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Month: September 2005

Patrick’s Very Bad Day

Patrick’s Very Bad Day

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Yesterday was the second anniversary of that sad event Maryanne has named, “Patrick’s Very Bad Day”. Last year I was in Paris for this day, wandering around in a tres melodramatic haze, thinking to myself “Mais, il est mort. Mon frere. Il est mort.” Paris is, in general a good place to go when you are feeling sad, melancholy or blue, because the city lends itself to soulful lingering at cafes, gazing into the middle distance while every once in a while using that little tiny spoon to stir the sugar you have, so sacreligiously, put into your cafe.

Luckily, I was saved from my Paris melancholia by my friend Jim, who had invited me to come stay in Provence with him and his family — A week in the sunny south with loving people who had all, to the one of them, survived terrible losses — dead family is a theme among us — they saved me from the terrible loneliness of being in a big city where I didn’t really know anyone, and where for the first time, Patrick was not waiting for me to come home.

So, last night. I’d been kind of hoping that the date would just slip us all by, but our lovely friends, the ones who have saved me these past two years, asked what we should do. The only thing I could think of was that we should go to our friend Jim’s restaurant (different Jim than the France Jim). Jim’s, where we celebrated Patrick’s 38th birthday two weeks before he died. Jim’s, where Patrick looked up from the end of that table in the front window, wearing his goofy blue birthday hat, and made a toast. “Despite some setbacks this year,” he said, referring to the woman he’d loved, who’d gone back to her ex, the job he’d sought and hadn’t gotten, the couple of months he’d spent living in my spare room in the basement. “Despite all that, I just want to thank you all,” he said, raising a glass in the air. Jim started to razz him, calling him a sentimental Irishman, but Patrick went on. “I just want to thank you all. I’ve never had such a happy year. I’ve never had such wonderful friends, or felt so welcomed into a community. Thank you for taking us both in, and for being such wonderful friends.”

That terrible night two weeks later when everyone was gathered in my kitchen, it was Patrick’s toast we kept referring to, how happy he’d been, how he was getting it together, how he’d survived the breakup and his new business was starting to take off. So last night we all gathered at Jim’s, that same group who came that first night, who came to my kitchen and stayed with me, and who have stayed with me ever since. We had a bottle of champagne, and toasted our missing friend, and ate some food and told some stories and it was just good to be together. Oh, and what Patrick said. Thank you. All of you.

Harvest Festival

Harvest Festival

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Sorry I’ve been such a bad blogger lately — there are any number of things afoot here at LivingSmall as I attempt to make some big changes in my daily life. When it seems safe to go public, believe me, you all will be the first to know …

And so here’s a little photo of some of this year’s garden love. I’ve finally got some tomatoes — made a nice pot of sauce with the bowl you see here. Not shown in the photo are the milk crates of greens — chard, escarole, endive, kale — all of which I’m busy blanching and freezing for winter. The bowl of oyster mushrooms — they grew on the stump around the corner from my house — I’ve been poaching oyster mushrooms off that stump for a year or so, and this last batch, well, I met Phyllis, who owns the house where the stump resides. She told me her son had wanted to pull that stump out a few years back, but she told him no, people enjoy those mushrooms. And so, I spent last weekend putting up tomatoes, making pickles, freezing greens, and sauteeing off and freezing mushrooms.
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This weekend it was colder, and I’m coming down with something, so all I accomplished was a re-design of the book website (keep your eyes out this week as I try to get it uploaded) and a stab at progress on the memoir. But here’s a little pic of the garden at the end of the season — in the foreground are carrots and parsley, in the middle, the tall plants are tomatoes and cucumbers, and around the edges are lots of greens, and the few scarlet runner beans I finally got to grow.

Aaron Neville Made Me Cry

Aaron Neville Made Me Cry

I spent the entire day sucked into Katrina coverage … full geek mode — CNN on the TV, and surfing the web for all I”m worth. The whole thing still makes me sick, and yes folks, the response to this crisis, the fact that we simply abandoned all these people, this is racism. On the other hand, I can’t remember the last time I heard an open conversation on network and cable news stations about racism. Yeah, sure, Tucker Carlson lost his shit with the Rev. Al Sharpton, but on the other hand, when even Tucker Carlson is appalled by what’s happening in Louisiana, well, maybe we’re getting somewhere. And it was on all the channels — Aaron Brown on CNN, and even on the network channels. Perhaps we can re-open the national conversation about race and class issues — they’re real, they exist, and they do effect the everyday lives of many many people in our dear republic. I’ll never forget going “home” to Chicago shortly after the census had reported that California was no longer a white-majority state. There were people I’d grown up with, nice people, people I love, who asked how it felt, how I felt about living in a state that wasn’t majority-white. “Great” I replied. “I love it — it’s vibrant — and the food is better.” But I was shocked. It’s the only think I really dislike about Montana — it’s just too darn white up here.

Seriously though, this is what we get when the anti-government, free-market, “libertarian” and “conservative” folks take over our country. This is what free-market crisis management looks like. This isn’t unknown territory. That five years after 9/11 the Homeland Security Dept. still doesn’t have a generic plan for evacuating a major American city — it’s a disgrace. Flat out disgrace. This is why we need a strong federal government. This is why we should be glad to pay our taxes in order to live in the great democratic experiment that is the United States of America. So that when disaster strikes, there’s enough money in the kitty, enough resources ready to go, and a plan. I spent years hanging out with Search and Rescue personnel when I was writing my novel. There are people out there with plans for disasters like this. This is a manageable situation that has been hamstrung by the Bush Administration, and administration that does not believe in Federal government. Again people, This is what you get when we don’t believe that it is the responsibility of the Federal government to take care of our needy, our poor, our elderly, our sick.

And then tonight I got sucked into the Concert for Hurricane Relief. Harry Connick Jr. broke my heart — he’s clearly just wrecked. Kayne West — God Love you for speaking the truth. “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Even if you were censored by the time I got the west coast feed — you said it, you went on record. Good for you. And then there was Aaron Neville. “Louisiana 1927” was killer enough, but then he did it, he sang “Amazing Grace”. No one sings “Amazing Grace” like Aaron Neville. Faith Hill sang “Precious Lord” too .. a lot of them sang spirituals. I sat here on the couch and wept. For months after Patrick died, the only thing I could listen to was American Spirituals — Johnny Cash, Aaron Neville, the great weird wonderful collection Goodbye Babylon. I don’t really believe in God anymore — not a personal God who intervenes in our lives — seeing Patrick dead pretty much did the last vestiges of that kind of faith in for me, but I do believe in the solace of these songs of pain and faith, songs of people who don’t have anything, songs that saw people through slavery, poverty, the Depression, racism, the Civil Rights movement. Those are the songs that made me believe that maybe, maybe I’d be able to survive it all.

And so when Aaron Neville and Faith Hill and all those other broken hearted musicians started playing those songs again, songs that have seen so many through so much, well, I just sat on my couch and wept.

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Is This What We’ve Become?

Is This What We’ve Become?

What has happened to our country? When did we become a nation who abandons our sick, our elderly, and our poor in the face of what everyone thought was, until the last minute, a Category 5 Hurricane? When did we become the kind of nation that tolerates that our elderly are dying and being left outside the Superdome like detritus? What would have happened if this man hadn’t come along? Would someone’s grandfather just be left out there, dead on a park bench? When did we become the kind of country that just leaves it’s poor and sick and old to drown in their own attics? I’m horrified.

This is how we’re organizing disasters? We just tell people there’s trouble coming, and then blame them when they can’t get out of the way? Have we become so insulated behind our gated communities that no one remembers what it’s like to be broke? To not have fifty bucks to fill the gas tank in the car you don’t even own so you can get out of town. Over on TPM Cafe, a reader notes that a lot of those people we just abandoned in New Orleans live on government checks, and those checks come in on the 1st of the month. The hurricane hit on the 29th. Have we become so rich and so soft that everyone has forgotten what it means to live paycheck to paycheck? What’s going to happen to all these people now that they’ve lost their jobs? I worked mostly hourly wage jobs until about five years ago, and I never had enough money to live a week or two, much less the 12 to 18 weeks the authorities are currently discussing without those wage jobs.

When did we go from waging a War on Poverty to waging a War on the Poor? All I can think is that this is what we get when we let the free-market ideologues take over our country. A world in which our old people die in disasters from which they could have been saved. A world in which the needy and less fortunate are considered absoltuely disposable. In which they are blamed for their own misfortune, despised for their bad luck, and in which a large proportion of our population seems to have turned a blind eye to their need.

And then Bush comes out this morning and says “I don’t think anyone could have anticipated the breach in the levees.” The Times Picayune has run an entire series of articles about how the authorities anticipated exactly such a breach, and how the Bush administration cut the funding for the prevention of exactly this event. Sounds like Bush’s rhetoric after 9/11 — “no one could have anticipated…” when they had intelligence that absolutely anticipated.

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