August 31, 2006

The afternoon is sunny and hot as my friend Rock guides his truck (the one with the “2006 Clearance Sale” paint in Mardi Gras colors splashed across its windshield’s passenger side) across Lake Pontchartrain towards New Orleans. It’s only a little after 1 PM, but Rock, a locksmith by trade, has already had a full day juggling a number of critical balls in the air, and frankly, he needs a break to take his mind off things. So, we’re making the trip from his home in Slidell to Grand Isle (scroll down for map).

Ya see, Rock’s house, heavily damaged by the levee breaches following Hurricane Katrina, had been getting close enough to at least start planning a move out of the refurbished pool house he shares with his wife Brenda and the two FEMA trailers housing their four children when it was discovered that the styrofoam padding beneath his floors had begun to warp and disintegrate, meaning everything had to come up, and a whole new floor system installed. Between eyeing the progress of the contractors framing what will be his new floor, Rock’s life is a constant flurry of phone calls – answering calls for service, running down the latest multi-lock brochures, assessing back-door alternatives for the house, and trying to get his regular truck fixed.

His shop, also virtually destroyed by the flooding, is currently nothing but a shell – nevertheless, he’s a got a new roof installed and a mailbox out front, so things are starting to look up. He speaks of the day when the shop is returned to its former functional splendor, but like many other business owners in the area, one’s home is the first priority, and everything else will simply have to work itself out in the day-to-day. As we walk through the shop and discuss alternative workspace arrangements, I’m amazed at his ability to cope and persevere amidst all the troubles for as long as he has (today is the one-year anniversary of Katrina), and I can’t help but wonder if it were me, whether I’d have the strength to do the same.

But Slidell and his shop are east of us now as our rolling car lot with the A/C blasting passes north of the New Orleans proper and the French Quarter. Rock’s starting to relax now, and I’m sipping a cold Bud Lite as he regales me with a crazy fishing story about him and some buddies getting lost near the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico, all the while having a fish hook shaving caught in his eye. I tell him how, whenever I would go deep-sea fishing out of Salem, Massachusetts, I’d never bait my hook – content instead to drink a few beers, stare at the deep blue, and hope the fish didn’t bother me. “Ahh yes, the great outdoors”, I tell him, “frankly, its not so great…”.

West of New Orleans, we pick up 310 South and cross the Mississippi River on our way towards Houma. Heading southwest, we pick up Highway 90, and the scene becomes very blue-collar: the highway cutting through a continuous run of convenience stores, seafood restaurants, and marine repair shops situated around various bayous, all of which Rock seems to know by name. We stop at a convenience store to pick up some beers and sodas, and, asking for ice, are told, “baby, it’s outside on the left”. Not exactly the response you’d get back east in Massachusetts, or out here in Arizona for sure.

At a sign pointing towards Roseland, we turn southeast, and now the scenery slowly begins to change, as we start seeing sugarcane farms and fields. At a small bridge, Rock takes a left and then a quick right, explaining he knows a great shortcut. Shortly thereafter, we’re in a Cajun town called Golden Meadow, which, from books like Mike Tidwell’s Bayou Farewell and Christopher Hallowell’s Holding Back the Sea, I know is home to many who make their living supporting Louisiana’s huge oil and gas industry whose offshore platforms dot the Gulf of Mexico like so many Christmas trees, or shrimping or fishing in the bayous, bays and marshes between Terrebone Bay and Barataria Bay. Rock says the town always reminds him of a beautiful girl he knew growing up who somehow ended up falling two stories and “broke near every bone in her body”. I’m reminded that one of things I love so much about Louisiana and its culture is how its people seem to all know how to tell a good story.

Slowly water and marshland begin to take over the land on both sides of us, and shrimp boats of varying colors and sizes – all seemingly with the same bow-shaped decks above the waterline – can be seen at dock or navigating slowly along the waterways on both sides of the highway. Wheat and green-colored marshland stretches out to the southeast, seemingly all the way to the horizon. Very cool. As we approach the town of Port Fourchon – again, from my reading, a town known as a commerce hub for everything oil and gas in this part of the state – seafood restaurants, fish markets, and marine supply stores begin announcing our proximity to big, deep salt water, and I’m pinching myself: I’ve always wondered what Grand Isle was like, and in minutes I’m about to find out.

We enter the town of Grand Isle and cross the bridge over to the island itself. Frankly, it reminds me a little bit of Rte. 286 just as you enter Salisbury Beach in Massachusetts – a lot of marsh with houses and businesses sprinkled along the bay. The difference here, however, is that its immediately clear that this is a true fisherman’s paradise – indeed, the primary reason why people come down here to visit in the first place. A portable roadside sign announces this coming weekend’s “Redfish Rodeo”, and camps start appearing everywhere. The Grand Isle definition of “camps” is houses of every imaginable shape, size, and name imaginable (all the houses have names here), sitting on wood and/or concrete stilts anywhere from, say, 5 to 20 feet in height; this link (click on “Rentals”) gives you an idea of what they look like. Some are lived in; most of ‘em I guess are rented out, especially in the fall and winter when the sport fishing is best.

Rock takes a left just before a camp named “Margaritaville” in pastel greens and pinks, with stilts painted to look like palm trees. At a sharp left just before road becomes bay, we arrive at Rock’s camp, the Way Cool. It’s a little after mid-afternoon, and the western sun shimmers on the bay. While Rock is checking out the property for damage outside, I give my mom a call since it’s her birthday. We talk for a spell, and I hand the phone over to Rock so he can say “happy birthday” to her as well. He asks me her name, and, after I tell her Dot (short for Dorothy), Rock talks with her for several minutes, calling her “Miss Dot” as if he had known her for years. (Thanks Rock, I’m sure it added a little Louisiana spice to her special day.) Standing on his second-floor deck, you can see the bay just across the road on one side, and the Gulf less than a mile away on the other. A soft breeze provides relief to the oppressiveness of the day, and even though the occasional oil platform helicopter intrudes upon the silence, I’m filled with a sense of peace and unbridled joy at the sights and sounds all around me.

After one last check of the camp it’s time to head back, but first Rock has to pick up some shrimp. And shrimp he gets. There’s a local wholesaler/retailer up the street that we pull in, where Rock buys 50 lbs. of Gulf shrimp selling at $2-something a pound. (If you’ve never seen Gulf shrimp, all I can tell you is that it makes the “jumbo shrimp” [my favorite oxymoron, BTW] you see in the supermarket look like M&Ms in comparison. This is HUGE shrimp – to me they look the size of a supermarket deli hotdog in length!) The shrimp are hauled onto a huge scale for weighing, then gradually poured into a large styrofoam case and layered with shovelfuls of ice. Two workers carry the box and place it into the back of Rock’s rented truck, but not before we layer the floor with newspaper first – no need to return the truck smelling like a fish pier!

We start our trek northward away from the Gulf and back towards Slidell, and the sky is starting to turn pink with the coming dusk. Rock’s pissed that he forgot to show me the state beach while we were there, but it seems fitting to leave that, and perhaps an overnight stay at the camp, as something we can both look forward to when his situation turns a little more towards normal. It’s been an exhilarating visit to a part of the world I have always dreamed of seeing, and as the talk turns to religion, my own spiritual journey and Rock’s Roman Catholic faith, I feel blessed – truly blessed – to have come to know Rock as a friend, and to have been allowed the privilege of a visit to Grand Isle, Louisiana on a beautiful late-August afternoon.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 23:59 | Comments (5)
August 30, 2006

I must be getting senile. How could I forget my visit with Trish the Tarot Card reader? Sorry, it was late when I did the original entry and neglected the most interesting stop of the day. See below…

A year ago, this wasn’t a very nice place to be, but today, while New Orleans commemorates the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, outside of a few more “property for sale” and “property for rent” signs than usual, nothing much seems to have changed here in the French Quarter. The only disaster I’m aware of today is what’s happening to the Red Sox on the West Coast, but heck, that’s been weeks in the making.

(Theo beware, I’m coming after you later this week, for the bloom is definitely off the rose. But, why ruin a beautiful day with such murky and depressing thoughts…)

Yesterday, after taking care of some business in the morning, I had the afternoon free to drift around the French Quarter and enjoy a warm summer afternoon. So what’d I do?

2:00 PM: Checked out the Visitors Center on Decatur Street and had a lovely conversation with FQ goodwill ambassador Adele. Business was brisk, but Adele deftly and cheerfully handled a variety of inquiries – two Japanese visitors wanting to catch some jazz music that night, a group of travel agents wanting to take a Swamp Tour, and me checking out the Haunted History tour. New Orleans has truly laid the welcome mat out, and its people like Adele that help make that possible.

3:00 PM: Time for lunch, and a short walk down St. Peter brought me to the Gumbo Shop. Had a cup of seafood gumbo and the crawfish etoufee, both of which were fine. As I was finishing my meal, a family obviously from Brooklyn, NY came in, and it was a hoot to listen to them try and communicate with the waiter and his own Louisiana accent – how’s about that combo!

4:30 PM: I’ve got an hour to kill before joining the 6 PM Haunted History tour, so I stop in next door at The Boondock Saint, an Irish Pub that recently opened, replacing the old Velvet Dog biker bar. It was quiet and cool in there, and the brick and dark wood made me think I was back in Boston.

6:00 PM: Obviously, there’s gonna be no 6 PM Haunted History tour, as I’m the only standing in front of Rev. Zombie’s Voodoo Shop, where the tour is supposed to gather. I ask the girl at the counter and she’s very helpful, telling me there was some kind of mix-up, so if I want to take the 8 PM tour, it’ll only cost me $10 instead of the usual $20. Sounds like a good deal to me.

6:30 PM: I’m across the street at Pat O’Brien’s restaurant/bar, enjoying a Planter’s Punch in their bar area. For all the times Tracey and I have been to New Orleans, I’ve never been in POB’s. Not exactly crowded on a Monday night, but playing some Beach Boys and Doors music on the jukebox passes the time.

8:00 PM: It’s time for the Haunted History tour! Frankly, it sounded a lot more interesting than it was. A few ghost stories told to a bunch of toursits as we walked around several blocks of the French Quarter. The highlight for me was the guide pointing out the corner of St. Phillip’s and Royal, where Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested after a skuffle with someone who complained about him handing out pro-Castro literature. Cool!

9:30 PM: I was walking back from the HH tour when I thought it might be a good idea to toss some money at the artists and mystics who ply their trade on Jackson Square. Soze, I ask a woman who introduces herself as Trish the Tarot Card reader how much a reading would cost. She says between $10 and $20. I say OK. She asks me to pick three cards out of a tarot deck. (Looking back now, I realize I should have asked to see all the cards first, to make sure they’re not like, only one or two kinds of cards, but then, we’re talking small change here.) I pick out three cards and lay them on the table.

“Ohhh…you’re stressed out about a situation at home”, she says, proceeding to explain to me what the cards I chose meant in relationship to one another.

“Well, our new male rabbit has designs on one of the females and, while we don’t have a doctor’s proof he’s been neutered, we know she’s been spayed”, I reply.

(At which point, she starts talking about her cat and how he’s been trained to like people. Then, she goes on a non-stop 20-minute tale of what happened to her and her animals after Katrina: turns out she and her husband (also a tarot card reader, BTW) were moved by FEMA on a plane with 120 other souls to Middletown, Rhode Island and set up there for a year, but there’s evidently not much of a call for tarot readers in nearby Newport, so, when the weather started getting cold they moved back, also courtesy of FEMA. Now she and her husband want to get out of their $600 apartment and find something for all their pets [who are with friends], but the apartment will cost double and the tarot business [like the rest of the city] is still in recovery mode. She asks me what I would do. I tell her to ask her husband to get a regular job that pays better money, then he could still do the tarot thing part-time, but still be able to provide for her while she does her thing full-time.)

“But he doesn’t want to do that”, she says.

“See”, I tell her (in my most comforting pastoral way), “you know what the problem is, you just needed someone else to confirm it for you. Sounds like you and your husband have some hard choices to make.”

“Maybe we ought to switch seats”, she says.

And with that, our session was obviously at an end, as she started packing her stuff up to leave. Thanking her for her time, I gave her $20, petted her cat again, and headed off to my next stop – the Omni Royal Orleans.

10:30 PM: Time for a nitecap at the Rib Room bar at the Royal Omni Orleans. My favorite hotel in the whole world, a great place to close out an enjoyable and relaxing day talking with bartender Murray and admiring the huge Swedish Ivy plants on both sides of the bar.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 12:40 | Comments (3)
August 28, 2006

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting Louisiana and the Misississippi Gulf Coast. The folks I’ve talked to down here seem to be of the mind that, for the most part, the faint of heart and the slackers have pretty decided not to return, and the ones that are here are the ones that have decided to stick it out, and the ones that should be here. Of course, with three months left in the 2006 hurricane season left, people here are definitely on edge – more than a few have told me that even a category 1 storm could potentially be catastrophic, given the number of people still living in FEMA trailers with sewage and gas lines all above ground, creating a potentially deadly situation with all that plastic, glass, and sheet metal flying around.

Considering that I begin to freak out whenever our A/C unit goes on the fritz out in Arizona, I both respect and hold in awe the will and commitment of the people here in the face of true adversity. Rents have skyrocketed in the French Quarter, and a lot of people who work here have been forced into alternative living arrangements I don’t know I would able to handle too easily were I in the same situation. And it’s not only people who have it tough, but their animals as well.

It just shows how important it is for people to come down here (and to Mississippi as well) and spend your hard-earned dollars in any and every way you can. Me, I’ve tried to spend money I ordinarily wouldn’t and in places and ways I normally wouldn’t – but the whole infrastructure down here and its future are in the PEOPLE, whether they be shop owners, tarot and palm readers, or restauranteurs, and work in and for souvenier stores, bars, and tour operators. New Orleans is a cornucopia of people and experiences that make it the unique place it is, and the same holds true for the people just east of it in Mississippi. Sure, they and their political system are not perfect by any means, but those who have decided to stay and stick it out have done so because it’s their home – as any one of us would do – and love this region as much – if not more – than me, and therefore deserve whatever help and support we can provide.

If you’ve got a free weekend or some vacation time left to use, I hope you’ll consider coming down here and spending some time and money on a region that so very much still needs our help.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 22:30 | Comments (0)
August 27, 2006

Along with Cozumel and Bermuda, New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast is my favorite place on the face of the earth. Later today, I’m off to the Crescent City for a couple of days of business and pleasure, and to check things out one year after Hurricane Katrina roared through the region. At least, it’ll make for a much-needed diversion away from the Red Sox, whose 2006 ship continues to sink slowly into the sunset. A few thoughts and observations:

* I’m sure everyone along the Gulf Coast will be monitoring the updates from the NHC over the next few days, as it looks as if budding Ernesto might be a cause for concern somewhere between mid-to-late week. Me, I should be leaving at least a day’s time ahead of any potential threat, but you never know, depending on what happens with the Northwest flight attendents’ thing.

* Two of my favorite daily stops around the blogsphere are CrabAppleLane Blog and Metroblogging New Orleans. I see Rob’s got some post-Katrina thoughts as he counts down the days to the NFL season, while MNO has had some truly fine posts this week – everything from Craig Giesecke’s view of things, post-Katrina to Dan Frazier’s love letters number 2 and number 3.

* My absolute favorite newspaper in the world is the New Orleans Times-Picayune (containing, I might add, the most interesting and entertaining obituary section you’ll ever read!). Here’s a link to the T-P’s own extensive look at the state of New Orleans one year after Katrina. If you’re a New Orleans lover and afficianado as I am, it’s a must read.

* One of my earliest fascinations with New Orleans came from its JFK assassination/Cuba connection. Speaking of which: while everyone wonders what’s the latest with the Fidel and Raul show, the island of Cuba waits uneasily to see what will happen once Castro is dead. Maybe this is just wishful thinking, but might Cuba one day be one of the most popular vacation destinations in the Western Hemisphere? Might the economic forces just itching to bring Cuba into the 21st century be enough to overcome whatever the Castros and Chavez’s of the world have in mind?

* One of these days, if I’m ever able to request that extended personal leave I’d need to write “Goodboys Nation – The Book” (working subtitle: “The Bases Were Loaded and So Was I”), I think this area would make a great writer’s base. (BTW, check out the last property on the right side of the page – the “Way Cool” belongs to Dollar Bill’s cousin Rock, who I hope will have time to take me there for a look-see while I’m in the area.

* As Rob alludes to, this anniversary is not only significant for the folks in New Orleans, but those along the Mississippi Gulf Coast as well. Unfortunately, the folks there have not gotten nearly the same attention as their western counterparts, but good people like Leslie at Katrina Networking are helping to spread the word and let the world know that help is still needed and how you can help. Please consider donating in whatever way you can.

Filed in: Politics & World Events by The Great White Shank at 01:53 | Comment (1)
August 26, 2006

Say, that was the name of a pretty good Who album, wasn’t it? Anyways, we’re heading towards the end of another work week, and I can’t think of a better way to clean out the desk drawers than to pass along these items for your interest and/or enjoyment:

* So what’s up with these latest security incidents involving plane flights? Odd, to say the least. Could it be that someone is either: a) trying to send a message, or b) testing the system to see what passengers can get away with? If not strange, it is unsettling, to say the least.

* 15 million people left homeless? Sounds almost impossible to imagine. (Hat tip: Drudge)

* Do cows have regional accents? It turns out British farmers think so, or perhaps they’re just slurring their words when they drink too much? (Hat tip: Baseball Crank)

* Possible optimism involving the ultimate fates of captured journalists Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig?

(BTW, if you’re wondering just how loathsome the nutballs on the far-left can be, check out this article on a column written by Democratic Party official Mike Whitney who wrote that Centanni and Wiig deserved to be kidnapped because FOX employees are “an integral part of the American war machine”. Pathetic. Hat tip: Michelle.)

* So Pluto is not considered a planet any more. While I was up in Vancouver last week, there was mega-coverage of the astronomers conference in Prague convened to decide, among other things, the fate of this heavenly body. Word is that the topic generated a “heated debate”. A heated debate? Over a floating ball of rock more than a gazillion miles away? What a freakin’ waste of time and money. Three words: Get. A. Life.

* But speaking of heavenly bodies, I’ve always thought Kirsten Dunst is pretty attractive. …Same goes for Meg Ryan.

* Lest one have any remaining doubts about whether we as a nation should continue to trust Russia as anything other than an adversary and an agent provocateur when it comes to the interests of the West, this news should take care of that. Unfortunately, the same holds true for the rest of the U.N. Security Council, where, just as with the lead-up to the war in Iraq, the leaders and governments of Russia, China, and France are so morally bankrupt that, rather than take a stand and impose sanctions that might impact them economically, they choose the weasely way out.

(Is it any wonder that Israel is increasingly aware that the Iranian problem is one they will probably end up having to resolve on their own?)

Filed in: Politics & World Events,Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:22 | Comment (1)
August 25, 2006

glass Here’s a post designed solely to show you that even The Great White Shank is capable of that yin-yang thing, where the world is a pint glass half-full instead of half-empty. I know, I know, yesterday’s post was full of gloom and doom, but consider: it could be worse. After all, you could be cast adrift by your own studio and the father of a child virtually no one has seen, with a wife who now seems to be acting as strangely as you have been. Yessir, things could be worse – a WHOLE lot worse.

So, with that in mind, here are some stories designed to bring some sunshine, happiness, and general good feelings to your day:

* Happiness on The Barbaro Watch: Things continue to look hopeful on the recovery trail for the Kentucky Derby winner.

* Looks like that Hitler/Nazism-themed restaurant in Mumbai, India that was causing such a stir (hmmm…I wonder why?) is getting a new name and redesign. Seems the owner was just trying to gain attention for his eatery. I think he succeeded! (Hat tip: Betsy Newmark)

* Is making like a kitty cat at someone considered harrassment?

* I’m not sure a polar bear would consider this to be feeling-good news, but hey, I’m just the messenger trying to make you smile! (Hat tip: Jim Taranto)

* Remember Leslie Gore – “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To”? Now THERE was someone with a happy, sunny sound! Well, Syd Gottfried over at Dumb Angel does, and he provides us with this “then vs. now” commentary.

* And if you’re ever in need of a smile, here’s a link guaranteed to do the trick! Warning: cure rabbit pics!

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:10 | Comments (0)
August 24, 2006

Well, it’s Armageddon+1 and things look pretty much about the same here in the Valley of the Sun as they did a day or two ago. Nevertheless, it would be stupid – if not reckless – to take one’s eye off the ball and think the tensions with Iran have diminished one iota. For my mind, things in the Middle East seem way too quiet, considering it was only a little over a week ago the Israelis and Hezbollah were going at it tooth and nail. Given the current uneasy post-conflict situation that exists, it wouldn’t take much to heat things up again.

So, here’s some items to consider re: Iran, lest you get too comfy in that observer’s chair:

* Thomas Sowell’s column at Real Clear Politics ought to scare the bejeezus outta you, as it did me. Putting the current tensions in a historical context, this part of his column says it all:

Do we understand that the world will never be the same after hate-filled fanatics gain the ability to wipe whole American cities off the face of the earth? Do we still imagine that they can be bought off, as Israel was urged to buy them off with “land for peace” — a peace that has proved to be wholly illusory?

Even ruthless conquerors of the past, from Genghis Khan to Adolf Hitler, wanted some tangible gains for themselves or their nations — land, wealth, dominion. What Middle East fanatics want is the destruction and humiliation of the west.

Their treatment of hostages, some of whom have been humanitarians serving the people of the Middle East, shows that what the terrorists want is to inflict the maximum pain and psychic anguish on their victims before killing them.

Once these fanatics have nuclear weapons, those victims can include you, your children and your children’s children.

Yikes. As Dean Barnett at HughHewitt.com adds, “Read the whole thing, and share it with your friend with the two year old Kerry/Edwards bumper-sticker that stubbornly adheres to his Volvo. He’s the one who really needs to read it.”

* Mario Loyola, writing at NRO’s Corner blog, doesn’t believe we’ve reached the point of no return with Iran just yet, but we’re getting pretty close:

The pilot facilities where Iran continues to enrich Uranium are too small to produce a weapons-usable quantity of weapons-grade uranium within many years. On the other hand, once the commercial-scale enrichment cascade now under construction at the Natantz complex is completed, Iran might be able to start enriching enough uranium for several weapons a year in a matter of months. In sum, Iran has now committed another serious breach of the nonproliferation treaty, but we have not yet gotten to the point of no return….

* Conservative columnist Walter Williams for once writes something I can say I agree with: that is, wondering how different a previous war might have turned out if the West’s weak-kneed appeasers held as much sway over popular opinion as they appear to nowadays:

After the battle of Midway, and the long string of Japanese defeats in the Pacific, including Guam, Okinawa and the Philippines, had today’s Americans been around, they’d be willing to negotiate with Japan for peace, pointing to the additional loss of lives if we continued the war. More than likely they would have made the same argument in 1945, when German defeat was imminent. Of course, had there been a peace agreement with Japan and Germany, all it would have achieved would have been to give them time to recoup their losses and resume their aggression at a later time, possibly equipped with nuclear weapons.

Williams’ closing summary is dead-on: “Anyone who thinks current Western appeasement efforts will get Iran to end its nuclear weapons program and end its desire to eliminate Israel is dumber than dumb. Appeasement will strengthen Iran’s hand, and it looks as if the West, including the United States, is willing to be complicit in that strengthening.”

Make no mistake about it: whether it is weeks, months, or years – unless an internal civil uprising within Iran sends its wacko leadership into hiding or eclipse – there is a day of reckoning ahead for Iran and the West. How it starts and where it goes remains uncertain, but what is certain is that day will most surely come.

A final note: Let’s not forget that FOX News’ Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig remain held in captivity by a heretofore unknown Islamic group known as the Holy Jihad Brigades. The fact they’re being shown on Al-Jazeera, while welcome because it shows they’re both still alive, is NOT good news for their long-term health and well-being. Please keep them and their families in your prayers for their safe return. Michele is making sure their plight is not forgotten.

Filed in: Politics & World Events by The Great White Shank at 01:23 | Comment (1)
August 23, 2006

A confession right up front: I love the Church and the feeling that comes with going to church, even though my relationship with it has seen its fair share of turbulance and trouble over the years.

I’m not talking here about the Church as a single entity or congregation or parish. And I’m not talking Protestant or Catholic, either: Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Orthodox, or Roman Catholic, over the years I’ve attended and preached in enough parishes to more than get the gist of just about everything and anything each stands for in its own history, theology, and worship traditions.

So many times I’ve walked into a church – it doesn’t matter what denomination or whether I’m a member or not – and immediately felt God’s presence surround and envelop my senses. Sometimes its from something as simple as the architecture or light through stained glass; other times it’s a kind of “sixth sense” radiating through the building’s history (good and bad), traditions, or simply the way God feels present there. I’ve often thought about trying to put into exact words how and why this happens, but I guess that’s why the Church has its mystics like Julian of Norwich and St. John of the Cross to put into words the longing and completeness one’s soul can experience whenever present in the house and worship of the Lord.

But this doesn’t mean checking your brain at the door and seeing the Church through rose-colored glasses. Quite the contrary.

Thirteen years ago, God called me to be a priest in his Church, a calling that led me to journeys and places I could never have believed possible. Unfortunately, whether through some fault of my own or the Church’s own fallible internal workings, things didn’t work out too well and the calling was shelved. And I’ll admit it: the Church’s rejection is one I still feel keenly. Yet, over time, I’ve come to realize that in these kinds of things there’s no one to blame – you just have to learn to accept it and find a way to move on. One of my favorite contemporary writers, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, has written about this very thing – that people often seem to expect the fallible human beings and institutions in their lives to be, well, not human at all rather than accepting and coping with their imperfections.

This past Saturday, I had been listening to some classic, summertime Beach Boys music prior to attending Mass at St. Anne Catholic Church. After taking my place in a pew, I found myself contemplating the journey that had brought me there, and suddenly the very same words I had heard Brian Wilson sing to a lover in his song “Please Let Me Wonder” just minutes earlier found their own special relevance and poignancy within my own heart. For him, they communicated the longing and desire he felt in a physical sense to a lover; to me, it communicated everything I felt in my heart and soul to the Church:

Now here we are together
This would’ve been worth waiting forever
I always knew it’d feel this way
And please forgive my shaking
Can’t you tell my heart is breaking?
Can’t make myself say what I planned to say

Baby, please let me wonder
(If I’ve been the one you love)
Please let me wonder
(If I’m who you’re dreaming of)
Please let me wonder, love

I built all my goals around you
That some day my love would surround you
You’ll never know what we’ve been through
For so long I thought about it
And now I just can’t live without it
This beautiful image I have of you

Baby, please let me wonder
(If I’ve been the one you love)
Please let me wonder
(If I’m who you’re dreaming of)
Please let me wonder, love

Wilson’s lyrics express the tension that exists between the sensual and actual, and the dream of a “beautiful image” that may or may not exist in reality. Nevertheless, love is the mystery and the motivation, and it is the very mystery and motivation of God’s love and presence that I find at the core of my own longing and desire for intimacy with God through His Church. This is not to say that the Church is only means by which one can experience God’s presence, but it is the only place where God can be experienced both physically and symbolically through the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood.

To those who have suffered hurt, disenchantment, or disillusionment with the Church due to its many failings, I can only say that while it may be imperfect, the One it serves and seeks to emulate (no matter how much it might fall short in that regard) – is perfect, and revealed in the wonder and majesty of God’s boundless love for us all. Because we know ourselves, our failings, and our faults all to well, we might ask how such a love is possible, yet it is in that very question where the true wonder lies.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 02:26 | Comments (0)
August 22, 2006

No, it’s not some new exotic sandwich at the Elephant Bar, it’s the best damned golfer in the world showing the rest of the so-called “big four” (Phil, Ernie, Vijay and Retief) how to get it done. Watching the final round of the PGA on Sunday, you could almost see the rest of the field visibly shrink in size and drop whatever pretenses they might have had, for, if there were any doubts remaining following his British Open win last month, Tiger’s effortless excellence at Medina sent a resounding “I’M BACK!” shockwave you could feel through your wide-screen.

With two more majors in the bag this year, all of a sudden that Jack Nicklaus record of 18 major wins seems pretty reachable for Tiger, even if he were to go into some kind of slump down the road. Hell, he’s already 2/3 of the way there.

…And you know he’s going to win next year’s Masters, if only for the satisfaction of having Phil put the green jacket back on him like Tiger had to do this year – something you could tell he was NOT happy about. For Tiger, revenge will be sweet, indeed.

From all appearances, Tiger looks as if he’s taken his game to a new level – one that I believe puts him in a great position not only for another “Tiger Slam”, but also the hallowed “Grand Slam” next year. And, SI’s Gary Van Sickle seems to agree.

Bottom line: Whether you like Tiger or not, or are bored watching him win whatever tournaments he chooses to grace with his presence or not, you have to respect him and stand in awe of what he is and has been able to accomplish as a professional athlete. We’re watching true greatness at work here – something that many in professional sports aspire to (eh, Phil Mickelson?) but few achieve. While there are others that, I suppose, could approach him from a pure talent standpoint (although that too, is arguable), there is no one currently in the golfing world who can approach his intensity, drive, motivation, and work ethic. Tiger is all and only about excellence and greatness, and until age, injuries, or something unforeseen happens to slow him down in the coming years, everyone else will just have to settle for the leftovers.

Well done, Tiger.

Filed in: Golf & Sports by The Great White Shank at 11:58 | Comments (0)
August 21, 2006

I find myself today in a very, very big boat, the S.S. Red Sox Nation. The only good thing I can say about last night’s game is that sometimes it is a blessing to be three hours behind Beantown time – at least for me, the debacle ended early enough that I could have a boat drink and a mind-clearing swim before retiring to bed. I doubt many passengers on this ill-fated ship can say the same thing – most I’m certain are like Denton and woke up on the wrong side of bed this morning.

It’s on days like this one needs to take the advice of Seth Mnookin as he writes in his Feeding the Monster blog:

So take a day off. Take a week off. Don’t read the sports section. Don’t listen to ‘EEI — or any sports radio, regardless of where you live; it’ll only make you depressed, or mad, or both. Take a walk. Treat yourself to a nice lunch. Find something to be thankful for — the weather, or the lobster roll at Legal, or your family, or your dog. If you don’t live in New York, be thankful for that: there’s nothing like a couple of days of intense humidity to bring out the stench of rotting garbage. Look on the bright side: now you can schedule that October vacation. And remind yourself: it’s only a game.

As much as I hate to say it, you have to tip your hat to the Yankees – they went into this series knowing the Red Sox pitching staff was having trouble throwing strikes lately and stayed patient enough through the appetizers and main course to feast on Boston’s bullpen buffet for dessert. Sure, Johnny Damon, Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi have been especially hot, but the Sox’ pitching has been the worst I’ve seen in recent memory, as evidenced by the Boston-to-Pawtucket see-saw game foisted on Boston’s bullpen during what was supposed to be the most important series of the year.

Today the faithful call upon David Wells to try and avoid a sweep, but make no bones about it – this game is for pride only: taking the first four, the Yankees have already accomplished what they needed to do.

So here we are on August 21, and the season is, for all intents and purposes, over. Theo’s putting the brave face on, but even he has to realize his crappy trades and poor roster decisions have had as much to do with this disaster as Tim Wakefield’s, Matt Clement’s and Keith Foulke’s injuries. The truth is, has been, and will always be that you can’t expect to beat the Yankees at any time unless you’re prepared to bring and play your best. And for this series, the Red Sox did neither and their management has to take the blame for that.

Of course, Terry Francona’s managing this weekend has left A LOT to be desired as well – perhaps Joe Torre would be nice enough to toss him a life preserver?

Filed in: Golf & Sports by The Great White Shank at 09:53 | Comments (4)

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