What do you say to an old friend who lives on the other side of the country when he reports some good news? In the old days I’d send him a bottle of J&B Scotch. But that doesn’t seem like the most appropriate gift for such an event.

Yes, my partner in crime, J of J&B on the ROX, is now a father.

I can’t send him a bottle of that crap.

His son, Julian, deserves better.

Julian’s mom, Day, deserves better.

Definitely something single malt. Not that I can afford much.

Maybe The Dalmore?

Yet More Guerrilla Art in Mid-City

That old chaos hag Courtney Egan has done a great installation at Banks and Broad. Check it out.

Similar idea: Someone put a marker up at Bienville and Conti last fall. It eventually disappeared but recently I noticed it’s back up again.

The idea of marking flood heights is powerful and important. Sometimes we’d rather forget, but we mustn’t allow ourselves to do that. I admire what Courtney has done, but I think it needs to be expanded. I would like to see something more permanent, in stone perhaps, at multiple locations around the city. The right sculptor could make a mission out of memorializing the big flood of 2005.

Way of the Condor

A friend of mine from Indiana recently wrote the following in an online discussion:

I don’t want to argue the point as I don’t have time, nor do I want to diminish what it is you want to accomplish [in New Orleans], but the California Condor has had millions and millions of dollars spent on it since 1950. Yet every time hatchlings are released they have to be recaptured. The Condor is essentially a dinosaur and maybe, just maybe, it is natural it should go extinct. The hard thing to get one’s mind around is America (the whole) seems to have recovered from Katrina. Maybe there is some moral imperative on rebuilding NOLA to previous levels, but the arguments on how to do so have yet to be made on a practical level the country can understand.

I don’t know what to say about this. It hurts to read it. I have a very visceral reaction. Perhaps it’s an irrational reaction.

I remember reading about a WWII veteran who lost everything in the Federal Flood. The paper had a picture of him standing in the ruin of his home that was just heartbreaking. I’d like to take my friend from Indiana to visit that old man. Just to sit down and have a conversation with him.

That’s the only response I can come up with, and it probably doesn’t make any sense at all.

Happy Administrative Assistants Day!

I arrived at work yesterday morning to discover a sign on the front door of our office suite:

Happy Administrative Assistants Day!

The sign had been put up my none other than Olivia, who is — you guessed it — our administrative assistant.

Here’s a picture of Olivia:

Olivia's Hand

I knew this day was coming up, because I heard someone talking about it at the garden shop last weekend, but then it slipped my mind.

A couple of profs from Philosophy came over with cards and a gift bag, looking for Olivia.

I immediately went to Janice and said, “We are in big trouble.”

Olivia services Philosophy and Languages, but those departments require very little from her. Mainly she works with our unit, wherein she is officially housed.

Janice and I are the only other full-time employees since Katrina. We made a plan to run to a nearby store and get a potted plant, but the day proved to be too hectic. We couldn’t get away.

Since Olivia was at an all-day training session across campus, I didn’t see her until she came by for lunch. I quickly told her that “Janice and I thought this was tomorrow.”

As we were talking, another administrative assistant popped by, to ask Olivia how she’d made out. Olivia displayed her gift bag from Philosophy. For her part, the other assistant said, the Education faculty were taking her out for lunch.

“They must really like you over there,” I said.

“They love me,” she said.

Later that day, the Languages faculty upped the ante with a big floral arrangement for Olivia.

Floral Arrangement

There was no way that Janice and I could compete with this monster. We didn’t even try. We got her the potted plant and a card, but they seem paltry in comparison. We knew we’d been beat.

Now we’re thinking we’d better get that office refrigerator Olivia’s been wanting…


Motivated by a desire to get in shape, I purchased memberships at the Jewish Community Center for Xy and myself. I’m more motivated than Xy, a bizarre twist considering that when we first got together, she was much more athletic than me. We’ve both changed.

When we lived uptown, right next to the Tulane campus, I had a membership at the Reily Center, which was ultra-convenient. Now that we live in Mid-City… hmmm, come to think of it, the Reily Center is closer than the JCC. Maybe I should have rejoined over there instead. Oh well, I think the JCC is ultimately more affordable and pretty nice too. I hear Delgado has a facility, which would have been much closer to home, but I don’t think they have a pool. Xy has some kind of fixation with swimming pools. Eventually there should be a fitness center at the new community center planned for Comiskey Park, which is about halfway between home and work. But in the meantime, it looks like I will be going uptown to work out.

So this morning was the first time I’ve hit a weight room almost five years. I tried to take it easy. It felt great.

I’m still trying to figure out the best way to fit a workout session into my schedule, especially considering Xy usually has the car. I took the car today, but I’m wondering if using the old bicycle isn’t feasible after all. The real puzzler is fitting breakfast into this routine.

In the locker room I took a moment to weigh myself. I’m at 196 lbs, which shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. That’s close to my all time high of 200 lbs, what I weighed after my first year in New Orleans, during which I gained 20 lbs. I lost much of that weight but not all. Of course, I don’t really care about my weight so much as my overall body fat percentage or, to be frank, waist circumference. (Most people would probably describe me as skinny, but my pants size has been steadily increasing over the years. It’s a far cry from the days that I was so skeletally thin I worried people.) Also I think getting back into an exercise routine will be good for my mental health, help me sleep better at night, and have more energy during the day.

Postscript: I can’t believe I didn’t realize the shower I had at the JCC this morning is the first shower I’ve had in almost seventeen months. Since we moved back home in November 2005, it’s been strictly baths. Our home shower was destroyed by the Federal Flood. I like baths, but that shower this morning was strangely enjoyable, and now I know why.


There was only one ‘U’ movie on our list: Under Fire, 1983. Nick Nolte is a photographer running around Nicaragua with Gene Hackman and Joanna Cassidy, circa 1979, during the civil war. There’s action and politics and romance and intrigue. It was even a little educational.

It was pretty good, but could have been much better. The final scene between Nolte and Cassidy was so cheesy it really took the whole thing down a notch. Still, I’d recommend checking it out.

Under Fire was a damn sight better than U-571. But it didn’t compare to The Usual Suspects or the best U movie ever, Unforgiven.


I feel like I’m just waking up from a week-long funk. The beatdown in front of our house really disturbed me. Then, when Milo went missing, it brought up all kinds of dark feelings. All kinds of grief came surging back again. It was almost like a drug, numbing me. I went through the motions of running errands and doing chores and so forth, but my head was in a very weird place. I even videotaped a friend’s musical performance, but I felt like I wasn’t really there. It’s odd how grief seems to flatten me, and odd to see how the personality reasserts itself. It’s hard to explain, but I feel like I was not myself, and now I’ve come back to myself. Normally I wouldn’t get so distraught over a cat gone missing for a few hours. So I think it was much more than that. I’m not sure why I started feeling better yesterday, but I do I feel better now.

Adjudication Notices

On Sunday, April 22nd, I noticed a number of orange notices posted on houses on Bienville, some on the 3000 block, some on the 3200 block.

3028 Bienville

Upon closer inspection I saw they were notices of adjudication hearings. I don’t know when they went up, but the hearing was scheduled for the next day, Monday, April 23rd. (That’s today.)

Notice of Hearing

click to enlarge

As I was taking this picture some people rolled up in a truck to take a look at another one of the houses with a notice on it. I got to talking with them. They said their friend was the owner and that he asked them to consider purchasing the house, presumably to rehab and rent. They asked me questions about the neighborhood, including a very odd question about the trailer site across the way: “Is it mixed?” What kind of question is that? Do they think FEMA is maintaining racially segregated trailer parks?

We desperately need someone to start fixing up houses in our neighborhood. The majority are still vacant. Some haven’t been touched since the Federal Flood.

But as much as I hate to say it, these people did not inspire confidence. I got the feeling that they would invest as little as possible in the house and rent it for as high a price as possible. I could tell as they looked around they though this was a slum ghetto. Our area was a little rough before Katrina but now I have the feeling it’s going to go down the toilet.


I was just getting ready to post about how sick I am of living amidst piles of garbage, when I came across the latest from our mayor:

“Let me tell you something. I want you to go to Philly, and you will appreciate how clean New Orleans is. Just go and walk around Philly a little bit,” Nagin told the crowd Saturday in New Orleans. “You will appreciate – am I lying? You will appreciate New Orleans. We still have work to do but we definitely beat them by a long shot.”

(I found the link on Library Chronicles.)

All I have to say in reply is this:


I took that picture Friday on the way home from work. Such piles of garbage are everywhere. They’re not related to rebuilding. This is just irresponsible, lazy, illegal dumping.

New Orleans is full of garbage. If we’re cleaner than Philadelphia, that’s truly frightening. But I suspect that our mayor is full of garbage too. Yes, I’ve heard that the French Quarter is cleaner than ever. Maybe that’s what our mayor is bragging about. But come around to my neighborhood, Mr. Nagin, and you won’t feel like bragging.

Missing Milo

Milo the Mouser

We haven’t seen Milo since I put him and Crybaby out of the bedroom this morning for making too much noise.

He missed breakfast and now he’s missing dinner.

I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

Update: He’s back. False alarm. But obviously my characteristic easy-going optimism is slipping. Still, I couldn’t be happier. This calls for a drink.

Leadership Challenge

Somehow or another I’m going to Harvard next month for a leadership conference at the Kennedy School of Government.

Apparently the Broadmoor Civic Improvement Association got a grant (from Shell, I think) to send some folks to this conference, and they decided to spread it around. So I’m going from Mid-City along with representatives from Broadmoor and the Lower Nine.

It seems like a pretty interesting opportunity, and I’m flattered to have been selected, but it’s all a little surprising to me.

I remember after graduating from high school I got a chance to see my “file.” There were a number of detailed write-ups in there. One teacher described me as neither a follower nor a leader. I thought she nailed it, and I still remember that description twenty years later. There’s no doubt that it influenced my self-conception, my very idea of what kind of person I am. I’ve never seen myself as a leader and, in fact, have actively tried to avoid the leadership positions.

Yet, after Katrina, many things have changed. I now find myself on the boards of several nonprofit corporations. There have been numerous occasions when someone had to step up and do something and I found myself in that role. I hasten to add that I have had many partners also stepping up at the same time.

I still don’t think of myself as a leader, though. To discover that others do is bizarre to say the least.

Honestly I’m not even sure what “leadership” means. I actually searched the web yesterday and started reading about leadership because I’m so unclear on the concept. I was happy to discover such concepts as “group leadership” and “thought leadership” and to see that leadership and authority are not the same thing.

I’m supposed to write a short essay about “one important leadership challenge that you are currently facing in your work.” I’m having a real block thinking about this. On the one hand there are so many challenges to every aspect of life in post-Katrina New Orleans, but on the other hand I’m so unaccustomed to thinking about leadership that I’m drawing a blank.

Blood on the Sidewalk

Xy came home from visiting with a friend yesterday evening to discover that our block was a crime scene. Police had the street blocked off and they were taking photos on the sidewalk, practically right in front of our house. Fearing that I might have been the victim, she parked on a side street and rushed over.

But I was fine. In fact, I didn’t have a clue as to what had been unfolding outside. I was inside listening to avant-garde music, snacking on some gourmet cheeses, drinking some cognac, checking my e-mail and generally puttering about.

When I asked the police officer what had happened, she told me there had been a robbery. In retrospect, it seems a little odd that the police didn’t knock on our door to ask if I’d seen anything.

More details emerged when we talked to our neighbors. They said four guys jumped one guy and beat him up pretty badly. One of my neighbors witnessed it, but she’s scared to talk to the police. She says she didn’t really see much anyway.

Xy found a dollar’s worth of change on the sidewalk, and several bloodstains.

Blood & Money

Shortly thereafter, we heard a lot of angry hollering around the corner on Bienville. I’m not sure what it was all about. I didn’t think it wise to go down and gawk, but I’m sure it was related to the incident on our street.

Later, Debra came over and said she was afraid to work late anymore and leave her kids unattended. She said it was getting so she was afraid to come outside at night.

A friend recently commented that she thought our part of Mid-City was “scary.” I guess this proves her right. We feel scared, too, and somewhat helpless. Other parts of Mid-City are coming back strong, but our little corner is coming back scary. There’s only one person from the old neighborhood who’s back (Gwen), and most of the houses are still vacant, and most of the residents don’t stay very long, and there’s a FEMA trailer park across the way with sixty or seventy units. Our community is fractured, unstable, and under stress, and that’s a recipe for bad things happening.

Right now I’d just like to know what really happened last night. I suspect it was more of a beef than a robbery.

There is an anti-crime march this Saturday, organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Council. (I can’t find any information online and I left the flyer at home, but I think it starts at Tulane and Broad at 11:00 AM.) Xy and I were planning on going even before this thing happened. Of course, marching is not really enough. But what else can we do?


We continue to make our way through the alphabet, and we’re entering the homestretch.

Ordinarily I make a note of my thoughts on a movie a day or two after viewing. But with the ‘T’ movies, I didn’t. Let’s see if I can remember anything about these 15 films. Here they are in rough order of how much I liked them.

  • The Testament of Dr. Mabuse — 1933. Brilliant old German film by that famous director, Fritz Lang. This concerns a criminal genius who is so evil that his ideas continue to pervert and corrupt even for the many years when he’s catatonic in a mental hospital, and even after he dies. The concept of this character seems so deeply iconic that I can’t believe I never heard of him before. Apparently he’s had quite the fictional life in Europe, in film and literature, but has never hit it big in America for some reason.
  • Tape — 2001. Two and then three people in a hotel room, talking, pretty much in real time. That it’s gripping rather than boring is a tribute to the writer, the actors, and director Richard Linklater.
  • That Obscure Object of Desire — 1977. Subtle French surrealism, the last picture by Buñuel. The tale of an affair between an older man and a younger woman is surprisingly conventional but well-told. The surrealist conceit is that the role of the woman, Conchita, is played by two different actresses, changing from scene to scene. This was driving Xy crazy at first. I’ll confess I didn’t even notice until she pointed it out! We watched this Lundi Gras evening, and I was pleasantly surprised by the resonance between Buñuel’s work and the rituals of Societé de Sainte Anne which we observed the next day.
  • To Sir, with Love — 1966. This is one of those classic movies that even I can’t believe I never saw. But that’s the point of this project, after all. Even though I hadn’t seen it, I knew what it was about, and I imagine everyone else does too, so I won’t bother to describe it, except to say it’s a fine film.
  • Trouble in Paradise — 1932. By way of contrast, consider this film. According to Netflix, none of my friends have rented or rated this movie. Anyone who likes comedies of this vintage should definitely check it out. It’s classic Ernst Lubitsch, witty and sophisticated and sharp and stylish and funny. The story concerns two thieves who fall in love and combine forces to rob a perfume executive. Nothing too serious, but great fun.
  • Time After Time — 1979. I vaguely remember the hype around this movie when it came out. I was in middle school then. Almost thirty years later, I finally get to see it, and what a treat this movie is. Jack the Ripper travels through time from Victorian England to contemporary San Francisco, pursued by H. G. Wells. Need I say any more? Oh yes: Malcolm McDowell!
  • Touch of Evil — 1958. I know some people are put off by Charlton Heston’s impersonation of a Mexican, but if you can get past that, this is a pretty good little film noir. Actually I found the nutty hotel clerk more offensive to my intelligence than Heston’s pseudo-Mexican turn. However, Orson Wells and Marlene Dietrich and the general atmosphere of seedy corruption more than make up for these shortcomings.
  • Tin Men — 1987. Danny DeVito and Nick Cage play rival aluminum siding salesmen in Baltimore. Pretty funny and engaging.
  • Tenacious D: Complete Masterworks — 2003. A grab bag of music videos, concert footage, short films, mini-documentaries, and so forth, featuring the world’s greatest rock and roll band.
  • Tom Jones — 1963. The cinematic definition of the word “rollicking.” Albert Finney runs wild through merrie olde England, but this is very much a film of the early 60s. There’s something charmingly disconcerting about an actor in period dress winking at the camera.
  • Tron — 1982. My friend Greg had a cat named Tron. This film is dated and goofy, but those could be endearing qualities if you’re in the right mood.
  • The Thing — 1982. Straight up science fiction action adventure.
  • Tuck Everlasting — 2002. The idea of a family of immortals hiding away in the woods is immensely compelling to me. This film adaptation of the children’s novel is serviceable but nothing special.
  • Truly, Madly, Deeply — 1991. Maybe it was because a friend of mine recently passed away, but I found this tale of a woman longing for her departed husband and his return from the other world kind of mawkish and creepy. The again, maybe it was the guy’s mustache.
  • Time Code — 2000. Four intertwined stories are shown at the same time on the four quadrants of the screen. I find experiments like this interesting. The amazing thing is that this is watchable at all. Alas, the stories themselves are forgettable, leaving only a memory of the experiment itself.

Obligatory footnote: You might wonder why don’t mention such notable ‘T’ movies as The Three Musketeers and Three Kings and To Be or Not to Be and To Kill a Mockingbord and Trainspotting and Tampopo and This Is Spinal Tap and Time Bandits and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Triplets of Belleville. Well, it’s simply because I’d already seen those movies. The main focus of this project is watching movies I haven’t seen. Although come to think of it, I had already seen Tron, probably in the theater when it was first released, but I didn’t remember much of it.

The Rock Next Time

Remember the guerrilla art installation I wrote about in November? On the Jeff Davis neutral ground, a pitcher of water was suspended over a map of Louisiana drawn in sand.

Over the months the sand image of Louisiana became formless and then dissolved into the grass. The pitcher of water disappeared recently, and I considered removing the empty cable which held it myself.

Then, yesterday, I noticed the pitcher was back. Only this time, there’s no water but a rock inside the pitcher.

Rock in Pitcher

Sand Louisiana

Our Precarious State, Part II

There’s no mention of the refurbished installation at Art in Action, at least not yet. I assume this is the work of Jonathan Traviesa, but who knows? Who knows what it means?

Update: Art in Action has posted the full story.

Virginia Tech

33 dead, 15 injured. Sometimes the news seems so unreal.

I tried to make it real. I tried to imagine this happening at Indiana University, a school I know well, instead of Virginia Tech, which I know not at all. I imagined how the community of Bloomington, Indiana, would be devastated by something like this.

Of course, if it happened here in New Orleans, it would have been chalked up to Katrina and mixed into a whole different kind of pain.

But I’m already wondering, what will our national response be? Are we capable of any response that doesn’t just make everything worse?


Here it is eight days later, and my head is still stuck in Easter Sunday.

I keep thinking back to a conversation I had with Debra.

Debra lives across the street. She’s a single mother raising children in difficult circumstances. Her oldest son was murdered in Central City last October. She doesn’t make much money working her job at an Uptown grocery. Often she has to borrow from us. She always pays back, but I worry about her.

As we stood on the street and talked, she said she’d like to go back to school and get a degree. She said she’d like to own her own home some day — the American dream.

She shared some of the particulars of her financial situation. The Housing Authority of New Orleans is paying Debra’s rent under Section 8. The check, which goes directly to the landlord, is for the amount of $1,300 every month.

That’s more than our monthly mortgage payment. Our house is almost as large as the entire fourplex in which Debra’s apartment is located. Right, that’s $1,300 for a somewhat crappy, small, unfurnished apartment in a fourplex. Appliances not included — fridge and stove must be provided by the tenant.

In fact, the apartment is bad enough that Debra is planning to move soon. That makes me sad, because I like Debra, and our neighborhood is so unstable now. Every time we get to know our neighbors, they move. But I digress.

There is such a thing as a Section 8 Homeownership program, but as far as I can tell, we don’t have that in New Orleans.

Or do we? According to an Excel spreadsheet on the HUD website, there have been at least 65 closings in New Orleans through the Housing Choice Voucher Homeownership Program. I’m making some phone calls to see if I can chase down any further information.

The ultimate irony is that as I had this conversation with Debra, we were looking at all the vacant, flooded homes surrounding us.

Some days it feels like we are living inside a giant puzzle that no one knows how to fix.

City Walk

Xy and I took part tonight in the third City Walk sponsored by Silence Is Violence. The concept is simple: People gather at a designated neighborhood spot and walk to another spot in an adjacent neighborhood. The first week they walked from the Marigny (I think) to the 7th Ward. The next week, the path led from the 7th Ward to Mid-City. Tonight we walked from the Parkway Bakery in Mid-City to Daiquiri Island in Gert Town. Turnout was a little low, less than twenty, presumably because of French Quarter Fest. But we were glad we went. Soul Rebels played when we got to Daiquiri Island. I’ve wanted to see them for years.

Walking round in the 6th Ward
Everybody knows who we are
Soul Rebels in the place to be
Let your mind be free

Free your mind with education
Help to build a better nation
Stop killing for recreation
Let your mind be free

If you’re in New Orleans, I highly recommend getting in the loop with Silence Is Violence, and do the City Walk when they come into your neighborhood.

Politics on Tap

Just in via e-mail, don’t know much about it, but it looks interesting…

As the political season approaches, we invite friends, neighbors and colleagues to join our effort to create a new era of clean, responsive politics in New Orleans.

Come joins us for some light political conversation and a discussion of what can be. We welcome everyone from seasoned veterans to the newly engaged.

Politics on Tap
Thursday, April 19th
5pm – 8pm
Bridge Lounge
1201 Magazine St.

Please forward this information to others who may be interested in attending.
Hosted by: Andrew Amacker, Charles Burck, Greg Hackenberg, Ed McGinnis, Debbie Pigman, Shaun Rafferty

Like I said, I don’t know much about, but I think I’m going to check this one out. Last year’s planning process brought people of conscience together from all walks of life, making new connections. Since then there have been a number of efforts to sustain this kind of grassroots connectivity at a citywide level. (I’ve even been involved in one or two such efforts myself.) What catches my interest here is the explicitly political nature of it. Such efforts can accumulate baggage very quickly, if they get off the ground at all. Nevertheless, the city could use a new political organization right about now.

The Imus & Blakely Show

This past week people around the country have been all atwitter because of some remarks made by Don Imus on his radio show. Here in New Orleans people have been talking about it, just like everywhere else, I suppose. But here in New Orleans people are also talking about remarks made by Dr. Ed Blakely, the man hired by our mayor to manage the recovery.

The Imus controversy boils down to a single phrase. He called the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos.”

(The principal at Xy’s school asked the students why they were upset about Imus. “You say it all the time.” But I digress.)

Blakely’s rhetorical sins more numerous and require a bit more unpacking. In three separate incidents:

  1. Blakely said the real pre-Katrina population of New Orleans was significantly lower than the numbers on the books, that those numbers had been inflated for political purposes. (There’s no evidence this is true.)
  2. He said he’ll be done here in less than a year because the rebuilding will be done by then. (Ludicrous.)
  3. And he was quoted in the New York Times saying a whole bunch of derogatory things about New Orleans. He called the leaders of our city buffoons, he said our economy is a shambles, and that everything here is extremely racialized. He dissed the “right to return” as being about politicians using people for their own gain. Many of his points are actually quite valid, and such criticisms might serve a good purpose if they were made here locally.

Both men have been castigated for their remarks. Both have publicly apologized.

Imus was fired. Blakely can’t be fired. Flawed as he is, he’s our last best hope in the leadership department. If the mayor fired him it would be the equivalent of admitting a complete failure of leadership, which would be honest, but don’t hold your breath.

While Imus’ comments were more patently offensive, I’d say that Blakely’s comments do more real damage. Imus is an entertainer, but Blakely is supposed to be running the recovery of New Orleans.

But all this is simply a long-winded preface to my simple idea:

Blakely should hire Imus as his spokesperson.

He couldn’t do much worse than Blakely’s doing on his own, and he’d probably be more entertaining. And he needs a job, after all.

Together, I bet the two of them could distract the populace to a level never before imagined.


I got a note today from Dr. Paul. (I finally put pen to paper and wrote him a letter last month.) By sheer coincidence, tonight CNN ran an interview with Paul. It’s the first time he’s talked on television since Helen was killed.

There was a screening of short films at Canal Place tonight, including one by Helen. We wanted to go, but we didn’t. Xy had too much homework.

I thought I would have more to say about all this, but I find I don’t.