New Orleans Mensa

La Plume de NOM for September/October 2003

The Magazine of New Orleans Mensa Information and Entertainment


by Anne Osteen Stringer

Now, when the kids are back in school and we can look for some marginally cooler weather, is the time to get involved in our local group. We’ve got a lot of exciting events planned–RG, AMC meeting, and in 2005, the AG. We also enjoy NOM Nights, Dinner Club, and Celebration Sig each month. But we can always use more activities and you–yes, you!!–can host an activity. If you like movies, games, book discussions, pub crawls, or almost anything, you can bet some other Mensans would like to join you. If you plan on attending a lecture or concert, let us know. We will print it, and you will then be joined by a group of congenial M’s. Get involved! It’s easy and fun!

I am proud to report that the New Orleans Culture Quest team, Brains on Bourbon, placed 14th nationally in the most recent games. Our team carried on valiantly, in spite of being short one team member. The fact that the Baton Rouge team placed 13th shouldn’t bother us at all.

In this issue Tampa Bay Mensan Joni Fisher, who once lived in New Orleans, sends an essay about her time in the city. Heather Miller reports on RG planning. Richard reviews a book about Highway 61 and includes pictures we took on our trip this summer. Thanks to H., whose photograph of autumn vegetables graces the cover.


November is the month for election of NOM officers for 2004. The members attending the September NOM night will constitute a nominating committee and their recommendations and a ballot will appear in the November issue of La Plume. Nominees must be members in good standing as of September 1 and be willing to serve. If you want to nominate someone for an office and will be unable to attend the September NOM Night, contact Nomination Supervisor, A. with the name of the nominee. She will contact the person in question to determine if they are willing to serve and will ensure that they are members in good standing.

Please give careful consideration to this matter and make every effort to attend the September NOM Night. A strong slate of candidates will ensure that our organization will continue to be strong.


Continuum, broadcast weekly on WWNO/New Orleans, has been awarded Honorable Mention in the 2003 KXMS Fine Arts Radio International Awards Contest. Continuum is hosted by NOMensan Thais St. Julien and Milton G. Scheuermann, Jr., directors of New Orleans Musica da Camera. Airing since 1976, it is the longest running radio program devoted to early music in both old and new worlds!

Thais will be included the 2004 edition of Who’s Who in America. Since the first edition in 1899, Marquis Who’s Who has chronicled accomplished individuals and innovators from every significant field of endeavor - including politics, business, medicine, law, education, the arts, religion and entertainment. Thais reports that she is thrilled, and slightly stunned.

Musica da Camera's first Fall concert, The Discourse of Love, featuring Italian music of the 14th and 15th centuries, will be presented Sunday September 28, 3 PM at St Joseph's Abbey in Covington; Sunday October 5, 4 PM at the Ursuline Chapel, 2635 State St.; Friday Oct 10, 8 PM at St John's Lutheran Church, 3937 Canal St; and Sunday October 12, 3 PM at Holy Name of Mary Church, 500 Eliza St. in Algiers Point. All concerts are free and open to the public. See their website: or call 504-865-8203 for further information.

Hello Region 6

by Dan Wilterding

Soon you will have yet another opportunity to amend our bylaws, and I hope that you will carefully examine the proposals. The matters being presented will include whether we should modify the date range for the Annual Gathering (currently June 1 through July 15) in order to accommodate the already-committed-date for the World Gathering/AG in 2006, which is almost a month outside of the allowable range as the bylaws now stand. Also part of the consideration is the timing and venue for the Annual Business Meeting which according to our current bylaws must be held at the AG (the currently approved dates). Another item is likely to be a modification of the beginning and ending dates for the terms of the AMC members.

One proposed solution has been to convene the ABM in Texas during the allowable period and then immediately recess, reconvening at the AG during the period beginning August 8; or to hold the ABM at a time and place entirely separate from the AG, thereby denying the bulk of the those that would otherwise attend the reasonable opportunity to do so.

I see our bylaws as mandating that the Annual Business Meeting and the AG are held together. Please read the current bylaws yourself and then vote according to your best judgment. Copies are available either online at or by request from the national office.

Please talk to your representatives on the AMC, let them know what you think and why. This year we have two chances to see the AMC at work in this region: September 19-21 in Arlington, Texas and again in New Orleans during NORGY VI (December 12-14). I urge you to come watch, to take part, and to be part of the business of this Mensa of ours.

Comments, anyone?


Win a free registration to extravAGanza in Las Vegas June 30 to July 5, 2004


You can submit entries in one of three ways:

RG Report

by Heather Miller

Things are moving quickly for both NORGy VI in December and the 2005 Annual Gathering!

NORGy VI has a terrific website now at where you can get information, reserve your room at The Maison Dupuy in the French Quarter, and most importantly-REGISTER! Rates are currently $45, but will go up to $55 on Sept. 15. Be sure to ask for the Mensa rate when you reserve your hotel room.

We’ve got great things already in place for NORGy VI…masseurs onsite for the weekend, meals prepared by the staff of Dominique’s, two hospitality suites, a testing session for potential members, and fascinating speakers. You won’t want to go home!

Here’s a sample of our speakers and sessions already in place:


Think New Orleans is cold in December? The natives know otherwise! Bring your swimsuit, because Friday night we’ll have a poolside massage party! If you’d rather enjoy the fabulous restaurants that New Orleans has to offer, dine-around sign-up sheets will be available. Choose what tickles your fancy and follow your local host to a great dinner.

Tired after a long night of researching local color? Aerobics and massage sessions will be conducted each morning by certified professionals.

Luncheon Saturday, the banquet Saturday night and Sunday’s brunch will be feasts catered by the Maison Dupuy. This is some of the most exquisite food you will enjoy in New Orleans, so get your meal tickets early!

If you’re a GenX-M, you’ve got a treat waiting for you, because Saturday night, the GenX-M pub crawl tradition continues! Meet fellow GenX-Ms in the lobby of the Dupuy after the banquet Saturday evening and enjoy a night out in the French Quarter, beginning on Bourbon Street and ending…? (Note: This is a restricted activity for GenX-Ms only. If you were born between 1961 and 1981, you’re in!)

Something we didn’t schedule: The New Orleans Saints will host the New York Giants in the Superdome Sunday, December 14. Get ready for some great football and get your tickets early.


Onva Boshears, Ph.D., is retired dean of the School of Library Science at the University of Southern Mississippi and will speak on “The History of the Episcopal Church in Louisiana.”

Lorraine Day, Ph.D., is safety officer for the Center for Advanced Microstructures and Devices (CAMD), a research facility specializing in those tiny machines you’ve been reading about in the news. Dr. Day will speak on the Center’s work.

Jimmy Fahrenholtz is a school board member and well-known figure in New Orleans. Jimmy will speak on New Orleans politics.

Chris Faulk is a research associate in molecular genetics at Pennington Biomedical Research Center and will speak on “The Scientific Evidence for the Power of Prayer.”

Steve Goodson is a musician and saxophone designer and will speak on his work designing musical instruments.

Jacquelyn Naquin is a multitalented member of New Orleans Mensa and will lead the aerobics sessions.

Danny O’Flaherty owns O’Flaherty’s Irish Pub in the French Quarter. Danny will speak on “The History of the Irish in New Orleans.”

Ray O’Connor, Ph.D., is Region 6’s Hospitality Machine-but did you know he’s also a licensed massage therapist? Ray is one of our masseurs and will give a course on “Massage for Couples.”

Register now for the lowest rate, get your hotel room early, and get ready to laissez les bon temps rouler!

The Reading M

by Richard Stringer

US Highway 61 begins (or ends, depending on your perspective) in New Orleans, and extends to St Paul, Minnesota, roughly paralleling the Mississippi River its entire route. Originally the route designation extended north of St. Paul to the Canadian border at Grand Portage, Minn., where Ontario highway 61 continues the route into Thunder Bay, Ont., formerly the twin cities of Port Arthur and Fort William. The northernmost section, from St. Paul to the border, which was presumably the inspiration for Bob Dylan’s song “Highway 61Revisited”, was decommissioned as a US highway some years ago. Minnesota’s Highway Fathers, having a sense of history and tradition, immediately renumbered the truncated portion Minnesota Highway 61. So for us traditionalists, “Highway 61” still refers to the complete road, from Thunder Bay to New Orleans. The highway bears many nicknames and designations along the way. From the border to Duluth it is the North Shore Road; from St. Paul to New Orleans The Great River Road; from Memphis to Vicksburg The Blues Highway; and from Baton Rouge to New Orleans it’s Huey Long’s Airline Highway, the South’s first “superhighway.”

Being a great fan of road books, having traveled on most of Highway 61 at one time or another in my life, and having just recently traversed the northernmost section, from Thunder Bay to Duluth, I was very interested in reading William McKeen’s new book, Highway 61. McKeen is a mid-western born professor of English who also teaches a course in Rock ‘n Roll History at the University of Florida. He is a divorced father whose time with his children has been limited to holidays and summers. When his oldest son turned 18, they embarked on a father-son journey down Highway 61, in search of all those things we take to the road for.

The book succeeds well as a father-son story. The father is good in his earnestness and his desire to connect with his son, and the son seems to be a genuinely nice kid. As a road book, however, it only half succeeds. The northern half of the journey is interesting and well recorded. Once they leave the author’s native midwest the narrative gets less comfortable. They start in Thunder Bay, travel the shore of Lake Superior, arrive in Duluth, and go looking for Bob Dylan's roots in Duluth and Hibbing, Minn. From there to St. Louis the narrative remains interesting. It starts getting wobblier once they leave St. Louis, and gets somewhat bogged down in Memphis, where the pair spend a good bit of time looking for the roots of the blues. Even this is enjoyable reading, but the writing has a distinct “third person” feel to it; it can’t escape being the musings of a white professor whose familiarity with the blues comes from recordings and not experience. Once the pair leave Memphis and travel into the Delta country of Mississippi, I’m afraid the narrative degenerates into white-professor-of-rock-n-roll-history-who-only-went-to-his-first-black-funeral-three-years-ago-searching-for-the-roots-of-blues-in-all-that-poverty-and-isn’t-it-amazing-that-the-white-folk-don’t-shoot-us-and-the-black-folk-don’t rob-us kind of thing. I suppose the author can’t help who he is and where he’s from, but the writing in this section, though interesting enough, is too much professor and not enough chronicler; too much tourist and not enough traveler.

The last place on the trip which gets any attention is Greenville, Miss. From there, the pair, obviously out of time, rushes to New Orleans and the end of the voyage with only cursory glances. I also found this irritating, as if the title should really be Highway 61 as far as Greenville.

If you’re a road book junkie, as I am, the book is probably worth reading in spite of its drawbacks. I confess to having enjoyed it, although it leaves me feeling unsatisfied.

Harvest Time in the City

by Joni M. Fisher

For five years I watched for a certain homeless man like others anticipate the first robin in springtime. He came out with the perennials in downtown New Orleans, Louisiana. A frail, aging black man, dressed in thrown-away clothes, he stood for hours on the lawn of the downtown public library. Neither soaking rain nor scorching sunshine moved him indoors. He endured like a displaced scarecrow.

Having grown up in Wisconsin, where the homeless sometimes freeze to death, I wasn’t accustomed to seeing guys like him or pretending I didn’t. For the most part he was deliberately ignored and he ignored in return. Could he see more than shadows and motion through the white film of cataracts? Even other “street people” avoided him, sleeping instead in the remote seats of the air-conditioned library during the day while this scarecrow stood outside on the lawn.

His five-foot frame stooped as his overcoat flapped against his orange and green plaid shirt and brown pants. The crotch of his pants sagged halfway down his thighs, pants unsupported by his rope belt or his shrunken frame. Stick-like shins stuck out beneath the tattered ends of his pants then disappeared into large, unbuckled, black rubber boots. His wrists extended into knobby, gnarled fingers, the kind that grew from years of painful arthritis or repeated injury. Thick, yellow nails and hard, dry calluses covered his stubby fingers.

Like a scarecrow overseeing crops, this shrunken form drove birds, squirrels and other timid souls away. He had somehow defied the efforts of weather and the natural process of decay that recycles things. Three wild patches of yellow whiskers sprouted from the furrows on his face. It was a sign that something grew from the living humus. The horrific smelling rot of his body and clothes refuted the life still clinging to him. It drove people upwind off the sidewalk into traffic.

What kinds of tragedy or mental illness drove him to become so detached from life? I didn’t understand. As an officer at the largest bank in the state, I aspired to absolute yuppiehood. I had the status job with the window office and overpriced, covered parking. In my late twenties, a college graduate, I was making enough money writing user manuals and designing training aids to convince myself I couldn’t afford to pursue my real goals in life. I couldn’t afford to write a novel, to risk failure. I had plenty of time.

“You’ll have to be more specific,” she said, “Short, old, black and unkempt sounds like half the crowd here.” “I don’t know his name. He probably weighs ninety pounds and has no teeth. Cataracts. Wears huge black rubber boots.”

“Oh, that’s Stinky. I haven’t seen him lately, but I’ll check on it and get back to you. Why do you want to know about him?”

“I haven’t seen him lately. I just wondered.”

“Tell me you don’t give those guys money.”

“I don’t give those guys money.”

“Good. Let me remind you that some of them are reality challenged and addicted.” A high-pitched tone sounded in the background. “Crap, the ER’s tugging my leash again. Gotta go.”

I went back to my office where two MBA interns, wearing identical Brooks Brothers suits, introduced themselves. They had been sent as test dummies to take the computer-based training lesson for the new system scheduled to go on-line in a month. The fruits of years of labor would soon be harvested. These men were representative of the typical loan officers at our bank, only twenty pounds lighter. They couldn’t type and they feared computers. Like the upcoming software system, these guys were models of impersonal efficiency. At the rate they poked their keyboards their thirty-minute lessons took an hour. I was tempted to reveal that the secretaries we used to test the lessons earned higher scores in half the time, but the male ego is such a fragile thing. I bit my lip.

That night at 6:00 p.m. the phone rang in my office. Managers often called after hours to identify the ‘‘dedicated’’ employees, so I played along delivering the full official telephone greeting according to company policy. After a long pause, Kay’s voice responded.

“I was waiting for the beep to leave a message. Geez, I thought bankers had better hours.”

“Sure we do, Kay. Just like all doctors have time to golf.”

“Well, I found the chart on Stinky. He’s a fifty-year-old John Doe. He died two days ago. No friends or family. So he went unclaimed.”

Unclaimed meant buried without a headstone. Unclaimed meant his body could go to one of the medical schools in town for cadaver lab, dissection by the numbers. I didn’t ask.

“Thanks for checking.” Fifty?

On the way to the parking lot I passed his spot on the lawn and saw birds gathered there. I cried all the way home. There I began my writing career in earnest --with a letter of resignation.

Scarecrow had died years before he was buried. Just as he was waiting to die, I was waiting to live. Bribed by luxury, I had given up living and hadn’t realized it. Scarecrow showed me the high cost of postponing goals and dreams. This was real life in the grownup world. No guarantees for a second chance. No do-overs.

In his last years, he hadn’t voted or paid taxes. Gallup hadn’t polled him. Census takers hadn’t counted him. Presidents and fashions had changed without him. Out of work, out of hope, out of time, he had waited through his season with outstretched hands and quietly disappeared.

He taught me that the safety net from failure is not money. It’s courage.

Ed. note: Joni Fisher is a member of Tampa Bay Mensa. She writes: “This essay first appeared in Tampa Bay Sounding, December 2002. This is a true story. I worked as a Training Officer for the largest bank in New Orleans before I got a life as a freelance writer and pilot. This essay has also appeared on the website as an example of the essay format.”

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