Thursday, September 27, 2012

Whatcha gonna do?

Whatcha gonna do?

If only I had a dime for every time I've been asked that over the last few months, I wouldn't have to do anything.

What does one do after being heart-broken? Kicked to the curb? Dumped? Fired? Laid-off from a 26-year career as a sports writer/crime writer/clerk and toilet-paper-order at The Times-Picayune? A job -- a career -- that I loved.

There are some things I'd like to do:

I'd like to punch a couple of people in the nose:

Some men in ties.

Whoever came up with this cockamamie plan to scrap the metro daily in favor of a web site and gut the news room in the process.

The guy who decided I was unworthy. Or too worthy.

The guy who told me just two years ago that he "fought like hell" for me.

The coach who hangs up when I call him.

The grandmother of the athlete who reamed me out as I interviewed her grandson because, she insisted, I "obviously" like the other team more.


I'd like to smile and laugh and not be bitter or angry at the people who picked my name out of the hat -- or didn't.  But that's hard to do when they keep hiring people, younger people, to do the job I did so well and loved so much. 


I'd like to get really drunk. And I just might.

And then I'm gonna get up and dust myself off.

I'm gonna tackle some home-improvement projects around my house that have been neglected too long. I'm gonna paint my front door red.

I'm gonna launch the genealogy web site I've been tinkering with. Tell some of our family stories. Find a few more cousins.

I'm gonna be a sports writer again, this time for an upstart web site called riverparishfootball.com.  I can cover what I want, write as long as I want and there are no deadlines!

I'm gonna be free for a while. Try my hand at freelancing. There are stories out there. I'm willing to tell them. Someone should want to print them.

I'm gonna write another book. Maybe two. And work on the two children's books I've already written.

I'm gonna see if my late grandpa's little Christmas story and song is worth putting out there.

I'm gonna walk my dog in the mornings. Dance down the street. Get myself back in shape. And house-break this damn puppy.

I'm gonna figure out what I am now that I'm no longer, "Lori Lyons of The Times-Picayune." And what I want to be.

I probably will cry. And get drunk. And say some nasty words. And be hard to live with for a while (sorry, honey).

I will apply for jobs and rewrite my resume and cover letter. And get rejected. Or hear absolutely NOTHING. (Really?)

I will see if my dream from way back of being a teacher is something I really want to do.

I will swim in my pool and nap in my hammock and write in my pretty new blue room upstairs.

I will be a better mom.

I'm gonna have one helluva luau on Sunday.

And, if all that fails, I will move to the beach.




Monday, September 24, 2012

It's the bye week

My first column logo, circa 1991


It was 26 years ago, almost to the day.

Thrilled. Excited. Scared. Nervous. And everything in between, I drove myself from my parents' home in Houma, where I had moved temporarily (of course), to my new job at The Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans.

I had been hired a few weeks before to be an agate clerk by then-sports editor Tom Lindley. He looked me over, told me I was over-qualified, made a face when I told him I wasn't available until after September 27th because my best friend was getting married that day, and hired me. Reluctantly.

So it was on October 1 that I made my way through the bowels of the massive building and up to the third floor, ready to go to work. The first thing they made me do? Drive to Bud's Broiler on Banks Street to pick up dinner. The cafeteria was closed on Sundays, you see.

I nearly didn't go back.

But I did. Even though, for several weeks "the boys" (and they know who they are) wouldn't let me do anything, wouldn't teach me anything, wouldn't show me how. It wasn't that they didn't like me or trust me, it was just easier to do it themselves. As a wife and mother, I certainly understand that!

So for many weeks I watched baseball on TV. Watched them work. Followed them around like a puppy dog. Observed. Tried. Cursed them a bit. And answered the telephone.

Most of the calls were complaints. Why didn't we cover Nascar? Our columnists were idiots. Where were the late scores?


Or bettors: Who won the fifth race at The Fair Grounds?  Who won the Lakers game?

Or crazy: Why does Jim Mora say he's Italian? Mora is Spanish!

A few months later, I was able to reorganize my life. I re-enrolled at Loyola to finish my final semester. At the ripe old age of 25, I moved back into a dorm with a bunch of 20-year-olds. I went to class during the day and worked at night. Sometimes me and the boys went for a beer after putting the paper to bed.

One night the gang introduced me to a local professional baseball player. They were very excited that he asked me for my number. More excited when he called me at work a few days later.

I was "the girl" in sports. But I became "one of the boys."

And I loved it. Even when they moved me to full time days.

Even when they moved me from New Orleans, where I could hear the streetcar bells from my Uptown apartment, to LaPlace, where my next-door neighbor waited outside with his boa constrictor.

Because I was a sports writer. For 21 years I covered The Saints -- St. Charles, St. John and St. James parishes. Football, baseball, softball, golf, tennis, volleyball, soccer.

I covered the state, from Belle Chasse to Benton and a bunch of places in between.

I covered games in rain, in snow, in blistering heat. I fainted at a track meet. I threw up at E.D. White. I covered a game from the top of a press box when it was 30 degrees outside. I sent a story from the floor of a Pizza Hut kitchen in White Castle. I got to Farmerville before the football team I was covering.  I covered a volleyball game as the potential adoption of  a child fell apart. And I never missed a deadline.

I covered Ed Reed, Eli and Peyton Manning, Laron and Dawan Landry, Mike Scifres, Corey Webster, Big Baby Davis and too many baseball players to count.

And I loved it. I thrived on the thrills, the stories of the kids and the coaches, the games. Even the deadlines, which seemed to get shorter as our technology got better. Very few people get to go through life saying they loved what they did for a living. I did. Truly.

This is what I always wanted to do. Always.

Then one day the men in ties told me they wanted me to be a clerk. And a crime reporter. My first week on the job I covered a murder-suicide. Both my daughter and I had nightmares. I've since covered three. More murders. Suicides. Armed robberies. Shootings. Deaths. Drugs. Accidents.

And a whole lot of nothing in between. My job was to sit and wait for something to happen. I sat so much I had to get the ergonomics specialist to come show me how to do it properly. I quit wearing a watch because I watched the clock all day. I prayed nothing would happen while hoping something would.  I never stayed longer than I had to.

I did get to cover some stories I never would have before. A flock of stolen flamingos. A popular educator who lost her hands and feet to a massive infection, then danced at her wedding. A fun-loving red headed basketball player. 

The funeral of a Sheriff's deputy killed in the line of duty.

And now it's over. Or it will be in five days. And who knows what my last byline will be.

I know that somewhere tonight a bunch of people just put to bed the last Monday paper The Times-Picayune will publish. Some of them will be there next Sunday. Many of them won't.

I won't. My last day is Friday. 

And after I turn in my key to the now-shuttered River Parishes bureau, and my laptop (which doesn't work) and my I.D. card proclaiming me to be "Lori Lyons of The Times-Picayune," I will grab my notebook and stat sheets and head off to cover a football game. Now for someone else.

Because, no matter what they say, I am and always will be a sports writer.









Sunday, September 16, 2012

Aloha

I have been neglecting this little blog of mine.

It's not that I don't still love it, don't still feel the need to spill my guts to it every once in a while. And it's not that I have nothing to write about.

Indeed, perhaps I have too much.

As of tomorrow (Monday, Sept. 17), I will have 10 more working days.Ten more days as a reporter/clerk at The Times-Picayune newspaper. Ten more days of a 26-year career that I have loved. And sometimes hated. Ten days to cover the recovery of our area from Hurricane Isaac. Ten days of crime reports and holding my breath, hoping nothing explodes, nothing flips over, nothing breaks down and no one goes mad.

I no longer have to order toilet paper anymore because our office in LaPlace (the Arctic Outpost) was shut down two weeks ago because of mold after Hurricane Isaac. My co-workers and I have been working "remotely" (i.e. at home) -- which is what all the new "content producers" at the new version of the paper will be doing anyway.  This may have saved my sanity. At least I don't have to smile at customers who tell me how upset they are that the daily paper is ending on October 1st. 

So now I have ten days until I am free. Ten days until I am officially unemployed. Ten days to be "Lori Lyons of The Times-Picayune."

And then what?

Then I have a big-ass party on the 30th. One of our infamous luaus. Except this one will be "The Laid Off Luau." I'm getting laid off. Everyone else can come get leied. And I don't have to go to work the next day!

Click to play this Smilebox invite
Check this out. Just the song is worth it!


They're a lot of work, these parties. But fun. This will be sixth, complete with watermelon boats, an ugly Hawaiian shirt contest (there is a trophy!), pineapples and a cardboard cutout of a hula girl and surfer dude for photos (see above).  We had one scheduled for earlier in the summer until Marty's mom got sick and my mom got sick and my dog died and my best friend's husband was murdered.

So why am I having one now?

Because if I don't I will crumble into a heap on the floor and may never get up again. That's why. It's been one hell of a shitty summer.  I need something to look forward to -- besides my list of Gonna Dos when I'm done.

Retiring from The Times-Picayune, or even just moving on, used to be a really big deal, you know. Everyone would get a computer message to sign up for a fancy luncheon at some fancy New Orleans eatery. My one trip to Commander's Palace was for my friend Lily Jackson's retirement lunch long ago.

Sometimes there would be a message to meet at Molly's Bar in the French Quarter, where the retiree -- or smart person going off to greener pastures -- would be the guest bartender for the night.

Then, on their last day at the mother ship downtown we'd get another message to come for cake in the Art Department. The only problem was, the Art Department was in New Orleans and I was in the Arctic Outpost in LaPlace. So, there was no cake for me.

And when you're out in the Arctic Outpost, many of your colleagues simply become names in the paper. Not friends. Not workers. Not even acquaintances, really. Just names. And you have no idea how cool or witty or funny they are until you find them on Facebook.

But now a bunch of us are in the same boat. In 10 days we'll all be ex-colleagues and co-workers. Some have already moved on to greener pastures. Or just pastures. Others, like me, are hanging on by our fingernails to the very end -- just like Jack and Rose on the Titanic.

And there are big parties planned for the final weekend. Ex-Picayuners from all over the country are coming back to mourn the end of a once-great daily that will become a 3-times-per-week paper on October 1.  I won't be able to attend either, however, because I've committed myself to covering high school football on Friday and I'll probably be hanging palm fronds on Saturday. I wouldn't know anyone anyway.

So I'm giving myself my own damn party. Like I did when I turned 30. Like I should have done when I turned 40. And 50.

And you can bet your ass there will be cake.






Monday, September 3, 2012

Hurricane lessons



Having lived in south Louisiana my entire life, I'm pretty used to hurricanes. Yeah, I know the drill.

I know all about battening down the hatches. I know I'm supposed to buy batteries, and bread, and peanut butter, and canned goods, and bleach. I know I'm supposed to have a battery-operated radio and a flashlight. I know I'm supposed to fill my car with gas. And, if necessary, have an evacuation route planned. And, for the most part, we do have all those things.

But over the years, the hurricanes have taught us lessons.

Hurricane Camille taught us the meaning of storm surge and recovery.

Hurricane Andrew taught me that Baton Rouge is not all that much safer than New Orleans just because it's a few miles north.

Hurricane Georges taught me not to go to my sister's house with my entire family and four dogs for a hurricane, and that stop-and-go traffic will make a standard poodle throw up.

Hurricane Ivan taught me that that it takes 12 hours instead of six to get from LaPlace to Houston, and 11 hours to get back. And that a Jeep Grand Cherokee is not the most comfortable car for four adults and a potty training toddler on said trip, especially when you're the one sitting over the drive shaft for most of that trip.

Hurricane Katrina taught us that some engineers cheated their way through engineering class and that a Category 5 storm is nothing to play with. And that even the best in-laws are better when they live somewhere other than your house because two women cannot play nice in one kitchen.

Then came Isaac. And there were more lessons to be learned.

I learned that my husband is a hunter-gatherer. While I made sure our house is safe and secure and orderly for the invasion of his mother and my mother and anyone else who might find themselves in need of a safe haven, my husband bought bread. Lots and lots of bread.

We have wheat bread and raisin bread and hot dog buns and three loaves of white bread. And, as if that weren't enough, he bought little pistolet buns -- but nothing to put on them. But he didn't buy hamburger buns, even though we planned to have Sloppy Joes for dinner.

And as of right now, any hungry person dropping in for a bite to eat can have his or her choice of leftover Sloppy Joes (but no hamburger buns), lasagna (but we ate all the garlic bread), hot dogs with chili, hot dogs without chili, fried chicken, steak, or, if that's not appetizing, The Coach can cook you up some ribs.

I also learned during this little adventure that my husband, The Coach, is the worst Pictionary partner in the world.

Sometime Tuesday night, we suffered our one and only extended power outage caused by Isaac. Left without television or Internet, our daughter emerged from her room, bleary eyed and annoyed. But we were ready. Anticipating just such an event, I had her gather a stack of board games for us to wile away the hours.

We started with Pictionary. The Boss, the 11-year-old, decided she and my mama were going to be partners because they were both artists. That left me and The Coach. (Grandma Jane had already gone to bed and had no idea that the power was out or that there was even a storm going on at all, for that matter. God bless her.)

The Artists got an easy one. "Unicorn." Nana, just a few days shy of her 80th birthday, got it right away.

Then it was our turn. I would draw. I picked: "One Armed Man." Easy, I thought. I drew a stick figure with one arm.

"Right hand," Coach said.

Really?

I drew the international symbol for "No" -- the circle with a line through it.

"No hand," he said.

Seriously?

I even cheated a little and drew a No. 1. Nothing.

Finally, in desperation, I drew the only thing I could think of to make a man recognize one of his own kind. A penis. Yes. I drew a stick figure penis.

"MOOOOOOMMMM!" my 11-year old screamed. She got it. The Coach? Not so much.

When our outage ended -- oh, about 30 minutes later -- I decided to shame my husband my posting the photo on Facebook.





What is this?

Kevin: "It means: I have no right arm and I throw a stick in your general direction!!"
Gwen: "It's a man driving a car. Jeez, Lori."
Dennis: "Whatever it is, it appears quite happy to see you."
Kevin: "Ah, ARMLESS and happy to see you!! Yeah, that'd work."
James: "I would've guessed "pants on the ground"
James: "No pants on the ground? Or, "a one armed man should not attempt to wear baggy ass pants because ummm" IDK."   


OK. So maybe the coach isn't so bad. He didn't get "bike pants" either.

Later we moved on to a goofy game called Headbanz, during which we shamed the dog.





He didn't get it either.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


In all seriousness, while I and my family remained safe and sound in our 80-year old house in St. Charles Parish, many, many of my friends just a few miles to our west in St. John the Baptist Parish have been devastated by flood waters caused by Isaac. This is where I work -- or will for the rest of this month. This is where I used to live. In fact, the two apartments I once rented are now under water. The fine folks of LaPlace and Reserve, some in Garyville and Lutcher and Paulina and even as far as Gonzales are suffering in misery right now.

 The recovery will take years. And I and my fellow reporters in the River Parishes Bureau of the newspaper, also located there, only have 19 days to tell their stories. It's heart-breaking.

I pray for them. I hope you will too.







Saturday, September 1, 2012

Normal



My umbrella is back up.

The chairs are back around the table. The plants are back where they belong and the noodles are in the pool, which is now free of sticks and leaves and unripened pecans and back to its perfect shade of turquoise.


The oversized clock is back on the back wall of my house. It keeps perfect time, much to my dismay  as it ticks down the final minutes of my weekend pool time.

And my giant fish is back on the wall -- albeit in a new spot.

I think I have found most of the little stuff -- the solar lights, the rusted metal suns, the wind chimes and the sign that declares my back yard a "Dragonfly Crossing." I think that's all of it. The Coach has a tendency to pack things away in our garage and I never see them again. Or, not until the next hurricane anyway.

I did have to throw a few things away, things I loved and hated to get rid of so I held on to them too long. The "Just Another Day in Paradise" sign, for one. 

The neighborhood is quiet once again. No more constant hum from the next door neighbor's generator as he awaited the arrival of the Entergy trucks to the street behind us where the pole went down. He apologized for the noise, as though we might be bothered by his attempts to stay cool and keep the entire contents of his refrigerator from spoiling.

And we no longer see the red and blue flashing lights from the police cruisers cruising up and down our street, keeping a watchful eye for trouble. And looters.

And, in my little corner of the world anyway, the lights are on.  My house is clean. My fridge is full. My air conditioning is cold. My legs are shaved. My teeth are brushed. All my storm debris is out on the curb awaiting the garbage men.

Both my mama and my mother-in-law have gone home.

And life -- ours anyway -- is back to normal.

Today is Saturday. It has been six days since I came home from work, settled in my mother-in-law and started to hunker down. Five days since we all woke up to calm but gray skies and began making jokes on Facebook.  "Anybody seen Isaac?" I wrote.

He arrived later that day (so did my mama). Slowly at first. Then surely. And like the unruly son-of-Katrina that he was, he kept us up all night, got kind of drunk and refused to leave.

Together, The Coach, The Daughter, Mama, Mother-in-Law and Leigheaux the neurotic poodle hunkered, and listened to every sound, every noise, every gust, waiting to see what it would bring. Listened as each one seemed to get stronger than the last. Listened to the constant sound of rain and weather men and women on cable TV.

We did lose our electricity for a while Tuesday night -- right after the second round of my virgin fantasy football draft. I got Drew Brees and Adrian Petersen, then had to let autodraft do the rest. In the meantime I learned that The Coach is the worst Pictionary partner in the world.

Sometime in the middle of the night I offered a tip of the hat to the men who built my little brick  cottage more than 80 years ago. They did it right, I must say. Even in 80 mile-per-hour winds, my little house didn't move, didn't sway, didn't shudder. Even upstairs, where my daughter and I collapsed, exhausted, sometime around 4 a.m. on Wednesday.


Sometime that day we realized that the winds weren't quite as strong. Or, if they were, they were getting farther apart. We rejoiced. And watched the raindrops fall... and fall... and fall....

And then the first reports came that the water was rising. Just like Katrina. Homes were being flooded. Just like Katrina. People were calling for help. Just like Katrina. And escaping to their attics.

Except it wasn't New Orleans this time. This time it was the suburbs, in places the guys from the Weather Channel don't do live shots.  Braithewaite. Lafitte. Slidell. Robert.

And the town of LaPlace, where have gone to work every day for the last 25 years. Where my many many friends are. More than 90 percent of St. John the Baptist Parish in Louisiana was flooded. The Interstate highway was flooded. The water system was shut down. More than 3,000 people had to be rescued from their homes. Kids I covered in high school. Teachers I know. Family members of friends. The local high school. The woman who grooms my poodle.

And, just like Katrina, I'm feeling the survivor's guilt. I suffered nothing but a full house with two 80-year old women, a crazy dog, a spoiled tween and an abundance of bread. I went without lights for for an hour. I lost nothing but my banana trees., two vacation days and a few hours of sleep.

And, unlike Katrina when my mother-in-law arrived on my doorstep after two days with everything she owned in one plastic grocery bag after the monster storm surge took her home in Waveland, Mississippi, this time I sent her home.

This is what it's like to ride out a hurricane. A Category 1 hurricane. A "minimal" storm that dumped 20 inches of rain in our area.That still leaves 40 percent of the area without power. That has closed schools for at least one week, some for two and maybe more. That reversed the flow of the Mississippi River.

That showed us all that Mother Nature is a bitch. Her son Hurricane Isaac was a bastard.

And sometimes normal is the most important thing we can have.