Shots Verified

OK, so those were gunshots I heard Thursday morning. I got the direction wrong, though. Here’s the relevant excerpt from the 1st District Crime Activity Report for June 26, 2008, reproduced verbatim and without editorial comment:

Type: Automobile Burglary

Location: 3200 block of Bienville

Gist: At 2:225am, the victim was awakened by loud noises outside the residence. Upon looking out, he observed two unknown black males near his vehicle and the vehicle’s trunk was open and one of the subject was searching the interior and the other held a handgun. The victim armed his self and relocated outside and fired his weapon and the subjects fled but had taken the speaker’s out of the vehicle and left them on the ground. The victim then fired several more rounds at the subjects. The victim was advised that it was illegal to discharge a firearm when his life was not in immediate danger and was issued a summons

Shower

We hosted a baby shower today for our friends DJ & Daisy.

Painting Begins

I think this is the fourth or fifth shower we’ve hosted in this house. Showers are weird to host because the guests are friends of the pregnant party and may be unknown to you.

But they can still be fun. Especially with the help of that powerful rum punch DJ whipped up.

DJ & Daisy are house-hunting. They just made an offer on a newly renovated shotgun, two blocks from our house. I hope it works out; they’d be a great addition to the neighborhood. Their real estate agent, Shannon Sharpe Briand, was also our real estate agent, and was also in attendance at today’s party, and is also pregnant. A lot of that going around.

Of course, no event at our house would be complete without a pratfall from Xy.

Xy's Folly

“Are You Going to Help Other People?”

One of the young volunteers asked me a pertinent question yesterday: “So, when we get done painting your house, are you going to help other people with their houses?”

I confessed that I hadn’t thought about it. I’ve been so focused on our own renovation for almost three years now.

“That’s how some people I’ve talked to got started painting other people’s houses,” he said. “They do it because someone helped them.”

I’ve told myself that my work in various civic groups is a way of helping others, helping my community. But there’s something to be said for helping other individuals directly. I’ve always respected such work, but being the recipient of this help really brings it to life.

Shots Fired

I heard gunfire early this morning, about 2:30 AM. A dozen shots. It sounded like it was coming from around the corner, the 3100 block of Iberville.

I wish I could say it was the first time I’ve ever heard such sounds in the night in our neighborhood. Unfortunately it’s a sound I hear far too often. But this was a little different than the usual. It was so close and so loud that it woke me up.

So I dialed 911 and reported it. I think I’ve only ever called 911 once before in my life. They took the information and said they’d send someone out. They did not request my name or address, for which I was thankful. I just wanted to go back to sleep.

I almost called Gwen, the neighbor we know who lives right in the middle of that block. She’s still in a trailer on the sidewalk; she must surely have been woken up by those shots. Maybe I should have called her. But I went back to sleep instead.

Year 1, Day 1

As I noted a few days ago, this is the first day of my new year, and the first year of my new era. This is not a day for celebration, not a holiday. We just had four or five of those in a row. Today is a day for returning to work, returning to the routine, returning to normalcy — or what passes for it here.

Fittingly enough, I am starting this new year by saying goodbye. I went to Scott’s memorial service this morning. This afternoon I’m attending a retirement reception for the Vice-President of Academic Affairs, my boss’ boss’ boss if I understand the hierarchy here correctly.

It also seems fitting that our house is being repainted now, in this time of renewal. I stopped by at lunch time and it looks beautiful. It will be like getting a new house.

And of course I’m reunited with my wife and daughter. It really does feel good.

So: Renewal, reunion, and farewell to the departed. A new year begins. It’s all making sense to me. It’s a good indication that I’ve lost my mind. But I didn’t really need it anyway.

Midsummer

Today is Midsummer. It’s just about the biggest holiday of the year in Sweden and Finland and I’m assuming the rest of the Nordic countries too. It should be a big holiday here too, but alas, it isn’t. Nevertheless I shared some pickled herring with Thomas and Ben from ACORN.

Then a huge crew of evangelical teens showed up and started painting.

Painting Begins

Woo hoo. Somehow I feel much better. I didn’t make it to the bayou last night for St. John’s Eve and the ritual Voudoun ceremony. I was just feeling too tired and stressed. But now I’m feeling better. Maybe it’s because the painting has begun. Maybe it’s because after I expressed my concerns the crew is working extra hard to clean up the lead paint flakes now, before my returns. Or maybe it’s because I’m set to pick up said daughter and wife from the airport in just over an hour.

Happy Midsummer.

Four Months

You are starting to reach out and grab things. It’s not quite coordinated or entirely voluntary. But a couple weeks ago you stretched out your arm, and your tiny hand hit my face. You laughed, and then you did it again. And again. About ten times in a row. That was cool.

I took three months off when you were born, but this last month I’ve been back at work. It was jarring, after being with you all day, every day, to suddenly be at the office all the time. I enjoy my work, but I felt suddenly guilty, like the classic absent father, especially when I had to go to the occasional evening meeting.

I haven’t seen you at all in the last seven days. You’re in Indiana while we have work done on the house to mitigate the danger posed by all this old lead-based paint. I suppose parents can’t worry about everything, so they pick a few things on which to fixate. Lead poisoning is one of the worries I’ve focused on.

A lot of the work is being done by teenage volunteers. Last week we had Unitarians from Ohio; this week it’s an even bigger group of evangelicals from all over the country. It’s humbling to realize that people will come from far away to help someone they’ve never met out of a simple desire to do good.

I still worry. Have they been properly trained? Are they exposing themselves to lead hazards or are they adequately protected? Are they doing a good job, or could they actually be making matters worse? Honestly, I don’t know. It’s been too hectic and crazy.

They say you get what you pay for. Maybe so. But your mother and I would prefer to get the work done cheap, rather than pay some contractor who would likely be as sloppy as any teenage volunteer but much more expensive. That’s just the way we are.

I miss you and your mother. I wish I could say I didn’t, wish I was sufficient to myself. I’ve always enjoyed solitude. But it’s been weirdly stressful not having you here. I’m looking forward to seeing you again tomorrow.

Scott

Anne McKinley phoned me this afternoon to let me know that our mutual friend Scott Speake quite unexpectedly died over the weekend.

Scott

We all knew each other through our book club. Anne sent this e-mail to our discussion group:

I have just been informed that Scott Speake, one of the founding members of the Octavia Books Science Fiction Reading Group, has passed away.

Scott was apparently complaining of a cold and took to his bed on Friday. Hearing no movement on Saturday or Sunday, Scott’s landlords checked on him only to find that he had passed away.

As a dedicated early member of the group, Scott was enthusiastic in his recommendations for “spaceship and rayguns” books and hard sci-fi. He loaned out books from his large library of science fiction old and new, and was a voracious reader.

Notices are expected to be in the paper Monday. Services and remembrances of Scott will probably be on Wednesday morning from 10-11 at Schoen Funeral Home on Canal Street. Scott is survived by his mother, who resides in Birmingham.

Anne says he was “one of the founding members,” but actually I consider him the founding member. The club started in the summer of 2001 as Scott’s idea. All I did was show up. In fact, at that first meeting it was just Scott and me and James Conrad, I believe. (It was through James that I learned of the meeting.) Scott was the most reliable member of the club, up until some point a couple years ago when he quit coming for mysterious reasons we never did understand.

Scott was quirky like that. He still kept in touch with Anne and me. He read this blog regularly, and he would surprise me from time to time by popping up at events where I didn’t expect him, like that first Geek Dinner. Here’s a picture of him talking to Sophmom.

This just seems very unreal to me.

They say death comes in threes. Olivia’s brother (also from Birmigham, strangely enough) makes one. Milo makes two. And now Scott makes three. Anyway, that’s how I’m counting it, because I don’t want to lose anyone else just yet.

Update: From today’s paper, Scott’s death notice:

Scott Lovell Speake

SPEAKE Scott Lovell Speake, a Board Certified Tax Attorney and a CPA, passed away on Friday, June 20, 2008 at the age of 59. He is survived by his parents, Mary Louise Lovell Speake of Birmingham, AL and Harold Layman Speake of Moulton, AL and a sister Ruth Louise Speake of Greeley, CO. Mr. Speake was born in San Francisco, CA, grew up in Birmingham, AL and had been a resident of New Orleans since 1979. Mr. Speake graduated with a degree in accounting from the University of Alabama in Birmingham and earned a law degree from Cumberland School of Law at Samford University, also in Birmingham. Relatives and friends are invited to attend a Memorial Gathering at Schoen Funeral Home, 3827 Canal Street at N. Scott, on Wednesday, June 25, 2008 between the hours of 10:00 A.M. and 12:00 Noon. Guest book may be signed online at www.legacy.com.

Published in The Times-Picayune on 6/23/2008.

Blinded

Don’t tell Xy, but I’ve got a surprise in store for her when she returns from Indiana. I spent the day installing fourteen aluminum mini blinds throughout the lower level of the house.

Metallic Gold Blinds

Dull avocado blinds in the green room, metallic silver blinds in the blue room, and metallic gold blinds in the orange room. They look great.

This renovation is so close to being finished I can almost taste it.

As a rule I try to buy local, but I ordered these from a place in Arizona called Blinds Chalet. Pretty happy with the results. If you order from them, let me know and I can give you a coupon code. They’ll give us both a discount.

Leo Gets a Shoeshine

When we first moved to New Orleans in 1999, we saw flyers in the Quarter warning tourists not to be suckered into making any wagers on the provenance of their footwear. Over the intervening years, I’ve been accosted by any number of fine gentlemen who’ve assured me that they know where I got my shoes, and I’ve dutifully brushed them off.

Therefore, though I’ve heard tales, I’ve never actually seen the famous scam in action.

Until last night.

Mardi & Mike

Mardi and Leo (aka Mike Leonard) are in town for a columnist convention. Leo writes a column for the Herald-Times in Bloomington. We got together for dinner at Coop’s Place. Many thanks to Mardi for picking up the tab.

After dinner we were walking along the river. A guy came up to Leo and offered him a shoeshine. I immediately knew what was up, but somehow I didn’t know what to say, and the guy was working Leo so fast. “I bet I can tell you where you got them shoes. Exactly where you got ‘em and in what city.” The stakes: a shoeshine.

Being a good-natured Hoosier, Leo took the bet. And then, the inexorable rejoinder: “You got your shoes on your feet — in New Orleans.” And without pausing a beat, he bent down and squirted some sketchy white liquid on the tops of Leo’s shoes.

The price to wipe the stuff off? Five dollars. He wanted $5 per shoe. Leo just gave him a fiver and laughed it off.

I felt like a prime dumbass, letting my friend walk into that. I should have interrupted, fended the guy off. But it was educational. Maybe Leo will get a column out of it.

It occurs to me that this routine could work anywhere, or at least in any city where a bunch of tourists are walking around. Yet it seems to be very much associated with New Orleans. I wonder why that is.

Scraped & Primed

I bought 20 gallons of primer and packed the wife and daughter off to Indiana, but somehow the prospect was still so unreal to me. I felt certain something was going to go wrong. Work was supposed to start on Tuesday, but I didn’t hear from them. My contact person didn’t return my call.

But lo and behold when I went home for lunch yesterday, there they were: a crew of volunteers wet-scraping the lead paint from our house. They’re Unitarians from Ohio. Today they started slathering on the primer. It feels weird to have all these people I don’t know working to help us out of the sheer desire to help.

There’s a little confusion over finances. My contact at ACORN had told me that all I needed to pay for was supplies: primer and paint. But he is no longer with ACORN, which is why he didn’t return my call Tuesday. So today I was presented with a document indicating I should pay 60% of the costs. (The volunteers work for free, of course, but there are also professionals involved.) Hopefully we’ll straighten this out.

Update: The plot thickens. My new contact at ACORN was pulled over for a tail light yesterday; the cops discovered an outstanding warrant from another parish. So now he’s in jail. Damn.

Good Riddance to a Rodent-Ridden Ruin

I wrote a letter to the owner. I talked to him too. I made a video about it. I wrote an editorial about it. I talked to my City Council rep about it. I went on the evening news about it.

But nothing seemed to happen.

I’m talking about the infamous grocery at 3126 Bienville, just around the corner from our house. It was flooded in 2005 and never cleaned up. It was overrun by rats.

Despite all my bellyaching, nothing seemed to happen with the store.

Scratch that, actually something did happen: Somebody tagged it with this cool graffiti.

Vampire Kiss

That apparently was the straw that broke the camel’s back. A blatant health hazard is one thing, but artsy graffiti? That cannot be tolerated. So finally, this past weekend, a crew materialized and tore it down.

Teardown

I’m not one to cheer demolitions as a rule, but it was about freakin’ time this thing came down. It’s been almost three years since the flood. Of course, by now even the rats had gotten bored and moved on.

A Messy Job

I talked to the crew. They said this took two or three times longer than normal because it was such a mess. And it didn’t smell pretty either.

Good riddance! Now I wonder how long we’ll be looking at that vacant concrete slab?

Clearly, the moral of this story is that when you want to call attention to a problem in New Orleans, you should paint big flying purple vampire lips on it.

Milo

Our household has been diminished by one.

R.I.P. Milo

He doesn’t look sick, does he? But this is the last picture ever taken of Milo. He was lethargic and not eating much, so we took him into the vet just after this picture was taken. They confirmed he was having some serious issues, and kept him over the weekend for diagnostics. We were racking up a huge bill which was making us nervous. They had him on an IV and in a heated chamber because his temperature was dropping. This morning they called to tell us he’d expired. He was just two years old. A few weeks shy of two, I’d guess.

It’s hard to believe he’s gone. Seems like just yesterday he was a palm-sized kitten.

Milo

Seems like just yesterday we adopted him under strange and crazy circumstances.

He was a decent mouser. He had a penchant for nipping at us when he felt playful, but he could also be aggressively affectionate. He was the only other male under our roof. Milo is survived by Folds and Crybaby and Archer and various ferals, including his girlfriend Bronski. He will be missed.

But though it sounds cold to say it, I never let Milo too close to my heart, for reasons previously mentioned.


And so our run of bad feline luck continues. We’ve lost five cats over the nine years we’ve lived in New Orleans. I’m beginning to feel like there’s a curse.

[More pix of Milo.]

Mighty Lonely Around Here

Boss Lady’s out for the rest of the month, at an AP reading and then a conference. Olivia’s brother passed away, so she’s in Alabama. Janice is heading out to Las Vegas for a conference. Tomorrow morning I pack the wife and girl off to Indiana. Gonna be mighty lonely ’round here for the next week or so. No one in the office, no one at home… except, well, there will be about twenty-odd volunteers painting our house.

My First Father’s Day

I’ve managed to stretch my first Father’s Day into a whole weekend. It started Friday night and with any luck I’ll still be celebrating Monday morning. But in the midst of all this raucous debauchery I wanted to give a shout out to the women who made all this possible: my mom, my wife, my daughter. And of course I’ve got to give props to my own father, whom I now enjoy calling Grandpa Ray. Thanks y’all. Without your cooperative efforts I wouldn’t ensconced in glory.

Time Travel Through Photography

I was sorting through some old photos the other day, and I came across a set taken on October 16, 1999. As I looked at them I was overwhelmed by a sense of bittersweet melancholy. (Is there any other kind of melancholy?)

This was the first coherent group of digital pictures I ever took. I published the set on the web, the first of several such sets, generally presenting a “day in the life” or similar. Dammit, it was so complicated back then. I was pretty proud of myself for cooking up the automated Photoshop scripts to generate the thumbnails and so forth, and of course I hand-coded all the HTML.

991016 Index

Looks kind of like a Flickr set, huh? But with Flickr and other such tools, it’s all so much easier. I do like the sparse simplicity of my original interface better, but of course there’s no facility for comments or any of the other features that make a system like Flickr so compelling.

But moreover, looking at these old pix, there are the memories of that day nine years ago. Nothing special about the day itself. Just a random Saturday. Just some fragments, a few scraps snatched from the clutches of time. We had just moved to New Orleans a few months earlier. We didn’t know how this city would get in our blood, how this city would break our hearts.

Lazy Cat

We’d adopted a couple cats, Lucy and Bilal. In the captions I note that “we don’t know too many people here, and we’re not planning to have kids, so the cats keep us company.” Sadly enough Bilal died in a tragic fall three years later. Lucy stayed with us through our Katrina evacuation and our return to the city, but she disappeared mysteriously two summers ago and we never saw her again.

As for the neighbors shown in the set, the renovation of their Uptown home came out beautifully, but they sold it just before Katrina and bought a house in Lakeview. They lost everything. But they’re still here. We run into them around town from time to time. Those little girls are in college now.

3 Girls

But mostly I’m so glad I took these pictures, otherwise I would have just my vague recollections. That impetus to document and preserve quotidian details is the same one that has driven me to keep journals off and on since I was ten years old, the same one that drives me to keep this blog. I’m glad I this “day in the life” photo set, and it reminds me I need to do another one soon.

I highly recommend it.

I’ve posted the whole set to Flickr. Check it out or see the original incarnation.

Glasshouse

Title: Glasshouse
Author: Charles Stross
Published: 2006

There’s usually a point in most novels where I feel the hook, where I no longer feel the effort of pushing forward and making myself read, but suddenly (or not so suddenly) find myself being pulled forward, intrigued, under the spell. I’ve noticed this usually happens somewhere around the hundredth page, which kind of sucks when you’re reading a book that’s only three or four hundred pages in length. Of course it varies; with some (rare) books I feel that hook from the very first sentence — Neuromancer comes to mind.

Sometimes it’s a distinct moment, sometimes not. With Glasshouse it was very distinct. Page 45. This is set in the far post-human future, when everyone is virtually immortal and machines can think and feel and our time is distant memory. Very distant indeed:

“We know why the dark age happened,” Fiore continues. “Our ancestors allowed their storage and processing architectures to proliferate uncontrollably, and they tended to throw away old technologies instead of virtualizing them. For reasons of commercial advantage, some of their largest entities deliberately created incompatible information formats and locked up huge quantities of useful material in them, so that when new architectures replaced old, the data became inaccessible.

“This particularly affected our records of personal and household activities during the latter half of the dark age. Early on, for example, we have a lot of film data captured by amateurs and home enthusiasts. They used a thing called a cine camera, which captured images on a photochemical medium. You could actually decode it with your eyeball. But a third of the way into the dark age, they switched to using magnetic storage tape, which degrades rapidly, then to digital storage, which was even worse because for no obvious reason they encrypted everything. The same sort of things happened to their audio recordings, and to text. Ironically, we know a lot more about their culture around the beginning of the dark age, around old-style year 1950, than about the end of the dark age, around 2040.”

So yes, we are living right in the middle of the Dark Ages. I’ve heard people remark on this problem before, but in this fictional context the idea seems to pack more punch.

I’ve read one other novel by Charles Stross, Singularity Sky. This book has a much darker tone, and I found that to be a plus. The protagonist volunteers to participate in a Dark Ages simulation, but all is not what it seems to be. There’s a lot of Varleyesque memory and identity issues, which I always dig.

In the final analysis it’s a lightweight action-oriented science fiction romp. It’s fun and full of intriguing ideas and quite smart. I enjoyed it, but I probably won’t remember much about it a few years down the road.

Toward the end there was another passage that grabbed me:

At moments like this I hate being an unreconstructed human — an island of thinking jelly trapped in a bony carapace, endless miliseconds away from its lovers, forced to squeeze every meaning through a low-bandwidth speech channel. All men are islands, surrounded by the bottomless oceans of unthinking night.

Ah, the human condition.


This paperback is on the shelves of Octavia Books now, and you can join us to discuss it there tomorrow morning at 10:30 AM. And no, I did not type the passages above by hand. I fed a couple key phrases into Google and found other blogs that I could copy and paste. So props to Jeni’s Musings and barrysarll for providing exactly what I was after.

Pay the Crooks More

I guess I’m in a very small minority with this opinion, but I actually support our Louisiana state legislature’s efforts to give themselves a huge salary increase. It’s not because I think they deserve a reward them for a job well done. It’s not because I like big government or higher taxes. It’s because when I looked into the prospect of running for the legislature myself (yes, I know, ha ha ha) I have to admit the salary was a nonstarter. I understand public service entails some sacrifices, but the pay really is paltry — a joke. What is it, like $23K? Oh, it’s supposed to be a part-time job, but that’s a joke too.

I certainly understand the kneejerk reaction against the pay raise. But I find myself, surprisingly, in the camp that says we get what we pay for, and maybe if the job paid a decent wage we’d getter a better quality of applicant. In any event, if people are frustrated with the incumbents, they should vote them out of office.

Update: I’ve modified my opinion based on learning more about the issue, in so small part from the many fine comments left on this post. I still think some level of pay raise is appropriate, but this is not the way. It’s not being done right; the devil is in the details. Therefore I oppose the legislation as it is currently being proposed.