Wednesday, October 17, 2012

That was Disappointing

It was my fault, I'm sure of that.

I made some really disappointing corn bread last night. I wasn't paying close attention when I bought corn meal at the grocery store yesterday and managed to come home with self-rising corn meal. I've never used used self-rising flour, and didn't even know self-rising corn meal was a thing.

So I had to follow the recipe on the back of the bag instead of the one I've always used. I should have added baking powder any way. But I followed the recipe, put it in the oven and hoped.

Hope, as they say, isn't a plan. It never rose, we got a corn plank about three quarter's of an inch thick, dense as a Romney supporter, and about as palatable. It tasted sort of OK, but wasn't anything you could call bread.

My inclination is to just dump the bag and get some new stuff, the kind of familiar with. Because there's nothing like good corn bread, and this was nothing like good corn bread.. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Blue Day

And I'm not talking about the sky, which is bright and warm, or the water – there's a reason they call it The Big Muddy.

No, I'm, a little blue today. This morning drove Millie to the airport. She's going back to school, this time in NY. She was understandably very excited as we left the house. Me? Not so much.

This time, when she leaves, she ain't coming back. Sure, she'll visit from time to time, we get her back at Christmas for a week or two. And we're supposed to go up to see her final showcase in June. And we'll Skype and call and all that.

But when she finishes in June, she's going to start trying to make it in the very touch career she's chosen - show business. She's studyingh musical theater performance. And she'll succeed, I don't doubt it. She's always been that one who, when she's on stage, you look at her. Everyone has said the same thing. She's talented and she can be single minded. Lots of perspective to go with the most outgoing personality you've ever seen.

So we'll also see her on stage and screen and all that. Really. I believe that. She's going to the same program her brother Ben did, and he's beginning to break through. (Checkl out his very successful online web serial, "Hunting Season.")

But she's grown up and flying the next. Literally, right now she's on a plane.

And it's not just that. When she went to L.A. last year at this time for the first part of the program, she was near a brother, and a bunch of cousins and aunts and uncles and we have a friend or two in the area who would do anything if she needed it. People we know in New York? Two. Her brother Ben and my agent Eddie (who's in Brooklyn.) And my former agent Scott, but he's my former agent.

So this summer has been it, and now she's gone. I honestly don't know if we'd have been able to make this move without her.

It was tough watching her walk down the concourse and into the hands of airport security. I  hung around the airport until she called to say she was at her gate and ready to go. Then I went out, got in the Beast and drove home. It's quieter here now.

Gonna miss her a lot. A lot.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Trip Into the Quarter

I may have given the wrong impression. Our first two months here have not been all auto repairs and struggling with jobs and schedules. We have taken some time – not enough, but some – to explore the city a bit. Here are some photos from a trip into the heart of New Orleans.

 This shot is pure tourist! The Baurs at Jackson Square. I'll spare you my shot of the statue of Andy Jackson.

Musicians busking in front of the cathedral.

 Millie and Tori checking out hats at a hat shop.
 Max in front of the voodoo shop. His fashion sense is entirely his own, although his sisters blame me.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Beast Purrs, NOLA Sighs with relief, and More Baur Bad Luck

I turned the key in the ignition and thought something was wrong. It was too quiet.

Of course it was. I was in the parking lot at the mechanic's, after waiting an hour and a half for the repair of the broken exhaust pipe, and paying an enormous amount of money. Now the car was so quiet I was startled. I turned off the ignition, went back into the garage and found Vaughn, that guy who'd done the repair, and shook his hand.

The Beast, as we call it, is a nine-year-old Chevy Astro that at one time was a cab on Key West. It is hardly finished or fixed, but it's a lot quieter. A lot. But it still uses too much oil, and I have to keep a close eye on the radiator. I always carry a gallon of coolant and a couple of quarts of oil in the back – just in case.

But driving down the road, taking Tori to work or Millie to the optometrist or Max to rehearsal, I revel in the fact that I can accelerate and not frighten people inside the houses I drive by.

RELIEF – The city is palpably more relaxed this week after the Saints finally got off the schneid and won a game, a game in which QB Drew Brees broke Johnny Unitas's 52-year-old record by throwing a TD pass in his 48th consecutive game. Given that LSU had lost ugly the day before to Florida, if the Saints had fallen to the Chargers or Brees not tossed a TD or – Heaven forbid! – if both of those heinous possibilities had come to pass, they'd have had to close the bridges to keep people from jumping.

But at least for a week God is smiling down on the bayou, and people are feeling as if life might go on.
Speaking of sports and the Baur Curse, and pardon me if you don't care, but I was watching glimpses of the Notre Dame game Saturday in between running kids hither and yon, and I remember another classic example of Baur family bad luck.

In 1970 we had just moved to L.A., and one of the guys who worked for my father had played football for Notre Dame. He got dad two tickets to watch the Irish play Southern Cal, on the Notre Dame side of the stands. We were rooting for the Golden Domers, of course. (And for those of you who don't know, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are sometimes referred to as the Golden Domers because of their gold helmets and the gold dome of the campus chapel.)

The Irish were ranked second in the nation, had only lost one game, if memory serves. They had Joe Theisman at quarterback. SC was having a down year, they were 5-4. We had great seats, between the 40s, about 15 rows up, and were excited for the chance to cheer for our favorite team.

It was ugly. On a cold, gray day, USC came out of nowhere and shut the Irish down. The score was close, but the game wasn't. There was just no sense that Notre Dame was going to get anything going, and USC cruised to victory.

And somewhere, about five or six rows behind us, was a fan who felt like he knew what Notre Dame should be doing and kept offering his advice to Coach Parseghian.

With leather lungs that pierced the gloom of the subdued Notre Dame rooting section, he kept shouting, "Give it to the Tank!' No. 24! Gutowski! Give it to the Tank!"

His advice began in the second quarter, and continued unabated through the rest of the game. Every time Notre Dame had the ball, "Give it to the Tank! Gutowski!" louder and more insistent as the game wore to its dismal conclusion.

After the game, Dad and I started our slog back to the car, which we had parked on the streets instead of paying for parking. Naturally, we couldn't find it. And it started raining.

For those unfamiliar with Los Angeles, Memorial Coliseum is not located in the best part of town. It's in South Central L.A., Watts, which just a few years earlier had been torn apart by the race riots of the '60s. Boarded up, burned out buildings dotted every block. It was not a great place for a small, middle-aged white guy and his 15-year-old son to wander from street to street.

Fortunately, the rain poured down in sheets. No one in their right mind would have been out but us. Water came up over the curbs, we were wading half the time. It goes without saying that we had brought no rain gear.

We finally found the car, about 45 minutes later, and drove home.

So don't think the family's bad mojo only affects the teams we root for. It has plenty left over to splash all over us as well.

Update/Correction:  In an earlier version of this post I said the Saints would play the Packers next week. Stupid. They played them a week ago. They're on their bye now, and in two weeks they get Tampa, which hasn't been p-laying any better than they do. LSU, however, hosts South Carolina next weekend, and the Gamecocks last week butchered a very good Georgia team. So that might not be good.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Holy Healthy Word

A bit of news from the island, which I just heard about and thought it funny enough to pass on.

The top brass from St. Croix's Juan F. Luis Hospital were testifying again before the Senate this week. The senator who chairs the committee hates the hospital CEO. She hates him. He's smart – smarter than her, but that's not hard – and he's from off island, he's "an outsider." He was brought in almost two years ago to try to save the hospital, which is staggering under massive debt and years of mismanagement. He's really good at his job, and he's changing the JFL culture and doing the things that need doing to try to turn it around. It's still touch and go whether they'll make it.

But he's had to do some unpopular things, and St. Croix does not like change. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the unofficial motto of the Virgin Islands is "That's The Way We've Always Done It." So even though business as usual would have forced the hospital's closure a year ago, people resent him. And the one senator in particular hates him. You can see it every time he has to testify before her committee. She's just as rude as it's possible to be in such a setting. I've never seen anything like it. She's one of those politicians whose career is based on posturing for the voters that she's always angrily defending them. She follows the political maxim, "It's not what you know, it's how loud you know it."

Yet the hospital CEO never rises to the bait, never reacts angrily or replies in kind. He just answers the questions and is polite and respectful of the office. He's really the best I've ever seen at it. And that just pisses her off more.

So Wednesday she and a couple of her colleagues were just raining down shit on him again, stupid, rude, intentionally offensive questions, and he was answering calmly and as succinctly as he could. And suddenly the senator accused him of ordering the removal of all the Bibles from the hospital. He apparently looked confused.

The senator said one of her "inside sources" at the hospital had told her he'd ordered all the Bibles removed from the patients rooms. What about it?

He shook his head and said, no, he'd never done anything like that. Then, a light dawned, and he figured out what she was talking about.

The Gideon Society had asked to put more Bibles in the rooms, but the hospital couldn't accept them. Hospitals have to make sure the Bibles are sterilized first. A large mass of paper – like a carton or two of books that have been stored for an indeterminate period of time – can become infected with mold or germs and could pose a health risk to patients. So he'd had to turn them down, and asked the Gideons to send a load of Bibles that have been prepared specifically for hospitals.

The senator looked confused, and replied that she didn't think Bibles could get germs, because of their sacredness.

Where do people get this stuff?

What a Difference 40 Minutes Make

Tori had an in-service day at school – no students, just meetings – so I didn't have to driver her in as early. (We still have only the one car, the Beast. Still growling like a gravel truck. More on that below.)

We've been leaving the house at 6:30 and making the roughly 15-minute drive to school down the Earhart Expressway, the sun rising like a big red ball over the skyline of New Orleans as we come down the incline into the city. It's so muted and red you can stare right at it, although I guess that's still not a good idea. Then as it scales the skyscrapers it turns orange, then a burnished gold, then its usual bright yellow. There's other traffic, but not that much.

Anyway, today we got to leave at 7:15. And boy, as soon as we got on the expressway it was tight, traffic thick and slow (like the blood oozing through my cholesterol laden arteries.)

At the end of the expressway there's a rise where the road passes over some train tracks and a canal, then dips down into the city streets, narrowing from three lanes to two, then stopping at a stoplight. At our earlier hour the traffic congests right about at the light. Today, it was slow and go from before the start of the incline.

And naturally, while most of the traffic moved over into the two left hand lanes, a dozen or so vehicles tried to use the vanishing right lane as a chance to zoom to the head of the line and cut in. Assholes. And ahead of us a couple of drivers in the center lane, the one that was about to become the right lane, pulled halfway out across the line to block them. It was fun to watch, even if it was only partially successful – some of the assholes just swerved around them, practically brushing the restraining wall to secure their favored spot in lines. And it didn't help me particularly, since they were already in front of me.

But I liked watching.

The Beast Growls: Some things aren't that different no matter where you live. On St. Croix, if you order something there is no telling when it'll arrive. The standard phrase is "soon come," which translates as "It'll be here when it gets here, and you'll know it's here because you'll see it." 

As I have mentioned, our car has a crack in the exhaust pipe. Driving down the road, we must sound like a mobile rock crusher. The guy at the auto shop ordered a new one that was supposed to be in Tuesday. When I hadn't heard from him by Wednesday, I called.

"Yeah, they said we'd get it Tuesday, but something happened," he said.

"Doesn't it always?" I agreed.

I just got a call, and it's in and tomorrow morning I'll take the Beast in and get it fixed, so to speak.

Soon come, Cajun style.

Quick question: Who designs the "road construction" signs in New Orleans. I've seen lots of road construction signs in my life. On St. Croix, they seemed to just grab whatever signs were lying around, so it might say "Road Construction Next Two Miles," and then you'd see one guy weed whacking the shoulder of the road and nothing else the rest of the way.

Every day for the past two weeks we've driven by a sign that says, "Road COnstruction Next .691 Miles."

.691 Miles? Really?? Did someone measure that and make a new sign just for this project? And is there some Department of Transportation rule that requires them to carry it out to three decimal places? What the hell?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

What Is This Chilliness?

Cold. Colder than I've been in four years. You might not think it's cold, depending on where you live, but it's cold.

It was down to 71 yesterday, and this morning it was 60 or slightly less. (I don't trust the old thermometer on the wall outside that says 55. It looks older than me.)

I know that I'm back on the mainland and can't expect tropical weather, but this is not what I expected in Louisiana on Oct. 1.

It once got down to 71 one night on St. Croix, we actually had to sleep under the sheet!

Shortly after we moved to the islands four years ago I had to travel to Philly for a pirate appearance. When I stepped outside the airport a cold wind almost blew me down. Fortunately we spent almost the entire time indoors, so that worked. And except for walking through the frozen food section at the supermarket I was never that cold again. Oh, and covering Senate hearings. For some reason, the V.I. Senate keeps its chambers blood-chillingly cool. But the rest of the island? Toasty.

In fact, I was stunned once when grocery shopping to see this guy walking down the aisle in a heavy, puffy down parka. Took me a minute to figure out he worked there and was stocking the frozen foods. I was always surprised when a young islander told me he or she was going off to college in New York or Chicago or Minnesota. Don't they ever watch the Weather Channel? We have a young friend who grew up on the island and in Arizona, who is now at college in Rochester, N.Y. He's never heard of "the lake effect," has apparently never seen pictures of when blizzards blow down out of Canada. Good luck Rafa!

The problem is, we are totally unprepared for this. Before we left Oregon I got rid of all my sweaters. All of them. My wardrobe is mostly T-shirts and Hawaiian shirts. (So you can imagien what my sweaters looked like. My family was glad to see them go.) We have three sweatshirts in the whole house, plus a few sweaters in Millie's closet. I'm wearing one of them now – a sweatshirts, not Millie's sweater. That would be silly. She's tiny.

The sun is out now, and it's supposed to get back up to about 80 today, which I'm looking forward to. But I'm obviously going to have to prepare. From what I've been told, winter here is sort of like fall in Oregon, a little drizzly and cool. And if yesterday was a harbinger of what's to come, I'm not ready.

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Typical Weekend

We have one car – The Beast, which just cracked a weld on the exhaust pipe and sounds like a Sherman tank that got hit by a German 88 and is trying to get the hell off the battlefield – and we all had things to do.

So Saturday started with me running to the mechanic's where he showed me the broken weld, told me he could re-weld it but given where it was, said it wouldn't last a month. So we ordered a new tailpipe which will be in on Tuesday. Vroom! Then we took Kate to the library where she volunteers and Millie to the restaurant where she works (and is learning the value of smiling at diners, she gets great tips) then ran to a couple of stores to pick up supplies for Tori's classroom. Max didn't have rehearsal for Peter Pan (He's playing Captain Hook) so that part of the equation was out for a change. Then we reversed the route and picked up Kate before heading home and ate dinner while Tori did prep for school until it was time to go pick up Millie.

Sunday we ran Millie to work again, then over to school where we rearranged Tori's classroom (she inherited the classroom for the teacher she replaced a month into the school year, it wasn't really hers, although that's not the biggest problem in a class full of kids who don't know how to learn or particularly see the point.) We got it mostly set up the way she wants, then ran Max over to the school where he did have Sunday rehearsal, then went off to a laundromat to do laundry while we waited for him. Then we got him, stopped at the supermarket and headed home, the car roaring like a berserk semi. After dinner I picked up Millie while Tori worked on class prep.

And in there I managed to work two copy editing shifts for the Source.

Kind of a typical weekend.

Today I was hoping to a) get some rest and b) get some writing done. But Millie has the day off and needs to get errands done. She leaves for college in two weeks and has a lot of stuff to take care of. Part of me heaved a sigh when she asked. I was really looking forward to not driving today – the car won't get fixed until tomorrow and I really do need to get some work done.

But I've got all fall to finish the second draft of the book. I've got Millie for two more weeks. So as soon as she's up and ready, we'll be off.