daily preciousness

Sunday, June 25, 2000

busride to Clonmacnois

So we're on the tourbus -- the 'coach' -- riding westward from Dublin to Clonmacnois.

The rolling hillside country, dotted with fluffy white sheep and holstein cattle, soon lulls us into a false sense of complacency. Everything is just like back home.

Then we come across a 'caution: chippers on road' sign that tells us something is afoot. Then another sign greets us, 'workmen ahead.'

The bus comes to a sudden halt. I'm sitting to the left of the driver, in the tourguide seat right next to the bus steps. The workmen ahead dump a truckload of gravel ('chips') onto the road. Then a giant machine smoothes them all out, leveling it all off. The big orange machine goes forward and back, forward and back, smoothing off the gravel so that it's completely level. Beside the machine, about a dozen guys lean on their shovels, contemplating the zen master-leveller at work. The shovels look as though they've never really been used for any actual work.

Observing the slow leveling of the gravel chips, our busdriver, Donnie, says, 'that's a year's worth of work, that is.'

That Donnie has a wry wit. Turns out that's not all he had. He also has an apartment in Spain -- that's how good the economy is. Impressive.

Last night, I spoke with Jim, the publican at Mahaffey's, the neighborhood pub for our dorm. I gave him a little cake from the birthday party.

We had a celebration for Gino's birthday. Gino's the Theatre professor -- and one of the least theatrical, most reserved performers I've ever met. _I'm_ more of a performer than he is, strangely enough!

So he and I might do a number from 1776 for the group's July 4th celebration. Might be fun....

Our class was sabotaged today. No IRA bombs -- just a classroom full of strangers as we walked in. I made a quick call to the office to check up on everything. And we've been moved. Oh well, I guess one room is as good as another.

Turns out it's a worldwide conference on organizational violence. Folks from all around have gathered to discuss better ways to combat violence. Apparently it's not just us yanks that want to have serious discussions about raising standards of safety. I guess everyone, especially the Irish, can appreciate the importance of that.

Time for class now. We're meeting with the head of the drama department today. Should be good.


I have a net-friend, Jason. He came to visit me from Kansas City, Missouri. That's about 627.9 miles. A long way, by my domestic travel standards.

I was so happy that he wanted to come and visit me! I mean, sure, I have a media empire and all, but visitors are always crescent fresh -- especially if they're fans.

Jason is a great guy. Swell, all around. He had never been to the deep South before and I was glad to introduce him to our delightful and unique culture.

I'm going to change to present tense because I'm just in that kind of mood. So don't get confused. It happened in the past, but I'm going to pretend like you were there with us when it happened.

Here are some chosen moments from the trip, excerpts from Jason's account:

Meeting at the airport - I find the farthest parking place in the lot. It's about a 10-minute walk. In the sultry 80-degree heat. I'm so cruel.

Mighty Mocha-sippy - I introduced Jason to a local drink. It's from Community Coffee, a New Orleans business. He slurps it up happily. I receive my requisite caffeine dosage.

Tour of Jblend World Domination and Media Infiltration Centre - I issue him a security level 4 clearance pass. I swear him to secrecy. Jason walks into the nerve center of the operation, sits on the chair, gapes in awe of my facilities. I allow Jason to appear briefly on the cam. But I worry that he'll steal viewers over somehow by appearing on mine. So I make sure the lighting makes him look fat. (I'm naughty.)

Red beads - I introduce Jason to mardi gras beads. Cheap plastic trinkets. But pretty and shiny. Jason's all about shiny. I give him some shiny red ones with a crawfish (he thinks it's a lobster) on it.

Dinner - We eat with my roomie, Jim. I tell Jason about the suspected drug ring at the chicken finger/MSG restaurant nextdoor.

Magnolia Mound - We visit a plantation that's more than 300 years old. I imagine the horror of having to work in a sweatshop-style kitchen with no air conditioning.

Goth Boy - A weird guy walked over to ask us about paranormal activities. (I usually only have meta-normal ones.) We talk for a few moments when he says, "You may be wondering why I am wearing a straight jacket. I assure you that I am not crazy." I ask him to share some grapes with us and talk about the Myrtles Plantation. Unique guy. I ask him twice where he's from. He evades the question at first, then discloses that he's German, although he has no love for his homeland. Quite the Goth.

Ms. Kitty Fontanot - Our tourguide is an elderly lady, cute as a button, but give us such a canned speech that she repeats it word-for-word every time. Ms. Kitty's like a life sized wind-up Golden Girl doll. (The Betty White character.)

Audubon Plantation - We take a quick stroll around the grounds. We're just in time to see an albino peacock strut his stuff. Gorgeous. Such gay birds. Peacocks and flamingos should be the official birds of gay people. I just want to make my position on that clear.

Hmmm. Or maybe this should be:

It's the Great American Cock.

Rural Life Museum - I show Jason just what the slave quarters would've looked like had I been his negro manservant back "in the days." We marvel at the ingenuity of ceiling fans made of palmetto leaves. We both are happy to be living right now instead of back then.

Motel 8 - Located in "the hood," Jason quickly realizes that the downtown New Orleans Hilton is the way to go. Jeffrey breathes a sigh of relief. (I'm allergic to polyester curtains.)

French Quarter tour - We see the Cabildo, learn a little Louisiana history, drink pina coladas, see the French Market. Jason collects souvenirs for the folks back home. He buys (slightly devilish looking) magnets. I pray that they don't hold a dangerous voodoo curse!

Court of Two Sisters - Delicious meal with delicious company and delicious atmosphere. Wish I could say the same of our waiting staff. They were kinda lame. Great experience, though.

Bourbon Street - Need I say more? It's famous for its craziness. And bad smells. We experienced both. Ick!

Sunday Brunch - Huge meal with champagne, a jazz band entertaining us, plus great food. Jason tried Bananas Foster and wasn't as thrilled as I thought he'd be. But I love the stuff.

Audobon Aquarium - We got there for the shark tank feeding. It was great to see the sting rays chomp up the chum. They seemed particularly hungry. I guess being that flat makes you want to eat more.

Mardi Gras World - A new sight for me. We glimpsed at the real focus of Mardi Gras -- the floats that people ride on during the parades. Amazing lights. Great chance to really examine them up close, without all the wildness of the holiday.

Breakfast in Bed - Jason is so sweet that he prepares me a great meal right before he has to leave. I wake up happy to eat, but sad to say "goodbye."

Fin - We have to part. But I promise to meet again one day. (The 627.9 miles won't stop me!)

Special Thanks to Jason for coming by and having so much fun with me! (:

Monday, June 19, 2000


There are small footprint puddles on the bare linoleum floor. They're in the pattern of my footsteps. Meandering from the diningroom to the bathroom, they reflect the sunlight as brightly as liquid mercury. The sunlight is streaming into the window that overlooks the coastline.

I took a shower to wash off the many layers of dirt, brine, salt and grit. They were deposited by the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I have rented a cabin here, with friends. Erika, Dana, Jessica and David have decided to enjoy a weekend on the Cajun Bahama, as it's called.

The cabin is called Kirkland's Cove. It's on stilts, as are most of the beach houses here. The cabin is about 9 feet off the ground. Painted a bright peach, the place is cheerful and summery. The owners, Bozo and Charlie Kirkland (actual names), keep the place clean and respectable.

Our cabin peeks over the 200 yards of dunes that separate us from the gentle waves of the gulf. The back porch is a perfect perch for viewing the lights of the oil rigs that stand sentinel-like, sucking the juice out of the continental shelf, just miles away. During the day they're other-worldly and cold: reinforced steel reminders of an industrial age that one would hope to forget while swimming in the gulf waters. But at night, they offer their bright orange flames, beacon-like. They're almost like modern-day lighthouses at night, minus the charm. They exhale their modern day St. Elmo's fire in brutish bursts. These lights reflect off the water, producing a twinkling effect, not unlike the stars above them.

This morning, I woke slowly to the gray-blue sky and the "drink clear water" call of the red-winged blackbird just outside the window. I sat on my stomach, curling quietly into my rented pillow. I wondered if I'd get a closer look at the pelecanus occidentalis, the brown pelian. I also pondered over the possibility of seeing dolphins.

After a breakfast of colorful froot loops, strawberry yogurt and strong coffee, we headed out to the beach. Erika, Jessica, David, Dana and I waded out into the cool water. We made our way to where the water met our shoulders. Before long, we witnessed a graceful sight. We saw the rhythmical rising and falling dorsal fins of a group of 5 or 6 dolphins. Their close proximity was startling and exhilerating. Jessica and I let out child-like squeals and paddled the water in excitement at the first sign of dolphin. Not more than 25 feet away, the spritely creatures bobbed up and down in front of us. When it became clear that they were lingering near us for a few moments, I practiced my dolphin-speak with Erika: a sort of high-pitched chirping. (I can just picture the dolphins screeching to one another, in sardonic tones, "Oh, why can't they just evolve?")

So, I chirped, screeched and billowed my personal dialect of pretended porpoise patois. To my dismay, none of them responded. Their shiny black backs continued westward, quietly arcing over the foamy waterscape.

About 3 minutes before they had appeared, I was floating quietly on my back, otter-style. I listened intently to the sound of the water. The sound of the waves lapping up against the shore was a smooth, sandy, scraping sound. A cricket-like chorus soon augmented the scratching. I didn't realize it at the time, but I now wonder if the crickety sound was the far-off noise of the dolphin group? Possibly so. I'm no Jaques Cousteau, so I'll probably never know.

After our 11 o'clock dolphin show, I went back to the shore. Just past the high tide boundary, littered with the flotsam and jetsam of the gulf, I sat down to construct a sandcastle.

The flotsam and jetsam was mostly seaweed, driftwood and plastic refuse. I employed all three elements into the construction of my artwork.

I was determined to build an extravagant castle of impressive stature. I set out knowing that this castle would inspire all that saw her. Gnarled old fisherman in their boats, dspondent housewives on vacation, hyperactive five-year-old beach combers, all of them would look upon my creation and exclaim, "Now there's a sandcastle!"

I failed to make such an impression. But I managed instead to create a small, moderately satisfying work of natural art. A pyramidal structure, complete with a large smile and three turrets, comprised Happy Castle. If my medium had been fiberglass, and the sized doubled, Happy Castle would have been a charming addition to any miniature golf course. Of this, I am certain.

As a thematic counterpoint, I created my next project a few feet away from Happy Castle: the Hive Complex. It was a cold, militaristic piece. Stark lines and minimal ornamentation showed that this was no cheerful place. No, indeed. It was the home of the Hive people -- the sworn enemies of the Happy Castle clan.

While I didn't bother to stage any elaborate war scenarios between the two powers, I wasn't at all shocked to see Happy Castle destroyed the next morning. It was untouched by the high tide. I suspect that the warring states had emerged from my imagination and actually gone to war. Such is the power of my creative mind. And such is my curse! Overactive imaginations can be dangerous.

Soon after my hour of castle construction, I leaped over the 8-inch pile of briny orange seaweed and dipped myself back into the surf. I swam a few hundred feet out and relaxed in the refreshing rhythm of the gently lapping waves. Bobbing up and down, I floated peacefully, like a child in the womb. Buoyed on my back, I breathed slowly and looked up at the cloudy sky. By and by, a brown pelican flew by. His wings skimmed just over the water. It was a gorgeous sight. Sometimes, these birds flew alone, sometimes they traveled in V-shaped formations. Gulls and sandpipers performed fly-by maneuvers also, but in fewer numbers than the pelicans. (Maybe these other birds know that the brown pelicans are our state birds and aren't allowed to be as fabulous as them. Who knows?)

Fishermen stood not very far away from me, to the East. They patiently cast their lines out while standing chest-deep in the water. Some of them were deep bronze, a dark badge of dedication to their hobby. More than 250 types of deep-sea fish inhabit the Grand Isle area. The locals tell visitors that it's one of those "best kept secret" sort of places. While I wouldn't call it unspoiled, the place does maintain some degree of intimacy between the individual beach-lover and the natural surroundings. (And the hazy lights of the oil rigs in the distance didn't bother me very much after the first 10 minutes, either.)

Just as I was about to swim back to shore, I saw another dolphin. Obviously in a playful mood, I saw his underbelly as he did a little flipper-style backflip just above the water for me. It was a private show -- a random act of joy. "I will make him my pet and he will be my best friend and I will call him George and we will be happy together," I thought to myself.

Dana and Erika made a great lunch. We had wraps and margaritas (or, "Matheritas," named after a bar-tending friend). Delicious and delightfully intoxicating, these drinks remind me of my friend Amy because of their effect on me.

I read some Jane Eyre and took a short nap from noon to 3, in an attempt to stay out of the mid-day sun. I succeeded. The cabin's AC was a blessing.

Later that night, we enjoyed a word guessing game together, just like the settlers of the old west (except for the flourescent lighting and italian wine). We sat together and enjoyed a good and warm feeling of agape and togetherness.

As I write this journal, I think of how pleasant those moments were, on the stilted cabin overlooking the gulf. I take a mental snapshot. It's a scene that would be very difficult to recreate. We've moved apart, even in the few weeks since the trip. David and Jessica soon left Louisiana and now live in New York while David pursues his doctorate degree. I miss them already. Time spent in their company was always well-spent. Dana Watson will also move away soon, after the summer session, to be with her grandchildren. I greatly enjoyed her company on this vacation. (How many people have gone dolphin-watching with their professor?) Finally, Erika, the organizer of the trip, plans to move to Lafayette, Louisiana very soon. I will miss her cheerful spirit. Thank you, my friends, for this experience that we created and shared with one another.

During my time on Grand Isle, I kept think of Kate Chopin's relationship with the place. I thought about some of the points in her story, "The Awakening". The realization of personal destiny is a theme from the work that seemed to mesh well with the surroundings.

The starkness of the beach, the spartan landscapes -- the sheltering sky, free of menace one day while vicious the next... All these visuals seem an appropriate, if not ideal, setting for her story about finding one's way in the world.

It's ironic, in a way, that everyone on this trip soon met (or very soon will meet) with a set of crossroads in their life. I am sorry to see these people go. This trip was a kind of awakening for me about the fleeting nature of place and one's sense of belongingness to a place. Erika, Dana, Jessica and David all have left (or will soon leave) the places where they formerly belonged. At least I'll keep the thoughts of our trip recorded safely in my memories.

Saturday, June 17, 2000

No breakfast for me

Right up front, I'll tell you this: This is a very low-yield journal entry. I just wanted to write something this morning. Very little of interest here. Go back. No trespassers. Yield to pedestrian writing. (Hmmm. Feels like I'm in a bad mood today.)

I don't feel like shaving so that I'll look decent enough to have breakkers out somewhere. So I plan to remain home, slightly skank, unshaven and slovenly, so that I may go without the personal maintenance today.

Today I have to finish a book -- an espionage novel by Jeffrey Archer -- before I do anything else. No. Scratch that. I might have a bagel first.

No! I musn't! Or I would violate the title of this journal entry. Bad Jeffrey!

I had book club last night, from 6:30 until 9. It was a blast. Seven people came, so I'm proud of that. We talked about a wonderful novel, _Ender's Game_ by Orson Scott Card. It's a great character-driven novel with good themes. The power of human empathy, manipulation, the importance of family -- these were all major points of the story. Give it a read, if you can. If you can't, then why are you bothering reading my diary? You freak!

I've become sort of addicted to my friend Gavin's diaries lately. He's a real potpie of a guy. He's a good read. [note: diary now offline because he fears your attention.]

Well, no breakfast for me this morning. I'm going to sail through into lunch without a care.

I am working on a journal entry about my time in Grand Isle, Louisiana. It was a beautiful place and I'm working on how exactly I shall explain the beauty of it to you, my gentle readers.

Off with you now, you bitch. It's time for me to do some work. Go ahead! You heard me. (Again: Bad mood today.)

oily today,