Retoxify Me

Sobriety has been fun, but it’s not for me. There’s less than 48 hours ’til my arbitrary self-imposed abstinence regimen comes to an end and I allow myself to enjoy a drink. Or two.

I was thinking of starting with a Campari and soda before dinner, then maybe a glass of pinot noir with the meal, and perhaps some amaretto as a digestif. Then it would be time for some serious drinking, perhaps a Sazerac or two, a Manhattan, an old-fashioned? I know from past experience that breaking such a fast can be tricky.

So I am taking any and all suggestions. What would you have if you were coming off a 36 1/2 day anti-bender?

P.S. Here is a mix of my favorite drinking songs, to get you in the mood… for drinking.

Dear Craig

Dear Craig,

Long time no see! I hope you are in good health and spirits.

I thought I should drop you a line to let you know what’s going on with your house on North Salcedo street. Unfortunately some bees have built a nest near your side entrance. It’s an active hive. We often find bees in our house that have come over from yours.

Also, I should let you know that the neighborhood kids have taken to playing on your porch and climbing in your trees. We try to keep them from doing too much damage but there’s not a lot we can do. I’m actually more worried they’ll hurt themselves.

Attached you’ll find a picture of some kids playing with a shovel in your front yard.

Digging a Hole

Just thought you should know.

Your neighbor

Wild in the Streets

I often remind Xy that we don’t live in the ghetto. This is especially obvious when we can look out the window and see kids playing in the street. Black kids, white kids, Latino kids. Diversity. This is not a place “inhabited primarily by people of the same race, religion, or social background.” By definition, this is not the ghetto.

All the same we do have certain issues.

For example, our neighbors bought a puppy, a pit bull, which they named Money and which they let run wild in the street. He’s a cute dog, but I usually see him running around with no supervision whatsoever, and that bothers me. I just learned they’ve renamed the dog Killer.

Today, as I was examining the pomegranate tree in front of our house, Money/Killer ran up and started licking Persephone’s face before I even knew he was there. He was wearing a parka with a big gold skull on the back. It was a very sweet and harmless interaction, but who’s to say what will happen next time?

Also running wild in the street, often alongside Money/Killer, are those same kids I mentioned earlier. They may be of diverse races, but they have at least one thing in common: Their parents do not supervise them closely.

I recently observed some girls running around barefoot. Not a good idea in a neighborhood littered with debris, rusty nails and broken glass. Sure enough, they sliced their feet up, and who ended up providing first aid? Xy.

It’s fun to see the kids playing together, but I do worry about them. They play in the street and sometimes come perilously close to getting hit by cars. Recently they’ve taken to playing on Craig’s front porch. (Craig is our next door neighbor, who has for all practical purposes abandoned his house.) They’re climbing his trees and performing acrobatic tricks. Xy stopped them just before they turned Craig’s porch light into a piñata. And of course they’re playing with Money/Killer the pit bull.

Different people have different parenting styles. I can understand and celebrate that. I certainly would not let my daughter run wild in the street, but does that mean it’s wrong for others? The kids sometimes report on each others’ misdeeds to Xy or me. I responded yesterday, “I’m not your parent, so I’m not going to discipline you.” But that raises the question: What is my obligation here? Where does it begin and end?

Update: Shortly after I wrote this, the neighbors gave Money/Killer away. Not sure why — maybe they just realized living in a second story walk-up wasn’t good for a rambunctious dog, or maybe they decided he was too much work. Who knows? He was a cute animal but I was glad to see him go.

Band Camp

Last night we went to the Big Top Gallery for something called Band Camp. Five bucks at the door, live music, lots of little kids, a craft table, beverages for adults and kids alike, and just a whole lot of fun.

The promoters describe it thusly:


I’ve got to say thanks to Andrew D. for turning us on to this event. Never met him before last night, but he’s a reader of this blog, and he sent me an e-mail turning us on to this event which we wouldn’t have known about otherwise. Blogging does have some benefits.

Check the website of 3 Ring Circus Productions for details, under the “Big Top Calendar.” Actually I think the official name of the event may be “Friday Night Music Camp” but Andrew called it Band Camp and I think that name is more fun. In any case, it’s every other Friday from 5-7 p.m. Hope to see you there.

Finding Lost Things

  1. I found an old letter from our mortgage company, unopened, buried under some junk mail. Inside I was surprised to discover a check, a refund for an escrow overage. The amount was substantial. That was a couple days ago.
  2. Last night I found the old hand-written manuscript for my unfinished novel, The Vibrating Telemarketer. I began work on this in 2001. I put it aside after the terrorist attacks of September 11th and never got back to it. I had assumed it was amongst the many paper documents I lost in the floods of 2005. Apparently not. Though perhaps the world would have been better off…
  3. I also found a handwritten journal, the fourteenth in my series of journals, covering the period from September 6th, 2003 to June 2nd, 2004. This is significant to me because I thought all my journals were flooded after Katrina, but this one was in a different location.

They say that things such as this come in threes. The manuscript and the journal were in the same place, and I found them at the same time, so maybe they don’t count as two separate things. Therefore I’m keeping my eyes open in hopes of finding one more lost thing soon.

The Descent of Persephone

I was tag-surfing on Flickr when I came across this fantastic image called “The Descent of Persephone,” a fresh collaboration from two artists Alvarejo and Silverqe. I noticed it was also tagged “Threadless” which I recognized as an apparel brand, so I kept my eye on it.

I didn’t really know much about Threadless except they had something to do with clothing. Turns out it’s a community-driven crowd-sourced endeavor. They have about 1500 designs in competition each week. Users can vote on the ones they like best, and the winners get cash prizes. I’m not sure how they decide which designs actually get made into shirts, but I imagine the contest plays a role.

Now “The Descent of Persephone” is in the competition. I think it would make an amazing shirt, not to mention a pretty cool onesie.

So I’m posting here in a feeble attempt to give them some props. If you like the design, give it a vote.

The Descent of Persephone

You have to have a Threadless account to vote, but of course that’s free.

Be sure also to page through all the comments on the attendant blog entry to see steps in the creative collaborative process and also how it might look on a shirt.

Footnote: This might be a good place to mention a tangentially related curiosity. One phrase that has resonated in my consciousness for years is “the descent into the self,” which I think I first encountered in some literary criticism of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Motivated by some obscure impulse, I ran a net search on that phrase a few weeks back and discovered an article about New Hampshire artist Katherine Doyle, which contained this choice quote:

This story of a character’s descent, including the journey through a mysterious or frightening other world, what is learned or found there, and the eventual return home, is the subject of the earliest human texts and probably dates from long before the written word. I understand it to be the original story, which serves as a template for inner journeys into the subconscious or other states of mind.

She’s speaking about Persephone, of course.

March 25, 2009

This morning Xy unplugged one appliance in the kitchen to plug in the toaster. Unfortunately the cord from the first appliance landed in the second toaster slot. So now we have black melted plastic in the toaster and a damaged power cord. Both can be repaired, but it remains an object lesson in why you shouldn’t prepare breakfast without your glasses.

Persephone woke early and so did I. We said hello to our houseguests. Yes, houseguests! Erkki and Raili arrived Tuesday afternoon. There was a bit of a mix-up because Erkki left his mobile phone behind, but they found their way to our house in Mid-City eventually. We had a late lunch at Mandina’s, and then I gave them the Misery Tour. (My typical route: Lakeview, Lake Pontchartrain at Mardi Gras fountain, Gentilly and the London Avenue Outfall Canal, and then the Lower Ninth Ward. I’ve come to realize that the Misery Tour is not so miserable for me because I live in the flood zone and see the aftermath every day.) Later we ventured to the Quarter with Xy and Persephone and got some beignets at Café du Monde.

But that was last night. This morning I put on black clothes, bundled Persephone off to daycare, saw Erkki and Raili off to catch the streetcar, I rode to work, and from work I caught a ride with the two Elizabeths and Elliott out to Providence Park on Airline Drive. We were there for the funeral for Olivia’s husband Michael. It was probably the shortest such service I have ever attended — fifteen minutes, tops. I hugged Olivia and told her it was chaos at the office without her. She called me a liar but thanked me for the lie anyway. (I wish it was a lie!) She seems to be bearing up well.

In addition to family, there were a bunch of people from work there too. I guess that’s an extended family of sorts. I got a ride back with Jim, and we discussed various ways of being remembered and memorialized after death. A funeral makes you think about such things. I’ve always imagined I’d want some sort of bizarre ritual to mark my passing, but I came to realize that I’d rather have my survivors feel free to remember me in the way they see fit. Funerals are for the living.

After work, Erkki and Raili passed by the house one last time. They’d spent the day in the Quarter, seeing the essential things you must see if you’re only going to be in New Orleans a little over 24 hours. Before they left town, Erkki thanked me for the tours I’d given them, saying that I’d shared a little of the “spirit of New Orleans.” He said they saw the city with slightly different eyes because of the perspectives I’d shared. I thought that was nice.

Raili & Erkki

I really have missed Erkki and Raili. I suppose I think of them like a second set of parents. (Their daughter lived with us in Indiana for a year as an exchange student back in the early 80s. So, if she’s my sister, then they’re my parents. I only wish my real parents could get a chance to meet them.) It was really good to see them both, and I wish them a safe journey home.

Three Books

These are not reviews — more like reading notes.

Title: Gods Behaving Badly
Author: Marie Phillips
Published: 2007

When I heard of this book, featuring the gods of ancient Greece living in modern day London, I knew I had to read it, mainly because Persephone has a key role.

Promising premise. Alas, I just wasn’t feeling Ms. Phillips’ take on the concept. It’s mighty silly, and I was hoping for something slightly more serious. I have to agree with a reviewer on GoodReads, this is “Fluff with a capital F.” Possibly a good beach book, especially if vacationing in the Greek isles. But like American Gods, this novel treads in a realm where I have my own fictive imaginings, and nothing I read in this regard seems to please me. I suppose I need to shut up and write my own novel.

Title: Wizards
Author: Gardner R. Dozois (Editor)
Published: 2007

This is an anthology of stories aimed at the young adult market, on the theme of wizards. I was a little disappointed that the notion of wizards was not more broadly conceived. Most of the interpretations seemed to fit into the traditional European folk archetype. There’s a story here by Gene Wolfe, who is surely a great author, but I found his contribution underwhelming.

Title: Escape from Earth
Author: Gardner R. Dozois (Editor)
Published: 2006

Another young adult anthology, edited by the same folks, only with a broad theme of travel in space. (I don’t ordinarily read “young adult” fiction, nor was I aware of how well-defined this category has become, but these two books were selected by my club.) Of the two I thought this one was superior. The stories are longer, fewer, and better. They are written in frank imitation of the old science fiction “juveniles” by authors such as Heinlein. As such, they’re fun, but definitely aimed at the adolescent reader.

Thirteen Months

Dear Persephone,

You might have thought I was going to stop with these monthly letters once you made your first birthday, but I’m going to keep going. I’m not sure how long I’ll continue. Your first hundred months might be a better target. But who knows? I’m winging it.

When I look back to my very first years of life, I find little but a blind spot. I’ve got few memories of those early years, so aside from a few parental anecdotes and photographs and maybe a home movie or two, they’re pretty much a mystery to me. I feel like my life slowly emerged from darkness. Your mother, on the other hand, has a much more vivid memory of her earliest years. I don’t know which of us you might take after in this regard, but I hope these letters will give some illumination to this time of your life, if you should desire it.

That’s one reason I’m keeping at this. Here’s another: This gives me a regular opportunity to imagine your future self, because that’s who I’m addressing here. I’m imagining who you might be at age ten or twenty — or even my age. I think that’s a useful exercise somehow. You can’t write me back from the future, of course. At least I haven’t received any letters from you yet. Still I hope to provide a window into what was going on in my mind when you were very young.

You are growing by leaps and bounds right now. Every few days you seem noticeably bigger. I suppose the biggest news is that you’re walking. You took your first tentative steps almost a month ago, and you’ve been gradually and steadily increasing your range and improving your balance ever since. There was no single moment when I could say you started walking, but you’re definitely walking now. And already it’s opening up new vistas. Suddenly you’re no longer interested in putting your face in the cats’ water dish.

Vernal Mohawk

In celebration of the Vernal Equinox, I’m bringing the mohawk back.

Before 'n' After

Not the fauxhawk, mind you. I’m talking about the real thing, baby. Bring it back!

And while you’re shaving your head, here’s a diverse selection of tunes inspired by the equinox.

“Vernal Equinox” from the 1977 album of the same name by Jon Hassell is straight-up genius.

Brick Trick

Here’s my new desktop wallpaper, courtesy of Brother O’Mara:

Brick trick

This photo was taken on Iberville in Mid-City, up near N. Telemachus. I’ve passed by this drainpipe many a time and thought it would make a great picture. I finally snapped a crappy shot with my phone, which led to Brother O’Mara to visit the location and take a much more compelling photograph.

March 19, 2009

Five minutes after I got to work this morning, Boss Lady gave me the bad news. Olivia’s husband died last night. He had bone cancer, the kind you don’t recover from. He went into the hospital in December and essentially never came out. I didn’t know Michael well, only met him a couple times. But Olivia feels like a member of the family, and so Michael is also family be extension. On top of it all I think Olivia has the flu or something right now. She’s been seriously ill for the last week. So this is a lot to deal with.

However, I couldn’t spend much time thinking about it this morning, because after a cup of coffee and checking my e-mail, I had to run off to the Ruby Slipper. I was meeting a group of students from the New School, a university in New York. They had come to spend their spring break in New Orleans, studying the recovery. I learned just before meeting them that they’d been caught in the middle of a gun battle yesterday. The news report on Fox 8 was pretty hair-raising; a witness said there were 50-60 rounds fired and compared it to a war zone. The students I met at the Ruby Slipper, though part of the same group, were not the ones caught in the gunfire. They also were quick to point out the news reports were overblown. It was not 50-60 rounds, more like five or six. Their teacher chalked the exaggeration up to biased reporting by Fox News. (I was skeptical of this casual analysis. I believe that Fox 8 is an independent affiliate and I haven’t noticed them sharing the bias for which Fox News is famous. Then again, come to think of it, Bob Breck is an outspoken skeptic of global warming… Hmmm. Maybe I need to rethink this.) They also said that’s why they refused to talk to the media about it, which I thought was interesting.

Over brunch, we talked about education and neighborhood organizing in post-Katrina New Orleans. Claudia Barker of New Orleans Outreach was there to guide the first discussion, and Jennifer Weishaupt of Mid-City Neighbrohhod Organization led the second. Karen Gadfly Gadbois and David Thaddeus Baker were also there on behalf of the Urban Conservancy and Stay Local. David and I follow each other on Twitter but had never met before in real life.

Brunch was delicious. I got the Eggs Blackstone, a variation on Eggs Benedict.

Noonish, I got my turn. I led the group on a meandering walk from the Ruby Slipper to the site formerly known as Lindy Boggs Medical Center (where they recoiled in horror at the deep water in the old emergency room) and on to the end of Bayou St. John to gaze up and down the Lafitte Corridor. Unfortunately they were not properly shod for traipsing up the corridor itself, which is still a little rough even though the sheriff had the underbrush cut back. Flip-flops and sandals are not good for such terrain. Even standing on the concrete bike path on Jeff Davis, one student got attacked by fire ants. I felt bad for her. We walked up Orleans Avenue and then Toulouse and finally cut over on Scott back to the corridor, emerging on Carrollton between Rouse’s and the Home Depot.

All the while, I was outlining the story of Friends of Lafitte Corridor and the greenway project. Hopefully they got something out of it. We ended at Massey’s for a photo-op.

I went back to the office and dealt with various random loose ends for the rest of the afternoon.

On the way home from work I noticed I was feeling a mild but undeniable surge of energy, a slightly manic edge to everything. As crazy as it seems I’ve noticed these surges seem to reliably coalesce around the solstices and equinoxes.

It struck me that I think of my blog as a journal but I don’t really write that way here, and I wondered if I shouldn’t give it a try.

The new neighbor girls across the street have been running around barefoot, and they both managed to cut their feet. Xy gave them first aid. They said their parents were asleep. I urged them to wear shoes.

For dinner we had artichokes and grilled ribs. Persephone is continuing to take more and more steps. I decided today that she has finally passed some indistinct threshold and we might as well say she’s walking.

Xy had a lot of work to do, so I bathed the girl and put her to bed. Once she was asleep I shaved my beard and head to mark the impending vernal equinox, which is tomorrow morning at 6:44 AM. I decided I’m bring the mohawk back. Not the fauxhawk, mind you. I’m talking about the real deal. Pictures tomorrow if I can manage it.

Vortex of Memory

I’ve been feeling the pull of the past. If memory is a drug, then journals are the paraphernalia true addicts need to get that extra kick. Which is why I’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to preserve my handwritten journals even after they sat under water for two weeks after Katrina.

Lately I’ve been revisiting the ’80s, in particular the year I lived in Sweden, and even more particularly the week I spent visiting Moscow and Helsinki and Tampere, Finland. Besides my journals, I have a copy of a 26-page letter I wrote to a friend recounting every aspect of that week in excruciating detail, very possibly the longest damn thing I’ve ever written. (Seriously, as many words as I crammed on each page, that letter’s probably longer than my master’s thesis.) I’ve been reminiscing about the Etelämäkis, the family who hosted me on that trip. I even tried looking them up on Facebook, but I was misspelling their name.

I’m not entirely certain why I’ve been preoccupied with that certain time at this certain time.

Then, a few days ago, something strange happened. The Etelämäkis contacted me. (Yes, via Facebook.) It seems Erkki and Raili are coming to the States to visit some friends. As fate would have it they’ll be on the Gulf Coast, so they are planning to rent a car and come visit us in New Orleans.

I couldn’t be happier, but it’s also just a little spooky.

Collaborative Memoir

Facebook continues to amaze as I connect again and again to people with whom I haven’t communicated for up to a quarter century. So what do you say to someone after such an interval? Sometimes, not much. But the fact is, sometimes it doesn’t take much to trigger old forgotten memories.

For example, my friend Vic mentioned “an adventure in the graveyard.” I had totally forgotten about this episode, but at his mention the image came back quite vividly — moonlight reflecting off the snow amidst the headstones.

Vic elaborated:

Let’s just say the graveyard adventure is forever imprinted on my psyche. With our trek into the night time hours as everyone was asleep… I’d never done anything like that before… There was a particular tomb stone that you jumped upon and it started to fall over at me… As you and I quickly uprighted it, I stared in affirmation that my mother’s rules and not following them had come true and I’d be punished for it… for the gravestone was etched with the title of which this gentleman held. It was none other than a “Judge.” I was horrified… We may have eluded the police in this late night excursion but I was going to get mine as this societal law enforcer would probably get even from the grave… LOL… Looking back it was probably one of those moments a person will remember for their life. I was such a stick the mud. Thank goodness for your influence.

I find this sort of reminiscence wonderful. It confirmed my desire for a collaborative memoir. At first blush it seemed rather simple. Set it up on a wiki or some such platform. Start with a defined time and place — say Greenwood Community High School in the early 80s — then invite anyone and everyone to add whatever they like. Each person remembers different little snippets, which in turn may trigger forgotten memories in other writers. They can all be linked and interrelated into one glorious tapestry, ever expanding, ever unraveling…

But very quickly I began to imagine problems. Presumably people would write in the first person. That would create confusion with regard to whose voice one is hearing at any particular point. That’s a mere technical issue; perhaps it could be surmounted. The real stumbling block, I think, is that even after 25 years, there are still plenty of raw truths that could wound and injure. An honest narrative would be hurtful; a sanitized narrative would be boring. If you take out the sex and the drugs and the petty backstabbing, you’ve gutted the narrative of all the best parts.

Therefore I have concluded that this project is impossible, or at least not worth the trouble. Which is good, because I have other things to do.

Dear TrueNorth

Dear TrueNorth,

I picked up a bag of your Pecan Almond Peanut Clusters at the store the other day, and have found them quite delicious. In fact, they are alarmingly habit-forming.

Upon examining the nutritional information on the back of the package, I was pleased to see a list of only six simple ingredients, instead of a bunch of chemicals I can’t pronounce. Well done.

However, as my eyes drifted to the right, I found my pleasure in your product somewhat diminished by the following promotional prose:

Our nut clusters are guided by these product truths.

Ack! I put it to you that nut clusters are not capable of being guided by any truths, be they “product truths” or some other less dubious form of wisdom. Nor are nut clusters capable of being led astray by falsehoods. That’s because nut clusters are not sentient, not capable of thinking and reasoning in the way that you and I are. (Though in light of your decision to run this copy, your thinking and reasoning abilities are certainly open to question.) And what the hell is a “product truth” anyway? It sounds like something an overzealous marketing student cooked up after too much organic sugar.

It is an unfortunate fact that awkward marketing phrases tend to have an effect that might best be described as the reverse of appetizing. In other words, I nearly gagged on my nut cluster.

I recommend replacing this infelicitous passage with the following:

Our truth clusters are guided by these product nuts.

It’s nonsense, but then so is the original. I think my rearrangement has a more poetic ring to it. Please contact me if you’re interested in using it. My freelance rates are quite reasonable, and I’m sure we can reach a mutually beneficial remunerative agreement in very short order.

Sincerely, respectfully, et cetera, et cetera.

Block Party

Our girl had her best sleep in a long while last night, but we sure didn’t. A bunch of guys decided to have a party in front of the abandoned house across the street, starting around 1:00 AM. They were drinking beer, listening to corridos, and generally laughing and hollering and carrying on. They were quite loud, and the music was louder. Somehow I slept through a couple hours of this. Or rather, I was half asleep, vaguely aware of the noise but still more or less zonked. Xy on the other had was suffering through a migraine and unable to sleep. Debra came out and asked the guys to quiet down, but they just laughed at her. Around 3:00 AM I woke up fully to make Persephone a bottle and took stock of the situation. Even with our windows closed (a shame on such a nice night) the noise level in our bedroom was way too high.

So I called the cops. Just as I did so, the party seemed to break up, so I told them to forget about it. Yet over the next hour the party reformed and broke up and reformed yet again. What the hell was happening out there? It was less loud now, but still enough to keep me awake. And then the final insult: the sound of breaking glass, as beer bottles were chucked against the steps of the abandoned house. How incredibly disrespectful. We’ve got more kids playing in our neighborhood than ever — and you’re busting bottles?

Broken Bottle [detail]

Thus I ended up calling the cops again, around 4:00 AM. I told them if a cruiser were just to pass by and flash its lights, that would probably be sufficient to break the party up for good. I don’t know if they actually came or not. I was too busy getting back to sleep.

One thing I want to make clear. I don’t relish calling NOPD on my neighbors. (I’m assuming these guys live nearby.) In fact, I hate it. I’d rather deal with people directly. But let’s be real. Even if I had the balls to go out in the middle of the night and confront a group of drunken guys on the street, the fact remains that we don’t even speak the same language, so I don’t really think we’d have a meeting of the minds.

If I could directly address these guys, here’s what I would have said: “As much as I hate calling the cops, you should hate it even more, because you never know what you’re going to get. The situation could get very ugly and out of hand, and people could get seriously hurt. But as far as I’m concerned you’re leaving me no other option, except suffering in silence, and that’s something I won’t do. I don’t mind people drinking beer on the street in the middle of the night. I really don’t — so long as you’re not bothering me. But if you are going to be so blatantly disrespectful to the neighborhood, then you’ve sacrificed any such tolerance on the altar of your own stupidity, and frankly I no longer care if you get chewed up by the prison-industrial complex. So how about you pipe the fuck down or go home?”

We love our little corner of Mid-City. We were just remarking yesterday afternoon how seeing black and white and Latino kids playing together was very sweet. But still, my only regret is not calling the cops earlier.

Strangely enough I’m feeling chipper today despite the lack of a good night’s rest. I think I’m on the upswing from whatever virus I was battling. Xy on the other hand went to school puking, and came home early. I hope she feels better soon.

House of Perpetual Illness

Since Sephone’s in daycare she is of course in a constant state of getting sick, or getting better, or both at the same time in an endless cycle of malaise. Most recently she had the ocular mucus (aka eye boogers) real bad, to the point of being crusted shut some mornings. Our doctor wasn’t particularly concerned and didn’t even want to see her about it. I’m glad that’s run its course, or so it seems. Meanwhile, Xy barfed the night before last, from food poisoning or a 24-hour stomach virus. Not sure which. As for me, I’ve got a wee little cough, which I think is strange. I usually get a cough in the latter stages of a cold, but so far I have no other symptoms except general fatigue. And the cough seems to be getting worse…