Stepping Back So You Can Step Forward

Here’s a note I sent to my neighborhood discussion group.

Neighbors,

After much soul-searching I have decided that I will not be seeking another term on the board of the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization. This is purely for personal reasons: My wife and I are expecting a child in early March (if the Good Lord is willing!) and our renovation is lagging far behind schedule. I feel that in 2008 I have to commit my time and effort even closer to home.

It’s a difficult decision because working with the Mid-City board has been such a rewarding experience. I hope to be back some day soon.

My focus on our Board of Directors has been Communications. I sincerely hope that as I step back, someone else with interests in this arena will step forward.

My primary responsibilities as Communications Director have included: running the mcno.org website, maintaining the on-line discussion group, and administering a grant from Mercy Corps which has paid for flyers and posters and (hopefully) signs. I’ve also convened monthly meetings of the Communications Committee which has helped provide guidance and volunteer labor for these efforts, including the block captains program (still in its infancy) spearheaded by Deborah Langhoff.

Sure, it takes some time, but I have found it to be very rewarding, and there’s so much left to do. I will work with whoever takes over this position to ensure a smooth transition.

If you’re interested in nominating yourself for the board, see the instructions on our website. And hurry! The election is Monday.

Bart Everson
Communications Director
Mid-City Neighborhood Organization

http://mcno.org/

Over the past couple years I’ve spread myself rather thin. I’ve lost track of how many boards I sit on. Generally my philosophy has been to always say “yes.” And it’s been a great experience. As noted, I do plan to step back from most of these extra-curricular responsibilities.

But not all. I think it’s vital to maintain some involvement in the community.

Anyway, if at anytime I’ve inspired you to think about getting active in any way, now is the time for you to step up.

Spin

Title: Spin
Author: Robert Charles Wilson
Published: 2005

Imagine you’re a kid looking up at the night sky and all of a sudden the stars vanish. All of them, instantly, gone in the blink of an eye. That’s the opening gambit for Spin by Robert Charles Wilson, and I was hooked. Imagine growing up in a world with no stars, no moon, and a fake sun. What the hell is going on here?

I’m not a fast reader, but I devoured this book in record time (less than a week). Something about this author’s style clicks with the way I think. But moreover, the mystery of the novel kept me turning pages. What possible explanation could the author provide?

By the time I got to page four hundred or so, I started to suspect that he couldn’t do it, that the mystery would be left unresolved.

I’m happy to say I was wrong. I won’t spoil the resolution for you. In fact, I couldn’t, because it’s so subtle you really have to read the book to understand it.

This is a hardcore science fiction novel, and one of the best I’ve read in a while. I can see why it won a Hugo award. (My friend Rebecca participated in the voting that year and actually agreed with the results for once.) It’s full of big science ideas and technology and interesting speculation. But at the same time, it’s a very human story about people living through difficult (even apocalyptic) times. Best of all, it’s a perfectly paced cosmic mystery.

Spin is the December selection of the Octavia Science Fiction Club. We’ll be discussing the book at Octavia Books, 10:30 AM, Saturday, December 8th. Please feel free to join us. Of course, you can buy the book from Octavia and help support a small independent bookseller.

Smoking Garbage

Through nefarious means I have acquired two documents from last year which clearly show that some vendors decided not to bid on the garbage contract because of (and I quote) “the onerous collection requirements.” Also cited: “The potential overlap of collection of ‘unlimited bulky waste’ with the ongoing Hurricane cleanup efforts, which we expect will continue well into next year or longer.”

Here are the documents in PDF if you want to see for yourself: SWDI and WM.

I hasten to mention that our current collector (Richard’s) is doing a far better job than our old collector (Waste Management). But we are paying through the nose for this service, and we aren’t even getting all the service we’re paying for. In particular, we’re not getting the “unlimited bulky waste” pickup because “unlimited” has been construed to mean “less than 25 lbs.”

PS: By “nefarious means” I meant Council Member Stacy Head.

Update: For the record and completeness, here’s the contracts inked by Richard’s and Metro.

Oschner Screwed Us

For most of the year a rumor has circulated in our neighborhood regarding the Lindy Boggs Medical Center. That’s the hospital at Jeff Davis and Bienville which old-timers still call Mercy. It’s the same hospital that was knocked out of commission by flooding. Most recently it was in the news when Tenet Health Care sold the property to Victory Real Estate Investments for redevelopment as a massive retail outlet.

After Katrina, when Oschner bought a number of properties from Tenet, they took a pass on the Lindy Boggs facility. And that’s where the rumor comes in: Supposedly, as a part of the big deal between these giants, a covenant was put on the Lindy Boggs facility stipulating that it could not be sold to any health care provider for some number of years.

Standard business procedure, eliminating potential competition. But in a community recovering from a massive disaster, it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Lindy Boggs

It was never covered in the media to my knowledge, but that rumor now seems to be confirmed. A group of physicians was poised to buy the facility and re-open it as a hospital. They would have paid what Victory paid. But they couldn’t close the deal, apparently because of the covenant. My source is a doctor who has first-hand knowledge of the deal.

So there you have it. Oschner screwed us. Instead of the restoration of the health care facility we desired, my neighborhood gets a shopping mall. I have friends who work for Oschner, fine people, and I’m sure they provide decent care. It’s all in the past now anyway, water under the bridge. But I’ll never forget.

I’m so angry I could puke.

My Answers to Some Interview Questions

Dear B,

My name is Adam and I have been recently tasked with interviewing a media figure for a journalism class. Since I was unable to contact the Watson’s girl, I am hoping that you can help me out. I have been a long-time and appreciative viewer of J&B on the ROX. The new episodes are excellent. J&B on the ROX was one of the important elements that made Bloomington a great place in the past (it’s kind of sad to watch the old episodes as so much has changed, Bloomington’s just not the same anymore), and I am happy to see you currently working your magic in New Orleans. You guys are living legends, folk heroes, and an inspiration to us all (this ass-kissing will definitely get a response).

Please answer as many of these as you want to. Feel free to elaborate.

1. What first motivated or inspired you to make ROX?

We thought it would be big silly fun to make our own weekly TV show. We had no idea how it would come to shape our lives.

2. What is the current state of ROX? How is it broadcast?

These days most people probably see ROX via Free Speech TV, which is broadcast via satellite on the Dish Network. Of course we’re still on the internet and a few cable access stations (including our first and favorite TV station, BCAT or CATS or whatever they’re calling it in Bloomington now).

3. What goes into the production/editing of an episode? How much time does it take?

Editing is by far the most time-consuming part of our production process. Back during our third season it took about 40 hours to edit a single show. Now that we’re fully digital I think it may take longer but I no longer clock my editing time so carefully so I’m not sure. It certainly feels longer because I’m generally not able to sit down and edit for eight hours straight, so I’m grabbing an hour here, an hour there.

4. In ’95, ROX was heralded as the first TV show in cyberspace by TIME magazine. What are some of the pros and cons of broadcasting independent media on the internet?

There was no YouTube in 1995, so one of the big challenges was that we were wrestling with the technology every step of the way. Video clips had to be massively compressed, and computing power was in short supply. We had to set a computer to crunch files overnight. And since we didn’t have a computer that could do that, we had to beg, borrow and steal from others.

5. What is your opinion of the current state of professional/commercial television and mass media in general?

Despite amazing technical advances, commercial television remains a vast wasteland. Cinematography is vastly improved, the writing is more sophisticated, yet television remains a morally bankrupt medium. I’m particularly troubled by the popularity of “crime fantasy” shows like CSI. I think they’re symptomatic of some very deep issues in our society. Of course the trend of media consolidation continues at an alarming rate. Here’s the latest. [Hat tip to the American Zombie.]

6. What are some of the challenges involved in making ROX?

One of our biggest challenges today is the 2000-odd miles between J and I. We don’t see each other every day or even talk every week any more, and that makes it a little more difficult for ideas to just well up spontaneously. Also, we’re both very busy these days. We both have full-time jobs now. J and Day have a little boy, and Xy and I are expecting a child in the spring. Add in the challenges of living in post-Katrina New Orleans and renovating our flooded home, and it doesn’t leave a lot of time for television production.

7. What are some of the rewards?

The primary reward is the satisfaction of seeing a narrative you’ve constructed unfold, and sharing that with others.

8. What are the future plans for ROX?

Right now we’re just struggling to complete this season (our fourth). Actually we’re struggling to get started on the next episode. A friend of mine, filmmaker Helen Hill, was murdered in January just after we finished our last episode of ROX. I knew our next episode would have to account for Helen in some way, and frankly that’s just been overwhelming.

I would like to thank you in advance for reading this e-mail. If you decide not to respond, I would like to NOT thank you as I will be scrambling to contact some Clear Channel radio jerk. Either way, thanks for your time and thanks also for all of the years of ROX. I really appreciate it, seriously.

Mixed-Up Files

Title: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwiler
Author: E. L. Konigsburg
Published: 1967

This book was published the year I was born. I figure I was around ten or so when I read it on a trip to the Field Museum in Chicago with my father. The story of two young kids about my age running away from home and hiding in a museum caught my imagination. I think I left the book at the hotel by accident, and we had to reimburse the library.

So here it is three decades later, and this book has come back into my life because it’s part of Xy’s curriculum. We added it to the stack of bedtime reading (I often read to Xy before we go to sleep) and recently finished the book.

As is typical when revisiting places from childhood, I was surprised by how small this book was. I remembered it being longer.

I’m not sure the book has aged very well. Or maybe I’ve aged too much.

One recurrent theme is Claudia chiding her younger brother Jamie for his grammar. Mostly his grammatical sins consist of ending sentences with prepositions. This grammatical “rule” is widely discredited, and I don’t think most kids today would understand what they’re talking about. It’s nice character development, though.

But hiding out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a week is still a pretty cool idea.

I wonder how kids from New Orleans will relate to the travails of Claudia and Jamie?

Update: Just talked to Dad on the phone and he reminded me that our trip was to the Museum of Science and Industry, not the field museum. He also expressed regret that we didn’t do more things like that as I was growing up. Words to ponder as fatherhood impends upon me…

Anticlimactic Unveiling

We’ve had a sheet of plastic at the top of our stairwell for two years. It provided a physical and psychological barrier to the lower half of our house, the half that was ruined in the flood of ought-five. For many long months I’ve looked forward to the day when that plastic sheeting would come down, as a grand symbol of our recovery. Of course it didn’t work out that way: I took it down this morning and yawned. A lot of work remains to be done, but that plastic was getting pretty raggedy.

Not Quite

After joking about how my brain was melted from the varnish fumes Saturday night, I started to feel like maybe it was no joke. I got the chills and had weird, feverish dreams all night. Sunday I was not up to snuff. No appetite. I put in some more hours varnishing, but I just didn’t have the strength to get it all done. Close, though: only six window sashes left. But Celcus informs me that I’ll need multiple coats for the stairs. Plus I put the varnish on way too thick on one stair and it crinkled up pretty badly.

Crinkled

So, I see more sanding and varnishing in the near future. I won’t have quite the sense of closure I’d hoped for heading back to work on Monday, but such is life. I’m exhausted. Thankfully my job isn’t as taxing as this renovation.

Partially Varnished

The fumes from varnish are even more intoxicating than those from stain. Or maybe it’s the cumulative effect. Anyway, my brain may be melted, but I made good progress today and yesterday. I’m using a heavy-duty marine varnish that shouldn’t require a second coat. I think I’ll be able to finish varnishing tomorrow.

Smoked Turkey Legs with a Satsuma-Honey Glaze

After the culinary fiasco of 2004, I approached this year’s Thanksgiving with some trepidation. My confidence was not bolstered when Xy finally read the creme bruleé recipe and asked the following immortal question:

What’s an egg yolk?

I couldn’t believe she was serious, but it turns out she’s never separated an egg before and couldn’t remember which part was which. Hint: The white is the part that turns white when you cook it. The yolk is the other part.

My main responsibility was the turkey. Here’s how I did it.

My original idea was to follow a recipe in the paper that called for slow-cooking turkey legs with mandarin oranges. However, as Thanksgiving Day approached we realized that our crockpot was not big enough to accommodate the six large legs Xy had purchased. Also, it seemed like a shame not to use the Big Green Egg for such an occasion. So I decided to change gears.

From Recipe Link I got the idea to brine the legs, something I’d never even heard of before.

Making the brine was easy: a gallon of water, a cup of salt, half a cup of brown sugar, a gallon of veggie stock. (Actually I didn’t use a full cup of salt. I used 3/4 cup and rounded it off with a 1/4 cup Tony Chachere’s creole seasoning.) Bring to a boil. Let it return to room temperature, then combine with a bunch of ice water and immerse the turkey legs. Put it in the fridge overnight.

In the morning I fired up the Big Green Egg, and got it about as hot as I ever have, over 900ºF, I think. Then I took it back down to something like 250º. I had a lot of pecan wood chips intermixed with the charcoal to impart a nice smoky flavor.

I rinsed the brine off the legs and got them on the grill around 9:30 AM. Smoked ‘em for a good four hours. More like five probably. After the first two hours, I turned them and thought they looked a little dry, so I decided to concoct a mop. Returning to the mandarin orange idea, we made a glazing sauce out of fresh-squeezed satsuma juice and honey (and lemon and olive oil and butter and maybe some other stuff). I then turned and mopped the legs every half hour or so until it was time to eat.

Smoking the Legs

They turned out well. In fact, they were so appetizing that even my vegetarian friends were tempted into sampling them.

Smoked Turkey Legs with a Satsuma Glaze

But next year I’d like to try making them a little spicier. Maybe some more cayenne in the brine or the glaze.

Also on the menu: raw oysters (plus a few thrown on the grill) and oyster dressing and Xy’s famous cheeseball and herbed mashed potatoes and green bean casserole and cranberry sauce (with the “can lines still visible”) and sweet potato casserole and pumpkin pie and home-made thin mint cookies (even better than the Girl Scout version).

And of course, Xy’s key lime creme bruleé.

Xy's Bruleé

Despite several mishaps, she pulled it together, and it was delicious.

I'm Eating Key Lime Creme Bruleé

But mostly we were happy to enjoy the company of friends: Daisy and DJ and Anna and her daughter Lily and Christina from New York who joined us at the last minute.

Footnote: After the meal we eventually made a pilgrimage to a suburban cineplex to see American Gangster which turns out to be a perfect Thanksgiving flick.

Thankstaining

I’ve gotten the staining done. It took four days of solid work, plus a half-day of touch up this morning, not to mention a day of dicking around prep work, but it’s done.

Next step: varnish. I hope the varnishing doesn’t take as long. I’ll get started on that tomorrow. I’ve got three days before I have to go back to work.

As for the rest of today, it’s Thanksgiving. This time of year always make me think about home. Besides the obvious holiday reasons, it was around this time when Xy and I came back to New Orleans two years ago. We weren’t back in our house yet, but we were here in the city, staying on David’s couch. We shared a Thanksgiving meal with Mike the Electrician who would shortly thereafter wire us up and continues to work on our renovation to this day.

Here it is two years later and we’re celebrating Thanksgiving in our own home. So you see, we are making progress after all. We’ve got friends coming over, and I’m smoking a mess of turkey legs,and Xy’s trying to make key lime creme bruleé.

Roy

Old Roy came over to borrow a shovel today. He owns the house across the street, which he’s still repairing from flood damage lo these many months. Roy just turned 90 last week. I don’t know what I’ll be doing in fifty years, but borrowing a shovel at his age is pretty impressive.

What’s not so impressive are the racist jokes that he loves to crack:

Roy: “Do you know what the AFL stand for?”

Me: “I’m afraid to ask.”

Roy: “Why?”

Me: “Because I’m afraid of what the answer might be.”

Roy: “The AFL is the American Football League.”

Me: “Oh. Yeah.”

Roy: “Only now it’s the African Football League.”

Me: “Uh oh.”

Roy: “You know what the NFL stand for?”

And so on…

I’m not gonna disrespect a 90 year-old man. But damn Roy. Even if I could get down with your aggressively racialized worldview, that joke isn’t even funny.

Staining the Stairs

I’m taking some vacation days. Combined with the Thanksgiving holiday, it’s a whole week off work. That gives me time to do this:

Staining the Stairs

I’m staining a bunch of trim, six windows and a staircase. Even though I’m cutting every corner I can imagine, this is still a big job. Rising early, working late, I just might get it done. My current goal is to finish the staining before Thanksgiving and concentrate on varnishing after the holiday.

Some vacation, huh? But I am striving to maintain a celebratory mindset.

The big fan is coming in handy for exhausting fumes from the house and keeping our living space livable. A good friend warned me that stain-soaked rags pose a spontaneous combustion hazard, so I submerge ‘em in water at the end of the day.

Xy thinks it’s all going too smoothly. She predicts I will kick a can of stain over and ruin the floor, or some other comparable disaster.

Four Precincts Reporting

Thanks to my friend Carol, I got a sweet gig tonight: vote reporting! I never knew this before, but after the polls close they post the results on the door. Since I live one block from my polling place, I just walked down there. I waited for a while chatting with Deborah Langhoff’s brother-in-law. When they posted the numbers I texted them to a certain local TV station. For this I’m supposed to get $50. Easy money.

Here’s the numbers:

Precinct 04/05 Clarkson 5 Lewis 23
Precinct 04/06 Clarkson 21 Lewis 10
Precinct 04/07 Clarkson 49 Lewis 6
Precinct 04/08 Clarkson 107 Lewis 10

(They only wanted numbers for the Council At-Large race.)

Xy and I are in the 4th ward, 5th precinct — as you can see it’s the only one of the four that went to Lewis. I’d venture to guess it’s also the “blackest” of these four precincts. Someone told me the 8th precinct is full of “DINKs and yuppies,” and note their turnout was four times ours. So even this little statistical slice gives a flavor of the larger picture.


Earlier, I was at the laundromat, talking to a guy hanging out front. I asked him what he thought about the election. He replied that he didn’t vote, and cited two reasons: 1) politicians say one thing and do another and 2) the counting of votes is all rigged anyway. I wonder if seeing the numbers posted outside the door would have done anything to bolster his faith in the system.

Story #26

Turn to page 24 of today’s Inside Out home and garden section of the Times-Picayune, and you’ll see a devilishly handsome fellow in an orange tee-shirt. I look so much better in this picture than in the last one they published, but both were taken by the same photographer, Kathy Anderson.

I don’t have a digital version of the picture, but to make up for it I’ve inserted a picture of the new marble counter which was installed one week ago today.

As for the story by Stephanie Bruno, it’s the 26th installment in a series that I hope will not run to 30. Here it is:
Continue reading Story #26