“Attic Salt” column for March 10, 2013

Newspaper columnists don’t retire. We “leave the paper.” That makes retirement conform to our dramatic and romantic natures. This is my last column in the People section. I’m retiring Friday. Deciding to retire was the easiest decision I’ve ever made. It felt right. After 41 years at The Advocate, I awoke one morning and … Continue reading →

“Attic Salt” column for March 3, 2013

Since reading an essay by E.B. White years ago about “wintering out,” I’ve observed a solitary ritual near the end of winter I think of as last fire. White had a farm in Maine where keeping humans and animals warm wasn’t the play time of a Southerner who likes to warm his shins while reading. For … Continue reading →

“Attic Salt” column for Feb. 24, 2013

I read about the end of Saturday mail delivery and the demise of the penny and think not of the bill from the water company, magazine subscriptions, letters and loose change but people. In long Alexandria summer days of childhood and the first days of air conditioning, a band of rag tag numismatists haunted the cool marble … Continue reading →

“Attic Salt” for Feb. 17, 2013

“That’s good. Keep going. You can do it.” That’s my 3-year-old grandson, Coach Emerson, who turns 4 in April. He’s talking me across a rope bridge strung between towers at a neighborhood park. Emerson considers us equals though I drive us to the park and have money for treats. He keeps his money in a bank … Continue reading →

“Attic Salt” for Feb. 10, 2013

Mary Dent manages a Subway near the newspaper. Subway calls its sandwich restaurants “stores” or “locations.” I think of the one I frequent as Mary’s place. Dent is 57 and retired from LSU where she worked in food service, as janitorial help and in the university’s print shop. Like a lot of Americans, Dent retired … Continue reading →

‘Attic Salt’ for Feb. 3, 2013

For this column I had to move one of our family’s most sacred and venerated books from its place of honor. We’re not talking about the family Bible or an unabridged dictionary or a rare first edition of Dickens. No, the cherished book I removed from its resting place atop the refrigerator was what … Continue reading →

“Attic Salt” for Jan 27, 2013

Looking down from fourth-floor windows, I see something on the parking lot that I haven’t seen in days: The shadows of people walking up to the building. The sun is back. I remember a much longer time of grayness and rain years ago in south Louisiana, but this most recent spell of rain and gloom was … Continue reading →

“Attic Salt” column for Jan. 13, 2013

My son tells me we’re clearing land to make it park like. He’s thinning a small woods on the northern end of Toledo Bend Reservoir because it’s the kind of thing he does to relax. To stay warm, I’m helping him. A strong wind out of the north hit us as we left … Continue reading →

“Attic Salt” column for Jan. 6, 2013

This morning, it was almost as cold in my garden as one of those snowy scenes you see in calendars printed in Wisconsin. Unlike northern gardens buried in snow and asleep for the winter, my garden has four kinds of lettuce, a thick bed of multiplying onions that provide green tops for salads, … Continue reading →

Attic Salt for Dec. 30, 2012

Despite the best intentions of doing something memorable to start the new year, I’ll probably be awakened by the sounds of other people greeting 2013. For me and millions of other non-participants, the stroke of 12 Monday night will be an anti climax, but I’m glad there are people who find it necessary to mark the arrival … Continue reading →

“Attic Salt” column for Dec. 23, 2012

Computer screen wallpaper is an everyman art gallery, a focal point for swivel chair meditation. These December mornings when I turn on my computer, I’m greeted by a snowy scene of small snow-covered trees dwarfed by massive, dark conifers that rise behind the little trees. There are Adirondack-style chairs in the foreground, their seats … Continue reading →

Attic Salt Dec. 16, 2012

Sitting in church for the funeral of a friend on a December afternoon is as good a place as any to take stock. My friend John Durusau was a Down syndrome baby who lived to be a sweet man of 62 years. I don’t know about you, but I hear the voices of friends at … Continue reading →

Attic Salt for Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012

Part of me wants December to be a magical month in which good cheer triumphs over all. December is the best time of the year for me, but I have mostly good associations with the Christmas month. For many people, December is the anniversary of divorces, deaths, business failures or some other gift-wrapped … Continue reading →

“Attic Salt” column for Dec. 2, 2012

Sunlight from the shank of a gorgeous day was streaming through the window as a message from the front arrived, the holiday front where festive consumer-soldiers were digging in for Thanksgiving. A friend had left her quiet home on a lovely rural road in West Feliciana Parish to grocery shop. Her email reported young … Continue reading →

“Attic Salt” column for Nov. 25, 2012

Frances Willard was 53 when she learned to ride a bicycle in 1893. She died five years later, not in a bicycle accident but from pernicious anemia. Willard was in poor health as bicycling was becoming the rage in the United States. Her doctor suggested she take up cycling for the exercise and to get her … Continue reading →

“Attic Salt” column for Nov. 18, 2012

I’m in the first hours of withdrawal from why Mitt Romney lost the presidential election, why schools fail, why senseless shootings outnumber sensible shootings, and what the president’s re-election means to Obamacare, the economy and cooperation between Republicans and Democrats. For the first hours of vacation, I am troubled by not being able to … Continue reading →

“Attic Salt” column for Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012

The voice on the telephone was older but familiar, a child grown old who’d attended the same grammar school I had. We shared the memory of a two-story, blond brick building, steep, wide staircases of marble or some less expensive but no less exotic stone. We’d had some of the same teachers, seen a principal … Continue reading →

“Attic Salt” for Nov. 4, 2012

As people on the Internet debate whether it was Henry Ford or the unions that gave us the five-day week and the eight-hour, workday, I come in praise of Saturday. My parents worked in department stores in a small Southern city. At our house, Sunday was the relaxed day. Both mom and dad worked Saturdays. … Continue reading →

Attic Salt for Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012

Roger Bannister, who ran the first sub four-minute mile in history in 1954, was the hero of high school middle distance runners in the 1960s. Reading Neal Bascomb’s book, “The Perfect Mile,” has brought back the joyful and painful memories of running the half mile at Bolton High School in Alexandria the mid-1960s. Bascomb’s book … Continue reading →

“Attic Salt” column for Oct. 21, 2012

Felix Baumgartner’s 24-mile-high step into space last Sunday helped put the weekend into perspective for me. Baumgartner, a 43-year-old Austrian skydiver, had been carried aloft in a 55-story, ultra-thin helium balloon that, on television, looked like the clear plastic suit bags from the cleaners. Standing in the doorway of the capsule, carried aloft by the balloon, … Continue reading →

“Attic Salt” column for Oct. 14, 2012

The press and television have gotten the kind of mileage out of the presidential debate we liked to get from electric cars. Watching former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama bat factual shuttlecocks at each other, it seemed to me the acts of our government have become unknowable. The president underestimated his challenger. … Continue reading →

“Attic Salt” for Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012

Every morning, I awake to amazing radio news. Today, it was that a size 8 dress in the 1950s was a size 4 by the 1970s and is now a size 0. Call it “vanity sizing,” as the story on the radio did, or call it ‘fooling yourself” as my mother would have said. … Continue reading →

Attic Salt for Sept. 23, 2012

Now, there are two ghost bicycles on Perkins Road. Some Baton Rouge cyclists place white bicycles hung with flowers in places where riders have been killed in collisions with cars. The first ghost bicycle is on the south side of Perkins Road near Quail Run Drive. It marks the spot where a driver, alleged to … Continue reading →

Attic Salt for Sept. 16, 2012

Though we all know better, denizens of South Louisiana hope the faux fall of mid-September will turn out to be the real thing. We awake to cooler temperatures and lower humidity and decide to re-up until next summer. Selective memory is what keeps most of us here. … Continue reading →

“Attic Salt” column for Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012

The morning after Clint Eastwood’s remarkable appearance at the Republican nominating convention the pundits were asking each other if Eastwood’s going off message would hurt Mitt Romney in what promises to be a close race with President Barack Obama. The pundits should talk to people waiting in line to buy batteries and bottled water. Instead of … Continue reading →

“Attic Salt” for Sunday, Sept. 2, 2012

The floor installer was casting covetous eyes on a tiny LED light that clips to the bill of a ball cap. “That was the last one of those,” he said, nodding at the light in the basket of a shopper in front of me at Walmart last Sunday afternoon. I was … Continue reading →

“Attic Salt” for Aug. 26, 2012

My summer reading consists of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. It’s hard not to talk about the book, even though I’m just a little over halfway through. Steve Jobs embodied what’s right and what’s wrong with America. I’m talking about the America that has a tennis net stretched across the Great Plains … Continue reading →

Attic Salt for Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012

This summer, I’ve met two sets of volunteers who reminded me that Baton Rouge has hundreds, thousands of volunteers who labor out of the spotlight, their good works known only to the people they serve. Often, the people who benefit from these good works are oblivious to the people who collect clothes, food and money, who cook, … Continue reading →

“Attic Salt” for August 12, 2012

I quit subscribing to magazines because I could no longer bear looking at the stacks of unread Esquires, Outsides, The New Yorkers, The Atlantics and the news magazines. The news magazines were the first to go. I was already a week behind the world when Time and Newsweek plopped into the porch mailbox. … Continue reading →

Attic Salt: "Repairmen driven to fix bicycles"

Some mechanics who repair bicycles for the homeless and the carless have come up with a good Sunday school question. If you sweat and bang your knuckles, curse under your breath, spend hours refurbishing some remarkably rusty bicycles and, then, triumphantly step back to admire your work, do you quit and think ill of humans … Continue reading →

Attic Salt for July 29, 2012

In Deep South Louisiana, we are born to heat the way North Dakotans come into the world in temperatures low enough to keep elk steaks safe. My friend Loren lives in one of the Dakotas. He moves back and forth. One winter, when Loren was living in South Dakota, the temperature in his bedroom … Continue reading →

“Attic Salt” for July 22, 2012

The things you find out on the Internet. My wife is an open-face sandwich. Not a regular sandwich or a club, she’s an open-face. She’s not supporting a child who should be supporting himself or herself while taking care of an elderly parent or person. That’s a sandwich. She’s not caring for an elderly … Continue reading →

“Attic Salt” for July 15, 2012

Once, an essay I’d written on the Atchafalaya Basin aired on National Public Radio as tens upon tens of listeners were crossing South Louisiana on the I-10 Atchafalaya Basin elevated highway. I got emails from all over once the travelers had stopped for the night or gotten back home. This was a couple of years ago … Continue reading →

Attic Salt for June 17, 2012

The email from the publisher of “Top Drawer Dads” offered a copy of the book for review. The book was slow coming, but its title stirred memories of the top drawer of my father’s dresser and the top of the dresser, his closet and the drawer of a low table where he … Continue reading →

Attic Salt column for Sunday, June 10, 2012

Grandson Emerson, 3, could be headed for a career in cruise ship deck games. He likes boats. He likes people. Most particularly, he likes for people to feel at home, be comfortable, have what they need. In our family, the children are in charge of distributing presents at birthday gatherings and Christmas. Emerson excels at … Continue reading →

Attic Salt for June 3, 2012

My new dentist is thorough. She and her assistant had me chair-bound for an hour before they cleaned my teeth. The dentist took an inventory of my mouth, relating everything she saw to the assistant who took it all down in a shorthand that sounded like “XB1fused, TR7exploded, MN2A galvanized, 2, 2, 2, 3, 4, 4, … Continue reading →

Attic Salt for May 20, 2012

This week, the Louisiana Public Service Commission takes up the weighty matter of telephone books. Will customers be allowed to opt for hearing that familiar “thump” in the driveway? At our house, we’ll be opting to continue receiving the phone book, the one with the telephone numbers. If my wife had the lone vote, … Continue reading →

Attic Salt for May 13, 2012

Mildred Ann Bonnette Cullen, my mother, has been the subject of a few stories since I began talking to myself in the newspaper. Mildred was a comedian and a wild child. I knew her comedy act from daily observance. My grandmother, aunts and uncles had their favorite stories about my mother’s free spirit. She … Continue reading →

Attic Salt for April 29, 2012

You have a few more hours in April, which is Poetry Month, to buy a poet a meal or a rhyming app or new sandals. The observance runs through Monday. All poets aren’t poor. Billy Collins’ collections sell, and he’s big on the poetry reading circuit. The former poet laureate of the United States … Continue reading →

Attic Salt column for April 22, 2012

As though responding to a cosmic Tweet, Baton Rouge put on its summer face the other day. It’s hard for newcomers to Baton Rouge to know when late winter has become spring and spring summer. People who rely on seasons to tell them where they are in a year trust calendars printed in Wisconsin. … Continue reading →

Attic Salt for April 15, 2012

The water oak stood in the corner of the yard the day we bought our house almost 40 years ago. We had the tree removed the other afternoon. I got home from work to find a stump the size and shape of a kitchen table. The water oak, Quercas nigra, is the most … Continue reading →

Attic Salt for April 8, 2012

After a week on the vacation couch reading the short stories of Charles Baxter, I discover that I can’t stop turning the mundane into short fiction. Because I am under the influence of Baxter, my short stories of the mind end in just-so, nicely crafted denouement. “Where’s the passion, Baxter?” I say, rising from the … Continue reading →