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Valleys and Mountains of One Day

It never seems to amaze me how this world works. We are individually in “control” of our own little personal worlds—to some extent—while the expanded real world juts and jitters along at its own pace with little or no concern for what these personal worlds intend to be. It’s almost like we individually form our own “goddoms” from which we can meld and form our own little realities from the dust of the ground about us with full control of its outcome, a genesis of sorts until such time when life itself intercedes rendering our efforts impudent at best. And, at this point of experience, our perception of what goes on about us is controlled not so much by what is happening to us as much as it is how we choose to process the information we are receiving. It’s a case of “the glass half empty/half full” concept and just like our insistence on focusing rather exclusively from within our myopic eyes—after all we were created/evolved (you are free to choose that orientation also), any choice of reality acceptance depends solely on your will; what happens happens and there is always very little you can do to change that fact. But the more important thing is how you react to the stimuli which dictates how the reality will affect you.

No matter your spiritual orientation, the most final reality is death if we go no further than the physical realm we can see, touch, taste, smell and feel. We return again to the matter of choice as to what extension beyond this mortal coil one chooses to grasp. That’s a matter of your personal world, but for this discussion let’s just assume it’s something better than the pain and anguish we must all deal with daily. And then again, the pain and anguish part—although it does exist in truth—most often can be redirected according to your choices. It’s pretty much all relative also because the pain of being called ugly as a child is just as intense as losing a parent at the age of 85 years old although neither incident could be considered life threatening to your own self; the pain real or imagined is felt. I don’t speak metaphysically, but we all can affect any perception of pain, loss or despair to some degree by the refocusing of our thoughts whether it is through philosophy or religion, again your choice. And sometimes you can be pleasantly surprised by virtually no interaction, as previously alluded to, and you can also attribute that to fate or other forces, your choice again.

To a certain extent, we all tend to be self-absorbed by our own condition. It’s a simple fact that if you feel good one day you expect the entire world to be of the same mind. The reverse is also true. But some of us insist on overriding the natural order by deliberately trying to redirect our condition into the inverse. It’s something like the old pessimist/optimist metaphor of the glass imposed upon by some willful force within us—whatever its origin, again you decide—in which a choice of how we will ultimately feel on that day. And on those miraculous days, outside forces can and will permeate whatever will you may have prepared for given times in your life rendering any “will” as only a temporary thought as reality assaults you.

On the negative side, our present New Orleans condition surrounding the events perpetrated by Hurricane Katrina can and forever will affect millions of people’s emotions predominantly negatively simply because of the loss of life or property. That’s an inevitable reality because it did happen, it was out of everyone’s control and there is little we can do short of clicking our ruby heels together three times and chanting “There’s no place like New Orleans.” That would be a temporary fantasy with no basis for any substance. And it serves no purpose but for avoidance and momentary relief from the tribulations encountered by an entire city. Some people lost others in life or in proximity and some of those instances will never be restored to pre-August 28th standards. Others lost all possessions and those can be restored eventually with the same amount of work it took to acquire them in the first place whether you consider wrestling with FEMA or your insurance company the task or merely putting in the needed elbow grease to re-earn the privilege of owning similar items. Just as intensely dismaying is whether the replacement cost for any or all of those items will be paid in full even though you just spent the last forty years of your life earning the premium and then paying it to the company who promised that you would always be in good hands in the time of need (no intention of singling out one insurance provider but the phrase is applicable to almost all insurers’ advertisements). The stark reality is they are in this for the money not because they wanted to help you. That’s not an evil thing, but you chose to believe it all these years. On the other hand, the flip side is the padders who always insist the “rich” insurance company owes them more than they really deserve, so why not file claim for those things you never did have? Do unto others before they do it unto you. Now that’s a civilized thought, huh? Wouldn’t either of these activities be elevated above looting? If that’s your will, again your choice.

You’ve got to drill down to intimate levels to get the real picture of life in New Orleans these days. The Quarter is the only thing happening in the Crescent City these days. And the reputation of “Party Town” has not been forsaken within all the tragedy and loss, but that’s not a bad thing unless you’re a Swaggert-type, again your choice. But if that’s your thing, at least somebody can be having fun and that’s what this city needs. We’ve been begging and grieving for way too long now and whatever relief—within reason of course—should be expected. Sure, we need to eventually get back to piecing all the parts back together during the daylight hours. But it does lift everyone’s spirits just to drive by and see something occurring for a change. Everyone’s on edge 20 hours a day right now wondering if life will recreate itself and what it will be like when it does. And since the functional area of the city is now relegated to the original settlement district of about the early 1700’s, it’s refreshing to think that our re-growth will have to be incremental because then maybe we can fix those problems that retarded the city just a short few weeks ago. Politicians don’t like to hear that; they would rather have everyone back tomorrow but very few had ruby slippers when they left and even fewer now. But those of us who have returned just want it to work be it in our own little worlds and neighborhoods.

Now that brings me to a crucial point in this discussion. Some interesting factors have emerged in this brave new world of Southeastern Louisiana, ones that I have never considered in my earlier diaspora while I had time to contemplate on what life and location would dictate if I were to ever return to the city of my birth. I knew I would, but I can never know for certain if conditions could exist or if I would be forced by circumstance to find another world to live in. Life is nowhere near what it was nor will it be for quite some time, but that’s not really a bad thing as I will explain in a moment. But life in New Orleans and the region does offer surprises, again your choice.

On a sad note, today I attended the joint funeral services for a good friend James’ parents. The couple—in their 80’s—had survived all hurricanes of the last century and were intent in waiting this one out also in their home just a mile from Lake Pontchartrain and just a couple of blocks from the London Avenue Canal. James, himself, worked during the school year as an educator for mentally handicapped children in St. Bernard Parish, as a gardener for selected clients after school and on weekends—more ironically as you will see—as a security guard nights and was a member of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Land and Sea Emergency Rescue (LASER) Division as a fully commissioned auxiliary police officer. I am convinced James does not sleep! And although I can only describe him to others as “Forrest Gump” because of his rather simple three word sentences, his very quiet demeanor and his down-to-earth approach to life, his exhaustive schedule notwithstanding, his in-depth knowledge of almost anything you want to talk to him about (except computers!) is astounding if you insist on judging books by their covers.

I did not know either parent well although his mom accompanied him occasionally when he cut the grass at my place. She would sit in the door of his truck with her old straw sunbonnet every now and then making her way to the garden to admire a day lily or azalea and maybe pluck a weed from the flower bed. She hardly ever said more than three words when I asked her how she was that day but I always remember her smiling which was an ample substitute for any missing words she so eloquently withheld. I could tell very easily whose mother she was. And one of dad’s friends from church who delivered a heartfelt eulogy made the chapel attendees laugh out loud as he discussed dad’s perpetual building projects which lasted decades and how he would willingly play dumb to building codes to save an extra nail here and there. I could tell very easily whose dad he was. We are who we are as a testament. It was designed to work that way.

James urged his parents to evacuate, but never before in the innermost areas of the city had such floods occurred. They made their choice. It wasn’t easy for a LASER deputy to accept the inevitability of their choice a week later when he and some of his fellow deputies were finally able to boat over six miles to their neighborhood before any waters subsided. In today’s unfortunate lexicon inspired by a hurricane named Katrina, they were classified as “floaters” and that term is not one ever wants to hear about anyone no less for both of your parents simultaneously.

I could hear the pain in James’ voice a few short weeks ago when he called to ask me to attend the funeral once they released the bodies. I was still hundreds of miles away in my refuge and there are no words one could ever find to make the news of his discovery easier to bear. Add to that an agonizing four weeks of holding in a statewide morgue with other victims of nature and you might only begin to taste the foul circumstance. It took authorities over a month to release them to their son. And I saw the same anguish in his face yesterday, the look that “I did what I thought was best and look what happened.” But I also saw a “Gumpish” response to all the pain one feels during such a horrendous experience, situations I have faced at separate moments in history but never all in one day. His response gave me hope.

I could have sworn I heard him say something about “chocolates” after the service outside in the parking lot, but a moment later I began to understand what he was saying. After all, he was the child of his mother and father, a man of few words like his mom and a little tight in the billfold like his dad but nonetheless “good people” as they say.

“Ticked off the funeral director,” he gumpishly groaned with a faint smile.

I looked at him for a moment trying to get a feel for his state of mind after this harrowing experience. I almost felt like I was waiting for a punch line. I looked at him puzzled.

“Ordered their coffins online. Saved $900,” he explained.

Mom and dad had raised him to be just like them to their credit. All is as well as can be expected. His choice this time.

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Posted by on October 26, 2005 in Katrina

 

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A Second Date With Katrina

It’s now the day after. It kind of reminds me of the day after Mardi Gras when most of the city has had too much party the day before and everyone is sleeping later to nurse that pounding head and making plans to stop by the church to get the ashes on their foreheads. But this day there is one major difference: the “ashes” themselves lay in monstrous piles in front of homes in the desolate streets, that is if the home is not itself a heap of ash-like uselessness itself, something like a worn out wooden bucket filled with holes that can no longer hold the water it was never meant to contain. To see any movement—human or not—in this mass of “once was” is a welcome sight. But you won’t see much of that today. You could just as well plop yourself down with a cold Dixie—if you could find one of those—just outside St. Louis Number One and wait for someone long gone to rise from one of those ancient sepulchers. What’s even stranger, if you think about, is that’s exactly what will happen if you wait long enough. You can wax theological if you want but I’m talking more localized if you know what I mean.

Just over a month ago in the waning days of the month of August 2005, a million people packed their bags for a short vacation. The vacation turned into a month’s worth of anguish, uncertainty and devastating news reports. Okay, to put it into perspective it was no more than a December in a Saints season and the resultant angst will still last at least until well into the next year so things haven’t really changed all that much, emotionally at least. A little more intensely personal for most of us but for anyone who has been a Saints fan, today is nothing more than another glitch of a season, another “wait until next year” syndrome. And this “vacation” has turned into a Saints season in force because we will get no definitive results until next season—God forbid, even a hurricane season—and that will be the test of our mettle as it always has been now for a couple of centuries. So, it’s not that we’re not used to this.

But this time it’s a little bit different. We can go home after the Saints’ loss. This time about a million people have no home to go back to or, at least, not the one they remember. It’s much worse than the botched Carney extra point a couple of season’s ago after rallying back and then making a Hail Mary kick off return–with more lateral swishes than the Queer Eye For The Straight Guy Gang–which put the Saints into a possible tie and the chance to make the playoffs. Not that they deserved it. But New Orleans life has always been a dream of beating the odds and skirting the periphery of normalcy always knowing that luck has everything to do with existence unless you happen to be one of those who actually planned your life to a “T.” But Life has its on little way of keeping things even over the long run. This time the Big One that had been prophesied for years finally took her toll of Saints and anti-Saints fans alike. It’s a quick dose of reality that really wakens the senses, a nightmare you just never can seem to wake up from.

There are some things that are more insidious than others, especially in the realm of nightmares. It’s those horrific dreams where nothing threatening is happening that are sometimes the scariest. The big green hairy monster chasing you is obvious; you’ve seen a million Wes Craven movies and somehow your instincts should be affected but you kind of know the difference between Hollywood and reality. And, for the most part, dreams turned into nightmares remain warmly in that realm of “willful suspension of disbelief” which is part of the entertainment equation. We all like nightmares because somewhere deep within us some Jungian archetype craves the need to be scared. Some people strap bungee cords around their ankles. Others jump from airplanes with nylon chutes for fun. And about a million plus people chose to live in the New Orleans region just for kicks. Bad things mostly happen to other person, at least that’s what we used to believe with conviction. But that’s not what was really scary in this nightmare of a return to home just about one month after Katrina.

It was much more the nightmare which scares me the most. It’s that isolated tinge of being all alone in that city that once bustled 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Yes, those TV images across the screen for the past month were horrible to look at with water as deep as most New Orleanians are tall even in their above sea level living rooms. The images of people being rescued and even those who were not rescued but chose to stay in the “safety” of the Superdome or Convention Center. That was scary but that was not real because I saw that on TV, the same instrument I use to watch Arnold Schwarzeneggar or Tom Cruise or Jennifer Lopez or Julia Roberts and that ain’t real. What is reality is riding through the streets of New Orleans after the waters have subsided, eerily resembling 6 a.m. Ash Wednesday morning just after daybreak, then 6 hours with the sun a full azimuth later still resembling the lack of movement typical of the day after Fat Tuesday. Imagine, if you will, a freshly dressed corpse, the shell of a body now free of the disease which helped to extinguish the life it once had. You notice the mortician has done a fairly nice job of restoring some of the life look back into the deceased by removing some of the bad. Deep within you’re hoping the deceased will slowly or suddenly—it doesn’t really matter as long as life returns—spring back into motion. But also deep within there is that woeful dread which you know is the fate of our mortal coil that eventually all things must come to an end and return to the dust it originated from. Those fluids have been removed from the “body” and what is left behind is nothing more than a shell of what was just a month before.

That’s the dilemma of returning to New Orleans on this day. The “corpse” lay dormant flushed of the hellish liquid that drowned her once lively spirit. She is now devoid of any influence, both desirable and undesirable, as she lay in wait for the promised resurrection. All you can see as you ride through these vacant streets and gutted homes is a ghost of dashed dreams and virulent destruction and you wonder if you should hope for a cure or a peaceful interment. And what will the immediate future yield? Will it be a gracious Easter after a penitent Lenten season or will life return as normal complete with all the problems that plagued the city before her demise? That’s the genesis of the nightmarish vision which rivals any Stephen King novel if he were to write the ending of this Katrina story.

Ride down any street and you see the measure of what we are up against. Almost every home has the brownish mark of the beast at whatever level of judgmental water it had in it at one point in time over the past few weeks. Sometimes you see more than one mark stretching across the whole property as if to imply that some force arbitrarily decided that different measures of recompense were due and that once was not necessarily enough to make her point. After peering into a couple of friends’ homes who had about 5-6 feet of water in them, it was not hard to imagine the multitude of homes I witnessed this day having the same jumble of misplaced and disintegrated furniture along with water-soaked couches and rancid refrigerators, a veritable hodge podge reminiscent of an early Ash Wednesday morning on Bourbon Street just after the Street Cleaning jets have piled the sludge and degradation into a central pile for the dump trucks to haul away. And those that had snuck their way into the city before officially legal had already begun the process if, in fact, I am not mistaken and their possessions had found their own path to the now littered more than normal streets of a majority of the city as if in some macabre flotilla without human direction.

It would almost be appropriate to suddenly have a rogue sagebrush wisp past me and I stand looking down these deserted streets. After all just a few short weeks ago, national correspondents and officials alike reported the OK Corral nature of the city with firefights and mass human destruction taking place carte blanche. It was not enough that Mother Nature impishly wreaked her havoc but some of us that live here thought anarchy suddenly became permissible since there was no one around to tell them how to act, not that that would have mattered to them anyway since they more than likely only amplified their normal behavior in the freedom from “oppression”, a fantastical myth perpetrated by small minds and low ideals. And some others of us have excused this selfish narcissism as a long overdue retribution for injustices imagined because social progress should never be measured by mass conditions but more appropriately by the evidence that those who chose to move ahead have done so of their own accord, an American dream of sorts. Stealing a big screen TV while your neighbor’s ailing grandma is treading water is “justified”, kind of, depending on how you look at it, I guess. Or if you wear a badge. But someone did hot wire a bus to drive some of the unfortunate out of the deluge, a type of entrepreneurship and a worthy “criminal” whose creativity will surely be his redemption one day. Anarchial heroism at its best, I would say. If only the Mayor would have thought of that with all the RTA buses languishing in the yard unused but available.

And what I describe is the daylight hours. Just a few short hours later while finishing up our inspection of the property, the late evening sun descends below the month old pruning of the majestic oaks that canopy our street. Evening in the neighborhood usually means a torrent of workers finishing the day by stopping at the supermarket a couple of blocks down, the next door neighbor raking up the constant carpet of oak leaves almost daily, another across the street washes the daily dust from his beamer and countless walkers do their promenade in sweats and tennis shoes or perhaps being dragged along by their eager black lab chasing the other neighbor’s cat. And there are always congenial “Good evenings” although no one has really ever stopped to carry on a conversation longer than a few words of witticisms. But this evening is different. I could just as well be standing in St. Louis #1 hoping to talk with its tenants. I’d have a better chance to hear a reply. All I could hear this darkened day are my own thoughts ringing through the streets but connecting with nothing.

I always appreciated those instances out in the country far away from the city lights. Just to look up at the sky and count the millions of flickering specks and an occasional meteor flare has always been a welcomed diversion from normalcy. But one should never be permitted to do the same while living in a metropolitan area such as New Orleans. It’s unnatural. But it’s real. No sound. No passing cars. No lights. No breath but my own tonight. Even now the curfew has been pushed to midnight. It’s 8 p.m. and it could just as well be 4 a.m. on a Sunday morning with one exception: the two cars I would expect to see or hear heading down Gentilly Boulevard toward Gulf Outlet Marina towing their Center Console fishing boats are nowhere in sight. Nor will they be since there is no more Gulf Outlet Marina to launch at. And no one to go anyway since there ain’t nobody home. Anywhere.

You really don’t need to close your eyes. You can just glare down the street, that dark foreboding expanse in front or behind you, and you don’t even have to imagine what it might feel like to be comatose; all you need to do is stare. You might be lucky enough to discern some ethereal shapes from the starlight, but you won’t be able to recognize anything anymore than recalling what things looked like in broad daylight just a month or so ago. It’s our human habit to take those little things for granted like they don’t matter. Until now. It’s now you feel like a clown for not knowing the guy across the street’s name because at this point to talk with anyone would be a blessing. And you know how embarrassing it would be if he did show up and all you could muster was a “Hey, buddy” instead of a meaningful “Hey, Frank.” But staring down this street of void you can now realize that what you lived in before was much more than a trivial existence because living, breathing people once populated this area, people who could some how offer something useful in conversation or favor, or inversely something you could return to them to make life more fuller than just living a mere existence. Suddenly a cold chill runs down your spine, not a fear as much as a dread, that what you had previously may never return and if–by chance–it does how long will it be and how long should you wait to see if life returns to normal before you throw in the towel. There is also the chance that you’ll wait innocently and patiently only to find a Boogey Man behind that door.

That’s the scariness of the situation. It’s like being in the quintessential horror flick. Everybody’s having a good time and Katrina Voorhies shows up wielding her machete. Everybody flees but you know one by one everyone will manage to return because things will be getting better. But there are those creaky sounds. And subtle clues. What’s behind the door? Who will be the first to open it? What will they find? And we all know how stupid everyone is for “investigating” those odd sounds and questionable circumstances in horror movies: “Don’t do it!” And how many people are actually left alive or sane in the end of the movie. Please, no sequels!

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2005 in Katrina

 

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Not All Angels Have Wings . . .

Things could be better. But not all things are necessary. It’s a fact that you probably never want to learn and I hope you never have to. But what’s quite evident in the face of tragedy–especially on this day we so woefully remember September 11 from a few years ago—and now we New Orleanians are faced with our own version of catastrophe. It’s the little things that now count and should continue to count from here on and forth. There’s no rhyme and no reason you can put your finger on. It’s just an occurrence and we all must just get over it. Some of us will, but many of us need that little helping hand to push us just a little further over the hump toward normalcy.

So now we New Orleanians have one less thing to worry about today: The Saints are 1 & 0 in the season and the division. That’s a matter of pride and inspiration, but it’s really on a level much less important on the grander scope of things. I could hear the cheers emanate from Houston, Shreveport, Jackson, Pensacola and a thousand other places around this wonderful country of ours (except Carolina for some odd reason!) and it was a nice thing to know that amidst all the displacement and pain of not knowing what tomorrow may bring, alas there were a million plus cheers (more or less) and that’s a good thing. Without technology, there may have been no cheers whatsoever, just deadly silence over the City that care forgot and other parts of the world who wouldn’t have known the difference. But today, they do. Not because of the New Orleans Saints, but other forms of saints yet to be canonized.

Across this vast country, millions of people still with lives of their own, have postponed theirs to provide a much-needed commodity to us who have little left or are simply separated from it for the time being. Numerous times in my current situation the question “Are you from New Orleans?” has been followed with generous offers of cash, jobs, clothes, food, lodging, you name it. And this is not from people I’ve been talking with for hours. It’s a tap on my shoulder on the street. In fact, as I was doing the speed limit down a public street the other day in search of the right street to turn down, a truck sped up to me, slowed down to my speed and “forced” me to roll down the window. I thought he was lost and wanted me to give him directions. Or maybe my rear axle fell off and I didn’t even notice.

“Are you from New Orleans?” he asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“I’d be glad to give you directions if you’re lost. By the way, have you eaten today?”

“Yes, sir. I have eaten and thank you. And I think I see the Interstate just ahead. Right?” I replied.

“You got it. Best of luck. If you need help call me at XXX-XXXX.”

No wings. Just a guy.

Later at the hotel, a local church ( http://www.victoryworshipcenter.com/ ) has adopted us evacuees. In spite of their jobs, their kids’ schooling, their financial situations, they are here everyday serving up beef stew, red beans and rice, beef pasta, vegetables, lemonade, ice tea, cupcakes, chocolate cake and a warm embrace when needed. I feel so guilty drinking the last drop of tea from my cup because before it clears my lips a child of one of these people grabs it from my hands because it would be “shameful” to allow thirst to over take me. But it’s not thirst that is overtaking me. It’s much more than that and it has nothing to do with a lack.

No wings. Just people.

Yesterday, a fellow New Orleanian who escaped with his wife and two kids in the back of someone else’s pick up truck asked me if I might give his wife a ride to Lake Charles (about 5 miles) for a doctor’s appointment. She had injured her back sometime ago falling from a scaffold. They had lost everything including the crucial contact with her doctor back home. That was only a small thing for me to do to repay all the kindness I had experienced. As we were heading back to the hotel, she told me her family was coming over to Sulphur to bring her some money and not to make plans for dinner Monday night because they were taking me out for a meal. I “protested” but it was rebuffed.

No wings. Just a favor.

At the moment, a hotel employee is in my room with a cup of Café Du Monde coffee in his hand (sans beignet, but that’s part of the discussion). As soon as the deep fryer gets here and the other hotel employee brings the only remaining box of beignet mix he received as a gift a couple of years ago, the French Quarter a la Sulphur will be formed.

No wings. Just chicory.

Things could be worse. But the next time you suspect that everything life offers has been wrestled from your grip, don’t be a fool and rush to judgment. There are angels there and they do not really fear anything.

No wings. Just a lot of treading . . .

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2005 in Katrina

 

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From the “Ripley’s Believe It Or Else” File

In crises, no other country in the world responds as positively as the United States. Blunders of this catastrophe aside, the citizens of this great nation ban together in both micro- and macrocosms. It is evident in the swift response and outreach of individual citizens and organized groups that is the spirit of love and caring which permeates the very fabric of Americana. Katrina is evidence.

On this localized level I introduce you to the dichotomy of one hotel chain against the other. Pastor Mel Estes, leader of a local congregation here in Sulphur– http://www.victoryworshipcenter.com/ —has adopted the Holiday Inn Express in Sulphur and the entire congregation is daily feeding everyone in the hotel with a fabulous dinner, dessert and refreshment and they have been doing so for the past week with a commitment to continue until all New Orleanians have checked out. Besides the meal, they insist on having each one of us fill out a Family Needs Assessment form just in case we are too bashful to ask for more help. With it, they hope to clothe, house, secure employment and provide any medical needs. Folks, this is Red Cross Jr. in operation with a local church group. Heaven—or something extremely close—is a place on earth figuratively speaking.

Upon my arrival at this new hotel, I was introduced to an elderly black gentleman who insists on being called Gerald—not mister—just Gerald. A few days ago he was plucked off his roof in the Kenilworth area of East New Orleans after two days of braving the flood waters by himself. He is a very pleasant man with almost a “nutty professor” hair style but well-kept and very colorful in conversation about the old days in New Orleans. He spent most of his adult life not far from my grandparents who lived in Gentilly also during my childhood. He is a retired HUD worker and a veteran of the pre-Vietnam campaign who did serve in the region before full-scale operations started. It wasn’t until a days later when speaking with him again that I figured out where I came up with the source of my “nutty professor” impression. Since so many of our intelligentsia are sometimes considered aloof or eccentric by nature, something in my mind clicked as to why I saw him in that way. Apart from his engaging conversational style and the depth of his insights and analyses, staring at his visage that additional day, I recognized why. At closer observation I was moved to ask him a simple but appropriate question: “Has anybody ever told you you resemble Albert Einstein?”

“No. You’re the first. But I have been told Mark Twain before,” he replied.

Good company to be in, Gerald! And if you wrote a book, I might begin to believe in reincarnation.

For four hours while waiting for our new room to be ready in the hotel lobby, we chatted non-stop about old Gentilly, the goose that chased me and grandma laying the bird to waste with her purse while passing the Gentilly duck pond, his experiences with the local merchants in the area I remembered but have been displaced by corporations like Rite Aid and McDonalds, the waste of government resources in agencies like HUD, the ultimate meaning of life; you name it we discussed it.

During our conversation, another Caucasian gentleman from the church mentioned above approached Gerald and asked if he had gotten in touch with the V.A. hospital in Lafayette. Gerald mentioned the busy phone lines and waiting on hold for minutes with no response. The gentleman said he got in touch with the V.A. in Beaumont Texas and had made an appointment for Gerald for tomorrow morning and that he would pick him up in the lobby at 8 a.m. Without missing a beat, Gerald proceeded to make a deal with him that the only way he would go was if he (Gerald) would be allowed to fill his gas tank when they returned. The gentleman shook his head in agreement and winked in my direction as if to say “Okay. I lied to him. He ain’t gonna pay for nothing.”

If you are familiar with Mike Myer’s “verklempt”—or however you spell it–I’m sure Shanna will correct me—I am right now. I didn’t mention race above for any other reason than to highlight the fact that especially in these trying times the politics and the crap we collectively as a nation think is the answer to the ultimate questions of life are just that–a bunch of crap. If that term offends, get over it. There is no other sufficient term to define with precise characteristics what I mean. Color is only skin deep and we all know where the beauty ultimately resides.

I don’t want to preach but this is what I would compare to the closest thing as heaven on earth, not to wax denominationally, but to speak to “original intent” no matter Christian, Jew, Atheist, Muslim, whatever. And as proud as I am to be associated with Gulf Games (please visit http://sacredchao.2mydns.com/gulfgames/about_gg.php for a better understanding of “Gulf Games”) and the quality of people who are members, I still see glimmers of hope for the world especially in times when cooperation is paramount to survival, when barriers of race, creed, class, et. al., are tossed to the hurricane winds of Mother Nature and we all coalesce into a proper functioning society. All is not perfect in this “heaven” I speak of but with understanding and tolerance those of us who actively and willing refuse to acknowledge random boundaries drawn by misinformed individuals, this world will continue to be chaotic but with momentary glimmers of human kindness searing through the darkest clouds of despair. And I just can’t wait until the sky is bright blue without a cloud in sight.

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2005 in Katrina, Uncategorized

 

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WWW.IMNOTBRITENOUGH.COM

Isn’t this internet communication wonderful? We can instantly send a message, instantly get a reply and instantly blog the entire world with our mundane little thoughts. Unless, you have dial-up then you might as well snail-mail the stuff; it’s faster. Just kidding, of course. After all we are talking U.S.P.S. so you may never get it at all!

This past week, though, I have come across a very disturbing method of communication promulgated by what we call PAC (Political Action Committees) and I’m not intending to be partisan because all sides are capable of abusing our freedom of speech equally, but I was drawn to one instance which broke the straw on this camel’s back. I had previously encountered another example a few weeks back also and I’m quite sure many more like it exist in the realm of internet communications.

I’m sure most of you are all too well familiar with SPAM. You know, the offers to enlarge (insert your smallest body part here . . . figuratively, of course!) anything, increase your wealth to staggering proportions for only $9.95 (and if it were that easy why aren’t the solicitors spending more of their time doing so?), purchase wonder drugs for 1/10 the cost of store prices, and you know the rest, I’m sure. I just read that about 85% of all e-mail delivered today is SPAM. Maybe our wonderfully geeky virus creators could refrain from screwing up our lives with their junk and spend more time focusing their attentions on converting e-mail SPAM into real Spam and that would solve two other major problems: we wouldn’t have to listen to self-righteous multi-millionaire rock stars whining about how much they care about feeding the world because surely the converted Spam would obfuscate the need for them to spend their precious time away from their mansions and teeny-bopper entourages. And the world’s hungry would have a new source of nourishment that the dictators and despots could steal away from them. But at least we will have tried once again in vain.

Unfortunately, SPAM is a necessary part of lives these days. And in their infinite wisdom of caring to get the “necessary” word to the masses, our wonderful PAC’s have now embarked on the process in a somewhat inverted SPAM tact. And this is precisely why I’m looking into a new domain which could make communication easier for all of us in the same style our “caring and concerned” political demagogues among us. Free speech was intended to be a just way to communicate ideas without government interference or retribution, but now the propagandizing and plagiarizing have smacked our freedom full tilt under the guise of concern for the good of America. So http://www.imnotbitenough.com will be capitalizing on their ideas for the benefit of the non-political communicators in internet land.

Let me explain what has happened. If you visit certain websites (and I’ve only investigated the Left side, if you know what I mean) like NARAL, MoveOn, and others like it (You figure out how to get there. If you can’t, you won’t understand what I’m talking about anyway!), you now have the ability to become part of the political process and express free speech. Not necessarily your free speech, but free speech nonetheless. Doesn’t cost anything. You will have to learn how to spell your name and memorize your address. I guess that also implies you will have to learn to read also. And once you’ve done that you might need to acquire some government funding so you can buy a computer, then spend a few dollars a month on an ISP and they’ll provide you with a free e-mail address you can insert into the proper space on the sites since it is required so you can be spammed like every other American. (Just a little thought while you’re waiting for TigerDirect to deliver your E-machine: since you’re so politically active now, use this time to practice punching out your chads so our next election will not be “stolen” by people who do have a little more upstairs than you.) I know. You thought this was going to be easy. There is a price for freedom, though.

Once you have accomplished these heartless and elitist tasks, you’re almost home, that is, once you’ve figured out how to use a browser to get to the sites. My suggestion is you call the person who told you who to vote for in the last election and chances are they have at least an average knowledge of computer workings to get you through. Don’t call me. I probably didn’t vote the way you did. I’d be glad to help but surely the first time something would go wrong you’d blame it on the person I voted for last election and I don’t want to hear it, please. Besides Halliburton probably had something to do in the manufacture of your computer, so face it, they’re all out to get you. You can’t win. And it ain’t getting any better is it? That should tell you something.

Back to the issue. The PAC of your choice has taken SPAM to a level even the lowest on our food chain can successfully speak freely with. With the efficiency of Edgar Bergen and the political virtue of Michael Moore, the masses of the “politically” deformed will now be able to speak directly to their congressman (once they figure out what district they’re in, maybe even if they can remember what state they live in) and voice their valuable and cogent opinions in the spirit of freedom provided by our forefathers. Most of the PAC’s have made the process “brainless.” I can only wonder why they felt the need since people political involved should actually have thinking as a prerequisite. But that’s just me. And I don’t consign myself to most of these sites’ political beliefs so why should I be so bold to feel my rights are trampled upon when someone else intends to speak for someone else with someone else’s idea of what truth and the American Way is all about. If you disagree with me, fine. As long as you say it in your own words. Like I’m doing here, I hope.

Yes, America, you now have the chance to go to any of these sites I mentioned—and you can surely find more either Left or Right—and e-mail your elected official with “meaningful, heartfelt” demagoguery from someone else’s mouth since you obviously are not bright enough to form your own opinion. It’d be kind of like walking into Mickey D’s and having the clerk say “And you’d probably like fries with that!” and you respond “Well, sure.” The logical progression then would be that they eat them for you and absorb all the non-saturated fats and salts into their system, but sacrifice only goes so far. Some things you should have to do for yourself, right? Ideally, anyway.

On the NARAL site, the current topic happened to be the presidential nomination of Judge Roberts to the Supreme Court, a common topic for every talk show in America on air today. I heard mention of opposition by NARAL so I decided to see what they thought and why they thought it. Besides the warped “logic” and hyperbolic innuendo intended to break both knee caps of a distinguished jurist, I was stunned to see mindlessness even more exposed by the method they were attempting to employ in their campaign meant to derail the nomination. Mind you, my opinion of what they say is my opinion so I’m not trying to influence you on what to think about the Judge. I don’t care. But my horror came when I discovered the mindless, deceitful tactics devised to disseminate possibly manufactured opinions to the elected officials of our nation.

I remember statistics discussions many years ago where it was said that a chimpanzee given a typewriter and enough time (and I don’t believe he was employed by the New York Times or CBS News) could successfully type enough legible words that could be combined into a cogent novel. Obviously, NARAL and others have enough constituents of the same order that would make their campaign a successful one, presupposing they could figure out how to turn on the E-machine, anyway, you see. Exercising freedom of speech, this PAC has provided anyone who wants to “express” themselves the way to contact their Congressional representative by providing a template (complete with content) saving them valuable time and preventing them from getting a splitting migraine while thinking for themselves. You can fill in your name, address and e-mail address. Next you can drop down a little window, find your state and listing of your representative (Advil is not provided by the site so just pick anybody. It’s still a vote, right?) In fact, you can select a few representatives a mass mail them all. And in the message window:

Dear Senator,
As your constituent, I am urging you to oppose John Roberts, President Bush’s nominee to the Supreme Court.

If Roberts is confirmed to a lifetime appointment, there is little doubt that he will work to overturn Roe v. Wade. As Deputy Solicitor General under the first President Bush, he argued to the Supreme Court that “Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled….”

Appointment to the Supreme Court allows unparalleled power and opportunity to shape national law and policy for generations. An anti-choice judge, if elevated to the Supreme Court, could tip the balance in many cases dealing with reproductive rights and other personal freedoms. Roberts, who has demonstrated hostility to the right to choose, will very likely be such a judge. The American public deserves a nominee that can be counted on to uphold constitutional rights.

Sincerely,

[Your name]
[Your address]

How good can freedom get? Why waste time thinking about it? He’s a Bush nominee, so what more is there to say?

You may agree with NARAL’s position. But to influence the vote of a representative of the U.S. representative with inverted SPAM? That’s freedom? That’s propaganda straight out of Mein Kampf or the Communist Manifesto.

I used the opportunity to make use of this convenient template to contact my representatives. I just changed it a little as well as sending it to the NARAL contact. Here is what I said:

“It is quite curious that the intellectualism of your supporters is held in question simply from the fact that you do not have the faith in them to compose their own verbiage communicating their opinions with which to contact elected officials and influence opinion and legislation. Your provisions for force-feeding your clientele with pre-canned dissertations of well-worn talking points which they, no doubt, are incapable of formulating themselves simply because truth rarely needs clarification and, where as, lies can often become entangled webs which can hang the unsuspected, it is quite interesting that the phrases “leading sheep to slaughter” or the activity of lemmings leaping to their death from the heights of Britannia’s cliffs remind me of the shallow and manipulating tactics used by your organization to mislead people who ignorantly and childishly hold noble causes but are too robotic to realize that what an organization says and what an organization really values, in a political sense, are not necessarily the same in scope and content. Perhaps you would be much more effective in your campaign using one of the e-mail viruses that hijack addresses and do the bulk mailing yourself to ensure that your message will get to the officials in a timelier manner. With that tactic, you could save a lot of your supporters the necessary brain power of typing their name in your spaces with your mealy-mouthed pre-typed “thoughts” below. After all pressing the “Send” button could unintentionally cause their heads to swell thinking they are contributing to the welfare of the world which may generate a massive migraine causing them to take an unscheduled nap thus missing the next crucial campaign you generate for them to sign on to. And we really don’t want all that brainpower to go to waste, now would we?”


Is this what the founders meant by the word “freedom?’ That rumbling you feel may be my stomach churning from the thought of the gall of PAC’s to presume that putting words in peoples’ mouth is tantamount to handing out typewriters to chimps, but more likely it’s Hancock, Jefferson, Franklin and others shifting positions once again. And I’m not talking about their political views either.

So, as non-self-serving as many of you know me to be, I have concocted a way to help you, my treasured and valuable friends, to descend downward to the depths of mindlessness with a service I will provide to you free of charge to help you communicate to the most precious ones in your entourage on a regular basis. I call it http://www.imnotbritenough.com and I’m sure you can make good use of it on those occasions when communication in a timely fashion is vital. You just need to e-mail me your entire address book. At appropriate times (see below) I will e-mail your sentiments (actually they will be mine, but get in the groove for goodness sake) to the respective individuals and keep you dear in their hearts and minds with your (my) heart-felt emotions. Here a few examples:

“I’ve been thinking of you a lot lately…” (This sentiment can be augmented with the phrases “And I really need to get a life because you’re really not worth the effort,” Or “Have you been thinking of me or that trashy little blonde hussy I last saw you with, scum bag?” Or “So send me enough money to cover my Prozac bill!”

“You’re not getting older. You’re getting better…” (I’ll randomly add phrases like “with everything except hiding those advanced years.” Or “at lying through your teeth to cover it up, though.” Maybe even “but you still have a way to go to reach ‘human’.”)

“I can’t wait until I see you again…”(Depending on how much I like you, I will insert “Cause I lay awake nights wishing I could beat the crap out of you!” How about “and don’t forget to bring the $100 you borrowed from me 12 years ago.” Possibly “because you’re the best thing that ever happened to me. Damn! I lead a miserable life, don’t I?”

All you have to do is sign your name on the dotted line and your true feelings will be zapped to your loved ones just like the PAC’s do it. Ain’t it great to be Americans?! Why waste time thinking when blabbering gets the job done just as well?

Next discussion: Voting absentee for you and all of your friends. Be a pal and fill them all out for free. (Chadless districts only, please.)

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2005 in Politics

 

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Half A Century In Testate

To whom it may concern since my advancing years prevent me from remembering who I’m talking to or what I might be saying:

Yes, this past week I reached that wonderful milestone in my life that AARP has been salivating over for the past few years. At last they have the chance to send out their useless piece of paper to someone who meets their qualification but hardly deserves the honor. Social Security checks in the mail are the next thing I have to look forward to in the coming years but I guess that all depends . . . (ooo, I just got a cold chill when I typed that word) . . . on which side of the Congressional aisle you listen to. The checks may never come since I happened to be born in one the most unfortunate times in modern history: the Century of the spend-thrift Democrat and the spineless Republican. Isn’t it nice that we live in a representative republic? But due to my advancing age, I won’t have long to really care since the memory is the first to go, so I hear, now what was I talking about? President Hillary? Ah, who cares anyway. I’ll be able to get French fries that will clog up my arteries for half-price at Mickey D’s so I haven’t long left anyway.

I was pleasantly surprised the day after my birthday with a wonderful dinner planned clandestinely by my youngest real sister (it’s not that I have “fake” sisters, mind you, but anyone lucky enough to have two sisters [one “step” and one “real”] both named Susie can’t be too careful in identifying the responsible party) Susie–remember, that’s the real “Susie” as opposed to the non-“fake” but nonetheless “real” but not real “Susie” who lives in Nebraska . . are y’all getting the picture on why I’m like I am today with this confusing life that was foist upon me? They could have had the decency to at least spell their names differently like one with the “s” and the other with the “z” or something to make my life a little easier. Now my other stepsister Jenny is close to my heart because at least she had the decency to marry Mark with a “k” her first go round and the second was Marc with a “c” which made my life a whole easier. Unfortunately, I still haven’t forgiven her for the earlier years of torment when we all lived in the same house and the telephone would ring and all one could hear was ” . . .-enny! Telephone!” and we both would high tail it never really knowing if the phone call was one alerting one of us of a pending cheerleader practice or a girl canceling another date. To keep things straight for you, I never had the legs for cheerleading and Jenny liked guys, if it’s any of your business anyway. The point is I was born first and my -enny should have been sacred, thank you. But to put things in perspective, it only happened once because no one ever wanted to talk to me anyway so it wasn’t so bad.

Oops! Almost forgot. Not really. I actually like to rant more than Dennis Miller on amphetamines when he hasn’t had less than four cups of cappuccino during a fact finding mission to a Fedex training institution.

The birthday dinner at Austin’s in Metairie! It took me by surprise to turn the corner in the restaurant and almost see faces I recognized. Memory is not the first thing to go; it’s the eyes. Sometimes that can be a blessing. And when one who has advanced in years leaves his glasses at home during his 50th celebration, that’s kind of a portent of things I have to look forward to in the next few years. On closer examination I could swear my blurry vision could make out beautiful hemlock sprays decorating the table, but I couldn’t swear to it. Things only got worse when I had to order from the menu. I merely pointed to something and ’til this day, please don’t ask me what I had for my birthday; I could only answer “a party and “something” to eat. But . . . at least it wasn’t half priced French fries!

The table was strategically divided with family and friends to my right and friends to my left. I don’t know what that means since I really could only see shadows through my failing eyes. But over the course of the night as people spoke with me–usually asking me to pass the salt or whether my age would allow me to stay with them past nine o’clock–I gradually matched the voices to the faint shadows of humanity lingering before me. In appreciation to their attendance on this festive occasion where they mercilessly torment and embarrass me in public for attaining a state of being I have never had any control over, I’ll run down the daius for you.

John Moore and his wonderful children Kenton, Erica and Conner. John is the newly instituted host of the Westbank Gamers who now meet on the East Bank . . .but that’s just like getting back into the Susie thing and k’s and c’s so forget it. John is officially the Whine Maker of the Westbank Gamers since our long time and co-king of Whine, Greg Schloesser, up and went to the hills of Tennessee with his wife Gail and daughter Lindsay. The Schloessers made the attempt to come down for the celebration but the latest news blog I received found them holed up in their cellar while their neighbors Jethro Hatfield and Mabel McCoy settled their dispute. Last bulletin was Deputy Fife and the Mooresburg SWAT team were barreling in to get control of the situation but the team had misplaced their bullet and would leave as soon as it was located.

My sister Susie (“s”, real) had her two daughters, Crystal and Christine–are there any names in my family that won’t make you think for ten minutes because you’re afraid you’ll call the wrong name out and make you feel like your grandpa did thirty years ago when his mind was going south? Anyway, even if I nicknamed them “Cris” my life would not be any easier, would it now? I could use “Al” and “Inee” but one’s not a longshoreman and the other really has an “outtee” on her belly so what’s a guy to do? Crystal is part of the John Jay empire–or is it John Jay is part of her empire? Just ask her. And Innee . . . I mean Christine, thinks anyone over eighteen is over-the-hill. Honor roll students think that way.

My other niece, Joyce, daughter of my sister, Perri, who was named after a squirrel I saw in a movie as a child–please, I’m not making this stuff up–was also in attendance although Mom had another commitment. And she is my mom’s namesake, by the way, and the dancer in the family-the now “recital-less” (blessings do occur at random in my life) dance team member at her school.

And then there’s my long lost and lost for words cousin Colleen. She really needs to come out of her shell and express herself a little. Really, she’s the life of any party especially with a couple of shots under her belt. And the bachelor dogs in my party were all after me later that night for my cute cousin from across the pond. Sorry guys, niece “Al” and cousin “Col” hit the town and I still haven’t heard if they made home yet.

Now we switch to the more seedier side of life and tell you about the left hand table, that side of the table populated by the “Chilly Gentilly Gang” so don’t get scared just get out of the way.

Stacy and Sheri Edwards, my designated Barbecuist and Daiquiri Mixologist respectively who have fed me more at their place and about town than I managed to eat the first forty years or so in my life combined. A wonderful, loving couple with a combined work week of forty two hours and I’ll let them fight over who gets credit for the forty.

Berent Corkern, “Mr. Hollywood” himself, not because he wears shades or drives around in limousines, but because he owns everything Hollywood has ever produced. He’s swift with a DVD player but not so swift fixing flats securely on his touring bike. But one can’t be good at everything, right. Bachelor number one, say hello to Colleen.

Henry Hunger, the man who strenuously avoided eating and/or offering to get me food for almost twenty four hours on this fateful day which almost prompted me to call a specialist to test if he was still breathing and busted all Guinness records for self-denial in spades. Self-sacrifice for undercover work well done. Of course, once the waiter passed by he made up for the self-denial. Bachelor number two say hello to Colleen. And Berent joined willingly in as if he had fasted for the 24 hours, too.

And last but not least, Mike and Christy Laporte, the woeful couple who sat in dread the entire night to my left full well knowing that they were merely fast approaching pawns in this silly little game of life’s nasty domain of “over-the-hill” existence not because they were sitting so close to me but much too soon would be sitting in my hapless chair. Feel sorry for them? No. I’m itching for the chance to pass this torch, young ‘uns. Hah! What goes around comes around, baby!

It was a very special night in many ways. Colleen and my nieces collaborated in compiling a very detailed CD presentation of my life with photos galore in various degrees of nakedness and compromising positions. And as a long-held dream of any man who longs for the opportunity to have young women oogling at his naked derrière–not to mention the other disgusted patrons in the restaurant–it’s quite disheartening to have those younger women laughing and snickering at the same time they meant to honor you with their artistry. Maybe that’s the story of my life-hell, it was the story of my life–but what’s with that cyclical repetition of history–go naked, laughter . . . go naked, laughter–over and over again. And as evidenced by their presentation things haven’t really changed that much since I was two years old to forty eight years later. See, bachelorhood has its merits; I only have to put up with this every half century instead of every day with some “Mrs. Leo.” And I ain’t dropping my britches now, ladies, so you have something creative to do at my 100th! Sorry. This CD will just have to do for another fifty.

Finally, my sister Susie (“s”, real) composed a very nice card relating how I was her favorite brother (I’m her only one, so I’ll just let that one mean something special) and how I was also a best friend, but you know, somebody’s got to fix her computer and hook up her stereo so that’s to be expected if you think about really hard. I know she wrote the words sincerely. And a little later when I was reading the card aloud to the daius at the celebration of my upcoming decent into Alzheimer’s Top Forty Hits, I noticed a few tears running down Susie’s (this time it’s two “s”, real) cheek and I felt that little pang of family that has held us together through past and present difficult times. It was a heartfelt moment in my life.

That is, until I realized what unfortunate circumstance brought on the emotion. You see, our crack waiter, during the time I was so dramatically and expressively reading my sister’s sentimental wontings, had handed her the dinner check to sign. Little did I know at the time, Garçon ( I think that’s French for “goofball”) had inadvertently switched checks and handed her Henry and Berent’s meal check, all five pages of it, for her to pay. Needless to say–and I have been at the table many times with the Smörgåsbord Slayers and had someone handed me their check, I surely would have had the same feeling of doom trickle across my face. Now that I think back on it and at the time I dismissed her murmurings as holding back the emotion of the moment, I now distinctly reinterpret her words as “I guess I’d better start washing now so I can be back to work sometime next week.” But at the time it was just bittersweet testimony of sibling love.

Yes, folks, young or old, life is too short to let moments like these in your life pass by unnoticed and unshared with the world. We all must age and one should never mistake a celebration of that passing into a more progressive state of uselessness than you’re already a part of as a day of dread. Sure, I could have stayed home and won thirty dollars playing online poker against people that have too much time on their hands like myself. Instead, I got a free meal, spent time with people I’m close to and lost thirty dollars because I wasn’t home playing on line poker. Yeah, it would have been greater if some more friends like the crew of the Westbank Gamers would have cared enough to show up, even the ones who were holed up in their basement in Tennessee. But you wanna bet sometime during the night Settlers of Cattan would have appeared and I would have had to spend another five or six hours explaining to the non-gaming friends and family why I disappeared for five years on Wednesday nights and twice each year to some exotic place which seldom has anything to do with a “gulf” to collect sheep, wheat, rocks, bricks and so I could build the longest road? And by the way, Gulf Gamers, I guess the next thing I will hear is that it’s my fault I wasn’t born in the last part of July or all of you would have honored me at this wonderful milestone in my life. Now that I think about it, I used to like you selfish people, too.

Now what was I talking about? Ah, never mind. The Don Rickles marathon is about to start on the Old Man channel. He’s always got such a unique and refreshing perspective on the way things really are with the people he depends . . . ooo, there’s that tingly feeling again . . . on to appreciate his humor. I’m sorry. I should have said “tinkly.” Gotta go get the mop . . .

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2005 in Random Thoughts

 

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