Thoughts on the Death of Jeremy Galmon

When I was changing planes in Philly I got two pieces of bad news from New Orleans, the second of which was so harrowing it made the first seem trivial.

First, I learned the Saints suffered their first defeat of the season, in overtime, no less; to the Atlanta Falcons, no less; at the Superdome, no less.

Next, I learned a that a young boy had caught a bullet and had been rushed to the hospital. When I landed in New Orleans I read the news that he had died. His name was Jeremy Galmon. He was two years old.

That certainly does put things in painful perspective, like Cliff says. It’s hard to get too worked up about a football game when you’re confronted with such an atrocity.

And yet when I picked up the paper Monday morning, what did I see? Yes, the story of Jeremy’s death made a front page headline. So did the football game. But the football headline was two or three times as big. I felt a painful dissonance, looking at that front page.

In the days that have followed, we’ve had more coverage of the story of Jeremy’s murder, the grief of his family, the circumstances of his death, the response by authorities, the arrest of one suspect, the hunt for another. We’ve also had plenty of continuing coverage of how the Saints are responding to their loss, bringing in other kickers, and so forth. I haven’t done a serious analysis, but it’s clear that more ink has been spilled on the latter story over the last four days.

I’m sure the folks at the TP would say that they are giving the people what they want. I buy that, but only to a certain extent. Does our media reflect our culture or create it? I believe it does both. It may be true that, as a society, we are more concerned with professional sports than the murder of a child. But this is a time for our media to exercise some leadership. This is a time to provide some in-depth reportage on the underlying causes of violence. Look at the amount of analysis that fills out the Sports section every day. If we had half that much analysis of social problems we’d surely make some progress.

The tragic death of Jeremy Galmon is a story that people will respond to. Such tragedies are also learning opportunities, and we desperately need to learn some lessons. Across the political spectrum, people understand that violence is a problem. We also need to share an understanding of the root causes of this endemic social problem, if we are to come to consensus on solutions.

I’ve been beating up on the media here, but I want to be clear that the real villain in this story is whoever pulled the trigger. Yet the media do have a role to play, and it is a vital one. They need to engage the issues when the public is engaged, and this story is an example.

And why does Jeremy’s story move us so? Every loss of life is regrettable, regardless of age. If a victim is 20 or 200, it’s still tragic. But there’s something especially wrenching when a toddler is a victim of violence. Few of us are completely innocent; we’re all caught up in a web of social complicity to some degree; we all bear some guilt for what we’ve allowed our culture to become. The main exception to this is children. They are truly and unquestionably innocent. (And please don’t talk to me about “original sin.”) I know very little really, about Jeremy, but I can guarantee you this: He never hurt anyone. He didn’t deserve this.

Contemplative Academy

I sat next to empty seats on my two flights up to Hartford (changing planes in Charlotte) so I didn’t talk to much of anyone until I got on the shuttle I’d reserved. I was sharing the vehicle with three young folks who looked to be in their mid-twenties. As we pulled away from the airport, I said, “Hey, I noticed y’all had instruments. Are you musicians then?”

The reply: “No, we’re not, we just enjoy carrying musical instruments with us wherever we go.”
Continue reading Contemplative Academy

Concrete Equinox

Our equinox celebration was a little chaotic, because the guys who are re-doing our driveway showed up somewhat unexpectedly to pour concrete.

Nevertheless, we persevered. We had a few friends and neighbors over. I invented a simple cocktail of champagne, Sence rose nectar and wild hibiscus flowers in syrup. The flavor was probably more appropriate for the vernal equinox, but hey — these were the items I had on hand from Tales of the Cocktail. So I just pretended we were in the southern hemisphere.

(I almost forgot to mention that this was the end of my alcohol-fast, which began after Lammas, roughly. I called it a “sobriety binge.” This was not my first such venture nor my last, I’m sure; it seems like a good idea to give my liver a break from time to time; in this case I was motivated by a concern that my tolerance was getting too high. But a doctor I visited recently seemed to interpret this bout of abstinence as a danger sign. Me, I always thought the danger was when a person can’t stop drinking.)

I’ve taken note of the equinox for years, and often yearned to celebrate it, but I think this may be the first time I’ve actually done so. It felt good. I even made a little demonstration for the kids. Gauge held the flashlight while I tilted the globe back and forth. But through the general chaos I’m not sure anyone actually absorbed the concept.

Meanwhile the guys outside were pouring concrete until well after dark. I raised a toast to them, but they didn’t notice me over the roar of the cement mixer.

I also discovered my own sister has no idea what an equinox or solstice is. I will have to give her an astronomy lesson next time I visit.

Another circle of friend gathered at the Fly and improvised a ritual with “marching drums for music and some cut wild flowers to toss into the river,” which sounded cool.

In addition to the equinox, it was also the first night of Sukkot (חג שמח!) and the Harvest Moon. A festive time by several measures.

So how did you celebrate?

I will write more about the whole driveway odyssey once the project is finished.

Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry

I recently finished Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry by Arthur Zajonc. Here are a few brief notes.

It’s rare for me to finish a book and immediately think I need to start over at the beginning and read it again. Yet that’s the case here. I found this book engaging and compelling yet increasingly challenging. I’m convinced there is real value here, but I am equally convinced that I have not assimilated it wholly.

Zajonc begins with some persuasive arguments in favor of contemplation, urging us to take (or make) the time for daily practice. He then gives an overview of the path as he sees it. This is given in simple terms so that even people unfamiliar with meditation can follow it. (By way of reference, perhaps I should mention that I have practiced only the simplest sort of breathing meditation, very erratically, for many years.) That accounts for the introduction and the first chapter. The remainder of the book is devoted to examining steps along the path in greater detail. Perhaps it is unavoidable that each chapter is more esoteric than the one before it. It is a credit to Zajonc’s lucid writing style that this never lapses into incomprehensibility, despite the increasing subtlety of the subject matter.

One of the most praiseworthy aspects of this book is the care the author takes to distinguish the essential nature of his subject from various religious traditions. This is a delicate balancing act. Zajonc connects various aspects of meditation to explicitly spiritual perspectives from around the world, including the “usual suspects” such as Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, but also Native American spirituality and anthroposophism — without ever committing to one of them. Zajonc also notes that religion “has become an obstacle to many.” It is left to the reader to locate his or her practice within a religious context — and a thoroughly secular reading is also possible.

I also appreciated the many connections drawn between contemplation and social justice. King, Mandela and Gandhi are cited repeatedly. Zajonc is a physicist, and we get some Einstein quotations as well. These were amongst my favorites.

I feel compelled to offer some sort of criticism so this review doesn’t seem overly gushing. All I can say is that, from my personal standpoint, Zajonc seems to articulate a very “solar” perspective. I feel that I need something somewhat more “lunar,” if that makes any sense. I’m sorry I can’t express it better than that. I don’t really know what I mean, as it’s just something I intuitively feel. But perhaps that’s just a matter of locating my practice in my proper religious context — once I figure out what that is.

Perhaps most importantly, this book is convincing. I am both persuaded and inspired to incorporate some form of contemplative practice into my daily life. I look forward to reading this book again.

Thirty-One Months

Through the Gate

Dear Persephone,

Somewhere in the last month your temper has taken a turn for the worse. Don’t get me wrong, you are still sweet and cute — much of the time — but you are also more prone than ever to tantrums and meltdowns and fits of pique. Perhaps it’s because you’ve been fighting off a bacterial infection for much of the last month, but I suspect it has more to do with being two and a half years old. One pediatrician calls your age “The First Adolescence,” and that makes a lot of sense to me. You are establishing yourself as a person.

It’s all about opposition. Sometimes you oppose us, sometimes you oppose yourself. You will often switch gears suddenly and without warning. You’ll be happily eating some pasta or hugging a stuffed animal one moment, and the next you will be pushing your bowl away or throwing the animal down on the floor and saying “I don’t like that pasta” or “I don’t like that rabbit.” Indeed, the list of things you “don’t like” is lengthy. This morning you told me you didn’t like my bed, and told me to “take it away.”

Often these little upsets don’t escalate into anything further, but sometimes they do. Sometimes they evolve into full-scale weeping and wailing. Sometimes the source of your frustration is comprehensible, even if it doesn’t really make sense to my adult mind. Other times it’s completely mysterious.

Usually a short “time out” is all that’s needed to get you back in a fairly cheerful mood.

I don’t want to make it seem like you are throwing fits all the time, because you’re not. But neither do I want to paint an overly rosy portrait of your early childhood. You are behaving like a toddler, which is to be expected.

I suppose as long as I’m discussing things that may be embarrassing to you later, I should note that your toilet training is coming along well, but you still haven’t learned to dress yourself.

Your linguistic development continues to amaze me. You recently “got” personal pronouns. It was one of those sudden lightbulb revelations. Instead of saying “Dada and Sephie,” you started saying “you and me,” and your delight in this breakthrough was manifestly evident, as you kept repeating it with greater enthusiasm each time. Now you use “you” and “me” all the time without even blinking.

(I hesitate to even mention that you seem to have develop a stutter over this past weekend. I spoke to a colleague who is a speech pathologist, and she indicated at your age there’s nothing to do but watch and wait. She also noted that such aberrations often crop up after rapid spurts of development, and usually go away of themselves.)

Another important concept you recently mastered: “I don’t know.” You used to say, “Hmm!” when you didn’t know the answer to a question, which was fairly adorable, but “I don’t know” is obviously more sophisticated. It has become one of your favorite expressions. I take that as a good sign; knowing our limits is a prerequisite to wisdom.

You fascination with princesses and fairy tales continues. Yesterday you asked me for a “poisoned apple.”

Finally, I just wanted to note the funniest thing I think you’ve said over the past month, while banging a brush and comb together: “I’m making music with a crazy purple beat.”

My Boss Is Abroad

Desert wind at night

Strangely enough, just as Islamophobia seems to be reaching new heights here in the States, my boss is in Saudi Arabia. She was invited some months ago, to give workshops at two different women’s campuses on topics such as student motivation, active learning, planning for teaching, and so forth.

It’s a great opportunity, of course. But as she prepared for this trip, I was surprised by some of the things I learned about Saudi Arabia. I knew it’s a strictly regimented society, and that gender roles are somewhat constrained. I knew, for example, that women have to be covered head to toe when they go out in public. (And my boss had an interesting time purchasing the necessary garments here.) I was not familiar, however, with the system of male guardianship. I gather that women cannot travel freely or do many things without approval of a male guardian.

More to the point, my boss is not able to go outside without a male escort. That’s got to be tough for an American woman to accept. I’ve been trying to imagine how I would feel in that scenario.

As I scanned recent news headlines coming out of the Kingdom, I couldn’t help but goggle at these bizarre headlines.

Meanwhile France has banned veils for women in public. It’s a very strange world we live in.

Anyway, my thoughts, and those of my co-workers, are with my boss at this time. (She reports that they have made her feel “right at home,” and she is finding a striking similarity between the concerns there and on our campus.) It’s truly an honor and a privilege for her to have been invited to this faraway place. I hope she reaps a maximum amount of cultural enrichment and personal development from the experience.

Photo: Desert wind at night by Cary Bazalgette, licensed under Creative Commons


I don’t really know Gina very well. She’s a friend of a friend, the intermediary being the irascible PJ Christie. Gina and PJ played together in a band called Rabbit Hatch back in the pre-K days. They played at our 2005 Samedi Gras party, as pictured here.

Gina Sings

So obviously Gina is a musician but she’s also a visual artist. I remember seeing a show of hers on Julia Street, but I’m pretty sure that was before the flood, because it all seems very hazy, like it happened a long time ago. When I heard through Facebook that she had a show of new works up at Delgado, I thought it would be fun to take my daughter to the opening.

And it was fun. The show is called The Call of the Alluvial Empire, and I was really knocked out by the work Gina has on display. Persephone enjoyed it too. That’s indicative of the broad appeal I think this art has. These pieces are colorful and funky and halfway between quilts and paintings: kinda-painted, kinda-sewn. They are extraordinarily beautiful, joyous and also wistful but not sappy in the least. This is stuff that I imagine would win the love of hipsters and grandmas alike. And if you are lucky enough to have a hipster grandma — well, you need to take her to see this show.

In fact, I was so impressed I had to go back and take a second look this Wednesday. I took my camera with me and snapped a few photos. I suppose this is an egregious violation of Gina’s intellectual property rights. (So Gina, if you read this, just say the word and I will take these down.) You can see many more photos of her work on her website. These humble don’t even begin to do the work justice, but I hope they convey a bit of the flavor, as well as the color and texture, and most of all the level of accomplishment.

Rogue Wave with Sidekicks

Wave Detail

Louis Detail

Grass Detail

So actually I guess the main point of this post is just to say you really need to check out this show. The work is up until the end of September, and the gallery is open weekdays 9AM-4PM. It’s on the third floor of the main building on Delgado’s main campus. Totally worth the trip. Trust me on this.

This is the second installment in my new resolve to write about other people every so often. I suppose I should establish a new category for this. But I already have too many categories, and the only title that’s come to mind is the Sartre epigram, “Hell Is Other People,” which might be deemed an insult to my subjects…

Domain Games

There’s a certain domain name of which I am part owner, the other owner being my friend in Missoula. This domain is a three-letter dot-com and as we all know there are a limited number of those, therefore they have a certain value. I’m not naming the domain here, but I think the perceptive reader can figure it out.

A friend helped us register this domain back in the early nineties, when it was free. Since then, we have used it for a legitimate purpose; we are not cybersquatters.

Over the years, as the registered owner, I have gotten frequent inquiries about selling the domain. Most of these inquiries are not credible. They most often in the form of a one-liner e-mail, “Hey, you wanna sell that?” They rarely offer a price; it’s more common for them to ask me, “How much you want for that?” I find that sort of approach annoying and unprofessional.

Three years ago, my partner and I talked about actively seeking to sell the domain. We share a sentimental attachment to the domain, and I use it daily, but it’s the content that matters more than the address. We could move that content to another domain. We are not making money off the domain, and if someone else has a plan to do that, why not sell it and reap a little profit?

So we discussed it and came up with a price that we both found acceptable. My partner did most of the work in terms of research and arranging for an auction. But for some reason which eludes me now, we never went through with it.

Fast-forward to the present. Monday morning I got a voicemail and an e-mail from a broker looking to buy the domain, and they actually named a price — $10,000. I responded politely that the domain was not for sale. Soon I got a follow-up offer which was five times the original. I still said no. The broker made a third offer of $60K and asked “what price it would take” for us to part with the domain. I named the price my partner and I had cooked up three years ago. Now the broker wanted to know why our price was so high. She revealed their “dedicated pricing team” had appraised the domain. I won’t mention the figure here but it was substantially higher than her best offer but also much lower than our asking price.

$60K may sound like a lot of money, but keep in mind the broker would take a cut, and then my partner and I would split it, and then we’d have to pay taxes on it. I’d be lucky to see $20K. That’s still a good chunk of change, I suppose, but a dollar is definitely not what it used to be. As a matter of comparison, a couple years ago I pissed away $10K on the stock market, our tax refund this year was $9K, and Xy recently took a $20K pay cut. More money is always welcome, but I know we could absorb $20K into our annual living expenses and not even really notice.

My partner’s financial situation may be different, of course, and I need to be sensitive to that. Still, I don’t regret saying no yesterday. When I told Xy I’d turned down an offer of $60K for the domain, her response was “One million dollars, and not a penny less! Tell ’em your crazy wife said so!” I think if we sell the domain it should be on our terms, as a result of proactively seeking to sell it, rather than waiting for a deal to fall into our laps. That would seem the best way to assure we get a good price. But what do I know? I’m simply not motivated at this point to do the work necessary. And if we are unable to sell it for the price we desire, I am willing to accept that.

Coincidentally, as I was responding to these inquiries, I was also trying to untangle a confusing and messy situation regarding a domain name that belongs to a local civic organization. My head was abuzz with domain names and other contingencies and by the end of the day I was experiencing a bit of cognitive overload. But at least I got a good night’s sleep.

What Goes Around

It’s not just a sign — it’s a kinetic sculpture.

This was constructed by Peter Hickman and friends at the place where the Jeff Davis neutral ground intersects the Lafitte Corridor at the foot of Bayou St. John.

It is propelled by the wind. In my personal opinion, it’s a perfect expression of community desire for the greenway which we hope will be created here soon.

For more info about the Lafitte Corridor and the greenway see

A Jazz Funeral in Greenfield, Indiana

I’m still in touch with a number of friends back in Indiana. Last week I heard some sad news from one of these friends: His mother had passed away. She was advanced in years, but it was still rather sudden and unexpected. Yet what he asked the next day brought a smile to my face. He wondered what it would take, at a bare minimum, to put together a New Orleans-style jazz funeral in a small town in Indiana.

Here’s how I advised him, more or less. I said he needed a brass band. What would be the minimal instrumentation? I’m guessing a trumpet or trombone, a tuba and drum. The players should know at least one slow sad song and one fast upbeat number. You play the dirges on the way to the cemetery and the happy songs on the way back home.

A mutual friend, who is a musician, hooked him up with some players from Indianapolis who were available at a reasonable rate. Two on percussion, one banjo, tuba, trombone and trumpet. Plus a clarinet. He described them as “a smaller, if slightly less cinematic, version of what you’ve seen on Treme.”

And what do you know? It all came together very nicely, or so I gather. The musicians arrived on time, dressed in black and looking good. I don’t know the whole playlist, but the music was reverent and mournful on the way in, and joyous and celebratory on the way out.

But of all the details my friend reported, this one stands out to me as extraordinary.

The funeral director said it was like nothing he’d ever seen and he was going to let his family know that he wants this when he dies.

Says it all.


Maybe it was the caffeine. And the lack of food. Or the physical exertion late in the day. Or just my old overactive mind.

In any case, I didn’t sleep at all last night. I tried. Repeatedly. But I just couldn’t do it.

I don’t think I’ve pulled an all-nighter since that freaky Jazz Fest weekend five years ago.

(Wrong! Don’t forget that homebound all-nighter in 2008.)

To elaborate:

I’ve been off caffeine most of the summer, except for an occasional indulgence. At book club Saturday morning, I had two and a half tiny cups of extraordinarily strong coffee. But since it was before noon, I thought I was safe.

As for the physical exertion, that takes a bit more explaining. I’ll recount the essential facts without delving into the numerous bizarre details. As I mentioned a couple months ago, we need some work done on our driveway. A parent of one of Xy’s students offered to do the work — for free. This is amazing enough I hope to write more about it later. He and his crew got started yesterday, busting up the old concrete the old-fashioned way.

I felt obliged to go out and swing the sledgehammer with them, even though I’m not really in shape for that kind of work. We kept going until well after dark. I learned that sledgehammers make sparks when they strike concrete.

Between the caffeine and the exertion, I didn’t really seem to have much appetite, and so I didn’t eat much. I’ve found that having a snack before bedtime helps me get to sleep, so I planned to have a bowl of cereal, but we were out of soymilk, so I skipped it.

I’ve had many “sleepless” nights before, but that’s usually a figure of speech. Usually I drift off around four or so, or just after dawn. In this case, however, I really don’t think I slept at all. I got up several times during the night, to read, to eat a snack, to surf the web. I worked on my interface to the library of Babel, available (for now) at borges.rox. At 4:15 AM I left the house in my robe to investigate a car alarm. Each time I went back to bed and tried to go to sleep. But it just never took.

I have suffered from intermittent bouts of insomnia for as long as I can remember, but I do believe this was the worst ever. Certainly the worst since my daughter was born.


It might seem to the rest of the country that New Orleanians are insular and self-absorbed. There’s some truth to that; sometimes this place feels like a distant province of the United States rather than a part of the mainland. But events like the terrorist attacks of September 11th touch us all, and after suffering through a major (not entirely natural) disaster ourselves, I think most New Orleanians feel a special sympathy for New Yorkers. I have seen grown men cry here at the mere mention of September 11th, even after all these years.

Of all our national ideals, freedom of speech and religion, pluralism and tolerance are the ones that inspire me the most. Lately they seem to be crumbling as tensions increase between Christians and Muslims in this country. That, of course, was part of the terrorists’ aim. It’s not clear to me whether or not we have passed the point of no return. I hope not.

Dear Mr. Bissell (2)

Bissell Homecare, Inc.

PO Box 3606

Grand Rapids MI 49501

For the attention of Mark J. Bissell, President & CEO

Dear Mr. Bissell,

Goodness gracious! I’ve just been going through some old files, and I realized it’s been one full year since I wrote to you. I have yet to receive the courtesy of a reply.

Is this your idea of customer service? What would your great-grandfather Melville Bissell think if he knew how you were running the business?

I am enclosing a copy of my previous letter for your convenience. As you will see, I was merely asking for clarification of your policy regarding your 90 Day Limited Warranty. Why was I charged for twelve dollars for a replacement hose?

Enclosed please find my personal check for $2.00 to cover the expense of writing back to me. This should cover the cost of an envelope, the appropriate foolscap, ink and even postage.


Brett Favre Retirement Party

Is there any point in even trying to talk about anything else today? No. There’s not, not here in New Orleans anyway. Tonight the Saints play the Vikings in a re-match that is being hyped beyond all belief. And yet the massive hype feels perfectly natural and entirely appropriate, here in New Orleans anyway. I don’t know about the rest of the country.

Grandpa Farve [sic]

I saw this truck in the brickyard parking lot yesterday morning. You can’t see in this shot, but this gold pickup is decked out in Saints regalia, including a big “Who Dat Nation” marquee on top of the cab. This little diorama is in the bed. Yeah, so they spelled his name wrong. Can you really blame them? They get extra points for creativity.

A sign on the back of the truck said “Brett Favre Retirement Party.” Or so I thought. When I passed by this morning I saw the same truck but no sign. So maybe I imagined the sign, or maybe it fell off.

I for one plan to tune in and watch the retirement party on television tonight.

Update: Howie jogged my memory. I did not imagine the “Retirement Party” concept — I saw it on Facebook thanks to the fabulous Mary H. Gotta give credit where it’s due. If my memory continues to deteriorate it may be time for my retirement party soon.

I should also note that Howie had a cool Favre voodoo doll.