Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Requiem for Katrina

I lived in New Orleans in 2004, trying to figure out whether to start a new life there or return to South Florida. I lived in the Irish Channel, now billing itself as the Lower Garden District. My place was a few blocks off Tchoupitoulas Street, a couple of blocks from the shops of Magazine Street, and a short walk to the famous trolleys on St. Charles Avenue.

I was going through a dark time in my life, and I lived in a shotgun half built so close to the building next to it that it got little light. I ventured forth from my cave to drive around the city looking at property, condos and houses. I hooked up with the city renovation commission, which got me into even more open houses and a lot of interesting information about the neighborhoods. I’ll bet I saw the insides of more houses than many people who have lived their whole lives in New Orleans.

I hooked up with a tour guide, an interesting gent who was extremely knowledgeable about the city. A freelance writer passed a great assignment to me, one of the most profitable I’ve ever had, writing short history biographies for a textbook publisher. A savvy music-lover, who once had her own newsletter about the unannounced jams, was a huge source of information about just about everything going on in the city. People in New Orleans are enormously friendly and generous.

At night, I could hear the foghorns on the river, sounding like great animals bellowing in the night. Then, come November, a chill wind rolled off the Mississippi River, just a few blocks away, and I left for Florida in a hurry. Given the flood that occurred less than a year later, it was a good call not to have purchased property in New Orleans – even though, for the most part, I was looking on the side of the city that didn’t flood or over in Algiers, which everyone agrees is high ground.

Someone on a discussion list to which I belong complained about media exploitation of Kristina with the anniversary coverage. I can’t get enough of it. It is one of the few times when the media is ethically sticking to a story, hanging on until something gets done. The public journalism movement of the 1990s criticized journalists for being Chicken Littles, running from one crisis to another, declaring the sky is falling. Oh look – the ozone layer is dissolving. Oh what shall we do, we need more schools? Oh my gosh, the prisons are overcrowded, and crime is rampant. Public journalists encouraged the media to stick with a story until decisions could be made to get things done, as well as to point out conflicts in public decision-making: We can’t have lower taxes AND more schools and more prisons. (See for example, Daniel Yankelovich, Coming to Public Judgement; anything by Jay Rosen or Buzz Merritt written in the 1990s).

I’m in favor of the media sticking with the story. The Spike Lee documentary, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Parts, is well done. National Public Radio also is doing a good job. Even CNN is keeping on the story. There are many thoughtful books about the situation.

New Orleans and the Gulf Coast is a national treasure. I will never forget the first time I drove past the great mansions of Gulfport and Pass Christian in 1976 – or the last time I bade them farewell in November 2004 as I journeyed back to Florida. It was a cold, gray November day, and the white sands were windswept and looked as desolate as Arctic snow fields. I wonder if the small fish joint on the water where I ate is still there. I doubt it. Mansions that had stood 150 years are gone now.

It is sad. Our country needs great flood gates on Lake Pontchatrain like those that protect Holland. We need levees that can stand up to a 10,000 year weather event, like those in the Netherlands. New Orleans is a city that represents the joyous and resilient spirit of the American soul, a city of enormous cultural diversity and spiritual richness. If New Orleans and the Gulf Coast die, a part of US dies, too. There cannot be too much media coverage of this national tragedy.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Sunset for Ernesto

Tropical Storm and sometime Hurricane Ernesto is churning around Cuba, but today was sunny and clear in Broward and Palm Beach counties, Florida. The sunset was spectacular. Towering cumulus clouds, brushed with some cirrus at the edges, glowed with an uncanny golden light. It was that kind of light that the Medieval masters used in paintings to signify the light of God penetrating the world. It was unearthly and glorious. I was driving home and tried to take a photograph through the windshield, but I couldn't get a clear shot while driving.

Things are crazy the gas stations, after the gas shortage that followed Hurricane Wilma, the last big storm of the 2005 hurricane season in November. Lines extend into the street. I filled my tank yesterday and used a quarter tank going back and forth to work today. It didn't make sense to burn gas in a line for a half hour to top off the tank, so I didn't.

I stopped for batteries for the radio at Office Depot. No one thinks to buy hurricane supplies there, so it wasn't crowded. I saw a hospital worker coming out with a big carton of bottled water and a few other items.

Palm Beach Community College and the schools in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties are closed tomorrow. I don't think the storm will amount to much, but I agree that folks shouldn't be traveling in hard rain and wind. It isn't safe.

Storms can be beautiful in their awesome power, as naturally glorious as the sunset before Ernesto.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Monster Fatigue

I finally bought the Sharp “monster” stereo system that I’ve had my ear on for a while. Making the right decision is tortuous – a long and winding road – as well as torturous, because I am always concerned about making the right choice.

About eight months ago, I bought an Onkyo 5 channel home theater system, and a DVD player, but it was too big. A salesman on commission at Brandsmart talked me into it. I brought it back and got a smaller system that I’d originally wanted at Circuit City. I couldn’t figure out how to run it. Getting these huge boxes in and out of the car, packing and repacking them, also was torture, as well as worrying about the bill in a time of tight finances.

After this fiasco, a waste of gas and time, I thought I wanted a small Onkyo shelf system. Then, as I got close to being able to afford it without guilt, I wondered if the small Yamaha shelf system would be a better choice.

When I went to the stores, I took a Gil Evans CD. Just for the sake of comparison, I tried the big Sony and Sharp systems. The Sharp system blew me away. I could hear sounds and undertones on the Sharp system that just weren’t there on other systems. I have gone back to compare several times. Today I brought the system home.

Now the thing is on the floor, waiting for me to unpack it. I got the huge subwoofer unpacked and halfway onto the file cabinet where I think it will best fit, but I am just plain tired out.

Chronic fatigue is a fact of my life along with low white blood cell count. This week, I started a job that will require me to be on campus 35 hours a week. This is the first time since 1989 that I’ve had to be anywhere for 35 hours a week. I sit in my recliner and parcel out my work around my fatigue. Having a job that requires my presence is a huge adjustment but financially necessary. I immediately came down with bronchitis and had to hurry to the doctor to get some penicillin. I was just about kicked out of the all-day orientation for coughing all over everyone.

Now that I'm feeling up to it, I lugged the big Sharp monster shelf system home. I wonder if there’s a way to hook up the laptop to the new stereo system so I can get jazz and blues from all over the United States. I had been sitting here musing that the new system is too big, too expensive, what was I thinking? As I listen to the tinny blues coming out of the laptop, it reminds me how much I like listening to music. It’s been years since I had anything other than a small Sony boombox, so this Sharp 1500 could be a great thing for me.

I should enjoy it, instead of second guessing myself and convincing myself I don’t deserve it or can’t handle the big speakers. As soon as I recover from Monster fatigue, that is.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Memories Thick as Tar

Returning to Fort Lauderdale from an orientation program in Lake Worth last week, I stopped for throat lozenges at a familiar strip mall in Boynton Beach. It was right down the street from where I lived with P. in the last half of our relationship. I trained little Fergie, now dead, and Shaymus, now with another family that can better care of him, in along the walkway there.

Driving through Boynton always tears my heart out. I had everything I wanted when I lived there -- a good paying career, a long-time mate, two wonderful dogs, a home with three bedrooms and a two-car garage. Life had surpasssed my dreams.

Then it all fell apart, and I have none of those things, and the memories are thick as tar when I pass through that area.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Tempt Me Wal-Mart

I went into Wal-Mart with a shopping list of 7 things, none of them expensive, and left with a full shopping cart that cost me seventy-two bucks and change.

I love to hate Wal-Mart, but a shopper’s comparison published in the Sarasota newspaper in May 2004 showed that even a couple who can’t buy in bulk could save 25% - 35% there. I eat mostly fresh foods, but there are always sundry items at low prices.

I set off this morning to mail the thank-you bookmark (see previous post 5 Life Lessons). I have a sore throat, but I decided that I would drive over to US 1 nonetheless and compare the sound of the Onkyo stereo mini-system and a Yamaha, located at two different stores. I’ve been lusting after the Onkyo system for 18 months, but I recently started considered whether the Yamaha might be worth the extra money. There a bit of label snobbery in this, too.

I had barely left the Post Office when I realized I was feeling too blah to deal with the sound-comparison. So I headed for the Wal-Mart Superstore; I’ve been putting off a trip because it’s not near my home.

My shopping list included sore throat spray, lozenges, cinnamon, dishwasher soap, an air conditioner filter, and that organic Hawaiian sugar that costs a good deal less here than at the Whole Foods Market or even my local Publix supermarket.

The Hawaiian sugar was out of stock, and I couldn’t get the ultra micron filter in the size I need. Going along the aisles, I snagged paper towels (I’ve been out for a while), toilet paper (can never have too much), Renuzit air fresheners (never go bad), and a new Campbell squash soup I hadn’t dreamed I needed before entering the store. I remembered all those mornings in New Orleans eating the 50-cent small fruit pies (such a deal at four bits), so I piled four of those into the cart. How about some lip balm? I’m running out of that, aren’t I? Spring water, too: I used the last of the 2-1/2 gallon bottle a day or two ago.

A Vornado air mover was on sale for 10 dollars less than any place else. I’ve wanted one of those sleek honeys since I discovered them online. I settled on a twenty buck floor fan back in May. After all, I reasoned, no matter what brand I buy, it’s just some spinning blades moving around hot air. Mom was using a Vornado when I visited her in June, and it does move a lot of air silently.

Tempt me, Wal-mart.

Looking back regretfully toward the Vornado display, I checked out – remembering at the last minute I need Windex windshield wipes for the car. Those are so handy.

It will have to wait for my next trip to Wal-Mart. Maybe tomorrow -- if I can talk myself into buying that Vornado air mover.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

5 Life Lessons

Hand-crafted thank-you bookmark, front and back; see life lesson #5. These are just for fun, though. Wink.


The reason it’s called work is because it isn’t play. If it was fun, employers wouldn’t have to pay us to do it.

This argument puts an end to many a whiner’s complaints. Perhaps it isn’t true for athletes, who don’t seem to complain much, but even movie stars rolling in cash complain about early film calls. I don’t blame them, as I put a high priority on sleep too. It's a worthy hobby.


If you’re a woman, you will have to choose whether to be a doormat or a bitch in many situations.

I started telling gal pals this in the 1970s. Things have changed, but not that much. Sometimes you still have to choose.


Saving money is saving money, and spending money means it’s gone – no matter how big the discount promised by the sales pitch.

Retailers love to tell us how much we’ll save. This isn’t true. We will spend less, but we still spend. Every dollar in the retailer’s pocket is a dollar plus the interest I might have earned not in mine. With this principle firmly in mind, it is easier to weigh temptation against delayed gratification.


Water runs down hill.

This should seem obvious, but I failed to take it into account when I bought my first house, a sweet little A-frame that remains my favorite. The result was that the yard turned into a pond during heavy rains, which were frequent in that part of the country in the spring.


Always send thank-you notes.

An email is better than nothing, but a hand-written thank-you note that arrives in the mail is special. Keep it brief. Make it personal. People love it. I spent some time today crafting a special thank-you bookmark card for my aunt, whom I visited last weekend.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Making the Political Personal

It’s hard to believe that a white male would lecture a woman about solving the social problem of low wages with a personal decision (don’t work there), but apparently at least one guy missed the Women’s Movement of the 1970s.

The personal is political. Quietly opting out of a social situation doesn’t change things and entrenches the privilege of the white male doing the lecturing.

Treatment of adjunct instructors at the colleges your kids attend is one of the dirty little secrets of the academic world. For teaching one class, I earn $125 every two weeks. I spend $40 a week on gas for the car.

An adjunct teacher earns about one-third of a full-time professor’s pay with no benefits. Adjunct professors rush from job to job, trying to scratch together a living, stuffing their records into file boxes in the backs of their cars. An adjunct who dropped dead of a heart attack, whilst commuting between three campuses, is legendary at one campus where I work.

I’ve been participating in an online workshop to upgrade skills, swap information, and stay posted about what’s going on at one of the universities where I teach. As usual, the topic of low wages and decreasing job opportunities came up. A large pool of applicants who rarely see each other, all of them living around the poverty line, is an effective way to keep the malcontents in line.

I received a personal email from a fellow participant, snug in his office as an associate dean and department chair, about negotiating higher wages for myself and refusing to take jobs that don’t measure up.

Women still earn 75-cents on the dollar to men. Responses to wage requests continue to be patronizing and unprofessional. When a man negotiates, he’s a hard bargainer worthy of respect; when a woman negotiates, she’s a whining bitch who can leave if she doesn’t like it.

During my 30 years in the work force, women have gained a mere two-bits in the quest for economic equality. Meanwhile, wages and union protections have eroded for the entire work force.

According to one Nobel Prize winner, the graduate rates of science students are so low, the USA is sliding toward Third World status. One of the reasons for low attraction of science students to those studies: teachers are underpaid.

But shhhh, don’t say anything about it if you’re a woman, because there’s some white male who will make the political personal, perpetuate the social problem, and relegate anyone who speaks out to the margins of society. After all, it’s just my problem. Solve it yourself, babe.


What’s the Future of Science Education? The audio interview conducted by Ira Flato for Talk of the Town can be found in the Health and Science listings on the National Public Radio website at I’ve been unsuccessful at getting the direct page link to work.

Wage Gap Information is compiled and regularly updated by Dr. Hilary Lips, Director of the Center for Gender Studies at Radford University, at

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Highwaymen Art Recalls Old Florida

Old Florida was as exotic as a South Seas island, as depicted in oil paintings of the Highwaymen group. This group of self-taught artists flourished in the Fort Pierce area in the 1950s, 1960s, and into the 1970s.

The work of Alfred Hair and Harold Newton, two of the most prominent artists of the group, is currently featured in a show at the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art. Their paintings of brilliant sunsets, rustic cabins, and vivid red royal Poinciana trees recall an era before developers paved over paradise.

There are several interesting facets to this group of approximately 26 artists. First, some of this group was able to escape the cane fields and orange groves by using their creativity to invent a style of painting that appealed to tourists.

In addition to being highly creative, the Highwaymen artists were entrepreneurial, selling their work at the side of the road, going door to door, and traveling to crafts fairs. In fact, the art was often framed using wooden molding with a steep angle so that wet paintings could be set one on top of another without smearing the paint. The stack could be set in a car to drive on the way to a fair.

Third, the Highwaymen often used the system of the old European masters. Less accomplished artists filled in the backgrounds, while the better artists filled in the details. According to material at the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, work might be accomplished in a kind of assembly-line fashion during a barbecue.

Last, the value of Highwaymen art has tripled in recent years, thanks to national marketing via eBay. The museum show is a tribute to how the artistic vision of this group, who deserve a place in U.S. art history.

I wish I could include an example of their work, but I must respect the creative property of these artists. If you Google Highwaymen Art or Artist, you will find many interesting examples.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Tribute to a Friend

". . . all that matters in life is love and friendship. All the rest is a waste of time, trumpery, not worth the trouble."-- Jorge Amado in Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

I miss my friend, the Divine Miss L. I have known her 30 years, and I don’t understand why she no longer answers phone messages or email, nor why she didn’t respond to a delivery of fresh flowers.

I will always remember L as a golden girl who transformed the most ordinary day into a bright adventure. When scouring garage sales, each item was a treasure worthy of a pirate’s chest. A fast drive in a big, new borrowed car with a V-8 engine, from rural Maryland to a state-run Pennsylvania liquor store before closing, was a chase for James Bond to envy. An Aston-Martin was not needed when we had L’s fabulous talent for adding spice and energy to whatever transpired.

We drank tequila and danced the funky chicken at an old farm-turned-estate by the college boys who roomed there. The last time I looked over that particular hill, it was a housing development for middle-class families. Miss L would have called them “the bourgies,” for the bourgeoisie, a class we were keen on eschewing back in those times of anti-war rhetoric.

Mindshot 1: L lying across the hood of her wee-mini sports car, a gaggle of young men surrounding her, waiting to do her bidding. I believe she was moving that day, or perhaps it was a car problem. Guys fell over themselves to help L, lithe as an impala. She was wearing a knitted vest like a blouse. The V-neck and loose fit was sexy in an offhand sort of way, like L herself. Her special charm attracted guys in droves, all vying for her attention. I admired that. My then-husband, who knew her well, remarked, “She doesn’t sleep with them, you know.” I admired her even more.

For L, summer days were not muggy; they were foetid. Our friends were not our crowd but our herd. She knew the bars that were “loaded with spies” in the Capitol, the best places for crab cakes, and the trendiest boutique hotel wherever she went – before the term boutique hotel had entered the language. Always at the cutting edge of popular culture, she was the first person I know to buy the gas-saving hybrid Prius.

Mindshot 2: One time I lost contact with L for two or three years. We reconnected when we met by chance coming out of an office we'd both visited. Since then, she’s been my friend as I moved here and there along the eastern seaboard, and throughout her own bi-coastal peripatesis* that included trips to Italy and Africa and all the best ski places in the U.S.

Unlike a friend I dropped, who flaunted money when I had none and was so scared for my future, L never did. Mindshots 3 & 4: Friend X swept out of her closet wearing a street-length mink coat she’d just purchased at thrift sale. I was worried about whether I’d have enough rice and beans to eat all week. X was angry when my praise was less than effuse. Friends must be glad for their loved ones’ good fortune, no matter what their own circumstances, she instructed me. Contrast: I was visiting the Divine Miss L during that dark economic time and noticed an expensive piece of luggage on the floor. When I remarked on its fine quality, L said, “Oh that’s nothing” and prodded it under the sofa with her toe. I treasure these memories Miss L.

Her life hadn’t been a sweet barrel of juicy peaches in recent years. There were health issues and other challenges. That has me worried. Is she in trouble, I wonder? Is there anything I can do to help?

There wasn’t a conflict, at least not any I recall. Memory and denial can lead one to suppress such events, and I can be prickly.

If there had been a conflict, wouldn’t flowers suggest that whatever happened was unintentional on my part? I’ve written her that I am willing to apologize, if only I knew what I’d done.

I am conflict-averse. A gal-pal once told me that abandonment was what men do to women, and we shouldn’t do it to each other.

Yet I left the friendship with X, because of her showboating, carping about things I must change “for my own good,” and using me as a beard to cheat on her husband. I stopped answering her letters. This was before the days of cheap phone calling. I regret my behavior, and I hope I would behave more maturely, bravely, and decently now.

At any rate, the Divine Miss L appears to be gone from my life, and I don’t know why. I hope she won’t be gone for years again and that only chance will bring fresh contact.

I am concerned, confused, and if this is intentional, hurt. I miss her, and I hope she’s okay.

* I have borrowed the neologism peripatesis with thanks to artist Carolyn A. Jones:

Peripatesis Definition

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Raodside Attraction

Kiddie Rides at Flea & Farmer's Market, Sunrise Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale, FL.

A well-traveled British friend once told me the flea market, that spreads across the parking lot of a multi-screen drive-in, was as "exotic as any Moroccan marketplace." I make it a point not to get up that early on weekends.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Alligator Alley

When I first moved to Florida, the route that is now I-75 was a notorious death trap of 18-wheelers roaring down the two-lane highway, drunk crackers, and was littered with the bodies of dead armadilloes and Florida panthers. Or so I heard-tell; the drive was so notorious, I always took a more northerly route across the state through the sugar plantations at the foot of Lake Okeechobee.

Driving back from Sarasota to Fort Lauderdale today, the Everglades channel reported that the tunnels for animals beneath the four-lane divided highway have been a success. Larger fleet animals such as deer and panther will travel miles, apparently, to get to an underpass. Smaller animals, such as fox, don't travel that far from their hunting grounds and don't use the tunnels. But sturdy fences keep them off the highway, too, and from hurting themselves and motorists.

A program on National Public Radio continued my traveling education. I can get real excited about preserving the wetlands when I listen to the sparkling descriptions of Marjory Stoneman Douglas of River of Grass fame, or Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who wrote Cross Creek. In theory, preserving the environment is a good thing. In reality, I'm not much for wading through bug- and alligator-infested swamps.

It's easy to get up the West Coast with the improved superhighway that has outgrown the derogatory "alligator alley" appellation. And bravo for the folks who like to go out canoeing in the wilderness. Go for it. I'll stay home and watch the documentary.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Brokeback Dresser

I purchased art nouveau dresser in 1972, a beautiful piece with a sunburst of wood grain across the drawers and the lanquid curls of a Mucha poster in the ornate carvings. It is big and heavy, and the drawers are too deep for easy storage, but I love looking at it.

I have newer, glossier furniture now, with handy lingerie drawers that roll out with the finesse of a maitre d' presenting the flambe dessert. It has the sleek lines of art deco in white lacquer veneer with a waterfall curve, like set pieces from a Thin Man film. I lilke looking it at it, too, but it doesn't have the history of the art nouveau dresser. I and that dresser have traveled from Baltimore to upstate New York, down to Georgia, and landed in Florida. It's been quite a ride.

An antiques dealer offered me $500 for the art nouveau dresser a few years after I bought it, which would have been a 2000 percent profit. Sometimes I wonder if I should have taken the money and run.

Last night I dreamt that I was moving the old dresser yet again. The company used the dresser as part of an advertisement it was filming. But somehow, the old dresser got broken down into splinters when something went wrong.

The company denied culpability, but I found a nice large piece of the dresser on a pile of broken wood. I decided to take it home and display the wonderful starburst wood grain and the carved furbellows as art. I also asked the company to reimburse me for my loss, which it refused to do. It claimed that I had relinquished the right to a claim when I signed the moving papers.

Then, a video was produced showing that they had used my art noveau dresser in the advertisement without my authorization. So they paid me the $500. But my mother noted when I took the check that I sure had liked looking at that old dresser.

It's a fine old piece of wood-working, even if does have a candle-wax scar on the top and few dings and nicks in the veneer. We've been around, that dresser and I, and I expect it has aged better than I have. I still like looking at it after all this time.

I also think I'd like to pass it on to someone who loves art nouveau and would look after it, because maybe it's time to let it go.