like Dan Akroyd.

Well, it was Dan Akroyd. When I was within a few feet of the trio, Dan said "Gentlemen, make some space here for one of New Orleans' beauties," and smiled and bowed as I passed. I smiled back and said "Thank you. You look like that guy..." And then he smiled. "Dan..." I said. "Yes," he said. He introduced the other two and then said "Yes, I'm Danny."

I was delighted. "Well, give me a hug!" I said, since I didn't have a camera. "Gladly," he said.

"What are y'all up to? Here for JazzFest?"

"No, we're here to build some houses but we'll be gone before JazzFest."

"Well, thanks for the houses and come back again!"

Turning onto Canal, I stopped at a stand displaying African jewelry. I was drawn by the sun reflecting on the brass and copper bracelets. The vendor was a beautiful dread-locked man wearing a bright multi-colored shirt and floppy hat. I thought of my old friend, Ramu... "Hello, Queen", he greeted me. I ended up buying a bracelet and a toe ring. He slipped the ring on my toe and kissed my hand.

As I said, life is always better for me on the streets of New Orleans.

It was a great day. But not the "paradise" I'm talking about. If I had to describe the difference, I'd say the paradise days are more spiritual...

Yesterday on Royal Street was spiritual.

The sun had been high and strong as I made my way to the Crazy Lady's. On the return trip, though, clouds moved in and a brisk wind snapped my skirt against my legs as I walked toward Canal. Dark clouds loomed in the western sky and it looked like rain. A man stopped me and asked for spare change "to help a brother get something to eat." I gave him a dollar. "And, Sister, keep me in your prayers," he said as he walked away.

I turned onto Royal. A block down I noticed how still the street was. Lots of pedestrian traffic but the space felt separate, apart, like....like the interior of a cathedral. People were talking quietly as they walked. Their conversation and the wind formed a muted backdrop for the music I began to notice in the foreground. It was ethereal and moved like liquid gold in the air. At the time, it even seemed to emit a fragrance, like wisteria or a light, exotic jasmine.

A block on, I discovered the source of the sound. A young man and woman were seated on chairs in the center of the street. The gaps in my memory of the event are strange to me now. I remember their backs were to me as I approached.....and he was playing but she was not....his hair was beautiful: dark, thick, shiny, waves of hair falling to his shoulders...a jar for tips on the pavement in front of them.

I stopped to roll a cigarette and listen to the music. By now I was positioned to see their faces but the music was so beautiful, I could not look at them. It seemed sacrilegious to look directly into their faces. I finished rolling my cigarette and dug in my bag for a lighter. As I lit the cigarette, the first drops of rain began to fall. This was music I might hear in a subway station in San Francisco -- not on the street in New Orleans. The sound had transformed the street, the people, my sense of the city.

As I pulled money from my purse, a raindrop extinguished my cigarette. I was now fully in the Paradise Experience and read the snuffing of my cigarette as a sign. I walked to the jar and dropped three bills into it, making eye contact and smiling at the musician. He smiled and nodded and I walked away, feeling like the Dali Lama had just touched my forehead.

I was blocks away, waiting on St. Charles for the streetcar, when I realized I had no idea what instrument he was playing. There was no time to walk back. The rain had stopped but the wind was still lashing the hem of my dress around my calves.

It's the next day and I still feel that music caressing my life. Perhaps next week I'll ask at some of the stores in that block, try to find out who those people were. Or at least what instrument the guy was playing.

19 April 2009

Off and On

I am smoking again.

It started a couple of weeks ago. At the time, it seemed a result of having run out of Wellbutrin, the antidepressant I'd been taking since last summer. The drug is also used in smoking cessation programs and I think being on it had a lot to do with why it was so easy to stay off cigarettes for so long. As the drug left my system, the cravings returned.

The secret reason I resumed? During the 4+ months I was not smoking, I gained weight. All my clothes are tight now (or impossible) AND I have no money to buy new ones. I am vain enough that it hurts to go out in public in poorly fitting clothes so I started holing up.

I'm watching myself. I want to stop again.

And I don't want to stop because I don't like getting fat.

Overweight. Clothes that don't fit. Off antidepressant meds. Isolating myself. And smoking again.

Um hum. Red Alert.

So, even though it meant putting my landlord off , I splurged and refilled the prescription. Interrupting this downward spiral is a priority, imperative. Tentative plan is to

  • reestablish the antidepressant regimen and stop smoking again on 1 May
  • start moving around more: biking, walking, dancing
  • not bring fat food into the house
  • carry only enough money to pay bus fare when I'm out of the house
Life feels very boring right now.

17 April 2009

Eye Candy 2

This is one of my favorite online finds. I've been waiting for an opportunity to include it in a blog but so far it just hasn't fit anywhere. Today I include it as a relief piece after the morning I've had (see the 3 previous posts). I just like it and so here it is.

As the World Turns

For the last few months I've been combing Cragislist New Orleans looking for part-time work. While I am grateful to have found two folks who need me for two or three hours a week in their home offices, I need 15 hours of work to move from Poverty Row to a less pressured lifestyle. I haven't done any research but I'm wondering if some of the particularly frustrating trends in the New Orleans job market are generally in play across the country.


They're mostly work-at-home opportunities and two
slimy varieties predominate. In the first, you can make $200 a day or more. The catch is usually either a) there's a one-time fee up front to get hooked up to this fabulous offer, or b) the link provided for response/inquiry/application does not work.

In the second, the advertiser feigns humility. "You won't get rich from this opportunity but it's pretty nice spare change..." Many of them pay once a month. All you have to do is provide your name, address, telephone number, SSN, PayPal account ID
or bank account number and perform the assigned task for a month--e.g., edit amazingly poorly written business letters. I don't know if these outfits actually pay. The one I tried didn't require revealing personal financial information but I was only able to stomach two days of the work and gave up.

Another opportunity pays home workers for filling out offers online. They, too, pay out once a month. You're instructed to come to their site each day and click on links that lead to product offers. Pay rate is 5 to 15 cents per offer completed. I gave it half an hour of attention. Luckily I had the good sense to use a throw-away Yahoo account when completing the offers; the mailbox was flooded with junk mail by the next morning.

Shortage of Part-time/Temporary Work

In the current economy, I would expect to find an abundance of part-time and temporary positions available. It's standard for these positions to not include benefits of any kind and you'd think employers would jump at this cost-saving strategy. The opportunity to hire quality workers at a substantial savings. But if you eliminate all the work-at-home scams, it's slim pickings for folks who want or need something less than 40-hour-a-week, permanent placement.

Ridiculous Requirements

Of the few "legitimate" job postings, I'm astounded by the audacity of the employers. Are they serious?!! Do they actually find people willing to accept their terms? They do not reveal the name of the company or the business they're in. They do not reveal their location. They require a resume and a cover letter. They're looking for a minimum of two years' experience;
fluency in obscure software applications; an "energetic team player" or "mature, professional demeanor"....; and you must
have a car. The pay is $8 to $10 per hour and the ads usually include at least three grammar or spelling errors.


In the "old days", you responded to a job posting with a resume and cover letter, received a letter or email or phone call acknowledging receipt, and were either invited in for an interview or received a "thanks but no thanks" letter.

I wasn't happy about the disappearance of the acknowledgement step; sending resumes out into the void made job-hunting all the more disheartening. You never knew if they received your resume and it was humiliating to labor over a cover letter that didn't even merit a "thank you, but we hired someone else" letter.

In the final permutation--and, yes, I say "final" because I think I've reached my limit, hit the wall, so to speak--resume/cover letter submissions are acknowledged with an email like the following:


Thanks for showing interest in our job posting. ____ Marketing is a company specializing in building unique internet advertising solutions for our clients. We are currently seeking talented people to join our company.

We are pre-qualifying applicants online to ensure we only spend time on serious job seekers. To begin, go to http://ca???????????r.deltarig.com/ and fill in the applicant form using your unique ID number:

2- - - -6

This number will grant you access into our pre-qualification site where you will be presented with one of our advertisements. Fill out this offer so we can build your application profile. After your input is confirmed, you will receive an email with a resume upload link. We will review all the information we gather about you and let you know if you are selected for an interview.


B______ Fr_____g
HR Recruiter
______ Marketing


Thank you for your interest in E______! After reviewing your information it is clear that you are qualified for the position. However, your online application is only the first step in the recruitment process. In light of the issues facing our industry we are taking a selective approach to final approval.

You are REQUIRED to complete a 2 minute evaluation to help us learn more about your personal background. On the first page you will be asked to fill out information in regards to our associated network. You MUST enter the required fields on the first page accurately in order to be directed to the following page which pertains specifically to your personal review. On page 2 select the link that says “applicant survey.” On this page we ask that you fill out this information accurately and honestly so we have a better understanding of you on a more personal level.

Click this link to get started:

Once we’ve received your answers, a phone interview will be scheduled to complete the application process. We appreciate your time and hope to start working with you soon!

Best Regards,
S_____ G_______

What? It's clear that I'm qualified BUT..... What risk does the employer seek to avoid by asking qualified applicants to jump through additional hopes? What do they risk by simply calling me or inviting me in for an interview? Has the marketplace truly become this dangerous?

OK. I'm going to follow the links and give it a try. But I think this is the end for me. And I don't know exactly what I mean by that but I do know that this is not a game I want to play any longer. It's time for a change in approach and direction and strategy.

Stay tuned.....

14 April 2009

I Found A Poem Today

Artist: Suhaag Raat “The First Night”

These Beautiful Love Games

by Hafiz

Young lovers wisely say,
"Let's try it from this angle,
Maybe something marvelous will happen,

Maybe three suns and two moons
Will roll out
From a hiding place in the body
Our passion has yet to ignite.

Old lovers say,
"We can do it one more time,
How about from this longitude
And latitude--

Swinging from a rope tied to the ceiling,

Maybe part of God
Is still hiding in a corner of your heart
Our devotion has yet to reveal."

Bottom line:

Do not stop playing
These beautiful

08 April 2009

Crazy Gents

And today I met a crazy old man.

Power-walking the streetcar track to burn some calories, I was approached by a spry elderly man. Obviously very happy to see me, he asked if I was still working at the library.

"You mistake me for someone else," I said. "I'm in the library a lot but I've never worked there."

The situation reminded me of how I met my son's father. He was sitting on his front porch when I went striding by, furious about something that had happened at work that day. He said later he couldn't take his eyes off me and prayed that I'd walk back by. Which I did. And the rest is history.

Anyway, this little guy began to heap the silkiest compliments at my feet. He was kinda cute and funny and the flattery was seductive so I accepted his invitation to have a coffee.

Looking back on the whole thing, it's easier to understand Ms. S being swept away by the singer's attention. After you reach a certain age, the sweet intoxication of flirtation is harder to come by. I hung out with G_______ for about an hour and a half: we had coffee and then drove to his house (only a few blocks from the coffeehouse) where he alternated between answering business calls and trying to talk me into bed. Eventually his machismo began to bore me and I made a polite, good-humored exit.

It's interesting to me: if a man my own age had employed the same come-on, I'd have walked away immediately; but I cut G________ some slack. Probably because of his age. "You gotta understand I'm Latin. So I'm hot-blooded and passionate. I need a woman who can handle a lot of loving...." He seemed sincerely baffled by my laughter. "What's so funny?"

He told me I was "exquisite", "statuesque", "fucking hot", and "a knockout". He also explained in detail the new clothes he'd buy for me--black leather pants and "3-inch heels"; he had a clear vision of what he wanted me to look like when we went out. He assumed it would be tonight.

He was cute and funny. But falling for flattery has led to some of the most painful episodes of my life. And although I've needed refresher courses for many life lessons, being made a fool by flattery is not one of them.

G_____________ has a job for me and it's pretty good pay. If I can snag the job without getting snagged by G____________, I may give it a shot.

07 April 2009

Crazy Ladies

Crazy Lady. Artist Christine Oster
Hats off to my parents. Especially my mother. Nobody can say they didn't raise me well. Some of the things they taught me which have endured for half a century:

make your bed every morning
say "please" and "thank you"
speak up and speak clearly to be easily heard
don't steal
if you can't say something nice don't say anything at all
put on clean underwear before you go to school
put your dishes in the sink after dinner
iron the collar first
it's a sin to tell a lie
sweetened rice is a hot breakfast cereal

I'm still a good girl. Mostly. At least at heart. I mean, when I don't make my bed or I tell a lie, the chorus of judges inside my head stand up and fold their arms and shake their heads. Tsk, tsk, tsk.....now Alex, you know better.

There were also some tacit admonishments; specifically, a caution against doing anything that made me look "crazy" to other people. Mumbling, a disorganized hairdo, walking hard, wearing colors that don't match and biting my nails were just a few of the behaviors or choices that risked the ultimate public disapproval rating, i.e., being perceived as "crazy".

Perhaps not surprisingly, then, one of my fondest and longest-held fantasies was to "go crazy". "Crazy" came to represent the utmost in freedom. " I don't have to be good any more!!" And it seemed like something earned, a right or privilege that arrived late in life. Somewhere around the time Wisdom began to dawn.

So yesterday I met a crazy lady. And today I attended a midday concert with a different crazy lady.
We'll call them Ms. L and Ms. S. I believe I'm coming into my own freedom/wisdom/craziness so I'm paying closer attention to crazy/free women these days. i observe there seems to be more than one variety of crazy...

Ms. L lives in the French Quarter. I met her through Craigslist. She placed an ad for someone to help her get her living space/home office organized. I responded with my resume and she invited me to come over. She felt a little crazy to me because

  1. All of our communication was by email. She sent one that explained she doesn't like talking on the phone.
  2. She said she couldn't specify a time for me to come by. Could I hang loose and just see what the next day was like?
  3. The next day, she set a time for us to meet on the following day. The following morning I found another email from her, apparently written in the middle of the night, stating she didn't feel well; could I come by two hours later than scheduled?
  4. She warned me she lived with a couple of little dogs that would probably go nuts when I arrived but they were harmless.
When I arrived, the door was slightly ajar. I knocked and, as warned, two little chihuahuas immediately set up a yapping racket. Ms. L came to the door: hair and clothing disheveled, big smile, hands dancing. I stepped into an apartment where every flat surface -- floor, bed, sofa, desk, dining table, chair seats and TV top -- was covered with paper, articles of clothing, magazines and newspapers, saucers, money, medicine bottles, sunglasses, etc.

By the end of the hour we spent together, I was completely in love with her. I love how her mind works; she tells great stories;
she's a pianist; she has a beautiful smile; she touches my arm when she talks and hugged me when we parted; and, she not only knows she is "crazy", she knows the particulars of her eccentricities and is good-natured about the possibility (likelihood?) that some will find her annoying and weird.

Ms. S is a different story. I've known her a couple of years now. We've hung out together in public and in my home. She proclaims herself eccentric often--with her shoulders thrown back and her nose in the air. It's a badge of honor with her.

More infuriating for me: she pouts when/if you don't find her antics amusing or if one of your eccentricities should surface. Today's concert, for example: I'd never heard of the artist but trusted her recommendation when she called on Sunday. "They're holding two tickets for us in my name at the box office. It'll be great!!" she gushed.

Well.... It wasn't great. The hall was less than 1/4 full, most of those in attendance were on walkers and wearing hearing aids and the music embarrassed me: an old white guy doing a program of Nat King Cole songs--in Nat King Cole's voice. As a spoof it would have been hilarious but judging from the little bobbing heads of the blue-hairs in front of me, this was all for real.

After the concert, I asked Ms. S what drew her to this concert. "Since the storm [New Orleanian for "Hurricane Katrina and aftermath"], he [the performer] is the only man who has actually looked at me."

"Oh! He's a friend of yours?"

"No. He doesn't even know me. It was some setting, I don't remember where, but he's kind of handsome if not exactly sexy....he was talking to someone else but he looked right at me. And no man has done that since the storm."

I sure wish I'd thought to ask her these questions before I surrendered scant funds and two hours of my life to accompany her to a concert I wouldn't have attended for free. We walked in silence to retrieve my bicycle. Her vibe was pouty and when I looked at her, it was apparent she was disappointed that I hadn't enjoyed myself: her lips were pursed and her eyelids were fluttery. "Uh, okay, then. I'm going to push off," I said. "I have a student this afternoon. See ya, bye-bye."

I want to be Ms. L when I grow up. She's 10 years older than me. She assured me several times "Honey, you're still young. You've still got time to become anything you want..."

05 April 2009

Don't Go Back to Sleep/What Do They Know

Rumi's poem has inspired my creative life for almost 20 years.

“The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you; Don't go back to sleep. You must ask for what you really want; Don't go back to sleep. People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch. The door is round and open. Don't go back to sleep.”

A chorus of voices in my head are murmuring the poem in a desperate whisper at this moment. I have to write this down.

I woke up at 6 because my bladder was full.

Outside the world was gray and quiet but last night's weather forecast predicted blue skies and temperatures in the 80s. What do They know? I thought and returned to bed to grab some of that cherished Early Morning Sleep. (Early Morning Sleep on a Gray Morning is the caviar of sleep in my book...) Insomnia had snatched all but one hour of my sleep the night before so I felt entitled.

With NPR tuned low on the radio, I burrowed back into the blankets. There was no struggle; I sank like a stone into sleep.

And a very bad dream.

I am trying to change my life. I finally find the courage to go alone to the coffeehouse where the beautiful, unsmiling, intelligent, creative people hang out. I want to fit in. I am watching to learn the way things are done in this society; on the inside I am full of desire. I can't help myself. I say "Hi, my name is Alex" knowing that these people don't use such colloquialism.

I can't tell which people are customers and which are employees. Behind the counter, a girl is washing cups made of cardboard and small plates that are just disks cut from empty milk containers. She washes them and sets them in a rack but they are still dirty. From my side of the counter, I re-wash, rinse and dry the dishes. The girl glares at me. Only bourgois people pay attention to mundane tasks.

The patron/employees are talking in secret language and making inside jokes. The coffee is good and I leave.

My children are with me when I visit the next time. Two boys: my waking life son at the age of 5 and my real-life grandson at the age of 6 months. The older boy is fine wandering around and talking to people. They like him because even cool people like children. I keep the baby with me and entertain him with house keys and paper napkins. The baby gets restless. He wants to be with his older brother. I think to sit him on the floor with crayons and measuring cups somewhere near where his brother is laughing with the adults; but he is not satisfied. He wants to walk and talk and laugh and climb like his brother, with his brother.

His frustration grows and I decide to take him home. The older boy is not ready to go. I am still trying to impress the coffeehouse crowd; I tell him I'll put the baby to sleep and come back for him. He says he is going with "them" to see some books and then he'll be back. I say okay with misgivings.

When I return to the coffeehouse, he is nowhere in sight and none of the patron/employees noticed where he went. They barely note or respond to my rapidly escalating panic. Someone is improvising on cello and I long to go to the piano to play along. I am running through the rooms of the coffeehouse and around the exterior perimeter. I am crying. "I don't even know what they look like!" I keep crying. I did not see the car or the faces of the people he's with. "I'm a fool! Damn....damn!!!" And I wake up with tears on my cheeks.

03 April 2009

Watching the World

The little girl next door is 2 years old today. Her name is Heaven and she is drawn to the Second Chance Gateways. She's out there now running her fingers through the trinkets; the sound comes back to me through the kitchen window as soft clinks and clicks and dings beneath babyish coos and giggles.

We were a group of nine last night at Canal Place Cinema to see "The Class." I was the tallest. I had the darkest skin. At least five of us were teachers.

The film is the story of a year in the life of a middle school literature teacher in an inner city school in Paris. My own most recent middle school adventure ended last week ("they" are "cutting back" and, not surprisingly, the role of piano tutor was viewed as nonessential so I was let go). Some of the episodes in the film were painfully familiar, reminders of why I wasn't entirely disappointed when
my job at KIPP ended.

After the film, we stood in the lobby in an irregular circle (curious to me when people don't notice their body placement is blocking someone else out of a circle) and talked about the film. It was, unfortunately, one of those thumbnail conversations where people say things while looking at each other but the comments don't respond or relate to previous comments; a series of expressed opinions about education and teaching and discipline.

It was, for me, like watching another film.

Last Sunday I was gifted two tickets to the American premiere of "Scandalous," a musical theater piece based on the life of D.H. Lawrence. There are few pleasures that compare to watching a play. Even if it's bad, it's still live entertainment and that's time well spent in my book. My companion was sufficiently moved by the story to shed tears in the final act. Stories about tortured artists or social misfits usually make me cry, too; but the musical theater form is too removed from "real" life to touch me in that way. Occasionally a certain song pierces the artificiality. "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" from Evita is an example; tears me up every time I hear that song.

I miss doing musicals. Maybe I can find a way into that world here in New Orleans. I wish the printed program had credited the musicians.

Two little women live up the street from me. They must be about 4 or 5 years old. I call them "little women" because they're such old souls. Sometimes they're sitting on the stoop with dolls, talking about how "these kids are getting on my nerves." Or they're trying to train the ever-patient labrador retriever in the yard next door through the wrought iron fence that surrounds the property. Today they were out front sweeping the sidewalk.

"You gotta work today?" one of them asks as I walk by. "No," I say, "I'm on my way to the market."

"Oh! Can you bring me back a little snack?" she says. "Maybe some wings or something..."

I run into this a lot here: very old pre-school age girls. They're very self-possessed--with their painted nails and pierced ears and rhinestone-studded sandals. And I always wonder: how much do they know? I mean, would it be worth my while to give them my business card?

When I first came to New Orleans I couldn't find a Guinness Stout to save my soul. I'd decided it just wasn't sold here. "Oh, I can get you a Guinness," said Josh, an eight-year-old vagrant who used to hang around the volunteer camp in Algiers. And, sure enough, a couple of nights later he showed up with two bottles.