Excerpt: Living Blue in the Red States

Here is a brief excerpt from "Louisiana's New Political Landscape," my essay for the University of Nebraska Press anthology, Living Blue in the Red States, edited by David Starkey:

Even Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden’s image has been tarnished in the aftermath of Katrina, at least in the eyes of Baton Rouge liberals. In general, Baton Rouge’s response to the influx of evacuees was vigorously warm and generous. Once the Superdome and convention center in New Orleans were finally evacuated, shelters were set up in Baton Rouge to house thousands at the Southern University basketball arena and at the convention center downtown, and LSU’s basketball arena became a temporary hospital/shelter for ill and injured evacuees. LSU’s ag center turned into an enormous pet shelter for thousands of displaced animals. All of the shelters were swamped with volunteers and donated items from the community.

After a few days, however, paranoia set in. Those televised images of looting, the rumors of murder and rape at the Superdome, and the reports of snipers firing upon police and rescuers hung in the air, and it occurred to Baton Rougeans that there could be a criminal element in the shelters. After four knives were confiscated from evacuees at the Baton Rouge River Center shelter and BRPD received a false report of looting near there (the chief of police said, “It wasn’t looting. We had a problem with some of the displaced people going into businesses and asking for food"), Holden said “We do not want to inherit that breed that seeks to prey on other people. We want to send them this message: We are not going to let thugs walk around our street and intimidate people.” The next day, police got false reports of a riot near the River Center. In response, BRPD deployed a well-armed “Special Response Team“ in front of the nearby Governmental Building. Upon noticing the police activity from his post in the City Court building, the Baton Rouge City Constable sent his men out with shotguns to join the police. The sheriff’s office sent its “Special Community Anti-crime Team” to join the assembly. Government workers filed out of their buildings shortly thereafter and went home, cutting short their first day back to work after Katrina.

A few days later, my student Webb was walking through the parking lot of a medical clinic on his way to class when a sheriff’s deputy pulled over to talk to him, wanting to know who he was and what he was doing. Once the deputy learned that despite Webb’s brown skin and dreadlocks he wasn’t a thug, he backed off a bit and instructed Webb to go around any private property on his way to class in the future. “And I will,” Webb told me. “So I might be a little late to class once in a while.”

For more information on Living Blue in the Red States, visit http://nebraskapress.unl.edu/product/Living-Blue-in-the-Red-States,673200.aspx

An Excerpt (Nonfiction)

Here's a brief excerpt from "Lessons from Joe," a personal essay that appeared in the Healing Project anthology Voices of Lung Cancer:

By the end of the fall of 1997, Joe was too weak and sick to do much of anything. He could still ride out to the old place, though. One warm November day, Joe and I sat on the screened porch of a fragile old house on one side of the land he had grown up on. Before us, the autumn sun blazed down on the fields where he and his parents had grown food to eat and sugarcane to turn into syrup. It blazed also on the bigger house where he had spent the first 17 years of his life, and on the thick piney woods where he had hunted and cut firewood.

The fields, the porch, and the house behind us were just quiet and still enough for Joe to say something about the war, just an offhand comment, maybe about how cold it had been over there in the winter of 1944. After a pause, I said something about how tough it must have been to be so far from home at such a young age. After another pause, I said I couldn’t imagine being an infantryman, just a regular soldier on the ground. Joe told me he had been part of a mortar squad, dropping shells into a tube and watching them explode a few hundred yards away. “Sometimes you could see the bodies fly up,” he murmured, shaking his head. I didn’t know what to say to that. Joe just leaned forward, resting his popeye forearms on his knees. He brushed back his pale gray and red hair. “A lot of bad stuff happened over there,” he said. “I guess that’s why I’ve got this.”

Why didn’t I jump right up and tell him that his cancer was not a punishment for what he had done in the war? I never know what to say, and in this case it took me a few moments to see what he meant. I immediately sensed that one word from me might unleash a torrent of war memories, the worst ones, the ones he hadn’t told to a soul. Alone on the porch out in the country, he could have told me everything, and he wanted to. But I just sat there, unable to think of a thing to say. I checked my watch, then changed the subject.

To contribute to The Healing Project's worthwhile efforts on behalf of those who experience cancer, Alzheimer's, alcoholism and other challenges, visit their website. To buy one of their Voices of... anthologies, visit Amazon.com.

"A Brief History of Toast" (short fiction)

I had the honor of seeing this story in print (Alimentum, Spring 2006):

A Brief History of Toast
Toast comes in many varieties. You've got your fifteen-year toast, your ten-year toast, and your five-year toast. I don't recommend the five-year.

The Toast Hall of Fame in Bisbee, Arizona displays fourteen slices of presidential toast and pays tribute to a host of toast pioneers, including Hal Sponson, developer of toast on a stick; John Shoulderblade, credited with being the first to butter both sides of toast; Bette Smoonterly, patroness of many turn of the century toast painters; and of course Jacques Serving, Canadian inventor of French toast (which the British call "eggy shingle").

Toast was actually created long before bread came on the scene. Individual pieces were cooked over open flames or in special dung-fired kilns for centuries before Isaac Loaf, the Earl of Bread hit upon the idea of forming toast dough into logs, toasting it, then slicing the finished product. Society was amazed at the softness of "raw toast," as they called it, and bread, as it came to be known, soon appeared as a lining in hats, a stuffing for couch cushions, and a padding for the earliest dentist's chairs.

Toast theorists predict that the toast of the future will contain special whole-grain microchips that may be programmed to produce optimum texture, temperature, and brownage for each slice.

In Laos, toast is made from a crude metal derived from the mineral-rich soil unique to the region.

In 1744, during the Greco-Samoan war of 1612, Samoan warriors outfitted themselves with armor, hatchets, and shoes fashioned from crisp whole wheat toast. The outcome of the ensuing battle with Greek battalions has become the stuff of legend: using giant parabolic mirrors, the Greek army charred the Samoan toast and carried the day.

A primitive tribe in the Amazon basin uses toast as currency. Along the coast of the same continent, many fishermen use toast as bait for yellowfin tuna. The Eskimo language contains 47 words for toast. In the U.S., many housewives keep a slice of toast handy in the kitchen for striking matches, scrubbing pots, and scaring away vicious hounds. Several pieces of toast were left behind on the moon by astronauts in the early 1970's.

The American Toast Council's advertisements have been a source of entertainment for years and have introduced catch-phrases such as "love that scratchin' sound!" to daily language.

The world record for throwing toast is 713 feet, set by Georgia Plains of Plains, Georgia.

The Catholic Church has recognized the religious significance of toast.

For the artist, toast presents many special opportunities. Subtle variations in temperature, voltage, and wind speed produce an endless variety of hues and textures. Through manipulation of such variables and the application of tinted butters, jams, and oils, artists have achieved breathtaking results, as seen in such famous slices as "OK at the Shootout Corral" and "Can I Never Explode?"

It is impossible to imagine a context in which the adjective "nefarious" can be applied to toast. Can we say the same for crackers?

"A Brief History of the Toasted One"

I used BabelFish to translate "A Brief History of Toast" into Spanish, then back into English. The results:

A Brief History of the Toasted One

The toasted one comes in many varieties. You have toasted his of the fifteen-year, toasted his of ten years, and toasted his of five years. I do not recommend the one of five years.

Toasted the Corridor of FAMA in Bisbee, Arizona exhibits fourteen slices of toasted presidential and pays tribute to a host of the pioneers of the toasted one, including Hal Sponson, revealer of the toasted one in a small stick; Juan Shoulderblade, credited with being the first one to grease with mantequilla both sides of the toasted one; Bette Smoonterly, patroness of many return of the painters of the toasted one of the century; and of course portion of Jacques, Canadian inventor of the French toasted one (that the British call "fills with rubble eggy").

The toasted one was created really long before the bread came in the scene. The individual pieces were cooked on the open flames or in the furnaces dung-ignited special by centuries before the bread of Isaac, earl of the bread struck on the idea to form the paste of the toasted one in the registries, being toasted it, then slicing the finished product. They surprised the society in the toasted smoothness of the "crude one," whereas it called it, and the bread, whereas it came to be known, soon appeared like a trimming in hats, a filling for the shock absorbers of the sofa, and quilted for the chairs of the dentist more early.

The theoreticians of the toasted one predict that the toasted one of the future will contain special the integral microchips that can be programmed to produce texture, temperature, and brownage optimal for each slice.

In Laos, the toasted one becomes of a crude metal derived from the unique mineral-rich ground to the region.

In 1744, during the war of Greco-Samoan of 1612, the soldiers of Samoan equipped themselves with the armor, small hatchets, and the formed shoes of fragile whole wheat toast. The result of the battle that happened with the Greek battalions has turned the matter of the legend: using the giant parabolic mirrors, the Greek army socarró the toasted one of Samoan and took the day.

A primitive tribe in the washbasin of Amazon uses the toasted one like modernity. Throughout the coast of the same continent, many fishermen use the toasted one like bait for the tuna of the salmonada trout. The esquimal language contains 47 words for the toasted one. The United States, many housewives maintains a slice of the practical toasted one in the kitchen for the showy phosphorus, potes that mop, and to scare hounds vicious absentees. Several pieces of toasted were lazy behind in the moon by the astronauts in early years 70.

The announcements of the American advice of the toasted one have been a source of the hospitality per years and have introduced take-phrases such as "love that scratchin ' sound" to the daily language.

The world file for the toasted one that sends is 713 feet, system by the level ones of Georgia of level, Georgia.

The catholic church has recognized the religious meaning of the toasted one.

For the artist, the toasted one presents/displays many special opportunities. Subtle variations in temperature, voltage, and product of the wind speed an endless variety of tonalities and textures. With the manipulation of such variables and the use of mantequillas, of cloggings, and dyed oils, the artists have reached impressive results, according to the sight in the famous slices such as "ACCEPTABLE in the corral of Shootout" and "I can never explode"

It is impossible to imagine a context in which the adjective "infame" can be applied the toasted one. We can say equal for cakes?