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January 2010

All About the Benjamin

I've been spending a lot of time in New Orleans lately. No, I have not -- and will not -- forsake Baltimore, and I still spend more time there than anywhere else. But, for now, I have two hometowns and I am doing my best to get to know the new one, primarily by bicycle.

my new best friend

For one thing, I am trying to figure out how to memorize the streets that cross St. Charles as I ride my bike toward Audubon Park, which I do almost every day, weather permitting. A local helpfully explained that one batch of streets, on either side of Napoleon Avenue, are named for his battles -- ending at Josephine. (The later detail, while quite delightful, isn't accurate. Josephine is in the lower Garden District, many avenues away from Napoleon.) My beloved SO has created a mnemonic device, JOJANES, which reminds me that one crosses Jefferson, Octavia, Joseph, Arabella, Nashville, Elenor, State. Then one comes to Webster, Henry Clay and Calhoun - just remember the "Great Triumverate" -- and, finally, Exposition Boulevard and the edge of the park.

Then there are the streets that run parallel to St. Charles and Magazine, a territory that keeps widening as one heads uptown, so more streets are added along the way. On Christmas Day I was traveling back home on one of these, Perrier, when my tire rolled across what looked like a dollar bill. I wheeled around and went back, my eye having registered that there was something odd about the bill.

That's because it was a hundred dollar bill and I don't spend a lot of time staring into Benjamin Franklin's eyes.

I looked around, trying to figure out if there were any way to reunite this bill with its rightful owner. But the street was empty and the bill, quite creased, looked as if it had been there for a while. My SO would later theorize that it was someone's Christmas gift, but I don't think so. It was too bedraggled to have been inside a gift card earlier that day.

I took the bill home, more enraptured by the discovery than by its potential. I was reminded of Randy Melendy, a character in one of my favorite childhood series, who once found a small diamond by the side of a creek. She used it to buy a war bond and gifts for her family. What would I do with my discovery?

I mentioned my good fortune on Facebook and referenced it on the blog as well. Several people immediately suggested that I donate the money to a charity, but I had just finished making my charitable donations for the year and felt that I had done well by the nonprofits I choose to support. (For the record, they are: Health Care for the Homeless, the Enoch Pratt Library, Greyhound Pets of America, Viva House, This American Life's podcast and Bitch magazine.) I joked that I wished I could step into a time machine and go back 24 hours, which would enable me to drop the bill into the hat for a local band that I had seen at the Spotted Cat.

For almost two weeks, I kept that bill on my nightstand. I liked looking at it. It seemed a talisman for 2010, which I hope will be a lucky year for me, greedy as that might sound, for I am aware that I have been an exceptionally lucky person. But, aficionado of Edward Eager that I am, I know that magic arrives with responsibility. One has to learn the rules and never thwart it. And, eventually, one has to pass the magic along, whether it's a coin or a book or a thyme garden. No one gets to hold onto magic forever.

My SO knew the name of the band that I had so enjoyed, Tuba Skinny. I found them on Facebook -- oh brave new world! -- and e-mailed, offering to send the one hundred dollar bill. One of the members wrote back and said that would help pay a part of the cost of recording a CD. I sent the bill off inside a fuschia-colored note card. Meanwhile, I urge folks to visit Tuba Skinny's Facebook page, where one can hear their music.

There are a lot of folk tales and myths about New Year's Day. First Footers, first words, black-eyed peas. And, to be sure, I didn't let go of that bill until January 6. I will miss seeing it on my nightstand, although I know the power of that particular pleasure would have waned quickly. The fact is, I shouldn't need a visual reminder of my luck.

And if you'll excuse me now, I think I'll go ride my bike.

Book news for 2010

My fifteenth novel, I'D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE, will be published this summer and the paperback of LIFE SENTENCES goes on sale in March. I'll have some news soon about Tess and television rights; you know I like the check to clear before I go public with those details.



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