I’ll Pick You Up After I Get Through Customs!

I have a good buddy of mine that suggested I write about how much technology has become a part of our lives. In the text he sent me he reminisced about how he remembered free television, with only three channels, but he is now still vibrant enough to embrace all of the amazing technological break throughs we have today.

I was wondering where this inspiration came from and then I realized he had just returned from a trip overseas to visit a friend. A very attractive friend. A friend he got to know through e-mail and video conferencing. I think his ardor for technology is being fueled by an ardor of another kind. And I think that is worth writing about!

Now this guy is a good catch. He is nice looking, ( look I’m and old dude I refuse to say he is attractive, although one of my other friends thought he was from behind. But that is another story), has  a good job, loves dogs, has no kids, and isn’t afraid to go into the kitchen. He also lives in a city that has stunning women. Yet he was in Europe to meet for the first time his new friend. I think technology has given a new meaning to forming relationships. You can now interact with the opposite sex from a distance until you think it is safe to close the gap. What used to require liquid courage now requires zero courage. Allow me to offer some examples of outdated dating technology.

Note Passing: The earliest text was a note. It usually said I like you or something akin to that. You could pass it directly to your objective or use an elaborate interconnecting chain of people and hope one of them didn’t open it. This took courage but generally if she ignored the note or wrote back and said adios you kept some dignity, unless a classmate intercepted that message and shouted out it’s contents. You also could leave the note in a hidden place only she could find. That saved you from using classmates but she could still blow your cover by telling all her friends.

The Referral: You could get a good friend to act as a go between. It usually went down where a girl told a boy another girl liked him or vice versa. Then someone had to awkwardly approach the other person and say something along the lines of ” Hey I heard you like me.” That usually had mixed results unless you were being set up, in which case dignity once again took a right to the chin.

The Letter: Usually someone scholarly thinks that a well written profession of love will wax eloquent with their heart’s desire and overcome any problems the writer  has with acne, baby fat, or astigmatism. This is generally only effective after you are dating a girl, not before.

The Phone Call: This was the most dreaded of all approaches. You had to be able to get through a parent possibly and then engage in sufficient small talk before you actually made your request to meet. You are really hanging out there and while you don’t have to watch her wrinkle her face up you can certainly sense the long pause or interpret the standard curt responses. On time when I was in college I asked a girl to a party over the phone and she wanted to meet me in the cafeteria to see what I looked like first. I’m happy to say I met with her approval but afterwards I got irritated with the whole “inspection process.” My friends that mastered the phone were guys I held in very high regard. I really was impressed if they were confident when a girl’s dad answered the phone. At first I thought it was odd that a dad would be the difficult parent. I mean after all we are both males. He knows how it is to date. He knows what’s on our mind. It was at that point I answered my own question.

Today, thanks to technology, everything is easier and less stressful. Texting is easier than passing a note, although a text can get forwarded. E-Mailing is easier than writing a letter, although that e-mail can get forwarded. Video Conferencing is easier than making a phone call, although now you can actually see her facial expressions. Hmm maybe it’s still hard. Maybe meeting a girl locally was too tame for my buddy and he just needed to see what the world had to offer, even if he had to clear customs before he could take her to dinner. Upon reflection I bet he did just fine when a girl’s dad answered the phone!



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I have played golf off and on for a lot of years. I mostly play with friends or charity events and have never played a round in my entire life where I always hit my own ball. I don’t know if I have ever had fun “playing” golf but I have had fun on the golf course.  This past weekend I attended a family reunion and played golf three days in a row. On the plane ride home I began contemplating the whole golf phenomenon and have drawn some conclusions I will share with you now.

 Whoever invented this game was a sadist!

You take some strange looking clubs and try to hit a small ball accurately off of the ground with the intent of eventually landing it in a small hole. You have to hit this ball over terrain that is dotted with bushes, tall grass, sand, and sometimes water and you have to deal with weather conditions like wind and heat. If you do this well enough you can be finished in under four hours which can take up most of your Saturday or Sunday. If you are lucky that will keep you from doing horrible things like chores around the house or spending time with your family. If your wife loves the fact that you are always on the golf course she either doesn’t like you our she has found a “hobby” of her own. If your kids ask  your wife who is that strange guy in the living room maybe you have a bigger problem, especially if that guy isn’t you.

 Golf has too many rules!

When you can use a tee, when you can move the ball, what is inbounds, when to take a drop, what constitutes legal equipment? The person who came up with these rules had to be the most anal retentive person on the planet.

 Golfers complain!

I play sports for recreation and happiness but golfers are masochists. They get mad at themselves, mad at other golfers, throw clubs, and moan and groan. My Uncle accused a tree of moving. He also got mad at his golf ball and “punished it” by putting it back in the bag. Yeah these people are normal.

 Golfers have short memories!

A golfer can spray shots all over the course for 17 holes but if by some twist of fate, karma, or black magic he manages to par or birdie a hole suddenly it was a great day.

 You can play a lot and still suck and another guy can play once every three years and beat the daylights out of you!

My cousin Dave played with us the last day. His bag had dust on it and was faded. He didn’t even hit bucket of balls. He then went out and cranked long drives and chipped and putted like he played every day. Did I mention I hate him now?

 If people make a big deal out of your putting that is a polite way of saying you stink!

If you can’t put a ball in the fairway to save your life other golfers will automatically start trying to build you up as a putter. If you happen to pull one out your butt and actually make a putt that is your story for the day. Golfers are very polite. After all it is a gentlemen’s game.

 Golfers mess with your head!

Oh it is polite and subtle but they will screw with you. ” Gee you seem to be lipping that cup a lot on your putts.” ” You will get that slice straightened out, but why are you twisting your hips like that?” It always sounds like helpful advice but make no mistake he knows the more you think the more you will screw up.

 Golfers are obsessed with their clubs!

They always have a new driver, or a new putter, or some new fancy wedge that will definitely improve their game. I just decided to buy the biggest and longest clubs I could find. That way I can always say “Mine’s bigger!”

 Golfer’s exaggerate!

This domain does not belong just to fishermen. If the drive was 250 yards within an hour it will have gained 50 additional yards. If the putt was 10 feet within that same time frame it will be up to 30 feet. Exaggeration is an important part of the game. It also helps hone your skills if you have to concoct some story for your wife later that day.

 Cart girls are overrated!

Yeah she’s young and cute and pretends that you are interesting but in 95 degree heat I would like to see her more than just twice! I buy my stuff now before I tee off. I can always talk to her a couple of hours later when my playing partner is on the verge of dehydration and she only has blue Gatorade left.

 Everybody pees on the golf course!

First off there aren’t enough bathrooms, especially if you are drinking beer. Secondly only an idiot would go in a port o let in the summer. You know your partner will just back his cart up against the door and make you beg for your life to get out!

Despite all of the above occasionally playing golf with friends and family can be an awful lot of fun. But then again I could be exaggerating!


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Let Me Tell You About A Real Super Hero!

Unless you are under a rock you can’t help but notice the emergence of super heroes in our entertainment culture. They are found in comic books, graphic novels, television shows, and in particular movies. This summer alone the Avengers, Batman, and Spider-Man will be on the silver screen and also in 3-D!

If you are like me perhaps you dreamed of growing up to be a crime fighter vigilante or at least maybe meet one in real life. But then reality sets in and you think that super powers such as flying, x-ray vision, and super speed are just fantasy. But I know a real super hero with a genuine super power. His name is Gary Prechter. He lives in New Orleans and his super power is that he makes everyone around him feel good.

No matter what mood you are in once you are around Gary you feel better. It could be something he did or said. It could be a story about him, (of which there are many), or just the way he treats you, but after you have been around him you are a happy and joyful person.

Now Gary doesn’t look or act like a super hero. He wears glasses, all his clothes look wrinkled, and he has a physique that is more Play Doh than concrete. In fact he kind of waddles when he walks. But he he is the only person I know that got hit by a car while jogging, emerged unharmed, and had the driver get mad at him. He starred as a mad scientist on a home made movie his coed-volleyball team made, which was amazing! Amazing in that I couldn’t fathom what was more improbable, him being in a home made movie or playing beach volleyball at age 56??

At his high school, which was military in it’s format, Gary as a senior was Captain of the kindergarten. They would march on campus chanting merrily  “Our pants are loose our belts are tight our %$#@ are swinging from left to right. Sound off!!” Only Gary could pull that off!

Gary actually received a FRATERNALISM award from ANOTHER fraternity while he was in college! Any fraternity pledge who had to make his bed had to scoop up the wads of kleenex he went through to survive his allergies. When he walked into the cafeteria the guys would break out in song “It’s Gary Prechter Time”  because once he arrived laughter was sure to follow. Women adored him because he listened. Women still adore him because he listens.

His relationship with his grown children validates his super hero status because they still want to do things with him. They actually enjoy the company of their father. He has the ability to love, accept, and support them without judging. He never has. He never will.

His best friend is his wife. She has watched the comedy hour that never ends for over thirty years. The sagging pants and protruding undies are funny when it’s Gary! But his devotion and loyalty are also heroic. Gary keeps bringing home the bacon, ( and eating some of it), even if he does hit his head once in awhile on his desk when he falls asleep. I wouldn’t call Mary a sidekick, but she has shared Gary with all of us, and we are the better for it.

I have two autistic sons and my youngest one doesn’t like anybody except his mother. That is until my wife and I took him to meet the Prechter’s. Andrew immediately started helping himself to food and roaming their house. He eventually came down the stairs with one of Gary’s bathing suits on. Now my son probably weighed sixty pounds then so the yellow striped outfit that was large enough for Gary was quite a sight to behold. Even my youngest fell under the spell of Super Gary. It proved to me that no one is immune.

Gary and Mary’s home is open to all. You walk in and your spirits lift. The parade of people that have crossed the threshold on Thrasher St. all have one thing in common. Once inside they laughed and smiled.

We get bad news all day long. A poor economy, high crime, new diseases. In a world full of anti-depressant medication one man can wipe the slate clean with a wave of his hand, but more likely with a slip of the tongue or just a plain old slip and fall! The fact is that it is hard to be humble, loving, and caring. We all do it some of the time, but a select few do it all the time. It is easy to laugh at others but very few of us can laugh at ourselves. No Super Gary can’t leap tall buildings. He is not stronger than a locomotive, and he is not faster than a speeding bullet. But in reality we don’t need someone to be any of those things. But we could all try to be like Super Gary!


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The Quest for Old Style!

I like to drink a beer now and again. My dad grew up in Wisconsin, where drinking beer is a big part of the social dynamic. Many of my uncle’s had beer on tap in their basements and my father had a draft beer box at our home outside of New Orleans.

Wisconsin was home to more breweries than some states combined. New Orleans at one time had at least four, Regal, Jax, Falstaff, and Dixie. My dad got his kegs from the Jax Brewery in the French Quarter but when he bought beer from a store it was almost always Dixie.

I didn’t acquire a taste for beer until I went to college. Back then the legal age to drink was 18 and as is typical for college men we drank what we could afford. But when I went home I always drank Dixie. It was my home town beer and it was what my dad drank. By this time the old Jax Brewery was now a shopping mall, and Falstaff and Regal were out of business as well. I even smuggled a foot locker full of Dixie back to my college dorm room. Our campus was alcohol free but I managed to keep a low profile and enjoy my local treasure without any ado.

As I grew older I became interested in craft beers. Abita Brewing had burst on the local scene and I even banked them for awhile. I learned about how beer was made and also the business side of distribution. I went onto bank two more breweries and joined the beer of the month club so I could sample beers brewed in micro breweries from around the country.

In the mid 1980’s I stopped off in Chicago to see an old fraternity brother while on my way to visit relatives in Wisconsin. We had tickets for a Cubs game. A very close friend and fraternity brother, Jay Greenleaf, told me to drink an Old Style at Wrigley Field and toast him. Of course I agreed to do this and once my buddy and I were seated in the park my first order of business was to order an Old Style.

Old Style came into existence in 1902. It was brewed by the G. Heileman Brewing Company headquartered in LaCrosse Wisconsin. The brewery is now located in Milwaukee and the company itself is now part of the Pabst Brewing Company, which makes Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. The company boasts that the brewing process employs the use of krausening, which the Germans invented. Simply put they introduce wort to the fermented beer to carbonate it. Old Style has been served at Wrigley Field since 1950. Old Style enjoys a strong following in the Chicago community and when it was learned the agreement between Old Style and the Cubs was going to be terminated after the 2011 season the outcry was unprecedented. As a result both parties reached an agreement that will keep Old Style at the iconic park through the 2013 season.

I didn’t place much significance on what I was doing that summer day in 1985. I was just humoring a friend and having a cold one at a historic ball park, but every time I went back to Wrigley over the years I made it a point to have an Old Style and toast my friend.

Last July I went back to Chicago. I was going to meet relatives and also help a close friend move his daughter into her new apartment as she was going to start medical school in the Windy City. My tastes in beer had also changed. I went from drinking dark stouts and ales to lighter lagers, pilseners, and blond ales. I was returning to my roots. And one of my missions on this trip was to bring back some Old Style to Louisiana. My close friend Jay had passed away suddenly a month prior. I was still missing him. The quest for Old Style was not only to keep a tradition alive it was also a tie to my fraternity brother.

I drank Old Style at Wrigley and at every bar I frequented while in Chicago. But as we left town I learned that my traveling companion had not been able to find any Old Style when he was out shopping with his daughter. I now had a problem, and it was going to require a new level of resourcefulness on my part.

Old Style has a limited distribution range. It can be found in parts of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan, and North Dakota. Once we got out of the Chicago Land area I was basically done like dinner.

I knew the brewery couldn’t sell to me direct, as all beer has to be sold through distributors. I knew that distributors sold directly to stores, and that shipping beer across state lines was illegal. If you tried to fly back with some stored in your carry on luggage the high altitude would freeze the beer and it would probably explode inside your suitcase.

I had a cousin in Wisconsin who was head of safety and soundness for a stone company. They had a plant in Marshall, Texas thirty miles from my home in Shreveport. He said he could carry some on the company plane in the pressurized seating area. The only problem was he never came to Marshall once. I had another cousin who owned a trucking company. I asked him if some Old Style could be carried down that way. He informed me that no alcohol was allowed on those big rigs and that the penalties for being caught were severe. I approached a local liquor store that specialized in selling hard to get beers but they too were unable to get any sent down.

In the mean time I liked The Old Style page on Facebook and another local friend bought me three 1980’s vintage Old Style beer mugs. He also bought an Old Style clock for the club house we use to play poker in once a month. All of this made me more determined to fulfill my mission, even if I had to get in my car and drive 12 hours north to get it.

A week ago I thought of one more opportunity. The friend I had driven to Chicago with almost a year ago had another daughter in college in the midwest. I sent him a text and asked if she was driving home for the summer, and if so do you think she would pick up some Old Style for me. A few days later I had my answer. She had agreed to get it and would be home sometime the upcoming weekend.

She arrived home late Sunday night and early Monday morning I had my beer. I learned that she had to call all over town to find a place that carried it and upon going to the store she was serenaded with chants of Cubs, Cubs, Cubs! I owe that young lady a big favor.

I now have a drink refrigerator full of Old Style, Dixie, and NOLA Blond Ale, a beer out of New Orleans that I discovered a few years ago. I also have some Leinenkugel, a beer my late Uncle Karl enjoyed. As I sit on my back deck I can enjoy beer that not only satisfies but takes me on a journey. To evenings and picnics with my Dad, sitting in my Uncle Karl’s garage playing cribbage or going to local pubs with him, or toasting my friend on a sun drenched afternoon in the stands of a glorious baseball field that is unlike any other in this country. The Dixie and Leinie’s I can get anytime, as it is sold locally. But it took a 21 year old co-ed in pre-med to get my Old Style. It was worth the wait.



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I Can’t Explain It But I Will Try!

Your employer comes to you and wants you to relocate. The city they want you to move to has a high crime rate with many of those crimes being murders. The public school system is perceived by many to be one of the most deplorable in the nation. The climate is rough with brutal summers with very high temperatures combined with excessive humidity. Many streets are in need of repair and are dotted with large potholes. Housing is not cheap, with the so called good neighborhoods commanding top dollar. The city was also devastated by a terrible storm which exposed a suspect law enforcement and political system and almost seven years later is still rebuilding in some areas. What do you do?

I imagine most would decline such an opportunity and who could blame them? But if that same opportunity were offered to me and my circumstances were different I would do it in a heartbeat. The place I am writing about is my home town, New Orleans. And I understand what New Orleans is.

Now I don’t want my statement to be perceived as a slight against my adopted hometown of Shreveport. My wife and I love living here. We have a lovely old home in a beautiful and tranquil neighborhood. We completely appreciate how we were taken in and made to feel welcome when we decided to make the move. Coming to Shreveport allowed us to be closer to our two profoundly autistic sons who live in a care facility nearby and the people who live here, many of whom are long time friends, are warm and caring. But on a recent trip back to New Orleans to attend a wedding and my high school reunion I was overcome with emotion. I miss my home town and what living there meant to me.

You see all those flaws are what make New Orleans the most human of cities. It’s streets are worn from  shouldering the weight of countless cars and bikes. It’s houses are old and strain to offer glimpses of their former youth and vigor. We made a lot of our own stuff and took pride in that. You drank Brown’s Velvet milk, Barq’s and Rex root beer, and ate hamburgers at the Frostop and Bud’s Broiler. We banked at The Whitney,(yes I capitalized The), and shopped at K&B Drugstore. Many of those places have closed or been swallowed up by larger corporate entities. But that life force is still there.

We did business with people we knew. New Orleans was a city forged and driven by relationships. You were introduced to your banker and he assisted you based on the faith he had in the person who brought you to meet him. Your barber knew all the kids in the neighborhood. Your bar tender knew your favorite cocktail. In fact every person you traded with probably knew all your family members and you probably knew theirs.We weren’t obsessed with economic indicators and perhaps not even shareholder return. We were about living a rich and full life. We cheered our sports teams, went to festivals, and grew our families by giving them a heritage unlike any other in the country. We ate red beans and rice on Mondays and boiled crabs on the weekends. We had King Cake parties and watched television shows that we created, like Morgus the Magnificent.

We rode the street car. It was not air conditioned, did not go very fast, and was not the most comfortable means of transportation. But that was it’s beauty. You felt the sun on your face and had to slow down and notice all of the homes and businesses you passed. It made you reflect and observe. My oldest son can only say a handful of words. One of those is street car.

The river runs through New Orleans and it brought the world to us. Now even though the river front is dotted with hotels, museums, and shopping, it still is the blood that pumps the heart of the city. I can remember having my bedroom window open as a boy and hearing the various horn blasts and ship noises that emitted from the river six blocks away and the comfort it offered me as I drifted off to sleep.

We don’t subscribe to the sterile and sleek vision of what living is supposed to be. We accept the so called flaws of our city as you would those of any family member. New Orleanians who meet instantly start the connection process. Where did you go to school? Where do you live? We need to bond like no where else I have ever visited or lived.

I have heard that it costs money to do business in New Orleans and I can neither condone nor condemn that statement. I just understand. My mother would bring food to the policemen at the station in our neighborhood. She wasn’t looking for favors, she felt compassion for those who had to work on holidays. But when she called the police two squad cars would come and all four policemen knew Joyce. It’s not patronage as much as it is relationships.

We don’t wear our faith on our sleeve but we are faithful. No one asks you what church you belong to. Because of the heavy Catholic population many of us went to Mass at more than one church. My wife and I attended Mass at St. Stephen’s and Our Lady of Good Counsel and I was confirmed at St. Henry’s. While in high school I met my friends for Mass at Holy Name of Jesus. We say the rosary and give up things for Lent, especially after having had so much fun at Mardi Gras. And we have St. Joseph Altars, where devoted people open their homes to all who want partake of their faith and love of God and community.

In other cities when they celebrate people sometimes get hurt and property gets destroyed. In New Orleans we know how to throw a party and how to act at one as well. We had a million people on the street when the Saints won the Super Bowl and nothing got burned or damaged.

The Worlds Fair in 1984 was considered to be an economic disaster. But to me it exemplifies our spirit. We decided to throw a party for the world and we did a great job. Did we make money? No. But we weren’t afraid to step out on the big stage, and in the end it created what is now known as the Warehouse District, a vibrant mix of residences and businesses. We are known for Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest but we also built the most significant arena in the world, the Superdome. It has hosted Super Bowls, Final Fours, prize fights, concerts, political conventions, and Mardi Gras Balls.

People come to New Orleans to have a good time. Tourism is now an economic necessity and we do all in our power to attract visitors. They eat world class food, listen to authentic music, and walk among our cemeteries and neighborhoods. They say it’s a great place to visit but they wouldn’t want to live there. I feel sad when I hear that, not because it angers me, but because despite our world wide welcome mat I know they don’t get it and I can’t explain it.

When my wife and I got married we were going to live and work in New Orleans. We were going to raise our family there and teach our children to be careful but also confident. We wanted our children, by the time they came of age, to have been exposed to all the cultural significance of the city but also to have been raised in it’s image. To be warm and friendly individuals comfortable in  their skin. Strengthened in the knowledge that they were living in a place like no other. A city that was in symbiosis with its residents. Life got in the way of that dream, but make no mistake my two boys are sons of New Orleans. They were born at Southern Baptist Hospital and loved to go to Audubon Park, the French Quarter, and the riverfront. They slept soundly in their car seats no matter how many pot holes we hit, and equally well in their strollers even if the heat was oppressive on that day. Despite their mental challenges they understood inherently what others could not.

New Orleans is often criticized as much as it is acclaimed. For those who offer opinion from a distance all I can say is you are welcome to speak your peace but just know that you probably don’t get us and probably never will. The city, like its residents, can take a punch and get back up off the floor. It can get back up because it’s sons and daughters will raise it up, again, and again, and again.

I get to go back to New Orleans in three weeks for business reasons and will have to endure the awkwardness of sleeping in a hotel room in my home town, instead of my own bed in my own room. But any room will do if it allows me to walk among the people that I share a common heritage with, even if just for a few days.

If you don’t get it please know I understand why. I just wish I could explain it better.





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This Post is Trivial!

Last night my wife I and participated in a trivia night that was a fund raiser for the local Catholic high school I coach at. Like most fundraisers they had food, door prizes, and some adult beverages. Being new to this we weren’t sure what to expect but we were at a table with people we knew so they showed us the ropes.

There were several categories. There were questions on movie quotes, reality television shows, Louisiana history, and some general information. There were eight rounds and each round had six questions.

Our table got off to a fairly good start, getting three out of the first six right.We knew that Eddie Murphy was originally supposed to host the Oscars this year and that David Niven was on stage when a streaker ran behind him. I thought the first ever Oscar winning film was Birth of Nations, but it turned out to be a movie called Wings, and none of us could name all of the best picture nominees or the best foreign film winner last year.

I was a little concerned because I didn’t seem to know the answers to any of the questions. Even when I was sure I was right I was wrong. I suggested we change the location of the first ever MTV Real World episode to Los Angeles from New York. It turned out New York was right. I also thought that the Professional Bowlers Hall of Fame was in Akron, Ohio. It is actually in Arlington, Texas. The main character in the book Catch 22 was on the tip of my tongue but I just couldn’t get his name to come out.

I had another beer and then the answers started to come. The villain in Othello was Iago. The family in The Grapes of Wrath were the Joads. The two teams that played in the 1967 Ice Bowl were Green Bay and Dallas. I got movie quotes and characters right from The Natural, Godfather II, Animal House, and Cool Hand Luke. Metta World Peace was actually Ron Artest. I even knew the name of the last child of Kris Jenner. After everyone else had listed Kourtney, Kim, Khloe, Rob,and Kendall I came up with Kylie. And I also knew that Newt Gingrich’s second wife was Marianne, that the archeological site in Northwest Louisiana was Poverty Point and that people in Lousiana of mixed heritage descended from latin countries were known as Creoles.

At this point the men at my table were looking at me. One blurted out ” How do you know this stuff?” Another looked at me and said “What do you do for a living?” It was then that I realized that I probably had emasculated myself by knowing these trivial answers to these trivial questions. My man card was about to be revoked and I knew why. No real man should know too much about the Kardashian family.  I knew I was in trouble when the question of what was Lady Gaga’s real name came up and everyone at the table looked at me. Even if I had known it was Stefani Germanotta, (which I didn’t), I’m not sure I would have said it.

Despite our late surge we finished around the middle of the group. The table behind us,  a serious group armed with written notes, took first place and  the $1,000 prize. When they were announced the phrase used by the emcee was “We hate to see this because they win every year.” Ouch.

I thought about trying to salvage my manhood but I felt anything I might say would just sound..trivial. Next year I’m whispering the answers to my wife.







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The Original M.C.

Forty one years ago today my father,Merrill Charles Wautlet, died at the age of forty-five. We were living in Ratingen, Germany just outside of Dusseldorf. My dad was working for Kaiser Aluminum and we had only been in Germany four months when he passed away. At age eleven my world was changed forever.

My dad was born and raised in Appleton, Wisconsin. Appleton is in the Fox Valley just thirty miles south of Green Bay. A mill town, paper giant Kimberly Clark is headquartered there. My dad was one of nine surviving children born to Rose and Fabian Wautlet. My dad’s oldest brother, Donald, died from a broken neck he suffered when he fell from a tree. That made my father the oldest boy in the family.

My father was fun loving and adventurous. He possessed a keen intellect but despised school, apparently because it was not challenging for him. At age seventeen he left Wisconsin forever and joined the Merchant Marines. During World War II he was on ships that were sunk twice, once in the North Sea and the second time in the Caribbean. After the second sinking he was on a life raft for several days, was the ranking officer and had to stop men from drinking seawater, and suffered severe burns on his back from exposure to the sun.

After the war he moved to New Orleans and became a merchant seaman. He traveled the world and saw exotic ports. He met my mother in a most peculiar fashion. He fell down a flight of stairs and crashed into a metal sewing machine, destroying it. She came to his aid and supposedly he looked up and said something akin to ” I must be dead because you have the face of an angel.” Only Dad could say something that corny and get away with it. They got married in July of 1950 and my mother persuaded him to get another job, so he went to work for Kaiser.

Smoking and exposure to the toxic air of the pot rooms in an aluminum plant gave my father emphysema. I saw pictures of a strapping 6’0″ 210 pound man but the father I had was thin and gaunt, weighing around 150 pounds. When he had attacks his face would turn beet red and veins would swell in his neck and forehead as he gasped for air.

Despite the daily ordeal of dealing with his illness my father was always a man of good cheer. He loved to joke and tell stories and people loved to be around him. My mother’s family adored him and whenever a problem arose Whitey, (his nickname), generally got a call or visit so he could offer his perspective. His years at sea gave him a world view and the long months on the ship allowed for him to read volumes of books. There was no subject that he couldn’t speak to, whether it was art, music, politics, even religion. But he always expressed himself in a non-threatening way. He had unsurpassed patience, a priceless quality  needed to live with my mother.

Being from Wisconsin my dad enjoyed beer and his prize possession was a draft beer box. I was often called upon to go pour him a cold one after he had a hard day. Sometimes he would be exhausted but he would still pull himself out of his chair to go throw the football with me or play catch with a baseball if I prodded him long enough.

Kaiser also sent dad to far away places.  We never accompanied him, in part due to my mother. I was born in Ohio, as my dad had been transferred to rural West Virginia, and the nearest hospital was across the Ohio River. After leaving New Orleans once my mother was determined not to do it again. My parents had been married almost ten years when I was born so fatherhood was not on my dad’s radar. He still had the spirit of a nomad. After West Virginia he spent eighteen months in India so I never really knew him until I turned three.

The reality is I spent about eight years with my father. I was proud that I was able to help convince my mother that we should go to Germany. She was worried that he might die over there and he was worried that he might die never having seen another part of the world.  Sadly she was right. Happily my dad was able to take on one more challenge.

He got sick while on special assignment to Wales and was bedridden upon his return back to Germany. Worried that he might be sent home he dragged himself to his carpool on December 30th. His co-workers begged him to go home but he would  not listen. He died later that evening.

As the years passed I thought of my father often and tried to piece together the fabric of his life. I wondered what kind of conversations we might have had as I grew older. I had so many questions I wanted to ask him and missed him even more when I had my own trials, as I knew he would have had the wisdom and patience to guide me. But most of all I wondered if he would have been proud of me.

When I was a senior in high school I was was a starter on our basketball team. A very good basketball team. My junior year we had finished second in state. My senior year I wanted us to do better. I also wanted to honor my father’s memory. Earlier that summer I had visited relatives in Wisconsin. I walked the streets he had walked as kid. I saw where he grew up and went to school. It was there that I figured out how to keep him with me.

The New Orleans Jazz was our local NBA team. One of my favorite players was E.C. Coleman. He was known as a defensive stalwart and my high school team stressed defense. Another favorite player was M.L. Carr of the Boston Celtics. He was known for coming off the bench and bringing intensity and passion to his team.

I remembered that my dad’s checking account was in the name of M.C. Wautlet. I also had a commemorative plaque he had received from his time in India getting the new Kaiser plant up and running. It too was made out to M.C. Wautlet. Finally there was a Kaiser handbook on pot room operations that I had. In the back was a listing of all the contributors. One of them was M.C. Wautlet.

My senior year before every game when they announced the starting line ups I went out as M.C. Wautlet. It was a special year because I felt like I carried him with me as we journeyed to our school’s first state title.

After that I said if I ever had a son I would name him Merrill III but call him M.C. When my wife and I found out we were going to be parents for the first time we both wondered what we would have. I was hoping for a boy but it was too soon to tell. All that would change in a few short weeks.

Not long after we found out my wife Jen was pregnant I had a vivid dream. I was chasing a little blond haired boy around a white , almost cloudy room. I called him by name. I called him M.C. I then saw a man sitting in a recliner. It was my Dad! I spoke to my father and complained about my son not minding me. Then I said that I knew I had been difficult and that he had given up his freedom once I was born. He looked at me. He said that I had a fine son,  that he cherished every moment he got to spend with me, and that he wouldn’t have traded that time we had together for anything in the world.  I woke up, startled by the reality of the dream. I told my wife about it and an ultrasound later confirmed what I already knew.

My conversations with my own sons are one sided, as they are both profoundly autistic, in much the same way my conversations with my father were one sided because he left me so early in my life.  Perhaps that was  why my son was running from me and not listening to me in my dream. But I feel my boy’s love in unspoken ways, much the same way I felt my own father’s love when I needed it most. The way I am feeling it now as I type these words.

My M.C. was born in 1990, the same year M.C. Hammer was topping the music charts. Many of our friends thought we had named our son for the rapper. The truth was we named our son for the original M.C. My Dad.





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The Origin of the Word Geaux

In 1977 my high school, Metairie Park Country Day, played their way into the Louisiana State High School Basketball Championships, known informally then as the Top 20. At that time there were actually twenty four teams competing in Classes AAAA, AAA, AA, B and C. All the semi-final and championship games were played in the same venue. The year before in Alexandria we came in second in our class. In 1977 the games were moved to Lake Charles.

It was a star studded tournament. Class 4A DeRidder had Mike Sanders. The 6’6″ Sanders was a UCLA signee and later played for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Class 3A Redemptorist of Baton Rouge had a 6’4″ sophomore phenom named Howard Carter. Carter would go onto play for LSU and the Denver Nuggets. Class 2A Newman was led by Sean Tuohy. A year later Tuohy signed with Ole Miss, led the SEC in assists for three years, and became the adoptive father of Michael Oher, inspiring the book and movie known as The Blind Side.

We were in Class 1A and were led by our 6’8″ All State center John Derenbecker. John was not only a great basketball player he was also a superb student. He had already been accepted into Yale, the University of Virginia, and Tulane. He was polite and well mannered. But he had a rapier wit and was extremely clever. He also took great interest in another participant in the tournament, a small Class C school called Meaux.

Meaux is in Vermillion Parish, just northwest of Abbeville not far from Lafayette, in the southwest area in the state. It was originally called Herrington’s Island and then later Millington. In 1919 it was renamed Meaux when Muriel Daisy Meaux and his wife Odelia Broussard donated one and a half acres for a new school. John sensed that Meaux, pronounced Moe, was an underdog. He also was intrigued and tickled at the pronunciation of the town’s name. So he decided to create a special tribute.

When Meaux took the floor for their game there were a smattering of fans that had made the drive over to Lake Charles. Suddenly there was a cheer and a sign. A big cardboard sign that said GEAUX MEAUX! The sign bearer was John, all 6’8″ of him. We cheered hard for Meaux, and the sign was waved proudly, but Meaux eventually went down to defeat. The sign soon found it’s way to the nearest waste basket. Of course as seventeen and eighteen year olds we had no idea what it meant to legally secure naming rights. We were just having fun cheering for a little school with a quirky name.

Years later I began to see the Cajun phenomenon take wing and with it the word Geaux. I could remember that things perceived as Cajun were not always well received. Today Cajun cuisine, it’s language, and culture is embraced nationally and internationally.

Now at LSU games Geaux Tigers is ubiquitous. You see the phrase on signs, shirts, cups, and billboards. But every time I see that word I think of a little school named Meaux, trying to win a state championship, and the 6’8″ cheerleader who made a sign for them. Way to Geaux John!!




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Bank Tales!!

I began my banking career in 1983 after a two year stint as a teacher and a coach. While I had a college degree I still started at the bottom, first as a batch clerk, then a statement clerk, and finally as a paying and receiving teller. I spent about five years on the front lines learning the business from the ground up. I was in New Orleans, a city not lacking in colorful people, and our bank lobbies were generally bee hives of activity. Over time I saw some interesting things from our employees and customer base alike. The following are some of the more memorable moments. Names have been eliminated, altered, or partially used to protect the innocent.

When I first went to work for the bank our operations officer was wearing a toupee. After about two weeks he decided to go back to his natural look. A part time teller noticed and the following exchange took place.

Part time teller :”Mr. Fred what happened to your hair?”

Mr. Fred: ” I was driving down the interstate with the window down and my hair blew off. I stopped my car to get out and pick it up and I was run over by a bus.” ( He was being sarcastic)

Part time teller: “Are you Ok?”

We had a teller who worked the drive up who was deaf in one ear. Because of that she tended to speak in a loud voice. The following exchange occurred when a customer tried to cash a large check. He wanted to deposit the bulk of it and get a modest amount back. This was not uncommon back then as many customers believed the money they deposited into their account posted faster if it was listed as cash.

Teller: ” Sir I need you to come inside and get this check approved. It is over my limit.”

Customer: “I’m depositing all but a couple of hundred dollars. I don’t understand what the problem is?”

Teller: “It is over my limit. I can’t cash this check without an officer’s intials.”

Customer: ” I already told you I’m only getting $200.00 back. I have been a customer for a long time and I’m in a hurry. Why can’t you do this?”


That statement reverberated not only through the bank lobby but all over the drive up as well. The customer came inside but he was not happy.

I was working at our branch in the French Quarter when a tall woman came in to cash a check. As was protocol I asked for identification. She produced a drivers license with a photo of a man. I looked at the license and I looked at her. She said “Is there a problem?” with a very deep voice. ” Uh no sir, I mean no maam, uh I mean no problem.”

Once I became a full time teller I developed  a following. Many tellers had regular customers but my soon to be wife Jennifer thought that was odd. She worked in the Jax Brewery Shopping Mall at a flower cart while going to court reporter school. Other vendors had carts and they would all talk. When the other women found out she was getting married they asked about me. This conversation took place around Christmas.

Jennifer:” My fiance is in the management training program at his bank but he currently works as a teller there. What’s strange is that he has regular customers. They wait in line for him even if other tellers are open. And they give him Christmas presents. He keeps bringing home whisky, wine, banana bread. That is so weird.”

Lady One: ” I have a regular teller. What does your fiance look like and where does he work?”

Jennifer: ” He works at the Whitney Bank on St. Charles Avenue. He has blond hair and is 6’2″.”

Lady One: ” Oh you are engaged to Merrill. He is my teller.”

Lady Two: ” I go to Merrill too!”

Lady Three: “Me too!”

We had a really nice guy at the bank who was always getting practical jokes played on him. One in particular was very painful as it made a his promotion bittersweet. The following was told to me by a co-worker.

Whenever you got promoted the bank arranged for you to go to a local photographer and have your picture taken so a press release could be prepared. Twice Eddie (not his real name) received prank phone calls telling him to be at the photographer at certain time and both times Eddie showed up only to be stared at blanky by the photographer’s receptionist. When the call came again Eddie was ready.

Phone caller: “Eddie this is John Tipery Studios. Congratulations on your recent promotion. We are calling to set up an appointment to have your picture taken for the press release.”

Eddie: “Is this John?”

Phone caller: ” Yes it is.”

Eddie:” %$#@ you John!!!!” Shortly later Eddie received a phone call from Human Resources asking why he swore at, and hung up on, the photographer.

We had a junior operations officer at the bank branch who was very fastidious. She also lacked  finesse. One time a local television news anchor came in and used the phone at her desk while he waited for her to return. She came back just as he was hanging up. Before she sat down she reached into her drawer, pulled out a can of Lysol, and sprayed the phone receiver with it right in front of the customer.

I was working next to a teller named Robert. He was waiting on a lady with two of her friends. They were hispanic and apparently felt Robert was not doing his job as quickly as they would have liked. They began to converse in their native tongue with each other, apprently expressing their displeasure, giggling the whole time. After the transaction was completed Robert thanked the client for her patience….in spanish! Mortified that he had understood everything the three ladies fled from the bank. You see Robert’s birth name was Roberto.

Banking has changed a lot with the onset of new and better technology. Many transactions can be done online or from your smart phone. As a result lobby traffic has decreased and  my guess is that today’s bank staffs have fewer good stories to tell.






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If I Am Your Coach…..

Before I became a banker I was a basketball coach. I was 19 years old and I coached an 8th grade team at Southfield School in Shreveport, Louisiana. We went 12-0 in league play and 18-3 overall. For the next five years that was my profession. Now a banker I have still coached off and on over the years. I have coached boys and girls, small children in recreational leagues, junior high and high school kids, even young adults in older rec leagues. In that time I have discovered some principles that I believe you have to maintain to be a successful program. Not a winning program necessarily, but a successful one.

Athletics is another component in a young person’s development. It allows them to experience victory and defeat, while learning how to handle both in a mature manner. It promotes cooperative behaviors and unselfishness, and if it is a really good program, compassion. Compassion for your teammates and your opponents alike. It also teaches you the value of hard work and what that can achieve.

I have seen that coaching and athletics has changed dramatically since I first sat on a bench in 1983. Some things I like, but many of the changes are ones that I can’t support or understand. Call me old school but there are some immutable truths that all great programs subscribe to and I want this blog post to lay those out clearly for anyone that will play for me in the future.

BOUNDARIES: All players hate them and yet want them. Their developing minds and raging hormones make them challenge you but they want and need limits. As such clear boundaries have to be set early and enforced. One is that I am their coach, not their friend. I want them to be successful and have a positive experience but being their pal is not a priority. They also will find out that the team is an autocracy. I have no issue listening to concerns, suggestions, or ideas, but at the end of the day the final decision is mine, as I am the person ultimately responsible for the team. I will respect the players but they in turn will have to respect me. I will be compassionate but I won’t coddle them. Rest assured their college professors and future employers won’t either.

RESPONSIBILITY: They will be responsible for their actions. If they are late for practice they will be disciplined. You can’t be late for school or work so practice is no different. If they have issues with transportation they need to work that out. They also need to maintain their grades without missing practices for tutoring. Sports is an extracurricular and a privilege. Academics is the first and foremost priority. If academic work is suffering then that player needs to focus as much time as needed to get their grades in order without the distractions of a sport. They also need to be responsible for their actions while being coached.  I find that players fall into three categories. The first take instruction and diligently try and implement what they have been told to do without complaint. The second group take instruction, say they will try, and then go back to what they were doing before. The third group take instruction and tell you why they did it their way. I tend to get to know those in the second and third groups fairly well because they are sitting next to me on the bench.

COMPORTMENT: As an individual you have the right to dress and behave exactly as you wish. You can wear your cap sideways with the tag hanging off, adorn your ears, nose, lips, etc. with metal, and if your parent’s consent, cover your body with ink. But when you become part of a team you lose that right. Your employer will have a dress code and so will I. You will wear the team practice and game uniform and any accessories will have to be approved by me. If you have tattoos you will cover them with shirt sleeves or bandages. You will represent the team and school by being respectful to adults and others. My teams don’t trash talk or taunt. Nor do we respond to others that do it. We let our actions speak for us. My players don’t talk to referees. Their behavior is out of our control and we need to be focused on what we can do and should be doing. If I think a referee needs to be spoken to I will have that conversation. The bottom line is that if we are properly focusing intently on what we are trying to do we will be oblivious to what is being said to us or done to us. Having a short memory keeps your focus. And keeping your emotions under control allows you to make better decisions.

EFFORT: We will try to win. Winning is important. You keep score because it is important. If you are a doctor who doesn’t cure patients, a lawyer who doesn’t win cases, and a salesman that doesn’t make sales, well you get the picture. We compete to win and players who can give us the best chance to win will play the most in games. Will I try to play everybody as much as I can? Of course I will! There will be times where we are way ahead, or way behind, when that will not be an issue. But if the game is in doubt I owe it to the team to make personnel moves that give us the best chance to be victorious. If I have done my job right that player on the bench will be cheering for his teammates on the floor and will understand that by pushing the starters in practice he made the team better. The fact is talent will often ultimately decide which teams win but a team that gives maximum effort in practice and a game will be hard to beat. Losing with maximum effort is easier to accept than losing because you quit trying. If you play for me you will have to buy into one thing. We never give up…ever!

UNITY: There is an acronym for the word team. It is Together Everyone Achieves More. Selfish behavior won’t be tolerated no matter how talented the player might be. Selfishness kills a team more than any other cause. The best players have to be the most unselfish. You look at North Carolina when they had Michael Jordan and you will see that he never led the NCAA in scoring. He did what was needed to make his team successful. Very few people know he was an All NBA First Team Defensive selection numerous times over the course of his career. Do great players exert control when a game is on the line? They do but not always with scoring. Larry Bird made many game winning shots in his career but one of his best remembered plays was stealing the inbounds against the Detroit Pistons and then feeding Dennis Johnson with the game winning basket. A coach who lets a player put himself above the team is doing both the team and that player a disservice.

PERSPECTIVE: It is easy to measure everything in its most basic form. Counting wins and losses, checking the stat sheet. And it is easy to get emotional before, during, and after games. Exulting during wins and feeling great sorrow after defeat is not unusual. However a balanced team handles both without going to the extreme. They enjoy wins and fret over losses but if they are understanding the big picture the real satisfaction will come from competing and being able to reflect on what they did well and what they need to work on so they can continue to improve.

If I see a former player and he or she tells me that the best time of his or her life was when he or she was playing sports in school then I failed that player miserably. But if that player tells me about milestones they have achieved since their school days, and how the lessons they learned playing sports contributed to those successes then I did my job the way it was supposed to be done.

I view working with young people as an enormous privilege and equally huge responsibility. We are giving time to each other and that is the most precious thing we have because once you give it you never get it back and none of us know how much of it we have left.

In about a month basketball practice will start and the squeaking of rubber shoes on wood will be heard. Game on!





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