A Night in New Orleans

Boarded backyard fences, crumpled lattice wood and dry brush. A few Roosters stalked about in yards oblivious and content. Screen doors smacked open and shut as folks entered and exited their piece of the neighborhood. Pastel painted shotgun houses with green painted porches cracked but sturdy. Lemon trees and lizards, beads hung from limbs, feathers and masks left neglected from nights past.

It was the weekend before Mardi Gras, and a big parade was to begin a block down the street.

A small party of friends and a baby gathered on the porch across the street; loud laughter could be heard breaking in between the sounds of cliché Louis Armstrong playing from a stingy music player on the floor of our rented unit. We were visitors after all, attempting to fit into the culture. A few bottles of beer and a fair amount of wine consumed, Trevor began poking at the giant lemons with a wooden arrow discovered near the front door. Posing like a cajun gladiator, he finally speared his target. Walking inside, he proudly held his lemon. It smelled delicious, and would be cut and juiced for lemonade procured in an old dusty coffee pot found in the kitchen.

We drank our lemonade outside watching the freaks and musicians stroll behind long shadows towards the parade route in the street. In an hour it would be dark, and things would begin to change.

The ladies gabbed inside. I cheered Trevor to a day well spent- riding bikes into the Garden District, gawking at tired mansions and family grave yards, drinking coffee and beignets covered in powdered sugar.

Now by the Mississippi, in the Bywater neighborhood that slipped us effortlessly into her oddities and charm, like a frog placed in a pot of water set to boil, we had unknowingly been consumed. Down south, past and present fading when all that mattered were the people and this place. As if we grew up in the little white house that sat quietly behind us, whose history pressed against our backs, past alluded only by the haunted high-heeled footsteps we heard above us late at night as we tried to sleep, and the sudden smell of red beans and rice that would fill our nose around midnight.

All of us willing to travel thousands of miles, addicted to being misplaced for a few days.

Now in the dark of night, our modest Louise Street with working class folks and lazy roosters clamored with sounds of bass drums and blown speakers hitched to wagons and bikes. Swirly lights and disco balls, aliens and cone-heads approached dancing and swaying, possessed by spirits and quite possibly drugs and alcohol.

We ran to the corner of St. Claude Avenue where crowds of grown folk, children, and dogs formed. Adjacent to our stakeout was an open-air tire shop filled with people. A sign above the shop read “No Selling Cat, No Selling Crack, No Loitering! Be Nice or Leave”, the message illuminated by a big metal light. Standing to our right, a pink haired dancing gypsy woman begged for hand-outs from parade participants. Standing to our left, a short black woman cursing and mumbled in between fits of laughter and a rotten-toothed grin.

Waves of groups passed us by along the parade route, aptly named Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus, sci-fi characters dressed to the nines, painted eyelids and lavish glittering floats with giant E.T. heads and star wars battle ships. Beads and nicknacks flung about into the greedy hands of hoarders.

After an hour of screaming and music, loud drums and dancers, the last group of goblins passed by. Crowds thinned and people scurried back into the dark corners of the neighborhood.
Trevor, Kelly, Melissa and I needed food and heard about a local joint off the beaten path called Bacchanal Wine, known for their stinky cheeses and live outdoor music. With no access to a taxi we walked block after block, passing graffiti-covered fences and parked cars. A member of the Chewbacchus Krewe would occasionally zip by us on a bike towards a local bar. We headed east, hugging the Levee containing the Mississippi river. A giant barge moved through the night.

We finally arrived and joined a lively crowd of young people gathered in a big back yard. In every corner overgrown jungles of palms and tropical plants; a small wooden stage hosted a trio of musicians improving a slow-rhythm blues scale. Trevor and I climbed stairs to a tiny bar with an eclectic whiskey menu and ordered our group a round of drinks. We watched the bartender carefully mix each cocktail with painstaking precision before joining the ladies at a table. For several hours we sat and talked, enjoying lobster, beef carpaccio, drinks, while fantasizing about our next adventure. It became late and time to leave.

Together we made another long walk home to the little white house on Louise.

The next morning we woke early to fly home. Melissa and I cleaned the trail of glasses and beads that had begun to decorate our living room. Somber and tired, we hugged our companions good-bye, vowing to travel once more to a place where we could all feel misplaced, if only for a few days.

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Waterdrops

The other night I was on a plane flying from Newark, New Jersey to Houston, Texas. The flight had actually been delayed several hours due to thunderstorms over the East coast. Once we were finally airborne, I glanced outside the passenger window and became fixated on the red navigation lights flashing from the wing. I peered closer, seeing as how the light illuminated, just for a brief second, the thousands of descending raindrops falling towards the earth. “What a journey they must have, from 25,000 feet” I thought to myself. “A 10 minute free-fall.”

…eventually they must land.

Perhaps atop a small Redbud tree in someone’s backyard. That’s where I noticed these particular drops anyway.

Days after my trip home, I had wandered outside and into the backyard to play fetch with Bonnie when the bright little water beads caught my eye. “Fascinating” I thought. With their odd elasticity, the droplets clung to tiny buds, leaves, and pine needles for dear life, refusing an inevitable fate of being absorbed by the soggy ground below.

From 25,000 feet they had recently fallen, and it was here they had landed; suspended freely above the earth in a perfect balance between gravity and the upward force of a delicate leaf. It was in this brief moment of time I started taking pictures- before the wind or more rain could disturb their fragile resting place. Before the tug of the Earth, with it’s grip on heavy water molecule that began a plight high up in the clouds, could force the droplet to finally fall.

A Buzzard’s Life and Mine

 

Earlier today I drove down the highway on my way to see a client for work. I passed through the city until the buildings turned into fields. This particular client was located in a town called Grain Valley, Missouri. An RV dealership no-less; About 40 minutes away.

With this much “windshield time” as we call it in sales, I get ample opportunity to listen to the radio and collect my thoughts.

Today my thoughts wandered.

I looked up from behind the wheel to see a buzzard high up in the sky circling. Probably searching for some carcass to eat…

“How nice,” I thought, “would it feel to be that bird from time to time- completely unaware and unaffected from real world problems. From the daily grind, work, paying bills, grocery shopping, managing a crammed calendar of events, stress. From the constant curveballs of life in general! He just floats way up there, feeling the wind through his feathers- never to deal with the complexities and pressures of our fast-paced and judgmental society. Simplicity and peace. To him, he merely exists. To him, that is enough.

I smiled to myself, thinking of the buzzard; Suddenly a bit envious of him.

“What problems does he have?” I thought next.

I came to realize he has a lot. Then my feelings started to change…

I really started thinking about it- Every day this bird wakes up just to try to stay alive. To battle heat or bone-chilling cold weather, to find something to eat or drink (if it’s lucky). To defend himself against predators that want to kill it. This bird lives a life of constant struggle and fear, a life of physical pain- knowing no real emotions and not even aware of his own purpose. Not understanding what could be beyond his own life. Just fight or flight.

A life that goes un-noticed. He feels no love.

If he only knew how easy I really do have it. Wouldn’t this bird laugh? Wouldn’t he mock the life I live?

I go to work and deal with some stress, yes, but I get to wake up knowing I have abundant food, clean water, a beautiful house and am safe from harm. I have healthcare, medicine, education, and opportunity. At every single turn in my existence, there is something or someone to assist me. I am surrounded by love. I have my wife.

It’s not even fair.

Then I smiled to myself once again, but this time thinking of my life. I bet that buzzard would be rather envious of me.

I did think of one exception to the rule though- and that would be the family dog.

I Am a Grape. (A Short Story)

I am a grape. But before I was born…

Farmhands cultivated and raised a deciduous woody vine. From the tilled earth my little parent plant slowly pressed from the darkness of ground toward the light of day, all the while maturing and growing.

Want to know the most exciting part of my story? This vine eventually gave way to hundreds of fruiting berry clusters!

You may have guessed that in one of those clusters you can find me- with my brothers and sisters of course.

We are a lucky bunch, I’ve come to realize.

Every morning we watch the sun rise. From our vantage point we look down upon rows and rows of other vines. Thousands (if I had to guess). Just like us.

Morning is my favorite time of day, when the Sonoma valley below draws in moist air from the Pacific.

Our hanging cluster catches this cool air and from our hillside perch, we sway and bob, albeit ever so slightly, to the damp breeze. Like napping in a hammock.

The daytime, especially in the Summer, can get very hot though. To pass the time we play games like ‘I Spy With My Little Eye’ or Charades. One day I pretended to be a blueberry. That one got some laughs.

Then, at the end of a long day of ripening, when the sun touches the ground and shadows fill the valleys, a fog sometimes forms and covers some of us. It’s not scary to me- in fact, the fog feels safe…

Then we sleep. My skin is stretched tight, having acted as a permeable sponge to absorb the tasteful elements of the valley. I’ve been told that’s part of our charm-

Overall, it’s a happy life. The life of a grape.

Weeks and months go by- the days tend to blend together. The subtle changes in weather help to denote the passing of time. But the end of Summer has finally arrived.

Although the air is cooler, everything else is predictable. The rising and setting of the sun, the farmhands that occasionally check our vine, and the valley itself. We are all but one.

Until one day…

Everything I thought I knew about the world came crashing down, all at once! It was harvest week. I was yanked from my roost- separated from my brothers and sisters and thrown into a spinning vortex of metal machinery and loud noise.

My light went dark.

…I don’t know how much time passed in between, but I eventually woke up from the harvest. When I did, I felt funny.

I smelled an enticing aroma, and was surrounded by a warm and fuzzy pool of purple. I was light-headed, a floating spirit completely detached from the physical fruit I once was. Once I got used to this new feeling, I began to really like it!

My purpose, it turns out, was something much different from what I had ever imagined.

Wine.

The Owl

In the evening we walk the dog. One night last week while approaching the house at around dusk, Bonnie stops in the street- she hears a noise. The usually tight leash droops as she looks up both curious and startled. Melissa and I stopped too. “What is that sound?” A hissing whistle, loudly shouting from the tree tops. At first I thought a raccoon or squirrel, but suddenly it moved, gliding to another tree. It was too dark to see. A bird?

The next few nights I walked out the front door onto our col-de-sac peering up into the trees hoping the noise would return. Like clockwork, around 9:00 pm every night, it did. It came from the neighbor’s big oak tree. I heard it again, from another tree, and then another. There were several.

It took a few nights of investigating but finally, last night while walking the dog again, we found ourselves directly below the noise. The thick oblong body and monkey-faced bird looking down on us was a beautiful Barn Owl. It hissed. I pulled out the iPhone and got some video of the noise, and while on record, another huge owl flew right by my head! They are all over our trees and inspired me to do a little research. The Barn Owl never hoots, it screeches. It’s a silent and mysterious night-time killer. It inspired a poem.

Here it is.

“The Owl” – By Will Palmer

A summer’s day gives way to dusk
The chorus of birds follows a timely decrescendo
Oak trees silhouette against a dark blue sky
While most sleep, someone opens up it’s eyes.

It’s not the stars
It’s not the moon
It’s not the mice
It’s not the coon

It’s the owl.

His black iris, pointed ears
Sharp talons, and heart-shaped face
Barely visible to the naked eye
It if weren’t for his screech, piercing the silent skies

It’s not the cricket
It’s not the child whining
It’s not the car
It’s not the siren

It’s the owl.

His ridge of feathers, startling glare
From atop the branch, his silent stare
Mask-like face watch the world below
Even the firefly’s dainty glow

It’s the owl.

The day his enemy, in the night he thrives
Long-winged terror of silent flight
Another screech to terrorize the night
Where last they see, the heart-shaped white

It’s the owl.

When the sun first breaks through his darkened trees
The mysterious bird flies quietly away
To vanish into the revealing light
Until dusk begins another plight.