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Extreme Close-Up

National Guardsmen ordering caramel cappuccinosOn Tuesdays Coffea is closed, so I have to travel across the railroad tracks at Press Street and into the Marigny to get my morning coffee at Sound Café. Sound was one of the first places to reopen after the storm, so back in October and November it was packed every day with people looking for coffee and internet connection. And the National Guard was here from Seattle, standing in line with their rifles over their shoulders, ordering caramel cappuccinos. One day, eavesdropping on their conversations, I heard one guardsman ask another, "So what would you call a 'good' musical? What about Les Miz?"

Today there are no guardsmen. Just coffee and neighborhood folks.

Extreme Close Up: Photograph

Has anyone else noticed that Powell's seems to favor showing my face in an extreme close-up? At first I thought it was just a way of marketing a sense of mystery about my blog appearance this week. "We'll just show his nose and an eye!" But now that I've actually arrived, they haven't revealed much more of my face. There actually is a whole head attached to my body. Maybe they will slowly reveal it, finally unveiling the whole enormous thing by the end of the week. Or perhaps, depending on what they think of what I've posted here, they will zoom in to focus only on a single nostril. Meanwhile, the curious can find the whole face on display somewhere in Marion Ettlinger's book Author Photo.

Extreme Close Up: Prose

When you write a memoir, there has to be a certain part of your head that isn't on straight. Even if your memoir is as relatively tame. Of course, there's a part of this that is due to proximity. No one recognizes the outrageous elements of their own lives — by the time we get to the point of writing them, we're used to it. Everything seems ordinary. When I started writing The Dogs Who Found Me, it was partially due the response I got from people when they heard that I kept finding stray dogs. Even if they only knew of one or two of the strays I'd picked up, they found it somehow unprecedented. So I had a question to ask myself: why do I find these dogs when so many others don't?

For me, the answer ended up having to do with a lot of loss — friends who died, catastrophic events that occurred outside my door, my own health problems. But it wasn't until the book was published that I realized how personally readers might respond. I get email from people who have their own dog story to tell. But also, increasingly, I hear from people who identify with the broader theme of the book — the idea of the "reciprocal nature of rescue" to quote Amy Hempel. They write to tell me about the stray that wandered into their life. Or about their own experiences with loss and disaster. Or their own heart problems. Or at live events, they ask about my family's medical history and if I'm still unemployed. Or they want to know if I feel cursed having survived 9/11 and Katrina. (For the record, I don't feel cursed, but the inevitable follow-up question — where are you moving next so we know not to go there? — is beginning to lose its charm.)

And then there are the people who write in to express their outrage. This was a bit alarming at first. What could they possibly object to in my little memoir about stray animals? Oddly, a few strangers are pretty certain that they are more familiar with my life than I am, so they write in to say, particularly, that the friendly dogs in my book are probably not really pit bulls. Or they tell me that they don't quite believe that my dog Zephyr sat on my chest to revive me when my pulse dropped below thirty. "Your book is completely subjective," one woman complained. Yes, it is! That's what makes it a memoir!

And then there is this in the morning batch: someone writing to say that after reading my book, they wondered if my landlord Mikey has any other places for rent.

On the lunch menu: Leftovers from the Joint

The Joint: Carnivorous CuisinePerhaps the best way to convey a message is to go the direct route: like the sign at The Joint that reads "Carnivorous Cuisine" in letters made from old rib bones. Or the sign outside that announces: "More BBQ. Come get lunch." Who can argue?

The Joint is on Poland Avenue, which runs right alongside the now infamous Industrial Canal. At the corner of Chartres and Poland is Bacchanal, the wine cellar where, on the eve of Katrina, my friends and I gathered for a wine tasting and each vowed that we weren't going to bother with the evacuation. A little further up is our neighborhood post office, which just reopened a few weeks ago.

More BBQ - Come Get LunchYesterday I stopped in for some take out. "What do you have?" I asked. "Everything on the menu," they said. "Do you take plastic?" "Sure do." For most of the fall and winter, we've come to expect that menus in New Orleans are limited and payment is only taken in cash. My subjective little brain seems stuck in that time period, and I imagine asking these same questions for the rest of my life and being surprised every time I'm told that the whole menu is being served, and the phone lines are running.

I got the half chicken, with potato salad and green salad to go.

÷ ÷ ÷

Ken Foster, a writer and teacher, is the author of the bestseller The Dogs Who Found Me; its sequel, Dogs I Have Met; and the new book I'm a Good Dog. His collection of short stories, The Kind I'm Likely to Get, was a New York Times Notable Book. His work has been featured in Salon, Time Out New York, the New York Times Book Review, and other publications. He lives in New Orleans with his dogs Brando, Douglas, and Bananas.


Books mentioned in this post

  1. The Dogs Who Found Me: What I've... Used Trade Paper $3.50
  2. Dogs I Have Met: And the People They...
    Used Trade Paper $2.95
  3. I'm a Good Dog: Pit Bulls, America's...
    Sale Trade Paper $8.98
  4. The Kind I'm Likely to Get: A Collection Used Trade Paper $3.50


Ken Foster is the author of I'm a Good Dog: Pit Bulls, America's Most Beautiful (and Misunderstood) Pet

One Response to "Extreme Close-Up"

  1.  
    almondjoy August 1st, 2006 at 4:25 pm

    What? No cornbread?! Man, I would have been all over the half chicken with hush puppies and collards. Mmmm!

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