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S’no Thank You January 24, 2016

Posted by The Typist in Fargo, literature, The Journey, The Narrative, The Typist.
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I was in DC in January ’87 and remember the wonder of my first sled ride  a few weeks after my arrival just after New Year’s. I left New Orleans New Year’s eve for the three day drive, knowing an early start New Year’s morning not very likely.  The first city-closing snow a fellow roomie and I stole our hostesses clothes moving boxes for rude sleds and trudged to the other Washington Monument, the Masonic one, and tried to slide. Children took pity on us to learn we had grown well into our twenties without ever having sledded down a hill,  and cheerfully lent us sleds and disks for  turn or two. As we trudged home we watched a lone police car struggling along, and first heard the sound of snow chains.

My only prior experience of winter was a trip to Western Massachusetts with my girlfriend one year, driving the turnpike through a fresh snow wonderland, rural houses back up toward the low mountains along the road with their great stacks of wood and smoke threading up from their chimneys, that turnpike verse of James Taylor’ Sweet  Baby James ringing in my head, the idealized winter of nonsectarian holiday cards. Somehow in the years between then and my arrival in D.C. I had forgotten the lesson of being blown off my feet on an steep and icy Boston sidewalk.

That memory came back to me in the terror of the Washington, D.C. Super Bowl Day storm that first year. We rode the train in from Arlington and walked and slid on the prior storms melt ice  slick from Union Station to the park at the far end of East Capitol in our Southerners’ idea of winter coats (a lined London Fog is not a winter coat) and regular shoes, sneakers chosen for traction, but without so much as rubber mucklucks to put over them.   We preceeded to drink much beer throughout the hours of the Super Bowl party as the storm rolled through, dumping a massive slush of most unfluffy wet snow. We proceeded to try to walk back to the station in the howling dark, wading through the wet cold stuff which quickly soaked our shoes and everything exposed below the knee. There was not another soul or a moving vehicle in sight. As we began to lose all feeling in our feet and consider whether we would actually make it to the station alive and if pounding on doors begging admittance might  be our only hope of survival, a heaven-sent DC Metro bus came slip sliding sometimes side to side  but mostly forward down East Capitol, struggling to get back to the garage, which picked us up and took us to the station.

By the time I arrived in NW Minnesota for the horrific winter that in melting drowned Grand Forks (whose officials rushed to New Orleans’ aid with their experience in ’05) I had learned winter’s lesson well. “Been in the ditch yet?” was a common question, but I could always answer, “nope.” Detroit Lakes was small enough I could have snow-shoed to work in a pinch, and I remembered my first nerve wracking drive back to the airport from my future in-laws small North Dakota  town through a ground blizzard. A ground blizzard is something like what we southerners know as a ground fog, if that ground fog were being run to ground  by the hounds of hell. The invisible road was a matter of long pratice, muscle memory and the steel posts with reflectors that marked the shoulders. I  had no intention of going that native, although later I was required by the local work ethic to venture out and wind up in fear of my life more than once. When in Nome…but here is a fine line between dogged and stupid, as deadly hazardous as driffing over the highway’s center line, as a few proud and hardy northerners learn every year in spite of the winter survival kits in their cars. Thankfully I survived my few crossings over that boundary into white-blind peril.

When people asked why I would take my family to a disaster zone and risk future hurricanes, I reminded them that people went back and lived Grand Forks, where the Red River of the North–not much of river to the eyes of anyone from south of the Delta–is bound behind dikes as massive as those that front the Mississippi in New Orleans to contain Spring floods. And  that in North Dakota the weather can (and routinely does) kill folk–most often for stupidity–six months out of the year, not once in a generation.

I have fond memories of that idyllic drive through the wedding cake Berkshires, of snow shoeing in old fashioned beavertails the woods along the Red River on  a perfectly windless and sunny ten degree Dakota day , mastering the yogic art of turning around in the brush in those beautiful,  clumsy things and discovering the mystic beauty of an ice whorl on the river, and taking my children sledding down those massive river dikes along The Red of the North.  Still, from now on I’ll take my Blizzards far out on Airline Highway in one of New Orleans’ few Dairy Queens. With lots of crushed Oreos, putting out of my mind the resemblance of that muddy gray treat to the exhaust-blasted sides of a suburban D.C. street in February.

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No Services July 30, 2013

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Smack dead in the middle of the continent, nodding and dreaming of oceans, ghost signals on the FM and pedal steel soybean reports crackling over the AM. You stare at the highway but don’t let yourself become hypnotized, eyes roam over the instruments, speed 78, gas three-eights, tach and temp steady but not too long. There is a term from aviation that I often encounter at work, task saturation. On the highway starting at the map on your knee or desperately searching the radio and suddenly the lonely overpass stanchion on the next road to no where is coming up on you at 120 feet per second and only the rumble strips save you.

You begin to wonder what lies up those empty roads, numbered exits, no services. Somewhere out there a tree stands alone, older than North Dakota and you wonder what spirits inhabit the rise it has conquered and held against a hundred brutal winter. Take the other turn and find a glacial pond filled with trumpeter swans ballet graceful on their brown stage yet raucous in their calls as a brass band testing their embouchures.

Speed climbs over 80 breasting the next rolling ridge, gas one-quarter (bingo to Bismark), radio useless, the horizon rushing toward you vacant as a corridor of discount malls and over the crackle of Saskatchewan cattle prices a tinny voice in the back of your head urgently deadpans: Eject! Eject! Eject!

The tires hiss in your ears, a distant bit of sand, butt sunk in the damp wash, baby waves rolling in the calm, the kiss of the wave and the gentle hiss of it’s retreat calling you in, the gentle tug like eyes and hands locked backward into the bedroom and in this dangerous 80 mile-per-hour daydream suddenly the undertow is pulling you toward another horizon, the conquistador possibilities of a southern ocean. Loud goose arrows in the sky call to you, pointing south: last star to the right and straight on until dawn

(Yes, this is a report. When the brain goes on vacaction, you can always pull the Art Buchwald is On Vacation repost trick).

Holidays on Ice! December 31, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Fargo, Toulouse Street.
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I think I lost the thread of New Years living in North Dakota. The state climatologist tells me the average temperature for this time of year is somewhere between six and nine degrees Fahrenheit. Needless to say, there were no outdoor fireworks displays. The kids were small, we didn’t get out and socialize much and there were no party invitations. The plan on most holidays was to stay home or do something with the kids.

The only exception to the firework rule that I know of was the turn of the millennium. There were fireworks aplenty to be had, with year round stands up and down the Interstate, and I decided to blow the Fourth of July leftovers, because it was the New Years that rolled over the odometer and because I just missed the idea of fireworks on the holiday.

In spite of an alarm clock set to get me to work at 5 a.m. just in case the predicted technological Mayan apocalypse took down all of the computers at the bank, I insisted on saying up until Dick Clark made it official. I didn’t actually seem him, because I had pulled on my Rocky Minus 40 boots and parka and taken the bucket of sand I’d filled inside the garage (otherwise the sand would be rock hard) out into the back yard.

While the family huddled on the couch around the partially sunken basement’s window into the back, I serenaded the neighbors for blocks around with a respectable opening gambit of bottle rockets to get everyone’s attention followed by fountain (always a family favorite) and finishing off with moderate display of a half-dozen of Roman candles.

No one called the police. A single, frost-bothered dog howled in the distance after I was done. I could only hope that somewhere out in that frigid night, a few other people heard the first reports, stepped away from their television, pulled on a coat and boots and shivered in wonder at my bright display of temporary insanity.

The Ghost of Christmas Past December 13, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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The last Christmas with real snow and frost on the windows that did not come from a can. A place where you could cut your own northern pine if you had enough hair on your balls to haul yourself out into the woodlot at twilight as the temperature plunged toward the wrong side of zero. The last Christmas with a real fireplace crackling not some video loop on the CW with bad Christmas carols.

It was a good life, one that helped make my children the fine people they are today. It was a good place full of good people, and my wife who brought me there the best of the lot. And still I would sit late at night, perched on the bricks in front of the fireplace sneaking an inside cigarette as the draft sucked away the smoke and I sipped a midnight whisky, hearing this song and dreaming of trees draped not with lights and tin balls but faded beads.

Blessed Relief September 28, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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It is Odd that all the trees are so green, that some are now flowering just when the heat of summer breaks, when we throw open the doors of our converted shotgun and let the cool of autumn blow over us. I have lived where there is a true Fall, where a first freeze browns the garden suddenly and routs the mosquito’s, and the trees respond in kind, turning a crisp red and gold, rustling dryly in the wind like the leaves of a cheerleader’s pom-pom.

We do not live here on Toulouse Street for the weather any more than we lived in Fargo, North Dakota for the fine winters. When my wife and I first discussed leaving the East Coast and I argued for New Orleans, I pointed out that summers in New Orleans were just like those in Washington, D.C.: there was just more of it. That did not turn out to be a winning argument. Here on the Gulf Coast we swelter from March until October, air so thick you don’t breath so much as bathe in it, so fraught with water you’re not sure if you are dripping with sweat or the salty water of the Gulf of Mexico. For relief we have hurricanes, an excuse to flee north and inland to a place where nights in August can be, at least to us, refreshingly cool.

I have to admit that after 20 years split between the middle East Coast and the Midwest I do miss a real Fall with all the trimmings .While only the cypress trees promise a taste of the Fall color my wife misses desperately, there are other signs about us. Here at the back of town end of Toulouse we once again hear the bands and the crowds from the high school games at Tad Gormley Stadium. The serious neighborhood gardeners are as busy as the fairy tale ants, getting their planting beds ready for a change of seasons. The vegetable man in his brightly painted pickup truck changes his list if not his basic sing-song patter. He still announces “I got tomatoes, ripe red tomatoes” but lately I hear he “got potatoes, fresh red potatoes.” I’m often stuck on the phone when he passes on the days I work at home, but the first time I hear “I got squash and pumpkins” I may have to plead technical difficulties and flag him down.

One thing I think I will miss this year is the mysterious appearance of candy corn and (better yet) the little candied pumpkins and all their like. I understand that “we” are going on a diet, so I suspect that the magical appearance of a dish of fall candy that no one will admit to filling would not be met with exactly the same seasonal joy. I will have to wait for Halloween before I can get my metabolism into training for the holidays.

Fall on Toulouse Street is superficially not terribly different from other places I have lived with the stark exception of the turning of the leaves. The same sort of chores call inside and out, and must be scheduled around Notre Dame and the Saints. My wife starts to dig through the closets (too soon, I tell her, much too soon) looking for summer things to put away. She is possessed of a gene prominent among Midwesterners but recessive to the point of the vestigial down here, the one that calls them to fill the cellar with apples and the shed with firewood.

Here on Toulouse Street we do not take the sudden coolness as a call to arms, to the frantic preparations for the long and hard siege of winter. My spigots will not freeze if the hoses are left on. There is no seasonal retirement for the lawn mower or snowblower to get ready. I do not need to beat the first snow that will leave a yard full of leaves sodden with no prospect of enough warm sun to dry them out again. I have no apple tree from which to pick a dozen or more bushels and then figure out what the hell to do with a bathtub full of cooking apples.

That first cool morning is for us not an alarm but something more like the breaking of a fever, a sudden relief from the languid suffering we have just come through. It is not the signal for a frenzy of activity but rather a moment to move out of the sweat spot in the sheets and shuffle off to a comfortable chair, to slowly let go of the delirium of southern summer, to take it easy a few more days until we get our legs back under us.

Blessed Relief indeed.

No flurries, mate May 5, 2007

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, New Orleans, NOLA, Odds&Sods, Toulouse Street.
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While I’ve left behind the land of the blizzard (and my least favorite weather phenomena, snirt), I have to remember how to live in the land of flood.

After wading out of Fort Apache the Bank through calf-deep water, it was smooth sailing home down Orleans Avenue as I circled around the gaping manholes which had blown their covers in the peak of the storm. (Hint: when enough water come out of the main storm drains to blow off the man hole covers, it’s probably too late to move your car to the neutral ground).

Some parts of New Orleans got more rain this afternoon than parts of North Dakota get in a year. The reward for such weather (although its not a requirement) is The Golden Light, that peculiar illumination at sunset that turns the entire world into a transcendent landscape painting by Rembrandt . I don’t think I ever saw this particular quality of light anywhere else in my twenty years away.

Googling golden light turns up attempts by painters and photographers to capture it, but it is for me an indelible New Orleans experience; like Noah’s promise it is a heavenly reminder that after the storm one can walk down a tree shaded by oaks and studded with flowering trees for a drink and dinner, music after.

So, no flurries, mate. Toss a couple of Barbies on the grill and hand me another oil can Foster’s Ale. After the flood, it’s a glorious Friday dusk on Toulouse Street.

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