Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Shhhhhhhh! The Car May Be Listening

We were invited to our friend's house to watch the Superbowl on Monday night, and there was some great food, and drink, and grand good friends. The game was on in the great room, and the girls were in the kitchen schmoozing, when the car alam went off. When we finally figured out that is was our aging Toyota Highlander, Banker Bill punched the "unlock" button and the noise stopped. We all went back to our occupations.

But about ten minutes later, it started to go off again. This time, we went outside, looked it over - opened the doors and searched inside and out, but we couldn't find anything that would trip the alarm.

The next day, we went to work out, and the alarm went off. Then we went to eat breakfast, and the alarm went off. We went to Home Depot, and the alarm went off. Finally, we called the mechanic. We took the car to him, parked it in his work bay, went into the office, and the alarm went off. We smiled to ourselves....A-ha! Now he can see that we're not idiots (it's not self-evident).

He searched in the Owner's Manual - nothing. He searched on the Internet - nothing. Finally, he began a search of the cabin for the alarm mechanism. After a lengthy search, he removed the glove box, and there was a little silver dial, and........a microphone.

I was stunned. What has my car been listening to?

Now, I'm well aware of what it's heard:
Banker Bill and I squabbling while we moved to the north shore from New Orleans. Countless cell phone calls to me from the girls that started something like this "No, you can't substitute butter and milk for buttermilk..." And countless calls to Banker Bill from clients that went something like this: "Hey there! Yes, we can provide that Letter of Credit, but the bank in Shanghai..." Most of the time it heard the local PBS station and "All Things Considered." It would go on forever, a litany of the boring an mundane. Why would the automotive manufacturer think the car needed to hear anything?

Here's what I think it OUGHT to hear:
Bill's Garmin. If it could hear, "Turn left in 200 feet. In 200 feet, turn left!" then I wouldn't have to listen to it. Maybe the car would listen better than Banker Bill, and we wouldn't also have to listen to..."RE-CALCULATING!" And what's with that attitude? It's not like she has something better to be doing....

The traffic and weather report. That way, it could tell me to fill up the washer fluid, and make sure there's an umbrella in the back seat. I forget these things on a regular basis, and I need them both: when the windshield smudges up in the first drops of rain, I have to hold my head out the driver's side window to steer until it rains hard enough to wash the windshield off. By then, I'm soaked.

The only problem with the invention of a "listening car" is that the next one will probably talk back. I have enough of that in my life, thank you....RE-CALCULATING!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Great Eggspectations: Why I Hate Carnival

I was born and raised in New Orleans, and with that extraordinary bit of luck came certain expectations. It is expected that all natives of New Orleans understand the need to party. They have an innate ability to produce amazing food and drink on a moment's notice, and it's never a real party unless "your mom 'n' em" are there, too. Since the average family in this very Catholic city has a least four children, "your mom 'n' em" can truly be a crowd of epic proportions.

It's expected that you love football, and at any given moment, can recite either the LSU defensive line - first name AND last name - give Drew Brees's current passing statistics - or list the last five coaches that left the Saints only to go on to the Superbowl within two seasons. (Hint: their number is legion.)

And finally, of course, everyone from New Orleans loves Mardi Gras.

Now, people from around the world know about Carnival. They know about it from Italy, from Spain, from Brazil, and now, I hear, from Australia. Say what? Talk about your non sequiters. I didn't even know the Aussies could dance, but hey! It's a big, wide world.

But the tradition of "Carnival" is not exactly the same as "Mardi Gras." The former is a great big celebration, where inhibitions are loosed by the possiblity of hiding your identity. The latter is a PARTY (see definition, above) that is held to celebrate the last day of eating before the fast of Lent begins. The former is anonymous while the latter is held right smack-dab in the middle of your family and friends, who would recognize you in an astronaut suit walking on the Moon.

The result of this dichotomy is that everyone who comes here from out of town, is here for "Carnival," while to natives, it's "Mardi Gras." In the French Quarter, it's "Carnival," while in Metarie and Algiers, and Mandeville, it's "Mardi Gras." And, it seems, never the twain shall meet.

Visitors to this beautiful city will come - and go - without ever experiencing the family-oriented side of Mardi Gras. That's the side where the whole family - grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends - from old-enough-to-be-carried to old-enough- to-be-wheelchaired - go down to the parade route and talk, and shout, and push each other until the parade passes by. Then they go back to the nearest relative's house, and eat and drink - until the next parade comes along. All the time they know that the next day begins the holiest of seasons, and meat, and wine, and chocolate will be foregone for the next 40 days in a spirit of seeking and sacrifice.

They will gather again on Easter morning, in the light of that new beginning, to celebrate - with chocolate, and wine, and meat - shared in raucous communion. And nothing in "Carnival" will ever produce the "community" of that feast.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Gardening: A Study in Faith

I've spaded and harrowed and planted the seeds,
Now things in my garden are growing like weeds.
There's only one problem I've noticed so far -
Weeds are what ninety percent of them are!

This is the time of year when I give up any semblance of civility and devote myself to my spring ritual: Plant Torture. Every year, the same thing happens. The plant catalogues arrive around the first of January, and I sit down and dream about what my garden could look like. Then, around the end of January, all the discount stores have their houseplants on sale - lovingly grown and painstakingly nurtured by some far away grower in a hothouse. I browse the aisles, carefully picking and choosing; the right plant for that dark corner, or that sunny window near the back door. I match colors and styles to the containers that I will put them in. I look for healthy plants.

And that's what's so tragic, as the next few weeks pass and...the...tiny...things...slowly...and...irrevocably...croak.

I have decided, after looking at my family history, that my problem is hereditary: my Mom had a plastic thumb. She systematically and without mercy killed every house plant she ever had. She even tried silk plants once, but after a while, they, too, began to look peaked and washed out, and she gave them to a neighbor to spare herself the agony of witnessing their demise.

I wonder, every now and then, as I fertilize and water my plants, potted with such loving care, whether they can scream, and we are just too weak - or self-absorbed - to hear their tiny voices. Do they cry when I forget to water them? Are those blooming Peace Lilies rejoicing silently? Is there such a thing as Sod Song?

Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar that there are more things in this world than we can dream of, and I think he was right. We often get so busy defending all the things we think we know that we forget to be humble about all the things we don't know. It seems to me that there must be a whole lot more of the latter than the former.

And that's why I pot plants in January, and plant a garden in March - every year. Part of me thinks that it's an exercise in futility, but another part realizes that plants know a great deal more about our world - about living, and yes, about dying - than I will ever know.

Last December, when the seed catalogues arrived, I filled out the order form with every plant I had ever wished to try - and then put it away, like I always do, until I could come to my senses. For Christmas, Banker Bill found my "Wish List" and ordered the whole kit and caboodle. A grand, great gift for a gardener. This week, you will find me, indoors at my kitchen sink, planting seeds, and singing with the snapdragons.