Friday, November 30, 2018

Blog Tour: Love, Loss and Lagniappe by Richard Robbins (Literary Fiction)

LOVE, LOSS AND LAGNIAPPE by Richard Robbins, Literary Fiction, 186 pp., $3.99 (kindle)

Author: Richard Robbins
Publisher: Evolved Publishing
Pages: 186
Genre: Literary Fiction

Life is good for Dr. Drew Coleman, a successful young eye surgeon living in Uptown New Orleans, and he knows it. Having met and married his beautiful medical school classmate, Kate, the two settle happily into the routine of raising their two young daughters.

Drew’s charmed life is soon shattered by devastating news, causing him to go on a ten-year transcontinental journey of self-discovery, during which he explores the nature of God and Man, the divine inspiration for many of New York’s landmarks and artistic treasures, and the relationship between the found and the lost souls passing on the street. He meets a number of memorable characters, including the young blue-haired runaway, Blue, who renounced her given name when forced to leave her Minnesota home with her girlfriend, Anna.

In time, he discovers and explains the scientific basis for the meaning of life, and is finally found, or finds himself, setting the stage for a bittersweet and memorable ending.


Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Spring 1982
Drew picked up his pace as he walked across campus on a steamy Saturday morning. He was scheduled to lead two Admissions Office tours for high school juniors and seniors starting in five minutes. It would likely be a busy week, since seniors had recently received their acceptance letters and the deadline to reply loomed only weeks away. Furthermore, as Spring Break had hit for northeastern high schools, there would be a roomful of well dressed New Yorkers and Bostonians soaking in the “local culture.” And they did not like to be kept waiting.
Drew had no time to stop for coffee on the way over, which might become a problem. Although he could grab some standard coffee free from the student cafeteria, this morning called for the good stuff. There would be pots of his favorite PJ’s coffee in the Admissions office, but they reserved that coffee, along with fresh croissants, strictly for the visiting students. Admissions required tour leaders to follow three essential rules: don’t flirt with the visiting students, don’t flirt with the moms, and don’t touch the refreshments.
At least he still had enough time to admire a lovely New Orleans spring morning. Spring in The Crescent City brought its own special feel. The morning sun burned the dew off the grass, creating the humidity for which New Orleans was famous—or infamous. The magnolia and cherry blossoms had burst into full bloom, creating a white and pink pastel background for the canvas of Victorian homes and buildings that gave Uptown New Orleans its distinct character.
The morning was typically quiet—few places as peaceful as a college campus at 8:45 on a Saturday morning. It would soon come alive with the sounds of backpack-sporting students purposefully going about their ways, but for now, he enjoyed having the campus to himself.
For an eighteen-year-old from Florida—the land of strip malls and perfectly straight roads, where each fountain-fronted community’s location was described as if on a Cartesian grid—New Orleans, with its unique architecture and culture, felt like a European movie set. Or a dream.
As he crossed the quad and walked under the breezeway of the library, the massive outline of Gibson Hall, which housed the Office of Admissions, came into view. Tour guides had been taught extensively about Gibson’s checkered history. It bore the name of Confederate General and US Senator Randall Lee Gibson, the first President of Tulane University. The massive Romanesque structure sat majestically across from the grand entrance of Audubon Park, separated only by St. Charles Avenue, with its anachronistic but still quite functional open-air Street Cars.
As he approached Gibson Hall, a familiar voice called out to him. “Cutting it a bit close, aren’t we?”
Drew looked over at his friend Matt, who held a steaming cup of cafeteria coffee, calm and sweat free, looking as if he had been there just the right amount of time.
“Made it with almost a minute to spare. Why come any earlier than you have to?” replied Drew. “What’s it look like for today?”
“A big group, lots of kids from New Jersey and Maryland. I talked to a few of them while they were signing in.” Matt blew on his coffee.
“That’s not what I was asking. Anybody cute? Anyone from Hollywood Hills High?”
“Dude, you know the rules. Plus, you see them for an hour and a half, then never again. Why even make the effort?”
Drew shrugged and shook his head. Classic Matt, perfectly rational.
Matt, along with their friend Clayton, was one of Drew’s two best friends from Hollywood Hills. As seniors, the three of them had decided to attend Tulane together. Matt, at six feet four inches of solid steel, was the picture of youthful vigor. Drew figured that’s what he got from eating a macrobiotic diet before anybody had ever heard of macrobiotic, and from working out every day.
Matt was a lefty and a heckuva baseball player, and such an intimidating presence that during baseball practice, Drew would literally shake in his shoes hoping that Matt would not hit the ball to him. He was also the most disciplined person Drew had ever known, numbering all his shirts and wearing them in sequence so that they each received the same amount of use.
Perfectly rational.
Although Drew didn’t think of Matt as naturally funny, unlike most unfunny people, he appreciated good humor, which made Drew like him even more. He could live a hundred years and never find a better person or a truer friend.
Thursday morning tours followed a routine schedule: half the group took a walking campus tour from 9:00 AM to 10:30 AM, while the other half sat through an information session. Then, from 10:30 to noon, they switched. As the clock turned to 9:00 AM, the tour leaders headed to opposite corners of the admissions office to divide up the large group.
As Matt turned to throw away his cafeteria coffee, Drew called out to him, “Hold on there, big guy. Give me that cup.”
In the activity of the moment, Drew took the cup, snuck over to the refreshments table, and filled it up with a generous helping of PJ’s coffee.
None of the cafeteria stuff today. Time for High Test!
As long as he kept it in the cafeteria cup, he figured they would never discover his petty theft. He also gave a longing eye to the Croissants, glistening in their buttery glory, but thought better of pushing his luck.
Fueled and ready, the sweat from his morning rush finally drying, he stood ready to give his standard welcome speech to his group, complete with well-rehearsed laugh lines and fake self-deprecation. Nothing made him feel bigger than giving admissions tours as a college freshman to high school juniors and seniors. At that age, each year felt like a graduation. The difference between being a high school junior and senior had been big, but the difference between being a high school senior and college freshman was huge.
Drew felt it, and he loved it.
He took a long sip of the forbidden coffee and put his Trojan Horse of a cup down on the long mahogany table, as he had dozens of times before. He then turned toward the group and looked up, and....
One particular visiting student, standing eagerly near the front of the group, immediately captured his attention. He became momentarily disoriented and his vision blurred a bit, then sharpened directly upon her. Everyone else in the room—as far as he was concerned—had vanished.
Petite, she stood just a little over five feet tall, and wore a blue, checkered jumper with a white Lycra t-shirt underneath. Small and curvy, she carried those five extra pounds that looked so good on a young girl but less so on a grown woman. She kept her short brown hair cut in a bob just below her chin, and her eyes....
What is with those eyes?
He couldn’t really describe their color—he guessed the closest would be green—but they were made up of so many different colors that they seemed to sparkle in the spring sun.
She stood near the front of the group along with her parents. Her father, a dignified looking man, had a face that seemed to be balancing the forces of decorum and tenderness. Her mother was a little taller than she was, beautiful in her own right with long brown hair, an elegant cream blouse, and pants that flared slightly more than expected, suggesting there might be more to her than suburban mother.
Drew calmed down, took a deep breath, and stammered his normally smooth welcome speech to begin the tour. As they started walking, he covered the history of Tulane University, its location in Uptown New Orleans, and its proximity—or lack of proximity, depending on the feel of the group—to the French Quarter. Although he mostly stuck to the standard script, for some reason, every sentence he uttered seemed to have the word “great” in it.
“How are the freshman dorms?”
“The meal plan?”
“Greek life?”
“Really great.”
His heart raced, and he wondered if he’d drunk just a little too much PJ’s coffee.
As they walked back and forth across the campus, he offered the usual—“Here’s the Science building. There’s the Library. Look at the beautiful Magnolias.”—all standard stuff. However, all the while, all he could focus on was, “Where is she?” And... “Don’t flirt.”
At the end of the tour came the questions. The first always came from some overeager kid who imagined Drew might actually have some influence on his application. That kid would then proceed to ask a series of questions to show everyone how smart he was, or how well he could craft a question.
He began with an anemic, “What is the student-to-faculty ratio?”
Really? That’s where you’re going with this?
The real answers were either, “Dude, it’s in the damn booklet,” or, “Dude, is the difference between 11:1 and 13:1 going to make you choose here or not?” Nonetheless, he dutifully replied, “The student-to-faculty ratio is 12:1, which is amongst the lowest in the nation.”
Once the little gunner was sufficiently self-satisfied, the real questions began, ranging from the routine to the unusual. Tour guides loved to report back to each other the questions they had never heard before. They were well prepared for the common questions, and well trained never to make up answers for the unusual ones. Drew particularly loved, “Why did you choose Tulane?” That let him get into his discussion about The Great Universities of the South—Vanderbilt, Duke, Emory, and Tulane. He was happy to compare and contrast the strengths and weaknesses of each, which the group generally found interesting, but again, he carefully avoided the real answer: “I didn’t get into Duke or Vandy. And Atlanta vs. New Orleans? No contest there.”
Finally, she asked a question. Looking directly into Drew’s eyes, she leaned forward to make sure nobody else was about to ask a question, and softly but confidently said, “Hello, my name is Kate. I’m a senior from Virginia.”
Her voice was different than Drew had imagined. Actually, he hadn’t imagined her speaking at all.  “I’m Drew,” he said, “a Freshman Biology Major from Florida.”
You don’t look at a Magnolia Tree and wonder what it will sound like. You just admire its essence.
Drew focused on the small details of her body language, the details that made each person unique, but which others generally overlooked or ignored. Like how she kept her hands folded in front of her waist in a slightly defensive position, yet still leaned forward at the waist as if to hear his responses more closely. How she nervously flicked at her nail polish with her thumbs as she switched her gaze from his right to his left eye and back again. How she furtively glanced over at her parents, perhaps making sure she didn’t seem more interested than was appropriate.
Drew didn’t remember her question in its entirety, and barely made it through the answer without embarrassing himself. What he was sure he would never forget was the eye contact.  People rarely made eye contact when they spoke. Maybe it was a defense mechanism or a primitive way of avoiding dominance contests, but people generally avoided it or kept it to a minimum. While answering her question, Drew pointed at this or that building or monument, but near the end, he looked towards her, and their eyes locked onto each other’s for one beat longer than usual.
That was it. Drew felt it, and more importantly, he could feel that she felt it too. He knew she did, or at least he thought he knew.
Cue the Oxytocin. I’m hooked.
He remembered that she was from Virginia, that her father was some sort of high-level government official, and that she was choosing between Tulane and the University of Virginia.
That one’s a tough sell.
He could make the case that Tulane was the better choice, but he couldn’t compete with the in-state tuition.
As they discussed the pros and cons, the Admissions Counselor called out, “Session one tours, come into the auditorium for information sessions. Session two tours, meet your tour guides in the main hallway.”
Damn, I forgot. It’s time for the next tour. Is that it? Is it really over?
He didn’t want it to end. If he finished his next tour quickly enough, perhaps he could be back before her information session let out, and would have the opportunity to see her again.
Rock and roll!
He proceeded with the canned speech—history of Tulane, here’s the Biology building, here’s the Library, nice school, nice town, yada, yada... good luck next year, guys. Then the questions started, and they kept coming: student to faculty ratio, Greek life, what’s the crime rate like here—lots of prep from the admissions office for that one.
C’mon, c’mon, let’s move it, guys. Let’s go back to admissions. Maybe the other group is still there.
The other group was gone.
The information sessions left plenty of time for questions and therefore varied in length. This must have been a short one, and just like that, she was gone. An emptiness descended upon him, and he felt like an hourglass with a hole in its base. Should he have gotten her phone number or address? He could get in trouble for that, but perhaps he could have done it in a way that would have seemed helpful rather than inappropriate. Could he have found a reason to ask someone in the Admissions Office for her information? No, that was strongly discouraged, he remembered.
The hell with it! I’m having a leftover Croissant. Shoot me.
He looked towards the quad and saw Matt bringing his group back, his curly blonde hair bouncing briskly above the crowd.
As Matt walked back, he called to Drew, “Beat me today. That hasn’t happened in a while.” Matt’s tours were always perfectly predictable in length, as he said just what he needed to say—no more, no less, and all on point.
Drew’s varied based on how late he was out the night before, whether he was able to score some coffee, and the personality of his group, but however those factors came together, they usually added up to a longer tour than Matt’s.
“I kinda rushed it a bit today,” he said. “I wanted to get back before the 10:30 info session let out.”
“Why, do you need to talk to someone in admissions?”
“No, to an applicant.”
“Dude, don’t go there. You know the rules. I’d rather them catch you with the coffee, and by the way, are those croissant crumbs on your shirt?”
Drew ignored the accusation. “Something happened today. I can’t describe it, but it was overwhelmingly powerful. I met someone, someone special. We only said a few words, but there was something there, something I’ve never felt before, something I didn’t know I could feel or... that could even be felt.”
“I know, some of them are pretty cute, and they look at you like you are the coolest kid in school.”
“Yeah, she was cute, but that’s not it. Well, that’s part of it, but there’s more.”
“And now she’s gone, so let’s go back to the dorm, put on some shorts, and go play some ball.”
Exercise as the cure, and good for you too. Very rational. Love that Matt.
This time Drew glided across campus, not noticing the buildings, the trees, the bustling campus, or Matt. People often said there were a few moments in your life for which everything else could be described as either before or after. Sometimes it was obvious, sometimes less so. Drew experienced this feeling years ago when his father passed away prematurely. He would then have to be the “man of the house,” with all its attendant responsibility and baggage. He felt it when he was accepted to Tulane and realized his days of living in Florida were over forever. Now, walking back to his dorm, he had the odd feeling that this was another of those moments.
Clayton greeted them as they walked into the room, wearing old gym shorts and a Miami Dolphins t-shirt. Matt had been up at 7:00 AM, worked out for an hour, showered, and made it early to Gibson Hall. Drew had woken up at 8:40 AM, threw on some clothes, and hustled there just as the tours were starting. Clayton still had sleep in his eyes.
“Bro, its after noon,” Matt said. “We’ve led four tours, stolen a croissant and coffee, and fallen in love already. Throw on some shorts and let’s ball!”
“I’m in,” replied Clayton, as he opened his dorm dresser to retrieve slightly less worn shorts and a different Dolphins t-shirt.
Drew loved that Clayton was always in for whatever.
Clayton stood a solid six feet tall, thin but not skinny, with dark black hair and a face that looked vaguely Eastern European. Whip smart but not as funny as he thought he was, he at least got points for trying, and was always up for fun. At the age of thirteen, he’d achieved a minor degree of local celebrity by advancing to the national finals in a basketball foul shooting contest. He routinely sank between twenty-two and twenty-four out of twenty-five shots, including in each round leading up to nationals. In the finals in Kansas City, however, he made only fourteen out of twenty-five. Nineteen would have won.
Clayton had been devastated, but his friends were compassionate. They called him The Kansas City Bomber. Forever. It really hurt his feelings. That made it funnier.
As they walked to the gym, Clayton looked over at Drew and said, “So you’re in love? It happens to me every day here.”
He was right. Ten thousand young students enjoying the first freedoms of living away from home, combined with alcohol, made for a volatile mix. Crushes and broken hearts routinely followed.
Drew shook his head and sighed. “No, I’m talking about something different. You should have seen her. I’m talking about something special, something lasting. I felt it in an instant, and I can’t think about anything else.” He gazed glass-eyed at a worn Larry Bird poster on the far wall, as if trying to see his own thoughts, and asked Clayton, “Do you believe in love at first sight?”
Clayton replied, “Dude, love at first sight is an illusion, an imaginary idea, like Unicorns, or Abs.”
“I like them taller,” said Matt.

Richard Robbins has always liked telling good stories, but it was not until his youngest child left for college that he was able to find the time to put them into print.  His first novel, Love, Loss, and Lagniappe was inspired by actual events in his life, and utilizes Richard’s Medical and Business School background to explore the journey of self-discovery after heartbreaking loss, while revealing the scientific basis for the meaning of life (You’ll have to read it to find out!).

Richard is currently working on his second novel, Panicles, a multi-generational story of the intersecting fate of two families and the price of fame versus the simpler pleasures of a grounded life.
Richard lives in New York City with his love and inspiration, Lisa, his wife of thirty years (and counting), near their beloved grown children.




1 comment: