Do You Like Me? Yes or No?

Do You Like Me? Yes or No?

The first time I ever passed a note to a girl saying I “liked” her was in 8th grade at Fremont Junior High. Her name was Susan and she was in my social studies class. I remember writing the note at home, which proclaimed in adolescent drama, “Susan, I really like you. David.” After enduring an insufferably long weekend waiting for Monday’s class, my moment had finally arrived. When class was dismissed my heart began to race and my palms grew sweaty. Oblivious to my intent was Susan, who sat in the row next to me. As she stood up to leave the room I quickly tossed my note on the desk in front of her, saying that this was for her. She looked puzzled while one of her friends, who saw what I did, turned and asked her what I’d given her! At that moment I walked as quickly as I could out of the room, almost running, into an open courtyard, whose concrete surface was wet from an early morning rain. In my haste to make myself scarce, I slipped and flew up in the air like Charlie Brown when Lucy pulls the football away! Landing on my back nearly knocked the wind out of me. While one of my buddies stood over me to see if I was all right–trying to hold back his laughter–I realized, as gazed up into my friend’s face, which was framed by a gray and cloudy sky above, that I simply did not have the moment I had envisioned as I folded my note the previous night. As for Susan, I found out afterward that she already had a boyfriend and didn’t appreciate my note very much, which she made clear the next day as she deliberately kept her distance from me.

[photo credit: David Martínez]

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Phantoms of the French Quarter

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The last thing my wife and I did before departing New Orleans for our home back in Arizona was take an evening walking tour around the French Quarter, during which we and our tour group were regaled with real stories of tragedy and hauntings. Our guide and raconteur, Libby, took us on a non-linear journey across time and space, where the day world is overcome by night, respectability hides degeneracy, reason turns into madness, and the living remember their abuses and betrayals when they’re gone. Along the way, we were introduced to a former Civil War era hospital, the saga of Zach and Addie, an insidious pharmacist, La Dame Bleu, and the “most haunted place in New Orleans.” The latter was once the home of a woman who brutally mistreated her “slaves,” which more recently was owned and abandoned by actor Nicholas Cage. Although I had some qualms about exploiting the stories of people who were suffering from severe cases of mental health problems, I was nonetheless enthralled by what I was hearing. Libby is a very impassioned storyteller, who clearly and abundantly loves her hometown. As corny and touristy as going on a Haunted History Tour may seem, it was undoubtedly a very fun way of concluding what was, indeed, a memorable trip.

[photo credit: David Martínez]

Remembering My First Trip to New Orleans

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My introduction to the Big Easy occurred during a cross-country drive in 1988 that a grad school friend of mine, Kieran Suckling, and I were making while on winter break from Stony Brook, where we were both in the philosophy doctoral program. Because of the weather we deliberately took a southernly route, driving down I-95 until we hooked up with the I-10. The day we approached New Orleans from Mississippi was a few days before Christmas when a torrential rain hit. I had never seen anything like it before and was a little intimidated as we crawled across what seemed like a never-ending expansion bridge. Eventually we made it, slept in my friend’s Subaru station wagon at the first rest area we spotted, then hit the French Quarter later that evening. We found ourselves first in Jackson Square, which was active with street performers and tourists. While talking with a rotund folk singer strumming an acoustic guitar, one of his friends came along–a slender man with wild but friendly eyes–who told us about the “secret global society of two billion people that ran everything.” From there we walked to Bourbon Street. My first time. I was blown away by how crowded the street was, especially since it was the middle of the week. I remember having to stand on the sidewalk to listen to the bands rockin’ it in the bars along the way. The joints were so packed, there was no way of getting inside! Eventually, after having our fun, we needed to find a place to sleep. We were broke students, so hotels were out of the question. All we had was some camping gear, which we would use at camp sites up and down our long drive. However, here in the middle of New Orleans, we had no idea where to find the nearest camp site. This was 1988–no internet, no smart phones, no GPS, no asking Siri anything, man. Cruising the streets in the Subaru, we found a public park, where we saw some street people hanging out. “This looks good,” we thought. Think again. After napping for less than an hour, the bright lights from a patrol car were giving us a rude awakening. Time to go. After trying another park with the same results, we started easing our way west out of town. We were dead tired, though, so no way were we going to try to hit the freeway. Instead, we came across a suburban area, which seemed on the deserted side. Signs of ongoing housing construction were here and there. We finally parked in a secluded spot surrounded by tall grass and bushes. I chose to sleep in the back of the wagon with the rear door open, so my feet could hang out. Kieran opted to take his sleeping bag and find a patch of flat turf a few feet away in front of the car. Finally, sleep. A few hours of peace until I heard an engine noise. I kept my eyes shut, the noise got louder. I assumed it was the construction workers coming in for the day. No problem, we weren’t anywhere near their work sites. Just then I felt the car shaking. “What the hell?” Kept my eyes closed. The car shook again, harder. When I opened my eyes I saw a policeman looking at me with a perplexed expression. Seeing the startled look on my face, the officer asked me, “What are you doing here?” I jumped out of the back of the wagon. “Can I see some ID?” As I reached for my wallet, I tried answering the officer’s first question. But my words were all garbled. I sounded like that kid from Fat Albert, you know, the one that had that beanie pulled down to his chin! As I struggled to speak, I could feel my lower lip had become swollen. Mosquito bites! For crying out loud. With some effort I managed to say clearly enough, as I handed over my driver’s license, that “My friend and I were just trying to get some rest before hitting the road to Arizona again.” “Your friend? Where’s he at?” I pointed to where Kieran was laying in the middle of some high reeds. “Over there? Where all the snakes are?” Jesus. After all the commotion, Kieran finally got up to see what was going on. When he stood by me, I looked at his face, which was covered in red spots. “What happened to your face?” I asked, wondering what the heck else was going to go freaky this morning. “I don’t know,” Kieran said, “I think snails were crawling on me all night.” As the policeman held our two IDs in his hands he informed us that we couldn’t stay here since we were on private property. Also, he said it was dangerous, anyway. “Two people were murdered in this area recently, and their bodies were found along the side of the road here.” The policeman then explained that that was why he shook the car instead of telling me to wake up. He thought I was possibly another victim. On that note, we packed up our stuff and hit the road. We didn’t stop until we got all the way to Houston.  Needless to say, that was a night I’ll never forget.

[photo credit: David Martínez]

The Undersea World of the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico

The Undersea World of the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico

There’s something delightfully 19th century about an aquarium. Similar to zoos, botanical gardens, and natural history museums, an aquarium is as much a reminder of how much so-called civilization has changed the face of the earth as it is a monument to humankind’s achievement at acquiring knowledge of a wide and wonderful world. The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas at the end of Canal Street in New Orleans is such a place. I thoroughly enjoyed submerging myself in this world beneath the waves where America’s largest river meets a gulf, which is really an ocean, in which Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc, Columbus got lost looking for India, and the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs struck. Through it all, generations of amphibious and pelagic creatures dwelled in these waters, struggling to survive humanity’s relentless efforts at pursuing progress and prosperity, too often at the expense of our own environment. This aquarium is a splendid reminder of what we all stand lose.

[photo credit: David Martínez]

The Under-Appreciated Elegance of Some of Our Smallest Friends

The Under-Appreciated Elegance of Some of Our Smallest Friends

You can’t go to New Orleans without visiting the city’s insect museum! At least, you can’t not go when your spouse simply adores everything about the six- and eight-legged communities. Actually, I enjoyed my visit, too. I’ve always been comfortable around bugs and insects, not to mention fascinated by their role in nature. The exhibits are educational without being too didactic. Moreover, if you’re fortunate to show up when the bug expert is available with an assortment of LIVE beetles and what not, then all the better. The Insectarium is a gem of a museum/zoo, which ought to be appreciated more, along with the bugs and insects. As a concept, the Insectarium has room for growth, namely more live insects, in addition to how bugs and insects have been portrayed in mythology, folklore, literature, art, and movies. Bugs and insects are all around us, and they’re some of the oldest life-forms on earth. The Insectarium is a fitting temple to honor their place in Creation.

[photo credit: David Martínez]

The Swampy Beauty of the Bayou

The Swampy Beauty of the Bayou

On a recent trip to New Orleans, my wife Sharon and I visited the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, where we took a 90 minute boat ride along the waterways that flow into Lake Cataouatche. While there was a certain Disneyesque quality to the tour–passengers may be reminded of the safari boat ride–the animals, especially the alligators, are most definitely real and not animatronics. However contrived, the ride was a pleasant opportunity to see something natural and wonderful beyond the confines of the French Quarter. We had a great time taking lots of pictures, while listening to a very entertaining tour guide introduce us to the (mostly) native beauty of a land that you may not know is less than 30 minutes south of the Superdome.

[photo credit: David Martínez]