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written Sunday, 12/30/2007

Go ‘head, it’s ma birfday! I’m gon’ party like it’s ma birfday! Sip some soymilk like it’s ma birfday!

On second thought, I probably won’t.

I just spent most of the day flying back to New Orleans from the Bay Area, so I’m a bit tired and sore. I was hoping that American Airlines would offer some kind of birfday perk –like a free upgrade to first class, or a foot-rub, or a lullaby softly sung into my ear while attempting to fall asleep with my knees firmly jammed into the seat ahead of me in the cattle-car section of the airplane. Shoot, at least a cupcake. No such luck.

That’s all right. Mature men my age don’t celebrate trivial events such as birfdays anyway. We simply cock a wistful half-smile and gaze upward towards the heavens as we mentally peruse the long list of spectacular successes we’ve compiled during our illustrious times. With smug satisfaction we reminisce over how our lives have neatly unfolded exactly as planned. Yes indeed, that is what we do.

I won’t say exactly how old I am, but it’s a unique milestone. After all, my new age is two times a prime number. It’s also two less than a perfect square and two more than a number whose only prime factor is two. I just thought of that. I guess my birfday’s pretty special after all. Yep. That is what I do.

The nine-day visit home was… nice. Of course I enjoyed seeing family. I only see grandma twice a year these days, and she’s always so joyously enthusiastic to see her favorite grandson (Take that, you theoretical lesser grandson). Seeing my two cousins was also a rare treat, especially considering that one flew in from Boston with her husband and two adorable toddler and infant boys. And of course I enjoyed giving Mom the opportunity to bask in the brilliance of her big beautiful baby boy. Other than a couple mini family gatherings though, I hardly left Mom’s condo. The only major exception was a drive to Carmel to attend the wedding of my friend Pamela. I must admit that I haven’t attended all that many weddings of black couples. When I do, the events always fall short of the hilarious expectations set by major motion pictures. There was no melodrama surrounding a potential last-minute cancellation of the wedding. There was no explosive revelation of an indiscretion on the part of the groom with a hoochie bridesmaid. There was no loud, heavy-set aunt to entertain the crowd with her exaggerated sassiness or crotchety old uncle to provide off-color comic relief. No sappy last-minute resolution inspiring the entire crowd to break into a spontaneous finely choreographed line dance. Instead, the whole wedding was just charmingly pleasant. Sigh.

Me, caught smiling at a wedding, with Pamela
Pamela smooching her Jamaican honey, Horace

Many hours of this trip were spent crafting my latest Flash cartoon, reading, and relishing the respite from school-related responsibilities. Ahhh, California. I kept feeling like I should get out and partake in all the offerings of the Bay Area, yet instead I thoroughly indulged my lack of desire to do any such thing. Over the last week I gradually realized how much I don’t miss this place. It’s nice, and the weather’s generally nice too, and I do miss the nice friends and family I left two and a half years ago. I’d still recommend a visit to anyone who hasn’t ever been. But I just don’t long to come back to this nice place. After twenty-something years of living within the same fifteen-mile radius, I don’t know if I could ever stop taking all that niceness for granted.

Niceties aside, my overall recollection of the region is more neutral than either good or bad. The lingering sensation is simply one of stagnation. I was always blessed with generally good fortunes, but for too many years my direction felt just a bit off. Time and place weren’t quite right and one of those variables was completely beyond my control.

Near the end of the trip I caught myself telling someone that I would be going “back home” to New Orleans in a few days, yet for several weeks prior any mention of “home” had referred to California. Without a doubt, New Orleans is still a far cry from truly being “home.” It’s definitely different though, and a drastic change in direction was long overdue. And it certainly isn’t “nice.” After finishing 2006 as the “nation's most murderous city by far,” the “murder capital” title has almost certainly been retained with an even deadlier 2007. But then there’s the Big Easy history, culture, and flare. For all it’s character and crime, partying and poverty, decadence and despair, whether or not I ever develop a sincere attachment to this city probably depends more on how my current career path and other personal matters go. “Home” is not so much about the place as it is what I do with my time here.
Listen to the hottest track to top the charts since last year’s one-hit-wonder: Solve That (mp3)

It’s still too early to tell what New Orleans will mean to me in retrospect. The career here sometimes feels worthwhile and productive. Sometimes students and teacher are on the same page. Sometimes it’s even somewhat fun (gasp) for me and for some of my students. Sometimes.

A student recently asked me, “Mr. White, why don’t teachers have lives?”

This likable kid is not quite as obnoxious as that comment would imply.

“Because you students suck every last bit of life out of us.” I said it like I was joking, but damn if that ain’t truth. On the other hand, seeing students accomplish something that they couldn’t do before entering my class is a pretty awesome experience, even when they don’t yet fully appreciate the value of what they’ve learned. The most fulfilling part of this profession involves seeing kids be rewarded for their struggles with that satisfying sensation of success.

In six months Lusher High School will send off our first graduating class to (fingers-crossed) bigger and better things. I can’t wait to see where they go from here. I hope some of them remember me whenever they confront a nasty, despicable, mathematical conundrum. I hope they proudly let their inner-nerd shine.

Whenever I decide to pick up and leave for some other place I’ve never been before, I hope my overall recollection of New Orleans is better than just neutral.

Shoot, another year’s about to start and I’m still wandering and pontificating, with no clue of where I’ll be in five years. Y’know what?… screw it, today’s ma birfday. This career path has its moments, but I don’t feel like going back to my classroom tomorrow. In fact, as a birfday githt to myself and as a bold act of defiance, I’m gonna take the whole week off. Yeah that’s right! I’m not even going to set foot on campus until… until… let’s say, Monday January 7. And I’m not even gonna tell anyone that I’m playing hooky from school. I’m a bad@$$ like that. That’s how we do it on tha Mathsiiiiiide.
The lil’ ladies just can’t get enough of me since my return to New Orleans.

And right now, I have some cute kitties to cuddle and a cartoon to conclude.

A few occasions over the past year have brought me to question the wisdom of posting all my Flash cartoons on the Web for anyone to see. You never know what kind of uninvited lil’ buggers may come a’snooping (instead of, say, doing their math homework). In the noble name of satire though, I will post this latest project and trust that… (continued)