Tag: memory

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.

Gary Laney died without warning Friday, two days before Christmas. He was 47. The news was crushing. The shock hasn’t worn off, and I am flailing about in search of words.

His funeral is happening now in Baton Rouge. I wish he were here to talk about it with me. Gary’s presence here two years ago, the day before the funeral of our first editor in the daily newspaper business, was a gift to me from the cosmos. Now, he’s gone, and we are not having lunch together, not having beers, not telling Lake Charles stories, laughing and crying.

In a year of so much loss, Gary’s death is one of the hardest losses to bear.

We first met in the mid-1980s, when my journalism career was just getting started and he was a high school student with an interest in sports writing and newspaper work. He came up one day to the makeshift press box at Legion Field in Lake Charles where I was covering American Legion games, and on some level, he never left. Gary was like a friendly puppy, tagging along as I did my job. He was likable, smart, curious, full of questions, and eager to discuss sports, music, writing and many other subjects.

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the abbey (2)

The photo I took of the church at St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary College in August 2010 speaks to me of more than one time of transition in my life. I pulled it from the archives this month upon learning of the death of longtime Louisiana sportswriter Marty Mulé.

Six summers ago, I accepted a job in Oregon and left Louisiana, which had been my home state since birth. On Aug. 9, 2010, I loaded my car with essentials and set off on a weeklong drive to the West Coast to visit family in California, taking a right turn before reaching the Pacific Ocean and headline up the coastline to my new home. On Aug. 7, I spent some quiet time at St. Joseph — or, as current and former students call it, St. Ben’s. This was a multipurpose visit: fresh air, reflections (the visual and the introspective kind), a reconnecting with a place that had a profound impact on me long ago, and other reasons too complex to revisit here. It was my good fortune that I could end the day having dinner with Marty.

He’d heard I was moving, and he’d wondered if we could get together before I left the state. He reached out to me less than a week before my scheduled departure. No, he wouldn’t be in Baton Rouge before I left, which presented a logistical problem. When I realized he lived close to St. Ben’s, we finalized our plans. I’d spend some time on the grounds at St. Joseph, and we’d meet for dinner at Acme Oyster House on the Northshore. My last Cajun seafood meal would be with Marty.

It was an unexpected last Louisiana supper. Marty and I weren’t especially close. We never worked for the same newspaper, although he wrote columns for Tiger Rag, where I was working when I accepted the job in Oregon. He was not a mentor in the formal sense, but for whatever reason he took an interest in me and in my writing, and we became friendly. He had a way of making people with far less experience than he — and far less talent — feel special.

“I know this is a big deal if Carl Dubois is here,” he’d say if we bumped into each other at an event. It was one of those things you could pretty much count on Marty saying, and it would make you smile and put you at ease every time. You were always glad to see Marty.

Marty had made it onto my radar long before he knew anything about me. At my first job, in Lake Charles, I heard about feature stories he’d written that had impressed my boss and co-workers. His was a name I quickly grew to respect before I’d ever put a face to the name. To me, he was a big-time sportswriter, but upon meeting him, I could not imagine him ever trying to big-time anyone. He was a common man with uncommon storytelling ability, someone who could make magic out of plain language and the facts. He was a genuine guy, good company no matter the place, a man with a passion for reporting and writing.

One day at work, I heard about a story he’d written that referenced the 1958 national championship team at LSU, with a specific mention of the squad known as the “Chinese Bandits.” The nickname came from a comic strip called Terry and the Pirates, which later became a television adventure series. There’s virtually no chance a team would adopt a nickname like that today. Even in the 1980s, when the story came up, there was an uncomfortable edge because of the nickname. Indeed, I listen as my boss and co-workers said the term had been stricken from Marty’s story because it was politically incorrect. That news brought a different kind of discomfort, but it wouldn’t be the last time I’d hear a story like it. Since then, I’ve seen plenty of writers and publications struggle with reporting the details about a point in history and, rather than acknowledge the language of that particular time, completely scrub it, as if it never existed. In the case of Marty’s story, I remember thinking that omitting that piece of history would rob the story of one of its essential pieces, and thus, the richness of full reporting. The discussion in the office made an impression on me, and it resonated as I got to know Marty. The more familiar I became with his work and work ethic, the stronger my realization of his commitment to historical accuracy — the good, the bad, and the ugly. I never asked Marty about it. Now, I wish I had. I’m sure his response would have been more thoughtful and layered than my perspective.

MartybookcoverAt dinner that August night in 2010, we shared stories from our past, and we shared some laughs. Marty paid for dinner, and he gave me a copy of one of his books. It accompanied me on my drive to Oregon the following week.

When I heard about his death on March 12, I remembered that day of walking around on the grounds at St. Joseph. I recalled the peaceful feeling and the calm place it put me in for my meal with Marty. It sent me to the Internet to look up details, and I discovered that the day before he died, flooding hit the grounds at St. Joseph hard. Looking at its website, I saw that familiar, postcard-like view of the abbey church, the one everyone captures with their camera or phone when they are there. The view I wanted to take with me on that August day.

MartysignsitformeI dug into my archives and found the photo I took. It took me back to that afternoon, and to the feeling I had retracing long-ago steps on the grounds there. It took me back to the warm feeling I had before having dinner with Marty, and after. I pulled out Marty’s book. I opened it and found the inscription he penned for me before handing the book to me as we parted ways: To Carl, some memories of your roots!

— Marty

I found our last email exchanges, and our references to my “last supper” in Louisiana. In his email, Marty’s words were in Marty’s voice: “Listen,” he began as he wrote about the meal, starting a sentence in an email the way he often did in speech. I could hear him, and it made me wish I could listen to him again.

Thanks, Marty. For the meal, for the friendship, for everything.

Listen, rest in peace, my friend. If I should bump into you again, I’ll know it’s a big deal, because you will be there.



shutterstock_245968618Photo by Everett Historical/ Shutterstock.com

The Challenger launch 30 years ago marked NASA’s 25th Space Shuttle mission, the 20th after five test flights. Much like the nearly doomed Apollo 13 mission some 16 years earlier, mission STS-51-L came along far enough into the program’s timeline that some people no longer felt compelled to watch its liftoff on television. What captured the imagination of many who followed the buildup to launch was the presence on the crew of Christa McAuliffe, selected from more than 11,000 applicants to become the first teacher in space. The mission was the 10th for Challenger, the second shuttle put into service by NASA.

By now, you no doubt know what happened 73 seconds after Challenger’s liftoff.

Today’s anniversary brings back memories, many of them shared by the millions who followed the news after the shuttle broke apart on that Tuesday morning high above the Kennedy Space Center on the eastern coast of Florida. There are phrases we will always connect with the disaster.

On that sunny winter’s morning, there were, as USA Today recalled five years ago, the “two separate streams of smoke veering first apart and then together, then twisting around in a wild dance.” There was the look on the face of McAuliffe’s father, who was in the spectator gallery near the launch site, trying to process what had happened moments after the shuttle broke into pieces. Later, there were memorial services, and schools and scholarships named in honor of astronauts lost as the mission was barely underway.

There are other things I will never forget. The morning of the launch, I read a newspaper story that previewed the expected launch, noting that it had been scrubbed or delayed several times in the previous week. A student at Concord High School in New Hampshire, where McAuliffe taught, let on that it was getting rather tiresome hearing so much about her day after day. Almost every year on the anniversary, I wonder how he felt after the disaster, and in the days and weeks after it.

In the late ’80s, a self-promotional CNN bumper showed the dramatic moment of the fireball and the shuttle coming apart, dubbing in the sound of a loud explosion that wasn’t part of its live coverage on Jan. 28, 1986. I remember being stunned and outraged CNN felt that the moment needed hyping so it could hype itself coming in and out of commercial breaks. It’s still nauseating and disappointing to me to recall it.

One memory I doubt anyone else has from 30 years ago involves the somewhat unlikely pairing in my mind of the Space Shuttle disaster and the movie “Runaway Train.” Its nationwide release was Jan. 17, 1986, five days before the planned Challenger launch, and less than two weeks before the eventual launch. I saw it in its first few days of release and found it gripping, and I left the theater certain I would want to see it again, largely because of the performance by Jon Voight and how the train seemed like a character itself (like the music at times). Director Andrei Konchalovsky painted a haunting picture of two escaped prisoners and a crew member confronting their own mortality on the runaway locomotive. Roger Ebert, who shared my enthusiasm about the film, wrote this in his review:

The ending of the movie is astonishing in its emotional impact. I will not describe it. All I will say is that Konchalovsky has found the perfect visual image to express the ideas in his film. Instead of a speech, we get a picture, and the picture says everything that needs to be said. Afterward, just as the screen goes dark, there are a couple of lines from Shakespeare that may resonate more deeply the more you think about the Voight character.

For days following the Challenger disaster, my emotions were not unexpected or unusual. It was a horrible way for seven people to die, and my shock and sadness were probably no different than what most others experienced. Also, I’d grown up enthralled by NASA and every part of the U.S. space program, and I knew this was a blow to the program and the public’s confidence in it.

But something else was nagging at me, some unresolved tension I couldn’t identify. It was a thick, unsettling fog as I tried to move through it and through my daily routine. The more my intellect searched for a handle on the feeling, the more any logical explanation eluded me.

Then one weekday afternoon I took a nap and woke up with a start, roused by the sound of a single, booming explosion. I’d had a dreamless sleep, so I asked my mom if she’d heard the loud noise. She said no, asking me if I’d had a bad dream. I said no, then found myself opening the newspaper for the page with the movie listings, suddenly feeling pulled toward a second viewing of “Runaway Train.” I saw that I had just enough time to drive across town and make it to the 7ish showing. For much of it, I was somewhat distracted, still shrouded in whatever undefined uneasiness had taken hold since the shuttle had exploded.

I watched, for a second time, the person in charge at the railway’s central control room monitoring the situation with the runaway train by radio communications and with a $4.5 million state-of-the-art computerized system he’d designed and installed. As others begin to panic, he takes a sip of coffee and says, “Come on, the system’s foolproof.” But, one by one, the usual safeguards become disabled or nonexistent through a series of unexpected developments.

As the train, and the three people on board, speed toward the film’s climax, the staff at central control, after making a series of decisions designed to limit casualties, is left to do nothing but wait for what seems inevitable. As a supervisor tinkers with what resembles a chain of interconnected, oversized paperclips, the young man who designed the high-tech system is shaken by his inability to take control of the train.

“I still don’t understand,” he says. “How did this happen? Why couldn’t we stop it, with all this junk? I mean, with all this high technology?”

As he speaks, a report about a successful NASA launch of two communications satellites is on a television near his workstation. After showing highlights from the launch, the report cuts to a smooth landing by the Space Shuttle at the end of the mission.

That’s when I knew what had been gnawing at me since the Challenger disaster. That’s when the unresolved tension gave way to an understanding that the clip showing the Space Shuttle — at such a reflective moment in the film, a moment of realization about the things we make that we think are foolproof — had made an impression on me the first time I saw the movie. But it did so in a way I didn’t consciously remember the day the shuttle exploded after liftoff. Yet, my subconscious tugged at me from then until I went back for that second viewing. I concluded that my subconscious mind woke me from that nap with what I’d thought was the sound of an explosion, and somehow stirred me to seemingly randomly pick that night to see “Runaway Train” again.

All of the usual emotions following a tragedy were still with me to some degree, but the unsettling feeling I’d had, the one I couldn’t put my finger on, was gone. Instead of having an eerie vibe about the way it led me to see the movie a second time, I felt calm. There was resolution, yes, but also a level of comfort that my subconscious mind was looking out for me. It’s not the only time it’s done that, but it remains one of the most memorable. For a long time, I tried to glean some deeper meaning from it, but mostly I accepted that it was a reminder of the power and complexities of our subconscious minds.

So many lives were changed by the Challenger disaster 30 years ago, when we were again jolted out of whatever complacency had settled in after a series of successful missions. Watching “Runaway Train” again recently, I found myself considering that only a fool thinks that anything made by us is foolproof, and how the systems we build tend to be susceptible to human error, user error and the number of ways in which we arrogantly tempt fate. The conclusions drawn after the failure of the shuttle’s O-rings, which were never tested in extremely cold weather, are widely available for examination.

Thirty years later, my mind still links Challenger and “Runaway Train,” and it probably always will.

RitaTen years ago today, Hurricane Rita made landfall along the Louisiana-Texas border. Coming less than a month after Katrina’s surge across the Louisiana-Mississippi border, Rita scared millions across the Gulf Coast as it developed into the fourth-most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico. Lessons learned from Katrina prompted mass evacuation of Houston and other cities as Rita approached, saving lives. Katrina’s official death toll is just short of 2,000 people; Rita’s is slightly more than 100. In the collective memory of America and the rest of the world, Rita is the forgotten hurricane of 2005.

Not so in my family. Like many others in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama, we lost someone whose terminal illness in the months after the storms was part of the unofficial death toll from the deadly hurricane season of 2005.

My oldest sister and her family live in Lake Charles, Louisiana, 30 miles north of the Gulf, 35 miles east of the Texas state line. They live directly behind the house that was my mother’s home during the summer of 2005. I was living in Baton Rouge, about two hours’ drive east of Lake Charles, where I was born and raised. Affected by Katrina mostly in terms measured in lost power and lost sleep, I had settled into what was the new normal in Baton Rouge: taking alternate routes on surface streets every day because of the crush of people who relocated to Louisiana’s capital from the New Orleans area after post-Katrina flooding.

When it was obvious that Rita, a Category 5 hurricane at its most powerful, was not expected to hit Baton Rouge, we decided that my family’s best evacuation option was to head my way. For two weeks, my two-bedroom apartment was home to me, my mother, my sister, her husband, their two children (a daughter and a son), a dog and a hermit crab (my nephew’s). Tight quarters, for sure, but nothing like the many situations after Katrina in which 20 or more people crowded into a home or an apartment.

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How strange to wake up to this sound just outside my window on Aug. 29, 2015. Ten years ago, I woke from a restless sleep before dawn as the outer bands of Hurricane Katrina reached my apartment, about an hour’s drive from downtown New Orleans.

The electricity went out, and it would stay off beyond the next few sleepless days and nights. As the wind rushed through the trees that were as close to my bedroom window as these are to my sliding-glass patio door today, it was accompanied by rain. Not so right now. Here in the Pacific Northwest, amid a relentless drought, our forecast called for rain today and next week, but as I look outside, I see thirsty leaves holding on to their branches and their green as they await what the gray sky seems to promise. It is not the verdant green of trees nourished by south Louisiana rains, or challenged by a major hurricane, and I swear I can hear the difference as the wind cuts through the brittle branches.

(Updating to add that I’ve discovered we had a thunderstorm hours before I awoke. It dumped more rain than we’d had since early June, but the ground and trees soaked it up so quickly, they still seemed drought-stricken by the time I opened the curtains.)

As the largest wildfire in Washington state history rages a few hours away from me, and much of the West Coast deals with problems associated with ongoing severe drought, there is other news of nature’s power. I’m reading reports of trees falling and injuring people this morning during a triathlon at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Runners in Hood to Coast arrived in Seaside amid sideways rain and wind so powerful, organizers scrapped the usual tent city for safety reasons. There are reports of residents without electricity in Oregon. I don’t know if I want to know what else could be happening in the region.

(Another update: Reports of high wind gusts followed: 85 mph on the southern coast of Washington state, 90 mph in Oceanside, Ore., and 43 mph at Portland International Airport, eclipsing the record August wind gust of 39 mph set in 1953. Our 37 mph high wind gust probably occurred around the time I stumbled out of bed to find out what was going on outside. They tell me this was a once-in-30-years storm, a freak occurrence for August, or even if it had been September.)

I wasn’t going to write anything on this anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. My plan was to spend as much time as possible in quiet reflection about the morning of Aug. 29, 2005, and the hours, days, weeks, months and years that followed in Louisiana. That’s still the plan, although my quiet time comes with a soundtrack, an eerie reminder of that Monday morning 10 years ago today.

This is the sound of wind.

“The Judge,” the 2014 film starring Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr. as a father and son, judge and lawyer, left a lot of good lines in my head, but the quote stuck in there right now wasn’t spoken by either of those Roberts.

Halfway through the movie, Vera Farmiga, who plays the former girlfriend of Downey’s character, explains to him the origin of the name of her establishment, the Flying Deer Diner, telling a story about a close call on the road one day while she was driving with her daughter in the car. “This deer jumps, flies over the hood, his back hoof taps the glass; one mile an hour faster, he’s coming through the windshield, all antlers and hooves killing me for sure, maybe both of us.

“I make a decision right then and there: Whatever had or hadn’t happened in the past, I was gonna be the hero of my own story.”

Their history has an unresolved storyline, as do several relationships in the movie, which reveals those loose ends along the way — sometimes just to us, sometimes to us and to the characters. What has or hasn’t happened in the past invests much of their motivation, and it drives the film through its twists and turns, toward its denouement.

I watched the movie on the recommendation of a co-worker, someone with whom I’ve had more than one conversation about Duvall and what he brings to his characters. “Watch ‘The Judge,’ ” my co-worker said when he left the office Monday night. The next day, I checked to see if it would be on cable soon. I discovered it would be on HBO a little more than 24 hours later, during what is my weekend off work. Perfect timing.

When I asked my co-worker for some background on the movie, he mentioned that critics were split about “The Judge,” that some called it contrived, among other unflattering things. I can understand that now, even as I found much to like about the movie.

The quote stuck in my head planted itself there even as I knew what some critics probably said out loud when, after telling the story, Farmiga’s character took stock of what she’d just said and asked, “Was that corny?”

I liked it because it spoke to self-determination in a way that perhaps sounded corny but elevated the idea of shaping one’s life to something heroic, with the hero appearing from within rather than from without. It felt like something someone who survived a near-fatal collision and decided to start her own business might say to herself, and then to others.

spoileralertThere was much in the movie that I could identify with, in small and larger ways, that fit the film’s darker subtexts of mortality, regret, unfulfilled promise and more. On a different day, I might have chosen to write about the dynamics of a son fishing with his father, or about a son watching his father suffer the effects of terminal cancer, or about a son visiting his mother’s grave during a time of crisis in his life, or about moving on with life after the dream of an extended baseball career ends, all of which I’ve experienced — or about the relationships between brothers, which I’ll never experience.

But not today. Today, the movie left me with something else I wanted to make note of here.

It’s unexpected, really, that the quote stuck in my head isn’t one delivered by Duvall, who could read the newspaper aloud for two hours and I’d buy a ticket and some popcorn and sit down to watch and listen. But on this particular day, the line that sank its hooks in me was the one about becoming the hero in one’s own story, and I think everyone could use at least a little belief in the possibility that they could make that happen.

“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.

misquotedCartoon by Cartoonresource

This is the longest piece I’ve posted here to date. It’s about the way we quote people —  and misquote them. It’s a lot of words about sometimes minor differences between the reality of what someone says and the popular but inaccurate way it’s later retold. In the end, very little of substance is affected, but it’s always been interesting to me the way what a person says, quite often, goes down in history as something other than the actual, verbatim quote.

Equally engrossing to me is deciding when it matters and when it doesn’t. Most times, it’s nothing more than a minor footnote, of interest only to someone like me who enjoys dissecting and analyzing what people say and how other people retell it. For most people, this entry falls into the “too long, didn’t read” category, and that’s OK. But if you have a similar interest in how quotes become misquotes, you might have noticed these things too. Also, if you make it to the end, you’ll be rewarded with a couple of fun videos that poke fun at misquoted lines, or list dozens and dozens of them. So, there’s that.

Don’t misunderstand me (or misquote me): This is not a dissertation, nor an indictment of the way popular culture hands down such quotes. Also, I don’t have the answers from oral-history experts regarding questions I have about this common dynamic, and I don’t have scientific explanations, particularly regarding misheard or misremembered quotes, but I’ve enjoyed collecting and writing about phrases that have become part of history or pop culture, or both. And, as I consider this post a work in progress, a collection of notes I’ve kept over the years, expect it to be augmented and perhaps annotated from time to time.

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2015-04-28 13.33.55Today is my mom’s birthday. I wrote about her eight days ago, on Mother’s Day. She died July 3, 2006, after a hard fight with lymphoma and other unsolved mysteries. A few months later, my sisters began the bittersweet task of going through her things and discovering forgotten souvenirs and curious keepsakes in her home.

You will find images of one of them as you scroll.

My mom was a smart shopper. She bought when items were on sale, bought with coupons and stretched a dollar near its breaking point. She also bought in bulk those things she knew she’d be buying down the road. One such example, apparently, is birthday cards. One of the discoveries my sister made upon closer inspection of my mother’s living-room desk was, in a slotted organizer on the old-fashioned kind of desktop, a birthday card for a son. Because I have three sisters and no brother, we could assume the card was for me. She had to have bought it before April 9, 2006, the last day she saw her home before going to Houston for a fourth biopsy and further treatment. She never recovered from the complications of the biopsy, and she never came home.

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