Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Outdoors a tough sell in La. summers

On a wooden wall peg near our back door, my 13-year-old son has hung up his slingshot — a small nod toward his parents, I suppose, after we told him, in the course of cleaning his room, to find a place for everything, with everything in its place. He probably found the slingshot under his bed, which is where things migrate when boys no longer use them. The slingshot had its heyday two or three… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s 'At Random': July brings thoughts of yuletide

A few days ago, with the mercury hovering near 90, I opened our front porch mailbox and found a Christmas card from my sister-in-law, who had apparently decided that in the realm of good intentions, late is better than never. I didn’t bat an eye, since I had only recently tackled an unfinished yuletide chore of my own. Last December, at a holiday farmers’ market, my wife spotted a Leyland cypress at the plant booth and… Continue reading →

At Random: Time, not miles, splits family

My in-laws recently held a family reunion — a gathering that, like all traditions, was meant to celebrate what endures in a world of change. But even the rituals of reunions, so seemingly unaltered from year to year, slowly evolve to meet new challenges, new possibilities. This summer, for example, there weren’t quite as many phone calls before my wife’s family assembled, as they’ve done so often, in a rented hall to exchange hugs and… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman's 'At Random': Sunset reminds us of priorities

I never know what to get my wife for her birthday, so I’m always relieved when she tells me what she wants. Last month, as her special day approached, she asked for an evening dinner with a good view of the sunset. Her birthday brought other things, too: a crockpot, some gift certificates to the dress shop, a new purse with a dozen pockets to hold the hundred secret items that no woman, apparently, can do without.… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s At Random: Summer guided by luck, not design

On Memorial Day weekend, informally known as the first weekend of summer, I rose early and heard crows outside the bedroom window. Although crows live here year-round, I’ve always thought of them as winter birds, their sad caw-caw-caw a kind of soundtrack for cold gray afternoons when the trees are empty of leaves and the hours are empty of promise. Crows wouldn’t be on my playlist, in other words, of ideal summer bird song. When the weather’s… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Catching up on last year’s reading

Danny Heitman

I haven’t paid much attention to the latest summer reading lists, since I’m still trying to finish reading the books I started last summer. Twelve months ago, I decided to tackle the novels of Shirley Jackson, who’s best known for “The Lottery,” her short story about citizens of a quaint New England town who gather to participate in a bizarre civic ritual. In longer fiction, such as “The Haunting of Hill House,” “Hangsaman” and “The Road Through… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Recalling the man in the carpool line

If you think like a teenager, maybe there’s only one thing worse than being dropped off and retrieved from school by your dorky mom or dad. I’m talking about arriving and departing from campus in a vintage station wagon driven by your grandfather. That was my lot in life during my boyhood, after my mother’s father offered to shuttle my siblings and me to classes each day. The station wagon wasn’t one wagon, but a… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Mr. Danny’s camp for bored kids

Photo provided by MetroSource - Bored? Mr. Danny says go play in the sprinklers.

Welcome to Mr. Danny’s Summer Camp for Bored Youngsters. You’ve been sent here because, with summer still new, you’ve already complained to your parents that you have nothing to do. When I was your age, we did many things to chase away dullness when school was out. But sometimes, the years stack on top of the old ways, and some good secrets to happiness get lost, as you might lose a shoe or a favorite toy in… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random” : Grad advice dispensed in pajamas

Now that another commencement season has passed, maybe we should test this year’s graduates on what the commencement speakers said. I doubt the grads would remember a thing. At my own college graduation nearly three decades ago, the speaker began by noting that commencement orators are like the second-place finishers in a horse race: 10 minutes after the proceedings, they completely vanish from memory. He was right, of course. His insightful prediction is the only… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Father gives daughter to the world

It’s time to fetch from the shelf my childhood copy of “Robinson Crusoe,” a book I’ve read each summer for many years now. My favorite chapter includes a scene in which the castaway Crusoe comes across some footprints, then wonders if they’re his own. I like the scene because I’ve lived in the same place for a long time, which means that I’m always retracing my footsteps, circling back to the same lives I’ve touched, the same lives… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: For grad, only postal mail will do

I now own the dining set from my childhood home, so when my daughter addressed her high school graduation announcements this month, she sat at the same table where I had addressed my own graduation announcements three decades earlier. Moments like that suggest that things stay the same more than they change. But watching my daughter take pen in hand to write the names of loved ones across envelopes, I knew that she lives in a different… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s 'At Random': Take a pic with Mom today

After my mother died in 2008, I discovered, much to my surprise, that I couldn’t find a single picture of just her and me together. It’s not that we weren’t close. She’d been a deeply involved parent during my younger years, and even after I built a life of my own, we lived not far from each other. The arrival of grandchildren made us even closer. A relationship that enduring and profound was bound to express… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Contentment can come in staying put

While there’s never a good time to get the flu, it’s a special drudgery on Easter, when the world sings of resurrection, and there you are, shivering under a quilt, thinking not of pastel eggs and chocolate rabbits, but Advil, cough drops and a long day in a quiet house. Knowing that I was best left alone, the rest of the family went to in-laws for the holiday last month, and the terrier and I stayed… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random” column: Mayes sings praises of Louisiana

We’re about a month away from vacation season, the time when we pack our bags, mull over itineraries and seek out places more colorful or interesting than the ones we inhabit the rest of the year. But maybe, when we hit the road this summer, on the hunt for something grander or more sublime, we’ll be leaving behind a place that is, in its own way, every bit as worthy of our attention as the tourist spots… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Light of spring is best of all

We have a couple of door-length shutters on our front porch, and by closing them on hard winter nights, we can make a small, sheltered corner for some of our potted plants to ride out the frost. Although truly cold weather lifted weeks ago, I noticed the other day that the shutters were still closed, our house continuing to wear its winter face as the yard greened, the air warmed and the sun sat higher in the… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random” : Catching up on funny bird names

Nearly a decade ago, when our son was still too young to easily read for himself, he declared an early interest in mechanical science, leaving behind the shelves of “Curious George” and “Mother Goose” at the local library, and turning instead to books about electronics and engineering. On his nightstand, ready for each evening’s bedtime story, were the exploded diagrams of “The Way Things Work,” along with a history of aeronautics and an especially tedious volume on… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s 'At Random' : In spring, a push toward life

Funerals being what they are, the one honored is always the quietest person in the room. That was certainly the case last weekend, as those of us who loved Patsy Berteau gathered to tell her goodbye. While mourners stood in the funeral parlor and swapped stories, she lay silently in a casket at the front, seemingly at peace after 85 years of living. But even during her lifetime, Patsy was equally unobtrusive, content to stay out… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random” : More reading than you can handle

If you want a quick reminder of how much there is to know, and how much there is that you’ll never know, then any given hour on the Internet will probably do the trick. You begin reading an article on glaciers, which is linked to a story on polar bears, which is connected to a story on koala bears, which leads to an opinion piece on the Australian parliament. You can spend an hour, a week… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Spring arrives on schedule of its own

In my early days of home ownership, I thought of our lawn as a single object — a great, green rug that just happened to be out in the yard rather than in the living room. But the arrival of another spring reminds me that a lawn is not one thing but many things — a web of plants that doesn’t always appear to act with a single mind. I can look out the window this week, for… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Thinking of a father’s centennial

Only recently did it occur to me that my father, were he still alive, would be 100 years old this week. He was born on St. Patrick’s Day, 1914, and died in 1978, leaving few possessions behind. On my living room shelf, I still have two of his belongings — a how-to guide to carpentry and a Ford repair manual. The Ford manual has no practical use, dealing with dated mechanics for cars that are no… Continue reading →

At Random: Plant leads to thoughts of spring

Last month, as morning marched toward noon, I could feel the day simmering into a slow boil of hurry and worry. I had answered some early deadlines, and was heading to a lunchtime medical appointment, my son’s science fair, then a return trip to the office to finish my work. I quietly wondered how everything would get done. That’s when I saw master gardener Margaret Hawkins in my office lobby. Margaret had come for an impromptu visit,… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: A day prompts clapping all around

In “One Writer’s Beginnings,” her wonderful childhood memoir, Eudora Welty recalls an era when traveling circuses, to drum up business, would hold a parade in each town they visited. In her early youth, writes Welty, “there lived a little boy two or three streets over from ours who was home sick in bed, and when the circus came to town that year, someone got the parade to march up a different street from the usual way… Continue reading →

At Random: Oscar season helps fight winter gloom

In that gray time between Christmas and spring, Oscar season helps brighten the days. Busy with work and family, my wife and I rarely get to the local cineplex, but we try to see at least four movies a year at our neighborhood theater — enough to have a passing acquaintance with the Academy contenders. With the Oscars as with the Super Bowl, it helps to have someone to root for when the competition unfolds. Oscar night… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Slip puts life in focus

For my birthday, along with shirts, ties and a cake glazed with almond frosting, I found several bags of birdseed on the dining room table. The birdseed, though not expensive, ranks as my favorite present of all. The sacks of safflower, sunflower and thistle seed are an invitation to fill my backyard feeders, then sit by the window for a few minutes each day to see what I can see. Most of us don’t pay… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Dog’s take on life after 50

Last month, while walking the dog on the morning of my 50th birthday, I remembered that only one of us knew about time’s increasing claim on our lives. I couldn’t have ignored the approach of my half-century mark if I’d tried. In the weeks before the big day, friends and loved ones reminded me that I’d soon be five decades old. Birthdays pass more casually for our terrier, Foster, since he’s a former stray, and the… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Winter’s boss, despite what you think

Two Fridays ago, as another hard freeze settled across south Louisiana, I spotted a friend in our office parking lot removing ice from his windshield with the edge of a skillet. Lacking a proper scraper, he’d grabbed the first thing at hand. I wondered, as perhaps you will, why someone would have a frying pan handy in their car, but this is south Louisiana, after all, where one might expect that cooking utensils have become standard emergency… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Columnist knew what’s really important

I didn’t attend Louisiana Tech, where Wiley Hilburn, longtime chair of the university’s journalism department, taught hundreds of aspiring reporters and editors how to perform their craft. But even though I never sat in Wiley’s classroom, I counted myself for many years as one of his students. His work was a continuing lesson for me and other Louisiana journalists in how to do a job well. Wiley, who died recently at 75, complemented his teaching… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: In winter, days hint at spring

Several years ago, while musing on the ideal gift guide for men, I mentioned that no self-respecting male can ever have enough duct tape. I’ve used it to mend camping tents, book bindings, shovel handles or even, in a pinch, the stick shift of a riding lawnmower. I’ve never taped a single duct with duct tape, but in other ways large and small, the silver-gray adhesive has kept my world together. I have an artist friend… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s At Random: Holidays over but color still around

Last weekend, as if trying to outwit a forensic scientist, I went from room to room, slowly attempting to remove every trace of Christmas from the house. Back into their plastic bins went the ornaments and lights, the Santa Claus beverage coasters, the garland, the Saint Nick music box, two creches, a pillow covered in holiday plaid, a set of alphabet blocks spelling “Merry Christmas.” But even after an afternoon of repacking, I left not-so-subtle evidence… Continue reading →