Tuesday, November 20, 2018


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

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.
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
“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
“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?”
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



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