Tag: connection

Earlier this month, I reconnected with a good friend from college. Conversation soon turned to movies, and she recommended “Housekeeping” (1987). Directed by Bill Forsyth, it is based on Marilynne Robinson’s 1981 novel. If you watch it in a mood similar to mine when I saw it a couple of weeks ago, you might be taken aback by the use of the word “comedy” in the opening of Vincent Canby’s November 1987 review for The New York Times. Taken in full, the description “haunting comedy” feels closer to the mark.

The movie, which dips a toe in the 1950s before bringing us into the 1960s, “tells the story of two young girls who are taken on a sudden and puzzling motor trip by their mother to visit a relative,” Roger Ebert’s January 1988 review reads. “Soon after they arrive, their mother commits suicide and the girls are left to be raised by elderly relatives. A few years later, their mother’s sister, their Aunt Sylvie, arrives to look after them.”

Aunt Sylvie is played, charmingly, by the wonderful Christine Lahti. The review by Desson Howe for The Washington Post says, “Sylvie’s guidance is not what they expected. Part overgrown child, part homeless Annie Hall, Aunt Sylvie’s more at home snoozing on park benches and wandering around in the dark than packing lunches for school. When the sisters play hooky for several days, she seems not to notice. And when a shin-high flood fills the house, she sloshes around in it like a benevolent amphibian.”

We — and the girls —  soon discover that she likes to sit in the dark. We see her come home one day with a fish sticking out of her coat pocket. We hear her talk about loneliness, telling the girls that a woman can be married and have children and still be lonely. We watch as she accidentally sets the curtains on fire while lighting candles on a birthday cake.

When we hear, in a context I won’t spoil, “The problem is, you spend too much time looking out the window,” we are nudged beyond that window to places of adventure, discovery, pain and joy. We are, though, still spectators, viewing Aunt Sylvie’s life through the girls’ memories, on a screen that is itself a window, one that shows us their story, time and place. Through that same pane, it’s possible to see ourselves, and to recall the instances when perhaps we spent too much time looking out the window.

Newspapers comprise a curious motif in the movie. There are clippings about a tragedy that happened in the movie’s fictional town of Fingerbone, Washington, and over time after Aunt Sylvie’s arrival, the house she shares with the girls, Ruth and Lucille, becomes filled with stacks of newspapers. Aunt Sylvie is also fond of collecting tin cans, washing them cheerfully after removing the labels, and arranging them in gleaming stacks.

As Ruth and Lucille gradually drift apart — Ruth increasingly identifying with Aunt Sylvie, Lucille becoming more like the sociable teens at her school — we hear in Ruth’s narration from the future pieces of her that align with Aunt Sylvie’s spirit.

“As soon as the weather allowed, we stopped going to school altogether, although we still left home every morning as a courtesy to Sylvie. I felt an odd affinity with the hobos who gathered at the bridge. There we all were, on a chill spring morning, in unsuitable clothes, worthlessly passing time by the lake — like the marooned survivors of some wreck.”

“Sylvie had no awareness of time,” Ruth says later. “For her, hours and minutes were the names of trains. We were waiting for the 10:52.”

Trains are another powerful motif, central to the retelling of a fatal derailment we learn about early in the movie — and a metaphor for the transient nature of people, of the events in their lives, and even the details of those events as we try to recall and recast them, viewing them through whatever filters invest our perspectives and needs at any given time.

The same dresser drawer that contained clippings about that major news story of years earlier included a photo album containing black-and-white pictures of relatives and other people the girls had never known. After discovering the scrapbooks following their grandmother’s death, Ruth bonds with those people, too, over time.

“Most of the people in the photographs remained strangers with no names. I returned to the album often, until the faces became familiar and comfortable — like family. It was comforting to find Lucille and mother and me there, too. It seemed to suggest that we belonged.”

The quote that’s stuck in my head is about the trip the girls take to the Pacific Northwest at the beginning of the movie, just after the shot of the plains at the beginning of the movie and at the top of this post. Sitting in the backseat as their mother drives them toward their new life — and the end of hers — the girls are blissfully unaware of what is coming. They count things they see out the car windows. “Horses,” one tells her mother, who had asked what they were counting. “And cemeteries!” the other calls out loudly, even cheerfully.

Years later, Lucille and I still talked about the trip to Grandma’s. Lucille would remember one thing, and I another, until we pieced together the whole journey. We tried so hard that we ended up not knowing what we really remembered from what we had just imagined, and we often fought over the details.”

There is something about that dynamic that I connect with and that feels universal.

As for the details: One sister remembers their mother’s hair as brown. The other remembers it as red.

I recall hearing that Forsyth said he made the movie as a commercial to get people to buy Robinson’s novel and read it.


“Movie Quote Stuck in My Head” is self-explanatory, but it’s more than that. It’s a chance to dig inside an old quote for new meaning, or a new quote for an old truth, or to chew on a line for fun or sustenance. It’s also inspired by and a tribute to “Real Time Song Stuck in My Head,” a popular feature on the Twitter feed of the late Craig Stanke, a former editor for CBSSports.com and, for too short a time, a leader by example to me during my time working there. You can read about him here.

The intersection of St. Peter and Bourbon streets was a blur in a different way on the night of Feb. 7, 2010, and into the early-morning hours of Feb. 8 as the French Quarter filled up within minutes of the New Orleans Saints winning the Super Bowl. (Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock, Inc.)

Postcard from the French Quarter:

(With my heart going out to those affected by tornado damage Tuesday in New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana, here’s a look back at one of the best night’s in the Crescent City’s history. Originally posted at 3:21 a.m. on Feb. 8, 2010, on a blog long since shuttered.)

NEW ORLEANS — Super Bowl Sunday has become early Monday morning, almost imperceptibly, and this afterglow of the Super Bowl victory by the New Orleans Saints still feels like something that might forever be called Lombardi Gras.

The fusion of the NFL’s championship trophy with the Carnival atmosphere in the Big Easy in February 2010 seems inspired now, almost fated, as I sit and rest tired feet while younger, more energetic revelers continue to party in the French Quarter. Now we know why the Big Game had to creep from January into February over the years.

Some of the passersby look at me as I type notes on my BlackBerry, and based on their comments, they think I’m texting someone. In a way, I suppose I am. I’m texting you.

In no particular order, except the free-flow way I typed them, here are notes of the sights, sounds and smells of my walk from near the Convention Center down to Jackson Square and deep into the Quarter:

Minutes after the game, euphoria.

There’s never been a feeling like it.

New Orleans empties onto its streets.

Car horns blare.

Strangers high-five strangers.

Who Dat!”

Tonight, no one is a stranger.

We’re all trying to wrap our minds around it.

“The Saints, NFL champions!”

The streets fill with cheers, and thanks to go-cups, “cheers!”

There are no words, really, but we’re all trying.

“Boom, chaka laka laka! Boom, chaka laka laka!”

More high fives, swarming like flies.

“Big guy, Who Dat!”

We pass Harrah’s, where a crowd has gathered.

Who Dat!”

The flow on Poydras seems headed toward the Superdome.

Let’s veer off into the Quarter.

You can see more of the street surface than usual.

That won’t last.

Got time for a celebratory Lucky Dog, Ignatius?

Someone’s walking under huge black-and-gold balloons.

Music is blaring from car stereos.

Car horns are approximating Mardi Gras songs.

Black-and-gold-umbrella dances.

More high fives.

Right there, smiling children who can’t possibly grasp the moment like their parents can.

Big-drink-in-hand high fives.

Cell-phone-hand high fives.

A single boot on the ground across from Café du Monde.

Let’s play kick the boot!

A solitary woman snaps a photo of St. Louis Cathedral.

Your blogger sits and types his notes.

Who Dat sitting on the phone, texting!” a girl yells.

“He Dat!” her boyfriend chants.

Me Dat, your blogger thinks.

Drew Brees jerseys everywhere.

Reggie Bush jerseys almost everywhere.

A Deuce McAllister jersey catches the eye.

Café au lait, then another, at Café du Monde.

Powdered sugar and jubilation floating in the air.

Around Jackson Square, tarot card readings.

Candles burn, lighting a dark corner.

Nothing beats the smiles of a young stoner couple.

Beads, beads, beads.

A Jeremy Shockey jersey, filled out like I’d never seen, stumbles over to Who Dat and high-five me.

“Halftime (Stand Up & Get Crunk)” fills the cold air.

Improvised percussion. A small parade starts.

Ghetto booties follow.

There are few, if any, street performers out here.

And yet, everyone out here qualifies, in a sense.

Cars roll by as people stand through the sunroofs.


What came first, those or Texas Stadium?

Glassy eyes.

Trucks roll by as people stand in the flatbeds.

A jazz band parades past us.

Broken glass.

Handheld cams.


Yep, this is what the Quarter smells like.

A lot of black and gold.

A little purple and gold.

Pretty girls.

(Many of them female)

A Saints Tailgating Crew mini-bus.

Cops on horseback.

Shirtless guys standing on the roof of a moving Suburban.

Does everyone out here have style and rhythm? Sure seems that way.

“Let’s repeat!” he says, and then he high-fives your blogger.

A man and his son ride their bikes through the craziness.

A blue hula hoop gets a workout around more black and gold.

A “When the Saints” parade breaks out, punctuated by Who Dats.

Group photos. Say “Brees.”

Group photos that from a distance, in the dark, resemble team photos.

A young woman announces she must soon relieve herself.

A split-second later, she Who Dats me, then high-fives me.

Her boyfriend slaps my hand, but it doesn’t feel like a high five.

Cat in the Hat hats in Mardi Gras colors near Pat O’s.

A single glove on the ground at the entrance.

The streets have fewer people on them than you’d think.

Five are making the noise of 10.

Ah, and then I turn onto Bourbon.

Five hundred make the noise of 1,000.

Garbage is fast piling up against the curbs.

Balcony parties.

Lip lock.

A Manning jersey — Saints, No. 8.

No sign of the Manning jersey — Colts, No. 18 — from this afternoon.

“Livin’ on a Prayer” sung twice in two blocks.

Bourbon is crowded.

And then some.

The girl pushing against me wants me to back up.

I can’t.

“Get the heck off me,” she says.

Except she doesn’t say “heck.”

She can’t grasp the force pushing me into her.

Or the force pushing her into me.

The Bourbon Street crowd is a little more surly.

This has crowd surge written all over it.

It’s probably a good time to duck in for beignets and elbow room.

Everyone seems to want to high-five the guy by himself.

There’s joy, disbelief and catharsis everywhere.

And no riots, fires or looting, at least not where I can see.

I’m cold, and it’s a long, long walk to where I left my car.

I hope it’s still there.

I’m glad I came. This was the place to be when the Saints won the Super Bowl.

The Saints won the Super Bowl. Mardi Gras may never end.

Lombardi Gras has a pretty respectable momentum itself.

Time to give the thumbs a rest.

I might need them to hitch a ride if I can’t find my car.

Seven years later, I’m struck by how many references there are in this play-by-play account of French Quarter revelry that a person would struggle to understand without having some familiarity with: a) New Orleans culture; b) the Saints’ many losing seasons; c) Super Bowl history; d) Mardi Gras; and e) the allowance of open containers of alcoholic beverages on the streets of New Orleans.

The sense of connection, in scope and in fervor, was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. All of us were part of a community, even if you didn’t know anybody else on the streets that night. We were all friends. We all knew what that championship, something many thought we’d never live to see, meant to post-Katrina New Orleans and to people who remember what the city was like before Aug. 29, 2005, the day the hurricane came ashore.

Seven years after that Lombardi Gras night, instead of being able to enjoy the anniversary, New Orleans was busy picking up the pieces from another destructive strike from nature. That nearly convinced me not to repost this old blog piece. But, at a time when it’s almost impossible to imagine the kind of togetherness I felt on the streets with thousands of strangers, I’ve been revisiting good days in America, good memories. This qualifies.

Lucky Dog photo by Lori Monahan Borden via Shutterstock.
St. Louis Cathedral photo by Natalia Bratslavsky via Shutterstock.
Café du Monde photo by Andriy Blokhin via Shutterstock.
Drew Brees photo by Action Sports Photography via Shutterstock.

Note: Yep, no camera that night. Just the BlackBerry. So even though these photos are from different days in New Orleans history, they help, I hope, paint a more colorful picture than just the many words I pieced together with my thumbs on that wild night seven years ago.

Barack Obama and his family at his election victory speech Nov. 4, 2008, in Chicago’s Grant Park. We are not the nation I thought we were becoming as I watched that night. (Everett Collection via Shutterstock)

Donald Trump is like a guy who takes a dump on half the yards in the neighborhood, somehow gets elected neighborhood association president, and then says it’s time for everyone to unite behind him.

Trump crapped on immigrants. He crapped on women. He crapped on President Obama. He crapped on you, even if you don’t think so. He crapped on America. He crapped on the world.

He denied, then bragged, then denied some more, despite proof. And yet, he won, because half of those in the neighborhood who didn’t get this treatment loved him. Now, he and his inner circle have urged the rest of the neighbors to come together, to heal and move forward — and without apologizing to any of them. Really? Forgive and forget? No way. The arrogance of expecting the people he dumped on to meet him all the way, not just halfway, would be mind-boggling if it were anyone else. But he has flung so much poo in getting the best of the party that owes its current existence to poo-flinging, we are well beyond what we once considered normal.

I have watched every U.S. presidential inauguration since Nixon’s second. That streak ends Friday. Call it a boycott if you’d like, although almost no one will notice. But in a still-defining-itself #notmypresident form of personal protest, I am doing my small part to refuse to normalize and legitimize Trump’s presidency.

Yes, I have read pieces — most of them by people seemingly lacking self-awareness regarding the blind spots inherent in their privilege — deriding the substance of, and the hashtag within — the previous paragraph. Many such pieces popped up amid post-election demonstrations across the country and the anti-Trump backlash on social media. A main point is, “Not your president? How’s that supposed to work?” My answer today: That’s for me to figure out. You can treat as normal and legitimate the people and events of your choosing.

As it turns out, I have plenty of company in some or much of my thinking. Dana Milbank and I have similar opinions on the Trump team’s angry call for respect. On the question of the legitimacy of Trump’s ascendancy, Paul Krugman and I (and Rep. John Lewis) largely agree. For a far more eloquent expression than I am capable of writing, I recommend Adam Gopnik’s The Music Donald Trump Can’t Hear as a foundation for what’s to follow below.

Despite Trump’s insistence that he “will be president for all Americans,” there is no evidence that he is even remotely interested in proving it, in reassuring marginalized people that he is a man of his word. In fact, he has been known for decades as a selfish opportunist who is decidedly not a man of his word. As someone who has enjoyed the privilege of being a white male from birth, I consider it my responsibility to speak — for myself and for those who are now more vulnerable — about why I will not acknowledge his inauguration Friday.

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Someone where people search for flesh-and-blood friends for land-and-sea activities is starting a Humans of New York type page for discussing why social media is so depressing. Another goal: to show the inadequacies of social media in fulfilling a real connection.

No, wait — “in fulfilling a real sense of connection.” Is that the same as fulfilling a real connection? Or is the sense of it, whatever that means, what matters? I can’t tell you.

What I can tell you is that the project is envisioned as a Facebook page.

The underlying noble cause aside, there is enough caught-in-a-loop irony there to make it depressing. I have a real sense people would find a walk in the park ultimately more fulfilling.