What is in my Flask

thoughts on life from Brian Van Brunt

Thank you for your service


New Orleans, 2015

It’s a strange place to have an epiphany, the fourth-floor hotel lobby of a Hampton Inn in Terra Haute, Indiana. But that’s where this thought started.

Let me start here. I’ve always bristled a little bit at the “thank you for your service” comments to military services members. I don’t have anything against the military, but my politics are not in favor of a hawkish U.S. and more fall into that category of people who cite the problems we could solve with just 10% of what we spend on the military.

And it doesn’t help there is a general adoration in our society to the military from reserved parking spaces outside of supermarkets (sadly taking the place of expectant mother spaces—there’s a swords into ploughshares metaphor there somewhere) to the way airports and go out of their way (particularly in military base towns) to offer perks to those who have served. There also is an unspoken rule against criticizing soldiers, and rightly so given lessons learned with returning soldiers from Vietnam (though ‘wrongly so’ by church groups that treat military service as a graceful act akin St. Francis holding up a bluebird).

I’m not against people choosing to serve. I actually think it’s a rather noble profession, perhaps even a calling. But still, if I am being honest, I am one of the people who say “Thank you for your service” and then grumble things like “and enjoy your mortgage benefits, college waivers and reverence from a society because you couldn’t think of any other good options when adulthood choices.” Sure, I know. Not really fair, but that’s what I feel. And I suppose if there is anything good that came from this hot-garbage, train-wreck of a presidency is a new-found voice to saw what I think. #specialsnowflake

Ok, so back to my epiphany. Full disclosure, I’m a big fan of the black lives matter movement. I teach microaggression awareness to folks in higher education to help us all become more aware of those unconscious things we say that are offensive to marginalized populations. Things like “Oh, you have Aspergers (ASD)? You seem so normal” or “You speak very well. How did you become so articulate” to a person of Asian descent? I am a liberal in my thinking and very much a fan of social justice.

So, my struggle centers around this special treatment we offer those who serve given we don’t make these same concessions for people like therapists, teachers, accountants helping the poor, doctors—you get it, insert your job here. That and I bristle at the idea my words of thanks are seen as a tacit approval to our military-machine of a political system. That and I don’t like people telling me who I have to thank.

And while I had gone along pretty well in my forty-five years with this philosophy, I had a bit of a change of heart while walking down this hallway tonight.  Maybe this was one of those  implicit bias blind-spots I teach about? Had a found something in my Johari window, 4th quadrant? What if military service members are marginalized in our population in the similar ways? That this societal acknowledgment of there services (which, BTW, I have never seen someone who served ask for or expect) is a version of recognizing their difference and experience. Perhaps simply thanking them is a way to attempt to see into their world and appreciate it always hasn’t been a good experience. Maybe acknowledging their work doesn’t need to be a bigger message or dilemma for me.

I think the fairly brutal Joyner Lucas video that dropped a few weeks ago is part of this as well. While not a perfect example (I have trouble with the video treating systemic racism as akin to white privilege frustration and how everything wraps up nicely at the end by just listening), I have been trying to look at things from a different point of view. The catch, I think, is seeing the group you are trying to understand and support as marginalized. With active service military and veterans, I think I am coming around. I still struggle with groups that aggressively push their agenda when they have the majority of support. But perhaps this statement is exactly at the heart of so many conflicts. I can see fundamentalists Christians and those standing for all lives matter saying the same thing, “We are the minority, we are the persecuted, you don’t understand us.”

So, for me, baby-steps. I’ll open my heart a bit more to the Veteran and active military. Try to understand their service through thanking them and let some of this bitterness go. Maybe see the culture of how veterans were treated after Vietnam as a driving force for this new, more positive view of our service men and women. Appreciating how the system treated them in the past as a small echo of what African Americans and other marginalized groups have experienced. Not the same, since some groups you opt into and others you don’t have a choice about, but wondering if there is a useful common ground for me here.

I’m not sure I’m ready to have a come-to-Jesus moment with the Christian right. I have too much frustration at how insidious their beliefs are to those who don’t conform to their teachings and how quick they are to label others as sinners. Having been in the those ranks, I can tell you a central teaching is to be aggressive in evangelism and conversion. That anything else is seen as lukewarm and against the scripture. But this about them right now. Its about me trying to grow some.

Talk less, listen more? I suppose that was the advice to Hamilton. Though, he didn’t take it. Though, he also got shot. No clear answer there.

So, to those who have served, thank you for your service. Truly.

(oh, my flask. Filled up with a nice cab from Lodi, CA. The federalist.)


New Orleans Blog


New Orleans always has held a special place in my heart. Some have asked me what I do in the city when I visit. So I made this list. From the get-go, NOLA pushes against the idea of order, so no numbered lists—just a collection of places that are special to me. Maybe they will become special to you as well. I did give in a little and put them into general categories of food, fun, booze, sleep and next (stuff I’m gonna do next).

FOOD* **

*a note about food in NOLA. I have a close friend, Angie Doss, who introduced me to this concept of packaging your leftovers and asking for some “to-go” plastic wear and giving them to someone you see on the street. I think this is an amazing concept and I encourage you to do it. I have never had anyone refuse, and more often that not, I have had people smile in a way that made their day. This doesn’t fix the problem of homelessness, but it helps. Honestly, the only challenge I think is trying to sort our the difference between the homeless and the hipster. Make it a fun game.

** I’d say the first 10 below are the ones I try to go to each trip.

El Gato Negro Oh man, this place. I know you don’t think of Mexican food when you come to the city. Listen, I get it. I also know California and Texas have this kind of locked down. But, listen. I travel a lot. This is the best Mexican food I have ever had. Hands down. Their queso is like exactly as it should be, just a nice kick and super cheesy. Honestly, I’ve been there twice, and I’ve ordered the exact same thing. Queso and one ground chuck beef taco with sautéed mushrooms. The queso comes with flour tortillas. It’s enough to make three tacos. Like it wasn’t enough, they have pineapple, cilantro margarita that is the best I have ever had. Don’t miss the place on the end of Decatur. It’s also right near the French market and the Frenchman, so plan to wander around there.


Who Dat Café.  A little bit of a hike in the Faubourg Marigny, but well worth the walk to Burgundy street. There are two things you don’t want to miss here. They do the perfect bloody Mary. Just the right spice and kick and often at the $5 price. The other is the corn cakes. They are kind of like pancakes but fried in butter and made of corn. Not that you can see them beneath the cheese, bacon and chives. Each forkful of this mammoth breakfast/brunch gauntlet is worth it. Don’t order anything else. Just this bliss. Great place to hang out and write as well.

EAT New Orleans. Located on the corner of Dumaine and Dauphine street, EAT is this hidden gem in the quarter. They do an amazing deviled eggs that are spicy and served with bacon or smoked salmon. They have the chicken pot pie skillet that was equally good along with a crab and shrimp seafood linguine. The menu changes frequently and they have a really nice BYOB policy without a corking fee (this means just bring your wine, beer and other booze to the table with you).  The window seats are great for people watching with a bottle of your favorite wine. One of those places you wander into at the end of Bourbon.

Coops Place A bit of a dive and a hole in the wall, but well known by locals and tourists in the know. Some of the best fried chicken in town. Have it along with some rabbit jambalaya or some fried seafood. Must be over 21. FYI, no babies in the bar. Erica introduced me to this place and it has become a quick favorite. There is a really funny NOLA bit about parades and Coops by Hannibal. Check it out here.

Red Fish Another great restaurant at the top of Bourbon street in the middle of everything. They do like 10 different kinds of fish with varied sauces (my favorite is tuna with lemon butter). Ask for the mint julip in a classic julip cup. The friend Oysters with blue cheese and crystals hot sauce is one of the best bites in the city. Dessert is also not always easy to come by in the city–which is surprising. But they do this here. Its called the double chocolate bread pudding. It involves chocolate being poured. Like your own fountain.

Muriel’s Classic NOLA cuisine set right next to the hotel Place de Arms and the cathedral. The goat cheese crepes are the go-to dish to try here. The blackened fish and the pork chop are other favorites. Cool courtyard bar (indoors) and another place where you can escape the heat of the day for some classic white table cloth dining. Great lunch menu.

Stanley’s  Right next to St. Louis Cathedral. They have a great omelet sandwich. I had this like for a week straight. Solid bloody mary. If they ask you to get a double, the answer is always yes. They do a really nice brandy milk punch as well as a nice dark roux gumbo. Second best gumbo for me—my first is at K-Pauls.

Acme Oysters  Some see these as a tourist place and will fight you if you argue differently. My thought is that leaves more for us and they can go somewhere else. Great po-boys and they do an oyster grilled with butter, garlic and cheese that is one of the best bites in the city. Try to go on off times (between lunch and dinner) and consider sitting at the bar. No outside drinks strictly enforced and they won’t seat you until everyone is there.

Lucky Dog carts Hot dog carts throughout the city at night. Definitely a tasty dog. Onions, mustard and ketchup please. For the Confederacy of Dunces fan, this is a must. They taste better after 10pm and in the terminal at the MSY airport. People may initially say, “Do I want a hotdog from a street vendor?” I’d say they are surprisingly good and the vendors all do a nice job with sanitizing.

Clover Grille At the end of Bourbon street. The dive of dive diners. But, amazing hamburgers make by taking a hubcap over the top of the burger on the grille. Also, second best tater-tots in the city. Not a fancy place. Also, the rules on the menu make the place worth it for a trip. Just keep your hands above the table at all times. Don’t talk to yourself. They make a super good grilled cheese and a surprisingly epic turkey club sandwich. Also, they are open 24/hrs.

Sylvain  Fun, small intimate place for drinks and meals. They do a great brunch with this amazing shot called an orange Lazarus. Don’t miss this. A quick turn by Jackson square over to the Chartres. Can get busy, so reservations can help—particularly for brunch.

Arnaud’s Located on Bourbon and Bienville, Arnauds is another one of those suprises. A fixture of NOLA, it specialized in French cuisine and fine dining. They have two dining rooms, one for reservations and the other for walk-ins. I’d say go for the one in the back. The do a veal Whol dish that gives you a taste of the best they have: Veal Chantal, Arnaud’s Crab Cake and Crawfish O’Connor. Need a fix of escargot or frog’s legs? This is your place. One of the most extensive offerings for oysters in the city. Really romantic spot for a nice dinner.

Bourbon House On the corner of Bourbon (ha!) and Iberville, this place has an extensive collection of bourbon’s that speak to this Kentucky boy. They have raw bar that serves a “Fruits de Mar” platter in various sizes that is really good. Really strong horseradish, which is a must. And they do a raw oyster set topped with caviar which is a favorite for me. A little more a place for a quicker meal in the heart of the quarter.


Commander’s Palace One of the older restaurants in the city, Commanders Palace is located in the Garden district. They have amazing turtle soup and do delicious things with the crab, local fish and pasta. Requires some slightly fancier dress and can be a bit more expensive. They often two exclusive experiences, a chef’s table for four people and a wine cellar table for 8-10. These are epic dining experiences with great wine pairings from their wine cellar with 33,000 bottles. Call early for these.

Cafe Amelie A cute hidden place on the edge of the quarter. Romantic dinners in their courtyard with amazing cocktails. Its super close to my favorite hotel, the Place de Arms. Can get busy around 7pm for reservations. Kind of the perfect New Orleans place to eat. Best enjoyed on a dark fall night. They have some amazing bread pudding creations with candy bars and other creative options.

NOLA A fun restaurant on St. Phillips. It used to be more upscale and fancy, but recently they have moved more to small plates. The BBQ shrimp are really good as well as the pork chop and friend chicken with sweet potatoes. The shrimp are served in a dark sauce, not a traditional BBQ, but its equally delicious. They also do a house pineapple infused vodka that they can do with soda water or in their Cosmo. Don’t miss. They recently re-did the entire interior, so it’s a little bit of an adjustment from what it was before. Much more casual. They make this amazing pineapple infused Vodka that my friend Poppy likes from California. She isn’t wrong.

KPaul’s This classic New Orleans place is tasty and provides a heartier fair. While all the meals are filling and delicious, my favorite is their gumbo. They use an extremely dark roux and it is just the best flavor. They also have a delicious sweet potato pecan pie. One of my favorite tricks is to wait until about 9 on most nights and just sit at the bar and order these two things. Located just a bit from the St. Louis Cathedral on Charters.

Mr. B’s Bistro Another classic in the city. Right in the heart of the quarter on the 200 block of Royal. Steak, BBQ oysters, great cocktails, it’s a mix of upscale and casual. No t-shirts or sandals, though. Gotta wear pants. Good place to try, not the top of my list. Don’t judge, but I got a really good hamburger here for dinner. They also make a solid garlic chicken.

Antoine’s One of the oldest restaurants in the city, Antoine’s is great for lunch or dinner. They offer a weekday lunch special three course menu for $21 along with .25 martinis of the day. Ask to sit in the back of the restaurant at lunch time, they often try to fill up the front first. They are known for some amazing oyster dishes, a baked Alaska and a diablo coffee they set on fire.

Camila Grille  There are two of these, one S Carrollton and then this one in the quarter. Great for a greasy spoon breakfast. This one is technically called the Grille, but that was a new name like two years ago. I imagine there was some kind of lawsuit that downgraded it to the Grille. Not a fancy place and don’t get too complicated in your orders. I’ve watched people trying to order an earl grey tea with honey and lemon be kicked out of the place. Bacon, eggs, Reuben, or get some grits. Fun to watch the waiters interact with the crowd and chefs. The original in Carrollton section of the city. I haven’t found it yet.

Boo! The one in the quarter is closed now. I swear to the sweet baby Jesus they better not put a soap shop in here.

Dat Dog Ok, back to hot dogs. Here is another place to check out. They have like 10 different kinds of hotdogs and sausage. Worth the trip over. There is one on Frenchman and one over on Magazine.

Felix  Right across the street from Acme. You might be tempted to say “hey, maybe I’ll go here instead.” You should do that. That way there is more seating at acme for me.

Cade De Monde   A required tourist stop. Beignets are like French donuts. They can be a little heavy, so getting a coffee is a must. There café au lait comes with a chicory coffee, that can be an acquired taste. They are open 24/7 which is a bonus for those late-night hankerings.

Café Beignet  For better beignets, I like Café Beignet on the 300 block of Royal street. Check it out. Its getting popular, though—so there might be some lines.

Elizabeth’s Restaurant  Great breakfast place outside of the quarter down in the Marigny. They make this amazing praline bacon. Worth an uber if you aren’t feeling the Grille or Stanley’s. It’s also pretty close to Dr. Bob’s folk art. I keep wanting to be into this place, but the art just isn’t my style. Check it out if you like here.

Court of Two Sisters Court Tavern on Bourbon  The court of two sisters is a really nice brunch place, but also a cool gumbo shop on bourbon. It’s an easy in and out place with some quality gumbo and a really nice roast beef po-boy. Ask for it dressed to get mayo, tomato, pickles and cheese on it.

Mother’s Restaurant  A true gem in the city. Casual atmosphere and amazing ham and turkey and sausage. My favorite is a debris sandwich (the drippings and meat from a roast beef) and a simple biscuit with ham. There are always lines here, so plan ahead during the busy seasons.

Green Goddess  A cool little outdoor place with great vegetarian food (and other). On a little cross street called Exchange Place, definitely a great little place to stop for a snack. Cool beers and great vibe. A little hot in the summer to eat outside, but a great place to grab some food hang out. They have this amazing meatloaf po-boy that is something you don’t want to miss.

TuJaques This place has been around before New Orleans was New Orleans as a Spanish armory. It serves great traditional New Orleans fair, my favorites being the crab au gratin, brisket, and the gnocchi. They also have a great off menu item which is a garlic chicken with homemade fries. So much garlic. Be prepared. They also make this fun and silly grasshopper drink that is good if you are in the need for some sweets. Located on Decatur, it’s a little restaurant and pretty easy to score reservations. A good place if you want a white table cloth experience but forgot to make reservations.

Reds Chinese This one is fun. Overheard walking on Bourbon, apparently its a mix of creole Thai food. Which sounds fascinating, so we asked them about it. Overheard restaurant finds is like drinking stolen beer. It always tastes better. Outside, a single red square stands bacon against the night. It says, “Here lies some epic cajun infused Chinese food.” Well, not really, its just a big red square. For me, the craw rangoon, pork belly buns and the generals chicken made the track worth it. Top notch find, random drunk Bourbon people.

Willie Mae’s Scotch house I gotta say, this has been on my list forever. It’s also a bit off the beaten path to get to on the far end of St. Ann, but there have been epic stories told of the chicken in this kind of Viking/Norse song tradition. Go forth, young man. Find the best chicken you can. Take and eat and conquer. Or something like this. In the end, I found it good. It was good fried chicken. By the sheer length of the line outside and the number of people wheeling luggage, apparently heading to the airport right after eating (or perhaps this was their first stop), this place is loved. The sides are delicious and remind me of a home cooked meal. Mashed potatoes and peas, cornbread, red beans and rice. It was really good. That being said, I still give Coops place my friend chicken award, but I would go back and try it with Dave since he had to skip fried chicken and have hummus instead.

Doris Metropolitan I gotta say, I’ve walked past this place on Charters street several dozen times. Its most notable for the full window into the refrigerator holding aged steaks. Like places like Arnaud’s and Red Fish, they have quality bar seating that rivals the actual restaurant. First off, my best advice to you if they ask if you want bread is to say Yes. They have an amazing bread section that comes out with red vine salt, a trio of flavored butters….just was really good. I had the Tuna Tartare for an appetizer and it was really good. I went steak. Bone-in Rib Eye, Cap Off, medium rare. It was a great steak. Overall, the place felt classy, but the bar stepped it down some. To me, it was almost like stepping out of NOLA for a bit, away from Cajun everything and back to a high-end steak house with great options for people who may not want steak. They had surprise flight of amaro liquors, these bitter digestives that I don’t think I really knew much about. Think something like Aperol or Campari. Didn’t realize this was a thing. Really good!

Hard Rock Café Don’t go here. They closed the best dual piano bar on bourbon to replace it with this dumb place. I veto it.

Briquette We went around Mardi Gras, so probably have to go back to get a full feel. It was pretty empty, and I had a bad run in with the waiter. He was kind of pushy, didn’t take drink orders, skipped the ladies and went to the men to order—turns out he was new. Also, there website is weird. Like nothing on it but a briquette. Which is a cool graphic, but maybe menu? I’m not gonna eat your briquette, dude. Anyway, they switched out the server and we had a good meal. They did muscles and truffle fries that were an amazing appetizer. I had a chicken dish that was really good and the tuna. I’d tell you what the dishes were, but I can’t find the menu. Really cool warehouse kind of atmosphere. I would go here again, but it wouldn’t be my idea or suggestion.IMG_3361

Louisiana Pizza Kitchen I know, I know. Pizza in NOLA. But sometimes you have a hankering. This place does oven baked thin crust. Great sauce and meat. They do a really good Caesar salad and nice gumbo as well. Its over by the French market and on the way to Frenchman street. So kind of a fun place if you are on the way somewhere. I know. But try it. Also, pitchers of beer.

Port of Call  It’s been a bit of my white whale, trying to get to this place. But I finally made it. The bar is dark and has lots of seating. The two times I’ve gone, it’s been a little more on the quiet side, but I hear that the place can fill up quickly. They do a simple burger—with or without cheese or mushrooms and instead of fries, they do a baked potato. Apparently, they don’t have a fryer, but have two ovens. Thus, tasty potatoes. Its good solid food and the they have a pretty intense collection rum-based drinks that will kick your ass. The Monsoon is a popular one and super strong. The red turtle is a little sweeter. The goombay punch has a coconut vibe and the Huma huma has a nice melon flavor. Also, coldest beer in town. They say they have the best burger in NOLA, and I usually don’t get into “best of” kind of debates. It’s a solid good burger and I def like the idea that they can do it rare and it means rare. Definitely a good stop. Upon checking my notes, I found this little gem describing the monsoon agter having the red turtle, a beer and the goombay punch.  “Moo soon strong as fuck”

Belle’s Diner A 1950’s themed diner between Decatur and the French market. Traditional diner food and cool music. Fresh OJ machine, great bar options and how can you pass up a “boozy shake.” I had the Hell Belle omelet that had hot sausage, cheddar cheese, and roasted peppers. A good alternative to the Grille that shut down on Charters. Not a place I think I would seek out again, but not bad and a cool location if you are over here. It’s open most days 7am-7pm.

Snug Harbor Heralded as the alternative to Port of Call on Frenchman, that was pretty accurate. A bit more open and a little less cramped, they had a larger menu beyond hamburgers and baked potatoes, but really, that is the main draw of this place. Quality burger and great loaded baked potato. Perfect for sucking up all the alcohol consumed while listening to Jazz music on Frenchman. Apparently, they have jazz here as well, but weren’t playing while I was there.

Kingfish Another one of those little cool places right in the heart of the quarter. Located off Conti and Charters, the defining characteristic of the restaurant is a cool wrap-around bar that reaches into the dining room. Lots of good craft cocktails and solid gumbo and entrees. I had the boudin balls (little spicy pork balls) and the chicken andouille gumbo. Not overly busy, even on a Saturday for lunch/brunch. And with a big surprise coming out of left field, I’m gonna say this gumbo beats our K-Paul’s for me. Dark roux, great sausage and chicken flavor, perfect rice. They did it really well. That and a cool black and blue bread pudding (black berries and blue berries). Kind of a cool idea.

Nola Po Boys Located over near the 900 block of Bourbon, it’s a little po-boy shop. I’m pretty sure it is also related to many of the street bike taxis—there seem to be a lot of them there. The shrimp po-boy was on the spicy side, which I liked. Small place and good food. Another place that I think is more about location and where you happen to be.

Horns Surrounded by a trellises and plants with lots of outdoor seating, this cute little place is nestled up outside of Frenchman on Dauphine. It had some great music going and the indoor setting was all well-worn wood and had the feel of a reclaimed barn with dark maroon vinyl benches and feeling of place and history. I had a savory bread pudding made with spinach and mushroom with over-easy eggs. Strong coffee and some fun fancy drinks like the Velvet Elvis (tequila, lavender syrup, grapefruit and lime). I came early in the morning and it was pretty slow, but the place had “gonna be busy” vibe as the day worked its way to evening.

IMG_2108The Orange Couch Not too far away from Frenchman, the Who Dat Café and Horns lives this little bakery and coffee house. Its bright, airy and entirely populated with writers and students working on stuff. Great power outlets, good wi-fi, comfortable indoor and outdoor seating, strong coffee and, you know—an orange couch.


Tableau A little Brennan’s restaurant on the corner of Charters an St. Peter by Jackson square. Its right in the middle of everything and originally, I worried the food would suffer due to the touristy location. I was wrong. The food was amazing. BBQ shrimp with an amazing hot sauce, quality hamburger and a really nice red fish. Oh, and the Gnocchi appetizer. The best I have ever had. The day I was here, it rained in this epic way outside by the square and you could just sit there and watch the rain come down.

IMG_3152Broussards I’ve been to this place twice. Kind of a fun, hidden gem in the quarter off Conti and Bourbon. They do great brunches (everyday over the summer). Endless mimosas and rosé wine. They do a great crystals, honey, cream sauce with the BBQ shrimp. So good. I’ve had the happy our Hors d’oeuvre and cocktails. They make a mean corpse reviver #2 and croque monsieur. A little fancier for dinner—but casual for brunch. Outdoor courtyard and elegant dining room. Oh, and try a grasshopper. Like a girl scout cookie in a glass.



Touchdown Jesus The Jesus statue on the back side of the St. Louis cathedral casts a sweet shadow up a night. It’s a classic picture from the city. He has been affectionately named “touchdown Jesus” and is fond of pineapples.

Ritz Spa An indulgence, for sure. They have amazing massages and a cool locker room with steam and showers with wall jets. They have a neat voodoo massage option with cool music and a spiced bag of herbs that are used in the process. Come early and leave late to enjoy the wave pool and hot tub. Great mani-pedi services. They also have a really nice bar at the hotel set in a square courtyard on the second floor.

New Orleans School of Cooking This cooking school offers a 2-3 hours class where you don’t really cook, but rather watch one of the chef’s cook. They tell you stories about the city, make gumbo, pralines, etouffee and red beans and rice. They start with biscuits with Steen’s cane sugar and move through two more courses depending on the menu of the day and often end with pralines and pecan pie. I’ve been about 11 times, and find it a great way to learn about the city, have a meal and spend some time with friends. It’s about $30 for the experience. Also, free beer.  Its right next to Emril’s NOLA restaurant on St. Louis street between Chartres and Decatur.

Sucré Macaroons. So many macaroons. For your face. To Eat. If, you know, you are into that kind of thing. Banana Fosters is a favorite. Apparently, they also have “big awesome cookies.” I’m not sure about that.

Papier and Plume This little shop on Royal has great selections of paper and pens. Cool messenger bags, cases, old school ink stamps and calligraphy supplies. Definitely worth a stop by.

Harrah’s New Orleans Cool casino themed after the city. Nice mix of slots and table195838_526742796653_8267623_n games. Really happening poker room. I played once at a two-four limit table with Ray Liotta. He scared the shit out of me. It was a low limit table, 2-4 hold em. And the whole time, we all felt like we knew he was somebody. He wore this stupid baseball cap and kept talking about American Idol, like normal American’s do. But we weren’t sure who he was. So, when he went to the bathroom, we all talked and figured out it was Ray Liotta. When he got back he admitted it and we played some more. I asked him for an autograph and he said he would sign one a little later. I even won a hand bluffing against him. Which was also scary. When he got up to go to the bathroom, I saw my chance and went over to him on the way back. I said, “I’m just such fan. Casino, Silence of the lambs. I don’t want to be a bother..” and I held out the paper and a pen. He looked at me with intense eyes and said, “WELL, YOU FUCKING ARE!” In my head, I was like “holy shit, he is going to kill me for asking for an autograph.” I stammered, “I’m sorry…I didn’t…” Then he took the paper and said, “Nah, I’m just kidding…” in this calm and happy voice. Dude. That guy got me.

Ignatius J. Reilly statue  Speaking of which, check out this statue dedicated to our favorite French quarter character. Set out from of where the old D.H. Holmes Department Store was. Hang some beads on him for some good vibes.

Faulkner House Books  Next to the pirate bar, take a break and see where Faulkner wrote and lived. Some great old books here. Worth a stop. You can be all classy and well-read and such.

Wellington & Co. Speaking of silver and jewelry, this is a great place to get some fine jewelry. Ask for Ryan, he will steer you right. Located on Royal..a great street to check out some antiques.

Ghost Adventure Tours  A guided tour through the city. I like the Voodoo and Cemetery Tour #1. Worth the cost to see the cemetery and hear some of the stories. It takes about 2-3 hours, and isn’t too strenuous. You may want to not pick 11am in July, though. Super hot in the cemetery. They do discounts for pre-pay and groups. So worth asking. usually about $20-$30 a person.

St. Louis Cathedral  Worth a stop to come in from the heat and see one of the most beautiful churches in the country. Several of my friends from NJ hang out here.

New Orleans Silver smith Great little silver shop. Lots of estate jewelry and some new (located on Chartres in the quarter). I may have started my flask collection here. This collection may be at 8 flasks. If you stop by, see what they are holding for Brian. Send me a picture.

Lady of Guadeloupe  Cool church right outside the quarter. Has a really neat grotto with candles and cool worship space to reflect. There is a long history to the church being a place where many bodies were kept during the yellow fever outbreak. Oldest church in the city and home of the St. Jude shrine.

Marie Laveau tomb in cemetery #1 A required stop to pay homage to the great voodoo queen Marie Laveau. People leave offerings and some have written on the tomb, but this is frowned on. Best to see this on a tour, as the cemetery is often locked at night and during the day.

Palace Market A cute artists market in the heart of Frenchman street. About 30 booths with jewelry, art and cool creative things to purchase. They are open most nights from 9-1—but look for the Friday and Saturday nights to see the most artists booths.

Police horses  The police on bourbon have horses. It may come into your mind to say something like “OMG, I have a horse and I ride horses and I know all about horses and can I touch your horse and maybe get a selfie with you and the horse.” Just leave them alone. They are here to trample you if the crowd gets out of control and push you onto the ground. BBTTH

Cajun Pride Swamp and Plantation Tours I rarely get pulled out the city, but this one time I was talked into a swamp boat tour. I was with two of my friends, who happened to be black. When they asked if we also wanted to do the plantation tour, one looked at me and said, “Too soon, man.” Agreed. I learned that alligators like marshmallows. And that there are lots of bugs in New Orleans swamps. It was a fun thing to try for a long afternoon, but probably not a repeat for me.


Thoth Float I ride with Thoth for Mardi Gras. I’m pretty sure we are worshiping an
ancient bird. The parade route is here in case you want to try to catch some beads or a doubloon from me. Also, FYI, if you are on a Mardi Gras float, choosing absinthe and ice as your float drink is ill-advised.

O’Neil Gallery This is one of my favorite places for art in the city. Peter lives and Florida and does some amazing work. I have two of his pictures in our bedroom in New Hampshire and some plans to pick up some more.


French Quarter Mule Rides Across from Café Du Monde and next to the St. Louis Cathedral, there is a line of mules that can take you on a cool tour. Many have mixed feelings about the animals being worked this hard in the heat. Often tours that cut through Frenchman can bring jeers and protests from locals. The drivers assure people that the mules are kept well and have a good life. Honestly, I don’t know how to feel about them. They are best at night and cost about $30 a person.

Queork Seriously, I hate this place. Queork should be for cork boards and maybe the bottom of your shoes. Perhaps bobbers. Maybe wine corks. If you are with me when we walk by, I will grumble. Slightly less now that Stephanie from Pere Antoine bought a cork phone case. Grrr.

Champions Square Located outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, it’s the place to get your Who-Dat on. I’ve been to exactly two football games in my life, one of them here and one of them at Giants Stadium. The vibe in the stadium is really cool. Chanting and goodness. Definitely worth a swing by during a game.

French Market This place is over by Decatur. There are food shops and some upscale shops as well. They have Sno-Ball (like the flavor ice of NOLA), alligator sausage, gumbo and oysters. The lower part of the market has tables like a flea market for great cheap little things for souvenirs. Worth a walk through, I think. Also near cool shops on Decatuer and El Gato Negro, you know, if you need some queso.

27973293_158565354799513_4935476658415074901_nTrashy Diva Clothing / Trashy Diva Lingerie Boutique This is my wife’s favorite story in the city. They have two stores on Royal street. One has some cool retro 40’s and 50’s dresses, which aren’t cheap, but are really pretty. The other is Trashy Diva intimates and a collection of incredible lingerie and bras. Both stores have a very nice bench that men can sit on and wait.

NRSH (Soap) I have no idea what is going on. But there are like three soap shops all next to each other. I’ve hear the guy who bought the Grille building on Charters also owns these soap shops. The soap is nice, but I don’t get it. There should not be this much need for soap. They were all on Charters. I’m investigating. I have three theories: 1) I need to get into the soap business cause the mark up must be amazing, 2) there is a Fight Club Project Mayhem thing going on here, 3) the guy who bought the building is also buying soap shops for his kids. Updates to come. I did take a sample of the lemon soap and it was very nice. I just don’t understand.

Rouses Market Fresh fruit, cheap booze and all the things you need when you are away from home. The narrowest isle ever and simple going into this place is like a rite of passage in the quarter. Right in the middle of everything on Royal street.

Bargain Center This is over in the Bywater. It’s a cool mix of indoor flea market meets like a antique shop. Lots of random furniture, pictures, glassware…kind of like a grandmother’s attic kind of place. I bought a cool table here. Ubered that 1840’s bastard back over to the apartment.

Collectible antiques This is a little antique shop on the 1200 block of Decanter. They have a lot of nice things that aren’t over the top, Royal street prices. It’s an older store just made for wandering through and exploring. Clearly when I moved to NOLA, I needed to invest in a decanter and some candelabras. I found some nice deals here. Remember to haggle. I found they would come down 10-20% on the prices posted.

Second Line Arts and Antiques. This one is across from Collectibles. While they have some antiques, its way more about local artists and created items. They have an outdoor market and about 30 indoor booths that have local artists works. Lights worked into saxophones, old bottles, ironworks and collectables. It’s a fun and eclectic way to spend an hour. Also, if your friends are scared of bugs—this is the stop for them. Cause for some odd reason, they have like 200 glass boxed butterfly’s and bugs for sale as well. I don’t know why. I suspect it is related to the soap conspiracy.

St. Charles Streetcar After a long debate about streetcars versus trolley’s, we climbed aboard and tried this out. If you are so inclined, they are mostly the same, though a streetcar is used for more shorter, more local trips. It’s cheap at $1.25 a person. They have day passes as well. The streetcar takes you across to the garden district, Tulane and Loyola. Its a great way to see the houses, get over to Magazine street places to eat and shop and generally get a feel for the culture of the town. The cars can get quite packed, so its not the most comfortable mode of travel, but its a quick and cheap way to get over to Commanders and the St. Louis Cemetery #1 (which is currently open 7-3pm—just as a heads up).

Saenger Theatre Sadly, I have yet to go here for a play or theatre, but I was surprised to learn of this hidden gem in the city. My friends David, Chris, Vanessa and Ro rented a condo up on canal by this place and I started watching some of the shows that were coming doing. They draw some top-name folks…Hamilton, Tony Bennet, NIN, Les Misérables, and Book of Mormon. Kind of good place to know.

House of Blues Oh man, what a story. So, to begin with, I’m not a big concert goer. I grew up pretty conservative Christian and the best concerts I was allowed to go to were Stripper and Carmen (pray for me). So, when I wandered past Willie Nelson’s tour bus…I was like, huh. I think I can make this happen. The venue was super cool, small and intimate and had standing room for a couple hundred and then banisters around the main floor and second floor. Willie was nothing short of amazing and besides getting a contact high from the smoke in the crowd, Willie was throwing bandanas left and right. I’m not quite sure how, but I ended up with some woman on my shoulders as she thought this would be a good way to catch a bandanna. Sadly, there was no bandana that was thrown our way. There may have been a point where she tucked a lit joint into her bra before climbing up. Honestly, the night was a little hazy. Anyhoo, concerts! They have concerts here.

One Eyed Jacks This has been another one of those bucket list situations for me. My first concert in New Orleans was a random lucky connection to the House of Blues to see Willie Nelson. There was a variety show there tonight called Blunderland and it was amazing. The venue is this cool little place with a bar in the middle and this raised felt red wallpaper that just adds to the overall vibe of the place. Def worth checking out if you find a band you like or a show.


Three Silly Drinks: If you do find yourself on Bourbon, make sure you have a drink in hand. You can carry drinks out of restaurants and bars in to-go cups. This has resulted in the creation of some epic to-go cup options.

The hand-grenade, Hory Gator and the Shark Attack:  Tropical Isle has a series of bars on bourbon. The hand grenade is served in a long green tube with a little shooter of rum in a hand grenade. My personal favorite from there is the shark attack. I won’t spoil it for you, but order a shark attack and see what happens. Hint: is awesome, film it.

The Resurrection: Stop by Spirits on Bourbon to find that glowing skull drink. It’s here. Called the resurrection. It tastes blah. But glowing skull.

Is that a Real Pineapple? Stop by Cane and Table They have a drink here that is like $30 for two people served in a fresh pineapple. Buy this drink, skip dinner there and wander throughout the day refilling it. I’ve never had so many people curious about where I got a drink before in my life. In the end, I left it at the feet of touchdown Jesus on the back side of the St. Louis Cathedral. I hope I started a trend. You can also order different things in here, I had a double greyhound worked in. They have good ice. That sonic-like stuff. Another alternative is to stop buy Rouses market on Royal


13 Monaghan Small bar on Frenchman. They have the best cheese tots and are open late. Great location to grab a PBR or similar drink. They also were very willing to make up a drink to put into the giant pineapple I often carry around the city. Very accommodating people.

Tolteca Tiki Bar  A hidden place above Felipe’s Mexican restaurant. When you go up to the second floor, be ready to see a whole new place. It’s a dark bar with authentic tiki drinks, gummy shots and some of the coolest bitter drinks I’ve ever had. A great place to escape the city if things are too loud or bright or intense for a few hours. Try the two-ton swizzle. And see if you can find the table where I left a little piece of my heart that one time.

Carousel Bar at the Monteleone This place was cool. They are known for their Vieux Carré, a mix of whiskey, cognac, bénédictine and bitters. Its sweet and strong. The bar slowly rotates in a fun, but not make you sick kind of way. I’d say it makes a rotation about once every hour. It usually pretty busy in there, so timing is key.

Pirate bar Cute little bar next to Jackson square. Famous for absinthe, but they don’t do the full fire preparations. Try a toxic Jesus shot and walk away with a little baby Jesus. They also make a decent margarita if you aren’t feeling the absinthe.


Old Absinth House This is the place to get some stuff set on fire. Fair warning though, before trying absinthe as the person if they like black licorice. Any answer besides “yes, I do” means they will not like absinthe. Ever. At all.  Anyway, pick an absinthe and get an Abita amber chaser and watch the fire. Also, don’t play Don’t Stop Believing on their juke box. They will kill you.

Fritzel’s European Jazz club  A cool little live music venue on Bourbon Street. Not the best music you will hear in the quarter, but always a solid band, good drinks and easy location to drift in and out of during a busy trip. UPDATE: So, just for fun. Tell the bouncer at the door “The Vampires sent me” and have a $10 cover charge. There is something special hidden away in Fritzel’s that will make your trip. (Also, I promise it isn’t a guy who punches you and takes your money).

Chart Room Small local bar in the heart of the quarter. Great place to chill and learn a bit about the culture of the city. Fun to see the limited juke box and I feel like the stories here get more interesting as the night draws on. Once, there was this one armed lady in a red dress….

Pat O’Briens It’s hard to visit the resent city and not have one of these crazy sweet, high alcohol content Hurricanes from Pats. They have a neat dueling piano bar (take a moment of silence for Howl at the Moon) and a fun courtyard with fire and water features. Don’t worry about stealing the glass, its already yours (they are smart)—if you don’t want to glass, you have to return it to the bar for $3 back. Also, if you want to take it with you, tell them and they will give you a nice box. No exposed glass on bourbon street. Everything else, just no exposed glass. As a helpful FYI, there are two entrances here at Pat’s. One on bourbon and the other on St Peter. They also rent out a cool room upstairs for parties of 25 or more. Truly a once in a lifetime experience if you have the ability to do it.

Sac au Lait A cool farm-to-table restaurant in the warehouse district. They serve boars heart. And things in glass with smoke. A fun and cool place to try. Really cool cocktails. And a bartender her found my flask and didn’t steal it (it was a really nice flask) and instead saved it for me until the next day. So, go there, and tip the bartender well.23722457_870466027543_8713787075601856204_n

Lafitte’s Blacksmith shop Cozy little bar on the far end of bourbon street (I know, cozy and bourbon street don’t go together—but they also do). Good hurricanes and gin and tonics, quiet piano music out back, dark at night with only candlelight in the bar. Can get pretty busy during peak seasons.

Pere Antoine Named after the famed rector of St. Louis Cathedral, this place makes some great peach schnapps ice tea drinks. Super strong. Ok, there may be a theme developing in this blog about alcoholic drinks that be obtained close to Place de Arms. Stephanie bar tends there. Tell her I said high. Maybe leave her a rubber duck.

The Dungeon  Ok, so, well. Dive bar is accurate. Fireball and cherries is accurate. Gin and Tonics that glow in the dark cause of black lights and quinine in the tonic is accurate. This place is loud. Only opens after 11pm and the metal stools vibrate in fun ways to the bass cranking in the upstairs. Like a heavy metal version of the pirates of Caribbean ride, be ready for nooks and crannies, cave walls and hidey holes. Dead men tell no tales.

Maison One of my favorite places on Frenchman. Live music, amazing cocktails and cool bar snacks. They do this Bloody Mary that stands like 9 inches tall. My favorite cocktails are the confederate jasmine (ford’s gin, Campari, cointreau, and fresh lemon juice) and the walk the line (Nolet gin, Aperol and fillet blanc). Great cool place to spend a hot afternoon. Don’t forget to tip the band. Lots of seating and while it gets busy, it just never feels that way here compared to other places on Frenchman street.

Harry’s Corner Another great little hole in the wall. They only take cash and probably not the bar to order a complicated drink. They have these great windows you can sit by and watch some of the city pass by on a cool autumn day. They also do these simple red beans and rice, sometimes with cut up hotdogs in it on Mondays. Kind of simple and fun place. Makes me happy here.

The Abby The term “dive bar” can be used in lots of different ways. Here, it is used in the best possible sense. It has a neighborhood feel with lots of regulars and even more character. Curtis, the bartender, gave me a lesson about a longneck being a type of beer, not a brand. Things just went from there with him asking my wife and I to yell “Fuck you Bobby!” for no particularly reason to someone passing outside on the street. A larger question might be “Brian, why would you two yell that?” This can be answered by the $5 longneck and whiskey shot special that is always in effect and Bethany’s new found love of screwdrivers.  Of note, this is the bar where Angelia Jolie used to frequent before some knuckle-head mentioned she was there at an adjacent bar that resulting in lots of tourists harassing her and her leaving through a back door. Speaking of back doors, Curtis also informed me they have the best jukebox in town with a selection of customized mix CD’s with a song entitled “You will regret this” which has a William Shatner singing rocket-man 25-minute type spoken word weirdness that involves a lengthy description of one’s parents have anal sex. So there is that.

Oz As we are neighbors, it seemed only fitting that I try this place out. Bethany and I stopped by to refill my giant pineapple drink from (it was created two hours earlier at Cane and Table while waiting in line at Coops. Today it was a double greyhound and that cool pellet ice and a pink twisty straw. After being razed by Coops wait staff (rightfully so) as “the guy with the fancy pineapple” the drink evolved with a shot of blueberry vodka (and when I say shot, I mean three shots cause that’s how it was poured), two shots of citrus vodka and then the rest of Bethany’s third screwdriver). And, if I wasn’t clear earlier, social etiquette dictates that you add new drinks to the pineapple if you bring it into other bars. Don’t sit at a bar with a giant pineapple and not buy anything.  Ok, so—at OZ, the drink then had two more screwdrivers added to it and eventually ended up being spilled (a bit) on our balcony while throwing beads to a bachelorette party and a lady who recognized me from a threat assessment training in Austin (hi, Audrey!). Any-who, Oz had a cool concrete bar, comfortable seats and, according to Bethany, this amazing bubble sign in the middle of the bar with the world OZ in it that fascinated her more than the super-hot and buff male bartender. I pointed out that primarily all male bar would have comfortable seating and a sturdy, well-made bar with deep places for your knees; cause men get cool things while women have pockets that can’t hold their iPhone. In all fairness, t would be better to visit later that night when they were doing drag queen bingo, but we figured this was a good first time stop. For those who haven’t pieced this together, OZ it is one of several gay bars in this area of Bourbon. The bartender shared he he had another straight friend visit who was concerned about being in a gay bar he told him, “Listen, the worst thing that is going to happen to you is people will be more polite than usual, better dressed and—totally worst-case scenario, someone may offer to give you a blow job. So really, stop worrying.” Bethany raised interesting points about gentrification (is that used right here?) of the bar with straight couples and bachelorette parties frequenting it more, but this still remains an area of debate in our household.

Café Lafitte in Exile Another one of those amazing bars in the city. Part dive bar, part gay bar it is dark and inviting. Cool fire feature at night in the lounge. Of note, we met a guy named John Vincent who was a base jumper who launched himself off of the world trade center in 1991. Clip here. I’m pretty sure he is living his best life ever cause he was wearing this awesome custom zipper boots, and called Bethany  “cherry pie” cause she was looking amazing in her cherry dress and purple hair. Located a block from Lafitte’s blacksmith shop, great bar hopping opportunity.

21 Amendment I think I missed this one so often cause I’m also coming out of Acme after a pitcher of beer and a dozen char oysters and having a quiet drink isn’t the first thing on my mind. I was wrong. The day I wandered in they had nice live music. Great craft cocktails. I had the Uno Mas—and then I had one more (see what I did there?). margarita with Mezcal, ancho reyes verde, lime, sugar, cucumbers and bitters. Also, more about ancho reyes verde here—but a green chili liquor. Dark and cold bar to hang out in during the summer. I heard it gets really busy at times—so just be aware. It’s close to everything, so easy to jump in and out, I’d guess. Cool couches and lounges in the back.

Black Penny  Little bar on Rampart with an amazing craft beer selection. Lots of sours and cool exposed ceilings and fun music playlist by the bartenders. I wandered in trying to make it to ACE hardware this summer to buy some chains for hanging plants. It was hot, y’all. Like Africa hot. I had a watermelon sour and like three glasses of water. Fun, cool place.

Apple Barrel Cute little bar on frenchman with live jazz. Cozy set up (read small), so timing seems pretty important in terms of when you settle out this way. Wandered in for a beer and a set or two. Good place to chill on frenchman.


Place de Arms My favorite place in the city to stay, hands down. Simultaneously in the middle of everything and set away, the hotel holds this great little courtyard and cool pool area. Not overly expensive, and a block to the café de monde, two blocks to bourbon and right next to the St. Louis Cathedral.


Snake and Jakes (fun dive bar with Christmas lights)

Little Dizzy Recommended by Gumbo Marie at the school of cooking.

St. Roch Market I keep hearing about this place, lots of cool restaurants and this hidden little gem. Next trip!

Shaya Some very close friends swear by the hummus here and it has been voted best new place in the US—so who is to disagree with that.

Le Petite Grocery this cute little place keeps getting mentioned to me—its a must try.

Latitude 29 Another Tiki bar? Ok!

Atchafalaya Hard to say, but is supposed to be good. Restaurant We’ll see.

Rawhide 2010 S&M bar with bloody Mary’s? And the slogan, “Everyone ends up here sooner or later” And done.

Nola Cakes. My friend Kaydee recommends this place strongly—apparently over by who dat café. It’s on my list

Cafe Degas.  Cute little French place I need to try. Another Kaydee suggestion

Juan’s Flying Burrito This one gets solid mention around town. Apparently, they do an epic non-traditional taco Tuesday.

La Crepe Nanou A recommendation from a shop keeper on frenchman. I mean, crepes. So, its on the list.

Josephine Estelle A little outside the quarter, but apparently an amazing place to eat over in the warehouse.

My friend in Maryland, Lori suggested these places. She warned me they are outside of the quarter a bit.     Kenner Seafood       Pascal’s Manale         Bevi Seafood





Featured post

Zero Sum-Game

New Orleans, 2016

“In game theory and economic theory, a zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which each participant’s gain or loss of utility is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the utility of the other participants.”

I’ve been thinking lately about the idea of zero sum games. The idea that our winning is tied up with another person losing. It comes up for me most frequently when looking at social media posts and during political or religious discussions. It worries me that some have trouble expressing their opinions without simultaneously expressing disdain for others.

Strangely, I don’t think it’s the idea of outright criticism or humor against a group or topic. I find these memes and concepts funny. And while I like the concept of “punching up” when it comes to humor—that humor is more appropriate when it is done against those who have a higher standing or sense of privilege rather than towards those who are marginalized or discriminated against, I don’t think everyone understands this concept. Well, maybe they understand and they just don’t care. Rather, they get defensive and say “well, those two black people called each other the n-word, why can’t I use it?” or “well, I’ve heard gay people call each other queer, I don’t see the problem when I do it.”

I’m sure some of this is the modernity of social media and the times in which we live. Some of it is reactionary, a tit-for-tat, and some lacking a deeper sense of empathy for others. I can imagine where these tendencies come from, whether it be expressing their position without a deeper understanding for other points for view, unexamined privilege or punching down to another group to make one feel superior. It’s a schoolyard fact, if someone picks on someone else then they aren’t picking on you.

But as I’ve noticed this more lately, I’ve wondered some about what to do with it. Do I confront people and try to share with them my perspective that their perspective is overly critical, insensitive or, the biggest concern for me, just down-right cruel? Do I become the language police or do I de-friend them or avoid contact with them? I feel torn between these choices. Both seem like a lot of work and hold the risk of me being seen like a jerk, or some kind of politically correct sensitive monitor of their speech.

For me, this reflection becomes a little less about what personal action to choose and a little more about why we tear down other people’s points of view to make our own points stand more strongly. Why do we so often end up being cruel in our interactions and criticism? I’m sure some of it we feel as if we have been treated unfairly, so the natural order of response is to give back what we have received. This is one of the oldest and well-established behavioral loops. Someone punches us, we punch others in return. Negative behavior begets negative behavior.

The other concept at play here is the idea of privilege. When we experience something in our lives that seems unfair or unreasonable, or when we experience heightened stress, the first thing to go out the window is a sense of perspective. I teach the example in my microaggressions/harmful language presentation. Those in the front row are asked to toss a crumbled-up piece of paper into the waste bin. While this task is hard (about 10 feet away), it is doable with perseverance and multiple chances. Those one row back to do the same and the task becomes harder, more difficult. But still, given time and perseverance, it can be accomplished. Once we get to those in the back of the room, the task is still doable, but takes many more tries, much more effort and a good degree of luck.

This example underscores the idea of privilege. Our seats in the classroom can be seen as traits such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status or disability. Those in the front focus on their own challenges with the task, and rarely look back to understand how the task becomes more difficult for those positioned less adventurously. In the end, those in the back become frustrated by the lack of empathy, listening and attention they receive from those in more privileged positions. Those in the front simply say “Well, it was hard, but with work and dedication, you can accomplish the task.” This is one of the larger problems in our society. The inability to look at things beyond our own perspective. This becomes more pronounced when we feel challenges, stressed, overwhelmed or when our own viewpoint is not understood.

This is also my frustrations with those who respond to the Black Lives Matter movement with comments about Blue Lives Matter or All Lives Matter. To me, that isn’t really the point. We are back to this zero sum game argument again. When a group stands up and shares their frustration with systemic racism and disenfranchisement, I find it troubling when some respond with a counter-point about police lives or all lives mattering as well.

Perhaps this is an overly simplistic example, but if I come up to you and tell you about this amazing taco I just ate and your response is, “Yeah? I just had this really good hamburger at a place that was like the best hamburger that I ever had. It had pickles and onions and this really soft sesame seed bun….” The issue isn’t about whether you had a good hamburger. The issue is I was trying to tell you about my taco. To change the subject so quickly to something you are talking about is rude and an example of bad manners and poor empathy and conversational skills.

I’m not sure there is a conclusion here, more of a sadness around zero sum games. That our success and happiness is so often seen as a limited commodity in a race with others. When we listen more to other’s perspectives and avoid cruel language or punching down to other groups, we get closer to living in a world where we aren’t operating on a zero-sum game level, but rather a place where we can all be heard and respected.

My flask has most recently held some nice Warre’s port from the Toronto Air Canada lounge. This port was then sadly dumped into a trash can at Dulles International airport the next day.

Yelling at Children Close to God

Beirut, Lebanon 2017

I’ve been over in middle east teaching a sexual violence investigation process at the American University of Beirut (AUB). Between the jetlag, the lengthy and complicated course material, and having a bit of a cold that kept me passed out in my room most nights, I was excited to finally have an open afternoon free to explore the city. I had chosen a hotel next to the sea (being from New Jersey, I’m drawn to large bodies of salt water…well, that and Taylor ham, but that isn’t as relevant right now). The city and people around the hotel had a less authentic feel. Maybe just more touristy? I’m not sure, but I was excited to have an afternoon to wander a little closer to the downtown and do some shopping and see some more realistic parts of the city.

When I was in Turkey a few years ago, I noticed many of the locals carried prayer beads with them. Called subha or misbaha, they often had 33 beads and are used to recite “god is glorious, all praise be to god, and god is great”. People would carry these the same way Catholics might carry a rosary or others might carry a special keep sake or worry stone. The beads could be machine-made from plastic and cost a few dollars or hand-crafted from precious and semi-precious stones and cost up to several thousand dollars. Some were new and others were from estate sales and antiques. While mostly a Muslim custom, I think other religions used them as well. For me, I liked the beauty of shiny things and I often find peace in tradition and repetitive practice of religious activities that are weaved into our daily life.

In the early afternoon, I found a small shop that had a nice collection of prayer beads displayed in the window. A man in his late eighties stood in the doorway of the shop wearing a suit that was last new well before I was born. A younger man inside watched football (for us, soccer) on the television at the counter. While the front window was full of colorful beads, the shop itself contained very little in the display cabinets. The older man smiled apologetically at this and brought several selections from the front window to lay across a sparse counter. Both spoke sparse English, but I could make out that the younger man was his son. He was probably in his early fifties.

He laid the prayer beads out in front of me and explained they were made of garnet, ivory, turquoise, coral, jade, lapis and amber—both new and old. He assured me the ivory ones were old ivory and not newly harvested (I assume to reassure the politically correct American who may have lectured him on the horrors of elephant poaching for their tusks). He rubbed together some of the orange colored beads and pushed them to my nose. It smelled sweet and pine-like. If you rub real amber beads together they create a unique smell. This is akin to the cartoon image of biting down on a gold coin to test is quality (because really, when was the last time you bit into a gold coin?). Some of the most sought after are made with older amber and there can be a variety of colors, shapes and textures in the beads.

I picked two that were my favorites, a garnet set and a lapis one. My kids and I are fans of the TV show Steven Universe, where all the characters are named after semi-precious stones. Garnet and Lapis are two of our favorites. I haggled a bit with the son, apparently, the father’s job at this stage was to stand in the doorway and look for customers. He made an offer in US dollars: $125 for the lapis and $85 for the garnet. We settled on $200 for the pair. They were well constructed and higher end, without being overly costly. I felt like it was a good purchase and I think my girls would like them.

Being a seaside town, the weather in Beirut changed quickly. As I finished making my purchase,I asked the shopkeeper where I might go to purchase a shisha, or hookah, the vase-like device with a heating cup for tobacco, a long metal tube and hose. He talked back and forth with his father. While they talked in Arabic, I thought about the first time I had seen a hookah, besides the one the chill and creepy caterpillar smoked in Alice in Wonderland. It was in early 2000 at New England College. Some international students had brought one out in the spring and were smoking it in the quad. They claimed to be smoking herbal tobacco. Most of the staff and I joked at that and nodded knowingly. They weren’t fooling anyone. We knew this was used primarily for marijuana.

Looking back at this, I realize that was one of my first encounters with my own cultural ignorance toward these middle eastern students. They were simple doing something as common as an American asking for ice in his soda or expecting to the check to be brought automatically after a meal. While hookahs and shisha certainly could be used for pot, that was a rarity and they are smoked commonly during and after meals in the middle east.

Outside the shop, it began to pour. Like a torrential downpour. The son and father stopped talking, apparently having agreed upon a shop, and brought out an umbrella. The son asked me to wait while he went to around the corner to confirm that they sold shisha at a store he knew. He gestured with his hand for me to stay and wait and then he ran off with umbrella in hand.

I waited, in no rush and grateful for the cool breeze that came with the rain. It had been hot over the past few days, with temperatures into the 90’s. There was a little pizza shop next to the where I stood and a watched as a waiter brought out a thin crust, wood-fire pizza to the table. I was hungry and thought I might come back here and get some lunch. As I waited, the rain intensified and then disappeared completely. Quirks of a town by the sea.

The shopkeeper reappeared across the street and gestured to me to follow him. He lead me to another shop that had a vast collection of Lebanese, Egyptian and Iranian shishas. The store reminded me a bit of the old Chinatown shop in the beginning of the movie Gremlins, all dark and smoke filled. I thanked the prayer bead shopkeeper, slightly suspicious of his graciousness and wondering if I have overpaid for the prayer beads or if was merely another example of the Lebanese hospitality I had experienced on this trip. He told the new shopkeeper, “Give him good price!” and disappeared into the city with a smile and a nod. If he had worn a hat, he would have tipped it and said, “good day, sir.”

I continued my shopping and settled on a few shisha and some decorations for our courtyard back in New Hampshire. We haggled some on the price and the merchant wrapped my purchase for travel. I was hungry went back to the pizza place for a nice lunch. I had been sick for much of the trip, fighting off a rather nasty cold that started somewhere between Boston and Paris, but was full force by the time I reached Beirut. This was one of the first meals that I had while in Lebanon since sleep always seemed to take priority over finding dinner. Though, I did find these delicious unripe and tart plums for breakfast at the university and was on a first name basis with Hassan who worked for the hotel room service regarding my daily, nighttime hummus order. But, man cannot live by plums and hummus alone. What I’m saying here is the pizza was delicious and I was full.

I walked out of the restaurant and was greeted by an older woman a hijab and Muslim dress. She was in her 80’s and was asking for alms in a pleading voice. This was the first time this trip I had been asked for money and I gave her a few thousand Lebanese dollar notes (the equivalent of 1-2 dollars in the US) without thinking.  That’s when the problem started.

Suddenly there were two children next to her, both speaking in Arabic in pleading voices. I understood none of it, but the added gesture of them raising their hands to their mouth was universal sign for eating. One child was five or six with big dark eyes.  The other was maybe twelve. I gave them each a thousand dollar note (worth about 75 cents) and attempted to move on my way. They were not having it.

They gestured more emphatically and added bits of phrases I did understand. “Mister”, “Syrian” and “Please.” I was under no allusions that my 75-cent donation to their life good would make any real difference. Having traveled abroad to more impoverished countries, I knew that children were often used with western travelers to increase the change of them giving. The children collect the money and it is given to a handler who may or may not take care of these children. Or maybe they just were a family from the neighboring country looking for some help. What I was starting to understand, rather quickly, was this whole thing was becoming a scene. And a core part of my traveling code is to avoid scenes and blend in. Being an American in downtown Beirut handing out money indiscriminately on a street corner was a good way to cause problems.

I politely said “no” and started walking. There were some jewelry stores down the street where they sold some of the nicer prayer beads I was looking for. The two children followed, the youngest beginning to pull at my shirt. I said “No”  again, this time adding a chopping hand motion. The same kind of gesture you might make at a blackjack table when you are waiving off a new card. I was kind, but firm. I said this and gesture four more times of over the next block. She was undeterred. She pulled at my shirt, he friend or sister behind her, trying to catch my eyes and emphatic gesturing of her hand to her mouth. “Eat” “Mister” “Syrian.” The few words of English she had mastered. I tried to not think about my kids this age. Wandering the streets and begging for money and food. I was not very successful in this task.

I kept walking and added a firm “No!” to my hand gesture. The slightly older girl of twelve had given up following, but the little one was tenacious. Each time I would look down to here to see if she was still there she would raise her hand to her mouth indicating she was hungry and wanted to eat.

I raised my voice now, adding a sternness that I rarely use. I wasn’t angry, if anything, more aware of the subtle risk she was putting me at. As if my little tail was announcing to all around her, “Hey, American here who gave us money! Come and see! You know, American. Trump!” I didn’t know the city well and was worried there were other groups of children or refuges that would start to come and ask for money. Or that again, this would draw attention to the American who was handing out cash on the street corner. I also felt Miranda scolding me in my head. In a kind, but firm sort of way. This same scenario had played out in downtown Agra, a city in India on the banks of the Yamuna river. It ended with us on a bus being harassed by a hoard of children calling me Ali Baba (I assume because I have a goatee and look swarthy, according to Bethany). Also, Miranda left me alone once to fend for myself for five minutes and I ended up petting a cobra. I have rules I’m supposed to follow now.

So, I channeled my inner Miranda (man, so sex in the city relevant) and yelled my last “No!!!” It was the firmest yet. I added a strong and broad arm sweep away. She got the message. She stormed off back to her friend.

I was frustrated with the situation. Not angry at the kids, but more myself for not remembering to harden my thoughts. This is hard for me. My natural stance is giving money and support to others when I see people in need. I typically carry bills with me when I go to a US city just for that purpose. But I understood the need to be more callous, avoid eye contact and turn off these desires to help when I travel abroad. I am firm, but kind.

This situation was upsetting. I felt upset because I yelled. Then upset at them for not listening to me. I was worried they were hungry. I felt guilty for being full. I sank into deeper thoughts about buying expensive prayer beads as way to feel more centered to god while yelling at children to leave me alone and not pester me for money for food. It was unsettled.

It was with this mind set where I turned into the shop that had the brightly colored prayer beds in the window. I browsed some and found an old German amber set from the turn of the century. There is a red hue to the 53 beads, divided into sections of 16-21-16. I’m not sure the relevance of the numbers, perhaps a bit of a mystery for me to solve. I bought them for 600,000 Lebanese pounds, around $400 US, a price I haggled for with the shopkeeper. While I was happy with the purchase, I found myself still lost in these existential thoughts. Prayer is a conduit to god; suffer not the little children. Be safe traveling internationally; feed the hungry.

I’d like to think there is a gift somewhere in this. Perhaps the beads I purchased are now imbedded with this experience, routed now in downtown Beirut, tethered to that young girl with the big eyes.

“Please” “Mister” “Syrian” She gestures her hand to her mouth.

Despite Bill Murry’s thoughts on this matter from Caddy Shack, I think the best gifts are ones where we don’t receive clarity or an easy path forward, but instead a koan to wrestle with in our minds. Jacob and the angel. A spiritual rubric’s cube where the joy comes from the uphill push, rather than the final solution.

So, I hold these beads. I think on my gift.


How does one become close with God in a world with so many confusing messages? How do we protect ourselves while simultaneously making ourselves vulnerable to others around us? If we are all connected to each other, doesn’t the harm or lack of love we express to one ultimately exist as harm to ourselves?


The beads feel solid in my hand.

The girl, more elusive.




Prague, 2011

The world is a Vampire.

But me? I’d make a bad vampire. I used to think being a vampire would be great, even before Twilight and Ann Rice’s Interview. It wasn’t the killing people or wearing black that drew me to the idea, but rather the gift of living forever. That was the hook for me. The idea of being around to witness things and exist longer than others. To be the voyeur; to take things in. To develop a deeper understanding of the world.

This is my superpower of choice. Remember that question we asked each other are kids? What would you have as a superpower? Invisibility? The ability to fly? Invincibility? I’d always choose immortality. I liked the idea of being around for a long time. Not because I feared death, but rather because I didn’t want to miss out on life. What else is there? What kind of things would I know if I lived for hundreds of years? What am I missing?

I suppose this is what drew me to be therapist. The idea of talking to other people and learning their stories. It was a way to live beyond my own life. To see how others lived and saw the world. While it wasn’t life eternal, it did give me a wider and deeper perspective. It let me see the world far beyond my personal vantage point. And sure, I liked helping other people, but that was just a side benefit. The main event was becoming the drug addicted mother. Spending nights in the psychiatric hospital with racing, terrifying thoughts. Juggling a mind filled with demons. Swimming with anger, rage and hate. Cowering from the world; lost, small and weak. I was their stories.

This is why I wrote fiction. It let me live briefly outside of myself and play with my characters like  Mark Twain did in The Mysterious Stranger. I’d watch my creations run about in stories. I’d play god (little g intentional) and live beyond my own limitations; beyond my experiences.

I remember attending the Universal Unitarian church in Bowling Green, Kentucky. They asked the visitors to stand and share why they were there. I remember saying I was “seeking truth.” Some people laughed at this. Not in a mean way, more they thought it was a joke. Maybe some resorted with my answer. Truth Seekers. Maybe this explains my craving to live forever, to be the therapist, to be the writer. They were all ways to seek truth. To understand and explore.

Last night I was walking in Memphis (my feet ten feet off of Beale, if you please) and I had this moment. This great experience of wandering a new place, a place full of unique people with distinctive stories. I usually love this. These experiences. But last night there was this larger sense of sadness and loneliness. And I thought to myself, “I wouldn’t make a good vampire, not really.” I don’t think I’d do well living forever. How would the loneliness be worth it when juxtaposed against the experience and perspective? More simply stated, would I be lonely? Is there a cost for a truth seeker? No rest for a questing hero.

I thought more deeply about the experiences we have. Do the experiences we have acquire lose a deeper meaning without the context of others. If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Does writing have an extrinsic meaning or is it only meaningful when there is an audience? Hell, even these very words in this blog, do they only have significance when they are seen by others? Is there meaning regardless of audience?

I don’t know that I’ve found some deeper revelation here beyond my first thought–living forever has lost some of its luster for me. Maybe the same way being a therapist has lost some of its draw. As I grow older, I see things more deeply and have a different context for significance of experience. Things are more meaningful with me when they are shared. Maybe that is a universal truth, maybe it is just something for me to learn. I’m not sure.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep looking.



भौंतारिन्छन् झुकाउ.


Amsterdam, 2015

I’m in Ohio, so I suppose it’s reasonable I’m having angsty, existential thoughts to accompany the bleak, flat landscape surrounding me. This and I’ve been thinking after several my friends who have recently lost close family members. I’ve been wondering what it means to hold onto something given how fragile life can be. Should we hold tighter or lessen our grip? How do we decide where to put our energy, time and treasure? Do we lean into each other for support or go it alone?

The humanistic psychologist Fritz Perls writes about these pushes and pulls we feel toward and away from intimacy. Essentially, we all have this drive to draw others close. We hold on for dear life, pushing back the anxiety and panic when these connections begin to inevitably ebb and flow; when things fall short of our expectations. And then, at the same time, we push others away and distance ourselves for protection. We understand no one stays forever. We relax our hold on our possessions, realizing they are a façade; a dream. Nothing lasts, nothing remains.

Fun, right?

I think how tenuous these connections can be and wonder how we define ourselves with our possessions, relationships, experiences, children, family… pets. How do these connections provide fortification against the void? And…how does this help when we become sentient, realizing these are illusions we cast in vain to resist the terror of lonesomeness? Despite the Matrix telling us it’s juicy and delicious, the steak doesn’t exist.

And yet—the more I touch this idea, the more I am reminded of how I cherish these comforts and relationships that surround me. How good it feels to have friends and family who worry after me, take care of me and love me.

As I was visiting Pittsburg to teach yesterday, I stumbled onto a showing of the musical The King and I. I wasn’t drunk or anything, it was just one of those stumblings where I ended up at the door of the theatre about ten minutes to showtime. I hadn’t seen the play before, and while I like musicals, I wasn’t 100% sure about this one. But it felt like kismet, so I  bought a ticket.

And I liked it. I liked the newness of it and how the songs and performances floated around my head today. I kept coming back to lyrics of the song Puzzlement.

When I was a boy, world was better spot

What was so was so, what was not was not

Now, I am a man, world have changed a lot

Some things nearly so, others nearly not

Neither of these extremes offers a solution. As I cling too closely to what I know, what I’ve been taught; it falls short. As I choose nothing and avoid possession; I feel alone.

And yet…when I reach out, am I holding onto the ghosts of my desires? Grasping at something ethereal and transient? I just don’t know.

But maybe that’s ok. Like so many things in life, perhaps the answer falls in the middle. We should love, but not so deeply we lose ourselves. We should enjoy our possessions, but not so much they end up possessing us.

But ultimately, it remains a puzzlement.

For me, I’ll keep trying to find that sense of balance. I’ll try to hold the things I love and understand possession(s) and experiences are temporary; as life is temporary.

And yet, there is this temptation to embrace the melancholy in this line of thinking.

But for now,  I resist.

I will try to be mindful and hold tight to the freedom that comes from being present in the moment; the freedom that comes from drifting with the river.

But ultimately, it reamins a puzzlement.

My flask is filled with….et cetera, et cetera, et cetera….


Outside Eden, Texas, 2015

The basement was colder than any other room in the house. It was musty and damp most days, but not in an unpleasant way. During the summer, the basement was the best place in the house to sleep. Especially since my parents refused to turn the central air conditioning below 72. Actually, many of the conflicts in my life harken back to air conditioning being set in the 70’s rather than a salaciously 65.

I had just finished my freshman year of college up near Boston and had come home to New Jersey for the summer. It was late June and I had been employed by the public works department for two weeks. Our town had a road and landscaping division staffed with state employees who kept the everything running and looking halfway decent around our little suburban community. During the summer, they hired a few college students to keep up with the grass cutting and weed whacking of the public parks. It was the garden state, after all. Grass grew. We cut it. This was my summer job.

Because of my employment, the basement smelled of grass. You know the smell. That lingering, earthly aroma of freshly cut summer grass. It’s not unpleasant when you smelled it occasionally, but when you spent eight hours a day cutting grass, it left a different mark. It didn’t fade quickly. It lingered, hanging in the musty, damp air of 1702 South Wanamassa Boulevard.

I slept on a squishy, vinyl pleather/orange couch whose cushions had previously provided the walls and ceiling for many a childhood fortress my youth. The basement floor was partially carpeted around the couch area, but rest of the room had a cement floor and walls painted a deep hunter green. The paint would peel around the edges of the room where water would leak in from heavy summer rain storms. I can still see those paint blisters pulling from the wall as moisture seeped in from the dirt surrounding the foundation. The way a blister grows and fills with liquid until it is broken and then leaves this layer of dry skin.

There was a small television on a side table across from the couch. A dart board and pool table were on the other side of the room. An alarm clock sat dutifully on the coffee table between the couch and television. My work clothes were piled on the pool table. A pair of black cargo pants, brown work boots and a black T-shirt. The edges of the pants had grass bits stuck to them from the previous day’s work. A pair of clear plastic eye glasses served as protection from flying bits of dirt, rocks and branches that would inevitably flip up from the parks as we trimmed everything back. The state also provided yellow foam ear plugs for our hearing protection. Several of these littered the pool table.

It was seven-thirty and I woke to the alarm on the coffee table blaring at me. The LED numbers glared at me as time marched onward. I tossed the blanket off and pulled on a pair of sweat pants to go upstairs and grab a quick shower. The work crew expected me at eight o’clock and it was a ten-minute drive. The department of public works was located on the Deal Test Site, a patchwork connection of dirt roads cutting through three miles of fields and trees previously owned by military. I showered and put on my grass stained work clothes. I grabbed a bagel and headed out to my car.

I drove past the old boys club building that had been shut down for years at the entrance of the Deal Test Site. My only memory of this now defunct (and likely ghost-filled) building was getting dropped off there by my parents on a water park field trip day only to realize I had forgotten my permission slip. I had to go to the arcade with the younger kids while my group went off to the water park. My day was spent wishing I had quarters and watching little kids play Pac-Man and Donkey Kong to their heart’s content. I didn’t like the boys club after that.

Glen lead our crew. The director of the public works department wanted one of the full-time employees to ride around and supervise the college kids they had hired for summer employment. I think the plan was for them to teach us how to use the machines and to keep us from goofing off too much. Glen wore a white tea shirt and pair of stained, faded blue jeans. His stomach hung over his jeans and about halfway through the day he would lose the shirt giving us all a grand look at his massive frame. He was married, in his forty’s and spent the entire summer telling us of his affairs with many of the rich, elite women of Ocean Township.

Mike was Glen’s second-in-command. He was a thirty-five-year-old high school kid who never grew up and moved away. Mike made us listen to the AM heavy metal station which seemed to play ACDC’s Back in Black alternated with Led Zeppelin’s Stairway. To me, this summer felt like some kind of anthropological deep-dive into a culture my privileged, suburban, upper middle class self never quite experienced.

My fellow observers were Keith and Jay, making up the three college kids hired for the summer. Keith went to the University of Vermont and lived one town over from me in Oakhurst. Jay just graduated high school in Red Bank and was heading to Brookdale Community College in the fall. Jay was skinny and tall without much direction in his life. Keith was the ultimate surfer boy, going to school up in Vermont, a landlocked state that had no access to the ocean. He had bleached blonde hair and now that he was back at the beach when he wasn’t surfing after work he was talking about going surfing.

“You should have seen the piece of ass I got into last night, Whoo-eee.” Glen greeted me from his truck as I pulled up next to him. Jay and Mike were both standing around his truck. Mike wore a Metallic T-shirt and Jay wore shorts. We weren’t supposed to wear shorts because of the weed whackers and flying rocks. Jay didn’t like using the weed whackers so he wore shorts.

“It was a sweet piece of pussy.” Glen said and climbed out of his truck. He gave his hand a wide-arced smack out in front of him on her where her imaginary backside was.

“Yeah? Who was it?” Jay asked.

“Carol this time. They love the fuck-machine” Glen said, gesturing two thumbs back to himself, as if any of us were unsure of who the fuck-machine was. He shut the truck door and gave a good final push for good measure with his hips.

Glen was a connoisseur of cursing like other people were connoisseurs of fine wine and cheeses. He single-handily undid all nineteen years of my parent’s careful Christian upbringing with his stories and Buddha-like belly. Before this, life was like watching a baseball game on the television. I saw it and enjoyed it. That summer was like the first time I went to a live baseball game. It was still the same general concept, but man, was it different. There was the smell of the stadium and hot dogs and the collective cheering. You were all part of something bigger. What that summer did, was make it hard to think about going back to watching baseball on TV again. It opened my eyes to what was behind the curtain.

Glen kept a few different women on the line at once. Most were divorced woman looking for what they lost in their marriages. Some were still married and looking for what they were missing. According to Glen, as long as they still looked good, then he was on the prowl. It amazed me that women went for him. He was fat, not all that great looking and married. Glen had this confidence, though. Like this self-assured way of walking through the world like he was untouchable. There was something charismatic in that way of being.

“Where are we going today?” I asked the group. We all hung out by the two trucks at the start of the day to get our assignments for the day.

“Allenhurst park, the library and then around the lake.” Mike said. Glen nodded in agreement like a general surveying his troops.

Keith pulled up in his Volkswagen convertible. His surf board was in the back seat and the tail had sand on it fresh from the beach.  The end of the Violent Femmes Blister in the Sun blared out of his car radio.

“How are the waves?” Mike asked, in his on-going attempt to get on Keith’s good side. This was always unsuccessful since Keith thought Mike was an idiot. This, of course, made Mike try all the harder to get Keith to like him. And this, in turn, made Mike seem more desperate and made Keith dislike him more. Jay and I watched the two of them go at it.

“Wet.” He said shortly and walked over to Jay and I. Mike laughed, but it was that kind of pressured laugh that you knew covered the hurt inside.

Glen took the stage and started in on his story again for Keith. “You should have seen the piece of ass I fucked last night. Swwweeeet.”

He drew out the last word like he was a southern country boy. He grew up in Newark. Glen mimed a slapping motion on an imaginary woman’s ass in front of him and said “Swwwweeeet” again. He added a head toss and a great big smile. While he didn’t say “yee-haw!”, it was implied.

“Yeah?” Keith said.

“Fine blonde pussy. Got her in every hole. And I mean every hole.” He winked as he said ‘every’ and gave another slap to the imaginary buttocks in front of him.

I was studying psychology up at school near Boston. My first year was ok, but I found myself most comfortable being on the outside some, the periphery. I’d watch people and follow their stories. Glen and our crew was like an IMAX compared to my time at college; a larger-than-life experience. I can’t imagine what I would have missed if I had opted to lifeguard again that summer. Thank God, I went for cutting grass at $8.95 an hour. I mean sure, my tan wouldn’t be as good, but Glen was like a walking and talking Moses bringing the tablets down the mountain.

“Got something for you guys today. You’ve been working hard this week, so you get a little reward.” Glen announced, apparently in a good mood from last night’s adventures. I’m pretty sure this job of supervising us was the highlight of his year. This public works lifer was given dominion over three impressionable college students for a summer. He took to this job like a fox being put in charge of the hen house. Well, more like an older, seedier fox teaching some younger foxes how to watch a hen house.

Glen opened a cooler in the back of his truck to reveal a three six packs of Coors light. Despite my being at college for a year already, my alcohol experience was fairly limited. A few of my floormates talked a senior into buying us a bottle of red wine to drink on a Friday night in the middle of the semester. Lame, I know. And then was Huck from Alabama who snuck a bottle of Bacardi 151 up with him to our alcohol-free Christian campus. Between the rum and the fireworks Huck smuggled up, he was very popular in our close-knit floor of Ferrin Hall men. But there was not a lot of opportunities for drinking at our school.

Glen was the first to crack open the beer and Mike, Jay, Keith and I followed suit. It was the first beer I had had in my life and I took a deep swig. It was already hot out, even at this early hour of the morning. The beer was cold and went down smooth. Within a half hour, each of us were three or four beers in and starting to feel pretty good about our lawn mowing tasks for the day.

Glen held court with us that day with us. Regaling us with his stories of fucking, like some big stray tom-cat traipsing about town. He talked about how his wife only cared if about how many handles of vodka were in the pantry and what was on TV at night. He shared stories of his drinking days on the job when he was our age. He let us know what he thought about a college education, the government and then surprised us with a fairly conservative stance on God and the church.

“The way I see it,” Glen said, “the Catholics got it dialed in just right. You go to church, you ask forgiveness for your wrongs and it’s like the big G hits the cosmic reset button on your sins and what not.” Glen took another long pull off his beer for emphasis.

It would be another decade before I saw The Big Lebowski. But when I saw Jeff Bridges playing the dude, I thought immediately about Glen. That slacker prophet who lived mindfulness with every breath. There was something kismet between the dude and Glen, they would have had a beer. I found this same feeling again the first time I saw New Orleans. Something messy and magical, but above all, something true.

In the end, the grass grew and we cut it. Glen bought us beers and we were his acolytes. We listened to his stories and took in those assorted bits of wisdom he shared about his life. I know its cliché, to have this ‘becoming a man’ moment housed amongst his expressions of misogyny, hedonism and attempts at fostering youthful alcoholism, but there was something that happened that summer for me. A transition beyond what was expected, structured and organized. It was a glimpse into humanity; a part I hadn’t seen before. I had been told about it. I had been warned away from it, but I didn’t understand it. It was why Adam bit the apple. It was why Eve handed it to him.

And when all is said and done, that summer was my coming of age moment.  Where I began to see things more fully. Seeing things as they are and not just as they are supposed to be. It was a time when I first had a sense of free will in my choices and a chance to explore the boundaries of what it meant to be alive, apart from what we should or ‘ought’ to do.

And make no mistake, Glen was certainly a hot mess. He wasn’t someone I idolized for his behaviors, but rather someone who lived his life in a very human way. He made mistakes, but also touched happiness and sorrow more than most. He rejected the status quo, walked a path unique to his own internal drummer (probably Rick Allen from Def Leppard).

Glen was one of my firsts glimpses into someone who seemed to be content even though he did all the things I was taught would lead to discontentment. He was a riddle in my mind, an enigma, an important puzzle piece. There wasn’t anything untrue about Glen, he was congruent and authentic in a way that I would increasingly not see from people around me at college and in my studies as a therapist. There was a simplicity to him that resonated with me. Granted, his simplicity was a walking Freudian Id, but still, he was human in a way I’ve come to admire in people.

To this day, I still I think about that summer every time I have a Coors Light or I smell fresh mowed grass.  And I think about Glen. I wonder if he is still out there somewhere, wandering about New Jersey, chasing some tail and giving the man the finger.


Sacred Spaces

Swayamblhunath, Kathmandu Nepal 2015

I’ve been thinking about this concept for a few days, letting things percolate, if you will. This idea that each of us have seven sacred spaces on the planet. Places that recharge us, teach us something about ourselves, that have the potential to split open the earth and be separate from the world; capturing these little infinities that swirl around us, apart from time.

These are a few of the places I’ve witnessed.

Austin, Travaasa Solidago Gardens, Root Chakra

This retreat space is a single room, surrounded by a garden and wall with all the major world religions symptoms carved in stone on the outside. The center of the room forms a perfect cross and the light from the sunset comes in over the Texas hill country and hits just perfectly in the center of the room. The space reminds me of chakras and peace, of quiet solitude and mindfulness. It nurtures.

Black Rock City, Burning Man, Sacral Chakra

This transient city exists in the minds of those that inhabit it. It’s a city of lights and sounds, of experience and wonder. The environment itself is hard and unforgiving; it does not tolerate casual visitors well within its trash fence. The temple is the holy place in the city, where religions come together and no one is ever alone. We all reach towards something more connected, something more than this place we call the default world.

New Orleans, The Curb at the Corner of Royal and St Peter’s Street, Solar Plexus Chakra

This is my favorite place in my favorite city. There is always music here and to the right is the Place de arms and the Jackson square. To the left and around the corner is the heart of quarter and the cacophony that is Bourbon. It’s like a crossroads without the demon. This place speaks to me and gives my strength. People pass by here and leave parts of themselves behind, little bits of their souls sneak away and to listen to the jazz and trip the light fantastic.

Amsterdam, Wonder Bar, Heart Chakra

This dark place in the city of canals carved out a lounge facing onto the street. It holds bar cats and hookahs and absinthe. Streams of tourists wandering by made it feel like this kind of magic gypsy carnival of people from all over the world. The town is Camus’ La Chute; a seedy and vibrant cross section of humanity. Lot’s wife looks back and turns to salt. It’s a human thing. So it goes.

San Antonio, Hotel Emma, Throat Chakra

The hotel is part an old restored brewery called the Pearl. The lobby area is full of reworked brewery mechanisms in this classic steam punk fashion. There are two red leather couches to the left when you come in, cozy and dark. This respite from downtown. Another window into another world. It’s a magic place. Anything you say here comes true.

Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah Grand Mosque at KAUST, Third Eye Chakra

I came here at night, half a world away from home. It was one of the first mosques I had a chance to visit in my life and I was struck by how similar it felt to the catholic churches I had visited in my life. The stone and art, all reaching toward a distant God. How this striving seemed so like Christian religions attempts to reach to God through stone, art and tradition. Different paths to the same truth. I walked the stone floors barefoot and ran my hands against the walls.

Swayamblhunath, Kathmandu, Crown Chakra

Known to many as the monkey temple, the stupa exists on the top of a large hill, 365 steps lead to the top. It’s a pilgrimage site for Buddhists and houses a Tibetan monastery. My visit there was too short and when I return, I crave the idea of sitting quietly at the top, freeing my mind of thoughts and losing myself for a bit in the history and culture. Also, be aware that the monkeys there—those monkeys will steal your shit.

On Friendship

Austin, TX 2017

Water inspires me.

I think all the times I have been driven to the keyboard to write, either on a work project or a personal piece, water has been involved. I don’t write in the water (cause, soggy), but I do find there is something about a shower, lazy river at a water park, swimming laps, a bath, hottub or floating about in a pool or lake. It frees my mind some to wander. Water has always been this refuge for me in some way. This cleansing baptism that resets things and gives me some increased clarity. Maybe there is something in my Aries fire sign that craves this water balance. Ying and Yang and all of that.

So, the blog and the 108 defilements. I’m going to keep doing them, but move a little more private I think. As I started writing, they began to feel a little self-congratulatory on one hand, and a little too vulnerable to other’s criticisms on another. So, no harm, no foul– but I’m taking this exploration into my sins behind closed doors for now.

Back to the water. I’m traveling and up early. This sometimes happens on the road when time zones get involved and after a good hour of tossing and turning I figured it was time to wake up. I’m heavy into writing A Staff Guide to Disruptive and Dangerous Behavior for an April 1 due date, so I’m sure those racing creative thoughts I’ve been pouring into the book aren’t helping my sleep schedule any either.

I’ve been thinking some about friendship lately and decided to write about it. Just gonna wander here for a bit with my thoughts.

I think when I stopped being a therapist, something changed in my life. Maybe other therapists can relate to the abrupt move from talking intimately to 15-20 people a week for fifteen years and then going pretty much cold turkey. I don’t regret walking away from it, it was time for me and while I was/am really good at it, the therapy was starting to create a kind of burden on my soul. Maybe there was only so much I could take in, like some karmic/cosmic “don’t fill past here” line on the coffee maker.

I wrestle with this question about with friends. It relates some to a sense of evenness or balance. I was in New Orleans the other day getting a tarot reading from a friend and the wheel of fortune came up inverted. It came up several times. We talked some about the idea of making sure you get back what you put into things. This idea of a troubling cycle. He suggested that friendships should have some balance to them. That you get back what you give.

And this is what I wrestle with lately. Should relationships always have the equality to them? I mean, of course, you don’t want to be in a relationship that is one-sided and you are being used. But my question is subtler than that. Are friendships about what you put into them or what you take from them? And how does my past as a therapist mess with my mind some since so much of that was about putting my own needs behind me and focusing on the needs of others.

Not to imply I play therapist to my friends. I don’t. I’ve always been sensitive in more intimate relationship and friendships to avoid the therapy thing. Some early experiences in my studies being accused of ‘psychoanalyzing everyone’ and a more selfish desire to not be on the clock when I am talking with my friends and the people that I love. I can, and have, dropped into therapist role when asked or if the need presented, but it isn’t my natural state. I let my guard down more around friends and partners. I try not to censor my thoughts as much and like that feeling when the sharing is more even, more intimate—very different from the constructs of therapy.

But this desire to be known—and seeking to know others in deeper ways still haunts me some. Clearly a desire as I write a blog post to share out into the world. The irony isn’t lost on me

I think the combination of so much travel for work along with growing older has made me think more intentionally about what kind of friend I am to others and what kind of things I look for in return. Making friends has always come easy for me. Maybe some of that therapy stuff, mostly I just really like people and have an interest in how others see the world. I crave that feeling of seeing things from another’s perspective. I think this is also a driving force to why I like writing so much. This mixture of having your own perspective, taking in other people’s perspectives and blending them. This idea of balance again.

I’ve been struggling lately with this pervasive feeling of loneliness. Those who know me well, have listened to me talk about it more and know it even crosses over some into depression at times. I think, to some extent, it comes from this feeling of not really being known or understood. And maybe this is something everyone feels. I’m not everyone else, so I don’t really know. But there is this desire in me to be known. To feel special and unique to others. Maybe even a desire to not feel as common. That feels like a very human thing. I don’t like feeling disposable. Like one in the crowd.

One of my favorite poems I first read in college is by Browning, My last Duchess. It’s one of those things that resonates and confounds me, kind of like seeing something beautiful, very human or tragic. I don’t know if I connect more to the Duchess, the Duke or the observer getting the tour. But there is something about the poem that relates to these comments on friendship and relationships. The idea of intimacy being more unique and limited to a select audience. The frustration at feeling as if you aren’t special, but just another in a long line of sunsets and white mules.

So, just some early morning thoughts. Maybe the realization it was Tuesday at 4:40 am inspired me some. One of my favorite Counting Crows songs.

Oh yes, my flask. Its full of Peychaud’s aromatic cocktail bitters. I met this bartender Zach at a Tiki bar in New Orleans who dashed them in my club soda when I mentioned my stomach was upset. It was a delicious concoction and I became addicted. It’s been a sad revelation that Delta doesn’t carry bitters on its domestic flights, so I improvised.

I don’t know what I’ll write about next. Just see where the waters take me, I suppose.


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