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Emptying the Notebook 

The columnist devotes a hideous portion of his or her year trailing after events and the people who make them with a notebook, furiously scribbling.

One of the most memorable scenes in Dances With Wolves is when Kevin Costner and his Lakota friends happen onto a plain of rotting buffalo carcasses, stripped of their pelts and tongues by white hunters who have moved on. Left behind are countless bison steaks, burgers and buffalo wings.

The sense of waste is overwhelming and especially keen to columnists, chief among the ranks of social scavengers. The columnist devotes a hideous portion of his or her year trailing after events and the people who make them with a notebook, furiously scribbling down quotes, observations, facts, apercu and other lies. At the end of the year, these notebooks are inspected to see how much of this ephemera has been regurgitated back to readers and how much remains trapped in the columnor colon.

These remainders are then cobbled together for a big grab-bag of a column; the process is called "emptying the notebook." I am a bit late in completing the process this year and ask your patience with material which would otherwise be lost to journalism forever -- keeping always in mind those buffalo wasting away on the Lakota plain.

· Again this year, the problem of unathletic-looking joggers marring the cityscape. By next year, perhaps, we can depend on a few thousand of the "Bouncing Betty" landmines retrieved from Afghanistan being skillfully buried along the St. Charles Avenue neutral ground. But until then? Pray, brethren, pray to the Lord Jehovah for some Old Testament aid! What's your favorite of the 12 Plagues of Egypt? Many would pick the murrain, but I myself have always been partial to the frogs -- I think they'd go a long way toward cleaning up the problem of unsightly joggers.

· Ah, the loonies! How monochrome life would look without them! Here's a guy standing on the corner of Loyola and Tulane, holding in his hand a car's rearview mirror and watching people approach. Direct eye contact is too mesmerizing; this lets people enter your world backwards.

· New Orleans street scene: They're bleeding the fire hydrants along Loyola Avenue and the proud owner of a black-and-violet Lincoln Town Car decides to wash his car in the torrent, despite sidewalk warnings from his homies that it's gonna bust his windows out. He gets one side done, makes a U-turn and slowly drives through his other side. When it's done, it's hard to tell which has the highest gleam: the dripping stinkin' Lincoln or the smile the owner is directing to the nay-sayers on the sidewalk.

· The mother of the 18-year-old soldier who has already come to the package-and-mail store to ship some gummy bears and potato chips to her son in South Asia and then she comes back all a-crackle. She has been to the post office, and now she thinks she's been overcharged. It becomes too much for the mother of an overprotected son now unprotected so far away, and she busts out crying and demands to know why she can't ship him things at no cost. "He's fighting for your freedom!" she blurts at her fellow customers. "And yours! And yours!"

· On the proper use of euphemism: Asked by a reporter to describe a deceased friend -- a notorious libertine, a chaser of all things female -- a man carefully replied, "Well, he was ... gregarious."

· A truck carrying molten sulfur turned over atop a truck bearing a front plate that read "Junior and Bridget," assuring them inseparability for an eternal amount of time.

· "People raving about hard times/ I don't know why they should/ If some people was like me/ They had no money when times was good."

· The African broadbill is a bird who makes its nest out of its own dung. Home is where the colon is.

· "My heart belongs to France. But my ass is international." -- Arletty, the French entertainer charged with sleeping with the enemy during World War II.

· Edgar Degas, the greatest painter ever to visit relatives in New Orleans, chided his friend Ambroise Vollard for not marrying, warning of a lonely old age. "I think one could even put up with dogs and flowers rather than have to endure solitude. Nothing to think of but death." When Vollard asked why he didn't marry, Degas replied, "I would have been in mortal misery all my life for fear my wife might say, 'That's a pretty little thing' after I finished a picture."

· Miracles happen everywhere in New Orleans, even at hospitals with HMO plans. An old lady with a flower-colored cane describing how she maybe caught encephalitis from her cockateel, though she wouldn't be having the little fella put down because she really liked him. And in the hospital, they packed her in ice like shucking oysters, but she only remembered two things, half of which she considered miraculous:

"One day they were wheeling me around and they parked me someplace and went off. Then this lady dressed all in black came over and put this little rosary in my hand, a little plastic rosary, green and yellow, and said, "I have to go away, but I'll come back." And I still have the rosary, though no one could ever say who that lady was. Till someone does, I'll say it was a miracle.

"The other thing I remember from the hospital is the dream I had about going around the French Quarter in my bed."

"Never bet on anything that can talk." -- Gambler Nick the Greek.


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