It's Hard to Imagine New Orleans After KatrinaJeff Fisk, who has lived all his life in Deerfield Beach, is a yard supervisor at the United Parcel Service hub for deliveries from Pompano to Delray.
Last year, this slender working man spent many off hours researching, designing and making a costume to transform himself into the 400-pound Fat Bastard, the repellent Austin Powers character.
It was foolishness. But there is a rational explanation.
He was giving his all for Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
In the past 10 years, Fisk and a number of his friends have traveled almost every February to New Orleans' prolonged party, a week or more of drinking, dancing, costumes and debauchery.
The South Floridians are such regulars they've been admitted to a "krewe," a semi-select organization that stages the parades and costume balls that have been the city's signature since the 1700s.
"We've been kind of welcomed with open arms," said Fisk, 45, of his reception into Krewe Tuck.
Michael Bowders, 42, a fellow krewe member from our parts, said "It doesn't feel like people have the same walls between the social classes as they do here.
"My friend who's close to a millionaire will go down to a bar and drink and talk with a homeless guy, and it's no big deal.
"And then there's the architecture," added Bowders, who manages a camera store in Fort Lauderdale.
"My friend Jeff and I just love to walk around and we look at the intricate detail, and we love it.
"But it's got me so worried," he added. "Everything is made of wood ..."
I knew what he meant.
It was a day for worry if you love New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina was roaring through Louisiana.
They call New Orleans the city that care forgot. But with winds blowing away sections of the Superdome roof, it looked like care was finally catching up.
As I write this Monday, the city has been spared the worst-case scenario. But streets are under several feet of water, windows are gone from high-rises, buildings have collapsed.
Details are sketchy, and no one knows what the final toll will be.
I realize Katrina hit harder in Gulfport and Biloxi.
But those places didn't give us the genius of Louis Armstrong or the setting for A Streetcar Named Desire.
This is New Orleans we're talking about. Not just another city, but a national treasure.
It's a place that spurs deep connections, though you may live many miles away.
It's a place that toys with death and disaster, lying precariously below sea level, cultivating the air of decadence conveyed in Anne Rice's vampire novels.
Yet it bubbles with life; with the music of Louis Prima, the Neville Brothers, Dr. John, Fats Domino; with the dishes of Paul Prudhomme and Emeril.
It was in New Orleans that I picked up two of the smartest pieces of advice I ever heard.
In a cooking class that my wife and I took one morning. I can't remember the instructor's name. I forgot the details on making gumbo or bread pudding.
But I remember this: "When you're going through a buffet, take the dessert first. If you wait 'til after the meal, those good desserts can be gone."
He paused for effect. "You ever seen a buffet where they ran out of salad?"
That's as good a rationale for seize-the-moment as I know.
He also said: "Don't worry if you don't follow the recipe exactly. It may not be a perfect jambalaya. But it will be a perfect whatever-it-is."
It was shtick for tourists, I know, but it was also a genuine reflection of the New Orleans outlook: Grab the most enjoyable parts of life when you can, and don't make yourself crazy over "perfection" or any other impediments to a clear head and a good time.
It's such a sane philosophy, even if it gulls you into building a city in an illogical location.
With Katrina, let's hope that the loss of life is light, the damage repairable.
We're not ready to consign New Orleans to the category of lost treasures.